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Three's Company

Chapter Text

Jack stared into his pint, absorbing the companionable warmth being generated from the babbling conversations going on around him, all seemingly focused on the London Olympics. It was good to get out of his miserable room and English pubs seemed to be the meeting place of choice for everybody all around this wet, wretched country. He sighed, that was unfair. He liked England, it was just it wasn’t home, but then he didn’t have one of those anymore. And it was always raining. And if it wasn’t raining, it was grey. The British seemed obsessed with the weather, almost all casual conversations making reference to it, although they also appeared to be resolutely accepting. There had been an almost gleeful edge to all the media reports that the summer had been the wettest for a hundred years, only the second wettest since records began. As far as Jack could see, this news was met almost universally by the locals with understanding and as if it explained everything. Then the conversation would immediately move on to predictions for the winter and long chuckles about how the country fell apart at the first hint of snow, along with the odd snigger about leaves on the line. He wasn’t quite sure where lines and leaves came into it, but had smiled politely both times he’d heard it talked about. It was certainly a very different climate to the almost incessant sunshine of California where he’d spent much of his life, and a damned sight colder here. He gave a slight involuntary shiver, he’d need to buy some warmer clothes soon if he was going to stay on much longer. As if he needed reminding, he felt the draught across his knees as two more customers pushed their way through the door into the pub. He felt rather than saw the newcomers glance over at him as they headed towards the bar and left it a moment before letting his eyes scan over their way.

Two men, one a couple of inches taller than the other. Him clean shaven and smartly dressed in a crisp, white button up shirt with a tie perfectly matching his navy blue suit, the other one scruffy, almost bohemian looking with his frayed jeans, an old, misshapen fisherman’s sweater with sleeves pushed up to the elbows, facial stubble and shaggy silvering hair, albeit clearly regularly maintained by a barber. Not who he was looking for, but he studied them a moment longer out of habit. They both had their backs to him now, focused on attracting the barman’s attention. The taller of the two was dark haired, his back broad, but solid, Jack could see the strong, wide shoulders under the line of his jacket, all giving an impression of energy and power beneath the surface. The other was slender, smaller proportioned than his friend and looked a bit like a weirdy beardy, but with a fluidity of movement that would likely equal the muscled strength of his friend in a fight. The taller one turned his head to speak to his scruffy companion and Jack saw the slight greying at the temples and the handsome profile, the face far older than the sturdy physical form had suggested. Further scrutiny showed a liberal dusting of salt and pepper on the dark cap of short hair. Both of similar age, older than himself by at least ten years he reckoned. The taller one reached over and ruffled his friend’s hair. Perhaps they were a couple, not unusual here in Brighton. Not one for prejudices, Jack was a firm believer that happiness should be sought wherever it could, there wasn’t enough of it around and he knew from bitter personal experience how easily it could all be stolen away in a heartbeat. After a quick glance around the rest of the pub lest there was anybody else there that he had missed, Jack let his eyes slide back to his pint. In his peripheral vision, he saw the two newcomers move away from the bar, both moving the easy motion of men in good physical shape, clutching their respective pints as they made their way over to a table with no real visible sign of communication between them. Likely they always sat there, he thought absently, and proceeded to re-analyse the positioning of his chosen table. It gave him a perfect view of the entire pub, both exits and the bar. His bench seat up against the wall meant nobody could sneak up on him from behind, a perfect lookout. He idly considered the other seating options and decided that the table where the newcomers had just settled at was probably the second best location, certainly for the dark haired one of the two. He had an almost uninterrupted view of the bar, his back to the wall, whereas his tousle-headed companion had his back to much of the pub. And as he thought it, the scruffy one shuffled his chair round closer to his pal until they were sitting side by side instead of facing each other and they bent their heads together, deep in conversation.

Jack looked at his watch, just over an hour until the barman would call time and now it was starting to look increasingly unlikely the man he was looking for would make an appearance, but Jack was patient. He’d stay till closing, would keep coming back until he was confident that his target wasn’t a patron of this particular hostelry and then he’d move onto the next. Combined with the surveillance work he was doing during the day he knew it was only a matter of time before he found his quarry. He’d covered a third of the grids he’d carefully marked out on the street map that he’d got from the tourist office. Although it wasn’t a sure fire way of spotting his target as there would always be the small matter of right place, right time, it meant he could at least guarantee to cover every road in the town. There were some areas he spent longer in and others the minimum time he’d allocated, but over the last few months, he’d refined his method and proved its success several times over.

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Jack took another sip of his lager and without looking left or right, took in everything going on around him. He was glad he'd got here early, the place was filling up fast and the advertised pub quiz was clearly popular. He didn't think it would be the sort of attraction his target would be tempted by, but he had never been one to act on assumptions. He was by now, pretty certain that this wasn't the right pub, so he'd leave this one behind and move on to the next one after tonight. He watched as the last table was taken by a group of youngsters and after much laughter and shuffling of chairs they settled down. He sighed, they looked so young and carefree. It had been a long time since he'd felt like that and he went back to staring morosely at his pint glass. He'd covered half the town's streets and more than half the pubs and so far he'd come up with nothing. He was used to playing the long game, but it was starting to grind him down. The familiar draught of damp air across his knees alerted him to more quiz goers coming into the pub and he gave an upward glance. Quickly disguising his surprise, he saw the two men he'd seen a few times now, make their way to the bar. He certainly wouldn't have pegged them as quiz goers, maybe he was losing his touch, he thought dejectedly. He'd seen them watching him on previous visits, just the odd glance, which although had made him uneasy, nothing had come of it. It had made him more aware of them though, and he in turn, had surreptitiously studied them. The taller darker one, there was something reminiscent of a military bearing about him, even when leaning at the bar. The smaller man, well his hair wouldn't have ever made it into the army barracks. 'Dammit they're coming over here.’ The one with the abundant hair smiled openly, revealing a chipped tooth, and gestured to the empty seats around the table. Jack nodded, inviting them to sit and they immediately introduced themselves. Ray Doyle and Bodie. Odd that the taller, dark haired one only gave one name. Nothing transpired except innocuous banter and Jack began to relax, saying little unless directly spoken to, content to listen to the back and forth, enjoying the obvious camaraderie of the two men. He studied them again, Bodie confident and assured, with a droll answer for almost anything said and Ray playing off him like they were a long standing double act.

The quiz started, preventing any further chitchat and as the landlord read through the questions, Jack realized that between the three of them, they knew the answers to almost all them. Just a moment later, when both he and Ray had murmured the same answer, Ray muttered, “Should have made up a three man team, we’d have wiped the floor with the opposition.”

The quiz progressed and it became almost habitual that they would softly give the answers to each question, quietly enough as to not spoil it for any of the other teams, but just so they could hear each other and regular grins of satisfaction were exchanged when their murmurings corresponded.

With huge fanfare the quizmaster announced that the final question would herald a ten point bonus and a hush went round the pub. He read out the lengthy question slowly and while a resulting groan went round the rest of the bar, Jack, without any thought, accompanied by a grin, gave the answer at exactly the same time as Bodie, generating a raised eyebrow from both Englishmen. He cursed his own indiscretion. Knowledge of obscure facts about old British poets was probably not that common amongst the locals, let alone a foreigner. By the looks on their faces they were obviously surprised he knew. He’d given away information he hadn’t meant to. ‘Dammit.’ It made him feel uncomfortably exposed, but he had no choice, he had to tell a truth about his past that he wouldn’t have ever intentionally revealed, even if it was only that he had an English degree. 

He muttered his explanation, inwardly cursing himself for failing to maintain his cover story and before he knew it, Bodie was on him in an almost predatory manner, determinedly engaging him in a conversation about Chaucer and Jack felt he had no choice but to respond. 

Ray offered to get him a drink and he tried to politely refuse, keen to extricate himself, but between them, they seemed so keen for him to stay and chat, and in his loneliness he relented and focused his attention back on Bodie as Ray disappeared off to the bar to get the round of drinks.

Bodie’s enthusiasm for his subject was unbound, his eyes lit up as he reeled off poets and sonnets and Jack slowly began to relax a little, starting to enjoy the conversation as much as the Englishman obviously was. It was only when the other man looked up and around the pub with a slightly bewildered expression on his face, did Jack realise the entire place was empty spare themselves.

They all three drained their pints, shaking hands and imparting farewells at the door and Jack made sure he walked in the opposite direction. He wasn’t ever likely to see either man again as he had no plans to return, but there was no point in giving them any clues as to where he lived. They were certainly an intriguing pair, not just Muscles and Scruffy, there was an intelligence about both of them, more surprising in Bodie perhaps. There was an air of something almost dangerous about him, a coiled aggression that floated effortlessly to the surface, when he wasn't smiling or laughing with Ray.

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Bodie’s feet pounded the pavement as the fresh sea air left a faint taste of salt on his tongue. As he headed back after his early morning run, he could see the sun was just peeking over the horizon and he felt good. Hopefully Doyle would be up like usual and would have the kettle on. A cuppa would be very welcome, the temperature had dropped overnight and the wind was biting. Not that he enjoyed running much, even in better weather. In fact he'd told Ray years ago that anybody who enjoyed it had masochistic tendencies and over the years his view hadn't changed. He hated running on his own even more, but it was the least gruelling way he could keep the weight off. Getting it out of the way, running first thing in the morning, was also the only way that he could garner the self-discipline to do it, even if it did mean getting up at the crack of a sparrow’s fart every day. He'd been supremely fit all his life and he wasn't ready to let that go and put himself out to pasture just yet, so it was a necessary evil, one to be endured rather than enjoyed. The end justified the means. He smirked as the voice in his head took on a Scottish burr as it quoted one of the Cow's favourite phrases. He envied Ray, his naturally slender frame was not quite so wiry now, but hadn’t expanded much over the last thirty odd years, although he conceded that Ray’s diet was very different from his own. They had both cut back on the booze and not that he'd tell Doyle, but he was grateful for all the inventive ways that Doyle came up with to disguise vegetables in their meals. He didn't like them, never had and usually Doyle's methods meant he couldn't actually taste them. Occasionally, he'd challenge Doyle about their presence in whatever they were eating at the time, just for appearances sake. Of course he knew what Ray was up to, he'd known for ages, and he was quietly grateful. Didn't mean he had to let on to the skinny bugger though. It was somewhat of a cruel irony that their last medicals had reported that Ray was the one with both an elevated blood pressure and high cholesterol and yet his own were both perfect. Nothing too much to worry about, but it had certainly made them both aware that bullets weren’t the only risk to their own mortality and that there were plenty of far more mundane ways to die. Ray had been running with him every morning until a bout of appendicitis several months ago and despite all the test results, the lazy bugger had decided a weekly workout in the gym, or a swim and the odd stroll was more than sufficient. Maybe he ought to badger him, get his running mate back, although he’d noticed him favouring his hip a couple of times. Daft sod probably had arthritis or something, but was choosing to keep quiet about it so he could carry on dishing out lectures on healthy living. Not that Doyle would admit any of it, of course. He'd long ago given up trying to get Ray to drink his tea without sugar. Was funny really, over the years Ray had dabbled with veganism, vegetarianism and other dietary isms and in that time had taken his tea in every combination possible, yet had settled on the unhealthiest one of the lot. Milky with two sugars. Whereas his own preference now was to have it strong with a drop of milk and no sugar. The only comment made to him in his last health assessment had been that he could do with losing a few pounds, but then he’d been told that in virtually every medical since he was nineteen years old so he was hardly going to start worrying about it now.

As he turned the corner, he increased his pace for the home straight. He always liked to finish with a burst of speed and then warm down, using the bench to stretch out his leg muscles. Doyle, a habitual early riser, would usually spot him through the kitchen window while he was stretching out, guaranteeing a fresh cuppa would be ready and waiting on his return. As he got closer he saw that the bench was already occupied. ‘Sod it’ he grumbled to himself. Not that the bench was exclusively his. Its location on the sea front meant it was a popular stopping point for plenty of people, locals and tourists alike. It had a fantastic uninterrupted view of the sea and the pier and people took full advantage while they sat there waiting for the number forty-two bus, resting their weary legs or eating the fish and chips they’d bought from the van at the end of the prom. But this was the first time that it had been occupied to interrupt his morning routine since they’d moved here almost eighteen months ago. Feeling irked that somebody else was using it at this early hour, as he got closer, Bodie purposely gave the bench a wide berth and veered to the other side of the street. He slowed as he turned into the driveway and came to an abrupt stop next to the car parked in front of their elegant Georgian villa. He ran his hand affectionately over the roof of the silver Ford Capri Mark III and made use of it to maintain his balance while stretching his legs out against the low boundary wall.  

Having stretched out all his muscles to his satisfaction and let his breathing slow to a more natural level, Bodie unzipped the small pocket in his track bottoms and pulled out his door key to let himself into the house. “Morning, sunshine,” he said with a grin as Doyle popped his head round the doorway, “Is the kettle on? I could kill a cuppa.”

Ray Doyle looked at him with a tolerant smile. “Course it is. Brekkie will be about five minutes though.”

“Any chance of a fry up?” asked Bodie hopefully.

Doyle shook his head, his unruly hair bouncing against his ears, “That was yesterday. I’m doing you a favour mate. You know I am,” and jabbed a finger at Bodie’s midsection. “You’re getting a bit podgy and all that cholesterol’s bad for you.”

Bodie’s lip curled. “Sod off. I have a body like Adonis, I do.”

Doyle sniggered, “A doner kebab’s more like it mate.” 

