(Story #3 in the "Land-Bridge" series)

Someone was standing over him, but Murphy did not look up from staring fixedly at his clasped hands, fingers twining and untwining over and over. The plastic seat was already making his rear end ache after only an hour. The white walls of the corridor stretched away on either side from him, and would only make his eyes ache if he looked up. The someone had nothing important to say, because that someone did not wear the white coat of a doctor.

The white coat down the corridor talking, Ray's head dropping like a string cut puppet's, Cowley shrinking in on himself in his own grief...

No. No, that was not going to happen this time. It couldn't happen this time. It mustn't...

Murphy closed his eyes and pressed his lips together. His stomach and throat were a pair of clenched fists. His knotted hands hung between the red soaked pants he still wore, the blood still wet but now cold and clammy as it clung to him.

"Hey. Murph." Someone nudged his shoulder with something warm; a foam beaker full of tea. "Come on. Need something, don't you."

Murphy could have laughed, if the laugh did not have such a good chance of turning into hysteria. Deprived agent being offered tea and sympathy, CI5 style. That was his job, wasn't it? Cowley's hand-picked successor did that; Lone Wolf Murphy watched agents fall apart, he didn't fall apart himself. He was an island, like the song said; he touched no one and no one touched him.

He was an island. Had been an island. The man whose blood soaked his pants had turned Murphy's safe and solitary island into a peninsula; he had been forced to cross that land bridge and join the mainland.

Murphy had gotten involved with other people, after all his lifetime of solitude. He had gotten involved with Ray Doyle.

And now his worst fears were coming true. Now he sat in the cold dread he had seen swamp other partnered agents; other agents deprived of their partners in such long white corridors.

He was not deprived, though. Not yet. Only a matter of time, though, wasn't it?

The beaker nudged his shoulder again. Murphy shook his head, not looking up. No tea, not in this place with the white corridors. The last time he'd had his tea in a white corridor he'd been in the hospital's basement, waiting for Ray to stumble out of the morgue, face as white as the walls, eyes dreadful with pain he must not show, must not admit, must not acknowledge to the world. Pain Murphy was silently grateful not to share, not to possess, not to be able to feel.

And now...

The thought of Ray Doyle dead was not a new one to Murphy. The man had been shot before, injured before; Murphy had seen what it had done to Bodie, and had been grateful not to know what it felt like.

Then Bodie had been killed, just over a year ago now. Bodie, who had been more than partner and best friend to Doyle. And moments after the white coated man had brought the news that had made Ray Doyle's head drop like a string cut puppet's, Cowley had ordered his scion to follow Doyle and stay with him, to ensure that the grief-stricken man did not decide to make CI5 lose its two best agents in one day. Murphy had imagined Ray Doyle dead then, very keenly; imagined the blank eyed man, so prone to fits of guilt and despair, staring down the barrel of the gun that had not fired in time to save his lover's life.

Murphy had stayed with Doyle that day and evening, warring with his own stunted sense of empathy, trying to be tough, to make Doyle go it alone in his presence. A man had to do for himself; a CI5 agent was too surrounded by death and pain to get personally involved with anyone. Everyone knew that, and 3.7 and 4.5 had only proven that people in love were fools.

And what did that make Murphy? He had heard Ray weeping late that night, had discovered the true depths of passion and love the two men had kept disguised for six years, and had succumbed to the sound; he had gone into the bedroom too big for one man and had held Ray all night long. And he had returned Ray's kiss of gratitude for having spoken the words of comfort that let Doyle find enough peace to sleep.

Cowley had never rescinded his order to Murphy. He continued to stay with Ray. Six months later he was the man's partner. Murphy, who had no partner. Murphy, the island turned peninsula.

And two months after that...

Oh God, he had been an island once! Uninvolved, impassive, free from the extremes of anger and grief. Why had he ever migrated to the mainland?

Everything he had fought against had gotten Murphy at the last. He had always been a loner, from the time his parents fled and left him to the ministrations of an indifferent aunt at the age of three, an aunt who referred to him only by his surname so that he could not think of the Christian name on his birth certificate as anything but a legal identification; Murphy was his name, and no other. He'd learned to do for himself, and to need no one.

Lone Wolf Murphy, the other agents had called him; the one who stood off, alone and safe, when agents howled in grief for the loss of a partner a partner who, by virtue of the nature of the job, was also workmate, closest friend, trusted intimate, helpmate.

And in one case, lifemate.

"To life, mate."

