The Undiscovered Ends


(Sequel to "Worth the Wear of Winning," a Soldiers of Fortune story by Zoe Rayne.)

From quiet homes and first beginning,
Out to the undiscovered ends,
There's nothing worth the wear of winning,
But laughter and the love of friends.
--Hilaire Belloc

"We gotta do somethin', CJ." Benny Ray's Alabama drawl was thicker than usual, evidence of the agitation that he was trying unsuccessfully to hide. He spoke quietly, fighting to keep his voice steady--the last thing he wanted was for the other man to wonder at his strange behavior. He ran his hand over his crewcut hair and continued, "We shoulda just gone in and got 'em out." We shouldn'ta let it happen in the first place.

"Take it easy, mate. We need a plan. It won't do them any good if we go storming in and get captured or killed, now will it?" CJ stopped pacing and walked to the window, twitching the curtains aside carefully and scanning the street. Apparently satisfied, he moved away from the window and resumed pacing.

Both men were dressed in casual street wear, their camouflage gear packed away after the aborted raid on the terrorist base. Benny Ray sat in the room's only chair, his sneaker-shod feet propped up on the rickety table, fingers clasped behind his neck. It was the same casually relaxed pose he usually adopted, but beneath the surface he felt like a wound spring--taut and ready to explode into action at the least provocation.

"Awright," he admitted, grudgingly. "So what's the plan? Trout's no help, but you're on home ground. You gotta know people here, right?"

"Here" was the middle of London on a chill fall day, three of the five Special Ops Force in the hands of terrorists and the remaining two stuck in a cheap room with limited resources and no backup. They'd learned not to expect assistance from the man who had hired them; Xavier Trout was connected--in some shadowy covert way--with the U.S. government, contracting with the mercenary team to act in situations where official intervention was impossible.

CJ appeared to think for a moment, and then a smile spread slowly across his face. "Of course!" He reached for his laptop. A few minutes later, armed with a phone number hastily scrawled on a scrap of paper, the two men headed for the nearest public phone.

Benny Ray leaned against the wood-and-glass booth, concentrating on stifling the first case of nerves he'd had in a long time. He should've been the one captured (and probably tortured, whispered a vicious voice inside his skull). His mind hadn't been on the job and he'd let the team down. The major was going to have his balls when this was all over, whether or not the truth came out. That is, if Shepherd was still alive.

The worst of it was that he didn't really care whether Matt threw him off the team or even took him out and shot him. All he cared about right now was his lover's safety, and he couldn't do a damned thing to protect him. Chance was being held prisoner by a group of America-hating crazies with an arsenal your average military base would envy, and all Benny Ray could do was stand here and wait for CJ to pull a rabbit out of his hat. And he couldn't even talk to CJ about his worries, about why this was more than just a broken play. He'd never felt so alone or helpless.

CJ's voice cut through his thoughts, his tone light. "All settled. They'll meet us back at the bedsit in an hour. C'mon, I could murder a good Chinese takeaway." Without waiting to see if Benny Ray would follow, CJ headed off in the opposite direction from their room.

Benny Ray sat cross-legged on the bed, the pieces of his SIG Sauer spread out on the bedspread in front of him. Quickly, he checked each piece and began to reassemble the weapon, thanking a god he wasn't sure he still believed in that Trout had at least arranged for the team's firepower to clear British customs. His hands moved automatically, his mind replaying for the twelfth time the scene on the roof, searching for anything he could have done to change the outcome. For the twelfth time he came to the same conclusion: Matt and Margo would be safe if he'd let the sniper take Chance out. And that was the one thing that he couldn't have done.

"That's the third time you've field-stripped that thing since we got back. Nervous?" CJ asked with a grin.

Nervous didn't even begin to cover it. His gut was so tied in knots that he'd hardly touched the food they'd brought back to the room, afraid he might not be able to keep it down. He was trying hard to act normal, almost as worried about CJ guessing something was up as he was about Chance's well being.

Tipped back in the chair, CJ used the wooden chopsticks to scoop the last of the rice from the takeout container into his mouth. Dropping the empty container and utensils onto the table with the rest of their lunch refuse, he continued, "Don't worry, these guys are the best."

"We were supposed to be the best, too. Didn't do us much good. So when's the cavalry going to get here?" Benny Ray wasn't in a mood to be cheered up. His gut was telling him that the only way this could end was badly and his years in the Marine Corps had taught him to trust his gut.

As if in response to his question, a light tap sounded at the door. Benny Ray was off the bed in an instant, SIG at the ready, his back pressed to the wall behind the door. Slowly and silently, CJ lowered the front legs of his chair to the floor and moved to the door, his gaze meeting Benny Ray's for an instant of silent communication before he reached for the knob. The door swung harmlessly open--no surprise attacks, no flying bullets--and CJ broke into a wide smile, stepping back to allow the visitors past him.

"Your mate can come out from behind the door. We don't bite." A man's voice--baritone.

"Usually," amended another voice, this one a tenor.

Registering the minute nod of CJ's head, Benny Ray gently pushed the door closed and tucked his SIG into the back of his waistband. He looked over the two men, trying not to let his surprise show; they were at least twenty years older than he'd expected--fifty, or close to it--and looking nothing at all like he'd expected the cavalry to look, even the British version.

The man standing closest to CJ had intense blue eyes. His dark hair was cropped close to his head and combed forward to frame a classically handsome face. Even with the faint smile, there was something hard about his expression; Benny Ray had the feeling that this man had seen more than his share of the ugly side of humanity. He wore dark cords and a turtleneck sweater that were casual but at the same time added to the air of menace he projected. His black leather jacket effectively camouflaged a shoulder holster from all but the most experienced eyes.

The other man was about an inch shorter and wiry, his build lithe and lean in contrast to his companion's bulky and muscular frame. His hair was slightly longer than the other man's, as well, the auburn curls shot with gray at the temples. It was his eyes that caught Benny Ray's attention, though--slightly tilted and almost olive green, they gave him an exotic look. His face was heart-shaped, the right cheekbone misshapen--probably broken and badly repaired at some point. He was dressed casually in jeans and a gray tee-shirt, and a slight bulge under his jacket on his left side meant he, too, was armed.

They were too old to be mercenaries, Benny Ray decided. Even the really good mercs weren't still working at fifty. Most of them weren't still alive at fifty. Middlemen, like Trout? They didn't look much like desk jockeys. The dark one could be military, but the, he wouldn't know parade rest if it up and bit him. Arms dealers?

