To Love That Well
This story is set in the world of the British medical drama Always and Everyone, in which Martin Shaw stars as A&E consultant Robert Kingsford. Other characters in the series include physicians Christine Fletcher (Registrar), Mike Gregson (Staff Grade), Louise Macken, Stuart Phelan, and David Scobie (all Senior House Officers). Nurses on the series are: Cathy Jordan (Senior Sister), Terry, and Judy. In my particular take on this universe, Raymond Doyle never existed.
St. Victor's, 1999
"Yes?" Robert looked at Terry, hoping for confirmation that their efforts had paid off, as he always did, but this time Terry shook his head as he checked for a pulse.
"Crack her chest." His team sprang to action, smoothly shifting their efforts to the last line of defence. He spared a glance for Lou, her face pinched with the despair that he wouldn't allow himself to give in to. He looked away and focused on the task at hand.
But Jenny Farrington's body had nothing left to fight with and even his direct massage of her heart failed. On a dreary Friday in March, at 17:42, she died. Age sixteen.
It was silent in resus as Robert pronounced the time of death, then Terry and Cathy quietly took over, performing the last services that all nurses did for their patients. They'd make her presentable, peaceful, so her parents wouldn't be left with the image of her suffering.
Robert added Jenny's face to a long line of others. He tried not to look at it as winning and losing, yet he always did. Soldier mentality.
He stood away from the body, making room for Cathy. This was the other side of the equation, the price he paid for the exhilaration he felt when he saved a life. He'd been told once that everything balanced out in life, and he knew it to be true. But it was the need to tip that balance to the side of life that kept him in A&E.
Stripping the gloves from his hands, he deposited them in the bin. Lou turned away from him as he approached, her shoulders hunched. He touched her lightly on the arm.
"You did what you could." Jenny had been her patient.
"It didn't matter." Lou's voice was defeated and bitterness hovered between them.
He breathed in, giving himself time. He wasn't immune to bitterness himself just at the moment. "No. You know that's how it is sometimes."
She turned on him, her eyes brilliant with unshed tears. "This isn't for me. I can't do it."
"Do what?" He couldn't keep the sharpness from his voice.
"What you do." She jerked her head at Cathy and Terry. "What they do. I can't...keep my emotions out of it."
"No one is asking you to. We all feel it."
"You don't show it! You don't let it interfere...." She turned away, her voice choking on the words.
"Neither do you. Come on, Lou, you know the score. This isn't the first patient you've lost."
She turned back to him, her face composed and withdrawn. "I don't want to be what you have to be to do that." She brushed past him and walked away.
He watched her leave resus, then rubbed a hand over his face and sighed. He'd handled that wrong. Then again, she had to come to her own conclusions about the equation--whether she stayed in A&E for her career or not. He hoped she'd stay, would choose it for her speciality after her rotation was through.
Walking to the other side of resus, he checked on Mike's progress with the compression in three, concurring with him over the X rays and speaking briefly with Judy, who was trying to find a hospital with immediate room in intensive care, while also fielding the neurosurgeon's complaints.
Judy held the phone away from her ear and rolled her eyes. "It makes you wonder sometimes, doesn't it?"
"It makes me think that it isn't just SHOs who should work a mandatory stint in A&E."
Judy smiled at him. "Ah, but would you want Mr Bryant in your A&E?"
"All right, a mandatory stint in a different hospital." He grinned at her and went on his way, but the smile faded as he entered the hallway. Jenny Farrington's parents were in the relatives room. Taking a deep breath, he turned towards the room, already preparing what he'd say to them--familiar words, although each time it was different. Lou met him at the door, unsmiling but determined.
He didn't want to risk it. "I'll speak with them."
"No. I'll do it."
Hesitating for a moment, Robert considered her, then nodded and gestured for Lou to precede him.
Mr and Mrs Farrington looked up as they entered the room, anxiety and hope in their eyes. It was causing the death of that hope that gutted a person and he watched its effect on Louise as her words ended it for the Farringtons. All they could do now was to try to ease their way into grief.
"Would you like to see her?" Lou asked, after the explanations and the questions. The Farringtons nodded and so they led them to their daughter and stood back to allow them as much privacy as possible.
Standing beside Lou, Robert ventured a reassuring smile. She met his gaze for a moment then averted her eyes, her face pale. When the Farringtons were ready to leave Lou escorted them out of casualty.
Robert stayed behind, pushing aside the returning depression that seemed to have settled on him. Resus was quiet, Mike's patient having been successfully transferred. A small battle won but he'd take it.
Cathy was back at the main desk, filling Yvonne in on the schedule and the patients still waiting for attention in minors. She smiled cheekily at him as he walked by. She and Izzy were having dinner together tonight while he stayed on to catch up on his paperwork. He didn't want to think what they'd be talking about.
He saw that Christine was on the telephone and, judging by the way she was tapping the counter, waiting for reports. As he passed her, he put out a hand to still her fingers. She grimaced eloquently.
"Orthopaedics," she hissed.
That brought a smile to him and he shrugged in sympathy. Christine should already have been off-shift but Orthopaedics scheduled to their own convenience.
"Want me to speak with them?"
Christine just swatted at him and he ducked and waved and continued on towards the men's locker room, looking forward to a shower. But as he entered the room he heard David Scobie's voice.
"Walked right past him, looking like she smelled something rotten. She's not going to make it. Too emotional. You watch, Stuart. I don't know why Robert is so patient with her."
Robert pushed the door closed. "I'm so patient because Lou has something that is sorely lacking in too many doctors: compassion."
Scobie whirled around, clearly embarrassed. There might be hope for him after all. "Robert! I--"
"You might consider learning it from her, David."
David smiled and Robert found it impossible to read the sincerity of it. "Yes, I might."
Robert nodded and turned away, having already said too much. But he was weary of the politics that were the inevitable lot of a consultant. A minefield of personalities and he wasn't up to coping with them just now. Especially not the egos of SHOs, who seemed to be getting younger each year.
Fortunately, the locker room was empty when he emerged from the shower fifteen minutes later. Absorbing the peace of it, like water on parched skin, he towelled off and rummaged for clothes in his locker.
He did want Lou to choose A&E for a career, wanted that fierce compassion to be there, available to the patients who streamed in to casualty in such desperate need. Realistically he knew it was unlikely she'd choose it, but that didn't stop him from trying to influence her. As other consultants would do when she was in their departments.
He closed his locker and headed back out again, feeling responsibility settle on him, along with a dissatisfaction he could not banish. All right, he shouldn't have said that to Scobie. Frustration wasn't an excuse, personal dislike wasn't either. He'd learned the truth of that long ago.
Stay cool. Channel his emotions, don't let them rule. He'd been trying to live that for years now.
Popping in the staff room, he picked up the bag Izzy had given him as he'd left that morning. She'd said it wasn't good for him, which sounded just exactly what he needed now. He took the bag along with him to his office, set it on his desk, then went about making himself a cuppa.
They'd all been stepping warily around him for over a week now, and it was frustrating the hell out of him because he couldn't stop causing it. In his day he'd worked under a few consultants who had thought it was perfectly all right to take their emotions out on their subordinates. He knew better. But it didn't seem to be helping him. Time to re-evaluate his tactics.
The kettle whistled and he prepared the tea, then sat at his desk, cheese and pickle sandwich to hand. He dug out his glasses and started in on the pile of mail he'd been ignoring.
