by Pamela Rose
(For Linda B.)
Peter Skellen was depressed.
He drove his car with his usual careful precision, moving a sedate pace near the speed limit, obeying all traffic laws as was his custom. It had never occurred to him that his machismo might be tied up with squealing tires and high speed chases. He felt no burning need to prove his nerves of steel by running a red light. Habit, however, made him check his mirror; uninterested in the motor directly on his rear, but eternally suspicious of anyone three cars behind. Peter Skellen was a cautious man.
He was also a man trapped in a deep depression.
This wasn't an emotional state he was accustomed to dealing with, so he was still at the point of floundering around in the wash of misery, uncertain if it was worthwhile to keep his head above water. He'd been content with his lot for so long he'd nearly forgotten that true unhappiness could be easily as painful as any physical wound. Not that his life had been perfect, of course. There had been the usual daily irritations, boredom and frustrations everyone trudged through. But beyond all that, often obscured by those petty everyday furies, was his anchor and touchstone--his wife Jenny. And then, with strangely shocking suddenness (the previous nine months having passed in a happy haze of macho bliss as his swelling but beautiful wife complained of aching feet and back pains), there was another tiny anchor tugging on his heart. Any pride he'd felt before paled in comparison to the rush of joy he'd experienced the first time he'd seen his daughter. He'd glowed with it, sang with it, and felt peacefully humbled by it.
Now that happiness seemed very far away, untouchable. And he felt chilled by something he'd never thought to feel again-- loneliness. After six weeks, it was becoming more and more difficult to cope with it. Habit and training were keeping him sharp for the present, but sooner or later that would wear thin, simply because he really didn't give a damn anymore.
Pulling up beside the ugly brick building that was his destination, he cut off the motor, automatically scanning the passing cars and taking note of the nearby alleys and cross streets. He opened the door and got out, locking it carefully, and walked toward the entrance of what Colonel Hadley had called "Cowley's Home for Wayward Boys"--or, to be more precise, the headquarters for Criminal Intelligence Five.
Once inside, Skellen was appalled at the apparent lack of security. No one challenged him as he strolled down the corridors; he even received a couple of friendly waves and a rather sultry look from an attractive blonde. He waited at the lift for a few moments, but it seemed out of order. As he moved up the steps a man paused on the way down.
"Hey, Bodie! Where's your other half? The old man's been waiting."
Skellen halted warily. "Pardon?"
Having moved on past, the man stopped cold three steps below and turned back to look up. The expression on his face was comical. "What the--? You're not Bodie!" The friendly brown eyes froze instantly and his hand moved instinctively under his jacket.
Skellen quickly held out his own hands, palms out. "Hold on; I've credentials. If you'll permit me?" Carefully, very carefully, he slipped the slim leather case from his coat and flipped it open. "I was beginning to wonder if anyone had their eyes open around here. I could've lugged in a bazooka--"
"Blimey!" The man's eyes were fixed on the I.D. "Peter Skellen? SAS?" He looked back up in amazement. "Christ, who'd have believed it?" He laughed then, the dark eyes twinkling merrily.
Puzzled and oddly uncomfortable, Skellen closed up the wallet and tucked it back inside his coat. "I've an appointment with George Cowley. His office is on the third floor, isn't it?"
An amused smile curved the man's mouth as he nodded. Skellen could feel the dark eyes follow him up the steps. Before he had time to ponder the strange reaction, however, he was in the middle of another. The pretty blonde at the desk stared at him for a full thirty seconds before finding her voice.
"Mr....uh...Skellen? Peter Skellen?" Her normally cool poise was ruffled embarrassingly. But she recovered herself quickly. "Mr. Cowley is expecting you, sir. You may go right in."
He hadn't had to show her his I.D. or even introduce himself this time. This sudden and inexplicable notoriety had him totally baffled. Shrugging, he nodded his thanks and was ushered into the office.
He'd heard enough about the man who awaited him. George Cowley was an extremely powerful man, and a respected one. It had been one of the few times Skellen had heard true admiration in Colonel Hadley's voice. "Ol' George'd cut his own mother's liver out if she didn't toe the line."
But everything he'd heard hadn't prepared him for the man who greeted him. The spare, grey-haired man looked more like a stern and ill-tempered butler. Hardly the iron-and-guts fighting man he'd been led to expect. Yet there was something there, in those grey-green eyes, that straightened his spine and made him aware he was in the presence of a superior.
Cowley looked him over without any trace of surprise. "Aye, you'll do." He nodded in satisfaction then gestured to a chair. "Have a seat, Captain. What do ya think o' pure malt scotch?"
Skellen sat down, bemused. "If you're taking a poll, I'm for it."
Cowley chuckled. "Aye, you'll do fine." He moved to the breakfront, favouring one leg slightly as he walked. "You'll hae a drink then?"
Skellen started to reply that it was a bit early for him, but a rapid judgement of character reversed his decision. "Yes, sir. Thank you."
Cowley returned with two glasses, handing one over. "Well, I canna say I'm disappointed. The photos didna lie."
The sharp eyes appraised him. "You've no clue to what this is all about then?"
"Only that I was ordered to report to you, sir. Temporary secondment to CI5--" He broke off, thinking quickly. "When I came in, no one stopped me..." His eyes widened as it fell into place. "...because they thought I was this other chap...Bodie." He snapped his fingers as the last puzzle piece completed the picture. "He was SAS a few years back, wasn't he? Bodie...yeah, I heard he'd moved to another branch."
"You're familiar with him then?"
Skellen's smile was rueful. "Just by reputation. We've never had the pleasure of actually meeting. But having a double in the same outfit will hardly go unnoticed. He was only in for a couple of years, though, and I was overseas most of the t "There is a remarkable resemblance," Cowley commented.
"So I've heard. Bit hard to swallow, actually."
Wordlessly, Cowley dug out a file and pushed it across the desk. "And now?"
Skellen picked up the folder, stared at the picture inside.
"Well?" Cowley prodded impatiently.
He shut the file and dropped it back on the desk. "I suppose there's a degree of likeness."
Cowley seemed amused. "Aye, a degree. Certainly enough for our purpose."
"And just what's that, sir? A bit of double vision maybe? Played on whom?"
Cowley took a slow drink of his whiskey, savouring the taste. "Very perceptive, Captain Skellen. Bodie and his partner will be here soon. I'll go into more detail then." He glanced at Skellen's nearly untouched glass. "Drink up, Captain. And remember to tell Colonel Hadley how much I appreciate the co- operation of the SAS."
"The Colonel says he owes you," Skellen replied with a dash of sarcasm. "I hope I'm proper payment."
The tone didn't faze Cowley in the least. He smiled and held up his own glass. "I believe you'll do, Captain. Cheers."
"Days off, Doyle," Bodie said petulantly, head lolling back on the seat. "Days off. That means wine, women and song--or hadn't you heard?"
"I've heard. Maybe the ol' man hasn't," Doyle replied, totally unsympathetic.
"'Course he hasn't. He's tone deaf and only drinks scotch."
"What about women?" Doyle asked, amused in spite of himself. Bodie could make him laugh at his own mother's funeral.
Bodie rolled a bloodshot eye. "You must be joking. Last time the Cow got himself laid was 1947. Got carried away by the smell of lilac toilet water."
Doyle chuckled, then shook his head. "Stop complaining, Bodie. I didn't like being called in either, y'know. Only following orders, mate. Report in immediately."
Bodie groaned tragically. "I want you to know you've wounded me to the quick, son. You're such a lovely liar, Doyle. Why is it they trip off your tongue as natural as spit until it comes to coverin' for your dearest mate? You could've told 'im I was in Tahiti, couldn't you? Or joined a commune. Anythin'. I'd've even written your lines for you. Said I had an incurable disease--"
"A hangover is not an incurable disease, Bodie."
"Speak for yourself," Bodie snapped, then moaned at the loudness of his own voice. "You should be reported, that's what. This is a bloody crime."
"What? Cruelty to animals? It's one o'clock in afternoon. Snap out of it. You're puttin' most of it on anyway." He paused. "Besides that, I did you quite a favour. The bird was truly awful."
"Eh? What do'y mean by that?"
"I've seen better faces on lorry drivers, mate."
Bodie lifted his head, offended. "You should talk with some of the dogs you've picked!"
"Unlike you, however," Doyle retorted loftily, "I'm after more than what's offered on the outside. I'm interested in a girl's mind, her character, her soul--"
Bodie snorted, giving his partner's theatrics the reaction it deserved. "Face it, mate, the only souls you're after are the soles of her feet--off the floor and as wide apart as possible."
"Christ, you're crude," Doyle sniffed, but had to laugh. "So who was she then, your Miss Universe?"
"The bird, you prat!"
"Oh...uh...Marilyn, I think." He settled back in the seat, eyes closed, smiling dreamily. "She had her moments."
Suddenly disgruntled by Bodie's obvious satisfaction, Doyle took off from the stop light with a squeal of tires. "Yeah, well so has Cowley, and we're late already. And it's your fault."
Unaffected by the accusation--which was true enough--Bodie muttered, "What's the ol' man want anyhow?"
"How the bloody hell should I know?" Doyle snapped.
Long accustomed to his partner's volatile mood swings and his bad temper, Bodie didn't even open his eyes. "So what did you get up to last night then?"
Bodie opened one eyelid. "Alone?"
"Yeah, bloody alone. Why not? I've other things to do with me time than chase birds, y'know."
"Really?" Both eyes came open at this novel thought. He grinned. "Like what?"
Doyle shrugged. "Read a book, listened to some tunes--"
"Boring, Doyle, boring."
"Yeah, well some people like to improve their minds. 'Course in your case it's a hopeless cause at the start."
"Ha. Ha." Bodie sat up. "Seriously, Ray, what's with you lately? I've tried to coax you out for weeks now. New religion or what? Given up sex have we?"
Doyle's hands tightened on the wheel. His partner's teasing had unwittingly hit a very sore spot. Not that he would ever admit it to Bodie, but it had been quite a while longer than Bodie would have imagined. And, oddly enough, he wasn't even sure why.
Somehow indiscriminate sex had lost its appeal for him just lately. The urge was as strong as ever (any stronger and he'd be wearing spectacles any day now), but the desire for a faceless, nameless relief had paled. Ann Holly might have had something to do with it, but that was some time ago. The emotional wounds were well-scabbed and painless, although her face was still clear and sharp in his memory. He'd certainly had women since then--a plethora of them. Too many maybe. Perhaps that was the problem. What Bodie and other womanisers (himself included, to be totally honest) tended to forget was that if the girl was vague and unmemorable within a week, so too were they. And he was frankly weary of being a faceless orgasmic blur. It would simply be nice to mean something to someone again. For all Ann's faults and his own, for all their impossibly divergent life styles and goals, he knew she remembered him as clearly as he did her.
Bodie's voice drew him back sharply from his thoughts.
"Look at it this way, sunshine," Doyle said lightly, "you've a head this morning. I haven't."
Bodie smiled with irrepressible smugness. "Afternoon, y'mean. And all the lovely memories to go with it."
Doyle just grunted. Memories, he thought viciously. Until you get randy again and some other bird catches your eye. He knew he was being unjust to the other man. Bodie treated his women royally, certainly better than Doyle did his quick conquests. But Bodie was flatly better with women all the way around; knew how to charm them.
Bodie settled back once more to doze until they reached headquarters. They met Murphy as they came in the door.
"Hallo, Bodie," he said with a strangely irritating smile. "Hang on...you are Bodie, aren't you?"
"What are you on about, Murph," Bodie asked testily. Doyle's dark mood had finally affected his own, and his head was beginning to pound again.
Murphy just grinned mysteriously. "Wanted to make sure. Never can tell, y'know."
Bodie and Doyle exchanged a puzzled glance as Murphy barrelled out the door, sniggering. Doyle shrugged and headed for the steps, not bothering to check out the lift, which only seemed to operate every other Tuesday. Bodie followed, too wrapped up in his hangover to worry about it.
There was an amused glint in Betty's eyes as well. "You two had better go on in. He's been expecting you this last hour or more."
Bodie leaned over her desk, unable to resist trying it on, in spite of his aching head. "Ah, Betty, sweetheart. Have you been countin' the minutes, then? I know you've missed me beautiful face."
"Mmmm." She smiled at some private diversion. "Seems like I've just seen your beautiful face. It gets around more than you know."
Bodie straightened, bewildered, and Doyle said sharply, "Come on, Bodie. The ol' man's waitin'."
Cowley was enjoying himself immensely. Doyle's face was a study of shocked confusion. Bodie's expression mirrored that for the first ten seconds but quickly shifted to a kind of perplexed resentment. Of the three, only Skellen appeared unmoved; more curious than dismayed or startled. Understandable, since he'd at least had a short time to adjust to the idea before it was thrust upon him in the flesh.
Doyle looked at Bodie, then back at Skellen. Then back at Bodie. "You're bloody twins!"
Bodie stiffened. "Not hardly, mate." Then, at Doyle's wide- eyed stare and Cowley's amused glint, he amended, "Bit of a resemblance, maybe.
"And you, Captain?" Cowley demanded, "What's your opinion?"
Skellen was inclined to agree with Bodie. He saw the likeness between them easily enough, but saw the differences as well. And he couldn't accept that the similarities were quite as startling as everyone else seemed to believe. But, as he met the defiant blue eyes and caught the flash of arrogance and scorn, an imp of nastiness made him reply impulsively. "Like looking in a mirror," he said sweetly.
Bodie's expression froze, and Skellen wondered wryly if his own face ever displayed such pompous coldness. He knew if looks were lethal, he'd have about a half-second left to live. Returning the stare calmly, he determined that it wouldn't be he who broke the contact.
Impatience did that, as Bodie turned to Cowley. "What's this all about, sir?" he demanded.
Cowley had not missed the underplay of tension between the two men and was amused by it. Unavoidable when placing two very active bulls in one pen, but he trusted they wouldn't be together long enough for it to create a problem, so he was enjoying Bodie's discomfort on a purely personal level. His pet barbarian needed taking down a peg or two, and he had a feeling this man Skellen was quite capable of it--or at least of putting 3.7 on his toes. Cool, removed Bodie let few things get up his nose, but this had managed it quite nicely.
"Perhaps I should introduce you," Cowley said dryly. "Bodie, Doyle, this is Captain Peter Skellen of the SAS. He'll be working with us for a time."
Doyle had recovered from the initial surprise and stepped forward now with a delighted grin. "Good to meet you, Captain. I'm Ray Doyle."
Skellen shook his hand, feeling an immediate click of common chemistry with the mop-haired agent. Doyle looked a bit scruffy, hair too long, jeans too tight and worn a bit thin at the knees, but the green eyes were clear and sharp and the handshake was firm and warm. There was genuine delight and humour in the forthright expression on the round face.
Bodie, however, hadn't moved. Skellen looked at him. "William Bodie, isn't it?"
"Just Bodie." The words were clipped. "I've heard of you."
Doyle turned back, amazed. "You knew about him? Why didn't you ever mention it? Christ, Bodie, he's your double! Are you two related or something?"
"Not that I know--" Skellen began, but Bodie cut him off.
"One of us is just a freak of nature."
Cowley decided it was time to cool the atmosphere. "You two, have a drink and find a seat. We have things to discuss."
With just a jot more than his usual insolence, Bodie moved to the cabinet to fix a drink for himself and his partner. In the process he commented off-handedly, "I heard about your connection with that embassy affair a few weeks back."
Doyle perked up. "You were in on that? The American Embassy? Good job that."
Bodie heard the unconscious admiration in Doyle's voice and was irritated by it. The SAS kept their dealings as anonymous as possible, and Doyle, no less than the rest of the British public, was properly intrigued by the image they presented. Strange, perhaps, for a member of CI5, but Doyle was obviously not immune to the mysterious attraction the SAS exuded. Bodie wished he'd kept his mouth shut.
Skellen wished he had, as well. He felt uncomfortable about answering Doyle, but it would seem rude not to. Training made it difficult to discuss an operation with anyone outside the SAS-- even if it was a similar department. He was less than pleased with Bodie, who certainly knew better than to bring the subject up at all. He evaded responding by demanding of his double, "How'd you hear about it?"
Bodie handed a drink to Doyle and shrugged. "I've still a few contacts. Understand you were quite a hero, weren't you? Under cover with the lovely, lethal terrorist--in more ways than one."
Skellen set his glass down on the desk, muscles tightening in preparation for a somewhat physical retort. But then he relaxed. The other man was obviously trying to goad him into some kind of impulsive action. Unfortunately, he'd managed to pick just the tender spot that might have given him more than he'd bargained for. You're slipping, Peter, he told himself sternly. He simply stared at Bodie and held his tongue.
Bodie, slightly disappointed that his bait had been refused, eased from his ready posture and located a chair across the room. He sat down and sipped at the hair of the dog that bit him the night before. His headache was worse than ever, and his stomach felt a bit queasy. He glared at Doyle, unjustly blaming him for his discomfort. If his prat of a partner had been with him last night, he certainly wouldn't have had nearly as much. Doyle was generally too cheap to pay for more than a couple of rounds and, although Doyle's thrifty soul was quite content to let Bodie fork over the cash for both of them for as long as either of them could stand, Bodie's principles of share and share alike refused to permit him to indulge his parsimonious golly very often. He learned quite early on that it didn't pay to spoil Doyle where money was concerned, or you'd wind up flat broke.
Doyle glanced from his partner to Skellen, confused by the brief but intense exchange of words. As usual, even the undercurrents were going over his head. He was a good cop and an even better detective, but interpersonal relationships had never been his forte.
Cowley decided he'd relished the interplay enough. Waiting until they'd all settled down, he said, "I haven't brought you together to cast a musical comedy. There is a method in this madness."
"Shakespeare, sir?" Bodie remarked with a wry smile. "If we're playin' Hamlet, I'd've soon stayed in bed. I know how he ends up."
"More a comedy of errors, 3.7. Played on our old friend, Gerald Green."
"Green?" Doyle repeated. "The former chief constable of Beddington? I thought we'd settled him." Doyle's lip curled at the memory; being a good copper, the thought of a bad one turned his stomach. "I remember his nice, clean town."
"He's no longer chief constable, 4.5. He is now the Right Honourable Mayor."
"Eh?" Even Bodie snapped to attention at this.
"You haven't been keeping up with politics," Cowley said blandly. "Our Mr. Green is extremely popular with John Q. Public."
"How the hell did that happen?" Doyle asked in disbelief. "After what he did, I thought he was finished. What with Chives and his strong-arm tactics--"
"And none of the mud stuck to Green," Cowley interrupted. "He was clean as far as the public were concerned. A man under him abused his power; Green, being an honourable man, resigned his post. It did not, unfortunately, prevent him from running for public office, nor prevent the public from remembering the peaceful city they'd enjoyed while he'd been in office."
"A bloody Gestapo nightmare," Doyle snarled. "No wonder it was peaceful."
"Quite so, Doyle. But most of the ordinary people didn't see that side of it. All they could see was that the crime rate jumped back to its normally energetic levels. They remembered those 'nice, clean streets' with fondness. So Gerald Green has risen from the muck smelling of rosebud. It was a landslide election, so I hear."
Bodie leaned back nonchalantly in his chair, purposefully ignoring Skellen. "So the ordinary man has found the proper rat for his rat-trap. What's it to do with us, then? Can't fight popular opinion, can we?"
"If it was only Beddington, I'd agree with you. Wish them luck of their choice, though I pity them for fools." Cowley studied his glass thoughtfully. "Unfortunately, it's gone beyond that. His popularity hat been noted in higher, more wide- reaching areas. The Minister tells me that the Home Secretary is considering taking Green on as an advisor. From there, Parliament is not an unreasonable step."
"I take it the Minister is not in favour of that."
"No, Captain Skellen, nor am I. The man is sincere in his beliefs, and that makes him very dangerous. Slow poison, spreading his own personal brand of bigotry and lust for power like acid rain. And the worst of it is he knows how to make it all sound very pretty, very sensible. Subtle hatred is the most difficult to defuse. I'd rather deal with a rattlesnake than his type."
"So you're planning to de-fang him," Bodie commented coolly.
"Or perhaps simply dilute his venom a tad," Cowley replied, echoing the matter-of-fact tone.
Skellen observed them all doubtfully. It sounded uncomfortably political to him, and whatever the old man had in mind seemed to be very close to crossing an ethical line. He was aware that CI5 often skirted near to the rules, bending them to the breaking point and more, but this hinted of something far more distasteful. Yet the Colonel had assured him that Cowley was a straight stick with morals staunch enough to make the Queen seem like a libertine in comparison. Skellen was too much of a military man to start bucking his orders simply because he felt uneasy with the battle. There was too much here he couldn't see yet, and he was willing to wait for the full picture.
Whatever wicked web the old man was spinning, however, didn't seem to surprise the two operatives. Both Bodie and Doyle were taking the idea of weaving what could be a very nasty trick without batting a lash.
Either they were excellently trained, or all too familiar with this type of ploy. Skellen had played his own share of grimy scams in his time--the recent "undercover" game he'd run with Frankie and her People's Lobby still left a bitter taste in his mouth, even disregarding the ugly backlash it had created in his own personal life. Despite that, he still stubbornly believed what he'd done had been necessary. Lives had been at stake, and that was the bottom line. This Machiavellian plan of Cowley's, however, seemed like a different kettle of fish altogether.
It wasn't Skellen's expression, it was his lack of it that caught Cowley's attention. "You disapprove, Captain?"
The blue eyes met Cowley's unflinchingly. "Not for me to say, sir. Not yet, at least. I must admit, it sounds a bit shadier than I care for."
Surprisingly, it was Bodie who answered. "If you're worried about infringing on Green's rights, save it. He never bothered much about anyone else's."
Two nearly identical pairs of eyes met and held. Again there was the lightning flicker of animosity, the weighing and judging, the spark of challenge.
"I see." Skellen smiled almost lazily. "The old eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth bit, eh?"
Bodie's smile eerily mirrored the other's. "As long as they're not my teeth, mate."
Cowley suddenly tired of the friction. He didn't mind the sparring--had expected it--but they wouldn't be of much use to him if they ended up breaking each other's necks. "I understand your reluctance, Captain, but you'll have to trust my judgement that this operation is more than a personal vendetta on my behalf. It is necessary. He paused. "However, if you object to participating, you may contact Colonel Hadley and express your reservations. He already knows the plan, incidentally."
"Naturally." Skellen's smile was rueful. He, of all people, knew the Colonel's moral compunctions--which could be listed all the way from A to Z, as in zero. "That won't be necessary, sir. I'll stick with it for now. What, exactly, is your plan?"
Cowley sat back, pleased by Skellen's response. He didn't like his men to be too eager for an operation as touchy as this. He fully realised it was a very grey area of right and wrong. He preferred a healthy degree of uncertainty. His gaze touched on Doyle. Never any problem with that one--what had Bodie said of him once? 'He'd blame himself for the invention of gunpowder...' His eyes moved on to Doyle's irrepressible partner. Then there was the other extreme. Outwardly, at least, Bodie had no morals whatsoever; would do anything to anyone at any time--given a good reason or a good price. It was little more than a facade, however, and Cowley knew that, or Bodie wouldn't have lasted in CI5 for a week. But, depending on his mood and reasons, it was sometimes uncomfortably close to the truth. It made Bodie at one and the same time, one of the most valuable members of the Squad, and the most dangerous. As partners, they balanced each other perfectly; a chance he'd banked on when he'd joined them in a union far more intense and devoted than most marriages. Certainly the odds were it was one match that would definitely be 'until death us do part', considering the expected life span in this business.
He returned to the subject at hand. "According to the Minister, Mayor Green has been bending the Home Secretary's ear on a number of pet topics. And, with an eagle eye to the polls, the Secretary is beginning to listen. The Minister isn't pleased by this--no one who knows what Gerald Green is capable of could like it. The best way, the only way, to counteract this trend is to discredit Green."
"How do we do that, sir?" Doyle asked. Recalling Green and Chives and the police state they'd managed to create in a peaceful, pleasant English town, Doyle was willing to do anything short of assassination to put a stop to Green's brand of justice. He particularly remembered Bodie surrendering against his better judgement because Doyle figured it was the right thing to do-- only to wind up handcuffed and helpless in the back of Chives' car. Yet Bodie had never once thrown it up to him.
Their eyes met now, and Doyle knew Bodie was remembering, too, and reading his thoughts. The blue eyes smiled at him, telling him not to be a ninny--water under the bridge.
"Nothing spectacular," Cowley explained. "It'll be more of a case of putting Mr. Green's veracity in question. With luck, his stability."
Bodie nodded appreciatively. "Make him seem balmy enough so the Home Sec will think twice on everything he suggests. Maybe even drop him altogether."
"Shouldn't be difficult," Doyle muttered. "The bastard is a nutter."
"Bodie, you'll be taking a trip up north, to Mayor Green's fair city. I want you to take up residence in Green's pocket for a week or so. But only so Green is aware of you. Try to make certain no one will be able to prove you've been within two hundred miles of the place. Do I make myself clear, lad? Keep an extremely low profile except where Green is concerned. A delicate operation. D'ya think you can handle it?"
Bodie nodded again. "Hit, run, and disappear. No problem; I've done it often enough before."
Doyle tossed a mischievous glance at Skellen. "That's what all his birds say."
Cowley spared a quelling look at the curly-haired agent, and cautioned, "Remember, you'll be a gadfly, not a bombardier. Sting him a bit, irritate the hell out of the man, but nothing physical and nothing too major. Understood?"
"Yes, sir. No problem." Bodie hesitated, suddenly realising what that meant. "And meanwhile, back here...?"
Cowley turned pointedly to Skellen. "You'll need a haircut, of course, Captain."
Skellen swept a disdainful eye over Bodie. "I suppose it'll grow back," he said lightly. "Not permanently disfiguring."
Before Bodie could find the voice to reply; Cowley went on, "You'll need to grow your sideburns a bit longer as well. As for the rest, I believe it'll pass admirably. Stay close to Doyle. He can pick up on any mistakes you might make; steer clear of anyone who might catch on to the charade. Your voices are near enough, it shouldn't be noticeable. Most people will see you together and automatically believe you're Bodie without looking twice."
"Now there's a cheery thought," Bodie cut in nastily. "What are we then, a matched set?"
Doyle was thinking it out, unbothered by the idea he and Bodie were considered natural accessories to each other. "So Skellen and I will go on as usual here in London. Everyone will assume he's Bodie, and when Green calls up complaining to the Home Sec or anyone else about CI5 harassment, he'll wind up with egg on his face and lookin' a proper fool."
"Precisely, 4.5," Cowley replied. "Aye, it's a shaky plan at best, but the only one that could put a scum on Green's shining armour without going into something much nastier. If it works, we'll be rid of his troublemaking in Whitehall, if it doesn't..." He shrugged. "Well, we'll be no worse off than before. I don't want to destroy the man, just tarnish his image a bit--and keep him bloody well out of London." He swept them all with his stern gaze. "CI5, naturally, will have no part in any of this if any of you are fumble-fingered enough to get caught out. I will cheerfully deny any knowledge of your activities. This is one piper you'll dance to alone."
None of them was in the least shocked by this. They were all quite aware of the score on these borderline ops. Not only your skin was on the line, but your reputation as well, for there would be no hanging responsibility on higher authority. In accord with the degree of agents they were, none of them was willing to admit they might screw up anyway. But on this occasion, only one of them was confident of the ability of the other two. Doyle knew Bodie's skill, and instinctively sensed that Skellen might be just as good. The other two were sure enough of Doyle, but had arbitrarily decided the other was a true cock-up. Neither, of course, was willing to voice his objections.
In any case, all three had long ago resigned to hanging alone if the need arose. Protecting their organisations was second nature to all of them. It was unconsciously similar to a religious zeal right down to being willing to burn at the stake if necessary, although not one of them would have realised it.
"Doyle, you'll be in charge of instructing Captain Skellen on the more obvious of your partner's mannerisms, clueing him in on how to behave in public."
The green eyes twinkled with delight as they noted Bodie's clenched jaw and forbidding look. "I've been doin' that for years, sir. He's never caught on."
"Hmmm. Just make sure Skellen does."
"Easily, sir. I've been workin' up a paper on abnormal psychology. Complete with footnotes."
Bodie spared the time to glare at him before turning to Cowley. "Hang about, sir. What's the logic in sending me up north? Green'll hardly remember me anyway. Why not send Skellen? There's loads of people here that might twig, but--"
"Yes," Cowley cut him short, conceding the point. "Ideally, it would be easier that way; fewer people to convince. However, there was a stipulation to Captain Skellen's secondment. Colonel Hadley wants him within easy reach if something comes up. There are a couple of nasty situations that could blow at any moment, and if Skellen is several hundred miles away, he won't be of much assistance to them. You, Bodie, have been away from the SAS too long to be of much use. The codes and signals have changed, and it's pointless for you to relearn them just on the chance you'll be needed. No, Skellen has to remain in London."
"Indispensable, is he?" Bodie sneered.
"Let's just say the Colonel wants him immediately available." Cowley smiled. "He couldn't take your place either, 3.7, if I was foolish enough to assign you to anything but routine. I want the 4.5/3.7 team visible for a bit, not necessarily effective. It's only for a few days...however long it takes to accomplish the purpose." Cowley's smile broadened, eyebrow cocking in amusement. "Besides that, Bodie, remember your job with Green. Who else could I trust to be at his obnoxious best? I have every confidence in your ability in that area, having been subjected to it myself often enough."
Bodie opened his mouth to reply, but closed it again, finding he was, for once, at a loss for words. Cowley had made up his mind; there'd be no changing it. What bothered Bodie far more, was the startling fact that Doyle wasn't speaking up either. He was obviously agreeable to the situation as it stood, and Bodie found he was oddly hurt by what he saw as a betrayal. He was accustomed to Doyle, if not always agreeing with him, at least loyally backing him up as much as possible. His partner had to see how he felt about this, but there he was going along with it, willing to let this upstart take his place without a murmur of protest. His illogical resentment of Skellen burned a degree hotter.
