First in the SPIRITS trilogy.

Bloody hell. Jimmy Keller in England.

Bodie stood in the corner of the boat's cabin, his gun hand still shaky, his stunned partner dumbfounded. Prisoners tied and secured, Doyle stepped closer. "Have you gone nutter on me, Bodie, or just plain daft?"

"Back away, Ray. I mean it. Just leave off."

"Look, Cowley will be here in less than an hour. What the hell am I supposed to say about the third man?"

Wrapping his arms around his chest, his teeth gnawing an already abused lower lip, Bodie turned away. His strained voice grated against the use of words. "I knew him. Teamed with him in SAS."

"What?" The powerful meaning straightened his back as he shook his head. "Bloody hell."

"Yeah." Still unable to look his partner in the eye, Bodie struggled not to let his mind wander back, to replay the swirl of disturbing images he locked away years ago. Caged memories screaming for release transformed into phantom hands roaming his chest, plunging into his heart to take away the false security of time and distance.

Jimmy, fucking, Keller. Jesus.

"No wonder then. Even you couldn't shoot a mate."

The words crackled his skin. "Even me? What's that supposed to mean, eh? You think I'm some kind of fucking killer like Mad Tommy? Thanks a lot, Ray." Anger boiled up, rippling his blood, red steam around his vision.

Doyle's original confusion gone, his voice softened. "No, Bodie, that's not what I meant."

Bodie jerked as the trusted hand landed on his shoulder. "Don't Ray." He shoved it off, couldn't stand to be touched, not at that moment, not with Jimmy swimming up in his head.

"You all right then?" The slightest hint of hurt tinged the question.

"Fine, mate. Really. Just took me by surprise, eh? Couldn't quite believe my own eyes, him just standing there ready to take another bullet." Turning back around, he finally looked up, gauging the doubt, the loss of trust. He found only worry and he hated that, hated the soothing dependence that pricked his gut with one glance from those knowing green eyes.

"Come on, Doyle. We've got to finish scouring the boat before Cowley shows up. I'm buggered enough as it is."

"True. Better your arse than mine though."

"Fine mate you are, eh. Always watching me back, Sunshine.

"Good thing, too, considering where you're always headed."

"And where's that?" Bodie chanced a slight smile, relieved at the lightening of his partner's mood.

"Always up the wrong nose. Cowley's mostly."

Bodie didn't bother to argue. As usual Ray had it right.

"You want us to do what, sir?" Bodie stood, one hand to his pounding forehead, the other around his chest.

"You heard me, Bodie. It's to be a joint operation. You and Doyle with Keller. He's the inside man. Aye, it would've been nice to know before you went in there, but there you go. Intrigue everywhere, especially with your old mob." Handing a folder to Doyle, Cowley stared at Bodie, his eyes too intense for comfort. Clenching his teeth, fighting back protest, the younger man turned his head to focus on far edge of the room.

Doyle's question broke in. "How long's Keller been under, sir? Can we trust him?"

"You might ask your partner here, 4.5. They worked together for some time. You've the paper work there on this operation, but I believe 3.7 could probably fill in a few spaces, couldn't you, Bodie?"

"Spaces, sir?"

"Yes, spaces, Bodie. At any rate, we've got a reason to believe that Keller is key to linking terrorist activity to some recent assassinations and bombings. It's your job to find out all he knows and help him close down the operations here in England."

Doyle nodded. "Yes, sir. Where do we meet this Keller?"

"There's a warehouse address listed. You can leave now. Work out the details with Keller. He's the lead man on this."

As the two agents headed to the door, Cowley cleared his throat, "4.5 go ahead. I need to talk to 3.7 for just a few moments. Alone."

"Yes, sir." As Doyle reluctantly left, Bodie calculated the list of questions he could expect to fend off as soon as they got in the car.

The door closed, Cowley walked to the table and poured out two glasses of fine malt Scotch. Handing one over, Bodie puzzled over what his boss might say, his stomach jumpy and craving the soothing force of the liquor. He sipped calming fire while he waited, Cowley watching and taking his time. "Well, Bodie?"

"Well what, sir?"

"Is working with your old partner going to be a problem?"

"No, sir. Should it be?" He sipped a bit more and wished for a deeper glass. A gaping hole the size of China would've worked just as well.

"Bodie, don't be dense, man. There are always more files, those for the agents like yourself and Doyle, and those containing the real secrets. Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about." Cowley refilled the glasses without being asked.

Bloody bastard knew. Damn Cowley and the SAS and every other officer running through his business. He drank and swallowed hard before he answered.

"No, sir, there won't be a problem. Keller and I can work together. The past is a dead soldier."

"Keep telling yourself that, lad, and you'll end up a ghost yourself. Watch your back on this one, Bodie. Just a word from someone who's been ambushed by more than one rebel spirit in his life. Be careful. Keller knows you, maybe better than you know yourself. Worse, he knows you owe him and he's a cheeky bastard who'll use that against you if you give him half a chance."

"He wouldn't do that, sir. Mind you, he won't let me forget it, but he won't use it against me like you think. Not Keller."

"I hope for your sake, you're not lying to yourself, Bodie. I'd really like to trust your judgment."

"Thank you, sir." He put the emptied glass on the tray, the lingering evasion from the truth a lump hard to keep down.

"Now go on. I'm sure Doyle's anxious to get started."

"That's because he doesn't know Jimmy Keller, sir."

"Aye, Bodie. Aye."

Walking back out to the car, Doyle stood by the driver's side, quiet, waiting for Bodie to break down and finally tell him what the hell just happened in the warehouse. Instead he opened the door and motioned for him to get inside. "Tell Cowley I'll call him tomorrow morning."

"Listen, Bodie, what's going on here? We're supposed to be working together. This Keller bloke's a right nutter. He just basically hijacked you, split us up, and sent my arse on its merry way. SAS may not follow procedure, but you're CI5 now. I don't like it. I'll wager a pint, Cowley won't like it either."

"Keller's okay, Ray. He knows this lot, what they'll expect. I mean, we do owe him considering we blew his whole operation out of the water." Bodie leaned back against the front of the car, his arms crossed, waiting for an argument. He didn't wait long.

"We were acting on orders. It's not our bloody fault they didn't let us in on it. We don't owe him a damn thing. I know he's your mate, Bodie, but that was a long time ago. He's been in deep cover for over two years now, living the life, you know. It's not always easy to keep from crossing that line."

Doyle stepped around the open door and stood up close to the younger man, his breath warm against a bare neck as he spoke in a lower voice. "I don't trust him, mate. I've just got this nasty feeling that there's something a little bent in all this."

"Being an ex-copper, you know, eh?" Bodie regretted the words but bit back the apology. He needed Ray gone and quickly.

"Oh, that's lovely. Now he's got you losing your manners. No telling what else he'll have you losing before this operation's over." Doyle put a hand on the tense shoulder. "Just don't let it be your life, Sunshine. I've gotten used to your ugly mug about the place. Be right hard to find a new one."