He'd have a chat with Lou, make sure she was all right. A&E wasn't like any other department. Life and death came every day, too quickly to adjust to sometimes. And the hard truths that medical school only hinted at came around just as quickly. They all coped with it in different ways, some by running as far and as fast from A&E as possible. Others found a balance and a purpose between winning and losing, and stayed on. It was life's blood for him, the career he'd choose again. Although the truths for him had been faced in Africa, where life and death had been measured on a larger scale.
He glanced over an invitation to a conference in Edinburgh. No. Then an advert from a pharmaceuticals company in Canada. No.
All right, yes, maybe he was facing changes he didn't feel prepared for. But he'd done that before, in far worse circumstances. Why was he so rattled? He was exactly where he wanted to be in his career, he'd worked hard for it, and for the freedom it gave him. But now....
He threw the advert down on his desk, then reached for his tea. He wasn't unhappy. He loved Izzy and he wanted the baby. Scared him to death, though, to think of being a father now, at his age. What did he know of it? He'd never planned on having a family; hell, he'd never planned on falling in love again. Never again.
But Isabel had worked her way into his life and into his heart. Changed him. And when he'd asked her about it she'd said that he was free to do whatever he wanted, as long as he realised that she and their child went with him. He loved her for that--how could he not? But it left him unsettled, somehow, and his edginess was interfering in the world he understood best.
Placing the remains of his dinner in the bin, he settled back into his chair and then drank the rest of his tea. It was just that he wasn't very good at change when he wasn't in control. And you never were when it came to other people.
"Robert." He looked up to see Yvonne at the door. "Two coming in, RTA, one with chest injuries."
"Coming," he said, glancing at the clock as he hurried to the door. 20:38. The sort of organised chaos that he thrived on was well in evidence when he arrived in casualty. David and Lou were on duty tonight. As he headed for the ambulance loading bay, the automatic doors opened and a trolley was rushed through, David, a paramedic, and Judy moving it quickly towards resus.
"This is Colin," the paramedic said as Robert joined them. "Car smash, major blunt trauma to the torso, possible pneumothorax right side, possible fractured right femur. Blood loss, he's in shock. GCS 12, pulse 120, BP 110 over 70, O2 sats 93. He's on oxygen, we've given him fluids and immobilised the fracture."
They arrived in resus, Judy and David setting to work attaching IVs and lines while Robert did a quick neurological check.
"Colin," he said. "Can you hear me Colin?" Brown eyes opened, gazing around in confusion, within the confines of a cervical collar. "You're in hospital. My name is Robert and I'm going to take care of you." He glanced at Judy. "Chest drain." In the background he noticed a second trolley arriving, with Lou and Yvonne in charge.
"I can handle it," Lou called to him. Robert nodded and returned his attention to Colin.
He placed the drain, then sealed the wound. They were giving Colin blood and oxygen, working to stabilise him before surgery.
"We'll be taking some quick X rays and then sending you to theatre, Colin. You'll be fine."
Colin struggled to speak and came out with: "My boss...."
"He's here now. We're taking care of him."
"Gotta call in," Colin said but his eyes were closing.
"We'll take care of everything," Robert assured him.
He took a moment to turn his ear towards Lou, who was examining the other patient. "You all right there, Lou?"
"Yes," she answered. "Nothing major that I can see right now."
"Good." He turned back to Colin, helping Judy to prepare him for X ray while David was on the telephone with theatre. As soon as David returned, Robert allowed him to take his place. He stripped the gloves from his hands and went to join Lou.
A glance at the man on the trolley--and his breath left him as from an unexpected blow. He stood still, struggling to regain his composure, while his eyes took in the ghost from his past.
Lou glanced at him and automatically he responded to the silent query. "What have you got?" Bodie's eyes were closed. There was silver in his dark hair now, and his body was heavier than it had been. But, oh, it was the same body, the same man.
"Possible concussion, possible broken ribs."
He began his own examination, as he would have done with anyone--but his hand wouldn't have trembled with anyone else. Dammit.
Lou's voice washed over him. "We'll X ray him to check the ribs and the head wound. He's awake and responsive but complains of a headache."
"I'm not surprised." Robert glanced at the wound Yvonne was cleaning on Bodie's forehead.
"C-spine as well, of course." Lou continued with her own check, fitting in smoothly with Robert's routine.
And then Bodie's eyes opened and Robert found himself looking at a shade of blue he'd never found duplicated elsewhere. There was no doubt Bodie recognised him.
"Hallo, sunshine," Bodie whispered and it was as if thirty years rolled back to nothing--all the anger, all the hurt, all the passion was still there for Robert, as uncontrollable as ever.
"So you made it out, did you."
A crooked smile, achingly familiar, was his answer. "Told you not to doubt me."
But that hit too close to the bone and Robert looked away, into Lou's puzzled eyes.
"You two know each other?"
Robert nodded. "Yes. We met in Biafra." He glanced at Bodie. "1969."
"A very good year," Bodie confirmed.
"Except in Biafra," Robert answered right back.
Lou looked from one to the other, imperfectly hiding her surprise. Then she spoke to Robert. "There's something peculiar about his heart."
He'd known that for years but her look brought him back to the job at hand. "What?" He reached for his stethoscope.
"It's enlarged," Bodie told him quietly.
He looked up questioningly.
"Bloody hell. How did you get that?" And his stomach clenched as he heard the arrhythmic beating that had alerted Lou.
Bodie waited until he removed the stethoscope before explaining. "An ill-advised jaunt to Colombia. The symptoms showed up a couple of years ago."
"How long was it dormant?"
"Eighteen years. They didn't recognise it at first."
"No, they wouldn't." And for the moment the past was submerged by the burning curiosity that had driven him to medicine in the first place. "Is it only your heart that's affected?"
He saw the amusement in Bodie's eyes, could guess at its cause. "Mainly, although my liver has begun to get into the act as well."
"What are they doing for you?"
"Not much they can do, is there?"
Robert looked into the familiar eyes, realising that he could read them as easily as ever. "They'd probably appreciate a little co-operation."
Robert straightened as Judy came to prepare Bodie for the X ray. "We'll talk about that later."
Bodie's eyes never wavered from his. "I'm sure we will. Among other things."
Glancing quickly at Judy, Robert took a moment to answer. "Yes."
Lou claimed his attention then and he gratefully turned to her, concentrating on the job at hand and pushing the confusing maelstrom of emotions to the back of his mind. They'd put Bodie on an ECG and give him oxygen, as needed. Monitor his condition.
"Chagas?" Lou questioned him, as they filled out the paperwork at the desk in resus.
"American trypanosomiasis. It's caused by the parasite Trypansoma cruzi," He took up the opportunity to instruct, focusing on that.
"Related to Trypanosoma brucei that causes African sleeping sickness?"
"Yes. Chagas is most often seen in South and Central America and in immigrant populations in the States. The initial infection may go completely unnoticed, followed by a dormant phase until chronic symptoms appear ten to twenty years later--if they appear at all. And the insidious thing about it is it's easy to misdiagnose."
Lou nodded slowly. "Because the symptoms are similar to other diseases like congestive cardiomyopathy."
"Yes, and the symptoms are treated but meanwhile the parasites are growing and reproducing throughout the body and especially the heart."
Lou's eyes strayed towards Bodie, but Robert resisted the urge to turn and follow her gaze. "What can be done?"
He shook his head. "There is no cure. Not even transplant--the parasites are still in the body and they infect the new heart."
She glanced at him and he met her eyes, but only for a moment. He knew what it meant for Bodie. Turning away, he saw the activity surrounding Colin and went to investigate. Colin was now ready for theatre, and theatre ready for him, so he helped David and a surgical team wheel the trolley out of resus and to the lift. And then, inevitably, he returned to Bodie.
