Bodie's tone was uncompromising, his stance furious, but Cowley's glare was more than a match.
"Ach, man, there's no-one else with the right background. I'm not offering you a choice. You set off first thing tomorrow. Betty has the file. Collect it on your way out and make sure you familiarise yourself with its contents. Return it to her in the morning before you go."
Bodie's lips tightened. "I can't—"
"You can't what, 3.7?" Cowley's voice was like ice, the accent becoming more noticeable. "You can't do the job anymore? Or you can't leave your partner?"
The brief silence that followed was nearly loud enough to shatter the whisky bottle stored in the cupboard next to Cowley's desk. Bodie's face was expressionless, his self-control powerful enough to eliminate all emotion from his features. But his eyes—
Cowley broke the gaze first.
Abruptly, he stood, and turned to look out of the window. With his back to Bodie, his voice seemed softer, more human. "Doyle has been out of hospital now for two weeks. He should be perfectly capable of managing on his own, Bodie. If not, he should either be back in hospital, or at the very least, in a convalescent home. Is that what he needs?"
His only answer was the slam of his office door. With a sigh, he picked up his heavy rimmed glasses from the desk, settled them back on his face and picked up the next file awaiting his attention.
Four weeks later
Bodie let himself into Doyle's flat and quickly reset the alarm. He was glad to see that, if his partner was not there, he had at least completed the usual security procedure. The consequences of failing to do so on that one occasion would no doubt be drummed into all CI5 agents in training and refresher courses for ever.
Dropping his bag in the hallway, he heaved a sigh of relief. After four reluctant weeks out of all but the most essential contact on the undercover job in the north, it was more than good to be back. The only thing that would have made it better was Doyle actually being there.
Taking off his jacket, he frowned slightly. He had got back yesterday, but as usual after a long job had been immured in HQ until he could complete his initial report. He had asked Cowley and several of the other agents he came across during the breaks in his debriefing how Doyle was doing, but it seemed that none of them had seen him recently. Yesterday he had dismissed the prickle of unease triggered by their replies, but it was back now.
He shivered as he made his way into the living room. Doyle had been allocated this flat while he was still in hospital recovering from Mayli's assassination attempt. Bodie had moved his partner's belongings and got the place sorted out, glad to have something to do while Doyle was spending so much time barely conscious, and equally glad that neither of them would have to return to the scene of the shooting. It had been surprisingly thoughtful of someone at HQ, Bodie reflected now, as the large rooms of the converted Regency building made it easy for Doyle to get around in the wheelchair he had still sometimes needed when he first came home, and the floor to ceiling windows made the place light and airy. But also cold, Bodie realised, shivering again. It was a bitter day, and it felt no warmer inside than out. Striding to the radiator, Bodie cursed as the cold metal chilled him further. What the hell was Doyle playing at, letting the heating go off on a day like this? Unless it was faulty? He went into the spare bedroom and opened the airing cupboard door to inspect the central heating control. It was set to off. So was the hot water, which made Bodie groan. He really, really wanted a bath, and now was going to have to wait at least half an hour while the water heated. Switching both controls firmly on, he decided to get himself something to eat while he was waiting.
Five minutes later, he had moved beyond irritated to definitely worried. And still hungry. There was no food in the kitchen, apart from a couple of tins of soup in a cupboard, and a pint of milk and box of eggs in the fridge. Nothing else at all. It was almost as if Doyle had gone away, clearing out the kitchen and turning off the heat; but unless he had made radical progress in the last four weeks – not impossible, given his partner's normal rapid recuperation time – it seemed unlikely. Besides, where would he go? His mum was getting on a bit, and lived in a small one bedroom flat with no room for overnight visitors, and Bodie couldn't think of anyone else Ray would choose to stay with.
Damn, he was hungry. Well, if he couldn't have a bath yet, he might as well nip out to the shops and stock up a bit. Perhaps Ray would be back by then, and he could find out just exactly what was going on.
But Ray was not there when he staggered back in through the door, clutching several bags of shopping. At least it was warm in here now. Making and eating an enormous sandwich took less time than unpacking the shopping had, and then he went to soak in a hot bath, glad to find that he still had clean clothes here from when he had been staying with Doyle after his discharge.
The short winter day was drawing in, but there was still no sign of his partner. Bodie was feeling distinctly edgy now. He knew there was no point in calling HQ; while Doyle was on sick leave, they wouldn't be monitoring his movements in the usual way. Suddenly, he had a thought. Murphy hadn't been at HQ yesterday; perhaps he might know what Doyle had been up to. Bodie had, after all, asked Murph to keep an eye on Ray for him while he had gone undercover.
It took a while to track Murphy down, but he managed it in the end. Turned out he had a couple of days off, but since he was still in London Bodie had no compunction about dragging him away from whatever he was doing to come to the phone.
"You're back then," commented Murphy. Bodie reflected irritably that his colleague had always had a tendency to state the obvious, but swallowed the sarcastic rejoinder in the interests of getting to the nub of the matter.
"Yeah, got back yesterday and finished the report this morning. Thing is, Murph, I can't seem to find Ray. He's not at his place – hasn't been here all day. D'you have any idea where he might be?"
"Sorry mate. Not a clue."
"Well, how's he doing, anyway? Is he OK?"
"S'far as I know, he's doing fine."
"What d'you mean, 's'far as you know'? I thought you were keeping an eye on him!"
The brief silence that followed did nothing to improve Bodie's blood pressure.
"Yeah, well, it's been a bit busy, hasn't it, what with you undercover for weeks and Doyle still on sick leave. It's not as if Cowley can magic up replacements out of thin air. Haven't exactly had much time to go checking up on anyone, have I?"
"Murphy, did you actually check up on him at all?"
This time, even Murphy could clearly tell his silence wasn't going down well, as it only lasted a couple of seconds before he began to babble. "Look, Bodie, I'm sorry, alright, but it really has been busy and Doyle must have been doing okay before you went off or you wouldn't have gone, would you, and..."
"Cowley didn't give me any choice in the matter," Bodie grated out. "I didn't want to go. Ray wasn't in any fit state to be left on his own all the time, which is why," his voice rose, "I asked you and some of the other lads to keep an eye on him. You know damn well he'd have to be at death's door to ask for help. Christ, Murph, it wasn't a lot to ask, was it?"
"I'm sorry, Bodie, I really am. I did try to phone a few times, but I never seemed to catch him in, so I thought he must be doing alright if he was out so much." He did sound contrite, but that didn't do a lot to placate Bodie. "Look, d'you want me to come round? Perhaps I can help you try and work out where he's gone?"
"Don't bother," snarled Bodie, and slammed the phone down.
He was just getting up to see if there might be some sort of indication in Doyle's bedroom of where he might have gone when he heard the sound of a key in the door. He was yanking it open before the person on the other side had a chance to realise he was there.
"Ray! Where the hell have you been? Are you alright?" He grabbed his partner by the arm to tug him inside, noticing absently that he didn't have to pull very hard at all. He reset the alarm by rote, his attention fixed on the other man.
"Bodie!" The smile on Doyle's face was tentative, and something about his partner seemed slightly off to him. Still holding Doyle's arm, he pulled him into the living room where he could see him better. Doyle was still talking, asking when Bodie had got back, how the job had gone, how he was, but Bodie's concentration was focused on his partner's appearance. Heart sinking, he catalogued the pale face and drawn features lurking behind the welcoming grin. His hand tightened on his partner's arm, and suddenly he registered that all he could feel was padding. He looked more closely at Doyle's torso, to see layers of clothes giving him the appearance of the Michelin man.
"Blimey, mate, I know it's cold out there, but anyone would think you were trekking through the Arctic, not just coming home from a day out. Where've you been, anyway?"
Doyle's gaze slipped away and he shrugged slightly as he said, "Nowhere special". Even under the bulky layers, Bodie noticed him tense, as though the slight movement of his shoulders had hurt. Grimly, he started to undo the padded jacket that formed Doyle's top layer.
"Oi, what d'you think you're doing? Leave off, mate!"
"C'mon, you can't stay in all this lot. You'll melt."
"Yeah, well I can manage without your help, thank you very much. I've been undressing myself for years."
Bodie's smirk was forced, but he left the other man to get on with it while he headed for the kitchen and lit the oven. "Shepherd's pie alright for dinner?" he called over his shoulder as he opened the fridge.
There was a pause, and then Doyle's voice sounded, a bit muffled as if he was still removing clothes. "Uh, Bodie, I don't think I've got much in. Maybe you'd better –"
Whatever he'd been about to say was drowned as Bodie calmly replied, "Nah, it's alright. I noticed you were out of just about everything, so I stocked up a bit. Where is it, by the way?"
"The shopping, berk. I mean, that is what you were doing today, isn't it? Going to the supermarket?"
"Oh. No. I-I forgot."
Bodie finished removing the shepherd's pie from the packaging, shoved it in the oven and slammed the door shut. Grabbing the bottle of scotch he had put on the worktop, he marched back into the living room, intent on giving his partner a piece of his mind.
"What are you trying to do, Ray – diet? I mean, there was absolutely nothing in your kitchen to eat, apart from a couple of tins of soup and some eggs, and last time I heard, you were supposed to be trying to put weight back on, not lose it. Just what were you intending to eat tonight – bloody hell!"
Ray was coming out of his bedroom, obviously having just dumped his outer clothes in there. Bodie hadn't believed that people's jaws really dropped until now. He was only surprised his hadn't hit the carpet.
Doyle wasn't just thin, he was gaunt. He was even thinner, if it were possible, than when he had been released from hospital. How the hell is he staying upright? He looks like he's just come out of Belsen.
Fear came out as anger, and Bodie's voice was harsh. "Sit down before you fucking fall down."
Doyle froze. "Bodie?" His voice was rough and uncertain, the happiness that had lit his face gone like paper in a flame, leaving only an ashen pallor behind.
Bodie was across the room in a couple of strides. Resisting the temptation simply to push his partner down, he took him by the arm. His hand was trembling as he forced himself not to be too rough. Pulling Doyle gently over to the sofa, he sat, bringing his partner down with him.
"Right, mate. What the hell is going on here?"
Doyle's face closed, and he shook his head tightly. "Nothing's 'going on'. What are you making such a fuss about, anyway? Just haven't been shopping for a bit, that's all."
"Oh yeah. That's why there's no food in the place, no heating on – in the middle of fucking winter! – no hot water. What are you trying to do, for God's sake? The hospital told you you'd be susceptible to infections until you were completely recovered, that you need to stay warm, regain all that weight you lost, and you seem to be trying to do completely the opposite!"
Goaded beyond caution, Doyle spoke before he had time to reflect. "Well, I didn't exactly have much fucking choice, did I? Since I'm on sick leave, CI5 doesn't pay the bills. You have any idea how much it costs to heat this place? These high ceilings and big windows look great, but I might just as well try to heat Buckingham Palace for what the gas board's been charging! Since my pay got cut back, I just didn't have a lot of choice, did I?"
Bodie's jaw was responding unduly to gravity again. "What the hell are you on about? Your pay shouldn't have been cut yet, surely? You've only been off work –" Bodie stopped as he tried to calculate just how long Ray had been away.
