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Cold Comfort

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It was a stupid plan.

Bodie had said as much before in Cowley’s office, and all that had earned him was a considered look and a, "So, you have a better proposal, 3.7?" to which he’d had no response. "I thought not," Cowley had said, and kept going, outlining for him and Murphy the plan to get Doyle out of his deep cover assignment alive.

Except nothing had gone according to the plan.

"Bodie?" Doyle’s voice was a cracked whisper, full of shivers, and Bodie tried to hold him closer in the dark waters of the Thames, knew the fall off the pier and the shock of the cold was making Doyle’s response slower than usual.

"Shh. They’re looking for your body now, sunshine," Bodie said directly in Doyle’s ear as a weak beam from a torch cut across the water where Doyle had fallen before Bodie had pulled him into the shadow under the pier. "Just hang on and we’ll swim out of here. Five minutes of hypothermia and then it’s all blankets and malt whisky for you. Promise."

Overhead, Bodie could hear voices and laughter. Murphy’s voice sounded a little more agitated than the rest, which was right in character considering he’d just shot a man to prove his loyalty. Cowley had figured they’d want Murph to show his colours before they’d trust him, and fingering Doyle as the informant, bent copper trying to make good with his old chums, was a good bet.

"Don’t overplay it, Murph," Bodie muttered to himself. "You’re supposed to be a gun-runner, not a bloody charwoman."

Doyle nodded, or at least Bodie thought he did. With the bobbing waves it was hard to tell, both of them barely keeping their heads above water, and Bodie was weighted down by the wet suit, the oxygen tank, and his clinging partner. He rubbed up and down Doyle’s arms to keep the circulation up, trying to give back a little bit of warmth. When he touched Doyle’s shoulder, Ray groaned and pulled away as much as he could with Bodie’s arm anchoring his waist.

"What? Ray, you hurt? Those blighters knock you about before they sent you over?" Bodie couldn’t see a damn thing in the dark, the slivers of moonlight that reached them through the wooden slats not enough to give him more than half-impressions of the things around him. He couldn’t feel anything through the rubber of the suit except Doyle solid and alive, and that was all he needed to know.

"Murph—"

"Yeah, Murph shot you. That was the plan. Cowley’s stupid plan," Bodie said, starting to get a bad feeling about the way Doyle’s left arm was hanging limp, the glassy pained look in the eyes that weren’t quite making contact with Bodie’s. It had been a long fall, but it shouldn’t have broken anything.

"The g-gun—" Doyle sputtered, mouth full of dank water. Bodie caught him just as he was going under, eyelids drooping heavily.

"Murph’s gun had blanks, Ray." Bodie talked as softly as he could because it wouldn’t do to let the cat out of the bag now, let the thugs up above know Doyle was alive. "Is it your arm? Is it broken?"

Doyle mumbled something incoherent, and Bodie pressed him closer, careful of his arm, concern tightening his voice. "Doyle? Tell me—"

"Switched," Ray said, and Bodie suddenly felt colder than the Thames. He was already sliding his hand around Doyle’s shoulder, fingers searching for a tear in fabric, in flesh, something that would—yes, there it was. A finger-sized hole through leather and cloth. Bodie pressed through into the jagged edges of the wound itself, and Doyle jerked in pain, but he bit down on his lip, didn’t cry out or say anything, and Bodie swore under his breath enough for both of them.

"Jesus Christ, Ray, you’re shot. We’ve got to get you to hospital."

"That—that would be g-good—" Ray said, giving a weak smile, and Bodie was so damn relieved to see a spark of Doyle’s spirit, he cupped his partner’s face tightly for an instant and kissed him on the forehead.

"Hang on, sunshine. I’ll get you home." Bodie started to turn Doyle so he could slip an arm around his chest from behind to make it easier to swim towards shore with him.

"I can’t—" Doyle said, but the sound of a motor starting close by drowned out the rest of his words. The beam of a searchlight swept across the water. If they were caught on the surface all of them were dead—him and Doyle and Murph.