No one paid him any attention as he stayed in the background, watching the series of X rays, and he allowed himself the freedom to remember. He'd touched that chest, stroked it, knew its response to his hands. His fingers itched to touch it now--all this time later and it was as if it had happened yesterday.
The sun beat down mercilessly as Robert tried to explain the situation to the belligerent man in front of him. "Look, I'm sorry--"
The man grabbed him, snarling into his face. "He's going to die, isn't he? Do what you have to."
"I--" But Robert looked at the wounded man, Barker. No question that he needed surgery, now. They couldn't expect Loubet back until tomorrow at the earliest. That left only him. "I could well kill him."
"You're his only chance."
Robert looked into the fierce eyes of the man who had brought Barker in. Deep blue eyes that stared back at him with an intensity that he couldn't deny.
Doumer helped him to prepare Barker, his face expressionless. But he nodded at Robert, giving him enough confidence to attempt this. Better to try. He'd watched Loubet perform this same procedure, had assisted him only two weeks ago. But that was a far cry from doing it himself. It terrified and exhilarated him at the same time. He clamped down on the emotions.
Two years of medical school behind him, just barely scratching the surface of what he'd need to know before performing procedures like this one. He'd chosen to take an elective year in Africa, working at an International Red Cross camp, trying to aid refugees from Biafra. By chance he'd landed a position with Loubet, one of the few who dared to run an aid station within Biafra itself. They relied upon shipments of medicine from the French Red Cross, wholly dependent on that organisation since an ICRC plane had been shot down by the Nigerian army in June. He, Loubet and Doumer were the only staff with any formal medical training; the rest of the nursing staff were Biafran volunteers, trained by Loubet. He'd quickly lost any superiority he'd felt at his own status--humbled by the knowledge gained through direct experience.
But he wasn't prepared for this, or for the angry man who'd demanded he do what he could for his friend. Mercenaries. They'd heard the sounds last night, knew that a skirmish had been fought less than ten miles away from their position. He'd once questioned Loubet why he treated the mercenaries, why he wasted precious medical supplies on the very men who helped to prolong the destruction to the population he was sworn to protect. Everyone spoke of the uselessness of Ojukwu's defiance.
Loubet had shrugged and said, "They are injured, dying. What would you have me do? Hasten the process?" And that had been it. Faced with his own dying soldier, Robert began to understand.
Shutting out everything but Doumer and the demands of the body before him, Robert set to work. Remember what he'd learned, remember Loubet's actions, his concerns. Remember.
And luck favoured him, for there were no complications, nothing different from the procedures he'd watched. He found a moment to thank every deity he'd ever heard of.
"Will he live?" The quiet voice startled him, and he realised that the blue-eyed man had never left, had watched everything he'd done.
"Maybe." He left the cleanup to Doumer and walked outside, needing the air, hot as it was.
The man followed. "Thank you."
Robert turned on him, letting out all the pent-up fear he hadn't been allowed to acknowledge. "I didn't do it for you."
"I know," the man said calmly.
"He might've been better off--"
"You know better."
"What the fuck do you know about it?"
The man looked at him steadily, and Robert noticed for the first time the grime and the dirt on his face, the blood on his clothing. "I've seen enough death to know when it's coming."
"You carried him in from the battle last night?"
Robert looked down, rubbing absently at blood on his finger. "I'm sorry. I've done what I can for your friend. But I can't tell you if he'll live or not."
"He's not my friend."
Looking up in surprise, Robert caught the coldness in blue eyes. "Why then?"
"He's in my squad. I'm responsible for him. Even if I can't stand him."
Robert stared at him and then, slowly, a smile grew. "C'mon, let's get us both cleaned up." He started towards the water tent, then glanced at the man at his side. "I'm Robert Kingsford."
"Is any of that blood on you yours?"
Bodie grinned at him. "I don't know."
Robert sighed. "Well, I might as well look at you, then."
The grin widened. "It'd be my pleasure, sunshine."
St. Victor's, 1999
The day he'd met Bodie was one of the clearest memories he had. The day he'd first taken a necessary risk with a patient. He shook his head at his own audacity. Now he well knew the complications that he could have faced when he'd treated Barker. Now he understood the expression on Loubet's face when he'd told him what he'd done. With a deep appreciation for the irony, he realised that Barker had benefited from his ignorance.
As they finished with the X rays, Robert strolled forward to Bodie's side, and found himself the recipient of an assessing look. He deflected it by speaking.
"We'll know soon enough what you've managed to do to yourself this time."
"What about my driver? Colin?"
"He's in theatre now. We stabilised him and sent him up. He has a broken femur and a broken rib, and a lung that is doing its best to collapse on him. He'll be all right with surgery. Do you remember what happened?"
Bodie blinked at him and Robert suddenly realised that he wasn't the only one who was unsettled. It helped.
"Car smash?" Bodie hazarded.
Robert grinned. "Yes. Well, it's a start, at least."
The touch of Bodie's hand on his drove the smile from his face, but he didn't pull away.
Sighing, yet unable to resist, as always, Robert allowed Bodie to tug him down, bringing him close enough to hear a whisper.
"You're still beautiful."
Robert shivered, as much at the emotion in Bodie's voice as the words he'd spoken. He should have remembered Bodie's tactics when he became unsettled. He stood upright quickly, not knowing what to say, conflicting emotions swamping him. Blue eyes locked with his and he looked away, unable to maintain the connection.
"Wait, you can't-- Stop!"
Yvonne's voice reached him and Robert turned to find a tall, brown-haired man standing at the entrance to resus, eyes on Bodie. Instinctively Robert moved between Bodie and the man, cutting off his line of sight. Bloody hell, he hadn't even thought to ask Bodie what he was into now; hadn't thought of the implications for his department--patients and staff alike. Danger followed Bodie like a shadow.
"You can't come in here." He kept his voice calm but allowed his stance to radiate his determination to protect his own.
The man at the door looked him over, then smiled placatingly and produced an ID. "Mr Kingsford, I presume? My name is John Bayford, controller of CI5. I assure you I mean no harm to Mr Bodie, indeed it is my concern that has brought me here."
"It is customary for us to bring the information you need to you. And not in resus." Robert moved forward, gesturing for Bayford to proceed him out of the area.
Bayford stood his ground. "I understand. However, I was informed that Mr Bodie's injuries are not life-threatening and, as he was engaged in an operation for CI5 at the time of his accident, I must ask--"
"You may speak with him later, not here."
"I'm afraid I must--"
"Oh for God's sake." Bodie's voice interrupted them, and they both turned to look at him. "John, get off your high horse and ask him nicely for three minutes of my time. Robert, I'm afraid I really must speak with him."
Robert returned to Bodie's side, looking down at him. "CI5, eh? Trust you."
"You might try it."
"Don't start with me." Robert gritted his teeth.
"No. I'm sorry." His apologetic smile was genuine and it brought as much pain as pleasure to Robert. "I promise we won't disrupt your department."
Robert snorted. "You've already done that." He turned away and returned to Bayford. "All right. Three minutes."
"Thank you." Bayford walked quickly over to Bodie and the two men conferred in lowered voices.
Robert saw the stunned surprise in Lou's face, although she tried to hide it. He fleetingly wondered if he'd ever see any other expression again. And then he silently groaned as he saw David Scobie's curiosity-filled face peering over Yvonne's shoulder. Hospital security was there as well, efficient as always. He shooed them all out of resus. "Better to give in gracefully when you've no choice," he told them.