Eyes meeting, sadness lurking just behind the lids, he shook his head. "Tell the truth, mate. You just don't want retraining with Macklin."

"Do you blame me? Man's a right sadist, he is, and I'm startin' to wonder about you sometimes."

Just as he started to answer, Bodie glanced up to see Keller staring down from the upstairs window, his hostile eyes trained on Doyle. An icy hand gripped him, a memory glazing over his thoughts as he recalled the same look before a bullet took out another man who stood too closely. Standing straight, he stepped away from the car, his voice brusque. "I'll be fine, Ray. Don't worry. I'll call in on the schedule."

"Okay, but just be careful."

"Watch your own back, Ray. Stay in with Cowley. No solo runs, eh?"

"That's up to Cowley."

"Yeah, so's the weather to hear him tell it. I've got to go. Got to go set the plans with Keller."

"Right then. I'll be off. Just stay alert."

As Doyle got in and started the engine, Bodie turned back to the warehouse to see Keller gone from the window. By the time he got upstairs, his old friend sat on a narrow cot, his feet up and legs crossed as he cleaned the gun. He casually stroked the cloth up and down the long barrel, his eyes bright, the curl of his lips hungry. "Your new mate's a lovely lad, Bodie. Tell me a story."

"Don't start, Jimmy."

"Don't start?" Eyes squinted, the threat thickening the air between them.

"I just meant, I don't want to talk about Doyle. He's okay, but leave him out of it. He doesn't know much about my time in SAS and I want to keep it that way."

Leaning his head back against the wall, Keller put the rifle down beside the bed. "Ah, so you're pretending again, eh? Make believe was always your strong suit, Bodie. A great imagination you have."

Bodie turned away, ready to leave until the command sounded behind him. "Come here, mate. Come sit down. We've not had a proper reunion."

"No." Moving to face his old partner, his voice lowered, words forced through an anxious throat. "I'm just here for the mission. Nothing else. The past is over, Jimmy. Let's keep it that way."

A deep laugh surprised him as Keller stood up and walked up to stand beside him. Slender fingers reached over and ran through the feathery layers of hair, a thumb lightly tracing the right ear. "Bodie, don't be that way. I've missed you. Italian's are dead boring, mate. All that fancy romance. Not tough and hardy like you, luv."

Breathing labored, the damp air thick, Bodie stepped back only to have an angry hand grab his arm. "Don't pull away from me, Sergeant. Don't play any fucking games or I'll have you the hard way, but then you always did like that didn't you? You always protested, but you always got off on it. It was always good between us, Bodie. Admit it."

His voice hoarse, he jerked away. "Don't be an arse, Jimmy. I don't like it like that, at least not as much you did. Why do you think I finally left, eh? I couldn't do that anymore and I won't do it again."

"You left because you're a bastard. You left me laid up in hospital with a bullet in my back. You just went off, no word, no letter, nothing. Bloody coward."

"I had to. You know that."

As the younger agent moved away, Keller stepped to block him. "You're not leaving, Bodie. Not this time."

"Let go." Pulling away only brought the larger man closer.

"Just relax. I'm not going to hurt you, not really." A wide palm cupped the back of his neck, the other hand on his chest beneath the open jacket. The deep voice crooned the words. "What, your new mate all gentle is he? Taught you all about love? Tell me about Ray, Bodie. What's he got for a lad like you, eh? Bet he doesn't know the man I've fucked. I'll wager Ray Doyle doesn't have a clue about his partner's little fancies, or does he?"

"Sod off, Keller. Watch what you say about Ray."

"Watch what I say about Ray? Not bloody likely, Bodie. I want to know how he uses those full lips on your cock when you're on late night stake out. Tell me, mate, do you scream when he fucks you like I used to?"

As Bodie pulled a fist back, he found himself whirled around and forced forward across the metal table, his face pressed down against the chilled wet surface. A hot whisper in his ear racked up a layer of terrors awakened by the familiar touch. "Tell me you've missed me, Bodie, or there'll be lessons to pay. Feel like a few bruises, mate?"

A fevered tongue licked the back of his neck followed by the sharp nip at the nape. Weight against his back, added with the row of stings along his ear and cheek, thickened his cock. The cold surface leached the heat from between his legs as the man behind him humped against the back of his jeans, the erection rubbed between the cheeks.

"Come on, Bodie, tell me about Ray. Tell me how your new mate fucks your lovely tight bum, or does he rim you, put that slick tongue right in there, slicking you down before he fucks you?" Groaning between the words as he pumped, Keller used his hands to keep Bodie pinned securely against the table. The more he struggled to get up, the stronger the force behind him.

Suddenly, his legs kicked apart and he almost lost his balance. Fighting to find his voice, Bodie tried to put the words together. "Stop, Jimmy. I don't want this."

Efficiently, Keller pulled the leather jacket down to keep his hands back as he stripped his pants. Bare-assed, his cock leaking, Bodie bent forward as the larger man stayed dressed, but unzipped. "You never knew what you wanted, mate. You're so hard and wet, you're slipping all over." Running his hand to the front between the sleek steel and flesh, he collected some of the precum and slicked up the crease between the firm ass cheeks. "God, Bodie, you're still so bloody tight, so lovely." A finger entered, the burning pain a brand to the past. So many times, the same finger and then another shoving hard.

"You bastard, that hurts. Stop. Jesus." He coughed, winded from the effort to keep breathing while a third finger jammed in, the hand twisting to open him up even more. No mercy, never was. "Bloody hell, just fucking do it. Get it over."

A brutal hand answered as Keller grabbed his hair, his head snapped back followed by a tight hiss of words so close to his ear. "Don't tell me to hurry, Bodie, not after what you did. You owe me."

Removing his fingers, he spooned up over his back, a single lick to the neck as his voice suddenly softened. "Just relax, Sunshine, or I'll use the gag. Do you want that, Bodie? Do you want me to stuff a towel down your throat? Muffle the screams a bit? Remember last time?"

Swallowing hard, the memory a razor slicing gums, he nodded. "I remember."

"Good, now, just slow and easy, soldier. I'm going to say hello for real to my best mate." The tip eased into the ring of muscle, pointed burning, the intrusive size stretching to red limits.

Grunting from the strain, thighs quivering, his own cock tightened from the pressure. The marriage of pain and pleasure delivered wide shocks up his belly, each short thrust another jolt, an intense shiver of wavy heat up from his belly to his chest to his brain. By the time Keller buried himself completely, balls resting on rounded globes, his lungs barely worked.

Hell, how he'd missed that.

Shoving back, he gobbled air and then gasped his words. "More. God, harder."

