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Balanced on the Edge of Autumn

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"Love is a losing game,
One I wish I'd never played,
Oh, what a mess we made."—Amy Winehouse

PROLOGUE

Tired after the time spent with Macklin and Towser, Doyle walked slowly to the room at the end of the corridor. He hesitated before entering, fist clenching tightly around the bag he held. The report in his pocket weighed heavily against his heart. How was he to tell Bodie? He was tempted to walk away. But his partner would want to know how the assessments went. With a deep sigh, he closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the cold wood. Bodie wouldn’t be best pleased at his partner’s current thoughts. What could he tell him that would make Bodie understand? Understand that Doyle was getting too old for the job; that he’d collected too many scars that would never fade; that there were too many damn deaths, too many ghosts, too many compromises, too many broken promises—too many lonely nights. And his heart just wasn’t in it anymore—it was somewhere else. He laughed. Yeah, Bodie would love that one. Love being the key word.

He ran his fingers through his hair and his palm across his face as he let himself in to the room. It felt overly warm after his slog through the cold autumn morning and the air had a distinctive smell. It felt like weeks since he'd been here last, but in reality it hadn't been that long. After the Green debacle he’d been sent to Macklin’s chamber of horrors. Do not pass go, do not collect—anything. Not even your partner. But here Bodie was—same as he'd been when Doyle had last seen him. Nothing had changed.

Whether Bodie understood it or not, Doyle was exhausted—beyond tired, and not just physically. He was shattered and he didn’t know how to sort himself—thinking about anything seriously was currently beyond him. The proof was in the envelope tucked in his jacket pocket. His assessment. Both Macklin and Ross had expressed their concerns—all neatly summarized and typed on a single document. Signed, sealed and delivered. But not finished. Oh, no. Too easy, that, and Cowley never made things easy. It had been left up to him to decide. His results were good enough to stay on the street. His skills hadn’t diminished far enough to force him to step down. His score was still one of the highest on the squad. But he wasn’t the 4.5 of old. At least he didn’t think so. And as Ross and Macklin had both so kindly pointed out, self-doubt did not lead to a long life in CI5.

So, maybe this job wasn’t for him anymore. Oh, he was still a copper at heart. He believed in the law and that it applied to everyone—it was black or white, right or wrong. CI5 had too many shades of grey for his conscience. He remembered reading something somewhere that claimed there were no greys—only grubby whites. That seemed appropriate. He shook his head. What had happened to that young fool that had dreamed he could make a difference? Cowley was right to call him out—dub him a bleeding heart and worse—an idealist. There was no room for softness in this mob. Dreams didn’t come true for CI5 agents.

And there was Bodie. Always Bodie. Doyle put his tea and sandwich on the small bedside cabinet and pulled the assessment report out of his jacket. He tapped the paper against his chin and thought about tearing it up. But Bodie would want to see it, would want to know, and he had that right. It was Bodie’s back that might be in danger after all, wasn’t it? He tucked his car keys in his pocket and set the assessment report down next to his lunch. He dropped heavily into the chair by the window and took a sip of his tea. He doubted that England’s greatest cure-all was going to be of any help to him today.

Catching sight of his reflection in the window, he noted that he didn’t look much different at forty than he had at thirty-five. Maybe a bit more grey sprinkled through the curls. Definitely more lines on the face—and not the kind that could be attributed to laughing. The body was the same—but something in his outlook had changed—he’d lost some of the fire that had driven him into the police and then to CI5, lost the doggedness that compelled him to fight corruption, to protect Joe Public. Cowley’s ‘Young-Turk‘ had grown old.

Drink in hand, he stretched his legs out in front of him and stared, not seeing, out the window. The sound of Bodie’s soft, steady breathing coming from the bed lulled him into quiet reflection. The Kendall op. It had started there …the beginning of what could very well be the end...

CHAPTER ONE

Doyle kissed Bodie’s flushed cheek and rolled off his partner. He lay on his back and considered the cracked plaster in the ceiling.

“Sex is supposed to give the gears a rest,” Bodie chided, leaning up on his elbow and tapping Doyle on the head.

“I can hear ‘em grinding even through all this fluff.”

Doyle snorted and turned on to his side, pushing Bodie back down into his pillow. He tucked his nose into Bodie’s neck and let out a sigh.

Bodie huffed. “You are a lot of work, Doyle.”

Lightly tracing a pattern in the remains of the morning’s activities that still decorated Bodie’s stomach, he said lecherously, “But well worth the effort.”

“Mmmm,” Bodie agreed.

After a few minutes of enjoying each other’s warm embrace, Doyle started to say something, but then suddenly stopped.

Sounding resigned, Bodie prompted, “Well? Out with it.”

With hesitation, Doyle asked, “Do you ever think about what we’ll do when we’re too old for this?”

“Don’t think that will ever happen,” Bodie bumped his groin against Doyle’s hip, presenting his evidence.

“Prat.” Doyle pinched his arse. “Seriously, though. What happens when we’re too old for Cowley’s games?”

Bodie remained silent as Doyle carded through the still dark hair at Bodie’s temple. His own was threaded with silver.

“Where is all this coming from, Ray?”

“Feeling my age I guess. Going to be forty in a few weeks. Been thinking that’s too old to be out chasing thugs.”

“Nah, look at James Bond. He must be nearing seventy now and he’s still MI6’s ‘man with the golden gun’.”

Doyle snorted. “You do know he’s a fictional character, yeah?”

Bodie rolled his eyes.

“Ignore me,” Doyle finally said. “Spending too much time thinking about the things I don’t have rather than the things I do.”

“Such as?”

“Oh, you know. The usual. A home of my own. Stability. A family.”

“Ours is the loneliest profession, Mr Bond.” Bodie pulled him closer.

Doyle relaxed into the hug. “At least I’ve still got the spy who loved me.” He didn’t miss the slight frisson of tension the words drew from his bed mate.

The ringing of the phone and the accompanying call on the R/T eclipsed any chance of discussing that.

“4.5 here.”

“Cowley wants you at HQ within the hour. The timetable on the Kendall op has been moved up. You’re going in tonight.”

“Roger that. 4.5 out.”

Doyle glanced at Bodie. He looked relieved.

CHAPTER TWO

The mournful wail of retreating sirens as the last of the dead and injured were carried away from the scene was replaced by the night’s deep quiet. The harsh light spinning from the blues and twos gave way to the softer illumination provided by a pale moon. If it weren’t for the blood stained pavement, bullet ridden cars, and burnt out warehouse, one never would have guessed at the chaos that had visited the dock earlier in the evening.

Doyle watched the huddled figures of the forensic team as they sifted through the aftermath of a job which had very nearly been a disaster. Sitting in the back of the ambulance he rolled his sleeves up over his elbows to allow the medic to stitch the knife wounds on his wrist.

“Careless, 4.5.” Cowley’s acerbic words still echoed in his head, along with Bodie’s “What the hell, Doyle?” A right fine duet they’d performed. It irritated him that he was singing the same tune. What had he been thinking?

The two of them were standing with several other agents discussing, he assumed, the next steps. Two of the thugs had managed to escape. Cowley waved Murphy and Jax off, but put a hand on Bodie’s shoulder before he could go with them. Doyle watched their attention turn to him—Cowley angry and Bodie shrugging.

“Let’s get a bandage on you, sir,” the medic said, startling Doyle out of his thoughts. He held out his arm.

“Keep it dry. It shouldn’t scar too badly.” The ambulance man packed up and Doyle stepped out of the vehicle.

Cowley and Bodie were still watching him. Probably discussing my sterling performance. “Another blown assignment, 4.5—another injury.” The Scottish accent in his head almost but not quite capturing the sour tenor of the original.

It wasn’t really his fault, though you’d never convince Cowley of that. He’d been where he was supposed to be, when he was supposed to be there. No way for him to have known that Kendall would bring in a new man. A man that Doyle’d had a close encounter with several years ago. Of course he’d been recognised and things had gone tits up. Time had a way of catching up with you, he mused. Maybe his was finally running out. Best get it over with. He walked towards Cowley’s car.

“Sir, I—”

“Not tonight, Doyle. I’m not in the mood for apologies or excuses.” Cowley waved his hand over the crime scene. “See to the last of this and go home. Be in my office tomorrow at eight sharp.” Cowley got into his car and sped off, red taillights fading with the distance.

Bodie stood next to his partner silently, rocking on his heels. Doyle released a heavy breath and looked at him.

“What, you got nothin’ to say, sunshine?” He let his anger show –with Bodie it was always better to attack first. Bodie expected it.

But Bodie didn’t say anything, only leaned against the side of a nearby guard shack. Doyle scowled and joined him. They watched in silence as the other agents finished up and left to make their way back to HQ. It was going to be busy there tonight.

When they were the last men on the site, Doyle turned to go to his car. He was startled when Bodie grabbed him and shoved him against the wall of the shack.

“You want to tell me what that was all about, Doyle?” Bodie tightly gripped his shoulders and bounced him off the wall.

“Christ, Bodie. That hurt!”

“What did you think you were doing out there, eh?” Bodie raised an arm to point at the still smouldering warehouse.

“What’re you on about?” Doyle tried to shrug him off.

“Did you even think at all? Giving yourself up to Kendall like that—without a fight?”

Doyle’s eyes narrowed. “My cover was blown. Kendall’s new man knew I was CI5. There was no point in dragging it out.” He scowled. “I didn’t want him askin’ questions that might have exposed you as well.”

“I can take care of myself, mate. Don’t need you sacrificing yourself for me.” Bodie sucked in a deep breath and stared at him. He didn’t look happy with what he saw. “That’s it, isn’t it? You put me ahead of the job. Cowley’s going to have your guts for garters.”

“Yeah, well I figured it was bloody well worth it,” Doyle snarled. “Couldn’t have him needin’ to replace two agents—expensive, that is.”

