The pass key opened Bodie's front door at once, and Murphy watched Doyle slip it back into his pocket as if he owned it, moving absently on into the silence of the flat. Everything was exactly as Bodie had left it, right down to the unwashed coffee cup on the corner of the bureau, abandoned there in haste as 3.7 responded to the phonecall, a message that had lured him into what Murphy was worried was one scrape too many.

Four days, and Bodie was still missing. It was as if he had walked through the door into another dimension, disappearing off the face of the Earth. There were no notes from kidnappers, no ransom demands, no threats or promises or deals. All he left behind him was a check-in to Central, a muttered notification that his contact had 'turned up trumps,' and he was on his way to the rendezvous.

He had been working independently from Doyle at the time, both of them on the same case, but following their own leads, or Doyle might have had some clue as to what could have happened. They had found the silver Capri in a carpark in Hammersmith, but of Bodie there was no sign.

Forensics turned the car inside out, but it yielded up nothing of value. He had got out of the car, rolled the window up, locked it and left it, and that was that. No one had seen him leave it there - at eight at night the streets were beginning to empty. That had been on the Friday evening; this was Tuesday, and Doyle was looking five years older with the strain of waiting and wondering and fretting.

As yet, Murphy worked solo as often as not, but Cowley had threatened him with a partner; once, he had scorned the idea of being paired, but the years of watching 3.7 and 4.5 at work had warmed him to the proposition... Today, he thought better of it. When you worked with another human being for such an enormous part of your life - often sixteen hours a day and seven days a week, you got close. Closer than family, closer than any two people ever had the right to be. And then this kind of thing happened.

Ray was hurting, Murphy did not have to look at him to know that. It was as if a large chunk of himself had been cut out, he guessed; while it was gone, there was no way to rest, no space for humour. If this was what happened when you let yourself be turned into one of a pair of Siamese twins, they could keep partnership, Murphy decided.

Not that all partnerships were ever as close as Bodie and Doyle - far from it; most were working arrangements, nothing more. But just now and then, two men were so 'right' together that hey became like two halves of the same whole. 3.7 and 4.5 were like that. There was even some gossip among the older inmates of CI5 that suggested the two men were much more than good friends, but Murphy reserved judgement on that question - there were girls by the score trotting about, doing their bidding. No, gossip was just gossip... Though, he thought wryly as he watched Doyle padding noiselessly around Bodie's flat, the capacity was there, the groundwork was already complete, to turn speculation into truth one day, even if it had not already happened.

It did not perturb Murphy at all; he had 'been around and around' for too many years and in too many places for him to turn up his nose at the concept of real, genuine affection. There wasn't enough of it in the world to start with, to make it logical to start castigating people for their gentler feelings.

In all probability, the gossip was still just gossip, but one thing remained: Ray Doyle was hurting. It showed in the lines etched about his eyes, lines Murphy had never noticed before, as if they had not been there at all while Bodie was around. It showed in the restless way he moved, how he could not be still. He was here on Cowley's orders, going though the silent, empty flat in search of some clue as to what Bodie could have been up to on the Friday, but Murphy guessed that he would have been here anyway, just for the sake of being here, soaking in what little of Bodie he could still reach, through the medium of his things.

Predictably, Bodie's few possessions were neat and tidy; no papers were strewn about to make the hunt for clues any easier, and Doyle had to dig for them. Murphy watched him go through the bureau's drawers. In one, Bodie kept his writing things, a jotter, a pack of decent stationery and envelopes, a bunch of pencils, sharpener and rubber, three biros of assorted colours, a Little Oxford Dictionary, a packet of paperclips, not a word written on anything. In another drawer were his household accounts, gas, electric, phone. The electricity account was overdue now, and Murphy watched Doyle slip it into his own pocket, obviously intending to pay it for him before they turned off the power.

Next, Doyle turned toward the bookcase. Bodie never read much, and two of the four shelves were taken up with ornaments. A piece of carved wood with the face of a kudu, a relic of his travels in Darkest Africa; a mermaid in mother-of-pearl, a relic of his fortnight's holiday in Bognor. A little silver cup, won by fair means; he had been the CI5 unit champion in the small arms competition for two years - before Doyle beat him in the third and fourth years, only to be pipped at the post himself by a raw recruit, largely due to the hangover he was sporting. Which had all been Bodie's doing. Of course.

But there were two shelves of books, gathering a little dust. They had Bodie stamped all over them, and Doyle smiled as he looked at the spines. There was Kipling - Barrack Room Ballads, Kim. And Jack London - The Call Of The Wild, Whitefang. A big text book, Hammer Of The North, about the Vikings. Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, well read and the worse for wear, The Cruel Sea, and Lord Of The Rings, with a book mark about half way through it. Sir Walter Scott was there, too: Ivanhoe, and Stephenson's The Black Arrow. Then one got into more predictable waters, with Harold Robbins, Hammond Innes, Clive Cussler.

Doyle smiled, shook his head fondly, and began to go through the books. It wouldn't be the first time that something was found slipped into a paperback for 'safe keeping.' He went through Shogun and The Pirate, finding nothing, and then was drawn to Hammer Of The North and Lord Of The Rings - the first because it was so large as to draw the eye, the second because it had a book mark in it, and was obviously what Bodie was reading now.

"Colorful tastes, our Bodie," he murmured, flipping the pages of the big, glossy text on Vikings, their culture and mythology. "Bet he wishes he was a Viking." He perched on the arm of the couch, switching to the fat paperback. "Or maybe he wishes he was a warrior in this... Ever read it?"

"No. Never had a year to spare," Murphy grinned. "The rate I read - and the time I get to read in, I'd be there for a decade with a book that size. Sad to say, a racing form's about as close as I get to lit these days. You read a lot, don't you?"

"Fair bit," Doyle nodded. "Not this sort of stuff as a rule, but I read it a longtime ago, when I was going through my 'Conan The Barbarian Phase.' All the blokes are six foot three and built like King Kong, all the birds are lusty, busty and trusty, don't know how to say 'no' ... Oh, Christ, there's nothing here, Murph. I've been beating my brains out for days, trying to work out what the hell Bodie was up to. Cowley wants to send a forensics squad in here, take the place apart a stick at a time. Me? I'm just making guesses. And guessing wrong."

"You're tired," Murphy shrugged. "Can't expect to be sharp as a tack when you haven't put your head down in days. Want a cuppa? Bodie must have the makings around here."

"Milk'll be sour," Doyle said vaguely, still looking at the books.

"So maybe he'll have condensed," Murphy suggested. "Look on the bright side for a change." He took a step toward the kitchen and turned back. "If it's any consolation to you, I think I know how you're feeling... And I hope somebody'll pine for me when this happens. If this ever happens to me which, God forbid."

With that he was gone and Doyle blinked after him. Pining? Was he? Was that what it looked like? He sighed heavily: yeah, that was what it would look like. And that was what it felt like. Getting up, he walked around the sofa and collapsed onto its cushions with the books on his chest, listening to the sounds of Murph's considerate domestic industries. He heard the 'eureka' as he found a can of milk, heard the tea caddy clanging about and the kettle coming to the boil, and closed his eyes, for the thousandth time putting his brain through the shredder in the search for some snippet of information.

Bodie had been chasing leads to do with a man called Schwerin, who was apparently retailing narcotics of all varieties and dealing in arms of chiefly Soviet manufacture; he had a small mercenary army on the payroll and his name had been linked with every armed conflict since 'Nam. He was in 'The Game' for fun and profit, and if, along the way, a legitimate government came tumbling down, and archeological relics or masterworks of art went missing forever, that was par for the course.

An anonymous tipoff had suggested, a month before, that Schwerin was arming the mob right here in England, and if it had not been CI5's business before, now it was. A mob armed with bricks and such was bad enough, but a mob armed with Russian machine pistols could account for every copper on the streets of London or Manchester or Birmingham, and if that happened -

Anarchy. And there was a fortune to be made out of anarchy. Doyle sighed, rubbing his eyes. Schwerin had crossed swords with CI5 three times before, and they were costly confrontations. CI5 had cost him a lot of money, a lot of operatives, time, opportunity resources. Bodie had made a face over the file as he read it, recognising several of the unsavoury characters in Schwerin's merc army from years back. The days when he had been every bit as mercenary as these men still were.

So, by that token, they would recognise Bodie, and they harboured a positive loathing for CI5 in general. In all probability, Bodie was dead, and had been dead since Friday night, and it was only Doyle's stubborn mind that refused to accept that and get used to it.

Get used to the idea that Bodie was dead meat, his body weighted at the bottom of the river? How? A tearing pain ripped through his chest every time he tried to ram the concept into his conscious mind, and if he fell asleep for a few moments in sheer exhaustion, Bodie was there in his dreams, alive and laughing, making it impossible to accept -

The truth? Doyle slammed the books shut savagely and pulled himself upright on the couch. All right, so he would have no choice but to accept it when he had Bodie's dead body before him on a marble slab at the morgue, but until that moment he was damned if he was going to meekly take the concept of death into himself and accept it.

"Cup of cha, Ray?" Murphy's voice said quietly, intruding on the confusion of his thoughts, and he extended a hand, wrapping his fingers about the hot ceramic and bringing the cup to his lips. It was too sweet, but it was hot and it hit the spot. He leaned his elbows on his knees and studied the carpet. Murphy thought he had never seen Ray look so miserable, so forlorn, and he thought back to the popular, whispered gossip about the two agents.

Lovers? Doyle looked like an abandoned waif on a blasted heath under a sky promising a thunderstorm. Lovers. He should have seen it a long time ago, he who knew them better than anyone else, except perhaps the Cow. A new thrill of sympathy wormed through Murphy. "Hey, Ray," he said softly. "It's not over till the final whistle."

The green eyes were a little red from their sleepless nights, but Doyle was still alert enough to hear, and he nodded. "Scintillating company, aren't I?"

"Doesn't matter," Murph shrugged. "When your better half's going through the mincer, you can't be expected to sparkle, can you."

"No," Doyle agreed, and it was several moments before the exact wording sank in. "Better half?"


"I know, Murph. What made you say better half?" Doyle lifted one brow, curious, too tired to be at all defensive. "I mean, that's idiomatic for 'spouse' in this man's language."

"Well, I mean," Murphy said, and spread his hands. "I thought..."

There was a moment of silence, then Doyle prompted, "Go on. You thought what?"

"That you and Bodie were... Well..."

Doyle blinked at him. "Married?"

"Something like that," Murphy admitted. "You mean you're not...?"

"Lovers?" A smile twitched at Ray's mouth. "Not unless he's been coming 'round to my flat in the middle of the night and takin' advantage of me in my sleep, and then sneaking away again!"

"Oh." Murphy had the grace to blush a little and avert his eyes. "Er, sorry, Ray. Didn't mean to be insulting."

"Wasn't insulted," Doyle told him, "so stop blushing like a schoolgirl, mate. Doesn't bother me. You know me, man of the world, broad minded and all that. Mind you, if you start calling me 'gay' you might get biffed - and Bodie might belt you too!"

"But I just did, didn't I?" Murphy demanded. "I just assumed you and Bodie were sleeping together!"

"Ah, that's my fault," Doyle sighed. "That's what it must look like, I know. It hasn't happened yet though."

And as he spoke, Murphy could tell that there was no aversion or revulsion in Doyle. As if he was quite open to the idea of sleeping with his partner, of making love with a man. "You've thought about it?" he asked, not intending to pry, just honestly curious.

"No, not consciously." Doyle sipped at the hot, sweet tea.

"But you don't sound surprised," Murphy observed tactfully.

"Well... Maybe I'm too tired to react much," Doyle admitted. "Maybe on a good day I'd have shot straight through the ceiling and hit you... Maybe I wouldn't, who knows? Bodie and me go back so far it feels like we're an old married couple, sometimes. Should see us when we go shopping for our groceries together. He's pushing a trolley around the supermarket and I'm flitting from the processed peas to the chicken soup, and then we'll get in the queue at the checkout and stand glued together reading a magazine out of the rack to pass the time away, and he'll ruffle may hair and make a mess of it, and give me a shove on the backside to get me to move when the queue gets going... Come to think of it, I can imagine what people think!" he paused, drinking the tea. "I'm too tired to be shocked, and too blue to argue, Murph. Want to go over the flat like Cowley said?"

"I'll do it," Murphy suggested. "Why don't you put your head down for half an hour? You look like hell."

If the truth was told, Doyle felt like hell too. He knew he would not sleep much if at all, but his bones were aching and Murphy's offer of a few minutes flat on his back were too good to turn down. He drained the cup of its last cold dregs and ambled into the bedroom. Bodie's bedroom. The sheets were chocolate brown under a beige quilt, and the curtains were drawn, shutting out the wan spring sunlight of midafternoon. Kicking off his shoes and dropping his jacket on top of them, Doyle inched his way into the middle of the big double bed, put his head down on the pillow that must have been Bodie's, going by the smell of it, and closed his eyes.

It was an odd sensation, lying there in the semidarkness, his nose busy suggesting that Bodie was here too. Murphy's kind observation spun round and round in his head, taking shape as his tired mind wandered and did as it liked. He was long past the point at which he could order his thoughts, and in any case, there was a thrill of undeniable pleasure to the course they were taking.

Lovers? Christ, what an idea. If Bodie was here right now, there would be a dip in the mattress, and the sounds of breathing in his ear, maybe the weight of an arm on him. The feel of skin on skin, the soft-skin-over-hard-muscle feel he knew so well from the wrestling sessions they had shared in the gym. Oh, there was nothing strange about Bodie: he knew that body down to its last mole, the look of it, feel and smell. He had seen Bodie aroused once or twice, too, on shared holidays, when he had caught a glimpse through a door left thoughtlessly ajar, or arrived back ten minutes too early. Bodie had never minded, even though he was usually rather touchy about things like that: there was an openness about their relationship that they both took for granted. So Doyle had come back early and seen his partner with an impressive hard-on... So what? A quick grin, a 'sorry, mate,' a closed door, and that was the end of it.

Doyle inhaled, catching the faint whiff of Bodie off the bedding. If Bodie was here right now, warm down his left side, it would have been nice. Comforting, reassuring. Idly, he wondered if Bodie was good to touch; he was good to look at, the artist in Doyle had always thought that, but touching, other than good natured wrestling, was out of the question. Warm, soft-hard, solid, real, he thought, picturing Bodie's face in sleep, his mouth curved into a smile, those blue eyes shuttered, fanned by the long blue-black lashes.

The Bodie-smile preyed on his helpless mind, and before he knew what was happening he was wondering what it would be like to kiss him. Bodie had a nice mouth, nice teeth, and when he kissed a bird he did it with gusto... Would he kiss me like that? Doyle wondered, and as he sank down onto the fringes of sleep he realised that he wished Bodie would.

Damn! He came to with a start, never having been fully asleep, and had to laugh scornfully at himself. Christ, one little chance remark made kindly by a close friend, and his imagination went into overdrive, making the rest up as it went along. He had always had a vivid imagination. He had in ten short minutes fantasized the cuddling and kissing, and if he didn't get up off that bed now he would be fantasizing the loving. It was so easy - too easy, frighteningly so.

And more frightening still was the realisation in Doyle's mind that he wanted it to happen. He hauled himself up to sit against the headboard, rubbing his eyes, reflecting on the absurdity of it. Here was one of George Cowley's finest, lying on his best friend's bed, thinking about necking with another man, and liking the idea, wicked imagination supplying every wanton little detail. The brush of whiskers, the flick of his tongue, the Bodie-scent strong in his nose, the pressure of arms about him, the little groan that would let him know that Bodie was liking it, was getting turned on by his own licking and -

And then he realised, belatedly and with a kick of surprise that he was the one getting turned on. A throb of heat coiled through his groin and he stifled a moan. Jesus, not now, not when Murphy was close at hand, not when Bodie had fallen off the face of the earth and was very probably as dead as a door nail -

No! Doyle was up off the bed in half a second, padding unshod into the bathroom to splash his face with cold water. No, damnit, Bodie was not dead, and the sooner his subconscious got that the better. He was pulling a fluffy white towel over his face when Murphy appeared at the door.

"Ray? You all right?"

The unexpected half-erection had dwindled and he nodded, hanging the towel up again. "Yeah, I'll live."

"You look worse than you did when you lay down - been dreaming or something?" Murphy asked, concerned.

So it showed - the surprise of discovering, right out of the blue, that if Blue-Eyes Bodie made a pass at him, Raymond Doyle would fall right into his arms and surrender his body...

Christ, if Bodie was only here to make that pass.

"I'm okay, Murph, really," he lied. "You find anything?"

Murphy shook his head. "No. It's no good... Don't reckon forensics'll come up with anything, either, to be truthful. Bodie just made a cup of coffee, sat down to drink it, maybe picked up his book - Lord of The Rings, going by the book mark - or put the telly on, or the radio. Then the phone rang. He picked it up, got a tipoff, put the cup down on the corner of the bureau because he was in too much of a hurry to wash it or even take it to the sink... walked out through the front door, and woosh. Gone."

"He drove to Hammersmith, parked in the carpark in front of the fish shop, locked the car and went to meet his contact," Doyle said wearily. "The contact betrays him, hands him to Schwerin's mob, and then... Oh, God. I'm so tired."

"Go home now," Murphy told him. "I'll get Peter Cooper to come over to your flat, give you some valium or something, give you some sleep. You need it, Ray, or you're going to keel over face first."

"No doctors, no drugs," Ray said heatedly. Cooper was a good doctor, but there was no yearning in his mind for the kind of oblivion Murph was talking about, drugged stupor that shut out the nothing without for the nothing within, made the world go away until you woke up with a hangover and had to face it again.

"You're doin' no one any good this way," Murphy argued. "Least of all yourself. Wish you could see yourself - you look like you came off worst in a drinking contest!"

"Flattery will get you everywhere," Doyle muttered.

"Okay, no doctors. But go home, lie down, rest. Eat something. I'll drop you off on the way back to Central and make your excuses to Cowley." He watched the flicker of agreement in the downcast green eyes. "Okay, then. I'll send for forensics - much good it'll do us, though - and we'll get out of here." He paused, clearly uncomfortable. "Is there... Is there anything you'd like to take with you. Anything of Bodie's?"

"Shouldn't really touch anything," Ray said doubtfully.

"I mean something personal," Murphy murmured. "You know."

His reward was a tired smile of much affection, and Doyle nodded. "Yeah, as a matter of fact there is. Just a sec." He pulled the photograph album off the bottom shelf of the book case, opened it and peeled out a few 35mm snaps, stood looking at them with a prickling about his eyes. "Not a lot to remember someone by, are they? Wouldn't have them at all, if Carrie hadn't just bought a camera she was newfangled with, and wanted to test the damn thing on us... Look, here. This one's over-exposed, this one's under, the focus is a bit wobbly on this one, and... Who cares."

Murphy came over to glance at the photos before he shepherded Doyle to the door, and had to smile. There they were, leaning on the railings at Brighton, arms about each other, stripped to the waist in the sunshine, brown and laughing - some would say, obviously in love. Again, there the were eating icecreams in the car, Bodie mopping a tissue over Ray's chin before chocolate icecream could get everywhere - a candid snap, they wouldn't have known Carrie had taken it until they saw it. In a third, the cute photographer had caught them at it again, looking at a magazine at the door of a newsagents, heads close together, eyes glued to the text, and Bodie's hand was just visible on Doyle's left hip. Abruptly, Murphy could not look anymore. He pushed Doyle's shoulders in the direction of the door.

"Come on, mate, I'll drop you at home. Okay for groceries, are you?"

The photos went into Ray's inside pocket. "No, I've got to do some shopping before the shops shut today."

"Give me a list, I'll get someone from Central to pick the stuff up and get the shop to deliver," Murphy advised wisely. "Either that, or good old Doc Cooper's coming over and ramming a hypo full of valium into your fanny to make you stop for a bit. Take your pick."

"I'm very particular about my fanny," Doyle said drily, on his way out through the door, "so I'll give you list."

They were in the white Ford Escort, and Murphy was driving; Doyle made a shopping list on the drive over, ripping a page out of the back of his notebook as the car pulled in at the kerb. He handed it, and the pass key to Bodie's flat, to his temporary partner. Murph scanned it quickly, accepting 20 from Doyle to cover the items, and stuck money, list and key into his pocket.

"Okay, I'll get this organised. You listen for the door, it'll be the delivery van... You going to be okay, Ray?"

"Yeah, fine." Doyle got out of the car, slammed the door, and gave the younger man a thumbs-up signal through the window before taking the steps up to the door of his building as if he was stiff and sore. Murphy imagined that he was; he had been driving himself harder than ever the likes of Macklin would have driven him, almost -

Almost as if he was trying to hurt himself, to share whatever it was he thought Bodie might be going through. It was stupid, but it was Doyle. He was an empathic little bugger, often guessing what you were thinking or feeling before you know properly yourself. No wonder they were making talk about him and Bodie; given the nature of the two of them, the outcome, eventually, was pretty much predetermined. Murphy started the car and pulled out, tossing a quick prayer to whatever soldier's god was listening, that 3.7 and 4.5 would have the chance to prove the gossips wrong - or right.

The flat was cold and dim, and Ray turned the heating on, undressing as he went. It felt as if he had been in the same clothes for a year. He dumped his jeans, shirt and underwear into the laundry bag and headed for the bathroom, standing under the hot water until the life began to return to his limbs. Forty-eight hours without sleep, and he felt a hundred years old. No, that wasn't right - it wasn't as if it was the first time in his life he'd done without sleep.

Try, four days without Bodie.

That was more like it. As he stood under the shower he worked backward through recent history, trying to remember the last time the two of them had gone a single day without seeing, or talking over the phone to each other, and as nearly as he could place it, it was four months, perhaps five. And that had only been because Bodie had been in Wales on a job for Cowley while Doyle had 'flu, and Bodie had later told him that he hadn't called to gossip because by the time he could have done so it was two in the morning, and it wasn't kind to wake a bloke who was ill to chat.

Wrapped in a towel, he made his way to the kitchen, emptying a tin of tomato soup into a pan and rummaging for crackers, and as it heated he dried off, towelled his hair and pulled on his red robe. The hot water had relaxed him, and after the food, and two double Johnny Walkers, he was ready to admit defeat, lie down and let the world manage without him for a while.

He did not expect to sleep, but oblivion came with surprising speed; the last thing he remembered was turning over onto his face, yanking up the blankets as the room grew cold, and absently wishing Bodie was there to warm the bed, since Bodie radiated body heat like a human central heating system.

Some time around five, the van brought the groceries, but the doorbell went unanswered, and the brown paper sacks remained outside until half past nine, when Murphy stumbled over them as he leaned on the bell. Doyle did not answer the third or fourth buzz, and Murph was too agitated to wait until the noise roused him. If he had been drinking, or taken sleeping pills, the noise might not get through to him at all. He brought the R/T from his inside pocket. "9.2 to Central... I'm not getting an answer at 4.5's flat, but I know he's in there. I'm going to trick the locks, so don't have kittens down in Security."

Central acknowledged, and Murphy brought out this picklocks, going through the time-consuming, delicate work of tricking the CI5 deadlocks; it was nearly impossible, and took a thorough knowledge of the way these particular locks worked. An outsider would have been more likely to blow the lock off, or go in through a window, but five minutes later Murphy was in, and padding in search of the occupant.

Clothes were strewn on the floor, the gas heater was hissing away to itself, warming the air, and there was the lingering smell of food, still in evidence since the windows were shut to keep out the cold. There was an unwashed glass on the salver beside beside the square Johnny Walker bottle, but the level in the bottle was still high, so, unless Doyle had thrown an old, emptied bottle into the bin, he had not drunk much. Murphy could not imagine Ray drinking himself into a stupor yet. Time to that later, if the worst came to worst.

He came to a halt at the bedroom door. Ray was still dead to the world, one shoulder off the edge of the bed, clad in red silk, his robe. He must have crashed out and pulled the covers up almost unthinking. Murph took a look at the time and swore. If he'd had four hours' sleep, that was all he'd have collected - but he'd kill if he was allowed to sleep on any longer when there was news.

"Doyle?" Murphy called quietly, coming to the bedside. "Doyle? Ray!"

"Umnph?" Doyle stirred awake, blinking in the wash of electric light that spilled into the room from the passage outside. "Bodie?"

"No, s'me," Murphy corrected. "You must've been dreaming."

"Yeah." Ray dragged in a breath and sat up, rubbing his face. "Whassa time? Can't've slept long."

"Just gone half past nine, mate," Murphy told him. "Time to rise'n shine - we've got him."

"Got -" Doyle was awake so fast his head spun. "Where - how?" He levered off the bed, heading for the wardrobe and dressing table in search of clean clothes, and Murphy watched him dress in white jeans and yellow tee shirt, before he sat on the foot of the bed to pull on socks and boots.

"We got a call from Guy's Hospital," he said. "Seems somebody found Bodie on the embankment, about two this afternoon. He was... well, stoned. Out of his head. They took him to Guy's for the sake of speed, and when he came to just an hour ago he gave 'em the details. They phoned the Cow - your phone's been ringing for ages, couldn't get an answer, so I came over. You okay, Ray?"

"Jumping for joy," Doyle said acidly. "Get moving, then, will you?" On the way out of the flat he paused to run a comb through his hair, and the sense of what Murphy had said sank in. "Stoned? Not drunk?"

"No, there's no alcohol in his bloodstream, that was the first thing they checked for." Murphy slammed the door, engaging the locks and alarm system. "Last I heard, they were running tests to find out what drugs are in his system. God knows... They might have some idea by the time we get out there."

Doyle slid into the left side of the Escort and scrubbed at his eyes as Murphy pulled out of the end of his road and took the car down along the river. Guy's was on the other side, but at this hour the traffic was not heavy and the journey was made without delay. It was hard to make the pieces of the jigsaw fit together. Schwerin's people had set Bodie up, snatched him when he went out to Hammersmith to connect with his contact, kept him for four days - and doped him up?

Well, as much as that made sense: Bodie was built like a brick wall, if they didn't hit him or chain him up, they'd have to dope him or he'd chew chunks out of them. Doyle acknowledged a thrill of pride as that thought occurred, but it had done Bodie a disservice. Since they didn't have access to chains, it was hit him or drug him - and it all depended on which drugs they had used, which of those propositions was the more damaging in the long run.

The lift whisked them up to the fourth level - Murphy knew where Bodie was, and Doyle hurried blindly in his wake, not seeing the bright, too-warm passages, until he found himself at a door which was under armed guard: Anson was there, and the bulge under his jacket could only be a magnum. He winked at Doyle as Murphy pushed on through the door, but Ray was too tired and sore to respond.

Cowley was there, unsurprisingly, standing by the window with a doctor in whose hand was a clipboard, the lab results. "Ah, Doyle," the Scot said by way of greeting, flicking a disapproving glance over the younger man's appearance. Still, he said nothing, as if a degree of careless dishevelment and a seeming hangover were to be expected. "We've just got the lab report back. It seems -"

But, much as Doyle wanted to hear what was being said, his hearing cut out, leaving him gaping stupidly at the man on the bed. Bodie was as white as a sheet, hair and lashes very dark, big black smudges beneath his eyes, not a muscle twitching. But the broad chest suggested comfortable breathing, and little by little Doyle relaxed.

He realised that he had not heard a word Cowley had said and mumbled an apology. "Sorry, sir, could you say that again? I didn't get all of it."

Cowley suspected that he hadn't got any of it, but went back over the data patiently. When something like this happened, it was as if a family member had been victimized, and it was never easy to tolerate, particularly when it was as close a family as some of his operatives had become. "He's been drugged for two days, as far as we can tell," he repeated. "Before that he was tied up - if you notice, there are cuts on his wrists and also his ankles. He was restrained with wire, obviously. Then, probably some time early on Monday, or late on Sunday, they drugged him. There are tracks behind his knees - so, obviously, they did not want the signs to be noticed at once. The drugs in his system are an odd cocktail- there's mescaline, PCB and ordinary barbiturates.

"Angel Dust?" Doyle echoed. "Polycholorinate biphenyl? Oh, my God." He looked back at Bodie's face and swallowed. The side effects off that particular drug were too horrifying to even think about. Still, if they had only had him on the stuff for a couple of days, and if Bodie was as strong as he was, maybe-

"There's not a lot of it in his system," the doctor said kindly, "just enough to make him stoned out of his skull."

"And mescaline," Doyle added. "Addiction?"

"Mild addiction," Cowley said quietly. "Nothing he can't beat without much ado, especially since they've had him in here since noon, and he's already receiving the proper care."

Numb to the bone marrow, Doyle just nodded. "He hasn't been awake, sir, since you've been here?"

Cowley shook his head. "No. He surfaced for a little while, gave the doctors a few details, then passed out again. He'll sleep it off, until withdrawal sets in, and then..." He shrugged. "They'll do what they can to ease it, and he'll do the rest himself."

And it would hurt, Doyle realised. Maybe not much, because he hadn't been on the garbage for very long, but he was going to be ill. Well, no more ill than he would be if they had beaten him to a pulp, so what was the difference? Doyle pulled his shoulders square and looked levelly at Cowley. "What do you want me to do now?"

"Go home, get yourself a good night's sleep," Cowley said acidly.

"I can sleep here," Doyle argued, "and save myself a trip."

"Aye, you'd be back at crack of dawn," Cowley said disapprovingly.

"Aye, very well, but stay out of the way. If he's going to be ill, they can do without your help, I'm sure."

The doctor, whose name badge read 'Doctor Michaels,' spoke up with a lopsided grin that was attractive. "Actually, Mister Cowley, it might even do Mister Bodie good if there was a familiar face here when comes out of it. He'll be disoriented, you see; the faces of strangers, in his condition, would probably make him assume he was still a captive."

"Which would make him fight," Murphy added, "and if he belts a poor little nurse around the ear, he could knock her into the middle of next week, and it wouldn't be his fault if he did."

"What he said," Doyle muttered, smiling at last.

Cowley had enough sense to surrender without a fight. "Do as you please, then. There's not a lot we can do until he is able to give us the details, anyway, and that'll be tomorrow at the earliest." He shoved both hands into the pocket of his grey overcoat. "Get some rest, Doyle, you look like a runaway for the morgue. Murphy, you're off duty, aren't you?

"About an hour ago," Murph said with a grin.

"Then go home, man. Doyle, Anson is in charge, you hear?"

"Yes, sir - you've got Bodie under guard?"

"It's possible," Cowley said tolerantly, well aware that Doyle was functioning at about a third his normal capacity, "that Bodie just got out and ran. In which case, they'll be after him to finish the job. Yes, he's under guard, and he stays under guard until this is all over... Goodnight."

"Sir," Doyle and Murphy chimed in unison, and then Cowley was gone, Michaels departing in his wake, and Doyle sank heavily into the creaking plastic chair at the bedside. As relief washed through him the weariness came up alarmingly, as if only the fretting and agitation had been keeping it at bay. His eyes, gritty and heavy, focused on Bodie's immobile face, and he felt the smile tug at his mouth, unable to hide it. "Welcome back, Bodie."

At the foot of the bed, Murphy looked from one to the other and back again. Relief hacked through his own defences; it was one emotion that had the power to make one a little silly, he thought in retrospect, but by that time the thoughts had gone skipping through his head and there was no way he knew to unthink them... Now Doyle and Bodie would have their chance to prove the gossip out, one way or the other, and if the smile on Ray's face was anything to go by... It was dreamy, lush little smile, almost the kind of expression Murphy imagined he'd make after he had been loved within an inch of his sanity and was floating down from Cloud Nine. It was as if he'd shed ten years in as many minutes. And there was Bodie, flat out in the bed, dead to creation, as if he'd worn himself away, providing the thorough loving that had engendered that smile. It was a simple matter to add Ray to the bed, in his mind's eye, draped all over Bodie's inert form, and Murphy had to shake himself away from the image.

Naughty, naughty, he told himself, shocked at this own wayward mind. He was broad minded, not to say terminally liberal, in his own preferences, but that was not a licence to manipulate others. He dropped a light hand onto Doyle's shoulder. "Come on, I'll find you somewhere to flop down."

Not really aware of it, Doyle got his feet under him, following him into an unoccupied corner of a communal ward not twenty yards from Bodie's private room. There, they gave him a blanket and closet space for his jacket and shoes, and he collapsed on the too-hard hospital mattress, going under as soon as his head touched the pillow.

"Silly sod," Murphy observed quietly, yawing. "Tearing yourself up like that. Might have known Bodie'd come sailing through it in fine style. Might have known." They were reassuring lies, spoken kindly and going unheard, and in another moment Murphy was on his way, heading for the lifts, the car, and home.

Doyle was dreaming, and somehow knew he was dreaming, but it didn't matter. He was warm, and comfortable, and the more the warm, wet mouth suckled his nipples one by one, and the hand between his legs stroked him and squeezed him, the less he cared that it had to be a dream. His eyes were closed, but he could tell it was Bodie, would have recognised the touch and scents of musk, sweat and aftershave anywhere. Excitement set every nerve alight and he surged up toward the promise of agonized fulfilment with a groan of delight.

As usual, just before the pleasure peaked, he woke, panting and frustrated. The suckling became no more than the brush of his shirt as he breathed, the soft cotton stretching over achingly aroused little peaks, and the loving hand at his groin became the clutch of too-tight denim. He lifted on knee beneath the blanket and slid the zip down to ease the discomfort, trying to order his breathing and waiting for the dream-induced excitement to fade away.

It was just after five, according to his watch; his throat was dry, his mouth tasted like an old boot and the bathroom had an allure all its own. When it was comfortable to move, he zipped up and swung his legs off the bed. The night nurse looked up from her dippy paperback, recognising him and smiling briefly at him, and he looked out into the passage, glancing down toward the door of Bodie's room to see Anson, sitting in an easy chair, a magazine in his hands, the R/T on his knee. He would be waiting for his relief, Doyle guessed, since he'd been there so long he and the chair would be putting out roots.

A stranger's face looked back at him out of the mirror; the unshaven jaw and red rimmed eyes gave him the dissolute look of a reprobate, and he smiled cheekily at himself. Maybe someone would lend him a razor, and there was a perfectly good shower right here. The temptation was to duck under the water and avail himself of the towels stacked on the bench, but he made do with washing his face and finger-combing his hair, then went in search of a cup of tea.

The nurses were pleased to had him a cup of brown paint, and he drank it standing at the door of their rest room, listening to Nurse Brownwell's account of the night. Bodie had come to fleetingly on several occasions, muttering incoherently, but once, he actually guessed that the white room was in a hospital, which meant that he was surfacing fast. He had slept off most of the sedatives and they had poured vitamins, minerals and glucose into him to help put back what the garbage had taken out. He was sleeping again, feverish and in a little pain, but was stronger than expected.

Stronger than who expected? Doyle wondered; That's Bodie they're talking about. He scraped his finger nails through the stubble on his chin. "Haven't got a razor I could borrow, have you, anyone?"

They gave him a straight razor - a 'pig sticker' in a kidney dish, intended for body shaving prior to operations; it was the first straight razor he'd seen in years, and as it was freshly stropped it made the chore of shaving easy. Once upon a time, every man had one of these 'cut throats' and the now customary safety razors were scorned.

At six, Nurse Brownwell shoved a tray of breakfast at him, cornflakes, toast and marmalade, and after he had eaten he felt up to facing the world. It was odd; he hated hospitals and yet he spent a ridiculous amount of his life in them, either as a patient or a visitor. Soft footed, he went into Bodie's room, closing the door softly and exchanging a nod of greeting with Gilbey, Anson's relief, in the easy chair just outside. Bodie was still sound asleep, and Doyle padded up to the bedside, smiling as he saw the new stubble on his chin, blue against skin so white. For all that, Bodie looked wonderful - delicate, suddenly defenceless, which added to his appeal, arousing a feeling of tender protectiveness. Doyle gave himself a small chuckle of pure scorn: if Bodie knew, he'd have a fit.

"Wish you knew what I've just been dreaming," he murmured to the sleeper. "Would you laugh, or would you belt me? There you were, sucking on my nipples and loving me with your hand. Christ, it was lovely... Would you do that for me, Bodie? Or would you have hysterics and chuck me out?" He sighed heavily and shook his head. "Better get a grip on myself before you start guessing what's going on in my wicked little mind. Better not let you guess, or you'd run a mile, wouldn't you, and I wouldn't even have you as a friend. Yeah, it's tragic, isn't it? Bloody tragic."

He stood at the bedside in silence for a long time, just watching Bodie sleep, and the nurses were clattering around outside with the trollies of morning medication when Bodie began to stir awake, the long, black lashes fluttering open. He blinked repeatedly, trying to focus, and Doyle held still, smiling down at him, waiting until he had eyes, brain and tongue in co-ordination.

Then one hand extended from under the sheet, reaching for his, and the blue eyes smiled, and Bodie's voice, croaky from disuse, said quite clearly, "Ray - 'ow long 'ave you been here, pet?"

He was not properly awake yet, probably had no idea of what he was saying, and Doyle's heart jumped into his mouth. Pet? For years he had been calling his partner 'sunshine,' 'son,' and once or twice 'angelfish' or just 'angel,' since the Ojuka business, six months before. But those were just matey nicknames. Pet was an endearment, spoken between two people who didn't just like one another. Pet bespoke affection, real and deep, and one part of Doyle was frightened out of his wits while another part was transported by a sudden rush of delight.

That one little word changed everything, made it possible to try it, say it, make a move in his direction - or perhaps make him make the move. "Been here all night," he said, taking Bodie's hand, finding it lax and cool, squeezing the fingers. How nearly awake was Bodie? Not very, by the look of him. How much could Raymond get away with? He brushed light fingers over Bodie's brow and leaned close. "Just rest, love," he said softly. "You're going to be fine."

Then he held his breath, dreading the reaction, but Bodie just nodded, dark hair rustling on the pillow, and went back to sleep, hanging onto Doyle's fingers with a stubborn tenacity.

Pet. Euphoria clouded Doyle's vision. Christ, it was going to be true - the little intuitive guess Murphy had made was right on target, and they last of all had seen what others had been seeing for God only knew how long. Doyle sat on the bedside, studying the hand that lay in his, trying not to imagine those fingers stroking him as they had in the dream. It was hard to reject the imaginings and soon his mind demanded to be free to wander. For a little while he indulged it, but the kick of arousal was back in minutes, and he forced such thoughts away with an effort, letting Bodie's fingers go as he heard the commotion at the door.

They were here to give Bodie another shot of vitamins and mild sedatives, enough to foster his vitality and keep him still while the hard drugs worked their way out. Doyle watched the hypo pick up a bit of unbruised vein - after all the shots he had had since being brought in, he seemed to be running out of veins fast - and said, "got any idea how long he's going to be ill, Nurse?"

"A few days," she told him. "He's as strong as an ox, and he's had the proper treatment. He should be out of here by the weekend, I should imagine. There, all done." She dropped the hypo back into the trolley and headed for the door. "Doctor Michaels wants to know if you're going to be staying here. We're on Bed Bureau starting tomorrow - that means we take all the accident cases. Road smashes, you know. There'll be beds in the carpark by the time we're finished, there just isn't much room."

"I'll get out of your way as soon as he knows were he is and you can trust him not to flail around and fight when he comes to," Doyle promised. "After that, I'll come in when I can." He grinned in spite of himself. "He surfaced a little while ago, but he wasn't alert. Recognised me, that's about all. Could have been in outer space for all he knew."

She nodded wisely. "He's starting to come out of it, I expect. Might be a good idea if you stuck to his bedside till he wakes naturally."

It was not exactly a hard directive to obey, and when the room was quiet again Doyle made himself comfortable in a battered plastic chair, chin cupped in his palm, eyes falling shut as the weariness caught up with him again. So Bodie would be ill for a few days, and then he would be on his way home. A couple of weeks on the slips, a couple more with adorable Brian Macklin climbing all over him, and then, back to work. Doyle smiled again: a pound wouldn't even fetch a penny, that Cowley would shove Raymond through Macklin's meat grinder as well. Just to keep Bodie company, of course.

Well, this time, Doyle suspected that he would go through the ordeal with a sigh of resignation... It was better being with Bodie when things were rough than being without him, and wondering what in God's name was going on. That little word came back like Marley's ghost to haunt him, and he savoured the sound of it: pet.

Bloody hell, so Bodie cared. Really cared.

But would he make the move himself, Doyle wondered, or would Ray have to improvise? He chuckled richly as he wondered how one man went about chatting up and seducing another one... It couldn't be as hard as all that, could it? Invite him for dinner and a few drinks, then sit down on the sofa beside him and tell him how blue his eyes were, gaze absently into those sapphire orbs, let his mouth go soft and inviting, then pant a bit, lick his lips and wriggle - if Bodie couldn't read the body language, he'd be blind.

Unless he assumed Ray was having a joke at his expense, in which case he would fly into a fury, and there would be a scene. Doyle's frown tugged his brows together. Maybe it would be better to approach the whole subject with more subtlety... Long, lingering eye contact, over dinner, a huskiness in his voice, wear his tightest, softest pants, let his arousal show through - look embarrassed, perhaps. Maybe Bodie would take pity if he thought he saw emotional anguish? Yeah, that would work. Bodie had a big, soft heart, he wouldn't see his best mate hurting.

No, he wouldn't: so maybe he'd get up and walk out, so as to remove the source of the embarrassment. Christ, Doyle thought tiredly, there was no sure way of doing this short of taking a deep breath and saying it. 'Gosh, it's good to have you back, Bodie, and I don't half fancy you... Want to jump into bed with me, and - '

Don't be bloody facetious, he told himself sternly. Try, 'Jesus, Bodie, you had me half way out of my head! Made me realise how much I ... I need you. (Small choke for effect). I... Want you. Christ, don't hate me, mate, but you're so beautiful, I - ' Then leap up off the couch and hug my arms around myself, Doyle thought, back turned to him, let my head go down, speak to him with body language, let him come and comfort me. Okay, so it would be an act, but all life is an act, and it was the only way he would be able to get up the courage to come out and say it.

Except that by the time he was murmuring the truth into Bodie's lug'ole by lamplight, it wouldn't be an act. Ruefully, he felt the arousal spring up again and crossed one leg over the other. He laughed at himself, suddenly realising the silly truth: if he was going to get aroused by just being around Bodie, looking at him, he wouldn't need to say anything, Bodie would take one look at him and know, and that would be that.

An embrace, a kiss, a rapid progression to floor or bed, and the rest would be a hazily remembered wrestling match, sweaty, sticky and ecstatic. He shivered, fearing and anticipating the moment and wishing his body was less stubbornly wanton. Arousal had always come easily to him, but since release had been readily available, it had never been a problem... With girls.

But Bodie was most certainly not a girl.

Hell, the principle's the same, Doyle told himself, cross with himself for the sensations of hesitancy as he seriously considered the prospect of sex with a man for the first time in his life. Well, consciously. He had only to go back to his dream that morning to guess what his subconscious mind was up to. So you lay down together, hands and mouths caressing, and just let it happen. Sometimes it would be easy and sweet, sometimes it would be a contest - either way, with Bodie, it could only be good. There were dozens of ways to make it happen that occurred to him spontaneously as he sat staring at the ceiling, and so long as it was with Bodie, he guessed that the turn on would be fantastic.

With other men? Frowning, he racked his brain, trying to think of another male who had taken his fancy. There were men he found attractive, to be sure - an artist could see beauty everywhere. Murph was a bloody good looking bloke, if it came to that. But the appeal of sex with any of the men he thought about was limited, as if he could recognise the appeal of the experimentation, the physical release, but knew instinctively that so much would be missing.

The feeling would be gone. Making it with another man who was not Bodie would be less like making love than like just fucking around, and if he wanted that, there were less 'dangerous' ways to get off. Oh yes, there was an element of danger there. Cowley, for a start, would skin them alive, and the press - and the Russians - would hang, draw and quarter them. Blackmail, discrediting reports to the media... Doyle's expression darkened. So they would have to be careful.

It would be best if they kept a string of girlfriends at the ready, to dispel suspicion, he thought, trying to approach the problem logically. Christ, was Bodie the possessive kind? He laughed at himself. Am I? They were not questions he had ever had reason to ask before; there were no easy answers to hand, and he knew with a flash of insight that here would be hard times, hot tempers, harsh words, pain, as they battled it out.

So, guessing that there's going to be pain, why bother? He asked himself tiredly. Why not just be his friend, go on as if I've never given a thought to lying in bed with him, under him, while he does it to me?


Even as he thought about it, the idea seemed ridiculous. Here he was, getting himself into a sweat just by looking at his partner's sleeping face and thinking inflammatory thoughts. Work with him after this, be with him, day in, day out, and carry on as if nothing was happening, as if he was feeling nothing?

So I pays my money and takes me chance, Doyle thought wryly, and if it goes wrong, it goes wrong. But maybe it won't. Maybe we'll be as good in bed together as we are out of it. And if that was the case, they would be very, very good indeed...

Somewhere along the path of the convoluted reasoning, he drifted off to sleep, and it was noon when he woke, trays crashing in the passage outside as they brought lunch around. He shot up in the chair, shocked awake and sweating from every pore, left hand reaching for a gun that wasn't there; then relaxed as he readjusted to where he was.

A long, soft indrawn breath signalled that Bodie was awake too, and Ray moved from chair to bedside, catching Bodie's hand and murmuring to him so that he knew he was safe before he came fully up to consciousness.

"Okay, mate, you're okay. Take it easy."

Bodie heaved a huge yawn and held on. "Ray?"

"Who else? You're in hospital, sunshine. They topped your tank up with a whole lot of nasties, but they're getting it out of you."

It was a minute before the sense of what he had said percolated through the fog, but it did reach Bodie's brain, and the blue eyes blinked open, pupils velvety, dilated. "Who did what?"

"The blokes who grabbed you off the street. They shot you up with drugs, you were tripped out of your mind."

"Blokes? Drugs?" Bodie echoed, clearly still not in command of his senses. "Don't remember. What's up with me? Where am I?"

"You're in a private room in Guy's Hospital," Ray told him with a fond patience, still holding the warm, white fingers. "You were brought in here yesterday, tripped out on mescaline."

"Mesca..." Bodie's inky lashes fluttered as he frowned. "Don't remember it. Mescalin?"

"Yeah." Doyle mirrored the frown. "You don't remember anything at all, then?"

The dark head moved on the pillow, a little negative gesture. "Lass thin' I remember was making a call to Central, tellin' 'em I'd got a tipoff. Got in the car, drove over to Hammer..."

He was drifting off again, and Doyle woke him with a squeeze of the fingers in his hand. "Hammersmith. You drove to Hammersmith, then...?"

Bodie woke again with a grunt. "Dunno. Parked the car, walked to the end of the block of shops, and ... Oh Christ, Ray, I dunno. Leave us in peace, will you? I feel funny."

"Sick? You feel sick?" Doyle stood up, reaching for the buzzer.

"Yeah. Sick as a dog. Got pains in me belly too. What's the matter with me? Can't think straight!"

"Mescalin, PCB, too many barbiturates," Doyle said, knowing that Bodie was not taking it in. He pressed the buzzer and stood back to wait for the nurse to appear. It was a little blonde girl, scarcely more than a child. "Better get his doctor," he told her. "He's awake and he's starting to feel bad." The girl hurried away, and Doyle turned back to the bed. "If you've got nothing to tell us, love, we're up the creek," he said, almost to himself.

"Ray?" Bodie pried one eye open. "Whaddya say?"

"I said, we're up the creek if you can't tell us who did this to you," Ray repeated. "Oh well, never mind. Could be one of those 'hysterical amnesia' cases you read about. Your memory could come back when the shock's had a chance to wear off." It was not unusual for a person to forget the events of a trauma, rape or beating or -

Doyle's mouth dried. What in God's name had they done to him to make him forget? What had been so bad that big, tough, bluff Bodie couldn't face it, couldn't accept what had happened? When Doctor Michaels appeared a minute later, he stood back, letting him examine his partner, prescribe a shot, and then followed him from the room as a nurse prepared the medication and gave it. Doyle had seen enough needles to last him a lifetime. Michaels crooked one curious brow at him.

"You look agitated, Mister Doyle."

"I am... He woke a few minutes ago, but he has no memory of the past four or five days, Doctor. He's shut it all out, as if he can't stand to remember it. Have you...You did examine him thoroughly, didn't you? I mean, he wasn't beaten up or abused or anything, was he?"

Michaels shook his head. "He's got the puncture bruising you'd expect; there's a bruise on the back of his neck, fading out now, I'd imagine he koshed [got coshed?] on Friday night. There are cuts on his wrists and ankles from the wire they fastened him up with, but there's no more than that. No evidence that he was beaten, and nothing to suggest sexual abuse. Why the fretting, Mister Doyle? He's in good hands."

"If you can't fret about your best mate, who can you fret about?" Doyle forced a smile. "Look, he knows where he is now, he won't fight you. If it's all the same to you I'll push off home. Got some sleeping to catch up on."

Michaels nodded agreement, and Doyle wandered back into Bodie's room for a moment before he left; they had given him something to make him calm, or drowsy, or docile, he couldn't guess what and didn't want to. Bodie blinked at him, recognising him, and as he watched, the blue eyes dropped shut, and he was out again.

The longer he could sleep, the better it would be for him, Ray sighed, and left without a sound. He gave his phone number to the young blonde girl at the ward desk and phoned for a taxi, remembering that he had come to Guy's in Murphy's car. Home and food and bed, he thought, relaxing for the first time in so long that his bones and joints had begun to creak with protest. He still had his R/T in his pocket, and while he waited for the taxi he called Central.

"4.5 to Alpha."

It was some time before Cowley answered. "Alpha. Proceed, 4.5"

"Bodie's awake, sir. Good news and bad news. Good news is that he'll be well again soon, just a few days, says one of the nurses."

"And the bad news?"

"Is that he can't remember a thing about whatever happened to him since Friday evening. It's a complete blank. I talked to Doctor Michaels, and he's told me there were no signs of abuse, sir. They haven't beaten him or anything, so I expect it's just a trick of all the drugs they put in him. Maybe his memory will liven up as he gets well."

"It had better," Cowley said grimly, "or we're right back where we started... You're off duty, 4.5, where are you?"

"Waiting for a taxi, sir. On my way home to bed." He smiled, wondering how he would ever be able to say a line like that in a week or so's time, when 'home to bed' meant home to Bodie, and loving. That was bridge he would have to cross when he came to it. "I'll call in later," he added.

"Call in tomorrow morning," Cowley told him, "that's soon enough. You might like to know that forensics turned up nothing at his flat."

"Didn't expect them to," Ray admitted. "My taxi's here, sir. I'll call in at nine tomorrow, then. 4.5 out."

The big, ugly diesel cab dropped him at the door to his building, but he strolled along to the shops before going inside, buying groceries and the makings of a sinfully rubbishing meal. Pastries and chocolate milk. Enough to rot his teeth and give him an ulcer, he guessed, but he felt like it, and he stood at the kitchen sink to eat, gazing sightlessly out into the afternoon sky, his thoughts still fixed on Bodie... Vengeance would have been nice, but suddenly there was no one to strike out at, and it was all slipping into the past, lost among the flood of relief and the sudden realisation of what he wanted from, and with Bodie.

The weariness that dragged at his limbs now was a pleasant ache, and when he lay down he was asleep in moments, knowing nothing of afternoon and evening, and surfacing briefly at midnight to eat again. Tomorrow was another day, and when he went visiting, Bodie would be awake.

Awake and pale. Bodie had lost a few pounds, Doyle noticed as he came into the hospital room with a potted plant and a box of Milk Tray. Bodie took one look at the plant and sneezed, and one look at the chocolates and mimed throwing up. Ray made a resigned face: everything was starting to look positively normal.

"You're getting better," he observed. "Half way back to your old obnoxious self, I see." He put the plant down on the shelf across from the foot of the bed and opened the chocolates, rummaging for a pineapple cream and peeling the wrapper off it with delicate precision.

"Hey, I thought they were for me," Bodie said. He still sounded a little groggy, but that was the old Bodie-voice.

"They were, but you just 'said' you wanted to throw up at the sight of 'em." Doyle fed the pineapple cream into his mouth and smacked his lips. "Don't want to make diddums icky-poo, do we?"

Bodie muttered something beneath his breath.

"Speak up sunshine, couldn't catch that," Ray said, rummaging for another sweet.

"I said, it's wrong to mock the afflicted."

"Oh yeah, you're afflicted all right, can see that." Doyle set his teeth to work on a chewy toffee. "Then again, you always were."

"Oh, thanks for the sympathy, Doyle." Bodie folded his arms on his bare chest and tried not to let the smile show, but it was impossible; the green eyes were sparkling with mischief today, irresistible. "Hey, do I recall you being here when I was off my nut with it all?"

Doyle nodded. "Yeah. Well, Murph shuttled me over as soon as they knew who were, and I sort of stayed."

"Sort of stayed?"

"Overnight. Just so you wouldn't bash up the nurses in your fevers."

"Bash up the - ?" Bodie choked in disbelief. "Me? I've never bashed up a lady in my whole life. Might bash up a certain gollywog if he's not careful, mind."

"Oh, would you, would you - with leather trousers on?" Doyle camped, and then let the humour dwindle. "Oh course I stayed, you loon. Not going to walk out on you, was I? Care too much about you for that."

The blue eyes glowed, and Bodie's voice was a little roughened, but his words were predictable. "Head full of mush, that's your trouble. Soft heart to match your soft head."

And Doyle only shrugged, refusing to fence with him. "Yeah, you know me pretty well by now."

The expected banter was not forthcoming, and Bodie's eyes narrowed. Doyle was smiling at him, a soft, gentle smile, not ribbing or teasing, and the green eyes were dark. There were times for teasing, and times for being serious, Bodie thought, and this was one of the latter. "Thanks," he said softly. "I mean it."

"For staying? Come off it, Bodie," Ray said quietly. "You don't think I could have been happy at home with you off your noodle in here, do you? I told you, I care too much about you for that." Just for a moment he let his expression grow sultry, his mouth softening, letting what he was feeling show through; and then, with a sigh, he pulled it all back in behind a carefully constructed mask. This was not the time, not the place, to go in for that.

When it started, there would be surprise, revelations, hesitation, soul searching, maybe even a little ineptitude, and that was all best taken care of behind closed doors, in the sanctity of one's third story castle... Later, he told himself sternly, and covered a moment of discomfort by rummaging for another chocolate.

But Bodie had seen it. And it was not the first time he had seen it, although he was positive Doyle had no idea what his face and body were saying in those few gentle moments when they let the banter fade away and told the God's honest truth about themselves. It was a year since he had seen the languorous expression, the gentling of that unbelievable mouth, the glow in the eyes as the lashes swept down, sensual, enough to lure a sane person to her - or his - doom. Doyle was a cross between siren and ingenue; most of the time he had no concept of what he was doing to other people, it was all set on automatic, and Bodie had long since learned not to take any notice to the posing, the walk, the sensuality of that face. It was one of the most beautiful faces he had ever seen on anyone, man or woman, and would have been devastating if it had come attached to a body that was a total disaster -

But that body would have been just as devastating if the face above it had looked like a tram smash. Put the two together, and the effect was enough to drive a saint to distraction. The answer to the problem of working with him was humour; so long as they kept up the banter it was all safe, light hearted, unimportant. How vital the banter was became evident only rarely, in times of grief or stress, and then Bodie felt the odd thrills along his nerves, recognising danger when he saw it.

Ann left him, and he cried; Cookie was killed and, blaming himself, he punished himself without mercy, unconsciously leaning on his partner as if Bodie were a crutch he could not exist without. These were emotions he hid from the rest of the world; often, it was as if he was incapable of showing that he was feeling to anyone else, as if those fey, oddly gentle looks were a curse he laboured under. For years, Ray had acted the part of the scruffy little hellcat, cutting his hair short and dressing in rags [?]the leather, as if he was trying to overcome the way he looked...

Small and slight, with pale, perfect skin, big green eyes and red-brown curls. Smiles that made him look like a kid again, a voice that was husky, as if he lived his whole life on the verge or in the aftermath of sexuality. Bodie had to smile as he watched his mercurial partner going back to the chocolates; he was thirty-four, and he still looked like a kid, skinny, agile and energetic. And terminally randy, Bodie added with a swallowed chuckle.

No wonder he had played on his machismo all those years... Scared to death of being branded as a gay, he guessed. It would have finished his career in the Police, and that was the life he had chosen for himself. In CI5 there was a more relaxed attitude toward the whole thing; there were several bis on the squad, more or less active, and since no one wore a uniform, one's attire could be employed as a barometer of one's inner personality...

And there was Doyle, in jeans so tight people in the street often turned to watch him walk away, a white wool jacket that made him look positively cuddly, a tee shirt that hugged his torso, displaying the contours of his chest, and brown leather boots with two inch heels... Bodie hid a smile. And there am I, he told himself ruefully, all in black from head to foot, leather and driving gloves, standing next to him... Christ, no wonder we get some funny looks! Then, when I ruffle his hair or - goddamn it! - practically grope him without realising what I'm doing... He swallowed a chuckle.

Wonder how come we haven't been arrested yet? Far as I know, it's illegal in a public place.

But not in a private place. The sanctuary of home and hearth. And bed. Bodie watched Ray suck on a toffee, trying to think of something he could say without sounding trite or sentimental. 'Jeez, you look lovely, Ray; fancy coming to bed with me when we get out of here?' 'Cor, you don't half look nice in those togs, mate - could kiss you right here and now!'

It was not the idea of propositioning his best friend that made him cringe, because he was almost a hundred percent certain Doyle would agree without a second's cajoling; it was the terror of choosing the wrong words to say, putting him off, making him feel like a fool, making him feel belittled, as if Bodie was casting aspersions on his masculinity, making a cruel joke of something that could, should be beautiful.

All he could think of were the two nights, one after the dreaded Holly woman walked out of his life, the other after June Cook had given him rounds of the kitchen. A wave of sympathy, pity and resentment had swamped him as Ray, half drunk after an awful lot of gin - it always took a lot to put him away when he was unhappy - had spoken up at last and said what was eating the insides out of him. June had no right to speak to him like that. It had cut him to shreds, and he drove himself out to Cookie's funeral, wearing a hired black suit, ignored by June, standing alone, apart from the funeral party, while it rained. Bodie thought that he had never seen anything half so miserable and lonely as Ray on that afternoon, and he had cancelled his dates and taken him home to his flat, sending out for pizza and sitting up all night with him until he worked it out of his system. For himself, Bodie could have paralysed June for the thoughtless, needless cruelty of it, but at the same time he could feel the waves of agony broadcasting from her, and while one part of him wanted to strike out at her for hurting Ray, another part wanted to comfort her in her most miserable hour.