Bodie grumbled under his breath about the constant battle he fought against his waistline as he followed Doyle back into the kitchen and leant against the kitchen unit to dolefully watch Doyle halve a grapefruit.  

As the kettle boiled, Bodie turned and reached up to the cupboard to get the mugs down and glanced out the window. The bench was still occupied by the solitary figure and there was a defeated air about the slumped shoulders. Shrugging, Bodie turned away to pour the boiling water into the teapot Doyle had readied in anticipation.

Doyle saw his reaction and looked out the window to see what had caught Bodie’s eye and robbed him of his normally sunny disposition, “Aaaw, was somebody hogging your bench?”

Bodie, reaching into the fridge for the milk, grunted in response, still mildly irritated that his morning exercise regime had been disrupted, however slightly.

“Isn’t that the bloke from the pub?” asked Doyle, still looking out of the window.

Bodie followed Doyle’s gaze and looked again at the pair of dejected shoulders shrouded by a dark leather jacket. “Could be,” he said non-committedly, “Tea’s up.” Bodie carried the mugs over to the table and sat down, grabbing his newspaper before taking a long gulp of his tea.

Doyle was still looking out the window and Bodie looked across at him plaintively, “Come on, Delia, I’m starving.”

Doyle turned and grinned, “No change there then,” and focused back on finishing the breakfast preparations. Long ago, the two of them had come to a workable compromise about who did what domestically. Bodie was in charge of clearing up while Doyle did the cooking. The primary reason was it seemed that the only thing that Bodie could consistently cook to any decent standard were army rations on a camp fire or a fry up, although if pushed he could rustle up scrambled eggs on toast with an adequate success rate. Everything else frequently ended up raw, burnt or just inedible and the saucepans often suffered through the experience too. That said, Doyle knew that Bodie could cook better than his last assault on the saucepans had suggested, but overall, Doyle didn’t mind, it suited them both. Doyle enjoyed cooking and the arrangement also meant that he decided the menu, which much to Bodie’s chagrin and Doyle’s amusement, was a far healthier diet than Bodie would have eaten out of choice. He also took perverse pleasure in surreptitiously increasing Bodie’s vegetable intake, utilising tricks normally employed by mothers for their errant five year olds. Bodie had long ago accepted the compromise around his diet, but looked forward to their occasional summer fishing trips where he took charge of the camp fire cooking and derived great delight in serving up the genuine army rations he’d purposely stock up on from the army surplus store, purely to annoy his partner.

Doyle brought over breakfast and settling down opposite Bodie, slipped on his half-moon glasses and started reading his paper as they both munched on muesli and fresh fruit. They sat in comfortable silence, the only noise was the occasional turn of a page of their respective newspapers interspersed with Doyle taking regular slurps of his tea. After about an hour, Bodie folded his paper and dropping it on the table, stretched his arms into the air, “What are we doing for lunch?”

“You really are a walking stomach aren’t you,” muttered Doyle, peering over his glasses.

“Need to keep m’strength up, I’m a growing lad,” retorted Bodie indignantly.

Doyle looked pointedly at Bodie’s midriff, a strip of which was visible where his sweatshirt had ridden up as he’d stretched. Despite his disastrous diet and advancing years, Bodie had kept his weight down and himself fit. Somewhat thicker round the middle than he'd been in his twenties, now more like a rugby tight-head prop of the modern game, he was all hard and immovable solidity and power. His abdomen had never been the proverbial, glossy magazine washboard stomach; even when Doyle had first known him, his appetite for all things unhealthy had always been a direct combatant, but the softening there was minimal and certainly couldn’t be described as a spare tyre. “Hmmm, outwards, but I guess lugging all that extra weight around explains the need to keep your strength up.” muttered Doyle, already back behind his newspaper, both of them comfortable enough with each other to pay no heed to the habitual banter.

After a few minutes had elapsed, Bodie sighed theatrically. Ignoring it, Doyle concentrated on reading, but it was swiftly followed by another deep sigh, and then another. Doyle finally gave in and lowering his paper, said with exaggerated patience, "What’s up, Bodie? The Telegraph got too many big words? I’ll nip down the newsagents and order you a red top for tomorrow if you want, then you can look at the pictures on page three."

“Not much point now they’ve turned all the birds into a bleedin’ clothes horse, is it,” said Bodie sadly.

Doyle shook his head with mock despair, “When are you gonna learn, mate. Can’t call ‘em birds any more, they don’t like it.”

“Still better than calling ‘em skirt or MILFs, innit,” muttered Bodie, “Anyway, it’s an old English word, means young woman, how’s that offensive?”

“Don’t talk cobblers. Remind me never to play Scrabble with ya.”

“Nah, s’true. Bee, you, arr, dee, eee, Burde. From the Middle Ages, that is.”

“Ah, the era of barbarism and bubonic plague. They don’t have a place in this day and age either, sunshine.”

“Sometimes I miss the seventies,” said Bodie wistfully.

Doyle snorted, “W’didn’t have the internet back then, mate. Sure you’d prefer that?”

Bodie looked faintly horror struck and with a fatuous expression, grinned and bent his head to read his broadsheet. 

Silence was restored for another couple of minutes and Doyle returned his attention to his own paper, steadfastly ignoring the occasional sighs coming from the other side of the table.

After failing to evoke any reaction, Bodie reached across the table and tugged the top of Doyle’s Guardian down to the table, "I'm bored, Raymondo," he said plaintively. "Bored. Bored. Bored." Which was swiftly followed by another vast sigh.

Abandoning his attempt to peacefully read, Doyle took off his glasses and focused his attention on the beseeching face sitting opposite him. "Well how about fixing up that wreck of a car you’ve just bought that is currently making the drive look like a used car lot?"

Bodie nonchalantly leant back on his chair until it was precariously balanced on two legs, "That's a Strato silver, nineteen eighty-one, mark three, three litre v-six Capri S, which happens to be regarded as the most desirable model. In short, Goldilocks, that's a classic, that is," said Bodie proudly.

“It’s a death trap mate, needs loads of work."

“It's got eleven months MOT on it, it's been confirmed as roadworthy by an independent," retorted Bodie, defending his restoration project, “Just needs a few minor things doing to return it to its former glory.”

Doyle snorted into his mug. "Yeah, just a few, got the lights working yet?”

“Doesn’t need lights in the daytime, mate.” Letting his chair fall forwards, Bodie sprang to his feet, “Right, I’m off for a shower.” determinedly refusing to rise to the jibe about the car’s electrics, which even he knew were in a sorry state.

“Don’t forget to wash behind your ears,” said Doyle lazily from behind his paper.

Bodie ruffled Doyle’s silver hair as he walked past him. Doyle was more than used to it and offered no reaction. His hair wasn’t as long as it used to be, the bubble perms long ago abandoned, but it still had a life of its own and the wavy fronds defiantly refused to conform, so he kept it shorter, letting it do its own thing. As he listened to Bodie charge up the stairs, taking two treads at a time as normal, he drained his glass of orange juice and decided to make more tea. He gathered up the breakfast plates before carrying them over to the unit and grabbing the kettle, he stuck it under the cold tap. Looking up while he waited for the kettle to fill, he saw the bench was still occupied.

Flicking the switch on the kettle, he returned to looking at the back of the leather jacket out of the window and wondered about its owner. They’d first seen the quiet unassuming Canadian in the Rose and Crown two or three months ago. He’d been sat at their favourite table, the one that gave them a full view of both exits from the bar and a solid wall behind them. They’d found another table and had periodically glanced across at him as he’d sat in silence, ostensibly miles away, nursing a pint of lager.

That night as they’d walked back from the pub, Bodie had remarked that the man reminded him of someone and Doyle had chuckled and replied that he’d had the exact same thought. They’d discussed it briefly, trying to fit him in to their time at CI5, but couldn’t place him anywhere and then the conversation had moved on to something else.

A couple of weeks later they’d gone back to the Rose and Crown, not their preferred haunt on a Friday and on entering the pub, they had immediately remembered why they normally patroned the currently ‘closed for refurbishment’ Fox and Hounds. It was the monthly quiz and the pub was absolutely packed. With no spare tables to be found, he and Bodie had glanced at each other and with the slightest nod, agreed their next move. In tandem they’d moved smoothly over to their favourite table and asked if they could sit. 

Before the pub quiz had kicked off, they’d made polite introductions and their table mate had imparted that he was a Canadian called John Tremblay. He and Bodie had introduced each other with practised ease and had both shaken hands with the newcomer. John had been pleasant enough, although he’d had a cautious, controlled manner about him and had seemed reticent to talk about anything much, content to listen. It wasn’t too long before conversation had been rendered impossible, despite the table being the furthest point in the bar from the compere’s microphone and they’d all sat back, occasionally taking a sip of their respective beers, intermittently murmuring the answers to the questions posed by the quiz master.

Finally, the announcement had come that it was the last question, a tough one that would offer ten bonus points to anybody that could get the correct answer due to its high level of difficulty and convoluted structure. The booming voice proceeded to ask an obscure question about Ernest Hemingway that resulted in a collective groan from all corners of the pub. 

He’d remained silent, not even sure he'd followed the question. “John Donne” had been murmured by both John and Bodie as one and they’d smirked at each other.

Bodie and he had both raised an eyebrow and John had looked slightly uncomfortable, embarrassed perhaps and had finally muttered, “Did English at University.”

He’d chuckled, “I think that signals it’s time for me to go and get a round in. John, what are you drinking?”

The Canadian had started to shake his head and Doyle had immediately said, “English Literature is Bodie’s favourite pastime, you’d be doing me a favour. Means I don’t have to pretend to be interested.” He’d pursed his lips up into an unabashed grin and he’d got a shy smile of acceptance from John in return.

By the time he had gathered the glasses, John and Bodie were already deep in conversation about some poem he’d never even heard of and he’d made his way over to the bar to join the throng of quiz goers that had beaten him to it.

Glancing back to them sat at the table, he certainly hadn’t minded being excluded from the conversation. In fact he’d been glad that Bodie had found somebody who shared his passion. What he’d said to John was more or less accurate; He preferred art himself and he often felt a twinge of guilt that he couldn’t return the favour as he prowled round museums and galleries with Bodie patiently trailing behind him. Despite his best efforts, he could never hold his own where it came to discussions about the poetry and literary classics that Bodie found so engaging.  He’d grinned to himself, he’d been reading an article in the paper only that morning about Newfoundland dogs. Known for their giant size, intelligence, tremendous strength, calm disposition, and loyalty, it crossed his mind that the description also fitted Bodie perfectly.

After finally managing to catch the bartender’s eye, He’d brought the drinks back to find both of them still deep in conversation and had half listened as he’d supped his pint.

It was easy for strangers to underestimate Bodie’s sharp intellect. Even with age, his smooth looks, build and sheer presence, projected an image of all brawn and no brains which often led to sweeping evaluations that he was merely a gormless oaf. Often useful when they’d been active agents on the streets, but everywhere else, he considered it an offensive assumption for people to make, conveniently forgetting he too had formed the same opinion the first time he’d met his partner. Not in the least perturbed, Bodie wouldn’t ever adjust his demeanour in any way, except perhaps to play up to the image of a mindless thug when the mood struck him. He’d realised that right from the word go, the Canadian hadn't fallen into the common trap, and that he'd seen what was frequently missed by others. In his own eyes it made him immediately more likeable and he was pleased for his mate that someone with a common interest had appreciated what was beyond first impressions. Bodie never seemed to mind either way. Often when he was passed over as just a dim bruiser, a wry smile would fleetingly form although the laughter lurking in his eyes would last much longer. He would be angry on Bodie’s behalf, furious at the arrogance of some people and their assumptions. Bodie always seemed to find this all the more amusing and after a time would invariably diffuse his indignation with a daft comment or a joke at his expense, swiftly followed by an amusing anecdote that would completely dispel any lurking anger. 

He had studied the blond Canadian, guessing that he was probably about ten years their junior, maybe even fifteen, although he had a tired, worn look about him. John and Bodie had still been engrossed when the bell for last orders went and it was only when they had looked up and realising they were the only ones left in the pub that they had both rapidly brought the conversation to a close. Draining their pints, they’d left the pub, shaking hands and bidding each other goodnight before walking away in opposite directions.

“Sorry, sunshine,” Bodie had said in a low voice as they’d started for home, thrusting his hands in his pockets.

“For ignoring you.”

Chuckling, he’d replied, “s’all right, mate, honest. It was nice that you could have a proper conversation about poet laureates for a change. Looked like you got him to open up a bit anyway.”

“Yeah, he was okay. A bit serious, but quite a nice bloke actually,” Bodie had replied and then their conversation had drifted onto something else and they hadn’t given John another thought.

With the kettle boiled, Doyle reached for the teabags and heard his best mate thudding back down the stairs and he smiled to himself at the noise. Despite being a big man, Bodie often moved like an ethereal being, fast and silent.

“Perfect timing, that is.” Bodie grinned as he slid across the kitchen tiles in his socks, coming to a stop next to Doyle.

“You always could smell a fresh teapot from anywhere in a two mile range.”