His speculation was cut short when CJ spoke. "Benny Ray Riddle, this is William Bodie." CJ indicated the dark-haired man.

Benny Ray nodded. "Mr. Bodie."

"Just Bodie, Mr. Riddle." His was the smooth baritone voice.

Grinning, Benny Ray said, "Just Benny Ray. Somebody says 'Mr. Riddle' an' I look around for my daddy."

"Fair enough." Nodding his head at his companion, Bodie said, "My partner, Ray Doyle."

"Partner? Like cops or somethin'?" Benny Ray asked sharply. It hadn't occurred to him that they might be official. The last thing he wanted was to get the local police involved in this mission. It was bad enough they needed outside help, but the local law riding to the rescue? The major would have a fit.

"Relax, Benny Ray. Not exactly police--" CJ started before being interrupted by Bodie, who jerked a thumb in Doyle's direction.

"He used to be a copper," he said conspiratorially, a mischievous twinkle in his blue eyes, "but don't hold it against him. He's not a bad bloke, once you get to know him."

Doyle rolled his eyes and sighed, obviously used to Bodie's sense of humor. "Twenty-three years and you still can't leave off?" Turning to Benny Ray, he explained, "We're CI5--Criminal Intelligence. We handle things other branches of British law enforcement can't or won't touch. We've got special government sanction to carry weapons, search without a warrant, things like that. Mostly anti-terrorist work the past few years, though we still get a few other oddball cases: kidnap involving some bigwig, large-scale drugs trade, that sort of thing."

"Lovely lecture, mate. Though you forgot the bit about roses an' lavender." Ignoring Doyle's glare, Bodie continued, "We'd love to hang about and chat, but I think we'd all be more comfortable--not to mention a bit safer--at our flat. We've plenty of room, so collect your things and you can brief us when we get there."

Benny Ray had opened his mouth to insist that their room was fine when CJ cut him off with a gesture. "He's right, Benny Ray. It'd be too easy for them to find us..." The rest of the sentence hung, unspoken, in the air between them: ...once someone talks.

The queasiness returned full force, the smell of sweet and sour tickling at his gag reflex. Masking his agitation, Benny Ray turned silently on his heel and grabbed the paper sack from their lunch, sweeping the assortment of lunch refuse into it in one smooth motion before dropping the whole mess into the trash can beside the bed. If only everything could be cleaned up so quickly and easily, the terrorists swept out with the garbage. Angry, he snatched his jacket from the back of the chair and slipped it on, ignoring the looks aimed in his direction.

All he could think of was Chance, his face and body battered and bruised after a day or two of "interrogation" by the terrorists. They'd all been trained to hold out against torture for as long as possible; in the hands of an amateur, Chance would probably die before he'd break. And that would be worse than betrayal. The nightmare vision of his lover, beaten and tortured, was replaced by a memory: Chance, lying on the damp jungle floor in the dark, surrounded by the scattered wreckage of their plane. Benny Ray could still hear CJ's panic-tinged voice saying that Chance's heart had stopped beating. But Chance had survived then and he would survive now. He had to. Benny Ray swung his duffel onto his shoulder and turned to find three pair of eyes watching him.

"So, we goin' or not?" It came out sounding angrier than he'd intended. He knew CJ didn't deserve the fallout from his fear, but he couldn't seem to help himself.

Stepping out into the corridor, he headed toward the main door of the rooming house, Bodie beside him and the other two men following. Suddenly a warm weight slammed into his chest, pinning him to the wall. A millisecond later, his mind registered the whistle and impact of a silenced bullet and he felt the familiar tingle in his fingertips as adrenaline rushed through him. He stared into blue eyes for a moment, time seeming to stand still as he realized he was intensely aware of the heat and pressure of the other man's body, and then Bodie moved away, turning his own back to the wall, his shoulder still touching Benny Ray's. Tugging his SIG from his waistband, Benny Ray looked around to see CJ and Doyle against the opposite wall, Doyle cautiously peering around the doorjamb.

Oddly, he suddenly felt more at ease--despite the fact that they were being shot at. Any doubts he'd had about the two agents were instantly wiped away. Their reflexes were fast, their reactions good. It wouldn't be as smooth as working with his own team, but it would be enough; they could pull it off.

Bodie pulled a radio transmitter from his pocket and slipped it over his ear, automatically adjusting the position of the microphone near his mouth. "Three-seven to Control, we've got trouble...yeah, we're still inside the building and someone's taking potshots at us from the road...don't see anyone; they're probably on the roof across the way...hang about, I think I see something."

"Yeah, looks like one man on the roof," Doyle said, squeezing off one carefully aimed shot before ducking back under cover. "Missed, dammit. He's too far away." After a moment he peered out again. "He's gone now." He shifted his gun from his right hand to his left and re-holstered it under his left arm, a maneuver that should have looked awkward but instead was easy and graceful.

"Four-five made our shooter, took a shot at him," Bodie relayed. "He was on the roof, but he's gone now. Dunno if he was after our Yank friends or us. We'll keep our eyes open and let you know if there're any further incidents. It's straight home from here and we'll check in when we arrive, all right?... Three-seven out." He slipped the transmitter off and back into his pocket.

Bodie, gun at the ready, slipped out the door and looked around. "Looks clear, but best keep our guard up."

The hairs on the back of Benny Ray's neck stood up as he tucked the SIG back into his waistband and followed Bodie out onto the sidewalk, trying to watch in all four directions at the same time, his body tensed for a rain of bullets that never came. He'd begun to relax slightly by the time Bodie stopped and began unlocking the doors and trunk of a sleek silver Jaguar sedan parked at the curb.

Recognizing his hesitation and accurately guessing its origin, Doyle said, "You've still got the one in your belt. What could you do with a rifle from inside the motor, mate?"

Benny Ray shrugged. "Makes me feel better to have the option." He shoved his duffel into the back seat and climbed in after it.

They had been driving for a minute or two when Doyle spoke, his voice quiet but intense. "Bodie?"

"Yeah, I see him. Hang on." Bodie cranked the wheel to the right and cut across the oncoming traffic, barely missing another car, its horn sounding furiously in their wake. Glancing quickly into the rearview mirror, he announced, "Lost him, I think."

