Dark Dreaming


Third story in the Kin/Bran Dreaming Stone series

"Police business, isn't it?" Bodie asked pointedly as Cowley outlined their assignment early on a Wednesday morning that was warm with the promise of the kind of April gloried about in verse. "So he's dead -- that doesn't make it CI5 business. Does it?" He added as an afterthought, glancing at his partner, who was lounging on the other side of the Controller's desk, his nose buried in a file folder.

Cowley gave the younger man a withering look, but Bodie had long since learned how to ignore such intimations of scorn. "Sir William Malvern was a retired diplomat. His career was over as far as the public was concerned, but what the public don't know can't hurt us. He was as active as ever he had been, but his services to Queen and country were lately more covert."

A rustle of paper, and Doyle looked up. "Diplomatic?"

"Mercantile," Cowley said carefully. "Trade is a difficult area and growing more so since trade deals come with strings attached and small countries can carry a lot of weight, selling their locations as missile sites. There are certain countries, certain governments, that we cannot be seen to deal with, yet must deal with. Sir William had been a career diplomat; a stroke, retirement to a large country house -- he was the natural choice for spokesman in the kind of double dealing you wouldn't like your public to know about."

"And now he's dead," Doyle finished, closing the file and setting it back onto Cowley's desk. "Shot with a handgun, two 9mm rounds through the heart." He looked at Bodie, one brow up, hands feeding in the pockets of his beige sports jacket. "Professional weapon. Professional job?"

"Could be -- but you can get shooters anywhere," Bodie mused.

"Yeah, shooters," Doyle agreed, "but 9mm automatics? It wouldn't be a burglar, would it, with a piece like that?"

The argument made sense and Cowley nodded agreement, removing his spectacles to polish the lenses. "The local police are holding a suspect. And you two were supposed to be there an hour ago."

It was a dismissal and they took the hint, leaving the Controller's office before George Cowley's congenital impatience could sharpen his tone. Perhaps they were behind schedule; neither of them were inclined to worry about timing. They had just come off surveillance, and if the time lag was anyone's fault Lucas and Anson were to blame, since they had been late with the relief. Their excuse was watertight enough; not even Cowley could say much about an old fashioned flat tyre.

It was still early but Doyle was tired. He had taken the last watch while Bodie slept, the two to six stint. It was less genuine tiredness than the sheer boredom of surveillance that dragged at him, and as they left the garage he rolled down the silver Capri's left window, breathing deeply, encouraging activity to dispel his yawns.

"Chin up, sleeping beauty," Bodie teased. "There's a little place on the motorway. I'll buy you a bacon buttie and a cuppa." He glanced at Doyle's display of revulsion and eloquent shudder. "What's the matter with you, anyway? Real food not good enough for you? Or have you got some ambition to be a hamster?"

"Fancy being a hundred and twenty," Doyle yawned. "Got to keep the free radicals under control if you want to live longer. Watch out for your saturated fats -- dead pigs are out, for a start, mate."

"A hundred and twenty?" Bodie echoed, arching one crooked brow at his partner. "That's all very well, but what will you look like at that age? Remember, I'll have to climb into bed with this ancient apparition!"

Doyle blinked at him in the bright morning sunshine and then laughed. "You won't live long enough, the way you eat! Bacon butties at seven in the morning, see you off like that." He snapped his fingers. "And even if you did manage to survive on your idea of a diet, I think we might be a bit past worryin' what we look like by that age."

"So what," Bodie demanded intelligently, "is the point of bothering?"

"Oh, I dunno." Doyle stretched luxuriously, unconsciously flaunting his body. "There's still a lot, even then, in life. Music and art, and all your memories. You'd sit there in your rocking chair with a glass of pure malt, listening to Mozart and remembering what it was like to lie in on a Sunday morning with me, seventy years before. That's what your youth's for, collecting memories to dream over when you're past it."

There was no answer to that and Bodie puzzled over the inverted, perverse logic of it as he pulled the car onto the motorway, heading for Kent. It was impossible to imagine Ray Doyle old; Bodie had tried and failed every time. His hair would silver -- it would be just as attractive so that didn't matter a damn, and since his family were all silver at thirty it had little to do with the calendar. The lines of laughter and pain would etch about his eyes and mouth as the years went by, though Ray had his little secrets to hide, and one of them was the pot of moisturiser in the corner of the bathroom cabinet. It was rich with vitamins and collagen and he used it twice a day, after shaving. Bodie had read the label while Ray defied him to make anything of the self-indulgence, and the camp jokes were abandoned, unvoiced. If a dab of cream would protect that choir boy skin, all the better. No, imagining Ray old was beyond Bodie's scope. But -- a hundred and twenty?

"That's the place," Doyle said, an hour later as they ran through a picturesque suburb that had till lately been a village. London was sprawling in all directions, overcrowded and growing dirtier as its social problems escalated.

Bodie braked down, swinging in to park beside an all-night motorway cafe. Turning off the engine he gave Doyle a speculative look. "Somehow I don't think the truck drivers who frequent this establishment will require muesli to feature on the menu, so what'll you have?"

"Bacon roll," Ray said blithely, with a wink. "And coffee."

"And what happened to being a hundred and twenty?" Bodie teased.

A blinding smile answered him as Ray slid out of the car to stretch every joint and muscle. Bodie watched, amused and stirred by the sight, as always. It was almost a year since they had found themselves in the same bed, the same embrace, but the novelty of loving and being loved was still as keen. It would dull one day, as all things must, but not yet. Not soon, Bodie knew as he watched Doyle's thin, elegant physique, enjoying the sight.

The cafe was almost empty, just a few long-distance truckers and a bus driver dozing over breakfast. They collected their own meal, returning to the car to eat on the move, their eyes on the time. Malvern Hall stood on the outskirts of the village of Kirkby Marsh, in an area steeped in history and richly populated with royals. The money was literally tangible, you could smell it on the air. The houses by the roadside carried price tags in six and eight figures, and they gave Malvern Hall itself a jaundiced look of some envy.

Forty rooms, ivy-clad frontage, concreted coach way, a file of poplars ranked along the drive, yew hedges clipped into the shapes of peacocks on the lawns. Doyle slammed the door as Bodie took the keys from the ignition. "Look at this place. Wonder who you have to kill to get your hands on this much money?"

"Got to be born to it," Bodie said fatalistically. "Sir William was a baronet. Daddy's fortune, don't you know?"

There was an officer on duty at the mahogany front door. He glanced at their IDs and passed them inside, and as their ears adjusted to the quiet of the house they heard voices in a room to their left. The hallway was golden pine, newly restored and lovingly polished, blending in with the feeling of age that surrounded this house.

The voice belonged to a woman, and she was distraught. Bodie knocked at the half closed door, stepping into sight as it swung inward. It was a library, its walls lined with hardcovers behind glass, a hearth alight, two women seated on a sofa before it. Neither of them qualified as young, but the younger of the two was offering comfort and an elderly man stood near at hand, his profession betrayed by the open black bag on the coffee table before the sofa.

"Bodie, CI5," Bodie said by way of greeting. "This is Ray Doyle. I think you've been expecting us?"

Sir William Malvern's wife was seventy, Doyle knew from the file he had read in Cowley's office; but the shock of her husband's death in the early hours of the morning had put ten years on her. She looked very old, very fragile. It was her daughter who sat beside her, one arm about her shoulders, herself a woman of forty and shocked.

"I expect you've already spoken to the Police, and we're sorry to bother you," Ray said, lowering his voice. "We'll be brief."

"Aye, you'll be brief," the elderly doctor said tartly with some midlands accent broadened by annoyance. "I have ordered Lady Malvern to bed already."

"We'll just be a few moments," Bodie said smoothly. "Lady Malvern, your husband was clearly not expecting there to be security problems. We've been briefed as to the nature of his work -- which is why we have to talk to you now. The local Police you spoke with aren't aware that Sir William was involved in governmental work, still. He wasn't expecting intruders on the property?"

The woman's eyes were dull, red-rimmed and giving their owner focus problems. "No, there was nothing, no threat," she said slowly, sluggish with whatever tranquilisers.

"What was he doing outside in the early hours?" Doyle asked shrewdly. "If you don't mind me saying, Lady Malvern, it's unusual for a man of your husband's age, and who had had a stroke, to be in the garden at -- what, three?"

"He didn't hear a noise and go to investigate?" Bodie prompted.

She shook her head. "Peters, the groundsman, would have investigated had there been noises. No, William was out seeing to his birds." A smile twisted her mouth, humourless, beset by the tragedy of it. "It was his -- his eccentricity. Racing pigeons. There are new ones on the nest and the heaters have to be on at night or the cold will probably kill them. The nights have been frosty. He never trusted the heaters."

"So he would go out to check every night?" Bodie asked.

Lady Malvern nodded, eyes squeezed shut, leaning heavily on her daughter. "Every night there was a frost."

The CI5 men shared a rueful look. "And other than the groundsman, who is in charge of security?" Doyle asked.

"It's all automatic," Lady Malvern said, dazed and going down fast to the tranquilisers. "William was not working, not at the moment."

The doctor interrupted, snapping his bag closed and making a gesture of annoyance. "That'll be all. If you need any more there's Sir William's secretary, but Lady Malvern is going to bed right now."

There was no arguing an edict made in Cowleyesque tones and they stood aside to let the lady be escorted from the room, turning their attention to the daughter. A tweedy woman, country bred, less than attractive and white to the lips with shock. Bodie petitioned for information, aware that he and Doyle were very much intruders and unwelcome here. "Is the groundsman here, Ma'am?"

"The old coachman's cottage," she told him, preoccupied and seemingly unaware of the strangers' presence.

As they left the house Doyle paused to speak with the young constable on duty. "You're holding a suspect? Where is he?"

"At the station in Kirkby Marsh." The youngster's accent was rural, thick. "A young gypsy man, found poaching by the groundsman about five minutes before he discovered the body."

"Gypsies?" Bodie echoed as they strolled toward the cottage that would once have housed the staff responsible for a country squire's coach and stable. "Bit early in the year for them, isn't it? They don't usually get over from the continent till, what, May? June?"

"As a rule," Doyle agreed, "but Europe's been as cold as England this last winter. Who knows." Taking one hand from the warmth of his pocket, he knocked on cedar painted woodwork, leaning on the door jamb as they waited. The sun was trapped in the nook of the cottage's entrance, warming the air. Footsteps fell heavily within the cottage and he straightened as they heard a bolt rasp back on the door, going through his pocket for his ID and displaying it for the man who appeared, bleary eyed and clad in a terrycloth bath robe. "Doyle, CI5. We need a word."

"In fact, we could use several," Bodie amended. "Can we come in?"

Peters was fifty, stout and ruddy in the face, his movements slow and encumbered by arthritis, a complaint that was the legacy of a life lived outdoors in the unforgiving British climate. He stood aside, belting the bathrobe, and waved them into the cottage. "I'd just got to sleep, an' I'll not be brilliant. Valium or summat, pills from the Doc. What did you want?" He made his way to the kitchen, plugging in an electric kettle and fetching three mugs.

In the kitchen doorway, Bodie and Doyle saw only a very ordinary man in a very ordinary home. "You're in charge of security?" Bodie sounded disbelieving.

"Nah." Peters spooned coffee into the cups, spilling grounds from the Nescafe jar. "It's all automatic. I just does me rounds, sundown and sunup, make sure there's no poachers or nothing. There was, last night." He leaned on the sink unit, waiting for the kettle to boil. "Gypsy lad, bold as brass, fist full of rabbits and a rifle. And Sir William's body, o' course, dead as mutton, just outside the shed where he keeps 'is pigeons."

Bodie stepped forward as Peters stirred sugar into the boiling black coffee. "A rifle, you say?"

"Aye. Black Forest sporting piece, .22, very nice, long barrel. I likes guns, always have. Biscuits?"

"Ta." Doyle accepted shortbread and perched on the corner of the table. "Did you search him? I mean, did he have any other weapons?"

"Skinning knife the length of your arm," Peters said, slurping his coffee. Mean lookin' thing, an' no mistake. I took it off 'im, o'course."

"But he wasn't carrying any other sidearm?" Bodie pressed. "A hand gun?"

The groundsman shook his head. "Nah. Just the sporting rifle. Why?"

"Oh, just suspicious." Doyle smiled, sipping the coffee and checking the time. It was half past nine. "Sir William has had some important guests in these last couple of years. Who takes care of security, then?"

"Blokes come in, strut about wi' guns." Peters took a swig of coffee and yawned animatedly. "I doesn't take no notice, as a rule. S'not my place to wonder what the squire's doin'."

Bodie stirred, reaching for more shortbread. "But you would have a plan of the security, wouldn't you? You'd have the job of checking it out."

"Don't need no plans, s'all in 'ere." Peters tapped his forehead. "If you want plans, the secretary's got 'em. Or the Police, in Kirkby Marsh. S'wired to the cop shop, they 'ear the alarms if we gets trespassers."

"Right." Doyle abandoned the paint-strong coffee in the interests of self preservation and beckoned Bodie to the door. "Thanks, Mr. Peters. We might need to talk to you again."

"Won't be no use bangin' on that door in five more minutes," the groundsman said drily. "I'll be hard-black the second me 'ead touches that pillow. Bloody Valium, or some such muck."

The CI5 men ambled back to the car, nodded to the young constable on duty, and Bodie fired the motor, pulling out onto the wide concreted drive. "And so to Kirkby Marsh. Kill two birds with one stone -- the suspect and the security system." He frowned at Doyle as he braked down at the gateway. "A young Gypsy lad with a sporting rifle, a skinning knife and a few rabbits knocked off illegally. That sound to you like the kind of bloke who'll have a 9mm automatic handgun and put two rounds in an old man's heart?"