The attempt at humour fell flat. Bodie shoved him into the wall again. “It’s not a joke, Ray. We can’t let the fact that we’re having it off with each other interfere with the job.”

Doyle looked away. “I know that.”

“Then why? Why’d you just let them take you?”

“Couldn’t see you get hurt. Not when I could do something to protect your back. It’s what partners do,” he said defiantly. “And it’s more than getting a leg over-”

Bodie leaned against him, pushing him against the wooden wall, and pinned his arms over his head with one hand, his fingers digging into the injured wrist. His mouth came down hard on Doyle’s, bruising his lips. When Bodie tipped his head back; his eyes were hard.

“This is what it is, Doyle.”

Struggling to free himself, Doyle winced as Bodie tightened his grip. He could feel blood soak the bandage on his wrist and run down his arm as the stitches tore under Bodie’s grasp. It trickled onto his cheek. Bodie used his free hand to collect up a few drops and smeared the red liquid across Doyle’s mouth. He leaned in to lick it off. Doyle bucked, not sure if it was a need to get free or a reaction to Bodie’s hips pressing into his own. Bodie let out a dirty laugh.

“This,” Bodie bumped against Doyle’s groin again, “this is us, Doyle. Not sweetness and light, not hearts and flowers.” He roughly kissed Doyle again.

Doyle couldn’t hide his response.

“Yeah,” Bodie laughed at him again, his hand sliding down to cup Doyle’s growing interest. “This is what we are; this is what we have.”

“Maybe I want more.” Doyle pushed back.

“That’s not on offer.” Bodie released his hold on Doyle. “You know that.”

“I know.” Doyle wiped the blood from his wrist on his jeans and pinched the bridge of his nose. He shook his head. “Let’s go.”

The drive to Bodie’s was made in silence. Pulling up in front of Bodie’s flat, Doyle left the car running. “I’ll pick you up in the morning.”

Bodie opened the car door and then turned back to face his partner.

“Ray.” Bodie gently placed his hand on Doyle’s arm.

Doyle tensed. “Don’t do this to me, Bodie.”

“What?”

“Get all soft and gentle—make nice—play me for a fool.”

Bodie got out of the Capri and stepped back. “You’re losing it, mate. Don’t know what you want, do you?”

“I know what I want.”

Bodie spoke over him. “You get irate when I come at you rough, whinging you want something different, and then retreat when I offer it. I’m tired of trying to figure you out.”

“It’s easy, Bodie,” he winced at the defeated sound of his voice. “Just want someone to love me. Want you.”

Bodie ran his hands over his face in frustration. “I can’t do this now.” He looked at Doyle and shook his head. Turning away from the car, he said over his shoulder, “In the future, keep your mind on the job.”

But Doyle wasn’t going to let it go. “I know why you’re running away from me.”

“Enlighten me, then.” Bodie turned to face Doyle again.

“Do you think you’re the only one who’s ever been hurt?” He felt a stab of regret when Bodie’s head dropped and his shoulders slumped. He gentled his voice. “I know you’ve been betrayed by friends and lovers in the past but—”

Bodie raised his head to look at Doyle. There was only coldness in his eyes. Doyle threw his hands up in defeat.

“But what?” Bodie demanded, his voice hard. He spoke with a sneer. “Finish what you were saying, Dr Ross.”

Doyle met Bodie’s gaze and hoped his eyes could impart more of what he felt than his words ever could. “But none of them was me, Bodie.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “None of them was me.”

Bodie stepped away from the car and without looking back said, “No. None of them was you.” After taking a few steps towards his front door, he turned and asked, “Do you want to come in?”

****

And that had been that. Doyle sighed as he studied his silent partner. He gently ran his finger over the back of Bodie’s hand. ‘We went home and took our frustrations out on each other in the usual way and slept—nothing’d changed. Cowley’s early call out had us on the trot again—no time for breakfast, no time for words. It was as if the discussion in the car had never happened. Just the way you like it, yeah?”

****

CHAPTER THREE

The next day’s babysitting job for a minor U.S. State Department official, assigned as punishment for the Kendall mess, went off without a hitch. Returning to HQ after dropping the diplomat at Heathrow, Bodie followed Doyle up the stairs and asked, “How about a pint after the Cow is done with us?” His hand brushed Doyle’s bum.

“Nah, got plans, haven’t I?” Doyle climbed a little faster.

“Don’t know, do I? You’ve been keeping secrets from me, Raymondo.”

“Have I now?”

“Well, I haven’t heard any stories about your latest birds. Wondering if maybe you’re past it, mate.”

“Not me, old son,” Doyle hoped the slight break in his voice would pass by Bodie, but the sideways look he got said it hadn’t been missed. “Actually I’m seeing Cheri tonight, if you must know.”

“Ah, good. Nice girl.”

“Thanks for your approval, Dad.” Doyle punched Bodie’s shoulder.

“Now that’s no way to treat your father, Doyle. Show some respect for your betters.”

“Soon as I see someone better, I will.”

“You wound me, Ray.”

“Doyle. Bodie. My office, now.” Cowley’s voice coming from behind them startled them both.

“Speaking of better—”

“I’m assuming our guest was successfully dispatched back to his home.” Cowley cut off the impending double act.

Bodie nodded. “He and his bags were last seen heading across the pond. Sir.”

Cowley shot him a displeased look and shuffled some folders around on his desk. Doyle often wondered if there was anything actually in them or if they were just a prop. He and Bodie had discussed it at length one evening over a pure malt scotch. They hadn’t come to a definite decision.

“Doyle.” The sharp sound of his name stopped his wandering thoughts. Cowley was frowning at him.

“Sorry, sir.”

He watched Bodie roll his eyes.

“As I was saying, the Minister received a very favourable report from the U.S. Embassy on our handling of the man. You did well.” Cowley’s gaze turned to Doyle. “Unlike the reports I’ve heard on last night’s operation.”

“I wouldn’t do anything differently, given the chance.” There was no apology in Doyle’s words.

“I expect not,” Cowley said. “But I have more important matters to attend to this evening. Get your reports on my desk before you leave for the night. We’ll go over them tomorrow. Dismissed.”

As they walked down the hallway towards their office, Bodie stopped suddenly. He rubbed his hands together in the way that Doyle knew boded ill. Bodie had a plan behind his mischievous smile and he wasn’t going to like it.

“If I remember correctly,” Bodie began as they entered the office, “last week you told me that if I finished up the Henderson reports, you’d do the next two.” He patted Doyle on the shoulder. “Time to pay up, me lad.”

Doyle groaned.

Bodie ruffled Doyle’s hair and, with a sweeping gesture, held out the chair. “Since you’re busy typing,” Bodie smiled with a suggestive leer, “and then you’re off on an assignation with the charming Cheri, I’m going to see if I can talk Murphy into buying me a pint.”

“See you tomorrow then.” Doyle settled, disgruntled, in front of the typewriter. He tossed a pencil at Bodie’s retreating figure. “Oi, and it’s your turn to drive.”

CHAPTER FOUR

Doyle raced down the stairs in time to the beeping of the car horn, hoping the neighbours were already awake. He’d hear from them otherwise. Bloody Bodie. He opened the door of the Capri and slid in.

“Pillock.”

Bodie ignored him. “So how was the date last night, eh?” Bodie waggled his eyebrows and threw a knowing punch at Doyle’s shoulder.

“Didn’t go out. Cheri called off.” Doyle ignored his partner’s cheeky expression.

“Losin’ your touch, mate. That’s the third bird in two weeks that—”

“Yeah, yeah. No need to rub it in.”

“Should’ve called me. Donna has a friend who’d have been willing to have you.”

“Ta, ever so much. You’re makin’ me sound like a charity case.”

“Might’ve picked up some pointers.”

“The day I need pointers from you, mate, is the day I’ll join the priesthood.” This time he failed to hide the bitterness in his voice.

“Mm.” Bodie’s attention turned to getting them through the traffic on the high street. “You’ve been a real joy lately, Doyle.”

The silence in the car grew uncomfortable.

Bodie cleared his throat. “So what’s really bothering you, Ray.”

Doyle shrugged and turned his head away from Bodie. His hands clenched into fists and he tucked them between his knees. He watched Bodie’s reflection in the car window and saw the familiar distant mask drop into place.

After a few more minutes of silence, Bodie said, “I thought we’d settled this.”

Doyle spoke to the image in the glass. “You’d settled it.”

“Ray.”

“Leave it, Bodie.” He met Bodie’s eyes. “I just need some time.”

“Time? Meanwhile, I’ll need to watch both our backs while you’re mooning over unrequited love.”

Doyle jerked in his seat. The temperature in the car dropped. He turned back to stare out the passenger side window.

“Look,” Bodie started to apologise, “I shouldn’t have said that.”

“Oi! Slow down near the corner. I could murder a fizzy drink.”

Bodie tapped the brakes, slowing the car. Before the Capri rolled to a stop, Doyle was out the door without another word. Bodie’s ‘Bloody hell!’ followed him into the shop.

Doyle walked back out of the store five minutes later, casually wiping his sleeve across his face as he got himself back under control. He didn’t understand why talking to Bodie about their ’relationship’, or lack thereof, always made him so fucking emotional. It was embarrassing. He definitely did not need to let Bodie see any tears. Truth was he loved Bodie. They slept together. They both enjoyed it. For Bodie it was simply sex; for Doyle it was so much more and he’d spoiled it for both of them by letting Bodie know.

Opening the car door, he shoved a Mars bar and a Coke at his partner before Bodie could utter a word. He settled himself back in the passenger seat, his feet propped on the dash, and opened his own can. He saw Bodie take a quick look at him and heard the muttered, “Thanks.” He nodded once as Bodie started the car.

An almost comfortable quiet settled around them for several miles and then Bodie broke it.

