(This story takes place the morning after "Ghosts" and is the second in the three part Spirits series. Spoilers for "Kick Back".)
Waves of pain rolled through his back, the breakers foaming across his shoulders and belly, the ripples running behind his eye sockets. Bodie's stomach drew back from the nausea, but not far enough. Swallowing the mixture of bile and groan, he turned over to find his body suddenly trapped against solid warmth.
Ray's arms gently drew him closer, his voice a low whisper in his ear. "You okay, sunshine?"
Advanced dullness left only enough awareness to bring his hand up his partner's chest to push off, to turn away and add distance to the mistake. He took a deep breath to let his body check its complaints, spasms and catches, stabs of warning, all enough to spoil any full speed retreat. As he lay on his back, arm over his eyes, his mind ran away instead, the visions of the previous night's revelations tackling and wrestling him to the ground. God, what a bloody cock up. Ray knew about Keller.
"Bloody marvelous, mate. You?" Even to his own ears the words sounded tainted, nearly black with his own hateful poison.
"I'm not the one bruised up and running a fever, am I?"
Taking a few moments to clear his throat, he remained disconnected, his brain still groggy. "It's the boiler, that's all. Right steam bath sometimes when it gets going. Need to call the super. Never home enough to do much about it. What time is it?"
"Four in the morning. Want something to drink?"
"Yeah. A Scotch, maybe two."
"I was thinking water or tea." As fingers lightly brushed his cheek, the palm caressing, he turned his head away.
"Sounds dead boring. I want tea and water, I'll call a nanny. I need a proper drink."
"Bodie, just stop it."
"Being an arse just to push me away." Ray nudged closer, his body pressed in to lie next to his, his left knee rubbing against Bodie's thigh.
"Don't do that, Ray."
"I'm not in the mood." Slowly, his body still warring against any sudden movement, he sat up and put his legs over the side of the bed. His pants and undershirt, sweat drenched and clinging, chilled him all over. Ray's hand in the small of his back branded need there and he couldn't stand it.
Without speaking he stood up, bracing himself against the wall as he swayed from the dizziness stealing the light.
"Need any help?"
"Leave off, Ray. I'm just going for a piss for christsakes."
The hurt weighted his words, but they managed to stay even. "You're sick, Bodie. Moan about me all you want to, but you look about ready to take a header into the tiles.
"Why don't you go back to sleep or go home?"
"I'm your partner. I'm staying until I'm sure you're okay. Cowley knows I'm here if you'll remember."
"Yeah, I remember." Flashes struck him as he recalled the night before. Keller's betrayal didn't hurt half as much as Doyle finding out about it. He didn't want to imagine what Ray thought about his needing someone like that, someone so controlling, so hurtful, so incredibly arousing. His treacherous cock twitched at the memory, his groin tight with a familiar sore weight.
"I'll fix us some tea then."
His partner rolled off the bed and came to his feet. Standing close, he spoke with a steady calmness. "I know what you're thinking, Bodie."
"Mind reader now, are we?"
"Bodie reader, more like. Had enough practice, haven't I."
"Had enough then?"
"Not even close, luv. You're running away just standing there. I see it in your eyes, mate. But just think on this while you're in the loo. I'm no doe-eyed bird who doesn't know what she's getting into. I know you, Bodie, your history, your damage, everything that made you the crazy bastard that you are, and I'm still here."
"You always did like the lost cause bit." Leaning against the wall, his hand rubbing his forehead, Bodie still refused to meet the green eyes staring at him.
"If I thought that, I wouldn't be here. I meant what I said last night."
"We said a lot of things, Ray."
"Yeah, we did and that's what's got you all ready to do a runner, but that's not going to happen."
"Sure of yourself, eh?"
"I love you, Bodie. Go ahead and bolt if you want to, but I can run faster. I'll win any race you want to try."
"Bloody braggart." He glanced up and caught the smile that brightened his life.
Ray's hand touched his shoulder before he spoke. "You need some tending, sunshine. I'll get the tea and powders. Looks like you need something to relieve that scrunched up face."
"Yeah, it's a pounder I've got. Hurts all over."
"Be out in a minute then and I'll have you a cuppa."
"Tea and magic then, is it?"
"Just a touch." Before he could stop him, Ray took his face in both hands and quickly kissed his lips. The daring tongue barely brushed past his own for a mere second, just long enough to stun his insides. As soon as his partner pulled back, he patted his cheek. "Now off with you, you dumb crud." He turned and left the bedroom, the heat of his touch burning into Bodie's skin.
Damn. Ray Doyle in love was one scary bugger.
Taking deep breaths to calm the shaking, he turned his mind on the effort it took just to get to the loo. His whole body ached with the vibration of each step. Even lifting his arms spiked his joints with a stab of awareness. Switching on the light made his vision more blurry. Getting his pants unzipped, he aimed with his eyes squinted, pretending the burning in his cock didn't mean anything. The heavy need to urinate increased, but the flow barely dribbled fire and reddish splashes.
He closed his eyes harder and pretended nothing mattered. Time would heal it like always. He just had to hang about and survive, just put himself on automatic and keep quiet, keep the screamers locked away in the darkness spreading at the back of his mind.
Shaking off, he flushed and then stripped down, the welcomed chill to his skin a blessing. He turned on the shower and climbed in, careful to steady himself against the wall.
Break his skull and Ray would break the rest of him.
The heated spray relaxed the tightness, calming the throbs in his back and stomach to more quiet complaints. The salty grime washed away and he refused to let his mind wander off to the shade. He forced himself to remain in the light as he listed down what he needed to do to fix things. Making his friend understand why this thing beyond being partners could never work started and ended on the same sorry note. "Ray, you're a right stubborn bastard."
Suddenly shivering, he turned off the water and stepped out, again careful to balance himself, his usual grace of motion a traitor for the night. He toweled off, taking time to rub the excess from his short hair before going back into the bedroom to find clean clothes. A white wool sweater and jeans took away the chill enough that his teeth stopped chattering.
Heading into the kitchen, he found Ray sipping tea and waiting at the table. "Feel better?"
"Yeah. A bit." Ignoring the ready mug, he walked to the cabinet and got a glass. Reaching over the sink, he found his Scotch and poured a drink, waiting and daring his partner to comment. He didn't wait long.
"You're a self-destructive bugger, Bodie. Like being sick, do you?"
"It's just a drink, Ray. It'll help me sleep, that's all."
"Oh, I see. Medicinal, is it?"
"Dr. Bodie's best cure, that is."
Ray put his cup down and leaned forward, his elbows on the table, his eyes fixed on Bodie's face. "Cure for the soul or the body, sunshine?"
"Drink your tea and leave off. I can take care of myself. I told you before, I don't need a bloody nursemaid." The rush of anger pushed the words out, the energy in heady surges.
"More like restraints is what you need." Shaking his head, Ray raised both hands and then settled back in the seat. "Look, Bodie, we're both tired. We've had a long week of it, you especially. Let's just finish our drinks and go to bed.
"I can't sleep yet." He sipped the dark liquid, the burn on his lips washing down his throat, the heat like a blast furnace in his belly. The spreading rush of silence calmed him as he finished the glass and poured another.
"I don't know how you're even standing. I'm right wasted and I didn't get whacked with a pipe a few dozen times."
Or abused and betrayed by your ex-partner. In his mind he flashed on Keller pushing into him, biting into his shoulder, bleeding him for pleasure. The claws in his gut scraped harder as he saw his ex-lover taken off on the stretcher, the bullet in his side not nearly payment enough for his lessons in failure.
"I'm fine, Ray. Honest. I'd tell you, wouldn't I?
"Yeah, I would. I'm tired, not stupid." Taking the last of the drink, he closed up the bottle and then rinsed out the glass. The sweat slicked his forehead as another wave of dizziness forced him to grab the edge of the sink.
Ray stood behind him, his hand on his arm. "Not stupid, but still with a bit of fever. If you're not any better by morning, we should check with the doctor."
"God, you should've been a bloody nurse."
"Did the medic routine instead, didn't I. Now, take some aspirin and let's do another lie down. Sun's not even up yet."
Reluctantly he gulped the pills, the bitterness mixed with the faint after taste of alcohol unpleasant . "You're a right pest, Ray, you know that?" He headed back to the bedroom, his gait unsteady, like walking on deck of one of his old ships, another memory locked away, another slick path to avoid. Slipping off his pants, he kept the sweater on as he slid under the covers, the chill from the air bringing on deep shudders. "God, it's cold in here, Ray."
"I know, sunshine. But it's warm over here, eh?"
Long arms pulled him in close as Ray embraced him. Too tired to keep resisting for the moment, Bodie rested his body against his friend's chest and closed his eyes. Fighting back the images of Jimmy Keller holding him down, forcing him forward as he rammed into his arse, he swallowed hard and did his best to sleep. He wanted to spend just one night without falling into the dangerous dark tunnels that waited so often on the other side of his dreams, just one night without shadows was all he asked.
"Jesus, Bodie. Why don't you sit down before you fall over?" Murphy stood in the doorway, his hands on his hips.
"Morning. Sleep with the wrong bird again, eh?"
"Bet Cowley hasn't seen you yet, has he?"
Bodie finished pouring the tea, wishing for a huge pint instead. His head still fuzzy from too little sleep and too much Doyle fussing, he eased himself into the chair. Resting his head on his hands, he closed his eyes trying to ignore the other man in the room.
"Not his bloody nursemaid, am I? Go find him yourself."
"You're a right mess, you are."
"Sod off, Murphy. Too early for all this clever repartee." Speaking more softly, he added. "Just need a minute. Leave off a bit, eh."
Sitting across from him, the taller man leaned in before he spoke. "You look awful, Bodie. I mean, nobody said anything about you being hurt or anything, did they. How's a bloke to know?"
"I'm fine, Murph. Just a bit knackered."
"Yeah, mate, tired. That explains the ghostly white then." After a brief pause, Murphy's voice changed, the usually confident tone suddenly uncertain. "I heard about your old mate Keller. Sorry about that. No way to know about people sometimes, eh?"
Bodie sipped his tea and avoided eye contact. No way did he want to talk about Jimmy, not to Murphy or anyone else. Doyle and Cowley knew some of his secrets, but no one else did. Never would if he could help it.
Betty stuck her head around the corner and shouted. "Bodie, Mr. Cowley needs to see you right away."
"You seen Doyle?"
"Yeah, he's with him already."
Standing too quickly, the narrowing light caught him off guard. He grabbed the table as he sat back down. "Damn."
Murphy's hand on his arm surprised him and he jerked away, the movement almost blinding. "Let go. I'm fine."
"Sure. Just all ready for action, you are, you stupid berk. Betty, go get Doyle."
Panic fed the words. "No. I'm just a little hung over, eh? Tell Cowley I'm running all the way."
Concern creased the faces staring at him, but he flashed a famous Bodie smile and managed to stand without crashing into the floor. "See." He held his hands out to the side, extravagant gestures to aid his efforts. "Fit as ever."
"That's what we're afraid of, mate." Still frowning, Murphy stepped back as Bodie moved to the doorway.
"Just jealous, Murphy. Can't keep up with the old 3.7."
Tipping an imaginary hat at Betty, he headed down the hall to his boss's office. From behind him he heard his friend ask, "You got the number for Dr. Ross handy? Got a feeling Cowley's going to need it a bit later."
Betty's nervous laugh didn't surprise him, but the serious tone of Murphy's joking words did. If others could see his state, he had to try harder. He needed time to pull himself together, to center himself on the mission of being the new and improved Bodie, no more Jimmy's, no more sleeping with his partners. Damn Doyle anyway for even making the offer.
Pausing outside the door, he readied himself. Deep breaths and slow shuffling of the pains to different compartments in his brain let him stand straight without groaning. His back screamed to be rubbed, but he ignored it. Crazy bastard would just have to wait. He needed to put on a good show for Cowley. Luckily practice paid off.
He knocked, waited for the call, and walked in. Ray stood leaning against the wall reading a file. Cowley sat behind his desk, his glasses magnifying his too alert eyes as he scanned the papers.
"Ah, 3.7, have a seat. We've got a few problems to go over."
Cowley met his eyes, squinted and then glanced at Ray before he looked back and spoke. "You don't look well, 3.7. Were you seriously injured yesterday?"
"No, sir. Just a few bruises. Just couldn't sleep well, could I. But, then 4.5's probably told you all that already, eh, sir?"
"What 4.5's told me or hasn't told me is of no concern to you, Bodie."
The rush of anger caught him off-guard, his skin heated and his tongue even sharper. "With all due respect, sir, but I think it does concern me if whatever he says is about me. I have a right to know."
"You've got no rights here, 3.7." The harsh military tone softened as Cowley leaned back, his intense stare still evaluating. Bodie averted his eyes as he sat down, his hand to his mouth, holding back his plea to be left alone. "I understand your reaction to Keller, lad. I tried to warn you before all this started. He's a right bastard that mate of yours, but he was still a brother in arms and a friend at one time. It's hard to deal with betrayals like that. I'm sorry."
"Thank you, sir." The words cramped his throat, but finally managed to work out the question. "How is Keller? They wouldn't tell me when I called hospital."
Doyle glanced over, the file in his hand now closed. His partner didn't speak, but watched with the intensity that made him such a good agent, with the intelligent scrutiny that revealed more than Bodie wanted him to know.
"They wouldn't tell you, would they? But, don't worry, he'll live. Can't kill the rotten ones, can we." Bodie wore the mask of nonchalance, but relaxed slightly. He hated Jimmy Keller, but he never wanted him dead, never wanted to be the reason for the ending.
Wetting his dry lips, he refocused. "You said we had some problems, sir. What are they?"
The efficient Cowley tone replaced the relaxed one. "First there's Sheila Kaufmann."
"What about her? I told the team about the farm. Didn't they pick her up?"
"She was gone when they got there."
Closing his eyes a moment, he opened them to find both Cowley and Doyle staring at him. He shrugged before he spoke. "She should've been there, sir. I'm sorry. I was so concerned about stopping Keller, I didn't secure her like I should have. I'm to blame."