Doyle shook his head. "Unless it's a role playing game. Ramos could have passed as a Gypsy, remember. And that Greek who was going to take pot shots at royalty at the tennis. This 'Gypsy' could be no more Romany than you and me." As he spoke he was toying idly with the green stone he wore about his neck on a leather thong; it had replaced the habitual silver chain and Bodie had grown so used to seeing it that he had ceased to notice it. A Druid stone, a dreaming stone, he thought fondly as it caught the sun, demanding his attention for an instant. And it was Ray's.

Or Bran's. It was all the same. Bodie smiled, his thoughts turning to the previous night. On surveillance there was the opportunity to indulge in a kiss but little more as, levity aside, the job was no joke. They were paid to exercise their eyeballs and stay sharp, spelling each other turn and turn about and using the flat's single bed to sleep. They had slept; but the Druid stone had a magic all its own, and to hold it and sleep was to transcend simple dreams, passing into a shadow world as real as the world of the 1980's, as beautiful and as fulfilling. Bodie may not have shared more than s kiss with his lover since they had undertaken surveillance, but last night he had shred another man's lover and it had been like going home.

He had shared Bran, wild, beautiful Bran whose green eyes and tangle of copper-brown curls belonged also to Ray; whose kiss was Ray's, and whose body was in all ways the same. A warm sensation coiled lazily through Bodie's groin and thighs as he remember what he -- what Kinnamus Iron Hand -- had done. He and Bran had been hurt; there had been a fight, a cattle raid, and both of them had sustained minor injuries, enough to make them limp and curse the chill as spring ambled leisurely toward summer.

Eriu was greener than England, the sky bluer, the sound of curlew, raven and eagle so lonely on the still air as they took their exercise, working the stiffness out of cramped limbs as their scratches healed. They had been left at a chieftain's rath, not fit to make the journey back to Whiterock, and for weeks there was a wealth of peace the like of which they had never known before. Kin's vengeful father was miles away, no one in Eamon's rath knew or cared who they were, and they were fed and ignored as barely trusted strangers.

Bran had wanted loving, Bodie remembered; and Kin had teased him, pretending to be weary and disinterested. The game would have worked had not his own body betrayed him as Bran teased, which was what he had wanted anyway. There was much about Bran that was wild, sensual, and if he had an inhibition neither Kin nor Bodie knew about it. He had stripped, slowly, provocatively, deliberately, with an innocent expression and flushed cheeks, displaying his arousal and kneeling at Kin's side, nibbling his ears. Kin tried hard to pretend drowsiness, but the resigned sigh from his lover had heralded his seduction. Bran was not convinced; he had just decided on the tactic that would win the game for him, and Kin had watched with slitted eyes as he lay down and set about pleasuring himself instead, since his mate was too weary.

Ray had played that game on Christmas Eve, almost to the gesture; Bodie guessed that he had dreamed Bran's persuasive antics some night when they had not shared the stone. And Bodie had accepted defeat as willingly as Kin, though he had rolled and wrestled among tangled sheets and pillows rather than in the heather. The outcome had been the same, a coupling of two eager bodies, pleasures shared, memories squirrelled away from two lifetimes.

Memories to revel in when time has done its dirty work, Bodie thought, enjoying the sight of Doyle's classical profile and remembering Bran. It was several days since they had made love and an aching hunger gnawed at him. Half way down a high-hedged country lane he pulled the car over and took a quick glance up and down the road.

"What's up?" Ray asked, surprised by the sudden interruption in their plans. "Bodie?"

"Want to kiss you," Bodie explained matter of factly. "Can't do it when we get to the village, can I?" He held out one arm in invitation.

"Loon," Doyle accused fondly, but molded against him and opened his mouth to a long, lush kiss that searched him to the last molar. "Know what'd happen if a copper on a bike came by?"

"Mm. I'd just tell him I was doing CPR because you'd had a heart attack from eating too many bacon rolls for breakfast, and he'd rush you to the nearest hospital and I'd get a medal for saving your life." Bodie licked dreamily at Ray's chin, which was a little whiskery already. He had shaved on the way to Cowley's at six, but it was ten now. Bodie solicited another kiss and relished it. "I had Bran last night, did I tell you?"

"Did you?" Ray nipped Bodie's ear. "That's cheating on me."

"But one of us had to watch the house across the street," Bodie protested. "And besides, you had Kin last week when I was slaving away over the files in Records!"

"Oh, yeah." Ray drew back, smiling, an incongruously gentle expression. "Did you enjoy him -- me?"

"You kidding?" Bodie stooped to kiss the hollow of Doyle's throat, felt him swallow and tip back his head, eager for the sensual delight of touch. "I love the bloody pair of you, God help me." He sank his teeth into one ear lobe and gave a denim-clad knee a squeeze. "Soon as we get off work we're going to bed. Might stop for a meal first, but after that we go right to bed."

"Without passing 'Go' and without collecting two hundred dollars," Ray said drily. "You're on, Casanova."

Bodie dropped the car into gear and pulled out again; the lane was still deserted. "You persuaded me -- that is, Bran seduced me, you know. Didn't leave me damn all choice about it. Stripped to the buff, grazing on me," he elaborated with abstract pleasure. "Wouldn't take no for an answer. Lay down and set about yourself when I tried to ignore you. Had to have you, then, didn't I? Which was what you'd planned all along."

"Which was what you'd planned," Doyle retorted. "You always like to watch me touch myself, you just never had the nerve to come out and say it." He smiled, lopsided and affectionate. "So long as it was good."

"It was bloody marvelous," Bodie said sheepishly as he slid the Capri in to park at the kerb outside the village's tiny Police station. "Here it is, in all its glory. What the hell use is it having your security system wired to this place? Three bobbies on pushbikes come racing to your rescue, I suppose?"

"They pick up the phone and send for the SAS," Ray snorted, leading the way up three stone steps and into the walnut-clad front office.

An old desk sergeant was on duty, peering at their ID as if he had never seen any such thing in his life before, and certainly never heard of CI5. Doyle shot a glance at Bodie, trying hard to conceal humour that would have appeared rude had it escaped, and at last the sergeant took command of his suspicions of such upstart departments as Cowley's. "Ye'll be wantin' to see the Gypsy lad?"

A dozen glib remarks battled to reach Doyle's lips but he sufficed with a nod, he and Bodie following the senior officer into the station's rear premises. There was a single cell with a single occupant. The door opened onto a long, narrow room, white walled, its window high up and facing south, which plunged the whole cell into dimness.

It was a moment before Bodie's eyes adjusted, and a moment more before an unexpected memory slid smoothly into place. Then he muttered a curse, turning away from the cell and gesturing Doyle into the doorway. "Christ. It can't be."

"What?" Doyle stepped into the dimness, peering at the prisoner before he too recognised the man's face. A handsome face drawn with stress and the fatigue of a sleepless night. "Oh, my God." He took a breath, glanced over his shoulder at Bodie, stepped deeper into the cell. "Michael. You remember us, don't you?"

The desk sergeant was sharp, following every word. "Ye know the man?"

"We know the man," Bodie affirmed. "And he's not a Gypsy, Sergeant. He's a Tinker -- there's a difference. He's Irish, not European. His name is Michael Mulvane, and you've got the wrong man. You caught yourselves a poacher, but not a murderer."

"You can prove that, can ye?" The older man's face was creased in a deep frown as he watched Doyle offer his hand to the young prisoner.

"We can't prove anything," Ray said over his shoulder. "If it comes to that, neither can you. He was armed with a .22 hunting rifle, not a 9mm pistol. You didn't find the weapon? Then it's a safe bet the killer has it. This isn't a killer, Sergeant, just a poacher up for a fine of a few quid." He turned back to the prisoner. "What the hell have you been up to, Michael?"

Michael Mulvane's face had relaxed by degrees as he listened to the two men he knew from a brief encounter on the North Yorkshire moors, a year before. He had known them as hikers in trouble; they were affiliated to the Police he saw -- speaking to the Sergeant on equal terms. Impulsively, desperately, he reached out for Doyle's shoulder. "You have to help me, Ray, they're saying I killed a man. I've killed no one! What would I want to kill anyone for? I was just baggin' rabbits, I'm tellin' you the truth!"

"Yeah, all right, all right." Doyle beckoned Bodie into the cell and gave the Sergeant a smile. "That's fine, sir. We'll call when we're finished."

The door swung to and they were alone. Bodie sat on one end of the cot, Doyle leaned against the white plaster wall and Michael sat hunched on the edge of the tiny table. Bodie chewed his lip in thought, taking in the tense, taut muscles of the young Irishman. "They haven't duffed you up, have they?"

"The groundsman at the big house hit me around," Michael admitted. "Broke a tooth, and me ribs are killin' me. They brought me here and left me after that, haven't seen hide nor hair of a soul, 'sept for breakfast." He gestured to the tray of untouched food that lay on the floor in the corner. "Couldn't eat, could I? Jesus, Bodie, they say I killed someone."

"Yeah, well it's your lucky day, sunshine," Bodie smiled. "First thing we'll do is take you to a doctor, see if Peters broke a rib for you, get that tooth looked at. Then you can talk to our boss. You're the nearest thing to an eyewitness we've got."

"You mean, the car I saw at the house?" Michael asked. "There was two men in it, an' it pulled out fast by the back road over the hill."

The CI5 men looked up sharply. "That's a bloody good start." Doyle pushed away from the wall. "And that's more than enough to attract the Cow's attention." He knocked on the door. "Sergeant?"

In the bright light they saw a blue bruise on Michael's jaw, swollen about the broken tooth, and he was hugging his ribs. Bodie lifted a brow at the Sergeant. "Did you know he needs a doctor?"

"I just came on duty." The old man took a look at his prisoner and grunted. "There's Saint Mary's Hospital up the lane."

"Give us the release papers," Doyle suggested. "I think we'd better take him with us."

Ten minutes later, Michael Mulvane was stripped under the hands of a doctor and Bodie was leaning on the reception desk of a tiny cottage hospital, waiting for Cowley to answer his R/T page. Doyle was through in the morgue, looking at the body and signing for the bullets which had been extracted from it by a morbidly eager physician that morning. They were in a tagged plastic bag, dangling from Ray's slim fingers as he reappeared. The body could not have been a pretty sight, Bodie thought, going by the sick expression on his partner's face. The plastic bag was dropped into his palm and he squinted at the 9mm slugs.

"With a bit of luck forensics will make a meal of those," Doyle said quietly. "If we can get a fix on the gun --"

"Alpha to 3.7." Cowley's voice shrilled from Bodie's R/T, interrupting the flow of their thoughts, and Bodie responded, briefing the Controller in a few terse, clipped sentences. "Bring him back here," Cowley said quickly as he digested the information. "And you know the man personally? A friend?"

"Not a lifelong friend, but a friend," Bodie told him. "His family helped us out, Doyle and me, when were in trouble, this time last year. He's just an Irish Tinker. They caught him poaching. We'll be back by two, traffic permitting. And we've got the bullets that killed Sir William."

"I'll have the forensics lab stand by. Alpha out." Cowley shut down with his customary abruptness and Bodie stuffed the R/T back into his pocket.

A frown crinkled Ray's brow as he stood gazing at a pot of chrysanthemums without seeing so much as a petal. "You know, it doesn't add up. If Sir William wasn't working, why shoot him? But his wife would know if he was working. Wouldn't she?" He glanced in Bodie in conference, but Bodie merely shrugged. "Unless it was something so high up no one's allowed to know, in which case it would be a top level security op, too --"

"In which case we'd know about it, and security at his house wouldn't have been left in the hands of Peters and his trusty twelve gauge," Bodie finished. "Two choices, then: it's a payback killing for something in the past. It's a preventative measure, to stop something happening in future. A job Sir William was going to be called upon to do soon." He pushed away from the reception desk as Michael appeared, pulling his shirt on carefully over taped ribs. "That, my son, is a job for Super Cow and his access to offices higher than Whitehall. Nothing to do with us. Are you all right, Michael?"

"It's cracked, not broken." Michael looked slightly green and was holding his jaw. "Got to see a dentist, an' all, but they've given me some pills."

"It'll wait till we get to London?" Ray asked, one eye on the time. The Ticker nodded affirmation. "We'd better shove off, then. Where are your people camped?"

"Just 'round the back of the house where I was poachin'. Can we tell them what's happening?"

"We're a bit pressed for time," Bodie mused. "I think a local bobby on a pushbike can do us a favour, don't you?"

Michael shuddered. "They've got a mortal dislike of coppers, my family have."

"No, they haven't," Ray argued with a grin. "I was a copper and they liked me. And we're both working for CI5 -- they didn't even notice."

The journey back to London was arduous, a battle through congested traffic, and Michael was unwell by the time Bodie was parking in the garages beneath the steel and plate glass skyscraper where CI5 commanded several floors and a world class computer facility. Cowley was not in the building and they ushered the Tinker to the infirmary first for more pills and attention for the tooth. Bodie flopped onto the end of the couch in the squad room, taking a plastic cup of dishwater tea from Doyle and counting the minutes until they were off duty. Technically, they were at liberty an hour before, but their actual escape was made on Cowley's pleasure and it would take however long it took.

At the window, Doyle gazed down into the road, absently watching the streams of traffic, his mind miles and months away, on a moor in the rain. A Tinker encampment; a wonderful old woman, blind and fey; the gift of love. Bodie had been silent for a long time and Ray turned to look at him, finding his lover's eyes considering him with a level, candid appraisal, affectionate, a little amused, a little sensual. The way Kinnamus Iron Hand would look at him -- or look at Bran. If there was any difference. Doyle had begun to lose the ability to tell that difference.

