Post-"The Rack"

As he left the building, the big man paused to tug his coat closed. Pale eyes narrowed as he watched three figures conferring on the far side of the carpark. "Did you get that address?" he murmured in an undertone to the man at his side as one of the three pulled away in a white car, alone.

"Yeh, but--"

"No buts. I want him. We'd better hurry if we want to get there before he does."

Ignoring the smiles of the other two figures heading for their cars, the big man strode away quickly.

Bodie moved his empty beer glass around the table, watching the damp rings it left wherever it touched down.

"We'll have to stay away from Coogan for a while," Cowley was saying as he nursed his whisky. "We know he's dirty, but after this dust-up we daren't lay a finger on him without solid, irrefutable evidence. We've won the day, for now, but any further appearance of impropriety on our part would.... Laddie, are you listening?"

Bodie jumped in his seat. "Yes, sir. I was just thinking, I probably ought to be getting on."

Cowley's forehead creased in annoyance, then smoothed again as he studied the younger man. "Aye, you're out on your feet. You were up all night, weren't you, at the hospital with Parker?"

"Yes, sir. But it isn't that--I think I should stop round and see Doyle."

"Ach, Bodie, I told you, you won't be able to help him. He's got to work it out for himself."

"Maybe I can't help, but at least I can be there for him." Bodie's mouth jutted stubbornly.

"He'll be better off alone."

"Nah. Sometimes I can talk him out of these black moods of his."


"He needs me, sir. I just--I should be with him." Bodie stood up and tossed a handful of change down on the table. "Thanks for the beer."

Cowley sat back in his seat, watching exasperatedly as Bodie headed for the door.

Doyle trudged through his tiny garden, freeing the keys from his pocket with one hand while the other tugged the loosened tie from around his neck. This whole business sickened him. First he had killed an innocent man quite by accident, then the whole of CI5 had been endangered by his mistake, and eventually Henry Parker had come close to paying the ultimate price for the events Doyle had set in motion. If only he hadn't lost his rotten temper with that little rat; if only he hadn't let Big John's taunts get him riled up in the first place. If only they had gotten to the estate a little sooner, and caught the Coogans with the stash....

Turning automatically to reset the alarms as the door closed behind him, Doyle froze. The small red light that should have been flashing was dark and dull. Had the bulb gone out? Or had someone managed to circumvent the security system?

The flat was dark, but at a whisper of sound Doyle lashed out with his foot. The boot met soft flesh, and someone grunted. But there were other someones about as well. The lights flared on, and even as Doyle struck out hard fingers grasped his arms. He tried to pull away, flailing for balance and freedom, and his left hand met the plate glass window facing onto the garden. It shattered with a cascade of sound, and rivers of fire ran up his forearm.

There was a definite bounce to Bodie's stride as he left his car and stepped up onto the kerb in front of Doyle's building. Truth to tell, he didn't mind cajoling Doyle out of a mood now and then--not if it led to the sort of thing that had happened the other day.

It was hard to say exactly how it had come about. Bodie thought the first faint glimmerings must have been there when he sat on the coffee table in front of Doyle, so close he could feel the heat of him and smell his own unique scent; Doyle hadn't showered that morning. Bodie had known, then, that he would be able to persuade Doyle to come with him to look for Parker, and the knowledge of success and the relief that he had cheered his friend up at least a little played around his mouth like a sweet he could suck on. Doyle had just stared at him, green eyes large with the echoes of his despair, and a reluctant crease had appeared next to his mouth as he watched Bodie trying not to smile. Bodie felt warm clear through when he saw the light beginning to return to his partner's eyes.

Doyle had almost been back to his usual annoying self that day as they searched for Parker--perhaps a little shorter of fuse, but that could have been the frustration of missing Parker at one place after another. When they had checked out their last lead--and Doyle had nearly gotten into a brawl with a pimp--they headed back to Doyle's place.

After a few drinks, Bodie made to go, but Doyle had looked up at him with that bruised look in his eyes again. "Don't," he said simply.


"Don't go." Doyle's gaze shifted to the far corner of the room. "I mean, it'd be more convenient if you stayed here. We have to be at the inquiry by seven tomorrow--easier for you just to stay, innit?"

Bodie studied his partner for a long minute, then his face softened. "Did you get any sleep at all last night?"


"You heard me."

Doyle flushed and stood up suddenly. "So I didn't sleep well. That's nothing to do with it. Just thought I'd save you the extra drive, that's all."

A smile struggled to form on Bodie's mouth. "That's all, eh? Fine, I'll stay then. But if you think I'm going to sleep on that bag of rocks you call a settee, you've got another think coming. Last time I bunked here--"

"Noticed the peas I put under the cushions, did you?" Doyle sauntered towards the stairs. "Know what that means, don't you?"

Bodie was suspicious. "What?"

"You're a true princess." Doyle bounded up the steps just in time to evade Bodie's charge. The ensuing struggle left both of them red-faced and panting, and Doyle left boot toppled over the edge of the gallery to the floor below.

It wasn't the first time the two of them had shared a bed, but the other occasions had usually been during stakeouts or on standby in some borrowed bedsit, or too-short intervals of exhausted sleep during sessions with Macklin. Bodie had noted then that Doyle fell asleep quickly and easily and was generally a much quieter sleeper than himself, aside from a lamentable tendency to snore if he rolled onto his back.

This time Doyle fidgeted endlessly, turning repeatedly to find a comfortable position, lying still for long minutes and then sighing or stretching or cracking a joint just as Bodie was about to drop off himself. When Doyle sat up to adjust the duvet for the fifth time, Bodie gave up his pretense of slumber.

"What's the matter? You don't usually have this much trouble sleeping."

"'M cold," Doyle said glumly. "Can't sleep when I'm cold."

Bodie propped himself on one elbow. "You? Raymond shirtsleeves-in-January, open-the-window-a-little-more-won't-you Doyle is cold? You never get cold."

"Not in the daytime, when I'm moving about, no. But in the middle of the night...." Doyle slipped back down the bed and curled into a ball with his back to Bodie, pulling the duvet close about his shoulders. Bodie could feel the bed trembling as his partner shivered.

"So turn up the heat. Bring in an electric fire."

"Can't--burnt out the outlet in here when I was usin' the hairdryer the other day."

"Take a hot bath!"

"The plug doesn't work--water drains right out."

"Shower, then."

"My hair'll get wet, and I'll be colder than ever."

Bodie gave an incredulous growl. "A hot water bottle?"

"It leaks," said Doyle lugubriously, and shivered again.

Torn between amusement and exasperation, Bodie started to laugh.

"What?" Doyle twisted his head around at an impossible angle. "Bodie, what is it? What're you laughing at?"

"You, sunshine."

Doyle scowled and turned away.

"First you ask me to stay and keep you company, then you keep me awake fussing and fidgeting, then you're determined that I won't cheer you up no matter what."

"Dunnave to stay, if it's that bad," Doyle grumbled.

"Berk," Bodie said fondly. "Right, now I have one more suggestion to warm you up. It doesn't involve water or electricity, it's a tried-and-true method, and you will not reject it. Understood?"

"Gonna light the bed on fire, are you?" Doyle sniffed.

"No. C'mere, sunshine. Straighten out a bit so I can get meself around you."

"Bodie, what the bloody hell are you doing?" Doyle demanded on a rising tone as he was manhandled across the bed.