"We’re going down, Captain Nemo," Bodie said, shoving the mouthpiece from his oxygen tank between Doyle’s bluish lips. He took a deep breath, braced himself for the cold, and dived, dragging his partner with him.

***

It was dark underneath the water, so dark that for a moment Bodie had no idea which way to go. He could hear the echoes of the motor boat, feel the vibrations from the churning water as the boat passed nearby looking for Doyle’s body.

Murphy must be frantic, Bodie thought. He would’ve had no choice but to shoot Doyle or give away everything, and it was just lucky that Murph could pull off a shaky hand and less than perfect aim. A shoulder injury was survivable—a bullet to the heart wasn’t. And Murph knew Bodie was waiting below, knew he’d never let anything happen to Doyle, not if he could prevent it, and dammit, Bodie was going to find a way to bring him through this alive. He tightened his grip on Doyle’s waist. If they got separated down here, it was over.

Bodie could already feel the tightness in his nose and chest, his body telling him he needed to breathe, when he felt the mouthpiece pushed clumsily against his face. He reached for it, catching Doyle’s hand as he grabbed hold and took a long breath. It would be enough. He squeezed the hand and pushed the mouthpiece back at Doyle, made sure it landed in his mouth before Bodie started to move slowly towards the dark shape he thought was one of the support posts.

When his hand hit wood, he knew they could do this—just stay under water, buddy breathing, until the boat disappeared. They could make their way towards shore following the foundation posts, and at least the cold would slow the bleeding from Doyle’s wound.

They made it past two posts before Bodie needed the mouthpiece again. His arms were aching from the strain of pulling himself and Doyle through the water. He could feel Ray shaking with the cold every time he wrapped an arm around him to pull him through the water. Doyle's kicks were getting weaker by the moment, and Bodie swam on, praying that they could make it to shore before Doyle dropped into unconsciousness.

Overhead the roar of an engine still persisted, weak searchlights like moonbeams, filtering down to give them fractured glimpses of one another. When they exchanged the mouthpiece again, Bodie caught Ray looking at him from three inches away. Fear, apology, and a kind of grim acceptance that they weren’t going to get out of this one easily. Bodie took a quick breath, shoved the mouthpiece back between Doyle’s lips, and yanked him forward. He wanted to yell at him, tell him to buck up and fight and fuck the bastards that had done this to him. Instead, he gripped him tighter, kicked harder, and swam until his chest was burning with the effort and he had to stop for breath. No way was Doyle dying on his watch. No damn way.

The oxygen tank only had fifteen minutes of air, which should’ve been more than enough—except they were sharing, and Doyle needed the steady flow of oxygen just to keep moving in the frigid water. Bodie felt Doyle’s fist bat against his chest, felt the tightness in his own lungs, and knew they had no choice but to surface. He reached out for the closest pillar and together they made their way up, Bodie gasping for air as soon they surfaced.

He listened hard for a moment, but there was no sound of the boat or the men on the pier.

"I think we’ve done it. I think the bastards have gone," Bodie said, gauging how far they were from the riverbank. Not that far. "Doyle? Did you hear me? I think we’ve—"

Doyle’s head was lolling backwards over Bodie’s arm, and Bodie immediately dropped an ear to his partner’s mouth. His skin was so cold, he couldn’t tell if Doyle was breathing, but Ray’s eyes were closed, his lips blue, and Bodie knew the kind of luck they had.

"Jesus, Ray, not now. We’re so close." Bodie reached around with his one arm to pinch Doyle’s nose, dropped his mouth to Doyle’s lips and tried to breathe all of his warmth and life into him. It was awkward in the water, Doyle precariously balanced against his arm, curls dipping back into the dark waves, and all Bodie could think was how those lips weren’t supposed to be cold, how they weren’t supposed to be still and silent like this.

"Come on, Ray. Please." Bodie kept breathing into him, pleading between breaths, and finally, when it was clear this wasn’t going to work, when there was no warmth in Bodie’s own mouth, he said, "Fuck this," and grabbed Doyle by the collar, dragging him through the water as he swam harder than he ever had in his life.

