My Golden Afternoon With the Grim Reaper
by PR Zed
"Don't you remember?"
I thought hard, but the immediate past was a great, gaping chasm, with no form, no substance.
I leant back against the bench we were sitting on and took in my surroundings. We were in a cottage garden in full bloom, a riot of colours and scents. The sun beamed down, a warm soothing presence, casting a warm golden light over the whole scene. Ray would have loved the place.
"Where am I?"
"You are here."
"Oh." Not a very helpful answer, but it satisfied me for the moment. I looked at my companion, and found that I couldn't really focus on him properly. He was a shadowy form, an absence of presence.
"Why I can't I see you?"
"Because you do not yet fully belong here."
"But I'm here."
I pursed my lips and thought that one over. Thought over the whole thing, in fact. The odd thing was that none of it seemed odd. I was sitting in an English garden in summer when I somehow knew it should be winter, talking to a man, or being, who didn't really seem to be here.
Last night as I went up the stair, I met a man who wasn't there...
Odd. And yet it wasn't. I decided it was a nice place, and I would just enjoy it for a while and see what happened.
The bed was warm, the room was cold and Ray Doyle was much too comfortable to consider getting up. He burrowed down deeper into the covers, pulling the sheets almost to the top of his head and sighing contentedly.
He reached his arm out and touched the body lying beside him, his hand making contact with a firm bicep. The bicep's owner snuffled slightly, but didn't waken.
Ray propped himself up on his pillow and studied his companion.
Bodie lay quietly asleep, covers tucked up under his chin, long eyelashes dusting his cheeks. In repose, his face was guileless, as it never was when he was awake. His lips weren't pursed, his eyebrow wasn't raised and he looked a world away from the man who loved nothing better than to take the piss.
Ray loved these moments when he could simply examine Bodie, enjoy his presence without worrying what was going on behind those blue eyes. They were rare enough.
And as quickly as the moment came, it was gone. In its place rose up worry. The worry that had been gradually eating away at him for the past month. Worry that had worn away at the happiness he had thought he had found with Bodie.
It was a worry that came on two fronts. There was the worry that Bodie wasn't serious, that Bodie would get bored of sharing his bed, that Bodie would move onto the next man, or woman. Worry that his own heart would splinter into a thousand irreparable shards if that should happen. That was bad enough.
Then there was the worry that this new relationship would somehow destroy what had come before. That the friendship that bound him to William Andrew Philip Bodie more than he had ever been bound to any other living soul would be wrecked, sacrificed to lust.
Both worries led to a kind of hurt that he was becoming more certain that he wouldn't survive. Ray chewed on his lip as he pondered the dilemma that had consumed his thoughts almost since he and Bodie had discovered there was something they could do together besides having a pint or watching footie or riding their motorcycles. That had preyed on his sleep since he realized that he felt more for Bodie that he had planned, that he might be in love with the stupid sod. He had turned the problem over and over in his mind, but he kept coming back to the same solution.
End it now. Break up with Bodie before his heart was too involved, before the partnership was compromised, before their friendship was destroyed. Live with the hurt of that to avoid a greater hurt later.
He was only being pragmatic.
Or cowardly, said a quiet voice at the back of his mind. Cowardly and gutless and not worthy to be employed by CI5 or grace his partner's bed. He tried to ignore the voice, but it continued to whisper, feeding doubt and hope in equal amounts till he could take no more and killed it with a calm finality.
He eased himself back down beside Bodie, throwing an arm over his partner's chest. He tried to focus on the solid feeling of Bodie's firm flesh under his, tried to recapture the contentment that had been his just a few minutes before. Tried, and failed.
Bodie began to make the quiet snuffling noises that inevitably signalled his return to consciousness. After much moaning and complaining and tossing about, the blue eyes finally flickered open.
"Good morning, Sunshine," Bodie said, giving him a little half-awake grin and settling comfortably under the arm across his chest.
