Breaking Cover


Ray Doyle emerged from the bathroom amidst a billowing cloud of steam. Cinched round his waist and hanging to the middle of his calves was a bath- sheet of azure blue; another towel, much smaller, lay wetly over freshly shampooed curls, the terry-cloth ends swinging across his bare shoulders like a magistrate's locks. Barefooted, he padded through the corridor to his bedroom, lightly rubbing the long, thin scar that began just below his collar- bone and continued with pink vertical precision down to the base of his sternum. It was a reflexive gesture, born of the days when the incision had itched ceaselessly. Now, feathering chest hair obscured most of the damage, covering, too, the point of entry where the bullet had slammed into his chest and threatened his heart.

In the bedroom, Doyle stripped off the towel and sat on the edge of the mattress. Tugging soft, well-worn jeans over his knees, he realized that he had gone all day with only a suggestion of the dragging weakness that had dogged his recovery coming to niggle at him. A tiny, cautious jubilation was given freedom; he had kept the reins on his emotions for so long now, it had become second-nature to repress the slightest hint of optimism. Standing up so that he could clasp the waistband and close the zip, he sank back onto the mattress and began to scrub furiously at his dripping hair.

Two and a half months ago, Ray Doyle had lain dying in a pool of his own rapidly accumulating blood, its bright redness queerly mingled with the starkly white milk that had been blasted from its glass confines by the same bullet that had torn into his torso. Doyle had been thrown backward by the force of the impact, groceries scattering about him, his ability to protect himself sundered by the positioning of the bullet and his body's immediate, automatic shut-down of all unnecessary functions. Incapable of moving, he had waited helplessly for his would-be executioner to complete her purpose; she, however, had lacked the ultimate dispassion to murder him outright. Instead, she had fired a second bullet into his back, high and at an angle--and then she had gone, leaving him to die as surely as if she had shot him in the skull.

And he would have died if Bodie had not arrived only minutes later; Bodie who had quickly assessed the situation, seeing to it that Doyle's air passages were clear, then jamming tea-towels right up against both chest and back to slow the escape of blood, his prompt actions stalling Doyle's downward spiral into nothingness just long enough for the ambulance to arrive. Little of those first, crucial hours remained in Doyle's memory--with the exception of the ride to the hospital: Bodie at his side, looking monumentally unhappy and pained enough to have taken a bullet himself, and Bodie's hand curled firmly, yet gently, round his, assuring Doyle through touch alone that Bodie's strength was his for the taking, if only he knew how.

There had been a time Doyle had wanted so much more.

After putting on a lemon-yellow t-shirt and tucking it into the waist of his jeans, Doyle took the towels to the bathroom and hung them over the warming bar to dry. The interesting scents given off by the baking casserole drew him back to the kitchen to check its progress. For a minute, he poked and stirred at the savory chicken and rice combination, just because he liked to have a hand in the cooking process--even if it wasn't strictly needed.

As he closed the oven, a low, familiar voice said from the doorway, "Enough there for two?"

Doyle pitched the pot-holder onto the sidebar and straightened up. Folding his arms over his chest he favored Bodie with a smile of greeting. "'Course--so long as you make the salad."

"Deal." Radiating anticipation, Bodie stepped across to the sink. He shoved up his sleeves and reached for the soap.

As Doyle idly looked on, his languid repose denying the very real pleasure that Bodie's arrival always precipitated, he asked, "So how'd it go?"

"With Winslow?" Bodie snagged a towel off the metal bar and wiped roughly at his hands. "Okay. He's pretty subdued."

Doyle cocked his head inquiringly, running long fingers through his hair to loosen the damp curls. "You mean, as a result of being debriefed for two weeks straight--or because of his lover?"

Flashing him a grin, Bodie squatted down in front of the refrigerator and began to scoop out everything that caught his fancy. "Probably a combination of the two," he replied. "Being subjected to a questioning of that sort by Cowley and his lot would certainly dampen my mood."

"He had to've expected it."

Bodie piled lettuce, cucumbers, olives, onions, and pickles onto the sidebar. As he stretched up to take two bowls out of the upper cupboard, he commented, "'M sure he did. But it's like moving home; has to be done, but it's always a colossal pain in the arse in the doing."

Doyle laughed understandingly. "You've got two weeks yet, mate."

Casting Doyle a disparaging look, Bodie said archly, "Right. Only this time, I'll be moving you and me. Doesn't often happen both at once, now does it."

Watching the strong, lightly-haired forearms flex and roll as Bodie's hands tore chunks off the head of lettuce, Doyle mused wryly, "Look at it this way: You'll finally have a place of your own again."

An eloquent shrug rolled off the broad, white-shirted shoulders. "I haven't complained."

"No," Doyle agreed. "You've been a bloody saint, in fact. Wish I'd known that that's all it took to get you to show the respect that's been due me all these years."

Bodie's hands faltered in their movements. "You almost dying, you mean? Well-- It wasn't exactly that," he confessed in a low, almost apologetic voice. "Never told you--"

Mildly taken aback, Doyle stood away from the counter, hands falling to his sides. "What?"

Bodie twisted round and braced himself against the sink counter, his blue eyes flicking over Doyle dismissively. "Cowley said either I get you on your feet--or he'd partner me with Anson."

Doyle's mouth fell open. Then he thumped Bodie's shoulder, not without force. "Toad!"

Cackling happily, Bodie returned to the task at hand and proceeded to hack up the onions.

Grinning fondly at his back, Doyle snaked out two fingers and filched a leaf of lettuce. "Started going through the files on Winslow's lover, like Cowley insisted."

"Anything out of line with what Winslow reported?"

"Not really. But-- Hm."

Glancing at Doyle over his shoulder, Bodie prompted, "'Hm,' what?"

"Go easy on the onions, sunshine--or I'll see to it that you get to stay up all night with me."

Defiantly, Bodie allowed one more redolent slice to fall into each bowl before setting the remainder aside. Wiping at his eyes unselfconsciously with the heel of his hand, he murmured, "Poor diddums has a delicate tum. So what were you 'hming' about?"

"Your lad Winslow, breaking cover when he did."

"He didn't break cover, Doyle," Bodie reminded him. "Made it look like he'd done a bunk; he made sure there was no indication that he'd sell anyone out."

"Whatever. But he told Cowley that he left the IRA cell because the contract he'd been monitoring on the side had finally been given a date and no one else would be able to identify the trigger man but him."


Doyle stole a piece of pickle; he scarcely made away with it before Bodie could rap his knuckles with the flat of the knife.

"Slow," he chortled under his breath, earning an impressively menacing glower. "So it just makes me wonder if Winslow would have staged his defection at all--if his lover hadn't managed to send himself to Semtex heaven two weeks before."

Bodie rinsed the blade off and placed it on the draining board. "Yeah, that occurred to me, too. Cowley doesn't seem concerned, though."

Licking the tips of his fingers, Doyle said, "Why should he? He wins either way: He gets advance warning for the hit without having to disturb Winslow's playmates until he's ready."

Clearly uncertain of what Doyle was getting at, Bodie remarked, "Winslow was doing his job, Ray--under deep cover. That's the worst and you know it."

"For you and me, maybe," Doyle conceded grudgingly. "But Connor Winslow didn't hesitate to make the most of his situation. According to Winslow's own words, he took up with Jim Delaney within a month of joining the group."

"He got results," Bodie said stubbornly. "And that's all the Cow ever cares about, isn't it." Regarding Doyle measuringly, he said, "I think you're jealous."

The air caught in Doyle's throat. "Jealous?"

"Of me. Because I'm spending my days in relative luxury in sunny Islington, while you're condemned to records in deepest Whitehall--when you're not suffering Macklin's abuse, of course." He grinned disarmingly. "How's that coming along, anyway?"

Doyle inconspicuously relaxed against the food cupboard. "Well enough. Did a bit of running and a little climbing today. I'm keeping up."

Snorting, Bodie shook his head. "Which probably means he told you to back off. Don't know who to feel sorrier for, you or Macklin."

"Thank you," Doyle said, affronted.

"Cheers. How long before this lot's ready, then? Do I have time for a shower?"

"Yeah. If you're late I'll just feed your bit to the cat."

"The one upstairs? You keep feeding it, Ray, and that miserable baggage will explode." He smiled speculatively. "And it won't be a pretty sight."

Studying Bodie severely, Doyle said, "Don't worry. Like you, it will be rid of my dubious charms in two more weeks."

"The very thought sustains me," Bodie said fervently, then dodged almost too late when Doyle leapt at him. After a short scuffle, Bodie escaped into the bathroom. Through the closed door he complained bitterly and at length about the sodden conditions he encountered therein; Doyle ignored him without a twinge of conscience.

Tuesday morning heralded summer's approach with clear, bright skies and a cool breeze that promised moisture later in the day. In two weeks the solstice would occur; Bodie looked forward to that day with pleasure, for it would mark three months since Ray Doyle had been gunned down.

Bodie was on the road to Islington well before Doyle's alarm was set to go off. During the period of his partner's recuperation, Bodie had been assigned light duties which allowed him to start his day early and ensured his return to the flat they shared before dusk. It was an arrangement that had been worked out with Cowley's approval, to Bodie's incredulous surprise--especially as Cowley had run him ragged those first days following Doyle's shooting. Once all the loose ends had been neatly tied off, however, Cowley had presented Bodie with an outline of Doyle's probable schedule for recovery, based on information extracted from Doyle's doctors. In fact, Cowley had anticipated Bodie's request for leave to look after his partner, who otherwise would have been forced into a convalescent home upon his release from hospital. Not only that, but Cowley had requisitioned a large, two-bedroom flat for their use during the two months allotted.

In that time Doyle had made remarkable strides. Only three weeks after falling prey to Mayli Kuolo's bullets, he had been handed over to Bodie's safekeeping. Relieved of all duties, Bodie had seen to Doyle's care and feeding while quietly supporting his struggle to regain his health and spirit. Giving Doyle free rein had not always been easy, but Bodie had been determined never to smother his partner's impulses to push himself as hard and as far as he could. Doyle had weaned himself of all painkillers well ahead of the doctor's safety limits, confiding to Bodie that he needed to know if he was hurting himself, for he had already begun careful bouts of exercise. Some days he exceeded even his own margin of caution and paid for his extravagance the next, his drawn, pallid face expressing the degree of his suffering more explicitly than the words he would not speak.

And some nights the persistent ache in his chest would manifest itself in a dream reenactment of the shooting. Bodie often overheard Doyle's restless sleep from his own bedroom; but he would usually grit his teeth, continuing to listen silently until Doyle finally woke himself, or the dream faded away. After a few moments the other man would settle down again, his steady respiration providing the soporific needed for Bodie's own troubled slumber.

There had come a night, however, when the helpless thrashing had gone on far longer than even Bodie's incomparable patience would tolerate. Entering Doyle's room, he had swiftly crossed the floor to the edge of the mattress, sitting down just as Doyle had torn free of his nightmare restraints. Sweating and chagrined, he had informed Bodie curtly that he was quite all right now, adding a brusque apology for causing him inconvenience.

