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Fanfiction on a Theme by Thomas Tallis

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Doyle should have been hanging on the doctor's every word, but the clipped, matter-of-fact tones slid over his head, just as the rain had slid over his face as he waited out on the chilled grey rooftop for the ambulancemen to come. He learnt what he needed to know: the wound so near mortal, the blood loss extreme, the chances of survival equal to the chances of death. Bodie was being wheeled into the operating theatre, and all Doyle could do was wait. He nodded, keeping his face expressionless, a mask of lucidity. The doctor didn't need to know what was happening in his head. No one did.

If it ended well, Doyle would tell Bodie. Late at night, under cover of darkness and bedclothes, mellowed by lovemaking, the words would come, as they did only in those quiet moments, or in the aftermath of a fight when adrenaline and relief untied his tongue. He'd make Bodie understand what this night had done to him. And Bodie would smile -- even in the dark, Doyle would know he smiled -- and say that he knew anyway.

Doyle could think that far into the future. Did that mean there was hope?

He paced the empty hospital corridor, fancying he could feel the coldness of the floor, even through the thick soles of his shoes. The disinfectant in his nostrils had a metallic tang, like blood, like Bodie's blood, pouring from the wound in his chest, seemingly unstemmed by the desperate press of Doyle's shaking right hand. His left had pillowed Bodie's head, fingers curling round to touch the faint, fluttering pulse, caressing even as they checked for life, while his lips caressed Bodie's cheeks, his forehead, his closed eyelids. The only answering touch was liquid -- the blood of his partner, the sweat of stress and terror, the tears of grief as yet unprocessed, for now unheeded. And the rain -- whose was the rain?

If a god had sent the rain, could Doyle pray for Bodie's survival? The only god he knew was the Christian one, the distant bearded figure of a childhood imagination, the subject of hymns droned out in school assemblies. That god would not save his partner. He had given free will to humanity, and Bodie had chosen his profession. The men they'd been chasing were men of conscience, terrorists to the British establishment but freedom fighters in their own minds, and one of them had chosen to lift his gun and fire. The bullet had punctured Bodie's lung.

Traumatic pneumothorax, one of the medics had called it. God would have a different term, something even more unpronounceable, like the names of angels.

One of Doyle's girlfriends had believed in guardian angels. Doyle had believed too in his way, until he saw his angel fall. Red life seeping into grey concrete.

Christ, let him live.

If not the father, why not the son?

Somewhere, a clock was ticking. Doyle was walking, but no longer up and down the same space. He didn't realise what he was doing until he felt the rain on his face once more. He didn't know where he was going. He shivered, the thin plastic jacket keeping him dry but not warm. He didn't think to put up the hood. The rain soaked his hair anew, adhering the curls to his neck and forehead. It dripped slowly downwards, mingling with sweat in the dip of his lower back, pooling above the waistband of his jeans before trickling down between his buttocks, a lighter touch even than the most teasing stroke of Bodie's fingers.

Once, in the shower, Bodie had held a sponge against Doyle's back and squeezed, because he knew Doyle loved that feeling. Now, in the rain, Doyle stood still in the middle of London and closed his eyes against the harsh lights, and harsher shadows. He thought of strong, pale, long-fingered hands, dark hair as soft as feathers, the smell and feel of clean, wet skin, and a muscled arm wrapped possessively around his shoulders, holding them chest to chest.

The sound of singing, choral singing, chased the memory away. Doyle listened, because for a moment it seemed to float towards him from nowhere, and because he knew the tune, knew it had once been a hymn, but he had never heard it sung.

Why fum'th in fight the Gentiles spite, in fury raging stout? Why indeed?

He was outside a church. Its aspect loomed above him, imposing itself on his consciousness as it must once have done to the neighbourhood at large. Doyle didn't care, then, about the tall buildings that now surrounded it, swallowing it up. Office blocks. Capitalism devouring the opiate of the masses. The music drew him in, so that he found himself on the inner threshold, flanked by stone fonts, staring down the central passageway at a choir of men and boys, singing without accompaniment while their master conducted them. The altar behind them was elaborately draped, its ornaments resplendent, shining silver and gold. Above it all hung a cross, draped with the effigy of a blood-streaked corpse. For a few seconds, as Doyle watched, the figure took on Bodie's features. Salt water joined the rain on his cheeks.

The choir finished their song. A few words from the conductor, and they began another. Doyle went to the nearest pew and perched on the edge of it, twisting his hands in his lap, wishing he could pray, that he could see a Saviour on the cross, instead of a dead body: a man younger than himself, betrayed by his friends and murdered by his enemies. CI5 agents like Doyle and Bodie dealt with cases like that every day.

As Doyle watched and listened, he noticed a dark-haired man sitting in the front row, as unobtrusive as Doyle himself, despite his proximity to the choir. Doyle couldn't see his face, but he was trained to observe, to size people up from the tiniest detail. He could tell from forty feet away that the man had an enviable serenity. Something in the way he held his head. All was right in his world.

Doyle gained no serenity from the church. The splendour of its interior made him think of the homeless people sleeping under bridges and in the tube station tunnels. He wondered what the collection box yielded each Sunday, what lifestyle the vow of poverty gave the priests -- whether they were ever cold or hungry like those they said would inherit the kingdom of heaven. Then he wondered whether they loved: did they feel enough in their chastity to grieve as he did now? Had they ever felt such terror for the life of another human being that the name of that person tore itself reflexively from their lips? Had they ever smiled until their cheeks ached when they heard the front door key turn? Had they laughed until their limbs didn't work and their faces were soaked with tears? They preached about heaven, but they never climbed there in the embrace of another.

