The uneven staccato of his footsteps echoed down the hospital corridor, fit accompaniment to the harsh exhalations of his breath, as Cowley sought his men. He found Bodie where he had expected him to be, leaning against the wall outside the room where they had taken his partner. Tension radiated from the coiled figure, like heat from a bonfire on a field of ice. The dark head lifted sharply at his arrival, and Bodie straightened automatically.

"How is he?" Cowley demanded, glancing at the closed door.

"No one has said," Bodie replied shortly, tightly. His face was as still and unrevealing as a porcelain mask, but his eyes burned.

"We've got Carstairs and the others in custody, it's time to round up the distributors and the buyers. We'll make a clean sweep of it with this one."

"It'll only start up again elsewhere."

"Aye, but they'll know better than to tie in with the government again. They'll be out of that game," asserted Cowley.

"For now."

Cowley scowled. "We do what we can, lad. We'll fight the fire wherever and whenever we find it--no matter how many times it flares up again."

Bodie moved restlessly, jamming his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket. "Save the speeches, sir. This was a right mess from the beginning, and--" he broke off, mouth tightening as he glanced at the door.

"And it cost us," Cowley concluded softly. "Aye." There was no reaction from the man before him, and Cowley's voice turned brisk. "Right, we've work to do now, lad. I want you out helping with the round-up." He put a hand up to forestall the quick words rising to Bodie's lips. "You can't do anything here, but you can do something out there. Murphy's waiting for you outside, he'll fill you in."

The door beside them abruptly opened to release an older man with greying black hair, dressed in medical gear. He nodded at Cowley, obviously not surprised to see him.

"How is he, doctor?" Cowley asked, his attention focused on the physician.

"He's not in any danger," the doctor replied, looking from one to the other before concentrating on Cowley. "A broken arm, bruised ribs, severe bruising elsewhere." He hesitated fractionally, then continued in a clinical voice, "He was sodomised. There was some tearing but it might have been much worse. We have him on medication to ward off infection."

Beside him, Cowley heard an odd whisper of sound from Bodie. "Aye," Cowley said grimly, "with the men we were investigating, it's not surprising." He took a breath, then: "Will he be all right?"

The doctor ran a distracted hand through his hair. "Physically? Yes. I want him here for a few days, and he won't be out in the field for you for a month or more." He drew in a breath. "Mentally?" He shrugged, leaving the question hanging in the air.

Cowley grimaced. "Is he conscious? I need to speak with him."

The doctor's expression tightened. "I know you do. You may see him for a few minutes, but no more." He glared at the head of CI5, to emphasise his words, then turned as a nursing sister emerged from the room. The two of them walked down the corridor, conferring with each other.

Cowley looked at the stone-faced man beside him. "Go on with Murphy." He expected resistance, but Bodie merely nodded and turned to leave. "Bodie," Cowley called after him, softly but with authority, "no vengeance."

Bodie paused, his body held unnaturally still, but he didn't turn. After a moment he walked swiftly away.

Sighing, Cowley rubbed at his eyes, then steeled himself to walk through the door to question his agent.

"Stupidity. Sheer bloody stupidity." The bitter words broke an uneasy silence in the car.

Murphy darted a glance at the seething presence beside him, and found himself tensing, as though he sat beside a burning fuse. "Which one in particular?" he asked neutrally.

"Which one d'you think?" Bodie demanded with scant patience. "Wasting us on pickup duty. Using us like we're bloody coppers."

Bodie knew as well as Murphy did why Cowley had sent them out. Let the coppers deal with the small fish in Carstairs' files; CI5 would pick up the government pricks. Murphy smiled sourly. It would serve the fools right to be faced with an interview with George Cowley. Some, those who had given in to the blackmail of Dennis Carstairs, would find that the least of their troubles. The rest of them would discover the cost of indiscretion.

"Have to watch the papers," Murphy voiced his thoughts. "See who quietly resigns over the next few months."

A grunt was the only acknowledgement of this, as Bodie turned his head to gaze out the side window. Murphy returned to his thoughts, having already discovered the futility of conversation with Bodie tonight. He understood why Cowley had sent Bodie out on the pickup errands, separating him from the interrogation of Carstairs and his men, but what he had done to deserve the task of accompanying Bodie--

You were late in getting to Doyle, he reminded himself grimly. His gaze strayed to Bodie's averted profile, then back to concentrate on the road before him. Bodie had anticipated Cowley's orders; had gotten there before Murphy, or any of them; had kept Doyle alive and nearly whole. It was unsettling to find bitterness and unpredictable temper where he would have expected Bodie's particular brand of black humour.

At least Alfred Pennington was the last on their short list tonight. Pennington, a minor official in the Home Secretary's office, was apparently a regular user of some of Carstairs' more traditional services.

"Looks like a party," Murphy observed as he pulled the car up alongside a black Jag parked in front of Pennington's house. He ventured a quick, wicked grin. "Shall we do some gate crashing?"

Bodie ignored the question, exiting from the car with efficient haste. Murphy let out a brief sigh and followed suit. He caught up with Bodie and grabbed hold of his arm.

"You'll take it easy this time, right?" Murphy spoke with quiet meaning.

Bodie jerked away from his hold, and for a moment Murphy caught a glimpse of raw anger in normally cool blue eyes. Unbidden, a brief image of Doyle, in the room where they had found him, rose in his mind. "Bodie--" he began, in an altogether different voice.

But Bodie forestalled him. "Yeah," he said coolly, "coddle 'im like a baby." He looked at Murphy, as if at a stranger. "Can we go now?"

Murphy accompanied him to the house, watchful and unsmiling. If he made it through the night, he promised himself, he'd seek out Cowley and demand a full day off--and a good stiff shot of that pure malt while he was at it.

A tall young man accosted them as they crossed the threshold of Pennington's open front door. "This is a private party, gents." Behind him, an entryway opened into a large room crowded with guests, the hum of conversation and clink of many glasses filtering through.

"We're not here for the party," Murphy said, reaching for his ID. Bodie, indifferent, walked on into the entryway.

"Sir!" Indignation rang in the young man's voice as he moved to block Bodie's progress. Murphy closed his eyes and lowered his head in brief resignation.

He heard a scuffle, then a wheezing gasp, and opened his eyes to find the young man plastered against the wall, while Bodie smiled.

Murphy stepped forward, flashing his ID. "CI5. We're looking for Alfred Pennington."

"What?" gasped the young man, dizzy from his sudden collision with the wall. But the two CI5 agents had already left him, moving purposefully to the throng of people.

"Here, what is the meaning of this?" An older, balding man bustled forward, outrage purpling his face. Pennington.

"CI5," Murphy informed him, holding out his ID again. "We have a few questions for you, Mr. Pennington. Come with us, please."

"Now see here--" Pennington's bluster ended in a squawk as Bodie grabbed him in an efficient and ungentle grip, herding him roughly toward the door. Reflecting that Cowley was going to have an interesting time of it, but must have known what he was about, Murphy followed along behind.

"What are you doing? Where are you taking me? You can't do this!" Pennington's voice increased in volume as Bodie ignored him.

There was a babble of disapproving voices, and demands that they release Pennington at once, mixed with calls for the police. A few of the more intrepid stepped forward, as if to intercept them.

"We have the authority--" Murphy started to explain, when Bodie's voice rose above the din.