Ignoring him, Bodie had warned, "Don't say a word, Doyle," and had gathered his partner's lanky frame in his arms. Expecting Doyle to resist, Bodie had not even bothered to keep his touch impersonal, but had carefully and firmly rubbed Doyle's back with one hand while he had roughly petted limp curls with the other.

Apparently too stunned to struggle, Doyle had given a huge, shuddering sigh--then had slumped into Bodie's sheltering embrace. Cheek pressed against Bodie's shoulder, Doyle had locked his own arms round the broad back, clinging to Bodie as though he were the last solid thing in a world gone terribly insubstantial.

They had remained like that for several minutes, Bodie revelling in Doyle's unlikely acceptance and the unlooked for pleasure of offering comfort freely. Once Doyle was obviously on the edge of dozing, Bodie had urged him to lie back down, remaining only long enough to draw the covers up to his neck. As he had left Doyle's room, he had whispered "good night."

Doyle had responded with a drowsy smile.

As Bodie negotiated the comparatively thin northbound traffic, he smiled to himself, remembering--as he often had over the last weeks--what joy there had been in cradling Doyle in his arms. For six years he had known that Ray Doyle was bisexual, gay by preference. And in all that time, Doyle had not once indulged in a same-sex encounter--in keeping with his promise to George Cowley. Bodie himself would never have known that Doyle was anything other than a committed heterosexual had it not been for a stakeout they had undertaken at The Bell, a gay pub in the north of London, a couple of years after forming their partnership. There Doyle had been spotted by a former lover, one of the few he had allowed himself prior to becoming the blue-suited terror of Stepney.

Bodie had known a surge of envy for that other man then, an envy that had not died through the long years--because Doyle had stated in no uncertain terms that Bodie was absolutely not what he desired in a man. Not only that, but Bodie had been hotly assured that he need not concern himself that Doyle's sexual preference might ever prove embarrassing to him, as Doyle had agreed to refrain from all homosexual activity so long as he was employed by CI5. All this was thrown at him in response to Bodie's tentative effort to discuss Doyle's unforeseen meeting in The Bell. Doyle's vehemence had been so intense, erecting an impenetrable barrier between them, that Bodie had understood that their partnership hinged on his reaction. So he had brushed the incident off, and had quite conscientiously never brought the subject up again.

In truth, it had made his conflicting emotions regarding Doyle easier to handle. Undeniably attracted to the man, Bodie nevertheless had always distrusted his ability to carry on an affair and remain on equal terms with a lover--any lover. Too, while he had recognized the attraction of same-sex encounters, he had yet to attempt one himself, having always sublimated his natural inclinations in a wealth of casual, socially acceptable relationships- -as though a quantity of women could make up for the specific quality of gay sex he yearned for.

Over the years Bodie had slowly realized that the day would come when he would drop his self-imposed restraints and test the boundaries established by his partner; test and overreach them. No longer could Bodie imagine a life without the constancy of Ray Doyle in it; Doyle's hair's breadth escape from death had merely reinforced that certainty. And the time to commence his courting of Ray Doyle was fast approaching; after Macklin and Crane had pronounced him totally fit and Doyle had regained his confidence, then Bodie would be prepared to mount the most important campaign of his life.

"Quiet night?" Bodie asked, removing his leather jacket and draping it over a wooden peg on the foyer wall of the safehouse.

"Deadly," McCabe replied. His brown eyes were heavy with lack of sleep, his shaggy, straight hair lying lank upon forehead and collar. "This bloke Winslow isn't big on conversation."

"Not surprising, considering most of what you know you get from Lucas," Bodie pointed out.

"Oh, ta, mate. Suppose you think you and Doyle communicate on a higher plane?"

"Yeah, it's called English."

"Bugger you," McCabe said amiably. "But I do miss that sod Lucas. He and Doyle must be having a lovely time in Records together."

"As a matter of fact those were Doyle's precise words: 'a lovely time.' I don't think he mentioned Records, however."

"Neither would Lucas. He's going right round the twist. Anyway, I'm off; got to report in and catch up on my kip." He scowled good-naturedly at Bodie. "Must be nice to have Father's ear, so you can demand the day shift, mate."

"Ah, poor Mac. And here was me thinking it had something to do with time in grade."

"Never ascribe to equity that which can be better attributed to favoritism," McCabe intoned piously.

"Oh, I shall remember that," Bodie promised earnestly. "Get out, will you?"

McCabe gave him a two-finger salute. Once he had collected his things, he exited out the back with Bodie overseeing, all according to standard procedure.

After performing a quick search of the house--with the exception of Winslow's bedroom--Bodie made his way to the kitchen, gratified to find a fresh pot of tea, milk, rolls, and jam waiting on the counter. As he sat at the small breakfast table with a filled mug and heaped plate, the door swung open behind him.

"'Morning," he said equably, casting an idle glance over his shoulder at the man who was his charge.

"Bodie." A handsome man, Connor Winslow stood an inch or two over middle height. His hair was thick and dark, eyes brown and impudent, and his beestung mouth suggested wickedly illicit possibilities behind a come-hither grin.

As Bodie silently disregarded Winslow's unsubtle examination, he ate without hurry, thinking to himself that the man had not changed in the nine years since he had last seen him. Sipping his tea he finally condescended to meet Winslow's bold stare. "Give it a rest, Con," he said with exasperation.

"Just wanted to see if it still works," Winslow admitted.

"Like herpes; it's a great irritant."

The compactly built man filled a mug for himself and sat down opposite Bodie. "I really was surprised to find you still working with Cowley, y'know."

"What's surprising about it? You've been with him almost as long."

"Ah, but I was never like you, Bodie my lad. Always moving on, you were. Mercs, Army, Paras, CI5. What's made Cowley's mob special, then?"

"Couldn't say. But I can certainly see that undercover work suits you just fine. Or perhaps you just enjoy the perks that go along with it?" Bodie raised his brows, a pleasant expression belying the rekindled antipathy he had often felt toward this man.

Winslow's eyes narrowed to slits; very slowly he relaxed back in his chair, surrounding his mug with both hands. "You were pretty quiet yesterday. Following instructions?"

"The audience was inhibiting," Bodie countered. "And after Cowley left, you retired for the day, remember?"

"Well I was tired," Winslow said with a smirk. All at once he shed the devil-may-care facade. "I've been tired for weeks."

"Delaney?" Bodie asked, not unkindly.

Letting his gaze fall, the other whispered, "He mattered."

"Was he the reason you've stayed with the Squad?"

Winslow did not answer.

"He blew people up, Con; people like you and me."

"Yeah, Bodie, I think someone mentioned that. You got out of Belfast a long time ago, y'know. I can assure you it hasn't changed much."

"But you were there for three years. Was Delaney worth it?"

"He's the only thing that was."

Bodie granted himself a tiny smile. "It would appear that Doyle was right."


"My partner. He wondered if you'd've come in--if Jim Delaney hadn't got himself killed."

Eyes shuttered, Winslow set the mug on the table. "Perceptive man, your partner."

"Yeah. He says only nutters work for CI5. That's certainly true about you and me."

"He's good, is he?" Winslow asked casually.

"He's okay."

"In bed, too?"

"Wouldn't know, would I."

The attractive mouth flowed into a wide smile. "Don't tell me you're still denying the truth, Bodie?"

"Nothing to deny."

"I know differently," Winslow said. "Under other circumstances--"

"I'd still have said 'no.'" Bodie picked up his tea and drank with lazy appreciation. "There's really no point in rehashing your old failures, Con."

"You were, y'know," Winslow said quietly. "My greatest failure. 'S kinda nice, having a second chance."

"Don't flatter yourself, mate. I'm still not interested."

"But you could be," Winslow murmured. "And we're stuck here together for another five days. Maybe--"

Bodie inhaled suddenly, his jaws cracking as he produced a stupendous yawn. Blinking muzzily and with deliberate charm, he said innocently, "You were saying?"

Ray Doyle lay on the sofa near the window that overlooked the street, basking in the last rays of the evening sun. A rain shower had come and gone, swept away by a cool breeze. Outside in the shadows, the day had become quite brisk, but here the warm air had been trapped by the window, making the alcove uncommonly cozy. Doyle's shirt was unbuttoned, both flaps spread wide, baring his chest to the precious heat.

Stretched out to his full length, Doyle covered almost the whole settee, his head propped up on his forearms behind him, legs crossed at the ankles, the toes of one foot keeping time to the voluptuous music issuing from the stereo speakers.

More than half-asleep, he startled when a cool, creamy substance dribbled onto his chest. Eyes snapping open, he found Bodie sitting on the coffee table at his side, holding the tube of emollient, prescribed by the doctor to keep the healing skin from binding, in one hand, while with the other he meticulously coated the pale line from Doyle's collarbone all the way down to the bottom of his ribcage, even dabbing a bit on the two almost invisible scars that lay at the base of each lung, where draining tubes had been inserted to keep his chest cavity from filling with fluid. Doyle was especially grateful that those little encumbrances, so integral to his rapid recovery, were no more than a fading memory these days.

"Ten weeks, Bodie?" he asked, his voice gravelly with disuse. In the background the music switched off.

"Since you were shot?" Bodie questioned in turn.

Doyle wondered vaguely how long Bodie had been home, since he was clad in a comfortable polo-neck shirt and old corduroy trousers, both of which were characteristically black.

"Since you had a bird. You've been nursemaiding me since the shooting-- and that's been ten weeks."

Bodie's hand stilled, his brow furrowed with thought. "Good Lord, no," he exclaimed softly. "Closer to three months--and a bit." Returning to his self-appointed undertaking with single-minded concentration, Bodie seemed supremely unconcerned about this notable lapse.

"What d'you mean, three months?" Doyle argued. "There was Moira; you were seeing her just before--"

Bodie gave him a blank look. "Moira? Oh-- You mean, Megan. She was out of town, right up to the day the van blew up. Was all go after that."

Succumbing to an affectionate grin, Doyle laughed throatily. "You're mad, mate. Didn't think you could manage that long without coming over all twitchy."

"Gone longer than that," Bodie informed him virtuously. "And for all your pontificating about one-night stands, you're no better, sunshine."

"Yeah, well, being laid up for two months has put the kibosh on my sex- life--but that's no reason it should affect yours."

"Been taking care of you, haven't I?" Bodie said, martyr-like.

"That's right. And here you are, playing with my chest when you ought to be dedicating yourself to one with a little less hair and a good deal more breast."

Using a single finger, Bodie applied another smear of cream. "Not to worry. I can take care of my own sex-life, Raymond."

Closing his eyes with a sigh, Doyle wriggled a little to make himself more comfortable. "Well, if you insist--reckon I may as well enjoy meself."

"That's the spirit. You've got a bruise, y'know." Bodie brushed the edge of his thumb against Doyle's left flank, just above his hip. "That from the work-out today?"

"Yeah. Macklin's not playing Mr. Nice Guy anymore."

"What a surprise. How'd you do?"