He crawled onto the bank, knees slipping in the slick mud, and it wasn’t just Doyle’s lips that were blue now. Bodie felt for a heartbeat, couldn’t find one, and his own heart was racing hard enough for both of them as he started chest compressions and rolled options over in his brain. The Capri was three streets away, but it had blankets and the radio. The Capri meant leaving Doyle or carrying him all the way, but it also meant help, getting Doyle to a hospital before he checked out for good, and Bodie figured Doyle would hate going out like this, cold and wet, and for no good reason in the world.

The crunch of rough stone behind him and Bodie whirled fast enough to get a hand on the man’s shoulder, fist already pulling back and ready to fly, when Murphy’s voice reached through and shook loose the terror that had wrapped around Bodie’s heart.

"Bodie, Bodie! It’s me." Bodie stopped with his arm still raised, then dropped it and threw Murphy towards Doyle.

"Mouth-to-mouth. Now." He was still trying to fill his own lungs sufficiently, and all he seemed to be able to do was rasp out short sentences. "And put your jacket over him. Did you—"

"Ambulance is on the way. Clifton’s mob’s down at the local, celebrating. I ducked out as soon as I could. God, Bodie, I—I’m sorry, I couldn’t—"

Bodie just shook his head, suddenly angry, and shoved Murphy to his knees beside Doyle. "Now, Murph!" And that was enough to get Murphy moving, lowering his mouth to Doyle’s in the foggy darkness. Bodie fell to his knees on the other side of Doyle’s body, watching his chest rise and fall under Murphy’s brown pea jacket as he counted the seconds between each compression. For the first time in longer than he could remember, he closed his eyes and prayed.

***

"I went round to your flat and fetched you some dry things." Susan sat down beside Bodie in the waiting room. She set a khaki green duffel at his feet and handed him tea from the vending machine.

"Thanks." Bodie decided not to think about the rolled up wetsuit dripping puddles into the back seat of the Capri, or the fact that he was stupidly grateful he'd decided to wear trousers and a t-shirt under the suit.

"Bodie?"

"Hm?" He shook his head. "Sorry. I'm a mite distracted."

Susan gave him a sympathetic smile. "Any change?"

"He’s breathing on his own, but they’ve still got him on oxygen." Bodie sipped the tea, feeling its bitterness wash down his throat. "He hasn’t woken up."

Susan pressed a warm palm against his arm. "Mr. Cowley will give you royal hell if he catches you here, Bodie. Especially in clothes that smell like the Thames."

Bodie turned his face into his shoulder and sniffed. Okay, maybe there was the lingering smell of sweat and rubber and something vaguely disreputable, but quite frankly he didn’t care if Cowley gave him a dressing down. In fact, he’d welcome it; it would give him a chance to get a few things off his chest. If it hadn’t been for Cowley’s plan …

"Bodie?" Susan squeezed his arm. "Doyle’s a fighter. I’m sure he’ll be fine."

"Too ornery to die quietly." Bodie swallowed another mouthful of tea.

"That’s Ray. I’ll try to steer Cowley clear of here till morning, but do everyone a favour and change, okay? I guarantee it will make you a bigger hit with the nurses." Susan gave him a wink and stood to go.

Bodie just nodded and accepted the comforting pat to his shoulder. The truth was he didn’t give a damn about the nurses or Cowley or anything except the man lying in bed in the room across the hall, unconscious. The nurses had told him three times to go home, and Bodie had declined politely the first two times, and not as politely the last time, which was why he’d been relegated to the corridor.

"Like being in damn detention back in grammar school," Bodie muttered, finishing off the tea before checking both ways down the hall. Bodie figured the only reason the nurse hadn’t kicked him out of the hospital was because she didn’t have the means to actually physically make him leave without calling security, and that would likely involve paperwork the woman didn’t want to do. So, they left him alone as long he stayed out of their way, and if he timed it right he could sneak in and spend an uninterrupted twenty minutes with Doyle, just holding his pale hand and watching him breathe.

Bodie stroked his fingers lightly over the back of Doyle’s hand, smoothing down the fine hair there. It wasn’t anything a friend wouldn’t do, he told himself. Nothing any man wouldn’t do for his partner.