"Well, Captain?" Cowley asked. "Do you think you can pull off the masquerade?"
Skellen considered it for a moment. It still seemed like a dirty game, but they knew more about this Green than he did; perhaps they were right. Even Hadley must think so. Skellen made his decision rapidly, and probably for the wrong reasons, mostly hoping the change would take his mind off his own problems for a bit. "I've worked undercover before," he smiled ruefully, "as Mr. Bodie pointed out earlier. It's not new to me. This job should go smooth as cream."
"Aye, well you'll have to move into Bodie's flat for a time; drive his car; wear his clothes--"
"What?" Bodie cut in, outraged. "That's carryin' it a bit far, innit? You can't be serious, sir!"
Cowley ignored the outburst. "I hope there'll be no problem with your personal life with that aspect of it, Captain. Colonel Hadley tells me you're married."
Skellen looked down at the floor. "No problem, sir."
"And what about my personal life?" Bodie demanded furiously. "Don't I have a say in this?"
Cowley regarded him sternly. "This is necessary, 3.7. That should be obvious."
"Oh, stop being such a prat, Bodie," Doyle added lightly. "It's only for a week or so. What's the fuss about?"
Bodie stared at his partner, both enraged and wounded at his seeming defection. How could Doyle airily accept a stranger, let him move into his life, his place? Impossible to articulate his uneasy feelings--impossible even if Cowley and Skellen weren't there listening. He felt ridiculous enough as it was. He turned away, stubbornly refusing to let them see how he felt. "Okay, fine by me. Go on with it then."
Cowley nodded, satisfied. "The operation will commence day after tomorrow. That should give Captain Skellen and Bodie time to clear up their affairs."
"Yeah, well speakin' of affairs," Bodie said resentfully, "what happens if one of me birds shows up at my flat, eh? Won't she notice a bit of change in technique?"
Skellen couldn't resist the opening. "Undoubtedly. But you can always tell her you'd been takin' vitamins."
The muscles in Bodie's jaw clenched, temper hardly improved by Doyle's chuckle, but Cowley broke in smoothly before he had a chance to reply.
"I'm sure you can manage to warn the young ladies off for bit, 3.7. Explain that you will be unavailable. In your line of work, they must be accustomed to your absence from time to time."
There was obviously no way to deny the truth of that. Bodie remained silent, realising anything he might say would probably be capped by Skellen, and he was unwilling to provide further fuel for Doyle's amusement. It was all too apparent that his curly-haired partner had taken to Skellen on sight. Surprising, considering that Doyle was generally the more prickly one, reserved and cautious with most strangers. But the green eyes held none of their usual coolness, and the warm smiles were all too genuine.
Bodie had no idea why it bothered him so much, but it did.
Ten minutes later, the briefing was over and they were outside in the car park. Doyle settled back in his seat with a grin. He was feeling a bubbling sense of euphoria. His life had seemed rather flat just lately--strange when considering their nervous occupation--but this unexpected situation with Skellen had brought an amusing fillip to it. He hadn't even consciously realised he'd been in a slump until this unique occurrence had boosted his spirits like a rocket.
Propping one trainer on its usual place on the dash, he glanced cheerily at his partner. "Why'd you never mention Skellen, eh? Threw me quite a loop, it did. Walkin' in there and seein' a bloody copy--"
Doyle's eyes widened. "Didn't like 'im much, did you? Seemed like a nice enough bloke to me."
Bodie snorted as he turned a corner with particular viciousness. "I'm not likely to appreciate your judgement, mate. If he winked at you an' bought you a pint, you'd think Adolf Hitler was a decent chap."
Doyle refused to let Bodie spoil his buoyant mood. "You just hate the fact there's someone else toolin' around with your beautiful face." He grinned. "Must be a real trial to you, thinkin' you were an original only to find you were stamped out as a matched set." Bodie didn't reply so Doyle continued, "Cheer up, mate. It could've been me with the double." He fluttered his eyelashes sweetly. "Is Britain ready for that, eh?"
"I reckon not," Bodie retorted in a dampening tone.
"Eh, you think there might be?"
"Another me somewhere. After all, it might be--"
"Forget it, Ray." Bodie tossed him a withering look. "They'd've drowned him at birth."
"Oh, ta very much." Doyle shrugged, unaffected by his partner's churlish attitude. "Anyway, I don't mind havin' a go at pullin' ol' Green down again. Pity the bastard ever made it back out of the gutter. The thought of him turns me stomach."
"Mmmm," was Bodie's noncommittal answer.
Doyle looked at him again, puzzled. Even with a hangover, Bodie wasn't usually this cold or incommunicative. The few times Doyle had noticed it before, something had been very wrong. It wasn't often Bodie let anything thing bother him much, but when it did it cut very deeply.
"What is it, mate?" Doyle asked softly.
"You really didn't like him, did you?"
Bodie's very mobile mouth was pressed into a severe line. "What's not to like? The usual, pompous SAS know-everything. I've seen'm often enough before. One reason I chucked it in."
Doyle was startled by the venom in his partner's voice. This had definitely taken him on the raw for some reason. "Thought you told me it was the money that sold you on CI5," he said lightly, hoping to divert him. "But I knew that couldn't be it."
Bodie shot him a dirty look. "Just drop it, Ray."
Doyle turned his head back to the front, eyebrow climbing. He knew better than to press the subject; Bodie was explosive and his fuse was dangerously short. "So where we goin' now, then?"
"I'm dropping you home."
Doyle glanced at his watch. "The pubs'll be open again soon. Don't you want to stop for a bitter first?"
"No. Got things to do, remember?" His voice dripped sarcasm. "Settle up my affairs, right?"
"Here we are." Bodie pulled the Capri to a halt. "Better drop around tomorrow evening to let Skellen in. I think I'll make an early start of it."
Doyle realised there was something very wrong here, but couldn't quite pin it down. Certainly it had to be more than merely Bodie's natural irritation at having a look-alike. He paused. "Listen, if you want--"
"Ray, I've things to do, okay?"
Doyle nodded and opened the car door. "Yeah, sure. See you tomorrow then."
The car squealed away from the pavement before Doyle had reached the first step to his flat.
Peter Skellen's depression settled in like a smothering fog as soon as he reached his empty mews flat. The hole they'd blasted in the wall had long since been neatly patched, but he could still make out the signs of repair. Jenny's favourite lamp no longer sat on the side table, and even the fresh white paint on the banister couldn't hide the scars and gouges where the handcuffs had bitten into the wood. Ugly reminders of an ugly scene.
Although he wasn't hungry, he went out to the kitchen and fixed himself a sandwich, washing it down with gin. Cowley was a very bad influence. It would be all too easy to drown his pain in a gin bottle--he smiled humourlessly--or a bottle of scotch. Either way, it didn't seem a path he'd been inclined to take. There were quicker methods of suicide, and even at this point, he wasn't suicidal.
Pulling off his jacket, he dropped down on the sofa and switched on the television. There was some American program on; happy, clean people living dramatically unhappy, clean lives. He ignored the plot and just watched the brightly moving figures. Jenny wasn't here to change the channel or switch the set off impatiently to put on some classical music. Sam wasn't here to crawl over the rug trying to get hold of the remote control or to be dragged out of the light cords.
Christ, he missed them.
He looked over at the telephone, but didn't move toward it. What the hell could he say? I love you? God, she had to know that. I'm sorry? A little late for that one.
With the flickering, unreal world of the television and the fading afternoon sunlight slipping through the drapes, Peter Skellen put his face on his arm and cried.
"Make yourself at home, mate," Bodie said caustically. "Everyone else is."
Doyle entered the flat, checking out the luggage on the floor by the door. "Keen to get started, are we?"
"Just followin' orders; headin' off to visit Mayor Green."
"Op's not supposed to start up 'til morning," Doyle pointed out.
"Skellen'll be here tonight, won't he?"
"Yeah, but I figured you'd wait until he got here at least...make him feel comfortable."
"You'll manage that I expect."
Uncertain how to answer Bodie in his present mood, Doyle moved to the liquor cabinet. "Have a drink before you go?"
Bodie hesitated. "Okay." He grimaced. "Hopefully Skellen won't be as free with my liquor as you are, or I'll come home to a dry house."
Doyle smiled as he handed him the drink. "Don't worry, mate, I'll keep him from pilfering the silver."
"Just take care he doesn't ruin me new jacket. I paid a bloody fortune for it."
"I'll watch it like a hawk."
Bodie relaxed a bit, smiling. "Finally got them straight, have you? Hawks and elephants? Good for you, son!"
"Read up on me botany lesson," Doyle grinned, pleased to have a dash of his old Bodie back.
"That's plants, not animals, Ray."
"Is it? Whatever."
Bodie chuckled. "How'd you ever get the rep for being the brains of this team anyway? Ignorant sod."
Doyle perched on the arm of the sofa. "This should be a nice holiday for you. Nothing to do but irritate Green. Very fun."
"Yeah, I'll think of you often."
"Mind to keep well away from the barmaids. You're to keep a low profile, remember?"
"Consider me Claude Rains." At Doyle's puzzled look, he added, "The invisible man. Did Cowley tell you what you and Skellen will be on?"
"Surveillance job. Very dull. You're well out of it. But maybe I'll luck out and Skellen won't be likely to doze off on watch like you do."
Bodie scowled. "Just watch he doesn't drop off when you need someone at your back, sunshine. Keep your reckless arse out of the line of fire. I won't be there to guard it for you."
"I'll manage to muddle through without you. You're the one who'd better watch it, mate. Don't much fancy runnin' up north to bail you out of the nick. Don't get carried away with your gorilla routine with Green. Be subtle--if the word's in your vocabulary."
"It's tucked in there somewhere," Bodie replied dryly. "Don't try teachin' your granny to roller skate, Doyle."
Doyle sipped his drink, wondering what else to say. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt uncomfortable with Bodie; it was a very odd feeling.
Bodie sat his glass down and moved toward the door. "I'd best get going then."
Quickly Doyle stood and happened to grab up the suitcase at the same time as Bodie did. "I'll give you a hand with this, shall I?"
Bodie didn't release the handle; their hands overlapped, and they were standing very close.
"This is the first time you've offered to carry anything over a kilo. What's up?"
Doyle let go as if burned. "I just thought--"
They were still very close, and all Doyle could think was how blue his sodding partner's eyes were, and that he'd never seen such lashes on any of his birds. He swallowed and stepped back, flushing with sudden embarrassment.
Bodie didn't miss the blush, but he understood it even less than Doyle. "Ray?"
Recovering rapidly, Doyle said, "Good luck, mate. Watch yourself, eh?"
Bewildered, Bodie stared at him for a moment. Then, impulsively, he reached out a hand to touch the flushed cheek. "Always do, don't I? See you in a few days, sunshine."
As soon as the door closed, Doyle located his drink and downed it. He felt a bit shaken and wasn't at all sure why. All of a sudden he hadn't wanted Bodie to leave--had wanted something very different. Staring at the empty glass, refusing to pour himself a badly needed second one, he went to the kitchen and put on a kettle for tea.
He went about the process methodically, dimly thinking he should be even more upset than he was. After all, it wasn't often you realised you fancied your partner. It might have been easier if he could honestly believe it had been a lightning flash that hit him unexpectedly. But he knew better. The attraction had been there for months, years maybe. The awareness of it could be measured in weeks. The acceptance, however, hadn't come until thirty seconds after Bodie walked out that door.
A hell of a thing, wasn't it? He'd just as well have a yearn for the Cow for all the good it would do him.
He was just opening the tea tin when the door bell sounded.
"What'd you forget--" he began as he opened it, but froze in mid-sentence.
It was Bodie but it wasn't Bodie. Different clothes than he'd worn five minutes ago, but so much in Bodie's style it took a second for the discrepancy to register--black leather, black trousers, rollneck sweater.
The man smiled ruefully. "The haircut makes that much difference, eh?"
Doyle let out his breath slowly. "Christ, it's bloody eerie. Come in. I was just putting on some tea."
Skellen entered the flat and glanced around curiously. "Not bad. A bit spare maybe. Needs a woman's touch."
Doyle's head leaned around the kitchen door. "It's usually got women crawlin' all over it--but not for interior design work. He left the latch keys on the side table there."
Skellen pocketed them and sat down on the sofa. "Where's he gone to?"
Doyle returned from the kitchen, carrying two cups. "Already headed north. Left right before you got here." He handed a cup to Skellen who looked at it distastefully.
"I take it black."
Doyle smiled as he settled down in the side chair. "Bodie takes milk. Learn to love it, Captain."
Skellen's eyebrow lifted as he took the point. He sipped the liquid. "What else do I need to learn to love?"
Doyle felt the urge to laugh at the question--it was a bit close to home at present. But he just shrugged. "You've picked the right clothes anyway. Definitely his style."
The blue eyes twinkled. "What? These old things? Just something I tossed on."
"Yeah, well tomorrow you can go through his wardrobe." Green eyes sparkled wickedly as he added, "There's a particular jacket that should suit you just lovely."
"Any other tips for me to make this act more convincing?"
"Plenty, but with a little luck we won't have to convince anyone. Better to keep clear of close contacts. Just bein' seen around should be enough. If you do have to talk, remember to be...flippant. Bodie doesn't take very much seriously. His humour tends to be a bit black."
Doyle fell silent for a moment, thinking of his partner and his various moods, realising that most of the time Bodie was amazingly even-tempered, even sunny. Yesterday didn't count, as it was quite atypical behaviour. "He smiles a lot," Doyle said thoughtfully. Enjoys life I think."
Skellen looked down at the floor, realising this might be tougher than he'd figured. He hadn't felt much like smiling lately.
"Don't know much else to tell you, actually," Doyle continued. "But we should get by well enough. He doesn't give much away to anyone anyway, so you won't mess up on any background info. Even I don't know much about his life before he joined the squad."
Skellen glanced up, surprised that Doyle didn't know the other man's past better. He'd thought they'd been partners for years. "When he was in the SAS, he was good. I've heard that much."
"He still is."
"I also heard he was a mercenary for a while."
"Yeah, well, he mostly keeps shut about all that." His gaze met Skellen's firmly. "He's a good bloke; a good partner. He's saved my hide more times than I can count."
"Hopefully your hide won't be in jeopardy while he's away. I'm not used to working with a partner."
Doyle smiled. "One should always be open for new experiences, or hadn't you heard? Anyway, things'll be quiet the next few days. The Cow's got his fingers stuck in several pies at the moment, and we've drawn the smallest slice." He regarded the other man with interest. "The old man said you're married?"
"Nice, is she?" Receiving a nod in answer, Doyle asked, "Doesn't she mind you goin' off for bits like this? Must be hard on her."
"She's..." Skellen hesitated. "She's used to it, isn't she? We've been married for a long time; since I first joined the army." Seeing Doyle's interested, friendly expression, he took out his wallet, a little embarrassed, and pulled out a snapshot.
Doyle dutifully inspected it. "My, she is pretty, isn't she? Good job there, mate. That your baby, is it?"
"Yes, that's my daughter, Sam. He took the picture back and stared at it for a long minute, feeling the sweet ache in the pit of his stomach. "Samantha, actually. She's thirteen months."
Skellen shrugged, uncomfortable but pleased. "I expect most babies are."
"It must be nice to have a family." Doyle's voice was wistful. "Someone real and solid to go home to after the mess we deal with every day. I almost married once, but she couldn't handle it...neither could I, probably." He looked up, his gaze frankly envious. "You're very lucky."
Skellen couldn't go on with this any longer. He stood abruptly and moved to the window. "Not so lucky. We're separated."
"Christ, I'm sorry...I didn't--"
"It's okay. You couldn't know, could you? Besides, I expect it's only temporary. We need to work a few things out, is all."
Doyle wasn't sure what to say. He'd put his foot in it solidly and although the man had his back to him, the set of his shoulders and the clenched fists clearly showed he was hurting. Skellen and Bodie were two very different people, but Doyle couldn't help but feel that Skellen, like his partner, preferred to keep his pain a private matter.
He took his teacup to the kitchen, rinsed it out. He was feeling a bit unsteady and more than a little shocked that his first impulse had been to reach out to the man who looked so much like his partner. Ridiculous, since he expected if he'd tried as much with him, Bodie would've decked him for butting into something that wasn't his business. And that was a total stranger out there, not Bodie. This crap he felt for his partner was going over the edge a bit, wasn't it?
After several moments, Doyle returned to the sitting room. Skellen hadn't moved from the window.
"I'll be shoving off now, mate, Doyle said quietly. "Sorry if I--"
Skellen turned and Doyle caught his breath. The expression so mirrored Bodie in the accepting, patient look his partner displayed whenever Doyle lost his temper or was particularly tactless.
"Forget it," Skellen said lightly. "You coming by to pick me up in the morning?"
"Sure." He swallowed. "Make yourself at home. See you around 7:30."
As soon as Doyle left, Skellen poured himself something more bracing than tea. He liked Doyle quite a lot. Couldn't hardly help but like him since he was obviously trying so hard to be friendly and accepting. There was also an innocent, unconscious charm about Doyle that was very appealing.
But it wasn't his new partner that was weighing on his mind. Two stiff drinks finally gave him the courage to pick up the phone.
"Peter." A pause. "I asked you not to call for a bit."
"I know, but... How's Sam?"
"Samantha's fine. Still alive."
"Jenny, for God's sake don't--" He broke off, the pain lancing through him sharply.
"I'm sorry, Peter. I shouldn't have said that."
He took a deep breath. "I can't blame you, can I? What do you want me to do? I can't change what's happened."
"No, you can't. And I can't change how I feel about it. If it was just me... But I've Samantha to think of as well. Let's not talk about it, please..."
"Okay. I miss you, love. And Sam."
"I know--" Her voice broke.
"Don't cry, Jenny, please."
"I told you not to call, Peter. Why make it harder for us?"
"It doesn't have to be like this. We could--"
"No," she said sharply. "Don't start. I have to think. I need time. You owe me that.
"But I want to see you. See you both. Please, Jenny."
"No, I can't. Not yet. Don't ask me, Peter. If I see you again--"
"You'll love me again," he cut in, clutching the receiver so hard his knuckles were white. "You know you will."
"God, Peter, do you think I've ever stopped?"
"What else can I think? You walked out, didn't you?"
"You know why. You said you understood."
He shut his eyes tightly. "I do. But...it's been so long, Jen. I need you. Please don't do this to us."
"It wasn't me, Peter. It wasn't even you. It's your bloody, unending job."
"Ah, Jenny, you know it was a fluke. It wouldn't happen again in a million years."
"Can you swear that? Are you willing to bet my life and Samantha's on that? Well, I'm not. I simply can't. Do you have any idea how hard it was to let you walk out that door each day, knowing I might never see you again? I could deal with that--I had to. But the rest is too much to ask. I've heard it all before, Peter. I know it's necessary; I know you're good at it. But I'm simply not strong enough to live with it any more."
Skellen rubbed his eyes with his free hand, feeling them burn treacherously. Jenny had never known him to cry except for those silly tears of joy when Sam had came to them. What would she think if she knew he'd cried more in the last three weeks than he had in the other thirty-four years of his life? How bizarre: a man trained to withstand torture and mayhem reduced to tears at a domestic disruption. But Jenny was so damn special, and he'd spent so much of his life without a foundation that seeing it crumble now was scaring the hell out of him.
"You've never asked me to resign," he said at last. "Is that what you want?"
"No, Peter. That's not the answer either. I've loved you for what you are. Trying to change you would just make us both even more miserable. Don't you think I've thought of that?" He could feel her pulling herself together. "I need to think. Don't push me, Peter."
"All right. We'll leave it for now." He paused, then said softly, "How are you doing, Jen? With everything else?"
"Sarah and Frank are wonderful. And Samantha loves the park here."
"Has she learned any new words?"
"A couple. Sarah has a cat and Samantha thinks it's wonderful. Every other word is 'kitty'."
He smiled, picturing his vivacious daughter twisting the kitty's tail into a knot. "What's the other one?"
"You said a couple of words. What's the other?"
An uncomfortable pause. "She's learned to say bye-bye."
"I see." He tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice, but failed. "Did you teach her that?"
"Peter... It's just a--"
"Coincidence, I know." He took a deep breath. "It's okay. Jenny--"
"I must go, Peter. Samantha's woken up."
"Yes, well give her a kiss from her da, will you?"
"Of course. Be careful, Peter."
"I love you, Jenny." But she'd already rung off. He hung up the phone and sat very still for a long time, knowing that if he moved, he'd destroy something that didn't belong to him. The need to vent his frustration was very strong.
Eventually, he simply got up and went to bed.
The next day passed effortlessly. No one thought to question Skellen's identity as Bodie. Skellen played his part well, didn't push to make anyone believe anything, just sat back and made it natural. Doyle quickly noted his skill. After all, this was very different than the usual undercover operation. In this case, he was taking the place of a well-known man in his home ground. It could be screwed up in a dozen different ways, most of which couldn't be anticipated. But Skellen was cool and refused to be rattled by any personal conversation at headquarters. He answered all the sallies and teasing with one or two word remarks, and even Murphy--who knew Bodie had a double because he'd met him on the steps--didn't give any indication that he had twigged Skellen as a ringer.
The rest of the day was spent sitting in a car watching a suspicious Pakistani who was rumoured to have contacts with a particularly nasty terrorist group. Nothing came of the watch other than boredom. But it did give Doyle ample time to catalogue the differences between Skellen and his partner.
During those hours in the car he surveyed Skellen, fascinated by the entire situation. His new partner was a couple of years older than Bodie, around his own age probably. But it was more evident by the air of maturity than any physical signs. Not that that meant anything--Doyle had long ago suspected that senility would strike Bodie years before maturity anyway. Bodie consciously clung to his image of an overgrown boy playing at life, and it would take dynamite to change it. He sensed Skellen was the opposite, choosing to accept responsibility at an early age. It was probably the most blatant difference between them.
There were physical variances as well, unnotable at first glance, but to a man who had known him for years and spent hours in his presence nearly every day, they were very clear. Skellen was maybe a half inch taller, perhaps a half stone lighter. His eyes were a slightly darker blue, his lashes not quite so long or thick, his chin a bit sharper, his nose slightly wider and not so perkily curved. But the similarities were still spookily, illogically close. The mouth was identical, those crazy, unusual eyebrows, the set of the body and the way he moved. Intellectually, Doyle barely knew the man; emotionally, he couldn't help but react as if they'd been mates forever.
Their divergence in personalities was far more notable. With no one else around to fool, Skellen reverted to himself, and Doyle found he was of a much more serious nature than his partner. He shared Bodie's hatred of terrorists, but tempered it with some degree of understanding and appreciation of their goals at times, while still detesting their methods. It was an intellectual exercise that Bodie had never mastered. Bodie either approved of something or he didn't; he wasn't much for in- betweens or philosophising. Doyle, who was indecisive on this point, wavering from one side of the fence to the other, depending on the circumstances, found himself agreeing with Skellen on a lot of things. Their thoughts ran along much similar lines.
A stakeout with Bodie usually consisted of talking over the football scores, discussing the relative merits of birds that strolled by, or trying unsuccessfully to keep Bodie from napping. His hours with Skellen were a pleasant diversion. They discussed politics, plays, music, and the ethics of CI5 and the SAS.
After four or five hours, even this lofty subject palled, however, and he noticed Skellen was often staring blankly out the car window, his thoughts a million miles away. Understandable after what he'd learned last night, so Doyle contented himself with the thought that his new partner was preoccupied with other matters. While his appreciation for Skellen didn't diminish, he found himself wistfully missing Bodie's irredeemable black humour.
When they were finally relieved, Doyle put the Escort in gear and headed back toward Bodie's flat. Impulsively, he said, "Want to stop for a pint?"
Skellen shrugged. "Why not?"
It had been habit more than anything else--he and Bodie usually spent an hour or so winding down after work--but he was inordinately pleased that Skellen agreed.
They located an appealing pub, parked, and entered. Finding a table at the back, they settled in comfortably.
"I wonder how Bodie's doing?" Skellen commented.
Doyle grinned. "He's having a terrific time. He was born to be obnoxious."
"Really? I hadn't noticed."
Doyle laughed. "I suppose he was a bit of a prat the other day, wasn't he? He's not generally that bad, y'know. Had a devil of a hangover."
"No need to explain. I wasn't offended."
"He'll hate to hear that. He was doing his level best." Doyle took a sip of his beer, then shook his head. "Don't know why you got up his nose so bad, though."
Skellen looked rueful. "I didn't exactly fall in love with him either. But I figured he couldn't be that irritating all the time."
Doyle looked surprised. "He's usually not like that at all, You just set up his back. When he wants to be nasty, he can be a royal pain. Generally, though, people like him better than me. He's a charming bastard, and he's got a smile--" Finding that same smile suddenly directed at him, Doyle stuttered to a halt, realising he'd been selling Bodie's winning personality a bit heavy. "Anyway, don't judge him too quick," he finished lamely.
"Means a lot to you, doesn't he?"
Doyle shrugged, chugging his beer as a defence. "He's a mate. Just didn't want you to get the wrong idea of him."
"I'm not trying to take his place," Skellen said quietly.
"I know that."
"I'm not so sure he did. Didn't like it at all, did he?"
"Yeah, well maybe his life isn't as settled as yours."
Skellen looked down at the table. "I don't know as I'd say that, right at the present."
Doyle realised he'd put his foot in it again. "You know what I mean. Anyway, it had to be a bit of a shock; you showin' up like you did--even if he did know you were around somewhere. If he was takin' your place, you might feel the same."
"You're right." He grinned. "I'm sure he'd jump at the chance to exchange you for Jenny, but I'm not sure I'd be very gracious about it." The grin widened. "Got to admit, he is a handsome bastard."
"And you're both equally modest."
Skellen ordered them another round. "What about you, Doyle? What's your story?"
"I'm Peter then. So what'd you do before?"
"I was a copper. Nothing fancy; just detective constable."
"Cowley picks them from all over, doesn't he?"
The green eyes met his proudly. "But only the best."
Skellen smiled. "I should be flattered then. Hadley told me Cowley wanted my secondment about a year ago, but he refused him flat. The Colonel's got a few debts on Cowley, as well."
Doyle looked doubtful. "Can't believe anyone has anything on the Cow. He could call in chits from the bloody Queen if he'd a mind to."
Skellen would've been inclined to doubt Cowley's omnipotence if he hadn't spent a couple of hours in the man's presence. The man held a powerful string on a lot of important people, and it wasn't that much of a secret--even if he held the strings lightly. "Well, I wouldn't leave the Colonel anyway."
"Cowley probably figured calling you in would make one too many Bodies anyway," Doyle said complacently.
Feeling pride in his own service, but refusing to be offended by Doyle's egocentric faith in Cowley, Skellen remained silent. The SAS had been around longer than CI5, and would undoubtedly continue to be around when CI5 was history. The SAS didn't depend on one man--CI5 did. Knowing that, he didn't feel the need to defend the SAS. He changed the subject.
"So you didn't care for being a cop then?"
"It was all right. The red-tape got me down a bit. Not so fond of paper work and files. When I spent fifty percent of me time on that, I reckoned it was time to get out."
"One good thing about the Cow, he understands that. Mostly, we don't have to mess with it at all, just turn it over to somebody else." He grinned sheepishly. "Unless we've been bad boys. You learn to keep your nose clean when times is slow, or else you spend weeks in the bloody file room playin' with papers. If it's a hot time, though, you could make up dirty limericks starring his old mum and he'd still send you out on an active job. 'Course he'd make you pay for it later."
They talked for hours, effortlessly, both amused and entertained by the other. When they finally noticed the time, they were surprised.
"We'd better get home, mate," Doyle said. "We're to be back on the job by daybreak." He reached for his wallet to ante up his share, but Skellen stopped him.
"I'll get it."
Doyle nodded happily. He'd known he would like Skellen.
Bodie's day was much less entertaining. He booked a room in a disreputable hotel on the outskirts of the city. He used a false name and a slightly cockney accent that Doyle would've scorned. His partner had always been the better actor of the two, and Bodie realised that even wearing rather seedy clothes, he still looked a bit out of place. Doyle, on the other hand, could've pretended to be Quasimodo and probably get away with it. Of course, Bodie thought resentfully, he could turn up the next day looking like a bloody wet dream. The man was a natural chameleon.
Unpacking his bag irritably, Bodie was unable to get his partner out of his head. It was patently unfair, of course. He was easily better looking than Doyle in every way you could name. So why was it, when Doyle was randy, the birds would practically trample him in their haste to get to that fuzzy-headed golly? Animal magnetism, no doubt. He probably radiated his sexual need like those bloody moths or something.
Unfortunately, Bodie found he was beginning catch some of the fallout from it. Like those strange, tense seconds right before he'd left his flat. Christ, didn't Doyle ever look in a mirror?
Finished with his unpacking, Bodie lay back on the bed and stared up at the cracked ceiling. One couldn't blame Ray, of course. How the hell was he to know there had been a time and place and a very different Bodie who hadn't stopped to question whether his companion for the night was male, female or anything other than human and breathing? But that was long ago in an uncivilised place, and Bodie was nothing if not adaptable. He could be civilised when the need arose--preferred it, in fact. Civilisation meant nice clothes, decent liquor, clean beds, and he appreciated all of that very much. Why did Doyle and no one else bring back the old ways and old wants? Oh, there'd been a few times he'd had a man in his bed here in London, but it been a case of convenience or impulse, nothing he'd thought about or needed.
Actually, when he considered it, it had only been the last couple of months that it had begun to bother him; when a flash of green eyes made him uneasy, and an inadvertent brush of Doyle's hand had sent him scurrying off to find a bird to lay as quickly as possible.
Feeling a vague stirring of pleasure in his groin, he turned to his stomach and buried his face in his arms, deciding to ignore it and take a nap. He had nothing to claim his attention until much later than night. Might as well catch a kip while he could...