"Not too bad, actually. Ran about two feet farther than yesterday. Spent the rest of the afternoon on the firing range."


"Grouping very nicely, thank you. Six out of six dead center at twenty- five feet; ten out of twelve at fifty."

"Don't let it get you down," Bodie remarked, working his fingers in a circular pattern to bring the hair on Doyle's breast standing straight up. "It'll come back to you one day."

A glinting green eye stared dangerously up at him. "You sod. That's as good as I ever did." He looked pointedly down at his spiky chest.

Smoothing the hair back down, Bodie continued toward the bottom of Doyle's sternum. "And Records? Was your luck any better there?"

"Still reading through the file on Jim Delaney. So far everything Winslow said checks out. How're you getting on with him?"

"He's almost as merciless at backgammon as you are. You know what minding jobs are like, Ray."

"Yeah. Lucky you."

Bodie winked at him. "Better than Records."

Reluctantly conceding the point, Doyle said, "Too true. Oh-- Mac stopped by this morning on his way home. Said Winslow's rather taken with himself."

"That's generous coming from Mac." Bodie placed both hands on Doyle's chest and wiped his fingers off with elaborate conscientiousness, dragging them all down the length of the wash-board torso.

"Stop that, you nit!" Doyle yelped, lurching upright as Bodie's fingers found a ticklish spot.

Employing restraint, Bodie waggled his brows and sat back. "You want me to ring for an Indian? Or Chinese? Or chicken and chips?"

Making a great show of pulling both sides of the shirt together to cover his nakedness, Doyle said, "Rather go out. You up to it?"

In the act of stifling a yawn, Bodie nevertheless nodded. "Oh, yeah. Save me having to do dishes again tonight. Not exactly fair, seeing that I made the salad."

"Most of which you ate. I warned you about the onions," Doyle said heartlessly, as he climbed to his feet.

"I like 'em," Bodie said cheerfully.

"Uh huh. And they're undoubtedly the reason your love-life is suffering just lately."

"'Infamy, infamy,'" Bodie quoted. "'They've all got it infamy.'"

"Idiot," Doyle grinned.

Savoring the last of his wine, Doyle looked across at Bodie, observing the way his face glowed in the candelight. Feeling very warm and at peace, he melted into a smile, utterly unaware of the effect this had on his partner. "So tell me," Doyle said, his intimate tone inviting confidences. "Has Winslow tried it on with you yet?"

Bodie leveled a stern gaze at his partner. "Are you trying to ruin my dinner?"

"You're avoiding the question."

"And you're a snoop."

"So he has," Doyle said triumphantly.

Sighing, Bodie muttered, "Yes, he has. Nothing I can't handle."

"Hm. He is a good-looking bloke. Probably slays 'em at the clubs."

"Expect he does; although in all fairness, I rather doubt he's been in too many of those these past three years."

Setting his wine glass down with excessive care, Doyle mused, "So you didn't scrag him?"

A little exasperated, Bodie said, "No, I did not. Cowley doesn't like his agents to brawl, y'know."

"Oh." Studying him with exaggerated concern, Doyle remarked, "Be careful, Bodie. Connor Winslow might catch you at a weak moment. It has been three months since you last got your end away."

"Not a chance, sunshine," Bodie averred. "I like my blokes to have hairy chests; Connor Winslow hasn't got a sprig on his pasty white skin."

At that moment their waiter arrived with the chit.

"Saved by the bell," Doyle said darkly, just loudly enough to be heard by Bodie and no one else.

Ignoring his somewhat inebriated partner, Bodie snatched up the bill, and standing, took out his wallet. "Come on, mate," he said. "Time we sat you down in front of the telly until you fall asleep."

Doyle waited in the foyer while Bodie saw to the cashier. Looking sidelong at his partner as he strolled toward him at last, Doyle demanded, "How would you know what kind of chest Connor Winslow has?"

Charmed by Doyle's persistent belligerence, Bodie simply shook his head. "You are in a state, aren't you?"

"I'm not pissed, if that's what you mean," Doyle replied disdainfully.

"Then stop acting like a berk. Told you he tried it on, didn't I? Right after he came out of the bath."

Doyle's eyes widened. "And you really didn't duff him up?"

"He didn't do anything, Ray. Must've thought I'd be overwhelmed by his manly charms, or something."

"Doesn't know you very well, does he." Sarcasm lay heavy on each word, but Doyle went without argument when Bodie placed an unobtrusive hand beneath his elbow and steered him out of the building toward the street.

"He doesn't really know me at all," Bodie concurred.

"Doyle again," Winslow commented the following afternoon. "That's the fifth time you've brought up his name today."

Unfazed, Bodie contemplated the positioning of his pawn before replying. "You know what it's like with partners."

Winslow gazed morosely down at the chess board. "Know what it was like with mine."

"Delaney. Falling in love with a terrorist." He clicked his tongue reprovingly. "Or were you just making do with the available talent?"

With the unblinking stare of a reptile, Winslow said, "No. He was special."

"That's against the rules, Con," Bodie said pedantically. He placed his pawn in certain jeopardy, tired of the game and ready to see it end--even if he had to lose to do so.

"And rules were made--"

"--to be broken. Old cliche. And not always the brightest idea in the world."

"Especially not in CI5, you mean? Depends on who you are, doesn't it. Take you and Doyle, for example: If you were sleeping together, what would Cowley have to say about it, so long as you did your jobs and didn't frighten the horses--or in his case, Joe Public?"

"That is droll," Bodie said, assuming a pained expression. "He'd have loads to say, I expect. It isn't exactly approved of in Whitehall yet, y'know."

Winslow's lips lifted at Bodie's prim imitation of a nasal-toned minister. "I'm not suggesting you commit sodomy on the steps of HQ, you mannerless lout."

"Now, there's a point," Bodie remarked. "Who in his right mind would want to perform sodomy at all? It must hurt, it's a nasty place to be sticking things, and--"

"Sounds as though you've been thinking about it," Winslow observed.

As this was entirely too close to the truth for comfort, Bodie produced a noncommittal grunt. "Of course I've thought about it," he said artlessly. "Most blokes do at some point or other--even us straight ones."

"Hm." Regarding him measuringly, Winslow said in a low voice, "I could show you how very nice it can be, Bodie."

"You'd have to convince me first," Bodie said, eyes sweeping dismissively over Winslow's face and body. "And I don't think you can do that."



Winslow sat back in his chair, steepling his fingers together before him, his imminent abduction of Bodie's queen forgotten. "All right. But we won't begin with sodomy."

"Why not?"

The other man said solemnly, "Because gays are much more inventive than that. You purported straights think every act of sex must end with a good, deep fuck. While I'm not arguing that it has its good points, I suggest to you that there are other, equally enjoyable acts which can achieve the very same result."

"You mean, like sucking cock or jerking off."

"Precisely. But if you want to tell this, please go ahead."

"No, no, this is your sell."

Eyeing him with a predatory gleam, Winslow murmured, "Then sit back and listen."

Folding his arms over his chest while biting back a grin, Bodie announced, "Right. I'm ready."

"Not yet," Winslow corrected softly. "But you will be." Dropping his gaze downward, in the direction of Bodie's crotch, he began, "Imagine a man sucking your cock. It seems an obvious picture, but look beyond the surface: He is, after all, a man, like you. And like you, he knows exactly what you're feeling when he takes your prick into his mouth. He doesn't have to guess where the sensitive spots are, but would curl his tongue right up under the head, and lap at it lightly--oh, so lightly--until you're pushing inside to get him to take more. Or he'd scrape his teeth gently behind the ridge, pulling you in with slow, wet suction. Imagine, Bodie, your cock in a man's mouth--it's a little bigger and a little deeper than most birds'. In fact, imagine yourself in Doyle's mouth--"

Bodie's eyes flicked up sharply.

"He'd know what you'd like, because you've been mates for so long. And he'd know you better than any bird, because you're both men. Think what it'd be like coming in his mouth, Bodie; your fingers buried in his hair, holding his head between your hands as you pumped in and out."

"A really experienced bird could do as well," Bodie said flatly, refusing to let Winslow see that his words were having a definite effect on him.

"Maybe," Winslow said consideringly. "But no bird can put her cock in your mouth, Bodie, and that can be every bit as good. Feeling it slide over your tongue, catching it very carefully between your teeth, swirling the tip of your tongue into the eye of his prick. He'd like that, Bodie, your Doyle would. Picture his face as he comes, clinging to you, trembling all over. And you'd make it better than any woman he's ever had, because you'd know what only another man could know. It'd be like making love to yourself."

Lips slightly compressed, Bodie said quietly, "Maybe I don't fancy the idea of a man's prick in my mouth."

"And maybe you're lying--just a little. But that's all right. Let's say you're holding him in your palm, then. It shouldn't offend you to touch him; he's a clean bloke, smells good. He'd have a nice cock, too, I'd wager. You've got him in your hand, then, Bodie. You can feel the weight of his prick, the hardness through the smooth, silky outside. You have your fingers wrapped round his cock, and you're milking him, nice and slow. You brush your thumb under the tip and he lets out a groan; a helpless, little sound, Bodie, letting you know how very much he likes being fondled by you.

"There's a small drop of semen on the slit. You want to lick it off--but you're not going to. Instead you take your fingertip and slowly smear it over his cock-head. That makes him shiver, and he says your name: Bodie. Can you hear it? You watch his face as you begin to squeeze and stroke him, harder and faster. Look at him, Bodie: His eyes are closed, and he's lying back in the pillows, his legs spread wide so you can get at every part of him. His cheeks begin to flush, and his mouth falls open. He's close, Bodie, so close. But so are you. And even though you won't fuck him, you want to hold him. You want him in your arms so you can kiss his mouth.

"So you climb on top of him, trapping your cocks between your bellies, and you begin to rub yourself against him. Your cock is weeping, too, so there's no friction, everything is smooth and slick and perfect. You're kissing him, Bodie, your tongue is in his mouth, and you're tasting him--and he tastes fantastic. There is no one in the world you want more than him. He cries out and holds you tighter, his hands gripping your arse, forcing you to be rough as he pushes up against you. And then you feel it, spurting out of him as you continue to suckle at his mouth, his warm come making his skin even slicker and more welcoming for your cock. He's whimpering, Bodie--because of you. And you're so hot--"

Winslow broke off abruptly. He stood all at once and walked round the edge of the table to loom over Bodie's chair. Staring down at him, he demanded, "Be honest, Bodie. What could be better?"

Heart pounding like a drummer gone mad, Bodie knew he must shatter Winslow's spell if he was to remain another moment in the man's company. "Better?" he repeated hoarsely. It took a second or two to order his unruly thoughts; but the answer, so recently learned, came to him without difficulty. "Better is having your partner still alive, Con."

The other man looked as though he had been struck. He let out a sharp breath, nostrils flaring. "You bastard," he whispered.

It was after six when Doyle let himself into the flat, juggling two large carry-bags of food and assorted household necessaries. To his astonishment he found Bodie in the kitchen, preparing dinner for them both.

