by Ellis Ward
Late July: The hour had already gone nine of the evening, but heat from the pavement rose like the humid breath of some vast underground creature, rising stifling and ill-scented to the open first floor window of Raymond Doyle's flat. It was the second day of a so-far remarkably sultry weeks; the forecasters said hope was in sight, but it would be another twenty four hours before cooling showers were anticipated.
Doyle sat by the window, gazing down into the street. There were children playing a ruthless game of kick-can. Their squeals of laughter and outrage had drawn him from his chores in the kitchen, a welcome diversion to the unrewarding process of scraping his broiling pan preparatory to fixing cod for dinner. A long time had passed since the pan had been used, and in the interim it had only been wiped clean prior to packing for the latest move. Sight of it had driven a spoke of reminiscent agony into Doyle out of all proportion to the expenditure of energy needed to set it to rights.
The last time he had used it, Bodie had been here with him. The last time he had used it, Bodie had still been alive.
Despite the summer sun, the canyon formed by the block of flats was filled with shadow. The traffic had decreased to a trickle as the day had lengthened, but every few minutes the scrambling children were forced to scatter to the sidewalks to avoid a motorist returning home. Eventually a sing-song summons from the other end of the block broke up the players and they began to filter away until only one persistent lad continued to kick the can noisily about. Doyle watched until, head down and conceding to this abandonment, the young boy turned for home. Green eyes, lacking all expression, followed his progress until the slight form disappeared around the corner.
A breeze came up from the road and lifted Doyle's hair. Half an hour had passed since he had come to the window. For a moment, filled with a weariness he had not completely shaken since Cowley had given him the news of Bodie's death, he bent his head forward, letting it rest on his forearm where it was propped on the wooden sill. "Know just how you feel, son," he murmured faintly.
He changed his mind about the fish, but finished scrubbing the pan anyway. Then he ate, a quick hodge-podge of cheese, bread and fruit, washed down with a lager, all taken in mechanically and barely tasted as he watched the evening news report. Afterward the plate and empty can migrated to the center of his coffee table, shoved there by one booted heel. Hands folded across his midriff, Doyle sank back against the sofa cushions , eyes directed at the flickering images on the tv screen, but no longer seeing them. The old internal debate began again, as it did every night: he should go out, to a pub, pick up a bird, spend an hour or two just chatting? Sometimes the need to get away from himself and the redundancy of his thoughts drove him to do just that. But with ever increasing frequency, he found himself unable to struggle against the still aching sense of loss.
In a way he found his willingness to surrender to this black depression amusing. Had someone asked him three months ago what he would do should Bodie die, he would have shrugged philosophically and produced some platitude about carrying on. Somehow, with the reality of death such an accepted constant in their everyday lives, the fear of mortality had lost its sting. Or was it simply that they had faced the prospect of it so many times--and come out still intact--that it had lost its reality?
In any case, the blow dealt Doyle had been almost as deadly as the wounding that had killed Bodie. Death wasn't something he had ever allowed himself to dwell on--no point, in their line of work. But perhaps it had just never occurred to him that Bodie might go first. Bodie: big and bluff, given to the odd black mood, but usually determinedly easy-going. It was seldom that Doyle had been able to really put his back up, and even then Bodie had usually trod carefully, as though his friendship with Doyle was one of the major linchpins of his life.
They had been together a long time before Doyle came to realize that Bodie had accorded him a rare trust. Not only was Doyle responsible for the quality of Bodie's life, but he had been granted the privilege of defining the quality of that life to a great extent, as well. They worked together, they played together, and often literally spent twenty four hours of any given day together. Thinking back on it now, Doyle was astonished that he could ever have shared so much of his life with another person; astonished, too, that he had never imagined what that life would become without him.
Now he knew.
Someday, possibly, someone or something would come along to restore the balance he had known before Bodie had entered his life. Without him, life had changed unalterably.
It had begun that morning, when Cowley had summoned him to his office to inform him of 3.7's regrettable loss. Numb with lack of understanding, Doyle had struck out, refusing to accept the truth. Bodie had been on a separate assignment when he had gone missing six weeks before. Furious then, Doyle had spent every waking moment -- and there had been few spent otherwise -- in the awesome task of trying to run his partner to ground. Every attempt had failed, every resource had proved inadequate or altogether useless. It had been a routine stakeout, with Bodie parked outside the warehouse of a questionable east end operation. He had failed to report in and another operative had been sent to survey the situation. Bodie's car had been found immediately, still in position outside the warehouse. But he was gone, along with his R/T. There had been no signs of struggle, no witnesses in the thinly trafficked area, nothing to offer up some hint of what had befallen him.
Cowley had heard him out, ignoring the fury and the pain, until Doyle had wound down. Calmly, bleakly , he had reiterated the facts, and waited again, for Doyle to react. A strange, uncharacteristic quiet had settled over Doyle, as though his outburst had drained all his emotions, too. Then he had demanded to see Bodie's remains, despite Cowley's warning that the body had been dreadfully mutilated and subject to the ravages of a shallow grave for several weeks. Cowley had already known that there was little recognizable about Bodie, and the extent of his abuse had even obscured his prints and pulverized the lower frontal quarter of his skull, so that identification had been based on personal effects found on and around the corpse.
Doyle had insisted. Cowley had accompanied him, unobtrusively standing beside him as the tray was drawn out so that Doyle could view all that was left of the man who had been his partner for nearly eight years. The same color hair, physical disposition, general build-- But the face had been made a ruin and the rest of the body exposed to such vicious treatment that distinguishing scars and imperfections had been virtually obliterated.
Pale and unspeaking, Doyle had acquiesced when Cowley had urged him to leave. In the passenger seat of Cowley's Rover, he had sat quietly, hand in his lap, eyes staring straight ahead. Cowley had make no effort to engage him in conversation, to Doyle's relief. He had been offered leave for the rest of the day, but Doyle had refused it, his voice soft but adamant.
In the following two weeks, Doyle had worked ceaselessly, redoubling his labors to find some clue as to what had happened to Bodie--some clue as to who had murdered him so brutally. At the end of that time, there had been a confrontation and Doyle had been suspended. He had spent a week roaming the east end warehouse area on his own until exhaustion had exacted from him what common sense could not: he had collapsed. The supervising physician had assured him that it was a temporary state of affairs, that he was healthy and young; but two months of snatched sleep and odd meals had taken their toll. Coupled with the trauma of his loss, Doyle mainly needed time to recover.
Cowley had visited him, and had seemed shocked at Doyle's appearance. He had lost weight, his thin frame wasted to the point of emaciation. His lackluster eyes had sunk deeply into a cadaver's skull and there was an air of disassociation about him that even Doyle had been aware of.
Released within the week, Doyle had returned home for several days. On the morrow of his expected return to duty, he had requested an interview with Cowley and there had tendered his resignation. Cowley had had no choice but to accept it. Doyle had become a liability to him, and both knew it.
Doyle had taken a job with a construction company as a laborer. The work was mentally undemanding and physically exhausting. Whereas before there had been virtually no routine in the unconventional young man's life, now he embraced it, leaving his new tiny flat in the early hours of the morning and returning late in the afternoon. He did not often go out, nor did he seek female company for diversion as he once had done. It was as though he had to cut off all connections with the life he had known before Bodie's death.
Doyle was half-asleep on the sofa when the door buzzer summoned his attention. For a full minute he made no effort to move, puzzling distantly over who might be paying a call. In the first weeks since leaving the Squad, his fellow agents had learned to forego condolences and to contain their regrets about Doyle's resignation. With little else to discuss except Bodie, they had eventually acceded to Doyle's obvious desire to be forgotten.
The buzzer sounded again, and was held insistently. Shaking off the vestiges of sleep, Doyle turned off the television and went to the intercom. He glanced at his watch and marked the time. It was half past ten.
"Who is it?" he queried, making no effort to curb the irritation in his voice.
"Cowley. I'd like to talk to you."
Doyle was surprised. He had not seen Cowley for over a month. His presence had been felt, of course. Even in his present condition, Doyle had automatically taken note of his surroundings and of those populating them. The watchers had been good; CI5 agents were uniformly better and more discreet than any other agency's. But Doyle had been among the best, and it had been easy to spot them, an old habit that chose not to die as the rest of him had done.
"Is it necessary, sir?" asked Doyle.
"You will not regret it, Doyle," Cowley answered obliquely.
Intrigued despite himself, Doyle pressed the release for the door latch, then went to the door of his flat and pulled it open.
He was leaning against the frame, arms folded across his chest, one booted heel crooked against the shin of his other leg, when Cowley reached the landing. They looked levelly at one another--another old habit. The last time Doyle had seen Cowley, the man had looked to have aged a dozen year. Even in the grip of his own misery, Doyle had not been unaware of Cowley's. That grey look was gone now, replaced by one of calculating intensity.
"May I come in, Doyle?" Cowley asked politely, responding directly to the implied belligerence of Doyle's stance.
"Social call, sir?" Doyle countered.
Cowley produced a small smile. "Partially."
"You can't want me back," Doyle said patiently.
The older man's pale blue eyes fixed Doyle with a force of will he had not forgotten. "I would prefer to conduct this conversation in private. If you don't mind."
Doyle shrugged, his composed expression covering the slight surge of irrigation. "All right." He waved Cowley through the door, glancing at the landing with a frown. He hesitated a moment, tempted to trot down the flight of stairs to see who had accompanied him, for he felt instinctively that someone else was there. Then, again, he shrugged. Whatever Cowley wanted, Doyle knew he would not be made to wait too long. And suddenly, full-blown, he thought he had the answer.
"You found out something about Bodie."
Cowley came to a stop within the small living room and twisted a look back over his shoulder. The tenor of Doyle's attitude had changed completely with that statement . The green eyes that stared at him were clear and purposeful, effecting a striking transformation from the wary, world-beaten young man of a moment ago.
"Aye, I have. Close the door and we will talk about it."
Mindful that he was obeying like a docile puppy, Doyle did as he was told, then went to stand a few feet from his former employer.
The moment stretched and Cowley did not speak, concentrating on divining Doyle's present state of mind. Thrumming with barely contained impatience, Doyle began, "You've found out who murdered him?"
Cowley put up a hand. "No. I don't know any more now than when we disposed of those remains." He reached out and took hold of Doyle's still-muscled but too-thin arm. "Sit down, Doyle." At the mulish tension that pulled Doyle's face into a mask of restraint, Cowley gestured him toward the sofa. "Please. This is important."
Again, Doyle unwillingly conceded. As he lowered himself to the sofa, something of what Cowley had said made its way into the crevices of his mind and he paid scant attention as the controller went to the kitchen table and fetched the single bottle of whiskey standing there.
"'Those' remains?" Doyle repeated.
Cowley smiled at him. "Yes." He handed him the bottle. "So your brain hasn't turned to mush, after all."
"Wouldn't vouch for that," Doyle said on a quivering note. "Are you trying to tell that Bodie-- that that wasn't him?"
Cowley sat on the sofa beside him. "That's right, lad."
A shuddering breath worked its way into Doyle's frozen lung. "He's alive?"
The tousled head slowly dropped forward. Cowley removed the whiskey bottle from the fingers that threatened to go slack. "Is he all right?"
Cowley picked his words with cautious regard. "He's been through a lot. That's obvious from his condition. Physically, however, he is sound."
Doyle stared down into his empty hands. "Go on."
"For the rest of it, I can't answer. He won't volunteer any information and he refuses to respond to questioning. He has only one request, in fact."
Doyle turned blind eyes toward the older man, blinking hard to clear them. "Yes?"
"He wants to see you."
Long legs unfolded in an instant, eating up the distance between the sofa and the door.
"Not so fast, Doyle."
The ice in Cowley's voice stopped him as effectively as a blow to the belly. Doyle swung round, breathing raggedly as he fought to control himself. "Why?" He knew by the slight tightening of the thin lips that Cowley was not unaffected by his reaction. But he did not care in that instant if Cowley saw him break down and weep with relief. He would not believe that Bodie was alive until he saw him; but all he could think at this moment was that there might be an afterlife after all--and this was as close as he would ever get to it.
"Get hold of yourself, Doyle!" Cowley snapped. "Where do you suppose he's been these last three months? Why hasn't he tried to contact us? Think, man!"
Doyle's eyes flared, but when he spoke, his voice was calm and steady. "Somebody's had him, obviously. They wanted something from him, and they didn't let him go until they believed they'd got it. You think he's been programmed. Anything else?"
Cowley glared at him. "I hope your attitude is equally as cavalier when he puts a knife to your throat. After all, you are the only one he wants to see."
His mouth compressed at the bright smile that lifted Doyle's lips. "After the last three months, a knife to the throat would be a blessing. Especially if Bodie is the one to put it there."
Acidly, the controller commented, "Your expectations have taken a drastic turn for the worse, Doyle."
Cowley's chest rose and fell as he gave a weary breath. The light blue eyes took a quick look round and came to fall on the intercom to the main door. He strode with limping gait to it, and activated the line. "Jax, bring him up."
Sucking in a steadying breath, Doyle went to the door and swung it wide. He could hardly hear the approaching footsteps for the drum beat hammering in his ears. His fingers were white where they clutched the door frame, and he had to forcibly hold himself there to keep from springing down the stairs three at a time.
They came up together, Jax's arm behind Bodie to steady him. A pair of compassionate brown eyes swept over Doyle's face, then turned back to supervise his companion's halting progress. Bodie's dark head was curved forward, as though he couldn't trust his feet to make the proper moves. Even from here and at this angle, Doyle could see that Bodie had change. The robust frame that could bull its way into doors and through people had withered away to a shadow of its previous bulk. He must have lost more than two stone, Doyle thought, anguished. The broad-cut hand that leaned heavily on the railing was pared back almost to raw bone.
It was no more than a whisper, but the dark head came up at once, eyes black as midnight searching out the reedlike form and seizing on it. Bodie's mouth moved, but no sound emerged, and for a moment, he stood transfixed, staring up at Doyle as though he were an apparition.
Doyle lurched forward, and found his way blocked by Cowley's iron arm braced across his chest. He shot him a fierce look, but Cowley merely gave his sandy-haired head a curt shake, defying him to move before he was allowed.
Doyle understood then what it was Cowley was up to. Bodie had refused to answer any questions, had offered nothing in the way of information. As a last resort, and only that, Cowley had brought Bodie here to see if sight of Doyle would jar him out of it. Doyle was no more than a tool, and none of this was for his benefit.
Swallowing hard, Doyle stood his ground. He waited with painful patience for Bodie to navigate the last steps to the landing.
"I told you he was all right," Cowley said evenly. Doyle looked at him sharply, but realized immediately that he was not the one being reassured.
However, if Bodie heard him, he did not acknowledge it. His eyes were riveted to Doyle, searching over him; he had learned a long time ago never to accept another's word as truth. "Ray?"
The soft, tentative voice nearly seared a hole in Doyle's heart. Ignoring the arm pressed against his chest, he went forward, one hand extended. When he stood within a foot of the other man however, he paused, uncertain of what Bodie expected. It had been strangely true that while Bodie had always been quick to demonstrate his affection with a casual touch, he had been frequently loathe for another to touch him in the same fashion. So Doyle waited, even though he wanted nothing more than to prove to himself that Bodie was real, flesh and blood, not an illusion or the frequent visitor of his dreams.
"Jesus, Bodie," Doyle began, his voice breaking huskily. Before he could continue, a smile of incredible sweetness erased the ravages of whatever hell Bodie had endured during the previous three months and he took a step that closed the distance between them. His bowed head came to rest on Doyle's shoulder, and his arms went lightly around Ray's waist. Suddenly choked, Doyle folded the other man against him, squeezing until they were both gasping for air. "You stupid bastard," Doyle wept, "don't you know better than to go anywhere without me to back you up?"
"'Course I know that," Bodie replied plaintively. "Couldn't help it, could I?"
Doyle bent his head back just far enough to look into Bodie's eyes. "That's the sort of reply I'd expect from you."
Bodie only smiled and lowered his forehead again. "I'm tired, Ray, so tired. Can I lay down somewhere?"
The look Doyle blasted Cowley's way was fulsome with reproach. "Sure. Did you think I wouldn't have a bed, just 'cause you managed to get yourself lost?"
"From the look of these palatial surroundings, I had to wonder," Bodie countered.
"C'mon, sunshine," Doyle said gently. "It's over here." He took Bodie into the bedroom, keenly aware of the way his partner leaned on him, of the tremor that passed through the wasted body with each torturous step. At the edge of the bed, he pushed Bodie carefully down, and helped him out of his jacket. Despite the weight loss, Doyle could tell that Bodie's muscle tone was not badly depleted. Most of the toll of Bodie's ordeal was lodged in his face, evidenced by shadow-rimmed eyes and lined face. A nasty suspicion was creeping into Doyle's mind, but it wasn't Bodie he intended to push about it.
His partner sat quietly as Doyle undressed him, not even uttering a token complaint when his trousers were loosened then tugged down below his knees as he briefly stood. Instead, Bodie maintained his balance with a hand on Doyle's arm, contriving through the entire exercise to keep some part of himself in contact with Doyle at all time.
"Lie down, Bodie," Doyle directed, and when he had done so, Doyle drew the duvet up and spread it over the still-trembling forms. He stood a moment, gazing down into the face that was placid with trust, wanting to ask so many questions, wanting simply to stand there and stare until Bodie was burned into the cells of his retinas.
"Doyle." The voice was Cowley's, calling him from the living room.
"Go to sleep, Bodie," Doyle said gently. "I'll be here."
He turned to go, but a hand slipped from beneath the covers and snagged his wrist. The grip was punishingly strong. Doyle stopped, and covered the hand with his own. "Yeah?"
"Don't want you to leave, Ray. Please."
Torn by the need to get Cowley on his way, and to accede to Bodie's request, Doyle lingered. At the soft sound of a footstep at the door, he looked up to see Cowley waiting. Decided, he said firmly, "It'll be a minute, sir. Help yourselves to a drink."
Bodie's eyelids fell shut as Doyle settled on the edge of the bed. "Was so afraid," Bodie whispered. "He said you'd quit. Thought maybe he was lying to cover up."
"Cover up what?"
"You being gone." Bodie's words were like moths in the night, very softly batting at his ears. He knew Cowley could not hear him; Bodie's words were barely audible even though he was right beside him. "Why'd you quit, Ray?"
Bodie's breathing was already evening out as sleep began to steal over him. Doyle reflexively tightened his hold on Bodie's hand. "Thought you were dead, mate."
That brought Bodie's eyes open and he gazed at Doyle a long time. "Thought you must have done. Otherwise you would've come for me. Kept waiting, y'know. Was afraid they'd got to you already."
"Is that what they wanted? To get to me?"
Bodie turned his head on the pillow, fighting the gravity that pulled so weightily on his eyelids. He produced a small nod. "Won't let 'em, though. Won't let anyone hurt you." The words had the ring of incantation, as though they had been spoken over and over again.
"It's all right, Bodie. They won't get to me; I promise. You can rest now."
Again the dark head nodded. In seconds the fingers that were curled around Doyle's wrist fell slack. Silently, Doyle lifted the hand and nudged it back under the duvet. Beneath the savage relief generated by Bodie's reappearance was rising disquiet. Who had done this, and why? They could have killed him, but they hadn't. For that Doyle was genuinely grateful. That mangled, mutilated corpse could have been Bodie's.
This time, Doyle left the slumbering figure and returned to the living room, leaving the door ajar behind him. Cowley was standing at the end of the sofa; Jax, looking uncomfortable, hovered beside the door. Bitterly amused, Doyle wondered if they expected him to make a break for it, dragging a half-comatose Bodie in his wake.
"How long have you had him?" he demanded.
Cowley answered the question with equal directness. "Almost a week."
Cowley nodded. "You are no longer a member of CI5, Doyle. It was not a matter of your concern."
"Except that he reused to sleep until you brought him here. Why didn't you just drug him? Surely you wouldn't have had any moral dilemmas with that."
Cowley's expression did not change, but his voice was tired. "I think I missed your histrionics, Doyle. Apparently he was heavily drugged during his incarceration. It was deemed wisest not to add to his difficulties."
Sickened, Doyle blurted, "He's not..."
"No. They did not choose to make an addict of him. In fact, by the time we found him, his system was almost completely clear."
Doyle folded his arms together, legs braced firmly apart. "All right. What happens now?"
Cowley rubbed his fingers across his eyes. "That depends on you, I'm afraid. As I said, you are no longer a member of CI5. Bodie is. It is our responsibility to determine what happened to him. It also seems obvious that the quickest and easiest way to extract some answers will be by involving you."
The green eyes narrowed. "Go on."
"If you were a CI5 agent, I could leave him in your custody. Since you are not...."
"You're not taking him out of here," Doyle stated flatly.
It was an impossible statement, and if anyone else had made it, even in that exact tone and timbre, Cowley would have laughed. "Then the solution is obvious, even to you," said he, not ungently.
Doyle stared at him. "Just like that?"
A faintly reptilian smile curved over Cowley's lips. "More or less. I want Bodie back. Surely you have not become so stupid as to think I would be unhappy to have you back, as well." His eyes faded from blue to the silver gray of steel. "There is not other way to justify my leaving Bodie in your hands--no matter how much he may wish it."
And you won't leave him here any long than you have to, Doyle thought with total certainty.
Nevertheless he allowed the moment to stretch, considering the ends of his scuffed boots, the carpet at Cowley's feet, Jax across the room who looked as thought he would have preferred to be in the heart of the Kremlin. Ray dredged up a slight smile for him then lifted his head to face Cowley. "All right."
To his credit, Cowley displayed no signs of triumph. He had got what he asked for, but they all knew he was a long way from having what he wanted. A hand edged under his jacket lapel and reappeared with a standard issue 9mm Browning. He laid it flat in his palm and extended it to Doyle, who stepped forward to receive it. His identification followed. Pocketing it, Doyle muttered wryly, "Didn't have much in the way of doubts, did you?"
"Not where Bodie was concerned, no," Cowley concurred. "I'll be back in the morning. You know the procedure, Doyle. I'm relying on you." The small but lethal form of CI5's controller swung around and headed for the held-open door. There he paused. "And don't worry about calling in to work tomorrow. I'll take care of that."
Doyle's mouth came open; he sought something to say that wouldn't earn him an immediate reprimand. The exercise was pointless, so he closed his mouth and gave a short nod. Satisfied, Cowley swept past Jax, who flashed Doyle a sympathetic shrug.
"Thanks, Jax," Doyle said quickly, as the lean agent made to follow. "For watching out for Bodie."
"Sure, Ray. Take care of him." And then he, too, was gone and Doyle felt as though he had escaped a huge crowd, lightheaded with the relief of being alone.
