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Part 1


The pass key opened Bodie's front door at once, and Murphy watched Doyle slip it back into his pocket as if he owned it, moving absently on into the silence of the flat. Everything was exactly as Bodie had left it, right down to the unwashed coffee cup on the corner of the bureau, abandoned there in haste as 3.7 responded to the phonecall, a message that had lured him into what Murphy was worried was one scrape too many.

Four days, and Bodie was still missing. It was as if he had walked through the door into another dimension, disappearing off the face of the Earth. There were no notes from kidnappers, no ransom demands, no threats or promises or deals. All he left behind him was a check-in to Central, a muttered notification that his contact had 'turned up trumps,' and he was on his way to the rendezvous.

He had been working independently from Doyle at the time, both of them on the same case, but following their own leads, or Doyle might have had some clue as to what could have happened. They had found the silver Capri in a carpark in Hammersmith, but of Bodie there was no sign.

Forensics turned the car inside out, but it yielded up nothing of value. He had got out of the car, rolled the window up, locked it and left it, and that was that. No one had seen him leave it there - at eight at night the streets were beginning to empty. That had been on the Friday evening; this was Tuesday, and Doyle was looking five years older with the strain of waiting and wondering and fretting.

As yet, Murphy worked solo as often as not, but Cowley had threatened him with a partner; once, he had scorned the idea of being paired, but the years of watching 3.7 and 4.5 at work had warmed him to the proposition... Today, he thought better of it. When you worked with another human being for such an enormous part of your life - often sixteen hours a day and seven days a week, you got close. Closer than family, closer than any two people ever had the right to be. And then this kind of thing happened.

Ray was hurting, Murphy did not have to look at him to know that. It was as if a large chunk of himself had been cut out, he guessed; while it was gone, there was no way to rest, no space for humour. If this was what happened when you let yourself be turned into one of a pair of Siamese twins, they could keep partnership, Murphy decided.

Not that all partnerships were ever as close as Bodie and Doyle - far from it; most were working arrangements, nothing more. But just now and then, two men were so 'right' together that hey became like two halves of the same whole. 3.7 and 4.5 were like that. There was even some gossip among the older inmates of CI5 that suggested the two men were much more than good friends, but Murphy reserved judgement on that question - there were girls by the score trotting about, doing their bidding. No, gossip was just gossip... Though, he thought wryly as he watched Doyle padding noiselessly around Bodie's flat, the capacity was there, the groundwork was already complete, to turn speculation into truth one day, even if it had not already happened.

It did not perturb Murphy at all; he had 'been around and around' for too many years and in too many places for him to turn up his nose at the concept of real, genuine affection. There wasn't enough of it in the world to start with, to make it logical to start castigating people for their gentler feelings.

In all probability, the gossip was still just gossip, but one thing remained: Ray Doyle was hurting. It showed in the lines etched about his eyes, lines Murphy had never noticed before, as if they had not been there at all while Bodie was around. It showed in the restless way he moved, how he could not be still. He was here on Cowley's orders, going though the silent, empty flat in search of some clue as to what Bodie could have been up to on the Friday, but Murphy guessed that he would have been here anyway, just for the sake of being here, soaking in what little of Bodie he could still reach, through the medium of his things.

Predictably, Bodie's few possessions were neat and tidy; no papers were strewn about to make the hunt for clues any easier, and Doyle had to dig for them. Murphy watched him go through the bureau's drawers. In one, Bodie kept his writing things, a jotter, a pack of decent stationery and envelopes, a bunch of pencils, sharpener and rubber, three biros of assorted colours, a Little Oxford Dictionary, a packet of paperclips, not a word written on anything. In another drawer were his household accounts, gas, electric, phone. The electricity account was overdue now, and Murphy watched Doyle slip it into his own pocket, obviously intending to pay it for him before they turned off the power.

Next, Doyle turned toward the bookcase. Bodie never read much, and two of the four shelves were taken up with ornaments. A piece of carved wood with the face of a kudu, a relic of his travels in Darkest Africa; a mermaid in mother-of-pearl, a relic of his fortnight's holiday in Bognor. A little silver cup, won by fair means; he had been the CI5 unit champion in the small arms competition for two years - before Doyle beat him in the third and fourth years, only to be pipped at the post himself by a raw recruit, largely due to the hangover he was sporting. Which had all been Bodie's doing. Of course.

But there were two shelves of books, gathering a little dust. They had Bodie stamped all over them, and Doyle smiled as he looked at the spines. There was Kipling - Barrack Room Ballads, Kim. And Jack London - The Call Of The Wild, Whitefang. A big text book, Hammer Of The North, about the Vikings. Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, well read and the worse for wear, The Cruel Sea, and Lord Of The Rings, with a book mark about half way through it. Sir Walter Scott was there, too: Ivanhoe, and Stephenson's The Black Arrow. Then one got into more predictable waters, with Harold Robbins, Hammond Innes, Clive Cussler.

Doyle smiled, shook his head fondly, and began to go through the books. It wouldn't be the first time that something was found slipped into a paperback for 'safe keeping.' He went through Shogun and The Pirate, finding nothing, and then was drawn to Hammer Of The North and Lord Of The Rings - the first because it was so large as to draw the eye, the second because it had a book mark in it, and was obviously what Bodie was reading now.

"Colorful tastes, our Bodie," he murmured, flipping the pages of the big, glossy text on Vikings, their culture and mythology. "Bet he wishes he was a Viking." He perched on the arm of the couch, switching to the fat paperback. "Or maybe he wishes he was a warrior in this... Ever read it?"

"No. Never had a year to spare," Murphy grinned. "The rate I read - and the time I get to read in, I'd be there for a decade with a book that size. Sad to say, a racing form's about as close as I get to lit these days. You read a lot, don't you?"

"Fair bit," Doyle nodded. "Not this sort of stuff as a rule, but I read it a longtime ago, when I was going through my 'Conan The Barbarian Phase.' All the blokes are six foot three and built like King Kong, all the birds are lusty, busty and trusty, don't know how to say 'no' ... Oh, Christ, there's nothing here, Murph. I've been beating my brains out for days, trying to work out what the hell Bodie was up to. Cowley wants to send a forensics squad in here, take the place apart a stick at a time. Me? I'm just making guesses. And guessing wrong."

"You're tired," Murphy shrugged. "Can't expect to be sharp as a tack when you haven't put your head down in days. Want a cuppa? Bodie must have the makings around here."

"Milk'll be sour," Doyle said vaguely, still looking at the books.

"So maybe he'll have condensed," Murphy suggested. "Look on the bright side for a change." He took a step toward the kitchen and turned back. "If it's any consolation to you, I think I know how you're feeling... And I hope somebody'll pine for me when this happens. If this ever happens to me which, God forbid."

With that he was gone and Doyle blinked after him. Pining? Was he? Was that what it looked like? He sighed heavily: yeah, that was what it would look like. And that was what it felt like. Getting up, he walked around the sofa and collapsed onto its cushions with the books on his chest, listening to the sounds of Murph's considerate domestic industries. He heard the 'eureka' as he found a can of milk, heard the tea caddy clanging about and the kettle coming to the boil, and closed his eyes, for the thousandth time putting his brain through the shredder in the search for some snippet of information.

Bodie had been chasing leads to do with a man called Schwerin, who was apparently retailing narcotics of all varieties and dealing in arms of chiefly Soviet manufacture; he had a small mercenary army on the payroll and his name had been linked with every armed conflict since 'Nam. He was in 'The Game' for fun and profit, and if, along the way, a legitimate government came tumbling down, and archeological relics or masterworks of art went missing forever, that was par for the course.

An anonymous tipoff had suggested, a month before, that Schwerin was arming the mob right here in England, and if it had not been CI5's business before, now it was. A mob armed with bricks and such was bad enough, but a mob armed with Russian machine pistols could account for every copper on the streets of London or Manchester or Birmingham, and if that happened -

Anarchy. And there was a fortune to be made out of anarchy. Doyle sighed, rubbing his eyes. Schwerin had crossed swords with CI5 three times before, and they were costly confrontations. CI5 had cost him a lot of money, a lot of operatives, time, opportunity resources. Bodie had made a face over the file as he read it, recognising several of the unsavoury characters in Schwerin's merc army from years back. The days when he had been every bit as mercenary as these men still were.

So, by that token, they would recognise Bodie, and they harboured a positive loathing for CI5 in general. In all probability, Bodie was dead, and had been dead since Friday night, and it was only Doyle's stubborn mind that refused to accept that and get used to it.

Get used to the idea that Bodie was dead meat, his body weighted at the bottom of the river? How? A tearing pain ripped through his chest every time he tried to ram the concept into his conscious mind, and if he fell asleep for a few moments in sheer exhaustion, Bodie was there in his dreams, alive and laughing, making it impossible to accept -

The truth? Doyle slammed the books shut savagely and pulled himself upright on the couch. All right, so he would have no choice but to accept it when he had Bodie's dead body before him on a marble slab at the morgue, but until that moment he was damned if he was going to meekly take the concept of death into himself and accept it.

"Cup of cha, Ray?" Murphy's voice said quietly, intruding on the confusion of his thoughts, and he extended a hand, wrapping his fingers about the hot ceramic and bringing the cup to his lips. It was too sweet, but it was hot and it hit the spot. He leaned his elbows on his knees and studied the carpet. Murphy thought he had never seen Ray look so miserable, so forlorn, and he thought back to the popular, whispered gossip about the two agents.

Lovers? Doyle looked like an abandoned waif on a blasted heath under a sky promising a thunderstorm. Lovers. He should have seen it a long time ago, he who knew them better than anyone else, except perhaps the Cow. A new thrill of sympathy wormed through Murphy. "Hey, Ray," he said softly. "It's not over till the final whistle."

The green eyes were a little red from their sleepless nights, but Doyle was still alert enough to hear, and he nodded. "Scintillating company, aren't I?"

"Doesn't matter," Murph shrugged. "When your better half's going through the mincer, you can't be expected to sparkle, can you."

"No," Doyle agreed, and it was several moments before the exact wording sank in. "Better half?"


"I know, Murph. What made you say better half?" Doyle lifted one brow, curious, too tired to be at all defensive. "I mean, that's idiomatic for 'spouse' in this man's language."

"Well, I mean," Murphy said, and spread his hands. "I thought..."

There was a moment of silence, then Doyle prompted, "Go on. You thought what?"

"That you and Bodie were... Well..."

Doyle blinked at him. "Married?"

"Something like that," Murphy admitted. "You mean you're not...?"

"Lovers?" A smile twitched at Ray's mouth. "Not unless he's been coming 'round to my flat in the middle of the night and takin' advantage of me in my sleep, and then sneaking away again!"

"Oh." Murphy had the grace to blush a little and avert his eyes. "Er, sorry, Ray. Didn't mean to be insulting."

"Wasn't insulted," Doyle told him, "so stop blushing like a schoolgirl, mate. Doesn't bother me. You know me, man of the world, broad minded and all that. Mind you, if you start calling me 'gay' you might get biffed - and Bodie might belt you too!"

"But I just did, didn't I?" Murphy demanded. "I just assumed you and Bodie were sleeping together!"

"Ah, that's my fault," Doyle sighed. "That's what it must look like, I know. It hasn't happened yet though."

And as he spoke, Murphy could tell that there was no aversion or revulsion in Doyle. As if he was quite open to the idea of sleeping with his partner, of making love with a man. "You've thought about it?" he asked, not intending to pry, just honestly curious.

"No, not consciously." Doyle sipped at the hot, sweet tea.

"But you don't sound surprised," Murphy observed tactfully.

"Well... Maybe I'm too tired to react much," Doyle admitted. "Maybe on a good day I'd have shot straight through the ceiling and hit you... Maybe I wouldn't, who knows? Bodie and me go back so far it feels like we're an old married couple, sometimes. Should see us when we go shopping for our groceries together. He's pushing a trolley around the supermarket and I'm flitting from the processed peas to the chicken soup, and then we'll get in the queue at the checkout and stand glued together reading a magazine out of the rack to pass the time away, and he'll ruffle may hair and make a mess of it, and give me a shove on the backside to get me to move when the queue gets going... Come to think of it, I can imagine what people think!" he paused, drinking the tea. "I'm too tired to be shocked, and too blue to argue, Murph. Want to go over the flat like Cowley said?"

"I'll do it," Murphy suggested. "Why don't you put your head down for half an hour? You look like hell."

If the truth was told, Doyle felt like hell too. He knew he would not sleep much if at all, but his bones were aching and Murphy's offer of a few minutes flat on his back were too good to turn down. He drained the cup of its last cold dregs and ambled into the bedroom. Bodie's bedroom. The sheets were chocolate brown under a beige quilt, and the curtains were drawn, shutting out the wan spring sunlight of midafternoon. Kicking off his shoes and dropping his jacket on top of them, Doyle inched his way into the middle of the big double bed, put his head down on the pillow that must have been Bodie's, going by the smell of it, and closed his eyes.

It was an odd sensation, lying there in the semidarkness, his nose busy suggesting that Bodie was here too. Murphy's kind observation spun round and round in his head, taking shape as his tired mind wandered and did as it liked. He was long past the point at which he could order his thoughts, and in any case, there was a thrill of undeniable pleasure to the course they were taking.

Lovers? Christ, what an idea. If Bodie was here right now, there would be a dip in the mattress, and the sounds of breathing in his ear, maybe the weight of an arm on him. The feel of skin on skin, the soft-skin-over-hard-muscle feel he knew so well from the wrestling sessions they had shared in the gym. Oh, there was nothing strange about Bodie: he knew that body down to its last mole, the look of it, feel and smell. He had seen Bodie aroused once or twice, too, on shared holidays, when he had caught a glimpse through a door left thoughtlessly ajar, or arrived back ten minutes too early. Bodie had never minded, even though he was usually rather touchy about things like that: there was an openness about their relationship that they both took for granted. So Doyle had come back early and seen his partner with an impressive hard-on... So what? A quick grin, a 'sorry, mate,' a closed door, and that was the end of it.

Doyle inhaled, catching the faint whiff of Bodie off the bedding. If Bodie was here right now, warm down his left side, it would have been nice. Comforting, reassuring. Idly, he wondered if Bodie was good to touch; he was good to look at, the artist in Doyle had always thought that, but touching, other than good natured wrestling, was out of the question. Warm, soft-hard, solid, real, he thought, picturing Bodie's face in sleep, his mouth curved into a smile, those blue eyes shuttered, fanned by the long blue-black lashes.

The Bodie-smile preyed on his helpless mind, and before he knew what was happening he was wondering what it would be like to kiss him. Bodie had a nice mouth, nice teeth, and when he kissed a bird he did it with gusto... Would he kiss me like that? Doyle wondered, and as he sank down onto the fringes of sleep he realised that he wished Bodie would.

Damn! He came to with a start, never having been fully asleep, and had to laugh scornfully at himself. Christ, one little chance remark made kindly by a close friend, and his imagination went into overdrive, making the rest up as it went along. He had always had a vivid imagination. He had in ten short minutes fantasized the cuddling and kissing, and if he didn't get up off that bed now he would be fantasizing the loving. It was so easy - too easy, frighteningly so.