"My God, I wish I had my camera," Doyle exclaimed, setting the bags down on the breakfast table.

Bodie gave him a half-hearted snarl. "Seem to recall doing a ton of cooking for you when they first let you out."

"Along with a great deal of assistance from the local chippie and the Chinese takeaway down the road."

"Maybe so, but I don't remember you ragging me at the time."

"Didn't have any choice in the matter, did I," Doyle said reasonably.

"It was either that or take to trapping birds and insects outside the window."

Bodie gave him a quick, all encompassing look, then continued scrambling eggs in the frying pan.

"Anything wrong?" Doyle asked.

"No. How was Records?"

"Very enlightening," Doyle replied, bending over to put the perishables into the refrigerator.

"How so?"

"Tell you later. What about Winslow? How's he holding up? Mac said he was asking a lot of questions."


"You. And me. And you and me. What's with him, anyway?"

"What you'd expect. He's bored, depressed, needs to be doing something more constructive than sitting round with me all day."

"Funny." Doyle glanced up at Bodie, waiting until he was assured of his partner's attention. "Could probably say the same about you."

"And you wouldn't be wrong," Bodie said peevishly. "Cowley is going to send me right over the edge one day. He knows--"

Slowly coming out of his crouch, Doyle prompted, "He knows what?"

"That I don't like babysitting assignments. Especially when--" He jammed the fish slice into the congealing egg mixture, which he then shoved around the pan a little more energetically than was necessary.

"Especially when you've been going spare for lack of something better to do for two months?" Doyle opined without reproach. "You should've asked for standard ops two weeks ago, Bodie. I've been back at work that long. No reason you ought--"

"There's every reason," Bodie said intensely. "You're my partner, and I don't like working with other blokes."

An understanding smile crept across Doyle's mouth. "Or birds. That's the problem, isn't it? So give Moira--or Megan--a ring. If she's not free, there's got to be someone willing to serve her country by servicing you."

"Sod off, Doyle," Bodie snapped. "It isn't that at all. I--" He stopped himself cold, and took a deep breath. "I'm knackered, that's all. This bloody boring gig'll have me in an early grave."

"Okay, mate, don't bite my head off. Good Lord, what are you doing to those eggs?" He came up alongside Bodie and bumped into him with a narrow hip. "Shift over, sunshine, or we'll be eating leather for dinner."

For an instant Bodie refused to give ground.

"Will you get out of the way!" Doyle complained, wresting the fish slice from Bodie's hand.

"Yeah. Right. I'll lay the table."

"You must be desperate," Doyle murmured, then beamed brightly when Bodie glared blackly at him. The instant Bodie left the room, however, Doyle's smile vanished.

Despite his affable veneer, Doyle's day had not been without its unpleasant moments. Cowley had sought him out in Records first thing, replacing Delaney's file with Winslow's, and issuing the same instructions to verify the data found therein. Having had the temerity to argue, Doyle had-- not unexpectedly--been put smartly in his place. Cowley's dressing-down, mild by anyone's standards, had not been the source of Doyle's aggrieved mood for the next few hours, however; not even Lucas' chronic sniping had been responsible for that.

Thoughtfully folding the eggs into a fluffy roll, Doyle began to lift large portions onto a single plate. Bodie had already prepared toast and sausages, the latter of which lay warming under a pot-lid. One corner of Doyle's mouth came up at this evidence of his partner having missed breakfast; he was only surprised that Bodie had not rounded out the meal with his usual artery-clogging specialty.

No, Bodie was the cause of his uneasy state of mind. Whenever he thought he had puzzled out his reticent partner, something would come along to make Doyle wonder if he would ever be allowed to know him at all. Mostly, it was not a problem; Bodie's instinctive dissembling rarely extended to Doyle-- certainly not to the extent he employed it with everyone else. But when it did, it all too often entailed incidents of considerable magnitude. Krivas, King Billy, Keller: How many of those denizens of Bodie's past would Doyle have learned about at all, had they not come back to haunt him?

And now, Connor Winslow.

"Ray, you falling asleep out here?"

Doyle tipped his head up to find Bodie watching him from the doorway, a curiously unreadable expression on his handsome face. "Nah," he muttered. "Just looking for the fried bread."

An astounded eyebrow lurched upward. "Now I've heard everything." Bodie stepped into the kitchen and placed the back of his hand upon Doyle's forehead, brushing long brown curls out of the way so he could do so. "No, you don't have a fever."

"Give over. Thought with this lot that you'd've fried up a batch." Doyle jerked his head toward the refrigerator. "Grab a couple of cans, will you, while I take the nosh into the lounge."

Despite the fact that this flat had come appointed with a very pleasant dining room, the two men had chosen to eat at the coffee table in the lounge right from the beginning. It had been easier for Doyle then, and the habit had stuck.

As was his wont, Doyle sat on the floor on the opposite side of the table, which was arrayed now with two plates, condiments, and cutlery, leaving the sofa to Bodie.

Taking a small portion of eggs and a slice of toast, Doyle said, "Cowley gave me the dossier on Winslow."

In the middle of popping the ring on his can of lager, Bodie waited for the air to escape before stripping the metal tab off. "And you're wondering why I haven't mentioned knowing him," he said expressionlessly.

"Nah," Doyle said, a slight quirk to his mouth. "Well--I did at first; then I realized that it's none of my business--him being your mate and all. I expect you will be pleased to hear that he's an honest bloke, though."

"Con's okay." Bodie heaped eggs and toast onto his plate, then reached for the jar of marmalade.

"Yeah." Doyle poked at his plate with the tines of his fork. "Very distinguished record he has; thought quite highly of by his team leader in the SAS." He glanced up at Bodie, his face carefully neutral. "How's he adjusting to the real world? Must be a shock coming out of deep cover after so long."

"Going a bit stir, like I said." Bodie took a bite of egg followed immediately by half a slice of toast.

Surveying his own fluffy, yellow forkful as though it might lunge at him, Doyle commented knowingly, "That happens just from being in a safehouse; not to mention one of Cowley's debriefing sessions. At least you know each other; in fact, that's probably one of the reasons Cowley assigned you to him: must make it easier to entertain yourselves."

"No doubt."

Eating doggedly, Doyle cleared half of his plate before deciding it was no longer worth the effort. He drained his can, then took the plate and cutlery into the kitchen. After dumping the remains of his meal, he rinsed off the dishes and piled the lot into soapy water to soak. He had run into Bodie's stone wall before; best just to back off until--or if--Bodie was ready to speak.

He was staring out the window at the street below when Bodie came in behind him. Listening to his movements, Doyle adroitly identified each action by sound alone. When he heard the click of the kettle switch, he took his hands out of his back-pockets and wordlessly sauntered out of the room.

Entering the lounge, he glanced round to confirm that all the dinner articles had been removed. Seating himself on the sofa, he retrieved his current reading material from the bottom shelf of the coffee table and heeled off his trainers, allowing them to tumble noisily across the floor. Lying back, he then appropriated all the available space on the long settee with nonchalant presumption.

He was several pages along before Bodie came in with two mugs of tea, one of which he stationed on the table near Doyle's right arm. After putting his own cup on a coaster at the other end, Bodie bent forward and raised Doyle's feet and ankles off the cushion. Sitting down in their place, he then lowered Doyle's legs onto his lap, his hands coming to rest upon the stark ridges of Doyle's shins.

Hiding his bemusement behind a disgruntled facade, Doyle asked, "Are you quite comfortable?"

"Yes," Bodie assured him. "So long as you've washed your socks lately."

"Tough if I haven't."

"You're a hard man, Doyle," Bodie said sadly.

"Must be the company I keep."

"You're quick to judge sometimes, too," Bodie went on lightly. "Guess I didn't feel up to defending an old mate."

Doyle pressed the open face of the book down flat on his chest. "What are you on about?"

"My past. It doesn't always sit well with you."

"Which version are you referring to? I've heard so many."

A tinge of red flowered in Bodie's cheeks. "All right, the people in my past, then. You always talk about the Mercs and Army as though they were the scum of the earth. Little wonder that I don't go out of my way to discuss anyone who happens to crop up, is it."

"Connor Winslow, for example?"

"Yeah, Connor Winslow." Rubbing his fingers over the heavy denim encasing Doyle's ankle, Bodie began to pluck at a stockinged set of toes with the forefinger and thumb of his other hand. "We were in opposing simulation squads in the SAS. As I've said, he's a good enough bloke. And I would've mentioned him--except I wasn't up to the usual baby-eating vermin jokes you trot out so often."

Doyle allowed his head to tilt to one side. "Unlike the high praise you frequently lavish on the chaps in the blue unis?"

Bodie's hands came to a standstill. "I--"

"Look, I'm not denying that I've panned your mates in the past. Probably will again, considering some of the blokes you've worked with. But it doesn't apply to you, y'know; it never has."

Brushing the flat of his hand back and forth over Doyle's left arch, Bodie frowned across at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"You're my partner, Bodie. Maybe there was a time when I couldn't understand how you could be who you are, yet come from the crazy background you had; but I wouldn't trade you in because of it. Not even for Anson."

"Now there's high praise," Bodie drawled, a sardonic smile twisting his lips.

Doyle reached out and collected his tea, well aware that Bodie was still kneading his feet; he rather enjoyed it. "So has Cowley got the agenda arranged for Saturday night, then?"

Letting his head fall back against the sofa, Bodie murmured, "Of course. This fete has been planned for months; that's one reason Con came in. He knew how important spotting this hit man would be."

"And he couldn't find anyone remotely familiar when he went through the mug shots?"

"Nope." As he rolled his head lazily from side to side in negation, Bodie's hair, which had been allowed to grow longer than usual in the back, was snagged by the nylon threads.

Doyle would have given the world to sift his fingers through those wavy tendrils. Drinking his tea with noisy dedication, he said, "Cowley must be awfully sure of Winslow to be relying on him in this. There'll be a lot of Very Important Pricks at that do. One stray shot, and--"

"That's just it, Ray," Bodie interrupted. "It's been touted about that everyone will be searched prior to the event; metal detectors, body searches, hand bag restrictions, you name it. Anyone gets past that lot with the intention of doing our Cow in will have to be very, very good."

"And Winslow's positive he can identify this person before he can get near Cowley?"

"Says he is."

Staring down into his mug, Doyle muttered, "Wish I was going to be there."

A large hand gave his foot a jostle. "Soon enough, mate."

Bodie dealt out the last two cards and placed the deck on the table in front of him. "Don't you ever give up?" he asked blandly.

It was Thursday afternoon. For over six hours he and Winslow had circled each other; Winslow pursuing, Bodie in constant retreat. Playing hard to get was not to Bodie's liking, but he had decided that eluding Winslow would be preferable to explaining to Cowley why he had put the other man in a body cast.

"Not over the things worth having," Winslow replied, studying his hand with approval.

"I told you 'no' nine years ago; my answer hasn't changed."

Winslow repositioned a jack to the right of his queen. "But you are interested. You were then; you are now. Don't pretend not to be."