Benny Ray looked over his shoulder. "Tail?" It was less than four hours since the botched raid; could they have broken one of the team so quickly? He didn't remember drawing it, but the grip of the SIG was heavy and comforting in the palm of his hand.

"Blue Vauxhall, should be turning the corner in a minute. Hang on again." This time they cut left, then left again down an alley, where Bodie stopped the car.

Doyle flipped open the glove compartment to reveal a small computer terminal. He typed something and squinted to read the screen. "1994 Vauxhall, registered to Gary Mason. An address in Leyton." More typing, then a hiss of indrawn breath. "Gary Mason, born August 12, 1975. Mother, Kathleen Mason. Father, unknown."

Eyes closed, Bodie tilted his head back until it met the headrest. "Twenty quid says he's Preston's bastard," he said.

Doyle shook his head. "No bet." Another moment of fingers flying on the keyboard, then he flipped the panel closed. "They'll be on the watch for him and his motor. I emailed Murph, asking him to send someone to Mason's flat, as well."

"I hate to interrupt, but what the hell's goin' on?" Benny Ray felt like he'd walked in on the middle of a James Bond flick--he could tell the good guys from the bad guys, but he had no clue what was going on.

"An old case," Bodie explained, shifting in his seat to address CJ and Benny Ray. "Fifteen or so years ago someone tried to kill Ray. Played cat-and-mouse with us a bit first, though--sniping at us with a high-tech rifle stolen from Ray's flat, monkeying with Ray's motor so it'd crash, a couple of bombs that were only meant to scare. Turns out it all tied into a police corruption case from back when Ray was with the Met. He'd testified against a couple of bent coppers and one of them, bloke by the name of Preston, was out for revenge."

Doyle took up the story. "Preston had help from an old flame of mine, Kathie Mason. She and I'd worked together at the Yard and she turned up at just the right time, looking for a job with CI5. Found out later Preston'd married her just before he went into the nick."

"Teach you to trust a woman, mate," Bodie muttered and received an elbow in the ribs for his trouble. Rubbing his side, he continued, "We got 'em, but just barely, and they were both put away for a good long time. Now it looks like Junior is following in Mum and Dad's footsteps." With a quick glance around, he put the car back into gear.

"Well, we've lost him now and our mob's on alert," Doyle said as Bodie pulled the car back into traffic. "Let's get home and get onto your problem."

My problem. Not much you boys can do about that, even if we do pull off a rescue. The rest of the car ride was silent and tense, Benny Ray's thoughts drawn back to the fate of the captured team members. Some lookout he was. He should've seen the terrorists closing in on the team but he was too busy taking out the sniper who had Chance in his sights. Yeah, if the major didn't tear him a new one, Margo would take him apart and not bother to put him back together again. It'd been a purely selfish act, based on feelings he didn't particularly want to think about. They'd never even talked about the nights they spent together. What right did he have to feel possessive about someone who probably thought of their relationship as nothing more than the occasional quick fuck? He couldn't even defend his behavior to the man whose life he'd saved. What could he say to Chance? I watched you die once and I was willing to sacrifice the rest of the team so I wouldn't have to do it again. Selfish.

He was thoroughly disgusted with himself and frustrated by the time they pulled up in front of the small house. It didn't look any more secure than the room he and CJ had been staying in, but he said nothing; if Bodie and Doyle were their only backup, it probably wasn't a good idea to piss them off.

Bodie pressed his thumb to a small glass square mounted beside the door. After a moment there was an audible click as the door unlocked automatically. The group stepped through the doorway into a short, featureless corridor barely big enough for the four of them. Once the outside door had closed behind them, Bodie pressed his thumb to a panel beside the inner door and said, "William Andrew Philip Bodie, priapismic monster."

The door opened with a click to reveal a foyer and a staircase disappearing up to the second floor. Benny Ray was glad he'd held his tongue; with all the electronic gizmos, this place was locked up tighter than Fort Knox. As soon as the second door shut behind them, Doyle pressed a button on what looked like a computer terminal mounted in a recess beside the entryway.

A no-nonsense female voice came from the terminal. "Control."

"Yeah, 4.5 here, safe an' sound," Doyle said. "We're going to have company for a couple days. We'll program 'em into the system."

"Duly noted, 4.5."

Doyle looked at CJ. "You first, mate. Press your right thumb to the scanner here." He indicated a small, square glass plate on the face of the terminal. "It'll scan your thumbprint and program the computer to recognize you. You wouldn't like it if you accidentally tripped one of the security alarms, trust me." He grinned, showing off a chipped front tooth.

CJ pressed his thumb to the plate and waited while his print was scanned. "That it?" he asked.

"One more thing. We need a voiceprint. Press this," he indicated a button, "then say your full name and a code phrase. It can be any two words you'd like, but they should be unlikely to come up together in normal conversation and also be something you'll remember easily."

CJ cleared his throat, then pressed the button. "Christopher Jamison Yates, duine deaslamhach." The terminal beeped.

Doyle's eyes widened briefly, then he nodded. "See? Painless." He looked at Benny Ray. "Now you. Thumbprint first."

"I dunno if I like the idea of my thumbprint floatin' around in some foreign intelligence agency's computer, if you know what I mean." Truthfully, every paranoid instinct Benny Ray had was screaming at him not to leave any evidence of his presence in the country, let alone in their government's computers.

"'s necessary," Bodie said. "Not that I blame you, mind. Maybe this'll help." He reached out and pressed a button. "Control, 3.7 here."

"Go ahead, 3.7."

"Tina love, read me chapter an' verse on obsolete thumbprint and voiceprint data. Guests, not agents."

"All obsolete guest thumbprints and voiceprints are transferred to CI5's standalone secure computer system. They are 128-bit encrypted and password protected, and are accessible only to Alpha One, Alpha Two, or Alpha Three." There was a pause. "That what you wanted, Billy?"

Bodie winced. "Point taken, Control. Thank you. Three-seven out," Bodie said. Turning to Benny Ray, he continued, "Alpha One is Colin Murphy, controller of CI5. I'd trust me life--or Ray's--to him, and have done more times than I can count in the past twenty-odd years. Alpha Two is Doyle here and I'm Alpha Three." He shrugged. "You've got to trust someone, mate."

Benny Ray took a deep breath and thought about it. He really didn't have any other options. They needed all the help they could get on this job; his own paranoia had to take a back seat to the safety of his teammates. Besides, what would it matter, once this fiasco was over? He'd be off the team, would probably end up working at some target range somewhere, teaching weekend warriors how to handle their pretty toys. Wordlessly, he nodded.