Bodie covered Doyle’s hand with his own, letting his fingers thread between Doyle’s. Seeing their hands like that, pressed together against the white sheets, Bodie had a flash of memory, one he’d fought to keep down through the long night, through the last several months if he was honest with himself: Doyle’s hand, gripped in his just like this, fingers flexing against the sheets of Bodie’s bed, Doyle’s warm back pressed against Bodie’s front and the two of them moving together, against one another, nothing but sweat and heat between them.

They’d blamed it on too much booze and too little sleep, a week where nothing had gone right. When Doyle had shoved him up against the wall, fists hard balls of anger clenched in Bodie’s shirt, Bodie had done the only thing he could think of, grabbing Ray’s face and kissing him until it didn’t hurt anymore. Or at least it was a better kind of hurt, teeth bruising skin on neck and throat, stubble scraping red lines along back and belly, down thighs spread wide and hungry to welcome slick fingers and cock. They’d fucked hard, hard enough to leave bruises on each other, and there were other marks too—invisible ones that Bodie didn’t know he’d be carrying months afterwards.

"Come on, Ray. Wake up."

Bodie laid his head on the edge of the bed, inhaling the sharp chemical smell of hospital laundry until he shifted so he could press his face against Doyle’s bare arm, breathing him in. He closed his eyes and let himself think about all the things he’d promised himself he couldn’t have: Doyle’s lean body warm against his, mouth open in welcome; the rippling joy of laughter, shaking both of them open, falling into one another as easily as falling in love.

Bodie heard the door open and close again. If it was the nurse, she didn’t come in, and Bodie smirked against Doyle’s arm, murmuring: "Guess the old battle-axe decided to leave us alone." He pressed his lips against Doyle’s arm and let them linger there; then he moved his mouth to the soft skin on the inside of the wrist, let his lips stay until he could feel Doyle’s pulse beating underneath.

The next thing he knew, a hand brushed his shoulder, and Bodie sat straight up, saying "Ray," even before he was fully awake. Doyle lay silent and still, oxygen mask in place, heartbeat monitor beeping rhythmically beside him.

"Sorry, Mr Bodie," a young nurse said, looking genuinely apologetic. "I just need to check on Mr Doyle."

Bodie nodded and moved away from the bed, rubbing his sore neck and tired eyes as he watched the nurse check the monitor, the oxygen tank, Doyle’s pulse. He had no idea how long he’d slept, but the light at the edges of the blinds seemed to be a little brighter.

"If you want to get cleaned up, grab a cuppa, I’ll stay with him," the nurse said. "It’s pretty quiet this time of morning."

Bodie looked down at his wrinkled shirt that had spent half the evening under a wetsuit and thought maybe it was time to take a hint and change. He smiled ruefully at the girl. "Perhaps I’ll—"

"There’s a bath just down the hall."

"If anything—"

"I’ll come and get you," she said, and her voice was kind as she pushed him gently towards the doorway. He dragged himself down the hall to the bathroom, and ten minutes later was feeling more human than he had in hours. As he stepped into the corridor, he saw the nurse hurrying towards him.

"Doyle? Is he …" He couldn’t finish the sentence, his lungs as empty as they had been under the Thames, and he pushed past the young nurse without hearing a word she was saying.

He hit the door running, palms flat and hard against the metal. Chest tight, not sure what he was expecting, Bodie stopped beside the bed. Doyle’s eyes were still closed, the rhythmic bleating of the machines continued as if Bodie had never left. Then Doyle’s head shifted on the pillow, fingers lifting slightly, and Bodie felt as if the world had tipped sideways on its axis. He sank gratefully into the bedside chair and clasped Doyle’s hand. Without thinking, he raised it to his lips, pressing a firm kiss against the back.

"Bodie?" It was shaky but audible, and Bodie closed his eyes and nodded, not trusting his own voice. He squeezed Doyle’s hand and was thrilled at the tiny pressure that was returned.