"Greedy sod." But force followed, the power behind the push throwing streaks of fire through his legs and ass. Eyes squeezed shut, he suffered to keep from exploding, the tension in every muscle taut, the nerves extended to the edge of thin gaping, narrow passages of bright lights beaming his thoughts into hiding. Thinking disappeared into the intense shadow of the second before the screaming starts, sound stolen away by rewarded need.

Shudders built up and spilled over, his ass clamping down on the invader rammed so hard inside him. Sharp pain up through his navel, sight vanished, he choked on his own cry, a deep growling whimper as he shook beneath the body still forcing him forward. Swallowing air slowly, he breathed and bit his tongue while Keller still plowed into him, still working desperately to get off. Heated sweat burned and salted his enflamed hole. Faster and more determined, Keller suddenly stopped moving, buried deep inside, the spasms shooting more heat. A long groan started and grew louder, haunting and primal.

A few moments later, cramps started, bile rolling up, stomach muscles squeezing. "Jesus, get off me. Shit. I think I'm going to be sick."

His voice winded, Keller whispered. "No you're not, Bodie. Just breathe a little deeper. It'll be okay. Just calm down." He pulled out slowly and then still leaning, he spoke softly. "You need a bit of a lie down's all. Here, let me help you over, luv."

Taking the offered arm, Bodie made it to the cot. Easing himself onto the rough wool cover, he watched as Keller wiped himself off, zipped up, and then sat beside him. Keller covered him with his blanket and then wrapped an arm around his shoulders, pulling him in close. Gently lips kissed his cheek, a tongue feathering along his jaw to his ear. "I've missed you, Bodie."

Digging down deep, weighted with both fear and need, the younger man spoke quietly. "Why'd you do that? I told you I didn't want it. You never listen."

"Because you never mean it." Keller embraced him, the heat slowing the nausea and the swirl of edgy vision. "You're mine, Bodie. You always will be. No matter who you're with in between times, you're mine. You owe me."

"Jesus, Jimmy. You don't fucking own me."

"Sure I do, Bodie. Why do you think you couldn't shoot me? You and I both know you should have. Face it, mate, you love me."

Chains tightened, the rattle shaking his heart. "I've never said that. Never."

"I know, Bodie. You can't. I know that. Doesn't matter. I fucking know you. That's what scares you the most."

Bodie squeezed his eyes shut, the throbbing at each temple a hammer banging out his skull into tiny chunks. Clearing his throat, his neck muscles rebellious, he forced himself to speak. "Things are different now, Jimmy. I need them to be different. I can't do this. Not again."

Calmly stroking the top of Bodie's head, Keller drew him closer, the younger man's face lying on his chest. "It's okay, Sunshine. Just rest a little bit. We've got to go soon. There's a farmhouse in the country where I'm hiding out. We'll sort it all out later."

The warm touches, the tender rubs along his back, each lured him into deeper shadow, the haunting self-doubt more quiet. Sleep seduced his muscles, his bones melting and soft. Yawning, he leaned against his lover's support, fighting fatigue, his tongue still stubborn. "I don't need sorting out."

"I know, Bodie. Just rest, luv. Just like old times the two of us together, eh?"

As grey softened around him, drifting easing his mind, he ignored the taunting whispers. Banished for the moment, the warning doubts hobbled and dragged an army of nagging specters back to their dank and filthy cages.

"God, I don't fucking believe you, Keller."

"I knew you'd over react. That's why I didn't say anything."

"You bring that bloody bitch into all this and tell me not to over react? What the hell are you thinking?" Bodie stepped back from the hand reaching out in his direction, jerking his arm away. "Never mind. I know what you were thinking. What a stupid bastard."

"You finished?"

Taking a deep breath, his lips curled in an almost painful scowl, he shook his head. "Not by half, but I'm through talking. Where do I stow my kit?"

Keller stepped closer as he headed to the door. "Listen. Bodie, like I said, you don't know her. She's not what you think."

"Yeah? You're fucking her, right?"

"You jealous?"

"No reason to be, mate. Fuck the cattle for all I care, just don't rub it in my face." The anger seethed up in his belly, a cauldron of old hurts, new powerful spices stirred in.

"I'm not doing that, Bodie."

"Aren't you? You just fucked me a few hours ago, then you bring me here blind to meet the bird you've been shacked up with for who knows how long? What should I think other than you're a right sorry bastard?"

"You've got some bloody nerve to talk, mate. You've got your pretty new partner and what am I supposed to do, go pining away in the stables? Not fucking likely. Sheila's okay. Give her half a chance and you might even like her."

"Oh, yeah, that's bound to happen. 'Bout the same time I marry Cowley."

"Interesting choice considering..."

"Don't even say it, Jimmy." The warning tone in his voice sizzled the air between them. Keller stepped back.

"Sorry, mate. Didn't mean to bring your old man into it."

"Sod off, Keller." He wanted to slam a fist into the doorjamb, but squeezed the handle on his case tighter instead. Nothing he did released the tension, the tight strain across his shoulders, the pull down his spine. The heat of his lover's breath filled his lungs with a hunger, an intense gnawing wearing at his gut.

"I really didn't want it to go like this."

"Forget it. Just don't touch me again, not while she's here, not with the bitch in the other room.

"Don't be such a brat, Bodie. I haven't seen you in years. I'm not full yet."

"Better be. It'll be a hundred more bloody years before another taste, mate. Now, I want to practice shooting while you go set up the deal. The sooner this is over the sooner I can be out of this miserable hellhole you've made."

"You're impossible, you know that. You make me crazy when you act like this."

"Like crazy's new, eh? You're a nutter, Keller. Now leave off and set up the scheme." Reaching deep, he scrounged around to find the focus. He imagined Ray smiling, his partner's easy touch on his shoulder to spirit him away from the danger. Only he stood alone this time, Doyle nowhere near to watch his back. Bodie hated the itch of need, the irritation of dependence. Still, he missed Ray.

Keller's voice interrupted his musing. "You going to be okay here with Sheila?"

"Sure. It's a big farm house and the line of fire's pretty fine. Tell her to keep her distance and she'll be safe enough."

"Sharpshooter Bodie, eh?"

"Warn her, Keller. I'm better than sharp. I'm pissed."

The solid weight of the gun, the easy aim and steady squeeze of the trigger, the recoil against his shoulder, all worked to explode the bottles. Few men shot better than Bodie, and for a brief moment, the pride fed his starved ego. Seconds later he frowned, a face shimmering into brief memory. Without even shooting, Keller could hit targets better, make a man dead with a few words.

Bodie replaced the clip and continued shattering glass, the blast of the gunfire deafening. Each round brought the vision of Henry Turner lying dead, a fatal wound though the heart. Keller hated competition, his rival dying astonished, murdered secondhand by a mate. Suspicion without proof allowed an escape from charges, but not revenge. Turner had other friends.

Lowering the gun, he shook his head and blinked several times to clear his vision. So long ago, dreams grew more real, less vague in the sunlight. He needed to clear his thinking, the muddy thoughts blurring the edges of reason. No way he could win freedom if he stayed too close to Keller, the ties too tight and shrinking. He knew that in his head, but the foggy ache of promised pleasures shrouded self-defense.

