Bodie tossed down the last of the single malt scotch and bent back over the papers on his desk, stretching his aching leg with an automatic gesture that bespoke the number of years he had lived with his injury.
It was an honourable wound, received in the line of duty, leading to a new line of duty. Some said that George Cowley had transferred his very soul that day in the car park, and with that the legacy of a bad leg, marking his chosen successor as Cowley himself had been marked.
Those who had been there knew the injury came from a marksman's gun, intent on stopping Bodie before he could reach Cowley, before the bomb could be disarmed, before the head of CI5 could be saved. Still, there were stories, now become larger in the ten years passing, nearly become legends--and who knew if they were true.
It was told that the Scotsman was so miserly he couldn't bear to let his soul go with a few pence of time still on the metre and so had bequeathed both leg and legacy. Yet it had been Doyle who held the man in his lap, or what was left of the man, body battered and shredded, listening to Cowley's last words and offering some kind of last rites and absolution, making a promise of his own to the dying man.
At the funeral Bodie had read poetry and Doyle the eulogy, and the next day they moved into Cowley's office as ad hoc co-controllers of CI5. Within a month it was official, and by year's end they had figured out who would have which tasks, surprising some by the division of politics and administration to Bodie, and management of the agents and their assignments to Doyle.
Through it all they kept the delicate balance of public and private, transforming a successful partnership from the streets to the office and leaving enough of it at their desks to make home a safehouse in ways beyond the normal meaning of the words.
Doyle had never figured out how Cowley knew he and Bodie were lovers--wily old bastard probably had their flat bugged--but Cowley had known, in fact for years, and what's more he had approved. "You wear each other well, lads," Cowley had told them not a month before his death after one too many lagers and yet another life-threatening experience had allowed the revelation at the local.
After Cowley's death they had learned how to count on one another in new ways, beyond the rush of exhilaration over a hard won case, beyond the instinctive motion of one moving into position to protect the other. In from the field, yet still partners. And, over the years, the sweetness of their relationship had become reflexive, maturing into an umbrella that protected them both in ways their wits and weapons never had.
Bodie looked up over his half glasses as the door connecting his office to Doyle's was pushed open and Ray breezed in, a pencil tucked over his ear, a file folder and computer disk in hand. Doyle's hair was shorter and distinctively gray at the temples, his jeans still tight enough to stop Bodie's breath, his scuffed boots adding enough lift to draw a line from calf to thigh, and higher. Bodie leaned back in his chair and tossed his own pencil onto the desk, frankly admiring his mate.
"Fancy a cuddle 4.5?" Bodie's lips tipped into a wicked grin and he raised an eyebrow in invitation.
"I'd rather know how we're supposed to train four new agents with 20,000 less pounds in the budget." Doyle tossed the computer disk onto the desk and perched on the edge, one booted leg swinging impatiently, working the muscles in his thigh.
Bodie sighed. No one knew Doyle better than he did, which meant if Doyle was fussing over the budget for Macklin's training classes, there would be no rest until the problem was resolved. Somehow when Bodie had gotten Cowley's leg, Doyle had become keeper of the man's single-minded tenacity.
"All business today are we, sunshine? Well then, let's have a look." Bodie tucked the disk into the computer and brought the budget spreadsheet up onto the screen. It had been a trick learning all the new ways of the world, but Bodie had taken to computers just as he had taken to lunch with the Home Secretary, and found neither daunting in the least.
"Hmmm." Suddenly all business himself, Bodie tapped a few keys and brought two documents up side by side. "Ahh. Here you are. All nice and tidy. Just need to make a slight adjustment and we're set."
Doyle slipped behind him and leaned forward towards the screen, using Bodie's shoulder as an armrest and then reaching out to point at two lines of figures. "So we'll just take surplus from here and shift it here. No wonder our home chequing account never balances; you're probably snugging it away in a Swiss bank account. Then again, with you it's probably a Swiss roll account." Doyle laughed at his own joke and prodded Bodie's shoulder.
"My Swiss roll days were over long ago, Raymond," Bodie advised, slapping his hand against his flat stomach. He was in great shape, maybe better in some ways than when he was an agent, despite the leg, and Doyle knew it, saw the evidence every night in bed and every morning in the shower. Both men still worked out regularly and they took Macklin's course once a year just to prove that they could.
Bodie tugged Doyle's hand to his mouth and sucked in one finger, wagging an eyebrow suggestively. "Have to stay slim and trim for you, mate."
Doyle pulled the hand away with a fond grin and ruffled his hand through Bodie's short crop of dark hair. "Sex maniac."
"You love it."
"Yeah, well right now how about we take that slim and trim figure of yours home to the flat and call it a day. I've got interviews set up non-stop tomorrow and need a lager and my beauty rest before I take on all those CI5 wannabes."
With a nod, Bodie popped the computer disk, tossed it back at his partner and tucked the laptop computer together and into its carrying case. It was more expedient to take files home this way than the thick folders they had used in Cowley's time. And these days, agents were more likely to get records and details of field assignments via scramblers on cell phones and secure channel email than in hard copy.
The great whirring central computer room of days past had become a single server in a complex network of PCs and laptops, carrying more sensitive information in one chip than the entire system could have fit in its time. Susan reigned over the department as program administrator and systems manager with an able staff of four to do her bidding, build her firewalls and create a maze of code that would baffle the best hacker. Even the phones ran through the system--everything within their own control. It was security with a capital "S", good enough to be copied by MI6, had Bodie let them, and he hadn't, though pressure was intense from the Ministry. Still it all niggled an old copper like Doyle--it was, after all, only technology, and there was no fortress impenetrable, he had told Bodie.
"Yeah," Bodie had camped. "Just look at you, lover."
But in truth, neither had been an easy tumble. Each had barriers the other had to cross, walls erected to withstand both firestorms and hacking, walls that would not be easily breached.
It was after a football match on the tube that they had their first taste of one another, dressed in dirty socks, scruffy jeans and lager-stained shirts with crumbs of Swiss rolls and Indian take-away cartons littering the coffee table at Doyle's flat.
It was cold and both were cuddled on the settee, a blanket dragged across their middles, too lazy to get up and turn on the electric heat or change the channel on the box. Both dozed with post-game lassitude, heads tipped towards one another so auburn curls twined with dark brush.
Bodie awoke and blinked in the dimming light, realising his mouth was but a few millimetres from his partner's, inhaling the sweet sour smell of stale beer and curry on Doyle's breath.
He flicked his tongue across the space and met the fullness of Doyle's lips, tasting the afternoon on his mouth. Doyle opened his eyes to the swipe of tongue and the flicker of impossibly long lashes against his cheek. There was a moment's edgy silence before Doyle tipped his tongue out and met Bodie's, twisting against it in the air, exchanging tentative touches. Then shaking hands drew to muscled arms, and fingers scraped against late day beards as lips found their way around noses to softly spread and smooth each other's mouths.
Both men came up quivering for air, faces suffused with a bit of colour that might have been the last of the sun, or something more heated than a simple ball of matter.
Doyle broke the silence, staring straight ahead as they sat side by side beneath the blanket. "Long time since that--school days."
"Good memory then."
"Did all right yourself."
Bodie shrugged. "Well enough."
"Didn't know you had the curry."
"Changed my mind last minute."
"So what do you think?"
"About the curry?" Doyle asked the question with deliberate blandness, teasing with apparent disinterest.
Whatever Bodie had planned to say in response was cut off by the sound of the r/t and then Cowley's voice calling them in to work.
Doyle pushed the last plate onto the shelf in their tidy kitchen and tossed the towel on the sideboard, his turn at KP complete. It had been a simple supper of frozen meat pies and soup, but Doyle's deft abilities with pasta and sauce aside, neither man was a gourmand and generally whatever the other fixed after their long hours in the office was welcomed and finished.
"You want a cuppa?" Kettle in hand, he called out into the next room and waited for the silence which meant Bodie had fallen asleep, or the assent which meant he was still working, at the desk or more likely on the settee, computer balanced in his lap, toes braced on the edge of the coffee table. Greeted with no reply, Doyle turned to the sink to fill the kettle for his own last cup of tea, leaning lazily against the counter while the water ran.
As he reached to turn the tap off, the warm pressure of Bodie's hands curved up his rear and back down his thighs and inseam in a sultry imitation of a frisking. Setting the kettle in the sink and bracing his hands against the counter, Doyle spread his legs--ostensibly for balance--but for access as well. Bodie's hands met at the front of Doyle's jeans, thumbed open the button, started on the zip and then stopped. Warm lips nuzzled Doyle's neck, a tongue sliding along the nape beneath his hair. His braced arms shook, just a little.