"It's two months since I was shot," Doyle's voice was quiet. It was the first time Bodie had actually heard him state so plainly what had happened to him, and even as most of his attention was on what Doyle clearly meant to say next, a small part of him hoped that this acknowledgement might be a step forward. Bodie hadn't forgotten the very frank discussion he'd had with one of Doyle's doctors not long before he discharged his patient, the brunt of which was that, regardless of how dangerous Doyle's job might be, no-one escaped unscathed from nearly dying, and refusing to talk about it at all was not going to help his recovery. The thought was fleeting, though, as he registered what Doyle continued to say. "After twelve weeks, they put you on half pay. Thing is, they count back over the last twelve months and tot up all the sick leave you've had. What with one thing and another, I'd already had quite a few days even before that little assassin decided to pay me a visit. So I only got a few weeks' full pay, and then it dropped right back."
"I think we need to have a word with Cowley about this," Bodie said, ominously. "But even if they're right, you can't tell me you don't have any savings?"
"Just leave it, will you? It's none of your business what I do with my money." Doyle made as if to rise, but Bodie's hand shot out and clamped around his arm, holding him down.
"Just a minute, mate. It certainly is my business, since it looks like I'll be subbing you for a bit. You-"
"You what?" Bodie had seldom heard his partner's voice sound so icy.
"Oh, come off it, Ray. What d'you expect me to do – walk out and leave you to starve yourself to death in a freezing flat? After all that effort I put in to getting you back on your feet in the first place? You must be joking."
"I do not need your charity, ta very much," Doyle ground out. "I'll manage perfectly well." This statement might have carried more conviction if he had been strong enough to pull away from Bodie's grip. Accepting the inevitable, he slumped back on the sofa, eyes carefully averted from his partner's.
Bodie was about to launch into another tirade when the look of sheer misery on Doyle's face registered. He took a deep breath, reached for a couple of glasses and poured a generous measure of scotch into both. He put one into Doyle's hand, and took a sip from the other before speaking in a more even tone. "Look, I'm sorry, OK? I wasn't meaning to pry, but we're mates, and if you can't help a mate out when he needs it, then what's the point, hmm? Besides," he quirked an eyebrow at Ray, pleased to see that he at least had his attention, "it is my business up to a point. I need my partner back. You think I like being handed round like a spare parcel, one week with Anson, one week with Murphy, one-"
"You've been working solo for the last month!" Doyle objected, before he could stop himself.
"Yeah, and I hate that too," Bodie grinned, relieved to feel the tension easing.
Doyle swallowed a mouthful of whisky, grimaced, and then nodded once. "OK. I accept it's your business – up to a point. But that still doesn't alter the facts, Bodie. I don't have enough money to heat this place, so I spend as little time here as possible."
"What've you been doing, then?"
"Wandering round the shops, going to the library." He pulled a face. "There's not that many places you can go where you don't have to pay anything to stay warm."
"You mean to tell me you've been wandering around every day since I left? When you were supposed to be resting and recovering? No wonder you look like death warmed up." Bodie didn't give Doyle a chance to say anything. "C'mon. There's time before dinner. You're going to have a nice hot bath and I'm calling Cowley."
"Leave it, Bodie. The last thing I need is for the old man to get the idea I can't hack it, alright?"
"Don't be daft, mate. I'm hardly going to tell him that, am I? I already said, I want you back as my partner, the sooner the better. But you can't exactly go on like this, can you? Be realistic." Doyle drew breath, but Bodie carried on as if he hadn't noticed. "Nah, I'm about due for a move, anyway. I'm going to suggest to the Cow that instead of moving me to another flat I just move in here. There's a perfectly good spare bedroom, and that way, he'll have to start paying the bills again, won't he? But he'll still be saving money if we're both in one flat."
Stunned silence greeted this. Bodie took advantage of it to hustle his partner into the bathroom, where he began to run a bath. "Right, I'll leave you to it then. Dinner'll be ready in about half an hour," and he slammed the door behind him before Doyle recovered the power of speech.
Bodie was slightly surprised to hear splashing noises emerging from behind the bathroom door when he got off the phone to HQ. He had half thought Ray was going to be difficult. He reflected grimly that it must be a measure of just how rough his partner was still feeling; either that, or he was saving himself for a full-scale eruption.
But when Doyle sat down opposite him at the kitchen table, he said nothing; merely picked up his fork and started to eat. Bodie watched him unobtrusively while they ate. It wasn't like Ray to be so quiet, but then, he hadn't been himself since the shooting. It was hardly surprising, really. Being shot was not exactly the kind of thing you bounced back from effortlessly, and the fact that the shooting had taken place in his own home, in a place where he should have been safe, wouldn't have helped either. But Bodie was still conscious of a deep-seated worry working its way steadily up to the surface. He had expected to find Ray more like his old self by now.
After putting away half his plateful, Doyle put his fork down, picked up the glass of water in front of him and, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the contents, said, "What did Cowley say, then?" For all the emotion in his voice, you'd have thought he was enquiring about the weather.
Bodie waited until Doyle looked up before answering. Then he beamed. "No problem. Cowley's going to get it fixed up tomorrow. All I've got to do is get packed up before the end of the week, and I've got so much time due after this latest op, he said I can have the rest of this week off."
"Bloody hell," Doyle was surprised into showing some emotion at this. "He must be pleased with you."
"Yeah, well, you know me. Just naturally brilliant. Anyway, I'll go over tomorrow and get packed up. You can come and supervise, if you like."
"Might as well, I suppose. Not as if I've got a lot else on at the moment." The words were reluctant, but Bodie could hear an unfamiliar tone in his partner's voice. It took him a few moments to identify it as relief. Wisely, he let it drop and carried on eating. After a moment, he realised Doyle was ignoring his half-full plate.
"Eat up, mate," he urged.
Doyle shook his head and pushed the plate across the table. "I've had enough. You finish it, if you want." Resisting with some difficulty the urge to force-feed the gaunt figure opposite, Bodie stolidly continued to eat, reflecting wryly that he was at least getting in lots of practice at self-control. Cowley would be delighted to see him so improved in this regard.
Once the table was cleared, however, Bodie took charge again. Doyle was flagging by this stage, and too exhausted to conceal it. Bodie had him undressed and in bed before he had a chance to protest, his lips thinning at the sight of the prominent ribs and livid scarring. Breathing deeply to maintain his calm, he turned to examine the bedside table, then the drawer. "Right, mate, what have you done with them, then?"
"With what?" Doyle was lying on his back, his face looking strained in the light sifting through from the hall.
"Your painkillers. I know the hospital gave you a bottleful when they discharged you, and said they'd renew the prescription at one of your follow-up appointments if you needed more, so they must be here somewhere." He clicked his fingers. "Hang on a mo – don't tell me, you put them in the bathroom." He took two steps before the expression on Doyle's face stopped him in his tracks. It was a mixture of guilt and resignation; the kind of look a child would display on being found out.
Bodie couldn't help it. He groaned. Then he sat down on the edge of the bed, determinedly mindful of Doyle's still-healing body despite the strongest temptation to shake his partner until he regained some common sense.
"Alright. Tell me the worst."
Doyle's resistance was at an all-time low by this stage, and his reply was the closest to meek Bodie had ever heard from him.
"I used the last one about ten days ago. I don't want to keep taking them, anyway. I can manage without them."
"I'm sure you can if you had to, but if you're really hurting, why should you? For god's sake, Ray, we're only talking about a few pills until you're not hurting anymore! What did your doctor say about it when you last went for a check-up?"
Bodie had been accused many times of having a suspicious mind, but where his partner was concerned, no-one could deny that he was usually in the right. He immediately leapt to the correct conclusion. "You haven't been, have you? How many of those weekly check-ups have you missed?"
Doyle mumbled something inaudible.
"Most of them."
"Would that be 'most' as in 'I went to some', or 'most' as in all?" Bodie enquired silkily.
"I did go to the first one," Doyle replied, with a flash of spirit. But it was gone so fast Bodie almost doubted it had been there. "They just said the same thing they said before they let me out. It's just a waste of time. They keep you waiting for ages before they get round to you, then you're hanging around for ever while they poke and prod you, and all for what? 'Time is a great healer, Mr Doyle.' 'You'll have to give it time, Mr Doyle.' 'These things all take time, Mr Doyle.'" Doyle's voice was dull. "Well, that's what I'm doing. Giving it time. Doesn't seem to be making any bloody difference, but I'm doing just what they said. I didn't need to keep going back just to be told the same old thing."
Bodie nearly launched in with some of the many questions that were seething in his head, but instinct stopped him before he could start. Ray was not going to respond well to interrogation; nor would he achieve anything by antagonising him. The man was half asleep and clearly hurting, and that took priority over anything else right now. He could tackle the hospital issue in the morning.
Heading back to the bathroom, he rummaged around the cabinet until he found a packet of Anadin. They would hardly be the strength of whatever it was the hospital had prescribed, but they would be better than nothing. Filling the tooth mug with water, Bodie took glass and pills back to where Doyle lay under the duvet, eyes moving restlessly under the closed, blue-tinged lids.
"Here, mate. Sit up a moment and take these."
Doyle's eyes opened reluctantly, and he stared at Bodie blankly before reaching out for the pills. "Ta." Lying back down, he looked alarmingly frail. After four weeks' absence, Bodie found that it was almost like looking at him with a stranger's eyes, and he did not like what he saw. Doyle was still watching him warily, as if expecting another bollocking, but when Bodie remained silent the wide green eyes softened slightly before closing as their owner turned on his side, pulling the duvet up higher over his shoulders. "Glad you're back, mate," he muttered, and was asleep before Bodie had registered what he had said.
Bodie was grateful that Ray slept late the next morning. After watching his partner for a few minutes the night before, he had got himself ready for bed and then slipped quietly under the duvet next to the sleeping man, careful not to disturb him. It wasn't the first time they had shared a bed, CI5's budgets being what they were, but it was the first time he had done so without Doyle's advance knowledge. He had his excuses ready - the sofa was too uncomfortable and the spare bed not made up - but he was glad not to need them. He knew that they were just that: excuses. He had needed to be near Doyle last night, and that was all there was to it, but he preferred not to have this fact dragged into broad daylight and held up for questioning, uncomfortably aware that he could not explain the need to his own satisfaction, let alone his partner's.
Postponing a shower until Doyle woke in case the noise disturbed him, Bodie made himself some breakfast and waited until nine o'clock before picking up the phone. After some delay, he finally managed to get through to Doyle's doctor. While guarded in his response, the consultant did remember Bodie from previous appointments and was therefore willing to give some information. At the end of ten minutes, Bodie had accomplished his twin aims of getting an appointment for Doyle later that week, and an agreement that the doctor would, in the meantime, write out another prescription for the painkillers Doyle needed. "Only a few, mind," the consultant warned. "He shouldn't really be needing such strong pain relief at this stage, although from what you've been telling me, I suppose it's hardly surprising. This will be enough to tide him over until I see him. Then I'll have a better idea of what's needed. You can collect the prescription from the main desk after 11.00am."
As soon as the call was concluded, Bodie dialled again.
"Murph? Bodie. Listen, mate, I need you to do me a favour - and don't complain, you owe me one. Actually, you owe me several, but this'll do for starters. I want you to go and collect a prescription for me from the main desk of St Thomas's, as soon after eleven as you can. It'll be in Ray's name. Get it filled and drop it in to me at my place before lunchtime, okay? Ray and I'll both be there, packing up my stuff."