Bodie set two cards face-down on the table top. "You really loved him, didn't you?" At Winslow's wary look, he elaborated, "It was great--the sex, the affection, the companionship--and you just don't want to give it up."

Pursing his lips provocatively, Winslow murmured, "Maybe. And maybe it's just a great way to let off steam." He flipped a single card onto the table.

"Not with me," Bodie said, and picked up the pack.

"Because of Doyle?" Winslow asked, regarding Bodie interestedly. "Would he be jealous?"

"No, why should he be? But he'd sure as hell do his nut if I got myself booted off the Squad."

"Cowley wouldn't care. You're his blue-eyed boy; everyone knows that."

Bodie gave Winslow one card and himself two. Setting the pack down again, he retorted, "Everyone's wrong, then. If he had a good enough reason, Cowley'd throw me to the wolves as soon as look at me."

"Fucking me wouldn't be a reason."

A lick of heat coiled in Bodie's insides. "No, it wouldn't. And it won't. I have no intention of fucking you."

"Because you want Doyle instead," Winslow pronounced. He slouched bonelessly in his chair, smiling enticingly at Bodie. "So pretend I'm Doyle. Pretend it's my arse you're shoving your cock into. Wouldn't feel any different. Hot and slick, tight all round you. You could pretend, Bodie. Just close your eyes and pre--"

The sound of Bodie's long-suffering sigh filled the room. "And while I was pretending, you'd be pretending, too, wouldn't you, Con? That's what you really want."

Winslow's gaze fell to his cards. "It's what we both want."

"Sorry, mate, but I never take second best."

"And you think Doyle's the best? You're wrong. All cats are grey in the dark, Bodie. Male or female."

"Didn't say anything about Doyle, now did I," Bodie said ingenuously. "Show your hand, Con." He smiled at the two kings that appeared on the table. Laying out his own trio of twos, he arched his brows at Winslow and reached for the coins scattered on the table between them.

Winslow's fingers came down briefly upon his. "You didn't have to, y'know--say anything, that is. It's always Doyle." He shoved his chair away from the table and strode out of the room.

Gathering all the cards into one big hand, Bodie said in a hushed tone, "Who else?"

As Doyle came off the firing range, he turned the corner leading to the armory. "Mac!" he called, just as the other agent stepped through the manned double doors.

Flicking a finger under the ID clipped to his t-shirt for the guard's perusal, Doyle broke into a loping run to join McCabe who was already half way down the corridor on the other side of the doors. "What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be home asleep?"

"You sound like my mother, Ray," the other man informed him dryly. "Only she hasn't said that to me for about twenty years."

"Bodie won't like it if you're late tonight," Doyle said with a suitably ominous expression.

"Too bad for Bodie--and don't you dare tell him I said that," McCabe added hastily. "He's on his own tonight, anyway; Cowley's sending me out to escort somebody to Portlaoighise Prison."


"Don't know," McCabe answered, with a shrug. As they reached the main desk, he drew a piece of paper out of his pocket and placed it on the smooth surface in front of the arms manager. "Need these quick as you can, please. Cowley's orders."

Glancing over the sheet before it disappeared behind the desk, Doyle raised his brows significantly. "When d'you head out, then? You ought to be able to quell a small revolution with that gear."

"There'll be three of us--just in case. We depart in--" he consulted his wristwatch "--twenty-five minutes."

"So nobody's covering for Bodie?"

"Nobody who can. You, maybe; but you're not active, yet--more's the pity. If you were, maybe Cowley'd be sending you instead of me."

"Cheers, mate. Going by chopper?"

"Yep. Cowley seemed to think we'd be back by early tomorrow morning. I'll do what I can to get Bodie out of there by mid-afternoon. He'll be needing his kip for the big event the following night."

"Yeah. Thanks, Mac." Doyle applied a light punch to McCabe's shoulder. "Have fun."

"Oh, right."

Bodie rang just after seven to confirm McCabe's news. Doyle thought he sounded a bit down, and did his best to repair his mood by way of a couple of filthy--and reasonably funny--jokes. Ringing off once he had got his partner to chuckle, Doyle pottered about for a bit before settling onto the sofa with his book.

This was the first time in two and a half months that he had been left completely to his own devices, and he was at something of a loss as to what he ought to do with himself. He toyed with the idea of going down to the pub, or of ringing one of his former girlfriends to see if she would be interested in a film. Perhaps later they might--

No. Not yet. Not until his chest was less conspicuous, certainly. Not until he was really ready.

Yet the thought made his glands take note, an uncomfortable bulk stretching the denim of his jeans to capacity. He placed his fingers on the clasp at the waist, easing the metal through the buttonhole before taking up the tab of the zipper. He flipped it back and forth between thumb and forefinger for several seconds. Then he hoisted his hips so he could redo the clasp, pushing resentfully against the hardness that still begged his attention, and squirmed a little until he had relieved some of the pressure.

Not inclined to examine his motives for refusing himself, Doyle stoically picked up the book again and began to read. It took three tries to get past the first paragraph, but eventually he succeeded. It was not a demanding story, better suited to activating his alpha waves than to riveting him to the page, but it served to distract him from the lure of sex, and in the process, encouraged him to unwind.

An hour later he fell into a light doze, knees bent close, arms wrapped round his chest against the evening chill. Sometime in the night the old, but still treacherous dream recurred. Once more Doyle found himself on the floor amidst the widespread debris of shattered milk bottles and bruised produce, the scent of his own blood overpoweringly lush in his nostrils. Helpless again, he waited for Bodie, afraid this time that he would die before his partner reached him. Nothing disturbed him more than the thought of Bodie finding him dead. Bodie, after all, needed him. Would Bodie, who never wept, weep for him?

Doyle's own cheeks were damp when the nightmare forced him awake at last. Glancing about the lounge, he saw that nothing had changed, that he truly was safe--and whole. Breathing out hard through his mouth, he sat up and dragged shaky fingers through his hair, lifting it away from his face. As he sluggishly rose and started toward the bedroom, he recalled the last time he had suffered that particular dream. Bodie had come into his room upon hearing his distress, and Doyle had been deeply ashamed to have disturbed him. All quiet assurance, Bodie had wrapped him in his arms, abruptly quashing Doyle's nascent objections in his no-nonsense way, his presence bestowing the comfort a parent offers a child--or a lover his mate. For an instant Doyle had even doubted the reality of the situation, until he had burrowed deeper into the solid embrace, feeding off Bodie's warmth and strength as though they could restore his own.

Those brief moments were held secure in a special place in his mind, kept close to the surface so that he could beckon them forth whenever he wished. They lulled him now as he snuggled under the cool bed linen, replacing the acid vestiges of his wakening with the peaceful certainty that he was loved-- if only platonically. His full lips curving into a faint smile, Doyle envisioned Bodie holding him now. In moments, he slept.

The lights of London were visible for miles. Bodie stood in the lounge before the wide window, on his feet because it forced him to remain awake.

All the lamps had been switched off so he could not be seen from the street below. The illuminated dial of his watch alerted him that it was now nearly three in the morning--Friday morning. Bodie's thoughts were with Doyle, picturing him asleep, long limbs sprawled across the mattress, the sheets wound round him in their usual disarray. The image of his partner served to console him on this lonely, endless night.

He conjured up Doyle's face: The neatly sculpted brows, the broken cheekbone, the long straight line of his nose--and the mouth that had always fascinated him, lips now slightly parted in repose, soft and inviting. In his mind's eye, Bodie joined his partner, his large square hands spread wide over Doyle's chest, gliding downward to his hips, to the tops of his thighs, to the bony knees and shins, all the way down to his slender, supple feet. As Doyle slept on, Bodie eased the rangy form over onto its stomach, and gently parted the long, muscular legs. Through the magic of fantasy, Doyle didn't rouse even when the illusory Bodie knelt between his thighs and lowered himself into position, foregoing the use of lubricant--for here it was not needed.

Yet the real Bodie shuddered as imagination took him into Doyle's body-- hot and slick, Winslow had said. Tight all round you. And as his dream self assuaged his need there, he added a questing touch that reached back in search of his hand, long fingers meshing with his, as he slowly thrust in, and slowly drew out--

Bodie groaned, both in his fantasy and out loud. Indulging in erotic flights of fancy while incapable of relieving himself was idiotic in the extreme. For only an instant he glanced down the corridor to where Connor Winslow's bedroom was located, knowing full well that he would be received there without demur.

Soon enough, he had told Doyle. Those words applied to him, as well; for Doyle was worth the wait. And he could hold out for Doyle. Even if it killed him.

Warming his fingers round a mug brimming with scalding hot coffee, Bodie sat back in the overstuffed chair in the lounge, wishing Mac would show up; wishing that he were home; wishing more than anything that he could close his eyes and sleep, if only for a few minutes. It humbled him to acknowledge that not so many years ago he could stay awake for forty-eight hours at a stretch with negligible results. These days, a twenty-four hour stint took the heart right out of him; and a minding job, with nothing to do but shun the difficult man under his protection, was doubly debilitating. He looked to Saturday night--tomorrow night--with its vague promise of action, as a dying man to salvation.

Taking a cautious sip from his cup, he glanced up as Winslow entered the room. Things had been awkward between them today. Winslow seemed to have something on his mind, and Bodie was far too weary to attempt to entertain him. The other man had grown bored with games, and there was nothing on television to suit him. So Bodie had left him on his own, while he had occupied himself with a few rounds of sit-ups and squats, innumerable cups of tea and coffee, and incessant pacing, back and forth in front of the curtained windows, waiting, waiting for Mac to arrive.

Winslow looked back at him incuriously, walking past the chair where Bodie sat to stop by the wide window. Knowing far better than to stand directly before it, he peeked through the nets from the side, taking in the early afternoon activity on the pavement and street below. There was little in the way of vehicular traffic; safehouses were always chosen for their relatively unfrequented neighborhoods.

Leaning forward slowly, Bodie set his mug on the coffee table and bowed his head. He heard Winslow move again and was not startled when warm hands came to rest on his shoulders. "Are we in the ring again?" he asked, straightening up until he was cushioned by the well-padded back of the chair, head angled to one side so he could look up into Winslow's face.

Winslow smiled, a slow, rueful smile, and continued to work the muscles in Bodie's neck and upper back. "Didn't think I was proposing a punch-up."

"Thought I'd made it clear that I'm not on offer in any case."

"You have." One hand drifted along the line of Bodie's collarbone to the upper slope of his breast.


"Don't, Bodie," Winslow whispered, his hand dropping lower toward Bodie's belt.

There Bodie intercepted it, his fingers squeezing round Winslow's wrist in a brutal grip, effectively halting its movement. "I said--"

His next words were lost in Winslow's mouth. The man's lips were as soft as Bodie had guessed they would be, and gently searching. And there was an unmistakable need in Winslow's touch that pleaded Bodie's response. Pretend I'm Doyle, Winslow had said. It would be unconscionably easy to do so, Bodie realized, for he wanted this touch to be Doyle's--and he might never have that reality. He could accept Winslow's gift for what it was, just as he had done with countless women. But he would not. However much Connor Winslow might try to persuade him otherwise, Bodie would not stand in for someone else--any more than he would allow Connor to substitute for Ray Doyle. Gathering his strength, he prepared to wrench free, just as Winslow's other hand came round to cup his face, anticipating resistance.