With a groan, Doyle turned into Bodie's embrace and tugged open the tie on Bodie's robe. Bodie had showered earlier and was clean and naked beneath the robe save for a very brief pair of pants that were indecent both in what they showed and how they promoted those wares. It was nothing if not a premeditated tease, an obvious attempt at seduction.
Doyle conceded the point with a slow, appreciative nod and a quick flick of his tongue across his lips, a gesture that made Bodie smile and tip his own tongue in and out of his mouth, just once.
Grasping Bodie's hand, Doyle led it back down to his jeans to finish the job on the zip. He had his own tease waiting and Bodie's busy hands found out quickly that Doyle had on nothing beneath his jeans save for an invitation. Bodie's voice was sandpaper soft as he whispered against Doyle's ear: "'s been nearly twenty years and I still can't get enough of you, mate."
Doyle raced up the stairs to his flat and grabbed the phone, panting into the receiver. "Doyle."
"Obscene phone calls, Raymond? Shame, shame." Bodie's voice teased across the line.
Pulling a face, Doyle shifted his bag of groceries onto the kitchen counter and tucked the phone between ear and shoulder as he began to unload the perishables. "Very funny, Bodie."
"Look, I'm at a pay phone about twelve blocks down. My car just gave it up and they're not going to give it a tow until tomorrow. How about coming round and giving me a lift home?"
"What, no buses out that way?"
"Don't have the exact change."
Doyle folded up his grocery bag and tucked it away in the cupboard, leaning back on the counter to enjoy the phone romp with Bodie. "Maybe you could hike up your pants leg and hitch a ride."
"Too much class for this neighbourhood."
"I doubt that," Doyle snorted.
"Look, I'll buy you a pint--how's that for fair?"
"Your turn anyway."
Bodie drew in his breath. "Guess I'll have to figure out some other way to make it worth your while then, won't I?"
"Guess you will."
"Make it two pints and I'll give you a lift in come morning as well."
"You're a cheap date."
"Yeah, well I may be cheap, but I'm not easy. Remember that."
Cowley, Macklin and some of the other lads were at the local when Bodie and Doyle arrived, Bodie tapping ratta-tat-tat on Doyle's worn leather jacket as he pushed his partner ahead into the pub.
Cowley looked up from his conversation with Macklin and caught the off-duty grins of his number one team as they scuffed around a near table to bother their co-workers and then headed for the bar. They nodded to Cowley in passing, but didn't stop.
Bodie had his hand on Doyle's shoulder, Doyle his fingers on Bodie's arm as they dropped onto the barstools and discussed the daily selections, flirting outrageously with the barmaid. Both were in high spirits--a full show on, amusing one another with their antics--bantering more with each other than the lass behind the bar, an exclusive performance for an audience of two. Oh there was nothing offensive or overt about it, but it was seductive somehow, perhaps because neither realised what was about, what they were on the verge of, how they played with and against each other and what a picture they made.
Offering the other a salute and cheers, they drew into their pints and came up with moustached lips, like cream from the top of the milk. Bodie licked his mouth clean and then mimed the cleaning to Doyle, tongue tipping around his lips, once round, then twice. Doyle swiped with tongue and shirtsleeve, missed a spot and let Bodie thumb it away. If the thumb lingered just a moment too long, it was just that, a moment, not a second more, not long enough for anyone but someone who had been really watching to notice. Cowley had been watching. Cowley did notice.
Macklin followed his gaze and raised an eyebrow, then shrugged. Nothing he hadn't seen in the pair before during his training sessions with the team--it was amazing what tension, exhaustion and a bit of real pain would bring out in a man. Something akin to envy lit in Macklin's eyes and then as quickly faded. Just because it was there didn't mean they would find it. And it didn't make the road any easier if they did.
A few sips into their pints the patter slowed and the two began to look for conquests in the crowded room. As if by some mutual decision, they headed unerringly for likely pair near the back and coaxed them up for a game of darts at the new electronic board. As a means to cop a cuddle Bodie slyly initiated dart-throwing lessons while Doyle kibitzed along the side, offering a running commentary on Bodie's style. In the end the girls got bored with the game and neither Bodie nor Doyle seemed to have the heart or interest to pursue them, instead consoling themselves in another brew.
They stayed at the small back table after the girls had left them, thighs touching in the close quarters, heads bowed together to hear over the noise of the pinball machines in the rear room. After a final lager, they at last rose, a bit unsteady and probably just on the verge of official intoxication. Bodie gripped Doyle's arm for support after the wet floor nearly took him for a ride and they left hand in arm, saluting Cowley and their co-workers and humming the tune on the jukebox.
Cowley watched their backs until the door shut and opened with new patrons and then returned his attention to his scotch, nursing it as he had nursed his top team's partnership these past two years, and as he would nurse their path to his job one future day.
Doyle woke to the dim buzz of the alarm and the bellowing of Bodie in the shower, his voice carrying into the bedroom above the noise of the water. His leg must be better today, Doyle thought. Good days and bad. He was singing God Save the Queen and was on the second verse. Doyle could picture him vigorously soaping and rinsing in time to the tune and he laughed aloud. Some might have been annoyed for such a morning wake-up, but to Doyle the sound of his partner's voice meant all was right with the world for at least another sunrise.
Poking barely his nose out from beneath the duvet, he tested the air and sighed with pleasure. Bodie had turned on the heat and the room was warm. Kicking the covers aside, Doyle walked naked into the bathroom and relieved the persistent pressure on his bladder. A cold, wet hand snaked out from the shower, but he deflected it from habit and reflex and heard Bodie snicker mid-song.
"Almost got you."
"Horseshoes and atom bombs," Doyle reminded him, snagging a robe from the hook by the door.
The water turned off and Bodie's head appeared around the shower curtain. "Well you're a bombshell, sunshine--doesn't that count?"
Doyle snorted and dropped a towel into the waiting hand. "I'm gray at the edges, have a mashed face and can't get it up more than once a night anymore."
Bodie sighed and shook his head. "s'truth. But then I dunno what I'd do with more than once a night myself. And I can't even shave without my spectacles." He wiped the fogged reading glasses on his towel and then wrapped himself in a robe identical to Doyle's. "Do you think fairies become queers when they get older?" he wondered as he got out his shaving gear.
Doyle was busy finding a dry towel for his own shower and then adjusting the water as he stepped into the tub. "Queens, I think. Queers is the first stage. Then fairies, then queens." His disembodied voice came from behind the vinyl curtain.
"Ta. I'll look forward to it. So when's your first interview?" Bodie peered over his glasses and drew the razor across his cheek.
"Eight am. Murphy vetted this group so it should be decent enough. And I've been through their records once myself."
"We could use some who're good with a chopper."
"It's on my list."
Doyle poked his head around the curtain. His hair was soapy and he squinted to see. "What?"
"Was supposed to stop by the computer lab before I left yesterday."
"Bugger! I thought you cut your throat shaving," Doyle exclaimed in disgust as he dove back under the water.
"Can arrange it if you're disappointed."
"May do it myself if I don't get this soap out of my eyes. So what's on in the lab? Susan got some new tricks?"
"More like worried about some. She's still not happy about having the agents on email and wanted to show me something."
"So look today."
"Can't--meeting with MI6 and the Minister today--big pressure-up for more funding. Trying to get Macklin that new facility."
Doyle stepped out from the shower and grabbed up his towel, drying himself as Bodie watched surreptitiously in the mirror.
"Strain your neck doing that," Doyle commented, slinging the wet towel atop Bodie's head and shrugging into his bathrobe. "And voyeurism is illegal."
"Ugh." Bodie slapped the towel to the floor and went back to his shaving. "Voyeurism? With that show you put on getting out of the shower, I could claim self-defence of hypnosis or something. Anyway, could you do me a favour and drop by the lab and see what Susan is about?"
Doyle held up four fingers. "Four interviews, Bodie. Can you count these? And I have a field test of the new automatics with Macklin when I'm done there. I'll be working while you're off prancing with the ministers, drinking port and 'yessirring' to them."
Bodie wiped the last bit of shaving cream from around his ears and turned to Doyle. "Raymond, my son, some of us are just born to greatness."
"Well, better you than me, I suppose. If I miss lunch I can see to Susan. Make you happy?"
Bodie grabbed hold of the ties to Doyle's robe and drew him closer. "You make me happy, sunshine--no one and nothing else, but you. Twenty years and you're still what makes me want to get up every morning."
Doyle stroked his fingers through Bodie's soft, shorn locks, rounding his ears. "You're the love of my life, Bodie. Never would have guessed it that first time we snogged or tumbled into bed, but it's so." He tugged on the collar of Bodie's robe and turned him round so they could see their reflections in the full-length mirror behind the door.
