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A Change of Light

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“Where the hell is…” Bodie tried to turn pages of the telexed report, not assisted by the speed with which Doyle was tearing along the Brompton side streets, nor the warming spring wind blasting through the Capri’s open windows. “..Khuzestan, anyway?”

“Don’t you read the papers?” Doyle grinned. He knew perfectly well that the latest stage of the drama unfolding at the besieged Iranian embassy was too new to have hit the press. But he’d grabbed the report off the telex while Bodie was still finishing his coffee in the rest room, and he thought to make good on the thirty-second advantage. Bodie was getting way too sure of himself these days. “Khuzestan is, of course, a minority Arab state in Southern Iran. Don’t suppose you know why it’s suddenly become our problem, either.”

Bodie thought about giving him the satisfaction. But finding him yawning elaborately behind the wheel in the underground car pool as if he’d been waiting for hours, when in fact Bodie had seen him belting for the staircase less than a minute ago, was too much like provocation. “Well, they’ve held out at Prince’s Gate for six days now, but negotiations are starting to break down. The Met’s been handling it, but now Maggie’s given the order to hand over to the military. The Counter Revolutionary Warfare division of the SAS called Cowley out of a top-brass lunch half an hour ago to ask if they could borrow me and, er, any useful staff I might have… under me.”

Doyle sailed through a red light. “Under – ?!” he began, then left off in favour of, “Half an hour ago, Bodie?”

Bodie burst out laughing. “Yeah. Old man collared me five minutes later.”

“Why the bloody hell didn’t you tell me?”

“Well, you seemed so happy with your telex!” He paused a beat. “And since the Jordanian ambassador’s promises to negotiate for safe passage have all fallen through, some escalation is inevitable, so step on it, Goldilocks.”

By now Doyle was laughing too. “Bodie, you bastard. Why bother asking me about it?”

“Didn’t know where Khuzestan was, did I?”

 

**

 

They were finding it hard to annoy one another these days. Their last few shared ops had thrown them together in a new and easy intimacy, each of them realising that their partnership had less to do with CI5 than the bond which had grown up between them in the past three years. That, despite early indications to the contrary, they actually liked each other. For Bodie it felt like a kind of growing up, a settling. He would have been disturbed, earlier in his life, to find himself becoming attached to a colleague – to anyone – in this way. But Doyle took it all so calmly, returned the affection with such undemonstrative ease, that Bodie couldn’t panic either, and when in the wake of one tricky shootout they found themselves on Doyle’s sofa, tangled, a bit drunk, pleasantly heated after a casual hug had tipped into something else, neither had moved away.

 

They’d taken it easy, that first time. With so little fuss or surprise that it was evident to both they’d had something like it in mind for a while. Each correctly read in the other the awkward combination of being horny and bone tired and acted accordingly: quick, deft, targeted. Doyle took casual charge, pinning his rapidly-breathing partner down on the sofa, kneeling over him and unfastening his cords to take hold of his throbbing cock. When the straightforward pumping got too much, when Bodie was inarticulate and trying to go over, Doyle slithered off the sofa, knelt between his thighs and brought him to shuddering climax in his mouth. The willingness and expertise with which he did so made Bodie laugh and lift his eyebrows when he’d recovered from the stunning rush of it. “Doyle, you silver-tongued little…  Where’d you learn to do that?”

“Looking it in the mouth, are you?”

“Bloody hell, no. Wound you up, too, didn’t it?  Come here. Let’s have you.”

Bodie couldn’t return the favour – not with that kind of finesse, anyway – but Doyle didn’t much care; he was almost sick with need and would take what he could get. He moaned as Bodie dragged him down beside him on the sofa and fastened a large and competent hand on his groin.

 

After that it had seemed stupid to worry about separate beds, and Bodie crawled gratefully into his partner’s when invited. They slept immediately, and no deeper peace could have prevailed over two living souls than that which hovered in their bedroom that night. It held until eight the next morning, when Doyle looked down at the man asleep in his arms, and realised he had fallen – shockingly, desperately – in love.

He knew better than to open his big mouth.

