Doyle's silence, Murphy discovered, was far worse than his sarky tongue, especially if you knew you deserved it. With each step along the trail, the quiet behind him grew more profound. He wished to hell Doyle would just get it over with.
The moon was waning, the Highland trail becoming impossible to follow, and Murphy admitted defeat. A fallen tree near the trail caught his eye, and he settled onto it, arms on his knees, head bent.
Doyle paused for a moment then paced a few feet forward. "He can't be too far ahead of us. Come on."
Murphy raised his head. "We're losing the light."
"We can't let MacShane get away!"
"He's already long gone."
Doyle turned back to him, his face shadowed, but Murphy caught the gleam of eyes. "You've finally admitted it, have you?"
Wearily, Murphy looked down at the trail again. "Which? That we're lost? Or that I'll never make it as your partner?"
The stillness then was worse than before, the truth of it twisting inside Murphy. He'd earned the right to work with agent 4.5, to be partnered with the best in CI5. But everyone knew that Doyle never gave second chances when any of his partners fucked up. He was good enough that he didn't need to.
Doyle sighed and walked back to Murphy, settling on the ground with his back against a large stone that might once have marked the way for other, more fortunate travellers. "Cowley'll have our guts for garters."
"Mine. I'm the one who thought we should flush MacShane tonight."
"Yeah, but I agreed. Too keen, both of us." Doyle's voice was vicious.
Murphy didn't argue, but he knew whose was the main fault. Out here, away from the urban areas Doyle knew so well, it was Murphy who had controlled the op. Too keen was right, all he'd wanted was the capture, to prove that he was worthy of teaming with Doyle. Christ, he'd be lucky if Cowley let him stay on the squad.
"Where do you reckon we are?"
"I don't know." Murphy shrugged, grateful for the darkness that hid his expression, and Doyle's. "I have a general idea of direction, and I know we can get back to that cottage, but I couldn't tell you where we are, or where the nearest village is or anything useful."
"Should we go back to the cottage tonight?"
Murphy closed his eyes. "Best to wait for light. I know it means we may lose MacShane completely." Failure wasn't bitter, it was numbing. What was he without CI5?
There was a pause, then in a surprisingly mild voice Doyle said, "Nah. Follows a pattern, he does. Look at him coming back here where we could find him. There'll only be a few places he'll run to now." Doyle picked up a small stone and tossed it across the trail to the woods beyond. "I do wish we could get word out--bloody useless these r/ts are out here, even when we do get back to the car."
"It's only a few hours until sunrise."
"Yeah, but is MacShane out here too? Or did he make it to shelter, or a road, or a village?"
Murphy shook his head. "There aren't any villages around here. My guess is he's still in the area, waiting for light like we are, but he must've cut over to another trail. He knows these woods, obviously."
"And he could've had a car stashed somewhere, or he might've doubled back to that cottage." Doyle stretched his legs out, leaning more comfortably against the stone marker.
"And taken our car."
"Lovely thought, mate."
Murphy stood quickly. "Maybe we should go back now."
Doyle didn't move. "You sure you can get us back without any light?"
Murphy hesitated, remembering the confusion of the early trail. "No. Safest to wait."
"Always play it safe, do you?"
"Look, if you want to go, we'll go!"
"Settle down. You were right the first time, don't let me talk you out of it. C'mon, sit down, mate. Rest."
Warily, Murphy settled down again on the fallen trunk. In the quiet, for the first time, he noticed the sounds from the woods surrounding them. Spring in the Highlands; an eternal rebirth. "I'm sorry."
Doyle's head turned towards him, but Murphy could see nothing of his features. "I wasn't joking before when I said we were both too keen. I wanted the bust just as badly as you did. Still do."
"But you're willing to wait until light to go back?"
"Safest thing to do, isn't it? I don't fancy getting more lost than we already are."
"And if we'd played it safer earlier, we wouldn't be in this mess."
"Practising for the Cow, are you?"
"Bloody hell. Cowley."
"We won't have to face him until morning at least." There was a lightness to Doyle's voice, and Murphy was startled to realise that it was a sort of comfort he was being offered. Doyle caught you that way, sometimes. Most often he was an aggressive bastard--satisfying to work with because of the general success of his ops, but dangerous to relax around. And then every once in a while he'd do something that shook your whole image of him. Like being the first of the squad to visit Tony's mother after Tony had bought it. Or staying with Jax in hospital overnight when it looked as if he'd lose his wife and child during birth. What would it be to win this man's friendship?
"C'mon," Doyle urged, "we might as well get some sleep." He lay down beside the stone, curling into himself for warmth, then lifted his head again. "Safe enough, isn't it?"
Murphy grinned at the question in Doyle's voice. "Safer than most places in London."
"Cold, though," Doyle muttered, curling up tighter.
"It's May." Murphy stood up and walked over to settle next to Doyle. "Here. It'll get colder before the sun's up--we can share body heat."
"Oh, the lads will love this when we get back." But Doyle made no protest as Murphy lay down next to him, back to back.
"You don't care what they think."
Silence again as Murphy longed to ask questions but kept his mouth firmly closed. Doyle never answered questions about himself, except for what was necessary. They all knew he'd been with the Met--CID and Drugs Squad. They all knew he'd been recruited into CI5 by Cowley himself, and was Cowley's right-hand man. They all knew he was good at his job, intense by any standard, and unforgiving of foul-ups. Doyle didn't seem to trust anyone but the Old Man; kept to himself for the most part. Murphy privately speculated that it was the perfectionist in Doyle that would keep him from becoming Cowley's heir apparent.
Murphy shifted, trying in vain to find a more comfortable position on the ground. "There was a town."
"Eh?" Doyle's voice was little more than a grunt. Probably could sleep anywhere, the single-minded bugger.
"A town. Local legend has it that there was a town here a few centuries ago, called Brigadoon." He rolled the name across his tongue, giving it the same lilt as the old man at the petrol station.
"So, it disappeared. Completely. Buildings, animals, people--one fine day two hundred years ago."
"They probably emigrated to America."
"With all their buildings and livestock?"
"Maybe they burned them all down so the thieving English wouldn't get them."
"You've no romance in your soul, have you Doyle?"
"Go on then," Doyle sighed. "Tell me what the legend is."
"The village is said to reappear once every hundred years. They live a day and then sleep for a century."
"Daft thing to do. What'll happen when their supplies run out? No village is self-sufficient."
"By the time that happens they'll have lived hundreds of years, maybe even a millennium or two. Think of it--what would it be like?"
"Fancy that, do you?"
"Wouldn't you fancy seeing the future then?"
"No. Can't see how it would be better, and it'd probably be a lot worse than what we have now. Not that that's any Garden of Eden. Anyway, listen to you. Why would this one village pop in and out of time like that? What's the purpose of it?"
"Does there have to be a purpose? The legend says that witches were in the vicinity, threatening the village with all manner of dire things. So the minister prayed to God for a miracle, and the legend of Brigadoon was born."
Doyle shifted, pressing closer along Murphy's back. "They emigrated. Running from the English."
"Maybe," Murphy conceded. "But it's a nice legend."
"Hm. Never took you for a sentimentalist before."
"All sorts of things you don't know about me, Doyle."
"Probably just as well. Come on, mate, let's get some kip."
Murphy drifted towards sleep. He was warm enough, even if the ground grew harder with every breath. At least Doyle hadn't bitten his head off. Yet. At least they were still partners. For now.
He thought about the people of Brigadoon. Impossible to believe, but what would it feel like to be free from the normal demands of time as they were? To belong to a place of your own like that?
The birds woke him in the grey of pre-dawn. Doyle was still asleep and Murphy turned to look down at the man he'd slept next to. Curly hair, battered features, and a slim body that hid from all but the discerning eye the strength within it. The best mind at CI5--outside of Cowley's--at rest. Murphy hoped he'd have a future with Doyle as his partner.