Bodie raised an eyebrow. "Not bad for a couple of fairies. Almost look respectable."
Doyle nodded. "We'll do."
It had been a long week on stakeout and their duty shift wasn't over yet. Doyle shagged a hand through his unruly curls and tried to focus on what Cowley was saying. New assignment--the protection of a newly minted ambassador with newly acquired enemies visiting his newly gained allies in London. It was a one-day meeting--in and out--and then they were off duty.
Doyle gravitated toward the window and lounged against the frame. Bodie was asking questions--all business today, his way of coping with exhaustion. Doyle would read the files in the motor on the way to the airport, but he was listening all the same, and watching. Watching Bodie was a habit, always know where he was, where he might move to, looking for signals and signs.
They had spent the past three weeks virtually apart. First they were busy with a money laundering case and after that Bodie had been loaned to the home office to help with some training. Then came the week on stakeout--Bodie in the car, Doyle in a treehouse overlooking the back of the suspect's house. It had all come up empty when the suspect turned up in the canal.
They had idled the stakeout time on their r/t's, trading bawdy jokes, playing a few rounds of best pub, best takeaway, best brand of lager until they ran out of subjects. Nights they kept each other awake telling ghost stories--Doyle turned out to be a master storyteller and twice Bodie actually rolled up the window and locked the door to his car, shivering.
Now, new assignment in hand, they headed out to the airport, Bodie behind the wheel, Doyle slouched down reading the reports.
"Um, Bodie--did you read any of this yet?"
"No time. We just got it didn't we. So what's in it?"
"Our friend here seems to have a friend of his own."
"Get to the point, Ray."
"A boyfriend. And he's coming in with him."
"Oh great. So now we're guarding fairies. Should have put on my pink shirt." Bodie leaned across and tried to peer into the files, but Doyle turned them aside, shifting in his seat.
"Says they've been together for twenty-five years." Doyle looked up over the file folder. "Most folks are hardly together twenty-five days anymore."
"Long time, then."
"Yeah, it is. Wonder if they started out snogging on the settee?"
Bodie raised an eyebrow. "We were half asleep. After-nap glow. Hardly the same thing, sunshine."
Doyle snorted laughter. "Oh you glowed all right, mate--tips of your toes to...."
"Fine. I glowed," Bodie said evenly. "I think I'm allowed a bit of glowing now and then. And it was your tongue twisting in the air, too, remember."
"Oh right--and who started it?"
"I just happened to wake up first."
"And leaned over and snogged the first thing you saw, I suppose?"
"Reflexes. My subconscious thought you were a bird."
"Thanks loads, mate."
"It's not like we took a tumble or anything, now is it? So there's nothing to worry about then, is there? Just one snog isn't going to give us wings."
With a quirk of his lips, Doyle leaned over and touched his fingers to Bodie's shoulder, examining the area. "Bloody hell," he exclaimed, drawing back suddenly as if in a panic, eyes wide, eyebrow raised.
"What?" Bodie twisted in the car seat trying to see.
"I thought I saw the touch of fairy wings starting to sprout. Just a bit of lint though."
As Doyle cackled, Bodie thwacked him in the arm. "Very funny. Ha-ha. Next time I get the gun out, Raymond."
Doyle laughed all the way to the airport.
The computer room was quiet save for the humming of equipment. The staff was at lunch and Susan sat with long legs up on her desk, thumbing through a technical journal and working on the salad that was her lunch. She still wore skirts, though not nearly as short, and the heels had given way to practical flats. Doyle ran an appreciative finger up her stockinged leg.
"Stop it or loose it, 4.5," Susan advised, not even bothering to peer over her magazine. Her hair was cropped short now, gray in with the blond, and a wedding ring and diamond set flashed on her finger.
"How'd you know it was me?" Doyle dropped into the chair beside her desk and nicked a roll from her lunch.
"Simple." She set her feet on the floor and sat forward, putting the magazine aside and rescuing her roll from Doyle's fingers. Then she tugged on the ID card he had clipped to his sweater. "You had to use your ident to get in here. My terminal alerted me that a security pass had been activated. I looked up at the screen, saw your ID number and there you are."
"Efficient. So that's how you keep track of everyone. Just watch the tracers. Don't you feel a bit like a prowler doing that?"
"Hmm. Can even tell when they snuggle right up next to each other."
Doyle raised an eyebrow. "I'll have to remember that."
Doyle plucked a cucumber from her salad and munched. "Bodie said you had some problems with the email system."
"No problems. I just don't like the idea of all that linking through to our system, so I set up a new firewall. The only caution is that it's slowed down response time a bit, but I thought it was worth it for the added security." She swivelled her computer terminal so Doyle could see the screen and then tapped in a series of commands. A grid and flow chart appeared on the display and she pointed to various parts of the diagram as she explained. "What I have set up is an internal PC line linking up, or a laptop modem dialling in, both going to our server PC which serves as a gateway to one LAN which then connects to another LAN."
"Local area network."
"Really a wide area network using LANs, but close enough. Each step you have to give the right password. The real problem is being able to change the password often enough--it should be every day. So I've added a random generator to set up the new codes."
"So what if I'm in the field on my laptop--how do I get the new code and how do I get in?"
"You don't get the code. We use a callback system. You call me on the scrambler line, tell me you need in and hang up. I open the door for you and call you back to link up--and I trace the call. You never get past the first LAN anyway. It does computer-talk to the second one on a completely separate line and that's where the files are stored."
Doyle filched a slice of tomato. "You're comfortable with it?"
"I am. I have control over who is in and out and what they can access--that's the key. I just wanted Bodie to see how it worked and that it might be a bit slower for data retrieval."
"Well I'll tell him what you've told me, but I think he should come see it for himself."
"Which is why I asked him down--he's brains, you're brawn."
That brought a laugh from Doyle. "Who'd have thought, eh? Big, bad Bodie the desk man, while the golly Doyle works the agents."
"It's not quite that bad," Susan chuckled with a shake of her head. And then her expression grew serious and a bit wistful. "You're a good team, Ray. I mean, my marriage is great and everything, but you and Bodie, you have something special, some kind of connection most of us can't imagine. Makes us all a bit envious, but it's nice to be around, too. Always has been, right from the start, even when everyone else saw it and you two didn't."
Doyle chuckled ruefully. "That slow about it were we?"
"Well we had a lot to learn."
The honourable Ambassador Sheik Ali Abdul was nothing like Bodie expected. Tall and broad, a sprinkle of gray salting his dark hair, his manner was open and friendly, his smile genuine, his hands callused, his handshake firm. He was what Bodie would term a man's man, not remotely feminine.
His partner, Romesh Hamda, was no less masculine, a bit grayer, just as forthright as his lover and had a dazzling smile that charmed both women and men. Both were clearly at ease in the western world, wore western dress and had obviously been educated in Britain. If not for the slight nuances of language and speech pattern, they might have been any foreign office officials on their way in from a trip abroad.
As to their relationship, careful observation might reveal a softening of the eyes when one looked at the other, the touch of a hand to the small of the back of one followed the other down the hallway to the waiting limo, but nothing beyond the limits of propriety and taste.
Jackson was driving the roller, so Bodie and Doyle climbed in back with their charges, securing doors and windows and making sure everyone was settled before they headed off to the meeting site.
Their passengers were chatty and Bodie discovered that he and Romesh had a football club in common from Hamada's days at Cambridge when he had learned to appreciate the British teams and even play himself. Romy had broken his collarbone and ankle in a particularly rough pick-up game and still followed his favourite team through the London papers delivered at home. He and Bodie had both lost bets on the last game, agreed that the referees were worthless, and made a wager for the next match.
Doyle listened to the by-play, watching his partner with a bemused and affectionate grin that made Ali cock an eyebrow in familiar recognition. It was the same look he had seen in Romy's eyes, still saw in them. Two more fools in love, he thought, calling up a wry smile. And he wondered if it would take Bodie and Doyle as long as it had taken he and Romy to figure it all out, wishing them blessings and good fortune that they might have many happy years together once they did get it straight.
Bodie threw his jacket across the table and dropped his briefcase and computer case next to the settee. He should have walked one item up to the bedroom clothespress and taken the others to the office he and Ray shared in their two-story townhouse, but mostly he wanted a drink.
Loosening his tie as he collected a bottle of scotch and a clean glass from the cupboard, Bodie poured himself two fingers' worth and leaned against the counter to drink it. The first sip felt fiery hot and he sucked in through his teeth before he took the next, closing his eyes as it went down. Better. Much better.