Unprompted, Bodie started to clear away the breakfast things, loading the dirty crockery into the dishwasher with his usual speed and efficiency as Doyle carried on making the tea. Doyle smiled as he looked at his old partner. Bodie was the neat one and was forever quietly tidying up after him, creating order from disorder, as he usually left a trail of belongings scattered in his wake, and Bodie rarely complained, which was another reason he never grumbled about doing all the cooking. He secretly enjoyed it, in fact. After living life on the edge in CI5 for so long, he was revelling in the frivolousness of what most people would describe as domestic drudgery. Although, Bodie's recently purchased Capri had got him thinking. Maybe he could buy himself an old motorbike. Just something to tinker with in the garage. It was a hobby he'd given up long ago, yet had always enjoyed, but he wasn't in any immediate rush. Perhaps he'd start looking around in the New Year when there wasn't much going on in the garden, something else to do in the cold, dark winter months. He occasionally got involved in the consulting work that Bodie still thrived on, just to get his brain working and his blood pumping again, but mostly, he was happy to leave it to his partner. He had his youth club work, his painting, and a Bodie-sized appetite to satisfy. That all kept him plenty busy enough. The domestic housework was taken care of by a security-cleared cleaning agency who sent somebody every Thursday morning and the rest of the household chores were shared equally between the two of them, rarely causing any discord.

“He’s still there,” said Doyle, nodding at the window.

Bodie leant towards him and peered out. “Christ, he must be freezing, it’s colder than a witch’s tit out there. The temperature dropped about ten degrees overnight.”

“Do you think he’s okay?” mused Doyle, scratching at his close-cropped beard.

“Uh oh. I know that look. You and your waifs and strays. I suppose you want to go out there and offer him a cuppa.”

“Not exactly,” said Doyle, turning his head to look straight at Bodie. “You were the one that spent an evening talking to him and anyway, you were saying you were bored earlier so you may as well.”

Bodie hummed in response and with a resigned grin said, “Right. You'd best get some tea and porridge on then, Goldilocks, and I’ll go and see if he’s turned into an ice lolly. Back in a sec.”

Toeing his shoes on, he slipped out the front door, putting it on the latch so it wouldn’t close behind him, his breath misting in front of him, just as it had on his earlier run. He stepped out, shaking his head slightly as he wondered why he was out here in the cold, humouring Ray, when he could be in the warm with a cuppa. Heading towards the bench, as he approached he saw the shoulders tense. Whoever he was, he knew Bodie was there, which was noteworthy, Bodie knew he’d employed cat like stealth on his approach. He changed course to arrive at the bench from the side, he certainly wouldn’t want to be approached from behind if their situations were reversed and besides, he didn’t definitely know whether it actually was the Canadian or somebody else sitting there quietly.

As he moved forward and the man’s profile came into view he could see it was John and he was sitting with his arms wrapped around his middle, hugging his body. For warmth no doubt, thought Bodie. He stopped and leant against the lamp post four feet away from the bench. John turned his head towards him and Bodie saw the brief flash of recognition in his eyes and said, “Hi. You’ve been sitting here a while.”

 John nodded, his face not giving anything away, and then the faintest smile appeared, “Yeah,” he said softly.

Bodie looked back at the house and saw Doyle watching from the window. If he didn’t offer, Doyle would skin him alive. “Do you want a cuppa? Warm you up a bit.” He saw a guarded look in John’s eyes, “No questions,” he added. He jerked his head towards the house, “and just across the road.”

 Jack regarded him for a moment and then momentarily dropped his head, “No questions?” he said with half a smile, looking enquiringly back up at Bodie.

“No questions,” said Bodie firmly, returning the smile.

“That's very kind of you, but I don't think I can.”

“And why’s that then?”

“I don’t think I can get up.”

Bodie raised an eyebrow and Jack slowly pulled his arms away from his ribs, opening the front of his jacket to reveal a large tear on the front of his shirt, surrounded by a blood stain that entirely covered the bottom left hand side of his abdomen.

“Looks like hospital’s the best place to get that seen to.”

 John looked him straight in the eye as he folded his arms back round his body and muttered, “Don’t like ‘em much,” before looking to the horizon and finally dropping his gaze to his feet.

Bodie could empathise with that viewpoint, he had an aversion to them too, and over the years, he and Doyle had spent far too much time visiting them one way or another. His eyes flicked down John’s jacket and the arms wrapped around it, then he raised his eyes back to John’s face that now looked resigned. Bodie’s face was impassive. “I see. Well it looks like I’ll need to give you a hand then.”

Not that he was really in a position to do so, but before Jack had any chance to protest, Bodie had carefully helped him onto his feet, putting Jack’s right arm over his shoulder, leaving his left arm free to hold up against his injury and they slowly made their way back across the road.

Bodie pushed the door open with his foot, “Do you reckon you can make it up there?” he asked quietly, his eyes nodding to the staircase. Jack glanced up and nodded.

Doyle stood in the kitchen doorway. “You remember my partner Ray?” said Bodie breezily as they passed him, not giving Jack an opportunity to stop.

 Jack gave a soft grunt and turning his head slightly said, “Errr, hi, Ray.”

“Hi John,” Doyle replied, not sure what was going on, but knowing Bodie would fill him in before long. He closed the front door behind them and followed them up the stairs.

Bodie led John to the spare room and lowering him down, he gave a slight wince as he landed on the mattress.

“Ray? Could you get some warm water and the first aid kit?”

Doyle immediately disappeared and before long, the sound of running water made its way to Bodie’s ears while John looked like he was about to pass out. He carefully helped John remove his leather jacket and laid it on the end of the bed. He leant over, starting to lift up John’s shirt and John’s hand moved like quicksilver, grabbing his wrist with surprising strength. “No questions?” he asked, a slightly desperate edge to his voice.

Bodie shook his head, “No questions,” he affirmed.

With his mouth compressed into a thin line, Bodie lifted up John’s shirt to gain access to the injury before helping him lie back. His eyes briefly scanned over the narrow band of now visible skin before raising his gaze back up to John’s face. He’d had enough bullet wounds of his own over the years to recognise the wrinkled dimple on John’s flank and the further extensive scarring right across his belly and down his sides was a shocking sight, even though it was somewhat masked behind widespread bruising. He suspected that there was more, still concealed by the shirt. He made no comment, merely focusing his attention back on the knife wound which appeared to be less of a stab and more of a vicious slash of blade across flesh and far worse than he’d expected.

With perfect timing, Doyle came back with a bowl of water, clouded with antiseptic along with a first aid kit and with the merest flicker of a glance at John’s exposed front he wordlessly set both down on the bedside table before making his way back downstairs.

With a curt “Wait there,” Bodie went to the bathroom and thoroughly washed his hands before returning to carefully clean around the wound allowing for a proper inspection. Although it was deep, there was no risk of internal injury. It hadn't pierced through the wall of muscle across John’s abdomen, but Bodie knew it would be damned painful for a while until it fully healed.

Doyle returned with a full mug of tea and planted it next to the bowl with a grin. “Tea,” he said, somewhat unnecessarily and immediately disappeared again.

Bodie saw a cloud of suspicion flicker over John’s eyes as he glanced towards the mug. The Canadian had covered it well, but being more observant than most, Bodie saw it, and conceded that he would likely feel exactly the same if their situations were reversed so didn’t begrudge John’s caution. Keeping his eyes locked to John’s, he calmly reached over, bringing the mug up to his lips and took a large gulp. He made a face, returning the mug to the side table. “Eugh, s’got sugar in it, must be yours John.”

Jack returned Bodie’s cool blue gaze and gave a smile of appreciation. He'd given himself away, Bodie had seen it and understood, and at that moment Bodie knew he had John’s trust, at least for now.

“This really needs treating at the hospital. I can run you down there in the car.”

John's head had started shaking before he'd finished the sentence. "No. No hospital."

“Don’t be bloody daft,” Bodie said impatiently, “This needs stitches and there’s a high risk of infection.” 

Bodie saw the man’s jaw tighten before he murmured, “I’ll risk it,” and as John made a move to stand up.

Bodie pushed him back by his shoulder with a sigh and said resignedly, “Okay, no hospital, but it’s your lookout, it’ll take longer to heal.” and rummaged in the first aid kit. He held up a large pack of steri strips along with a clearly labelled and sealed pack containing a ready prepared syringe of Lidocaine, “In lieu of stitches and a jab of local anaesthetic to take the edge off?” His mobile left eyebrow waggled expectantly. “Ray used to be a Boy Scout,” he said with confidence as if it explained away why he was in possession of such a comprehensive medical kit.

Jack eyed the packaged syringe before nodding and there was a prolonged silence while Bodie donned some sterile gloves from the box and concentrated on the task in hand. Although the last had been many years ago, Bodie had administered first aid to several men, including Doyle, often in a battle zone and certainly all in far worse conditions than those of his spare room. Live shells flying overhead and the enemy closing in were distractions that had usually prohibited the option of doing a neat job and for once he didn’t have to contend with either, so he took his time, carefully cleaning the wound before applying a liberal application of antiseptic ointment. He saw that John was leant back with his eyes shut, grimacing occasionally, but stoically keeping still and Bodie proceeded to close the wound up with closely spaced steri-strips. Eventually, after sticking the last one firmly down, he sat back, regarding his work. “Done,” he said, unable to fully contain the grin of satisfaction at the well-ordered line of butterfly stitches.

Jack glanced down at the row of neat strips that had been expertly applied. “Thank you.”

Bodie chuckled as he secured a dressing over the freshly applied strips and said breezily, “I was a Boy Scout an’ all. Got my first aider badge my second week. Any other injuries?”

Jack sighed gently, “I may have cracked a rib or two although I’m hoping they’re just bruised,” he quietly admitted.

“Hmmm. Not entirely surprising,” mused Bodie as he studied the bruising. “How’d it happen?”

Bodie, well aware he'd contravened the no questions agreement saw John's jaw clench and unclench. He wasn't overly bothered by John's silence, he'd only asked to make conversation.

Without waiting for an answer, he stood up, “Be right back, don't let your tea get cold.”

Bodie picked up the bowl of water and left the room without a backwards glance. After disposing of the bowl in the bathroom he went to his bedroom to rifle in his wardrobe. After several minutes he returned to the spare room and held out a long sleeved T-Shirt. “Don't want you catching a chill, do we.”

John was sitting up on the edge of the bed, struggling to keep his eyes open, exhaustion clearly showing. Bodie suspected that it was probably only pain that had kept him awake up to now and the local anaesthetic wouldn’t wear off for a couple of hours yet. As he waved the folded T-shirt at him, John looked up at him in surprise and Bodie dropped it in his lap. “Thank you,” he said, blushing slightly. Bodie took the opportunity to surreptitiously peer into the mug, noticing to his satisfaction that it was empty.

Jack went to lean over to his jacket, but Bodie laid a gentle restraining hand on his arm. “You’re cold and you’re knackered, we can sort out getting you home after you've had a kip.”

As he’d suspected, John was too tired to argue and obediently pulled back from the leather jacket laying across the end of the bed. With a stifled groan he bent down to his boot laces. “Here, let me help,” said Bodie patiently, gently pushing John back as he crouched down and started undoing and loosening the laces. He efficiently manoeuvred the heavily scuffed boots off John’s feet and placed them neatly at the end of the bed. He looked up at John who was blushing furiously and with a tired smile, he returned Bodie’s gaze, “There were five of them. They jumped me down by the pier last night just after sundown. I made it to the bench, thought I’d be okay and could catch a bus.”

“Ah, no buses on a Sunday,” said Bodie sagely, “but look on the bright side. All that fresh sea air you've sucked up. It's good for your constitution. You'll be back on your feet in no time,” He waved an arm along the length of the bed. “Sleep. I'll come up and check on you later.”

John murmured his thanks and as Bodie stepped out the room he saw him move to stretch himself out, still clutching the clean T-Shirt. John’s reticence to change in front of him made him think back to the extensive scarring and his suspicions that it extended much further, hidden by the shirt and that perhaps John was determined he wouldn’t see. With a shrug, Bodie disappeared down to the kitchen and Doyle, hearing him coming down the stairs, started pouring him tea.

He turned as Bodie came into the kitchen and handed him the full mug. Bodie’s normally mobile eyebrows were creased into a frown and his mouth a thin hard line. 

“Problem?” asked Doyle innocently.

“Bloody ‘ell mate!” Bodie whispered heatedly.

Yielding under Bodie’s gaze, Doyle whispered back, “Yeah okay, I know I told you to go over there,” and he turned to pour a second tea.

“He needs to go,” said Bodie quietly.

Doyle span back round, his eyes questioning.

“He was absolutely adamant that he wouldn’t go to hospital even though he’s been damned near eviscerated. He's also been beaten to the point that half of him is the same colour as Barney the bloody dinosaur. He’s got hand calluses that correspond to heavy firearms use and in the past he’s been shot at least once.” Bodie bent his head and studied his tea. “He’s got scars all over his body so he’s been mixed up with something in the past and all that makes him bad news in my book. We should hand him over to the local plods, let them deal with ‘im.”

Ray looked at him quizzically, “Since when has being in an accident made somebody a criminal?”

Bodie shook his head slowly, visualising the many odd shaped scars he’d seen. “No, there’s something off about them. Not from an accident, something else. I can’t put my finger on the how, but if I had to, I’d say they’d been done intentionally and you don’t get something like that unless you’ve been mixing with some very unsavoury types.”

Ray watched him. They had both been captured by hostiles more than once during their time in CI5, not to mention Bodie’s experiences in the SAS and Africa, which Doyle knew had further exposed Bodie to some of the atrocities that man could commit against his own kind. Doyle trusted his assessment as to the cause of John’s old injuries.

“None of that is a guarantee that he’s on the side of the devil, Bodie,” Doyle said gently.

“No. It isn’t,” said Bodie, an edge of belligerence to his voice. “Doesn’t mean he’s got a halo and a pair of wings on ‘is mantelpiece either. We don’t know anything about him.”