He shook Doyle awake and they started back along the trail they'd been following in the night. As they walked around a bend in the trail, they came across a sheep standing and blinking as if dazed. Murphy halted in surprise. Were they that close to a farm after all? And then there was a whistle from their left and a dog leaped out of the woods and nipped at the sheep to get it moving along the trail, back towards MacShane's cottage.
"We didn't walk past any farms last night, did we?" Doyle followed the sheep and the dog.
"Not that I knew. And anyway, it...." He stopped speaking as they completed the curve of the trail and the woods thinned to nothing, revealing a town where he knew there had been none before.
Beside him Doyle cursed.
Murphy stared at the buildings before them. "This wasn't here."
They walked into another world.
Doyle held the glass in his fingers, contemplating the colour of the whisky. He brought the glass to his lips and drank, savouring the burn on his tongue and throat. Yeah, tonight was for whisky. He was alone in the pub, apart from the other patrons and a few agents celebrating the end of the latest op. Alone by preference, although Murphy should be along soon, after finishing up his report. He'd come in and look for Doyle, join him at the table, and together they'd drown their sorrows in alcohol without ever speaking of it.
Damn fools, both of them.
But he was off-duty tonight, and if he wanted to wallow there was none to stop him. And none to understand. Not even Murphy, who reckoned Doyle was merely helping him through. The blind idiot.
Tomorrow, mid-afternoon, they'd report back to Cowley. Back to their duty. Always their fucking duty.
And with the words he was back in that cursed place, listening as Bodie explained to him why he'd stayed when he had only ever longed for freedom.
"I did it for my mother." The quiet voice answered Doyle's question, Bodie's hands never faltering as he cut and sewed the waistcoat ordered by Andrew MacLaren.
"Your mother?" Doyle knew that Bodie was an orphan. Only met a few short hours ago, and already he'd learned the life history of this man and his town. But not what he felt, and thought, and believed.
"She begged me to stay when I would have gone. My father married late, and she worried that if I left there would be none to provide for my sisters. She said I could leave later, after my sisters were married. Ironic, isn't it? My sisters are gone--married and moved elsewhere--and she died during the first night of the Miracle, but here I am. Duty. Do you have that then, in your world?"
Doyle nodded. "Yeah. Always."
"Yes. That's why you're looking for that man MacShane, even here, isn't it?"
"If we found you, he might as well."
"Why do you want him?"
"He broke the law."
"Maybe the law needed breaking." Bodie efficiently tied off the thread he had been using.
"We aren't talking about a political protester, just a villain who hurts others out of his own greed."
"And if he was a political protester?"
"It'd still be my duty to find him. Someone else's to judge him."
"I wonder sometimes where the line between duty and conscience lies." Bodie glanced at him. "And where individual needs come into it."
He turned back to his task, while Doyle took the time to study the enigma before him. Bodie. As unlikely a man as he could think to find in this place. His body looked to be built for action--solid with muscle, easy-moving as if he'd been trained--but it was only natural grace. And a mind given to contemplation, perhaps because there had been no other outlet for him.
Doyle had noticed him right from the first, as the townsfolk gathered around the two strangely dressed men who had appeared from the woods. They hadn't been unfriendly, just cautious and mildly curious. The mildness of it had made Doyle suspicious. What certainty did they have in their lives that they weren't more curious?
Murphy hadn't seemed to notice any of it. Entranced by all he saw, he had gone at the girl's friendly bidding--Fiona MacLaren, daughter to Andrew and sister to Jean who was to be married that evening. And then Bodie had said Doyle had best come with him, for his house was quieter than most and he looked to need sleep.
"Sleep," Doyle muttered into his drink, in a pub, alone. Christ, was there a time when he hadn't needed it? He hadn't slept well since that day four months ago. Hadn't really slept then, for Bodie had been curious to know of the world, hungry for any information outside that which he knew. And Doyle had found his tiredness slipping away in the face of Bodie's enthusiasm.
He rubbed a hand over his face, thinking longingly of sleep. But if he slept he dreamed, and he couldn't bear the dreams now. Who would have thought that dreams would be worse than nightmares?
He drank again of the whisky. Dreams. He might have thought Brigadoon a dream, triggered by Murphy's tale, but for the bruises.
He accompanied Bodie on his rounds of the village, delivering cloth and items of clothing to various houses. Doyle kept an eye out for any sign of MacShane in the town, ignoring Bodie's sidelong glances as he did so. And then at the third house they visited, Bodie helpfully suggested that the elderly couple take Doyle on an extensive tour of their home, since he had shown such interest in the other houses they'd visited. An hour and a half later, after dutifully checking each room and listening to endless stories, Doyle was returned to the kitchen where he found Bodie happily finishing off a tankard of ale.
There was no evidence of MacShane anywhere, and everyone denied any knowledge of his existence, yet Doyle had learned long ago to trust only his own experience. Even if he was finding his own experience baffling. Walking from house to house with Bodie, he did wonder if he was dreaming, if he'd wake soon to find Murphy lying beside him on the trail, in the dawn's light. The houses, the clothing, the people, the lack of anything even remotely modern argued that this was real, that it was an eighteenth-century village brought to life. And yet it wasn't quite like reality either: the weather was too perfect, the villagers' speech too easy to understand, the food too fresh--as if gathered that very day. And there was a sense of something that bothered him in a profound way, that he could not identify. Perhaps it was just that he knew he didn't belong here with these people, and never would.
Their last stop was the MacLaren house to deliver the waistcoat. The house was bustling with activity as Jean, with help from her sister and friends, carefully packed the wedding trunks, and prepared for the evening's celebration. Fiona greeted Bodie with relief, taking the waistcoat from him and sending a young girl with it to her father. Murphy was there as well, never taking his eyes from Fiona's bright animation. Beguiled by fantasy, Doyle thought, and made a note to keep an eye out there. Fiona, for her part, sparkled for Murphy, a flush in her cheeks.
"Thank you for completing the waistcoat so quickly, Bodie," Fiona said with real gratitude but also with a look in her eye that roused Doyle's curiosity. Was there pity there? Why?
Bodie answered easily enough, wishing Fiona and her family well on the day of her sister's wedding. They left the house and Bodie steered them towards the open fields, suggesting Doyle might want to check the Brockie shed, if he was going to be thorough about his duty.
Doyle had already learned to mistrust that particular tone of voice. "What aren't you telling me?"
Bodie's face was all innocence. "It'd be a good place to hide, you know. Shepherd's shed, no one about to bother you but the sheep."
"What about the shepherd?"
"Ah, well...." Bodie pursed his lips as he hedged on his answer.
Doyle stopped walking and folded his arms, waiting.
"There isn't a shepherd," Bodie confessed. "But there is a shepherdess. Nice girl."
"You're a suspicious lad, aren't you?"
"I've reason to be. But...."
"But...if your villain is hiding out with Meg, he's liable to be exhausted. Handy for catching, though."
Doyle looked at Bodie, who gazed back at him. "Not too choosy, is she?"
"All she requires is that they're alive and under fifty." Bodie looked Doyle up and down. "You'd suit her admirably."
Bodie smiled at him. "Could be something to tell them all when you return home--how you lay with a woman well over two hundred years old."
"Wouldn't want her to pine away for the charms of modern man," Doyle said, starting to walk forward again. "C'mon, I do need to at least check to see if MacShane is in the vicinity."
"And Meg," Bodie suggested, falling into step beside him. "Could need interrogating. Hiding men about her person, you know, dangerous for us all."
"I'll leave her to you, sunshine."
"Ah, but--" Bodie's voice broke off as a blond man appeared around the corner of the last house of the town, and stepped forward to block their way. He was followed by three others.