“Ray. I don’t—”

Doyle closed his eyes and huffed out a pained sigh. His voice sounded sharp, even to his own ears as he spoke. “I know Bodie. You don’t do commitment, you don’t have boyfriends, you don’t want love, and you don’t want me, at least not that way. I get it. I’ll learn to live with it. Can we drop it now?”

The R/T in Doyle’s pocket sounded. “Thank Christ,” he mumbled before answering with a crisp, “4.5.”

“Base here, 4.5. 6.2, and 7.1 are involved in a hostage situation at the motorway services on the M4 near Heston.”

“Isn’t that police business, Base?” Doyle asked and rolled his eyes at Bodie.

Bodie winked back. Order restored.

“It would be, 4.5,” Cowley’s voice, amplified by the R/T speaker, filled the Capri. “If James Reardon was not involved. Now get yourselves over there and be quick about it.”

“Yes, sir,” Doyle replied meekly, sliding lower in his seat.

“What have I told you about making Father angry, Raymond?”

“Shut it, Bodie. Just drive.”

Bodie’s hand rose in a mock gesture of pulling at his forelock. “As you wish, sir.”

Doyle snorted and pointed out the windscreen, glad that work had returned them to their usual amity.

The motorway junction was closed when they reached it and traffic was backed up for miles.

“Great,” Doyle groaned. “And how are we supposed to get through this?”

“Never fear, 4.5.” Bodie grinned as he pulled the siren and blue light out from under his seat. “We never get enough chances to use these.”

“Oh my God.” Doyle shook his head. “Nothin’ but a five year old, you are.”

Bodie ignored him as he spun the steering wheel and the car jumped out of the stalled queue and started up the hard shoulder. “Hold on, sunshine!”

As they headed toward the services several patrol cars from the Metropolitan Police helped clear the way in front of them.

“Cowley must have called to tell them we were coming,” Doyle noted.

“Like Moses parting the Red Sea!” Bodie cackled as he made another quick shift of the wheel to avoid running into the lead vehicle.

Doyle looked over at Bodie with raised eyebrows. “I wonder about you sometimes.”

After skipping their way through the long traffic jam, they finally pulled into the parking area of the services. Murphy and Anson were waiting for them. Murphy, a knowing smile on his face, tipped his head toward the blue light still spinning on the roof of the Capri.

“Sodding James Hunt wannabe,” Doyle told him, eyes rolling.

CHAPTER FIVE

Walking across the car park to what appeared to be a command centre, Doyle asked, “Do we know what happened?”

“Reardon and his boys stopped here for a bite. Hungry work, transporting drugs and weapons,” Murphy explained drolly. “The local coppers received an anonymous tip that a lorry at this service area was full of ‘suspect goods’. They called it in to the Yard but didn’t wait for back-up. Reardon must have spotted them inspecting his vehicle and took exception. He decided the people in the café would make good negotiating tools.”

“Hostages. That will make this a bit tougher,” Bodie commented.

“There are two children,” Anson pointed towards a couple arguing with a policeman, “those are the parents.”

“Christ. Who else?” Doyle asked, frowning.

“Two teachers and an OAP,” Anson answered. “Reardon has three thugs with him.”

“And that?” Bodie pointed towards the smoke hanging over the kitchen area of the café. “Doesn’t look good for a meal,” he pouted as he patted his stomach.

“Grease fire in the kitchen,” Anson answered. “The local plod started to come in the café through the door, there,” he pointed at a shattered door at the side of the building, “and Reardon tossed a stun grenade. The grease caught fire. One of the hostages panicked and ran out. That’s when the guns came out.”

“Fire’s out,” Murphy stated the obvious, “but I’m afraid, Bodie, your beans on toast is going to be a bit well-done today.”

No one laughed. Murphy shrugged.

“Well, then, what’s the plan?” Doyle asked.

“Cowley wants Reardon alive.” Murphy reached out and shook Bodie’s shoulder. “He told me to make sure you, specifically, knew that.” He knocked lightly on Bodie’s forehead with his knuckles. “Alive.”

“We’ve got four other agents here and the police,” Anson told them. “When we’re ready, I’ll signal on the R/T and they’ll go in. We take the gang from the front.”

“That puts the hostages in a bad spot,” Doyle bit on his lower lip, his dislike of the plan plain to the other agents.

“Cowley’s orders, Doyle.”

“He’s not here, is he?” Doyle demanded.

“You’ve got a better idea?” Anson held out an open palm in invitation.

Doyle pinched the bridge of his nose and studied his boots. “Let me try a bit of negotiation.”

“You’re fucking kidding me,” Bodie snapped.

“It’s worth a try,” Anson answered and nodded at Doyle. “Give it a go.”

Doyle started to move closer to the door.

Bodie grabbed his arm and spun him around. “Doyle, remember this is Reardon we’re talking about. The man who left seven dead, three of them his own, at that farm house in Devon. He’s not going to listen to anything you say—no matter how politely you ask.”

“Have to try, Bodie. There’s too many innocents involved, the ones we’re supposed to protect. Storming in isn’t an option.” He started forward again and crept in through the side door. He stopped behind a counter close to the kitchen, Bodie right on his heels. The other three agents came in behind them.

“Doyle!” Bodie hissed.

Doyle waved him off.

“Reardon.” He called out. “There’s no way out for you. Let the hostages go and we can work a deal. “No one needs to die here today.”

His answer was a bullet that chipped the top of the counter he was hiding behind and opened a small cut on his forehead. He impatiently wiped at the blood.

“At least we know where they are now,” Bodie said as he started moving through the café using benches and booths for cover, heading towards the upended tables that Reardon and his men were hiding behind. Anson gave the R/T a click and he and Murphy started to follow Bodie across the room.

The children were restless and one had begun to cry. The older woman tried to quiet them, without much success.

“Wait.” Doyle signalled to the other agents as he moved out from behind the counter. Slipping between tables and booths he caught up to Bodie.

“For what?” Bodie hissed; his disdain was clear.

“It’s too dangerous to go in hard. Let me try to talk some sense into him.”

“Sense? Reardon?” Bodie shook his head. “You’re barmy, mate.”

Doyle jabbed a finger into Bodie’s chest. Cutting off any further protest he said sharply, “Shut it! I already know what you think of the idea.”

Bodie wiped a drop of blood off Doyle’s forehead. “Hasn’t this been enough to convince you?”

“I have to try.” He looked back towards Murphy and Anson. They nodded their support.

“Reardon!” Doyle shouted. “Don’t be stupid. You’re not getting out of this. Let the hostages go.”

“They’re our safe passage out of here. Not giving them up,” Reardon replied.

“A trade then. Let them go and you can take me as your hostage.”

“Doyle!” Bodie’s voice while quiet, held anger and, it seemed to Doyle, something else. “Don’t be a damned fool.”

“Deal?” Doyle called out to Reardon, dismissing Bodie’s concern and frustration.

“And who are you, then, that you’re worth five hostages?” Reardon mocked.

“Doyle. CI5.”

One of the children got away from the teachers and ran toward the window where he could see his parents who were still arguing with the police. His plaintive cry of “Mum!” had Reardon turning towards him and Doyle moving fast towards the boy. Gunshots followed his path across the floor—answered in kind by CI5 covering fire. He darted forward and scooped the child up, sliding behind another booth.

“Stop shooting!” Doyle shouted. “He’s just a scared kid.”

“Bloody idiot!” Bodie mouthed at Doyle. The bullets stopped, but Doyle could read the rest of the words Bodie wasn’t saying out loud in his partner’s eyes.

Ignoring Bodie, Doyle yelled, “Last chance, Reardon!”

After a brief silence, Reardon called back, “Tell your men to back away. Then you and the boy stand up. Slowly.”

Feeling Bodie’s glare burning a hole in his back, Doyle called out, “Murphy?” in appeal to the less volatile CI5 agent.

“You sure, Doyle?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.” Murphy turned to the police moving into position outside the window and to his own men. “Back off.”

“You must be joking!” Bodie sputtered. “No fucking way, Murph.”

“Doyle’s call,” was Murphy’s calm reply.

Bodie looked at Doyle. “Hope you know what you’re doing, mate.”

Doyle nodded, and then quickly looked away, feeling guilty at the unease he now recognised in Bodie’s eyes.

“I’m getting up,” he called to Reardon.

“I want to see your gun,” was Reardon’s answer. “Drop it and kick it towards me.”

Pushing himself up from his knees, Doyle rose, gun held in his left hand by the barrel, his right arm holding the boy close to his side. He released the Smith and Wesson and slid it noisily across the tiles.

“I’m going to send the boy over to my partner.”

“No!” Reardon shook his head. “He comes with us.”

“That wasn’t the deal.” Doyle held the boy tighter to his side.

“I’ll let him go when we get to the car.” Reardon smiled nastily.

“There’ll be trouble if you don’t.” The menace in Bodie’s voice hung dangerously in the air.

Doyle looked at the boy holding tightly to his hand. “Can you be brave for a bit longer, son?”

The boy tipped his head.

“Good lad.” Doyle knelt down and wiped the tears from the boy’s cheeks. “There, that’s better, isn’t it?” He stood back up and whispered, “Stay close to me, now, yeah?”

Reardon’s men were gathering up the other hostages. One of the teachers was helping the OAP and the other kept the second child from running to her brother. Reardon signalled Doyle to come to him. Ignoring the muttered denigration of his character from behind him, Doyle stepped forward. Reardon wrapped an arm around his neck and set his gun against Doyle’s temple. The boy clung to Doyle’s legs.

“Now,” he addressed the other CI5 agents, “I want to see all your weapons on the floor. Kick them towards me.”

Bodie made a move to protest. Doyle and Murphy both glared at him. Bodie set the safety on his gun and placed it on the floor at his feet. He looked at Doyle and Doyle read fear in Bodie’s eyes. Fear for him. Then Bodie’s face hardened, the mask back in place, and the cold gaze asked, “Do we take them?” Doyle answered with a sharp shake of his head. Sighing, Bodie kicked his weapon away. The others followed suit. One of Reardon’s men collected the guns.