He shut the lights off and went to the window. There was Cowley's car, some distance down the street. The two men climbed in and drove off. For a moment, caressed by a breeze that was vaguely cool, Doyle let his eyes wander up and down the block, examining the vehicles lining the pavement. One of them held a watcher, he was sure of that, but the day had gone, and he couldn't tell with certainty which one it was. It didn't matter, anyway.
Bodie was alive.
Unable to deny himself a second longer, Doyle padded silently to the bedroom door and looked inside. Bodie had worked his way out of the covers and lay on his side, one leg bent forward. His right hand was stretched forth, the wrist braced on the edge of the mattress, and the fingers appeared, very faintly, to be moving.
A little taken aback, Doyle moved nearer until he could see Bodie clearly in the wash of pale light from the window behind his head. The sleeping man was still trembling and his breathing was erratic--caught in the net of painful dreams? Doyle squatted beside the bed, trying to make out Bodie's expression. The contorted face made the breath lodge in his throat. His voice a thing of the night, Doyle soothed, "It's all right, Bodie. You're all right."
A racing shudder lifted Bodie's chest and emptied it. As Doyle watched, an unwilling witness to Bodie's agony, glimmering rivulets of moisture pooled briefly at the rims of his eye sockets then tumbled over. Long fingered hands moved forward and cupped Bodie's cheeks between them, thumbs sweeping like wipers to remove the salty rain.
"It's all right," Doyle repeated, his voice low but softly shattered. "It's all right, Bodie."
His voice seemed to register, and Bodie raised the grasping hand to close it tightly round the one of Doyle's nearest to it. "Oh, please," Bodie said.
Not sure if he had in fact wakened, Doyle asked very quietly, "What, Bodie?"
At that, wet lashes rose with apparently monumental effort, and swimming blue eyes focussed with exhaustion-drugged difficulty on the face only inches above his own. "Need you to stay." A wan parody of Bodie's devil-may-care grin flickered about his lips. "Please, Ray."
Doyle lost the fight to sniffle delicately. Still holding Bodie's head, he bent down until their foreheads met, noting the light sheen of sweat, and the warm scent of Bodie's hair. Bodie sighed, and Doyle felt the tension go out of the other man, could have said precisely when sleep reclaimed him. He rose up, pausing the length of a heartbeat to brush his lips against the high forehead, then went to fetch a chair.
The remainder of the night passed slowly. Doyle remained at his chosen station, close enough to the bed to reach Bodie quickly if he struggled too near the surface of consciousness. He did that, often, as though incapable of accepting that he had made it home, that Doyle was near. A light touch, a soft word, were all that were needed and he would subside into troubled sleep again. Doyle guessed that he was fighting it, afraid of letting go for fear of never finding his way back. There had been a time--eons ago!--when he had believed his partner afraid of nothing. Bodie himself had dispelled that belief, with his usual off-hand manner, so that his very words had seemed a lie. But Doyle had accepted them as truth, by then having come to understand much of the dichotomy that made Bodie the unique individual he was.
Whatever had happened to him had cut to the very heart of that seemingly indomitable spirit. Doyle had never seen his partner so tentative, so ill at ease with a world whose measure he had taken a very long time ago. Cowley must have seen it, too, and had been forced to concede that Bodie's strength lay temporarily in his partner. Or at least that was what Bodie had wanted him to see. Doyle had no doubts that Bodie could manipulate the older man to his way of thinking, given the proper set of circumstances. And people thought he was manipulative! An expert, Bodie was, but more subtle than Doyle, and better at it, too.
But Doyle also knew him well enough to recognize that this was no act. Bodie needed him, or thought he did, and had been driven to openly admit it. It was also one of the most gratifying revelations in Doyle's jaded life. Having come to learn just how fearfully important Bodie had become to him, it was heartening beyond words that his big, bloody-minded, independent partner felt the same way about him.
Yawning violently, Doyle quelled the urge to chuckle. Ridiculous, really, that they had got so involved with one another. After all, it was one thing to get yourself wound round a woman that way--but another fella?
The pattern of Bodie's respiration subtly altered and he rolled from his back to his side. Doyle was ready for the gradual return to awareness, watching translucent eyelids ripple like the surface of moonlit water. Bodie woke with a start, just as he had done half a dozen times before. This time, however, memory gave him a boost, and he searched for Doyle before calling out. Sight of him bolstered his shaky confidence. Nevertheless, he lifted a hand and waited until Doyle met it with his own. The night had finally called and Doyle's fingers were like ice.
Looking around curiously, Bodie asked, "Time?"
Doyle squinted at his watch, "Just past two."
"Don't you sleep then?" Bodie released his hand and shifted slowly beneath the covers.
"On assignment. Need anything?"
Bodie closed his eyes then let them creep open again. "Nah. You should be resting, Doyle. Need your beauty sleep, you do."
Doyle gave a snort of laughter. "Thanks, mate. Always a kind word."
"Full of 'em." Bodie settled down, his head turned on the pillow so he could survey his partner. Minutes passed and he continued to stare, his eyes ceaselessly roving from the top of Doyle's neglected hair to his bent knees, all that were visible from his vantage point. Doyle didn't mind, understanding something of what Bodie was feeling. He'd had the better part of the night to drink his fill of Bodie's presence. "Sorry I've been so--" Bodie faltered, and Doyle gave him an acute look.
"Y'know. Weedy. Making you come running every time you turn round."
"Yeah, well. Know you must've missed me."
Bodie grinned. "Getting cocky, son." He moved his head, rubbing his cheek up and down against the pillowcase. It smelt of Doyle; he liked that.
"Go back to sleep, Bodie," Doyle said fondly. He leaned forward and gave Bodie's chin a flick. "You've been lacking a bit of that beauty sleep, yourself."
"Not that it'd show," Bodie shot back wryly. His heavy eyelids began to shutter downward again, his irrational need to keep Doyle in sight the only obstacle to imminent unconsciousness. "Don't go far, will you?"
"'Course not," Doyle agreed. "Give it up, mate. I'm not going anywhere without you."
Bodie's lips parted and gave up the single word 'good.'
A moment passed, and another, and Bodie was sleeping heavily again, deeper, Doyle believed, than he had since stretching out on the bed. For the first time that night, Doyle allowed his own head to roll back against the stiff wooden frame of the chair. Hands folded across his lap, he slid his hips forward until he reached a modicum of comfort, crossing his legs at the ankles, and wearily closed his eyes.
He woke an hour later, for no reason at all. Bodie was still lost in the landscape of dreams, but calmly now. Doyle sat beside him for a while, letting his eyes reaffirm all over again the other man's existence. Then, he stood and took a little while to ease the strain in muscles long past abuse. The previous day on the job seemed a hundred years ago, but his body rightfully remembered it as though it had been yesterday.
Hands propped on the small of his back, Doyle lumbered into the kitchen where he started a mug of tea. Leaning against the counter, he half drifted to sleep on his stockinged feet as he waited for the water to come to a boil. Milk was swirling in the golden brown depths of his mug when a rough cry came from the bedroom.
He fought the instantaneous urge to race to his partner, in five quick strides reaching the doorway. Bodie was sitting belt upright, eyes wide, chest heaving, his hands spread on the duvet by his knees. Doyle stood there, giving Bodie time to recognize him. Then he went unhurriedly inside and sat on the edge of the bed. Bodie's reaction surprised him, even after all that had transpired between them this night: he put his arms around Doyle and burrowed against his chest.
"Careful!" Doyle warned without rebuke. "You'll get scalding tea all down your back."
"Said you wouldn't go," Bodie said harshly.
"Was just in the kitchen, making a cuppa. Here. You want some?"
He waited until Bodie was calmer, timing the rapidfire pace of his heart with the hand that rested on Bodie's back. It had begun to slow when Bodie at last eased his fierce embrace. Haunted blue eyes stared up at him, but Doyle refused to share his lingering horror. He was Bodie's stanchion; he had to act it. "Bad dream, was it?" he asked.
Dark lashes swept down, hiding the black turbulence there. He lifted a trembling hand and took the hot mug from Doyle. With the easy assumption that this was something he did every day, Doyle curled his own fingers around Bodie's and steadied them while he drank.
Ignoring the question, Bodie blurted out, "Let's go to ground, Ray."
Setting the mug on the bedside table with elaborate caution so that he might gain some time, Doyle kicked his sluggish brain into high gear. He hadn't expected this; wasn't sure what it meant, other than that Bodie still knew how to keep secrets. "Why? You're home, Bodie. Safe."
The dark head swung with stubborn denial. "Not safe. They'll find out, soon. Probably already watching."
A ragged sigh tore out of Bodie's lungs. "Don't know, Ray. But they know about you. Know all about you. I...I told them. Couldn't help meself, they had me higher 'n a kite." His hands were clasped around Doyle's arms, just above the elbows, fingers digging into the flesh there like the talons of a bird of prey.
"Why didn't you tell me this before?" Doyle asked, one hand pressing against Bodie's flank, moving in slow, gentling circles.
Bodie shook his head again. "Needed to rest. Been a long time. That bastard Cowley--it was the only way I could get him to bring me to you."
"I know that, Bodie. And he said you've been back for a week. Nothing's happened, sunshine. I'm all right."
"He's had a watch on you. But they won't do anything until we're together, anyway."
Doyle frowned, scarcely able to follow his partner's terse statements. "Why wait till then?"
Bodie raised his head and stared straight into Doyle's eyes. For an instant Doyle saw--not madness, not--but a kind of single-minded intention that startled him. "Can't tell you," Bodie whispered, and pulled Doyle against him, hooking his chin on the slighter man's shoulder.
"Can't or won't? Doyle insisted, letting his own arms go around his partner. Bodie had always used the medium of touching to communicate his emotions. When he was happy and affectionate, he was swift to give a friendly thump or to brush a hand over Doyle's hair. And when he was distant and aloof, just the opposite was true, as Bodie avoided all contact at those times, his hands shoved deeply into his jacket pockets lest they stray. Even an errant meeting of arms would make him pull away. With this abrupt revision of their former conventions, Doyle could no longer draw upon his lexicon of Bodie's physical statements. They were into new territory now.
"Can't," Bodie said, his voice abrasive with frustration. "They locked it in here." He rubbed his head fitfully against the ball of Doyle's shoulder.
Doyle forced a little distance between them, needing to see Bodie's face. "Are you going to hurt me, Bodie?"
Bodie shivered. "No. Won't let anyone hurt you. Please, Ray, we could leave now."
But Doyle was shaking his head. "Like you said, Cowley's got the place under observation. How far do you think we'd get?"
"As far as we need to." Once again Doyle had a glimpse of ruthless determination.
He decided to try reasoning. "Neither one of us is ready for a run. You know that. And, Bodie--you can't think Cowley's in on it?"
There was a tight line where Bodie's mouth used to be. "No. But he can't take care of us. He doesn't know..."
"But you do."
Bodie growled with vexation. "I only know that something will happen. Damn it, Ray, can't you just trust me?
Doyle dropped his gaze to Bodie's chest, avoiding the eyes that demanded a reply. Bodie's words had not gone unfelt; in fact Doyle was itching with a sense of impending disaster that he could put no name to. But he still needed to rely on his own logic, to depend on his own abilities to take care of them both, if need be. He was armed again; the clip in the gun was full--he had checked. They were in London, and although this was no longer Chelsea, it was not one of the more troublesome parts of town, either.
Bodie was still waiting for him, and when Doyle met his eyes, he wondered, strangely, if he had made him wait too long. "Let me think about it, Bodie," he said persuasively. "Half an hour can't make that much difference." He extricated himself from Bodie's now-loose hold and gently eased the other man back. "Go back to sleep, mate. I'll be in the living room."
Bodie stared at him for a long time, his face closed of all expression. Then, reluctantly, he nodded, and Doyle was relieved that he had been granted that much. With an affectionate swipe at Bodie's already mussed hair, Doyle moved off the bed and drew the duvet up to his shoulders. He made a great show of tucking him in, going so far as to kiss his forehead to elicit a groaning, "Ah, Ray," then finally left him alone.
In the dark, he slumped on the sofa with his cooling cup of tea propped up on one upraised knee. In a couple of hours, it would be dawn, coming early this time of year. Maybe Bodie would feel better then, maybe things would look differently.
Somehow Doyle doubted it. He wondered just what was--how had he put it?-- locked inside Bodie's head. What could be so terrible that Cowley could not cover them, something that Bodie felt sure would come from the outside? Could he know? Doyle wondered. Could he know with absolute certainty that he--Bodie--wouldn't be the Judas that would bring them both to ruin?
The thought had barely joined the other, less logical impulses cluttering his brain, when a creaking board betrayed the tread of a foot behind him. Doyle began to turn round to see what Bodie was up to, when something came down hard on the vulnerable spot just behind his left ear. All at once he was falling forward, tea splashing across his thighs as the cup slipped from numb fingers, and the floor was speeding rapidly upward to meet him...
Movement. Darkness. A foul smell, an even fouler taste. And pain, well-past the germinal stages, full-bodied, like overripe fruit, bruised and sickly sweet... The images crowding Doyle's head slowly coalesced to form a sort of coherence. He was in a car--not the boot, thank god--but something was over his head, stifling him, shrouding him in the unbroken darkness of the grave. They were moving, fast, and were apparently utilizing a seldom-travelled road for there were few sounds of other traffic.
His head ached abominably, a relentless, rhythmic pulse that radiated from the base of his skull. A turn of the head and the pulse was enhanced by a sharp, scalding sensation that made his eyes water and his stomach lurch with renewed distress. Quickly he catalogued his current situation, hampered by the pain raging behind his eyes, and the nausea swelling in his gut.
He was bound, hand and foot, and a wide strip of flex tape had been spread across his mouth. Trying to ignore the demanding signals tearing along his nerve endings, he tested his bonds and found them competently secure. He would have expected nothing less of Bodie.
Wriggling silently, he fought to free his face from the wool blanket covering his head. The pub brawl taking place in his stomach was rapidly escalating into an all-out war that could have only one, inevitable result. He had no desire to choke to death on his own vomit. But he had to know, first, who his abductor was.
He began to breathe heavily and noisily through his nose, but by working his knees and catching the blanket with his bound feet, he managed to get his head clear. Almost immediately he wished he hadn't, for the rich, suffocating odor that had suffused his waking thoughts came at him now totally unfiltered. It was an evil mixture of very old apples and cigarette smoke, and while uncomfortable under normal circumstances, it was enough in his present condition to make the bile rise threateningly in his throat.
Twisting, he was able to lift his torso and position himself against the left side of the rear seat. Even in the dark, from the glow of the instrument panel, he could make out Bodie's distinctive silhouette. They were alone in the vehicle and it was not a car he recognized. Where the hell had it come from?
Bodie veered sharply to one side, but caught the front left tire in a particularly nasty hole. He righted the car and lined it up again, but the vicious maneuver had been more than Doyle's already tortured stomach could take. Behind the all-too-effective gag, Doyle cried out Bodie's name. The muffled sound brought Bodie's head round with a jerk. He took in the wild green eyes and pasty features with admirably swift understanding. Even then, clammy with sweat and the effort to hold back, Doyle feared his partner would not reach him in time.
The car skidded to a jolting stop and Bodie jumped out. He ran across the front, breaking the flow of the beams, then wrenched the rear passenger door open. His prop gone, Doyle fell helplessly backwards, but Bodie caught him with a hand, and ripped off the restricting tape with the other. He only just managed to turn Doyle face downward, before the contents of his stomach hit the side of the road with a splash. The first wave was followed by a second, almost wrenching Doyle's head off because of the unnatural angle. But Bodie held him, his hand supporting the back of his neck, a thumb rubbing the hair away from this wet cheek.
"You done now?" he asked softly. Doyle nodded, wincing, still gasping as he tried to catch his breath. A cloth appeared and was swabbed over his face, efficiently removing the remains of his last meal. Exhausted and miserable, Doyle let his head drop forward against Bodie's forearm, greeting the warmth that emanated through the thin cotton of his shirt with a shiver. With stunning gentleness, Bodie wiped the hair away from Doyle's face, then wordlessly erased the involuntary tears that had moistened his cheeks. "You all right, Ray?" he asked. "We have to get moving."
"No," Doyle snarled. "I'm not all right, you bloody-minded bastard. What'd you have to go and hit me for?"
Bodie lifted Doyle back into the car, manhandling him until he lay on his left side, feet deliberately positioned as far from the driver's seat as possible. "Stinks back here," Bodie commented. "That bloody Anson: needs a keeper, he does."
Doyle's eyes widened. "Anson? What'd you do to him, Bodie?"
He was rewarded with a long-suffering grimace. "He'll be all right. But it'll be a while before Cowley finds him. We needed the headstart."
"You're making a habit of assaulting people, mate. Not a good thing, that," Doyle muttered. "My head feels like it's going to rocket off at any minute."
"Won't," Bodie assured him. "Just settle down, will you, Ray? We've got a ways to go yet, and I'll have to dump the car soon."
"It's going to be dawn before long," Doyle shouted, as Bodie slammed the door and returned to the driver's side. "Don't you think I'll be a trifle conspicuous back here, trussed up like a Christmas goose?"
Bodie climbed into his seat and restarted the engine. "That's what the blanket's for," he explained reasonably.
Doyle bared his teeth, but the effect was lost on the back of Bodie's head. "Suppose that means you have more tape, too?"
"'Course. You can be a noisy little bugger when you want to. Ray--" The knuckles of Bodie's fingers shone white as he tightened his hold on the steering wheel. "Don't hate me for this, please."
Doyle sighed. He wouldn't pretend to understand what was going on, but he desperately wanted to believe that Bodie had no intention of harming him, that he was only doing what was necessary to ensure their well-being. Going to ground. "Yeah, well, the odds aren't in your favor right now, mate," he muttered.
They lapsed into silence. By half-burying his nose in the rough woolen blanket, Doyle found that he could avert the worst of the stench and yet breathe almost comfortable. The steady motion of the car and the lightening sky lulled him back to the edge of sleep.
The sudden lack of noise and the cessation of movement brought Doyle sharply awake. He knew instantly where he was, but had no time to prepare himself, as the door beside his head swung open within seconds of his reaching consciousness. For a moment Bodie simply looked down at him, a half amused expression belying the grey pallor and wariness etched into his skin. "Little golly," he murmured, and peeled the blanket away from Doyle's face.
He hitched Doyle upright, then held him until the green eyes lost their glazed look and a little color returned to the sun-browned cheeks. "Still hurt?" he asked solicitously. Doyle managed a tight nod. Bodie said, "I'll find something for you, soon as I can."
As his head cleared, Doyle took in their surroundings. They were off the road, in a forest, and despite the early hour, it was already warm. Bodie sat him upright so that he could reach Doyle's hands and made short work of untying his bonds. As soon as they were free, he held them a moment, briskly rubbing his wrists. Then he stood back and said practically, "You do your own feet."
Doyle smiled angelically at him. "What, you worried I might kick you or something?"
"'S not unlike you to want to get a little of your own back, my lad," Bodie agreed with a grin.
Bodie had been careful when applying his restraints, and it took only a moment for the circulation to return to Doyle's hands. He freed his feet, and climbed out of the car, hesitating at a spell of lightheadedness. "So where are we?" he pressed, inhaling deeply of the fine, sylvan air. It was fresh and clean, and a godsend after the oppressive interior of Anson's car.
"About three miles east of Wennor. Know it?"
Doyle rubbed his stubbly jaw, taking stock of their surrounding. "Nope. Should I?"
"No reason that I know of ," Bodie replied.
The car had come to a stop in a small glade, having plowed its way through a great deal of brush before arriving here. Doyle surveyed the evidence of their passage, wondering what the pool supervisor would think when Anson's car was recovered.
He stretched until his spine popped, then leaned back against the bonnet. The sun shafted through the thick copse of alders just here, and it fell full on his face, which he obligingly tilted back. Eyes closed, he soaked up the heat of the morning, wishing they had other, less worrisome reasons for visiting. Nevertheless, he took advantage of the moment, grateful for the release from his bonds and the uncomfortable backseat.
The extra sleep had done him good. The gnawing pain in the back of his head had receded to a dull thud and his stomach was his own again. In fact, he was almost hungry, despite a vestigial hint of nastiness in his mouth. A familiar sound penetrated his consciousness and he immediately spied Bodie several yards away, back to him, poised in an ages-old stance. Doyle studied him with idle interest, surveying the smooth line of the broad back tapering to solid hips. The holster pulled the cotton shirt taut across his shoulders and, strangely, the cloth appeared darker there. He mused upon this, knowing better than anyone that Bodie hated to wear soiled clothing.
Finished with nature's demands, Bodie straightened and began to readjust his trousers. The hem of the shirt had come loose in the back, and he pulled it all the way out, preparatory to give it a proper tucking. Only a glimpse was all Doyle had, but the smear of purple against the pale skin caused his heart to advance a beat. In fact, he wasn't even conscious of moving, until Bodie spun around at his approach, eyeing him uncertainly.
"Take it back out," Doyle ordered.
Bodie regarded him without expression, then glanced pointedly down at his trousers, one brow raised.
"Your shirt, you berk," Doyle snapped.
His partner pursed his lips primly. "Why?"
Doyle reached forward and found his hands instantly captured in big square-shaped ones. "It's better, Ray," he anticipated him impassively.
"Let's have a look, Bodie." Doyle's tone did not brook resistance, but Bodie considered it all the same. Nevertheless, he knew from Doyle's deliberate expression and the set of his mouth that he would get a fight if he refused him. He made a face and turned his back, one hand thoughtfully covering the Browning.
Eyes narrowed, Doyle stepped closer and lifted the material. Bodie flinched at the whisper of cool fingers tracing the outline of old wounds, but did not move, not even when Doyle placed both hands flat against his shoulder blades, as if his touch could remove the scars that were still pink from recent savagery.
"Bastards," he hissed. "I'm going to kill them, Bodie."
Bodie came round, and took Doyle's wrists in his fingers. "Doesn't sound much like a copper talking, mate."
"Yeah, well, they made that mistake when they took you away." The shadows slowly left Doyle's eyes, coaxed out of them by the fond expression on Bodie's face. He went on, practically, "We'll have to get some cream in that village of yours. Those welts'll bind up something awful if you don't keep 'em soft."
"There's stuff where we're going," Bodie told him.
Doyle took his hands away and went to the place that Bodie had just used. Working his belt free, he peeled his jeans front open, and grunted, "And where is that?"
"Place I know," he answered. "What're you doing, Doyle? If you were a dog, I'd think you were marking my territory as your own."
Doyle's head came around and he gave Bodie a quizzical look. Then he laughed. "Nah, nothing so freudian, you clot. Just figured you already wilted this dandelion patch. No point in doing any more damage than necessary."
Bodie sniffed. "I watered them; 's you that's killing 'em."
"Right, mate. What else did they teach you in school?"