....sweat running down his stomach and thighs, shirt sticking wetly to his torso, fear curling insidiously in his gut like a sleeping snake. He jerked off his shirt and tossed it down beside his bedroll, letting his sweltering skin dry as much as it could in the moist darkness. Firelight flickered off to his right, drawing suicidal moths the size of saucers. Darker, lumpy shadows farther away indicated his mercenary companions: Benny, Tub, Frenchy and the rest. Too bloody hot for a fire, but it kept the night scavengers away.
And then, a shiver up his spine as eyes appraised him from the riotous growth just beyond the machete-hacked clearing. He could feel their look, drawing him out, siren-like. He moved forward automatically, pushing his way into the jungle.
Bits of firelight danced through the leaves, moonlight poured through a magic gap in the thickness of vines above. It showed him what was waiting for him there, what had drawn him from the safety of the fire.
A tiger, green-eyed and ruthless, settled down with a cat's grace, tail twitching lazily. It lay watching his approach: beautiful, sensual, and unstartled by his nearness. He had no weapon, no means of driving it away, and was glad.
The tiger stretched, muscles rippling like watered silk beneath the sleek, bright skin; strangely delicate but wonderfully powerful.
The exotically slanted eyes watched him move closer, flashing the wicked green that set his blood racing. He knelt, mesmerised, by its side, touching the velvet-covered flank. The tiger purred and rubbed its beautiful head against his thigh. He stroked down its side, feeling each rib, the mark of a quick predator, loving its soft, sleek touch. The purring rose in volume at his stroking, dangerous and unpredictable, but still under his seductive petting. The exquisite head lifted and the tongue rasped over his bare nipple. He threw his head back with a gasp, instantly hard and burning.
"Bodie," the tiger said throatily, and it was Doyle's voice....
Bodie awoke on a startled intake of breath. He was sweating even though it was far too cold in the hotel room. It took a moment for his panting breath to steady. His aching cock was another matter.
He was shaken by the dream, confused by it. Since when had he been into bestiality? He'd done a lot of kinky things in his time, but--
Christ, it wasn't like he wasn't getting enough.
Angrily, he got up and headed for the bath down the hall. Unlike Doyle, he wasn't interested in introspection. A dream was a dream, and best let be.
A cold shower took care of the problem; a quick and far more tidy solution than his first impulse. It was late and time for him to move. He put everything else from his mind and concentrated on the job.
He found a convenient tree opposite Green's bedroom window. The lights were out and the house seemed quite settled. He entered through the window and stood at the foot of Green's bed.
"Very careless for an ex-chief constable," Bodie remarked, sitting down on the bed and making himself comfortable. "Leaving the window unlocked like that."
Green sat up, startled, pulling the duvet back up over his pyjamas in an instinctive gesture. "Who the hell are you?"
"Name's Bodie. That's B-O-D-I-E. You don't remember me? I'm very hurt, I am. Not very civil of you, forgettin' someone you almost snuffed through your old friend Chives. Remember him, don't you? Remember George Cowley--CI5? Ah, I see you do."
Green nearly knocked over the bedside table trying to switch on the lamp. He was very pale and breathless. "I...I never had a thing to do with that--"
"'Course not, Mayor. Honest, upright man like yourself? Never thought it for a minute."
What are you doing here?" Green asked shakily.
"Courtesy call. Just wanted to let you know I'm around. You were always big on checkin' in and signin' up, weren't you? So, here I am." Bodie leaned back against the bedpost and propped his rather muddy foot on the bed spread. "You've a lovely daughter, incidentally."
Green stiffened. "What do you mean? How dare you break in here?"
"Break in?" Bodie glanced back at the easily opened window. "Have a heart, governor. Maybe I should've knocked, but--"
"Get out! I'll report you for this!"
"Now hang on a minute, old man. We were talkin' about your pretty baby girl. Maureen, isn't it? Sweet thing, and definitely of age. Nineteen at least. Think she'd look at me, do you? I can be very charming." He fluttered his lashes. "Real lady-killer they call me. I've a fancy to make the lovely Maureen's acquaintance."
"You stay away from her, you...you...!"
"Why? I'm a nice, upstanding young man. Not rich, true. But I'm gainfully employed. Even have a few years of seniority. Definitely eligible, I'd say."
Furious now, Green jumped from the bed and reached for his dressing gown. "You bastard, I'll see you won't be around to bother her. You'll be in jail where you belong. She'd never talk to your sort!"
"You sure about that, Mayor? From what I hear, she's a feisty piece. A bit of a rebel. Doesn't like her old da's style at all. You know kids; just love to get up their old man's nose. Nothin' better to do that than takin' to bed someone you hate, eh?"
Totally enraged, Green shook his fist at Bodie. "Get out of here, damn you! I'll see you locked up for this! I'm calling the police!" He scrambled at the phone as Bodie watched calmly. He'd dialled three numbers before the younger man got up casually and jerked the line out of the wall.
"Looks like it's out of order. What a pity," Bodie said sympathetically. "Ought to look into that, you should. Have a lot of problems with your phone system up here, don't you? Remember me and Doyle had a devil of a time gettin' a call out the last time we was here."
Green was so furious he looked on the verge of a stroke, red- faced and shaking, but he wisely kept his distance from the younger man.
"I'll get you for this, you damned pup! No one does this to me and gets away with it!"
Bodie looked tragically depressed. "Christ, I've upset you! What a shame. Does this mean you'll never love me like the son you've never had? Don't fancy me for son-in-law, do you?" He shook his head sadly. "The course of true love is always rocky. Tell you what, I'll go have a talk with your little girl and see how she feels about it, shall I?"
Green was speechless; he looked around for a weapon, or at least something big and hard enough to throw at the intruder.
Bodie held up his hand in understanding. "It's all right, Mayor. I'll just have to grow on you, I suppose. I'm patient. I promise I'll pop back in on you from time to time to give you progress reports on our romance."
Bodie agilely dodged the clock-radio. "Naughty, naughty. Keep that up, and I'll just settle for shackin' up with her."
"You damned blackmailer!"
"Blackmail?" Bodie repeated, offended. "Have I named a price? I'm shocked at you. You think someone needs to be blackmailing you to have lustful thoughts about your daughter? You think I was planning to fuck her and run?" Bodie paused at that, considering. "Nice idea, at that."
A heavy crystal frog missed his head by inches.
"I see you're not in the mood to talk. I'll show myself out, don't bother. See you soon, da."
"You come back and I'll have a gun!" Green threatened as Bodie slipped out the window.
Bodie poked his head back in, face desolate. "I guess that means I'm not invited to dinner tomorrow?"
Dodging another missile, he slipped down and made his way back to the highway, caught a bus, got off after a few streets. He caught another going the other direction, rode for a few miles, then got off and found a taxi.
Back at his hotel, he ordered a huge breakfast from room service. It was terrible and extremely greasy, but he was far too hungry to care.
He took another wash, this time soaking in the bath and ignoring the irritated pounding on the door from the other tenants. When the water cooled, he grabbed up his clothes, wrapping a towel around his waist, and returned to his room.
Laying back on the bed and staring at the too familiar ugly stains in the ceiling, he tried to calm his mind by tracing out geographical patterns in the cracks--South Africa, Australia, Iceland, Finland, Doyle's strangely shaped ear--
He blinked and rubbed his eyes. Doyle's ear? Well, maybe it did look a bit like. Hard to tell, mostly they were covered with that mop of curls, weren't they? Except when whizzin' down the street, wind whipping the hair back to expose the soft throat and the sexily erratic curve--
Closing his eyes tightly, he took a deep breath. He wondered idly how Skellen and his partner were getting along. Confidently, he reckoned it wouldn't take long for Doyle to put the upstart bastard in his place. A soldier boy playin' at spies, that's all he was.
Having been SAS himself, Bodie was hardly impressed by their techniques. They had their place, certainly, but undercover or surveillance work simply wasn't their forte. Doyle had taught him more about that in six months than he'd ever learned in the SAS or the army. Bodie had also heard that Skellen wasn't so up on it either--he'd been tailed on the Embassy case like a bloody amateur. Stupid, careless sod. More honestly, however, Bodie couldn't really fault Skellen for that; he remembered how inept he'd been when he'd first joined CI5. In the forward assault, the sudden action, the half-second need for decision, he'd outshone Doyle easily--but the necessary plodding police work was Doyle's speciality, and he was bloody great at it.
Satisfied, Bodie settled himself in the pillow. Yeah, Skellen would get up Doyle's nose quick enough; his partner wasn't exactly the most patient of men.
Relieved by this picture, Bodie opened his eyes and went back to studying the splotched ceiling. He was tired but not sleepy, so he continued counting countries.
He found Canada and with a little judicious adaptation, Egypt, Botswana, and a perfect vision of Libya. Feeling drowsy at last, he picked out Ireland--and there was even a tiny crack in the paint that almost looked like the division of the north...
.....smoke in the alley, choking and hot. The bomb had been far enough away he'd missed the main blast, but the force of it had still knocked him silly. Even dazed and half-conscious, he sensed new trouble. They moved in after a blast, these children of death, killing off any survivors before it could be seen as straight murder and not the fault of the bomb. He'd seen it before. Little kids of nine or ten, slamming bricks into British soldiers' heads and running away like rats. It was the IRA, of course--the champion of the Irish Cause--encouraging these babies to murder. "Ah, Danny, me boy! Tired of playin' kick-can? 'Ere's a lovely game for you, boyo. There'll be a bomb on St. Martin today. Run by after you hear it and bash the nasty British, dear." Forget they're people, forget they can hurt. Just bash them. Kill them. Prove the point, drive them out, never mind the cost...
He rolled over, unhurt but still stunned. A vague throbbing behind his eyes told him he wasn't totally alert, that he needed to lie still for a bit until it passed. But he had to move, before they closed in.
Hearing a sound to the right, he stiffened. He reached for his gun, but it was gone, spun meters beyond his reach by the blast. Trying to crawl painfully toward it, he was brought up short. Two feet stood inches from his hand, blocking his way. Not a child's feet.
He tried to sit up, eyes moving up the obstructing body as he rose. Lean, nearly skinny form, leading up to a rounded, Celtic face, green eyes and a riot of reddish-brown curls.
Sitting up worsened the pain in his skull, and blackness stole his vision as he passed out.
Coming to, he realised he'd been moved. The bed was soft although the blankets were rough against his bare skin. A cool hand was smoothing his brow.
He blinked. "Where am I?"
"Safe--for now." Doyle's voice (?!) with an Irish lilt.
"Why did you help me?"
The man seemed uncomfortable with the question. He squeezed water from a wet rag with unnecessary force. "Dunno. Likely 'cause you needed it." Then he smiled, a wistful dreamy smile, revealing a chipped tooth and a soft-hearted nature. "Your name be Bodie, you said?"
"'S an Irish name, y'see. Those eyes of yours--Irish eyes. Blue an' deep as still water in a stone quarry. What be you here a'tol for, fightin' your own kind? Stupid, it is."
"It's a job," Bodie replied, wincing at the pressure of the cloth against the cut on his head.
"A job then? Is that what you call it, is it? Stealin' the country from your own kin?"
"I'm British," Bodie snapped.
"Nah, boyo, you've Ireland in your blood, however you speak. If you think yourself English, you shoulda stayed there, you should. This is Ireland, a free country, it is. If your scoundrel bunch would get out, we'd take care of it just foine alone."
"A lot of folk in Belfast feel different." His vision focused on a pair of softly green eyes. His breath caught in his throat. "So much for politics." He reached up and grabbed hold of the thin wrists. "Why did you help me?"
The bright eyes widened, but he didn't try to escape. The smile was suddenly mischievous, full of devilment and teasing. "Why'd'ya think? I told you, it's those Irish eyes, m'darlin'."
He stared at the elfin face for a long time, reacting at last with a startled whisper. "You're beautiful, sunshine." He slipped the palm of his hand along the face into the thick red- brown curls, thumb tracing along the strangely battered cheekbone. "Christ, you're beautiful," he repeated, wondering why it had taken him so long to see the truth of it. He pulled the smaller man down to him slowly. Their lips brushed with a crackle of inner lightning.
"Where have you been?" he demanded softly.
The green eyes sparkled. "Right here."
Their mouths met again, exploring, tasting. He pulled the slender imp down on the bed. They pressed together, clothes vanishing, bare skins touching at last. The friction of their cocks started a fire that set Bodie wild. The insane sweetness of it drove him to a fever pitch in seconds. But suddenly the witchcraft ceased and the object of his desire was out of his grasp.
"No...we won't do this."
Puzzled, desperately on the edge, Bodie tried to reach out. "Why? Why, tiger, why?"
As if in answer, memories of Ireland rose up to choke him-- the Irish mist, the smell of smoke, gunfire, rotting potatoes in boycotted bins, blood and burned bodies...
Out of his vision now, Doyle's voice called with a lovely Irish lilt, "Me sainted mither would never forgive me, would she now?"
"It's not my fault," Bodie cried out, struggling to walk through the sticky bog that sucked him down. "Damn you! Damn you! Damn...."
Bodie woke up with a hard-on, shaking and sweating. His hand went instinctively to his erection, but he jerked back with irritation. This was ridiculous. He took a deep breath and tried to calm himself, but the erection poked stubbornly at the sheet, unreasonable and demanding.
Unless he wanted to settle for another cold bath, he'd have to take other measures. It was a bit of a blow to his pride--he seldom had to resort to such base tactics for his satisfaction.
Taking the problem in hand, he dealt with it swiftly. Afterwards, he rolled over and went back to sleep, putting the dream from his mind as he had so many others before it.
The rest of the week passed slowly. He did his job well, popping up in unlikely places when Green was alone, setting his barbs nicely, and dashing off before any witnesses appeared.
On Friday, Green informed him importantly that the Home Secretary himself had been informed of Bodie's antics, and that he was looking into the matter of harassment personally. George Cowley would find himself in very hot water, indeed, according to Green.
Bodie was suitably impressed--it meant his exile in this backwater town was near an end. He did his noble best to be as ungraciously provoking as possible, however, before he made his final bow.
Returning to his hotel room, Bodie was satisfied that another visit to the harried mayor wouldn't be necessary. Mission accomplished.
Once inside, he kicked off his shoes and settled back with a book. Doyle would've been amazed at the title and at the very real interest Bodie took in its contents. Bodie was quite aware of the fact his partner's opinion of his intellectual pursuits was rather low--an impression Bodie had seen no reason to dispel. It was a carryover from his army days, when most of his mates had been as near to illiterate as made no difference. Spouting Lord Byron or Keats to that mob was a good way of guaranteeing to get yourself thumped--or at best ostracised. When he'd first met Doyle, the street-kid copper, it seemed wiser to maintain the image. By the time he'd realised Doyle wasn't quite what he seemed to be either, it had been easier to let the whole thing ride. Habit made it difficult to change his tactics, and he wasn't sure if it would have helped or not. Being extremely class conscious--a bit of a social climber when he got the chance-- Doyle would never understand Bodie's youthful decision to leave that higher strata without a backward look.
It bothered him a bit at times, though, that Doyle really didn't know him. He'd never had such a close friend in his life as Doyle, and it seemed rather a pity... Still, Ray hadn't exactly opened his soul up to him, either.
Strange, when he thought about it. Starting so cold and wary of each other, each eager to prove himself and careful to guard his own vulnerabilities, they'd managed to skip all the usual life histories on the path to friendship. Simply took each day as it came. It worked quite nicely, actually. Well enough that Bodie had no desire to change the status quo. It was something he'd finally admitted to himself--his friendship with Doyle was very important to him. Maybe even, if truth be known, the most important aspect of his life.
If Ray Doyle had his faults, Bodie was blind to them. He'd had a lot of people commiserate with his lot, saying Doyle was a bad-tempered, hot-headed bastard. He was usually surprised and defensive. Ray? Yes, perhaps he did get a bit moody from time to time, but that was just because he cared so damn much-- carrying around the bloody weight of the world on his skinny little shoulders, the stupid sod. Bad-tempered? Well, there might be something to that, he supposed. The man could fly into a rage if he ran out of milk in the fridge.
The book forgotten for the moment, Bodie considered it. Yes, he could see where some people might find Ray a bit difficult--but that was all window-dressing anyway. Didn't mean anything. Not when compared to the rest. As a partner and a mate, Ray Doyle couldn't be topped. He was the best. The best and only partner Bodie ever wanted.
Bodie settled back down to read again, having spent a happy ten minutes contemplating his partner, oblivious to the strangeness of that.
Nearly two hours later, he finished the book and closed it with disgust. The author thought he knew about Africa, did he? Fat chance. It bore very little resemblance to the Africa Bodie had known. A cleaned up, laundered version that tried to pass itself off as something deep and exposing. He snorted--it was little better than a travelogue.
Bodie smiled, wondering what would happen if he ever wrote his own book? No one would believe it certainly. Sometimes he hardly did himself.
Letting his mind drift, he remembered the bar he'd worked at for a while in a busy but obscure little port in Northern Africa. No one had a thought for politics there, or if you were unpopular with the authorities in ten different countries. Cold cash was the only valid passport, and almost anything could be had for a price. The prostitutes were a staple, of course, most of whom had slept with the nineteen-year-old Bodie either out of the hope that he'd give them a bit of extra protection, or some maternal urge. Being the strong-arm in such a dive wouldn't be expected of someone with Bodie's youth and looks, but the manager had seen him fight, and was easily convinced he was the man for the job.
Bodie chuckled, remembering how the girls had insisted on trying to help him look older. An hour by a makeup table had managed to make him look thirty--as long as he didn't sweat or wipe his face. It'd taken experience to demonstrate to his worried mother-hens that his hard expression and the muscles he'd developed on freighters gave him enough of an intimidating quality to warn off all but the most adamant of troublemakers-- and the rest learned quick enough that youth didn't necessarily mean softness.
Not all the girls wanted to give up on the makeup idea, however--there was the lovely Nita who kept wanting to curl his eyelashes...
Bodie's other memories of that period of his life were sketchy, mostly of heat, sensuality, and a sultry, exotic darkness. Unless you lived there for a while, you could never understand that slow, lazy heat, or the nasty sordidness that lay panting beneath the surface. They'd get an occasional tourist, or an adventurous foray from some foreign embassy in Morocco, but the daytime people were usually gone too quickly to stir up the slow, cautious dregs that preyed on such innocents. And if they weren't...that was their ill luck. The busy, dirty little city had been a vending port for all types of merchandise that couldn't afford to sport excise tags--drugs, liquor, ivory, certain proscribed animal skins...and human flesh. Slavery was so old in this free port, it was a banal trade when the world was new.
Finally shaking off his memories, Bodie stood and gathered up his things for a bath. He took the long trek down the hall and bolted the door. It was late and he didn't expect anyone else would want it, so he soaked for a very long time, enjoying the silky feel of the water, letting his mind wander over a myriad of subjects. He gave up at last, when they keep slipping back to one--his partner.
As he left the bath, he met another hotel tenant on the landing. Seeing her startled look, he remarked wryly, "Yes, dear, I take one nearly every night or so--need it or not. Just gettin' in from work are you?"
She batted two-inch lashes at him and giggled. "Cheeky bastard." But she looked him over and edged closer. "Want to see me later, luv? Be cheap for you, pretty man."
"I'd imagine it'd be cheap anyway," he said flatly.
"Why you crummy bastard! Who the 'ell--"
"Watch your mascara don't clog the pipes, sweet," he murmured, moving past her down the hall. Her ribald curses floated after him. She'd been a fetching thing, actually, if you could scrub away some of the muck on her face. No more than eighteen or nineteen. But, unlike Doyle, he'd never fancied tarts--whether they were the type you paid cash or paid your soul for. At least the ones who charged cold currency were more honest. Ann Holly came to his mind immediately, but he blocked the thought. It wasn't fair to Ray, and it hadn't been none of his business, had it? It was certainly a taboo subject between them. Right enough; everyone deserved some safe ground. But it just proved his point that bad makeup jobs didn't necessarily mean they were whores. Or maybe it did.
Inside his room, Bodie threw off his robe and wandered around, still thinking of the little tramp outside the bath. Maybe he would've been better to take her up on her offer, the way things had been going lately. And he really didn't dislike them all that much; there had been a few nice ones like the girls at The Tiger's Lair. Not a bad lot, really.
Finally, still feeling restless but unwilling to give into it, he switched off the light and went to bed.
....stepping back from the sunlit street into the cool alcove of the club sent a shiver down his back. The drop in temperature never failed to surprise him. The power of the sun was incredible; it could bake your brain in minutes. Mad dogs and Englishmen, he thought with a grin.
His vision adjusted to the dim interior; the fans rotating in a slow, dizzy arc in the ceiling, casting lazy shadows from the low-power lights. There were few customers this early, mostly just the regulars.
He flipped open the gate to the bar and poured himself a neat scotch.
The stocky bartender pursed his lips. "Alexi will dock you for that, Bodieman."
He shrugged, giving his opinion of the Greek/Iranian owner of the club. "Let 'im. Nothin' from nothin'." He looked up. "Ey, Sam, need some help at the bar tonight, will ya?"
The dark man looked patient. "Me name not Sam. This ain't Casablanca, Bodieman. No, I can handle it. You'll have your hands full, I betcha."
Bodie took another drink, savouring the smooth, bitter taste. "Why's that, Sam?"
"Ben 'n Hasid comin' in tonight, that's what."
"So? Why here? Slumming, is he?"
The bartender grinned, showing a wide gap in yellowed teeth. "I hear he likes pretty, blue-eyed English boys, Bodieman. Maybe you take day off, best thing, maybe, hey?"
Bodie moved outside the bar to mind a convenient stool. "If he'd've wanted me, sweetpea, he'd have 'ad me six months ago. He's seen me around."
"Maybe you too tough for he em, hey? Maybe he lookin' for pure, hey man?" He looked Bodie over teasingly. "You--you ain't been pure since you born, kid, yes?"
"Don't tell me mum," he muttered, taking another drink. "So why here? Not many lambs in this slaughterhouse. Most of 'em met the shears long ago."
The bartender shrugged. "Tip off maybe. Something special comin' in. Somethin' without protection. Most embassy folk travel in packs, safer. When they go off alone, they always have guide. Easy way to get info, those guideman. Americans are only ones stupid enough to pay good, too much money anyway, what they care? But British and Frenchman, they cheap, yes? Pay peanuts. Very smart bargains. Only maybe not so smart, hey man? Sell out easy to high bucks, right?"
Bored with the conversation, Bodie leaned back precariously on the barstool, feet up on the bar. "So some prat foreigner is hangin' his arse to the wind for the chance of a thrill. So what's it to me? Long as they don't break up the crockery, Hasid has me bloody blessin'."
But a few hours later, just at dusk, Hasid came in, accompanied by several of his men. He found a vacant table in a dark corner and waited like some black spider, his web drawn by his bodyguards as they moved to strategic points in the club--two of them going back outside, presumably lookouts.
Leaning casually over the bar, Bodie murmured to Sam-who- wasn't-Sam, "Christ, you weren't jokin', were you, sweetpea? The bloke's settin' up like a bloody siege."
"He's waitin'," the bartender said wisely.
"All this for one little lamb? Bit excessive, innit?"
The black face stared at him with a secret wisdom. "Ever trap tiger, Bodieman?"
Intrigued now, Bodie watched each entry with interest. None seemed to fit the desired pattern. None was young enough or pretty enough or even Aryan enough. When the target finally did come in, he almost didn't pick him out. Although young, he was hardly a boy, and not precisely Aryan either. There was a distinctly foreign cast to his odd face, broken cheekbone, slanted eyes, kinky-curled hair, although one would be hard put to name his nationality. But his skin was fair and when he came up to the bar to order a drink, Bodie caught the cool light green of the amazing eyes--and the distinctly English accent.
Alerted, he concentrated on him then, wondering at first what there could be in the skinny figure and almost-ugly face to attract a man of Hasid's wealth and particular tastes. He nearly cast it off as poor judgement and let it go, but he found that his own gaze kept drawing back.
There was something...some intangible essence that attracted even while your common sense told you the features were off, far from perfect. But, somehow, together they were spookily beautiful the more you looked at them. And when he moved...the feline grace was a heartstopper. It was a shockingly simplistic explanation, but within thirty minutes, Bodie found he understood the cliche all too well--poetry in motion. The man was a walking cry for a climax; he was hungry himself, and he exuded that hunger. Yes, he was obviously hunting tonight, but he didn't know other, more dangerous predators, were hunting him.
Bodie, being a man for women--mostly, given circumstances, opportunity and choice--was startled by his reaction to this newcomer. Just watching him move, watching the green eyes flicker over the crowded bar, made him hard and hot. He didn't have the excuse of being hard up either. Nita was there, batting her lashes at him, and Dana and Sharon, not to forget the lovely Annette with the sorcerer's mouth. A crook of his finger and any one of them would be happy to oblige. But his sudden rise of heat wasn't for them and they couldn't cool it. Being nineteen, his passions were quick but stubborn, and once he made up his mind, he wasn't willing to wait long.
Before he could make his move, however, he noticed Hasid. The signal was subtle but distinct. This was the one, this green- eyed Englishman, and now all of Hasid's men knew as well. Very shortly, they would make their move.
Also reading the signal was the Englishman's guide. The native's restless gaze caught it as easily as Bodie had. Nervously, he excused himself and left the table. He would not return, Bodie knew. He'd delivered the merchandise and received his payoff. Time to disappear.
Uncertain of his reasons--except for the one throbbing in his trousers--Bodie moved to the table. "Come with me to the bar," he said softly.
The eyes looked up, appraising. "What?"
Bodie sat his own drink down in front of the man. "Pretend this is not what you ordered. Be angry about it."
"Listen, if you'd rather have your balls trimmed and sold, that's fine with me. I'm just giving you a way out, if you want it."
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm not about to repeat myself, sunshine. The more we talk, the quicker he'll catch on. He's watchin' you like a bloody hawk. Either do as I say or forget it."
A quick shift of mental gears took place as the man decided to go along with it for now. "What the 'ell is this then?" he complained loudly. "I ordered gin and tonic! Don't you speak the King's English, you big ox?"
Bodie tossed back a curse as he headed for the bar. Green eyes followed, still grumbling. "I'm payin' double for this tripe, the least you can do is get it right!"
By the time they reached the bar, they were out of ear-shot of Hasid, although the eyes still moved with them unwaveringly. Bodie went behind the bar to fix the drink, shouldering the puzzled bartender out of the way.
"Okay, what's this all about?" the man demanded softly.
"They'll be waitin' for you outside. You don't stand a chance. There's at least five of them."
"Who are they? What do they want?"
Bodie snorted. "If you're such a bloody innocent, you've no business being here, mate."
The other man blushed but had no answer.
"Well, whatever you were after," Bodie continued, handing him the fresh drink, "you've got a hell of a lot more than you bargained for. I don't think you'll like it much either."
"Why should I believe you?"
Bodie shrugged. "Don't. It's nothing to me. It's your arse, not mine."
A pause, then, "All right. What do you suggest I do?"
"Wait a few minutes, go back to your table. Drink your drink. Then head for the loo. It's down the hall there, only turn left, not right. That's the office. There's a back way out."
Without answering, he picked up the drink and returned to his table. Bodie, unsure if his advice would be taken, edged toward the front entrance and unobtrusively left. He went through the alley to where the other man would emerge and saw just what he'd expected--one of Hasid's men guarding the back. He waited, pressing closely in moonshadows of the building. Ten minutes later, the exit door swung open and the guard moved in quickly. Bodie, however, moved quicker. He put the hefty man down with three quick blows.
The fugitive stared at him, eyes wide in the silver moonlight.
"It was true then?"
"True enough that we've about five minutes before the others come lookin'. Even I can't handle that many, angelfish."
"Never mind--c'mon, dammit!"
He grabbed the thin wrist and tugged him down the alley at a run. A few quick turns in the maze of streets put him where he wanted to be. A blank door in a garbage covered alley. He pounded out a code.
The door peeked open. "Oui?"
He spoke in rapid gutter-French and the door opened just wide enough to admit them. It slammed shut and the bolt slid home.
The woman regarded his guest doubtfully and said in French, "Not your usual type, ma petite. Who is this skinny boy?"
"Leave it, Rosalind. Just loan me a safe room. No questions, no answers--to anyone, okay?"
She nodded. "Up the stairs then. I'll need the room early, though. Be out by nine, ami."
Bodie had never let go of the man's wrist; he used it now to propel him up the steps and into the small room. Finally letting him go, he shut the door and bolted it, then moved to the windows and closed the shutters tightly.
"We'll smother," the other offered quietly.
"So learn to sweat," Bodie suggested unsympathetically. He located the gas lamp and lit its flickering torch. "The bad thing about this place is that we're trapped if they do find us. Two stories down to the brick and a sure broken leg. But if they don't see the light, they may not check. Rose only uses this room when she's overflowing with customers; it's too hot otherwise. Everyone knows that."
"So why have the light at all?"
Bodie turned around then to face him. "Because I wanted to look at you."
Startled, the man took a wary step backward. "Why did you help me?"
Bodie grinned wolfishly. "Good Samaritan, I am. Besides, it's better than being gang-raped and castrated."
The man swallowed nervously. "Is...that what they were planning?"
"You really didn't know? You figured maybe they were going to invite you to tea?"
"I thought...robbery...or kidnap--"
"Christ, what a fool. What the bloody 'ell are you doing here anyway?"
"I wanted to see something besides the British Compound. They're so damned careful--"
"I wonder why?" Bodie cut in sarcastically. "Maybe you know why now, eh? English boys are very popular here, but not the way the Queen would approve."
"I'm not a boy, and I can take care of myself."
"Sure you can."
The other man flushed. "Okay, so maybe I was foolish. But what about you? You seem to know your way around. How's that? You're British, too."
"I haven't been British since I was fourteen, mate. Citizen of the world, I am. And I know my way around because I've learned the hard way. I'll be glad to give you your first lesson, sunshine."