And more frightening still was the realisation in Doyle's mind that he wanted it to happen. He hauled himself up to sit against the headboard, rubbing his eyes, reflecting on the absurdity of it. Here was one of George Cowley's finest, lying on his best friend's bed, thinking about necking with another man, and liking the idea, wicked imagination supplying every wanton little detail. The brush of whiskers, the flick of his tongue, the Bodie-scent strong in his nose, the pressure of arms about him, the little groan that would let him know that Bodie was liking it, was getting turned on by his own licking and -

And then he realised, belatedly and with a kick of surprise that he was the one getting turned on. A throb of heat coiled through his groin and he stifled a moan. Jesus, not now, not when Murphy was close at hand, not when Bodie had fallen off the face of the earth and was very probably as dead as a door nail -

No! Doyle was up off the bed in half a second, padding unshod into the bathroom to splash his face with cold water. No, damnit, Bodie was not dead, and the sooner his subconscious got that the better. He was pulling a fluffy white towel over his face when Murphy appeared at the door.

"Ray? You all right?"

The unexpected half-erection had dwindled and he nodded, hanging the towel up again. "Yeah, I'll live."

"You look worse than you did when you lay down - been dreaming or something?" Murphy asked, concerned.

So it showed - the surprise of discovering, right out of the blue, that if Blue-Eyes Bodie made a pass at him, Raymond Doyle would fall right into his arms and surrender his body...

Christ, if Bodie was only here to make that pass.

"I'm okay, Murph, really," he lied. "You find anything?"

Murphy shook his head. "No. It's no good... Don't reckon forensics'll come up with anything, either, to be truthful. Bodie just made a cup of coffee, sat down to drink it, maybe picked up his book - Lord of The Rings, going by the book mark - or put the telly on, or the radio. Then the phone rang. He picked it up, got a tipoff, put the cup down on the corner of the bureau because he was in too much of a hurry to wash it or even take it to the sink... walked out through the front door, and woosh. Gone."

"He drove to Hammersmith, parked in the carpark in front of the fish shop, locked the car and went to meet his contact," Doyle said wearily. "The contact betrays him, hands him to Schwerin's mob, and then... Oh, God. I'm so tired."

"Go home now," Murphy told him. "I'll get Peter Cooper to come over to your flat, give you some valium or something, give you some sleep. You need it, Ray, or you're going to keel over face first."

"No doctors, no drugs," Ray said heatedly. Cooper was a good doctor, but there was no yearning in his mind for the kind of oblivion Murph was talking about, drugged stupor that shut out the nothing without for the nothing within, made the world go away until you woke up with a hangover and had to face it again.

"You're doin' no one any good this way," Murphy argued. "Least of all yourself. Wish you could see yourself - you look like you came off worst in a drinking contest!"

"Flattery will get you everywhere," Doyle muttered.

"Okay, no doctors. But go home, lie down, rest. Eat something. I'll drop you off on the way back to Central and make your excuses to Cowley." He watched the flicker of agreement in the downcast green eyes. "Okay, then. I'll send for forensics - much good it'll do us, though - and we'll get out of here." He paused, clearly uncomfortable. "Is there... Is there anything you'd like to take with you. Anything of Bodie's?"

"Shouldn't really touch anything," Ray said doubtfully.

"I mean something personal," Murphy murmured. "You know."

His reward was a tired smile of much affection, and Doyle nodded. "Yeah, as a matter of fact there is. Just a sec." He pulled the photograph album off the bottom shelf of the book case, opened it and peeled out a few 35mm snaps, stood looking at them with a prickling about his eyes. "Not a lot to remember someone by, are they? Wouldn't have them at all, if Carrie hadn't just bought a camera she was newfangled with, and wanted to test the damn thing on us... Look, here. This one's over-exposed, this one's under, the focus is a bit wobbly on this one, and... Who cares."

Murphy came over to glance at the photos before he shepherded Doyle to the door, and had to smile. There they were, leaning on the railings at Brighton, arms about each other, stripped to the waist in the sunshine, brown and laughing - some would say, obviously in love. Again, there the were eating icecreams in the car, Bodie mopping a tissue over Ray's chin before chocolate icecream could get everywhere - a candid snap, they wouldn't have known Carrie had taken it until they saw it. In a third, the cute photographer had caught them at it again, looking at a magazine at the door of a newsagents, heads close together, eyes glued to the text, and Bodie's hand was just visible on Doyle's left hip. Abruptly, Murphy could not look anymore. He pushed Doyle's shoulders in the direction of the door.

"Come on, mate, I'll drop you at home. Okay for groceries, are you?"

The photos went into Ray's inside pocket. "No, I've got to do some shopping before the shops shut today."

"Give me a list, I'll get someone from Central to pick the stuff up and get the shop to deliver," Murphy advised wisely. "Either that, or good old Doc Cooper's coming over and ramming a hypo full of valium into your fanny to make you stop for a bit. Take your pick."

"I'm very particular about my fanny," Doyle said drily, on his way out through the door, "so I'll give you list."

They were in the white Ford Escort, and Murphy was driving; Doyle made a shopping list on the drive over, ripping a page out of the back of his notebook as the car pulled in at the kerb. He handed it, and the pass key to Bodie's flat, to his temporary partner. Murph scanned it quickly, accepting 20 from Doyle to cover the items, and stuck money, list and key into his pocket.

"Okay, I'll get this organised. You listen for the door, it'll be the delivery van... You going to be okay, Ray?"

"Yeah, fine." Doyle got out of the car, slammed the door, and gave the younger man a thumbs-up signal through the window before taking the steps up to the door of his building as if he was stiff and sore. Murphy imagined that he was; he had been driving himself harder than ever the likes of Macklin would have driven him, almost -

Almost as if he was trying to hurt himself, to share whatever it was he thought Bodie might be going through. It was stupid, but it was Doyle. He was an empathic little bugger, often guessing what you were thinking or feeling before you know properly yourself. No wonder they were making talk about him and Bodie; given the nature of the two of them, the outcome, eventually, was pretty much predetermined. Murphy started the car and pulled out, tossing a quick prayer to whatever soldier's god was listening, that 3.7 and 4.5 would have the chance to prove the gossips wrong - or right.

The flat was cold and dim, and Ray turned the heating on, undressing as he went. It felt as if he had been in the same clothes for a year. He dumped his jeans, shirt and underwear into the laundry bag and headed for the bathroom, standing under the hot water until the life began to return to his limbs. Forty-eight hours without sleep, and he felt a hundred years old. No, that wasn't right - it wasn't as if it was the first time in his life he'd done without sleep.

Try, four days without Bodie.

That was more like it. As he stood under the shower he worked backward through recent history, trying to remember the last time the two of them had gone a single day without seeing, or talking over the phone to each other, and as nearly as he could place it, it was four months, perhaps five. And that had only been because Bodie had been in Wales on a job for Cowley while Doyle had 'flu, and Bodie had later told him that he hadn't called to gossip because by the time he could have done so it was two in the morning, and it wasn't kind to wake a bloke who was ill to chat.

Wrapped in a towel, he made his way to the kitchen, emptying a tin of tomato soup into a pan and rummaging for crackers, and as it heated he dried off, towelled his hair and pulled on his red robe. The hot water had relaxed him, and after the food, and two double Johnny Walkers, he was ready to admit defeat, lie down and let the world manage without him for a while.

He did not expect to sleep, but oblivion came with surprising speed; the last thing he remembered was turning over onto his face, yanking up the blankets as the room grew cold, and absently wishing Bodie was there to warm the bed, since Bodie radiated body heat like a human central heating system.

Some time around five, the van brought the groceries, but the doorbell went unanswered, and the brown paper sacks remained outside until half past nine, when Murphy stumbled over them as he leaned on the bell. Doyle did not answer the third or fourth buzz, and Murph was too agitated to wait until the noise roused him. If he had been drinking, or taken sleeping pills, the noise might not get through to him at all. He brought the R/T from his inside pocket. "9.2 to Central... I'm not getting an answer at 4.5's flat, but I know he's in there. I'm going to trick the locks, so don't have kittens down in Security."

Central acknowledged, and Murphy brought out this picklocks, going through the time-consuming, delicate work of tricking the CI5 deadlocks; it was nearly impossible, and took a thorough knowledge of the way these particular locks worked. An outsider would have been more likely to blow the lock off, or go in through a window, but five minutes later Murphy was in, and padding in search of the occupant.

Clothes were strewn on the floor, the gas heater was hissing away to itself, warming the air, and there was the lingering smell of food, still in evidence since the windows were shut to keep out the cold. There was an unwashed glass on the salver beside beside the square Johnny Walker bottle, but the level in the bottle was still high, so, unless Doyle had thrown an old, emptied bottle into the bin, he had not drunk much. Murphy could not imagine Ray drinking himself into a stupor yet. Time to that later, if the worst came to worst.

He came to a halt at the bedroom door. Ray was still dead to the world, one shoulder off the edge of the bed, clad in red silk, his robe. He must have crashed out and pulled the covers up almost unthinking. Murph took a look at the time and swore. If he'd had four hours' sleep, that was all he'd have collected - but he'd kill if he was allowed to sleep on any longer when there was news.

"Doyle?" Murphy called quietly, coming to the bedside. "Doyle? Ray!"

"Umnph?" Doyle stirred awake, blinking in the wash of electric light that spilled into the room from the passage outside. "Bodie?"

"No, s'me," Murphy corrected. "You must've been dreaming."

"Yeah." Ray dragged in a breath and sat up, rubbing his face. "Whassa time? Can't've slept long."

"Just gone half past nine, mate," Murphy told him. "Time to rise'n shine - we've got him."

"Got -" Doyle was awake so fast his head spun. "Where - how?" He levered off the bed, heading for the wardrobe and dressing table in search of clean clothes, and Murphy watched him dress in white jeans and yellow tee shirt, before he sat on the foot of the bed to pull on socks and boots.

"We got a call from Guy's Hospital," he said. "Seems somebody found Bodie on the embankment, about two this afternoon. He was... well, stoned. Out of his head. They took him to Guy's for the sake of speed, and when he came to just an hour ago he gave 'em the details. They phoned the Cow - your phone's been ringing for ages, couldn't get an answer, so I came over. You okay, Ray?"

"Jumping for joy," Doyle said acidly. "Get moving, then, will you?" On the way out of the flat he paused to run a comb through his hair, and the sense of what Murphy had said sank in. "Stoned? Not drunk?"

"No, there's no alcohol in his bloodstream, that was the first thing they checked for." Murphy slammed the door, engaging the locks and alarm system. "Last I heard, they were running tests to find out what drugs are in his system. God knows... They might have some idea by the time we get out there."

Doyle slid into the left side of the Escort and scrubbed at his eyes as Murphy pulled out of the end of his road and took the car down along the river. Guy's was on the other side, but at this hour the traffic was not heavy and the journey was made without delay. It was hard to make the pieces of the jigsaw fit together. Schwerin's people had set Bodie up, snatched him when he went out to Hammersmith to connect with his contact, kept him for four days - and doped him up?

Well, as much as that made sense: Bodie was built like a brick wall, if they didn't hit him or chain him up, they'd have to dope him or he'd chew chunks out of them. Doyle acknowledged a thrill of pride as that thought occurred, but it had done Bodie a disservice. Since they didn't have access to chains, it was hit him or drug him - and it all depended on which drugs they had used, which of those propositions was the more damaging in the long run.

The lift whisked them up to the fourth level - Murphy knew where Bodie was, and Doyle hurried blindly in his wake, not seeing the bright, too-warm passages, until he found himself at a door which was under armed guard: Anson was there, and the bulge under his jacket could only be a magnum. He winked at Doyle as Murphy pushed on through the door, but Ray was too tired and sore to respond.

Cowley was there, unsurprisingly, standing by the window with a doctor in whose hand was a clipboard, the lab results. "Ah, Doyle," the Scot said by way of greeting, flicking a disapproving glance over the younger man's appearance. Still, he said nothing, as if a degree of careless dishevelment and a seeming hangover were to be expected. "We've just got the lab report back. It seems -"

But, much as Doyle wanted to hear what was being said, his hearing cut out, leaving him gaping stupidly at the man on the bed. Bodie was as white as a sheet, hair and lashes very dark, big black smudges beneath his eyes, not a muscle twitching. But the broad chest suggested comfortable breathing, and little by little Doyle relaxed.

He realised that he had not heard a word Cowley had said and mumbled an apology. "Sorry, sir, could you say that again? I didn't get all of it."

Cowley suspected that he hadn't got any of it, but went back over the data patiently. When something like this happened, it was as if a family member had been victimized, and it was never easy to tolerate, particularly when it was as close a family as some of his operatives had become. "He's been drugged for two days, as far as we can tell," he repeated. "Before that he was tied up - if you notice, there are cuts on his wrists and also his ankles. He was restrained with wire, obviously. Then, probably some time early on Monday, or late on Sunday, they drugged him. There are tracks behind his knees - so, obviously, they did not want the signs to be noticed at once. The drugs in his system are an odd cocktail- there's mescaline, PCB and ordinary barbiturates.

"Angel Dust?" Doyle echoed. "Polycholorinate biphenyl? Oh, my God." He looked back at Bodie's face and swallowed. The side effects off that particular drug were too horrifying to even think about. Still, if they had only had him on the stuff for a couple of days, and if Bodie was as strong as he was, maybe-

"There's not a lot of it in his system," the doctor said kindly, "just enough to make him stoned out of his skull."

"And mescaline," Doyle added. "Addiction?"

"Mild addiction," Cowley said quietly. "Nothing he can't beat without much ado, especially since they've had him in here since noon, and he's already receiving the proper care."

Numb to the bone marrow, Doyle just nodded. "He hasn't been awake, sir, since you've been here?"

Cowley shook his head. "No. He surfaced for a little while, gave the doctors a few details, then passed out again. He'll sleep it off, until withdrawal sets in, and then..." He shrugged. "They'll do what they can to ease it, and he'll do the rest himself."

And it would hurt, Doyle realised. Maybe not much, because he hadn't been on the garbage for very long, but he was going to be ill. Well, no more ill than he would be if they had beaten him to a pulp, so what was the difference? Doyle pulled his shoulders square and looked levelly at Cowley. "What do you want me to do now?"

"Go home, get yourself a good night's sleep," Cowley said acidly.

"I can sleep here," Doyle argued, "and save myself a trip."

"Aye, you'd be back at crack of dawn," Cowley said disapprovingly.

"Aye, very well, but stay out of the way. If he's going to be ill, they can do without your help, I'm sure."

The doctor, whose name badge read 'Doctor Michaels,' spoke up with a lopsided grin that was attractive. "Actually, Mister Cowley, it might even do Mister Bodie good if there was a familiar face here when comes out of it. He'll be disoriented, you see; the faces of strangers, in his condition, would probably make him assume he was still a captive."

"Which would make him fight," Murphy added, "and if he belts a poor little nurse around the ear, he could knock her into the middle of next week, and it wouldn't be his fault if he did."

"What he said," Doyle muttered, smiling at last.

Cowley had enough sense to surrender without a fight. "Do as you please, then. There's not a lot we can do until he is able to give us the details, anyway, and that'll be tomorrow at the earliest." He shoved both hands into the pocket of his grey overcoat. "Get some rest, Doyle, you look like a runaway for the morgue. Murphy, you're off duty, aren't you?

"About an hour ago," Murph said with a grin.

"Then go home, man. Doyle, Anson is in charge, you hear?"

"Yes, sir - you've got Bodie under guard?"

"It's possible," Cowley said tolerantly, well aware that Doyle was functioning at about a third his normal capacity, "that Bodie just got out and ran. In which case, they'll be after him to finish the job. Yes, he's under guard, and he stays under guard until this is all over... Goodnight."