“Well look at us two, we both meet that description. I agree, there’s something about him that doesn’t quite stack up, but I can’t quite put my finger on it,” said Doyle thinking back to the second time they had seen him in the pub. They had both surreptitiously watched him, trying to identify what was familiar about him and on the walk home that night they had discussed it again. They’d agreed that it was the way he carried himself, the way he was watchful of everything around him whilst maintaining the appearance of a man just out for a quiet pint. “Takes one to know one. Probably ex-military,” Bodie had concluded and that had been the last they’d thought about it. “I heard you tell him to rest up. We can give him some lunch and he can be on his way this afternoon, he obviously lives somewhere local to the Rose and Crown, we can give him a lift back home, okay?” said Doyle.

Bodie studied his mug, “I can’t mate, I promised to go and see the old man this afternoon, he wants me to take a look at the file on the Pimlico case involving Six.”

Perfectly happy with this arrangement as it would give him an opportunity to find out a little more about the Canadian without John being subjected to Bodie’s particular brand of menace, Doyle shrugged dismissively,  “No problem, it doesn’t need two of us.”

Bodie wasn’t entirely convinced, but he too couldn’t pinpoint why he thought John was covering something up over and above his obviously strong aversion to hospitals and so had no real grounds to protest. Doyle would tolerate only so much. He didn’t want a full scale row like they’d had a couple of weeks after moving out of London, so bit down the habitual urge to protect, which had been the cause of the problems back then. Although he’d never liked the thought of not covering Doyle’s back, he had taken it to extremes when they’d first moved to the coast, sticking with Ray even when it was something as mundane as a harmless jaunt to the newsagents to pick up a paper. Finding the perfect property, in Brighton of all places, the gay capital of the South East, had not been part of the original plan, but the rumours that had dogged him and Ray for years had never bothered either of them particularly. And truth be told, it had probably made it easier to be accepted by their neighbours and quietly blend in with the community. No doubt Harry and Paul next door would likely be shocked to discover that both he and Ray were through and through heterosexuals, but what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them.

He’d initially been unable to stop assuming the unfamiliar town held an untold number of potential threats. It had been the cause of their first really big argument for years and only their second real blow up in all the time they’d known each other. Unadjusted to their new civilian roles and feeling like a fish out of water, unarmed for the first time in nearly four decades, he’d yet to put any faith in the relative anonymity of living in Brighton, a town where nobody knew them, and the alien environment making him more uneasy than the familiarity of London. Now, he’d finally acclimatised, was learning how to unwind and not have to work to a timetable and didn’t want anything to risk their peaceful and relaxed retirement.

He'd never expected to survive long enough to retire, there’d always been the spectre of the grim reaper crooking his finger at him from the shadows as he’d repeatedly tempted fate and he’d initially refused to talk about any ideas with Ray, despite Doyle’s repeated efforts. He’d not wanted to jinx it. He'd had a sense almost of foreboding about making any plans. When Ray had first mentioned that he fancied moving out of London and down to the south coast, he had initially baulked at the idea and had then grasped that it would be the best way to keep an eye on his old partner, to watch his back. On that realisation he’d thrown his heart and soul into convincing Doyle of his plan, finding and buying a house, organising the renovations and moving them both down here. Since that barney, although he’d been much better at not insisting he trail behind Doyle’s every step, it didn’t mean he always had to like it. He spent the remainder of the morning sat at the newspaper covered kitchen table, stripping and replacing the brushes in the Capri’s alternator. Doyle was hovering around the stove humming softly to himself as he chopped and sliced, periodically stirring his culinary creation.

Chapter Text

By the time lunch was ready, Bodie had cleared the table and had been repeatedly peering expectantly over Doyle’s shoulder for the previous five minutes.

Doyle finally decided to put him out of his misery. “I decided we’d have soup, thought it would be something easy for John to digest.”

“It’s just vegetables,” said Bodie disappointedly. “He needs protein too. Nutrition’s important when you’re recovering from injury.”

Doyle gave an exasperated grunt, long used to Bodie’s dietary demands and correctly translated his consternation as that for his own stomach, rather than that of their house guest. His previous occasional forays into vegetarianism had always been scuppered by Bodie. Well, in fairness, it was bacon that had always undone his intentions, but invariably, it had been his mate cooking it. If Bodie had his way, he was sure they’d live on nothing else apart from red meat, fry-ups and swiss roll. He had never seen such disdain for lettuce as the one time he had served up a Chicken Caesar salad.

“I’m doing steak for dinner you scavenging barbarian and there’s the rest of the cooked chicken from yesterday’s roast, I was going to add some.”

Bodie didn’t respond, but Doyle saw his childlike pout disappear and be replaced with a small satisfied smile as his head disappeared into a kitchen cupboard only to reappear almost immediately with a jug and a bowl. He deposited them on the side and then proceeded to retrieve the chicken and carve off some slices, which he chopped up before dropping them into the soup bubbling on the stove; although Doyle was fairly convinced that more had found its way directly into Bodie’s stomach rather than into the soup.

“I’ll take the soup up in a jug, it’ll be easier for John to drink it out of a mug.”

Doyle shrugged, sometimes it was better not to ask and he ladled the soup into both the jug and the bowl whereupon Bodie, armed with the jug and two mugs, disappeared upstairs.

Bodie walked along the landing and wasn’t overly surprised to see John’s eyes spring open before he had chance to knock on the open door.

“Brought you some soup.”

With a grimace, Jack pushed himself up as Bodie came into the room and noting that John had changed his shirt, he placed the mugs down, slowly pouring the thick soup, the small vegetable chunks making it splatter unevenly into the mugs.

“It’ll be hot,” said Bodie, “so you may want to give it a minute.”

Taking one of the mugs, Bodie settled himself in the armchair by the bed and took a mouthful of soup. Trying not to wince at his burned tongue he blew across the top of the mug and noticed John watching him as he clutched his own mug.

“Thank you.”

Ignoring John’s gratitude, Bodie asked coolly, “I forgot to ask you earlier, is there anybody you want to call? Will they be wondering where you are?”

“Only my landlord, the rent was due yesterday.” Anxiety momentarily clouded John’s eyes, “He’ll dump my stuff, I need it, my passport,” he said softly as if thinking aloud. “Can’t afford to lose it. What time do the buses stop running?”

“They run all day, last bus isn’t till late.”

John nodded and following Bodie’s advice, blew across the top of his soup before taking a cautious sip.

“I have to go out this afternoon, but Ray’ll give you a lift home.” He watched John carefully as he continued, “Doyle used to be a copper, he’s trustworthy,” and can handle you if you give him any trouble, he added to himself.

Bodie watched the flash of relief and then consternation flicker in John’s eyes. ‘Interesting.’ Relief would have had no place if John was all bad, dismay would have definitely come first and it had been a secondary reaction. That could easily be explained by John only having his word for Ray’s career history. It could also mean he’d been up to mischief of course. Although he wasn’t willing to assume that John was on the side of the angels, his protective streak was sufficiently appeased that he considered that Doyle would be safe enough taking John home. He knew that Ray wouldn’t let him cancel his visit to Cowley this afternoon and would be more than irritated by what he would have viewed as Bodie’s mollycoddling.

He stayed with John until they’d both finished their soup and after taking John’s mug he stood by the door and looked back at the Canadian who was sat up on the bed staring at nothing. “You’ll need to keep an eye on that, any sign of redness or inflammation you’ll need to get some antibiotics and the hospital will likely want some answers as to who dressed it. You can give ‘em my address, I’ll not lie for you, but I won’t drop you in it either.”

John looked up at him and gave a short nod and a tentative smile, “Thank you.”

Chapter Text

As Bodie pulled up alongside the Capri, he was pleased to see Ray’s car in the drive and switching off the engine, he stretched. Cowley had been his normal acerbic self. He might be eighty-nine years old, but his mind was still as sharp as a steel trap with a tongue not far behind. He grinned to himself, Father was a gruff old bastard and he hid his affection well. Bodie had learnt long ago that he cared in his own way and despite the old man having once held a gun to his head, which had disconcerted Doyle far more than it had himself, both of them were very fond of the old bugger. They had several nicknames for him, some not so nice, but the familial one, well that was the one that reflected their true feelings. They both felt the same, Cowley was very much a father figure to them both.

He hopped out the car and strode to the front door to let himself in to the bright, welcoming warmth of their house. Doyle was in the kitchen, sat studying a cook book and Bodie saw the strange expression on his face straight away. “Any problems?” he said lightly.

“No, not exactly a problem.”

Bodie sighed, he knew what was coming. “Go on then, Ray, tell me why laughing boy’s upstairs rather than tucked up with his teddy bear back at his then.”

“He was right about the landlord. He was already muttering that John was late with his rent and basically chucked him out. It was all I could do to stop him trying to take a week’s rent as a notice period and the bastard was still not going to let him stay, even if he’d paid it. We agreed that John would pay for today, although even that I think is bloody disgusting. The man was kicking him out with no warning and he wanted John to pay for this week on top.” Doyle took an outraged breath before venting again, “And there was no way he could chase round to find somewhere else by tonight, not in the state he’s in.”

Ray was seething with indignation at the injustice. Bodie let it all wash over him, used to Ray’s outbursts and started to drift towards the teapot.

 “Although I may start calling him Jodie instead.”

Ray only got a raised eyebrow in response. He’d decided not to tell Bodie about the package behind the ventilation grill that he’d seen John pull out and stuff in his messenger bag when he’d thought Ray had left the room. “His bedsit was pitiful, Bodie. One toothbrush, an empty messenger bag and one book of poetry. That’s all he has. Oh and a change of clothes, folded and stacked neatly on a chair. That remind you of anybody?”

The subsequent conversation he’d had with John in the car when he’d explained forcefully that he wouldn’t have drugs in his house had established that it was John’s passport and savings, his apparent mistrust of banks the cause of his rather primitive safe deposit box. John had opened the packet and shown him the small bundle of notes, so small it was hardly worth hiding had been Doyle’s first thought, but merely nodding his acceptance, he’d not said another word about it, despite it piquing his interest even more.

Bodie grinned at him and not for the first time, Doyle looked at Bodie wondering how he somehow managed to appear self-deprecating and arrogant at the same time.

“Definitely ex-army” said Bodie firmly.

“Huh?”

“Might explain his hand callouses and some of his scars. It fits. The clothes thing is military neatness. Not something you’re even capable of, Angelfish.” Bodie’s grin disappeared, “There is a condition to him staying tonight though.”

Doyle looked at him expectantly, “Go on.”

“You don’t give him any of my bloody steak, I’ve been looking forward to that all afternoon.”

Doyle chuckled, “Wouldn’t dare, mate.”

He continued to study Bodie’s face. He couldn’t put his finger on it, other than to say it was his copper’s nose, but he somehow knew that John wasn’t someone to fear and was trying to think of a way to convince Bodie on nothing more substantial than a whim.

Bodie looked thoughtful for a moment as he watched his mate rub the top of his nose, a frequent and subconscious habit when he was brooding over something. “You trust him.”     

Doyle looked up at him. Bodie’s intonation had been as a statement rather than a question, although he chose to provide the affirmation all the same and replied quietly, “Yeah, I do.”

“Then he stays till he’s back on his feet,” said Bodie with a resigned smile.

Doyle grinned lopsidedly back, saluting him with his mug. Their almost telepathic ability to second guess what the other was thinking was still in first class order and Bodie saw the gratitude in the familiar eyes. He trusted Doyle’s judgement, although he had a sneaking suspicion that Doyle was embarking on his Columbo act again. But, if it kept the golli happy and where he could keep an eye on him, he was fine with that. And anyway, the man upstairs was injured, unarmed and despite their age, he and Ray could still take someone down, although equally they could also end up being murdered in their beds as they slept. The irony of that happening after the life he and Doyle had led would be cruel indeed and he pushed the thought away.

Later, Doyle took John’s evening meal up to him along with a cup of tea and some pain killers and leaving him to it, came back downstairs. With their new house guest temporarily forgotten, they both had a relaxing supper, trays on their laps in front of the TV, sharing a bottle of red wine.

“How was the old man?” asked Doyle conversationally.

“Fine. The Webber case is still his focus. It’s bloody amazing at his age, still at the top of his game and tugging on the odd string behind the scenes when he needs to. All those years he spent buried in the bowels of Whitehall, he ruffled an awful lot of feathers while covering our backs, but his legacy lives on and there’s plenty that still dance to his tune. A bonnie Scottish reel, I shouldn’t wonder,” he said, blue eyes twinkling.

Doyle nodded his agreement, “Yeah, he may be long retired and no longer at the helm, but Cowley’s still more than capable.”

Bodie chuckled, “Was there a hint of wistfulness there, sunshine?”

Doyle picked up his wine glass and stretched his legs out, resting his socked feet on the coffee table. “I don’t miss it, that feeling of doing good. Making a difference. Y’know. Thought I would, but I don’t. Was time for somebody younger to take over. Got my thirty year service medal, that’s enough striving for roses and lavender for me, mate.” He took a noisy slurp of his wine, “What about you, you could have stayed on after?” 

Bodie looked at him, knowing Doyle wasn’t thinking of the fact that he’d reached retirement age nearly three years ahead of him, but of events over twenty years ago and typically for Doyle, was still feeling guilty for it. “Nah, it was right we went together when we did, we’d finished tidying up the loose ends of all those we’d thought had got away before we went, and CI5 is now a thing of the past. It’s a new era now, sunshine. Anyway, judging by the amount you’ve managed to squeeze into the garden, this little part of England is going to smell quite strongly of roses and lavender for a very long time,” he said with a grin.