"Nice civil servants like you shouldn't buy porn and fuck whores, Mr. Pennington."

The voices diminished into a shocked silence, then rose again in questioning volume.

"I never--how dare you!" Pennington stammered, his face flaming.

"Save it," Bodie growled. "I don't care." He dragged Pennington out of the house and to the car, leaving behind a gaggle of party-goers in various states of amusement, outrage and malicious enjoyment.

Probably the highlight of the year for that crowd, Murphy thought sardonically as he trailed behind. He moved quickly forward, however, as Bodie manhandled Pennington to the car.

"Take it easy," he said under his breath to Bodie, while easing Pennington into the back seat. "He's not Carstairs." Murphy was unprepared for the hand that wrenched him around.

"It's his type that keep Carstairs in business," Bodie said viciously.

"Maybe," Murphy agreed sharply, his own temper rousing at the rough treatment. "But he's not responsible for Doyle, so lay off."

Bodie blanched, startling Murphy. What the hell? For a moment they stared at each other, then Bodie turned away, his face murderous. Saying nothing, he climbed back into the car.

Frowning and thoughtful, Murphy walked around to the driver's side and settled behind the wheel. The journey to CI5 headquarters was completed in silence.

After dropping Pennington into the care of the interrogation teams and finding they were on standby for the rest of the night, Murphy steered Bodie to the rest room.

"Oi, Bodie, how's Doyle?" McCabe's cheerful voice assaulted them as they entered the rest room. Looking quickly around Murphy took in Lucas, Stuart and Turner strewn about the room. CI5 was active tonight.

"In hospital," Bodie replied shortly to McCabe, moving to the small kitchen and the coffee waiting there.

"Vile stuff," Lucas advised them, nevertheless taking a gulp of the black brew. "And blame Stuart for it."

"Better than that sludge you make," Murphy commented, following Bodie to the pot.

"Puts hair on your chest, my son," Lucas proclaimed. He made a grab at the passing Murphy. "Could use some, couldn't you?"

"Watch it!" Murphy warned, steadying his full cup. He evaded Lucas and settled into a chair close to the table. "Like 'em hairy, do you ducky?"

"Why d'you think I hang out with him?" Lucas jerked his head toward his partner, who looked scandalised.

"Not here, sweetheart!" McCabe fluted. Murphy grinned into his coffee.

"Should think you'd go for Doyle then," Stuart commented, looking up from the game of solitaire he was losing.

"What, and fend off Butch there?" Lucas asked with a gesture at an oblivious Bodie, who was engrossed in a newspaper. "Besides, from what I hear, our Raymond will be out of action for a few weeks. Don't believe I could last that long."

"Sure you could, mate," McCabe assured him with spurious comfort. "Have done before, anyway."

That earned him a withering glance. "Ta."

"Our Raymond," Stuart spoke up, "could use a gentle reminder of discretion being the better part of valour." He thoughtfully, and illegally, skimmed an ace from the top of the deck. "A refresher should do the trick nicely."

"Never heard anyone call Macklin 'gentle' before," Lucas muttered under his breath.

"He stayed under to get those files," Murphy reminded Stuart.

"That's what we've been told anyway," McCabe said with sly meaning. He looked around at his fellow agents. "I reckon he was enjoying himself. You lot take a look at the pictures he shot?"

Turner joined the conversation. "Yeah, saw some of those before Cowley whisked 'em away. Seemed to take his undercover role very seriously, Doyle did." He looked across at Bodie. "What about it, Bodie? Doyle give you any of the lurid details of life as a porno cameraman?"

Murphy looked up at the last comment. Surely Turner wouldn't be stupid enough to--yes, clearly he was. Murphy set his coffee cup down.

Bodie took a moment to track the question flung his way. "No," he answered, with patent disinterest, turning another page.

Turner made a scoffing sound. "Ah, c'mon Bodie, give over. All those naked birds? Not to mention the blokes." He sighed extravagantly. "Why does Doyle always end up with the best undercover ops, eh?"

"Probably," Bodie's voice interrupted the resulting jeers of the rest of the crowd, "because Cowley knows Doyle will stay focused on the op." His smile was anything but pleasant as he put aside the newspaper.

Murphy watched as Turner, predictably, stiffened. It was still too close to the failure of the Smithson op and Turner was oversensitive. Damned bloody-minded ex-merc, spoiling for a fight.

"What do you mean by that?" Turner demanded, setting his cup down with a thud.

Murphy spoke first, reading the intent in Bodie's suddenly joyful eyes. "He didn't mean anything by it, Turner, pack it in."

"Yeah, c'mon mate." McCabe put a hand on Turner's arm while kicking his sniggering partner. "It didn't turn out so favourably to Doyle now, did it?"

Turner shrugged him off. "Because he stayed in too long, like Stuart was saying. Could've blown the whole op."

"Did I say that?" Stuart asked, raising faintly malicious eyes.

"Nah," Bodie drawled, "Doyle just stayed in long enough to finish the op. He didn't bolt early like some, did he?"

Turner jumped to his feet, followed quickly by Murphy and McCabe, but they weren't fast enough to stop his advance on Bodie.

"I didn't blow that op!" Turner yelled at him. "I was made. I had to get out!"

"So was Doyle, but he stuck it, didn't he?" Bodie countered, also rising.

"And put the whole op at risk," Turner sneered. "Just like a glory-seeking little--" His next words were cut off as Bodie dropped him to the floor with a vicious jab.

"You pathetic, spineless little berk," Bodie snarled.

McCabe grabbed Turner as he came off the floor, while Murphy put himself squarely in front of Bodie.

"All right," Murphy said, in the tone of voice that seemed to be getting through to him most often that night. "That's enough."

"Let go!" Turner writhed in McCabe's grasp, "I'll teach him to--"

"Shut up!" McCabe ordered fiercely, holding on more tightly.

Bodie, finding his way blocked, rounded on Murphy with violent intent. Murphy held himself very still. "Haven't we had enough injury on the squad tonight?" he asked levelly.

Bodie stilled, blinked, then turned and walked from the room, slamming the door behind him.

Turner struggled again to free himself, and stumbled as McCabe released him abruptly. "He's a nutter," Turner said, gesturing after Bodie. "Why the hell the old man ever let him--"

"It's better than being a prick, like you," Stuart interrupted him, his eyes still on the door through which Bodie had disappeared.

"What?" Turner looked astonished at this sudden attack.

"The man's partner is in hospital, you bloody fool, how did you expect him to react?" McCabe informed him brusquely. "Murph--"

"I'm going," Murphy sighed, and he followed Bodie through the door. He found him at the stairs, holding onto the railing of the landing, his knuckles white. Murphy approached him warily, coming to a stop within Bodie's peripheral vision, just out of arm's reach. He waited. After several long moments, the pressure on the railing eased, and he heard a faint sigh.

"You okay?" Murphy asked neutrally.

"I've been better."

The silence stretched for a full minute. Then, from Bodie: "I've been a real berk tonight. Sorry."

The words surprised Murphy, and he took a moment before responding. "It had its interesting moments. I'm not in this mob for a peaceful life." He tried a slight smile, easing to a spot next to Bodie at the rail.

Bodie made room for him. "I'll try to make it less...fraught for the rest of the night," he said, his voice approaching its usual tones.