"Bodie, I'm not -"
"Just do it, Murph. It won't take you that long. Oh, and listen, give it to me discreetly, okay? No need to make a song and dance about it in front of Ray." He put the receiver down before the unfortunate Murphy could protest further.
Mission accomplished, he made himself another cup of coffee and put the radio on low, deciding to make a start on catching up on the news he had missed while undercover. It was another half hour before he heard Doyle stirring.
Switching the kettle on, he made some tea and waited for Doyle to put in an appearance. When the bleary, rumpled figure finally made it into the kitchen, Bodie had a mug of tea poured and ready.
"Here you are," he said brightly, pushing the tea across the table. "What d'you fancy for breakfast?"
"Piece of toast," and Doyle picked up the mug, sipping cautiously. Bodie put some bread in the toaster. Personally, he thought Ray could do with a large cooked breakfast as a start to regaining some of that lost weight, but conscious that he was going to have to break the news about his reinstated hospital appointment to his partner at some stage soon, he decided to reserve the fight for that one. The food issue could be tackled later. Besides, it was always possible that once he started eating again regularly, he might rediscover the habit without a confrontation.
They set off for Bodie's flat half an hour later. The rooms were musty and cold, since he had turned all the heating off before going away, and as Bodie unobtrusively watched Doyle shivering he cursed himself for forgetting how chilly the place would be. Switching on the gas fire in the lounge, he tried to persuade him to sit down and get warm, but Doyle refused. "I'm not completely incapable. Just because I can't heave anything heavy around doesn't mean I can't help at all."
"Yeah, yeah. Doesn't mean I want to watch you making things worse, either." Bodie sighed, then brightened. "I know. You could do the clothes." Hurrying to his bedroom, he dragged a couple of cases out from under the bed, and dumped them, opened, on top of the duvet. "Get what you can in these, and I'll make a start on the books. I kept some of the packing cases from last time, so it shouldn't take too long." He unearthed the cases and made a start, rapidly emptying one bookcase before moving onto the records and tapes by the stereo system. Belatedly, a thought struck him. "Oi, Ray, make sure you fold my clothes, won't you? No hurling them in any old how."
Expecting a tart rely, the silence was ominous. A few strides took him to the bedroom door, and he saw Ray sitting disconsolately on the bed between the suitcases, which were half full of impeccably folded clothes. One arm was wrapped around his chest, and he didn't look up as Bodie came in and knelt in front of him.
"Pathetic, isn't it? You'd think I could do a simple thing like pack a few clothes without needing a sit down like some escapee from a geriatric ward, wouldn't you?" Doyle's was voice was dull, the hand resting on his lap clenched into a tight fist, the pallid skin stretched tight across the knuckles.
Without stopping to question the action, Bodie put his hand over Doyle's, letting his own warmth seep through the cold skin. "Listen, mate, it's not going to be like this for ever. You've had a rough time, and it hasn't helped that you've been on your own for these past few weeks, but you will get your strength back."
"Oh yeah? What makes you so expert all of a sudden?"
Well, now was as good a time as any, Bodie thought fatalistically. "I spoke to your consultant this morning," he admitted.
"You did what?"
"I spoke to your consultant."
"And he talked to you about me? What the fuck happened to medical confidentiality?"
"It wasn't like that! He didn't discuss details with me, just confirmed that he really does need to see you again - you can't keep skipping these appointments - and he agreed to give you another prescription for those painkillers. Just a few, until you go and see him on Thursday. Murphy's supposed to be picking them up and bringing them over anytime now."
Bodie wasn't sure what reaction he had expected, but it wasn't the one he got. Doyle glared at him for a few seconds and then the angry light in his eyes dulled to grey, and he nodded once in dreary acquiescence. "Okay. Might as well, I suppose."
Bodie rocked back on his heels, the dull submissiveness unnerving him far more than any argument could. Uncertain of his ground, he decided to go with the flow for the moment. Pushing himself upright, he took Doyle's arm and pulled him to his feet, urging him towards the lounge. "Sit down and get warm. It's bloody freezing in here. I'll get this lot done in no time. In fact," a wicked thought struck him just before the doorbell rang, "I could even get Murph to do it."
He was in luck, Murphy's guilty conscience making it hard for him to refuse to give Bodie a hand, especially after he took a look at the thin, cold figure slumped in a corner of the sofa. Stifling any comment, he simply passed the pill bottle quietly to Bodie, and disappeared into the bedroom, only reappearing when both suitcases were full to bursting.
"Need a hand with the rest of it?" he enquired. "I'm on duty at two, so I can spare you another hour if you like."
"Ta, Murph. Could you finish in here, and I'll get the stuff in the kitchen that's mine. I'd offer you a cup of coffee, but you'll have to have it black," he called, to the sound of crockery clashing and cupboards being opened.
"Thanks all the same, but I think I'll pass." Murphy hesitated, glancing across to the still figure on the sofa. "Ray? You want some coffee?" Doyle shook his head. Murphy opened his mouth, then closed it again, and started to pile more of Bodie's belongings into the nearest empty box.
At half past one, Murphy picked up his jacket and went into the kitchen to wash his hands before leaving.
"I'll see you out," said Bodie, and together they walked down the stairs. As they reached the floor below Bodie's, Murphy blew out a huge breath. "Christ, Bodie," he muttered.
"Yeah." Bodie's voice was grim.
"When did he turn up yesterday?"
"Did he say where he'd been?"
"Where he's been every day for the past few weeks - in the public library, trying to keep warm."
Murphy stopped dead, halfway down the staircase. "What the hell do you mean?"
"I mean that Ray's pay's been cut, because he's on extended sick leave, so he can't afford to heat that barn of a place he was allocated when he came out of hospital," hissed Bodie furiously. Gripping the banister tightly, he tried to calm himself. "Look, Murphy, don't mention this to anyone, will you? Ray's got enough to deal with at the moment without half of CI5 gossiping about his financial affairs."
"'Course I won't, but what are you going to do about it?" Both men took it for granted that now Bodie was back, he would sort something out.
"I'm moving in with him."
Murphy raised an eyebrow, and then smiled. "Ah. Neat solution. Cowley agreed, then?"
"Last night. Not that he had much choice. To be fair, I don't think it occurred to him that Ray wouldn't be able to afford to heat the place. Reckon he'll get a nasty shock when he sees the bills, though. He's used to agents only having the heating on about one-tenth of the time, given how much time we all spend at work. I'm going to keep that heating on all the time, at least until Ray's a lot better, and the bill's going to be sky-high. But it'll be CI5's to worry about."
Murphy just nodded, and said nothing more until they were by the main door to the building. As Bodie pulled it open, Murphy said quietly, "Look, I really am sorry about not checking up on Ray. I honestly had no idea things were this bad. It's not just physical, is it? I mean, normally, even if he's hurt, he keeps talking, doesn't he? But he didn't say a word the whole time I was there. In fact, he hardly even seemed to notice that I was there."
"I know. I'm taking him back for a check up on Thursday, and I'm hoping I may be able to find out what's going on then."
"Well, good luck, mate. And, look - if you need any help, give me a ring, alright?" He waited for Bodie's nod before pulling the heavy door shut behind him.
Bodie stayed where was he was for a moment, before turning and heading back up the stairs.
By the time Thursday came round, Bodie would have given pretty well anything to have the old sarky Ray Doyle back. What he had at the moment was a docile, silent automaton, who ate at least some of what was put in front of him, who did a few light chores without being asked, who went to bed when it was suggested to him that he should, and who otherwise just sat. If Bodie put the television on, Doyle sat in front of that; if not, he stared out of the window. He initiated no conversation, and his replies to Bodie's attempts were almost entirely monosyllabic, apart from the rare occasions when Bodie could see he was making an effort.
He had been determined to stay with Doyle throughout the doctor's examination, prepared if necessary to fight his corner with all he had; in the event, there was no problem. Doyle made no protest when Bodie announced his intention to the consultant, and after a quick glance at his patient to make sure he was not going to refuse, the doctor simply nodded and began the examination.
Ray was right about the time it took, Bodie reflected as he sipped vending machine liquid masquerading as coffee and waited outside while X-rays were taken. They were there most of the day, while Doyle was attached to various monitors, had blood drawn, was sent here, there and everywhere. It felt as if the only hospital department they had not yet visited was maternity. Finally, Bodie found himself back in the consultant's small room, sitting next to Ray who appeared to have marginally less interest in the results that he would in hearing about Anson's love life.
The journey home had taken place in silence, but Bodie felt that the quality of the silence was more positive than it had been on the way in. He had the distinct impression that Doyle was actually processing what had been said to him, rather than simply withdrawing from everything.
For himself, he was relieved that the day was over. He was drained, and all he had done all day was hang around. Taking a quick look sideways at Doyle while they were stopped at a red light, he decided on a takeaway. He didn't want to cook tonight, in case Ray used the opportunity while Bodie was busy to retreat into himself again. He looked exhausted, but Bodie was determined that they were going to start talking tonight. He was going to have to go back to work soon, and before then, he had to get Doyle to snap out of this odd displacement. A crack had appeared today, and he intended to leap in there with his pickaxe at the ready.
Spreading the foil cartons across the table, Bodie dumped a plate in front of his partner and started to fill his own from the various containers. Doyle followed suit, although in much smaller portions.
Bodie concentrated on his meal for a few minutes, but once the edge was taken off his appetite, he reached for his beer and looked across the table.
"Okay, sunshine, time for some decisions, don't you think?"
Doyle ignored him, but Bodie was expecting that, and continued. "You know, it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be, what the doctor had to say."
Doyle looked up in disbelief. "Not as bad? Sounded pretty damn bad to me. I'm still an invalid, Bodie, in case you hadn't noticed, and likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future." He pushed his plate away. "Might just as well start job-hunting now, although I can't see who the hell would want to employ me."
Bodie snorted. "I knew it. I knew you weren't listening properly. That is not what he said."
"No! What he actually said, you pillock, is that all things considered, you were coming along nicely, apart from needing to put some weight on and rest a bit more – both of which I'd already worked out for myself, I might add. All the other tests he did came back fine, and you're about ready to start some intensive physiotherapy, which should make a big difference." He raised an eyebrow at Doyle. "Did you really manage not to register any of this, mate? I mean, what did you think he was telling you?"
Doyle mumbled something.
"Sorry, didn't catch that."
"I'm just fed up with doctors and hospitals, alright?"
Bodie hid a smile at Doyle's tone. It was a distinct improvement on the emotionless utterances of the past few days. "Yeah, well, can't blame you there, but they do have their uses." He leant forward, ignoring the cartons of food littering the table in front of him. "Listen, Ray. Just in case you didn't hear this, I'm going to tell you again. I asked your consultant what were your chances of getting back to full fitness, and he said it was entirely possible. Entirely possible. But only if you really work at it. So from now on, I reckon it's up to you, mate. I've already told you, I want you back on the squad, back as my partner. I'm willing to do everything I can to help you get there. But you need to want it, because it won't be easy. It'll be hard work, and it will hurt, and there are no hard and fast guarantees. You're the only one that can make the decision, sunshine, because it's going to be you doing most of the work. So, what do you think?"