The smell of cigarette smoke came nearer and a familiar voice asked, "You feeling better?"

"I'm fine. We a go then?" He raised the gun and fired 5 more rounds, the shards spraying the yard with glass splinters.

"Yeah, like I said, you're in. Impressed the man no end. You've got a talent there, shooting. Always have."

"Liquor bottles are easy. Can't shoot back, eh? Sort of like a mate who takes a bullet to the heart. No real challenge." A hand brought down his gun as Keller stepped next to him, the hard lines of his face stern.

"Back to that are we? Why can't you just let it be, Bodie? I've told you what happened with Turner." Removing the clip, and stuffing it in his pocket, the smaller man turned to leave. "Answer me, Bodie. Why do you keep pushing?"

Stopping, he pivoted on one foot to face Keller, his voice steady. "You told me Turner stepped out of line, got the wrong orders, but I don't believe that."

"Why not?"

"Because I was there. I saw your face when you found out he wanted to sleep with me. Why didn't you just ask? He never touched me."

"But he wanted to. I couldn't stand the way he looked at you."

"But why'd you have to kill him?"

"I didn't, at least not on purpose."

"No? You just made damn sure I wasn't where I should've been to cover his position. You shot him as sure as the guard with the gun."

"It's over, Bodie. Why do you keep bringing it up? It ruined everything between us and you won't let it stay buried. You drag the bloody corpse around like some kind of fucking penance. Just leave it for godsakes."

"I can't. The other blokes blamed me. The bullet you took for me came from one of our own mob. You know that."

"Couldn't prove it."

"Couldn't prove you gave away Turner either, but you did. I knew it. It's why I left. It's why I shouldn't even be here."

"If you hate me so much, why'd you even agree to come along?"

"I work for Cowley now. He says you need a partner, I do it."

"And that's all? No other reason?"

"Yeah, well, I've always had a taste for hard cases. Gives a certain flavor for danger that. Mind you, I've always had rotten taste."

"All that bad Irish blood, eh?"

"That and bad company growing up."

"Ah, Bodie, you haven't changed. I love you, you daft bugger."

"Leave off and go play house with Sheila. I'm going for a walk." As his lips curled into a nasty smile, Keller chuckled. Bodie wanted to rip off his self-satisfied face, the bones turned to fine dust running through his fingers. "What's so bloody funny?"

"Nothing, Sunshine. Just wondered how you could walk after this afternoon."

"Practice, mate. Besides you flatter yourself if you think this afternoon made a difference between us."

The solid chill of the words froze his own heart as the grin vanished from his lover's lips. Turning again, he walked off across the field, the mud loose beneath his boots. The stab of Keller's stare as sure as a knife blade pierced his stiff shoulders as he trekked away. The crisp air forced a slanted clarity through the muck that passed for thinking, the glimmer of survival instinct finally waking from a very long sleep. Yeah, when all else failed, the Bodie pattern of walking away kept him alive and breathing. It didn't much matter that he just walked in circles and that the air held no purpose or pleasure. Bodie just kept walking, the shadows nipping quietly like tired, hungry pups at his heels.

"Yeah, he's got a lot of nerve that mate of yours." Doyle's words rang in his ears as he sat in the car, the dark so much more dense in the country than in the city. He took another long swallow of the Scotch, the rich heat eating away at the edges of his tension. His earlier anger at listening in on Keller making love with Kaufman lessened slightly with still another drink. By the time he finished the bottle he might even be able to grab an hour or two of sleep by morning.

Exhaustion paired with the alcohol loosened his muscles, his taut shoulders less bunched up. He leaned his head back against the seat and then stared at the bright window of the old house, so much more intense against the black screen of the farmland spreading out for miles around them. Isolation worked as a comfort while he craved the silence, the muting of the persistent replay of old scenes in his head. Meeting up with Keller again resumed the playback, a slam to the past littered with dead players, a marching of ghostly soldiers in his tired mind. No amount of conscious effort worked to muffle the distracting cries. Only the Scotch and the sex helped calm the screams and the terrible aching. Anger fired again as he remembered hearing the feminine groans of pleasure from the other room before he came out to the car. Keller certainly knew how to please his lovers, true. The flip-flop of his stomach called for more drink so he followed old habits and obliged.

Bottle empty, his head too fuzzy for any clear thinking, he reached for the door handle and stumbled out. Bracing his upper body on the top of the car, he leaned there until balance returned. No way did he want to go back inside. He'd puke for sure if he heard the woman get off just one more time. God, he hated the bitch and he hated himself more for caring.

Taking long breaths, he thought of Ray back in the city and wondered what he'd be thinking about now. What would Doyle do if he ever found out about him and Jimmy Keller? Be disgusted no doubt. Squeezing his eyes shut to fend off the wave of dizziness, he promised himself he'd never let that happen. For the very first time in his life he actually worried about what another bloke thought. He laughed out loud, the abruptness almost like a bark, when he realized caring for Ray actually surprised him.

"What's so funny, mate?"

Turning too quickly got him off balance and he slid off the side of the car before he could catch himself. His bones jarred as the impact vibrated up through his spine, his right knee twisting as he fell. "Fuck."

Firm arms locked around his shoulders and helped him back to his feet. "Leave it to you to get jollied up in the middle of nowhere, Bodie. Where'd you get the bottle?"

"None of your fucking business."

"It is my business when you've got shooting tomorrow and you're too pissed to stand."

"Bugger off." Trying to shrug off the hand, Bodie found it impossible. A drunk agent made no match for a sober Keller.

"Let's get you inside and let you sleep it off a bit. You'll feel better in the morning."

The soft concerned voice annoyed him. God, he hated being tended to like some helpless prat. As Keller directed him toward the house, he jerked away only to find himself down on his ass in the dark, his legs villains and cowards. "Damn it, Bodie, what the hell are you playing at, eh? Get up before I give you a reason not to."

"Just go on back to your groupie. Just leave me be, stupid git." Even to his dulled ears the words slurred, altogether sloppy and weak.

"Is that what this is about? Sheila?"

"I don't care who you fuck, Jimmy, but I don't want to listen."

"Shit. You could hear us?"

"Surveillance training is hard to turn off."

A strong hand grabbed his arm pulling it up and over Keller's shoulders while another wrapped around his waist. The world went off into a tizzy while his legs simply locked into place. "I'm sorry about that. Really. Now, come on, Sunshine. Let's get you sorted out. You're a right sorry sight."

"Bloody condescending bastard." Strength deserted his body as Keller lifted and pulled enough to get him headed toward the house. Head spinning while his stomach gained momentum, he fought being sick. The sudden tensing of his body signaled a change and the taller man allowed him enough freedom to fall to his knees before puking. The bile fired his gut, the slicing hurt all through his chest as he retched over and over until dry heaves took command of his life.

