Through a Glass Darkly
by ET & Rob
Conscious of a wall close behind him, Bodie straightened fractionally. It would be all too easy to allow a shoulder to lean back against cool plaster, to let hours of unrelieved tension drain away from taut muscles. Instead, he continued to stand straight and tall, an unwanted glass of wine in hand, whilst the murmur and twitter of banal conversation eddied about him.
The evening had held an edge of unreality from its beginning. Accustomed to doing everything necessary to secure the safety of the more valuable personalities in the world of diplomacy and politics, he had found it difficult to stop searching the shadows cast by alcove and curtain, almost impossible not to skim faces and bodies, interrogating not for their potential conversational abilities but for the subtle shape of a gun and the hidden intent to wound and maim.
Only when he caught an odd look on the face of a very presentable female as she turned away at the last moment from an approach, did he realise what he was doing. A sense of the ridiculous swept over him then and he was hard pressed to prevent the look of grim competence from melting into a wickedly amused grin.
Bodie followed the female's shapely retreat with only mild regret, his attention elsewhere.
The old man always managed to come up with a good one, he thought with resigned fortitude, and somehow he never failed to be surprised by the sight of Cowley breaking his own rules time and again with the caustic aplomb of a master criminal.
After years of shunning the media, slapping D Notices on the press whenever he felt like it, shifting his operatives all over London to preserve their anonymity and lecturing them all frequently on the necessity for water-tight security, Cowley had brought them en masse to this. A glittering display of floor length gowns, jewels and expensive suiting, gathered together for that most mind-numbing of events, a full fledged diplomatic reception. An occasion where strangers circulated endlessly, discussing the same current events, asking and answering the same meaningless, trivial and personal questions over and over again as they moved from group to group.
And the reason he and the half dozen or so other senior operatives he knew were also scattered around the room were present was linked only indirectly with security. Tonight they were expected not to hover discreetly in the background, but to mingle. Tonight someone else was liable for safety, someone else was carrying the can for the continued safe existence of the top level civil service brass. Tonight, amazingly, CI5's finest were present purely as a goodwill gesture. What was it Cowley had said? Show them that you can be civilised -- not show them that you are civilised, Bodie recalled with grim cynicism, but that you can be, when the occasion demands it.
Sighing, he relaxed a little and let his eyes drop to the plush Tory blue of the carpet.
The occasion hadn't demanded it over the past three or four weeks. The Wilson and Cartright business had demanded something else entirely, and the fact that half the diplomatic population of London had witnessed that fact had pleased Cowley not at all. Hence, they were here, mingling and circulating to the best of their unsuited abilities, in a room the size of an over-decorated, over-scented aircraft hangar. And to make matters worse, thanks to a floor to ceiling mirror that ran the entire length of one wall, the number of overdressed guests was duplicated in depressing proportions. It made the room look larger, the people more pretentious. Bodie gazed into it, seeing himself partially haloed by a huge fronded palm, first revealed and then concealed by passing gentility.
Easing stiff shoulder muscles, he gazed down at the piece of cork floating in his dry white wine. Tonight his first free time in weeks, he wouldn't have been demanding in his tastes. He would have happily settled for a corner in any pub, getting quietly but steadily drunk, or a night at home in front of the box. Or, better still, an evening with Ray. Anything, in fact, where he could simply be himself and relax.
The thought of his partner made Bodie lift his head again and scan the room for the familiar slim figure. He hadn't seen Doyle for several days and didn't even know what Cowley had him working on -- hadn't even had a chance to ask. He assumed it was tidying up loose ends, the same as himself. To say that CI5 was stretched to capacity at the moment was no exaggeration. Top priority of their current operations, the Wilson and Cartright links had mushroomed all over London, growing so far afield that he and Doyle had found themselves following up separate leads in order to cover everything before the trails cooled. Those leads had led to others and then, unexpectedly, two of them had shown a common link, unguessed until it actually happened. That had led to the net closing in at long last around the two high level government moles, to the profound relief and pleasure of all concerned, especially their dourly satisfied boss.
Bodie played the final scene again in his head and shivered with the memory. It had taken place in rooms much like this, full of soft furnishings, a thick carpet underfoot, muffling all sounds, forcing his intuitive levels to a night sharpness. In the thick silence he'd heard his own heart accelerate as he sensed another's presence. He'd crept on towards a doorway, gun ready, knowing that as soon as he turned through it he'd have to fire, which meant he only had one chance to choose the right direction.
Unable to hear any more, he'd allowed instinct to take over and had somersaulted through the doorway, landing easily on the balls of his feet in the middle of the corridor, facing another figure with a gun.
His finger on the point of squeezing the trigger home, he froze as another instinct took hold, one so far down in his subconscious that he was able to rise smoothly, gun lowering in the same instant. For if there was one skill CI5 drummed in unrelentingly, it was how not to shoot the wrong person. Especially when the wrong person was your partner.