 

They both continued to see women – Bodie because it would not have occurred to him to do otherwise and Doyle for the sake of a quiet life, an even keel. The sex between them continued, too, and although it was sporadic, sometimes hurried, somehow it was never perfunctory. Never quite casual. In fact Doyle was astonished at the amount Bodie seemed willing to give to it. He would come like fireworks under Doyle’s hands, hang on to him afterwards as if he might never let him go – kiss him uninhibitedly and look straight into his eyes when they hit the peaks together. Except for penetration they did just about everything two men could, and then Ray felt ungrateful that his body burned for more. As a lover, Bodie had turned out to be affectionate and considerate, seeing to Doyle’s satisfaction with a concentrated, good-humoured pride in his work. This went on, placidly, until Doyle almost longed for his partner to revert to type, show him the cavalier dark side his women often encountered. He could have blown up at him then – kicked him out of his bed, ended the sweet deadlock…

Doyle continued to see men, too, as he always had. Firmly in the habit of concealment, he didn’t see the need to bare his soul to his partner on the subject now, and God knew Bodie seemed unquestioningly happy to lie back and enjoy the skills Ray had accumulated over the years. He’d grown adept at hiding the occasional boyfriend and could subtly educate Bodie here too, insisting on locked doors and straight-acting when his more laid-back partner might have liked a quickie on surveillance or to stroll down Oxford Street with a casual hand on his behind. In the bathroom mirror, cleaning up after one round or preparing for another, Doyle often met his own eyes with a glitter of wry irony. The situation hurt – more than he dared examine – but he found it bleakly funny, too. Bodie would pass out if Doyle suggested they do more than suck one another off, stroke each other, grind hip to hip until the lightning struck. If Doyle told him he loved him.

Doyle knew this in the same way he knew that Bodie was allergic to dust and liked sugar in his tea. Bodie’s cheerful acceptance of this pleasant addition to his choice of sexual outlets would burn up in the sun and disappear if Doyle tried to push it to the next level. He wouldn’t understand. Like the fucking and being fucked Doyle craved, like the notion of permanence, it simply would not cross Bodie’s mind, nor fit his broad, contented world view.

And Bodie was contented at the moment, happier than Doyle had ever known him. No longer prey to the dark moods he couldn’t explain or struggle out of until they dissipated of their own accord. Doyle wondered if, having rocked his universe to its foundations, Bodie now felt more stable in his own. A companion for the streets and for his bed, too, when it all just got too complicated or tiresome to explain to a third party. Doyle understood that; benefited from it too. And while he knew he could not continue indefinitely with this constant, low-level heartbreak, for the moment it seemed a small price to pay – for the privilege of touching him at all, for waking up with him, for seeing him lose himself in bliss. For his happiness, which Doyle now found a much more pressing concern than his own.

 

God knew Bodie was happy this early May afternoon, flying into battle. All the elements were there. Lives to be saved, a good straightforward enemy who, political needs and aspirations aside, had misbehaved sufficiently to be smacked down hard. A chance to run with his old wolfpack, free of Cowley’s machinations and pussyfooting. And last night had been different, too. Doyle tensed in the driver’s seat as if the thought had passed between them, and Bodie sent an affirming hand to his thigh in its wake. “Stop that,” Doyle instructed firmly. “I am not tackling a hostage situation with an enormous hard-on.”

“Mm,” Bodie conceded regretfully, taking back the hand. Memories of their evening were giving him problems of his own, and he concentrated grimly on his various unpaid bills until the heat subsided.

 

They’d gone out to Kew, tempted by the first really fine night of the year, and hoping for if not expecting the next day off. Bank holidays seemed to exert a fatal charm for assassins and terrorists, but maybe they could swing a long lie in. Dinner in an untidily fashionable restaurant by the river, and then down to the Gardens for a walk. The place would be open until darkness fell. There was a scatter of other walkers and tourists, but these were dispersing fast as the air cooled and the sun set in coral and gold over Syon Park.

The fading light called shades of blue and grey from among the trees as the two of them followed the riverside track, watching canal boats draw slow lazy Vs on the broad sweep of water. In deference to Ray’s code of conduct – and he could see the sense of it, as well as appreciate the delicious tensions it lent to the period of waiting – Bodie did not so much as touch him until the path was empty before and behind them. But Ray had anticipated him, stride slowing to a sexy amble, deliberately jostling against his side. His profile was calm but Bodie could see the bottled-up merriment. “Hold up a sec,” he said, catching Doyle’s elbow. “Just want to tell you something.” Doyle fell for it, as he always did, frowning in concentration as Bodie glanced around them furtively, leaned in as if to whisper, and planted a noisy kiss on his brow.

“Bloody idiot.” Doyle exploded into laughter. He seized the lapels of Bodie’s elegant dinner jacket and kissed him back, clumsy, up on his toes. They grabbed one another like a pair of randy teenagers and ran for the trees.

 

The grass was damp, the night almost too cool for the adventure but not quite, sweet with the power of oncoming summer. In the branches above them horse-chestnut flowers gleamed whitely in the dusk. And they were serious again, for some reason terribly, not following their anticipated easy routes up through the kisses and caresses into a brief but satisfactory tumble in the dewfall grass. Both were painfully aroused. They knelt facing one another between two great curves of the chestnut’s roots, tense, for the last twenty seconds quite still. Bodie had divested Ray of his cream cotton jacket but let him keep his t-shirt as a concession to dropping temperatures. Ray’s nipples were up hard against the cloth, his breathing shallow and too fast. He sought Bodie’s eyes, his own wide and cautious in the green-shaded dusk. “Mate, what is it?  Are you all right?”