He stepped back to the couch where Bodie sat, reaching out to touch one stubbly cheek with a tiny caress, more than was really permitted in this place. "Later," he promised in a husky undertone, and even as he spoke they heard Cowley's voice outside the door.

Cowley was in a sour mood, as if nothing in the day had gone to plan, but he waited in his office while Michael came up from the Infirmary and heard the young Irishman out without interruption.

"I went there to poach a few rabbits, sir. No more than that, and that's Christ's honest truth. I'd caught all we could use, four of them -- and doin' the squire a favour to take 'em away before they eat out his garden -- when I heard a car pull up beside the north wall. Me family's camped not far from there, but there's woodland between them and the road. I didn't hear anything, and I didn't hear the shots that killed the old man, sure an' to God I didn't --"

"Silencer," Bodie growled. "They wouldn't want to make a noise at three in the morning, would they?"

"Aye," Cowley agreed. "Go on, lad."

"I was leaving by the way I came in, sir," Michael continued. "A postern gate, blocked off with bricking. You can't go over the wall, they've cemented broken glass along the top to keep people out, but the gate's not as secure as they think it is. If you're skinny enough you can squeeze through it. There was a man goin' through there, before I got to it. I hid in the trees, thinkin' it might be one of the squire's men. I had a bit of height to me there, sir, and I saw a car on the road. There was a man in it, he had it runnin' almost before t'other man was through the gate, but the motor was so quiet you could scarce hear it. It had gone when I moved, you see, and then the groundsman caught me from behind with a clout to the jaw, an' I wasn't much use after that. He couldn't have seen ought, he was blocked by the wall."

"And the car," Cowley prompted. "Can you describe it?"

Michael tried to smile, but his jaw was still numb. "Oh, aye, sir. It was a Jaguar, not one of your modern Jags, but the beautiful 1950s model. And well cared for. You couldn't hear the motor when she was runnin'."

Bodie frowned at his partner. "There wouldn't be too many of those around these days, would there? Thirty year old Jaguars would be collector cars, worth God alone knows how much. Who in his right mind would go to a shooting in a car like that?"

"A person who thinks he knows the one breach in an automatic security set up," Doyle said slowly. "Who knows there's one arthritic twit of groundsman on the premises, and his target's eighty years old." He shrugged. "It would have all the look of a pushover. Why get excited about a job like that? Especially if you know that the eccentric old goat -- sorry, sir, I mean Sir William -- is toddling about in his slippers in the middle of the night checking his racing birds."

"Doing what?" Cowley demanded, and when Doyle reiterated the story shook his head. "Well into his second childhood," he concluded ruefully. "Well, there isn't much we can do until we get the lab report on the bullets and run a computer check on the car. Put the two together, and we might be able to make sense of this... But it sounds like an inside job to me. It's got all the hallmarks of one."

"Or a job that's been minutely researched," Bodie added. "Right down to his lordship's pigeons." He stirred, pointedly checking his watch. "Er, sir, we were supposed to be away out of here about an hour and a half ago. More."

"Aye, go home," Cowley said, already preoccupied with paperwork. "And I think Mr. Mulvane had better stay here overnight."

"In the cells?" Doyle shot a glance at Bodie, not wanting Michael to be confined in those conditions. He had done nothing to deserve it and was far from fit and well.

"In the Infirmary," Cowley corrected. "You're doped to the gills, aren't you laddie? Aye. Send out for supper when the Nurse does."

With that they were free to go. Michael fell into bed and went out like a light, and out of long habit, Bodie and Doyle made a sprint for the lift and vanished before any chance event could detain them a moment longer. A Chinese takeaway provided prawns and rice, steamed ginger pudding and all the trimmings, and then they were slamming the door on peace and privacy. Bodie pinned Doyle against it, ravishing his mouth, unable to hold him as they had their hands full of foil cartons and holding him there with his weight until Ray panted for breath.

"Lemme breathe, you chump! You'll be sucking on a dead body if you don't ease up soon! And I'm starving."

So was Bodie. They sprawled on a hearthrug, watching the News on television and eating while the gas heater roasted them. With half a bottle of wine in them and the cartons meticulously polished, the world looked a better place. Doyle gave a feline stretch, his head pillowed on Bodie's bare chest, his rump pricking with the heat as Bodie wriggled his jeans half off. Neither of them had the energy to stir until the food and wine had settled; the weather report had finished before they began to return to life. Bodie dislodged his lover, rolling over to reach the TV and turn it off.

He looked back at Doyle and had to smile. Ray was a tangle of sleepy limbs and rumpled clothes, his left buttock roasted scarlet, his head pillowed on one crooked elbow, his eyes closed. "Going to sleep on me?"

"Mm?" An enormous yawn, and Doyle sat up, pulling off his shoes and pushing the uncomfortable tangle of denim off his legs. "S'better. Felt like leg irons by the time you were finished." He stretched his arms over his head and flopped back onto the rug, spine arching. "C'mere."

"Delighted to." Bodie stripped without ado, straddling his lover, who lay adorned in a silver bangle, the green stone on its leather thong and the remnants of last autumn's suntan. Bodie leaned forward, pillowing his weight on Ray's spare, bony frame, and Doyle raised his knees, caressing Bodie's rounded buttocks. "It's been three bloody days," Bodie complained. "And I want you."

"You had Bran last night," Ray said wickedly.

"That's not the same," Bodie argued. "That's not physical." He kissed about Ray's prickly jaw. "I mean, I love him as much as I love you, because he is you, and I couldn't love you and not him, but he's not mine. He belongs to someone else, and I just share him." He lifted his head, looking down into pools of smoky green. "But you're mine, and I don't share you with anyone."

"Yeah." Doyle passed his hands over Bodie's smooth, warm chest. "Want to go to bed?"

"Nah, this is nice. But hang on a tick. I'll just get the stuff and some pillows." He kissed Ray's nose. "It's my turn, isn't it?"

Doyle frowned. "Your turn to do what?"

"To have you." Bodie slipped his hand between Doyle's slender thighs, caressing in circles, each swathe taking his hand higher until his fingers were nestled between the slightly damp press of buttocks. Ray clamped his muscles about the intrusive fingers, a possessive gesture, and Bodie smiled. "The suggestion meets with the Doyle approval, I see."

"I suppose it does," Ray said dreamily. "I don't keep a count of it. If it feels right, it's right. Go on then. Pillows."

And a battered tube of vitamin cream, well used, almost empty. Bodie made a mental note to replaced it as he put it to good use, swathing a lot of the cool, pure cream onto them both. Ray liked to lie on his back with pillows under his hips and Bodie was more than happy to comply with that; to see his face, watch the pageant of expressions chasing across his mobile features, was a pleasure in itself. Ray had a beautiful, mobile face, and when he was relaxed his smallest emotion was reflected in every line, every plane of it. Like Bran, so like Bran, sweet and wild, lovesome and loving.

Dreamy, floating with arousal and the pleasure of touch, Doyle lazily arched his back, wanton and bewitching. He fingered his cock, rubbing himself deftly as Bodie took his legs up over his shoulders, caught his breath at the hard, hot snub press about to pierce him, following the pampering, lubricating fingers into his body. Bodie ordered his breathing with an effort, waiting until the muscle against the head of his own shaft relaxed again before pressing hard and deep, one slow, smooth stroke that sank him to the hilt into Ray's welcoming body.

There was not a twinge of discomfort now, an effortless technique learned and perfected over the course of a year, perhaps a little clumsy at first but rapidly maturing into faultless loving. Bodie let Ray's legs slip from his shoulders, felt them hug about his waist, locking them together as Ray wriggled to rub himself against his lover's slick, quivering belly. The wriggles were exquisitely tormenting for Bodie, bringing a gasp to Ray's lips also as the friction shifted inside. He froze, his spine stiffening as his nerves ignited, and Bodie felt a throb against his abdomen as Doyle's fingers clutched into his shoulders.

It was what Bodie had been waiting for and he began to move, sliding, thrusting, plying his muscles to drive them both toward climax. Sometimes they came together, sometimes not. It did not matter. Tonight, Ray came first, the spasms racking him as he succumbed to the beautiful anguish of release. Bodie paused until the anal contractions had eased so as not to abuse his muscles and delicate tissues, and then, when Ray was quiescent, began again, prolonging the pleasure of his orgasm as he sought his own.

Ray splayed his legs to let Bodie withdraw a long time later and they lay still, kissing languidly until Bodie lifted his head to yawn. "Come on, beautiful," he growled, tousling the over-long brown curls he loved. "Bed. Before we're passin' out right here and creaking around like a couple of octogenarians in the morning." He got his knees under him, pulling Doyle up with him. "You okay?"

"I'm wonderful," Doyle said with a stretch. "Back's a bit tender, though. Want to give me a rub?"

"Least I can do." Bodie bestowed a kiss to Ray's nose and a pat to each buttock. "Want the loo first?"

Nodding, Doyle yawned deeply, stretched to his feet and stooped for his clothes. Bodie watched him amble away, one palm pressed to the small of his back, and smiled fondly, remembering watching Bran move that way. Languid, dopey, absolutely relaxed, betrayed by a slight limp. It was a feeling he had grown accustomed to himself; sitting by the heater as he waited for Ray to finish in the bathroom, he was thinking back to a day he had shared with another. It was difficult for him to unravel which feelings and thoughts belonged to Kin, and which were his own: in the shadow reality of the dreams he and Kin were as much the same entity as were Ray and Bran.

He closed his eyes, subsiding onto the pillows and savouring the memory. Bran had been hurt -- just a lad, blooded as a warrior and proud of it, the pride in achievement sustaining him as he healed his wounds. It had been trying for Kin, watching over his lover, sharing kisses and sleeping alone, and had he not loved Bran he would have accepted the invitations of others. Bran would have let him go and said nothing, accepting that their feelings were not the same: to Bran, it was love, to Kin, companionship. But to sadden the huge green eyes would have hurt Kin also. The invitations of other suitors went ignored. He tended Bran gently, watching him grow well and swallowing his impatience, knowing the pain it would cost his young lover for him to kneel to be mated, although he was always quick to offer his body for mating when he was well, refuting any suspicion Kin might have had that submission was a form of hardship.

In fact, Bran was ravenous for it after the weeks of indolence and healing, and had thought of a way to make love and spare his injured leg. Kin took him against the wall of their home, holding him tightly while he shook with obvious delight. It was the sheer rapture of that joining more than any other, so clearly needed by Bran, that convinced Kin he was missing so much. Bran had never asked him to submit to the act, as if he had not thought Kin would, or should -- it was not a warrior's part to be used so.

Astonishment widened the lad's eyes as, some weeks later, Kin gave him their phial of oil and presented to him. Bodie smiled at the memory, wanting Bran again with lazy desire, wanting Ray again with the same sweet hunger as he remembered the forfeiture of his virginity. Bran became a lover of great skill as the months went by, and Ray... Ray was Ray, which said it all.

The loo flushed and Bodie heard whistling as Ray messed about in the bedroom, turning down the quilt. He scooped up his discarded clothes, the pillows and the bottle of Grouse, relishing the promise of a warm bed and sleepy lover.

Doyle sipped the whisky slowly as Bodie kneaded the bottom of his spine, rubbing the olive oil into his back and buttocks with the masseur's absent pleasure, but he was frowning. "It doesn't add up, doesn't it?" he said at last.

"What doesn't add up?" Bodie reached for tissues to press the excess oil away from the skin he loved.

"Sir William getting shot. What the hell would anyone want to shoot him for at this particular time? If there was a security op in the offing, we'd know, and if we don't know there isn't one. Cowley has more spies in Whitehall than the Russians have! And if there isn't a security op on, who would do him in? Nah, there's more to it than that, mark my words." Whisky finished, he put down the glass and turned over, stretching like a big cat. "C'mere and give us a kiss."

"Can't taste you for the booze," Bodie complained a minute later when they broke apart for air. "Still, Grouse tastes okay, I suppose." Another kiss, and he pulled up the quilt. "Forensics should have the gun placed by morning, and then we're down to Michael's statement. Man fleeing, 1950s Jaguar. Not a lot to work with, but I've often thought the Cow's keeping a big secret. He's got a crystal ball, willed to him by his old Scotch granny." He caught Ray by the thong about his neck, tugging him closer and palming the green stone.

"Trying to strangle me?" Doyle teased, sliding into the embrace as Bodie yanked the quilt over their heads.

"Oh, yeah, I'll have you trained one of these days," Bodie muffled, getting a mouth full of curls. "If you're not exhausted, I'm losin' my touch, and I know I'm not losing' it, so shurrup and go to sleep, Ray. Ray?"

A theatrical snore answered him as Doyle burrowed to comfort and went limp.

The forensics photographs of the two bullets taken from Sir William Malvern were on Cowley's desk along with a flimsy on which was a brief report. The murder weapon was the Browning High Power used in the assassination of an Italian MP two years before. The Red Brigade had claimed responsibility for the killing, and Cowley was frowning at a folder of papers as Bodie knocked and entered his office, bringing coffee and pastries. It was still only eight and Ray was down in the garages, talking to the mechanics after the Capri had been hard to start half an hour before. Ignition problems could kill you, so the car went in for fixing, no questions asked.

The file was a short version of a document much longer; Bodie glimpsed the headings as he handed one mug to his boss. Red Brigade members with UK affiliates, enemies, allies and relations. "Isn't that a long shot, sir?" he asked, reaching for one of the pastries that accompanied the coffee and trying not to get crumbs among the papers. "A weapon like that might change hands a dozen times in two years. It might have killed half a dozen people since the politician."