"Jesus, Bodie, how much did you drink, a whole fucking barrel?"

Words failed him as did the air. So cold he trembled, he finally managed to gulp enough oxygen to groan before the next round of vomiting. Several minutes later, his stomach clenched, but empty, he sat back on his haunches, his hand on his thighs. Still dizzy but slightly less nauseous, he managed to speak a few words. "Why did you come back? Why now?"

"Are you okay?"

"Just answer the bloody question, mate. Why couldn't you just stay away?"

"Would you believe I missed you?"

"Not if your mum swore it on your fucking grave."

"Come on, Bodie. This is crazy. Let's go inside. It's cold and you're sick. Let's get you cleaned up and have some tea."

Sighing deeply, he finally allowed his lover to help him stand and leaned against him as they went into the kitchen. After washing off his face and rinsing his mouth, he sagged down in one of the chairs at the table. The harsh lights squinted his eyes, so he covered them with his raised hands, remaining silent while Keller brewed up. His stomach still grumbled from the earlier abuse, but he wanted nothing more than another bottle, the use of oblivion to get through the haunting nights a reawakened habit. God, what a bloody mess.

"Here, Bodie. Drink this."

The hot tea scalded his tongue, but the numbed nerves didn't react. His skin itched as he glanced up to find Keller studying him. "What?"

"I don't like it when you drink so much. Never did."

"That's because you never joined in."

"Never needed to. Not like you. I'm surprised CI5 allows it."

"Allows it? You don't know what the hell you're talking about. I'm not a lush if that's what you're thinking. I do my fucking job, eh. Doyle and I are the best team they have, so don't go pulling any shit over. It's just you've landed me in a heavy load of history here. I wasn't quite prepared for seeing you again, not after all that's happened. Plus, it's a bit bloody much to be expected to sit here in the middle of nowhere and listen while you fuck your German bitch."

Smiling wickedly, his thin lips curled, Keller leaned forward. "You could've joined us, luv. Sheila thinks you'd be an interesting challenge. She's got a lovely and talented mouth, my Sheila."

"Jesus, Keller." He stood up only to find himself whirling. Holding on to the back of the chair, he eased back down and stayed there. "You've got your nerve, I'll say that."

"It's what you've always liked about me, Bodie. Face it. You never know what to expect and that's what keeps it so entertaining."

"I want entertainment, I'll go to the fucking cinemas or find some other bird. No way is that little threesome scenario ever going to happen, so just forget it."

Leaning back in his chair, his hand to his mouth, Keller's grey blue eyes stared back at him. He hated the way they brightened and flashed every time they fought. "You're such a prude, Bodie, but it's all right. Sheila's pretty well out of it right now anyway. Worse than you even."

"What's that supposed to mean? You wear her out did you?"

"That and she likes a bit of drink as much as you do. She's a very sound sleeper, I assure you."

"Not a great trait for a terrorist, eh?"

"No, but a good one when I want her to be out of the way for awhile."

Suspicious at the smug tone, Bodie shook his head. "You drugged her?"

"Not much. Just enough mixed in so she'll be out until morning."

"God, you're a rotten bastard."

"It doesn't hurt to make sure she's out of the way for awhile." Pausing just a moment, the words weighed in heavy. "I'll be leaving the country after tonight and I'm selfish. I wanted you all to myself."

His heart quickening, his muscles growing tense, Bodie struggled not to react by shouting. "You think you're going to sleep with me one more time for old times sake? Forget about it, Jimmy. Not going to fucking happen."

"Really? You think not? Try the other one, mate. Drunk as you still are, I know you're horny. Always are around me. Can't help yourself, Sunshine. It's just the way you're wired."

"Arrogant bastard. Jesus." Both infuriated and embarrassed, Bodie stood up, this time staying on his feet. "I'm going to bed. Alone. Don't even think about coming up with me."

"You planning to stop me?"

"If I have to." He stared down, the smirk on his lover's face maddening.

"Go on then. Have it your way."

"Don't play, Keller. I'm not kidding."

"I know. Go on. I'll turn out the lights. I'll wake you around 6. Think your aim will be steady by then?"

"Always is." Bodie, still wary, walked to the hallway, suddenly nervous. "In the morning, eh?"

"Yeah, sleep it off and it'll be over soon. You can get back to your mate Ray." The dry taunt behind the words grated.

"He's a hell of a lot better partner than you ever were."

"Not a better fuck though, eh, Sunshine? Ray's your platonic partner, a pure fellow your Ray Doyle. Someone to dream about and pine over like some sorry bugger. Bloody pathetic really."

Weariness swelled up in his bones. Energy barely lifted his tongue. "What's your point, Jimmy?"

"No point really. Just wondering if you're going to tell him about our reunion."

"Why should I?"

"You love him don't you?"

"I don't love anyone. Why's it even your business? What's this all about? And don't give me any bloody shit about being worried about me like you've done before. What I do is my business, nobody else's and particularly not yours. Now, I'm going to bed. You make me too tired for words."

"Go to bed alone then, Bodie. Run away like always. Pretend if you need to, but I know you're in love with this Ray bloke and won't admit it just like you're in love with me. I also know you're kinked and hate yourself for it. You hate yourself because you know he could never give you what I can. Nothing to do about it really. Go ahead and suffer if it makes you feel alive, but don't lie to me. I know you. I've eaten your bloody heart while it's still beating."

"Stop talking like a nutter for godsakes. I'll see you in the morning." His head pounding, the drums of resistance on a fast beat, he slowly made his way up the narrow stairs using his hand to steady his climb. At the top landing he waited a moment while dizziness passed and then found his room. Inside he stripped down, dropping his clothes on the chair. Pulling the covers back, he slumped on the bed, face down on the pillow.

The mattress sagged beside him as a naked Keller slid in, shoving his weight toward the center of the bed. Blankets pulled up over both bodies, a wet tongue licked the side of his neck as his lover nuzzled and kissed him. The confusion of the moment barely filtered through to his dulled brain. As an arm snaked around his back, the embrace brought the men skin to skin, heat swirling comfort. "'Night, Bodie. We'll talk in the morning."

"You shouldn't be here." He snuggled in closer, the press of a solid hairy chest against his own luring him into the throes of elusive slumber.

"Maybe, but I can tell you haven't been sleeping. You need to rest. Now, close your eyes, Sunshine. I've got you."

Trained to follow orders, Bodie drifted, vaguely knowing the voice of truth. Settling in, held in a field of warm breaths and slow lapping kisses across his shoulder, he relaxed. Slender fingers stroked and petted his hair, allowed him to float drowsy in a mix of ephemeral security and forbidden arms, his mate an armor against the fear of falling too close to his own treacherous heart.