So why the hell didn't I take you to bed then, Bodie thought as he frowned at his partner in silence. That was four months ago, and, looking back on it, I was gazing at you longingly, groping you to the limit of what's legal, hurting for you, playing the fool to get you to laugh - Christ, loving you. So why didn't I just grab you and kiss you breathless then and there, and stop wasting time?

The answer was obvious. Fear. Fear that Doyle was not ready for it, that he would take fright. The silly little sod had always been on the defensive where his masculinity was concerned, trying hard to convince the world at large that he [was] Charles Bronson with the face of a Bellini angel, as if there was such a thing. If Bodie made the wrong move, or even made the right one too soon, it would be over before it started, and even the friendship would vanish like smoke on the breeze.

It was not that Doyle was offended by bisexuality; he was one of the most tolerant people Bodie had ever met. There were gays galore among his old associates, from his years in the Met, and he could he very hot under the collar when he heard or read about the persecution of gays. But be to a bi himself was not quite the same thing as living by the 'live and let live' philosophy.

Obviously, as he literally grew up under Bodie's nose, his attitudes were moderating. His hair, once kept so short, was allowed to grow so long that Cowley was starting to grumble, and his clothes, instead of being tattered and scruffy were now stylish and soft. The masculinity was subtle, not flaunted, these days, and at first glance there was a startlingly androgynous look about him, as if he belonged in any time or place but Twentieth Century London... He would have been at home in Europe at the time of Leonardo, Bodie thought - and courted by half the crowned heads! That kind of androgynous streak was common in those long gone, uncomplicated days, before people penned themselves up in little enclosures labeled, 'Male' and 'Female,' and insisted on dressing their multitudinous brats in pink and blue, and giving the boys GI Joe and the girls Barbie. No bloody wonder girls grew up not knowing one end of a machine from the other, and boys grew up not knowing a spatula from a soup strainer. It was all in the upbringing, not in the latent sexuality.

Doyle's upbringing had been a mixture of the tough and the tender; with five other kids to take care of and a husband dead at the age of forty-three, killed on the road, his mother had had her work cut out for her, and the boys had had to take care of themselves much of the time... So Ray ran wild. Underage sex, underage boozing, underage brawling, and an avoidance of the law that was nothing short of a miracle. Sometimes Bodie wondered how he ever managed to grow up at all, much less make a success out of the improbable mess of his young life.

All the more reason to act the Charles Bronson, part, diverting attention from his looks and real nature. All the more reason for Bodie to tread very, very carefully in the near future. Make him feel a fool for his love, and he'd run a mile. The habit of a lifetime would take a long time to break. Old habits rarely died at all.

"I will have a chocolate," Bodie said at last. "Got a strawberry cream left, or have you guzzled 'em all?"

"Haven't had a strawberry cream at all," Doyle said haughtily, but his eyes were laughing as he found one and peeled the wrapper off it. Bodie held out his hand to take it, but Ray grinned wickedly. "Open wide, here comes the choo choo." Groaning inwardly, Bodie opened his mouth, the crack was inevitable. "Cor, got a gob like the Mersey Tunnel, aintcha?"

"No I have not," Bodie remonstrated, doing his school-ma'am voice. "I have very delicate features, and ..." He let the words trail away as he noticed that Doyle was watching that mouth, not looking at his eyes. He was sucking the chocolate, and Ray's own mouth softened visibly.

Christ, those lips were begging to be kissed. "Ray?" he said quietly.

"Huh?" Doyle seemed to come awake. "Sorry, mate, I was miles away."

Miles away in a bed in Chelsea getting the living daylight screwed out of you, Bodie thought wryly. "Doc says I can go home the day after tomorrow, if I take it easy for a bit," he said. "No undue stress and strain till the glop get out of me."

"And speaking of the glop," Doyle said, getting up and walking to the window to look down into the carpark, "we really need to know who it was who snatched you, Bodie."

"You're asking the wrong fella," Bodie shrugged, pillowing his head on his arms and watching Doyle pace between window and door, lost in the maze of his thoughts. "I don't remember a thing."

"Doctor Ross might be able to help," Ray suggested doubtfully.

"Oh no," Bodie said finally. "Not her. Anybody but. I'd sooner think of consulting Doctor Frankenstein, mate. If you want me to talk to a shrink, I'll talk to a shrink, but not her."

"It's not what I want, Bodie." Doyle folded his arms on his chest and faced the bed. "It's what's the best thing to do. A psychiatrist might be able to get into your subconscious and jog your memory."

"Hypnotise me?" Bodie snorted derisively. "There are people who can not be hypnotised, Raymond, and I'm one of them."

"Oh, it's been tried?" Doyle dropped to sit on the foot of the bed.

"Don't have to go through it to know. Read all about it. You can only hypnotise a willing subject; if the subject sits there saying, 'Campbell's Split Pea Soup, Campbell's Split Pea Soup,' all the time, the hypnotist could be talking to the wall for all the good he's doing."

"Unless-" A sudden flash of insight made Doyle blink. "Unless they use drugs."

"Drugs?" Bodie echoed. "Not on your life, mate. I've had enough drugs pumped into me in the last week to last me the rest of my life. After I get out of here I don't want to see an aspirin for the next year."

"No, you twit," Doyle remonstrated, pinching Bodie's foot through the sheet to emphasise his words. "I mean, the drugs that were shot into you could have been used to do that, couldn't they?"

Bodie made a face. "That's a fine old imagination you've got there," he said. "Come off it, Ray. I've got a bunch of old enemies out there. From what you tell me, I was bashed on the nut when I left the car, and tied up with wire, and shot full of garbage. The rest of it's obvious - they were going to kill me, trade me or take me out and sell me, and they didn't give me enough to keep me quiet. I got up and escaped, and ran for it, didn't I?"

"Sell you?" Ray echoed, frowning. "How d'you mean?"

"Sell me to, say, the IRA," Bodie suggested. "There's enough locked up in my head to fix the whole bloody security system for one end of this country to the other. Sell me to the Baader Meinhoff, same reason." He grinned. "Ship me out to the Persian Gulf and sell me to an Arab with sophisticated tastes and a penchant for white meat."

Doyle cringed visibly. "Well, not that you wouldn't make a choice addition to anybody's seraglio, but... I'm glad it didn't happen."

"Ta," Bodie said, little above a whisper, and their eyes met levelly.

The green eyes were hot, confused, betraying pain, and, Bodie was sure, longing. He reached out his hand, covering Doyle's, which lay on his foot. "What's eating you, sunshine? Tell me. I reckon I know anyway."

"Do you?" Doyle's sensitive mouth twitched into a wistful smile, and he shook his head. "This isn't the time, or the place. Later, Bodie."

"Just so long as you get it off your chest, whatever it is," Bodie said sternly.

"You may not be thrilled when you hear it."

"You let me be the bloody judge of that!" Bodie softened his tone and tightened his fingers. "Could drink a cuppa, if you could find one."

"Sure." Ray got up at once, solicitous, gentled by some emotion he was masking without real success. "I'll go and find a nurse."

A moment later he was gone and Bodie lay gazing at the closed door, his eyes fixed on the spot where that shapely little rear had been. He knew the feel of that crowd pleasing portion of Doyle's tender anatomy; he was terrified to calculate how many times he had caressed it - and, what was more, got away with caressing it, as if Doyle didn't mind, or attached no importance to it, or even liked it.

He would learn to like it, Bodie thought. Learn to crave it and want more, want it all. His eyelids dropped shut, and he stared at a mental image, carried and treasured, often chuckled over and, perhaps not so suddenly, he found it breathcatchingly erotic. There was Doyle, almost a year ago, in the locker room by the showers, preparing to face the torments of a session in the gym, trying to figure out what was wrong with the fit of his - athletic support, Bodie substituted quickly. The less inflammatory the wording the better, at this point. All that was the matter was a twisted strap, but Ray had performed amazing contortions as he worked that out, almost like an exotic dance routine, displaying his summer's tan and lean, hard body in all innocence.

Or maybe it had been deliberate? Nah, Bodie told himself, Doyle had always been a little tease, but not like that. As blatant as he was, there was nothing crude about him, and, playing aside, there was startlingly direct quality about him. If he wanted something, he'd come straight out with it, say what he wanted. 'Bodie, I want you. Take it or leave it, mate, but that's the way I feel. Now, either throw me through the door or come here and kiss me.' Yes, that would be Doyle's gambit. Bodie grinned at the image, mind miles away.

"Bodie? Oi, Bodie! You comatose again?"

He came back to the present with a jar, seeing the cup of tea that was waving in front of his face at the last possible moment and grabbing it before it could spill. There were two biscuits in the saucer, and Ray had already sloshed enough tea onto them to make them soggy around the edges. He poured the excess liquid back into the cup and sipped at it.

"It's half cold," he complained.

"Sorry, the tea room's half a mile away," Doyle sighed. "Want me to run back and get you a fresh cup?"

Eyes narrowed, Bodie studied his best friend over the offending beverage, trying to see if Ray was having him on. No, he was serious, he would go back if he was asked. For a moment Bodie toyed with the idea of pushing his luck, seeing how far it would get him, and then he rejected the idea. If he told the truth, he'd sooner have Doyle right here, within touching distance than running errands.

And in that moment he wished fervently that he could touch him.

One day, he promised himself, and before very long, I will. Take the clothes off him and touch him everywhere, taste him and bite him until he screams blue murder, calls me a cannibal and begs me to do him... Begs? No. Not Doyle. Bodie knew he could make Ray beg, make him plead for what he wanted, but it would be wrong, a big mistake, at least in the early days... He'd have to settle down with it, realise that his masculinity was in no way at risk because he was in love with a man.

And with that notion he checked. In love. In love. Christ, a real full-blown love affair. Shared bed, shared flat, shared lives. Housekeeping together, washing and cleaning and cooking, division of the labour, pooling their money, holidays together, beating his birds off with a stick because that skinny, tawny, beautiful body was spoken for.

Possessive, am I? Bodie asked himself, and the answer was forthcoming without delay. Yeah - I am. And what in blazes is Doyle going to think about that? Unless - and he chuckled into his tea - unless the little so'n so is just as possessive, in which case he'll throw bricks at my birds to chase 'em off, and we'll settle down in domestic bliss, growing roses around the front door of a house in Devon and raising horses...

It had started as a joke, but by the time the absurd little fantasy was complete in his imagination there was a sharp tug to it, an undeniable appeal that made him blink in surprise. It all dropped neatly into place - too neatly, and he warned himself off the image even as he savoured it... Peace and quiet, the most stressful thing in life being an unexpected bill or an electricity account a few quid more than expected. A cottage with a copse of alders and brambles and a stream, a paddock with three or four expensive mares, two round and near their time, two with foals at the foot. A garden where Ray could indulge his green fingers. A studio where he could paint to his heart's content. A garage where the two of them could potter with the bikes till two in the morning if they wanted to. A double bed with crisp, clean sheets, smelling of talc and cut flowers, and that unique, smelt-once-never-forgotten scent that every sense in his body recognised as Ray. Love in the morning, sleep late, roll out of bed and stand at the window, looking down at him, in the sunshine, bare chested and tanned, playing with the young horses in the paddock beyond the garden -

Angry with himself for the painful prickling in his eyes, Bodie blinked the image away. It could never happen; that kind of happiness was not for the likes of him. He had stored up so many sins in his young life that now he was paying for them. Karma - with a vengeance. As ye sow, so shall ye reap. And he would watch Ray marry some bird with long legs and big eyes who doted on him, and sire half a dozen boisterous brats, and think himself lucky if he was best man at the wedding and godfather to the kids, and welcome to stay over and play with the children at every verse end, trying somehow to share all that could never be his.

For some unaccountable reason he felt a wave of grief; he put it down to the aftereffects of the rubbish that had been shot into him by the men who had snatched him off the street, and shut his eyes, trying to banish it and calling himself five kinds of fool.

At length, it was Ray's voice, very gentle and husky with concern, that penetrated through the self-imposed fog. "Bodie? You okay? You want a nurse? Bodie!" There were hands on his bare shoulders, careful fingers, a platonic touch that was wonderful and terrible, for it aroused another wave of tenderness for his sensitive, mercurial partner, quickly followed by wanting, and by grief... Oh, there would be a relationship, no doubt about it, but in that moment the brief, transitory joy of lovemaking did not match up to the vision conjured by his subconscious. He shook himself hard. Maybe there was a woman out there who could stand him, too, stand the vagaries of the job, the unpredictable working hours, his black humour and reckless attitude.

Maybe. But it was just as likely that there was no one for him or for Ray. Doyle was not given to black humour, but his own brand of humour could get pretty strange, especially if he was tired, overwrought, stressed up to breaking point. He went in for the cynical, bordering on bitterness at times, and it was only a stone's throw from there to out-and-out sourness. When he was unhappy he was inclined to be wild, as if in an attempt to dislodge whatever goblin was riding his back. Group sex - a troy with two girls who both found him irresistible and would do everything to push him beyond the last thread of control until they had him screaming. Bodie had heard two of his girls talking in undertones the day after the Mickey Hamilton affair. Ray had been depressed, in a hole a mile deep, and had disappeared that evening with a terse refusal of a pint at the local. He had been late for work next morning, looking exhausted and hung over. Bodie had assumed he had been drinking -

The girls said not. He had been stone cold sober when he came over to their flat, and when Wendy had been about to leave to make things easy for Liz and her beau, he had asked her not to go. It was just the opportunity Liz had been waiting for - longing to share him with her best friend. The things they had done to him made even Bodie blush; the things he had managed to do when he got his breath back had made Bodie blink in surprise and wish ruefully that he had been there, at least as an observer if not a participant. A troy was not a foursome. A troy was in all ways more intimate... Then Bodie realised that he was not imagining Ray and two girls, but the two of them and a bird. He swallowed, thinking back.

Once, just once, he had seen Ray making love. Doyle had been oblivious to the audience of one, on his knees with some stacked blonde wrapped around him, her weight held in his arms so that his muscles were extended and hard, her legs locked around his waist, her hair veiling his face until he came, when he threw his head back, clutching her tighter yet before they relaxed and slid down onto the rug. If Bodie had never been aware of Doyle's magnetic sexuality before, he would have been painfully aware of it after that, but as it was, the performance he should never have stayed to watch simply made him more aware.

And that was when I started touching him so much, he thought as he opened his eyes, meeting troubled green ones. That was when I started really wanting him. Aching for him? Canceling dates to cheer him up when he's depressed? Telling jokes just to get him to smile again, and unconsciously resenting it when he goes off with a bird to allay whatever bad feelings the job has wished on him, as if he should come to me...

Christ, as if he should come to me for the sex he needs.

The thought was at once enough to shock him and stir him, and send a ripple of jealousness through him. He groaned soundlessly, closing his hand around Ray's, where it lay on his shoulder. I must have it bad, he thought wryly, if I'm starting to get jealous of his girlfriends!

"Bodie?" Doyle murmured, peering at him with a frown. "You okay? You look a bit strange. Feeling dizzy or something? You glazed over."

A strangled laugh passed Bodie's lips. "Glazed over, did I? Now, I wonder why the hell that could be." And he squeezed Doyle's fingers.

Doyle jumped as if he'd been shot, but did not pull his hand away, and for a long moment they just sat looking at each other, evaluating, calculating, interpreting what they saw. Slowly, inexorably, the corners of Doyle's expressive mouth lifted, and when he spoke his voice was no more than a husky purr. "Bodie..."

"Ray," Bodie whispered. "Am I right? You looked at me just now..."

"When you woke earlier," Doyle said softly. "Half-woke, anyway. You called me 'pet.' Did you know that?"

Bodie blinked in surprise. "Did I?"

"Yeah." Doyle averted his eyes, flushing around the cheek bones. "Did you mean that, or I am just going nuts in my old age?"

"Well, what you say in your sleep comes out of the subconscious," Bodie said, trying to drawl nonchalantly. "So I suppose I must have meant it." He lightened his tone forcibly. "You'd make a nice pet anyway. Can just see you curled up on the sofa in front of the fire, or chasin' a stick 'round the garden."

"Bodie," Ray remonstrated, "be serious!"

"Don't dare," Bodie admitted. "If I did, I'd do something stupid."

The green eyes leapt up to meet his again. "Like what?"

"Say something that'd make you uncomfortable. Do something daft."

With a great reluctance Doyle got up off the bedside, withdrawing his hands. He pace to the window, wrapped his arms around his own chest as if he was aching, and looked out blindly. "You called me 'pet.'"

"Yeah, I did. So what?"

"So what did you mean?" The tone was neutral, guarded, as if he was afraid. Afraid of rejection?

For a long time Bodie lay looking at the tall, thin figure in the blue jeans and white tee shirt, and at length had to smile. "You're just about terrified of me, aren't you? Can't you read me anymore?"

"Read you?"

"Read me. Like you do when we're at work, when you can guess what I'm going to say before I say it. Telepathy, or whatever."

Ray sighed heavily. "No, I can't read you just now. And it's me I'm terrified of. Ever since I was a kid, I've hated being made to feel an idiot. Oh, I'll prat around, play the fool, clown for you, so long as I'm in charge of the whole act. So long as it's my play, I don't care how daft I look, but..." He let it trail off and had to marshall his thoughts again. "I'm not usually a fool. Not deliberately."

"And what makes you think you're being a fool?" Bodie demanded quietly. "For God's sake come back here, Ray. Sit down. You look like you're waiting to be taken out and hung!"

"Yeah, well maybe it feels a bit like that." Doyle turned back from the window, concentrating on relaxing muscles that were tensed up and threatening cramp; Bodie was smiling at him, and it was not a mocking smile, it was one of those sweet, unselfconscious smiles he gave all too rarely, as if the sun had come out on a cloudy day. Under the warmth of it, he relaxed slightly, and padded back to the bed. "So?"

"So I called you pet," Bodie shrugged. "So I feel like you're family."

"Oh." Doyle flushed rosily and looked down. "Yeah, of course. "We've always been like that. Like brothers, cousins."

"Not exactly brothers," Bodie corrected gently. "I never did approve of incest."

The words went through Doyle's nervous system like lightning and he flinched physically. "Bodie -"

"Oh, don't go shocked and coy on me," Bodie groaned. "You were sitting there giving me the come on a minute ago!"

"I was what?" Doyle recoiled in surprise.

"Sitting there with that 'come hither' look, all bedroom eyes. And don't deny it, mate, I'm not that delirious!"

Doyle swallowed, looking anywhere in the room but at Bodie while he went through his feelings one by one. He had done that? Did he even know for sure anymore how he was looking at Bodie - or what his body language was saying? Or, why the hell had Murphy just assumed, as a matter of course, that they were married, or pairbonded, or whatever you called it when two men were permanently welded together by mutual affections?

"Just a minute ago?" He asked quietly, uncomfortably.

"When my mind had wandered off and you put a hand on my shoulder to wake me up," Bodie told him.

Christ, Doyle thought, swallowing, that had been unwitting. All of a sudden he saw the funny side of it and choked off a giggle. "I'm sorry."

"Are you?" Bodie grinned. "I'm not. Well, not unless you don't follow up on it." He patted the side of the bed. "Will you please sit down again? Come on, pet, I'm not going to grope you or anything. Well, not unless you want me to."

"You've been groping me for years," Doyle snorted.

It was Bodie's turn to colour a little. "You noticed."

"Of course I bloody noticed! How thick d'you think I am?"

"You didn't thump me," Bodie observed carefully as Doyle came to sit on the bedside again.

"I guess I didn't mind," Doyle shrugged. "Must've liked it, or I'd have belted you sooner or later, or snapped at you, wouldn't I?"

"You would," Bodie agreed. "Never been slow to respond with a snarl, have you? But you didn't." He put out a hand, settling his fingers around the curve of Ray's denim clad thigh. "D'you mind now?"

"Now that it's deliberate, serious?" Doyle shook his head. "You should've had the dream I had yesterday! Very disturbing, it was."

"Yeah?" Bodie's fingers tightened. "About us? What did you do?"

"I just lay there. If you must know, it's what you were doing that was disturbing to my peace of mind." He blushed. "And other pieces of me."

Bodie just chortled at his discomfiture. "You don't say. So what did I do?" He slid his fingers upward, into the warm folds of denim at the top of Doyle's captive thigh, and began to stroke, "Come on, pet, if you don't tell me what it was you liked so much how am I going to know what it was so as to do it again?"

Ray just heaved a groan. "You're bloody well doin' it now, except I didn't have anything on."

"Oh, yeah?" Bodie's fingers squeezed; under them, he felt Doyle grown hard, expand, and took his hand away. "Sorry, mate. Didn't think it would be that easy to get you going. Not exactly the place for an orgy, is it? Not when there's nurses popping in and out every ten minutes."

"Bastard," Ray muttered, clamping his teeth and willing the erection to subside. "I always was an easy lay. Get it up in a jiff. Can't help it sometimes, can be downright embarrassing."

Bodie did not tell him that only the bedclothes saved him from a similar embarrassment, but he said, "there's no need to be like that. I want, I've wanted you for ages. You're as fit as a fiddle which is why you get goin' so fast, you don't have to feel bad about that, for Christ's sake! So you'll give me a run for my money when we finally get home to bed. S'nice, Ray. Really. I like the idea of having you hot and bothered, panting for me.

A rather filthy chuckle answered him. "Okay, I fancy you the same way. Funny, isn't it? I've always been straight as a bloody die, then along you came, and..." He sighed, "It shows, as well. Murph thought we were married."

"He thought what?" That really did astonish Bodie.

"Thought we were pairbonded. In love. Devoted." Ray chanced a peek at Bodie's face. "Sorry it can't be like that, Bodie," he said with an honest regret. "Christ, it would have been nice, if it could, but I know it can't. I'm not going to complain - you want me, that's enough. I know when to count my blessings, and I don't resent it at all."

For a moment there was numbness, dazed and thoughtless, and then Bodie nearly blew the whole thing by laughing. Ray was just starting to get up with a twisted, hurt expression, believing himself mocked for his feelings, when Bodie grabbed him and hugged him within an inch of him life, murmuring into his ear. "You little - you beautiful little - you gorgeous, wonderful, wanton little idiot! Marry me and make an honest man of me, if you'll have me, and we'll buy a house and tell George Cowley and the rest of the world to push off and leave us in peace, and live happily ever after like something out of a comic book romance! Ray! You lunatic, how could you think I could want you and not love you as well? Lust? If lust was all it was I'd have propositioned you years ago!"

With the breath thoroughly knocked out of him, Doyle could not find his voice and had to be content for some time with just holding Bodie. The sound of Bodie's laughter had been a knife between his ribs, but the pain had not lasted longer than a few moments. The sense of Bodie's words took time to percolate through into his conscious mind, but the sound of his voice reached the empathic level in an instant, soothing him, dousing the hurt and fear, and before Bodie had finished nothing hurt anymore, except his chest, which was in danger of demolition.

"Oof, let go for a bit," he puffed as Bodie showed no signs of releasing him. "I love you, all right, you can stop punishing me now! I didn't mean to be a twit, honest."

"Punishing you?" Bodie let him go but kept him at arm's length to look at him. "Thought never crossed my mind. Never want to hurt you..." A smile teased at his mouth. "Reckon we dare kiss?"

"Don't I wish," Doyle said bleakly, "but listen to the din from outside. That's a tea trolley. They'll be in 'ere in minute, and here I am with a hard on already. S'okay for you, snuggled up in the bed, but I'll get wheeled up to psychiatric if they see this." He shook his head and drew reluctantly out of Bodie's grasp. "And Cowley wants me at work in another half hour, goddamn... We've got a couple of leads, nothing much, but Schwerin's there somewhere."

"Leads?" Bodie pulled the chocolates toward him. Forcing his mind back to work was difficult, with Doyle sitting so close he could almost feel the warmth of him.

"Yeah. The Met tells us the big man was seen. Covent Garden... So he's in the country - we were sure he'd skipped for a while. The copper who saw him lost him in the traffic, but his taxi took him out to Ealing, and they did a door knock. You know, 'have you seen this man?' Turns out a lady saw him buying fat cigars and ... Christ, you know the routine. Leg work, undiluted boredom. And for that I've got to walk out on you and try getting my mind back in gear!"

"Hard," Bodie admitted.

Doyle grunted, making a face. "Choose another word. That one tends to give my body ideas."

"You save that thought for later, mate," Bodie grinned. "You're a sexy little sod, aren't you? I just hope I can keep up with you."

"You?" Doyle blinked. "From what I hear, you're Super Stud himself, aren't you?" He coloured up and cleared his throat. "I've... never done it with another feller, Bodie. Thought you should know that. Don't really know what I'm doing. I might be a bit inept at first."

"You won't be," Bodie said gently. "Kissing and cuddling's all the same, no matter who or what your partner is, and as for the rest of it... Well, you've done-it-yourself enough, I expect, so you know how to work with your hands. I know a thing or two. Africa was very educational."

The colour rose another shade in Doyle's cheeks, giving him the 'Wild Irish Rose' look Bodie loved to see, "I'll bet. Er, Bodie, one thing does bother me a bit, though."

Bodie was there before him. "You're wondering what it's like to be screwed," he guessed, and watched him nod. "Hey, I wouldn't hurt you, you have to know that. It's a new sensation, and the first time it'll hurt a bit. All virgins hurt a bit, don't they? But it doesn't hurt so much you can't face it, and after that... Well, I know blokes who got to know what it's like when it's done right and who never went back. They weren't even gay, you understand, but they found the new feelings so good that sex with women wasn't the lure it had once been. You follow me? I'm not saying you'll go off birds - no way. But you'll like it. Being screwed."

"You've been screwed yourself," Doyle observed with a wry smile. "A lot, by the sounds of it. When? In Africa?"

And Bodie nodded. "Where else? Don't have to tell you what it's like in the bush, do I? There was a boy called David Tessier, a bit younger than me. We palled up; he was nice, intelligent, bloody good at his job, nice looking, loyal, good mannered. We kept each other sane. Gently, and with affection. I never loved him. Never loved any bloke at all, until you... Come to think of it, I've only loved two women in all my years, for what that's worth! But I was fond of him, and when we touched it was good." He smiled at Ray's puzzled, embarrassed expression. "Sweetheart, when Dave and I touched it was good. When you and I touch, it's going to be like nothing we've felt before, I reckon I can promise you that."

Doyle shivered, closing his eyes. "And you get out of here on Saturday, according to the doctors, do you? I'll collect you, take you back to my place, it's closer. Just over the river. Bodie..." He reached out blindly, hoping Bodie would take his hand and not disappointed. "This has been comin' on for a long time, hasn't it?"

"Years," Bodie agreed. "You're not starting on with guilt, are you? Because if you are, I'm going to get annoyed and shout at you."

"Guilt?" Doyle echoed. "Whatever for?"

"I do not pretend to be able to plumb the depths of that labyrinthine intellect of yours," Bodie said loftily. "But you might be starting to feel bad about manipulating me, using me, exploiting me. In which case, think again. If anybody's going to get manipulated, chum, it's you. And I do mean manipulated. Get my drift."

"Oh, I get your drift," Ray said, hiding a grin. "I just can't believe it's all come out right. I thought - " He choked off a chuckle. "I thought I'd have to get you home and seduce you!"

Bodie guffawed. "Your body language speaks for itself, mate! You've been 'saying' it for years, 'Bodie, I love you, take me to bed.'" He nodded as Doyle blinked, "Ages and ages. I knew you weren't doing it consciously, though, so I just decided I'd wait for you to wake up to yourself before I said anything. Glad I did, Ray. Made it nice when it finally happened."

"Yeah." Doyle squeezed Bodie's fingers. "I ought to thank Murph too; he put the idea into my skull, and I went on thinking about it, couldn't get it - or you - out of my mind, till the other morning I actually dreamed it, and after that... Well, I knew what I wanted."

"Me," Bodie murmured as the room's door swung inward and the tea trolley appeared. "Ah, a cuppa. Can't stay, though, can you, Ray?"

"Not unless a certain Scottish gargoyle's forgotten that I'm supposed to be at work... Not much chance of that, is there? And there's worse. I have to go up to Manchester tomorrow, Bodie, can't even come a-visiting... I'll call you, though. Anything I can do for you before I scoot?"

The nurse departed with the trolley and Bodie glowered at the closed door. "I'd ask you to get over here and kiss me, but it's not wise. Not goin' by the fit of your jeans now. You've been half turned on since you walked in here."

"You noticed."

"I'm not blind," Bodie grinned.

"I can't help it," Ray sighed. "Bloody Murph got me thinking about it, and I've been thinking all sorts of things."

"Tell me?" Bodie purred.

Doyle jumped up as though he'd been hit. "Not likely, not when I've got to go to work, and especially not since somebody's bound to walk in in the middle of me intimate confessions. You wait, mate." He let his expression soften as he drew away toward the door. "Should feel strange, you know. Loving a man. But it doesn't... Because it's us. That make sense? I mean, I honestly don't want other men this way. Honest."

"I know," Bodie sighed. "It's just us. Like an old married couple, aren't we? Doesn't bear thinking about. Don't look so worried, Ray, it's going to be okay. It's what we both want, and I know what I'm doing... And I can wait till Saturday. Can lie here dreamin' about you, can't I?"

"While I'm chasing about like a scalded cat," Doyle moaned, "trying to keep my mind on the subject and probably failing miserably." He swallowed. "I've got to go, Bodie. I'll call you from Manchester, okay? Gotta go."

With that he fled, and Bodie chuckled into the empty room. The look on Doyle's face had been worth waiting for. He lay back against the plump pillows, closing his eyes and trying to recall the twists and turns of the conversation, trying to replay the expressions that had chased across his partner's mobile, expressive face. Ray was embarrassed, uncertain, afraid of making a fool of himself and above all terrified of alienating the man he had come to love. The confusion in him robbed him of that cocksure manner, made him seem vulnerable and even a little immature.

Well, in matters such as this, he was vulnerable and immature, and Bodie felt the weight of responsibility settle on his shoulders... Not to hurt him, not to betray him, not to make him feel like a kinky oddity. With Doyle's background in the Police, he knew the way the world worked, so he was in for few, if any, surprises, but this was the first time he had been a participant in the event, and it would turn him inside out for a while. So I'll be patient, Bodie told himself with a smug, selfsatisfied smile, knowing that he could, guessing that when Doyle had got used to it and had begun to relax, he would be a lover in a million, giving, generous and considerate. As much as that was in his nature, and Bodie wanted to learn every bit of him, his mind as well as his body, from this new perspective. The prospects of that learning were undeniably stirring, and he too began to wish that he had the privacy to relieve his aches. He was still too weakened by the drugs to be very vigorous, but the knot of heat in his groin was a bother until he forced his mind onto chilly subjects, such as washing the car in a snow storm, and facing Cowley in a temper.

He closed his eyes, looking forward to his phonecall from Manchester, and to his escape, on Saturday.

Talking to Doyle on the phone from Manchester made the anticipation of solitude and spare time all the more acidly sweet, and Bodie had collected his things and was waiting at the hospital's exit doors when the gold Capri rolled up at two on Saturday afternoon. Ray had told him that he did not have to be at work until noon on Monday, and to Bodie it was as if they had all the time in the world to learn, unlearn and relearn each other.

Doyle was smiling as he leaned over, unlocking the left door, and when Bodie got into the car he said, "you look terrific, sunshine. Feeling okay, by the looks of you."

"Bit weak," Bodie admitted, "but I'm getting better. Feels like I've had the 'flu, if you really want to know. Doesn't feel too bad - as a matter of fact, they probably did me less damage this way than if they'd beaten me up. I mean, broken bones, knock me teeth out, that sort of thing. That would have put the kabosh on 'us' for ages."

"Yeah," Ray agreed, starting the car and pulling out. "Er, Bodie... Speaking about putting the kabosh on us, I've got good news and bad news."

Bodie gave him a hard look. "You've decided you don't want to bother. Want to go back to being friends?" Then he held his breath.

"Nah," Ray said softly. "Been dreaming about you. Nice things. Change my mind? Don't reckon I could do that now, but... Turns out you're quite popular with the boys from base, and they're pleased to have you back. The good news is, they love you, they're throwing a welcome home party at your place, which is where I'm taking you right now... So, the bad new is, it's going to be tonight before we get a chance to be alone." He shot a tense, meaningful glance at his partner. "Tonight. Hours, Bodie."

"Damn." Bodie groaned, then sighed in resigned acceptance. "Ah well, I suppose that's the price of me fatal charm, isn't it? Pity though. Been dreaming about you, too. And not while I was asleep."

"Daydreaming?" Ray had to smile. "About what?"

"Pictured you as a faun," Bodie admitted. "You know, out of mythology. Beautiful, you were. And randy. You climbed all over me."

"Want me to do that?" Doyle's voice was husky. "Climb all over you?"

"Yeah." Bodie closed his eyes. "And lots of other things, too. But just now all I really want's to kiss you. Damn! The blokes are already there, are they? At my place?"

"Well, Murphy'll be there by now," Ray judged. "I gave him a key to get in because he was stopping off at the off-licence to get the booze... Jax and McCabe and Williams and the others'll be along by three or four, and the Cow might look in around five or six. They won't stay after seven, because they've been told you need your rest, but..."

"I know, hours." Bodie choked off a chuckle. "Oh, hell, I've waited this long, I can wait a bit longer. Maybe we can sneak off for a few minutes while nobody's watching."

"Not wise to," Doyle said carefully. "We don't want to be too obvious about it, do we?"

"The way I see it, everybody's been jumpin' to the wrong conclusions about us for years anyway," Bodie snorted. "I mean, Murph thought we were lovers, and there we were, in total innocence! It's just the way we carry on. The way we behave... We've been obvious enough to satisfy everyone else without even realising it!"

"Jesus," Doyle said suddenly, "what d'you reckon Cowley thinks?"

"Not being clairvoyant, how should I know?"

"But, if Murph assumed, then maybe Cowley..."

"So he won't be shocked when he finds out he's right, will he?" Bodie crooked one brow at Ray. "Not getting cold feet, are you?"

"There is not," Doyle said succinctly, "any part of [my] tender anatomy that is cold. Not with you lounging right beside me... Oh, bugger it. Cowley can think what he wants to, and if he wants to sack us, that's fine too." He changed gear, bypassing a roadworks project, and cleared his throat. "Bodie, you do realise that it just might cost us our jobs, don't you?"

"Course I realise that," Bodie affirmed. "Doesn't matter, Ray, not to me anyway. I've been around, done it all. You know, I never stayed with any one organisation this long. Three years was the maximum I'd stayed with any one mob - Paras, SAS, mercs, whatever. Then we got together back in '75, and here it is 1981, and I'm still here. Six years, Ray... Know why I stuck around? Because of you. Never went in much for friends - you know me. Deep down in your mind, there's a little worm talking to you, tellin' you how dumb it is to trust people, like 'em, love 'em, because if you do start to trust they'll cut the guts out of you, and if you start to love, they'll kill you, stone dead."

Doyle thought about that in silence for a while, then frowned at his partner. "So what was it about me that changed your mind?

The question caught Bodie unawares and he had to sit there and think it out while Doyle drove out toward the flat he had called home for the past year. "I...dunno," he admitted at last, "not really. First thing I thought when I saw you was, Christ, he's going to be a liability. You're not very big, you see, and skinny as a brush shank. Sweetheart, don't look like that! I like 'em built just like you, you look lovely... But I wasn't looking at you in that way, then. I was looking at my new partner, the bloke who's going to hold my life in his hands."

"But you didn't reject me," Doyle observed softly.

"No. I respect Cowley, I really do. He's an old soldier who's seen the lot, and if he said you were good, he was probably right. I decided to sit back and watch you. So I watched. Started to notice you after a while. Exotic, you know. Damn! I was watching you all the time, at work, and after work. Taking a shower at the gym, working out, running for the fun of it, on dates, kissing and cuddling. Killing. You're a bunch of contradictions, did you know that?"

"So you've told me," Doyle nodded. "Frequently."

"Oh, yeah." Bodie stared at the dash, considering the subject in all sobriety. "You irritated the life out of me the first year, till I realised why. You're small, Ray, don't be insulted about that, 'cause I don't mean it unkindly - actually, I'm tryin' to pay you a compliment. You're small, but you can run me off my feet, you're as good as I am in a punch up, you can match me in the gym, and - I swear - when we double date you can damn near outdo me." He flushed up a little, which made Doyle blink. He had never seen Bodie actually blush before. "I mean it, Ray; the time we went to Torquay with Debbie and Jackie, you were at it before me, and I'd flaked out in a heap and you were still at it. Randy little sod."

"Well, I..." Doyle began, at a loss for words. "I..."

"So you irritated me," Bodie clarified. "I'm bigger than you are, so my subconscious naturally assumed I ought to be faster, better. It's a huge mistake, but a natural one. So I set out to compete with you for a whole year, without realising what I was doing. I might have given you a hard time. I pushed myself right to the limit, trying to beat you at everything, and damn me, there you were, right alongside of me. So I took stock of my resentments, and started to respect you. After that, we still competed, but we were friends."

Doyle nodded. "Yeah, I remember that. I thought you were a health nut, or something, always on the go, never letting up. Couldn't understand why you hated me... Twice, I went to Cowley and asked for reteaming."

"You what?" Bodie blinked at him.

"I asked for a new partner." Doyle shrugged. "We'd been working out in the gym, and you were winning. I don't mind being beaten, especially when my opponent's bigger than me, but it was the way you were winning. Smug, condescending, looking down on me. Patronising me, maybe, as if you were doing me a favour by being my partner. So I got angry... so angry I pushed myself harder than I'd ever pushed before, tore three muscles in my back and ended up at the medic's on my day off. Don't know where you were, gone fishing or something. The medic wanted to know why I'd been such a fool as to push myself to destruction point, and I clammed up, so Cowley had old Doctor Johnson, Kate Ross' predecessor, come over and talk to me."

"A bloody psychiatrist?" Bodie blinked.

"Mm. I was radiating anger and frustration, according to Cowley... Johnson had me talking in no time, and I told him I couldn't stand being patronised and crushed underfoot. He sent Cowley a report recommending me for reteaming, and I wanted Jax for my partner... He's good, is Jax, and we've always worked well together."

Bodie studied the dash blindly. "But Cowley refused."

"Yeah. He explained it to me. Said you were just out of the Armed Forces and not yet acclimatised to this kind of work. You'd just got out of the SAS and were used to being top dog, so you were competing without knowing what you were doing, and being so goddamned smug without conscious malice... He's quite a psychologist, on the quiet, is Cowley. What he meant was, 'it's just his way, and he'll unlearn it if we all give him a chance, and we need him.' What he told me, without saying it as such, was that he wanted me to housebreak you."

"Housebreak -" Bodie spluttered.

Doyle chuckled richly. "You sound like Donald Duck. Housebreak, you twit. Get the cock-of-the-walk, size-40-ego, mightier-than-thou SAS- attitude out of you. Not to detest you for competing, and to bloody well ignore you when you got that smug look on your face."

"Oh." Bodie folded his arms on his chest. "Was I that bad?"

"Yup. That bad. S'why we spent a year hating each other's guts. Then something happened... We stopped hating, started to like each other."

It did not take Bodie more than a tenth of a second to put his finger on the event. "You were shot," he whispered. "You can't have forgotten? We were in a warehouse, Port of London, I think. Same place we shot it out with Igor Kodai over Meredith. I was on the outside, freezing. The April of '76. It was your turn to go in first, and it was bloody dangerous but the same kind of thing I'd done in Belfast and over on the Gulf, so when you said you wanted to wait for backup I made some scornful remark, and you shut up so fast I thought you'd been gagged...

"You didn't say a word, just went in, trusting my judgement. And I... I'd been wrong, Ray. You said there were a million shoot holes in the warehouse, that it was just about suicide, but I was thinking back to an IRA siege in the Falls Road area, and I just had to bark at you, intimating that you were useless or something. Didn't realise what I'd done till much later. Anyway, you went in, and I heard gunshots, five, six, seven. Then silence. I called your name and you didn't answer, and I was sweating. I mean, if you'd gone down and I followed you in, the gunman could have taken me from the same shoot hole.

"I should have known you better. The door opened and the man came stumbling out. You'd punched two through his chest, nearly blew the back out of him. He crumpled up in a heap a yard outside the door, so I knew it was okay to go in after you. I called your name but you still weren't answering, and I had to look everywhere to find you. Remember? You were in a heap behind the crates with a bullet in your lung, frothing blood up, blood everywhere, all over you. Jesus, I thought you'd die while I sat there holding you, waiting for the ambulance - had your blood all over me gallons of it. Didn't see how you could have enough left in you to stay alive. The ambulance took you away and Cowley arrived right behind it. He looked around the place, and you know what he said? He said, 'Doyle is slipping. You should have waited for backup, this is suicide! Bloody fool - he'll be going back for a refresher when he gets out of hospital!"

Bodie positively squirmed at the memory. "Hey," Ray said softly, "don't start hurting yourself over something that happened five years ago."

"No, I want to say it," Bodie said stubbornly. "It gets worse. You know what I did? I kept my mouth shut. I'd sent you in there, you trusted my judgement over your own, felt bad about being scorned by me, so you took what I'd babbled at face value and went in. I sent you in there to get you killed, Ray, because I was resenting you, and when it happened I felt so bad, so bad, but I couldn't open my mouth, tell Cowley I'd set you up. I just shut up and let you take the fall. He roasted you over a spit with an apple in your mouth for being a fool and you took it. He sent you over to Macklin, and you took that, too; Brian beat you black and blue, you came back looking like you'd been mugged, hurting from head to foot, and you never said a word." Bodie made a small, strangled chuckle. "I felt... Well, guilt doesn't begin to describe it.

"I sat in your hospital room, watching you trying to live, and told myself I was an idiot, and a homicidal idiot at that, that I had no reason to resent you and it was me that should get the bollicking from Cowley, and I hated myself even more for being so gutless I let you take it for me." He hunched down in his seat. "You came back from the refresher looking like an orphan in a storm, all bruises and big eyes and courage, defying everyone, most of all me, to make something of it. I felt bad. Don't take it the wrong way, mate, but I felt real, honest pity. After that, I started looking out for you. Trying to make it up to you. I let you in, if you know what I mean, let you be friendly, though, God knows why you wanted to be after the things I'd said and done. The rest's history."

There was silence as Doyle turned into the road in which Bodie's building stood, slid the Capri in at the kerb and stilled the motor. "You go in for monologues, don't you? You've talked all the way home!"

"Wanted to say it," Bodie sighed. "Thought you ought to know, now."

"Now?" Doyle turned in his seat, looking at him. Neither of them got out of the car, because they knew that this was the last chance for privacy they would get before the evening.

"Now that I'm going to be... That we're... Oh, Christ." Bodie rubbed his face. "Casual sex is one thing, Ray, but I don't think that's where we're headed. I mean, two guys who started out by trying to kill each other and then started to like each other, if it comes to sex, it'll be love."

"Started to like each other," Doyle smiled, folding his hands on the steering wheel. "You know, back in '77, when you got knifed, I wept over you. Sounds silly, saying it, but there it is. It hurt me seeing you cut down, by then, and I couldn't stop it."

"Not silly," Bodie muttered. "I cried buckets over you last year when that Chinese tramp shot you. Thought it was all over, you see. I knew I was nuts about you, unconsciously, I suppose; certainly I fancied you, or else why have I been groping you for ages, without realising it? Jesus, we're dim, aren't we?

"Better late than never," Doyle said quietly. "Come on, you look white as a sheet. Come and have a cuppa, and maybe we can find a few minutes' peace and quiet before the lads arrive."

Murphy was waiting at the door for them, all smiles and waving a glass of malt at Bodie, carolling 'welcome home' at him as he took it and swallowed it in one swift movement. Then the younger agent looked at his watch and said, "got to step out for a while, Bodie. I ordered up a batch of eats at the shop down the road. Be back in a jiff, okay?"

"Take your time," Bodie said as Murphy vanished, slamming the door behind him with no regard to the neighbours.

And then they were alone, poised on the point of no return. It could cost them their jobs, but that did not seem to matter much; Doyle realised without really considering it that the rat race was no lure, that the constant danger was a growing agony, that the tedium of routine leg work had long since lost its appeal, and that there was an ache in his chest, down under his heart, that Bodie had put there, and only Bodie could ease.

Very deliberately, he stepped forward and held out one hand. "Bodie?"

Bodie took the offered hand, knitting their fingers and watching the green eyes cloud with a flood of desire that was echoed by his own body. He pulled on the slender wrist he held and suddenly there was a warm, hard body in his arms, the hot moist draught of panted breaths on his neck, a wet, velvety tongue licking his ear, and he brought his hands up to coil them in Doyle's wayward hair, lifting his head and looking at him.

His mouth was soft, lax, almost swollen with wanting, and open, the tip of his tongue flicking over his lips to moisten them. Bodie leant his head forward, and before their mouths met in their first kiss their tongues touched, tip on tip, a little caress that brought a groan to Ray's throat and a growl to Bodie's chest. Then their lips were together, and Ray sucked to weld them tighter, mouth open wide, inviting, wanting Bodie's tongue in his mouth and getting it.

Both of them forgot what their lungs were for; they had better things to do than breathe, and the charting of unfamiliar territory took the better part of a minute. Doyle's mouth was hot, sweet, velvety, and Bodie knew instinctively that he would hunger for it always now he had tasted it once. He kissed like a master, generously and unselfconsciously, while his hands clenched on Bodie's buttocks, fingers working in an unconscious rhythm that was exquisitely arousing.

At last they broke apart and Bodie crushed him against his chest, his own hands sliding across his tee shirted back, finding shoulder blades, ribs, places where he was ticklish, places where he would sigh if he was touched gently. This close, there was a wonderful smell rising from his skin; the tang of sweat, the sweetness of Camomile shampoo from his hair, the last faint traces of the morning's cologne, and the faintest scent of his musk, rising from his groin as he became aroused.

Wanting to taste him, Bodie licked down his neck, delighted to find that he tasted just as good, and that the licking was driving him wild. The blue jeans were too tight now, and the hips inside them bucked against the bigger man. "Sorry," Ray muttered breathlessly.

"What for?" Bodie had only fractionally more breath to play with.

"I'm not a randy cocker spaniel," he panted.

"Wha-?" Then Bodie caught on to his meaning and chuckled. He took the denim packed buttocks in both hands and bucked the hips for him, pulling him forward hard in a slow rhythm until Doyle couldn't bear it and took it over. "Cocker spaniel," Bodie chided fondly.

"I'm - stop it, Bodie," Ray pleaded.

"Don't like it?" Bodie frowned: he would have thought Doyle was loving it, and certainly knew he was loving it himself.

"Yes - no - stop it, Bodie, before I come!" With an effort Ray wrenched himself away and stood with one hand on his forehead. "Too fast, mate, and I don't want to mess up my clothes. Not when the blokes'll be here soon." He was aching like fury, and sank down into an armchair to take the pressure off his groin.

Bodie was not really surprised: Doyle turned on like lightning and his body ran away with him. He was knotted up himself, with an ache in his balls that was anything but pleasant, so what Doyle was feeling must be spectacular. "Sorry, mate," he murmured. "I shouldn't have done that. Now you're hurting."

"I'll live," Ray said ruefully. "But you'll get yours, love. Tonight."

"Promise?" Bodie sat down on the end of the sofa.

"Threat." Ray had his breath back now and his colour was going down. "It... was good, wasn't it? The kiss."

"Understatement," Bodie said softly, smiling at this partner in the room's quiet. Doyle's eyes were large and doe-soft and he was still short of breath; the broken cheekbone had almost disappeared in the soft lighting and the curls were disarranged by his hands. Bodie's fingers itched to wind into them, to hold him down when he assuaged the ache they both felt. A faint smile played about his lips as he said, "you know all those times I told you you were ugly?"

"Ugly as sin, if I'm quoting correctly," Doyle nodded.

"Did you believe me?"

Doyle's brows puckered. "Well, not totally because if I was that bad, I wouldn't be able to get any birds, would I? And since I can get a bird when I want one, I can't be all that ugly. But I'll grant you, handsome I aint. I mean, maybe it's up to the bird; maybe they like it with me because I know what I'm doing - the same way girls who really aren't nice to look at can often still get the men, because they're good lovers." He shrugged. "I dunno. It's the face I was born with, Bodie. Sorry if you don't like lookin' at it, but I'm stuck with it. Could cut my hair, though, if you thought that'd make it better?"

Bodie just gaped at him, perceiving the little insecurities that Ray was so adept at hiding. He knew he looked okay physically, because he took a pride in his body, but when it came to his face all he knew was that the eyes, skin and curls often got him taken for an effeminate, and the birds didn't turn him down, and Bodie called him ugly. Suddenly, Bodie hurt for some of the more cruel things he'd said, and was reminded of that community service thing on TV where the person is being put down ceaselessly and finally ends up believing it, before it dawns on the parents... 'who he is is who he's told he is.' So, ever practical and philosophical, Raymond Doyle assumed he got the girls because he was a good lover, and they just overlooked his ugly face because they wanted his body.

"Cut your hair?" Bodie echoed absently.

"If you think it'll help," Doyle repeated. "You awake, Bodie?"

"I lied," Bodie murmured simply.

It sounded like a non sequiteur, and Doyle frowned. "What about?"

"When I told you you were ugly. I lied. I always thought you were beautiful. Take my breath away sometimes. So I covered it up, called you ugly to tease you... Never thought you believed me! Christ, do you take everything I say at face value?"

"No," Doyle admitted, "only the things that you keep on saying, year in, year out. After you've said a thing twenty or thirty times, I accept it as fact, 'cause you wouldn't keep on saying it if it wasn't. Would you?"

Bodie's expression was gloomy. "I'm an idiot. So are you for taking notice to me in my second childhood. And you're beautiful, get that through your skull, because I feel too much of a twit saying it to say it too often. And I'm sorry for being cruel, before. I was just teasing you, I thought you knew how good you look, and - you cut your hair and I'll wallop you, because I like it long. The longer the better. Got it?"

"But, Bodie - "

"Say yes, Bodie!"

"Yes, Bodie, but..." Doyle ran out of words, just threw his head back and laughed. "Oh, love, the look on your face! It didn't hurt me, I just slung a lot of nonsense back at you."

And went away thinking you had a face like the back of a bus, Bodie thought bleakly, while I knew not to take any notice to what you were saying. Abruptly, he was painfully aware of all of Doyle's little insecurities, as if a mask had been lifted away, and the tenderness he had felt so rarely in his life before came up to choke him. "I love you, you stupid little bugger," he said huskily, "and if you let me hurt you any more I'll put you over my knee and sort you out."

"Kinky like that, are you?" Doyle leered. "What about all the times I hurt you? I've a vicious mouth sometimes."

"That's different," Bodie said obdurately.

"Is it?" Ray crooked one curious brow. "Like how?"

"I don't take it to heart. In one ear, out the other. You're the one who sits brooding about things, chewing on things a week after they've been said. I can get hurt, but five minutes later I'll have forgotten about it, so it's not the same at all."

"Still," Ray sighed, "I'll hang on to my tongue in future. It won't be a good idea if we keep on chewing each other up now, will it?" He shrugged himself up off the overstuffed cushions and came to touch his lips to Bodie's forehead. Bodie saw that his partner's erection had subsided a little, enough not to be immediately obvious unless it was looked for, and he smiled as Ray kissed... It was still weird, but nice.

"Best thing we can do is be honest with each other," Bodie said slowly. "Dumbest thing we can do is keep secrets, not speak, bottle things up. That'll finish us before we start. Okay?"

"Right," Doyle agreed at once.

"So, is there anything you want to say before the boys get here and we have to be all nice and legal until tonight?" Bodie smiled at the look on Ray's face; tender, glowing, happy. The smile was sweet and genuine - an expression seen all too seldom on that lovely face. "Go on. You're busting at the seams to say something, what is it? You've got clap? You're getting married in the morning? You - "

"I love you," Ray said simply, shrugging. "It's okay to say it, isn't it? Too bad if it isn't, because I'm going to anyway."

"Course it's okay," Bodie purred, getting to his feet. "C'mere, Gorgeous, and give a kiss before - oh, bugger it."

As he spoke the door opened and Murphy was back, two carrier bags in one hand and a box of cakes in the other. "Hiya, fellas, I'm home. Got plenty of stuff to eat. Want some now?"

"Wouldn't mind," Ray said, trying to divert his attention from Bodie before he became either aroused or maudlin; it looked like being a long, frustrating afternoon. "Whatchya got there that's not saturated in fat and filled with salt and sugar and gristle?"

"Well, um, nothing, actually," Murphy admitted. "Junk food's all you can get locally, sorry, Ray."

"Shut up and have a meat pie like the rest of us," Bodie said bluffly. "Got any beer, Murph?"

"Enough to float the Amoco Cadiz," Murphy grinned, and tossed over a tin of Newcastle Brown. "Cheers, Bodie, and welcome home."

Doyle took a tin of beer, cracking it while he held the meat pie in his teeth, and then chewed methodically, washing down the white pastry and doubtful filling with the dark, bitter liquid. Bodie saw off two chocolate wedges in as many seconds, and Murphy was setting the food up on the kitchen table, when the phone rang.

"I'll get it," Bodie said, putting down a third chocolate wedge and reaching for the receiver. "Might be the lads to say they can't make it." He winked hopefully at Doyle.

Ray offered up a hopeful prayer, but knew in the moment after Bodie lifted the phone to his ear that it was a stranger. He chewed on the last of the pastry, trying not to think about what the salt would do to his cardiovascular system, and just enjoyed looking at Bodie's profile until Murph returned from the kitchen, wondering if it was business or pleasure. Doyle shrugged in answer, catching a few words of Bodie's conversation; it was plainly a stranger on the line. "Hello? Er, yeah, who is this? Yeah. Just today, why? I..." And then nothing, just a long, endless silence in which his face seemed to shutter, draining of blood, and his eyes glazed over as if he'd been struck blind.

Without looking at the cradle, Bodie put the phone down and turned to Doyle and Murphy. There was no expression in his face at first, and then Ray watched the dark good looks twist into a portrait of pure agony; he was in pain, real, terrible pain, torment that was tearing him to tatters as he took two, three, four steps from the phone toward Doyle. His hands come up, clutching at the air, and his eyes closed tightly.

"Bodie?" Ray took a step toward him. "Bodie, what's wrong? Bodie, for Christ's sake, you're frightening me! Bodie!"

The hands closed on his throat. At first the grip was so feathery that Doyle was sure it was a caress, that Bodie was just playing games, and was about to hiss at him not to be so daft in front of Murphy, but slowly, steadily, the pressure increased until his windpipe was closing off. Only then did he grasp the thick, sinewy wrists, learning for the first time how very strong Bodie really was. His fingers pulled uselessly at them, and it was all he could do to speak, his voice horse and alien.

"Bodie, for God's sake, you're choking me!"

The blue eyes snapped open again, feverish and frightened, and Bodie seemed to try to pull his hands away, but his fingers would not obey him, still locked in place around Doyle's aching gullet. Murphy was there, but for all his shouts of discouragement there was no response from Bodie. It was dawning on Doyle that he was going to black out soon, and he put the last of his strength into the desperate struggle to break free, but Bodie was beyond the point where any external force would influence him.

The darkness came up fast, and Doyle's body became limp under the punishing hands. Murphy was sure it was this that finally got through to Bodie, because in the instant that Ray became limp the hands released, letting Ray slump to the carpet, out cold. Bodie stood over him, swaying visibly as if he was dizzy, and he spoke through clenched teeth, words that Murphy recorded like a machine, words that would haunt him later.

"But - sweetheart, I love you, I can't - "

And then he too went down in a heap of tangled limbs, blanketing Doyle's inert body with his own, and Murphy made a dive for his R/T, calling Central for an ambulance, fast. He was on his knees as he spoke, pushing Bodie out of the way and pressing a finger into Doyle's throat; to his intense relief the pulse was there, weak and irregular, but there, and it would grow stronger as the blood got going again. He rolled him onto his side, checking his airway with careful fingers, and listening to the hoarse sounds of breathing for some moments before he turned his attention to Bodie.

It was as if Bodie had been koshed across the back of the head; there was nothing to account for it, but he was out cold too, his eyes rolled up, consciousness far, far from his mind. Murphy sat back on his heels, frowning at the two of them and praying for the ambulance, but there was nothing he could do now but call Cowley with a report.

Alpha One answered at once, having already had the notification - trouble at 3.7's flat. "Bodie," Murph said quickly, "he's had some kind of seizure, I think. He's gone down like he was poleaxed. I've sent for an ambulance, sir, but... He tried to kill Doyle. Tried to strangle the life out of him, nearly managed it, too. They'll both be in hospital now. Do you want me to go with the ambulance or wait here?"

"Wait there," Cowley told him, "I'll be over myself as soon as I can get there."

The red Ford four door arrived as Murphy was watching the ambulance depart. The two ambulance men had started both Doyle and Bodie on IVs and strapped them to gurneys for transportation, and they were headed back to Guy's, fast. Murphy acknowledged a deep helplessness as he and Cowley took the lift back to Bodie's flat, and then Cowley was looking at him for a verbal report, and it was difficult to know what to say.

"He came home with Doyle, ate some cakes, drank a can of beer, and then the phone rang. Up to that point he and Ray were fine, I was setting up for the party we were going to have. Then, as I said, the phone rang and he answered it. I didn't catch what he said, just yesses and nos most of the time. Then he put the phone down, put his hands around Doyle's throat and tried to strangle him."

"Tried to?" Cowley demanded. "Bodie's strong, Murphy. If he tried to strangle him, Doyle would be dead. So he didn't go through with it. Whatever it was that made him suddenly want to kill Doyle, he couldn't go all the way... Did he say anything?"

"Um, yeah," Murphy said, and looked away.

"Well? What was it?"

There was no way to lie, and no point in evasion, Murphy knew; when you were dealing in facts, anything, no matter how inconsequential or personal, could be the snippet of information that made the difference. He sighed heavily. "He said, 'but sweetheart, I love you, I can't - ' And then he collapsed."

It seemed to come as no surprise to Cowley. "A declaration of love, and a denial. Can't what? Can't... kill you, perhaps? As if... As if he'd been told to kill Doyle, As if... " Cowley shook his head. "It doesn't make sense. "Who would tell Bodie to kill Doyle, instead of just pulling a gun and shooting Doyle himself? Get it down in writing, Murphy, I want it on my desk as soon as you've typed it. Everything you can remember."