Doyle nodded, acknowledging their success. Double jeopardy being overturned in 2005 had created an opportunity to revisit old cases and with their long CI5 history, along with advances in forensics, they’d been able to secure several convictions on cases that they’d worked on as agents on the streets and thought forever lost.

Bodie neatly changed the subject before Doyle could start over analysing the timing of their joint retirement, “I pity the poor sods who are having to deal with the Cow’s triple think now though. Without any first-hand experience of the old bugger they won’t know what’s hit them. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes, not for all the tea in Tescos.”

“China,” muttered Doyle, as Bodie had known he would.

They bickered good-naturedly for a few minutes about how much tea the supermarket chain stocked at any one time and whether it was a sufficient amount worthy to wager against dealing with Cowley until they mutually tired of the game.

“I’d had enough of seeing all the death and destruction, I don’t miss that,” Bodie sighed, “or the paperwork,” he added, as an afterthought. “Although I miss the adrenalin rush,“ said Bodie, nostalgia making the memories more pleasant than the reality had often been, “and I miss carrying and shooting a gun. Weird that, innit.”

Doyle sat back lazily, the alcohol induced warmth of two glasses of red wine pooling comfortably in his stomach. “Dunno, is it? I miss that too, so maybe it ain’t weird. I mean, I don’t miss shooting people, don’t miss the guilt, just miss having a gun. It was like a fifth limb, we’d been carrying for so long and there’s nothing like the satisfaction of a perfect score down at the firing range.”

Bodie stifled a yawn, “Yeah, exactly, and cleaning 'em was pretty therapeutic too. Maybe I’ll have a look and see if there’s a shooting club or summat round here. Not tonight though, I’m knackered.”

He dragged himself off the sofa and carried the trays and the empty bottle of wine through to the kitchen and started clearing away the cooking utensils, loading everything into the dishwasher with military efficiency.

He heard Doyle trail round the house, putting the deadbolt on the front door and setting the alarm and then return to help him finish the after dinner clear down. 

“Oh by the way, I gave John a pair of your sweat pants and a t shirt.”

“Bloody marvellous.”

“Well mine would have been too tight on his wound,” said Doyle reasonably, ignoring the good natured mumblings about the shirt off his back that were emanating from his friend.

They parted company on the upstairs landing with a muted ‘Night mate.’ As he passed John’s door, Bodie noticed there was no light seeping out from under it and all was quiet. He suddenly remembered the tray that Doyle had taken up earlier, but common sense won over his orderly nature and he decided it could wait till morning.

Chapter Text

A terror filled cry woke Bodie with a start and he shot out of bed. Another panicked yelp cut through the darkness before he reached the source and he flicked the landing light on ahead of opening John’s door, unsure of what he would find.

He heard Doyle behind him, but didn’t stop and went into their spare room. John was asleep, his face sheened with sweat, breaths rapid and shallow, with arms and legs thrashing about as he fought with the unseen demons invading his dreams.

“John!” Bodie called out several times, but nothing was getting through to the petrified man writhing on the bed. Another howl pierced the room, pained and desperate and Bodie stepped forward, determined to pull the man back to wakefulness. “Careful Bodie, he may lash out,” warned Doyle from behind him. Bodie nodded and without crowding John, gently touched his shoulder as he called out, “John! Wake up now. You’re having a nightmare.”

There was still no waking John and Bodie firmly gripped the writhing shoulder, giving it a firm shake and this time the result was instantaneous. John bolted from the bed and ended up in a shaking foetal heap on the floor.

Doyle rushed round the bed and crouched down next to John, murmuring calming platitudes. He ventured to rest a gentle hand on the man’s back and slowly John unfurled himself and sat up while clutching his ribs, revealing confused, anxious eyes, his chest still heaving with fear and adrenalin.

Doyle stood up, giving John some space and came back round the bed to Bodie and said quietly, “I’ll stay with him for a while, make sure he’s okay. Go back to bed.”

Y’sure?” After getting confirmation from Doyle, Bodie padded off yawning and Doyle slouched against the wall, waiting patiently for John to compose himself.

John sat there, owlishly blinking as the confusion slowly left his eyes. Once his breathing had calmed, it didn’t take too long for him to get up from the floor and sit on the bed facing Doyle, “Sorry for waking you both up.” John dropped his head into his hands and then rubbed his face.

D’ya wanna talk about it?” ventured Doyle, his curiosity coming to the fore.

John chuckled humourlessly into his hands before raising his head to look at Doyle and with a gentle shake of his head said, “No. Just wanna go back to sleep,” he sighed. “But thank you,” he said softly. 

Doyle made his way round the bed and started smoothing out the tangled duvet. “Are your dressings okay? You haven’t pulled them have you?”

John shook his head and reached over to the pillows, straightening them as he said, “No, Bodie did a good job. I’m fine.”

Doyle was sensing that John just wanted him to go, perhaps he was embarrassed that he’d woken anybody up. If he’d got it wrong and John wanted to prolong Doyle’s presence he could create the perfect excuse for him, “Can I get you anything? Hot chocolate? Tea?”

John gave him a weak smile and another shake of his head and lifting his legs onto the bed, slid them under the duvet.

Doyle gave him a fleeting smile in return. Nightmares had frequently plagued him in the past and Bodie too, the nature of CI5’s work had made them inevitable. He’d often talked his nightmares out, however ludicrous they’d seemed when analysed in the daylight, it had been his way of dealing with them. Bodie had been the complete opposite, he wouldn’t ever disclose his, in fact would barely acknowledge their existence, preferring to internalize everything, much like he did with most things of an emotional nature. It appeared that John dealt with nightmares in the same way. “Okay, I’ll leave you to it. Night John.”

“Night.”

Doyle pulled the door shut behind him and flipping off the landing light, returned to his room, grinning at the sounds of deep, elongated breathing that were filtering through Rip Van Bodie’s partially open bedroom door. Despite already being deep in slumber, with the door ajar, Bodie would immediately hear if Jack had another nightmare. The man's knack of falling asleep almost instantaneously was like a living embodiment of that drinks advert, any time, any place, anywhere and it was an ability that Doyle had coveted throughout all the time they had worked together. As he climbed into bed another smile appeared as he remembered the time very early on in their partnership when he'd first been introduced to Bodie’s sleeping habits. They were out on an obbo and he’d thought that Bodie was pretending to kip and how irritated he’d been. Then when he’d realised Bodie had genuinely fallen asleep, he’d been even more irritated and he’d woken him up with a shove in the ribs to tell him so. After he’d been acknowledged with a self-satisfied smirk, Bodie had immediately closed his eyes again, drifting off to sleep less than a minute later. Ray had stood guard, seething for the next six hours until it was Bodie’s turn to stand watch. By then, he’d got himself so wound up, he’d lain awake through almost all of Bodie’s shift, finally falling asleep less than thirty minutes before they were supposed to swap again. Bodie had gently nudged him awake with a cup of tea five hours after he should have taken over with the news that HQ had been in touch and that they’d been stood down. Pretty much ever since that act of generosity from his partner, Doyle had found the cadence of Bodie’s soft snores oddly restful.

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Doyle stretched and yawned as he reached for the teabags, only then noticing the plate and cutlery from John’s evening meal had been washed, dried and left neatly on the kitchen unit. When Bodie got back from his run he took up John’s breakfast along with a cup of tea and didn’t comment on the dark smudges under the Canadian’s eyes.

The morning passed peacefully. John stayed in his room, only venturing out to the bathroom a couple of times and when Doyle took his lunch up, he asked John if he minded if he stayed a while, gesturing at the easel set up at the other end of the long room.

John instantly apologised for being there, which Doyle waved away, almost immediately becoming absorbed in his painting, leaving John to eat his lunch in peace. It didn’t take too long for Doyle to completely forget the Canadian was there, he’d kept so quiet, and it was only when he stood back from the easel nearly an hour later to appraise his art that John brought him back to full awareness. “Bodie said you used to be with the police. Was it round here?”

Doyle looked across at him, “Nah, based in Limehouse. T’was years ago now.”

He saw the slightly blank look on John’s face, “Metropolitan police, in London.”

John nodded his understanding and with a slightly despondent gaze said, “So no contacts in the local police then.”

“No, not really.” He didn't bother to mention their home had been designated as high risk status, meaning any incidents at their address would always be treated as a priority call out by the local constabulary. Unfortunately, their careers meant that they had amassed quite a few enemies and Cowley had insisted the local police Inspector come out and meet both him and Bodie when they’d first moved down here. John gave a short nod and fell silent. Doyle went back to his painting, only aware of the passage of time when he realised the light was fading. He glanced across at John laid on the bed. He was completely still, staring at the ceiling and Doyle realised he had been in that same position for the last three hours.

Doyle frowned, “You okay? I thought you were asleep.”

John pushed himself up onto an elbow, “I’m fine.”

Doyle studied him, he didn’t look fine, his skin had a slight lustre, he looked exhausted and there was a tightness round the eyes as if he was in pain. “How’s the wound feeling?”

“Much better thanks. I’ll get out from under your feet tomorrow. You’ve both been very kind, but I can’t keep taking advantage of your hospitality.”

“You’re welcome to stay longer, until you’re fully fit.” Doyle gathered up his brushes and headed to the door, “If you’re feeling up to it, why don’t you come downstairs? It’s perfectly safe, Bodie’s picking up a takeaway so you won’t get roped into helping with dinner,” he chuckled.

He got a smile of acknowledgement and Doyle left him to it, heading downstairs to clean his brushes.

John joined him in the kitchen not long after. Although he was quiet and didn’t volunteer much information about himself, he was friendly and willing enough to chat about inconsequential topics until Bodie came in, complete with a Chinese takeaway. Doyle pulled the warm plates out of the oven and they all sat down to eat. As Bodie laid the foil trays out, he peeled the last lid off with a flourish. “And finally, sweet and sour chicken balls. We have well-endowed hens this side of the pond,” he said with a grin which earned him a weak smile from John, who Ray thought was looking even paler than when he’d first come downstairs. “You’ll have to excuse his manners,” Doyle said to John, jerking his head towards Bodie, “He doesn’t have any.”

It didn't go unnoticed that John ate little and grimaced as he helped tidy up. He quickly made his excuses claiming tiredness and disappeared upstairs.

Bodie stretched out on the sofa, “I checked out John today.”

Doyle chugged his beer as he waited for Bodie to carry on, but the annoying bugger didn’t. “And?”

“Clean, no record, Canadian or international. Interestingly, not much of anything actually. No credit history, no medical records, no marriage certificate,” he said casually. Of course none of those were obligatory and yet their absence added to the suspicion in Bodie's eyes. A false identity could be built on not much less. Could the man really have suffered that many injuries and yet never have set foot in a hospital. Of course, if he was in the armed forces and been wounded in action he would have most likely been tended in a military hospital. But after checking with the Canadian army, there was no record of John there either. Short from asking him if he’d served and with which army, it wasn't going to help. There were any number of armies where one could work for queen and country, but Bodie was very aware there were even more where you could work anonymously and earn a great deal of money.

“Well there you go then,” said Doyle with a grin. “He told me you’d mentioned I used to be a copper. Trying to warn him off were you? Seriously Bodie, I really don’t think he’s a bad ‘un, my instincts tell me he’s just someone down on his luck and who got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. You said yourself that he’s a nice bloke.”

“Nice he may be, but my gut says he’s hiding something,” said Bodie with a hint of belligerence.

*      *     *

Jack lay on the bed trying to ignore the increasingly uncomfortable throb from his wound. He lifted up his shirt and carefully peeled back the dressing on his abdomen. As he’d suspected, the wound was red and angry with infection. He sighed. It was inevitable really, the shiv had likely been germ ridden and although Bodie had been very thorough, it had always been a possibility. At least it explained why, despite the room being plenty warm enough, he’d started to feel the chills of an impending fever that afternoon. It had prompted what he’d said to Ray earlier about moving on, their first reaction would be to insist on taking him to hospital and there would be too many questions. He couldn’t afford to have another nightmare either. Apart from the fact he’d embarrassingly woken them both, he couldn’t guarantee he wouldn’t shout something out that could give away his identity and that didn’t bear thinking about. As an ex-cop, Ray would feel obligated to report anything suspicious and he couldn’t take the risk of that happening. He didn’t know whether he’d revealed anything last night, although neither of his hosts had said anything. If he did it again, maybe they’d piece something together. The Chinese food had been one more challenge he could have done without, he’d struggled to keep what little he’d eaten down. He sighed deeply causing his ribs to protest and he put a hand to them to try and ease the stabbing pain. He felt guilty for lying to the two Englishmen, they’d been more than generous and decent, helping him out when he needed it, but the sooner he moved on and found somewhere else to stay while he recovered, the better. He’d just have to chance his luck with the infection.  

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Jack winced as he reached into his messenger bag for his one clean shirt. Even the slightest movement was agonising, aggravating the now vivid red and inflamed stab wound and his painful ribs. It had just taken him thirty-five minutes to get out of his night clothes and get his jeans on and he grimaced. He should have left yesterday as soon as he felt the fever start, but had wanted a full day to make sure he had time to find a new room to rent before darkness fell. He felt the sheen of sweat on his skin as he struggled against the violent shivers that were plaguing him, making his movements uncoordinated and the task of getting dressed even more painful. He needed to get going and find somewhere to stay for tonight, preferably cheap so that he could afford it long term. Staying awake last night had circumvented the possibility of having another night terror, but it hadn’t done him much good otherwise. He looked down at his feet, socks he could do without and he wriggled his feet into his boots, abandoning any attempt to do the laces up. He just about managed to pull them tight and tuck them into the top of his boots, it would do for now. Grabbing his bag and jacket, he made it to his feet and headed out of his room, blotting his fevered face with his sleeve.