Doyle stopped beside Bodie, his senses prickling. There were no smiles here.
"Charlie." Bodie acknowledged the blond man.
"What were you doing at MacLaren's, Bodie? Deliveries? Seeing Jean?"
"Nothing that concerns you."
"Everything about Jean concerns me."
Bodie's mouth curved upwards. "She doesn't see it that way."
Charlie stopped forward, and Doyle shifted to the balls of his feet, although the man at his side was relaxed.
"I told you to keep away from her."
"She's my friend."
"She'll be my wife tonight, not yours!"
Bodie remained silent, but Doyle observed the expression on his face with a silent groan. He should've been a soldier, Doyle thought, with that attitude and complete lack of common sense. Like waving a red flag, looking like that.
Charlie thrust himself forward into Bodie's face. "You had your chance and she chose me."
Bodie's eyes flickered. "I did think she had more sense than that."
"The Devil take you," Charlie snarled and swung at Bodie, who ducked and then pushed Charlie away from him. Charlie rebounded and charged forward, taking Bodie to the ground, but Bodie twisted and managed to roll them so he was on top.
Charlie's friends surged forward, but Doyle blocked their way. "It's between them," he said, prepared to enforce it.
For a moment they hung back, watching as Doyle was watching, but it was soon obvious that Bodie would be the victor unless the odds were considerably evened, and they rushed to help. Doyle intervened.
There was something wonderfully satisfying in action, especially when his mind was still occupied with absorbing the confusions of the day. This--this impact of fist on flesh--made sense; was almost joyfully recognisable. And he took delight in it, ignoring his own hurts in the sheer pleasure of mindless movement.
It was a pleasure shared, he soon discovered, as Bodie finished with Charlie and joined Doyle in putting down the rest of their would-be attackers. Their eyes met, sparkling with humour and adrenaline, as Doyle sent the final man Bodie's way, and Bodie neatly stepped aside and took the man down by tripping him.
Nothing but the sound of breathing for a moment, then Bodie's grin faded as he looked in turn at the men on the ground before him. He stalked over to Charlie, leaned down and pulled him up by his collar, speaking to him in a voice devoid of humour.
"You listen to me. Jean will always have me for a friend. Aye, she's marrying you tonight because she chose you, and that's her wish. But you will never give her cause to regret that choice. Or I will intervene."
He dropped Charlie and turned to Doyle. "C'mon then," he said, as if Doyle had been the one delaying them. They set off once more to the borders of Brigadoon, and the Brockie shed.
His glass was empty. Doyle rose to get another at the bar. While the barman poured his drink, Doyle looked into the mirror. The bruises on his face were gone, faded with time. As were the bruises he still thought to see, the ones placed on his hips by urgent fingers, and on his chest and shoulders by a ravenous mouth.
Inexperienced Bodie might have been, but he'd learned very quickly.
"You the failed suitor, then?" Doyle asked as they trudged along a path winding uphill. The woods grew sparse as they climbed, giving way to stone-strewn hills and heather, under an improbably blue sky. The birds gave a constant chorus in the background, and Doyle realised, with a certain wry appreciation, that he could hear nothing of man here but their own voices.
"No," Bodie answered, with such complete finality that Doyle felt obliged to push.
"Doomed from the start, never even gave it a try?"
Bodie stopped walking, looked back at Doyle, then turned to face him. "Something like that."
Doyle fingered the cut next to his mouth where one of Charlie's friends had landed a wild punch before he had eliminated him. "Charlie doesn't seem to realise it." There was just a trace of blood on his finger, nothing serious.
"Charlie Dalrymple has never been known for his intelligence. Only for his father's money and his own sense of himself. Here, let me see that." Bodie touched his chin gently, then turned it so the light fell across the injury. "Should've ducked."
"Didn't see it coming."
"Never should have been involved in it in the first place."
Doyle grinned. "And let you have all the fun? Not likely."
"There are better ways for visitors to have fun."
"Yeah? What do you have in mind, then?"
Bodie's eyes flitted to his and Doyle held his gaze steadily. He didn't move forward, or back, just stood under Bodie's touch, and waited for him to work it out.
"Has the world changed so much?" Bodie's voice was soft.
"Yeah. I believe it has."
"God help me," was all Bodie murmured as he leaned forward and put his lips to Doyle's.
"Seventy." The voice interrupting his thoughts sounded impatient, and Doyle shifted his gaze to find the barman standing before him. "Seventy pee," the man said with even greater emphasis.
Doyle paid him, and picked up the glass, returning to his isolated table. It hadn't been love, he repeated to himself, yet again. No, just an afternoon of pleasure, of lust. His closed his hand tightly around the glass. He'd had his share of lovers before, both men and women, this had been no different. Why the hell couldn't he forget Bodie then, as he'd forgotten the others? He would forget him, too, if it wasn't for the dreams.
He gulped the whisky. How could it have been love? One day--he didn't believe in love at first sight. Yeah, there'd been tenderness, but when one was so pleasured tenderness came easily. Didn't mean anything, did it? But the echo of shared confidences whispered through his mind, like wind through cracks in a wall.
"Is it accepted, then, in your world? This?" Bodie's voice was soft, and his hand travelled Doyle's body to gently cup his genitals. There was no response in his cock or balls, the afternoon in Bodie's house and bed seeing to that. But the pleasure of Bodie holding him was as strong as at the moment of orgasm.
Doyle stirred, feeling the beginning of panic at the thought, but Bodie soothed him, with a sense of pleading to his touch, and Doyle stayed. Surrendered. What harm would it do? He traced Bodie's mouth with a gentle finger.
"No, it's not accepted. Tolerated at best."
"But you've been with men before?"
"Yes, a few. Not so much in recent years--wasn't worth the risk of the job."
Bodie sighed. "It's a sin here."
"Reckoned as much. Two centuries and it's only just beginning to change. Must've been rough for you."
"I thought it made me evil, was the work of the Devil in me. It was my own private war, suppressing it. Learning to live with it."
"I'm your first, aren't I?"
"That obvious, was it?" Bodie stroked Doyle's body.
Doyle stretched under the touch. "I'd say it was natural talent, but I wouldn't want it to go to your head."
Bodie bent his head and nibbled his way across Doyle's chest. "Helps to have someone who shouts if I get it right." He looked up and grinned at Doyle, before returning to his task.
"Must've had some experience." Doyle tried to steady his breathing.
"Women, in Glasgow. A very nice place that, for an uninitiated lad from the Highlands."
Doyle brushed his hand across Bodie's chest. "But you never married."
"No. Didn't seem right, when I felt so divided. When I thought what I felt for men was evil."
"You don't think that any more?"
Doyle looked at the serene face so close to his. He kissed Bodie's forehead, then his lips. "What changed?"
Bodie looked away, and when he turned to him again Doyle bit back a curse, unprepared for the emotion he saw struggling for expression on Bodie's face. Or for its effect on him. Whatever was working so powerfully within them, it was giving him all of Bodie to see. And he suspected the reverse was just as true--why didn't that frighten him any more?
"This Miracle of theirs...." Bodie began haltingly, as if he was finally expressing something long protected within him. "It isn't for me."
"You want out. Couldn't you walk away?"
"No. That was made clear from the start. No one may leave Brigadoon, for if even one leaves, the Miracle will end for all, and Brigadoon will vanish forever. Mr Forsythe made a bargain with God, and gave up his own place in Brigadoon to seal it."
Doyle rubbed along Bodie's shoulders. "You're trapped then," he said, surprised by the intensity of the feeling at the pit of his stomach.
"Was it your choice? Could you have left?"
Bodie closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them to gaze at Doyle steadfastly. "I made the choice to stay. My mother was ill, my sisters gone, and by then...I believed I'd left behind that desire to roam. That my place was here. I've no cause to complain." There was pride mixed with the bleakness of the words. A soldier born.