"Sir." Murphy stuffed his hands into his pockets, looking around Bodie's flat gloomily. "Er, sir... I want to put it on record that I did not divulge their private lives willingly."

"Recorded," Cowley grunted. "How long have you known about them?"

"There's nothing to know yet," Murphy said carefully, allowing a small smile to show. "I made the mistake, when Bodie was missing, of commiserating with Ray, and referring to Bodie as his 'better half,' and he was really surprised. Up to now, they haven't had a relationship. But going by what Bodie said before he passed out, they feel it. Maybe they sealed it in the hospital, I don't know. I only left 'em alone for ten minutes when they got back, and there isn't a lot you can do in hospital or in ten minutes." He paused and cleared his throat. "Sir, you won't let this interfere with their contracts with CI5, will you?"

Cowley frowned at him. "That remains to be seen. I cannot employ any agent who lays the department open to the threat of blackmail, and a homosexual relationship between my two senior field agents would certainly do that. I... I don't know. We'll have to wait, observe. Perhaps they will be content not to consummate it."

"Sir," Murphy protested, "people in love make love. If you asked them to carry on as if there's nothing between them, they'd come unglued!"

"Aye, I know," Cowley said with surprising gentleness. "I've seen too much of this, Murphy. I'm an old soldier, remember. It's not your job or your place to make my decisions for me, but I appreciate your concern for them. Now, do that report before your memory starts its tricks; I'm going over to Guy's. Lock the flat on your way out."

With that he was gone and Murphy busied his hands to still his mind, stuffing the food and booze into the fridge and heading for Central and his desk, and growing more puzzled with each off the wall notion he dreamed up to explain what had happened... There was no explaining it at all, and that was that.

Cowley was not so sure, but without data he was not prepared to speculate. At Guy's they sent him up to the third floor where they had put the two agents in the same room. Doyle and Bodie lay in parallel beds, and the bruising was coming out on Doyle's throat now, great, livid finger marks that would be purple and green soon. Bodie was unmarked but just as still, and Doctor Michaels was standing between them, puzzling over a series of printouts. He looked up as the CI5 Controller appeared and waved him over to look at the flimsies.

"Ah, Mister Cowley, I'm glad you're here. It would have been very difficult indeed trying to explain this over the phone. Look at this."

Cowley looked, recognising a brain scan when he saw one. "This is the brain scan of a dead person," he observed. "No activity whatsoever."

"This is the brain scan, " Michaels corrected, "of Mister Doyle. Before you ask, I can tell you that his body is perfectly all right, no real damage, no reason whatsoever for this reaction. I've never seen his happen before. But this is his brain scan, and..." Michaels shuffled the flimsies around. "Now take a look at this one. This is Bodie's."

"My God," Cowley breathed. The tracery of lines on the printout was like a spider's web. "He's..."

"He's got twice the brain activity of any ordinary person, even a person who is excited, agitated, dreaming, whatever. Twice the activity, Mister Cowley. While Doyle has nothing at all."

"Explain," Cowley challenged, standing back to look at his men.

But Michaels just shrugged. "I can't. I won't pretend to you that I can. I've never seen anything like this, and if you're asking me what I can do for them I'll have to admit that I don't know. I can keep them warm, feed them by IV, and maybe Bodie will come to. I don't know - he's in a coma that's a mile deep, Mister Cowley, the kind of coma that some people never do come out of. And as for Doyle... I'm afraid there's no chance of him coming to at all. His body is on automatic, perfectly healthy in all respects, like a well tuned car, but the driver has gone." He folded his arms on his white coated chest. "What do you want done with them?"

"You're asking me?" Cowley murmured. "I'm not a doctor."

"And I'm not a magician," Michaels sighed. "All right, we'll leave them right where they are, test, monitor, and wait. Wait and see. We might get Bodie back, but Doyle... Is dead, Mister Cowley. Dead. All we can do is take care of his body. The laws of this country don't permit us to put the body out of its misery."

Cowley shuddered. "You're an advocate of euthanasia, I take it?"

"In cases like this, yes," Michaels admitted. "There's nothing we can do for him, he'll lie in that bed for years, God only knows how long."

"Then let him," Cowley barked. "Practice what you preach, wait and see. I'll look in when I get the chance, Doctor. Goodbye."

He felt his years as he walked back toward the lift, haunted by the spectres in that room, especially by Doyle, whose young life seemed to be over... Even if Britain had had euthanasia laws, Cowley knew he would not have evoked them for a long time. It was an empty, vacant hope that still stirred in him; he recognised it for what it was but knew no way to deny it. Doyle's death came as no surprise, anyway; it had nearly happened so many times that Doyle was living on borrowed time, and every day Cowley expected to hear that 4.5 had been taken to the morgue. When it happed, to any of his agents, it hurt, and having Doyle in that white room, looking in the pink, made it only fractionally easier to accept the hideous truth. Raymond Doyle was dead. And nobody seemed to know how or why it had come about.


Doyle woke screaming, fright and helplessness making his throat sore and aching, and it was some time before he realised that the hands on him were soothing, not hurting, that he could breathe, and that only his memory was hurting him.

It was hot and he was sweating heavily as he pried open his eyes and opened his sense to his surroundings. The sunlight came filtering down through dense green foliage, in his nose was the smell of humus and decay, and - Bodie. As his senses began to serve him better he heard Bodie's voice too, crooning into his hair, and he realised that he lay back against Bodie's chest, cushioned on him, wrapped around by the strong arms.

"Bodie?" He murmured, his throat still sore.

"Yeah, it's me, it's me, shush, pet, you're all right." Bodie's fingers brushed his cheek with wonderful gentleness. "What happened? What's wrong? I heard your voice and came runnin' - what were you screaming about, Ray?"

"What was I - " Doyle twisted around to look at Bodie. "Christ, you were trying to kill me, strangling the life out of me!"

"Shh, it's all over now," Bodie crooned. "Must've been one hell of a dream, but it's all over now. What I can't understand is what you're doing here. This is the last place I expected to find you!"

Doyle blinked owlishly at Bodie in the filtered sunlight, and at last the little details dawned on him. Bodie was clad in cammo fatigues, and a strip of black rag was tied about his head. There was a machine gun on the ground by his left leg, an FN, standard issue in many armies around the world. And they sat in what seemed to be a jungle clearing - he could hear the sounds of the forest all about.

"What the hell... Where is this?" Ray asked softly, all at sea and not liking the feeling. "Last I knew, I was at your place, in London, and..."

"Doesn't matter, love," Bodie said at once, seeing the confusion. "You must've come out here for something, maybe Cowley sent you. Yeah, that must be it. Did you get a knock on the head? Parachute insersion[?]? Look, it doesn't matter. It'll keep, till you remember why you're here. In the meantime... Jeez, it's good top see you, mate! Been missing you like hell."

"Have you?" For the moment Doyle let the struggle for orientation go, focusing on the smiling blue eyes, and on the hands that were stroking him.

"Yeah," Bodie affirmed. "You look wonderful, Ray, just the way I remember you from the last time."

Doyle glanced down at himself; he was wearing his old blue jeans, very tight, washed out, patched, his red tee shirt, the boots with the two inch heels, the silver chain. Odd; he had no recollection of dressing or going out on an overseas assignment, or making a jump... Maybe Bodie was right. A knock on the head could do funny things to a man. And in any case, the logistics could wait; right now, he wanted to be kissed, and that mattered a good deal more than geography.

"Oh, Ray," Bodie said, soft as a sigh, arms going about him, and as Doyle raised his lips he was rewarded with a long, deep kiss, sweet and gentle with affection. Arousal stirred in his nerve endings, and as Bodie began to stroke his legs he realised with a throaty chuckle that he was still waiting for 'it' to happen. The big 'it,' the forfeiture of his virginity. Funny place to lose your cherry, a jungle clearing, when you didn't even know what the hell you were doing here, Doyle thought, but it didn't seem to matter.

Bodie was kissing his throat, fingers teasing their way up under his tee shirt, and he wriggled around until he could send his own fingers exploring too, discovering Bodie's solidity, his heat. He was hard with arousal too, and his breathing was a little ragged already. "Just a tick," Ray muttered, and pulled away to shrug out of the tee shirt. "Better?"

His reply was a kiss that started at his lips and slid slowly down to his chest, centering on one nipple while attentive fingers rubbed the other until Doyle could hardly keep still. He found himself stretched out on the carpet of crisp, fallen leaves, Bodie's hand stroking between his legs, his eyes unfocused on the shifting canopy of the forest. When Bodie lifted his head to smile down at him Ray fought for breath, plucking at the cammo shirt his lover still wore, and when Bodie slipped it off he wound his arms about the broad, white torso, pulling him down.

There was Bodie's weight on him then, an unfamiliar sensation, one that was intoxicating; he was heavy, the heat of his erection burning, even through their clothes, and Doyle lifted his hips, trying to grind them together to ease the throb in his own groin. With a churring of unmeshing metal, the pressure of the washed out old denim loosened, and Ray yelped in surprise and delight as Bodie took hold of him, fingers cool about his shaft, stroking and pulling until his senses began to blur and he writhed away before it was too late.

"Damn it, Ray," Bodie said, sounding miffed, "why don't you let me -"

"Together," Doyle muttered, coming up to his knees and working the jeans off his hips, then sitting and pulling them off altogether.

"This isn't the place," Bodie chided fondly. "There's a million biting insects. They'll make a meal of us."

"We'll be quick," Ray said. "Please, Bodie?" The first time, he desperately wanted it to be together. "Please?"

"You're a fool, Raymond Doyle, but I love you anyway," Bodie sighed. "If I regret this later, you can scratch the bites for me!"

"Anything you like," Doyle grinned, and then held his breath as he watched Bodie stand, heel off his boots and drop the cammo pants, all in one fluid movement. He was still white; trust Bodie - he's in Africa, but will he take his clothes off and get a tan? Never. Ray chuckled, shaking his head fondly over the alabaster body that sat down beside him and pulled him into a close, intimate embrace.

There was a time when he would have said it was ridiculous that he could be aroused and tormented by the feel of another steel-hard erection pressed into his belly, by the slick, hot glide of a straining cock against his own, but now he could barely breathe, and Bodie's lips seemed to be everywhere as he lowered them down onto their sides in the crushed leaves and wrapped arms and legs about the captive prize. Ray gave up on the hopeless attempt to speak and let his hips do the talking, bucking hard against Bodie, matching his rhythm easily.

How very different was this Bodie from the man he had known for years. This Bodie was so tender, so sweetly affectionate, that an act that could have been rough and wild was made gentle and easy. Fingers clenched into Doyle's buttocks, pulling him closer, closer, and he reciprocated, sinking his own hands into Bodie's softness, trying to weld them so close that they were, for a time, one. There was a way to do that properly, to make them the same body for a brief while, and Doyle was going to invite it when the time was right. A soft bed, peace and quiet, a lot of fragrant oil, a bath within reach, and not out here in the wilds, just on the offchance that he got hurt a little.

Not that Bodie would hurt him deliberately; he knew that as surety as Bodie began to push them harder, climbing up toward climax, his hands tightening, his teeth beginning to graze on Ray's shoulder, his heartbeat quickening. Doyle moaned, could not have held in the sound if his life had depended on it, and worked his own hips hard, rotating them, vaguely registering the protests of his lower back as the muscles worked overtime. Bodie thrust harder yet against him, knocking the breath out of him, and, exhausted and overloaded by the strange new sensations, Doyle just hung on tight and let it happen.

No, Bodie would not hurt him. As he came he was muttering, endearments, words of love that Doyle's conscious mind soaked up like a dry sponge, storing them to be replayed, again and again, later. "Ah, God, Ray, I love you, pet... Ah, love, you're so warm, so beautiful... Ray - " Then he was coming, deep, racking spasms sending streams of wet heat between them, and Doyle couldn't hold back a moment longer, as if Bodie's release was the trigger for his own. He cried out as the tortured ecstasy peaked and burst, aware that Bodie was holding him while he shuddered, cradling him while the storm passed over, and while he lay trembling against the larger body.

Kisses feathered over his face, and Bodie's voice murmured into his ear, "first time?"

"First time with a man," Doyle admitted. "Be better next time."

"Was fantastic this time," Bodie shushed. "Always put yourself down, don't you? You were great, mate. Nice?"

"Understatement," Ray panted, burying his sweating face in Bodie's neck. "I love you, mate. Really do. Not just sayin' that."

"I know you do," Bodie whispered. "Every time you kiss me, you say it, and just now you put it in no uncertain terms! There's a difference between having sex and making love." Bodie leaned down and took Doyle's lips in a soft, undemanding kiss. "There. There's the difference. There's loving."

"Yeah, you're right," Doyle smiled, contented and exhausted, and sighed in delight as Bodie lay down beside him and drew him close again. "Where are we?" He muffled against the broad, white chest.

"It's called Samota; there's a river a mile or two east, and Van Hise's camp is up the road. I left the car there, took his four wheel drive to make the best of the trails. I'd just parked to brew up when I heard you yelling your head off like someone was trying to murder you."

"Someone was... I thought someone was," Ray murmured. "Must've been a dream. I mean, you wouldn't kill me, would you?"

Bodie chuckled, "There's a hell of a lot of things I'd like to do with you Raymond, but killing you's not one of them... Will you let me?"

"Let you screw me?" Ray breathed.

"Yeah. Inside you. You know."

A shiver surged along Doyle's nerves. "I want to, but - "

"Scares you a bit, I know," Bodie said.

"I'm not very big," Ray said carefully.

"Big enough, though." Bodie's hand feathered down over his lover's flank, and the fingers intruded between his buttocks, delicately exploring the tight clenched anus. "Plenty of oil, love," he whispered. "I won't hurt you. Well, no more than... It always hurts a bit the first time."

"So I've heard." Doyle stirred, settling his head on Bodie's shoulder. "I'm not scared of a bit of pain, mate, you know me better than that, but... Christ, you're a big lad, Bodie, when you're ready, and... This is the wrong place to be hurt. Infections galore, bugs everywhere. Could put me in hospital if it goes wrong."

"It won't, I won't let it," Bodie crooned. "Hurt you? I'd sooner shoot myself in the foot! If you don't trust me - "

"It isn't that, and you know it's not."

Bodie tilted up his chin to look at him. "Okay, so you trust me. And if you trust me, you can leave it all to me. Okay? Ray?"

Doyle smiled at last. "Why not? I mean, for a start, you were right about the insects... I'm getting eaten alive." He laughed and drew out of Bodie's embrace with a light kiss on his nose. "Got to get dressed before I'm skeeter bites from head to foot. And ants! God, they're everywhere. Funny, I didn't notice them while we were at it."

"You generally don't," Bodie agreed, reaching for his own clothes and watching Doyle dry himself off with a parchment-like leaves, and wriggle back into the jeans that, disreputable as they were, had always been his favorites. And that red tee shirt. Just the way Bodie liked to think of him.

Buckling up, Doyle gave Bodie a frown. "So what are you doing out here? I mean, they don't send us overseas much."

"Came over to make a hit," Bodie told him. "But the target's shoved off. He's only known by a codename - Thorkill. At least, I assume it's a codename. They said he was in these parts, but Intelligence has screwed things up as usual. He's long gone, as far as I've been able to find out. Gives me a long trip... I called London, told Cowley the news a couple of days ago. I asked for backup - I guess that's what you are doing here, right? I ask for backup and he sends the best he's got, you." Bodie smiled. "Glad it's you, Ray; I'd sooner work with you than anyone else. But it's a pity you can't remember the info. Got a bump on your head?"

"Not that I can feel," Ray said, "and I haven't got a headache... I'm not really dressed for the jungle, am I? Should've had the right gear."

"Unless you moved out in a devil of a hurry," Bodie shrugged. "In any case it doesn't matter. Anything you want, you can get here."

"Fine," Doyle nodded. "And you can fill me in on the info, can't you?"

"Sure. Ready to move now? The 4x4's over this way, up on the road. Well, what calls itself a road. If they didn't scrape it with dozers once a fortnight the jungle's overgrow it." As they turned in the direction of Bodie's pointing arm, Doyle noticed that the sun was slanting down toward the western horizon; it was late in the afternoon, but he was not wearing a watch, and the leather cover was over Bodie's chrono. "What's up, sunshine?" Bodie asked, seeing the frown pucker Doyle's brow.

"Just wondering what could have happened to my watch. I mean, I wouldn't have left home without one, would I?"

"Maybe you broke it on the jump," Bodie suggested helpfully.

"Maybe." Doyle sounded doubtful. "And where the hell's the chute, if I did jump in? And where's my pack? You never jump into the wilderness without your gear, even I know that!"

Bodie stopped and gave his partner a curious frown. "Hey, it sounds like you were rolled, Ray. These forests're full of bandits. They'll jump anyone who travels alone and on foot. Got hit myself once. They'll belt you on the head and take everything, sometimes even the clothes you stand up in. You're lucky if you get out of there without being mauled."

"I guess they were feeling generous," Doyle shrugged. "But all I've got's my clothes-not even a jacket. Damn! I wish I could remember... Oh, hell, it doesn't matter. You seem to know what's happening."

"Hey." Bodie held out his arms and invited Doyle into his embrace. "I do know what I'm doing. You just stick close to me. Come to think of it, you'd better stick closer than close, especially when we reach camp. Van Hise is an old lech, and his taste runs to lads like you."

"Gay?" Doyle asked against Bodie's neck.

"As God knows what," Bodie growled, arms tightening around him.

"Then I'll stick close. I don't much fancy being pawed about by other blokes, Bodie," Doyle admitted. Between us, I dunno, it's different. Not like something strange; just right, if I'm making sense."

"Course you're making sense," Bodie smiled fondly, chafing his cheek. "Difference is, you love me. Don't you?"

Doyle answered with a kiss, which said it all.

The four wheel drive was a Toyota, and it was parked on a deeply rutted trackways, caked with red ochre, one side of it patched up with beer cans that had been hammered flat and pop-rivetted into place. Bodie ignored the vehicle's shortcomings as if he did not even see them, sliding in under the wheel and starting the six cylinder engine.

"It goes," Doyle observed drily.

"Don't knock it," Bodie grinned. "It'll get us there... We'll have to shove off in a couple of days, Ray. Thorkill's gone to ground on a mountain on the other side of Rohan. Odinspeak. There's an old fortress there, so they tell me - it'll make him a tough nut to crack. Luckily, the Helway will take us most of the way there."

"The what?"

"The road into the west. The Helway. Good thing is, it's sealed most of the way, so we can take the car, do it in comfort if not in style!" He chuckled. "I daresay Van Hise'll be glad to see the back of me." Before he pulled out Bodie took Ray's hand, kissing his knuckles. "Jesus, I'm glad you're here. Been wanting you for so long."

"Well, now you've got me," Ray smiled. "Van Hise won't mind if we share a tent, will he, seeing as he's bent anyway."

"Bent," Bodie affirmed, "as an 'airpin. So you watch yourself around him. The way you're dressed is like waving a flag."

"Sorry," Doyle murmured. "I can't think why I'd have left England dressed like this... Hey, Bodie this Odinspeak place. That's not an African name, is it? Sound Viking to me."

Bodie just shrugged. "Who knows why people call places this or that? We just have to get out onto the Helway - "

"That's Viking too, isn't it?"

"Yeah. The road to the afterworld." Bodie turned his attention to the trail. "All we have to do is get across Rohan, sort him out, and head for home." But his voice belied the simplicity; his tone was troubled, rough with uncertainty, foreboding.

"Bodie?" Doyle prompted. "What's wrong?"

Bodie sighed. "Well, there's more to it than a hit, for me. Cowley didn't send me over for nothing... I had to be me. You see, I was hit, by Thorkill's riders. They grabbed me, it wasn't nice." His voice fell away to a whisper. "I parked the car, got out of it and they hit me. Took me days to get loose, and by that time..."

For a moment Doyle just blinked at him. "This was in Hammersmith, wasn't it? They found you on the embankment and took you to hospital."

"Dunno," Bodie admitted. "It's a bit vague, actually, I don't remember too much. But they took it, and I have to get it back."

"Took it? Took what?"

"My soul, if you want to call it that," Bodie said softly. "It's a bad word, and I don't think it says what I mean anyway, but I don't know another word for it. The riders took it and if I don't get it back... That's why I'm going to Rohan. It's Thorkill or it's me, Ray. No other way."

There was silence for a long time as Doyle tried to digest it all. They ran out of dense forest quickly, and the grasslands opened up on both sides of the trail, reminding him of the stock footage from Daktari. So the men who had jumped Bodie in Hammersmith that night had been riders for the man whose codename was Thorkill, and he had made a run back into the bush, with something of Bodie's Id - his 'soul' - and retreated to a fortress on a mountain called Odinspeak, on the other side of Rohan, up the Helway. Cowley sent Bodie to make a hit, and to take back... Doyle shook his head. Take it one day at a time, he told himself. If was too weird to be taken in all at once, and made less than no sense at all.

They drove in silence, each engrossed in his own thoughts, and it was almost dark when they saw the lights of the mercenary encampment flickering through the trees. "That's it," Bodie murmured, "vehicles, tents, a cook wagon, latrines off to the left, showers set up under the barrels in the trees there - plenty of water here, it chucks it down every afternoon. Helicopter pad there, little fuel tanker. That's my tent on the end of the rank. It's a bit small, I'm afraid. But we won't be staying here long, just a day or so. I'm waiting for a map."

The four wheel drive pulled in out of the near darkness, and Bodie parked in the halogen wash from the headlights of the mechanics' truck; two men were working on one of the Jeeps, an engine stripped down all over a groundsheet in the glare of the headlights, and they waved as they saw the 4x4 pull back in. "That's Reece and Johnno," Bodie told Ray. "Good lads, not bad mechanics. We've a half way decent cook, Cookie - what else? - but I'd steer clear of Doc Morgan, he's a drunked half wit, doesn't know a bandaid from a butcher knife, wouldn't trust 'im with a hangnail."

"Thanks for the tip," Doyle nodded. "I'm hungry. We in time to eat?"

Bodie checked the time. "Yeah. There's no mess tent, you just stroll up to the wagon and get what you want. Cookie doesn't give a damn."

They were stiff as they swung out of the 4x4, and Doyle stretched his back, yawning, eyes on the fireflies that darted among the trees. It was almost silent beyond the camp, but the voices of a dozen men were noisy, close at hand. They were drinking, by the sounds of them, and he could hear the jingle of coins. Gambling. For the tenth time, Doyle checked his pockets, but they were as empty now as they had been all afternoon.

He followed Bodie toward the cook wagon, surprised to see that the cook was an old man, florid and white haired, stout belly straining at an apron that would once have been white. He grinned at Bodie, took a glance at Doyle and winked knowingly. Ray bit off an oath; Christ, was it that obvious? It couldn't be! Bodie just grinned back at the man, shoving two tin plates at him and collecting large servings of stew and mugs of tea. They took the food to the fire, sitting on a low bench, the smoke stinging their eyes as they ate. The food was half way decent.

"Waiting for a map," Bodie said, repeating what he had said earlier. "There's a guide, a Frenchman called Perrault, who's been on the other side of Rohan recently. Not many people have. The riders are a menace, bloody dangerous, and the mountains are treacherous. We'll end up driving dogs before we get as far as Whitehorse."

"Dog sleds?" Doyle paused, fork half way to his lips. "But we're sitting here in the bloody bush!"

"It's not the distance, it's the altitude," Bodie said. "Wait till the sun gets up tomorrow and look north. The mountains go straight up."

Doyle ate in silence for a moment, but his brow was furrowed with a deep frown. "Bodie, I don't get it. This is - what? central or west country in Africa? I mean, this is the bush, that's the rain forest. What is it, Tanzania, Zaire, Angola? Bodie, there are no mountains north of here - just the Congo!"

"There aren't...?" Bodie mirrored his frown, and in a moment put out a palm to check his forehead. "You sure you're feeling okay? Or were you always this rotten at geography? You'll see the mountains in the morning. High and capped with snow. Whitehorse is the last settlement on the Helway where we'll be able to get supplies. Have to leave the car there, too - won't take the conditions further on, even though we'll carry chains."

For a moment Doyle wondered if he was just hopeless at geography, but he knew full well that there were no mountains of the kind Bodie was talking about here. And how could there possibly be places called Odinspeak, and Whitehorse, in the middle of Africa? He sighed heavily, shrugging it off. Maybe Bodie was having him on - it wouldn't be the first time his partner had taken the Mickey out of him... Raymond Doyle had never been further than the south of France, and that on infrequent occasions. So, what did he know?

But he would have sworn that 'Whitehorse' was a place in Alaska, or the Yukon, or the Klondike, or somewhere like that... Hence, the dog sleds. "Oh to hell with it," he muttered as he finished the meal and washed it down with the last of his tea. He tossed the tin utensils aside and looked up at the stars. This far from a city, they were gleaming like diamonds, or chips of ice in the sky. The gamblers' noise had fallen away now; the whole camp was almost still and quiet, and the fire was starting to die down.

It was some time before he became aware of Bodie's eyes on him, and then he turned to look at his partner, his lover. "Tired?" Bodie asked, little above a whisper.

"Not really," Ray smiled. "Confused, mostly."

"Well, that's understandable. Everything'll look better after a good night's sleep. Come on, love, time to turn in. My tent's not all that vast, but it's comfortable. Too hot to use sleeping bags, so I've got some rugs and half an acre of mosquito netting. Keeps the bities out."

"You're on," Ray said huskily. "Lead on, McDuff!"

The inside of the tent was a well of darkness till Bodie turned on a lamp, and then Doyle made noises of appreciation. A blue groundsheet was soft under his feet, and the netting was slung at the tent's flap to keep the interior free of insects. Bodie, as usual, was making himself at home. "Nice," Ray said honestly. "Nice rugs - hey, I've got rugs like this at home myself. Stuart tartan, aren't they?"

"Dunno," Bodie shrugged. "I just liked them."

"Yeah, Stuart tartan. Same as mine. Nice and soft like mine, too. Bit strange, that they'd have things like this out here. I thought you'd be bedding down with olive drab Army blankets!"

"Oh, I can have what I like," Bodie grinned, and winked. "And what I'd like to have right now..."

"Is me," Doyle finished, chuckling.

"Will you let me have you?"

"All yours," Ray nodded wryly. "All you have to do is ask."

"I'm asking," Bodie purred. "Want you, Ray. Want that beautiful body all for my own... You hear me?"

"I hear you. All for your own," Doyle echoed. "Does that mean what I think it means?"

Bodie nodded. "I'm a jealous, possessive son of a bitch. If you love me, you're mine, Ray. Thought you should know that."

"Okay." Doyle nodded deeply. "S'okay, Bodie, 'cause I feel the same way. I don't want to share you, not at all." He smiled then, hooking his fingers into his tee shirt and pulling it off. "It's a deal, then."

"Deal," Bodie agreed, coming to pass his hands over Doyle's chest, catching him by the hips and pulling him forward into a punishing embrace. "Seal it with a kiss," he murmured, and bent his head to Ray's open mouth, tongue stroking tongue until Doyle groaned, and he felt the growing hardness of arousal inside the skin tight denim.

As the kiss broke Bodie slid down to one knee to undress him, sliding down the jeans' zip and tugging the denim off the narrow hips. "Always wanted to do this, you know. You're so bloody beautiful," he said wistfully. "Always wanted to tell you how nice you are... Skin like honey, legs like a racehorse." Doyle stepped out of the jeans, holding his breath, waiting, and Bodie looped his fingers into the scrap of yellow cotton he still wore, deftly removing that too. "And this," Bodie purred as his cock bobbed up, free and dark, throbbing with the need the hands and voice were generating. "You're a big lad yourself, Ray." Fingertips traced the outline of the swollen shaft, and Doyle bit his lip hard. "One day," Bodie murmured as he bent toward the heat and hardness, "one day I want this inside me. I want all of you, sweetheart. All of you."

And then Bodie's mouth engulfed the aching length of Ray's cock, and if anything else was said between them, he couldn't have heard. It was a minute later, and he was flat on his back with Bodie beside him, panting for breath, before he knew where he was again. He was close, already, and Bodie, guessing, had backed off to make it last. Ray got his breath back slowly, rousing himself with an effort to try to return the caresses, but the strength had gone from his arms and it was as much as he could do to cup Bodie's cheek and kiss his shoulder.

Bodie seemed to have more stamina, and the knowing, gentle fingers were on him again, discovering his chest, exploring his flanks, an inch at a time, before Bodie rolled him over to discover his back. Ray held back a moan as he felt the wet kisses the length of his spine, the fingers between his buttocks, stroking his balls, and he couldn't keep still; beneath him, the tartan rugs were soft and deep, and he arched his back, thrusting himself into them rhythmically, trying to ease the savage throb in his groin.

For a few moments Bodie let him move that way, and then, as he lifted up again he felt strong hands take him by the hips and coax him up to his knees. Still it did not occur to him what Bodie was doing, his mind was floating too far away, and it was not until he felt the pressure at his anus that he understood.

"No - Bodie, no," he gasped, "not here, for Christ's sake!"

"Ray," Bodie said, strung out and hoarse. "Please."

"Not here," Doyle pleaded, trying to turn over again. "Bodie, please, no - later, I promise, but not here. Please."

There was real fear in Doyle's husky voice, and it got through to Bodie before he had even tried to enter the incredibly tight, hot passage. He sat back, pulling his hands across his face. "Sorry, mate. It's not up to me to decide when. That's up to you. Sorry."

The fear was gone at once, and Doyle pulled Bodie into his arms, trying to ease the pain of frustration from him. "I want to, really, but just not here. Got a medic that's a drunken half wit and a CO that's gay. How'd you like to hurt me and leave me to their tender mercies while you go capering off to make the hit? Please, Bodie. Later, when we're out of here, then you can do it. I mean it. I want it, but I don't want to get left behind in this place. Bodie?"

"Should have more sense, shouldn't I?" Bodie said ruefully. "It's all your fault, anyway, for being such a gorgeous, sexy little bugger. There you were with your rump in the air, what was I suppose to think...?"

"Didn't realise," Doyle said sheepishly. "You got me going... Come on, Bodie. Lots of other ways to do it, aren't there? Show me some."

Bodie nodded, smiling into the green eyes in the lamplight. "You're on, love." He caught the curly head and captured Ray's lips in a kiss that was hard, repentant, and pulled Doyle around, back-to-chest, before letting them slide down onto the rugs. Doyle gave a gasp as he felt Bodie's cock slide into his cleft, the snub, slick head nudging at his balls, and instinctively he clenched his muscles about him, holding him as tightly as he could. Bodie's large hand reached around him, taking his own shaft into a satisfying grip, and Ray bucked into his lover's fist, feeling Bodie thrust forward as he arched back again. Wet kisses devoured his right ear and Doyle felt his senses swimming with heat.

"Don't - ah, Bodie, don't squeeze me like - like that - s'too much! Bodie - " But Bodie knew what he was doing, and Doyle came violently a moment later, shaking with the spasms pressing back into Bodie's embrace as he felt the bigger man tense with his own approaching climax. Thick, hot essences of Bodie pumped out between his legs, tricking down his thighs and into the rugs, and Bodie howled into his ear, like a wild thing, caught in that curious balance between anguish and delight.

Then they lay still; neither had the strength to move for minutes, and then it was Doyle who managed to turn over, pressing his face into Bodie's neck and accepting the other's knee between his thighs with a moan of inarticulate pleasure. "Bodie?"

"Still alive," Bodie murmured. "Love you, Ray."

"You don't say," Doyle whispered. "And I'm sorry."

"Sorry? What for?"

"For saying no."

"Oh, you're right," Bodie sighed. "It would have been rotten to have to get old Butcher Morgan to treat you. I mean, those are not the kinds of injuries you like to have prodded about by a good doctor, let alone one who's dangerous when he's got a spoon in his hand, never mind a knife." He slipped his hands down Doyle's flanks, and a little caress went feathering across the pucker of muscle, slick and sodden as it was with his own life's essences. Doyle shuddered at the touch and pressed closer. "Yeah, you'll like it, I know you will, but later, away from this place. Trust me?"

"Of course," Ray murmured. "How can I love you without trusting you?" He paused, wriggling. "Haven't got a towel or a rag, have you? I'm sticky as hell, and it's getting on the rugs."

"Just a sec." Bodie pried himself away and reached for an overnight bag that carried the logo of British Airways. He pulled a hand towel from it, and put it to good use, making his lover squirm and laugh. "Ticklish?"

"Right at this moment, yes," Doyle chuckled. "Not much, as a rule... Damn, I'm in a puddle. Can we turn the rugs over a bit?"

"Makes sense. Up with you, then, move your legs." Bodie tugged the tartan travelling rugs around, flicked a loose one over them, and pulled the pillows in under their heads. Then he pitched the towel away and reached out to turn off the lamp.

As he saw it, Doyle frowned. "Hey, that's the new lamp you just bought the other day - Dolphin, by Eveready, isn't it? Waterproof, floats and all that. You brought it with you?"

"Must have," Bodie yawned. "A lamp's a lamp, for Chrissake."

"Just like home," Doyle said, smiling into Bodie's throat. "Blankets like mine, lamp like yours. And out here in the bush. Mind you, this'd be like a home away from home to you."

"Spent a ridiculous amount of my life here," Bodie affirmed. "But we'll be gone, so don't get settled in. As soon as the Frenchman gets here with the map, away we go."

"Tomorrow, maybe," Ray wondered.

"You're keen to leave already," Bodie observed.

"Keen to get the job done and go home," Doyle admitted.

"No spirit of adventure, that's your problem," Bodie accused. "Go to sleep, love. They'll have us up with the sun, and I don't know about you, but I've had a rough day."

I wish I knew, Doyle thought with a sigh, but he did as he was told, putting his head down on Bodie's shoulder and closing his eyes. Confusion was a hot, angry, jumble in his mind, but he tried to ignore it. Fretting about what he couldn't remember or understand would serve no purpose; at least Bodie seemed to know what he was doing.

He did not expect to sleep, but in fact he was out before Bodie, and did not stir until the revving of a big bike engine roused the camp. He sat up quickly, disoriented for one sickening moment, but it all came back as he felt his lover's warmth beside him, saw the blankets, smelt the musky, telltale odour that betrayed last night's sex. He wrinkled his nose, scratching at his stubbly jaw, and nudged Bodie.

"Can I borrow your shaving gear?"

Bodie just grunted in reply, and Ray chose to take that as an affirmative; guessing that the shaving tackle would be in the British Airways bag, he pulled it toward him, rummaging through the contents. Bodie had had brought an odd assortment of bits and pieces; his pig-sticker razor, a stick of shaving soap with the Bootes-The-Chemist label, Imperial Leather soap, pale blue face cloths, his tortoise-shell comb, Wrigleys spearmint chewing gum, his pocket calculator, a fountain pen, handkerchiefs with the letter 'B' embroidered in green in the corners, loose change, his Liverpool F.C. keyring, the Polaroids he had bought in Barcelona last summer... All items Doyle recognised well, and he just shrugged. So Bodie had packed in a hurry, stuffing things into the bag on intuition. Typical of Bodie, really, he thought, and gave him a fond smile: he was running true to form. The rest of the camp may have been up and moving, but he had turned over and pulled the tartan rug over his head. Doyle dressed quietly.

Morning sunlight streamed in through the slight crack in the flaps, and Ray blinked in the brightness as he ducked outside in search of water - warm if he could get it, cold if not. The mechanic, Johnno, was running the bike, and there was Cookie, scraping the grease out of his tins in preparation for breakfast. Ray headed for the cook wagon. "Morning, Cookie, got any hot water?"

"Tea's nice and 'ot," the old man sang. "Want some?"

"Yeah, please," Doyle nodded, and waved with the shaving gear. "And a pan of hot water; I'm trying to shave." Both were forthcoming in moments, and he sat down on the bench by the wagon to sip the scalding liquid and lather his face. It was then that he saw the mountains. "Bloody hell," he muttered, stunned, "I must be a wash out at geography!"

The alps rose up out of the rain forest, sheer, like pavilions on a distant battle field, snow capped and intimidating. One of them was called Odinspeak, and he guessed that he would get to know the topography like the back of his hand if Bodie was going to drag him there. He shook his head, trying to call to mind a map of Africa; funny, he would have been prepared to bet a month's wages that there was no such alps in this part of the world. Doyle had never doubted the evidence of his own eyes, however, and he shrugged it off as his own ignorance, going back to the task of shaving.

Bodie's pig-sticker straight razor was lethal, and he treated it with the respect it deserved, scraping lather and whiskers away with deft strokes until his face was as smooth as a boy's, then patting at his cheeks with the pale blue face cloths. He dragged the tortoise shell comb through his hair and was putting everything away when he heard a voice, thickly accented, probably Dutch.

It could only be Van Hise, he guessed as much before he turned in the direction of the words, but he had no idea what he expected to see. The mercenary commander was a big man, broad, muscular, but a little flabby around the waist; his blond hair was crew-cut about his skull, and his blue eyes were sunk in nests of wrinkles that made him seem, Ray guessed, older than he was. His mouth was wide and partially hidden by a straggling moustache, and he was clad in the same kind of gear Bodie wore here, cammo fatigues, hiking boots, a sidearm strapped down at his left hip.

"Strangers in camp?" He was saying. "Who the hell is this?"

"Doyle," Ray said quickly, offering his hand. "I came in with Bodie last night. I'm an old mate of his, came over to back him up on the hit."

"You've papers, of course?" Van Hise asked shrewdly, taking his hand and crushing it.

"No," Ray said carefully. "I must've been rolled, as far as I can tell. Bandits, Bodie says. I got away with my life, but they took everything I have. Got my clothes, and a whole skin, that's the lot."

Van Hise nodded, accepting this. He smiled, his grip relaxing about Ray's hand, and the blue eyes looked over the newcomer from head to foot. "You're with CI5 too, are you? One of Cowley's finest?"

"Right." Doyle took back his hand and stuffed both into his pockets.

The Dutchman's eyes had centered somewhere in the region of his middle, and were working downward. The smile widened. "You are hardly clad for the environment, but I must say I approve. Bodie knows how to pick them."

"Meaning what?" Doyle asked defensively.

"Meaning exactly that." Van Hise chuckled richly. "You mean you're not Bodie's lover? Unusual for Bodie to keep his hands to himself."

Doyle felt his cheeks redden. "So what if I am?"

"Nothing to do with me, kitten," Van Hise shrugged, "unless you get bored and want some excitement." He leaned around, taking a long look at the Englishman's shapely backside. "The offer's open, remember."

"I'll remember," Ray hissed. "But I'm not interested."

"Pairbonded with Bodie?" Van Hise crooked a brow at him."

"Something like that."

"Hm." The Dutchman shrugged. "Fine, but stay out of the way of a few of the boys, they'll flip a coin for you and seduce you while Bodie's not looking." He grinned toothily. "Or something like that."

Doyle blinked. "You mean jump me?"

"Something like that," Van Hise chuckled.

"Bodie'd kill 'em," Ray said quickly.

"Maybe," Van Hise conceded, "but Bodie has not been himself lately. Haven't you noticed? There are times when he's the same as always, the Bodie you know, and times when he's... Mad. Out of his head. He hasn't been right since the riders took him that night, it's why he's over here in the first place, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Doyle agreed. "Mad? Like how?"

The Dutchman seemed to search for words. "Irrational. Especially when he's angry... Don't anger him, kitten, you may not like him if you do. He's been up to strange things while he's been here. He killed Huff. A fair fight, I suppose, over the gambling, but he beat Huff to death with his hands." Van Hise shrugged eloquently. "The Bodie I knew once before would not have reacted so; I remember how he fought with an Italian over David - David Tessier, his lover then. The Italian was jealous and it was a great fight, but it ended when Pengelli went down, Bodie didn't kill. Now - he's irrational." The Dutchman folded his arms. "Be careful around him, kitten - "

"Doyle," Ray corrected, not much relishing the nickname. It was the kind that would stick.

"Doyle," Van Hise repeated. "You'll be shoving off with him, will you, when Perrault gets here with the map?

Ray nodded. "Yeah - can't go soon enough to suit me. Which of the men am I supposed to steer clear of, incidentally?"

"Oh, Hunter and the American, Sinclaire. They'll be back in camp later today. Sinclaire's a redhead, and Hunter has a scar on his face from an old knife fight, you can't miss them. Stick close to Bodie, if you can, but... Don't rely on him. You can't anymore."

"Thanks," Ray said thoughtfully. "I'll be careful."

Van Hise grinned again. "Course, if you wanted to hop into my bed, I'd beat them off with a stick. For you, kitten." It was an offer, but Ray shook his head, albeit smilingly. Van Hise just shrugged and wandered away.

In his wake, Doyle stood frowning at the mountains, trying to piece together the puzzle; Bodie was mad? And this from an old mate of his, a man who knew him well? Doyle ambled back to the tent and ducked inside, sinking to sit on the rugs, watching Bodie sleep for some time. It was still very early and the camp was just stirring awake; they were changing the guards and there was the smell of bacon frying on the air as the wind gusted from Cookie's vehicle.

"Bodie?" Ray leaned forward, shaking his shoulder. "Bodie?"

But Bodie was heavily, deeply asleep, and though he moaned, Doyle guessed that it was in response to some dream image. He spoke, but the words were nonsensical, disjointed, and Ray withdrew his hand; when he was ready to wake he would. It would be as well not to shock him. The riders from Rohan were the ones to blame for his madness, then? Ray sighed, wishing he understood. There was something terribly familiar about this - the names were all on the tip of his tongue. Rohan, and riders. He teased at it for some time, but the memory would not take form at length he let it go. Bodie was stirring at last.

The blue eyes fluttered open and he smiled. "Hi. You've shaved."

"You noticed," Ray smiled.

"Nice. Give us a kiss?" Bodie opened his arms in invitation.

"Why not?" Doyle slid down beside him and offered his lips, which Bodie took with relish. As his hands began to stroke, Ray climbed on top of him. "What's all this about? Having a randy dream, were you? Christ, you're half hard already."

"Your fault," Bodie accused. "Shouldn't be so delectable first thing in the morning. Going to be a problem when you've married me, isn't it? Waking up with you every morning - I'm going to spend half my day in an exhausted heap." He wound his fingers into the curly hair and pulled Doyle down to a deep kiss. "Mm, you're nice. Come on, then, get 'em off and let's have you."

"How could any bloke resist such a charming invitation," Doyle said drily, frowning at Bodie in mock irritation.

"Please? Pretty please? With cream and sugar on?"

Doyle laughed. "All right, all right. You're not always this horny in the morning, are you?"

"Horny? You call this horny?" Bodie snorted derisively. "You wait till I'm really in the mood!" He yanked the zipper on Doyle's jeans down without further ado. "I was dreaming about you."

"So I gathered." Ray wiggled out of the jeans and underwear and let Bodie roll him over onto his belly. "Something nice?"

"Oh, very." Bodie kissed his back and shoulders and lay heavily on him, face buried in his hair. "Oh, Ray, I'm sorry."

"Sorry for what?" Doyle twisted his shoulders about, trying to look back at Bodie, but Bodie held him down firmly, hardly letting him move.

"For dragging you over here. You're like a fish out of water, and I'm going to get you into trouble, I know it."

"Going to get me pregnant?" Doyle stifled a chuckle. "Don't want to disillusion you, mate, but I remember my biology lessons better than - " he broke off as he felt Bodie's rigid heat slip into the cleft between his buttocks, but only for a moment was there a thrill of fear that he was going to be forced. No, Bodie was just rubbing himself there, and it felt wonderful to Doyle too, so that he groaned in pleasure. A moment later a large, warm hand wriggled underneath and took hold of him, pumping him in the same irresistible rhythm, and he was happy just to float along with the sensations and let Bodie enjoy himself. "Going to make a mess of the rugs," he warned while he could still speak coherently.

"Hunph?" Bodie murmured into his hair, not really hearing.

"The rugs," Ray signed. "Going to mess up the... Oh, Christ..." He lost the ability to care as the fire ignited in his loins and he began to heave gently under Bodie's weight, co-operating as much as he was allowed. So the rugs would get into a mess. So, they would wash.

Teeth nipped sharply at his ear and he yelped, making Bodie play harder, nipping him again. Suddenly they were wrestling, giggling like kids, and the sweet ferocity of it drove the misgivings from Doyle's mind. Trapped under Bodie, he felt safe and warm, loved and at home, and for a while the whole confused mess seemed to fade away. They came powerfully, convulsing almost together, and then Bodie went limp, knocking the breath out of his lover.

"Oof, you're heavy love." Doyle panted. "Shift yourself. Bodie!"

"Shurrup, I'm asleep," Bodie said, muffled, into the back of his neck.

"You're squashing me," Ray protested.

"There's gratitude," Bodie chortled. "There's many a barmaid who'd appreciate a bit of squashing."

"I'm not a bloody barmaid." Doyle wriggled again, finally dislodging Bodie from his back. "That's better, I can breathe now. Happy?"

"As Larry," Bodie grinned, and kissed him to prove it.

"As who?" Doyle demanded when he was allowed to speak again.

"Character in a play," Bodie yawned.

"Not going to sleep again, are you?" Doyle asked incredulously.

"Your fault," Bodie said smugly. "You wear me out, pet."

"Fair enough," Ray sighed resignedly. "Think I'll go for a nice long, cool shower, requisition some clothes and get my breakfast. I met Van Hise a while ago. Seems a nice fella."

Abruptly Bodie was wide awake. "He's as gay as an Easter Parade."

"I know. He made a pass, I refused, he took it nicely. Warned me about two guys, Hunter and Sinclaire."

"Bad lots," Bodie affirmed. "But they won't make a move; you're mine, they know that, or they will as soon as word gets around. They'll leave you alone, so don't start fretting on their account."

Doyle grinned, fishing for last night's hand towel to swab the film of Bodie's semen from his back and shoulders before dressing again. "I told Van Hise you'd flatten them for me if they tried it on. He didn't seem so sure. Why, Bodie? Why did he think you'd let them try it on?"

Bodie's expression darkened. "He knew me a long time ago. He maybe doesn't know I'm in love with you. We swap and share our lovers around."

"We?" Ray frowned. "You mean you..."

"Just leave it alone, Ray," Bodie said, little above a whisper. "It doesn't involve you. Got nothing to do with you, okay?"

"But, Bodie - "

"Hey." Bodie caught him by the arm, fingers digging into the muscle, hurting. "I love you, that's all you need to know. Don't start getting paranoid about this place. It gets to us all, sooner or later, but you've no need to worry. Okay?"

"Okay," Doyle whispered. Anger transformed Bodie's face, sharpened its lines, drew it tight. And Bodie was angry right now - why? What had he done, or said, to anger him? "I'll go and take a shower," he said then, very quietly, eyes averted. "I'll bring breakfast back, if you want it?"

The anger seemed to dissipate, and Bodie's face gentled again. "Yeah, thanks. Lots. I'm famished." He let go of Doyle's arm, watched him get to his feet, and threw the bar of Imperial Leather at him. "Here, and don't forget to wash behind your eyes. I shall check."

Ray gave him a smile, but it was forced, and he was glad to escape, grateful to get out of the tent, into his own company, where he could stand back and try to look dispassionately at Bodie. In there, with him, his nose filled with the lingering odours of sex, his body blindly seeking the warm, hard embrace, the hot, demanding mouth, it was impossible to think straight, to see beyond the needs of the moment.

He ambled toward the showers, his eyes drawn to those mountains that should not have been there. Bodie was different: it was not an overwhelming difference, but it was there, and it was worrying. Ray sighed, coming to a halt in a patch of sunlight and finding a heap of coarse towels dumped on one end of a rotting log. The showers were no more than a cobbled space under a tree in which barrels were placed. They were filled with rainwater each afternoon, and if you pulled on a rope you got a shower of cold water. Hot and sticky already, Doyle found the prospect pleasant, and stripped quickly. His clothes were rumpled and unfresh, and he was wondering if the camp quartermaster could be sweet talked.

There were whistles as he took off his clothes and he hid a grin, ignoring the young mechanics who lounged by the Jeeps, fifty yards away, watching him. It had been no different when he had been with the Met - their shower facilities were communal, and though it was never clear who had whistled, there were usually whistles. It was another reason Doyle had given up team sports in adolescence. There was nothing like a hard game as a precursor to casual group sex, and that had never been his style. He let the cold water run over him until he felt alive again, lathered up with Bodie's soap, and massaged his scalp, which was itching in the heat. There was little need to scrub himself dry, and ten minutes later he was wandering toward the supply van, a Ford Transit with a side door open.

The Quartermaster of this outfit was a Spaniard, dark, intense, with long black hair and the glimmer of gold at his throat. He was cleaning his chipped fingernails with the tip of a bayonet as Doyle approached, and the two men regarded each other for some time in silence. Mutual dislike, Ray decided - and that was much safer, around here, than a matey welcome. "Clothes," Doyle said simply. "What have you got?"

"That'd fit you?" The Spaniard stood up and Ray bit off a groan. He was much taller than Bodie. "Not much, but there's some stuff that was left here a while ago that might do."

Everyone seemed to be bigger than Ray, but that was hardly surprising; what did astonish him was the clothes he was offered. He had expected the clothing to be dog rough. The garments were old, but that improved leather, made it softer, comfortable. They were made of doe skin, and the leathers had gone velvety with age, bleaching in the sun until they were practically white. They were thonged together rather than being stitched, trousers and a shirt which laced down the front to navel-level, and a jacket made of heavier, darker but just as soft leather. There were two silk shirts also, and a pair of brown suede boots. Expensive, he thought, blinking at the clothes in fascination.

"This lot must've cost a fortune. Who'd walk away and leave these?"

"The guy lost his legs in a shoot up," the Spaniard told him. "They took him out by chopper to a hospital in Zaire, he died there. They've been in the van since then, don't fit nobody. Might fit you, though."

First, Ray tried the shirt, and it fit perfectly. He left it unlaced because of the heat of the day, slipping off his jeans and pulling on the soft doe skin; the pants also fit perfectly. Somebody had obviously made it as a merc among this bunch at his height and weight, so it was at least possible to survive if you weren't built like King Kong. He sat down to try the boots, and their only fault was that they were a fraction tight across the toes. They would stretch he guessed, and bundled up his own clothes, claiming the spare shirts, and gave the Spaniard a nod. "Thanks."

"There's a blackie comes in a couple of times a week, beats the dirty rags on a rock down the river," the man offered, going back to his manicure. "Cost you a few shotgun cartridges. They're worth more 'round here than money."

Not, Doyle thought drily, that I've got any shotgun cartridges either. In point of fact, he had nothing at all, and the knowledge that he was entirely dependent on Bodie was disquieting. He stopped off at the cook wagon, picked up enough breakfast to satisfy Bodie's notorious morning demands, and made his way back to the tent. His lover was shaving and smelt of cologne, and his hair was still wet.

"I showered while you were getting your clothes," Bodie grinned, and looked Doyle up and down appreciatively, "Nice, very nice. Nothing but the best for the Raymond Doyle's of this world, right?" He patted his face dry and put the shaving tackle away. "Ah, food. Bacon, eggs, tea. Great." He dropped a kiss on Ray's nose before turning his attention to his breakfast.

Doyle picked up a slice of bacon and nibbled at it. "This Frenchman who's bringing you the map, you expecting him soon?"

"Soon enough," Bodie nodded. "Relax, mate. I've already put the word out that they're to ignore you like you don't exist. They'll do as I say."

"Is that why the mechanics were standing around watching me put the leathers on?" Ray muttered.

"I've told you, they'll ignore you."

"Just because you tell 'em to?" Ray was not so sure.

"They do as they're told," Bodie growled.

There was a tense, electric silence, and then Doyle said quietly, "the way Huff did as he was told? You killed him, didn't you?

Anger glittered in Bodie's eyes, making them somehow bluer. "Who told you about that?"

"Van Hise, his morning."

"Huff was dealing off the bottom, he got what was coming to him," Bodie snarled.

"Bodie, you don't kill a man for cheating at cards!" Doyle remonstrated.

The anger redoubled. "One by one, they learn to do as they're told."

And the inference was plain; just as you'll learn. Ray didn't much like the sound of it - it wasn't the Bodie he knew. His Bodie would coax, cajole, argue, wheedle, get his own way in the end, but not kill and maim until people did what he wanted out of fear. "You can't kill a man for that, Bodie," he said quietly.

Bodie's eyes met his, locked and held. "You're arguing with me?"

"Stating my opinion. I think you did wrong."

"Oh, do you?" Bodie put his plate down with a clatter. "It's got nothing to do with you, Doyle. This is my world, you're a stranger in it, you hear? And if you want to stay alive in it you do as I tell you."

"Do I?" Anger glittered in Doyle's cat's eyes. "I do as you say, when you say, as you say, do I? All the time? You tell me to jump, I jump? You tell me to strip and get on my knees, and I just do it? Try it, Bodie, just try it. You can ask all you like - ask me to strip for you, ask me to suck you off, even ask me to spread my legs, and maybe I will. But you try telling me, you try making a slave out of me, and you'll get a fight you won't forget in a hurry!"

They were standing in the middle of the tent, breakfast abandoned and forgotten, and the anger was like arcs of electricity between them for a time that seemed to stretch into infinity. At last Bodie relaxed an erg at a time, his shoulders slouching, a reluctant smile playing about the corner of his mouth. "You're a tough nut, Doyle, maybe I forgot that. Ask? All right, you I'll ask. Them I've told to get out of your way and stay out of your way, and they know enough to jump when I say jump."

"And me?" Doyle breathed quietly.

"Oh, I'll ask." Bodie's fingers stroked Ray's gullet lightly. "Kiss me, Ray?" He bent his head forward and waited; for a time Doyle just looked at him, and then their lips met, open and working, and there was silence in the tent for almost a minute. When Bodie spoke again his voice was a deep husky rumble. "And I'll ask you for the rest that I want, soon. Will you let me have you?"

There was a curious weakness about Doyle's knees, and for the first time he felt unsure. There was something about Bodie, something selfish - I'll ask for what I want - that frightened him. "I don't know," he said honestly. "It would depend."

"On what? I won't force you here, I've already told you that," Bodie said shortly. "Later, when we're in some place nice."

"It might depend on you," Ray said softly. "I don't know what's the matter with you, Bodie, but something's wrong. Tell me?"

"Nothing to tell," Bodie shrugged dismissively.

"Yes, there is. You're... different, changed even from yesterday. Yesterday there was... us. Now there's just you, and I'm on the outside, like you don't really want me here, like you want to play with me for your own fun, doesn't matter what I want. Bodie?

"It's your imagination, Doyle." Bodie turned his back on his partner and went back to his breakfast.

But Doyle knew fact from fantasy, and real fear wormed through him. He had several choices: he could stay on, watch Bodie like a hawk, try to figure out what was beneath the trouble he was trying to hide, or he could get out. Find a shortwave, call Cowley and ask for extraction by chopper, Concord back to London, fast, get Bodie into a hospital and find out what was wrong. Van Hise would point him in the direction of a shortwave, but...

"Bodie, won't you tell me?" He padded silently up behind Bodie and put his flat palms on his back, stroking, massaging, feeling tension. "Is it something I did? Or didn't do? You wanted to screw me that badly, and when I said no - "

"For Chrissake," Bodie muttered, "leave it, Doyle!"

"You won't even use my first name now," Ray sighed. "Bodie, don't do this to me. I - I bloody love you, I've already told you that! Did it matter that much to you? Bodie?" There was such tension under his hands that he expected Bodie's muscles to cramp at any moment. Yes, obviously it did mean that much to him, Doyle could think of nothing else to explain the sudden withdrawal. He bit his lip, stepping back a pace, and still Bodie would not turn to look at him.

Words would take them no further. There was a lost, helpless feeling that hurt Doyle; intuitively he guessed that if he walked away now, if he used Van Hise's shortwave and left, he would never see Bodie again; yet, there was only pain between them now, and it had come about so suddenly that his head was still swimming from the shock of it.

It was past time for word, he thought bleakly; time to stop talking and start doing. He pulled the soft leather shirt over his head, coaxed the boots off and dropped the doeskin pants on top of them. There was a tube of oily burn cream in the British Airways bag, he remembered seeing it just that morning, and he walked past Bodie to fetch it, eyes cast down, not wanting, not daring to look up.

He put the tube on the side of Bodie's forgotten plate and went down to his knees. "Just don't hurt me. I don't want to get left behind with a bunch of loonies I don't know and don't trust." Then he waited.

There was a long, taut silence, and in it Bodie felt the cold wind of fury ebb away a little at a time. He stood looking down at the other man, struggling to understand what it was about his own heart that was so wrong, so strange, fighting to remember what should be; it was impossible to think back, as if his memory was locked away, and the future was not more than a jumble of impressions. He was as lost as Doyle looked, kneeling there on the tartan rugs, but he was at least in command of his situation, whereas Doyle... Ray was shaking, frightened, trusting him to do something that could hurt him, even injure him. He wasn't even aroused - the slender, tawny body was tense, hot, but not with the fever of desire. Confusion and hurt had sent him to his knees in an effort to patch up a love that was going wrong almost at once -

And it's my fault, Bodie thought, knowing that Doyle was right. There was so much wrong that it was easier to point out what was right about his life and his mind; it had been wrong since the night the riders had caught him in Hammersmith, and it would be wrong until he caught up with the man codenamed Thorkill, on Odinspeak. And in the meantime, here was his partner, shaking, offering complete surrender, out of love. The breath caught in Bodie's throat and he went to his own knees, scooping Doyle into his arms. "Why, Ray?"

"Why?" Doyle whispered into Bodie's neck. "I love you, you stupid crud. And now you're treating me like - like -"

"Shush," Bodie crooned. "I get angry. I get... Mad. I killed Huff because I got angry, he wouldn't do... Do as I said. God, Ray, do you think I'd tell you to do this? You don't tell a person to do this!"

"But you wanted to."

"Of course I wanted to! I've been wanting to have you for years - you think I can watch you, the way you look, the way you move, and not want you? Christ, you're thick. All those times I told you you were ugly, and you believed me!" He drew back to look at Ray's downcast face; he was flushed, bright eyed. Beautiful. Bodie caressed his broken cheekbone with one delicate finger. "The face that launched a thousand ships isn't in it, mate." He tipped up Doyle's chin and kissed his lips very softly. "Ray?"

"You want me now," Ray murmured. He reached for the tube of burn ointment. "Just don't hurt me, okay?" He lay down and turned on his side. "Come on, Bodie. Do it, and then stop treating me like an enemy, or a stranger, or a whore. I'm not any of those things. I love you, I only came here to help you, and what I'm offering here is only for you, not for anyone else. Because I love you, Christ knows why." He glared up at Bodie, who had not moved a muscle. "Come on, Bodie. Do me. Get it done and know that I'm saying what I mean."