It was his turn to cook and Ray had called on the cell phone to tell him he was on his way. Bodie felt most like bangers and mash--some good comfort food, but he nagged himself about conditioning and brought out rice and chicken instead. Dumping chicken breasts, wild rice and some questionable carrot fingers into a pan, he added water, covered it with tinfoil and stuck it in the oven. So there was dinner.
Ray's key in the lock signalled his homecoming and Bodie found and poured a second glass and walked it into the lounge just as Doyle came down the short hallway. He handed the glass to Doyle, leaned in for a kiss and shared some of the scotch from his lips.
Doyle accepted the kiss and the glass and slid his hand down Bodie's rear, proprietarily cupping. "Started before me. Bad then?"
Bodie shrugged and retrieved an envelope from his briefcase, tossing it at Doyle who caught it neatly one-handed.
"Take a look."
Setting his glass down on the table, Doyle thumbed open the fastener and pulled out several sheets of stapled documents. He glanced through them, quickly scanning the information and then looked back up at his partner.
"Jesus, Bodie. You got the new training centre for Macklin. Near to half a million pounds."
Bodie nodded, sucking down the rest of his scotch. "State of the art--nothing but the best for CI5."
There was a hint of outrage in his voice and Doyle knew it had been a hard fought battle. They had been trying for two years to get approval for a modern facility, but had been so far unsuccessful. As time passed, it seemed clearer that CI5 might not survive without it.
Doyle met Bodie's challenging gaze. "So what'd it cost you? Kept your soul, I hope?"
"Not sure yet. Had to give up on the computer business--let MI6 network with our system."
Bodie exploded. "Well what the hell did you expect me to do, Ray? We can't keep sending agents out there who haven't even seen the kind of weapons and sophisticated systems the bad guys are using now days. We might as well put guns to their heads and take them out ourselves. How about your interviews today? What'd you have--maybe one fool who's idealistic enough to take on the world with a crowbar? You're the bloody one who told me we couldn't get good recruits. You and Macklin have been pounding me about this for months. Well now I got it for you--if you don't like how, that's too damned bad."
Doyle looked down at the floor and then up again, taking a deep breath. His voice was even when he spoke. "I'm not the fucking Ministry, Bodie. Don't wipe the floor with me." Tossing the papers onto the table, Doyle headed into the kitchen, returning a moment later with the bottle of scotch. "Need another?"
Bodie eyed the bottle and then shook his head, sighing, all the fight draining out of him. "Need to take you to bed, have you give me a cuddle and tell me it will be all right. I don't like the feel of this business with MI6, never did. Not much choice, though. Made me an offer I couldn't refuse with the training centre."
Setting the bottle down on top of the discarded papers, Doyle took Bodie's shoulders and steered him toward the steps. "Upstairs, then, sunshine. We'll get you a bath first, have a bit of a wank and then you can cry on my shoulder."
Bodie rolled his eyes, but headed up the steps. "Romantic sod. Always know how to make me feel better."
They were all right until they pulled out of the drive after the meeting--that was when they picked up the tail. Back- up was blocked off by a too-conveniently placed lorry and they were suddenly alone with whatever menace wanted the Ambassador.
Jackson hit the gas pedal on the roller while Bodie climbed into the front seat next to him, angrily demanding assistance on the r/t. Doyle stayed in the back, giving rapid-fire instructions to Ali and Romesh.
"Heads down. All the way. Lay flat on the seat. Do it now!"
It was so fluid it nearly seemed choreographed. There was no dialogue exchanged between the partners, they simply reacted like two parts of one whole, anticipation and expectation stringing between them like an invisible wire. Tension was heavy in the car, but not apprehension. They were two purebreds suddenly put in the starting block, flanks gleaming and heads raised.
Doyle was crouched on the floor between the Ambassador and his mate, his gun drawn and the safety off. He checked both men, pushed down on Ali and then thumbed the darkened window open.
A shot cracked through the car, striking the opposite window and blowing out the glass. Lucky shot, but so much for bulletproof windows--apparently the term applied only to incoming shots. Doyle ducked and then rose, squeezing off one shot at the car which had dragged back a bit to hug their rear panel.
Jackson fought for control of the roller as their pursuers began to bump them hard. The large vehicle wasn't easy to handle on the narrow streets and it swerved and bounced on the road.
Raising one eyebrow at Bodie and catching his assenting nod, Doyle hauled himself half out of his window and took careful aim while 3.7 came in beneath him from the front seat and pulsed his weapon at the car. Doyle's fingers tightened and his gun flashed, but the shot went wide when Jackson bounced them hard against the curb.
"Bloody hell!" Doyle slammed against the opposite door and blood began to run from a cut on his forehead. He swiped at it and scrambled to his knees while Bodie grabbed the wheel and pulled Jackson out from under it, sliding over in his place, his foot pumping the accelerator. He glanced back once--at the pursing car, at Doyle, whose face was ashen from the blow--and then pressed the pedal to the floor.
"Hold on, gents--we're going 'round."
With a hard jerk of the wheel he did a 180 with the roller, forcing their pursuers up onto the yard of a row of flats and nearly losing control of the heavy motor himself. They made it, though, and raced down the streets back in the opposite direction. Still, the other car wasn't damaged so it wouldn't be long until they were after them. The roller was way too obvious, making them a standout target, even in traffic. After a quick look about, Bodie pulled into a surface car park and found a slot between a van and a delivery truck. An empty taxi was sitting nearby, waiting for its next fare, motor running, the driver off finding a cuppa or phone or facilities.
Without a word Doyle was out the door of the limo and into the waiting motor. Before the roller had even come to a complete stop, he had his foot on the accelerator, rear mirror adjusted and arm stretched across the seat as he neatly backed up. With Jackson to watch the street they efficiently transferred their passengers, set the CI5 man back into the roller and on the road, and were off down a side street in less than five minutes. Macklin might even have praised them for the speed of the drill, so perfectly orchestrated as to seem like a daily event, yet nothing but a few glances had been exchanged between the partners, and even now both knew instinctively where they would be safe.
Bodie leaned back into Doyle's embrace, sighing as Doyle smoothed the soapy flannel down his partner's chest, water running in warm rivulets across loosening muscles. They had ended up in the tub together after a bit of groping and wrestling while the bath water ran. Now Bodie was stretched between Doyle's thighs, his back against his lover's chest, while Doyle stroked with soft, slow motions.
"Mmm." Bodie shifted his legs a bit, resting his arms on the edge of the tub. "Lovely. You should think about a second career as a geisha."
Doyle snorted softly. "All that white paint is bad for the complexion. How's the leg?"
"Too much sitting."
"Too much bending over is more like it."
"Don't start, Ray. Don't need my conscience wagging at me tonight. It was the right decision. It has to be."
Doyle skimmed his hands down Bodie's arms and dropped a kiss at the top of his spine, and then another next to that. "It's you I'm worried about, mate, not the decision. The decision was the right one. I just don't want to see the department screwing you over."
"Jealous are we? Want that job all to yourself?" With a smirk, Bodie captured one of Doyle's hands, drawing it to his mouth. Deliberately he kissed the knuckles, one by one, his lips grazing the surfaces. He had always liked Doyle's hands, gentle, strong, a bit nicked up from the job, but that only showed he earned his keep. Bodie pulled one finger into his mouth, tasting the soap and the sweat from them both, slowly sucking it, teasing his tongue around the fingernail, lapping its length. His eyes closed and he added another finger, laving them while Doyle's face pressed against his back. Bodie could feel Doyle's heart beating and his breath hot on his neck.
Bodie's erection strained for release and he slid his hand down to it, finding Doyle's there to join him, twining fingers together, one hand atop the other making one touch, one pulse, moving in tandem. It was exquisite, Doyle's hand guiding him, his own applying pressure and pause. He bent his legs and bucked, crying out and then sank slowly back against his lover. Doyle wrapped his arms around Bodie, lips at his ear, nuzzling and comforting while the quivering subsided and the tension drained away.
Bodie groaned in relief and gratitude. It amazed him still, every day--that this man gave him so much security, so much peace, so much joy. He turned his face to Doyle's. "Must have done one thing right in this life," he whispered.
"How's that, lover?"
"Got you as the prize, didn't I?"
The air was stuffy in the carriage house. They hadn't used it in a long time. Hadn't even been there except to check up on it occasionally, put some fresh tea in, run the water, test the loo. It wasn't bad quarters, actually--a lounge with decent furnishings, working facilities, a small kitchen--all of it above the garage below, accessed only by the set of steps they had come up and secured. The taxi was tucked in a nearby shed and they would be safe here until pick-up could be arranged--only Cowley knew about the place and he would never give them up.