Doyle closed his eyes and thought of the moment before Bodie's had shut. His expression … not fear, or even pain. Regret.

A rustling sound, accompanied by soft footsteps, brought him back to the present. The choir members were filing past him, faces respectfully averted. They knew not to disturb a man in prayer -- which to them was all Doyle was. As the last of them left the church, Doyle blinked, as if awakening from sleep. How long had he been sitting there? He ought to get back to the hospital. There could be news of Bodie. He could be dead. He could be waking up alone, wondering why his lover wasn't there beside him. Doyle's stomach lurched, and he started to get up.

'Can I help with anything?'

The dark-haired man was walking towards the back of the church. Doyle saw what he hadn't been able to when the man's back was turned: he was a priest. But that wasn't what caught Doyle's attention the most. He was younger than most priests Doyle had seen: mid-thirties or thereabouts, not so different from Doyle himself. He was a similar height and build, though without Doyle's athleticism. His hair was straighter and darker, his eyes were bluish-grey to Doyle's green, not so large, but a similar shape. He was also bearded, which obscured the shape of his jaw -- but even so, they could almost have been brothers. In the unlikeliest of places, Ray Doyle had met his double.

'Erm …'

'Forgive me,' said the priest. 'But I haven't seen you here before, and you seem troubled.' He gave Doyle a searching look. 'Would you like to talk about it?'

'Oh,' Doyle muttered. 'I'm not Catholic.'

'I won't try and convert you,' said the priest. The thought appeared to amuse him. 'Not every conversation with a priest need be a confession.' He gave Doyle a kind, close-lipped smile. Then he held out his hand. 'I'm Jacob.'

'Ray.' Doyle took the offered hand. Like his, it was long and slim, but it was paler, and its callouses were different. By the feel of the palms and fingertips, Jacob neither fired guns nor played the guitar, but he turned a lot of pages. That fitted.

'Do you spend time around guns, Ray, or engines?' Jacob asked.

'Yes,' said Doyle. 'How did you know?'

'Black stains on your hands, oil under the nails.' Jacob glanced at the hand he had just released. 'And a smudge or two of ink, so you handwrite quite frequently. I'd imagine you're some sort of policeman?'

Doyle gave him a sharp look before he answered. 'Yes, some sort.'

'So, you're here because you have witnessed violence. For some reason it's shaken you more than usual.'

'You read a lot of Sherlock Holmes in your spare time, Father?'

'You spend a lot of time observing people in this job,' said Jacob.

Doyle had to smile at that. 'Same here. 'Cept we do it through binoculars.'

Jacob smiled back, then sobered. 'But seriously. Will you tell me what's wrong?'

'My partner,' Doyle said, sighing out the words. 'He was critically injured a couple of hours ago. He's in surgery. He could die.'

'Then why aren't you there waiting for news?' Jacob asked.

'I've been asking myself the same question,' said Doyle. 'I s'pose I just couldn't stand it. When was the last time you were in a hospital, Jacob?'

'A while ago,' Jacob shrugged. 'I do remember it was hard to sit still. So, this partner of yours -- he's a good friend?'

Bile rose in Doyle's throat; he choked it back, cleared his throat, and croaked: 'The best.'

'Is he married?'

To me, near as dammit. 'No.'

'Does he have relatives, other friends, anyone who'll visit him?'

Doyle shook his head. 'No.'

'Then don't you think he'd appreciate you being there when he wakes up?' Jacob's voice was gentle, suggesting rather than accusing. His eyes widened entreatingly.

'What if he doesn't wake up?' Doyle whispered, looking away.

'Then don't you want to know?'

'I'll know.' Doyle's voice broke, and he pressed his lips firmly together, determined to stay composed in front of this stranger.

'Your partner,' Jacob said, 'he's a very good friend, isn't he?'

'What's that s'posed to mean?'

'Just a feeling,' Jacob answered. 'If you told me you and he were in a romantic relationship, I wouldn't be surprised.'

Feeling hounded, Doyle turned to look at him. 'And what would someone like you think of that?' His tone was savage.

Jacob shrugged again. 'Leviticus speaks twice against lying with a man as one does with a woman. Yet Christ says, "Judge not lest ye be judged."'

'And which version do you prefer, Jacob?'

'The latter,' said Jacob. 'I believe that where there is love, there is always some good.'

Doyle sighed. 'But I'm not being any good to him sitting here, am I?'

Jacob didn't answer.

'Nice meeting you, Father,' said Doyle. He stood up, nodded to the priest, and walked out of the church.

*


Dozing in a hard chair beside Bodie's hospital bed, Doyle was wakened by the light pressing of a hand he had fallen asleep holding: a hand that had been slack and lifeless, clammy and grey inside his own. Now it was warm -- as was the voice that spoke his name. He opened his eyes and saw Bodie, looking tired and weak, but alive, and awake, and thinly smiling.

'Hey,' Doyle said accusingly. 'You had me worried for a minute there.'

'Sorry I had to wake up and ruin it for you,' Bodie rasped.

They grinned at each other.

'Bodie.'

'Yeah?'

'Just …' Doyle paused, unsure how to say it. 'Don't do that again. OK?'

Bodie squeezed Doyle's hand once more, and went back to sleep with a smile on his lips.

- THE END -