"What changed your mind then?"
"My mother died that night. In the morning of our first day, I discovered her. Seemed unfair that she didn't live to witness the Miracle, when it was something she wanted so badly to see. Like Moses in the desert, never allowed to see the Promised Land."
"It just happens like that, sometimes."
"No, but it's all predetermined you see, that's what we've been taught. Follow God and follow the path He has set for you. I believed. I thought my attraction to men was a test, and overcoming it was the way to Heaven for me, the way to the life I was meant to lead. This life. In this town, with these people.
"What if I had left? Had followed my inclinations? Had left my mother pleading for me? She would have been cared for here, among her friends. And I would have been free to travel, to see the world, to be myself. Not God's path for me, but my own. Would I have been cursed then? Or blessed?
"That's what I began to think yesterday, on the first day of our Blessing, as I mourned my mother and we buried her in the kirk. This miracle had been her dream, not mine. And I began to doubt the rightness of it, the assumption that this would save everyone in Brigadoon. That we must be protected so from all outside influences. The witches we feared, were they truly evil? Or just different from the expected? As I am different.
"And then today, only the second day of our Blessing, you came."
Doyle stared into blue eyes that saw far too clearly. What did it cost a man to doubt all he had once believed? "You're feeling what I'm feeling, aren't you?" He whispered the words, unable to give them stronger voice.
"This is right, what's between us," Doyle asserted, fiercely.
"Yes." There was no doubt in the quiet voice, just acceptance and the sort of certainty that only comes with peace.
And still those eyes gazed at him, and revealed everything to him. Miracles, it seemed, came in twos.
"What if I wanted to stay?"
He looked up, expecting Murphy, but found Cowley gazing at him instead. Instinctively Doyle straightened in his seat, annoyed yet amused at the automatic reaction. Why hadn't he recognised Cowley's voice?
"Sir," Doyle acknowledged. "Is there an emergency?"
"I'd hardly come in person to summon you if there was." Cowley seated himself in the chair next to Doyle's.
"Is this a social call then, sir?" Doyle hardly knew what he said, struggling to hide the effort it took to shift gears to working mode.
"No, and kindly give me your full attention as I have something serious to discuss with you."
Doyle straightened even more under the look Cowley gave him, and brought his mind to order.
"It is about agent 6.2."
Doyle erased all expression from his face. What had Murphy done now?
"Aye, I can see you're wary of discussing him."
Damn the man's keen eyes. "What about him, sir?"
Cowley sighed, and rubbed his forehead in an uncharacteristic moment of revealed weariness. Or maybe not so uncharacteristic, Doyle thought, as he identified the surge of concern he felt for the Old Man. Cowley knew how to trigger the loyalty he commanded.
"His work has been below standard for several months. Ever since you two lost MacShane in Scotland."
"We did find him again, sir."
"That's not the point, is it?"
"Murphy has been better recently," Doyle objected. "He's just--"
"No. His work has not improved, despite refreshers and a variety of operations. Oh, he's still performing adequately, of course, but it is far below his norm--and you are only marginally better."
Doyle's jaw set. "I've accomplished my assignments."
"There was a time when you did more than just accomplish them."
Doyle looked away, unable to deny that.
"6.2 asked to be reassigned tonight."
Doyle brought his eyes quickly to Cowley. "He what?"
"He asked to be placed on the B squad. Aye, I can see you're surprised by it."
"Did he say why?" What was the bloody fool thinking now?
"He said a great many things, but the gist of it was he felt he was endangering the other members of the squad, particularly you."
"The incident with Harrison was the trigger, I believe. A few seconds later and you would have been dead."
"We've always cut it close in CI5, that's no reason for him to be asking to be reassigned. Christ, he nearly bought it three weeks ago because Anson was late! What's got into him? He needs the squad, dammit, it's the only thing that kept him--" Doyle broke off, aware that he had already said too much. Damn the whisky, and the dreams that kept him from sleep.
"Aye," Cowley said into the sudden silence. "Being on the squad is the only thing that has kept him from--what? Leaving altogether? Suicide?"
Doyle retreated. "You'll have to ask him that, sir."
"I already have, as has Doctor Ross." Cowley hesitated a moment, then continued. "Your report from Scotland said you lost MacShane when he fled through the woods. You followed him but were unable to capture him, so you returned to your car and contacted the authorities."
"Is there anything you would like to add to that, Doyle?"
Cowley was silent, and Doyle waited through the silence, unmoving. Finally Cowley spoke again. "Do you believe Murphy should stay with the A squad?"
"Despite his performance?"
Doyle considered, weighing his words. "If his performance improves. I believe it is necessary for him to remain."
"Necessary for him or for us?"
"I don't assign agents based on their needs, Doyle." Cowley's voice was acid.
"No sir, but Murphy is a good agent."
"He used to be. Since you seem to understand the situation, I'll assign you to it. You have the rest of the week to straighten him out. If he chooses to stay with the A squad after that time, and if his performance warrants it after a probationary period, then I will agree to it. All right?"
"You're offering me a choice, sir?"
"Is that what you think?"
Doyle smiled for the first time. "No, of course not. Yes, all right. And...thank you, sir."
"I want this settled, Doyle, either way. For both of you."
"Yes sir," Doyle agreed, and watched as Cowley stood and left him.
Would he ever understand the Cow fully? Did anyone? He'd sacrifice them in a blink of an eye for the sake of the games he played but he was fighting now to keep them with the squad. Giving them a chance. And Doyle would take it because without the squad, without their duty, he and Murphy were both lost.
Ignoring the rest of the whisky in his glass, Doyle left the pub. He would go to Murphy's, have it out with him tonight. Remind him why they were CI5 agents, and why they'd left Brigadoon. Remind him of the difference between fantasy and reality.
"No," Mr Lundie said, his eyes sorrowful, but his voice firm. "It cannot be."
"Why?" Bodie demanded. "You said that a stranger might stay in Brigadoon, might become a part of our Blessing, as long as he truly loved one of us, and never desired to leave. Ray is willing--"
"It is not our way, William, and you know it. He cannot remain. Only those who are born to Brigadoon, and those who are spiritually at home here, may remain. Those were the conditions set by Mr Forsythe when God answered his prayers."
"I need him."
Doyle looked at Bodie, astonished at the open declaration. But he saw the desperation lurking in Bodie's eyes.
"I am sorry, William, truly sorry." And that was the hell of it, Doyle realised. Mr Lundie understood what he was saying to Bodie, what it would do to him. His dark eyes, their liveliness a contrast to the age revealed by his white hair, were filled with compassion. But they were resolute as well. Untraditional beliefs had no place here.
Bodie turned on his heel and left. Doyle started after him, but Mr Lundie touched his arm.
"Let him go, he must resolve this himself."
"What kind of God is it, that destroys the best part of a man?"
Mr Lundie shook his head. "It is not your belief, so how might you understand? Perhaps you are but the final test for our Bodie, before he finds himself with God."
"Is that where you are now, Bodie?" Doyle said into the quiet of a car travelling the streets of London. "Is that why you chose as you did?"
But his mind shied from the memory and he focused on the present. He would go to Murphy, talk to him, remind him of his duty as he had that day. Brigadoon had taken enough from them already.
He left to find Bodie but found Murphy instead. A deliriously happy Murphy, who told him he was staying, that he would wed Fiona and live the rest of his life in Brigadoon.
"I'm staying, Ray. I've found all I've ever wanted or needed. Here. We've already been to Mr Lundie--the old schoolmaster, you know--it's allowed. I can stay with Fiona." Doyle was silent and Murphy spoke again. "Do you understand, Doyle? I'm staying."