"Don't be daft, 3.7. You did the right thing. It's just that we're worried that if she's escaped, she'll rejoin her terrorist friends and take information back to Munich. We're not sure what she knows. What did Keller tell you about Kaufmann and her connections?"
He bit back the urge to mention her talent for cocksucking, favoring instead a more useful and conservative answer. "He said she was on the fringe of the movement, sir."
"No major contacts then?"
"Not a main player at all?"
"No, sir, not according to Keller. Of course, he's a lying bastard about a lot of things. He knew I didn't like her being there and he could've just told me that to avoid the fist I wanted to shove down his throat."
"You were upset he had a bird with him at the farm then?" Doyle's voice startled him and brought a slight jerk to his shoulders as he turned to find the dark green eyes watching him closely.
"Well, that bird anyway. She's a bloody terrorist whether she's fucking fringe or not, isn't she?"
"Enough of the language, 3.7, and watch your tone."
"Yes, sir." He turned his attention away from his partner back to his boss. "It's just that Keller's the kind who needs sex, sir. A lot of it, especially before a mission. Him having someone there shouldn't have surprised me, but it did."
"A randy sod, is he?"
Ignoring Ray's taunt, he kept his eyes on Cowley. "Keller may be a bastard, but he was an agent, and a damn good one. I don't know what turned him like it did, but the fact that he was sleeping with a half-baked terrorist showed a lack of judgment that pissed me off and I let him know he was walking a thin line."
"It wasn't the first time though, was it, lad?"
"No, sir. Keller's always been one to take things to the limit. Even so, I didn't trust his judgment when it came to Kaufmann."
Cowley took off his glasses and stared even harder, his eyes back to their natural shape and focus. "And why's that?"
From the side he saw Ray rubbing his mouth, the ache to talk growing as he leaned harder on the file cabinet. Bodie refused to look at the man who knew a huge part of the reason, but instead aimed his words at their controller. "Pardon the language, but she's a hard bitch, sir. I didn't trust her. Just my gut, but she'd sell out her own mother for a drink or a fix."
"She's an addict then?"
"Said she wasn't, but I have reason to believe she is. She's a lush for sure and Keller fed her drugs while I was there."
"Fed her? You mean he doped her up to use her?"
"Made her easier to handle, didn't it? Keller's like that, sir. Knows the person's weak spots and aims right on."
"Sorry bastard." Ray's muttered curse sounded more like an explosion than a whisper.
"Aye, 4.5. He's that for sure."
Cowley's stare cut hard against his brain and he averted his eyes to the window, the city scene beyond a comfort from the friction sanding at the sharp edges of his skull. Both the men knew about Keller's shot at his own frailties. The screaming at the back of his mind grew louder, but he ignored it, too. No use listening to gibberish about things he never intended to face, was there?
"Which brings us to the other problem, Bodie."
"What's that, sir?"
"Keller has information, important information, about the mobs he's been with for the last two years. We need it."
The words like dry sand scraped his throat as he forced them forward. "So, the government's going to make a deal then? Release him for the secrets of the enemy, is it?"
"It's a possibility, but there's a snag."
"What's that, sir?"
"Seems he won't deal with anyone but you, Bodie."
Bloody hell. In his mind he cursed Jimmy Keller, but he spoke calmly. "What's the problem then, sir?"
Cowley and Doyle exchanged worried looks before Doyle came to stand by his chair. "Bodie, the man's a murderer and a traitor. He can't be trusted. You think he's not going to use you again?"
"You mean mess with my head, don't you, Ray?"
"4.5 has a point, 3.7. It's difficult to judge how much of what he's saying is true, but you know him better than either of us. The concern is whether you know him too well."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means you're emotionally involved. I don't know if I can count on you to be objective enough to tell us the truth if you think Keller's lying just to get out of going to prison."
"He's fooled you before, Bodie. You lose your head when you're around that bastard. Said so yourself. Good judgment flies right out the bloody window. Admit it."
"Calm down, Doyle. Let the man answer. And watch your bloody language. This is my office, not some dead common pub room."
"Yes, sir." Contritely, Ray walked back to lean against the wall, but the fear passing itself off as anger twisted his features. "I just think it's a mistake to send Bodie into this again. He barely got out this time."
"We've discussed this already, 4.5. It's up to your partner to say whether he can handle it or not. Not you. I know it won't be easy, but Bodie's never been one to back away from a challenge."
Avoiding Ray's worried eyes, he looked at Cowley. "What exactly do you want me to do, sir?"
"We need you to convince Keller that it's in his best interest to cooperate with us, to give us the secrets. I don't think your friend fully understands the concept of a life spent in a British prison."
"Oh, he understands well enough, sir, that I'm sure of. Thing is, he never believed he'd ever get caught."
"Arrogant then is he?"
"Usually had a reason to be, didn't he, sir? I mean, if he hadn't come back to save me this time, he'd have half a million and be on his way to some Italian beach somewhere.
"Aye, you're probably right. Then again, if he hadn't been a traitor to start, you'd never have been in danger."
"True. So, how do I go about convincing him, sir?"
"You're willing to try then?"
"Don't see that I have much of a choice, do I? He's got what we need, and I'm the one he'll talk to. What's to decide? I can handle Jimmy Keller, sir." The words sounded so calm and so convincing, he almost believed them himself.
"Can you? You're sure then?"
"Yes, sir. When do you want me to see him?"
"This afternoon. He's out of surgery and recovering nicely under guard at hospital. Been asking to see you."
"Yes. Won't answer questions from anyone else."
"Just like Jimmy to be stubborn."
He glanced up at his slip and found Cowley's eyes studying him. "Bodie, be honest. Is this going to be a problem?" He motioned his head toward Ray. "Doyle thinks it's a mistake. Is he right, lad? Won't be a dishonor to say so. You've been through a lot already. We can find another way. Put Keller in prison awhile and he'll talk soon enough."
"Soon enough to be useful?" He leaned forward, his elbows supporting him in the chair. The slight shaking he passed off as fatigue and ignored the tight spasms in his back begging for attention. He swallowed a few times to push away the nausea welling up and refocused instead on the mission of regaining trust. "We all know that if we don't move soon, the contacts Keller made will find out we have him and change their plans. They'll move and go underground even further. To be useful at all, we've got to work quickly to find out what we can so we can act on it straight away."
"And you don't have any reservations about working with Keller?"
"Of course, I do, sir, but I can handle it." For the first time in the meeting, he made direct eye contact with Doyle and held it. "Trust me, Ray. Trust me to do this."
"It's bloody Keller I don't trust, Bodie, not you. He's a dangerous bastard who needs serious handling. I just don't want you getting hurt again."
The heat of caring fired his friend's words and burned his skin, each syllable like a torch to pale flesh. Cowley cleared his throat and Bodie turned back to his boss. "We both think you'll do your best, lad. Just trust us enough to let us know if you get in there and can't follow through."
"I'm fine, sir. I can do this."
"Then this afternoon, we'll start. I want you to get all the background files we had sent over from SAS and go over them. You and Doyle work together to figure out what to look for in case Keller decides to do a circle round what we want."
As he started to rise and Ray stepped closer, Cowley's voice added. "And stop by the infirmary on the way to records."
His body stayed still, his tongue a surprised rebel. "Sir?"
"Get some aspirin or something. Wouldn't do for your head to explode before we even got started would it?"
"On my way, sir."
"Remember what I said."
"Dismissed. On your bikes then."
Once outside the door, Bodie relaxed enough to grimace and put his arm back behind him, the heat and support an ease to the increasing throb. All the way to the elevator, they walked together without speaking. Inside, he found his voice. "Thanks, Ray."
"Not telling him about the bruises."
A short snort caught his attention. "What?"
"I told him, Bodie, but the bastard's more concerned about using you to get what we need from Keller. As long as you can move, you stupid ox, he'll use you. And me or anybody else for that matter. You think that big performance of being okay fooled anybody? Not bloody likely. We both know the mission comes first."
"You told him?"
"Yes. Didn't make much difference though, did it?"
He braced himself, the rail on the wall a cold support against both sweaty hands. "What else did you tell him?"
Doyle's hand on his arm forced him to open his eyes and meet his partner's. "No, Bodie, I didn't tell him the rest. No way he needs to know that. It's just I was worried, that's all. You look like shit and something's not right or you wouldn't be running a fever and still looking all pale like you do. It's low grade, but it's still there. I don't like it."
As the doors opened, Bodie walked out into the corridor, his mouth shut. He didn't say that Cowley already knew, because that didn't matter. What made a difference was that Doyle didn't tell, kept his secret like he promised.
"Bodie, the infirmary's this way."
"I'm going to records."
"But Cowley said..."
"Cowley said a lot of things, mate." He turned and faced off and asked what he needed to know. "When we left, what did he mean about you remembering? Had a nice chat about poor Bodie, did you?"
Doyle stared back, his face stern and set in that stubborn mask he knew only too well. "Poor Bodie? Yeah, like that's a new subject, eh. Listen, mate, I can't tell you what he was talking about, but it's not what you think, nothing that makes a difference about how I feel."
"Then why can't you tell me?"
"Because Cowley told me not to."
"So, why'd he mention it in front of me like that? He knew I'd ask."
"Yeah, he did. Guess it's another test, innit? Wants to see if I'll tell you after he told me not to."
"How's he going to know?"
Smiling, his face suddenly softer, Doyle stepped closer. "Oh, he'd know, sunshine."
"Because you'd storm in and punch his nose a bloody good one, that's how." The husky tones of the voice had no place in headquarters, but he couldn't deny their effect.
"Know me that well then, eh?"
"Well enough, and so does Cowley. Manipulative old sod." A hand rested on his shoulder, the gentle, but firm push back toward the infirmary hard to resist. "Come on then. Let's get something to make it all better before we head off to the paper mill. Afternoon's going to be lovely enough sifting though Keller's official secrets, innit."
Nodding, surrendering to the man walking him down the hall, he ignored the hateful doubts that knocked at his thoughts. He couldn't fail, couldn't dare to lose to Keller again. For the first time in a weeks, he focused on the moment and blotted out the past by listening to the soothing voice of his best friend bitching about Cowley and life at CI5 in general. Ray could always make him smile, silly bugger.
Reading reports cross-eyed made for double reading and Bodie hated it. He put down the file and rubbed his eyes to clear away the film that clouded his vision.
"You okay, mate?" Murphy, not Doyle this time, asked the question.
"Fine. And the next berk who asks me that is going to owe me a pint. Now, which one of you sods has the January report of this year?"
Murphy handed him the paper while glancing over at Doyle, his worried eyes too easily read. "Ray, I think your mate here needs a bit of a lie down. We're not due at hospital for another two hours. I can finish the summary lists as well as he can."
"Tell him yourself then, Murphy, because he's a right obstinate bastard. The doctor gave him a shot in his arse and told him the same thing, but did our Bodie listen? Nah, too damn stubborn by half, he is."
"You two clowns keep talking about me like I'm not here and I'm leaving."
"Do that, Bodie, and see how far you get. Not bloody far unless it's to bed, I'll wager." The challenge in Ray's voice outweighed the usual lilting tease. He leaned in closer, his voice dropped below a whisper. "Look, sunshine, it's just us here. Go rest while we finish up. This meeting with Keller's going to be a rough one, and you don't look like you could put up your dukes to fight off my little sister on a Sunday."
"Mine either, 3.7. Your ex-mate's been a busy bloke these last couple of years. You may be there awhile with the details. You fall on your ugly mug after the first half, we'll miss all the good bits. Wouldn't want to face Cowley after that."
"He's right, Bodie. Go rest while you can. It's going to be a marathon session once you get started in on Keller."
"Conspiracy against me now, is it?" He scanned their faces and only saw the concern, their uneasiness barely masked. Closing his eyes for a moment, he nodded. "All right then. You two want to do the scut bit while I lay about, fine. Couple of nutters if you ask me, but then you wouldn't be in CI5 if you were normal, would you?"
"Look who's talking nutter, Doyle. Not counting Mad Tommy, who'd you expect to win the craziest bastard award in CI5?"
"Not me, Murphy? You then?"
"Not while Bodie's alive."
Bodie, trying to gain favor, tossed in a name. "What about Macklin?"
Murphy challenged. "Doesn't count if you're a trainer and just plain sadistic. No, we're just talking plain foot soldiers like us. Face it, mate. You're the winner."
"And my prize, eh?"
"A nice nap and a free new wardrobe. Arms that tie in the back. All the rage for crazy ex-mercs like yourself."
Shifting his attention to Doyle, he shrugged, "Guess I'm more tired that I thought. Don't even want to smash his face in."
"Plain knackered, sunshine."
"Yeah, maybe. Later then."
He took extra care to stand slowly to control the steady waves splashing inside his misty head and made it to the door before he turned. "Be sure to note any mention of our girl Sheila, Ray. I want that one for myself."
"Already done, mate. I'll wake you when we're ready."
Nodding, he made it to the resting area, sat on the bed and found himself almost too tired to lie down. Several deep breaths later, he took off his shoes and settled on his back, thinking over the last few days, his life turned over by Jimmy Keller one more time. Closing his eyes, he found himself drifting into the rhythm of the past, the swirling light growing more narrow, the sounds of sailing ships and jungles like low echoes over his bones.
"You're not going in without the video, Bodie. There's too much at stake here."
"I understand that, sir, but there'll be things said that have nothing to do with CI5 or terrorists." Bodie stepped in closer, his head down as he spoke. "Please, sir. I'll get him to talk, but I need to have a bit of freedom. I know Keller. When I go in there, he's going to spend the first bit playing mind games. I'd just as soon keep that part private."
"Aye. You know the man better than I do, and I know this is painful for you, 3.7."
"Do you, sir?"
Meeting Cowley's gaze, he recognized a sight he'd seen only a few times before, compassion, the unusual softness just inside the stern stare. "Yes, Bodie. I do. I'll grant you this much. Very few people will have access to the full transcript or the tapes. The part we'll need to share with other branches or agents will go through me first. You're going to have to trust me on this."
"That's not easy, sir."