There were two young men standing by the reception desk--it wasn't difficult to guess their profession or why they were there. "Keep them away from the patients, if you can," he told Yvonne. Mouth thinned, he returned to resus.
Bodie smiled at him, and John Bayford glanced up, then back at Bodie. "I'm leaving Monroe and Kellan."
"Yeah, all right. But only if Robert agrees."
He crossed his arms. "Robert thinks it's about time you allowed us to do our jobs."
With a nod at Bodie, Bayford walked over to join Robert. "Thank you," he said again. "I appreciate your co-operation." Robert ignored him for the moment, signalling for Lou and Yvonne to return to Bodie. Then he led Bayford to the relatives room.
"I take it those men out there belong to you."
"Ah, yes." Bayford nodded. "And I would like to leave them here as guard for Bodie."
"May we sit down, Mr Kingsford?"
After a moment's hesitation, Robert nodded and moved to one of the chairs. "Certainly."
Settling himself in an adjoining chair, Bayford looked at Robert with a candid expression. Robert wondered how real it was.
"First I do appreciate what you've done for Bodie and Colin tonight, and I apologise for my rather heavy-handed tactics."
"But you're going to insist on your men staying here, aren't you?"
"Yes. We don't know the full circumstances of the car accident. It is as much for your protection as for his."
Robert shook his head, not liking it, but knowing the uselessness of protesting. Choose your battles. "I would appreciate it if your men would keep their guns hidden and stay out of the way. I won't have my patients frightened."
"I understand. They are trained to be unobtrusive."
"They stick out like sore thumbs."
Bayford smiled slightly. "I will order them not to."
"That I should like to see. We have video surveillance--might you station one of your men there?"
"Yes. And one at resus."
"Not in resus. I must insist on that."
Grey eyes tried to stare him down but Robert understood stubbornness. And the military mind.
"Very well," Bayford conceded. "Now, can you tell me the condition of Mr Bodie and Mr Sumner?"
"Mr Sumner is in theatre right now, he will likely spend the night in intensive care. I take it you wish to station a man there as well? Yes, I thought so. Mr Bodie has been X rayed to determine his injuries and we will keep him under observation."
"Would it be wise to move him to a more secure facility?"
"Medically, he shouldn't be moved now until we know more of his condition and the care he will need. You will need to answer to the security issues."
Bayford regarded him for a moment and Robert withstood the scrutiny with equanimity. He would fight it, however, if Bayford tried to remove Bodie from his care.
"Very well," Bayford said abruptly. "Bodie has certainly made it clear that he intends to stay here."
He refused to acknowledge the satisfaction that gave him. "Will you be staying?"
"No. Unfortunately, that will not be possible. However, I will return later."
Robert nodded, then found himself speaking. "You said Bodie was working for you." How easy it was to slide from the professional to the personal. He hadn't had that trouble in years.
"Yes. He was, until recently, co-controller of CI5."
Robert drew his breath in. "I see." He thought about it. "Chagas?"
It pleased him that he detected the surprise in Bayford. "Yes. Officially he's been retired from CI5 since January."
"I see. Well, he wouldn't do anything else, would he?"
Speculation entered Bayford's eyes. "You know him very well."
"I knew him for a very short time many years ago."
"He's been with CI5 since 1975."
"All that time. Then why did he go to Colombia?"
"He was sent on a fact-finding mission, undercover. It cost us all."
Robert was silent and Bayford continued. "We became co-controllers in '89. CI5 is his life."
"And it's where he's choosing to die, is that it?"
"As long as he doesn't compromise an op, yes. And he won't."
"How far has it progressed?"
"They want to put a pacemaker in. So far he's resisting the notion."
"Stupid. It could give him a few years."
"He could also die tonight."
Robert looked away, unwilling to allow Bayford into his thoughts. In a lifetime of dealing with death he doubted he'd ever learn to accept it. Not like this. Not him.
"You knew him in Africa." It wasn't a question, and Robert looked up into narrowed grey eyes.
Slowly Bayford nodded, his eyes travelling over Robert. "I see."
"You're the one who changed him."
"He's courting you, you know." Doumer smiled brightly, with friendly malice.
"Sod off." Robert looked at the box of badly needed medicines that had appeared overnight in the infirmary. "We don't know who brought them."
"Ah, but we do know when they began to appear."
"Ow!" Bodie jerked away from him.
"Well hold still, then, and it won't hurt so much."
"I moved because it hurt. Sadist."
"I thought mercenaries were impervious to pain."
"Bullets I can take. Doctors though...."
"Teach you to duck next time, won't it?" Robert finished cleaning the wound on Bodie's head, then peered again at his pupils.
"Dare I hope you're gazing with loving fondness into my eyes?" Bodie grinned at him.
"Fondness is not the emotion I'm experiencing just now. I think you're fine."
"You sound confident."
"As fine as can be expected. I'll ask Dr Loubet to look at you." He turned to track down Loubet.
"No need to hurry," Bodie called after him. "I'm enjoying the personal attention."
Robert gave him a two-fingered salute as he left the tent.
Always joking, Bodie was. He'd grown used to it in the month since he'd brought Barker to him, and began to visit regularly. He supposed it wasn't too surprising--Bodie was his own age, from England, and they'd both been starved for talk of home. Despite their many differences they'd fallen into a friendship, and he found he looked forward to Bodie's visits, especially as the chaos in Biafra increased around them. He had little else to cheer his day, and he reckoned Bodie felt the same.
Bodie had proven very useful, too. Twice in the last month they'd moved the aid station, based on Bodie's advice. The Nigerian army was pressing forward, bringing suffering and destruction with them. As if starvation and disease weren't enough.
But he didn't understand him. Didn't understand how the same man who laughed with him, teased him, and talked with him endlessly about football and home and the food they missed and, hell, even poetry--could be the same man who'd killed a fifteen-year-old "spy", who'd given food to a family in payment for the rape of their daughter by one of his men, who admitted to no moral standard. There were times when he knew he'd never understand the coldness within Bodie.
And yet Bodie kept coming around to talk and to laugh. And he'd welcomed him. Slowly, antagonism had turned to fascination and then to friendship. He didn't understand it but then there were a hell of a lot of things he hadn't understood before he'd arrived in Africa. His life before seemed as unreal to him now as fantasy from reality.
"Look, clear off, all right? I just don't feel like talking today." Robert walked away from Bodie, heading for his tent.
Bodie fell into step beside him. Never did take no for an answer. "What's wrong?" His voice was quiet.
Robert stopped walking. "Can't you take a hint? I want to be alone."
"Yeah, you and Garbo. Got it."
Robert shut his eyes. Unfair to take it out on Bodie, wasn't it? "I'm sorry. Just, a bad day."
"Have you eaten?"
Robert opened his eyes. "The world does not revolve around food."
"Yes it does." Bodie tugged him along, towards his tent. "Come on, I'll get you something to eat. You'll feel better for it."
"There isn't much," Robert said grudgingly.
"There never is but it makes no sense to starve yourself for that reason. You'll do better saving lives than making empty gestures."
"That's rich, coming from you!"
"Yeah, you can yell at me all you want, after you eat."
Muttering, Robert allowed himself to be dragged to his tent, then bullied into eating a portion of the stew that was the best the aid station could offer. He offered the rest to Bodie, who ate it without comment.
For a long time they sat in silence and then Robert found himself speaking, gazing at the people coming and going from the aid station. He told Bodie about Ngozi, young and cheerful, who'd helped her mother around the station ever since he'd arrived. She'd tripped a mine yesterday. Her death had been slow and painful, yet she hadn't said a word of complaint. Her eyes, though, had broken their hearts.