Moving carefully, Doyle pushed his chair away from the table and stood up, avoiding Bodie's gaze. He disappeared through the kitchen door, and Bodie half expected to hear the sound of his bedroom door closing, but instead, there was silence.
Abandoning the rest of his meal, Bodie followed. Doyle was sitting on the sofa in the living room, staring at nothing, but he looked up as Bodie came in. There was a flicker of emotion in his eyes, and before Bodie could say anything, he began to speak.
"I did hear what you were both saying this afternoon, but everything's felt so – disconnected is the only way I can think of to describe it. Almost ever since I came round in hospital. It's been like – I dunno – like I'm not me anymore, and I don't know what to do about it. Everything hurt so much, and seemed so hopeless. I couldn't really see the point of what we do anymore. I mean, we stop one lot of bastards, and next thing you know, another load have sprung up and taken their place. And even if it isn't a complete waste of time, I couldn't believe I'd ever stand a chance of making it back onto the squad, so what was the fucking point? Why bother with hospital appointments and physiotherapy and all the rest of it, if I wasn't going to make it back anyway? Then there was all that business about the sick pay, and it just all seemed too much effort."
Bodie started to say something, but Doyle continued as if he hadn't noticed.
"The thing is, Bodie, I think I've just got more and more miserable, on a real downward slide, you know? I felt as though my life was completely fucked up anyway, and what was the point of it? But now –" A sudden fierce light blazed in Doyle's eyes as he finally caught Bodie's intent gaze. "Well, I've been thinking since you came back, trying to work out how I feel about the job and everything, and now I know I do want to get back to it. And at least now I know too that there's a chance. So, yeah, I'll work at it and if you can help, that'd be great. But I know it's going to be lousy, and I'm warning you now, I'll probably let rip at you for want of anyone else to shout at, so you'd better brace yourself if you're serious about sticking around."
Bodie beamed. He could feel himself doing it, and with one portion of his mind thought he probably looked completely daft, but he just didn't care. "You're on, mate. No more wallowing in self-pity, entitled or not. Always fancied myself as an instructor anyway. I'll come along to as many of your physio sessions as I can, and get them to talk me through the exercises. That way, I can make sure you're doing them properly."
"Oh, God," Doyle groaned. "I think I've just created a monster." It sounded so much like the old Doyle that Bodie's beam just widened.
The first thing Bodie did on his return to work was to head for Cowley's office. He'd arranged to see his boss, ostensibly to go over his report on the undercover operation, but in reality to discuss changes to his working patterns. Cowley could be very demanding, but his service background gave him an understanding of how close his people could get to those who they worked with, day in, day out, under highly stressful conditions. Cowley had set up CI5, and written most of the small print himself. Bodie knew that Cowley could therefore also vary those terms and conditions, given reasonable cause to do so.
He got the debriefing on the op out of the way first, then sat back in his chair opposite Cowley, his body language clearly signalling that he had now reached the important part of the interview. Cowley sighed, put down his glasses on his desk, and folded his hands over them. "Very well, Bodie. Let's get on with it. You want to talk to me about Doyle, I assume?"
"Yes. He went back to hospital for a check-up last week."
"I've seen the report."
"Och, lad, use your sense. Of course I see the medical reports. The man was shot and nearly died because of the job he does here, although his own carelessness hardly helped. Of course I have to know how he is getting on, what his prognosis is."
"Yet you still cut his sick pay," said Bodie icily.
"Aye, I'll confess I was not aware of that, and I should have been. I've already spoken to personnel about it."
Bodie was sufficiently startled by this to be unable to conceal his reaction.
"For God's sake, Bodie, I'm not completely heartless! Personnel were simply implementing the standard civil service terms for sick leave, and no one thought to consider whether we should have more leeway, given the kind of risks the squad regularly faces. We're looking into it now and there will be much more flexibility about sick pay in the future. But physically Doyle appeared to be doing satisfactorily when he was released from hospital, and there was no reason to assume he would not continue to make progress at home while you were away. Clearly, that was also a misjudgement." Pale blue eyes fixed themselves on the man opposite. "Would you care to tell me what made you so certain that it would be a mistake?"
"It was hardly rocket science, sir. He doesn't have any family who would visit – his mum's too frail and there's no-one else. He's recuperating from an injury that nearly killed him, and being left on his own all day, every day, just gave him time to brood. You know what Doyle's like at the best of times, sir, and this was hardly that. It was obvious what was going to happen."
"Aye, lad, I think you're right. I've already spoken to Dr Ross about changing our procedures for handling agents who are injured."
Bodie was so stunned by this revelation he was unable to think of anything to say.
"Was that all, Bodie?"
"Ah, no sir." Hurriedly, he pulled his scattered thoughts together. "We had a talk last night, and I've said I'll help Ray with his physio as much as I can, go to appointments with him, get them to show me what he needs to be doing so I can give him a hand, make sure he does the exercises properly but doesn't overdo it - all that kind of thing. But I'll need time off to get to the appointments with him, at least for a while."
The silence that greeted him lasted long enough to make him start to shuffle uneasily in his chair. Then Cowley leant forward, picked up the phone and spoke to his secretary. "Betty, would you be kind enough to bring in the duty rosters for the next month, please? And perhaps some tea as well." He said nothing further until the file he had requested was on his desk, and he and Bodie were both drinking their tea. He left the biscuits to Bodie while he leafed through the papers in front of him.
"Right, lad." Bodie straightened in his chair, putting his cup and saucer down carefully so no rattle would betray his apprehension. Cowley removed his heavy-framed glasses and frowned slightly at him. "I want Doyle back on the squad as much as you do, Bodie. I understand from his doctor that this is in fact possible, so I'm willing to be flexible about your hours, at least for a while, if that's going to help. I'm going to take you off the A squad for the time being, so you won't be doing any more undercover ops. It also means, as you know, you are much less likely to get called out at short notice. This means that when you need time off to attend hospital appointments with Doyle, there should be no problem." Icy blue eyes bored into his as Cowley continued. "This does not mean that you do not work hard while you are here, 3.7, but this way I don't lose the benefit of your services entirely." Cowley paused and looked down at the papers in his hand before adding, "This is not a formal reassignment to B squad, so your pay and privileges, especially regarding the payment of household expenses, will remain unaltered."
Bodie suppressed a smile of relief. The old bugger. He must really want Ray back to agree to all that! He waited until Cowley looked up again before smiling at him. His quiet "Thank you" was unnecessary, they both knew, but he couldn't hold it back.
Three weeks later, Bodie was bored out of his mind. The occasional punitive session in records had not prepared him for the sheer, mind-numbing tedium of life in the B squad. It was a mystery to him how anyone could stand it.
He had to concede, however, that getting to leave on time, every day, was a bonus. Not quite enough of one to make up for the boredom, at least not permanently, but every time he thought he couldn't bear it any longer, he made himself remember the quickly-concealed expression of relief on Doyle's face when he walked through the door the first few nights after the new arrangement had started. The pleasure of getting home by seven every evening was a novelty that showed no signs of wearing off either; and what made it even better now was that Doyle was starting to relax, to accept that Bodie was not about to disappear on another undercover operation. He had even started cooking, so Bodie came home to a warm flat full of the appetising smell of dinner. He could definitely get used to that.
The physiotherapy was going well, too. Slowly, of course, and this frustrated Doyle, but nothing Bodie couldn't handle. Yet. He was a little worried about what would happen when Doyle was stronger, fully aware of his partner's inclination to charge ahead without concern for his own well-being; but rather in the manner of an ostrich hiding its head in the sand, he had decided to worry about this when it happened. In the meantime, he was discovering in himself a hitherto unsuspected delight in the physical proximity to his partner required by the exercises prescribed. Ray was still painfully thin, but the gauntness was slowly receding, and even so soon Bodie could detect an improvement in his muscle tone and range of movement. The physiotherapist had warned them both that the exercises would inevitably be uncomfortable, if not worse, and had suggested that Doyle might benefit from regular massage. If he could afford it, she had added, wryly. The National Health Service had yet to extend itself to covering luxuries like massage.
Nothing daunted, Bodie had disappeared later that day and reappeared with a book on basic massage techniques. Doyle had laughed himself silly, and it had taken Bodie two days to get his partner to agree to try it out. Now, it had become the high spot of Bodie's evening. He rather hoped Doyle felt the same way, but had yet to summon up the courage to ask.
"Right, sunshine." Bodie rubbed his hands together to warm them, and grinned at Doyle. "Get them off!"
"Idiot," growled Doyle, but nonetheless he moved towards his bedroom, slowly unbuttoning his shirt. When that one came off, there was another to remove, and yet another under that. It hurt too much to try to move his arms beyond shoulder height, so any item of clothing that required pulling on and off over his head was out of the question at the moment. Bodie had come back from work one day with a bag full of shirts of various sizes and thicknesses, and Doyle simply layered them on. Despite the central heating now operating constantly, he was still susceptible to the cold, and he was already shivering as he lay down carefully on the bed.
Bodie retrieved the massage oil from the bowl of warm water and poured a little into his hands. Rubbing them together lightly, both to spread the oil and to generate some extra heat, he began to rub Doyle's shoulders gently. He could feel the build-up of tension in the muscles beneath the pale skin, but slowly it eased and he moved downwards, carefully massaging the scar tissue. It was hard to get the balance right here, between the force required to help break up the scar tissue while avoiding aggravating too much the pain that remained ever present. Ray grunted, and Bodie's hands stilled instantly, only continuing when Doyle said, "Nah, it's alright. Just sore."
Usually when doing this daily massage, Bodie just let his mind float, concentrating on nothing more than the texture of the skin and muscles beneath his fingers. But now, his focus broken, he had a sudden, appalled flashback to seeing Ray propped on his side on the operating table, the rib-spreader holding his ribcage apart while the surgeon tried to locate the bullets, the sound of the heart monitor flat-lining…and the way Ray's body had jerked as they tried to shock him back to life. Strange that his most vivid recollection of all these graphic images was how the fingers on Ray's hand had twitched, like those of a marionette pulled by an inexperienced puppeteer.
"Bodie? Bodie! What the hell's the matter with you?"
Ray's voice, sharp and anxious, registered just too late for him to stop his partner from trying to twist round to look at him. Bodie's hands were still and heavy on the livid scar, and Ray hissed in pain as his abrupt movement caused their weight to put pressure on his wound. Bodie jerked back, snatching his hands away and gasping out an apology as Doyle fell back on the bed, breathing heavily.
"What the fuck was that about?" Doyle's voice was still muffled by the pillow, but Bodie could hear the confusion that underlay the ire. "Thought you were doing this to help, not set me back a week."
"Yeah, sorry mate. Just–" Bodie swallowed, unable to go on.
This time, Ray was able to roll over on to his back, and Bodie could feel his eyes examining him. The silence seemed to have lasted for hours before Ray spoke again. Spreading his arms away from his body as much as he was able, he merely said, "C'mon then, mate. You've got to do the front too, you know."
"Ray, I'm not sure this is-"
"Bodie, I don't know what was going on just now, but I do know this massage stuff really works. You didn't mean to hurt me, and, anyway, we both knew it wasn't exactly going to be a picnic, didn't we? So just get on with it so I can get some sleep, OK?"