"A cheerful thought for so early in the day." Cowley tossed the folder onto the desk, leaning back in his chair. "But it's all we have to go on until we can make sense of the car your friend Mulvane saw leaving. We're waiting for the details now. It was light coloured, which will help, though in the dark Mulvane wouldn't be able to tell what shade it was. An inside job, Bodie. Someone who knew Sir William's home, and his routine, intimately."

"A friend?" Bodie asked. "Someone he considered a friend?"

"It could be a personal matter," Cowley mused. "But Sir William spent some years in Rome in the 1960s, a diplomatic posting. He was instrumental in breaking the grip of several criminal organisations --"

"Mafia?" Bodie demanded, pausing with his pastry half way to his lips.

"The Zardini family," Cowley said softly. "And Enrico Zardini was in politics, also in the 1960s. Several of his brothers and cousins were imprisoned for illegal dealings of one kind and another. Drugs, prostitution, guns, the usual rackets. Enrico himself was not convicted."

"But blood's thicker than water in any family, and in Mafia clans it's like treacle," Bodie finished. "What are the Zardinis involved with now?"

Cowley went back to the file, sliding his glasses onto his nose. "Real estate, construction, air freight, interior design, fashion. There's a daughter, Julia, twenty-five, a model working here in London. Her father was Vincenzo Zardini, Enrico's elder brother. Vincenzo was one of those imprisoned."

Sinking into a leather armchair, Bodie cradled his mug in both hands. "So we've got a gun that up to two years ago was in the hands of the Red Brigade, used to assassinate an Italian politician. Suddenly it's in England killing Sir William Malvern, who had a diplomatic posting in Rome about twenty-five years ago and helped to break up the Zardini family fortunes. It's a weak link, but --"

"But it's the only link," Cowley finished. "So we keep digging." He touched the intercom. "Is the Jaguar listing through yet?"

It was not his secretary's voice which answered but a tap of knuckles at the door, and Doyle's face appeared. He had a smile and a computer flimsy. "Jaguars, sir. I suppose this'll make sense to you. Looks like the Third Round draw of the FA Cup to me."

"Ah, right." Cowley fell on the flimsy, scanning it quickly only to sit back with a dissatisfied expression a moment later. "If there is digging to be done, Bodie, this may well be the spade, but answers do not leap off the page." He handed the sheet back to Doyle. "See what you can make of that while we run to earth Miss Julia Zardini."

"Julia Who?" Doyle demanded as Bodie held open the door.

As they ambled to the computer facility Bodie briefed him quickly with Cowley's data. The computer room was hot, dry, empty at this hour. Doyle scraped up a chair and rubbed his hands together before attacking the keyboard. There were fifteen Jaguars on the list, ranging from 1951 to 1959, and some of them were self eliminating. Two were black, one was British racing green, far too dark to be the vehicle Michael had seen at the Malvern estate. The others were a lucky dip, though Ray played hunches and cut the work down to the bone: a car registered in Wales could well have been on the road outside Malvern Hall, but it was more likely to have been a Jaguar belonging to a Londoner, for no other reason than geography.

Two belonged to collectors, one of whom was related to the Duchess of Westminster. Stifling a chuckle, Doyle disregarded that one, concentrating on five remaining cars. One was the property of the secretary of the Jaguar Club; one belonged to a dealer with an expensive franchise in the city center; one was in the hands of an elderly lady historian affiliated to the Royal Shakespearean Society; one was for sale, standing in the garage of a retired major with an OBE, and the final car belonged to the managing director of a firm called Breslaw and Colt. Doyle took a cup of tea from Bodie's fingers and sat looking at the list on the green monitor before him.

"None of these people looks like an assassin," Bodie said, lounging behind Doyle's chair, one possessive hand on his shoulder. "Old lady, retired major, the sec of the Jag Club. They're not exactly desperados."

"But maybe one lent the car to a friend, an associate -- to the man they hired to kill Sir William." Doyle shook his head. "If it wasn't for the gun, which makes it our business because of the Red Brigade connection, this'd be standard police work. We'll be checking out these people and their families all day." He scanned down the list again, matching occupations. "Car club, car dealer, theatre, retired military. Who the hell are Breslaw and Colt?"

"Never heard of 'em," Bodie admitted, watching Doyle's long fingers tap at the keyboard with another request for data retrieval.

The information appeared at once and they read it with interest. Breslaw and Colt were importers, heavily involved with the textiles industry and with massive connections in Europe. "France," Doyle read, "Belgium, Italy. Connection, you reckon?"

"Could be," Bodie murmured, intent on the screen. "And Julia Zardini is a model, remember. So we've got a model whose father was put away by Malvern in the 60s, working in London and a car belonging to a textiles importer with Italian connections seen outside Malvern Hall." he chuckled into his teacup. "If this was a horse race I wouldn't bet 50p."

"Unless," Doyle mused slowly, "we can ferret out a connection between Julia and this Breslaw-Colt company, in which case I'd give you five to one. I don't believe in coincidences, never did." He punched in a request for a hard copy and pushed back the chair, checking the time. It was gone nine already. "Time's wasting. Maybe Cowley'll have found the girl by now."

Finding Julia Zardini had been as simple as looking in the London white pages. There were few entries under that name and Pauline, Cowley's pert, efficient little secretary with the head of red hair and the bosom that was a legend around the squad room, had simply called the four numbers asking for Julia.

"A women answered from an address in Belgravia," Cowley told them. "Julia arrived home at five this morning after a job. A fashion display and party. She went straight to bed and will still be there."

"And we'll have to wake her up again," Bodie said with mock sympathy. "Poor little dear." He handed the hard copy of their own data to Cowley, putting the gist of it into a few short sentences.

"So it hangs on a connection between the model and the owner of the car," Doyle finished. "His name is Stewart Fallon, he's sixty and very wealthy." A sudden chip-toothed grin made Ray over into the image Bran, causing Bodie a moment's distraction. "With our luck, Fallon'll be reporting the car stolen this morning, and we'll be back to square one!"

But Cowley shook his head. "He's got Italian connections through the textiles industry, and the Zardinis are involved with European fashion. It smells right to me, Doyle. What does your policeman's nose tell you?"

"It smells a rat," Doyle said drily. "A dead rat." He stirred, glancing at Bodie. "We'd better get out to Belgravia before these people get any thoughts about covering their tracks."

The address was Embury Mews. Expensive, elite, discreet. They were in the gold Capri, as its silver stablemate was in the garages with its ignition system in pieces, and Ray turned right into the mews with a wry expression. "Money, money, money. It's a rich man's world."

"And other hit singles," Bodie observed. "Whoa, this is it, the one on the right. Nice little hovel, isn't it? Wonder how much she earns to pay for this."

"Daddy's money, don't you know," Doyle said, echoing Bodie's remark about the Malverns. "She's got a family with a season ticket on the gravy train."

There was a security lock on the gate; Bodie pushed the intercom button, waiting for a response, and when a woman's sleep-dulled voice answered he said, "Miss Zardini? We have to talk with you for a moment. CI5 business."

A pause, then: "CI--? Police, is it?"

"Near enough," Bodie admitted. "It's urgent, Miss Zardini."

Another pause, and then the lock released on the gate allowing it to swing open. Bodie led the way through it, finding a short crazy paved pathway, a garage on the left, an open kitchen door before them. Doyle tapped on the glass pane and stepped inside. "Miss Zardini?"

The lady was stoned. Bodie bit off a chuckle as he saw the vacant expression and dark, velvety eyes. She was leaning against the sink unit with a glass of fizzing seltzer, a loose white robe knotted around the typical model's scrawny body, her raven's wing hair scraggling. She blinked owlishly at the two men as they appeared and Doyle caught Bodie's eye with a wink.

If they had caught her with a net and shot her full of Pentothal, it could have been no more convenient. Sober, if there was anything to be hidden, this stupid kid would have clammed up and had to be persuaded to say three words, but in this condition she was largely incapable of lying.

"Been to a party, have you?" Ray said conversationally. "Smashing party, by the looks of it. Good friends there, right?"

"Oh, right." She sipped at the seltzer and hiccupped. "Whassit about?"

"Oh, just routine investigations," Doyle lied smoothly. "Must've been a hell of a party; you look shagged out. Did we wake you up?"

His smooth, careless manner seemed to relax her. She sagged back against the chromium and drained the glass. "T'riffic party, yeah."

"And it just finished," Doyle said slyly, "going by the looks of you! You didn't drive home, did you?"

She shook her head animatedly. "No, got a lift." A giggle. "I'm in noooo condition to --" a hiccup -- "drive, 'm I?"

He smiled approvingly. "That's all right then. You didn't get a lift in Stewart Fallon's Jag, did you? Christ, what a car. Worth a mint, isn't it?"

The question was so sly, and the lady so stoned, she did not even see it coming. Julia Zardini simply hiccupped and wagged her head. ""S'a beautiful car, real limmo. He makes a hobby out of polishing it. I keep telling him he ought to marry the thing. But I had t' ride in a Mini. Bobby's car."

"Bobby?" Bodie asked, one crooked brow arched.

She waved an eloquent hand in the direction of the city center. "Bobby McBride, my photographer. He was doing the shoot before the party. Here, lissen, what did you want to talk wi' me about anyway?"

Doyle stirred. "Oh, I think it'll wait until you're a bit more lucid, Miss Zardini," he said. "Good morning."

Outside, they leaned on the bonnet of the gold Capri, sunning themselves and pondering a question. Whether to pick her up or not. Bodie had his R/T out, briefing Cowley, and ultimately they left the decision to the Controller. Cowley's investigations had turned up little else and he pounced on the girl's stoned and unwitting confession of association with Breslaw-Colt, Fallon and the Jaguar.

"If we pull her in it'll tip off Fallon immediately," Cowley's voice said, tinny over the tiny speaker. "We're fairly sure Fallon is deeply involved in this. There has been no report of the Jaguar being stolen so, even if he was not driving it himself he must have lent it for the job. A stupid move, one made by a man betrayed by his own complacency. We're trying to establish a link between Fallon and Sir William at this point."

Doyle lifted his own R/T from his pocket. "Ought to stake the Zardini girl's place out, sir. And Fallon's establishment too."

"Good thinking, Doyle," Cowley said drily. "Fallon will be under surveillance in approximately three minutes. If we can establish a personal connection between him and the Malverns, we'll pull him in at once. In the meantime, the two of you may as well get back here and make yourselves useful. We have a year's data to process, just received from Interpol. Red Brigade activities covering the past two years, and Sir William's political career, spanning thirty years of potential political enemies."

"Sir." Bodie shut down with a groan. "Oh, my aching bum. Sitting on a chair for eight hours a day, typing. And for this I trained to be a Para."

"Never mind," Doyle offered solicitously. "I can always give it a massage when we get home. How's that sound?"

"A massage?" Bodie echoed suspiciously. "What kind of a massage?"

"Oh..." Doyle twisted the key in the ignition. "You know, the usual kind of thing. Oily fingers rubbing on all those muscles, kneading away where you sit, relaxing everything, outside and in." He glanced sidelong at Bodie, saw half closed eyes and dropped his voice to a husky purr. "Warm and slick, till everything's soft and supple, ready for a real massage. Can't leave out the real massage. If you skip the inside, what's the point in doing the outside?"

Bodie groaned, shifting uncomfortably in his seat as Ray braked down for the lights. "Christ, you can get me turned on till it bloody hurts. You and Bran both. I remember the time you -- he-- started talking that way on the moor south of that place, what's its name? The place we fought Archan's warband, and that wolf hound nearly had me by the throat."

"Bright water," Doyle supplied. "Funny, I can't pronounce it in their language when I wake up." He smiled. "As they couldn't say 'Bright Water', I suppose, when they wake after dreaming about us." He chuckled richly. "Yeah, I got you going that night, didn't I? Was a bit wicked of me, actually. We were on watch."

"Bloody surveillance," Bodie breathed. "Even they have to do it." Then he laughed. "Was fantastic, though, even if I did skin my knees in the heather." He reached out, one hand stroking Doyle's warm, hard thigh. "It's hard to tell us apart now. I think of us, I think of them. They think of us the same way."

"I wish..." Doyle began, and shrugged, letting the thought go.

"You wish what?" Bodie pressed, leaning back in the seat to watch his lover drive. "Go on, whatever it was."

"Silly, really." Doyle smiled, a wistful expression. "I wish we could go there. I mean really go there, be there. The places where they lived and fought. Where they died."

Bodie's brows rose toward his hairline. "I suppose we could," he said thoughtfully. "The places will be there, still. Time won't have altered the landscape much."

"No, but they could have built council houses all over the hills!" Doyle said ruefully. "I don't think I'd enjoy seeing that too much."

"Still, the places where we fought will be the same," Bodie mused. He gave Ray's knee a squeeze. "Next time we've got a few days off, we'll take the car ferry over. Go on the bikes, sleep rough so long as the weather holds. Same as they would have lived." He smiled. "Lie down with that stone and see what we dream when we're right there, almost with them."

Doyle shivered visibly. "Yeah. We could do that," he whispered.

"We will," Bodie said softly, having already made up his mind.

After spending the remainder of the morning and most of the afternoon in the heat and controlled humidity of the computer room, the offer of a shift on surveillance was too fair a proposition to be turned down. They were staking out Stewart Fallon's place, relieving Anson and Lewis, and their shift began as the city's commuters headed for suburbia and home. They picked up fish and chips, stopped off briefly at home for shaving gear and a change of clothes, and battled through the traffic to a flat which reeked of Anson's cigar smoke. The two departing agents left them battered magazines, brimming ash trays and a mountain of takeaway food wrappers.

"Oh, trendy, very trendy," Bodie said sarkily, regarding the flat with a jaundiced eye. "This place is about ready for demolition. Rip it down and build something new." Anson made a rude gesture with two fingers and blew a last gust of smoke at him before chasing Lewis down the hall to the lifts. Doyle was throwing open the windows, admitting a breeze that was cold but at least clean.