Bodie reached out and touched a key on the terminal. "Okay, go ahead." There was a pause while Benny Ray's thumbprint was scanned. "When you're ready for the voiceprint recording, push this key." He pointed. "The code phrase doesn't have to be Gaelic." This last was said with a grin aimed in CJ's direction.

Benny Ray pushed the button. "Benny Ray Riddle, Crimson Tide." The terminal beeped.

"Now, this button," Bodie indicated a large key to the right of the alphanumeric keyboard on the terminal, "will call Control. Whoever is on duty will verify your identity and help with whatever you need."

"What I need," Doyle said, heading into the kitchen, "is a cuppa. Anyone else?"

"I'm famished. Some cheese sarnies, too, sunshine?" Bodie called after him. "Oi, do we have any salt and vinegar crisps left? And chocolate bickies for afters?"

It was like being in an episode of The Twilight Zone, Benny Ray thought. One minute everything was normal and then suddenly everyone was speaking a foreign language but acting like nothing had changed. His confusion must've shown in his expression, because CJ laughed.

"Ray's making tea," CJ explained. "Bodie asked for cheese and pickle sandwiches, salt and vinegar potato chips, and chocolate cookies for dessert." He grinned, ignoring Benny Ray's involuntary shudder at the list of food. "Welcome to Britain, mate. God, it's nice to be home!"

"You're always welcome here, Chris," Bodie said seriously, reaching out to put a hand on CJ's shoulder. "Ray and I wouldn't mind a visit now and then."

"Please, it's CJ. I haven't been Chris since I was in short pants. And I don't have much time for holidays, not working with this lot," he said. At Bodie's frown, he relented. "All right, if I have the opportunity, I'll visit."

"Ta, CJ." He raised his voice so that it carried into the other room. "Ray, I'll get the lads settled in and take 'em on a guided tour." There were muffled noises of agreement from Doyle. "C'mon, you've got your choice. There's the spare bedroom or the sofa bed in the sitting room." He gestured to their left, at an open, airy room with vaulted ceilings. "I'll leave the two of you fight over who gets what." Throwing his arms wide in a grand gesture, Bodie said, "Mi casa es su casa."

"Listen to you, mate, suddenly comin' over all cultured," Ray called from the kitchen.

"Suddenly? Well I like that!" Bodie said in mock indignation. "I'll have you know, Raymond Doyle, that I have always been the cultured one." A noise that could have been a snort was his only answer. Bodie shrugged and said in a stage whisper, "'e's just jealous of me posh upbringin'."

Benny Ray followed the other two men, only half listening to their easy banter while his military mind was evaluating his surroundings and filing away the details. There were several bookcases along the front wall, each containing an assortment of hardback books, paperbacks, and knick-knacks. An entertainment center sat slightly off-center against the front wall, facing a long couch--presumably the sofa bed Bodie had mentioned--and an overstuffed chair. The fireplace mantel was home to a number of framed photographs and other personal mementos, and a dozen blue-and-white painted tin soldiers were neatly lined up across the hearth. Several skylights were set into the vaulted ceiling.

Circling back toward the foyer, they passed a closed door. Bodie nodded towards it. "Laundry. You're welcome to use the machine." A pair of sliding doors opened to reveal a semi-formal dining room, complete with sideboard and china cabinet. Along one wall was a doorway that connected the dining room with the spacious kitchen.

Ray looked up from a pile of sliced bread and cheese as the impromptu tour group skirted the large center island and headed for the foyer. "Nosh'll be ready in five," he said.

Bodie nodded and led them up the oak staircase from the foyer to the second floor. The main hallway overlooked the living room below on one side, the ceiling sloping sharply down toward the front of the house. Benny Ray looked down into the living room, then up at the large skylights covered by sheer drapes.

Noticing his attention, Bodie said, "Bullet-proof glass. All the windows are. Motorized shades, too. See the tracks? We can open and close any curtain in the house from the terminal downstairs or the one in our bedroom." He jerked his thumb toward the closed door to their right. "That's our room, Ray's and mine."

Our room? Benny Ray frowned. That sure as hell sounded like they were more than just housemates. But Bodie and Doyle were about as far as you could get from the stereotype of a swishing faggot. Besides, even in the '90s, no government organization--especially one as powerful as CI5 seemed to be--would want its second- and third-in-command to be a couple of queers who were shacking up together. Maybe he was just spending too much time thinking about his own problems until he had queers on the brain.

Bodie continued to lead them down the hallway. The next door was open. "'fraid we'll have to share the bath--only one in the house. More skylights, three on each side. Ray's really fond of his skylights. And here," they'd reached the final door along the hallway, "is the guest room." He pushed the door open to reveal a neat bedroom filled with oak furniture and decorated in neutral colors.

"You can have it, CJ," Benny Ray said abruptly, turning and heading back down the hallway, not waiting for the other men. He briefly scanned the layout of the bathroom. He returned to the hallway, hesitating before the closed door to the master bedroom.

"D'ya mind," he asked Bodie, gesturing toward the closed door. "Recon." It was true, just not the whole truth. He wasn't quite sure why, but it was suddenly very important to him to find out exactly what Bodie and Doyle's relationship was.

Bodie shrugged. "Be my guest."

Benny Ray opened the door and looked around. Sunlight poured in through the skylight and windows. Against the far wall were a large wardrobe and chest of drawers; to the right of the door was a huge wrought-iron four-poster bed. One bed. Bodie and Doyle's room. He closed the door, harder than he meant to. As he headed down the stairs, he could feel CJ's gaze on him, could hear the quiet murmur of conversation between the two men.

If Bodie and Doyle could make their relationship work for--how long? Doyle had said something about being together for twenty-some years--in a high-security job like CI5, then maybe he and Chance... No, it wasn't something he could think about, at least not now. He didn't even know if Chance was still alive, and here he was worrying about whether they could manage a long-term commitment. Chance was probably perfectly happy with the relationship as-is; they were buddies who occasionally fucked, simple as that.

He'd just dropped his gear beside the sofa when he felt a touch on his shoulder. His first instinct was to throw the hand off, but he stopped himself. He owed it to CJ--to the rest of the team--to get through the next few days and help mop up the situation that he'd allowed to get so FUBAR. Even so, he didn't turn around; instead he knelt and focused his attention on unpacking his personal armory from the duffel.