"Sir," Doyle and Murphy chimed in unison, and then Cowley was gone, Michaels departing in his wake, and Doyle sank heavily into the creaking plastic chair at the bedside. As relief washed through him the weariness came up alarmingly, as if only the fretting and agitation had been keeping it at bay. His eyes, gritty and heavy, focused on Bodie's immobile face, and he felt the smile tug at his mouth, unable to hide it. "Welcome back, Bodie."

At the foot of the bed, Murphy looked from one to the other and back again. Relief hacked through his own defences; it was one emotion that had the power to make one a little silly, he thought in retrospect, but by that time the thoughts had gone skipping through his head and there was no way he knew to unthink them... Now Doyle and Bodie would have their chance to prove the gossip out, one way or the other, and if the smile on Ray's face was anything to go by... It was dreamy, lush little smile, almost the kind of expression Murphy imagined he'd make after he had been loved within an inch of his sanity and was floating down from Cloud Nine. It was as if he'd shed ten years in as many minutes. And there was Bodie, flat out in the bed, dead to creation, as if he'd worn himself away, providing the thorough loving that had engendered that smile. It was a simple matter to add Ray to the bed, in his mind's eye, draped all over Bodie's inert form, and Murphy had to shake himself away from the image.

Naughty, naughty, he told himself, shocked at this own wayward mind. He was broad minded, not to say terminally liberal, in his own preferences, but that was not a licence to manipulate others. He dropped a light hand onto Doyle's shoulder. "Come on, I'll find you somewhere to flop down."

Not really aware of it, Doyle got his feet under him, following him into an unoccupied corner of a communal ward not twenty yards from Bodie's private room. There, they gave him a blanket and closet space for his jacket and shoes, and he collapsed on the too-hard hospital mattress, going under as soon as his head touched the pillow.

"Silly sod," Murphy observed quietly, yawing. "Tearing yourself up like that. Might have known Bodie'd come sailing through it in fine style. Might have known." They were reassuring lies, spoken kindly and going unheard, and in another moment Murphy was on his way, heading for the lifts, the car, and home.

Doyle was dreaming, and somehow knew he was dreaming, but it didn't matter. He was warm, and comfortable, and the more the warm, wet mouth suckled his nipples one by one, and the hand between his legs stroked him and squeezed him, the less he cared that it had to be a dream. His eyes were closed, but he could tell it was Bodie, would have recognised the touch and scents of musk, sweat and aftershave anywhere. Excitement set every nerve alight and he surged up toward the promise of agonized fulfilment with a groan of delight.

As usual, just before the pleasure peaked, he woke, panting and frustrated. The suckling became no more than the brush of his shirt as he breathed, the soft cotton stretching over achingly aroused little peaks, and the loving hand at his groin became the clutch of too-tight denim. He lifted on knee beneath the blanket and slid the zip down to ease the discomfort, trying to order his breathing and waiting for the dream-induced excitement to fade away.

It was just after five, according to his watch; his throat was dry, his mouth tasted like an old boot and the bathroom had an allure all its own. When it was comfortable to move, he zipped up and swung his legs off the bed. The night nurse looked up from her dippy paperback, recognising him and smiling briefly at him, and he looked out into the passage, glancing down toward the door of Bodie's room to see Anson, sitting in an easy chair, a magazine in his hands, the R/T on his knee. He would be waiting for his relief, Doyle guessed, since he'd been there so long he and the chair would be putting out roots.

A stranger's face looked back at him out of the mirror; the unshaven jaw and red rimmed eyes gave him the dissolute look of a reprobate, and he smiled cheekily at himself. Maybe someone would lend him a razor, and there was a perfectly good shower right here. The temptation was to duck under the water and avail himself of the towels stacked on the bench, but he made do with washing his face and finger-combing his hair, then went in search of a cup of tea.

The nurses were pleased to had him a cup of brown paint, and he drank it standing at the door of their rest room, listening to Nurse Brownwell's account of the night. Bodie had come to fleetingly on several occasions, muttering incoherently, but once, he actually guessed that the white room was in a hospital, which meant that he was surfacing fast. He had slept off most of the sedatives and they had poured vitamins, minerals and glucose into him to help put back what the garbage had taken out. He was sleeping again, feverish and in a little pain, but was stronger than expected.

Stronger than who expected? Doyle wondered; That's Bodie they're talking about. He scraped his finger nails through the stubble on his chin. "Haven't got a razor I could borrow, have you, anyone?"

They gave him a straight razor - a 'pig sticker' in a kidney dish, intended for body shaving prior to operations; it was the first straight razor he'd seen in years, and as it was freshly stropped it made the chore of shaving easy. Once upon a time, every man had one of these 'cut throats' and the now customary safety razors were scorned.

At six, Nurse Brownwell shoved a tray of breakfast at him, cornflakes, toast and marmalade, and after he had eaten he felt up to facing the world. It was odd; he hated hospitals and yet he spent a ridiculous amount of his life in them, either as a patient or a visitor. Soft footed, he went into Bodie's room, closing the door softly and exchanging a nod of greeting with Gilbey, Anson's relief, in the easy chair just outside. Bodie was still sound asleep, and Doyle padded up to the bedside, smiling as he saw the new stubble on his chin, blue against skin so white. For all that, Bodie looked wonderful - delicate, suddenly defenceless, which added to his appeal, arousing a feeling of tender protectiveness. Doyle gave himself a small chuckle of pure scorn: if Bodie knew, he'd have a fit.

"Wish you knew what I've just been dreaming," he murmured to the sleeper. "Would you laugh, or would you belt me? There you were, sucking on my nipples and loving me with your hand. Christ, it was lovely... Would you do that for me, Bodie? Or would you have hysterics and chuck me out?" He sighed heavily and shook his head. "Better get a grip on myself before you start guessing what's going on in my wicked little mind. Better not let you guess, or you'd run a mile, wouldn't you, and I wouldn't even have you as a friend. Yeah, it's tragic, isn't it? Bloody tragic."

He stood at the bedside in silence for a long time, just watching Bodie sleep, and the nurses were clattering around outside with the trollies of morning medication when Bodie began to stir awake, the long, black lashes fluttering open. He blinked repeatedly, trying to focus, and Doyle held still, smiling down at him, waiting until he had eyes, brain and tongue in co-ordination.

Then one hand extended from under the sheet, reaching for his, and the blue eyes smiled, and Bodie's voice, croaky from disuse, said quite clearly, "Ray - 'ow long 'ave you been here, pet?"

He was not properly awake yet, probably had no idea of what he was saying, and Doyle's heart jumped into his mouth. Pet? For years he had been calling his partner 'sunshine,' 'son,' and once or twice 'angelfish' or just 'angel,' since the Ojuka business, six months before. But those were just matey nicknames. Pet was an endearment, spoken between two people who didn't just like one another. Pet bespoke affection, real and deep, and one part of Doyle was frightened out of his wits while another part was transported by a sudden rush of delight.

That one little word changed everything, made it possible to try it, say it, make a move in his direction - or perhaps make him make the move. "Been here all night," he said, taking Bodie's hand, finding it lax and cool, squeezing the fingers. How nearly awake was Bodie? Not very, by the look of him. How much could Raymond get away with? He brushed light fingers over Bodie's brow and leaned close. "Just rest, love," he said softly. "You're going to be fine."

Then he held his breath, dreading the reaction, but Bodie just nodded, dark hair rustling on the pillow, and went back to sleep, hanging onto Doyle's fingers with a stubborn tenacity.

Pet. Euphoria clouded Doyle's vision. Christ, it was going to be true - the little intuitive guess Murphy had made was right on target, and they last of all had seen what others had been seeing for God only knew how long. Doyle sat on the bedside, studying the hand that lay in his, trying not to imagine those fingers stroking him as they had in the dream. It was hard to reject the imaginings and soon his mind demanded to be free to wander. For a little while he indulged it, but the kick of arousal was back in minutes, and he forced such thoughts away with an effort, letting Bodie's fingers go as he heard the commotion at the door.

They were here to give Bodie another shot of vitamins and mild sedatives, enough to foster his vitality and keep him still while the hard drugs worked their way out. Doyle watched the hypo pick up a bit of unbruised vein - after all the shots he had had since being brought in, he seemed to be running out of veins fast - and said, "got any idea how long he's going to be ill, Nurse?"

"A few days," she told him. "He's as strong as an ox, and he's had the proper treatment. He should be out of here by the weekend, I should imagine. There, all done." She dropped the hypo back into the trolley and headed for the door. "Doctor Michaels wants to know if you're going to be staying here. We're on Bed Bureau starting tomorrow - that means we take all the accident cases. Road smashes, you know. There'll be beds in the carpark by the time we're finished, there just isn't much room."

"I'll get out of your way as soon as he knows were he is and you can trust him not to flail around and fight when he comes to," Doyle promised. "After that, I'll come in when I can." He grinned in spite of himself. "He surfaced a little while ago, but he wasn't alert. Recognised me, that's about all. Could have been in outer space for all he knew."

She nodded wisely. "He's starting to come out of it, I expect. Might be a good idea if you stuck to his bedside till he wakes naturally."

It was not exactly a hard directive to obey, and when the room was quiet again Doyle made himself comfortable in a battered plastic chair, chin cupped in his palm, eyes falling shut as the weariness caught up with him again. So Bodie would be ill for a few days, and then he would be on his way home. A couple of weeks on the slips, a couple more with adorable Brian Macklin climbing all over him, and then, back to work. Doyle smiled again: a pound wouldn't even fetch a penny, that Cowley would shove Raymond through Macklin's meat grinder as well. Just to keep Bodie company, of course.

Well, this time, Doyle suspected that he would go through the ordeal with a sigh of resignation... It was better being with Bodie when things were rough than being without him, and wondering what in God's name was going on. That little word came back like Marley's ghost to haunt him, and he savoured the sound of it: pet.

Bloody hell, so Bodie cared. Really cared.

But would he make the move himself, Doyle wondered, or would Ray have to improvise? He chuckled richly as he wondered how one man went about chatting up and seducing another one... It couldn't be as hard as all that, could it? Invite him for dinner and a few drinks, then sit down on the sofa beside him and tell him how blue his eyes were, gaze absently into those sapphire orbs, let his mouth go soft and inviting, then pant a bit, lick his lips and wriggle - if Bodie couldn't read the body language, he'd be blind.

Unless he assumed Ray was having a joke at his expense, in which case he would fly into a fury, and there would be a scene. Doyle's frown tugged his brows together. Maybe it would be better to approach the whole subject with more subtlety... Long, lingering eye contact, over dinner, a huskiness in his voice, wear his tightest, softest pants, let his arousal show through - look embarrassed, perhaps. Maybe Bodie would take pity if he thought he saw emotional anguish? Yeah, that would work. Bodie had a big, soft heart, he wouldn't see his best mate hurting.

No, he wouldn't: so maybe he'd get up and walk out, so as to remove the source of the embarrassment. Christ, Doyle thought tiredly, there was no sure way of doing this short of taking a deep breath and saying it. 'Gosh, it's good to have you back, Bodie, and I don't half fancy you... Want to jump into bed with me, and - '

Don't be bloody facetious, he told himself sternly. Try, 'Jesus, Bodie, you had me half way out of my head! Made me realise how much I ... I need you. (Small choke for effect). I... Want you. Christ, don't hate me, mate, but you're so beautiful, I - ' Then leap up off the couch and hug my arms around myself, Doyle thought, back turned to him, let my head go down, speak to him with body language, let him come and comfort me. Okay, so it would be an act, but all life is an act, and it was the only way he would be able to get up the courage to come out and say it.

Except that by the time he was murmuring the truth into Bodie's lug'ole by lamplight, it wouldn't be an act. Ruefully, he felt the arousal spring up again and crossed one leg over the other. He laughed at himself, suddenly realising the silly truth: if he was going to get aroused by just being around Bodie, looking at him, he wouldn't need to say anything, Bodie would take one look at him and know, and that would be that.

An embrace, a kiss, a rapid progression to floor or bed, and the rest would be a hazily remembered wrestling match, sweaty, sticky and ecstatic. He shivered, fearing and anticipating the moment and wishing his body was less stubbornly wanton. Arousal had always come easily to him, but since release had been readily available, it had never been a problem... With girls.

But Bodie was most certainly not a girl.

Hell, the principle's the same, Doyle told himself, cross with himself for the sensations of hesitancy as he seriously considered the prospect of sex with a man for the first time in his life. Well, consciously. He had only to go back to his dream that morning to guess what his subconscious mind was up to. So you lay down together, hands and mouths caressing, and just let it happen. Sometimes it would be easy and sweet, sometimes it would be a contest - either way, with Bodie, it could only be good. There were dozens of ways to make it happen that occurred to him spontaneously as he sat staring at the ceiling, and so long as it was with Bodie, he guessed that the turn on would be fantastic.

With other men? Frowning, he racked his brain, trying to think of another male who had taken his fancy. There were men he found attractive, to be sure - an artist could see beauty everywhere. Murph was a bloody good looking bloke, if it came to that. But the appeal of sex with any of the men he thought about was limited, as if he could recognise the appeal of the experimentation, the physical release, but knew instinctively that so much would be missing.

The feeling would be gone. Making it with another man who was not Bodie would be less like making love than like just fucking around, and if he wanted that, there were less 'dangerous' ways to get off. Oh yes, there was an element of danger there. Cowley, for a start, would skin them alive, and the press - and the Russians - would hang, draw and quarter them. Blackmail, discrediting reports to the media... Doyle's expression darkened. So they would have to be careful.

It would be best if they kept a string of girlfriends at the ready, to dispel suspicion, he thought, trying to approach the problem logically. Christ, was Bodie the possessive kind? He laughed at himself. Am I? They were not questions he had ever had reason to ask before; there were no easy answers to hand, and he knew with a flash of insight that here would be hard times, hot tempers, harsh words, pain, as they battled it out.

So, guessing that there's going to be pain, why bother? He asked himself tiredly. Why not just be his friend, go on as if I've never given a thought to lying in bed with him, under him, while he does it to me?


Even as he thought about it, the idea seemed ridiculous. Here he was, getting himself into a sweat just by looking at his partner's sleeping face and thinking inflammatory thoughts. Work with him after this, be with him, day in, day out, and carry on as if nothing was happening, as if he was feeling nothing?

So I pays my money and takes me chance, Doyle thought wryly, and if it goes wrong, it goes wrong. But maybe it won't. Maybe we'll be as good in bed together as we are out of it. And if that was the case, they would be very, very good indeed...

Somewhere along the path of the convoluted reasoning, he drifted off to sleep, and it was noon when he woke, trays crashing in the passage outside as they brought lunch around. He shot up in the chair, shocked awake and sweating from every pore, left hand reaching for a gun that wasn't there; then relaxed as he readjusted to where he was.

A long, soft indrawn breath signalled that Bodie was awake too, and Ray moved from chair to bedside, catching Bodie's hand and murmuring to him so that he knew he was safe before he came fully up to consciousness.

"Okay, mate, you're okay. Take it easy."

Bodie heaved a huge yawn and held on. "Ray?"

"Who else? You're in hospital, sunshine. They topped your tank up with a whole lot of nasties, but they're getting it out of you."

It was a minute before the sense of what he had said percolated through the fog, but it did reach Bodie's brain, and the blue eyes blinked open, pupils velvety, dilated. "Who did what?"