“Yeah.” Bodie reached for his hands. He felt that he’d gone pale, that there was an odd constriction round his heart. He had no idea why. He whispered, “What do you want?  Right now?”

“What do I…” Doyle tailed off. He thought he’d never seen Bodie so handsome as he looked right now, his white shirt unfastened beneath the black jacket, dark head tilted and his eyes filled with a light of their own as he waited for the answer. Helplessly Doyle saw his own impossible wish-list unspool itself in his head. To fuck you. Not to share you any more, or myself. To live with you, as long as we both stay alive. Feel your big solid cock in my arse. His cords became unbearably tight across his groin and he remembered with relief that further down the list were desires that might not send his partner running for the first eastbound tube. Oh, yes. He drew one breath and said, on a note of yearning so deep and rough it hurt his throat, “Touch yourself.”

Bodie blinked. He had not known what he was expecting. Not that. What was the sensation now flickering around his heart?  Relief?  Disappointment…?  Then he saw the hunger and fear putting shadows round his friend, and broke the trance. “Oh. You want…?”

God, was he blushing?  Doyle stared in fascination.

“That would turn you on?”

Doyle shrugged. “Not much point in denying it.” A shudder went through him and the constriction of his trousers worsened. “Could come thinking about it.” He smiled, remembering dreams. “Have done.”

“Oh, well,” Bodie managed uncertainly. “In that case…”

 

He leaned his back against the tree and tried to look more comfortable than he felt. Doyle had moved like a lynx to sit and watch him from a few yards away, but the detachment his distance implied had been too hard for both of them and now he was kneeling close enough to touch. Close enough to see every detail. Bodie supposed that if his own reluctance to do this were serious, he would be losing some of his obvious readiness to get on with it…  But a heat that was not arousal swept through him, and he realised that, for the first time in his adult life, he felt shy. “Christ, Ray. Sorry. I can’t.”

Doyle took pity on him instantly. “Oh. It’s all right. C’mere.”

That felt better: Ray’s sinuous frame pressed to his own, deft sure hands in their usual places, unzipping him, taking hold. They would do the usual, see to one another as usual. Like good partners. Like good… friends.

Suddenly Bodie was both angry and disappointed with himself. “Ray,” he said, “hang on.”

Doyle stopped what he was doing and looked up. “You’re making heavy weather of this tonight, old son.”

“Yeah, I know. Don’t mean to get your balls in a tangle. Just… What was it, about watching me?”

“Dunno. Didn’t get to do it, did I?” The jade eyes were full of teasing humour. Forgiving him, letting him off the hook. As usual. Bodie sighed. “I know. I meant – the idea of it, you cretin.”

“Ah, sweet talk, eh?” Doyle kissed him, the shape of his smile a well-known ghost on Bodie’s cheek. Then he sobered a little, sat up to arm’s length. “Watching you?  Oh, God…  Well, to see what you do when you’re on your own. See your lovely hands…” He shivered finely, steeled himself for honesty. “See you bring yourself off.”

Jesus. That hit a target. Bodie was apparently covered with them, inside and out, existence unsuspected until Doyle made yet another bullseye. Through a tightening throat, Bodie told him, “What I do when I’m alone…”

“Yeah?”

Soft, encouraging. He was kneeling very still. Bodie dropped a hand and removed Doyle’s from off the opening to his cords, replaced it with his own. “I think about you.”

“Oh, Bodie.”

“Makes me come so hard. Like… Ah, let me show you.”

Doyle swallowed audibly. “Don’t have to.”

“Want to.”

 

He was lost in it now, so deeply into himself and the act that Doyle could have died from the sweetness of watching him. Propped against the tree, head back, his fist worked his cock in long strokes. The twilight was advanced now and his pale skin gleamed silver in the shine off the river. The blackness of his hair, his suit, his eyes – Doyle swayed where he knelt, almost drowned in the contrasts. “You’re bloody beautiful,” he whispered, and Bodie’s pace increased to an urgent jerking. A cry broke from him. His free hand flailed out and Doyle caught it, let himself be borne forward as Bodie came, pulsing silver over his fist. “God!” Ray moaned, orgasm bursting from him at the first touch of his own hand, collapsing into his embrace. He buried his face in his shoulder. “I love you. God, I love you.” But Bodie heard no more than a muffled exclamation, through the fabric of his clothes and the thunder of his heart, as Doyle had known he would.

 

They took a taxi home, too exhausted to face the walk to the station. The darkness, and jackets strategically carried, covered the worst of their stained clothes. Halfway back – completing Doyle’s astonishment – Bodie slid a hand across the space between them and grasped his fingers tight.