"'Morning yourself." Doyle tried to smile and found he couldn't quite manage it.
Bodie quirked an eyebrow in his direction and leaned on one elbow.
"You look like you've been thinking too much, mate."
"Not a problem you've ever had," Doyle snapped back.
"I resent that." Bodie put on his best hurt expression.
"Resent it all you like. Doesn't make it untrue."
"Christ, you're vile in the morning." Bodie blinked hard and yawned. "I liked you better last night." He smiled wide, much like a predator must smile at its prey. "At night you're very sweet."
"Get off, Bodie." Doyle pushed his partner aside and swung his legs over the side of the bed.
"Oi, watch the merchandise." Bodie rubbed at his chest where Doyle had shoved it. "I'm very delicate, I am." He batted his eyelashed in Doyle's direction.
"Stop pratting about, Bodie. It's not funny."
"I've been told I'm quite amusing." Bodie lay back, his hands behind his head.
"Not to me."
Bodie sat up and looked at him. Really looked at him. Doyle threw up every barrier he could manage and in spite of that he still felt as though every corner of himself had been invaded, all his secrets ransacked and made public knowledge.
"You really have been thinking too much," Bodie said, softly, almost tentatively. "You got something to say to me, Ray?"
There it was. The perfect opportunity, handed to him on a platter, wrapped up with a ribbon. And he almost didn't take it.
"Nah, 's nothing."
"Tell me, Ray." Bodie urged, looking at him warily.
"I..." he paused and nearly didn't continue. Nearly let it slide. Then he remembered the hurt that had consumed him after Anne had left. Fear of that hurt pushed him forward. "I think we should stop this now.
"You do?" Bodie's voice was non-committal, his face showed absolutely nothing.
"Yeah, I do. Makes sense." He tried to marshall his reasons into a coherent force that would win the day, but found them scattering in retreat, deserting him. Still he continued, making as convincing an argument as he could. "It's not serious for either one of us, is it? I mean, you're hardly the type. You don't even buy your birds flowers." He chewed on his lip before continuing. "And it could get too complicated. I don't want to partner with anyone else. Or lose you as a friend." He finished awkwardly, not certain of Bodie's reaction, no longer even sure of his own motives.
Bodie said nothing for a full minute. Said nothing; only looked at his partner with eyes that were almost completely devoid of expression. Almost, except for a hint of something, something Doyle might have said was hurt, if this hadn't been Bodie he was talking about. Bodie, who was ex-SAS, didn't act soft and didn't show his feelings, even assuming he had feelings. And then even that something was gone, and all that was left was the blank stare.
"Yeah, I suppose it's for the best."
And that was it. No arguments, no emotional scene.
Doyle looked at Bodie, not liking the lack of emotion on his face.
"Are we okay?" he asked, suddenly worried that he'd done the wrong thing, that he'd killed the partnership he'd been trying to save.
There was no answer for a long moment, a moment that saw Doyle's fear grow. Then the moment broke.
"'Course we're okay." Bodie smiled, an impish, very Bodie-like smile. "Now what have you got in for breakfast?"
Doyle found himself smiling in response. All was right with the world if Bodie was thinking about his stomach.
He was just about to offer Bodie a proper fry-up, complete with bangers, fried bread and beans, when he heard the tell tale signal of his RT sound from his night stand.
"Doyle." Cowley crisp tones issued from the RT. "There's been an incident. I need you and Bodie there immediately."
"What's happened?" Doyle felt a surge of adrenaline curl through his system.
"An explosion has been reported in Earl's Court. It appears a terrorist group was holed up in a B&B in the neighbourhood and their bomb blew up prematurely. They seem to have taken hostages. I want you there five minutes ago."
"And where is that partner of yours? We haven't been able to raise him."
"He's here. Came over for breakfast and must have forgot his RT." Doyle glared at Bodie, who responded with a shrug of his shoulders.
There was a snort at the other end of the line.
"Well, on your bikes, both of you."