Bodie slid down beside him, pulled him into a tight embrace, and kissed his throat and his ears. "No. Later, when you want it too, when we're out of here. You were right, I agreed then, I agree with you now."

"But, Bodie," Ray sobbed, "if you don't - "

A kiss silenced him, and then Bodie was wriggling out of his own clothes, and Doyle could only watch in confusion. Bodie was aroused, big, powerful, almost purple with the pressure of blood under the soft, thin skin, and Ray swallowed, trying to imagine himself stretching to accommodate the swollen shaft. Surely it would hurt the first time, no matter how careful Bodie was. He knew he was tight, guessed that the delicate glands and ducts would rebel at the pressure. How the hell did men ever manage this without killing each other? He shut his eyes, smothering the worries and waiting for Bodie's hands on him.

The caresses, when they came, were feathery, so gentle and knowing that after a time the little worries faded away, and Ray forgot about the prospect of pain, happy to lose himself in the kisses and licks that were patterning his belly while fingers probed and tickled his balls. A kiss fell on the head of his cock, he felt himself twitch in response and release a trickle of fluid which Bodie palmed, using it to lubricate his hand before he took his lover's hardness in his fist and slid a tight, bewildering caress the length of Doyle's burning cock. Ray cried out and Bodie put his free hand over his mouth to silence him. No sense in alerting the whole camp to what was transpiring. Ray bucked his hips, thrusting into Bodie's fist, and in a moment more Bodie took his hand away, replacing it with his mouth.

If the silencing palm had not been over his lips, Ray would have howled aloud as he felt Bodie's mouth close over him, cooler than his own heat, wet and sucking. He writhed helplessly, moaning as his heart rate soared and the blood pounded in his ears. He was whispering Bodie's name, but the sounds were not permitted to pass his lips, and he tried to tell Bodie to stop before he came, but there was no way he could. The heat and aching need for release peaked in a wrenching crescendo, and he let go at last, succumbing to the wonderful and terrible sensations of Bodie sucking his essences from him as fast as he could ejaculate them. He was blinking through a haze of tears as he felt Bodie's weight settle down on him, and he lifted his knees, wrapping his legs about his lover's waist, guessing that the moment had come and prepared to accept whatever happened. No one who would do for him what Bodie had just done would hurt him any more than was absolutely necessary, even the first time.

But there was no shaft of agony, no invasion of his body, just the press and rub of hard, overheated flesh at his groin and Bodie's voice murmuring his name as he ground into Ray's welcoming softness. As he realised that this would suffice, for now, Doyle relaxed, spread his legs, braced the soles of his feet and matched Bodie's rhythm, not yet strong enough to thrust hard against him, but recovering fast.

Then Bodie became rigid from head to foot and his teeth sank deeply into Doyle's left ear, not quite drawing blood as he came. Ray wrapped arms and legs about him, holding him tightly, wanting to fuse them together if only for a moment, wanting to be pierced, possessed, and to do the same to Bodie.

They were silent for a long time, until Bodie got his breath and strength back, and then he propped himself on one elbow and frowned down at Doyle. "You would have, wouldn't you? You'd have let me take you."

"Yes." Ray nodded once against the rugs. "I wasn't fooling you, I wasn't joking. Any time you want, Bodie, I trust you. Even here." He broke off and gasped as a hand threaded between his legs, seeking him out with probing fingers, and the pressure at his anus half blinded him.

"You are tight, aren't you?" Bodie observed softly.

"Everybody's got to be a virgin sometime," Doyle shrugged.

"And you were scared," Bodie added. "Of me."

"Of you ten minutes ago," Ray whispered. "You were... selfish, hard, angry. I didn't know you. It was as if... If you'd really wanted to, you'd have hit me, stunned me, raped me when I went down. Of course I was scared - it's called simple bloody self preservation!"

"I'm s-" Bodie stopped, took a gasp for air and buried his face in Ray's sweat-slick chest, tongue flicking out, tasting himself there, white streams tangled in Ray's fine body hair. "I'm sorry," he said soundlessly. "I didn't mean -"

It was with surprise that Doyle realised Bodie's shoulders were shaking. "Bodie? Love? Oh, love, don't, don't cry, it's not worth it! I've told you, I trust you, you can have me any time you want me, even here. I'm not scared anymore, not now." He fought up to a sitting position, wrapped his arms about the bigger man and rocked him slowly. "Come on, mate, it's okay now. Whatever it was, it's over."

But Bodie was shaking his head. "No. It comes and goes, Ray, and when it comes over me I don't know... Can't seem to tell what I'm doing." He clung tightly for just another moment, then pushed Doyle away. "It won't be safe for you to stay with me anymore. You'd better get on the blower, tell Cowley to send somebody else. Get out of here."

"What? You want me to go?" Ray frowned. "You want me to leave?"

"Before I do hurt you," Bodie said miserably. "Christ, Ray, I came that close to hitting you, and if you'd gone down I'd have been all over you. You come in here dressed in white leathers that hug your rump like velvet, smelling like you and looking at me with those eyes, and then I get wild with - I don't know what it is. Van Hise says it's madness, and maybe it is. One day, I'll do it, Ray. I'll take you."

"I'd let you," Ray whispered.

Bodie shook his head violently. "Don't. I'd hurt you. You're tight as a clenched fist, Ray, if I took you dry I'd tear you to shreds."

"You wouldn't do that," Doyle protested, shaking in reaction to the notion. "I know you wouldn't. Even if you were off your head, you'd know who you were with. You love me, goddamn it!"

Tears welled up in the blue eyes and spilled over. "Love you? Oh, God, so much it bloody hurts, in here." He rubbed his own chest. "So much it makes me sick to my guts when I think what I could do to you. Then I'd come out of it, and you'd be there, bleeding and hating me."

"No," Doyle said firmly, though it was an image he could picture all too easily. "Look, if it's any consolation to you, I've got a fairly good sense of self preservation myself, mate. I'd flatten you if you went that far, and don't think I couldn't do it."

"Could you?" Bodie didn't look so sure.

"Yeah. Box your ears till your brain's even more scrambled than it is already, grab you by the balls and squeeze."

"If you're on your knees, you can't use your hands," Bodie murmured.

"So I wouldn't let it go that far, would I? I may not be as big as the rest of you here, but I can kick the knees out from under a man just as easily as a woman can, even a kid, and when you go down, I can hit a bloody sight harder than a woman." He forced a smile. "Then you'd be coming to, with your front teeth missing, and wondering what'd hit you!"

At last Bodie smiled, and he reached for Ray blindly, crushing him in a desperate embrace. "Just see that you do that, if I start. Tie me up in the corner till it goes away." He put his head down on Doyle's shoulder and closed his eyes. "It happens several times a day, Ray. I'm sorry."

For a while Ray just held him, thinking hard, then he asked, "did you get a belt on the head when the riders took you?"

"No, but they shot me up with a lot of drugs. The medic here says I'm having a reaction to them - you can get this paranoid reaction to even a little bit of mescaline or LSD, and it can affect you for years."

"Christ," Doyle said, involuntarily. "You mean -"

"I'm going to be off my skull for years?" Bodie shrugged away, wiped his face and cleared his throat. "No, I don't think so. I think it's got more to do with... Thorkill took something belonging to me, you know. Call it my Id. My soul... My heart, even. Whatever it was he took, I can't seem to do without it, got to have it back. S'why we're getting out of here as soon as Perrault brings me the map. Got to get up into the mountains, beyond Whitehorse. I've got chains in the car, we'll switch to dogs when we get high enough, and then Odinspeak's right in front of you as you go." He paused and chanced a glance at Doyle. "You're going to come?"

"Frequently, if I know you," Doyle said drily. "Pass me a cloth or something - I need another shower!"

"Got some cologne here," Bodie told him. "Mop up, and use this instead. It's 4711, smells nice on me so it'll smell fantastic on you."

As Doyle mopped the last traces of stickiness away Bodie dumped a little cascade of the blue cologne onto his belly, and he yelped, first in shock at the coldness and then in outrage as the spirit got into his open pores and burned. Bodie stooped to kiss him. "Better now?"

"So long as you're you, not some stranger who calls me 'Doyle' and wants to beat me up and screw me into the ground, it's always good," Ray admitted. "Don't fret, sweet'eart, I'm a big lad, I can look out for myself. I just hope the Frenchman gets here before Hunter and Sinclaire... I can do without the hassle."

"I've put the word around," Bodie said, reiterating what he had stressed before. "They are afraid of me, Ray. After I killed Huff, most of them won't say two words in the wrong direction around me. I... I killed him with these hands, you know."

Ray nodded. "Van Hise told me." He picked up Bodie's hands and kissed the palms. "Doesn't matter. Out here, you have to do your own fighting, right? If Huff could have, he'd have killed you, so it was a fair fight, and that's the end of it. These hands have always been able to kill, Bodie, it's nothing new. They drive me wild, these fingers, so gentle on me. Think about that instead." He winked one green eye at his lover.

"I do think about that," Bodie admitted sheepishly. "All the bloody time, God help me." He rubbed at his temples then, eyes falling closed.

"Headache?" Doyle asked shrewdly.

"A bit of a throb," Bodie said, the words slurred. "Tightness, you know. It doesn't last long, but I get it afterwards. After I lose my grip on who I am." He jumped in surprise, then relaxed as Doyle's long fingers began to rub his neck. "Oh, that's good."

"Your breakfast's gone stone cold and greasy," Ray said quietly. "Why not come and see what a breath of fresh air will do? Cookie's got mountains left. I reckon he must be feeding half this nation with his leftovers."

"Don't feel like eating anymore," Bodie told him. "Not just now. But fresh air sounds good. It smells a bit strong in here. Got to work on the car, anyway. If we're ever going to get out of here the fan belt has got to be tightened up, and the distributor's so corroded it's arcing."

"Okay, I'll give you a hand," Doyle smiled, relieved to have Bodie, his Bodie, back. He reached for his clothes and pulled them on, luxuriating in the hugging caress of soft leathers. "These are beautiful, aren't they?"

Bodie cupped his lover's rounded buttocks in both hands. "You're telling me. I've been dreaming about you in something like this for years." He picked up the plate of ruined breakfast and kissed Ray's forehead. "Out, before I grab you and hug you tight till lunch time."

It was as if the sun had come out from behind the pall of an overcast: Bodie was back. Ray strolled with him beyond the motor pool into the shade of a vast, ancient baobab tree, and then checked in surprise as he saw the car Bodie had been referring to. It was on the tip of his tongue to say how unusual it was to be able to hire a Ford Capri Ghia out here, but a moment later he saw the licence plate and the words died unspoken.

"Christ, that's our car!"

"George Cowley would argue that point with you," Bodie said drily.

"Yeah, but how did you get it out here? Crated? It'd take weeks on a ship, wouldn't it?"

"Dunno," Bodie shrugged. "Anyway, what's it matter? Better the motor you know, right? Even if its fan belt is slipping." The Capri was locked up, and he went to open it, putting the bonnet up a moment later. "Right, now where were we yesterday? Ah yes, we were cursing about the ignition system."

For an hour Ray just lounged in the shade, passing tools to him and gazing about the landscape in which Van Hise's camp stood. To the south, the rain forest, to the north, grassland, and beyond that, the mountains. The morning heated up fast and sweat trickled down his back in rivers; he took off the soft leather shirt, tossing it into the car, and Bodie gave him a smile. "Take care you don't burn, you English lily. The sun here'd cook you if you let it." He dropped a spanner and wiped his hands. "Why don't you take an amble around? Meet some of the blokes. They're good mates when you get to know 'em. And stop worrying, they know to keep their hands off."

Doyle nodded. "Okay, I will. Reckon Van Hise's got any maps and things? Those mountains are driving me nuts. I can't have forgotten all of my geography lessons, can I?"

"You? That memory of yours has all the characteristics of a tea strainer," Bodie quipped. "Forget your own phone number, you would."

"Thanks a whole bunch," Doyle grinned. "I guess you love me for my body." He thrust his hands into the hip pockets of the soft leather pants and turned in the direction of the tents and vehicles. What he needed was an ordnance map, if the boss had one. Something that would show the Helway, the lie of the land, the height of those mountains, the sea coast. This was Africa, there was no doubt about it, but everything else was confusion.

He saw Cookie drinking tea by the supply van and wandered toward him. "Is Van Hise around anywhere?"

"Nah, he went out on patrol with some of the lads," the old man told him. "Took Spanish and Bell and shoved off as soon as Hunter and Sinclaire got in the news. Rebels have knocked over a convoy on the border and if we don't want to be starin' down the barrels of ten dozen Armalites, we better get 'em before they lay their grubby paws on enough ammo."

Doyle's nerves tensed against his will. "Hunter and Sinclaire're back?" Damn, that was all he needed.

The old man was nodding, but the voice that answered him belonged to an American. "Yeah, Sin and the Hun are back," it said, "who wants to talk to us?"

Carefully, Doyle turned around, wishing to God he'd put his shirt on before he started to wander around. He knew that, beside these men, he was built like a boy, that his skin was the colour of honey, so pale next to the locals, and that displaying what he had was stupid. There were bites on him, too, love bites on his shoulders and neck, Bodie's work, and as there were no women in the company, fresh love bites meant one thing only. He put on a neutral expression. "Name's Doyle. I'm over here with Bodie." He used Bodie's name specifically, eyes narrowed, waiting for the reaction.

Sinclaire's mouth twisted. Dislike - no, hatred. Oh, there was no love lost between Sin and Bodie, then, Doyle concluded. Hunter grinned. Both the newcomers looked him over from head to foot as if he was a piece of meat in a butcher's window, and Doyle felt his own temper ignite. "I'll see you around," he said acidly, and turned quickly away.

The hand on his arm held him back, and the initial reaction was to break it. Ray halted in mid-stride and turned back slowly. It was Hunter, and he was still grinning. "Don't run off so fast," he said. English, one of the northern dialects, probably Manchester, or Liverpool, overlayed by enough Cockney to thoroughly disguise it. Not dissimilar to Doyle's own accent, in fact. "You're the new boy in town, you want to make friends."

"Do I?" Doyle inquired mildly, looking pointedly at the restraining hand. "Bodie might have a word or two to say about that."

"Bodie's whore?" Sinclaire wondered aloud, crooking one brow at his partner in question. "What do they reckon, Cookie?

The cook got to his feet, already moving, wanting nothing to do with the scene. Doyle bit his lip: he was on his own. "Bodie reckons hands off or there'll be trouble," the old man offered, and then was gone.

Hunter frowned deeply at Doyle. "The big man owns you, does he?"

The notion made Doyle smart. "Nobody owns me."

"Then you're not Bodie's whore?" Sinclaire pressed.

"I'm nobody's whore!" Doyle spat.

"Then Bodie can keep his threats to himself," Hunter concluded. "And it's all up to you, sweet thing. You want to play?"

"Three of us," Sinclaire chuckled. "Nice and cozy. Yeah, you'd like that, wouldn't you? Sweet little ass like that, just waiting for a poke - me first, I saw you first. We take turns, Hun and me. Fair's fair."

Colour flushed up in Doyle's face, echoing the wave of nausea at the idea of it. Both of them, in turn, and the first time - Christ, if they knew he was a virgin it would make it that much more fun. He swallowed hard. "No thanks. Got my hands full with Bodie, haven't I?"

"Oh sure," Hunter laughed, "he'd fill you right up, no doubt about it. But he's not the only talent 'round here, sweets." He leered, winking. "I'll be keeping my eye on you, Doyle. Count on it."

Ray took a deep breath. "Look, Bodie won't like it."

"And he'll beat you if you fuck around with other people?" Sinclaire guessed. "Not that he's whipped you too much as yet; doesn't show, at least."

"Bodie wouldn't hurt me," Doyle hissed. "You worry about your own hide. He'll take a skinning knife to you if you don't stay right out of my way!"

The words made Sinclaire laugh. He produced his own knife, saw backed and honed like a razor. "Well, he's welcome to try, sweets. Might be worth it, anyway; screw your brains out for the main course, and have it out with big man Bodie for dessert. Been waiting my chance for years. Me and Bodie go way, way back. And Huff was my friend." He slid the knife away again. "I'll see you later, sweets."

With a suggestive wink, the two were gone and Doyle found himself alone in the hot mid-morning sunlight. He sat down on the bench by the Ford Transit, wrapping his arms about his chest. The impulse was to scurry back to Bodie's side, but he was damned if he was going to do that at once - he wasn't a kid, he was the best George Cowley could recruit, and trained as well as Brian Macklin could manage. There was nothing here to match the levels of fitness and finesse that CI5 demanded, and he was damned if he was going to let the paranoia get to him.

Still, he noticed the eyes on him. There was Hunter, cleaning a rifle, watching the newcomer out of slitted eyes; there was Sinclaire, drinking moonshine out of an unlabelled bottle, overtly watching him. He leaned back against the sun-hot side of the van and crossed his legs, making his body language say what he wanted it to say: I don't care, look all you like - and I'm not playing. The question was, were they listening?

He judged that it was gone ten when Cookie started on lunch; he smelt the reek of pungent vegetable curry and damper, and took himself back to the baobab where Bodie was still tinkering happily with the car. He did not look up as Doyle approached, and Ray said levelly, "Sinclaire and Hunter are back in camp." Bodie just grunted in answer, head stuck in under the bonnet as he worked with a strobe, the engine running, setting up the ignition timing. "Bodie, they're not taking any notice to you."

"Don't be ridiculous," Bodie said dismissively. "Get in and rev the motor, will you?

"Bodie, they don't give a cuss about -"

"You're overreacting," Bodie shrugged. "Stop your fretting. Get in and give the motor a kick, will you? Got to get the timing right."

Doyle's nerves tensed up. Again? "Bodie, I just had it out with them. They wouldn't take no for an answer."

"Got yourself shagged, did you?" Bodie demanded acidly. "No? Then they know when to do as they're told. Rev the bloody motor, will you, for Christ's sake? How often do I have to tell you?"

No more, Doyle thought bleakly, and slid in under the wheel, right foot going to the throttle. He punched it savagely to the floor. The best thing he could do now was keep his mouth shut. If Bodie was going into one of these phases, he would be better if unprovoked. It wouldn't last long, and when it was over he would listen. Ray hit the accelerator again, hard, taking the frustration out on the car.

"Okay, that's enough!" Bodie roared over the noise," and when he let the engine speed slow down it stalled out. Ray slid back out of the car, pulling his shirt on as he went, and walked around to the front of it to look closely at Bodie's face. It was drawn, hard, the mouth no more than a cruel gash, the eyes glittering. He was wiping his hands clean on a rag, and when the oil was gone he reached out, catching the smaller man against him, hands on his backside, pulling them together. Doyle stood silently, well aware that the mechanics could see them, and when Bodie took his mouth he tried to make a kiss of it. The most he could do was open his mouth and keep still, and then suck at his bruised lips, tasting blood, as Bodie let him go and went back to the car.

In that moment Doyle felt more alone than he had ever felt in his life before, and he walked away without another word, looking back at the man he knew he loved now and then to see that Bodie was not even aware of his existence. He walked out to the perimeter of the camp and sat down with his back against a tree, tears prickling at his eyes; it was an unreasonable grief. This wasn't Bodie; his Bodie would be back soon when the episode was over, and everything would be all right. But all the same it hurt; his mouth felt bruised, and he was still flushed at the embarrassment of being kissed - by a man - in public, and like that. Bodie's whore. The words still hurt, and even though they were not true he knew that word would get back to Sinclaire and Hunter, and he would have a hard time claiming that he was not a little whore who got off on domination.

He did not have long to wait: someone with a loose mouth, or an axe to grind, or points to score, must have run to Sinclaire as soon as the scene was over. Footfalls in the dry grass drew Doyle's attention and he opened his eyes, squinting in the bright sunlight to see the American approaching. He struggled up to his feet, poised on his toes, fight or flight, aware that he was skittish and looking it.

"Know what you're like?" Sinclaire said, coming to a halt in the patch of shade, "Like a horse I had once. Colt with real temper. The harder you rode him, the harder he bucked. More he liked it. That you, sweets? They reckon you like it hard." He winked. "So do I. Could ride you so hard you'd remember for a week." He chuckled richly. "Every time you sat down."

His cheeks burning, Doyle drew his expression tight. "No, I don't 'like it hard.' There's something wrong with Bodie, he's not like that, usually."

"News to me," Sinclaire observed, coming closer. "I knew him in '71, he was a hard boy then. Had more lovers in one year than you could count on your calculator. Used to wear 'em out." He extended one hand, finding Doyle's backside. "He wear you out? Hope you're not worn away yet, sweets. 'Cause I want some."

"Take your sodding hands off me!" Doyle snarled, knocking the hand away and moving himself. "I'm not interested, got it? Read my lips: stay away from me! I won't say it again!"

The American blinked. "Hey, you do have a temper, don't you! Ah, you're wasted on Bodie. Tell you what, sweet thing, I'll roll right over Bodie and then come for you. How's that?"

"You're welcome to try it," Doyle said bitterly. "The mood Bodie's in right now he'll carve you up for pork chops. Same way he managed Huff. He's out of his head, Sinclaire."

"Bodie was always out of his head," Sinclaire snorted. "We'll get around to him later, though. For now, it's you and me. Now come here and stop being a little shit. What's the matter with you anyway?" He had his hands on Doyle's shoulders before the smaller man could react, and the blow in the midriff caught him hard. He doubled up about it, only barely diving out of the way of the knee that was intended for his jaw. As he went down he caught Doyle's ankle and they both sprawled full length.

The bigger man's weight knocked the breath out of Doyle and for one split second he felt smothered; but his hands were free and he used them both, cupping them and hammering on the sides of his head, boxing his ears hard enough to concuss him. Sinclaire yelled in outrage and rolled aside, and Doyle was up on his knees again, aiming a side-handed chop at his throat; if it had landed the blow might have killed him, but Sinclaire got a forearm block under it, and Ray found his wrist seized in a vise-grip that threatened to break it. He wrenched at the imprisoning hand just once and a flare of pain chased up his arm; then he abandoned that struggle and used his knee, aiming a blow at Sinclaire's groin. It landed, but not as firmly as he had intended. Just enough to slacken the grip on his wrist.

He writhed loose and rolled away, making it to his feet before he saw the punch coming for his own middle; he folded up about it, stomach muscles tensing up like a steel wall just in time, and rode it out, his own fist lashing out like a striking snake, taking the American right under the heart. A smaller man would have gone down in a heap, but Sinclaire merely cursed and went to his knees. Ray's breath was shortening now, but the fury blazed brilliantly in him. He cracked his right fist full into Sinclaire's face, felt teeth rip his knuckles, and the American was pitching sideways, grabbing for him as he went down.

They rolled together, grappling; it was a deadly game, Ray knew: one so big as the American could break him in two, and he fought like a wildcat, every dirty move he knew. A hand closed over his groin, squeezing his balls into a knot of agony, and he stifled a yelp, replying the only way he knew how to get immediate results. It was a backstreet fighter's trick, and a nasty one. He took Sinclaire's left ear in his right hand, tightly, digging his fingers in as the pain from his groin began to blind him, and then he hammered his left hand on top of his right. It was nothing short of amazing that Sinclaire's ear did not tear right off; as it was, blood fanned over his hand and the grip on his genitals was gone at once. An open handed blow landed across the side of his head, he felt his own teeth rip into his mouth, and then there was freedom.

Doyle gasped in a breath, scrambling to his feet and peering at the American. Sinclaire was on his knees, clutching at the side of his head, and Doyle swung the final blow to put him away. It was a hammer blow with the side of his clenched fist, on the square inch right behind the bigger man's right ear, and there was enough strength and fury in him to render it almost lethal. A few pounds more in the impact, and Sinclaire would have been dead. He went down hard, face down in the dust, and stayed where he was, not a muscle twitching.

Pain lanced through Doyle's abdomen and he sagged back against the tree, one hand massaging between his legs while he whooped for air. Damn Bodie! What gave him the impression that he was in charge in this place, that he was king of this midden, that the order of everything was in the palm of his hand? Damn him!

Slowly, the agony eased away to a deep, dull throb, and Doyle found he could straighten, walk. He skirted the encampment, going down the rear of the rank of tents and crawling into Bodie's. The smell of sex was still noticeable in there, and he acknowledged the wave of bitterness that swept over him as he remembered the love there had been between them. He took off his clothes, going over his body a bone and joint at a time, searching out the pulls and strains.

There was a spreading bruise at his middle; his wrist felt sprained; his right knuckles were split and bleeding, and there was a trickle of blood from his nose and mouth. His genitals felt hot and sore, but there was not real damage. He lay down on his side, drawing his knees up about the aches, and closed his eyes; his head was buzzing as if a hive of hornets was nesting in it, and his sinuses were bleeding and blocked. He drew a careful breath and felt a bruised rib give a outraged twinge.

He did not expect to sleep, but he did, curled up in the tartan rugs that were so familiar, the same colour and texture to the ones he had at home, so comfortable that he felt a great wave of homesickness, and cursed himself for the softness. There was no room for that in this place.

The tent was sweltering with the midday heat and Bodie was still damp from a quick shower as he ducked inside. His head hurt; he knew vaguely that he had been out in the limbo for an hour, that he had thrashed through it alone, but for Ray's sudden appearance and disappearance... Had he kissed him? There was a memory of it, holding him in the sunlight, feeling the softness of his buttocks in both hands, tasting that mouth. Then Ray had gone again, without a word, and all Bodie remembered was the surge of anger as Doyle tried to tell him that the loonies, Sinclaire and Hunter, were taking no notice to him. That was absurd, he was sure, even now.

He had wondered where Doyle had gone - where could you go in a camp this size? - and was surprised to see him asleep. It was only as he drew closer that the surprise became shock. There was a large, blue bruise on the left side of his face, and blood had run from his mouth, soaking into the pillow under his cheek. He was curled up into a tight little ball, like a hibernating dormouse. Or like someone who was hurt. Bodie's mouth dried. "Christ, did I -?" He went down to one knee, his hand light on Doyle's shoulder, stirring him. "Ray? Ray? Love, wake up, what's wrong?"

The voice permeated the fog in which Ray's brain was enshrouded and he swam up to consciousness; his head was pounding and there was a foul taste in his mouth. Old blood. He pried his eyes open, grateful for the dimness inside the tent, and peered up at Bodie's worried face. As he saw the expression of concern he heaved a groan of relief. Thank Christ, he was Bodie again. He stretched out his right hand, caressing Bodie's cheek, then found his fingers taken in his lover's strong grasp. He yelped as his strained wrist was turned about. "Ouch, be careful, it's half sprained."

And the knuckles were split. "You've been fighting," Bodie said, an unnecessary observation, made blankly. "Christ, Ray, why? Who?"

"Sinclaire." Doyle rolled onto his back. "Told you. Tried to tell you, at least. They didn't give much of a cuss about what you had to say. They told me they wanted me, the pair of 'em, then, when you..." He let it go. There was no point in saying it. "Doesn't matter, Bodie. I put Sinclaire away. His bells'll be ringing for a week."

As Ray turned onto his back Bodie saw the bruises about his ribs. "It must've been quite a fight."

"Yeah." Ray smiled, felt the torn interior of his mouth stretch and break again. New blood.

"He hurt you?" Bodie murmured. "Where are you hurting?"

Doyle felt out his hurts and sighed. "Oh, wrist, ribs, jaw. And he got a fistful of me where it hurts most. Just about ruined my holiday prospects there." He held his breath as Bodie peeled the tartan rug away and put gentle hands to work, assessing the situation. "Bruised?"

"A bit. Not as bad as you might have thought," Bodie whispered. "Here, let me help, I can see what's wrong. Sit up, love." As Doyle sat, Bodie moved behind him, slipped both hands under his arms and lifted him slightly. Standard first aid for a solid kick in the balls, Doyle thought ruefully, well known to any bloke who went to Karate class. There was a sharp pain as his right testicle extended, and then just a dull throb that would fade away with time. Bodie let him back down to the rugs and reached for a box of Kleenex. "Better?" he asked, licking the tissue and swabbing the dried blood from his lover's cheek.

"Better," Ray sighed, cupping a hand over his groin and pressing gently to ease the throb there. "I tried to tell you."

Bodie's voice was almost soundless. "I know you did. I... Just wasn't listening. Christ, Ray, I'm sorry." He forced a smile. "I seem to be saying that at every verse end. Did I... Did I kiss you out there?"

"Yeah," Doyle nodded. "It's okay, Bodie, I understand." He shrugged, "It wasn't you. Doesn't matter."

"Was like kissing a stranger," Bodie guessed. "And I hurt you. So you walked away and ended up fighting." His fists clenched, knuckles bone white. "You stick to me from now on, you hear? Hunter might take me on, he might not, I don't know, and I'm not having him coming after you instead. You've done your bit, Ray, time to call it quits."

"You're telling me," Doyle murmured. "I'll be happier when we're out of here, Bodie."

"Yeah, so will I. Van Hise had an R/T message from Perrault a few minutes ago - he's on his way in. Should be in camp this afternoon. You feel up to eating lunch?"

Doyle shook his head. "Feel a bit sick, if you must know. Got a belt in the middle, and it's so goddamned hot. Headache too."

"Stay put, and I'll see what Butcher Morgan's got." Bodie stooped and kissed Doyle's mouth very gently, pushing him down onto the rugs again. He tasted blood in the kiss and his insides wrenched with guilt and regret. Van Hise called him mad, and he was starting to believe it. There was anger at the unwanted 'illness,' the longing to have it finished with. It all went back to that night in Hammersmith; it all ended on Odinspeak, down the Helway, and the sooner they were on the road and going the better he would like it. He brushed Ray's lips with another, even softer kiss, and got to his feet. "Aspirin or something, pet. Won't be a tick."

He was gone with that, and Doyle stared after him, bewildered and confused. There was a breathtaking gentleness about him when he was himself, as if he was trying to make up for the - schizophrenia? Could an adverse reaction to a narcotic cocktail cause split personalities? It was on the cards, and it went a long way toward explaining Bodie's predicament -

In which case, confronting the man called Thorkill on the mountain on the other side of Rohan was not the answer to Bodie's problem. Medical care was the answer - if there was an answer. Doyle closed his eyes, acknowledging the sickness of dread. Christ, it couldn't always be like this, could it? The prospect of being with Bodie through years and years of being alternately coddled and beaten was more than he could face. He was not even prepared to entertain the idea, and had shut it out of his mind by the time his lover was back. The throb in his groin was diminishing now, and the world looked better.

Bodie had brought Disprins, three of them, in the silver and blue foil, and a cup of hot, strong tea. Though Ray was pouring with perspiration the tea was welcome, and he drank it slowly, grateful for the arms that held him, the fingers that stroked his neck and chest. "Sin's got thirteen stitches in his ear," Bodie murmured, "and concussion. What did you hit him with, a brick?"

"This," Doyle told him, raising his right fist. "I told you, I'm a big lad, I can look out for myself."

"If there's one," Bodie agreed. "Maybe even two, if you get a really good hit in first. Three? Four? Oh, Ray." He tightened his arms. "When I think what could happen to you. I've seen it, you know. Years ago. They choose a boy, cut him out of the pack..." Doyle felt the shudder that ran through Bodie and cuddled closer. "Anyway, we'll be out of here about ten minutes after Perrault gets in, so you don't have to worry. I've got a shotgun, an FN and a couple of sidearms in the car, and half a ton of ammo, so we're well armed."

"How far is it?" Doyle asked. "To the mountain?"

"Depends on the weather when we get up around Whitehorse," Bodie said thoughtfully. "We'll make good time on the Helway till then, but after that it's dogs, or wait for a chopper. And these days pilots won't fly out over Rohan. Too dangerous. SAM missiles will make a mess of a Jet Ranger, and they wouldn't do a Huey much good either. I wanted to hire Van Hise's pilot, Mick Bell, but he wasn't having anything to do with it, and I can't say I blame him. Finished your tea, pet? You come and have a shower. There isn't much water left, but you can use the lot. It'll rain again soon, so they can't complain."

This time Bodie sat on the ant-eaten log beside the running water, and although Doyle stripped naked and stood under the water for a long time nobody even looked his way. Except Bodie, and he just made appreciative murmurs and told Ray he was beautiful until Doyle muttered at him to stop being silly. "Not being silly," Bodie said with a disarming grin. "Just making observations of the truth... Hello, here's Frenchie." He got to his feet, picking up a large, coarse towel, and patted at Ray's damp skin. "Get dressed, pet, and go'n pack our stuff while I get the map. Just roll everything up the way it is, we'll sort it out on the road."

"Okay," Doyle said, reaching for the white leathers. "You're keen to get out of here, aren't you?" He smiled. "Keener than I was, before!"

Bodie flashed him a smile. "You're not wrong." Then he caught Doyle's damp head, leaned forward and kissed him, long and gently. Ray knew that Johnno, the pilot, Bell, and probably Hunter, were watching from a distance away, and he pressed close, hoping Bodie would embrace him, and was not disappointed. This was his Bodie, and as much as it embarrassed him to be hugged and kissed in public, he wanted the hardcases to see it, to see that they were wrong, about Bodie, and about Ray Doyle himself. Bodie's whore? Bodie's lover, take it or leave it, he thought. Time to start getting used to this, because one day everything would be right again, and they could make a start on the rest of their lives.

When Bodie let him go at last he smiled, the blue eyes dancing as he guessed that Ray had been staging a performance. "Little devil," he accused fondly, and swatted the shapely little rear in the white leathers. "You go'n pack our stuff while I get the map, and we'll push off right now."

"You're on," Doyle grinned, and winked. He watched Bodie walk in the direction of a big Range Rover. There were bull bars on the front of it and jerry cans lashed down on the back, and a big dog sitting inside. It was a half bred St. Bernard, Ray saw, tongue lolling out, obviously suffering in the heat. A sled dog, designed by nature for working in the cold. Something stirred in his memory and he strained after it, almost but not quite making a connection he knew, unconsciously, was important. Perrault's dog stayed in the vehicle as the man himself came forward to meet Bodie. He was small, weather beaten, with a face the colour and texture of a pickled walnut, creased in a smile, and he wore the same kind of leathers Doyle himself had on, although older, stained with age and use, where Ray's were still like new. Bodie grasped the Frenchman's wrist, some kind of tribal grip, and then they were slapping each other's backs; Ray got moving, heading for the tent and the job of packing.

He rolled the tartan rugs, with their spare clothes inside of them, and tied them up with octopus straps; odd - those were the straps Bodie used to tie luggage down on his bike. Red and black, frayed at one end. Odd, that he should have brought them here. He stuffed the toiletries and shaving tackle into the British Airways bag, and found a haversack in the back of the tent into which everything else went.

He had buckled the haversack up when the oddity struck him, and he was frowning as Bodie appeared, moments later. "What's wrong, Ray?" Looks like you're stuck on the last clue of the Times crossword."

"The bag, Bodie. The haversack."

"Yeah, what about it?"

"It's... Bodie it's the same one you lost in Wales last year. You lost it on the train - somebody pinched it. I'd know it anywhere because of the tear in that corner. I did that with a piton."

"So?" Bodie shrugged. "I must have got it back."

"Bodie, don't you remember?" Doyle's frown deepened. "You don't seem to remember how you got our car over here either. You bring things like your new Dolphin lamp, and your octopus straps. And I could swear those are my tartan rugs -"

"Ray," Bodie said, coaxing, as if talking to a child. "It doesn't matter, does it? All that crap they shot into me probably did all sorts of damage. I expect I'll remember in time. If not, they're only little things, it's of no consequence."

"I suppose." Doyle sighed and stooped to pick up the roll of rugs and clothes, slinging it over his left shoulder. "You got the map?"

"Yup. Perrault's a good bloke, great at his job. D'you see that dog of his? That's the lead dog from his team. He'll sell the rest, but not that one, he's worth a fortune. Heart like a lion. He's going to meet up with us in Whitehorse. We'll beat him there, but he'll make it after he's done a job for Van Hise, and he'll buy the dogs for us. Don't know about you, but it's years since I ran a dog team."

"You've run a team before?" Doyle was honestly surprised. "When?"

"Oh, years before I met you. Before Thorkill's riders made a muck of things in Rohan. There's a race, you know - 'round the mountain' for all comers, takes about two days." He stirred, patting the packet in which the map was folded. "We'll make Whitehorse in three or four days - no sense pushing it, because Perrault won't get there before then. After that, well, given the weather it'll be three of four days more before we see the fortress." He dropped a kiss on Ray's nose. "Time to hit the road, mate."

It felt good to be moving; Doyle found that he could banish the unease better when they were doing. It felt weird but fine to slide back into the left side of the Capri and watch Bodie start it, swing it onto the dirt road and head for the feeder trail that would deliver them to the highway. They skirted the chopper pad on the way out; Van Hise was there, and waved, shouting something about Sinclaire that was plainly hilarious, through the gist of it was lost as the breeze tossed the words away.

Then the camp was behind them and for the first time Doyle began to relax. The windows were rolled down and the hot wind blew his hair into a tangle. Bodie glanced sidelong at him and smiled. "Sunglasses in the glove box, if you want 'em."

"Oh, ta. It is a bit bright." Doyle popped the glove box open and muttered in surprise. "Hey, these are mine."

"Must've left 'em in the car last time you used 'em," Bodie said, preoccupied, his eyes raking the uneven surface ahead as he tried to pick a line through the potholes that would not damage the car. The Capri was not designed for this kind of country. "Look there, up ahead. That's the Helway. We'll make good time now."

Doyle slid the sunglasses onto his nose and, with better vision afforded by the green lenses, could make out the shimmering surface of a sealed road. Tarmac cut a black swathe through the grassland, and he saw that the road led west. As Bodie swung up onto it the familiar rush of tyre noise began, and up ahead Ray saw the mountains. One of them was Odinspeak.

"Why do they call this the 'Helway?'" He asked, honestly curious. "I was looking through that book of yours, Hammer of the North, when I was at your flat, after you disappeared, and I saw that name in there. It's a Viking word."

"S'right," Bodie nodded. "The Helway is the road that leads to Hel. Simple as that. H - E - L, that is. The Viking afterworld, for those souls that don't make it to Valhallah. Mythology aside, Hel in this part of the world is a festering maze of swamp and jungle. Terrible place. The Helway leads there, through the mountain passes, but nobody in his right mind would want to go there. You'd have to go there, not want to."

"You've been there," Doyle guessed.

Again, Bodie nodded. "Yeah. It's a place where terrible things happen. The riders who work for Thorkill are from the swamp lands. People you just don't want to meet, Ray. Murder, rape, bondage, it's all the same to them. A good friend of mine was captured; we got him back eventually, but he was out of his mind. He'd been pit fighting - fighting for the crowd, you know? Victor gets to screw the vanquished for an encore. It's... not nice. They love a fighter, though, I'll say that for them. Often as not, if you fight like a tiger and go down hard, and take your screwing without complaining, they'll give you your life." He shrugged. "Some gift, right? Mark Tessier came out of there raving."

"Tessier?" Doyle echoed. "I remember you mentioning a David Tessier - your lover, if I've got it right."

"Yup. They were brothers. Demolition men, not bad in a scrap. We were fighting up on the border, the riders came in and cut us to bits. They left me for dead, or I'd have gone the same way as Mark." He glanced at Doyle, seeing the taut-drawn expression. "Just sick close to me, I know this place. We'll go as far as the village today, be there by dusk if we don't run into any problems. Then we'll push ahead tomorrow. There's no tearing hurry, as Perrault won't be at Whitehorse before the 25th, earliest. Van Hise has got him scouting for those Armalites from the convoy that was knocked over." He paused, putting a hand on Doyle's thigh and squeezing the long muscle there. "Put your head back and rest. Catch forty winks."

Doyle smiled. "Thanks, I will."

The tyre noise and the heat were enough to lull anyone to sleep, and Doyle was still aching and a little stunned for the morning's hand-to-hand. He slipped into and out of sleep as the afternoon wore on, at one point aware that Bodie was whistling tunelessly, which meant that he was happy, and at another aware that he was tense as piano wires, the look on his face murderous. It was happening again, and this time Ray chose to do and say nothing. He lay back in the seat, watching his partner and counting the minutes, wondering how long the episodes lasted. He was out in that limbo of his for the better part of an hour, and when it began to lift he pulled the car in at the side of the road to rub his head.

"I've been watching you," Ray murmured. "It's over now, and you've got a headache, haven't you?"

"Same thing every time," Bodie affirmed. "You want to drive for a bit, Ray? I don't feel all that well."

"Sure. Why don't we get a beer out of the back? I saw you put a box of tins in there." He brought two tins of beer, and slid in behind the wheel as Bodie orbited the car and got in on the left side, and they sat in silence to drink the warm, frothy liquid, throwing the empties into the back. "Bodie," Ray murmured at length, as he pulled out onto the road, "I'm worried about you. You ought to see a doctor, a good doctor."

"Seen one," Bodie muttered. "On the Cape. An old GP I knew years ago, Flynn. There's nothing wrong with me that a hospital could put right... I ought to see a witch doctor, maybe!"

"Don't joke about it," Ray pleaded, "it's too damned serious! Look, there ought to be a doctor in this village we're headed for."

"There is," Bodie nodded. "A decent one, but it's not me I'm thinking about, it's you."

"Me?" Doyle shot a glance at him. "What would I need a doctor for?"

"Well, maybe you won't. Probably you won't. But I told you we'd wait, just in case. Nice bed, bathroom, a quack if you need one." He smiled at the colour that flushed up in Ray's face. "Hey, you want it, don't you? If you don't -"

"I do," Doyle said quietly. "For us. I don't want you to be able to say I'm holding back on you, on anything. Even that."

Bodie frowned at him. "I wouldn't hold it against you. I wouldn't force you. Unless... Jesus, unless I was out of my head, and then..."

Heart fluttering too fast, Ray said, "look, I'm trying to be logical about this. The first time's the hard time, right?" At Bodie's nod he went on, "then, the first time has to be careful and gentle. After that, well, it'll be harder for you to hurt me, easier for you to - Christ - easier for you to fuck me. Less chance of you doing any damage. After the first couple of times, even if you did play rough, I wouldn't get hurt. Would I?"

"You could," Bodie mused, "but I'll grant you, you wouldn't get hurt as badly as a virgin... I don't like it, Ray. The thought of hurting you makes me want to throw up."

Doyle forced a smile. "Well, if you keep that in mind we won't go far wrong. Look, relax. I'm a big lad - if I put Sinclaire down, I can look after myself, I've proved that. I can tell from yards away when you're coming down with whatever it is. I'll just stay out of your way when it happens, and then..." He shrugged. "We'll sort it out. One way or the other, Bodie, we'll sort it out."

The optimism in the words was like balm on a sore, but Bodie was left doubtful. He did not speak again for a long time, until he was watching for the village to come up out of the distance. It was raining heavily, a torrent that sluiced across the road, and the wipers were having a hard time clearing the windscreen. Doyle had cut speed, picking his way through the downpour with as much care as he would have taken in a rain storm in London. Up ahead, a dayglo road sign appeared, and Bodie pointed it out.

"Coming up on the village."

The sign read 'Sutton Westcliff;' at the sight of it Doyle's brow furrowed in a frown. "Sutton - I don't get it. That's in England!"

"So British settlers called a village out here by the same name," Bodie shrugged. "It's common enough. There's lots of places with quaint, foreign names over here."

"But you took your holidays in Sutton Westcliff last year," Doyle said, braking down as they approached the village. "Nice little place, with a hotel and everything."

"Speaking of hotels, there's an inn on your right," Bodie said, pointing it out. "Pull in right there."

The rain eased away to a drizzle and then cleared completely as Ray wheeled the car in beside a building that could have been off the lid of a box of chocolates. Seventeenth Century England, he thought, and found it hard to understand why anyone in his right mind would want to build such a structure in the middle of Africa. Tourist trap? It had to be. He grunted in disgust as he turned off the motor, and they got out, locking the car. The tavern's sign was creaking over the door in the breeze and he looked up at it as Bodie led the way inside: The Prancing Pony.

There was something nigglingly familiar about it, and his frown grew deeper. They were the only patrons, he saw, but it was still early evening as yet: the serious drinkers would be arriving in an hour's time, as the sun set over the grassland. Doyle pocketed the sunglasses and stepped into the dimness of the tavern, a yard behind Bodie.

The taverner was round, flushed, smiling, and he introduced himself with a theatrical flourish. "Barliman Butterbur, at your service, gents."

English, Ray observed. Weren't there any African nationals in this place at all? Bodie didn't seem to notice; he was busy ordering ale and food, and ten minutes later they were seated in a corner of the dining room with plates of bread, cheese, mutton, and deep tankards, and Doyle was looking out through the quaint leaded windows at the village with the odd name of Sutton Westcliff. It was a nice settlement, very English, very familiar, and it made him feel the twinges of homesickness again. He ate without a word, watching the world grow dim with twilight, and as the tavern's regular customers began to file in and front up to the bar he noticed Bodie's eyes on him.

"Got us a room upstairs," Bodie said softly, jingling the keys. "Ray?"

It was not an invitation to rest. Ray swallowed, nodding. Bodie had his British Airways bag in his left hand as he slid out from behind the table, and he shepherded Doyle toward the crooked, narrow stairs. Ray went up the staircase first, feeling Bodie's hand caressing the tight, white leathers he wore with a shiver of anticipation. Here, it was safe. They were strangers, they would be left alone, there was a doctor up the street, and a bath. He held his breath as Bodie unlocked the door and shooed him inside, but as the light went on he muttered in amazement.

"Bodie, this place is - you had a flat, two, three years ago, that was laid out the same as this. Same floor plan, same decorations!"

"Interior designers get around," Bodie agreed. "S'nice, innit? The bathroom's through there."

And the tiles behind the bath and in the shower alcove were identical to the ones in Bodie's old flat. Doyle bit back words of protest at the impossibility of such of such coincidence, preferring not to incite his partner to anger. Bodie was too unstable as it was; pushing him was foolish. But then he saw the towels hanging at the rail, and grunted in disquiet. They were pale blue, with yachts worked in green and yellow. They were his towels, bought at Marks and Spencer's last year.

There was something wrong, something very wrong, but what it was he could not begin to imagine. He stood in the bathroom, numb and almost afraid to look further, until Bodie's voice called him, sweet and husky.

"Ray? Sweetheart? Come on, pet, it's a nice room, isn't it? That's all that matters."

Doyle swallowed hard. "Yeah, I guess that's all that matters. For now." He left the bathroom and saw that Bodie was sitting on the foot of the bed. His face was gentle and open, not a trace of anything hard or angry, and there was a hunger in his eyes that Doyle had rarely seen before. God, how Bodie wanted this, he saw, and heaved a sigh. Who could tell? Maybe the answer to Bodie's problem was in loving. The more he was loved, the better he would be? Maybe there was a way to heal him; maybe the healing was in Doyle's own hands. Maybe.

He moved slowly to the bed and lay down, one hand on Bodie's back, stroking, and when Bodie turned toward him and lay heavily on him he felt the kick of arousal at once. Bodie had only to touch him to bring his blood up to the boil now. He closed his eyes as the soft leathers were removed, feeling the coolness of the evening air, savouring the feathery kisses that fell everywhere on his chest. There was suckling at his nipples until he writhed, panting, and a hand between his legs, stroking and squeezing, and vaguely he remembered the dream he had had, that morning at the hospital... It seemed a thousand years ago now, and he put it from his mind, trying to engross himself in Bodie, give himself up totally to this act.

Bodie's mouth was hot on his, and the kiss was deep, soft, breathless. When he lifted his head, the blue eyes were dark with dilated pupils, and there was still a question in them. "Ray?" He was asking, and Ray knew that if he wanted to back out even now, Bodie would let him. But would Bodie let him say no tomorrow night? Or the night after? There was only one way, he knew; if he didn't want to leave Bodie and run, right now, there was only one thing he could do.

Ray turned over on the chocolate brown quilt and bent his knees, a smile on his lips. "Go on, Bodie. I won't bite you."

He saw Bodie's throat twitch as he swallowed, the blue eyes going down to rest on the parting of his buttocks, and then there were kisses on his back and legs, and caresses sweeping up into the center of him, teasing there, pressing. He bit his lip and closed his eyes, trying to evaluate what he was feeling clinically. Bodie was stroking behind his balls, where the tracery of nerves and ducts and glands was exquisitely sensitive, and every touch was like a thread of lightning through his groin. It felt so good; few girls had ever though to touch him there, and he guessed that if he was stroked on the inside in this area it would be even better.

He was not wrong. Bodie took his hands away for just a moment, and when they returned he felt an oily slickness rimming his anus, then pressure, and suddenly there was a finger inside of him, stroking in a way that took his breath and sent his heart rate through the ceiling. The finger twisted, withdrew, and then there were two fingers in him, and the pressure was almost enough to arrest his breathing. But breathing was of secondary importance; the shivers of delight that coursed through him as, slick and tingling, he began to open freely, were beyond anything he had imagined he could feel. Trust Bodie to know!

Bodie stroked him this way for some time, sliding his fingers in as far as he could, trying to get him used to the sensation of fullness before he removed them, checking that he was oily enough. Ray moaned inarticulately as the fingers were removed, and that wonderful little rump lifted in search of more. Bodie swallowed. He was ready for it now, asking for it. He lay down, the length of Doyle's fluid spine, kissing the nape of his neck, and murmured, "okay, Ray?" Beyond words, Doyle just moaned and tried to lift his hips. Bodie helped, taking him by the sharp pelvic bones and coaxing him up to his knees, pushing his legs wider to make it easier, and then knelt between his thighs, pausing to get his breath back and look down at the beautiful, the tawny body that was spreadeagled before him in surrender. Doyle's trust in him choked him up, and the wave of tenderness gave him back the control he needed to do this properly.

The pressure was back again, snub and hard, and Doyle held his breath, waiting. There was a stretching rather than soreness, because he was so oily, and he felt himself opened wide. To his surprise, his body did stretch out, and for a while the fullness was similar to the sensation of Bodie's fingers inside him. Then it was more, deeper, hotter, than anything he had ever known, and he cried out, less in anguish than amazement. There was pain, but nothing like the hurting he had imagined, and Bodie did not stop, pushing in slowly and firmly until the pain and fullness seemed to peak, and then the pain dwindled, leaving behind it just the incredible sensation of being filled with a shaft as hard as steel and as hot as hell. It did not hurt; far from it; he was hard pressed to breathe but his nerves were alive from head to foot, even his scalp was tingling, and he wished to God that Bodie would move. He tried to ask, tried to tell him to do something, to make it more, but all that left his throat was a whimper, and then Bodie's voice purred into his ear.

"Ray? Okay, love?"

There was Bodie's weight and heat all down his back, and Doyle couldn't have moved an inch in any direction if he'd wanted to. He nodded against the pillow, eyes open and blind, and his breath was short, panting. There was a helpless feeling too: at that moment his surrender was complete. He was an absolute prisoner, pain was no more than a whisker away, yet he was riding the knife edge of delight beyond bearing. Bodie stayed still long enough for both of them to get back control, and then Ray moaned as he felt the movement he had been waiting for, wanting.

Bodie moved with the greatest of care, lifting his lips and sliding down again; beneath him, Ray sucked in a breath and a huge shudder ran the length of his nervous system as his face twisted, but Bodie knew that he was flying, for he reached up with his hips, trying to take his weight on his knees, to find a rhythm. Bodie slipped his right hand around and under him, wiggling his fingers into the warmth of his groin in search of his cock. It was big and throbbing in his fist, slick with the stickiness of pre-ejaculate, a measure of how excited Doyle was, and Ray mewled like a kitten as Bodie's fingers squeezed and relaxed and began to rub.

A moment later, it was Bodie who moaned aloud; Doyle's muscles clenched about him, the powerful anal muscles pulling him deeper as if trying to drag orgasm from him by sheer force, and suddenly the urgency was on him and he could hold back no longer. He set up the rhythm, too quick and hard to last long, and Ray heaved gently under him, matching him, fingers clenching into the bedding as he got close.

A long, thin, high cry passed Ray's lips as he came, a wild sound, like nothing Bodie had ever heard before. Certainly no girl had ever howled like that, nor fought to please him until she was drenched in perspiration and like a limp rag. Ray had given it his all, and Bodie loved him for it. As he came, the anal muscles spasmed tightly about Bodie's demanding cock, and he let go too. Doyle cried out again as he felt the long streams of fire reaching into him, but by then his whole body was like rubber and he lay still under Bodie, sobbing quietly and aware that he was trembling.

Bodie recovered first, withdrawing easily, slick with his own essences and the oil, and Ray's limp body was turned over and picked up, cradled against Bodie's damp chest. He held on tight, his mind swimming, searching vainly for orientation. There was a warm trickle from between his legs but not for a moment did he think that there might be blood. His body was shaking, but not in pain. 'Joy' seemed an understatement, but he couldn't find his voice to allay Bodie's worries as he began to murmur into the damp curls.

"Ray? Sweetheart? I was careful, I didn't hurt you, did I? Christ, you're shaking. Love, if it hurt, you should have said!"

At last Doyle found his voice. "Didn't hurt, Bodie. Was fantastic. Should've told me it was like this. Should've told me how I'd feel."

"Oh?" Bodie breathed a sigh of relief. "And how did you feel?"

"Thought I was going to die of it," Ray murmured, weary to the bone. "Felt like I was part of you, so bloody lovely. So full, so hot." He gasped in a breath. "Will it be like that every time now? I won't hurt at all now, will I?"

Bodie slipped one hand between his lover's legs and probed with a gentle finger, meeting a trickle of his own essences. He smiled into the sweat damp curls. "Congratulations, love. You're not a virgin any more... Not so tight. Tight enough, though. Ah, God, I love you." he added as Doyle shivered at the intimate little examination. He could feel Ray getting heavier in his arms, limp, sated; he would be asleep soon. He lay him down flat and gathered him into his side, wanting his mouth and murmuring in delight as Doyle opened to him like a flower at once. Trust was absolute between them now, and Bodie felt better than he had felt in so long. Whole, happy, complete.

And all because of the sated, skinny, beautiful little bugger in his arms. It seemed absurd, but then, love is absurd. "Sleep, pet," he said softly. Catch forty winks, then we'll get you cleaned up."

"It's seeping out everywhere," Doyle chuckled, wriggling. "Ouch!"

"Sore?" Bodie guessed.

"Yeah. Not too bad, though. Thought I was going to be absolutely raw, but it's just smarting a bit."

"I've got some ointment," Bodie promised. "Sleep now, we'll get you sorted out later."

Doyle yawned expressively, cuddling closer, head on Bodie's chest. "Love you," he said, slurred, almost asleep already.

Bodie held him for half an hour, and when he began to stir he reached for the phone, calling room service for a bottle of wine; while they waited for it to arrive he padded into the bathroom, returning with one of the dreadfully familiar towels, and wrapped his love up in it. Doyle accepted the coddling with a grin; he could hear the bath running, and he was soaking in it when the wine arrived. The tub was big, deep, and Bodie slid in beside him, handing him a cut crystal glass, touching the rim of his own glass to it with a ringing 'chink.'

"Us," he toasted. "We're going to be okay. I know we are."

But Doyle was not so sure. He was sitting in Bodie's old bathroom, for a start, his own towels hanging on the rail, and the CI5 motor pool's silver Capri was parked outside in an English village that stood in the African bush under a range of mountains that he knew did not exist. It was useless questioning Bodie about it - and unwise to try. He sighed heavily, set to do the only thing he could. Wait and see. They finished the wine while the bath water grew tepid, and then Bodie insisted on patting him dry; he went for the British Airways overnight bag, producing a half crushed tube of Savlon cream, and Ray bit back a giggle as tickling fingers applied it where it was required.

"There you go. Doctor Bodie cures all ills." Bodie wiped his fingers on a corner of the towel and caught Ray's face in both hands, kissing him long and deeply. "Now I want to sleep in a real double bed with you. Been dreaming about this for ages, Ray."

"Have you?" Doyle wrinkled his nose, an affectionate expression. "Why ever did you wait so long? Looking back on it, I think we could have been together like this years ago. When Marikka was shot. When Ann left. When Cookie was killed. When I got shot, maybe even as long ago as the time you got knifed." He smiled, thinking back. "We're slow on the uptake, aren't we?"

"Couple of snails with sleeping sickness," Bodie agreed cheerfully, shepherding him back to the bed and folding the covers back. "Hop in, then, I'll get the lights."

Lying there in an embrace in the darkness was wonderful; it was for this that Ray hoped. The senseless passion, the brain-pulping arousal, was beyond anything he had ever imagined he would feel, but this meant more, in the long run. Hazily, he imagined that the novelty would wear off the passion in a few years, five, ten, but this could last forever. It was like being cocooned in safety.

It was an illusion, though; at two in the morning, that thought was driven home brutally. He woke as Bodie slid out of bed; for a moment he assumed his lover was on a pilgrimage to the bathroom, but Bodie pulled on his clothes and left. Downstairs, there were the muted sounds of revelry - drinking, gambling, dancing. And Bodie was obviously on his way to join it. Wide awake before the door closed, Doyle rolled over onto the warm place where Bodie had been lying, staring at the ceiling, trying to convince himself that his Bodie was still with him, that it was the other one, the stranger, who had walked through the door and left him on what was, in all practical terms, his wedding night. Bodie's leaving was better than staying and getting rough - perhaps something in Bodie's subconscious had made him get up and go before he could jump his track again. If so, that boded well for the future. It meant that some part of his mind remained sane even in the midst of the chaos of anger.

He rubbed his face hard, forcing his mind to work properly. There was a key to the confusion, and it was staring him in the face. Mentally, he arranged it all on a puzzle board, connecting this and that name or place with threads of meaning... Africa, the mercs, Van Hise, all that was central to who Bodie was. Right. But Sutton Westcliff was a recent scene, and then there was the car, and the little things like the Dolphin lamp, the tartan rugs, the octopus straps, Bodie's lost haversack. And this suite, in a Seventeenth Century hotel. Bodie's old flat, to the last tile, and his own towels, with the yachts -

Damn! Doyle had never believed much in coincidence, and he was not about to start now. They were on a road called the Helway, which was a Viking term, heading for a place called Odinspeak. He had read things similar to this a book, at Bodie's, only days before - Hammer Of The North. It made no sense; nothing had made sense since the riders of Rohan had -

And then it came to him in a flash of insight and he was sweating from every pore, sitting up in Bodie's own bed, and wanting to weep.