As quietly as possible he made his way down the stairs, stopping halfway for fear of tumbling down the rest of them as the world tipped alarmingly around him, and he sucked in a painful breath. Once the dizziness was back under control he continued on, using the wall as extra support. He couldn’t afford to fall and alert the two men he could hear moving about in the kitchen.

He’d made it almost to the front door when Ray came out of the kitchen carrying a mug of tea. “Hi John, I was just bringing you…..Christ, you look awful. Bodie!” he finished with a yell.

Bodie almost instantly appeared behind Ray and took one look at him and said, “I’ll call an ambulance.” Ray stepped forward to support him as he thought he looked like he was about to collapse.

Most of the tea went south as Jack fought to get passed, “Please just let me go.” Bodie immediately went to help his mate who was cursing the hot tea that had slopped onto his hand.

“You are a bloody idiot,” said Bodie forcefully as he supported Jack’s elbow, the grip perhaps tighter than it needed to be.

Bodie’s grim, forbidding face was a far cry from the light-hearted irreverence that he’d demonstrated up to now, but undaunted, Jack looked straight at the cold blue eyes and pleaded, “No hospital.” And when that had no effect, he used the only thing left in his arsenal “Please, you gave me your word,” he said softly, appealing to Bodie’s principles.

 Bodie inwardly cursing himself for the promises he’d made that he wouldn’t break, long ago defined by his own code of honour, increased his iron grip and stared back at the distressed, flushed face. Frustrated, he said, “Fine. Doyle will ring for an ambulance.”

He watched as the fiery stubbornness drained away from John’s eyes only to be replaced by an emotion he recognised. He knew that look, he'd seen it enough times over the years in the faces of innocents and criminals alike. And his partner's too when they’d both been on the ‘A’ squad and Doyle’d had a stoppage while staring down the barrel of a gun. Fear. Pure, unadulterated, raw fear. John blinked and it was gone, but Bodie knew it was still there. Taken aback, he paused. The unhealthy pallor to John’s skin and his high colour showed he was in a bad way and yet even now, he was apparently more terrified of a hospital than of an infection that if left untreated, would before very long, likely kill him.

Doyle had already retreated, sucking the back of his scalded hand and was no doubt dialling already. “Doyle. Wait,” barked Bodie, his eyes not leaving John’s face.

Doyle appeared back at the kitchen doorway and Bodie, without turning to him said, “I’ll ring Colin.”

“Christ, Father’ll kill ya.” Doyle ran his hand through his unruly hair. Despite all the macho posturing, Bodie would occasionally show a level of compassion that could, even now, still surprise him.

“Yeah I know,” Bodie smiled, but his eyes were hard as he gently pushed John back against the wall. “I bloody gave my word though, didn’t I?”

Jack sagged against the wall, partly with relief. He didn’t know who Colin was, but he sounded a better option than a hospital.

Bodie raised a blunt finger at him, “Stay there,” he said with a snarl and as he turned, carried on under his breath, “If you can manage to bloody stay upright, you damned idiot.”

As Bodie strode off, Doyle stepped forward to help support him and murmured, “It’s okay, John, we’ll get you sorted.”

It wasn’t too long before Bodie was back and Jack was near collapse. Doyle was supporting almost all of his weight and it took both of them to virtually carry him up the stairs back to the spare room.

Laying him on the bed, Bodie wrenched off his boots and hurled them into the corner when he saw the laces were undone and that he was sockless. Doyle, having felt the temperature of John’s skin had disappeared and come back with a wet towel and he started to pat down John’s face and hands and any other bare patches of skin, ignoring the feeble efforts to push the cold towel away.

It wasn’t long before the doorbell went and Bodie charged down the stairs to answer it. Doyle heard murmured voices drift up from downstairs before hearing a set of footsteps making their way up. A moment later, he saw Colin Doherty standing in the doorway.

“Morning,” said Colin as a greeting, his eyes immediately straying to the man laying supine on the bed. “Looks like he’s going to need an I.V.,” he said jauntily. “I’ll need something to double up as a drip stand. Can you organise something Ray?”

Doyle grinned. Knowing Colin of old, he was tactfully being kicked out, allowing Colin to maintain John’s dignity while giving him a thorough examination. Ruthlessly efficient, brusque yet friendly and with an adaptable bedside manner that one minute could make ladies swoon and the next, initiate co-operation from the most stubborn secret service agent. Colin was an ex CI5 medical officer who could deal with the most reluctant of patients. Doyle withdrew, closing the door quietly behind him and went downstairs to engage Bodie in the hunt for an improvised IV stand.

*      *     *

“Right I've taken a good look at him. He wasn't keen, he was even more of a pain in the arse than you two used to be, but he settled down once I threatened him,” Colin said cheerfully. Doyle well believed him. In the past, he had tried calling Colin’s bluff a couple of times and had learnt the hard way, somehow he’d never had quite the success that Bodie had achieved at getting his own way regarding his medical treatment.

“I’ve given him a sedative for now, he won’t be going anywhere for a while and I cleaned and drained the wound. He’ll need to stay on the IV for at least a few days, how long will depend on how he responds to the antibiotics. He’s going to need pretty much constant care, at least for the first couple of days, are you sure you wouldn’t rather he was in hospital?” Colin raised a questioning brow at the two ex CI5 agents sat at the kitchen table and took a mouthful of tea.

“I'll stay with him,” Bodie said gruffly, rolling his eyes.

Doyle smiled to himself, Bodie’s frequent show of heartless indifference towards others was a long established façade. He had compassion. Bags of it, in fact. It was just that he habitually chose to hide it.

“We’ll both take care of him, we can do shifts,” Doyle said resolutely, with a smile directed at Bodie, “Can you tell us what to look out for?”

“He’ll likely have a fever that’ll last for the next forty-eight hours, maybe longer, and it will probably get worse before it gets better, but don’t be too concerned. Any sign of a temperature over, say a hundred and five though, take him straight to A and E.” Colin eyed the rapidly diminishing pile of biscuits on the plate in front of him as Bodie absently munched on another custard cream. “The IV and catheter bags will need changing regularly, I’ll get more dropped off to you. You both know how to change them from when you’ve played nursemaid to each other?”

Bodie and Doyle both nodded and Colin continued, “Good. I’ve taken a swab, once I get the results he may need an alternate antibiotic, I’ll get the results back this afternoon at the latest and I’ll let you know if that’s the case.”

Bodie waved his hand, the half-eaten custard cream shedding crumbs across the table, “He was adamant about not going to the hospital. Any clue as to why?”

“Tsk tsk Bodie, you know I couldn’t tell you even if I knew. Doctor patient confidentiality.”

Bodie and Doyle shared a glance, in the world of CI5, that edict only went so far and Bodie sought comfort in the remnants of his custard cream.

“If he gets agitated?” asked Doyle, taking over the questions from his mate who was now looking distracted.

Colin chuckled, “I’m sure you two can manage to keep him in check, just don’t let him pull out the drain or the IV.” He knocked back the last of his tea, and with a smirk, swiped the last custard cream from under Bodie’s fingers. “Right, must be off, thought I’d drop in on Cowley on the way home, see how he’s getting on. Don’t get up lads, I can see myself out. I’ll pop over tomorrow morning and see how John’s doing.” 

With a cheery wave, he was out the door and gone, leaving Doyle to watch Bodie stare mournfully at the now empty plate in the middle of the table.

“You okay, mate?”

Bodie flicked his eyes onto Doyle and gave a hollow chuckle, unsuccessfully trying to lighten his own sense of foreboding. “Yeah, it’s like being on Death Row though. All I’ve got to do now is wait for the call to execution.”

There wasn’t much that Doyle could say to that. Colin had pre-warned both of them that Cowley would get to know about his impromptu visit, although they’d both realistically known it had been an inevitable consequence. The old man would not condone utilising any resources that he considered belonged to the government for non-agency business, especially if those actions could potentially compromise integrity or security and yet by calling Colin, Bodie had done exactly that, despite knowing absolutely nothing about their house guest.

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Bodie lay on his bed roll trying to get comfortable. He’d already had to get up twice when John had been restless, crying out incoherent sounds in his sleep and he’d only been up here an hour.  Doyle had got off lightly he concluded. The sedative that Colin had administered had kept John out and quiet for most of the day, but so far it was looking like the drugs had now well and truly worn off.

He heard the snatched breaths, the first warning signs and he was immediately up and at John’s side for a third time, waiting to see if he would need to intervene again.

Sometimes, he had nightmares of his own, rare these days, but in formative years there had often been regular dreams that would take him to back to relive some of the more wretched experiences from Africa, Belfast and CI5, every so often all jumbled together into his own, personal Hell. He had suffered from more nightmares than Ray, but they had both had their fair share. He long remembered the wretchedness and strain that he was left with from the repeated horrors before Ray had disclosed that he too had the same problem with nightmares when he’d been woken by his partner from a particularly terrifying dream on a twenty four hour stake out.

John cried out and Bodie vigorously shook his shoulder.  “John, It’s okay, you’re safe,” but despite his comforting words, as John woke with a start, he brought his hands up, feebly trying to protect himself. His eyes were glazed with fever and exhaustion, “Cheng, he’s got her,” he whispered, his voice cracking.

“There’s no Cheng here mate, it’s Bodie. You were having a nightmare.”

With a wince of pain on the fevered face, John tried to sit up and Bodie held him down which he soon realised was a mistake. John lashed out and Bodie recognised the speed and expert skill of the attack a split second too late. And yet, somehow John didn’t make contact as his hands changed formation in mid-air to push almost half-heartedly against Bodie’s biceps.

“You with me, mate? It’s just a bad dream.”

John’s face was taut, wide eyed and sheened with sweat and Bodie, reminded of a time twenty years ago when he’d been the one ill and confused, gathered the fevered man into his arms and held him close in an attempt to provide comfort and a safeguard against further horror filled dreams.“I’ve got you, you’re safe.”

‘When did I become so bloody soft’ thought Bodie wryly. Here he was, prepared to spend all night awake to keep the demons away from a stranger, who frankly had already caused him no end of grief.  To let him suffer alone though was like kicking a puppy, cruel and unnecessary.

He could feel John’s heart pounding in his chest and the tension in his body. Slowly, but surely, as Bodie held the Canadian, he felt the man’s tension leach away, his heart rate slow and his breathing settle.

Bodie laid John back down on the bed and sat studying him for a moment. The way he had attacked was certainly interesting. It had been an A grade special-forces move that if John had followed through with, and with probably even less force than John was capable of despite his fevered state, could have likely killed on the spot. Maybe the fever was making the man not know where he was, but something had stopped him from inflicting lethal injury.

The nightmares kept up a steady chain of attack and in the end, Bodie gave up trying to sleep on his bed roll and lay alongside John on the bed, close by to reach a hand out at the first sign of distress. It was hardly relaxing or comfortable though as the combination of the heat radiating from John’s fevered body and the randomly flung out limbs and flailing fists as John defended himself against his imagined attackers meant that Bodie had no choice except be on full alert.

It was nearing four in the morning before John finally fell into an undisturbed slumber. ‘Too bloody knackered even to dream,’ thought Bodie wearily from his bed roll and was asleep before the thought had fully formed.

He was woken by Colin’s arrival at eight and he stumbled downstairs, bleary eyed, leaving John in Colin’s capable hands and sat in the kitchen, a tell-tale tuft of hair just above his right ear defiantly sticking up. Still struggling to fully wake up, he was propping his head on his hands at the kitchen table when Colin strolled into the kitchen sometime later. “Bad night eh, Bodie?” he said cheerfully.

Ray watched on in amusement. Despite Bodie’s almost pathological dislike of all things medical, both of them liked Colin immensely. The arguments that Bodie and Colin had fought over the years when he’d been CI5’s medical officer, and which Bodie had often won, had resulted in Colin administering treatment, rather than despatching the patient off to the nearest hospital. The quarrels had usually been spectacular and were the stuff of CI5 legend. These days, their verbal sparring was more habitual than with any purpose, but was still highly entertaining and disguised the friendship and mutual respect the men had for each other.

Bodie half opened an eye and merely raised an eyebrow before steadfastly ignoring him and reaching for his tea.

Colin chuckled and then turned to Ray. “I’ve cleaned the wound again and it’s looking much better. He’s certainly a wriggler though, had to give him another dose of sedative before he’d let me take a look, so he’ll likely be out for most of the day, but I expect he’ll perk up later.”

Bodie let out a soft groan. “You’re a mean old bastard Colin.”

Colin grinned widely, “Now, now Bodie, my old ma would turn in her grave if she heard you say that. I’ll have you know that my parents were wed years before I was even a twinkle in their eye.”

Bodie lifted his head and gave Colin a two fingered salute and a resigned grin before returning his hand to his mug.

Chapter Text

Doyle came downstairs and wandered into the kitchen to see his best mate peering into the fridge, prodding its chilled contents, “Thought I heard you come in, how’d it go with the Cow?”

“You were wrong. Father didn’t kill me,” he said glumly, pulling his head out of the fridge, “might have been preferable.”

“Did the old man’s blue eyed boy get a finger wag?” asked Doyle mischievously.

Bodie looked at him dolefully, “The bloody bastard put Bodie's bollocks through a blender and then had them boiled for breakfast if you must know.”

“See, I almost feel sorry for you, 'cept you trying to gain extra sympathy with alliteration means I can’t,” said Doyle with a wide grin.