"So much for breakfast," Bodie said as they both began to pull on clothes as fast as they could.
I've been with CI5 too long. I could only relax and enjoy the flowers for so long. Then I started to wonder...
"Why a garden?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, why did you bring me to a garden? It's a simple question."
"I didn't." The shadow gestured at the delphiniums and primroses. "You created all this. It comes from you."
I snorted in disbelief.
"Come on. I'm not exactly the roses and lavender type. You must have me confused with my boss. Or my partner."
"It comes from you," the shadow repeated, and settled back in the bench, if a shadow can be said to settle.
I nearly started arguing again, but decided not to. It wasn't a fight I was going to win, and I've never been one for useless fights. Unlike my partner.
"Where's Ray?" I asked. The one question I had wanted to ask before this, but hadn't dared.
"Where he should be." No answer at all, but I wasn't going to push the point.
"And am I where I should be?"
"Do you think you are?"
"Nah. It feels like I'm waiting for something."
"Dunno." I thought very hard about it, but the answer failed to appear. It was just this whole thing felt even more wrong that sitting in a perfect English garden with a bloke who appeared entirely made out of black velvet should do. "Have you got any ideas?"
"I can't help you. You have to figure it out for yourself."
"Great," I said, my voice heavy sarcasm. "I'm sitting here with a ghost talking about how I created a garden in my head, and he won't even give me a hint about what it's all about."
The shadow just sat there, and I swear if he'd had a face, he would have been smirking. Indulgently. I wanted very much to hit him, but I reckoned that might be breaking some sort of rule. Even assuming this place had rules.
Nothing for it but to return to my first question. "What happened?"
"What do you remember?" Christ, but I was getting sick of questions being answered with questions. Still, I didn't have anything else to do. I tried to remember where I'd been before the garden. It was just a blur of images. Ray. Murphy. Loud yelling. A flash of red.
"I think I was shot," I said, not understanding what the words meant until I said them. "That's it, isn't it. I was shot and I'm dead and this is hell." I looked around at the sunshine and robins and realized how stupid that sounded. "Or heaven," I tried, but this was hardly my idea of heaven either. "Or limbo." I looked over at my companion for confirmation, but it was difficult to judge a person without a face. If, in fact, he was even a person. I was beginning to have a bad feeling about that particular point.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"Who do you think I am?" More bloody questions.
"If I knew, why would I ask?"
"But you do know." Ever helpful, was my friend.
I sat there in silence for a few long minutes, thinking about everything that had happened since I found myself in this place, about what my companion had told me and what he hadn't told me. About the little I could remember from before.
"Death." I breathed out the syllable. "You're Death." I looked over at him again, but his form was no clearer now that I knew who he was.
"Your people sometimes call me that," he acknowledged.
"Fucking hell," I whispered under my breath.
They drove into chaos.
Fire engines and ambulances and panda cars surrounded the building that the presumed terrorists had been operating out of. Half the windows of the B&B and surrounding flats were blown out and there was debris and smoke everywhere. Doyle could see members of CI5 scattered through the crowd of emergency services and CID. Murphy was talking to Cowley; Susan and Anson crouched to one side with sniper rifles.
As they pulled up alongside Murph's car, a spray of gunfire issued from the building, and everyone ducked for cover. Doyle pulled on his partner's sleeve and they moved over to where their boss stood, being very careful to keep their heads down the whole way.
Cowley glared at them as they approached.
"We've been waiting for the pair of you." He took in a large breath, clearly about to launch into a tirade about their lack of dependibility and general shiftlessness when his RT beeped. Doyle silently thanked whoever was on the other end.
"Och, fill them in, would you Murphy," Cowley growled, then moved further back from the action to deal with the latest emergency.
Doyle and Bodie both looked to Murphy.
"Who died and made you Cowley?" Bodie asked Murphy, indulgent bemusement showing in his eyes.