Rohan wasn't a real place. Like the Helway, it was out of a book. It was out of the Lord Of The Rings! The riders, too. He searched his memory and groaned... The Prancing Pony was an inn out of the same book; and the innkeeper, Barliman Butterbur. "Jesus," he murmured, "what's happening?" He drew both hands across his face, forcing himself to go on. Maybe if he saw Perrault's map he would have a better grasp of... Another piece of the jigsaw went into place. Perrault, the French dog sled man, with his prize lead dog, the big half bred St. Bernard. And they were heading for a place called Whitehorse. Bits and pieces from The Call Of The Wild, jumbled in among Lord Of The Rings, and Bodie's old memories, and his new ones: Ray's tartan rugs and towels, his new lamp, the car, the village where he'd taken a nice holiday, a merc encampment where he had spent a ridiculous amount of his young life. Old mates, old enemies. Books he was reading.

Fear raked its claws over Doyle and he hugged himself, shivering though the room was warm. He looked about at the darkened walls. "It's not real," he whispered. "None of it's real. It's a fantasy, it's probably a fantasy that he loves me. Oh, Christ, no. How? It's his fantasy, not mine - half the things he's making appear here I don't recognise. People, things. If it was my fantasy I'd know all the pieces..." He shuffled back against the pillows, still sore from the loving, knowing he wanted more, wanted to do it to Bodie too, but lost and bewildered. "How am I in his fantasy?" he murmured. "How? It's impossible!"

Perhaps he was wrong. He had never been further than France in his life, in any case - what did he know about Africa? He clutched at that straw for over an hour, propped against the pillows and wishing he was far, far away, and he jumped when the door opened again. "Bodie?"

"Yeah." Bodie sounded husky, ashamed. "I had to go, I'm sorry."

"You tripped out again?" Ray guessed.

"Must have. First I knew of what I was doing, I was down there rolling dice, fighting. Did you hear the racket? I've split my knuckles, nearly knocked a bloke's head off. Jesus, what's happening to me?"

"I don't know," Doyle admitted, "but I'm starting to work a bit of it out, love. Come back to bed?"

Bodie undressed and slid in under the covers, and Doyle took him in his arms. "Tell me?" Bodie murmured. "If you're figuring things out, tell me!"

"Not yet. I could be wrong." Ray stroked his hair gently. "Hey, you know that Frenchman, Perrault? That's a fantastic dog he's got there. What's his name?" Then closed his eyes and held his breath.

The answer was like the Sword of Damocles. "Buck," Bodie told him, and had no idea what he'd said to make Doyle go rigid from head to foot. "Ray? What's the matter?"

"Nothing, nothing, shush," Doyle crooned, rocking him. "Doesn't matter. It'll all work out. Here, give me a kiss, then get some sleep. We've got a long way to go tomorrow, haven't we?"

Bodie turned in his arms, searching for his lips, but waited to be kissed, and Ray sighed soundlessly. Whatever was wrong, Bodie was as much a victim as he was himself, and as they settled to sleep his tired, worried mind went at the problem like a terrier at a rat. Caught in a fantasy? But how?

And, more importantly, how did he get out? How did they both get out? Bodie's state of mind seemed to be deteriorating; if this was his fantasy, his madness would shape it. And more than anything else, that frightened Doyle.

The bed was empty, but Bodie knew where his lover was in the instant that he woke, for he could hear water running in the bathroom. The white leathers were still draped over the back of a chair, and when Doyle appeared, patting at his face, which was shaved and smooth, he was wearing his red silk robe. Just he way Bodie remembered him from the last time he had stayed over at Ray's flat, too squiffy to go home. He stretched, not even questioning the fact that Ray should have the robe, and smiled good morning at him, beckoning him back to bed.

"Got to get moving, lazy bones," Doyle chided, straddling his lover and tousling the rumpled, short dark hair. He let Bodie catch his head and pull him down into a kiss, then drew back to look down into the dark blue eyes; beautiful eyes, sad and wistful this morning. "What's wrong?"

"Last night," Bodie said regretfully. "I left you."

"You came back when it was over," Ray murmured. "And before that..." He flushed rosily and hid a grin. "The rest of it was fantastic."

"Want to do it again?" Bodie asked wickedly.

"Oh yeah. Won't hurt at all this time, will it?"

"Nah. Not sore, still, are you?"

"Just a bit, it's nothing. Honestly." Doyle forced the disquiet to the back of his mind, wanting to make Bodie feel better. "Too bad we have to be on the road so early; we could have lounged around in bed, and..."

Bodie made a bird's nest of Ray's hair, running his fingers through it. "We'll get the hotel to pack a picnic for us, and find somewhere nice along the road. Make love in the sunshine, how's that sound?"

"It's not legal," Doyle said quietly. "In a public place."

"What, making love?"

"Sodomy. Two men making love." Doyle's blush darkened another shade.

"This isn't England," Bodie told him, 'You've been in Rohan for the last twenty miles or so. Here, I could marry you if I wanted to - they don't make a big fuss about it. Men, women, no difference."

It was a charming idea even if Ray was quite well aware that it was all Bodie's fantasy. He laughed, delighted. The way Bodie's mind worked! "All right then, we'll do it."

"Make love in the sunshine?" Bodie grinned.

"Get married," Doyle corrected. "Now, this morning, before we leave. If this is Rohan, where you can, I want to. I'd chip in with you for the rings, but I'm skint, haven't a bean."

Bodie blinked, then laughed. "You mean it, don't you - you'd marry me!"

"Course I will - I love you, don't I?" Ray sounded exasperated. "You will marry me, won't you? You're not going to jilt me, I hope!"

"Jilt you?" Bodie grabbed him, kissed him, then rolled, throwing him off. "Not on your life. Want a shower? Then breakfast, and we'll go down to the local magistrate and tie the knot. There's a shop - actually it's a gift shop, but it'll do - we can buy a couple of rings there that'll suffice till we can get some proper ones. Okay?"

"Peachy," Doyle smiled. He reached for the white leathers and had to laugh. "I shouldn't be wearing white, should I? White's for virgins."

"So what?" Bodie's arms slid about him and hugged, and a wet kiss devoured his left ear. "Who's going to know, besides us?"

There were kippers, croissants and scrambled eggs for breakfast and Doyle ate a lot, washing it all down with tea; and Bodie held his hand across the table. Last night it would have embarrassed him, but now... It wasn't real, he knew that. Bodie's fantasy, a labyrinth of imagination, a chaos of memory from which he had to find some egress before it all went sour. Rohan? Fine. If that's what Bodie wanted, why not? And if it was all right for men to marry here, then it was all right for them to hold hands.

They strolled down from the hotel after they had paid the bill - Bodie handed over the money in South African Rands, Doyle noticed; he peered at the money fascinated, never having seen this currency before. The details were all there, captivating, thorough. The street was, he guessed, the same as the street on which he had holidayed, down to the last brick, and the gift shop was a reproduction from memory too.

It was full of curiosities; African oddments, Toby jugs, plastic ponies, junk jewellery, a shrunken head, all lumped together in no particular order. Much as his memories were lumped together, Doyle guessed. Still, it was pleasant, and he enjoyed the fuss as the old woman who kept the shop helped them choose the rings and wished them all the best.

From there they strolled down to the magistrate's house, a corner cottage with roses around the door, absurd in this setting, for the grassland stretched out beyond the back garden, and beyond it, the mountains. Bodie handed Ray one of the gold plated rings, cheap but nice, and leaned on the magistrate's doorbell. Ray basked in the sunshine as they waited, trying to set aside the misgivings he felt; if he was a prisoner here, he might at least make the most of it. If nothing else, it had a few good points, and marrying Bodie was one of them.

The magistrate was an ancient, venerable, heavy jowled, bald, a drop of perspiration sliding slowly down his ruddy nose, and he made nothing of the request to marry two men. The ceremony was brief, clinical, almost impersonal, and if Doyle had expected brass bands and flags he was vastly disappointed. Still, it was nice when they exchanged rings and pressed into an embrace, kissing for just a moment before the magistrate and his three witnesses - his wife, the housekeeper and her maid. The three women were choked up, and Ray hid a smile... Maybe he and Bodie did make a handsome couple at that. Bodie looked wonderful, in his black slacks and black roll necked shirt, and his own white leathers were among the nicest clothes he had ever had. Trust Bodie to know how to dress him!

There was a paper to be signed, and they got the bottom copy to keep. Bodie handed it to him and he checked in surprise as he saw it: it was a marriage licence, signed and dated. And the dates were dead right. He put it, folded, into his back pocket, and followed his spouse out into the warmth of the early morning. It was still only nine.

"They ought to have sorted out our picnic by now," Bodie said, slipping an arm about him and kissing his temple as they headed back toward the inn.

"What about petrol?" Doyle asked. "She'll be sucking air soon."

"Pick it up on the way out," Bodie agreed. "So long as we make it as far as Anduku today we'll be on schedule. It's a bit rough and ready, and a hell of a lot higher than this. We'll be climbing all the time today... Take it in turns to drive, pet?"

"Take it in turns to do everything," Ray smiled. Inwardly, he heaved a sigh. God, if this was only real. If Bodie was only sane, if... If...

Butterbur was waiting for them with the picnic basket, and ten minutes later, the Capri's eight gallon tank brimming, they pulled out of Sutton Westcliff and hit the Helway. Bodie was driving the first stint, for which Doyle was grateful; it allowed him the opportunity to sit back and observe his lover closely. How long, before he had one of his attacks?

It came over him just before ten; his hands whitened on the wheel and his profile became granite-hard. Bodie did not seem to be aware of the change, but Doyle could notice every minute shift in personality, from the soft, gentle man he had just married to the hard, angry, volatile character he had come to dread. To fear... To stop Bodie from doing something that was incongruous, something he would regret and grieve for when he was himself again, Ray would have to fight him. And when a small person went up against a big man, there were only ever the damaging blows; you hit to hurt, even to cripple. Doyle knew that there was no way he could do that to Bodie, and what was left? Acquiescence. The alternative terrified him.

This time, the episode lasted longer, and when it was over Bodie was weary, aching. During the hour and a half in which he had been a stranger Ray had said nothing, for most of the time pretending sleep. Bodie cursed beneath his breath, punished the car, swore at the road, the heat, the wind, fighting everything. It was only Ray's good fortune, he guessed, that Bodie was single minded to the point of obsession with movement. His whole life was geared to travel, and when he was driving the madness made him drive faster, kept his attention on the road and off his partner.

"Pull over," Doyle said softly, "I'll drive now. Head aching?"

Bodie was sweating, looking nauseous. "Christ, it was worse this time, wasn't it? Feels like I've been run over by a truck. Ray, I can't help it, it just happens, and I'm not me. I can't help it."

"I know, I know," Doyle said soothingly. "We'll sort it out, love." Soothing, empty words, easily spoken, meaning nothing. They almost stuck in his throat, and as he drove his own mind was turning over at a feverish pace. He trawled through his memory, dredging for any snippet he could recall from cases of schizophrenia, madness, concussion, drug induced paranoia. Bodie could be having a terrible reaction to the drugs, that was always possible; and he was focused on the man who was codenamed Thorkill, which was probably a vital clue in his case. Doyle was only sure of one thing: when it came to a confrontation between his lover and Thorkill, it would be a make-or-break situation. One of the two men would go down, and if it was Bodie...

The though chilled him. If Bodie went down, it would be like losing in a confrontation with his own subconscious mind. Descent into madness or death. Christ, Ray thought bleakly, what does that do for me? I'm stuck here with him, and if he goes over the edge, if he dies... He swallowed. In all probability, Bodie would take Doyle with him. To the asylum, or to the grave. The thought was enough to curl his toenails and he pushed it away, not wanting to meet it until there was no other choice.

The Helway was rising steeply now; the climate was growing cooler with each range of hills they put behind them, and they saw deciduous trees, aspen, alder, ash, beech. The hills were green and fertile, a welcome change after the sameness and the heat of the grasslands. Doyle no longer questioned what he saw; no, of course this was not Africa, irrespective of what Bodie thought. This was England, and they were on their way to a place out of a Jack London book. The Klondike, or Alaska or somewhere.

As insane as it all was, there was also much about it that was nice; there was a peace and beauty about the landscape, so quiet and welcoming, and the wonderful, warm sensation left over from the morning, when he had married his lover legally. There was no way it could be true, and Ray knew that, but still the scene of his wedding was cherished, and he had his marriage licence in his back pocket.

At one he pulled the car off the road down a deeply rutted trail, looking for somewhere to park while they had their picnic. There was not a house to be seen, not a living soul for miles, not even any animals, though the trees were alive with birds. Bodie came awake as they left the road and rubbed his eyes, yawning. The wind was cooler here, and he knew they had climbed high above the burning grasslands.

Doyle parked the Capri in the shade of a stand of young alders and turned off the motor, stretching his arms and legs and tossing his green driving glasses onto the dash. "We've made good time."

"So I see," Bodie agreed, swinging open the door. "You get the rugs, I'll get the basket, and we'll see what they've packed for us."

The basket was loaded, heavy, and as he picked it up Bodie caught sight of the gold on his finger and smiled, looking up to watch Doyle, who by that time was shaking out one of the rugs. The white leathers hugged his every curve, and if there was ever anything or anyone else as desirable, Bodie had never seen her - or him. He carried the basket into the shade of the trees and put it down, reaching for his lover, wanting just to hold him for a while. "You know," he murmured as Ray stepped into his arms and put his head down on Bodie's shoulder, "I've never been married before."

"Neither have I," Ray admitted. "First time for everything, isn't there?" He nipped Bodie's ear. "How you feeling now? Better?"

"Much," Bodie affirmed. "Twice today, already... Early morning, and just now. And it lasts longer, doesn't it? Ray..." He averted his eyes. "It's getting worse, isn't it?"

"Maybe," Doyle shrugged. "I dunno, Bodie, haven't been watching you long enough to decide what's normal, or abnormal, yet. Just let it be; all we can do's wait and watch." It was no good lying; Bodie would not appreciate false comfort, he knew. "Come on, eat something. Then you can screw me again, if you like."

He felt the shiver run through Bodie's nerves. "You mean that?" The blue eyes were shades darker.

"Course. I've never felt anything like it, Bodie, ever. And this time it isn't even going to hurt a bit." He grinned, the spirit of mischief. "I married you this morning, didn't I? That makes this our honeymoon. Oh, come on, Bodie, enjoy it while you can. We'll be running into cold weather and snow soon!"

"Going to be nice laying you on a rug in front of a roaring fire," Bodie said, almost a growl, low in his chest. "Thought you might like to do me."

And Doyle nodded. "Later, when I know what I'm doing. I've got a lot to learn yet; technique. What to do, what not to do. I want to do it right for you, like you did it for me." He paused then, and frowned. "You're not, um, well, a virgin, are you?"

Bodie shook his head. "No, I'm afraid not. That doesn't bother you, though, does it? I went with quite a few men, years ago."

"Lately?" Doyle asked. "I'm not trying to pry, but I'm wondering if I have to hurt you, the first time."

"'Fraid you will, yeah," Bodie grinned brashly. "I didn't have much to do with men after I got out of Africa, and after a while you get tight again. Then, I'll admit, even out here I didn't let many take me... Didn't like to surrender, and all that, I suppose. Oh, when it's done right it's great - as you well know. And when it's done wrong, well, you said it yourself. It can put you in the hospital, and you don't like to risk injury when you're in a place where the butcher of a medic's a drunken sod and your CO's bent as a hairpin!"

Doyle nodded gravely. "Yeah. So I'll be careful, when the time's right for it. Later, Bodie, when I've had a bit of education. Okay?"

In answer Bodie kissed his mouth softly. "Okay. Now let's eat, I'm ravenous. Could eat you alive... In fact, I may have you for desert."

The inn had put up a fantastic picnic and it was hard not to overeat; there was nothing like an overfilled stomach for putting the lid on one's libido, both of them knew, and they left enough in the basket to provide them with high tea, later. Then they lay on the blanket, looking up at the shifting leaves and listening to the larks. Bodie was quiet for a long time and Ray had begun to wonder if he had drifted off to sleep when he felt the tickle of fingers slipping into his shirt.

He turned his head on the rug, meeting heavy lidded blue eyes, and Bodie said huskily, "want you, Ray. I seem to want you all the time, but I have to have you now. S'okay?"

He was asking, Doyle realised: haunted by the harsh, egocentric person he became when the changes came over him. Asking. "Course it's okay," he smiled, and sat up to take off his shirt. Bodie drew him up to his feet and they undressed each other deftly, slowly, making it an exercise in artistry, savouring every little sensation, each scent, each caress. Naked, they pressed together, the heat and hardness of arousal aching between them, and Doyle caught his breath at the knee that slipped between his and lifted, rubbing where he was tenderest.

One of the most endearing things about Doyle was the way he responded, Bodie thought, smiling into the curly hair that was tickling his nose. He would melt with a caress, sag forward in search of support if he was stroked just right, and moan as if he was in agony if the stroking fingers found his genitals. Bodie took hold of him there, pulling gently, watching the colour flush up in his cheeks as he began to shake. Ray was such a sensual little animal, as if his nerves were that much more alive than anyone else's, or as if he took more notice to what those nerves were saying. Bodie kissed him, sliding his tongue into the dark, sweet interior of Doyle's mouth, plotting the form of his teeth, the textures of his inner lips and the roughness behind his canines; Ray opened wide and held still, letting him explore all the territory anew until neither of them could breathe.

When they surfaced, they were on the rug again, and Bodie was lying almost on top of his lover while Ray's fingers ran up and down his flanks, making him shiver. The sun was hot on his back and Doyle's face was dappled by it, his eyes as green as the sea, his mouth swollen and his cheeks flushed. He could have been the subject of an oil-on-canvas rendering of Pan, a faun, one of the tall elves, Bodie thought, realising that he had never seen anything quite so beautiful as Ray Doyle, aroused, in a clinch. It was a pity the rest of the world would never be privy to the sight, but he knew as the thought occurred to him that no one else would see it again; every curve and hollow of Doyle's body and face belonged to him now, and he would kill to keep what was his.

Floating on the tide of sensations, Doyle was only barely aware when his legs were pulled apart and his knees lifted; his shoulders took his weight easily and he wrapped his legs about Bodie's waist to help, his throat making a strange little whimper as he felt oily fingers making him ready. He craved the pleasures they brought this time, lifting his hips toward them, opening for them and clamping his muscles about them; from far away he heard Bodie chuckle, and didn't mind. Bodie knew what he was feeling, it was just an ironic chuckle, not at all mocking.

The fingers were gone then, and Bodie was inside of him once more, filling him without pain, sliding in and out slowly without making him hurt at all, and the pleasure swamped him, buffeted him like a boat loose in the wind. He heard his own voice, moaning and crying out, but couldn't have controlled what his throat was doing to save his life, even when Bodie's mouth came down on his. The rhythm became more urgent then and he managed to coax his eyes into focus to see Bodie's face as he came.

Intent, concentrated, the blue eyes slitted, mouth open, head thrown back as he tensed, trying to make it last. Beautiful, Ray thought, panting on the verge of his own release. One more touch, one more stirring of the cock within him, and he would come too. He took Bodie's right hand, carried it to his groin and wrapped it around his own aching shaft; Bodie gripped him reflexively, and it was more than enough. The explosion seemed to turn him inside out and his hot, thick essences splashed up onto his lover's smooth chest, clinging there.

Bodie collapsed onto him, heavy, hot, sticky, and they rolled onto their sides, wrapped in a desperate embrace. Bodie slipped out as they moved and they whooped for air, laughing at each other and at themselves. Ray tickled the other's ribs and Bodie came very close to giggling, catching the offending fingers. "Okay, mate? Was okay?"

"No it was not," Doyle said, objecting strongly. "it was terrific... Jees, I feel greasy, though. What did you use? To make me slippery?"

Now Bodie did giggle. "Don't ask."

"Bodie?" Ray demanded sternly. "Tell me, you clot! What did you do?"

"Well, I left the British Airways bag with all our stuff in it in the car," Bodie explained sheepishly. All there was, was... I used butter." He broke off as Doyle punched his shoulder. "It bloody worked, didn't it?"

"I object to being treated as a slice of toast!"

"Well, how about if I play the strawberry jam?" Bodie offered, and lay top of him again. "How's that?"

"You're sticky enough for jam," Ray observed, trying to be serious and hardly managing it. "God, I'm in a mess, though. Can't get dressed again like this. Clean me up?"

Bodie kissed his nose. "Course. There's serviettes and some water left over from the picnic. Are you sore again? Want some ointment?"

But Ray shook his head. "No, I'm okay now. Just messy - Christ, it trickles out every time I move."

"So move," Bodie grinned, fetching the paper serviettes and a canteen of lukewarm water. "Sorry about the butter, sweetheart."

"Oh, it worked, I suppose," Doyle admitted, sitting up and stretching his back. "My lumbar region doesn't love me anymore." He stood up and stretched his back this way and that, chuckling as Bodie mopped at his legs. "Messy buggers, aren't we?"

"That's a fine thing to say," Doyle muttered in mock-irritation. "Okay, we won't bother again. Can't get you all mucky, can we?" He yelped as Bodie grabbed him and pulled him down into an embrace, wrapping both legs about his lover until Bodie, still on his knees, held his full weight.

"I married you," he observed, nose to nose. "Can demand me conjugal rights now, can't I?"

Ray groaned. "Yeah, I suppose you can. It's a good thing I like being screwed, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it is," Bodie affirmed , "because the sight of your rump makes me come out in goose bumps now I know what it feels like to be in there. Can hardly keep my hands off it."

"So don't," Doyle grinned. "Keep your hands off it. It's nice when you stroke me, I like that too." As he spoke he released his legs' vice-grip about Bodie and slid to his own knees, pressing them together, skin on skin. "Been thinking about a bunch of different ways to do it, too."

"Active imagination," Bodie observed.

"Fertile mind," Doyle winked. "I can think of half a dozen ways, and I wouldn't mind trying them all, if you've no objections."

"Objections?" Bodie guffawed. "That'll be the day, my lad. When we get this Thorkill business finished with and get home to England, we'll go straight to bed and won't get up for a month, except to change the sheets when they get too disgusting."

Bodie was in a great mood, but the mention of Thorkill reminded Ray forcibly of the horrible truth of affairs, and it was as if a bucket of icy water had been tipped over him. He forced a smile, nodding, and turned away toward his discarded clothes. Okay, so Bodie was flying at breakneck speed toward a confrontation with his nemesis, something buried deep in his mind. Ray could rationalise that and accept it, see the logic of it... But how was it possible for him to be caught up in this, and how did he get out again?

Unless Doyle himself was nothing more than a figment of Bodie's imagination. The thought was numbing. I'm just an image, Ray thought feverishly, just an idea in Bodie's mind, and the real me is standing by a hospital bed, or looking at a vegetable with Bodie's face, in an asylum... No love, no hope, no future. He shuddered and looked away to hide his horrified expression. No. Better this, better to be ensnared in Bodie's fantasy than that. At least here he could help, help him find the way to his own cure - and the way out.

He dressed slowly, methodically, while Bodie threw the debris of the meal back into the basket, and by the time he had his boots on he had managed to straighten his face, force the more serious issues to the back of his mind. He watched Bodie slide in behind the wheel and got into the left side of the car, collecting a kiss on the lips before the gutsy little three litre motor was kicking into life, and they were moving again.

The sex had tired him more than he realised and he slept long into the afternoon; what woke him was Bodie swearing. He was cursing at the car, at the road, at the slanting sunlight that cast dust-devil images across the filthy windscreen; and he was a stranger. His mood was vile, and he jerked the car to a halt with an abruptness that woke Doyle fully. "Clean the bloody windscreen," he snapped. "Can hardly bloody see!"

"Sure," Doyle said quietly, fetching a rag out of the back. "Do you want me to drive for a while?"

It was the wrong question to ask, and for a moment he was sure Bodie was going to backhand him. "No I don't want you to drive! I want you to clean the windscreen. Get moving Doyle!"

"Okay, okay, I'm going." Ray swung the door open, got out and orbited the Capri's roasting bonnet to drag the cloth across the glass; it was not easy to scrub the road dirt away and he should have used water, but they had none with them, only a few tins of beer and wine.

Bodie gave him a minute to work, then leaned out of the car to snarl, "what the hell are you doing?"

"Doing as I was told," Doyle said levelly.

"Hurry up about it, then, we're losing time."

"We can't be in that much of a hurry," Ray murmured, "we can make it to the next village easily by dusk, and you said that's as far as we were going today."

A grunt was his reply, and there was silence until the windscreen was clean enough to suffice, then he slid back into the car and tossed the rag back into the back. Bodie's slitted eyes fixed on him, hot and angry, and he swallowed as one large hand reached out, cupping his chin. "Bodie?" Bodie said nothing, but the fingers squeezed, not quite hard enough to bruise; testing? Doyle sat absolutely still. Testing, to see if he was in charge? To see - it came to him in a flash of understanding - to see if he was in charge of the fantasy, or if it was in charge of him.

You're not in charge of me, mate, Doyle thought bleakly, not when you're like this! But he kept still while the hand went into his shirt, fingers pinching his nipples; a twist of pain shot through him and he let it show in the compression of his lips. It seemed to satisfy Bodie, and that frightened Doyle more than anything.

"You don't want to hurt me, Bodie, do you?" He whispered.

"Not if you do as you're bloody told, Doyle," Bodie growled. "You do as I say, when I say, and you'll do okay. Got it?"

"Yes." Ray closed his shirt, rubbing his right nipple. Which was a little sore now, and a moment later Bodie pulled away, foot to the floor, revving the motor hard. He closed his eyes, dread battling the optimism he had tried to cultivate. Every shred of common sense in his skull was telling him to get out, now, while he could, before it turned vicious and sour - but would Bodie let him go? If this was Bodie's fantasy he was in charge, he could make anything happen, not just with cruel hands and thoughtless treatment. He could make things happen. "Why did you do that?" he asked, knowing he was pushing his luck. "Why did you pinch me? It hurt."

Bodie looked at him, stranger's face, stranger's eyes. "You can be hurt, you know. Remember that."

"But I didn't do anything! Why did you punish me for nothing?"

"A little lesson," Bodie said indifferently. "The way I was taught."

The way he was taught? Doyle subsided, thinking hard on that. Taught - to do what, and by whom? There was the strongest impression that Bodie had just let slip one of the keys to the whole labyrinth. The way I was taught. Taught with pain, to do... What? Ray passed both hands over his face. He had to find out. He thought back to some of the cases he had worked on as a young copper, cases of child and wife beating, molestation, domination: pain was a powerful teaching tool. Aversion therapy could be used, with skill, to make a sane, rational person do almost anything - or to make a maniac stop doing almost anything. Rapists rendered impotent, murderers turned into timid, frightened people. There was a film about it - A Clockwork Orange. Ray thought back to the movie and felt sick.

He studied Bodie's savage profile and felt a wave of tenderness, real, genuine pity. "Christ, what happened to you, love?" His voice was rich with compassion, and even if it got him punished, he would have spoken.

Bodie's hands clenched on the wheel. "None of your goddamned business, Doyle. But remember, it could happen to you. Clear?"

"Yes," Doyle whispered. "I do as I'm told, I know." He watched Bodie nod, satisfied now that he was in charge of his world, and for a long time there was a painful silence in the car. Doyle was watching the time as the sun set in an ocean of blood before them. It was taking a long time to pass over this time, and he knew that the longer it took the more distressed Bodie would be when it was over at last.

It came as no surprise to Ray when Bodie passed out. The car slewed, losing speed as he want limp, and Doyle took the wheel with his right hand, keeping it on an even course while he leaned over and punched the brake. The Capri came to a shuddering halt on the grassy verge, the engine stalled out, and the silence of the twilight hillside flooded into the car. Ray put a hand on Bodie's forehead, finding him waxy, cold, then searched for a pulse. For Bodie it was fast, at sixty, but at least it was dead regular. For some time he waited, wondering if he would quickly come to, but Bodie was limp, and time was wasting.

Inert, he was heavy; it was difficult to manhandle him into the left seat but Doyle managed it, and strapped him in. The engine restarted at once and as he pulled away he flicked on the headlights and rolled the window up. The night was getting cold. Tomorrow they would climb into the snow, and neither of them had enough clothes. Bodie would have been planning to buy supplies in Anduku, he guessed. Where the hell was the village?

The quartz-halogen beams picked out the road and he drove with care; the world was one vast ocean of velvet blackness, relieved only here and there where the moonlight was cast back by the surface of a lake or river in the distance. And then he saw the lights of Anduku, beckoning like a beacon, and he cut speed, rolling into the wash of neon.

The settlement was rough; the building here were of timber construction, and there were many tents, pavilions, the kind of city-under-canvas he would have expected of an army. He could smell horses too; that made sense: this country was poorly suited to motor vehicles, and as often as not horses would prove the best way to get around. The only road he knew of was the Helway itself, everything else was just a dirt track that would see off a car in ten miles. As he changed down to look for a tavern Bodie woke.

"Ray?" The voice was husky, soft, and Doyle breathed a sigh of relief.

"Yeah, you're okay. We just ran into Anduku. Looks like the army's encamped here. You didn't tell me - are we bunking with your old army buddies or did you book ahead in a hotel?"

"There's a tavern called the White Wolf," Bodie murmured, rubbing his head hard, trying to get his thoughts into gear.

"Hang on, I just passed that." Doyle broke down, put the car into reverse and backed up the empty street until he saw the sign; the Capri described an arc and slid into the parking area, between a Transit and a British Leyland that had see better days. He killed the roasting, aromatic motor and put on the interior light. Bodie looked pale, blue about the lips. "Sweetheart, you look terrible."

"Feel terrible," Bodie admitted. "Ray, did I - "

"You didn't do anything," Doyle said firmly. "Doesn't matter. Come on, let's get some hot food into you, get you warmed up, you'll soon feel better." Until the next time it happens, he thought. And the next. And then, if you try to hurt me, I have a decision to make... Do I take it, or do I hurt you to stop you? Christ, what a choice!

The White Wolf was crowded with drinkers; there was a darts tournament in progress, and he eyed the contestants with fascination. There were men dressed in jeans and shirts, London-standard; there were men in leathers, from the high country, bearded, with long hair and rifles; Africans, their black skin and tribal garb seeming odd in this place; and men on whom he saw chain mail, spurs, coats of arms. He took Bodie's elbow. "Who the hell are they? The ones with the heraldry and the cloaks?

Bodie peered through the smoky bar. "They're the guard," he supplied. "You're in shrine country now. The Templars patrol the hill ways, keep the passes open for the pilgrims who go up and down to the temples and shrines. Otherwise they'd be easy prey for the bandits, these hills are full of 'em. They're good blokes, most of 'em - a bit religious, so it's just as well we're married. They take a dim view of just shacking up together."

Templars? As in, Knights Templar? Doyle bit his lip, thinking back to Bodie's book case, at his flat. There had been a battered copy of Ivanhoe there, obviously well read. He sighed, just accepting what he saw now... There were dog men, Alaskan Indians with furs to trade, the odd Jewish merchant, clad in a costume that looked like fancy dress in this day and age; and one man who drew his attention as none of the others did. He was tall, willowy in build, pale skinned, with long, wavy hair through which his pointed ears only just showed. An elf, Ray thought soberly; one of the tall elves. Lord Of The Rings. Christ, Bodie's mind was in a chaos just now! He gave his partner a glance of concern.

Pale and clearly miserable, Bodie was digging through his pockets for money; South African Rands appeared, a whole wallet full of them, and he handed them to Ray. "Best room they've got, we can afford it."

A tiny girl with bright red hair pushed a key at him, barely looking at them, her attention on the darts match, and a moment later Doyle shepherded Bodie toward the stairs, slipping one arm about his waist to urge him up onto the second floor where the rooms were over the bar. The noise faded down and vanished almost completely as he closed and locked the door and snapped on the light. A hearth was alight, warming the air, and the bed was a big, brass affair with a duck down quilt and stiff damask sheets. There was a bathroom attached, but it was plain to the point of being spartan, just basic facilities and olive drab towels. Army fashion.

A phone stood on the table by the bed, huge and clumsy, and he picked it up, calling for a meal and a bottle of brandy. Bodie looked as if he could do with a belt. He had sprawled on the foot of the bed, and he was still cold. Doyle closed the windows that looked out on the main street, jerked the curtains closed and poked at the fire with a black iron rod that stood in the corner of the spark guard with a pair of tongs, a bucket of brown coal and a supply of split logs. Soon he had the fire roaring in the chimney, and came to sit on the bed, stroking Bodie's face.

Blue eyes blinked up at him, almost blind, and one strong, square hand came up to touch his chest. "I hurt you," Bodie whispered.

"A stranger hurt me," Doyle corrected. "And not much, at that. I'm not made of porcelain, Bodie. I'm tougher than that, for Chrissake!"

"But I hurt you and meant to do it," Bodie said sadly. "If you'd tried to argue, I'd have hit you, or worse."

"You'd have tried to," Ray remonstrated. "I'm not about to sit still for that, so stop worrying. You feeling bad? Want a doctor to look at you?"

Bodie shook his head. "No, it's not so bad now. I'm just... scared. Ray, when I'm like that, what do I say to you? It's all distorted, I can't remember clearly."

"You tell me to do as I'm told, when I'm told, not to answer back, that sort of thing." Doyle shrugged. "I stay out of your way, keep quiet, and - do as I'm told, and then it goes away, and you're ill." He sighed. "I want you to see a doctor before we leave here."

"No. Told you, I saw a quack on the Cape. He offered me a couch at the shrink's office, but - Ray, they'd lock me up, wouldn't they? I'm not the kind of bloke you let loose on the street."

He was not deluding himself at least, Ray thought bleakly: they would lock him up. "Okay, no doctor. But you're not on the street anyway, are you? You're with me."

"My brother's keeper," Bodie murmured, rubbing Doyle's chest thoughtfully. "Except you're not my brother. I married you." He lifted Doyle's left hand and studied the ring there. "Ray, whatever happens, never forget. I love you. I'm not myself, it isn't my fault, but whatever he does, I love you, and I always will. For Christ's sake, if you have to, put a gun to my head, and if I don't see sense, pull the bloody trigger!"

"I'll do no such thing," Doyle said huskily, bending to kiss him as there was knock at the door. "Shift closer to the fire, pet; I've got you a hot meal and a bottle of the hard, you'll soon feel better."

Cold to the bone, Bodie had his feet in the hearth by the time Ray had paid the man and taken the tray from him, and they sat on sheepskins by the fire to eat. Mutton and barley broth, blueberry pie with cream, flat, unleavened bread and black ale. There was plenty of food and even the fruit pie was still hot from the oven; Ray watched Bodie revive as they ate, and relaxed. He drank a lot, becoming a little squiffy and very affectionate, and as they pushed the remains of the meal away delicate fingers were undressing him.

"Want you, pet," Bodie murmured against his ear.

Doyle rubbed his bare back against the sheepskins, his toes roasting in the hearth. "No complaints out of me. Want to screw me properly?"

Bodie got one elbow under him and looked down at the length of Ray's body. Lit by the fire, it could have been cast from molten bronze, and the silky body hair was gold. "You're not sore from last time?"

The curious thing was that he was not; Ray had expected to be very sore indeed, but it was nothing to speak of... Bodie's fantasy, he thought wryly. Bless him for the way his mind works - because if he wanted me to be uncomfortable he could make that happen too. It was a sobering thought and he pushed it away, not wanting to spoil the scene with it. "Nah, I'm fine," he said. "Go on, Bodie, you need it again. Loving makes you... I dunno, calmer, happier. I'm right, aren't I?"

"Yes," Bodie whispered. "You remind me who I am, what I am." He gathered Doyle into his arms and rocked him. "I'm using you, and I'm sorry."

"Don't be," Ray chided gently, licking down Bodie's neck. "I enjoy it too, you know. I'd pretty soon be complaining if I didn't, wouldn't I? I mean, you're taking me at every verse end!" He pulled away and kissed Bodie's chest. "Come on, make love to me. Here, let me start."

Bodie lay back and let Doyle do the work for a change, thrilling to the kisses that feathered over every square inch of shoulders, chest and belly, before Ray's hot, wet mouth closed over his cock and began to suck. Fingers cradled his balls, rolling them in their delicate sac, and he gave a sigh of utter content as the pleasure raced through him. No place he would rather be, no one he would rather be with. The loving was slow and infinitely gentle; slippery with Ray's pre-ejaculate, Bodie turned his lover over on the sheepskins, kissed down his spine and sheathed himself in the soft/hard welcome of his body. Perspiration glistened on them in the firelight as they worked at each other's pleasure, then Bodie broke his rhythm, withdrawing completely long before they were ready to come. A moan of protest left Doyle's throat, but in another moment he found himself on his back, his legs propped on Bodie's shoulders, and impaled again. This was better; this way, he could watch Bodie work, see his face as he came. No bloody wonder women liked it his way best... But you had to be in love, you had to care as much for your lover's pleasure as your own, to need to see his pleasure in his face this way. Casual sex just wasn't the same. Married, Doyle thought ruefully as Bodie's hand closed over his aching cock and squeezed, trying to give him the same feelings as if he was deep inside too.

For this, Doyle knew, he would endure whatever the stranger who now and then wore Bodie's face cared to do. Bodie was a victim, not a culprit; when the attack was over he was ill, and more ill each time; none of it was his doing. Ray gave himself up to his lover's needs without a second thought, being used and pleasured at the same time so that, as they came, one was as sated and overloaded with pleasure as the other. Bodie cried his love aloud as he collapsed heavily on the smaller man, and Doyle ran his hands up and down the sweat slick flanks, soothing him.

"Time to put you to bed, I think," he chuckled as the blue eyes grew heavy. "Come on, I'll mop myself up and bring the brandy. Off you go, sunshine, you're toasting now. Feel better?"

His reply was a kiss on each eye, his nose and his lips, and then Bodie went to slide into the big brass bed, and propped himself on the cool pillows to watch his love in the firelight. "You're so bloody beautiful," he murmured, little above a moan, making Doyle smile sunnily as he knelt on the sheepskins, blotting at his legs as the cool trickles escaped.

"Feeling's mutual," Ray said honestly. "Can't believe how lucky I am to get someone like you. A real looker, and a great lover into the bargain."

"I got the bargain," Bodie argued as Doyle brought the brandy bottle and two glasses. He gave the amber fluid a mock frown. "Trying to get me drunk?"

Doyle shook his head, sliding between the sheets. "Trying to put you to sleep, Bodie," he said levelly. "If you drink enough you'll sleep the whole night through. If you jump your track, you'll never know about it, because you'll sleep through it. Make sense?"

"Yeah, it does." Bodie poured a brimming glass of the brandy and sipped at it. "Hey, drop of good stuff, this."

"We can afford it," Ray grinned. "Don't know where you got that much money, but there's a fortune in Rands. I put the money on the table there."

"You keep it," Bodie whispered. "And the keys to the car, too. And get yourself a weapon and enough ammo, all you can carry." He sipped at the brandy again. "I want you to have the means to get out, love, just in case."

Doyle studied him mutely for a while. "I won't go, you know."

Bodie shrugged. "You don't know that. You might have to... You might be a fool to stay with me. I'm certifiable, Ray, be honest."

"You're...schizophrenic," Ray admitted quietly. "The other bloke who shows up now and again, I don't like him. I'm frightened of him. Terrified, if you must know. I won't lie to you, sweetheart. But he's not here for more than a few hours a day -"

"Six hours today," Bodie whispered. "Maybe longer tomorrow. Ray, there's going to come a time when he's here most of the time. Then all the time, and I'll be gone, and you'll be alone with a person who wants to control you, every move you make, every breath you draw." He paused and forced the words out. "Even in bed."

Doyle was silent, considering it. "Maybe. Probably, okay. But it won't get to that point before we're at Odinspeak, and we'll have it out with this Thorkill person between us. Let's see him take the two of us on. I'm here to help you, Bodie. It's what I came here for..."

He let the sentiment trail away, focusing on the very rationalisation he had just, half unwittingly, offered up. Had he done that? Had he wished himself into Bodie's nightmare to help him beat it? The thought was the first comforting, optimistic notion he had had in days, and it cheered him greatly. If he had come here willingly, knowingly, then he was where he should be, he was not lost at all. He was here to do a job, here for a purpose. And if there was no way out again?

He sighed heavily, watching Bodie drink the brandy. If he was to be a prisoner here forever, how bad could it be? There was a whole world inside Bodie's head; sometimes it was strange, at other times achingly familiar. At the very least Bodie could 'think' them back to London, back home - or 'think' them onto a Pacific island, paradise. They could have anything they wanted, and so long as Bodie was sane, and in control of the fantasy realm, it would be all right.

So long as Bodie was sane. Ray poured a nip of brandy for himself and topped up Bodie's glass. This Thorkill man was the key to it, he was sure. The man who had taught Bodie, with pain, to do something so bad that... That... Doyle fished for the meaning, groped after it, lost the thread of reasoning and surrendered the struggle. He could fit the pieces of the puzzle together later, when he was thinking more clearly. Only one impression was concrete in his mind.

Thorkill had hurt him. That night in Hammersmith, when Bodie vanished off the face of the earth, for days? The riders had grabbed him, he said, taken him somewhere, taken his soul or his Id, his heart. Taught him by hurting him. Doyle swallowed, feeling the prickling at his lids as his eyes filled with tears. "Oh love," he murmured, watching Bodie go back to the brandy bottle, methodically sinking the lot so as to sedate himself, to put himself under until the morning. He would have a hangover, Ray thought, and Bodie knew he was drinking himself into a hangover, was doing it willingly.

Bodie looked up as his lover whispered the endearment, watched the tears spill from the green eyes and frowned. "Ray? Pet, what's the matter?"

"Nothing, I just love you," Doyle said, putting his own nip of brandy down untouched. He climbed up on top of Bodie, pressing him down into the pillows, and kissed him deeply for a long time. Bodie was too weary for desire to stir again; he just opened to the kiss and held still while Ray possessed his mouth until they were both suffocating and drowsy.

The brandy bottle was almost empty and Bodie was nearer drunk than sober, going out quickly as the alcohol got into his blood. He was asleep while Doyle watched, aware that he was standing a vigil. By the chrono on Bodie's left wrist it was still only eleven. How long before it happened again? He prayed that the brandy would be enough to see him though it, not only for Bodie's sake but for his own...

Sharing a bed with a violent, angry stranger was not a prospect he relished. The stranger did not love him; there would be no lovemaking, just sex, and even though he knew his body was not so virginal as to be really hurt now, the thought of a loveless, joyless coupling did not appeal to him. He hadn't married Bodie for that.

He saw one o'clock slide around on Bodie's chrono, and then drifted into sleep himself, worn ragged by the fretting and cuddling his lover in a mute, vain attempt to protect him from himself. At four, Bodie began to thrash around, muttering, cursing, his hands clutching at Doyle, bruising, but he did not wake. He fought for an hour, tangling the bedding, drenching the sheets in perspiration, and by five, when he finally stilled, Ray was exhausted, ready to fall into a deep, oblivious sleep, sure that hours would go by before it happened again.

Sunlight streamed into the room through cracks between curtains and frame, waking Doyle a few moments before he would have woken to the sounds from the adjoining bathroom. He rolled over in the empty bed, aware that the air was cold, the hearth dead, and that Bodie was retching helplessly, paying the price for the brandy. Ray slid out of bed, pulling the quilt off it and wrapping himself in it as he padded into the bathroom. Bodie was on his knees by the plaster-white toilet bowl, flushed and feverish, and holding his head. He was shivering in the cold, and Doyle paused only to fetch a towel, the facecloth and a glass of water from the handbasin before kneeling beside him and twitching the quilt about them both.

"You should have woken me," he murmured as he held Bodie's head. "Don't martyr yourself, love!" For a while Bodie just emptied out the sour contents of his stomach, then he let Doyle bring the glass to his lips; he rinsed out his mouth, swallowed a few times and sat back, leaning heavily against his lover. He was trembling from head to foot from the sickness and Doyle cursed himself. "I should have had more sense. Should've got you some sleeping pills instead of the brandy. Problem is, I haven't a clue where there's a doctor here." He combed through Bodie's tousled hair with careful fingers. "We'll get some before we leave here, okay? Bodie?"

"Okay," Bodie muffled. It hurt to talk. It hurt just to breathe, and until Ray had arrived he'd wished he was dead. He still had the impression that he'd be far, far happier if he was dead, but Doyle's warmth and solidarity made it bearable. He leaned back, closing his eyes, and felt the drowsiness rise again. He could go back to sleep right there without any difficulties.

"Want to go back to bed?" Ray asked softly. "It's only seven, you can sleep for a couple of hours. I'll go and see what I can find for you - Alkaseltzers or something. Reckon you can keep down some fruit juice?"

"No, not yet." Bodie gave Doyle his arm, grateful to be lifted to his feet and steered back to bed. He lay with eyes slitted, watching Doyle stir the fire back to life, adding kindling. When it was burning fiercely, he reached for his clothes, dressing quickly.

"Cold," Ray said, rubbing his arms. "I'd better get us some clothes too, we're going to freeze dressed like this." He stood at the foot of the bed, peering at Bodie in the firelight. "Christ, I'm so sorry. I'm scared of the stranger and you pay the penalties."

"Shurrup, Ray," Bodie slurred. "Doesn't matter a damn."

But it did, and Doyle was punishing himself as he left the room in search of the hotel staff. What was the worst that could happen, if he did have to share a bed with the stranger who wore Bodie's face? He would be screwed, hard, quickly, perhaps repeatedly. Providing he made sure he was oily, slippery, Bodie wouldn't hurt him. He knew how to relax, all he had to do was lie there with his face in the pillows, try and stay on his knees to make it easier, and wait for Bodie to be so exhausted he knocked himself out. Perhaps he would be a little sore afterward, but surely that was all that could happen. And better that than the torture Bodie was going though now.

The manger blinked at him owlishly over the rim of a coffee cup as he asked where he could find a doctor, and two minutes later he was out of the building and walking up the deserted street toward the pavilions where the Templars were encamped. He smelt food cooking there and realised how hungry he was. Time for breakfast later. He was hugging himself in the cold and as he passed a camping shop he checked, going back to look at the supplies hung up in the window, Bodie's imagination was through; there was every imaginable item, and he ducked into the shop to spend a lot of money. For himself, a brown leather jacket, a grey wool cap, and hiking boots, heavy socks and gloves. For Bodie, a fleecy-lined parka, boots, socks and a khaki wool cap. He watched the shopkeeper parcel most of the stuff up, pulling on the brown leather, and told him that he'd pick the rest up on his way back.

Warm, he hurried toward the encampment, his breath pluming in the air, and as he grew closer the smelt the horses. Big animals, dozens of them, stabled in an open-fronted structure, fetlock deep in straw, their noses buried in buckets of oats. A lad was working there, shovelling manure into a barrow, and Doyle hailed him.

"Morning, son, I'm looking for a doctor."

"That way, sir," the lad said, pointing to a red pavilion a little apart from the rest. "Doctor Germaine is in camp."

Doyle winked at the lad in thanks, stuffed his hands into the pockets of the new jacket, and headed for the red canvas enclosure. At the open flap he paused, peering into the dimness to see a burly, middle aged man sitting at a wooden table, eating eggs. "Doctor?" The man looked up at him and he pressed on, "my mate's sick, I need some pills and things, if you've got 'em."

"Sick? How sick?" Germine asked, getting to his feet and gathering his black robe about himself.

Sicker than you know, Doyle thought grimly. "Sick in the stomach," he said. "Something he ate, maybe. Or it could be gastric flu. It's not as bad as all that, just enough to make him feel like death warmed up. Have you got anything I give him?"

Germaine nodded indifferently. "I expect so. Seltzer, aspirin."

"Sleeping pills?" Doyle asked hopefully. "He's sleeping badly."

He collected a small carry bag, noting without humour that it was plastic, entirely incongruous in this place. He nodded his thanks to the doctor, left a few bills on the table and hurried out into the cold morning.

Bodie was awake as he shut the door, and he shook out the clothes he had bought. "That'll keep you warm, mate," he smiled, displaying the jacket. "It cost you a bloody fortune." Then he went into the bathroom for water and dropped the fizzing tablets into the glass. Bodie sat up, holding his head, and drank the bitter liquid before the powder could settle. He still looked pinched about the nose and mouth, but he was well enough to play at making faces at the taste of the medication, and to nod in agreement as Ray displayed the packet of prescription sleeping pills. "Barbiturates," Doyle warned. "Not to drink anything alcoholic while you're taking these; you could kill yourself. What about breakfast? No? Orange juice, then?" As Bodie nodded he reached for the phone, ordering orange juice and black coffee for his lover, and toast and cereal for himself.

As he ate and watched Bodie sip the cold fruit juice, he asked, "how far do we go today?"

"As far as Dawson," Bodie told him quietly, as if it hurt to talk. "We'll be there late this afternoon. We'll get into Whitehorse tomorrow."

"Up in the snow country." Doyle grinned. "The Helway goes straight up from here on. It's going to get bloody cold, mate."

"Yeah," Bodie agreed. "And dangerous. The snow will make the road a deathtrap. So you're driving. If I black out behind the wheel again, I could kill us."

"Okay," Doyle nodded. "But... Bodie, if I'm driving and you get an attack... You - he won't like it. He'll want to drive."

The blue eyes met his very levelly. "Don't let him," Bodie said softly. "Do what you have to do to stop him. He's too dangerous."

Doyle swallowed. "I might have to hit you."

"So hit me."

"You don't understand. I might have to hurt you."

"So bloody well hurt me," Bodie said dismissively. "You put down that clown Sinclaire, you can put me away. Do as we said, tie me up till it's over. You... You might have to." He looked away. "Ray, it'll happen again this morning, so watch yourself."

"I will," Doyle whispered. "I'll do the best I can, I promise."

From somewhere Bodie found a smile, small, ragged, breaking Ray's heart. "I know you will. Look, we'll be in Whitehorse tomorrow, and if the weather holds we'll see Odinspeak three days after that. You said it, love: let's see Thorkill go up against the pair of us! Nobody ever went up against the pair of us and won, Ray. We'll take him, then we shove off home."

"Right." Doyle forced a smile and checked the time. "You well enough to get moving now? If we're going to climb into the snow we're going to make slower time now."

It took an hour to get Bodie into the car, fill the tank at the last station in Anduku where a black mechanic with a reeking cigar went in under the bonnet, filled up the oil and added antifreeze to the radiator, and then Doyle was putting his foot to the floor and the black tarmac surface of the Helway was rushing by again.

It got cold quickly and they drove with the windows up and the heater on; the roasting motor heated the car to tolerable levels and Bodie slept for over and hour before the cursing and growling began in his sleep. Ray stiffened and the order, when it came, was no surprise. "Pull over, Doyle."

"Why?" he asked levelly, and held his breath.

"I said bloody pull over! Don't you dare argue with me!"

Was there any chance that he could reason with the stranger? It was worth a try. "You blacked out yesterday," he said carefully. "If you do that again you could crash the car."

"You little liar," Bodie snarled. "You aching for a strapping? S'what you'll get if you don't mind your bloody mouth! Now pull over!"

Doyle's heart sank. He put his foot on the brake and pulled in at the side of the road, cranked the handbrake on and turned off the motor. Very deliberately he slid out of the car and closed the door. How the hell did he take Bodie? He had wrestled and sparred with him in the gym often enough to know how deadly he could be. There was a way, but he had to be careful, and his heart thundered in his chest as he did it.

As Bodie approached he stepped back from the car door, just out of his partner's peripheral vision, and he dropped a measured, calculated blow on his jaw, right at the juncture of jaw and ear, just hard enough to knock him into unconsciousness, but not hard enough to keep him out for long. There was a rope in the back, attached to Bodie's haversack, and he searched it out quickly, tying him securely, hand and foot.

He should have gagged him too, he guessed, but could not bring himself to; as he manhandled Bodie back into the car, shoving him into the back out of harm's way, he came to, and the invective flowed freely from his lips. He called Ray everything he could lay tongue to, from imbecile to catamite, from whore to half wit, and Doyle tried to close his ears, hearing the fury, Bodie's voice getting huskier and huskier as the tirade went on. At last it stopped, the insults lapsing into quiet, and there was only ragged breathing and moaning for some time before Bodie said quietly, "Ray, I'm hurting, help me."

Tyres whistled on the road as Doyle pulled up fast, and his fingers were clumsy on the rope as he released Bodie's numb limbs. The car was parked in alpine country, the sun struck arcs of brilliance off high snow all about them and the air was crisp and clean, stinging their sinuses as they got out for Bodie to stretch.

"Okay?" Ray asked hesitantly. "I've given you a lovely bruise. Got a headache, love? God, I'm sorry."

"Don't be," Bodie smiled, and caught Doyle against him to kiss his mouth. "Took me for longer," he said against the soft curls "Getting longer every time, isn't it?" Then he drew back. "Know what you're going to do?"

"What?" Ray asked, holding on tight.

"You're going to tie me up before it start this afternoon."

"But, Bodie - "

"Come on, Ray, be logical. You know it's going to happen, why wait till it starts and then have to hit me? If you hit me much more I'm going to get concussion, and they're going to be accusing you of beating up your bondmate! Can't have that, can we?"

"I suppose not," Ray sighed. "I hate this, Bodie; just so you know. And I'm going to love you twice as much tonight, promise."

Bodie looked like death, but he managed a smile. "Are you? That's worth getting tied up for an hour for, pet. Going to screw me now?"

But Ray shook his head, watching Bodie massage his temples and wishing there was something he could do for him. "No, not yet. Later, when all this is sorted out, when it's safe... How about some pain killers? Or do you feel sick again?"

"S'just dizziness and a headache," Bodie said.

"And you're feverish," Doyle added. "Back in the car, before you catch cold. And a rug around you."

Swathed in one of the tartan rugs, head back against the rest, Bodie felt better and cast a sidelong glance at Doyle. "So what are you going to do with me tonight?

The car started promptly, as the engine was still roasting under the silver bonnet. Doyle gave Bodie a smile that began as a cheeky expression and became tender as he saw how ill Bodie really was. "I'm going to eat you alive," he promised. "I haven't tasted you as you come yet, and I want to do that."

"Gorgeous, sexy little menace," Bodie murmured, and held out one hand; Ray took it, and he kissed the long, slender fingers. "You did well, love. Put me down without busting me in two. But you won't get the drop on him again, and..." He bit his lip. "He's going to have it in for you now, you realise that? Next time he could take it out on you."

"I know," Doyle said thoughtfully. "But we've got the barbiturates for tonight. It'll be okay."

Will it? Bodie thought, and a shudder ran through him as, just for a moment he pictured himself coming to after a blackout and finding Doyle's dead body on the ground, strangled, or shot, or knifed in a stranger's rage. He hugged himself for a moment, then reached into the glove box to bring out the loaded 9mm Browning automatic, handing it to Ray as the car got moving. "Here, take this."

Doyle took it without a word, putting it into his pocket, eyes on the road. "Running into bandit country, are we?" he asked mildly.

"Don't be thick, Ray," Bodie pleaded. "He could kill you." He held up his hands. "He could kill you with these."

"No," Ray said softly, "I don't believe that. He's still in your body, isn't he? That means you control him the way he thinks he controls everything in this place. That's what makes him angry, Bodie, when something happens that he doesn't control. That's why he's wary of me, because he knows he's really only being... humoured." For a moment Ray frowned; the time was right for him to come straight out with it, tell Bodie the truth. 'This isn't real anyway, you know; it's just a fantasy, your fantasy, and everything that happens here, with the exception of what your stranger does, is all up to you.' He took a breath to say it and couldn't. Bodie's eyes had fallen shut, he looked ill and weak, and more confusion he could do without. Doyle sighed heavily, setting the time of the reckoning aside for later.

"You've got the gun," Bodie slurred, on the brink of sleep. "You bloody well use it. No sense in both of us taking the high dive - I'm done for anyway." He was asleep as he spoke the last words.

The automatic was solid in Doyle's pocket, never letting him forget it was there, and depression weighed heavily on him as he drove; the Helway was steep now, and by noon the first powdering of snow obscured the black tarmac. He cut speed, taking the bends carefully, and drove until Bodie began to stir naturally before looking at the time. It was after one, and the road was now deep under snow. Bodie stretched and yawned, looking better and clearly feeling better, because he leaned over to kiss Doyle's left cheek as he tossed the rug back over the seat. "We'll have to put the chains on soon," he said. "On the wheels, I mean, not on me, though I'll admit, chains are starting to look like a viable proposition."

"Not to me," Ray said fiercely. "Don't make jokes like that, Bodie, it isn't funny. Looking for somewhere to get a meal, now. Anywhere up ahead? You've got the map?"

"Yeah, there's a transport caff somewhere up here," Bodie yawned. "The pilgrims use it a lot, so there'll be Templars; don't get too many trucks out this way, because the passes are so bad. Whitehorse gets its stuff brought by truck one a month, that's about the lot. You've made damned good time. We'll be in Dawson by dusk at this rate."

"Going to be slower from here on," Ray said doubtfully. "Christ, look at the snow. Good thing the sky's clear."

The sky was high and blue; under other circumstances it would have been wonderful cold-holiday weather... An afternoon trying not to get a broken leg on the ski slopes, then back to a four course meal, social drinking with the crowd in the club room, up to bed for a long, slow session on a down quilt, sleep late, eat an enormous breakfast, and repeat the whole pantomime ad infinitum, or as long as you could manage to stay off work. Doyle smiled at the image. It would be fun to do that, one day. He had his sunglasses on and was still squinting against the brightness of sun on snow as he saw the transport café appear around a bend. The sign over the big windows read 'Sixty Mile,' which he was certain was a place out of Jack London's book, but it no longer mattered. It was cold, he was hungry and they would need the chains on soon, or the car would be useless... Bodie's fantasies were nothing if not thorough. And could they be deadly? Doyle had the oddest impression that yes, they could. People died here; people got hurt.

A mechanic in red coveralls with a deerstalker cap pulled down over his ears fitted their chains while they ate greasy bacon and eggs and got warm; the café's windows were steamed up with the condensing breaths of its patrons. There were three groups beside Bodie and Doyle: a band of Templars and their pilgrims, dog men, in stained, reeking leathers, and three tall, slender men clad in white leathers and silver jewellery, whose pointed ears peeked from masses of curly hair.