"I know, lad, but it's necessary. We need this, and, frankly, so do you."
"Keller's a ghost, Bodie. He'll haunt you unless you finish this. You and Doyle both need to put him to rest."
Straightening, Bodie walked over to the two way glass and watched Keller lying in his hospital bed, his arms up behind his head as he rested. "Doyle knows about Keller and me, sir."
"I assumed that, even though he's never mentioned it. You told him yourself then or did he guess it?"
"A little of both, I'm afraid. My partner's a clever sod sometimes."
"That he is, but a good man to have on your side. I know this is a delicate situation. Damn embarrassing to face your past with an audience, but it can't be helped."
"I know, sir."
"Then do whatever you have to, 3.7."
Glancing up at the tone, the meaning all too clear, Bodie pressed for confirmation. "Whatever, sir? Are you saying that I should give him a full pardon for what he's done?"
"I'm saying if he asks you to still be involved, pretend that's an option."
Snorting, disgusted with the prospect of playing a bigger and more dangerous game than ever before, Bodie spoke quietly, his words almost too husky to hear. "You've no idea what you're asking, sir. I'm not that good an actor, am I."
"Based on what I've seen, you're one of the best, lad. Keller's information can save lives if we get it fast enough. Is your pride more important than innocent lives?"
"There's a difference between pride and self-respect, sir. He knows me, better than Doyle even. He'll know I'm lying."
"There's still time to back out."
"No, there's not and we both know it." Taking a deep breath, he rubbed his forehead, thinking once again of bearing the humiliation of both the need and the fear of Jimmy Keller's touches. "Could I at least do this without Doyle watching?"
"I'm sorry, but to exclude him would just make bigger questions. Besides, he's your partner. You need to trust him."
"I do trust him, sir, but this is different. He's never really seen me with Keller. I don't want him seeing me act like some bloody whore." In his mind he imagined Ray's outrage, the seething building to shock.
"No time for self pity, lad. It doesn't become you. This is business. Doyle understands that. Give him more credit than that, Bodie. He'll understand what you're doing. Besides, if nothing else, he can blame me."
"That's big of you, sir." Glancing back to the room, his ex-partner staring at the mirrored glass, he cleared his throat. "We might as well do this then. Is there tape already set up?"
"The camera's at this end and we have back up tapes loaded and ready along with an extra sensitive mike. We won't miss even a whisper."
"That's certainly a bloody comfort. Be plenty of cozy moments to mull over, eh?"
"Do this right, and you'll be able to close the book on Jimmy Keller. Give him the terms, and once we have what we want, he'll be deported with the knowledge that if he ever returns, all deals will be off and he'll go to prison."
"And if he wants me to go with him?"
"You'll do what you have to, Bodie. That's why you're part of my best team. You think on your feet and, most importantly, you're a survivor." Cowley reached over, picked up the file and papers. "Here are the summaries from Murphy and Doyle. Known contacts and associates, the lists of all the names and places Keller should be able to provide. You know the game, Bodie. Play it to win as always."
The thick file weighed a lifetime. "Yes, sir."
"Where the hell have you been, Bodie? Took you long enough to get here. Thought I'd see you this morning."
Bodie set the file by the bed, his body just the safe side of trembling. "Had a few things to take care of, didn't I. Hear you've been making a right nuisance of yourself as usual."
"You been watching behind the window there, mate?" He motioned his head toward the one-way glass. "Been getting a good show then?"
"Not really. Dead boring watching you sleep."
"Never used to think it was boring. Oh, yeah, but that's when we slept in the same bed, eh? Different from the other side of the wall, I'll wager. Got lovely Ray over there with you? Give him a nice cuddle while you're watching me doze, did you? Or maybe it was Cowley? Old bones feel good again, do they?"
Keeping his voice calm, his nerves singed and flashed warnings under his skin. Not raising his voice, he still hammered home his point. "I warned you before, Jimmy. Leave Doyle out of this. Don't say his name again, or anybody else's, or I'm gone and you can talk to the bloody SAS and see how much of a deal they'll give you, you sorry bastard."
Leaning back carefully, Keller pulled the covers up over his lap and smiled as he smoothed down the blanket's edge with his right hand. "Calm down for christsakes. We've got more important things to say than exchanging threats, don't we?"
"You want to save your arse and I've got the power to do that. You give us the information we need, and you're out of England, no trial, no prison. It's a one-time offer, so you'd better take it while you're still able."
"And if I don't?"
"Remember the things I told you about prison before?"
Keller's dark eyes narrowed as he kept his eyes on his ex-partner. "Yeah, Bodie, I remember. You saying British prisons would be like those in the Congo? Think they'll do me like the bastards did you?"
His words thickened, each one almost too huge to leave his throat. "No, not like they did me, but it won't be a pick and choose operation either, mate. You're tough enough to survive, but after a few years, the question will be, will you want to. I know you, Jimmy. Put you behind bars, they'd best keep you tied down after awhile. You'll find a way to end it. It won't be an easy stroll is all I'm saying. Take the deal while it's offered."
Long moments stretched longer until Keller finally lifted his hand toward Bodie. "Well give it over then, luv. Let me read the small print your Cowley's come up with. Need to see what I'm buying, don't I."
Pulling out a one sheet document from the folder, Bodie stepped closer, his wrist captured by Keller.
"We need to talk about us before we get into all this, mate. I've got things to explain. You said we'd talk later. Well, it's later now, eh."
"True enough, but let go before I rip your bloody arm off." At the hesitation, Bodie leaned in, his voice a fearful whisper. "I swear, I'll hurt you, Jimmy. Don't make me."
The release came with a string of familiar curses. "Jesus, Bodie. How am I going to tell you the truth if you won't listen? God, you're a stubborn sod."
"Save the personal drama for later, Keller. Right now I'm here because you've got something my mob wants and you don't want to rot in prison."
"You don't approve, Bodie? Sounds like you'd like to see me locked away, save you the trouble of caring, would it?"
"You saved me the trouble of caring a long time ago, mate. Bleed all over the floor and tell all the sob stories you want after we iron out the details, eh. For now, just read the damn thing and let's get on with it."
Keller closed his eyes a moment before he finally spoke, his words even deeper then usual. "I trust you, Bodie. If you say it's a fair deal, I believe you."
"More than you deserve."
"Probably. Doesn't matter. You know I'm going to ask for one more thing before I sell out two entire terrorists factions, an anti-British underground, and tell you the whereabouts of an IRA cache of weapons to rival the Royal Army's."
"Yeah? And what's that?"
"You're coming with me or the deal's off."
"Don't be daft. You don't need me." Heart pounding, the sweat already collecting, he struggled to steady his breathing. He imagined Doyle in the room next door, his best friend watching the whole conversation.
"You're the best soldier I've ever met, the best man, too, really."
"Small circles you run in, mate. Got to get out more."
"Maybe, but I want you with me. I'm not quite up to par right now, and I need someone to watch my back, at least until I can find some decent deep cover. You know what's going to happen when they find out I've grassed."
"They'll put out a hit."
"Yeah, for big money, so, I need a good man and that's you, luv. You go with me or the deal's off."
Bodie drew in a deep breath, air trapped in his overburdened lungs. "Just sign the fucking papers and tell me the details I'm selling my life for then."
"Just as serious as I am when I say I hate you." The words tasted like dry rust on his tongue, the bitter scraping his throat with each syllable.
"You don't hate me, Bodie, never have. I've taken a bullet for you twice now."
"Nobody asked you to."
"But I did. Face it, mate, even when you're begging me to stop pounding into your gorgeous ass, you don't hate me. You can't. You need me as much as I need you."
Bodie turned, his eyes more clear and more blue than ever before, his lips curled back to grab the truth and toss it right back in the face of his ex-best mate. "Don't fucking flatter yourself. You want to pretend like treating me like shit makes you a better man, then do it, but don't imagine in your wildest dreams that I feel anything but a bitter pall when you touch me. Not now. Not after everything that's happened."
"You really hate me then?"
"Yeah, I do."
"But you'll still go with me? Whore yourself for your precious CI5?"
Keller smiled, his dark eyes dulled in the hospital lighting. "That's my Bodie then. Loyal to a fucking fault. God, just looking at you makes me hungry."
"Being such a horny rotten bastard." Tired, but determined to finish in one sitting, Bodie put the folder down and shrugged off his heavy jacket, the heat in the room too stifling. He kept his back to the mirror, the flush on his skin a combination of shame, self-loathing, and dread.
"Let's get started then. Tell me about the IRA weapons first."
"Hang about. Are you saying you meant what you said in there? You're actually planning to go with him? Alone?"
"Part of the deal, Doyle."
"You've gone round the twist then, have you?"
"I gave him my word. Not something I can go back on."
Bodie sat in front of Cowley's desk while Ray stood at the window, his hand making a tangled mess of his curls. "Sir, are you telling me you back this plan?"
"I'm afraid 3.7's decided on his own. It's a sacrifice, but one he's willing to make."
"And you knew about this before he went in there, did you?"
"We'd discussed it as a possibility, yes."
Bodie leaned forward in the chair, his back still complaining but with a dull ache rather than a sharp one. "Listen, Ray. I'm not leaving for good. It's just until he's safe. You know he's going to be a target."
"For a damn good reason. Why don't you let him put a gun to your head, because that's what he's doing. Black-hearted bastard's playing you like a fine game, mate."
"Nothing new there, Ray."
"I don't bloody believe this." Storming out the door, Doyle didn't even bother to slam it, just kept right on walking away.
Bodie stayed very still before he finally spoke. "That went well, eh?"
"Not well at all, lad, but he'll get over it."
Glancing up, Bodie met tired eyes watching him closely. "Maybe, sir, but while I'm gone, I'd appreciate it if you'd pair him with Murphy."
"Might get up his nose a bit to do that right now. Might make him too distracted."
"Our Doyle's a bit of an old lady when it comes to worry. He needs someone to watch his back."
"Don't worry about your partner, Bodie. I'll need to keep an eye on 4.5 until we know the full situation with Keller. Meanwhile, you're going to stop by the infirmary for another check and then go home. It's been a wearing twenty-four hours."
"Just turning up morning. Why bother?" Bodie rubbed his eyes, his own flesh screaming the answer. Exhaustion drooped his very cells, his tissue pure ache and spasm. "I'll just crash out for a few hours and I'll be fine."
"This isn't open for discussion, 3.7. The doctor said he'd probably need to give you more antibiotic. Seems you've got some kind of infection you neglected to mention."
"Nothing serious or worth whining over, is it?"
"Just go see him and then go home. We've got the wheels in motion to move on everything Keller's given us so far. Come back tonight and we should have some reports to go over. I also want to press him again on that Munich connection."
"Yeah, he did a bit a hedging about on that one. That's the one the bird Kaufmann went with. He's probably trying to protect her."
"Maybe, but I'd still like to know their plans and if they're in Germany or closer."
"If he knows anything about it, I'll get it." He couldn't bring himself to rise, to leave with things spinning like wild flashes in his head. "What about Doyle, sir? He's pretty riled."
"With good reason, but it can't be helped, can it." Cowley stood up, walked to the cabinet, and then poured two drinks. Handing one to Bodie, his voice sounding softer, almost soothing. "I appreciate what you're doing, lad. Give him a little time and he'll come around to it. Just a might stubborn and afraid, that's all."
"Yes, Bodie, afraid. You lived it, but you didn't see it from our view in the other room. Watching you with Keller, well, let's just say, it surprised me more than I expected. I thought I might have to sedate your partner before you got even the first ten minutes done."
"That bad, eh?"
"Worse. Keller's crude behavior toward you was bad enough, but when he mentioned the Congo prison, I had to order Doyle not to go over with his gun. Too soon to shoot him again, but 4.5 argued the opposing point quite well."
"Bit starkers was he?"
"Furious doesn't half describe it."
Bodie sipped the liquor, the liquid a fire stream focusing his mind on anything but the question.
"You never told him? "
"No point, was there? History best forgotten."
"Don't fool yourself, lad. That kind of thing stays with a man, especially a soldier."
The air faded from the room, mere rumor. "I can't talk about this, sir."
"I understand that, but Dr. Ross says you're the best deep cover man she's ever seen."
"Hiding the hurt deep and pretending, lad."
"With all due respect to the lady, sir, but she doesn't know a damn thing when it comes to men and how we do things. Bit out of her league, if you get my meaning. Too damn civil and proper to understand real war and surviving."
"You might be right, Bodie, but she's still a doctor and she has a point about some things. What happened in the past wasn't your fault."
"We were talking about my partner. Was he just angry or something more?"
Cowley refilled his glass and then poured another for Bodie, watching the younger man carefully as he spoke. "I imagine it hurt that Keller knew something important about you that he didn't."
Closing his eyes, resting for just a moment, he took several deep breaths before pulling the words out kicking and screaming. "I can't bloody help that, sir. Ray thinks he knows me, but he doesn't."
"I'll wager he knows you've been through a lot of bad patches on the way to CI5, just not the details. He's afraid Keller's a danger to you and he won't be there to help. He's angry for being left out. "
"I don't want to hurt him. Just seems to work out that way."
"Doyle's a strong lad. He'll come around. In the meantime, you need to make sure he keeps his partner. Are you sure about going with Keller?"
Tired blue eyes lifted, the sting like dagger points to his nerves. "I gave my word, sir."
"Aye, you did, lad. A double-edged sword sometimes, honor."
"Yeah, damn sharp, too, innit?"
"Aye. That it is, Bodie. More sharp than we can handle if we misjudge the swing of the blade."
"Sir?" His brain, more dizzy than clear, tilted at the effort to solve the word puzzle.
"Just be sure it's honor and not something else that fuels your decisions when it comes to Keller and Doyle."
"I'm sure there's a meaning in there somewhere, sir, but my brain's right addled at the moment. Give me a few weeks with Ross's little buttons and tests and I'll figure it out, eh?"
"To the infirmary and then I'll have Murphy take you home."
"No need, sir."
"I'm in enough trouble with 4.5, Bodie. Let Murphy drive."