"Easy enough promise," Murphy murmured, still wary, "considering that we've not much left of the night."

"Could always get a start on the reports," Bodie suggested.

Murphy groaned. "Since when are you so eager?"

A familiar grin--the first of the night--was his answer. "Sooner started, sooner done," Bodie said in an obnoxiously brisk voice, rubbing his hands together.

Murphy sighed and prepared to follow him into the corridor, but was stopped by a slight touch to his arm. "What?" he prompted, as Bodie seemed to hesitate, his eyes turning serious.

Bodie shook his head, then: "Thanks. For tonight. For putting up with me. You didn't have to."

Murphy looked away, uncomfortable with this. "It's nothing."

"Anyway. You're a good agent. Friend, too." And with another light touch on his arm, Bodie turned away to walk down the hall. Murphy followed more slowly, wondering why he felt both hugely flattered and unaccountably uneasy.

By all rights, Cowley knew, Bodie should be asleep. He had been given the rest of the morning off to do just that. But he was certain of finding Bodie awake; just as certain that he would lose his best team unless he handled this correctly. Grimly, Cowley considered his options as he climbed the stairs to Bodie's flat, having already announced his arrival. He could have let himself in with his own key, but preferred to give Bodie the illusion of control. For now.

The door opened and 3.7 stood before him, silent and still. His face was paler than usual, eyes dark and opaque. He looked, Cowley thought suddenly, very like the man he had recruited all those years ago.

"Och man, let me in," Cowley said brusquely, pushing past Bodie. "We've a deal to talk about, and it's best not to do it out here." He surveyed the room, noting once again the sparseness of Bodie's surroundings and the signs of military training.

Still Bodie said nothing, though he closed the door. "I'll take a drink if there's anything decent here," Cowley informed him, settling into one of the wingback chairs.

Finally Bodie spoke, saying mildly, "Do you have any idea of the time, sir?"

"Of course, man," Cowley said, playing up the disgust. "I've been up all night, I should hope I have a fairly good idea of it by now. The drink," he prompted as Bodie seemed disinclined to move from the door.

With tightened lips, Bodie walked to the drinks cabinet and pulled out a bottle. He half-filled two glasses with the amber fluid, while Cowley observed the knotted tension in the back presented to him. Murphy, as usual, had been quite correct in his observations.

He accepted the glass Bodie brought him and drank, feeling the burn of the liquor slide down his throat. It helped.

"A long night, but a profitable one," he opened up the conversation. Bodie shrugged and seated himself in a facing chair, eyes falling to the glass in his hand, though he did not drink. "You don't agree?"

"We've already had this discussion, sir," Bodie replied. "They'll be back. Or someone like them."

"Aye, but we've made a difference."

"So you say." Bodie raised the glass and drank some of the liquid.

"And I know, don't I?"

A small smile flickered briefly, then died. "Yes, sir."

"Of course, the lines have been jammed with calls to solicitors," Cowley commented. "In no small part thanks to you."

More of the drink was swallowed. "If you're going to play with fire, you'll get burned eventually."

"Aye, and we're the torch bearers." He watched as Bodie leaned back, settling comfortably in his chair, and judged it time to bring in another topic. "I spoke with Doyle." Instant live-wire tension. Cowley felt an answering tightening in his guts, but his voice revealed nothing of it. "His testimony will be invaluable."

A pause while blue eyes remained fixed on the now tightly held glass.

"He says Carstairs was in charge, Jimmy Sweet controlled the muscle, and the money was put up by our old friend Burstyn. The proof is in the records he was able to obtain, along with the blackmail targets and their payouts."

Bodie's glass hit the table sharply. "He should never have stayed in that last day."

"If he hadn't, we wouldn't have--"

"It wasn't worth it!" Bodie sprang to his feet, his movements uncharacteristically rough, almost uncoordinated.

"Doyle disagrees," Cowley informed him.

"He's a fool then," Bodie snarled, pacing.

"Surely Doyle is the best judge of that. If he's willing to live with what happened to him then you--"

"It should never have happened! It was a cock-up, a gigantic fucking--"

"In the circumstances," Cowley overrode him, "a poor choice of words, wouldn't you agree?"

That halted him: raging fury held in sudden check. "You know what I mean," Bodie growled, after a moment.

"Yes. I know. But hindsight--"

"Hindsight?" Bodie gave a harsh laugh. "Any bloody fool could have seen where this would lead. He should have had more backup, you should've let me in earlier, he should have been out of there!"

"A lot of should haves," Cowley said sharply.

Bodie glared at him defiantly. "I'm right and you know it."

"You were his backup."

"And I blew it, didn't I?" Bitterness there, the kind that could burn a man through from within.

Cowley's voice softened involuntarily. "Doyle says you saved him." And he watched as Bodie ceased to move, perhaps even to breathe, for the space of several heartbeats.

"I didn't."

"You killed Jimmy Sweet, didn't you? As he was about to kill Doyle?"

A reluctant, jerky, nod.

"Then you saved him."

A long silence, then: "Is that all he said?" The voice was unemotional, only the expression in his eyes betraying him.

Cowley looked away from his agent, perhaps his soon-to-be-ex agent. "He didn't have much strength, between his injuries and the drugs they pumped into him. But he was clear on two points: the files are the case, and you saved him."

Cowley watched as long lashes fell over turbulent eyes, and unguarded pain filtered across Bodie's face--to be gone in an instant. It was a relief to change the topic again.

"Were you planning on posting your resignation to me?" The dark head shot up, eyes widening. "Didn't you think I'd know?" Cowley said dryly.


"You don't often finish your report the same night as the op."

"I have done it before, when necessary," Bodie said indignantly. "That's no indication--"

"Then there's the way you've been blaming me for what happened to Doyle." Silence. "A cock-up you called it, more than once in fact."

"It was."

"Aye, maybe so. Because I'm human like the rest of you. Which is why I need agents like you and Doyle."

"No. Not me." Bodie shook his head. "Not anymore."

"Why?" Cowley's voice turned harsh on the word.

Bodie's eyes narrowed, and his volume increased. "Why? You can ask that? Maybe I don't want to be hung out to dry, like Doyle. We're all expendable in your book, aren't we? Well, maybe I don't want to risk it any more."

"You've been through this before, mistakes have been made before. Why is it this time you're wanting to leave?"

Bodie walked away and then back, sleekly graceful now, like a pacing panther. Cowley's eyes narrowed. Nearly time. "It's the last straw, that's what it is," Bodie asserted. "The last time. I don't want to risk it anymore. We hardly get paid well enough for it, do we? No thanks for a dirty job, and cock-ups all around--"

Bodie seemed to be winding up for a tirade on the topic, the words flowing easily from his tongue. So Cowley spoke, quietly, interrupting the familiar, comfortable, litany.

"I interrogated Carstairs."

As intended, it threw Bodie off. "What?"

"Do you know why Jimmy Sweet eviscerated his victims?"

Bodie was silent, staring at Cowley, chest heaving in short bursts, as if his lungs were suddenly incapable of drawing a full breath.

"He was impotent," Cowley said. "I have also seen the report on Doyle." He allowed the silence to stretch. "Do you have anything to say?"

Bodie's eyes closed, and Cowley, his suspicions confirmed, took a moment to find a suitably dispassionate tone.

"You owe it to Doyle to see him before you leave."