Feeling uneasy again, the man backed up until he was against the shutters. "You didn't say why you helped me get out. What do you want?"
Bodie approached, groin painfully aware of the situation and how near it was to satisfaction. He touched the pale face softly.
"What do you think I want, eh?"
The other man jerked back from the touch, green eyes flashing with temper. "Keep your bloody hands to yourself! If you want money--"
Bodie moved in even closer, until the other was pressed flat against the wooden shutters; he could hear them creak in protest. "No, not money. Just a bit of gratitude." His hand slid up to tangle in the thick curls. "You owe me that much, don't you? If not for me, you'd be up against Hasid and his sadistic toys, followed by most of his men--and then they'd have cut off your balls and sold you to some bored prince in Saudi. They pay a lot for green eyes, I hear. And nice, white skin..." His hand smoothed down the rigid face, cupping the neck and pulling him closer until their lips were a breath away. "Better a go with me than all that, golly."
Abruptly, unexpectedly, he was shoved back--very hard. He fell against the narrow bed, almost losing his balance. Bodie glared up. "Want to play that game, eh? No gratitude at all, I see."
The other moved to the bolts at the door, but Bodie was quicker. "No, you don't, tiger. Not again. No more running. This time it goes all the way...all the way to the finish."
The man jerked away, backing up. "Why are you doing this, Bodie?"
"Because I want you, dammit! I'm tired of you being so bloody untouchable."
"What made you ever think I was?" came the soft reply.
"Because you are, that's why," Bodie yelled furiously. "So fuckin' perfect. Well, you owe me...a dozen times over...you owe me."
"And you don't owe me anything, is that it?"
Crazily, Bodie realised it was all changing--the guidelines of the dream were warping, and story-book time was over. No more Arabian tales and hot fantasy. Just Ray Doyle standing there defiantly, refusing to co-operate in his sexy plotline.
What was worse, there were other things here, niggling at his conscience: pain and need and guilt, and a dozen other things he didn't want to deal with.
"Just shut up," be told his dream creature. "You're here to get fucked, and that's it. I wanted you, so I dreamed you. So you'd just bloody well accept it!"
Ray's sarcastic laugh was his answer.
"You've slipped your wicket, mate."
It wouldn't go back the way it had been, no matter how much he wanted it to. This was no naive embassy lad to be bullied and seduced. Ray Doyle was here, legs apart, hands on hips, green eyes flaring scornfully. The chipped tooth was noticeable even under the uncertain gaslight. "You dumb son'v a bitch. Do you really think you're going to rape me?"
Angry, frustrated, and confused, Bodie said, "Maybe."
With a chuckle, Doyle threw himself down on the bed, crossing his arms behind his head. "What a dreamer you are, mate."
Gritting his teeth, Bodie hissed, "Don't push it, Doyle."
Doyle just grinned and looked around. "Got to admit, not a bad set-up. Now, I would've had a harem in 'ere, not some bony, uptight slum kid. But to each his own, I reckon."
"You owe me," Bodie said stubbornly, concentrating on changing the dream back the way it was supposed to go.
"Eh? Oh...savin' me delicate white behind from Hasid and his cohorts?" He shook his head admiringly. "Christ, that's good, that is, Bodie. A real romantic, you are. Barbara Cartland should hear about you, mate. 'Cept she'd never go for the actual rape, y'understand." He grinned. "But then, you wouldn't either, would you? That's why you're havin' this intermission like."
Doyle used his fingers to count up his points. "First you're a bad, tough bouncer in a seedy bar--that's the bad-guy Bodie. Then you risk your neck to save an innocent stranger-- that was the good-guy Bodie. Then you lock 'im up in this stuffy little room and plan to have your wicked way with him--bad guy Bodie returns. Only you couldn't quite stomach that so--"
"Just shut up, damn you!"
"Oh no, there's something to be got at here. Good bloke versus bad bloke. A classic case, innit? You've never been able to quite sort 'em out, have you? Mercenary and army man. Killer and SAS. Assassin and CI5. And sometimes even when you're wearin' the bloody white hat, it doesn't seem all that different than the other way, does it? Confusin', innit?"
Bodie turned away, fists clenched. How could this go so wrong? He didn't want truths or analysis. All he'd wanted was--
"The trouble is, Bodie," Doyle continued, "you really want to be good. Just a good, solid English lad, that's you. That's all you really want. But you're a bit ashamed of that--like it's a weakness. Or maybe just because you don't think you have it in you after all. Not like Doyle. He's good, Bodie. Bad-tempered, nasty-minded and scrappy--but deep down he's truly good. And you're bloody afraid you're not. That if you dare to touch him, you'll ruin him. That there's no way he could love you if he knew what you really were."
It was Bodie's turn to run. He found himself trapped in a corner of the room, holding his ears to keep from listening, but he wasn't hearing with his ears.
"You've got emotional leprosy, Bodie. You're a carrier. You touch them, they hurt. You try to hold them, they die. Like Marikka died. Like Julie was hurt. Like when Krivas killed Jilly. Even that sniffly little nursing sister in Africa. Almost bought it 'cause of you, didn't she?"
Bodie shook his head. "No..no..."
Doyle sat up on the bed. "If it scares you, mate, think how much it bothers me. I'm getting out of here. I'm not being used like this. Dream about the little chit down the hall."
Bodie caught him and swung him around. "No, I'm not using you. I wouldn't!"
"Oh yeah?" Doyle tried to break free, but Bodie held him tighter, suddenly terrified of losing him.
"You're not running again. I've given too much to you, dammit! More than to anyone ever. I need you, sunshine. I've lost too much already. I can't let you get away this time."
"Fuck off, Bodie," Doyle snarled.
Bodie caught him the second time, ruthlessly smothering all his gentler feelings. "I need you, and I'll have you...if it kills us both..."
It was a strange relief to let free all his passion and rage. If this was his dream, and the dream had dared to turn Doyle against him, hurting him with truths he'd never wanted to know, then the dream image, like the bloody albatross, deserved whatever he got. Bodie wilfully blanked out the tenderness he wanted and needed, concentrating on force.
He'd always known he could take Doyle if he had to. As good as his partner was, he still had the advantage of weight and, all other things being equal, that had to win out.
It did. He had Doyle down on the bed in seconds, writhing and furious beneath his ungiving hands. Bodie freed one long enough to punch him solidly against the jaw, stunning him. He stripped the figure and himself, pushing back the feelings that threatened to cramp his stomach--confusion, regret, love. They had no place here. He'd waited long enough. Doyle had driven him crazy with wanting, and now he would take.
The thin body was as beautiful as ever, patterned with soft hair, muscles sleek and hard just beneath the silk skin. Like a damned cat, all the hidden strength--no, like a tiger. A bloody, unpredictable tiger, green-eyed and striped with right and wrong--begging for it one minute, tellin' you it was wrong the next. He'd trapped the tiger now, and it was his.
He parted the legs roughly. Doyle's head lolled on the flat pillow, blood trickling from a cut on his mouth, groggy and semi- awake. Bodie licked the blood away with a gentle tongue and settled himself between the spread thighs.
"I'm sorry, sunshine," he murmured. "Just this once, I promise. No more. I won't hurt you again. Won't touch you again. Just this once, I can't let you go...."
He thrust, feeling the resistance, hearing the cry, closing his ears to it. Just once, he swore to himself. Just in me dreams, like some bloody song. It's not real, this isn't Ray...it feels so good...god, it feels so incredibly good... Never again...just once...don't hurt, please, don't hurt...I want you to... Justoncejustonce..I swearnever... neveragainjustonce.....Oh CHRIST! RAY!
Bodie woke up with a shout, breath racing, heart pounding as if it would leap to his throat and choke him. Two seconds later, he raced for the basin and was violently sick. Returning to his cold bed, he found wet, sticky sheets. Angrily, he ripped them off and slept under the blanket, refusing to think about any of it.
The week had passed pleasantly enough for Doyle. He missed Bodie, but not as much as he might have, considering the amount of time his partner was on his mind. But Skellen was with him, and it was strangely easier to be with Skellen than with Bodie just now. At least until he'd worked through these crazy impulses. And the uncanny resemblance between Bodie and the SAS man was comforting--like having his partner with him but minus all the new-born tension.
As a matter of fact, in many ways, Skellen was more responsive than his partner, more emotionally open than Bodie had ever been. Doyle sensed this wasn't all that normal for Skellen either, but he seemed to be walking his own tight-rope.
It wasn't difficult to figure out the problem, but it did take a few days before Skellen trusted him enough--or was desperate enough--to talk about it. Once the subject was broached, it was easier, but it still took until the end of the week before Doyle managed to pry the entire story from the normally reticent Skellen.
It was Friday evening before Doyle finally pieced it all together and understood just how upset and vulnerable Skellen actually was. It went far deeper than a mere marital spat.
They were at Bodie's flat, drinking Bodie's scotch (with malicious glee on Doyle's part), and truly relaxing for the first time in a week. The next day was free, so neither was being particularly careful about his intake. Feeling quite comfortable with each other, a few stiff drinks loosened their tongues along with Skellen's (or rather, Bodie's) necktie.
"Listen, mate, she can't keep you from seeing the baby, can she? I mean, it is your kid an' all."
Skellen stared into his glass. "You don't understand. She's right about all of it. They nearly got killed because of that last op." His jaw tightened. "I still don't know exactly all that went on, but it had to've been nasty. I know what those people were like--real sadists, just looking for an excuse to--"
"Eh, 'old on there," Doyle broke in awkwardly. "It wasn't your fault. You couldn't have known. It was a job and you had to do it, didn't you? Couldn't be helped."
"But it's my job, not Jenny's. I signed up for the SAS, they didn't. But because they're mine, they--" He took a deep breath and another gulp of whiskey. "Why should she have to deal with it all? And Sam...Christ, Ray, they both could've died!"
"But you're not to blame."
"Of course I am," Skellen snapped. "Wouldn't have happened otherwise, would it? She's right about that. She's right about every bloody thing."
Doyle hesitated, then stood to refill their glasses. "So she wants you to give notice, is that it?"
"No, that's the hell of it. She's never asked that. I even suggested it, but... Hell, Jenny realises it's all I know, for chrissake! What do I do if I quit? Sell used motors? She knows what that would do to me. No, quitting isn't the answer either, it seems." He accepted the refilled glass and made a quick headway on draining it again. He was silent for a long moment before he said very quietly, "I don't think I can handle losing them."
Doyle sat down beside him. "If she really loves you, you won't."
Skellen shook his head. "It's not that simple. She loves me right enough. Too much maybe. That doesn't change the rest of it."
"It's the bloody job," Doyle said angrily. "It's the same for nearly everyone. It's no kind of life."
"Yeah, well we chose it, didn't we?"
Doyle looked at him, seeing Bodie so clearly--a hurting Bodie. He hid his instinctive reaction with a quick movement, reaching for the other man's glass. "Here, let's 'ave another, shall we?" In his haste, he managed to knock the ashtray off the table.
They both bent for it, and their heads collided solidly.
"Sorry," Skellen said ruefully, rubbing his forehead.
"My fault--" Doyle broke off, terribly conscious of their closeness, but finding himself unable to pull away. He could smell Bodie's expensive, distinctive aftershave. The blue eyes, so like his partner's, still held a dark sadness. The strongly curved jaw showed the shadow of a beard, outgrowing the morning shave, accentuating the vulnerable, sensual mouth.
The thought came to him irrepressibly, that if he touched Skellen, the man wouldn't pull away from him. He was lonely. He needed a human touch, and Doyle could certainly furnish that easily enough--too easily. If he couldn't have Bodie, how could he ask for a better substitute? An electric spark of desire shot to his groin at the thought. Touching this man, loving him--it would be nearly the same, wouldn't it? And if Peter refused, well there wouldn't be the risk there was with Bodie. Losing Skellen's friendship would be a true pity--but it could never compare to losing his mate. Doyle had never been that much of a gambling man.
Abruptly, Doyle stood, embarrassed and a bit ashamed of himself for even considering it. Skellen looked up, puzzled.
"What is it, Ray?"
"Nothing. I...I'd better get goin', I suppose." Leave quickly and as gracefully as possible before he succumbed to temptation and made a right muck of things all around.
"It's early yet," Skellen protested, also standing. It was painfully obvious he was reluctant to be left alone with his own black thoughts.
"Listen, Peter," Doyle began awkwardly, "I really--"
The phone rang, interrupting his lame excuses. "Hang on a moment." Skellen moved to answer it. "Colonel? Yes. No, I'm free." He glanced at Doyle. "I see. I'll be there in twenty minutes."
He hung up the phone and turned to Doyle with a sheepish smile. "Seems I must run as well. Something's come up."
Eager for the distraction, Doyle perked up. "Yeah? What's on?"
Skellen shrugged, grabbing up his jacket. "Nothing much. I'm just in as backup. They've already got it pretty well covered."
Doyle followed him out the door. "What is it then? Or is it top secret?"
"No." He hesitated. "Possible hostage situation at a private airstrip. We'd had a tip-off they were running guns through there. Someone moved in a bit too quick. They've barricaded themselves in the Control Building--with two hostages, it looks like. They're demanding a larger plane now...among other things."
"I'll go with you," Doyle said quickly.
Skellen stopped on the landing, checking his gun. "It's SAS business, Ray. Nothing to do with you. Probably over by the time I get there, anyway."
Doyle's hand touched the other's arm. "You've had quite a bit to drink, Peter. You sure you're all right?"
The other man grinned at him. "So've you, mate. Occupational hazard in our line, isn't it? You learn to snap out of it quick enough."
"I know. But I'm still going with you."
Skellen looked uncertain as Doyle checked his own weapon. "All right, then. But you stay clear and do as I say, agreed?"
Doyle smiled. "It's your show, Captain."
Skellen nodded and they ran down the steps to the car.
Fifteen minutes later, they reached the gate of the airstrip. They left the motor there, flashing I.D.s at the nervous guard and proceeded on foot. Skellen pulled a transmitter from his coat pocket; it was slightly smaller than the CI5 issue R/T.
"Skellen. How's the positions?"
A voice answered after a burst of static. "All sides covered. We're moved in twelve minutes."
"The perimeters covered?"
Doyle nudged him. "What about that?" He gestured toward an abandoned factory across the fence to the south. It was blackly visible in the moonlight, and the upper floors were easily in line of fire to all access to the Control Building.
"Skellen here. Were the outlying buildings checked out?"
"Clean. Move to the north side. Eleven minutes."
They exchanged a glance. "What do you think?" Doyle asked quietly, his copper's instinct making him suspicious.
Skellen didn't seem happy either. He chewed his lip thoughtfully.
"I know Carstarres--he's the one moved in first. Bit quick on the trigger, but he's good. They wouldn't have twigged unless someone alerted them he was outside."
"So someone might be watching the area?"
Skellen's eyes moved back to the factory. "Up there, do you reckon?"
Doyle shrugged. "Could be. Good line of sight. They might have radios--and guns." He looked back to the empty ground around the Control Building. "They could be waiting for the big push before they show their hardware. Your lot'll be sittin' ducks out there, if we're right. It'd be a long shot, but if they've the armament--"
"That's where they'd be," Skellen finished the thought, still observing the factory.
"They said it was clean," Doyle pointed out.
"Let's give it the white glove test, shall we?" Skellen returned lightly. He switched on the transmitter. "Skellen here. Find another backup for north side. I'm checking something. Out."
"Acknowledged. What's your position?"
"Building on south side, over the fence. Skellen out."
They didn't have much time to play with, so they hurried. It only took a couple of minutes to sprint to the fence and over it. They found an open doorway and entered. Inside, there was no moonlight to guide them, only the thin beam of Skellen's pinlight torch. They moved cautiously up the crumbling steps, five flights, their internal clocks ticking away the minutes. They reached the roof with less than thirty seconds to spare. Skellen switched off the torch before opening the door.
They split up instinctively, taking opposite sides of the roof. The bet paid off immediately. There were three men there at the edge of the roof; two holding high power rifles, another manning a mounted machine gun with what looked to be an infra-red sight.
The action transpired very rapidly. Both Doyle and Skellen called for them to drop their guns, the men turned and aimed, there was a simultaneous discharge of weapons--echoed by gunfire from the airstrip. Both Skellen and Doyle hit their targets, but it still gave the man on the machine-gun time to spin it around and spit off a wild and deadly burst of fire in Doyle's direction. Doyle started to drop but was hit and thrown back against a brick chimney. Skellen killed the man at almost the same instant.
As soon as the shooting stopped, Skellen ran to check terrorists. The machine-gunner was dead, as was most certainly Doyle's man--hit cleanly between the eyes; an incredible shot in the wavering moonlight. Skellen's first target was nearly gone as well, judging from the amount of blood and his gasping breaths. Skellen pitched the guns over the side of the roof, anxious to get to Doyle, but too cautious to leave them available even to a dying man.
He ran to Doyle, cautiously lifting the limp form into his arms. He could detect no major wound--but neither could he find a heartbeat...
Bodie entered the outskirts of London in even less of a good humour than he'd left. He spoke into the R/T irritably, "3.7 here. Patch me through to Cowley."
"Alpha One is not available-- One moment, 3.7." The voice cut off suddenly, and he cursed impatiently. He wanted to go home to his own bed, but he couldn't do that until the Cow okayed it--and evicted Skellen.
"Yeah. What's up?"
"Alpha One just called in. I'm patching you through now."
"3.7? What are you doing back, mon?" The Scottish voice was suspicious and tense. "Where are you?"
"Just back to town, sir. Finished up the job, didn't I? I hear the HS has been gettin' an earful." Belatedly realising this was an open channel, he added, "Me Auntie is fine, sir. Nice short drive in the country was just what I needed. But I had to come back; couldn't stomach any more of her cooking."
"Never mind that now," Cowley cut in, "What's your position?"
"Uh...Stanford and Highland, just outside Newstead--"
"Get to the Ryland Airstrip."
Bodie turned a corner immediately, heading in that direction. "What's happening, sir?"
"Looks like a hostage situation--terrorists demanding a plane, money, the usual. I don't have many details yet. The SAS are already in."
Bodie's eyes narrowed. "Then why're you sending me in?" he asked pointedly, knowing better than most that the SAS brooked no interference from other outfits once they were on a job. When they moved in, even the government backed off. A thought came to him that he didn't like one little bit. "Is Skellen there?"
"I don't know for certain. I canna get hold of Hadley yet."
Bodie's jaw clenched. "But you think he is?"
"There was no answer at the flat."
"And at Doyle's?"
Bodie tossed down the R/T furiously and speeded up the car. What Cowley believed was obvious or he'd never have told Bodie any of it. Skellen had been called in and Doyle had trailed along like the adventurous little sod he was. Cowley didn't like it any better than he did either. The SAS was different; Doyle didn't know the signals, the movements, the carefully timed and choreographed action they favoured. Ray moved on instinct. It was a method Cowley preferred, feeling the CI5 needed more flexibility than a stylised outfit like the SAS. Bodie, having worked both ways, agreed strongly with Cowley--but Doyle didn't realise how much difference it could make. One wrong step, one out of synch movement could get you shot by your own men nearly as easily as by the opposition.
He stepped on the gas and made another hairpin turn, nearly grazing a street lamp and a nearsighted hooker. When he reached the gate, he skidded the car to a halt and jumped out to confront the security guard.
"What's going on?"
"Who are you?"
Impatiently, Bodie flashed his I.D.
"Oh. Well, it's all over now, I reckon. They moved in about ten minutes ago. Got both of them cold. One hostage wounded, but they think she'll be okay. Hey, I thought the SAS was handling this one?"
Bodie relaxed a bit, knowing it was over. He smiled. "CI5 is doing cleanup. You know those glory-boys in there. Do the job and split. Leave it to us peons to dig out the mess."
"Uh...yeah." The man was looking at him strangely. "Weren't you here earlier?"
"Not me, mate. You must be seein' double." Bodie started to turn away, determined to wait by the Escort which was parked at the side until Doyle showed up.
"Nah, it had to be you. But what happened to your buddy? He didn't get shot up, did he? I'd have sworn I heard some gunfire across the fence down there, but--"
"Eh?" Bodie jerked around. "What did you hear?"
"Maybe nothing. I thought all the action was over there at the control shack. Probably just echoes or something."
Bodie looked over at the ruined factory. "Over the fence, you say? Have you told anyone else? Did they check it out?"
"Well, no. Hasn't been time. They just called a couple minutes ago to tell me the building was secured. Didn't seem--"
Bodie didn't wait for the rest. He reached the fence and vaulted it in record time, unable to escape the feeling there was something wrong. Pulling his gun, he advanced through the open door and located the steps by touch and instinct. He fumbled his way up the stairs, cautious of broken boards and bottles. Reaching the top, he pushed open the door as quietly as he could, ready for anything.
After the near-blackness of the stairwell, the rooftop seemed flooded with light. He had no trouble picking out Skellen's crouched form.
Then he saw what Skellen was holding.
Bodie's gun dropped limply to his side, breath catching in his chest. "Ray...?"
Skellen's head jerked up, startled, reaching automatically for his own gun. He halted as Bodie stepped out into the moonlight.
"It's you. What the hell are you doing here? How'd you find us?"
Bodie didn't answer, eyes fastened on his partner's still form.
Skellen glanced down, understanding. "It's all right, I think. Just a graze on the forehead and a nasty lump on the back of his head. Knocked cold." He grinned shakily. "Scared me silly for a minute there. Figured he'd bought it for sure."
Bodie stepped closer. "Get your fuckin' hands off him."
"You heard me, damn you! Let 'im go!"
Skellen's eyes narrowed. "What the hell is wrong with you? I told you he's alive."
"No thanks to you," Bodie said viciously.
Skellen took a deep breath to steady his rising temper. He laid Doyle down gently and stood to face his double. "Now look--" but stopped when he saw the expression on the other's face.
Kneeling beside his partner, Bodie checked him efficiently for injury, his own face more revealing than he could have imagined. Finally he pulled Doyle's head into his lap, finding the lump at the base of the skull and cradling him tenderly. The blood from the narrow gash on his forehead had trickled down the pale cheek. Bodie wiped it off with an unsteady finger. The breathing seemed even and regular and Bodie's hand on his chest felt the comforting, sure thud of Doyle's heart.
At last Bodie looked up, eyes glinting dangerously in the moonlight.
"What the bloody hell did you do here, anyway? Why'd you bring him here? This wasn't a CI5 job."
Feeling strangely defensive, Skellen's jaw tightened. "He wanted to come. Why shouldn't he? He's good enough."
"He's also used to working with a decent partner! Where the hell were you then? You're supposed to take care of him, not let him get shot up! What the bloody hell are you good for?!"
Skellen didn't like justifying his actions to anyone, and he definitely didn't like this mad bastard's attitude. "That's odd," he replied coldly, "I thought my job--and his--was to stop the terrorists. Didn't realise I'd taken up baby-sitting as well."
Bodie stared back down at his partner, fury and guilt knotting his stomach. He should've been here. It was his job to watch out for Ray, not some careless stranger. He still felt the knee-shaking terror of that first instant when he stepped out on the roof, when he'd seen Doyle limp and unmoving in Skellen's arms--like some ugly mirror image nightmare of himself failing Doyle.
Without looking up, he said very quietly, "If you'd let him get killed, I'd have cut your fuckin' heart out."
"Now hold on a minute," Skellen said angrily, "you're over-reacting to this. He's not exactly helpless, you know. From what I've seen, he can take care of himself quite well. I didn't particularly want him along, but I wasn't about to insult him by thinking he couldn't handle himself, either."
Bodie, wrapped up in his own emotional acknowledgement of how he felt about Ray, ignored this easily. "Just get the hell out of here. Get lost!"
Skellen hesitated, surprised by the request. "No."
Bodie glared at him. "What?"
"I'm not leaving him like this. We came in this together, we're leaving the same way. He's my partner, isn't he?"
Shocked and furious, Bodie almost lost his voice. "What did you say?"
Somewhat bemused himself, Skellen found it was true. He liked Doyle too much to walk off and leave him in anybody else's hands. He'd never had a real partner before and it was a novel sensation, one he wasn't quite sure he altogether cared for, but he wasn't willing to surrender his obligations either. "I said I'm not leaving him. Right now, he's my partner, at least until this op's over. You're the one who doesn't belong. Christ, Bodie, you're not even supposed to be here. You could muck up Cowley's whole plan with Green, if anyone sees us both together and figures it out."
Bodie was deadly, coldly enraged. 'His' partner, eh? He put Doyle down very carefully and stood. "Fuck the op, and fuck you, too, Skellen! You nearly got him killed! What would that have done for your precious op?!"
Skellen took a belligerent step forward, having taken more than enough from this smug bastard. "Must be pleasant to be so bloody perfect, Bodie. I suppose there's never been close ones with you, have there? You've kept him wrapped in cotton batting, have you? Forgive me if I doubt the truth of that."
Skellen got the impression he'd scored one below the belt. Bodie's gaze wavered for an instant, but he recovered quickly, jaw thrust out aggressively.
"You just keep well back from him, Skellen. He's nothing to you. Watch your step, or you'll wind up with your bloody neck broke."
Skellen started to answer, but Doyle coughed and stirred between their feet, and both of them started, realising at the same time how totally ridiculous this whole show was with Doyle lying hurt there between them. Suddenly embarrassed, they both stepped back.
Skellen spoke first. "Okay, I'll go. I'll call an ambulance."
"Yeah, you do that," Bodie mumbled, feeling even more guilty than Skellen, but still unwilling to give up his place with Doyle.
"I'll be at your flat until I hear from Cowley," Skellen added.
"All right," Bodie growled, "Just get on, will you?"
Skellen reached in his wallet and drew out his SAS I.D. "Here, take this."
Bodie stared at it stupidly. "What?"
"I came here as me, you sod. It'll save a lot of questions if it stays that way. Don't rock the skiff, man."
"Oh...yeah. Right." Bodie started to reach for his own, but Skellen grinned.
"I've already got one, remember?" He looked down at Doyle again. "Take care of him."
Before Bodie could think of a suitable reply for either of the comments, Skellen was gone. He knelt back down and pulled Doyle to him. Doyle was just beginning to struggle to consciousness. His eyes blinked open hazily.
Bodie felt a twinge of something, but smothered it quickly. "No, sunshine, only me.
Doyle brought his hand up to his head then back down to look at the wet stain. "Christ, what happened?"
"Just a graze and a good thump on that hard head of yours. Got a real goose egg back there."
"God, it feels it." He groaned and tried to sit up. Bodie held him back.
"Take it easy, Goldilocks. Let's have some medics look you over before you move around too much. Might've shaken something important loose up there."
"No...I'm okay. I..." He blinked again and looked up. "Bodie? Bodie! What the hell are you doing here?"
"Ah, the penny's dropped, has it? Nice to see you again, too, sunshine. But I thought you said you'd take care of yourself? What do you call this then, you stupid prat? Playin' cowboys and Indians. Can't trust you alone for a minute, can I?"
"Where's Peter...?" Doyle winced and turned his head to a more comfortable spot. "Where's Skellen? Is he okay?"
Bodie unconsciously tightened his hold. "Gone for an ambulance, I hope. If he wants to keep his teeth, he has."
"But he's all right?" Doyle insisted.
"I dunno if I'd go that far, but he's not hurt, if that's what you mean. Lay still, Doyle."
"I...can't seem to get me bearings...everythin's swimmin' around."
"Had quite a knock, sunshine. Even your thick skull can only take so much, y'know." Bodie didn't like the sudden flush in Doyle's face nor the way his eyelids drooped.
"Peter...?" Doyle whispered, then turned his head fretfully as if trying to escape something.
Bodie's teeth gritted. "Ray, it's me, mate. Bodie. Hold on, son, we'll get you out of here soon."
"Bodie?" Doyle smiled suddenly, eyes opening wider, then falling shut again as if they were too heavy to hold up. "Bodie." His hand clutched at Bodie's arm, and his breath caught. "Christ, me head hurts."
Alarmed now, Bodie held onto him. "It's all right, mate. I'm here."
"Where's Peter? The machine gun--"
"It's all over, Ray. The good guys won. Skellen's gone to get you some help. Don't fancy carryin' you down five flights on me back, y'know."
Doyle struggled to sit up again. "Leggo...I can--"
"Sure you can. And dance Swan Lake as well. Settle down, love. You look like hell."
"Feel like it," Doyle muttered, turning his face into the crook of Bodie's elbow. "Me 'ead 'urts," he complained again pettishly, as if it were Bodie's fault and he could fix it.
Bodie stroked the soft hair and held him closer. "Hey, don't go to sleep on me, sunshine." Thinking worriedly of concussions and haemorrhaging and a dozen other things, he turned the face around. "Wake up, mate. Don't drop off on me now."
But Doyle was deeply unconscious, and it was impossible to rouse him. Bodie cursed Skellen, cursed himself, cursed both of them together for wasting time earlier. He brushed the curls back where they clung to the blood on Doyle's forehead. Then he kissed the parted mouth very lightly, feeling guilty and selfish, but needing the contact as much as he'd ever needed anything.
Doyle was in hospital for four days. The concussion he'd suffered hadn't been particularly serious, but the doctors were inclined to be cautious about such conditions. While he'd never been a very sweet-tempered patient, the nursing sisters had more complaints about his visitor than Doyle's uncooperative attitude. It seemed that Mister Bodie hardly left from one visit but that he turned up for another. It was very disconcerting. Very moody he was, too. Black-faced and scowling one time, a half hour later he'd be cheerful and charming and not a bit cheeky. Still, enough was enough. It was difficult to keep up hospital routine with him popping in every few hours.
Cowley put a stop to the trouble on the third day, as soon as the complaints reached his ears. He called Bodie immediately and told him, in no uncertain terms, to stay clear of Doyle until they phased out the Green op. Things were pretty much settled in that quarter, and coming out very satisfactorily to Cowley's way of thinking, but it wouldn't do to botch the job by having two Bodies meeting head on in hospital corridor with several amazed nurses as witnesses. With both him and Skellen practically haunting Doyle's room like two mother hens with one battered little chick, it was simply one too many Bodies. Since Bodie wasn't officially back yet, it was up to him to lay low, not Skellen.