Reardon marched his captives to where Doyle and the boy could be seen from the window. The boy’s parents tried to surge forward but were held back by the police. Doyle felt the child pulling at his hand to get away. “Easy now.” He spoke softly. “If we do what we’re told, it’ll be all right.”

Pushing Doyle into the door, opening it slightly, Reardon shouted across the car park and addressed the policemen. “Here’s how this is going to work. I want a car brought around the side by the kitchen door. Once that’s in place, I’ll let four of the hostages go. You coppers and this bit of rough,” he pointed at the agents, “will stay put until I’m away—or Curly here and the boy will pay the price.” He looked around at everyone.“Understood?”

No one spoke.

He pushed the gun harder into Doyle’s temple.

“We understand,” Murphy said, loud enough to cover Bodie’s less than amenable response.

“Good.”

A policeman pulled a car up to the side entrance of the café. Reardon ordered him to open all the doors. He then waved him away from the vehicle. After studying Doyle for a few moments he said, “Remove your belt, do it slowly.” Once Doyle complied, one of Reardon’s men used the belt to secure his hands behind him.

Reardon gestured for his men to join him at the door and they formed a protective circle around him. He turned back to Murphy.

“You and your boys may now exit out the front door. I’m sure you can get to a vehicle quickly, but if I see we’re being followed,” he roughly spun Doyle around and gripped him by the back of the neck, “you won’t be seeing this one again.”

As Murphy, Anson, and Bodie made their way to the front door, Reardon’s men sent shots over their heads. The remaining hostages raced to the front door, trapping the CI5 agents between the open front door and the fleeing people. A wave of panicked screams rose amongst the hostages and the crowd outside the café which drowned out the policemen’s calls for calm.

Taking advantage of the confusion, Reardon cuffed Doyle on the head with his gun, stunning him, and shoved him into the back seat of the car.

Turning around, Reardon roared, “Run!” at the little boy and pushed him towards the crowd at the front of the café. The boy, frightened by the combination of the shove and the loud yell, stumbled and froze. He looked back at Doyle who recognised the plea for help. Resting his throbbing head against the car window, Doyle tried to offer a comforting smile and raised a hand to wave him on. Somehow his mother’s voice could be heard calling the child’s name over the chaos and Doyle slumped with relief as the boy ran to her.

Reardon’s men got into the car, pinning Doyle between two of them. Blood from the earlier ricochet, aggravated by the crack on the head, ran into his eye obscuring his vision, but as the vehicle pulled out on to the motorway, he could see Bodie waving his arms trying to bring some order to the scene in front of the café. He hoped Bodie would disregard Reardon’s orders not to follow.

Reardon drove to an old abandoned house a few miles from Heston. Doyle was hauled roughly out of the car, dragged into the building, and dumped on the floor. He heard the roar of an engine and the sharp squeal of tyres as the vehicle was driven away.

“We should be okay here for a few hours,” Reardon explained to his crew. “They won’t think we’d go to ground this close.”

“What’re we gonna do with ‘im?” Reardon’s man gave Doyle a kick. Doyle curled around his now bruised ribs.

”Secure him. We need to find out what he and his mates know about our operation.” He grabbed Doyle’s hair and pulled his head back. “I think, with a little persuasion, he’ll tell us.”

“Don’t bet on it.” Doyle spat.

Reardon's goon backhanded him, picked him up and tied him to a chair. He looked down at the blood from Doyle’s nose that had dropped onto his arm. Laughing, he wiped it on Doyle’s shirt. “Don’t worry about the stain—there’ll be more soon.” He set to work on Doyle.

CHAPTER SIX

Doyle came around slowly, feeling slightly nauseous. He found himself lying on a stiff mattress in a room that was dark and quiet. An attempt to sit up was cut short when the pain in his ribs forced him back down on the bed. A pitiful whimper escaped his control.

“Best you lay still.” Bodie’s voice rose from the far corner of the room. Doyle heard him get up and pull a chair close to his bed. A soft light was turned on. Looking around he realized that he was in the infirmary at CI5 HQ, not still in Reardon’s company and not in hospital. Apparently he wasn’t as badly hurt as he’d thought he’d be.

“How did I get here?” Doyle croaked.

Bodie leaned in and held a straw to his mouth. He winced at the contact with his bruised lips.

“Thanks.”

Bodie stared at him.

“Well?”

“Reardon had a second car stashed at the house. After they had their fun with you, they set fire to the place and left. A local driving by noticed flames where there shouldn’t be any and called the police. Lucky for you they were close by.”

Bodie’s recital was flat and without emotion.

Doyle sighed. “So, what’s the damage?” He stretched his arms and legs to test his ability to move.

“You’ll be fine. Only a few scrapes and bruises.” Bodie rose from the chair. His face hardened and his eyes flashed. “And you deserve every one of them!”

“Oh, I do, do I?”

“Bloody fool—what were you thinking?” Bodie demanded. “Oh, wait—I forgot. You don’t think any more do you? You just jump right in.”

Doyle looked away from Bodie. “I thought I could get away, didn’t I—once they’d released the kid. I had my knife in a sheath on my ankle. Didn’t plan on the cosh on the head.”

“Did you think he was going to open the door for you and bow you in like he was your chauffer?”

“Sod off, Bodie!” Doyle pulled in a deep breath, holding his side.

There was a knock on the door. Murphy stuck his head around the door’s edge. “Cowley wanted to see you as soon as you were awake.” Doyle read the sympathy in Murphy’s face.

Bodie helped him out of bed and, with surprising care, got him dressed. Despite the exasperation emanating from his partner, Doyle was grateful for the help. He couldn’t have managed on his own.

Neither spoke as they walked to Cowley’s office.

Betty told them Cowley had stepped out and they were supposed to wait. She let them into the Controller’s office.

Doyle sat down gingerly as his bruises made themselves known. He looked up at his partner. “Go ahead. Say it.” He waved a hand through the air. “Get it all out.”

Bodie strode over to where Doyle was sitting. He leaned forward and placed his hands on the arms of the chair, penning Doyle in. His face was inches away from Doyle’s. “Do you have a death wish, Doyle? I’m beginning to wonder. This is the second time in the past two jobs you’ve acted on your own. You do have a partner, you know. Don’t you trust me to watch your back anymore?” Bodie tipped his head to the side and Doyle fought back a shudder under the knowing gaze. “Or is it yourself you doubt?”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Doyle pushed Bodie away. “Of course I trust you.”

“Then why, Doyle?”

“Had to make sure the kid was safe. That’s what we do—protect the innocent, no? I couldn’t risk a shootout.”

“Damn your bloody copper’s training. You’d think you would have learned by now. You can’t solve every situation by talking to the scum,” Bodie fumed. “Sometimes you just have to fucking shoot ‘em.”

“And that’s your answer to everything. Go in, guns blazing, no care for any innocents that might get caught up while you’re dispensing justice.” The last word was issued with a sneer.

“Losing your nerve, 4.5?” Bodie said mockingly.

“You bastard.”

“Get your head in the game, Doyle. I don’t want to lose mine!”

Doyle launched himself painfully out of the chair. The office door opened.

“Gentlemen,” Cowley greeted them with an irritated look.

“Sir.” Doyle slowly sunk back into the chair, breathing harshly. Bodie remained standing.

Ignoring them both, Cowley moved behind his desk and picked up a folder.

“Bodie, I have an assignment for you. Tomorrow you’ll be joining new agent 8.3 on a stakeout.” He held the file out to Bodie.

Bodie reluctantly took it. “Babysitting one of the new intake?”

“Is that going to be a problem, 3.7?”

Bodie looked down at his shoes. “No, sir.”

“Good. Maybe Malcolm can learn something from your expertise.”

“At least maybe he’ll listen when I tell him to do something,” Bodie commented, the earlier anger still plain on his face.

Doyle, feeling his cheeks warm, opened his mouth to retaliate, but Cowley’s glare froze the words in his throat.

“Enough,” Cowley barked. “3.7, you are dismissed.”

Bodie left the office without another word.

After the door closed Cowley sat down and Doyle felt the weight of his boss’s scrutiny. Both men remained silent
for what felt, to Doyle, like ages. Reluctantly he looked up.

Looking at Cowley it was easy to read what was in those cold, pale blue eyes. Raymond Doyle, Agent 4.5, fast approaching forty had lost his edge, was questioning when he should be acting, may no longer be useful in the field. And seeing it there made him angry, angry at Bodie, Cowley, but mostly at himself. He knew Cowley would use that anger—for his own agenda. He needed to sort himself out. This was dangerous ground.

“Well?” Cowley asked.

“Sir?”

“Don’t play games with me, Doyle.” Cowley slammed his palm on his desk. “There have been too many mistakes of late, 4.5. Mistakes I’d expect from the B-Squad, not from one of my best agents.”

“Yes, sir.” Doyle studied the floor, the anger drained out of him.

“That’s it? No protest? No yelling? No ‘Cowley’, no grand gestures? I’m not going to see you throwing your remit and gun on my desk?”

“No, sir.”

Cowley took a deep breath. “Doyle, without an explanation I can’t put you back on the streets.”

“I know.”

“That’s all you’ve got to say?”

Doyle remained silent.

Cowley sat down and began to go through the messages on his desk. “Two days suspension, 4.5. Then a stint in records.” He didn’t look up.

Doyle left the office.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Doyle spent the two days of his suspension trying to put himself back together. A couple of long runs, mundane but necessary household chores, and nights of uninterrupted sleep had him feeling almost normal again, or at least well enough to go back to work.

Carrying a handful of the files Bodie and Malcolm had requested for their current surveillance, Doyle headed towards the rest room. Loud laughter spilled into the hallway through the half-open door. Laughter, his name and questions. ‘Saw Doyle in records.’...‘What’s up with him, 3.7?'...’Has the golly finally lost it?’... ‘Why are you paired with this rookie?’... 'Is it permanent?’