"The blokes who grabbed you off the street. They shot you up with drugs, you were tripped out of your mind."

"Blokes? Drugs?" Bodie echoed, clearly still not in command of his senses. "Don't remember. What's up with me? Where am I?"

"You're in a private room in Guy's Hospital," Ray told him with a fond patience, still holding the warm, white fingers. "You were brought in here yesterday, tripped out on mescaline."

"Mesca..." Bodie's inky lashes fluttered as he frowned. "Don't remember it. Mescalin?"

"Yeah." Doyle mirrored the frown. "You don't remember anything at all, then?"

The dark head moved on the pillow, a little negative gesture. "Lass thin' I remember was making a call to Central, tellin' 'em I'd got a tipoff. Got in the car, drove over to Hammer..."

He was drifting off again, and Doyle woke him with a squeeze of the fingers in his hand. "Hammersmith. You drove to Hammersmith, then...?"

Bodie woke again with a grunt. "Dunno. Parked the car, walked to the end of the block of shops, and ... Oh Christ, Ray, I dunno. Leave us in peace, will you? I feel funny."

"Sick? You feel sick?" Doyle stood up, reaching for the buzzer.

"Yeah. Sick as a dog. Got pains in me belly too. What's the matter with me? Can't think straight!"

"Mescalin, PCB, too many barbiturates," Doyle said, knowing that Bodie was not taking it in. He pressed the buzzer and stood back to wait for the nurse to appear. It was a little blonde girl, scarcely more than a child. "Better get his doctor," he told her. "He's awake and he's starting to feel bad." The girl hurried away, and Doyle turned back to the bed. "If you've got nothing to tell us, love, we're up the creek," he said, almost to himself.

"Ray?" Bodie pried one eye open. "Whaddya say?"

"I said, we're up the creek if you can't tell us who did this to you," Ray repeated. "Oh well, never mind. Could be one of those 'hysterical amnesia' cases you read about. Your memory could come back when the shock's had a chance to wear off." It was not unusual for a person to forget the events of a trauma, rape or beating or -

Doyle's mouth dried. What in God's name had they done to him to make him forget? What had been so bad that big, tough, bluff Bodie couldn't face it, couldn't accept what had happened? When Doctor Michaels appeared a minute later, he stood back, letting him examine his partner, prescribe a shot, and then followed him from the room as a nurse prepared the medication and gave it. Doyle had seen enough needles to last him a lifetime. Michaels crooked one curious brow at him.

"You look agitated, Mister Doyle."

"I am... He woke a few minutes ago, but he has no memory of the past four or five days, Doctor. He's shut it all out, as if he can't stand to remember it. Have you...You did examine him thoroughly, didn't you? I mean, he wasn't beaten up or abused or anything, was he?"

Michaels shook his head. "He's got the puncture bruising you'd expect; there's a bruise on the back of his neck, fading out now, I'd imagine he koshed [got coshed?] on Friday night. There are cuts on his wrists and ankles from the wire they fastened him up with, but there's no more than that. No evidence that he was beaten, and nothing to suggest sexual abuse. Why the fretting, Mister Doyle? He's in good hands."

"If you can't fret about your best mate, who can you fret about?" Doyle forced a smile. "Look, he knows where he is now, he won't fight you. If it's all the same to you I'll push off home. Got some sleeping to catch up on."

Michaels nodded agreement, and Doyle wandered back into Bodie's room for a moment before he left; they had given him something to make him calm, or drowsy, or docile, he couldn't guess what and didn't want to. Bodie blinked at him, recognising him, and as he watched, the blue eyes dropped shut, and he was out again.

The longer he could sleep, the better it would be for him, Ray sighed, and left without a sound. He gave his phone number to the young blonde girl at the ward desk and phoned for a taxi, remembering that he had come to Guy's in Murphy's car. Home and food and bed, he thought, relaxing for the first time in so long that his bones and joints had begun to creak with protest. He still had his R/T in his pocket, and while he waited for the taxi he called Central.

"4.5 to Alpha."

It was some time before Cowley answered. "Alpha. Proceed, 4.5"

"Bodie's awake, sir. Good news and bad news. Good news is that he'll be well again soon, just a few days, says one of the nurses."

"And the bad news?"

"Is that he can't remember a thing about whatever happened to him since Friday evening. It's a complete blank. I talked to Doctor Michaels, and he's told me there were no signs of abuse, sir. They haven't beaten him or anything, so I expect it's just a trick of all the drugs they put in him. Maybe his memory will liven up as he gets well."

"It had better," Cowley said grimly, "or we're right back where we started... You're off duty, 4.5, where are you?"

"Waiting for a taxi, sir. On my way home to bed." He smiled, wondering how he would ever be able to say a line like that in a week or so's time, when 'home to bed' meant home to Bodie, and loving. That was bridge he would have to cross when he came to it. "I'll call in later," he added.

"Call in tomorrow morning," Cowley told him, "that's soon enough. You might like to know that forensics turned up nothing at his flat."

"Didn't expect them to," Ray admitted. "My taxi's here, sir. I'll call in at nine tomorrow, then. 4.5 out."

The big, ugly diesel cab dropped him at the door to his building, but he strolled along to the shops before going inside, buying groceries and the makings of a sinfully rubbishing meal. Pastries and chocolate milk. Enough to rot his teeth and give him an ulcer, he guessed, but he felt like it, and he stood at the kitchen sink to eat, gazing sightlessly out into the afternoon sky, his thoughts still fixed on Bodie... Vengeance would have been nice, but suddenly there was no one to strike out at, and it was all slipping into the past, lost among the flood of relief and the sudden realisation of what he wanted from, and with Bodie.

The weariness that dragged at his limbs now was a pleasant ache, and when he lay down he was asleep in moments, knowing nothing of afternoon and evening, and surfacing briefly at midnight to eat again. Tomorrow was another day, and when he went visiting, Bodie would be awake.

Awake and pale. Bodie had lost a few pounds, Doyle noticed as he came into the hospital room with a potted plant and a box of Milk Tray. Bodie took one look at the plant and sneezed, and one look at the chocolates and mimed throwing up. Ray made a resigned face: everything was starting to look positively normal.

"You're getting better," he observed. "Half way back to your old obnoxious self, I see." He put the plant down on the shelf across from the foot of the bed and opened the chocolates, rummaging for a pineapple cream and peeling the wrapper off it with delicate precision.

"Hey, I thought they were for me," Bodie said. He still sounded a little groggy, but that was the old Bodie-voice.

"They were, but you just 'said' you wanted to throw up at the sight of 'em." Doyle fed the pineapple cream into his mouth and smacked his lips. "Don't want to make diddums icky-poo, do we?"

Bodie muttered something beneath his breath.

"Speak up sunshine, couldn't catch that," Ray said, rummaging for another sweet.

"I said, it's wrong to mock the afflicted."

"Oh yeah, you're afflicted all right, can see that." Doyle set his teeth to work on a chewy toffee. "Then again, you always were."

"Oh, thanks for the sympathy, Doyle." Bodie folded his arms on his bare chest and tried not to let the smile show, but it was impossible; the green eyes were sparkling with mischief today, irresistible. "Hey, do I recall you being here when I was off my nut with it all?"

Doyle nodded. "Yeah. Well, Murph shuttled me over as soon as they knew who were, and I sort of stayed."

"Sort of stayed?"

"Overnight. Just so you wouldn't bash up the nurses in your fevers."

"Bash up the - ?" Bodie choked in disbelief. "Me? I've never bashed up a lady in my whole life. Might bash up a certain gollywog if he's not careful, mind."

"Oh, would you, would you - with leather trousers on?" Doyle camped, and then let the humour dwindle. "Oh course I stayed, you loon. Not going to walk out on you, was I? Care too much about you for that."

The blue eyes glowed, and Bodie's voice was a little roughened, but his words were predictable. "Head full of mush, that's your trouble. Soft heart to match your soft head."

And Doyle only shrugged, refusing to fence with him. "Yeah, you know me pretty well by now."

The expected banter was not forthcoming, and Bodie's eyes narrowed. Doyle was smiling at him, a soft, gentle smile, not ribbing or teasing, and the green eyes were dark. There were times for teasing, and times for being serious, Bodie thought, and this was one of the latter. "Thanks," he said softly. "I mean it."

"For staying? Come off it, Bodie," Ray said quietly. "You don't think I could have been happy at home with you off your noodle in here, do you? I told you, I care too much about you for that." Just for a moment he let his expression grow sultry, his mouth softening, letting what he was feeling show through; and then, with a sigh, he pulled it all back in behind a carefully constructed mask. This was not the time, not the place, to go in for that.

When it started, there would be surprise, revelations, hesitation, soul searching, maybe even a little ineptitude, and that was all best taken care of behind closed doors, in the sanctity of one's third story castle... Later, he told himself sternly, and covered a moment of discomfort by rummaging for another chocolate.

But Bodie had seen it. And it was not the first time he had seen it, although he was positive Doyle had no idea what his face and body were saying in those few gentle moments when they let the banter fade away and told the God's honest truth about themselves. It was a year since he had seen the languorous expression, the gentling of that unbelievable mouth, the glow in the eyes as the lashes swept down, sensual, enough to lure a sane person to her - or his - doom. Doyle was a cross between siren and ingenue; most of the time he had no concept of what he was doing to other people, it was all set on automatic, and Bodie had long since learned not to take any notice to the posing, the walk, the sensuality of that face. It was one of the most beautiful faces he had ever seen on anyone, man or woman, and would have been devastating if it had come attached to a body that was a total disaster -

But that body would have been just as devastating if the face above it had looked like a tram smash. Put the two together, and the effect was enough to drive a saint to distraction. The answer to the problem of working with him was humour; so long as they kept up the banter it was all safe, light hearted, unimportant. How vital the banter was became evident only rarely, in times of grief or stress, and then Bodie felt the odd thrills along his nerves, recognising danger when he saw it.

Ann left him, and he cried; Cookie was killed and, blaming himself, he punished himself without mercy, unconsciously leaning on his partner as if Bodie were a crutch he could not exist without. These were emotions he hid from the rest of the world; often, it was as if he was incapable of showing that he was feeling to anyone else, as if those fey, oddly gentle looks were a curse he laboured under. For years, Ray had acted the part of the scruffy little hellcat, cutting his hair short and dressing in rags [?]the leather, as if he was trying to overcome the way he looked...

Small and slight, with pale, perfect skin, big green eyes and red-brown curls. Smiles that made him look like a kid again, a voice that was husky, as if he lived his whole life on the verge or in the aftermath of sexuality. Bodie had to smile as he watched his mercurial partner going back to the chocolates; he was thirty-four, and he still looked like a kid, skinny, agile and energetic. And terminally randy, Bodie added with a swallowed chuckle.

No wonder he had played on his machismo all those years... Scared to death of being branded as a gay, he guessed. It would have finished his career in the Police, and that was the life he had chosen for himself. In CI5 there was a more relaxed attitude toward the whole thing; there were several bis on the squad, more or less active, and since no one wore a uniform, one's attire could be employed as a barometer of one's inner personality...

And there was Doyle, in jeans so tight people in the street often turned to watch him walk away, a white wool jacket that made him look positively cuddly, a tee shirt that hugged his torso, displaying the contours of his chest, and brown leather boots with two inch heels... Bodie hid a smile. And there am I, he told himself ruefully, all in black from head to foot, leather and driving gloves, standing next to him... Christ, no wonder we get some funny looks! Then, when I ruffle his hair or - goddamn it! - practically grope him without realising what I'm doing... He swallowed a chuckle.

Wonder how come we haven't been arrested yet? Far as I know, it's illegal in a public place.

But not in a private place. The sanctuary of home and hearth. And bed. Bodie watched Ray suck on a toffee, trying to think of something he could say without sounding trite or sentimental. 'Jeez, you look lovely, Ray; fancy coming to bed with me when we get out of here?' 'Cor, you don't half look nice in those togs, mate - could kiss you right here and now!'

It was not the idea of propositioning his best friend that made him cringe, because he was almost a hundred percent certain Doyle would agree without a second's cajoling; it was the terror of choosing the wrong words to say, putting him off, making him feel like a fool, making him feel belittled, as if Bodie was casting aspersions on his masculinity, making a cruel joke of something that could, should be beautiful.

All he could think of were the two nights, one after the dreaded Holly woman walked out of his life, the other after June Cook had given him rounds of the kitchen. A wave of sympathy, pity and resentment had swamped him as Ray, half drunk after an awful lot of gin - it always took a lot to put him away when he was unhappy - had spoken up at last and said what was eating the insides out of him. June had no right to speak to him like that. It had cut him to shreds, and he drove himself out to Cookie's funeral, wearing a hired black suit, ignored by June, standing alone, apart from the funeral party, while it rained. Bodie thought that he had never seen anything half so miserable and lonely as Ray on that afternoon, and he had cancelled his dates and taken him home to his flat, sending out for pizza and sitting up all night with him until he worked it out of his system. For himself, Bodie could have paralysed June for the thoughtless, needless cruelty of it, but at the same time he could feel the waves of agony broadcasting from her, and while one part of him wanted to strike out at her for hurting Ray, another part wanted to comfort her in her most miserable hour.

So why the hell didn't I take you to bed then, Bodie thought as he frowned at his partner in silence. That was four months ago, and, looking back on it, I was gazing at you longingly, groping you to the limit of what's legal, hurting for you, playing the fool to get you to laugh - Christ, loving you. So why didn't I just grab you and kiss you breathless then and there, and stop wasting time?

The answer was obvious. Fear. Fear that Doyle was not ready for it, that he would take fright. The silly little sod had always been on the defensive where his masculinity was concerned, trying hard to convince the world at large that he [was] Charles Bronson with the face of a Bellini angel, as if there was such a thing. If Bodie made the wrong move, or even made the right one too soon, it would be over before it started, and even the friendship would vanish like smoke on the breeze.

It was not that Doyle was offended by bisexuality; he was one of the most tolerant people Bodie had ever met. There were gays galore among his old associates, from his years in the Met, and he could he very hot under the collar when he heard or read about the persecution of gays. But be to a bi himself was not quite the same thing as living by the 'live and let live' philosophy.

Obviously, as he literally grew up under Bodie's nose, his attitudes were moderating. His hair, once kept so short, was allowed to grow so long that Cowley was starting to grumble, and his clothes, instead of being tattered and scruffy were now stylish and soft. The masculinity was subtle, not flaunted, these days, and at first glance there was a startlingly androgynous look about him, as if he belonged in any time or place but Twentieth Century London... He would have been at home in Europe at the time of Leonardo, Bodie thought - and courted by half the crowned heads! That kind of androgynous streak was common in those long gone, uncomplicated days, before people penned themselves up in little enclosures labeled, 'Male' and 'Female,' and insisted on dressing their multitudinous brats in pink and blue, and giving the boys GI Joe and the girls Barbie. No bloody wonder girls grew up not knowing one end of a machine from the other, and boys grew up not knowing a spatula from a soup strainer. It was all in the upbringing, not in the latent sexuality.

Doyle's upbringing had been a mixture of the tough and the tender; with five other kids to take care of and a husband dead at the age of forty-three, killed on the road, his mother had had her work cut out for her, and the boys had had to take care of themselves much of the time... So Ray ran wild. Underage sex, underage boozing, underage brawling, and an avoidance of the law that was nothing short of a miracle. Sometimes Bodie wondered how he ever managed to grow up at all, much less make a success out of the improbable mess of his young life.