"Look, I'm sorry," CJ said, making no further move to gain his attention. "I knew about Bodie and Doyle. I should've told you. I just didf't want iou do make Up your mind aboUt Bodie before you met him, before you ggt to know him and

"You got a high opinion of me, don't you. Not trustin' that I'd behave myself if I knew?" Benny Ray shot back, belatedly remembering that his track record in that area wasn'T the best. 'I'm not takin' orders from a woman,' he'd told Major Shepherd. Well, he'd learned, hadn't he? And anymore he treated Margo the same as any other team member. Except Chance, the damnable voices whispered again. Determined to ignore them and still on the defensive, he demanded, "So what're they to you that it's so goddamn important what I think of 'em?"

"Bodie's my father."

The statement shocked Benny Ray into silence. He gently set down the rifle he'd been sighting and turned to look at CJ. Angry brown eyes met his gaze, daring him to comment. Benny Ray thought about it. CJ hadn't told him about Bodie and Doyle because he was ashamed that his father was gay. There really couldn't be any other explanation. After all, if they hadn't needed help so desperately, CJ wouldn't've even let on that he had a father, and he sure as hell wouldn't've introduced him--and his gay lover--to one of his teammates.

"Sorry," he said after a moment, willing CJ to understand that the words had been spoken out of frustration and worry. "I'm not..." Trailing off, he wasn't even sure what he was trying to say. He shook his head, knowing he couldn't explain to CJ. If he was ashamed of his father, then it was obvious how he would react if he found out about Benny Ray and Chance. "It ain't what you think, awright?" Then, changing the subject, he said, "Let's get some of that grub, then we can talk about how we're gonna make like the cavalry."

The silence had extended through most of the meal, broken only by the occasional polite "Pass the crisps" and "More tea?" Bodie and Doyle cleared the dishes away, Doyle reappearing first with a large artist's sketchpad and a handful of pencils and pens.

"Thought we might need these," he said, "if the planning gets a bit technical."

Bodie emerged from the kitchen, drying his hands on a dishtowel, which he then tossed across one shoulder. "Okay, what're we looking at?" he asked, pulling out a chair and settling himself into it. "Start at the beginning and don't leave anything out." Seeing that CJ was about to object, he continued, "Course, this is all unofficial."

"Hell, it doesn't matter anymore. We've been disowned by the folks that hired us, why should we be loyal to them?" Benny Ray shrugged. "Our objective was to destroy the terrorist cell targetin' high-profile US companies in foreign countries. You've heard of the Club Cafe bombings in Germany and France?"

Bodie and Doyle nodded. The targeting of the American-chic nightclubs was big news. "They think they can convince the rest of Europe not to deal with American companies. They're trying to force a financial embargo using fear and violence," Doyle said.

"Well, our intel was that the same terrorist group was targeting Club Cafe London next," CJ said.

Bodie quirked one eyebrow in Doyle's direction and received a faint nod in response. "We've had our eye on that group for the last two months," he said. "We'd tracked 'em to a warehouse on the docks, but they disappeared two weeks ago. You've seen 'em since then, I take it?"

"This morning, at a run-down warehouse. CJ can tell you where, exactly. The major--Matt Shepherd--had planned the perfect raid. CJ was settin' up explosive distractions and I was coverin' the area from the roof next door. Matt, Margo Vincent and Chance Walker were goin' in to capture or, if necessary, eliminate the terrorists." Benny Ray paused as memories washed over him. Lying on his belly, warm gravel under him, watching the scene below through binoculars, his right hand resting lightly on his rifle. Everything had been going perfectly until he caught the flash of sunlight off the scope.

He closed his eyes, feeling the adrenaline high wearing off and leaving him with a bone-deep exhaustion. "Y'all got any coffee?"

While Doyle was making the coffee, CJ and Bodie discussed the location of the warehouse. CJ sketched out the layout of the streets and buildings on one sheet of Ray's sketchpad, then flipped to the next sheet to reproduce what he could remember of the building blueprint. When he was finished, he offered the pad to Benny Ray. "Anything I've forgotten, mate?"

Taking the pad, Benny Ray carefully looked over the two sketches before picking up a pencil off the table and adding a few details. "It ain't much, but that's all I remember," he said, passing the pad back and accepting a steaming mug from Doyle.

Bodie's head was bent intently over the sketch, memorizing its details, but his hand reached up for his tea at the exact moment Doyle arrived behind him. They were attuned to one another, Benny Ray realized with amazement, aware of each other without the need for look or touch.

Picking up the narrative as if there had been no break, he said, "Usually I'll have someone--Chance--with me as an extra pair of eyes. This time, though, the major's plan called for Chance to help him and Margo. So I was doin' my best to cover them, keepin' my eyes peeled and occasionally doin' a 360 with the binoculars. Matt, Margo and Chance were in position, waiting for the signal to bust into the building, and CJ had just about finished settin' the charges when I spotted a sniper on the roof of the warehouse. He had a bead on Chance." He stopped and took a swig of the too-hot coffee, the scalding liquid burning his mouth. "I didn't think, I didn't look around for whoever he was coverin', I just took him out. His shot went wild, but by that time their guys'd grabbed our guys and were dragging 'em towards the warehouse. They were good; I couldn't get a shot in without riskin' one of ours." Voice soft but angry, he finished, "If I hadn't been so goddamn obsessed with keepin' Chance safe, I would've seen their guys and been able to warn the team. It's all my fault."

"That's what mates are for," CJ said. "We cover each others' backs. You made a judgment call. That's all you can do in the middle of an op."

"You don't get it, do you? I wasn't watchin' everybody's back, just Chance's." Instead of comprehension, he saw only confusion on CJ's face. He pushed his chair back roughly and walked into the kitchen, leaning against the countertop and staring out the window, arms crossed over his chest. He raised his voice so it would carry back into the dining room. "Christ, CJ, I told you earlier it wasn't what you were thinkin'. It hit too close to home, that's all. I'm queer." He knew it was stupid to let the situation get to him like this, his guts tied up in knots over someone who probably didn't give a damn about him. Even stupider to be announcing his obsession to CJ, and to Bodie and Doyle. Even so, the words kept coming. "I'm queer for Chance and the whole damn team is payin' for that."