The night was long, uneventful. Across Richmond Road, Fallon's bachelor pad was on the third floor of a block of very expensive flats. He had been at home all day, entertaining, said the report in Anson's semi-legible scrawl. Cars coming and going ceaselessly. The entertaining peaked in the evening with a party, lights blazing, a dozen cars pulling in at the kerb, the building's soundproofing holding in what must have been a shocking din.

Parties were all very well for those who were attending them, but to those who had to listen to them they were merely a bloody annoyance. And a bore, Bodie thought at midnight as he yawned awake to spell Doyle. There were sleeping bags in a corner of the room; this flat was unoccupied and hence, unfurnished, and the arrangements were less than inspiring.

At the window, Ray sat with his chin cupped in his palms, the breeze stirring curls which should have been cut long since, but would probably go uncut for longer yet, since they were presently as Bodie liked them. Long, soft, wild. There was a moon up, its light silvery and enchanting as it glittered in Ray's eyes. Bodie padded barefoot to the window, wanting Doyle's mouth, and Ray pulled him down into an embrace, relishing the kiss.

"Want to get some kip?" Bodie asked, minutes later, releasing his lover's mouth after a thorough exploration.

"Mm," Ray said dreamily. "Right after you do a favour for me."

"Oh? What?" Bodie rubbed sleep from his eyes and kissed the warm crown of Doyle's head. "Anything special?"

"Yeah, you can put your hand where it'll be useful and do what comes naturally."

"Feeling randy?" Bodie teased, unzipping the too-tight denim and finding his lover already hot and hard.

"Been turned on for hours," Ray admitted. "Getting more and more irritable. Been watching the windows opposite; they're screwing their brains out over there. I saw Fallon -- tall guy with grey hair, nice body, for his age. He had two, mind you two, girls, but the bed's too low to see what they were up to."

"It's got you hot as hell," Bodie chuckled. "Sit back. Relax, will you? He's not going to suddenly rush out of the house in the middle of a pot and sex bash. Okay, okay, that's nice. How's this?" Ray was spreadeagled, back to the window surround, head tipped back, his shirt unbuttoned, rubbing his nipples while Bodie petted and cherished, the jeans pulled half off.

"Oh, yeah, that's nice. Just keep going. Got any tissues?" His voice was husky, breathy.

"Tissues?" Bodie stopped to kiss his chest, flicking a glance at the building across the street, but there was nothing to watch. Utterly status quo.

"Don't want to -- mess -- ahh..." Ray sighed into silence, his hips moving on their own, his fingers pinching his nipples hard.

"Stop worrying," Bodie chided fondly, squeezing and pulling to make his lover surge up fast. He wriggled his fingers into the tangle of underwear to probe taut, swollen testicles, and felt them draw up further as Ray gasped, releasing a pulse of warm, slick liquid. Bodie probed him again, using the liquid to lubricate his hand and pumping him strongly. Ray's fingers clenched into his shoulders and he could have told to the instant when he was about to come. He doubled up, mouth closing over a velvety, musky crown and sucking until Doyle cursed, bucked, and came with an awe-inspiring miniature cataclysm that drained him thoroughly.

He sagged back with a sheepish moan. "Christ, I needed that. Had to watch those bastards having it away over there, and you were snuffling in your sleep right behind me. It's been pure torture. Worth waiting for that though!" He reached up for a kiss, licking Bodie's lips as he tasted the salt of his own semen there. "What would you like?"

"Lamb chops, jacket potatoes, mint sauce, carrots, devil's food cake, brandy sauce, coffee and bicckies," Bodie said thoughtfully, "but if you couldn't manage that, you might put your hand somewhere it'd be useful and so forth."

Doyle gave a snort of laughter. "Okay. Keep glancing at the house now and then. Nothing changes, just the records on the hi-fi, but I suppose we're at work. If you can call this working." He unzipped Bodie as he spoke, finding him very much aroused by the handling of his lover's body, as usual, and returned the pampering with interest, knowing down to the last caress what Bodie liked.

The moonlight showed the silver in Ray's hair, Bodie saw with abstract attention as he looked down at the curly head pressed against his belly as Ray caressed and kissed him. Bran had no silver in his hair, even the day he died; they died too young for that. He threaded his fingers into Doyle's curls, massaging his scalp and encouraging him with soft whispers that were perhaps a little earthy, a little primal, but in their own way eloquent. Bran's eyes looked up at him, Bran's mouth smiled at him, kissed his nipples, Bran's voice told him he was beautiful. Bodie could have envied Kinnamus Iron Hand, but it was Ray Doyle touching him, loving him, and there was nothing to envy.

Coming was sweet, slow and deep, and he urged Ray up into his arms as he panted for breath. "Love you," he whispered, kissing the silvered temples. "And you're bushed, so go and get some sleep. I'll watch the fat cats now." He kissed Doyle's nose and gave him a push in the direction of the sleeping bags. "Go on. It'll be dawn in a few hours and Murphy'll be here to spell us. Then we get two shifts off, and we're going out."

"Going out?" Doyle stretched, padded to the sleeping bags and lay down. "Out where?"

"Dinner, and a film," Bodie suggested. "Or a club." He swallowed a snicker. "They say there's a gay cabaret at Longman's Palace that has to be seen to be believed. Strippers and everything."

"Sordid and crude," Doyle said loftily.

"So you can take me to see Bambi," Bodie said in a tone of mock resignation. "Or will it be Snow White this week?"

"I could take you home and screw you through the bed." Doyle sounded utterly disinterested and almost asleep.

Bodie threw the aromatic chip papers at him.

Modest as they were, they were plans which would not see fruition. The party at Stewart Fallon's flat broke up by two with slamming car doors, stoned laughter in the street, and Bodie watched, bored, as the cars departed. The boredom was dispelled in a moment as the R/T shrilled for attention and Cowley's dry voice said, "Confirmation just came in of Fallon's association with Sir William. It's through Lady Malvern, whose bridge partner just happens to be a personal friend of Fallon's. All very innocent as far as the ladies are concerned -- they've been used. Fallon is still at home, Bodie?"

"Yes, sir, the party's breaking up now."

"Convenient," Cowley said. "Pull him in. There's more than enough to justify it, though he'll whine for his lawyers no doubt."

Bodie shut down the R/T and went to shake Doyle awake, but Ray had been woken by the R/T and was already stirring. "I heard," he yawned, reaching for his shoulder harness and checking the big automatic on a reflex. "Out of here and home to bed in an hour. Oh, unspeakable joys."

The block was secured to prevent the entry of undesirables, but it was absurdly simple to get in; a party goer, nearer drunk than sober, came reeling out and they caught the door in his wake. They rode the lift up, drawing their weapons at the doorway to the sumptuous bachelor flat and listening for noise from within. The lights were still blazing but the music was turned down low and they could hear voices. Bodie arched one brow at his partner in question. "Do you want to knock and ask them to come along like nice gentlemen?"

"Don't count on it happening," Doyle said wryly. "I'll knock, you cover me." He slid his gun away, watching Bodie flatten out against the wall on the door's blind side, and applied his knuckles to the wood. He knocked twice before the door was answered, and had his ID in his hand. "Is Mr. Fallon at home? There are some questions --"

Then he dove, fast, as the squit of a silenced hand gun sent several bullets ripping into the wall behind him, and Bodie bounced off the polished paintwork, snapping off an answering volley of shots. The target was a big, burly man who had the look of a professional minder; he took two rounds high in the left shoulder, too high to kill him; they spun him backward into the inner wall, and Doyle rolled to his feet, gun in his hands.

The party had left debris everywhere and the stink of cigarette smoke defeated the air conditioners. The flat was deserted, only the sound of Moody Blues coming out of the hi-fi and the moans of the minder breaking the quiet. Doyle bit his lip, casting about and beginning the kind of routine sweep they had performed a thousand times before.

Room on the right, empty; bathroom, empty; bedroom, empty; and then Bodie kicked the door in on a room that was not empty and there was the unmistakable rattle of a Skorpion machine pistol, a dozen rounds, most of them missing, three of them raking Bodie down the right side. Blood fanned in the air and he went down, spun off his feet by the impacts. A pace behind him, Doyle flattened against the wall, calling his name.

"Bodie! For Christ's sake, Bodie!"

"I daresay he's alive," Fallon's voice said coolly from within the room. "If I don't see your gun thrown down on the floor there, and you with your hands over your head, in the next three seconds, he will be dead without a doubt."

There was no decision to be made, not with Bodie groaning almost silently, bleeding into the carpet and a man with a machine pistol on him. Doyle tossed the Browning away and stepped out into the man's line of sight. It was Fallon; well bred, elegant, on his dignity, and furiously angry. Doyle spared him a glance, his attention to Bodie. "Bodie, can you hear me?"

"Ray?" Bodie turned his head, blinking up with glassy eyes.

"He needs a doctor," Doyle spat at Fallon. "At least let me see to him!"

Fallon raised his voice. "Jason! I've got them!"

"Fallon!" Doyle raised his own voice. "Let me see to him, goddamn it."

Jason was a big man, another minder, angry and worried for his associate who lay on the floor with two of Bodie's bullets in him. He took hold of Doyle, spinning him into the wall and frisking him with ruthless efficiency, finding knife, R/T, 9mm reloads. Doyle bit his lip, enduring the rough treatment, his eyes on Bodie, who had not twitched a muscle. When Jason was satisfied he was released and he went quickly to his knees, peering at the wound.

It was bleeding profusely but it was only a flesh wound, Doyle was sure, having suffered enough of them himself to know what was dangerous and what was not. He relaxed a little, pressing his palm over the wet, slick outrage of the wound and drawing his left palm across Bodie's face. "It's not so bad," he said quietly, although he knew it would hurt as badly as if Bodie was soon to die; he was grey with pain, already fevered and drenched in perspiration. Doyle looked up at Fallon with an icy contempt. "He needs a doctor. He's bleeding."

But Fallon ignored him, speaking rapidly to the bodyguard. "Get hold of Karl and Simon, get moving. Fast." As Jason hurried away Fallon came to peer at the CI5 men in the room's subdued lighting. "I don't pretend to understand how you managed to find me, but I had a call from a young girl an hour ago. I've been expecting you."

"She was stoned out of her skull," Doyle said, expressing utter scorn. "Not very wise, when you're trying to cover your tracks after a murder. Who did the shooting? You? You're trigger happy enough. Or did Julia Zardini pull the trigger herself?"

"Nothing so crude." Fallon curled his lip in distaste. "It was a professional job, nothing but the best when one can afford it. In a way it's a pity you are so efficient; it'll cost you your lives, inevitably. Eventually."

"Tell me something I don't know," Doyle said viciously as he felt Bodie's blood pulse beneath his palm. "Why don't you just blow us away right now and have it finished?"

Fallon actually laughed. "Because your ID says you're CI5, and you're worth a fortune. Don't be so naive. The terrorist armies of half a dozen nations would pay cash money for the likes of you, and they will. Enough to give me a fresh start, with a fresh identify, far beyond the reach of the law in this country." He looked over Doyle's bowed head as Jason returned, two equally beefy men a pace behind him. "We're leaving. And these two are coming with us. No, pack nothing, there isn't time for that."

Doyle was intent on the wound, knowing the bleeding was slowing for all Bodie's intense pain. He was wrenched to his feet, his hands secured at his back with a length of something that felt like plastic cord. Bodie was lifted by the man called Jason, slung over his shoulder as one might handle a child. A stifled gasp left his lips, and then Doyle knew he had fainted, for his limbs became limp, the tension going out of him.

Manhandled into the lift, the next stop was the garage beneath the building. There was the Jaguar, beautiful, priceless, but Jason and the minders were heading for a Ford Transit. The side door rumbled back and Bodie was dumped inside, Doyle shoved in behind him. Ray got his knees under him, about to protest the careless treatment of a man who needed medical attention, but before he could speak the butt of a handgun impacted with his skull and the world was dark.

The sickening sound of the blow reached Bodie's ears and he struggled through the fog of encroaching fever, peering at the back of Doyle's head in the darkness. "Ray? Ray!" he was out cold. The bodyguards were in the Transit, their weight sinking the suspension, and the big V8 motor started with a roar, every vibration finding the furnace heat of the wound in his side as it pulled out of the garage and onto the street.

The road twisted but Bodie stood no chance of following its turns and as soon as the vehicle hit the motorway and accelerated in a straight direction it could have been heading anywhere at all. He bit into his arm as his body protested the abuse, his mind swimming, his head pounding. He knew full well that the wound was not deep, or he would not be alive, let along fretting for Doyle's thick skull. But Ray was absolutely still, out cold, and he would not come out of it without concussion.

Nausea clutched at Bodie's innards and he fought it, praying to God that he would not be sick. The pain was white hot, searing him like a brand; his whole world revolved about it for a time that was endless. And then, as the first glimmer of daylight filtered through the Transit's windscreen, he felt consciousness slip away from him.

Daylight. Doyle came to with a start, his head pounding, his mouth feeling like the inside of an old fisherman's boot. He choked off a groan and tried to move, discovering his bound hands a moment later. His body was cramped, his shoulders bloodless and tormented from the confinement of his arms, but it was Bodie on his mind and he forced his eyes open, blinking at what focused as a room. The ceiling was sloping, so he knew it was just under the roof. If he strained his ears he could hear traffic on a road not too far away, voices peaking in the rooms below, and laboured breathing close at hand. Bodie. They had dumped him on his face; his cheek was aching against the floor, reminding of the pain of the old wound that had broken the same bone so many years ago. Doyle turned over, his breath catching in his throat, to find glassy blue eyes blinking owlishly at him.