A flinch that was close to a shudder.

"I'll accept your resignation after you've spoken with Doyle."

The silence was heavy in his ears as he waited. Then Bodie spoke, as if gutted, a single word: "No." His eyes opened, flicked to Cowley, and away.

"You will," Cowley stated. "You have no choice." He waited a moment, as Bodie straightened to attention, then continued. "I'll have your word that you'll see him. I'll ensure you have privacy for the visit."

A harsh, derisive laugh. "My word?"

"Just so," Cowley agreed levelly. "But Doyle's asked for you."

Another silence, and then an abrupt nod.

Cowley stood, placing the empty glass on the low table before him. "Very well. In the meantime you will stay here. I shall call you when the meeting is arranged. You will be available when I call."


Cowley turned to go, but at the door he paused, looking back at the solitary figure in the middle of the room. "I'll not judge you. That's for Doyle--and yourself."

Nothing marred the impassiveness of Bodie's stance--except for the emotion in his eyes that he could not control. He said nothing.

Cowley quietly let himself out of the flat.

Bodie stood by the window overlooking the street below his flat. He hadn't left the building since the morning of Cowley's visit, nor would he. A silent vigil, as one would keep on the eve of the death of a friend, or the death of a friendship. He grimaced and moved restlessly a few steps, returning once again to the window. Two days, and Cowley hadn't called.

Bodie had called the hospital, unable to keep from checking on Doyle's condition. Mr. Doyle was improving, he had been told, and little else of any import. Like what Doyle was thinking. What mood he was in. What was going on in that sharp, unpredictable mind.

Doyle was an odd one, as Bodie had realised from the first. Now, after five years of partnership, he was for the most part able to predict Doyle's reactions to events--except for every once in a while when he was left confused and befuddled. Unbidden, he recalled the near malicious amusement that shone from Doyle's eyes on some of those occasions, Ray taking great delight in throwing him off-stride.

Bodie turned from the window, muttering a curse. Where was the sense in wallowing in memories? They wouldn't do him any good now. He was on his own. Free, he reminded himself, as he kept reminding himself. Or would be once this damned meeting was over with. Bloody Cowley, he thought, ignoring the echo of another voice, as well as the bitter, empty feeling in his gut. He wished that the lager hadn't run out, that he hadn't decided not to touch the harder stuff.

He'd be gone by now, but for Cowley's visit. His single suitcase was sitting by the door, waiting only for the last scene to be played. His plans didn't extend too far. Abroad. Probably Amsterdam to begin with, maybe elsewhere. It didn't matter. Freedom, that's what it was. He moved back to the window.

He'd given his word to the old man and, for loyalty's sake, he'd keep it. Also for Doyle's peace of mind, if it would do him any good. It would, at least, be Doyle's choice.

His eyes closed on the thought, weariness felt in every muscle and sinew in his body; tough duty, vigils. After a moment he straightened, opened his eyes and gazed out at the street below. As he had gazed in all the hours since Cowley's visit. As he would gaze until called.

So used had he grown to the waiting that the shrilling of the telephone seemed unreal to his ears. A figment of his imagination, like hearing one's name called in an empty house. Only this summons brought no comfort of company, just an increase of his heartbeat and a tightened clutch around his throat.

He walked to the phone, reached out and picked it up--each of his movements deliberate, leaving him with the feeling of watching them happening to someone else.

"Yes." His voice was husky with disuse, and he took a moment to clear his throat.

Cowley's voice came across the line, impersonal and brisk. "Pick him up at hospital and take him home." Then just the click of disconnection.

Slowly, Bodie replaced the receiver on its cradle, his face tight. Images rose before him of a bloody and bruised Doyle, accusation and betrayal in wild green eyes. He fought the nausea down and sealed the images away with savage fury. Only one more task to complete. He collected his keys and suitcase and walked out of the flat, careful to lock up behind him.

Bodie worked on his impassive façade on the drive, purging himself of emotional involvement, and striving for the coolness he had once perfected. He practised on the nursing sisters and the doctor who told him of Doyle's condition and what to expect over the next few days and weeks. He congratulated himself on the success of his control as he reached the door to Doyle's room.

The door opened and one look at the man who waited for him there destroyed in one blow all the hard-won equanimity. His hands tightened convulsively on the bag he had been given with Mr. Doyle's medication.

Doyle turned round as the door opened, moving with care for bruised ribs, his left arm in a sling. Someone had brought him a change of clothes--jeans and a sweatshirt. Green eyes locked briefly with blue, but revealed nothing to Bodie's scrutiny.

"About time you showed up," Doyle complained, his tone shockingly normal to Bodie's ears. "Wanted to go home yesterday, didn't I?" He glanced at the nursing sister standing by him.

Bodie's eyes travelled quickly to the sister and he managed to dredge up a smile that he knew charmed her, but was afraid hid nothing from Doyle.

"I'm here to take him off your hands, love," he said, clinging to an image of normality. "Been a good boy, has he?"

She smiled, pulling forward a wheelchair for the traditional hospital release procession. "Oh, quite. In fact we'll miss him around here." A gleam appeared in china-blue eyes. "He's been very...educational. And ever so helpful."

Bodie's eyebrows climbed as Doyle was eased into the wheelchair and they proceeded out the door. "Educational? My my, what have you been up to, Raymond?"

"Never you mind," came the predictable response; balm to Bodie's raw nerves. Doyle reached for the bag in Bodie's hand. "Is this mine?" He peered at the contents within. "Bloody pills."

"And see that you take them," the nursing sister ordered. "Or you'll find yourself back here."

"Oh, no," Doyle countered, tucking the bag firmly into his lap. "No way. Once was quite enough, thank you."

"Hang on," Bodie objected, as they reached the door to the building. "I'd still like to know what 'education' he was in aid of." He looked hopefully to the small woman.

"Is this yours?" she asked, wheeling Doyle toward the silver Capri parked near the door. As she helped Doyle to stand she replied to Bodie: "Haven't you ever heard of nurse-patient confidentiality? I'm afraid I can't tell you. But," she grinned, "feel free to bring Mr. Doyle back here next time he's injured."

"What next time?" Doyle objected, settling with some difficulty into the passenger seat.

"Or," she continued, with a comprehensive look at Bodie as she turned the chair back towards the building, "bring yourself. You'd do very nicely." With a roguish look over her shoulder, she left them behind.

"I don't believe Florence would have approved," Bodie commented as he climbed into the driver's seat.

"Oh, I dunno," Doyle's tone was light, "does wonders for patient morale." He shifted as the car turned, and a grimace crossed his face.

"Arm bothering you?" Bodie asked, restraint returning immediately to his voice.

"Some," Doyle admitted, shutting his eyes.

Bodie took the opportunity to study him, noting the bruises beneath his eyes that had more to do with weariness than the damage showing up in detail on his face. He wished fervently for another crack at Jimmy Sweet.

"What's been goin' on with the case?" Doyle asked, his eyes still closed. Bodie, grateful for the respite, launched into a full, if somewhat embellished, report on the cleanup of the Carstairs gang and its blackmail schemes. When he reached the description of the break-up of Pennington's party, he had the satisfaction of hearing a chuckle from Doyle and an admonitory, "Bodie!" Yet all the while he was aware that he was babbling--that he needed to fill the silences as quickly as possible. He wondered if the leaden weight on his diaphragm was now a permanent fixture.