All the more reason to act the Charles Bronson, part, diverting attention from his looks and real nature. All the more reason for Bodie to tread very, very carefully in the near future. Make him feel a fool for his love, and he'd run a mile. The habit of a lifetime would take a long time to break. Old habits rarely died at all.

"I will have a chocolate," Bodie said at last. "Got a strawberry cream left, or have you guzzled 'em all?"

"Haven't had a strawberry cream at all," Doyle said haughtily, but his eyes were laughing as he found one and peeled the wrapper off it. Bodie held out his hand to take it, but Ray grinned wickedly. "Open wide, here comes the choo choo." Groaning inwardly, Bodie opened his mouth, the crack was inevitable. "Cor, got a gob like the Mersey Tunnel, aintcha?"

"No I have not," Bodie remonstrated, doing his school-ma'am voice. "I have very delicate features, and ..." He let the words trail away as he noticed that Doyle was watching that mouth, not looking at his eyes. He was sucking the chocolate, and Ray's own mouth softened visibly.

Christ, those lips were begging to be kissed. "Ray?" he said quietly.

"Huh?" Doyle seemed to come awake. "Sorry, mate, I was miles away."

Miles away in a bed in Chelsea getting the living daylight screwed out of you, Bodie thought wryly. "Doc says I can go home the day after tomorrow, if I take it easy for a bit," he said. "No undue stress and strain till the glop get out of me."

"And speaking of the glop," Doyle said, getting up and walking to the window to look down into the carpark, "we really need to know who it was who snatched you, Bodie."

"You're asking the wrong fella," Bodie shrugged, pillowing his head on his arms and watching Doyle pace between window and door, lost in the maze of his thoughts. "I don't remember a thing."

"Doctor Ross might be able to help," Ray suggested doubtfully.

"Oh no," Bodie said finally. "Not her. Anybody but. I'd sooner think of consulting Doctor Frankenstein, mate. If you want me to talk to a shrink, I'll talk to a shrink, but not her."

"It's not what I want, Bodie." Doyle folded his arms on his chest and faced the bed. "It's what's the best thing to do. A psychiatrist might be able to get into your subconscious and jog your memory."

"Hypnotise me?" Bodie snorted derisively. "There are people who can not be hypnotised, Raymond, and I'm one of them."

"Oh, it's been tried?" Doyle dropped to sit on the foot of the bed.

"Don't have to go through it to know. Read all about it. You can only hypnotise a willing subject; if the subject sits there saying, 'Campbell's Split Pea Soup, Campbell's Split Pea Soup,' all the time, the hypnotist could be talking to the wall for all the good he's doing."

"Unless-" A sudden flash of insight made Doyle blink. "Unless they use drugs."

"Drugs?" Bodie echoed. "Not on your life, mate. I've had enough drugs pumped into me in the last week to last me the rest of my life. After I get out of here I don't want to see an aspirin for the next year."

"No, you twit," Doyle remonstrated, pinching Bodie's foot through the sheet to emphasise his words. "I mean, the drugs that were shot into you could have been used to do that, couldn't they?"

Bodie made a face. "That's a fine old imagination you've got there," he said. "Come off it, Ray. I've got a bunch of old enemies out there. From what you tell me, I was bashed on the nut when I left the car, and tied up with wire, and shot full of garbage. The rest of it's obvious - they were going to kill me, trade me or take me out and sell me, and they didn't give me enough to keep me quiet. I got up and escaped, and ran for it, didn't I?"

"Sell you?" Ray echoed, frowning. "How d'you mean?"

"Sell me to, say, the IRA," Bodie suggested. "There's enough locked up in my head to fix the whole bloody security system for one end of this country to the other. Sell me to the Baader Meinhoff, same reason." He grinned. "Ship me out to the Persian Gulf and sell me to an Arab with sophisticated tastes and a penchant for white meat."

Doyle cringed visibly. "Well, not that you wouldn't make a choice addition to anybody's seraglio, but... I'm glad it didn't happen."

"Ta," Bodie said, little above a whisper, and their eyes met levelly.

The green eyes were hot, confused, betraying pain, and, Bodie was sure, longing. He reached out his hand, covering Doyle's, which lay on his foot. "What's eating you, sunshine? Tell me. I reckon I know anyway."

"Do you?" Doyle's sensitive mouth twitched into a wistful smile, and he shook his head. "This isn't the time, or the place. Later, Bodie."

"Just so long as you get it off your chest, whatever it is," Bodie said sternly.

"You may not be thrilled when you hear it."

"You let me be the bloody judge of that!" Bodie softened his tone and tightened his fingers. "Could drink a cuppa, if you could find one."

"Sure." Ray got up at once, solicitous, gentled by some emotion he was masking without real success. "I'll go and find a nurse."

A moment later he was gone and Bodie lay gazing at the closed door, his eyes fixed on the spot where that shapely little rear had been. He knew the feel of that crowd pleasing portion of Doyle's tender anatomy; he was terrified to calculate how many times he had caressed it - and, what was more, got away with caressing it, as if Doyle didn't mind, or attached no importance to it, or even liked it.

He would learn to like it, Bodie thought. Learn to crave it and want more, want it all. His eyelids dropped shut, and he stared at a mental image, carried and treasured, often chuckled over and, perhaps not so suddenly, he found it breathcatchingly erotic. There was Doyle, almost a year ago, in the locker room by the showers, preparing to face the torments of a session in the gym, trying to figure out what was wrong with the fit of his - athletic support, Bodie substituted quickly. The less inflammatory the wording the better, at this point. All that was the matter was a twisted strap, but Ray had performed amazing contortions as he worked that out, almost like an exotic dance routine, displaying his summer's tan and lean, hard body in all innocence.

Or maybe it had been deliberate? Nah, Bodie told himself, Doyle had always been a little tease, but not like that. As blatant as he was, there was nothing crude about him, and, playing aside, there was startlingly direct quality about him. If he wanted something, he'd come straight out with it, say what he wanted. 'Bodie, I want you. Take it or leave it, mate, but that's the way I feel. Now, either throw me through the door or come here and kiss me.' Yes, that would be Doyle's gambit. Bodie grinned at the image, mind miles away.

"Bodie? Oi, Bodie! You comatose again?"

He came back to the present with a jar, seeing the cup of tea that was waving in front of his face at the last possible moment and grabbing it before it could spill. There were two biscuits in the saucer, and Ray had already sloshed enough tea onto them to make them soggy around the edges. He poured the excess liquid back into the cup and sipped at it.

"It's half cold," he complained.

"Sorry, the tea room's half a mile away," Doyle sighed. "Want me to run back and get you a fresh cup?"

Eyes narrowed, Bodie studied his best friend over the offending beverage, trying to see if Ray was having him on. No, he was serious, he would go back if he was asked. For a moment Bodie toyed with the idea of pushing his luck, seeing how far it would get him, and then he rejected the idea. If he told the truth, he'd sooner have Doyle right here, within touching distance than running errands.

And in that moment he wished fervently that he could touch him.

One day, he promised himself, and before very long, I will. Take the clothes off him and touch him everywhere, taste him and bite him until he screams blue murder, calls me a cannibal and begs me to do him... Begs? No. Not Doyle. Bodie knew he could make Ray beg, make him plead for what he wanted, but it would be wrong, a big mistake, at least in the early days... He'd have to settle down with it, realise that his masculinity was in no way at risk because he was in love with a man.

And with that notion he checked. In love. In love. Christ, a real full-blown love affair. Shared bed, shared flat, shared lives. Housekeeping together, washing and cleaning and cooking, division of the labour, pooling their money, holidays together, beating his birds off with a stick because that skinny, tawny, beautiful body was spoken for.

Possessive, am I? Bodie asked himself, and the answer was forthcoming without delay. Yeah - I am. And what in blazes is Doyle going to think about that? Unless - and he chuckled into his tea - unless the little so'n so is just as possessive, in which case he'll throw bricks at my birds to chase 'em off, and we'll settle down in domestic bliss, growing roses around the front door of a house in Devon and raising horses...

It had started as a joke, but by the time the absurd little fantasy was complete in his imagination there was a sharp tug to it, an undeniable appeal that made him blink in surprise. It all dropped neatly into place - too neatly, and he warned himself off the image even as he savoured it... Peace and quiet, the most stressful thing in life being an unexpected bill or an electricity account a few quid more than expected. A cottage with a copse of alders and brambles and a stream, a paddock with three or four expensive mares, two round and near their time, two with foals at the foot. A garden where Ray could indulge his green fingers. A studio where he could paint to his heart's content. A garage where the two of them could potter with the bikes till two in the morning if they wanted to. A double bed with crisp, clean sheets, smelling of talc and cut flowers, and that unique, smelt-once-never-forgotten scent that every sense in his body recognised as Ray. Love in the morning, sleep late, roll out of bed and stand at the window, looking down at him, in the sunshine, bare chested and tanned, playing with the young horses in the paddock beyond the garden -

Angry with himself for the painful prickling in his eyes, Bodie blinked the image away. It could never happen; that kind of happiness was not for the likes of him. He had stored up so many sins in his young life that now he was paying for them. Karma - with a vengeance. As ye sow, so shall ye reap. And he would watch Ray marry some bird with long legs and big eyes who doted on him, and sire half a dozen boisterous brats, and think himself lucky if he was best man at the wedding and godfather to the kids, and welcome to stay over and play with the children at every verse end, trying somehow to share all that could never be his.

For some unaccountable reason he felt a wave of grief; he put it down to the aftereffects of the rubbish that had been shot into him by the men who had snatched him off the street, and shut his eyes, trying to banish it and calling himself five kinds of fool.

At length, it was Ray's voice, very gentle and husky with concern, that penetrated through the self-imposed fog. "Bodie? You okay? You want a nurse? Bodie!" There were hands on his bare shoulders, careful fingers, a platonic touch that was wonderful and terrible, for it aroused another wave of tenderness for his sensitive, mercurial partner, quickly followed by wanting, and by grief... Oh, there would be a relationship, no doubt about it, but in that moment the brief, transitory joy of lovemaking did not match up to the vision conjured by his subconscious. He shook himself hard. Maybe there was a woman out there who could stand him, too, stand the vagaries of the job, the unpredictable working hours, his black humour and reckless attitude.

Maybe. But it was just as likely that there was no one for him or for Ray. Doyle was not given to black humour, but his own brand of humour could get pretty strange, especially if he was tired, overwrought, stressed up to breaking point. He went in for the cynical, bordering on bitterness at times, and it was only a stone's throw from there to out-and-out sourness. When he was unhappy he was inclined to be wild, as if in an attempt to dislodge whatever goblin was riding his back. Group sex - a troy with two girls who both found him irresistible and would do everything to push him beyond the last thread of control until they had him screaming. Bodie had heard two of his girls talking in undertones the day after the Mickey Hamilton affair. Ray had been depressed, in a hole a mile deep, and had disappeared that evening with a terse refusal of a pint at the local. He had been late for work next morning, looking exhausted and hung over. Bodie had assumed he had been drinking -

The girls said not. He had been stone cold sober when he came over to their flat, and when Wendy had been about to leave to make things easy for Liz and her beau, he had asked her not to go. It was just the opportunity Liz had been waiting for - longing to share him with her best friend. The things they had done to him made even Bodie blush; the things he had managed to do when he got his breath back had made Bodie blink in surprise and wish ruefully that he had been there, at least as an observer if not a participant. A troy was not a foursome. A troy was in all ways more intimate... Then Bodie realised that he was not imagining Ray and two girls, but the two of them and a bird. He swallowed, thinking back.

Once, just once, he had seen Ray making love. Doyle had been oblivious to the audience of one, on his knees with some stacked blonde wrapped around him, her weight held in his arms so that his muscles were extended and hard, her legs locked around his waist, her hair veiling his face until he came, when he threw his head back, clutching her tighter yet before they relaxed and slid down onto the rug. If Bodie had never been aware of Doyle's magnetic sexuality before, he would have been painfully aware of it after that, but as it was, the performance he should never have stayed to watch simply made him more aware.

And that was when I started touching him so much, he thought as he opened his eyes, meeting troubled green ones. That was when I started really wanting him. Aching for him? Canceling dates to cheer him up when he's depressed? Telling jokes just to get him to smile again, and unconsciously resenting it when he goes off with a bird to allay whatever bad feelings the job has wished on him, as if he should come to me...

Christ, as if he should come to me for the sex he needs.

The thought was at once enough to shock him and stir him, and send a ripple of jealousness through him. He groaned soundlessly, closing his hand around Ray's, where it lay on his shoulder. I must have it bad, he thought wryly, if I'm starting to get jealous of his girlfriends!

"Bodie?" Doyle murmured, peering at him with a frown. "You okay? You look a bit strange. Feeling dizzy or something? You glazed over."

A strangled laugh passed Bodie's lips. "Glazed over, did I? Now, I wonder why the hell that could be." And he squeezed Doyle's fingers.

Doyle jumped as if he'd been shot, but did not pull his hand away, and for a long moment they just sat looking at each other, evaluating, calculating, interpreting what they saw. Slowly, inexorably, the corners of Doyle's expressive mouth lifted, and when he spoke his voice was no more than a husky purr. "Bodie..."

"Ray," Bodie whispered. "Am I right? You looked at me just now..."

"When you woke earlier," Doyle said softly. "Half-woke, anyway. You called me 'pet.' Did you know that?"

Bodie blinked in surprise. "Did I?"

"Yeah." Doyle averted his eyes, flushing around the cheek bones. "Did you mean that, or I am just going nuts in my old age?"

"Well, what you say in your sleep comes out of the subconscious," Bodie said, trying to drawl nonchalantly. "So I suppose I must have meant it." He lightened his tone forcibly. "You'd make a nice pet anyway. Can just see you curled up on the sofa in front of the fire, or chasin' a stick 'round the garden."

"Bodie," Ray remonstrated, "be serious!"

"Don't dare," Bodie admitted. "If I did, I'd do something stupid."

The green eyes leapt up to meet his again. "Like what?"

"Say something that'd make you uncomfortable. Do something daft."

With a great reluctance Doyle got up off the bedside, withdrawing his hands. He pace to the window, wrapped his arms around his own chest as if he was aching, and looked out blindly. "You called me 'pet.'"

"Yeah, I did. So what?"

"So what did you mean?" The tone was neutral, guarded, as if he was afraid. Afraid of rejection?

For a long time Bodie lay looking at the tall, thin figure in the blue jeans and white tee shirt, and at length had to smile. "You're just about terrified of me, aren't you? Can't you read me anymore?"

"Read you?"

"Read me. Like you do when we're at work, when you can guess what I'm going to say before I say it. Telepathy, or whatever."

Ray sighed heavily. "No, I can't read you just now. And it's me I'm terrified of. Ever since I was a kid, I've hated being made to feel an idiot. Oh, I'll prat around, play the fool, clown for you, so long as I'm in charge of the whole act. So long as it's my play, I don't care how daft I look, but..." He let it trail off and had to marshall his thoughts again. "I'm not usually a fool. Not deliberately."

"And what makes you think you're being a fool?" Bodie demanded quietly. "For God's sake come back here, Ray. Sit down. You look like you're waiting to be taken out and hung!"

"Yeah, well maybe it feels a bit like that." Doyle turned back from the window, concentrating on relaxing muscles that were tensed up and threatening cramp; Bodie was smiling at him, and it was not a mocking smile, it was one of those sweet, unselfconscious smiles he gave all too rarely, as if the sun had come out on a cloudy day. Under the warmth of it, he relaxed slightly, and padded back to the bed. "So?"