Bodie was furious at this injustice, but he had about as much chance of winning an argument with Cowley as Boy George did of dancing the tango with the queen. Bodie took his hurt and jealous feelings to a very expensive hotel room and charged it to CI5.
So, on the fourth day, the antsy, fully recovered Doyle had just one visitor.
Skellen handed him the flowers with a sheepish grin. "It's the devil tryin' to think what else to bring to a sick bed."
Doyle chuckled. "'S all right, mate. I like posies. Bodie never gives me anythin' but cheeky comments, the sod."
Still smiling, Skellen pulled something else from behind his back.
Doyle grabbed it gratefully. "Terrific!" He flipped the pages of the magazine. "I've wanted a bike like this for ages...and look at that one! Lovely. I've a Harley, y'know. Been working on it for ages now."
"I know. You told me every nut and bolt on the bloody thing during that last stakeout."
Doyle grinned. "Yeah, I guess, I did, didn't I?" He closed the book and looked up. "Thanks, mate. Have a seat."
Skellen settled in the chair at the side. "How're you feeling? Or am I not supposed to ask again?"
"Fine, just like yesterday...and the day before. The sisters just can't stand to see me leave, is all. I get pardoned tomorrow, though."
"That's what Cowley said." Skellen looked down at the floor. "I'm sorry about it all, Ray," he said suddenly.
Doyle regarded him with surprise. "What's this rot? Don't start that up. It could've been you just as easy."
"But it wasn't, and I shouldn't have let you go at all."
"Might've had a tough time stoppin' me, mate," Doyle said lightly. "C'mon, give me some credit, too. If I hadn't been with you, you couldn't have taken all three of them, could you? It would've all turned out much worse. A little bang on me head is nothin' to fuss about. God knows, I've had worse."
Skellen didn't answer. Doyle studied the lowered head thoughtfully.
"Okay, Peter, what's this all about? Why'd you bring it up now, eh?"
Skellen shrugged. "Just figured I owed you an apology for puttin' you in it. Didn't know if I'd get another chance to tell you."
Again, Skellen shrugged, looking uncomfortable. "The op's over now. I'm going home tonight, and your partner will be back with CI5 tomorrow. Reckoned I might not see you again."
"Why the hell not?" Doyle demanded belligerently. "You're not going to be living on the moon, are you?"
Skellen wouldn't meet his gaze. "Well, it might be a bit awkward."
"Because of the op, y'mean? Nah, don't see why. You live way across town. No one will pay any attention. And they'd never be able to prove anything anyway, would they? It's Green's problem, not ours. And he's not smart enough to figure it out anyway." Doyle paused, watching the other man closely. "Unless, you'd rather not..."
Skellen looked up, meeting the hurt green eyes. "Don't be daft, Ray. You're a friend. I need--" He broke off, a little embarrassed but stubbornly determined to say it. "We don't usually have much room for friends in our business, do we? And when you've been married for a while, even the people in the job tend to back off a bit to give you space. Natural, I suppose."
Doyle knew what Skellen meant. It was a common enough malady. Doyle had hit on the problem himself a few times when Bodie and he were on the outs. You could get so close to a person that the rest of the world could go hang--unfortunately, when you suddenly needed the rest of the world, you'd look around and find it empty.
Skellen was trying to let him know that, now that Jenny was gone, he had no one else, but that he needed someone. It took a lot of courage to admit it.
Doyle grinned at him. "Peter, my son, I fully intend to win back me two quid at Mastermind. You're not gettin' out of it this easy. I demand revenge."
The blue eyes regarded him seriously for a moment, then twinkled. "Chance'd be a fine thing. I've learned your system now, Doyle. You cheat."
"Cheat?" Doyle repeated, outraged. "I'm very wounded. Easy to make nasty accusations against a sick man. Wait 'til I'm up on my feet."
"You cheat standing up, too?" Skellen asked innocently.
Doyle chuckled. "You've been talking to Bodie," he accused.
Skellen smiled wryly. "No...not recently."
"Anyway, how about if I come 'round to your flat tomorrow night?"
"You'll be barely out of hospital," Skellen pointed out. "It's a long drive."
"It'll do me good, feeling mobile again. Okay?"
Skellen nodded. "Sure, but be warned I'm out for blood. I'll wager my mortgage this time."
"There's a thought. Always wanted to be a homeowner."
The next morning, agent 3.7 came to pick up his partner from hospital. The nurses didn't notice the difference between him and Doyle's visitor of the night before, but Doyle did immediately.
"I've been waitin' an hour or more, you sod. Where've you been?"
"She was beautiful, Doyle, but greedy. Had to have one more go at me, didn't she? How could I refuse the lady?" Bodie held out the wheelchair grandly. "Here's the dolly, golly."
"God, I hate these things." Doyle settled down glumly. "Makes me feel like I'm ninety-seven."
"It's tough bein' an older man," Bodie said sympathetically, wheeling him down the corridor with mock caution.
"Very funny. Where were you yesterday, incidentally? This 'lady'--and I use the term loosely--does she have you on a short leash or something?"
"No, but the Cow does," Bodie replied tightly. "Ordered me to keep clear until Skellen blew. Didn't think us playin' shell games with the nurses was such a bright idea." He brightened. "Miss me, did you?"
Doyle scowled at him, "Oh just desperately. Did the Cow really warn you off?"
"Told you, didn't I? Seems me and your simple-minded friend with the bouquets were takin' the nurses cross-eyed with all the coming and going. Too much of a good thing, I suppose."
"Oh." Now that he thought about, Doyle could see the point. Between them both, they had been there quite a bit. He'd enjoyed all the attention and hadn't worried about it. "Well, you never brought me flowers," he accused sourly.
"What? This is a hospital, mate, not a bloomin' greenhouse. Besides, me gram used to say the petals stole the air away from a sickroom. Very dangerous, that."
"You're so thoughtful. You could've brought candy."
"You don't like candy."
"Grapes then," Doyle grumbled cheerfully.
"Sick people are so demanding," Bodie told the young nurse patiently. She smiled at him. When they reached the pavement, he gave her a kiss that left her gasping, grabbed Doyle up by the elbow and stuffed him ungraciously into the passenger's side of the car. He kissed the nurse again, then slid under the steering wheel with a cheery wave.
"What about me then?" Doyle complained. "She was my nurse."
Bodie pulled away from the curb. "Very bad for you mate. They told me all about this concussion business. The dangers of high blood pressure, aneurysms, bursting blood vessels. 'Orrible stuff, mate. Wanted to spare you all that."
"Too kind." Doyle hid his smile and looked out the window, inhaling deeply. "Christ, it's good to be out. Fresh air."
"That's bus fumes."
"Sod off, Bodie." He sighed. "When do we get back to work?"
"You're still off for two days. You know the rules."
"What are you doing then?"
"Chasing leads from that last job--the gun running."
"But that was SAS."
Bodie's jaw tightened. "Wish you'd remembered that before you jumped in and got your head smashed."
'Don't start again," Doyle warned. "What's CI5 doing in it now?"
"Cowley decided it was our business, too. He felt the SAS might've been a bit heavy-handed there; should've found the source before bustin' the runners. I'm backtracking now."
Doyle looked thoughtful. "I can think of--"
"Doyle, you're off," Bodie reminded him. "Don't think at all. It's all routine anyway. No fireworks. I think the trail's too cold now."
"But you'll still check it out. Who've you got as a contact?"
Bodie glanced over at him, knowing his partner wouldn't give up. "Who do you think?"
"Marty? Christ, it must be two years since you've picked his brain. How do you know he's still in the business?"
"Yeah, he's around." Bodie didn't see the need to let his partner know he'd kept in contact with Marty, and had, in fact, used him for information several times during the last year without telling Doyle. He had his reasons for wanting Doyle kept well away from the munitions dealer.
Doyle relaxed back in the seat. "Well, at least he's safe enough."
"Don't bet on it," Bodie muttered.
He stared at the suddenly clenched jaw, puzzled. "What do you mean? Seemed harmless enough to me."
Bodie snorted. "You ever visit him alone, you may find out different, sunshine."
"Drop it, Ray." Bodie pulled up at the flat and shut off the engine. Home again, angelfish." He got out and opened Doyle's door with a flourish. Inside the flat, he settled his partner on the sofa under protest, and went to fix some tea.
"Have you been home yourself yet?" Doyle called out casually.
"No, haven't had time--" There was a pause, then Bodie craned his head around the door frame suspiciously. "Why? Is there something I should know?"
Doyle widened his eyes innocently. "Nothing important."
"Hmm." Bodie disappeared for some time, then returned to the sitting room carrying a tray. He plopped it down ungraciously in front of Doyle. "Okay, so what was that all about?"
Doyle sipped the tea to hide his grin. "Eh? Oh, you mean about your flat?"
"What about my flat?" Bodie asked patiently.
"Well, we did a bit of redecorating while you were away. Honestly, you'll love it."
"'We'?" Bodie repeated sweetly. "Who, may I ask, is 'we'?"
"Skellen and me. Most of it came out quite nicely, really." He looked sorrowful. "Except for the broken lamp. But a little glue--"
"Okay, so we were a bit in our cups, y'know, and accidents do happen. It seemed such a good idea at the time."
"I'll kill you," Bodie said flatly.
Doyle didn't seem to hear. "Then there's the fur bedspread...." he mused. "Now that was a bit too bad."
"What about it?" Bodie asked dangerously.
"We shaved it."
"What?" This time it was an honest squeak of horror.
"It took a long time," Doyle said earnestly, "an' eight of your razor blades. He really only wanted to give it a trim, but couldn't find the shears. It's not too bad, though. Bit of a five o'clock shadow, but interesting lookin', y'know?"
Bodie's expression was classic.
Doyle swallowed another burning sip of tea and continued. "Then there was your artwork. I've always thought it needed something to make it distinctive. I used to be an art student y'know," he added in a confiding tone. "Anyway, when we put the beards and moustaches on your picture of the dancing tarts, it--"
As soon as Bodie grabbed him, he collapsed into laughter. Bodie was laughing, too, by that time, and they rolled together until tears stung their eyes.
"Lucky you're an invalid, you twit. I'd do you good!"
"If you could've seen your face, mate," Doyle chuckled. "I really had you going there for a couple of seconds."
"Well, I know what you're capable of, and I don't trust that sod Skellen as far as I could pitch 'im. A man's home is his castle, y'know."
"Yeah, an' King Bodie nearly lost his fuzzy spread." Doyle fell into another burst of giggles, almost falling off the couch if Bodie hadn't caught him.
"Not so funny, if you know what it cost," Bodie said ruefully.
That set Doyle off again; it took a moment for him to catch his breath. "Always had expensive tastes, eh? Bad taste, but expensive."
"Well, the bird thought it was sexy at the time--and it does feel warm on a wintry night."
"Any decent rabbit would happily give up its life to keep you cosy, mate," Doyle intoned soberly before falling into another fit of hysterical laughter.
"Are you drunk, Doyle?" Neither of them had laughed quite so hard in ages. It felt very good, but a little strange.
Doyle straightened, wiping the tears from his eyes. "Must be the dope. Sorry, Bodie. Don't pay me any mind."
"That's okay, mate," Bodie replied, chuckling himself. "I'm not a big one on class, meself. Just an army flatfoot with no pretensions. You're the one with the smarts--like you always tell me."
Doyle became serious. "That's not true Bodie. You know I don't believe that."
Bodie smiled softly. "I don't care what you do, if you laugh like that. Haven't for a while, y'know. It's good to see."
There was slow, timeless moment while they did nothing but look at each other. Doyle's heart was pounding very quickly, and Bodie's expression was strangely open. It was so quiet in the room they could both hear the rumble of a bus two blocks down the street and the sound of the refrigerator clicking on with a hum.
Bodie blinked suddenly, breaking the spell. He stood. "I'd better get to headquarters before the ol' man sends out a search party."
"Yeah," Doyle agreed, gathering his wits.
"Do you need anything?"
Doyle glanced around vaguely, feeling a little stunned. Christ, this had to stop. Sitting here mooning over his partner's eyelashes like some twit of a schoolgirl. What a bloody farce. "Uh...no, I'm fine, mate."
"Right then. I'll be back later. Around sevenish probably."
He remembered then. "Bodie, wait. I just remembered. I'm going out tonight. Won't be home until late."
Bodie turned from the door, grinning. "Don't tell me you've lined up a bird already? I warned you about high blood pressure, didn't I?"
"No, it's not..." Suddenly he felt awkward. I promised Peter I'd drop by his flat."
"Peter?" The tone was very flat.
"Yeah, Skellen. You remember him, don't you," Doyle said impatiently, confused by Bodie's reaction.
"Oh yes," Bodie said darkly, "I remember him."
Doyle hesitated, wondering what he'd said wrong. "See you tomorrow though, eh?" he finally offered hopefully.
"I'm working tomorrow."
"Tomorrow evening, I mean."
Bodie's face was unreadable. "Got a date, haven't I?"
"Oh. Okay then. See you...whenever, right?"
"Yeah, sure." Bodie turned abruptly and headed out the door, leaving Doyle feeling as if he'd done something very stupid, indeed, but unable to quite work out what it was.
Two days later, the CI5 physician had cleared Doyle to return to active duty. He'd heard nothing from Bodie during that time, and was a little hurt by it. Granted, Bodie hadn't been too pleased with his plans the first night out of the hospital, but somehow he felt sure if it had been some blonde piece occupying his time, Bodie wouldn't have cared a jot. It was the mention of Skellen that put him off. The job was over, so Doyle couldn't understand his partner's animosity. It wasn't like Bodie to carry a grudge--especially when Peter had done absolutely nothing to warrant it.
But meeting each other at headquarters, there was no hint in Bodie's face that anything was troubling him. He was his old, irreverent self. During briefing, they teased each other and joked in their usual style until Cowley threw them out of his office impatiently. They were still working on the gun-running network, but the trail was getting colder all the time.
Out in the car park, Bodie took the wheel and Doyle didn't complain. He wanted to look at Bodie, and that would've been difficult to do without running them into a lamp post. It felt very good to be sitting beside him again; it seemed like it had been much longer than two weeks since they'd worked together. He'd missed it even more than he'd realised.
"So where to?" Doyle asked cheerfully. "Marty again?"
"No." It was stated quietly but firmly.
Doyle glanced at him, curious. "Why not? Thought you said he had something for you."
There was a half-second's hesitation. "I'll catch him later. There's other things we can check."
"Like what, for instance?" Doyle demanded. "The track's as cold as yesterday's porridge. We need something from the inside--"
"So I'll get it," Bodie cut in sharply. "Later."
Doyle stared at him, puzzled. "Bodie--"
"Forget it, Doyle."
"No. Somethin's not right here." The idea that seemed most logical was also the most ridiculous. He said it anyway. "Is it that you don't want me with you when you meet with Marty?"
Bodie's silence startled him. He'd thrown the comment out casually, expecting his partner to turn it into a joke, but it wasn't a joke at all. "Are you serious?" Doyle said lightly. "Ashamed to show me to your friends now, are you?"
"He's no friend of mine," Bodie growled. His jaw was tight and their good mood had evaporated in a hurry. He braked at a stop light much too abruptly.
"Listen, Ray," he said finally, "it's just not a good idea, that's all. I'll take care of it later. It's not all that important."
Doyle stared at the windscreen, trying to figure it out. "Me being along didn't bother Marty the last time. What's changed?"
"Maybe he's more nervy now."
The curly head turned to look at him. "That's not it."
"Isn't it?" Bodie kept his face strictly on the road ahead. The light changed and he sped forward, grateful for a reason not to look at his partner. "Okay, you really want to know?"
Doyle could think of several flippant remarks for that, but he simply said, "Yes."
"He's got the hots for you, sunshine."
Doyle watched him, amazed to see the flush on his partner's face. Bodie embarrassed? He hid his own smile, turning his head to gaze out the window. So that was what all of this was about. He almost blurted out that it was hardly news to him, but Bodie's reaction kept him still, wanting very much to know what was going on in his partner's mind.
The silence lengthened, and Bodie glanced at his passenger. "Well? What've you to say to that, eh?" he demanded sharply.
Doyle shrugged. "What makes you think so?" he added, "And what difference does it make?"
Bodie glared at him. "Christ, Doyle, it was obvious even if he hadn't spelled it out to me later. He looked you over like you were a filet mignon. You didn't help things either with all that Vikings raping the men crap. Just encouraged him."
"Did I?" Doyle murmured. "We got what we were after, didn't we?"
"Yeah, but he figured if he can put out, so can you. He reckoned you were the payoff for his information."
"No one said that."
"Didn't have to the way you were comin' on to him," Bodie said nastily. "Not exactly delighted to find out he'd read it wrong, either, was he? I had a hell of time explaining... Anyway, he never really bought it, figured you'd just reneged on your side of it. That's why I haven't used him much the last couple of years. He's very stubborn, is ol' Marty. Memory like an elephant. And he won't let me forget it either."
Another stop light gave Bodie the chance to observe him cautiously. Doyle was staring straight ahead, his expression unreadable.
"Listen, Ray, I didn't see any reason to tell you all this before. You didn't realise what you were doing, didn't mean it the way it seemed. I knew that."
Doyle felt like laughing, wondering where the hell Bodie got this naive image of him. He was nothing like what Bodie thought he was, and it occurred to him that the opposite might be true as well. He no longer felt like laughing. Nearly five years, and they were still bloody strangers. Wasn't there a song title or a movie or something? Love With The Proper Stranger. Christ.
Unaware of the thoughts tumbling in his partner's mind, worried that Doyle might have taken all this the wrong way, Bodie continued, "It's not your fault. Marty comes from a different world, that's all. There's only one thing he understands. He's not going to change, so it's best to leave it be. Having you along would just complicate things again."
Irritated now, Doyle snapped, "You afraid I couldn't manage to fend him off--or that I wouldn't want to?"
Well, that got through right enough, Doyle thought with satisfaction. Bodie's hands were clenched on the steering wheel, and he'd paled considerably.
"I didn't say that, did I?" Bodie hissed through his teeth.
"Then what's to worry about?"
Bodie shook his head. "Told you. Just complicate things. Easier to just get the information without all the song and dance. Now will you just drop it for chrissake?"
Doyle remained silent for a moment. Then, "So what did you tell him the last time to explain my supposed change of heart?"
He could tell Bodie hadn't expected this particular question and wasn't keen on answering it.
"Oh c'mon, mate. Might as well give over. I'd hate to have to see the lout just to satisfy me curiosity."
Bodie glared at him. "Well, if you must know, I told'm you were already taken, and it wasn't up for shares."
Doyle had anticipated something like this, but he was absurdly pleased Bodie would admit it. It was a step in the right direction maybe. "By you?" he asked softly, just to make sure.
"No," Bodie exploded, "by bloody Cowley! What else did you think? Listen, I had to say something, didn't I? He understood that well enough. I didn't have to show 'im our engagement ring or anythin' like that." He took a deep breath. "You really like to run things into the ground, don't you."
"The copper in me, I reckon," Doyle said meekly. "Sorry."
"Yeah, well the thing is, I didn't like tellin' him that no more than you must like knowin' I said it. Let's drop the whole thing. I told you he comes from a different world."
"Not so different from what you did," Doyle said suddenly. "As far as Africa anyway."
"A long time ago, Doyle," Bodie said shortly.
"He didn't seem to think you'd changed," Doyle pointed out.
"Well a lot of people never do. Remember Krivas? Remember Benny? But, if you ever do get out, you want all the way out. Clean and clear."
Doyle turned away, feeling his rising hopes fall again. Bodie had made that plain enough, hadn't he?
Bodie was tensely waiting for the interrogation to continue so he could tell Doyle to mind his own bloody business. He'd been pushed a lot farther than he was willing to go as it was. Obviously, Doyle was trying to get him to admit he wasn't any better than Marty--as he'd suggested so many times before with others like him. It was no secret what Doyle's opinion of Krivas and Marty and the rest was; but it hurt to think he still believed his partner was no different. He'd imagined that fence far behind them.
But Doyle seemed to have nothing else to say on the subject.
The rest of the day they spent following up on leads that turned up just about what both of them expected--nothing. It was frustrating in itself, and the atmosphere in the car didn't improve because of it. By the end of the day, they were both weary and disgusted. Doyle had developed a pounding headache.
Bodie signed out on the R/T and turned in the direction of Doyle's flat. "Want to stop for a pint?" he asked hopefully.
"No," Doyle pressed his fingers against his closed lids. "Not just now.
"You all right, mate?" Bodie asked, concerned. "Headache, is it?"
"A bit, yeah. Usually goes away after a lay down."
"Okay, then, how about later? I've a couple of lovelies in mind who'll straighten the curl on your fuzzy head. They're--"
"No," Doyle cut in quickly. "Can't tonight. I've other plans."
"Oh yes?" Bodie said darkly. "Such as?"
Feeling suddenly defensive, Doyle snapped, "What's it to you?"
Bodie didn't answer.
Doyle sighed. "Sorry. Didn't mean to jump down your throat. Actually I'm going to a play tonight. Nothing you'd like."
Bodie let that pass easy enough, but couldn't help but ask, "Alone?" There was a bite to his voice that he wasn't even aware of.
Doyle looked at him warily. "No, Peter got the tickets. He's had them for a long--"
Doyle's hackles rose again. "What of it?"
Knowing if he answered that, he'd regret it, Bodie just shrugged. He pulled up the car in front of Doyle's flat. "See you tomorrow, then."
For a moment, Doyle sat there, wondering what was going on in his partner's mind. But the eyes were particularly unreadable and the face held nothing more than his customary cool smugness.
"Yeah, tomorrow, mate," Doyle said, finally opening the car door. "An' try to be on time for once."
It took nearly a week for all the unexpressed, jumbled emotions to come to a head, and when Bodie finally exploded it was in a very public place. The car park of CI5.
"With Peter again, I take it," Bodie said in his nastiest voice.
"Yeah, what of it?"
"Oh nothing. That's just lovely."
Doyle followed him as he tried to walk away. "Wait a minute, Bodie! What the hell's wrong with you?"
"Bodie!" Doyle caught up with him and grabbed him arm. "Will you just tell me what's bugging you? Ever since I got out of hospital, you've been mad at me. What have I done?"
The blue eyes pinned him coldly. "When have I seen you since you've been out?"
Puzzled, Doyle said, "You see me every day. We work together, remember?"
"Oh yes," Bodie snorted. "There's always that, isn't there. Good bye, Doyle. Have a nice time."
Doyle caught him again as he tried to turn away. "Now just stop a minute. Tell me, dammit! What's wrong?"
"Maybe I just never figured you'd turn into an SAS groupie, mate."
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Doyle snapped. "Because I'm friends with Skellen?"
Bodie jerked out of the other man's grip. "Forget it, Doyle."
"No, not 'til I make some sense out of this."
Bodie just glared and him and turned back toward the Capri.
Doyle grabbed his arm again, tighter. "Will you stand still and talk to me."
Bodie shrugged him off violently. "I said, forget it!"
"Not a chance. Not with you making a bloody scene about it."
"Me?" Bodie looked outraged. "Not me, mate. Why the hell should I care what you do?"
"Dunno. There's some reason we're standin' here shoutin' at each other. 8.3's been gettin' an earful."
"Fuck off. And fuck off, 8.3." He made a vicious gesture toward the nearby operative, who hastily found his own car and drove away. "Nosy bastard!"
"Well, we're not exactly being discreet, are we?"
"Sod off, Doyle."
"Not until you tell me what's in that thick head of yours. You've been scowling at me all week, and every time I mention Skellen, you blow up like a flamin' rocket." His tone became gentler. "Com'on, mate. What's wrong?"
Bodie toyed with his keys, suddenly feeling foolish. The only response he had to make was so damn childish he was horribly embarrassed, but part of him wanted Doyle to know. "It's just that, every time I've asked you lately, you've..." The rest was lost in a mumble.
"What?" Doyle couldn't believe what little he had heard. "Don't tell me you're jealous?" He said it lightly, but the expression in the cold, blue eyes froze him.
"Fuck you, Doyle. Don't be a bigger idiot than you already are. Spending so much time with Skellen is bloody stupid and you know it. It could screw up the last op with Green good and proper if somebody saw you together and figured it out."
Doyle chewed his lip uncomfortably. It had occurred to him, but he'd shrugged it off. "That's not very likely, is it?"
"Likely or not, Green's out for the Cow's blood. He's not the brightest thing in shoe leather, but even he'll be able to suss it out eventually."
"He'd never be able to prove it was a set up," Doyle argued.
"Maybe not. But his chances are a hell of a lot better with you chumming around with Skellen. What do'y think Cowley'd say about it, eh?"
Doyle knew quite well what Cowley would say, and his ears burned merely at the thought of it. "Are you going to tell him?" he asked quietly.
"I won't have to, will I? He keeps track of what we do, you know that. I'm just giving you fair warning, mate."
The green eyes glittered angrily. "Always so kind. Well, I'll see who I want, when I want, and George Cowley doesn't run my life."
Bodie laughed harshly. "Are you daft? Of course he does."
"Well, not this time."
There was a long silence, and when Doyle finally looked up, the expression on his partner's face surprised him.
"He's that important to you, is he?"
Doyle stumbled with the answer to that, not really sure himself. "He's a mate. A friend, Bodie. We're allowed those, aren't we?"
Bodie stiffened. "Feelin' short, are you? Sorry I didn't quite fit the requirements."
"Oh, don't be such a bloody imbecile! You're my partner, dammit! You're--" Doyle looked down, choking on what he wanted to say.
"Listen, right now Skellen is goin' through a rough time."
"My heart bleeds," Bodie retorted sarcastically.
Doyle gritted his teeth to hold back his temper. He wanted Bodie to understand. "I'm serious. He needs the company right now. Someone to talk to." He hesitated, wondering if it was worth trying to explain. He couldn't tell whether he was getting through to Bodie at all. "Peter's wife left him a few weeks back, and he's taking it badly. I'd just like to help him through it if I can."
Bodie looked bored. "Is that violins I hear? How sweet. Better hold off on the treacle, mate, me teeth are startin' to ache."
"Damn you, Bodie! Not everyone's as hard as you, y'know. Sometimes people even need each other. But you wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
The other man had paled, but Doyle was too furious to notice.
"Must be very inconvenient," Bodie commented coldly. "Since when have you become such an angel of mercy, eh?"
"I like him," Doyle said, holding his temper by a thin thread. "He happens to be a nice bloke."
"Not like me at all, eh?"
"That's right," Doyle snapped. "Not like you at all."
Bodie turned on his heel and walked to the Capri, shoving the key in the door lock. Doyle hesitated, cursing himself for letting it all get so out of hand.
"Bodie, wait. I'm sorry."
Bodie jerked open the car door with such force, he nearly sprung the hinges. "Get lost, Doyle."
"I didn't mean it, Bodie." He grabbed the door before the other man could close it.
Hurt blue eyes looked up at him. "Didn't you?"
Doyle took a steadying breath. "You've been unreasonable about Skellen from the beginning. If I knew why--"
"I don't like him," Bodie said sullenly.
Doyle stared at him, anger building again. "You don't like him. And that's the bottom line, isn't it? Forget Cowley, forget the op. The truth of it is you want me to drop him because you bloody don't like the man."
Bodie flushed, but he didn't back away from it. "So?"
"Christ, you're a nervy bastard!" Doyle laughed. "Are you trying to give me some kind of ultimatum?"
I'd love to, Bodie thought, but I'm too afraid I'd lose.
"You do as you like, Doyle. I don't give a damn." His eyes narrowed on Doyle's face. "It's not like you to put yourself out unless there's somethin' in it for you. What's he got for you, mate? You two havin' it off or what?"
Doyle felt as if he'd been slapped. The tone in Bodie's voice was pure acid, and it ate through what little control he had left.
"Congratulations, sunshine," he said airily, "Got it in one. Don't miss a trick, do you?"
For a second Bodie's face was wiped clean of all emotion, so startled by Doyle's announcement, he was totally blank. It would have been comical, if Doyle had felt even vaguely like laughing. He didn't.
Doyle was already sorry he'd said it, watching the expression on Bodie's face darken like an approaching typhoon, aimless and wild.
"Well, I hope you'll both be very happy," Bodie cut in, voice as sharp as any blade. He slammed the car door shut, just missing Doyle's clinging fingers. The motor roared to life and he jerked it into reverse so quickly, Doyle was forced to jump back to save his toes.
Doyle watched him tear out of the car park, all his anger draining away. Sighing, he went to the escort and got in, ignoring the two agents who stood, wide-eyed nearby. Fuck'm, he thought savagely. But it bothered him that Bodie had chosen this particular spot for such a blow-up. It was very uncharacteristic. Doyle basically didn't give a crap who was around when his temper flared, but Bodie was a far more private person about such things. Where Doyle would explode like gunpowder, Bodie was cautious, his fuse much slower. It wasn't like him to let go until they were totally alone, and even then his partner usually guarded his temper with more control than Doyle ever possessed.
Troubled by the entire situation, he drove home. Once inside, he immediately tried to call Bodie to set things straight. He wasn't surprised that there wasn't an answer. Knowing his partner, he was busy getting pigged, nursing his wounds, and letting liquor dissolve his anger. Drinking had a mellowing effect on Bodie; he was essentially a happy drunk. Doyle wished it worked so well for him. He tended to become either morose or maudlin, depending on the circumstances, and often belligerent. Bodie had spent a lot of time dragging him out of barroom scuff-ups.