Robert rubbed a hand over his face, scrubbing at the betraying wetness savagely.
He jumped at Bodie's quiet voice, hadn't even realised that he'd kneeled down in front of him.
"Don't hide who you are. Don't pretend it doesn't affect you."
Robert looked at him. "It doesn't help, either. Uncontrolled emotions...."
"Then channel them. Use them. Make them work for you to do what you need to do."
"Is that what you do?"
Bodie averted his eyes and Robert could feel the withdrawal even though he never moved. He reached out and rested his hand on Bodie's arm. Bodie looked down at his hand.
"I think any true emotions I had were burnt out long ago."
"I don't believe that."
Bodie raised his head. "I haven't felt anything for a long time. Not like you do."
"That may be but that doesn't mean you don't have them."
There was something else entering into Bodie's eyes, Robert thought he recognised it: fear.
"I can't afford to have them."
"I know." Robert gazed at him, unable to look away, and his voice was shaky when he spoke again. "I think it's too late, though."
Bodie was very still. Then he stood up, breaking away from Robert's hand. Robert stayed seated, didn't try to stop him.
Bodie stopped by the entrance to the tent, his back to Robert. "I have to get back."
Bodie glanced at him, then away. "You did what you could. That's all that anyone can expect."
"Yes. Thank you."
Bodie nodded and then he was gone, slipping out of the tent and walking away. Robert watched him go and then unclenched his hands, stretching his fingers with slow deliberation. Wondering what the hell he was going to do now.
St. Victor's, 1999
After making the arrangements with Bayford for his men's presence, and introducing them to Security, Robert made his way back to resus. Bodie's X rays had been negative, so he was now free of the bulky cervical collar. And Robert caught his breath at the sight of him, reminded sharply of the past. Yvonne and Lou were with Bodie, just about to begin suturing the cut on his forehead. Robert took over for them, ignoring the raised eyebrows. In for a penny, he thought. It wasn't as if he had any choice.
"I hope your technique has improved in thirty years." Bodie screwed up his eyes as Robert bent over his head.
"Relax, would you. This shouldn't hurt at all."
"You forget that I know your sadistic tendencies. Ow!"
"Some people never change." He glanced at Yvonne, who had stayed to assist him. "I can handle this."
She shrugged. "All right." Turning to leave, she said over her shoulder, "Enjoy yourselves, gentlemen."
He'd never live this down. "Thank you, Yvonne." Yet when he finally found himself alone with Bodie in resus he could think of nothing to say. He concentrated on the sutures.
"How are you, Robert?" Bodie's voice was quiet, more serious than he'd been at any other time that evening.
Silence met that statement. After a few more stitches it goaded him.
"You do have a knack for dropping into my life when it's changing utterly, don't you?"
"Everyone has a special talent."
"It's not an attractive one of yours."
"Which are the attractive ones then?"
"You know, I don't think Yvonne shaved enough hair here...."
"All right, all right, I'll behave."
"Chance would be a fine thing. Stop moving, idiot."
"Your bedside manner has deteriorated, Mr Kingsford."
"One of the benefits of being a consultant, Mr Bodie." He finished with the suturing.
"So what's changing utterly?"
Robert kept his eyes on the tray as he rearranged it. He should have known better than to think Bodie would let that drop. Should have kept himself from diving into the personal too. Bodie wasn't the only bloody idiot around. He glanced up to find that Bodie had turned his head to look at him. Could he trust the expression in those eyes? How could he not? "I'm to become a father."
"Are you? Congratulations!" Nothing but pleasure in Bodie's voice. Unfeigned pleasure. And, dammit, what else had he wanted?
"Regrets?" Bodie's voice was soft.
"No, nothing like that, just...are you a father?"
Bodie's face took on the blank look that he remembered. "No. Never had the time or the desire for that." A tiny smile curved the corner of his mouth. "At least, I have no children that I'm aware of."
"Married?" And that came out before he could stop himself.
He wouldn't ask any further, couldn't.
He looked down at the gentleness of Bodie's tone. He didn't want it. "I've a partner--Isabel. I love her very much." He raised his eyes to stare at Bodie.
"I'm glad." The words were immediate but there was no emotion in them, nothing he could read from Bodie's expression.
Bodie looked away for a moment. "So what is worrying you?"
"Do you care?"
"I wouldn't ask if I didn't," Bodie said evenly.
And the truth slipped out from him. "I'm not sure I can give them the commitment they deserve."
"Don't give me that."
"If you want it, you can do it."
"But it's not always up to me, is it?" He could feel the control sliding away from him, the old whirlpool of confusion that had once threatened to drown him.
"You implied that she--they--deserved it from you."
"She won't leave me, if that's what you're getting at." He knew the bitterness was showing, and he didn't care.
Bodie closed his eyes for a moment. "Yes, that's what I was getting at. You love her, you trust her, and you've a child on the way. It's all yours, Robert."
He gathered the instruments together, collected the tray he'd used. "She tells me I'm a lucky man."
He stepped away. "I know I am. You remind me of it, don't you?"
Bodie's gaze dropped, his lips pressed firmly together.
Robert moved forward, in close to him so he wouldn't be heard by any but the man he hadn't forgotten in thirty years.
"You weren't surprised to see me earlier, were you?"
Bodie shook his head.
"How long have you known where I was?"
"Since I joined CI5." Was it courage or indifference that let him meet Robert's eyes again? Robert had no way of knowing.
"What would you have had me do?"
"I'd've had you trust me." And, unable to stay there, he turned away, walked away from him, out of resus and back into his own world.
He could see Bodie waiting for him at the entrance to his tent. A week had gone by since Bodie had left him after Ngozi's death. A week in which he'd immersed himself in his duties at the aid station, found balance there. Predictability even in the midst of chaos. He wasn't sure he even wanted to see Bodie. But his heart followed an independent path, quickening at the sight of him standing there, blue eyes devouring him.
"What brings you around?" He was proud of the nonchalance. Friendly but not too intimate.
"I've brought you something." Bodie wasn't smiling, all hard edges today it seemed. More the mercenary than the friend.
"What is it?"
"Can we go inside?"
Robert shrugged and led him inside the tent, dropping the flap to give them a bit of privacy. He sat down on the camp bed and gestured for Bodie to take the stool.
Bodie sat, then began to unwrap the bundle he'd carried. In a few seconds he'd revealed a gun, shining with oil, looking new.
"What's that?" Robert made his antagonism clear.
"A Browning Hi-Power. It's very reliable. I'm going to teach you to shoot it."
Robert laughed, anger bubbling beneath it. "There's nothing you can do to force me to learn to use it. I won't do it. I fix wounds. I don't cause them!'
"You're in a war zone. Anything could happen. You won't be much use to those people out there if you can fix them but you can't defend them when Gowon's army comes. You can't help them if you're dead."
"We'll get out before then."
"You don't know that." Bodie's voice was harsh. "The war's going badly, it's only a matter of time now. I've already spoken with Loubet--he's staying until the last possible moment. He wants you to be able to defend yourself, or you leave now."
Robert stood up. "I'll talk to him. He can't--"
Bodie followed and grabbed him by the arm. "He can and he will. This isn't a game, you fool. You haven't the luxury of inflexible morality out here. It's your life. And theirs."
"I'm not like you," Robert snapped at him. "I heal, I don't kill for pleasure."
Bodie shook him, then backed away. "You know better than that."
Robert rubbed at his arm, but his eyes fell. "I'm sorry."
Silence for a while and then Bodie abruptly said, "We're not so different, you and I."
