Painted Angels


Written for the Professionals "CI5 Box of Tricks" Big Bang Challenge, September 2010

Painted Angels by Firlefanzine thumbnail


Ray Doyle shudders in Gabriel's embrace, and suddenly on instinct rolls away from him, turning his back.

Gabe says, in a voice which, since it broke, has been like dark honey, rough velvet, "What is it, Ray? Are you all right?"

"Yes. But I want you it to me, like we saw in Bleak Island."

Now it is Gabe's turn to shudder. "No. That was horrible. A rape."

Ray knows. But he has carried the image home with him, the only one available in 1960s Derby, 30 seconds of a grim X-rated prison drama he and Gabe sneaked into, thinking from the title it might be something like Cape Fear. In his narrow bed that night, in the loveless council house, he took it and stripped from it its violence, watched again for the first time in his life while one man pushed another up against the wall and...fucked him, he knew was the word, although it was more than his life was worth to say it aloud in his mother's starched and priest-haunted household. Imagination hampered by ignorance, he had clasped at himself as his cock leapt: what had they done to one another, those men? He tried out the idea of pushing up between tight-clenched thighs or buttocks, but the contorted face of the convict being shoved against the tiles in the shower room seemed to indicate something more radical going on than that. Arse bandit, the lads at school called the teacher they had decided was queer because he wore fashionable shoes and clothes that fit him. Shirt-lifter... The names left Ray no wiser in terms of biological detail. He supposed in the film the bigger man had pushed his cock up the other one's arsehole, a painful impossibility, he would have thought... But his 16-year-old flesh didn't mind about that, and shot him to helpless orgasm, something else that was more than his life was worth if he was caught, sending him shivering to the bathroom to scrub at the undersheet, praying it would dry out before morning on the radiator. The idea has haunted him ever since. "I know," he says to Gabe. "But I don't think it's always bad. I want to try."

Gabe hesitates. He loves Ray, has loved him ever since they met round the back of the church one rainy Sunday morning, having chosen the same massive tombstone behind which to sneak a sly fag after helping Father John clear up the hymn books, and burst out laughing at one another's iniquities. Ray is very bold, and not apparently concerned by the things boys like him get called, nor the wrath which would descend on him from God, priests and parents if they were found out, though for Gabriel's sake he is careful. Their friendship has progressed rapidly from that first encounter. Unlike Ray, Gabe is a willing altar boy, and attends every Sunday: Ray's mother is puzzled at suddenly not having to march her half-wild boy in by his ear or the scruff of his neck, but pleased at the amendment. She doesn't approve of him hanging around with that half-caste lad, though she supposes Father John has to let the darkies into the choir and the church if they want, and at least he has nice manners. Gabriel and Ray play football together at first, then when Gabe has made the appalling mistake of getting caught staring furtively at him in the changing rooms afterwards, Ray has redeemed it all by grinning at him and dragging him off by the hand to the toilets. Ray has had a couple of girls by now, and a couple of boys. He likes both, but prefers the boys, and he likes Gabe best of all, and Ray's pleasure is the only thing preventing Gabe from running and hiding forever: Gabe's mother, a first-generation immigrant from Jamaica, is, despite her marriage to a white and faithless Derby factory worker, a fervent Catholic; Gabe lives in terror of her disappointment, of her vengeful Old Testament god. No, not quite all down to Ray's enjoyment. Gabe is hypnotised by him. From the first moment in the dank toilet stall, when Ray's eyes locked to his, when Ray's archangel's mouth whispered, not a sound, then opened to admit his cock -- limp with surprise, but not for long -- Gabe has been an addict, god or no god.

But they have never gone this far, and now he is scared. He leans over Ray to see into his face. Ray is flushed, his eyes full of hunger and long distances. Ray will always be the one to jump off the gas-tower wall from five foot higher up than the rest of the lads have decided is too high, the one to make a madcap grinning leap across the front of a speeding train. To continue to taunt his hulking brute of a father, when his brothers and sisters have fled for cover. He doesn't know when to stop. Gabe seldom tries to stop him. "No, Ray," he says gently now. "No. Stop. It says in the bible we mustn't, you know."

Ray twists round a bit to look at him. Blindly he reaches and finds Gabe's hand, guides it into the cleft of his backside, to the place that is burning to be touched, burning unbearably, now that Gabe has said no to him. He shifts, and feels the warm hand begin helplessly to explore. Warm fingertips caress his balls, then draw back up his crease toward the tiny hole. "Probably says we shouldn't...suck one another off in the bogs on the Leicester express, too," he rasps, and Gabe, remembering that experiment, the wheezy old train rattling and thumping underneath them, the guard banging on the door and demanding to see their tickets, breaks into reluctant laughter. "Come on, Gabe! Don't you want to?"

Gabe does: the intensity of his want is now part of the problem. His cock, which over the past few years has grown to what he gathers from communal changes at school are satisfactory proportions, is erect and stiff. He presses carefully at Ray's arsehole with his thumb, making comparisons, feeling a fear of hellfire rise up in him. "It won't fit. And I know all the other stuff we did is wrong, as well. But this would be sodomy. It says thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind."

"Wait a second, then." Ray slithers out of the bed. For a second, Gabe wonders if he has for the first time won an argument, and feels a pang of relief and painful disappointment... But Ray has only gone to crouch by his mother's dressing table. They have taken refuge in his parents' bedroom this afternoon -- a terrible risk, but the house is empty, and having a double bed to themselves is utter luxury after their struggles in toilets and back alleys. "Here," he says, and straightens up, turning back to Gabe. The light catches him from behind, haloing his chaos of curls, which he wears shoulder-length, the better to irritate his elders. It limns him, making him shine -- the wiry slender shape of him, the shoulders which since Gabe has known him have broadened, promising the power of the man. The wide, perfect cheekbones, upswept green eyes in the inhumanly symmetrical face... Gabe, dazzled, for an instant sees the sunlit net curtains behind him as wings, and has to stifle a cry, of desire and fear mixed. "Here, I've got some of her face stuff. Not the expensive one -- she'd skin me alive. But this should do." He pounces back into the bed, into Gabriel's arms. "Anyway, I think this will be buggery. Technically speaking."

Ray waits for it to be good. He is so sure that it will be, if they can get it right. The idea of something inside him, filling him up, is lovely to him: sometimes he feels like an empty shell, a bleak bare moor like the flanks of Mam Tor where winds of fear and loneliness howl. Gabe is the opposite of all that. His tawny skin, his voice, his heat, even on a cold March day... The head of his cock, well coated in Mrs Doyle's second-best face cream, is inside Ray's arse now, its passage there a feat he has had to grit his teeth and spread his backside with his hand to let Gabe accomplish. From Gabe's frantic gasping, it's just as uncomfortable for him... "It's all right," Ray lies. "Push it into me, Gabe. It'll get better."

It doesn't. Ray's body is not mature enough to take this or enjoy it, although his mind and spirit have leapt ahead: he doesn't know this, and, spreadeagled on the bed, begins to think perhaps it is only a punishment one man inflicts on another, that it is only for prisons, for rape. Gabe is pressed to his back, thrusting clumsily. One word will stop him, Ray knows, and he tries to formulate it, but he is too crushed, in too much pain. He clutches the pillow and waits, panting shallowly, for Gabe to notice his frozen, locked-muscle stillness...

Then Gabe makes a sound Ray has never heard from him before. They have been habitually silent in their couplings, fledglings in an undefended nest, knowing a grunt or a cry could bring down all hell on them. Gabe moans. Deep, rich, astonished: a sound of discovery. He stops his awkward thrusting and pushes up onto his arms. Ray feels his hands clamp warmly round his hips, lifting him. He kneels behind him. Ray could say stop now; he has enough breath in his lungs. But he is stilled with fascination, a wonder that runs deeper than his pain. Gabe, gentle and inhibited, needing to be shown the path, has taken over. Is finding something out for himself, buried in Ray's body. He draws Ray's backside up and back, draws a breath and expels it in another astounded, shuddery groan, and begins to move in him, deep and slow.

Ray waits for it to be good, and concludes frantically that it must be so only for the one doing the fucking. It hurts less now, but he doesn't know how to come like this, and Gabe won't like it -- will probably stop, if he feels Ray's softened cock. God, and Ray doesn't want him to stop -- it's like feeling waves break on him, a force of nature realising itself, coming to birth through his flesh. Gabe beginning to realise himself, to grow up. He has to hang on. Gabe is reaching round him -- he bats his hand impatiently away and tries to jerk off, then realises it doesn't matter; that touch was Gabe's last courtesy before orgasm and he is coming now, wildly, driving into Ray so hard he knocks them both flat to the mattress. Half-suffocated, Ray rides it out. The pillow muffles sounds he hopes Gabe will take for pleasure...and then, thank Christ, it is over. He feels the grinding pressure in him ease, and then a scalding, disembowelling slither, perhaps the worst part of all, like having unstoppable runs. Tears boil up in him, and he does not fight the childish response. They may be his best hope of convincing Gabe he enjoyed it: the joy of being sucked off -- more simply, of being loved -- has made him cry before. He lies, hearing his own fractured breathing start to slow. He must do something more, be something more than a handful of washed-up seaweed on the rocks, or Gabe will think...

Where is he? Gabe never seems to feel the itchy need for solitude that sometimes seizes Ray after sex. He's always there -- warm arms closing round, soft unashamed kisses that feel like God's blessing, purged of all lust, even to Ray's increasingly atheistic heart. He'll hang on for a moment even after the barest shag up against a toilet wall, and Ray, even when twitching with the need to be away, has felt the blessing of that. Has felt how it salvages the place, and their act, from squalor. Getting his face out of the pillow, inelegantly wiping away tears and snot with the back of one hand, Ray sits up. "Gabriel...?"

He is sitting hunched up on the end of the bed, his back turned to Ray, head lowered. Anxiously, ignoring the various aches that seize him when he moves, Ray scrambles over to him. For the first time ever, Gabe recoils from his touch, and Ray shies back too, in reflexive fright. "Gabe, what... What's the matter?"

"That was wrong." The words come out toneless and flat, and Gabe does not look up at him. "Everything else we did -- everything I confessed to Father James about -- he told me it was bad and I should stop, but I hadn't done a mortal sin yet. That was mortal. I know it was."

Among the sins gravely contrary to chastity are masturbation, fornication, pornography, and homosexual practices. Ray knows, too. He took his First Holy Communion at the age of ten, and has spent the intervening years till now in a state of barely controllable rage, at having been made to swear his life away for a set of rules which at the time he had stood no more chance of understanding than he did nuclear physics. "Don't," he whispers. "Oh, God. You've been confessing about this?"

"I had to." He shivers, running a hand over his short-cropped, silky hair. "I'm not like you, Ray. I can't just shake it off. I... I believe in it. And I can't hurt my mam." Ray can understand that much: he doesn't want to hurt Mrs Foster, either. Like Gabe, he adores her: her Catholicism, unlike that of Mrs Doyle, though just as ardent, comes tempered by love. Her home and kitchen have been his refuge on countless occasions when he has made his own too hot to hold him. "I haven't told Father your name," Gabe continues, unsteadily. "He's bound by seal of confession anyway. He can't say anything."

Ray swallows. He puts out a hand to Gabe's skull, and this time to his relief his friend stays still beneath the touch. "Oh, fuck that," he whispers, kneeling up, reaching to embrace him. "I'm not bothered about that. Please, Gabe. Don't let them chew you up with all their crap about sin. What was... What was sinful about what we just did? It's only wrong if it hurts someone." He kisses his brow, then one tight-closed eyelid, tasting with dismay the salt of tears. "Who got hurt there?"

Gabe sobs. "You did! You think I don't fucking know? It was killing you, and I couldn't stop myself!"

"What?" Ray, who is by now an accomplished liar, braces up for a big one. "It didn't hurt, you pillock. It was great."

"Bollocks. You didn't get off."

"Yeah, I..." Ray shifts, stretches out one agile, surreptitious foot into the nest of towels he's arranged in his parents' bed. Yes, plenty wet enough to back him up: they've been rolling around, wrestling and jerking one another off, all afternoon. "Yeah, I did. You were just bangin' away in there too hard to notice. You're a natural, aren't you? Duck to water."

"Don't say that," Gabe chokes. He turns his face to Ray's shoulder. "Don't. I don't wanna be queer. Bad enough bein' coloured, in this shithole of a town."

Ray clutches him. In many ways, they are ordinary teenage boys, all knees and elbows, wary of touch outside of sexual exchange. He hardly knows how to comfort him. Certainly not what to say. We won't be in this shithole town forever...? Ray has no better prospects, has had no better offers. Once through his O levels, that's it for his education; his dad is deaf to his teachers' suggestions that he go on to his As, let alone to art college. As for Gabe, his father will get him factory work this summer. Nothing wrong with that -- the money is good -- but Ray has seen what happens to the black and Asian kids who go to the mills in the summer, how likely they ever are to reappear in school...

No more time to think about it. Ray and Gabriel's time runs out, suddenly and absolutely, in the thud of big feet on the landing outside. Gabe jerks his head up. "Shit! Is that your dad?"

Ray hasn't heard the click of the front door, but it can be no-one else. Instinctively he surges to his feet, shielding Gabriel behind him. There can be no escape, in this cramped house. "Yeah," he breathes. "Thought he was out all day." Yes, he did. He was sure, or he'd never have risked Gabe. He keeps Gabe and his father far apart, keeps that goodness far away from the thing he despises most. And he can't recall a single occasion, day or night, when he old man has failed to announce his return to the house with an almighty slam of that front door... Fuck. He knows.

Ray is less scared than he might have expected. His head and his heart are too full, with what he and Gabriel have done, with Gabe's grief at it, for a proper reaction, which he knows should be a desperate bid to hide under the bed, or a last-ditch plunge through the windowpane: the old bastard will certainly kill him. The bedroom door flies open, hard enough to send dust flying from the hole in the plasterboard wall where the handle habitually makes its impact. Padraig Doyle, whose ugly bulk almost blocks light from the doorway, fixes a whisky-bleared eye on his son. "You filthy little faggot," he sneers. "I fucking knew it. And with that dirty little wop, an' all."

Ray feels a nudge against his arm. He glances to the side, and sees that Gabe has declined to be protected, that his warm brown shoulder is pressed to his own winter-pale skin. He has not even bothered to pick up a sheet to shield himself, as Ray has done. He says, allowing the Jamaican accent he normally pushes back into his Midlands camouflage to rise up and colour his tone, "It was my fault, Mr Doyle. I made him do it. know, it should be wog, not wop." He shoots Ray one sidelong look. "Technically speaking."

"Christ!" Ray chokes, to his amazement hearing laughter crack his voice. "Shut up, Gabe!" Don't piss him off any more. "It's me he wants, not you. Run for it!"

"Oh, no. I'll have him first," Padraig snarls, and makes a lurching grab for Gabe. He moves deadly fast for such a big man, and Ray sees his hand clamp round Gabe's slender arm, hard enough to break it... No, he howls, his last coherent word for the next eight weeks. No. No. He hurls himself at his father, not caring where he lands or what happens when he gets there. And Padraig Doyle grabs his son from the air, stops his flight with a hand in the hair at the back of the neck. Letting go of Gabriel, he swings the boy round his body, hard and fast, and does not stop when Ray's face hits the door frame: pulls him back, only a resistless ragdoll now, and slams him against the frame again, this time eliciting a crunch of bone Gabe will carry in memory to his grave.

Padraig stands, hands on hips, heaving for breath. He has spent his afternoon in the pub, waiting for his little snitch to come and tell him his son and Gabriel Foster have let themselves into his house. Into his fucking bedroom, as it turns out. The cheeky little bastard... Whatever he's done to him, he deserves it twice over. Padraig is fairly drunk, and the sight of his son, in a heap on the landing where he has dropped, means little to him. He can hardly connect himself, his own hands, to the scene. He watches the half-caste lad break his frozen paralysis and run to kneel by him, both of them naked as the day. His rage dies. He feels nothing.

Gabriel puts a hand to Ray's shoulder. Ray has fallen on his left side, and from here he looks almost undamaged, only a trickle of blood from his nose. He looks as he did on the one night Gabriel got to spend with him, in a tent on a school trip last year, sleeping peacefully while Gabriel watched. Carefully, carefully, Gabe reaches down, puts his fingertips into the warm, sticky gap between the left side of Ray's face and the carpet. Carefully, carefully he lifts, and leans down close to peer into the space.

He lurches halfway to his feet, grabbing at the banister rail. He can get no further and, doubling over, vomits onto the landing's worn carpet. He sees Padraig Doyle take a step toward them, and thrusts out a palm at him. "No. Don't hurt him any more. Just go and call an ambulance. Call an ambulance!" Wiping his mouth, he collapses to his knees again beside Ray, who is moaning, beginning to come round. He must not be allowed to know the extent of his damage. Gabe thinks that he has lost an eye. His jaw looks dislocated. The next sound he makes is one of panic, and blood pours from his mouth.

Gabe runs to the bedroom and grabs a blanket off the bed. He bundles it round Ray's body. Strokes back the blood-matted hair from his brow and says, low and soft against his ear, "It's all right. You're fine. Do you hear me now, angel? You're fine."

Ray is in hospital for three months. For the first two, his jaw is wired up, and he can only listen when his mother sits at his bedside every day, reciting a catechism he knows he is meant to learn as surely as he'd absorbed Father James's prior to his first communion, and with as little belief -- you mustn't tell. You were fighting with your brothers and you tripped, that's all. Don't tell, Ray, or your dad will go to jail, and I can't look after the kids by myself. Listen, he's sorry. He says you can stay in school if you want. Go to your auntie Linda's in London and do art college there. He'll give you some money. When the wires are unhitched from his jaw, he asks where Gabriel is, why he hasn't been to see him. Mrs Doyle just shakes her head. I don't understand you, son. To go and do that, and with one of them... And poor Mrs Foster. Father James got Gabriel a place in the Franciscan seminary up near Bangor. He's gone. He's going to be a priest, if God ever forgives him.

That night Ray tries to run away, but finds he can't yet walk in a straight line and is found on the hospital steps, passed out cold on top of his rucksack. Such a mess, his mother weeps. And he was so beautiful, nurse! Lovely as an angel. Next day he goes in for surgery to reconstruct the left side of his face. Somehow his eye is intact, but the work required is extensive, the methods for doing it crude. The surgeon fits a plastic implant to replace his pulverised cheekbone. He wakes up in a haze of unbearable pain, worse than the morning after his beating, and for the next fortnight cares about nothing more than making it from one dose of morphine to the next, than drawing his next breath without wailing.

When it is over, something has died in him, shattered along with his cheekbone and his otherworldly beauty. He does not hear from Gabe, and does not allow himself to think about him. He never goes home. He takes the holdall of clothes his mother brings to the hospital and gets on a train for London. He has refused his father's money: if Aunt Linda will give him bed and board, he can work, pay his own way through a tech and college. His face soon heals to a fallen-angel's charm he knows he can use to better advantage than his childhood's unbroken perfection. He is gone.

Chapter One

William Bodie -- too tough for for the SAS.

It is quite a legend, and Bodie does nothing to hinder its spread. It makes him a fearsome figure among George Cowley's new recruits. He leans against the wall on the far side of the firing range. Black T-shirt, black jeans, midnight eyes fathomless on the ten hopefuls working their way through the array of hand pistols in whose use they must show themselves proficient before they move on to the rifles. Cowley, limping toward him along the viewing gallery, thinks that he would probably like his face to be blacked up with cork, ready for a night mission or to emerge from the shadows of the range and scare the crap out of whichever recruit whose incompetence has drawn his attention.

Too tough. The truth is not so attractive. In SAS Chief Robert Marsh's report on him, safely locked up in the basement at HQ, the words used are brutal. Uncontrollable, pitiless. In a way Cowley feels sorry for him: in a bygone day, when Special Air was little more than a shadowy legend itself, those qualities would have served him well. Send a thief to catch a thief, and no public accountability in a Cold War world of spies and secret forays behind the Iron Curtain. Nowadays Marsh has to be a bit more careful. The service's actions against terrorists are bringing it into the light, and sometimes there are battles on the London streets, with reporters and cameramen at the ready. Marsh has already force-repressed footage of William Bodie sniping off a surrendered Arab gunman from the top of an embassy building. A hell of a shot, Marsh had reflecting, reviewing the reel for his own benefit, and God knew Al-Mousadi deserved it, but nevertheless he was surrendered, arms held high. Suspects die unexpectedly in holding cells. Shellmouthed Russian mafiosi suddenly begin to talk, eyes wide and blank with fear. And all this, whilst in some ways damn useful to Chief Marsh, is proving too expensive. He feels guilty, having benefited from it, and has put his mind to finding for Bodie an honourable way out. I'll give him to you for a year, George. We can call it secondment if you like, but I don't think he can come back. He's actually good with recruits -- use him to help train up your next batch, and then if you find someone he can work with, keep him.

Very well. But nobody gets a free pass to my organisation, Robert. He'll have to go through the training like everyone else.

Hah. Good luck with that. He won't like it. There was a time, you know, when graduates from Special Air were considered good enough for anything.

Aye, Robert. But this one isn't a graduate, is he? From what you've told me so far, he's your most highly talented reject.

Well, let's compromise and call him a maverick. I know you specialise in those.

Cowley comes to a halt behind the gallery's soundproofed glass. He knows that Bodie has watched his approach since he pushed the door open, though his gaze has never flickered from the recruits. He will have used the reflective surfaces of the partitions between firing booths to monitor him. Cowley taps his clipboard against the glass once, and sits himself composedly down. He will make no further effort at summoning him. Even Bodie has understood by now how he expects men to respond to his signals.

Some thirty seconds later. Bodie lets himself into the gallery, removing his ear protectors. His face is stern, a million miles away from the merely human concerns around him. Cowley does not look up at him, nor invite him to sit, and he waits at well-practised military attention a few feet away, eyes on the ground. "This," Cowley says tonelessly, jerking the board in Bodie's direction. "This, Bodie."

Bodie doesn't unlock his hands from behind his back. They have already done enough damage today, as the single black-and-white photo on the clipboard attests. He isn't sorry. He isn't anything, really, except bored, and annoyed at the interruption. He shrugs. "All right. So I knocked him around a bit."

"Yes. You did. This photo was taken post-mortem."

Bodie flinches -- no, not even so much as that. It is a jolt beneath the skin, a shock stopped off at source. Cowley wonders what damage that does inside, repeated again and again over the years. Bodie unlocks his grip and puts one hand out for the board. Marik Habib is sitting upright at the interrogation table where he left him. His eyes are wide open. It is only when Bodie turns the photo to the light that he sees the shark-black deadness in them.

And now Cowley sees, only for the third time, colour rise up in this man's milk-pale skin. Yes, like blood through milk -- veins standing up on neck and temple, scarlet flooding his jaw, that face which if it weren't for its usual grim impassivity would cut swathes through the HQ secretaries, and does so to a certain extent anyway, though they tend to worship from a distance. Bodie goes from a standstill to this in five seconds. From total shutdown to unleashed, murderous rage. Cowley has little doubt that the transformation was one of Habib's last living impressions of this world. He does not allow himself the fear that it might be one of the last of his own: despite everything, he senses some deep good in the man, or Bodie would not be here, six months into his allotted year. Or Cowley would not have taken him at all. Bodie draws breath, and then the soundproof glass shakes in its frame: "Well? Didn't you get what you wanted?!"

Cowley lifts an unconcerned eyebrow. Explain.

"One dead piece-of-shit Arab for hundreds of poor tourist saps doing their shopping in Harrods! Wasn't it a good deal? Did I not get you what you fucking wanted?!"

Cowley springs to his feet. He can do so with surprising speed and grace, despite his shrapnel. Once they are face to face, almost nose to nose, he lets loose a glass-shaking roar of his own. "Bodie!"

And Bodie backs down. He sucks in a breath, so hard that for an instant Cowley thinks he will choke on it. All the colour fades from his face, leaving him paler, more impassive, than before, and he takes one step back and then another and resumes his military stance. His hands go behind his back. Cowley hears knuckles crunch as he resumes his grip upon himself... Giving him one brusque nod to acknowledge the surrender, Cowley sits back down, placing the clipboard beside him on the bench, turned so that Habib is the right way up for Bodie to continue to observe his dead face. It almost grieves him, that Bodie will respond like this to a shout. It is as if some once-fine mechanism has been broken and will now only answer to kicks and thumps.

"What... What are you going to do?"

"Over this? Nothing." He pauses, runs a hand once almost regretfully over Habib's dead face. "This has...gone away. I have taken your excrement, Bodie, and had it buried. Again. I am here to tell you now that I have done so for the last time."

"I'm out, then."

Neither a question nor a statement. Cowley analyses the words for any sign of feeling -- anger, disappointment, even relief. Bodie wanted the SAS posting more than life, Chief Marsh has told him. Scrambled for it, worked his heart out, trod blindly over army comrades he'd have lain down and died for before the chance came up. This, potentially, is the end of his road. Such a man should feel something at such a moment. But there is nothing. "If you choose to be," Cowley says, equally coldly. "I promised Robert Marsh a year. As it happens, you did get what I wanted out of Marik Habib today, and I wouldn't consider it fair to make you pay the whole cost of doing so. However. There are ways of dealing with suspects -- even piece-of-shit Arabs -- which do not leave my organisation so besmirched that I cannot use the information you gain. Six months should have been enough for you learn that, if nothing else. You will therefore undertake the training programme again, starting from the beginning with the new recruits."

"Sir, I..."

"Further, you will drop the semi-tutorial role I allowed you in order to save your face. This time around you will simply be a trainee, and at the end of it I'll expect to be able to assign you a partner and send you onto the streets."

"A partner? No. You said I could work by myself. Or I'll hook up with Murph, if..."

Cowley sighs. He lets his stiff formality slacken, and turns the clipboard face down. He has a sense, with Bodie, of a soul on the edge of salvation or utter perdition, and he is angry with Chief Marsh for forcing upon him any part of the choice. "Murphy will not be here. He told me yesterday that he's accepted an offer from his old mountain-rescue unit in the north." No point in dressing that news up. Cowley watches with interest the darkening of Bodie's eyes. He does have his weak spots. Betrayal by comrades is one of them. Cowley regrets breaching Murph's confidentiality, but knows that, probably uniquely, Murphy can handle him. "Anyway, Bodie, the point is not that you get to choose a partner or choose not to have one. The point is this -- can you persuade one of those men out there that he likes you well enough, respects and trusts you enough, to want to work with you? One man, laddie. If you can't do that much, I have no use for you."

There. Bodie is thrown. He knows that Cowley never makes an idle threat -- that, at the end of six months, he will be facing a future of security work, of bodyguarding. More likely, with his rep, a return to private soldiering. To friendlessness, dishonour and African dust. Watching him take this in, Cowley twists the knife. "You can finish out this firearms class as your last tutorial duty," he says. "And you can tell me now which of them you think is doing best."

"What, with the guns, or..."

"With the guns," Cowley confirms dryly. "I am hardly likely, am I, to come to you for an assessment of their personalities. You may sit."

Bodie does so. He feels sick, and so angry that he can barely breathe. The only place that he would like to be is back in the holding cell with Marik Habib, letting his fists crunch once more into human flesh and bone, and he is terrified at himself, that even the knowledge of having killed him cannot quench his thirst to do it again. His voice is a rasp as he says, "Kopalski isn't bad. He was in the Queen's Rifles. Needs some work on the handguns, but..."

"How about that young fellow? What's his name -- McCabe?"

Bodie shoots him a sidelong glance, full of malice and black humour. "Didn't realise you were starting a circus, sir."


"Didn't know you were hiring clowns."

Cowley keeps his face straight. He likes McCabe, although he's little better than a hopeful squaddie, and thinks the boy might be here, big feet, bad jokes and all, when he has had to jettison the SAS recruit. "Confine your comments to the gun skills, Bodie. What about Doyle?"

Bodie shrugs. "Fine. Decent shot. For a Stepney Green PC."

"Detective sergeant, at his last promotion. Narcotics specialist, best marksman in the Greater London Met. Ambitious and bright -- not a bad place to start being nice, Bodie." Cowley gets to his feet. He decides that Bodie's ego requires one last jab, and adds, caustically, "You'd be lucky, though. Dismissed for now."

He'd be fucking lucky. Like I'd touch him with a bargepole, like I'd want a partner who got his last one shot out from under him. Like I'd work with a bloody plod... All this rampages through Bodie's mind as he returns to his observation post in the firing range. Adding to his fury is the fact that he has not dared say any of it aloud. Christ, he called Chief Marsh as good as a coward to his face at their last meeting -- which has, he supposes, contributed to his imprisonment here, being jerked around by a sarcastic Scots puppetmaster who barely comes up to his shoulder, and whose commands nevertheless extract from him an instant, half-mystified obedience. No, he watches his mouth around George Cowley. Watches everything.

Anyway, he knows all about DS Doyle, his accomplishments and his disasters. Joined the Met more or less out of art school, an even less likely recruit there than here, after an undistinguished stint as barrow boy, bartender, and other such part-time work as he deserved for frittering away three years wasting paint with a bunch of pretentious Bloomsbury nancy-boys. Did all right in the Met, not setting the Thames on fire, until his sergeant and partner took a bullet on patrol with him. Worked alone after that, beginning a determined climb through through the ranks. Bodie knows the type. Activated by perceived injustice, on a solo mission to set the world to rights. Even the thought of him makes Bodie tired. And he's been doing all right with the training so far, but why would Cowley bother with him, and with the other civilians, when he's got military candidates queuing up for the chance? Why try to graft counterterrorism skills onto shop boys and bobbies?

Bodie doesn't understand it, but he has to allow that Doyle is a fine shot. Reluctantly he pushes off the wall, distracted from his own resentments by the sight of his light-made frame -- too bloody light for this job, as he'll no doubt soon find out -- getting jerked off-balance by the kick from a PPK. Although he doesn't know it, Bodie is a good teacher, and he has a teacher's instinct to fine-tune talent, identify that which is already good and pull it up to perfection. Doyle has only had access to police weaponry; he isn't holding the semiautomatic right. His efforts to master it have soaked his T-shirt in sweat, made him pale with frustration. Bodie can see -- can feel in the muscles of his own back and arms -- that if he just shifts his weight a fraction forward, braces the barrel half an inch higher... Not thinking of anything else, he steps up behind him, puts both arms around him, and reaches to cover his grip on the gun with his own.

Or he tries to. Doyle moves imperceptibly, and he finds both hands knocked down and aside, his reach blocked in a combat move he's never seen before. It's blind, too -- Doyle is still facing the targets. Bodie opens his mouth to shout at him for failing to secure his weapon, then sees the Walther laid neatly on the shelf, safety catch on. Only now is he swinging around, his face a cold blank, green eyes blazing. He says, icily, "Ask before you fucking touch me."

Bodie is amused. He holds up both palms, takes an exaggerated step back. "Who taught you that?"

"Taught me what?"

"That block. It's not bad."

Doyle frowns. He runs a hand through his hair, and becomes the ordinary, tough, good-natured copper Bodie has watched slogging through his training over the past few weeks. "Nobody," he says. "Police judo training, that's all. I just...don't like being crept up on."

It wasn't a judo move, but Bodie lets it go. "All right. I'm asking." Doyle looked confused, and he clarifies, "To touch you. You keep on holding that Walther like an H&K, you're going to shoot your foot off."

Grinning, Doyle turns back to the range and picks up the PPK again. He is used to having his stance corrected, to correcting that of others, and he knows Bodie is doing it right -- pressing close up behind him, placing both hands on top of his to feel how he balances the gun, coming as close as he can to occupying the same space. He supposes there is an odd intimacy in it. Cheek to cheek, literally, as Bodie looks down the sights. He's scarcely noticed it before. It's been as impersonal as a combat hold, and he can't understand why now it is reminding him that he hasn't had sex with another man since July 1969, when he kissed his last boyfriend goodbye and joined the Met. Fiercely he concentrates. Bodie is very warm. He smells, for some reason, of sun-heated ferns, of temper and hard work. Through the thin sweat-damped cotton of his T-shirt, Doyle is keenly aware of his separate muscle structures -- the firm pectorals, whisper of six-pack down his spine. Oh, God, he thinks, and yanks the runaway awareness back up to his brain and his hands. Bodie has drawn him slightly back against him: he accepts the new position, taking his weight for himself. "Head shot?" he whispers, feels Bodie nod, and takes a sight on the man-shaped target waiting at the far end of the range.

Right between the eyes. Doyle has managed this before, but this time the gun recoils painlessly into the muscles of his shoulders, not his collarbone and ribs. He'll have one less ache tomorrow. Bodie doesn't move, and in his embrace Doyle finishes out the clip, showing him the kill-shot to the heart, two wings and two disablers, the shoulders and the knees. Easy, perfect. There, Special Ops. Let's see one of your soldier boys beat that.

Bodie steps back from him. "Not bad," he says again, this time coldly. "Ever done it to a man?"

Doyle gives himself a second. This is how Bodie disconcerts people, then. He's seen it from a distance -- perfectly self-possessed men, breaking into blushes and stammers before him. A smile, a flash of -- what? -- a tenderness, almost -- and then a freeze-out. Why does he do it? To trap you into a lie, a bluster, a boast? Rumours abound about Bodie. That he's murdered men in custody, that he's here to recruit for Special Air right under Cowley's nose. That he's made his SAS unit too hot to hold him. That he's one breath, one wrong move, from being kicked out. "I've shot five," Doyle tells him, truthfully, carefully, "and one woman. I've never had to make a kill." He restrains himself from adding, is that all right with you?

Bodie watches him. He is interested now. He has given Doyle one tiny push, and it is as if he has pulled the tail of a friendly but high-tempered Siamese cat. The creature is alert, fur rising. Ready to give him the benefit of the doubt for now, or to take his throat out in one swipe if he repeat-offends... Just a Stepney beat-copper, he reminds himself. No good. He lets his gaze settle on the damaged left cheekbone, the place where it looks as if he's been smashed and reconstructed. "Doesn't that ever bother you?"

Doyle lifts an eyebrow. He pauses for a moment, to reload the PPK, and then he turns back to Bodie and lets his own gaze focus on a point just over Bodie's right shoulder. "Not any more. Doesn't that bother you?"

Bodie represses a twitch. What the fuck is he looking at? That cool, intent jade stare apparently has power to coalesce matter from thin air: after a moment Bodie falls for it and demands, fiercely, "What?"

"That bloody great chip. Must weigh a ton."

"Why didn't you tell me you were going back to SAR?"

Murphy sighs. He shoves his coffee mug under the tap and turns it on with a force which suggests he might like to be holding Bodie's head there. "Because I knew you'd be like this about it."

"Like what?" Bodie demands. It was only a question, and he has not yet learned to hear the ragged edge in his own voice which warns his few friends that he is becoming dangerous.

"The way you are now. Like a bloody dinosaur with piles."

Bodie can just see his own reflection in the night-opaqued window on the far side of the squad room. All he can make out is his usual pale, impassive mask. He has made a mistake, he supposes, in allowing Murphy to know better. Such surrenders are usually mistakes. He mustn't compound the error now by revealing more, and shuts himself carefully down, leaning back in the battered armchair, propping his feet on the table and grabbing the nearest newspaper, battered and dog-eared at the end of a long HQ day. The population of the department quadruples during recruitment periods, and Bodie has often opined that the trainees should be made to use a separate rest room -- the trouble with that being, of course, that now he would have to join them in it. He stares unseeing at the startling breasts of Linda, 23, from Birmingham. "All right," he says, when he thinks his tone will be cold. "What for? You're nearly through the training. Old man likes you, too. You'd be a shoo-in for this mob."

"Yeah, I know. He offered." Murph, who has turned his attentions to the kettle and instant, does not look round. He can feel Bodie's effort at withdrawal, like a charge in the air, and it tears at him, because he knows how few people get close enough to make him give a damn. He pours hot water onto the instant for both of them -- that will have to do, the trainees having scavenged all the milk and sugar -- and comes to sit on the edge of the table, facing him, shoving his feet aside with one hip. "Here you are."

"He offered you a job?"

"Yeah. It was partly that which made me decide. be honest, Bodie, a hell of a lot of it was to do with you."

Bodie stares at him. Murphy is tolerant. He takes most of what is dealt out to him -- not an enormous virtue, in a man so laid back that most of life simply washes harmlessly over him -- but when he does speak, he means it. He expects to be listened to, and what comes out of his mouth will be the final verdict. Bodie finds he does not want to hear. But there's no escape, and he may as well get it over with. He says, flatly, "With me."

"Yeah. What happened to Marik Habib today?"

"Why are you asking me? I'm sure the old man told you. He ended up dead."

"You killed him?"

Again, Bodie flinches -- or, as Cowley has observed, drives the recoil of a flinch deep down into his marrow and his guts. All Murphy sees is a flicker, the movement of a breeze on still waters. "Not on purpose," he says. Murph and Cowley are the only two human beings before whom he will even try to explain or justify himself. The rigid authoritarianism of the SAS, which he had thought he needed, has only stiffened his spine, made his surfaces more resoundingly hard, bouncing the discipline back to source. Cowley's style of leadership has demanded something better of him, and as for Murph -- well, he owes Murphy that respect which one man will accord another when their lives have depended upon a shared rope over a thousand-foot drop. "He wasn't talking. I lost my rag, walloped him a couple of times. He did talk after that, so I left him, and..." He releases a shuddering breath. "Autopsy says it was a haemorrhage."

"Jesus. That why you've been knocked back to kindergarten?"

Bodie nods bitterly. "Right. He told you that, too."

"Well, he wasn't exactly discreet on my behalf, either." Murph puts his coffee down, and reaches to remove the frail newspaper barricade Bodie has been trying to maintain between them. Bodie, with all his faults, has been his friend. "I was gonna tell you about the SAR job tonight. Listen, mate. Why don't you pack this in and come with me? My old unit would take Cowley's hand off to get a man like you."

"What, and spend the rest of my life picking fools with sprained ankles off mountains?"

"Better that than beating witnesses to death in Cowley's dungeons here." The moment it's out, Murph regrets it. He can't work out where Bodie's capacity for pain begins and ends: it's part of what is sending him 400 miles north to be away. Things that should hurt him don't. He can cope with having killed a man, but a sharp allusion to it by a friend makes him look suddenly slapped, like a child. "For God's sake," Murph says, and gets to his feet. He is tired. And whatever it is that Bodie wants, he has realised at last it isn't him.

Somehow Bodie is standing between him and the door. Murphy hasn't seen him move. He has used the harsh-lit room's unshadowed space like a surrealist painting, a field of shapes and forms among which he is only one more abstraction, hard to see until he is an obstacle. Murphy jolts to a halt. "Bodie, shift."

"Don't go."

Don't go where? To Scotland, or back to the shabby flat they have been sharing until Cowley decides on their futures? Murphy knows that, were he to ask, Bodie wouldn't tell him. And there's less of a plea in his voice than a threat, a low growl which, God knows, has undone Murphy before, sabotaged his resolutions... "Oh, no," he says, feeling unwanted excitement glimmer inside him. "Don't you bloody start that. All you need now is for the old man to discover you bat for both teams."

Bodie shrugs. He has his back to the door, arms folded over his chest. "I'm probably out anyway. Maybe I'm as well hung for a sheep as a lamb."

"I don't know that being more or less well hung has anything to do with it," Murphy says, smiling in spite of himself. Bodie's stance, and the fit of his jeans, leave nothing to the imagination. Beautiful, fit, hard. As skilled in pleasing other men as you'd expect, after the Merchants, the army, the paras, industriously making a virtue of a necessity. They have had some good times. Murph was sorry to call it off when they decided to try for Cowley's outfit, but had thought it was a mutual decision... Only half voluntarily, he allows Bodie to intercept him at the door. He knows how it will go now. A brief tussle, and then one or the other of them will drop to his knees -- Murphy, probably, with Bodie in this mood. Murph heads toward him with every intention of circumventing this, getting past him and out, but Bodie catches him in mid-sidestep, unbalancing him slightly, knocking him back against the doorframe. Then to Murph's surprise he is kneeling in front of him, expression as beautiful and intent as a priest's.

"No," Murphy says, making him glance up in astonishment. He supposes he is not convincing, flushed with excitement and plainly erect behind his zip. Any appreciative man once exposed to Bodie's skills will never be wholly cured of him, will continue to want him, no matter how inconvenient...

But not at any cost. Murphy kneels, too. The HQ building should be empty now, and there is little chance of them being caught in the tender gesture both of them would find far more humiliating than an outright clinch, so he puts his hands on Bodie's shoulders, caresses them until the wild darkness fades from Bodie's eyes and Murph is looking at the worldly, jaded but somehow still sweet-natured army lad he knew six years before. "Listen," he says. "I'm here till the end of the month, to help the old man get everyone round the Beast. After that I'm gone, and this is the last time I'm gonna talk to you like this, mate, so open your lugs." Bodie watches him in silence. "Whatever you and I had -- and I'm not even sure what it was -- it's over. We agreed that; we can't glue it together with an occasional shag, or a suck because we're both horny and there's no-one else available." Murphy almost regrets the wry glimmer this brings to Bodie's eyes: he is painfully serious. "God knows you've always been a nutcase." He pauses, gives Bodie's shoulders a brief, bruising shake. "But now you're...cruel. Unmanageable. I don't recognise you. Listen, Bodie. I don't know what's happened to you, but you're on the edge here. If Cowley's given you another chance, even as a trainee, take it. Do as he tells you. Let him pull you out the bloody fire, if anybody still can."