Although he was disturbed at their argument, Doyle was relatively confident that Bodie would be ready to put it all behind them by tomorrow. He knew his partner well enough to realise Bodie was too stubborn to give up easily. As difficult as it was to believe, Bodie was truly jealous. Some selfish part of Doyle was pleased with this, even while he hated hurting Bodie's feelings. But how could he possibly explain to him that it was dangerous to be alone with him right now? That he fancied him like mad and if he wasn't careful he'd find himself with an armful of hungry Raymond? Not likely. Wouldn't believe him, for one thing. Or if he did, it might be even worse. Bodie made it very clear how he felt about that kind of thing. Anyway, it couldn't last forever, could it? Sooner or later he'd get over this yen, or crush, or whatever it was he'd developed, and things could go back to normal. Until then, Bodie could have his beer and his birds, and he'd....
Doyle glanced at the phone. Skellen should've called by this time. He picked up the phone and dialled Skellen's number. Busy signal. He fixed himself a sandwich, and tried again. Still busy; He took a shower, dressed and flipped through the paper.
When Skellen's line was still tied up at eight o'clock, Doyle called the operator.
"I'm sorry, sir. That line seems to be out of order at this time.
"Thank you." He hung up and stared thoughtfully at the opposite wall.
Something felt very wrong. Skellen was supposed to have picked him up over an hour ago. If he had to cry off, he would have got in touch with him somehow. If it was a job--but Doyle didn't think it was that at all. The thought that came to him was chilling, but he couldn't put it out of his mind.
Doyle jumped up and grabbed his jacket. The bell rang just as he reached the door. He jerked it open in relief, but it wasn't Skellen.
"Bodie," he said flatly.
"I've had warmer welcomes, thanks very much."
"I...I was expecting someone else."
"Obviously. Skellen? What, did he stand you up, Cinderella?"
Doyle glared at him. He didn't have time for all this again. "Don't start, Bodie. Just don't start."
Bodie looked sheepish. "No, I didn't mean to. Came by to apologise, haven't I?" He grinned, pouring on the charm. "Big of me, I thought."
Doyle only heard him absently, conscious of a strange urgency that told him Peter was in trouble. "Yeah, thanks, mate. I appreciate it."
"Are you going to stand in the door all night?"
"Uh...no. Actually, I was just on my way out." He pulled the door closed behind him and locked it. "Listen, Bodie, I'm sorry but I really have to leave."
"What's the big rush? Where're you goin'?"
Doyle paused. "Just...out."
"I figured we needed to talk," Bodie said softly, eyes holding Doyle's. "Can't the other thing wait a while?"
"No." Doyle turn to go down the steps, but Bodie caught his arm and swung him around to face him.
"It's Skellen, isn't it?"
Doyle let out his breath slowly. "Bodie--"
"Yes," Doyle snarled. "And you'd better let go of me arm, unless you want to be maimed for life."
Bodie dropped his hand, his face hard. "Go on, run along then. He's waitin' for you."
"For chrissakes, Bodie, stop being such a prat! This could be serious, I--" He gave up then. "Ahhhh, hell! I don't have time for this!"
He turned away and run down the steps, hearing a silence behind him that ached. Why was Bodie such a hard-headed bastard? And his timing couldn't be worse. Tomorrow...he'd work it out with Bodie tomorrow. Right now his some sixth sense told him he was needed elsewhere.
It took a while to reach Skellen's flat. It was some distance away and the traffic was congested. He concentrated on his goal, refusing to worry about his partner's reaction or the hurt expression in the blue eyes. Bodie would understand. He had to.
At one point, when traffic was clogged, he pulled off the street and tried the phone again. The busy signal was like a siren. He got back in the car and pressed on. He didn't think Peter Skellen was suicidal, but anyone could be driven to strange extremes at times, and he'd seldom seen anyone hurt so much at loss as Peter did over his family and the guilt he had over what had happened to them at the terrorist's hands.
The mews was very quiet when he arrived. There were no lights coming from Skellen's flat. Outside his door, Doyle paused, wondering if Peter would answer his knock, or if he'd have to break it down. The idea didn't appeal. But when he turned the knob, he found it surprisingly unlocked.
He walked into the dark house and there was a stirring on the sofa.
"No, it's me, Peter. Ray." He flipped on one of the lights. "You forget to put the latch on."
Skellen blinked at he sudden brightness. "Ray? What are you doin' here?"
"I was worried. You didn't show up, and when I couldn't get through..." His gaze caught the telephone where it lay on the floor, the line ripped from the wall. There was a chair overturned and a smashed lamp. On the coffee table stood a bottle of gin, with less than an inch of liquid remaining. "Are you all right, Peter?"
"Yeah, just terrific. Marvellous." Skellen rubbed his face tiredly.
"Don't just stand there, co'mon over and have a drink--" He picked up the nearly empty bottle. "This one's 'bout finished. Not to worry. I've more."
"What's wrong, Peter?"
"Wrong? What could be wrong? 'Cept we need more of this." He stood and walked toward the kitchen, moving amazingly straight and steady. Skellen could handle his liquor nearly as well as Bodie--far better than Doyle ever could. Either of them could drink Doyle under the table without half trying. Only the occasional slurred word indicated that Skellen was way past his limit.
He came back in a moment with a bottle of tonic and fresh bottle of gin. Here we go then." He glanced around blankly. "Glasses...I forgot glasses."
"I'll get them," Doyle offered. He went to the kitchen, trying to think. He wasn't quite sure how to handle this. If it had been Bodie, he would have poured more booze down his throat until the big sod passed out. But Skellen had a dangerous glint in his eye, and judging from the condition of the flat, he was explosive.
Returning to the sitting room, he sat down on the sofa beside the other man and deftly mixed him a drink that was nine- tenths soda. His own he poured practically straight liquor, knowing he should stay sober, but needing some fortification.
Skellen drained his glass in three gulps and reached for the gin bottle. Doyle stopped him. "Hey, I'm playin' bartender. I'll fix it."
"Okay," Skellen leaned back amiably. "Sorry about the mess the place is in."
Doyle handed him another well-watered drink. "Yeah, I noticed. What happened?"
Skellen shrugged. "Lost my grip for a bit, that's all. I'm all right now."
"Are you? What's going on, Peter? Something's happened, I know. Tell me."
Skellen looked down at the floor. "It's...Jenny."
Doyle touched his shoulder gently. "Go on," he encouraged. "What is it?"
"She has a sister in Australia. Has a job all lined up in computer work. Good money and--"
"She's not serious about this," Doyle protested, unable to imagine anyone really wanting to leave London.
"She's leaving on the morning flight."
"When did she tell you this?"
"Tonight. No, she wasn't trying to hide anything. It's just came up. A sudden opening in the company where her sister works. Oh, Christ..." He ran his hand through the short black hair. "Best chance she's had. Couldn't very well turn it down, could she?"
"She bloody well could!" Doyle burst out angrily, furious at her for doing this to his friend. "What the hell does she think she's doing anyway? She can't take the baby out of the country without your permission. That's bloody kidnapping, that is! She can't just--"
"I signed the papers okaying it," Skellen said quietly.
Doyle stopped in the middle of his irate speech. "You did? But I thought..."
There was a distinct catch in the other man's voice as he answered, "What else could I do? Fight it? Make it hard for her? Yes, I suppose I could've. But Jenny doesn't deserve that. She's never stood in my way, how can I stand in hers? And...maybe she's right...to get away as far as possible. Better for both of them."
"How can you say that? You love them, Peter. If she's halfway round the world, you'll never work things out."
"Don't you think I know that, dammit!" He picked up the bottle of tonic, and with a crash it became dripping history down his wall. "But she's right. I can't ask her to stay, not the way things are. After what happened...christ, I can't even promise to keep her and Sam safe. It hurts, but if I try to hold onto them...I might kill them."
"But what happened before was a one-off. The odds of it ever happening again are--"
"Odds. It comes down to that, doesn't it?" Skellen cut in. "Am I willing to gamble, not with my life but with theirs. And, no, I'm not. Not anymore." He buried his face in his hands. "Christ...oh god...I've lost her...I've lost Sam. And there isn't a damn thing I can do about it."
Feeling helpless faced with this degree of pain, Doyle had no idea what to say. He was glad his own drinks were solid, glad it wasn't the gin bottle that smashed. He poured another and belted it down.
"Peter, I'm so sorry," he said lamely. "Isn't there anything--"
"Jesus Christ!" Skellen snapped out. "Why the hell did you come here anyway?"
"To help, if I can," Doyle said softly.
"Then stop saying stupid things!" A pause, then Skellen lifted his head. "I'm sorry, Ray. Sorry... It's just..."
"I know." Doyle leaned closer. "It's okay. It was stupid. I just wish I could do something."
Skellen shook his head. "Don't worry, I'm not about to do meself in. I don't have the bloody guts. It'd be a hell of a lot easier if I had."
"Yes, it's the easier way. But you're not a coward, Peter."
Skellen laughed harshly. "You're wrong there, Ray. I'm a coward all right. I'm bloody scared to death right now."
"At the risk of sounding stupid again, it will get better, y'know. And things may still work out. She could hate Australia, or..." He trailed off, unable to bear the bleak expression on Skellen's face. "Just don't give up, Peter. Not yet." Doyle made a face. "Jesus, I sound like a bloody Pollyanna, don't I?"
"I think I could do with a bit of optimism at the moment." Skellen looked at him. "I'm glad you're here, Ray. Thanks for coming."
Doyle shrugged. "Least I could do for a mate." He took another drink. It was his fourth glass, and he was beginning to feel a pleasant tingle.
Skellen was staring moodily at his own glass. "Shouldn't be puttin' you through all this. 'S not your problem."
"You're my friend, Peter. I want to help if I can."
Skellen straightened, smiling wanly. "You're a good bloke, Ray. But your mate, Bodie, wouldn't have dumped this on you. Should've stuck to him and saved yourself wading through this mess."
"Bodie?" Doyle scoffed. "He never needs help. Got it all figured out, ol' Bodie has. Self-sufficient to the end, he is. Would rather cut his tongue out than ask for anythin'." Doyle thought briefly about the few times he'd seen Bodie really hurting. When Marikka was killed--but Doyle had stayed clear of that one, still feeling guilty at trailing Bodie. And the situation with King Billy and the cycle gang--if Bodie had only told him, explained to him...
"Sometimes it's just too hard to ask," Peter said quietly. "I'd thought about calling you earlier, but I didn't."
"Yeah, but you're accepting it now. Bodie would've told me to go to hell."
"How often have you offered?"
That stopped Doyle for a moment, but he shook it off. "Wouldn't have mattered. That's just the way he is."
Skellen watched him for a moment. "He loves you, Ray."
Doyle's head jerked around. "What? Bodie? Nah, don't be daft. Fond of me, I reckon. But he's fond of Cowley, too. You should see'm twist the ol' man round his finger. Bodie's a charmer, he is."
Skellen remembered a scene on a rooftop and wondered if he should tell Doyle about it. He decided against it, realising it was something they would have to discover for themselves. He contented himself with saying, "Don't be so sure you know what Bodie needs."
Doyle poured himself still another drink, confused by what Peter was trying to tell him and more than willing to let it drown in the gin. It was edging far too close to what he wanted, and he didn't dare think of it too much. Skellen simply didn't understand where it was leading.
Skellen had fallen silent again, back to contemplating his own problems. Doyle wasn't sure what to do, he didn't know how to deal with a broken heart. His own was more bruised than broken. Doyle had only loved like this three times in his life-- once when he was little more than a kid, and she was now fat and happily married with five kids of her own; Ann Holly, who seemed as far away as the moon now, and as desirable; and Bodie, who was close enough to touch....
Doyle sat his glass down firmly, realising he was on the verge of being nicely crocked. This was Peter beside him, not Bodie. Then he picked it up again and took another long drink. Dutch courage. False courage. He had faced the fact that he would never have Bodie, but learning to live with that was not easy.
Doyle studied Skellen. He was so like Bodie, physically at least. Beautiful. What would it feel like to hold him, be held by him? Was that mouth as sensuous and soft as it looked? So much like Bodie. In the dim light, it was difficult to see the minor differences. He wouldn't even have to close his eyes to imagine it was his partner. He could pretend with his eyes wide open...
He stopped abruptly, furious with himself for doing it again. It wasn't fair to any of them. Not to Peter or to Bodie, or even to himself. Did he care for Peter any less than he cared for Bodie? Yes, probably. But how much less? Enough to use him as a substitute? No. Peter was Peter, and he cared for him, too. They were two very different men, and it was wrong to lump them together for his own selfish reasons.
But the swelling in his trousers refused to see the difference. The more he looked at him the harder it was to think sensibly. One more drink might merge all the differences beyond importance.
Purposefully, selfishly, he took that drink.
A few minutes latter he could feel his inhibitions slip with an almost audible click as the last gulp of gin hit bottom. It was a lousy excuse, but it was enough. He'd been much drunker in his life, but never had his desires been quite so certain. One level of his mind was coolly chalking up his foolishness, telling him he would regret this. He almost laughed--he was already regretting it. But he couldn't stop it either.
His shoulder pressed against Skellen's. "Peter?"
Skellen turned to look at him blankly.
Doyle kissed him.
There was a second of shocked stillness, then Skellen responded frantically, desperately. He pulled Doyle to him like a lifesaver that was holding him up from something dark and fatal.
When it was over, they were both very quiet. Doyle could hear the ticking of the clock on the side table, ruthlessly measuring those moments of awkward silence. He felt that if he didn't move soon, he'd be dangerously close to crying.
Doyle sat up and blindly tried to locate his jeans, eyes already starting to burn. Post coital depression with a vengeance, he thought, disgusted with himself.
"Ray, don't go."
He turned back to the other man, wondering what on earth he could say to him. Skellen propped his elbow on the carpet and rested his chin in his hand, the blue eyes holding Doyle's.
"Was it that bad?" he asked quietly.
Doyle took a shaky breath, sitting back on his legs. "No...it was too good."
Doyle was startled. "What? Why should you be sorry?"
"I'm sorry I'm not Bodie."
The guilt rushed back, making him feel hollow and sick. "You knew?"
Skellen smiled wryly. "I may not be the greatest detective in the world, but I'm not a total fool. It didn't take long to figure out."
Doyle closed his eyes. "Christ, Peter, I--"
"If you're going to try to apologise, stuff it, mate. There's no need. You were so busy using me, you didn't see that I was doing the same bloody thing to you." He waited until Doyle looked at him before continuing. "Believe it or not, I needed you a hell of a lot more than you needed me just then."
"But it shouldn't have been like that."
"No. But we're human, and sometimes we do things for the wrong reasons. Neither of us were right...but I'm not so sure we were totally wrong either."
"We were drunk," Doyle said quickly, grabbing for an excuse.
"Well I think that sobered us up considerably." Skellen sat up. He touched the other man's arm, stroking up to the shoulder. "I think we should try the bed this time, don't you?"
All of Doyle's inhibitions were back in full force. He stared at Skellen. "You...want to...?"
"Yeah, I do. You said it was good; I think it can be better if we concentrate on each other rather than what we don't have."
"What about Jenny?" Doyle demanded, shocked.
"She's not here, is she?" A pause. "Neither is Bodie." His hand slipped around to cup Doyle's neck, fingers combing through the long curls. "As the song says, love the one--"
Doyle irked back. "Christ, you're as cold as Bodie!"
Skellen smiled, satisfied at the reaction. "I thought you wanted me to be like Bodie?"
"No! I mean..." Doyle shook his head, confused.
"You know," Skellen said thoughtfully, "if your partner's as hard and cold as you let on, makes me wonder why you're head over heels. Either you're a masochist, or you're not willing to admit that you can hurt him as much as he can hurt you."
Doyle stiffened at the ring of truth in the words. He thought about the daily barbs and thorns he inflicted on his partner, his bad tempers, his insults. When things went wrong, Bodie was always the closest and safest outlet for frustration. And most times he took it all, stoically, placidly letting Ray pound him with verbal blows--and occasionally physical ones as well. Accepting and patient, Bodie seemed like a perfect wailing wall, unaffected by the kicks and scratches and blows it regularly received. But hadn't he always known that a lot of it was getting through the wall and hurting?
He was suddenly furious at Skellen for making him admit it to himself. "All right, if you're playin' advice to the lovelorn, what do you suggest I do?"
Skellen grinned. "How about what you did to me a bit ago? I didn't struggle much, I doubt if he will."
Doyle shook his head. "Your mood has certainly changed. A while ago, I reckoned you were ready to jump off a bridge, now you're playing matchmaker and tryin' to seduce me at the same time."
"Maybe I've figured out what I should do as well."
Skellen nodded. "I love her and I love Sam. I can't let them walk out of my life, can I? When it comes right down to it, I don't have much of a life without them."
"You figured all that out after a quick toss-off with me?"
Skellen grinned. "Not exactly. I think I've always known what I had to do, I just wasn't sure if I'd be able to do it."
"You're quitting the SAS?"
"Probably." His hand was back in Doyle's hair, caressing the nape of his neck.
Irritated, Doyle snapped, "If you're going back to Jenny, isn't this a bit out of line?"
"Not really. I want to make love to you properly, just because you're Ray Doyle, not because I'm hurt or lonely or miss Jenny. Just for you."
"Why? I don't understand."
Skellen pulled him forward into a gentle kiss. "Because you've helped me, because I care for you." He smiled. "And because you're a sexy little bastard."
Doyle was too distracted to answer. The fingers sliding up the inside of his thigh weren't helping his concentration or his confusion. Against his will (maybe), his body was responding again.
Skellen rose to his feet, still a bit unsteady, and held out his hand to Doyle. "Came on," he coaxed. "Let's finish up what we've started."
Doyle had seldom been able to resist that enticing smile on Bodie, he found it just as difficult now.
Once in the bedroom, Doyle's uncertainties scattered, melting away with the touch of warm hands and gentle mouth. Self-denial had never been a strong point, and Skellen was sinfully skilful at seduction.
"This isn't new to you," Doyle murmured during a necessary pause.
"No," Skellen admitted, nibbling along a collarbone. "But it's been a while. Don't generally go for blokes. You're quite an exception."
"But you have before?"
Skellen shrugged. "It happens."
Doyle chuckled. "Good job I never joined the army."
"Is it?" Skellen mumbled, somewhere south of Doyle's navel. "Aren't exactly timid about it though, are we?"
Doyle gasped, arching upward. "I'm a quick study," he answered shakily.
Conversation was rapidly abandoned as Peter applied his skills to a very willing subject. After a time, he moved back up to capture Doyle's mouth, parting the other's legs with his own, pressing down against the naked form. Doyle was trembling, so near the edge he was crazy with it. But when Skellen's cock nudged his anus, he jerked back, startled.
Skellen halted immediately. "No? Ray..."
"Please, Peter. Not...that. I can't...."
Skellen smiled, kissing him again. "Okay. There's other ways." He started back down Doyle's torso, cheerfully changing tactics.
They found themselves in classic sixty-nine position, and Doyle eagerly took his part in the action. Hungrily copying the moves made on himself, they both rapidly reached the peak, spilling over and feeding each other their excited result.
Afterwards, Skellen slid around to hold Doyle tightly. "Remember who we're with this time, do you?" he said lightly.
Doyle smiled. "Yeah. You bastard. How you can do this and then go back to Jenny...."
"Jenny knows me rather well," Skellen said complacently. "Catting around has never been one of our problems. Does a bit of her own, I reckon. Never really asked." He grinned against Doyle's hair. "Can't afford to, considering.
"You don't care?"
"Not the way we've had to live--with me gone months at a stretch. Another smile. "She's a hot one, my Jenny. Can't see her doin' without. Nor me, or that matter. That's never been very important. When we are together, we don't need anyone else--that's what counts."
Doyle levered himself up on one arm to look at the other man. Here was another definite difference between Skellen and his partner. Bodie had a tendency to be both wildly protective and possessive with something he cared about. It was a trait he and Doyle shared.
"You really think she wouldn't mind? About us, I mean? You'd tell her what happened with us?"
Skellen chuckled. "Not a chance. She'd drill me for every detail. She'd be so hot at the thought of it, I'd have me hands full." He considered that. "Then again, maybe I will tell her. Not such a bad idea."
"Eh?" Doyle stared at him, totally bewildered.
"Jenny loves the queer thing--two men havin' it off. Turns her on like a firecracker." Seeing the other man's amazement, he grinned. "I know, threw me at first, too. But she finds it a great turn-on, Jenny does. Reads Gordon Merrick novels, watches Starsky and Hutch. Shameless, she is."
"Don't ask me, son. Let's just say, she'd be a hell of a lot more pleased to hear about you than if I told her I'd shacked up with some slag. You should see some of the stories she's collected--burn your eyeballs, they would." He nuzzled Doyle's ear. "Anyway, wasn't so bad, was it? You seemed happy enough."
Doyle was strangely reluctant to admit to it.
"Come on, Ray. Make up your mind whether you're guilty about havin' it off with a bloke, or havin' it off with bloke who wasn't Bodie."
Unable to reply, Doyle tried to turn away. Skellen held him. "Is it so hard to admit?"
"With Bodie, yes."
"Because he's Bodie, dammit!"
"You really think he's never--"
"A long time ago, maybe. Something he wants to forget," Doyle snapped. "He's backed off from all that--he hated it. Doesn't want to be reminded of it. Certainly not by me."
"You're a fool, Ray," Skellen said softly. "Blind as a friggin' bat."
"As far as that stupid bugger is concerned, the sun rises and sets on your curly head. If you haven't seen that, you're dim."
Doyle stared at him. "You think he'd--?"
"I think he's a dolt for takin' so long to let you know."
Unable to take it all in just yet, and beginning to believe that Peter just might be right, Doyle switched the subject. He didn't want to discuss Bodie anymore--had to do some private thinking on the matter.
"So you're really going to Australia after Jenny?"
"Well, not until I've managed to sleep off the hangover I'm sure I'll have. I've still got the Colonel to face as well. He'll not be happy about it. But this time tomorrow, I plan to be in Sydney."
"Are you really so sure she'll go for it? That she'll take you back so easily?"
Skellen leaned back against the pillows, smug as Bodie had ever been. "She'll take me back. She loves me. When I show up in Sydney, I'll be lucky if she doesn't rape me in the bloody airport lounge."
Doyle snorted. "Sometimes you're so much like Bodie, you're insufferable."
"Am I?" He sobered. "Then maybe I understand him better than I thought." His eyes were suddenly bleak. "I'm scared, Ray. Maybe it won't work. Maybe she does just want to be rid of me. Christ, I don't know..."
Sorry he'd put such a pall on his friend's confidence, Doyle cupped the despondent face in his hands. "Hey, don't be a prat. You know it'll work. Just give her one of those patented smiles. She'll never be able to resist that bloody charm of yours. And if worse comes to worst, you can always settle down with a nice kangaroo."
Skellen smiled. "Thanks very much. I'll keep it in mind." He tugged Doyle back into his arms. Now shut up and let's get some sleep. We're both knackered."
Doyle rested his cheek against the smooth chest, enjoying the rhythmic thud of the heartbeat, wondering if Bodie's would be any different. He felt a sudden tingle of anticipation, certain that before very long, he would find out.
Bodie spent a restless, angry night. He wasn't troubled by dreams, for he never quite managed to sleep.
Part of him wanted to go to Skellen's flat and drag Ray out by his scruffy curls. But the sane part of him couldn't even picture it. You didn't drag Ray Doyle anywhere unless you were prepared to draw back a stump. Beyond that, however, was the inescapable fact he had no right to object. Doyle's time was his own, and if he chose to spend it with Skellen...
His pillow took the brunt of his frustration once again. Bits of foam rubber had already begun leaking from one corner. He plumped it again with his fist, ignoring the damage. Rolling onto his stomach, he buried his face in the abused pillow, wishing he could blank his mind and sleep. He'd considered drinking, of course, but his stomach had protested the very thought. It wouldn't work this time, and he'd probably just end up making an even worse fool of himself. He could see it now: breaking down Skellen's door, finding them naked in bed together, shocked, guilty... More likely Doyle would laugh his arse off at the melodrama of it--either before or after busting his head open. And Skellen would stare at him with that cool, lazy expression (so like his own, he had to admit) and ask him to shut the door to cut off the draft.
In spite of himself, he chuckled at the vision of a naked and furious Doyle. Then he sobered.
Were they? In bed together? Was Skellen fucking his partner?
The image that presented caused his teeth to clench together with rage, even while the lower part of his body responded helplessly.
When he'd said it to Doyle earlier, he hadn't believed it for a minute; it had just been something to say to irritate Ray further. But Ray's reaction to accusation had been startling-- and contained a ring of truth. Could it be true?
He tried to brush it off. Doyle had simply been his usual, nasty self, hitting back with the best ammunition at hand--and for once, it had been deserved. And Doyle was almost as good a shot with words as he was with bullets. Perhaps it was just luck that he hit a bullseye this time. He couldn't have meant it. Sure, Doyle flirted outrageously at times, but that was just Doyle, it was natural to him. Like with Marty, he didn't realise what he was doing. All this with Skellen was simply--
Bodie bit down on his lip, hard. Christ, who was he trying to fool? Be honest about it for once. He was acting like Ray Doyle was some pretty little flit without a brain in his head. It took more imagination than even Bodie possessed to really fall for that one. Raymond Doyle was no innocent by a long shot. Not growing up the way he did, where he did. In many ways his childhood had been tougher than Bodie's--and he'd had to deal with it from birth, not just as a runaway kid of fourteen.
No matter how he tried, he couldn't make the frame fit the pretty picture he'd painted of Ray. He'd never really believed it, of course, but why had he felt it necessary to pretend?
When the answer finally came, he was stunned by the simplicity of it. He'd never really been afraid Ray would say no to him--he'd been bloody terrified he would say yes.
Was that it then? Was he scared of Doyle, scared of getting in deeper than he already was? Easy enough to screw a long line of forgettable women--and men--but touching Doyle like that would mean giving up too much of himself. Like it or not, Doyle already held the keys to a lot of very tender locks, and what was inside might be too much for either of them to handle. It was safer to see loving Doyle as being totally out of the question than to know it within reach and admit he was too cowardly to reach for it.
Admitting this much, Bodie was forced to admit something else. He might well have lost his chance. Doyle seemed to have made another choice. Between Skellen and him, he had come up lacking. Doyle obviously preferred Skellen's company. Not that he could really blame Ray, considering how he'd been acting for the last week.
But what the hell could he do about it now? Wasn't it too late? Doyle seemed to have made his choice already.
"No taste little git," he muttered angrily. "And what was wrong with me then, if you were lookin' for something like that? Stupid, stubborn, bad-tempered little sod. Who needs you, anyhow? You can have that SAS bastard and welcome. Hope you choke on 'im." The image that immediately presented made him bite his lip painfully.
Pale dawn light was coming in the window before he finally dozed off into an uneasy sleep...
....they were holding grenades, the pins pulled. Sitting on an empty airstrip, facing each other, they'd been gripping those small, rough bits of death for a long time--forever perhaps.
"What do we do if he shows up?" the other asked, mirror image, mirror voice.
"We run. Don't want him hurt by this, do we?"
"Hurt him enough already, have you?"
"I've never hurt him," Bodie snarled back. "Never!"
"Sure about that, are you?" The smile was cold, pitiless.
"Yes. At least...I've tried never to hurt him."
"But he's hurt you, hasn't he? A lot of times."
Bodie gritted his teeth, refusing to remember Marikka, refusing to think of all the times Doyle had lashed out at him, cutting him with that too sharp tongue. ("No better than he is..." "What makes you so different?" "You're on your own, mate.") Didn't matter, none of it mattered.
"No, Ray's all right. Stop trying to twist things."
Skellen looked down at the grenades. "Getting tired?"
"Not me," Bodie said stubbornly. (The weird logic of dreams dictated that they couldn't toss them away, had to hold on to them to the end. There was a reason for it, there must be, mustn't there? Why else were they doing it? Just as there was a reason for sitting here on the hard tarmac in the middle of a cold swirling fog.)
"Afraid to let go first?" Skellen jabbed.
"Afraid to let go at all."
"If one of us goes, we both will," Skellen pointed out. "So it's just a question of who gives in first--who's tougher."
The pressure on his hand was fantastic. The ten ounce grenade weighed twenty stone. His thumb was cramping. "It won't be me," Bodie growled.
"But I am you," Skellen answered reasonably. "You must have realised that by now, haven't you?"
"What the hell are you on about?" Bodie demanded, feeling his hand start to shake as the cramp travelled up his arm.
"Just that. I'm you, William Andrew Philip Bodie. Or what you might have been, if you'd played it straight. If you hadn't lived the life you chose."
"Am I? Don't you see it? That's why you hate me, because you can't wipe out the things you've seen and done. Those scars are with you forever, no matter how you try to bury them."
"Bothers you, doesn't it? That you missed it all. No good English boy anymore. You sold your soul, Bodie, to the highest bidder. Time and again. It was more than just being a mercenary, wasn't it? There was a time there when you almost went the other way, sealed yourself off from feeling so tightly, you were hardly human anymore."
"But I...I got out of it. I'm not like that now!"
"No, but you can't forget it either, can you? Can't wipe it away. That's why you're afraid, isn't it? Afraid Doyle will find you out. He hates what you were, and if he knew all of it--"
"Shut up! Shut up!" Bodie clutched the grenade even tighter if possible, ignoring the pain which was so much less than what he was feeling inside, the pressure in his chest building up, choking him.
"Why, because you can't handle the truth? That Ray turned to me because I don't have all that dirt to hide?"
Bodie throat was burning, and his face was wet. He told himself it was the mist. "Yes...yes. You've got him now; aren't you satisfied? You won, I've lost."
"You're a fool," the other said with disgust. "Don't you see what you've been doing? Doyle turned to me because he couldn't get through that wall of yours! You've been so busy trying to clamp down on all the things you're so sure he would hate about you, you've shut off too much of the rest as well." He gestured toward the grenade, now trembling in Bodie's white- knuckled grip. "Getting too much for you, is it? Can't hold it down forever, y'know. Sooner or later it will blow."
"No! I can't let go."
"You've been holding that pin down all your life. Don't you think it's time to ease up? What are you afraid of? If it explodes, you won't be that much worse off, will you? At least you'll stop hurting."