He'd faced Doyle with a helpless expression of savage relief and in that same second had dropped again and fired past him as another figure erupted silently from a second doorway only feet away.
Bodie knew he had never achieved a reaction time like that before and yet there was no sense of satisfaction in him, merely a small ache that intensified as Doyle turned back to him, eyes wide and dark on Bodie's as he realised just where that long and deadly silencer had been aimed.
The noise of the body tumbling down the wide sweep of the stairs had distracted them and they had turned to find a shocked audience below them, their silence broken now with horror filled screams and expressions of fear and distaste as blood was revealed in ghastly smears on almost every step of the stairs' thick-piled ivory carpet, the body now a crumpled mess at their foot.
Cowley had appeared on the scene seconds later and they'd left him to soothe the disgruntled breasts of the gentlemen and wives of the city's diplomatic service, so rudely brought down from their high plane of an evening at the opera.
Split on two jobs thereafter, they had both consigned the collection of black jackets and bow ties to perdition forever, untroubled, until Cowley had blandly informed everyone of tonight's little treat.
Varying degrees of dismay and disbelief had been voiced but their boss was not to be moved.
Seeing that it was a fait accompli and quickly coming to terms with it, Bodie privately viewed the exercise as less of a peace-making and more of an insurance towards next year's budget. Ever aware of the Department's cash flow, their canny Scottish boss had seen the chance as a golden opportunity to improve their image and convince the influential that they were more than flexible and could rise in civilised fashion to whatever the occasion demanded.
But whatever the reason for their presence here tonight, Bodie doubted whether it was working. He considered that he had done his duty in conversational input and was frankly determined to do no more, but so far he had seen only one other success. Surprisingly that had been Stuart. Long, lanky and improbably suave, Bodie had seen the undercover agent circulating freely until he'd reached his intended goal. He stood before her now, a svelte, black clad blonde with a fall of the shiniest smoothest hair Bodie had ever seen.
Forgetting the engrossed pair, Bodie's gaze swept on, still searching for the one person guaranteed to make any difficult situation considerably more bearable. He wondered how Doyle was coping and when he had arrived. Knowing him, he was probably applying his own social rules and ignoring everyone who wasn't dressed in a backless, frontless, off-the-shoulder number.
Finding the long mirror confusing and very deceiving, Bodie wasn't sure exactly what was reflection and what was not. But then a large group of people began to break up and drift away in ones and twos and behind the small knot remaining, he finally found Ray Doyle.
As always after a separation from his partner, Bodie found that first sight of him produced a weird little jump inside. He blinked and began to absorb every detail of his friend's appearance.
Dressed like himself in unrelieved black over a snow white shirt, Doyle was more than eye-catching. His curls had been temporarily tamed and brushed back and the slight downward tilt of his head as he gazed into the middle distance seemed to emphasise the exotic arch of his brows.
Bodie began to smile, imagining the thoughts passing through that disciplined though often indulgent mind. They could be anything from the match he was missing on the box tonight, to the meal he had planned to cook, to the bedroom games he had hopes for later.
Although whatever he was thinking about, Bodie conceded it probably wasn't the latter. Standing alone, Doyle held a sense of isolation around him and an odd intentness that was ensuring he was being given a wide berth.
Almost in profile to Bodie, his exact expression was indiscernible, but he clearly wasn't happy.
Planning to go over and murmur a dirty joke or two in his ear to cheer him up, Bodie indulged himself a moment longer and continued to watch his seemingly oblivious partner. Any opportunity of looking at Doyle unobserved was always seized and enjoyed. He was too far away for Bodie to watch his expressive eyes and mouth, but the rest of him was in clear view. Not as clear as when at work, Bodie noted sadly. Then, soft, worn denim and cotton drew his eyes to every flex and tautly stretched movement of the body within and every contour was clearly defined.
Never wearing formal evening clothes of his own volition, Doyle must be loathing this. It went a long way towards explaining that air of banked down anger Bodie was reading. Even as he watched, Doyle ran an annoyed finger around the collar of his shirt, vainly trying to loosen it.
Definitely in need of cheering up.
Complacent that he could do it, Bodie was in no hurry.
His thoughts and memories and the expectation of that low, full-throated laugh brought a light to his eyes and unknowing warmth to his expression.
Knowing several good sources of dirty jokes, Bodie quite regularly saved them up for Doyle. There was a particular laugh his partner had for especially filthy jokes, a laugh that was always connected with sex one way and another and Bodie was well aware that he listened for it and encouraged it whenever he could. Soft and throaty, the rich chuckle never failed to send an answering tingle through his own body. It was foolish, dangerous and potentially heartbreaking, but once it had started, he had found himself trapped, caught by that continuous unthinking display of sensuality and self-awareness. He couldn't turn away from it, not if his life depended on it, and especially not when his most heartfelt wish was for those green eyes to take on their slumberous quality when looking only at Bodie, his partner and his friend who held his life in his hands and who longed for the right to do more.