He gets to his feet. He has been with Macklin and Towser all day, and he is tired, too tired to deal with Bodie any more, with whatever his reactions now will be... But Bodie does not move. He is looking at the squad room's threadbare carpet. He isn't blocking the door. With a sense of regret, betrayal and appalling relief, Murphy steps round him and out.

Chapter Two

Ray Doyle stares down the throat of the Beast. He is fairly sure that this will be his last ordeal in the name of George Cowley, and has come up here on his own to take a look at it -- three miles of it, mud and woodland stretching off to the horizon. The most fearsome assault course in the country, the one the commandos use to sort out their wheat from their chaff. Enormous netted walls, ropes over chasms, zip wires...

Despite its horrors, Doyle finds he is distracted by the sense of rising life in it. It is the end of February, the birch twigs just beginning to show purple, a rainy scent of growth making his lungs expand, his head fill with a crystalline brightness. He feels as if he is both inside and outside himself, both profoundly involved in the moment and aware that all his hopes and struggles, the goals and targets he has set himself, are small wars, no matter how crucial to him; brief sparks and static on the grand scale of things...

"Oh, don't look at it from there."

Doyle whips round. He has already learned enough that his hand leaps for the place where his holster would be when he is startled. And the newcomer must be one of their own, or he wouldn't have got so close without alerting him. He grins and relaxes as Murphy emerges from the trees, hands raised in mock surrender, smiling at his reactions. "Sorry. Bit jumpy. Why, what's wrong with here?"

"You can see it all," Murphy tells him, and comes to join him on the rocky outcrop he has chosen as his vantage point. He shudders, folds his arms over his chest. "Gives me the willies, and I've done it five times. Seriously, can we turn around? Time we started heading back anyway."

Doyle nods, and cooperatively turns his back on the monster. He likes Murphy, who unlike everyone else around here does not seem to be trying for anything, and doesn't mix up friendliness with weakness. They begin to make their way back downslope, towards the Land Rovers and the bleak-looking locker blocks where the others are changing and getting ready for kick-off. He says, "It's not the course that bothers me." Murph gives him an astonished glance, and he amends, "Well, it does. But not half so much as getting around it with Bodie."

"Ah." Murphy has seen Cowley's team lists, the result of a supposedly random draw which, he knows, is purposely, routinely and entirely rigged. "Pulled the short straw, did you?"

"I'm sure he thinks he did. Isn't he meant to be your problem? Rumour says the old man's going to make you partners."

"Not me, mate. I was only on a tryout here. I used to work for the mountain-rescue service up in Fort William. They made me a good offer, and I'm going back."

Doyle feels curiously desolated by this news. He has been lonely here, lonelier than ever in his life, and it has surprised him: he thought to find comrades, or friends at least. His fellow recruits into the police stuck together like scared chickens in the first weeks of their basic training. Here things are different. No-one knows the exact purpose of Cowley's organisation, beyond its obvious counterterrorism remit. But every trainee who has got this far wants to stay, as if sensing that this might be a chance to be part of something significant, something that might change the world they know, from street-level up. Competition is fierce. With the exception of James McCabe, who even by Doyle's tolerant standards is a genial idiot, only Murphy seems to want a pint or two down the HQ local when they knock off, and does not look at Doyle suspiciously when he suggests it, as if he might be trying to lure them off to steal their ideas for the written work or slip them a disabling mickey. Besides, Murphy, if not actually bent, certainly has the look of a man who could be turned, and somehow since his encounter with Bodie on the firing range, Doyle has not been able to shake his hunger for another man... Shaking himself, detaching his gaze from Murphy's lean, long frame, he says, "Really? Bodie will love that."

Murphy pulls a face. "Yeah, he was thrilled. That's why the Cow's trying to get him working with the rest of you."

Now Doyle understands why Bodie's easy rapport with Murph, which has made him mildly jealous -- not that he is on such a footing with either of them, but he misses a companion -- seems to have suspended itself over the last few days. Then, belatedly, he hears the Cow, puts the name as a label underneath his mental image of the stern, upright little Scotsman who now rules his life, and breaks into a peal of laughter that makes Murphy smile, frown and stop in his tracks to look at him: he sounds about 15, and is quite something, with his head thrown back, beautiful long throat exposed, brilliant grin flashing. "What?" Murphy demands, infected, fighting laughter of his own.

"The... The Cow?!"

"Oh, right. Well -- only in selected company. And never, ever in his hearing. Which is phenomenal."

"God, no." Doyle sobers, and Murphy watches the resettling of his odd, catlike beauty as his smile fades, and wonders what happened to the left side of his face. "Have you known him long, Murph? Bodie, I mean?"

Murphy nods. "A fair time, on and off. We were in the army together. Did a tour of Northern Ireland with him, and then when I joined search and rescue, his SAS unit used to come up regularly for climbing and survival training with us. When he told me he was having a go at this mob, I thought it sounded more interesting than..." Than picking fools with sprained ankles off mountains. "Than what I was doing, and I came to have a look for myself."

"But you two were...helping out with the training, not just doing the course."

"Half and half. The old man uses what he's got, as you'll find out."

"Why isn't Bodie instructing any more? And...why would he pack in the SAS, even for this?"

"Cowley wants him observing from ground level." That is a face-saving lie the old man has actually taken the time to rehearse with him, to Murphy's surprise. He does not hesitate to kick Bodie's backside from dawn till sundown, but then will shield him with exquisite care from other sorts of humiliation. "As regards the paras... Well, you'd have to ask him that." And good luck to you.

"Yeah, I'm sure he'd love to tell me his whole life story over a few pints in the Dog and Duck..." Doyle hesitates. They only have a few minutes more before they are due at the start point, but he is about to undertake the hardest physical challenge of his life with a complete stranger. "What's he like, Murph? I can't get a fix on him, not at all."

Murphy sighs. They have come to a halt in the last stand of trees before the track opens out into the clearing. He wants to be able to say, Bodie's all right. Full of bullshit, but underneath it all... But Murphy is no longer sure, and saying this to Doyle would be like telling him not to bother being careful of a rattlesnake. "You'll have to make your own mind up about that. He's..." He tails off, smiles and shrugs. "He's like the assault course. Don't try to take him in all at once."

"Just one fucking hazard at a time, eh?"

It comes out bitter. Murphy studies him. Cowley has been throwing him into the mix with Bodie quite a lot over the last week or so. Presumably Doyle has already come across a few of his bear-pits and mudslides. "As good an approach as any," he says. "Don't judge him in advance. Just... Just suck him and see."

Doyle's eyes glimmer. Murphy has intended it innocently -- almost, with perhaps the smallest edge of calculation, of enquiry. Not entirely to Murphy's surprise, after a calculating silence of his own, Doyle says, softly, "Is that what you do?"

None of your business, is the right reply. But Murphy knows he has opened the door, and Doyle -- Ray, his name is, isn't it? -- looks uncommonly fetching, trying to get a foot in. Green eyes, changing with the shift of sunlight through the trees. Suddenly hungry... "Not any more," he says, aware and ashamed of the rasp in his own voice.

"Oh. Is that why he's been such a he's been such a pit-bull terrier for the last few days?"

"No, we packed in a while back. He's just a pit-bull."

Doyle leans his shoulder against a young larch. For a moment he examines the bright ochre moss at his feet. Then he looks up again at Murphy and says, "Okay. I don't suppose that leaves you free, does it?" He can hardly believe that he's asked, but his companion hasn't backed away crossing himself, nor altered his expression of frowning amusement, and Doyle wades in. "I don't like to be fucked. But I'll do it to you, and probably anything else you can think of."

Murphy blinks at this sudden manifesto. He wonders how often Doyle has made it, and what has led him to be so definite. He almost says -- what, right now? -- because Doyle looks ready and bold enough for it, to snatch a quickie here in the trees under the noses of their colleagues and their boss. Murphy isn't sure whether this makes him want to laugh or cry. "Listen," he says ruefully. "Cowley's decent. And a lot more broad-minded than people give him credit for. But he's a thoroughgoing, stand-up, church-on-Sundays old Calvinist, and there's no way he's gonna be able to hire a queer, no matter how much he likes you. Which he does. That's why me and Bodie stopped. One reason, anyway."

Doyle takes it all in. He feels rebuffed, but not unpleasantly so, and, as if to reinforce this, Murphy smiles, giving him a lingering, undisguised onceover. "In another world, mind, son. In another world..."

To Doyle's astonishment, he finds himself enjoying the Beast. Really enjoying it, dealing with each obstacle and reaching for the next, burning off the pent-up sexual charge he has built up in his short waltz with Murph. Once this is gone, clearing like static from his mind, he can hear his own signals again: the fast, steady thud of his heart, his calm determination not to stuff this up, not for Bodie's sake but his own. His time in the gym and running the London streets and parks is paying off, and if Bodie is solid military muscle, he himself is light, agile, and anyway, as he has been telling himself since waking, it is not about strength but technique...

After the run up the first big slope, the view opens wide to reveal the longest, highest zip wire he has ever seen. Doyle grabs the handles without hesitation, and the only reason why he does not loose the exhilarated howl resounding round his brain and lungs is that Bodie has gone down it in businesslike silence -- unlike McCabe, the only one to get there ahead of them, hellbent on proving himself after a disastrous day in the exam halls yesterday, going shrieking like a banshee down the wire. He has left his own partner behind, and that, Doyle knows, is not the point. He could probably have outsprinted Bodie on the initial run-up, but eased up to match him once he sensed that compact heavyweight power reaching its comfortable top speed beside him, and Bodie has since then given him a quick, uncertain smile and a leg-up over the first brick wall, and even accepted an outstretched hand across the top of it. Doyle is cautious but pleased: perhaps they could work together. Bodie seems different out here, free of confined space and watchful supervisors... Distracted by this, Doyle runs the length of the narrow wooden beam as if he were on level ground and, looking back, catches Bodie in a glance of unhidden admiration. He resists the temptation to throw him a handspring on the next one. He could manage it, he knows, but it would be just his luck to slip and land in the mudpit below just when he has made the ex-para think him less of a rank amateur. They reach the next stage together -- a thing called Jacob's Ladder, although Doyle isn't sure the patriarch's angels made their trips between heaven and earth on a taut-stretched pair of parallel horizontal ropes. For the first time his stomach lurches slightly: he doesn't like the look of this, and in his second's hesitation, Bodie bounds past him, landing like a panther on the ropes. Great, Doyle thinks. Here we go -- then understands that Bodie has gone first not to put him in his place but to show him how, because he is certainly making his crossing more slowly than Doyle knows he's capable of. Never one to turn down a chance, Doyle watches attentively. One shin hooked across the rope for balance, the other leg pushing, hands only balancing, crocodile-walking lightly along the parallels... All right. Drawing a breath, he goes for it.

But he's misjudged the tension on the ropes. They are looser than he thought, and the drop beneath him becomes suddenly less of an incentive than a leg-breaking punishment. He jolts, catlike, for balance, and that's wrong, too -- too sharp... "Fuck," he whispers, and hears Bodie's voice for the first time since they said their good mornings and set out, reaching out to him like a steadying hand. "You're okay. Stop for a second." He obeys, and the yawing ropes settle. "That's it. Now, quick. Don't think. Across to me." And now the ropes feel better. He can manage this... He glances up a few yards from the end and sees that Bodie is crouched on the platform on the far side and is holding them, one firmly clasped in each strong-looking fist. He is watching Doyle -- not mocking, not patronising, just serious, making sure a fellow soldier gets where he's going. Doyle isn't too proud to take that. "Ta," he says, grinning, feeling once more the electrical shiver as Bodie touches him, wrist and shoulder, steadying him off the ladder.

"All right? Come on, then. We're ahead of the pack, if you're collecting points for Cowley."

"No. James went off like a rat from a sack."

"James? Oh, McCabe..." Bodie shakes his head. "Wouldn't worry about him."

And Bodie is right: hauling himself over the top of a net-covered earth wall, Doyle sees poor Mac on the far side, collapsed against the foot of it. Between his camos and the amount of mud with which he is plastered, McCabe is almost invisible, and for a few seconds Doyle gives Bodie the benefit of the doubt and thinks he might be running on because he hasn't seen him... "Oi!" he shouts, slithering down the last few feet of the wall and crouching beside McCabe. "Bodie!"

Bodie spins round on the track and looks back at them. "What?"

"Give us a hand. He's hurt himself."

"Yeah, exactly. Hurt himself. Not our problem."

Doyle stares at him. Bodie is jogging on the spot, keeping it on the boil, ready to sprint on. To his own dismay, Doyle finds himself torn between outrage and an absurd twinge of flattery at the use of that word our, as if he and Bodie have a shared investment in this trial. Which they do, he supposes... He leans over McCabe. "James? You all right? Anything broken?"

McCabe lifts a grey, sweaty face to him. "No," he chokes out. "Can't go on, though. Don't stop for me, Ray."

"You sound like a bad Western." He puts a hand to Mac's shoulder and tries to uncurl him. "What's the matter?"

"My...fucking appendix has exploded. Go on. That special-forces maniac will never forgive you."

Glancing up the track, Doyle sees it is too late. The maniac is gone, the woodland as quiet and still as if it has never contained him. "Well, bollocks to him," he says, unconcernedly as he can. He sits McCabe up forcibly against the wall, pushes a hand under the waistband of his combat trousers and presses at his abdomen. "Does that hurt? That?"


"Then it's not your appendix. Stand up."

Mac groans pitifully. "Oh, I can't."

"Mac, for fuck's sake, you've got a stitch. Come on." He grabs him by the armpits and hoists him to his feet. "Right. Stretch, like this." He shows him, reaching diagonally over himself to unlock knotted stomach muscle. "Come on, do it." Shakily Mac obeys him -- then chokes, doubles over and projectile-vomits what looks to have been a considerable breakfast into the mud.

Doyle jumps neatly out of range. "Jesus Christ."

"Oh, sorry!"

"Okay..." Cautiously Doyle puts out a hand and pats him. "There you go, then. Better?"

Mac straightens up. He looks mortified, but colour is stealing back into his face. "Actually, I... I feel fine now." He pauses, wiping his mouth. "I think I'm hungry."

Doyle stares at him in disbelief. "My granddad once had an Alsatian a bit like you, you know." Sounds from behind the mud wall they have scrambled over alert both of them, and they look at once another. Pounding footsteps -- the rest of the pack beginning to catch up. "Come on," Doyle says. "If you're all right, we could still make a decent run of this."

"You go on ahead. See if you can catch Bodie."

"Nah, I'll stick with you. Just pace yourself this time. And for God's sake, next time Macklin tells you to have a light breakfast, do as he says."

The old man is nowhere to be seen at the end point of the course, and nor is Macklin nor any of the other instructors. Those candidates who, like Bodie, have finished early and gone to try to get changed, have found the shower blocks locked, the Land Rovers that brought them here driverless and deserted. Each new arrival looks at the others awkwardly, and asks the same questions. What's going on? What now? Bodie, irritated, detaches himself from the group and goes to lean on the wall by himself, trying to look unconcerned. He does this too well: the others soon conclude that this is part of his ground-level observation remit, and stand well away from him, keeping their conversation out of earshot. When Doyle and McCabe turn up, not at all in bad time, considering their interruption, he does not even glance in their direction.

Only when the last of them have jogged, staggered or limped up the last slope does Cowley make his appearance, strolling down from some unknown shelter beyond the treeline. He is immaculately dressed, as if ready for a meeting with the home secretary. His tired, sweaty men feel their condition more keenly by comparison, and draw near him uncertainly, not sure what to expect. There is a general feeling of apprehension, of sheepishness, as if they have all screwed this up without quite knowing how.

Cowley does nothing to dispel this impression. Usually he is genial with them after their ordeals, amused by their bruises and dishevelment. This time he surveys them coldly. The wind shifts the elegant lines of his raincoat, deepens the silence with its murmur in the trees. He frowns at his clipboard, and says, "Come with me."

He leads them to a building which is little better than a prefab hut, a single echoing space, smelling of damp and cheap wood. There are a few benches, as if it is occasionally used as a classroom, and a few brave souls, among them McCabe, sit down with assumed insouciance. Doyle opts to lean against a side wall, and tries not to look at Bodie, who is at such grave and perfect attention near the back of the room that the long-buried art student in Doyle aches to draw him, to sketch the strong lines of him in charcoal. The unknown bloody soldier, he thinks, and represses a smile which wants to rise despite his exhaustion, his anger at being ditched.

"Something amusing you, Doyle?"

Christ, it's worse than being back in school. Doyle disguises his twitch at the acerbic demand, and turns to face Cowley, who has taken up position at the room's front wall. Noting with disgust that there is, indeed, a blackboard behind him, Doyle decides he might as well take what he can get, from his special-forces bÍte noir, and draws himself to a similar military attention. He says, tonelessly, "No, sir."

"Good, because there was nothing in your performance this morning which would justify me in passing you through this part of your training."


The old man turns around, interested. It isn't Doyle's protest: James McCabe is bolt upright on the bench. "Well?" Cowley demands, coldly enough to silence a lesser or a brighter man.

"He would have done fine if he hadn't stopped to help me."

"Oh, I know why he stopped. He did the right thing. It happens, however, that I was not interested in issues of right and wrong when I set you this test." He looks around the room, noting who still has the nerve to meet his eyes and who is staring at the floor. "Don't worry. Doyle is in good company. I haven't the least intention of passing any one of you, with the exceptions of Kopalski and Smith, Fairfield and Jax."

Bodie shifts, and at last breaks his silence. "You're kidding, aren't you? Sir? They were just about the last ones round."

"And they could have taken all day about it, had they wished. McCabe, you don't need plead Doyle's cause for him. I think he understands. Don't you?"

Doyle does, but he is now so sick of this whole proceeding that all he wants is to blend with the wall behind him and disappear. To get it over with, he says, quietly but distinctly, so that Cowley need not ask him to repeat himself, "We were meant to get round it as partners."

"Exactly. As was made clear to you at briefing."

"Well, it's not Doyle's fault if his partner pissed off!"

McCabe again. Cowley rounds on him. Mac would be astonished, if he knew the old man's thoughts concerning him now, which are wholly approving, of his character, honesty and loyalty. "Did I say I was concerned with who was to blame?" he asks, dangerously soft. Then he steps forward a few paces, and spreads his hands, a gesture of relenting that does not decrease the crackling unease in the air. "No, gentlemen. No right, no wrong, no fault or blame. Listen to me. In the remote event of any of you becoming agents for my organisation, you will work on the streets. In partnerships. You are, every one of you, strong-willed men. You will not always agree with one another. And I can tell you this: your lives will depend, absolutely, on your ability to work past your disputes. To find solutions, stay together -- and never, ever, in any circumstances, to leave your partner behind." Finally, his unnerving gaze settles upon Bodie. Cowley has given Bodie every chance, extended to him a shield he is no longer sure he deserves. It is time, perhaps, to withdraw it. To let him take his chances among the lesser mortals among whom he will have to live and work. "Bodie, I would have expected you to understand that better than anyone here -- a man who once said till death do us join."

Doyle tries to look at some neutral point in mid-distance. He is aware that Bodie is now the subject of burning scrutiny from everyone else in the room, and doesn't want to add to it. But something that feels like gravity draws his attention, and when he does glance up he sees that Bodie is bone-white. That he looks stricken, lost in a way Doyle did not think his stern features were capable of expressing. And despite everything, Doyle feels a surge of compassion. A wish to comfort him, as if in some world running invisibly parallel to this one, he and this man have been friends, and in that world he would be standing by his side, not half a room away from him. Would put a hand to his shoulder, silently, warmly, so that no-one else could see...

"Right," Cowley snaps. "That will do for now. You'll assemble at five AM tomorrow, to be taken for your survival skills and orientation test in Wealden Forest." He waits for the groans and poorly muffled expletives to subside. "What -- do you feel you deserve a day off, after your exertions today? Do you think I should have let you have a nice warm shower and a change of clothes, before dragging you all in here? Well, that's fair enough, gentlemen. I'm sure our fine nation's terrorists will never bomb the city two days in succession, and will leave you plenty of time for rest and personal hygiene in between shifts."

Then he shakes his head, and smiles at them with some of the genuine affection which has already ensured that this group of hard-nosed, unimpressionable men will now take more abuse from him than they would ever tolerate from the bosses, sergeants and commanders in their previous lives. "Listen. You will always be tired, sometimes tired in ways which will make this course feel like a holiday. There will always be only a few of you, and untold hundreds of them. We will always be short-staffed -- partly because I have so little funding, partly for the better reason that only a handful of you will ever be good enough to do the job. Think of your exhaustion as a privilege. Very well. You will find the facilities unlocked now. You're dismissed."

Doyle turns the water to a hairsbreadth off scalding and lifts his face to the jets, trying not to moan in pleasure. Around him, he is vaguely aware of his fellow trainees coming and going, complaining, grunting in pain as hot water hits their bruises and grazing. Doyle keeps his eyes closed, his mind on his own flesh. Swimming pools and police-training facilities have accustomed him to communal showers, and he is well aware of the hundred nuances between the way in which one wholly straight man will look at another and the way in which even a part-time queer will do it: aware, too, that even the least imaginative of straight men will usually detect the differences. He has schooled himself therefore not to look at all, or at least to wait until towels are in place and he can make frank and friendly eye contact.

Not that he feels drawn anyway to watch many of his fellow recruits. McCabe is a nice-looking boy, but to Doyle he is just that, so young he still has a trace of puppy fat around his midriff. Murphy, now -- that's different; as Doyle has already discovered, Murph certainly has the potential to pull him back into his socially unacceptable old ways. And as for Bodie... Christ, Doyle thinks that Bodie will be his undoing around here one way or another. Just the swiftest inner vision of that elegant, powerful body under a shower, water bouncing off the sculpted curves of its shoulders and backside, obliges him to snap the temperature control over to cold, the last thing he wants, but better than a raging hard-on in front of half his training group.

Once dried and dressed, he allows himself to sit for a while on a bench in the locker room's shadows. He can see the others through one steamed-up window, milling round the Land Rovers outside, so he won't miss his ride, and he badly wants a moment to think. This assault course is the only test he's failed outright, and in retrospect he can see why the old man came down on him so hard. And as for Bodie, he might have judged him too harshly: his SAS field-medic's training has probably been rigorous, and perhaps he could see at a glance that Mac was all right, that he didn't need nursemaiding. Doyle is prepared to accept that he spent too long with him, that he was distancing himself deliberately from what he saw as Bodie's heartless stance. He remembers the steadying clasp of Bodie's hands on him, and he smiles. Whatever he thinks of the ex-para's behaviour, what would he not give, to elicit from him again the half-hidden look of complicity they shared, on the far side of the Jacob's-ladder ropes...

A door bangs, and he jolts upright, feeling again that horrible but necessary reflex which has grown in him over the last weeks to reach for a gun. He has chosen a dim-lit corner, sheltered by the lockers, for his solitude, and whoever has just come in -- half-fallen in, from the sound of it -- will not see him. Quietly he gets up and gathers his things.

Thud of a body, then of two, against metal. The locker-bank opposite him shakes beneath the impact. Doyle has perhaps half a second, during which he can make his presence known and give these new arrivals a chance to stop whatever they are about to do, pass it off as a scuffle or a slip on wet tiles, but the moment for his exit melts away in Murphy's sudden grating moan, his desperately whispered, "Bodie, no. For fuck's sake not here."

Doyle balls up on the bench. Memories tear at him, not good ones. The sound of men fighting to silence passions that will get them sacked, lynched, excommunicated, beaten half to death if discovered. To Doyle's dismay, the faint grunts that do escape them, their ragged breathing, and the rhythmic, utterly distinctive shaking of the lockers' metal -- the music of a fast, hard fuck, such as he would sell his soul to be able to deliver for himself -- arouse him, make him burn and ache inside his jeans, and he presses his hands to his head in a hopeless effort to shield himself -- and them, for God's sake; he does not want to be here, unwillingly witnessing what must be an exchange of near-desperate intimacy. Me and Bodie packed it in a while ago. The old man can't hire a queer. Already Doyle knows Murphy well enough to believe he's disinclined to lying or hypocrisy. Something has overwhelmed him: already Doyle knows Bodie well enough to understand what. And Murphy's bridges with Cowley are burned, and perhaps Bodie's, too, to judge from the brief but pitiless tonguelashing he got today. Till death do us join... Holding his breath, Doyle struggles to block out the sounds of dying or union coming from behind the lockers, Murphy first, and then -- oh. God -- Bodie, loosing a cry which has more pain and fear and rage in it than pleasure, but still nearly makes Doyle come in his pants.

And even then it isn't over. There is a brief interval of panting, of zips being fastened, bodies which have been so intensely bonded recreating space between them, and then Murph says, harshly, "That it, then? Out of your system?"

"You didn't have to come in here."

"I know. God, just let me finish this sodding month and get out. Bodie, what the fuck were you playing at out there today? You knew the rules of the game."

"Well, somebody should've told them to that flaming idiot Doyle."

"He knew them too. Don't you get it? The old man keeps handing you Doyle on a plate because Doyle's the best he's got. He's trying to give you a chance."

"Don't care if he gift-wraps him and sends him round with a rose between his teeth. I'm not getting partnered with some pansy-arsed civvy who'll leave me to get shot because he's spotted someone with a broken fingernail three streets away."

"Bodie," Murph protests, but Doyle hears the rumble of reluctant amusement in it, too, and can't blame him. He's almost smiling himself. He hasn't heard Bodie say much in the course of their shared training, but he can apparently be sharp, acerbic, funny. Better if he wasn't the target of his wit, but, then, why should he care what Bodie thinks? He's beginning to gather that Bodie's position here is not nearly so secure as he and the other trainees have assumed, that perhaps he is even nearer the exit than himself. "Your civvy didn't do so bad for you this morning," Murph continues, voice fading a little as, thank God, they get themselves together and begin to make for the door. "I know why he stopped. I was monitoring that part of the course. He's a good first-aider, and...he's nice. Kind. A bit of that wouldn't kill you, Bodie."

"I'll settle for efficient," Bodie snarls by way of reply. They are nearly out, and Doyle hears the door creak, but not soon enough. "I know he's nice. When I helped him off the rope bridge, he thought he'd made a friend. Jesus. Spare me."

Immobile and unblinking on the bench, Doyle leaves it long enough to make his exit good. He remains where he is until he sees Bodie and Murph cross the lawn and climb into one of the two waiting Land Rovers, then he picks up his kit bag and goes and gets into the other one. His face is quite composed, although something like murder is coiling in his hands and spine. McCabe is sitting in the far corner, looking guilty and anxious: somehow Doyle finds it in him to flash him a reassuring smile.

Chapter Three

Doyle makes it to the shelter of the next group of pines. He does not stop in the obvious part, but checks wind direction and takes up his observation post with his back well guarded and a clear wide view, all as he has been taught. He pulls out the map and compass for the hundredth time -- the map is creased now, dampening in its plastic cover -- and takes a fix on the distant hilltop, its outline beginning to melt in the rainy dusk. He matches it up to such other landmarks as are available in this howling bloody wilderness, two other hills and the curve of a river he can just see coldly gleaming among trees to the south. All right. Yes. He is there, or nearly so. A couple of hundred yards further on down the track should put him at the rendezvous point, and there, presumably, this game will end, with lights, food, transport out, and -- Doyle allows the need to rise in him, now it is so close to fulfilment -- human company. Oh, he likes solitude, on his own terms; can live for days like a feral cat in the city when he isn't in the mood for people. But this darkening forest with its endless vacant skies, its tracts of pines in whose black shade nothing else grows, whose peaks break the wind into a million lonely voices... Well, he will be bloody glad to see another human face, that's all.

Provided it isn't Bodie's. This close to home, Doyle permits himself a fresh burst of anger at the arrogant bastard. He thought he'd made a friend. Spare me. The words resound around Doyle's head whenever he isn't making a hard and specific effort not to let them, and shame ripples through him, for having let down a guard he hadn't even known was required. Friends like Bodie he needed like haemorrhoids. What was the man so frightened of, anyway -- that Doyle would have beaten him round the course, had he not stopped for McCabe? Well, he might have done. His reasons for stopping were no-one's business but his own. He'd do the same again, wouldn't he...? Fighting an uncomfortable suspicion that the milk of his own human kindness might dry up in the need to kick Bodie's arse for him, Doyle jogs silently down into the clearing.

And there is nothing there. Nothing but an empty space defined by trees. Doyle freezes to a halt on its margin: he is not about to be fooled into fucking this up, not now. Breaking cover, blundering into the open, might be part of the test, or the point at which he will fail it, confirming his non-military incompetence for whoever is watching. He makes himself be still. Invisible. The techniques for this are the same here as in the city. Calm your breath; let it come and go in deep silence. Let go the distinction in your mind between yourself and your surroundings and project that blurring outward: you are nothing more than light and shade against the brickwork and vehicles around you. Nothing more, out here, than a tree-shadow, a slight concentration of dusk... It is easy, easier here than in town where he does not have army camos to assist him...

A cold fear strikes him. Perhaps he is not here calmly assessing an ongoing game. Perhaps he is here in its ashes, watching emptiness alone because the game is over. Because he is last, by hours, and everyone else has gone home. And overnight abandonment in the wilderness is the penalty, the lesson that will finally teach him you can't make a CI5 man out of a Stepney copper.

Exhaustion catches up with him, flooding through the gap in his defences. If he has lost, what is the point in holding fast against the tremor in his limbs, the desire to fall face-down on the forest floor and await whatever pity the old man finally takes on his rejects? And he will, too, eventually -- Doyle has seen how, once he is absolutely sure that neither Macklin, Towser nor his own sarcastic commentary will get anything more from the poor failing recruit, he becomes extraordinarily kind, putting a paternal arm around the loser and leading him gently off to break the news. It is part of the training programme's mythology: if the old man's nice to you, you're screwed.

No. Not after all this. Even if he is finished, Doyle still has to live with himself. Fiercely he tenses up against his weariness, set his joints not to buckle. There has to be something here that will help him, or if not, he will go down searching for it. Blinking his vision clear, he tries to make sense of the shifting green twilight around him. The light is changing by the second as the October sun goes down. Soon this desolate place will be dark. Primitive fear stirs in Doyle's ancient limbic brain. No amount of reasoning will quell it -- his mind cannot inform his DNA that there are no bears or wolves in the forest, and he feels with grim amusement the quickening beat of his heart.

No wolves, but something is watching him. Letting go a silent breath, Doyle presses himself back into the shadows. His vision, confused by the dusk, strives to make patterns and abruptly succeeds. A face, intent and pale, watching him from the clearing's far side...

Doyle looks again, half expecting it to have dissolved back into random shapes. More than half hoping. But the darkness between pines coalesces and becomes the solid, undeniable shape of William Bodie, if anything more composed and handsome in his camos than when they set out that morning. Doyle sighs, and allows his defensive rigidity to ease. A little, anyway. On balance, he is glad to see him, but will feel no surprise if Bodie turns out to be part of the game, or the trap. He raises a hand in cautious greeting. "Hey. Over here."

Bodie steps warily out of his cover. He looks like a piece of the night, Doyle cannot help thinking, and annoyingly at home in this wasteland. "Yeah, I know," he says. "I watched you all the way down the hill."

Doyle shakes his head. Now that he's with him, he realises that he can't be bothered to be angry with him any more, but he certainly doesn't need any more of his crap. Better the night, and his own company, imaginary wolves and all. Turning his back, he begins to make his way along a narrow path that slopes down from the clearing. He hardly knows where he is going, but he's thirsty and his water bottle needs replenishing, so the river seems as good a destination as any, and he will take it from there...

"Doyle, wait." Doyle isn't about to; ducks under the sweeping branch of a pine and continues on his way, but Bodie's next words make him halt again, in surprise as much as anything. "I'm sorry." He sounds so close to genuine that Doyle wonders how many different-natured people are inhabiting his handsome, unfathomable skin. "Actually I just got here. I thought this was the end point. Do you know what's going on?"

Enough, almost, to call Doyle back. He knows now, however, that his fury at Bodie has been a disguise for pain. He doesn't mind being called a civilian, or any other of the choice terms applied to him; is confident enough in his own gifts and prowess not to care if Bodie doesn't value them. But being trapped into a show of friendship -- no, that hurt, and he's not about to fall for it again. "Not a clue," he calls back over his shoulder.

A shifting in the undergrowth behind him, more a sense of darkness on the move than anything else. Doyle masters the rise of his hackles: the other thing he does not want to be trapped into is a further display of his unarmed-combat skills, the extent of which are strictly his own business. He allows Bodie to fall into place behind him, then steps off the track so that he will either have to continue on his own or turn round and face him. "What are you doing?"

Bodie, who has silently turned on a sixpence, shrugs. "Following you, I suppose," he admits easily. "You looked purposeful. And... I don't fancy a night out here on my own any more than you do."

How do you know what I fancy? What I hope, want, fear? "It's all right," Doyle tells him. "You don't have to play nice. We don't have to get through this job in pairs. I checked."

Yeah, I bet you did. Bodie runs a hand over his hair, looks around them into the deepening dusk. He has no idea what is going on, and bitterly resents the sense of exclusion. Up until a week ago, he, Murphy and the old man would plot out these survival tests together. Now the only resource, the only team he has is this stubborn ex-copper, who beneath his friendly exterior is plainly tough as nails, and unwilling to give an inch after being ditched out on yesterday. "I'm sorry," Bodie hears himself saying again, and it surprises him, because that's twice more than he's apologised to anyone else in as long as he can remember. He more than halfway means it, too. There is something about Doyle which makes him question why he is currently behaving like -- what had Murph said? -- a dinosaur with piles, and he knows it wouldn't have killed him to stop for five minutes and make sure James McCabe was okay. "I screwed up yesterday, all right? I am aware of that, you know. The old man made it perfectly fucking clear for me, in front of all of you."

Doyle studies him. This is the face he saw from time to time yesterday -- open, expressive, sharing the chagrin. It looks so real that Doyle concludes that probably it is; that Bodie will lower his defences from time to time and only afterward regret it, and raise them again with a flourish, spikes pointing outward. Doyle decides to take him moment by moment, and commit himself to nothing. "Forget it," he says. "And I wasn't purposeful -- just thirsty. Heading to the river."

"All right. You'll have to boil it, though."

"What, here?"

Bodie shudders under memories of dysentery, of potential ghastly death swimming round in every drop beneath the hammering African sun. He unhooks the canister from his belt. "Everywhere. Here, have some of this instead." Doyle takes it from him cautiously. It feels almost half full. They have all been allotted one bottle each, and Doyle has paced his carefully to take him to this point. In response to his unspoken question, Bodie pulls a rueful face. "I always leave a bit in reserve. You can't trust 'em not to pull some stunt like this at the end."

You would know. Doyle drinks a little, more in acknowledgement of Bodie's willingness to share than anything else. He still suspects that Bodie might be part of the stunt, but whatever the game, he is going to have to make the best of it now. "Ta," he says, handing the canister back. "Look, if there are any clues about this, they're going to be somewhere around the end point, aren't they? Let's go back. At least we'll be in the right place if anybody takes pity and comes to pick us up."

The test might not be one of partnership, but it takes both of them all their strength to shift the log beneath which their further instructions are hidden, just as it has taken Bodie's persistence in searching the area and Doyle's almost preternaturally sharp vision to catch the faint glimmer of a marker light in the leaf mould. Before they even move the trunk, Bodie has drawn Doyle to a halt and made sure they have checked the little beacon out thoroughly for signs of explosives. Doyle can scarcely believe his would-be employers would go that far to test his aptitude, but has received a look from Bodie which suggests he might be wrong.

They stand together in the fading light, reading off the set of coordinates which is all the scrap of paper in the plastic bag contains. Bodie says, wearily, "Oh, they're kidding," just as Doyle matches up the numbers with a point on the map about three miles from where they are now -- and on the far side of the river.

"Jesus. It's nearly dark. Is there a bridge?"

"No, but..." Bodie leans in to share Doyle's torchlight, long-lashed profile intent. "This looks like a ford. A mile or so upstream from here."

Doyle straightens his shoulders. "Well, come on," he says. "Unless you think you'd be faster on your own."

Shouldering his rucksack, Bodie gives him a considering glance. The comment isn't edged. Doyle has forgiven him for yesterday, as far as forgiveness goes between men who are still almost strangers to one another, but he's no longer willing to assume alliances, camaraderie, which he isn't certain Bodie wants, and Bodie doesn't blame him. "No," he says, also without edge. "We'll do better together. Reckon you're not the millstone type."

He crumples the paper, and is about to shove it into one pocket when Doyle stops him. "We should leave that."

"Why? If we're the first here, or the only ones to find it..."

"Did the old man say this was about getting home first? Ah, level the playing field, Bodie," he growls. "I'm not saying leave it out in the open like a gift. Just give anybody getting here later the same chance we had."

So they put the damn paper and beacon light back into the leaf litter and roll the treetrunk back, Bodie wondering all the while what the hell he is doing. He supposes he owes Doyle one display of decency after yesterday, but still it burns him not to cover his tracks, not to climb into his fortress and pull the ladder up after him. No, Doyle is not the millstone type -- Bodie watches resentfully, as they struggle with the fallen log, how much strength is concealed in his light frame. The only cumbersome thing about him will be his bloody conscience, Bodie reckons, which at this moment feels to him like a huge navy carrier vessel he is trying to make lumber about in a tiny harbour. "Happy now?" he enquires, and receives from Doyle a look which tells him exactly how happy he is, to be stuck in a darkening forest with a river to be crossed, and God knows how many other tricks and trials to be faced before bedtime, but they set off more or less in step down the track, each silently reflecting that he is better off with the other than without...

It lasts until they are halfway down the pitching, muddy cliff-face to the river. Their accord, up until this point, has been remarkable. Doyle has been willing to defer to Bodie's greater experience in orienteering when it comes to the route, aware that he is pulling his weight with his gift for picking out and interpreting landmarks in an eerie copper dusk now illumined only by the rising moon. The cliff is made up of steep crags, jutting rocks, sudden drops into nothing. It isn't quite bad enough to require climbing gear but is on the edge of what can be managed without, as Doyle is sure the old man or whoever set the test knows perfectly well.

The lead man has the hard job on climbs like this, encountering hazards and obstacles first, and Doyle has managed to keep quiet when, after the first twenty feet or so of their descent, Bodie has slipped in front. He is not even sure that it was deliberate, and he himself has barely noticed the smooth move when it came, as if Bodie is simply so used to leading that he can cast a spell of acceptance on his followers. By now Doyle is very tired. He struggles to persuade himself that his acquiescence is only cooperation, but something inside him is relieved to have Bodie's solid presence ahead of him there in the dark, choosing for him handholds, footholds in the rock... Then the relief, the sense of dependence, shames him, and so he overreacts when Bodie stops on the far side of a long, awkward step between two outcrops of rock, says, "Hang on," and holds out a hand to him.

Hands on the ropes of Jacob's ladder, making it easy for him. Dark eyes watching to see that he is safe. But only at a price. Doyle can see that the gap is tricky, but Bodie is anchored only five feet or so downslope of where he is standing, and he doesn't need to be handed down like a maiden aunt. He snaps, "I'm fine," and begins to make the move on his own.

What Bodie has been able to see from his position further down the cliff is that the ledge he has just abandoned, where Doyle is still perched, is nothing more than mud over twigs and thin air, about to give. There isn't time to explain this -- there never is time -- and all he needs is for Doyle to take his hand and be swung down to safety. Doyle discovers all this for himself a fraction of a second later, when the pressure of his attempt to manoeuvre destroys the ledge beneath his feet, dropping him painfully hard against the cliff, scrabbling for roots, saplings, anything at all to keep hold. He doesn't mind this -- somehow, even in extremity, he has time to reflect that he has been an idiot, and deserves every volt of the heart-stopping fear thudding through him. What he minds, what he cannot bear, is that the chunk of hillside he has dislodged, one huge boulder, has crashed down and hit Bodie; has knocked Bodie cleanly off the rock face and into the dark.

Doyle lets go. A fall or a dive? He doesn't know. Decision, or the moment when strength runs out, when cold fingers refuse to maintain their clutch...? It's irrelevant. He falls, peripherally aware of no choice, of gravity and necessity suddenly indistinguishable one from the other. Falls like a star, smashing off an outcrop and falling again, hearing the splash of one human body hitting water one bare second before the river leaps up with a stinging, lung-emptying crack to take him too.