They had solemnly touched champagne flutes and drank as the second hand swept past the joined hands at the 12, as other agents whooped and sang "Auld Lang Syne" and kissed spouses or dates.

It was all right for them to be dateless. Six two and 4.5 had been partnered for three months; it was Murphy's duty to be with his partner the one night no one should stand alone at midnight.

The horrific rendition of the Burns standard -- probably the real reason Cowley never attended the party was that he couldn't bear to hear his countryman's poetry mangled -- finally ended. Then it was time for the tradition that was pure CI5.

"Jenkins!" Sally Woolridge called out.

The other agents shouted "Jenkins!" and drank.

Sally's partner, Linda Keogh, chimed in with the slain man's partner who had died in the same crash during a high speed chase that year: "Hiller!"


"Bodie!" Ray shouted angrily, and his teeth locked together, his face tightened as Murphy and the others shouted "Bodie!" and drank.

"Carleton!" Hicks bellowed, his face angry with grief as well. Hicks' partner had died only weeks before, defusing a Christmas present from the Irish Republican Army.

"Carleton!" 6.2 and 4.5 shouted with the other agents, and drank.

The party's atmosphere lightened at once, as if a thundercloud had passed by. The laughter and talk in creased in wildness and ferocity; the agents cheerful now that the annual tribute to the year's dead was over. There had been worse years for casualties, and as always they hoped for another of those precious and few New Year's parties where the last strain of "Auld Lang Syne" was followed by a resounding bellow of "NO ONE!" and a cheer from everyone in the room.

Two hours later Ray was curled in bed and weeping against Murphy's bare shoulder as the other man stroked back the wild curls and kissed Ray's forehead. "Was...was rememberin' the year that nutter was out to kill us all," Doyle whispered, his voice catching in a sob. "Was standin' with Bodie when we shouted the names -- 'e did Matheson and I did King. And all I could think, after, was how close Bodie had come, with that bomb in his flat. How it might 'ave been his name we shouted, that time. An' I was so grateful 'e was alive, next to me, an' I loved 'im so much -- an' I never told 'im..." His voice trailed off in a whimper, and the rest was a silent flood of tears. "Sorry...'m sorry Murph...'s not fair you..."

Murphy only nodded silently and held his partner and lover. "I know, Ray. It's all right. The roll call's a killer for the partner left behind." Murphy had seen it many times; it was one of the main reasons he had been grateful that Cowley had never partnered him with anyone before this. "Didn't expect anything else from you to night. This is a war we're fighting, and soldiers die in war. That's the closest we'll ever come to chiseling the names of our fallen into a stone monument."

"An' once it's in stone, it's over." Sniff. Ray lay quietly, tears leaking down to redampen his cheeks and Murphy's forearm.

Murphy nodded. He'd understood Ray Doyle from the very start of their partnership three months ago -- differences and similarities between the moody bereft lover and the aloof lone wolf had somehow, oddly, meshed.

Unofficially, the New Year's roll call was the final nail in an agent's coffin, the last shovelful of earth on his grave. From then on Bodie would be the past, not to be harped on, not to be lamented over -- certainly not by a man who had gotten a new partner. Bury the dead, 4.5; life goes on. Shame about Bodie, but it was a shame about Carleton, and you don't see his partner moaning about it...

And Ray could not cry out to them I've been split in two! Everything I loved about life is gone! He was my life! He and Bodie had been real men, tough men, men hardened by their work, forced into an involuntary and ofttimes uneasy camaraderie by the rigours of the job; and after all, they had only been partners.

The way he and Murphy were only partners. Murphy, who was still stroking and kissing Ray as the grieving man subsided into a quiet sorrow, his body quivering, his face shamed. And his folded in body unable to hide the nudge of his half swollen and seeking cock bumping into Murphy's thigh.

Murphy's increasing ability to read his vitriolic partner's body language and expressions let him know what Ray wanted and why he trembled in shame and what words would comfort and reassure the stricken man just then. "It's all right, Ray. It's all right. He won't mind. He'd want you to feel good tonight, wouldn't he?" And he warmed Ray's mouth with his own, one hand stroking between the man's legs. He pulled his mouth from Doyle's and clasped him closer to his warm bare skin, and whispered, "You're not forgetting him just because you want to make love tonight; you're not dishonouring his memory by sleeping with me. You're alive, Ray. And Bodie loved you too much to want you to stop living because of him."