Bodie hadn't given up hope, not by any means. In this world he had come to learn that almost anything was possible and he was waiting only for the right moment, the intuition that said yes, go head and ask. Sometimes that moment seemed so close, a breath away, and at others...
Still intent on the motionless figure, Bodie wore a wistful smile as his thoughts wound to their own conclusion. For while he watched and waited, biding his time, life with Doyle was fun. It was hard work, competitive, frustrating and sometimes sickening, but just occasionally it was also very satisfying, and always half again as bearable with Doyle beside him. And these days it came as no surprise to Bodie to find that he was almost happy. Well, as near as dammit to the real thing, anyway.
Bodie's smile deepened into an affectionate grin. Amused by the angry pose of his friend's body as he glared into the crowd before him, clearly as sick of the whole snobbish, false affair as he was himself, Bodie quietly raised his glass in a very private toast to the man and downed the last of his wine.
It was more than time the two of them left this high class bash and went to their respective homes. Even the Cow couldn't fault them tonight. They'd both done as he'd asked, more or less. Well, behaved themselves, anyway, and enough was enough. Casting around surreptitiously for their eagle-eyed patron and not finding him, Bodie placed his empty glass on a passing tray and prepared to collect his partner and leave.
He had taken no more than two steps across the deep-pile carpet when that well-remembered Scots accent sounded at his shoulder, its tones mellifluous with pleasure and self-satisfaction. Bodie groaned inwardly. He might have known he wouldn't get away with an early escape. But if the Cow had a highly influential female in tow to introduce, no matter how young and pretty...
Slowly he turned to face his boss.
Defiantly parking the Capri between a Rolls Royce and the long, midnight sweep of a Daimler, Doyle emerged and stood beside the car for a moment, smoothing the unfamiliar lines of his dinner suit.
A social event of this calibre was the last thing he needed right now. After weeks of unrelenting pressure on a long and involved job that had finished unsatisfyingly in a rapid and violent finale, what he didn't need was the constraints of civil service socialising. And after long days and weeks of suffering Cowley's temper because the Home Sec was leaning hard on him, the last company Doyle wanted was the smooth insincerity of diplomats.
It was all too unreal, too sickeningly far removed from day to day life as seen from his side of the fence, and he wanted none of it.
What he needed, to bring himself down from the anger and frustrations of the job, was a few hours beside someone who felt as he did. He wouldn't have cared what activity the two of them indulged in -- sparring in the gym, watching television or arguing the toss in some anonymous pub -- it didn't matter. The simple knowledge of being understood without the need for words would have been enough.
A long and angry sigh rent the still night air and Doyle thrust both hands into his pockets and glared up at the imposing, porticoed house.
Be honest with yourself, if nothing else, he berated himself coldly. It wasn't an altruistic, psychological prob he needed; it was a hell of a lot simpler than that. What he wanted, badly, was the sole and undivided attention Bodie always gave him when they were alone, and the fact that there were several niggling hours of polite social behavior to endure before he got it was bugging the hell out of him.
How many times over the past months had his plans for Bodie and himself been wrecked? Usually it was the job that intruded, sometimes it was Bodie himself who all unknowingly refused to run true to Doyle's wishes, but more often it was courage that proved most elusive of all. For what took place in the uninhibited luxury of thoughts and dreams was all too difficult to put into practice when he was eye to eye with the dynamic, masculine persona of his partner. That, and the fear of the consequences of Bodie's rejection had been holding him back for too long. The cliche that he could only say no' didn't hold water here. Unfortunately, Bodie could and very well might say and do quite a lot more.
But... Faint Heart never won his Dark Night, and all that. Time to do something about it. Time to stop pratting around and grasp his courage, and Bodie, in both hands. Tonight. As soon as they were finished here, he'd get them both home and make a move.
Squaring his shoulders with new resolve that would not now be easily turned aside, Doyle scrunched across the gravel strewn forecourt and up the flight of steps to the front door.
Immediately, two burly yet impeccably attired figures stepped out of the shadows and stolidly blocked his way. Silently, Doyle extracted his ID and held it for inspection, and just as silently, they stepped aside and allowed him to pass.
Noise and light led him along a deeply carpeted corridor towards an arched doorway. After inspecting his ID minutely, a majordomo type figure informed him sonorously that the main reception room lay to his left and the dining room and buffet straight ahead, with cloakrooms beyond.
Realising not only that he was hungry but that the only meals not snatched on the hoof over the last four days had been his breakfasts, Doyle headed for the buffet.
Due to the unavoidable lateness of his arrival, the long buffet table was sadly depleted, giving him only the barest hint of what he might have had for supper hours earlier. He bet Bodie had played a part in lightening its load. He walked the length of it, plate and serviette in hand, collecting party bits and pieces that looked very pretty but were quite insubstantial and sorely inadequate for more than the politest of hunger pangs.
There was no one else in the room, save for two attendant maids in dark uniforms, and unwilling to eat in solitary splendour, he walked towards the french windows which opened on to a veranda. The heat of the dining room was left behind as he stepped out into the cool, starlit night. A short way along the marbled balustrade was a seat and he settled there, plate on his knee and glass in his hands.