Tall elves, Ray thought, and grinned; only now did he notice how much like them he was himself, and Bodie had dressed him in white leathers too. Slight and curly haired, he could pass as one of them, if he had to, and he kept that in mind, fingering the roundness of his own ears. Bodie saw what he was doing and laughed into his tea. "Yeah, you do look like one of their people, so watch yourself after we get into the killing fields. Tall elves are great warriors; if scouts from Hel see you, you'll be fighting, and I... I can't promise to be much use to you. They're always on the lookout for the likes of them. They fight well, and they're beautiful, and they're not very big, so you get a great fight but the elves always lose, and when they go down, they... Well. You know."

"Pit fighting, you told me," Doyle nodded, remembering what Bodie had said about the brother of his former lover, Mark Tessier, who had been taken by the riders and brought out of Hel raving. There was much in Bodie's subconscious that was dark and strange, he thought; there had to be some basis for that particular quirk of invention - an actual event. He thought back to the stories he'd heard, books he'd read, thinking of Wilbur Smith's Dark Of The Sun. Bodie had doubtlessly been in many an encounter that was like that. Dark, terrible, horrifying - hence, the way his subconscious worked. He finished his tea, looking at the elves.

They were beautiful; he recognised his own eyes on one of them, his nose on another, and their hands were very like his own. Looking at them, he saw what Bodie thought he looked like and was fascinated. Slim, wide shouldered, narrow hipped, all bone and muscle, and honey brown with long hair curling about the fine, strong neck and eyes as green as emeralds. Is that what Bodie saw, what he liked, what he was in love with? Ray gave his spouse a smile, reached across the table for his hand and squeezed it.

"What's that for?" Bodie asked, surprised but pleased at the gesture.

"Nothing. Just trying to tell you I love you, and how gorgeous you are. Best looking bloke in this place, that's you."

"Thanks for the lie," Bodie laughed. "Got a kiss for me?"

"Here?" Ray asked, a little high pitched.

"Nobody cares, I keep telling you," Bodie grinned, leaning across the table. "One for the road, then let's get going."

Fine by me, Doyle thought wryly, and leaned forward, opening his mouth to Bodie's searching tongue. Christ, it felt weird to do this. This truck stop could have been on a British motorway, right down to the battered plastic furniture, and here he was, kissing the man he had married across the table while a dozen others looked on indifferently. But it felt wonderful, and he returned the kiss with gusto until Bodie drew back and laughed, sucking his lips.

"So let's get going," Ray said, winking at him as he got to his feet. "You've had your one for the road."

"And one like that's worth three ordinary ones," Bodie quipped, following his lover out into the sharp cold.

The Capri was filthy and looking battered, its wheels chained for traction in the high country, and looked incongruous parked between a dog sled with sleeping huskies and the Templar's horses. Ray gave the dogs a curious look: he had never done anything remotely like this before, and irrespective of what tricks Bodie's mind was playing on him, he was sure Bodie hadn't either. Still, how difficult could it be, with well trained dogs and a trustworthy map? Bodie had done the SAS course, and he had done survival courses first with the police and then with CI5, and if you could survive Brian Macklin's idea of a jaunt in the country you were ready to take on a rematch with the Argentine single handed.

Again, the Helway went up, and the higher they climbed the colder it got, the more treacherous the conditions. Doyle drove with care and Bodie consulted the map often. He was chipper enough now, whistling and often reaching over to stroke or pat as he felt like it, but he had one eye on the time too, and just after three thirty he said, "time, Ray."

Lost in thought, Doyle did not at first catch on to the meaning. "Huh?"

"I said, it's time. It's getting late. Pull up and do it," Bodie said quietly. "Come on, pet, I don't want to get hurt, and I don't want to hurt you. Let's do this the logical way."

The care rolled to a halt and Doyle left it in gear, turning it off, to hold it on the slope. They looked levelly at one another for a few moments, and Bodie saw the tears that were glittering in his lover's eyes. Doyle was bursting to say something important, but as long as they were silent, and he had the opportunity to say it, he couldn't, or wouldn't. Bodie sighed, getting out of the car into the ferocious cold; when Ray wanted it said, he would say it, but Bodie thought he knew what it must be. He was going to go, he was sure. He was getting to the end of his tether and, although the love was absolutely genuine, he couldn't take much more. Bodie did not for a moment blame him; he stood quite still while Ray roped his wrists, then slid onto the back seat, made himself comfortable and watched Doyle's nimble fingers secure his ankles, then loop the rope between hands and feet and draw it tight enough to be safe.

"Are you comfortable?" Doyle asked, kneeling in the footwell, his fingers stroking Bodie's cheek.

"Yeah." Bodie wriggled reassuringly on the seat. "It's okay, and this way's much better. Don't fret, love."

"Okay," Doyle whispered, clearly hating this, and he bent to kiss Bodie's mouth long and gently. "Maybe you can sleep? I you want anything, just say so and I'll pull up."

"Pet, I'm all right," Bodie smiled. "I'm comfortable, I'm warm, and I'm looking forward to being sucked off by the most beautiful mouth I've ever seen. But we need to get to Dawson before that happens, and we never will unless you drive. Skeedaddle, Ray, and get moving."

Doyle found a smile, kissed his nose and slid out of the back. A moment later the engine restarted, and he talked over his shoulder to Bodie, keeping an aimless conversation running for the sake of keeping contact between them. Gradually, Bodie's answers became shorter, sharper, his voice becoming hard and brittle; then, the demand to be let loose, the verbal punishment for the morning's well placed blow, the tying up. Foul mouthed and furious, he roasted Doyle within an inch of his life, ugly words that damned his ancestors, called his mother a tramp, called him an unlovely effeminate who thought with his balls and didn't know how to tell the truth.

It was frightening; and it was worse this time. Bodie was storing up grievances now, and Doyle shuddered as he imagined the reckoning, if Bodie ever came down with an attack and was loose to exact vengeance. So be careful, he told himself bleakly. He won't thank you for being soft hearted and letting him black your eye or break your arm! The cursing went on into the dusk, while he watched for the lights of Dawson, and then he heard a sharp, indrawn breath and knew Bodie had passed out. It was dim as he pulled the Capri to a halt, ducked out and around and slid into the back to yank the ropes loose. Bodie was out cold, head lolling loosely; it was over. Ray looked at the time; it was almost six. Two hours. Each time it was longer, and worse. He sighed, counting the days until they would reach the mountain, the make-or-break confrontation. Death of glory - but, one way or the other, it would be over.

The lights of the settlement stabbed through the gloom before seven, and he saw the only hotel; it was big, rambling, shabby, one neon sign alight, several letters on the blink. It was called the Yukon Kate, and he wondered vaguely if they would accept the South African Rands he was carrying, all the money they had. If not, he could find a money changer - perhaps the Templars would change the money. After all, it was their sole function to help travellers in these mountains.

Bodie came awake as the engine stopped, stretched, yawned and blinked owlishly at the neon overhead. "We're here," he said huskily.

"Nothing wrong with your eyesight," Doyle grinned. "Come on, let's get a room. You may have slept like a log for ages but I'm tried. Also hungry and cold."

"Poor flower," Bodie said, half-mock, half-genuine. "Been tough on you, hasn't it?"

"Some of it," Doyle admitted. "It has its moments."

The service here was nothing special, but the food, rough and coarse as it was, was plentiful and hot. They ate at the bar, meat loaf, cabbage and jacket potatoes, suet pudding and beer, an unlikely mixture, but anything would have done to fill the hollows in their innards; then Doyle had a keyring in his hand and was motioning Bodie toward the stairs. At the bottom, a Templar barred their way. He was clad in white, a robe overlaying chain mail, a dark blue cloak on top of that, and he was looking at them warily.

"Problem?" Doyle asked tiredly. "We're travellers, you're here to serve, aren't you?"

"Not to serve profligates and wastrels," the man said. He was tall, dark, with low brows and intense brown eyes, his hair long, swept back off a high, corrugated forehead.

"Profligates and - " Doyle blinked. "Cut the crap, we're married. He's my bondmate, for God's sake. Want to see the licence?" He dug out the sheet of paper and waved it in the man's face. "Satisfied?"

The apology was forthcoming immediately, but Doyle waved it aside, shepherding his lover up the stairs. The Templar watched them go, trying one last time. "My name is Percival, sir. I am grieved to have insulted you, sir! I meant no disrespect. If I can be of assistance in future..."

"Yeah, yeah, thanks a whole bunch," Ray said, not looking back as he turned left at the top of the stairs. "That way, Bodie, best room in the house, for what it's worth. Won't be anything outstanding, going by the rest of the joint, but it's the best we can do."

There was a hot tub, at least, a big, timber thing with laid-in plumbing, and Bodie filled it as they prowled around the room. The walls were stained timber, the hearth polished black iron with jewel green tiles, the bed big and wide with a feather mattress and overstuffed pillows. The rest of the facilities were very basic, and they knew they had to be grateful for plumbing at all, and electricity.

They slid into the bath and let the hot water coax the aches from muscles that were sore and protesting, and Doyle gratefully let Bodie soap his back, wash his hair and kiss him until the water began to cool. The towels were army standard, and threadbare at that, but they scrubbed at each other, tickling and laughing, until they were dry and wrestling on the brown fur rug in front of the fire. Doyle propped himself on one elbow, looking down at Bodie and remembering the little scene with the Templar at the foot of the stairs... He had spoken without thinking, without a moment's selfconsciousness. We're married, he's my bondmate, for God's sake... For better or for worse, and all that gibberish. He leaned down to kiss Bodie's nose.

"All comfy, are you? You're toasting in front of the fire."

"Nice to be warm for a change," Bodie grinned, catching the smaller man's head and winding his fingers into the damp curls. "Going to let your hair grow for me, aren't you?"

"Why not?" Doyle smiled. "You're the one who's got to look at this bird's nest anyway, not me." He pushed Bodie's shoulders down onto the rug and lay on top of him, and as his weight settled down he felt Bodie's growing erection at his groin. "You're eager."

"Ready, willing and able," Bodie agreed. "I seem to remember something about being sucked. Or is memory playing tricks on me?"

Doyle bit his ear, none too gently. "Your memory's playing all sorts of circus tricks, mate, but not about that. I did promise." He paused and had to smile. "I've never done this before, you know, so be patient."

The blue eyes were very dark on him. "For you, I'd forgive a thousand sins. You know that. Look, if you don't want to, you don't have to. No law says you have to do that until you're good and ready."

"I'm good and ready," Ray said wickedly, "so bite your lip or hold your breath, or whatever it is you do, because I'm going to kiss you where you're tenderest, and keep on kissing you till you can't think straight. Ready?"

Bodie was already out of breath at the words, and just nodded. Doyle chuckled at the look on his face, a mixture of dread and delight, and then he put his head down and began to lick and kiss over his lover's chest. He had sucked Bodie before, but never until he came. He had felt the long gushes of hot liquid stream into his body just three times, now he wanted to know the sensations with his mouth, wanted to taste the thick life's essences as Bodie tumbled over the edge of control.

He took it very slow, avoiding the throbbing cock for as long as he could, until Bodie was whimpering for it; he had his head on Bodie's belly, looking at the dark, engorged shaft in fascination. When he blew on it, it gave an answering twitch, and when he flicked out his tongue, caressing the hot velvet of the head, Bodie groaned and writhed beneath him. Doyle came to his knees, pushing Bodie's legs apart and kneeling between his thighs. It would be like this if he was going to make love to him properly, and he took the time to look, lifting his lover's knees to expose him, drawing a finger over the pucker of muscle. Ray knew well enough what that felt like, and smiled when Bodie bucked helplessly, wanting so much more.

"Keep still," he said breathlessly, and Bodie tried hard to obey as he watched through slitted eyes; Doyle lowered himself onto his elbows, propped on the white thighs, and cupped his hands, cradle fashion, about the straining genitals. There was the coarse brush of stubble from his chin, the draught of his breath, then a streamer of lighting as he licked along the shaft from base to head and back again. Bodie tried to lift his hips, fingers clenching in the still damp curls to urge Ray's head down, but Doyle would not be hurried. He licked his way through a thorough reconnaissance, satisfying every curiosity about taste, texture, form, until Bodie couldn't breathe to moan, and only then would he drop his lips over the head and slowly take the straining cock into his throat. Linda Lovelace aside, there was no was he could take Bodie in entirely without choking himself, but Bodie did not notice as that searching tongue was wriggling around the foreskin, doing unimaginable things to his nerves. He felt hot, felt cold, tingling, feverish, as his senses overloaded, and climax rushed over him like an avalanche as he yelped in surprise and delight as Doyle worked one hand under his left leg and slid a slick finger into him. Holding back one second longer was impossible.

As Bodie tensed, Doyle lifted his head, flickering his tongue over the blunt tip, lips locked about the pulsing head and pulling, urging. Blindly, with feather light fingers, he felt the drawing up of the balls beneath the tortured shaft and knew Bodie was about to come. He sucked in a breath and relaxed, waiting for it, and when it came the gush of scalding semen was shocking, filling his throat. He had just enough time to swallow before the second outpouring, and the taste of Bodie overwhelmed him, six long streams of heat, once tasted, never forgotten. Bodie's musk was strong in his nose and it was all he could do not to come himself as his lover bucked and writhed, slowly calming and dragging air into his lungs.

There was an ache in Doyle's groin that spread up into his chest and down into his knees, and he was panting like a broken winded horse as he rolled Bodie over onto his side and slid up behind him, nudging himself in between the shaking thighs. Bodie tensed, for a second sure Ray was going to enter him, but as far gone as he was, Doyle was not ready to do that yet. He slid in between the clenched buttocks, rubbing his own aching cock there and not needing very much to tumble right over the edge himself, arms clutching Bodie's trembling body convulsively.

They clung together for a long time, floating somewhere between sleeping and waking, hot and sticky, so close to the fire, oblivious to the trammels of this world, cocooned in exhausted contentment. Bodie turned over in Doyle's arms, wanting to kiss him, tasting himself there as Ray's swollen lips opened. There was no need to tell him how much he loved him, but he felt like it so said it anyway, and Doyle responded with a kittenish purr, pressing close.

"Sleep for a bit, Bodie," he whispered, close by Bodie's ear, "then I want you inside me again."

"If I can get it up at all," Bodie said drily.

"Oh, don't give me that," Doyle scoffed. "You're bloody insatiable, I know you."

"Maybe when I was a kid," Bodie sighed. "I grew up, Ray."

"Still, I want you in me," Doyle said firmly. "Trying to be logical, you see. If you do it twice now, maybe you won't be able to..." He let the thought trail into silence, unable to say it.

Bodie did not need to hear it to know what he meant. "Maybe I won't be able to do it later, when he puts in an appearance," he finished. "You may be right. Logical little twerp."

Now that it had been said, Doyle felt better. "Also, if there's plenty of you in me I'll be slick as I don't know what, and even if he does do me it won't matter much, really, will it?"

"Optimist," Bodie accused, not sharing Ray's feelings. But he was right, and an hour later, when they woke again he pulled his bondmate onto his left side, cuddled into his back and, with wonderful control afforded by their earlier loving, made it last a long time. They dozed again, and it was midnight when they woke, stiff and ready to transfer to the feather mattress. Bodie watched Ray mop sketchily at his legs, not doing much of a clean up job at all, as intended, and went through the pockets of the brown leather jacket, finding the plastic bottle of barbiturates. "Two?" he wondered aloud. "Or three, to be on the safe side?"

"Two," Doyle said. "Those things are dangerous."

"I'm dangerous," Bodie said ruefully. "Okay, two. Can always take three tomorrow night if..." He averted his eyes, unable to say it. He had swallowed the tablets when Doyle orbited the bed and came to embrace him.

"Hey," the low, husky voice told him, "It'll be okay. I know it will."

"Will it?" Bodie murmured, and slid into bed as the covers were held open in invitation. Doyle's trust terrified him, and if he had known how to pray he would have entreated whatever god would listen for aid. As it was, the barbiturates hit his system and he went out quickly, not even dreaming.

As the larger, warmer body went limp beside him, Doyle weighed his choices. The most intelligent thing to do was to slip out of bed right then, and disappear, and not come back until at least five in the morning, when, if the rhythm of the insanities held true to form, it would be over, and Bodie would be ill. Twice, he was on the point of leaving, and twice, love and foolishness stopped him. Bodie whimpered in his sleep, his face crumpling like a child about to cry, and he looked, sounded so lost and hurt that sentiment and foolishness won out, and Doyle stayed, hoping for the best.

At four, he knew he'd made a big mistake. He had slept for a few hours himself and was dead asleep when he felt the vise-grip of careless hands on him. He struggled up out of the dream, threshing about, but had not fully wakened when a blow cuffed his ear, stunning him. His head was ringing and he went down in a heap on the pillows, vaguely aware that the quilt and blankets were being wrenched off him, and he fought his swimming senses, coming to with a jerk as teeth fastened onto his left nipple and bit down. He yelped a protest and squirmed, but the teeth tightened, pain ripped through him, and he lay still in a cold sweat.

Fingers wound into his hair, too tight for comfort, jerking his head around toward a kiss, and he sealed his lips, trying to keep the stranger out. Bites parted them, he tasted blood and moaned as he opened to a ravishing of his mouth that was hard and endless. His breast hurt, he guessed that he was bleeding there too, and bitter tears scalded his eyes as he pushed against the larger, stronger man. "No! Please God, Bodie, no!"

He was rewarded by another cuff, harder this time, and when he swung his own fist at Bodie's head his wrist was caught and held in steely fingers. "Little bitch," Bodie's voice hissed. "Keep still or I'll feed your balls to you!" An open handed smack stung his cheek, and Doyle froze. It was fight or comply now, and to stop him he'd have to hurt him. Badly. If he could. Suddenly, it did not seem very likely that he could. Bodie seemed bigger, stronger, as if the madness gave him an edge he did not normally possess.

Genitals still sensitive from the evening's loving were handled roughly and he moaned at the pulling, feeling himself squeezed into a hard on he tried to resist. If he squirmed, the hand tightened, hurting, so he kept still, and a moment later he was lifted and thrown down on his face. He fought up to his knees, desperate to make it easy for himself, legs spreading to help, and winced as Bodie's open hand smacked into his buttocks. "Wanton little whore," the stranger accused, assuming that he was hot for it, craving the rough treatment. He left the imprint of his hand, slapped into the white softness, and Doyle shuddered, trying to keep still. When it was over he would pass out, eventually, and he could get out.

Every sense he possessed said run, but if he tried to wrestle his way out it would go badly, he knew, so he took his weight on his knees and held his breath. There was no similarities between the stranger and his lover. This man hammered into him without a moment's preamble, and if Doyle had been dry he would have been torn. As it was, Bodie was still helping him, even now, for he was still slick and moist, and although the pounding set up a dull, steady ache in his abdomen and back there was no tearing pain. Each thrust shoved him into the pillows, almost knocking him off his knees, and he was sobbing for relief before the cock that filled him exploded at last and the stranger who wore a travesty of Bodie's face wrenched away and sprawled onto his back.

Doyle collapsed, shaking like a leaf and not commanding the strength he needed to get out while Bodie's body was sated and useless. By the time he could order his limbs again and try to slide out of bed it was too late; steel hard fingers had him by the arms and he squeezed his eyes shut, knowing it was going to happen again, not knowing if he could take it.

It was quicker this time, frenzied, brutal, and the stranger went out in a dead faint as soon as he had withdrawn from Doyle's aching body. For a long time Ray just lay there on the wet, crumpled bedding, and wept. He hated himself for the tears but guessed that they were the only safety valve he had - shock. He hurt from head to foot and knew he had to take care of himself. Bodie's body was like a corpse in the other side of the bed and slid out of the mess of sheets and blankets, feeling the cooling gush down his legs. Blood? He didn't think so, but had to check. He limped into the bathroom and flicked on the light, closing the door. There was just the faintest trace of pinkness among the sticky emissions, and for that he was grateful. He ran a little cold water into the bath and cleaned himself slowly, sniffing on swollen sinuses. His head ached with the cuffs, his backside stung from the slaps, and his whole abdomen and back throbbed while his genitals felt bruised and his anus was so sore he wondered how in hell he was ever going to drive tomorrow.

A doctor, he thought miserably. Got to get something to put on it, could get an infection, get really sick. He limped out of the bathroom and dressed stiffly, feeling sick and ill as he looked at the bed, looked at Bodie, whose face was still hard and cruel, even in sleep. He padded to the bedside, his boots in his hands, and looked down at his lover through a mist of tears. "S'not your fault," he murmured. "I know it isn't your fault, s'not you, it's him. But Christ, Bodie, this is your fantasy, why did you make him do that to me? Why did you want him to rape me? What have I ever done to you to make you want that?"

There was no answer that he could think of and he pulled on the boots, leaving the room blindly, with little idea of where he was going. He limped down the stairs into the friendly warmth of the silent, nearly empty lounge, moving like an old man and oblivious to his company until a familiar voice said, "sir? Sir, are you ill? Let me help, sir."

He looked up, knowing how red his eyes were; it was Percival, the Templar who had been so sorry to have insulted him. "I'm ill," he lied, "I need a doctor. Healer, physician. One round here?"

Percival shook his head. "No, sir, not in this town. But one of the travellers whom we are escorting is an alchemist of sorts, clever with the herbs and talismans, he might be able to help. Sir, what's your ailment? Can I help?"

Oh, nothing much, I've just been raped, Doyle thought foggily, but he shook his head. "Gut trouble. Something I ate. Where's the healer?"

"This way, sir." Percival slipped one strong arm about Doyle's sagging shoulders, propping him up. "Sir, you're hurting."

"A lot," Ray admitted, grateful for the assistance as the Templar propelled him toward the back of the inn, to one of the cheap rooms, dark and smoky and hot with a blazing fire. Feverish, he felt nausea come up into his chest and fought it down.

"We're here." Percival's knuckles rapped sharply on a black wood door, and there were the sounds of footsteps from within. "Shall I stay with you, sir? What about your bondmate, shall I fetch him?"

"He's sicker than I am," Doyle said honestly. "He needs his rest... Thanks, Percival, I appreciate it. I'll be okay now, really." As he spoke the door opened and he saw two bright eyes glittering at him from beneath a busy white fringe, the rest of the face obscured by an even bushier white beard. "You're a healer?" he asked as Percival drew away.

The old man pulled at his beard. "In a manner of speaking. And you are ill, aren't you? Come in, boy, and rest. Tell me what ails you."

"Gut trouble," Doyle lied, shepherded into the room and sinking down into an old fashioned winged chair by the hearth. Instinctively, he trusted the old man implicitly - with his health, with his life, and he peered at him, recognising what he saw with a groan. He wore a long black robe that swirled about his limbs, and for all his age he was tall and still strong. "You're..." He reached for the name, found it. "You're Gandalf," he whispered.

"Ah, you know me." The magician sat down on the arm of the chair, one palm on Doyle's feverish brown. "Tell me the truth, boy."

So Doyle told him. Everything. When he started it was not easy to talk, but after he had stumbled awkwardly over the rape the rest came easily and he rambled on about Bodie, about the drugs that had been shot into him, his madness, the fact that this whole world was a composite from books he had read. Gandalf smiled benignly and shrugged. "All worlds are composed from someone's memory, my boy. Even the real one," he said cryptically. "It is of no matter... You wish to escape from your mate?"

"I want to make him well," Doyle said wearily, closing his eyes to disguise the tears that glistened on his lashes. "I just don't know how. I think I'll have to leave him, soon. I... I can't take it, in bed." He flushed darkly, grateful for the firelight that covered the blush. "I know it's only simple rape, really, but... I can't take it. If he rapes me again I'll run, I know I will. And I'll hate myself and worry for him, but I'll still run. Too weak to face it." He shifted about in the chair, trying to find some ease from the aches and soreness.

Very gently, the old man stroked his hair. "No, you won't. You'll stay, like a loving fool. You'll take everything he gives you, hurt and love alike, until he kills you, and you'll die blaming yourself for not being able to help him."

The tears leaked from beneath Doyle's closed lashes and he whispered under the crackling of the fire, "help me."

"I will," Gandalf crooned. "I am one of the few who could. You're lucky I am here. Yesterday, you would have missed me."

He got to his feet, leaving the chair, and Doyle watched, blotting at his eyes with his cuff, feeling like a fool for the selfcentered grief. Bless Bodie. Even now, this was his doing, he sent the old man here, to help when he knew his mate was near to the end of his wits. Despite the discomfort and the spectres of the rape, Doyle acknowledged a surge of tenderness as he watched the old man go to his pack, which lay across the foot of an unused bed, and bring back several items.

"Here." Gandalf looped a gold chain about his neck, and suspended from it was an amulet. "It is very old, very precious, very powerful, forged by the elves, your kin, in the time when the rings were abroad and there was danger everywhere. While you wear it, no one can harm you unless your own heart betrays you. Act in savagery, out of greed, and it will turn against you. Such is the elven magic."

Doyle turned the amulet over in his hands; it was engraved with runes, so old that the characters were worn thin. "What else, or will this do?"

"This will keep you safe, even from your mate's stranger," Gandalf said, "but we must help him too. Here." He placed into Ray's palm a tiny object wrapped in a fold of velvet. "It is a Auduin thorn. One prick from its tip, and a man will sleep his rage away. In peace, my boy, trust me."

"I trust you," Doyle murmured, wrapping up the thorn and pocketing it.

"Take care with it, it is a powerful weapon," Gandalf warned. "And lastly, to your own hurts. I have a salve that will heal you by morning, and a draught to ease your pains. Mix the herb with water; it tastes foul but it is a sound tincture... Then sleep. Wear your amulet, keep the thorn to ease your mate's ills, and rest." He stroked Doyle's hair softly. "You will win through, in the end. I am sure of it."

"Sure of it?" Ray repeated, getting his feet under him and swaying with the pain in his head and guts. "We're going to a place called Odinspeak, to fight a man called Thorkill."

The old man frowned deeply. "A dark place, evil, filled with bad airs. Your mate is ill indeed, to send you there in his nightmare."

"Hasn't been a nightmare," Doyle corrected. "It's been nice mostly."

"Aye, mayhap it has," Gandalf sighed, "but the way gets harder from here, and you must take care. Off to bed with you, lad, let the salve and the herbs make you well enough to go on. He needs you, you know."

"I know." Doyle smiled and limped toward the door. He looked back at the tall figure in its black robe, the white hair lit gold by the firelight. "And thanks. I know he sent you to help. He's scared that I'll run out on him, but you're right, I wouldn't." With that admission he fled, wondering whatever Gandalf would think of a man who stayed willingly with someone who had sexually abused him once, and would again if he got the chance.

But he wouldn't get the chance, not now. He let himself into the room quietly; Bodie was dead asleep, and his face was just troubled now - it was over and he would sleep through the illness. Oh, Bodie, why couldn't you send me to Gandalf yesterday? Ray thought sadly, but the answer was obvious... It hadn't come to blows yesterday, the desperation had yet to replace the fretting. He went to the bathroom, undressed and used the salve, feeling the relief almost at once, mixed the tincture and held his breath as he swallowed it. It tasted vile, but as it hit his stomach the aches began to recede and he padded back to the bed, pulling the bedding straight before he slid in between the messy sheets.

The gold of the amulet was warm on his chest; he rubbed at the nipple Bodie had bitten, feeling the crusting of blood, but it no longer hurt and he felt comfortably tired rather than miserably weary, sliding down into the bed and wrapping up in himself, legs folded up into his middle, resting at last.

There was a deep, sound sleep, dreamless and rejuvenating, and when he stirred awake there was no pain at all, just the tickles of feathery caresses on his back and shoulders, and the sound of quiet grief. Bodie was sobbing so softly that he barely heard the ragged breaths, and Ray unfolded from his hibernating-squirrel ball, turning over and finding that the little daylight that got into the room between the closed shutters lit the spilling tears like icicles on Bodie's long, dark lashes.

There was nothing to say for a long time, and they just lay, heads on the same pillow, looking at each other, until Bodie drew away and tried to get out of the bed. Doyle caught him by the arm, pulling him back. "Where are you going, love?"

"Away. Anywhere," Bodie whispered. "You can have the car, half the money. Got to go, Ray. Got to."

Doyle grabbed him bodily and tumbled him down onto the feather mattress, straddling him. "You lovely berk," he said fondly. "I met an old man called Gandalf a few hours ago. Look at his." He fingered the amulet. "Forged by elves as protection when the rings were on the loose, and he gave it to me. There's nothing to worry about now, he can't hurt me. Only you can, running away from me like this."

"Ray?" Bodie reached up to stroke the old, Doyle-warm gold. "Love?"

"You heard me," Ray said gruffly. "He gave me some stuff, took the pain away. I'm not hurt anymore. See here?" He took Bodie's hesitant fingers to the nipple that had been bitten. "Healed, see?"

Bodie cupped both hands about Doyle's neck and drew him down, licking the little peak he had bitten, felt the shudder run through his lover's nerves, felt his own body stir in response. "You're okay," he said, choked. "You're okay, really. You're not hurt." He closed his eyes as Ray stoked his chest and neck. "Christ, I don't know how you can stand to touch me."

"Wasn't you, was him," Ray murmured. "I hate him, Bodie. If I could kill him without hurting you I'd blow his brains across the room. I'm frightened of him, but Gandalf's given me what we both need. All we need, now, is each other, we'll sort it all out." He wriggled as he felt Bodie's hardening cock. "God, you are insatiable. Come on, then. Let's have you."

The blue eyes looked up at him blindly, then Bodie stirred, just turning onto his side and drawing Doyle in close, not surprised to find that he was also as hard; they just rocked together, slowly and gently, a long, slow reaffirmation of love and trust, and then fell asleep in the same sweaty, sticky tangle of arms and legs, sleeping until after nine.

The cold woke them; the hearth was dead and the window was covered with a tracery of ice crystals, beautiful patterns, faerie and elusive. It was too cold to take a bath, but there was hot water, and they washed and shaved together, dressed quickly and shared a kiss before going down the bar in search of breakfast.

"We'll be in Whitehorse by tonight," Bodie said softly as he picked up a bacon sandwich that was going cold while he looked at it. "Perrault might be there already, if he found Van Hise's M-16s fast. The rebels haven't a brain between them, so he might have got lucky." He washed the sandwich down with a draught of tea and made a face.

"Feeling bad?" Ray asked quietly.

"Yeah. Last night was enough to make me blow my own brains across the room." His voice dropped to a whisper only Doyle could possibly hear. "The worst thing is, I can remember everything he does, but at the time there's nothing I can do about him. Christ, Ray, it isn't me."

"I know, I know." Doyle crooned softly, murmuring meaningless words to comfort and reassure as they went out to the car. Bodie dragged his feet, loaded down with depression, remorse, and there was nothing Ray could say to him to make it better. It had happened, and that was that, and but for Gandalf, Doyle would be in pain, and looking forward to being mauled again. And again. He shuddered, wondering what he would have done if Bodie had not sent Gandalf to this backwater tavern last night. But the fact was, Bodie had sent him the means of making it tolerable, and that, Ray was sure, boded fine for he future.

Slowly, as they ploughed on into the frozen wilderness, approaching the timberline, Bodie subsided into sleep, and Doyle let him rest. He was bone weary from the fretting, the illness and the sex. A night like last night would wear any bloke to a nub, Ray thought, managing a smile as he banished the stranger from his memory and thought back to their own lovemaking. There was a need for it now, a hunger for Bodie that was almost painful, and the best part about it was that he knew Bodie felt the same.

At eleven, Bodie began to growl in his sleep, and Ray dug through his pocket for the Anduin thorn; he palmed it, drawing a fond caress down Bodie's cheek, leaving a minute scratch behind, and saw at once that the old man had told the truth: the growling stopped, the cursing never began, and Bodie simply slept on, in peace.

But he slept for a long time, so long that Ray began to worry. He had parked the Capri at a wayside garage with a diner at half past one, and still Bodie was asleep; if Gandalf was right, and he would sleep until the fury was past, then it was taking him for a long time indeed today. Ray's blood chilled as he calculated the time. Eight or nine hours yesterday. Longer today. Longer yet tomorrow. Finally, he would sleep all the time, sleep himself away, unless Doyle let the demon loose and ran for his life.

He topped up the tank, checked the tyres and bought a takeaway lunch, and pushed on, making slow time now, as the snow was banked deeply on the road. Just after two, Bodie stirred awake, pale and pinched about the nose, but rested and brighter eyed as he came to, blinking at his lover's profile in the bright sunlight.

"Hi," Ray said softly. "You've slept a long time, mate. Hungry?"

"Not really, but I'd better eat," Bodie yawned. "I feel strange, but... I dunno. Not so bad as when he comes into me when I'm awake. Not so sick."

"Good." Doyle pulled the car into a snow drifted parking bay and turned off the motor. "Bought some lunch. Ham rolls and a thermos of tea, and some Greek looking pastries. Probably give us terrific indigestion, but they look good."

Bodie relaxed back into the seat, taking a few brown paper bags from Doyle, and rubbed his cheek. "Got a scratch."

"Gandalf's thorn," Ray told him, chewing methodically on a brown roll filled with ham and pickles. "The old man was as good as his word, it worked like a charm. I guess it is a charm, right?" He took a swig of tea and was about to go back to his lunch when he saw the frown gathering between Bodie's eyes. "What's up love?" Bodie said nothing but the frown deepened and the blue eyes began to glitter in some state between terror and dread. "Bodie?" Ray shoved the food aside and reached for Bodie's hand. "What is it? Tell me!"

"I'm..." Bodie gasped in a breath and began again. "I'm mad, aren't I? Tell me the truth, Ray - I'm stone mad, and this is an asylum!" He gripped Doyle's protesting fingers hard. "Gandalf? Gandalf?"

"The old man at the tavern," Ray said levelly, trying to sound calm when he was fretting his way up to fever pitch.

Bodie voice rose half an octave. "Don't humour me, Ray, for pity's sake! Gandalf is a character from a book!" His eyes were wild, feral, and he was pouring with a cold sweat. "Ray, tell me!"

The curly head bowed over Bodie's clutching fingers, and then Doyle had his thoughts under control again, an effort of will. He forced his expression to blandness and nodded. "Yes, he is. Bodie, for what it's worth, I don't think you're mad; I think you've been mad, and I think you've just started to get your sanity back. If you know where Gandalf comes from, and Rohan, and the riders, and the tall elves - Perrault and Buck, and the Templars... The Helway, and Hel and the rest of it... you've got a grip on what your mind's doing again."

The hands that held Doyle's were shaking; Bodie was fighting, trying to sift through his mind, sort items into categories, sort what was real from what imaginary. He cleared his throat and spoke huskily. "Books... Van Hise is dead, Ray. He died back in '74, I read about it in the paper. Sutton Westcliff... Sixty Mile... Christ, none of it's real. None of it!" He closed his eyes tightly, trying to banish the terror. "You're not here, and you're not my lover, and they've got me tied down in a madhouse somewhere."

"No," Doyle said fiercely. "I'm real, Bodie. I'm here, and I do love you. I woke up here a few ago, screaming, remember? I'd been dreaming you were trying to kill me. Bodie, remember! Think back!" He squeezed Bodie's fingers. "You were on a case, you went out to Hammersmith to follow up a lead, and someone grabbed you. Back there, in London, in the real world, it was the man we were after, had to be. Don't know who, but it had to be something to do with a man called Schwerin, remember?"

"Schwerin," Bodie repeated. "Hammersmith. They grabbed me, the riders, took me somewhere... Darkness. I don't remember much, just pain, hurting, while they told me... Taught me... Can't remember. Just know I have to get to the man called Thorkill. Terminate with extreme prejudice."

"Okay," Ray said levelly, "okay so far. But we got you back, Bodie. I took you home, remember? Then you took a phonecall, and two seconds later you had your hands on my throat and were trying to strangle me to death."

"No," Bodie murmured. "No."

"Yes you did," Ray whispered relentlessly. "I blacked out and came to here. Back there in the jungle. I was screaming for help, so you said, and you heard me; you told me I'd dreamed the strangling, and you made love to me right there, the first time. You must remember that." Bodie nodded mutely and he pressed on, "I don't know where the hell we are, love, but I do know you made this place. I think it's your fantasy. I think... I think we're both thrashing around in your memory. I'm real, Bodie. I'm the one facet of this world you don't control, which is why your stranger wants to hurt me. He can control everything else, but not me, because I'm the only thing here that isn't out of your imagination. If you're mad, so am I, bloody raving; but look, pet, we know it's a fantasy, don't we? And madmen never know. So, if we know -"

"We're not mad," Bodie finished.

"Not anymore," Doyle said, and found a smile as he saw the brightness begin to return to Bodie's eyes. "Welcome back, Bodie." He chafed the cold hands in his, thinking constructively. "Now for the big question... Can you control what happens here? Or does it just happen?"

"I dunno," Bodie frowned. "Never tired."

"So try," Doyle shrugged. "Go on, do something. Make something happen."

The blue eyes closed again and Bodie frowned in concentration, but nothing happened. "It's hard. I don't know how. I think of something happening, do I?"

"Try something small," Doyle suggested. "Something you'd like to... Hey," Doyle murmured a moment later, "it's getting warmer in here."

"Was cold," Bodie murmured. "Thought about how nice it would be to be warm again. It is getting warmer, isn't it?" He smiled faintly. "What else? Something to eat?"

"Roll could do with some mustard instead of the pickled onions," Ray said, waving the half eaten sandwich in Bodie's line of vision. He watched his lover close his eyes again, waited, then sniffed at the roll. There was a faint, familiar tang and he bit into it. "Hey, mustard!"

"I'm not mad," Bodie said hesitantly. "This is a fantasy..."

"And you're in charge of it," Ray nodded. "Consciously, for the first time. You've been in charge of it all along, but not consciously."

"Have I?" Bodie's face twisted. "So why have I been hurting you? Why would I do that to you last night?"

"You didn't," Doyle hissed, trying to get through to him. "He did, and you're not in charge of him, Bodie, or he'd be nice to me. He'd be you, wouldn't he, if you were in charge?"

"So he's going to come back again," Bodie whispered.

Ray nodded gloomily. "Yeah, I'm afraid he is; but I've got Gandalf's thorn, and the amulet. Doesn't matter how unlikely it sounds, these are the ground rules this place works by. You've got a logical mind, sunshine - gravity, climate, mechanics, food, drugs, it all works the right way. It's just the details that are all scrambled up to hell. You can fix the details now, though."

Bewilderment twisted Bodie's face and he looked ill again, weak and dispirited, hanging onto Ray's hand with a tenacious grip. "You're going to have to help me."

"That," Doyle said seriously, "is what I came here for. I'm sure of it. You nearly killed me, I blacked out, and - here I was. Don't ask me how, I don't know, but whatever we did we can undo, when the job's finished." He squeezed Bodie's fingers. "And that means getting to Odinspeak and sorting out a man called Thorkill. He's your goblin, Bodie. Your nemesis, the worm that's down there in your subconscious, wriggling around making all this happen. I've got a feeling that when we sort him out, it'll all come right. All our questions will have been answered, that sort of thing. Can't promise it, of course; we might be stuck here forever for all I know but, look, it isn't that bad, is it? You're in charge now, you can make it nice for us, and as soon as we can sort out Thorkill, your stranger will do his vanishing act."

"Will he?" Bodie did not sound so sure.

"I reckon. Gandalf as good as told me that the do with Thorkill will straighten things out - I don't know how, or why, but I think he's right. I believe him."

"He's a character out of a book!" Bodie shouted.

"He's a character out of your subconscious," Doyle remonstrated, "and he says what your mind knows instinctively as the truth. Jesus, I'm not a psychiatrist but I've got eyes, I can see what's happening! You love me so bloody much that even when your goblin was loose and raping me you wished up Gandalf to put it right again. You know what's happening, Bodie, but it's buried under the pain they put you through the night they grabbed you in Hammersmith. We're digging through the mire right now, getting closer all the time. We can sort it out and get out of here. Even if we get stuck here for good and all, if you're in charge you can make it nice for us. A whole world to play in, never grow old, never get hurt - sounds like bloody Paradise to me! Or you could send us back. It's your dream."

The words wormed into Bodie's thinking mind and took root. "Send us back to the real world," he sighed. "Back there, what about us? All we've had here, Ray... Do you even love me, back there? Will you remember what's happened to us here?"

Doyle frowned; he had not thought of that. "I don't know," he said honestly. "Can't say whether I'll remember threshing about in your evil little mind or not, but... Do I love you, back there?" He cupped Bodie's cheek. "I'm here, aren't I? You tried to kill me and instead of running away from you I jumped into your nightmare with you. And I'd do it again. Isn't your memory working, love? Don't you remember what we did while Murph went out to get the nosh? They didn't give us time to fall into bed, but we didn't do badly in the time we had." He leaned forward and kissed Bodie's mouth deeply. "Remember?"

Long, black lashes fluttered open slowly, and Bodie was smiling. "I do remember," he said, husky and breathless. He managed a chuckle. "Back there, you're still a virgin. Got it all to do again, haven't you?"

"If I remember what we've shared here," Doyle snorted, "my body may be a virgin but it'll catch up in about five minutes. You've screwed me right into the ground, chum - and I'm damned if I'm going to forget!"

Bodie's mouth twitched into a smile. "I've been using you."

"Nah," Doyle said with an affectionate wrinkling of his nose. "You've been loving me. He used me. I... Didn't like it. I'd like to forget it, if I can, but if I have to remember it, it's okay too." He kissed Bodie's nose. "Right, now all that's sorted out, eat. Then do a trick for me."

"If I can," Bodie said dubiously. "What?"

"Wish us to Whitehorse, without an afternoon's slogging through the snow," Doyle said promptly. "You can do it, it's your goddamned dream."

"I'll try," Bodie sighed, returning to his lunch. "No promises, but I'll try."

It took a great effort; half an hour went by, and Doyle had begun to give up on the idea of Bodie ever getting that much control over what was happening in this place. He managed to turn the sun out, induce a storm, turn aspens into palm trees, and shadowy images, formless and strange, shimmered in the middle distance. Then, as Ray was about to start the car and tell him to forget it, suddenly they were parked in a street outside of an enormous timber structure called The Emperor Of The North, and Bodie was sagging, exhausted.

Doyle whistled. "Fantastic. Like being shoved through a matter transmitter, or something. Reckon you could do this to take us to the mountain? Save us some backbreaking effort."

"Speak for yourself," Bodie panted. "I'm shagged out. It isn't easy." He paused, thinking hard. "Also, I don't know if I can. I know where Odinspeak is, Ray, but I can't visualise it. It's like I've never seen it, and I sure as hell don't know who this Thorkill bloke is." He shook his head to clear it. "Mind you, I might be able to dream us up a chopper, save us the bother of dog sleds."

"Van Hise's chopper," Ray suggested. "The pilot, Bell, didn't want to know about flying out that way - the riders out of Hel have got SAMs... You like to make your dreams deadly, don't you?"

"I always did," Bodie said softly. "Sometimes, the things I dream - I wake up shouting, the girl I'm with panics. Bad things from the past, things I was sure I'd forgotten long since." He averted his eyes. "I can't help it, Ray. It isn't something I do on purpose."

"I didn't say you did," Ray told him. "Come on, cheer up. You're the man I married, I can stand a few nightmares for you."

A rosy blush coloured Bodie's cheeks. "Christ, I'd forgotten that... Married. You're never going to let me live this down, are you?"

"Never," Ray promised gleefully. "Oh, relax, I happen to like the way your mind works. If I could marry you in London, I would, but they're stuffy and silly back there. If I kissed you in public we'd get run in, but here? For my money it's better." He planted a smacking kiss full on Bodie's lips as a group of dog men and elves ambled by the car; no one took the slightest bit of notice. "Make the most of it, pet, because when we get back we won't be able to do that anymore."

They slid out of the car and strolled into the lobby of the hotel, collecting a key that was waiting for them. Bodie had wished up a lift, and although this was a frontier hotel their suite made Doyle blink. Red velvet on a four poster bed, jewel green carpets, white silk drapes, a sunken bath with aquamarine tiles and gold taps. He gave Bodie a grin that was cheeky. "You're playing now, aren't you?

The old, smug Bodie grin was back. "Yeah. Wanted to see if I could do it. S'my bloody dream, like you keep telling me. But I'm so tired, Ray. Mind if I sleep some more?"

"Crawl into bed," Ray told him. "Here, let me..." He undressed Bodie slowly but deftly, folded his clothes and watched him slide into the enormous bed; he was asleep in moments, and Doyle went to avail himself of the unbelievable facilities.

The shower was over the sunken bath; there was body lotion, shower gel, talc, aftershave, shampoo, anything and everything, and he used the lot, pampering himself. He found his own Gillette hairdryer in the cabinet, his own red robe hanging on the back of the door, his own towels on the heated rail. There was his Ronson electric razor, his own comb. Bodie had not missed a trick. Doyle lingered under the shower, resisting the impulse to sing in case he woke Bodie, and he had forgotten about the time.

Late in the afternoon, they fought. It was brief, because he had the thorn yanked out of his pocket before Bodie could do more than grab him, and the bigger man sagged in his arms immediately, face pressed into Ray's bare chest. Again he slept, and Doyle curled upon the foot of the bed, watching him, dozing for a while himself, ears alert for the sounds of yawning and stretching, but he had sent out for food before Bodie surfaced once more. He had asked for Lobster and Cherries Jubilee, and pink champagne, and that was exactly what arrived on a trolley under a big silver cover, and he was serving the food when Bodie yawned deeply and shoved up onto the pillows.

"Hope you're hungry," Ray grinned. "They've sent enough to feed an army. Look at this stuff. Make the most of it, we won't be able to afford this kind of thing when we're back in London!"

Bodie gazed at the food indifferently, his attention on Doyle. Barefoot, bare chested and happy, Ray looked wonderful; the white leather hugged his legs and his hair was soft as a halo from the shower, and he smelt of talc and shampoo. So much like a dream of him Bodie had had so often that for a while it was impossible to believe he was real. The thought that he was not, just a figment of the imagination, hurt, and, a little wilfully, Bodie set out to test it. Ray's attention was on the Pink Lady and crystalware, and he didn't see his lover's frown for some time, only looking up as he passed a glass across. Bodie was obviously concentrating hard on something.

"Oi, whatcha doing?" Doyle demanded suspiciously.

Coming to proper awareness with a start, Bodie cracked a sheepish grin. "Trying to... Well, trying to control you like I control everything else. Don't take it the wrong way, love, but you look like something out of a dream and I was thinking that maybe you're not... Maybe you're just my goddamned imagination."

"I'm not," Doyle retorted tartly. "And you can't control me, can you? Anyway, what were you trying to make me do? Chickens, dogs?"

"Not trying to hypnotise you, you silly sod," Bodie chuckled. "Was trying to see if I could turn you on, make you hard by wishing it."

The green eyes darkened by shades. "You want me hard for you?" Ray purred. Bodie swallowed, nodded and tried a sheepish smile. Doyle put down his glass and gave the food a look of resignation. "It'll go cold."

"I'll wish it hot again," Bodie murmured. "I can. I know I can. I can control everything but you, and the stranger, and Thorkill." He heaved a deep sigh. "I know you're real, Ray. You'd have been panting to have me by now if you hadn't been."

Their eyes met, laughing, and Doyle let his lids fall shut, one hand stroking over his chest, touching nipples, ribs, sliding down to his groin and stoking there. Bodie's eyes fixed on the contours within the soft white leathers; it took only moments - Ray always had turned on as fast as a kid. His breathing became short and uneven, and when the green eyes opened again they were a little glazed and very dark. "Satisfied now?" he asked throatily.

Feeling oddly at peace, Bodie let his head loll back on the pillows and held out one arm. "Come to bed. Please?"

Still, even now, he was asking, and Ray would not have refused if he had wanted to. Bodie was as much, or more, a victim as he was himself, and any anger he had stored up was for the man called Thorkill. He slid the white leather pants off and a moment later was sandwiched between cool silk sheets and a hot, solid body, purring in hedonistic delight as kisses fell all over him. Rested and stronger, Bodie lavished every tender gesture on him until Ray rolled over and bent his knees.

Skin like velvet, Bodie thought, licking his way down the fluid length of Ray's spine. A rump like a ripe peach, legs like a racehorse. Images flooded his mind and he revelled in them... Bowling while on stakeout at the alley intended as Ground Zero in the atomic protest... Ray, eyes glittering like a cat's in anger as he lashed out at Bodie, splitting his lip during the Ann Holly case... A liver sausage sandwich, in the car one winter's day... Driving the German girl around Kent to jog her memory... Squirming around trying to get the grating loose, to get out of the cellar while Cowley was suspected of misappropriating nerve gas... drinking champagne with him at the art gallery before they went under cover as cop and agricultural machinery salesman... Wanting him fiercely when Ann walked away, again when Cookie was killed... The agony of fear and desire, both denied, when he had been shot in the Lin Fo affair...

Ray was rocking his hips gently, just rubbing himself on the warm silk on which he lay, waiting, and Bodie stooped to kiss the small of his back and said, "turn over, pet."

"Uh?" Ray sighed, but rolled onto his back. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Bodie purred, "I just don't want to do it the way he took you. Not so soon."

"Doesn't matter," Doyle murmured. "Just do me, will you."

"You..." Bodie hesitated and began again. "You sure you want me inside you? I can do it another way, if you - "

"Bodie, don't be daft," Doyle said, reaching down to grasp Bodie's aching length firmly. "I can tell the difference between you and him, and I'm not hurt, you know. Not at all. Come on, love." He wriggled, one knee hooking up over Bodie's left shoulder, the other around his waist, and rubbed his back on the sheet, murmuring with pleasure.

Unleashed desire swept Bodie's sanity clean away, but it was a sweet kind of madness, rapturous, delicate and selfless. Ray was howling like a wild thing before they finished, and his lover's delight buried the self-loathing Bodie had been nursing all day. The coming was incredible, it was enough to knock them both out, and Doyle was half asleep before Bodie took his weight on his knees and withdrew. Ray's throat made sleepy murmurs of protest at the separation and arms snaked about Bodie, hauling him down into a tangled embrace and holding him there.

Relief made Bodie's head ring and he collapsed willingly against Doyle. Christ, it's going to be all right, he thought helplessly, it's going to be okay! Then he was asleep again, calm, whole, content, buffeted by exhaustion and, perhaps not so oddly, by optimism.

For all the nagging doubts and worries, the chopper turned out to be simple, a parlour trick Bodie wished ruefully he could do in the real world. He had only to remember that Van Hise's pilot, Mick Bell, had the avaricious heart of a miser, and offer him three million Swiss Francs, in thought alone, and he knew the Jet Ranger that had been parked on the pad at the mercenary encampment on the fringe of the rainforest would soon be beating into the freezing skies of Whitehorse. He had forgotten about the Frenchman, Perrault, and the dog man never arrived in the frontier town while they waited for Bell. The Capri was carrying an FN machine rifle, a twelve gauge, several sidearms and more ammunition than they could use, and Bodie went through the weapons with a small tooth comb, still not trusting the final detail to his ability to control the dream... A dream could turn into a nightmare at the drop of a hat, and there was the haunting suspicion that once on Odinspeak, his powers of wishing would be like feathers in the wind.

Doyle lounged on the sill of the open window, sunning himself in a sheltered nook, the breeze tossing his hair, and Bodie smiled at him, in that moment wishing he could turn his mate into one of the elves, give him pointed ears and mystic abilities... No, Doyle was perfect the way he was: irritating, idealistic, hot tempered, affectionate, randy, loyal. A bag full of contradictions wrapped up in a skinny little body that should have been a liability as a partner, and instead was an incalculable asset. Bodie could still barely believe his luck; Ray loved him, and not just in this crazy place. Ray loved him, would stay with him, for years, maybe even forever.

"Listen," Doyle's voice said suddenly, breaking into his reverie as he reassembled the FN and shoved a 'banana lip' into the receiver. "The chopper." He let himself down from the window nook and reached for his jacket. "Get your gear, sweetheart, it's time to push off."

They were travelling light; Bodie was almost certain of his ability to 'wish up' anything they might need, so each of them had just a survival pack. Thermal blankets, hiker's rations, flares - standard gear. They left the hotel by the rear way and jogged the length of the alley to the common land, an area set aside for playing team sports when the weather cleared and the snow could be scrapped aside.

Heat plumed about the chopper's manifolds, distorting the air, and the pilot was wearing a thunderous expression. He shoved green pilot's glasses onto his nose as they appeared and motioned them into the back.

"Hope you appreciate what I'm doing for you, Bodie!" He roared over the din of the engine, feathering the pitch from rough to fine to lift the Jet Ranger. "Shit, we could get into trouble!"

"Just fly the bloody thing," Bodie muttered, strapping in, "leave the rest to me, why don't you?"

"Bodie?" Ray asked, pensive. "You okay?" He had his eye on the time. It was early afternoon then. A scratch from Gandalf's thorn, and Bodie had slept till one, and he calculated that they had a few hours before the stranger would be back. When he did appear, Bodie would be comatose for hours, so it was essential that they find shelter before it happened.

"I'm okay," Bodie told him, squeezing his gloved hand. "Just a bit nervy. Like taking a final minute penalty kick - and I'm the goalie!"

"How far?" Ray wondered. "Going to take long getting there?" He was squinting on the brilliant sheet of the sunlight-on-snow, the chopper was beating its way into the north west, and up ahead he could see the pall of an overcast, miles deep and flickering with lightning. "Wouldn't like to wish us some good weather, would you? We're going to fly right into the middle of that, by the looks of it."

For a while Bodie fell silent, eyes closed, brow creased as he tried hard, and Ray's mouth tightened: it wasn't going to work this time. "I... I can't," Bodie said, voice betraying effort. "That's over Odinspeak. I don't think it's going to work when we get there. I can't control Thorkill either, Ray. You know that, don't you?"

"I know," Ray said darkly, watching the thunderheads billow up. He remembered Gandalf's words and suppressed a shiver... From here on, it gets harder. The old man was never wrong, it seemed - a personification of Bodie's intuitive knowledge, the things he knew, without knowing how he knew them. Butterflies skittered in Doyle's own stomach as the Jet Ranger whisked them toward the storm, and soon the sunlight was gone and he saw the mountain. Tall, as black as night, it looked over the lower peaks like the patriarch of a family of giants; foreboding crawled along his nerves, and up front, the pilot was getting twitchy.

"Can't take you no closer than the plateau," he shouted over the roar of the engine. "That'll give you a hike - two, maybe three klicks. That okay with you, Bodie?"

"You can't drop us in the forecourt?" Bodie demanded drily.

"Too bloody right," Bell said hotly. "Going in there is for shit, man, and I am not a loony."

"Then I guess we walk a mile or two," Bodie shrugged. "Make it quick, Bell, and shove off." He gave Doyle a glance of silent conference. "Ray, you don't have to go in with me."

"There's a lie," Doyle said with strained geniality. "You want the shotgun or the FN?"

Bodie took the twelve gauge, and Doyle checked the Fabrique National assault rifle, loading it and stashing a dozen clips in his pockets. If they had a hike ahead of them, in bad weather, it all increased the danger. Down below he saw a flat area bisected by a weather-worn trail, and Bell seemed to be making for it. The chopper did not quite touch down, its skids just hovering half an inch above the deep snow, and when they jumped out they sank in up to their knees. Bodie waved up at the pilot and turned his back on the machine.

The wind was freezing, blasting across the plateau and on into the void over the crag; they fought their way toward the trail and as they got onto the easier going Doyle frowned. "This trail's been beaten down by someone," he muttered into the wind. "Somebody lives 'round here."

"The riders," Bodie told him. "So you keep that rifle where you can reach it in a hurry. They see you, you're marked. You'll be in a pit in Hel, fighting for your life if not your virtue faster than it takes to tell - and I don't think I control anything on the other side of the passes. That isn't my 'dream,' or my nightmare. It's ... I dunno. I don't think I want to know what it is."

The basement of his mind, Doyle guessed, the cellar where all the dark nastiness was stored, all the emotional garbage that could not be borne but had to be carted around, stacked up in the basement of his subconscious, there to plague him in quiet moments... He shuddered, knowing very well that he could be hurt in this world. When he was hit, it drew blood just as surely as lovemaking felt good and food took away hunger. Maybe this realm wasn't real, but it obeyed the laws of the real world. It obeyed those laws almost too well; his feet were freezing and the cold made his teeth ache as they plodded toward the stronghold that commanded the mountain slope a hundred feet above them, and a mile away long the winding trackway.

Outlined against the storm sky, lit now and then by brilliant flashes of lightning, the fortress looked little more than shaped stone. Bluestone, granite, rough hewn, impenetrable. "Hey, Bodie, how are we going to get in there?"

"Been meaning to ask you that," Bodie said drily. "Ideas?"

"God, now he asks," Doyle groaned, shifting the weight of the pack on his shoulders. "I suppose we'll improvise when we get to - " He broke off as his keen ears picked up the sounds from behind them, turning to look back down the trail. "Someone's coming, fast. Horses, about a dozen."

"Riders." Bodie drew both hands across his face. "Sweet Jesus, this is all we needed." He cast about for concealment, but only an outcropping of bluestone boulders offered them cover. "Duck down here, maybe they'll just ride on by."

But it was already too late for that. Doyle saw arms waving, pointing, as he grazed his knees on the shale in the lee of the boulders. "Fat chance," he muttered. "They saw us from miles away... These the riders who took you, Bodie?" In Hammersmith? It sounded absurd. Bodie's mind was substituting symbols for real events. These riders were the symbols of his terror, a mortal fear instilled into him by Thorkill during the days between his capture and his discovery, stoned on the Thames embankment. Rationalised in those terms, Doyle could readily accept it.

Bodie was nodding. "Yeah. The same ones... You've got the machine gun, pet. Use it. Drop the bloody lot of 'em."

"Okay, duck your head down." Doyle pulled the safety to 'off' and flattened out against the boulder, waiting, waiting, holding his breath - then he was out in the open, finger down on the trigger, barrel shroud heating up as he burned off a whole clip, changed it in seconds for a full reload, and smoked that off too.

Oh yes, people died here, and blood was just as scarlet on the snow in this place as in any world. He cut down twelve riders before they had the chance to scatter, and several of their big, black horses, and only when there was silence, and the air reeking with cordite, did he beckon Bodie out into the open.

"Horses," Bodie muttered. "And their cloaks, too. We can get right into the fortress if we're cloaked like them, and on their animals."

Skittish, the horses led them a merry dance, but Doyle was fast enough on his feet to catch the trailing reigns of one, and Bodie grabbed a fistful of wild, matted mane, securing another. The horses were steaming in the cold air, clouds of vapor rising from their foam flecked coats; Ray held them while Bodie fetched two cloaks from a pair of bodies. The cloaks were black and scarlet, voluminous, fastened at the throat by gold clasps. They went on over the backpacks, and, from a distance, would buy them the safety of anonymity.