Gradually, the trembling stopped; the weeping ceased. Ray sniffed, looked into Murphy's eyes; and there was a warmth in the green eyes that was not merely relief at being understood. The warmth became a glow of heat as the wiry arms suddenly possessed the taller man and the mouth stifled Murphy's small gasp of astonishment at the change in his bedmate.

Once Doyle had made up his mind about something...

The rest of the night was a blur of passion; Murphy was under Ray again, moaning, his legs spread wide and his aching arse plundered yet again, as the sun rose on the first day of the new year. He found himself affixed by a direct stare under sweat-dripping curls--peaceful now, and weary at last as Ray whispered, "Happy New Year, mate." And collapsed to lie against his lover, asleep at once as the thready winter sunlight timidly stroked the bed.

Murphy's last waking thought was that he had engaged in three New Year's Eve traditions that night: the one everyone in the English speaking world sang; the one everyone at CI5 shouted in commemoration; and the one only Ray and Bodie had shared, which Ray had just introduced to Murphy so graphically.

To life, mate.

Life, mate.

Live, mate.


Murphy buried his face in his hands.

"Being gay sucks, Murph."

Being bi wasn't so hot, either. Especially not when your current lover was your own gender. And especially not when that lover was dying.

A shot to the thigh, that was all -- Murphy's own bullet had deflected the gunman's aim from Doyle's head -- but there was blood everywhere, refusing to heed the frantic pressure Murphy laid on the pad made of his own jacket. Ray's face so grey, his eyes filled with nothing of pain or fear, only acceptance, only weariness...

It was bad. It was so bad. Femoral artery, the way the blood was fleeing him, bright and red and cruel. The rich hot smell of Ray's blood filled his nose as he clamped down on the entrance and exit wounds of the deflected bullet. "Cowley'll have me for breakfast for this," he said, his voice flat as it always got in a bad situation. His voice had never been flatter.

"Got the guns dinn' we," Ray said in a voice like a thread of air. The crates of guns in question still lay in the truck the agents had closed in on; Henderson's men were being cuffed by Woolridge and Keogh -- all but the one who'd hit Doyle; he lay in a spreading pool of his own and made no sound.

Murphy's stomach revolted at the sight of the soaked leg, the smell, the feel of it, the pain; his heart pounded in panic at the damage done. He reached inside himself, seeking for the calmness and rationality that had always served him in such bad circumstances. But it was as if his gut had vanished, leaving this gaping void, snatching away his ability to do anything but administer basic survival actions. Direct pressure. Direct pressure and elevation. Direct pressure, elevation and pressure point. Oh, God, Ray, stop bleeding --

"Told you that gold chain'd make you a target, Doyle," he said, as deadpan as he usually was in the direst of situations. "Villains see that glint in the sun, they've got something to shoot at, don't they. But do you ever listen to me?"

"Never listen any me partners, Murph," Ray said drowsily. His eyes were now a silvery grey rather than green, as if the bloodloss was draining the colour from his eyes as well as his face; and they held a quietness and a serenity that terrified Murphy. "Never. Syd. You."

Murphy freed one hand and began to unbuckle his belt for use as a tourniquet. "Him?"

"Specially not him. Always tryin' change me wardrobe..."

"Well, you listen to your partner now, Ray Doyle," Murphy said levelly, his eyes boring into Ray's pain-faded eyes even as he lifted the red soaked leg, smashing the cloth into the double wound as his belt went around the red denim just above the mess. "You are not going to die of this stupid wound, you hear me? You are not going to leave me unpartnered again, because I can't any more, I don't know how anymore." His voice cracked on the word "how," but his face did not change expression.

Ray's eyes closed as the howling ambulance made its appearance.

"You're not going to leave me alone," he whispered as the medics moved in to take over.

The foam beaker nudged his shoulder warmly. "C'mon, mate, drink up. You need it."

How many times had he said that? To how many ashen, distressed men? Once, to a shaking and tear-streaked Linda Keogh; she'd been an iron assed bitch to him for days afterward, once her partner Sally Woolridge had begun to recover. Understandable; women agents had to keep proving they were twice as tough as the men...

Nudge. Nudge.

Murphy lifted his head to stare at the brown fingers around the white foam cup. He looked up into large green eyes in a round brown face. Keogh's face was level and grim now, dry eyed; her lips were a firm line. She was wearing a look Murphy had worn many times in his role as a stolid support to stricken agents; not too worried-looking, not too reassuring...God, did he look as distressed as the others had?