"Sod off," Murphy said, visibly bristling. "And anyway, you two weren't here, were you?"
"Yeah, all right, then. What's the plan?" All Doyle wanted to do at this point was to avoid confrontation.
"SOP. Susan and Anson are going to lay covering fire; the rest of us get to enter the building and clear it. And much joy we'll have of it, too. The place it a rat's warren of small rooms, from what we've been able to tell. We don't even know how many of them are in there. Just that they're armed." A blast from a shotgun issued from the building, as if to punctuate Murphy's last statement.
"Great," Doyle said, sarcasm permeating the word.
"Yeah, just great." Murphy echoed back Doyle's sarcasm, and added some of his own. "You two take position at the back entrance. Move in when you get the word on the RT."
Bodie nodded at Doyle, and they were off, moving down the street so they could work their way to the rear of the building with least possible exposure.
"Flak jackets are at the CID van," Murphy yelled after them.
"Just slow us down, mate," Bodie returned and grinned at Doyle.
Doyle could see Murph fire back a response, but the noise of sirens and men shouting drowned out the words. Bodie apparently didn't need to hear what the younger man said to understand it.
"He just called us a couple of mad berks," Bodie said, looking slightly put out.
"Ignore him, Sunshine. We know we're not berks." Doyle shot a slightly loopy grin at his partner, who returned it in kind.
In spite of the danger facing them, Doyle felt a warm glow at his middle. This was what mattered, the partnership, the friendship. The two of them facing the world with only their wits and a couple of magazines of ammunition between them. Anything else was extraneous.
They took their positions and awaited the go ahead. Doyle took a second to check his gun. He'd had enough stoppages over the years to always check the springs in his magazine.
"Everything okay?" Bodie asked him, clearly concerned.
"Yeah, looks fine."
They both settled in, poising for action.
The RT sounded.
"Alpha One to all agents. Go. I repeat, go."
That was all it took. They moved forward as cautiously as they could while running full speed into the building, and then the training took over. Clear each room as they came to it, each taking their turn to lead, each covering the other.
They had checked three rooms, pokey little bed sits with little more than a bed, wardrobe and wash basin, before they had contact with one of the inhabitants.
It had been Doyle's turn to sweep the room. As Bodie waited in the hall, Doyle kicked open the door and moved in. He held his gun before him in a straight-armed grip, ready to fire if needed.
Unlike the previous two rooms, this room had an occupant. A young man in a ripped T-shirt and faded jeans faced him with a Browning pistol held loosely in his hands. Doyle looked closer and realized the man was more of a boy. He was small and skinny and the gun looked impossibly large in his small hands.
"Drop it!" Doyle yelled at him, readying his own trigger finger to fire.
The boy stared at Doyle. At first, only confusion showed in his eyes, as if he weren't quite sure where he was or how he'd gotten here. Doyle started to relax, thinking this scrawny kid couldn't be much of a threat. Then the boy's eyes changed. Hardened. He started to swing his weapon up.
Doyle realized he had to act. He squeezed the trigger of his own gun, bracing himself for the recoil.
And nothing happened.
"Stoppage," he yelled back at Bodie, knowing as he did so that there was nothing his partner could do.
It amazed Doyle aftewards, when he had the leisure to think about it, how much time slowed down at that point. He saw the exact moment when the boy registered the stoppage. He continued to swing his own gun up to face Doyle, his eyes going cold and dark.
Doyle clenched his teeth and waited for the impact of the bullet, waited for the crushing pain in his chest. He'd felt that pain once before and survived it. He didn't expect to be so lucky a second time.
Bodie barreled in from the hall, screaming at the top of his lungs and raising his own gun to fire. The boy swung his weapon to meet the new threat and fired. Twice. Bodie didn't have a chance. He dropped to the floor with a sickening thud.
The boy seemed surprised that he'd hit his target. He blinked several times, his eyes big and round. He looked more innocent than someone who had just shot another person should.