He'd be a tough lift at the best of times, but wet through and deadweight, Doyle can barely shift him. He hardly has the strength to make his own limbs obey him. He drags Bodie by the armpits a yard or so up the shaly riverbank, water-rounded pebbles stealing half the distance back from him as they roll out from under his feet. Then at last he can let go, let everything go, and no bed in the world so sweet as this, so welcoming...

No. More to be done. Doyle gets his arms beneath him, aware that he has broken some ribs in his fall and that these will hurt a lot when he has time to pay them any attention. He presses his fingertips against Bodie's carotid, or tries to: knows a moment of fear so intense his own heart nearly stops and does it again, in the right place this time, and there it is, the big fine leap of his pulse. All right. All right. But even as he counts it out, it falters, and Bodie isn't breathing. Helplessly Doyle lives again the moment in the water when he found him, when his hand brushed over his hair's cold silk but could not clasp and he was once more gone. He can't remember finding him again. Is this his pre-death dream, the one his mind has sent him to ease the transition, convince him he's dying a hero, not the biggest fuck-up on the planet...? He dived again. He remembers that. He remembers deciding, quite dispassionately, that he will continue to dive until one way or the other it is over.

Not breathing. Doyle has learned three sets of resuscitation skills by now -- once with Cowley's mob, once in the police, and the first time at the hands of sensei Niki Tang, whose one proviso on teaching him how to kill men -- apart from his substantial fee -- was that he also learn to save them. No point trying to force air into waterlogged lungs. Quickly Doyle checks that Bodie's ribs are intact, flattens his hands on his back, kneels over him and leans firmly down. Again and again, in a gentle, insistent rhythm. Come on. You're not going anywhere. In the cloudy moonlight he can see water leaving him, but it's passive, gravity and his own efforts only...

It'll have to do. Doyle rolls him onto his back. His face is serene, a million miles out from this struggling world, and for one instant Doyle wonders if he really wants to be called back. Not obviously in love with life, are you? Well, too fucking bad... He tips his head back, checks his airway clear. Closes off his nose. Takes three deep breaths, detaching himself, knowing he will do this better if the air he gives him is not laced with fear; covers the water-cold mouth with his own.

It takes a long time, or perhaps Doyle's perceptions are skewed, stretching seconds into minutes as his head starts to spin from the effort of holding him, of breathing for them both. He tracks the kick in his carotid, feeling it settle back down to business, and when he thinks it is probably steadier than his own, he takes time out to grab him by the shoulders, give him one good shake and shout at him, which also sometimes has its value in calling wanderers home. Come on, Bodie! Don't you fucking dare leave me alone! Christ, as if they are friends, as if taking Doyle or leaving him would be of the remotest concern...

But it works. Doyle leans to his task once more, and feels Bodie convulse. Bodie sucks from his lungs the breath he was about to give him and Doyle knows, for one extraordinary second, a sensation of being -- where does Bodie think he is? -- kissed back... He sits up, gasping with relief, as Bodie hauls one racking inhalation then another and begins his wildcat scramble back to life. Remembering from a childhood experience of near-drowning how unpleasant the next part will be, Doyle tries to help him, aiding his struggle onto his front then up to his hands and knees, but Bodie somehow lashes out, and a stinging blow impacts to the side of his face.

"Get the...fuck off me."

Doyle is suddenly appallingly tired, sick of life in general and of Bodie with an intense particularity. "Fine," he says, and lets him go. Some merciful or mocking current has deposited one of their rucksacks on a mudbank a little further downstream: he stumbles off to retrieve it.

Deprived of Doyle's support, which up until that moment Bodie has not realised is all he has, he collapses facedown into the shale. His own fault, he reflects with distant bitterness, as his lungs clench and seize, as his ribs convulse in desperate coughing and there is no-one to hold him out of the mud. He is as lonely as whatever foolish lungfish first took it into its head to crawl onto dry land, and that wouldn't bother him if he were actually alone: solitary struggles are part of his life's game. What he finds himself trying to work out, as he lies coughing on the riverbank, is why it is now apparently his reflex, even barely conscious, to thrust away all help, warmth and friendship when it is there to be had. The stones bruise his ribs and graze his face as the expulsive spasms tear through him. Distantly he assesses how close he's come to drowning, feels the memory of living heat on his lips and knows that he's been efficiently saved, that his lungs are only able to finish the job because they have been partway cleared already, cleared and kept functional by another man's living breath...

Eventually he is able to sit up, and when the river-scented night stops spinning around him, to lever himself to his feet. Oxygen has fired up the synapses of memory, and he knows now that his saviour has only had to be one because the stupid fuck didn't listen, didn't obey, and so landed them both in the river in the first place, but before he can open his mouth to rip a strip off Doyle to this effect, a change in the water's voice makes him turn. He props his hands on his thighs to brace himself upright, and he stares into the swirling dark from which he has been rescued.

Not an obvious Olympic swimmer, Doyle. Broad-shouldered enough, certainly in proportion to his height, to his narrow, graceful hips, but Bodie cannot see where he has found the muscle, the sheer raw strength, to pull him out of that maelstrom. The river is in full spate here, roiling and vortexing back on itself as it swings round a curve between the cliffs. The moonlight catches a thousand lights on its surface, and that is just the chop, the upper turbulence: beneath it is a current like a steel snake. Bodie knows he was unconscious before he hit the water, but there was a moment, when he came round, before he reflexively inhaled and flooded his lungs, when he felt it.

He straightens up and turns away from the roaring water. Doyle is making his way back along the bank towards him: somehow he's also rescued one of their packs. He looks stolid enough, but Bodie is reminded of a long-ago childhood cat, which seemed big enough when running about the garden about its normal business, then one day came into the house soaked through and half the size he'd taken it to be. As Bodie watches, Doyle stumbles and drops to his knees, as if the pack is too heavy, or something is. He is shivering violently, visible to Bodie even from here. He makes an instant effort to get back up, then another, but both fail.

"Hoi. You all right, then?"

Doyle jerks his head up. He was expecting... What? To be ignored at best -- at worst, picked up and slung back into the water. Not a hand on his shoulder, one delicious five-pointed star of heat in a universe otherwise turned clay cold, not dark eyes seeking his in what looks for all the world like concern. Doyle curbs himself fiercely against response. Seeing Bodie alive and on his feet, apparently uninjured other than a trickle of blood down one side of his face, is a painful relief. He couldn't have stood having harmed him. He says, harshly, "I'm fine," aware that it sounds like fuck off. "I didn't listen. I screwed up, all right? I know. I know."

"All right," Bodie says, whether in acknowledgement of his stupidity or some kind of forgiveness, Doyle can't tell. He thuds down onto the rocks beside him, reaches gently to take the pack out of his hands. "All right. What have we got left?"

Not much. A torch, which after some jiggling and banging off the rocks, consents to give a faint, waterlogged gleam. A bar of chocolate -- Bodie's pack, then; they were allowed a choice of that or some revolting bar made of Alpen and superglue, and trust Doyle to go for that -- soggy but still just possibly edible. Bodie unwraps it, sniffs it and passes it to Doyle. "Here. Get some of that down you."

Doyle looks at him in surprise, but shudders. "Ugh. No, ta."

"Doyle, your blood sugar's down. We've got to get going in a minute. Eat some."

"Nn-nn. I feel sick."

Bodie examines him. Even by moonlit standards, he's pale. His hair is plastered down. Somewhere between the cliff-face and here he has lost his jacket, and his collarbones and shoulder blades are stark beneath his T-shirt's soaked cotton. In other circumstances, Bodie knows he would enjoy the sight of him -- he's skinny, but held together in lean, cleanly articulated muscle... "Well," he says, "ta for squeezing me out, but God alone knows what you've still got sloshing round inside you."

"Bodie, it's the Upper Weald, not the bleedin' Orinoco. I haven't caught flukeworms. My back hurts, that's all. Think I've cracked something."

"Let's have a look. Lean forward." Doyle obeys, swallowing dryly, bracing not to wince when Bodie peels back the fabric. He hears, for the first time, the small sound of empathy -- not quite a hiss, more of a softly vocalised inbreath -- which means the damage is impressive even by soldier standards. He feels, for the first time, that somehow the small noise helps. "You've bust about four ribs, from the look of it." Bodie feels gingerly at the spongy bruising, noting with approval that although Doyle retches silently with pain, he does not cry out or try to flinch away. "Okay. We need to get back to civilisation, or a phone box at least, tell Cowley this fuckwitted game of his is over. Don't suppose my map survived that, did it?"

While Doyle is checking the rucksack, Bodie looks around him. Belatedly he registers that, although the cliffs, mud and endless dripping foliage are exactly the same here as they were when he and Doyle made their descent, when he looks upstream, the river is rushing by him to his right, not his left. A quick check at the moon's position confirms it, and he smiles. "Was that good management, then?"

Doyle has found not only the map, blurred but readable in its plastic wallet, but a functional compass. "What?"

"We crossed the sodding river."

Doyle looks around him. Slowly what Bodie is seeing dawns on him, too. He would love to be able to tell him that he never lost sight of their mission's objective, even while clawing his way through the black and freezing turbulence. Diving again and again... The moment of second chance, the silent miracle that put the floating fabric of your jacket and my reaching hand for one instant in the same place... No, after that he wasn't asking anything more of luck, had simply seized, clenched and swum for it, Bodie in a lifeguard's tow-hold, choosing the current most likely to bear them to the nearest bank. "Nah," he says, tiredly. "Fifty-fifty."

Bodie shoots him an interested sidelong glance: he might have lied about that one, himself. "Good enough for me," he says. He slaps the torch off the palm of his hand until it emits a faint beam, and turns it on the map. "Right. I can try and make a signal-fire here, which..." He pauses, glancing around the dripping foliage lining the bank. "Which isn't likely, or, if you can walk, we can try to head for the coordinates we found, where -- I sincerely fucking hope -- somebody is waiting with a whisky flask and a helicopter."

Doyle nods. "Yeah. Come on, it doesn't look far." Then he runs through the rest of what Bodie has said, and feels a now-familiar sting of resentment. "Why the hell would I not be able to walk? I broke my ribs, not an ankle."

Collecting up their few remaining assets, Bodie represses a sigh. He seems to have a knack, even when not trying, for irritating this man, for raising his defensive bristles. And he doesn't want to, not now: Doyle might have ditched him into the river, but Bodie understands fully now what he's poured into rectifying the mistake. "Okay," he says. "Walk, then. I just've been in the wars. You could've stayed here while I went for help. You still can."

Doyle scrambles onto his feet. He can't quite conceal the pain this costs him, but once there, he squares his shoulders; takes the pack from Bodie's hand. He looks at Bodie, no longer annoyed, just bewildered. "I've been in the wars... Bodie, I dropped a rock on your head. You were under water for nearly three minutes. It took me..." He shudders, remembering. "It took me about ten to bring you round. Why aren't I asking you if you can walk? If you'd like to stay here while I go find the flask and the bloody helicopter?"

"Oh, for God's sake..." Bodie is too tired to argue this out with Doyle in a way that will protect his ego. Perhaps it's best anyway that he hears the truth now. "Look," he says. "I'm sure you're twice the man I am, all right? But in terms of...weight, dumb bloody bulk, muscle, it's more like..." He pauses, gives Doyle a onceover which conceals neither admiration nor cold clinical assessment. "It's more like two thirds. Accident of birth, Doyle. No virtue in me, no lack in you. Just accept it." He grabs the rucksack out of Doyle's grip. There's barely anything in it, but he doesn't want even that much weight resting on the broken ribs. He turns around and sets off up the bank, leaving Doyle to follow or not.

Doyle knows that he has to. He knows that, without the map, without the presence of another human soul somewhere near him in this wilderness, to keep him going, focus him, he is probably not going to see dawn. He knows, as well, that Bodie hasn't spoken an untrue word. He can work around it -- learn to shoot, dance out of harm's reach or deflect it with whatever array of unarmed-combat skills he can accumulate -- but at some point, at the end of a fight, at the end of a long day in the woods, Bodie's sheer bulk, the endurance that comes with it, will leave him, not Doyle, last man standing.

It shouldn't bother Doyle. In a way it doesn't: he knows he can be a good soldier in Cowley's army with the gifts he has. But something in Bodie's dismissal of him -- final, absolute, as if the bastard had stood by his cradle thirty years ago, picked him up, weighed him and found him wanting -- fills him with the exact same rage which blinded and stupefied him up on the cliff face, which brought them both down. Oh, there are plenty of things he could like about Bodie, he reflects, taking a deep breath against the pain in his back and beginning a dogged climb after him up the riverbank and into the trees, but the old man is bloody dreaming, if he thinks they could ever be partners...

Bodie moves silently through the silent English forest, which shades into jungle around him as he grows tired, producing a staticky crackle of machine-gun fire in his head, exotic bird cries, distant human shouts and screams. Carefully, one by one, he shuts down each hallucination; restores the oaks and conifers. Reduces the rhythms of ten men filing behind him through the night until he can hear only two pairs of feet, his own and Doyle's, disturbing peaceful layers of deciduous leaf-mould only, not vines and snakes. His own tread is steady and soft. Doyle is making a decent job of keeping it quiet, too, on what instinct Bodie does not know, but he is losing his pace, beginning to stumble. They have covered about two miles from the riverbank, and his occasional comments on their route and progress have ceased. Bodie moves on for a hundred yards or so more, threading a fine track between moon-burnished oaks, hearing him slowly start to fall behind. When he stops and turns back, Doyle does not even notice he has done so, confirming Bodie's fears, and blindly walks into his arms.

He's soaked to the skin, and still frozen. Bodie is not sure how his own inner fires work, but he seldom feels the cold, and even after a near-mortal plunge he has started to warm up again, to dry the clothes on his skin. Doyle takes one more step -- trying to walk through him, Bodie realises with an odd pang of compassion -- then registers his presence and jolts back from him in fear. "Bodie! What the fuck..."

"You tell me," Bodie says, conversationally, holding his shoulders. "How do you feel?"

"I'd be fine, if you'd just stop off my frigging case." It's a snarl, and not his usual one: Bodie listens carefully. He's known him for three months, and in that time has pissed him off sufficiently to hear him irritated, angry, white-hot furious, but never before has he caught that tired little edge in his voice -- almost a fretfulness, the shadow of a sulk. Not in his nature. Doyle might one day kill him, but Bodie is fairly sure he'll never hear him whine. "Jesus, can't you leave me alone? I just... I just want to wait here for a minute."

"Doyle, I'll let you do anything in the world, if you can tell me your seven times table."

Doyle stares at him blankly. "What...?"

"You heard me. I'll start you off. Seven."

"Jesus." The bony shoulders he is holding shake in a resentful chuckle. "Fourteen. Twenty one." He pauses, and slowly Bodie watches his anger drain, transform into a struggle for the next number. Bodie has listened to him do effortless trig for distances all the way along their route from the clearing to the cliff. His eyes flash, and he tears out of Bodie's grip. "Christ! Just let me be."

"Yeah. Okay, I will. Just tell me what day it is and I'll piss right off and leave you alone."

A good deal. If Bodie keeps his end of the bargain, Doyle will be able to follow the siren song of night-wind in the oak leaves, and curl up in their roots and sleep. Yes, a good deal... He reaches around inside his mind for this very basic piece of information, and finds that it is gone. He looks at Bodie. He can feel fear coiling inside him, but even that seems alien, not its usual shape. He knows his demons. The fear feels like someone else's. "Fuck," he says, uncertainly. "What's happening?"

"Nothing to worry about." Now Bodie is sure of the problem, now that Doyle has stopped trying to plough through it, he knows what to do. He'll have to be fast, he realises: once the disorientation gets this bad, it's a fairly advanced case. A lesser mortal -- or a less stubborn one -- might have given some signs before. "We're going to stop here. Sit down and curl up as tight as you can, okay?"

"What for?"

"Just for me," Bodie tells him sweetly, and starts stripping off his jacket. It's still damp, but will provide one barrier to the leaching October wind. "Now, Doyle."

"I don't need that. I don't need to..." Christ, Doyle realises. I can't even remember what he just told me to do. Words come out of his mouth, slow and clumsy and he doesn't even mean them. "I don't need anything."

Bodie regards him, one corner of his mouth quirking up. "Think we're a tough bastard, don't we?"

"No. Yes. I... I fucking hate you."

"Yeah, I know." Doyle is showing no signs of obedience, so Bodie begins the process for him, knocking his feet out from under him with a gentle judo kick, lowering him down into the leaves. "Curl up tight," he says again, draping the jacket round his shoulders. "Because if you don't, Doyle, in about five minutes your core temperature will drop below ninety degrees, triggering major-organ failure. You're getting lairy and irrational..." He pauses, brusquely, crouching beside Doyle to push his knees to his chest, help him wrap his arms around them. "And I'm willing to bet that right now you think you're quite warm."

Doyle considers the last part of this statement, which is all his hypothermic brain has been able to hang on to. It's true: for the last few minutes of this hellish trek a weird heat has been stealing through his limbs, along with the overpowering desire for sleep. True, anyway, until Bodie has knocked him onto his backside here, forced the separate parts of him against one another, introducing them once more to the real state of the whole -- which is, suddenly, colder than he can bear. A sharp panic seizes him. He knows he can't be this cold, not and live... Involuntarily he cries out in pain, and buries his face against his knees before the sound can escape him again.

Bodie studies him, one hand resting absently on his lowered head. He waits until shivers start to rack him, then says, "That's better," and straightens up, looking around.

After a minute or so, the sound of undergrowth being shifted rouses Doyle to a dull interest, and when he is sure his voice will be under control, he looks up. Bodie is moving steadily about among the oaks, pulling up fallen branches and dragging them over to a place where one vast tree has started to go over, but been arrested in its fall at about forty five degrees. Its root system has taken with it a disk of earth, opening up a gap beneath it with a kind of roof. Bodie has extended this by wedging a long pole of larch in among the roots, a spine along which he has propped ribs of shorter poles to form a triangular space. Now he is busy filling in the sides with branches. "What... What are you doing?"

Bodie glances up, relieved to hear a reasonable question. "I'm building a debris shelter," he informs him tersely. "Wind's cold."

Doyle cannot deny this. Its touch across his shoulders and spine now feels like a whiplash, like fingers brutally prodding a bruise, and Bodie's makeshift hut looks suddenly more appealing to him than a bed in a luxury hotel. "Are we staying here, then?"

Not indefinitely, I hope. "Looks like, doesn't it?"

"What about the exercise?"

Bodie adds one last conifer branch, rich with insulating needles, to the windward side of his hut. It's a good one, if he says so himself, dry on the inside, near enough a break in the canopy that a fire will be seen if he can get one going. SAS survival special: he ought to take a photograph and send it to the bastards. He says, straightening up, "Fuck the exercise. Don't know about you, but I feel like I've been screwed around with enough for one night. Come here."

Doyle submits to being led to the shelter. Once there, however, being eased down onto the dry earth, his pain recedes enough for shame to kick in. "Let me help."

"Nothing to do. Just stay there till I've got a fire started."

"Aren't you supposed to...take your clothes off and get in here with me?"

"Jesus Christ, Doyle. At least buy me dinner first."

He delivers it deadpan, and for a moment they stare at one another. Then Doyle, to his own amazement, feels a gurgle of laughter rise in his throat. He gives Bodie a shove. "Fuck off and light your fire."

It's a tall order. Bodie, who is normally good at this, works through his repertoire in increasing frustration. He's pulled together enough stones for a hearth, and scavenged tinder from the small branches growing nearest to the trunks, whose leaf cover even this late in the season has been enough to keep them dry. A stump of pine, too, which although damp is oozing resin. He's found a stick and flat piece of wood he can use for a fire drill, brought the stick to a dull point with the army knife he habitually carries and driven it round in a notch in the wood until his hands are bleeding, but the atmosphere is too damp for the little pile of charcoal dust he's managed to accumulate to catch a spark. Next he prowls along the track until he sees the moonlight pick up an answering gleam from the ground -- quartz, which is great if he can now find a corresponding iron-bearing stone to strike it off, and from his very limited knowledge of this region's geology, he's far from sure what to look for. Still, he gathers up a few likely candidates, and returns to the camp.

It occurs to him that he ought to be talking to Doyle. When he glances into the shelter, he can barely see him, partly because he camouflages well against earth and trees, partly on account of his stillness, which sends a sudden unexpected twinge of fear through Bodie. Keeping hypothermia victims engaged and alert is one of the first rules, and he's ignored it, too busy playing boy scout with his twigs. It occurs to Bodie with a faint shock that all his measures so far have been towards his own survival. Doyle, of course, will benefit if they work, and Bodie knows he shouldn't offer aid until his own position is secured, another SAS rule he first discovered in a scouting manual, and burst out laughing upon hearing it again with a loaded sniper rifle in his hand. But he should have talked to him. "Doyle," he says, experimentally cracking the quartz off his first rock, and tries to think of something to say. Doyle hasn't responded; is still curled motionless in the shadows. He has a first name, hasn't he...? Bodie racks his brains for it. Raymond? Yes, but he recalls him growling at McCabe for that. Ray, then. "Ray? You all right?"

Doyle looks up, green eyes dawning surprised over one arm. "Yeah," he rasps. "Must've gone to sleep. Not good, in the circumstances, I suppose... What you doing?"

"Trying to light a fire."

"Oh, you should've said." Doyle shifts, and to Bodie's astonishment a second later pulls out a cigarette lighter from his back pocket. Is it a joke, or has he forgotten that he and the lighter have been down to the bottom of a river and back? He looks serious enough, God knows. Then, while Bodie crouches staring at him, he completes the routine by producing the crumpled remains of a pack of cigarettes. He shoves his wet fringe out of his eyes, yawns, and holds out the pack hospitably to Bodie. "There you go."

Bodie breaks into laughter. It feels odd to him: he can't remember the last time he did, when not in bitterness or anger. He says, "What the fuck, Doyle," dumps his useless fire kit and goes to sit beside him in the shelter. "What are you doing with those?"

"I... dunno, actually. Gave 'em up to join the Met." Doyle shivers profoundly, seems to notice Bodie at his side, and shoots him a look he can't fathom. "Gave up a lot of things, didn't I. Suppose I must have felt better for knowing they were there."

Bodie shakes his head. In a different world, he thinks that he would like Doyle as a partner. He has a sweetness about him when his guard is down, a kind of comic intimacy that makes Bodie feel he's known him longer than he has. He supposes he turns it on and off as necessary; that whatever he can't fight, he charms, although there's not much need for him to be conciliatory, not with that mysterious arsenal of unarmed-combat skills. Well, wherever it comes from, it feels to Bodie like fresh air through the window of a prison cell, and he stiffens his spine to resist it. "You're a nutter," he says, not ungently. "Old man catches you with those, you'll know about it."

"Yeah. Head in me hands to play with." Bodie smiles again, helplessly, at hearing this echo of the Midlands heritage they share -- and Doyle, who has been flicking idly at the ignition of the useless and waterlogged lighter, suddenly produces from it a bright, perfect flame.

They both start back like foxes. Bodie gazes at the flame, and at Doyle's face illumined by it -- rapt, astounded, a painted angel in a mediaeval frieze. He says, softly, "Well, I'll be damned!"

His fire takes nicely, tinder catching straight away at the touch of the carefully husbanded flame. It's just as well: after this last-gasp miracle, the lighter pops and goes dead. Bodie spends a contented minute feeding it, waiting till the small twigs are ablaze then carefully adding larger ones, and then the big resinous log. Once that is crackling, its rich pitchy scent rising to remind him how hungry he is, he goes back to the hut and makes Doyle crawl as close as he can to the fire without losing the shelter of its windward branches. It will be a while before the little blaze will produce anything significant by way of heat, however, and this time when Bodie sits down beside Doyle, he does so close enough to put an arm around him. Doyle grunts softly in surprise, and once more Bodie feels his twitch of repulsion at an unexpected touch. The reflex is weaker now, suppressed by hypothermia. "The clothes thing is a bit of a myth," Bodie tells him, "unless you've got a sleeping bag. But we should share body heat. Sorry. I know it's weird."

It is. For a while, Doyle feels as awkward as he ever has done in his life, and wonders if he is going to have to uncoil out from under this unpredictable stranger's arm in sheer nerves. But he isn't sure he has the strength, and then it occurs to him that there is actually no sharing involved: that Bodie is providing all the body heat here, that he himself has none left, not a bloody flicker. That he is worn down to nothing with the cold, exhausted and sick with it... These truths strike him by contrast as Bodie's arm tightens around him and he begins to feel properly the warmth of him. Something inside him cries, oh, God, and he struggles not to say it aloud. Struggles to retain a little distance, a little dignity. Then it is like trying to push back sunlight, and he turns to him, shuddering, and wraps both arms around him.

Bodie watches the fire over the top of his head, the tangle of drying curls beginning to smell of the river. Little leech has got the idea now, and he concentrates on his own solar plexus, the inner heat-factory that responds to being drained by massive replacement production and so can never be exhausted. It's a mind-trick, one he could teach Doyle, if he lives through the night -- through the seizures of shivering racking him now, at any rate, which are good but threaten to tear him apart like an over-revved engine. He braces him, trying somehow to make the support unobtrusive, until eventually he quiets, his fractured breathing finding a rhythm.

"Why aren't you, then?"

Bodie blinks and comes back from an abstracted distance; he'd thought Doyle had lapsed into sleep. On the face of it, it's a strange question, and he rests a discreet finger on the pulse in his throat. A little low, but steady enough, none of the tachycardias or skipping that might indicate he's losing ground, becoming disoriented again... "Why aren't I what?"

"Freezing your arse off. Dying of hypothermia. And please don't tell me it's a bulk thing."

Bodie is far from sure that it isn't, but having once delivered to Doyle his opinion on this subject, he feels no need to ram the point home further. He shrugs, and says easily, "No. I just don't feel the cold much."

"I don't want to bloody feel it either. Don't want to be the one that...falls over first."

I could teach you, but what's the point? We don't have any time. After tonight, our roads part for good. "Look," Bodie says. "I can do this. I can bench-press more, and I can fly a bloody helicopter, too, if that's of any interest to you. You can...shoot better, swim better. You can sure as fuck run faster." He pauses, smiling. "Think you broke the old man's land-speed record. Poor Macklin thought his stopwatch was bust. It's just...differences. You'll be okay."

Doyle considers this. He thinks he should probably let Bodie go, now that the iron pain of cold is melting from his limbs. When he tries, however, the embrace on him subtly tightens, irresistible warm living net... "All right," he manages, awkwardly. "Ta."

"What for? Shut up and try and get some sleep."

"Shouldn't one of us...keep the watch, or something?"

Bodie snorts faintly. "It's the Upper Weald, not the bleedin' Orinoco, Doyle. I'll keep an eye out for snakes and bears, if it makes you happy." Or, more likely and worse, the old man, Macklin and Towser stamping through the undergrowth with our exit papers in their hands. Pretty sure we're both screwed now...

"What about you?"

"I'm all right. I don't sleep." He has said it without thinking. This is something Bodie does not tell anyone. He isn't even absolutely sure that he has told himself. He stares unseeing into the dark, words echoing around the empty blackness inside him...

But Doyle is drifting, and only shakes his head: hides a jaw-cracking yawn against Bodie's shoulder. "Don't be daft," he says. "Everybody sleeps. If you don't sleep, you go mental." A faint snort escapes him. "Which would actually explain a lot..." Sleep, for Doyle at this moment, is the loveliest concept in the world. He'd recommend it to anyone, and if Bodie doesn't need his share, Doyle is sure that he can do it for them both. He has long enough to register the difference between this easy controlled fall and the one-way pit into which his failing flesh was trying to plummet him before, and he lets go.

Once he's thoroughly out, limp exhausted deadweight in his arms, Bodie eases them both to lie flat on the shelter's dry earth. If they had longer here, he'd line it with leaves, and with the aromatic cedar fans that hold back moisture and are smooth and cool to the touch. He'd waterproof the outside with mud, check its water supply and defensibility...

It's the Upper Weald, Bodie. Sighing, he once more erases jungle thoughts, one by one, and settles to another wide-eyed night. When it started, when last year he first lost whatever trick it is that lets the human brain endure a little death each night without fear or struggle, he was scared. Tried drugs, some legal, others less so, but these only paralysed his body, leaving his mind alert and caged, listening to his barracks-room bunk mates snore. Since then he's given up. Whatever semblance of inner peace he once had won was destroyed anyway, and this way at least saves him nightmares. He puts himself through a routine of going to bed and getting up as if nothing has changed, and he supposes some part of him must rest during the long blank hours, or, as Doyle has said, he would be off his head by now.

And, as Doyle has also observed, that would explain a lot.

"Gabe," Doyle says suddenly, calm and clear, as if addressing someone in the shelter with them. His eyes are closed, his face serene in the disconcerting mix of fire and moonlight. "Gabriel." He rolls over to face Bodie, and presses himself, long fine limbs, wiry strength, yearning erection and all, against his body. "Oh, God, Gabe."

Bodie forgets his insomnia. This is certainly the most startling thing that's come along to disturb it in some time. Doyle is not his type -- he needs someone big enough not to fall when he pushes, someone who can give as good as and better than he gets -- but he'd have to be stone, not to acknowledge the charm of this sudden gift from the gods in his arms, moaning and beginning a sinuous shift against him, a rhythmic pulse of the hips...

Acknowledge it, smile at it, put it aside. God knows Bodie has seen men suffering from exposure, fever, shellshock react in stranger ways. He damps down the tingle of response beginning in the base of his spine. Doyle will not soon forgive, will find some way to blame him for, waking up in the morning sticky with the evidence of this kind of dream. Carefully, remembering the broken ribs, Bodie begins to detach him... But Doyle abruptly hauls a breath which sounds less like excitement than the prelude to a howl of fear. His hard-on dies, absolutely. He does not wake: goes still and silent in Bodie's arms, as if hiding in undergrowth. Bodie watches him in concern for a while, and then he inhales softly and relaxes. The monster gone back under the bed, Bodie supposes. He wonders vaguely what it is. The restored pattern of Doyle's breathing soothes him, and he feels some of the watchful tension drain from him, as well as a twinge of envy for his peace, imperfect though it is... Well, maybe one day Doyle will inadvertently hit him on the head with a rock again, knock him into a river and half-drown him. Best bloody rest he's had in ages...

Just after first light, a Wealden County rescue chopper roars in over the treetops, and hovers long enough for its copilot to indicate, in brusque military sign language, that they will put down due west of here, one click distant. Doyle, though he has accepted Bodie's hand to hoist him to his feet, is back in his independent skin, and politely declines further support as they make their way over this last mile. It's a desperate effort of dignity: his ribs and his back are on fire, but he's certain that he has run out of chances with Cowley's mob, and is grimly determined to return to base on his own two feet, salvaging pride if nothing else. In other circumstances, he would almost have enjoyed the walk. The forest is a different place in morning light, the canopy like stained glass, filtering and guiding the sun. He has surely screwed up as far as he can and the pressure is off, and, if he cannot let Bodie help him, his presence at his side, his occasional concerned glance, is far from unwelcome... Then Bodie asks, casually, "Who's Gabriel, then?", and the world caves in.

It's his head that hurts, not his bloody ribs. Pain like steel screws being driven through his skull... He can still see, but it's through a black-edged tunnel, at the end of which is Bodie's startled face, his own hand twisting savagely in the collar of Bodie's jacket. "Don't you ever," he hears himself rasp, "ever even fucking think of saying that name to me again."

Bodie stares at him. On one level he is only bewildered. He supposes it wasn't his most tactful move, to question a name called out in sleep -- particularly since, unless he's misheard Gabrielle, it's the name of a boyfriend -- but can't see how it warrants this. And, when he has time to think about it, outside of the bedroom he doesn't like a rough or sudden touch any more than Doyle does, let alone being shoved unceremoniously up against the trunk of a tree... Eyes flashing, he moves adroitly to break his hold, and Doyle just as skilfully restores it, and so their rescuers find them, at deadlock, impasse, daggers drawn, barely aware of the helicopter crew arriving to retrieve them from this long test...

Which, despite everything, they have passed. Cowley tells them this separately; Doyle in his hospital room, Bodie in a quiet corner of the canteen where he is demolishing a three-course full English with famished intentness. He is surprised to find Bodie on the premises. Tough ex-para or not, he loathes hospitals. He's been passed fit despite his unusual night, unlike Doyle, whose shattered ribs and exposure symptoms will keep him in here for a week. The fact is, Cowley explains to each of them, that the hidden set of coordinates, the river-crossing, were challenges only: he didn't really expect anyone to do it, was looking for creative responses to impossibility. Jax, for example, had made it to a main road, caught a late-night bus to the nearest town with a bridge, and taken it from there, and McCabe, to Cowley's considerable but well-concealed amusement, had retraced his steps to base, climbed into the vehicle compound, hot-wired and stolen a Land Rover, all damages to come out of his first pay packet. Cowley has waited at this point, to watch for reactions. Yes, McCabe. Yes, I'm choosing. But Bodie has only raised one enigmatic eyebrow, and Doyle, beyond a smile, has seemed too exhausted to care.

Cowley has listened patiently to each of their reports, in which each has given credit, in scrupulous detail, to the other's courage and resourcefulness. I'd have drowned if he hadn't gone after me. He kept me from dying of cold. He's a good man. Then he has listened while each has detailed for him the reasons why, despite this, they could never work together in a thousand bloody years.

The forest has claimed more than one victim overnight, and Cowley has a few visits to make around the hospital, a few backs to pat and hopes to dash. A couple of good men never found the hidden paper at all, and he is bitterly disappointed in Fairfield, who compounded his late arrival by trying to make off with the coordinates in his pocket, until intercepted by Murphy, hidden among the trees, watching the scenes unfolding in the clearing through a pair of night-vision goggles. In his comings and goings through the corridors, the old man is sure that he catches the occasional glimpse of Bodie's powerful frame among the white coats and visitors. He has been home for a change of clothes, but...yes, by afternoon Cowley cannot deny that his heartless, bloody-handed para is hanging around the hospital. This, as far as Cowley knows, is a first. He goes to check up on Kopalski, who tried the crossing on a swinging branch and somehow lived to regret it, and then, impelled by curiosity, he makes his way back to Doyle's top-floor room.

Where Bodie is sitting by his bed. He is, granted, absorbed in a copy of Esquire magazine, his feet are comfortably propped on a trolley and he is paying no attention whatsoever to Doyle, who is sound asleep and just as oblivious to the great honour being conferred on him, but there he is. Cowley hides his reaction behind a mask of grim severity. He hides it well, and Bodie glances up nervously as he walks into the room, and after a dignified few seconds takes his feet down.


"Bodie. I didn't expect to find you here."

"No, sir. I was just... I was just going, actually." He gets up, gesturing to the chair, though he stops short of handing him the magazine. "Just put my head around the door to see he was all right."

"And is he?"

"Far as I know. He's been asleep for the last bloody hour..." Bodie hears himself, and shuts up, emitting a faint sigh of irritation. He is tireder than he thought, and stupid. Long time to have your head in a doorway, laddie, is what he will no doubt hear next, but Cowley settles for an amused glance, and goes to stand at the end of Doyle's bed.

He says his name, loudly, and Doyle, whose subconscious has learned many lifesaving reflexes over the past few weeks, jolts to instant waking. He is scratched and bruised and, now that Cowley sees him naked but for bandages, really too damn fragile for the savage purposes to which he will be put, but it is too late now. A decision has been made. "You will work as partners," he says flatly. "That is the condition of your recruitment." He waits for just a moment, until their rising protests meet the realisation that they've been hired, then nods courteously to both and leaves them to it.

Doyle stares at Bodie. His ribcage is on fire and he can hardly breathe. He is aware of the state of himself by the contrast Bodie presents, bandbox fresh and handsome in his civvies, and does not know that his eyes are bright jade with astonishment, his awkward sprawl on the bed such a picture to his companion that Bodie is compelled to go and help him sit up before he begins to admire it. Bodie shoves a pillow behind his shoulders, levers the backrest up. Doyle ignores these attentions. He is too tired to do anything but turn away from him, and does so, gasping in relief as the weight comes off his ribs. "Congratulations," he growls, when he can, letting his eyes close. "You won the golden lemon."

Chapter Four

Three things surprise Doyle about his first weeks on the street with Bodie. The first is that, in many ways, his new job corresponds closely with his old fantasy of it -- the ambitions he used to bore his poor sergeant with, as they drove around the Stepney estates in Rob's panda car. Excitement, challenge, danger. He and Bodie have locked horns with a bunch of vicious gun-runners three hours into their maiden shift: by four that afternoon, they have emerged bruised and exhilarated from a firefight which turned into a punch-up once the ammo ran out, and before knocking off, exhausted, in the small hours of the morning, have disabled a small but significant car bomb wedged into the chassis of a minister's limo. Doyle remembers how thoroughly Rob's miserable death knocked these comic-book fantasies out of him, remembers driving back alone through the airless summer night, tears streaming down his face, practically castrated with shock. After that all he cared about was learning -- getting better at the job he had, so good at it that he would never, by fault of his own, lose another partner. Thoughts of CI5 had shamed him after that night: maybe if he hadn't been distracted, discontented... Ultimately Cowley had headhunted him for the training, and even then he almost hadn't bothered. Now it only amuses him, that he is doing all those Boy's Own things the Stepney copper used to dream about, and he turns his mind to them with the same cool focus he once brought to advanced police work.

The second surprise is that, on the days when he is not running, jumping and shooting, he is bored stiff. The obbos Cowley requires, the level of surveillance, make every equivalent operation he undertook for the Met look like a circus, and a nine-to-five circus at that. For Cowley, he sits behind the wheel or in the passenger seat of the car-pool Escorts and Capris -- ordinary cars, but fast, manoeuvrable, far better suited to racing round the London thoroughfares than lurking in their back alleys -- for 12-hour shifts at the least, doing nothing, expected to do that nothing with perfect concentration, to the absolute best of his ability. If Cowley has said he wants one door watched for a week to see it does not open, that is what he wants, nothing less -- and, what Doyle at first fails to understand, nothing more. He doesn't want a written report or strategic prowling round the block. He wants Doyle, with all his training, marksmanship and potential, to sit in the bloody car and watch the door.

Bodie's presence in the car's other seat makes these interminable ops both better and worse. At first, it feels so awkward Doyle wonders the windows don't blow out in the high-pressure nothing of their silences. So far they have only met in action, crisis, training situations whose very nature gave them plenty to talk about or a cogent reason not to talk at all. Doyle is not a bad hand at the friendly manufacture of low-key conversation -- another police skill, keeping suspects or victims calm and distracted -- but has no idea how to make small talk with Bodie, whose forbidding profile, handsomely outlined against whatever urban backdrop lies beyond the Capri's window, seems to cut off idle comments at source. Bodie is, to Doyle's bemusement, very good at these obbos, capable of a bone-deep stillness, unremitting concentration. Doyle would have thought he'd have hated being so cooped up... But Bodie, having served with Cowley for longer, has had longer to understand the significance of whatever must lie behind any door the old man is willing to set good men to watch. These are not tests any more. Sometimes he takes pity on Doyle's restiveness and swallows the bait of a conversational line. The weather, the headlines. Once, and once only: You got any family, then? -- a question Doyle instantly, bitterly regrets, because even the most taciturn of men will probably answer and return it. But Bodie says only, "No. You?", the flatness of it letting Doyle off the hook, enabling his own flat, toneless, "No," and that is the end of that.

The third surprise is that the job is fun. Doyle really has not foreseen that, in between extremes of violence and passivity, between yelling at one another over the roar of gunfire and those first excruciating hours of shared surveillance, he and Bodie might develop a rapport, and it does take a good few weeks. First Doyle has to let go his suspicion that Bodie's displays of warmth and comradeship, when they come, are not some ploy to manipulate him to his own ends. Soon, though, he is questioning whether they ever were. If they come out of nowhere and disappear as fast -- well, Bodie is changeable, that's all, and Doyle does not have to invest so much in him that the inconsistencies need to wrong-foot him or hurt. He begins to take him as he finds him, and Bodie, sensing lack of expectations, relaxes. Doyle has to admit that, for a couple of hours in the pub or a stalk through the back streets in pursuit of prey, he is a good companion. He makes Doyle laugh, indigo eyes lighting suddenly with wicked humour as he pulls out a dead-on impression of the old man, Macklin or Towser. On a good day, belting through the city with the windows down, pushing the Capri to its max and listening to Bodie make whatever dry observations on their situation and their target he chooses to share, Doyle finds that he is happy, in a bright, direct way he hasn't known since early childhood. They are out, he and Bodie, after the bad guys, and the powers CI5 invests in them allow them to do this far more trenchantly, far faster, than police protocol would ever permit. They do well. After a couple of months, Doyle makes the mistake of letting himself think it might be easy.