And it was. Doyle's voice, his living body under Bodie's hands, was such a balm he found himself able to continue, and even crack a few jokes. By the time he had finished, winding down with gentle sweeps of his hands, Doyle was almost asleep. Bodie deduced a particularly tough physiotherapy session as the cause, and without protest from his partner helped him out of the jeans he wore – still, he noted ruefully, far too loose for him – and patted him down lightly with the towel he had put on the bed for that purpose. Giving his own hands a cursory wipe, he pulled the duvet up over his somnolent partner and left the room, turning the light out as he did so.
He washed his hands properly in the bathroom before wandering back to the lounge. It was too early to go to bed yet, but he wasn't in the mood for television either. Instead, he poured himself a generous scotch and then stood by the window, idly holding the curtain back with one hand and staring out of the window at the rain falling against the panes of glass. He remembered rainy days as a child, boredom and loneliness driving him to make bets with himself about which drop of rain would reach the bottom of the window first. Absently, he let his eyes track the shining, bulbous droplets as they trickled down the windows, hearing the hiss of tyres through the wet streets below.
What had happened to him tonight? Why the sudden flashback, after all these weeks? He frowned, picking out a new drop of water to follow, and tried to remember if there had been anything different about tonight. Everything since he had got home from work seemed the same as the night before, and the night before that. So, not Ray, then. Maybe something different about me? But what? Abruptly, he recalled the strange feeling he had experienced when he came home this evening. Parking the car, walking up the stairs, opening the door to the smell of supper – knowing that someone was already there, the flat warm and lit. Home. It was like coming home. The observation was so profound, he felt as if the ground had shifted beneath his feet and for a moment he shuffled where he stood, muscles flexing in legs held too long immobile. Letting the curtain drop, he took a mouthful of his drink before moving across to the armchair and sitting heavily.
Home. It was years since he'd really had a home. It wasn't even something he had noticed the lack of until now, when it seemed he had one again. All the places he had lived in over the years, even the CI5 flats, were places to stay, to store his belongings, to sleep. But not a home.
Bodie tried to analyse what had changed. For years, ever since adolescence, he had moved on restlessly from one thing to another, never able to settle long. He had always assumed, when he thought about it at all, that he just liked to see new places, meet different people, and had no need for anything more. But now, without conscious effort, without even realising it had happened, he had settled down. This was where he needed to be – not this specific flat, although it did feel safe and cocoon-like – but wherever Ray was. If his partner was with him, he was home. Didn't matter where that might be; a cardboard box outside King's Cross would do as well as anything, he thought hazily. His whole world, once so vast and open, had curled down in on itself to centre on this one fragile mass of blood, bones and tissue that was Ray Doyle. The thought was both terrifying and exhilarating. No bloody wonder I had a flashback, he thought morbidly. My subconscious suddenly decides it's found me a home at last, and I nearly lose it.
Bodie never knew how long he sat there, simply letting his mind dwell pleasurably on his new status as someone with a home, before reality popped its ugly little head up to point out a few home truths.
Like, what if Ray didn't actually want Bodie to stay here indefinitely?
Like, what if Ray didn't make it all the way back to the squad?
Like, what if something like this happened to Ray again, and this time he didn't pull through?
That was the thought that drove Bodie to his feet to refill his glass. Sitting back down again, he pushed these awkward thoughts to one side. He couldn't deal with this tonight. Instead, he thought back to the massage, his hands tingling slightly in recollection of the feel of Ray's skin. It had felt good, very good, to touch Ray like that, to be able to stroke his tension away, to be so close to him…
Bodie felt as if he was walking on ice; ice he had known to be thick, weight-bearing, but that abruptly wasn't. How could that be? How could the ice be cracking beneath him, splintering and shattering, taking all his certainties away with them?
"Bloody hell!" Bodie seldom spoke to himself, but this was the exception. It seemed this was his night for revelations. The touch of his hands on his partner's body had brought back memories he had buried deeply on his return to England. Memories of sex under the vast African skies, when months of boredom shot through with fierce hours of adrenalin-filled fighting meant that men were desperate for more than their own right hands. The sex had only ever been that – quick, rough, but needed. Sometimes the only way to stay sane. When he had decided to walk once more on the legal side of law-enforcement, Bodie had pushed aside these furtive encounters, and focussed all his abundant sexual energy on women.
But the attraction to another man, once tasted, could never be wholly buried, and this was what Bodie rediscovered in himself tonight. Shit, why now, for God's sake? Even if I thought Doyle might be interested - and I can't imagine that he would be in a hundred years, the bloke's as a straight as a bargepole - no way on earth could I even begin to approach this now. One of the issues the consultant had raised at their most recent visit this afternoon was that of post-traumatic sexual dysfunction. In clinical tones he had simply explained that it was usual for patients recovering from major surgery to suffer from a reluctance to engage in, even a fear of, sexual intercourse, and that in men this often manifested itself in physical impotence. "Once the mind accepts that healing is taking place, and that the body is not going to give way under the exertion of intercourse, confidence is gradually restored. It very seldom remains a problem once convalescence is complete, and in your case, Mr Doyle, there is certainly no physical reason why, in due course, intercourse should be a problem for you in terms of compromising your health. I wouldn't recommend it at the moment, certainly, but I don't want you worrying about this. Many patients find it very uncomfortable to discuss this sort of thing, so I find it better to deal with it head on. I know you are not married, Mr Doyle, but as I understand it you currently have no regular girlfriend, is that correct?"
Doyle, looking slightly shell-shocked, had simply nodded.
"Quite. Well, when the occasion arises, I find it advisable if patients are prepared. In some cases, and I must emphasise I do mean some, this is by no means a guaranteed response, people in your situation can become very stressed about their performance in a sexual situation after a life-threatening injury such as you have sustained. It's not uncommon for men to experience erectile dysfunction even when there is no physical reason for it, and especially if they do not have the benefit of an established relationship. There are various relaxation techniques you can try which are explained in this leaflet I'm going to leave with you, but I would also strongly suggest that when you feel ready to resume intimate relations with someone, you talk to her first and explain what has happened to you before attempting anything more. This will take the pressure off you, and also mean that should there be any problems she will understand what has caused them and that in itself should help."
Bodie had been intensely uncomfortable throughout this discussion. Shouldn't this have been said in private? It was only later that it occurred to him that he probably faded into the background at these appointments by now, his presence so inevitable that neither doctor nor patient thought to modify their comments in front of him.
For a split-second, as they left the consulting room, Bodie had toyed with the idea of a flippant remark to try to defuse the tense atmosphere, but one sidelong look at his partner's drawn features and the impulse died stillborn. Instead, he had taken Doyle's elbow, lightly guiding him to where he had left the car, hoping touch would say what he could not put into words.
Arriving home, Doyle had gone straight to his room and stayed there, and Bodie left him alone until suppertime. The meal had been eaten in silence, but by the time Bodie had cleared up Doyle seemed to have relaxed and the massage had gone ahead as usual – until Bodie's unexpected reaction. Thank God Ray didn't push to try and find out what was going on. Finding out his partner-cum-nursemaid fancies him rotten is probably just about the last thing he needs at the moment, and I might just have blurted something out then.
He took a deep breath. If Doyle weren't hurt, if things were normal between them and this revelation had struck, would he have sounded his partner out about it? Tried it on, risking a rejection? He would never know. All he knew now was that somehow he had to keep this quiet. He couldn't let on to Doyle, couldn't let him know that anything had changed. The poor bloke's got enough to handle at the moment.
Swallowing the last of his drink, he turned off the lights and went to bed. He didn't sleep well.
It was a relief to Bodie when Doyle slept late the next day. It meant he could leave for work without having to face his partner. He hoped that by the time he got home that evening, he would have got more used to his volte-face and be able to behave as normal.
But of course, it wasn't that easy. Letting himself in just before seven, to the smell of dinner and the sound of his partner clattering in the kitchen, his heart leapt and it was an effort not to grab Doyle and ruthlessly kiss him hello. Fortunately, Bodie had had lots of practice at maintaining a façade, and resolutely he clamped down on his emotions and hung up his coat in the hall before strolling into the kitchen.
"Something smells good," he greeted Doyle, who swung round clutching at his chest.
"Shit, Bodie, I didn't hear you come in. You nearly gave me a …" The words faltered on his tongue, and his face drained of the small amount of colour that had been there.
Before Bodie knew what he was doing, he had stepped forward and grabbed his partner by the upper arms, almost lifting him across to the nearest chair and lowering him gently on to it. Making sure he would stay upright, he then poured a glass of water and shoved it into Doyle's hand.
"Drink it, mate."
Shakily, Doyle gulped the water, then pulled a wry face. "Sorry. You just startled me, that's all." He didn't meet Bodie's eyes. "Stupid to overreact like that."
"Nah, if anyone was stupid, it was me coming in so quietly. Should have called out or something. Sorry."
The colour was back in Doyle's face now, and he grinned slightly as he looked up. "Don't know if I'll ever get used to being surprised in my own flat again," he commented wryly.
"Perhaps I should get fitted with a bell on my key ring or something, so you can hear me coming?"
Ray snorted slightly, tension ebbing from his shoulders. "Could get you a hat with a bell in it, like Noddy."
"Don't even think about it. Besides, what would that make you – Big Ears?"
"Nah, PC Plod, of course." Bodie couldn't keep the laughter back any longer, and Doyle was only a second behind him.
The interlude seemed to Bodie in retrospect to have given him enough of his old relationship with his partner back for him to continue on as before. What did escape his notice, however, was the way in which he was retreating further into himself as he tried to adjust to this unexpected revelation. Unfortunately, the rigid control he was exerting over himself came across as to his oblivious partner as withdrawal. Under any other circumstances, he would have made the connection between his own behaviour and the decline that slowly became apparent in Doyle's mood and rate of recovery, but, self-absorbed as he was, it passed him by.
Four weeks after Bodie's return from his last job on A squad, he was called in to see Cowley.
"Sit yourself down, Bodie." Bodie had hardly seen his boss for weeks. He had never really appreciated before that Cowley was much more "hands-on" with the A squad than he was with the rest of the organisation. Suppose it makes sense. He wouldn't have time to direct A squad, deal with B squad and spend all that time handling the government people too, he mused, temporarily oblivious to his boss's voice.
"I'll start again shall I? If, that is, you are gracing me with your full attention now?"
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."
"How is Doyle doing?"
Bodie stared at him blankly for a moment. "I thought you got all the medical reports, sir?"
"I do, man, but they don't tell me everything, and what they do say has got me a little concerned. So I'm asking you for your opinion."
"He's making pretty good progress, from what the doctor and the physiotherapist say. He gets a bit frustrated that it's taking so long, but we knew from the beginning it wasn't going to be quick. He's been told he might be able to start some gentle jogging next week, and…"
"Och, yes, I know all this. It's in the reports I get from the doctor. But what's also in there is that his consultant thinks Doyle is exhibiting signs that may be indicative of the onset of serious depression. Would this be your opinion too?"
Sussed, was Bodie's immediate thought. He shrugged his shoulders and prevaricated. "Well, he has a lot on his plate at the moment, sir, and he's still in a fair bit of pain some of the time. I'd've thought a bit of depression wouldn't be that much of a surprise."