"Christ, you're alive," Bodie croaked. "I thought they'd killed you." He was sitting propped against the wall in the sun from the window, his hands pressing a vast pad of linen to his side, his left ankle cuffed to the old fashioned handle of a wall cupboard. His face was waxy, sheened with perspiration, but he was in charge of his faculties, which was more than Doyle could claim for the first few minutes.

Concussion, he knew. His head was spinning and he felt sick. He fought his knees under him and peered at Bodie, seeing with gratitude that the wound was not bleeding much, if at all. "You okay?" His voice was a mere croak.

"It's dry at least." Bodie was white to the lips with pain, fooling no one with the bravado, but there was nothing to be done but endure and he said nothing. "C'mere and lemme see if I can get the cord off."

Stiff and cramped, Doyle shuffled over and turned to give Bodie access to his hands. Everything hurt, and he nursed a simmering anger as he kept still, enduring the taut position while Bodie fumbled with the length of plastic. It released at last and his shoulders moved; the pain was exquisite as blood pumped back into his muscles. Shuddering, he slumped against Bodie, held tightly until the agony eased away. Bodie was kissing his temple and ear, crooning something in a feverish slurred voice. Love, Doyle thought, worry, fear, and when he was able he turned again, pulling the bigger man carefully against him.

"Thought they'd killed you," Bodie muttered. "Belt on the skull can do that, you know. Your brain bleeds. Saw a lad get killed that way in Angola. Stupid little knock on the head, and the next time we looked at him he was dead."

"Yeah, well Ray Doyle's harder to get rid of than that," Ray said bluffly, calculating how long he had been out. Two hours? Christ. And Bodie hurt, watching him do his Rip van Winkle impression. He kissed Bodie's lips softly, forcing a smile. "And my skull's too dense for that, an' all." A careful hug, and he slipped away. "I love you, but we've got to get out of here."

Bodie tugged at the cuffed ankle. "Not unless you've got a hacksaw. You could tear the door off its hinges, but I'd have to drag it about after me, and that'd make me slower still."

"Could take the handle off the door," Ray mused, peering at the screws holding it in place. "Bloody philips screws, and they're so tight they've chewed right into the metal. And I haven't got anything on me, not a knife, nothing. They took the lot." He sat back against the wall, massaging his head to ease the throb. "And another thing. If I mess about with it and have to give up on it, they'll know we've been naughty and they could make things worse for us."

Bodie nodded in mute agreement and they were silent for some time. "I can hear a road," he said at last. "Where there's a road there'll be phone boxes. You could get a lift." He blinked at Ray's worried face. "Out that window, no problem for a little acrobat like you."

"And leave you," Ray muttered. "I don't much like the idea."

"You don't have to like it," Bodie growled. "Just do it."

There was no alternative and they both knew it. Ray heaved a sigh, threading his fingers through Bodie's short cropped hair. "You're persuasive when you're being logical, aren't you? Let's have another look at the wound before I go."

"There's damn all you can do for it even if you do look at it," Bodie said drily, but allowed Doyle's fingers to pry away the linen and expose the ugly, ragged area. He bit his lip as he moved, stretching the skin and making the surface bleed again, focusing on Doyle's hands and noticing that his wrists were bloody from the cord that had bound them. "Right pair of bleeders we turned out to be," he said, attempting levity in the interests of sanity.

"Shh," Doyle murmured, replacing the linen and easing his lover back against the wall. Moving to allow the examination had cost him dearly, but at least Ray could go now, knowing that it was just blood loss and pain dragging at Bodie. He cradled Bodie's skull, kissing his forehead. "You look shagged out. Try and sleep. In fact, try and convince them you've passed out. I'll leave the plastic they tied me up with over there, well out of your reach, maybe they'll think I got myself loose after you passed out, and just pushed off on my own initiative. Could have happened that way. Reckon you can sleep?"

"Reckon I might," Bodie slurred. "Now I know you're alive. Was worried for a while." He put his head back against the wallpaper, slitted eyes blurring on Doyle's face. "Don't be long, Ray." Merely a whisper.

"Be as quick as I can." Doyle kissed him, a tender brushing of dry lips, and then knelt up, his fingers untying the thong he wore about his neck. He pressed the green stone into Bodie's palm, closing cold, lax fingers over it. "Sleep, will you? Hold that and sleep." A faint smile widened his features. "It's the quickest way out of here I know, and you won't be alone. You know what I mean."

"I know what you mean," Bodie said, limp and exhausted from the few minutes' activity. "Get out of here, will you? And mind the drop. If you break your leg on the way down it'll do us a heap of good."

He passed out then. Doyle saw his eyes roll up, showing slits of white, before he slumped sideways a little, out cold, the green stone pressed to his middle by a protective hand. Ray maneuvered him into the corner, propping him there and checking the wound before reluctantly turning his back on him. There was nothing more he could do here, only waste time. He turned his attention to the little attic window, finding it serviced by an old fashioned latch. Unoiled hinges squealed as it opened and he looked out, his eyes protesting the strong morning light.

The ground was two storeys down but there was a downcomer leading from the roof, just above his head, to a rainwater barrel, and he took hold of it, testing the strength of ancient lead piping. It was none too secure against the wall of the house, but it would hold his weight.

The river was swollen, the torrents sluicing off the hills filling it to its brim, and the few wains that used the trail along the northern side were compelled to lumber on to the ford in the woodland on the border. Beyond the woods was Madawg's forest where strangers would like as not be shot, and travellers chose to go abroad armed, expecting trouble.

A few warriors lounged on the road, there to keep Madawg's marauders off the travellers, lest full scale hostilities blow up and there be real red work to be done. It was tedious work but there was little danger in it, and Kinnamus ap Connach had cause to be grateful for that. Three times in the last year, he had been injured, and Bran twice. They were only scratches, but the marks were still livid on both of them and they had tired of the indolent, wasted weeks spent healing after each skirmish.

The rains had gone over now, the sky was high and clear and as soon as the river's swollen torrent had gone down, allowing the ford to be used, there would be no need to keep warriors here, watching for Madawg's raiders. There were few travellers and the road was deserted. They lay in the heather on the brow of a knoll, their ponies loose and grazing, their dog asleep in the sun, and Bran was stroking the strings of his old harp. Intricate harmonies, very old, very beautiful.

Kin lay on one elbow, a strand of grass chewed to pulp between his teeth, watching his lover for the pleasure of it. Lean and brown, Bran was barefoot and barechested, clad only in leather breeches and the thong about his neck, and his hair was beginning to grow back after he had cropped it for winter. Kin pretended horror when he cut his hair, but in fact the short curls feathered about his skull and were in their own way as attractive as the coppery mane Bran wore in summer.

The harmonies were familiar and Bran was humming as he stroked the harp, an old tune, a tale of gods and heroes Kin knew well. It was a song for the feasting halls, oddly inappropriate for Kin's mood, and he reached out, tugging a curl to capture his mate's attention. "Sing to me of love."

Green eyes smiled at him. "Shall I not proclaim your prowess on the killing fields, then, as befits a warrior?"

"Proclaim my prowess on the sheepskins, as befits a lover," Kin retorted. "We've had enough of swordsteel for one season -- and it is not even summer yet. Sing to me of love."

Indulgently, Bran sat back in the heather and crooked the harp into his elbow. "For you, a song, then. And what for me?"

"What do you desire?" Kin stroked the length of Bran's nose with one fingertip. "Only tell me."

"Desire?" The coppery head tipped back as Bran laughed. "This bard would be paid in favours -- as would most bards, given half the chance!"

"Paid in favours?" Kin sounded mildly outraged. "You mean, bards take their pay that way? My father's do not!"

"Connach's bards would be desperate indeed to bed with that old badger," Bran snorted. "No disrespect to your father, my love, but I doubt he could stir me, even if I was invited to sing at his hearth. Which I would never be."

Kin shuffled closer. "And if you were invited to sing at the hearth of some young beauty?"

Bran chuckled, a rich, earthy sound. "I have seen bards amble from feasting hall to bedchamber to take their pay in favours, if their lord pleases them, and is pleased by them." He plucked the gut strings. "But I am not a bard. I sing only for you. I am a warrior."

"I know, I was but...wondering," Kin admitted. "You would have worn the white robe, had I not foiled your masters' plans that Beltaine Eve." He looked up into smiling green eyes. "You have never regretted it, have you?"

"Regret love?" Bran shook his head slowly, fondly. "Foolish for you to even think such things, let alone voice them. I would still have been on Mona, you know, and there for years yet. Twenty years to train a Druid. Twenty years of study and obedience, ritual and an empty bed." He leaned against Kin's muscular shoulder. "I would have been a Druid, aye, but there are times when the gods will have their way and they sent you to me." He lifted his mouth for a kiss. "Had they intended me for vows, they would have sent you to another that night, and left me to watch the fire, hear the priests and sleep alone!"

"Aye, mayhap." Kin lay back, pillowing bran against him. "Sing, then. Only for me. Then, if you will take your pay in favours how could I take offence?"

"You could not," Bran snorted, "not when you have my undivided attention!" He stroked the harp strings again, producing a lilting series of quarter tones, and sang, an old song, the words written for a prince long ago and rendered for Kinnamus now in a high, sweet voice that was a little husky.

A voice that could make Kin's spine tingle and his heart ache. Bran would have prospered as a bard, been wealthy and debauched, treasured by his masters, loved to the point of destruction. The notion made Kin smile against the feathery curls as the song ended, and he pressed a kiss to Bran's ear. "Sweet as honey, my love. How many chiefs would call themselves fortunate to possess you?"

"Possess me?" Bran set the harp aside, took a glance up the empty road and turned over in Kin's embrace, pillowed on him and wriggling pleasurably. "In what way?" he asked, eyes twinkling with mischief. "As a bard or a bedwarmer?"

"As a bard, little scamp," Kin scolded. "Although perhaps they would welcome you between their sleeping skins as readily to their hearth."

"Perhaps?" Bran nipped his shoulder with sharp teeth. "You have told me how winsome I am. Are you in doubt of a sudden?"

Kin laughed, palming Bran's small buttocks and squeezing them. "In no doubt, sweetheart. But some men warm only to girls, and if you accepted an invitation into the bed of your master's wife --" He chuckled. "An hour's pleasure would cost you your head. And," he added confidentially, "no few of these ricons are strange in their habits, so I have been told."

"Strange?" Kin lifted his head. "Ho so? What do they do that we do not?"

With an effort, Kin disguised his expression. "They would delight in you, I should think. Aye, bind you hand and foot, until your body was taut as harp strings and unable to shift by a hand's breadth. Have you ever been whipped with silk? No? There is just a little pain, enough to stir your loins to fire. And feathers to tickle you, and a little cold water for these." He kissed Bran's nipples, as much to hide his laughter as tease his lover. Bran was breathing a little faster, excited by the growled suggestions, and Kin took the game further. "Bound, you would be at their mercy, and begging to be mated before they had done with you, and perhaps they would torture you, with a kitten."

"A -- kitten?" Bran was bordering on outrage now, suspecting that he was being teased.

"A kitten," Kin said innocently, nibbling Bran's chest, feeling the quick beat of his heart beneath fine, thin skin and shapely bone. "A kitten with sharp little claws and a rough tongue, which would knit amongst your fur and find something deliciously salty to lick, until you screamed to be freed and mated." He lifted his head at last, daring a glance at Bran's face.

He knew he was being teased but the game was too vastly arousing for it to matter any longer. The green eyes were half closed, his mouth soft and lax, and Kin stroked across his belly to find a throbbing heat at his groin. "You are a monster," Bran said breathlessly. "I should think no one has ever been tortured with a kitten, it is your own wicked imagination!"

"Now, there you are in error," Kin said wisely and honestly, past memories from many years before bringing him a chuckle. "But I have a wicked imagination, I do not dispute." He pressed his palm to Bran's swollen cock, luxuriating in its pulses and twitches.

"And you have not paid me for the song," Bran added.

Kin's head came up, a suspicious expression on his face. "What will you have from me then?" he asked, wary, on the lookout for a game. Bran was rarely slow to respond in kind, no matter what the contest. He was a little flushed, his eyes very bright, lashes downcast.

"I have no kitten and nothing to tie you with, no silk scourge or feathers," Bran said smoothly, "or I would treat you to your own fantasy. I shall have to make do with what I have to hand." He knelt up and took off his leathers, murmuring in relief as he cock was freed from its confinement.

Kin lay still, admiring the sight, for the thousandth time thanking the gods of his fathers for sending him to the right fire that Beltaine Eve five years before. His eyes roamed from Bran's long, slender legs to his flushed face and back again. "What you have to hand would probably suffice," he admitted.

"Probably?" Bran sat on the heather beside him, quickly stripping him and gave him a tug to spur him to action. "I would have your mouth first. Was the song not worth that, before you are mated?" His voice was a seductive purr, and Kinnamus laughed breathlessly, feeling the kick of arousal along his nerves.

"I would eat you alive for the pleasure of it, song or no," he admitted, going about the task he had been set. "Keep an eye on the road, sweeting, or we might receive the last surprise of our lives if Madawg's raiders come this way."

"Not in a year," Bran said, sighing as Kin began to suck him. "There are no wains, nothing for them to rob, and they do not rush about for the exercise... Ah, gods, that is so sweet. Lick me there, aye, and there. Ah, love, harder, and with your fingers like -- like that." He shivered, clutching Kin's shoulders to support himself as he knelt in the heather.

Too soon he could take no more and pushed Kin away. Kin looked up at him, loving him very much as he saw the tortured, flushed face. "Let me taste you as you come," He asked huskily.

But Bran shook his head. "Later. I want you," he said, even his voice shaking with the ferocity of desire commanding him. "Spread for me, if you are ready." He reached out, fingers trembling on Kin's proud shaft. "Or would you have me suck you a little before...?"