He heard Bodie’s voice answer, “Malcolm here is a good lad. He does everything I tell him, waits when he’s supposed to wait, he shoots when he has to shoot and he buys a pint when I tell him it’s his round. The perfect partner.” There was more laughter.

Doyle stepped away from the room as Murphy started to walk out. Murphy looked surprised, then embarrassed. Doyle shoved the folders he was holding at Murphy and muttered, “Give those to 3.7,” as he hurried away.

 

Sitting on his settee, book propped on his bent legs, he realised he’d just read the same paragraph for the third time when there was a knock at the door of his flat. He ignored it, knowing who it would be. There was another series of knocks, louder and faster. It appeared Bodie wasn’t going to go away.

Doyle answered the door with a scowl. “What’da you want? Need more stories to tell the squad? Or maybe a few more comparisons for Malcolm?”

He and Bodie stood staring at each other. Doyle finally threw up his hands. “May as well come in.” He turned his back on his visitor and went to pick up his book.

Bodie shut the door and dealt with the locks. The cushions sunk as he settled on the other end of the settee.

They sat unspeaking until Bodie finally shrugged and said, “I want to apologise, Ray.”

“Oh, yes? For what?” He looked up at Bodie and then back down at his book. He roughly flipped to the next page, leaving a crease in the paper.

“Murph told me that you heard us in the rest room—that you were outside the door. I shouldn’t have spoken like that. I should’ve defended you.” Bodie rubbed the back of his neck. “I know you’re not past it.”

“You’re sure about that, are you?”

“Ray. No one believes you’ve lost it. You’re just having a bad run. It happens sometimes. And I, well, I should have stood up for you.”

“Why?”

“What do you mean why?” Surprise coloured the question.

“Why should you have spoken up?”

“We’re partners. That’s what partners do.”

“Oh, so now we’re partners.” Doyle stood up and threw his book across the room. “Didn’t seem that way earlier.”

Bodie got up and Doyle could sense the man’s growing anger but he ignored it. He was angry too and pushed he pushed Bodie some more. “Ready to disown me, you were. Did Malcolm perform properly for you? Did he get down on his knees?”

Bodie swung at him, a solid right to the jaw that drew blood when his lip caught on his chipped tooth. He staggered back into the wall.

The blow seemed to put an end to Bodie’s fury. Doyle turned to the window, hands tight on the frame.

“Ray.”

The sharp wariness in that single utterance worried him. His head dropped to his chest and he watched a single drop of blood splatter on his trainers. He didn’t turn around. His shoulders tensed as he waited for the bitter words that would end their partnership and, in doing so, break his heart.

“Don’t, Ray.”

“Don’t what?” he demanded, but there was no life in the words.

“Don’t shut me out. There’s been too much distance between us lately—why won’t you talk to me? Why won’t you tell me what’s wrong?”

“You’re joking, right?”

“Never been more serious, Ray. Talk to me.”

“Done enough talking; it does no good.” Doyle turned around and met Bodie’s eyes. “Take me to bed, Bodie. At least there we still communicate.”

“Ray.” Bodie put a hesitant hand on his shoulder.

“Or don’t.” He shrugged Bodie off and walked to his bedroom. Bodie silently followed.

 

Doyle tucked his head between Bodie’s neck and shoulder and sighed with satisfied contentment. This is where they were at their best, lying naked, skin to naked skin, barriers down. He knew they didn’t need to talk to express their care for each other. Hands, lips, and tongues conveyed so much more. Kisses, caresses, and embraces replaced the words that neither one would say out loud. But for such different reasons.

“What’s going on in that messy head of yours, Doyle?” Bodie ruffled the curls tickling his chin.

“I’m fine.”

“Teach your grandmother.” Bodie poked him in the ribs.

Silence fell between them.

Gently, Bodie asked again, “What’s wrong? It’s more than this—thing between us, yeah?”

Doyle rolled to lay flat on his back. Staring up at the ceiling, he spoke reluctantly. “For the first time in my life, in my career, I’m being caught off balance. I’m making stupid—,” his fists clenched in the sheets, “— yeah, rookie—mistakes. Being caught out. I can’t trust my instincts anymore. I love this job, Bodie. Putting together the clues to figure out the case; the adrenaline rush when we’ve finally captured the bad guys. I even used to look forward to the assessments, the challenge they presented—now they’re only a chore to get through. A desk job, once an anathema—doesn’t look quite so bad to me anymore.” He pushed the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Maybe I am getting too old for the job, Bodie. But what else have I got?” His voice cracked on the last word.

Bodie wrapped an arm around Doyle’s chest. “You’ve got me.”

“Have I?” Doyle turned to face him. “Really?”

Bodie turned away.

“Thought so,” Doyle muttered, twisting out from under Bodie’s arm and putting as much distance between them as possible.

***

Doyle leaned forward in the hard plastic chair, head down, elbows braced on his knees. He took advantage of the down time to gather himself, but the sharp blare of sirens from the street below didn’t allow for a long respite. He turned his attention to Bodie. “So you wanted me to talk to you, eh? That’s the death knell of any relationship, innit? ‘We gotta talk’. What’s there to say, Bodie?” He sighed deeply and ran his hand through his hair.

“I thought as I got older my life would make more sense. I’d have a home, a family. I’d be settled, content. But nothing has really changed.” He idly flipped over the assessment paper still sitting on the cabinet. "I’m still that same sixteen year old street rat—only with better weapons, sharper skills. Still fighting, questioning—and I’ve added killing to the list of my talents.”

He looked over at Bodie. “Are you listening, Butch? Pourin’ my heart out here, I am. Thought I’d found an anchor. Yeah, you.” He snorted. “Thought we were building something”. He laughed and winced at the bitterness. "But you don’t want any part of that do you? Commitment. Bein’ tied to something. Can’t allow yourself to be that vulnerable. Have to hold on to that last bit of freedom in case things go wrong. I get it, mate. I do.” He stood up and started pacing, the heels of his boots tapping a staccato beat on the floor as he moved restlessly around the room. “Wish I was like you, Bodie. Got it all figured out, haven’t you? And when things don’t go to plan—you run. Or put up walls. Can’t tie yourself to anything that might come to mean something to you.”

He walked to the door, leaned against it, and tipped his head back to study the ceiling. “Sorry, mate. Being a fool. Friendship should be enough, yeah? I don’t need to go on and on and ruin that, too.” He shrugged and wrapped his arms around his chest. “Friends with benefits. Should be enough. But honestly, Bodie, it’s not. I want someone to belong to, someone to come home to. Is that so much to ask?”

Bodie didn’t answer, but then Doyle hadn’t really expected him to.

****

CHAPTER EIGHT

They were stuck on an overnight obbo. Cowley, short of men and assured by Doyle that the time off duty and the short stint in records had returned him to form, had given them an easy assignment. The sky was clear and cold. The only sound came from the wind disturbing the elm’s leaves as they hung over the parked Capri like an umbrella. The mood in the car was comfortable. They’d wrapped up a drug bust early in the morning, caught a few hours sleep in the afternoon, and drew what was supposed to be a simple stakeout. Cowley was getting soft in his old age.

It was a pleasant night, maybe a night for finally sharing his fears, a night to try again to answer Bodie’s questions, to settle things between them. So to start the conversation he asked, “What did you dream about as a lad on those long sea voyages of yours—on nights like this?” He waved up at the moonlit sky.

“Dream?” Bodie chuckled. “Was too busy keeping myself safe in the real world to dream.”

Doyle frowned. “Surely you must have thought about your future. Can’t imagine all you wanted to be was a ship’s boy.”

“True. I didn’t dream though. I planned. I planned on how to get out of the mess I found myself in. I plotted ways to make sure that I was the one calling the shots so that I never found myself under anyone’s thumb again.” He chuckled wryly. “You know what they say about the best laid plans, eh?”

They were silent for a while, watching the house Cowley had told them might be a meeting place for gun runners. There had been no action so far.

“So what about you then?” Bodie turned to face him while Doyle continued to peer through the binoculars. “Derby to art classes to the Met. Some dreams along the way there, I’d guess?”

Doyle lowered the binoculars. He nodded and waved a careless hand at the sky. “Wanted to be a spaceman—like in those cheesy science fiction films...” He snorted. “Imagine a kid from Derby flying to the moon.” Shaking his head, he continued. “Reality set in, but I managed to keep some of the dreams alive. I must be that idealist you and Cowley accuse me of being. Art school, the police, Ann Holly—all should have put me off dreams.” He clenched his fists, knowing he should stop talking.

“But they didn’t.” Bodie prompted.

“No.”

“Ray—”

A click of the R/T cut in and let them know their replacements were on the scene and they were free to go.

He spoke quickly over the R/T, ignoring Bodie’s plea, needing to get the words out now. “Time has a way of sneaking up on you. Thought I was past it at thirty-five, after the shooting, falling into a hole that I wouldn’t be able to climb out of. That was nothing compared to the crater opening under my feet now. But somehow, the dreams carry on. Different, but still there.”

“We’ve talked—”

“I know.” He yelled and punched the car door. “I know.” He met Bodie’s eyes. “You asked me what was wrong with me, what’s been going on. I don’t think I can do the job anymore.”

“If you’re saying that’s my fault because I won’t play happy families with you—”

He held up a hand to silence Bodie. “I’ve always talked about wanting a normal life. And before you say anything, I know with our job, we live anything but a normal life. But as I’m getting older, I realise that we can have some of the things that are part of a normal life. I want those things—a home of my own, with someone there to share it with me.” He took a deep breath and said, “I want, no—I need, more than what we have now.”