"You, my son, need a cuddle. Keeps you warm and chases away all the nasty thoughts. So that's what you're going to get." Bodie got Doyle into an appropriate position in the center of the bed and wrapped himself around his partner, broad chest to shivering shoulders, strong arms around downy stomach, warm feet tucked among ice-cold ones. "Actually, what you really need is a good shag," Bodie went on cheerfully, "but the birds don't appreciate bein' hauled out of bed at this hour if they're not going to be properly wined and dined."

Doyle went still for several seconds, and Bodie hastily reviewed his words for anything that could have upset his over-sensitive partner.

"Suppose I'll just have to make do with what I've got, then," Doyle said at last, wriggling like an eel and undoing all Bodie's hard work of getting them into a comfortable position in the first place.

"Eh?" Bodie responded inelegantly--and unwisely, since opening his mouth gave Doyle the opportunity to insert a demanding tongue between Bodie's lips before the concept of resistance had even occurred to him. A few seconds later, when the possibility of resistance did percolate to the front of his brain, it seemed absurd. Doyle was a very good kisser, quite outside the range of Bodie's previous experience--well, his previous experience didn't include beard stubble and aggressive tongue-work, but he found the stubble intriguing, and having an active partner just made it more fun. Doyle tasted delicious and used just the right combination of pressure and suction, as if he had commissioned extensive research on the kind of kisses Bodie liked best.

It was several minutes before their lips parted again, and by that time Bodie was dizzy with arousal and lack of air. Doyle was nuzzling down his neck now, exploring his collarbone with lips and tongue and making it quite impossible for Bodie to get his breath back.

"This what you had in mind?" Doyle said indistinctly against Bodie's flesh. "When you said you would warm me up?"

It hadn't been, but it seemed like an excellent idea now. "Was this what you had in mind," Bodie gasped, "when you asked me to stay?"

Doyle stopped and raised his head, eyes narrowed and glinting with mischief. "I've had this in mind for a while now. Didn't think you would go for it, though." He pushed the duvet out of the way and lowered himself to blow, then lick, suckle, nip, and blow again at Bodie's left nipple.

Bodie was finding it hard to form words, distracted as he was by the sensations Doyle was creating and by the ripple of smooth muscle under his hands. "Well, maybe--" he managed breathlessly "--if you'd asked me...."

"Maybe I'd have got another broken cheekbone to match the first," Doyle concluded as he paused for a moment, contemplating Bodie's opposite nipple. "Figured it'd be better to have the advantage of surprise."

"Oh, I'm surprised all right," Bodie gasped out. He moved his thigh out from under Doyle's bony hip and discovered another, warmer hardness pressing against him. More breath escaped his lungs with a strange whimper.

Doyle stopped, suspended in the midst of a siege of Bodie's navel. "Dunnave to go on, you know. We can stop right here."

Bodie groped, found a head full of curls and a couple of convenient ears for handles, and pulled Doyle up his body, clasping him close. "You stop now, sunshine, you will get that matched pair of cheekbones. And a broken nose to go with them." He fastened his mouth to Doyle's again.

They clung to each other, hugging close and sharing breath, wrestling back and forth across the bed until they were hopelessly tangled in the sheets. Somehow, without discussing it, they found a good angle, and with a lot of sweaty thrusting and some help from Doyle's clever fingers they arrived together, just for a moment, at the still center of the universe.

But better than that, somehow, had been the long minutes afterward, when they lay in a tangled heap, exchanging kisses and soft meaningless murmurs. Bodie had felt content, complete for the first time in his life, as if half of his soul that he had never known was lost had been returned to him. He slept like a baby and woke smiling, his good mood unimpaired even when he had to chivvy Doyle through the steps of dressing for the inquiry.

While Bodie was walking up to his door, Doyle was halfway across town in the boot of a car, trying to spit his tie from his mouth. The fact that they had gagged him with his own tie was galling enough, but the pillowcase over his head smelt faintly of Bodie, the extension lead binding his ankles had been taken from his own closet, and the handcuffs had come from his pockets.

The snatch had been accomplished in under a minute, despite Doyle's struggles and the fact that he managed to knock out one of his attackers. He'd been carried out and bundled into the boot, half smothered by the twisted pillowcase and half choked by petrol fumes. He had no chance of escaping just at the moment; he would just have to survive as well as he could until an opportunity presented itself. Doyle grunted as the car made a sharp turn, rolling him up against something behind his spine--a tire wrench, perhaps--and pinching his bleeding forearm beneath him. He resigned himself to an uncomfortable ride.

Bodie pressed the door buzzer for the fifth time, his face growing grimmer. He knew Doyle was at home because his car was parked outside, and the kitchen light was on. So he must be there, but not answering--and that meant he was in an even worse funk than Bodie had anticipated.

Fortunately, Bodie had a spare key to Doyle's flat. He had used it only a few days ago when Doyle was, as now, refusing to answer the door. He hoisted himself over the wall and threaded his way through Doyle's garden.

When he saw the broken window, he stopped short and reached for his gun.

Glass shards littered the ground outside the door; the window had been broken from within. Most alarming of all were the dark smears trickling down the glass daggers that remained in the frame. Bodie could catch the sickly-sweet scent from where he stood.

All was silent, so he let himself in and moved quickly through the flat, checking each room for intruders before he returned to the door and studied the ruin of the kitchen. The evidence of a fight was clear: the entry rug rucked up against the wall, the table turned over and dishes smashed on the floor. Bodie winced as he noted a dent in the plaster of the wall, hoping it hadn't been his partner's head that had made that mark. Doyle must have been taken from behind, as he was coming in the door. Either that or they had been waiting for him, somehow. This flat was easier to break into than most CI5 accommodations.

Bodie called Base on his RT as he made a detailed check over the rest of the flat, touching nothing but looking for anything missing or out of place. His gaze fell on the battered brass bugle that lay on a side table. Doyle couldn't get so much as a note out of the thing, unlike the similarly battered guitar which reclined on the top shelf--he could wring a few chords from that, when it had a full complement of strings. The bugle was useless, yet Doyle had carried it through several flat changes, simply because it was a present from Bodie.

A forensics boffin arrived within a few minutes, closely followed by Cowley. By that time, Bodie had pretty well confirmed that nothing was stolen; Doyle himself was the object of the attack.

"It was Coogan," Bodie said in a low voice, carefully controlling his anger. "It had to be."

"Perhaps," Cowley conceded as he studied the damage.

"He's after Ray for killing his brother. You know that's it!" Bodie felt a crawling sensation in his gut as he remembered those hours of sitting across from Coogan in the hall, watching with veiled eyes as Coogan stared at Doyle. He must have been plotting his revenge even then.

Cowley shook his head. "Coogan would have to be a fool to go for Doyle now, when he's already got our attention. He's not so stupid as that. It could be someone else taking advantage of the Coogan situation. Or the timing might just be a coincidence. Doyle has no shortage of enemies, you know that."

"It's Coogan, I know it is. I can at least go out to his place and check--"

"No. You're under suspension, and there's already bad blood between you and Coogan. I don't want you flying off the handle if Doyle isn't there."

"But, sir--" Bodie protested.

"I've got a team checking out Coogan's estate and a few other possible places. We'll sit tight until they report in. Come back to HQ with me."

"But Doyle could be in trouble, we don't have time to muck about--"

"That's an order, 3.7!" the controller snapped, and led the way out of the violated flat.