The exclamation was followed by silence. A chair scraped against the wooden floor and quiet footsteps moved into the kitchen. He didn't turn around, bracing himself for whatever CJ's reaction was, only half-hearing the quiet murmur of voices coming from the dining room. Jesus, what a fuck-up, Benny Ray thought, not sure if he meant the situation or himself. Both, probably.

"Not much for subtlety, are you?" It was Doyle, his voice betraying a hint of amusement.

"Hell, woulda had to say somethin' sometime. He's better off knowin' it now, before we go in. Better off knowin' he can't trust me to watch his back when Chance is in danger."

"You don't have a very high opinion of him, do you? Or of yourself," Doyle said and Benny Ray heard the echo of his own statement to CJ earlier. "D'you really think he'd judge you? 'specially now you know about Bodie and me?"

"If he's so okay with it, why didn't he want to tell me that Bodie's his father?" Benny Ray shot back, confident he was right.

There was anger in Doyle's voice this time. "Bodie wasn't around when CJ was growing up, didn't even know he had a son until CJ's mum was killed. There's a lot of hurt between them, but it has nothing to do with Bodie being gay."

Benny Ray stared, unseeing, out the kitchen window, wishing he could believe what Doyle was saying. But it was all too easy to call up the memories of his own father, to hear the obnoxious comments about "goddamn faggots" and "fucking perverts." No, CJ would judge him. It was what people did, even if they didn't realize it. Sailors were beaten to death by their own shipmates--men they served with and fought alongside, for fuck's sake--just for being gay, and that was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Engrossed in his own thoughts, he didn't hear the movement behind him as CJ stepped up and Doyle retreated to the dining room. The hand on his shoulder startled him almost as much as the words. "C'mon, mate, we've got an op to plan. We can talk about this later, if you still want to."

He turned to look at CJ, searching for any sign that their relationship had changed, expecting anything from anger to revulsion in the other man's expression. He found only concern. CJ was right--they could talk later. Now they should be figuring out a way to clean up this mess. Every minute wasted was another minute those bastards had to "interrogate" Chance...and Matt and Margo.

Doyle was already back in his chair, studying the sketches intently. "I'd rather we keep this a CI5 operation," he said, and waited until both CJ and Benny Ray nodded their agreement.

Bodie flattened the two sketches on the table and used the capped end of a pen to provide a visual echo of his words. "There're three entrances to worry about: north, south, and east. Miles and Nelson will go in the north, Ruth and Gary the south, and Doyle and I will take the east. McCabe, Lucas, Gordon and Allison can back us up from outside. We'll need someone on the roof next door, as well." He tapped the spot Benny Ray had lain earlier that day. "What do you think, Ray? Tony? He's our best sharpshooter." A dark look from Doyle and he amended his statement. "Our second best sharpshooter, I mean."

"I've gotta go in. They're are my teammates. Anyway, I screwed it all up and I'm the one that's gotta make it right." Benny Ray wasn't about to be dissuaded.

"It wasn't your fault--" CJ started, then stopped when Doyle's hand touched his arm.

"About ten years ago, Bodie and I were on a routine op, chasing armed bank robbers," he said. "We were minding a new kid. Davy was a good lad, but as an agent he was so green he never should've been there in the first place. Poor sod heaved his guts after his first firefight." Doyle paused, his green eyes bright with unshed tears.

Bodie opened his mouth to speak, but a slight shake of Doyle's head stopped him. "It's my story, Bodie, I've got to tell it," he said.

"Yeah, okay, sunshine." Bodie reached out to cover his partner's hand with his own.

Doyle took a deep breath and closed his eyes, as if he were reliving the moment. "We found the gunmen in an old warehouse. I went in the back way an' Bodie and Davy stormed the front. Everything went smooth as silk at first. Was standing on a pile of crates with a rifle, covering Bodie and Davy, when I spotted two of their lot up on the catwalk. They had rifles. Didn't have time to get both of 'em, didn't even have time to think. Took out the one closest first--the one with Bodie in his sights--then the other. It was too late. Davy died in my arms. Christ, he was only a kid." He was silent for a moment. "For a long time I wondered if I made the right decision or if I let Davy die because loving Bodie clouded my judgment, made me a bad agent."

Bodie squeezed his partner's hand, then turned to Benny Ray. "You did the only thing you could do," Bodie said. "Would it've been better if you weren't there? Or would Chance be dead and the rest of 'em captured anyway?"

"It's taken me a long time to figure out that sometimes it's easier to feel guilty than to accept that terrible things happen and we can't do anything about them," Doyle said.

"I have to go in." It didn't matter what anyone else thought, what anyone else did, Benny Ray knew he had to make amends in his own way. "Besides," he added, "I don't know if I could just sit an' wait for you all to bring 'em out. Probably go crazy worryin' about Chance."

Bodie shrugged. "You can storm the east entrance with Doyle and me. I'll arrange a briefing at headquarters in a couple of hours. For now, get some rest."

They raided the terrorists' base early the following morning, the whole operation only taking twenty minutes from start to finish. Everything went according to plan, eight terrorists accounted for and their prisoners only a little worse for wear. The run-down warehouse was now crawling with CI5 agents intent on the cleanup.

Away from both the flurry of activity and the likelihood of prying eyes, Benny Ray leaned against the crumbling masonry of the building. He wiped his mouth with his bandana, the remains of his minimal breakfast decorating the scraggly weeds at his feet. His head was throbbing, wrapped in steel bands of tension he hadn't known were there until they were eased. He'd found the three of them--bound, gagged, and unconscious in what used to be an office--and for one terrible, sickening moment he'd been sure they were dead, been sure Chance was dead. Then his lover's brown eyes had opened, widening in surprise at seeing him standing there, and he'd almost forgotten how to breathe.

Chance was alive.

He'd managed to hold off puking his guts out, waiting for Bodie and Doyle to appear and back him up before ducking out and around the side of the building. Now came the hard part--facing up to Matt and Chance, resigning from the team.

The sound of shifting gravel caught his attention and he turned to see Bodie appear around the corner of the building, a thermos in one hand. Gratefully, Benny Ray realized that the agent's approach had been deliberately noisy for his benefit.

"Thought you might want some coffee," Bodie said, holding out the thermos.

"Yeah, thanks." Benny Ray took it from him and poured himself a cupful of the strong, black brew, draining it in two quick gulps. "So, how's the cleanup goin'?"