All too soon he reached Doyle's flat, providentially finding a parking space only a few steps from the door to the building. He hesitated a moment as Doyle concentrated on removing himself from the car. Doyle paused in his movements to look back at him.

"You're comin' up, aren't you?" And for the first time, Bodie caught a glimpse of constraint in the familiar green eyes.

"'Course," Bodie shrugged easily, hiding the effort it took.

Doyle grunted and manoeuvred himself out of the car. Bodie collected the medicine bag and followed, soon overtaking Doyle. He filched the keys from Doyle's hand, to the accompaniment of a protesting "Oi!" and let them both inside. He went up the stairs first to the third-floor flat, leaving Doyle to trail after him.

Once in the flat, Bodie busied himself with the routine duties of making a place not lived in for a while welcoming again. He went through to the kitchen, depositing the medicines there, and put the kettle on to boil. "Cuppa?" he called to Doyle. Receiving no answer, he returned to the living room. He found Doyle slumped on the settee, looking battered and uncharacteristically beaten. He wanted to go to him, but remained hovering in the doorway.

"Ray?" he said softly. Doyle blinked, then turned his eyes toward him. "Why don't you have a lie down?"

Wariness crossed over Doyle's features and Bodie could only watch it happen, struck silent.

"And will you be here when I wake up?" Doyle demanded of him, his voice edging toward hardness.

Stiffly, Bodie replied, "Whatever you want. I'll be gone. Don't worry."

"Don't worry?" Doyle repeated, and he sat up straighter. "Don't worry? I've been nothin' but worried these past two days."

"I know," Bodie said, holding his voice steady with effort.

"You bastard," Doyle hissed.

Bodie lowered his eyes, his lips pressed tightly together, the muscles under his jaw spasming. He stood, waiting for Doyle's words that would end it.

"I suppose I should be grateful you're here at all," Doyle said with bitterness. "Grateful to Cowley." Nothing to be said to that, so Bodie stayed still, as a soldier should. Unable to lift his eyes, he heard the telltale sounds of Doyle struggling to his feet. "Never took you for a coward before, mate."

Bodie stirred. "Yeah, well, don't worry about it. I'm getting out."

"Don't worry," Doyle mimicked again, a sneer in his voice. "Is that all you can say?" Then, in a completely different voice: "Bodie, what the hell happened?"

Bodie looked up sharply, goaded by the bewilderment. "I hardly think you need a diagram, Doyle."

"Maybe I do," Doyle countered belligerently.

"I'll post you one," Bodie assured him, deliberately offensive.

Green eyes stared at him, incomprehensible emotions flickering in their depths. "I don't want you to go," Doyle said, through gritted teeth.

Bodie dragged his eyes away, moving a step toward the door. Freedom. "Don't have much choice, Doyle."

"Bodie--" Doyle took a few hasty steps in his direction, and staggered. In an instant Bodie was there, steadying the fool with a supportive hand.

"Don't!" Doyle said sharply. Bodie jerked back, as angry at the self-betrayal as the reasons for it, but almost immediately lean fingers latched onto his wrist, holding him when he would have broken free. "I didn't mean it like that," Doyle told him intensely.

Unwillingly, Bodie looked at him, taking in the pallor and the lines creasing his brow, the unconcealed trembling in the fingers encircling him, and he forced himself to relax. "Look," he said reasonably, "you're going to fall down if you don't lie down. C'mon." He tugged gently with his captured wrist.

Doyle resisted the pull. "If I sleep, you'll be here when I wake?" he asked intently, both plea and demand in his eyes. The fingers on Bodie's wrist tightened.

"If that's what you want," Bodie capitulated. "C'mon now."

Firmly, Doyle said, "Yes."

Bodie nodded and led Doyle back to the settee, settling him against the cushions, and placing a pillow under his arm. "I'll get you something," he said. "Kettle's gone." He went to the kitchen, fixing the tea and a couple of cheese sandwiches. He also pulled out the pill bottles, looking them over carefully for proper dosage instructions. Returning to the lounge, he at first thought Doyle was asleep, but sharp, assessing eyes opened at his approach. He set the tray down and handed Doyle the cup and a white tablet.

"Pain," he explained to Doyle. "And don't bother to deny that you need it."

Doyle grimaced, but swallowed the tablet with a gulp of the tea. "It'll put me to sleep," he grumbled. "I want to talk."

"Later," Bodie told him, taking one of the sandwiches and his own cup back to a nearby chair. A slight grin curved his lips. "When you're back to fighting form."

The sandwiches were eaten in something approaching their usual companionable silence. Bodie absorbed it gratefully, and when Doyle did slip into a doze, he collected the cups and plates, returning them to the kitchen. He took the time to wash and clean everything, taking pleasure in the ordinary tasks. Then he went back to the lounge, settling himself across from Doyle to watch over his sleep. Talk, Doyle had said. A few hours ago Bodie had wanted nothing more than to get this out of the way. The end was inevitable, no choice after what had happened. Why drag it out? Yet, now that the moment was here, he savoured the reprieve. He could afford the indulgence.

He looked his fill at his partner. Tumbled brown curls that would redden in the sun; mismatched cheekbones that drew the eye involuntarily; the thin body with its deceptive air of fragility, enhanced by the sling and plaster. And none of it revealed the charismatic spirit within that had stunned and overwhelmed and delighted him. His match in every sense of the word. He had never given anyone as much power over himself as he had given to Doyle, willingly. Not even Cowley. Why? Why him? Doyle was a bad-tempered, moody little bastard at the best of times, and he occasionally turned fretting into an art form. But somehow...oh, somehow, he was what Bodie needed and craved. Doyle's acceptance of him was now such a part of his life that he no longer questioned it. Until it was destroyed--until he himself murdered the trust that was at the root of their partnership. Bodie closed his eyes, shutting out the comfort offered by Doyle's presence.

How long he stayed there, fighting sleep to watch over Doyle, he didn't know. But the shadows were lengthening in the room, and he'd switched on a dim light, before Doyle stirred. With a sense of watching a final performance, Bodie observed Doyle's waking ritual: the shifts, murmurs, yawns, a muttered curse as his arm was jarred, and finally eyes blinking and opening. They immediately tracked around the room, zeroing in on Bodie. Absurdly, he felt a jolt of pleasure at that, until he wondered if it was the same reflex one would use when confined with a wild animal.

"Better?" he asked, his throat dry.

Doyle thought about it. "Yeah," he agreed, and yawned again, widely. He pushed himself upright, groaning a little as he did.

"Need anything?" Bodie asked with studied and wholly faked casualness.

"Gotta take a leak," Doyle explained, gaining his feet slowly. "I'll be back." He moved with something less than his usual grace across the lounge, pausing by the edge of the room. "Don't you disappear on me," he ordered, and continued on his way.

After a few minutes he was back, looking more alert--and, Bodie observed with a sinking heart, the wariness was back. He schooled his face to impassivity. Doyle chose to return to the settee, sitting upright, and looking across at him with steady eyes.

"Cowley said you want to resign," he opened the conversation.

Damn. He nodded. "It seems the best thing under the circumstances." He was pleased with the lack of emotion in his voice.

"The best thing?" Doyle repeated, scornfully. "For whom?"

"Everyone," Bodie replied shortly.