Doyle wasn't sure where he had been brought, although he had his suspicions. The entry had involved several doors and a staircase, and the floor beneath him now was cold, hard cement.

He had his suspicions about who had grabbed him as well, although they had been mostly silent. In another minute, his guess was confirmed as one of his abductors murmured, "Big John. Big John!"

"Mmm?" Coogan's startled response came from closer than Doyle had expected. What had the man been doing, standing there staring at him?

"I'm worried about Frankie. Look how pale he is."

"Oh, come on, it was just a little bump on the head! I've had worse and kept fighting--and won, too. He'll come around in a minute."

"I dunno, John. I don't like the way he's breathing."

Coogan's heavy footsteps moved away. "Fine, if you're so worried, you can take him to the hospital. Go on, then--carry him out to the car!"

Scuffling sounds. "What about him?" said the other man.

"Untie him, then you can go with Mike."

A pause. "You sure, Big John?"

"Of course I'm sure. Little runt like that won't give me any trouble!"

The pillowcase was lifted from Doyle's head, and he blinked at the sudden bright light. He had been right about where they'd brought him, he noted as the wire was unwound from his ankles. For a moment he considered kicking his captor in the face as soon as his feet were free, but John Coogan's watchful presence, somewhere just out of sight, kept him still.

Finally he was rolled roughly onto his stomach and the handcuffs unlocked. The left cuff was gummed with half-dried blood; as the circulation was restored his arm began to bleed again. Doyle rolled over and sat up, pulling the crumpled tie from around his chin, as Coogan's hired muscle headed for the door and hesitated there.

"Go on, Joe. Me and Doyle here have some business to take care of. Isn't that right, Doyle?"

He looked up at Coogan as the click of the door latch indicated the other man's departure. "What business would that be?" he asked in a neutral tone.

"A fight, Doyle. One on one--you and me. Just a friendly little barehanded boxing match. Your hands are untied, we're both unarmed. A nice fair fight to show who's the better man."

"Fair!" Doyle scoffed. "I'm already wounded, I've been tied up and half-suffocated for the past hour--"

"Still more of a chance than you gave Paulie, isn't it?" Coogan sniffed and rubbed at his nose. "He didn't have any chance at all."

"I only hit him once!" Doyle protested.

"You killed him."

"We both killed him! You and me, between the two of--"

Coogan cut him off with a backhanded blow that knocked him to the floor.

Nice one, Doyle, he told himself. Provoke the man, then don't bother to defend yourself or even prepare for a blow. Do you want to die here?

Thick legs loomed on either side of his head. "Get up," Coogan said, panting with passion. "Get up, you little bastard, and fight like a man. If you can. You won't find me so easy to put down with one punch."

Doyle rolled carefully to his feet, casting a quick look around the room. It was bare, offering no weapons and no escape except through the door--and Coogan was carefully blocking his passage there. No recourse but to fight it out the way Coogan wanted.

Bodie paced the office nervously, glancing at his watch for the third time in five minutes. If Ray had gone directly home after the inquiry and been snatched as soon as he went through the door, that meant he'd been in Coogan's hands for over an hour and a half now. Long enough for whatever revenge Coogan had planned?

"Look, sir, just let me go and--"

"I said no, 3.7." Cowley set down the report he was reading, pulled off his glasses and rubbed wearily at his eyes. "In any case, Coogan isn't there."


"I sent King and Matheson to check out his estate. He never returned there after the inquiry. He hasn't been to his hotel suite in London. Nor is he with Merlin."

"What about that other bloke, what's his name, Williams?"

"He resides on Coogan's estate. No sign of him either. If they did take Doyle, they're not holding him on any of Coogan's properties that we know of. So it won't do you any good to rush out there now."

"Other associates?"

"Being checked. I've got several teams on it. We're doing all we can to find Doyle, believe me. Now sit down, man, before you wear a hole in my floor!"

Bodie plopped himself violently in a chair. "Isn't there something I could do, sir?"

"Not at the moment, unless you wish to help with this paperwork. No, I thought not. All we can do now is wait. As soon as we find a likely lead, I'll get a warrant and--"

"A warrant!" Bodie was appalled. "That's a damned waste of time."

"I told you before, Bodie, we've got to walk carefully here."

"Doyle doesn't have time for us to go poncing around making everything nice and pretty for the prosecutors!"

"If we want to get Coogan with something that'll stick--"

Bodie surged to his feet, shouting now. "Like what? You planning to let him kill Doyle? Eh? Why not, then we can get him for murder!"

Cowley faced his agent across the desk, bristling with anger. "Speak to me again in that tone, Bodie, and I'll--"

A knock on the door interrupted them.

Cowley scowled. "Yes! Come in, what is it?"

Benny stuck his head cautiously around the door. "I have the preliminary results from Forensics on--"

"Doyle's flat? Come in, man, where I can hear you."

Still fuming inwardly, Bodie fell back to give the other man room.

"Yes, sir. Well, ah, the report's not complete yet, but I thought you wouldn't want to wait 'til morning."

"Yes, yes, get on with it."

"Right. It looks like they grabbed Ray just after seven this evening, probably as soon as he entered the flat. They buggered the alarms on the back window and waited for him. There were at least three, maybe four attackers, probably with gloves--no fingerprints. They found some hair in that hole in the wall. Not Ray's hair--"

Bodie only realised he had breathed a sigh of relief when Benny glanced his way.

"--but the blood on the glass is Ray's type."

Bodie winced.

"So, he knocked out one of them, but they got him in the end."

"It looks that way. Sir."

Cowley mused. "I know we haven't got complete medical records on them, but I want you to check that hair against John Coogan and his assistant, Frank Williams. We suspect they set this up, but so far we have no proof. We need any ammunition you can give us."

"Yes, sir. I'll get on it right away." Benny hurried from the room, obviously relieved to be escaping the tense atmosphere.

Cowley and Bodie stared at each other for a few moments.

"Ach, sit down, Bodie. The whole argument is pointless until we actually have some idea where Doyle is being held."

Conceding the truth of that, Bodie sat stiffly.

"You can help me by going over these files. It's still possible that Doyle was snatched by someone else, in which case we're wasting time chasing after John Coogan. We're looking for anyone who might have a grudge against Doyle, and reason to act on it now. Enemies of his who've recently been released from prison or returned from abroad, that sort of thing. Get to it, man."

Doyle circled warily, trying to feel out Coogan's style without getting smashed to bits in the process. Studying the big man's movements, he looked for any sign of weakness. He had noticed Coogan's sniffing earlier, and thought the man's pupils were a bit dilated. With any luck, the cocaine would slow his reactions enough that Doyle could get in some good blows--unfortunately, it would also make him more impervious to pain, so that it would take some very decisive action on Doyle's part to bring him down.

Coogan had adopted a classic boxing stance, light on his feet and poised for the first sign of a move from his opponent. He had Doyle beaten in weight, in reach, and in sheer years of fighting experience. But almost all that experience, Doyle realized, was in the professional boxing ring. Coogan might be a drug kingpin, but he was no streetfighter. Any dirty moves he might have learned in his youth had been drummed out of him by years under the eyes of trainers and judges. He might hate Doyle, might have every intention of beating him to death in this room, but his reflexes simply weren't geared to the sort of fatal or crippling blows that were Doyle's daily fare. He would be aiming at the face, the chest, the gut, trying to wear Doyle down as he would any other opponent.