“Ah, now that’s where you’re wrong, mate. Assonance is my sympathy card,” said Bodie plaintively, voraciously scanning the contents of the fridge. “We got any cheese? The miserable old sod didn’t give me any lunch.”

“You ate it.”

“Oh.” Bodie absently rubbed his stomach. “Ham?”

“You ate that too.”

With a sigh, Bodie gave up and closed the fridge door, his stomach audibly growling in complaint.

Doyle plucked an apple from the fruit bowl and held it out, “Here.”

Bodie took it without comment and distractedly bit into it. Doyle considered that proof enough that the old man had given him a real roasting, normally an apple was eyed with suspicion and prompted a demand for proper grub.

Bodie’s mood could usually be buoyed by one of his long list of favourite foods and despite the metaphoric description of Cowley’s wrath, Doyle was pretty certain the severity hadn't been exaggerated. Waiting until Bodie had wandered away into the lounge before delving into the back of the vegetable rack, he pulled out a swiss roll he’d hidden the week before, safe in the knowledge that behind the cauliflower was a safe haven from Bodie’s roving eye and sweet tooth. After trying unsuccessfully to prod the cake into shape where the carrots had squashed it, he ripped the cellophane off one end and sliced two generous chunks onto a plate, leaving the remaining smaller half on the side.

Pouring two mugs of tea, he carried them and the swiss roll through to the lounge where Bodie was slouched, looking pensive, his fingers drumming a silent tattoo on the broad arm of the sofa. “Here ya go mate.”

A glimmer appeared in Bodie’s eyes as he caught sight of the cake. “Where did that come from?”

“I bought it last time I went shopping, you dumb crud,” said Doyle patiently.

“You hid it,” said Bodie with gentle accusation, reaching for a slice.

“Uh huh,” replied Doyle, sinking into the other end of the sofa, “So, come on, tell me what happened with Cowley.”

Bodie sighed, “Oh just the usual really. It’s just easier when you’re there, s’not so bad then.”

Doyle nodded in sympathy. Cowley tearing you off a strip was not something to be relished under any circumstances, but they’d shared plenty over the years and if only one of them had been unfortunate enough to be the singular recipient, at least the other could stand alongside offering unspoken moral support.

“He said I had disappointed him, that I had taken advantage of my position.” Bodie dejectedly slumped his shoulders at the memory.

Doyle winced in sympathy. Knowing how Bodie felt about the old man and that his reprimand was justified, the comment would have hurt. “Ouch.”

Talking through a mouthful of swiss roll, Bodie carried on, “Then he made me go through the whole story of how we met John and what happened up to the point I called Colin.”

“Colin submitted a full report then.”

Bodie nodded forlornly, swallowing his mouthful, “and he made me repeat everything that John said last night and the night before in his sleep.” He sighed, “Twice.”

“Hmmm. Any clues as to why?”

Bodie shook his head, “Not really, he latched on when I mentioned the name Cheng, though. Asked me if I was sure and if John had said anything else.” He pointed to the plate on the coffee table, “You eating that?”

“Nah, go on, sunshine, you have it. So what Chengs do we know then?”

“Cheers mate.” Bodie leant forward and plucked the slice of swiss roll off the plate, taking a large bite before Doyle could change his mind. “Dunno other than that Cheng with those triads, they were an evil bunch, but that’s nearly thirty years ago. I had a quick look on the system to see if there was anything obvious, but I didn’t find anything. And you know Cowley, he doesn’t give anything away.”

“True enough.”

“Although,” Bodie left the word hanging as his expression changed to one of thoughtfulness and he slowly licked his fingers one by one before drinking a large mouthful of tea, “He took his glasses off and did that thing where his eyes narrow when I mentioned the name Logan.”

“Well did you look Logan up too?”

“Nah, didn’t think of it till now.” Bodie looked glum again.

“Nobody springs to mind. Maybe John was dreaming about Mount Logan in Canada?” said Doyle with a smile.

“Or Logan’s Run?”

“Or Gabby Logan.”

“Yeah, well I’d dream about her given half a chance,” said Bodie with a lascivious smile. “Maybe it was Kenny Logan.”

“You’re thinking of Kenny Loggins,” said Doyle frowning.

“No, Kenny Logan, the Scottish rugby winger.”

“Oh.” Doyle fell silent, trying to think of another, not wanting Bodie to have the last word, “Well what about Charles Logan?”

“What, the ex-US President?”

“Now you’re just being ridiculous, Ray,” said Bodie solemnly.

Doyle chuckled, “Yeah, and I’d best get back to our patient.” He stood up and gently punched Bodie’s shoulder as he walked past him. “Feeling better?”

“Yeah, thanks, Angelfish. Do you know the miserable old bastard told Colin to make sure to send me a bill.

“Stitched up like a kipper, mate.”

Gathering up the mugs and plate, Bodie wandered back into the kitchen and while putting the dirty crockery in the dishwasher, with accompanying contented noises, he cut off another slice of swiss roll, devouring it in two bites, absently rubbing his midriff. With a deep sigh of regret, he carefully wrapped up the remaining cake and shoved it in the larder.

Chapter Text

Doyle quietly opened the door to John’s room and poked his head in. The sight of Bodie fast asleep made him smile. He was squashed, half folded into the armchair, one leg hooked over the arm, the sleeping bag half on the floor. It looked a ridiculously uncomfortable position and once again, Doyle found himself envious of Bodie’s ability to fall asleep anywhere and under any circumstances.

Creeping forwards, it crossed Doyle’s mind that Bodie would normally have woken by now and looked again at the slumbering form wrapped up in the chair. Sure enough, despite outward appearances, he could see there’d been a minor change in breathing pattern and a slight tensing of the shoulders. Bodie the soldier, forever alert, even if only on some subconscious visceral level, knew he was there.

"Ahh-Uurgh. Mmhmm," Bodie said unintelligibly, swatting at Ray’s hand that was gently, but persistently flicking his ear lobe.

“Time to get up, mate,” Doyle said softly with consideration of John’s sleeping form on the bed next to him.

S’like having a pet wasp,” grumbled Bodie, opening his eyes, and started rearranging the sleeping bag over himself, rubbing his stiff neck and then gave an ungainly stretch prompting Doyle to smile sunnily at him. Bodie gave him a disgruntled look in return and closed his eyes again.

“Tea’s downstairs.”

At the announcement, Bodie’s eyes sprung open, “Tea?”

Doyle nodded, grinning.

“I’ll be right down,” he muttered as he gave another awkward stretch.

*      *     *

When the bleary eyed, dishevelled figure finally made it into the kitchen, still wearing the grey sweatpants and t-shirt that he’d slept in, it greeted Doyle with untypical crankiness.

Rolling his head from side to side, trying to unknot the multiple kinks from his neck and shoulders he said, “Sleeping in the chair was a bloody mistake. There’s no way I can do it again tonight.”

“Why’d ya do it then?” Doyle set a mug of tea in front of him and turned back to the unit to retrieve his own.

“John spent half the bloody night crying out his love and sorrow for some bloke called Terry.”

Bodie yawned widely before rubbing his eyes vigorously with his fists. “Seems like our Canadian friend was after a bit of male company judging by the way he kept going on about him last night." Bodie scowled into his tea, his usual incessant cheerfulness having yet again deserted him.

"Bodie! You feeling all emasculated?”

“No,” came the snarky reply.”

Doyle frowned, “I had no idea you were such a bloody narrow minded bigot, mate," he said, his tone mild despite his level of annoyance.

Considering where they lived, this attitude of Bodie’s was something that he had never really considered likely. In the early days, back in the seventies, they’d both used phrases for homosexuals that would be deemed politically incorrect now, but then were commonplace and although when Bodie had first joined CI5 he’d had some prejudices, he’d thought time and broader insights had expunged them all, and Doyle had assumed that was all long behind them. Bodie, well known for his politically incorrect directness, had toned down over the years. Although when the mood took him, he could still be as inappropriate as thigh high leather boots on a government minister. Back then and in the years since, there had been numerous inferences by colleagues suggesting that they were in a homosexual relationship because of their closeness and the amount of time they used to spend in each other’s company even when off duty. Bodie had invariably dismissed them all with a good humoured grin and a camply delivered, lewd retort. Now his bloody dinosaur of an ex-partner was displaying distinctly homophobic behaviour.

"I don't care which way he bloody points it, Ray. It's not his fault I'm irresistible is it,” a smug leer flashed across Bodie’s face, “but the poor sod's confused enough as it is and as soon as I moved off the bed he settled down."

"Well what's the problem then?" queried Doyle, feeling more irked by the minute with his mate's attitude.

"It means," Bodie sighed theatrically, "that I get to spend another night sleeping on the floor and it's killing m’back," he said gloomily.

Doyle snorted, relief that he had misunderstood the reason for Bodie’s gripes mixing with the amusement at his melodramatic display, producing a wide grin.

Frustrated by his body’s betrayal, Bodie was still feeling irritable. Time was he could do thirty-six hours straight, grab three hours shut eye, regardless of how uncomfortable the environment, and then do it all for a second time. “It’s all very well for you. I’ve had about six hours sleep in the last three nights.”

Despite the mellowing effects of retirement, Doyle knew he still had a savage tongue and often unfairly, Bodie was on the receiving end of it. Bodie was having to spend a significant portion of the nights awake and was sleep deprived. John had even woken him a couple of times by crying out. Softening his tone, he offered, “You can always have a kip after lunch, mate.”

“That’s only one sodding step away from the nursing home,” muttered Bodie.

“Where there’s hot and cold running nurses,” replied Doyle cheerfully, sitting down opposite Bodie and opening his newspaper.

Bodie looked contemplative just for a moment and then pouted, “At this rate I’ll be too bloody knackered to even open m’eyes to appreciate ‘em.” Clutching his mug of tea, he disappeared out of the kitchen and said over his shoulder, “’M goin’ for a shower.”

*      *     *

When he came downstairs again, Bodie’s cheer had been restored to near normal levels and it improved further when he saw that breakfast was laid out ready. As he took a seat at the table he saw Doyle was studying a gardening catalogue.

“What you buying now?”

“Nothing really, found it inside m’paper and I was just looking at tubers that I could put in the veggie patch.”

“Not sure it’s big enough for a brass band, mate and I'm certainly not gonna let you make it any bigger, we eat enough bloody veggies as it is. Although,” Bodie paused, “I’m still not convinced I didn't disturb the odd antipodean sheep the depth you made me dig down last winter. So as long as I don't have to do that again, then as far as I’m concerned you can plant anything you like in it.”

Doyle didn’t rise to Bodie's complaint. He’d taken full advantage of his appendectomy last year and Bodie's lack of gardening know how, telling him it was important for the spuds to grow properly. Making him dig down two feet and sieve it all had been rather vindictive, even he’d been somewhat surprised at the amount of dirt that had been displaced, but he wasn't entirely convinced that Bodie burning the saucepan had been entirely accidental either. Besides, when Bodie cooked anything, every utensil, every pot and every pan was brought into service and the kitchen would look like the setting of a culinary apocalypse. It had taken him ages to scrub the damned thing back to pristine shininess and clean up, so had considered it suitable payback. “You’re always tellin’ me you only really like steak and swiss roll and I don’t think the garden’s quite big enough to pop Daisy on the lawn. Anyway, you like roast spuds, they’re vegetables.”

Bodie chuckled, “Just as well. Not sure I could cope with having roses, lavender and a cow in the back garden. On reflection, spuds’ll do just fine, they will.” and with a cheerful nod started tucking into his bran flakes.

As Bodie could devastate the contents of a fridge much like a hoard of wood termites could a stick, after a long leisurely breakfast and their respective papers had been read cover to cover, Doyle announced that he needed to go shopping. Ready to discourage any offer from Bodie to volunteer, Ray waited for Bodie to answer as it would need him to stand in to keep an eye out for John while he went out. On returning from his one-time solo foray to the supermarket almost twelve months ago, Bodie had gravely announced that he was permanently traumatised by having to fight through the hordes to get to the cheese counter and had then been forced to queue endlessly at the checkout. As all sorts of unhealthy food choices had also found their way into the trolley instead of the items on the shopping list, he had actively discouraged his house mate from ever offering again. At the time, Doyle had purposely not mentioned that despite it being just over a month before Christmas, the supermarkets became a ‘survival of the fittest’ experience, happy to give the impression he made the same sacrifice each and every time he went shopping. It also meant he could usually coerce Bodie into packing it all away when he got back. When they’d first moved out of London, Bodie had initially baulked at him going out alone. Mollycoddling him when they were in CI5 was one thing, but Bodie’s approach after their retirement had been considered as ridiculous when he’d just wanted to do the grocery shopping. Frustratingly, he was still needing to occasionally remind Bodie that he was more than capable of looking after himself.

“You know you can get it delivered these days don’t you, mate. They even bring it into the kitchen for you.”

“I like to select my own fruit and veg, thank you very much. I know what I’m getting that way,” said Doyle mulishly.

Bodie sighed, “Okay, Goldilocks, if choosing your own broccoli and beansprouts is that important to you, I’ll take the Florence shift. What time d’ya wanna go?”

An hour later, armed with a long list and the standard tongue in cheek instruction from Bodie not to talk to any strangers, Doyle set off for his favourite large out of town supermarket. Despite it being further than others, he preferred it because of its large selection of organic produce and the quality butcher that only sold welfare approved meat that was conveniently sited in the adjacent street.