"Drink," Linda Keogh said flatly. Yes, it is, Murphy imagined Ray saying, imagined the sober face and the sparkling green eyes he would have when he'd say it. Imagined Ray white with bloodloss, his leg red, his eyes tired and grey and sad.

Keogh's face did not change expression. Murphy stared at her. Her hand did not waver. Gradually his own hand rose and took hold of the beaker. Only then did she let go and resume her stance beside him, holding her own tea in both hands. Keogh had learned Murphy's stare down technique. It was as effective on its creator as on the people he had force-fed tea in such long white corridors.

And whom he had watched as they got the news and their heads dropped like string cut puppets...

No. No, that would not happen. Ray wanted to live.

He hoped Ray wanted to live.

He was shaking. He brought the beaker to his lips and drew in the hospital urn tea and swallowed. The mouthful dropped like lead straight into his stomach and rolled like a hot stone.

Good reflexes. Not good enough.

Ray's reflexes and expertise hadn't been good enough to save Bodie from the inexorable trajectory and speed of a bullet that had torn open 3.7's left ventricle.

Good reflexes. Good enough.

Ray's reflexes had saved Murphy from a bullet, the day they had become lovers, just over four months ago, after they'd been partnered for two months.

Good reflexes...

Murphy's reflexes had kept Ray alive today but might not be good enough to save him. Not if his Ray didn't want to be saved.

His Ray. His Ray --

Ray, you're mine now. Mine! Bodie's dead, you moody bastard, and I'm alive, and you're still alive! We rang in the New Year together. We solved the Adad kidnapping last month -- Cowley even said we did a good job. We celebrated your birthday, just us. Just us!

His head dropped as if its strings had been cut; the steam from the tea wafted into his face. His eyes hurt; he squeezed them shut.

Just us...

Warm hands on his arse stroked both cheeks, sliding up and down, deeper into the crevice; delving, parting the rump, cleaving it. One long finger slick with lube thrust into his anus, rotating. A scream rose from the bottom of Murphy's chest, vibrating with his passion. He writhed on the bed in a nest of pillows, groaning "Oh god Ray oh christ don't stop just don't stop..."

"Not gonna stop," Ray growled from behind him, sinking his fingers into the taller man's hipbones and pulling his rump closer. "Not gonna stop till I've made you mine."

Both men had been strung out by the long days of work, closing in on the Henderson arms running operation. The deal was to go down the next day; tonight they wanted nothing more than a surrender to tension draining, sleep inducing, mindless passion. And they were getting it.

The red-haired satyr rubbed his wet erect cock along Murphy's flanks and thighs and slid it between his legs, chuckling in the filthy way that now made Murphy shiver when Doyle used it in the car. "Gonna own you. Gonna fuck you so hard come'll be shootin' out your ears," Ray snarled, humping, cock blindly seeking for the entrance.

Murphy's eyes closed, his mouth opened wide, and he sank forward, boneless in the grip of Ray Doyle's carnality his arse the only part of him still upright, held in Ray's grip; two hands holding him firmly upright. Then the cock, locking them together. It hurt. It was beautiful. It was overwhelming. Anything Murphy wanted to say was swept away by the white wind whipping through him, the heat and power of the cock fucking him.

"Yeah. Oh yeah, you're takin' it," the satyr's voice growled throatily above him. "Come on, come on, Bodie, tell me how you--"

And between one heartbeat and the next, the cock in Murphy's arse deflated. Bereft, Murphy's hind end sagged into the covers sideways as Doyle removed himself from all contact with his bed partner. Only then did Murphy's passion blanked mind finally register what Ray had called him. Oh, Jesus.

"God damn it." Ray's voice was monotoned; almost steady.

Murphy sat up, his cock still at half mast.

Ray was lying on his belly beside him, chin on his folded arms. There was no expression on his face, though tears trailed down his cheeks as if by accident. "'M sorry, Murph," he said quietly, wet eyes shifting over to his bedmate. "Didn't mean to spoil it."

"Well, there's a revelation," Murphy said as sarcastically as he could. Any consoling and tenderness would wash both of them in grief for the rest of the night. "Or were you just pretending to be harder than a carbine? Come on, Ray, we both need this. It's nothing, it was just a mistake. Can see why you made it, though," he added solemnly, eyes full of his slow quiet humour. "After all, I'm tall, dark, gorgeous, a rapier sharp wit..."

Ray smiled.

"...a smouldering tower of virility..."