"No, his doctor said it was to be expected. But I think he's worried this may be heading beyond feeling a bit low. If Doyle gets seriously depressed, it could slow his recovery time down significantly and none of us wants this. I've spoken to Dr Eddison, and I have a suggestion to put to you."
Bodie waited in some trepidation.
"The weather's improving a bit now, and Doyle is relatively mobile. You've been helping him with his physical therapy, so if he were to miss a couple of weeks worth of appointments, it wouldn't be the end of the world – you could make sure he keeps the exercises up, is that right?"
"Right then. His doctor thinks, and I agree, that it would do Doyle good to get away from London. Have a holiday somewhere where he isn't surrounded by reminders of what happened to him. That being the case, I've arranged to hire a place for you both to stay for two weeks, up in Derbyshire. It's just a small cottage, nothing too fancy. It's in a small village, but it's not too far from a big hospital in case there's any problem. You'll need to get food in, but otherwise the place is ready to inhabit. I'm giving you the next two weeks off, Bodie, to concentrate on shifting your partner into a better frame of mind." He swung his heavy-framed glasses absently between his fingers as he glared at the man sitting opposite. "I want him back, Bodie, but I can't wait indefinitely. You know that. I'm prepared to do what I can, but the rest – well, it's down to him. And I have a feeling that means it's down to you."
Bodie parked the Capri without conscious thought, his mind still worrying away at the problem Cowley's unexpected decision had thrown at him. Dispassionately, he knew Cowley's - and the doctor's - fears to be justified. Doyle had been sinking further and further into a state of near-apathy, and perhaps a change of scene was just what was needed. And he certainly couldn't be left to his own devices for a fortnight, not in the state he was in at the moment. The silly sod would probably forget to feed himself, even assuming he made it all the way up there. So Bodie had no choice.
Of course, in one way he could think of nothing he would like better - under different circumstances, he and Ray, in a small cottage, no responsibilities, no likelihood of being called out on duty…Bodie's idea of heaven. Unfortunately, for those different circumstances to be operating, he would have to have confessed his feelings to Doyle, and Doyle would have to return them. For one moment, he let his mind dwell wistfully on such a scenario, before ruthlessly pushing it to one side.
Taking a deep breath and tightening his anti-Doyle shields around him, he stepped out of the Capri and headed for the flat, one hand clutching the cottage details Betty had given him after his talk with Cowley.
Getting Doyle moving the next day had proved easier than Bodie had anticipated. In fact, it bothered him a lot that Doyle had offered no protest to being informed that he was having two weeks' compulsory holiday, and that the destination was already chosen. Bodie had warned him to pack warm clothes, and lots of them, and Doyle had silently done just that, then climbed, equally silently, into the car. He hadn't enquired where in Derbyshire they were headed for, which worried Bodie even more. After all, the bloke had been brought up in Derby, except for a couple of years when his family had moved to Manchester when he was thirteen, and Bodie had expected some flicker of interest. Doyle's introspection was worse than Bodie had realised.
"Want to stop for some lunch, mate?" Bodie flicked a sideways look at his partner, before turning his attention back to the motorway and its heavy traffic. "There was a sign back there for a motorway caff coming up. Don't know about you, but I'm starved."
He almost missed the muttered response. "You're always starved."
Bodie would never have guessed that three words could make him feel so relieved - well, three words other than "He's still alive." Those had sounded pretty damned good, he remembered.
"Yeah, well, this wonderful physique takes a lot of energy to maintain, sunshine. Need to feed the inner Bodie regularly."
"It's the outer Bodie you need to be worried about. And so would I be if I were thinking of eating transport caff food. It's disgusting."
"Chips with everything. Just what we need on a cold day. Anyway, there's no food in at the cottage, so this might be our last chance until we can find somewhere to do a bit of shopping." Without further discussion, he indicated left and swung off into the services, parking the car neatly and clambering out, filled with an unexpected contentment that Doyle appeared to be responding to him again.
"Where're we going then?"
At last! Bodie's exultation was almost tangible. He was just about to give in and ask Doyle to find the directions in the glove compartment. Now, finally, Ray was showing some interest in their destination.
They'd left the motorway caff hours ago, and the traffic on the M1 was slow moving all the way. Bodie was feeling peckish again, although he knew that was mostly boredom. He had demolished a plateful of something purporting to be steak and kidney pie, with a heap of chips, while Doyle had played with a sandwich which Bodie felt, in all fairness, he could hardly be blamed for not eating. The pallid white bread and limp filling would not have been appealing at the best of times. Since returning to the car, Doyle had maintained a preoccupied silence, and Bodie had left him alone, not willing to push.
Schooling his voice and face so as not to reveal his relief, Bodie kept his eyes on the road. "Some village called Youlgreave."
"Never heard of it."
"Nah, nor me, but according to the directions it's near Bakewell. You know, as in Bakewell Tart." Glancing sideways, he caught the faintest twitch of Doyle's lips, and resisted the urge to smile widely.
"Suppose we'll be going there, then." The tone was resigned, but Bodie was not deaf to the undercurrent of tension beneath the strain.
"Listen, mate, no way am I coming this close to a pudding's home town and not trying it out. Be a real waste, that would." This was greeted with silence, and once Bodie accepted that there would be no reply, he continued, "Directions are in the glove compartment. Can you check where we leave the motorway?"
The rest of the journey continued in amicable wrangling over the accuracy or otherwise of the directions, Bodie's clincher that they had been provided by Betty and therefore had to be right met only with a disgusted snort. He was right, however; they arrived without mishap, following the line of the old track down past the church and into the dip of the valley where the road met a small, cheerful river before rising again on the other side to hills and fields scattered with sheep and cows.
Pulling into the parking place by the side of the end-of-terrace cottage which was to be their home for the next two weeks, Bodie switched off the engine and opened the door. The silence was startling after the noise of the car, disturbed now only by the sound the river made against the pebbles in its shallow bed and the slight ticking noise of cooling metal from the car. The distant sound of sheep calling only seemed to emphasise the quietness, and Bodie's shoulders tensed briefly in unwelcome acknowledgement. He preferred the noises of a city, but he had lived in the wilds and would not be fazed by rural England. It was ridiculous to be even slightly unnerved by it.
Still convincing himself, he slammed the car door rather more firmly than was necessary, and stalked around to the boot to unload their luggage. Another door slammed, and Doyle was heading for the gate round the side.
"Oi, where're you going? The front door's just here."
"Yeah, but according to this," and Doyle waved the instructions in front of him as if he were wafting away a fly, "the key'll be under the mat at the back, through here. Anyway, no-one uses the front door in a place like this, not if they've got a choice."
Sure enough, the key was there and the door opened into a tiny lobby, clearly designed mainly for wet clothes and muddy boots. To Bodie's amusement, there was even a washing machine, plumbed in to the corner.
"Blimey, they clearly don't want anyone dripping on their carpets, do they? I suppose this place is geared up for walkers."
"Yeah. You wouldn't come to the Peak District for the shopping, would you?"
Bodie pulled a face and dragged the suitcase upstairs. He was relieved to discover there were two rooms, even if one was furnished with single beds. Resignedly, he dropped his case on one of the narrow beds, tacitly granting Doyle the other room, and the double bed in it. The man was still healing, after all.
Once they had unpacked, Bodie dragged Doyle out for a walk. It was noticeably colder here than in London, the big city trapping heat even in early spring and feeding it back to its inhabitants in a grimy blast of warm air from the Underground, the buses, the office blocks… Here, there was nothing to hold the heat, and the air was clearer and cleaner, almost hurting lungs more used to exhaust fumes. A path hugged the side of the small river on their doorstep, and they followed it through fields to the edge of the next village. Bodie was stiff from the long drive, and restless with more than just sitting too long in the car. He yearned for a brisk walk or a run that might settle him back down and ease the physical itch he was finding it increasingly hard to ignore, but having talked Doyle into accompanying him, he had no choice but to maintain a decorous pace that would not put too great a strain on his partner's injured physique.
They hardly spoke as they walked, each man apparently engrossed in his own thoughts, neither aware that the other's attention was fixed predominantly upon his partner. Bodie's sidelong glances monitored Doyle, checking on his breathing, whether there was any hesitation in the smooth stride that was finally returning, aware of his partner with every sense at his command. The silence between them was comfortable now, the tension of the journey gone.
They had reached a small bridge where the path crossed the river in the next village when Doyle stopped, leant against the small parapet and said, "Go on, then."
"Go on what?"
"Look, this must be like taking your dear old gran for a walk, mate. I'll head back and you can find out where the rest of this path goes. Maybe even go for a run. Just be back in time for food, alright?" With that, he swung on his heel and started back the way they had come. Bodie was so stunned that Doyle was out of sight before he could gather his wits. His first instinct was to go after him, but he stopped after only a couple of steps. Doyle was right; he did need more exercise than this walk was offering, and this was as good an opportunity as any to take it. Besides, a run might clear his head.
It was only as Bodie, greatly refreshed by a run which had skirted the river the entire way, was within sight of the cottage that he remembered they had yet to get any food in. Cursing under his breath, he also realised that, unlike London, he was hardly likely to find a corner shop open all hours round here. Which meant if he didn't get a move on, they'd be going hungry tonight. His own lunch largely burnt off by his run, and Doyle's lunch having been non-existent in terms of what had actually been consumed, made this an unattractive prospect to say the least. Of course, they could always try finding the nearest pub that served food. There had been at least one they had passed opposite the church. Probably still stuck on scampi-in-a-basket and Black Forest gateau up here, but it'd be better than nothing. Hastily diving in through the back door, he was kicking off his muddy shoes in readiness to retrieve his car keys when the smell of food cooking hit him.
"Ah, there you are." Doyle was standing by the cooker in the small kitchen, stirring the contents of a saucepan. Bodie's nose twitched.
"Where the hell did you find that?"
"Took a detour up the hill on my way back. Didn't think either of us would want to get back in the car today, and those notes Betty gave you said there were a couple of shops in the village. Managed to get some chicken and some veg, so we're having a kind of chicken stew. Won't be ready for a bit though, so if you want a shower or something, there's time."
"Great!" Bodie was considerably heartened, and by more than the imminent prospect of food. Doyle had been unnervingly passive since getting out of hospital, and this show of initiative was much more like his old self. The fact that he was going to get fed was just a bonus – although a pretty good one.
Unfortunately, it didn't last. Three days into their stay, and it was hard to tell who was more frustrated. The weather had closed in the day after their arrival, and while normally neither man was fazed by rain or wind, both were irritatingly aware that Doyle was still under orders to stay warm and dry, and certainly not to run the risk of unnecessary chest infections which would do nothing for his healing body. Bodie was loathe to leave him to his own devices for a day, Cowley's words about depression still ringing in his ears, and so they were cooped up together in a space too small for comfort when neither man really wanted to be there. Bodie felt by now he could virtually see the dark swirls of Doyle's mood.
Finally, he snapped. It was inevitable that one of them would. Perhaps it was his greater energy, not muted by ill-health, that meant it was he who could no longer sustain the tension between them.
There was no telling moment, no single word or action that he could afterwards have looked back on and say: That was it. That was when I knew I couldn't stand it any longer. In fact, they never could agree on exactly what they had been doing at the time. But whatever it was, Bodie snapped.