"Later," Kin echoed, eager to have Bran inside him now. He bent to lave the musky column of Bran's cock once more, turning and kneeling when he was satisfied, and settled to wait with a great impatience. "Ah, gods," he wheezed as Bran pierced him, "deeper, love -- aye, and more -- harder. Bran!" It was difficult to remember a time when he had not even considered accepting the gift of this kind of pleasure, a time when he had believed it beneath a warrior's pride to submit. On the night he had found Bran, Bran had been just a lad, beautiful and ripe for plucking, but not a warrior.

Now, it was a warrior who rode him, and Kin was eager for it, knowing how to relax, straining to open, to accept his lover, to give pleasure as he was given it. Bran was gasping, the rhythm of his hips growing erratic. Kin stilled, on the edge of climax, waiting for the incredible sensations of Bran coming within him, knowing the explosion against the pleasure place within him would like as not release him too. It did; the last, hard thrust and sudden, violent climax that shattered through Bran sent Kinnamus tumbling over the peak of a second behind him, and then they were sprawling in the heather, breathless and laughing at each other.

"Fair wages for a song, I would warrant," Kin panted. "More than fair! If you were paid in such coin for every ditty past your lips, you would be old before your time!"

"And you twice as old, from your exertions on my behalf," Bran scoffed, biting Kin's shoulder as he was hugged close. "Ah, I love you. Have I made you hurt? I was quick and hard, wasn't I?"

"No more eager than I," Kin chided, "and no, not hard. You have never been rough, little dove. I don't think you would know how to be rough. And I love you, and you're beautiful, but we must dress again." He smacked Bran's pliant mouth with a kiss and stroked his rump appreciatively. "Would that you could lie in the sun this way all day, but --" Kin gave a snort of helpless laughter. "If the raiders came out of those woods, you would be swept away with them and ravished all night, aye, and in turn by half Madawg's tribe."

"And they," Bran said with mock gravity, "are almost certain to have a kitten or two." He nibbled Kin's nose and sat up. "I think... I shall dress."

Kin lay still, watching his lover pull the leathers back on, though Bran made no move to dress further, simply reaching for his harp again, his shaded eyes watching their dog digging into a rabbit warren beneath the trees. Long, square fingers traced down Bran's spine. "I think... I shall acquire a kitten," Kin teased. Bran shot him a sultry look over his shoulder. "To keep the mice down," he amended innocently.

They laughed again and Bran went back to his instrument as Kin saw to his body's needs after its mating, and dressed. He stretched, working his spine to and fro to ease the stiffness from it and merely smiling at the slight soreness, for it simply reminded him of where Bran had been, what they had done. They had never hurt one another intentionally and were too careful to do so by accident. Love and mating were the culmination of being alive; often Kin was sure his heart would not survive the wrench of emotion Bran ignited in him.

They watched the road and dozed, trusting Rua to set up a storm of barking as Madawg's people appeared, and woke when afternoon was growing chill. Hungry for Kin's mouth, Bran kissed his lover soundly to wake him from his catnap, only then realising that Kin had the green stone in his palm, had slept with it in his grasp. He lifted one brow at his lover suspiciously.

"You have been with them, without me," he accused. "That was cheating."

"But you had Bodie while you were limping from your last cut, and I was scouting along the hills," Kin protested. "So we are no less than even."

Bran's slim shoulders shrugged in acceptance and his eyes warmed. "You had Ray?" Kin's smile assured him that Kin had. "It was good?"

"It's always as fine with Ray as with you," Kin murmured. "I love him as I love you. He is as beautiful, aye, and as wilful as you. I have watched him be hurt, again and again, as I have watched you be hurt. I know his scars, one by one, as I know yours." Kin opened his arms, wanting to hold Bran for a time. "We were travelling, he and I, in their city of stone, surrounded by the noise and clamour of people, but we were escaping." He smiled against the soft, feathery curls, "They escape into the hills and woods when they are able, to be like us."

"They are less fortunate than we, I think," Bran mused. "I have learned to like their world and value their friends, but there is so much hardship, so much hate there." He stirred, nuzzling Kin's neck. "What did you do?"

"We were fishing," Kin told him. "The whole day. The rain held off, we caught trout and slapped them onto a griddle over a fire on the river bank, drank spirits of barley and laughed, and then I mounted him and he bucked like a young horse, on a rug woven in Pictish tartan." He closed his eyes, remembering Ray with a shiver. The thought of those long, elegant fingers pleasuring him, that husky voice telling him in earthy tones how beautiful was Bodie, could stir his blood at any time. He might have envied Bodie his lover, but it was Bran sucking gently on the lobe of his ear and there was no place for envy.

Bran was watching his face shrewdly. "It is hard to think of us and not think of them," he mused. "When you are within me, it could be Bodie loving me -- I love you both." He paused, smiling at Kin's expression of idle contentment. "Ray loves you both, I know. I have felt his love for Kinnamus Iron Hand."

"Aye. And Bodie dreams of Bran whether he holds the Druid stone or not," Kin added. He tugged a curl teasingly. "And they would be wet dreams, save for the fact Ray is never far away and easy to waken!" He handed back the green stone, looping its thong over Bran's head. "I am hungry -- where is our relief?"

A band of Connach's warriors should have arrived already to replace them on watch above the road and already the shadows were growing long. It was a long ride back to the settlement and they watched the time keenly, listening for hooves on the road. It was nearly dark and getting cold when the ring of ponies' shoes on pebbles reached their ears, but the smiles of greeting were short lived, replaced at once by the sound of bowstrings and the cry of warriors hunting for a battle.

Madawg's raiders needed no excuse to fight. Six of them were in the woods by the brimming river, a deer tied over the withers of one of their horses, and though they had been out to secure meat the chance of a skirmish was too good to be passed over. As they appeared Kin and Bran watched two members of Connach's warband, Govan and Selgi, duck out of the way of the loose arrows, taking cover behind the young trees along the river trail.

They were outnumbered -- Kin, Bran and their replacements against six of Madawg's men, but the raiders were too wild and untrained to fight well. The skirmish was brief, bloody, and two lay dead before Madawg's hunters turned tail. The swordsteel leapt in Bran's hands with a deft surety now, so long had he been a master of sword, and Kin had spent most of his life studying the diverse arts of war. They fought shoulder to shoulder, relishing the exercise after days of indolence. But Govan was less fortunate; pierced to the heart, he lay as cold and dead as one of the raiders before the fight was done.

Panting, Kin scooped to clean the chipped blade of his sword on the grass before sliding it back into its leather baldric. "Connach will be furious. Madawg's embassy swore there would be no more incursions into this tauth."

"And he is likely to believe Madawg," Bran snorted, blotting at a scratch on his forearm. He shook his head over Govan's body with regret, turning toward Selgi. "We will send a party back for his body, and to relieve you."

"Ride swiftly, then," Selgi said, his eyes still on his swordbrother, his heart obviously leaden with regret.

It was dark but the moon showed her face above the hills as they rode down the sweep of the river and began the climb up to Whiterock. The settlement stood on the shoulder of a hill, naturally fortified by its position, and stockaded also, held captive within a high timber wall. Guards along the stockade called down to them and Kin shouted back, his voice well known as that of the chief's son, not his heir, largely disinherited because of his bonding with the Druid lad, but Connach's son nonetheless and due a degree of respect.

"Tell Connach, there has been fighting," Kinnamus added. "Govan is dead, and one of Madawg's raiders. And send men to stand by Selgi, for he is alone."

Lads came from the stables to take their ponies and Kin and Bran stepped gratefully over their own threshold. The house was cold and dark, the hearth dead for days while they had been on the road, the food stale. Bran left Kin lighting oil lamps and seeing to the fire, swinging a cloak about his shoulders and heading across the compound toward Connach's feasting hall for a fresh meal.

He was unwelcome there. Many of the warriors, backing Connach, looked at him as if he were a poisonous little harlot; others castigated him for the breaking of his noviciate's vows. In any event, he had captured a ricon's son, cost Connach a whole generation of legal childkin, and there were many at Whiterock who would have preferred to see Bran leave. If Kin left also, Bran would have gone readily, but travelling was not so simple, when a rider must cross several borders in a single day, and cross swords with the scouts of as many chiefs, none of whom were kindly toward armed strangers.

Bran had never disputed that his honour was a doubtful commodity. He had taken vows as a noviciate, and then broke them -- to warm a warrior's bed. There was precious little honour in that and his face could still flush at the memory. Passion had assaulted him, taken him utterly by surprise, ensnared him before he was aware of what was happening. His body had woken to desire a season before he was permitted to attend the Beltaine feasts and, there, met Kinnamus. He had seen a girl, swimming naked in a pool, and had been transfixed by the beauty of the human form; suddenly aware that such beauty existed, he looked at others, felt the pangs of admiration and desire as he looked at girls and young men alike, seeing beauty everywhere through the eyes of his innocence.

He wanted to make love, felt the tug of fascination, the pain of loneliness, both sharpened by youth, and Bran admitted in retrospect, that Beltaine he had been fair game for seduction. He had half hoped someone would seduce him; he had never dared to dream he would be mated and wake the next morning in love. There was a gulf of difference between mating rituals and loving, he had known that even as a boy, as he had watched enough casual mating to recognise how shallow and meaningless the act really was. A few moments of pleasure, the loss of innocence, the initiation into adulthood... It was not what he had wanted. If someone had merely seduced him he might have woken with a smile and gone back to his teachers, back to Mona, taking with him the knowledge of what it was like to be held and kissed, and perhaps mated.

To be sure, Kinnamus had done that. He had had every inch of Bran's body, inside and out, before he was done, taking what was offered with delicate finesse and much tenderness; but there was more. Bran had recognised it on an instinctive level long before he was aware that what was making him ache inside was love. It was morning, he was limp with the night's exhaustion, his body tender, sore and gently cherished, before he knew what was happening, Kinnamus washed him, fed him, held him while he slept, and laughed at him for his foolishness as he asked the most painful of questions, 'You have taken all I have', he had said -- Bran remembered the words well, remembered looking up at the warrior whose beauty had seduced him in the firelight. Kin had stood there, white, tall, lean, his hair black, his eyes as blue as the summer sky. He had been dressing while Bran lay in the ash by the hearth, half wrapped in a yellow calf hide, naked within it and trying to hid his sorrow. 'You have taken all I have, will you be leaving me so soon?' He had meant to ask the warrior to stay only a little longer, for the morning, perhaps for the day if it was possible.

Kin had stayed forever. He had picked up the Druid's white robe, holding its woolen folds to his face so as to breathe in the scent of Bran's body, then knelt to lift the calf hide away from the boy. Bran flushed as he lover feasted his eyes on his nakedness, and Kin kissed him: a kiss for each eye, his mouth, each nipple and his soft, sated cock, which was beyond responding. The blue eyes had smiled laughingly at him. Bran cherished the memory, kept it sharp by often relishing it, remembering how he had been lifted, the robe slipped back onto him, before Kin rolled them both in the calfhide and held him tight while they slept off the night's excesses.

Master Havren was furious, white to the lips with anger as he found his student asleep in a warrior's arms. Bran remembered the old man's tirade, his own scarlet flush of shame and the terror at being discovered. He still had to go back to Mona to study, he thought, and they would purge him for his transgressions; pain and privation as the cost of a night's pleasure. There had been despair as he sat enduring the tirade, the awful knowledge that he would never see Kinnamus again, the expectation of hunger and whipping as he was chastised, as if fasting and the lash could restore virginity to a body that had been offered for buggery, and taken. The shame of what he had done was still stinging, years later, but Bran could smile now, for the scene was overset by pride. He had been spoken for.

Little more than a boy himself, Kin had drawn his sword, held it to the old teacher's chest and right there, in the blue light of day, claimed Bran for his own. Havren had been utterly taken aback, his anger no less livid though his tongue was effectively silenced, and Kin bundled Bran out of their way at once. Bran thought back to the soft/rough feel of wool and leather about him as he shed the Druid's robe forever and dressed as an ordinary lad.

No one noticed him anymore, but there was still the nagging sting, not of shame but of lost honour. By day, he tended the horses, learned to ride as well as Kin himself, fetched and carried, learned how to sharpen blades and keep them polished. But by night the dark pleasures of Kin's bed were as double edged as any of his weapons. Bran took off his clothes and tended his mate's body, rubbing it with oil until Kin's old wounds no longer hurt, his skin was soft as a child's and his cock was heavy with blood, aroused by loving hands. Those hands would work steadily, accompanied by a mouth of growing skill, Bran deriving a deal of satisfaction from his abilities to keep a man content in body and spirit. When he was mated, Kin took him with the greatest tenderness, giving him pleasure he had never dreamed could exist, and the only cause he had to fret was that he had forsaken the Druidai to undertake the life of a catamite. A bedmate. A warrior's plaything. Kin spoke often of love, easing the burden of what Bran had done, but even so, it was not enough.

In the months that followed, Bran learned to rue his lofty pretensions as his limbs ached and his body was cut and bruised. Kin laughed at him, but fondly, and at night when Bran was too weary to attend to his mate as he should have, after he had managed his duties and devoted his every spare instant to mastering the skills of the warrior, Kin would attend to him instead, rubbing him with oil, dabbing vinegar onto his cuts and then loving him when Bran's nerves returned to life and stirred in arousal. With his blooding as a warrior, honour was restored and Bran was content, counting himself fortunate indeed; to have bonded with a warrior, to be loved and in love, to be a warrior in his own right at an age when, had he had been on Holy Mona, he would still have been an acolyte.