"So, what's going on between you and Ray, Bodie?"
"Eh?" Bodie leaned his head against the cool glass inside Murphy's car, his arms wrapped tight around his middle. His bones ached with the early morning chill, his spine throbbing from the tight muscles protesting the angle of his lower back. Despite heavy cloud cover, he squeezed his eyes shut, even the grey light too bright against his sluggish thinking.
"He tore out of Cowley's office ready to tear flesh. More than a bit peeved, I'd say."
"You'd say right." He snuggled into the unyielding side door and tried to keep from visualizing an angry Ray. "He's not happy with me. He thinks I'm a nutter who can't make my own decisions. You know, Doyle, always over reacting."
"Is he? Never seems that way to me, mate. Between the two of you, you're the one usually does the daft routine. You're the one always taking the risks, always running full speed into danger when you don't have to."
"What the hell are you going on about?" His friend's challenging tone surprised him, unsure what he knew and afraid of what he might.
"I'm just saying that you do things sometimes that make everybody wonder if you don't have some kind of bloody death wish."
"Sod off, Murphy. Drop me off and go find a bird to play with. I'm too tired for stories."
"Listen, mate, you may not know this, but Doyle's really upset about this thing with Keller."
"What thing with Keller?"
"Don't play bloody schoolboy, Bodie. Ex-mate or not, Keller's a stone-cold killer. I've never seen Ray more worried. Even before I saw him stomping out of the Cow's office, I knew something wasn't right. Betty said he left for the day and refused to answer his RT even for Cowley except to say he was safe and give his position."
Sitting up, Bodie ran both hands over his face, the extra whiskers scraping the palms, the burn almost a comfort. "Guess he'll get a reprimand then, eh?"
"Depends. Cowley might overlook it if he thinks there's good enough reason. What'd you do this time, Bodie?"
"Just what I had to."
"That bad, eh? Damn." Murphy stopped for the light, his dark eyes squinted as he looked over. "You're going out alone, aren't you? That's what Ray's so head up about."
"Yeah, something like that. Look, Murphy, I asked Cowley if you'd partner with him while I'm gone for a bit. Said he'd think about it, but you might mention it to Doyle."
"Not me, mate. Do I look like I'd enjoy a fist up the nose? Ray won't take another partner. Hell, no wonder he was so wild when he left. You're going off with bloody Keller on some solo mission. God, you are a crazy bastard."
Taking in a deep breath, he closed his eyes while he spoke, his own words sounding too distant to be real. "Just watch his back while I'm gone. Tends to sulk when I'm missing."
"Don't know why he bothers with you, mate, I really don't. Damn fool sometimes."
A long silence continued as they moved through traffic only a few miles from his flat. Finally Murphy asked, "So, you're going alone for sure then?"
"Yeah. Have to. Once it gets out that Keller's grassed, every hotshot merc assassin will be after the bounty."
"Wouldn't be a major loss if they hit the target, would it?"
Shrugging snagged at his muscles, even his shoulders protesting the slightest movement. He stared out, the busy morning rush hour just beginning, everybody hustling off to regular work days. Blinking several times to clear his blurry vision, he kept his voice flat. "Deserves a fighting chance, mate. You don't know the whole story. Keller took a bullet meant for me when he could've gotten away. I owe him at least a few days to get him settled undercover somewhere until he can take care of himself."
"You believe that?"
"Look, I'm not defending what he did or who his is, but I'm not much in a position to judge him, am I? Besides, I gave my word, didn't I?"
Turning corners several more times, Murphy spoke slowly, as if measuring out his words carefully to avoid an explosion. "Ray's right pissed, Bodie, and he has reason. He's your best mate as well as your partner. You should've warned him about Keller."
"There's no warning for a man like Keller, is there?"
"If something happens, Ray won't recover."
For the first time, Bodie turned and stared at the man driving, the dark features a pure line of concern rather than anger. "You're worried about him then?"
"Yeah, and you, too, you stupid berk. This is a mistake what you're planning. I read all the files and this sod Keller can't be trusted."
"I already know that, don't I. Look, mate, I'll be okay."
"Maybe, but in the meantime you're leaving Doyle on his own. Nobody's going to understand it. You don't come back, Cowley's losing his best team. Ray won't stay without you."
Stopping the car at the curb, Murphy turned and spoke directly. "Just be careful, Bodie. Don't get your arse blown to pieces all over Europe."
"Now that's a lovely picture, mate. Be a right mess picking it all up, wouldn't it?"
Grabbing his arm as he started to open the door, Murphy shook his head. "I'm not joking. Be careful."
Bodie looked down at the hand holding him back, and then up at the man beside him. "I'm always careful, Murphy. Become a habit, breathing. Just watch Doyle for me and I'll bring you a souvenir from France, something to give a sweet bird, eh?"
He opened the door and stepped out, his friend remaining quiet. As he closed the door and turned, he heard a throat clearing and a quick toss off of words while Murphy drove back into traffic. "Poor sod."
Walking into his building, he wondered if that lament applied to either Ray or himself. Then he decided it didn't much matter.
Scraping off the last of the whiskers, he proceeded to brush his teeth, the bristles like needles against his gums. He rinsed his mouth before turning to wipe his face with the towel. Ignoring the aches still haunting his back, he focused instead on the rough cloth against his newly shaved cheeks. No way did he want to think much about his body's betrayal, the slow dulling of his brain, the pounding a steady constant. He couldn't afford to consider it, couldn't afford to take time off with so much to do.
Cleaning up the loo, he put the towels on the rack to dry and walked back to the bedroom. Fully dressed, he worked on automatic to make the bed and pulled out his kit. He needed to pack for a colder climate and rougher living. Just as he folded his thermals, the door bell rang.
Opening the door, he found his partner waiting. The smell of Chinese chicken came with his greeting. "Evening, sunshine. Eat yet?"
"Got a new job delivering, have you?"
"Yeah, get tips, too, if I'm lucky. Can I come in?"
Backing away, Bodie stood to the side as Ray carried the load to the table. Locking up, he went to get two beers. "Want one?"
"Sure." As he took the drink, Ray stared at him as he spoke. "I'm sorry about this morning."
"Yeah? Something special happen this morning, did it? Too tired to notice."
"Good, because I was busy making a right arse out of myself in Cowley's office. Glad you missed it really." Bodie drank his beer slowly watching his partner scoot around the kitchen getting plates and forks. "Thought you could use a bit of take away before you went back in."
"It smells good, Ray. Thanks." The quiet words brought his friend to a stand still.
"You still look like bloody hell, Bodie. Better, but still not right. What'd the doctor say?"
"Nothing serious. So, what'd you bring me?" He chugged the beer with a deep swallow and threw the bottle away. Grabbing another, he sat down at the table while going for one of the white cartons and a plate. He filled his mouth with vegetables and rice, some of the saucy grains falling back to the table.
"Slow down, Bodie. Liable to choke on a stubborn water chestnut you start gobbling like you're starving."
"Am starving, Ray." While he ignored the concerned look, he continued to chew and then drink more beer. "Lovely idea, this take away stuff."
"So, when's the last time you ate?"
"Been meaning to get round to it, haven't I. Just been busy." Taking another big bite, he savored the rich tangy flavor and the returning appetite. "Have a seat, sunshine. Makes me nervous you standing there. Look too much like bloody Ross taking notes while she thinks I'm not watching."
"Yeah, terrible spy material that one, mate." He settled in and then reached for his own portions. "Sometimes wonder what she thinks about us though."
"Don't know really. Just a feeling. You're right about her taking notes when she thinks we're not paying attention. Caught her recording us once, too."
"Must get lonely living on her own. Need a bit of entertainment, doesn't she? She could do worse than Bodie and Doyle doing a bit of a stand up for distraction, eh."
"Do a good show now and then, don't we." Ray lifted his beer in a pretend toast and tipped it back to take a deep drink.
Wiping his mouth with his napkin, Bodie did the same and then asked, "So, what'd Cowley do when you went back into headquarters?"
"Couldn't say. Haven't been yet, have I." Using his fork to play tag with the rice, he refused to meet Bodie's gaze.
"Ray, I'm sorry about Keller."
"I know. It's just that I hated the things he said to you. More than that, I hated that he knew we were watching and it didn't make a difference. The man's cold, mate, too cold and that scares me."
Pushing the plate away, Bodie stood and took his beer to the sofa. "He's not as bad as all that."
"You defending him then?"
"No, he's a right bastard, no question, but he's that way for a reason. Can't blame him for doing what I let him get by with, can I? It's the way it's always been between us. Don't ask me to explain it, Ray. I wouldn't know where to begin."
"How about what happened in the Congo prison?"
His head snapped up at the words, but then he looked away, his voice already thick and resisting. "No. It started long before that. You don't need the details. Believe me, sunshine, it's nothing special, nothing new by any stretch of the imagination."
"More's the pity then, innit."
"Yeah, well, by the time I ran into Jimmy, I was a bit of a mess really. Hard to believe, but he really wasn't that bad considering."
"Considering where I'd been."
"Don't use that tone, Ray. I don't want your pity."
"Wasn't offering it, was I. It's just hard to believe you carry this around all the time and don't go half raving mad."
"Only half raving?"
"Be serious, Bodie." Ray left the table and sat in the chair across from him, his body leaning forward. "You saying Keller was a step up then?"
"Yeah. Look, I don't want to get into all this right now. It's too complicated, and, frankly, I'm too damn tired. When I get back from doing this bit with Keller, I'll tell you whatever you really want to know, but, be sure that's what you want, Ray. It's not a pretty thing, history."
"Pretty or not, I need to know. I've told you how I feel and ever since then there's been this space between us. I love you, you stupid sod. I don't want to get ambushed when I don't have to, do I."
"I can't promise to tell it all. There's too much I don't even let myself think about. Sharing every bloody bit, well, I just can't."
"But you told Keller?"
"Not on purpose. The Congo thing came up when we ran into a soldier from the prison."
"The Congo thing? Is that what you call it?"
"Well, hell was already taken, wasn't it? Leave it alone, Ray. I don't want to talk about it." Standing, he went for another beer only to turn and find his partner right there beside him. "You want one, too, then?"
In a voice so low and husky it tingled his insides, Ray spoke in a hush. "I want you, Bodie."
A hand snaked to the back of his neck, the fingers stroking and urging him forward. Closing his eyes, he pushed his friend away, the tremors in his arms shaking all the way through to his heart.
"Not now, Ray. I can't. I'm sorry." He stepped to the side and headed for the bedroom, avoiding the painful sight of his best friend's shock and disappointment.
As he continued to stuff clothes in his duffel bag, Doyle stood at the doorway, his arms around his thin body. "You're really going to go then?"
"Yeah. Not much choice really. Reckon I'll take him to France. Bury him deep in a farm I know there while he sets up his contacts and new ID. He should be able to fend for himself in a few weeks. I'll come back then."
"If you're still alive."
"Well, there's always that little detail, isn't there."
"You leaving tonight?"
"Yeah, probably get a plane out soon as Keller can leave hospital. Too risky to stay put too long. Another day or two and we won't even be able to trust the nurses."
Bodie watched his friend struggle to control his emotions, the hurt twined with anger, the fear wrapped with frustration. "Just promise me one thing then."
"Come back alive."
"I plan to do my best, sunshine, but no promises."
"Not even a bloody promise? God, what a sorry bastard."
Without another word, Ray turned, the sound of the door slamming as he left like a portent of loss.
His whisper chanted his regret, his throat muscles sore from the strain. "Never good at promises, was I?"
"You're awfully quiet, Bodie."
"Nothing to say, is there. Try sleeping and you won't even notice."
"Can't sleep. Never could in a car. You know that."
"We have a long way to the farm, at least another hour yet. Doctors had a right fit about you leaving so soon. Might as well take advantage and sleep while you can."
Keller shifted in the seat, his long legs awkward and hard to wedge into the small space. "They make cars for dwarves nowadays, don't they. Damn uncomfortable. Need a good army truck, that's what."
Ignoring the complaint, Bodie stared out into darkness as he maneuvered the narrow country road, his gut and throat thirsty. He wanted a drink, didn't matter what, anything to dull the slow throbbing growing louder in his brain. Flashing back to his last meeting with Ray, he imagined his lips curled around the edge of the beer bottle, imagined his partner on his knees, full lips wrapped around his cock. Shit.
"Where we going? I mean, I know we're in France somewhere, but where exactly?"
Rubbing a hand across his forehead, he wiped away the cold sweat that chilled his skin. "Larkin's farm in the north."
"Joe Larkin? Thought he died a few years back."
"Went into hiding, took on a new face, and works out of Spain. Travels a bit, but he owes me. This place will be okay for a few weeks. Meanwhile, I've got a bloke working on getting you new paper, passport, accounts, the whole deal. All I have to do is keep your arse alive until he's done and you're on your own."
"On my own, eh? That wasn't the deal, Bodie. I'm not expecting to be solo for this whole thing. You're staying with me."
Turning in his seat, Bodie glanced over, alternating his attention from driving to his passenger. "Get this through your thick skull, Jimmy. I'll give you the debt for the bullet, but no more. I'll stay until you can watch your own back, because I owe you that much, but I'm not giving up my work at CI5. It suits me."
"Doyle suits you, you mean."
"Maybe, but that's not the bleedin' point. And I'm going to warn you one more time, leave Ray's name out. You keep bringing it up and I'm getting damned tired of it."
"You've changed, Bodie."
He hit a sudden bump in the road, the steering wheel lurching in his hands. After several long moments, he managed to get to the side and pull over. He shut off the engine and turned in his seat. The dark eyes staring back absorbed the light, drank in the thin beams from the glowing headlights to grow even blacker.
Sitting there, the long night between them, the swell of anger pushed his words. "You were saying?"
"You're stronger than you used to be."
"Yeah, well, thanks to George Cowley, I don't have to act like some bloody leper, do I. He knows about me and doesn't shove it in my face or use it against me. Say all you want about hard-nosed Cowley, but the man taught me respect, both how to give it and accept it. Never met anyone quite like him before, did I."
"Sounds like you're in love with the old bugger."