Ray shook with helpless mirth at Murphy's absolutely deadpan recital of his charms.

"...and an arse that won't quit," Murphy finished soberly.

"Forgot the 'engagingly modest' bit, you did," Ray chuckled. His eyes, still wet, were twinkling now.

Murphy's heart warmed. His own brand of humour, so far from Bodie's penchant for the tasteless and earthy, was still enough to lift Ray out of his "sulks," as Doyle called them.

"Right. So where were we when we left off?" Murphy said briskly, dispelling the heaviness of the room's emotion. He bent over Ray and nuzzled the back of his neck. "Believe I was crouched like this," he pulled Ray's rear up into a receiving position, "and you were kneeling between 'em like this," and so saying, Murphy knelt between Doyle's legs, neatly reversing their previous positions. "And you were snarling and growling like a badger in heat." Murphy made some noises that sounded more like a St. Bernard with a bad head cold.

Ray started laughing; caught in the infectious sound, Murphy began to laugh too, even as he angled Ray's arse into position and groped for the tub of gel. Both of them laughed through one of their wildest fucks together, and dove into the abyss of sleep riding the waves of passion and good-humoured companionship.

That had been last night.

The last night?

The tea's steam wafted into Murphy's face, condensing at the corners of his tightly-shut eyes.

Would he be weeping into a solitary pillow tonight? Of course he wouldn't; Murphy didn't cry. But there would be no one to hold him and whisper to him, no one to stroke his hair and kiss him, no one to reassure him that Ray had known Murphy had loved him. No one to assure him that Ray had loved him at all.

He shook with mirthless laughter; his eyes stung.

It was his own fault. It had been buried inside him for so long, this warmth trapped in his ice walls, that when it finally had emerged, melting all his barriers at once, it had become a tsunami. It had swamped his island and forced him to join the rest of frail humanity. He could not go back to his island any more. All he had now was the little land bridge that had joined him to the rest of the world, the land bridge whose own grief and pain could yet wash it all away under the surgeon's knife. And he would be left on an alien shore, surrounded and yet alone, and now unable to be alone any more...

A familiar tread advanced down the corridor towards him; Murphy automatically straightened his spine in the chair and composed his face, opening his eyes as Cowley approached. "Thank you, 5.8; you and 2.9 had best return to base and finish your reports," he heard, and felt Keogh move from his side down the corridor. Only then did Murphy sense the emptiness of the place where she had been standing silently beside him. How could the removal of a silent presence make him feel lonelier, more afraid?

"Sir. No word on Doyle yet, sir," Murphy said with only a trace of a quaver. He was still Cowley's successor, because Cowley had not rescinded his status.

"So they told me. Ah, these things take time, 6.2. Arteries are nasty business. Still, 4.5's a good man, and he's strong; he'll pull through."

"If he wants to." Far too flat. Not Murphy's usual quiet tone.

"Aye. If he wants to." Matter of fact, that voice.

And Murphy heard, in those five words, what Cowley had hoped for.

Cowley had known the truth behind Bodie and Doyle's professional camaraderie and callous mateyness, because they had told him; Murphy had known because Cowley had told his successor everything he needed to know about the people he would someday control.

And Cowley had known of Murphy's own proclivities, of course.

Six two, go after four five. And stay with him.

Orders a year old -- orders never revoked.

Stay with Doyle. Give him another emotional anchor. Give him another reason to keep living.

If Murphy had had any capacity for rage at that moment, he would have screamed at Cowley, called him every filthy name he could think of -- starting with the Gaelic ones. What came out instead was a whispered, "Why did you do this to me?" in a broken voice.

When Cowley was discovered, he did not prevaricate or apologise. "You needed to learn compassion, Murphy. You had no fellow feeling for your fellow agents. It will make you a good Controller."

"So I can die a little if Ray--"

"So you will know right to your gut how precious their lives are -- never to be taken away carelessly. Each life you take must be costly to you personally." Diamond sharp blue eyes bored into Murphy. "Your agents, Murphy, are not cannon fodder; they are a clip of 9mm shells, and each one of them is made of pure gold. They are the best culled from the best; few, but precious.

"Aye, those bullets have to be fired; too often. And it costs you dear every time a bullet is spent." The sorrow that creased Cowley's eyes at that moment made Murphy realise the true reason Cowley did not go to the New Year's party: the roll call, each death his responsibility. And yet there was a dark pride in those sorrowful eyes, and a strength in that sorrow. "But better that you feel that loss than that you mortar it away inside you.