With this in mind, Doyle catalogued the targets he could strike for--all sites that would have the Marquess of Queensberry spinning in his grave. It was unlikely that Doyle could get past Coogan's guard for a blow to the bigger man's face--but if he did, he wouldn't be making any bareknuckle punches to that iron jaw; no, he would jab at the eyes with his fingers, and try to blind the man at least temporarily. The face being a poor target because of Coogan's height and experienced guard, Doyle considered the groin. A definite possibility for a disabling blow, and one that Coogan's training wouldn't anticipate. But every man's reflexes are geared to protect that vulnerable area, and it was possible Coogan had even put on a cup in preparation for this parody of a match.

As he moved around the floor, Doyle curled his open hands into fists and raised them higher. He brought his feet closer together in a position that would have made his old karate instructors furious. This stance would look more familiar to Coogan; it would lull him into believing he could treat Doyle like any other boxer.

Sure enough, Coogan took confidence from the subtle changes in Doyle's stance and moved forward with a lightning-swift punch. Doyle ducked and darted to the left, letting the hammer-blow whistle past his ear. But Coogan twisted faster than he should have been able, and his left flashed out to catch Doyle in the stomach.

Doyle rode the punch, letting it lift him back, aware that only his own lighter weight and the fact the Coogan was at the limit of his reach had kept the blow from causing serious injury. As it was, he staggered weakly when his feet found the ground once more, and he circled back unsteadily in fear of further blows. It seemed his speed wouldn't be as much help as he thought; Coogan was incredibly fast for such a large man, despite the cocaine.

"Going for the spleen?" he gasped breathlessly, still backing away. At least he missed the solar plexus, he consoled himself, or I'd be lying helpless on the floor.

Coogan's lips peeled back in a fierce grin. "Got it in one!" And he came in again.

Doyle diverted another gut punch past his hip with a karate block, and a flurry of blows followed. Some of his punches landed, though not with the strength he would have liked, thanks to his unfamiliar stance. Some of Coogan's blows landed, with altogether more strength than Doyle would have preferred. He protected the right side of his face effectively enough; his guard was stronger on that side not only because he was right-handed, but because he remembered all too easily the iron pipe that had long ago fractured his skull and nearly blinded him. But with Doyle's left arm weakened, Coogan's piledriver broke through and smashed into his left eye, sending him reeling backward. Only the thick pillar that he bumped into kept him from falling.

Rather than pursue the advantage, Coogan smirked and sucked on his knuckles as he watched Doyle trying to recover his equilibrium. "Told you before, runt--you're just not up to my weight."

Bodie was eight files down the stack when the phone rang. He listened with half his attention as Cowley answered; it was probably someone reporting another negative result in the search for Coogan.

"Yes? Speaking. That's correct." There was a longish pause, and Cowley's voice sharpened. "When was this?"

Bodie looked up.

"What sort of condition is he in? I see. And the prognosis? Yes, of course. I quite understand. I'll be there as soon as I can." The controller set the phone down and looked up at Bodie. "That was Guy's Hospital. Doyle has just been brought in."

Bodie was on his feet, the papers cascading to the floor. "What happened to him?" he demanded.

"Apparently he'd been severely beaten."

Cowley detailed Benny to drive, with a sharp glance at Bodie to forestall any argument. Bodie curled his fingers into the vinyl of the Ford's back seat, trying to contain his frustration as Benny drove a decorous two miles per hour below the speed limit.

He never had been able to see what Ray liked about Benny. The two of them were old friends going back to Doyle's drug squad days, and of course work sometimes made for strange bedfellows--Bodie clenched his teeth against a startling wave of jealousy at the mere thought of another man in bed with Ray--but shared experience could not quite account for Ray's affection for the younger man. He had even recommended Benny for the squad after the detective had given them some assistance in tracking down a pusher. Even more to Bodie's amazement, the little pipsqueak had made it through the interviews and the training to become an active agent. That harmless look apparently came in useful when Benny was undercover; what worried Bodie was that he couldn't believe it was all an act.

Benny was also among the minority of CI5 agents usually referred to by first name; it was meant not as a diminutive, but to avoid confusion because his surname, Cowlings, could be too easily mistaken for the controller's name over a spotty radio link. Tommy McKay, whose name resembled that of Peter McCabe, an agent barely two weeks his senior, had been another such example, as well as Charlie Martin. Bodie was glad there was no difficulty with his own name; if there had been a Brody or Bowden on the squad when he first interviewed, he probably wouldn't have taken the job. But now that the squad was finally reaching full strength after several years of careful recruitment and endless vetting procedures, Cowley had instituted a new system of code numbers to designate agents during radio communications.

That bit of musing had taken up an entire two blocks. Bodie clenched his jaw shut upon a demand for Benny to drive faster.

For George Cowley, visiting one of his men at Guy's--or any other hospital--was an all too familiar occurrence. Normally, when he arrived at the hospital door, there would be a nurse or orderly to meet him and brief him on his agent's condition. There was no such welcoming committee this time, and Cowley pulled up short as he entered the lobby of the hospital, pausing more through surprise at the absent reception than uncertainty at what to do next. Bodie, on the other hand, bulled through without hesitation and headed directly for the front desk.

Cowley was about to follow when a familiar figure caught his eye. "Miss Mather! What on earth are you doing here?"

Benny cast a nervous glance between Cowley and the barrister, then hurried after Bodie's rapidly retreating form.

Geraldine Mather stopped a few feet in front of Cowley, looking uncomfortable--and annoyed about it. "I am here, Mr. Cowley, for the same reason I presume you are," she said firmly.

"What? How did you hear about--"

"This is where Henry Parker is being treated, is it not? I came to check on his condition."

"Parker!" In the last few hours, Cowley had all but forgotten the man's existence.

Mather tilted her head back defiantly. "Although I had nothing to do with Mr. Parker's injuries--nor did you, of course--I am sure neither of us likes to be made to feel responsible for such an unfortunate occurrence."

Through the awkward flood of words, Cowley managed to grasp that the woman felt partly to blame for Parker's troubles with Coogan. As well she should, for it was Mather who had forced Cowley to reveal the informant's name in open court, with ill-concealed glee at the coup she had achieved. Now Parker was back in hospital to recover from his beating at Coogan's hands--the very same hospital to which Doyle had been brought, most likely for the same reason.

Mather apparently felt a genuine human concern on Henry Parker's behalf, yet she was incapable of admitting such a feeling to Cowley--especially after she had failed to win her point in the board of inquiry. As she continued to struggle with the words to express regret without weakening her position, Cowley placed a light hand on her shoulder.

"Excuse me, Miss Mather. I have another matter to attend to--"

She didn't move out of his way. "You're not here about Parker, then?"

Cowley could see, further down the hall, that Bodie was getting into an altercation with the desk clerk. "No," he said abstractedly, "no--it's Doyle I'm here to see." He stepped around the barrister.

"Doyle?" Mather turned to follow him. "Raymond Doyle? But he was fine this afternoon. What's happened to him?"

Cowley quickened his stride as he heard Bodie's voice raised in anger. "He was taken from his flat a few hours ago."

"Taken? By whom? What do you mean?"

"That is precisely what I wish to find out, madam." He relegated the woman to the back of his thoughts as he came up to the desk.