"Shut it, Jimmy. You wouldn't understand no matter how I tried to explain it."
Settling back in his seat, his long arms resting around himself, Keller studied him, watched quietly for a moment before finally speaking. "I understand, mate. I do. It's just I've never seen this side of you before. With us, it's always been the darker side, hasn't it, not that I'm complaining. I have to say that sex with you is the best I've ever had, but this new Bodie has potential. A little self-respect thrown into the bed might add a bit of spice to the mix, don't you think? You keep this up, I might even let you fuck me for a change. Would you like that, Sunshine?"
As Keller reached out to stroke his face, he grabbed the hand and stilled it. "No, Jimmy, I wouldn't like that. This trip is business only. No fooling around, and I mean it. Try to push me too hard, you'll find your sorry arse sitting in icy French mud in the middle of bloody nowhere." Shoving the hand away, he smiled as he spoke with smooth charm. "Go ahead and test me, mate. I'll break your bleedin' arm next time."
Rubbing his wrist, Keller stared in disbelief before he finally found the words to complain. "Damn it, Bodie, what are you playing at? This isn't the way the game goes and you know it."
"Know this, Jimmy, old friend, that game is finished. Get used to it, mate. Your season of Bodie fucking is over and done with. In two weeks I'm going back to England and Jimmy Keller with his new ID will be on his own."
"You've gotten cold, Bodie."
"I've gotten good sense."
"You think so?"
"I bloody know so." He stared out the window, his chest weighted with the victory of finally saying what he needed to say.
"Yeah, well, a lot can happen in two weeks, Bodie. You think you can stay sober for that long?"
He turned his head to take in the dark eyes trained dead at his face. "What are you on about then?"
"Do you think it's just a fluke that whenever I get the best fucks, it's usually while you're drunk or hung over? Think about it. You want it as much as I do, you just have to make excuses about it, get drunk so you don't have to accept how much you need to be taken. Just between us, admit it. You love being roughed up and fucked. For whatever reason, it's what you're used to."
Sucker-punched with the truth behind the words, Bodie reached and turned the ignition. As the engine revved up, he growled. "You're a nutter, Jimmy. Now leave off before I shove you out the door."
"Growl and protest all you want, Bodie. I bloody well know you. I'll wager inside of a couple of days, you'll be drunk on Larkin's wine and I'll be bending you over the kitchen table." He kept silent while Keller settled back in his seat, the steady hum of the tires against the road a dirge. "Yeah, it'll be like old times. Just wait and see, Bodie."
"Don't hold your breath, sunshine. I'll be burying you out on Larkin's farm you keep at it. I might even claim the bounty if you don't bugger off."
He continued driving, his teeth grinding, his cock insisting on being noticed. Even as he sat next to the man he hated, he imagined Jimmy pounding into him, driving home his own self-loathing with a relentless, unmerciful rhythm. Two weeks with his ex-partner and he'd be ready to shoot himself if he didn't shoot Jimmy first.
"Well, this is right cozy. No heat, no electricity, no civilization for bloody miles. What the hell are you thinking, Bodie?"
"I'm thinking a bullet to the brain might shut your mouth faster than a fist."
Keller turned and dropped his bag on the table, pulling out a chair before slumping down. "Don't be so damn fussy, mate. I'm just tired, that's all. There's a generator around somewhere, right?"
"Yeah. I've got to go prime it. When I get done outside, I'll get some logs and start a fire." Bodie picked up the lantern and held it up to Keller's face, noting the dark circles and paleness in the dim light. "You okay? You look about ready to pass out on me."
"Just knackered's all. Been a long trip. I'd lie down, but I'm afraid I'd freeze until you get the fire going. Can't take a bullet as easy as I used to."
"Yeah, damn old bugger, you are. Why don't I start the fire first then. You can warm the bones a bit while I get things set up. Larken said he'd have things ready for me."
"Did he? Since when have you and Joe Larkin been on such good terms? Last I remember, he got up your nose more often than not. Hated me with a passion."
Kneeling in front of the fireplace, Bodie found the wood already laid for a fire. Leaning in, he worked the kindling into a nice steady flame, the small crackling effect and heat a relief to his tension. "Joe's not so bad. I helped him and his kid when he got in trouble before he disappeared."
"Payback now, is it?"
"That and he doesn't know he's helping you make a break for it."
"You didn't tell him?"
"Thought I'd like to live the next few weeks, didn't I. Larkin finds out it's you I'm hiding, he's more likely to turn you over. Can't blame him for hating your guts, can you. I mean, you did steal his bird."
"Nobody steals anybody, Bodie. Didn't Krivas teach you that?"
Bodie stood, his anger so quick to flash, it scared him. Forcing himself to stand still, his fists balled, he took a deep breath before he let himself speak. "Don't even play that card, Jimmy."
"I didn't mean anything by it."
"You keep testing me with these quick jabs, mate."
"I was just talking."
"No, you weren't. You were trying me on and I'm not having it. You want to be ugly and I swear I'll leave you here to fend for yourself.
Shrugging, Keller raised a hand in surrender. "God, you've turned into a right old lady. Jesus, this is going to be a boring time."
"Let's hope so." Bodie moved to stoke the fire a few times, making sure the fledgling flames didn't give up.
"What's that mean?"
"It means, don't get too comfy. This place is pretty isolated, but it's still possible someone could find us. Last time I checked, the bounty was at quarter million. That'd buy a lot of bullets for some busy merc."
"And it only takes one." After a few more quiet moments, Keller's voice started again. "So, how did you hear about the bounty?"
"Still got my contacts, don't I. Seems they want you more dead than alive. All the bloke's got to do is prove you're dead and the money's paid out to a Swiss account. Very neat and modern this assassin business."
A hoarse laugh came from behind him as he stood up. "Sounds like you're tempted to take it."
"No, not my game anymore, is it? Though when you turn nasty on me, I must admit the trigger finger gets a might twitchy."
Bodie stared into unsure eyes and it pleased him. "Don't worry, mate. Haven't killed anybody in his sleep in ages, have I."
"You're a sorry bastard, Bodie."
"Think I'll start the generator now that you won't be freezing while I'm outside."
"Yeah, do that, and while you're about it, why don't you bring up the supplies. I'm hungry."
"Then chew on this one, sunshine. Don't mess with me again while we're here and I'll try to keep us both alive for the duration."
"Big promises, eh?"
"No, just stating the facts." Picking up the lantern again, he stepped to the door. "The plumbing works and there's a pump in the sink."
"What I want doesn't come from a bloody French pump, mate."
Staring back, his defiance an honor, Bodie smiled. "Then you're going to die right thirsty."
Three full days of staring out the window at empty winter farmland and listening to Jimmy Keller alternating between bitching and offering words of seduction ground his nerves to breaking. "Would you just shut the bloody hell up. Go to sleep or swallow a pillow or something."
"God, you're a moody bastard. I was just saying how good this wine is and you just about bite my head off. You're too tense, mate." Holding up the bottle retrieved from the cellar, he poured himself another drink. "You need to try some of this. Relax you straight off. Need a bit a tending, you do."
"What I need is quiet." Standing up, ignoring the offered drink, he headed for the door again, his body strangely sluggish. The nagging at the back of his brain prickled his skin. Something wasn't right, but he couldn't place it. In the meantime, he prayed his skull didn't explode, the growing pressure banging hard enough to shatter bone.
"Playing soldier again, Bodie? There's nothing out there for miles and miles. No reason to keep checking. Just sit down and join me."
"Need to check the perimeter. Then the barn. I want to make sure no one walks in from the road."
"You okay? You look right pale all of a sudden."
Swallowing hard, the dizziness caught him off guard and he found Keller's arms around his waist helping him to the chair, one hand pressing his head downward. "Stay still, Bodie. Don't fight it. God, I thought it would never kick in. You still have the constitution of a bloody bull."
The meaning of the words filtered through rolling fog. "What the hell did you do?"
"Sorry, Bodie. It's nothing permanent. I just needed you quiet for awhile."
"But why?" Light swirled and flickered while sound softened and fluttered. A door opened and a familiar female voice froze his blood, his veins constricting, the fear like a fist.
"About time he went out."
"Hello, Bodie." A smaller hand grabbed his hair, his head jerked up to see the face of Keller's lover. "You don't look so good, my darling. A little less cocky this time round, yes?"
Before he could speak, Keller's supporting hand left, pulled away suddenly. The thump of a body slammed with an oofing sound and words of protest quickly gone. A deeper voice spoke slowly, the German accent heavy. "So this is the man they call Bodie? Doesn't look so dangerous drugged up, does he? He is beautiful though."
His whole body lifted and pushed back against the seat, the swift change of position sending his head spinning. Arms and legs refused to respond, regular breathing betrayed him. A huge man held him upright while Kaufmann continued to pet his hair. He'd seen the man's face before, but the name escaped him. "Bodie, we're going to get to know each other very well before this is over, yes?"
"I think Jimmy gave him too much, Karl. He's drooling and his eyes keep rolling back."
"Well, we'll let our CI5 bonus sleep it off then. After all, we've still got your old friend Keller to deal with. Where's Max?"
"Still out in the barn."
"Get him. I want him to clean up Bodie while I finish off Keller."
Kaufmann's voice spoke into his ear, one hand playing with his hair, the other rubbing up and down his chest as he struggled not to pass out or vomit. "It's a shame you have to kill Jimmy. You should see how he fucks this one. Incredible."
"You told me. Save the fun for later, my dear Sheila." Karl's words came out cold, his hand still holding Bodie's unresponsive body in place. "As for killing Keller, it can't be helped."
"It seems such a waste."
"For a quarter million, I can waste with abandon. Now go get Max like I said. Our man Bodie here isn't going to be much fun for several hours from the looks of it."
Her cool hands left his face, his head falling forward unsupported. Karl kneeled beside the chair, his words a chilling whisper. "You like to be fucked, Bodie? Well, after you've told us what we need to know, that could be a bonus, yes?"
Hearing faded to nothing as the light narrowed and carried him into the safety of darkness, the dangerous words luring his angry ghosts from the shadows.
Waking slowly, consciousness came back in layers, the senses returning only one at a time. His skin reported the uneven cold, the barren chill as faint touches explored him, fingers stroked his thighs and chest. His nipples flared with biting heat as a tongue played wet swirls around each one, neither neglected. Eager lips suckled his neck, his chin and mouth licked and kissed. A palm cupped his balls and gently rolled, the flare of arousal climbing up in waves through his belly.
Moaning and low grunting sounds triggered arousal, the heaviness between his legs thicker with the hand holding him, stroking him. Nausea rolled up as the surface of the world tilted, his body shifted to its side, his arms still held over his head, the wrists twisting in painful restraints. Gulping dense air, his cock withered with a groan. "Stop."
"Not yet, Bodie. You taste good for an Englishman, my friend." The guttural voice came with a long arm wrapping around his middle, his hips forced back against a huge erection. A tongue lapped at the scab over the bite on his shoulder. "Who gave you this mark?"
Swallowing hard, taking deep breaths to clear his thinking, all he could do was stay still.
"Tell me, Bodie. Was it Keller?"
"Yes." With the answer, a hard bite right beside the old one brought on a hiss. "Shit. What the hell are you doing?"
"I'd think that was obvious, yes?" Humping at his naked backside, the leaking cock slid between his cheeks, teasing the opening, rubbing without too much pressure but enough to let him know the intention.
With his arms tied and tethered above him, he tried to kick back, only to find himself rolled onto his stomach. The larger man held him there, laughing, as he forced his legs apart to settle his own knees between them. "Relax, my dear Bodie. You can't get away. You might as well enjoy it. I know I will."
Large hands rubbed and massaged up down his back, kneaded his asscheeks. The fire on his skin conflicted with the ice in his head, memories of other hands, other men, forcing him to lie still screaming for attention. Squeezing his eyes shut, he forced his mind to close off the whispers, the pleas begging for an audience. He imagined himself lying with Ray, letting Ray touch him, giving permission for his partner to punish him. Nobody else, just Ray.
"You've got so many bruises on this lovely skin. Did Keller give these to you?"
When he didn't answer right away, a hard slap on his right arse cheek forced him to speak. "No. It wasn't Keller."
Another slap, this one on the left cheek, prompted him to speak words clogging his throat. "A fight. A couple of lucky pipe swings."
Karl leaned forward, his arms on both sides of Bodie's face. Slowly he lay on top, his weight near crushing, but not quite. He whispered, the air warm against his ear. "You like it rough, yes?"
"No, and I don't like it with a bloody German terrorist at all. Just get the fuck off me."
The laugh growled and rumbled into his back as Karl pushed his cock between his cheeks, missing the puckered spot, sliding back and forth several times. Lifting his hips, Karl's hand slid between them as he held his erection steady, the huge tip opening him up, the ring of muscle stretching to red. Burning fired him, his whole body screaming as he bit his lower lip. "Shit."
"No, you won't do that, my friend. Just relax."
"Jesus, I can't."
Karl pushed harder, his whole body levered against stopping, each short shove a blast of torture.
"Max cleaned you up nicely while you were sleeping. You're so tight, so lovely. Stupid bitch was right. You're perfect." Several thrusts and he filled him, the tremendous impalement more than he'd ever suffered, more than Jimmy or the guards, more than the ship's captain, or even his father when he was a boy. The cramping rolled through his stomach, the gripping of his bowels worse when Karl pulled nearly out before he slammed back in. Over and over the man forced him into the hard mattress and then withdrew before shoving in again, sometimes rotating his hips, sometimes straight forward. He prayed for ending, prayed to survive the battle for breathing. Instead he received the lesser reprieve of losing the light, the sound of grunting pleasure filling his ears even as the oily black swallowed him alive.
"I thought we were supposed to be questioning him, Karl? How can he answer when he keeps passing out?"
"Shut up, Max. Go fuck your silly bitch Sheila. What I do with Bodie's my business, not yours."
From the bed, Bodie lay quietly, his whole body complaining, his back suffering the most. Through squinted eyes he watched the younger, slighter man with dark hair pace back and forth, his hands never stopping as he spoke. "It is my business. He's worth a small fortune, but only if he's alive. You keep this up and he'll be so damaged, even the Russians won't want him."