Morning light drifted through the tall window, smudges no barrier against the stubborn sun. Every muscle complaining, his temples on permanent throb, Bodie turned over with a groan. A familiar length played against his bare backside and a slow tongue trailed a cool, wet line up his spine. Slender needles of pleasure awakened his own erection as the nibble started pulling at his ear.

"Morning, Bodie. You feeling okay?"

"If wretched counts, yeah. Tastes like I ate a bog."

"Serves you right."

"Thanks." A hand rubbed his right asscheek while knees slid between his thighs, his legs gently wedged apart.

A moan slipped out before he could stop it. A deep throated chuckle tickled the back of his neck. "Like that, Sunshine?"

"God, Jimmy, we shouldn't do this."

"No, we shouldn't. Nasty boys we are, eh?" Growling, his voice husky, Keller raised himself up and over to lie on top, his weight partly held by his own arms. Pressure into the mattress enflamed his already awakened cock, the tightening coil of tension winding steady and building. Rubbing his own groin into the rough fabric, the rigid member slicking up between his cheeks edged closer to his opening. "Tell me you want it, Bodie. This time I need you to ask me." A slippery finger accented the request.

His breathing ragged, Bodie struggled not to fight. One part of his mind hated needing this, the other raged at the fool in charge. "Just do it, Jimmy."

Sucking and biting savagely the side of Bodie's throat while he proceeded to add a second finger, Keller whispered, "Ask me nice, Sunshine." Stroking his whole body against Bodie's back, he matched his movements with the rhythm of his hand. "Tell me, you want me in you. Please, just once ask me."

One deep breath later, Bodie spoke in a hush. "I want you in me. Please." The words wobbled but made the point.

Keller stopped finger fucking long enough to shift upward, to hold his cock in position to push inside in one long slow slide into the narrow passage. His whole body shuddered, straining to adjust, screaming in both pain and pleasure married in a flood of flashing vision. Air clogged with red dust, bright lights flickering as Keller thrust harder and then pulled back just to the point of leaving and slammed in again. His loud grunts shocked him, the agony of the invasion burning to a liquid desire winding like swelling lava as his fist worked around his own cock. Every muscle inside him screamed at the pulsing assault as Keller hammered into him over and over, his hips raised for deepest entry. His own bones brittle from bending, from arching for the greatest reach into oblivious release rebelled and snapped. Sharp spasms sprayed through his belly centered at his flaming crotch. Thighs shaking, muscles mid-seizure though his back, he screamed out with climax as Keller continued to pump without mercy into his ass.

His face still in the pillow, his stunned body continued to rock as his partner pounded, pushing and pulling, a piston of flesh. Shoving back hard several times, he countered the cadence to finally find his lover jerking and then grabbing him around the waist, his teeth biting into his shoulder. "God, Bodie. Jesus." No breathing touched his skin for several moments until finally, Keller's full weight dropped, flattening them both down on the bed.

Neither man spoke, but after a few minutes, Keller withdrew and rolled over, lying on his side, his eyes still dilated in the muted gauze of morning sunlight. Bodie watched him, his heart filled with both confusion and desire. "You okay?"

"Yeah, luv, better than okay, thank you. You?"

"Yeah. Need to clean up though." Suddenly awkward, not quite sure, Bodie sat up. He pulled a top sheet around him and started to get up.

"Wait. You can wash in a minute. Just stay a bit longer."

"What's the point? Why make it harder?"

A creeping sadness softened the expression before it suddenly returned to normal. "You're a right hard soldier, Bodie."

"I learned from the best. Now, come on. I want to be out of here before your bird wakes up."

"I can't believe you're still jealous."

Bodie turned, his mouth dry and flinty. "I'm not. Keep your Sheila Kaufman if you need to. I just want this whole thing to be over."

A tired hand reached over and touched his shoulder, the fingertips tender and sad, dancing lightly across his skin. "You're bleeding, mate. Shoulder and arse both looks like. Sorry about that. Got a bit carried away."

"Not the first time. Forget about it."

"But I don't want to forget about it, Bodie. Is it so awful for you being with me? Is it really so bad?"

"It's bad for both of us. Now, come on. We've got a terrorist army to take down."

"Yeah, easy for you. You've got your trusting partner to go back to."

"And you've got Sheila in the next room."

"It's not the same." Pulling back, Keller swung his legs over the side of the bed. "I'll go heat some water while you clean up."


"Yeah, can't have you going back to Ray stinking like some bloody soldier on leave now can we, Bodie? Might give away the game."

Bodie watched as his lover left the room, his whole body slumped, the door clicking closed behind him. Space growing wider both inside and around him, he focused on the cold air on bare wounded shoulders, the subtle cramping in his queasy belly, the raw ache of his rear. Tugging the sheet closer for a few more moments, he closed his eyes wishing for a rush of scalding hot water to make him clean just once before he had to see Ray, just once before he traveled to his own waiting grave.

"So you're all right then?"

Bodie walked into his flat and dropped the keys on the table before turning. "I'm fine, Ray. I don't need a nanny."

"Yeah? From here it looks a bit different." Concerned green eyes tracked him as he walked to the sofa and dropped down, his whole body exhausted.

"I'm beat down, that's all. Just a shock the way it all turned out. I'll be fine. No need to stay."

"You tossing me out, Sunshine?"

The endearment buckled his stomach, hard knots painful with the yank of memory. "Just go, Ray. I'm not fit company right now. Too tired to think."

"Yeah, no doubt. It's been a rough week all round." Sitting down across from him, Ray leaned forward bracing his elbows on his knees. "You're not to blame for what happened with your mate, Bodie. He made his own choices and used everyone around him. He's lucky he's not dead."

Raising his head, Bodie read the seriousness of his friend's face. "He saved my life, Ray. He didn't have to. He could've gotten away, but he stayed and took out the shooter. Now, he'll rot in bloody prison. You've got no idea what that'll be like for Keller."

"No? I'd think it be like putting someone like you in a dark cage somewhere."

"Maybe. Maybe worse. I've done prison before."

"When? Africa?"

"Yeah, just another great day in the bloody bush, eh." Turning back the reel of gruesome images, he fought to quiet the screams, the twisting of dark flesh against his tortured own. Another nightmare rising churned at his gut, but it swerved back into the shadows just as he spoke. "But, Keller hasn't even been close. Shooting him dead would've been a favor."

"Yeah, but I didn't see him asking for it."

Standing up, his back stretched and shrinking at the same time, Bodie put his right arm behind him to support his spine, working hard to breathe evenly. The ripple of painful spasms scrunched up his face. "Bloody hell, that hurts."

"What's wrong?"

"Bloke landed a few good whacks with a pipe. Must've strained something along the way, too. Hurts."

"You should've told Cowley. When he asked, you said you weren't hit."

"I'm not, not really. It's nothing." He stepped to the window, the city night speckled with blinking lights, the rush of traffic noises fading as he tuned them out. Anonymity in the rush of moving suited his mood as he stared into the distance, draining his mind as well as he could and still keep standing.