"What if I don't want you to go?" Doyle asked, lips pulling back from his teeth.

Bodie's jaw tightened. "Why?"

"We're a good team. Cowley's best."

"We were," Bodie agreed.

Doyle's eyes glittered. "We can work through it."

Bodie shook his head. "No," he said, not ungently, "we can't."

"Bollocks!" Doyle snapped. "You just don't want to!"

"A partnership relies on trust," Bodie told him, finding the words surprisingly difficult to get out. "Once that's gone--"

Doyle interrupted, harshly, "I trust you."

"No doubts?" Bodie said knowingly. "None at all? You feel just the same as you ever did?" He caught the flicker in Doyle's eyes. "See?"

"All right," Doyle acknowledged. "But I trust you with my life, with guarding my back--"

"Just not your backside." Bodie slipped the knife in himself.

Doyle's eyes narrowed. "Should I be worried?" he asked contemptuously.

Bodie found himself looking away for a moment.

Doyle struggled to his feet, as though he couldn't stay still any longer. Pacing a few steps, under Bodie's watchful gaze, he turned around to face him.

"It needn't make a difference. I can promise you that."

Bodie's eyebrows lifted. "Really?" he drawled. "Put it behind you and never think of it again, is that what you're saying?"


Bodie shook his head, feeling anger knotting his gut. "Don't be a fool. I know you, sunshine." He jumped to his own feet, walking away from Doyle. "One mistake, and you'd be reminding me. Think I want to be in that position?"

"I wouldn't--" Doyle began hotly.

"Oh, yes you would." Bodie didn't spare him. "Ray Doyle, the man who doesn't know the meaning of the word forgive or forget. You'd nurse a grudge in paradise itself!"

"Not this time."

"Like hell not this time! I don't know what game you're playing, Doyle, but leave off! I'm going and that's the end of it."

"No," Doyle said, fiercely, coming straight across the room to Bodie. "You're not gettin' off that easy, mate. You want to put it all behind you, forget it? Fine. But you'll do it here with me, not off on your own."

Bodie jerked away from him, feeling trapped. "Forget it?" he snarled, too angry to consider his words. "I'll never forget it."

Wide green eyes fixed on him, their expression changing from anger to calculation, and Bodie shivered.

Doyle nodded, as if to himself, then said softly, "Shouldn't I be the one deciding on the punishment?"

Bodie stiffened under that penetrating stare. "Anyway," Doyle continued, "I don't see why I should suffer for what you did."

Oh, typical, Bodie thought, fighting equal amounts of annoyance and despair. "Forget it, Doyle," he managed to say. "I'm leavin'. The decision's made."

"No. You're the best, you keep tellin' me. That's what I want."

He had to end this. Now. "So you want me to stay. For us to stay partners."


Bitterness twisted his lips. "And when it happens again?"

For a moment Doyle looked nonplussed. "What?"

Bodie smiled, unpleasantly. "When it happens again." He watched with some satisfaction as Doyle's face paled, and he took an instinctive step back. He had him now. Funny the sense of joy wilful destruction sometimes brought.

"Surprised it hasn't happened before, really," Bodie said, with relish. "The way you strut around, on display, offering yourself to anything that moves. Bound to happen, sooner or later."

Inexplicably, Doyle relaxed. "Is that right?" he asked.

Bodie plunged on. "Reckon there've been lots of others, sunshine," the term came out with a sneer. "The way you act--posing, and flaunting...." Bodie stumbled to a halt as Doyle smiled. It took him a moment to recognise there was no humour in the smile.

"Oh no, sunshine," Doyle told him, his voice low. "Let's get this cleared up right away. This wasn't about sex. This had nothing to do with sex or the way I act or any of the rest of it."

Bodie found he had to look away from the intensity in his partner's face. "Then what in bloody hell was it, Doyle?"

"Fear," Doyle replied, drawing Bodie's eyes back like a tracking system. "Anger. Possession." Bodie stared at him, and Doyle held that attention, capturing him without moving a step in his direction. "I was scared, Bodie," he admitted abruptly, his voice cracking, once, on the words. "Do you understand that? He shoved a gun up my arse--thought it was loaded when he pulled the trigger, didn't I?" Doyle's face was calm, but there was a flicker deep in his eyes on these words. Bodie found himself a step closer to his partner, without being aware of moving. All thought of self-preservation vanished.

Doyle went on. "You know what he had planned with that knife. And I was bloody well helpless, mate. Strung up like a prize bull, ready for gutting. Then you busted in."

"I raped you." Bodie forced the words out, like barbed metal through skin.

"Yeah." Doyle spoke very deliberately. "But you killed Jimmy Sweet, first."

Derisively: "And that makes it all right?"

"No. But I'm not going to forget the one just because of the other, am I?" Doyle demanded.

Bodie stared at him, at a loss for words and bereft of thought. "That's insane," he croaked finally. "You were tied to that--bloody--and I--"

"What were you thinking, Bodie?" Doyle asked softly, stepping closer, so there were only inches between them.

Bodie backed away, agitation sending him to the window. "Thinking? I wasn't--"

"I did a lot of thinking in hospital," Doyle commented.

Improbably, he felt a flash of laughter flare within him. "Did you? That's so unlike you, mate."

An answering gleam lit Doyle's eyes for a moment, then faded as he spoke. "Yeah, a lot of thinking. It was a fight gettin' up to that room, wasn't it?"

"Eh?" Bodie was confused, wary in the face of Doyle's questions.

"Carstairs' men were all about the place, when you came for me, right?"

"Yeah," he answered dismissively.

"And you were bloody angry, weren't you? A cock-up like that--"

"What's your point, Doyle?" Bodie interrupted, suddenly knowing where this was going and not liking it.

"Fear. And anger. That's what you were feelin' when you came into that room, Bodie. You think I don't understand that?"

"All right," Bodie agreed, roughly. "So I was jacked up. D'you think that excuses it? Nothing--"

"If it hadn't been for you, I'd have died. If it hadn't been for you. Think anyone else would've jumped the gun on Cowley like that? For me? No. It's you I need, guarding my back."

"Get a bloody watchdog then, Doyle," Bodie snapped at him. "Any animal will do--"

"I already have one, don't I?" Doyle flung right back.

"I'm not an animal!"

"No, you only behave like one--that's what you're thinking, isn't it? That's why you're so angry with me right now. But I don't think it."

Bodie shook his head, eyes slitted. "Always fair, aren't you Doyle? So fucking scrupulously fair. Well you can take your fairness and--"

"I told you I understand!" Doyle yelled.

"Well I fucking well don't! " Bodie roared, aggression pushing him forward, toward his partner. He saw Doyle tense to a fighting stance and Bodie twisted abruptly away, nearly stumbling in his haste to put distance between them. His throat closed over the bile that rose, and the muscles in his jaw worked convulsively.

He heard a step behind him, and a soft, unbearable voice, "Bodie?"

"Get the hell away from me!" Please. He was shaking.

Doyle, apparently, had had enough. His voice was rough. "Listen to me, you stupid bastard. You were jacked up, angry as hell at everyone, including me. You think I don't understand how that can be?"

Bodie turned on him. "Why the fuck did you stay in the op?"

In the face of his anguish, Doyle cooled. "You know why."

A long, long moment as Bodie fought to control himself. "What in Christ's name d'you expect from me?" he said hoarsely.