"Erm-- Pardon me, mates," a familiar voice interrupted loudly.

Winslow broke away at once, leaving Bodie staring directly at McCabe, who, failing in his obvious attempt to conceal his astonished amusement, stood just inside the door.

"And here I thought you might like to go home, Bodie," he said dryly.

As Ray Doyle keyed open the security lock before proceeding to the door of the flat itself, a black and white blur leapt from the stairwell and bounded up to him. It set about wrapping its sinuous body round his legs, purring loudly enough to be heard distinctly from miles away. Doyle crossed his arms over his chest and subjected the animal to a repressive look.

"Bodie's right, y'know. I'll have to stop feeding you." Dropping to his heels, he stroked the silken fur, pinching the cat's ribs as his hand slid down to the floating tail. "'Sides, you old thing, you're getting fat." The cat conveyed its disagreement by way of a nip upon Doyle's wrist. "Bugger! All right, then; hang about. Give me time to open the door at least, will you?"

Inside the flat, Doyle immediately noticed the leather jacket draped over the back of the foyer chair. Banking down his immediate joy at the prospect of Bodie's company, he carefully reset the locks then started down the corridor, escorted by his black and white companion.

Alerted to Bodie's whereabouts by soft snuffling sounds emanating from the lounge, Doyle peeked over the back of the sofa, and found his partner dead asleep. Bodie must have entered the flat, divested himself of jacket, shoes, holster and gun, and promptly lain down--and probably just as promptly had crashed out.

Almost stumbling over the cat, which was assiduously insinuating itself between his ankles, Doyle put a finger to his lips and led the animal into the kitchen. From the refrigerator he took out the remains of last night's supper, which consisted of a sizable chunk of baked cod. Using it as a lure, Doyle led his visitor back to the front door. After tackling the locks once more, he waved the cat into the hallway, handed it the morsel, and sent it on its way.

Back in the lounge, he draped a rug over his partner's peaceful form, then returned to the kitchen. While preparing a light meal for himself--it looked to be several hours before Bodie would want to eat--he allowed a smug smile to lift the corners of his mouth.

It had been a very good day; in fact, the best he had experienced since the shooting. Following his spell in Records, Doyle had spent a couple of hours in the gym. Macklin had guided him through a series of stretching exercises that had got both of them thoroughly warmed up, before engaging in a rough-and-tumble work-out calculated to test his fledgling endurance. Doyle had done outstandingly well, holding his own in a contest that would have tried his abilities before his injury. Afterward, Macklin had congratulated him in his customarily unexuberant manner--tantamount in Doyle's mind to effusive accolades.

Best of all, the killing exhaustion had yet to come crashing down upon him. He was tired, certainly; but he felt good with it. Not even his chest ached as it so often did, although the doctor had warned him that he would suffer that particular annoyance for a long time, the result of his breastbone having been broken to give access to his heart during surgery.

Two and a half months ago he had feared that he might never reach this level of health and well-being again. Only Bodie had insisted that he would, never questioning Doyle's ability to bounce back. Even the lads in the Squad had dished out waffling encouragement, always quick to point out that Doyle would fare well in any endeavor, should he have to strike out and try his hand at something new.

Only Bodie.

Grinning sheepishly to himself, Doyle recalled the first bath he had taken on his own not long after his arrival at their new flat. Bodie had said nothing when Doyle had announced his intention, busying himself with chores in the kitchen while Doyle had set about his purpose with brash confidence.

Doyle had almost drowned himself, having inaccurately gauged his energy reserves after what had been a reasonably productive day--considering that less than two weeks had elapsed since his release from hospital. They had taken a slow, brief walk in Regent's Park in the morning, a drive out to Gatwick to watch the planes take off in the afternoon, and on the way home had stopped for a meal at a nearby restaurant. Nothing of cataclysmic proportions certainly--unless undertaken by someone in Doyle's compromised physical condition.

Within a few minutes of climbing into the too-warm water, Doyle had known he had made a serious mistake. At the last possible second, infuriated that he should have become so dependent on another person, he had cried out Bodie's name, sickened with shock when his voice had come out as little more more than a frail squeak. When he had roused from his faint a few minutes later, the water had been drained from the tub, he was wrapped warmly in a sweet-smelling bath-sheet, and Bodie sat behind him in a puddle, buttressing Doyle's skinny frame against his chest.

Anyone else would have murdered him, or at least castigated him roundly for days on end for his stupidity. Bodie had laughed. Then he had called Doyle a nutter, and got him to his feet and onto the floor, actually apologizing because he had been hesitant to carry Doyle somewhere more comfortable for fear of hurting him. He had not even suggested Doyle pay a visit to the doctor.

Bodie's apparent lack of concern had been a sham, of course. Not often had Doyle seen him quite so pale, nor so pinched-mouthed; nor known him to remain so intensely alert for several hours afterward. Doyle had frightened him badly, he knew, and he had vowed to himself never to do it again--not intentionally, anyway.

Having finished his dinner in a haze of introspection, Doyle was in the process of filling the kettle before realizing that he had actually reached the stage where he could calmly review the traumatic events that had at one time reduced him to abject hopelessness. It was finally beginning to look as though he would come out of all this relatively unscathed; he was, after all, alive and intact--and after stupidly leaving his second locks undone, he did not deserve to be.

Soundlessly curling up in the comfortable chair in the lounge so as not to waken Bodie, he took up his book and mug of tea, savoring this unlikely spell of contentment. Since a major source of his well-being lay in much-needed slumber only a few feet away, Doyle spent a long time just watching his partner, entranced by everything about him. He longed to replace the arm Bodie was using as a pillow with his own lap; to caress the temptingly grown-out hair; to trace the elegant outline of that pouting mouth; and to trail his fingertips over a faintly stubbled cheek.

He, an admitted lover of men, would never allow himself such liberties, however, not even in the name of friendship; for Doyle had learned long ago that the most innocent conduct could be badly misconstrued. In complete contrast, Bodie was a born toucher, his physicality giving expression to the great heart he otherwise hid so well. Punching people on the shoulder, chucking their chins, or ruffling their hair was his way of communicating his approval--painful though it sometimes could be. If Doyle came in for a disproportionate amount of it, he could not complain; he very much liked Bodie's affectionate gestures.

In fact there was little about Bodie he did not like. His arrogance, occasional bigotry, remoteness in times of personal need: These, perhaps Doyle would change if he could--but would Bodie be Bodie without them? Since they were minor failings in Doyle's opinion, he accepted them along with the rest of Bodie--all the good and all the bad. Besides, nobody had ever put up with him the way Bodie did; the least he could do was return the favor.

Just before eight o'clock, after floating nearer the surface for half an hour, Bodie finally roused. Watching from his vantage point, Doyle waited until Bodie had got his bearings before asking, "You hungry?"

"God, yes!" Bodie sat up with a huge yawn, pushing his arms up over his head and stretching them toward the ceiling. "What time is it?"

"Nearly eight," Doyle replied, rolling his own shoulders a little as he stood, only now beginning to feel the strain of the day's activities.

"Great. Just in time to go to bed so I can crawl in to work in the morning."

"Will a sandwich do?"

"Sure. Oi! You don't have to make it, Ray." Bodie seemed perplexed by Doyle's move toward the door.

"'S all right. Don't think it's quite safe for you to be in command of anything sharp just now."

"Ta, mate." Bodie scrubbed at his face with both hands. "So how was your day?"

"Which one?" Doyle called from the kitchen.

"Either. Both."

Standing at the sidebar, steadying the loaf of bread on the cutting board as he guided the knife down through the crust, Doyle marked Bodie's lumbering arrival with a sympathetic snort. "Reckon I don't need to ask how yours went."

"As you see: like hell."

"Seems ridiculous that you had to stay up all night when Winslow's an agent, too."

Bodie harumphed his agreement. "Rules, mate. Bleeding rules."

"So what time did you get out of there, then? Mac said he hoped to be back early this morning."

Doyle spooned a small amount of mustard onto one slice of bread. Piling cheese and ham slices high, he was on the third layer before noticing that Bodie had not answered. Glancing over his shoulder, he caught Bodie staring warily at him. "You okay?"

"Yeah. Trying to remember, that's all. About one, I guess. Why?"

Miming indifference, Doyle added a dab of peach chutney to the other slice of bread. "'M not keeping tabs on you, Bodie. Just wondered how much sleep you'd got."

Bodie went to the refrigerator and took out two cans of beer. "Don't mind me, eh? Guess I'm just getting too old for this game. You haven't said how your day went."

"Better than yours," Doyle replied, his good mood untrammelled. "Spent the afternoon with Macklin."

"You'll excuse my saying so, but that's hardly something to cheer about," Bodie said with a tsk of disapproval.

"I put him down!" Doyle announced gleefully. "Just like old times."

"Whose old times? You put down Macklin?" Bodie paused in the act of pouring crisps out of a packet onto the plate just handed him, giving his partner a skeptical look. "Seriously?"

"Straight up."

Bodie broke into a wide, uncomplicated grin. "That's terrific, Ray. Is he going to clear you for active duty ahead of schedule?"

"Nah." Carefully opening his can, Doyle dropped the pull-ring into the dustbin. "I asked."

"But if you're doing so well--"

"He said I was lucky today, and I might even get away with it tomorrow. But if I don't take things at the proper pace I could seriously injure myself. He isn't going to let it happen."

"Still," Bodie said reflectively, following Doyle into the lounge, "It's only two weeks. That's not very long, really."

Dropping into the chair and slumping onto his spine, Doyle looked on as his partner gingerly lowered himself to the sofa, balancing the plate piled high with sandwiches and crisps in his right hand, the can of ale in his left. "And only two more days till you're finished with Winslow. From what Lucas tells me, you should be champing at the bit to be rid of him."

"Lucas?" Bodie echoed, his voice oddly attenuated.

"Yeah. Mac tells him everything in the morning after he reports in. He seems to think Winslow is a real bastard, and he won't mind seeing the back of him."


Doyle gave his partner a hard look. "You sure you're okay? You're acting a little strange tonight."

"Told you, 'm fine." Waving one half of his sandwich imperially, he demanded, "So, what's on the box tonight; anything?"

Tossing the listings page of the newspaper onto the floor by Bodie's feet, Doyle bit back his instinct to pursue the conversation. Whatever was bothering Bodie would come out eventually--if it was important.

The sun dominated a clear, cerulean sky as Doyle drove to Whitehall the following morning. Finding a convenient space in the CI5 car-park, he switched off the engine and climbed out. After locking the door, he took a moment to inhale the summer-like air and to absorb the bolstering warmth of the day.