Life was full of surprises. Doyle had begun to let himself forget that, in the dully-aching, comfortable sameness of his routine with Bodie, which he had thought past remedy.

He should have remembered.

 

**

 

Doyle had never quite got the concept of siege as a spectator sport. Given the choice, he would have preferred to be catching up on some reading, or down the pub with Bodie, idling the afternoon away over a pint. Still, it was Bank Holiday, and a bored British public with time on its hands might explain the herds of reporters and outside-broadcast trucks, their supporting cast of vans selling tea, soup and hot dogs. Every emergency vehicle the city could muster in a crisis had turned out, too, and Doyle, still warmed from the night before, fought not to find the sea of blue lights festive.

Waving ID at the soldier who had flagged them down at the perimeter, he manoeuvred the Capri through the chaos. Didn’t much matter where he parked – Princes Gate was sealed off to traffic from the Albert Hall to Knightsbridge – but he didn’t want her to be in the way if the show kicked off. Squinting through his sunglasses, he saw a tall, solidly-built man in camouflage gear turn away from a group of others similarly dressed, frown at the approaching car a hundred yards or so off, then lift a hand in greeting.

Doyle pulled up the handbrake and got out. He assumed that this was Bodie’s SAS liaison, and when the R/T crackled he left his partner to it and leaned back in to pick up the handset. Just Base, wanting confirmation of their arrival. He provided this, then straightened up into the sunlight again, scanning the crowd between him and the troopers for Bodie – who was somehow through it already, and striding up to the SAS man with some ferocity. Doyle frowned: he must have practically sprinted to get there so fast, and he didn’t look happy. God, not another ghost from the past… Waiting to see if his partner required backup for this encounter, Doyle stretched his heat-damped spine and took a moment to survey the landscape: exit routes, cover, lines of fire. But Bodie was only locked in what looked like rather intense conversation, and deciding to let the pair of them get any backlogged testosterone safely discharged before introductions, Doyle headed off for one of the tea vans. He was thirsty, now he thought about it. Bodie had caught him on his way to the squad room for a cuppa, and there had gone their morning break, up against the wall in an empty interrogation cell…

 

Bodie should have known. He’d kept track of most of his army acquaintance, and asked himself fiercely if his ignorance of who was ops leader for the CRW these days had been a deliberate omission, an avoidance of shadows. “You asked for me on purpose,” he said bluntly, squaring up to John Farrell. “Why?”

The SAS commander was leaning over a trestle table behind a barricade of army Land Rovers, building plans spread out beneath his capable, beautiful hands. Bodie never had been able to get within five yards of him without triggering his alarms, his weird ESP, which he explained by informing Bodie that he smelled of fresh come and honey. They had both been very young. Bodie wondered what he smelled of now. Farrell said, plainly amused, “Hello to you, too. Well, I asked because you used to be good, and I heard you still are. And I admit I wanted to see you again, when the chance came along. Come on, Will. It’s all blood under the bridge. I haven’t got a problem with it any more. Have you?”

Thirty seconds ago, Bodie would have sworn he didn’t. He had forgotten Farrell with guilty totality upon his recruitment to Special Air. He said, hoarsely, “No. Neither of us has time for one anyway, do we?” He glanced over his shoulder. “I’d just rather you didn’t open your big trap in front of Doyle.”

“Doyle?  That your partner, the bonny lad fetching you your tea over there?”

“Yes. Farrell - ”

“John, please. Or Johnny, for old times’ sake, if you like.” Farrell let the plans roll up and stood straight, surveying the street and Ray Doyle with cold impartiality. “Doesn’t look like he’s got the weight for it.”

Bodie snorted. “Trust me, he doesn’t need it. He’s lethal, hand-to-hand and with a gun.”

“Oh, I do trust you. You’re still the bastard you were, I can tell that by looking at you. But this is an SAS op, Will. We don’t need a civilian on board.”

“A civilian?  Christ, you mean Ray?  He’s not...”

“He is to me. And to you, if you’re honest, on a job like this. Do you want him caught between the terrorists and the soldiers?”

Bodie looked across the sundrenched street. The tall plane trees that lined Hyde Park were shifting slowly in the breeze. Their leaves cast a dapple on the tarmac, on the crowds and the cars, with a sweetness that denied the world of hurt waiting in the embassy behind him. And there was Doyle, of a piece with it all. Smiling, effortlessly chatting up the girl behind the counter, unable to help himself, charm palpable to Bodie through 20 yards of noisy air. Bodie thought about the possibility of having, for once, an excuse to leave him out of the line of fire. He said, faintly, “He’s a good mate.”

“Then, let’s keep him alive for you.”

“He’ll never go for it.”