Doyle checked in on the r/t and decided with Cowley that they would wait for the cover of darkness, just in case, just to be sure. A motor would be delivered to the garage below and the lads would recover it and return their guests to the airport and waiting jet. For now they would just keep cool and bide their time.
With a final grunt of assent to Cowley, Doyle thumbed off the r/t and glanced over at Bodie who was playing mother with the teakettle. "All right with you, then?"
"Yeah, okay. Better after dark for a trip through town."
"Thought so, too." Doyle touched his fingers to his forehead and they came away sticky. He grimaced and soaked a towel, pressing it to the cut.
Leaving the tea for a moment, Bodie pulled the cloth aside and checked out the injury, fingers gently probing the livid, swollen skin. Unseen by Doyle, a flicker of tender concern flared in Bodie's eyes, then was as quickly hidden, his casual demeanour back in place. "You'll live," he pronounced. "May not play the piano again, though."
Doyle pushed the hand away and then tossed the towel. "Yeah, well next time you drive, Jackson liked to have killed me. You'd think the damn berk was never behind the wheel of a roller before."
"Gives you cause to be thankful for me," Bodie advised solemnly, handing a cup to Romesh and then one across to Ali.
The Ambassador accepted the tea, settling back against the seat of the settee, dark eyes turned up to Bodie and Doyle. "I have watched you both through this. Watched how you count on one another, take care of one another...."
Bodie dropped into an overstuffed chair that gave him a good view of the rear yard. It was quiet. "Not much choice. Have to trust your partner in this business. Look after him, too."
Doyle nodded his agreement, adding sugar to his own tea, stirring slowly and setting the spoon on the counter.
Ali shook his head and wagged a finger. "Trust is one thing, implicit faith is another. You believe he will be where he is supposed to be and do what he is supposed to do. There is no doubt. He is an extension of you and you of he. It is a commitment beyond most marriages."
Bodie exchanged an uncomfortable look with Doyle. He felt frankly uneasy with this line of discussion. "We work well together. We're partners. That's all."
Ali raised an eyebrow and then shrugged. These two would figure it out or not. Sand and sun were both blinding to the eye and these men faced both. He glanced around. "So what is this place?"
"Safehouse of a sorts. Old carriage house that got missed when a row of flats replaced a town house."
"And are we safe here?" Romesh asked the question, frankly appraising both protectors.
Bodie met the man's gaze squarely, then resumed his study of the rear yard. Doyle shrugged, glancing out the window nearest his chair, checking the front. "Should be safe. Always has been. If it's not, we'll find out soon enough."
"It might help if we knew who was after you." Bodie got up and dug around the small kitchen, scouting up a tin of biscuits and pulling out a couple for himself before he passed the container on.
"My best guess?" Ali set his cup aside to accept the tin.
"Someone who has an interest in an oil."
"Well that counts in the whole free world, doesn't it?" Doyle snorted with disgust, waving off the sweets. "Could we narrow it down to a continent perhaps?"
"My government has made a very generous offer to yours--an offer which would allow for a considerable reduction in petrol costs to your country."
"In exchange for?" Bodie asked, back at his post at the window.
Doyle exploded from his seat and paced to the kitchen and back. "Christ--you mean troops. Are looking to start a war?"
"To avoid one," Romesh said quietly. "We are also making the areas around our oil fields available as a training facility for your forces."
Ali leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees. "You should not underestimate the power of oil, gentlemen. If our fields are not kept secure, if production is stopped for just eight days, you will see lines at your petrol pumps and brownouts of your electrical services. Prices will soar and industry will be unable to purchase fuels to produce their goods or to sell them at a competitive rate. Oil is a commodity vital to the world and it requires protection. Your government realises its value. Unfortunately, some of our sister countries do not agree with our desire to reduce our prices."
"I'll bet." Doyle laughed bitterly. "Might just loose a penny."
"This decision may well represent a loss of several billion pounds to the other oil producers," Romesh revealed.
Bodie whistled softly. "Well aren't you the mavericks."
"A bit dangerous wasn't it? To deliver the offer in person?" Doyle circled around Romesh and then peered out the window. The conversation was making him edgy.
Ali shrugged. "Perhaps. Yet this is a dangerous profession you have chosen--risking your life for men you don't even know."
"Yeah, well we passed the nutter test and so here we are," Bodie said brightly.
"Your commitment shows you have faith and believe in a future," Ali persisted.
Doyle shook his head wearily. "All I want's a pint and a kip in my future."
"So why us--why Great Britain? Why not the grand old US of A?" Bodie wondered.
Romesh settled back against his cushioned chair. "Have you ever had another partner, Mr Bodie?"
"None I could stand until Doyle. Don't know as I can stand him, yet. Only been two years. Still have him on a trial basis. Might just decide to send him back."
Doyle pulled a face. "Thanks a lot."
"What you are really saying is that you had no partners you trusted before Mr. Doyle, isn't it?" Romesh continued, raising a questioning brow.
"Something like that."
"Yet you do trust him."
"Course I do."
"You know he will be at your back when you need protection, at your side when you need advice, and will step aside when you can handle things on your own."
"I suppose so."
"You're suited--evenly matched, respect one another, complement each other's strengths and weaknesses, have goals that blend."
"So what's the point?"
Ali picked up the flow. "The point, Mr. Bodie, is that partnerships, no matter the reason, are all very much alike--political, economic, personal--but it's important to find the right partner, someone who needs what you have as much as you need what they have, and someone who will respect your autonomy. That's why my country selected yours. That's why yours agreed."
"Bride and groom--ta. So there's someone out there standing up at the wedding saying they have a cause why you shouldn't be united in happy bliss. Don't like how you're turning away their nickel."
"Precisely." Ali nodded.
"Sounds like they won't give up easy, then," Doyle interjected, refilling the teakettle and plugging it back into the wall socket.
"No. I don't expect so." Ali's face was sober.
"Do you think much of dying?" Doyle wondered.
"Can't afford to think about it. Might just chuck it all."
"And you feel the same, Mr. Bodie?"
"Don't much relish the idea. 'spect I'd give it a nasty battle."
"So do I intend. So do my people intend." Ali rubbed the back of his neck, opening and shutting his eyes and then slowly opening them again. The strain of the day was catching up with him. Exhaustion was evident in his face and Romy reached over and rested a hand on his lover's knee. "Tired?"
Ali covered Romy's hand with his own and smiled, his eyes warm with affection. "Fine."
Romesh gave his partner's fingers a quick, reassuring squeeze and then slipped his hand away. It a simple, inoffensive gesture that bespoke years of love and trust and genuine concern.
Doyle glanced up from the corner of his eye and found Bodie, looking at him as well. Then both men looked away, a bit embarrassed, a bit unnerved, a bit stunned perhaps by what they had seen in each other's clear gaze, by the intensity and affection, by the fact it was mutual, by the fact both had allowed it to surface, even for a moment.
Bodie pushed one last carrot onto his fork and popped it in his mouth. Dinner had been a bit overcooked, but was edible, and it wasn't the first time a meal had been delayed by a romp or cuddle. Sex with the other was something neither man had tired of--not that they didn't have days where exhaustion or stress caught up with them, but time in the other's arms meant decompression, security and a reminder of what life was all about, what they were doing their jobs for, willing to die for. Perspective. Their relationship gave them perspective.
"So what was all the fuss with Susan, then?" Bodie wondered, gathering up the plates and silver and heading into the kitchen for wash-up. "Never did tell me."
Doyle followed, glasses and napkins in hand. "Did you know she could track us by our ident cards?"
"Didn't think about it, I suppose." Then Bodie raised an eyebrow, catching the point.
"Cheers," Doyle said a bit sourly.
Bodie scraped the plates and the last bit from the pan into the waste bin. "Well hell, Raymond, it's not exactly a secret. I mean if they can't figure it out after all these years, they're too dim to be in our lot anyway. And they don't know we're snogging--might be having some deep meeting."
This brought a chuckle. "Deep is right--your tongue so far down my throat I'm near to swallowing it."
"Good swallower you are too, pet," Bodie camped. Then tossing the dishcloth aside, he grabbed up Doyle and met his mouth in a fierce kiss, one that was returned with equal passion as hands reached to flanks and eyes flickered closed.
Stepping back from the embrace, Doyle grinned and scruffed a hand through Bodie's hair. "Not too bad a swallower yourself, sunshine."
Bodie's tongue rounded his lips. "Always liked the taste of you, Ray."
"Yeah, well you showed that upstairs, didn't you? Now head on with your dishes and I'll tell you about Susan's new system--firewall, she called it."