To Doyle's disappointment, Bodie had left for Islington an hour before dawn. Having set his alarm to go off early, Doyle had nevertheless missed his partner by mere seconds, the scratch of Bodie's key leaving the lock just as Doyle had entered the corridor from the stair.

Too awake by then to go back to sleep, Doyle had chosen to take advantage of his precipitous rising. He had dawdled in the tub for half an hour in deliciously hot water, then had rambled about making breakfast. Following a leisurely cup of tea he had dressed for the day in white cotton slacks and a beige top; then humming to himself, he had skipped down the two flights of stairs to the ground floor. Met by a spectacular morning, he had turned up the radio, adding the full volume of his strong tenor to every song he had recognized--and a few he hadn't--all the way to work.

Idly swinging his keys, he strode to the side entrance. Pausing to display his identification to the older agent who monitored the east door, he then headed for the lifts. Two floors down, he exited into Records, not even the sterile, computer-inhabited confines of the agents' sequestered units dulling his buoyant spirits.

"Mac, Lucas," he said by way of greeting, as McCabe, accompanied by his partner, emerged from one of the cubicles at the end of a row, their heads bent close together.

The two men looked up as one, their faces mirroring dismay at Doyle's sudden appearance. "You're here early, Ray," Lucas remarked.

"Am I?" He shot a glance at his watch. "Already gone 7.30."

"Already? Damn!" McCabe exclaimed. He turned to Lucas. "You'll have to tell him. Promised Sandra I'd be round by eight."

"Me?!" Lucas spluttered; but McCabe did not falter in his bolt for freedom.

As the door swung shut behind him, Doyle looked back at Lucas with total stupefaction. "What was that all about, then?"

Eyeing him uneasily, Lucas muttered, "Bodie."

Doyle froze. "He's not--"

"He's fine. Mac just switched over with him an hour ago."

"Then what--"

Clearly choosing his words with care, Lucas said evenly, "Mac caught him and Winslow going at in the safehouse yesterday afternoon."

"Going at it-- They were fighting?"

Wincing, Lucas drew in a deep breath. "Not exactly. They were kissing, actually. Snogging away like a pair of teenagers. Winslow even had his hand on Bodie's--"

"No! "

Unthinkingly, Lucas fell back a pace; the savage look on Doyle's face was alarming even to someone who dealt with savages every day. "Look, Ray, I didn't want to tell you, but Mac--"

"Neither of you is going to say anything more about this," Doyle said, his voice low and taut. "Not to Cowley, not to anyone. Do you understand, Lucas? Not one fucking wo--"

"What is going on in here?"

Lucas' face paled at the all-too-familiar Scots accent.

Features rigidly composed, Doyle said, "Nothing, sir."

"Indeed? Your nothing could be heard out to the lifts, Doyle."

Silently demanding Lucas' silence, Doyle elected not to argue Cowley's statement.

"Excuse us, Lucas, just for a moment or two," Cowley requested with unemphatic authority.

Giving Doyle an agonized look, Lucas stepped past him and darted out of the room. Very slowly Doyle pivoted round, coming face to face with George Cowley.

The Controller of CI5 stood a few feet away, several thick files held under one arm. His clear blue eyes assessingly roamed over Doyle from head to toe. "Macklin says you are doing far better than anticipated. That's good. But he also said you are pushing yourself very hard."

Not daring to hope that Cowley would restrict his comments to his improving health, Doyle gave a slight nod just to indicate that he was listening.

"I've arranged for you and Bodie to undergo full-scale training beginning a week on Tuesday. To that end I'm allowing you both the coming week to prepare--with the understanding that you will take pains not to injure yourself."

Somewhat baffled, Doyle clarified, "You won't want us to report in at all next week?"

"As I said. Since you have tomorrow off anyway, that will give you a brief spell to rest up."

"Thank you, sir," Doyle said, a little taken aback, comprehending at last that Cowley was affording him an edge he might not otherwise have had. With Bodie's help he could-- "About tonight, sir; if you can use another--"

"No, Doyle. You're not ready yet." A tilt of the head signalled the end of their interview; Cowley turned and walked back toward the door. "And Doyle--"

The lilt in Cowley's voice made the hair rise on the back of Doyle's neck. "Sir?"

"In future, try to keep the volume down when you're arguing with someone; you wouldn't want the whole building to know your--or Bodie's--private business, now would you."

Flushing brick red, Doyle could only stand and stare as Cowley left the agents' computer room.

"There's tea in the kitchen. Toast and jam, too, if you like."

Only Bodie's eyes responded; they settled on Winslow with simmering hostility.

"Blast you, Bodie, I told you I was sorry about yesterday."

Noticeably unmoved, Bodie opted to remain silent.

"I'm sorry." Winslow spread his hands wide. "Really. Did it cause you any trouble?"

"Mac didn't report me, if that's what you mean."


"Doyle would've smashed your face in if you'd tried it on with him," Bodie replied, deliberately misinterpreting Winslow's question. "And that's what I'm going to do, if you don't shut up about it, okay?"

"Right." More nettled than intimidated by Bodie's menacing demeanour, Winslow declared, "We still have to work together tonight. If we don't, it could mean Cowley's life."

"Tonight, we'll work together. Until then, find something else to occupy your tiny mind," Bodie stated coldly.

Winslow sighed. "You're an unforgiving bastard, y'know that?"

"Worse than that, I'm stupid. Should've realized you'd try your hand sooner or later."

"Don't recall your fighting very ha-- Okay, okay!" Winslow scrambled back toward the doorframe as Bodie rose, his purpose clear in smouldering indigo eyes. "Not another word," he promised shakily. "About that, anyway." He attempted a smile; it was not entirely successful. "The gear for tonight is hanging in the clothes cupboard. Whenever you want to look it over."

"Leave me alone, Con," Bodie said tonelessly. "Just leave me the fuck alone."

Bodie was a dead man.

A tidy hole appeared squarely in the forehead of the full-body silhouette. Two more ripped through the paper just above it, then two below, all perfectly spaced no more than a half inch apart. Doyle emptied the clip by drawing a line down the shadow-man's throat, finishing with a round dead center in the crotch.

"You bastard," he hissed virulently.

"Do that at fifty feet," challenged a penetrating voice from behind.

Not deigning to greet the tall blonde trainer, Doyle flipped the switch to work the pulley, sending the paper target twenty-five feet farther down the range. He popped out the spent clip and replaced it with a loaded spare. Sighting in, he then proceeded to fire rapidly, scarcely drawing breath before all eight shots had been expended.

A long, ruggedly contoured arm stretched over his head to activate the pulley. Before the silhouette had reached the outer lip of the firing point, it was discernible that Doyle had centered each shot precisely, so there remained only eight holes in the target.

"Not bad," Macklin stated. He tapped the left earmuff of Doyle's hearing protectors.

First flipping the pistol on safety and setting it on the ledge in front of him, Doyle then peeled the protectors off his head, letting them hang around his neck. "Thanks."

"What are you doing here? It's nearly five."

"Thought I'd get in a little practice," Doyle replied curtly.

"Isn't the big do tonight?"

"You know it is." Doyle removed the second magazine and began to reload it.

"Thought you'd be listening in on the RT if nothing else."

"Doesn't begin until seven."

"Right." Macklin cocked his head to one side. "I'm glad I caught you. Next week, while you and Bodie are getting ready for our fun and games, there are certain exercises I think you should take advantage of. Ought to help you overcome your weak spots."

A thread of tension snapped somewhere inside Doyle's body, leaving him tired and aching and very depressed. "Yeah, thanks, Macklin. What d'you suggest?"

Cowley's soiree went according to plan. In the darkened lounge, sprawled on the sofa with a glass of whiskey in hand, Doyle heard it all over the RT. It was unauthorized use, of course; but his partner was involved, and even though it would be noted on the dispatcher's board, Doyle doubted that a reprimand would be issued.

The IRA trigger man had turned out to be a woman--and Connor Winslow had only spotted her at the last instant before she could plunge a cyanide-treated hat-pin into George Cowley's throat. Made of plastic and embellished with a small pink fan at the grip end, it had eluded both the physical search and the metal detectors.

A statuesque woman with boldly sculpted features and a husky contralto-- and impeccable references--the woman had put up an impressive struggle before being subdued. During the fray, she had also come in contact with Winslow-- with the unfortunate complication that she had recognized him, too. To Doyle's mind, that meant they would be moving in on a certain IRA cell sooner than planned. Winslow's cover had been irretrievably broken.

Bodie, Winslow and another agent had taken a solid beating from the well- trained terrorist before their joint efforts had got the better of her. Doyle took no satisfaction in hearing that his partner had been injured--however slightly. According to Dispatch, Bodie had collected a bruised right shoulder and a scratched left hand. Only the latter had dictated preventive treatment; the woman's fingernails, while fake, could have imparted any number of pathogens. A stinging application of antiseptic would set him to rights.

Bodie would be fine.

Doyle wished he could say the same for himself. From the moment he had arrived home his emotions had see-sawed between murderous rage and plummeting despair. Trading his day clothing for a ragged, skin-tight pair of jeans and a cut-off t-shirt, he had sublimated his charged emotions in a fit of elbow- intensive cleaning. When he had finished, the kitchen floor, walls, and sink shone lustrously--yet Doyle's mood was still wildly erratic.

The image of Connor Winslow and Bodie writhing together in a passionate tangle made Doyle's stomach churn. He vacillated between plotting Bodie's demise--or Winslow's--either of which would be horribly and painfully accomplished. In the end, sitting alone in the dark, he knew he could do nothing that would hurt Bodie. And if Bodie wanted Winslow-- Well, then, there was nothing he could do.

And yet--

It was not in Doyle's nature to defer to another when he wanted something very badly. Every molecule in his body screamed out that Bodie was his, not Winslow's. How could he let anyone snatch away the most important person in his life without even a token struggle?

Doyle raised the glass to his temple, pressing its coolness against the dull ache throbbing there. Bodie would resent a tug-of-war with him as the prize. And if Doyle were to demand that he choose between them, it was entirely possible that Bodie would pick Winslow out of sheer perversity. Or preference?

Behind him came the soft click of the outer door swinging inward. A glance at the clock on the television stand told Doyle that he had been lost in his brooding thoughts for over an hour.


Doyle rose without thinking, no nearer a decision of what he should do than he had been all those hours ago, when Lucas had first broken the news to him.

"What are you doing in here with the lights off, sunshine?" Bodie asked, heedlessly switching the overhead lamp on; Doyle flinched at its brightness.

Still dressed for the posh affair, Bodie sported a black jacket and matching trousers, a ruffled, immaculate white shirt, a black silk bow-tie, and a cummerbund--none of which, improbably, had been marred by the evening's strenuous activities.

At sight of him, Doyle's insides seemed to fuse into a tightly compressed, molten mass.

"Did you hear?" Bodie asked, fingers plucking at the ends of the neatly knotted tie at his throat. "Con's terrorist hit man was a bloody woman. Damn good one, too, for that matter. You okay?"

Mutely, Doyle nodded, struck speechless by the suave sophistication unselfconsciously projected by his partner.