Typically, the moment his mouth was filled with the sensual dichotomy of celery and cream cheese, an unwelcome voice assaulted his ears.
"Enjoying that, are you, Doyle?"
Chewing and swallowing unhurriedly, Doyle turned to find Cowley regarding him with barely concealed impatience.
"I expected you here two hours ago," his boss remarked with cold displeasure.
"Yeah, well, perhaps you should have let Westminster security know that, sir," Doyle suggested evenly. Hours of questions and form-filling had done little to sweeten his mood. "That's where I've been since three this afternoon. They wouldn't let me go before I'd filled in all their bloody questionnaires."
No more tolerant than his men of others' security requirements, Cowley grimaced. "Och... I told them they'd receive our reports in due course." He mopped a mildly perspiring brow with a pristine, pencil-pleated handkerchief and put it away again. Sourly accepting the vagaries of civil service customs in all their forms, he too would be relieved when this night was over. In the meantime, there was work for his operatives still to do.
"I'll deal with them tomorrow," he promised Doyle. "Meanwhile, I didn't bring you here to slake your appetite on someone else's food, lad. Hurry up and finish that and go and circulate as the others are doing. And if I hear of any complaints or bad reports about any of you, you'll all be guarding the Spanish Ambassador's residence in rota for a month." And with that parting shot he disappeared back into the dining room.
Scowling at the manifest unfairness of that, Doyle gulped down his wine. Spanish diplomats, as CI5 had unfortunately experienced a few months ago, were renowned for the most time consuming, petty-fogging approach to protocol of any of the world's ambassadorial corps, and a month's close contact with that would be punishment indeed.
An unwilling chuckle lightened Doyle's expression briefly as he remembered Bodie's mimicry of that occasion and the jokes that had gone on for weeks after. Bodie always knew how to get the most mileage out of a daft situation.
Doyle sat motionless for several minutes, eyes distant and dark with his thoughts, until he was distracted by the silent passage of two guards as they passed the terrace, doing their rounds of the garden, and he abruptly recalled Cowley's hard words.
Rapidly clearing his plate, hunger pains only slightly diminished, Doyle rose to his feet and returned through the windows. Collecting a second glass of wine, he made his way reluctantly towards the large reception room and the crowd of guests within.
He paused on the threshold for a moment, feeling the heat and presence of so many people pressing upon him. The next hour or so was going to be extremely uncomfortable, both physically and mentally, and he wished with all his being that if they had to make a public relations gesture, Cowley could at least have chosen the American Embassy, a venue where they would be more likely to need thermal underwear to cope with the overactive air conditioning, than suffer this terrible pre-storm atmosphere without so much as a single fan to keep the guests cool.
Aware that Cowley was watching him, Doyle moved into the overcrowded room with his best I'm mingling' face on.
Automatically, he identified the Yard's Protection offers; even wearing formal dinner suits, they still looked like uniformed clones, their flushed faces and over-anxious eyes letting all the CI5 men know how uneasy they were at having full responsibility for the evening.
Grateful that for once someone else would have to keep their eyes open, Doyle nonetheless found himself unable to stop cataloguing the best access and exit points, how many evening suits had that slight, barely noticeable bulge, and how many ladies' evening bags could hold more than a compact and lipstick.
He continued to scan, knowing full well that Cowley expected it, even if this evening was listed under the dubious heading of night off'. His eyes found Murphy, engaged in the same process across the room, and he acknowledged and returned the rueful expression in the distant brown eyes.
He also discovered, after a puzzled, long distance inspection, that one wall of the room was lined with a huge mirror, reflecting all the occupants and each display of greenery in confusing proportions. Now that could prove to be dangerous, given an alert of some nature, and something to keep firmly in mind on his wanderings around the room.
What Doyle didn't find in all his searching, was his partner. There was no sign of Bodie anywhere. Which probably meant that Cowley had been telling the absolute truth, that most of them were doing their best to circulate.
Sighing heavily, Doyle chose a small group of three unattended ladies and closed in.
An hour and a half later he was hard put to conceal his sense of disbelief. Head thumping with the effort of following alien topics of conversation with at least some semblance of interest when each of his own contributions was politely but firmly turned aside, Doyle decided he had had enough. There were only so many responses he could make to a discussion ranging from the annoyances of cramped office accommodation to the problems of admitting mindless army types into the service, and none of them would be appreciated by his serious-minded, pompous companions.
Allowing a tedious recital of this season's schedule presentations, dinners and receptions to wash over him, feeling his eyes beginning to glaze over for the third time in as many minutes, Doyle excused himself and retreated. Heavy-eyed with fatigue and boredom, he skirted the varying knots of still fervent discussion and headed for a peaceful looking expanse of wall.