Just as Doyle had watched him, Bodie looked on with undisguised interest while Doyle set his trousers to rights. Green eyes locked briefly with blue. "So where is this place you know?" he asked pointedly, letting Bodie know in no uncertain terms that he had not been fooled by the attempted diversion.
Bodie raised his shoulders. "About thirty miles away. In the hills. "
"A place to stay."
Doyle ambled back toward the car. "Don't supposed you thought to bring along anything to eat?"
"Yeah. It's in the boot. But we don't have..."
"...time. I think I heard that before. Well, I'm hungry, Bodie. Wears a person out, being kidnapped."
Bodie blinked. "Ray..."
Doyle cocked his head at him, his expression unreadable. The auburn lights in his hair glinted redly in the bright rays of the sun. For an instant, gazing at him, Bodie had the terrible feeling that he was sinking into a bottomless morass. he should never have come to care so fiercely for this wretched creature he called his friend. Doyle had always been a pro at twisting him into knots. At the moment, he must look quite the pretzel.
"It's time to get into the car," Bodie said flatly.
It was a small thing, that one word, but it hung between them like a sword suspended.
The muscles lining Bodie's jaws pulled taut as his teeth clenched together. He had known he risked this when he had given Ray his freedom, but it had been important to show him that he truly had his best interests at heart. "Ray, please--don't make me...."
Before Bodie could finish the sentence, Doyle said coldly, "What? Hurt me? Again?"
Two bright spots of color bloomed in Bodie's cheeks, emphasizing his pallor. "Doyle..." He took a slow step forward.
"So, what'll you do, Bodie? Try to take me down? But I'm ready for you this time. Or maybe you'll use the gun. Has it come to that, mate?"
Doyle's words were calculated to draw blood and Bodie flinched. "I'm doing this for you, Ray!"
"Yeah--so no one will hurt me. I remember." His stomach lurched at the misery on Bodie's face, and Doyle disregarded the reason for pushing him. He walked straight up to Bodie and took a forearm in a firm hold. "And, anyway, you got it wrong: I didn't say 'no' to getting into the car, I said 'no' to taking it."
Bodie frowned at him, wondering if he had somehow missed out on part of the conversation. "Leave it here?"
"They'll be looking for it by now," Doyle said logically. "Cowley'll have been at my door at dawn to pick up his favorite worm."
Bodie heaved a sigh. "It's at least three miles to the nearest village, Ray. Can you make it?"
Doyle slowly raked the other man's frame with his eyes. "Can you?"
Compelled by relief to speak honestly, Bodie muttered, "So long as you're not fighting me, I can do anything."
Doyle chuckled richly and went to the boot of the car. He pointed his finger impatiently at it. "Food, Bodie. Or neither of us will be going anywhere."
"How the hell did they get away!?"
Anson tried to raise his head from the back of Doyle's sofa, then thought better of it as piercing pain exploded behind the ridge of his forehead. "Told you, sir," he muttered, wincing at the sound of his own voice. "He must have come out of a window; never even saw him until he was right on me."
"So much for being a member of an elite organization, Anson," Cowley berated bitterly. "Bodie has been a prisoner for three months, during which he was psychologically and physically abused, but he managed to overcome one of my agents with the ease of a child!"
"And you saw nothing of Doyle."
"No, Mr. Cowley. Everything was just as you see it."
Cowley's pale blue eyes made a detailed survey of the room for the third time that morning. Nothing had been touched. The sofa and the rug in front of it were still stained with tea; the mug from which it had spilled lay cracked a few inches under the coffee table. Curiously, there were a pair of Doyle's jeans, also stained, in an untidy pile at one end of the sofa.
Cowley grimaced, trying to recreate the happenings here before Anson had been knocked unconscious a couple of hours before dawn. Doyle must have been on the sofa, holding a mug of tea. He and Bodie had a dispute, the tea was sloshed over Doyle's trousers, he changed, Bodie went out and clouted Anson, and they left--in Anson's car. But he doubted it. Not precisely like that anyway. What he was trying to avoid was the possibility that Bodie had struck Doyle down, who had then dropped tea all over himself--and what? Bodie had changed him before hauling him away?
It didn't make sense. But then, events involving those two often failed to make sense.
They were both missing, apparently driven off by Bodie. What Doyle's circumstances were, Cowley preferred not to hazard a guess at this time. But he suspected they were not good.
It had been a desperate gambit bringing Bodie here--and leaving him alone with Doyle. The doctors had assured him that Bodie, while not permanently debilitated by his confinement and ill-treatment, would not be capable of serious malfeasance until he'd had an opportunity to regain some of his lost ground. After all, for god's sake, the man had gone without sleep for almost an entire week.
Cowley groaned softly. It had been his decision and there was no use in castigating Anson about it. But until that car was found, they were without a hint as to where the two may have got off to. No disturbance, not witnesses.
He dropped a hand onto Anson's shoulder, causing the aching agent to startle out of a closed-eye funk. "Come along, Anson. You should have that seen to. Jax and Wilcox will finish here."
"Sir." Anson rose clumsily to his feet, trying to hide his chagrin as Cowley absent-mindedly gave him a steading hand. "Sorry, sir."
Cowley turned at that, and produced a sort of smile. "Aye. As are we all."
"You must have been driving like a fury to get us this far out of town so quickly."
Doyle cast a nonchalant glance at his partner, marking the haggard features and sweat-marred shirt. The last mile had been the worst, and Bodie was clearly reaching the end of his tether. Doyle was feeling the strain, too. In the last half hour, the throb at the back of his skull had kicked back into gear, and his ears had begun to ring. He didn't think he was concussed, but there was no way to be certain. They didn't even have a mirror to check the respective sizes of his pupils, and he had no intention of asking Bodie.
What Bodie had estimated to be three miles had turned into three and a half, and was step-by-bloody-step approaching four. Luckily they had encountered little traffic, but took no chances when vehicles approached, ducking to the side of the road and hiding in shrubbery, until they were well past.
At least the day was fine, although a cloud or two would have been appreciated. The mercury would be within a hair's breadth of 80 by this afternoon, and the heat was already palpable, coming off the road like a furnace blast.
Doyle set his jaw and continued forward, one foot following the other, a steady, mind-dulling pace that had served him well with the Met. Bodie, too, must have gotten good training, with the Army. All that drilling, and marching....
They rounded a narrow bend, and there it was, a tiny village the size of a large postage stamp, as picturesque as a postcard, and as welcome a sight as any Doyle had ever seen. Bodie sighed and looked across at him, relief turning his eyes the bright blue of cornflowers. Doyle grinned in response and pointed. "Looks like your village, mate.
"It's not mine," Bodie said warily. "But it'll do."
Half an hour later they were back on the road, this time straddling the powerful engine of a large motorbike. Doyle, the ex-copper, had nicked it from the parking lot of a pub, brazenly pushing it around to the next street, where he calmly direct-wired the ignition. Bodie had not argued when Doyle had climbed behind the handlebars. He had simply swung a leg over the back, looped an arm around Doyle's waist and held on.
The air rushing into their faces was a happy improvement over the odd warm breeze that had swirled round them before. Doyle continued in the same direction and received nothing in the way of contradiction from his exhausted partner. The bike had a powerful, well-kept engine and almost a full tank of petrol. They could make two hundred miles, if necessary, although Doyle knew that only the bike would ever get that far.
And yet tired and battered as they were, there was a curious pleasure in being here. The sun was sinking, the air was sweet and clean, and they were together. Bodie had started out sitting upright, his grip on Doyle their only contact. Within a few miles, however, he had slumped forward, both arms around his slender friend, his head resting heavily on Doyle's shoulder.
As they rounded a particularly tight curve, Doyle automatically slowed, and covered Bodie's forearm with one hand. "You fall off and I'll run over you just to finish the job," he shouted sweetly.
Bodie nodded. "Wouldn't doubt it, sunshine."
Even so, Bodie seemed to grow more and more relaxed until Doyle took to forcing conversation out of him, just to be certain that he did not fall asleep. Bodie fully roused at one point, just long enough to guide Doyle onto another, more narrow road, then settled back into semi-alertness.
Doyle smiled to himself at the way Bodie made himself comfortable. Where their bodies met a river of prickling sweat was forming, and his partner was a dead weight against him. But Doyle did not mind. This time yesterday, Bodie had been dead. He shivered reminiscently, then savagely gunned the engine.
"You cold?" Bodie asked.
Doyle shook his head, not trusting his voice.
"We're almost to the next turn off," Bodie went on. "Slow down after you clock another mile."
"How long since you were up here?" Doyle asked a moment later.
"End of last year, over a long weekend. Checked the place out. Should be all right."
"D'you own it?" Doyle asked, surprised, although he should not have been. Bodie could be amazingly close-mouthed when he wanted to be.
"Yeah. Last of the money from the mercs. Always knew it would come in handy."
Doyle slowed when they reached the designated point, waiting for Bodie to direct him. He had not been far wrong, and they only drove a short distance farther before Bodie indicated a break in the tall, thickly-leaved trees that framed the road.
Soon they were bumping down a badly rutted lane, leaving billowing clouds of dust behind them. At least here, thanks to the trees and intervening ridges, they were protected from the sun. Doyle had fervently wished for his sunglasses a long time ago, and this was as close to relief as he was going to get. Before long the track gave way to a barely defined path and eventually even that disappeared. By then Doyle had slowed to a crawl, using his legs to keep the bike upright as they navigated the more difficult passages.
Finally he brought them to a complete stop and swivelled to face his partner. Both of them were liberally coated with dust and grime, and the trials of sleeplessness and strain gave them the appearance of dissolute miscreants.
"You sure you got it right, mate?" Doyle demanded tiredly.
Bodie gave a groggy nod. He pointed at a ridge a quarter of a mile away. "Behind that stand of birch. See it?"
It was there, just as Bodie had promised, a small brick structure, well hidden by a profusion of trees and shrubs. Doyle pulled the bike to a stop in front of the building a few minutes later and broke the connection to shut off the engine. The sudden silence was literally deafening, and they continued to sit for a moment, soaking up the quiet.
"Home, Ray," Bodie said with forced whimsy, and climbed gingerly off the back of their stolen steed.
Doyle set up the kickstand and followed suit, rubbing at the insides of his thighs as he watched his partner walk toward the door.
Bodie was practically inside the building before he noticed that Doyle had made no effort to follow. In fact he was just standing there, hands jammed into his back pockets, his body language communicating instantly what it would have taken a hundred words and five minutes to express.
"What happens now, Bodie?" Doyle asked.
"What d'you mean 'what happens now'?" Bodie echoed sharply. He guessed where the conversation was leading and a row with Doyle was the last thing he wanted. "We're safe, Ray," he said with labored emphasis. "We'll be all right here for a while."
"Yeah? You sure of that?"
Bodie fought the urge to swear. "C'mon, Doyle. Say what you mean."
"Just want to know what you intend to do with me, now we're here." In fact the green eyes were dark with caution and a sort of watchfulness that made Bodie want to thump him.
Exasperated, he sighed, "Do with you? What do you want me to do with you?"
"I'm your prisoner, Bodie!" Doyle snapped. "How're you going to keep me here? Tie me to the bed? Or do you have drugs stashed here as well?"
"Stop it, Doyle," Bodie's voice was low and tense, betraying the fact that he was very close to the point of losing control.
"It's just that I don't fancy another cosh on the head, y'know--or maybe something even more enthus--"
"Drop it, Doyle!" The bellowed words resounded amid the summer stillness. Furiously, Bodie went on, "Prisoner!" Some prisoner! You collaborated with me, Doyle! Was you who suggested we cover Anson's car with bracken to keep it hidden a while longer; you who jimmied the ignition on the bike. Christ, it was who drove us here!" Shaking fingers raked through sweat-muddled hair. "What are you trying to do to me, Ray?"
Doyle kept himself motionless by main force. He had rarely heard that defenseless note in Bodie's voice and it sickened him to hear it now, goaded out of him by his own words. He said quietly, "Push you. Find your trigger before it finds me."
For an instant Bodie's emotions were nakedly exposed. Won't hurt you, mate. Won't let anyone hurt you."
Doyle grimaced. "How many times have you said that in the last three months, Bodie? Why have you said it?"
Sensing Doyle's concern, but not fully understanding it, Bodie replied uneasily, "Don't know."
Forcing himself to continue, Doyle grated, "And if I got away, Bodie, what would you do?"
Bodie twisted around, almost at the end of his strength. "I'd follow you, damn it. Make sure your back was covered."
"How can you know that you aren't the one who's been set up to do me? Bodie? Can you answer that?"
Bodie's chin quivered and he threw his head back, gazing at nothing. A moment passed during which the struggle to analyse his feelings and to find the words to describe them was clearly revealed on his face. He turned toward Doyle at last, fixing the familiar face with a defiant eye. "I just know, Ray. They want to get at you, but it isn't me."
The silence of the clearing underscored the wire-taut emotions between them. Finally, a small, reluctant smile worked its way across Doyle's full lips and he lowered his eyes. Slowly they came open again, and he regarded Bodie from beneath his lashes. "Yeah. I don't know why, but I think you're right."
Held strangely rapt beneath that gaze, Bodie responded sluggishly. Then: "Know I am, Doyle. I won't--"
But Doyle threw up his hand. "I know, Bodie. Let it go, mate." At the uncertainly that flickered across Bodie's face, Doyle asked plaintively, "You wouldn't have a shower in this dump, would you?"
The inside of the hut was nearly as rustic and spartan as the outside. There was a small wood burner against one wall, and a sink built into a cabinet that flowed into storage cupboards on either side against another. A few feet from the sink stood a table and two hard-backed chairs. A huge metal trunk guarded the foot of the bed, which was simply a hand-made pedestal with an ancient mattress rolled up on top of it.
Doyle's expression was bleak as he eyed the austere accommodations. All he'd wanted at the end of this journey was to wash the road off his salt-laden skin and collapse into a soft, sweet smelling bed.
He started at a sudden commotion at the sink, where Bodie was priming the pump. As Doyle watched, a flood of brownish-orange fluid spewed from the end of the faucet, then immediately slowed to a trickle.
He asked, "Do we have to boil that?"
Bodie gave him a quick grin. "Nah. It's from a well."
"Oh." Doyle went to the bed and began to unknot the twine securing mattress. "Hell of a bolt-hole, sunshine."
"Yeah, well that's all it was ever intended to be, wasn't it. Was never going to live here, y'know." Bodie continued to work the pump and soon the water was running clear and cool. "Here's your bath, Doyle. Unless you want to wait for water to heat, you'd better use it before it gets really cold."
Doyle's expression was not pleasant. Nevertheless, he abandoned the mattress and joined Bodie at the sink. "I won't fit," he commented with impressive restraint.
"Little fella like you? Sure you will." With that, Bodie enveloped his companion in a fierce bear-hug and began to heft him bodily off the floor.
"Bodie, stop it!" Doyle gasped as the air was compressed out of his lungs, but he was laughing as he tried to free himself from Bodie's embrace. "Let go, idiot!"
"That's better," Bodie said approvingly as he set Doyle on this feet again. "It's not polite to be bitchy in someone else's house."
"I'll try to remember that. God, I think you crushed my ribs."
"You'll live. Wash up, I'll get us something to eat."
Doyle's brows went up. "You have food here?"
The haughty cast of Bodie's jaw showed that he was sorely insulted. "'Course. Lots of yummy dehydrated, freeze-dried goodies that'll make you big and strong."
"Ah, no, Bodie!"
He smiled at the look of unfeigned horror on Doyle's face. "And we'll supplement it," he said, pacifyingly. "Plenty of rabbit and pheasant up here. Berries and nuts, too." He wrinkled his nose at Doyle. "Healthy things."
"You gonna get 'em?" Doyle asked hopefully.
Bodie smiled. Fatigued and aching as he was, Doyle was astonished at the warmth that brimmed up inside him. He liked to see Bodie happy; in fact, right now, he just liked to see Bodie.
"We'll both go," Bodie stated. "I even have some chocolate bars. We've got enough to get us through the night, anyway."
"I'm too tired to argue," Doyle admitted. He faced the sink with the air of a man walking the plank. Following Bodie's example, he pumped the handle until the flow of water was restored and continued to work it until the stoppered sink was nearly full.
From the depths of the cabinet, Bodie produced soap and shampoo. Holding his breath, Doyle dunked his head, but the air in his lungs exploded into a shocked exclamation as the frigid water soaked into his hair. Clenching his teeth he continued his ablutions, shivering furiously as he removed filthy clothing and determinedly washed away the day's accumulated grime. When he was done, he found a large, rough-textured towel was waiting for him and a pair of friendly hands guided him to the heat of the wood stove, planting him in one of the solid chairs with a passing swipe at dripping curls.
A moment later, Bodie deposited a pile of fresh clothing beside him. "Here," he advised. "Put these on before you catch your death."
Doyle obeyed without a word. He was cold through to his bones. He had just cinched the belt around too-large trousers, when a mug of steaming tea was thrust into his hands. "Thanks, mate."
Bodie nodded and went back to reconstituting noodles and cheese. Guiltily, Doyle downed a quick slurp of scalding fluid, then went to the small cook stove which had appeared at the end of the counter. "Here, let me. Get cleaned up, if you want to."
Giving Doyle a grateful thump on the arm, Bodie took him up on the offer. Warmer now, Doyle saw that Bodie had accomplished a lot while he had been washing up. The mattress was flat on the pedestal and had been made up with coarse cotton sheets and Army surplus blankets. There were even two pillows, the sight of which produce a grin.
"Planning on company, were you?"
"Eh?" Bodie had already stoically stuck his head into fresh water and came up streaming at Doyle's words.
"Nothing, little mermaid. Get on with it."
Bodie grunted and Doyle removed the small pot holding the glutinous mass of cheese and pasta to a wood trivet and replaced it with another pan for similarly packaged vegetables.
By the time Bodie was in shabby old jeans and a thick sweater, Doyle had the table set with two mugs of tea, two spoons, and the two pans between them. Bodie cast a disparaging eye over the set-up. "A bit casual, aren't we?"
"Less washing up," Doyle mumbled, choking down a spoonful of au gratin potatoes that bore no resemblance to that dish in either consistency or flavor. "How can you eat this crap, Bodie?"
"Desperation." Bodie sat down and for a few minutes they traded back and forth, until both pots were on Bodie's side of the table where, ultimately, they remained. Doyle amused himself by observing Bodie's determined feeding. For himself, he was glad there was tea and powdered milk to sweeten it. But Bodie needed fattening. His ordeal had left him entirely too thin, almost gaunt, for his solid frame. The militarily short cut of his hair had grown out, shoved unnoticed behind his ears and curling onto the long slope of his neck. Doyle had never seen him wear it so long and though it suited him, he knew better than to say so. Bodie had yet to take his appearance into consideration, and that in itself was an indication of the degree to which he had been obsessed with Doyle's welfare.
"So where's the privy, then?" Doyle asked, fighting back a cracking yawn.
"Round back, just past the shed."
Doyle winced. "One of those natural jobs?"
"Decently private, mate. There should be a packet of some of those thingies to kill the smell."
They had reached Bodie's hideaway just after two and it was only gone three now. Yet Doyle's eyes felt as though they had been turned inside out, his head was still aching and he craved sleep like a puppy. Totally oblivious to the rather magnificent splendor of their surroundings, Doyle found the toilet, used it and slogged back into the bungalow. He made a beeline for the bed, peeling the buttons open on his overlarge cotton shirt, sparing a glance for Bodie who was pumping water into the sink to soak the two pans and to rinse their mugs. The wood stove had brought the temperature of the room up a bit, but it was still chilly. Doyle wondered when they had left summer behind.
Having divested himself of boots and trousers as well, he climbed into the bed and hoisted the covers to his cheekbones, curling up to generate some body heat. He was half asleep when the sheet was raised, allowing precious warmth to escape, and Bodie moved in beside him.
"Oi--what d'you think you're doing?" he asked.
"Getting some sleep," Bodie replied blankly.
"What, in here with me?"
He could hear the laughter in Bodie's voice. "It is my bed, mate. "Sides, slept with you before, Doyle."
Doyle felt compelled to point out, "In the same room; not on the same mattress."
Bodie snorted. "Don't worry. I'm too tired to take advantage of your delectable charms." He shifted until he achieved a position of comfort, and managed to abscond with a fair portion of the bedclothes at the same time.
Aware of his partner's devices, Doyle merely edged closer, then tugged ruthlessly to even the disposition, saying easily. "Well, that's all right, then."
"Ah, hell, Doyle," Bodie complained. He threw an arm across Doyle and pulled him close, the warmth of his skin a shock against Doyle's back. "Don't intend to spend the whole night fighting with you over the blankets; so relax, will you? Already told you I haven't got designs on your body."
"Sure about that?" Doyle produced a fair semblance of his normal tone with an effort. With Bodie curled around him, he could barely think.
"Don't sound so disappointed," Bodie smirked. "Already did, you know?"
Baffled, Doyle asked, "What?"
"Took advantage of you. Well, not really, but I had to...um...."
Doyle twisted round to face him. "What the bloody hell are you on about?"
Bodie grinned seraphically, the blue of his eyes alight with mischief. "Changed your trousers, didn't I. Clumsy oaf, somehow you dropped tea all over 'em." At Doyle's faintly stunned expression, he went on gleefully, "'S not easy getting you into a pair of those jeans of yours, either. Always thought they went on out of a spray can, but all I could find was bug killer-- so I had to do it meself."
Quite unable to control the flush that burned his cheeks at the thought of Bodie handling him, Doyle sniped back, "Thought I felt a bit bruised. Did you have a good grope, then?"
Bodie bit his bottom lip to keep from laughing out loud. He contrived to sound wounded. "Wouldn't grope you, Doyle. Not when you're unconscious, anyway."
Despite himself, Doyle chuckled ignoring the strange sensation prickling deep in his abdomen. "Yeah? That's not what your birds say."
"Give off. My girls don't talk behind my back."
"Oh, ho, that's what you'd like to think. Worse than most blokes for carrying tales, they are. And that's t-a-l-e-s, in case you wondered."
"Crude. And anyway, if they were talking about me, it was so they could explain to you how it should be done."
Doyle's shrugged sheepishly. "You're right, y'know."
"Those were almost their exact words. How nice it was to finally meet a fella who knew just how it should be done." And he burst into rich, malicious laughter.
Bodie gave him a light cuff, good-naturedly yielding the point. "Thanks, mate. Been three months without a bird, and you're telling me I never knew what I was doing to begin with."
The smile slowly faded from Doyle's face and he thoughtfully moved his temple against Bodie's shoulder. "Yeah, guess it's been just about that."
"You, too?" Bodie was surprised. It took a hell of a lot to put Doyle off women.
But Doyle brushed it off. "Heart hasn't been in it."
"That's not the crucial part of the anatomy we're discussing, Doyle." He gave his partner an unselfconscious hug. "Anyway, we'll see what we can do about getting that little matter taken care of."