Doyle didn't even think. He moved forwards towards the boy, ignoring the gun, ignoring the danger to himself, his only thought was how fast he could get back to Bodie. He got in close in a couple of strides and took the boy down with one blow from the butt of his gun. He took another second to make certain the boy was out cold, then called for help for Bodie on his RT as he moved back to his partner.
"Bodie." The name waspulled from his throat in a moan.
His partner lay on the floor, his breath coming in shallow, rapid gasps. Doyle felt for a heartbeat and found it feathery and fast. Bodie was going into shock. He opened Bodie's jacket and tried his best to apply pressure to the wounds. In spite of his efforts, blood continued to pulse from his chest, soaking Bodie's shirt and the dingy carpet beneath them and staining Doyle's own hands a deep crimson.
"You stupid son of a bitch." He choked on the words, unable to continue.
"Doyle," Bodie whispered, looking up at his partner, frowning with the effort it took to stay conscious.
"I'm here, Bodie." He blinked back the tears that were beginning to form in the corner of his eyes.
"Yeah, I'm okay."
"Good." Bodie got an odd little smile on his face. "That's good." He closed his eyes and Doyle could feel the tension leave his body and he lost consciousness.
"No, goddamn it," he shouted at his partner. "You're not going to die."
It took the combined efforts of Murphy, Jax and the emergency services team to get Doyle away from Bodie. As the paramedics did their best to stabilize Bodie then took him away, Murphy did his best to keep Doyle from going into shock.
Doyle knew what his colleague was doing, appreciated it on some level, but it didn't register. Nothing registered except the thought that Bodie had been wounded. That Bodie was likely going to die.
"He's going to be fine, Doyle. Everything's going to be fine," Murphy said.
"No it's not," Doyle heard himself answer. "Not by a long shot."
I took a breath and tried to think.
"Okay, so you're Death." I forced another breath deep into my lungs. "I'm dead."
"Ah, but are you?" My companion leaned forward.
"What?" I was completely flummoxed, now.
"You said before you thought you were waiting. What do you think you're waiting for?"
"Judgment." It was the first thing that popped into my head.
I futilely tried to grasp for another answer. Ray was always better at the soul searching than I was. Better at the doublethink, too.
"I don't bloody know, do I?" I exploded in frustration. "I'm no good at this kind of thing." Backed into a corner, I did what any trapped animal would. I attacked.
"Why the fuck are you spending so much time with me, anyway? Surely you have hundreds of other places to be."
"I can be more than one place at once," my companion said, calm in the face of my wrath. "Besides which, you interest me. You've courted me for so long."
"Courted you?" Surprise took away my anger.
"I bloody well have not," I said, indignant at the implication. It was one thing for Kate Ross to suggest you had a death wish, but when it comes from, well, Him, it's quite another. I take everything dear Kate says with a boulder of salt, but it's hard to argue with the personification of the state.
I looked over at my companion to protest further, and the absence was gone. In its place was a cavalcade of faces: the captain of my first mercenary troop, the first man I'd ever killed, Krivas, Barry Martin, Diana Molner, Keith Williams, Marikka, George Cowley and even a brief glimpse of Raymond Doyle. Every person I'd ever killed; every person who'd nearly killed me. People I'd known who'd died and people with whom I'd faced death. I shuddered and the shadow was back.
"You see now?"
I nodded, the argument sucked from my lungs.
He crossed his arms and leaned back against the bench, as if he was satisfied at the turn things were taking.
"So, what are you waiting for?"
And answer was there, just waiting for me.
"I have to make a choice."
"Whether to live or die."
Doyle watched from the street as the ambulance carrying Bodie drove away at breakneck speed. They had asked if he wanted to ride with them, but at the moment he felt he didn't have the right. Bodie deserved to have someone with him who would take better care of him than Ray Doyle had done.
When the ambulance disappeared around a corner, he turned his attention to the road beneath his feet, examining the macadam in excruciating detail and trying to ignore the blood staining his jeans, jacket and hands. Blood that was beginning to dry and turn the colour of old rust.