"I'm sorry sir," the clerk was saying as Cowley arrived, "we have no record of--"

"Doyle!" Bodie growled. "Raymond Doyle. He was brought in less than an hour ago!"

Benny was looking harried as he tried to restrain Bodie and question the desk clerk at the same time. "Look, we received a phone call informing us--"

"But there's nothing in the computer--"

"Perhaps it hasn't been entered yet," Benny suggested reasonably, tightening his grip on Bodie's arm. "He was only just brought in."

"In the last hour, you said, sir? I'm sure I would remember. How old did you say he was?"

"Er, about thirty. Medium height, slight build, brown hair...."

"Do you mean the beating case, the one with the old injury on the cheekbone?"

"That's him," Bodie snapped. "Where is he?"

The clerk sat back in her seat, relieved to have the answer. "He was taken to the intensive care ward with a depressed skull fracture. But--" Her face fell.

"What is it?" Cowley put in, his gut twisting at the mention of an injury that could be very severe indeed.

"I'm afraid he died, sir, not fifteen minutes after he came in. There was extensive intracranial bleeding...."

Bodie stepped back from the desk.

The clerk looked nervous. "There was really nothing the doctors could do...."

Cowley watched Bodie uneasily, noting the flat lack of expression on his face coupled with a singing tension throughout his entire body.

"I'm terribly sorry, sir...."

Cowley ignored the clerk. "Bodie?"

The dark blue eyes lifted and met his, glittering like stone. Bodie nodded his chin once. He wasn't going to crack--not yet, at least.

"I want to see him." Bodie's soft voice cut the silence.

"Lad, I'm not sure that--"

"I need to see him." Just a hint of teeth in that statement.

Cowley sighed. "All right, Bodie. Stay with him, 2.2."

Benny, as shaken by the news as the rest of them, looked uncomfortable at being asked to keep an eye on Bodie at his most explosive, but he followed quietly as Bodie stalked down the hall toward intensive care. Cowley turned away from the desk, seeking a doctor who could give him the details of Doyle's case. As he turned, his eyes fell upon the white face and shocked gaze of Geraldine Mather.

Bodie was quite calm. He was perfectly in control. He knew that Benny, scurrying at his heels, was anticipating some sort of explosion, but Bodie had no intention of letting go. Not now, not here where it would do no good. He would wait for the right place and time.

It wasn't even a struggle to remain calm. In fact, he felt nothing. He was completely numb inside. It was as if the part of him which registered emotion had been cut away, excised so cleanly that he felt no pain, nothing but an emptiness in the center of his chest.

Rather than feelings, he had voices running through the borders of his mind. One was gibbering incredulously that this couldn't be true. Doyle couldn't be dead. It simply wasn't possible.

Bodie ignored that voice.

Benny's voice was also somewhere in the mix, saying something intended to be comforting or at least soothing. Bodie ignored his words as well. He didn't need calming since he was quite controlled already. And he didn't want comfort or expressions of sympathy. What, after all, did Benny know about what he was going through? Had Benny felt anything worse than regret when his own partner died? He had been teamed with Fraser for less than three weeks--how could he knew what it was like to lose a real partner, someone who was the other half of one's soul?

Another voice was evenly listing the things Bodie had to do. This voice he listened to. He knew what he was going to do.

Cowley knew also; it had been in the old man's eyes when the news hit them both. Cowley knew what Bodie would do, and he was bound to try to stop him. Bodie would have to figure a way around him, somehow. The cool, even voice in the back of his head suggested a number of strategies to accomplish that.

But first there were details to be taken care of. Bodie would listen carefully to the doctor's report. He would make absolutely certain that it was John Coogan who was responsible for Doyle's death. And when he was quite, quite sure, he would take action.

Even before listening to the doctor, however, Bodie needed to shut up that one voice that kept reiterating its disbelief. He pushed the swinging doors of the intensive care ward out of his way without consciously noticing them. People came forward to stop him, and he stepped smoothly around them. Behind him, he knew that Benny was talking to the people, holding them back. He didn't care what Benny said, so long as everyone stayed out of his way.

One cot held a shrouded figure, half blocked from view by a rank of blue-flowered curtains. Lifesaving equipment stood useless nearby, tubes and tapes and electrodes cast aside that had been attached briefly to the still form. A single foot protruded nakedly from beneath the white sheet.

With astonishing clarity, Bodie remembered Doyle's voice saying, "Cold.... Can't sleep when I'm cold." Something contracted painfully in his chest, as if one last emotion, deserted by its fellows, were trying to escape.

Bodie forced his lungs to expand and contract evenly as he stepped to the head of the cot and folded back the sheet. The voices in his head fell silent a moment, then ran riot.

Benny was at his elbow suddenly, saying out of nowhere, "I knew it! I knew it couldn't be true. Knew they'd got it wrong somehow!"

The disbelieving voice in Bodie's head agreed heartily. Of course Doyle could not be dead.

Bodie stared down at the corpse of Frank Williams--slight, brown-haired, and with a yellowing bruise over his cheekbone--and felt the disused machinery of his emotions creak into life. Relief, yes, he recognised that feeling easily enough. Delight was hovering somewhere in the background. But growing swiftly and eclipsing all others was anger. Oh, yes, a lovely burning rage that threatened to consume all before it.

The calm voice in his head pointed out that just because this was not Doyle's body, that didn't mean Doyle wasn't dead. Bodie dropped the sheet over Williams' face, turned on his heel, and left the ward.

When he found Cowley again, Bodie recognised the doctor who was speaking to him--the man had treated Parker just last night.

"Good God, I never meant to imply that," said the bearded man in appalled tones. "I said the man was brought in carrying Doyle's ID. Not Doyle himself."

Cowley's expression was a mixture of relief and exasperation. "Aye, I see how the misunderstanding came about, but now the question is--" he broke off as Bodie drew near. "Bodie! I presume you've found--"

"It's Frank Williams," Bodie said shortly. "He was carrying Ray's ID?" he asked the doctor without preamble.

"Yes, that's why I called. I thought you would want to question him, but of course that's impossible now."

"How was Williams injured?" Cowley asked.

"He appeared to have been in a fight, but the only serious injury was a depressed fracture at the rear of the skull which caused bleeding into the brain's autonomic nerve centers. It could have been done with a blunt instrument--"

"Or a wall?" Bodie demanded.

The doctor's brows rose. "Yes, I suppose he could have hit his head on a wall. He would have to have hit it very hard, though, and at an angle."

"That's it then," Bodie said. "Ray put up a fight when he was snatched, Williams slipped on the rug and hit the wall--after he'd taken Ray's ID away from him. Now Coogan's got Ray, and he's planning to kill him."

Cowley held up a hand. "Who brought Williams in, Doctor?"

"Two men in a car. They carried him in and left without identifying themselves. The nurse could give you a description."

Cowley dispatched Benny to the task with a brief motion of his head.

Geraldine Mather broke in, having lingered near enough to hear what was said. "Mr. Cowley, are you quite sure it's John Coogan who is to blame for this...abduction? You mustn't leap to conclusions without sufficient evidence."

Cowley's lips tightened in disgust. "Frank Williams is Coogan's right-hand man--"

"And he was carrying Ray's ID," Bodie interrupted angrily.