One cold day in mid-April they bust a drugs ring. There are guns too, and kiddie porn: by the time they finish searching the derelict warehouse and garages, Doyle's stomach is lurching. His near-encyclopaedic knowledge of illegal substances will not let him identify the tang in the air, in the makeshift laboratories: something new, he thinks, some hybrid, neither upper nor downer, a recipe for pure craziness. Bodie prowls near him, letting him get on with what he's best at, pulling a wry face of amusement as he fearlessly dips a finger into vials, piles of powder, and tastes -- he's his own best analysis kit by now, and a few grains of most things won't kill him or send him off his face. He braces up against the grim scraps of images left in the crappy excuse for a photography studio -- far more susceptible to those, to the pathetic, splayed little forms on the celluloid. He admires Bodie's dispassion. He briefly mistakes it for not caring, then catches Bodie flip one film-sheet face down and away from him before he can see it.

Thanks, but I can't let you. Thanks, but you don't need to. Thank you, but I'm tough enough, tough at least as you, and... Before he can consider which to say, an outer door bursts open, and his easy job flares up into one of the hardest days of his whole bloody life.

Bodie is down, but where, he doesn't know. He saw Bodie's hand-to-hand while he struggled with his own, saw the flash of a blade. Learned what it was to hear a sound of pain from him: brief, raw, immediately silenced. Then the combat carried Bodie beyond his field of vision, and he only knows that he is still out of action because otherwise Doyle would not have been left to deal with these four blank-eyed thugs by himself.

He thinks they are Triad. The drugs lab has all the hallmarks of it: neat, well equipped, inconspicuous. The porn has surprised him -- the Chinese gangs have their own strict proprieties -- but he supposes, in difficult times, they have had to diverge. To use Western runners, because his assailants look and sound British. Doyle knows the arrangement. Best to use your own people, but, failing that, no employee so loyal as a hooked gwai lo, paid a pittance in cash and a treasure in crack, one good hit for each job well done. Whatever is being made in this lab, Doyle can smell it on them, see it in their eyes. Pinprick-pupilled. Crazy.

Christ, he is in trouble. But he feels it from a distance: what is clawing at his heart is Bodie's silence, his continued absence from the fray. Doyle worked in Stepney with Rob for the best part of five years, and loved him like a father, but not once did he feel this sickening fear. He supposes that, back then, despite his job and the tough streets in which he did it, he had not fully understood the nature of guns and of knives. What they do: the utter helplessness of flesh and bone against them. His whole focus, since arriving in London in 1961, had been learning to defend himself without.

Rob's death changed that, sent him to the firing range and weaponry classes, but still he knows where his best talents lie. Useful: after getting off one shot at the new arrivals as the lab door was kicked in, he has been swiftly disarmed by other men storming the place from outside. Now it's time for him to find out if all the time and money he sank into making a weapon of himself -- muscle, bones, reflexes, top-to-toe and directed by will -- has been worth it.

Bodie, felled by a blade between his ribs, is uniquely situated to watch him, having fallen just outside the laboratory doorway. It is taking his body a while to work out if anything major has been punctured, and just at present even his white-hot rage against his own inadequacy is failing to get him up again. Shock roils through him, more of an enemy than blood-loss, slowing his heart and slicking his palms and brow with sweat. Perversely, his vision clears to an almost painful acuity, and he reflects, from increasing distance out, that at least he has time, finally, to work out what combat technique it is that Doyle uses to repel all boarders. He's experienced it for himself by now, in the dojo and the gym, but on those occasions has been too occupied in dealing with him to think about it. Also, he suspects that, for reasons best known to himself, Doyle has been holding back, in their training and demonstration engagements.

He isn't holding back now. Bodie sees him land a straight-armed punch flat on the heart of a man twice his weight and feels the vibration as his victim hits the deck, a deep thud that sends glassware flying. Sees him power round out of the move for the next, less fighter than dancer until he comes back into range, staying always one step ahead, keeping the fight on his terms. Bodie would give him an encouraging shout, if he had voice for it: come on, Ray. One down, three to go. And, yes, that's it -- dance moves, round through 360 in a blur to deliver his next blow. Dancer. Boxer. Who combines those two...? Ah, yes -- Bodie has it. Shantung; somewhere for some reason Doyle has put himself to the effort and expense of learning Shantung bloody boxing. Very few Westerners bother. Few have the build for it, the combination of agility and steel-cable toughness, or, if they do, it will send them to Sadler's Wells, not counterterrorism work. Doyle is very good at it. His face is pure with concentration, almost serene. He takes down his next man with a flying scissor-kick.

Yes, he's good. But nobody has told him that even Shantung boxing only works till some fat bastard gets the drop on him.

Sprawled face-down across the laboratory table, shards of glass driving into his chest and his stomach, Doyle still gives it his best. There are things he can do even now. Unlikely twists, a backward reach to grab at hair or testicles. It's a matter of waiting for his chance. He lets himself go limp, as if winded or defeated. He needs the two thugs holding him down to relax a bit, too, which won't be easy. He's put one of them down already, so hard that he shouldn't have come back. They're full of whatever gets cooked up in this lab, or desperate for it. Mentally, dispassionate, Doyle adds cocaine to the list of ingredients he's been compiling. All right, all right, you've got me. I'm worn out, a rag doll. Now just shift one inch closer to the right...

A click, and a cold blunt press to the back of his skull, and Doyle meets the other thing apart from dumb bloody bulk that will put an end to unarmed combat. A voice, thick with excitement, blasts hotly into his ear. "I can do this to you while you're alive, copper, or shoot you and shag your corpse. Up to you."

Doyle actually finds himself giving it thought. He assumes that what it means is that if he doesn't fight, he'll be raped first and killed afterwards: that further resistance will reverse the order of events. Tricky, he thinks, and almost laughs. No-one but Gabe has ever had him. Racking anguish though that was -- so hard, terminated afterwards by such an apocalyptic curtain-fall that he has never until now allowed himself to reflect on it -- he has sealed it in a sacred place in his mind, a place that getting fucked again will crowbar open and destroy. Up to you... He honestly doesn't know. His life till now has not been such that he would develop a love of it for its own sake, although he's tried, and mostly succeeded, in making it worthwhile. Bodie has made a difference. That surprises Doyle; he knows that his answer even ten minutes ago would have been easy. I want to live and have more time with him. Odd, because although they've made friends, or at least ceased hostilities, they're far from brothers-in-arms. But Bodie is down. A cold, twisting voice in his mind tells him Bodie is dead, lost to him, their short run over. It makes him want to take the second option. He fights.

"You little fucker!" The gun muzzle rams into his skull. His effort miscarries and he feels himself slammed down across the table once more, hard enough to stun him. Shoot me, then, you bastard! But perhaps live prey is more exciting. The gun and one big hand pin him down. The other man grabs his hips, pulls him flat, spreadeagles him. Shoves both hands beneath his belly and rips his jeans apart. Doyle hears his own cry of outrage as they are yanked down, exposing him: any sound he makes now will only turn his assailant on more, and there's no need for that; already he can feel a shocking length of hot raw meat shoving up between his thighs. This will rip him open. This will end the memory of Gabe, whom Doyle adored with a first-love purity, adored and lost one day at childhood's end. His mind unhinges. He is back in Bodie's fucking SAS debris shelter in the woods, because, inexplicably, that is where he wants to be, in face of the unbearable, clutched in Bodie's massive grip, which, pragmatic though it was, somehow made him safe enough to sleep and dream of Gabe. He knows that he has never spoken Gabe's name like that before, not unless the dozens of men and women he has spent the night with since have been too polite to mention it...

A shout, hot and angry. Ringing round the lab like music. Doyle has slipped too far away to make out the words, but there aren't many anyway: a few brief syllables, and then two shots. The weight on his back disappears.

Bodie stands staring at the corpses sprawled on the laboratory floor. He gave them good warning, he supposes, if get the fuck off him can be said to count. Holstering the gun, he stumbles through the stink of cordite and blood to his partner, who is still laid out across the table, unmoving. It hurts Bodie obscurely to see him there like a half-skinned bloody rabbit, like... Christ, he has not thought he was too late -- didn't hear a shot, or the snap of crucial bone... "Ray," he says, hoarsely, and reaches a hand to his shoulder...

Dear God. Bodie is no Shantung boxer, though his judo skills are a matter of some renown, and he has the full complement of special-forces dirty tricks at his disposal. It's these last he has to use to bring Doyle down, to get a grip on the spitting, snake-muscle lynx that erupted from the table as soon as he touched it: he spins him, knocks him off balance with a feint to one ankle and a savage kick to the other, gets a grip on his neck he knows will slow the blood-flow to his brain and rams him up against a filing cabinet. "Doyle, for fuck's sake! It's me!"

Doyle sucks a breath. He comes back from the forest, from a million lightyears out. His belly and cock are cold, clamped hard to metal. His naked backside is warm, by virtue of the restraining press of Bodie's hips against it. Bodie, alive, is holding him tight from behind. "Christ!" he rasps, then adds, because he has to, "Let me go!"

"Are you finished trying to kick the shit out of me?"

"Yeah. I... Yeah, I'm sorry. Let me go."

Bodie obeys, cautiously, and steps back. He watched while Doyle hauls his jeans and pants up, noting that his hands are shaking, that even if he has a zip left to fasten, he won't be able to manage it. He wants to help, but knows what he'll meet with for offering. He settles for, "It's all right. I'll go get the car. Are you hurt?"

Doyle is bleeding from a dozen shallow shard-wounds to the chest and stomach, and his head did not like being banged off the table, but he knows what Bodie means. "No," he says. "He only..." Then the realisation of only what sweeps over him, and he turns on Bodie, eyes flashing. The rule that's been drummed into him harder than anything else since joining this mob -- protect your partner -- costing him sweat and guilt every day, and nightmares of losing his last one, a disaster he's wrongly convinced is common knowledge among his new colleague -- it's never really occurred to him until now that, in theory at least, he should be on the receiving as well as the giving end of that protection. "Where the fuck were you?" he demands, almost falling under the vertigo of his own angry spin to face him, grabbing at the cabinet to hide the weakness.

For a moment Bodie looks nonplussed. It's a fair question. He, too, has learned the catechism of partnership, and knows that no excuse is valid, that temporary disablement from a knife wound wouldn't have left Doyle any less violated, any less dead on the floor of this sordid place with the back of his head blown off. He says, unsteadily, "I'm sorry."

"What have you got blood on you for?"

Jesus. I just thought it would look nice. What do you think? "Stabbed," he says. "I'm all right."

"What?" Before Bodie can react, Doyle is undoing his shirt, hands steady enough now. Fingers warm and confident, seeking the wound. "Oh, God. Why didn't you say?"

"Like you've given me a sodding chance, Doyle... It's nothing." But, now he's on his feet again, Bodie knows he's lost a lot of blood. Is still losing: Doyle's fingers come away scarlet. He doesn't resist Doyle's grip on him, guiding him over to sit on an overturned crate. He puts his head down and listens while Doyle finds one of their R/Ts on the floor, smacks it until it works, and radios in a priority -- a type one, to indicate an injury on duty. They're allowed to shout for help during their leisure hours as well -- only fair, since Cowley has assured them that from now on they won't really have any -- but that has to be a type two. Distantly, the room and all its wreckage beginning to rotate around him, Bodie wonders what differences it will make; if the ambulance comes sooner for the first kind but diverts, like a devious cabbie, for the second... Then Doyle is kneeling in front of him, shrugging out of his jacket. It's a nice one, fine light sheepskin, which Bodie suspects he bought with his first full month's pay packet. He bundles it up and presses it tight to Bodie's side. "Here," he says. "Hold that on tight. Jesus, Bodie, what did you go and kill those two for? We needed them to talk."

"Oh, is that what they were doing to you? Making conversation?"

Doyle shoots him a poisonous look, one which tells Bodie clear as words that further remarks on that subject will not be appreciated. "Well, you can explain it to Cowley."

And Bodie does, though the old man is as annoyed as Doyle that he didn't just wing them, shoot any part of them that left their mouths working and Doyle mostly intact. It could have been done. Propped up on pillows in his hospital bed, watching the thin red line of someone's kindly donated A-positive tank him back up to strength, Bodie wonders if this latest incident will be added to his record for brutality and lose him his new-found job -- a prospect which, to his own surprise, sends an unhappy pang through him. But Cowley appears to be viewing these killings in a different light to the ones he has perpetrated down in the holding cells. He has coolly taken up position by Bodie's bed, ignoring the nurses' protests, and asked for his report, showing particular interest in his reasons for opening fire when he did. "I was faint," Bodie tells him, much as it burns him to choose a lie that make makes him look weak. "I just took a couple of pot shots."

"Nonsense, Bodie. At that range? You'd have been as likely to hit Doyle. The gentlemen were efficiently dispatched."

"Oh, for God's..." Bodie tails off wearily. Cowley's eyes are bleak and clear as a winter morning, settled unmercifully on his own. "They were going to fuck him. Or blow his brains out. I wasn't sure which first."

"And you couldn't stand to see it."

"No, I -- "

"Be quiet, Bodie." Cowley sits down stiffly on the edge of the bed. It's a cold, rainy day, bad weather for embedded shrapnel. "I've spoken to Doyle. He, too, is of the opinion that you acted to save him: you needn't disillusion us. From now on, of course, I expect your acts of heroism to be conducted with a cooler head." Bodie opens his mouth to protest again, and he holds up a silencing hand. "I will overlook this. A neat execution was more than those two thugs deserved, now that I know who they are, and you are lucky -- the ones you and Doyle merely disabled are talking enough to serve my purposes." He pauses, then continues in an altered tone. "Listen, Bodie. Doyle's been discharged. He needed a couple of stitches, and he did his best to convince me that, other than that, he's fine. Not a bad job, either -- he's a better liar than you. But he isn't. He's...freaked out." He and Bodie exchange a brief, startled glance: that he knows the expression; that he's willing to use it. "They'll be sending you home later, too. Go and see him. Find out why."

This is the social aspect of partnering, which Bodie knows the old man expects his teams to get used to as much as the gunfire and fistfights. With Murph, it had been simple: the few thorns that ever got under his thick hide could usually be extracted over a couple of pints in the King's Head. Bodie thinks that if asked, Doyle would say he requires nothing more complicated -- if, of course, he could be brought to admit he needed anything at all -- but Bodie suspects otherwise, which is why he has turned up at his Kensal flat with the scotch in a plastic bag, rather than arranging to meet him in the pub.

They are both still on the first rung of Cowley's ladder where accommodation is concerned, that's for sure. The old man rewards loyalty -- eventually -- with better quarters, but for now Doyle has been assigned the top floor of a Victorian terrace that looks one shade off a demolition order. Not that Doyle has shown any dissatisfaction with it: has surreptitiously decorated, bought a rug. Bodie, who thinks he's not supposed to notice, has not commented. He supposes it's better than police housing. His own new flat, in which he conscientiously does not allow himself to miss or even think about the sounds and smells of Murphy's comings and goings, is certainly better than a barrack. He jogs up the steps of Doyle's redbrick, pushes the buzzer and waits. Carefully inconspicuous, all the service flats; in residential backwaters, places you would walk past without a second glance. All have intercoms, and at least two sets of locks on the inside. "Hoi," he says, as the line crackles open. "It's me. Let me up."

Yes, freaked out is probably the best description. Doyle leans on the kitchen counter, where he's gone to put the kettle on, expression carefully neutral. He's showered recently, his hair still damp. He is so clean that Bodie can smell him, a fresh tang of soap. He's avoiding eye contact, and, when he has to look, his eyes have an odd sea-light glimmer. The calm precision of his movements as he fills the mugs, adds milk and brings them to the table, does not conceal for one minute from Bodie his desire to jump out of his skin.

"You all right?" Doyle asks, putting a mug down in front of Bodie and coming to sit opposite him. "Didn't think they'd let you out today."

Bodie considers a crack about his own toughness, or how the hospital hasn't been made that could hold him, but senses Doyle isn't in the mood. He shrugs. "It wasn't that bad. Sorry it slowed me up so much. What about you? You okay?"

Doyle's turn to shrug. He reaches for the sugar bowl, adds a spoonful to his tea, which Bodie thought he didn't like, then seems to forget and nervously does it again. "Fine," he says. "Why would I not be?"

Bodie sits back. All right. He hadn't thought it was going to be easy. The casual, oblique probing he could use on Murph will not do here; he will have to be explicit. "You nearly got buggered at gunpoint, Doyle. I don't know which part of that didn't bother you, but if you tell me you're fine, I'm going to think less of you, not more." Silence. The flat is surprisingly quiet, Bodie peripherally notes, high enough above the busy world for the sound of traffic to be muted. Over on the counter, Doyle's weapon is lying on a cloth, broken down to its parts. That's the other thing Bodie can smell -- gun oil. He's been cleaning it. There's a trace of the oil on his fingers where he's knotted them together. His head is down. "It's not nice," Bodie continues, keeping it toneless, just an observation, "to have a gun at your head. Specially the back. You just don't know when it's gonna happen, or if it is. You'll get over it. As for the other thing..."

"Bodie, shut up."

Bodie tilts an eyebrow. There it is: the warning growl. Something about that, then. The other thing. He reaches for the bottle of scotch, extracts it from its bag. "Okay. Don't know about you, but I could murder a drink. Got any glasses, or do we prefer to swig from the bottle?"

Obediently Doyle gets up and goes to fetch two tumblers from the cupboard. He feels strange, like a box full of snakes which Bodie for some reason is trying to lever open. His legs and arms don't seem to fit him right: he is stiff, disjointed. He wants to hit something. He says, flatly, "You didn't have to bring that. Got plenty in here."

"Well, I invited myself, didn't I? Rude to arrive empty-handed."

Doyle gives this thought, coming to pour them both a careless double. Now that Bodie's said it, it's the arriving at all which puzzles him. They've grabbed a couple of takeaways together by now, at the end of a long shift, and Doyle has even cooked for him once, when they had to spend a night at this very kitchen table working out the details of a protection op. But they're not quite on off-duty socialising terms. They don't pop round. He sits down, tips his glass at Bodie in some ghost of a toast, and knocks back the drink, barely noticing. "Cowley sent you, didn't he."

Bodie sighs. The knife blade did not penetrate his lung, but it was a near thing, and he is bloody tired. Also, he feels a faint sense of unfairness. He is pretty sure that he would have called in on Doyle on his way home, even without the old man's instruction. "Do you care?"

"What -- do I care which one of you two decided I need checking up on? Not a bit." He smiles, bitterly. "You can't think that's the worst thing that's ever happened to me." Bodie, surveying his scars, the marks on him where life has run him over, is certain that it isn't, but doesn't get given a chance to answer. "You'd have been welcome round for a drink, mate -- any time. But I don't need a minder. Once you've finished that... I'd rather be by myself, to be honest."

Very honest. Bodie glances at him, half-smiling, in acknowledgement. "All right. Sorry." Well, he tried. He picks up his glass, prior to downing its contents and leaving the man to the enjoyment of his solitude as requested... Then suddenly Doyle is there at his elbow, once more shifting so quick and silent from one place to the next that Bodie is not sure he saw him move at all. "If we're being bloody fussy about one another," he says, in an altered tone -- his natural one, Bodie thinks, stripped of whatever fear or pain has been enamelling its surface, twisting him out of his own fair shape tonight -- "you shouldn't be drinking. Aren't you full of painkillers?"

Bodie nods. "And more or less emptied of blood. You're right." He watches Doyle settle again, this time in the chair beside him. His expression is odd, as if he was expecting Bodie to resist him, to mind being told to lay off. Bodie is puzzled, too, because ordinarily he would; he'd tell whichever interfering sonofabitch it was to fuck off. But not Doyle. Somehow not Doyle. "Well," he says, putting a finger to the rim of the glass and delicately shoving it across the table towards him. "Don't waste it. I don't bring any old crap along with me, not when I'm minding."

Doyle reaches for the bottle, tips it and glances at the label. No, he doesn't, does he? He chucks back the second scotch, too, this time enjoying the burn. He looks at Bodie, whose eyes are unfathomably fixed on him. "Thanks," he says, a little roughly. The disjointed feeling is still there -- increasing, as the alcohol steals subtly between perception and reaction, between the world and how much it ought to matter to him -- but he no longer wants to wallop someone. Not even Bodie. Now that he has time -- now that he has a little ethanol inside him -- what he wants to do to Bodie does not bear thinking of. It would be so damn good to lose his memories of this afternoon in a wild fuck. It's crossed his mind to seek out female company, but he knows he'd hurt a girl, unleashing that onto her. No. Not even halfway what he wants... "How's Murphy doing?" he asks suddenly, at the end of a chain of thought he's glad only he can see.

"Murph?" Bodie hears his own surprise at the question, as if Doyle has asked him about a stranger. And the fact is that he doesn't know, that he hasn't even thought about Murphy since his departure. Has assumed, since he didn't hear of a pile-up on the M74 in the days thereafter, that he got where he was going in one piece, and after that, what business was he of Bodie's? The name sets a dull, surly ache in the pit of his gut. "No idea. He's not the postcard type."

"Yeah, but I thought you and he were..." Doyle chokes, and catches himself just in time. Bodie's good malt is strong, and he's felt too sick to eat. "Mates. Don't you miss him?"

Bodie snorts faintly. "Can't afford that kind of thing in this game, Doyle. You just seize the day, and whoever's around. You'll soon work that out."

It's been an interesting choice of words. You seize whoever's around. Each one of them hears it, and considers, and glances sidelong at the other, doing the same. Their thoughts run parallel. Would he? God knows all the signs are there, and bloody lovely, too. I could seize that, no bother. Maybe we could get it out of our systems. Maybe we should... Doyle breaks the speculative mutual gaze first, reaching to pour himself a third big double. He doesn't want to think, or feel, doesn't want to end up spilling his guts on schedule to Bodie in his role of Cow-appointed shrink, and he could: something inside him is howling.

He sits back. He doesn't dare make the move -- if he's wrong, he's screwed; he and Bodie will never find the balance again. Handily, though, that deep-sea gaze and the scotch have brought down his barriers, set off in him a chain-reaction of arousal. He knows he can put the goods on offer in such a way as to leave Bodie in no doubt, and after that it's up to him, isn't it? He turns a little to face him, aware that his nipples are tightening, that he didn't dry off too thoroughly after his shower and his T-shirt is clinging. That a warm flush is building, climbing up his throat, putting out the flags across his cheekbones. That the table's edge does not quite conceal the growing bulge in his jeans...

Bodie scans him: comprehensively, accurately, head to toe. His expression -- which should, by Doyle's reckoning, have veered either to disgust or lasciviousness -- becomes oddly rapt...

The beeper goes off. Both jump violently. Doyle's R/T is in the living room, Bodie's in his jacket pocket. Already Doyle's phone is ringing. He gets up stiffly and goes to answer it. Bodie watches while he picks up and attends in silence to whatever impossibility is being demanded of him on the other end. Watching Doyle's face, he's amused. Will he protest? He looks about ready to tell Cowley, or whoever's relaying his orders, to piss off and leave injured men alone. Bodie decides that he likes how Doyle looks when he's angry. How his mobile face smooths to a dangerous blank...

Doyle hangs up. "They want us out there again."

"I gathered as much. Where?"

"Incoming arms shipment, Sheppey Airfield. I'm going. You're staying here."

"Oh, yeah? That what Cowley said?"

"No. He wants both of us. But you just got out of hospital, Bodie. Old man knows that."

Bodie pushes onto his feet. A neat bright pang from the knife wound goes through him, killing the warmth of arousal that has gathered in his groin at the sight of Ray Doyle a minute ago, flushed and seductive, sprawled in his kitchen chair. Little bugger was going to hand it to me... "Yes, he does. So if he's calling me out, I must be okay."

Doyle snorts at this declaration of faith. He likes Cowley, and he's grateful for the gig, but he's under no illusions, and suspects that Bodie is. This makes Doyle uneasy. "Bollocks," he says, spooning instant coffee into a mug, running hot water from the tap. "He doesn't care. Just wants the job done."

"He does. This is one of those times he told us about after the assault course, mate. When the bad guys won't take a day off just because we need one... Christ, are you going to drink that?"

"Mm. Sober me up."

Bodie sighs. He hasn't touched his scotch, but something is making his head spin. God, he was coming on to me... "Better fix me one, too."

Once Doyle has the Capri roaring down the side streets towards the North Circular, Bodie reaches into the back seat, wincing at the movement. He pulls a large carrier bag through the gap between the seats. "Here," he says. "Was the nearest I could find."

The sheepskin jacket Doyle steals a glance at between junctions is very like the one he used to staunch Bodie's bleeding the day before, yes. He can't even remember what happened to that coat. It had mattered to him when he bought it. Long cold London winter coming, and nice to be able to afford something decent. Like the flat, like the rug and the couple of pictures he has bought to go in it, it signalled to him the beginning of a new life. He thinks he might have left it in a heap on the ambulance floor. The driver's assistant hadn't been a lot of use; Doyle had just kept Bodie awake and talking, the jacket pressed tight into place until they pulled up outside the Charing Cross A&E. This one is the same colour and style. It also cost about five times the one Doyle had settled for, having seen others like it in another shop and given a good Derby lad's derisive snort at absurd London prices.

Worth every penny, though. He puts out a hand to feel it. Thick and soft inside, the leather fragrant, rich beneath his fingers. He says, faintly, braking to avoid a bus, "Jesus, Bodie."

"Well. There was no amount of dry-cleaning in the world, was there?"

"No, but... I didn't even think about it. I can't accept this."

Bodie grins happily. He's got it right, he can see. One of the few non-military things he's good at. He gives Doyle's thigh a slap. "Yeah, you can. Put your bloody foot down, mate! My gran drives faster than this."

They both survive Sheppey, and the bloodstained weeks that follow. Oddly, Doyle's interrupted come-on has made things less awkward between them, not more. He did make his gesture, and Bodie did notice: they don't discuss it, but neither of them feels a need to retract or deny it, either. A new thread runs between them, a mutual physical awareness. It extends across distance. They don't have to talk, on the hunt or during shootouts. A glance will do, a gesture. Sometimes not even that.

Sometimes Doyle wishes he could continue the conversation they started in his kitchen. There are things that he wants to say to Bodie. He wants to tell him that, although having a gun to his head in that smashed-up laboratory, an alien cock about to invade his body -- although these things were terrifying, what really scared the crap out of him was not hearing Bodie answer to his shout when he went down. Not being able to see him; for five hour-long minutes not knowing if he was alive or dead. He wants to tell Bodie that, whatever dark knot of fear and revulsion he is bearing around inside him concerning that aspect of sex, it paled into absolute insignificance by contrast with the panic of losing him. Doyle doesn't understand this. It takes years, doesn't it, to feel like that about someone?

But he knows not to rock the boat of their fledgling partnership. The flare of attraction between them simmers down, becomes safe, in a kind of rough banter and flirting. The long boring obbos don't feel so bad any more, though Doyle doesn't dare sleep during Bodie's turns to watch: if he's talked about Gabe once he could do it again, couldn't he, and that would be unbearable. They gripe about the weather, and the state of the nation as set out in The Daily Express. They discover how alarmingly far apart they are on the political spectrum, then that becomes enjoyable too, a source of unrestrained debate. Bodie begins to tell him the Africa stories, and a few from his duty tours in Northern Ireland. These are so lurid and detailed that Doyle decides they're either all true or entirely a tissue of lies, and can't decide what's worse. From time to time Doyle tries to steer him past the end of these tales and into his SAS service, which interests Doyle a good deal more, but Bodie's narrative stops dead on the brink of that chapter, his eyes clouding as they had under Cowley's tirade in the classroom.

One rainy day in August, they go to take down an active service unit near Crystal Palace. The old man himself turns out for this occasion, having put a lot of time and manpower into the pursuit. He limps about the lower rooms of the house in satisfaction, counting guns and rifles, while his men do what they do best on the floor above: the raid has been well timed, the hens sound asleep in the hen-house.

He glances up at the sound of flesh hitting floorboards. A frown knits his brow. He wanted this done quietly. And there is that damned idiot Bodie, rolling base-over-apex onto the landing in a tangle with Kip O'Brien, the leader of this ASU and a man Cowley fervently wants to see alive on the far side of a table in his interrogation rooms. The pair hit the staircase. Cowley watches dispassionately while they share the tumble down it, relishing every thump: if ever a man deserved his bruises...

Bodie lands on top. He's bone white, his temper palpable across the room. He draws back one fist. And Doyle, who has just stepped out onto the landing, his own man tidily at gunpoint, says, very quietly, "Don't."

Bodie freezes. He looks up at Doyle, who flickers him a tiny smile. Bodie makes him a face in return, of comic disappointment. Then he shrugs, flips O'Brien onto his front and begins to cuff him.

Later, after they've packed up the last of the rifles and catalogued the semtex, shells and triggers, Cowley stops by the Capri. He tells them, tersely as a reprimand, that their partnership is out of its trial period. That they can consider themselves, from now on, as good as or better than married. Till death, gentlemen. Then he adds, grimly, "Bodie, come with me."

Bodie stands in the rain, watching sycamore leaves in which a first splash of orange is appearing being battered down into the gutter. His fringe is sticking to his brow: he's forgotten to stop in at his barber's for his customary military crop. He'll be turning into Doyle soon, letting it curl and blow in the wind... He doesn't like to think how many other ways Doyle has altered his life. Home-cooked food, the sudden appearance in Bodie's own flat of an actual houseplant, because Doyle doesn't like the view out the bloody kitchen window. Ridiculous leftist politics, liberal arguments Bodie can never quite counter to his own satisfaction because it's like talking to a cat, or a snake, or a bloody mongoose jumping from one patch of moral high ground to the next... It's happened here, as well. The old man has just sealed their partnership. Bodie is about to hear how little of that is his own doing, how lucky he is to have secured a man like Doyle. Bodie doesn't need to hear it. He knows.

Cowley looks out at him from under his umbrella. He wonders why on earth Bodie doesn't suggest they get into the car, or take shelter back in the house. But there he is, passive, at military attention, hair soaking through in the rain. Cowley says, "You seem quite settled with Doyle. Are you happier?"

Bodie blinks. Happier than what? he wants to ask. He still doesn't sleep, still watches away his white nights curled up in an armchair or staring out through the bedroom window in his flat. He says, cautiously, "I'm fine, sir."

"I suppose what I'm asking you is, Bodie, if you're happy enough to want to stay with this organisation."

Oh. Bodie looks at the ground. "Chief made his mind up, then?"

"As it happens, I haven't heard from Chief Marsh one way or the other. You don't strike me as a man with a tender ego, son. Do you need me to tell you I'd fight him for you, if he did decide he wanted you back?"

Bodie assumes a look of disgust. "Of course not."

"Good," Cowley remarks urbanely. "Demeaning for both of us, if you did, however true it might be. Your probationary period is over, as far as I'm concerned. I'll assume, unless you tell me otherwise, that you're on my payroll." The downpour increases, bouncing off the thin black skin of his umbrella. Somewhere off in the distance, rare London thunder rumbles loud enough to be heard over the traffic. "Well, don't stand there in the rain, man. Get back to work."

Bodie returns to the car. Doyle has the engine idling, and glances up impatiently as he gets in. "What was all that about?" He looks Bodie over, and Bodie realises with mortification that the rain has not been quite enough to hide the pathetic tears that praise from the old man has stung to his eyes. "You're soaked. Did he rip you off a strip? What the hell for? That was textbook!"

"Doyle." Bodie holds out a hand to him, repressively. Loyal green-eyed indignation won't help at this moment. Bodie, tough as old boots, merc and war veteran, can't understand himself. "Calm down," he says. "Everything's fine." Suddenly he almost believes it. He feels the churning fog of emotions inside him burn off to simple pleasure, a child's conviction of the rightness of the world, and he flashes Doyle a wide grin. "Everything's gonna be fine."

Chapter Five

Everything's gonna be fine. Doyle, standing staring into thick grey smoke, wonders if something got into the car with Bodie that day and heard him. For a fortnight it has been -- Doyle's whole life, nearer to fine than he could possibly have imagined. On the streets with Bodie, who since his last discussion with Cowley has been different, less defended, not only responding to Doyle's stupid jokes but cracking a few of his own. Out in the world, knocking villainous heads together, knowing that Bodie is his -- his partner, at any rate -- not just until the paras want him back but for the duration, for as long as they can ride out the game. They have done well. They have, to Doyle's intense satisfaction, broken a child-trafficking ring.

They have somehow missed the tips and cues that might have warned them that the biggest fucking car bomb in London's history was about to rip Knightsbridge apart. Everything's fine, Doyle says to himself, clinging to the Capri's open door. He can't get further. He gives one moment's mad consideration to dropping back into the driver's seat and peeling off out of here never to return. The smoke is greasy, roiling. He can't see into it. Doesn't want to: he can hear just fine. He's heard it before, the bestial noise people make when they're thrown past self-consciousness by agony and fear, when they can't hear themselves any more and are just bellowing out their terror, but that's been the odd gunshot or knife victim. A couple at a time for the Stepney beat-copper, that's all. Not dozens. Not what sounds like fucking hundreds, shrieking at him out of the dark, blown to lost and amputated shreds between Harrods and the bloody V&A.

Where the hell is Bodie? In there, of course -- in the cloud. He didn't hesitate. The balloon went up, and they raced here along with every other unit, siren and flashing blue light available. And that's a point, Doyle thinks, fingers clenching so tight on the top of the Capri's window that her rubber seal tears -- everyone's here. They weren't first on the scene. No need for Bodie to have run straight into hell, leaving Doyle with his knees turned to water, clutching at the car door like it was an outstretched angel's wing. Beyond the crests of the smoke clouds, against the plangent autumn sky, he sees the dome and towers of the Brunswick church across the road. He almost laughs. Where the hell were You, then?

Oh, God, where the hell are You?

Doyle draws a breath. He lets go of the door. He has long ago worked out that, if he wants deity in his life, he had better damn well find it in himself. Yes, he has made that jump in his thinking: a tough one for a Catholic, taught from birth that God is up there and mankind down here, hopelessly and forever separate. He has put God back where He should be -- right in his own human breast, with all the joy and pain and agonising responsibility that entails. There is need for him to enter hell. The police and the ambulance men going to work all around him have their remit, to find and aid hell's victims. But Doyle can help work out who put them there.

The smoke is not random. It has a direction and a heart. Even from here, Doyle can see it, and his good crime-scene officer's brain wakes up. That's where Bodie will have gone -- Bodie, his partner, for as long as they both can ride out the game. Doyle enters hell at a run.

He finds Bodie on his hands and knees by the burnt-out wreck of a Mercedes. "Here," he says to Doyle, calmly, as if they were putting bits together in the forensic garages at HQ. He hands Doyle a twisted piece of metal. "Detonator?"

"Looks like." Doyle takes it, crouching beside him. He turns it over. Faint sick sunlight is making its way through the oily smoke now, enough for him to see the design. Not much left of it, but the three wires, the way they've been threaded through into the chamber... "Irish," he says. "Seen this before. A unit that works out of Fermanagh..."

"What, Saoirse Eireann? Christy McMahon?"

"Yeah. McMahon got out of the Maze a month ago. Time off for fucking good behaviour."

Bodie is nodding rapidly, joining the dots. "Right. They use Mercs, don't they. Don't attract attention in places like this; everybody just assumes it's some other bugger's driver... Semtex, about three pounds. Trademark..." He falls silent, looking up at Doyle.

They reach their conclusion in the same heart-stopped, wide-eyed instant. "Trademark fucking second device!" Doyle rasps, and they both dive for the tarmac.

It's there, wedged tight into the Merc's blackened chassis. They need bomb disposal, really. It's a dirty bitch of a bomb, rigged to tick over like a snake down a hole until the whole cast is assembled -- fire crew, ambulances, brave civilian helpers. They need a man in a small armoured tank, full kit, radio control. But all they have is Ray Doyle with a penknife.

Bodie stares down at him. He'd thought he was going to lose him, as they'd screeched up into the outer circle fifteen minutes ago. He'd gone cod white behind the wheel, and not followed Bodie into the fray. Bodie hadn't taken time to see him through his first instant of shock. You got to these things fast or not at all -- not Bodie's job, to help him pop his cherry on his first proper massacre. A minute later he'd found himself regretting it -- remembering Mac on the assault course, asking himself reluctantly whose bloody job he thought it was, if not his own -- but too late.

And Doyle is here now. Bodie wonders if he got him wrong, if he was fine and had just hung back to put in the call to HQ. He's all business, long loose body relaxed as he lies on his back beneath the Merc. "Red or blue?" he asks Bodie conversationally, probing the wires into sight with the same tool he used last night to crack open their bottles of lager.

Bodie drops down to lie beside him. It's hardly the moment, but sex and death are closely linked in Bodie's mind, and Doyle's weird beauty shines out in odd situations like this. His sculpted mouth is pursed in concentration, soot and dirt from the chassis marking him like a tabby cat's stripes. Bodie wonders for the hundredth time how it would have been, if the beeper hadn't gone off. "I don't know," he says. "You're the one who's seen this crap before. Which way does McMahon normally rig it?"

"That's just it," Doyle murmurs, delicately parting the wires. "He likes to switch around. So. Red or blue?"

Bodie can't believe that he's seriously asking -- that he'd stake both their lives on a flip of Bodie's inner coin. Then, what choice does he have? Bodie can see the timer now, if he tucks his head close to Doyle's. The last digit's obscured but the rest are all zeroes. Time is up. "Blue," he says, and Doyle throws him a lunatic grin and cuts the red.

They roll out from under the chassis. Ten seconds have elapsed since the snip of Doyle's blade in the wire. Nothing has happened -- nothing else, at any rate, no worsening of the inferno. Bodie, who should be shocked rigid by the cat's-whisker escape, finds he is convulsed with laughter. He drags Doyle out to sit beside him on the tarmac. "Fucking... Fucking hell, Ray!"

Doyle looks at him blankly for a moment. Then he puts his head back, and his lovely, raucous, teenage-kid's cackle rings out across the screams and the sirens and rustle of petrol-tank flames.

A corpse emerges from the smoke: trips over them and drops down over their laps. No -- not a corpse; this thing is alive, though Bodie knows that if he were alone in the jungle with a soldier so injured he would not hesitate to put a mercy bullet through its head. The eyes are gone. The seared remains of a face seeks him out blindly, and a pleasant male voice -- up until that point even gender has been uncertain -- says, hopefully, "Richard?"

Bodie recoils. Utterly battle-hardened, he can't meet this calm request from a dying civilian. He begins to unship his weapon. And Doyle, who has caught him in his reflexive backward flinch, reaches suddenly past him. "Yes," he says to the corpse, which jerks in his direction. "Yes, I'm here."

"Richie! I... I thought I heard you laugh. What are you doing here?"

Doyle kneels beside the charred body. There's nowhere safe to touch but he doubts the nerves are capable of carrying signals for pain any more, so he lifts its shoulders carefully off the ground and onto his lap. "Came to find you, didn't I?" he says. "It'll be all right."

"Doyle," Bodie chokes out. "Christ, what are you doing?"

"Seeing him off. He doesn't know the difference."

"I'll -- I'll go and find an ambulance."

Doyle shrugs. "You'll be lucky, in this mayhem. Anyway, there's.." He pauses, leans over the now-still body in his arms. "There's no point now." He shudders. "There's no point."

Doyle finds that he is sitting on a low wall outside the Brunswick church. There are wrought-iron railings at his back. He can't remember getting here. The smoke cloud is thinning out slightly, but it seems to be full of tiny red sparks, and the air is harder to breathe than before. Doing him less good, for all the labouring efforts of his lungs.

"Doyle, put your head down or you're going to pass out."

You called me Ray again a few minutes ago, when I'd just called heads to your tails and cut the wire. You did back in Wealden Forest when my blood was turning to icy death in my veins. It really is for special occasions, isn't it? Doyle leans forward, obedient to the weight on his nape: Bodie's hand, shoving his skull down hard enough to keep him conscious. Bodie's warm bulk is at his side. "I'm all right."

"Yeah. You will be." The hand on his neck moves, unexpectedly tangles its fingers into his hair, caressing. "The first time's the worst. Nothing will seem as bad again after this. You won't feel it."

"I... I don't want to not feel things, Bodie."

"Some things you can't feel, or you're not gonna last."

"Let me go. Let me up." The warmth disappears from the back of his head, and he pushes up, determined to prove Bodie wrong. But already he's a little bit right: already Doyle can survey the nightmare unfolding in front of him with a degree of dispassion. He tries to tell himself he's just numb, but he knows that it's different. He watches the medics and firemen rushing back and forth. There aren't enough of them: he sees that others are stepping in, ordinary people from the shops and museums all around, workmen from building sites in fluorescent coats. Any minute now -- once his legs are working -- he will jump back in and start to help them, too. "Shit, Bodie," he whispers. "What did we miss? How did we not see this coming?"

"Oh. Don't start in with that, sunbeam, or -- "

"How can I not? How can you not? This all routine to you? Another bloody day in Africa?" He tries to shut up, hearing his voice crack. And he doesn't want to say the thing that will make Bodie withdraw his arm from round his shoulders. It feels like the only comfort in the world. But the words boil up like sickness. "This is our fucking fault."