"I'll have a look then and see for myself."

As his partner reached out to ease off the leather jacket, Bodie jerked away, his back against the edge of the bookcase. "Not bloody likely, Ray. Leave off."

Suspicion furrowed his brow and Ray stepped closer. "Either I peek under that shirt, Sunshine, or Cowley gets a show. Which is it then?"

"I'm not in the mood for all this, Doyle. Just leave it."

"No way, Bodie. Now let me see how bad the bruises are or I will call Cowley. Don't fight me on this. You know you'll lose."

"Jesus, you're a stubborn bastard." Frustrated, suddenly too tired to even care, Bodie pushed his way out of the corner past his friend. Away from the view of the window, he slipped off his jacket and then unbuttoned his shirt. As he took it off, his partner hissed in surprise.

"Damn it, Bodie. You look a right mess back this way." Glancing at himself, he had to agree. Dark purple swellings covered his upper left arm and across his ribs, all of which accounted for the pain on moving. He couldn't see Ray's view, but could imagine the same problem. A warm hand on his flank startled him. "It's really bad back here, mate. Sure you shouldn't go to see if there's more damage inside?"

"I'm fine, really. Satisfied? Can I put me shirt on now, Dr. Ray?"

"Yeah, go ahead." Pausing for a moment, Ray added, "You should probably watch for blood. It's right over the kidney."

"Yeah, I know. I will, Ray. I'm not completely daft yet." Suddenly quiet, the smaller man sat down on the couch and stared at his partner. Sensing a shift into an even more serious mood, Bodie pulled on his clothes as he spoke. "What's wrong?"

"What else do you need to tell me, mate?"

"Like what?"

"Like about all those marks on your shoulders and neck. Looks like you weren't just practicing shooting out in the country. Sheila Kaufman more than Keller could handle alone was she? Must have been hungry, this terrorist bird. That bite mark's bloody huge, downright ragged."

Blushing reddened his skin to a painful rush as he turned away. He braced himself on one hand against the wall and squeezed the bridge of his nose with the other. His whole head echoed with the roar of blood draining away, his vision swimming circles from the light.

"Bodie, you okay?" A worried hand graced his sleeve as he struggled to stay upright without shaking.

"I'm just tired, Ray. I told you. Why don't you leave now? I'll tell Cowley you did a right good job tucking me in. I'll see you in the morning at the debriefing."

"I'm not leaving, Bodie, so don't even try it on. We have to talk."

"I don't HAVE to do anything right now, Ray. You've got no idea what you're walking into here."

"Don't I?"

"No, you don't. Things with Keller and me, they're complicated."

"Sort of like between us then?"

"No, nothing like between us. Don't ever think that. It's just I can't really talk about it right now. It's just too overwhelming. Give me some time, Ray."

"How much time? I know you, Bodie. You're a right old hand at putting things off, hoping a bloke will forget about it. That's not going to happen this time. You'll never make old bones letting something eat at you like this. I'm your partner. Let me help if I can."

Blinking several times to clear his vision, Bodie kept his head turned away, his eyes averted. "It's not a pretty picture, Ray. Right nasty in fact."

"Not hard to figure, mate. The two of you cut a hard history between you. Keller's not exactly a straight arrow and you've never tried very hard to play the fitting in game."

"What do you know about it?"

"I know how you are about debts and honor. I figure this bloke Keller took a bullet and you felt you owed him. Then, right bastard that he is, he used that against you. He saves your arse again and you think you owe him another favor."

"You've got it all figured out then have you?" Bodie chewed on the edge of his right thumb, the nail torn and bleeding.

"No, but I know enough to understand that his being bent is what put you in danger to start with. Can't quite build up a sympathy for a bloke who'd sell out his own mate."

Sagging down to the couch, Bodie dropped his head to his hands. Fatigue turned muscles to lead and bones to brittle chalk. He barely found strength to lift a tired tongue into action. "You don't know the half, Ray."

"Then tell me, Sunshine. I'm here to listen."

Glancing up, eyes meeting, Bodie whispered, "Just listen?"

"I'm here for whatever you need. You're my partner, my best mate ever, Bodie. I hate to see someone like Keller drag you back down by using whatever happened years ago against you."

"It's more than that, Ray. It's going to shock you."

"Yeah? I doubt it, Sunshine. There's very little that would shock me these days." His voice softened as he edged closer. "Tell me what happened."

A numb tongue formed the words like sculpting hard, new clay. "Keller and I were lovers."

The silence only lasted a few seconds, but Ray didn't move away. Instead his voice sounded even more gentle. "And this was in the SAS and again this week?"

"Yeah. I'm sorry, Ray."

"About what?" Bodie checked out his partner's face, amazed at the simple acceptance he found there.

"I should've told you before."

"Maybe. But you've always been cagey about your past. This at least explains why." Ray shifted on the couch, one arm on the back, the other on his thigh. As he spoke he leaned a bit closer. "Tell me what happened this time."

"I hadn't seen him for years and then there he was on the boat. By the time we got to the warehouse, he started in again just like we'd never been apart."

"Started in?"

"Yeah, well, Keller and I, we had a pretty intense thing going. You don't want to know the details."

"No, I don't, but I'm not blind. Those marks weren't all from some angry thug with a pipe and no woman made that bite. So, this Keller bloke, he hurts you then?"

"Yeah, sometimes."

"Just sometimes?"

"Most times. I can't explain it, Ray. It's like my brain goes into some dark alley any time he comes near me." Shame kept his head turned away. From the edge of his sight though, he saw Ray nodding, a frown twisting his lips.

"And he knows that, right?"


"Fucking bastard." His heart clutched at the passion behind the words, the twisting of the accent to punish each syllable escaping.

"That goes for me, too, Ray. He never did anything I didn't need."

"Need? Jesus, Bodie. You wanted him to hurt you?"

"Yes and no. It's hard to explain."

Ray fell back against the couch, his arms crossed around his chest. He focused off into the distance as he processed the words. Bodie wanted to reach out and calm the wild curls, but his nervous hand stayed down in his lap, still too cautious and wary.

"Damn, Ross would have a field day with this."

"Ross? I doubt it. Besides, Cowley already knows. Chances are she does, too. Nothing I'd tell her is particular new or surprising when it comes to sex."

"Was that all it was between you and Keller then, sex?"

"Yeah, mostly."

"Mostly? Explain that to me, Bodie. I'm starting to think my partner's barmy. Do you love him or not?"

"I don't love anybody, Ray. Never have." The powerful sadness wrapped the words with an opaque darkness, a troubled layer etching the meaning with ragged scars.

"Hang about. What do you mean never have? You saying you've never been in love? What about that bird in Africa?"

"Not the same thing. Being with a bird's different for me, Ray. We sleep together, but it's got nothing to do with the sex I really get off on." The weight of confession and Keller's betrayal slammed home to his chest. Leaning back into the sofa, Bodie closed his eyes.