"Thank you, Bodie, I'll fight my own battles," Cowley said quellingly. "Miss Mather, this is a life-or-death situation. At this moment we are not trying to determine John Coogan's guilt or innocence; we are trying to save Doyle's life. Locating Coogan appears to be the best means to do so. Under these circumstances we don't even need a special brief to pursue Coogan without a warrant. When Doyle is safe and Coogan has been located, we will give due consideration to his civil rights and he will be tried in a proper court of law. But first we must find him, and Doyle."

Bodie fidgeted. "We're wasting time here. We ought to be out--"

"Bodie, I've told you, there are half a dozen teams looking for Coogan right now. I have every available man on it. Unless you have some special insight into where Coogan may have taken Doyle, we're wasting no time at all by staying here and investigating the circumstances of Frank Williams' arrival."

Bodie opened his mouth for a sharp reply, then froze as inspiration broke over him. "Actually, sir," he said slowly, staring at Geraldine Mather, "I think I just might know where Coogan took him."

Doyle was struggling now, still panting from the stomach blow earlier and aching in half a dozen other sites where Coogan's fists had landed. His left eye was half-filled with blood, his left arm was curled protectively around his ribs, and his head was pounding abominably. It was time to lure the tiger into his trap--if only he hadn't left it too late. Doyle broadened his stance and lowered his center of weight, balancing as well as he could in preparation for the next attack.

When Coogan moved in again, Doyle caught the flying fist with both hands and used it as a support while he kicked out viciously at his chosen target--the side of Coogan's knee. Ten pounds of force in the right spot could cripple even a large man for life. Doyle's kick was perfectly aimed and delivered considerably more than ten pounds of force.

As he felt the big man start to buckle, Doyle stepped back and shifted his hands to Coogan's head, guiding it downward while he lifted his own knee to smash Coogan in the face and knock him out. But either his balance was too far off or Coogan tried to lunge at him again, for somehow the knee overshot and took Coogan squarely in the throat.

Doyle overbalanced and fell back onto the floor with Coogan half on top of him, but even as he rolled free and clambered to his feet he knew the big man was no further threat. Coogan was curled around the agony of his broken knee, air gurgling obscenely in the ruin of his throat. Already his eyes were glazing over; he wouldn't live long enough to make it to hospital.

"You'd better be right about this, Bodie," growled Cowley. "It's Doyle's life if you're wrong."

"I know that, sir," said Bodie evenly. "But it's got to be. Coogan couldn't resist it--the perfect revenge."

Bodie was driving this time, having snatched the keys from Benny's hand. He sped through the busy London streets without the least regard for the speed limit, and Cowley made no remonstrations. After hours of barely-contained frustration, Bodie was alight with the anticipation of action, his hands relaxed on the wheel and his eyes flickering alertly over the street ahead.

Doyle stepped away from Coogan's still form, blotting at the cut over his eye with the back of one wrist. The breath heaved in and out of his lungs, each inhalation reminding him of some nasty blows he had taken to the ribs. Sweat stung the cuts on his arm and face, and his stomach roiled with more than the pain of the blows he had taken.

Once again, he had killed without meaning to. The death of another Coogan could be laid to his account. He couldn't wish that Coogan had won the fight, but the thought of more needless death made Doyle feel literally sick. He closed his eyes in pain both physical and emotional.

The click of the door and the scuff of a shoe on the concrete floor made Doyle's eyes fly open. Coogan's two companions were moving towards him with fury in their eyes.

In the section of his thoughts not responsible for avoiding a smash-up, Bodie was recalling the bugle on Doyle's coffee table. He had given it to his partner as a joke after that business with Franz Myer, when Doyle had shown up with such perfect timing--just like the cavalry in the movies.

Bodie could recall the moment of his rescue exactly, when Myer had him down and helpless, grinding a boot into his hand, and he had looked up to find Inge Helmut aiming her smg with a look of almost sensual pleasure. But the shot that rang out had been from a pistol....

Two pistols, actually, but Julia's aim wasn't quite so good as Doyle's. No, if Doyle had not shown up at that very moment, Bodie would have had much more than a broken hand to worry about--if he'd been alive to worry at all.

He wondered if his own timing would be as good, now that Doyle was the one in danger.

One of the two men pulled out a knife and tossed it from hand to hand. Aching with exhaustion and a dozen minor wounds, Doyle backed away to keep them both in his line of sight.

"Look," he gasped in the most reasonable tone he could manage, "you know this wasn't my idea. I didn't choose any of this. You can just walk away now...."

One of the men bent down briefly to check on Coogan. "I think he's dead, Joe," he said in an awed whisper.

The knife-wielder growled.

"You don't have to do this," Doyle tried again, and then the metal was flashing out at him and there was no time for words.

Something caught Bodie's attention, and his gaze flicked up to the mirror. "We have a tail, sir. Blue mini."

Cowley turned to look out the rear window. "Ach, it's that Mather woman."

"Do you want me to lose her?" Bodie was already planning an alternate route that would take him through a maze of smaller streets, but the thought of delay tightened his shoulders.

"No, leave her to take care of herself. Just get to Doyle, as quickly as you can."

"Yes, sir." Bodie smiled tightly and pressed the accelerator to the floor.

The building that had until recently been CI5's interrogation centre was a great draughty affair full of disused office space. What was of more interest to a secret intelligence service were the large basement rooms with their tiny windows and easily-secured doors. The offices above had remained largely empty during CI5's tenure, except as an archive and transcription facility for the tapes of interrogations.

When the Coogan affair blew up in their faces, Cowley had moved interrogations. It wasn't the adverse publicity that bothered him, but the fact that there was any publicity at all. Cowley loathed having any of CI5's facilities in the public eye. In the space of a few hours, all the equipment used for intimidating, persuading, and recording suspects had been moved temporarily to HQ until a new location could be found--along with the single top-secret prisoner that Cowley was holding for long-term interrogation.

With the board of inquiry finished, the building stood empty and unguarded, waiting to be sold or torn down or converted for some other use. But when the red Ford plunged squealing into the carpark, there was another vehicle there already.

"Dark sedan," Benny pointed out. "Could be the one the nurse at the hospital described."

Bodie was out of the car almost before the motor had died, running for the entrance of the building and ignoring the arrival of Geraldine Mather's mini. Cowley waved Benny ahead and waited for the barrister to step out of her car. "Miss Mather," he began, "this is a dangerous business and really none of your concern. I cannot condone--" He broke off as a third vehicle turned into the lot, a shiny black Citroen.

The new arrival paused uncertainly and the motor revved as if it would move on, but Mather recognised the car and stepped forward. "Why, David!" she exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"

Knowing that he had been seen, David Merlin killed the engine and stepped out of his car. "I...think I may have left something around here. Dropped it in the carpark, perhaps. You haven't seen a, er, bottle of medication, have you?"

"No we haven't," said Cowley firmly, "because it doesn't exist. You're here looking for John Coogan, aren't you?"

"Certainly not!" said Merlin indignantly, drawing himself up.

"Someone warned you that he was about to do something exceedingly stupid, and you've come to get him out of trouble. Well, I'm afraid you're too late, Mr. Merlin."

"I really don't know what you're talking about."

"No? Then perhaps you'd better come inside with us." Cowley gave the two barristers a thinly-veiled look of annoyance. "Stay out of the way, Miss Mather, and watch your step."

Bodie barely paused at the sight of the jimmied front door; he wrenched it open and passed inside without losing a second. His feet pounded along the corridor and down the stairs three at a time. He knew exactly where Coogan would have gone.