He returned to the present as the door of Connach's feasting hall banged open before him, spilling firelight out onto the darkened compound. There was singing inside, the bards were busy and the gathering already inebriated. Bran slipped into the hall unseen, going soundlessly down by the wall to the cooking hearths where the girls worked, three sooty young creatures, slaves taken in raids in the south, whose lives were worth even less in Connach's house than was his own. He smiled at them and spoke kindly, and they loved him for it. Little Gwynyth took a dirk and cut the best of the pig off at the haunch for him, surreptitiously wrapping it in a leather before anyone could see what she had done. There were vegetables, black bread, a skin of ale, cheese and nuts, all slipped to him from the best of what was available before anyone noticed Bran's face.

There were jeers from some of the men, deprecations from others, smiles only from Amergin, Connach's Druid, who had long ago forgiven Bran for his broken vows as he took new vows from him and from Kin, vows which bound the two together. Bran smiled at the Druid, ignoring the others as he took the food and returned to the door. Connach's voice called him back before he could escape.

"What news from the frontier?" Connach roared, and Bran turned to look at him, wondering again how such as this could be Kin's father.

He put the food down by the door, pacing up the body of the hall in the firelight to touch his knee to the ground at Connach's feet. Stout, badger-grey and deeply lined, Connach glowered him, disapproval and dislike written in his face's every groove. "There has been fighting, lord," Bran said softly. "Goven is dead, and one of Madawg's men. Kinnamus fought well and is unharmed."

The ricon nodded, satisfied, beckoning Amergin with one hand. "You will go to Madawg on the morrow," he said as the tall, blond Druid came to attend him, one knee to the floor at Bran's side. "Tell him I will make war with him if even one more of his dogs crosses the border! Connach's word on it, and in blood!"

Amergin nodded, rising and accompanying Bran from the rowdy noise of the hall. In the chill, blue moonlight they stood together, enjoying the sudden quiet. "And you fought?" Amergin asked softly. "You re unhurt also? Connach would not think to ask."

"Connach would be happier if I were dead," Bran said lightly. "It is of no matter. Aye, I fought, but I am quick and strong. I was only scratched on my arm, it smarts but I have forgotten it already."

"Just so." The Druid smiled down at Bran, tipping up his chin to see his eyes. "Do not let the men in there rouse your ire, they are not worth it. Go home to your own and forget about them." He embraced the smaller man for a moment, kissing his forehead in parting. "Gods, it is cold tonight!"

Not, Bran thought as he hurried across the compound, that I have to worry about that. Kin was hot, even on the coldest of nights and, rolled in a sheepskin with him, it might have been high summer for all his bedmate would have known. The hearth was burning brightly as he ducked in under the doorskins and came to warm his hands. Lamps filled the single roomed house with light and the bed was turned back. A cup of wine was waiting for him, and Kin thrust a poke into it to heat it.

"They have given you the best of the food again," Kin laughed, surveying the meal. "One day they will be caught, and beaten -- and you with them for encouraging them. And I will not let Connach's men take s stick to you, and there will be fighting and we will be banished and have to flee in the night. And all for a joint of pig." He grabbed Bran and hugged him. "Tell them to be wiser."

Bran took a draught of hot wine and threw off his cloak. "I'm tired. Come to bed, bring the food with you."

They lay tangled among the sheepskins and rugs, eating and drinking until drowsiness and torpor claimed them. Kin would have liked to have Bran on top of him astride his cock and riding it, a ride both of them loved, but they were too tired and Bran was asleep, snuffling into the skins beneath his cheek, before Kin could even suggest it. Kin lay propped on one elbow, admiring the smooth, fluid line of his lover's back and thinking of Ray.

They had shared the Druid stone, and shared Ray and Bodie, for so long that two lives had become as one. It could have been Ray lying beside him, Kin could not have told him and Bran apart nor, he fancied, would he have wanted to. He kissed down Bran's spine, nuzzled at his buttocks, making him stir but not quite waken, and lay down himself, one hand tucked between Bran's legs, a gesture of affection and, he conceded, ownership. Bran was his, and his forever -- in whatever life. One day, far in the future, they would be known by other names, but it would not matter; they would be together, and that was all Kinnamus needed to know.

He put his head down beside Bran's, nose in the copper-brown curls, and closed his eyes, welcoming the embrace of sleep.

Bodie knew where he was before he came to. It was an ambulance. There was a jolting from the vehicle's rapid movement but no wailing siren, the sharp pain of a needle in his arm but no pain from his side, and, as he opened his eyes he was looking at Ray's worried face, peering at him over the shoulder of an ambulance man.

"He's awake," the stranger muttered, checking the blood bag suspended over Bodie's shoulder.

"Can see that." Doyle was trying for levity and not making it, his fear betrayed by his eyes, no matter how carefully he had sculpted his mask. "'Ullo, Bodie. How's tricks?"

"I've known better," Bodie croaked. "Where the 'ell 'ave you been?"

"I hitched a lift on the road, nearest transport caff," Doyle said with a spurious ease. "Called Cowley -- we're in Kent, believe it or not. Where the hops come from." The allusion to a past drama brought them both a flicker of amusement and Bodie pried open his eyes to take a better look at the gear surrounding him. "Just keep still, you've got more tubes than enough," Doyle cautioned. "IV for shock, and blood. You'll be fine, so they say." The relief was ample in his voice and Bodie lay back, relaxing under the influence of whatever medications and the knowledge that they were both safe. "Murphy and Anson brought a squad out, we hit the house half an hour ago," Doyle continued. "Fallon is dead." He nodded gravely as Bodie arched a brow at him. "I killed him."

Bodie shook his head slowly at Ray's closed-in expression. It had been a vengeance killing. He knew his Ray. Fallon would have had a gun in his hand and would probably have shot first, but a master marksman like Doyle could have shot to wound. Could have, but not that time. Not Ray. Bodie well knew the feeling and passed over the whole subject without a word. "Where's this thing going?"

"The usual place, in London. There's no hurry, not now." Doyle sat down on the bench opposite and leaned back tiredly against the side of the vehicle. "They'll keep you in for a couple of days, which means I get the joy of paperwork, then you're off until further notice. We're both due for a bit of leave, so I've put in for mine to coincide with your sick leave, thought we might go somewhere on holiday."

"Oh?" Bodie was having a hard time keeping his eyes open. "Where?"

"Ireland," Doyle said softly, watching Bodie fight to stay awake. As the blue eyes focused on him he held up the green stone, suspended from his fingers by its thong. "Was nice?" The question was just a bare whisper.

"Was lovely," Bodie said in the manner of a secret. "Tell you later, when I can unglue me bloody eyelids."

"I'll hold you to that," Doyle threatened, and was as good as his word.

Propped against the white linen pillows, hands about a cup of tea, a box of dark chocolates and a paperback in his lap, Bodie shared Kin and Bran with Ray in the tiniest of detail, right down to the heather in his hair after they had made love and the thoughts Kinnamus had had of Ray. "Lascivious thoughts," he added, licking his lips. "Kin loves you as much as I do. He'd eat you whole if he got the chance."

Ray laughed, appropriating one of the chocolates. "What makes you think he doesn't? They're us, you berk. You and me. They screw both of us through the bed, we do the same for them -- there's no difference. It doesn't change. It can't, you see; we're us. Always have been."

"Yeah." Bodie sipped his tea, taking a bite out of a caramel cream and feeding the rest to Doyle. "I want you in the heather, though, like them. Under the sky, you know. Want you wild and giggling, wrigglin' around under me with your knees around my neck." He saw the colour flush up in Ray's cheeks and smiled. "That's my lad. Kiss me?"

"Want to do it like that over there," Doyle admitted as they broke the kiss some time later. "See if we can find the exact place. If they haven't built a council estate all over it, if there's any privacy. I want to do it right there, where they did. Then sleep," he added, fingering the green stone. "With this." He gave Bodie a fond smile, wondering how much he would take for a bribe, to let his hair grow just a few inches longer. It was an absurd thought and he shook his head, never voicing it. "Christ, I love the pair of you," he growled, pressing his lips to Bodie's forehead. "And you've got yourself bloody hurt again. Damn, I remember the time I carried you home with a lance blade in your and Amergin sat up all night with us while you were off your head with fever!"

"Then this little scratch isn't anything to get into a sweat about," Bodie said scornfully. "Going to have a bit of a scar, but what the hell?"

"Right," Doyle admitted ruefully. "Even your scars are sexy, like your wrinkles."

"Wrinkles?" Bodie demanded. "I haven't got any more wrinkles than you have, mate!" He peered at Ray's face, seeing the lines of strain etched a little more deeply than usual. "They're not wrinkles. Good night's sleep and a decent meal, they'll vanish."

In answer, Doyle cupped his partner's face, thumb brushing the wide, pouting mouth. "Just get yourself out of here and home, and I'll feel ten years younger. They've had me slogging through the paperwork --"

"Speaking of which," Bodie interrupted, "was it Fallon, or what the hell was he doing, taking fright at the sight of us?"

Doyle's expression became grim. "Fallon was half of it. The other half was Julia Zardini. Her father died in prison about four months ago -- killed in a scuffle between inmates. Fallon was an old friend of the family and Julia turned to him looking for help in an old Italian tradition. Revenge. He had inside information on Sir William's estate through the bridge party Lady Malvern used to run every Wednesday for charity. It was so easy. Just blow the old man off his feet, and two wrongs make a right, you understand. Old Italian tradition."

"Old Irish tradition, too," Bodie said softly. "You killed Fallon for me."

"He hurt you," Doyle whispered. "I'll kill anyone who hurts you."

"Feeling's mutual," Bodie agreed soberly. "I remember carrying you off the killing field the day you were blooded -- well, Bran I mean, but what's the difference? I could have killed someone. Your blood was warm, on my hands, slick, awful. I hated it. Wanted to strike back, hurt someone the way you'd been hurt.

"He was already dead," Ray said levelly. "I saw him off before I went down. I can fight my own battles, Bodie -- in either life."

"I know," Bodie said honestly. "But don't ask me to pretend I don't notice when you get hurt, because I can't and won't." He opened his arms, wanting to hold Ray for a moment before visitors had to leave. "I'm fine, sweetheart, honestly. Just a bit stiff in the joints and sore in the side. They've topped me up with blood and I'm eating like a horse. See?" He demolished another chocolate to prove it.

Doyle cocked a glance at his middle. "You'll have to watch it or you'll be growing a spare tyre and Macklin'll be separating you limb from limb to get it off again." He stirred, checking the time and getting to his feet. "Still, if we're living rough over in Ireland you'll trim down again. Well, you will if you want to keep up with me." He winked, gave Bodie an outrageous, campy leer, and shrugged in apology. "Gotta go, love. Time and all that. I'll be back tomorrow, soon as I can get in. Keep taking the pills, okay?"

"Oh, sure." Bodie gave him a disgusted look which softened into an expression of affection. "Scram, before I proposition you and we get caught having a furtive quickie under the blankets. Not that I'd say no if you offered, mind you, but we'd give Nurse Dawkins the fright of her life."

"I'll bet." Ray paused, on a whim taking off the Druid stone and tossing it among the chocolates in Bodie's lap. "I can't, love, just don't dare, not here. But he can." He chuckled richly. "And I daresay he will. Enjoy him while you've got the chance, 'cause I'm going to keep you too exhausted to even think about two-timing me when you get out of here."

With that Doyle was gone and Bodie sat back against the pillows, rolling the green stone between his fingers and thinking of them both. Of Bran, the young earth, freedom and shared danger; of Ray, silk sheets, the pleasures of sophistication and the same shared dangers. The same face smiled at him from his memory, the same green eyes glittered with laughter and Bodie slipped the green stone into the jacket pocket of the pajamas he wore, absently noticing that it was still warm from Ray's skin.

He had one other visitor that evening, and it was a delightful surprise. Michael appeared, hesitant and ill at ease in such a building, bringing a bag of toffees and a card. It was the young Tinker's company Bodie valued as the best gift. He listened to stories of the big, rambling family he and Ray had met so briefly on the moors a year before, and to Michael's frank appreciation of George Cowley, who had waived the poaching charges on behalf of the local police, since Michael's very presence there had been invaluable.

There was a question on Michael's mind but he could not bring himself to voice it; Bodie could see it bursting to escape the young man's sealed lips, and knew instinctively what it was. He answered it without Michael having asked it, and smiled at the resulting blush. "Yes, your grandmother was right. We weren't lovers at the time, but we have been since that day. It's been a year, you know. Happiest year of my life. Will you tell that to Judith?"

"Aye," Michael said softly, flushing pink and abruptly shy. "I didn't meant to ask, but --"

"You didn't ask, I decided to tell you," Bodie said mildly. "Because I want you to tell Judith... To thank Judith, from both of us. There was something missing, for both of us, before. Oh, we were happy enough, but incomplete, if you get what I mean. Now, well, we belong. Does that make sense?"

"You're askin' a Tinker if belonging makes sense?" Michael gave him a scornful look. "Belonging's the only thing that keeps us together. We're the last of the Wild Geese, Bodie, the last of the free." His eyes twinkled with a little mischief. "If you ever get sick of working for Mr. Cowley, you could find us. Me Grandma had that stone all her life, waitin' for you; if that don't make you kin to us, nothing does."

And run away with the gypsies, Bodie thought as the visitors drifted away and the hospital shut down for the night. They doled out sleeping pills at ten and he took them, knowing he would lie awake otherwise, and tonight not wanting to be sleepless. Tonight he had the dreaming stone. The lure of freedom was undeniable but he knew better than to surrender to it. He and Doyle were warriors, not wanderers; they were no more free than Kin and Bran were free -- and no more captive -- and they belonged where they were.

Curiously content, Bodie palmed the Druid stone and closed his eyes.

-- THE END --


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