A hand was placed on his shoulder.
"How are you doing, lad?" Cowley asked tentatively.
Doyle was not feeling charitable.
"How the fuck do you think I'm doing?" he snapped as he pulled away.
Remarkably, Cowley didn't flay him alive.
"I know you're upset, Doyle. We're all concerned about Bodie"
"Yeah, but it's not your fault he was shot."
"Sure you don't think..."
Doyle didn't let him continue.
"My gun jammed and Bodie got shot because of it." He shoved his blood-covered hands into his jacket pockets and shivered, chilled by the cold wind that gusted down the street. "It's my fault."
"Bollocks," Cowley replied, and Doyle started, as much from hearing that word from George Cowley's lips as the sharpness of the delivery. "I know you, Doyle. You're as conscientious as anyone on the squad. If you could have prevented the stoppage, you would have. Guns jam; agents are injured and sometimes it's nobody's fault."
Doyle shook his head.
"You're wrong, sir. Dead wrong. It is my fault. All of it."
Cowley said nothing after that, but just looked at Doyle for several long minutes. Doyle began to feel like a particularly interesting paramecium under a scientist's microscope. He even began to wonder if perhaps Cowley knew everyting; knew that he and Bodie had been sleeping together, even knew that Doyle had broken it off this morning. He felt a crawling down his spine, but shook it off. There was such a thing as being too paranoid, even where George Cowley was concerned.
Cowley finally broke the silence.
"Murphy," he called, and the tall, lanky man appeared at his elbow. "Take Doyle home and get him cleaned up." When Doyle began to protest Cowley cut him off with a look. "We either do this my way, 4.5, or I'll have you packed off in handcuffs." He turned back to Murphy. "When you're done, take him to the hospital. They've taken Bodie to St. Stephen's hospital. I'll join you both there when I've done cleaning up this lot."
"Yes, sir," Murphy said and moved off towards his car.
Doyle moved to join him, but Cowley stopped him by taking hold of his elbow.
"You have to stop blaming yourself, lad. It doesn't do Bodie any good." Cowley's voice was low and concerned.
"Having me as a partner didn't do Bodie any good either, sir."
Doyle deliberately took his elbow back and stalked off after Murphy. He didn't even look back to see Cowley's reaction.
"Yes." His voice was a slow hiss. "Live or die. Your choice."
"Can't be that simple. What's the catch?"
"No catch. You merely have to decide if you have anything to live for."
I thought about that and they weren't pleasant thoughts.
"Something to live for? You've come to the wrong man for that." I gave a hollow laugh. "I'm in a crap job that seems to have finally killed me. I've got no family that I'd want to claim, or that'd claim me, come to that. No wife, no girlfriend. Not even a dog. I might as well get it over with now."
I couldn't answer that one. Not right away. 'Cause all I wanted to do at that moment was curl in a little ball and howl. I swallowed hard a couple of times and tried opening my mouth, but no words would come out.
"You stepped in front of a bullet that was meant for him. He must mean something to you."
"Yeah, but I don't mean anything to him. Do I?"
"You bloody bastard," I growled, looking down at the ground. "Why bring this up when you must know..." I couldn't continue.
"I know that he ended things between you." Must be great to be Death; you can talk about someone's world ending in that calm, resonant voice.
I bobbed my head, afraid to actually talk, afraid that I would give myself away. I had hidden that pain from Ray; I could hide it now. Even before Death, I had my pride. Only problem was, he wouldn't shut up.
"I also know he's waiting for you. He's waiting for you to come back."
I shook my head and blinked away the tears that were getting harder to hold back. And from somewhere, I found my voice.
"Why would he do that?"
"He loves you." He finally gives me a straight answer and it's one that doesn't make any sense.
"No." One syllable, final and complete.
"Then why the fuck did he finish it?"