The arm disappears. Peripherally he sees Bodie turn away. "Jesus Christ, Doyle. You'll sink both of us."

Doyle stares desperately into the crowd. There has to be something he can do, to prise open the claws of guilt sinking into his heart. He scans back over this last few days -- the interviews, the snitches, the leads chased down. Nothing has pointed to this. But he knows this city like the patterns on his own fireside rug. After ten years on its streets, he knows it -- better than Bodie does, he realises, promptly absolving Bodie, feeling the shared weight drop painful and hot on his own heart. London is Doyle's Africa, his backstreet Belfast. Disasters like this don't happen unannounced. There would have been warning tremors. He should have known.

He's ready now. His shock-response is under control. He's ashamed of it. And Bodie is right; he will never feel anything in this way again. He gets up and stands unsteadily. Civilians helping out now, and so should he be. If he's no use as a copper, he can be at least a pair of hands. Workmen, civilians and... "Oh, great," he whispers bitterly. "God's here."

Bodie looks up at him. Damned if he'll ever tell Doyle, but he is sick and shocked cold, too. For the last two weeks, he has felt something like a new life starting up for him. A clean slate, a second chance. He didn't want to leave it -- leave life, leave Doyle -- in the gutter underneath a burned-out car. And now that they've survived, by Doyle's dumb-luck angel-guided choice, he doesn't want Doyle analysing that miracle. Beginning to rip it to shreds... Following the direction of his partner's fixed, fierce gaze, Bodie sees that one of the helpers moving through the smoke is a priest. "So what?" he asks. Bodie doesn't love them, but, born and raised in as secular a world as can be imagined, he has no beef with them, either. "Any bloody comfort's better than none in this, isn't it?"

Doyle turns to him in surprise. The tone was rough, but Bodie sounds -- looks -- as if he could use some kind of comfort himself. He's pale, his eyes hollow, all their indigo fires turned to ash. Doyle decides he must be wrong. It's just the light: Bodie is harder than that. "Not all those poor bastards are Catholics," he snarls. "Do you think he's stopping to ask, before he lays his own ideas of salvation on them?"

"Doyle, he's giving them first aid, not the last rites."

Doyle looks again. This hasn't occurred. He watches the tall, lean figure going about its business, elegant in long dark cassock. The priest pauses by each body only long enough to check that life is no longer in it. Then he moves on to the next. At the fourth, Doyle sees him crouch: check a pulse, push hair tenderly back from a brow: then shout and wave frantically at the nearest group of ambulance men.

Incongruously, there's a flat Derby rasp in his voice. And it's not just the traces of smoke in the air: this priest, unusually for wealthy Catholic London, is black, or -- no, mixed-race... Doyle whispers, disbelievingly, "Gabriel. Gabe!", and begins to walk into the crowd.

Chapter Six

He isn't sure whether or not the priest has seen him. When Doyle had got close, he'd stood up from the side of the woman he was tending, and for a moment he looked in Doyle's direction, his features still obscured by distance and smoke. He'd seemed to hesitate. Then he had turned and made his way, with long swift strides, toward the church. He might have been going there anyway.

He might not be Gabe. The chances of him being Gabe are infinitesimal, in fact, and Doyle doesn't understand why he's running full-pelt after him up the steps of the church. He sees the flicker of a long black skirt around the building's half-open door, and then he is skidding to a halt in the narthex, trainers squeaking on polished tiles.

The door drifts shut behind him. Inside, all is cool, dim and silent. The frankincense scent in the air yanks him back through two decades and he stands gasping, reaching out one hand to the back of a pew for balance. His vision flashes green and red by turns as he struggles to see in the glass-filtered light. "Gabriel...?"

Silence. The shadows are empty. Doyle swallows hard. What the hell had he expected? Blinking, he looks around him. This church is nothing like the stark provincial redbrick where he and Gabe had served their Derby time. Doyle knows the Brunswick, though he hasn't been inside -- hasn't been inside any church, he suddenly recalls, aside from his cousin's wedding and Rob's funeral, since he blew out of his hometown, eyes fixed on the future, head still throbbing with healing scars. He sees adverts for this place on the Tube -- choir recitals, Handel and Bach evenings, string quartets. It's very beautiful. Red marble pillars prop a ceiling arching up in white and gold. Over the altar, a painted cupola shows shadowy saints, hands raised in benediction. The proportions are harmonious, the whole air of the place a contradiction to, a million spiritual miles away from, the charred-flesh chaos outside.

Built when the Earth was at the centre of the creation, and the planets danced their courses with an elegant precision around her. A clockwork universe, orderly, complex yet comprehensible, mathematical and musical, arts embracing science and God in charge of the whole...

Yes. There. Right in the centre of the painted cupola, a stern sixteenth-century God, looking down on his church and, by extension, the whole of the orderly world. Doyle, lapsed Catholic, independent moral thinker, suddenly does not want divinity inside himself any more. He wants God up there -- just where he is, safely outside again. If he has God inside him, he must have the devil there too, and today that seems more likely: he could go and wreak a demon's vengeance on the city for what's happened here, gun down half its population to track down the Saoirse Eireann. Doyle wants God and Satan up there and down there and anywhere far away from him, looking after things and fucking them up in a manner he can bloody understand. That's how it is inside this church -- inside the cage of his old faith, whose bars he tore asunder to get out, because he thought he was big enough and strong enough to survive. Somewhere in this church is a man, a priest, who if not Gabe then thinks like Gabe, who has Gabe's trust in heaven and hell. Suddenly Doyle wants to see him, whoever he is.

His vision has cleared and his head has stopped spinning. He lets go of the pew and takes a couple of steps down the mosaic-tiled aisle. Then he freezes: a shadow in the shadows has moved, with the faintest whisper of cloth. As if he's been watched, all the time he has stood here trying to find some kind of grasp on his world. He tries once more, very softly. "Gabriel?"

The door to the vestry clicks open, and half a second later gently shuts. Doyle edges silently between a row of pews and into the north aisle. He thinks that he can catch, beneath the incense and polish, a warm remembered scent... But there are places in a church where you don't go, where you just don't follow the priest, and he halts, one shaking hand outstretched.

The main doors bang open -- both of them, pushed hard from the outside. Grey light and an appalling smell of barbecue flood in. Doyle whips round. Bodie, outlined in hard grey light... "Doyle?" he shouts, almost cheerfully. "You in here? No time to be saying your prayers, mate."

He can't see Doyle yet. Doyle knows this from his own experience of coming in dazzled from the day. He considers slipping further into darkness. Edging away between the stonework and everything it stands for, never emerging again... He shrugs, and steps forward. "Can you think of a better one?"

Bodie turns to him. Yes, he's smiling. "Maybe not. Got something better than prayer for you, though. Got a lead to Christy McMahon."

They tear off westbound out of Knightsbridge, dodging incoming emergency vehicles and threading cobbled alleys and backstreets to avoid the snarled-up traffic. Bodie has let Doyle drive -- he tries not to think of it as letting, though playing passenger still makes him twitch -- in deference to his superior knowledge of the city's byways. Make a good cabbie, Doyle would, if, as seems increasingly likely to Bodie, he can't cut it in CI5. Got the inner map, the cheerful patter...

No patter today. He hasn't said a word since they both leapt back into the car, only nodding at Bodie's instruction that they head for Chertsey. His jaw is set, his attention fixed blankly on the road ahead. His face is still smudged with soot. Bodie feels a ridiculous impulse to spit on a handkerchief and clean him up, a service he's never offered anyone in his life, and not undergone for himself since he was six. Bodie finds this bewildering. He despises men who show weakness, doesn't he? Certainly he's never been tempted to comfort or care for one. Then, Doyle has hardly fallen apart. Just reacted like a human being in face of the unbearable. And run into a church in pursuit of a priest... Bodie risks, quietly, "You all right?"

"Yeah." Doyle aims the Capri at a gap in a red-light queue for Southwark bridge and shoots her through with half an inch on either side. "Who gave you the tip-off for McMahon?"

"McCabe, believe it or not. That other bloke Cowley just hired -- Lennox, is it..."

"Lucas. Mac's new partner."

"Right. Brought in a top-level snitch from Chertsey, singing like a bird. Used to have links to Saoirse, but they've gone too far for him. He's taken fright. Jumped into Cowley's arms rather than Christy's."

"Marginally safer, maybe." Doyle hops a bus lane for a wrong-way dash through a one-way, and then they are out on the main road, top gear and foot down. "Does Christy know he's been grassed?"

"Probably. Still has to go back to his Chertsey bolthole, though. That's our one chance -- to catch the bastard there before he flits."

"Why aren't Mac and Lucas doing this?"

"They're coming as backup. Old man wants us out there first." Bodie watches Doyle taking this in. A month or so ago he might have asked why. Now he knows, Bodie thinks. Knows just as well as he does that they are now Cowley's best wolves. The pair he will send out ahead of the pack. Bodie has relished the distinction, and seen that Doyle does, too -- until today, anyway. Now he just looks sick. Bodie decides to change the subject. "Was that him, then?"

They are flying down the dual carriageway, late-August sunlight blazing through the windshield. Doyle's hands are steady on the wheel, his expression calm as he seeks out their next jump through the traffic. Overtaking, undertaking. Fast lane, slow. He skirts a roaring tanker; nips back in. "Who?"

"Ah, c'mon, Doyle. The bloke you said you'd fry my bollocks for me if I ever mentioned his name again. Gabriel."

Doyle twitches. He doesn't take his eyes off the road, but the Capri picks up another unlikely ten miles an hour past her ton. "Pity," he says tonelessly, "I didn't bring my frying pan. Shut up, Bodie."

"He a priest, then?"

"I don't know. It wasn't him. I'm telling you, mate -- shut it."

Bodie considers letting himself be told. It's certainly the safest option. If Doyle doesn't dismember him and fricassee his genitals when all this is over, that may be only because he's about to flip the car and kill them both now. She's shuddering under them, needle hovering near the far edge of the speedometer's range. Doyle's doing neat work, though, for a man with next to no steering at his command. Maybe he's at his best when pushed. And anyway, Bodie wants to know. The curiosity -- possibly suicidal -- burns at him, gnaws. "Was he your lover?"

"Jesus, Bodie!" Tyres squeal, horns blare. Doyle sees the slip road for Chertsey too late to take it and goes for it anyway, thundering over the chevrons, carving up three lanes of traffic to his left. "I said it wasn't him!"

Lying, Bodie thinks distinctly. It's almost satisfying to him, to be so sure. He's putting two and two together with this partner of his now, learning him like a difficult new weapon. All right. That was Gabe. And since Doyle has sidestepped the previous question entirely, Bodie is now sure what Gabe means to him. A weird bitterness rises up in him. What the hell should it matter to Bodie, if Doyle has stumbled over an old flame and gone like a moth to it? His face, as he stood there staring into the smoke -- the undisguised yearning in it... "I tell you what, Doyle," Bodie says harshly. "If you had a thing with him, and he's a priest now -- you want to leave that alone. For his sake if not yours. Leave it well alone."

The warehouses looming into view across the Chertsey industrial estate spare him Doyle's answer. This is where McMahon has his lair. This is their chance in a hundred of catching him. They both fall silent. Whatever Doyle will do to him later, for now all he cares about is the hunt: Bodie sees him set aside his rage. Their conflict drops away into complicity. Bodie signals to him: left, in there. Top floor. Doyle brings the Capri back into purring control, gets close enough and snaps off the engine, so they coast in, their only sound the whisper of rubber on cobbles.

A chance in a hundred. Christy McMahon doesn't look like a fugitive, a man about to make them run hard for those long odds. He's sitting calmly in a battered kitchen chair.

He's changed, since the last mugshot Doyle saw of him. In the harsh light from the river, he looks like a sore-eyed, dispossessed Viking. He's bleached and cropped his hair, and his big raw frame is sunk in on itself. He'd been on hunger strike in the Maze for months before his release. These and other starvations have scarred him. Have set a vulpine fire in cold blue eyes now squinting in the sun. He says, looking up at Bodie and Doyle as they come in like hunting cats from opposite ends of the room, closing their prey up between them, "Not bad." His accent is pure Connemara, surprisingly soft. "Distinct improvement on the last time I got nabbed. I wouldn't have heard you at all, if I hadn't been waiting."

Doyle comes to a halt about five yards away from him and sees Bodie, his transforming mirror, do the same. They share a thought. If he's this calm, the place is rigged. Taking a double-handed aim on McMahon, Doyle nods to Bodie: got him. Check it out. He waits in motionless silence, McMahon grinning up at him, while Bodie swiftly checks the room for wires and devices; pads up to the frame of the big warehouse window to check for a sniper on the opposite roof. He shakes his head at Doyle. No. Clean.

"What the fuck are you up to, Christy?" Doyle asks quietly. McMahon only beams at him. And suddenly Doyle knows -- with absolute clarity, conviction seizing him like chilly hands. "You bastard," he observes. "There's somewhere else, isn't there? You've rigged another bomb. And you don't give a shit that we're here, because..."

"Because I'm at the end of my road. That's right, pretty lad. Ports closed, airports on alert. My unit's destroyed, my cover blown. I've got no way out. What will you give me, to save as many lives as I took at Knightsbridge today?"

Doyle's throat dries out. That's why there's been no bloody logic to this, no traces. McMahon has been acting alone. On a suicide run, ending his career on a high note, or the lowest one imaginable. What will Doyle give him, to stop another explosion? At this moment -- anything. He shivers. "What do you want?"

"Doyle?" He snaps his head up. Bodie has emerged from a side room and come to take up position behind McMahon, his eyes on Doyle incredulous. "We don't negotiate with these fuckers."

"We?" Doyle echoes. He keeps his Browning trained straight and true on the midpoint of McMahon's brow, but his voice is unsteady. "You think I care about the company line? If he doesn't talk... What do you want, Christy? Immunity? A passage out?"

McMahon breaks into laughter. It sounds genuine: real amusement that the hard-eyed copper is trying to lay goods on his table. Doyle swallows down a bitterness of stupidity. No judge will hand McMahon a plea or let him go. He hasn't got anything to give. And Bodie steps up close behind McMahon's chair and says, calmly, "I'll make him talk."

"Shit, Bodie. No."

"No what?"

"If we don't negotiate, we don't bloody torture, either!"

Bodie shrugs. He lays his hands on McMahon's shoulders, the gesture almost tender. "Yeah? Where'd you read that?"

"All over your face when the old man took you off probation. I know what you've done, Bodie. I know how many times Cowley's buried your bodies. He's not gonna do it again."

For a second Bodie is almost touched, that his partner is more concerned about his welfare than the ethics of prisoner coercion. That's quite something, coming from Doyle. "Mistake I made before," he says conversationally, patting McMahon assessingly as he speaks, "was leaving the bodies around where he could find 'em. Actually, it was leaving bodies at all. There doesn't have to be death, Christy. There just has to be the fuck of a lot of pain."

He moves his hands subtly. He finds a vertebra with his thumb. McMahon, who up till now has continued staring at Doyle, laughter still shaking him, snaps his head back. His face goes blank. Then his mouth and his eyes open wide and he looses a scream that rips the afternoon in two.

Doyle runs to Bodie's side. "Christ. What the hell are you doing?" But Bodie steps back, raising his palms in a gesture of innocence. McMahon stops screaming long enough to take a breath then shrieks again. He begins to flop and thrash in his chair as if being held by the scruff in an invisible, agonising grip. "Bodie!" Doyle snaps. "Make it stop!"

"You sure? A few seconds more and he'll be nice and amenable."

"You sick fuck!" Another howl, bouncing off the windows and walls. "Make it stop!"

Bodie turns, one eyebrow on the rise. He runs a fingertip up McMahon's convulsing spine, counting bones: finds the right place and shoves both thumbs in hard. There is an audible crack. McMahon's fourth scream dies in his throat and instead he sucks in breath with a sob of relief. He falls back in the chair and lies still, gasping, eyes fluttering closed.

Bodie leans over him solicitously. He bends close, and gives his damp cheeks a gentle pat. "There you go, Christy," he says. "You're in luck today. Six times out of ten, it doesn't click back in." He straightens up and looks at Doyle, who has taken a couple of steps back and is regarding him as if he were a snake. "Sick fuck, am I, mate? Like I care what you think -- but, for your record, I learned that from having it done to me. Repeatedly. When I escaped, I made the bastard show me how, before I killed him. Why not ask Christy your question again now?"

Slowly, not taking his eyes off Bodie, Doyle stalks round to face McMahon again. "Christy," he murmurs. "Do you feel like telling me where you put your second bomb?"

McMahon begins to laugh again. He's sheet-white and sweating, and Doyle wants to tell Bodie that this is the problem with torture -- once you've done it, and it hasn't worked, where do you go from there? But he already knows. He shoves the gun into its holster, folds his arms over his chest. "Do it again," he instructs Bodie detachedly. "For longer this time."

McMahon holds up both hands. "All right," he gasps. "Fuck it. What's it matter? Kensington High Street, outside the Lloyds. A black cab."

Bodie calls it in. They're out of R/T range and he has to belt down to the Capri to do it, leaving Doyle to cuff McMahon. Not a bad day's work, Bodie reflects, the alarm once raised, leaning his hands on the bonnet for a moment. Apart from the death and the horror, not bad. Saoirse Eireann wrapped up, and one out of two atrocities stopped in its tracks. He inhales the dusty city breeze. They're near to the river, and the air is rich with water scents, the tang of the ancient Thames. He and his partner are both still alive to breathe it, and Doyle has learned a valuable lesson -- the virtues of necessity. Do it again. For longer this time. The feral coldness in his eyes as he swung round to Bodie's point of view... Yes, Bodie reflects -- once he's sliced away Ray Doyle's veneer of conscience -- and who is Doyle kidding, with his bleeding heart? -- he will have a companion worthy of his steel. A wolf to run the streets at his side. He won't be alone any more. His past will be behind him. He wonders if he will sleep...

He makes his way back up the warehouse steps, whistling. He is a man at his leisure now. Time to run the remains of Christy McMahon back to HQ, hand him mostly unhurt over to Cowley, who will be pleased. Afterward, Bodie thinks that he might try to steer Doyle away from the fever and fret of the day. Show him that, no matter what goes down on duty, it need not follow them into the pub or...

Well, or into the bedroom, either. Why the hell not? Bodie isn't wholly sure why he and Doyle have never returned to that brink. Maybe it's past time they did. A mate for the street and for his bed -- that would work fine for Bodie. He remembers how it was with Murph. And with Doyle -- better still. Doyle will be stunning, opening up beneath his hands. Let Bodie have one night with him, and he'll soon forget about his long-lost bloody priest.

He strolls into McMahon's lair. Doyle has got him neatly cuffed and waiting, his arms behind his back. He's left him seated, though, and Bodie knows McMahon will need a little while before his legs are working properly again. Doyle is dutifully securing the various bits of live weaponry scattered around on the tables and windowsills, breaking down guns, removing cartridges. Bodie sees that he is very pale. Well, he's had a bastard of a day. And McMahon, though defeated, hasn't given up on some part of his battle -- the murmur Bodie has heard all the way up the stairs is his voice, reciting softly for Doyle all the things that Saoirse has done. The pleasure McMahon has taken in them. How this morning's bomb in Knightsbridge was a beautiful finale for him. "Think about it, copper," he's saying, that Connemara voice almost seductive. Doyle doesn't seem to be listening to him. He's going from gun to gun, task to task, his back turned. Bodie notices a tremor in his hands. "Think about it. Here I am, alive and breathing. How many hearts and brains and lungs did I take out of the world today? Your world, copper. You couldn't stop it. You'll never stop men like me. Dead children. Kiddies and grannies and tourists. And here I am -- alive."

Bodie sees Doyle turn. He has a gun in his hands, but it isn't one of Christy's. It's his own Browning. He got the hang of the PPK, Bodie remembers, but it's this one that he's deadly with. At range or at close quarters. "Doyle," Bodie says warningly, and takes a step toward him.

Too slow. Everything in the bright warehouse room -- the sunlight, the curtain of drifting dust motes -- seems to grind down to a halt. The only thing moving is Doyle, and he's a blur. He strides across the floor, plants himself squarely in front of Christy McMahon, and shoots him point-blank through the head.

Cold haze. A dark enclosing tunnel that ends somehow outside the warehouse, back in its cracked-concrete yard. An engine roars, and Doyle sees a familiar Escort tearing down the same road that brought him and Bodie here -- Lucas and McCade, the backup. Doyle stumbles away, blindly seeking privacy. There's an alley, a space between wall and dismal barbed-wire fence. He gets a few strides down it, grabs hold of a rusting drainpipe, doubles over and starts to retch. He hasn't eaten since dawn. The spasms are dry and silent. Tears stream down his face. Some kids are knocking a football around at the end of the lane. They stare for a while, then get bored and go back to their game.

He hears car doors slam; an exchange of voices. Bodie crisply informing Lucas and Mac that they won't have any trouble: the scene's secured, Christy McMahon dead. Decided to put up a fight at the end. Doyle hears how natural this sounds, how naturally Mac and Lucas accept it. He hears Mac say the bomb on High Street Ken went up, but only took out shop-fronts and a lot of show-room dummies. The warning got through just in time.

Torture reduces yourself and your victim to nothing. That's what Doyle's always believed. And now he also knows that it works. He knows that he can kill an unarmed man. He sobs, and it triggers a fresh bout of heaving, not silent this time. Noisy and tearing and ugly, wrenching a long-ago breakfast out of him in burning waves. Footsteps reach him through the static in his ears. Not Mac, he prays. Mac for some reason treats him still as a hero, some kind of mentor. Not after today. Not Lucas, either, who's a stranger. Doyle tells himself that he wants no-one, then knows that he's a liar as Bodie's grasp fastens on him. All in the world that he does want right now -- inexplicably -- Bodie's dirty, guilty, knowledgeable hands.

Bodie takes hold of his shoulder. "Ah, Doyle. I'm sorry." He shifts Doyle's scarf out of the way, then breeze-driven tendrils of his hair. When Doyle's death-grip on the drainpipe slackens, he guides his exhausted fall to his knees so he won't land in his puke. He crouches beside him. "Doyle."

Doyle gets his head up. Bodie produces a handkerchief -- dusty places like this warehouse set off his allergies -- and passes it to him. "What?"

"Don't worry, okay? Mac and Lucas think it was a shoot-out."

Sick laughter rattles Doyle. "With a man...handcuffed to a chair?"

"He wasn't. Well, he isn't now. He's on the floor with a Glock in his hand."

"Fucking hell, Bodie."

"These things are gonna happen, mate." Doyle's head has gone down again, his back arching. Bodie tries not to see how thin he is, how his shoulderblades rise under his fine autumn jacket as he chokes and vomits bile onto the cobbles. Tries not to see how sweat is plastering curls to his green-grey skin. "You'll get my back, I'll get yours. We'll cover for each other." He strokes Doyle's ribs, trying to read him: he's stiffening under his touch but at the same time leaning to find it, as if compelled. "I'll tell Cowley I did this one. He expects it of me. Wouldn't want to let him down."

"He'll fire you." Doyle sits up and makes shaky use of the handkerchief. "No, thanks. I'll take me own rap. I'll tell him the truth, Bodie. That... That I..."

He turns, his face crumpling, and Bodie takes him into his arms. He thinks that, if Doyle had any choice in the matter -- if he hadn't been caught so short -- he'd rather be anywhere else than here, finding any other shelter. He knows what Doyle thinks of him. He's buried his face in Bodie's shoulder, but he's rigid, fighting every inch of of his reaction. If he's crying, he's got it down to nothing more than tiny painful twitches in the muscles of his spine. Bodie tries to give him no more than he needs. Holds him dispassionately, as he would a shellshocked soldier, gently rumpling his hair. "Come on. You'll be fine." Come on, Doyle. Don't know what you've done to me, but I'm not a lone wolf any more. Don't break. I need you to be fine.

George Cowley sits behind his desk, reflecting with well-hidden sorrow on the beginning of Doyle's transformation. The alteration of a tough but innocent man into a compromised one, who will ultimately serve the aims of Cowley's organisation better and for longer. Who might survive.

Cowley is very tired. It's nearly eight at night, which puts him into the fourteenth hour of his working day, but the shift has generated a lot of paperwork. The devil of a lot of debriefing. A lucent August dusk is shining like a benediction on Cowley's city, which tonight stands in need of it. Thirty people have died. Countless hundreds saved, but Cowley can't take account of that, can't pat himself on the back for life preserved.

Nor can Doyle. Cowley props his elbows on the desk, a support he doesn't often permit himself. His shirt-sleeves are rolled back, too, his spectacles pushed up on his brow. He is at the end of a long, painful session with his agent, who has turned in a report of bitter thoroughness on his own performance that afternoon, just as carefully sidestepping details of Bodie's. Exposing himself, shielding him. Of such imperfections are perfect partnerships made. Doyle is just what Bodie needs. He'll kick his stubborn arse for him in private, wave that fiery angel's sword, but never betray him by a word or a look to a superior.

If Doyle can stay the course. He doesn't look too ready for it now. He is motionless in his chair on the far side of Cowley's desk. Only five minutes ago, he finally gave up his stiff-spined posture, leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. Cowley wishes he could send him home to shower and sleep. He can't have spared a glance in the mirror. All the marks of his day are still upon him. But they aren't done. "Doyle," he says, and watches the red-rimmed jade gaze come up to meet his. "If you ever again kill a disarmed witness, not only will I fire you, but I will press criminal charges against you to the fullest extent of the law. Do you understand?"

Doyle nods. He likes this, Cowley can see. For the first time since his return from the field, he looks less grim. A punishment to fit his crimes. Perhaps the only thing that would make him feel better tonight is if Cowley carried through on it. "I'd do it anyway," he continues, experimentally, "if I could damn well spare you." Yes: a lessening of the despair in Doyle's haggard face. Ach, I can't absolve you, laddie... "Would you care to indicate to me verbally that you understand what I am saying to you?"

"Sir. Yes, sir."

Cowley represses a grimace. He doesn't want military responses from this man, and suspects he's only got one now because Doyle is so utterly worn out. He needs him free and feisty, counteracting Bodie's deep-laid reflex of obedience, whose flip side when he feels betrayed is hopelessly savage rebellion. "All right," he says. "Then listen to this part, too. My overall feeling about Christy McMahon is that he committed suicide."

Doyle twitches. "What?"

"He knew that you'd come to him fresh from the Knightsbridge bombing. And -- forgive me, but he was a good judge of men. He knew a rookie when he saw one, a copper on his first mass-homicide case. He saw you were upset, and he taunted you. Taunting an armed, distraught agent is not the action of a man who wants to live."

"Oh..." Doyle sits up, runs a hand over his tangled hair. A bitter smile twists his face. "With respect, that's bollocks, sir."

Not very much respect. Cowley frowns to hide his relief. "Mind your language in this office, please. I'm not trying to get you off your hook. What you did was reprehensible. Bestial, if you want my own personal opinion. I am simply telling you how it will go down in your record, and how it will be reported in my analysis of today's events." A light breeze rattles the inched-open window. It is almost dark, orange streetlight seeping up through the day's last fragile blue. "You're dismissed."

Doyle gets up stiffly. Cowley wants to tell him that his courage and Bodie's, in sticking around to disarm McMahon's second bomb, will also go down on his record, but he senses it isn't the time. That it won't help. Instead he stops him halfway through the door with a harsh repeat of his name. Doyle half turns back, but does not look at him. His head is down. "Despite all current appearances, you and Bodie are a good team. He will learn from you -- your compassion, your scruples, however compromised you now feel those to be. It's a two-way street, Doyle. There are things he can teach you."

"What -- how to be a heartless bastard?"

"He isn't one."

"No. I... I know."

Cowley lifts an eyebrow at his altered tone. He continues, more gently himself, "You...share a darkness with your partner now. He can help you to deal with it. He's not a perfect man, but -- neither are you, laddie. If you're needing absolution, I'd start there."

Doyle makes his way down to the HQ car park. He's aching, only now becoming aware of how filthy he is. How bone tired. To his surprise, the silver Capri -- the one Bodie favours because he's convinced he gets better handbrake turns and top speeds out of it -- is still there. So is Bodie. He unfolds from behind the wheel as Doyle steps out into the lamplight. He leans on the roof of the car, looks Doyle intently up and down, and looses a long low whistle. "Hell's bloody teeth, Doyle. You look like roadkill."

Doyle comes to a halt. He's not insulted: supposes it's a fair assessment. What he can't understand is why Bodie doesn't. He's been just as busy as Doyle since they got back, and is still in his bomb-site clothes. Other than that, he's ridiculously fresh -- eyes clear, a smile of mischief lighting up his handsome face, as if somehow the day's events haven't touched him. He can teach you. If you're looking for absolution... "Ta," he says. "Going home now. Bath and bed."

"Or, as an option on that scintillating plan, down the pub with me. You'd be amazed what can get washed down the sink on a pint or ten of good draught bitter. I know you think I'm a Neanderthal, mate, but..." He pauses, bright grin softening, becoming a little uncertain. "Give it a try?"

Doyle considers. He's tempted. He should be recoiling from the sight of him after a day like today, and God knows, all he can hear when he looks at him is gunfire and human pandemonium. Bombs, death, murder. And, on top of all of these, his voice when he opened up his arms for him. His restrained but utter kindness. Come on. You'll be fine.

No, I won't. Doyle knows that he could go with Bodie now and probably attain some drunken resemblance to fine. Might even end up in his bed, fucking the pair of them into oblivion and all the way through to their next fine day. They're both of them ready for that, he thinks. Probably the least complex aspect of their partnership. Tonight might be a good night to get all of that out of the way.

But he feels as filthy inside as out. Cowley is wrong: he can't share the dark inside of him with Bodie. He'd take Bodie down with him -- yes, even that robust, cheerfully sinful soul. He says, casually, "Nah, it's all right. Another time."

"What did the Cow say to you?"

"Nothing important. I'm still employed. See you tomorrow, okay?"

He turns away before Bodie can reply, and heads into the neon-daubed night. It's raining, big leaves from the plane trees pattering down around him. They've been using Bodie's car today, and he hails a cab round the corner, tells the driver to head for Kensal. Home.

No. Not tonight. He watches the rainy streets, the flick of the wipers, his hands clenching and unclenching in his lap. When the signs for Knightsbridge appear, he taps on the glass and tells the cabbie to follow them.

Chapter Seven

A Mendelssohn recital is ending when Doyle reaches the church. He recognises the coda, a beautiful snake's-tail of sound, truths and concepts braiding to conclusion. There were things that Doyle had realised he had missed, when he first came to London. Eagerly he had gone out in search of them. Art, classical music, sex with young men who had never even heard of catechism, let alone sought to obey it. In London he'd taught himself other things. It had felt like a different world.

It wasn't, of course. Brighter and more civilised, but its streets just as hard, the rules of life and death just the same. He's had the cabbie drop him a few streets away, and as he has made his way down into Knightsbridge, he has seen all about him reminders of the brutal similarities. Backstreet Derby or this shimmering peacock's paradise... Boarded-up shop windows, sections of the pavement sealed off with hoarding and bright police tape. The roads are all open again -- nothing so dreadful that traffic can be made to stop for it for long -- but here too small enclosures have been erected, places where enough bits landed to warrant investigation.

Doyle moves through the current of the music up the steps of the Brunswick, and takes a quiet place at the back, leaning against the west wall. Only a handful of an audience, and they look pretty sombre, clustered in the first few pews while the chamber orchestra wraps up its performance. Doyle sees a notice at the head of the aisle, carefully lettered: all tonight's proceeds will go to the British Red Cross. The music is delicious. Normally the place would be packed. A dragging weariness goes through Doyle's limbs, and he struggles to stay upright.

The audience is leaving. They do so quietly, after a ripple of applause, making their way quickly to the doors, heads together, talking softly. The orchestra members pack up in more or less silence, as well. As they do so, a priest steps out from behind the marble pulpit and thanks them. His voice is low but Doyle can pick out the terms of his soberly expressed gratitude. Your generosity in playing here tonight. In the circumstances. Doyle can hear the gentle Midlands-Jamaican warming of his vowels.

The priest turns away, and begins to pace slowly up the aisle, gathering left-behind programmes, straightening kneelers. He's coming to collect his notice. He doesn't see Doyle. And then he does.

He halts. He doesn't drop his handful of programmes, though Doyle sees how they slip and how his grip clenches reflexively on them again. His face, always lovely, refined now by the years to a startling adult beauty, becomes absolutely still. He says, "Dear God. I thought you were one of them."

He is looking over Doyle's shoulder. Nothing there but a wall, Doyle has thought, but he puts out a hand and pushes himself unsteadily away from it, turning to see. He didn't notice last time -- the glaring death-light from outside blanking out the west end -- but this whole wall is painted and mosaiced. Pre-Raph revival, he thinks dully, a memory from art school pegging the images down. A long frieze, a gathering of seraphs in gold leaf and tiny iridescent tiles, shimmering wings unfurled. He's been waiting among the angels. "Oh," he says, his voice a lost dry whisper. "Sorry. Though..." He stops, clears his throat, which is sore as if he wants to weep. "Though how you mistook me for one of them, I'll never know."

Gabriel steps close. He sets the programmes down on the back of a pew and comes fearlessly to stand in front of Doyle. "No. Nor do I, now I come look properly. What happened to you?"

Doyle lifts one shoulder, a tiny shrug that sends a huge dull ache down his back. If he has wings, they've turned to stone. "Bad day at the office."

"Yes, I...saw the first part of it. That was you?"


"I prayed that it wasn't. Or at least that you thought you'd been wrong about me, and you wouldn't come back."

Doyle almost smiles. He's being flown back over a decade and a half, to a boy who could no more lie than dance Swan Lake, and for whom tact was an undiscovered concept. Brilliant qualities for a priest, he thinks, then stops himself on the sarcasm. Yes. They are. "I'm sorry, Gabe. I shouldn't have come."

He paces back the way he came, along the painted wall. His hands are dirty -- Doyle, clean as a cat, can't understand why he's never stopped to wash them -- and he tries not to reach out to touch it, but the softly lit church rotating around him. His fingertips brush splendid robes, harps and lyres. Less heavenly objects, too -- white frescoed shirt-cotton, the feathered heels of great shire horses straining in their collars. Easels, timber, mason's tools... This is arts-and-crafts work, 1930s, a time of brief interbellum optimism and belief in the sanctity of man. Doyle sees carpenter angels, musicians, builders. Their faces are beatific but very human, their hands engaged and real. A time when daily labour was a holy thing... Cold silent laughter shakes him. The work of my hands...

Just by the door, he stops short. There's one last angel, shadowed by a pillar, barely visible. This one broods over a bare bleak hillside. He hardly looks angelic at all, though the wings are there -- vast, blue-black, folded in elegant line-of-beauty curves down his spine. His hair, dark as his wings, gleams softly. His eyes are indigo grey.

The resemblance is extraordinary. Doyle catches his breath. For a moment he thinks that this seraph is leaning on a rifle, and the laughter surges up in him again. Why not? If swords are allowed... And that would be Bodie, wouldn't it -- the angel of the gun. Then he sees that he's wrong. Not a rifle -- a ploughshare. This is the farmer angel, the bare land before him awaiting the touch of the blade. Ah. That's no use, then. Catch Bodie beating his Armalite into one of those...


Doyle whips round. He'd wanted to try to get through his first real day of horrors without throwing up or fainting, and now he thinks he's going to fail on the second count, too. But Gabe, who has come to stand behind him, holds out a steadying grasp. His hands close warmly on Doyle's shoulders. "Ray! God, it is you. Your face... You've healed, but... Oh, what's happened to you? Let me help!"

He smells just the same. Doyle, folding into his arms, can't believe it: he buries his face against Gabe's neck, his warmly pulsing throat, to get more of him. It was hell -- they grew up in a kind of wasteland hell, but in the scent of this man, this first love, Doyle can feel how he was, recall his own pure strength and wild, half-crazy joy in life, before... He sobs, a deep rough bark, and Gabe clasps him tighter. "Let me help you. Come with me."

Where? Through the hot salty pounding in his head, Doyle tries to envisage it: the two of them in a café, or out on the street... Gabe, so terrified back then, is fearless now -- hasn't even turned to check his church is empty before seizing Doyle into his arms. Doyle, through tears, checks for him. Mercifully the players have all packed up and gone. "Where?"

"I live in a parochial house. It's just round the corner. It's communal, but...we're allowed to offer shelter, as we think fit. To..." He pauses, and Doyle hears his sweet smile light up his tone. "To waifs and strays, and homeless persons. I think they'll let you in."

The house, a sprawling Victorian manor, lies deep in its gardens, so hidden by trees and high wrought-iron railing that it can scarcely be seen from the road. Doyle has walked past it a half dozen times, not knowing its purpose. Not knowing who lived there. Christ, if he had... Doyle's mind seizes on rags of possibilities, unenacted scenes. He's been bloody lonely in London, for all his conscientious art classes and boyfriends, for all the scaffold of conventional society that settled around him once he joined the police. Especially after that. If he'd known Gabe was here...

What? Doyle hangs back on the leaf-shaded pavement while Gabriel unlocks the gates. What would he have done? He knows, if he's honest with himself, that he hasn't given conscious thought to Gabe in sixteen years, not until Bodie dropped the name and the concept and the memory on him like a bomb out of the clear blue Wealden forest skies. He's had chances to find him, over those years. Since joining CI5 he's had the resources, too. Cowley sits in the middle of a legendarily far-reaching web of all their acquaintance from the cradle out, or so it's said. Doyle could have asked.

Hands in his pockets, feeling the prickle of cold sweat in his armpits, he feels around the edges of his failure to do so. He couldn't have. Even after Bodie stuck his big foot into his hypothermia dreams, Doyle has never let himself return to their cause, or wondered why, after all this time, he talks about Gabe in his sleep. It's as if a huge stone is lodged in his mind, and he can't understand it -- of all the childhood crap that has stayed with him, unwanted and painful, Gabe was something good.

The best. Bloody beautiful. Watching him push wide the gate, Doyle trembles. He's like a sleek dark cat in the streetlight, his eyes glowing. Unlike Doyle, he is perfect: incorrupt. Doyle says, hoarsely, "I can't come in there."

"Is it the lock? It's just for Mike, our alcoholic. He feels better for knowing he's shut in, even though he knows where the keys are. I'll show you, too."

"No. It's not that. Gabe, five minutes ago you were wishing -- praying -- I'd never come back."

"I know. I'm sorry." Gabe puts out a hand to him, and despite all his fears, Doyle reaches and takes it, crossing the threshold. Gabe's arm goes round his waist, holding him fast when he stumbles. Together they begin the walk across the broad gravel driveway to to the house. "You've been a temptation to me," Gabe says, his voice quiet, rich with the devastating frankness Doyle remembers. "The concept of chastity wasn't hard for me to embrace, not in the abstract. The reality, though -- of never again touching a man like you... It was almost impossible. It took many years of prayer."

Doyle swallows hard. "You're...touching me now."

"As your brother. That's just it -- don't you see? If I can't touch you, aid you, because of my own selfish desires, then I'm punishing you." His voice goes on, honeyed musk in the dark. Doyle leans into him. "I'm not saying those needs aren't there any more. But I've met them -- a thousand times. I know them. I know how to conquer them, and I have done -- oh, my dear Ray. I can be your friend."

They have reached a heavy wooden door, surrounded by ivy. Gabe pushes it, and a warm light spills out into the garden. Gently he draws Doyle inside.

On the far side of the wrought-iron fence, beyond the locked gate, William Bodie gets back into his car. He closes his door soundlessly. Then he locks it -- reaches across and locks the other side, too. He snaps up the handbrake, though it's already on, and ratchets three more anguished clicks from it.

He slumps back in his seat and leans his head on the comfortless rest, closing his eyes. Mistake: in the dark he sees again his partner reach to take the hand of the priest; he sees the priest gather Doyle into a close embrace at his side. He sees them walk off together, slowly, entwined, Doyle's head down almost on Gabriel's shoulder.

Why can't you lot just stick to choirboys, Bodie thinks viciously, slamming a hand off the dash. And once that thought's reached surface, others come, as if the first had been some sort of vanguard: why can't you stick to your own bloody kind? That dark hand, palm up and waiting, Doyle's by contrast pale as their touch met... Bodie wasn't a racist when his helicopter gunship touched down in Angola, but he definitely is one now, courtesy of every blow, every hour of torture and imprisonment, and he can't decide whether the hatred strengthens him or whether he makes himself sick. He keeps it under wraps: old man won't tolerate it, and Doyle, in their political debates, heads him effortlessly off at the pass -- smiling, not taking him too seriously, but showing by the warning glint in his green eyes that he won't wear much of it either.