"You think I'm going to fuck him to death, my dear Max? Isn't dear Sheila keeping you busy? She spreads her legs often enough, I'd think you'd be more than satisfied to let me have a bit of my own."
"Shut up, Karl. You've fucked the bitch, too, but that's not the point. We've got offers from three different buyers, but he has to be alive and able to talk. You keep at him and he won't be any good at all. He's already sick."
Karl, dressed only in jeans, leaned back in the chair. Running his hand through his long blond hair, he smiled, the coldness chilling Bodie even from across the room. "Come here, Max."
"No, don't start. I'm not in the mood right now."
"I said come here." The harsh edge of the voice demanded compliance. The younger man stepped closer. "On your knees, my friend."
Kneeling between the larger man's legs, Max rested his head on his partner's thigh. "I just think we need to find out what we can and leave here by tomorrow. People could be looking for him. It's too dangerous to stay here."
"Shut up and use your mouth for something important."
Lying very still, Bodie tried to shut his eyes but found his vision focused on the two men across the room. The smaller man reached over and unzipped the pants, the metallic sound like hungry fingers to Bodie's own crotch. As Max took out the erect cock, his head leaned forward, his tongue shyly licking the tip. "You can do better than that, my dear Max. Open wider and do it right or Bodie's ass won't be the only thing I'll fuck."
"Just stop being such an asshole, Karl."
An arm whipped out so quickly, Max's head snapped back with a loud slap. Falling backwards to the floor, the younger man lay there only a minute before forcing himself up and forward, crawling on all fours to stop in front of Karl, thighs still wide, angry cock jutting out even more. "You know what to do, Max, just do it without talking. You're a slut and a whore, which is the only reason I keep you. Your mouth is only good for fucking, so do it."
Bodie's eyes betrayed him, refusing to close, watching as Max wrapped his mouth around Karl, the choking sounds turning to groans as the larger man held his head pumping his hips up, harder and harder. His own body worked against him, responding to the thought of Ray's mouth on him, of Ray taking him inside his face. Before he could think much further he saw the hard final thrust, heard the gagging sounds as Max tried desperately to swallow and couldn't. By the time he finished, Karl grabbed the dark hair and threw him down and away from him, the cruel smile curling his lips back.
"You suck like a bitch, Max. Been around Sheila too long, yes?"
Sitting up, his lip split, blood running down the front of his face, Max wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. "You're a bastard, Karl. You didn't have to do that."
"No? You didn't enjoy it?"
"Look, all I'm saying is that we need to leave."
Karl stood up, reaching for a cloth on the desk. He cleaned himself off as he spoke, his movements practiced and efficient. "Where's your girl right now, Max? She's too quiet."
"She took something so she'll be out for awhile." Glancing over for the first time, Max stopped short. "Damn, he's awake."
Karl smiled again. "You just noticed that, Max? I guess I should've mentioned it, but our CI5 was having such a good time watching like a good little spy, I didn't want to spoil it."
"You're an ass, Riker."
"Riker? I see you finally remembered my name."
Bodie strained to keep the fear down, worked to keep his voice even. "Karl Riker and Max Richter. You two did the Hoffman kidnapping. Into raping all your hostages are you?"
"Only the ones with a good ass, yes? You'll be glad to know you qualify. Several times, in fact."
"Lucky me, eh."
"Very. When the Russians get you, finding out what you know is their problem. I have another agenda."
Clearing his throat, his head still pounding, he ignored the burning rages calling in from all over his body. "So, it's the Russians? Highest bidder, are they?"
Karl walked over to the bed and sat down on the edge of the mattress, his hand resting on Bodie's shoulder. Flinching away didn't help since he just held on harder. "You'll be pleased to know they've offered a very generous sum. By the time we collect for Keller and then you, why we'll be set for awhile."
"You think the Russians will just give you the money and let you go?"
"Why wouldn't they?"
"Done business with KGB before, have you?" The narrowing of the icy blue eyes prompted him to keep talking. "They'll want to know what I've told you."
"You've told us nothing."
"But they don't know that. They think you know something, they'll want it. Plus, being a mercenary, you won't convince them that you wouldn't sell out your own gran. I'd say, selling me to the Russians or even the Chinese could be a serious miscalculation."
"Karl, he's got a point. You know what happened to Strauss."
"Shut up, Max. The Russians didn't have anything to do with Strauss."
"He disappeared right after selling them that M16 agent. Maybe Bodie knows what he's talking about. He's government, too."
"Listen to him, Karl. Your best bet is to sell me back to England."
He didn't prepare for the fist, because he never saw it coming. The blow rocked his face back against the hard edge of the lower headboard, his whole head rattling in the explosion, the flash like a blanket of first light and then darkness. Drifting back, the heavy throbbing kept him from hearing all the words screaming down into his face. By the time his hearing and vision cleared, Karl slammed out of the room leaving Max alone by the bed.
Dark brown eyes met his, the sad hunger nearly claiming his own. "You really shouldn't provoke him, Bodie. He could hurt you a lot worse than he's done already. He likes hurting."
Max's weight beside him sagged the mattress, the heat of the younger man's body pressing into his still naked flesh. Smooth hands stroked up his chest, pausing and playing with the nipples. His tied arms and legs made him completely defenseless. "Don't do that."
Staring, his eyes locked with Bodie's, his hand traveled south, his fingers wrapping around his flaccid cock. The stiffening flesh betrayed him. "See, I knew you liked me at least as much as Karl."
The sly smile curled the bruised and damaged lips as Max lowered his head. The mouth engulfing him steamed his belly, the tongue a velvet touch. "God, stop."
Instead, the head bobbed harder, the hands fondling his balls added rhythm and a finger teased his sore ass. Despite his previous pain, the pleasure of Max's talented mouth and light touches relieved him of ache, added a delicious layer of heat as he lifted his hips. He dreamed of one day having Ray hold him, envelop and caress him, to take him to the quick wave of release aching up from the root of his spine. His whole head exploded in light as he arched upward, his back paralyzed between flashes. Bright reds faded to yellow, to blue and then black behind squeezed lids. His hands stayed above his head, the ropes firing warnings against his warring bones.
By the time he started breathing again, he opened his eyes to find both Karl and Max staring down at him, smiling, the younger man wrapped in the other's arms.
"I never met an English soldier yet who could pass up a free blow job."
Closing his eyes, floating on a cold layer of utter humiliation, Bodie cursed his captors. "You're both bloody dead men before this is over."
"Hard talk, Bodie."
"Truth, Riker. You're a ghost."
Karl dismissed him as he turned away, but he saw the fear flicker in Max's frightened brown eyes. He smiled as the dark power of hate stretched his heart. "Take a deep breath, sunshine. It'll soon be your last."
Warmth tickled his chest as he floated up from oblivion, his stiff body slowly waking. For the first time since Karl took him hostage, a clean wool blanket covered his body. Opening his eyes, he found Max sitting in a chair by the bed watching him closely.
His hands still tethered above him, he closed his eyes and turned his face away into his raised left arm. Tension all over his body made it hard to lie still and harder to move, the uneven pain rocking his head with a wash of chilling stabs. His back no longer twitched on occasion, but spasmed, the cramping waves jerking up into his shoulders held in an unnatural position. His ass ached with a constant fire, an inexhaustible supply of new versions of agony. A sickening throb bore down his left arm as he nudged it, the faint memory of a too quick and desperate movement from Karl's last attack that morning reminding him of the breaking snap. He focused on distance, driving the pains to the far reaches of his mind, controlling it with absence and redirection.
"We're going to be leaving this afternoon. Karl's making travel arrangements right now, so we need to hurry. You're running a fever and you haven't eaten for two days now and had almost nothing to drink. That's not good, Bodie. The trip wouldn't be easy even if you weren't hurt."
"And who's bloody fault is that, eh?" The hoarse croak sounded alien, non-Bodie, the rasp of a stranger.
"Karl or the Russians, it doesn't much matter does it? I'm sorry about what happened before, you know."
"Makes it all right then, eh?"
"That was his idea. If you weren't so damn stubborn, didn't fight him every inch of the way and keep this attitude, he wouldn't be so rough. He doesn't like defiance. He hurts you more when you don't give in."
"Yeah, well he's kept me alive. I owe him. He's not all bad."
"Don't bloody bore me with fantasy, mate."
"You can be a hard person to be nice to, Bodie."
Swallowing back the rising bile, his rage like claws scraping his gut, he kept his eyes closed while he spoke, afraid one look at that moment would betray his hate. "Just let me up so I can relieve myself and drink something. I've been tied here for at least two fucking days now."
"I know, but Karl wouldn't like it."
Anger fueled his words as he shifted enough to stare at the younger man. "Riker's bloody pet, are you? Does everything he says? Nothing on your own?"
"Mostly, but he's right about you. You're a dangerous man."
He half snorted in self-derision, the vibration spiking the pains in his head. Lifting the bound hands up for emphasis, he laughed. "Yeah, mighty dangerous here, mate. Least you could do is untie my legs. I could at least sit up. I mean, what could it hurt, eh?"
The slightest flicker of doubt in the brown eyes fueled his continued attempt to free himself. "Come on, Max? What could I do with just my legs undone? They're numb even now. You want to have to carry me out of here? At least let the circulation come back, eh?"
"I don't know, Bodie. Maybe when Karl gets back."
"What about Sheila? Need a woman to help handle a beaten man do you?"
Max shifted uneasily in the chair, shaking his head. "She's out again. Really hooked on the hard stuff. Karl told me just to feed you. He's going to get you cleaned up later. You won't stop bleeding."
He didn't have to say where. Bodie already knew. The slow drain of warmth easing out of his body, a steady stream of energy lost, warned him to hurry.
"Look at me, Max. Weak as a kitten, I am. You said yourself, I've been lying here no food and drink for days. My head's spinning from fever, my bloody wrist's broken and I can barely move. Least you could do is let me sit up. Besides, not to put too fine a point on it, mate, but I really need to go to the loo. Be having a serious mess besides blood to clean pretty soon. Bet your Karl wouldn't care for that bit, would he?"
Doubt and indecision flirted and finally Max nodded. "I guess I could at least undo your legs."
"I'd appreciate it, Max. Really."
Standing up, the younger man moved to the end of the bed, lifting the edge of the blanket. He untied first the right and then the left, then stepped back. "You can go ahead and sit up and I'll get the chamber pot. It'll have to do for now. Can't trust you enough to undo the hands."
Bending his legs up at the knees, the returning circulation from movement fired up his calves, his hips aching from changing position. Barely bouncing to gauge the spring, he used one foot to shift off the blanket to have free movement. Eyes narrowed, he watched as his captor and prey came closer to put the container by the side of the bed. With a speed borne of survival instinct, he wrapped his powerful thighs around the neck of Max Richter. Surprised and desperate fingers clawed at his skin. Using a vital power with the blind training of his first years in the mercenaries, he scissored his limbs with a jerk.
The struggles hardly started before the sudden crack of neck ceased all movement with the thud of dropping. The dead weight fell lifeless down the side of the bed. With one final testing swing, he twisted again to be sure the man between his legs lay as dead as any man could.
Relaxing, he allowed the corpse to fall completely to the floor before sliding his own aching body up close to the headboard. His head thundering as the room wavered in and out of focus, he breathed deeply to avoid losing consciousness. After several moments, he concentrated on the job of freeing his hands.
He hissed as he lifted his arm to find his swollen left wrist purple and bent in an unnatural angle. Moaning softly to himself as he used his teeth to loosen the bonds, he avoided jarring the broken bone anymore than necessary. It took almost ten minutes to work the blood soaked knots wide enough to slip the rope off the injured limb and then the other.
Without hesitation, he stood up to look for clothes only to find himself falling back on the bed, dizziness twirling him to the edge of darkness. "Bloody hell."
Dropping his head to his good hand, he rubbed his forehead while cradling his left arm to his chest. As soon as light returned, he stood more slowly, avoiding Max's body, and found his clothes stored in a corner bag. To slow the bleeding, he folded a small towel between his legs before dressing in jeans, shirt, and jacket. Sitting down, he ignored the excruciating pain in his arse and up his back as he pulled on his boots. Slipping his injured arm inside his coat, he left the room and headed downstairs to the kitchen.
Finding the rifles and ammo served no challenge. As armed and ready as he could be, having only one good hand, he headed back upstairs to find Sheila Kaufmann. In her room he found a woman so loaded on heroin, she barely breathed. Standing there at the end of the bed, he both envied and hated her. Taking a shot to ease the pain, to close off the screams, would be so bloody easy. At the same time, he hated her for tempting him to fill up the syringe to kill her as she lay oblivious to the danger. Instead he bound her hands to the headboard and gagged her drugged and unresponsive body.
Then he headed back downstairs to wait. Karl Riker, the man he hated more than any man alive, deserved his best shot.
Bodie remembered once lying in a snow bank bleeding, a bullet to his left leg, and how much peace such chilled numbness brought, an offering from God to the dying. Sitting near the far edge of the kitchen window waiting for Karl reminded him of that semi-conscious drifting when one decided whether to stay alive or just go to sleep forever. An involuntary shudder coupled with the overwhelming need to close his eyes tempted him with the same decision. Crippling pain and fatigue worked against clear thinking, his thoughts gibbering nonsense about any future beyond aiming the gun and hitting the human target. He could do that. Every time his vision weakened or his memories transmuted to the past, he just repeated the same thought like some desperate chant. He could do that.
The roar of the Jeep's engine alerted him to be ready, his gun hand aimed and prepared. Swallowing hard to push back the swelling darkness around the light, he sat very still, no movement at all to relay any warning.
As Karl entered the room, he stood very still as soon as he saw Bodie. "Stupid boy. I warned him. I should've known better than to trust him to do anything right on his own."
"Come in and shut the door behind you. Move very slowly, hands behind your head. Then sit down at the table."
With more anger than fear Karl did exactly what Bodie asked. "So, what do you plan to do now, shoot me?"