"Bodie was cold and hard as stone when he joined us. You know what grew between him and Doyle. In the end he bled when Doyle was cut. It made him a better person. A better agent. And he never once wished he could be stone again, for all the pain he felt. He was more alive in those six years than in the twenty-seven that preceded them.

"Trust me, lad." And Cowley's hand rested on Murphy's taut shoulder for a moment; and Murphy was stunned at the depth of warmth he felt coming from the older man that could not be explained by body heat. "It is a pain worth having. It is a pain that will keep you sharp; a pain that will keep more of your agents alive longer. And it will make you more alive as well."

Murphy thought about that. Cowley stayed there in silence, filling the empty place left by Keogh's departure. It was...comforting.

Within the hour the doctor came out. White coat, white corridor. String cut puppets.

Murphy stood up.

"It was a near thing. But the damage has been repaired and his blood is being replaced. Mr. Doyle has been transferred to Intensive Care for overnight observation."

Murphy slumped against the wall. It was as if someone had pulled all his bones out at once. "May I see him?" he said.

The doctor exchanged looks with Cowley, then nodded. "No more than ten minutes."

"And then you're to return to base and write your report, six-two," Cowley said. "Thank you, doctor." He turned and limped down the corridor without a backward look at his protege.

Murphy followed the doctor to the room where Ray was lying. He looked like a demonstration model for IV bottles, but he was blinking a little. "Lo, Ray," he said, and smiled inanely because Ray looked so dreadful. "Hear you're going to live."

Ray nodded and blinked. "Were right," he rasped, throat dry from the anesthetic. "Stupid way to die."

"Well, what are partners for?" Murphy said lightly.

Ray nodded. "You're me partner now, Murph," he whispered. "And you're me mate. Wasn't gonna let 'em call me name this year. Kills the partner left behind, dunnit?"

A quiet glow lit Murphy's belly from within and spread; it filled his eyes and finally made it to the corners of his mouth.

A cleared throat made both look up into the implacable face of a nursing sister. Ray lay quietly and closed his eyes, already going back to sleep.

"Just get better, mate," Murphy said, patting Ray's arm as he rose to go. "Get out of here faster that way." He walked out of Intensive Care and toward the hospital entrance, still light-headed with relief, with warmth at seeing his partner alive and happy about it. He felt at a loose end. Ought to go to base and write the report, and then a return to the flat. Some of Ray's lasagne in the freezer--

"Hey Murph."

Sally Woolridge was standing there.

Cowley ordered you back to base, the old Murphy in his mind thought. The agent smiled instead. "Ray's going to be fine."

"Never doubted it, that bastard's bulletproof," the tall blonde said enthusiastically. "Come on, Linda's got the motor running. Look like you need a couple pints inside you."

He'd never been included in any of the after-hours pub crawls before..."I ought to get my report done," he protested feebly.

"Just a pint or two. Susan and Jax are waiting for us at the Hoof and Claw. We'll celebrate Doyle's recovery." Woolridge winked at Murphy. "Come on, Murph. Cowley'll let you off the hook this time. And you know how feminists are -- Linda can't wait to brag that she bought the first round. Let's make it as expensive as possible."

Murphy smiled again, feeling the land steady beneath his feet. Not just Ray, then, who anchored him to the mainland any more. He threw a companionable arm around his fellow agent's shoulders; Sally Woolridge was nearly as tall as he was. "Glenfiddich. It's been a bitch of a day."

"Can say that again. Got the guns, though, didn't we?"

Murphy laughed at hearing Ray's words parroted by another member of the op; at the same time he felt a flood of unaccustomed affection warm him from within that was almost fatherly in its potency.

Professionals, every man jack (and woman jill) of them. And someday they would be his people.

Murphy walked through the long white hospital corridors to the car park, not noticing them; he was too busy reviewing his plans for the future, and now seeing them in colours and patterns he had never noticed before.

He could not return to his island. But even without his land-bridge behind him, he was welcomed by the mainland. It was still dangerous, that land; but it was also a good place to stay. And stay he would.

Not Lone Wolf Murphy any more, then, who left the pack's grief alone as something not fitting for the leader. He would be Head Wolf Murphy, who would howl for each death in the pack, and who would lead them all the better for the love he had learned to feel for them.

Love. And fellow feeling. Compassion. Commitment.

It was a whole new world for him to explore.

-- THE END --

Originally published in Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink 3, Manacles Press, 1993

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