"For fuck's sake, Ray, just stop it, will you? Stop brooding, stop moping around the place like a wet hen, and stop bloody wallowing. You're alive, you're getting better and you're damn well getting back on the Squad if I have to drag you, kicking and screaming, to Macklin's myself and hold you while he gets you back into shape. I have no intention of being partnered with anyone else, so you can just stop feeling sorry for yourself and start concentrating on getting it together!"
The look on Doyle's face was the most expressive Bodie remembered seeing since the shooting. Unfortunately, it wasn't a good one. Sheer bloody fury, more like.
"You think that's all it takes?" A distant part of Bodie was impressed that Doyle could speak at all, his jaw was so tightly clenched. "You think all you need to do is say 'pull yourself together' and that's it? I'll be fine? I nearly died, for God's sake! I think I'm entitled to be a little put out by the whole experience."
"Yeah, you are." In contrast to Doyle, Bodie moderated his voice, trying to make it quiet and even. He hadn't intended to launch into a full-scale confrontation, but now it was here he was going to make the best use of it he could. Besides, he was tired of tip-toeing around Doyle, however good his partner's excuse might be. It was bloody hard living with someone steeped in misery. "You had every right to be pissed off and miserable, but you can't stay like that forever. Might as well be dead, mate." The silence that greeted this remark was stinging. Irritated but persistent, Bodie ploughed on. "I meant what I said. I want you back and there's no reason why you shouldn't be. It's just going to take time and a bit of effort from you. Okay," he amended as he caught Doyle's grimace, "a lot of effort. But you don't want to spend the rest of your life like this, do you?"
Doyle swung round and stalked into the kitchen. Bodie was relieved to hear the kettle being filled, not the back door slamming behind him. He followed with some trepidation, wondering if he'd blown it.
Doyle was leaning against the small kitchen table, gazing out at the rain. His face was bleak and Bodie cursed himself silently for not having more self-control. The last thing he'd meant to do was to drive the man even further into his depression.
The kettle boiled, and Doyle moved, making tea for them both. He sat stiffly down with his mug by the window, and without looking at Bodie muttered something. Bodie picked up his mug and sat down opposite. "What?"
"I said, you're probably right. Bastard," he added irritably.
"Yep." Bodie couldn't quite resist the smug smile that slipped across his face, but he did manage to wipe it off before Doyle looked at him. Just.
"It's just – my priorities are all messed up at the moment. I don't think it's just to do with nearly dying. I mean, when do we ever have any time actually to think about what we're doing? Cowley keeps us so damned busy that most of the time it's a struggle to keep on top of the job and have any kind of social life at all, let alone start wondering whether what we're doing is the right thing or not. Since I woke up in hospital, it's gone to the other extreme. I've had too much time to think and brood about it, and to be honest I'm not sure I like what I'm seeing."
Bodie's heart sank. Since when did this change from Doyle being knocked sideways by a life-threatening injury to Doyle questioning the whole purpose of CI5 and his role in it? The life-threatening injury bit he was reasonably confident he could handle; the second was much harder. Not because he had any reservations about it, but because Doyle was much more inclined to see things in terms of black and white, and law enforcement, especially as done by Cowley, just wasn't that clear cut. Still, this was the most Doyle had talked about what was bothering him and he wasn't about to let the moment go to waste.
"Why did you join the police, Ray?"
Doyle wrinkled his brow. "I've told you that before."
"Yeah, I know. So tell me again."
Doyle sighed, but clearly decided to humour him. "I got fed up with street gangs and the kind of mindless violence that goes with them. All the posturing and showing off, and the way petty crime can escalate to something a lot worse. My nan got terrorised once by a group of kids, and it was the coppers that finally got it sorted out. I wanted to try and help, like they did." He looked faintly sick. "Can't believe I was ever that young."
"Cowley asked." Bodie snorted, and Doyle almost smiled.
"Prat," grunted Bodie. "You make it sound like you didn't have a choice."
"Well, I wasn't any too popular in the Force by that stage," Doyle reminded him.
"Yeah, well, they shouldn't have been on the take, should they? Didn't mean you had to join CI5, though."
"My other options were somewhat limited," he said dryly. "But yeah, okay, I can see where you're going with this. I didn't just throw it all in. I still wanted to try and make things better."
"You still do."
"Yeah, maybe, but I'm not so sure that's what I'm actually doing. Seems we do as much harm as good. Those two kids wouldn't be dead if we hadn't been chasing them—"
"And we wouldn't have been chasing them if they hadn't been trying to kill to make a point! You can't do this job without casualties, Ray, we both know that, but we do what we do because of them. If there weren't lunatics out there wanting to inflict their choices on the rest of us with guns and bombs, there wouldn't be any need for us. But there are, so there is. And we're damned good at what we do, and you are not giving up on it now, you hear me?"
Bodie held his breath as Doyle gazed at his cooling mug of tea for a long moment. "I know you're right, and I don't think I'd be much good at anything else anyway. It's just—" he shrugged, still not meeting Bodie's eyes.
"Listen, you don't have to rush back into anything, mate. Take it a day at a time for a while, and stop worrying about everything so much. Give yourself a break." More than a little uncomfortable with the intimacy of this discussion, Bodie judged it wise to leave it there. Dumping his undrunk tea down the sink, he headed for the lobby and began pulling on his trainers. "I'm going to see what's along the river the other way. Be back in a couple of hours, okay? We could try one of the pubs in the village for dinner tonight, see what it's like?" Without waiting for an answer, he grabbed his coat from the hook by the door and was gone in a flurry of wet air.
It did occur to Bodie halfway through his exploration of the river walk that maybe leaving Doyle alone after that conversation was not the wisest thing he had ever done, but in fact, much to Bodie's relief, things did seem to improve after this. The exercises recommended by the physiotherapist were completed without protest, the weather brightened, and he was able to drag Doyle out further and further each day, until by halfway through their second week Ray was looking better than he had for months, the increased exercise having a beneficial effect on his appetite as well as, to some extent, his disposition. In fact, they were getting on so much better that Bodie was beginning to find it difficult again, being in such close proximity to the man whose body could turn him on faster than you could say 'CI5'. Grimly, he resolved to ask for his own flat again when they got back to London, although as he contemplated how he was going to break this news to Doyle, he kept coming up blank. It wasn't as if his heart was in it, after all. Just that the rest of him would probably betray his very vivid fantasies if he didn't get away from his partner sooner rather than later. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd been with a girl, and while he could – and had – seen to himself, it just wasn't the same as snuggling up to someone whose body intrigued you, the smell of whose skin filled your senses in a way you had never previously imagined, whose hair seemed to curl around your fingers as if inviting you – Hell. Cold shower time again.
The visit to Bakewell had gone well, all things considered. Bodie had made a point of eating Bakewell Tart in three different teashops, and had returned to the one he considered the best to buy a whole one to take back with them. In fact, selecting and consuming different versions of the local delicacy seemed to be all they had done, when he thought about it; it wasn't as if Bakewell was a hub of activity, and they (fortunately, to Bodie's city-bred mind) had missed market day. But the place was pretty enough, and it did them both good to get out of the cottage and among other people for a while. While they were sitting over the last tea and (in Bodie's case) tart of the day, in a poky upstairs tearoom otherwise full of local women and their shopping bags, he had an idea.
"You know, we've still got a few days left before we have to go back to London. Fancy a trip to Derby for the day? It's not that far." Bodie disguised his interest in his partner's reply with a glug of tea. Neither of them knew much about the other's childhood; it never seemed particularly relevant. They knew what they needed to know about how each other functioned, and what the other's areas of expertise and ability were. Sitting around discussing their upbringing or their families had never been necessary or relevant. The only reason he knew that Doyle had spent a lot of his childhood in Derby was because of a crack he'd made some years ago about Doyle's accent which had provoked a waspish response.
"The bright lights of Bakewell not enough for you?" Doyle's reply lacked any real interest, but Bodie noticed his mouth tighten a little.
"Nah, but I've heard there are some good Indian places there. We could go over in the morning, have a poke about the place, maybe see a film and then have a curry before we head back."
"It's a bit of a drive from here," Doyle pointed out. "If it's just that you fancy a curry, there are places a lot nearer. Matlock for one."
"Yeah, but it's your old stomping ground, isn't it? You could show me around. You know, where you lost your virginity, where you got into your first fight, that kind of thing."
Doyle's face was still wary, but he managed a smile. "Don't think those places will be on any tour of Derby you might take, mate, and there's no way I want to spend time dragging round the scenes of my youth. It's not like there's any reason for me to go back."
"Don't want to visit your old mum, then? Show her you're still in the land of the living?" The words were out before Bodie could censor them. In fact, the only thing he knew about Doyle's mum was that she lived alone in a small, one-bedroom flat that she hardly left, and this sparse information came from an idle discussion on a stake-out some time before Doyle was shot, not from any recent mention of her. It was the reason he never thought until now about whether anyone had actually let Ray's mum know about the shooting. "She does know about you getting shot, I presume?"
"I didn't tell her, if that's what you're getting at. And I have no intention of telling her. She'll only get upset and it's not like there's anything she could do."
"Ray, you don't have to tell her if you don't want to, but there's no reason we couldn't drop in for a quick cuppa when we're so close. If you want to see her on your own, I can just drop you off." Bodie may have had no family of his own left that he knew or cared about, but if Ray's mum was still around he was quite happy to foster mother-son relations, not to mention if he could stay he might pick up some useful info on his partner's youthful misdeeds.
Doyle's face was tight, but after a moment the tension relaxed a little and he gulped down the rest of his tea instead of stalking off. Running a hand through his hair, he muttered, "Look, mate, just leave it, OK? She doesn't really approve of me running around with guns and while she's quite happy to let me pay for her flat, she'd really rather not see me. And believe me, the feeling's mutual, so just forget it." Bodie was still digesting this revelation, which apart from anything explained exactly where Doyle's money was going even when he was on reduced pay, when he realised that the other man had pushed himself away from the table and marched out, leaving Bodie with the bill.
The attempt to discover something about Doyle's past having failed signally, it nonetheless shook Bodie out of the self-absorption that had been in danger of taking him over. His obsession with trying not to be obsessed with Ray had effectively stopped him from actually paying attention to him except on a routine has he done his exercises and is he eating enough kind of way. Now he was seeing Ray as a person again, instead of as an impediment to his own sense of normal, or a problem he had been tasked with solving, he began to realise that Ray was also wrapped up in himself. Of course, ever since the shooting he had been less than forthcoming about anything much at all, even what he wanted for dinner, but somehow there seemed to be a different quality to this broodiness. While Doyle was undoubtedly showing improvement, he still couldn't be described as anything other than taciturn, even if he was less ill-tempered than before. But that discussion, however brief, in the Bakewell teashop, had cracked the armour around him just a little, and also jolted Bodie out of his own preoccupation.
Safely ensconced back in the warm cosiness of the cottage's small front room, the newly lit fire hissing and crackling as it got going, Bodie thoughtfully eyed Doyle's profile as he sat staring grimly at the television where the Six O'clock News was just starting. Sighing heavily, inspiration completely failing to strike, he took himself off for a shower.