"Right." Doyle settled himself on a stool near the counter and grabbed up the tea towel to help with drying. "Can't get in without the password and that changes every day. Field agents have to ring in on the scrambler and then hang up and she calls back and makes the connection. Everything's traced and the main computer is on its own line--only talks via the other computer. Only problem, she says, is that it slows down file access a bit. That was the part she wanted you to know about."
Bodie set the glasses into the drainer. "I think we can live with that."
"I don't want to be there when you tell her she's going to have to link up with MI6. She's not happy about all the outside calls now. What's the new program going to mean? You're not letting them into our files?"
Bodie was silent.
"Christ, Bodie--you're giving them full access?"
"That was the deal, Ray. Mutual access. One secure line. What in the hell do you think network means, anyway?"
"So what happens if we're on some case where one of their agents is involved. It wouldn't be the first time one of their boys has gone bad."
"This is supposed to help us keep tabs on them, prevent that before it starts. It's a check and balance--we know what they are doing."
Doyle threw down the towel in disgust. "And they know the same of us."
Slamming the plates into the drainer with less force than he would have liked, Bodie whirled on Doyle. "Listen, Ray, it means they are taking us seriously. It means CI5 finally has the same status as MI6. Everything Cowley was working for is here now--right on our plates. We get full co-operation and we give it, too, but we are still independent--our brief doesn't change. We still have ultimate authority. The last call is ours."
"The last call is the Minister's."
"That will never change. This is the best we can hope for--a compromise, maybe, but one in our favour and on our terms. We get funding. We get recognition. We get respect. We get control."
"Great. So when does this mutual love society have its first meet?"
"The dial up is going in tomorrow."
Doyle pursed his lips angrily, his eyes blazing. "I thought we were co-controllers. Partners, Bodie. Remember the meaning of that? You could have damn well told me about this ahead of time. Consulted me."
"Bloody hell--like you told me when you gave birds equal status as agents? Worst idea I ever heard of and it's been nothing but a success. And don't tell me that was different. You handle your side and I handle mine. I trust you, you trust me. That was the deal wasn't it? You want a different deal--you want out? You think I'm not doing my job?"
"Piss off. It's not you I don't trust, so don't throw that crap in my face. It's MI6, I don't trust--not in my sight or out of it."
"Piss off, yourself. You think I trust them? You think I like them poking around in our business? Fer chrissake, Ray, we're going to have our security so tight we'll be able to tell how much and what colour when one of them takes a shit."
A smile quirked at Doyle's lips. He couldn't maintain his anger. "Yeah?"
"Yeah." Bodie was still glaring, but his anger was receding. Their jobs were high stress, high tension. An occasional blow-up was inevitable, but they could never stay angry with the other--never had. They had made a pact when they first become lovers to leave the job if CI5 ever got in the way of their real partnership, their personal relationship. They had renewed that pact when they took over running CI5. It was never forgotten.
Doyle collected the drying cloth while Bodie turned back to the sink and the cooking pan. After a few seconds, Doyle looked up at his mate. "I think colour would be enough," he deadpanned.
Bodie slung the wet dishcloth at him. "Christ, I love you, Ray."
Dusk had just slipped into night when they heard the sound of a motor being driven into the garage below. None of the security alerts rang, but they were still edge. It was only after the door shut and the r/t came alive to report the new motor was secure, did Bodie and Doyle wake their dozing guests and ready them to leave.
"We've got the new car now and we're going to try to get back to the airport," Bodie advised as Doyle snicked open the snap on his shoulder harness and pulled out his gun. Doyle was going down first to have a check about. Bodie would stay upstairs with Ali and Romesh until he was given the all clear. That signal came a few moments later, Doyle's voice calling up the steps, and Bodie hustled the pair down and into the waiting vehicle.
They had gone four blocks when they saw the new tail, a fast sleek motor built for far more speed than the government car Bodie was driving, souped up though it might be.
"We're in trouble," Bodie said grimly. "We have company again."
Doyle squirmed to see the approaching car. He was in the back seat with Ali while Romesh sat up front next to Bodie. "Looks like they have a bit more power than us."
"Ta--can see that." Bodie skimmed the curb as he jerked the car around a corner and gunned the engine to race down yet another darkened street. Their pursuers followed with ease.
Doyle checked his weapon and then returned his gaze to the car giving chase. "Any brilliant ideas?"
"Would like to know how they picked us out so fast."
"This isn't good, is it?" Ali observed, turned his head to check out the tail for himself.
"No, sir," Bodie answered. "This isn't good. I'm going to try to get somewhere more public. That might put them off."
Romesh glanced back at his mate, exchanging worried looks. "Shouldn't you call for back-up?"
Doyle shook his head. "No need. This car has a tracer in it--see that switch by the wheel on the dash? Bodie activated it as soon as we left the garage. Headquarters knows where we are. When they see us veer away from the airport route, they'll send help."
"Bloody hell!" Bodie's exclamation was accompanied by his frantic motions to turn the car out of the path of a stopped lorry. The tires squealed as both Bodie and the motor fought for the road. He would have won save for a van that careened out from behind the lorry and forced Bodie to jerk the wheel. The car veered onto the curb, bounced and then smacked a sign pole.
Before the motor's forward motion had even ceased, the front door to the vehicle was yanked open and Romesh was dragged from the car. There was little time to react, not enough clearance to shoot and it was too dark to see the plates on the van as it disappeared, lights off, down the dark London road.
Despite his comments from the night before, Doyle was there to see Susan's reaction when Bodie told her the news. It wasn't pretty. Even uglier was the argument when the plum-faced systems manager from MI6 arrived, dial-up box in hand. Obviously a government official first, a computer expert second, the man was clearly not a doer, but a watcher.
Still, by mid morning, and with hard work by Susan's staff, things were ostensibly in place, at least ready for a first trial after lunchtime.
The MI6 manager had gone off to find a local and Susan paced in Bodie's office, pointing an accusing finger, livid with anger at the situation and the way it had been handled. Bodie handed her a drink and then sat down to wait it out. Silently, Doyle took up a position behind Bodie, unconsciously in a stance of protection.
"So now I'm supposed to work some kind of bloody miracle to trace all of their calls?" Susan demanded, walking the length of the small office and then taking a sip of the scotch without quite realising it. "It took me a week to get this last bit of security set up and that was just internal. And this moron from CI5 couldn't find his cock without help--I'm supposed to co-operate with that?"
Bodie bit back a smile, instead coughing as if he had swallowed his drink wrong. "Well that might be to our advantage, then, mightn't it? If he is that dense, you shouldn't have as much problem getting around their firewalls and finding a way in. MI6 has never been secure--not staff, not anything."
"It's a hacking job, Bodie. It's not just prancing up to the supply clerk and requisitioning a new desk set."
Now Doyle spoke. "Can't you just patch in to what we have? I mean, it's really just a phone call-up isn't it? So you have that all in place for our field agents--let them have a tap into it and you look like a hero, but can use the security you already have in place."
Susan pursed her lips, her gaze distant. "We risk them getting into our main system that way."
"They are to have access to our files, you know." Bodie toyed with the glass on his desk.
"Yes, but we really don't want them to know we are spying on them, now do we?"
"It sounded to me like you had that worked out with the computer to computer line," Doyle observed.
She rolled her glass against her cheek, still pacing. "Well, what might work is if I put in a separate LAN for them--but I copy over our security system to give me the tracking ability. The advantage is, I can shut them down at any time just by dropping out that computer. We maintain our integrity, but give them access."
"And it's one extra firewall," Bodie observed, nodding appreciatively.
Susan stopped walking and set her drink on Bodie's desk, leaning forward, her hands on the desktop. "It's going to take a day or two to set it up. We'll be vulnerable until then."
"Then we'll have to watch our backs, won't we."
"It will only trace the calls coming into our side," Susan reminded him.
"For now," Bodie shrugged. "Give you some time to work on the other bit. At least we'll know who's trying to get into our business."
"What about the link up on their side?"
"They already have special services and the Yard coming into their system. Adding us on is nothing to them."
"I still don't understand the rush," she grumbled.
"It was a one time offer--money on the table that was going to disappear. They've wanted this as long as we've wanted that training facility. It was bargain day at the ministry. I suspect they didn't want to give us a chance to back out."
Susan headed for the door, stopping with her hand on the knob and turning back to face Bodie. "So now we're partners with MI6. Well, happy wedding day. I'll leave it to you to kiss the bride."
Doyle waited until he could hear her footsteps retreating down the hall. "Handled that well, then."
"Got what we needed, didn't I?'
"Charmer, you are."
"One problem, though."