Doyle blinked, and answered, "Just what you are."

"An animal."

"My partner."

Bodie struggled, feeling unbalanced, too tired to cope with this. "I'm still leavin'," he said obstinately, holding on to that one certainty with defiance.

"You're runnin'," Doyle informed him, contempt back in his voice.

Stung, Bodie retorted, "Don't push me, it's for your benefit, Doyle."

"Oh yeah?" Doyle laughed. "And how is that then?"

Fine. "You have it all figured out, don't you mate?" Bodie's voice was hard and clipped. "Fear and anger. All right. But don't you forget about that other one, right? Possession, wasn't it? I wanted to fuck you, Doyle, to possess you, to take you down and dominate you and make damn sure--"

Doyle's harsh voice broke in, "--that everyone knew I belonged to you. Not to Sweet, not to Cowley, to you."

Bodie hung, suspended, unable to speak or move or breathe as he gaped at his partner.

Doyle stalked forward. "That's what you're forgetting in this. Us. You took me, Bodie, to prove you'd won, to prove our survival."

Bodie shook his head in disbelief. This was unacceptable, Doyle had to be playing some incomprehensible game of his own. He should never have allowed him the advantage of sleep. Bodie passed a hand over his eyes. "And that's okay by you?" he asked, his voice jeering.

"I can live with it," Doyle told him, flatly.

"You like being hurt then, do you?"

"You know better than that."

"Damn it, Ray, I raped you!" Bodie's voice was raw.

"Yeah," Doyle acknowledged. "You did. And it was a bloody pathetic performance all around. But--" For the first time, he faltered.

"What?" Bodie prodded, almost savagely.

Doyle shifted, swallowed, then looked at Bodie with such a singular steadfastness it seared him. "I felt alive," he grated. "Alive. Felt you were alive. You bloody bastard."

Silence. Terrible understanding, unvoiced, but acknowledged.

"I trust you, Bodie," Doyle asserted strongly. "Nothing you did diminishes that."

Bodie couldn't look away this time, caught by the intensity in Doyle's eyes. "You can live with this," he said, not as a question.

"Yeah," Doyle agreed, readily. He took a deep, steadying breath. "Question is, can you?"

Could he? Overwhelmed, he yet realised that he was not completely surprised. Doyle had always gone his own way, in this no less than in any other. Revelled in his unpredictability, did Doyle. But this was no contrived perversity, no deliberate contrariness. Doyle was utterly sincere. He could stay--Doyle was offering him that. Understanding, if not absolution, was on the table, and it was enough. More than enough. For a timeless moment he savoured it. Savoured the simple knowledge that Ray would stand by him even in this, understand him, even in this. Trust him, even in this.

And he knew that his life would be hell from now on, for the image of freedom he had been nursing with quiet desperation was proven a chimera. Everything he had ever wanted and never believed possible was standing there before him, waiting. All unknowing of the truth guarded so tightly within himself, the truth that would place Doyle forever out of reach. In this, as in all things, he would protect his partner.

Matching strength for strength, truth for truth, Bodie walked forward to Doyle, who did not back away. "Only one problem with your theory, sunshine," he said hoping for harshness and finding only wavering strain. He reached out a hand, curving it through the wild curls, seeing an instant look of comprehension in Doyle's eyes before his mouth fastened on Doyle's.

He felt Doyle stiffen, felt the instinctive rejection, and knew that he had been right. Anguish burst within him and was swiftly contained, to be replaced by a certainty of action and purpose. It was the right--the only--thing to do.

And then it changed, as Doyle's body relaxed, softened, and his mouth opened to Bodie's. With a gasp, Bodie broke the kiss, falling back and staring at Doyle.

Doyle bared his teeth. "You bastard, you think--" he broke off, his eyes raking over Bodie and Bodie knew he stood naked and revealed under that regard.

Now it was Doyle who moved forward, closing the distance between them. "You think that'll do it?" he asked. "Think that'll drive me away?" He shook his head. "You can leave, Bodie, but I shall be right behind you. I'm not letting you go."

His world shifted, somersaulted around him. "You can't--I want--"

"Me," Doyle finished for him.

Bodie felt himself flushing. "It's not a joke."

"I know," Doyle said, reaching out a finger to gently brush Bodie's mouth. "If this is what it takes, Bodie, then I agree."

Anger ripped through him, overwhelming him with its suddenness and strength. "Thanks all the same, mate," he said, tight-lipped, "but it doesn't call for quite that much of a sacrifice," and he pushed Doyle back, hard.

Doyle stumbled, hissing as he barely kept to his feet, and wrenched his arm painfully. "What in bloody hell's the matter with you?" he shouted at Bodie.

"You," Bodie yelled back. "I'm not a fucking charity case, Doyle. You can't keep me here by offering me your body, tantalising as it is. Just like a whore, get what you want by--"

"Shut up!" Doyle bawled at him, startling Bodie. "Just shut up!" Nothing for a moment but the sound of mutual harsh breaths. Then: "I didn't say that right. I--" he hesitated, and plunged on, "I need you, Bodie."

Bodie nodded, sneering. "Well, I want you, Doyle, there's the difference. That's what all your theories and understanding have failed to make clear to you."

"Shut up, you bastard, and listen to me!" Doyle interrupted. "I--"

"And I'm not going to bloody well make love to a martyr so just you shut the fuck up!"


Bodie clamped his mouth shut, cursing himself.

Doyle moved closer--he looked like hell, Bodie noticed abstractedly, and he looked magnificent. Wore exhaustion and pain well, did Doyle.

"Complex thing, love," Doyle commented. "Reckoned that was at the root of it. Never thought you'd say it, though."

"No," Bodie denied hotly, desperately. "For Christ's sake, how can you think that love had anything to do with what--with what I did to you?"

"Why were you so angry, Bodie?" Doyle asked reasonably, moving right up to Bodie. "Why were you so afraid?" He reached out a hand and gripped Bodie's upper arm, firmly. "Why did you need to protect--claim--me?"

"Ray--" Bodie's voice left him, the name a last ditch-effort to ward him off, to save himself.

Doyle's voice was low, the words coming from him with difficulty. "Said I needed you, Bodie--you understand that? I need you. Here. With me."

Bodie lifted his head at that, and looked deeply into green eyes that could no longer hide the fear in their depths. He was shocked by the open vulnerability, the willing exposure--this not a part of their usual pattern. And with it, he was lost. I'm not letting you go, Doyle had said. In the end, that's what it came down to. Doyle didn't want him to go. Doyle needed for him to stay. And, typically, he didn't give a damn what it would do to Bodie to see it through. I don't see why I should suffer for what you did.

No, Bodie acknowledged, he shouldn't.

Doyle, he saw, was reaching for him, and he allowed himself to be taken into that one strong arm, burying his head in the joining of neck and shoulder, and holding on to the lean form. Tightly. Holding on to that which had come to mean more to him than his freedom, or his desires, or his life itself. So be it.

"You'll stay?" Doyle asked, and Bodie heard the fear and tightened his hold on Doyle.

"Yeah." He felt the slender body relax, felt his own body's answering release of tension.

"Good," Doyle murmured. Bodie heard the triumph in the husky voice, and wondered how he would manage being strung on the rack for years to come. Still, he wouldn't leave, he vowed; whatever it took from him, he wouldn't leave. Until Doyle told him to go.