"So I called you pet," Bodie shrugged. "So I feel like you're family."

"Oh." Doyle flushed rosily and looked down. "Yeah, of course. "We've always been like that. Like brothers, cousins."

"Not exactly brothers," Bodie corrected gently. "I never did approve of incest."

The words went through Doyle's nervous system like lightning and he flinched physically. "Bodie -"

"Oh, don't go shocked and coy on me," Bodie groaned. "You were sitting there giving me the come on a minute ago!"

"I was what?" Doyle recoiled in surprise.

"Sitting there with that 'come hither' look, all bedroom eyes. And don't deny it, mate, I'm not that delirious!"

Doyle swallowed, looking anywhere in the room but at Bodie while he went through his feelings one by one. He had done that? Did he even know for sure anymore how he was looking at Bodie - or what his body language was saying? Or, why the hell had Murphy just assumed, as a matter of course, that they were married, or pairbonded, or whatever you called it when two men were permanently welded together by mutual affections?

"Just a minute ago?" He asked quietly, uncomfortably.

"When my mind had wandered off and you put a hand on my shoulder to wake me up," Bodie told him.

Christ, Doyle thought, swallowing, that had been unwitting. All of a sudden he saw the funny side of it and choked off a giggle. "I'm sorry."

"Are you?" Bodie grinned. "I'm not. Well, not unless you don't follow up on it." He patted the side of the bed. "Will you please sit down again? Come on, pet, I'm not going to grope you or anything. Well, not unless you want me to."

"You've been groping me for years," Doyle snorted.

It was Bodie's turn to colour a little. "You noticed."

"Of course I bloody noticed! How thick d'you think I am?"

"You didn't thump me," Bodie observed carefully as Doyle came to sit on the bedside again.

"I guess I didn't mind," Doyle shrugged. "Must've liked it, or I'd have belted you sooner or later, or snapped at you, wouldn't I?"

"You would," Bodie agreed. "Never been slow to respond with a snarl, have you? But you didn't." He put out a hand, settling his fingers around the curve of Ray's denim clad thigh. "D'you mind now?"

"Now that it's deliberate, serious?" Doyle shook his head. "You should've had the dream I had yesterday! Very disturbing, it was."

"Yeah?" Bodie's fingers tightened. "About us? What did you do?"

"I just lay there. If you must know, it's what you were doing that was disturbing to my peace of mind." He blushed. "And other pieces of me."

Bodie just chortled at his discomfiture. "You don't say. So what did I do?" He slid his fingers upward, into the warm folds of denim at the top of Doyle's captive thigh, and began to stroke, "Come on, pet, if you don't tell me what it was you liked so much how am I going to know what it was so as to do it again?"

Ray just heaved a groan. "You're bloody well doin' it now, except I didn't have anything on."

"Oh, yeah?" Bodie's fingers squeezed; under them, he felt Doyle grown hard, expand, and took his hand away. "Sorry, mate. Didn't think it would be that easy to get you going. Not exactly the place for an orgy, is it? Not when there's nurses popping in and out every ten minutes."

"Bastard," Ray muttered, clamping his teeth and willing the erection to subside. "I always was an easy lay. Get it up in a jiff. Can't help it sometimes, can be downright embarrassing."

Bodie did not tell him that only the bedclothes saved him from a similar embarrassment, but he said, "there's no need to be like that. I want, I've wanted you for ages. You're as fit as a fiddle which is why you get goin' so fast, you don't have to feel bad about that, for Christ's sake! So you'll give me a run for my money when we finally get home to bed. S'nice, Ray. Really. I like the idea of having you hot and bothered, panting for me.

A rather filthy chuckle answered him. "Okay, I fancy you the same way. Funny, isn't it? I've always been straight as a bloody die, then along you came, and..." He sighed, "It shows, as well. Murph thought we were married."

"He thought what?" That really did astonish Bodie.

"Thought we were pairbonded. In love. Devoted." Ray chanced a peek at Bodie's face. "Sorry it can't be like that, Bodie," he said with an honest regret. "Christ, it would have been nice, if it could, but I know it can't. I'm not going to complain - you want me, that's enough. I know when to count my blessings, and I don't resent it at all."

For a moment there was numbness, dazed and thoughtless, and then Bodie nearly blew the whole thing by laughing. Ray was just starting to get up with a twisted, hurt expression, believing himself mocked for his feelings, when Bodie grabbed him and hugged him within an inch of him life, murmuring into his ear. "You little - you beautiful little - you gorgeous, wonderful, wanton little idiot! Marry me and make an honest man of me, if you'll have me, and we'll buy a house and tell George Cowley and the rest of the world to push off and leave us in peace, and live happily ever after like something out of a comic book romance! Ray! You lunatic, how could you think I could want you and not love you as well? Lust? If lust was all it was I'd have propositioned you years ago!"

With the breath thoroughly knocked out of him, Doyle could not find his voice and had to be content for some time with just holding Bodie. The sound of Bodie's laughter had been a knife between his ribs, but the pain had not lasted longer than a few moments. The sense of Bodie's words took time to percolate through into his conscious mind, but the sound of his voice reached the empathic level in an instant, soothing him, dousing the hurt and fear, and before Bodie had finished nothing hurt anymore, except his chest, which was in danger of demolition.

"Oof, let go for a bit," he puffed as Bodie showed no signs of releasing him. "I love you, all right, you can stop punishing me now! I didn't mean to be a twit, honest."

"Punishing you?" Bodie let him go but kept him at arm's length to look at him. "Thought never crossed my mind. Never want to hurt you..." A smile teased at his mouth. "Reckon we dare kiss?"

"Don't I wish," Doyle said bleakly, "but listen to the din from outside. That's a tea trolley. They'll be in 'ere in minute, and here I am with a hard on already. S'okay for you, snuggled up in the bed, but I'll get wheeled up to psychiatric if they see this." He shook his head and drew reluctantly out of Bodie's grasp. "And Cowley wants me at work in another half hour, goddamn... We've got a couple of leads, nothing much, but Schwerin's there somewhere."

"Leads?" Bodie pulled the chocolates toward him. Forcing his mind back to work was difficult, with Doyle sitting so close he could almost feel the warmth of him.

"Yeah. The Met tells us the big man was seen. Covent Garden... So he's in the country - we were sure he'd skipped for a while. The copper who saw him lost him in the traffic, but his taxi took him out to Ealing, and they did a door knock. You know, 'have you seen this man?' Turns out a lady saw him buying fat cigars and ... Christ, you know the routine. Leg work, undiluted boredom. And for that I've got to walk out on you and try getting my mind back in gear!"

"Hard," Bodie admitted.

Doyle grunted, making a face. "Choose another word. That one tends to give my body ideas."

"You save that thought for later, mate," Bodie grinned. "You're a sexy little sod, aren't you? I just hope I can keep up with you."

"You?" Doyle blinked. "From what I hear, you're Super Stud himself, aren't you?" He coloured up and cleared his throat. "I've... never done it with another feller, Bodie. Thought you should know that. Don't really know what I'm doing. I might be a bit inept at first."

"You won't be," Bodie said gently. "Kissing and cuddling's all the same, no matter who or what your partner is, and as for the rest of it... Well, you've done-it-yourself enough, I expect, so you know how to work with your hands. I know a thing or two. Africa was very educational."

The colour rose another shade in Doyle's cheeks, giving him the 'Wild Irish Rose' look Bodie loved to see, "I'll bet. Er, Bodie, one thing does bother me a bit, though."

Bodie was there before him. "You're wondering what it's like to be screwed," he guessed, and watched him nod. "Hey, I wouldn't hurt you, you have to know that. It's a new sensation, and the first time it'll hurt a bit. All virgins hurt a bit, don't they? But it doesn't hurt so much you can't face it, and after that... Well, I know blokes who got to know what it's like when it's done right and who never went back. They weren't even gay, you understand, but they found the new feelings so good that sex with women wasn't the lure it had once been. You follow me? I'm not saying you'll go off birds - no way. But you'll like it. Being screwed."

"You've been screwed yourself," Doyle observed with a wry smile. "A lot, by the sounds of it. When? In Africa?"

And Bodie nodded. "Where else? Don't have to tell you what it's like in the bush, do I? There was a boy called David Tessier, a bit younger than me. We palled up; he was nice, intelligent, bloody good at his job, nice looking, loyal, good mannered. We kept each other sane. Gently, and with affection. I never loved him. Never loved any bloke at all, until you... Come to think of it, I've only loved two women in all my years, for what that's worth! But I was fond of him, and when we touched it was good." He smiled at Ray's puzzled, embarrassed expression. "Sweetheart, when Dave and I touched it was good. When you and I touch, it's going to be like nothing we've felt before, I reckon I can promise you that."

Doyle shivered, closing his eyes. "And you get out of here on Saturday, according to the doctors, do you? I'll collect you, take you back to my place, it's closer. Just over the river. Bodie..." He reached out blindly, hoping Bodie would take his hand and not disappointed. "This has been comin' on for a long time, hasn't it?"

"Years," Bodie agreed. "You're not starting on with guilt, are you? Because if you are, I'm going to get annoyed and shout at you."

"Guilt?" Doyle echoed. "Whatever for?"

"I do not pretend to be able to plumb the depths of that labyrinthine intellect of yours," Bodie said loftily. "But you might be starting to feel bad about manipulating me, using me, exploiting me. In which case, think again. If anybody's going to get manipulated, chum, it's you. And I do mean manipulated. Get my drift."

"Oh, I get your drift," Ray said, hiding a grin. "I just can't believe it's all come out right. I thought - " He choked off a chuckle. "I thought I'd have to get you home and seduce you!"

Bodie guffawed. "Your body language speaks for itself, mate! You've been 'saying' it for years, 'Bodie, I love you, take me to bed.'" He nodded as Doyle blinked, "Ages and ages. I knew you weren't doing it consciously, though, so I just decided I'd wait for you to wake up to yourself before I said anything. Glad I did, Ray. Made it nice when it finally happened."

"Yeah." Doyle squeezed Bodie's fingers. "I ought to thank Murph too; he put the idea into my skull, and I went on thinking about it, couldn't get it - or you - out of my mind, till the other morning I actually dreamed it, and after that... Well, I knew what I wanted."

"Me," Bodie murmured as the room's door swung inward and the tea trolley appeared. "Ah, a cuppa. Can't stay, though, can you, Ray?"

"Not unless a certain Scottish gargoyle's forgotten that I'm supposed to be at work... Not much chance of that, is there? And there's worse. I have to go up to Manchester tomorrow, Bodie, can't even come a-visiting... I'll call you, though. Anything I can do for you before I scoot?"

The nurse departed with the trolley and Bodie glowered at the closed door. "I'd ask you to get over here and kiss me, but it's not wise. Not goin' by the fit of your jeans now. You've been half turned on since you walked in here."

"You noticed."

"I'm not blind," Bodie grinned.

"I can't help it," Ray sighed. "Bloody Murph got me thinking about it, and I've been thinking all sorts of things."

"Tell me?" Bodie purred.

Doyle jumped up as though he'd been hit. "Not likely, not when I've got to go to work, and especially not since somebody's bound to walk in in the middle of me intimate confessions. You wait, mate." He let his expression soften as he drew away toward the door. "Should feel strange, you know. Loving a man. But it doesn't... Because it's us. That make sense? I mean, I honestly don't want other men this way. Honest."

"I know," Bodie sighed. "It's just us. Like an old married couple, aren't we? Doesn't bear thinking about. Don't look so worried, Ray, it's going to be okay. It's what we both want, and I know what I'm doing... And I can wait till Saturday. Can lie here dreamin' about you, can't I?"

"While I'm chasing about like a scalded cat," Doyle moaned, "trying to keep my mind on the subject and probably failing miserably." He swallowed. "I've got to go, Bodie. I'll call you from Manchester, okay? Gotta go."

With that he fled, and Bodie chuckled into the empty room. The look on Doyle's face had been worth waiting for. He lay back against the plump pillows, closing his eyes and trying to recall the twists and turns of the conversation, trying to replay the expressions that had chased across his partner's mobile, expressive face. Ray was embarrassed, uncertain, afraid of making a fool of himself and above all terrified of alienating the man he had come to love. The confusion in him robbed him of that cocksure manner, made him seem vulnerable and even a little immature.

Well, in matters such as this, he was vulnerable and immature, and Bodie felt the weight of responsibility settle on his shoulders... Not to hurt him, not to betray him, not to make him feel like a kinky oddity. With Doyle's background in the Police, he knew the way the world worked, so he was in for few, if any, surprises, but this was the first time he had been a participant in the event, and it would turn him inside out for a while. So I'll be patient, Bodie told himself with a smug, selfsatisfied smile, knowing that he could, guessing that when Doyle had got used to it and had begun to relax, he would be a lover in a million, giving, generous and considerate. As much as that was in his nature, and Bodie wanted to learn every bit of him, his mind as well as his body, from this new perspective. The prospects of that learning were undeniably stirring, and he too began to wish that he had the privacy to relieve his aches. He was still too weakened by the drugs to be very vigorous, but the knot of heat in his groin was a bother until he forced his mind onto chilly subjects, such as washing the car in a snow storm, and facing Cowley in a temper.

He closed his eyes, looking forward to his phonecall from Manchester, and to his escape, on Saturday.

Talking to Doyle on the phone from Manchester made the anticipation of solitude and spare time all the more acidly sweet, and Bodie had collected his things and was waiting at the hospital's exit doors when the gold Capri rolled up at two on Saturday afternoon. Ray had told him that he did not have to be at work until noon on Monday, and to Bodie it was as if they had all the time in the world to learn, unlearn and relearn each other.

Doyle was smiling as he leaned over, unlocking the left door, and when Bodie got into the car he said, "you look terrific, sunshine. Feeling okay, by the looks of you."

"Bit weak," Bodie admitted, "but I'm getting better. Feels like I've had the 'flu, if you really want to know. Doesn't feel too bad - as a matter of fact, they probably did me less damage this way than if they'd beaten me up. I mean, broken bones, knock me teeth out, that sort of thing. That would have put the kabosh on 'us' for ages."

"Yeah," Ray agreed, starting the car and pulling out. "Er, Bodie... Speaking about putting the kabosh on us, I've got good news and bad news."

Bodie gave him a hard look. "You've decided you don't want to bother. Want to go back to being friends?" Then he held his breath.

"Nah," Ray said softly. "Been dreaming about you. Nice things. Change my mind? Don't reckon I could do that now, but... Turns out you're quite popular with the boys from base, and they're pleased to have you back. The good news is, they love you, they're throwing a welcome home party at your place, which is where I'm taking you right now... So, the bad new is, it's going to be tonight before we get a chance to be alone." He shot a tense, meaningful glance at his partner. "Tonight. Hours, Bodie."

"Damn." Bodie groaned, then sighed in resigned acceptance. "Ah well, I suppose that's the price of me fatal charm, isn't it? Pity though. Been dreaming about you, too. And not while I was asleep."

"Daydreaming?" Ray had to smile. "About what?"

"Pictured you as a faun," Bodie admitted. "You know, out of mythology. Beautiful, you were. And randy. You climbed all over me."

"Want me to do that?" Doyle's voice was husky. "Climb all over you?"

"Yeah." Bodie closed his eyes. "And lots of other things, too. But just now all I really want's to kiss you. Damn! The blokes are already there, are they? At my place?"