Unable to resist, Doyle gave him a speculative look. "Personally.?"
Bodie mock struck him again. "Careful, Doyle. You're talking to a starving man."
As if by mutual consent, they settled down, although Doyle found it hard to disengage himself from the feelings generated by Bodie's closeness. They were a curiously indefinable jumble, mixed with almost equal parts pleasure and uncertainty. It confused him that he could find so much comfort in lying next to his partner like this, one of Bodie's legs thrown casually over one of his; the arm that had taken up residence across his chest a leaden, but not unwanted weight; his own cheek pressed against Bodie's upper arm. While they had never experienced anything quite like this before, physical contact between them had never been rare, and Bodie had always been a 'toucher'.
But Doyle wasn't. And it was unlike him to accept this situation so readily. So what was really bothering him? And why was he wasting so much time thinking about it? But the answer was obvious--and unthinkable--the core of a socially ingrained fear that few heterosexual men could contemplate without extreme discomfort. True to form, Doyle withdrew as well. They had never, either one of them, been like that. And surely, that wasn't something that could change overnight?
It was simply the intensity of the last few months, he argued to himself, his having wanted Bodie alive so badly that he would have sold himself to the devil to get him back. Just reaction, he mused, this outsized happiness at being here, close to Bodie like this. Comforted, he welcomed the first creeping tendrils of sleep. And then, because he had explained everything satisfactorily to himself, and it was all right, he snuggled closer, a faint smile wisping across his mouth when Bodie responded, automatically tightening his hold.
Besides, there was plenty of time to worry about it later.
They were by the water, sun-dappled under trees that crowded close to the bank. A gentle summer breeze chased its tail around them, cooling the faint sheen of perspiration at throat and wrist, ruffling their hair with idle mischief.
Bodie sat close to the river, elbows balanced on his knees, a tapering length of wood resting on the soil between his feet, one end of it dangling hopefully over the slow moving water. His eyes were closed, or nearly so, and he was as quiet and still as the forest surrounding them.
A foot away, perched on the decaying remains of a lightning-felled tree, Doyle had positioned himself to one side, a sketch pad on his lap, pencil poised in hand. The paper bore mute testimony to his dedication to capturing the guileless beauty of his partner, Bodie's face and form displayed in various poses upon its surface. But between moments of furious effort, during which the tip of his pencil and the snout of his eraser would alternately create and eradicate, Doyle would find himself simply staring, captivated by the dark curve of sweeping lashes, the intransigent arch of flaring nostrils, and the beckoning slope of pouting lips viewed in profile.
After one such lull, Bodie felt his attention and turned into it, rolling his eyes skyward at what he considered Doyle's simple-minded preoccupation. Then he reached out, careful not to disturb the precise angle of his fishing rod, and drew a rough palm along Doyle's cheek. He smiled, unleashing all the breathtaking allure of a face no human male should ever have been gifted with.
It seemed to Doyle that the trees disappeared and the sun came down to favor him with its precious heat and light. And he basked in it, insides melting before such unquestioning love and acceptance. For the first time in his chaotic life, Doyle felt totally safe and content and understood the meaning of 'home'. Unable to resist, he moved into the hand, eyes wide and aware--and asking....
Doyle was floating to the surface of consciousness, slowly sifting through the layers of his mind, caressed by the veils of half-remembered dreams as he drifted through them toward the light. A lazy, undemanding arousal accompanied him, gently enticing him to awareness with the promise of sweet pleasure. It had been a long time since morning had greeted him in this fashion and he revelled in it, flexing his back to wantonly press against the hard-muscled thigh that was tucked familiarly between his knees.
The friction sent blood pulsing to his groin, feeding the heat already growing there. He moved again, sighing at the wonderful, throbbing sensation, letting his mouth fall open against the silky skin cushioning his cheek.
There was no gradual transition between the fugue state of dreaminess and complete wakefulness. It was accomplished all at once, borne on a wave of total comprehension, triggered by the scent and feel of his partner's body.
Instinctively Doyle pulled away, throat gone paper dry. But strong arms restrained him and Doyle froze, awaiting the first acid words of judgment. The instant passed, and he realized that Bodie had been acting in response to the loss of warmth, still enmeshed in velvet repose. Forcing himself to be calm, Doyle determinedly let go of his tension, willing his heart to cease its fearful clatter.
Bodie slumbered on, chest rising and falling with tranquil regularity, breath soft and warm against Doyle's cheek. Reprieved, Doyle lay silent and took stock of their situation. At some point in the chill of morning, they had curled as closely together as lovers. Now, following Doyle's abortive escape, their heads were inches apart on the same pillow, although their arms and legs were wrapped together in a complicated twining that Doyle did not dare try to break.
Feeling vaguely guilty, he watched Bodie sleep. Heavy lashes crowned cheekbones dusted with the shadows of exhaustion, and deep, harshly earned lines cut into skin drawn too taut around the outer corners of his eyes, and grooved deeper still at the natural indentation where cheeks dipped toward mouth. The mouth itself, however, was unmarred in repose, the lips soft and pliant. Doyle's eyes fixed on it, following the outline of its eccentric, but wholly appealing shape, noting the tiny, spidery folds that allowed the curved flesh to stretch wide in laughter. All at once, he remembered his dream, and the way Bodie had smiled at him.
The arousal that had been startled out of him returned full bloom, and Doyle caught his breath, terrified and entranced, both at the same time. He had never wanted to make love to a man before and that fact, partially, accounted for his terror. But the man he wanted was Bodie, his partner for eight year, his friend for nearly as long. And it was this, more than his bedmate's gender, that struck fear into him.
What would Bodie think, should he find the courage--unlikely!--to tell him? What would Bodie do, if he were to cover those puckish lips with his own, and then insinuate his tongue into that cool, moist vault...
Doyle shivered as he realized that his fanciful thoughts were inflaming him with painful intensity. Collecting himself by force of will, he closed his eyes and concentrated on sanity. But obdurately, he remembered yesterday, and the way they had touched and hugged with an abandonment neither had ever practiced in the past. Was it just faintly feasible that Bodie might share his desire?
Whimpering softly to himself, Doyle shifted his hips forward again, keeping the caress torturously restrained, but unable to deny himself the illicit joy of touching Bodie's body.
"Always wake up randy like that, d'you, sunshine?"
With a single string of words, Bodie brought Doyle's life to a standstill. The voice was low and sultry, as inciting in its way as the downy surface of Bodie's thigh against Doyle's erection. He must know, surely, who it was beside him, but it was the uncertainly that held Doyle rigid, eyes wide and frozen.
Languidly, pale eyelids glided upward and Doyle was riveted by two, incongruously blue suns, casting their warming light upon him. Stunned, he tried to swallow and found that the moisture in his mouth had evaporated. Bodie was gazing at him with all the love that he had ever craved in his life and, impossibly, he did not know what to do. Raggedly, he whispered, "Bodie...?"
Then he saw the love deepen, black pupils dilating until Doyle thought he must tumble into them and be taken in whole. He was aware of steel-tense arms gathering him nearer, of the dizzying warmth of Bodie's breath coursing over his lips, and of Bodie, helplessly moaning, "Bloody hell, Ray," a fraction of an instant before their mouths collided with hungry intent.
There was no technique in this, their first, untutored lovemaking. They surged together, bruising bared flesh as they awkwardly attempted to make two male bodies one. It was sweet, and fierce--and stunningly brief. Incapable of supplying their senses with the total knowledge they yearned for, they rocketed headlong to a shattering completion well before they had tasted or touched their fill.
For a long while afterward, they continued to hold one another close, lips nuzzling, hand slowly tracing contour and texture. Doyle was the first to attempt speech, and his voice was choppy with emotion. "God, Bodie, that was fantastic. Better than the first time--the very first time--when I was a kid, and thought I'd go through the ceiling with it."
His words were received with a markedly unsteady chuckle. "Wasn't bad, was it?" Bodie responded prosaically.
Stupefied, and a little uneasy, Doyle echoed, "Not bad?"
Sated azure eyes smiled indulgently upon him. "Yeah--for falling into the heart of the sun."
Before Doyle could surmount the tide of fatuousness that washed over him, Bodie tightened his arms fiercely, delicately grazing his lips over the swollen curves of Doyle's mouth. Doyle's breath caught at the sweet gentleness of the gesture. Unsettled by the spell Bodie had woven around him, he sought to break it. "Guess we should always go three months without, you reckon?"
But Bodie dismissed this out of hand, firmly shaking his head. "Wasn't that, Doyle."
A finger marked the arch of Doyle's left eyebrow, floated down the prickly surface of his cheek, then took up solitary exploration of Doyle's upper lip. "Nah," Bodie said quietly, "Was you. You're beautiful, mate."
Overwhelmed by his partner's singular assessment, Doyle was briefly stripped of words. He kissed Bodie with unabashed fervor, attempting to convey some measure of his feelings. Then he blurted out, "Christ, Bodie--I love you."
He felt the stock frame go completely still--and froze himself as terrible apprehension took hold. Had he ruined everything with his unguarded admission? But before fear could destroy the lingering suffusion of pleasure, Bodie asked, very softly, "D'you mean that?"
And the words spilled out, as though he'd waited his entire life to say them. "'Course I do. Wouldn't go to bed with just any fella, would I?
Bodie's hands began to move again, rubbing hard to quieten Doyle's tremors. "Wouldn't have thought you'd go to bed with me," he commented cryptically. "Did you ever do that before?"
Doyle shook his head, tickling Bodie's nose with his curls. "Nah. You?"
"Virgins, are we?" Doyle mused out loud, unable to disguise his humor at the thought that they might have something new to learn about sex after all these years of devoted practice.
Bodie gave him a smirking grin. "Not anymore." Then his eyes darkened in reflection, and he qualified, "Well, technically..."
Doyle rose up on his elbow beside him, finding it very important to witness the expression defining Bodie's features at this instant. Looking intently into the face of his lover, he asked, "You want that?"
Bodie gazed back at him with a faint air of alarm. "Don't know, Doyle. Not something I've had occasion to think about before now."
Lowering his head, Doyle used the tip of his tongue to examine the shape of Bodie's lower lip. "So think about it," he advised huskily. Then he dropped forward and buried his face in the protective hollow formed by Bodie's shoulder and neck. Shuddering a little, his voice muffled, he asked, "What are we getting ourselves into, mate?"
There was no hesitation in Bodie's reply. "Don't know about you, Doyle, but I'm already hip deep in it." Undisturbed by their damp state, he pulled at him until the smaller man blanketed his chest, opening his thighs so Doyle could lie between them. He wanted this more than he could remember ever wanting anything; to hold Doyle in his arms without restriction, to touch when he wished, to keep him by his side forever.
He stroked the lean back, hands kneading Doyle's shoulders, changing the pressure from a light caress to a firm massage, then back again. Slowly his fingers drifted downward, counting ribs, gauging the smoothness of skin stretched over narrow flanks. They moved lower, still, until Bodie's hands found the inward curve of Doyle's spine at the small of his back. There his fingers spread wide, ten explorers following the rise of firm buttocks. Bodie molded his palms around them, thumbs idly gliding over velvet curves.
Doyle was by no means unaffected, concentrating on every detail of Bodie's wandering. He was borne aloft on a cloud of soothing sensation that was not totally disassociated from sexuality, but which needed no part of it. This was a purely sensual delight, a diversion for the senses that had more to do with love than lust.
For a while. Before long Doyle's breathing grew erratic and his hips rose, pushing back against the gentle pressure. He murmured, "'S nice. Like that."
Bodie had to agree. "So do I."
"You could do that forever, and I wouldn't mind."
"Uh uh." In another moment Doyle was lightly undulating against Bodie, encouraging his fingers to delve deeper. Emboldened by the taunting touch that promised so much more, he said, almost too softly to be heard, "What we were talking about, Bodie, if you want to-- Well, it's all right."
A shiver rippled down Bodie's spine. "Doyle. Ray--"
Damping his arousal with an effort, Doyle raised himself up to look down into Bodie's smokey eyes . "It's just, if we're going to be looking after each other from now on, we'll have to know more than the one way to do it. Won't we."
At this casual assumption of their future together, Bodie was set suddenly adrift. This was what he'd always wanted, and never expected to have. Did Doyle understand the extent of it? "You'll let me do that?"
Doyle frowned at him. He lightly rapped his knuckles against Bodie's forehead. "Anybody home? Just told you, I..."
"Not that. The other. About looking after each other."
Doyle broke into a loving smile. "Got no choice, Bodie."
Astonished, Bodie went on, "You don't mind?"
"Always wanted someone to love me. Glad it's you, y'know."
Bodie bit his bottom lip, then said with quiet intensity, "You talking marriage, Doyle?"
Doyle felt himself wavering under that steady regard. A little warily, he said, "Guess I am. Bothers you, does it?"
"Depends," Bodie replied, "on what you mean by it."
This was the edge of the precipice. Neither of them had ever been given to saying exactly what was in their hearts. Doyle knew he could gloss it over, turn it into a joke. But the very thought threatened to kill something fragile and painfully hopeful within him. He sucked in a long breath and began, "The works, mate. For better, for worse, in sickness and in health..."
"Forsaking all others?"
Doyle's eyes widened. "Goes both ways, sunshine," he agreed softly. "But even that. Yeah, especially that. Don't want to share you with the birds, Bodie." Long seconds crept by while Bodie deliberated, his head bent downward. A little tightly, Doyle prompted, "Well?"
Breathtaking blue eyes swept open to gaze at him and Bodie asked innocently, "What about other fellas?"
Doyle was literally speechless. A second later he was forcible gathered into an all-encompassing embrace. "Joke, Ray. Just a joke." Before Doyle could tear himself furiously away, or attempt retaliation, Bodie pinned him down to the mattress, and held him there by sheer strength. "Doyle, wait! Doyle--" Only Bodie' s mouth on his, passionately expressing all the love and devotion he was feeling, caused Doyle to abandon the struggle. Outrage slowly died amid the fire in his green eyes and he met Bodie's loving look with a sensation of having lost not only his ephemeral anger, but himself as well.
"Ray," Bodie breathed, drawing a fingertip down the line of his nose. "Will you marry me?"
"Bodie--" The hard edge in Doyle's voice gave warning against any further teasing.
But Bodie dipped his head and burrowed against Doyle's throat, pushing into the dark warmth behind his ear. "Mean it," he murmured. "Never loved anyone so much in my life. Want you to be mine. Say it, Ray."
Dizzily skidding from one emotion to another, Doyle simply floated for a while on Bodie's kisses. It was crazy, what Bodie wanted. Men couldn't marry; it was against the law. But Doyle understood the need; understood, because he felt it himself. A piece of paper would mean far less than the vows they exchanged and committed themselves to. "Yeah, Bodie. 'Bout time someone made an honest man of me."
"'S not precisely my intention, mate," Bodie said with unconcealed delight. He didn't move when Doyle grappled him onto his back and kissed him, igniting tiny fires all down his spine. Doyle was an inventive kisser, putting his whole heart and soul into it. But Bodie wasn't quite through, and despite himself, he gently pushed Doyle away, briefly distracted by the hazy expression in the green eyes. "Ray, just one thing. If you ever change your mind, promise me you'll tell me yourself. Don't want to hear about it from someone else, okay?"
Doyle agreed with a nod, wondering if Bodie had any inkling what that wistful deference did to his insides. "Yeah, I shall. In about a hundred years when I've got bored with you."
A little shyly, Bodie said, "Don't you want to hear the same thing from me?"
But Doyle shook his head. "Don't need to, do I."
Taken aback, Bodie blinked. "No?" He raised a brow, then shrugged a little wryly. "Yeah, guess not. Awfully sure of me, aren't you." Before Doyle could reply, Bodie went on, "But you've got reason to be. Big, dopy Bodie. Always could pull my strings, Doyle."
Doyle wrested himself away, eyes sparking into Bodie's startled face. "Don't say that, 's not true. Wasn't what I mean, Bodie."
Bodie touched his cheek reassuringly, not certain which of them the calming gesture was for. "What, then?"
"Only that you already told me."
Bodie's face went blank. "Did I?"
Doyle flicked a finger under Bodie's nose. "Cretin. When you said you wouldn't hurt me. Reckon that covers infidelity as well."
Relief lit Bodie's face. "Guess it does." Then pensively, he added, "Wish you'd stop all this jawing, Doyle, and kiss me again."
This time Doyle was not interrupted, given free rein to explore and taste to this heart's content. Surprisingly, kissing was something that had not been altered by this new province they had entered; touching was. It felt strange, at first, to run his hands over another man's chest, down his arms, to weave his fingers into a hand larger than his own. But this was Bodie and he wanted to touch him, to discover what gave him pleasure and what didn't. Uncertain at first, he finally called upon his own body's likes and dislikes, and suddenly he was alight with the echo of Bodie's wriggling response. On surer ground, he gained confidence, using the silken edge of his tongue to goad pale brown nipples to rigid points, hands smoothly tracing the inward curves of hard thighs. It was not long before he stopped comparing the corded musculature of his partner with the soft pliancy of previous partners. The fact that Bodie was a man was relegated to the accidents-of-birth bin. Male or female, Doyle would have come to love him in any case, and it was sheer luck that he had come to make love to him, as well.
Before long, Bodie took the upper hand and Doyle willingly succumbed to the sensual web he began to spin. Only minutes passed before Bodie's mouth was driving him to the edge of sanity, however, nibbling around his genitals, licking the joining of his thighs and abdomen. He raised his hips in helpless supplication, feeling as though he would burst with the need for release.
"Bodie," Doyle whimpered, "Oh, Bodie, please...."
"Shh, 's all right, Ray. There's no rush." But the rough burr in Bodie's less than stalwart tones just added to Doyle's arousal and he moaned again, fingers threading into Bodie's hair. He grasped his head between trembling hands, and tugged upwards.
"Then kiss me, damn it," Doyle gasped. "Bodie, I need your mouth."
"Sorry, Doyle. It's spoken for." With that, Bodie broke free and bent over Doyle's straining manhood. His breath was hot, a palpable caress to Doyle's hypersensitive skin. And then Doyle was engulfed, liquid fire wrapping around him, drawing him impossibly deeper. There was little chance to relish the moment, however, as Bodie's fingers dug beneath him, gripping his buttocks, and his mouth set up a maddening rhythm that Doyle could not escape. He groaned, and tried to push Bodie away, to spare him having to take his ejaculate in his mouth, but Bodie clung fast.
"Ah, Bodie, Bodie--" Doyle's cries eventually faded until there was only the irregular rasp of their breathing and the hiss and crackle of the woodburning stove to be heard in the tiny bungalow.
Recovery was slow in coming, minutes passing before Doyle's eyes cleared and he was in touch with the world again. His fingers were buried in Bodie's sweat-damp hair, mindlessly flexing against his scalp. He whispered, "Here, let me get at you."
But Bodie captured his hand, and placed a moist kiss in each palm. He moved without haste, lying back beside Doyle as he gathered him into his arms.
"But what about you?" Doyle protested. In answer, Bodie slid a foot along Doyle's right shin and he felt what had gone unnoticed until now: a patch of slick wetness.
Rolling over so that they faced one another on the pillow, Doyle said, a little shamefaced, "That can't have been very good for you."
Bodie's eyes flared with disbelief. "No? Tell that to someone who wasn't there, mate." He lifted his face, a voiceless request for Doyle's mouth.
An uncertain smile touching his lips, Doyle complied, kissing him sweetly and with assiduous attention to detail, only breaking away in deference to their mutual need for air.
Bodie nudged him with his cheek. "Always said you were a noisy bugger, Doyle; didn't know the half of it, did I?"
Doyle drew a face, "Couldn't help it, Bodie. Christ, thought you were going to turn me inside out."
Bodie nodded smugly. "Tried to. And don't apologize. 'S why I didn't need your help. Really got me going with all that moaning and groaning. Was good, Ray?"
Shuddering, Doyle moved deeper into the haven of his lover's arms. "Doesn't begin to describe it." Absently rubbing himself against Bodie's chest, revelling in the press of muscle against muscle, Doyle noted, "I'll do that for you, too, you know. Wanted to this time."
"Like I said," Bodie murmured. "No rush. We've got the rest of our lives."
Rendered speechless, Doyle achingly kissed Bodie's throat, captivated by the pulse thudding slowly beneath his lips.
For a while they simply held one another close, drowsing in the early light of day. Finally the exigencies of nature drove them to the privy and the cook stove, in that order. The air was brisk but the rising sun cast its rays full upon the cabin, and slowly it began to warm up.
They sat down to eat: Doyle took the opportunity to give his partner a clinical once over. "You're looking better," he decided.
Bodie forked chemically-yellowed eggs into his mouth. "You would too, if you'd got a full night's sleep after a week without."
Doyle remembered something else. "Didn't even think of your back, Bodie--during all that."
His concern earned him a benevolent smile. "Neither did I." It was Bodie's turn to look a trifle chagrined. "How's the head, then?"
Doyle summoned a glare. "Still there, although you had me wondering a few minutes ago." He reached out a hand, waiting until Bodie took it. "Gonna take some getting used to, this."
Untroubled blue eyes met questioning green ones. "Guess so. It'll certainly play havoc with our social lives."
"Think Cowley will kick us out?"
Bodie's mouth twisted sourly. "Sure you want to stay?
Doyle let out a sudden breath. "Kinda crazy, really. I've been working as a laborer for the past month and a half. You come home and it's as if nothing's changed; as if the past month and a half didn't even happen."
Bodie's fingers tightened on his. "'M sorry, Doyle."
"Not your fault, idiot. But, jesus, Bodie, I'm so glad you're back." Tentatively, Doyle turned Bodie's hand over in his and began to stroke the palm with a slow-moving thumb. "You going to tell me what happened that day, three months ago?"
Shadows drifted like shrouds onto Bodie's face. "Can it wait, Doyle, for a little while?" He rolled his shoulders with a self-deprecating shrug. "'S not a big deal, I'd just rather....."
Doyle smiled warmly at him. "Yeah. It can wait. Time we got out for a bit, anyway. Getting a bit ripe in here, y'know."
The blue eyes gleamed reminiscently. "It'll be riper before we're through."
At the promise implicit in that low, sensual voice, Doyle felt a warm flush spread into his hairline. He'd always recognized Bodie as a sexual being, but it was quite another thing to be on the receiving end of his attentions. Heady with it, Doyle gently freed his hand and took their plates to the sink. While he was running water onto them, he heard the hinges of the metal locker creak open and peered over his shoulder to see what Bodie was doing.
A .22 rifle appeared, followed by a larger caliber handgun. Doyle raised a querying brow as he wiped his hands on a towel. "Got an arsenal in there, have you?"
Bodie answered seriously. "Just a few emergency items. The rifle's for rabbits or squirrels. The .38's for you."
"Think I'll need it?" Doyle asked, amused.