He watched as Bodie got out of the car and marched to the corner, kicking at debris in the street. He ran his hands roughly through his hair, tugging at the curls, and started to laugh. Bodie was right. There was something wrong with him. Talking to Bodie—Bodie of all people—about dreams? The laughter came in fits and starts and he saw again the look on Bodie’s face when he’d said he wanted—needed—more from his partner. The look on Bodie’s face. The laughter slowed then and sputtered to a stop. He laid his head on the steering wheel and fought back a sob. When he could breathe again, when the pain in his chest allowed him to pull in some air, he turned the key in the ignition. A quick look in the rear-view mirror, before he pulled out, revealed Bodie standing in the street behind the Capri. He shook his head and told himself to drive away. Instead, he reached over to the passenger door and pushed it open. He knew the dome light would pick up the moisture on his cheeks, but he no longer cared. If it bothered Bodie, he could find another way home. Bodie walked up to the car and stopped by the open door.

“Get in.” Doyle ordered, keeping his face turned toward the windscreen.

Bodie hesitated briefly, but then slid into the passenger seat. They drove to Doyle’s flat without a word.

CHAPTER NINE

Doyle woke alone in his bed. The large expanse of cotton sheets was empty, but still held some warmth. So Bodie hadn’t left too long ago. He dragged himself out of bed and into the shower. Finishing his morning ablutions, he raised his head and sniffed. Bacon. Bodie.

A shout from the kitchen told him to get his arse in gear, breakfast was getting cold.

Bodie was still in his robe as he set a plate of bacon and eggs on the table. “Eat up, mate.”

Doyle nodded happily at his eggs. “Ta, Bodie. Hits the spot, that does.”

As he surreptitiously studied his partner’s actions he saw that Bodie was looking a bit self-conscious. So, the bastard had intended to disappear after their bedroom romp the previous evening.

Bodie looked at him questioningly. “Why’re you dressed? It’s only seven—sun is hardly up.”

“Gotta see a snout. Get dressed.”

“What do you need me for? I’m tired after last night’s, er, obbo.” Bodie’s cheeks coloured.

“I’m meeting him in the East End. Could use some backup.” Doyle crunched on a piece of toast, ignoring the falling crumbs as they decorated the table.

Bodie didn’t say anything as he swept the bits of toast into a small pile. He didn’t meet Doyle’s eyes.

“Fine, Anson’s on call.” Doyle took his plate to the sink and went to the door.

“Hold on.” Bodie moved towards the bedroom. “The things I do for you, Raymond.”

“Don’t put yourself out, mate.”

“Can’t have you wandering around your old stomping ground unprotected.” Bodie slapped him on the back. “Who knows what trouble will find you.”

Driving through London toward Limehouse they passed from clean new buildings to older dirty brick structures; shiny windows were replaced by shattered panes of glass. Clean streets with neat gardens gave way to cracked bitumen, weeds, and broken bottles.

The car pulled up in front of a block subdivided into flats and storefronts. The shops were mostly closed—front windows covered with spray painted graffiti. Most of the flats looked shabby and empty. Only a few showed dim lights in the windows. A small café was one of the few open establishments—its sign swinging crookedly on its wire frame. There were very few people on the street; the CI5 agents were ignored by all of them.

“This is where your grass wanted to meet? This feels like we’re walking right into an ambush.”

Doyle read the edginess in his partner. “Wanted to make sure he wasn’t seen talking to me by anyone who might object. Green’s ok. I trust him.”

“I don’t like this, Doyle.”

“Well, wait in the car then.” Impatience growing, he stepped out of the Capri.

With a heavy sigh, Bodie pushed open the passenger door. “Where, then?”

Doyle nodded to the narrow door next to the pub. “Upstairs.” He walked to the door and looked back at Bodie.

“Better and better.” Bodie sighed and got out of the car. He looked up and down the deserted street. “Don’t like this, Doyle.”

“So you said. Are you coming?”

Bodie reached under his jacket and checked his weapon. The tension building in Doyle relaxed a bit. They were partners—even after the mistakes he’d made on their previous jobs and the bitter recriminations that followed. Bodie still had his back.

The door opened easily at his touch. Inside the stairwell was nothing but darkness. Darkness and the lingering hint of the smells of hard living surrounded them—alcohol, boiled cabbage, and decaying rubbish—as they climbed to the first floor.

“You take me to the nicest places,” Bodie grimaced as he scraped something off his shoe against a stair tread. They started up to the second floor, guns drawn.

Ignoring his partner’s commentary, Doyle muttered, “Next floor—Green said number 3A.” A hand reached out to rest on his shoulder. He stopped and turned to Bodie. Raising a finger to his lips, Bodie pointed his gun towards the ceiling. They both heard floorboards creak above them.

Doyle started back up the stairs, moving faster. Bodie grabbed for him, but Doyle slipped free.

“Bloody hell, Doyle!” Bodie followed at a more cautious pace.

“Green could be in trouble.”

“So could we. Just slow down, Ray.”

“Right.” Doyle continued up the stairs. The door to flat 3A was closed. Doyle rapped on it with his gun.

“Green?” There was no answer. He heard Bodie release the safety on his Walther and chamber a round. He did the same. Without a word, weapons raised, they pushed into the room, Doyle going left, Bodie right.

They were hit with a smell, one easily recognized—the copper tang of blood. A lot of blood. A cold dread filled his stomach. He sensed Bodie’s uneasiness as his partner moved a little further into the room, keeping his back against the wall.

On the far side of the room, partially covered by a dirty rug, was Green. Doyle moved to the body, while Bodie stayed closer to the door to provide cover.

Pulling back the rug, Doyle said, “Two bullets, one in the chest, one in the head.” He leaned over Green.

Bodie started to move around. “Doyle,” he said sharply, “Look here.” Ratty curtains blew into the room revealing an open window and a fire escape.

Doyle straightened up and joined Bodie. “No point in following, they’ll be long gone,” Doyle said, thumping the window frame with his fist.

“Let’s get out of here, Doyle. Something's off about this. We’ll call for backup, like we should’ve done from the start.”

“In a minute.” Doyle rifled through Green’s jacket and trouser pockets, looking for a clue as to what Green had wanted to tell him. All he found was a wrinkled slip of paper.

Bodie had stepped out of the room and was impatiently pacing on the landing. Doyle shared his nervousness, his copper’s intuition telling him something wasn’t right. He quickly tucked the piece of paper in his pocket without reading it. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise.

“Bodie!” He spun to face the door and it exploded. Flying off its hinges, it slammed into him, knocking him to the floor. He could see fire around the opening to the hallway. He yelled again. There was no answer. Staggering out of the room he saw that the stairs up to the fourth floor had collapsed. A black clad leg was barely visible under the rubble. Beating out the few remaining flames with his jacket, he started digging through the wreckage.

“Christ, Bodie.” Ignoring the burns and cuts on his hands and arms, Doyle scrambled to clear the remainder of the stairs away, while shouting into his R/T for help.

When Doyle finally uncovered him, Bodie was unconscious and bleeding heavily from a head wound. Doyle pulled off his shirt to try and staunch the blood.

“Bodie, don’t do this to me.” Holding the shirt tightly against Bodie, he leaned his own head down to rest lightly against Bodie’s forehead. “I’m sorry. Sorry I got you into this. I’ve made so many mistakes. This is my doing. My fault. Bodie, please wake up.” Minutes that seemed like hours passed. His attention completely fixed on Bodie, he didn’t realise that anyone had arrived until a hand dropped on his shoulder and tried to move him away. He swung a fist around, but met only air.

“Doyle. Come on, lad. Let the medics take him.” Cowley’s voice was gentle.

Doyle got slowly to his feet and watched as Bodie was lifted on to a stretcher. Cowley was saying something to him, but his attention was all on Bodie being carried away.

“Doyle! Are you hurt, man?”

“No. No—just some cuts and scrapes.” He held out his left hand for inspection.

“We’ll have you looked at when we get to hospital. Come on.”

Doyle shook his head, dislodging dust and debris, but didn’t take a step.

Murphy moved up and with an arm around his shoulder led him to the stairs. “He’ll be all right, Ray.”

“Will he?” Doyle wasn’t convinced.

“Tough as old boots, Bodie is. He won’t let a little bang on the head keep him down for long.”

Making it down to the ground floor Doyle suddenly stopped. Murphy bumped into him.

“Ray?”

Doyle reached into his pocket and pulled out the paper he’d taken from Green’s body. A single name was written on it.

“The bloody bastard!” he cursed under his breath.

“What?” Murphy looked puzzled.

“Just get me to Bodie, Murph,” Doyle ordered. He’d deal with Reardon later.

CHAPTER TEN

“Sit down, 4.5,” Cowley ordered for the second time as Doyle paced a circle around the hospital waiting room.

“Murphy, get us some coffee.”

When the other agent left them on their own, Doyle sullenly gave in to Cowley’s unrelenting stare and took a chair.

“Now, tell me what happened.”

“I got a call from a snitch, Andy Green. He wouldn’t tell me what it was about but said I’d definitely be interested. He’s been very helpful over the years. I’d got him a job after he got out of prison.” Doyle stood up and started pacing again. He held his injured hand against his chest.

“I took Bodie with me. While I was sure Green was legitimate, Bodie thought something wasn’t right. We entered the building and heard a noise from Green’s floor. We got to the flat and found Green already dead—two gunshot wounds. Bodie went out to the hallway. Before I could get out of the room, the staircase exploded—dropped on Bodie. I called for help and here we are. Bodie’s hurt and for what? I should have listened to him—hell, I should have listened to my own instincts.”

Cowley stood up when the doctor came into the waiting room.

“Mr Cowley?”

“Yes. How is my man?”

“Mr Bodie is stable, but he’s still unconscious. Nothing dire showing on the scan.”

Doyle groaned and wiped at his face, smearing soot across his cheeks.

“He should recover. The rest of his injuries were minor—some burns and bruising. He’ll need time to wake up. We don’t expect any complications.”

“Can I see him?” Doyle asked.