"Well, Murphy'll be there by now," Ray judged. "I gave him a key to get in because he was stopping off at the off-licence to get the booze... Jax and McCabe and Williams and the others'll be along by three or four, and the Cow might look in around five or six. They won't stay after seven, because they've been told you need your rest, but..."

"I know, hours." Bodie choked off a chuckle. "Oh, hell, I've waited this long, I can wait a bit longer. Maybe we can sneak off for a few minutes while nobody's watching."

"Not wise to," Doyle said carefully. "We don't want to be too obvious about it, do we?"

"The way I see it, everybody's been jumpin' to the wrong conclusions about us for years anyway," Bodie snorted. "I mean, Murph thought we were lovers, and there we were, in total innocence! It's just the way we carry on. The way we behave... We've been obvious enough to satisfy everyone else without even realising it!"

"Jesus," Doyle said suddenly, "what d'you reckon Cowley thinks?"

"Not being clairvoyant, how should I know?"

"But, if Murph assumed, then maybe Cowley..."

"So he won't be shocked when he finds out he's right, will he?" Bodie crooked one brow at Ray. "Not getting cold feet, are you?"

"There is not," Doyle said succinctly, "any part of [my] tender anatomy that is cold. Not with you lounging right beside me... Oh, bugger it. Cowley can think what he wants to, and if he wants to sack us, that's fine too." He changed gear, bypassing a roadworks project, and cleared his throat. "Bodie, you do realise that it just might cost us our jobs, don't you?"

"Course I realise that," Bodie affirmed. "Doesn't matter, Ray, not to me anyway. I've been around, done it all. You know, I never stayed with any one organisation this long. Three years was the maximum I'd stayed with any one mob - Paras, SAS, mercs, whatever. Then we got together back in '75, and here it is 1981, and I'm still here. Six years, Ray... Know why I stuck around? Because of you. Never went in much for friends - you know me. Deep down in your mind, there's a little worm talking to you, tellin' you how dumb it is to trust people, like 'em, love 'em, because if you do start to trust they'll cut the guts out of you, and if you start to love, they'll kill you, stone dead."

Doyle thought about that in silence for a while, then frowned at his partner. "So what was it about me that changed your mind?

The question caught Bodie unawares and he had to sit there and think it out while Doyle drove out toward the flat he had called home for the past year. "I...dunno," he admitted at last, "not really. First thing I thought when I saw you was, Christ, he's going to be a liability. You're not very big, you see, and skinny as a brush shank. Sweetheart, don't look like that! I like 'em built just like you, you look lovely... But I wasn't looking at you in that way, then. I was looking at my new partner, the bloke who's going to hold my life in his hands."

"But you didn't reject me," Doyle observed softly.

"No. I respect Cowley, I really do. He's an old soldier who's seen the lot, and if he said you were good, he was probably right. I decided to sit back and watch you. So I watched. Started to notice you after a while. Exotic, you know. Damn! I was watching you all the time, at work, and after work. Taking a shower at the gym, working out, running for the fun of it, on dates, kissing and cuddling. Killing. You're a bunch of contradictions, did you know that?"

"So you've told me," Doyle nodded. "Frequently."

"Oh, yeah." Bodie stared at the dash, considering the subject in all sobriety. "You irritated the life out of me the first year, till I realised why. You're small, Ray, don't be insulted about that, 'cause I don't mean it unkindly - actually, I'm tryin' to pay you a compliment. You're small, but you can run me off my feet, you're as good as I am in a punch up, you can match me in the gym, and - I swear - when we double date you can damn near outdo me." He flushed up a little, which made Doyle blink. He had never seen Bodie actually blush before. "I mean it, Ray; the time we went to Torquay with Debbie and Jackie, you were at it before me, and I'd flaked out in a heap and you were still at it. Randy little sod."

"Well, I..." Doyle began, at a loss for words. "I..."

"So you irritated me," Bodie clarified. "I'm bigger than you are, so my subconscious naturally assumed I ought to be faster, better. It's a huge mistake, but a natural one. So I set out to compete with you for a whole year, without realising what I was doing. I might have given you a hard time. I pushed myself right to the limit, trying to beat you at everything, and damn me, there you were, right alongside of me. So I took stock of my resentments, and started to respect you. After that, we still competed, but we were friends."

Doyle nodded. "Yeah, I remember that. I thought you were a health nut, or something, always on the go, never letting up. Couldn't understand why you hated me... Twice, I went to Cowley and asked for reteaming."

"You what?" Bodie blinked at him.

"I asked for a new partner." Doyle shrugged. "We'd been working out in the gym, and you were winning. I don't mind being beaten, especially when my opponent's bigger than me, but it was the way you were winning. Smug, condescending, looking down on me. Patronising me, maybe, as if you were doing me a favour by being my partner. So I got angry... so angry I pushed myself harder than I'd ever pushed before, tore three muscles in my back and ended up at the medic's on my day off. Don't know where you were, gone fishing or something. The medic wanted to know why I'd been such a fool as to push myself to destruction point, and I clammed up, so Cowley had old Doctor Johnson, Kate Ross' predecessor, come over and talk to me."

"A bloody psychiatrist?" Bodie blinked.

"Mm. I was radiating anger and frustration, according to Cowley... Johnson had me talking in no time, and I told him I couldn't stand being patronised and crushed underfoot. He sent Cowley a report recommending me for reteaming, and I wanted Jax for my partner... He's good, is Jax, and we've always worked well together."

Bodie studied the dash blindly. "But Cowley refused."

"Yeah. He explained it to me. Said you were just out of the Armed Forces and not yet acclimatised to this kind of work. You'd just got out of the SAS and were used to being top dog, so you were competing without knowing what you were doing, and being so goddamned smug without conscious malice... He's quite a psychologist, on the quiet, is Cowley. What he meant was, 'it's just his way, and he'll unlearn it if we all give him a chance, and we need him.' What he told me, without saying it as such, was that he wanted me to housebreak you."

"Housebreak -" Bodie spluttered.

Doyle chuckled richly. "You sound like Donald Duck. Housebreak, you twit. Get the cock-of-the-walk, size-40-ego, mightier-than-thou SAS- attitude out of you. Not to detest you for competing, and to bloody well ignore you when you got that smug look on your face."

"Oh." Bodie folded his arms on his chest. "Was I that bad?"

"Yup. That bad. S'why we spent a year hating each other's guts. Then something happened... We stopped hating, started to like each other."

It did not take Bodie more than a tenth of a second to put his finger on the event. "You were shot," he whispered. "You can't have forgotten? We were in a warehouse, Port of London, I think. Same place we shot it out with Igor Kodai over Meredith. I was on the outside, freezing. The April of '76. It was your turn to go in first, and it was bloody dangerous but the same kind of thing I'd done in Belfast and over on the Gulf, so when you said you wanted to wait for backup I made some scornful remark, and you shut up so fast I thought you'd been gagged...

"You didn't say a word, just went in, trusting my judgement. And I... I'd been wrong, Ray. You said there were a million shoot holes in the warehouse, that it was just about suicide, but I was thinking back to an IRA siege in the Falls Road area, and I just had to bark at you, intimating that you were useless or something. Didn't realise what I'd done till much later. Anyway, you went in, and I heard gunshots, five, six, seven. Then silence. I called your name and you didn't answer, and I was sweating. I mean, if you'd gone down and I followed you in, the gunman could have taken me from the same shoot hole.

"I should have known you better. The door opened and the man came stumbling out. You'd punched two through his chest, nearly blew the back out of him. He crumpled up in a heap a yard outside the door, so I knew it was okay to go in after you. I called your name but you still weren't answering, and I had to look everywhere to find you. Remember? You were in a heap behind the crates with a bullet in your lung, frothing blood up, blood everywhere, all over you. Jesus, I thought you'd die while I sat there holding you, waiting for the ambulance - had your blood all over me gallons of it. Didn't see how you could have enough left in you to stay alive. The ambulance took you away and Cowley arrived right behind it. He looked around the place, and you know what he said? He said, 'Doyle is slipping. You should have waited for backup, this is suicide! Bloody fool - he'll be going back for a refresher when he gets out of hospital!"

Bodie positively squirmed at the memory. "Hey," Ray said softly, "don't start hurting yourself over something that happened five years ago."

"No, I want to say it," Bodie said stubbornly. "It gets worse. You know what I did? I kept my mouth shut. I'd sent you in there, you trusted my judgement over your own, felt bad about being scorned by me, so you took what I'd babbled at face value and went in. I sent you in there to get you killed, Ray, because I was resenting you, and when it happened I felt so bad, so bad, but I couldn't open my mouth, tell Cowley I'd set you up. I just shut up and let you take the fall. He roasted you over a spit with an apple in your mouth for being a fool and you took it. He sent you over to Macklin, and you took that, too; Brian beat you black and blue, you came back looking like you'd been mugged, hurting from head to foot, and you never said a word." Bodie made a small, strangled chuckle. "I felt... Well, guilt doesn't begin to describe it.

"I sat in your hospital room, watching you trying to live, and told myself I was an idiot, and a homicidal idiot at that, that I had no reason to resent you and it was me that should get the bollicking from Cowley, and I hated myself even more for being so gutless I let you take it for me." He hunched down in his seat. "You came back from the refresher looking like an orphan in a storm, all bruises and big eyes and courage, defying everyone, most of all me, to make something of it. I felt bad. Don't take it the wrong way, mate, but I felt real, honest pity. After that, I started looking out for you. Trying to make it up to you. I let you in, if you know what I mean, let you be friendly, though, God knows why you wanted to be after the things I'd said and done. The rest's history."

There was silence as Doyle turned into the road in which Bodie's building stood, slid the Capri in at the kerb and stilled the motor. "You go in for monologues, don't you? You've talked all the way home!"

"Wanted to say it," Bodie sighed. "Thought you ought to know, now."

"Now?" Doyle turned in his seat, looking at him. Neither of them got out of the car, because they knew that this was the last chance for privacy they would get before the evening.

"Now that I'm going to be... That we're... Oh, Christ." Bodie rubbed his face. "Casual sex is one thing, Ray, but I don't think that's where we're headed. I mean, two guys who started out by trying to kill each other and then started to like each other, if it comes to sex, it'll be love."

"Started to like each other," Doyle smiled, folding his hands on the steering wheel. "You know, back in '77, when you got knifed, I wept over you. Sounds silly, saying it, but there it is. It hurt me seeing you cut down, by then, and I couldn't stop it."

"Not silly," Bodie muttered. "I cried buckets over you last year when that Chinese tramp shot you. Thought it was all over, you see. I knew I was nuts about you, unconsciously, I suppose; certainly I fancied you, or else why have I been groping you for ages, without realising it? Jesus, we're dim, aren't we?

"Better late than never," Doyle said quietly. "Come on, you look white as a sheet. Come and have a cuppa, and maybe we can find a few minutes' peace and quiet before the lads arrive."

Murphy was waiting at the door for them, all smiles and waving a glass of malt at Bodie, carolling 'welcome home' at him as he took it and swallowed it in one swift movement. Then the younger agent looked at his watch and said, "got to step out for a while, Bodie. I ordered up a batch of eats at the shop down the road. Be back in a jiff, okay?"

"Take your time," Bodie said as Murphy vanished, slamming the door behind him with no regard to the neighbours.

And then they were alone, poised on the point of no return. It could cost them their jobs, but that did not seem to matter much; Doyle realised without really considering it that the rat race was no lure, that the constant danger was a growing agony, that the tedium of routine leg work had long since lost its appeal, and that there was an ache in his chest, down under his heart, that Bodie had put there, and only Bodie could ease.

Very deliberately, he stepped forward and held out one hand. "Bodie?"

Bodie took the offered hand, knitting their fingers and watching the green eyes cloud with a flood of desire that was echoed by his own body. He pulled on the slender wrist he held and suddenly there was a warm, hard body in his arms, the hot moist draught of panted breaths on his neck, a wet, velvety tongue licking his ear, and he brought his hands up to coil them in Doyle's wayward hair, lifting his head and looking at him.

His mouth was soft, lax, almost swollen with wanting, and open, the tip of his tongue flicking over his lips to moisten them. Bodie leant his head forward, and before their mouths met in their first kiss their tongues touched, tip on tip, a little caress that brought a groan to Ray's throat and a growl to Bodie's chest. Then their lips were together, and Ray sucked to weld them tighter, mouth open wide, inviting, wanting Bodie's tongue in his mouth and getting it.

Both of them forgot what their lungs were for; they had better things to do than breathe, and the charting of unfamiliar territory took the better part of a minute. Doyle's mouth was hot, sweet, velvety, and Bodie knew instinctively that he would hunger for it always now he had tasted it once. He kissed like a master, generously and unselfconsciously, while his hands clenched on Bodie's buttocks, fingers working in an unconscious rhythm that was exquisitely arousing.

At last they broke apart and Bodie crushed him against his chest, his own hands sliding across his tee shirted back, finding shoulder blades, ribs, places where he was ticklish, places where he would sigh if he was touched gently. This close, there was a wonderful smell rising from his skin; the tang of sweat, the sweetness of Camomile shampoo from his hair, the last faint traces of the morning's cologne, and the faintest scent of his musk, rising from his groin as he became aroused.

Wanting to taste him, Bodie licked down his neck, delighted to find that he tasted just as good, and that the licking was driving him wild. The blue jeans were too tight now, and the hips inside them bucked against the bigger man. "Sorry," Ray muttered breathlessly.

"What for?" Bodie had only fractionally more breath to play with.

"I'm not a randy cocker spaniel," he panted.

"Wha-?" Then Bodie caught on to his meaning and chuckled. He took the denim packed buttocks in both hands and bucked the hips for him, pulling him forward hard in a slow rhythm until Doyle couldn't bear it and took it over. "Cocker spaniel," Bodie chided fondly.

"I'm - stop it, Bodie," Ray pleaded.

"Don't like it?" Bodie frowned: he would have thought Doyle was loving it, and certainly knew he was loving it himself.

"Yes - no - stop it, Bodie, before I come!" With an effort Ray wrenched himself away and stood with one hand on his forehead. "Too fast, mate, and I don't want to mess up my clothes. Not when the blokes'll be here soon." He was aching like fury, and sank down into an armchair to take the pressure off his groin.

Bodie was not really surprised: Doyle turned on like lightning and his body ran away with him. He was knotted up himself, with an ache in his balls that was anything but pleasant, so what Doyle was feeling must be spectacular. "Sorry, mate," he murmured. "I shouldn't have done that. Now you're hurting."

"I'll live," Ray said ruefully. "But you'll get yours, love. Tonight."

"Promise?" Bodie sat down on the end of the sofa.

"Threat." Ray had his breath back now and his colour was going down. "It... was good, wasn't it? The kiss."

"Understatement," Bodie said softly, smiling at this partner in the room's quiet. Doyle's eyes were large and doe-soft and he was still short of breath; the broken cheekbone had almost disappeared in the soft lighting and the curls were disarranged by his hands. Bodie's fingers itched to wind into them, to hold him down when he assuaged the ache they both felt. A faint smile played about his lips as he said, "you know all those times I told you you were ugly?"

"Ugly as sin, if I'm quoting correctly," Doyle nodded.

"Did you believe me?"