"Don't know," Bodie replied honestly. "There's going to be trouble, Doyle. I just don' t know where it's coming from, or when."
Doyle accepted the answer as it was given, and took the stainless steel .38 from Bodie's extended hand. He did a routine check on it, sighting down the barrel and testing the well-lubricated rotation of the cylinder. Bodie handed him a speed loader, which went immediately into a shirt pocket, and five free shots. Those he fingered into the chambers then snapped the cylinder closed with a deft flick of the wrist.
A little wistfully, Doyle said, "Don't suppose there's a lake or something around here with fish in it?" He screwed up his face, displaying the chipped tooth that lent him the air of a disreputable street urchin. "Don't much fancy the idea of rabbit or pheasant."
Reading past the words to the sentiment beyond, Bodie just managed to bank down a grin. "There is a place. 'Bout a mile and a half away, though. Up to another walk?"
Doyle gave him a hollow-eyed look. But the thought of shooting rabbits decided him and he gave a long, weary sigh. "Yeah. Great idea." He forced a smile. "And you promised berries and nuts, remember? Healthy things."
Bodie laughed. "Believe everything I say, Doyle?"
"Only the important stuff," Doyle assured him, administering a caressing cuff to his chin.
A few minutes later, shoulder holsters concealed by Doyle's heavy sweater and Bodie's windcheater, they started out. Despite the change in the day's menu, Bodie brought along the rifle, slung casually over his shoulder. He struck off to the west, following the crest of the ridge for about a quarter of a mile, then began a slow descent toward the valley below. The area was thickly treed, and brambles and thickets abounded. Bodie pointed out raspberry and gooseberry hedges, and Doyle began to forage on the trail. What didn't go into his mouth went into the small sack Bodie had brought along for that purpose, and by the time they reached the floor of the valley, the sack was bulging with Doyle's bounty.
Conversation was desultory, the old comfortable repartee that had never failed them. As they walked, arms and thighs occasionally brushed and it was a pleasure not to have to thwart the desire to touch. Accordingly, they did so, drinking in the novelty of it. When the terrain levelled out, they walked side-by-side, Bodie's fingers curled into the side beltloop of Doyle's borrowed trousers, Doyle's hand lodged in Bodie's back pocket.
They came to the lake nearly an hour after leaving the cottage. Nestled low in the valley and guarded by tall beech and pine, it bore the unspoiled look of a forgotten land.
"We're on private land, aren't we?" Doyle stated the obvious.
"Belongs to an old codger, lives down the road from me. Doesn't mind if we fish a little. I take him rabbits when I'm here. Barter system."
Doyle smiled at the weighty pronouncement. "Wasn't accusing you of stealing, now was I?" he said mildly.
"Yet," Bodie replied knowingly. He cast a look around for a suitable length of supple wood. Doyle edged closer to the lake, relieving himself of the burden of his gather sack, and sat down all at once. By the time Bodie joined him, only a few moments later, Doyle was half-drowsing, lying on his back, face turned toward the sun.
Bodie prodded him with a toe. "You're in the wrong place, son. Fish like the shade."
"Yeah, you go right ahead. I'll move in an hour or two."
The gentlest of breezes dipped low and stirred the hair on Doyle's forehead. Behind them, in the trees, birds jockeyed for position, chirping and occasionally piercing the air with shrill song. The grass was soft and pungent, sweating in the heat of the day. The sun was a blessing all its own, shining down on Doyle with a brilliant warmth that stole its way into his deepest, darkest corners.
"Christ, Doyle," Bodie snarled. Doyle startled a little, communing so fully with his surroundings that he had believed Bodie gone. "You're a bloody invitation to rape."
One wary green eye peeled open and fixed on the looming form of his partner. "Yeah, well, it's only open to one person, mate. Anybody else tries it, you duff 'em up for me, will you?"
Resigned to the siren attraction of his lover, Bodie dropped to his knees. He swung one leg over Doyle's hips then slowly lowered himself onto the bony pelvis. Doyle drew in his feet behind Bodie to give him a backrest, and laid his hands flat on Bodie's thighs.
"Anybody else tries it--and I'll kill 'em," Bodie said tersely.
Stroking lightly, completely content and at peace with this new world he found himself in, Doyle murmured, "Thought you were going to get us something for lunch."
"Found something better to eat, didn't I." Bodie bent forward and skinned the edge of his teeth over Doyle's nose. It twitched and Bodie gave it a light kiss. Doyle moved his head slightly, evading Bodie's torment, and let his lips fall apart.
Cool mouth covered warm lips and an unhurried exploration ensued. Doyle's hands slid forward of their own volition, travelling up to Bodie's waist, onto his chest, and around his neck. They held Bodie with undemanding restraint, fingers teasing the soft hair that curled there.
He wondered that it could (feel) this way with him. Tempted to analyze the various facets of their mutual attraction, Doyle wisely chose to simply accept it. What they had at this moment was more precious than anything he had known in his life. It required no thought on his part to understand that he would be bereft, should he lose it. A shudder of fear coursed through him and his hands tightened; it would be so easy to imagine that at any moment he could wake to find that the events of the last thirty six hours had been a fabrication of his subconscious mind.
But Bodie broke the kiss and snickered, misunderstanding the tremor that flowed under his hands. "Getting to you, am I?"
"Smug bastard," Doyle countered without feeling.
"Love you, Ray," Bodie whispered, gazing with undisguised devotion into the green eyes, awed more than a little to see his emotion reflected there. "I'm going to drive you crazy, for a while. Won't be able to keep my hands off you."
"Who wants you to?"
He rolled his eyes. "Cowley, for starters."
"Uh uh. If I'm going to do anyone--" The words were out before Bodie realized how Doyle might take them. But there was no teasing response. Doyle simply watched him with slightly raised brows. Understanding, Bodie remarked, "You really don't mind the idea of me doing that, do you?"
Doyle's hands rose again and formed a loose ring around Bodie's strong neck. "Guess I don't," he said. "Know you won't hurt me; that you'll be careful." And then, a little self-consciously, he added, "Want to be one with you, Bodie. No other way to do it."
Bodie bent his head, lowered lashes concealing the expression in his eyes. "Be honest with you, Ray. I've never even considered the idea--top or bottom. Y'know, I even hate the yearly physical, when the quack sticks his finger..."
The air was ruffled by a husky guffaw. "'S not the same, love. But I know what you're thinking: only queers do it. Turd burglers, bum fuckers. But they do what you did this morning too, Bodie."
"That's different. Knew what it'd feel like; that you'd like it. But this, Doyle--doesn't it put you off at all?"
Doyle's thumbs arced up and down the column of Bodie's throat, very gently. He shook his head, bringing up the scent of bruised grass. "Want to try it at least once; you doing me, anyway. Y'know, Bodie, I've done it before."
Bodie's expression made a wonderful picture. Disconcerted, taken aback, a touch affronted, he stuttered, "Y-you said...."
"Not with a bloke, a bird."
Bodie's eyes widened and he succumbed to a sneaking grin. Trust Doyle!
Correctly interpreting his partner's thoughts, Doyle set him straight, "Was her idea, mate. Not mine."
"Never told me about that," Bodie said.
Doyle cocked his head to one side and concentrated on the movement of his fingers as they drifted down the front of Bodie's shirt. "Happened a long time ago. Was still with the Met."
Captivated by the half-shy, half-rueful cast of his partner's features, Bodie allowed him a whole minute of reflection before demanding, "So, how was it?"
Doyle pursed his lips, peaking his brows at the same. time. "A bit different. Kind of hard to describe how.... It was still soft and warm, though not as slick as the other, and it felt great."
The tone of Doyle's voice had dropped a note, reminiscent frustration and regret damping his words. "I hurt her. Neither of us knew how to do it properly. Didn't make her bleed or anything, but she wasn't ready."
Only Doyle would still suffer the pangs of a conscience aroused years ago. "Never tried again?"
"Nope. Didn't ask. We only went out a couple more times. She didn't bring it up either.."
Bodie captured the hand invading his shirt. "But it was okay, hm?" Then, uncertainly: "What about--y'know--inside?" he asked delicately. "I mean, was she clean?"
Doyle repressed his amusement. "Sure. I washed off afterward, to be certain. But if what you're really asking is if I...um...encountered anything while I was inside her, the answer's no. If you're that far gone, you should be in the bog, not the bedroom." Doyle brought Bodie down against his chest, craving his closeness. "Bodie, if you never want that--either way--I'll survive. There are other things we can do, plenty of 'em. I just want to be with you. Just want to love you."
His words muffled by Doyle's hair, Bodie murmured, "And be one."
"Yeah," Doyle agreed. "Maybe someday. If that's what you want."
"What you want counts, too, Ray," Bodie stated equitably. "Can't have you changing your mind about all this, because I'm denying you."
Doyle turned his head and caught an unsuspecting earlobe between his teeth. "Idiot. You'll figure it out eventually. You're stuck with me. Unless, of course, I starve to death for lack of proper feeding..."
Scrubbing at his earlobe, Bodie complained, "Plenty of red meat there, mate. That should last you a while. All right, all right. Have your kip. I'll hunt us up a b'ar."
As the morning lengthened, the day grew warmer. Doyle abandoned his patch of sunshine and joined Bodie in the cool shade, nearer the lake's edge. Taking pity on his partner's forced vigilance, he assumed the position of fisherman while Bodie relievedly put his head down in Doyle's lap. An hour later, Bodie was rudely tumbled to the ground as Doyle enthusiastically hauled in the first catch of the day. Two more followed in quick succession, the last of which Bodie wrestled in himself.
Surveying their dinner at the end of a string, Bodie said, "Sure you don't want some rabbit to go with this? Or squirrel? Now, I bet that's something you've never experienced, Ray."
"You wouldn't lose," Doyle muttered. "One for me, two for you. We've got plenty." He choked back a staggering yawn. "Think I'm ready to return to the homested. I'm shagged, mate."
He said it convincingly, but it was the pale hue of Bodie's face that made him lie. Despite the fact that they had slept for a solid thirteen hours, Bodie was showing the strain of the past months, the dark purple stains dipping beneath his eyes again, the hollows of his cheeks strikingly noticeable in the bright sunshine.
But Bodie balked. "Couldn't you rest here for a bit, Doyle? It's nice being out. City lad like you can hack it in the sun for a while longer, can't you?"
Doyle wondered if Bodie had seen through his subterfuge as readily as he had his partner's. After being confined for three months, this must be the saintly side of heaven.
He conjured up a convincingly leering smile, "You wouldn't be wanting to do it in the grass, mate?"
"Do it anywhere with you, Doyle," Bodie said instantly.
A thick rattle of laughter was his response. "All right, mountain man. What are you going to do with those?"
Bodie's brows drew together scornfully. "Don't you know anything, Doyle? Put 'em in the water. They'll stay cool there."
A little later there was nothing to be heard save the soft whisper of their breathing as they lay on their backs in the filtered shade of an ancient willow. Bodie's head was comfortably cushioned by Doyle's arm, his left forearm crooked across Doyle's hips. If he had to go through hell to reach this moment in his life, Bodie decided, it was bloody well worth it.
He was almost asleep when Doyle asked quietly, "What happened last April, Bodie?"
The question was by no means unexpected, but Bodie had unrealistically hoped Doyle would let it go a while longer. He considered feigning sleep, but doubted that would put Ray off for long. "Not much to tell. Couldn't have made it easier for them if I'd sent out invitations."
"Cut the hindsight judgment," Doyle ordered. "Just tell me. Pretend I'm Cowley, all right?"
Bodie summoned a weak grin at that. "Right." He turned onto his side, rocking his head slowly back and forth on Doyle's bony shoulder. "I'd been sitting there all morning, bloody dullest stakeout I'd ever been on. Then this kid comes along, all weepy, says her dog had gone under a motor, round the corner. I'd heard a squeal, of course, but it could've been anything, y'know."
"Yeah," Doyle said, sensing from the tension in Bodie's voice that this wasn't easy for him. He brushed damp hair off Bodie's forehead and kissed him. "I'd've fallen for it, too. She wasa goat?"
Tight-lipped, Bodie nodded. "A couple of thugs came out from the side of the warehouse. Even then, I didn't realize--tried to get her clear. They were all over me before I could get a shot off. One of 'em used a club and I went down.
Doyle said nothing, the hand around Bodie's shoulders drawing circles that shrank and grew in mesmeric repetition.
His voice a monotone, Bodie continued, "When I came to, I found myself in some room, and I was feeling strange. They'd already stuffed me up with something, could hazard a guess at what, I suppose. Made me dizzy, disoriented, was hard to focus. Should just be grateful it wasn't the kind to make you crawl the walls when they cut it off. Someone came in and began to talk to me, told me they were going to get you and I was going to help them." He felt Ray's involuntary stiffening and gently rubbed his cheek against Doyle's collar bone. "They wore masks, all of 'em. Best I could tell, there were at least three. Some days they would come in and ask a lot of questions. Could hear myself answering, even though I didn't want to. They asked about everything I ever knew about you, Doyle." Very quietly, he whispered, "Sorry, Ray."
Doyle turned his face into Bodie's black, silky hair. "Not your fault, Bodie. You know that."
They lay in silence a moment, taking comfort in their shared closeness. "What about your back?" Doyle asked, not quite able to evict the roughness from his voice.
"Did that a few days after I got there--I think. Lost all sense of time pretty quickly. If you'd told me I'd been there three years rather than three months, I'd have believed it. Think I was trying to resist the interrogation. Whichever one did it, he really enjoyed the job. Knew just how to lay the skin open, liked using a razor blade."
"Bastards." The word was a venomous hiss.
Bodie suppressed a bitter laugh. "Then they treated it, so infection wouldn't set in." He ducked his head forward, sliding a hand into the open neck of Doyle's shirt. "That's all that happened, Doyle. The whole time I was there. They fed me and they drugged me and they asked me a lot of questions I couldn't ignore. For three bleeding months."
"Was there anything familiar about any of them, Bodie?"
The handsome face went cold and hard. "Yeah. One of 'em. But I can't place it, Ray. There was something about the voice. Knew I'd heard it before. And I didn't like him then, either."
Doyle took Bodie's hand out of his shirt and held it against his face. "Were you programmed, mate?"
Bodie shrugged and sighed. "Don't think so. I mean, I think I can remember the conversations we had. The only blank spot is between the warehouse and waking up there--wherever there was."
"So why did they take you?" Doyle demanded, speaking more to himself than to the man beside him. "What was the bloody point of it?"
"To hurt you, they said," Bodie said simply. "Whoever it was, they knew."
Doyle cast him a sharp, sidelong look. "Just to make me think you were dead? If they'd really wanted to hurt me, Bodie, they'd have killed you outright, not somebody who looked like you."
"What?" Dark blue eyes frowned at him. "What d'you mean, Ray?"
The cold sickness of remembered loss flowed in Doyle's veins. "That's why I quit, Bodie. They found a body, along with your ID, wallet, what could've been your clothes, in a shallow grave. Same build, height, hair color, cut the same way. Found it six weeks after you were taken. Made Cowley show me. But it had been buried for about that long, and the murderers had mutilated it beyond recognition. Even the dental records and prints were useless."
"Poor bugger," Bodie said. Doyle did not know if he referred to him or the dead man. Matter-of-factly, he added, "Still, it's not like you to give up, Ray."
Doyle had difficulty swallowing. "There was nothing to go off, Bodie. Until that corpse was found, I was on it, night and day. After-- I wanted to find them." His voice cracked with barely suppressed anger. "Wanted them in the worst way. But there was nothing, no bloody thing. After three months, I knew I'd lost it--all of it." Doyle turned to his partner, green eyes dead. "I'd lost you."
They moved on a single thought, seeking solace in each other's warmth. "Missed you so much, Ray." Bodie's hands curved around the back of Doyle's head, fingers deep in auburn hair. "Just wanted to live long enough to see you again."
"Ah, Bodie...." Doyle brought his partner's head to meet his kiss, savagely taking the sweet mouth, eliciting reality from pain as much as from pleasure. "So glad it wasn't you, Bodie. Never felt so cold in my life. Never want to feel that way again."
"Hush, Ray," Bodie reassured him. "It's over. They won't take me again. You'll see to that." He spoke with total conviction.
"Bloody right, I'll see to that." A thought formed amid the absorption of Doyle's emotions. He wriggled around until he lay half across Bodie's chest. "Bodie--how did you get away? They let you go, didn't they?"
The smooth, dark head nodded once in affirmation. "Woke up one morning about three weeks ago. Nobody came to taunt me, or more importantly, to feed me. I tried the door right away. I mean, they had a very established routine. It was unlocked. Found myself alone in a deserted building in one of the northern towns."
Doyle was aghast. "Three weeks!"
Bodie's shoulders moved in mute response to Doyle's unspoken question. "Wasn't thinking clearly, mate. Just knew I had to get clear and stay out of sight. Made my way back to London on foot. Was afraid to hitch a ride, didn't have any money for a train or bus. All I had were the clothes I was wearing when I came to that morning three months ago."
"Cowley said he only had you about a week. You mean--"
Bodie smiled wryly. "Was on the road for two weeks. Things were beginning to make more sense by the time I reached London. Tried to call you, but you'd gone. Knew I'd have to go to Cowley, then. When I couldn't reach you, I was afraid I'd got you killed."
"He didn't like that, you using him," Ray observed. He gazed down at his partner with loving admiration. "Didn't know you could hold the Cow off for a week, mate. That must have been harder than everything you went through in the last three months." But Doyle's voice broke on the last words; he covered the lapse by closing his mouth against Bodie's temple. Someone had taken Bodie from him in order to make him suffer. Well, they had succeeded. More, he suspected, than they could ever imagine.
Why leave Bodie alive, if their intent had been to cause Doyle's anguish? It made no sense, at least none that Doyle could understand.
Icy dread fired through his nerves. They were exposed here, out in the open where anyone could creep up on them. Someone could be on the opposite bank, even now lining them up in their sights. "C'mon, Bodie, those fish aren't doing anybody any good where they are." Doyle hooked a hand under Bodie's arm and hoisted him up beside him. Nevertheless, for a moment, Doyle simply stood, basking in the nimbus of his partner's warmth.
Bodie lightly touched Doyle's hair, breathing the grass-sweet smell of it with utter contentment. "Yeah, all right," Bodie muttered in agreement. "Need to get your energy up."
Allowing the mood to shift, Doyle considered Bodie from under slanted eyes. "Prior to getting something else up?"
He was rewarded with one of Bodie's astonishingly affecting smiles. "Always knew you were quick when you wanted to be, Doyle."
Doyle pressed closer so he could kiss the corner of Bodie's mouth, then gave him a seductive lick. "Didn't know you wanted it quick, Bodie. Like to take my time, meself."
"Monster," Bodie conceded shakily. "And you said I was priapismic."
"You are," Doyle said. He grinned with huge pleasure. "Got proof now, haven't I?"
Hours later the cottage still smelled of fried fish. Propped up against the headboard of the rustic bed, his partner sleeping heavily against his chest, Doyle stared into the dusk-darkened room. By the time they had returned to their bolt-hole, Bodie was flagging, his too lean frame willingly supported by Doyle. Doyle had off-handedly directed him to clean up and fire up the wood stove, while he used the camp stove to cook their meal. To his mind it had been delicious: lightly fried fish, followed by fresh berries. To complement what was for him more than enough, Doyle boiled up one of the noodle packages for Bodie, and had produced a chocolate bar for after.
Replete, they had retired to the bed to finish their tea and almost immediately Bodie had nodded off.
Bodie's narrative of the last three months had left Doyle on edge. Cowley's fear had been that Bodie had been programmed, and therefore a danger to the public, to CI5, and Doyle, presumably in particular. Doyle knew that Bodie could not be certain that a nasty surprise had not been left in his subconscious; and yet, somehow, he believed that was not the case.
Which made the whole filthy affair that much more infuriating. If Bodie was right, he had been abused, drugged and imprisoned for three months, just to hurt Doyle.
Only to leave Bodie alive, and free?
Therefore, he was alive and free for a reason. If abducting him had been based in a twisted desire to turn Doyle's life into a living hell, then bringing him back, essentially in one piece, meant something more must follow. Something worse than losing Bodie in the first place.
What could happen now that would be worse than the last three months?
Or was that really the way of it? They--the unidentified 'they'--had told Bodie their reasons for holding him, for beating him. It did not necessarily follow that they had told him the truth. If the object of their plan had been to hurt Bodie, and not Doyle, then, again, why leave him alive and free"
Unless he was programmed, primed to kill, given the proper trigger.
And who was the target? Cowley? Doyle? Bodie himself?
The last thought brought the small hairs on the back of Doyle's neck standing straight up. If he were programmed.
Bodie stirred; Doyle realized that he was roughly rubbing the still tender back of his partner. His lover.
Defeated by his thoughts, but enchanted by the trustingly limp form held safe in the protection of his arms, Doyle turned his attention to Bodie. Because of all this, their lives had been irreversibly changed, had taken on a new dimension to their mutual respect and friendship that Doyle could not have predicted had he been a seer. And yet, he knew unequivocally that this was right for both of them. They'd had plenty of women, lots of sex, and while it was possible that Doyle might eventually have found a woman who could have tolerated him, Doyle knew Bodie would never have gone that route. And yet he needed love, too, his willing acceptance of what, to him, must be a cataclysmic new facet of himself--just so he could share Doyle's love--plain proof of that.
Staving off the embryonic wakening with soothing touches and nonsense words, Doyle slowly quietened him, until Bodie sighed and drew himself nearer, sleeping on.
Won't let them hurt you again, Doyle vowed to himself. And he realized that to accomplish that, they needed to return to Cowley, the only person who could protect them and unlock whatever secrets that were lurking like a cancer in Bodie's mind.
Tomorrow he would tell Bodie.
Doyle's lips thinned at the flat repetition of the word he had heard a dozen times in the last five minutes. "We don't have another choice, Bodie"
Bodie lay belly-down on the bed, covered by rough sheets to his hips. His cheek was cushioned by his folded arms and his head was turned away. Sleep had left him only a short while ago and he had found himself alone, his partner seated near the front window, pistol in his lap. No amount of cajoling would tempt Doyle near the bed and Bodie had been disturbed to hear a hard resistance in his voice.
And then Doyle had told him what they must do.
He could not explain the sense of dread that boiled up inside him at the thought of leaving here. Logically, he knew they were not safe, that in fact, everything that made this place an ideal bolt-hole could also be used against it. But logic had very little to do with the visceral refutation that warned him to hide and to keep Doyle with him.
And he didn't need Doyle to tell him that he wasn't being sensible. He knew that. But it stung that Doyle was ready to abandon their freedom, and by turning themselves in to Cowley they would assuredly do that.
"No." Bodie closed his eyes, sick to death of hearing the word himself.
Finally, there was a hand on his shoulder and Bodie had not even heard his partner move.