But was the fortress guarded - and if so, by how many? There was no sign of life along the walls, and the gates stood open to the howling wind, as if inviting them to their downfall. Hooves clattering and slipping on the cobbles, the steaming black horses trotted in under the raised portcullis, and the insurgents slid quickly to the ground.

The courtyard was wide, and empty. Dark stone, echoing walls, tall, blind windows surrounded them, and Doyle shivered, casting off the cloak and reloading the FN. "There's nobody around, no guards."

"We may have killed them on the trail," Bodie whispered. "Let's get inside, we're a bit exposed here."

There was a doorway to their right, and once through it they were in almost pitch darkness. The passages echoed their footfalls back at them; murmurs, unidentifiable and strange, reached their ears from blind side ways, and in fifty yards they knew they were lost. "It's a maze," Ray said softly. "He doesn't need guards - you could get lost in here for years." He looked at Bodie in the glimmer of light of a flickering torch in the wall bracket twenty yards behind. "Your nightmare, Bodie. Which way."

"I don't know," Bodie hissed. "I wish I did. Christ, which way?"

"Intuition," Ray said, little above a whisper. "Sixth sense... Follow your nose. Use the Force and all that gibberish."

"Remind me to tell you how much I love you," Bodie muttered. "This way, then, and cross your fingers. I could be off by a mile."

The deeper into the night dark maze they walked, the more labyrinthine it became, the stranger the sounds from far off, the more oppressive the feeling of foreboding. Doyle's flesh was crawling and his cold fingers cramped on the FN, but his eyesight had adjusted to the dimness and he could see quite well.

Well enough to see the towering, arched doorway, looming down a passage on their left. "There's the first real door we've seen," he said softly. "And we've walked miles. How much d'you want to bet it's the only real doorway in this place? That's it, Bodie. That's the gateway to your nightmare. It has to be."

Even in the faint light of the guttering torches, Bodie's face looked bloodless. Real fear drew it tight, and his hands were clenched around the twelve gauge like claws. "It's getting late," he hissed. "Too late, Ray. Too late now."

"Bodie?" Doyle took a step closer.

"Look at the time! He's going to be here soon, and if you let him loose in this place you'll be taking on the pair of them, my maniac, and Thorkill. They'll take you, Ray, and Christ help you if they do."

Ray swallowed. "I've got the amulet," he said quietly.

But Bodie shook his head. "Won't work here. Nothing works here. Can't you feel it? This place is evil, as bad as Hel, part of Hel."

His own private hell, Doyle thought bleakly, from which he was trying desperately to escape, alive and sane. "We can't wait," he murmured, "every minute we hang about it gets more dangerous."

"Out," Bodie growled. "Get out now. Run for it, Ray, I'll do this."

"I got lost a mile back," Ray said scornfully. "Get out? How? This is a maze, Bodie, and black as the pit." It's your own web of terror, mate, he thought sadly. You've been threshing about down here for days, trying to pluck up the courage to make it to this gateway and face up to whatever it is that's been torturing you. Now and again the madness gets loose, and the stranger appears; I shouldn't hate him, he is you, the you that was tipped over the edge. "Bodie, you can't let him take over," he hissed. "You can't!"

"I can't help it," Bodie groaned, "not here, not anywhere. Christ, if I could stop him, do you think I'd let him do the things he does? You've got to get out - or put me down before I can start. Do it now."

Doyle had the Anduin thorn in the palm of his hand, but Bodie shook his head. It wouldn't work. "I'll have to hit you," Ray whispered. "I don't want to, Bodie."

"And if you don't I'll probably kill you," Bodie said sadly. "You can't take on two of us, sweetheart. Two madmen. Ray, there's things you haven't even heard of, terrible things you don't want to know about. Don't let it happen to you. Put me down, and find yourself a hole, crawl into it and wait till I come to."

"But you're ill when you come out of it, and I'll probably belt you into concussion," Doyle argued. "It's no good, Bodie, this is suicide!"

"I know." Bodie's eyes fell shut and his face twisted. "You were mad to come here, Ray. Raving mad."

"Maybe," Doyle conceded. "I'm in love with you; what's that make me but absolutely bloody insane?"

And then he hit Bodie, just once, a conservative blow that snuffed out the light of consciousness in an instant. It was calculated not to injure, but having to deliver it at all was unpleasant. Doyle silently thanks the hours of instruction he had had at the hands of his Karate masters, learning how to do the least possible damage. Bodie sagged in his arms and he began to draw his partner's dead weight toward a shadowed nook, an alcove off the main passage.

Before he had made a dozen steps, a freezing wind blasted out of the darkness, furious and malevolent, and the force of it stirred the tall, arched gateway. Ray let Bodie go down to the flagstones underfoot and spun, throwing off his pack and cocking the FN as he watched the door swing inward. Damn, he should have known! Now that Bodie was unconscious his wilful, wayward mind was free to do as it liked, free to wreak havoc, create and destroy as the fancy took it.

A faint red light shone from beyond the door, seeping like blood across the stone floor, and he stepped into the darkness, approaching the aperture with caution. Fear raked its claws over his heart and he felt his throat tightening to pain. "Bodie, don't do this to me," he whispered, knowing that at any moment anything could happen. The machine rifle in his hands could evaporate, the whole mountain could go up, anything.

In fact, there was just silence, red illumination spilling from a shaded lamp, and the shadowed bulk of a man, half seen, seated in an elaborately upholstered armchair. Doyle stepped into the chamber, and as he did the door slammed behind him, effectively sealing him in. He peered at the man in the chair: it had to be Thorkill, there was no one else Bodie would wish up in this place.

"Thorkill?" he asked levelly, bringing up the FN. "There's a contract on your life. I'm here to kill you, but I want answers first."

There was no response for the man in the chair for some time, and then he leaned forward, his face entering the spill of the lamplight, and Doyle's nerves gave a twist as he recognised that face. Schwerin. This was the man they had been after, in London, when it had all started. So Thorkill was Schwerin. Bodie's torturer. He was a big man, tall and bulky, with brown hair silvering at the temples, worn long on the collar. Big shoulders strained at the expensive suit he wore, and gold glittered among his fingers. When he spoke the German accent was thick.

"Your name is Doyle," he said slowly.

"Right. And you're the man who took Bodie that night." Doyle levelled the FN. "You're going to tell me why, before I kill you. I want answers; if I get them, you die easily. If not... There are many ways to die, Schwerin. You could be begging me to finish it an hour from now. Now you tell me what you did to Bodie!"

Slate grey eyes blinked at him, then Schwerin was laughing. "Save your threats, you have nothing to threaten me with."

"What d'you call this?" Doyle gestured with the FN. "A slingshot?"

Schwerin shrugged indifferently. "Pull the trigger, it won't work. Not here. This is my place, Doyle. Here, I make the rules. See?" he crooked a finger in Doyle's direction, and Ray felt the strength go out of his knees. He fell heavily and rolled, managing to keep the FN on target, and as he went down squeezing the trigger. He should have burned off the whole clip, but there was dead silence. "Ah, you see?"

Bodie, don't do this to me! Doyle prayed, teeth clenched as he got his weight back onto his knees and threw the gun away. His fingers clawed the hunting knife from its sheath at his belt. "Let's see you wreck the mechanism on this, then," he snarled.

"On what?" Schwerin smiled quite benignly. "It has the edge of a butter knife, does it not? See for yourself."

The strength seeped out of Doyle's wrist, and his eyes widened as he watched the knife turn about, snaking up toward his throat, drawing harmlessly across his own jugular. There was the chill kiss of steel, but no pain, no gush of blood. Then his arm fell limply to his side and the German was chuckling. "Now, stop being absurd and do as you're told. Come here, sit at my feet and I shall tell you what I'm going to do with you."

No amount of willpower would order Doyle's limbs, and his feet dragged him toward Schwerin's chair, depositing him in a heap beside it. He felt fingers stroking his hair and took a deep breath, trying to think. Bodie swore that he was not in charge here, that he did not control the man whose codename was Thorkill. But this was the hate and fear filled basement of Bodie's mind; if he did not run the show here, no one else did. So how was it possible for Schwerin to do these things? How?

And if it was possible for Schwerin to run the show, why not Doyle? Ray looked up at the man in the chair, meeting the grey eyes levelly. "So what did you do with Bodie? He said you taught him to do something by hurting him. What was it?"

"Oh, nothing special. A little education... Drugs helped. He imagined most of the pain... Imagined pain is the best kind, because it does not damage the body. Broken tools are worthless, yes? I gave him his set of instructions, and a key word. I phoned him when he got out of hospital, said the word. Ravenfeeder." Schwerin grinned. "Don't know your Germanic folk tales, I suppose! No matter. When he heard the word, Bodie knew what to do. Kill. It was quite simple."

"Kill - me?" Doyle wondered. "I'm small fry, you didn't have a bone to pick with me."

"You flatter yourself." Schwerin's lip curled. "Kill the lot of you, Doyle. Cowley in particular, yes, but Bodie should have been able to go scything through half of CI5 before he was stopped, like Clint Eastwood on a vengeance spree. But I was unfortunate, it seems... The first person he was confronted with and asked to kill was... You." The fingers in Doyle's hair tightened. "And he loves you. He loves you so much, he sent himself to hell for you... And took you with him." Schwerin leaned down to take a closer look at the man at his feet. "You are quite a prize, aren't you? I must compliment his taste. Leonardo and Bellini would have painted you; what does Bodie do? Ah yes. I expect he fucks you, frequently, yes?"

Doyle's lip curled in an accurate imitation of Schwerin's own expression. "Trying to insult me? Don't bother. Trying to frighten me? You don't know how. This is Bodie's fantasy, even this, and he wouldn't let you hurt me."

"You think not?" Schwerin grinned, teeth catching the red lighting. "You're a fool, Doyle. This is Bodie's dark place, I'm his bogie. Here, he's a gibbering wreck, surrounded by his terrors. You? You still have to learn how to be afraid. Bodie learned years ago."

Doyle frowned. "You're not in charge here any more than I am. Control me? You can't, just as Bodie can't. I'm the only thing that doesn't belong in this place, and I know that."

"True, so true," Schwerin sighed, "and yet you're still dependent on this place for the stuff of life... Behold." He snapped his fingers in an indifferent, offhand manner, and laughed at the result.

The FN was gone, and the knife, the clothes that Doyle had worn, and the air that he had been breathing. Naked, cold and suffocating, he clutched at his throat, his vision swimming. Bodie, don't, please God, don't do this to me! But there was no air to breathe and he was going down into the darkness as he reached numbly for Schwerin's gullet, trying to squeeze the life from it. Schwerin tossed him aside like a rag doll, and as he hit the floor he gasped in a grateful breath. There was air to breathe, but no more than that was given back, and the German was frowning at him in interest.

"You've courage and tenacity, I'll give you that much, Doyle. What is to become of you? I have six elves to sell in Hel soon; shall I sell you with them? In the pits you would provide great entertainment. A good fight, I'm sure, pitted against others bigger and stronger than yourself, a graceful defeat, and then... The surrender of your body, in exchange for your life, until next time? Or would you fight?"

Doyle squeezed his eyes shut, shutting out Schwerin, the room, the voice, the threats trying to think. None of this was real, and if it wasn't real, someone was controlling it. Bodie? No - not his conscious mind. So this was his sub-conscious, malicious and oppressive, hurtful, ugly. He took a breath, counting the time. How long until Bodie woke? He would be ill for a while, and - much as he hated to admit it, Schwerin was right, in this place he was tormented by his old memories, and would be at a grave disadvantage. Christ, Doyle thought feverishly, how did I get into this lunatic asylum? How was it even possible? Think! He told himself, for pity's sake get a grip on yourself and think!

Once before he had been in the gravest of circumstances, and there had been help. Gandalf. How did he get Bodie to help again? The stranger had been raping him, and some part of Bodie's mind, or heart, that was still Bodie was aware, helping. Cold sweat broke out on Doyle's face... Fight, he thought. Fight it, it's the fighting that gets through to Bodie.

He pulled himself back up to his knees and glared at Schwerin. "You're not the lord and master of this place," he snarled. "Whatever you can do here, I can do. Maybe I have to find out how, but when I've learned, I'm going to take you apart. You listening to me?"

Think. How did Bodie do it? He wished, so he said; he imagined an event, or an object. Concentration was a commodity that was scarce in Ray's overstressed mind, but hatred took its place. He wished, yearned to see Schwerin writhing on the floor - a heart attack, a coronary would do nicely, he thought, face twisting with effort, fury and the hatred. Then his ears picked up the sharp indrawn breath of discomfort, distress, and his eyes flicked open to see the man grabbing at his chest.

For a moment he was sure it was going to work, but Schwerin was just as quick on the uptake and took back control an instant later. Doyle got his feet under him, wishing back clothes to keep out the cold. Jeans, yellow tee shirt, white woollen jacket, boots. There was a Lugar in Schwerin's hand, he saw it and dived aside, not daring to see how far his wishing would take him. He stared at his own hand, aching for his Browning 9mm, and it was there, but Schwerin jammed the trigger again and it was all he could do to keep out of the way of the rounds spitting out of the Lugar while he summoned a knife, throwing it with all the strength in his right arm.

It sank deeply into the German's right shoulder and he sagged back against the lamp, pitching it onto the stone floor; the red shade rolled off and the naked bulb threw grotesque shadows onto the walls. Formless objects writhed there; Ray could barely make them out - a woman, dying with a bayonet in her, an old man, crippled by a mortar shell, shrapnel still in him, a young man with his legs blown off by a land mine, a couple, boy and girl, dead, raped and shot, captives in chains, the injured, the dying the insane -

Bodie's cellar full of horrors, the place where he hid all he could not live with. And he had hidden Schwerin here rather than kill his partner. Doyle blinked his vision clear as he watched Schwerin pull at the knife, dragging it loose. But he was bleeding, crimson rivers pouring down his chest and onto the floor. He could be hurt, Doyle realised, and what could be hurt could be killed.

Again, he tried the Browning, but it was no more responsive, and he wished for a knife, a machete, something to fight with. A saw backed hunting knife filled his right hand and he took a step toward the German, face twisted into a savage mask, intent on finishing it. He underestimated Bodie's powers of composition.

Schwerin roared inarticulately, weakened and enraged, and the air seemed to coalesce before him, drawing together into the shape of a tall, heavy man Doyle did not recognise. He was clad in cammo fatigues, a black headband holding down long fair hair, blue eyes glittering icily. Merc, Doyle thought. Someone Bodie knew, someone he hated. Someone who belongs in this festering place because of what he did...

Jesus, Bodie, don't! He pleaded, knowing full well how he could be hurt in this place. Bodie, help me, goddamn you! The man before him was unarmed, and Doyle had the knife, scant advantage; if the mercenary was six inches taller and fifty pounds heavier, that was the smallest he could have been, and Ray's mouth dried as he shifted his grip on the knife.

Make or break, kill or cure, he thought bitterly. Well, Macklin, you're about to get your money's worth. Let's see how good you really are, Raymond, my boy. Good as you think you are? Never know till you try.

He had been fighting with knives for twenty years, and he was as fast on his feet as a dancer; the speed and dexterity saved his life a dozen times in as many seconds, because if the mercenary from Bodie's tortured past had hit him or caught him, he would have surely been dead. The man was built like bull, contemptuous of the smaller man, his voice snarling insults, threats and promises. He was going to fillet the kitten with its own knife, he said, geld it and screw it while it lived, then sell the dead meat to a cannery. There was the impression, strong in Doyle's mind, that these were words Bodie had heard from this man's lips, that this particular nightmare was the one filed away in this place, too terrible to be remembered, too hideous to be forgotten.

Well, you've picked the wrong one this time, Doyle thought with a snarl, and for the first time drew blood with the tip of the knife. The bigger man cursed and sprang back, fists flailing. It was impossible to concentrate on 'wishing' him into a bleeding heap; if Doyle tried to spare enough of his mind for that he'd be in a bleeding heap himself, he guessed; he was fighting for his life, and he knew it.

It was like a strange dance form, arcane and deadly; a quadrille, back and forth, striking and feinting, a blooding here, there, pain in the joints as an elbow was wrenched, tightness in the lungs as weariness set in, a fever of anger in his chest at the taunts and threats thrown at him as the big mercenary grew angry. The anger was Doyle's best weapon, but the fatigue was dragging him down. Too many days and nights spent fretting, he knew. Too much worry, too much sex, taking the edge off his physical performance. He was doing well, holding his own, and most of the blood that was spattered on his clothes was the other man's, until he ducked late and felt his arms wrenched in a tackle.

Wrestling with a man the size of a gorilla was suicide, and he fought like a demon, flinging his weight against the mercenary's joints, trying to wrench his elbows, his wrists, but, always small boned and built like a boy, Doyle did not weigh enough. Bones snapped in his right forearm and the big hunting knife rang on the stone at his feet as he heard his own voice crying out, high and thin. An open handed swipe contracted with the back of his head and his senses dulled. The next he knew he was on the floor, slipping in and out of consciousness while the cold seeped into his bones. Shock. He struggled up to his knees, casting about for the big man who was one of Bodie's phantoms; he was dabbing at his wounds with his ruined shirt, slitted eyes following every move of the smaller man's battered form. The hunting knife was in his boot.

Nausea lapped around Doyle's chest and he fought it down, closing his eyes in this moment of respite and aching for a throwing knife, some weapon that would give him a long-range ability, keep the gorilla off him. The broken arm was numb, and would be numb for some time, but soon it would begin to hurt, and could be the death of him. There was a flick knife in his left hand when he opened his eyes and he thanked heaven that he was ambidextrous. Wrenching up off the floor into a half crouch, he flung it, watched it sink into the mercenary's leg; he had been aiming higher, but his senses were swimming - a hit of any description was not bad. He wished for another knife, but just as he felt it, he saw the cudgel in the mercenary's fist and, diverted from the knife he needed, the image, and the object, never found their way into this warped reality.

Blows rained down on him; he knew full well that the big man was pulling everyone of them, or the first would have knocked his head off; he felt a rib break, but the rest was just bruising, he was sure; he was half way into the blessed refuge of unconsciousness when he felt the cold caress of a knife going through his clothes, and he was wide awake again in an instant, knowing exactly what this monstrosity out of Bodie's past was planning to do.

"Bodie, for Christ's sake, don't, don't," he murmured, but it was useless, to ask. Bodie was out cold, in the passage beyond the towering gateway, and he was on his own, lost in a wilderness of pain and desperation, pitted against the phantoms and goblins that haunted Bodie's dreams. Anger rekindled, like a fist under his heart, and he marshalled his thoughts. To fight with his failing body was not the way - he had nothing left to fight with. No, he had to fight this man with his own armoury, the stuff of which nightmares are made.

Doyle closed his eyes, ignoring the hands that were stripping him, concentrating on a deep, aching desire for vengeance, not merely for himself but for poor, tortured Bodie. Oddly, it was the vengeance-wish for his lover that generated the greater power; it surged up along his veins, wringing him out as he shaped the image in his mind. He was naked, kneeling, buttocks and genitals screaming their own protests at him, when the wish took form.

Nothing worked here expect the ill-formed mechanics of dreams; there was no gun in Doyle's hand, he was pushed into the stone floor and a scant second away from a violation that would have torn him apart, when it happened. Two bullets from a nonexistent .44 magnum, ripped through the mercenary's ribcage, hollow nosed, exploding from his back and blowing a bucket-sized hole out of him. He was picked up and flung away across the shadow bound room, and Doyle was rolled over, knees curling up into his middle, his slitted eyes watching the monstrosity Bodie so reviled die at last. That, he thought feverishly, was one for Bodie.

Schwerin was still there, standing behind his chair, the lamp still knocked over and throwing its own formless images onto the walls, and as Doyle fought his way up to his feet, voice whistling in his throat with effort, the German moved out into the open. In his right hand was a hypodermic, preloaded with a charge Doyle could guess at.

PCB, mescaline, barbiturates. The same shot that had driven Bodie to the edge of his sanity while they taught him to be a killer; drug induced hypnosis. Doyle's mind was on Quinn, primed by the KGB to do the same job. Kill. He shook his head to clear it and hugged the broken arm against the abused ribs. The weakness was like a sickness threading through his body, and his senses were too dim to be trustworthy. He felt his concentration slipping as he stumbled toward the German. He wanted to do the same to him as he had done to the mercenary, but the image would come apart as fast as it formed. Schwerin was fighting him on it, he knew, undoing the work as he did it; and Doyle was fading fast.

He sagged to his knees, denying the nausea by an effort of will. "Bodie, Bodie, please don't. Bodie, love, help me. Help me, or it's over." He dragged in a breath, watching the German approach with the hypodermic, knowing instinctively that he was seeing exactly what Bodie saw the night they had caught him in Hammersmith. He tried to fight up out of the stupor but his arms were like lead, his legs dead, and the last thing he felt was the sharp pain at the base of his neck as the needle picked up the artery, and an immense, deep, aching sadness, that it was over, that he was dead, that he had failed, and that this was the time of parting. The last word on his lips was Bodie's name.

It was a cry that woke Bodie, but he knew that his ears could not have heard it. Ray's voice often sounded like that, husky, tender, filled with a lot of love, in the early morning after they had shared each other's joy and relaxed at last. But as Bodie jerked awake, sick and ill, cold and trembling, he had the immediate and numbing impression that it was a farewell. Christ, how long had he been out? He peered at his watch. An hour. Where the hell was Ray - where had he been?

"Ray? Ray!" He struggled up to his feet, the shotgun in both hands, used as a prop as he swayed against the wall. He knew where Doyle had gone. That towering doorway beckoned like an invitation to doom, and the whole answer was in there. He rubbed at his head, trying to cast the ache aside, trying to think. Ray had called it the gateway to his nightmare, and Bodie knew instinctively that he was right. Whatever was wrong, it was on the other side of that door. The riders, the pain, the re-education, drugs, terror, his desperation. Bodie's insides quivered as every nerve in him rebelled against the notion of going in there.

But Doyle had gone through that door, and if that cry he had heard, so tender, husky with love, was a farewell - "Oh, no, sweet Jesus, no," Bodie murmured, scalding tars prickling at his eyes. "Not Ray, not in my bloody fantasy! Me, take me, I'm mad as a hatter, stone crazy, take me, not Ray..." He shoved away from the wall and approached the door on cat-like feet, grasping its iron rings and putting his weight behind it.

It swung inward, grinding on the stone flags, and a red light spilled from within. Accustomed to the gloom, his eyes saw clearly. There was a chair, a man sitting in it, a lamp with a red shade beside it. There were two bodies on the flag stones. One was big, bulky, clad in the remains of cammo fatigues, and there was blood all over it. Vaguely, he recognised the twisted face: Gelbart. So Gelbart was dead at last. Satisfaction thrilled through Bodie, and then it occurred to him that the only person who could have killed him, in this terrible place, was Ray. Skinny little Ray had managed to kill that? Bodie blinked, realising that here must have been one hell of a fight.

Then his eyes went on to the second body, half obscured by the chair. He stepped around to see it properly and his heart leapt in his chest like a frightened doe. Naked and bloody, Ray lay curled up into a foetal ball; there were bruises all over him, trickles of blood, purpling finger prints on his buttocks, his hair matted and disarranged. And he was dead.

Ignoring the motionless figure in the chair for the moment, Bodie fell to his knees, lifting the cold, still form into the arms, cradling it. Even in death Ray felt smooth and light and sweet, and Bodie brushed the blood from his lips, bending to kiss him. The kiss was cool, brief, just a gesture of parting; there was no pain yet. Bodie knew the agony would begin later, when there was time to think. No... No later. There was no later without Ray in it, no point to it, no reason for going on. He nuzzled the still, cold neck very gently and lay him down again.

In the chair, the man did not stir, and Bodie pushed up to his feet, taking the shotgun in his right hand and turning to face him. The shadowed face looked back, and he saw the glitter of the red light on the hypo in his hand. The same hypo he had seen again and again after the night they had taken him in Hammersmith. Riders -

Yes, motorcycle riders. Three of them, helmeted, faceless. It all came back as he faced the man; memory sluiced back into his mind and the light came up in the room, dazzling him. Now he remembered it all. The capture, being hit on the head, taken to a house with drawn blinds and darkened rooms. Needles. Hurting as he tried to refuse what they were telling him - kill on command, kill them all. Ray, Murph, Anson, Jax, Susan, Cowley - all of them, one at a time, quickly.

He had struggled against the programming and the more he fought the more it hurt. Slowly, he learned to obey; and then, as programmed, he forgot, waited for the code word. "Ravenfeeder," he whispered.

The man in the chair leaned forward and he saw the face he had come to loathe and fear. "Yes," Schwerin smiled. "You know, don't you?"

Bodie nodded. "I know it all now. I know you. Ravenfeeder... kill on command." He paused, looking down at Ray's body. "Why did you have to kill him? It wasn't his fight." He sounded tired, felt weary, empty. "I'm going to kill you, now. Watch how I do it... I know now, everything, and I'm pulling the strings here." He reached down, taking the German by the throat and lifting him to his feet, vaguely amused to find that Schwerin was much taller. The German did not move a muscle, standing in his grasp like a puppet. "Fight, damn you!" Slowly, inexorably, he closed his fingers, and still Schwerin did not make a move in protest, as if it was over. "Fight!" Bodie repeated, needing the struggle, needing the release of catharsis; but the gullet beneath his fingers simply crushed, the German's body sagged to his feet and lay as still as Gelbart's. As Ray's.

Robbed of the struggle he had needed to rationalise the killing, Bodie turned back to Ray's still form and sat down beside him, pulling him into his arms and pillowing his head on his shoulder. "Ah, love, you shouldn't have," he crooned softly. "Look what you've done... How the hell did you take Gelbart? Christ, how he hurt you." He squeezed his eyes shut against the tears. "This is where it ends, Ray. There's no way back for me. Don't want to go back, not without you. Why would I want to?" He took the shotgun in his right hand and very gently put Ray's body onto the floor, lying beside it. Oddly, Ray's lovely, battered face was serene, peaceful, as if he was merely asleep.

Bodie kissed his nose one last time, tucking the barrel of the twelve gauge into the nook behind his own right ear.

A moment later there was peace.


The crash of a trolley in the passage outside permeated the soft, warm darkness, and Doyle became aware of the cool press of sheets, the smell of roses, the discomfort at his left arm. He blinked his eyes open, dazzled at first by the daylight streaming in through the half open blind, and focused on the IV needle that was taped into his arm. Disorientation lasted less than a second, and he was smiling as he untaped the needle and deftly removed it. In the room's other bed, he could see Bodie's still, sleeping shape, and he pushed up onto the pillows, luxuriating in the sight of his lover -

His lover? Ray's mouth twisted. Christ, it was just a dream. Just a dream, a nightmare. A terrible, shocking nightmare. He rubbed his face, feeling the rustle of the white hospital gown about his limbs. How long? Bodie had strangled him half to death, how long since then? He fingered his throat: long enough for the damage to be healed and gone, so it must have been days since the phonecall. But what was Bodie doing here? He could appreciate that he was in hospital - half strangled people usually were admitted - but Bodie should be in custody somewhere for attempted murder; or in a nut hatch for running amok.

Maybe I'm still off with the fairies, Ray thought bleakly, thinking back to the dream. It was not even vaguely like an ordinary dream; he could remember every tiny detail, every word, every sensation, as if it had all actually happened. His body trembled as he lingered over the memories... It was the loving that he remembered most, his flesh alive with it, every nerve alight, Bodie inside of him, hard and hot and wanting him so badly. What kind of a dream remained this vivid, growing stronger the longer he thought about it? Dreams usually faded away in seconds after waking, and were nonsensical while they could be remembered.

Doyle wrapped his arms about his chest, his eyes on Bodie's sleeping face. He was caught up in the memories now, remembering the nights he had lain in Bodie's arms, the good times, the bad times. The tragedy was that it was only a dream, the product of his own overstressed mind, and his eyes prickled with grief that none of it had been real. How long he sat there, mourning for what had never been, he did not know, but Bodie's voice roused him, sobbing his name. Ray slipped out of his own bed and padded to Bodie's, sitting on the side of it, one hand on his shoulder and trying to wake him.

But Bodie was still locked in his dreams. "Ray, oh Ray," he said softly. "Gandalf should have told you to leave me. Should've sent you away... How did you kill that monster? How did he hurt you? He killed you - Thorkill! I let him kill you. I took you there... Odinspeak... Let him kill you... Ray!"

By this time he was threshing about and Doyle had him in a firm grip, arms about him. "Bodie, wake up! He didn't kill me, I'm here! Bodie!" The blue eyes fluttered open; Bodie's face was pressed into Doyle's shoulder, his hands gripping the finely muscled arms tightly. "He set the big merc on me, but I killed him, remember? He drugged me, like he drugged you, but he can't have killed me, because we're out, Bodie, we're out."

"Ray?" Confusion drew Bodie's brows together as he propped himself against the pillows, crushing Doyle against him. "Christ, you were dead... cold, dead. Shot up... Drugs... I let them kill you."

"We got out, Bodie," Doyle muffled into Bodie's chest. "Dunno how, but we did it. Christ, I thought I'd had it; that merc, what's 'is name?"

"Gelbart. A real swine." Bodie pressed a kiss into Doyle's hair.

"I blew him in two halves. You see the body?"

"I saw it. Saw Schwerin with the hypo, too. Same one he used on me. He shot you up?"

"Yeah." Doyle drew away to look at his lover. "Mind you, he did me a favour. Busted ribs, broken arm, mate, I was hurting. All he did was put me out of my misery." He cupped Bodie's face. "Thought I'd failed... I wanted to finish it, for you. Knew how scared you were of being there."

"Terrified," Bodie affirmed. "Till I thought... Till I knew they'd killed you. Then it didn't matter anymore. Nothing mattered. Didn't want to go on without you, did I?" He leaned forward, wanting Doyle's soft mouth and getting it as Ray kissed him. He wound his arms tightly about his lover and held on. "Gandalf should have sent you away."

"I wouldn't have gone," Doyle scoffed "I went there to help you, and I did. You were off your nut, Bodie; if I hadn't been there to keep you going you'd have run riot once too often and they'd have locked you up - and until the morning after Gandalf gave me the elven amulet, and the thorn, and you found out you could control what was happening, you'd have stayed locked up. You've got a very logical mind." He smiled, letting Bodie settle him on the bed, arms about him, lying back against the pillows; neither of them was as yet aware of their surroundings.

"Christ, the things I did to you," Bodie sighed.

Doyle gave an evil chuckle. "Yeah. And I can't wait to get home so we can do it all again." He wriggled closer. "I need you, Bodie. Hungry for you. Need you to love me."

"I do love you," Bodie whispered, yanking on a handful of curls. "You can't have forgotten already."

"Forgotten?" Doyle wriggled again as Bodie's hand found its way between his legs and began to stroke. "Clot. But you'd better not do that here, mate. If a nurse walks in we'll be for the high jump."

For the first time, Bodie saw the room. "Hospital. How did we..."

"Get here? I suppose they brought me here when you strangled me after you got Thorkill's - Schwerin's - phone call. You, I'm not so sure."

"I keeled over," Bodie said ruefully. "I remember going black and falling over. Murph was there, he must've pushed the panic button."

"All thanks to Murph," Ray murmured, almost on the point of sleep again. "God, I'm feeling weak."

"Hardly surprising, the amount of horsing around we've been doing lately," Bodie murmured, still unable to tell the real world from the dream.

Doyle was only marginally ahead of him in the orientation stakes. "I reckon it's the time we've spent flat out comatose," he suggested. "We ought to call a doctor in here. Where's the buzzer?" It was hanging up on the wall by the bed, far out of reach, as if the patient was never expected to be able to reach for it on his own. Doyle thumbed it and then sagged down onto the bed again, barely able to hold his head up, and Bodie kissed his temple. "Want to go home," he murmured. "With you."

The feeling was very mutual; neither of them was thinking clearly enough yet to tell one world from the other, or sense from nonsense. They were punchy, clinging tight together as if afraid to let go; and they were kissing when Doctor Michaels came rushing into the room.

It was four in the afternoon, five days after Bodie had tried to kill Doyle, and Cowley dropped his paperwork as if it had suddenly caught alight, diving from Whitehall to the hospital in time to get a garbled account of proceedings from his two dozing, confused operatives as they drank cups of tea and chewed their way through most of a packet of digestive biscuits. Much of their report was unintelligible, but he gathered that they had somehow shared the same 'dream,' and wanted to go home at once. Michaels was shaking his head in answer to that.

"They're weak, they need to get a little strength back," he said. "We should keep them here for observation for a few days, at the very least until tomorrow. I've had them on IV, so there's no damage done. They're remarkably healthy young men. I can appreciate that they wish to be alone; in their position, I think I'd like to have a few private hours!"

The CI5 man and the surgeon were standing in the doctor's littered office, and Cowley felt free to pursue the matter. "In their position?"

"Well, this sort of thing is always more traumatic if two people are so close. Being in love tends to complicate life."

Cowley frowned deeply, the lines about his eyes becoming pronounced. "And what makes you aware of this, Doctor?"

Michaels' colour rose. "Oh dear, I think I've put my foot in it... I assumed you'd be aware of... They did nothing wrong, Mr. Cowley, and I would be very distressed if you reprimanded them for my indiscretion; they were together when I barged into the room, answering the buzzer. They were kissing, nothing reprehensible. Perhaps it was unwise to do that here, but they are disoriented and confused even now, and doubtlessly they were unaware of the dangers. They meant no harm, Mr. Cowley, and none was done. I'd prefer it if you forgot about the matter."

Cowley's blue eyes were grave and he nodded, but not for a moment did he seriously consider that he could forget about Bodie and Doyle. Kissing? In love? Since when had that happened? Kate Ross had been making pointed remarks about the closeness of their relationship for years, but the Scot had chosen to take it that she meant they were family, as were brothers, cousins. And lovers? The closest of all family. Cowley said no more about it and looked into the agents' room only briefly on his way out. Information Bodie was suddenly able to provide, garbled though it has been, would be the key in slamming the lid on the whole Schwerin affair, so the chapter was approaching a close.

And Cowley had the oddest impression that the case was not the only thing coming to an end. An odd feeling prickled about his nerves as he looked at the two pale, weakened young men in the adjoining beds, and knew full well that if they were at home, they would have been in the same bed, curled up together, luxuriating in the comfort of closeness... There was nothing surprising or disquieting about it to an old army man like Cowley. He had spent too long watching men under stress to be very surprised by anything they did.

The more two men live, worked and played together, the more they came to think as one; slowly they began to feel as one, too. Then, one day, an awareness began, an awakening. One noticed the other's sexuality and was, quite naturally, fascinated. Then, pain, as the love affair raged, one-sided, until it reached blow-up point. A confrontation, a facing up to facts, either make the final step, into bed, as lovers, or part forever, because that kind of sexual tension could get them killed.

How many times Cowley had seen it happen, he did not know; and that it should happen to Doyle and Bodie was not very surprising; Bodie, big, much stronger, dark, broody, smouldery; Doyle, small, slight, slim as a reed, transcending gender, with a glittering humour and incandescent sexuality; the two men almost as opposite as if they had been of two different genders. The final detail mattered very little, in practical terms. Cowley nodded farewell to them, and left, taking the big Ford four door through the rush hour traffic, back to the office.

At last the nursing staff departed and the room was silent; they were waiting for something to eat, and Bodie was so ravenous he could have eaten a horse. He watched Doyle sink back into the pillows in his own bed, and gave him a sleepy smile. "You look shagged out, mate."

"Yeah," Ray admitted. "Can't think why I should be this tired after an hour's prodding and poking by Doc Crippin and his cronies, because we've just slept for days!" He peered at his torso. "Lost a lot of muscle tone, though, so I expect it's weakness - like, after you've had the 'flu or something."

"That'll be it," Bodie agreed. "Hope they don't keep us in too long, but..." He bit off a chuckle. "Wanna know something, love? If we went home tonight, I'm not sure I'd be capable."

"Capable? What of?" Doyle batted his long, dark lashes in a imitation of innocence.

Bodie just laughed. "Know what you look like? Little Orphan Annie. Going to get you a scruffy little pooch, and - ah, take no notice, I'm only teasing, you know that."

"I know," Doyle chortled, trying not to grin and ruin his crestfallen expression. "I'm thinking back to the elves. The tall elves. You... You made them look like me, Bodie. Is that really what I look like?"

And Bodie nodded honestly. "Don't get a swelled head about it, mate, but yeah. All legs and eyes and hair, and that nose..." He made a rueful face. "I'm going to be pumping your ego up the size of the Hindenburg if I don't keep my big mouth shut." He paused, bit his lip in thought, and whispered, "two things that I still can't accept. One is how you can remember my dream, and - "

"Oi, it was my dream," Doyle retorted. "And the other thing?"

"How you believed me, all the years I teased you about your looks."

"I'm gullible," Doyle shrugged, "and anyway, whatever it is you see, I don't. I guess I'm not my type, sweetheart - you're more my type. Now, if I was about thirty pounds heavier, and dark, with blue eyes and -"

Bodie gaped. "Christ, not on your life! Don't make jokes like that!"

"That," Doyle said pointedly, "is what you look like."

"I know," Bodie agreed. "And I guess I'm not my type either. Wish I was willowy, and who the hell wants blue eyes? Everybody's got blue eyes, but green - "

"Prat," Doyle said tiredly. "Okay, so each of us is happy with the way the other one looks, let's be satisfied. God, I'm hungry, where's the nosh? They said they've got lamb chops and mint sauce - "

"Don't talk about food," Bodie moaned; and his stomach growled noisily. "See? You've set it off again!"

They ate surprisingly little and felt very full, their stomachs having shrunk drastically, and then wandered into the TV room to watch the News and current affairs shows, trying to catch up on a week lost. The hospital became a chaos of visitors, and they were not surprised to see Murphy, Susan and Jax, bringing chocolates and flowers. The Black Magic did not even last out the visit, and by eight, when the CI5 people drifted away and they settled to rest, they were feeling much better.

Bodie read the paper aloud while Doyle puzzled over the crossword, their talk companionable and quiet, but it was after their light was out and the room's closed door afforded them a spurious privacy, that they began to want each other. Their talk became softer, sporadic, and at last Bodie could take it no longer. "Ray? Come over here, pet."

"And do what?" Doyle propped himself on one elbow, looking at his mate in the darkness. Mate. The word had a whole new meaning, and a thrill coursed through his nerves.

"Just slide in and give us a cuddle," Bodie asked. "Come on, I'm not up to ravishing you yet. Wouldn't mind a nice kiss though."

"In bed with you, in here? Dangerous," Ray murmured.

"But the whole place is quiet," Bodie argued, "and they won't look in on us for ages. Just for a bit, Ray?"

Refusing Bodie when he used that plaintive tone was absurdly difficult, and Ray slid out of his own bed, padded over and a moment later found himself under the covers and hugged tight, Bodie's lips nibbling on his ear. He wriggled closer and put his head down on the warm cotton over the pillow, seeking a kiss. Bodie took his mouth gently, for a long time, nipping and licking, exploring every nook and cranny of his lips, teeth, tongue, and Ray heaved a sigh of utter content.

They slept in the same embrace for hours, until Bodie tried to turn over in the ridiculously narrow bed, and almost fell over the side, and then Ray reluctantly slipped away before they could be caught in what had to be a very compromising situation. His own bed was cold and he missed Bodie's smothering body heat at once; sleeping alone was going to be awful, he guessed, and he whispered, "Bodie, you awake?"

"Not likely to get to sleep without you, am I?" Bodie grumbled.

"Was thinking the same thing," Ray sighed. "When we get out of here, we are going to live together, aren't we?"

There was a pause, then Bodie snorted with laughter. "Well, we'll sleep together. Eat breakfast together, as it'd be dumb to run away someplace to get your Wheeties. Then we'll shove off to work in the same car, because it's parked on the front, and if I want you to cuddle when I get home, you'll have to ride in the same car back from work. Hm. I expect we'll watch telly, or go to a film together, then, if we're in the same bed like good little lads before midnight, I reckon that might mean being in the same flat. Make sense?" Another pause, then, "of course we'll be living together, you silly sod!"

"Was only asking," Doyle giggled. "'Cause I don't much want to live alone anymore. Nothing much fun when you're alone."

"I know," Bodie said soberly. "I've been alone all my life, and I've been sick of it for years. I used to think that maybe there'd be a woman who could put up with me as I am - I'm too old to change now. Someone I could marry, or live with, who'd put up with me for a few years. Never found a girl who was game to try."

"Me neither," Ray whispered. "There's only ever us, isn't there? Just the two of us. Christ, why did we wait so long?"

"Dunno," Bodie said honestly. "Might have been a misplaced sense of duty - not wanting to compromise each other's virility, that sort of thing. I mean, if I'd indicated to you that I thought you were gay, you'd have wound me up a crack in the choppers."

"If you came right out with it as an insult, yeah," Doyle affirmed. "But if you'd made a pass at me, got a few drinks into me... I've worked with gays for donkey's years, Bodie, I know what nice people most of 'em are. Gay sex doesn't worry me, never did. I'll admit, going all the way, getting screwed, used to make me wonder a bit - I'm not very big, as you well know! But you stretch, don't you? Like nature intended it to happen." He paused, then added, "I reckon nature must have intended this kind of sex to happen, or why would you feel so bloody marvellous when you've got someone inside you? Wonder if women feel this way?"

"Ray," Bodie reminded him gently, "you're a virgin. Aren't you?"

"In body only," Doyle said tartly. "I need hardly remind you what you did with me back there. How many times? And every time easier and better than the last." He chuckled wickedly. "Nah, the idea of gay sex never did bother me, but I never wanted a man, you get what I mean? I thought men were nice to look at, sure - especially the likes of you - but touching them was something else. Maybe... Maybe I never met a man I could fall in love with, and maybe I had to be in love to want to try it."

"Makes sense." Bodie yawned. "A fair few women have to be in love to horse about. Psychological thing. Reckon they'll let us go home tomorrow?"

"Hope so," Doyle said fervently. "Another day in here and I'm going to be strong enough to start looking at you like Garbo under a lampstand."

"Dietrich," Bodie corrected drowsily.

"Was it?" Doyle turned onto his back and lifted one knee, sighing.

"What are you doing?" Bodie asked suspiciously.

"Stroking myself. Pretending it's you."

"Come back over here, and it'll be me."

"Love to," Doyle sighed, "but if somebody barges in we'll never talk our way out, and Cowley'll give us the sack on the spot."

There was silence for a while, punctuated by a long, lush sigh from Ray's bed, and then Bodie said, "want to talk to you about that when we're out of here and thinking straight."

"About what?" Doyle sounded dopy and saturated with pleasure.

"About working. For CI5," Bodie clarified. "I don't think... I mean, I'm not sure if..." Ray was listening intently, wide awake again, and heard him take a deep breath. "It's a dangerous job." Bodie whispered, "and we'd be idiots if we ignored what could happen. We could get killed tomorrow or the next day. Next week. I always knew I could be standing there beside the grave, throwing dirt in after you, but it was an idea I tried to ignore. I managed to ignore it pretty well until you got shot that time, and they all had you dead and buried, even Cowley, though he pretended to be paternally optimistic."

"Bodie, this isn't serving any purpose," Ray chided gently. "The point is, I didn't die."

"No, Ray, that's not it at all," Bodie corrected. "The point is, if I have to stand by the grave throwing dirt in after you, I'll do it. I'll follow you. I... I've done it once already. When I went in after Schwerin you were dead on the floor. I killed him, and then... I didn't have the guts to tell you before. I blew my bloody head off with the shotgun."

Again, there was silence, and then Ray slipped out of bed and went to slide his arms around Bodie, speaking softly into his hair. "Suicide pact, is it? Jesus Christ, Bodie, it's terrible loving someone this much."

"No it isn't a suicide pact," Bodie muffled against Doyle's throat, "it's a bid for freedom. Self preservation. I want out, love, before I'm holding you while you die, and then going home to finish myself off before I go right 'round the bend, once and for all. I don't want you for a night or a year, or ten years. I want you for good and all, jealously, possessively, and I can't take the bloody job any more. You don't know what it was like, sitting there with you in my arms, cold and still and dead. I can't do it again, Ray, and if you tell me it was just a dream I'll tell you that all the loving was just a dream, and it'll all look different in the cold light of day, and you'll wave bye-bye and ring up your girlfriend in the morning!"

"Bastard," Doyle accused gently. "No, it wasn't a dream. You forget your dreams when you wake up, nothing makes sense when you look back at what you were doing. All your memories playing back in the wrong order, s'what dreaming is. At least that's what the Reader's Digest said... Know what I think?"

"What?" Bodie let his eyes close for the lids to be kissed.

"I think the two of us were in this silly old head of yours, threshing around in there together. I think what we did, what we remember, is about as real as anything we ever did in the 'real' world. Five days, was it? Felt like six months. And it hurt."

"I raped you," Bodie whispered almost soundlessly.

"He raped me," Doyle corrected. "He was the killer Schwerin wanted to make of you. You sat on him, held him down, almost all the time, but when you couldn't anymore, when you got weary, he escaped. Lucky I was there to help."

"Or I'd have been straight jacketed in an asylum for the rest of my short life," Bodie muttered, and clung desperately to Doyle. "I don't want to be crucified every day by loving you, Ray. I want out."

Doyle rocked Bodie gently. "Cowley would probably agree with that - we'll be a liability to the department now anyway. Couple of flaming bis having a wild affair won't go down too well with the press!"

"Not having a wild affair," Bodie argued, tongue flicking into Ray's ear and making him shiver. "I married you, remember? If it wasn't a 'dream' and if the loving was real, and the dying, then that was real too. Buy you rings when we get out. Rings for your fingers, your toes, your - "

"Bodie!" Doyle's fingers dug into Bodie's arms. "I must be feeling - "

"You feel wonderful," Bodie said blissfully.

"- better, because you're getting me going."

"Yeah. S'nice, isn't it?"

"No, it bloody well is not, not here! I am not going to get laid in a hospital bed, so take your hands of... me..." He collapsed with a sigh as Bodie's fingers cupped and cradled his balls. "Oh, love, please. Later."

With a mutter of reproach Bodie let him go. "It's all your fault. If you were ugly and crabby tempered you could crawl into bed with me and I'd be chaste as a saint. As it is, a saint'd get excommunicated in ten seconds flat around you! And I am no saint." He patted the curve of Ray's soft backside and gave him a push. "Back to your own bed, before I change my mind and fling you on the floor and do you."

"Later." Doyle kissed Bodie's mouth as he slid out of the bed again. "And not on the floor, either. In bed, or under the shower'd be nice. I reckon we could do it standing under the water, don't you?"

"You can, if you lean forward a bit and spread 'em," Bodie grinned. "But I want you in bed. On clean sheets. Nice pillows... Go to sleep, Ray, before this bloody conversation gets away from us."

"'Night... 'Morning," Doyle corrected. "You seen the time? It's four o'clock. They'll be 'round flinging the blinds open and ladling out the cornflakes soon. And I'm not sleepy anymore."

"Neither am I," Bodie murmured gloomily. "And I'm starting to get itchy. God, sharing a room with you is worse than - worse than - " He laughed. "Can't imagine anything half as bad to compare it to."

"Sorry," Ray said meekly. "Didn't mean to be a pest, did I?"

Silence reigned for half a minute, and then Bodie heard his partner's shortened breathing. "Ray?"

"Talking to my glands," Doyle muttered. "They don't seem to be listening much, though."

"Ray?" Bodie's voice was just a purr. "Come back here."

"Dangerous," Doyle hissed sharply.

"We'll be quick. Promise. Nothing elaborate, just... Got to have it, Ray, got to have you. Please?"

Muttering beneath his breath about fool's errands, Ray slipped in between Bodie's sheets, ditching the open backed hospital robe, and gasped as his skin met Bodie's down every inch of their bodies. "Going to make a mess," he whispered.

"Kleenex in the cabinet," Bodie moaned. "I looked."

"Thorough bugger," Doyle said, and nipped Bodie's nose as he was pulled close and two large hands cupped his backside. "So warm, aren't you? And Jesus, so hard."

Then there was no more breath to speak with and they were writhing together, feeling the weakness of days of inactivity hampering them but unable to resist the surges of needing and the shimmering response of their nerves. It was, they thought in retrospect, laughing, a weird place to do it for the first time; a narrow hospital bed, with a vast building full of the sick, the dying and the nursing staff ten feet outside the door, but it was wonderful, and they had never felt more together, or less alone than in the moments after they came, lying stickily together, too exhausted to twitch a muscle.

Somehow Doyle summoned the strength to get back into his own bed before anyone could appear, and they dozed until breakfast, eating as if they were starved and finding themselves packed off upstairs to the physiotherapists. Their muscle tone was only marginally depleted, and a morning's work left them tired, sore but satisfied. Michaels put in an appearance as they were eating lunch and was delighted with their bright eyed, bushy tailed act.

When the surgeon left Bodie was crowing in glee. "Sprung! Free! Out! Loose! On the rampage!"

"At least as far as Chelsea," Doyle said drily, "where I expect to sink into an armchair and do my geriatric impressions for a week. Feels like I've had the 'flu, you know? Weak in the legs and all that."

"How weak?" Bodie asked, flashing him a sultry look.

Doyle giggled - an unashamed sound something like gurgling plumbing. "Not that weak, thank God. Oh love, your face! What is it?"

Bodie's eyes had widened and his jaw had gone slack. "I've just never heard you giggle," he admitted. "You were always such a macho little son of a bitch. And you giggled."

"I'll stop, if you don't like it," Doyle offered indifferently, inspecting his finger nails.

"Don't," Bodie grinned. "It, well, turns me on, you know."

Now Doyle chuckled richly. "You'd better warn me; what do I do that turns you on - what shouldn't I do at the wrong moment?"

"Don't walk in front of me," Bodie said seriously. "Don't lean back against walls the way you do, with your hips stuck out; don't squirm around in the car with your bum in the air. Don't flutter your eyelashes; for God's sake don't wriggle around trying to scratch an itch - and don't sit with your legs wide open, like you do. Don't - "

"Jeez, what can? I do?" Doyle demanded, exasperated.

"Not a lot," Bodie admitted. "Unless we're at home, in which case you can do as you like. And the more often you do it, the better I'll like it."

Doyle threw a bunch of grapes at him.

They were free to go at three, and Doyle phoned for a taxi to take them out to Chelsea, just across the river. He had enough in change in the pocket of his jeans to pay the fare, and was juggling his keys as he went through the doors a step ahead of Bodie, punching the lift button. For once, the device was operating.

Bodie had always liked Doyle's flat; it was a comfortable clutter where you could mess about, put your feet up, get things into a muddle, and not feel a pang of guilt, because every time you looked he had rearranged the furniture or brought some new object d'art that required the rearrangement of everything else he owned to accommodate it. 'Comfortable' best summed up a Doyle domicile, and Bodie knew instinctively where home would be.

Suddenly the door was closed and they were really alone, and the laughter was stilled. They wanted to hold, be held, to kiss and touch, and when Doyle reached out for Bodie it was like being set free. The embrace was familiar, the ravenous kisses craved for, and when they found themselves tangled on Ray's bed, naked and aching with arousal, it was all Bodie could do to remember that his lover was actually a virgin. Ray was trembling with desire, hot, flushed, his satiny skin sheened with a film of salty perspiration, so turned on already that he was wriggling.

Beautiful, Bodie thought, sitting up to look at him from arm's length; that furry chest with its rosy brown nipples was heaving, ribs just under the skin becoming more prominent with each indrawn gasp, those long, dancer's legs shifting as he tried to ease the aches of wanting, and between them, his cock was throbbing, dark and demanding. The green eyes were huge and misty, and every little caress made him moan.

"Ray," Bodie murmured, "you're forgetting."

"Forgetting?" Doyle turned onto his side and pressed back against Bodie's chest. "Forgetting what?" He wriggled until the nudge of Bodie's erection was between his thighs.

"This." Bodie's hand slid down between his buttocks, seeking the ring of muscle and pressing inward. "First time and all that."

For a moment Ray stilled, then his shoulders twitched in a shrug. "Survived it last time, didn't I? I mean - oh, Christ, you know what I mean. Just do it the same way, Bodie, but do it now. Please?"

"Not like you to beg," Bodie teased.

Doyle glanced over his shoulder. "I'm not begging. I'm demanding. There's vitamin E cream in the bathroom. Oily as hell. That'll do." He bit off a giggle. "I remember the time you used butter."

"I'll get it," Bodie said, kissing his nose. "The vitamin stuff, not the butter. S'been in the fridge, you'd go into orbit if I used that." Ray punched his shoulder as he slid off the bed, padding into the bathroom and returning with the yellow plastic tube. He was thinking back to their first night, in the hotel in Sutton Westcliff; he would never forget any detail of it - that was their first time, not this. This was just like a re-enactment for the fun of it. Still, he knew he had to be careful - as careful as Ray would have to be the first time he did this to Bodie.

Lying on his back, toes wriggling, breath already short, Ray looked too wanton to be believed, but it was an innocent kind of wantonness, like the sinless ardour of a wild creature. Bodie's weight sank the mattress and he lay down beside him. "Same way as last time?"

"Same way," Ray smiled dreamily. "You do remember - ?" Then he had to gasp as Bodie's mouth closed over his right nipple and his cock was taken in a firm grip, pulling and squeezing, and they began.

It was the same in almost every detail. Doyle pulled a pillow under his cheek, eager for the deep intrusion of oily fingers, but the feelings were gloriously familiar, not strange and distressing, and when Bodie entered him at last only the sharp jolt of pain attested to his virginity. He bit his lip as Bodie settled down on him, the impalement complete.

"Ray? Okay, love?" Even the words were the same, and Doyle nodded, wanting him to move, now that the pain was beginning to recede, pleasure replacing it. He wiggled, trying to take his weight on his knees; a thrill of pain returned as Bodie did move, but in moments was gone again, and Bodie's hand had hold of him, slippery with his own pre-ejaculate, rubbing until his mind spun.

Suddenly the coupling was the same as always, a sharing, familiar, and they were working together, rapture replacing pleasure, joy bursting out of rapture. Bodie cried out as he came, a moan echoed by Doyle as the scalding liquid stung his tender inside, and they collapsed, sucking air into their lungs, loathe to separate until Doyle began to suffocate under Bodie's considerable weight. Then they rolled over into a loose, sticky embrace, and Ray yelped.

"Sore?" Bodie guessed.

"Very," Doyle said ruefully. "Not to worry, though - you oiled me up with vitamin E cream to begin with. Saved a whole step."

"Want some more on?" Bodie reached for the tube.

Ray gave a wriggle. "Gimme something to mop up with before I mess up my best quilt any more." He laughed delightedly as Bodie reached for the box of Kleenex, swiping it off the bedside table, pulling out a handful and performing the task himself.

"There's a lot of it," Bodie said sheepishly.

"Self-solving problem," Doyle said aridly. "Give us a few days and we won't be making much of a mess. Abstinence is the way to make a mess, and I don't see us abstaining." He writhed in a curious mixture of discomfort and satiated pleasure as Bodie applied a swab of cream, then yawned with gusto and punched the pillow. "Fancy a snooze?"

"Thought you'd never ask," Bodie grinned, and grabbed his lover, pulling him into his arms. "Love you, Ray. Gorgeous, sexy, randy little..." He was asleep before he managed the last word.

"Bugger," Doyle finished for him, eyes falling shut. "And for the first time there's evidence for the truth of that, sweetheart." He smiled into the hollow of Bodie's throat. "Love you too... Tell you when you wake up, sleepin' beauty."

If they thought they were not under surveillance, they were wrong.

The phone rang at ten to six, clamouring for attention on the table beside Doyle's bed, and as Ray was still dead asleep Bodie groped for it, dislodging the smaller man from his chest. Ray gave a mutter of protest at the disturbance and cuddled closer, and Bodie pressed the cold plastic to his ear. "Bodie." He expected it to be a call from Central, but the voice that answered was thickly accented.

German. And it said one word. "Ravenfeeder."

Numbness tingled through Bodie and he wisely put the phone back into the cradle without offering a word of response, tickling Ray's shoulder to wake him. "Ray, love, wake up."

"Unh?" Doyle lifted a drowsy face, kissing Bodie's chin. "Whaa-?"

"We're not out of the woods yet. Guess who that was on the phone."

For an instant Doyle was still, then he shot up in bed, wincing soundlessly as he sat up, at the protests of back and backside. "That bastard tried it again?" Bodie nodded mutely. "Ravenfeeder," Ray said softly. "Well? Bodie? How do you... feel about it?"

"Sick in my guts," Bodie admitted, "but it's over. I faced it and I beat it, so relax. I'm not going to got for the throat again." He planted a kiss on Doyle's nose. "Got to call Central, tell the Cow."

"And he'll wave a magic wand and put everything right," Doyle said drily, lying down again and pulling the blankets up to his chin.

Bodie was out of the bed as he spoke, leaving in search of Ray's R/T, which was on the mantle in the lounge room. "3.7 to base." He asked for Cowley, and when he heard the Scot's voice he went on, "Schwerin had a tail on us, sir. We came back home to Ray's, and he knows we're here. I just got a phonecall. Same as last time - code word, assignment to kill."

"Audacity," Cowley said acidly. "If at first you don't succeed... Sit tight, Bodie. We'll tap the phone full time now, set up a listening post. Oh, Jax and Murphy have got an Interpol feed that should pinpoint the Schwerin group within the next couple of days. Some of them are still in Frankfurt, others are right here in London. We have names and faces, since you got over your memory lapse, so we're on the last lap. It might be wise to put a guard on the flat. You'll be staying with 4.5, I assume?"

"Yes, sir," Bodie said a little awkwardly. And for a damned sight longer than you think. Sir, he added soundlessly.

"Wise to stick together at this point," Cowley conceded. "You're a prime target now, Bodie. You can identify the men who abducted you. This phonecall in just a testing of the water... They'll be watching to see if you leave 4.5's flat with blood on your hands and homicidal designs on the rest of us. When you don't, there's every chance they'll come for you."

"I know," Bodie agreed quietly. "We'll stay on our toes, sir. A bit of back up wouldn't go amiss; and we'll check in every hour."

"By the book," Cowley said tersely. "Alpha One out."