“He’s having some tests done. He should be in his room in thirty minutes or so. You can see him then—but only for a minute or two.”

“Okay. Thanks.” Doyle went back to pacing.

“Sit,” Cowley ordered. “You won’t help him by wearing yourself out.”

Doyle dropped back into a chair, closed his eyes, and tipped his head to the ceiling. He took a deep breath.

“4.5,” Cowley barked.

Doyle sat up straight. “Sorry, sir.”

“So you weren’t able to find anything to indicate why Green wanted to see you?”

Doyle thought about the paper in his pocket. He really wanted to take care of it himself. He owed Reardon for Bodie. Revenge had never been something he advocated, but this was Bodie lying in that hospital bed.

“Doyle.” The exasperation in the Controller’s voice was clear.

His attention snapped back to Cowley. He could see that his boss knew he was hiding something. It wouldn’t help anyone if he were suspended again. He reached in his pocket and removed the paper. He handed it to Cowley.

“I see.”

Doyle felt the clear blue eyes study him.

“It’s the best way, lad. We’ll get him.” Cowley straightened his coat and called Ruth for a ride back to headquarters. “Two days sick leave, 4.5.” Cowley gestured towards Doyle’s bandaged hands. “Then report to my office. From there you’re to report to Macklin. And Dr Ross would like to speak with you as well.”

The nurse came into the waiting area.

“You can see Mr Bodie now,” she said.

Doyle followed her to Bodie’s room.

***

Doyle pushed his left hand against the window and watched the condensation melt and run down the frosted glass. He absently noted the cold-induced colourlessness of his fingers. Pale, like Bodie’s. Bodie’s hands—the skin soft and white as they lay still on the smooth bed sheets. Hands that could, and had, brought him to exquisite highs and then soothed him into the deepest slumber. Hands that eloquently spoke the thoughts that Bodie didn’t have words for. A soft caress across Doyle’s damaged cheek, the brush of his thumb along Doyle’s lower lip, a finger tracing the length of an eyebrow—all saying I love you. A slap to the back of his head, giving warning that he’d pushed Cowley too far. A hard fist to the jaw when he’d pushed Bodie too far. A firm knowing grip around his biceps when he’d let the job take him to pieces. Or a cheeky grin accompanying a two fingered salute when the mad bastard had pulled something over on his mates. That was Bodie— his Bodie…

***

CHAPTER ELEVEN

The two days leave disappeared quickly. He hadn’t been allowed to visit Bodie, Cowley’s orders—he was supposed to be resting—so he had checked in by phone. There had been no change in his partner’s condition. The last three days spent with Macklin felt like the longest of his life. Doyle stuffed his track suit and trainers into his bag. Wiping the water from his hair, he left the towel draped around his bare shoulders. The shower had helped loosen some of the damage done by Macklin’s final test. He grimaced as he moved sore muscles. At least this time it had been strength and endurance training, not the usual bloody mayhem. Macklin hadn’t left any visible marks. Footsteps approached him from behind.

“I’m done, Mack. Got nothing left.”

He turned and found Cowley standing in the doorway, studying him with an amused grin.

“That’s not the report I got 4.5. Brian is quite pleased with you.”

“Has a funny way of showing it, he does.” Doyle pulled on a t-shirt, turned to face Cowley and tucked his hands in his back pockets.

Cowley nodded.

“What brings you here, sir?”

“It seems, based on an anonymous tip, Mr Reardon was apprehended by the Metropolitan Police near the Woolwich Ferry last evening.” Cowley flipped through some pages in the folder in his hand. He cleared his throat. “The police said he was a bit worse for wear.”

It seemed news travelled fast. “Shame, that,” Doyle commented.

“Yes.” Cowley raised his eyes. There was a question there. Doyle didn’t react.

“The arresting officer recognised him, though I’m not sure how.”

“Wanted poster?”

“Perhaps.”

Doyle thought he saw his boss’ lips twitch. He then watched as Cowley’s eyes travelled to where his hands were stuffed into his pockets. Getting the message, Doyle removed his hands from the jeans and reached for the file Cowley was now holding out to him. Neat fingers, showing no new cuts or abrasions, sorted through the notes from the Met.

The two men watched each other carefully; no words were needed.

“You’re slipping, Doyle.” Cowley raised a hand to tap on his own cheek, letting Doyle know that he saw the slight discoloration decorating his agent’s face.

“Been sayin’ that myself,” he muttered as he turned to leave.

“4.5, this better not come back to us,” Cowley warned.

“It won’t,” Doyle assured him.

“Good man.” Cowley waved him towards the door. “Oh, and be sure to thank Mr Martell for me.”

Doyle winced. Cowley knew more than he should—no real surprise there.

“I’m sure he’ll appreciate that you’re thinking of him, sir.”

“Indeed.”

CHAPTER TWELVE

***

Doyle gently kissed the intertwined fingers and rested his forehead against Bodie’s. “Enough’s enough, mate. Time to come back.”

***

There was a knock on the door and Cowley entered the hospital room.

“Any change?” he asked.

“No.” Doyle raised his head and started to pull his hand away from Bodie’s, but decided the hell with it. He glanced at Cowley with an angry challenge.

“Stand down, Doyle.” He walked to the end of the bed, removed his hat and loosened his coat.

Doyle was confused at the implied acceptance. His eyes narrowed. “How long have you known?”

“Long enough.”

Doyle shrugged. “Never dreamed of this—being with a bloke.”

“What did you think your life would be?”

“The usual, a job, a family, kids, a home—all the clichés. But the dreams changed, as my life changed, but no, that’s not true—there was ever only one thing I wanted.”

“And what was that?”

“Somewhere to belong—someone to belong to.”

“Aye.” Cowley turned to go, fastening his coat and looked again at the joined hands on the bed. “Looks like, with a bit of work, dreams sometimes can come true, 4.5.” He cleared his throat. “But they’ll have to wait. I need you in Scotland tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? But—”

“I’m short of men. This assignment can’t be delayed any longer. I need you in Scotland.”

“What about Bodie?”

“He’ll still be here when you get back.”

Doyle scowled.

“Ach, lad, it should be a quick job. I’ll make sure someone is with Bodie.”

Doyle didn’t say a word.

Cowley put on his hat. “My office, 7 o’clock tomorrow morning. Pack enough for a few days.”

“Yes, sir.”

Cowley left, closing the door quietly behind him. Doyle turned back to the bed and studied his unconscious partner.

“C’mon, mate, you’ve been skiving off for days now. Time to wake up. Got some things to say to you.” Doyle pressed his forehead to Bodie’s for a brief second, and then followed the contact with a gentle kiss. “And I should probably warn you—you owe Marty a big favour. Well, I do, really. Despite what I said about him before—he’s okay.” He knew he had to leave if he was to be ready to meet Cowley early the next morning. Standing and reaching to pick up the remainder of his sandwich and tea, he saw his assessment still sitting on the bedside table. Running a finger over the folded paper, he decided he’d just leave it there. “I won’t be in to visit for a while. The Cow’s sending me off to Scotland for a bit.” Doyle reached down to ruffle Bodie’s dark hair. “I’ll expect to see you on your feet when I get back, you hear?”

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

A few days had turned into two weeks. After being gone so long without a word, he wasn’t sure of his welcome. Pushing the hospital room door open slowly, Doyle waved the bag of food through the narrow opening and waited for an invitation to enter.

“If that’s a bacon sarnie and real tea, you’re forgiven for abandoning me.”

Doyle entered the room and set the brown paper bag on Bodie’s tray with a smile. “How are you, Bodie?”

Bodie nodded while taking the sandwich out of its wrapper. He swallowed half of it in one bite.

Doyle set a second bag next to the empty first.

Bodie’s eyes lit up. “Ta!”

Taking his jacket off, Doyle settled on the chair next to the bed.

Bodie studied him. “Where you been, 4.5?” It wasn’t quite an accusation.

“Cowley didn’t tell you?” Doyle’s forehead wrinkled in consternation.

“Not a word.” Bodie took a big gulp of his tea. “Ah, that’s good.”

“That bastard.” Doyle’s fingers curled into fists. “He sent me off to Scotland to consult on a security detail.

Two weeks of traipsing through cold damp castles followed by mountains of paperwork.” His shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry, mate. I thought he told you where I was.”

Bodie paused and tipped his head. “Although I do remember hearing something about you leaving for Scotland? Strange, that.” Bodie shrugged and rubbed at his forehead. “Anyway, not to worry. Murphy let me know.” Then Bodie pouted a bit. “Thought you might at least call.”

Doyle lowered his head and tugged on his hair. “Yeah. I started to a couple of times, but—”

“But?” Bodie prompted.

“Thought it’d be better to talk face-to-face.”

“Ray.”

“Let me get this out, Bodie, before you say anything.”

Bodie nodded.

Doyle cleared his throat. ”First, I’m sorry. Sorry this…” he waved his arm around the room. “…happened to you.”

“All part of the job, innit?”

“No. This is my fault. I should have listened to you when you said it didn’t feel right. I—” He got up and started to pace.

“You what? This is like pulling teeth, Doyle. Just say it—whatever it is.”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me, Bodie. Cowley and the others were right. I’ve lost my edge. My instincts on this job were wrong and you ended up paying the price. Hell, they were wrong with Reardon and even with Kendall. I’m doubting myself. I used to be able to trust my intuition. Now it’s all wrong.” He glanced to the bedside cabinet where his assessment still sat looking like an indictment.

“Slow down, Ray. What’s all wrong?”

“I’ve misread things on the job. Maybe I’ve misread you.”

“Oh Christ, Doyle. Not this again.”

“Just let me say this, Bodie and then I’ll let you, er, it go.”

Bodie looked sceptical. “Go on then.”

“I convinced myself that we—we were more than just mates having it off with each other. That I was more than a convenient shag. But I was wrong, wasn’t I? And I’m sorry for that, too, for putting pressure on you to give something that you don’t have to give.”