"Rather kiss the groom."
"You would." Doyle walked around the desk and dropped onto the edge. "You think this business with them is a good partnership?"
Bodie groaned. "Thought we had this out."
"Seems like we're getting more than they are now that I hear all the details of the hook-up."
"Well ta, that was the idea wasn't it."
"Thought you were making us partners with them, but you're not, are you?"
"They think so."
"You must have kissed a lot of arse for the ministry to hand over MI5--set us up as watchdog."
"Hmmm," Bodie allowed non-comically. "Lips are still sore. But it's your job next--keeping an eye on their agents. Might need an assistant or two to keep up."
"Susan's not going to have a bit of problem getting into their system, is she?"
"Oh, they still have their firewalls."
Ray grinned. "Yeah, but they never expected them to be stormed by the fairy queen, now did they? Flutter right over them you will."
Bodie swept out his arms in an exaggerated parody of flying. "Up, up and away, sunshine."
Cowley scowled at Doyle who had been pacing about the room for the better part of an hour. Doyle's cut had been bandaged, but he was nervous, on edge, and was making Cowley feel the same way. "Oh, sit down, 4.5. You're not solving anything. Now let's review this ransom tape once again." Cowley stabbed at the button on the recorder and the clear sound of a voice with an Arabic accent was heard in the room.
"The trade is simple. Rescind the offer and your Nancy boy is returned. You have until midnight to make a public announcement."
Bodie started. "Did you hear that? He said Nancy boy. He called Romesh a Nancy boy. Must be a Brit then."
"Or someone educated here," Ali said wearily. "Many of us are." He was standing by the window in Cowley's office, a lone figure, his face a mask, but grief and worry written in the lines on his forehead and dulling of his eyes. It had been four hours since the kidnapping. Two hours since the tape was delivered--now going on eleven p.m. He was painful to look at, a man shrunken into himself.
"I would gladly trade myself, give anything to be in his place, but I do not have the authority to rescind the offer," he had told them after receiving the kidnapper's demands. "I am a messenger of my government, nothing more."
"I am sorry, Ambassador." Cowley's voice had been thick with regret.
"Would you play the message once more, sir?" Bodie asked, dropping his feet down from the desktop.
Cowley hit the play button again and the tape started up, running through the short message.
"Wait! Stop." Bodie rose and went nearer the machine.
Doyle raised an eyebrow and met his gaze. "I heard that, too. That sound at the end like a fire starting up."
"Like fire vapours starting up..." Bodie said slowly, as if a memory was dawning. "Like when you throw a match onto petrol or...."
"Or ignite a burn-off," Doyle finished excitedly, coming to his partner's side.
It was something to watch--their minds clicking into place like one cylinder opening a lock, each following the other's thoughts as if they were cars in a train, joined to the other. Cowley had seen the process a hundred times in the two years the men had been partnered and it amazed him every time--so in tune they were, so attuned they were. It was nearly physical. It was almost private.
Cowley turned to Ali. "Ambassador, does your country maintain a refining plant anywhere near London?"
Ali shook his head wearily. "We ship crude only and sell to a consortium of your buyers."
There was silence. Disappointment weighed heavily in the room.
"Wait a minute...." Doyle's hand slapped the table. "The gasworks at the main power plant. It's not thirty k from where Romesh was taken. And they would have reason to have a burn-off."
Cowley grinned, feral. "Aye, they would at that, laddie. They would at that. On your bikes then, lads. We have one hour."
Ali grabbed Bodie's arm as the man passed on his way to the door. "I'm going."
Cowley interceded, shaking his head. "I'm sorry, Ambassador. We would have no way to vouchsafe your security."
Ali drew himself up stiffly. "Mr. Cowley, Romesh Hamada has been my lover for twenty-five years. If you have ever had passion for another human in your life, then you will know that the only thing I truly value is what we are to one another. Without him, my life is forfeit anyway."
"Let him come, sir," Doyle said quietly, hand on the door.
Bodie nodded soberly. "I agree, sir. He has the right."
Cowley looked from agent to agent, saw some of Ali's pain reflected in their eyes; saw a flicker of understanding that went beyond anything he could comprehend or ever hope to be a part of. It was something reserved for those who honour love above duty or country or even self-preservation, stronger than basic instinct, or perhaps at the core of it. Cowley nodded, granting his assent. "On your way, then."
Bodie pushed open the door to Doyle's office and headed straight for the desk where a pale Ray Doyle sat, his arm in a sling.
"What happened?" Bodie demanded proprietarily, cupping Ray's chin in his hand.
Doyle pulled away. "One of the demo weapons had a nasty kickback. I'm fine. Just bruised my shoulder. Don't recommend we buy that brand of rifle though."
"I heard you were testing them alone?"
"Macklin has a big mouth."
"Christ, Ray after everything we've been through, I'm going to lose you to a weapons test because you're too damn stupid not to wait for Macklin to spot you? You went to hospital for God's sake and didn't even call me."
Bodie turned away in disgust and then turned back again. There was nothing that scared the hell out of him like the thought of being left alone; living what might be called a life without Ray Doyle. He could face any gangster, any mob man, any drug hustler, any government official as long as he had Ray to come home to. The thought of living otherwise made his heart pause and his skin cold. Sometimes at night he would wake up in a panic, the image of Ray shot and bloody on the floor of his flat those fifteen years back burning in his mind. Then Ray would soothe and calm him, hold him tight and reassure him in every way possible that he was still alive--that they were both still alive.
Shaking off the vision, Bodie looked down at his lover and groaned. Doyle was struggling to pull on his sweater, but only managing to put it wrong side out. "Now what are you doing?" Bodie demanded.
"Putting on my sweater."
Bodie took up the sweater and with the gentleness of a mother dressing a child, got Doyle all tucked in, fastening his ID card in place. "You berk, you need a keeper is what you need."
"Have you, don't I? Never need anyone else as long as you're around. Never want anyone else either."
Doyle stood awkwardly, this time taking Bodie's chin in his hand, gently touching his lips to his lover's mouth, pressing his hips against him, taking in Bodie's warmth and giving reassurance of his own.
"Didn't mean to scare you. Won't leave you. That was the deal wasn't it?"
Bodie drew a breath. "Practice that look in the mirror, I bet?"
"All soft and warm, like you need a good cuddle and I'm the only one who'll do for it."
Doyle's hand strayed down to Bodie's crotch, then around to his rear while his tongue softly swiped along the pulsing artery in his neck. Bodie was pushed up against the desk, his head tossed back, his hands braced behind him, lost, completely and utterly lost in sensation, revelling in the feel of his lover's hands sliding down his chest, his hips arching against him. Doyle brought Bodie's head back and kissed him thoroughly, thigh up against Bodie's erection, tongue pulsing in Bodie's mouth.
Susan stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame, arms crossed over her chest, hugging herself. She had been there a few moments, seemingly rooted to the spot. Bodie so rarely let go of his emotions; Doyle so rarely seemed this passionate. Yet there it was--all that they were laid out for the other, stark on their faces--what had brought them together, what kept them whole. She should have turned and left except she felt drawn there, as if seeing the passion made her a small part of it. Finally she blinked and found her voice.
"Ahem--should I come back?"
The pair separated instantly, but it didn't matter. Bodie's lips held the swell of Ray's kiss, and Ray's cheek was rough from Bodie's beard. Their jeans revealed the pleasure they had been sharing, and their breathing was laboured.
"Sorry," Susan apologized. "Door was open and...sorry."
The two men exchanged glances, up and down the other, and then Doyle started to chuckle, nervous energy from the injury and the cuddle working through him. After a moment he was laughing outright.
Bodie shook his head, rolling his eyes affectionately. "Crazy sod. Hurt his shoulder," he told Susan, as if that explained everything. And somehow it did--the heightened emotion, the open door....
"Well I've got into MI6, if you're still interested. Come on down when you get yourselves together and I'll give you a look." She turned into the doorway and then stooped down and picked up an ID card, tossing it at Bodie. "Next time keep your ident card on--why do you think I worked out that system--I'd have known not to bother you then. Oh, and closing the door is always a good idea." With a shake of her head, she tugged on the doorknob to close it and then left.
Ray was wiping tears from his eyes. "You should have seen your expression," he cackled at Bodie, still panting from the passion and laughter.
Bodie glared at him and then walked purposefully to the door and turned the lock. Returning to Doyle, he grabbed both their ID cards and tossed them aside. Then he drew Doyle in between his legs, leaning against the desk for support. "Scared the hell out of me, you did, sunshine. Nearly made me crazy. And I don't give a good goddamn who knows it. Now," he growled. "Where the hell were we?"