Stripping off his jacket, Bodie went on, "She almost had him. Con didn't recognize her, y'see. He thought she was a he. Finally realized he was looking at the same--" Bodie's voice faded to a low rumble as he went into the kitchen, the remainder of his words drowned out by the fierce tattoo of Doyle's heart banging in his ears.

Not even conscious of moving, Doyle started for the door, following Bodie into the kitchen like a missile homing in on a heat-source target. He found him reaching into the refrigerator, the black jacket hooked over his shoulder from two fingers.

"Want one?" Bodie asked, displaying a can of lager. "Ray?" At sight of Doyle resolutely stalking toward him, Bodie placed the unopened drink on the counter and rose to his full-height, nudging the appliance door shut with the toe of a perfectly polished shoe. Frowning uneasily, he asked, "What is it, Ray?"

"Don't say a word, Bodie." Doyle's voice crackled with barely suppressed aggression.

Bodie took a step backwards.

Reaching out, Doyle tugged the length of black silk from Bodie's collar. His eyes, intensely green and filled with purpose, raked over Bodie's features, stopping at the lower lip and finding it slightly swollen and notably darker than usual.

From Winslow's kisses?

Growling deep in his throat, Doyle took hold of the ruffled shirt in both hands and began to yank open the buttons, one by one.

Face wiped clean of expression, Bodie stood his ground despite Doyle's obvious intention. Long fingers grazed his skin, causing him to flinch. He shrank back then--and almost lost his balance, for the wall was farther away than he remembered.

Before Bodie could jar himself, Doyle acted smoothly to brace him with one strong arm while he guided his partner backward. Within seconds the broad shoulders came to rest against the freshly scoured, painted surface.

Shifting his right arm to lie flat against the wall beside Bodie's head, the silk bow-tie dangling from his fingers onto Bodie's hair, Doyle drove a knee between Bodie's legs and forced them apart. He pushed forward into the gap, maintaining a scant half inch distance between them, yet standing close enough so that the heat emanating from Bodie's body seemed to scorch him.

At once Doyle resumed his task of undoing the remaining buttons, lifting the shirt free of the cummerbund in order to get at the very last closure. Hissing with impatience, he peremptorily dragged the shirt away from Bodie's chest, exposing him from pale shoulder to the lowermost, smoothly-outlined rib. Feasting his eyes on Bodie's nakedness, Doyle's attention was seized by a soft sound. Thinking Bodie meant to object, Doyle lifted his head abruptly.

The expression on Bodie's face took his breath away.

Totally spellbound--and totally vulnerable--Bodie stared into Doyle's eyes. From unquestioning gaze to half-open, waiting mouth, his features bespoke stunned acceptance.

From one instant to the next, Doyle's imperative to ruthlessly stake his claim was eradicated. In its place arose the even stronger desire to vindicate that unwarranted confidence with gentleness rather than force. Bodie, who never surrendered easily, was entrusting himself completely to Doyle's will--and for that he deserved cherishing, not angry passion.

"Oh, Bodie," he whispered, and leaned forward to lay his mouth upon his partner's tender lips.

Bodie moaned. Behind him, the expensive jacket fell from limp fingers, landing on the floor with a muffled thup. His hands came up and curved round Doyle's head, fingers sinking into soft, warm curls. He moaned again, opening his mouth for Doyle's kiss, inviting his own plunder.

Crooking one thigh upward, Doyle brought their groins together, heat meeting heat. With a small gasp, Doyle deepened their kiss, savoring every aspect of Bodie's mouth from the pliant warmth of his lips to the tentative probe of his tongue. Then softly murmuring, Doyle regretfully drew away.

With terrified exhilaration, he beheld the wonder that was Bodie in his arms: The strong, perfectly proportioned body; the porcelain beauty of that singular face. His partner's coal-black lashes slowly fanned upward, rising in halting stages. Rich blue eyes looked up at him at last, glowing with anticipation and trust.

Nothing in all his jaded years could have prepared Doyle for that worshipful gaze. Brought perilously close to tears, he whispered helplessly, "God, Bodie--I love you."

Dissolving into a smile of remarkable sweetness, Bodie tipped his head back, voicelessly entreating the return of Doyle's touch.

With a tenuous smile of his own, Doyle willingly bent forward to answer Bodie's plea.

"Didn't think I was your type," Bodie remarked thoughtfully. He sat on the uncarpeted kitchen floor between Doyle's legs, his back cushioned by Doyle's bare chest. "Or were you just desperate?"

Brushing his cheek against Bodie's hair, Doyle murmured, "Could ask you the same question--except you weren't desperate, were you?"

Twisting round, Bodie rearranged himself so that they faced each other, their genitals almost touching, bent legs overlapping. Hooking a finger under Doyle's chin, Bodie asked, "Meaning?"

His shoulders twitching in a shrug, Doyle said, "Mac saw you with Winslow."

Bodie grimaced. "Christ. Mac never could keep his mouth sh--"

"Lucas told me. He's the only other one who knows. He and Mac thought I ought to have a talk with you--before Cowley could rumble the pair of you."

"It wasn't what Mac thought," Bodie protested.


An exasperated sigh burst from Bodie's lungs; the force of it ruffled the hair over Doyle's left ear. "No. Con was trying to seduce me."

"Too bad for him he was interrupted," Doyle said meanly. "Although of course you had all of today to pick up where you left off, didn't you."

"Ray." The acid tone tested Bodie's patience. "If you want to ask me something, just ask."

Chin rising challengingly, Doyle said evenly, "It's not important. Now that he's been identified, Winslow will have to be sent away. Once he's gone- -"

Bodie took Doyle's face between his hands, denying him freedom when he would have jerked away. "Listen to me, will you? Nothing happened. Not today, not yesterday. In fact, I was just getting ready to give Con the push when Mac poked his bloody head in. Two seconds later, and there wouldn't've been anything to see."

"Why not?" Doyle asked remotely. "Winslow's a good-looking bloke. And you do like him, don't you?"

"'Course I do. The same way I like a lot of fellas." Pondering how honest he should be with Doyle about this, Bodie gnawed lightly at his bottom lip. He hated that look of suspicion on Doyle's expressive face. There was nothing for it, then; only the truth would suffice. "And if I hadn't wanted you, Ray, I'd probably have gone to bed with him. As you said yourself, he is attractive."

"Then you've been thinking about--"

"Seducing you? For years, sunshine." At Doyle's start of surprise, Bodie shook his head. "Y'know, I believed you all those years ago, when you said I was the complete opposite to all you find attractive in a man."

"Didn't get the feeling it bothered you much, though." Doyle's voice betrayed no emotion at all.

"It didn't--then," Bodie admitted. "Was afraid it might ruin our partnership--and I wasn't ready yet."

"Ready for what?"

"For settling down." Draping his wrists over bony shoulders, Bodie canted his head low to one side so he could peer up into Doyle's face. He elucidated, "With you. Although, if you think about it, we already have."

"And we've only now got round to consummating things, you mean?" Doyle mused.

Bodie nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

"So what about the partnership, then?" Doyle persisted.

With total conviction, Bodie assured him, "There's nothing you and I can't handle--if we want to."

Doyle leaned forward to press a light kiss upon the bridge of Bodie's nose. "And Cowley?"

Determined that Doyle should understand without question how absolutely committed he was, Bodie said, "You tell me--whatever you want, mate."

Doyle's expression of affectionate bemusement reflected Bodie's own kaleidoscoping emotions. When his partner scooted closer, intimately bringing their bodies--and mouths--into vivid contact, Bodie closed the circle of his arms behind Doyle's neck, thereby prolonging their kiss.

"Jesus," Doyle gasped. "Instant replay."

"But not in slow motion."

"Couldn't if I wanted to, I'm afraid." He pushed up against Bodie, murmuring unintelligibly as his body responded to the heat and hardness of Bodie's growing erection.

"Ray-- Tell me what we're going to do about Cowley, you lunatic."

Doyle chuckled. Stealing another kiss and setting up a slow, inexorable rhythm between them, he said, "He has to be told. If he doesn't want us on those terms, we'll go somewhere else." He looked into Bodie's face for confirmation. Satisfied at what he found there, he carried on, "If he still wants us, we'll promise to be discreet. We'll take up separate flats again-- but only for appearance's sake. It'll be you and me--and only you and me, Bodie."

Smiling at the adamant tone that yet held a note of question, Bodie said simply, "Right." He shuddered as Doyle's hands wandered down from his neck and across the smooth expanse of his chest. "I think it's my turn, isn't it? You did all the hard work last time."

"Liked that, did you?" Doyle asked sultrily.

"Very much." Bodie bent forward to hide his face in Doyle's hair, then began to nuzzle his right earlobe. "But now I want to go to bed. Want to hold you all night long, mate."

Doyle shivered as Bodie lightly blew into his ear. "Expect Cowley'll want us to move in together before too long, don't you? It'll be less obvious than trading nights at each other's flats."

"Expect he will. I'll be sure to suggest it to him in any case."

Sniggering out loud, Doyle said, "You are in love, aren't you? Must be, if you're willing to talk to Cowley about our sleeping arrangements."

"Hm." Bodie vaguely recognized the enormity of his offer, but was too distracted by the insistent pressure of Doyle's genitals against his abdomen to be overly alarmed.

Doyle breathed, "Then say it, Bodie."

Looking deeply into wide, green eyes made dark with expectation--and a hint of uncertainty--Bodie said unhesitatingly, "I love you, Ray Doyle. "

Blinking slowly, Doyle broke into a faintly dazed smile. "Never thought you would; know how you feel about getting serious, don't I. Reckoned I'd die before we got it right."

"I wouldn't let you," Bodie said gruffly. "You remember I told you Con tried to seduce me? He really had me going, Ray, talking about how good it is with another bloke--how good it could be with you. And then he asked me 'what could be better than that?'--and I told him, 'having your partner back alive.' There's nothing better, sunshine."

Eyes gleaming with sudden moisture, Doyle whispered raggedly, "Jesus, Bodie-- I did come back, y'know. Because of you. Couldn't leave you on your own, now could I?"

"Was trusting you not to," Bodie confessed.

With a soft sigh, Doyle spread his hands wide across Bodie's back, closing him tighter within the circle of his arms until their bodies were molded together. With his head bent to one side, he fitted his mouth to Bodie's and gently began to explore him, seeking out every responsive nerve-ending with leisurely patience.

Luxuriating in Doyle's sensual expertise, Bodie happily relinquished the lead once more, marvelling that this precious, mercurial creature was finally his--and his alone. His last coherent thought, as Doyle bore him back down to the floor, was that he had been right, after all: Doyle had been more than worth the wait.

-- THE END --

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Despite the likelihood that Doyle was wounded in autumn (DISCOVERED IN A GRAVEYARD looks to have been filmed in October to me), I chose to follow Ken Baker's novelization and place the episode in the spring. No particular reason, really, except that by doing so, I avoided a lot of messy holidays that would otherwise have required incorporation into the plot.

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