The liberal bastard. As if he has any fucking clue. Not so damn ethical today, was he, scorching down on Christy McMahon like the wrath of bloody God. Bodie leans to start the Capri, then changes his mind, snatching the key out of the ignition. Why the hell has Doyle turned down his offer -- the best, chained up as he is, that Bodie can make: pub, talk, and we'll take it from there -- in favour of a coloured bloody priest? Who could be anybody: Doyle knows, from his crash course in CI5 rules, that you don't go spilling your guts or your jism anywhere not background-checked and sanctioned. Bodie ought to get out of the car, climb the fence -- that pathetic gate, locked up so ceremoniously behind them, as if a toddler couldn't get over it -- and kick in the door whose opening caused golden light to flood the trees, whose closure left Bodie in the lonely dark. He should drag his errant partner out of there by the scruff.

But Ray had looked so tired. Letting go a shuddering breath, Bodie clenches both hands on the top of the Capri's wheel. Presses his mouth to them, as if he can bottle up his own demons that way. Tired and skinny, waiting on the kerb for Gabriel to let him in. Almost transparent in the uncertain light; ready to fade off, to pass beyond the reach of human comfort. If Bodie can't reel him in -- and that's what he wanted, he realises suddenly; wanted to pull Doyle into harbour himself, share with him the horrors of their day and help him learn to live with them; maybe by doing so persuade his own heart and mind to accept them -- he should just be glad that someone can.

That someone has. Bodie glances up to the top floor of the house, where lights are now gleaming through the trees. He likes to think he would have called in on Ray, that night after the Triad drugs bust, without Cowley's prompting. He likes to think he wouldn't be here tonight, unless expressly ordered by the old man, stumping irritably out into the car park to intercept him. That laddie's not right, Bodie. Bodie, for the first time in many weeks, has been bold enough to snarl at him. Why do have to nursemaid him through every crisis?

Because you've been through them before. And even if you hadn't -- you damn well know why.

Yes. Because he's my partner. Bodie hadn't given him the satisfaction of that acknowledgement, just slammed into the car and torn off in Doyle's wake. Dozy git didn't even notice he'd picked up a tail -- although Bodie knows that's unfair, too, given Doyle's blind weariness; his own ability to turn the London streets into dark waters, a car to a low-hunting shark. He likes to think that he would have given Doyle his privacy, partner or no, without Cowley's orders tonight.

But he just isn't sure. Of anything any more, and for Bodie, master of moral certainties, that's an inner earthquake. Unheard of.

He tips his head back, and then something even stranger happens to him. The thing which isn't sleep but which can suspend his body's operations, blank out his mind for a while, sweeps over him. Bodie, just as worn out in his own way as Doyle, does his equivalent of falling fast asleep behind the wheel.

The Brunswick parochial house, though splendid on the outside, is intended for priests. There are no luxuries. Its corridors are dim and lino-floored, its Victorian fittings unaltered. It doesn't have a shower, and Doyle stands in the big stark bathroom, watching steaming water plunge into the tub.

The sense of hostelry soothes him. He has nothing with him save his radio, his badge and his gun. Gabe hasn't seen any of these yet: packed him straight off to clean up once he had introduced him to the other priests who share the house, two quiet-eyed men in their forties, who have accepted his arrival without question. The lack of extraneous things -- on his person, in the rooms -- makes him feel unfettered. The bath is almost full now. He hopes he hasn't run the clergy out of hot. Suddenly terribly anxious to be free of his sweat-stained, charred-smelling garments, he strips down, hands shaking. He folds the clothes onto a straight-backed chair, breaks down his weapon and buttons the ammo into a concealed pocket of his jeans. He slithers into the water with a moan.

Gabe, in these enlightened days not obliged to be collared and cassocked at all times, has loaned him a sweatshirt and a pair of tracksuit bottoms. He has shown Doyle a corridor off from the main one, where half a dozen single rooms are available for men on the run from a jungle world or the monkeys that have climbed from it to hang onto their backs. Only Mike's is occupied at the moment. There is no charge: strict rules on behaviour apply, and a little help with housekeeping -- washed dishes, swept floors -- settles the rest of the debt. Doyle is welcome to stay for as long as he likes.

But I'm not a junkie, he's wanted to protest to Gabe. Not a refugee. I've got a flat not three miles away from here, and a job which some might consider impressive. I haven't told you what I do yet -- how a Derby street urchin made himself fit for CI5.

Tonight, though, Doyle does not feel like a top agent for a crime-fighting elite. He just feels dirty and alone. He scrubs himself down in the near-scalding water until his skin turns red, lathers up a bar of soap which smells strongly of carbolic, and does what he can with his hair. He thinks that if Gabe had dismissed him off into one of the bare little cells, he might have curled up on its camp-bed mattress and died, but he has not: has said, putting the clean clothes into Doyle's hands, "My rooms are just down there. Come and talk to me after your bath."

Gabe's quarters are an office-cum-living room and a bedroom, both looking out over the trees. The door from the corridor and the connecting one are open: no secrets, Doyle thinks with a strange pang, hesitating just outside. From here he can see the edge of a desk, and a narrow bed with a metal frame and a smooth white coverlet. He puts a palm to the door: doesn't want to knock, the house is so quiet: and he hears Gabe say calmly, "Come in."

He's sitting behind the desk, in a pool of light from an anglepoise lamp. This is a room where serious work is carried on, Doyle can see, padding cautiously in. There are box files on shelves, filing cabinets, well filled paper trays. Everything is a little shabby, the books well thumbed. There is a sense of undemanding order. Laid out on the desk are some maps and what look like typewritten reports. Gabe has been making notes from one of these. His pen is still lightly clasped in one hand. Doyle says, lamely, "You're busy."

"In fact I'm almost finished for tonight." Gabe gathers up a sheaf of papers and sets them neatly to one side. He has taken off his cassock. His black shirt is spotless. His dog collar, equally pristine, shines in the lamplight. "Part of my job is to coordinate overseas aid," he says. "I try to assess what's most badly needed and where. Rwanda, Somalia, places like that."

Doyle nods. He's interested -- ashamed of himself that, meshed up in his own concerns, it hasn't occurred to him to think how Gabriel might have progressed in the past sixteen years. He hasn't remained a disgraced novice in a Bangor monastery any more than Doyle has been pickled in time as a bruised, feckless art student living in his auntie's house in Croydon. This would be a good time for Doyle to start a sane conversation. So, how long have you been in London? Do you like your work? Instead, he makes his way unsteadily over to the battered-looking sofa opposite the desk, and he sits down. The clothes he's carrying seem to weigh a ton. He dumps them beside him, and his gun harness slides out, weapon clattering to the floor. "Oh, Christ," he says. Just as well I unloaded it. "Oh. Fuck. Sorry! I mean..."

Gabriel snorts faintly with laughter. "It's okay. There isn't any language rule -- not in my rooms, anyway. Er... Is that a gun?"

"Yes. It's a long story." Doyle picks it up. Then he rests his elbows on his knees, runs his hands hard through his wet hair. "Oh, Gabe. What we did back then... I know I was the worst lay in the Western hemisphere -- I know I wasn't ready. But it was good. Why the hell can't I let any other man fuck me?"

An absolute silence falls. During it, in the fizzing dark behind his eyes, Doyle contemplates the enormity of what he's just said. He doesn't dare look up. If he does, what will he see -- Gabriel the priest, cold and outraged? Worse than that -- an empty chair, a vacated room?

The sofa creaks. Doyle feels the cushion next to his dip down, and then the press of a warm hand to his shoulder. "Ray. Are you telling me you really don't know the answer to that?"

Doyle shakes his head. Up until that moment, he hasn't even known he had the question. He can't believe he's asked. He shakes his head, digging his fingertips tight to his scalp. He grinds out, "I'm so sorry!"

"Listen to me." The hand moves, tracing a caress down Doyle's aching spine. "Setting aside the possibility that you were only the second-worst lay -- that I was the worst, incompetent enough to put you off forever -- five minutes after we finished on that day, you were lying with your face smashed into bits of blood and bone. You nearly died. It was less than five minutes -- three, maybe. I thought of it as one thing for years and years myself. Our -- our having done what we did, and your dad busting into the room and half-murdering you. One event. How was your mind supposed to sort it out?"

Yes. Doyle knows. He's had the answer as well as the question, all ready but dormant in his brain. His first time with Gabe was so excruciating, what happened afterward such a disaster, that the two things have soldered together in his head. Cause and effect. Crime and punishment. He thinks -- now that he can think of it at all -- it happened in the hospital, when he was bleeding into his brain, unable for weeks to tell nightmare from reality. Sometimes it was his dad, forcing him down on his parents' bed. Sometimes -- Christ, worse even than that -- it was Gabe, his sweet gentle Gabriel, grown to giant size and slamming his face off the doorframe.

The house has a peculiar quiet. No neon hum, no background whisper of radiators or fridge. There's nothing to stop Doyle from hearing his own thoughts. No interference. In the dark behind his hands, nothing to distract him. He is still and silent, alone with the knowledge that he has twisted the one soul who really loved him into the shape of a life-denying devil. "Gabe," he moans, barely audible. "Oh, God."

They sit together for a long time. Gabriel keeps his hand on Doyle's spine, unmoving. Doyle feels like water into which great stones have been dropped: torn up, but settling, settling, surface smoothing out at last. At length Gabe asks, "Today, out in all that death and chaos...what were you doing? Are you with the police?"

"I was. Now I..." This is Doyle's chance to describe the brilliant career. "Now I'm just in over my head. I don't really know what I'm doing. I'm tired."

"I know. You should rest. Just stretch out here if you like, but first... I want to tell you something else. It's important, and I don't think you know. Your father's dead, Ray. For a couple of years now. My mum told me -- she went to his funeral. She always asks kindly after you."

Doyle folds down onto the sofa. He feels as if tombstones are being lifted from him. He wants to laugh, and something like laughter goes silently in and out of his lungs, but the house is too peaceful. Gabe's rooms are too peaceful, his face too serene as he leans over Doyle, easing a pillow under his head. Doyle feels free as air.

Three in the morning. Doyle has been awake since two, when the soft tolling of a clock somewhere off in the house brought him to surface. He's listened to the quarter hour, the half and quarter to. Now he gets up, pushing stiffly off the sofa. Amber streetlights filter into the room, the wind in the foliage making a lacework of them, a dance. Doyle can hear traffic -- never stops, in the heart of the city -- but it's faint and far away. He can hear his own heart.

Gabe has left his bedroom door half open. Doyle reads the space enclosed by the frame as if Gabe had painted letters for him in the air: whatever our past, I trust you and myself. If you wake up, I'm near at hand. Doyle pushes the door wide.

The rumour used to go round Father John's altar boys that, once you were a proper priest, you slept on your back with your hands folded neatly on your chest in an attitude of prayer. That way, if you died in the night and God came to get you, He'd find you nicely prepared. And not jerking off, Doyle would add, exploding the whispering group apart in giggles and shrieks. The rumour's not true -- not in Gabriel's case, anyway. He sleeps on his front. Sprawled, as far as the confines of the bed will allow, one hand drooping out onto the lino floor. The blankets are down round his hips. Doyle flashes helplessly back to the way Gabe would look in the showers, or changing reluctantly into his gym kit on cold winter mornings: the lean sweet lines of his back, his smooth-skinned caramel arse, delicious in a row of pimply pale English ones. Mercifully he's now clad in pyjamas. Doyle doesn't know who buys these or if the rules extend to nightwear, but they're quite something. Gaudily striped, fastened firmly at the cuffs. At the collar, too, probably. Doyle smiles, shaking his head in wonder.

He goes to kneel by the bed. He thinks he only wants to watch Gabe for a while, or at the most to talk to him. Gabe has lifted such a weight from him, excised such a tumour, that Doyle more than half believes he can complete the healing. Perhaps he can make yesterday's bombing not have happened, or make it not matter. Perhaps he can absolve Doyle of Christy McMahon...

He puts out a hand. He slips one finger into the curl of Gabriel's palm. "Gabe."

Gabriel's eyes open wide. For a second they're unseeing, or still lost in landscapes beyond Doyle's imagining, the pupils huge in rich brown iris. His fist closes warmly round Doyle's finger. "What is it, Ray? Can't you sleep?"

Doyle looks at him. He tells himself he only wants to talk, though desire is burning through him, a line of fire igniting down his spine. Gabe turns halfway onto his back, confirming Doyle's theory about the collar. "Nice pyjamas, Gabe."

"Er... Yes. I thought them very fine, but even Father Marcus laughs when he sees them."

"Are they special...priestly ones?" Gently Doyle extracts his finger; raises it to press very lightly on Gabe's top button. It's just over the hollow of his throat. Beneath it a pulse is beating hard. "To fasten up like this?"

Gabriel takes hold of Doyle's wrist. His grip is very strong. He lowers Doyle's hand to the mattress, then he sits up, drawing his knees to his chest. The movement isn't defensive, but it does send a message, one which Doyle is suddenly unwilling -- God, unable -- to receive. "We can wear what we like in bed," Gabe says. "It's not like it used to be. We're encouraged to be modest, though -- to cover ourselves, not show too much skin. It's for our own sake. It makes things easier."

Things. Doyle can imagine. He's imagining. "God," he breathes. "How can you stand it? Don't you even..."

"Of course I do. I'm human. I have dreams about sex, and if my mind won't be clear until I've dealt with them, I masturbate. When I have to. Then I confess it and move on. I'm telling you these things, Ray, because you're my oldest friend and it seems to me you badly need someone to talk with you honestly, but I'm...not happy with it. I'm not comfortable. Please."

Oh, come on. Last time we met we were screwing the living daylights out of one another. Now you let me into your home, bed me down on your sofa, leave your bedroom door open for me... You expect me to believe you're just being my friend? These bitter thoughts rise up in Doyle along with his erection. It happens in one hot surge, almost painful, stiffening him to his length in the borrowed tracksuit trousers. What makes it worse is that Doyle knows this is exactly what Gabe has done, that those were his exact intentions. Gabe's not capable of anything else.

And Doyle is capable of anything. The blind face of the dying man at Knightsbridge looms up at him, followed by Christy McMahon's. McMahon's has a neat bullet-hole in its brow, black and still smoking where the lead burned bone. Doyle tastes in the back of his throat the sourness of his own vomit, and he feels again -- with immaculate precision, as if the moment's gesture had been somehow a turning point for his whole life -- how Bodie took him into his arms. Ignoring the state of him, the murderous thing he'd just done. Need sears through Doyle. He wants... Oh, what he wants more than life at this instant is to feel Bodie's grip on him again. But Bodie was acting out of necessity. Needed him functional again, that was all. And Gabe is here.

Doyle uncoils from his crouch by the bed and clasps Gabe's upraised knees. Frail barricade: comes down soon enough at a push, parting as they do, and Doyle gasps as he sees what they've been hiding. Gabe is very human still, and not too chaste to have raised a hard-on to match Doyle's own. "Yes," Doyle whispers, leaning in. He puts a hand round the back of Gabe's neck and sees his eyes widen and go blank with shock. "It's all right. It's all right."

Gabe still tastes the same. Spice and -- oranges, yes; he loved them back then and Doyle suddenly remembers seeing a bowl of them on a shelf in the other room. Colour and sunlight, blazing through a cold Midlands day. Gabe's mouth under his is quite still, but Doyle will soon fix that. He nudges his tongue inside. He blindly unfastens that damn tight top button, then the next one down and the next. Slipping a hand into the gap, he brushes one taut nipple with his palm, and Gabe jolts and cries out. Pleasure or protest? Doyle can't tell; he's closed his eyes, the better to taste him, and Gabe's words have spent themselves and died on his invading tongue. Shuddering, still cradling Gabe's nape, Doyle bears him down to lie flat on the bed. He takes a second to undo Gabe's flies: easy work, this part, just the lightly knotted cord: and shoves his own tracksuit bottoms down. Gabe's hot shaft is trapped against his thigh. He lifts his hips and it springs up, meeting his own. Doyle shudders in anguished relief. He needs air, needs to suck a pre-orgasmic breath, but he's afraid of what will happen when he breaks his imprisoning, silencing kiss...

No help for it. He surges up onto his arms, bracing tight. One more thrust will do it, three at most...

Gabe's hands shoot up and close savagely tight on his shoulders. "Ray. Please. No!"

Doyle stares down at him. Interrogates his face, his eyes, to find the no there as well as on his lips. He wants to disbelieve in it.

But what does that make him, if it's there, and he doesn't obey?

Christ -- isn't it enough that Gabe's said it?

Doyle sobs. It's pain and frustration, a grief he should have shut away inside himself forever, not brought here to be tapped and channelled by this kind man, who has no idea what kind of ticking bomb he's picked up off the street. Huge tears, scalding, splash onto Gabe's naked chest. Doyle can hardly believe they're his own. "Gabe, for God's sake. This isn't a natural life."

Gabe's grip hardens. He's breathing raggedly in great gulps, his face a mask of need and rigid resolution. "Natural?" he echoes. "We're none of us -- natural, Ray. Is it natural, for you to be running the streets with a gun in your hand?"

"No. I don't know. But..."

"Shut up and listen. We're thinking animals; sentient. We've left natural behind. All we can do is choose a path -- the best one we can -- and stick to it. And it isn't bloody fair for you to come in here and screw with mine! I like my life, Ray. For all its faults. I'm a Catholic priest. I'm going to be made a vicar general. I want it. Now...get off me. Please."

Ray does. He rolls away: forgets the bed isn't a double and thuds to hands and knees on the floor. And the worst of it is -- the godawful shame -- that he's gone too far. His body's passed the point of no return. He fights it for a few seconds, head down, shivers racking him. He feels Gabe's hand come to rest on his skull. Hears his soft, concerned questions: Ray? You all right? What is it? He jerks away, snarling. Gets a hand to himself and dissolves at his own touch in a pulse of pleasure so perfect and dreadful it nearly stops his heart. "Oh, God. No. No..."

Gabe understands now. Doyle stays where he is: he can't get any further down. He presses his brow to the lino. He tries not to register Gabe's comprehension and care. A blanket from the bed goes round his shoulders. Gabe kneels beside him. Curling up, Doyle tries to shut him out, but it's no good. Gabe's words come clear and quiet through the storm. "Get into my bed," he says. "Stay in it. Have your sleep out."

Doyle lifts his brow a bit. When he tries to speak, his throat is so raw that he sounds alien, twisted and ravaged. "What... What about you?"

"I'm going to have a very cold bath. Then... I'm going to get on with my work." Gabe's voice trembles. "You're my demon, but I don't cast you out lightly, love. Believe that."

When Doyle wakes again, it's morning. He glances at his watch in panic: the room is full of light. But it's only six o'clock. If he's lucky, he can make it back home, shower and change and be ready for Bodie when he comes to pick him up for shift at half past seven.

Memories hit him. He's curled up in Gabe's bed, in Gabe's clean sheets. Surprisingly comfortable, this narrow frame and thin mattress. He's slept deeply. He recalls hitching his trousers up when Gabe helped him up off the floor. Their fabric is stiff and sticky between his legs. Doyle turns his face back into the pillow to stifle a mortified groan.

In the office, Gabe is sleeping, head resting on his folded arms. All around him on the surface of the desk are open accounts books, photographs of refugee camps, earthquake-stricken cities. There are other photos, too, which Doyle hadn't seen the night before, beginning to shine now in the morning light. Gabriel hasn't run his endeavours at safe arm's length here in this office. Here he is with children, on the steps of a shanty-town school with the beaming staff and kids around him. With other priests: he hasn't, for God's sake, been alone. Not even lonely. Fraternal affection shines from the faces of his colleagues. Something a bit more than that, Doyle reckons, in the smile of a young man who crops up again and again in the photos, as close to Gabe as he can get, long frock and dog collar not detracting one bit from the dark Irish glimmer in his eyes.

Shame passes through Doyle like waves of fever. Gabe didn't need rescue or release. And Doyle hadn't come here to give him those anyway -- had tried to expend on him what he now recognises as lust, huge and hungry, for another man. Gathering up his clothes from the sofa, shouldering into his harness, Doyle asks himself when the hell that happened -- when his attraction to Bodie has sharpened up to need. Not just of the flesh, though that's clearly bad enough. To be with him, to look into his unfathomable bloody gaze and try to fathom him. To run at his side through the jungle for as long as they both can survive.

Doyle supposes that Bodie must have taken Christy McMahon -- Christy's corpse -- from his chair, unfastened the handcuffs, and arranged him in such a way that he could have been felled in a gunfight. He wonders which gun, out of the dozens available in Christy's lair, Bodie chose to tuck into his dead hand. One with a silencer, Doyle reckons, because Bodie will not have neglected to fire off a couple of shots from it, and Doyle didn't hear anything, doubled up and faint with sickness down his alleyway.

Why? Why did Bodie do that, and probably well enough for them both to get away with it? Is it just because Doyle is well enough broken in for him now, and he knows his career at CI5 depends on his ability to hang on to a partner? Maybe, if he hadn't then offered to pull the blame down on himself, another career-ending move. And he'd have done it. Doyle believes that utterly.

Doyle crouches by Gabe's chair. He knows he should leave him a note. Not that Gabe will ever want to see him again, but to sneak off untraceably from him seems the final dishonour in a thoroughly treacherous night. He should leave him at least an apology, a promise to launder and return his things. He owes him that much at least.

As for Bodie, Doyle owes him much more. He's mystified now, that last night he just walked away from him, left him standing in the car park. He wonders if it's too late to put things right. Straightening up, he glances at the state of the clothes that he's slept in. Stains and damp patches, all explicitly placed.

But it's too bad. He can't bear to change back into his wrecked gear from yesterday. If he slings his jacket over his arm, he'll be fit to face a cabbie. He can't leave a note. Doesn't know what to say, and now doesn't have time: it's half six, and if he runs, he might still be able to salvage his world...

Chapter Eight

Outside in the chilly Capri, Bodie jolts and sits up. For a moment his disorientation is complete: he is alone, bleeding, watching a black Gazelle helicopter clatter off over the horizon. Rage heaves in him silently, followed by a grief he thrusts away in disgust at his own weakness. His hands lock tight on the wheel, and the vision dies, though somewhere in the back of his head he can always hear fading rotors.

Something has brought him back. Coughing, running a hand over his hair, Bodie realises he's somehow spent the night out here, that a sublime London morning is unfolding in the street around him. His eyes are very sore. The non-sleeps do that to him: he doesn't close them properly and he doesn't blink, so for long dry hours they keep the watch, getting scratchy and raw. Fucking eerie, Murph called it. Always packed him off to his own room, after...

It's movement that wakes him. His blank gaze registers something, twitches his pupils, yanks his brain out of its shutdown. It can be the flicker of a bird across a window, a car pulling out from the kerb. This time... Bodie frowns, scrubbing a hand across his eyes. This time it's Ray bloody Doyle, a flickering shape in light and shade, strolling out across the vicarage lawn. Not a vicarage, Doyle would correct him, if he were in the passenger seat and listening. He's a hell of a lapsed Catholic but he knows the drill. They're not vicars, they're priests.

All right, Doyle. So you spent the night with a priest. Looks clean and right as ninepence this morning, does Doyle. Hair a bit damp, gleaming in the sun; wearing his borrowed clothes well. As Bodie watches, he sets down the bundle he's carrying on top of a gatepost, grabs the railings' top bar and vaults them with that effortless grace Bodie sees him deploy when he wants to be somewhere else fast. He doesn't show it off, as if he thinks it might be effete to be that much of an acrobat, a bloody circus tumbler, but Bodie has caught him in the gym when he thinks he's alone, turning thoughtful, nonchalant handsprings for the fun of it...

Bodie kicks the car door wide. On the pavement, Doyle whips round, a cat interrupted on its way off the tiles. Bodie sees for a second that his mouth is a startled O. Good, he thinks grimly. Look guilty, you bastard. Then Doyle's face hardens. He shuts his mouth. The faint delicious flush his skin can carry early in the morning -- incongruous under stubble -- fades to stone.

They confront one another on the kerb. For a brief while they do so in silence, face to face, each one taking in the state of the other. Analysing. "Tell me," Doyle grates out at length, "you didn't spend the night here."

Not on purpose. I was tired; I just faded out. Bodie senses that he only has to say as much and Doyle will melt. He'll still want explanations, but that ready quickness of compassion he extends to everyone else will be Bodie's, too.

Briefly he considers a lie, but his five o'clock shadow, his rumpled clothes from yesterday, have blocked that exit too. Anyway he disdains it. Why should he defend himself? Not taking his eyes off Doyle, he points back towards the priest's house. "Tell me you didn't spend the night in there."

"You followed me. Last night."

Old man told me to. No, Bodie won't hold that shield up either. He knows how impressed Doyle will be with that, with I was just following orders. "Damn right I did."

"Bodie, why?!" That rings out as a shout, surprising both of them. Bodie feels a faint, odd relief, that the chill in Doyle's eyes is starting to ignite into rage. Doyle makes a visible effort to bottle it up, then goes on more quietly, "Why the fuck can't I spend the night with a friend?"

A friend. Bodie shudders, jealousy and pain twisting inside him. Jealousy, yes. Finally he can call it by its own ugly name, though he'll never tell Doyle. I hate him. If I was a different man, I'd be starting to love him. "Oh, let me count the bloody ways, sunbeam. Because your friend's a priest, for one. You freak him out, send him off the rails, God knows what he'll do. Fucking around with any man's a security risk, a blackmail risk..."

He tails off. Doyle has actually turned from him, as if he isn't interested any more -- is looking from the place where the car is parked, up through the trees to the half-hidden windows of the house. Assessing a line of sight. There isn't much of one. Silhouettes across a lamplit pane only: Bodie wants to tell him he wouldn't have used it, though in truth he isn't sure. "My God, Bodie. Did you watch?"

Bodie explodes. He grabs Doyle by his harness and the fabric of his sweatshirt and shoves him back against the railings. "You little shit! What if I had? Look at the fucking -- mess of you! Your gun's out in public. You can't put your fucking coat on to hide it because..." He pauses. His throat is trying to close. "Because if you did, you couldn't hide the come-stains all over your bloody trousers. Jesus, Ray!"

For one awful second, Doyle wants to laugh. And he's heard a weird crack in Bodie's voice, too, on his last words. As if one day, somewhere down the line, when they know one another years better than they do now, dragging one another out of scrapes like this will be funny. And there's that life-and-death Ray again, the rough intimacy of it prickling Doyle's skin.

But they're not going to have those years. Doyle says, coldly, "Get your hands off me." He realises as he says it that his combat reflex hasn't kicked in -- that Bodie, unique in all the world, no longer triggers it. Bitter anger coils in him. Too bloody late. "Take me home."


"Take me home. I'm not going to live like this. I'm out."

The journey is, with a couple of notable exceptions, the longest ten minutes of Bodie's life. He drives carefully, not trusting himself to do anything else. The atmosphere seethes. Neither says a word, all the way across town to Doyle's street, where Bodie can't get parked because it's not the rat-run time yet and the kerbs are nose-to-bumper on both sides with cars. Well, he doesn't have to stay for coffee and a fucking chat, just pull up and...

Doyle doesn't even wait that long. As Bodie slows up by his building, he suddenly uncurls, grabs his heap of clothes and jumps out, giving the car door a cursory slam behind him. Bodie, who has reflexively jammed on the brakes, swears viciously as the engine stalls. His temper ignites -- the proper kind, the one he's been sitting on for the sake of his career for months now, the cold slow burn that won't stop till its target is down. He guns the Capri back to snarling life and double-parks carelessly on the corner.

He gets out. It's a lovely morning, the air crisp and sweet for London, but he can't feel it any more. He asks himself what he's going to do. He hasn't got his duplicate set of keys for Doyle's flat -- is he going to stand on the doorstep, politely pressing the buzzer? He shudders. In his thighs and his spine he can feel preparing the tensions that will let him kick down the bloody door. Prowling back along the street, he sees that neither will be necessary: Doyle has slammed the front door so hard the elderly woodwork has bounced back off its frame and stayed open. Fool, Bodie thinks, with hazy satisfaction. Pound to a penny he hasn't locked his flat door upstairs either. Bodie's told him fifty times -- the old man and the security team, too -- but it's a civvy habit they can't seem to break him of. Like he lived in the country, or a world full of angels...

In his bedroom, Doyle tears off Gabe's sweatshirt. He's trying to recall the shape of a silver Capri in his rearview last night, on his way to the church. He can't. And Doyle always knows when he's picked up a tail. The sense of being hunted down -- by a predator he's meant to be able to trust -- scalds through him. He pulls a shirt out of the wardrobe and shrugs into it, grabs the harness he's slung onto the bed. Not much point in putting that on, is there, if he's packed in the job, but he does so anyway, adjusting it for the new shirt. It does make a difference -- possibly only psychological, but he needs to know it won't slip or hitch if he has to draw fast.

Shit. He's worked so hard for this. He's had a taste of what it's really like to clean up London's streets, to make a difference. If he can't handle the dark side of that, though, the failures: if he can't handle Bodie... Angrily he skins out of Gabe's tracksuit bottoms, which now smell of both of them, the heady mix flashing Doyle back to joys and disasters last night and sixteen years ago. What an arse he's made of everything! Poor Gabe... Well, enough's enough. He pours himself into the first pair of jeans that come to hand, the ones that make Bodie roll his eyes in disgust at their skintight fit but watch his every move all day thereafter, like a big, lazy, appreciative cat.

The flat's front door opens. Doyle freezes. Christ, he didn't lock it, did he, just pulled it shut behind him till the handle clicked. He stares at it, waiting. After a moment it swings wide, and Bodie coolly lets himself in. He looks like Doyle's erotic dream of him, and by now he's had several -- short potent dramas, distracting next day when he has to look the bastard in the face. Unshaven, his eyes unfathomable. "Bodie," Doyle growls, fastening up his jeans. "Get the fuck out of my flat."

"I shouldn't have got in. Both doors open, mate. That kind of thing'll get you blown away one of these days."

"I mean it."

Bodie watches him, weighing up his seriousness. It's intense, as hot and focussed as it gets. If Bodie ignores him, there will be a fight. "Fucking make me, then."

"Oh, for God's -- "

He tries to sidestep Bodie in the doorway, and Bodie makes the mistake of grabbing him by the arm. "Doyle!"

A fist lands hard in his gut. Bodie hasn't seen him move, and can barely connect him with his own sudden arrival on the living-room carpet, much less the hammer-blow to the back of the neck that has put him there. Relief flares through him. He's glad this has started. A smack round the head is the least he deserves, in the circumstances, and a punch-up might be their last chance, the most basic, economical way of setting things straight between them. Doyle won't quit the job; won't abandon him. When he can get air into his lungs, he rasps out his name, instinctively choosing his first one, the one that can still surprise him, catch him off his guard...

"Don't you bastard well Ray me." Doyle stands over him, breathing raggedly. His voice is unsteady, squeezed tight with rage. "Did you get some good surveillance shots, then? Gonna get the lab to make you an extra set so you can have a good laugh in private? A good wank?"

"Oh, Christ. Stop."

"Or are you just gonna hand them to Cowley? He sent you after me last night, didn't he? You always gonna be his patsy, Bodie -- his fucking errand boy?"

Bodie's weird pleasure in this scenario evaporates. He uncurls with terrible smoothness and stands up. The edges of his field of vision are stained in red. "Don't you dare talk to me about the old man. At least he's who he says he is -- not some closet queer who calls himself your partner then runs off to bugger his nancy -- "

Doyle goes for him like a tiger. They crash-land against the sofa: instinctively Bodie lets the impact work for him, pitching Doyle across his body and off the edge. Best get the drop on him fast, and keep it somehow. He's often wondered how it might be, if it came to a serious fight. They're so well matched in their different ways that their training and demo sessions in the gym inevitably end in weary, laughing impasse. He thuds down on top of him, putting his extra weight to good use, trapping him in the space between the sofa and the wall.

Promptly Doyle drives a knee up and into his groin. Somewhere in the flaring hell of pain that follows, Bodie finds time to remember that if Ray is a courteous, chivalric opponent in fencing hall and dojo, on the streets he has become the devil incarnate, an eye-gouging, ball-twisting bastard who will stoop as low and dirty as it takes to carry his point. He's shoving Bodie off him, snarling like a wildcat, scrambling up to get position for a punch.

Bodie blocks it effortlessly. The pain burns away his last scruples. He knows now he's been wanting to smack Ray in the mouth since midnight, and does so, and sees blood fly with a primeval satisfaction. "Bastard," Doyle growls, gets hold of his shirt front and hauls him to his feet -- for the pleasure of knocking him back down again, it seems, and once more Bodie employs his anger and momentum against him, converting his fall into a throw, crashing with him into a tangle on the carpet.

Doyle thinks they might kill each other. For a while he wants nothing better -- to smash himself and Bodie into oblivion -- and goes about it uncensored, uncaring, atavistically joyful when Bodie loses control and comes back at him more savagely still. The struggle carries them out into the hall, halfway across the kitchen floor. A chair goes flying, then glass in a shower of shards as Bodie slams against a cabinet. The world goes silent around him but for the thud of fists on flesh, the roar of his heart in his own ears.

And something changes. There's no one moment of transformation -- only a punch that hits target and does not pull back, a fist unclenching and spreading on bruised flesh. A hold that loses purpose and remains for its own sake. A shoving-apart that suddenly becomes a grunting, desperate effort to get closer, then closer, hands tearing cloth, buttons ripping out of their holes...

Mouth finding bloodstained mouth. "Jesus!" Doyle sobs against Bodie's lips, and lets himself be borne down flat on the kitchen tiles, dragging Bodie's whole weight on top of him.

Bodie flips him onto his front, neat and matter-of-fact. Doyle feels a pang of terror -- no, not this way! He won't get to state his terms this time, even if Bodie would hear him. He scrabbles for purchase on the cold tiles. I won't get fucked. I can't.

But Gabe has cracked apart the force-joined memories in his mind. And Bodie is -- different. Bodie moans against his ear, the sound and the vibration electric. Doyle feels his flesh take fire, his whole body floating and burning. He hauls in a breath, and another, and begins to help Bodie unzip and drag down his jeans. He's high as a kite at the thought, at the shadow, the very fear of Bodie doing this to him, and then he's nothing but panic that he won't. A sucking need begins in him, and he thrusts his backside up, hearing his own whimper with utter shame.

"All right, where is it?"

"What...?" Doyle's nose is bleeding, a split lip inhibiting speech.

"Your stuff. Lubricant."

"Don't bother. Just do it."

"No," Bodie says, already stripped and hard and shoving into him. "No..."

They last less than a minute. Bodie pins him with suffocating force, twists the hair at the back of his neck, pushes desperately up and up until dry resistance stops him, an anguished halfway engagement that wrenches sobs from Doyle but doesn't stop his writhing efforts to get himself fucked. His hands clench and unclench on the tiles. He undulates his spine, shoving back against him, finding his rhythm and returning it. He twists to look back over his shoulder, disbelief widening his eyes, parting his lips as Bodie pushes deeper inside. When Bodie reaches under him to grasp his cock, he shouts out wildly and begins to buck against his hand. He drops his head, closes his eyes.

In the dark which is no longer empty, Doyle sees Gabriel's face, and thinks it is for the last time. He starts to cry, scaldingly, clamping one hand to his mouth so that not even Bodie, who is starting to wring this earthquake of pleasure from his body, will know. Sobs tear at him, short brutal contractions of every muscle, then the tide turns and the clenching turns outward, becomes uncontrollable orgasm, silent and wild, electrical, ecstatic, imprisoned in Bodie's grasp.

Bodie spends himself inside him. It goes on and on -- incandescent, burning. The sounds he is making will shame him in memory -- a desperate groaning, as if he's been shot. His arms fold. He falls, falls, burying his face in Doyle's hair, finally and cataclysmically letting everything go.

Doyle is terribly still. For the space of long terrible seconds, Bodie can't get breath enough to shift his weight off him. Then he heaves up to his knees, tearing out of his body, ripping from him a short hoarse howl. "God. Doyle..." Staggering to his feet, he leans down and hauls Doyle up with him, the skinny frame resistless in his grasp. Blood on the tiles, blood on Doyle's white face, on his own hands, on both their shirts. He can't tell where it's coming from. Somehow he gets them both through into the bedroom, lets gravity take over and goes down with him onto the bed.

Doyle's breath is coming in fast shallow gasps. He twists away from Bodie's efforts to see his face, to see if a bust lip and a nosebleed are the worst of it. "Ray," Bodie grates. "I'm sorry..."

A hand lands over his mouth, warm and a hundred times gentler than Bodie could have expected, but absolute. Doyle struggles up onto one elbow and stares down at him, tears mixing with the blood on his face. "Shut up. You think I didn't want that?"

Bodie tries to shift the silencing hand. He doesn't know what he's going to say if he manages it. Yeah, what happened to those Shantung boxing skills? You could've knocked me into next week... But Ray is pushing away from him, and a second later releases him and rolls off the bed. He lurches to his feet and looks down on him, dragging up his jeans. "Christ, it's half seven. Look, do one thing for me -- go to Cowley and tell him I'll be late." He dabs blood off his lip, and surveys the equivalent damage on Bodie, the havoc they've inflicted, with a pained smile. "You won't even have to lie -- just tell him I caught you at Brunswick, and I freaked out and clobbered you. I'll be in later to sort things out."

Bodie pushes up onto one elbow. His arm doesn't want to work. Every inch of him is wrenched, reluctant, his brain fogged. He wants to pull Doyle back into the bed with him, sleep for a week, wake up and rebuild their world from scratch. "Things?" he echoes stupidly. "Doyle, you're not still gonna -- "

"Finest fuck in the world can't change that." Doyle hesitates, long enough for Bodie to wonder whether he's been dismissed or royally complimented. "It's nothing to do with you -- not really. Not even anything to do with Gabe. It's me. I'm not cut out for this game."

"What?" Astonishment rattles the truth out of Bodie. "If you're not, no-one is. You're the best."

Doyle's smile becomes odd. Christ, Bodie thinks. I should have told him that weeks ago. I should have told him I need him. But it's too late: Doyle picks some clothes off the floor, turns and makes an unsteady track into the living room. He snags his car keys from under the upturned coffee table. He slips like a shadow through the flat's front door and is gone.

Chapter Nine

The lady who works mornings at the laundrette knows Doyle well. She greets him absently, loading up a machine, then sees him properly. "Bloody hell, Ray!" She puts down her plastic basket. "Bit early in the day, isn't it? You get into a fight on the bus?"

Doyle thinks about it. Slowly he connects the stinging pain in his lip, the ache in his jaw, with the looks he's been collecting on the short walk here. The signals from elsewhere have been so overwhelming that he hasn't considered the state of his face. "Something like that," he says. "You should see the other fella."

"Well, go through the back and wash up before you scare off all my customers. Want me to take those?"

Doyle hefts the plastic bag he's carrying. "No, thanks. I'll do them myself."

"Day for watching the washing go round, is it, love?"

"Something like that."

In the back room, he splashes water into his face, then looks into the tiny flyspecked mirror. He has the beginnings of a good shiner. His nose and his bust lip have bled quite a lot, splashing a gaudy abstract onto the front of his shirt. The plastic implant in his cheek, something he seldom notices, stands out starkly.

Your father's dead, Ray. For a couple of years now. Doyle has slept on this, shelved it -- not exactly forgotten it, but been so occupied since doing everything he shouldn't that it's gone to the back of his mind. He can't take it in. For him, his whole world in Derby -- the house, his parents, his own fear and bitter rebellion -- is pickled in formaldehyde as at last sight.

He strips off his shirt and puts his jacket back on, pulling up the zip to make himself decent. It hasn't been cold enough this year yet for him to need the one Bodie gave him. He shivers to think how that would feel, its rich thick sheepskin on bare flesh. The utilitarian space around him fades out and he is back in the car on that morning, Bodie beaming at him, pale with bloodloss but happy as Larry at his own good taste and generosity. Doyle's inner reel jumps and he's back in his own flat half an hour ago, facedown on the kitchen floor. He makes an helpless sound of disbelief, and Irene, bustling through for soap powder, asks him if he's all right.

A day for watching the washing go round... Doyle sets a machine away, and wonders for a while if that's all he's going to be capable of. He sits down on the low plastic bench, tries to go into his easy slouch, and stiffens, hissing an outbreath. He's sore as hell. Deep, throbbing, so high in the intimate core of him that his other aches and pains fly out to five miles distant, and a great blush tears through him, starting in the pit of his gut and spreading to flash-heat his face, throat and hands. What should just be discomfort has a red-gold haze around it, makes him want to rewind past the barricade of shock and replay every second of how he got his wounds. Cautiously drawing up one knee, he tilts his head back against the wall and lets the memories come.

He's smiling, breathing quickly, by the time they've played through. His fingers are warm and sweat-damped where he's laced them round his knee. So that's how it feels to be fucked -- even dry, even angry and unprepared -- by someone your whole body's been waiting for. Opening up tight-sealed doors of imagination, he sees in red-gold pulses how it could be, with time, lube, a big double bed, a chance to get used to it.

With Bodie.

But it's no damn good. Yes, he's generous -- from winter coats to half-crazed sex, even in the heat of it holding off until Doyle has hit climax and spilled out life and soul into his hand. He's brave, funny, loyal. On his good days, the best company in the world, and even on his bad, his demons pull on Doyle with wicked charm.