"Good." Bodie stuffed his hands into his jacket pockets. "Have all you want," a nod at the thermos, "I've got another in our motor. Doyle's got everything in hand, so I thought I'd take you lot to hospital for a quick once-over. Just to be safe."

"Hospital?" Chance, lying lifeless in the muddy jungle...

"Not a regular hospital," Bodie said quickly. "CI5 med center, actually. Everyone seems fine, but CJ'd never let me hear the end of it if any of you left with so much as an untreated hangnail." The words were flip but his expression was serious.

"Listen, Bodie..." Benny Ray trailed off, unsure whether his comments would be welcome. "I just wanted to say...CJ's a lucky guy, you know what I mean?"

Bodie grinned. "Thanks. Listen, mate, I need to see Ray before I leave. Meet me at the motor, will you? I'll only be a second." Bodie ducked back around the corner, his passage silent this time.

Benny Ray closed up the thermos and headed for the car, realizing as he drew closer that there was a figure sitting in the back seat. Chance. Looking over his shoulder, he confirmed that Bodie was nowhere in sight. The bastard set me up. Taking a deep breath, he pulled open the door and got into the car. Never particularly good with words, he suddenly found he couldn't speak at all. Desperately, he wished for a belt or two of tequila--a little Mexican courage; it'd sure as hell helped the first night he and Chance had ended up in bed.

Chance turned to face him and Benny Ray got his first good look at the other man's face since inside the darkened warehouse. A large purplish splotch stood out against the brown skin, discoloring most of the left side of his face. Without thinking, Benny Ray reached out to touch the bruised flesh, then realized what he was doing and pulled his hand back as if he'd been burned. If he'd done his job, Chance wouldn't have gotten hurt.

"Christ, Chance, I'm sorry." The words spilled out before he could stop them. Angry--at himself, at the terrorists, and at the world in general--he slammed his fist into the seat in front of him. It didn't hurt as much as he'd wanted, but it was enough to clear his head.

"Hey, it's not your fault." Chance reached out and took Benny Ray's hand. With a grin, he said, "Y'know, I've never had a knight in shining armor rescue me before."

Benny Ray pulled his hand away and turned his head to look out the window, but he could still feel the burn of Chance's touch on his skin. It wasn't going to work. He couldn't keep his feelings separate from the job anymore. "Like the major says, 'everybody comes home,'" he said as coldly as he could. It was the hardest thing he'd ever done.

It'd been difficult, but he'd managed to avoid Chance since they arrived at the med center. He'd cornered CJ briefly and demanded a report on Margo and Matt, feeling vaguely better when he heard that they were fine aside from a few bumps and bruises. He was walking down a sterile white corridor in search of the cafeteria, figuring it would be a good place to hide out until he was allowed to talk to the major, when he saw Bodie striding purposefully towards him. It was too late to duck into a room, so he stood his ground, meeting the other man's stormy gaze without flinching.

"Walk with me," Bodie ordered, nodding his head back in the direction he'd come, his tone leaving no doubt as to Benny Ray's options. As soon as they'd started back towards the exam rooms, Bodie said, "Back at the warehouse you said CJ was lucky to have me for a father. Did you mean that or was it just a load of rubbish?"

Surprised at the direction of the conversation, he answered, "No, I meant it."

"Then listen and pay attention. You're so sure you know what's best for Chance you're not even bothering to listen to 'im. In our business you see all the misery in the world," a quick sideways glance, prompting a nod of agreement from Benny Ray, "so when you find something good you've got to hold onto it."

"But if I can't keep my emotions separate from the job--"

Bodie interrupted, "Nobody keeps their emotions separate from this job. If it had been CJ captured instead of Chance, would you still have gone back for them?"

"Hell, yes! What kinda question is that?"

"You care about them--all of them, not just Chance--because they're your mates and you're part of a team." Bodie was silent for a moment. "I won't lie to you: it's not easy being openly gay in this line of work. Ray and I have been partners for 23 years and lovers for 20; we've heard our share of crude comments and seen more discrimination than I would've thought possible. If your Major Shepherd doesn't want to keep you on because of it, you call me. We watched you today, Ray and I, and we could find a place for you with our mob." He jerked his thumb toward a door at the end of the corridor. "Now go talk to Chance. Find out what he wants."

He hadn't really thought about it like that. He'd meant what he'd said to Chance in the car, even though he'd made it sound cold and hard when really he'd meant it with fire. 'Everybody comes home.' Whether it was Chance or Matt or Margo or CJ, he would've found a way to go back in and bring 'em out--dead or alive.

Bodie was right, too, in that he owed it to Chance to at least talk to him before walking away from...whatever it was they had. Halfway to the door, Benny Ray stopped and turned around. "Bodie? Thanks. For everythin'," he said, and meant it.

Bodie grinned. In a bad Scots brogue, he said, "Aye, laddie. Just passing along some wisdom that was once bestowed upon me."

When Benny Ray pushed open the door to the exam room in answer to the muffled "c'mon in," the last thing he expected to see was Chance sitting on the edge of the hospital bed, naked except for a short drape wrapped around his waist. Without the concealment of the tattered fatigues, the bruises and cuts that marked Chance's body were vivid under the harsh fluorescent lights. This time he caught himself before the instinct to reach out and comfort could be acted upon.

"Hey, buddy. What'd the docs have to say?" He forced himself to sound more cheerful than he felt. It was so hard when the only thing he wanted to do was to take Chance in his arms, to hold him and apologize and try to soothe away the pain.

"That it's a good thing I have such a hard head." His grin faded. "The bruises will heal, Benny Ray, but I don't know about the rest of it. What's going on? What the hell was that scene in the car all about?"

Bodie's words echoed in his mind: 'Find out what he wants.' Well, there was nothing like the direct approach. "I was afraid I'd lost you, Chance. Then, when we were workin' on the rescue plan, I realized maybe I'd never had you. I was tryin' to make the break easier for both of us."

Chance folded his arms across his chest, his eyes cold. "If you're calling it quits, then why are you here?"

"Someone thumped me upside the head and pointed out that I'd never asked whether you wanted to call it quits." He shrugged, trying not to look as embarrassed as he felt. "I guess we need to talk."

"You bet your ass we do!" After the outburst, though, Chance was silent, staring intently at Benny Ray as though he expected the other man to initiate the conversation. When it became apparent that Benny Ray wasn't going to, he took a deep breath and asked quietly, "It didn't mean the same thing to you, did it? The sex."