He came to the basement room where the board of inquiry had been held--the room where Paul Coogan had died. This lock was broken as well, and a choked-off cry from within the room spurred Bodie on. He kicked the door so hard that it flew back against the wall.

Inside, by the light of a single dim bulb, Ray Doyle was fighting for his life. John Coogan lay motionless on the floor, and another large man was crumpled not far away, moaning. A third had Doyle backed up against one of the thick support pillars, squeezing his throat with one hand and slashing at him with a knife in the other. Doyle's assailant hesitated for a moment as the door slammed open. Bodie gave him no chance to think or act, but rushed in and hauled the big man back by the collar, chopping down hard at the junction of neck and shoulder. His aim was a little off, catching more muscle than nerve, but the hulking figure staggered nonetheless. Pinching at pressure points in the wrist, Bodie forced the man to drop the knife, then twisted his arm into an elbow lock. "Handcuffs, Benny!" he shouted as the smaller agent arrived belatedly.

With the knife-wielder secured and Benny taking care of the half-unconscious man, Bodie turned at last to his partner. Doyle was slumped against the pillar. His pinstriped jacket was torn and bloodied, his knuckles raw, but one bright green eye peered up at Bodie from a battered face.

"All right, sunshine?" Bodie hoped the tremors in his hands weren't visible. He was acquainted with the knee-melting effects of relief from terror, but he had never before felt it on someone else's behalf.

"Just fine, thanks," Doyle rasped, parting a red gash in his shirt to study the cut underneath. "I could've taken him, y'know. Was just about to make my move."

Bodie grinned. "Oh, I know. But I couldn't let you have all the glory, could I?" He straightened in satisfaction as Cowley entered the room with two astonished lawyers in tow. Doyle was safe; everything else would fall into place on its own.

Bodie got to his feet as Doyle appeared down the hallway, looking utterly disreputable. His left eye was swollen, discoloured and accented by a bandage on the brow, his left arm was in a sling, and his ruined suit jacket was draped from one shoulder. The white shirt beneath hadn't fared much better. But despite the gashes and stains, Doyle moved with his customary unconscious grace, and there was more annoyance than discomfort in his expression.

"Ready to go, mate?"

"Am I! Sixty bloody stitches. Took forever. And I swear the anaesthetic didn't cut in until the very last stitch."

"Ah, you'll survive, mate. I've had worse."

Doyle stopped and pointed indignantly at the plaster above his eye. "This might scar, they said."

Bodie considered his partner's face. "Can't make it much worse than it is already."

"Oh, ta!"

"Y'know, Ray, that crack the other day about matching cheekbones--it was just a joke, not a serious suggestion."

"Ha bloody ha."

"And I know you hated that suit, but couldn't you have found a better way to get rid of it?"

"Gerrout!" Doyle gave him a shove and headed for the doors.

Bodie staggered dramatically against the wall, then recovered and came up on Doyle's left--the more-injured side--to forestall any further retaliations.

"Anyway, now I know why I hate wearing ties," Doyle reflected.

"Because they strangle you?"

"Nah--'cause they taste terrible!"

Bodie grinned to himself. If Doyle was making jokes of his own, he must be feeling better. "Cowley said you're to stay at my place," he said, pulling out his keys as they left the building, "seeing as yours isn't fit for human habitation just now."

"Fine by me. Just so long as you've got food in--I'm starving."

"No problem. There's a chippy just round the corner--"

Doyle groaned. "Fried grub! Don't make me ill."

In the end they compromised on Chinese takeaway, and while they ate Bodie gave a blow-by-blow account of the final clash between Cowley and Geraldine Mather.

"Should've seen her face, mate, when she realised what Coogan had done--and that you'd beaten him into the ground."

"Did see it. I was there, remember."

"Didn't think you were in any state to notice at the time."

"I'm always aware what's going on around me. 'S called being observant, that is."

"Is it? Thought it was insomnia."

Doyle threw a fortune cookie at him.

Bodie broke the cookie open--'You will have good fortune in all you set your hand to'--and crunched on it blissfully. "So anyway, we can't bring any actual charges against Merlin, but association with him won't do her career any good, and she hasn't got a leg to stand on in defense of Coogan--"

"No point, anyway," said Doyle wearily. With his stomach filled, his eyelids were beginning to droop from the cumulative effects of physical stress, lack of sleep, and painkillers.

Bodie paused. "What's that?"

"No point defending Coogan. He's dead."

"Well, better him than you."

"Yeh, I suppose."

Bodie peered at his partner. "You look knackered. You can have the bed; I'll make up the sofa for myself."

Doyle's head shot up. "What? Don't you want--aren't you going to.... I mean--"

Bodie studied the kitchen floor; needed sweeping, he noted. "I figured, with you under the weather an' all, you wouldn't want somebody tossing about beside you keeping you awake."

"I see," said Doyle slowly. There was something in his voice that Bodie couldn't quite identify. "I'll just, er, have a shower then, shall I, and get to bed."

"What?" Bodie's head came up. "What d'you want a shower for at this hour?"

"Wash my hair. Can't stand it like this." Doyle brushed fitfully at his curls.

Bodie could see nothing wrong with them; perhaps they were a little more ratty than usual, but that was hardly anything new. "You'll get your bandages wet."

"I'll take 'em off."

"You only just had them put on!"


Bodie gave a harried sigh. "Look, mate, why not just have a sponge bath and leave the whole wash-n-wax till later?"

"I told you, Bodie," Doyle growled, "I want my hair clean. Can't sleep with it this dirty."

"Since when have you been such a prima donna? Can't sleep when you're cold, can't sleep when you're dirty.... I tell you, mate, in Africa we slept--"

Doyle made a rude noise. "Leave off the tall tales, Bodie, I'm not in the mood." He went into the bathroom and slammed the door.

Bodie stood there for a moment with his jaw clenched tight, sorely tempted to leave Doyle to his own device. But then he remembered those moments in the hospital when it seemed all emotion had been lost to him. Even annoyance was preferable to that profound absence of feeling. He took a deep breath to calm himself, then fetched a chair from the kitchen and entered the bathroom without knocking.

Doyle's bloodstained shirt was crumpled on the floor, and he was pulling away the last of the tape that had held the bandages over his forearm.

"Should've left that," Bodie said, forcing himself not to react to the multicolored bruises and the black-stitched knife cut marring Doyle's stomach and ribs. It was a wonder the man could even walk upright, looking like that.

Doyle looked up belligerently. "I told you, Bodie--"

"You can have your hair washed. But you're not getting those stitches wet." Bodie took the unwrapped bandage and set it carefully aside, then set the chair back up against the basin and steered Doyle towards it. "Sit down and keep that arm out of the way. I'll do all the work."

Doyle submitted meekly enough, which surprised Bodie until he recognised the grey pallor of exhaustion over his partner's face. Seeing that, he resisted the temptation to tug sharply at the knotted curls or to run the rinse water ice-cold. He was so gentle in his ministrations, in fact, that Doyle actually dozed off halfway through the process.

Doyle woke to a comb gently teasing the tangles from his hair. As he blinked groggily, Bodie treated him to a huge grin.

"Can't sleep with your hair dirty, eh? But you have no trouble snoring away while it's wet and full of shampoo."

"Knew it'd be clean soon, that's all," Doyle returned, too sleepy for witty repartee. He sat up in the chair, paused as several bruises renewed their acquaintance, then forced himself to stand straight without flinching. "Thanks, mate. Feel better now."