He's violent. Dangerous, damaged. Possessive and unscrupulous.

And that wouldn't matter, except that Doyle has found out that he himself is all those bad things too. It's come as a shock. He thought he was better. Now he knows that he was just untried.

The machine grinds to a halt. Doyle levers himself up and takes out Gabe's things and his own shirt, reflecting grimly that the semen marks have gone but not the blood. He knows how hard that is to get out. Always outlasts the signs of life. He must have fallen asleep for a while, he thinks, for the ponderous industrial washer to get through its cycle. He feels strange, not properly awake now. His decision to quit has left him lightheaded with relief, and yet at the same time desolate, as if he's falling through space.

In part he's just hungry. Shaking his head at his own inner dramas, and what they sometimes boil down to, Doyle hoists the armful of wet clothes into the dryer, and digs in his pocket until he finds the scandalous two 10p bits the machines now demand. He's left his wallet in the flat but further probing turns up a crushed pound note, more than enough for breakfast. At least his freedom means he no longer has to worry about diet, and he's not in a vegetarian mood today. He limps across the road to Greggs, comes back and demolishes two sausage rolls and a polystyrene quart cup of sweet tea, while Irene, who normally sees him jogging athletically by on his way from the wholefood shop down the road, looks on in wonder.

He hesitates for a while outside his flat, looking up at the windows. The day is warming up now and a pleasant, reassuring scent of clean clothes rises from the bag in his arms. He opens the Capri and puts the bag on the passenger seat, then turns and looks up again. There's the outside ghost of a chance that Bodie might still be in there. He doesn't sleep -- Doyle has seen this for himself now, on overnight obbos -- but he might have been angry enough to stick around. To be waiting... Trying to ignore the heated ache that goes through him at the thought of such ambush, Doyle goes inside.

But not only is the flat empty -- it's tidy, the table back on its feet, the glass from the cabinet swept up. Even the kitchen tiles are clean. Apart from the red-brown shadow in the grouting between them, there's no trace. Shivering, Doyle grabs his wallet and gets out as fast as he can.

He drives over to Knightsbridge and parks up within sight of the Brunswick house gates. He doesn't have to wait long before Gabriel appears, an elderly priest walking beside him, leaning on his arm. Doyle, who isn't about to do one more thing to embarrass or compromise him, slouches low behind the steering wheel until the old man dispenses with Gabe's support at the gate and makes his way off up the street. Then he takes the bag of laundry, swings open the door, and diffidently gets out to stand in the road.

Gabriel sees him straight away. He doesn't look surprised or alarmed. His face lights up with the sweet bright grin that hasn't changed since Doyle used to find him in school corridors and round the back of factories, homing in on his light. He holds out a hand.

"Gabe. I haven't come to mess with you any more."

"No. You're here as my friend now." He says it with perfect conviction and calm, as if he can see Doyle's heart and all the changes that have taken place in there since they last met. "And to bring me back my running clothes. Thank you."

Doyle swallows. He nods, handing the bag to Gabe. "They're washed. I probably shouldn't have come back at all, but..."

"You're too good for that. I knew I'd see you."

"You're wrong. I'm not good at all."

Gabe stands quietly. Doyle wonders if he makes everyone feel like this -- as if he's got all the time in the world for them, and with regard to their goodness or lack of it, prefers to keep his own opinion. Traffic purrs by. A lawnmower buzzes off somewhere in the grounds, and the scent of cut grass blends with the diesel. Eventually Gabe says, "There's something I didn't tell you last night. We...didn't talk to each other, did we? About our lives. What's become of us. When I think of how we loved one another, that seems terribly wrong."

Doyle's sinuses sting. Gabe can say love, and have it mean nothing more and nothing less than what it was. Not the scuffle and mess of last night, but the rare, abiding bond that salvaged the evils of their childhood. "Yes. I'm sorry."

"I failed just as much as you did. Tell me now."

"I was with the police for a while. But my partner was killed, and after that I wanted something more. I got hired by a counterterrorism agency. But I'm leaving. I... I've quit."

"Not because of me." It isn't a question. Gabe is the first person who's seen Doyle's face that morning without double-take or comment: he's looking, his dark eyes clouded with concern, but his focus lies behind the mask. "Something to do with whatever's happened here. These bruises."

"No. Partly. I don't know." Doyle chuckles, surprising himself. "Never mind. Your turn."

"All right. My novitiate at Bangor bad as you might imagine. But I survived, and I finished my training in London, where I met teachers who showed me I could be a priest in the same way that my mother believed in God -- simply and without hate."

Doyle pushes his hair back. There are things he'd like to say. Catholicism's a lot of things, but simple's not one of them. What do you tell frantic pregnant teenage girls? And boys like we were? But this is Gabe. Doyle doesn't need interrogate him to know that he's found his own gentle answers to these things, that no-one faces hellfire in his ministry. "Okay," he says, through a tightened throat. "Go on."

"I was given parishes in Limehouse then Whitechapel. That was easy. I recognised the type of people living there, though if I had a pound for every name I got called, I could pay off the African national debt. It seems I did well, and my reward was transfer to this box of jewels, where my parishioners think they've discharged their religious duties if they attend three Bach recitals a year. But the resources here are much greater. I was able to set up an aid-coordination point."

"You did all that yourself?"

Gabe's brow furrows. "I felt I had to. Things weren't getting to the places they should. Things..." He shakes his head in disbelief at a bad world. "Things were going missing. It doesn't happen now."

"No, I bet it doesn't."

"No. It runs well. With the result that I'm about to be rewarded again. That's what I wanted to tell you. When I'm made vicar general, it will be in the Vatican. I'm being transferred to Rome. And I can't work out for the life of me, Ray, if they're honouring me or getting me out of the way."

Rome. Doyle's stomach jolts, as if his plane has hit an air pocket. Yes, that sensation of sudden unstoppable fall. It's ridiculous -- he's known for less than twenty four hours that Gabe is in London. But his time in Whitechapel and Limehouse roughly matches Doyle's years of service on the streets of the Stepney parishes next door. Gabe has been around. Do you have to go will sound pathetic, though, and Doyle already knows the answer. "Well," he manages, after a moment, "if you've been tackling church corruption here -- "

"That isn't quite what I said."

"No, I know. But I'm sure you'll find a way of tackling it there, too. John Paul II better check his accounts."

Gabriel snorts and breaks into laughter. It's a delicious sound, all his old wicked humour still intact. "Ray, stop. I'll be a very minor cleric there. Starting again from the bottom of the heap." He sobers, still smiling. "But before I go... I want to make sure I'm up straight with people here. I need to go back home for a few days, to see my mum and my sisters. And what I woke up thinking this morning -- because for some reason you were on my mind -- is that it might do you good to come too."

"What? With... With you?"

Gabe makes a wry face. "And with Father Claude, the priest you just saw setting off on his morning walk. We'd be staying in the retreat house in Ashbourne. It's how we take our holidays. But he's a nice old man. He'll just want to sit by the fireside somewhere with a Guinness, and if you took a few nights in a B&B, we could spend some time together. Go for walks, have dinner with my mum. Ordinary time, Ray. I need to be up straight with you more than anyone."

"Jesus, Gabe. Do you..."

"Do I trust you? Yes, and myself too. But even if I didn't -- it was never me, was it? Whoever you wanted so badly last night it was burning you up in my arms -- not me."

Doyle lowers his head. It's shame that's burning him now. "I could cut my tongue out," he rasps. "I'm so sorry. I could cut off my own bloody -- "

"Please, Ray." Gabes voice quivers, sobriety fragile. "No mutilations. I want us to be friends. And -- all that aside, I think you have monsters left in Derby, bugbears and ghosts that will vanish if you see the place again. I think you should see your father's grave."

Doyle turns away. He's not sure if he's agreed or not. He needs to be gone: the thorns Gabe pulls from him draw too much blood, and try to spill tears in their wake. He glances back over his shoulder, lifting a hand. But before he can get to the car, Gabe calls him back. "Your partner now, Ray -- is that the man I saw you with after the bomb?" Doyle nods. He finds a pair of sunglasses in his jacket's inner pocket and puts them on, a frail shield but better than nothing. "Is that why you're leaving your job? Are you afraid you'll lose him too?"

That thorn draws flesh with it. Doyle almost chokes. And yet he's never made the link himself, not consciously... Swaying a little, he skims back over all the times he's launched into action with Bodie -- every single one of them underpinned by the fear he won't be fast enough, good enough, brave enough. That he'll lose focus, turn a corner and find Bodie crumpled up on a dirty floor, just like Rob. "No," he says, lying reflexively. It's too deep. He can't look at it. And anyway it doesn't matter now. "It doesn't matter now. I'm leaving. He'll be all right."

The first thing he hears on pushing open the door to HQ's office corridor is rich, familiar laughter. Not Bodie, though there's a resemblance. Quickly his brain picks up and discards likely answers, then comes up with a very unlikely one, borne out a second later by the appearance from the staff room of the man himself. Doyle stops dead, a ripple of shock going through him. "Bloody hell. Murphy!"

"Doyle! Damned if it isn't the other bookend." Murphy strides down the corridor, smiling, hand outstretched. "How have you been? You know, I saw I bloke with a face just like yours not five minutes ago..." He trails off. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing. Did Bodie... Is he here?"

"No, he just went out on an obbo with Jax. He said the pair of you got into a ruck with some lads in the pub last night. I nearly believed him. What really happened?"

"Nothing. What he said. It's good to see you, Murph." It is. His rangy, loose-boned presence, the cheerfully perceptive glint in his pale eyes, make the world feel more normal to Doyle. "You here on a visit, or..."

"No. Gonna have another crack at this game. Bodie was right -- being helpful all the time's a bloody bore."

Doyle smiles. The timing's perfect. Relief and sorrow spiral through him. "You missed the constant threat of violent death on the streets."

"That's right. Though the Cow seems to think you and Bodie have pretty much cleaned 'em up."

Doyle, who this time yesterday was kneeling in Knightsbridge with a mutilated corpse in his lap, only nods. "That's right. You won't have much to do. Look, I'll catch you later, Murph. Got to see the old man."

"Hang on a sec." Murphy makes a small move. It's not a block, but the corridor is narrow, and Doyle will have to dodge him if he wants to get past. "How's he been?"

"Cowley? Oh. No. Bodie's fine."

"Yes, he looked it, apart from the shiner. Better than I've seen him in ages." The diagnostic gleam increases. "Must be doing something right, Raymondo. I wouldn't let a pub brawl put you off."

Doyle wishes he could tell him. He reckons Murph will understand. But he will also try to make him stay, and that's not an option any more. His mind made up, something inside Doyle is banging on the walls and screaming to be out. "C'mon, Murph, shift," he says uncomfortably. "Got to go. I'm really glad you're back."

Despite Murphy's arrival, despite the sterling work his new partnership sets have put in, Cowley is desperately short of men this autumn. He stares at this one, whom he's hand-picked, head-hunted, and tempered to bright steel in the fire and water of his training programme. Who has got William Bodie, rogue, purring like a Rolls Royce under his hand. Until yesterday, anyway. Cowley has heard the pub-brawl story and valued it according to its worth. He knows how likely it is that any pack of lairy civilians will have got close enough to his two finest to inflict this kind of damage. "Doyle," he says. "If you go, I'll need to replace you immediately." With about five men, he reflects bitterly. "I cannot hold your place for you."

Doyle's eyes widen. "What? I never expected you to. If I leave, that's it."

Cowley scowls. It certainly should be. But if he'd been the hugging sort, he'd have flung his arms around Murphy when his lanky shadow darkened the door that morning. Cowley will be putting him through Macklin's most vicious reorientation programme, to make up for the moment's weakness. "Does if mean you might reconsider?"

"Sorry, sir. Figure of speech. I'm leaving." Alarm shadows Doyle's bruised face. "I... can leave, can't I?"

Cowley mulls it over. It's quite tempting. Fine print in your contract, laddie. Three years' service at least, to pay me back for all that training. He's a good liar. Certainly a better one than Bodie this morning. He lets a few seconds go by. "Which pub did you say this happened in?"

"Me, sir? I didn't. But...the Barleyman. On Albert Street."

Shifting in his seat, Cowley regards him. He's very impressed. Five minutes for Bodie to catch up with the cab, to flash his lights and draw Doyle's attention. Doyle tells the cabbie to stop, and they get out on Camden High Street, but don't go to the King's Head because Bodie knows, and Doyle and Cowley too, that it's closed for repairs. Cowley is bitterly angry that two men who can think together like this, synchronise stories without consultation, are going to slip through his grasp.

He tries another tack. Cowley has in his desk drawer now a set of papers from Chief Robert Marsh, SAS. They arrived last month, very belatedly, with a top secret tag. As if even Special Forces has the grace to be ashamed of itself from time to time. "Listen to me, Doyle," he says. "Yes, you can leave. But I would ask you to think about something. Bodie has come to trust you. To regard you as a comrade. He isn't a man who needs any further betrayal."

"Betrayal?" That's stung: Cowley watches with interest as Doyle surges onto his feet. One of his eyes is almost closed now with blue-purple bruising. Bodie must have got in a good one. Cowley wonders how far it went. How it resolved itself. "Sorry. That's nonsense. I'm just -- leaving. I want my bloody life back. And Bodie will be fine now that Murphy's come home."

"Yes. As Bodie is now, I think Murphy will put up with him. But Bodie is as he is now because of you. That won't last."

"For God's sake, sir. You've got it wrong. I'm not that important to him. Please just let me go."

Cowley sighs. If he was a sympathetic man, he would really feel for Ray Doyle now. He's rigid with the effort not to shake, not to let go of whatever is boiling away inside. Bodie, when Cowley first ran into him this morning, wasn't much better. Perhaps Doyle is right to clear out now, before they kill one another. But it's a damn criminal waste. "Very well. I'll need it in writing, Doyle. Hand your gun in at the armoury."

Chapter Ten

Doyle stands in a grey, treeless street on the Malvern council estate. It's half the length he remembers, the houses half the size. This doesn't surprise him; he knows children make vast perspectives. What he hasn't expected is its complete anonymity. "Gabe," he says uncertainly. "Which one was mine?"

Beside him, Gabriel smiles. His dog collar is inconspicuous at the throat of a plain black jumper and he's wearing an ordinary jacket and jeans. Still, he's very much what he is. The usual number of kids have chucked at him the usual names. There's a big Irish Protestant contingent around here, so there've been a few Fenies and taighs too, on top of the casual racism. Up and down the street, the usual number of net curtains twitch. "It's good that it's not jumping out at you. Ten doors down from my mum's, on the other side."

Doyle remembers. They've just left Mrs Foster's house, both of them replete with the Jamaican-Midlands dinner she's joyously forced on them. Mrs F is blisteringly proud of her son, and his summons to the Vatican has set the crown on it. Nevertheless she's cornered Doyle in the kitchen afterwards and told him that, Catholic or not, she wishes Gabe could stay at home. With Ray, because for all he's done since, she knows Gabriel was happiest then. He shivers, and Gabe lays a warm hand on his shoulder. A kid riding past on a bike sings out, "Poofters!", careless of consequence. Doyle grabs him by the back of the saddle. "Watch your lip, you little shit," he warns, and the brat blenches, almost thrown over his handlebars. "If you want to keep it on your face."

"Ray. He's just a kid."

"Yeah. So was Hitler once." But he lets go his grip on the bike, and watches the child ride off in a wobbly line. "I don't know, Gabe. You won't get a reception like this in Vatican City, you know."

"Right. They're all Fenies and poofters there. I don't know how I'll tear myself away."

Doyle breaks into laughter. He thinks of himself as fairly tolerant, but he'd give a lot to learn Gabe's unfazed good humour in the face of attack. "You're too bloody good for the Vatican, you," he says, and obediently counts down along the street, one pebbledashed semi after another. Yes. The tenth one. That's how he used to judge it during power cuts or when kids with catapults had taken out the streetlamps. Thirty long strides across the road on a diagonal. Fifty points if he could make it while holding his breath. A hundred if he didn't check for traffic first. Yeah, there'd been nights when getting run over en route had seemed the better option. The house hasn't changed, except that the paintwork is peeling worse than before and the bathroom window is boarded up. "Is she still there?"

"Your mum? Yes. Do you want to go and see her?"

Doyle feels his guts clench a little around Mrs F's nice food. He draws a deep breath. "It was good to come here," he says distantly. "You were right. But I think I'll leave the therapy there."

They part at the end of the road. Gabe is going to spend a few more hours with his mum, Doyle heading back to his B&B, a plain but decent place where they treat his comings and goings with friendly indifference. It's the third night of their stay. Gabriel has another four before he has to go back to London and hand over his parish to the next incumbent.

Doyle isn't sure of his own next move. They've done most of the things he came here to do. Their first port of call has been the Catholic churchyard where Doyle's father is buried despite to all intents and purposes having killed himself with cheap scotch. Doyle didn't spend long looking at the grave: just long enough, he supposes, to take in its reality. He'd been more taken with an inscribed monument a few places down. Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, the text began, and went on to describe pretty much all the things Doyle would like in his world and currently doesn't have. In the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul. He's made a promise to himself, if ever he achieves anything like it, that he'll find a copy -- Gabe tells him it's well known -- and put it on his wall as a reminder.

That task accomplished, he and Gabe have spent their time in the hills around Mam Tor. They've walked for miles, perhaps deliberately seeking exhaustion. Neither of them were particular nature lovers as kids, but the moors were a place to go on itchy, restrictive suburb days, a long bumpy bus ride and then endless open space. That was when they were still just friends -- that brief interval, Doyle thinks, climbing the stairs to his room, smiling wryly. They wandered for hours and talked, just for pleasure in one another's company.

It's been the same this time, though Doyle is aware he's talked almost non-stop about Bodie. Gabe has listened, patient and attentive, as they paced the orange heather under grey autumn skies. Doyle is astonished at how much he's had to say. Not narrative exactly but the way you go on when you've first met someone, and you can't get through a sentence without mentioning their name, or what they think or would have said or done. The way you talk when you're falling in love, Doyle has realised, and shut up after that, although Gabe has given him a look of penetrating sweetness that tells him he's said all he needs to. He and Gabe have slept after lunch on the flank of Mam Tor, shoulder to shoulder on the turf.

Doyle lets himself into his room and shuts the door. He's exhausted and he doesn't want to think, so washes as best he can in the hand basin and gets ready for bed. Once curled beneath the staticky nylon sheet and candlewick bedspread, though, sleep evades him, and he twitches restlessly. Gabe was beautiful, stretched out there beside him: he watched for ages, propped up on one elbow, for the pure pleasure of looking. But Gabe was quite safe. Doyle's desire, the erotic impulse that drove him into that chaste priestly bed, is now locked on a point some 130 miles southeast of here, and he has screwed up everything. When at last his eyes close, it's Bodie he dreams of, and wakes up in the small hours, aroused and uneasy, whispering his name.

Seven o'clock. Doyle jolts upright in the bed, heart thumping. It takes his brain a while to sort out his surroundings -- a civilian's luxury, he thinks, aware that in London, on duty, he hits the ground running, awake and in motion the second Bodie calls for him or, if they've shared quarters for some reason, chucks a pillow at his head. He's in a B&B in Derby. Terrible flocked wallpaper. Shag-pile nylon carpet. Someone's tapping diffidently at his door.

He scrambles to his feet and goes to answer. Bodie would have been in here by now, the door bouncing back off its hinges, but still Doyle's heart twists up in stupid hope, because it sure as hell isn't continental breakfast on a tray, not here. Eight AM sharp in Mrs Riley's dining room, if he wants to eat at all. He pulls the door wide, giving a last-second hitch at his pyjama bottoms. "Oh. Gabe!"

"Yes. Sorry to wake you. I've knocked up your landlady, too... Can I come in?"

They've planned to meet up for coffee later on. Doyle notes that Gabe is as dishevelled as he can get: sees with a flicker of surprise that for once he's left the white collar behind. "What's the matter? Is everything all right?"

"Um..." Gabe runs a distracted hand over his hair. "Shit, love. No, it isn't. I don't know how your Mr Cowley got hold of my mother's number, but..."

Doyle subsides onto the bed. He's only half-awake, amused more than anything. Bad language, no collar, and that old sweet endearment from so long ago: perhaps Gabe isn't as ready for Rome as he thinks. Then the rest of what he's said hits home. "What?"

Gabe comes inexplicably to kneel before him. He reaches for Doyle's hands and takes them firmly into both of his. "Listen. You're going to have to be brave. My mum had a phone call this morning, about an hour ago. Your boss told her there's been some sort of incident. He didn't give any details, but your partner -- Bodie -- he's missing. They're presuming him dead."

Doyle sits very still. His mind, numbing out and protective, picks up on irrelevant things. How warm Gabe's palms are, how dry. The scent drifting in from the half-open door: coffee, cigarettes, toast. He circles in a little closer. Cowley... How the hell has he known to call Mrs F? Doyle hadn't even told him he was planning to come home. But he knows everything, ultimately, the old man, doesn't he, everything about everything, except...

Except this. Doyle lurches upright, almost knocking Gabe over. His head spins and he props for a second on the dressing table, arms rigid. Then he's on the move again, pacing. "No. No!"

"Ray, I'm so sorry. I'd have done anything rather than have to tell you -- "

"No. Not...shocked no, denial no... I mean he's bloody wrong. There's no way Bodie's dead. No way."

Sprawled on the carpet, Gabe watches him. At first his attention is just compassionate, horrified, kind. Then he frowns and seems to focus. "Why do you say that? How are you so sure?"

"Because I'd know!" Doyle's voice cracks, pitches up into a shout. He bangs his clenched fist off his chest. "I'd know in here, Gabe, as -- as certainly as you know God!

He stops pacing. A silence falls. "All right," Gabe says at length. "All right. If that's what you believe, you'd better go, hadn't you? Go and find him." He scrambles up onto his feet. Doyle's holdall is at the foot of the bed: he grabs it, picks up the nearest shirt and tosses it at him. "Here. Get dressed. Chuck your things into that. I'll go down and call a car-hire firm."

Doyle stares at him. He and Gabe have come up here by train. It's the end of the month and his salary isn't through, if he'll even get it after his desertion. It's a hell of a lot better than police pay, but not enough for him to do what he wants, which is run to the nearest garage and buy the first car he sees. What's left right now won't even cover the hire. All he's got is the second half of his Midland Rail return.

He can't get the words out, but it seems he doesn't need to. Gabriel, halfway out the door, turns round. "Oh. My mum gave me some travelling money, like I was off to Majorca for the weekend. I don't need it but I couldn't say no. Don't even think about it, love."

He's off, taking the stairs three at a time, vaulting the banister and scaring a shriek from Mrs Riley on the landing. Doyle turns blindly back into the room. He scrapes together the rest of his things and stuffs them into the holdall. He thinks that once that's done, once he's finished packing, he's going to have a terrible moment -- the instant when his faith runs out, when whatever weird blaze is consuming him collapses to ash. Wallet, keys. He's paid Mrs Riley in advance, so that's not a problem. Socks.

Bodie, smiling at him from the far side of the assault-course ladder, steadying the ropes.

Arms going round him like cable on the worst day of his life. Second-worst now, he thinks hollowly, fear rising like bile in his throat. Bodie's voice against his ear, rough velvet. Come on. You'll be fine.

His legs weaken. He casts around the empty room for anything else to do. But before he can realise there's nothing, Gabe is back. "Right. It's just round the corner -- he's on his way. Do you want me to come with you? If you need me, I will."

Doyle almost accepts. Gabe is like good earth. Something to hold onto. But what Doyle needs now is to let go -- to launch off from safety and sanity, get into a car alone and drive like white-hot hell. His bones want it. The sole of his right foot is aching for the gas. He's as liable to crock himself as get there alive, and at all costs he mustn't take out this godsent priest with him. "No," he rasps. "Have your time with your mum. I love you, Gabe. I always will."

A car door bangs outside. Gabe is digging in the pockets of his jeans. "Here," he says. "Thought you might need it, so I brought it with me..." He pushes a handful of folded-up notes into Doyle's hand. Only then does he look up. Tears spill down his face. "Oh, God. I love you too. Find your partner, Ray. Get your life back." And Gabriel -- priest, future vicar general of Rome -- seizes Doyle's face between his hands, stills him and presses his mouth, open wide in silent passion, to his lips.

Chapter Eleven

130 miles. Doyle stops once, to make a phone call -- he needs to know which way to go round the Ringway -- then flies on. The line has rung a long time at HQ. Doyle knows that kind of delay. Everyone out, in attendance at the end of whichever world has ended now. Betty has finally answered, her voice fragile in a way Doyle also recognises: a death in the family.

Anfield Wharf, she tells him. For a second Doyle can't place it in his inner streetmap, and almost punches a hole through the service-station kiosk. Then he has it: developing business district on the south bank, tower blocks going up New York style, a temple to the gods of capital Doyle can't foresee doing anyone any long-term good. Anti-clockwise on the Ring, left on the Circular, punch through to Putney Bridge. He's blazing through Whitehall within two hours of his exit from the Malvern estate.

It's one of those painfully-beautiful London mornings that still have the power to make Doyle wonder if the city really exists, or if he does. Light on the river, tightening his pupils behind the down-tipped sunshield. The sky, arcing above the soaring spires of Westminster, a blue so extreme it shortens his breath. The car is running on his muscle memory. He bulldozes blindly through the snarl of traffic on the south side of the bridge to pick up the riverside route.

A perfect autumn morning. Overhead the trees split the sun into greengold dazzle and dark. Gunning the Capri's engine, Doyle accepts that his entrancement with it is a frail last shield against terror. The second he does so, dropping back from abstraction and into his flesh, he sees his target. A vast rose in the sky, billowing petals of dust. It's forming a kind of dome: for an instant the possibility of a nuke rattles him, but traffic is still coming and going on the Richmond road, joggers, pinstripe suits and school kids thronging the pavements. Then, what would they tell them? How would you evacuate?

Doyle crashes the hire car through a row of barricades and onto a beautiful road, the kind you dream of when you're in a tearing hurry. No markers, no lanes, not a single other vehicle. Still under construction, that's why, but enough of it finished to drive on, and he jams his foot down. This will take him straight there. His chest aches a little where he struck his fist off it. I'd know in here, Gabe. As certainly as you know God. He still feels the warmth of Gabe's kiss. It altered him: for an instant he was consecrated, hallowed. The benediction passed into his bones, unfurled his wings. Stripped down his life to one purpose. I know in here. Bodie, hang on.

A rose in the sky, made of fire and dust. Doyle frowns: this balloon has been up for nearly three hours now. The fires should be out. Then he remembers. You see it before you feel or hear it. A fragment of his bomb-disposal training, for the times when you're too late. First the flash, then a roar whose vibration comes up through the steering column and makes him brace the wheel as if against a gusting crosswind. Another blast. Damn place is still going up.

Ash and bits of concrete dust begin to hit his windshield. He sees blue lights up ahead of him and navigates by those. Ambulances, fire engines. The old man's stately red Granada. The tarmac runs out under Doyle's tyres and he grinds to a broadside halt in gravel: gets out and starts to run.

He can't read the new horizon the wharf-side has obtained. Some of the blocks were unfinished but the three new ones are crumbling too, smoke-bannered sky where their top storeys have been. He sees other cars he recognises now: the Escort Mac likes to tear around in, Jax's Cavalier. A gold Capri. Where the hell is Cowley? "Cowley," he shouts at the nearest human face. It belongs to a bomb-squad tech who is jogging back, filthy and pale, towards his truck. "Where's Cowley and the CI5 lot?"

The bomb tech turns on him. "Who the fuck's asking?" Doyle knows that voice: end of tether, ready to punch out the first idiotic civilian or journalist. Recognises him, in fact, which is just as well, because he tucked his ID as well as his resignation letter into an envelope for Cowley four days ago. "Doyle?"

"Yeah. Alan Frost, isn't it? We used to work -- "

"Disposal training, Stepney. Yeah. You can't go in there."

"I'm with Cowley's mob. I've got to. Let me go."

Steel-gloved hands land on Doyle's shoulder. "No. Not a chance. They've fucked us, Doyle. No-one's safe."

"Who? Who's done this?"

"Don't know yet. PLO, maybe, or... They told us about one device then they sent it up too soon. Nothing about any of the others. They're still at it. Demolishing the fucking place."

Doyle's heard enough. "Are any of my lot in there?" Frost just stares at him, and Doyle slams both hands flat on the front of his armoured vest. "Are they?" The last two words a sudden yell that hurt his chest like a cough.

"Yes." Frost's grip clamps tight on Doyle's effort to plunge past him. "You can't go in, you stupid bastard!" Doyle recoils to look at him. His face is less fierce than his words, and in his eyes there is something Doyle has never wanted to see: pity, laced with fear and that strange curiosity concerning the suddenly bereaved. Doyle has felt something like it himself and doesn't blame the man. The mind simply wants to discover: how does it feel? If it were my colleagues, my friends? Can it be borne? "I'm sorry, Doyle. They've brought bodies out already, and there's no way anybody left in there's still alive."

Doyle reckons he can probably overpower him. Frost is burly, but Doyle doesn't think he'll have the will to get rough with him if he tries something dirty. "Okay," he says, relaxing. It's not hard. What he wants to do is drop to the tarmac and ball up. A blizzard of static and sirens is raging around him, the air a sparkling, unbreathable grey. "Okay." He half turns away, letting Frost see he's thinking about anything other than swinging back and kneeing him in the groin...


It's a bark, imperative. The second out of only two voices left in the world Doyle will respond to, and he freezes. Shapes are coalescing from the dust: a stranger in dark-blue ambulance uniform, and Cowley, who yells his name again once he's close enough to be sure. Between them they are supporting Murphy, almost unrecognisable for blood and dirt. As Doyle stares, Murph falls to his knees, the medic dropping down beside him. Others are emerging, too -- police and paratroopers, soldiers drafted in to help. This is a bloody war zone, Knightsbridge on an industrial scale. Extricating himself from Alan Frost's grasp, Doyle runs over.

He kneels in front of Murph. "Patrick," he says, and watches the shellshocked gaze come up, and after a long effort focus on him. "Bodie. Tell me."

"Ah, Doyle," Cowley interrupts. His hand is on Murph's head. Doyle doesn't think he's aware he's caressing it. "I left you the message. Don't make him go through it."

"Nn-nn." Murphy coughs, drags a hand over his lips. "Have to tell him. Ray, I..." He hauls a breath, and to Doyle's horror white streaks appear in the dusk caking his face: indestructible Murphy, in tears on the ground. "Fuck it. I lost him. I left him behind. I couldn't..." A fit of choking seizes him, and the medic gestures wildly at one of the drivers to hurry up with the oxygen tank. "I can't go back in there. I can't!"

"No." Doyle understands this. He doesn't expect it. Not Murphy's job any more. "I left him too, Murph. I ran out on him. Now I've got to get him back. Which block was it?"

"The west one, but you can't -- "

"Hush up. Where did you lose him?"

But Murphy's past speech. The ambulance men crouch beside him. And Cowley says, a hollow note in his voice Doyle has never heard before, "He was trying to tell me. They were trying to clear the fifth floor." Doyle looks up at him. He scrambles to his feet. Corpses have been brought out, Frost has said. Not Bodie's, or the empty darkness in the old man's eyes would be colder still, more terrible. It's bad enough. "Kopalski and Smith are dead," Cowley informs him, reading the question. "I sent them in with Bodie and Murphy to stop the third device. They didn't find it in time. There's a group of office workers in there, having a...breakfast conference, or some such damn fool thing, probably dead too..."

"No other civilians?"

"No. They weren't after our people, Doyle, not at this time of the morning. They're destroying our signs of conspicuous wealth, this bloody temple to Mammon we're building down here. And I've paid them in blood."

"Not Bodie's. They didn't bring him out." Doyle wants to open his shirt, show to Cowley the place in his chest where the golden light still burns. A fiery rose, brighter than the glowing cloud he saw on his way here...

"I know. But there's no chance now, Doyle. No chance at all. There's no pattern to this. I can't send anyone else in to search unless -- "

"Excuse me, sir. There is a pattern." Cowley and Doyle turn to look at Frost, who has been conferring with the paras and has stumbled back over. "There is," he repeats. "They're cycling round the tower blocks, every other one, every 30 minutes or so. I don't know why. I don't know where the fuck they're detonating from, though the SAS are searching..."

He fades out. Doyle can't hear him any more. He, like Cowley, is making a calculation. Their eyes meet. There are soldiers all around them now, placing barricades, starting to push out a perimeter. Doyle won't stand a chance if he tries a run, unless...

Cowley reaches out a hand. He seizes Doyle's arm, briefly, invisibly in the shelter of his coat. Then he turns away. "Frost!" he yells. "Denham! Sergeant Whitborough! What are you playing at, gentlemen?" Half the assembled military turns at his cry, his outflung gesture, and the other half turns to look at the first. It's very good, Doyle has to allow. Quite a piece of theatre. "A bloody press van just got through over there. Are you all blind?" Doyle begins to move -- silently, a shadow, a fox on the edge of the meadow. He slips through the barricades. He runs.

The foyer of the west tower is burning. Even the steps are on fire, bits of blazing debris dripping from above. Doyle, now moving so fast he presents a slender target, belts through it all unheeding and into the hallway beyond. Then he skids to a halt because he can't breathe.

Crucial, unforgivable seconds before his training asserts itself. Leaning on a wall, tear-blind, clutching his chest, he examines the situation and realises that for the first time in many years he is in a flat panic. It will not do. He has a high, hard-learned ability to control his autonomics, and does so now, finding a handkerchief in one pocket and tying it round his mouth. He drops low, under the worst of the smoke, and scans the shattered hallway for any way up.

There. The remnants of metal fire stairs, dangling intact to within eight feet of the ground. It is not something he should be able to do, but there are uses for panic's adrenalin and carefully, deliberately, he eases the lid off his terror, uncoils from the ground and leaps. Right first time: ignoring the blade of steel going clear through his palm as it closes at the pitch of his jump. Attached, anyhow, and he coils up like a cat from the improbable handhold, gets another and another and is there.

The staircase is housed in the remains of its shaft and the air is a little better. He makes rapid progress to doors which open out on a third floor which simply isn't there: he clutches the door frame and swings desperately back to safety. Count, Doyle, count! You knew this one was gone before you got in here! Fourth floor, and some of it's still in place, but no-one is alive there, no-one. Carpets still burning fiercely between great torn holes letting in pale light from below. Nevertheless Doyle yells his partner's name: stops and listens with every fibre of mind and heart for a response. No. And no feeling, either. Doyle does not like to trust that intuition, always thinks he should have something more before he acts. But if he ignores it now, and expends whatever life is left to him in a fruitless search here where the smoke will certainly kill him... "Bodie!" he calls, once more, ashamed of how his voice cracks on it: waits, forcing the sob in his throat to silence; turns and runs on.

Then, briefly, it gets easy. He only has to push open one door on the fifth to hear the voices. His mind sifts the sounds, again and again for one rich thread, but a quick glance around confirms that Bodie is not here, or not functional, because there's a gap at the top of the pile of girders and cement that has come down to cut off half the floor -- big enough for a skinny child; more than enough for his determined partner to have had the trapped people he can hear up through it and out.

To his dismay, vicious anger sweeps through him. Only now has it occurred to him to look at his watch. Up until now time has not been relevant, Doyle's world simply structured by the need to find Bodie and get them both out. Or not. He doesn't want this complication now, these frightened voices that have brought hours and minutes back into the picture, making it necessary that he attend, and plan, expand his focus from the single burning point to which it is honed. You lot are meant to be dead. "Hoi! In there! Can you hear me?"

They can: that much is indicated by the short, astonished silence. Then the cries come all at once. He lets them get the first outburst over, then: "Right. Look up at the top left corner of the wall where it's come down. Can you see the gap?"

Yes, but not overly optimistic about it.

"Choose someone and get 'im boosted up there to start moving stuff. I'll work on it from this side."

If he lives long enough, he will be answerable to his flesh. At the moment, he pulls muscles and rips skin off his knuckles placidly enough, although he could do without the slow power-drain of bleeding from his palm. Perched at the top of the rubble, he hefts block after block of blast-shattered concrete aside, until it's enough, and equally bloody hands reach through the gap to his. "All right. Come through and help me pull the others up."

"Is there... Is there another bomb?"

Of course there's another fucking bomb, sir, as you'll find out for yourself in about ten minutes. "I don't think so, but the building's not safe. Come on." And one after another they come, the typical admin staff of a conference centre, most of them making a civilian's poor job of the climb, and why should they not? Got dressed this morning for a board-meeting, not shell-shock and an assault course. The good ex-copper inside Doyle is making reassuring small talk to each, especially to those waiting at the foot of the wall, behaving quite well considering. "That's it. Once you're through, straight down the fire stairs. There's a drop at the bottom. You don't think about it, you jump. The main entrance is clear. You don't breathe, you run. Got it?" Towards the end he starts helping them decide, oblivious to gender but needing to get the older, slower, fatter ones out of the way. One girls is obviously hanging back, which suits Doyle as she looks strong and capable of swinging up from ground level unassisted. "Right, you. Come on." I don't want to wait for you. I don't give a shit about you; I just can't take the weight of another lost life on my soul. Up she climbs, to Doyle's fraught senses making a mountain of it, slower than treacle.

Doyle hauls her through the gap and, for once, reaps virtue's reward. She says, half-choking on dust, "Did you find the other man?"

Don't freeze. No time. "What?"

"Before the bomb went off. A man came running through the office telling us to get out the fire exits. He..." A glance down at what she is climbing over, and her colour drains. "I think he was about here when it blew."

"OK. No, keep moving. I'm going to find him."

And she actually hesitates. Civilian heroics: only himself to blame, since he has done such a good job of lying to her. "No. Get moving, right now. Look, half of your lot are still gonna be dangling off the bottom of that staircase! Go and get them out."

This time he doesn't bother yelling. If Bodie is in earshot and capable of response, he'd know by now. Automatically, randomly, he begins to rip blocks out of the crumbled wall. He has to start somewhere. He'll stop when time's up. It's useless of course but chance, blind luck, is his only hope. Not even a hope -- just better than sitting doing nothing for the last few minutes of his life. He is so bitterly sorry that he's failed. "I'm sorry, Bodie," he whispers, continuing to tear at the wall.

Then he stops. He stands panting in the middle of the debris. He takes his R/T out of his pocket with bloodstained, unsteady hands. No point in this exercise, he tells himself. The radios have two alert signals and even the beep is a quiet one, designed to be heard by the bearer, not nearby villains. If Bodie has set his to silent mode, there will only be a click and some static. No point at all. But Doyle closes his eyes. He shuts down all senses but hearing, and filters out of that the building's dying groans and the rustle of flame. He holds his breath and presses the call button.

And a sound comes from a mess of twisted girders by the wall. Not an answering beep, but what that sound might be coming from under layers of debris and perhaps a body. Realising that he hadn't for a second expected it to work, Doyle homes in blindly on the little regular pulse of noise.

One sliver of wreckage is a dust-covered human hand.

How typical, Doyle thinks, as he gets enough rubble off the arm for it to move and it immediately begins trying to shove him away. Someone with more time to spare than Doyle is sobbing, and belatedly realising his connection to that person, he angrily stops it. "Bodie, you pillock! It's me. Stay still." He rips a muscle in his back, and one in his shoulder, and the pain is quite astonishing, but there is the familiar profile, haughty even under its dust and blood. There. "Oh, God. Hold on."

A laboured inhalation. "Doyle! Get the fuck..."

It cuts off in coughing. Doyle stops tearing at the rubble: Bodie is breathing in dust and choking. He pulls off the handkerchief he tied across his mouth downstairs and presses it to Bodie's; tries a second later to remember when he bought one with abstract red splotches... "Shit. Bodie, you've got to lie still. Don't... Try not to cough."

But Bodie's free hand clamps down on his with no diminution of strength and tears it and the handkerchief away. "Doyle," he rasps. "Time?" And not getting an answer fast enough, he turns Doyle's wrist over to look at his watch. He blinks, frowns, shakes his head to clear it enough for the calculation. "OK. There's a pattern. You go now and you'll make it. Run."

"I know about the fucking pattern. Shut up."

"Run!" The hand releases his wrist and flattens on his chest. "Christ, Ray... " A gasp, and a raw shout: "Run!"

Pushed hard onto his backside, Doyle scrambles up and back to the concrete beam pinning his partner's spine. He knows it's pointless, but perhaps the knowledge has not filtered to every part of him, and anyway he cannot bear the sight of Bodie's strong back and hips so crushed and immobilised, not while he has strength.

"Run, damn you. I'll never fucking forgive you for this."

Shoulder to the beam, actually managing to shift it a fraction, Doyle turns and gives him a bright smile. "Well, I don't have long to worry about that, do I?"