"He didn't want to hurt your friendship."
"He always was a bloody idiot," I said, mostly to myself.
"And he didn't know you love him."
I felt as if I'd been struck between the ribs with an especially long hunting knife. I doubled over and wrapped my arms around myself in an effort to stave off the pain. Didn't do a damn bit of good, though.
"I can't," I said through gritted teeth and clenched jaw.
My companion touched my shoulder and it was like no sensation I've ever felt. It was cold and warm, comforting and disquieting. The pain eased.
"No." The pressure on my shoulder increased.
"Yes," I whispered.
"Yes," he repeated, and if he'd had a face I would have sworn he was smiling.
The garden began to fade away, drifting into a formless grey, then black. And I faded with it till there was nothing left of me at all.
Doyle hated hospitals. Hated hospitals, ambulances, casualty wards, doctors and nurses. And he hated hospital waiting rooms most of all.
He paced back and forth in the grim little room, with it's industrial beige paint job and uncomfortable furniture, and tried to ignore the concerned looks that Cowley kept giving him and the cups of tea that Murphy was forever trying to put in his hands. He didn't want tea and he especially didn't want sympathy. All he wanted was Bodie, in one piece with no holes in him.
But Bodie had two rather large holes in his chest. Doyle's hand unconsciously drifted to the location of his own scar.
Bodie had been shot because he put himself between Doyle and a terrorist's bullet. He'd saved Doyle's life. And Doyle had thought Bodie didn't care, wasn't serious, didn't love him.
What a fucking joke.
He wished he could take back this morning, wished he'd never given into his own insecurities.
But he had done, had opened his stupid mouth this morning, had pushed Bodie away. Then Bodie had proven how serious he was by taking a bullet meant for Doyle. No amount of wishing was going to change any of that.
Doyle cast about for a deity to make a deal with. Save him and I'll do anything. I'll take back every bloody thing I said this morning; I'll tell him how I feel. I'll stick by him forever, or I'll leave if he tells me to fuck off. Anything, just so he doesn't die. But there was no thunderbolt, no burning bush. The devil did not turn up to buy his immortal soul for the price of one slightly battered ex-soldier. There was only more pacing, more waiting.
He had nearly come to the end of his strength and Cowley's patience when a pleasant looking, sandy-haired man in surgical scrubs entered the room. Doyle tried to ignore the blood spatters on the man's trainers and scrubs.
"Are you waiting on Mr. Bodie?" he asked.
Cowley jumped to his feet. Doyle let the Cow deal with the situation, but he did move in closer. Murphy hovered in background.
"Yes we are." Cowley shook the man's hand. "I'm George Cowley, of CI5. This is Ray Doyle, Bodie's partner. And that's Murphy." He gestured towards his men.
"Dr. Russell. I performed the operation on Mr. Bodie."
"How is the laddie?"
"He's still in critical condition, but I think the worst of the danger has passed."
"He's going to be all right, then," Doyle blurted out.
"Yes," Russell said, somewhat hesitantly.
"But..." Doyle prompted. He could tell there was something the man wasn't saying.
"But, I did think we were going to lose him at first. His vitals signs dropped alarmingly. The fight seemed to go right out of him." He shook his head, clearly disturbed by the memory.
"But he's okay now?"
"Yes." This time the answer was confident. "His signs are strong and he's responding better than we could hope, given the injury he sustained."
Doyle dropped into a chair, relief flooding through his system. Cowley took over.
"Thank you very much, Dr. Russell. You'll let us know when we can see Bodie?"
"Yes, of course."
The doctor left the room. Cowley patted Doyle once on the back, then moved over to a corner to talk quietly with Murphy. Doyle was grateful for the space they both gave him. He needed some time to think. He certainly had plenty to think about.
Bodie was probably going to be okay. No, sod that. Bodie was going to recover, get back on the A squad and be as infuriating as he ever was.
But where did that leave him?