"But sleeping with women still lets you get off some though, right?"

"Yeah, sure, same as me hand. Takes off the edge."

"But to really be satisfied you need it rough then?"

"Yeah. Nothing I'm proud of, mate. Just the way it is." The words left his mouth like seedy dry cotton, his tongue sore from the harsh swipe.

"I've read about it, seen it on the streets. Never run into it up close and personal like this before though. Must be a right strain keeping it under control if you really need it, eh? Is that what happens after we finish a mission, those times when you're rowdy, when you've gone off on your own and come back barely able to move around the break room? You've gone off for a bit of the work out with a bloke instead of a bird?"

Wetting his lips, his shame slowing his tongue, Bodie worked hard to speak and keep his voice even. "You surprise me, Ray. Sounds like you understand it."

"In my head, yeah, I think I do, but not in my heart, mate. This thing, it's a hard picture to take in, you needing to be hurt. I can't say it doesn't bother me."

"I'm sorry, Ray. I know it's ugly."

"Leave off with that nonsense, eh. I see ugly in the mirror myself sometimes, too. We've all got bloody secrets, twisty kinks we keep hidden away best we can, but basically you're a good man, Bodie. I know you don't believe that, mate, but it's true. I have to admit this latest piece of the 3.7 puzzle explains a lot though."

"3.7 puzzle? What are you going on about, Ray?"

"We're partners, Bodie. You know more about me than my own mum, more than Cowley, more than any other person. And no matter what happens, you accept me, put up with my roundabout moods, my rages, everything."

"Not to mention your wallowing about in guilt, eh?"

"Yeah, there's that bit, too. Nothing fazes you, Bodie. I've never met a man more bloody loyal, but for the most part I know almost nothing about you, only what you've told me, which is fucking little, and what I've observed. You've been my 3.7 puzzle challenge from the very beginning."

"Must've been dead boring, mate."

"Not hardly. Boring and Bodie just don't go together, ever."

"Chalk and cheese, eh?"

"Definitely. Thing is I could care less about you fucking a bloke, Bodie. What bothers me is your sorry taste in Keller for a partner. I'd think you'd be a bright enough lad to see a choice closer to home."


"Bodie, open your eyes and take a good look."

Turning slightly in his seat, Bodie did just that. His face intense and determined, his partner stared back, green eyes dark and inviting. "What am I supposed to see, Ray?"

"How about a mate who loves you? A mate who will show you how to enjoy being close without the pain?"

"Ray, what are you saying, that you love me like Keller?"

"No, never like Keller. I'd never hurt you, Bodie."

The words crippled his hope, but he tried again, his tongue a serious traitor. "You don't understand, Ray. I need it sometimes."

"But just sometimes, right? And that's okay as long as we talk before hand, as long as we both know why. I want you to trust me, Bodie. I know that's a hard thing for you to do, but I think I've earned it."

"You've earned it, but it doesn't mean I can give it. You don't know what you're getting into here, Ray. I'm a different person sometimes. I'm not exactly the nicest bloke in the bedroom."

"You're a whole mob of different people every bloody day, mate. I'm used to that. I love you, Bodie. I'm surprised that you've missed that. But then, I wasn't exactly seeing your full picture either. Some government agents we turned out to be. Both of us right sorry observers, really."

"Love me? Don't be daft, Ray. You're straighter than George fucking Cowley."

"Yeah, well, I like birds, no lying there, but I've been with one other mate before. Wasn't a fling either. I know what I'm saying, Bodie. I love you."

Words traveled raspy and weak as he tried to explain the pooling of fear in his gut. "I can't return the words, Ray."

"I know you can't say it, Sunshine. Doesn't make it any less true." Tracing the jawline with a hungry finger, Ray leaned in. The full lips captured his own and the pressure stole his cowardly breath away. Tongue tip gently slicked his mouth as he worked to keep reality from fading. Nothing real danced beyond his dreamscape, each sucking sound grabbing another invading ghost and tossing it back to its shallow grave. For the first time in a recent memory, the past surrendered and stayed buried, at least for the present moment.

Pulling back, his partner cupped his chin. "You're exhausted, mate. Time to be tucked away. We'll talk more in the morning."

"Guess you're off then, eh?"

A caress stroked his cheek, Ray's warm breath near his own. "Not tonight, Bodie, if we're lucky, maybe never." Fingers rubbing his whiskers, another kiss feathered his lips, the steamy lightness of it bringing heat to his crotch.

"Ray, I'm really tired. Wouldn't be much of a show between us."

"I know, luv. Even your arms are shaking. Just relax, Bodie, another night we'll set off the fireworks. Tonight I just want to hold you if you'll let me, watch your back while you sleep. Will you let me?"

Shrugging, his very bones resistant to any more motion, the words came out hoarse. "I don't think I've ever been more tired, Ray."

A gentle hand drew his head closer to his partner's chest, his ear resting over the rapidly beating heart. Just enough reserve energy allowed him to wrap his arms around the waist of the man holding him, protecting him from the growing darkness. "It's okay, Sunshine. Sleep's just a few blinks away. We'll handle this whole thing together. I promise."

The echo of his partner's oath reverberated, replacing the low wails of ghosts begging for new trials and constant attentions. Eyes squeezed shut, he drank in the firestorm of heat flaming flesh and working inward, the melting of reservation a change to new possibility. The numbing cold of ghosts fading, the specters dispersing to thin air growing to even finer mist released him from the cage of his own past. Ray Doyle's arms made for a far better shield from his own thinking, his gaunt visions trembling in the sunlight of revelation, understanding bubbling away their weight. Freedom waved its taunting hand in his direction as he settled into the anchor of loving arms, strong arms holding him prisoner with unfamiliar hopes. Haunted still with lingering phantoms, he bullied them back. Swallowing hard, he whispered. "I'd like to believe you, Ray, but it's just not going to be that easy."

"With you, Bodie, it never is. But you know me. I'm a right stubborn bastard when I'm on a mission, mate."

A smile curled his lips for the first time in days. The determination in his partner's voice a calming, familiar song. "So, I'm a mission, eh?"

"Yeah, mate. One neither of us can afford to lose, I'll wager." Palm resting on his back, the gentle strokes luring him into the borderline between awareness and sleep, Bodie moaned and shifted. He slipped down, his head in Ray's lap, his legs up on the couch. As he scooted his ass back further from the edge for balance, slippery words escaped his off guard lips. "You're me best mate ever, Ray. Don't leave me."

"Not plannin' on it, luv." A warm hand clutched his own as his partner leaned closer and whispered ever so softly, his words like vapors through the burn of morning light. "Not even in your dreams, Sunshine. Not even in your worst nightmares. Ray Doyle's not leaving."

-- THE END --

Originally published in Chalk and Cheese 19, Agent With Style, 1999, along with the other two parts of the trilogy.

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