“I don’t mean leave him on the pavement. But I can strategise him to the periphery, if he’ll take an order off me.”

“He might, if you don’t make it sound like one.”

“All right. Let’s see what we can do.” Farrell turned back to the plans. “Come and have a look at this lot. I’m glad you’re here, Will; you’re worth ten of these kids they saddle me with these days.”

 

The long afternoon proceeded. A telephone dialogue was set up between the hostage-takers and a government negotiator, much to Bodie’s irritation: demands for everything from safe passage to a picnic lunch were going back and forth along the wire, and hopes of a peaceful resolution were wonderful, of course, but a hell of a lot more time-consuming than a short swift raid. And Bodie had plans for that evening. It was time he did more for Ray than show him the outside edge, time to move things along. The prospect scared him stupid, but he knew it was time. Leaning on the bonnet of an army truck, watching Doyle size up the façade of the embassy building – head tipped back, hands wedged firm into the hollow of his flexible spine – Bodie imagined the luxury of falling, properly and completely and possibly forever. Imagined how Ray would make the catch.

Yes, sunbeam. You’re staying out of it this time.

Farrell poked him in the shoulder, making him twitch.

“Fuck. Don’t do that.”

“Never did see me coming, did you?”

“No, more’s the pity. What?”

“They’re talking. We’re on standby. Can’t leave the area, but there’s a decent pub round the corner, if you want to go and catch up.” Not at all, Bodie thought – gave brief and intense thought to the pleasure of being left behind. But Farrell was already walking away. “Bring your mate,” he told Bodie, without inflection, without turning around.

 

It was less of an ordeal than Bodie had feared: half Farrell’s team had turned up, too, and were cheerily stripping the bar of crisps, nuts and cheese-and-pickle sandwiches. No alcohol on standby rules, but they were making the best of the orange juice and pop. And Ray, bless him, was never overawed by the soldiers, was dividing his attention between the barmaid and the lads in his immediate vicinity with a casual ease that made Bodie both proud of him and faintly annoyed with himself: Doyle was plainly giving him room to chat with Farrell, and why not?  Bodie had at no point signalled to him his preference for anything else. Distractedly he listened to Farrell going over personnel and plans, then got interested despite himself and tuned in.

He had forgotten the keen, tight pleasure of military shorthand. It extended beyond language, switched him into a mode of being where individual feeling and thought were no longer an asset; were an encumbrance he did well to leave behind. It was restful. He realised with shame how often he had left Ray to do the emotional work for both of them; how often he had looked to his partner to see how he should respond. Ray understood that, he thought: made it easy for him. Maybe too easy. He’d tried to make it up to him in bed, prove himself adult and functional, give him in privacy what he couldn’t lay down on the streets… But, Christ, it was hard. Nothing in his life had taught it to him. It hurt like pulling scabs off, like tearing open stitches on a wound. All Farrell wanted of him – these days, at any rate – was a plan for getting inside of a building and killing a group of armed men…

And one other thing. Breath leaving his lungs, Bodie looked up. Ray and most of the soldiers had spilled out into the beer garden, where the lowering sun was turning the redbrick a tawny gold, setting shortlived exotic fire to the sooty privet. Farrell had, without obvious manoeuvring, selected a table in the shadows, and his knee was pressing firm to Bodie’s own.

Bodie finished his lemonade in one swallow of sheer nerves and banged the glass down. “Back off, you mad bastard.”

“Okay,” Farrell said mildly, and retracted the knee. He let his companion off the hook of his crystalline gaze and looked out to the terrace, leaving Bodie long enough to realise, with a shudder of nausea, that he looked a bit like George Cowley, plus a few stone and minus two decades. “But do you remember, Will?  You used to love it. I put my fist in your arse to the wrist once, you were so fucking open for it. I used to make you come so hard you cried.”

Jesus Christ. Bodie squared his elbows on the table and pressed white knuckles to his mouth. “Farrell. Shut up.”

“Why?  You had this look, mate. Like a little kid who wants everything on the top shelf. Drugs, porn, money, the biggest bloody gun…  Never for any good reason, either – you just never got given, and it was all just out of reach. You look that way now. How long is it since you last felt alive?”

I was coming to life last night in a twilight park – just not in a way you would ever recognise. Aloud, Bodie managed, “I’m fine. It was a lifetime ago. I’ve changed.”

Farrell shifted slightly. Bodie thought he was getting to his feet, to go to the bar or the bog or straight to hell, for all he cared – but no, it was a brief dip into arm’s reach and over Bodie’s lap, as quickly and subtly reversed. Bodie stared at him in disbelief, the instant’s contact echoing on his flesh. “What the fuck…”

“Changed?  Oh, you’ve bloody transformed, you have. That’ll be why you’ve got a boner like a Pershing missile. Come on, lovely lad. Five minutes – or three, knowing you – and you’ll be right as rain.”