He knew now just what Bodie meant to him, and what he must mean to Bodie. But did he have the courage to accept that, to risk hurt and rejection and the loss of friendship to achieve something potentially greater.
He didn't know.
But whatever the answer, he had to talk to Bodie. Doyle just hoped that Bodie'd still want to talk to his partner and all-round stupid git Ray Doyle when he had recovered. And he hoped that he'd have the nerve to say what he really wanted to say to Bodie.
They tell you that the last sense to go and the first to come back is hearing. I say bollocks to that. It's touch.
I couldn't hear or see or taste or smell anything, but I could feel. I could feel a hand holding mine tightly, like it wasn't going to let go. Felt good. It was a strong hand, with calluses from firing guns and fixing motorcycles. I tried to squeeze the hand back, but I couldn't, not yet.
I struggled against the darkness that still held me--wishing for a moment that I was back in the garden, but only for a moment--tried to swim through it like it were water, tried to find a place where it was light again.
Smell came back, and an unwelcome sense that was. All I could smell was antiseptic and bland food and fear. A hospital. I was in a hospital. Brilliant. I hated hospitals, as much as Ray does. More than Ray does.
And then I caught another scent. One of warm leather and motorcycle grease and just a hint of sweat. Ray. Ray was here with me. If I'd had control of my own muscles, I would have smiled.
And then I heard him, whispering quietly to himself. To me.
"Wake up. C'mon Bodie. Don't lie there like a lump. You have to wake up. You bloody, lazy, ungrateful bastard. I don't know what I'll do if you don't wake up."
That's my Ray: all sweetness and light. Still, I wouldn't want him any other way.
I struggled against the darkness again, and it began to fall away. I found I could move. Just my eyelids, but it was something.
I blinked, trying to clear the sleep from my eyes, to adjust to the light that was making my eyes water. After the darkness, it took me a moment before I could see anything. And then, there he was, sitting in one of those uncomfortable chairs that hospitals inevitably supply for visitors, two days growth of beard on his face and great bruises under his eyes from lack of sleep. He looked beautiful.
He wasn't looking at me, but somewhere in the direction of the floor. I tried to get his attention.
"Ray." At least that's what I tried to say, but it came out as a croak.
His head jerked up abruptly and he blinked rapidly. His grip on my hand tightened.
"Bodie?" His voice was tentative, searching.
I tried to answer, but what little voice I had disappeared. A straw was appeared in front of me, and I gratefully sucked the tepid water into my mouth. The gargantuan effort involved in drinking had me knackered, and my eyes closed. I could hear the glass being replaced on the nightstand beside me. Then my hand was taken in his again and held tight.
I nearly drifted off, but I remembered why I was back here, why I'd been given another chance. I forced my eyes open and willed Ray to look up at me. When he finally did, I held the gaze of those green eyes of his as though my life depended on it. My life did depend on it.
"I love you," I said as loudly as I could, which wasn't really very loud at all. But Ray heard me. His eyes went wide and I could see his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed hard.
"You never said, you stupid son of a bitch. Why didn't you say?" If I didn't know better, I'd have sworn the silly sod was crying.
"Couldn't. Not my style."
He closed his eyes then, and squeezed my hand so hard that it hurt in spite of all the pain medication floating through my system. I didn't mind, not as long as it was Ray doing the squeezing.
After a minute, his eyes opened again and this time his eyes were the ones that locked onto mine.
"Don't you ever walk in front of a bullet again."
"Just wanted you safe, Sunshine." My voice was nearly gone, but Doyle was close enough that he heard every word.
"Doesn't mean a thing if you're not here." His fingertips stroked the side of my face. "Just you remember that. None of it means a thing without you."
"I need you, too," I told him. "Always have."
My strength was spent. My eyes closed again, and this time I couldn't do a thing to stop them.
As I drifted off to sleep I just hoped I wasn't going to dream of a garden.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Motet Opus 4 in B and D, Keynote Press, 2000