"You gave me a hell of a fright, Ray," Bodie said, finally looking up to meet Doyle’s eyes. He looked tired, but there was a lopsided grin beneath the oxygen mask, and Bodie felt the pressure on his hand grow stronger as Doyle held his gaze.

"Sorry, mate."

"Well, don’t let it happen again." Even as he said the words, Bodie knew his voice was too serious, his face too sincere. He could see the truth of it in Doyle’s small nod, the way he wrapped his fingers around Bodie’s and hung on.

The door opened behind him, and Bodie watched Ray’s eyes watching him. He gave a firm squeeze and laid his partner’s hand back against the sheets.

For the next few minutes, the room was filled with doctors and nurses, and Bodie was shuffled into the hallway so they could make sure Doyle was no longer in danger. He leaned against the cool white wall of the corridor and thanked whoever was responsible for bringing him back his partner.

It seemed like an eternity before they let him return to Doyle's room, but Bodie had decided he could be patient as long as Ray was awake and breathing on his own.

Doyle turned towards him as soon as Bodie entered, his eyes tracking Bodie’s progress across the room.

"You look terrible," Bodie said, sitting down, not sure what to do with his hands. If Doyle had been asleep, it would’ve been different, so much easier to reach out and touch, but now with Doyle watching him, he wasn’t sure of anything.

When Doyle spoke his voice was rough. "The nurse told me I looked right handsome, I did."

"Well, for a gun-shot bloke who swallowed half the Thames, I reckon you look not bad."

"Silver-tongued devil."

"Oh, you’ve no idea." Bodie grinned and felt some of the tension seep out of him as Doyle gave a small smile and closed his eyes. His hand twitched against the sheets, gesturing for Bodie to come closer, and for a minute, Bodie pretended he didn’t notice, until he heard, "Bodie," spoken in a voice that was barely a whisper. He reached out, letting his fingers slide between Doyle’s. Ray seemed to settle then, Bodie’s hand locked in his, and Bodie gave himself up as lost, completely and irrevocably, to his partner’s green eyes and warm hands.

Bodie didn’t let go, even after Ray fell asleep.

***

A week later, when Bodie picked Doyle up from the hospital, the only thing Doyle wanted to hear about was Murphy’s op. If Doyle wanted to play it cool, talk about work, it was fine with Bodie.

"So he’s in with Clifton’s mob then?"

"Thick as thieves." Bodie glanced over as he turned the corner. "Local press leaked news of an unidentified floater fished out of the Thames, and that seemed to be enough. Murph’s already been able to identify three gun suppliers from outside the country, people we’ve been trying to pin down for months."

"If we move too quickly—"

"On anything you knew, we can move. Just looks like you got your info out to the coppers, and Murph can’t be blamed. Everything else will be dealt with in time. Cowley’s not keen to have to break another agent out of deep cover now that he’s in tight."

"I was in tight too." Doyle rubbed his shoulder, "Look where that got me."

Bodie didn’t even want to think about that, how close Doyle had come to dying. He gunned the accelerator, swerving around a tour bus that was crowding his lane.

"Hey, I just got out of hospital." Doyle laid a hand on Bodie’s arm. It felt oddly comforting, and the quick squeeze before the hand disappeared made Bodie’s insides churn. He didn’t think Doyle had touched him this much before, but he couldn’t say for sure.

"Yeah, well, it was a stupid plan."

"The cover was fine enough. It was the getting out that proved more difficult."

"More difficult?" Bodie turned the last corner with a squeal of tires. "That all you have to say about it?"

"Well, Cowley said it was your plan."

"He—it bloody well wasn’t my plan!" Bodie pulled to a stop in front of Doyle’s flat, his hands gripping the steering wheel hard. "I never would’ve—there were too many things that could go wrong, and obviously did—"

"Bodie. Hey, Bodie." Doyle put a hand on his arm. "I was having you on. I know it wasn’t your idea. Didn’t think you’d take it that badly."

Bodie tried to look as if it didn’t matter, as if his heart wasn’t beating hard enough to echo in his ears. A squeeze on his arm brought him up sharp.