Heightening the hemmed-in feeling was the awful heat. He thought longingly of the marble terrace and backed a little closer to the cool plaster of the wall, feeling a tickling trickle of sweat run down his spine until it was trapped by his shirt at the waist. It had to be 75 degrees in here, and twice he had seen attempts to open windows thwarted by the over-zealous boys from the Yard.
Repressing the urge of pull open his bow tie and loosen a few studs, he leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes for a second.
The evening would have improved considerably if only he had managed to find his partner in the crush, but while he had caught sight of most of the others, including a watchful Cowley from time to time, he hadn't seen a sign of Bodie.
In desperation, he had actually reached the point of mouthing a question to Murphy, who was still the operative closest to him in the crowd. Understanding immediately, Murphy had tilted his head slightly, telling him that his partner was away down the far end of the room. Doyle had sighed and unwillingly allowed himself to be drawn back into a discussion on the merits of the room's flower arrangements.
Bodie's sense of fun would have relegated this evening to its rightful place in life's events, he decided, amused now despite himself. Just the thought of that black and irreverent style of humour brought a reminiscent gleam to Doyle's eyes as he recalled how frequently Bodie made him laugh with a wickedly whispered aside at the most inopportune of moments.
But that hadn't been how he'd left his partner, Doyle remembered, sobering abruptly. Shortly before they'd parted, days ago, those blue eyes hadn't laughed into his, they'd gazed at him with a kind of desperation, unusually large and dark with shock and relief, and something else, too, something Doyle was very wary of giving a name. He'd seen Bodie look at him like that before, in similar circumstances, where his life had lain on the line, and as always, it had roused a bittersweet response in him.
He wondered now with growing bemusement how it would be to have Bodie look at him like that but without the black fear and hurting and the terrible relief that he hadn't been harmed after all. Then, perhaps, stripped of the agony of almost losing him and the pain that every chance for them had been destroyed, those midnight eyes would be filled only with a caring and affection, they would glow with pleasure and warmth, barely bothering to hide the fire of growing needs that lay beneath. And the mobile mouth wouldn't be drawn taut with fear, but gently curving, smiling crookedly at him, as Bodie's own mischievous sensuality coaxed forth a like response from him.
A shiver of anticipation raced through Doyle's veins at his thoughts and hardly daring to believe that he might have half seen the truth in Bodie's expression, he straightened up, determined to waste no more time and to search out his partner at last.
But, alert once more to his surroundings, he realised that he was somewhat boxed in at his position against the wall, the number of guests having seemingly swelled not diminished with the lateness of the hour.
With a keen sense of frustration, he was forced to wait until the crush eased a little, for he doubted that Cowley would be impressed by him stiff-arming his way through.
Several slow minutes passed, and gradually the press began to dissipate and a waiter appeared bearing a laden tray, advancing with slow care through the shifting ranks of guests.
Doyle shook his head absently as the man paused before him, and continued trying to see through the crowd.
If Bodie had already slunk away, without collecting his equally desperate other half, then he could bloody well play toy solider at the Spanish Embassy all by himself, Doyle decided hardheartedly and unconvincingly.
He moved away from the wall and began to edge out of the room once more, heading down towards the far end that Murphy had indicated. Narrow-eyed with concentration, he scanned rank upon rank of formal black, taking perverse pleasure in observing that all the men looked as hot and sweaty as he felt.
Edging himself around another large group, forced to use the mirror to tell him where there was space to pass through, he faltered, all determination lost.
Revealed by the sudden movement of bodies, was a dark clad figure that, to Doyle's sudden intent stare, stood out from all the rest.
Cool and self-contained, Bodie stood alone against a wall, wineglass in hand, staring out across the room, his expression set and distant.
Unsure where his partner was in relation to himself, Doyle remained watching the mirror, cursing silently as the reflection was momentarily hidden from view.
It was swiftly brought home to him how much he had missed his friend over the past days, and view clear once more, he absorbed every detail through new eyes, seeking out hitherto accepted and ignored facets of his partner's face and form.
Bodie was looking bloody marvellous, Doyle decided in rapt amazement. No well-worn cords or crumpled shirt tonight, but immaculately starched white cotton and the long black sweep of a superbly cut dinner suit.
Head tilted slightly, Doyle inspected his mate from toe to crown, helplessly cataloguing each known yet unfamiliar contour. Long, powerful legs disappeared beneath a jacket that was cut practically, in order to conceal evidence of the weapon snug against Bodie's ribs, but in actuality revealed the breadth of that shoulder and deep expanse of muscular chest.
Taken by surprise once more within his unfledged awareness of Bodie as a sentient and sensual being, Doyle's inner eye was providing a startlingly vivid picture of how that powerful frame would look stripped of everything but welcome. The thought was not new but the forceful response it drew from his own body was still enough to daze him, even now each nerve-ending anticipating the sensation of bare, smooth skin over and around him, responsive and demanding. And lost to it, Doyle drifted with his senses, intensity blurring, as he imagined again Bodie's eyes and body luring his own with a quality that was both invitation and challenge.