The battle between breathing and swallowing confused him. Blinking several times to maintain his vision, he wet his lips before he spoke. "The transfer with the Russians, where was it supposed to be?"
"A landing strip about one hundred miles south of here." Still keeping his voice relaxed, Karl leaned his head back. "Is Max upstairs? You've got him tied up, yes?"
"No reason, was there? Too dead to move, your boy."
For the first time, shock registered. His voice shaky, his skin suddenly pale. "You killed him? How?"
Bodie watched the flush of anger color the other man's cheeks, the tiniest tremor as the arms attempted to lower. "Move and you'll join him."
"You didn't have to do that. He never hurt anyone."
"Right. Just a sweet boy, our Maxie."
His voice harder, his jaw clenching while he spoke, Karl's body eased forward ever so slightly. "You don't look so good, Bodie. What are you going to do now, shoot me or turn me over to your English? Better decide soon, my friend."
Before he could answer, the spring came, the body plowing into his knocking him back against the wall. The stream of direct pain from his wrist to his brain rocked him harder than the slam of his head into the cabinet's edge. An explosion blasted between their stomachs, his right hand still holding the gun. His whole arm came back as he fired a second round. Karl's frame jerked and shuddered to stillness, a gush of red warmth to his chest.
Nausea swirled all sight, the heated weight trapping him in a twist between floor and flesh. The gurgle of the bloody last breath spilled as the final slump came, pinning him down. Strength failed him as his own body settled and remained unmoving, the need to close his eyes against the last threshold of pain pulling him into the shadows, the deepest part of his inner haven from light.
"Bloody hell. Bodie?" The distant sting and slapping sound annoyed him. He groaned protest, trying to turn his head but finding nothing worked right. "Come on, mate. Wake up. We have to get out of here."
"Thank god you're alive." A tilting world awaited him as his body shifted, strong arms fitting under his own to lift him to a sitting position. "Open those Bodie blues, sunshine. Show me the fight, eh?"
"No bloody kidding. You're in a right state, you are. Help me out then. Look at me."
The ease of a friend's body holding his in comfort rushed a sting to his eyes as he finally managed to squint, the brace of low light shields against seeing. "Where are we?"
"In the mess that used to be a clean kitchen. Do a favor for a mate and look what happens."
"Jesus, Bodie, what the hell happened here? Who are these dead men? And who's the bird tied up in the bed room?"
"Mob out of Munich. Riker and Richter. Bird's Sheila Kaufmann. Wanted to sell me to the fucking Russians, didn't they."
"Not much to sell, mate. God, what the hell did they do to you?"
Squeezing his eyes shut against the rush of hate, the flood of pain washing over him, he shook his head. "Wanted information, didn't they. Look, I don't know if Riker told them where to find me or not."
"Enough said, Bodie. I'll get the woman in the truck and then come back for you."
"Don't trust her. Fucking viper."
"Figured that, lad. Now, take a deep breath while I do a quick lift." He nearly fainted as the strong arms hiked him up and repositioned his body in the corner. "Now, do me a favor and stay awake. You hit your head a hard whack, looks like. Afraid you're going to need a froggie hospital, sunshine."
"No, I've got to go to England. Doyle's in England." Even as he said it, the slurred words sucked back in as he found his chest aching from the effort of speech.
"Bodie, listen to me." His friend's round face settled in front of his own, blurry and unfocused, the strong features distorted. The mouth moved, but the sound waffled, uneven and hard to hear. "I won't lie to you. You're in bad shape here. I'm no bloody medic, but if I don't get you to hospital soon, you won't have to worry about ever seeing your mate Doyle again."
The sense of the words fluttered and finally settled.
"Just get me home alive, eh?"
"Do me best, sunshine. I owe you that much, don't I? Just keep bloody breathing."
Cold hands touched and pushed, the intrusions like icy blisters on his skin. The metal clicks, the buzzing mixed with beeping and bells cluttered with voices woke his hearing with agonizing vibrations, his skull chiseled by the sound. The babble stormed in on his consciousness as he struggled up for air. Gulping down the yell, he fought to sit up only to be held down, forced to remain still. Panic strengthened the swing of his right arm connecting with a bruising thud, a string of guttural French curses, and a harder push backwards. The world stayed blurred no matter how wide his eyes opened, no matter how deep the breathing. He drowned in the thickness of the air, the mask over his face suffocating his angry scream.
One familiar strict voice intruded and stopped his battle, soothed his fear. "Bodie, lad. Settle down. That's an order, do you hear me."
Cowley's voice wiped out all others, it's crisp clean rhythm an assurance that survival happened.
His body's tension suddenly relaxed, his push against flesh stopped. Blinking several times, the older man's face came into view. Clearing his throat, the air wheezed past rusty needles, the one word muffled by the oxygen supply. "Sir?"
"You're going to be fine, 3.7. Just don't kill the doctors, lad. Plays havoc on foreign relations."
Eyes too weak to stay open closed again. "Doyle?"
A hand took his right one and squeezed lightly. "Here, mate."
Turning his head, the effort harder than any Macklin retraining, he saw the man who in his dreams always urged him to keep going, cheered him when dying would've been so much kinder.
"Ray." He couldn't speak more, couldn't keep his eyes open any longer, but his hand remained safely inside his best mate's, the man he most wanted to love.
Slow even breathing started and as he drifted, he found his body less painful, the dulling of aches a blessing and a magical release from a torturous shadow haunting him for so long he called it by his own name, Bodie.
Sound returned more slowly, steady and complete with English. In the distance he heard women's voices, laughter, and the bang of metal trays. Opening his eyes, he blinked several times before the light adjusted past his brain's soft pounding. "Ray?"
"Here, sunshine. How you feeling?"
His partner's face filled his vision and the numbness surrounding most of his body eased enough for his quickened heartbeat to register. Swallowing hard, he found his speaking dulled by a raspy pain. "Throat hurts."
"I don't doubt it. Had tubes stuffed down it a couple of times since France."
"Feels like I swallowed a bloody razor."
"They had to take you to surgery twice, so it might be sore for a bit."
"Surgery?" Ray still held his right hand in both his own, standing by the bed rail, his eyes puffy. Bodie bit his lip, fighting back the urge to ask if he'd been crying. He couldn't handle more grief, more responsibility for his best mate's misery. "What'd they do to me?"
"You were in shock and bleeding pretty badly when you first got to hospital. They tried packing, but it didn't work, so they had to do some stitching, check for tears, and load you with antibiotics in case there was a rupture to avoid peritonitis. You were a rotten terror the whole time by the way. Out of your head completely for awhile there, mate."
Clearing his throat, bitter ice scraping harder into soft tissue, his hoarse voice limped in the air. "I'm all right then?"
"Better, yeah. Fever's down, kidneys up and working again." Ray's usually smooth voice caught, tripped over his own tongue. Choking on the words, he hissed, "Bloody animals deserved dying."
Closing his eyes against both his friend's heartache and his own memories, he tired to avoid thinking, not even a twinge. Tingles swarmed his skin, not heated, but not quite freezing either. He wanted to forget, pretend the past merely a bad dream filled with smoky shadows, dark raving ghosts caged away in the daylight of surviving.
"Could you lift the head of the bed some, Ray? I feel a bit queasy."
"Sure." Slowly the mechanical grind of the motor filled the quiet space, the gap between them like a dark curtain. "Better?"
"Yeah, thanks. So, I'm back in England then?"
"Cowley had you transferred just after they got you stable enough to travel. Wanted one of our own specialists to take care of your hand, didn't he."
"Your wrist's broken, right torn up. Damn French doctor's wanted to take it off. Don't worry, mate, Cowley wouldn't let the butchers touch you."
"Cut it off?" Just the phrase, the possible reality of it, made him dizzy.
"Swelling cut off circulation for awhile. Caused some serious nerve damage, looks like. Went in and did some fancy wiring, didn't they. Don't know all the details, but they were at it for about 8 bloody hours. Thought I'd go barmy before they came out to say you were going to make it."
Bodie glanced at his bundled arm, suspended and secured to his left side. An odd feeling of detachment floated the flattened words out, the distance from his own body like air in another person's life. "Whole arm's numb."
"Is it? You don't have any feeling at all?"
"Not from the shoulder down, no. Strange really. Hard to describe, I see it, but I can't feel it, can't wiggle my fingers. Good thing I shoot right-handed. No place in Cowley's mob for a man with no gun hand, eh?" Even to himself the false run at cheer fell face down into the sand. Too tired to lift his weary tongue, he didn't bother trying again.
Ray rubbed his hand along Bodie's right arm, his strong fingers squeezing his forearm. "It's okay, mate. Don't worry. The doctor said that might happen for awhile, some kind of nerve block thing they used. You kept trying to wake up while they were working. Bloody stubborn to a fault, my partner."
Staring off into the emptiness of his own thinking he saw nothing but shadows, nothing he really wanted to see. More puzzled than frightened, he spoke quietly. "But why don't I remember? Last I recall was France with you and Cowley there."
"Had you pumped pretty high on the hard stuff for awhile, sunshine. Thought you'd be in too much pain to deal with the procedures, didn't they?"
Recognition returned with a swinging force to his skull, replaying earlier days, earlier times when the same kind of mental paralysis saved him from putting a bullet in his brain. Yeah, he remembered the feeling of sweet oblivion all too well.
"Don't usually like drugs, but can't say I'll complain, Ray. Kind of numb all over. Like nothing's quite real yet. A bloke could get used to it if he weren't right careful."
"Not much chance of that, Bodie. They're easing back the dosage, so some of the worse aches should be making an announcement in a few hours." He squeezed Bodie's hand slightly and tried to smile, but failed miserably.
"Something to look forward to, eh. Pain in slow doses."
"Jesus, Bodie, I'm sorry." The twisting of his friend's features hurt worse than any physical blow.
"It's okay, Ray. I don't feel that bad considering. Try not to think about it, eh."
"Is that what you do, put it out of your head then? Push it aside like nothing happened?" The words sounded almost angry.
"Leave off, Doyle. Just bloody leave off."
Running his fingers through Bodie's hair, the tease of his touch transformed hurt to a needed blessing. The rightness of it brought a rush of heat, an urge to bring his partner's palm to rest over his heart. "Thought I'd never see you again, Ray. That hurt worse than anything some bloody German's could do, eh?"
He drank in the soft voice saying the hard words he hated hearing. "We found Keller's body buried in the barn, Bodie. Been raped and throat slit. Can't say I'm sorry he's out of your life, but nobody deserved that, not even Keller."
"No, not even Jimmy deserved that." An involuntary shudder shook the visceral memory of his ex-lover's last touch, his last betrayal before dying.
"Riker and Richter were both dead in the house, but then you already know that. Cowley and I pretty much figured out what happened from the layout along with Kaufmann spilling her bloody guts when we put her in detox. Your old mate Larkin dropped her off before heading off back into hiding. Saved you life, that one."
His belly cramped as he tried to pull his knees up, his partner pushing his legs back down. The catheter jerked at his crotch, the deep ache and lazy roll of nausea building up steam as he fought to keep from heaving.
"Doctors don't want you moving just yet, do they, mate. Lie still before you hurt yourself, eh."
"Ray, I can't talk about this now. Just stop telling it, please." The bruised words came out as a hushed plea, sad and trembling against the awful weight of breathing.
"It's too soon. I understand."
"Never's too soon, innit." Still holding Ray's hand to his chest, he brought it to his mouth, kissed it, and then lowered it again. "I'm tired, Ray. I just need a bit more sleep and I'll be fine, ready for action. Just wait."
"A few days and I'll be retraining with Macklin. You'll see."
"Retraining with that bloody sadist? Now, there's a lullaby image, eh?" Hands smoothed his hair back and Ray's voice whispered in a hush, the light all around him so much more dim than before. "Just rest, sunshine." A tender kiss tamed his forehead. "I'm here and I'm staying for as long as it takes."
"A few days, Ray. Honest. I'll be just fine."
"Now you're just being stubborn."
"Leave off, Doyle. I told you before I'm not hungry." Ray crossed his arms and took several long breaths, the calming technique Bodie recognized and resented. "And don't play all bloody patient either. Just take this nasty mess away. I'll eat when I damn good and ready and when they bring something that wouldn't put a fucking sailor in an early grave."
"Watch your language, 3.7, and lower your voice." Cowley stepped inside the room and shut the door behind him. "Never realized just how far that strong voice of yours carries."
Bodie frowned, mirroring Ray's stubborn expression. No way would he let these men double team him, not when he wanted to fight, not when he wanted to kick down the whole damn building. "Morning, sir."
"Is it, lad? What are you going on about at the top of your lungs then?"
"Our Bodie's decided he doesn't need to eat, sir. Seems he'd rather sit here and sulk and act a spoiled prat."
"Sod off, Ray. I'm warning you." The words growled deep in his chest, an incredible anger swelling up, almost choking him before he pushed it back down.
Cowley's voice settled between them, a calm even tone. "4.5, go down and get some coffee. Drink it before returning."
"Sir?" Ray stared, his mouth open.
"You heard me. I need a few minutes with your partner. Alone."
Ray tossed a quick, disappointed glance his way and then headed out the door. Before the relief at being left alone settled, Cowley stepped closer. "All right, Bodie, tell me what's going on in that proud, foolish head of yours, lad."
"I'm just tired of being told what to do all the time, sir." He gritted his teeth, steeling himself. Cowley could pull answers out of a dead man given the right motivation.
"I walk in here and you're giving grief to your partner about a simple thing like eating breakfast? At least do me the courtesy of being honest. What's really going on?"
Bodie pushed at the tray, trying one more time to avoid the real conversation. "Did you see this stuff, sir. Green jello and bouillon for breakfast? Now, I ask you, is that fit food for any man?"
Steel blue eyes softened, staring through the ploy. "Aye, it's not the most tasty, I'll admit that, but you've had a bit of a rough time. Have to start slow don't they?"
"I can't eat this, sir." His head down, his eyes averted, he used his legs to push back into his mattress, shifting carefully. Pulling up the covers, he let his head rest back against the pillow before talking again. "I'm really not hungry."