"Oh, yeah, I understand," Doyle said slowly. His eyes raked over Murphy, anger gathering within him. "And what about Cowley? CI5? For God's sake, Murphy, you've only known the girl for a day!"
The joy in Murphy's face dimmed. "Please try to understand, Doyle. This is more important to me now. This is everything to me."
"You're touched, mate. This is a dream, not reality. You'll wake up tomorrow and it'll all be gone. It's got nothing to do with you, or me. You don't belong here, neither of us does. Look around you for Christ's sake."
"No. No Ray, I'm staying." And Murphy left him standing in MacConnachy Square, while all around him the people bustled to prepare for the wedding celebration, and Bodie was nowhere to be found.
Doyle parked the car on the street containing Murphy's block of flats. There was a light in Murphy's window, and Doyle knew that he'd be alone. He had shown no interest in birds since Scotland. He'd shown little interest in anything since Scotland.
Except, Doyle had thought, for the job itself. But caught up in his own memories, how closely had he observed Murphy? Using all his energy to focus on the present, had he ever taken a clear look at his partner? Four months gone by and he barely remembered them. He knew Murphy was hurting, missing his Fiona, but surely Murphy understood he'd made the right choice? Or was it that he denied Murphy's suffering because Murphy had had a choice?
Doyle closed his eyes, his hand clenched on the steering wheel.
He found Bodie near the stream behind his house, standing on the bank, staring at nothing. Doyle went to him, uncertain of what he could, or should, offer. Wishing he hadn't been the cause of the pain so evident on Bodie's face.
But Bodie turned his head towards him and then reached for him, gathering Doyle close and kissing him with all the fierceness of despair.
The sound of movement behind them drove them apart, and Doyle turned his head to see a woman retreating quickly around the side of the house.
"Doesn't matter," Bodie said. "None of it matters." He reached for Doyle again. "It is right what's between us. It's right."
"All we'll ever have is this moment. Their Miracle leaves us each in Hell."
Doyle nodded, and held tightly to Bodie. "I'd've stayed if I could."
"And damn duty?"
"You wouldn't have survived," Bodie said softly, certainly. "You don't belong here. Mr Lundie was right about that."
"Neither do you."
"No, but it's my home, where it never would have been yours. You would have gone mad."
Doyle was silent, unable to articulate the confusion in his mind and heart. The only reality he cared about was right now, here in his arms.
Bodie stirred in his embrace. "God in Heaven, Ray, how am I to survive now?"
Doyle raised his head, and his hands gripped Bodie's face, holding him strongly. "I can't stay."
"And you can't leave."
"So all we have is the present. This moment. It's all either of us will ever have. I've never loved anyone, Bodie, never said it to anyone. But I love you."
Bodie nodded, his hand coming up to grasp one of Doyle's. He brought their joined hands to his mouth, and kissed them. "Come," he said. "Let us have our lifetime."
They had gone again to Bodie's bed, and declared their love to each other with the touch of flesh on flesh. Sealed their commitment to each other in caresses and building urgency. And said their farewells with the cry of completion.
Doyle shivered and rolled up the window of the Capri. September had come in cold this year. Fitting.
He followed the memories again, the images of the marriage of Jean MacLaren and Charlie Dalrymple flitting before his mind's eye. The kirk and the town square had been festooned with ribbons and flowers, lit by torches, with the scent of heather covering all. Jean had been radiant as she'd said her vows to Charlie, and he had been flushed with pride of her. Doyle had stood beside Bodie and watched, while a vice had seemed to press ever closer against his ribs, as the full moon had risen above them. Was ever a day so brief?
All around them had been the expression of simple happiness, the celebration of an entire community, ignorant of the sacrifices made for them. And then it had all changed: Bodie one minute joining in one of the dances; the next running from the town, out into the countryside, intent on leaving Brigadoon.
Doyle remembered Bodie's voice, raised in anger: "No! No, it's finished! Your Miracle ends tonight!"
And then they had all been running, the townsfolk desperate to prevent Bodie from acting; Doyle desperate to find Bodie himself. And in the end it had been Bodie who had found him, while all around him men were hunting.
Oh Christ, and he was back with the thought to a rocky path, hidden behind two large stones, leading across the boundary stream of Brigadoon. And Bodie's face, pale in the light of the moon.
"You can't!" Doyle shouted as he reached him, grabbing Bodie by the arms.
The quiet voice stopped the words rising within him, and Doyle stood, staring at Bodie.
"I know," Bodie said again, trembling within Doyle's grasp. "It's a Hell of my own choosing, isn't it? God's path for me, it seems."
"They've taken it all from me."
"What do you mean?"
"Didn't you see? At the dance, Jean wouldn't look at me, hesitated to touch me. And then when she did, at last, there was such pity in her eyes."
"The woman behind your house, was that--"
"Meg Brockie--remember me telling you about her? She spread the tale to Jean, and by now to everyone else who would listen to her. How you and I were kissing, in defiance of God's law."
"What does it mean?" Doyle asked sharply. "What will they do to you?"
Bodie stilled beneath his hands, then reached with his own arms to pull Doyle close to him. "No, no, they won't kill me. They won't do anything to me."
"Oh, some of them will shun me, they'll keep their children from me, but in time it'll pass. They'll forget what they don't want to remember. Or think that Meg was telling tales."
Doyle stepped back to see Bodie's face more clearly. "Then why did you run, why did you tell them it was over?"
Bodie sighed, and closed his eyes for a moment. "I was angry. Charlie knew, came to force me away from Jean. He didn't realise that her pity was driving me away faster than his fists. I cannot bear pity, Doyle."
"But you're going to stay."
Bodie stared at him, then leaned forward and hungrily kissed him. Doyle responded, opening his mouth for Bodie's tongue, but Bodie pulled away.
"No," Bodie said. "I'm not."
Bodie silenced him by taking his mouth again and it was only at the last moment that Doyle realised what Bodie's hands were doing. He twisted desperately, fighting for possession of his handgun--winning in the end only because of superior training. He staggered back, away from Bodie, clutching the Walther.
"Bodie." Doyle's voice grated with the fear that surged through his body. "No."
"It's my only hope, Ray."
"No. That's not the answer, dammit!"
"Why?" Bodie demanded. "Why? I've been stripped of everything. I can't leave any other way. You've told me about London, about Paris, about life outside this fucking place, and I'll never see any of it. I'll never even be able to read about it, except for the books we already have, that I already know. There'll never be any news here, no changes, ever.
"My mother is dead, my father before her. My sisters are gone--and dead and buried by now, aren't they? Two centuries gone. The friends I had here look at me with pity in their eyes, because of the way I am. Or they look at me with hatred for the difference. The hatred I can bear but not the pity. And what is the life I'm to lead?"
"No," Doyle whispered, shaking his head.
Bodie's voice was low, and hoarse with the effort for control. "You can't stay. The salvation I might have found in you is denied me. Do you think I can bear to look on Murphy and Fiona, and know what I've lost?"
"My duty was to my mother, and yes, to this damned town. I won't destroy their Miracle." He looked at Doyle, his face softening. "Even if I could do it on my own account, do you think I'd do it in front of you? You're an idealist, Ray, for all your cynicism. And I love you."
"What d'you think this will do to me? Killing yourself--"
Softly Bodie said, "Then do it for me."
Doyle recoiled. In an instant Bodie was close to him, holding him tightly and speaking fiercely in his ear. "Ray, what else can I do? I can't live like this, knowing what I've lost, with nothing to hold onto. There's no future for me here, there's no future for anyone here. They won't change, there's nothing to change them. No growth. For them it's Heaven, but for me it is worse than Hell. It harms no one if I die now."
"Yes. But only you. And I would live--and die--with you."
For a long moment they held to each other. Finally Doyle was able to voice his thoughts. "This is your chance for freedom, isn't it?"