"Bodie, what you did, bringing us up here--that may have been planted, y'know? We may have been followed the whole way."
Bodie twitched, but he did not twist away from Doyle's touch. "Then why haven't they made a move?" he argued.
"I don't know the rules of this game, mate. But it wouldn't take much to overpower us here. Grenade through the window would spoil our future pretty damn quickly."
At that Bodie looked around, meeting steadfast green eyes. "You want to throw me to Ross."
"Hate to say it, Bodie, but she is on our side."
"Huh," Bodie shifted onto his back and pulled at Doyle until he lay on top of him. "Didn't want to wake to an argument, Ray," he said with purposeful, if unfeigned, moroseness.
Fully aware of his partner's ploy, Doyle smiled with breathtaking tenderness. "Won't work, mate," he advised him, head shaking firmly. "It's more important to me to keep you alive. Cowley, damn him, is the only way I can do that."
Bodie rolled onto his side, dumping Doyle onto his back, then scrambled to secure the smaller man under him. The times when he could refuse Doyle had always been rare. Now, when he knew he must depend on his partner to have a clearer mind, it was even harder.
Yet the tremor in his voice was genuine when he whispered, "Persuade me, Ray."
Indulgently, Doyle let himself be kissed, savoring the velvet contact. "One of us should be watching the door, Bodie."
"It's barely dawn. I need you, mate. Please."
Against all judgement and rationality, Doyle yielded. Bodie's touch was magical, stealing his common sense and replacing it with ravening hunger. His clothing was deftly removed and then there was skin against skin, smooth as silk, gliding over taut musculature.
After a while, with a monumental effort, Doyle writhed out from under his lover. Thickly, he pointed out, "Thought I was supposed to be persuading you."
His mouth went to Bodie's throat and drew forth an incoherent reply. Encouraged by it, and the rapid heartbeat beneath his palm, Doyle began to work his way down Bodie's chest, licking and kissing, using his teeth when Bodie seemed to lapse into complacence. He too was trembling by the time he reached the object of his efforts. Bodie's body had acquired a fine misting of sweat, tangy to Doyle's senses, the scent of it mingling with the raw musk that emanated from his groin.
Bodie cried out as Doyle's mouth took him, arching helplessly against the friction of his tongue. With a single movement, their hands linked together, giving them both a needed anchor. Straining fingertips dug into the back of Doyle's hand, but he was unfazed by the pain, his entire being concentrated on pleasuring the desperate body at his mercy. He felt as well as heard the groan that started deep in Bodie's chest, then froze as warm fluid flooded his mouth, tasting reminiscently of Bodie's sweat. Bodie breathed his name with each pulse of it, his rough whisper almost plummeting Doyle into the crevasse, as well.
Swamped with his own need for release, Doyle afforded Bodie scant seconds to regain his senses before urging him onto his stomach. Shaking hands parted Bodie's buttocks and rested his blood-heavy erection between them. He began to stroke himself in the damp crevice. "Ah, Bodie," he murmured from between clenched teeth. His partner tightened his muscles, reaching around to clasp Doyle's bottom closer. The added resistance sent him skyward. Clutching Bodie's shoulders, his mouth against his neck, Doyle rocked his hips forward one last time, emitting a soft cry.
He hardly noticed being moved some time later, going limp in the protective arms that encircled him. For a long time he lay exhausted, too drained to contemplate activity beyond weak acceptance of a loving kiss. There were plenty of those, roving over his mouth and neck, vaguely tickling when they taunted his ears.
"Doyle, look at me."
The quiet command finally got through to him, and Doyle forced himself to obey, meeting rich blue eyes that seemed to burn into him with a strange, welcome fire. "Bodie," he said, huskily.
"Yeah. Christ, Doyle, if you go at it like that all the time, you'll have us on early pension."
"Be worth it," Doyle pointed out, wanting more than anything to accede to the drowsy warmth surrounding him. Tiny alarms were ringing in his head, however, and he knew he must attend to them soon, or--
He gave Bodie a searing kiss and sat up. It was hard to swallow, even harder to keep his voice even. "We haven't got much time, Bodie."
But there was no surprise in Bodie's face; he had been expecting this. "You've already called him, haven't you?" he said, his voice completely lacking in inflection.
Unable to face him, Doyle dropped his head to Bodie's shoulder. "Couple of hours ago. He'll be here any minute, I expect."
One of Bodie's hands came down firmly on the back of Ray's head. Doyle waited, ready to deal with anger and betrayal. He knew how he would feel if their situations were reversed. And while it terrified him that Bodie might choose to discard all they had shared in the last two days, he had come to the immutable realization the Bodie's life was more important to him than Bodie's love.
He wasn't prepared, however, for the feather-light fingers sifting through his hair, the killing tenderness of gentle lips against his forehead. "Not exactly what I'd call persuasion, mate," Bodie chided.
Choked, Doyle muttered, "Sorry, Bodie. But you said it yourself: something's going to happen and you don't know where or when. I want to weigh things a little more heavily on our side."
"He's going to take you away from me."
Doyle pressed nearer. "Won't let him."
Bodie sighed. "Can't stop him, Doyle. He makes the rules, he writes the small print."
"And he watches out for his own. That's us. Whatever it takes." Doyle hugged him with selfish disregard for bone and muscle, unnerved by the defeated manner. "Bodie, if he sends me away, I'll come back. I'll always come back, I promise."
Bodie nodded, surrendering to the inevitability of it. He had known this must happen, had known he must eventually face the unnamed fears that had made him put this moment off as long as he could. But logic and acceptance did not mitigate the sense of foreboding. Gathering his resolve, Bodie prepared himself to forfeit the novelty of complete happiness that he had known these last two days. "So much for the honeymoon, eh?" He had meant to say it jokingly, to restore the sense of equilibrium they usually shared between them. But it came out poignantly wistful and scored the very essence of Doyle's being.
Doyle's embrace became fierce, nearly painful. "Hasn't even begun yet, mate," he vowed.
A cloud of dust presaged Cowley's arrival nearly half an hour later. They were both standing ready when the Land Rover bulled its way up the ridge and came to a noisy stop outside the door to Bodie's bolt-hole. Inside, all was as they had found it two days before, bed stripped and mattress secured, weapons stored, cupboards closed, table cleared. As if they had never been there.
Cowley found them outside the padlocked door, standing shoulder to shoulder, wearing similar expressions of tense guardedness. Always quick to read body language, Cowley picked up on other, curious signals as well, and puzzled over them as he silently surveyed them
"Sir," Bodie greeted.
"So you are both in one piece. A joint escapade, then."
Before Doyle could agree, Bodie asserted, "No, sir. I bashed Doyle on the head. He didn't have any choice in the matter. Can look at the bruise, if you don't believe me."
"I see. Doyle?" Cowley was intrigue by the way Doyle was glaring at Bodie's stiff face. For someone who had been spirited away against his will, Doyle was standing entirely too closely to his abductor, unnecessarily close, in fact--almost as if he were trying to protect Bodie from something.
"No, Mr. Cowley. I mean, yeah, he gave me a thump, but we're here together. I stole the bike. Bodie was out on his feet by then. Could've gone anywhere I wanted to."
Light blue eyes regarded the two men without expression. "Aye, Doyle, you were my prime suspect, when the bike was reported missing--after we found Anson's car. You, Bodie, by the way, are not held in very high esteem by our Mr. Anson. He does not take as kindly to being... thumped as your partner here."
The regret that pulled at Bodie's features was not forced. "Yeah, but I could've bloody killed him. Only meant to put him down. He is all right, isn't he?"
"With no thanks to you," Cowley said with sudden biting anger. "I should sack the pair of you. It was an ignorant stunt to pull, Bodie, no matter what your reasoning--although calling it that is entirely too generous. Get in the car. I've wasted far too much time placating locals and agents alike."
"What about the bike, sir?" Doyle asked quietly.
"Taken care of, Doyle. Let's go."
Doyle prodded Bodie with a finger and followed his partner into the back seat. Cowley made no comment as they settled behind him together; it was not unlike them to chose their company over his. With a savage economy of motion, he shoved the Rover into gear and started back down the ridge. In his rear view mirror, he noted the brief, yearning look Doyle cast at the receding structure; Bodie stared straight ahead.
Once they reached the main road, Cowley snapped, "All right, Bodie, it's time you filled me in on the last months."
But it was Doyle's voice, low and firm that reached his ears. "Something you need to know first, sir, before anything else is said. About Bodie and me."
His limited field of vision forced Cowley to shoot a quick glance over his shoulder so that the could see both their faces. Bodie was staring at Doyle with too wide eyes, an uncharacteristic vulnerability displayed in their depths. "He needs to know, Bodie." Doyle argued firmly. "It's only fair."
To Cowley's bemusement, the uncertainty on Bodie's face melted into an almost childlike acceptance, a trust that Doyle acknowledged with a movement that Cowley could only guess at, blocked from view by the back of the seat.
"It's just, Bodie and me--" But the need to relate this and the ability to put it into words briefly defeated him. "It's that we've--"
Bodie said flatly, "What Doyle is trying to say, sir, is that we'll be living together from now on. In sin, you could say."
There wasn't a flicker of change in Cowley's expression, although the blue of his eyes darkened infinitesimally. "I could?"
"Almost certainly would."
Both men in the rear seat braced themselves as the car left the road and came to an abrupt stop on the grassy verge. Cowley shut off the engine and twisted round, left arm hugging the curving seatback. Neither agent avoided his probing stare, their expressions very different: Bodie oozed defiance mingled with a certain self-amusement while Doyle was cautiously belligerent.
"I don't supposed it has occurred to either of you that this is probably an extreme reaction to being together again. Strong emotional bonds like those you share--" Doyle hissed softly and turned away. Ignoring him, Cowley continued, "could easily be misconstrued after the trauma of your separation."
Bodie thoughtfully scratched his head. All sincerity, he replied, "Well, Doyle thought that might be the case, sir, what with neither of us having any, y'know..." he wrinkled his nose conspiratorially "...sex for the last three months." An elbow in the ribs produced a sharp 'ouch'. Grinning sweetly at his partner, Bodie finished, "But I convinced him that he was wrong."
At the sheer deviltry in Bodie's eyes, Doyle could not repress a reluctant chuckle.
"I'm pleased this is a source of amusement for you, Bodie--and you, Doyle. Have either of you given consideration to what effect this may have on your futures?"
The two men exchanged rueful glances. Bodie said seriously. "Yes, sir. That's why Doyle thought you should know now; in case you want to dump us. Only fair to you."
Cowley wanted to pull quietly at his hair. "Thank you, Bodie. I do appreciate that, although I expect I would have learned about this new...development without too much difficulty. Neither of you is precisely given to discretion."
Having nothing to offer in response to that, they wisely opted to forego a reply.
"And what of the future of this relationship?" Cowley persevered. "Have you convinced yourselves that it permanent?"
They spoke as one, without hesitation. "Yes, sir."
"I see." Cowley gave them both a last all-encompassing glance, and restarted the engine. A moment later they were barrelling down the road, the Rover clinging to dangerous curves that Cowley appeared to navigate on reflex. Almost as if speaking to himself, he said, "At this point, I have no choice but to keep Bodie on. He was not adequately debriefed before fleeing the nest. We need that information. I take it, Doyle, that you are agreeable to remaining with the Squad until Bodie is cleared?"
"Yes, he is, sir," Bodie replied promptly.
"Thank you, Bodie," Cowley said tightly. "Doyle?"
"Yes, Mr. Cowley. Thank you."
"And he'll be staying at the safehouse with me, sir."
For the first time since Doyle's hesitant announcement, Cowley smiled. "Actually, no, that will not be the case, Bodie. Och, settle down, lad. Didn't really think you'd get everything all your own way, after the imbecility of your recent actions, did you?" The icy tones echoed within the confines of the vehicle, effectively curtailing Bodie's incipient protest. "Since Doyle is willing to return to full service, he is due a refresher with Brian." Cowley was gratified by the silent, but whole-hearted grimace visible in the rear view mirror.
"You can't feed him to that bastard in the shape he's in," Bodie snapped. "Look at him, he's--"
"It's all right, Bodie," Doyle said sharply. Then he smiled. "Remember what I told you, mate." Without waiting for a reply, he asked Cowley, "When do I go?"
"This evening, I think. As soon as we get back to London."
Bodie sighed noisily. "You're being obvious, Mr. Cowley," he said with labored politeness.
"Am I?" Cowley granted himself another faint grin. "The course of true love rarely runs smoothly, Bodie. But you're already aware of that, I expect."
The curve of Bodie's lips flattened to an unamused line. "And I suppose you've got Ross ready and waiting for me, as well."
"Aye, I do. But you seem quite ready for her, too, Bodie. And she will certainly view your news with considerable interest."
Doyle groaned. "What did we ever do to deserve this?"
"You were my best team," the head of CI5 replied flatly. "I'd like to have that team back."
"Even if it's bent?" Bodie murmured.
There was a low, unpleasant sound of laughter. The two agents shared an uneasy look. Cowley stated, "It would probably cut you both to the quick to learn how unsurprised I am. If it had been anyone else, aye. But you two...."
With a twisted expression, Doyle muttered, "Gosh, thanks, sir. I think."
"You're welcome, Doyle. And now that we have settled both of your immediate futures to my satisfaction--I think it is time you gave me an accounting of your unsanctioned absences."
Bodie turned toward his partner, the light going out of his eyes. But Doyle curved a hand over Bodie's thigh and gave it a squeeze. "Go on, sunshine," he said, a secret, warm smile wreathing his face. "Tell the man what he wants to know."
Cowley drew the Land Rover to a careful stop in front of Safehouse Seven nearly four hours later. His rear view mirror told him that both operative were slowly stirring, Bodie's head resting familiarly on Doyle's shoulder, his arm slung across narrow hips. It was obvious that he was still suffering from his three months' incarceration; Doyle had put his head down simply to give himself a headstart before being tossed to Macklin.
No decision had been made regarding their future with CI5, despite their joint admission. Cowley did not credit it overmuch--not at this point. They had been together a matter of hours, under extreme circumstances, and following a period of separation that neither had ever coped with before. And yet he knew that these two were not like his other operatives. Their commitment to one another, their easy acceptance of one another's foibles and strengths, were unusual even in the most dedicated marriages. This, however, despite Cowley's bluff words, was something he had not had to deal with before. That they should choose to live together would likely have no effect on their abilities as CI5 agents--finding sexual gratification from one another would not alter the love and respect they had shared before, even if those emotions had borne another face then.
But he had the Department to consider, its future, as well as theirs. It was unfortunate that men like Bodie and Doyle were so very rare--at least on this side of the law; otherwise his decision would be an easy one. Cowley shelved the thought. He could only--insofar as he was able--control the present, not the future.
"C'mon, you two," he barked. "Bodie--"
Wide-awake and prepared for battle, Doyle snarled, "Give us five minutes." At Cowley's slate-eyed gaze, he added, "Please. Sir."
Bodie was looking around with a somewhat dopey expression, his eyes settling on Doyle with quiescent acceptance. Cowley felt a sudden twisting sensation and wondered ruefully if the future had not already been ordained, without his having any say-so in it at all. "All right, Doyle. Five minutes. I'll be back then to take you to Brian."
"Thank you, sir." Doyle waited until Cowley had left the vehicle. They were parked on a quiet street in the north central part of London, in broad daylight. Doyle's eyes turned to his partner, who was struggling to stifle a not-to-be-denied yawn. Bodie blinked, then forced himself to focus on Doyle's face. He smiled gently, his feelings utterly exposed in blue eyes that were soft with love.
"Got to go, mate," Doyle said. He ran his hand along the arm that still rested against his thighs. "Do what everyone says, don't fight 'em, okay?"
"Would I do that, Doyle?" Bodie said thickly.
"Yeah, you would. But think of us, if you're tempted. The quicker they get to the root of all this, the better for you and me."
Bodie grimaced, unable to quell the uneasiness that welled up inside him at the prospect of dredging up all that he had buried. "Wish you could stay, Ray."
Doyle nodded, nearly undone by the empty tone of Bodie's voice. He leant close, pressing his forehead against Bodie's. "It'll work out, mate," he whispered. He glanced around forlornly, taking in the CI5 agent standing on the step outside the safehouse door, the passers-by in the street. "Can that resourceful mind of yours figure out a way I can kiss you without having half of London and all of Cowley on our backs?"
The blue eyes twinkled. "Bend over, Doyle: you just dropped something, didn't you."
"So I did," Doyle agreed. They came together in an awkward half-crouch, mouths meeting with a desperate wanting that was rooted more in their emotional needs than in physical ones. But they made the most of it, and when their lips finally drew apart, they knew nothing had changed for them, that this new world was their world so long as they chose it to remain so.
"See you, sunshine," Bodie whispered, allowing his fingers to trace the line of Doyle's inner thigh.
"Love you," Doyle breathed.
And then Bodie was on the sidewalk, standing with military erectness, face turned toward the man who had brought him back. Cowley merely returned the younger man's gaze, then stepped past him to enter the Land Rover. They drove away in silence, Doyle consumed with the urge to grant himself one last look. But he fought it, well aware that his every action would be under observation from now on and loathe to give anyone an inside line.
On the way to Macklin's funhouse, Cowley extracted Doyle's debriefing. Doyle answered him precisely, without elaboration especially when the questions became very personal, and in Doyle's view, downright insolent. Occasionally he simply refused to reply, and surprisingly, Cowley did not press him. By the time they reached their destination, both were silently reflective.
Cowley brought the car to a stop and spoke, staring straight ahead. "I will be back for you when Macklin has finished. Do your best, Doyle, you wouldn't want this to be an extended stay."
Sardonically, Doyle agreed. "No, sir, I certainly wouldn't."
Then he was out of the vehicle, striding toward the front of the warehouse that doubled as Macklin's training facility, his stomach already tense, his arms ready at his sides. The car peeled away behind him, leaving him a lone, deceptively slight figure at the door.
The next days were no more pleasant than Doyle had expected, but somewhat to his consternation, no worse than that. Macklin treated him with his usual indifferent brutality, assisted by a new bruiser who put Towser to shame and beyond. It did not help to know that there was nothing personal in Macklin's savagery; each new welt and wrenched muscle attested to Doyle's suffering as poignantly as if they had been incurred with malice. But Doyle stood up to it without question or expectation of special consideration. He understood this, and accepted it. Hours of torment spent here could save his--and Bodie's life--out on the street, later.
Macklin was a little taken aback to discover that Doyle had lost little in the way of stamina, reflexes and core strength. When Doyle explained to him that he had worked as a laborer on a scaffold for six weeks, he simply nodded his head and took a new tack. He began to focus on the psychological aspects of working for CI5, testing Doyle's ability to respond as a proper operative, probing to see if the crucial sense of survival was still intact.
Within a couple days, Macklin had taken him to the edge of endurance and strength. Having then determined Doyle's limits and relating them to the demands of the job, he set about challenging those limits and restoring the man to his former excellence.
Doyle did as he was instructed, following Brian's lead and building upon it. During this time, he refused to indulge in thoughts of Bodie and their new relationship--except when he was finally allowed to drop and snag a few hours of sleep to replenish his battered reserves. Then he would draw upon the few but precious moments they had shared, beginning with that instant when Cowley had told him that Bodie was still alive. No other memory would ever compare with that one, nor ever mean quite so much. In the voicing of a few words, Doyle's life had resumed sanity and balance--and renewed purpose. Recall of his first glimpse of that pale, strained face, the exhausted, but alert blue eyes, warmed him when he fought the clockwork tension gripping his muscles, and allowed him to release it and ease into a soothing slumber.
The days stretched into a week and Doyle found his second wind. His reflexes were those of a coiled viper, his instincts cut from the cerebrum of a wild animal, his endurance apparently abetted by bearings and gears. Impressed despite himself, Macklin at last called an end to it.
Cowley appeared the morning of the eighth day. Not having been informed that he was everything that Macklin could achieve, Doyle's late awakening came as a surprise, as did the appearance of the wispy haired man who was both friend and nemesis.
Crouched on his heels beside Doyle, Cowley brought him around with a shake to the arm, then belatedly attempted to abort the sharp tug and roll that brought him onto his back under Doyle s automatic offensive. Catching his breath, the older man took the other's measure, cataloguing the blue jaw and purple-rimmed eyes that were nevertheless wide open and deadly intent.
"Good morning to you, as well," Cowley said dourly.
Immediately, Doyle relaxed the knee that was positioned over Cowley's crotch, and rocked back onto his haunches. "Sorry, sir. Macklin should have warned you."
"Perhaps you're not the only one who would benefit Macklin's attentions."
Disbelieving his ears, Doyle stared stupidly. Then: "It's not a benefit, sir. It's an exercise in sado-masochism on a grand scale."
Cowley's lips twitched in a slight smile, but Doyle pretended not to have seen it, catching his superior's forearm in one wiry hand and levering them both to their feet.
"How's Bodie?" he asked.
"Not 'Can I leave now, Mr. Cowley?'" Cowley said mockingly.
"That's next. How is he?"
Pale blue eyes dropped before the searching gaze. "Come along, Doyle; we'll talk in the car."
Outside, Doyle squinted against the mid-morning sun, seeing the surrounding neighborhood with new eyes. Being released from Macklin's prison camp was akin to experiencing an epiphany--suddenly one could believe there were good things in a world plagued with the burden of humankind. He loped alongside Cowley to the big Rover, sliding into the passenger seat with a sigh of relief.
Cowley settled in beside him, and as if reading his thoughts, stated, "You'll be back here, you know. With Bodie."
Doyle could only glare. "You rotten...."
The head of CI5 grinned, not the least bit repentant. "But not right away. It will be a while yet before Bodie is ready for Macklin."
"Is he all right?"
This time Doyle's plaintive tone was answered forthrightly. "Bodie is holding his own . Ross has had to stir up a lot of ugly memories he would rather pretend do not exist. He has been sleeping badly and has forgotten what a friend he has in food." Doyle said nothing, but Cowley could sense the storm building within him. "Ross thinks she is very close to a breakthrough."
"Or just to breaking him?"
"It's necessary, Doyle. Even Bodie acknowledges that. You'll see him tomorrow."
"Tomorrow!" Doyle erupted just as Cowley had known he would. "There's no reason why I shouldn't--"
"There is every reason, lad, not the least of which is that I say you will see him tomorrow!"
Doyle set his jaw tightly, well aware of the meaning of Cowley's whiplash words. Without Cowley, he had no access to Bodie at all--the bugger'd gladly order him shot on sight if he tried to enter that safehouse without his permission.
"Why tomorrow, sir?" he asked in a more respectful, but still edged tone.
"Ross wants no distractions. She feels that one more day should do it. Whether she accomplishes that or not, I've insisted that she give Bodie a rest tomorrow. You will see him then."
"And what happens today?"