As Bodie shut down he turned to see Doyle standing a pace behind him, one of his tartan rugs wrapped around him, his hair messy, his jaw needing a shave, but his eyes bright and clear. "I heard," he said as Bodie took a breath to brief him. "And I reckon it could come to a shooting party."

"It will," Bodie nodded. "Soon. They'll be watching us right now, and my guess is they'll be waiting to take us when we put our noses out that door... So we stay inside, right?"

Ray nodded. "Fine by me. Have to phone for groceries, though, and it's too late to do that today. Have to send out for dinner. Chinese? Italian?"

"Chinese," Bodie said self indulgently. "Peking Duck, since you're payin' the bill."

"Me?" Doyle blinked. "Oi, we share the expenses, mate, as well as the perks, or I'm filing for divorce in the morning!"

"You would, wouldn't you?" Bodie grinned.

Doyle thought for a moment and shook his head. "Nah. Might thump you and hump you, but dump you? I can get my revenge in other ways."

"Oh, like what?"

Ray pantomimed the turning of a key in a lock at his groin. "Up ye olde fashoned chastity belt. Loss of your conjugals'll soon sort you out."

The look on Bodie's face was worth fifty quid, Doyle thought as he spun and sprinted away from the rugby tackle, making it to the bedroom and ending up pressed against the headboard, sitting on the pillows, losing the rug and laughing till his chest ached. Bodie grabbed him by the feet and yanked, pulling him down the bed, and he flailed around, kicking and wriggling, loving the game.

"It'd be the last roundup for you, mate," Bodie growled, "if I was my normal, virile self. You're just lucky I'm still a bit down." He had Doyle by the ankles and twitched his legs apart suggestively.

A flicker of something less humorous crossed Doyle's mobile face. "But I'm still a bit sore," he said, trying to cover the concern with a grin. "It'd hurt me, so soon. You wouldn't screw me if you knew it was going to hurt me, would you?" As he spoke the sobriety returned to his voice, and Bodie let the game go, gathering him into an embrace.

"I have no intentions of 'screwing' you at all, Raymond, and I'd be very pleased if you would unlearn that word. All I ever wanted to do was make love to you, any way you want it. 'Screwing' is fun, but there's a teeny bit of difference between that and loving." He took the round chin in his left palm and looked into the green eyes levelly. "If there's ever anything wrong - and if ever I hurt you, you yell good and loud." His voice shook; in his mind were the images he wished he could forget; Ray, writhing in fright and discomfort, stunned and slammed into the pillows with every thrust that hammered into his body. He shivered, and the fingers on Doyle's face shook.

Sensitive to Bodie's moods as never before, Doyle took his lover's hands tightly. "Hey, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make it sound like I doubted you, just... I thought... If you're hot for it and I can't do it, I'm going to feel awful about letting you down."

Bodie gaped at him and yanked vengefully on his hair. "Twit. Hot for it? So hot I'd hurt you? You're an idiot, Ray. All you have to do is lie there looking at me with those big soulful eyes and the chances are I'll come without you layin' a finger on me. Or kiss me with your tongue, or suck me. Or stroke yourself and let me watch. Anything. The rest of it's up to you; you'll invite me into you when you're good and ready... Same as I'll invite you." He forced a smile. "After we've got the lid on the Schwerin do you can screw me into the ground, pet; wouldn't do for both of us to be raw and twitchy, would it?"

"I'll do no such thing," Ray said softly, bending his head to kiss Bodie's chest. "You can keep screwing around. Want to make love. Later, when we've had some dinner, I want to stand under the shower with you and do it slowly. S'okay?"

"Silly question," Bodie said honestly, and two hours later demonstrated how silly, by letting Doyle coax him into a sweet, endless climax, just pressed together under the warm water and rocking heat against hard heat. Ray had a natural instinct, a real talent, and the glow of the loving lasted the whole evening out, still reverberating in their nerves as they fell into bed, tired, contented and talking in whispers into the early hours. Making love again was beyond them until the flickers of dawn found their way into the room, when Bodie thrilled to the soft/hard feel of Doyle stretched out on his back, heaving like the scend[?] of the ocean, warm, clean, musky, and male.

It was the comfort of being with a man more than anything else, that time, that lulled Bodie. With a woman there was always worry: will she come? Can I hold back to make her come before I'm spent? What's she feeling? Is it okay to move her, or will it spoil what she's feeling? With another man, he just knew; he could relax, could let go and writhe around, kiss sloppily, mutter earthy curses, do it hard or just lie there and let it happen, as the fancy took him. Ray loved everything he did, everything he said, and there was never the desperate frustration of giving head without reciprocated delight. If Doyle, still new to this kind of sex, had not wanted to suck him, he would have said nothing; Ray tasted wonderful it was no imposition to go down on him and pamper him shamelessly; but, when he had got his breath back and his limbs were in working order again, Doyle would wriggle around and return the pampering with interest.

Not surprising, they slept late, and missed their check-in to CI5 Central. The R/T beside the bed shrilled Doyle's operative number and he answered groggily. "Yeah, yeah, all quiet, everything shipshape. Will call in again at eleven. 4.5 out." He dropped the R/T into the bed, letting Bodie fish it out and replace it on the table. "What day is this?"

"Friday?" Bodie guessed. "No, that can't be right. Thursday? Oh, who cares? Calendars don't count when you're on honeymoon."

"Honeymoon?" One green eye pried open in Doyle's whiskery face. "Are we? Thought you went to Niagara Falls on honeymoon."

"Not on our salary," Bodie grinned. "And speaking of finances, we have to talk, Ray. If we're quitting the squad, we need to make plans."

"Talk while we eat," Doyle yawned. "I'm starved. Need my brekkie, or I'll expire on the spot."

"Need a shave too," Bodie observed. "Shower?"

Half an hour later they were sitting at the kitchen table with a toaster working between them, and Bodie was ladling butter onto a slice of wholemeal bread, slightly scorched around the edges. "Plans, sunshine. I'm not signing on the dole at my age." He gave Ray a wink over the heat haze. "Could do a bit of pimping for you, though... You're a treat in jeans that are two sizes too small for you, and - "

"And you can always dig ditches," Doyle snorted. "Be serious; I'm not jumping into something I'll regret."

"You've got to be alive to have regrets," Bodie said, suddenly moody. "I'd sooner be alive with your complaining than both of us in the ground. Don't kid yourself Ray - I'd do it. I'm not so enamoured of life that it holds any fatal charm for me anymore. I've been kicked all my life; ran the docks as a kid, shipped out in the Merchant, got myself shagged by the First Mate at fourteen, and half the bloody crew of the Dog Rose before I could jump ship. Wasn't nice, but they didn't hurt me. Mercs, army, killing, madness, hate." He shrugged. "I've had it all, and I've paid my dues. I want to come home now. To you. What do you want?"

Doyle chewed the corner of a piece of toast thoughtfully. "I've had an easy life by comparison to yours," he admitted, "but it was tough enough. Fighting, drinking, smoking, whoring, before I was seventeen. I cut up a kid - I told you that once. I never told you why. He was trying it on with me, rough and ready, 'xcept I wasn't ready. He wouldn't take no for an answer, so I let him have it. I've been kicked from one end of London to the other, first with the Met, then with Cowley's mob. I've played the stud and the whore for him, yeah, I reckon I've paid my dues too. He doesn't owe me, I don't owe him." He seemed to focus on Bodie for the first time in a minute. "Home and hearth sound nice, Bodie. Where the heart is... That's you. Been you for a long time, I think, only we weren't ready to admit it. Never been gay before."

"Me neither," Bodie shrugged. "All it was, before, was a means to an end, if you'll forgive the pun. Keeps you sane in the bush, and it keeps your elders and betters smiling benevolently at you on the ship. They didn't do me any real harm, and by God, they gave me an education! You'd never guess the things you can do with a menthol cough drop!"

"Wouldn't I?" Doyle winked at him. "I've been around the block a few times myself, chum. And there's a packet of 'em in the medicinals cabinet in the bathroom, if you fancy taking your life in your hands... Don't change the ruddy subject. If we're quitting to stay alive, what are we going to do? Just change jobs?"

"Go into business," Bodie suggested, picking up the new toast with careful fingers. "Look, I've got a few grand left over from my wild youth, and you've been salting lettuce away for a rainy day like a chipmunk hoarding nuts. We can sell a few things, maybe take out a loan, get a lease on a place out of the city. Garage on the river, fix bikes and outboards, slipway where we can work on the odd boat, sell fishing gear, get a Suzuki franchise - there's one going, read about it in the paper. I know a couple of good lads from the old days, great mechanics, who'd be able to handle the actual work; hire a kid to look after the shop. Cottage on the premise, little farm on the river. Mucking about all day, fishing, riding bikes, breeding horses, get a few dogs, and get over to Paris and Barcelona now and again for holidays."

"Sounds thrilling," Doyle mused. "Realise we'll be mad with boredom inside of the first year, after the life we've led up to now."

A grin cracked Bodie's face. "Cliff climbing in Wales, hiking up in Snowdonia, or Eire, fly gliders or kites, buy a ketch and sail down to Morocco or Senegambia for a month. With a business set up and running, we can stop working and start living, Ray."

"And what about if it goes broke?" Doyle asked wickedly, washing his toast down with a swig of tea. "What then?"

"Like to look on the black side, don't you?"

"Like to cover all the options," Doyle corrected. "It'd be back to work for us if it fell on its face, and we'd take pretty poorly to it if we'd been our own bosses for years... Mind you, you could do worse than exploit what we know. Security. Bank, vaults, country mansions, that kind of thing. That's not dangerous work - most you come up against is the odd cat man." He frowned, thinking hard. "And we could set that up in five minutes with half a dozen phonecalls and some stationery, if the other idea didn't work out."

"Or do it as well," Bodie agreed, warming to the subject. "Yeah, do what we do now, but do it in safer circumstances for clients who'll pay through the nose. That's not a bad idea, Raymond, me love."

"And that's another thing," Doyle added, sobering. "If we're going to settle down together, you're going to have to get used to being looked askance at. Know what I'm getting at? They're going to call us fags, queens, and a lot of less polite names. That bother you?"

Bodie just shrugged. "I've been called a lot of things in my time... Pervert, deviant, murderer. I was a merc, you understand, and all mercs are perverted monstrosities, sex maniacs who like to rape and butcher. It's not true. They're not all that, but..."

"Gelbart," Doyle said softly. "He said he was going to do that to me. Take the knife off me, geld me with it, hump me as long as I could take it and sell the carcass off. Bodie, why did he say those exact things?"

He watched Bodie shiver, close his eyes. "I watched him play that game once. Got a South African kid, he was supposed to be a radio man but he was just a boy, nice looking too; good at his job till the shooting started, then scared to death. Gelbart got shot, because he fouled up one time, and he took it out on the kid. Cut him. Raped him till he bled to death. They sold the body to a butcher in Zaire." The words were spoken in a hoarse whisper and Bodie shook himself hard. "I thought I'd buried that so deep it'd never see the light of day again."

"Except I was down there," Ray murmured soothingly, "in the dark place where you hide all this away. I saw a lot of things, Bodie. A lot of things you'd never speak of in a million years... I know what's behind you as surely as if I'd been in Angola with you." He reached across the table. "Take my hand." Bodie did as he was asked, and Doyle squeezed the cold fingers. "Look at this." He gestured at their clasped hands with a nod of his head. "That says it all. That's us from now on. Shut me out, and I'll fight you; leave me and I'll scream blue murder, be unfaithful and I'll thump you where it hurts most. Listening?"

Bodie blinked in astonishment and nodded meekly. "Yeah. You're quite a tiger when you get your mad up, aren't you?"

"Damned right," Doyle affirmed huskily. "I died for you in that room. Don't you forget that either, in future, when a tight skirt wiggles by and you start itching for a bit of the other."

"Clot," Bodie said fondly. "I've had so many women I've lost count, haven't a clue what they all look like, can't even remember their names. There's one bird called Harriet sends me a Christmas card every year from Devon, and I can't even remember who the hell she is. They never meant anything. Company, kisses, sex when I needed it. A shoulder to lean on, maybe... I'd sooner have you. You love me, makes all the difference." He lifted Ray's knuckles to his lips. "We need groceries, sunshine. This bread is like cardboard and the butter's half off, and the rest's ruined. What's the number of the local place?"

Domesticity was a novelty and they enjoyed the day, quiet and uneventful as it was, checking in every hour. By five, Cowley was growing impatient, and when he arrived on the doorstep they smelled a rat, sharing a glance of mutual suspicion. "Come in, sir," Doyle said automatically, stepping aside to allow the older man over the threshold.

"You're looking well, both of you," Cowley observed. "The new life seems to suit you both."

"New life?" Bodie prompted innocently.

Cowley gave him a hard look. "Don't try to con a con man, Bodie... You've consummated it, have you? Come on, Michaels told me he caught you kissing in the hospital."

Ray flushed scarlet, partly with embarrassment and partly in real anger. "So much for the bloody ethics of the medical profession!"

"He was not aware that he was divulging your secrets," Cowley said offhandly. "No offence intended, none taken, as far as I'm concerned. But I need to know the status of my operatives. Are you or are you not sleeping together?"

It was Bodie who answered, reflecting Cowley's acid tone right back at him. "Yes, we are. Bothers you, does it?"

"As your... friend," Cowley said carefully, "no. As your employer, I am naturally less happy."

"Doesn't make much difference, sir," Bodie said slowly, "because we've decided to resign."

The Scot's brow creased in a deep frown. "Because you're concerned for my opinion of you? Because you're concerned for the department's welfare?"

"Because we're concerned for our welfare, sir," Doyle said quietly. "I'm thirty-four, sir, Bodie's a week or two off thirty-two. We'd have ten years left in the field - "

"Fifteen if you stay fit and sharp," Cowley corrected. "Men like Meredith, Macklin, Kodai, Radouk, Yeshenkov and myself function well in the field for years, you know that. They're all years older than you, and they give you a run for your money."

"Right," Doyle conceded. "But we've started to think we're pushing our luck, sir. Meredith's dead. Kodai's dead, your limping, Radouk's inside, Macklin's nerves are shot to hell. You think we're keen to go their way - the way of Mattheson, King, Cookie, Tony Miller, and all the rest?" He shook his head. "We've done our bit for Queen and country; twenty-seven year's service between us. Now we'd like to get out, get off the street before they wheel us out of action into an invalid home, or send us on a one way excursion to the nice little churchyard where we bury our loyal, anonymous civil servants. You can appreciate how we feel, sir."

In fact, Cowley could appreciate what Doyle was saying perfectly, but he was not about to let his two best men go without a struggle. "So what will you do? Have you thought about the future?"

Bodie gave Doyle a conspiratorial smile. "We have. Two businesses; a place on the river, mechanics and tourist supplies, and a security firm, wiring the houses of the megarich. We'll make it work, sir."

"I'm sure you will," Cowley nodded. "You'll be bored to distraction in six months and knocking on my door in a year."

"Would you take us back?" Ray frowned. "As we are - a couple, and all that? Because we're not going to change our minds about how we feel."

But Cowley shook his head. "If you stay, you stay, and you keep your act neat and tidy. Live together by all means, but out there you keep it professional, impersonal. If you go, for a year, two years, you'll have been pegged by one and all as what you are - a couple. That makes you a liability. You couldn't come back if you wanted to. It's a one way decision, you can see my position. Once you go, you can't come back. Not after you've been recognised, publicly, in your new guise."

It made a lot of sense. The press had never cared for CI5; many of the papers and magazines likened Cowley's department to the KGB, and the CIA, secret societies, dangerous and malignant. The chance to blacken the whole outfit would not be refused, and if it could be proved that George Cowley hired gays, questions would be asked in high places. Bodie, even at that point, was uncomfortable with the categorisation 'gay,' because it was not in its strictest sense true. Bisexuality had always come naturally to him; loving Doyle was as easy as breathing, but being gay meant panting after sundry good looking men and sleeping around with them, and that was not something he had done in years, and only then, out of necessity. As far as Doyle was concerned, it was all too new for him to be hammered into any specific category, expect to say that he had been as heterosexual as anyone until love caught up with him.

And in the end, Bodie thought as he smiled at Doyle's serious profile, it's the love that counts, not the sex, not the bed you roll out of in the morning and whether it smells of perfume or cologne... Or that clean, musky, male scent that said 'Doyle.'

"You still want to go?" Cowley asked, point blank. "Because if you do I won't stand in your way. I'll even pull strings to launch you in your new endeavour, and there might come a time when I'll subcontract work your way. But once you make the break, it's got to be a clean one. CI5 is still proving itself, as far as many people are concerned. We can't afford any mistakes, not when so much groundwork has been done. Well?"

There was silence for a long time; in it, Doyle and Bodie looked levelly and honestly at one another. Bodie lifted one brow, asking the question: 'you know what I want, what about you, sunshine?' Doyle could literally hear him say it, and he smiled. It meant changing everything, the habits of a lifetime, losing friends, his home, everything except Bodie. He studied the carpet, weighing and measuring, calculating one option against the other, and Cowley and Bodie gave him a full minute to come to a final decision.

It was the sharp twist of memory that made up his mind for him. Back there, in that awful place, the cellar where Bodie kept his horrors, he had gone to his death, given his life willingly trying to win sanity back for Bodie. And he'd do it again. Seeing Bodie hurt, distressed, was too much to be borne, a real, physical pain within him, and he'd do it again. Life was a little sacrifice to make when it was measured against the kind of love that was like an ache down under his heat... But if he gave his life, the ultimate self-sacrifice, by giving it he'd sign Bodie's death warrant. Bodie would do it, he knew. Life had pounded him until he was black and blue, and he had had it all; the hates and lusts, the grand tragedies and battles won, lost loves and broken ideals. All that was left was right here in this room. Ray felt the weight of responsibility settle on his shoulders and made a silent pledge not to shirk it. Bodie needed him, wanted him, and there was, in his own heart, a deep yearning to be needed and wanted. All his life he had waited and searched for someone to need him.

He'd be a lunatic to reject love for the sake of a job. Paperwork and the boredom of stakeouts, the cold sweat of firefights, the soul-numbing shock of killing, snuffing out another's life. The gut-twisting fear of wondering when the bullet was going to find him, or Bodie. Bruises and broken bones, regularly, when the game got rough, and the wrenching agony of watching one friend after another put into the ground.

Enough's enough, Ray thought tiredly. He looked up into Bodie's deep serious blue eyes and smiled. "We'll resign, sir." he said to Cowley, still looking at Bodie. "Before our luck runs out. No hard feelings?"

"None," Cowley said softly. As he took Doyle's verbal resignation along with Bodie's, the Scot relaxed. Business concluded, he sank into an armchair and looked pointedly at the scotch bottle. "Are you two on the wagon, or are you going to offer your old boss a drink?"

Bodie poured the amber spirit for all three of them, and Cowley raised his glass in a toast. "Your future. May you succeed in what you do." He drank and nodded in appreciation of the Johnny Walker. "I will say that we'll miss you. You'll work a month's notice, of course, but since both of you are under par after being flat on your back for days, I shall have to find you something to do at the office. No sense sending you to Brian for a tuning up when you're going to be leaving the fold."

"No hard feelings," Bodie observed, surprised. "I thought you'd give us a fight, sir."

"Did you?" Cowley smiled, all his stiff reserve relaxed now. "Och, I know when a man's had enough, Bodie, I'm not blind. You two have been running, hard and fast, for years. On borrowed time? Maybe. Maybe it's time we all got out, while we can. There's a row of gravestones with the names of my friends on them. I don't want to add your names to the list." He sat looking at the two of them with a benign smile, then got to his feet. "Give me the resignations in writing, the usual forms will have to be filled out. Tell me when you get your business arranged, I'll see what I can do to help - and I'll keep you in mind, in future when there's a security job. A house you've wired will be like home territory to you." He strode to the door, opened it and stopped to look back. "A month's notice, then, but you're on sick leave for another week. According to Doctor Michaels, Bodie, you're still too full of drugs to be of any use to me, and after the brain scans returned by Doyle, the medical staff at the hospital are still thinking of putting him under a microscope. Brain dead for five days, says Michaels... After that, a week's sick leave is the least we can do for you."

With that he was gone, and Doyle frowned at the closed door.

"He bloody knew we were going to resign. He can smell deception from a mile away, cunning old bugger."

"Deception?" Bodie asked, slipping one arm about his waist.

"Yeah. Us, talking to him the other day, at the hospital, trying to make like nothing was wrong. We must have broadcast it at him; 'leave us alone so we can cuddle in peace!'"

"That," Bodie said succinctly, "sounds like a great idea. Come here at once and pucker up." He dropped a wet kiss on Ray's mouth, bit gently at the full lower lip as if he were a ripe peach and then drew back. "Time to think about cooking," he said vaguely. "I'm hungry."

"Your turn on KP," Doyle said dreamily. "I'm washing up tonight, aren't I? What's it going to be, beans on toast or tinned spaghetti?"

"You'll get a vitamin pill and a glass of water if you don't look out," Bodie promised. "Curry. I like curry. And it's easy to make."

Doyle made a face. "Your curry's lethal - chicken and napalm recipe."

"So you cook," Bodie shrugged.

"I cooked last night!"

"Who gives a hoot, so long as it all gets done?" Bodie demanded.

"Oh, sure." Ray propped his fists on his hips and tried for a withering glare, managing a grin instead. "If I don't watch it I'm going to spend the rest of my life chained up in the kitchen."

The blue eyes darkened by shades. "Kinky like that? You can do it on the table, I suppose. Always preferred the bed, myself."

"Shower was nice too," Doyle murmured, every joint relaxing as he thought back to the cascade of hot water and the press of their bodies.

"Understatement," Bodie purred huskily. "Come on, we'll cook together. Then we'll splash about in the washing up together. What do you want to do tonight? It's only half past five."

"There's a film on telly," Doyle said, preceding Bodie into the kitchen and doubling up to rummage in a low cupboard for the large saucepan. He yelped, giving a startled leap as Bodie palmed his buttocks.

"Yeah, go on, there's a film on telly."

"Sherlock Holmes," Ray said, catching his breath as Bodie's hands squeezed. "If you don't stop that, you might just find yourself chucked on the table and ravished within an inch of your life." Bodie squeezed again and watched Ray shudder. "Bugger it. Look at the state of me now - how d'you expect me to cook like this?" He thrust his hips forward hard against Bodie's.

"I don't," Bodie admitted. "But I want you. Food can wait. There are more important things in life."

"You're right," Doyle agreed, and dumped the saucepan. "Mind you, starvation won't do your libido much good; might have to think about eating in a week or two."

"Oh, I dunno." Bodie sank his teeth into Doyle's ear. "This bit tastes pretty good. Make an interesting diet, wouldn't it? Give up food and browse on you instead."

"Bodie, don't be disgusting," Doyle groaned.

Bodie produced a hurt expression and removed his hands from Ray's body. "All right, if that's how you feel, I'll - "

"Bodie!" Doyle grabbed him, trapped him against the cupboard and wriggled against him. "At least finished what you start!"

Bailed up against the laminex woodwork, thrilling to the feel of the hard, hot body grinding against his, Bodie looked down fondly at the coppery head on his shoulder and rolled his eyes to the ceiling. Damn, so this was married life; seduction amongst the pots and pans, ardour between the processed peas and the custard powders, love among the soap suds, measureless content with one's rump being assaulted by a cupboard door handle and one's spouse tossing one's discarded clothes at the washing machine like Joel Garner in full flight.

For years Bodie had wondered why marriage was so popular.

Abruptly, he stopped wondering.

Their week's sick leave flew by, and on the night before they were due to return to work, Schwerin and his group were still on the loose. It was no more safe for them to leave the flat now than it had been the day they got out of the hospital, and though Cowley had kept up surveillance on the building no assassin had shown his hand. It was raining that evening and Bodie was content to sit on the sofa, cradling a glass of beer and watching Doyle sit at the window, staring out into the grey mass of clouds and the distorted wash of fluorescent street lighting. Outside, Jax and Anson were on duty, and all was quiet.

"Know what I think?" Ray said suddenly. Bodie looked up from his beer and smiled at what he saw. Doyle was barefoot, clad in his oldest, most disreputable jeans, a Chinese happy coat and a towel, with which he rubbed absently at hair that was still wet. A faint film of talcum powder was trapped amongst the hair on his chest, and he was blowing at the unruly fringe curls, which were just long enough to get in his eyes when they were wet and limp.

"Go on, what do you think?" Bodie prompted, watching the damp hair puff up off his forehead as he pursed his lips and blew.

"I reckon they should just brick the door up and leave us in 'ere. We're bloody prisoners! Haven't been outside for a week!"

"I'm a target, remember." Bodie levered up to his feet, came to the window and took the towel from Ray to rub at his at his hair. "If I stick my nose out, I'll get it shot off."

"But we can't just stay in here forever."

"Getting a bit stir crazy?

"A bit," Doyle affirmed. "I'd like to go for a run. A walk would do. Yoga on the hearthrug's all very well - "

"Specially for those of us who sit and observe," Bodie chuckled, and meant it. Doyle preferred to exercise in the raw, and what that did for the timeless art of tying one's body in knots was nobody's business. Doyle was a stretchy, supple creature who went through the asanas easily, making them look simple - Bodie knew they were not, and would not be coerced into having a go himself, just happy to watch. At first Ray had been just the tiniest bit self-conscious, like an amateur musician performing in front of someone for the first time, but when he saw the flush in Bodie's cheeks, the languid droop of his eyelashes as the blue eyes grew dark, he quickly made a game of it, and Bodie knew full well that he was choosing asanas that displayed his body to its best, most seductive advantage. Once, he had gone too far; there had been a wicked glint in the green eyes, quickly disguised behind an innocent expression of self absorption before he knelt, legs spread, and put his shoulders down on the rug. It was in the bloody book of exercises - Bodie had seen the photos - but that made no damned difference, and their coupling was furious and hard, right there on the rug.

Remembering it, Bodie smiled; Doyle knew exactly what he was doing; he could wind his lover around his finger, or any other suitable portion of his anatomy, and Bodie was loving it. When this whole Schwerin business was over he would delight in making that long promised invitation... Doyle had been looking at him from beneath lowered lids for days, caressing Bodie's shapely rear with frank interest, and stroking him with an intimate knowledge of what Bodie wanted; sometimes it was hard to remember that death was as close as a bullet, three feet outside their door, and that abstinence, in this case, was less a virtue than a necessity. Bodie had him use his fingers instead, and Ray was eager to comply, learning fast. It was a long time indeed since Bodie had let himself be possessed, and he had never done it at all with love. When it happened, he guessed, it would be devastating.

He tossed away the towel and kissed the top of Doyle's damp, sweet smelling head. Ray murmured pleasurably, leaning back heavily and asking to be embraced; Bodie wrapped him up in his arms, wallowing in comfort. "You know, it might be nice if they did brick the door up and leave us alone. Could go on for a year like this."

"Mmm," Ray purred. "But I want to run, love. I like to run. Be nicer than ever running with you now, especially if it's somewhere nice and private, or too early for anyone else to be around. Could neck a bit behind a hedge before starting back to the car, couldn't we?"

"Illegal in a public place," Bodie teased.

"Bugger the law," Ray said succinctly. "I'm starting to get a bit claustrophobic, that's all."

"Okay," Bodie nodded, kissed his ear and let him go. "So what are we going to do about it? There is a way, you know. To get it all finished... Remember the time with Meredith and Radouk and the KGB hit man, Igor Kodai?"

"Cowley set himself up as the sacrificial goat," Doyle said, and then suddenly cottoned on to what Bodie meant. "No! No bloody way are you going to set yourself up to be hit!"

"Flak jacket, same as the Cow," Bodie argued. "You know as well as I do, no long shot is set up for head shooting. Couple of bruises, then we grab the bastard, and we're home free."

"I don't like it, Bodie," Doyle growled.

"Neither do I, but we can't stay cooped up under guard forever. You're not the only one who needs to stretch his legs, you know. And besides," he added with a slightly sheepish grin. "Watching you get all the fun is starting to frustrate me something wicked." He reached out to stroke the small, perfect buttocks in the faded denim, watched Doyle close his eyes with a lush little sigh. "Yeah, you know bloody well what I mean. You're asking me to do it for you all the time - "

"Complaining?" Ray pried open one eye with a mock frown.

"Yeah," Bodie said brashly, "'cause I want you to do it to me, but I don't dare, till I know I can be sore and stiff all day in peace."

"It does make you a bit uncomfortable the first couple of times," Ray agreed, then his expression became smug. "After that, it's all plain sailing. The more you get it, the easier it gets and the more you want it. Feels..." He shivered.

Bodie shivered too, just watching the sensual twitch of that beautiful mouth. He'd never seen another mouth like it on anyone, man or woman. Made to be kissed, he thought, and flicked his tongue inside while Doyle was still trying to think of words to express what it felt like when he was filled with Bodie and frantic. Bodie acknowledged that he was getting fairly frantic himself, and clutched the smaller man tightly against him.

"Right, that's settled. We're going to spin a web and wait for the hit man to walk into it."

"And you're the bait," Ray sighed, hating the idea.

"I'm the spider," Bodie corrected.

"Spiders don't get shot at."

"Oh no? What were you doing to that poor creature under the sink the other day? You sprayed half a tin on it!"

"Can't stand spiders," Doyle muttered. "Don't mind roaches and the odd silverfish, grasshoppers are okay, and flies are just a pest. Bees are sort of cute, but spiders..." A huge shiver ran through him.

"You're serious, aren't you?" Bodie chuckled. "Now I know what to threaten you with to keep you in line. If you're not a good lad I can always tie you up and let you have it with a bucket full of 'em. They don't bother me," he added airily.

"You do, and you're divorced, pretty bloody quick," Ray said, writhing out of his grasp and leaving Bodie with a handful of empty happy coat. "I'll jump off Tower Bridge for you, but I won't stand that!" He drew a hand across his chest, discovered the residue of talc and absently brushed it away. "You serious?"

"Nah, wouldn't tie you up and let the spiders have a go at you - "

"About setting yourself up as a moving target," Doyle corrected in tones of long suffering patience.

Bodie sobered. "Yeah. Can't see any other way. And I can't see any point in stringing the agony out, either. I'm going to call Cowley tonight, and we'll set it up for tomorrow. I hate hanging around at the dentist's listening to them drilling other folks' teeth. Know what I mean?"

"The waiting's worse than the event," Doyle agreed.

"Yeah." Bodie smiled. "Which is how I'm feeling about having you inside me. I'm starting to think about screamin' in frustration, and doin' it to you is no substitute. Nice as your fingers are, I want you to do it properly. Soon. Tomorrow night, maybe, all being well."

Ray managed a smile and reluctantly nodded. "Fair enough. Far be it from me to preach sense if you want to make a martyr out of yourself."

"I don't," Bodie corrected. "Want to make a free man out of myself, and you too. It could drag on for bloody weeks like this, and that's no good. We've got a life to make, Ray. We're out of a job three weeks from now, we need a new home, a business, car of our own, it won't all just happen, you know. Furniture vans, mortgage, lease, premises, employees. Buy some horses, decorating, painting, sort the garden out..." He paused and chuckled. "It's going to be hard work, but I reckon it'll be worth it. But we can't hang about, love, or we'll be spending the money we need to set it up. Can't do that - I've got a nice nestegg, but not that much."

A soft, incalculably sweet and happy smile had crept over Doyle's face, and as he spoke there was a catch in his voice. "Christ we're going to get domesticated if we're not careful."

"That bother you?" Bodie opened his arms, inviting Doyle into his warmth and wanting the feel of all that shower-warm bare skin.

"Can't say that it does." Ray sounded honestly surprised. "Oh, all right, we'll do it. This is the last time, Bodie. No more jobs like this. Be just our luck if this was the time we get unlucky."

"Couldn't happen," Bodie scoffed. "I'm in love; s'better than a force field." He paused, face in Ray's hair. "Tell me you love me or I'll scream in your ear and deafen you. Need to hear it."

"Prat," Ray accused. "I love you. And you're beautiful, and I want you, so go and jump into bed while I lock up and get the lights." He gave Bodie a stern look. "Say, yes, Ray!"

"Yes, Ray," Bodie said with patently mock meekness and a wicked twinkle in his eyes. "Don't be long, dearest, or I'll start without you."

"You do," Doyle grinned, "and I'll fly solo too this trip. Scram, and think chaste thoughts for two minutes."

"That," Bodie said with dark sobriety, "is impossible." He was watching Doyle's rear as his lover went to attend to the locks, and had to hide a grin. Chaste thoughts around Ray? About as likely as a nun at a stag night.

While Ray locked up, he sat on the foot of the bed and R/T'd Central, asking for a patch to Cowley if it was convenient. Cowley was still at the office and took the call a moment later, and Bodie outlined their plan, expecting the Scot to be less enthusiastic than Doyle had been. To his surprise, Cowley said, "aye, I've been thinking much the same thing myself, Bodie, but your life is no longer mine to play with. I would not have made the suggestion, but since you have, I'll send someone to your flat in the morning with a flak jacket, and we'll set the job up for the afternoon. We can cover you with enough firepower to make it safe after the initial shot... You realise, don't you, that you will take the first shot? There is an element of danger."

"A small one," Bodie admitted. "But only a lunatic would go for a head shot from that kind of range, and the flak jacket'll do its job."

"You don't sound concerned," Cowley observed. "What about Doyle?"

"4.5 isn't keen on the idea," Bodie told him flatly, "but there's not a lot we can do about it. It's this, or stay cooped up till we go crazy."

"So long as you're both willing to shoulder the risks," Cowley said, "I'll set it up." He paused, then closed down in terse tones.

Lounging in the bedroom doorway, Doyle had heard most of the exchange. "Shoulder the risks," he echoed, frowning at Bodie.

"All life's a risk," Bodie said blandly. "If you didn't want to take any risks at all, you'd never get out of bed in the morning." Then he had to grin. "On second thoughts, with you around, you'd never get into bed in the first place!"

"Me? What about me?" Doyle demanded, padding closer.

"You're the sexiest, randiest, horniest little sensualist this side of a Moroccan cat house," Bodie accused. "In fact, I don't think even they would believe you when you get going. I know I still don't... Ray? Ray?" He had the distinct impression that he'd bought himself a lot of trouble of the sweetest possible kind with those remarks, and as Doyle stalked toward the bed he shuffled away, an inelegant scramble to escape the inevitable.

Set on revenge, Doyle stripped with a flourish and pounced. Bodie was yelling before the cast off blue jeans had hit the carpet, and in half an hour had almost lost his voice.

Murphy brought the flak jacket in a suit case at 8:30. He looked for all the world like a door-to-door salesman, and when Doyle answered the bell he took one look at the newcomer and said, "not today, thank you!"

Enjoying the joke, Murphy jammed his foot in the door. "But sir, you don't know what I'm selling. Eastern delights, sir, potions for potency, gold rings hand crafted for the Sultan of Abu-Godawful's own failing appendage, aids for every occasion and fragrant oils for your - pleasure."

"You looking for a thick ear?" Doyle tried to sound stern and failed.

"And if that lot doesn't take your fancy, how about a bullet proof vest?" Murphy finished. "Where's his lordship?"

"Still in bed," Ray told him, opening the case and inspecting the flak jacket. It was heavy, kevlar panels inside black plastic.

"Likes to sleep in, does he?" Murphy sounded mildly fascinated.

"Rough night," Doyle said cryptically. Oh, what a rough night, he thought, covering his cheeks' rising colour by turning away toward the kitchen. "Want a cuppa?" Murphy wouldn't understand the love they shared, not properly. Be tolerant of it, be benevolent about it; but understanding was something that came out of experience. A lot of people could feel quite tolerant toward bisexuality on the basis of the old live-and-let-live philosophy, but the actual physical side of such an affair would probably revolt them. Doyle did not want to put it to the test. What he and Bodie felt and shared and did was beautiful, not to be sullied with others' disapproval. He shivered, remembering, as he put the kettle on the gas. His inside turned to jelly every time he remembered the feeling of Bodie moving inside of him, and he desperately wanted to let Bodie feel that. There was a little disappointment as he acknowledged that he was not Bodie's first, but the others were so far in the past that Bodie was not lying when he said he had almost forgotten what it felt like. And besides, it had never been done with love before.

His mind was far away, replaying the images that haunted him - that look of egocentric near-agony on Bodie's face as he tried not to come until there was nothing for it, come or die, then, the huge, smoky blue eyes, velvety with dilated pupils, the sheen of perspiration on his wide forehead, the taste of his mouth -

"Oi, Ray, you going to light the gas, or what?" Murphy's voice said as he followed the smaller man into the kitchen. "You seeing UFOs?" He squinted out through the window over the sink, trying to see what it was Doyle's eyes were glued to. The sky was empty.

"Was miles away, sorry," Doyle said quickly, and lit the gas. As he shook the match out he yelled, "Bodie, want any breakfast?"

The other's voice was muffled but audible. "Going to take a shower first - is that Murph?"

"Yeah," Ray shouted, "he's brought the flak jacket."

"Bet the neighbours love you two," Murphy grinned. "You always talk at that level this early in the morning?"

"Old lady above is deaf," Ray grinned back, "kids below have the hi-fi on so loud they can't hear a thing, that's a blank wall, and the family on the other side went to Brighton for a week yesterday."

"So you can yell all you want," Murphy guessed. "And I'll bet you do."

Ray looked at him from beneath suspiciously lowered lids. "And what did you mean by that last remark?"

"Nothing," Murphy shrugged. "You happy, are you, Ray? I mean, you and Bodie? Really happy?"

Christ, he knows, knows what we do, and it doesn't bother him, Ray thought, blank for a moment before he relaxed again. "Yeah, as larks," he affirmed. "Ought to thank you, you know. I was you that made me start to think about it. About what I was feeling."

"Me?" Murphy bit back his astonishment. "What did I do?"

"Let it drop that you thought we were a couple," Doyle said with a smile. "Made me start thinking, look at how I felt. We were a couple, all right. Just hadn't got around to the rest of it."

"Sex," Murphy said quietly.

Doyle nodded. "Doesn't bother you, does it?"

"No, why should it? I had a bash at seventeen, but girls were always safer. The bloke I was with was okay, but I didn't get enough out of it to go back..." He shrugged. "No love in it. I'm one of your sentimental types, Ray. I've had the same girlfriend for two years, I really like her. Really. Snap of the fingers away from love, and if we stick together much longer we'll go the same way as you and Bodie. Liking goes to fondness, and becomes love. That's what happened to you, right?"

"Right." Doyle smiled, the happiness showing through. "We're leaving you know. We're finished in three weeks."

"It's all over the department," Murphy told him. "There was a weeping and wailing among the women, but the wagging tongues just said 'told you so.' They had you pegged ages back, I'm afraid."

Once, Doyle would have felt awful, betrayed by his body language, but now he just shrugged, getting out the mugs. "What about Doc Ross?"

"She thumbed her aristocratic nose at the Cow; she's been telling him to split you two up for ages, according to the grapevine. Split you up or pension you off. She thought you'd be too emotionally involved to do your jobs properly." He paused. "Is that why you're going?"

"Partly," Doyle admitted, sloshing boiling water into the three cups. "Also, we've been in this game a long time. Comes a time when you have to start thinking about the odds. Odds are against us, Murph. We get chopped up regularly, and one of these days we'll get killed. Funnily enough, I wouldn't mind so much if we went out together, but if he was killed I'd be running about like a headless chicken. And vice versa. Don't want to make that kind of an idiot of myself, so... We told Cowley, enough's enough, and he didn't argue."

"Cowley's not stupid," Murphy observed. "Any chance you'll come back to the fold later, Ray?" He took his cup as Doyle lifted out the spoon, sipping the sweet, scalding liquid carefully.

But Doyle shook his head. He lifted Bodie's mug, padded to the bathroom and handed the cup inside; a wet, soapy hand took it and just for a moment Murphy saw Doyle yanked into the steam. There was a hiss of 'Bodie!', a moist smacking sound, and then Doyle backed out of the bathroom, mopping at his face.

"Sorry about that, he's a moron this early in the morning," he apologised, but Murphy was laughing. "No, there's no chance we'll be able to re-enlist on the Squad even if we fall flat on our faces," he said, sipping at his own tea. "Tarred with a particularly mucky brush, you see. I'm not going to pretend to anyone we're what we're not, and neither will Bodie. I'd be prepared to bet we get bricks chucked through our windows by Mary Whitehouse's mob, and spurned in the shop by the girl on the till." He frowned into his cup. "We won't flaunt it deliberately, but you can take one look at us and see the truth, so you say."

"You can," Murphy affirmed. "Look, if it's any consolation to you, I think people will leave you alone. It isn't a crime so long as you do it in the sanctity of our own home." He grinned cheekily. "You make a very handsome couple, I can tell you; you with all those curls and those big eyes, and him all big and broody and butch. Look, I've got to go. Cowley's setting you up for the run at ten, and I'm organising our sharpshooters. You're going to walk along the embankment. Out for a stroll; go slowly, and Ray, keep on his river-side. Don't want you getting in the way, because you won't be wearing kevlar. Got it?"

"Got it," Doyle agreed. "And we walk through that door at ten. How long do we keep going?"

"Till the hit is made," Murphy said, draining his cup, "or until we're sure there isn't going to be one. Interpol's dragged in the West German side of this group, and through Schwerin and his top men are still on the loose we've got two of the London operatives in custody. He might have written Bodie off as a thing of the past - no kind of threat any longer. You might not be in the hotseat, so cross your fingers."

"I will," Ray nodded, following Murphy to the door and letting him out. "See you at ten."

"No you won't," Murphy said with a wink. "Our sharpshooters won't be visible. Neither will theirs, but we'll have our ears to the ground ... See you later, Ray. And hey, be happy. Have a nice life."

"We'll chuck a housewarming party," Doyle said impetuously, "you're invited. So's the Cow, if he wants to bring his own pure malt."

"Cheapskate," Murphy accused, and was gone.

Might have to count the pennies, Ray thought happily as he returned to the bathroom, peered into the steam and said, "finished with your cup?"

"Come in and get it," Bodie sang, trying his vocal cords out on the acoustics provided by the tiling.

"I'll get wet," Doyle complained.

"Haven't got a phobia about water, have you?" Bodie demanded. "It's on the side of the basin, I can't reach it from here."

Dutifully, Doyle stepped into the steam. "Like a peasouper in 'ere."

"Yeah, nice and warm," Bodie agreed.

Doyle had picked up the cup when Bodie grabbed him, drenching his green tee shirt and jeans in an instant. "Ooh, you bastard! I've already had a shower this morning!" He yelped, wriggling in the suddenly wet clothes.

"Uncomfortable?" Bodie asked innocently. "Get 'em off, then."

"I bloody well intend to," Ray said loudly. "In the bedroom!"

"Spoilsport," Bodie grumbled.

Doyle shuffled uncomfortably into the bedroom and had undressed before he noticed his audience of one. He struck a pose. "Dost thou like what thou seest?" he lisped, with an outrageous pout.

"Apollo at the waterhole," Bodie said generously. In fact, Doyle looked breathtaking, but it wouldn't do to say it. The little demon was already starting to play on his appearance consciously, something he had never done before. He knew what turned Bodie on, what looked decorous, what looked beautiful and what looked just plain erotic. He managed all three in the search for dry clothes, and Bodie lapped it up, only drawing the line when he stood gazing into the wardrobe while 'absently' stroking his rump. "Monster," Bodie muttered. "You're evil, Raymond."

"Yeah, I know," Ray admitted, fluttering his eyelashes. "A rotten little prick tease, aren't I?" He sighed, letting the game go and slipping quickly into his clothes. "Oh, bugger it."

"What?" Bodie frowned. How quickly Doyle's moods changed. "Pet?"

"Just thinkin' about what we're going to go out and do. Stroll along the Thames, and get shot at."

"Wouldn't be the first time," Bodie shrugged, patting himself dry with the towel that had been slung about his narrow hips. "But it would be the last time. Office duties for three weeks, my love, and then - out. Free as birds. Speaking of which, we're going house hunting next weekend."

Doyle brightened as he was diverted from the immediate dangers. "What about finances? I've got about nine thousand, part of it saved up, some of it left over from a win I had on the ponies a couple of years back. What about you?"

"I've got a bit more than that," Bodie said smugly. "Been in a building society gathering interest. Should be about twenty-five by now."

Ray gaped. "Twenty-five thousand quid?"

"Interest included," Bodie nodded. "S'what's left of my last payoff. Last job I did in Africa, the one that landed me in prison. I've been sitting on it in case..."

"In case what?" Doyle prompted.

"In case I got invalided out of the Squad," Bodie admitted. "It's on the cards for us. Look at us, scars from head to foot. I know every scar on that gorgeous little body of yours, from the big one on your chest to the tiny little one beside your balls, where somebody tried to use a size twelve boot to turn you into a girl. They're all cute, if you must know, but much as I like to kiss them, I don't want to see any more on you. If we go on this way, there'll be dozens more, on both of us, and one day... Lose a limb, get a kneecap shot off, get an ankle mauled, and out you go. No good to Cowley like that. That leaves you on part time wages, doing a desk job, and scrounging for a pension." He put his hands on Ray's shoulders as Doyle studied the carpet thoughtfully. "I'm a person who liked his little comforts, love, you know me. So I saved it up, just in case. Would have shared it with you, though, if you'd been hurt."

"Would you?" The green eyes misted.

Bodie cuffed his head gently. "Of course I would! Was what it was there for! The time you were shot, I was just waiting to see how far you could push yourself. If you didn't get back to work I had plans."

"Oh? What kind?" Doyle gave a lecherous leer and earned another cuff.

"We were just pals then," Bodie said sternly. "No, I was going to ask you to go into business with me. Partners in a bike franchise. Funny, isn't it, we're going to be doing that anyway."

"Oh... Wouldn't have been bad, either," Ray admitted, "though I'd have been seeing little of you. You working for CI5, me running a bike shop. Hardly ever see each other, except at weekends, and then we'd have been sharing each other with birds."

"Maybe." Bodie kissed him soundly. "If you had been invalided out, looking like an orphan in a storm, skinny and woebegone with those big, bruised eyes, how long do you think I could have kept my hands off you?" He grabbed Doyle and hugged him fiercely. "So you'd have had to either punch me out or take me to bed; which, d'you reckon?"

Doyle gave a snort of good humour. "You'd have had to fight for your virtue sunshine. Only you wouldn't have fought."

"Damned right." Bodie released his bearhug, turned Doyle in the direction of the door and gave him a shove. "Breakfast."

Ray should have objected to being exploited so shamelessly, but at that moment couldn't find the steam. He gave Bodie a sultry look - 'you'll get yours later, mate!' - and did as he was asked.

At ten, they locked the door and took the lift down to the street. Bodie was sweating inside of the flak jacket, which he wore under an off-white trench coat, but the day was not warm, and the sweat was cold. This was the kind of job he disliked most; he felt like a sitting duck at a shooting gallery, and said so, walking slowly toward the river and making sure that there was airspace between himself and the unprotected Doyle. They strolled very slowly, unable to enjoy the fine weather or the fresh air, every nerve strung out and tension making them ache.

At eleven, Ray had begun to doubt the danger. "Murph reckons Interpol pulled in the West Germans," he said quietly as he and Bodie skirted a group of matrons at an icecream stand, "and we've got a couple put away over here. Maybe they just don't care about us anymore."

"Maybe," Bodie admitted. "But don't bet on it. Revenge is a funny thing, Ray; you can get yourself into trouble and belt someone else for it. I'm betting Schwerin'll want me just for the sake of it."

"I know I do," Ray muttered. "Want you, that is."

"Just for the sake of it?" Bodie smiled. "Promises, promises."

"A Doyle always keeps his promises," Ray said solemnly.

"Yeah, I've noticed." Bodie watched the sunlight bring up the red tones in Ray's hair, wishing that he could kiss him, knowing how silly it was to even think about it. He heaved a heavy sigh; good thing it wasn't a crime to think.

They walked as far as Whitechapel and back again, exhausted with the torment of nervous tension; and the, at 11:50, a shot they did not even hear cracked over the rooftops from the direction of Hammersmith, and Bodie let out a startled breath, going down hard as he was punched in the chest. One shot, dead on target, right over the heart. He fell heavily to the pavement and stayed down, Doyle falling to one knee beside him.

"Christ, Bodie!"

"Okay, okay," Bodie wheezed. "Can you see the chopper?"

Doyle's eyes flicked up over the rooftops, and he nodded. "Yeah, up north. Stay still, don't let 'em know... You are okay?"

The blue eyes at once castigated and comforted. "Get sentimental over my technicolour bruise later, mate, just keep your eyes peeled for now... What's going on?"

"Chopper's going in," Doyle guessed, watching the yellow Jet Ranger stoop like a hawk. "Listen - sirens. They'll seal the area."

"He might try to shoot his way out."

"He's welcome to try," Doyle said cynically. "Our sharphooters'll take a ruddy delight in skewering him." He touched Bodie's face. "Think it might be safe to move now. He'll have taken to his heels." He brought the R/T from his pocket. "4.5 to Alpha. Target is safe."

"Alpha to 4.5," Cowley's voice barked, "we've got the gunman in sight. It's over, Doyle." He transferred his attention to Murphy and the sharp shooters then, and Doyle closed down.

Bodie sat up and struggled out of the coat and kevlar. "I hate these things!"

"Saved your life, didn't it?" Ray demanded drily. He pulled Bodie to his feet and tucked the flak jacket under his arm. "Home?"

"Could do with a belt," Bodie admitted. "Doesn't do much for your day when somebody takes pot shots at you, does it?" Free of the kevlar, he stretched. "That's it. It's over." He resisted the impulse to hug the smaller man. "House hunting at the weekend... Can hardly wait."

"Sounds thrilling," Doyle agreed as they turned for home, trying to sound faintly bored with the domesticity for the sake of his reputation, when in fact the prospect was terrifyingly appealing.

It seemed to Bodie that he had been waiting forever, but he wait had made the moment richer. They had pushed the quilt down to the foot of Ray's bed and played, sometimes in fun, sometimes breathlessly, for a long time, arousal and tenderness commanding them in turn, until the heat switched on full and Doyle's slanted, cat's eyes began to glitter. Bodie swallowed, looking up at him from where he lay, head in Ray's lap so as to be able to lick and nibble him in comfort while Doyle sat propped against the pillows, cradling the dark head. The bed was a mess, the sheets loose, the quilt falling onto the floor, testimony to their antics.

Time, Bodie thought feverishly as he looked up into the face he loved. Ray's fingers were tightly clenched and he was breathing hard and fast. If he waited much longer sheer frustration would rob the act, and Bodie would not have it spoiled by anything. He gave the velvety, moist head of Ray's cock a parting kiss and turned over on his belly. "Ray?"

Hands fell onto his buttocks and parted them, but Doyle was still for a moment; just looking, Bodie thought, and closed his eyes. Look all you like, sweetheart - I'm all yours, every bit. The bed shifted, and Doyle lay down, his weight pillowed the length of Bodie's back, and Bodie spread his legs invitingly. A long fingered hand reached past Bodie's ear for a tube of cream that was almost empty now, and he smiled into the pillow as he listened to the cap twisted off.

Then Ray's weight and heat were gone, sadly missed but soon replaced by the cool, deft fingers, finding their way into him again. Ray had done this often, learning the feel of Bodie inside as well as outside, trying to dilate him so that the moment of joining would not hurt. It had worked, he was sure, and he was confident of what he was doing as he dropped the tube to the floor and knelt up, his palm full of vitamin E cream. He spread the cream liberally on himself, yelping at the coolness of it and biting off a moan as the stimulation made his balls ache ferociously. Hearing the soft sounds, Bodie guessed what he was going through, and got his knees under him to help. He was trembling himself, so Ray must be in agony, anticipating what he was going to do for the first time in his life, and having to touch himself that way.

Hands coaxed his knees a little wider, and Bodie sucked in a quick breath as he felt Ray's solid heat behind him, so close, sliding over him, oily, so hard, so big. He closed his eyes, aware that he was not breathing but not about to risk a breath, and made a conscious effort to relax every muscle and joint, and open himself.

Bless him, Ray was shaking, and trying so hard. Bodie had to smile, as strung out as he was, and he reached back with an encouraging hand, patting whatever portion of Doyle was in reach. "I love you; don't worry about me, just do it."

Fingers tested one last time to make sure he was oily enough, and then Ray nudged himself into position and pressed, slowly, carefully. Bodie was not a virgin, but he might have been; God, so tight, so hot! Tighter than any girl, Ray was positive. He kept going a fraction at a time, holding his breath as the friction literally demanded that he thrust hard and come. Beneath him, Bodie moaned and he froze, for a second wondering if he was really hurting him, but then Bodie gasped, "go on! Ray, please!", in the same strangled little voice he used when he had been sucked within a second of coming.

A moment later, Doyle was sheathed to the hilt and letting his weight go down onto Bodie's back. It was all he could do to hold back and stay still; he knew he should reach around, take Bodie in his hand and offer the touches he might need, but his arms were numb, his whole world revolving around the impossible sensations and the knowledge that they were one. "Bodie," he croaked.

"Move, Ray," Bodie whispered. "Move, for Christ's sake - "

A little wriggle, and the sensations doubled. Light burst behind Ray's sealed lids and he gasped in a breath. "Oh - Jesus - " Then he had to move, and keep moving, and blind instinct sent his right hand around to grasp Bodie's aching shaft tightly, trying to find a rhythm as Bodie began to writhe.

It was over too quickly; but there would be time to make it last later, and neither of them was inclined to protest the sudden surge of mind-wrenching passion that dragged climax out of them against their will. Doyle collapsed on top of Bodie, pressing him into the mattress and not moving a muscle until Bodie, recovering first, began to stir.

"Love? I'm in a bit of a puddle, and I can't breathe," he whispered.

At once Doyle scrambled off him, checking first that there was no trace of blood on either of them before reaching for the Kleenex and blotting at Bodie's leaden legs. "Okay, Bodie?" he asked, still breathless.

"No," Bodie said simply, and watched through slitted blue eyes as Doyle jumped as if he'd been tickled or prodded.

"What did I do?" Ray asked, hovering around the edges of disappointment and heartache, every emotion plain on his face in this moment of total vulnerability.

Bodie hated himself for the soft-headed joke. "It wasn't 'okay,'" he expanded. "It was... bloody wonderful, and so are you, and if you don't come here and kiss me I'll die on the spot."

Relief made Doyle sag against him. "Christ, I thought I'd hurt you. Or that you didn't come right, I - " Bodie's mouth sweetly silenced him, and when he surfaced from the kiss he said, "did it hurt much?"

"Not much. You've used your fingers a lot lately, and - I'm floatin' away on an oil slick here. Sure you used enough?"

"Didn't want to take any chances," Ray admitted. "You've got a gorgeous bum, and I'd sooner lust after it in frustration than hurt it."

"You were too careful to hurt me," Bodie scoffed. "And after what those magic fingers have been doing to me all week, it hardly hurt at all. I'm not even all that sore, just a little bit, so get that God-I -hate-myself look off your face and cuddle me." Meekly, still too overcome by what he had just done, Doyle did as he was told, unable to think of any retort except a mumbled admission of love. "Same here," Bodie whispered, looking down at the flushed, drowsy, beautiful face that lay on his left shoulder. "How much d'you love me, Ray?"

"Do anythin' for you," Doyle murmured.

"Let me sleep on your side of the bed?"

The drowsy green eyes blinked at him. "Why?"

"'Cause this side's wet."

"I'll do anything but that," Doyle told him, a little of his usual tartness returning to his voice. "I've been lying in puddles all week, mate. How's this? You lie in your puddles, I'll lie in mine."

"Sounds fair," Bodie agreed solemnly. "Put it in writing, shall we?"

Doyle gave him his hand. "Shake on it."

Bodie took the hand and kissed it. "Get you a ring for this finger. Been meaning to all along." He yawned. "Going to have to watch it, you know; sitting at desks for three weeks, we're going to get secretary spread." He reached down to pat Ray's buttocks. "Though, in your case there isn't enough to spread to be noticeable."

"Whatcha talking about?" Doyle demanded. "I've got a nice little backside. So me mum told me."

"A lady of exceptional discrimination," Bodie agreed. "Nicest rump I ever saw, and no mistake. And it's mine. All mine. Isn't it?"

"All yours." Doyle sounded almost asleep. "Look after it, won't you?"

With that he was asleep, and Bodie cradled him in the circle of his arms, protective, possessive, besotted. House hunting on Saturday; phone the agent on Monday; phone the bank and see about a loan; ring that number about the Suzuki franchise - and call Rob and Jack about working in the garage. Then get Cowley to pull strings, get them some security contracts; get some stationery made up, register the business, get into the phone book, and make some contacts. Paint and paper. Got to buy a lawn mower, too... Like a dog, Bodie thought. Little spaniel with big sad eyes - remind me of someone I know. And a cat, too - also remind me of someone I know! And a car. Wonder if we can buy a Capri? One that's been in an accident, maybe, get the panel beaters to fix it up, get it cheap... Got to watch the pennies now.

The future looked bright. Rosy, in fact. But then, any future that had Ray Doyle in it would have looked rosy. Bodie hooked his toes into the quilt and pulled it up, tucking it around them. Exhausted, his love didn't even twitch a muscle, and Bodie smiled. He'd knocked himself right out, bless his heart.

As he settled to sleep, switching off the light, it was an image from his imagination that returned to Bodie, broadening the smile on his face. Cottage by the river, garden where Ray could indulge his green fingers, a paddock with some horses, two mares, round and near their time, two with foals trotting at their heels; wake late after a lot of loving, roll out of bed and stand at the window, looking down, watching Ray, bare chested and happy in the sunshine, playing with the young horses, young and alive and free at last. Free of the dangers and the heartaches of the job and the life it brought them.

Free, Bodie thought, because we set each other free. He acknowledged the enormous weight of responsibility that had settled on his shoulders without a qualm, lecturing himself sternly. The man who lay in his arms was a tough, strong, prickly little dynamo, but as vulnerable underneath his hard exterior as a kid, and he needed a lot of love. He was offering everything he had, his body, his love, his life, and Bodie knew that when he accepted those gifts he assumed the responsibility to cherish what he had. Hurt Ray, betray him, cause those haunted, haunting eyes to light up with pain, and he knew he would never forgive himself as long as he lived. But Ray had nothing to worry about on that score, Bodie knew as he closed his eyes and tried to pull the limp, sated body even closer.

For the first time in their lives, they were going home. The 'where' and the 'how' did not matter a damn; all that mattered was in this bed. Home, Bodie thought, circumfused by a measureless content, is where the heart is.

Whoever said that was no fool.

-- THE END --

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