"It's my chance to choose my own destiny."
"Mr Lundie said I was your last test, before you'd choose to be with God or the Devil."
Bodie laughed--a release--and his hands roamed over Doyle's back. "He was right. I'm choosing God."
"By killing yourself."
"By going out with honour, of my own free will, never denying who I am."
"Jesus Christ." And it was Doyle who held tightly now, memorizing the body beneath his hands, and seeking the mouth that opened for him with such perfect understanding.
After a while Doyle stepped back, and he looked at Bodie standing before him in the moonlight. "You want me to do it, don't you?"
Bodie was still for a moment. "Only if you understand why. It's going to hurt you either way. I'll choose whichever is easier for you."
"It's going to gut me."
"Yes," Bodie whispered.
Two breaths, and their eyes held, and then Doyle decided. "I'll do it. Cleanly, so you won't suffer. You don't know this type of gun."
Relief, regret, love chased across Bodie's face. "Thank you. Ray, tell them it was an accident. Suicides aren't buried in the kirk, and that would cause more grief than necessary for them."
"I don't care about them."
"Come here," Bodie said, and Doyle went to him, and they held each other through a last kiss. And then Doyle placed the gun as he had been trained to do, and pulled the trigger.
Tears. There were tears falling from his eyes, Doyle realised. He'd never cried for Bodie or for all they'd been denied. For himself and for what love had asked of him. He scrubbed roughly at the tears, then looked through the window of the car again, at the light that still burned in Murphy's flat.
The townsfolk had found them, and had gathered around Bodie's body to carry it back to town. They'd been sombre, and beneath it Doyle saw the truth of all Bodie had said. They grieved for him, as one of their own, but they were relieved at his passing, as well. By mutual consent they agreed to leave the body in the kirk, and not inform the rest of the town of the death, until the next day. There was still a wedding to celebrate.
Grief turned to cold purpose, Doyle had found Murphy. In a few short words he had punctured the fantasy of staying in Brigadoon, brought home to Murphy the enormity of the step he contemplated, and the nature of the place he would choose to live in forever. A place that would deny the value of any who were different, would hide from the changes the world might bring to them. Was Murphy ready to strip himself of everything, honour included, on the strength of a single day's experience?
"If you really believed, would you be so confused now?" he'd asked of Murphy. And Murphy couldn't answer. He'd gone to Fiona, and had returned to leave with Doyle.
"I did wrong there, didn't I, Bodie? Denied my own love by attacking his. I knew his weaknesses. But I'll make it right, if I can. Somehow. Give him his chance to mourn, if nothing else."
Why he had such influence with Murphy, Doyle didn't understand, but it was a simple matter to roust him from his flat, get him into the car, and head for Scotland. He didn't pause to analyse the certainty that drove him back to that particular place; knew only that sometimes full circles were all that healed.
They slept in the car, eating at transport cafes and using the facilities there, and twenty-four hours later, they started down the trail from the cottage, seeking a place that wouldn't appear again for a hundred years.
"Do you really think this will help?" Murphy walked beside him, eyes on the trail.
"Maybe seeing that it's really not here will end it for you. You've been dreaming about it, haven't you?"
"Yes--how'd you know?"
"Daydreams too, I reckon. I've seen you drift off."
"Yes." Murphy was clearly uncomfortable. "That's why I asked to be reassigned."
"Well, maybe this'll cure it. Get it out of your head for all time. Put it in the past." Although he knew that for himself nothing would change what had happened to him, or would heal the wound no one was allowed to see.
But then Murphy had been accepted into the heart of Brigadoon's miracle and had chosen to leave. Perhaps that made all the difference.
They walked on, gradually approaching the place where they had discovered Brigadoon, and then Doyle stopped, unwilling to go further. This was Murphy's place wasn't it? Not his. "I'm going to rest here for a minute. You go on ahead, I'll catch up with you."
Murphy shrugged and started forward obediently, but then he paused and looked back at Doyle. "This place," he said slowly, gesturing at the trees and the hills surrounding them, "I felt alive here. Like I'd never felt before."
Doyle looked away for a moment. "I know."
Murphy's voice was soft. "Don't blame yourself, Ray. I was the one who ran to security."
"Go on." Doyle pointed. "See if you can at least find some peace."
Murphy nodded, and then he walked away from Doyle, towards the centre of the vanished Brigadoon.
Doyle watched for a while and then, taking a deep breath, he steadied himself and started after Murphy. He couldn't avoid the place, and leaving Murphy alone hadn't worked in London, had it? He'd keep his distance, but he had to back his partner. He followed as Murphy crossed into the heart of the place neither of them could forget.
What had he expected? Lights flaring? Cannons booming? A welcome to a straying son? He had expected nothing, hadn't he? Fantasy proven. But surely, if anyone could stir the miracle of Brigadoon, it was Murphy.
"Please God," Doyle murmured, seeing Murphy falter as he recognised the shape of the hills outlined in the moonlight. And then Doyle saw it, a gleam of light that shimmered around Murphy, and the ghostly outlines of houses.
Doyle crept closer, hoping his very presence wouldn't disrupt the events unfolding before him. He saw Mr Lundie emerge from one of the houses, wearing a nightgown and holding a lantern up high, peering at Murphy as a smile broke out on his kindly face.
Mr Lundie's voice carried easily to Doyle. "My, my, you must really love her--you woke me up." He beckoned Murphy closer. "Come, lad."
But Murphy hesitated, and Doyle's hands clenched as he kept himself from moving forward. He mustn't interfere.
"You shouldn't be too surprised." Mr Lundie's voice was very gentle. "I told you, if you love someone deeply enough, anything is possible. Even miracles."
Murphy glanced back in Doyle's direction, then turned and followed Mr Lundie into his house.
Brigadoon vanished. Doyle felt the unaccustomed tears in his eyes again, and blinked quickly, trying to clear them. "It's done, Bodie. At least I got that right." He breathed deeply, gingerly testing for the bitterness that had been his companion for four months, and found only grief. Cleansing grief--and a strange sort of pride for Bodie's influence. He turned back on the trail--
Doyle's silence, Bodie observed for the thousandth time, was far worse than his sarky tongue, especially if you knew you deserved it. With each step along the trail, the quiet behind him grew more profound. He wished to hell Doyle would just get it over with.
The moon was waning, the Highland trail becoming impossible to follow, and Bodie admitted defeat. A fallen tree near the trail caught his eye, and he settled onto it, arms on his knees. Waiting.
Doyle walked up to him, and settled onto the tree next to Bodie. "We're lost, aren't we?"
"Don't start," Bodie warned.
"Cowley'll have our guts for garters."
"Won't be the first time. Won't have any guts left at this rate."
"Where do you reckon we are?"
Bodie shrugged. "Not sure. I have a general idea, mind you, but--"
"Can you get us back to the cottage, at least?"
"Of course I can. So can you."
"Yeah, but you're the leader." Doyle waved his hand expressively. "I'm just following along like a good soldier."
"Chance would be a fine thing," Bodie muttered.
"Should we head back to the cottage now, do you reckon?
Bodie snorted. "I'm not wandering around when I can't see what I'm stepping on, or in. You can do as you like, of course. Shout if you get in any trouble and I'll come and get you soon as the sun's up."
"Gosh thanks. And since when do you play it safe?"
"Since I gave my guts up to Cowley."
"At least MacShane follows a pattern--we should be able to pick him up at one of the other places, eventually."
"Providing the Cow lets us live."
Doyle ignored that. "Wish we could let someone know, though. Bloody useless these r/ts are out here, even when we do get back to the car."
"It's only a few hours until sunrise. MacShane'll keep."
Doyle picked up a twig and started stripping it. "Do you reckon he's out here? Or did he make it to shelter, or a road, or a village?"