Bodie emerged from his shower feeling distinctly grumpy. Usually, their time off the job but together was filled with telly, pubs and banter; being thrown together for this long outside their usual environment and without the pressure of a limit to their free time to make the best of seemed to have sapped their ability to fill the time without thinking about it. The atmosphere between them was strained, and worse since he had brought up the idea of visiting Derby, and it was clear to Bodie that this just wasn't working any longer. Frankly, he was tempted to drag Doyle back to London tonight. If it weren't for the fact that it had started raining again, hard, and it was already growing dark, he would have done it. But the drive under such conditions would be difficult enough with his full attention; without it the idea was foolhardy. Grumpy and fed-up he might be; suicidally reckless he was not. It didn't make it any easier to cope just at the moment, though, especially since Doyle was now sitting curled up by the fire, television switched off, staring at the flames as they caught and flared around the logs. There was even a large rug in front of the fireplace, which sent Bodie's imagination off in a direction he really didn't want it to consider.
Taking several deep breaths, Bodie tried to flip on his hearty, we're-just-good-mates persona. He hoped it wasn't as transparent to Doyle as it felt.
"Shall we see what's on the box, then?" Bodie wasn't in fact the least bit bothered about watching television, but at least it would take his mind off other things, and distract Doyle from noticing anything odd about his partner's manner.
But his plan fell at the first hurdle.
"No." Ray's tone was uncompromising. For the first time for several days, Bodie really looked at the man sitting by the fire. Ray's face was drawn, a taut set to the muscles of his eyes and mouth making him look suddenly old again, as he had when the pain of his wound was bad.
Bodie frowned. "You alright? You didn't pull anything on that trek around Bakewell, did you?"
"No, it's nothing like that, but—"
"Look, Ray, I didn't mean anything by suggesting we visit Derby, you know. I mean, you've never really talked about your family, and if you don't want to talk about them I get it, but it just seemed like a good chance if there was someone you wanted to see, or some loose ends to tie up and—"
"Bodie, I don't care about Derby! Really, I couldn't give a rat's arse. There's no-one left there I'd want to visit, even if they're still around, and I have absolutely no desire to go back to somewhere I never liked anyway."
"Oh. Right then. So if you're not pissed off with me about Derby, then what is it? Because there is something, I know there is, you've been brooding like a wet hen for the past few days and it's not just the whole can I get fit thing because I can see that you're improving and so can you, so—"
"For god's sake, Bodie, will you just shut up and listen!" Doyle's voice in the small room was loud, and startled Bodie enough to have the desired effect. He closed his mouth and looked at Doyle, raising an eyebrow in invitation.
"Thank you." Doyle shifted around so his back was to the fire, and even with his attention focussed on just what the hell it was that was messing with Doyle's mind so much, a part of Bodie absently noted the increased ease of Doyle's movement since they had arrived nearly a fortnight ago.
A deep breath shifted his focus back to one hundred percent on what Doyle was about to say. "OK, look, this is... God, there's no easy way to say this. I've been trying to pysch myself up to telling you for a few days now, but there's really no good way to do this."
Fuck. He's going to tell me he doesn't want back on the squad. How the hell am I going to persuade him to—
Doyle's mumble registered on his preoccupied mind.
WHAT did he just say?
The startled shout halted Doyle's stumbling words. He seemed unable to meet Bodie's eyes, but his head tilted to one side slightly, which Bodie took as encouragement.
"Let me get this straight. You just said that you – you fancy me?"
"Yeah, yeah, big laugh." Doyle's voice was muffled by the fact that he had now brought his knees up to his chin and was doing his best to bury his face in them. "Look, I know things have been – not quite right between us for a while now. It must have been suffocating you, having to live with me while I'm still getting better, deal with my moods, but I could tell you were picking up that there was more to it than that. I reckon I owe you one, mate, for putting up with me over the past few months, and it's never worked if we've not been straight with each other, so I thought I'd better just tell you. It's alright," he added hastily, obviously interpreting Bodie's silence as horrified. "I don't expect you to do anything about it, except maybe if you can forget I ever said anything. I won't bring it up again and now we've cleared the air we can just go back to how it was before. But if you can't, well at least you know now, in plenty of time to start thinking about making other arrangements, deciding who you could work with when you go back to A squad, all that sort of thing."
"You fancy me!" The triumphant tone in Bodie's voice brought Doyle's head up in fury. Clearly, he heard mockery where Bodie meant glee. And relief. And a huge, overwhelming surge of love for this man whose emotional courage far exceeded his own. "I can't believe it! Here I've been, agonising for wee—"
"Just shut it, okay?" Ray stormed to his feet, clearly intending to hurl himself out of the room, and possibly the house, in his embarrassment. Voice dropping, he continued as if to himself, "I knew I should have kept my mouth shut. I knew it was a mistake to say anything, but—"
Bodie surged towards his partner like iron to a magnet, and before Doyle could finish his anguished mutterings Bodie was kissing him. Hard. Lustfully. He fully intended to make sure that there could be no shred of doubt in Doyle's mind just what Bodie meant by this kiss. Once he felt he had established the lust, he gentled, aiming for love. By the time the necessity for oxygen had to be acknowledged, Bodie was confident he had given it his best shot, and he pulled back a couple of inches and allowed a smug grin to settle on his face.
"So, I take it the feeling's mutual, then?" Doyle's raised eyebrow suggested a calm that was belied by the tension of the body under Bodie's hands.
"Oh yes," Bodie assured him, still looking smug.
"So why the hell didn't you say something?"
"Medical advice not to stress the convalescent?" Bodie offered glibly.
"Oh yeah?" Doyle's silky tone lulled Bodie into a brief second of believing he had got away with this. He jumped when Doyle roared, "It didn't occur to you that thinking it was just me feeling like this was a lot more bloody stressful, I suppose?"
"Well, yeah, I see that now," and Bodie decided the time had come to reduce his partner's stress levels again. Of course, his stress reduction technique, unless he had lost his touch, wasn't necessarily going to reduce Doyle's blood pressure, or respiration, but on the other hand…
The rug in front of the fire came in very handy.
"You don't think this is a bit too easy, do you?" Ray's question stirred Bodie from a complacent doze and he noted with a frown that the fire was dying down. Then the sense of Ray's words registered and he rolled over and stared at his partner in disbelief.
"Too easy? I don't think there was anything that easy about the last few weeks, mate, even if you do!"
"No, I just mean - well, it's a bit like one of those sickening Mills and Boon books, isn't it. You know, where the hero declares undying love and they all live happily ever after."
Bodie heaved himself up onto one elbow and gazed at him incredulously. "Where on earth do you get some of your ideas from? And Mills and Boon? Is that what they gave you in hospital to pass the time? 'Cos I can't imagine where else you could have read rubbish like that." Doyle attempted to say something, but Bodie was on a roll. "And I didn't hear anyone declaring undying love, although," he paused briefly to leer at Doyle's undressed state before continuing, "actually, if you want to declare it I'm all for it. As for living happily ever after, the chance would be a fine thing, given our line of work. I'll settle for what we can get, mate, in the here and now."
Doyle had pushed himself up to a half-sit, half-crouch, and the dying glow from the fire cast a lurid glare against his scars. Bodie had to look away for a moment, even though it was less than an hour since he had been gently stroking the damaged skin, kissing it, eager to show Doyle that it didn't disgust him. With a sideways glance Bodie just caught, Doyle reached for his shirt where it had landed on the sofa just behind him and pulled it on. "I didn't really mean that. I mean - yeah, the job means ever after could be really short, and I think I'm the last person who needs reminding of that just at the moment, ta all the same. It's just - I thought you'd quite likely knock my block off for even suggesting this, and the only reason I had the guts to go through with it now was because I've spent the time since," he gestured irritably towards his chest, "thinking I probably wouldn't get back on the Squad anyway, so what did I have to lose? And all that stuff they say about near-death experiences, well, I suppose it's true. I mean, we have close calls enough times, god knows, but usually there's no time to think about them because we're still in the thick of it, but with this - there was just too much time. Even before I woke up in hospital, I'd been dreaming about it."
Bodie raised an eyebrow at that.
"No, you burk," Doyle smirked fleetingly. "Not that kind of dream. I meant the kind where you wonder about the meaning of life, what's the point of it all - that kind of thing."
"Christ, Ray, if you were dreaming about that sort of thing before you even came round from the surgery, I'm surprised you ever bothered to wake up! That sort of thinking twists you up in knots at the best of times!"
"Yeah. It's strange, really. I don't remember it all really clearly, but I do remember you and Cowley were both there some of the time. It was like I was arguing it out with you both. There was a pub, and a graveyard..." His voice trailed off, and he looked across at Bodie. "I dunno; it's all a bit vague now, but I think I was ready to go, until you started in. I knew you'd want to know what happened to me, and I knew you'd go after her like a shot once you knew, but that wasn't really what mattered then. At least, I don't think it was. What mattered was that you were there. Anyway, when I did wake up, and once I could think a bit more clearly, I kept thinking I should tell you. I mean, I'd been wanting you for so bloody long, but just hiding it for all the sorts of reasons you can imagine, but it was like all that had been shaken up, and those reasons just weren't important anymore. At least, not as important. And if I wasn't going to make it back on the Squad anyway and you decided to throw a fit, well, I wasn't much worse off than I would have been anyway. And at least I'd know I'd tried." He shrugged, not meeting Bodie's eyes.
Bodie sighed. Why did Ray always have to make things so complicated? Shuffling around until he was sitting next to Ray, backs propped up against the sofa, he put his arm over the other man's shoulders and tugged until his partner was leaning against him. "Look, Ray, you don't have to worry everything to death. Something like what happened to you changes your perspective on a lot of things, and I for one am just glad there's one good thing that's come out of that whole mess. And I'll be honest; I only realised I fancied you since then, but I think there's been a hell of a lot going on beneath the surface all this time. I've never imagined settling down with anyone, but I reckon that's partly because I'd already settled down with you - we just hadn't realised it yet. Now we have. Let's not complicate things, eh?" He squeezed gently, then got up and started pulling on his clothes. "I don't know about you, but I'm starving. How about a quick dinner and then bed? I've had enough of that tiny bed in my room, so, fair warning, I'm sleeping with you tonight."
Bodie woke slowly, aware of a sated heaviness in every limb that made him content simply to lie still and revel in the sensation. Good sex was always a pleasure, but he had never experienced anything like the utter fusion of the physical with the emotional that had overwhelmed him last night after their scratch supper and early bed. Aware of a warm, scrawny body next to him, he turned slightly and curled up alongside his still-sleeping partner, who wriggled back into the curve of Bodie's body. A huge grin split Bodie's face. They'd certainly proved the doctor wrong with his concerns about erectile dysfunction, he reflected. Doyle had come so hard from the feel of Bodie's mouth on and around him, he had nearly passed out.
Doyle might be right about it not being that easy; there was a hell of a lot they would have to sort out, but for the moment, Bodie couldn't give a damn. Requalifying, Cowley, CI5 itself - they could all wait. It would sort itself out somehow, he was absolutely certain. If not, so what? Here, in his arms, was all that really mattered now. All that had really mattered for quite a while.
Bodie drifted back to sleep.Click here for Lorraine's lovely illustration.