Cowley gave the young man a sidelong look. "Today you return with me to headquarters and fill out the paperwork that will reestablish you as one of my operatives. Then you will be issued a pool car and you may drive yourself home where I suggest you work in a few hours of sleep. You look dreadful, Doyle."
"Thank you, sir," Doyle said, slouching tiredly in the seat. "Will you be seeing Bodie?"
"Aye, I will."
"Tell him I'll see him tomorrow morning, first thing."
If Cowley had been a book, he would have been filled with blank pages. "I will tell him."
Doyle finally made his escape just before noon, cautiously introducing the gold Capri to the flow of traffic congesting the streets outside the pool park. He went straight to his flat, encountering the new locks and window refinements that CI5's security branch had installed, bypassed the shower and collapsed on his bed.
The late afternoon sun brought him to sweaty consciousness, glaring through the opened curtains and blinding him when he precipitously coaxed open his eyelids. Feeling a great deal like the inside of one of his worn trainers, he dragged himself off the bed and into the bathroom with a determination that would have made Churchill proud of his undaunted spirit. The steaming shower did him a world of good, followed by a tortuous shave and vigorous scrubbing of teeth. The mirror proclaimed him almost human and he quit his ablutions, comparing them with the rustic sink bath he had been accorded in Bodie's cabin. Thought of Bodie triggered fresh interest in life and he made his way to the kitchen, mentally counting the hours.
It went completely against his instincts, but he had to admit a certain gratitude to the Cow for refusing him visitation rights today. While Bodie had seen him under far worse conditions, Doyle wanted their time together to be special. From what Cowley had told him, Bodie had been through the press, and Macklin had seen to it that Doyle had not fared much better, albeit in an entirely different fashion.
And it would give him some time to make a few purchases he had been contemplating.
Defeated by a refrigerator filled with food in various hues of blue and green, Doyle went out in search of sustenance, carefully securing the locks as he departed.
Temporarily fortified by a sandwich and a beaker of tea purchased from a tea wagon, Doyle made his way to Soho and the store that he and Bodie had visited once upon its opening. Stocked with virtually every sexual aid and accoutrement known to mankind, it boasted something for everybody--with the emphasis most decidedly on the word 'body'. Doyle had to walk several blocks to reach it, and then was overwhelmed by the sheer variety and novelty of some of the items available therein. At last he found what he sought, a paperbound book of manageable size--it was easily stored in a jacket pocket--that was well illustrated and startlingly informative.
Making his purchase with an outward appearance of casual insouciance, Doyle nevertheless breathed a little easier as he left the building, pocketbook tucked from sight, and returned to his car.
From there he went to the supermarket and picked up a few items, enough to get him through the next couple of days, and stopped at his local for dinner.
He had chosen a table at the back, one that gave him the advantage of position, and watched the group that hunched around the bar, his eyes travelling over them with practised lack of interest. It was early yet and empty chairs and stools outnumbered full ones.
Doyle turned his attention to his meal, working his way through a plate of sandwiches that finally made a dent in the hollow spot defining his stomach. Content, he sat back and stretched his lager, idly letting his mind rove over the coming morning and what he had planned for Bodie.
"Ray!" He came out of his revery with a start, focussing on the familiar, lovely face with somewhat belated surprise.
She smiled, a faintly rueful curling of pouting lips. "Yes, it's me. How've you been, Ray? I haven't seen you in--"
"Year and a half," he supplied, when she faltered. "After I let you down at the concert."
She nodded. "I did remember that." She canted her head toward the table, queryingly. Doyle nodded, remembered his manners, and rose while she sat.
He gestured toward the scattered remnants of his dinner. "I was off with the pixies somewhere," he explained the lapse. "Would you like something?"
He was rewarded with a sweet smile. "Please. A small bitter."
Doyle went to the counter and collected their drinks. On the way back to the table, he regarded the woman unobserved, noting the slightly bent head and long blond hair that tumbled forward onto her shoulders. They had slept together a couple of times, but she had been one of his ill-fated acquaintances, each of their evenings having been interrupted by emergency calls that had terminated his off-duty status. She had accepted the first two occasions with remarkable equanimity, which made the rage she had flown into when Doyle was called away from the concert they had attended together all the more disconcerting.
At the first free moment, Doyle had tried to make his apologies, but Mandy had been adamant. She wanted nothing to do with him and had made it very clear that she would be ever so grateful if he never cluttered her life again.
"Surprised you're talking to me," he commented lightly.
She blushed, very prettily, he thought, eyes cast down, lips full with regret. "I was a right shrew, wasn't I, Ray? Probably one of the most stupid mistakes I've made in a long time."
Amanda raised her head, long lashes sweeping upward, revealing bright blue eyes that met his with guileless penitence.
"Couldn't blame you," Doyle said softly. "It was a rotten deal for both of us."
"It was," she concurred readily. "You know, each time we...that is, both times we...." Again she trailed off, giving Doyle a diffident glance from under her lashes. "I was awfully frustrated, Ray. I wished so much that we'd had a chance to...you know."
He gave a shaky laugh. "Yes, as a matter of fact, I do."
She reached out suddenly, her small, slender hand closing over his. "Ray--take me home, will you?"
Fixed by that pleading expression, Doyle was unexpectedly lost for words. "It's early yet, Amanda."
Her mouth curved yearningly. "One time it was earlier even than this."
Doyle turned her hand over in his. "If you're sure."
"Please." Her voice was a vibrant whisper.
"All right," Doyle said.
They made small talk on the way to her apartment, but Doyle's mind was a long way from the conversation, standing a little to one side and analyzing his feelings--or lack of them. Amanda had attracted him fiercely when they had first met and had proved gratifyingly responsive in bed, as well. After their blowup, he had been more than a little aggrieved at the prospect of never knowing the pleasure of her company again. Now it seemed that she was literally his for the taking--and he didn't want her. There was no great revelation, no juxtaposition of Bodie's face in his mind to kill illicit passion--there was just no passion.
So that's how it works, Doyle mused. Even when he had been in love before, he had never failed to be attracted to other women, even to the point of considering, if not actively indulging in, a bit of infidelity. So maybe he hadn't been in love before, not really, or at least not the way he was with Bodie.
Amanda flirted with him in her beguiling way as he walked with her up to the door of her building. It was still broad daylight out, but she turned to him and handed him her key, and slipped past him into the hall. Amused, Doyle followed, led by provocative giggles up two flights of stairs. She stood, the picture of sweet temptation, outside the door, hands clasped together at her hips, her head tilted to one side.
Aware that he should have made his intentions clear before now, Doyle moved to take one of her hands and suddenly found himself held close, his mouth covered by hers, her lips pliant and moving. An instant passed, no more, and he drew away, catching her hands in his. "Sorry, love," he whispered. "Said I'd bring you home; here you are." He gave her the key, and trailed a finger against her cheek. "Goodbye, Mandy."
She spoke his name as he walked away, but he did not stop and he did not look back. Back on the street, waiting for traffic to break, he frowned to himself. It hadn't been that he had wanted his own back, so why hadn't he told her sooner?
His mouth was still sensitive from the pressure of her lips; he brushed a finger against it. Maybe he'd led her on because she had so readily assumed that he would do as she wanted; though god knows there had been a time when that would have been a foregone assumption. Or was it merely proof to himself--and Bodie--that his commitment was real, staunch even in the face of temptation?
Bodie would remember her. He'd know what considerable temptation she was. But Doyle knew he would never tell Bodie. Her kiss had meant nothing to him, and yet he felt somehow as though he had given something away that now belonged solely to Bodie.
Pushing the knotted tangle of thoughts to the back of his head, Doyle made it to his car and drove toward home. Tomorrow, he would be back where he belonged: with his partner, his friend, his mate.
To Doyle's relief and surprise, the remainder of the evening passed quickly. He spent the better part of an hour cleaning his tiny flat, giving it a thorough dusting and hoovering. A bag took the remnants of his refrigerated goods and he was ready to retire for the night.
Acknowledging a body that was still massively bruised and worn, he granted himself a long soak in the tub, nearly melting in the process. Feeling comfortably whacked, he brewed a cup of tea and carried it to the bedroom. There he ensconced himself in the soft bed, sniffing the pillow experimentally, remembering that Bodie's dark head had lain on it a week before. Disappointed, when he found no trace of him, he settled back, tea in one hand, newly bought book in the other.
Although Doyle had as much knowledge--and perhaps more, due to his time with the Met--about the habits and interests of gay men as most heterosexual males, he was quite impressed at the sheer inventiveness employed in meeting their sexual needs. Some of the illustrations and descriptions gave him pause, others made him chew his lower lip, an air of extreme concentration drawing winged brows low over the straight line of his nose. He found almost nothing repulsive, wilfully imagining himself and Bodie in similar positions--and making himself powerfully aroused at the very ideas.
Banking down the hunger building inside, he finally dropped the book onto his jacket where it lay on the chair beside his bed, and slowly moved his muscles into a reasonable configuration of comfort. Blinking slowly, he gazed out into the darkness, gradually realizing that more than anything, he just wanted to hold his new lover, to feel the firm, welcoming length of him all down his side, to have the scent of him in his nostrils, to enjoy the warmth of him as it eased his strain.
On that floating thought, Doyle was drawn into a deep, dreamless sleep. A few hours before dawn, he woke, apparently not having moved at all, despite usually being a restless sleeper. He rolled around to break the stiffness in heavy muscles, then curled into a tight ball in the early morning chill to gain a couple more hours rest. But anticipation and the nagging need to see his partner denied him, and finally he forced himself up.
The first reddish glow of morning greeted Doyle as he climbed into the Capri and headed toward safehouse seven. He had downed a pot of tea and some hardly tasted cereal, concessions to a stomach that didn't quite share his lovelorn preoccupation. But Cowley had said 'tomorrow', and tomorrow it was.
Traffic was light so early in the day, giving Doyle, who was barely paying attention anyway, no trouble at all. Operating on autopilot, he nevertheless recognized his whereabouts before driving straight up to the front door, and parked a couple of blocks away.
The air was still cool and brisk as he strode the silent streets, hands in his jean pockets, heart keeping double-time rhythm to his rapid pace. He fidgeted at the front door, looking around perforce of habit, waiting seemingly forever while there were faint sounds of locks being removed. They would have seen who it was from the bay window, though Doyle had not seen a flicker of a curtain panel to betray life within. And then the door swung wide, and Doyle could only stare, faced by a sleepy-eyed Liz Spaulding--who was wearing Bodie's terry-cloth robe.
""You're awfully damn early, Doyle," she said tartly.
"Good morning." Still a niggling flurry of butterflies in his lower region, Doyle edged past her, pausing at the light touch on his forearm.
"Hang about," she said. "He had a late night; only just got to sleep a few hours ago."
She gave him a self-conscious grin. "Doesn't know when to give up, your partner."
Doyle, suddenly lost for words, only nodded. Then: "Regular night owl sometimes. You been doing nights?"
"Yes." She conscientiously folded the top of the robe that Doyle recognized well. "Every night this week. Lake's got days."
"I see." He reached out and curved a palm around her chin. "Been keeping you up, has he?"
Liz pulled away from the restraining hand. "Doesn't know how to take 'no' for an answer."
He eyed her from head to toe, letting his attention linger at the full lower lip. "Sounds like Bodie. How much are you in to him for?"
She stared at him, and he could almost see the struggle taking place behind that lovely facade. Finally she gave a bite of laughter. "More than the annual budget for the NHS."
Doyle smiled at last.
Liz considered him sourly. "Don't know how you did it, Ray. Never thought Bodie would settle down with anyone, much less be faithful."
"Makes a girl feel a little strange, too, seeing her former lover go gay. I really tried, y'know--all the tricks. Did my damndest. But it was no go."
A little tight-lipped, Doyle said evenly, "Don't expect me to thank you, Liz. No reason it should be harder than it is."
She straightened her shoulders, and her expression was not entirely friendly. "Maybe you should thank me. Now you know he won't cheat on you."
Doyle forced himself to relax, realizing he could afford to be generous with the loser. "Knew that already. Goes both ways, y'know."
The formerly subdued butterflies lifted en masse, the beat of their wings confused with the sudden flutter of his heart. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Mr. Cowley was here last night," she said, her eyes dark with repressed anger. "Came by about 9:00. Talked to Bodie for quite awhile."
"The bastard!" Doyle strode away, one hand reaching out for the banister rail. "Which is his room?"
Peevishly, she said, "Second on the left. He's sleeping, Ray. Took him a long time to fall asleep--I could hear him from the next room."
But Doyle wasn't listening, taking the stairs two and three at a bound. By the time he came to the landing, he was calmer, a deadly determination gripping him. He could convince Bodie that nothing had happened. Whatever it took, he would make him believe.
The handle gave easily under his hand, but Doyle did not have to employ silence; Bodie was already up. Clad in pale blue pajama bottoms, he stood beside the window, face turned toward the street. The door creaked as Doyle pushed it open, and Bodie stiffened, a long sigh issuing from his lips as he leaned his head against the wooden frame of the window. "Christ, Liz," he said heavily. "Give it a break, will you?"
Shakily, Doyle lifted his voice an octave and simpered, "Oh, please, Bodie."
The dark head twisted round sharply. For the briefest instant Doyle was subjected to a searing inspection and then Bodie was halfway across the room, meeting Doyle at the foot of the bed.
"Ray--" His mouth sought Doyle's and the kiss that greeted him held nothing back. That left Doyle all the more off-balance when the kiss ended and Bodie murmured, "Heard you had a date last night, Ray."
Dragging a steadying breath into his chest, Doyle opened his mouth to speak--only to have Bodie's devouring kiss muffle his first words. It staggered him, and despite himself, he gave in. Bodie couldn't be too furious with him if he could still want him like this. But, perhaps Bodie was simply staking his claim; granting Doyle a few missteps before laying down the law. Doyle didn't want that. This was going to be special between them, for as long as they could make it last. He thought fleetingly of Ann Holly, of the total absence of trust that had created the rift between them. With Bodie there had always been trust; he could not bear to have it sullied now.
He broke away, placing a firm hand on Bodie's chest. "Bodie, I didn't--"
Bodie drew Doyle's head down into the hollow of his throat, hands rubbing down his back. "Heard you took her back to her flat, Doyle."
Doyle shook his head, pulling away until he met blue eyes that did not echo the harshness evident in his voice. "Bodie, I-- Bodie, let me--"
Again, Bodie brought his full strength to bear, holding Doyle's head immobile as he ruthlessly controlled the full mouth. Doyle fought this time, just short of hurting his partner, only yielding when the pressure on his lips became softer, a loving, welcoming touch. He was dizzy when Bodie finally let him go, every bone in his body a curious composite of liquid and fire. Keeping him bare inches away, Bodie whispered, "Was she very disappointed when you left her at her door?"
Green eyes went wide with startlement. Then Doyle breathed "Yeah, a bit." Tentatively he added, "Heard that, too, did you?"
Bodie lapped delicately at the nearest earlobe. "Nah. Figured that out for myself. Knew that must have been what happened."
Choked, Doyle rasped, "Bloody-minded bastard. How dare--"
"Hey! Hang about, Ray. Was only kid--"
"Not you," Doyle said raggedly, digging his fingers into Bodie's soft hair. "Cowley--that bastard. Set us both up."
Bodie's face broke into a huge, smug grin. "But it didn't work, did it. C'mere, mate. God, I want you." With that Bodie tumbled Doyle onto the bed and levered himself on top of him. Lost to the feel of one another, they kissed with unrestrained fervor, every sense engaged. Doyle shifted, working himself between Bodie's legs, rubbing himself hard against his groin. Soaring too high too quickly, Bodie reared up against him, and locked a leg over Doyle's, then held him down while he caught his breath.
"Jesus, mate, does this mean you're pleased to see me?"
"Nah," Doyle panted softly, "Always like this at 5:00 in the morning."
Bodie stared at him through faintly glazed eyes. He let his hand slide beneath Doyle's jacket, fingertips seeking solid peaks on either side of his chest through the thin barrier of his cotton shirt. Measuringly, he muttered, "Don't know; reckon I could get used to that. So long as you make it worthwhile."
"Oh, I will," Doyle promised. "Kiss me, Bodie."
Smiling happily, Bodie complied, guts wrenching helplessly at the wonderful feel of Doyle writhing beneath him. Caressing hands moved downward to the top of Doyle's trousers, pushing aside the encumbering flaps of his jacket--then stopped suddenly as they encountered the paperback in Doyle's pocket.
"What have you been reading?" he asked, intending only to tease, and coming to a full stop as he took in the cover of the book.
Doyle continued his explorations, fingers tracing the shape of Bodie's face and throat. "Research," he replied tersely.
Licking his lips, Bodie was equally succinct. "Page number?"
Bodie's thumb worked the edge of the book until he found what he was looking for. "Some pictures, mate," he commented, a little awed.
"Hm. So don't look, if they bother you.'
Bodie hooked Doyle's knees over his arm, then held the book ostentatiously behind Doyle's head, while he pressed himself against his crotch in mimicry of the graphic picture. "So if I do this...." His eyes darkened as he felt Doyle's instantaneous response. "Ray."
"'S all right. You're doing just fine."
"Be better if you had those damn jeans off."
Doyle wriggled out from under him, then braced himself on his shoulders and shrugged out of his trousers. Before he could work off his underpants, Bodie had peeled them open and was burning him with his hot, rushing breath. "Ah, Bodie," Doyle sighed, his urgency too great to complain, groaning gratefully as Bodie lovingly served his needs, his mouth working a miracle of pleasure on his overwrought body.
Half insensible, he nevertheless was aware enough to take Bodie between his legs and to hold him there tightly as Bodie drove against him in turn, drugged by taste of Bodie's mouth, still faintly tangy with the gift of this inner thighs. It slowly seeped between his legs to puddle on the sheet beneath him. But he did not move, hands drawing languid patterns on Bodie's heaving back, fingertips soothing and gentle.
"Good to see you, too," Doyle said lovingly.
Bodie turned his face against Doyle's shoulder. "Was that all right?"
Doyle pretended to consider the question seriously. "On a scale of one to ten?"
Frowning, Doyle notched his fingers. "Off the scale. You?"
"Rotten sod. Can't imagine it not being all right with you."
Doyle twisted onto his side, eyes level with Bodie's. "Thanks for believing me, Bodie. Was afraid--"
"Of what?" Bodie scoffed. "Besides, although I know you can be a randy toad, you don't go back on your word." He added in a tender whisper, "And you promised me, Ray. Liz didn't worry you, did she?"
Doyle's lips formed a wry smile. "On a scale of one to ten?"
"Didn't register. Well, maybe for one second. Wearing your robe was a nasty touch. It's an old one, isn't it?" At Bodie's nod, he smiled, more than a hint of malice clearly evident in the sweet curve of lips. "Liz thinks the world has turned upside down; wants to know what I did to you."
Bodie's chest heaved with a soft chuckle. "Wouldn't understand, would she."
Drowsiness crept over both of them, aided by the warmth of their close-fitting bodies, and the aftermath of welcome. Bodie's left hand was curled around the muscular base of Doyle's throat, his thumb brushing slowly up and down, traCing tender skin from collar bone to prominent Adam's apple.
Sluggish with this rare total relaxation, Doyle nevertheless jarred himself long enough to murmur, "Cowley said yesterday they were close to getting something sensible out of you. Did they?"
In answer, Bodie hitched his leg higher up Doyle's thigh, snuffling softly against this ear. Doyle shivered and cocked his head to meet the ticklish breath. "Dunno," Bodie whispered, sounding faintly nettled. "Ross keeps putting a 'D' notice on my memory. Says she'll bring it all back to me when I'm ready to remember."
"You don't sound too easy about it. Think you did remember?"
"Doyle, I just said--" He fought the urge to growl. "Maybe. She was awfully pleased with herself yesterday evening."
Sensitive fingers soothed the length of his back, sweeping round to the front, travelling up the broad expanse of pale chest. "We'll find out today. Don't worry, sunshine."
Bodie said nothing, but Doyle was keenly aware of the way he pressed closer into his warmth. It did not take long years of association to recognize that Bodie was on edge, that something was riding just below the surface of his consciousness, something that worried him.
They were jolted out of velvet darkness by the tart tones of their superior's voice piercing through the doors. "Bodie! Doyle! You have five minutes. I want you downstairs." Cowley did not wait for confirmation, his footsteps thundering off the landing seconds later.
The two men exchanged somewhat owlish glances, neither quite prepared to meet that soul-searing visage under these circumstances. Doyle moved first, catching up Bodie's hand and jerking him upright. "C'mon, partner. Day of reckoning is upon us."
But Bodie held him, refusing for a moment to be budged. Doyle hesitated, hiding his disquiet at the pale, suddenly drawn countenance that Bodie turned toward him "Doyle," he said with quiet emphasis, "I do love you."
Making no effort to resist, Doyle leaned forward and kissed him using precious seconds to convey the full power of his emotions. "Ditto. C'mon, move your arse, or he'll be back."
At the foot of the stairs a quietly watchful Liz Spaulding directed them to the lounge room. Doyle restrained himself from looking at his partner, more unsettled by this approaching conference than he cared to admit. Bodie was stiff beside him, yet close, and Doyle could not guess if he was staying near to give Doyle the undeniable reassurance of his presence or to glean it from him.
Seated in a comfortable chair behind a large desk, Cowley looked up as they entered. A little to his right and a step behind him, stood Kate Ross. She studiously ignored them, eyes fixed on a bulging file splayed open in her hands. Doyle glanced around with an overtly casual air, belatedly aware that Bodie had stopped just inside the door, eyes set on Ross. There were hints of panic in the deep blue stare; Doyle repressed a desire to run, hauling his partner with him. Bodie felt his attention at last, and visibly untensed.
"We're here," he said evenly, but there was a note of truculence in his voice that lifted Cowley's brows.
"Yes," Cowley agreed drily. "I can see that." He gestured at Bodie to sit down. When Doyle moved to follow, Cowley raised an imperious hand. "If you'll be so kind as to wait outside, Doyle, this won't take very long. Doctor Ross thinks it will be better this way."
Alarm bells went off in Doyle's head, and he shot a quick glance at Bodie. That one's dark head came around and met his worried gaze. "What'll be better this way?" Doyle demanded.
"We know who took Bodie--and why. Dr. Ross thinks it will be easier for him--and for you, if you hear this separately."
The Kalahari would have rivalled Doyle's throat for lack of moisture. His partner was suffering a similar condition by the look of him, but the blue gaze lightened and he gave Doyle a nod.
Quirking his brows in response, Doyle thudded his knuckles on the back of the nearest chair. "All right." Forcing himself not to turn back a final time, Doyle walked stiffly to the door and let himself out.