The gasworks glowed eerily in the darkness of a night without stars or moon to brighten the sky. The gas burn-off pulsed and whooshed. It was the right sound. It was the right place.
Doyle was driving. He got the motor up as close to the works as he dared, parking it between two nondescript buildings behind a trash bin, near the trolley line that still brought coal to some parts of the plant. Both he and Bodie had their guns out as they crept from the motor, Ali behind them.
It was a big facility, a big yard. Yet most of the buildings were locked up tight, shuttered and boarded against transients and ruffians.
"Look." Bodie pointed ahead with his gun. There was a light in a small building--a foreman's office likely, or even a rest room for the employees. They could see two figures moving within, pacing.
Doyle turned back to Ali. "Stay with me," he ordered as Bodie slipped into the darkness, stealthily crossing the yard to crouch beside a storage shed. Once in place, Bodie waved his arm and Doyle tugged on Ali's sleeve, moving him out across the open space. Keeping near one of the buildings, the pair took up position on the opposite side of the office.
"I need you to stay here," Doyle whispered to Ali. "Out of the line of fire. Once we're in, we'll give you the come ahead. I'm serious here--I know what Bodie will do, how he'll move and react. He knows the same for me. If you get in the middle, it'll throw us both off."
Ali nodded. He understood what it meant to be attuned to another person, to intuitively understand them, to reflexively follow what they did.
"All right, then," Doyle said, stepping up from his crouch. "Anything happens you head back for the motor and get on the r/t. Back-up's supposed to be on its way."
With a silent salute, Bodie and Doyle rushed the door to the small building, two feet kicking with identical timing, two bodies moving with ingrained precision. There was one shot, and it was over. The man nearest the door had been bowled over by the force of its opening, his neck broken. The other man was dead as well, his gun still clutched in his hands, Doyle's bullet between the eyes. A recorder sat on a table along with a bottle of cheap whisky and two paper cups. That was it. Nothing else. The room was empty. No Romesh.
"Christ." Doyle hissed the word.
"The van." Bodie started out the door and glancing about, headed to the rear of the building. There it was, a black outline against the light from the office window. He pulled open the back door. It was empty as well. Empty save for the body of Romesh Hamada, bullets littering his chest, his face smashed, his broken body tumbled in a heap on the blood-covered floor. And Ali was behind them, seeing it all.
Doyle tried to stop Ali, but he might as well have tried to stop the sun from rising or earth from spinning. An unholy cry of grief and outrage screamed from Ali's throat as he clamoured into the van, crawling toward his lover, touching fingers to face, willing belief to turn to disbelief. It was not to be so.
There were lights and sirens in the yard now. Back up was finally there. Bodie and Doyle stepped away from the van, allowing Ali his privacy, needing their own, shaken by what they had seen, by the stricken, open horror on Ali's face, by the knowledge that he was lost and alone, his only comfort unable to comfort him this night, or any night again.
Cowley's voice called out to them and they walked over to where he was talking with another official. MI6 was there as well, it seemed. Not surprising considering it all. And an ambulance had pulled up and the attendants were starting to remove Romesh's body from the van. Ali still held his hand, walking beside the stretcher, head bowed.
"They must have killed him as soon as they took him," Bodie observed, making fists of his own trembling hands.
"Aye. Never intended to give him up," Cowley agreed, signing off on a document.
"No, sir," Doyle echoed, watching as the ambulance was loaded. Ali climbed in with the body, tears coursing down his face.
Cowley followed Doyle's gaze. "Sad for the Ambassador, though. But at least they had what time they did. There's a lesson there. Be a shame to waste it." Cowley turned to Bodie. "Wouldn't you agree, 3.7?"
Bodie was not there. He had vanished into the night.
"Find your partner, 4.5," Cowley ordered. "And then you're off duty. Forty-eight hours."
"Aye, sir. Thanks."
Doyle found Bodie over near the van, staring in the direction of the small office as if he had lost something.
"Bodie? You okay?"
"It's hard, innit?"
"Yeah--I'd not want to be Ali."
"Need to tell you something, 4.5."
"The other week at our flat...I liked kissing you, Ray. I won't apologise. I might even do it again someday if we're both of a mind."
Doyle toed the ground with his boot, remembering Ali's shaking shoulders as he held the body of his lover in one last embrace, hearing the words of George Cowley about sadness and waste. "I'm of a mind now, I think."
Bodie snorted and shifted his feet, stuffing his hands in his jacket pocket. "Bold berk you are."
Doyle smiled affectionately. "Daft sod you are. Not here. Cowley put us off for forty-eight hours. Think that's long enough to make a good start?"
"Don't know what will happen."
"Can't, can you?"
"No. No guarantees."
"Want to try though."
"Yeah. Want to try, too."
Susan traced a path with her finger against the computer monitor, explaining how she had broken past the firewalls and gotten into the central computer at MI6. Doyle sat on the chair before the screen, nursing his arm. Bodie perched on the edge of the desk, looking over his half glasses. They were all business again, though when Doyle leaned forward to better see the screen, he rested his hand on Bodie's thigh for support and you could almost feel the warmth flowing between them. You could almost see it.
"I found something you might be interested in," Susan was saying. "Came on it by accident when I was doing a random search just to try out the path."
Doyle raised an eyebrow. "What's that?"
"This." Susan tabbed a few keys and a file came up on the screen. 'Ambassador Ali Abdul and Romesh Hamada.'
"Christ." Doyle drew in his breath. "MI6 was there that night. Can you open it up?"
Susan nodded. "Had to work around it a bit, but I did get it. Thought you would be interested."
The data appeared on the screen and both men quickly read through it, nodding to Susan to scroll as they reached the end of the page.
"They could have stopped it," Ray hissed. "MI6 knew about the kidnapping and could have stopped it."
The look on Bodie's face stopped him. "You knew."
Bodie glanced at Susan. "Leave us for a bit, will you?"
Doyle waited until the door closed on Susan's office and turned back to Bodie. "How long? How long have you known?"
"Two days. I was looking for something in Cowley's old files and came across a folder tipped down in a drawer. I figure he was saving it for when he needed a favour, a big favour. And before you go getting all upset, he found out after, Ray. After. And it wasn't MI6 who did the kidnapping--they just looked the other way when they found out."
"Who was it then?"
"The oil consortium."
"Right. Didn't want a glut of cheap oil on the market. Wanted to keep prices high."
"And when MI6 found out...."
"The consortium transferred enough shares of stock to keep the whole ministry quiet. Except Romesh wasn't supposed to be killed. That went wrong."
"So you blackmailed the bloody ministry...."
"Not exactly blackmail," Bodie shrugged. "But it would be damned embarrassing now, wouldn't it--if it leaked out that British intelligence allowed a visiting dignitary to be set-up, and his lover murdered. Even if it was twenty years ago, the players are still around."
"Bet you made a few enemies, mate," Doyle observed. "But why the hell didn't you tell me?"
"First off, I wasn't sure it would work, or even that I'd done the right thing. Linking up with MI6...didn't like it at all."
"So what set it right?"
"Susan--getting us into their system. Knew we were all right then. Knew we had it--had them."
"And second off?"
Bodie had the grace to look humble. "Couldn't risk it, Ray. Couldn't risk CI5, but mostly couldn't risk you. Didn't know what they'd do for sure. Couldn't risk that I'd end up like Ali. Was scared to death of that."
Doyle took Bodie's hand in his. "Remember when I told Cowley that you were all soft on the inside?"
"You've a glad, good and brave heart, Bodie. I couldn't love you more."
Bodie took a sip of his scotch and tucked into the settee next to Doyle, pocketing his reading glasses and stretching his legs. "Got word today from the home office today--Ali died in his sleep last night."
Doyle looked into his drink and then met Bodie's gaze. There was sorrow in both men's eyes. "Must have felt he could finally go."
"Don't think I could spend twenty years without you, lover." Doyle twined his bare foot around Bodie's, their thighs touching lightly on the settee.
"Know I wouldn't want to." Bodie's fingertips softly teased against his partner's arm and then slid down to rest in Doyle's hand.
"No. Wouldn't want to," Doyle echoed, bringing their paired hands up to his lips.
"Still--he had to make sure business was taken care of before he could rest." Bodie arched his toes against Doyle's instep and leaned into Doyle's shoulder.
"And now it is." Doyle pressed a kiss to Bodie's mouth.
"And now it is."
With a nod, Bodie raised his glass. "To Romesh."
Doyle's glass clinked beside it. "And to Ali."
"And to partnerships."
"And to blasting away walls."
-- THE END --
Originally published in Night Music in B and D, Keynote Press, May 1998