Cowley shifted his position, moving to put himself in the line of his sight. "Look at me, Bodie. Do you like being in hospital so much, you want to stay here?"
"Of course not, sir."
"You realize they won't let you out until everything is functioning like it should be, and that means everything, lad. You've not eaten for days now, but the glucose IV's gone and it's time to start putting food into your body to get things started. You get my meaning, 3.7?"
"Yes, sir. Not exactly a delightful image that."
"No, but I won't sugar coat it. Besides, you already know what I'm saying is true. Getting mad at Doyle or me or the doctors doesn't change what happened and what you need to do to recover, does it?"
"No, sir. I just can't eat right now. Please don't ask me."
Suddenly more weary, his bones heavy in his legs and hips, he settled back, defeated. The flash burn of angry nerves waking up ran through his left arm, wild and demanding. Ignoring it like all the other chorus of pains, he closed his eyes and spoke to the blackness. "I'm just so bloody tired, sir, so tired of fighting. I hurt all over."
"I know, Bodie. But one of the things I admire most about you, is your strength. You're not a quitter. Never have been."
"I can't stand Ray watching."
"So you push him away then? Hope you shove hard enough, he'll leave?"
"That won't happen. Bloody loyal to a fault, our Ray. I don't want him to see me like this."
Cowley's voice lowered, his words still even, a balm to the angry frustration shaking his traitorous body. "Listen to me, lad. The only person more loyal than Ray Doyle is a man named Bodie. If it were 4.5 lying here needing help, would you be put off?"
"Of course not."
"Then why do you think it's different for your partner?"
"I didn't say it was. It's not Ray's problem, sir. It's mine."
Standing straighter, Cowley rubbed his face and then nodded. "I see. So, what should we do about this, 3.7? I could order Doyle away, but you know your partner. He'd fight it tooth and nail all the way. He's still upset about how I handled this thing with Keller."
"I know, sir."
"So, what's your suggestion? If I order him to leave, I have no doubt he'd resign."
"True, and if I tell him to leave off, he'll still stay and be hurt more. Ray can be a right stubborn bastard."
Bodie ignored the slight smile as Cowley continued to study him. "What?"
"Doyle said the exact same words about you. Seems you two have quite a bit in common." After a quick pause, Cowley stepped to the window, the grey light liquid shade over his serious features. "What would you have me do, lad, to make things better?"
"At least make him take a break, sir. He's not been home since this thing started."
Hands behind his back, Cowley turned and walked back into a direct view. "I'll do that if you'll promise me to at least try to be less combative. I talked to the doctor. He says you're refusing to take any of the pain medications. He also said you actually threatened to leave if he didn't remove the catheter before he thought you were ready. Plus, Dr. Ross says you've refused to see her as of yesterday evening. Why is it I sometimes think you're your own worse enemy, lad?"
"I have rights, sir." He raised his good hand and rubbed his forehead, the growing pressure pushing against the inside of his eyeballs. The IV tube in his arm drooped across his nose like an annoying mosquito as he massaged his temples with his fingers.
"I know that, but you also have trained doctors to help you through this."
"With all due respect, sir, I don't want the pain medications for a reason. Be too easy to get a craving, wouldn't it?"
"Are you saying you're afraid of becoming addicted?"
"I know myself, sir. I don't want them. Allow me that much freedom at least."
"Very well then, but what about Dr. Ross?"
"She's never going to be much help, sir, because there's no way in bloody hell, I'm ever going to tell her what happened. Suspend me if you want, but there's got to be someone else to talk to."
"I can find someone, but I have to have your word that you'll see him. This won't be like the Congo prison. You have to deal with this or I can't put you back on duty. You understand that?"
"I understand blackmail when I hear it."
"Call it what you want, but you know that's not the case. You're my best man, Bodie. I don't want to lose you, but if you don't work with the doctors, that could happen. I can't risk it, not even for you. I'm sorry, but it's the rules."
"Have rules about being raped, do they?" For the first time he actually said it out loud, the words bitter like alum on his tongue.
"As a matter of fact, we do." Cowley never missed a beat, his voice giving not even a hint of reaction. "Unfortunately, you're not the first man this has ever happened to, Bodie. You can survive this."
"Practice makes perfect, eh?" His own self-pity fell back against him, the venom in his speech a poison.
"No, actually, it's more difficult to recover each time, or so I've heard."
He squeezed his eyes shut, refusing to meet the steady gaze trained his way. "Heard a lot about it, have you, sir."
"Aye. I've been a soldier a long time, Bodie. Some men are just plain evil. We can't let them win. Don't let Riker win by letting what he did ruin you."
Bodie opened his eyes and focused on his boss's concerned face. "How do you know it was Riker, sir?"
Only the slightest hesitation slowed the words. "Because of what Kaufmann said and it's what he did on the Hoffman kidnapping. He apparently enjoyed humiliating and torturing his victims."
"I'm no victim, sir." The rage bubbled the words, made them hiss between his tight lips.
"Aye, Bodie, you're not. You're a survivor. And I'm going to do everything in my power to keep it that way."
"Looks like a bloody chicken." Bodie stared at his cast in distaste and dismay. The hard plaster wrapped all the way up past his elbow, the wrist angled out like a beak. Bruised fingers poked out the end, the damaged flesh alien and hateful. The sling pulled down against his neck, the useless weight nagging at his already strained muscles. Moving just to sit on the couch hurt and sent warning spasms up his back as he settled down awkwardly against the armrest. "How the hell am I supposed to do a anything with this on?"
"I think that's the point, Bodie. You're supposed to take it easy for a few weeks." Ray walked past the sofa and dropped the bag on a chair.
"You saying they planned this to keep me quiet?"
"Not much chance in that, is there, mate. No, I just mean that you're not supposed to move around much. Doctor said bed rest for the first week and limited exercise after that, didn't he?"
"I've been sleeping for a week, Ray. I need to move about, go for a walk or do something. I'm getting a might claustrophobic, if you want to know the truth."
"Kind of figured that, didn't I?" Ray sat across from him, his tired green eyes watching. "Look, if you're a good bloke and take a nap without a lot of fuss and bother, and it stops raining, maybe we can go for a walk around the garden later. Just a slow walk mind you. No running through the tulips, sunshine."
"Think my running days are over for awhile, Ray, not that there are any tulips about this time of year anyway."
"You'll be up and running again in no time, mate. You weren't even supposed to be out of hospital for another week. Though I'm sure the nurses were glad to see your sorry backside leaving."
"Yeah, they know a good arse when they see one, eh?" No usual Bodie grin graced the line as he spoke, his voice too heavy and serious. "Ray, I appreciate you bringing me home, but I need you to do me a big favor."
"I need you to go home for awhile."
"Why?" The word came out cautious, slow to meet the air.
Looking away, he couldn't bare the sharp eyes slicing through his defenses. "I haven't been alone since this thing happened."
"I know." Ray stood up and walked to the window, his back to Bodie. "And now you think you're ready to be on your own for a bit?"
"Yeah. I need to figure some things out, work through what I want to do."
"And my being here keeps you from doing that?"
His friend's hurt words came close to breaking his resolve, but he held to his personal promise. "Ray, I love you." The ambush of words brought his partner back to his side.
"You've never told me that before."
"I know. Thought it was about time, eh?" The cushion sagged beside him, the warmth of Ray's skin like a barrier to his hurt. "I don't know why it's so bloody hard to say the words, but it is. The feeling's always been there though."
"I know." He leaned in closer, the thin body an embrace to his need, a caress to his hunger.
"I just need to be by myself for awhile's all. Got to sort myself out first."
"I can help, Bodie."
"I have to do this myself, Ray. I just have to."
Nodding, his partner reluctantly pulled away and stood up. "I guess I'll be back tonight then."
"No, Ray. Tomorrow. Okay?"
"But how will you get undressed or get a wash up? That cast is a bloody hazard."
For the first time in ages, Bodie smiled. "Yeah, well, I can manage for one night, Ray. I'll be fine. Come back in the morning."
Still hesitating, he bit his lower lip, the fear twisting his features. "You sure?"
"Absolutely. I just need a little time's all."
"Okay, then. If you need me, you know all you have to do is call."
"See you in the morning then. Promise me you won't do anything too bloody stupid."
"Thanks, Ray. Your confidence is a right ego booster."
"Forget who you're talking to, did you? Just promise me, you'll be careful and not too bloody proud to call if you need help."
"I promise. Good bye, Ray."
"Right then. I'm off." Leaning over, Ray planted a quick kiss on his forehead and then left, the key on the other side locking his door and setting the alarm behind him.
He blocked out the vision of his partner's morning arrival, blacked out the hurt he'd see if he were there to see it. Going to the cabinet, he took out a Scotch, poured it and drank the heat straight down, the burn like a needed stripe to his back. Walking to the phone, he dialed for one more favor.
"That sorry bastard."
"Calm down, Ray. He's bound to be around somewhere nearby. We'll find him." Murphy put a comforting hand on his friend's back only to have it shoved away.
"I should've known he'd try this. Jesus, I'm so bloody stupid. He wanted me gone to do a runner all along. Played me like an easy mark, he did. Damn him."
"Where do you think he'd go, Ray? He couldn't drive on his own."
"No, but he wouldn't call a taxi. Too easy to trace, eh. No, he'd call an old mate. Jesus, he's got so many. He's got more connections than the whole bloody secret service."
"Then we need to call Cowley. He's got more connections than god."
As Murphy headed to the phone, Ray grabbed his shoulder. "Don't. Not yet. I want to find him without the old man."
"It's Cowley's fault he's in this mess. If it hadn't been him making that deal with Keller, Bodie would never have been there with Riker in the first place. Bloody George Cowley's to blame for all this."
Murphy shook his head, his dark eyes soft with understanding. "You're wrong, Ray. Bodie's got a mind of his own, eh, even if he doesn't always use it. He would've gone regardless. Nothing you or I or George Cowley could've said would've stopped him going because he felt he owed this Keller. I don't know why, but he did. The point is, blaming the Cow doesn't do anything except stop us from finding your partner. He's going to have to be told. Now, do you want to make the call yourself or do you want me to make it for you?"
Anger raging up, hostile at the bitter truth he hated facing, Ray lifted the RT to his mouth and spoke urgently. "This is 4.5. I need to talk to Alpha 1. It's an emergency."
"Just a minute, 4.5."
After only a few seconds, George Cowley's voice filled the room. "4.5, I want you to come in right away."
"Sir, 3.7's gone. We need to find him."
"3.7's safe for now, 4.5."
"Bloody hell, sir. You know where he is? Tell me."
"He asked me not to. Come to my office, 4.5. We need to talk."
He clicked off the receiver without even responding. Tossing the RT into the sofa he stormed across the room, both trembling hands running through his hair, the rage like angry bees swarming through his brain. "Son of a bitch knows where he is and won't tell me."
"Ray, I'm sorry."
"I just wish there was something I could do to help, mate. Sounds like Bodie did a runner and Cowley helped. There has to be a reason, but I'm bound if I can figure out what it could be."
"Because Bodie bloody asked him, that's why. Bodie's his favorite son, always has been."
"Yeah, well, sometimes, that's a double-edged sword, sunshine. He's always hardest on Bodie and it's Bodie who always gets the toughest work. Always. We've all seen it. The thing is, we need to go in and find out what's going on, not stand round wagging our tongues in the dark. If Cowley knows where he is, at least we can see that he's okay, right?"
"Okay? Murphy, you know he's anything but okay. How could he be after what's happened."
"Ah, well, you know Bodie. Fight his way back from hell with a smile and the devil's head in his jaws, wouldn't he. Made of bloody steel, our man Bodie."
A gauzy film of sadness draped his body, the casual expectation that his partner could survive any damage a wish he wanted more than life to be real.
"Right, mate. Let's go see Cowley then."
"Sit down and stop shouting, Doyle. I may be getting older, but my hearing's just fine." Shoving a glass of malt Scotch in his hand, Ray took it, drank it down, and held it out for another. Cowley refilled it without hesitation. Damn.
"So, where's Bodie?"
"He's somewhere safe. Said he needed to be away from London for awhile, and after he told me why, I agreed."
"He's my partner, sir. I should be with him." He finished the second glass of liquor and put the empty container on the table.
Sitting in a chair beside him, Cowley leaned back, his hand to his mouth before he finally spoke. "Let me be frank with you, lad. Bodie's in a bad way. He may not make it back this time unless we help him."
"And letting him go off on his own is helping? I don't bloody believe that. Why would he tell you not to let me know where he is?"
"Bodie's a proud man. It's one of the things that makes him so special, but it can also be a burden. He doesn't want you or anyone else he knows to see him suffer through this. We need to respect that."
The sharp truth of the words hurt worse than the anger. "But, sir, what if he hurts himself?"
"You think that's likely?"
"I don't know. He can be self-destructive when he's upset. I've never seen him this low before and having him out there somewhere by himself, worries me."
"I didn't say he was alone. He just doesn't want anyone he knows to see him."
Suddenly suspicious, Ray turned staring at the stolid face. "Who's with him then?"
"Someone who can help. Someone who's been where he is. He won't be going through this alone, Doyle. I promise you that much."
Still holding onto his anger and his hurt like an anchor in deep water, he shuddered. "But he won't be going through it with me, sir."
"No, Doyle, he won't. When he's ready, he'll call you."
Leaning forward, his burning face in his hands, he struggled not to let his stinging eyes overflow, not in front of George Cowley. "I hate this, sir."
"I know, lad. Letting go of the people we love is the hardest part about living."
Glancing up, he watched his boss stand and go stare out the window, his face drawn in deep lines and shadows. He suddenly wondered how he could have missed something so bloody obvious. George Cowley was in love with his partner. Rather than jealousy, he wrestled to contain the sympathy tightening his heart, a sympathy that extended to include himself for being in love with the same selfish bastard.
-- THE END --
Dedicated to Rob for the inspiration and support
Originally published in Chalk and Cheese 19, Agent With Style, 1999, along with the other two parts of the series.