Bodie watches him, wide-eyed. Ray knows he is counting off the seconds, marking in his mind the borderline beyond which Doyle cannot reach safety, no matter how hard he runs. There... "Damn you," he repeats, quietly now, more blood coming with the words. His face becomes utterly serious, attention focusing on his partner with a child's intensity. "Ray, are we... Are we gonna die?"

Doyle leaves off his efforts with the beam. He's managed to transfer a fraction of its weight off Bodie's back. He nods, and comes to kneel beside him. "I think so."

"You came back for me."

"Yes. Of course."

"You came back for me."

Doyle is puzzled. Bodie sounds so astonished. He can't lift him into his arms, and so leans close over him. He reckons they have about twenty seconds. Smiling weakly, he dabs Bodie's mouth clear of blood and eases him up out of the dust, and Bodie grunts in pain and hangs on. "What else would I do? Close your eyes, love. It'll be over soon. It'll be OK."

The warm mouth, brushing his jaw, seeking. Ray gasps and turns to meet it. The tang of blood, raw and real on his tongue...

A roar like the end of creation. The floor beneath them jolts and tilts. The last remaining windows shatter and blow inwards as the tower block next door explodes.

After long, long seconds, Doyle realises that the convulsion he can feel in his partner's body is laughter. He sits up a little. Another shockwave hits, and he ducks, shielding him from flying glass. The floor sags again: Doyle doesn't know why the hell he's laughing too. They're going to die in an avalanche of concrete instead of an explosion, and a minute later than expected, that's all...

Then he understands that not all the effort of shielding and support is coming from him. That Bodie, somehow, is sitting up. He looks over Bodie's shoulder. The partial collapse of the floor has dislodged the beam that was pinning him -- partway at least, shifting its centre of gravity. Enough. Clawing his way to his feet, he grabs Bodie by the armpits. "Come on! We're getting out."

"Don't be thick -- I can't even..."

Fear seizes Doyle. He hasn't felt the easing of the pressure. Bodie won't thank him for saving his life if he's broken-backed, crippled... Then a convulsion runs through his whole frame, his reflex to escape now that escape's possible. Doyle aids it, not gently. Broken ribs, internal injuries, a fractured spine -- none of it will matter if the building goes down. And Bodie cries out and swears, but together they accomplish his removal from the concrete tomb. Doyle hoists him bodily up onto his feet: grabs him to keep him there. "Can you walk?"

"No. So we'd better..."

"Yeah. Hold on to me. Run!"

The ruined stairwell is still there, though more of a cavern now, a chute into darkness. Doyle more or less shoves Bodie down it, a controlled fall that ends when they find the metal staircase. It's a five-foot drop now, not eight -- blind forces of destruction randomly helping them at last, though the gap's been reduced by the weight of the floors above, beginning to compress down. He makes Bodie wait -- jumps down ahead of him, then holds up his arms, providing not so much a catch as a crash-pad. Disentangles from him, winded, quite glad his lungs won't take in the air, which is just a miasma now, a blackness. Heaves him once more back upright.

"Ray, I -- I can't..."

"Can. Have to. One last run."

And Bodie tries, but it isn't far enough. He goes down decisively at about the same time as the west tower begins to, and Doyle, crouched with him in the windblown dust, sees that halfway across the car park won't do it; hasn't carried them beyond what will be the fallout range. They watch in silence as the building crumples, sending out at its base an expanding circle of death. Transfixed -- at a strange, weary peace -- neither of them turns at the roar of a car engine, close then closer still then on top of them. Neither sees the double glare of headlights through the dust.

Tyres squeal. Doyle jerks his head up: he's pressed his lips to the top of Bodie's skull. For some reason James McCabe is there beside him. Mac, he tries to say, but his throat is too dry, and anyway the bloody fool is trying to haul him into his arms. "Doyle! Oh, Ray, I thought you were -- "

"Not me, you moron! Help Bodie!"

Between them they haul Bodie off the tarmac. A hot wind is hitting them. Fragments are borne in it, getting larger by the second. Before they have got Bodie bundled into the back, a chunk of flying cement shatters the side window. Doyle scrambles in beside him and sees Mac dropping into the passenger seat. Slowly Doyle realises who's car he's in. Who's driving. The old man gives him one ferocious, unreadable look over his shoulder, jams the Granada into gear and shoves his foot down.

Chapter Twelve

Doyle makes his way carefully along a corridor in the Royal Free's emergency unit. It's late, the sky turning apricot in the west as he passes the windows. His hand has been disinfected, stitched and bandaged, and his tetanus shots are up to date. The jab he's been given to counteract the pain from his torn muscles is making him drift a bit, but otherwise he's all right: he negotiates the corridor traffic, wheelchairs and bustling white coats adroitly enough. The hospital is struggling to absorb its day's catastrophes, and nobody notices him.

The nurse who fixed up his hand has told him that Bodie is back from surgery and where he's to be found. Doyle homes in on, then edges past, the little group of people in the hallway outside his room. There's the old man, still dusty, making what demands Doyle can't quite pick out against the background noise, but the doctors in attendance look frayed. Doyle hears: He's all right, Mr Cowley, but he needs to rest, and even if we dope him, unless he's anaesthetised he never seems to shut his eyes... He pushes open the side-ward door. Bodie's dark unsleeping gaze fixes on his, and he slips inside and closes the door behind him.

Bodie is sitting up in the bed. Many attempts have been made to get him to lie down, but his incisions sting, and he can't relax his guard. A thousand deep-down memories are now within an inch of surface, clamouring, making him stonily resistant to sedation. "Doyle," he says roughly, putting out a hand.

Doyle takes it briefly, resisting the impulse to press its bruised knuckles to his mouth. Bodie, stripped to bandages round his ribs and presumably many parts south of there, is a mess: Doyle can scarcely see an inch of the fine white skin that isn't grazed or black and blue. "Christ sakes," he says, reaching past him to crank up the bed's back rest. "You look like a building fell on you." Bodie still stiffens up against a press to his shoulders, and Doyle goes to steal the pillows off the room's other bed. "There," he says, tucking them both behind Bodie's spine. "Give it up. Just a little bit. You'll be okay."

Swallowing, squeezing his eyes shut, Bodie obeys. Even letting his tensions dissolve far enough to lean back on the pillows feels like letting go of a helicopter winch above a dark ocean, and Doyle, reading him, puts a hand to the back of his skull. "Ray," he whispers. "Sorry."

"What for?"

"Bein' such a big nance. Nearly getting you killed."

Doyle chuckles. He doesn't let go: he lets his supportive hold on Bodie become an embrace, and bites his lip to stifle a moan as Bodie returns it, cautiously at first and then with crushing power. "All right. All right." He presses an awkward kiss to Bodie's pain-damped face. "What was your surgery for? You gonna be okay?"

"Couple of compressed disks and a cracked vertebra. Be off my feet for a week or so, but...fine. You?"

Doyle eases him back a little, far enough to show him his bandaged hand. He waggles his fingers. "Got a stigmata."

Bodie winces for him. "All the way through? This is a bloody stupid dangerous job. You still in it, Doyle?"

"If the old man lets me. Don't know if I'm still on his books. Today might have been charity work."

"Great. What happened to that pattern, then? Every other block every half hour?"

"Bomb squad says they might have changed it when they thought we'd figured it out." Doyle sits down on the edge of the bed, letting Bodie go but not moving far. "Or it might just have been a misfire."

"Yeah, but you couldn't know that when you came racing in. For all you knew, it was gonna go up."

Doyle looks at him assessingly. He's in shock, of course, and his anaesthetic hasn't quite worn off. But there's more to it than that. There's a great big crack in Bodie's armour, in that high-tech SAS shielding Doyle thought he would never see through. His pupils are dilated. It's now or never, Doyle reckons. "Right," he says. "Take a deep breath, sunbeam, and tell me what the fuck made you think nobody was gonna come back for you today." Bodie is choking faintly at the question: Doyle pours him a glass of filmy hospital water and steadies his hands while he drinks. "It's a thing, isn't it? A big thing. Tell me now."

Bodie thinks he can't. He stares mutely at Doyle for a second, wondering how this unwashed, weary-looking man expects to draw from him what teams of SAS psychiatrists have failed to dislodge. But Doyle doesn't want psychology: just the story, and Bodie begins it, stumbling, barely voluntary, at the wrong end. "I got left behind."

"Where? On a mission?"

"Yes, with 28 Squadron. Hostile territory in Oman. It was my team, Doyle, my first mission command. I'd hand-picked the men. We'd trained together from day one, they were...more to me than brothers."

"Okay." Doyle wonders if he should just shut up and let him talk. The black gazed is fixed somewhere beyond him now, though, and Doyle is afraid he won't come home. "Okay," he prompts again, rubbing the back of the hand Bodie has clenched on the sheet. "What happened?"

"Ambush. Nest of insurgents. We were meant to be taking out an airfield, a compound they'd been using to shell the US base in Qumrait. We thought it was deserted. They let us get all the way in, and then..."

"What? They trapped you?"

"Yeah. You know, I wasn't even worried? I'd got a good position to snipe from and I gave the others covering fire, long enough for them to get out." He shudders and restlessly sits up again. "I wasn't worried. Had my own exit planned, and I knew they'd come back for me, wait the chopper or double back once it was safe. It was bad in there. I suppose... Christ, maybe I'd have panicked, too, if I'd been down with them in the crossfire. Anyway, John said he saw me fall, and Chief Marsh took his word for it."

Doyle frowns. He feels as if he's listening to a record whose needle has suddenly jumped, or watching a badly spliced tape. "Who's John?" he asks. "And...why did you just miss out the main bit of what you were telling me?"

"Because it's not main. It's not important. It was years ago, and -- "

"And it's been fucking you over ever since. Come on, Bodie. Who's John?"

"John Chandler," Bodie grates out. Even the bloody name hurts. "Military aristocracy, Marsh's golden boy, not some wild-eyed ex-merc who got in on his gun skills. He was a good man, though. Never traded on it, not until..."

"Not until he told your chief he'd thought you were dead, right?"

"And it was my word against his. Fuck, Doyle, I was on my feet the whole time. They knew I was alive -- all of them. I counted them out of the building. It was my command. I'd have gladly been shot before I left any one of them without cover. You never leave anyone behind. First law."

Doyle nods. He puts out a hand, and Bodie takes it. His grip is painful but Doyle welcomes it. That he's alive. That he's holding on. "So what happened?"

"I found my way out the back. I could see the helicopter beyond the perimeter fence, a hundred yards or so away. I radioed but no-one picked up, so I started to run. I knew even if I didn't make it, if they had to take off before I got there, they'd make a sweep. I still wasn't worried, even when I saw them lift. I thought at first -- it was just sand, desert dust, making them look smaller."

"Christ, Bodie."

"They were gone in thirty seconds. The surviving insurgents found me in the desert a few hours later. They... Well. That was who I learned the trick off, Doyle, the neck-lock, along with quite a few other..." He grinds to a halt. With his free hand, Doyle pours more water for him, but he pushes it aside. "Look, it doesn't matter. I escaped after a month or so, made my own way home."

"What happened then?"

Bodie thinks about it. That's the end, he wants to say. End of the story. Nothing else happened. But Doyle's tired gaze on him, his absolute attention, make him reconsider. There is something more. Bodie's throat aches with it. All his insomniac nights seem to catch up with him in one, and he's suddenly brittle, fragmenting. "I was like a ghost," he starts again. "When I came back. Like a ghost to them, and not a welcome one. Chandler told Marsh that if he couldn't see me, if he thought I was down, it was because I must have been hiding. That I'd ducked down out of the fire. And Marsh believed that too."

"Did you argue?"

"No. A ghost doesn't argue, Ray. And that's all I was by then. They left me. They left me behind."

For a while, Doyle just watches over him. He has curled up, pressed his face against his knees. Doyle strokes his sleek dark head, and keeps an eye on the door. Nobody gets to see Bodie weep. He doubts he'll ever see it again himself. Doyle watches, because it's all he can do, even though his own lungs are aching at the sound of his muffled sobs.

But he can't cry properly like this. His ribs are cracked, his spine marked with fresh sutures. He's rigid, flinching with pain on each inbreath. He's trying to wrap his arms around his knees to brace. Doyle says, "Ah, Bodie," and kicks off his shoes: scrambles cautiously onto the bed beside him. Gently, unstoppably, he forces him out of his curl. "You poor bastard. Come here."

Bodie smells of blood and antiseptic. Through it, Doyle picks up the tang of his own sweat, and he breathes them both in. Bodie has resisted him desperately for a second or two, then gone down completely, limp and warm, burrowing into his shoulder. The sounds he is making continue for some time: how long, Doyle doesn't know, concerned only with the rhythm of their own two bodies, their breathing, the pace of the tiny rocking motion he is imparting to the distraught flesh he is holding. Then, eventually, Bodie falls silent.

Doyle eases back to take a look at him. For a moment he's concerned, but Bodie's breath is coming deep and regular. This isn't the watchful halfway state of his weird insomnias. Doyle shifts him a bit, has a last check to be sure, and then he smiles: Bodie is out cold. Sound asleep in his arms.

The door clicks. Doyle thrusts out a hand, imperious. Doctor, Cowley or God, he doesn't care. "Ssh!" he commands, not looking. First bastard to wake him up dies.

Chapter Thirteen

Bodie sits on the edge of the kitchen table in his empty flat. If he makes himself more comfortable -- on the sofa or one of the kitchen chairs -- he'll have to use his crutches to get up again, and he's almost got himself convinced he doesn't need them any more.

The flat is more or less tidy. That's been his mission for today: to clear up his accumulation of unwashed dishes, the evidence of a week's worth of desultory meals, consumed without much appetite in front of the TV. To open the windows and let in the scent of September rain, air the place. To make it look not just hygienic but perhaps a bit -- well, nice, he supposes; something more than a billet. He'll never be one for elaborate décor but he's found a rug left rolled up in a cupboard by a previous tenant, and even he can see that his scruffy living-room carpet looks better with it than without.

Bodie is as close to nervous as he can get. Glancing around, he sees that the plant on the window sill is drooping, and he curses it softly and struggles onto his feet. By propping on the table and the edge of the sink, he can get there unassisted, and he holds the sorry-looking thing beneath the tap. He doesn't particularly like it, but Doyle will be pissed off if he lets it die.

And Doyle is due home today. The old man barely let him wash the Anfield Wharf dust out of his hair before handing him back his Browning and packing him off with Jax on a bodyguarding op in the north. Bodie has tried not to think about his return. They haven't made any plans, and he knows Doyle will have arrived back in London already. That he set aside this afternoon to accompany Father Gabriel to the airport. Probably after that he'll just want to go home to his flat: there's no guarantee Bodie will see him. He would have tidied up anyway, he tells himself, reaching reluctantly for one aluminium crutch. His back is sore as hell. He's been chafing all week in his prison, bored to tears apart from sessions with the physio and visits to Murphy in hospital. He's been thinking about Ray Doyle almost incessantly, and the trouble with his newly rediscovered gift of sleep is that he dreams about the little sod, as well. There's no escape.

Not that Bodie wants escape -- not from dreams like that. They started in the hospital, during his 48-hour fadeout, during which he came round a bit for medical attentions and bodily functions and then dropped blissfully straight back. This week they've blossomed, paper flowers in the waters of sleep, in which Bodie has dived, swum, luxuriated, insatiably catching up. Now it's staying awake that's the problem. He only has to lie down on the sofa for the warm currents to tug at him, bear him away to scenes which are basically playback of his collision with Ray in the Kensal flat a fortnight ago, but stripped of their violence. Transferred off the kitchen tiles and into Ray's bed. In these reversions, to Bodie's surprise, he isn't even always the one on top.

Shaking his head, Bodie wedges the uncomfortable prop into his armpit and begins the arduous trek down the hall, determined to make it on a single stick this time. He has no guarantees, but he's going to hang a picture over the hole in the living room's plasterwork. That wild fuck with Doyle had all the hallmarks of a one-off, a crazy stress reaction, an explosion that couldn't be channelled any other way. Ray's kindness to him in the hospital -- his touch, his kiss, the embrace that lifted Bodie off his bed of memory-nails -- that was something else, and probably a one-off too. Doyle, whatever he might think of himself at the moment, is a good man. The comrade Bodie went looking for in all the wrong places.

No guarantees, but Bodie's heart knocks hard off his ribs when the door buzzer sounds. It's handy that he's halfway down the hall already and his guest won't have to wait five minutes while he drags himself to answer. Ray could let himself in with the duplicate set, of course -- he's scrupulously courteous about not using those, though Bodie wouldn't mind...

"Good evening, Bodie," the old man says, when at length Bodie opens the door. "I believe the doctor said you should be using both of those crutches for now. How are you keeping? I must say, you don't look pleased to see me at all."

Bodie allows him to make coffee. He doesn't have much choice: if he does it himself, this social occasion -- whatever it is -- will take forever. It's a surreal sensation, being beached on the sofa while his boss fixes drinks in his kitchen. "Thank you," he says when Cowley reappears, balancing two mugs against his own war wounds. "Looks like we're both a bit crocked today, sir."

"Aye. First frost this morning. The metalwork doesn't approve." Cowley hands him a mug, and settles, awkward but lordly, into an armchair. He isn't an obviously domineering man, and Bodie wonders how he makes any room he deigns to sit down in look like it belongs to him by hereditary right. "Are you well, laddie? How is the physio going?"

"Not bad. Doc says I'll be mended enough for Macklin to start breaking me again in a week or so."

"Good. Grand," Cowley says, with apparently genuine pleasure at the prospect. "Where's your partner? Still with Father Foster at the airport?"

"Far as I know, sir." Bodie sips his coffee, curious as ever as to how far Cowley knows, and how he comes by his information. "I haven't seen him."

"Ah. Well, no doubt he'll be along. A good man, Doyle. I've put down a commendation on his records for the other day. For bringing you out. I knew he would."

Bodie eyes him wryly. Yes, I know you did. Murphy has told him how Doyle arrived like a whirlwind -- how the old man not only did not try to stop but in fact facilitated what ought to have been his suicide mission. You'd trade him for me, wouldn't you? If you had to choose. A while back, Bodie might have taken pleasure in being so valued, but now the knowledge makes him wary. Inclined to watch Doyle's back for him even when it comes to their own boss. He knows Ray thinks he's got delusions about Cowley, and maybe that once was true. Now he's prepared to take him, to value him, for what he is -- a wily old fox, motivated sometimes by affection, but always and finally by what is most expedient. "Yes," Bodie says. He doesn't mind giving the devil his due. "You were right about him. Thank you for partnering us up."

Cowley raises an eyebrow, clearly suspicious of thanks or admissions of his rightness from this source. "You're very welcome, I'm sure. How's Murphy, by the way? Have you seen him since I last did?"

"I was over yesterday. He's still on oxygen but he's not too bad."

"Mm. Are we convincing him between us that he doesn't deserve to be court-martialled?"

Bodie shrugs. He doesn't know. Murphy is a good man, too. "Doing my best to persuade him, sir."

"He thinks he abandoned you."

"Well, he didn't, but...anyone can reach breaking point. Even the best."

"That's right." Cowley is regarding him with a kind of pride, as if Bodie were an unpromising child who has suddenly made unexpected progress. "That's right, and, oddly, it's what I've come to talk to you about. I had some papers through from Chief Rob Marsh recently. I thought about showing them to you when they came, seemed in a fair way to working things out for yourself." Cowley reaches into his coat's inner pocket. Top secret is at Cowley's discretion, where his men's welfare is concerned. "Here. Your friend John Chandler was shot in the line of duty. He thought he was going to die, and it seems he wanted to make a clean breast."

Bodie takes the papers. The SAS crest on Marsh's letter sends a pang through him, but not a sharp one. He remembers opening his mail on one dull army morning to find his acceptance, that's all. He's starting to remember a lot of easy, good things about his time of service. He reads through the letter, and the report sheet that accompanies it. Poor Chandler must have thought he was drawing his last breath: it's a pretty thorough confession. How he'd panicked and fled, and persuaded his commando unit afterwards they'd be just as much to blame, just as much stripped of their berets and glory if they talked...

He folds up the papers. A month or so ago, this would at once have meant the world to him and nothing at all. The exoneration would have been a sharp triumph, but he couldn't have used it; it wouldn't have healed the damage done. But Cowley is right: since Doyle delivered him, unlikely bloody midwife, from his concrete womb at Anfield Wharf, he's been taking steps -- albeit painful ones -- in an altered life.

O brave new world, that hath such people in it. He smiles, and hands the papers back to Cowley. He's trying to find the right way to acknowledge them when the door buzzer goes off again. "Stay there," the old man says, motioning him to sit back down. "Whoever it is, I imagine they'd like to be let in before midnight. I'll go."

Cowley ushers in the new arrival with dry ceremony. His expression is richly unreadable. Doyle's is just a blank, as if he can't find one to suit the occasion. In one hand he has a bottle of good-label scotch, which is fair enough, a nice but prosaic bit of ritual to mark a mission's end, or to convey get-well wishes to his partner. The other arm, however, is loaded with a bunch of extravagantly beautiful flowers.

He stands in the middle of Bodie's living room, speechless, which doesn't help because Bodie too is lost for words. If the flat had a heart, its beat would be audible. A pin could drop. Eventually it's Cowley who helps them out, in his own excoriating way. He limps over to the window. "Be careful of this one," he says, after an assessing glance at the street and the buildings opposite. "Your kitchen and your bathroom have no direct lines of sight. As for your bedroom -- blinds or curtains, at all times." He pushes his hands into his coat pockets, and stands thoughtfully for a second. Then he rounds on them. There isn't a trace of humour, or even humanity, in his face. His eyes are bleak. "Understand this, the pair of you. I won't have it. The time isn't right. We never had this conversation, and if I ever have to have it again -- with anyone -- I'll cut you loose."

He walks unconcernedly through the ringing silence that follows. By the time he's stumped his way to the door, his genial mask is in place once again, and both his agents know at that moment he is deadly. Unfathomable, invaluable. Their father and their executioner. "Well," he says. "I'll bid you good night. Doyle, nine o'clock tomorrow, please. I'll see myself out."

The front door gently closes. Doyle watches it for a long moment. Then he hefts the flowers in his arms. "The ironic thing is, these aren't even from me."

"Oh, good," Bodie says. He doesn't really care -- he's so pleased to see Doyle his head is spinning. He can feel the stretch of his broad smile. "Our reputations sacrificed for nothing."

"Looks that way. They're actually from Gabe."

Bodie takes this in, or tries to. Doyle's sense of humour can be quite abstract, when he's not doing slapstick. He doesn't want to fall for it, but he begins, warily, "Why would..."

Doyle is reaching into the long stems of roses and lilies. He pulls out a small card. "I told him a lot about you. He was sorry you got hurt, and pleased the rumours of your death had been exaggerated. It's just..." He hesitates, voice scraping oddly, and hands the note to Bodie. "It's just the kind of thing he would do. I'll go and put these in some water."

The message in the card is short. Bodie, I'm glad you're well. Good wishes, Gabriel. Bodie reads it, then turns the note over in his fingers. The handwriting is fluid. Open and generous. Through the open hallway doors, Bodie can see his partner moving about in the kitchen, looking for a vase, giving up the hunt as hopeless and settling for a couple of pint glasses and an empty milk bottle. His movements are graceful as ever, but his shoulders are set, his spine a bit too determinedly straight. Bracing to the arm of the sofa, Bodie makes an inelegant lurch to his feet, gets the crutch wedged into place and limps through.

"Did you put him onto his plane, then?"

Doyle turns round. The flowers are amazing, their hothouse scent transforming Bodie's bare little kitchen, which now Doyle comes to look is tidier than usual. In fact the flat looks different. Was there a rug down in front of the gas fire? "Yes," he says. " expecting a bird over, mate?"

"Only the rare tropical one here now. Why?"

"You cleaned up. And you watered my plant. I dunno, Bodie -- it almost feels like you live here."

Bodie pushes off the door frame where he's been leaning. Doyle looks like he's given a few pints of blood. "You all right?"

"Yeah, of course." He glances at the display behind him on the kitchen units; tries for his best teasing smile. "It's a beautiful day, isn't it? When a black guy can give a white man flowers and have it mean something..."

"Funny," Bodie assures him. He hauls himself onto the edge of the table and sits down, forbidding himself a groan. This gets worse in the evenings, and he's overdue his meds. "Was it hard to see him go?"

"Yes. Ripped a chunk out," Doyle responds -- softly, absently, as if he hasn't meant to say it aloud. His eyes widen. "Shit. Sorry, Bodie."

"What the hell for?" Bodie pats the table beside him. Doyle raises his eyebrows, but then comes to lean his backside on the indicated spot. His arms are folded over his chest, his head down. "You told him all about me. Fancy telling me about him?"

"About Gabe..." Doyle releases an uncertain breath. He's missed Bodie with a sharp, surprising pain this week. Being back with him feels like a homecoming: he doesn't want to keep his guard up any more. "Gabe. Okay. I met him when we were sixteen, and I knocked around with him and played football and -- we became lovers. I mean...we were having sex, but I loved him too. A lot. And one day when he'd just -- done it to me properly for the first time, my dad came home early and caught us in bed. You asked me a long while back what happened to my face."

"God almighty, Doyle." Bodie is on the right side to see the reconstruction. "He must've nearly killed you."

"Just about. It's okay -- the old bastard's dead. I didn't know till the other week. Gabe took me up to Derby to see his grave."

"And that helped?"

"Yeah. Yeah, it did. He'd been in my head for years, fucking things up for me. I thought Gabe must be at least as screwed up. They sent him off to a bloody monastery; I never saw him after that until...until Knightsbridge. And when I recognised him there, I somehow thought I had a chance to put the clock back. I thought he needed...liberating." Doyle shivers, and when Bodie's arm goes round him, leans into his side. Self-awareness is a chilly business, and he's tired. "It was me who needed that. Gabriel's fine. I threw myself at him that night in the Brunswick house, and -- well. He threw me back. Like the wrong sort of fish. Nothing even happened."

Bodie rubs his arm. "Wrong sort of fish, eh?" Doyle hasn't had to tell him that part. The fact that he's chosen to -- that he's a little emphatic about it, briefly flushing underneath his pallor -- sends a ripple of excitement through Bodie, puts a subtle fizz into his blood in spite of this terrible story. He waits for a while, but it seems that for the moment Doyle has finished telling it. Doyle is looking at him, sidelong and somehow expectant. In what Bodie hopes is the same spirit, he offers, "When Murphy reappeared the other day -- when I walked into HQ and saw him standing there, I... I don't know what I thought. The old man told me you'd quit when I got back off shift, and I went round to Murph's flat. We'd been..." He pauses, smiling. "Lovers isn't quite the word. Screwing one another on and off, until old George I won't have it Cowley recruited us, and I turned up on his doorstep ready to fight him or fuck him, or anything to get you out of my system. We even tried it -- the fucking part, I mean. But it turns out...he's the wrong sort of fish now, too."

"Oh. Okay." The place where their bodies are touching seems to be generating an impossible amount of heat. Doyle wants to dive into it and melt, disappear. "Is Murphy okay?"

"He's better. Listen, Ray -- the first time we did it -- me and you, I mean, our romantic encounter on your kitchen floor... I'm sorry, all right? Sorry it was like that."

"Oh, I'm not. I was walking funny for about a week, but... I'm not sorry at all."

Bodie turns in astonishment. He hears all the rich rough promise in Doyle's voice, and he twists round to see. Yes. God, there he is, lovely damaged face an inch off his, eyes brilliant, archangel's mouth half-open and ready... Their first kiss was on a ticking bombsite, during a countdown to death. Before that they cut the preliminaries and just shagged, a pair of angry, wounded beasts in violent collision. They haven't had much of a chance...

Bodie's foot slips on the lino and he jolts: slips off the table and crashes to his knees on the floor. "Shit!" he groans, then has to clamp his jaws shut because what comes out next will be an octave or so too high for him to keep his dignity. Red and black bolts of pain shoot up and down his spine, a shuttle on a handloom from hell. He is distantly aware of Doyle -- briefly down on the floor with him, then gone, and back again with a glass in his hand and some pills. These your meds? he is asking, though Bodie can't quite yet hear him through the anguished rasp of his own breathing. "Yeah," he manages after a minute. "Handful, please. Sorry, Ray."

"Don't be daft." Doyle tears the box open and gives him two. They're CI5 specials, these: any more than that and he'll be in a coma. "Bloody hell, mate. Has it been bad like this all the time?"

"Nn-nn. Just when I do something stupid." Like try and turn round to kiss you. "Be fine. Doc says I'll make a full recovery. Be back on the streets in a month."

Doyle looks at him, painfully amused and concerned. Is that what Bodie thinks he's worried about? "Shut up and take those. We'll worry about the sodding streets once you're back up off the floor."

"I think that's gonna take...three strong laddies and a winch."

"Ah, we'll manage." Doyle watches over him while he wrestles the horse-size pills down, then reaches for him. "Hang on to me."

Bodie groans. He tries to grab the table edge and use that more than Doyle's shoulder, but Doyle as ever is so much stronger than he looks. Hoisted powerfully back onto his feet, held there, Bodie doesn't let him go. One day, he knows, he'll have to retract that argument concerning bulk he threw at him back in the moonlit forest. And with Bodie around in his life, making sure he gets enough fry-ups, sabotaging his attempts at healthy living with aromatic bacon butties on their morning shifts, he will be okay. He'll do. "You got to be anywhere?" he asks, almost gruffly, not quite able to meet his eyes.

"You heard the old man. Not till nine o'clock tomorrow morning."

"You hungry? Want me to ring for a takeaway, or -- "

A fingertip brushes his jaw. It's the lightest touch, but it shuts Bodie up, makes him lift his head, turn it the fraction it will take. Doyle's mouth lands on his, commanding and soft. "No," Doyle says, when he's finished kissing him with such tender thoroughness that Bodie's breath is stolen, his eyes shut helplessly and stinging with tears. "Don't have to be anywhere. Not hungry. For God's sake let's just go to bed."

Blinds or curtains at all times. Doyle, carefully closing the floral monstrosities in Bodie's bedroom, wonders if this will attract less attention from the neighbours than just lying down in broad daylight. "You don't have to live with these things, you know," he says, more as a distraction than anything else: Bodie is watching him from the bed, and now they're both in here, intentions plain, it's frightening. Doyle has never seen this trace of uncertainty in Bodie's eyes. Poor bastard's in pain, too, despite his horse pills. Going to have to be careful. "We're allowed to buy our own stuff, put it up."

"Just have to take it down again. You wait till you've been moved on a few times, see how much you care about curtains."

"Yeah, I know. But you've got to live for the day a bit, too. Might as well have nice things."

Bodie smiles. He props himself, with some difficulty, onto one elbow, and says in his best camp falsetto, "All right, darling. Next time we'll buy Laura Ashley."

So Doyle jumps on him. He does it with exquisite care: hard and fast enough to make him gasp, catching his weight on hands and knees, stilling them both as the mattress tries to bounce him back. Bodie stares up at him, eyes wide, mouth open. And that's too much like temptation: dipping down, Doyle snatches one rough kiss and another, only stopping when Bodie grabs him by the back of the skull and hauls him down to target. "What am I gonna do with you?" Doyle gasps, thirty seconds or so later when their mutual effort at suffocation finally breaks. He's smiling, a bruise already rising on his upper lip, but Bodie can feel that he is shaking, a fine quiver under his skin. He's still holding all his weight off. "I want you to fuck me, but we'll never get you on top." The smile broadens out to a grin. "And I want to fuck you, but..."

"But I'm too fragile to be on the bottom?" Bodie shakes his head. "Hopeless. Use your imagination, sunbeam. It doesn't have to be -- "

"Mate, if you say doggie-style, I'm gonna leave you here alone with your..."

"My boner?" Bodie suggests, unsteadily, and both explode into laughter. Doyle's arms give and he only remembers at last second to hold back. He buries his face on the side of Bodie's neck: feels him surge beneath him, choking with giggles. Bodie's hands run down his spine, clench on his backside. Oh, God, he's got to find a way. It's been nearly eight years, apart from recent mishaps, but he used to be so good at pleasing his boyfriends, the more so because he couldn't bear to let them screw him: he'd divert them, do anything to make the river change its course...

That's not the problem now. Still laughing, but slowing up, catching his lower lip in his teeth, Doyle eases upright. He surveys his partner, putting his head a little on one side while he considers. Once Bodie's in slightly better nick, he'll get him inside him; finally lay that ghost. For now, though... "You want me to do you, don't you?"

It isn't really a question. Bodie's eyebrows rise. He thinks about an argument, denial, but the soft, laughter-shaken words have hit home in his groin, swelling his erection. He's wearing thin cotton track bottoms, the easiest thing for him to struggle in and out of at the moment: he watches Doyle feeling it. "Apparently," he murmurs. "But there's a little problem of mechanics."

"Use your imagination, sunbeam," Doyle echoes, running both palms down Bodie's chest and stomach. "Or...tell you what. Don't bother. Just lie back and leave it to me."

The track bottoms slither off easily, and the boxers underneath -- plain decent black ones, Bodie is glad to remember, seeing them briefly reappear, skidding down his upraised thighs. He tries to help, but sitting up from this position hurts him, and Doyle keeps a smiling gaze on him all through the procedure, reducing his sense of being helplessly skinned. He's not alone in his stripped-down state for long, either: standing up at the foot of the bed, Doyle undulates out of his T-shirt and jeans. God, he loves to be naked, doesn't he? Bodie, devouring the sight of him, understands why -- clothes are a gilding on this lily, a spoiling of his beautiful natural lines. He's pale gold in the light filtering through the curtains, finely marked across his chest and round the base of his cock with rich brown hair. His eyes, shining sea-jade, interrogate Bodie's. "You okay?" he whispers. "You in practice?"

"Not the best," Bodie admits hoarsely. "I didn't let Murph -- not very often..."

"Why am I not surprised? Bloody bulldozer, that's what you are. Best start you off gently, then... Got any lube?"

Doyle kneels between his thighs. Bodie, sucking deep breaths of anticipation, grabs a pillow to put on top of the one already beneath his head: he wants to see, and Doyle's green gaze comes up hotly to meet his as he leans over him, acknowledging the desire. "Yeah, handsome. Watch me suck you down."

For a moment, slipping between those willingly parted lips, Bodie tries to hesitate, hold back: he's big, when aroused to this extent, and Doyle's mouth has a look of sculpted delicacy as his shaft tunnels slowly in. But then it's like he can't reach the depth of him, can't find the point at which his throat should close to defend itself -- he penetrates and penetrates, grabbing handfuls of the duvet as pleasure rockets through his battered flesh, driving out the grinding aches of this last long week. Certainly he doesn't need to hold or encourage Doyle, who answers his shuddering moan by clasping both warm hands round his backside and pulling him in deeper still. Oh, he can see everything: the motion of Doyle's rich curls, the trembling brace of his own thighs, the root of his cock, thick and pounding with pre-orgasmic blood-surge, appearing and vanishing to the beat of this incredible deep-throat suck... The muscles in Bodie's backside clamp and twitch, and he's glad he's too disabled to thrust at him. Through the thunder of heartbeat in his ears, he can hear Doyle breathing, quietly and regularly, through his nose, like a diver measuring out oxygen. "Ray," he sobs out. "Ah, Jesus...!"

Two of Doyle's fingers slide into his arse. He feels their entry -- a silky, lube-soaked burrowing. He lets go a wild shout and forgets to watch. A pressure, a crowding tightness, and then there are three fingers in there, inducing spasms in the muscle, crushing his prostate. Bodie throws his head back: forgets everything, even to ask Doyle if he minds swallowing, because it's too late now, his climax beginning...

Doyle stops. He sits back, very slowly, on his heels, releasing Bodie's shaft from the astounding embrace of his throat with a squeeze that makes him cry out and spurt pre-ejaculate. It takes him a second to get his breath, and his voice is rough when he says, "Okay. That was your warm-up."

"You are...fucking kidding me, mate..."

Doyle gives him a seraphic, slightly dazed grin. His angel's mouth is swollen. "Nope. Dead serious. I know you're hurt, love, but just hitch your legs up a bit."

There are so many endorphins racing through Bodie's system now that he can't tell if he's hurt or not. He begins to raise his thighs for him, and Doyle makes a soft warning sound when he goes too far: stops him, taking over the movement. Gently he parts his legs, lifting from behind the knee. The slow, deliberate exposure sends a huge erotic charge through Bodie: he can't take much more, and Doyle doesn't make him. Holding him open, he leans in, cradles Bodie's arse in his lap and pushes his cock home.

Bodie jolts his head back. Even lubed and well stretched, he fights to accept him. There's a psychological difference -- between Doyle's considerate, deliberate manual approach, and this deep animal inthrust, which has darkened those green eyes in a way Bodie now recognises. Losing control. "About time," he grates out through his fear, and looses a shattered moan as Doyle thrusts into him, inch by hot inch then a sudden wild rush, to the root.

"God almighty! Bodie, I'm sorry..."

Bodie shakes with laughter. He can feel the press of his balls on the skin of his backside. And he can't get a word out, not even to let Doyle know how welcome he is, even painfully. Even stretching him to what feels like a hairsbreadth off bursting. So he raises his legs again, just about able to do it for himself now, and wraps them round Doyle's waist, locking his ankles behind his back. Doyle makes a sound of lust and amazement mixed, falling into him helplessly deeper, and Bodie rips the pillows out from under his head, arches his neck back and caresses the hollows of Doyle's sacrum with one heel. "Get...on with it, then. Shift. It'll feel okay when you're moving."

Better than okay. Incandescent. Doyle, after a few awkward strokes, starts to thrust into him urgently, at last forgetting his manners. The bed begins to creak suggestively under them, forcing more laughter from both of them which they silence on one another's mouths, because doing it like this means they can kiss, see one another, see exactly and explicitly what the other is feeling. How he looks on the brink of climax. Erotic beyond belief -- to be the source and the mirror. Doyle finds his pace and stamina, jams both hands under Bodie's back to support him and sets up a trip-hammer rhythm which drives Bodie to the brink of what he can stand but somehow stops short of his pain. Doyle, flexible and strong as a lynx, holds him safe. "There," he breathes. "There. Ah, Bodie, love. Make it so sweet for you now."

Because he can't get into him deeper; there is no tighter or more intimate engagement. Curled over Bodie, curled into him. Bodie's legs round his waist, clutching both his arms in a blind deathgrip, goading him on to completion. Grunts are tearing from him on the pitch of each inthrust, sounds Doyle has never heard from him before. His head thrashes back and forth on the mattress, and Doyle increases his pace, shortening the strokes to a brief, wild assault that finally rips orgasm from him: Bodie lets go one roar, releases Doyle's arms and seizes at the rails of the bedhead, stretching and hanging on, every muscle standing. Sperm shoots from him, spattering his chest and face, and then to his utter relief he feels hot jets inside of him too -- Doyle coming, sobbing his name. Together they dissolve and merge in climax, chase one another into the firework dark, blind and lost: their grip on one another a bruising, lifesaving harness.

Doyle watches painted angels on the wall. They come and go -- the lovelier for their transience, which Doyle knows is true of all life's best beauties. Gabriel, his childhood's saving grace: a pair of dark eyes through the smoke of a bombsite. A short hard embrace in an airport lounge, and gone. Headlight angels, coming and going as traffic whispers by in the rain.

Short lives, fleeting pleasures. Acceptance of that hasn't been difficult for Doyle: he's grown up in the teeth of impermanence and loss. The trouble now is that, at last, he's found something he'd like to stay the same.

Something to hold on to. He sits up in bed, drawing his knees to his chest. Wrapping his arms round them, he looks down at the man asleep beside him. Yes, properly out of it now, stretched out and blissful on his back, floating on the ocean of his dreams. Headlights from the other direction strafe his beautiful skin, trailing their reminders of mortality across him: Doyle moves instinctively to shield him, though he knows it's no use. The better he and Bodie do as partners, the more the old man will send them out into hell's jaws. And it doesn't have to be bullets that sever them, does it -- ordinary life can do that work: wear and tear, misunderstanding, daily grind... They know each other well in some ways and in others not at all. The more Doyle realises he wants it -- wants the partnership, wants Bodie -- the more he seems to feel it slipping through his hands...

"Till death do us join," Bodie says, serenely and clearly in his sleep. But when the next angel's wing brushes him, Doyle sees he is awake. His eyes are wide and lucid. He puts out one hand, and Doyle reaches back but then hesitates.

"Don't, Bodie. You shouldn't say that to me. I haven't..."

"What? Earned it?" Bodie pushes up stiffly and sits beside him. "I feel like I'm finally saying it to the right man. Come on, Ray. All we can do is grab every minute and try. I'm game if you are."

Doyle shivers. He wants it. It's all he's ever wanted -- a fair crack of life by the side of a man he can love. "All right," he says, feeling a smile begin, that fiery rose inside his chest ignite and start to burn. Bodie's hand is still outstretched: he takes it. "All right, then. Till death do us join."

-- THE END --

August 2010

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