Doyle's brows puckered. "Well, not totally because if I was that bad, I wouldn't be able to get any birds, would I? And since I can get a bird when I want one, I can't be all that ugly. But I'll grant you, handsome I aint. I mean, maybe it's up to the bird; maybe they like it with me because I know what I'm doing - the same way girls who really aren't nice to look at can often still get the men, because they're good lovers." He shrugged. "I dunno. It's the face I was born with, Bodie. Sorry if you don't like lookin' at it, but I'm stuck with it. Could cut my hair, though, if you thought that'd make it better?"

Bodie just gaped at him, perceiving the little insecurities that Ray was so adept at hiding. He knew he looked okay physically, because he took a pride in his body, but when it came to his face all he knew was that the eyes, skin and curls often got him taken for an effeminate, and the birds didn't turn him down, and Bodie called him ugly. Suddenly, Bodie hurt for some of the more cruel things he'd said, and was reminded of that community service thing on TV where the person is being put down ceaselessly and finally ends up believing it, before it dawns on the parents... 'who he is is who he's told he is.' So, ever practical and philosophical, Raymond Doyle assumed he got the girls because he was a good lover, and they just overlooked his ugly face because they wanted his body.

"Cut your hair?" Bodie echoed absently.

"If you think it'll help," Doyle repeated. "You awake, Bodie?"

"I lied," Bodie murmured simply.

It sounded like a non sequiteur, and Doyle frowned. "What about?"

"When I told you you were ugly. I lied. I always thought you were beautiful. Take my breath away sometimes. So I covered it up, called you ugly to tease you... Never thought you believed me! Christ, do you take everything I say at face value?"

"No," Doyle admitted, "only the things that you keep on saying, year in, year out. After you've said a thing twenty or thirty times, I accept it as fact, 'cause you wouldn't keep on saying it if it wasn't. Would you?"

Bodie's expression was gloomy. "I'm an idiot. So are you for taking notice to me in my second childhood. And you're beautiful, get that through your skull, because I feel too much of a twit saying it to say it too often. And I'm sorry for being cruel, before. I was just teasing you, I thought you knew how good you look, and - you cut your hair and I'll wallop you, because I like it long. The longer the better. Got it?"

"But, Bodie - "

"Say yes, Bodie!"

"Yes, Bodie, but..." Doyle ran out of words, just threw his head back and laughed. "Oh, love, the look on your face! It didn't hurt me, I just slung a lot of nonsense back at you."

And went away thinking you had a face like the back of a bus, Bodie thought bleakly, while I knew not to take any notice to what you were saying. Abruptly, he was painfully aware of all of Doyle's little insecurities, as if a mask had been lifted away, and the tenderness he had felt so rarely in his life before came up to choke him. "I love you, you stupid little bugger," he said huskily, "and if you let me hurt you any more I'll put you over my knee and sort you out."

"Kinky like that, are you?" Doyle leered. "What about all the times I hurt you? I've a vicious mouth sometimes."

"That's different," Bodie said obdurately.

"Is it?" Ray crooked one curious brow. "Like how?"

"I don't take it to heart. In one ear, out the other. You're the one who sits brooding about things, chewing on things a week after they've been said. I can get hurt, but five minutes later I'll have forgotten about it, so it's not the same at all."

"Still," Ray sighed, "I'll hang on to my tongue in future. It won't be a good idea if we keep on chewing each other up now, will it?" He shrugged himself up off the overstuffed cushions and came to touch his lips to Bodie's forehead. Bodie saw that his partner's erection had subsided a little, enough not to be immediately obvious unless it was looked for, and he smiled as Ray kissed... It was still weird, but nice.

"Best thing we can do is be honest with each other," Bodie said slowly. "Dumbest thing we can do is keep secrets, not speak, bottle things up. That'll finish us before we start. Okay?"

"Right," Doyle agreed at once.

"So, is there anything you want to say before the boys get here and we have to be all nice and legal until tonight?" Bodie smiled at the look on Ray's face; tender, glowing, happy. The smile was sweet and genuine - an expression seen all too seldom on that lovely face. "Go on. You're busting at the seams to say something, what is it? You've got clap? You're getting married in the morning? You - "

"I love you," Ray said simply, shrugging. "It's okay to say it, isn't it? Too bad if it isn't, because I'm going to anyway."

"Course it's okay," Bodie purred, getting to his feet. "C'mere, Gorgeous, and give a kiss before - oh, bugger it."

As he spoke the door opened and Murphy was back, two carrier bags in one hand and a box of cakes in the other. "Hiya, fellas, I'm home. Got plenty of stuff to eat. Want some now?"

"Wouldn't mind," Ray said, trying to divert his attention from Bodie before he became either aroused or maudlin; it looked like being a long, frustrating afternoon. "Whatchya got there that's not saturated in fat and filled with salt and sugar and gristle?"

"Well, um, nothing, actually," Murphy admitted. "Junk food's all you can get locally, sorry, Ray."

"Shut up and have a meat pie like the rest of us," Bodie said bluffly. "Got any beer, Murph?"

"Enough to float the Amoco Cadiz," Murphy grinned, and tossed over a tin of Newcastle Brown. "Cheers, Bodie, and welcome home."

Doyle took a tin of beer, cracking it while he held the meat pie in his teeth, and then chewed methodically, washing down the white pastry and doubtful filling with the dark, bitter liquid. Bodie saw off two chocolate wedges in as many seconds, and Murphy was setting the food up on the kitchen table, when the phone rang.

"I'll get it," Bodie said, putting down a third chocolate wedge and reaching for the receiver. "Might be the lads to say they can't make it." He winked hopefully at Doyle.

Ray offered up a hopeful prayer, but knew in the moment after Bodie lifted the phone to his ear that it was a stranger. He chewed on the last of the pastry, trying not to think about what the salt would do to his cardiovascular system, and just enjoyed looking at Bodie's profile until Murph returned from the kitchen, wondering if it was business or pleasure. Doyle shrugged in answer, catching a few words of Bodie's conversation; it was plainly a stranger on the line. "Hello? Er, yeah, who is this? Yeah. Just today, why? I..." And then nothing, just a long, endless silence in which his face seemed to shutter, draining of blood, and his eyes glazed over as if he'd been struck blind.

Without looking at the cradle, Bodie put the phone down and turned to Doyle and Murphy. There was no expression in his face at first, and then Ray watched the dark good looks twist into a portrait of pure agony; he was in pain, real, terrible pain, torment that was tearing him to tatters as he took two, three, four steps from the phone toward Doyle. His hands come up, clutching at the air, and his eyes closed tightly.

"Bodie?" Ray took a step toward him. "Bodie, what's wrong? Bodie, for Christ's sake, you're frightening me! Bodie!"

The hands closed on his throat. At first the grip was so feathery that Doyle was sure it was a caress, that Bodie was just playing games, and was about to hiss at him not to be so daft in front of Murphy, but slowly, steadily, the pressure increased until his windpipe was closing off. Only then did he grasp the thick, sinewy wrists, learning for the first time how very strong Bodie really was. His fingers pulled uselessly at them, and it was all he could do to speak, his voice horse and alien.

"Bodie, for God's sake, you're choking me!"

The blue eyes snapped open again, feverish and frightened, and Bodie seemed to try to pull his hands away, but his fingers would not obey him, still locked in place around Doyle's aching gullet. Murphy was there, but for all his shouts of discouragement there was no response from Bodie. It was dawning on Doyle that he was going to black out soon, and he put the last of his strength into the desperate struggle to break free, but Bodie was beyond the point where any external force would influence him.

The darkness came up fast, and Doyle's body became limp under the punishing hands. Murphy was sure it was this that finally got through to Bodie, because in the instant that Ray became limp the hands released, letting Ray slump to the carpet, out cold. Bodie stood over him, swaying visibly as if he was dizzy, and he spoke through clenched teeth, words that Murphy recorded like a machine, words that would haunt him later.

"But - sweetheart, I love you, I can't - "

And then he too went down in a heap of tangled limbs, blanketing Doyle's inert body with his own, and Murphy made a dive for his R/T, calling Central for an ambulance, fast. He was on his knees as he spoke, pushing Bodie out of the way and pressing a finger into Doyle's throat; to his intense relief the pulse was there, weak and irregular, but there, and it would grow stronger as the blood got going again. He rolled him onto his side, checking his airway with careful fingers, and listening to the hoarse sounds of breathing for some moments before he turned his attention to Bodie.

It was as if Bodie had been koshed across the back of the head; there was nothing to account for it, but he was out cold too, his eyes rolled up, consciousness far, far from his mind. Murphy sat back on his heels, frowning at the two of them and praying for the ambulance, but there was nothing he could do now but call Cowley with a report.

Alpha One answered at once, having already had the notification - trouble at 3.7's flat. "Bodie," Murph said quickly, "he's had some kind of seizure, I think. He's gone down like he was poleaxed. I've sent for an ambulance, sir, but... He tried to kill Doyle. Tried to strangle the life out of him, nearly managed it, too. They'll both be in hospital now. Do you want me to go with the ambulance or wait here?"

"Wait there," Cowley told him, "I'll be over myself as soon as I can get there."

The red Ford four door arrived as Murphy was watching the ambulance depart. The two ambulance men had started both Doyle and Bodie on IVs and strapped them to gurneys for transportation, and they were headed back to Guy's, fast. Murphy acknowledged a deep helplessness as he and Cowley took the lift back to Bodie's flat, and then Cowley was looking at him for a verbal report, and it was difficult to know what to say.

"He came home with Doyle, ate some cakes, drank a can of beer, and then the phone rang. Up to that point he and Ray were fine, I was setting up for the party we were going to have. Then, as I said, the phone rang and he answered it. I didn't catch what he said, just yesses and nos most of the time. Then he put the phone down, put his hands around Doyle's throat and tried to strangle him."

"Tried to?" Cowley demanded. "Bodie's strong, Murphy. If he tried to strangle him, Doyle would be dead. So he didn't go through with it. Whatever it was that made him suddenly want to kill Doyle, he couldn't go all the way... Did he say anything?"

"Um, yeah," Murphy said, and looked away.

"Well? What was it?"

There was no way to lie, and no point in evasion, Murphy knew; when you were dealing in facts, anything, no matter how inconsequential or personal, could be the snippet of information that made the difference. He sighed heavily. "He said, 'but sweetheart, I love you, I can't - ' And then he collapsed."

It seemed to come as no surprise to Cowley. "A declaration of love, and a denial. Can't what? Can't... kill you, perhaps? As if... As if he'd been told to kill Doyle, As if... " Cowley shook his head. "It doesn't make sense. "Who would tell Bodie to kill Doyle, instead of just pulling a gun and shooting Doyle himself? Get it down in writing, Murphy, I want it on my desk as soon as you've typed it. Everything you can remember."

"Sir." Murphy stuffed his hands into his pockets, looking around Bodie's flat gloomily. "Er, sir... I want to put it on record that I did not divulge their private lives willingly."

"Recorded," Cowley grunted. "How long have you known about them?"

"There's nothing to know yet," Murphy said carefully, allowing a small smile to show. "I made the mistake, when Bodie was missing, of commiserating with Ray, and referring to Bodie as his 'better half,' and he was really surprised. Up to now, they haven't had a relationship. But going by what Bodie said before he passed out, they feel it. Maybe they sealed it in the hospital, I don't know. I only left 'em alone for ten minutes when they got back, and there isn't a lot you can do in hospital or in ten minutes." He paused and cleared his throat. "Sir, you won't let this interfere with their contracts with CI5, will you?"

Cowley frowned at him. "That remains to be seen. I cannot employ any agent who lays the department open to the threat of blackmail, and a homosexual relationship between my two senior field agents would certainly do that. I... I don't know. We'll have to wait, observe. Perhaps they will be content not to consummate it."

"Sir," Murphy protested, "people in love make love. If you asked them to carry on as if there's nothing between them, they'd come unglued!"

"Aye, I know," Cowley said with surprising gentleness. "I've seen too much of this, Murphy. I'm an old soldier, remember. It's not your job or your place to make my decisions for me, but I appreciate your concern for them. Now, do that report before your memory starts its tricks; I'm going over to Guy's. Lock the flat on your way out."

With that he was gone and Murphy busied his hands to still his mind, stuffing the food and booze into the fridge and heading for Central and his desk, and growing more puzzled with each off the wall notion he dreamed up to explain what had happened... There was no explaining it at all, and that was that.

Cowley was not so sure, but without data he was not prepared to speculate. At Guy's they sent him up to the third floor where they had put the two agents in the same room. Doyle and Bodie lay in parallel beds, and the bruising was coming out on Doyle's throat now, great, livid finger marks that would be purple and green soon. Bodie was unmarked but just as still, and Doctor Michaels was standing between them, puzzling over a series of printouts. He looked up as the CI5 Controller appeared and waved him over to look at the flimsies.

"Ah, Mister Cowley, I'm glad you're here. It would have been very difficult indeed trying to explain this over the phone. Look at this."

Cowley looked, recognising a brain scan when he saw one. "This is the brain scan of a dead person," he observed. "No activity whatsoever."

"This is the brain scan, " Michaels corrected, "of Mister Doyle. Before you ask, I can tell you that his body is perfectly all right, no real damage, no reason whatsoever for this reaction. I've never seen his happen before. But this is his brain scan, and..." Michaels shuffled the flimsies around. "Now take a look at this one. This is Bodie's."

"My God," Cowley breathed. The tracery of lines on the printout was like a spider's web. "He's..."

"He's got twice the brain activity of any ordinary person, even a person who is excited, agitated, dreaming, whatever. Twice the activity, Mister Cowley. While Doyle has nothing at all."

"Explain," Cowley challenged, standing back to look at his men.

But Michaels just shrugged. "I can't. I won't pretend to you that I can. I've never seen anything like this, and if you're asking me what I can do for them I'll have to admit that I don't know. I can keep them warm, feed them by IV, and maybe Bodie will come to. I don't know - he's in a coma that's a mile deep, Mister Cowley, the kind of coma that some people never do come out of. And as for Doyle... I'm afraid there's no chance of him coming to at all. His body is on automatic, perfectly healthy in all respects, like a well tuned car, but the driver has gone." He folded his arms on his white coated chest. "What do you want done with them?"

"You're asking me?" Cowley murmured. "I'm not a doctor."

"And I'm not a magician," Michaels sighed. "All right, we'll leave them right where they are, test, monitor, and wait. Wait and see. We might get Bodie back, but Doyle... Is dead, Mister Cowley. Dead. All we can do is take care of his body. The laws of this country don't permit us to put the body out of its misery."

Cowley shuddered. "You're an advocate of euthanasia, I take it?"

"In cases like this, yes," Michaels admitted. "There's nothing we can do for him, he'll lie in that bed for years, God only knows how long."

"Then let him," Cowley barked. "Practice what you preach, wait and see. I'll look in when I get the chance, Doctor. Goodbye."

He felt his years as he walked back toward the lift, haunted by the spectres in that room, especially by Doyle, whose young life seemed to be over... Even if Britain had had euthanasia laws, Cowley knew he would not have evoked them for a long time. It was an empty, vacant hope that still stirred in him; he recognised it for what it was but knew no way to deny it. Doyle's death came as no surprise, anyway; it had nearly happened so many times that Doyle was living on borrowed time, and every day Cowley expected to hear that 4.5 had been taken to the morgue. When it happed, to any of his agents, it hurt, and having Doyle in that white room, looking in the pink, made it only fractionally easier to accept the hideous truth. Raymond Doyle was dead. And nobody seemed to know how or why it had come about.

...Continued in Part 2...

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