"Not a village, there aren't any. I wouldn't put it past him to be around here still, or maybe he has a car hidden somewhere that he bolted to."
"Terrific. Could be back at the cottage as well, couldn't he? Laughing at us out here in the woods."
"Could be," Bodie agreed with equanimity. "Could've taken our car, too, come to that."
"Oh, lovely thought, mate. You can explain that to Cowley yourself."
"You're supposed to back your partner, Doyle."
"Not when he's a nutter like you." Doyle dropped the remains of the twig, and slanted a grin at Bodie.
Bodie felt himself relax. "Knew there was a reason Cowley partnered us."
"You be sure to tell him that, along with everything else. Are we supposed to sleep out here?"
"What's the matter? Springtime in the Highlands, mate! Nice, fresh air, the lullaby of woodland sounds--"
"The cold, hard ground," Doyle broke in to Bodie's rhapsody.
"Well, we can at least do something about the cold part. Come on, then." Bodie slid off the log, pulling Doyle with him."
"Oi, watch what you're doing," Doyle said testily, but he curled up next to Bodie readily enough.
Bodie wrapped his arms around Doyle and pulled him close against him. He'd always been a firm believer in taking advantage of sudden opportunity. "Make a good hot water bottle you do, mate. If a bit bony," he added, wincing as an elbow jabbed into his stomach. "Settle down, will you?"
"The lads will love this when we get back."
"So don't tell them. You don't care what they think anyway."
"No." A pause and then Doyle continued. "Never much cared what anyone thought of me, long as the job got done."
Bodie nodded, but remained silent as he lay with Doyle in his arms. Stupid, really, to feel so content just because Doyle trusted him, and allowed him liberties no one else was permitted. Bodie was careful not to push it, for the first time in his life he really was playing it safe. Why it should be sarky, moody, touch-me-not Doyle for him he didn't know--unless they were right all those years ago when they told him what goes around comes around. He would fall for the one person who seemed most disinclined to fall for him.
Didn't matter, really. He wasn't going anywhere. He'd spent most of his life moving on, ever since he'd left home at fourteen, unable to ignore the forces pushing him out into the world. Wanderlust they used to call it. But he was home now, by Doyle's side, working for Cowley in a partnership that gave him nearly everything he'd ever wanted.
"Care what Cowley thinks." Doyle broke the silence.
"Yeah, amazingly enough." Doyle shifted a little, then said in a near mutter: "Care what you think, too."
Bodie grinned. "That's just sensible, mate."
Doyle snorted at that, but Bodie felt him relax. He knew he was closer to Doyle than anyone else, and it was only on some nights, when the craving was particularly bad, that he railed against his fate. And then, sometimes, he'd go hunting--perfecting the art of sublimation. He had Doyle's trust and friendship; maybe it was all Doyle could give.
"Why haven't you tried it on with me, then?"
Bodie's mind scattered. "What?"
Doyle turned over in his arms, facing Bodie. "You heard me."
"Not your type, is that it? Fair enough, I reckon, but--"
"Wait." Bodie struggled for control. "What the hell are you saying, Doyle?"
Doyle was silent for a moment and Bodie wished desperately for dawn, for the moon to reverse its course, for at least a damned flashlight. Doyle stirred as if to sit up, but Bodie tightened his hold on him, and he stilled. "I know you go with men sometimes, Bodie."
The accusation in the quiet voice cut off the stupid hope that had erupted within him. "Do you?" Bodie said softly, without inflection.
Doyle shifted again, but Bodie wasn't about to let him go. They'd face this little scene now.
"Yeah. Saw you once, picking up a man."
Fuck, when had he been that careless? "Got a problem with it, have you? Afraid I'll jump you some dark night--like now, for instance?"
At that Doyle did break away from him, coming rapidly to his knees to face him, while Bodie followed suit, automatically adjusting for an attack.
"No," Doyle said fiercely. "I didn't mean it like that. Don't be stupid."
"Stupid is it? Yeah, I can see how you'd think so--your partner's bent, Doyle, has been all along. I fuck men. Women too, but I like men. What of it? Doesn't mean I want every man I see. Especially not a bony, skinny little--"
Bodie's voice cut off suddenly as Doyle grabbed him, and kissed him, hard.
Bodie broke the kiss, pushing Doyle away savagely. "Gerroff."
"Shut you up, didn't it?" Doyle asked, his voice harsh. "Well listen now because I'm only goin' to say it once. You aren't the only one who fancies men, so lay off the defensive crap. No one's shocked here."
Stunned, Bodie wanted to argue that point, but Doyle rushed on. "You don't want me--fair enough. I'd hoped maybe you would. Thought that you.... Should've known better. Wanted you for a long time--how could I help it with you looking the way you do? But it's more than that. It's you. Best friend I've ever had. Maybe I've blown it now but I can keep my hands off you so you needn't worry about that. Doesn't change anything. Just wanted to see--went about it wrong--doesn't matter, though does it? Christ, you can be the most irritating--"
But while Bodie was quite prepared to listen to Doyle extol his virtues for hours on end, he drew the line at having his faults listed. And he'd caught the grief in Doyle's voice, so similar to his own. Not being in the least reluctant to follow Doyle's lead when he knew he was on to a good thing, Bodie leaned forward, cupped Doyle's face in his hands, and kissed him. It wasn't the most skilful of kisses, under the circumstances, but it did the trick nicely. And, after a moment, Doyle kissed him back.
A short time later Bodie found himself with an armful of passionate Ray Doyle, and decided explanations could wait. His hands fumbled with Doyle's jacket, unzipping and pulling it aside, then attacking the buttons of the shirt he wore, only to find another shirt on underneath that. Dammit, how many layers did the man have on? Finally he reached bare skin and groaned his satisfaction as his hands moved urgently over Doyle's chest and stomach, seeking the nipples and finding them already erect in anticipation of his touch.
He felt Doyle's hands on his cock, stroking through the fabric of his trousers, and gasped into Doyle's open mouth. They writhed together on the ground, technique right out in the face of the overwhelming urgency to touch and stroke and reach completion. He freed Doyle's cock, grasped it, but found he was too close even for that and settled for thrusting against Doyle, reaching to cup his arse and pull him into position to meet him, feeling Doyle copying his motions exactly. And they were coming, first Bodie then Doyle, held close against each other, and exultant with it.
Doyle was the first to move, but he did no more than slide his fingers along Bodie's chest, down his stomach, to his sticky cock. Bodie squirmed, still a bit tender to the touch, and Doyle's hand retreated, soothing him with a gentle caress on his stomach.
"We're a mess," Doyle said. But there was satisfaction in his voice.
"Yeah. Hope that cottage has a shower." Bodie wrinkled his nose, but he didn't move from his comfortable position against Doyle. Didn't think he'd ever want to move, really.
Doyle's hand found its way to Bodie's cheek. "Wasn't the way I planned it, mate."
"Yeah...was beautiful, though," Bodie said, too content to watch his tongue.
Doyle snickered. Bodie lazily cracked an eyelid to observe this, then closed it and pulled Doyle even closer. "What?"
"How bad do you have it, then?"
Bodie's eyes opened in a hurry, and he pulled back, needing to see but there was no light to be had but the stars, and they weren't any help.
"No, don't," Doyle said, reaching to pull Bodie back to him. "Christ, don't you realise yet we're in the same boat? Why do you think I wanted to geld that man I saw you with?"
Bodie grinned, and nuzzled into Doyle's neck. "Cowley wouldn't approve of that."
"Then don't tempt me."
"There's no need now, is there?"
Trust Doyle to hear the note of doubt. He leaned up on an elbow, gazing down at Bodie, his hand on his chest. "I want this," he said. "You and me. Exclusive. You willing to give it a try?"