Every inch of him heated and sensitised by unfulfilled thoughts and longings, Doyle cut the imaginary picture in rapid denial, swallowing hard, vastly grateful for the concealing lines of his own jacket.
Aware of the dangers of his unrestraint, he tried hard to distance himself and return for a while to the protection of the old half abrasive relationship they used to share. It didn't occur to him to look away.
He focussed instead on practicalities.
Unlike every other male in the room, Bodie looked very cool and comfortable, pale skin rising from a pristine collar and flawlessly tied black silk.
The severe lines and colours complemented the dark hair and handsome features below; unlike himself, Doyle thought with faint grimace. On the rare occasions when he was forced to dress formally, he felt at best ridiculously overdressed and at worst theatrical, a suit of any kind ultimately offending both body and personality.
Bodie, however, looked as if he'd been born to it.
Yeah, as a croupier in some top notch gambling den, Doyle amended with a flash of derisive humour. But the silly idea did nothing to ease the tension in his body or the intensity of his thoughts.
For it was no more than the truth, Bodie looking more at ease and sure of himself than many of the diplomats still earnestly safeguarding their prospects with correct social behaviour.
Impressed but frankly disbelieving, Doyle looked closer, wanting to use his rapport with and knowledge of his partner to discover exactly what was going on behind that still face and apparently relaxed body.
And for the first time that night, he began to concentrate on Bodie's eyes. They gave the man away so often that even from this distance he ought with effort to be able to define something of what Bodie was thinking.
Doyle watched as the dark stare flickered briefly over those guests in closest proximity, Bodie's expression was grim all right -- he was loathing this experience, that much was clear -- and yet behind it was something that was absent from Doyle's own eyes -- from somewhere within his thoughts and experience, Bodie was finding a measure of humour in all this. As if to confirm it, a faint but discernible glimmer of amusement passed across the stern features before Doyle saw him release a quiet sigh and look down.
Doyle waited, strangely concentrated, his eyes touching the dark wavy hair that was kept so ruthlessly cropped, and suddenly Bodie's head lifted and he gazed straight into the mirror and then rapidly scanned the entire room.
Doyle held his breath, expecting and wanting those seeking eyes to find him. But they didn't. Instead, a closed look came about them, a blankness of expression, accompanied by the swift jerking of the throat as Bodie swallowed.
The unseeing emptiness of Bodie's fixed stare told Doyle a little of the thoughts and feelings struggling for release beneath the iron control. Somehow he understood, for didn't he often suffer himself the same unwelcome return in dual strength of fear, regret, guilt and recrimination? He was only too familiar with it. But he hadn't ever thought to witness such thoughts in Bodie, the man who never allowed negative reactions to interfere with his fun-packed journey through life.
Dismissing the unworthy thought before it could properly take form, Doyle admitted recognition. He knew what Bodie was thinking, remembering, and it stirred a responsive ache in himself. He took a step forward, unwilling simply to watch any longer, wanting to try and banish the lost look in the shadowed eyes for good.
But as he moved, Bodie's expression changed, and he swept the room again, his eyes comprehensively searching each face and figure.
Rooted to the spot, Doyle observed sudden awareness on the goodlooking face as the dark gaze locked with someone out of his vision.
Doyle watched, heart sinking, as the eyes began an absorbed survey of whoever had caught their interest; they moved very slowly, very clearly over a body, lingering a little here and there on the way down.
How often had Doyle witnessed that same look and been guilty of it himself? He knew it for what it was, a lecherous appraisal of a female form and the work he would have to do, or not, to get it where he wanted it.
Doyle felt a slow anger beginning to burn deep inside; it underlined the burning heat of his skin, and that discomfort merely added to the fury.
Now that he had taken his courage in hand and made up his mind at last to do something about his desires for his partner's body, no unknown female was going to step in the way. No more would his plans be in ruins, not for a few nights of casual pleasure and a relationship that lasted maybe for a month or so and then was gone. This time he wasn't going to allow it.
Running a jerky finger around the suddenly irritatingly too tight collar, Doyle tried to relieve the awful heat and discomfort. It was a futile attempt.
But the words of interruption he was intent on forming died away as he began to identify something else in Bodie's expression. This was not merely a lecherous assessment he was watching take place. Those features and eyes held more than simple sexual anticipation. There was a quiet but positive delight in the well known face and a smile on the lips that spoke more of affection than lust.
Doyle swallowed hard. Such an expression of involvement on his partner's face was rare in its genuine pleasure and not to be taken lightly. Doyle had only ever witnessed it being directed at him.
But never quite with this warmth.
There was open longing in the reflected blue eyes that gazed away down the room. And whoever the recipient was must be aware of him and giving it back in spades, because behind the slightly parted mouth, flared nostrils and eyes heavy-lidded with passion was a barely checked laugh of amusement. To Doyle's stricken gaze it betrayed Bodie's surety of achieving his wish, and worse, his wholehearted desire for whatever was to come with this stranger.
And how could Doyle deny him that?