 

**

 

“Hiya, Ray.”

Doyle turned to find Jax at his shoulder, and smiled in relief. He could keep the military banter up as long as necessary, but he’d been getting fairly bored in the process. “Thank God. A human face.”

“As long as you’re not fussed about the colour. Think they’ll let me sit in the back of the truck?”

“Long as you don’t get…  What’s the word?”

Jax grinned. “Uppity. I’ll do me best.”

“Are you part of his lordship’s retinue now, too?”

“What?”

“That’s how they drafted me in – as Bodie’s staff.”

Jax choked faintly, carefully swallowed his mouthful of beer. “No. The old man sent me and Mac to give you some backup. The talks have broken down; you’re going to get called out of here any minute now.” He glanced around. “Where is our dashing ex-paratrooper, anyway?”

“Over there, consulting with the real thing…  Or he was, anyway.” Doyle’s R/T beeped at the same time as his colleague’s. “That’s the balloon going up, then. Where’s McCabe?”

“Out in the car where he belongs. Mac and pubs don’t mix, not on a school day. Come with us and you call tell us the grim details.”

“Oh, the paras will give you a briefing – ”

“Yes, but Mac might understand yours. Come on.”

 

**

 

A sordid venue, even by John’s unexalted standards. Indiscreet, too: only a shoulder-height wall and some burgeoning weeds along the top of it, between the deliveries yard and the pub’s rear exit. Too late, Bodie remembered that in the grip of Farrell’s savage advances, he could not bring himself to care. That the thrill of it lay in the danger. There was a derelict Ford Anglia abandoned in the corner: Farrell did not even have to direct him.

Sunwarmed metal under his palms, then against his cheek as Farrell’s weight bore him down. The bonnet was flecked with dirt, faintly sticky with last summer’s honeydew. Must’ve been left under a lime tree, Bodie thought, mind flinching from the reality of having his cords wrenched down. He could smell old petrol and oil, and rust with its blood-metal tang, and his own sweat and arousal. Farrell grunted and shoved against him, the first time through cotton, the next with his thick erect prick, raw and naked between Bodie’s buttocks. Straight on target. No mercy, ever. That had once been fine with Bodie, but now all he could think about, with sick regret, was how Doyle might have gone about the work. He felt the head dryly straining his arsehole and panicked in the teeth of excitement. “Jesus, Farrell, stop.”

“Not a chance.”

“I can’t do it, not like this.”

“You never used to need soft lights and sweet music. Or lube, for that matter.”

“I know, but we were screwing all the time. And – I was 25 years old…”

“Ah, be quiet. You’re still good for it.” A brief respite, then spit-damped fingers working his anus wide. “That’ll do you. Let me in.”

 

Anyone else, Doyle might not have heard. Bodie was keeping it desperately quiet, mouth clamped shut against Farrell’s pounding. But there was no other voice in the world to which Doyle was so attuned: just as he had learned to hear what Bodie left unsaid, he helplessly now picked up unspoken pain, and wheeled to find it. Jax heard nothing, but years of teamwork swung him round in synch with Doyle.

There was only a moment: one flashing instant when the evening wind caught the leaves of spring growth on the wall. Then Doyle understood, and got himself and Jax out onto the pavement so fast they almost fell into the traffic.

 

“Fucking hell, Ray!” Jax’s eyes were open wide, his face an incredulous blank. “What…  What in God’s name was that?”

“Nothing,” Doyle told him, in a voice Jax had not heard before. “I didn’t see anything. And nor did you. Nor did you.” Slowly Doyle realised he had slammed his blameless colleague up against a brick wall by the lapels to get this last point across to him, and let go with a shudder. “Sorry. Sorry, Jax.”

“It’s all right. I…  Are you all right?”

“Yeah. Why wouldn’t I be?” Abruptly Doyle realised that he was, although his heart was pounding with the visceral shock of seeing his partner laid out like that. But it was no worse than if he’d been knocked down in a fight. Why shouldn’t Bodie have – be spectacularly had by – another man?  Doyle had done the same, five times at least since their relationship began, which didn’t leave much room for moral outrage. And if he was now kicking himself for his own stupidity, for his lack of nerve, for his assumption that Bodie couldn’t cope with the prospect of fucking or getting fucked – that was hardly Bodie’s fault, was it?  Hardly Bodie’s fault if Doyle now wanted to throw up or cry… Jax was looking at him with a kindness Doyle knew he normally reserved for his kids, despite the rough treatment. “Sorry,” he said again, turning away.