He met Bodie's eyes again. "What do you mean?"
"Why do you think I'm a mercenary?"
"I--" He swallowed his initial retort, stopped and thought about it. "It pays. And it gives you the...excitement you need."
Bodie nodded, his expression remote. "And you? Why are you out here?"
"I'm helping people!"
"Yes. But why here? Why not in a refugee camp?"
All his ready-made answers withered in the face of Bodie's stare. "I don't know."
"Oh, but I think you do. I've watched you. You get off on the excitement of it, the danger of it. The thrill of beating an enemy. The fight. And you're allowed to do more here, aren't you? Against higher odds."
Robert turned away. "What has this got to do with you teaching me to kill?"
"I'm not. I'm giving you the means to survive your own choices. You want to stay here--I know you do. And that means learning how to defend yourself." He moved closer, until Robert could feel the warmth of him at his back.
"If the Nigerians do come--we're an aid station. Surely...."
"You know better. You can't rely on that--for you or for your patients."
"Or for you?"
He felt the stillness behind him, hardly dared to breathe. And then Bodie's hands were on his shoulders, turning him around.
"Or for me." And Bodie's lips came down on his, sweeter than he'd dreamed they'd be, intoxicating as wine. He'd never planned this and he felt his life taking a turn he'd never expected. Out of control and irresistible, and all that he wanted now.
It was Bodie who broke the kiss, pulling back as it deepened. Catching the look in his eyes, Robert eased his grip on him, gentling it. But Bodie's hands tightened on his shoulders.
"What is it?"
"I don't--" Bodie stopped, shaking his head as if dazed.
Sudden doubt assailed him. "Is it the sex?"
"No." Bodie looked at him, then lifted a hand and stroked his cheek, brushing across his lips. "Oh no."
"What then?" Robert fought to steady his voice, his body reacting to Bodie's touch.
For a long time Bodie was silent, but his hand stayed on Robert's face, then slowly made its way to the back of his neck. And when Bodie finally spoke Robert held his breath in order to hear the soft words.
"How do I do this? How do I love you?"
"Ah, mate." Robert drew him close, overwhelmed by the contradictions of this man and by the power given over to him. "I'll make you a deal. I'll try to learn how to shoot that thing. You try to learn how to trust me with your heart."
"Is it that easy?"
"No, it's that hard."
Very slowly, Bodie smiled, and Robert leaned forward, initiating his own kiss. Desire swept through him as Bodie responded to his touch. And this time, when he could look again into Bodie's eyes, he saw nothing but his own desire and certainty there. And maybe a bit of wonder.
With a murmur he reached for Bodie again but was fended off. "Oi," he said. "Lesson one in loving me: don't resist my advances!"
Bodie grinned, his eyes sparkling. "Adds allure that does, playing hard to get." At Robert's growl he laughed, then ducked away from him again. "Hold on, hold on. Look, mate, I'm not getting into something with you only to find ourselves interrupted. Don't fancy an audience, either."
Robert suddenly remembered exactly where they were. "Oh."
Bodie walked forward, his hand stroking Robert's face again, as of a right. "Tonight. I'll come for you. I know a place we can have some privacy."
"Makes me feel like I'm a teenager again, avoiding my parents."
Bodie kissed him, quickly. "Not that far removed, are you?"
"Speak for yourself."
"Been on my own since I was fourteen."
"Experienced, eh?" Robert grinned at him.
"Oh, naturally." Then Bodie grew serious. "In sex. Not in this."
"All right." Robert reached for Bodie's callused hand, and drew it to his lips. "Tonight then."
Bodie tugged with his hand, pulled him close until their lips nearly met. "But first, we learn to shoot."
"I already know that. Quite good at it, so they say."
"The gun, you berk."
"I suppose you're speaking literally."
"I suppose I am."
Robert sighed, then broke free of Bodie's hand. "Well then, sooner started sooner...."
Bodie groaned. "You're not going to make this easy, are you?"
"Nope. 's what happiness does to someone, you know."
A soft smile grew on Bodie's face. "No, but I'm looking forward to finding out."
In wonder, Robert studied him, seeing the difference. Bodie's expression was relaxed, open, and there was light in dark blue eyes. He seemed years younger. Robert reached for the gun that Bodie had tried to give him, then looked again into Bodie's eyes. "We'll trust each other then."
Bodie put his hand on the gun, covering Robert's fingers. "Yes."
St. Victor's, 1999
Hot water splashed onto his fingers as he poured another cup and Robert swore, placing the kettle down quickly and bringing his finger to his mouth. Damn carelessness. After a moment the pain eased and he reached again for the kettle. He brought the tea to his desk, settling into his chair behind the mound of papers he'd left earlier, but he pushed them aside.
Four months. Bodie and he had had four months together--a little more, really, if you counted the days. Less if you realised how much of their time together had come through snatched opportunities. Even now, nearly thirty years on, he could feel the echo of the anticipation he'd felt when he knew that Bodie would be with him soon.
He rubbed a hand over his head. He'd long known his nature--bisexual, with a preference for women. He'd enjoyed his experiences with men but more often sought women. And he'd been content enough to play the role society expected of him. But Bodie was the anomaly in his life; Bodie had swept him away as easily as he breathed. And the damnable part of it was that it wasn't the sex. Wasn't its loss that had left him cold all these years.
Until Isabel had reminded him of the joy of planning a future with a lover. A real future that he could have, unshadowed. And it frightened him.
Frightened him even more that he could look into Bodie's eyes and feel twenty years old again. Really feel it. And for the first time in thirty years he began to question his own rationalisations. Began to examine the self-protective bandage he'd put over the wound Bodie had dealt him.
His pager let out an insistent beep and Robert reached for it quickly, heart starting to pound. Resus. Damn.
He ran, as he hadn't run in years, and found his team surrounding Bodie in resus, Louise was performing CPR while the others worked with cool precision through the familiar drill. They made room for him and followed the orders he issued without a question--trusting him.
As Bodie was trusting him.
He was in VF. Dammit, this wasn't supposed to be happening. Fucking Chagas--sudden death was always a possibility in the chronic stage. But he wasn't going to let the bugger leave him again. Not like this. It wasn't going to be so easy for him.
"Adrenaline, 1 mil."
He'd make him live. Couldn't just come waltzing back in--
Yvonne, on the monitors, shook her head. "Nothing."
"Shock him again." He watched the effect and the words tumbled from him in a continuous mutter. "C'mon you bastard. Fight, damn you. I won't forgive you for this one, Bodie. C'mon!"
An agony of waiting for word, seconds that passed like hours. And then Yvonne held up her hand. "Got it!"
Triumph flooded him but he banked it down, concentrating on stabilising Bodie's readings, making sure that they were doing everything they could to help him. To monitor him. And only when he was sure of that did he allow himself to surreptitiously feel for the pulse in Bodie's wrist, taking comfort.
"Robert." Lou's voice--quiet as if she hesitated to intrude.
He glanced at her.
"Mr Bayford is here again. I've put him in the relatives room. Would you like to speak with him?"
He looked at Bodie, what he could see of him beneath the oxygen mask. His eyes were closed but he was breathing steadily and his heart rate and blood pressure were as well as could be expected. His fingers lingered a moment longer on Bodie's wrist, then he turned away.
"I'll go to him."
Lou nodded, turning her eyes to Bodie. "We'll keep an eye on him."
It was unnecessary reassurance but he accepted it gratefully.
Bayford was examining a painting on the wall when Robert entered the relatives room. He looked tired, nearly as tired as Robert felt. His emotions too near the surface, all Robert could think was that this man had had years with Bodie.