Never thinking to discover a mile-wide streak of altruism lurking behind his ribs, Doyle was at a loss to know what to do next.
Get out, his head was yelling at him, but his eyes wouldn't tear themselves away from that haunting image.
A bare second later, they were scrunched tightly closed, shutting out the painful sight of a natural, happy grin and a glass lifted in affectionate salute.
His throat closed and heavy with the extent of his loss, for surely what he wanted would never be his, Doyle clenched his fists and turned to leave.
As he did so, he heard his name called, in Cowley's unmistakable brogue.
Not now. For god's sake, not now, he pleaded in silent and leaden dismay.
Controlling himself and blanking his expression, Doyle turned in the direction of the voice.
But he couldn't see his superior anywhere.
On the point of discarding the call and slipping away, Doyle heard it again and cursed. But this time it was followed by his christian name, in Bodie's deep timbre.
He stopped dead, the desire to escape stronger than ever, and began to search again. They sounded close, but he couldn't place them, and couldn't see for the crowd.
Glancing back to the mirror in an unwilling attempt to gauge Bodie's position, he froze.
Bodie's reflection hadn't moved an inch, body, head and eyes still in the same pose, looking in the same direction as before, with Cowley now standing at his shoulder.
Completely disoriented, Doyle looked to his left again, where he expected Bodie to be, and searched the faces above every black jacket he could find. And then to his right. Still nothing.
He heard his name called again, softer this time, but reaching him over the surrounding murmur. This time his orientation told him that the sound came almost from behind him, in a totally different direction from that he'd imagined. Slowly he turned.
And that gentle smile, with its affection shining clear and open in the eyes, was still present, and directed at him, only now with a look of humorous query in the blue depths.
Cowley said something more, but Doyle didn't hear him. Unaware of his actions, he turned jerkily back to the mirror once more, disbelieving, and afraid, and yearning with an intensity that stopped him breathing.
Bodie watched as his partner responded sluggishly to the call. If his dozy mate didn't wake up a bit quick, Cowley's satisfied good humour was going to disperse a lot faster than either of them would like.
But the thought evaporated uncaringly away. Surprisingly, for the mind-numbing evening he had just endured, Bodie felt very good, relaxed and oddly as if the evening was still full of promise. Ridiculous what a few moments observation of his partner could do, and it was hardly likely, but there it was.
Conscious that Cowley was occupied in a greeting from some passing acquaintance, Bodie continued watching his confused friend.
Bloody mirror, he thought, on Doyle's behalf, for he could see him looking into it and then helplessly around him. To help, Bodie called again, and as he'd hoped, Doyle spun slowly to face him.
But at the look in Doyle's eyes, Bodie's welcoming smile faced. There was a lingering desolation in that green stare that implied a terrible hurt for his friend. Stunned, heart dropping like a stone, Bodie searched faces and bodies for some threat, some reminder from the past that might be the cause of the shock evident on his partner's face.
Even as he looked, Doyle was turning from him again and Bodie watched, worried and deaf to the sarcastic comment at his shoulder, as he resumed his former position.
Ignoring the click of annoyance behind him as Cowley was buttonholed again with yet more pleasantries, Bodie tried calling his partner once more. His whole being focussed on the uncommunicative profile presented to him, it came out as a plea, his voice husky with worry.
For a moment he thought Ray hadn't heard him, the slim body was so still, but then it began to turn towards him again and his own face froze at the incredible change wrought on the distinctive features.
He could scarcely credit it, but Doyle looked as if... almost as if he'd been told that a some close relative had died, only to see with his own eyes that they were alive. His eyes were bright and alert, his mouth parted and on the edge of a smile, even his skin seemed to be glowing.
At a total loss to explain it, Bodie watched as a blinding smile appeared, helpless to do anything other than respond to that sudden blaze of happiness. His concern melted away and he could feel himself grinning inanely at his partner across the now emptying floor.
In another second they'd both be laughing openly at each other, sharing some beautiful joke that had yet to be explained.
Happy but clueless, Bodie communicated his question and saw it picked up immediately.
Briefly, Doyle turned to the mirror and then looked back at him. Puzzled, Bodie did as he was bid and glanced at the mirror himself. All he saw was his own reflection.
He looked from it into smiling green eyes again. They didn't waver. Of their own volition, Bodie's eyes returned to the mirror, and slowly a possible explanation began to dawn on him.
It was almost too incredible to be true, too impossible to believe, and yet Doyle's reflected eyes met his and Bodie received the tiniest nod of confirmation.
A prosaic voice broke into their absorption with each other.
"Have you been drinking too much champagne, Doyle?" Cowley demanded, his irritation at the evening very close to the surface.
"No, I don't think so, sir," Bodie replied, watching his mate's approach with approval at the seductive loose-limbed movements. "Relief can be as intoxicating as any alcohol."
A twitch of the full mouth told him his point hadn't been missed.
"Aye, I've no doubt you'll both be glad to get out of here," Cowley replied, the strain of the evening evident on his own face.