"Of course you do. Piebald and weaving on your feet--you look good, too."

Doyle brushed a hand over his hair and found it clean and only slightly damp--Bodie must have made a thorough job with the towel, without even waking him. He started to an enormous yawn, then winced and touched his jaw gingerly. "I'm for bed now--painkillers really knocked me out."

"Can see that." Bodie followed him into the bedroom and, when Doyle would simply have crawled between the covers, made him stand still to have his trousers unbuttoned and pulled down. Each leg was freed in turn while Doyle leaned on his partner's shoulders for support. "Sit on the edge of the bed for a moment."

Bodie picked up Doyle's left arm and traced one finger between the three long lines of stitches. Two gashes came from the broken window of Doyle's flat and the third from blocking a knife aimed at more vital areas. The skin was discoloured from iodine; Doyle had meant to wash it off, but it seemed unimportant now.

"That hurt?" Bodie whispered.

Doyle glanced down. "Nah. Still numb from the local they shot me up with."

Bodie bent and pressed his lips to a patch of clear skin between the wounds. Despite his exhaustion, Doyle's eyes flew open wide and stayed that way as Bodie tenderly replaced the bandages and taped them down.

"In you get, old son," Bodie urged as he pulled back the covers for Doyle to climb in. "Uncle Bodie will tuck you in and leave you to your sweet dreams."

"Bodie--" Doyle faltered. He had thought Bodie was trying to avoid him by sleeping on the sofa, and the line about not wanting to disturb him was just a lie to spare his ego. But what he had seen in those dark eyes just now...he gripped Bodie's arm tightly with his good hand. "Don't go." The same words he had used just a few nights ago--it seemed like forever.

Bodie frowned. "You're tired, Ray."

"I'll sleep better if you're here."

"You may, but I won't." The mutter was almost inaudible. Doyle couldn't make sense of it until he looked down and caught sight of the bulge in Bodie's cords.

"Is that why you didn't want to stay in here tonight?"

Incredibly, Bodie blushed. "Told you, I don't want to disturb you."

"Bodie, you berk, that's exactly why I do want you to stay."

"You're tired, Ray, you've been beat up--"

"Yeah, but that's one place Coogan never got me. Never hit below the belt at all. Guess he'd been in polite company too long."

"But you're still hurting, and tranked up on painkillers. You can't be interested in--"

"Interested? I'll show you interested!" Doyle pushed back the covers from his lap. "Let's see if you can match this with what you have in your trous."

Bodie blinked, then conceded in the face of irrefutable evidence. He stripped off, revealing an interest very similar to Doyle's, and crawled into the other side of the bed. There was some grunting and whispering as they tried to find a comfortable position.

"Just lie still, Ray, I'll do all the work."

"'M allowed to have some fun, aren't I? Just let me get my hand in--there."

"Aaah. Oh--not so tight, they're sensitive...yeaaahhhh. Oh, that's good."

"Musician's fingers," Doyle said smugly.

"Music? You?" Bodie gasped as the fingers played a new tune.

"Yeah, me mum used to make me take piano lessons every day. 'Course, I mostly skived off...."

"Harder--oh yes--just a little more, I'm almost.... Ray!"

There was silence for a few minutes as Bodie collapsed back against the pillows. Doyle tried to reach his neck for a nuzzle, but the pain in his ribs wouldn't let him stretch that far, so he settled for a slow stroking up and down Bodie's ribs with the back of his moistened right hand.

"Mmm," said Bodie as he recovered his strength. "Lovely. Your turn now. Let me sit up so I can reach you." He bent over.

"Bodie, you don't have to--mmmph."

Bodie prudently removed his hand from Doyle's mouth before it could be bitten. "Know I don't have to--I want to. This is the easiest way for you. You don't have to move, just leave it to me." Abandoning words, he put his mouth to better use.

Doyle was vocal--but not verbal--in his enjoyment, moaning rhythmically with each breath as Bodie sucked him in and pulled back with slow, luxurious sweeps of his tongue. As the pitch of Doyle's cries gradually rose, Bodie picked up his pace, ringing the base of Doyle's cock with his hand for extra stimulation. He timed his movements perfectly, guided by Doyle's voice.

When the noise suddenly stopped altogether, Bodie glanced up to see Doyle staring blindly at the ceiling, fists clenched among the sheets. He swallowed the purpling cock as deeply as he could and sucked hard. Doyle gave a single shout and twitched his hips involuntarily, though it must have hurt his bruises. Bodie's mouth filled with swift spurts of bitter fluid.

"Bodie--" Doyle panted as his softening cock was released. "That was.... I never expected...."

"Good, huh?" said Bodie smugly, stretching out next to his partner.

Doyle grabbed him and kissed him hard, tongue seeking out taste of his own semen. Then he gentled and returned to the kind of kiss Bodie loved best: tongue...lips; suckle...lick.

They fell quiet, holding each other, kissing occasionally but mostly just petting as they drifted towards sleep. Slowly, Bodie became aware that Doyle was tense, brooding about something. Could he be one of those men who always became melancholy after sex? But he had seemed cheerful enough last time.... Bodie grinned as he realised this was only their second time in bed together. Plenty more to discover.

"I did it because I wanted to, y'know," he said conversationally.


"You didn't push me into anything. I wanted to spend the night here with you. Was just worried you might not want it too."

"I wanted it." Doyle's hand squeezed his arm briefly, then returned to its absentminded stroking.

That wasn't the problem, then. "You worried about this?"

"About what?"

"All this. Where it might lead."

"Not really. You have any idea what we're getting into?"

"Nope. But since when have we ever let that stop us?"

"Mm-hmm. I figured we'd just play it by ear. 'S nice, this."

Not that either, then. "You're not still feeling bad about Coogan, are you?" Bodie asked suspiciously.

Doyle turned his head away.

Jackpot! "Paul Coogan, I mean."

Doyle shrugged. "Feel bad about both of them."

"What, Big John too, you mean? He was trying to kill you!"

"I know that, Bodie, I was there! But I didn't mean to kill him, you know, just put him down. That's two people I've killed in the last week without even meaning to--three, if you count Williams."

"Paul Coogan was already injured when we brought him in; you couldn't know that. And the others were asking for it."

"Yeh, I know." Doyle stared pensively at the ceiling. His voice lowered almost to inaudibility. "Anyway, my soul's already blackened. What difference can a little more blood on my hands make?"

"Ah, Ray...." Bodie rolled closer and hugged him. "Your soul's not black, just sort of grey like the rest of us."

Doyle clung to him, suddenly desperate. "Bodie. Bodie. Bodie...." He took a deep breath. "You always seem so calm. Not like you know everything, 'cause I know you don't. But like you're not afraid of what you don't know."

"Should I be?"

"Don't know. I am."

"What, afraid 'cause you don't birds manage to keep their towels up after a shower?"

Doyle gave a reluctant chuckle, then sighed. "Just hold me, Bodie," he whispered. "Hold me, and keep the dreams away."

But in the dark of the night, it was Bodie who slept restlessly. He started up, sweating, from a dream of a sheet drawn back from Doyle's cold, still face. Before he came fully awake, a wiry arm pressed around his ribs and a warm voice whispered incoherent reassurances into his ear. Soft curls tickled his nose. He went back to sleep.

-- THE END --

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