“Been reading Dr Ross’s books again, eh?”

Doyle scowled at him. “It’s not a joke, Bodie.”

“I’m not laughing. But please, do go on.”

Doyle’s voice softened. “What happened to you, Bodie, to make you like this?”

“Like what?”

“Like you’re afraid to get too close. There’s always a bit of a space between us—a distance you keep to reassure yourself that you can escape. And the more I push at it, the more you withdraw.”

Bodie didn’t answer.

“Loving someone isn’t a weakness, Bodie. It doesn’t make you a captive.”

“I never said I loved you.”

“Know that, don’t I?” Doyle took a deep breath. “But I know that you do.”

Bodie stared at him, eyebrows raised. “Do I now?”

“You tell me,” Doyle challenged. “Who laid into Cowley over me playing Van Neikerk? Who gave up some of his annual leave to help me with the Haydon fiasco? Who was almost more scared than I was on that rooftop with the Middle-Eastern assassin?” Doyle’s voice softened. “That’s love, Bodie, whether you want to admit it or not.”

Bodie remained silent. He didn’t look at Doyle.

“Have it your way, mate,” Doyle said, resigned. “I’m done here.” He walked to the door. “Call me when they set you free. I’ll pick you up.”

“Don’t put yourself out, partner.” Bodie’s voice was harsh.

Doyle spun around and started to protest but the objection got stuck in his throat. He swallowed it down. “Fuck,” he muttered hoarsely and left without another word.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

So Bodie had checked himself out of hospital, two days ago, had he? Doyle’s hands tightened on the steering wheel as he pulled out of London Royal’s car park. Checked out without so much as a by-your-leave to his partner. Partner. Was the bastard still his partner? Didn’t sound like it after their last conversation. Maybe conversation didn’t quite cover the words that had been exchanged in anger and, admit it, Doyle, it had hurt. After finding out about Bodie doing a bunk and having barely survived his own earlier session with Dr Ross he decided he needed a drink. His local was a few streets away.

A gust of cool wind whipped the ends of Doyle’s scarf free from their knot around his neck as he got out of the car. A swirl of crisp leaves skittered around his feet. Shivering, he pulled his jacket tighter around himself as he walked the last few steps to the pub.

It was fairly early. He didn’t recognize the barman. Everything changes.

“Pint of bitter, please, mate,” he pointed at one of the taps.

The barman poured it up and looked at Doyle with a raised eyebrow. “You Ray Doyle?” he asked.

“Maybe. Who wants to know?”

The young man held up his hands at Doyle’s suspicion. “Man left a note here for a Ray Doyle. Said Doyle’d probably be in today. Said Doyle had curly hair. Thought it might be you.”

“And what did this bloke look like?”

“Tall, dark—”

“—and incredibly handsome,” Doyle murmured under his breath.

The barman laughed. “I suppose—if that’s your thing.”

Doyle shook his head and grinned, picturing Bodie delivering the message— Mr Engagingly Modest. “I’m Doyle,” he said.

The note was passed across the bar. Paying for his drink, he took a seat by the window where the sun warmed wood of the chair welcomed his chilly back.

He set the note aside and took a deep drink of his pint. Ross’s earlier questions still played in his head. ’What do you think is causing you to feel like you can’t do the job anymore? Why do you think you’re doubting yourself?’

Doyle frowned and ran his hand through his hair. She’s the doctor—isn’t she supposed to provide the answers? What do they teach these people in medical school, anyway? She asks more questions than a three year old.

And then she’d asked the big one—’What are you going to do if you leave CI5?’ He hadn’t a clue. Was he really suited to do anything else? He’d been a copper for over half his life. Had he done any good? Had all his efforts and sacrifices made any difference? He wasn’t sure and debating it made him tired—of everything.

She’d pushed harder. ’The Kendall op—when you’d blown your cover to save Bodie—and Bodie hadn’t been very happy about it, had he? Was that the last straw? Is that when you decided you’d had enough?’ All her prodding and poking had finally made him realise he didn’t want to leave CI5 or Bodie. He didn’t really care anymore if he made a difference. All he needed to do was try. The intention and the effort were enough for him. He needed CI5.

She’d had one last bomb to drop. Bodie. He’d felt his face warm. She knew. And he hadn’t really been surprised. As much as the CI5 agents insisted they had no use for the Queen of Cybernetics, she was good at her job. She’d taken pity on him and accepted his evasive answer—that he didn’t trust anyone else to watch his partner’s back; he’d have to stay. He smiled ruefully and took another drink. Yeah, his partner—and there was his answer.

He unfolded the slip of paper the barman had given him with a bit of hesitation.

He read the note. Five simple words. I was wrong. Forgive me.

He looked out the window and blinked back the moisture in his eyes. He tried to convince himself it was the bright sunshine. Copper’s instincts roused, he felt he was being watched. He focused on his car, parked across the street. A man stood on the far side of the Capri, arms resting on the roof. Bodie.

Abandoning his half-drunk pint, he headed for the door.

He cautiously approached the car and exchanged a wary glance with Bodie. He decided that he wasn’t going to be the one to retreat this time.

“Well?” he demanded.

Bodie frowned and coughed a bit. “This is hard for me to say.”

“Try.”

“Christ, Ray.”

Doyle shrugged and moved to put the key in the car door.

Hands raised in surrender, Bodie gave in. “Okay.” He walked around the car to stand in front of Doyle.

Doyle raised his eyebrows.

“When I was in hospital, after I woke up—you weren’t there.”

“Cowley—”

“I know. He sent you off.” Bodie shuffled his feet on the tarmac. “The old man did me a favour it seems.”

“Oh, yes?” Doyle tensed.

“No, it’s not like that.” Bodie shook his head. “Truth is I missed you. But you being away gave me time to think.”

“Hurt, did it?”

Bodie moved away.

“Sorry.” Doyle reached to pull him back. “Bad habit. Go on.”

“I, well, I realised what my life was like with you—what I had with you,” Bodie paused, colour rising in his face. “And what my life would be without you.”

“And that is?”

“Empty.” Bodie put a hand Doyle’s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.

Doyle felt a subtle warmth stir in his chest.

“But—”

“There’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there.” Doyle’s stomach dropped and he felt his shoulders tense.

Bodie looked down at the street and then back up at Doyle. “Ray, I don’t know if I can be what you want me to be.”

Doyle waited. This was Bodie’s to work out. He watched as Bodie visibly struggled for his next words. They came out in a rush.

“What you want, what you say I mean to you, well, honestly, mate, it scares the bloody hell out of me.”

Doyle stepped back, his eyes fixed on the door of the pub across the road. He tossed his cars keys from hand to hand. “So, I guess that’s it then, yeah?”

“Ray, let me finish, please.” Bodie gently turned Doyle’s face back towards him. “Look at me.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Doyle faced his partner.

“What I’m trying to tell you is that whether I like it or not, I do need you. I do care for you.”

“So why all the pulling away?” The keys in his hand jangled as he waved his arms in frustration. “Why all the denials? Why—”

“Calm down, Ray, I’m trying to explain.” Bodie’s lips twitched ruefully. “This is going to sound pathetic, but I was afraid that if I gave in to you, to my feelings, I’d end up hurting you.” Bodie looked around the street. Seeing no one paying attention to them, he quickly grasped Doyle’s hand and held it hidden between them. “I don’t have the greatest track record in relationships. And I don’t ever want to hurt you.” He released Doyle’s hand. “I was afraid that if it, if we, didn’t work out, I’d lose your friendship as well. That wasn’t a risk I was willing to take.”

“And now?”

“Now? I guess that’s up to you?”

Doyle stared at him, shaking his head.

Bodie continued quickly, before Doyle had a chance to interrupt him. “I can’t promise forever and I’ll probably mess things up more often than not, but if you’re willing to give me a bit of time, I’d like to give us a real chance.”

Silence filled the space between them.

“I won’t wait forever,” Doyle finally replied, firmly, while inside his heart was singing ‘Liar’. He knew Bodie could hear it.

A hand reached out and ruffled Doyle’s curls. “Stroppy sod. All sweetness and light, you are, Doyle.”

“I’m serious, Bodie.” He took a deep breath. Time for his own confession. “I’ve done some thinking, too. You were right. I was letting ‘us’ get in the way of the job. Ross helped me sort that. I’m ready to get back to work. And I’m hoping you’ll give me the chance to regain your trust—to stay your partner.”

“Never lost trust in you, Ray. Couldn’t.”

Doyle closed his eyes with relief. “Let’s—” His R/T sounded and with a sigh he responded. “4.5 here.”

“Is Bodie with you?” Cowley demanded sharply without any other greeting.

“Yes, sir.”

“Remind 3.7 that he is to carry his R/T at all times.”

Doyle grinned at his partner. “I’ll tell him, sir.”

“See that you do. You’ve both been cleared by Macklin and Ross. I’ll assume, Doyle, that you’ve made your decision and it means I still have the dubious honour of employing you both?”

The breeze kicked up again, stirring autumn’s foliage. A fiery red maple leaf settled in Doyle’s hair.

They looked at each other. Questions, doubts, and fears were all acknowledged with a ‘we’ll-work-it-out’ pledge. No words were needed; their eyes said it all. Bodie freed the leaf from Doyle’s curls and held it out. Doyle laughed as Bodie raised an eyebrow and tipped his head towards the R/T, as if Cowley’s enquiry was one last issue to be resolved. Doyle nodded.

“Well?” Cowley sounded a bit uncertain.

A smile lit Bodie’s face as he set the leaf free on the wind. Doyle laughed, letting his worries fly away with it.

“Yes, sir,” they replied together.

“Then I’d like to see you both in my office tomorrow, 8 am sharp. We have to discuss your next assignment.”

End


"Oh my, friend we're older but no wiser,
for in our hearts our dreams are still the same."—Gene Raskin