Bodie reached up and stroked along Doyle's cheekbone, resting his fingers on Doyle's face. "It's been exclusive in all but sex for a long time, Ray. I've no desire to wander now."
He felt the crease in Doyle's cheek as he smiled. "It's right, what's between us, Bodie. And it'll last."
"Yes," Bodie agreed, and pulled Doyle down to kiss him. He felt Doyle shiver after a bit, and reluctantly broke the kiss. "Come on, let's get you buttoned up again. It's cold out here." It took much longer to refasten their clothes, interspersed as it was by kisses and more or less accidental slips of fingers, but eventually they settled again to try for sleep.
"We look a treat, you know," Doyle said sleepily into Bodie's neck. "Don't know if I hope MacShane is back at his cottage, or isn't, the state we're in."
"Don't reckon he'll have circled back. More likely to try to get out."
"No towns around here for him to go to."
"Yeah." A thought intervened. "There was once, you know."
"A town. There's a legend about it--the gaffer at the petrol station was telling me. It's supposed to appear for one day every hundred years--place called Brigadoon."
Doyle's hand, lightly rubbing Bodie's back, stopped abruptly. Bodie stretched, wanting the soothing touch again, but not yet knowing how to ask for it. He was startled when Doyle suddenly lurched out of his hold and scrambled to his feet.
"C'mon." Doyle's tone was sharp.
Bodie rolled to his feet, quickly following Doyle's lead. He checked for his gun while scanning the area, trying to determine what had set Doyle off.
"No, c'mon," Doyle said, pulling Bodie's hand away from his holster and urging him to the trail. "We've got to get out of here." He started back the way they had come, towards MacShane's cottage, stumbling against an unseen root beneath his feet.
Bodie steadied him, then held him still. "What's going on Doyle, why the rush?" Beneath his hand Doyle's arm was stiff with tension.
"Leave off and come on," Doyle snarled, starting forward again.
Bodie yanked him to a stop. "No. We'd already decided to wait until light, what's got you so nervy?"
"Look, I changed my mind all right? Better to try for MacShane than explain to Cowley that we just gave up, isn't it?"
Bodie frowned at the sound of Doyle's voice, hearing a fear under the irritation that he had only rarely heard before.
"Ray." Bodie pulled him close, kept him from moving away. "What is it?"
A pause while Doyle quivered under his touch. "I don't know. Just a feeling that we have to get out of here. You have to get out of here. Stupid, I know, but--"
"All right," Bodie said, pushing Doyle forward and following closely behind. He might not have been able to see Doyle's face, but he read the surprise easily enough. "Something's triggering this. Better to pay attention to it, I reckon. But we'll have to go slowly without the light."
They moved cautiously up the trail, hurrying as best they could. Bodie kept close to Doyle, feeling the tremble of muscles under tight control; a barely checked panic. He didn't understand, but he had learned long ago to listen to instincts, particularly when they struck so hard. There was something driving Doyle to get away from this place, and the fear went deep.
It wasn't long before the sky was noticeably lighter, heralding the dawn that would be upon them within the hour. They moved more quickly in the increasing light, and some of Doyle's apprehension began to spread to Bodie.
They went around a bend in the trail, running now. Bodie cast a look behind him as he thought he heard something, and then nearly fell as Doyle came to an abrupt stop in front of him. He caught himself by catching Doyle.
A man stepped out from the woods, onto the trail. He was tall, brown-haired and blue-eyed. Handsome, Bodie thought, and seeking them by the look of it. Through his hands on Doyle's shoulders, Bodie felt the shudder as Ray stared at the stranger. He moved to Doyle's left shoulder, ready for action.
"He's down that way," the man before them spoke, gesturing to a branch in the trail. "The man you're looking for. You can still catch him." They didn't move and the stranger focused on Doyle, eyes widening. "Ray," he said, an odd note to his voice, as if in surprised recognition.
Like the impact of a bullet, the pain burst within Bodie, spreading through him in an instant. Recognition. Knowledge. Memory. A woman dead in the morning light; another turning from him, then coming back with pity in her eyes. The hills pressing down on him like the bars of a prison, the love he held for them making it all the worse. Freedom given to him at the cost of Doyle's heart. Doyle.
Bodie felt the clutch of fingers on his arm, and realised that Ray had grabbed him, latched onto him in a wholly uncharacteristic fashion. It was as if Doyle held to a lifeline, so tight was his grasp. But it was real, solid flesh on bone, the warmth of life flowing within.
"I'm here, Ray," Bodie said, moving forward and turning his back on the stranger to face Doyle, hands on his shoulders. Two lifetimes struggled to co-exist, images bombarding him, but Bodie focused on Doyle.
"Bodie?" Doyle's voice was a mere whisper, his face frozen in an anguish that Bodie had never seen, even on that terrible night.
He didn't look away now, just held onto Doyle as tightly as Doyle was holding him. "You gave me life, Ray."
"Oh, God." Doyle's voice broke on the words. And then they were together, mouth meeting mouth in an embrace that spanned the present and the past, and would carry them into the future.
Dimly, still drowning in Doyle's passion, Bodie heard Murphy: "Miracles come in threes, you know. Farewell, Ray."
Bodie broke the kiss and eased away from Doyle, surprised at a momentary sense of dizziness. He gripped Doyle's arm to steady himself. He wanted nothing so much as to make love to Doyle for the rest of the day, but they had work to do, and his stomach was alerting him in no uncertain terms that he had ignored it for too long. Doyle grinned a little shakily at him, and Bodie saw that his partner was equally unsteady from the passion of their kiss. Good thing no one was there to observe them, they'd never live it down. He blinked in the morning light, cresting the hills and spilling over to the trail they stood on.
A whisper of a memory stirred him and Bodie reached a hand to stroke Doyle's face. "You all right, mate? That panic gone?"
"Yeah." Doyle breathed in deeply, then looked at Bodie with a sheepish expression. "Never been scared of the dark like that before. Don't know what the rush was."
"Just happens sometimes," Bodie said dismissively, not wanting to examine it any closer than that.
"The cure worked a treat." Doyle licked his swollen lips.
Bodie grinned. "Any time. But come now, let's get back. Can think of better places to do that. And besides, I'm starving."
Doyle snorted as he fell into step beside him. "So what else is new?"
"Have a heart, mate, I haven't eaten since--" Bodie broke off as Doyle stopped abruptly beside a small branching trail. "What is it?"
Doyle pointed to the clear imprint of a boot in a small muddy patch in the lee of an old stone that might once have marked the way for travellers. "Do you reckon?"
Bodie smiled with the scent of prey. "Worth a shot. Let's go." He began to move, only to have Doyle stop him, a hand on his arm. He looked back at his partner, eyebrows raised.
"I'm all right," Doyle said. "We're all right. You're here and I'm here and that's all that matters. That's all that's ever mattered."
"Yes," Bodie agreed, mystified, but certain.
Doyle grinned at him again. "C'mon" he said, "let's go catch a villain." He started down the side trail.
Bodie moved to follow, then stopped as he heard a sound from behind them. He turned, and to his surprise a sheep trotted out of the woods across from him to stand blinking on the trail. A moment later there was a whistle and a dog suddenly appeared, sending the sheep running down the trail. There weren't any farms around here, where...? He stepped back onto the main trail.
"Bodie!" He glanced around to see Doyle glaring at him, and gesturing impatiently.
There were more important matters than stray sheep. "Right behind you," he called, and hurried to join Doyle.
"What was it?" Doyle looked concerned now, staring over Bodie's shoulder.
"Nothing important." Bodie gestured for Doyle to precede him. "Lead on, goldilocks." He ignored Doyle's eloquent look, content to follow him on the trail as elsewhere, eying his arse with happy anticipation.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Second Variation on the Theme of B and D, Keynote Press, February 1999