No, that was true enough. He'd known it was just casual fun for Chance, but it'd meant much more than that to him. So Bodie was wrong. But at least they'd gotten it out in the open, cleared the air, and that was good. He looked up from the floor to see that Chance was watching him warily. He hadn't moved, and Benny Ray realized that he was waiting for a response.

He didn't answer Chance's question. Instead, he said, "I'm gonna talk to the major and quit the team." He put up a hand as Chance opened his mouth to argue. "I'll leave you out of it, don't worry. You're right, it didn't mean the same thing to me. I shouldn'ta started it. It wasn't my first time; I knew what I was gettin' into and you didn't."

Chance shook his head. "I'm glad we did. I just feel like an idiot, that's all. Twenty-nine years old and I'm a high school cliche."

Benny Ray looked at him. Somehow, he'd lost the thread of the conversation and, thinking back, he couldn't figure out where. "Maybe I'm just too tired, but you wanna run that by me again, in English?"

Chance blushed, the red barely tinting his dark skin. "You know, a virgin always falls for their first..." He looked away.

Back to his own personal Twilight Zone episode. One minute he was working on a jigsaw puzzle of the sky and the next minute all the remaining pieces were bright orange. 'Disconcerting' didn't even begin to cover it.

Moving up to the side of the bed, Benny Ray reached out and cupped Chance's jaw, turning the other man's face until their gazes met. His hand dropped back to his side. "I get the feelin' we're not even talkin' the same language. I don't want to call it quits," he said. "Do you?" He saw realization dawn in the brown eyes.

"No." Decisively. "No, I don't. This relationship means a lot to me. You mean a lot to me."

He was pulled closer, gentle hands tugging on his hips until he was pressed against the edge of the bed between Chance's thighs. His hands went to Chance's shoulders, feeling the play of muscles beneath the smooth skin as Chance's arms wrapped around him, one hand in the small of his back and the other between his shoulderblades.

"That's just the problem," he said, resting his forehead against Chance's, his eyes closed. Some things were easiest to say when you were drunk or, barring that, in the dark. Considering the circumstances, this small, self-imposed darkness was the best he could do. "You mean too much to me and the team almost paid for it."

"What are you talking about?" The hands continued their slow caresses, gently tugging his shirt loose from his jeans.

The touches--and the knowledge that the thin hospital drape was all that stood between him and a completely naked Chance--were making it difficult for him to think. Between increasingly passionate kisses, he managed to recount the events leading up to the team's capture. "I'm going to talk to the major," he finished, "and own up to...oh god, don't stop...what I did. By this time tomorrow...oh, yeah...I'll probably be out of a job."

"No," Chance mumbled against his lips, "you're nuts. He's not going to--"

There was a quiet knock on the door and Benny Ray stepped guiltily back from the bed, trying vainly to straighten his rumpled clothing. "C'mon in," Chance called out.

CJ stepped into the room, a pile of clothing in his arms. "New clothes for the Emperor," he said with a grin.

"Thanks, CJ. It was getting a little breezy."

"We aim to please," he said. "They're not the most stylish, but they should be enough to keep you from getting arrested or developing pneumonia." He disappeared out the door, his head reappearing a briefly moment later. "Oh, by the way, the doctor's done with Matt, if you wanted to talk to him, Benny Ray."

"It's up to you," Chance said after the door swung shut the second time, "but if we go talk to him, we go together." He reached out and took Benny Ray's hand as if to reinforce his words.

"I have to." Silently, he hoped that Chance would understand. He didn't want to give up on them, not when he'd just found that there might be a "them," but he had to talk to the major. It was kind of like making your peace with God before you died.

Matt Shepherd was standing by the window, staring down at London's afternoon traffic. He looked up when Benny Ray knocked on the open door. "C'mon in, guys. CJ said you wanted to talk to me, Benny Ray?"

Chance followed him into the room. For the first time Benny Ray was aware of his lover's proximity without needing to look and he briefly wondered if this was how Bodie and Doyle felt. "Sir, I had to come to you--"

"We," interrupted Chance, "had to come to you, sir, because Benny Ray was concerned that you might have a problem with our relationship."

"Your relationship?"

"Yessir." Now that he was standing here, actually speaking the words, it suddenly seemed like a really bad idea. Of course, it was a little late for second thoughts. "We've been--" Benny Ray paused, searching for the phrase that best fit, knowing that it could make a big difference. Intimate? Sexual partners? "--lovers for the past three months, sir."

There was no change in Matt's expression as he said, "And you thought I'd have a problem with the situation?"

"You'd have every right to if you felt it would adversely affect the team, sir. And I'm in no position to reassure you that it won't, considerin' the events of the past few days." Heck, I can pretty much assure you of the opposite. He wondered if he could get used to living in London and working for CI5. More importantly, would Chance want to stay here?

"Chance, how do you feel about the situation? Do you agree with Benny Ray?" His voice was neutral, giving no indication of the answer he was looking for.

"No, sir," Chance answered quickly. "I don't think this relationship will have any bearing on the team. I believe that our most recent operation proves my point and I also believe that Benny Ray would've acted in the same way no matter who the sniper had targeted." Chance's tone was defiant, as if he were daring the other two men to dispute the point.

There was a hint of a smile this time as he said, "It just so happens I agree with you, Chance. Despite our individual backgrounds, this unit is not a part of the US military. We are all private citizens and adults. As far as I'm concerned, what you do on your own time is your own business."

"But, sir--" Benny Ray's argument was cut short as Chance poked him in the ribs.

"You made the right decision, Benny Ray. There's always the possibility of rescuing prisoners, but the odds are a lot longer against resurrection," Matt said with a grin. "Besides, Chance has used up his favors already. One miraculous resuscitation per lifetime."

-- THE END --

This story originally appeared in Don't Ask, Don't Tell #1, a slash zine from Wild Side Press, and was nominated for a 1998 STIFfie.

duine deaslamhach -- someone good at working with their hands; a craftsman or artisan

Disclaimer: Chance, Benny Ray, Bodie, Doyle, et al don't belong to me. I am doing this only for fun and the enjoyment of fellow slash readers, not for profit. I don't intend copyright infringement--and I don't actually have anything of value so it'd be pointless to sue me anyway. Original material is (c)1998 by Zoe Rayne. Please do not archive or publish in any fashion without my permission. Emailed comments, criticisms and requests for future stories are more than welcome.

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