 

Farrell’s three minutes had been on the generous side. Through a blur of tears Bodie saw the second hand of his own watch – just about all he could see, jammed flat down over the bonnet now – sweep past the two’s halfway point, and felt his trapped cock, getting crushed against the car by Farrell’s thrusting, rise and fill and try to burst. That was the problem, he reflected, from increasing distance. A rough fuck in the arse would do it for him every time. There was no special magic about John Farrell – he was just one of the few souls brave enough to tackle the job. Bodie groaned, silencing it in the crook of his elbow, stretched out across the car bonnet and came, sharp and violent, a brief muscle-tearing wrench. The movement in his backside – Farrell was in him with customary depth and thoroughness – became anguish the second his excitement had ebbed. Bodie, who had forgotten that particular human misery, rode it out, eyes squeezed shut, flashbacks playing in his head’s redblack darkness of Ray on his knees in morning sunlight, sucking him off with tender concentration, as if that was the one thing worth doing in the world.

Farrell didn’t keep him waiting long. His rhythm broke down and he sank a bruising grip into the flesh of Bodie’s shoulders  “Oh, you bastard,” he rasped, mouth wet and hot against Bodie’s nape, big tongue pressing. A pulse-beat later Bodie felt the corresponding change inside – a warmth, and a slackening. He whispered, “Christ almighty,” and clenched his fists tight to get through the withdrawal in silence.

Farrell buttoned up, watching him with amused detachment. “Not so much fun these days, then?”

Bodie sought for an answer. It felt important to him that he hold Farrell’s gaze while sorting out his clothes, his harness, checking the clip of his gun. Then he surprised himself by turning aside and vomiting onto the cobbles. His companion observed this stonily. “Well,” he commented, as Bodie straightened up, shivering and wiping his mouth, “maybe you grew up after all.”

 

**

 

Bodie was faintly puzzled by Doyle’s acquiescence to John Farrell’s battle plan, but his relief was too intense for him to question it. Doyle, who was experiencing a loss of interest he prayed was temporary – because it felt total – found himself waiting amongst the paratroopers in hot and uncomfortable body armour, exchanging small talk and vaguely hoping for a kick-off. The afternoon wore on, growing warmer and noisier. Bodie stopped by to inform him that Heathrow was bringing its planes in on lower flight paths, and that the gas-board men working in the adjoining street had been instructed to get busy drilling. “Cover noise for when we go in. You all right, mate?  Don’t mind bringing up the rear?”

Doyle gave it thought. He should mind, and he was aware that in normal circumstances Commander John Farrell would by now be very tired of him. His place was at Bodie’s side. His indifference at present felt alien, like the onset of a flu virus, something he could shake off with an effort of will. But the street felt airless and dead around him, and for the first time in longer than he could remember, he simply couldn’t be bothered. “No, I’m fine.” He gave Bodie the subtle onceover he would expect, handsome as he was in borrowed camo gear and bulletproofs. “Bring up your rear any time.” That was expected, too, though perhaps not so loudly – Bodie, happily indiscreet for the general public, was not so keen on a suggestive comment here. Momentarily Doyle wanted to kill him. Then he took pity: now wasn’t the time or the place. And Bodie didn’t look great, either, grey around the eyes. Battle nerves?  He’d confided once that he did get scared. “I’m fine,” Doyle repeated, managing a halfway-genuine smile. “You go and play with your soldiers.”

 

“Got something going with him, then?  Your Ray?  Is that the problem?”

Bodie turned and gave Farrell a look that should have dropped him dead in his boots. He and the commander were poised either side of a stairwell at the rear of the embassy building, Doyle and the others biding their time in an alley a few yards away. Twenty minutes earlier they had all stood and watched a news feed of the embassy’s press attaché – or rather what was left of him – getting slung lifeless out onto the street, and the Met had handed over to the MoD. So now they were in front of camera – the SAS, for the first time in its shadowy history, about to conduct business under the gaze of the world. And there was going to be hell to pay. Bodie glanced up to the roof, where the abseil team was waiting. “You pick your times for a chat, don’t you?”

“Well, if you think about it, this might be our last chance. Come on. I’ve seen how you look at him. Serious, is it?”

You’d be the last one I’d tell. “No.”

“That’s good, because I think he saw us.”

Bodie’s throat went dry and a kind of dead sickness went through him, a desiccating misery like winter in fresh leaves. A child’s desire swept through him, to wipe out the last few hours of his existence. Rip it out from the book of his life.

He wouldn’t stop there, either – he’d tear out every sheet that bore John Farrell’s name. The fact that none of it had been Farrell’s fault just made it worse. Bodie supposed, on reflection – he hadn’t even the energy to be embarrassed about it any more – that it had been a kind of love. He hadn’t recognised it because men were what you shagged when the supply of girls dried up, not sodding love objects. All right, he and Farrell had loved one another, for five insane months on a Belfast tour of duty. Fucked one another stupid, too, God knew, in an access of sexual obsession neither had known they had in them. But there was more to it than that. They’d walked through the nail bombs and car bombs and culvert bombs, the riots and the scalding tides of religious hate and vengeance, and they’d watched one another’s backs with more than camaraderie. With a kind of rough, unspoken love.