"I said, do you want to come up?" Doyle was looking at him with concern, and that seemed wrong considering it was Doyle who’d just got out of hospital.

"Yeah, okay," Bodie said, and followed Doyle up the stairs to his flat.

***

Doyle puttered around, watering wilting plants while the kettle rattled away, and Bodie stretched out on the couch in the late afternoon sun, trying to pretend his entire life hadn’t changed in the last week. He’d been to see Doyle every day, and towards the end of each visit, Doyle’s eyes would close and Bodie’s fingers would entwine with Ray’s until his breathing turned slow and even. Then Bodie would carefully press his lips against the back of Doyle’s hand before laying it gently on the bed.

After a week, Bodie still had no idea what it meant.

The kettle boiled and Bodie could hear Doyle taking out cups, making the tea. Although his eyes were closed, Bodie knew when Ray took a seat on the wide wooden coffee table in front of the couch, and it seemed natural when Doyle’s hand slipped into his.

"What are we doing, Ray?" Bodie asked, not sure he wanted an answer. Doyle rubbed at the soft curve between Bodie’s thumb and forefinger, not saying a word. "Seriously." Bodie lifted their joined hands. "What are we doing?"

"If you don’t know that—"

"Ray."

Doyle sighed and ran his other hand through his curls. "When I hit the water, I thought I was dead. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t feel my arm, couldn’t get warm."

Bodie nodded. There’d been a moment with the gunshot still echoing in his ears, when he’d hauled Doyle up to the surface, when he'd thought about how many chances they took. How close they came to losing each other every day.

"I was so damn cold, Bodie, but you were right there. Right there, and you kept me alive. Every time I wanted to close my eyes and slip away, you pulled me back. You—you breathed for me. Don’t think I don’t know what you did."

"You’re my partner, Ray. You know I’d do anything for you."

"I know," Doyle said forcefully. "But it wasn’t just that. I—I haven’t felt warm in months."

"What?"

"I haven’t felt warm or alive." Doyle was studying the floor intently. "The job, what we do, it takes something out of us, and sometimes I just need—I need something to keep me alive."

"Doyle."

"Birds don’t do it any more. Not sure they ever did. They just can’t understand what we do, you know?"

"Yeah."

Bodie knew exactly what Doyle meant. He’d slept with enough women to know that hollow empty feeling that came at the end of the night, when he was curled next to someone whose name he’d forget by morning.

"You know what I mean, Bodie, don’t tell me you don’t."

"I know." Bodie gestured to their hands again. "But this—I’m not sure I know what this is."

"Yes, you do." There was an intensity in Doyle’s face that Bodie hadn’t seen in a long time, an intensity that made him ache for something that was supposed to be a one-shot thing. "Bodie. The last time I felt really alive was when—"

"Ray."

Doyle refused to look away. "You know when it was."

Bodie swallowed. Yes, he knew. Every time he closed his eyes and let himself remember, he knew exactly what it meant to be alive: Doyle’s hands underneath his, hips moving in time with his own, neither of them saying anything that wasn’t yes or again or fuck, harder, harder. After it was over, both of them completely spent and tangled in the sheets, they’d just hung on, silent and desperate. Bodie knew the memory of that night had kept him going through a lot of long days when he’d wanted to give up. It had been with him in the Thames when his lungs were empty and his arms felt like lead.

"Bodie, tell me I’m not alone in this."

"You’re not alone." He tugged at Doyle’s hand until Ray was kneeling over him on the couch, and it took nothing at all to pull Ray down on top of him, long and lean and warm. Bodie cupped a hand against Doyle’s jaw, smooth from the morning’s shave, and kissed him. It was friendship tinged with want, and Bodie wrapped his arms around Doyle and held him, careful of his wounded shoulder. They laid together on the sun-warmed couch, kissing and touching far more gently than Bodie had ever imagined possible for men like them.

"I’ll keep you warm, Ray." He buried a hand in his partner’s curls and whispered, "I’ll keep you alive."

When he opened his eyes, Doyle's smile was unrestrained and bright, like looking into the face of the sun, and Bodie smiled back, warm with the promise of things to come.

 

THE END