"How is he?" There was obvious concern on Bayford's face; it made Robert abrupt.
"He's dying." The bluntness of it tore at him.
Bayford sighed, his shoulders slumping for a moment before he looked back at Robert. "How soon?"
"We can't say. It could be tonight, or tomorrow, or next week. We're monitoring him now. All we can do is wait."
Robert shrugged. "If he regains enough strength, that might help him for a time. But all it would do is prolong the inevitable. The organisms growing within him are shutting his organs down. Death is inevitable." A lifetime of similar conversations kept his voice calm. That, and a determination to give Bodie his own choice of death.
Bayford turned away, paced a few steps, then turned to him again. "We've all known it. But-- What would you suggest?"
"Letting him go." Robert watched as Bayford's eyes fell, as he studied the floor for a long moment. He wondered if Bayford had ever slept with Bodie--and banished the thought.
"Would you like to see him?"
Bayford looked up at that, an assessing look in grey eyes. And then his face softened a bit. "He and I talked about this once, and I said my goodbye then. I think we both know who should be with him now."
There was nothing he could say to that, nothing that made sense or that he could get out through the constriction in his throat. He turned to leave.
"Mr Kingsford." Bayford spoke quietly behind him, and Robert paused. "I've worked with Bodie for ten years, we've been friends for six. One night, after a particularly bad op, he allowed himself the luxury of getting drunk. He trusted me enough. And he told me a little of the man he'd met in Africa, who'd given him redemption."
Without turning around, Robert said, "Is that what he called it?"
"It's not what I called it." Robert walked away, quietly closing the door behind him.
"It'll be morning soon."
Robert groaned and tried to bury himself deeper into the arms that held him. He needed the sleep; even more he needed the contentment that was his when he was with Bodie.
"I know, mate," Bodie said softly. "But it's time we went back."
Robert sighed, then began untangling himself from Bodie, but paused to kiss the lips that welcomed him so sweetly every time. Bodie's hand stroked gently over his back as they took their time with the kiss, savouring the closeness and the familiarity.
Raising his head finally, Robert gazed down into the Bodie's face, hidden by the darkness but still so well-known it might as well have been daylight.
"I don't want to go back." And there was time, a couple of hours at least.
He could hear the smile in Bodie's voice. "Don't give me that. You're as duty-bound as I am, and we both know it."
Robert used his finger to trace along Bodie's kiss-softened lips. "It makes us well-matched, I suppose."
"Yes." Bodie's hand drifted slowly up his back, then down again.
Relaxing against Bodie once more, Robert murmured, "Only I've found something more important than duty." Bodie's hand on his back paused for a moment, then continued its light caress. Robert kissed Bodie's collarbone and thought lazily about the future. South Africa sounded good to him, he might even be able to continue his medical studies there.
He lifted his head again, brushing against Bodie's face. "How much longer will the war last?"
He felt the gust of Bodie's sigh. "Not long. I doubt we'll make it through the spring."
"Why prolong it? If everyone knows it's only a matter of time?"
"Ah, well...." Bodie's hand crept into his hair. "That's too complex for you or me to answer."
Looking into the face he could not see, Robert softly said, "'What God abandoned, these defended.'"
Bodie's fingers gently pressed against his scalp. "Yes. But I'll quote you another of his, that I prefer: 'Into my heart an air that kills, From yon far country blows: What are those blue remembered hills--'"
But Robert leaned into him, fiercely taking Bodie's lips, silencing the words before they were spoken. Taking Bodie's pain and longing for home as his own.
Bodie's acceptance softened his touch and they made love slowly, cherishing each other and the rare gift of privacy and time. And afterwards, closely held again in Bodie's arms, and allowing himself to drift towards sleep, he heard Bodie's voice in his ear, warm and deep: "'My true love hath my heart and I have his.'"
"Loubet's taking my advice, then."
Robert heard the relief in Bodie's voice but he didn't turn from the box he was packing. "You made your point quite eloquently."
"I told you the war was lost a long time ago. Ojukwu knew it, despite his speeches."
He did turn at that, taking a moment to assess Bodie's expression. Blank-faced and remote, although the lines of exhaustion on his face told their own story. "It's only January--you thought they'd last through the spring. I understand why Ojukwu and his men keep fighting, but why you?"
Bodie shrugged. "It's my job."
"As long as you're paid well. Does it matter to you, which side wins?"
Looking at him, Bodie's eyes were impersonal. "It matters to me if I lose."
"I see." He turned back to his task, wondering at the sick feeling growing in his stomach. He needed Bodie's touch. But Bodie wasn't here alone today and there were times when it was necessary to be discreet. And times when even he couldn't reach Bodie.
"Where is Loubet going?"
"Gabon. Libreville. And then to wherever he's next needed."
"Good. It should be clear going that route. Relatively."
Robert nodded, closed the box and reached for another.
"Have you got your gun?" Bodie asked abruptly.
Robert was still for a moment and then he turned around. "Yes."
Bodie nodded, but his eyes strayed from Robert's. The knot in his stomach grew. Less than a week ago he'd held Bodie in his arms, soothing him in the aftermath of spent passion, knowing that it wasn't the sex that had left Bodie needing his comfort, or openly showing it. He'd held him and he hadn't asked any questions, had offered the only thing that he could: his presence. And Bodie had kissed him with an intensity that had stripped him of any defence.
That was the last he'd seen of Bodie, until he'd turned up yesterday, asking to speak with Loubet, and he'd left again with nothing but a wave for Robert. Until now.
It had to be asked. "Shall I wait for you in Libreville?"
And he knew the answer even before Bodie spoke, could hardly hear him over the blood pounding in his ears.
"No. I won't be coming to Libreville."
He kept his voice calm through force of will. "You'll be leaving Biafra, though?"
Bodie shrugged. "It's on to the next war."
"There's always a next war." He wanted to turn away, but he stood there, desperate to show that he could be as unemotional about it as Bodie. Give him that, at least. No scenes.
"Job security, mate." Bodie was the one who looked away, out to where a couple of his men were helping Doumer load the jeep. "I wanted to thank--"
Bodie, mercifully, stayed turned away. And silent.
"They could always use a medic in the mercs, couldn't they?" He damned himself for saying it even as he couldn't stop it.
The finality of it sliced through him like the finest honed steel. It stole his breath. "I see."
Bodie turned to him then, took a step in his direction but stopped at the betraying flinch that Robert couldn't control.
"Well then," Bodie said, and Robert was glad to see the awkwardness in him. At least it wasn't indifference. He wanted to shout at him, to plead with him, to grab him and fuck him until he submitted.
But he didn't want submission. He forced himself to say lightly, "Well then, cheerio, and thanks for the memories, mate." He turned back to his box.
"Go on, you've made your point." He heard the sound of movement behind him, it wasn't coming nearer. "Bodie."
"Yes?" By the sound of it he was already at the tent's entrance.
"You'll be leaving soon, won't you. No trouble getting out?"
"I'll make it."
Robert nodded, staring down at the folded blanket he'd placed in the box. "I'll be in Libreville for a month."
There was an interminable silence. "Goodbye, Robert."
He didn't watch him leave. He finished packing the box without thought, then went out to help wherever he was needed. Oh yes, this was reality all right.
St. Victor's, 1999
Bodie was as he'd left him, no improvement but no deterioration. Someone had pulled the privacy curtain although there were no other patients in resus. Judy nodded at him as he returned to Bodie's side, and then she left them alone. He pulled a chair up close and placed his fingers within Bodie's slack grip.