Caught in a grim foreshadowing of his future, it took him a moment to recognise what Doyle was doing. He twisted away from lips that had begun to explore his neck.

"Doyle!" He was shaken, confused, and his temper rose.

"What's wrong?" Doyle demanded.

"Let's be very clear," Bodie said with menace enough to dampen even Doyle's ardour. "I'll stay. But I'm not your toy, not something you can turn on and turn off. I won't play those games, Ray."

"Pretty picture you have of me," Doyle commented. "Said you wanted me."

Bodie closed his eyes wearily, wondering how long he'd pay for that one. "Leave it, Doyle," he said flatly.

Doyle considered him, sucking on a tooth. "No game, sunshine," he said, softening.

Bodie looked at him uncertainly.

"Tell me what you want, Bodie."

"Nothing. To be your partner." Under an unwavering stare, he admitted unevenly: "To be near you."

"To be my lover?"

A firm shake of his head, but his eyes dropped.

"You'll be feelin' me up in no time, just like you always do," Doyle mocked. "And havin' me go up the stairs first."

Goaded, Bodie responded, "And you'll encourage it, just like you always do."

Doyle's eyes narrowed as he tilted his head to regard Bodie. "Probably," he agreed.

Bodie searched the off-kilter face, and moved closer. "Be very, very sure, Ray."

"You know I like livin' dangerously," Doyle said, reaching for him with a smile that glittered.

"I'll kill you if you're jerking me around, Doyle," Bodie murmured, his arms going possessively around his mate.

"You're welcome to try," Doyle said, and placed his mouth over Bodie's with sure confidence.

It lit a fireball in Bodie, engulfing him instantly in the taste, smell and feel of Ray Doyle. From Ray's immediate and far from inhibited response, he was feeling the same. They broke apart finally, hanging on to each other while they both sought air.

"Bloody hell," Doyle gasped. "Wasn't quite expectin'--did you expect that?" Wide eyes looked to Bodie.

Reeling himself, he nevertheless rose to the occasion. "'Course. Always told you I was the best, didn't I?"

"Shouldn't underestimate yourself," Doyle informed him wisely.

"'S not possible!" Bodie said, affronted.

Doyle kicked him. "Braggart." Then he looked at him, so intently that Bodie fidgeted.

"What?" Bodie demanded.

"You look all in," Doyle told him critically.

"Didn't sleep," Bodie said, shrugging. "Been up since before dawn."

Doyle looked down, pointedly. "Found me that inspirin' after one go, eh?"

Bodie froze, choking on an odd combination of rage, shame, and humour. The humour won out, and he pulled Doyle to him. Unmindful of both broken arm and bruised ribs, he held on, relishing Doyle's throaty chuckle, buried though it was in his shoulder.

"Bastard," Bodie whispered into brown curls.

Doyle snorted. "A proper pair, we are," he agreed.

"It can't be this simple," Bodie sighed, rubbing his head against Doyle's.

"Disbelieving sod. Why not?" Doyle demanded. He pushed back a little, and reached a hand out to Bodie's face to trace the edge of his misshapen eyebrow. "I love you."

Resigning himself to a lifetime of being regularly tipped off-balance, Bodie gazed back at him. "I'd have stayed with you, regardless," he told him.

"I know."

"Know a lot, don't you?"

A very self-satisfied smile appeared, instantly sending Bodie deep into speculation. "Doyle," he said suspiciously, "what have you been--"

"We'll talk about it later," Doyle said, grabbing hold of Bodie's wrist and starting to drag him toward the settee.

Bodie refused to budge. "You knew," he said with some dismay, but mostly delight.

"I had an idea," Doyle admitted. "Told you I did a lot of thinking in hospital."


"Didn't want to lose you," Doyle said simply. "Couldn't. Had to figure out why, didn't I?" He tugged on Bodie's wrist again. "C'mon, time for a lie down. For both of us."

Bodie allowed himself to be guided, but he looked at the settee with raised eyebrows. "Doyle, I don't think--"

"To sleep, you berk," Doyle interrupted. "We're both too far gone for anything else or we'd already be at it."

"I don't think," Bodie repeated, with great dignity, belied by the unholy gleam in his eyes, "that we'll fit on the settee. At least not you, me and that sling of yours."

Doyle eyed Bodie, eyed the settee, and changed the direction of his tugging to his bedroom.

Bodie followed along, docilely enough, but when they reached the bedroom he stopped, assailed by doubts. "Doyle--" his voice waved as his control broke.

Doyle turned and whatever he saw on Bodie's face brought him instantly close. "Don't you go developin' scruples on me now, sunshine," he ordered fiercely. "I'm sure."

Bodie looked at him, not hiding the longing. "What do you want, Ray?" he asked softly, leaving himself exposed.

Doyle licked his lips, then regarded him gravely. "You."

"The whole works?"

"Yeah. Only way to do it, mate."

Bodie nodded, and began efficiently stripping. "Any experience?"

"Kid stuff. You?" Doyle followed Bodie's lead, as well as he could.

Bodie came over to help him with the sweatshirt and the sling. "Adult stuff. Not pleasant."

Doyle, half-dressed, held his eyes. "But you'd thought about it, with me."

"Yeah," Bodie admitted. An irrepressible smile grew. "Who could blame me?" He guided Doyle into the bed and followed, wrapping himself around him as well as he could, given assorted bruises and plaster.

"Cretin," Doyle said comfortably. "We'll do it like we've done everything else."

"Be the best," Bodie agreed around a yawn. "Take turns."

Doyle poked him, hard. "You goin' to sleep on me?"

"Told you I'm knackered," Bodie complained, grabbing the offending finger in his hand. He brought it to his chest, and kept it there, safe.

Doyle made no comment, just wriggled to settle himself more comfortably against Bodie.

Bodie sighed. "'S nice, this," he said sleepily.

"Reckoned you'd've tied yourself in knots by the time I got out," Doyle said, with immense satisfaction. Then after a reflective moment: "Thank God for Cowley."

"Bloody Cowley," Bodie agreed, snuggling closer.

"And speaking of Cowley--"

"Later," Bodie mumbled.

"Won't take a moment," Doyle insisted, to Bodie's dismay. Obviously drastic measures were needed. He sought Doyle's lips with his own.

"Got...ummm...idea about tha--" Doyle muttered, then seemed to lose his track of his thoughts.

Bodie, delighted to find a way to detour Doyle's thought processes, prolonged the contact, keeping it slow and languorous out of necessity rather than choice. After a good long while: "Sleep?" he murmured.

"Hmmm, yeah...." Doyle's voice was drugged, his body limp. Bodie smiled, murmuring softly, gentling him to sleep. His own limbs were sluggish, and he drifted in that sweet moment between thought and dream, knowing sleep would come. Doyle was warmth beside him and within him. Cherished. Bodie grinned, thinking of Doyle's probable reaction to that concept. They'd take it slow, he thought to himself. Very slow. No need to hurry anything, anymore. Contentment as he'd never known it suffused him, spreading out through every pore and to every extremity, tinged with amazement; disbelief fled before Doyle's solid presence. Lost in pleasant, drifting speculation, Bodie never knew the moment when he crossed over into sleep, at last.

-- THE END --


Originally published in Roses and Lavender, Allamagoosa Press, May 1997

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