"Champagne?" Bodie questioned, having just realised what Cowley had asked. "All I saw was some dry old Liebefraumilch."
"Should've been over my side, mate," Doyle told him in placid confirmation. "Muscadet, Chardonnay, pink champers, the lot."
"Oh yeah? Wash down the caviar, did it?"
"Nah, that was the Moet et Chandon... and prawns," Doyle replied with a nicely judged pause.
Cowley eyed them grinning at each other, as always very willing to be amused by each other. Why these two should be so sparkling when every other operative in the room was ready to flake out from the tension and distaste of it all, he couldn't fathom. Everyone else would be of no use to him whatsoever for another twelve hours at least, but these two looked as if they were ready to start a nine hour shift.
Or perhaps not. He looked closer. There were lines of stress and tiredness around their eyes.
As ever, Bodie was very well aware of his inspection and attempted to poker up a little. But Doyle carried right on smiling, gazing happily around the room, at Bodie, down at his shoes, at himself with eyebrows raised in query, at Bodie again--
Cowley gave up. These two were as deserving of some off duty time as all the rest. As alien as the experience was for them, they'd all acquitted themselves well -- with one minor exception, he thought with grim foreboding for the luckless agent concerned -- and it was to be expected that the tension would find an outlet somewhere.
Dismissing the attempt at rationalising his men's odd behavior, he said, "You've done well, all of you. I have an invitation for a nightcap with the Minister and tea with the Home Secretary tomorrow."
Hearing the rich brogue descend the register almost to a purr, they deduced that tonight's little debacle had achieved Cowley's aim.
The grinned at him.
"Och, get you gone now," Cowley told them, exasperated. "And report in at three pm today." And he moved off down the room to where the Minister was to be seen still holding court.
"Get you gone, the man said, Doyle." Bodie clapped his partner on the shoulder and left his hand there as he steered the pair of them towards the arched doorway.
Infinitely content at the feel of the strong body moving beside him and the broad hand covering his shoulderblade, Doyle found it easy to put his still trembling disbelief to one side, wanting to hold on to this lighthearted mood between them for a while longer.
"You know, there's one thing I've been wondering," he mused peaceably. "How come the Cow wasn't wearing his kilt? I'd been looking forward to seeing him in a skirt. Would've bucked up tonight no end."
"Yeah," Bodie agreed and gave the idea due consideration. "He was probably worried what Anson might do with his cigar butts. There were no ashtrays in there, you know. I thought he was quite inventive, really."
"Oh. Bet the Cow wasn't impressed," Doyle chuckled and then sighed with relief as they stepped out into the coolness of the night.
They began to part for their respective cars and Doyle felt the loss of that hand with regret.
He turned to find Bodie watching him, the humour gone. There was confusion and insecurity in the eyes made almost black by the dim light, and Doyle took a step towards him, a score of words on his tongue. Then he halted. Get them home first, quiet and alone. "Nightcap," he said concisely. "My place."
"Do I get tea tomorrow afternoon as well?" Bodie wanted to know, and as he unlocked the Capri he wondered if he'd only imagined the word breakfast' floating across the car park.
Not daring to think about what might really have happened between them in the house, or what might happen inside the next hour, Bodie concentrated on his driving and followed the gold Capri Ghia along the early morning subdued roads towards Doyle's flat.
No point in anticipating anything, he told himself firmly as he parked the car four down from Doyle's. He could have read it all wrong, and Ray could turn anything and everything on its head.
Play it by ear, that was the safest bet. But that prosaic decision didn't stop his hand from shaking as he had two attempts at getting the key into the driver's doorlock.
Ray had gone on ahead of him and was already inside his flat. It didn't help to steady Bodie's nerves.
He pushed the outer communal door closed, heard the lock engage and made his way towards Ray's own front door. It was ajar, a welcoming beam of light angling across the dark corridor.
He pushed it open, went inside and automatically set the locks, then he turned and couldn't move another inch.
Doyle, thoughts firmly on the contents of his drinks cabinet, had snapped on the hall light and was abruptly arrested by the sight of his reflection in the full length wall mirror. He stood before it now, expression unreadable, but his eyes were waiting for Bodie's.
Bodie walked slowly towards him, drawn wordlessly to stand close at his shoulder until their reflections were side by side.
Could Ray really have been watching him all that time, Bodie wondered hazily as he charted bronze curls, angled brows and unblinking green eyes openly for the first time.
Ray had been watching him... thinking he was watching someone else, Bodie reasoned slowly to himself. And all the time...
What a pair, he concluded in amused disgust. Think we just about deserve each other.
Still pleasurably surveying Doyle's face, Bodie's gaze arrived at the shapely mouth. It was returning his smile, but as he looked it straightened and parted fractionally.
Oh yes, we deserve each other, he sighed in silent, shaken surrender, and he raised both hands to Doyle's shoulders and gently turned him around.
For now we see through a glass, darkly;
but then face to face.
-- THE END --