Nevertheless, when Special Air had called Bodie up, and Farrell had asked him – begged him – not to go, in the name of love, making the fatal mistake of daring to speak its name  – Bodie had laughed in his face, in terror and shame and disgust. Informed him they were soldiers, not a pair of queers. Farrell’s suicide attempt shortly thereafter had been adroitly covered up by his COs, turned into a drinking binge gone horribly awry.

Farrell deserved better than what I was. Ray deserves better than what I’ve become. “Doesn’t matter,” he said dryly. “Ray’s worth a million of me, John, to be honest. If I could love anyone, it’d be him. But as far as sex goes – it’s nothing. Nice off-duty fuck if I can’t be arsed to chase after a girl, that’s all.”

 

It just wasn’t Doyle’s day. Ordered to file in silence with the others into the stairwell’s shadows, one bulletproofed soldier anonymous behind a visor, he heard only the last part.

He absorbed it in silence: his dignity was dear to him. Then John Farrell grinned directly at him, and chucked a charge onto the landing above them – signal for the abseil team and the ground assault – and the end began.

 

**

 

Bodie’s dive across the open space would look like a kamikaze run, a suicide dash, to the uninitiated. But he knew he had cover. There was one spot in the big square office from which cover could be provided, and there would be a man in place. Bodie had become so utterly used to Doyle’s perfect understanding of such matters that he did not even glance to check.

And Ray saw it, from the safe distance to which Farrell had ordered him – saw the space between a stately marble pillar and a desk. He saw that; saw Bodie fail to confirm. Bodie’s total conviction met Doyle’s need to be there so hard that for an instant he was – in his head the kill-shot was home, his system alight with the primal elation of saving his partner, better than sex, better than breathing, better than saving himself. Farrell dropped into the cover spot – too late, Doyle thought, but it would be all right, because Bodie had bored him to catatonia with tales of how good they were, how fast, these men, this elite…

But John Farrell’s reflexes were not tied to the blood-hot mystery that connected Ray with his other half in a shootout. Farrell was competent, not inspired.

It wasn’t enough.

 

Doyle knelt in the middle of a raging gun battle. With the luck of the damned, he knew no bullet would touch him now. The roaring of Kalashnikovs, and the unexpected M60 that had torn Bodie open from ribs to thigh, faded off to a seashore whisper. His own heart was louder in his ears.

“Fuck,” Bodie said, lifting a crimson hand from the hole in his side. Doyle’s promptly slammed down in its place, but he was bleeding so hard from elsewhere that it made little difference. “Armour-piercing bullets.”

“Looks like,” Doyle agreed, distractedly, lifting him into his lap, out of the drowning pool of his own lungs. “Now just shut up and breathe. Breathe.”

“Always better… equipped than we are. Always… You want to tell Cowley.”

You tell him.” Doyle cradled him, willing warmth and life into the failing body. He would pour out all he had and not stop when he was empty. He would go where Bodie was going. “Jesus!” He grabbed the bone-white face, leaving a bloody print. Terror and desolation whelmed in him, bigger than the ocean, a loneliness he hadn’t felt since childhood. “Don’t go!” Fiercely he silenced himself: he would not communicate his fear into the dying man. “It doesn’t end here, love, you know it doesn’t!  Hang on!”

Bodie smiled at him. His eyes were blank and depthless with shock. “Sorry, Ray,” he managed. His grip on Doyle’s arm went slack. “I can’t.”

 

A commando was marching the M60’s owner down the stairs from the upper floor where he’d taken refuge: Doyle gathered that it was over. The boy – and it was a boy, Doyle noted without a flicker, a kid in his late teens – had been stripped of his weaponry. Doyle said to the SAS man, “Let him go. You step aside.”

“What?  It’s all right, I’ve got him – ”

The boy was crying with fright.

“Let him go!  Get out of the way!”

The commando had never heard such a voice before; hadn’t thought human throat capable. It hit walls and glass almost like music, cracked down into a vulpine snarl. He obeyed it, and watched the fine-boned man, who had seemed so out of place among the troops, step up and shoot his captive through the heart.

 

John Farrell had gone to kneel beside Bodie, on the priceless Persian carpet now transforming to the colours of spilled-out human life. In the dead silence following the shot, Doyle noted – short, red thoughts – that the commander was very busy, very active and urgent, about his ministrations to a corpse…

Farrell looked up dryly. “If you’re quite finished there, Doyle, I could use some help with wound pressure.”