Ten minutes passed, then fifteen. Doyle alternately paced the floor of the living room and sat sprawled spinelessly in an overlarge, cane-backed chair. Liz brought him a cup of tea during one such period of simulated repose, thrusting the very hot cup into his hands without a word. "Thanks, Liz," he managed, and she gave him a weak smile at his barely concealed misery.
"Don't worry, Ray. What could be so awful?"
"You tell me," he said ominously. He slurped a mouthful of tea, insensible to the shattered nerve ends that came in contact with the scalding liquid. The cup was empty, still clutched between restless fingers, when the door finally opened.
It was Bodie who came out, a Bodie whose face was devoid of color and expression. He cast a single look at Doyle and it brought the lean frame instantly upright. The vulnerability, the hollow acceptance in that glance were hidden even as Doyle's heart twisted with frightened empathy. "Bodie."
"They're ready for you, Ray," he said. Only Doyle heard the underlying emptiness, and it terrified him.
"You all right, mate?"
Bodie shrugged, averting Doyle's seeking expression. "Talk later--if you still want to." With that he raised his head and held Doyle captive in a desolate blue gaze. "Go on," Bodie whispered. "George is waiting for you."
Before Doyle could argue, Bodie reached out and lifted him to his feet, thoughtfully plucking the precariously gripped mug out of loosely curled fingers. "Got some for me, too, Liz?" he asked calmly, ignoring the intense green weight on his shoulders as he padded heavily into the kitchen.
Stilling a shiver that started at the back of his neck, Doyle dragged an unsteady hand across his lower face and headed for the door.
Cowley sat with hands folded upon the desk, his face grim. As Doyle entered the room, he viewed him with unpleasant gravity, no more looking forward to this session than he had the last. Behind him, Kate Ross gave the lithe agent a careful once-over, revealing nothing of her thoughts.
Doyle sat down, and immediately assumed what many mistook for a boneless slump. In fact he was wound to the stress point, prepared to strike out at the first wrong word or gesture. Something had badly shaken Bodie, something he had expected would have a similar effect on Doyle.
Not us, Doyle thought. Please, not us."
Cowley refolded his hands and began. "Coogan."
Doyle abandoned all pretense of disinterest. "He took Bodie?"
"There's no way we can prove it," Cowley acknowledged. "But that was the voice Bodie heard and recognized."
Distracted by a surge of astonishing fury, Doyle forgot his apprehension. "That was the last mistake he'll make. That fucking bastard, I'll--"
"Doyle. Doyle!" Cowley waited until swirling rage slowly settled beneath the surface of green ice. "There is nothing we can do about it. Not yet."
"He murdered the poor sod we buried in Bodie's grave," Doyle half-shouted. "We can--"
"No." The single, clearly spoken word cut through the younger man's outburst. "We can't."
Lips twisting, Doyle ground his teeth together, well aware that Cowley would not be telling him this if he had the remotest hope of taking Coogan down a single peg. Well, then, they would just have to wait. But Doyle would be patient; he could be very patient when he needed to be.
As the flood of adrenalin was slowly assimilated into this system, Doyle regained his former caution. "What did he do to Bodie?"
There was something like pity on Cowley's face, but it quickly turned to aloof indifference, and Doyle hoped fervently that he had imagined it. A smooth, feminine voice answered him: Doyle had almost forgotten Ross was there.
"He made him fall in love with you."
Of all the possible responses the question might have spawned, that one had never even been in the realm of consideration. And as prepared as he had been for something truly awful, he was incapable of preventing the blood draining from his face, nor the sensation of shock as his abdominal muscles clamped down tight across his hips. It was worse than suffering a wound, or taking a fall, being held immobile in that unnatural prolongation of time that made a century of an instant. Then Doyle forced a swallow, struggling for composure, eyes squeezed tightly shut. "No."
Cowley's lips thinned. His voice was surprisingly compassionate. "He wanted to get at you, through Bodie, to have his revenge for the death of his brother and his lack of success in bringing CI5 to its knees. You and Bodie have been under his surveillance for some time, apparently. Bodie's affection for you was read as something that could be used as a weapon, given the proper manipulation. It was meant to break you up--possibly to bring scandal onto the department. From all the information that Bodie provided them with while under their control, it must never have occurred to them that you might agree to a homosexual relationship with him."
Then Doyle understood the expression he had seen on his partner's face: it was as though the world had spun off its axis and was wobbling out of orbit. All the certainty, that wonderful, cherished sense of completeness, had been reduced to rubble with a single sentence. Bodie had been programmed to love him.
Thick, dark lashes wavered, then slowly rose. His eyes focussed on Ross first, and found her watching him with clinical detachment, a curious expectancy edging her equanimity. Cowley--well, Cowley was Cowley. The man was more inscrutable than the fabled Sphinx. But there was no triumph in the hard old eyes, either. For that Doyle was grateful.
And Bodie? The memory of their loving sprang full to his mind; the tender affection that had softened Bodie's marble features, the unmeasured love that had shone out of blue eyes. And Bodie, leaving this very room, stricken, lost, expecting Doyle to revile him at his earliest opportunity. The hard thud of Doyle's heart reminded him it was still necessary that he breathe. Inhaling shakily, he concentrated on the one anchor in this debacle: Bodie. Bodie, before Coogan had stolen him away and subjected him to his perverted persuasion. The ready touch, the affectionate submission to virtually any Doyle whim, the stolid toleration, the unfailing desire to please. None of these had been engendered by Coogan's manipulation of Bodie's drugged subconscious. In fact--Doyle remembered with crystal clarity their first morning in Bodie's hut, remembered with stirring blood who it was that had made the first move.
Cowley became instantly alert at the sudden sharpness that entered Doyle's gaze. He watched with fascinated wariness as the lean body unfolded and slowly straightened.
"So Bodie went to bed with me because Coogan planted it in his head?"
Cowley nodded, conscious of the way Ross had stiffened. Had she called this correctly, after all?
"Then why did I go to bed with Bodie?
Cowley eyed his agent carefully. When he spoke, his frigid tone was just shy of being provocative.
"Only you can answer that, Doyle."
Errant curls moved briskly as Doyle bobbed his head affirmatively. "Right." With the stealth and slick menace of a viper moving into position, Doyle stood and braced his hands wide apart on the edge of the desk, looming over the small man behind it. "I'm warning you now: If I can salvage anything out of this, I will. We may stay with CI5, and maybe we won't. Maybe we can't. But what's between us is only between us. Don't ever interfere with us again."
With that Doyle was heading for the door, long legs eradicating the distance with ease. Behind him Cowley set his jaw, and Ross allowed herself a very small smile.
"I did warn you," she said softly.
Bodie was standing at the window, his forehead propped against the wooden frame--just as Doyle had found him earlier, a dark figure in the grey light of dawn.
Doyle leaned back to shut the door, making his presence known.
"He told you?" Bodie's voice was almost normal.
The dark head dropped forward. "Sorry, Ray. You must really hate me now."
At the softly taunting tone, Bodie chanced a look. Harshly, he grated, "It's a joke to you?"
Doyle viewed him from slitted eyes. "No joke, sunshine," he said icily. Bodie flinched, and Doyle realized that his partner believed the anger was directed at him. "Coogan had your brains scrambled to make you fall in love with me," Doyle said, affecting a calm he was far from feeling. "So what's that make me, Bodie?"
Drawn out of his misery by that self-deprecating voice, Bodie tiled his head to one side. "What are you trying to say, Doyle?"
"It's obvious, isn't it? Coogan didn't have anything to do with my subconscious, yet I came round to the idea pretty damn quickly. And anyway, who was already hot for you when you woke up in that hut?" He turned his hands over, fingers wide and trembling. "You've always liked me, mate--not that way, I know, but the caring was already there. Wasn't it?" Before Bodie could deny the statement, he rushed on, "Maybe the bastard added something to it: lowered your inhibitions, I don't know. Just...don't be afraid of it, Bodie, or of me. It doesn't change the way I feel."
Bodie managed a hesitant step away from the window, feeling the bands of steel slowly begin to relax around his heart. Doyle waited for him, emotions stripped bare, his vulnerability freely rendered. Doyle had never offered so much to him before, not even when they had become lovers. That had been a contract between equals, this was an admission of need in the face of possible rejection. Doyle wanted him, no matter what Coogan had done, and was willing to fight for him. The depth of Doyle's commitment, the lengths to which he would go to preserve this fledgling relationship made Bodie feel small in comparison, small and unworthy.
Even though Doyle was right: Bodie had loved him long before he had ever dared acknowledged it.
Doyle dropped his hands. "So what about it, sunshine?" he asked thickly. "Are we still on?"
Bodie whispered, "You sure you want us to be?" Despite himself, it had to be said: "Lot of other options out there, mate."
Doyle slowly made his way across the room, coming to a stop mere inches from his partner's stolid frame. Eye-to-eye, he stated, "Yeah. No accounting for taste, eh?"
As he had the night Cowley had brought him back, Bodie sighed and bent this head onto Doyle's shoulder. "Never apologize for wanting the best, mate." And he choked back a tiny sound, turning his face against Doyle's neck, crooking his arms around the thin body and holding on as though his sanity and life depended on it. As soothing fingers drew imaginative whorls upon Bodie's back, the world straightened around him, the vicious grip on his insides went slack and he could breathe easily again. "Don't know what Coogan put in there, Doyle, but I've never wanted anything as much as I wanted you; what we have. Don't let Cowley ruin it, will you?"
Doyle snickered softly, gazing over Bodie's shoulder with pleasantly blurred eyes. "Told the old bastard to leave us alone. Love you, Bodie. Didn't think you'd get rid of me as easily as that?"
"Persistent sod like you? Never."
Doyle allowed the moment to stretch, marvelling at the vastness of pleasure garnered from simply holding his lover; no demands, no need, nothing more than this shared comfort. He sensed the same appreciation in Bodie and wondered how they had survived before, in an emotional desert that denied such basic joy.
It was with reluctance that he broke their mood. "Time we talked to the Cow again."
Bodie drew away, frowning. "What for?"
The wary expression earned a chuckle. "Lots of questions not answered, me old mate. Don't know about you, but I didn't hang about after Ross dropped her bomb."
Bodie traced the groove between Doyle's cheek and mouth. "There may have been more; didn't hear it."
"C'mon, then. Time we got down to business, don't you think."
Blue eyes gleamed with sudden feral purpose. "Past time. Lead on, sunshine."
Before Bodie could move, a cool mouth pressed gently against his. "Don't let yourself get too knotted up lover," Doyle whispered. "I have plans for you."
A dark brow arched upward. "Hope they coincide with mine, Doyle. I've a plan or two, as well."
Delighted with the expression of tightly leashed lust, Doyle gave his head a quick nod. "Don't disappoint me, eh."
But Bodie just smirked at him. "The way you go at it, a quick wank in the car wouldn't disappoint you."
Doyle gave this statement all of fifteen seconds due consideration. "Only if you can't think of something more imaginative," he decided eventually.
Still haggling, they left the small room and headed down the stairs to reinstigate the interview with their employer.
Two pairs of eyes rose at their arrival, one set watchfully patient, the other simply speculative. Both Bodie and Doyle wondered what Ross thought about all this. Her professional mein was carefully in place, however, and there was nothing of amusement in it.
"Thinking again?" Cowley asked with poorly concealed irritation. "Or have you come to offer your resignations?"
Bodie's mouth twitched to one side. "The former sir. Unless you prefer the latter."
Refraining from comment, Cowley growled, "Sit yourselves down. I presume you've controlled your emotions and are ready to discuss the situation sensibly."
"Yes, sir," Doyle answered, a little too earnestly.
Cowley spared a black scowl especially for him, then placed his glasses back on his nose, and lifted a page from the thick file spread on the desk before him.
Casting Ross an uncomfortable glance, Doyle mentally squared his shoulders. "You said Coogan made Bodie fall in love with me, because he expected the team would break up--maybe cause a scandal for the department."
"Then why supply us with that bloody corpse so that we'd think Bodie was dead?"
Cowley's expression softened slightly at the betraying note of anguish in Doyle's voice. "Remember, Doyle, you were watched. Before Bodie was taken, and after. Coogan wanted you to suffer; Bodie wasn't wrong about that. Up to that point, you still thought there was hope."
Doyle conceded that with a nod. "Hope he enjoyed it," he muttered bitterly. Then, determinedly, "But that is all you got out of Bodie, isn't it--all that Coogan tried to plant? There's nothing else lurking in his subconscious--like, maybe, an intense infatuation for you?"
A tiny smile flickered across the older man's lips at the snort of outrage that emanated from Doyle's partner. "It was skillfully concealed, if that is what you're asking. We didn't open the door to Bodie's mind and find the information emblazoned on his braincase. If Dr. Ross had not been convinced that Bodie had led them on a wild goose chase, we might never have ferreted out the underlying purpose of their treatment."
Two blank faces left Cowley with no doubt as to their lack of understanding. He swung his glasses off and held them suspended from forefinger and thumb. "Apparently you managed to make them believe that what they wanted you to do was not what you already wanted."
Bodie sat frozen as Doyle shot him a startled look.
"Sir?" Doyle prompted.
Cowley canted his head to one side and gazed up at Ross. With her careful, unflappable manner, she elaborated on Cowley's statement. "A more... involved relationship. Something I suspected a long time ago, although you were both too caught up in your macho posturing to intelligently contemplate the possibility."
"You're saying we were panting for each other before either of us knew it?" Doyle demanded a little breathlessly.
She smiled benignly. "I wouldn't have couched it in such puerile terms, but that is essentially what I meant, yes."
"That's ridiculous," Bodie snapped.
"That's why you were held so long, Bodie," she said patiently. "They were trying to sway you to a way of thinking that subliminally was not the least bit repellant to you. It must have confused their manipulator; he or she was trying to overcome barriers that didn't exist."
"I still don't understand," Doyle said with irritation. "If Bodie was so susceptible to the idea, they should have seen that right off--shouldn't they?"
Ross shook her head, setting Doyle's teeth on edge with her smirking certainty. "They interpreted Bodie's concession as resistance, and we have some evidence from our deprogramming sessions with him that he encouraged that belief. He can be very perverse when he wants to be, and no one in CI5 can dissimilate as well as he can when he chooses."
Less than flattered by this assessment, Bodie was still smarting from Ross' assumption that he might have fostered a hidden desire for his partner before his ordeal. "We never-- That is, I never--"
"You did, Bodie." This, from Cowley, was almost more that the young agent could take. "In more ways than you realize. And, no, there would never have been any concern if I doubted Doyle's lack of reciprocal attraction."
"Oh, thanks," Bodie mumbled.
Doyle tensed at Ross' soft laugh. "It wasn't apparent to anyone else, Bodie," she told him, with surprising gentleness, "if that's what you're concerned about. And while Doyle was far better at concealing it, his devotion to you was open to speculation before all this brought it into the open."
"Except to you and Cowley."
"Love assumes myriad forms, gentlemen," Ross went on didactically. "It may be the best thing or the worst thing to ever befall you, but I will tell you honestly that I never imagined either of you capable of overcoming years of conditioning to openly pursue this new development in your relationship."
Unsure whether they had been insulted or praised, Doyle turned to Bodie and found him watching Ross with an expression that echoed his bemusement.
"So, what you're saying," Doyle muddled it through, "is that Coogan wasted his time. He put us all through hell, and murdered Joe Nobody, for nothing."
"That is for you to decide," Cowley said pointedly. "It was a truly machiavellian attempt to damage both of you and the Department. It cannot have gone unnoticed that the attempt has failed. He will undoubtedly try to capitalize on your newfound involvement; I expect something in the papers any day now."
"Which means the bastard is still surveilling us."
"Of course, Bodie. The exercise did have a purpose to it, as far as Coogan was concerned."
Doyle frowned. "So what do we do now? Are you asking us to resign? We will, if it'll help the Department."
"But you won't refute the relationship."
Doyle's head moved in a single, definite shake. "No." He glanced across at Bodie, unsurprised to find confirmation shining at him through smiling, blue eyes.
Cowley set his glasses on the now-closed file before him. Steepling his fingers, he levelled unreadable eyes impartially between the two of them. "The minister has accorded me the responsibility of deciding how we pursue this situation." Cowley spread his hands and held them steady. "As I prefer not to re-team you at this time, you will be placed on probation. Ninety days. If you have managed to comport yourselves properly during that period, and I see that your judgement and abilities are not affected, then the fact of your private lives will be considered private."
"And when it hits the papers?" Doyle asked quietly, head slightly bowed, eyes wide and unintentionally appealing.
"The department will support you. The relationship will be presented as you have related it to us: stable and permanent. Unlike our other agent's personal lives however, yours will fall under public scrutiny. Whoring will not be tolerated: female or male."
Doyle curled his lip, Bodie's eyes crossed briefly at the base of his nose. "Then you won't be asking us to--"
Cowley allowed himself a sardonic laugh. "No, Doyle. None of the married personnel are asked to compromised their marital fidelity either." He picked up his glasses again and held the frames between both hands. "Otherwise, I expect nothing to have changed. You will still defer to my judgement--and orders--as you have always done." Cowley produced a soft sigh, an editorial aside that neither agent chose to comment upon. "Doctor Robbins feels you are fit enough to resume your exercise program, Bodie. I expect Doyle to enforce it."
Bodie was astute enough to make no complaint.
For a moment Cowley's eyes roamed over his two best agents--his former best agents. There was a peacefulness about Doyle that he had rarely witnessed, and a genuine air of contentment about Bodie that Cowley could never recall seeing. For all that, they were at the start of a rough and obstacle-strewn journey. If they made it, there would be a wealth of shared emotion few people experienced in love or out, for they were both men of strong passions. And if they didn't-- Cowley could only wish them the best.
His thoughts had wandered only for a second, but Doyle and Bodie were waiting with unfeigned attention for him to continue. He said abruptly, "You have three days off, starting now." From a corner of the desk he retrieved a ring with two keys, and a tab with tiny letters that curled over his thumb. "This is your new flat. Your personal goods will be arriving this afternoon, after taking a most misleading and circuitous route."
"Just put locks on the old one, sir," Doyle reminded hm.
"Aye, and we intend to keep that one in use, Doyle. Not a bad neighborhood, although it is veritably infested with children." He tossed the key-ring to Bodie who caught it expertly.
Remembering the solitary lad he had so identified with, Doyle nodded, his eyes distant. "Not so bad, some of 'em."
Bodie sat forward. "Never had a chance to ask, Mr. Cowley, but what happened to my things, all the stuff that was in my flat?"
"What do you think, Bodie?" Cowley said archly. "They were given to your partner to dispose of as he saw fit."
Catching the suddenly fixed look in Doyle's overwide eyes, Bodie chewed his next words. "You didn't--"
"Well, how was I to know you'd come steaming back from the dead?" Doyle defended himself, evacuating his perch with well-considered haste.
"You could at least have waited a decent interval, couldn't you?" Bodie shot back, moving after his partner with deadly intention.
"Time you changed your fashion statement anyway, isn't it. More mauves, a bit of pink. Maybe a cute little..." He ducked through the door just as a loosely curled hand reached for it.
Eyes agleam, Bodie hesitated and turned back to face Cowley. "Is that all, sir?" he asked with admirable restraint.
Cowley tiredly rubbed the indentations on his nose where his glasses usually rested. "Just be sure he returns to work in one piece."
"One piece, sir," Bodie affirmed, and he too, was out the door, footsteps thundering up the staircase, a low roar framing Doyle's name.
Amused, Ross nevertheless said, "Was that wise, Mr. Cowley? The nonfraternization policy was established for good reasons."
Cowley gathered his things together and made to rise. "Aye, I do know that, Dr. Ross. However, as you yourself are aware, those two have been 'involved' for a very long time. So far, it has never worked against them. Should that change--"
Ross went round to the front of the desk. "Yes, I understand." And then, accurately reading Cowley's expression for the first time in all the years she had known him, she grinned. "But they do like to make it difficult, don't they?"
"Aye, that they do."
"Bodie, you damage the goods and you'll be picking your teeth out of the carpet." This menacing statement would have been considerably more impressive had the one producing it been in a more strategic position. Flat against the wall in Bodie's bedroom, the length of his body covered by Bodie's imposing bulk, Doyle had seldom been at such a disadvantage.
"My clothes, Doyle," Bodie said in a dangerously quiet voice, "my records, my books-- Couldn't even bring yourself to save a few momentos, could you? Christ, mate, did you have to give it all to the Salvation Army?"
Doyle shrugged--or attempted to. Bodie's nearness was getting to him, setting every nerve on a slow boil. "Shouldn't cling to the past, sunshine. Not healthy, y'know."
"In more ways than you may have counted on, ducks," Bodie promised. "Jesus, Doyle, all my---mph." He didn't struggle as his partner kissed him, his head caught between long, spread fingers.
"Make it up to you?" Doyle whispered, sometime later.
Bodie spoke evenly with an effort. "Take a lot of those to make up for chucking all my worldly goods."
Doyle rubbed his face against Bodie's cheek, his tongue barely skimming the small inner flap of his ear. Bodie shivered, then turned his head into the wetly tickling caress. "What if I toss in one or two of those?" One hand left Bodie's hair and wandered downward. "And one of these? Ah...and, possibly two or three...."
The words were lost in the cool darkness of Bodie's mouth, which formed an eloquent statement all its own without resorting once to the device of words.
A moment later Doyle was left abandoned, half-slumped against heavily patterned wall-paper while Bodie stepped back and watched him catch his breath. Disconsolately, Doyle whispered, "That's a rotten way to get even."
"Kissing you?" Bodie asked innocently.
"Not kissing me. What are you up to?"
Bodie raised his brows and glanced meaningfully down at the front of Doyle's trousers. "Bit obvious, even for the likes of you, Doyle." He held up the keys Cowley had given him. "Maybe it's time we left."
Gathering himself with difficulty, Doyle nodded weakly. "Much better. Good idea, that."
Bodie waited until Doyle joined him at the door. "And you can buy me a new wardrobe on the way."
Green eyes blinked, then steadied. "That's a good idea, too." He cocked his head to one side, eyeing Bodie with lustful attention to detail. "Lots of open-necked shirts and tight--very tight--black trousers. A silver chain, to lie just here--"
Bodie captured the finger trailing around the column of his neck. "You really didn't give any of my stuff away, did you, Ray?" he whispered with quiet certainty.
Doyle shrugged sheepishly. "'Course I didn't." He met Bodie's yearning gaze with unashamed fealty. "Wasn't ready to let you go yet, was I?"
Bodie kissed him with elaborate tenderness, revelling in the gift of Doyle's love, stunned that fate should have proven to be so generous. "C'mon, lover," he said at last, his voice vibrating against Doyle's chest. "Time we tried out some of those illustrations."
Holding the door open and grinning widely, Doyle waved a hand toward the stair. "After you, mate."
Wilfully misunderstanding, Bodie said with meaning, "Maybe--but a coin toss would be fairer, don't you think?"
-- THE END --