"I can't..." Bodie moaned. "I can't let go."
"Maybe it's Doyle you're afraid of destroying?"
"Yes! I'd hurt him... I'd..."
"No! You're afraid for yourself! Understand that, and maybe...just maybe, you'll find the guts to let it go."
Bodie's hand began to unclench, slowly, painfully. He looked across at the other man, and for the first time he really saw himself.
The grenade dropped from his fingers, and he waited for it to explode, feeling strangely at peace....
Bodie woke very slowly, shocked to discover he was sobbing. The pillow was wet under his cheek, and his hand ached from clutching it. For the life of him, he couldn't remember what he'd been dreaming.
All things considered, Doyle felt unreasonably good the next morning. His hangover consisted of little more than a bad taste in his mouth and a gritty burning under his eyelids. He figured another shower and a tall glass of tomato juice would clear up the problem. He even found himself whistling as he turned down his street. The sky was cold and grey with a hint of drizzle in the air, but it seemed a fine day to him.
He and Skellen had had an affectionate if undramatic parting. Both of them realised they would likely never see the other again, but it didn't seem quite so important. While their time together had been necessary and helpful to them both, they knew they had never truly belonged together. What both of them needed existed elsewhere, and that short interlude had managed to give them a focus on that.
Sometime during that night, Doyle had made a decision on what to do about Bodie--or with him, rather. Once that was settled, he stopped worrying about it. Was a bit shocked at himself for spending so much time wrangling with a problem that was so very simple. After all, he could handle Bodie, couldn't he? Had years of experience at just that.
He was still whistling tunelessly as he climbed the steps to his flat, searching his jacket pocket for a stick of gum while trying to find the door key with his other hand. He froze in the process of fitting the key in the lock, eyes taking in the crumbles of plaster on the floor. His gaze moved up the wall slowly to chest height. There was a fist-sized hole punched in the plaster.
Doyle's whistle broke off on a higher note. He inspected the damage ruefully, wondering if the fist had come off looking worse.
"Bodie?" he mused aloud, a little bewildered. Then shook his head indulgently. "Of course, Bodie. Who else would be such a jackass?"
He went on into the flat, beginning to feel a little uneasy at this all too tangible evidence of his partner's fury. Certainly he'd known Bodie was far from pleased last night, but this was a bit much. A childish, pointless gesture; a temper tantrum. The big lout didn't get his way, and what did he do? Thumped the first thing handy, the dumb crud.
Determined to take the cost of repairing the wall from Bodie's pocket as well as from his hide, Doyle turned on the shower and started to undress. It wasn't until he was under the water before it occurred to him there might be more to it than simple frustration. It wasn't common for Bodie to vent his anger like that. But then, jealousy wasn't his style either. Bodie had always struck him as a take me or leave me sort, with Bodie generally being the one to do the leaving.
Trying to understand the ramifications of everything that had happened during the last few weeks, Doyle stood under the shower until the water cooled. He turned off the taps absently.
Suddenly he was very certain that Peter was right. Bodie was caught as surely as he. Strangely enough, now that he saw it, it didn't surprise him at all. He'd always been smugly aware of his ability to wrap the gullible sod around his thumb when he chose to. Now he realised that the question of the sexual aspect of their relationship had been due to his own uncertainty about it, not because he really believed Bodie wouldn't go for it. Bodie's supposed hang-ups had been a convenient excuse for procrastination. Deep down, he'd always been positive he could talk his partner into anything. God knew, just being especially nice to Bodie caused him to wriggle like a happy puppy. And right now, Doyle wanted to be very nice to him indeed.
He'd had to be sure first, before he took that step. Now he was sure. The rest of it seemed plain sailing.
Except for the rather obvious proof of Bodie's jealousy.
As Doyle dressed, he considered that problem. He couldn't very well say there had been nothing between himself and Skellen--not without starting off on a very dishonest footing. Yet how was he to make clear to his volcanic partner that it had been a relationship born of circumstance; necessary but temporary? There was nothing in his feelings for Peter that remotely threatened what he had with Bodie. Ann Holly had been far more of a danger.
Bodie, however, hadn't put his fist in a wall with Ann.
Doyle refused to worry about it any longer. Peter was right--Bodie had been there for the picking for a long while. The time was ripe now. A bit of judicious squeezing on the right emotions would bring him round easily enough.
Doyle was whistling again as he pulled up at headquarters.
Two hours later, Doyle was back in his car and on his way to Bodie's flat. He was a bit more subdued, having suffered two minor shocks in as many hours, but as he mulled over the new turn of events, he began to grin again. It just might work out even better than he'd hoped.
His first shock had come when he discovered Bodie had taken his vacation time without notice. No one else seemed particularly surprised by this, seeing how slow things had been lately, but Doyle was viewing it from a very different perspective--Bodie was obviously trying to avoid him, and the reason for that was just as obvious. Before he'd had time to work out a solution, however, Cowley had called him into his office.
The second shock was considerably more pleasant. Cowley was sending them to America. It was a simple, straightforward escort job, and they would only be gone for a day or two, but Doyle felt a wonderful surge of excitement just the same. He'd never had a particularly burning desire to see the States or travel outside of England at all, for that matter. But if the opportunity was dropped in his lap, he certainly wouldn't pass it up.
Cowley made it plain that it was totally up to Bodie whether he wanted to interrupt his vacation time (a minor shock in itself--Cowley wasn't famous for offering options), and he could easily find someone else to accompany Doyle. The Controller's sour but off-hand manner told Doyle that Cowley wasn't altogether sure the affair wasn't a waste of CI5 time and money. And after the job and the reasoning behind it was explained, Doyle wasn't so sure himself--but he was careful not to say so and perhaps miss his chance for a trip to New York at CI5 expense.
He had quickly assured Cowley that Bodie would be overjoyed to forfeit his vacation time in order to serve CI5, and that they would be at the airport at 2:00 with bells on.
Now that he was standing at Bodie's door, he wasn't quite as confident of that; especially in his partner's present state of mind. He hesitated, wondering at the strangeness of that. Bodie might not want to go with him--Bodie, who would cheerfully drop cricket matches, parties, or women just to follow his partner's whimsy. Doyle had always taken that for granted until now, when he suddenly wasn't so sure.
Straightening his shoulders determinedly, he pushed the buzzer. There was no answer. Puzzled--Bodie's car was parked conspicuously on the street--he pressed the bell again and laid on it for a full minute.
The answer finally came, gruff and surly, "What the 'ell do y'want?"
"It's me, sunshine. Open up."
There was a pause. "So what do you want?"
Irritated, Doyle snapped, "Right now, I want in!"
Another pause, longer this time, and Doyle's temper started to rise. "Coward," he muttered. But the door lock finally clicked to allow him entry. Feeling better, he bounced up the steps and pounded out a light tattoo on the door.
It opened on a very dishevelled Bodie. Although it was half past ten, he looked something less than alert. He'd obviously been asleep when Doyle buzzed; he was wearing a rather crumpled robe, his eyes were bloodshot and his short hair was pointing several directions of the compass. Doyle thought he was gorgeous.
"This'd better be good," Bodie growled, letting him in.
"I'm always good, mate," Doyle replied cheerily.
"So what's it about?"
"Work, son. Duty calls."
Bodie rubbed his eyes. "Not me. I'm on vac, or didn't they tell you?"
"Yeah. Bit sudden, wannit?"
It wasn't a question Bodie wished to answer. "Sod off. Get on with it, will you. I want to go back to bed."
Good idea, Doyle thought with a warm tingle. After his night with Skellen, just thinking about having Bodie in bed with him made his mouth water. He kept his cool for now, however.
"Nope, sunshine. You've gotta start packin'."
"We've a plane to catch at 2:00."
Bodie blinked. "What are you on about, Doyle?"
"Just said, didn't I? We're doin' a bit of travelling." He took in the scruffy figure with amusement. "Rough night, eh?"
"Listen, will you just tell me what's goin' on?"
"We're off to the States. Cowley's orders."
"Eh?" Bodie repeated, totally lost.
"Need to 'ave your ears looked at, mate," Doyle commented as he moved toward the kitchen. "Got any coffee?"
"Uh...yeah," Bodie stared after him, confused. "Doyle! Hold on a minute, what's--"
"I'll fix some coffee," Doyle cut in smoothly, "you go catch a shower and try to wake up." As Bodie hesitated, he added, "Go on. I'll explain it all later."
Bodie didn't need as much convincing as Doyle expected; he headed for the bath as if it were a haven.
Fifteen minutes later, Doyle poured out a mug of coffee, liberally adding his partner's usual dose of sugar and milk. Bodie sat down across the table, looking nicely pink and well- scrubbed. He'd shaved as well and exchanged the tatty robe for a pair of brown cords and a light tan sweater. As Doyle handed him the cup, he noticed the bruised knuckles.
"How's your hand?" Doyle asked casually.
The blue eyes shot up, then looked away. He flushed a little, but made it clear he intended to ignore the question.
Doyle leaned closer. "Listen, mate, we'll have to talk about it sooner or later."
"Nothin' to talk about," Bodie said defiantly.
"Oh yes there is," Doyle's voice softened. "A bloody lot." He glanced at his watch and sat back. "But we don't have time right now. It'll keep. We'll have to start for the airport soon to be on the safe side. Traffic might be tight, and I'm not missin' the plane."
"Are you going to tell me what this is all about or not?" Bodie demanded.
"Remember a chap named Marshak?"
Bodie thought for a moment. "Arms dealer? American bloke that Kenzey was tailin'?"
"That's him. Turns out he was the contact with the network here; the same ones the SAS were closing in on. Direct from the Yank Mafia."
Bodie sat up. "But Marty said the Germans--"
"Just goes to show Marty doesn't know it all, don't it? Actually, it was just luck it connected together. Nobody was lookin' at it from that side at all. Kenzey was after Marshak for his ties with the IRA. Turns out he was mixed up with more than just them. Anyway, Kenzey nicked him fair and square, and he's been singin' the blues ever since. Isn't a low-life criminal type at all, y'see. Three-piece suit and silk tie man, he is. A grotty jail cell offends his sensibilities."
"So he's grassing on his pals. What's that to do with us?"
Doyle took a sip of coffee. "He wants to go home--reckons he'll get a better shake with American court. Probably right at that. The feelin' toward these foreign gun dealers nowadays, even a liberal magistrate would throw away the bloody key."
"If he's already spilling, why the hell are they agreein' to extradition?"
"Because he's still got some big fish on the line. He can tell everyone who's buyin' over here, and why and when the buys will be goin' down. And his mates back home don't know he was grabbed yet. It would be very nice to get hold of the big suppliers as well. The FBI is into this one; they want'm just as bad as we want them to be taken out. We can't stop them from here--we've got to hand that job to the Feds. Which means delivering Marshak on a nice, clean silver platter. They set him loose enough to reel the suckers in, he gets a better deal in court, they get their crooks, and we get the information on the rest of the buyers here. All very nice and cosy."
"So why's Cowley sendin' us?" Bodie demanded. "Seems like the Yanks would rather pick Marshak up themselves."
"Because the ol' man doesn't trust the FBI to give him the information. They're not exactly crazy about admitting the arms are coming from there to begin with. He doesn't put it past them to try to cover it up. If we deliver the pigeon right into their hot little hands, they won't very well be able to pretend he was mislaid or escaped in transit, can they? Nor will they be as likely to waffle around and delay if we're sittin' there waitin' on results. You put the Yanks on the spot, they'll usually come through. Otherwise, they're liable to sit around an' meditate or somethin'."
"But why us?" Bodie asked again.
"I just told you--"
"No, you told me why Cowley wants him delivered. Why us?"
Doyle looked down at the floor. "Why not?"
"Because it was Kenzey's bust for one thing. Because I'm on days off. Because Cowley never gives us something this easy. You want me to go on?"
Doyle shrugged. "Kenzey's wife is due any day. He doesn't want to leave in case the baby comes. It's been slow around HQ for the last few weeks. And we were on this case, too, y'know. It's not like it's out of the blue."
"We didn't get to square one on this case, and you know it. Cowley's not about to reward us for our sterling efforts, now is he?"
Doyle stood impatiently. "What are belly-achin' about, for chrissake? We've got the job, an' a right cushy one. Just enjoy it."
Bodie was silent for a moment. "Cowley wouldn't call me in for something this trivial. There must be a half dozen blokes hangin' about the op room with nothin' better to do. Murphy finished up his last assignment two days ago. And Taggert's been complainin' he's goin' stir crazy--"
"Okay," Doyle broke in defensively. "So I asked for you, all right? What's wrong with that, eh? You're me partner. I didn't want to go with sodding Murphy or sodding Taggert! I wanted to go with my sodding partner!" He turned away angrily. "Christ, you'd think I'd volunteered you to be target practice for a firing squad instead of a free trip to New York. Ungrateful crud!"
Bodie stared at his partner's stiff back, feeling a tightness in his throat. "Am I then?"
Doyle spun around. "What?"
Doyle swallowed, feeling suddenly shaky at the open expression in the dark eyes. "'Course you are, twit. No one else would put up with you." He grinned. "And I'm too good for anyone else, aren't I?"
"Too good," Bodie repeated softly, eyes on Doyle even softer than his husky whisper. Then he swallowed and forcefully lightened his mood. "Don't push it, Doyle. Your nose'll grow if you tell lies." He stood up. "Don't have time to listen to'm anyway. Have to get packed, don't I?"
Doyle, who'd been on the verge of forgetting the plane and New York and most of the world outside those incredibly gentle eyes, pulled himself together with an effort. "Uh...right. Me, too. I'll pick you up in three-quarters of an hour, okay?"
"I'll be ready."
Even if they'd been alone on the plane, it would have been difficult for them to really talk. With their prisoner-cum- informant seated soundly between them, it was unthinkable. But they found themselves avoiding the other's eyes and being overly polite to each other. There was a new tension between them, born of uncertainty. Even with the strange truce they'd managed to call, there were more questions than answers in both of their minds. They held to the solid ground they'd captured, but the nagging questions refused to be pushed back. Bodie was sure now that he wouldn't lose Doyle; he was his partner and intended to stay that. Whether there was a chance for more, he had no real idea at this point. The unspoken subject of Skellen held Bodie back from saying anything. But he was bloody tired of being jealous, of feeling second rate. He'd be just as happy if Skellen vanished in a puff of smoke, and they could go back the way it was before. An odd dream now and again was a small price to pay.
No less than Bodie, Doyle was experiencing his own degree of ambiguity. He knew Bodie wanted him--there was no way he could have misinterpreted the expression in Bodie's eyes. What had him perplexed, however, was the way Bodie seemed to be holding him at arm's length, maintaining a careful distance. He couldn't understand it. Shyness had never seemed a major element in his partner's personality. But while it made Doyle a bit uneasy, he remained confident that once he got the big sod alone, he'd deal with him easily enough.
In the meantime, he couldn't decide if the butterflies in his stomach were in anticipation of being alone with Bodie, or just the excitement of the trip. In either case, there was a definite rush of adrenaline through his bloodstream that didn't seem to slow during the entire long flight over the ocean. He fidgeted in his seat, flirted with the air hostess, chewed three packets of peanuts, and kept his professional eye on the other passengers just in case there might be trouble. Their captive appeared a bit subdued, but content enough--he was going home, after all, and expected to get off quite nicely with expensive lawyers and a good deal of plea bargaining.
Bodie spent most of the flight staring moodily out at the clouds.
The FBI agent who met them at Kennedy was cold and businesslike, but he did eye Doyle's long curls with disapproval--a fact which improved Bodie's mood considerably.
"Probably expectin' James Bond," Bodie murmured consolingly, straightening his tie. "At least he wasn't completely disappointed."
"Cheeky bastard," Doyle grumbled. "He looked like a bloody insurance salesman."
"Well, god knows what he thought you looked like, sunshine. I thought for a sec he was goin' to put the cuffs on you."
"What's wrong with me?" Doyle demanded. "This is me best jacket and trousers, I'll have you know."
"I know," Bodie commiserated. "Never mind, son. Scruffy suits you. Leave the style to me."
"Wouldn't talk style while wearin' that spotted tie," Doyle grumbled, heading for the exit.
"Hey, 'ang on a minute! The bags--"
"Yeah, bring 'em along, mate. I'll get us a taxi."
Bodie sighed and hefted the suitcases, resigned to his usual fate. He found Doyle outside wrangling with a taxi-driver over the outrageous fare he wanted for passage from the airport into Manhattan. They finally reached an agreement, and the cab entered the flow of traffic.
Now that they had relinquished their human cargo, they had nothing to do but wait for the FBI to deliver on their side of the bargain. Risky as it was, they planned on releasing a carefully bugged Marshak long enough to get solid evidence on the exporters here.
Bodie watched his partner with amusement, a little surprised at Doyle's obvious excitement. He'd never seen him act like a tourist before; hadn't imagined that he could. To Bodie, the New York skyline was unimpressive. One city was much like another, and he'd seen his share. He let Doyle point out various sights without responding, a mischievous light coming in his eyes when Doyle finally said the obvious thing.
"Seems a bit strange, don't it?"
"What's that?" Bodie smiled.
"Drivin' on the wrong side like this."
Bodie's smile widened. "Not the wrong side to them, mate."
"I know that." Doyle flushed, seeing his partner's blase expression. "Just seems odd, is all. Forget it."
The imp of mischief caused Bodie to lean over and whisper conspiratorially in Doyle's ear, "Just so you'll know, mate, you'd better arrange yourself when you get the chance."
"Eh? What do you mean? Arrange what?"
Bodie glanced down pointedly at his partner's lap and the snug crotch of the grey cords. "They drive on the right over here, don't they?"
Doyle stared at him, bewildered. "Yeah, so?"
Bodie sighed patiently. "Everything is supposed to be on the right side here. It's very poor manners otherwise."
The green eyes widened. "You're jokin'," he said, not really sure.
Bodie bit down hard on the inside of his lip to remain solemn. He managed a perfectly bland and innocent expression. He shrugged. "When in Rome, mate."
Doyle was totally silent for at least three seconds. Then his eyes narrowed dangerously and a rueful grin quirked his mouth. "You son of a bitch."
Bodie burst out laughing, unable to hold back any longer. "Had you goin' for a minute there, didn't I? Come on, son, admit it."
"You wish," Doyle retorted, but chuckled. "Bastard."
Bodie tipped the bellman and turned to observe the room. "Christ, the ol' man's gone senile. This place is fantastic!"
Doyle picked up his suitcase and plopped on one of the two huge beds, hiding his smile. "Like it, do you?"
"I'd be crazy not to. This must cost a bloody fortune."
"It's just for a night," Doyle pointed out. "Maybe it was the only thing available."
Bodie snickered. "We're talkin' about Cowley here, sunshine. I'm surprised he didn't lodge us in the Bowery."
Doyle stared into the opened suitcase, wondering if he should confess. "Wasn't quite that bad," he said at last. "Almost, but not quite."
Keeping his back carefully toward the other man, Doyle said quietly, "I changed the reservations."
"You what? Cowley'll kill you!"
"Won't have to know, will he? I'm payin'," Doyle replied defiantly.
"You? The man with a combination lock on his change purse? You're springin' for this?"
Doyle jerked around, stung. "What's so odd about that? Just wanted to be comfortable, is all. Figured he's put us up in some dump like that time in Leeds."
"God forbid. I was pickin' plaster out of my hair for the next twenty-four hours." He looked around the room again, grinning. "But this is a bit of okay. Can't believe you actually thought of it. No offence, mate, but it's a bit extravagant for you, ain't it?"
Doyle flushed. "Not at all. Besides," he added, "I'm only payin' the difference."
For some reason, Bodie seemed to find that tremendously amusing. Doyle studiously ignored him. When his mirth had abated, Bodie said, "Well, ta, mate. I do appreciate the sacrifice."
Doyle didn't bother to reply; he was still a bit cheesed off by his partner's sceptical attitude. Just because he was careful with his money, didn't mean he was cheap, did it?
Irritated but not at all sure why, Doyle decided to take a shower. All the things he'd planned to say to Bodie when they were alone felt too awkward at the moment. Perhaps it would be wiser for them to get settled in and comfortable before starting something heavy. Bodie's spirits seemed much lighter but, oddly enough, Doyle felt more on edge.
He considered it while he took a leisurely shower, gradually letting the hot water soothe his uneasiness. By the time he emerged from the bath, fifteen minutes later, his confidence had returned.
Bodie was comfortably propped on one of the beds, shoes and jacket off, tie loosened. He was watching the television and playing with the remote control.
Doyle pulled the towel from around his hips and began to dry his hair. Even blinded by the towel, he could feel Bodie's gaze switch from the TV screen to him. Possessing no small degree of exhibitionism, Doyle slowed his efforts, wondering how he looked to Bodie's eyes and, more importantly, how it was affecting him. When he finally dropped the towel over his shoulders and straightened, Bodie seemed riveted to the television. Doyle smiled; the tingling of his skin was more truthful than his partner's pretence of detachment. He'd felt those eyes--warm and hard and hungry.
"What do you want to do now?" Doyle asked casually.
Bodie shrugged without turning. "Dunno."
"How about checking out the town?"
"We oughta stay close...in case the Feds call...or Cowley." The excuse sounded lame even to Bodie. Chances were they wouldn't hear anything until tomorrow at the earliest.
"You're plannin' to waste the rest of the day sitting here?"
"Sure. Besides, there's a movie on I want to watch."
Doyle located a pair of jeans and jerked them on. "Our first time in New York, and you want to watch the telly? Com'on, mate!"
"An' I suppose you want to go sight-seeing? Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Empire State Building?"
Doyle's eyes narrowed at the sarcasm in the voice. "Actually, I was thinking of the Museum of Art, but yeah, what's wrong with the rest of it?"
"Boring, that's what."
Doyle picked a shirt at random, holding back his temper. "To you, maybe. So's sittin' around in a hotel room."
Bodie started to point out that Doyle got the room, but held back his own frustration. He wanted to talk to Doyle; maybe work out a few of their problems. They'd never be able to do that while trying to find the UN Building or the World Trade Center.
"It's a big city," Bodie said in a more reasonable voice. "What can you see in a few hours?"
"Won't know till I try, will I?" Doyle replied, tying his shoe.
Bodie settled back stubbornly. "I'm perfectly 'appy here. One city's like another, an' I've seen my share of 'em. It's too cold out to be messin' around."
"Who asked you?" Doyle snapped, then regretted it as he noted the tightening of the other's jaw. He sat down on the other bed, wondering why they were suddenly angry with each other.
This pleasant little vacation wasn't going at all as he'd hoped. He cursed himself for losing his temper again. All he wanted was for them to go out and have a good time together, away from all the tensions and troubles of home. Share something totally new with each other--in hopes the process would removed a few of those barriers they'd both erected. He should've anticipated that his world-weary partner wouldn't be especially impressed by New York. Even considering that, however, Bodie wasn't behaving typically. Ordinarily, he would be the first to want to be up and out. And, despite Bodie's elaborate show of relaxation, Doyle could sense the stress beneath the facade.
They needed very badly to talk it out, but Doyle had no idea of where to begin. Managing very neatly to avoid most personal revelations for the last five years, jumping in with both feet was a bit difficult at this stage. Maybe the anger had always made it easier for them. They knew how to deal with that-- tenderness was unknown territory.
Okay, so he knew what he wanted from Bodie, and he was reasonably sure that Bodie wanted the same thing. There had to be a better way of getting there. The mood certainly wasn't right at the moment. He glanced over at his partner and sighed.
Where mood was concerned, Bodie certainly wasn't helping things. He'd switched channels and was watching The Muppet Movie.
"Oh christ...muppets, yet," Doyle groaned. "How can you watch that stuff?"
Bodie glanced at him, judging the temperature cautiously. He was more than willing to let the quarrel drop, and he was relieved to see Doyle's grin. "It's very uncivilised not to like muppets, Raymond," he said cheerily. "They're cute and cuddly and--"
"Uh huh, I've heard it all before." Doyle shook his head sadly. "Only I could have a partner who has the hots for a muppet. Gonzo, innit?"
Bodie looked at him, blue eyes suddenly twinkling. He opened his mouth to answer, then shut it abruptly. He'd nearly said that the only muppet he had the hots for was named Raymond, but he just couldn't get it out--not yet. Not until he knew what was going on in Doyle's mind. He turned back to the television. "Yeah."
To Doyle, it was like seeing a door open a crack before slamming shut again. It was infuriating. Giving it up as a bad job--for the moment, at least--he pulled on his jacket and headed for the door.
"Where are you goin'?" Bodie asked quickly, startled.
"Out. I told you."
Doyle looked at him impatiently. "You've already said you're not interested. I am." He softened. "I don't imagine I'll be long. Just want to get the feel of city, is all. I'll give you a ring if something comes up."
Bodie was less than pleased, but was unable to find a good reason to object. He was on the verge of going with him, but remembered what Doyle had pointed out--he hadn't been asked. He leaned back against the pillows, trying to appear as nonchalant as possible. "Don't get lost, sunshine. It's a big, nasty city."
"Oh, is it?" Doyle said sweetly. "If I'm mugged, I'll hit 'em with me purse, shall I?"
As soon as the door shut behind him, Bodie switched off the TV. He got off the bed and moved to the window which overlooked the main entrance. He stared down into the street for a very long time, wondering which of the ant-like blurs on the sidewalk was Doyle.
Bodie glanced at his watch for the twentieth time in the last hour.
It was half past ten and nearly seven hours since Doyle had ventured out into the city. Bodie had long since demolished a huge steak dinner from room service, and was working on a very nice bottle of whiskey.
He was worried about his partner. Strangely enough, he wasn't worried for any of the expected reasons. Even if he did occasionally feel protective toward the smaller man, he never really believed Doyle wasn't quite capable of taking care of himself--not to mention anyone else who happened to rub him the wrong way. He had a lot of respect for his scrappy partner--if he didn't he certainly would never have trusted Doyle to watch his own very precious backside for so many years.
No, what he was concerned with now was on a different level than survival. Doyle had changed, and he wasn't quite sure he liked it.
Bodie took another sip of the whiskey and thought about it. For one thing, the Doyle he knew would never have paid the price of this room. And for what? So he could go out buzzing around the city like a sodding tourist? Of course Doyle had been behaving strangely for some time. All that rot with Skellen, for instance.
And where was he now?
Bodie was afraid he could guess the answer to that; and he didn't like it one little bit.
When the key finally turned in the lock, Bodie's hand tightened on his glass, but he refused to pretend he was doing anything but waiting. He didn't feel up to acting.
"Hullo." Doyle tossed the key on the dresser and pulled off his jacket. "Cold out."
"I know," Bodie replied tonelessly.
"Yeah. Makes London seem like the bloody tropics." Doyle flopped down on the bed with a sigh. "Fix us a drink, will ya?"
Bodie did as requested. "See a lot, did you?" he asked carefully.
"A bit." Doyle sipped the liquor gratefully. "Spent most of the time in the Art Museum."
"Stays open this late, does it?" Bodie was unable to keep the sharp edge totally out of his voice.
Doyle regarded him warily. "No. I strolled around a bit, too."
Bodie turned to the window. "You said you'd call."
"Eh? Oh...I did, didn't I? Sorry. Reckon I forgot. Didn't realise it was so late."
Knowing very well he shouldn't say it, Bodie said it anyway. "How was Ann?"
"Ann who?" The innocent puzzlement in the voice made Bodie want to slap him. After a second, "Ann Holly, you mean?"
"She does live in New York, doesn't she?" Bodie said through gritted teeth.
"Yes, I suppose she does. I hadn't really thought..."
Doyle sat up abruptly. The question, coming out of the blue, had thrown him for a moment. Now it was beginning to register.
"Hang on a minute. You thought I wanted to come to New York to see Ann? You think that's where I've been? Is that it?"
Bodie shrugged. "You were very set on goin' out, I just figured..."
"Bodie, did you think I wanted to go alone? But I tried to talk you into--"
"No you didn't. Just made a big thing that you were goin'."
Doyle thought back rapidly. He'd just assumed Bodie would go wherever he wanted, and when Bodie made it clear he wasn't interested, he'd given it up--but he hadn't actually asked him, that much was true. "I just thought you didn't want to go with me, that's all," he said lamely. "Didn't know I had to give you an invitation. Never have before, have I?"
"But it hasn't been like before for a while now," Bodie said quietly. "I haven't been included in your plans much lately."
Feeling at a loss, Doyle returned to the original subject. "If I had been going to see Ann, why wouldn't I have told you? It wouldn't have to be a secret, would it?"
Bodie shook his head. "No, of course not. I was just... I don't know what I was thinking. Forget it."
Doyle watched him, beginning to feel that something important was coming out here. "How would you have felt, Bodie? If I had looked up Ann?"
"It's nothing to me," Bodie said quickly. "I was just curious, is all."
"But you wouldn't have liked it, would you?" Doyle prodded.
Bodie swung around. "No, I wouldn't. She hurt you once; it's just like you to come back for seconds. You can be a bloody fool sometimes, Doyle."
A little surprised at the bitterness in his partner's voice, Doyle sat down again. He stared thoughtfully at the carpet. "Funny thing is," he mused, "I never even thought about her. She was the most important person in me life once, but not any more." He paused. "Not for a long time." He looked up. "Were you jealous of Ann, Bodie?"
Bodie hid behind a sip of whiskey. "Don't be daft. Of course not."
Doyle lifted a sceptical eyebrow. "And of Skellen?"
Bodie sat his glass on the table with a thump. "What a lot of crap! Just because I couldn't stand the bastard--"
"Bodie," Doyle cut him off, "just tell me the truth. Flat out, were you?"
Bodie rolled his eyes at the ceiling. "Christ, Doyle, you're a right pain sometimes. All right, straight up--no! Satisfied now?"
"I think you're lying. And I think you were lying about Ann, too, but maybe even you don't realise that."
Bodie laughed harshly. "Think a lot of yourself, don't you?"