He was beyond caring what his staff thought. It was enough to try to conquer his own strong emotions: love and regret, confusion and certainty. It was enough to be there with Bodie, where he'd always belonged.
And he looked his fill, noting the passage of time in additional lines and grey hairs and altered shapes. But it had been these fingers that had roused him as no other, those lips that had given him such pleasure. He knew this body as intimately as he knew his own, even with the changes. And he knew the mind and the soul encased in failing flesh. Would choose him as surely as he'd chosen A&E.
He'd had thirty years to relive those four months. At first he'd thought only of the way it had ended, and then he'd found himself remembering how it began. And all that followed. He'd gone over the memories like a well-loved story, unwilling to allow the details to be forgotten, despite the pain that never diminished. He remembered it to protect himself from ever giving that much of himself away again. But there'd been joy discovered in Africa as well. And so other times he remembered to give himself comfort. Or to test himself. Or, sometimes, to make himself feel.
The stirring of Bodie's fingers against his own brought his gaze back to Bodie's face. Open eyes, and a light in them that twisted his heart. No doubts, really, for either of them.
Bodie's other hand reached up to fumble with the oxygen mask. Robert helped him to remove it, checking the monitors at the same time. Bodie smiled at him.
"Reckon I overdid the dramatics." His voice was weak but it held all the humour it ever had.
"I reckon you did."
Bodie moved his fingers to grasp his hand. "You came back."
"There are better ways to call attention to yourself."
"I needed your undivided attention."
"You've always had that."
"Robert--" Bodie broke off, closing his eyes for a moment and Robert looked quickly at the monitors, then tried to pull his hand away to examine him, but Bodie tightened his grip.
Robert murmured to him. "Take it easy, love."
Bodie opened his eyes. "Ahh, Robert." He shook his head. "It wasn't lack of trust. I kept my promise."
"It doesn't matter."
"Yes, it does." Bodie tried to move but settled back at Robert's touch. "Your Isabel is a lucky woman. She has your love, and your loyalty. You won't fail her."
"It's not the same." And he'd admitted it, without a second thought.
"It never is. Doesn't diminish it, though."
"Had many loves, have you?"
Bodie looked at him patiently. "No."
"One or two?"
Bodie shook his head. "Many lovers but only one love. You've always held my heart."
It was too much but he couldn't pull away from him. Although Bodie's grip held little strength. "I wondered."
Pain flickered across Bodie's face. "I thought it would be easier. Leaving like that."
"Easier?" His voice cracked on the word.
Bodie's fingers stroked his own. "I was afraid. I needed to protect you."
"Was it me you didn't trust? Or yourself?"
But Bodie was shaking his head. "No. No, it wasn't a question of trust. I was afraid that what we had there we couldn't have elsewhere. And we couldn't stay there. I had to look out for you."
"We could have stayed in Africa."
"And lived what, the mercenary life?"
"Something." Stubbornly. "Anything." He would have stayed for him. Had planned to.
"No. You belonged here and I thought I belonged there."
And God help him but he'd believed that Bodie belonged there as well. "What if I'd come after you? Asked you to come home with me?"
Bodie sighed. "I'd've put you on a plane."
He closed his eyes. "Christ, Bodie." Was it so surprising that their fears worked together as smoothly as their love? But it hurt to realise what it had cost them, and that love was at the root of it. After a moment he looked at him again. "You did come home."
"After Biafra I went to Angola, but I only lasted eight months. You'd changed me; choosing to leave you had changed me. I couldn't live that life anymore and I didn't want to. I came home and joined the Paras. Put my skills to a better use. And eventually I was seconded to CI5. I worked solo, learned a lot, and ended as co-controller."
He couldn't help but ask. "Have you been happy?"
Bodie gazed across the room. "Contented, yes."
"Did you think of me?"
"Oh, all the time." A soft smile.
Why then didn't you come to me, he wanted to ask but didn't. Bodie's peace of mind was more important than recriminations. And what would he have done if Bodie had shown up on his doorstep in 1975? Had he changed as quickly and as irrevocably as Bodie? Oh, yes.
"I'd go with you now, if you asked it of me." He whispered the words, helpless.
And light shone in Bodie's eyes.
Robert leaned forward, uncaring of the place or thirty years of love and fear and a decision that had separated them. He pressed his lips to Bodie's, apology and forgiveness. This kiss, so unlike the ones he remembered from Africa. This was like falling into bed after a thirty-hour shift, with all the time in the world to sleep. Nothing else mattered when he kissed Bodie.
And it was that singular passion that had driven them apart as surely as it had brought them together. Each thinking of the other, each reading the other's hidden fears too well.
He broke the kiss and Bodie's hand lifted to his face, gently caressing. "All I am is because of you."
Robert caught his hand in his own. "You've influenced every part of my life, shaped my world."
Weakened fingers squeezed his hand. "Next time around I want years with you."
"Count on it."
Bodie grinned, the same expression that had blazed across an aid station in Biafra. Then he closed his eyes, holding tightly to Robert's hand.
"I'm here, love," Robert told him.
And so he stayed beside Bodie, and thought of the past--all the joy that been theirs so briefly. But now he knew it was theirs forever, and it could not be taken away as long as he remembered. And he thought of the future that had been given to him that night, and what Bodie would expect of him.
And Robert held the hand of his deepest love as he found his own release.
A long time later he felt another hand on his arm, and knew that reality had come for him again. "Robert?"
It was Lou standing beside him, her eyes wide, all that intense compassion directed at him now. He reached to Bodie and began removing the monitoring devices from him.
"Tell Mr Bayford I'll be with him shortly, please." He looked around, saw Judy and nodded for her to come forward to take his place. Standing, he stretched cramped muscles. He gazed for a last moment on Bodie, then turned to leave resus and found Lou again, by the entrance.
"It's all right, Lou. No need to look so worried." From somewhere he dredged a smile and found it wasn't as difficult as he'd thought it would be. Serenity his again.
"I'm sorry, Robert."
He shook his head. "I'm not." And he felt the warmth of memory and new-found certainty invade his smile. "I'll give you his advice, Lou: don't hide who you are. Channel your emotions, use them to give you the strength to do what you have to do. It works."
She gazed at him, and then nodded. "Thank you." And, gradually, a smile dawned in her eyes. "I believe I'm beginning to understand."
He patted her arm as he passed her at the entrance. "I sincerely hope we're talking about a career in A&E."
The smile widened. "Mostly."
A few hours later he arrived home. It had rained, leaving the ground damp and the air smelling of the richness of early spring. He felt each moment, as if it were newly discovered, his senses wide open. Izzy had left a light on for him and he dropped his briefcase by the door before turning it off and climbing the stairs. She was asleep in their bedroom when he went to find her. So he listened to her breathing and thought of the child who lived inside her. And felt at peace.
He left the bedroom and went to his study. With a key he unlocked the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a steel box with another lock. Inside the box was his target pistol, duly registered, that he used to practice the skills he'd acquired in his end of the bargain. He reached for the bundle lying next to the target pistol, and gently unwrapped it. The Browning gleamed dully at him. He hadn't touched it since Izzy had moved in with him. The gun was highly illegal, but it was all he had and he'd keep it and damn the consequences. Reaching into the drawer again he pulled out gun oil, cleaning tools and a cloth.
Quietly he set about cleaning the gun as he'd been taught, Bodie's voice echoing in his mind. And through the tears that finally overflowed, he smiled.
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
--William Shakespeare, Sonnet 73
-- THE END --
Originally published in Roses and Lavender 3, Allamagoosa Press, October 1999