Doyle shook his head. "No, if I did I wouldn't have been so damn blind." He hesitated. "And maybe...maybe I wouldn't have hurt you so much."
Snorting, Bodie grabbed up his glass again like a shield. He drained it and reached for the bottle. "You're mad, son. Must be jet lag."
Smiling, Doyle began to unbutton his shirt. "Think so, do you? You may be right." He felt a sudden reckless courage. "I brought you to New York to seduce you. We wasted too much bloody time as it is."
Bodie stared at him, stunned.
"Well? Shocked are you? Don't just stand there like a lump. Whatever happened to Bodie the big bad wolf?"
The green eyes sparkled wickedly. "What?"
"You're mad as a hatter. You developed a fever or something?"
Doyle stretched out on the bed, sliding an open palm down his bare chest to his belly, inching two fingers under his belt. "Never knew you to turn down a definite offer," he taunted.
Bodie swallowed painfully, but recovered a degree of composure. "Is that what this is?"
Doyle didn't answer--verbally. His free hand pushed the loose shirt flap to one side and began brushing the hardened nipple. His gaze swept over Bodie's form, his expression dreamy.
In spite of himself, Bodie's eyes were drawn to the softly exploring fingers under the tight material of Doyle's jeans, fascinated by the unself-conscious indulgence. With anyone else the gesture would have been lewd; with Ray it seemed almost natural, like a cat preening itself, luxuriating in its own sensuality.
Bodie's mouth felt dry. "You don't make this easy, do you?" he choked.
Doyle smiled lazily. "How easy do you want it?" The green eyes closed slowly, and the top button of his jeans worked loose, giving his hand more room to manoeuvre. His breath was coming faster now, and Bodie could see a drop of sweat precisely in the centre of his chest between his nipples. Bodie fought the urge to lick it off.
"What the hell are you up to, Ray?" Bodie demanded desperately. "You doped up or what?"
Doyle opened one, bemused eye. "Me?"
"Well, drunk then."
"No, wrong again." Both eyes were open now, his gaze pinning Bodie ruthlessly, the glow definitely predatory. "Just know what I want, is all."
Knowing it was a stupid question, he asked anyway, "An' what's that?"
"Come on, sunshine. Not exactly being subtle, am I? Tol' you already, didn't I?"
"What the devil's got into you, Ray? You're actin' very weird here."
Doyle reluctantly removed his hand from his trousers and sat up. "Well if you won't come to me..." As he got off the bed, Bodie backed up warily.
Doyle grinned. "What are you scared of, Bodie?" he asked sweetly, kicking off his shoes and socks before continuing his stalk.
Bodie continued retreating. "Of you," Bodie answered flatly. "Always nervous around cuckoos. Never liked nutters above half, and right now you qualify with the best of 'em. That thump on the head must've been worse than they reckoned..."
"Think I'm crazy, do you?" Doyle purred.
"Seems a reasonable deduction," Bodie croaked. He'd backed himself neatly into a corner between the television and the window. The solid little body of his partner blocked the only exit, and the teasing glint in the bright green eyes dared him to make a try at getting past.
"Okay, Ray, a joke's a joke. You've had your revenge for what I said about you and Skellen. I've learned me lesson. You can stop now."
Doyle regarded him speculatively. "Is that what you think I'm doing? Joking? Paying you back for sayin' Skellen an' me were havin' it off?"
Bodie stirred uncomfortably. "Sure. Don't blame you really. You must've known I didn't mean it, but it was a rotten thing to say just the same." He smiled weakly. "Had me goin' for a minute there, though." He started to step forward, but Doyle didn't move. He stepped back again. "Ray...?"
"Why did you say it?"
Bodie looked confused. "About...that? I dunno. Just mad as hell; said the first thing that came in me head. I've apologised for it. Now let up, will you?"
"You said it because you were jealous, didn't you?" Doyle demanded.
The blue eyes flashed dangerously. "All right, dammit! I was jealous. Happy now? Stupid, kid-stuff jealous! Is that what you had to hear?"
Doyle smiled. "Not exactly. Tell me why you were jealous."
For a second Doyle thought he might have pushed it too far, Bodie looked like he'd passed the limit of his patience.
"This is enough, Doyle. Get out of my way."
"No," Doyle countered softly. "Say it first."
A muscle in the clenched jaw twitched. "Say damn all what?"
"That you wanted me yourself. That you still do."
Their eyes held for a very long time, the anger and embarrassment fading from Bodie's. "Damn you," he whispered. "Yes." He leaned back against the wall, closing his eyes, as if the admission took something out of him.
Doyle reached out, placing his hand flat on the broad chest. "I'm glad," he said simply. Before he could do or say more, Bodie caught his wrist and held it.
"I didn't mean it about you and Skellen," Bodie said suddenly, intensely. "I should never have said it."
"But you were right."
He realised the truthful impulse had been a mistake as soon as he saw the expression in the blue eyes.
"Not at first," he added falteringly. "Later... But it doesn't matter. Really, Bodie, it--"
"Yeah," Bodie cut him off, face unreadable now. He released Doyle's wrist and cupped his hands around Doyle's face. "You bastard. You lousy little bastard. What'd you need him for, eh? If it was like that with you, what was wrong with me? You must've known.... Christ, I could kill you." Although his eyes were burning, his hands were very gentle.
Doyle didn't move, didn't speak. He wasn't afraid of Bodie--or only a little--but he could read the struggle taking place behind those eyes to control the possessive rage. Bodie could easily snap his neck with one quick motion. But he wouldn't. Doyle knew he wouldn't.
As if making a decision, Bodie's mouth came down ruthlessly on Doyle's. During that dizzy, hungry embrace, Doyle wondered exactly when he'd lost the upper hand. What had been his chase had finished with his capture. He felt the banked power in Bodie's hands, the ripple of muscle in the arms as they held him hard, and his own body felt like wax, melting down to meet the other.
Abruptly, Bodie shoved him back, leaving him dazed and breathless.
Bodie motioned to the jeans and the open shirt. "Get 'em off. Go on, strip."
Doyle stared at him, seeing the anger and the hunger and the confusion all jumbled in the beautiful dark face.
"You heard me," Bodie snarled. "Who's scared now, sweetheart? Ready to call it off? Or maybe Skellen had a better technique."
"Forget Skellen," Doyle snapped back, the caustic tone chafing his none too serene temper. "And I'm not scared, dammit! But I don't particularly want to be hurt either. The mood you're in, that's probably what you've got in mind. Now cool off, Bodie, or somebody will get hurt--and don't go bettin' it'll be me!"
The smile on Bodie's face was cruel. "You sure of that, are you?"
Doyle stood his ground. "Bodie, I'm warning you. Don't ruin this. If you want rape--"
Bodie's head jerked up as if he'd been struck. His face flushed and he turned away. "Who said anything about rape? I..." He took a deep breath. "I wouldn't hurt you, Ray. I swear..."
Puzzled at the change, Doyle took a step forward. "I know that, mate. I didn't mean it literally...but, judging by your expression, you weren't exactly going to kill me with kindness either, were you?" He smiled ruefully. "Besides, it wouldn't be rape--I'm willing."
Bodie blinked, thrown off course by this tactic. "You'd stand for it then?"
"Lyin' down would probably be best." Seeing Bodie's confusion, Doyle chuckled. "Listen, sunshine, I know you're mad at me--I said the wrong thing, as usual. I'm sorry. Figured I'd go about this all wrong. Never been good at stuff like this. Screw up with birds as well. I didn't want it like this. If you want to hurt me, you will. I can't stop you."
Bodie's eyes widened in surprise.
"Okay," Doyle added, "maybe I could--or give a good fight, anyway. But I'm at a disadvantage. I don't want to hurt you, y'see. And you're right; I am the one who started this."
Bodie turned away, head lowered. "I don't want to hurt you, dammit."
Doyle touched his shoulder, turned him around. "So don't. Make me feel good. I'll try to return the favour."
With a groan, Bodie wrapped him in his arms and held him tightly. "Ray... Ray... You make me crazy. What am I to do with you?"
Doyle grinned against Bodie's cheek. "Let's move to the bed, shall we? I'll give you directions."
He pulled away enough to finish the task of unfastening Bodie's shirt, baring the broad chest. Bodie watched him, bewitched by his partner's hungry touch, peeling off his shirt, smoothing eager hands over his skin.
"You're very light-skinned," Doyle murmured, "need some sun."
"I burn," Bodie choked as Doyle's fingers fastened on his nipples, sending lines of fire to his groin.
"Beautiful, though. Soft...sensitive..." He smiled appreciatively at the shiver he created in the muscular body. "Com'on." He tugged Bodie's arm, pulling him to the nearest bed and pushing him down.
The humour of it struck Bodie suddenly. He began to laugh, curling up, holding his stomach.
Slightly offended, Doyle sat back. "What's so bloody funny?"
"You...seducing a bloke...."
"An' what's so funny about that? Ham-handed or somethin', am I? Put you off?"
Bodie sobered. "No. Just the opposite, I'd say."
Bodie's hand slid up Doyle's bare arm, pulling him down onto the bed. "I'd always reckoned it'd be me comin' on to you, is why. Figured there'd come a day when I couldn't hold back anymore..."
"So don't," Doyle whispered. "Or I'll end up rapin' you."
Grinning, Bodie rolled over, holding Doyle down. "This is my show, sunshine," he muttered. "I'm takin' charge now."
Doyle willingly surrendered under his partner's assault, moaning as Bodie's mouth traced a path down his arching throat to his chest. Bodie's hands finished the chore of unbuttoning Doyle's jeans, releasing the hard column of flesh, caressing it, cherishing it with eyes and fingertips. He pushed the jeans down off the hips and free, then paused long enough to dispose of his own binding clothing. Naked, they rolled hungrily together, letting flesh kiss flesh, moaning into the other's mouth, hands bruising and tender in turn.
Finally Bodie rolled away, leaving Doyle writhing and hungry. He took a deep breath, controlling his own needs, banking them. Doyle found this far more difficult; he reached for Bodie entreatingly, almost at the edge of pain.
Bodie smiled into the pleasure glazed eyes. "No," he pushed the hands away. "I want to watch you. What you were doing before...do it now. I want to see it."
Dazed, Doyle looked at him. "What...?"
"Touch yourself. Do it." He took Doyle's hand and laid it on his cock. "Go on."
Doyle was too far gone to argue. He clutched himself, hips arching up, moaning. "You son...of..a...bitch..." he gasped. "Leavin' me like this..."
"Not goin' anywhere, mate," Bodie murmured, kneeling between Doyle's spread thighs. "You're so pretty--just want to see it all." Bodie grinned happily, watching Doyle's pleasurably agonised expression. He was delighted to discover that Doyle's fuse was shorter than his on this as well. It gave him a distinct advantage.
He watched as Doyle stroked himself, building to a climax; his own fingers encouraging the sensation by toying with the tight balls, watching them prepare for the explosion. At the very edge, he tore Doyle's hand away, making him hold off. Doyle fought him for the first time, wanting that finish, desperate for it. It took a bit of muscle and a good deal of leverage to hold him down.
"You lousy bastard..." Doyle croaked. "I was almost...why'd you do that...?"
Bodie kept the wrists pinned down and smiled at him dreamily. "You're beautiful when you're suffering. Want it bad, do you?"
"Yes...yes...please. Damn you, Bodie..."
"What's the rush, sweetheart? You're a bit too quick off the mark. Have to learn a bit of control here."
"Next time," Doyle gasped desperately. "Please...let me..."
"What do you want, Raymond?" Bodie teased. He leaned down to lick the wet tip and Doyle moaned and jerked up, totally lost. But Bodie was still holding his wrists and he couldn't force Bodie's mouth to take more than the very tip. Bodie's tongue swirled teasingly, exploring the slit, tasting the creamy emission and finding it very much to his liking. Then he pulled back to view Doyle's reaction.
The green eyes opened, burning, helpless, furious. "You bastard!" Doyle said hoarsely.
"What do you want, Raymond?" Bodie repeated gleefully. "Tell me. Say it."
Doyle groaned, head thrashing on the pillow, still feeling Bodie's hot breath on his cock. "Please...let me...let me come... God, Bodie..."
Bodie smiled. "Not just yet." Gonna make you remember this, Ray. Make you forget Skellen...forget everyone. Make you squirm. Make you come like you never have.
"What do you want?" Doyle countered breathlessly. "Anything...I'll do anything. Please...Bodie...this is torture..."
"Just relax," Bodie murmured, kissing Doyle's stomach. "Calm down. Take a deep breath."
Doyle tried to follow instructions, but his cock felt like steel, burning, and his balls filled with lava, yearning to erupt. Bodie released one wrist with a warning.
"Don't move...just lie still."
Doyle gritted his teeth and obeyed, knowing any rebellion would delay what he needed. Bodie was in charge now, and in spite of the frustration, he loved the feeling, finding it unbearably exciting.
"That's good," Bodie crooned. "Very good." He rewarded Doyle's capitulation by sucking softly on Doyle's cock, letting his tongue caress it lightly. Doyle's fists clenched at his sides, fingernails bearing into his palms to keep from holding Bodie's head, biting his lips to prevent crying out. Bodie raised up, took Doyle's hand in his, kissing the palm, putting it gently on the straining cock.
"Easy now. Slow and easy."
Moaning in relief, Doyle followed instructions, keeping his strokes even and painfully slow. Bodie's finger moved to Doyle ass, entered slowly, teasingly, began stroking to match the rhythm of the hand.
"Like that, do you?" he growled, beginning to lose his own control.
"Don't plan to," Bodie replied breathlessly, reaching his own limits. His finger was replaced by his cock. Carefully he entered, biting down on his own lip to hold back his raging desire to thrust. Doyle gasped at the large pressure, feeling the sting of pain as the tissues protested the invasion. His instinctive urge was to throw Bodie off, fear chilling him. But Bodie's mouth touched his, so gentle. Tenderly asking for assent, refusing to demand surrender even at this late juncture. He could feel the muscular body trembling above him, holding back painfully, shaking with a need he knew very well.
"Go on," he whispered against Bodie's mouth. "Do it."
Bodie's mouth came down harder, moaning in delight and he pushed deeper into Doyle. Doyle relaxed, feeling the movement inside him flare into pain that melted into a strange exotic pleasure. He clung to the wide shoulders and moved with him.
It happened very quickly then, a wild, thrusting heat that centred and erupted in their groins, bursting forth hotly. Doyle felt Bodie deep within, shuddering and pulsing, felt his own wetness spread over their pressed bellies.
It was a long time before either of them was able to do anything more than pant and listen to their thundering heartbeats.
Doyle finally recovered enough to whisper, "Christ!" with real feeling. Bodie didn't seem inclined to move. After a few moments, Doyle wriggled slightly, hoping his increasingly heavy partner would take the delicate hint; he was beginning to feel like he was being smothered in muscle. Bodie just buried his face in Doyle's neck and held him tighter. Doyle felt a cramp taking root in his left thigh.
He pushed gently against the smooth chest. "Uh...mate...do'y mind?"
Bodie lifted his head, a rather daft expression in the blue eyes. Doyle wished he had time to enjoy it, but his right leg was beginning to scream now. Subtle hints never worked with Bodie.
"Would you mind gettin' off now? You're worse than that bloody gymnast bird you set me up with once."
Bodie rolled away immediately, mouth setting in that little- boy pout he put on when his feelings were hurt. Doyle sighed with relief and rubbed the cramps. "Sorry, sunshine, but this might take some gettin' used to."
Bodie didn't reply.
Doyle moved closer, laying his hand over Bodie's heart. "Hey, what is it, mate?"
"Why'd you do it?" Bodie asked quietly.
Doyle purposely misunderstood. "'Cause you was breaking me tender back--"
"You know what I mean," Bodie cut in impatiently. "Why'd you come on to me?"
Doyle squirmed uncomfortably, not liking this shift in mood. He hadn't exactly been expecting a pink-tinged afterglow, but at least he had hoped to postpone the inevitable confrontation. He was feeling pleasantly sated and very pleased with himself-- definitely not up to discussing life, the universe and everything. He tried to distract Bodie by nibbling on his shoulder, but he was having none of it. He turned over on his side, facing Doyle.
Doyle faked a yawn. "Well, what?" He didn't like the intense, closed-off expression on the handsome face. It usually meant his partner was doing some heavy thinking. Dangerous, that. He didn't do it often. "Com'on, mate, give me a break. I always reckoned it was me that analysed things to death. Let's give it a rest, eh?"
"I want an answer," Bodie said stubbornly. "Why?"
Doyle rolled away, irritated. "Because I bloody wanted to, that's why?" He glared at him. "As well as I could tell, so did you. Why the big inquisition?"
"I just want to get it clear, that's all. Why now?"
Puzzled and taken off guard by this icy interrogation, Doyle snapped. "Figure we'd waited long enough, didn't I? What difference does it make, for god'sake? It was nice, wasn't it? Didn't hear you complainin' too loudly, did I?"
Bodie sat up slowly, swinging his legs over the side of the bed, his back toward the other man. "So you waited, eh? How long?"
"You've 'ad it in mind for a while, right?"
"Yeah," Doyle answered cautiously, "I suppose I have."
"How long have you known then? That you wanted this?"
Doyle shrugged, wondering where this was leading. "Dunno. Took a bit before I could believe it meself. Isn't exactly something I expected, y'know."
"Did you know before Skellen showed up?"
Startled by the question, Doyle stuttered, "I...I dunno..."
Bodie swung around, demanding it straight up, "Did you?"
"Maybe. What difference does it make, for christ's sake?"
"So why did you wait until now then?"
"Just tell me."
Doyle took a deep breath. "Same reason you did. I was a coward."
Bodie snorted. "Yeah. I bet you were shakin' in your boots all the time you was screwin' Skellen."
"Now hold on a minute--" Doyle began angrily, but the other man cut him off brutally.
"You weren't such a coward about fallin' in the sack with him, were you? No trouble at all there. How was it, Doyle? Good was he?"
"Dammit, Bodie, will you stop this--!"
"Stop it? Oh yes, mate, I'll stop it right enough." He stood and grabbed up his trousers, jerking them on furiously.
Doyle tried to hold his temper in check. "Listen you prat, I thought you were smart enough to figure out why I was with Peter. I was afraid of botchin' up what we had. Wasn't that risk with Peter. And he was so much like you--"
Bodie paused long enough to offer a scornful glance. "That's gettin' a bit old, mate. Don't want to hear it anymore; I'm bloody sick of it, y'hear me. Stupid in the first place. You say you wanted me so you fucked 'im. Very logical that."
"It's the truth. I told you, I wasn't that sure it would work for us. That you would go for it at all. Or maybe I just had to be sure it was what I wanted."
Bodie laughed harshly. "Gosh, what a clever idea. You're so scared of comin' on to me, you run off and fuck a perfect stranger. Very sharp that is. Wish I'd thought of it meself. Should've had it off with Murph or the Cow just to calm down me nerves a bit."
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Doyle snapped. "You're putting this all out of proportion. All right, maybe I made a mistake not tellin' you straight off. But I was bloody scared. Don't like to admit it, but it's true. But you haven't been any better, have you? Or are you trying to tell me you haven't had it in your mind as well?"
Bodie looked town at the floor. "No, I've wanted you. You were right about that."
Doyle smiled, feeling more at ease. "So what's all this matter then? We've got it settled now, haven't we?" He slid off the bed and moved over to the other man, turning on his repertoire of sensuality. He slipped his arms around Bodie's waist and pressed their hips together. "This is good, that's what counts."
The blue eyes stared down at him coolly, but the tense muscles were relaxing, surrendering to the siren sweetness that was Doyle. But he held back for a moment.
"You'll not be seein' Skellen again." It was not a question.
Doyle stiffened, not liking the tone or the meaning behind it. "Bodie--"
"I mean it," Bodie snapped, hands clamping on the smaller man's arms with painful force. "You'll stay clear of him."
For a second Doyle almost blew up, but then he realised their relationship was a bit too shaky at the moment to make trouble where it wasn't needed. Bodie's possessiveness was expected and could be dealt with later, when they were both more sure of each other. The point with Skellen was rather moot, in any case.
"I won't see him," Doyle said softly. Then added with a smile, "Can't anyway. He's probably on his way to Australia by now."
Bodie released him abruptly. "What?"
Doyle was bewildered by the reaction; he'd expected Bodie to be pleased by this news. "His wife emigrated. He decided to follow her."
Turned away, Bodie took this in thoughtfully. "I see."
There was a long, uncomfortable silence. It took a while before Doyle figured out what must be going through his partner's mind. He took a step forward and touched his shoulder.
The other man jerked away and reached for his shirt.
Doyle stared at him, shocked. "What are you doing?"
"What's it look like? I'm gettin' dressed."
"I can see that. Why?"
"Because I've had bloody enough, that's why."
"What are you talkin' about?"
Bodie put on his shirt and turned around to face him. "Figure it out."
"You can't believe the only reason--"
"Don't worry, Doyle," Bodie cut in sharply, "I'm sure you can talk him into coming back. You're very sharp at manipulating people."
Feeling as if he were losing control yet again, Doyle grabbed the other's arm. "Dammit, it wasn't him I wanted, it was you! Can't you get that through your thick skull! His leaving has nothing to do with what happened here. You know that!"
The blue eyes were ice again. "Do I?"
"What's wrong with you Bodie? What the devil do you want me to say?"
Bodie continued to calmly button his shirt. "Don't bother. It's not worth it."
"What do'y mean, not worth it?"
Bodie shrugged. "I concede. The better man wins. Skellen can have you with my blessing."
A mixture of frustration and panic curled in Doyle's stomach. "You're not making sense. I told you, Skellen's gone. And it's not--"
"Pity," Bodie interjected, tucking his shirt in his trousers. "Never mind. Maybe he'll come back."
"You stupid sod, doesn't matter if he does! You're me partner, not him!"
"Is that right?" Bodie regarded him levelly. "You were dead keen on him for a while there. Yeah, I'd say you fancied him considerable, seein' as how you were havin' it off with the bastard." His smile was wintry. "An' knowin' you so very well, mate, I'd wager it was you started it off."
Doyle opened his mouth to reply, but found he couldn't. He swallowed painfully, beginning to see some of it from Bodie's point of view. He'd practically ignored him for weeks, and now that Skellen was gone, the first thing he did was jump into bed with Bodie. It would make it a bit difficult to believe he'd been pining away for him for months. He'd gone about this all wrong from the word go. Bodie wasn't the man to settle for being second-best to anyone, and it was going to be rough convincing him that had never been the case.
"Bodie, I wish you'd just sit down a minute. We need to talk--"
"We've talked enough. I'm not interested. Bored with the whole business."
Doyle felt his temper slip another notch. "Bloody hell! You can't be willing to just walk off an' forget it all?"
"Can't I? Should have done a long time ago."
"You're a bloody liar!" Doyle shouted, losing his precarious grip on his smouldering disposition.
"What's the matter, Doyle," Bodie sneered. "Can't believe someone could go off you?"
"It's not that," Doyle snarled. "You just can't stand the idea you weren't the first! That's a laugh. It's just your bloody delicate feelin's were hurt cause you weren't first in line. You're still damn-all jealous, so you want to pick up all your marbles an' go home."
His scornful words didn't seem to affect the other man. He lifted a sardonic eyebrow. "That's right, sweetheart, I'm goin' home. Game, set and match."
Doyle's eyes widened. "You don't mean you're quitting? Leaving CI5?"
Bodie laughed, enjoying his partner's bewildered expression. "Bit melodramatic don't you think? Besides, if anyone quits, it won't be me, mate. Cowley hired me first, ol' son. You can bow out, if you want."
"Me?" Doyle voice was a squeak of outrage. "I'm not the one actin' like a bloody silly twit! What the hell is goin' on here, Bodie?"
Bodie's blue eyes looked him slowly up and down, lip curling in disdain, secretly savouring Doyle's discomfort and confusion. "You know you're right. I never could abide sloppy seconds."
That was enough to snap it. "You bastard!" Doyle's temper exploded and he landed a solid punch squarely in the larger man's face. At any other time, Bodie might have easily dodged it, but he'd been too busy watching for Doyle's reaction, and oddly enough, not expecting the most likely one. He went down to his knees with a gasp, hands covering his face.
Startled by the unexpected result, Doyle took a step backwards, anticipating retaliation. But Bodie remained on the floor, clutching his face and making a muffled sound.
Warily, Doyle asked, "Bodie? You okay?"
There was another snuffling noise, a liquid sniff, and then a full fledged chuckle. "I think you've smashed me friggin' nose." His voice was thick and indistinct. He pulled his hand away, and blood gushed down his chin. Trying to wipe it off gingerly, he winced.
Feeling wretched, Doyle knelt beside him. "Bodie? Mate, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to--"
Suddenly, bizarrely, Bodie began to laugh.
Even more alarmed, Doyle pulled Bodie's other hand away to try to inspect the damage. "Bodie, are you all right? It's not really broken is it?" He said it in tragic tones more suited to someone who had defaced the crown jewels or bent the Holy Grail.
Bodie chuckled again, then moaned. "Christ, Ray, will you just go get us a towel or something? I'm drippin' all over me new slacks."
Doyle jumped up and returned with a wet towel. He offered it timidly. Bodie took it and dabbed at his bleeding and rapidly swelling nose. He caught another look at his partner's guilty, crestfallen expression and started laughing again--not an easy feat under the circumstances. "Jesus, Ray, don't you ever get tired of thumpin' me? Couldn't you just break down and buy a punchin' bag instead. I'd front you the money."
Suddenly Doyle was furious again. He stood, glaring down at his bleeding partner. "Damn it, Bodie! Why do you make me do these things!"
Bodie looked up at him blearily, towel pressed to his nose. "Eh?"
"You heard me! You push and push until I blow up, then you sit there making jokes about it. Can't you just get mad one bloody time and let me have it for a change? I'm good and sick of your martyred patience! I wind up looking like a bloomin' idiot for losing me temper, while you lay back and act so fuckin' patronising, like you've always got a handle on all of it an' poor, feeble Ray raves on! It's your fault too, y'know. You bloody well wanted me to pop you one so you could feel superior!"
Bodie regarded him thoughtfully. "Is that right?" He got slowly to his feet, still trying to staunch the flow of blood.
"Damn right!" Doyle yelled. "Now you've gone and let me bash your sodding nose, you dumb bastard--"
If Bodie had been unprepared for the blow he'd received, Doyle was doubly amazed by the roundhouse slug that appeared like a bolt out of the blue. And Bodie, for once, didn't pull his punch.
A groggy Doyle found himself sitting very suddenly on the floor, holding his own face. The numbness passed in seconds and the resultant flare of pain made him yelp. He took his hand away to discover he was bleeding even worse than his damaged partner. Doyle looked up at him stunned.
"What'd you do that for?" he asked plaintively.
Bodie blinked. "Thought you wanted me to."
"Why the hell would I want you to smash me face for, you sod?"
"What was all that about before, then?" Bodie demanded. "All that stuff about me never losin' me temper and you lookin' silly. Figured you feel better if I hit you back."
"You didn't think I meant it, did you?" Doyle was outraged.
They stared at each other; Doyle chagrined, embarrassed and feeling terribly put out, Bodie fighting his quivering chin as the humour of it began to get to him, both of them bleeding and smarting from their respective wounds.
Bodie squatted down beside his partner and proffered the brightly stained cloth. "Wanna borrow me towel?"
Doyle glared at him, but the twinkle in the blue eyes was contagious and the sheer ridiculousness of the situation overcame his bruised ego and throbbing flesh. He began to giggle. Bodie popped down beside him on the carpet and released his own pent-up mirth. For several minutes, they held onto each other weakly, laughing, both dripping blood, out of breath, moaning and making a right mess.
Bodie recovered first, snuffling and taking back the towel to wipe off the fresh flow. He cupped Doyle's chin and lifted it. "Let's have a look then. What's the damage?"
That set Doyle to chortling again. "What d'ya think?"
"You're jokin'. Ah, well, never mind. It'll match your cheek anyway."
"That's a lousy thing to say," Doyle sputtered.
Bodie touched the injured nose with a gentle finger. "You were too pretty for your own good anyway, sunshine. I'll love you just as much battered up a bit more."
"Oh, ta very much." He pushed Bodie's hand away and felt the bridge of his nose cautiously. "I think it's in one piece; hate to disappoint. Just feels like you moved it a couple of inches to one side. What about your precious perfect hooter?"
Bodie grinned, sniffing. "I'll live. May not be my normal incredibly handsome self for a few days." He touched the towel to his nose again. "Looks like we've nearly stopped bleeding at least. Must've lost a couple pints between us."
Doyle had sobered. "Bodie," he said softly, "I'm sorry."
The heavy lashes lifted to meet Doyle's gaze. "No need. We both--"
"Not about that," Doyle cut in. "For going about this all wrong, for letting you think... Bodie, that's not the way it was with Skellen and me. I know how it looks, but--"
Bodie kissed him. It was a careful, cautious kiss, mindful of their various injuries, but filled with tenderness. "I know how it was, sunshine."
"You do? But all of that...?"
Bodie looked embarrassed. "Thought you deserved to sweat a bit, after all you put me through."
"Why you bastard!"
"Are you going to hit me again," Bodie asked mournfully, eyes still twinkling merrily.
"I'm considering it. Jesus, Bodie, what if I'd taken you up on that and let you walk out?"
Bodie grinned. "I'd've had to come back, wouldn't I? Find a way to sweet talk you around."
Doyle grinned back. "Start now."
A second later Doyle jerked back from the delighted embrace. "Ouch! This isn't going to work, mate."
"I'll have to find somethin' else to kiss then--"
"I just thought of something," Doyle put in.
"So've I," Bodie said huskily, reaching for the other.
"Not that! We're going to have to face Cowley tomorrow."
"Oh. We can always tell him we ran into a door."
"Both of us?"
Bodie grinned again. "Well, it's better than tellin' him neither one of us had the sense to duck."
-- THE END --