*      *     *

Doyle studied his list again and mentally checked off the items against the contents of his loaded trolley. He quickly became aware that his mobile was chirping loudly and annoyingly to the tune of Barbie Girl from his jacket pocket, which had Bodie’s hallmark all over it. It was his latest game, changing the ring tone to something inappropriate, embarrassing or just plain annoying. Ignoring the amused glances from other shoppers Doyle grabbed it from his pocket. "Ray, don't forget to buy swiss roll."

“Sod off Bodie,” and heard the resulting snigger from the other end of the line as he hit the end call button with his thumb, before stuffing his mobile into his pocket and focusing back on his shopping list. Confirming that he had everything he needed he made his way to the checkout. Stood in the queue, he changed his phone's passcode for the third time in as many weeks, wondering briefly how Bodie always managed to crack it. What he needed was a phone with fingerprint recognition, he thought glumly. He soon forgot about his own shortcomings of accessing his phone without revealing the code in Bodie's presence, as reaching the front of the queue, he spent the next five minutes having a cheerful conversation with the middle aged lady manning the till who had caught his eye several weeks ago. He was seriously considering inviting her out for a drink.

*      *     *

When he got back home, Bodie was in the kitchen taking his first bite of a doorstep proportioned bacon sandwich, that judging by the way it was oozing at the edges, appeared to be liberally smothered in brown sauce, “There’s five bags of shopping waiting for you in the car, sunshine.”

“I’m eatin’.”

“It needs bringing in before the frozen stuff melts and you know how exhausting shopping is, I’m knackered,” countered Doyle, a pathetic edge to his voice.

Bodie gave him a withering look. “Won’t have the energy if I don’t finish my sarnie first.”

“Course you will, great strapping lad like you.”

Used to being the pack horse, Bodie carefully laid his barely eaten sandwich back down on his plate and wandered out to the car to load up his hands with the bulging bags of groceries. He never minded putting the shopping away, not that he’d ever admit it, but it gave him an opportunity to see what goodies Ray had bought, although the crafty git had somehow managed to sneak a swiss roll past him last week.

Once he was back in the kitchen, Bodie quickly picked out the frozen items and stacked them in the freezer before rifling through the remaining bags. “Doyle, you forgot to buy any swiss roll.”

“No I didn’t, I remembered.”

“Did you?”

“Yeah, I remembered not to buy any.”

"I like Swiss roll," Bodie said plaintively and looking up, realised that Doyle was chewing. Glancing at his plate, he saw the majority of his sandwich had vanished. Only a small, neatly sliced corner complete with the profile of the one bite he’d had remained on the plate. “Enjoying that are you?” he added, trying to inject an air of pathos into his voice.

“Yeah it’s not bad. I’m starting to think your claims about not being able to cook are vastly exaggerated. Just needs a bit less brown sauce and then I’d say you’ve cracked it,” said Doyle, taking another bite.  

Bodie had long ago perfected the forlorn spaniel look and although Doyle was mostly immune to it he felt a slight twinge of guilt. “I’ll make you another one while you’re putting the shopping away.”

“No more bacon, unless you bought some,” said Bodie, still rummaging through the bags.

“No, didn’t need to, did I. There’s another unopened packet in the fridge.”

Bodie shook his head, “Not any more, mate.”

“You didn’t use all of it surely?”

“Course I did. I made some for John as well,” Bodie protested, all indignant virtue. “And you’ve got to have a decent amount of bacon, otherwise it’s not a proper bacon sarnie.”

Doyle lifted up the top slab of bread in his hands to reveal the double layer of bacon rashers nestled in thick swirls of sauce, “Hmmm, not sure it’s necessary to have quite that much bacon,” he murmured before taking another large appreciative bite. “Here, do you want the rest?” he said through the mouthful of bread and bacon, holding out the remains of the sandwich.

Bodie, having completed a full inspection of the bags, refrained from admitting that he’d already eaten one sandwich and shook his head, “Nah, now you’ve recharged your energy levels on my sandwich, you can put the shopping away. I’m gonna go back upstairs.” As he reached the doorway he turned back to Ray with a grin, “Maybe John hasn’t eaten all his.”

Chapter Text

“How’s he doing?” asked Doyle, holding out a mug of tea.

“He’s now free of all tubes,” said Colin smiling and with a nod took hold of the mug. “He can get out of bed if he wants, nothing too strenuous, just sit in a chair and keep warm, you know the drill.”

Doyle nodded, “Sure. Bodie’ll be pleased, he’s been doing the night shifts and I think he missed out on quite a lot of sleep earlier in the week, although John’s been much better the last couple of nights.”

“Where is Bodie anyway? Catching forty winks?”

“Nah, he’s in the garage, elbow deep in Capri,” he said with an indulgent grin and a knowing shake of the head.

Just at that moment, the door on the other side of the hallway opened and Bodie strode through, wiping his greasy hands on a rag, “Morning Col, how’s the patient?”

“Doing better than the Capri, judging by the look of you,” said Colin.

Gotta expect the odd issue,” said Bodie, good naturedly, “she’s a thirty year old motor, a grand old lady and will likely outlive me.”

“Well that’s true enough, especially if you keep eating so much crap. Your arteries must be narrowing by the second.”

“Iron constitution me,” said Bodie, “as well as tall, dark, handsome…”

“…and engagingly modest,” chorused Ray and Colin.

Ray yawned theatrically. “But still not able to come up with an accurate depiction of ‘imself despite being a highly trained observer. Tall, dark and insufferable is far closer to the mark,” he grinned.

“I’ll take a fret saw to your walking stick if you’re not careful,” said Bodie loftily, pilfering the three biscuits off the plate next to Colin and stuffing one into his mouth.

“I’ll bear that in mind for when I have to start using it,” Ray said airily.

“Isn’t it ’bout time you came in for your half year medical, Bodie?” queried Colin gleefully, knowing how much Bodie hated them.

“Anybody ever tell you that you have a vindictive streak, Colin?" Bodie enquired, his mouth full of biscuit.

“Anybody ever tell you that you are a thieving bastard and that those biscuits were intended for me?” replied Colin mildly.

Bodie grinned, “Well I haven’t had anything to eat since breakfast.”

Colin snorted, “It’s quarter past ten.”

“Exactly,” said Bodie obtusely, “breakfast was hours ago,” and he stuffed the last two biscuits into his mouth before bending down to the cupboard under the sink.

Colin turned to Doyle and raising his eyebrow in query asked, “How do you put up with him, Ray?”

“It’s taken thirty years, but I’ve got used to ‘im now and as long as I keep ‘im fed he’s not too bad. Although it is a bit like living under the same roof as a Giant Panda, they spend fourteen hours a day eating too.” 

Bodie had retrieved the degreaser from under the sink and was scrubbing the oil from his forearms and hands. With his voice slightly muffled by biscuits, he turned and said, “I’m deeply wounded by that remark, Raymond.” 

Doyle grinned at him, “Course you are, mate, truth hurts dunnit. ‘Nuther cuppa Col?”

“No, best not. Much as I’d like to stay and chat, lads, I’d best be off, a house call for an old dear with bunions awaits. Can you bring John over to the surgery in about a week and I’ll take his sutures out?”

Doyle nodded, “Sure, I’ll make an appointment with Maisie.”

Colin drained his mug and placing it on the side, clapped Bodie on the back, who was busy rinsing his hands.

“You know that eating refined sugar is directly associated with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and tooth decay don’t you, Bodie.”

“And happiness,” countered Bodie, grinning as he reached for the towel.

With a resigned shake of his head, Colin rolled his eyes and with a mischievous glint in his eye, said sternly, “Don’t forget to book your appointment, Bodie. Sooner rather than later eh?” and turning away, he shook hands with Doyle, “Thanks for the tea. Cheery bye.”

In his typical whirlwind fashion, Colin was through the front door before Bodie had finished drying his hands and moments later, they heard his car fire up before it faded into the general traffic noise as he drove swiftly away.

“So what did he have to say about John then?” asked Bodie, tucking the towel away back on its hook. “I take it he’s on the mend if Col’s expecting him at the surgery in a week.”

“Yeah, he’s free to get up and move about.” 

“So Colin won’t be coming round anymore?”

Doyle frowned, there’d been a hopeful edge to Bodie’s question, “No he won’t, no need is there. I thought you got on okay with Colin.”

“Course I do, he’s a mate, but it’s tradition I always nick his biscuits and I think I’ve put on half a stone ever since he started visiting John so often,” said Bodie mournfully, putting his hand against his stomach. 

“Prat,” said Doyle without rancour. “You could’ve just not eaten ‘em.”

Nah, that would spoil the fun. B‘sides, I like biscuits.”

 Doyle shook his head, despairing at Bodie’s determination to wind up Colin, even if it was at the expense of his own waistline. “I’d just made tea,” he said, nodding at the teapot.

“Well in that case, I think I’ll take John up a cuppa. It’s about time I had a chat with laughing boy to see if he’ll open up a bit. Maybe he’s up to telling me how he ended up getting stabbed.”

“Don’t scare him too much, just remember the old man’s advice.”

Bodie looked at him quizzically as he reached into the cupboard for mugs.

“That there are ways of asking people questions without removing their teeth. For one thing, it makes for clearer diction,” said Doyle with a smile, completely unperturbed. Bodie had a tough, hard veneer, yet underneath he was as soft as seven types of fluffy, even if that marshmallow masked a solid steel core. Not that he’d ever say that to Bodie’s face. He’d likely end up missing a few teeth of his own, and he grinned to himself at the irony.

Armed with two mugs of fresh tea, Bodie walked out of the kitchen. Turning his head back, he gave a beaming smile towards Doyle. “Let me know when lunch is ready, sunshine.”

Upstairs, Bodie was greeted with a small smile from John that turned to a look of wariness when he settled into the armchair with his tea.

It’s amazing y’know, they’re still going on about the Olympics on the radio.”

John gave a non-committal raise of his eyebrows and sipped his tea.

Bodie carried on with his theme, “Did you go to Whistler in twenty-ten?”

John looked blank for a moment, raising Bodie’s suspicions about his claimed nationality and he persevered, determined to try and find out more. “The winter Olympics, they were in Canada in twenty-ten.”

“Oh, I see, no I was busy and I’m not really into sport.”

“Really? I thought every Canadian was into sport, ice hockey’s the national obsession isn’t it?”

John shrugged, “Never really liked it much.”

Bodie sat back and took another sip of tea. If John was hiding something, he was damned good at covering it up, although not liking ice hockey was hardly a major crime. He decided to abandon subtlety. “How about telling me how you got hurt. As you’re living under our roof, I think we should know what you are involved in.”

Jack nodded and with a sigh, looked across to Bodie. “I know what you did, holding me through the nightmares. Thank you.”

Bodie didn’t let it show, keeping his facial expression blank, half-surprised that John had actually even remembered it, but he was even more impressed that John had volunteered that he had awareness of it taking place, even if it had been said as a diversionary tactic. It couldn’t have been easy for the guy to admit to a stranger that the nightmares had really taken grip. Hell, he could remember how uncomfortable and embarrassed he’d been the first time Ray had merely woken him from a nightmare. Ray and he had been partnered for over three years and even back then he’d trusted Ray more than anybody else on the planet. And then the twenty year old parallel that had prompted his actions to hold John, the time when Ray had held him and calmed him in hospital when the nightmares had refused to let him go. He too had been desperately ill and confused, yet he’d never made reference to it, had never told Ray how it had eased the fear and disorientation and that his partner's presence had stopped the panic taking over, even if in those few early waking hours he hadn’t been sure why. At the time he’d been in limbo, caught somewhere between reality and hallucination, where bona fide memories had kept fading in and out. Every time he’d thought he’d had a grip on what was real, it would all slip away from him again like grains of sand through his fingers and when he’d finally sorted things in his head, there’d been other stuff going on and never a right time to mention it. By the time everything else had been sorted, it’d seemed too late and too daft to reference, so he never had. Perhaps he should tell Ray all the same, although he doubted that Doyle would even remember, it had all been so long ago. John could have so easily copped out, pretending that he had been so out of it that he was unaware, like Bodie had with Ray. The Canadian was certainly no coward.

Bodie gave a dismissive wave of his hand, “You looked like you needed a little bit of moral support for a while. I went through a spate of nightmares some years back m’self, I know what it’s like, so don’t worry about it.”

“Well thanks anyway. It made a difference.”

Jack paused and put his tea down before giving a long resigned sigh, “I was trying to stop a gang selling drugs to kids. Hard drugs. I saw them and followed them.”

Bodie raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why d’you follow them, why get involved?”

Jack shrugged again, aware of the subtly menacing undertone to Bodie's questioning, “I don’t like drug dealers and their poison.”

“You should have reported it down the police station, that’s what they’re there for.”

“Didn’t have any proof and I didn’t think they’d take much notice of somebody without any, especially a tourist.”

Bodie couldn’t fault the logic, but frustratingly he wasn’t learning anything either, John wasn’t giving anything useful away. What he needed was Ray, always a better interrogator when the softly-softly approach was called for. He could usually get information out of the most tight lipped of sources. Sure, his own brand of menace was effective, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to use it full force on the quiet, solemn man sat in bed. There was something that made him feel an affinity with him, despite not really being sure why. He mentally shrugged, maybe it was just the nightmares the man had suffered invoking some level of empathy.

“Why don’t you come downstairs for a bit, change of scenery and all that,” Bodie waved his arm expansively around the room.

“I’d really like a shower. Colin left me some waterproof dressings and said it was okay, I mean, if it’s okay with you?”

“Course it is, help yourself to a towel.”

“Thank you, I appreciate it,” said Jack gratefully.

Bodie swallowed the last of his tea and stood up. Just before he reached the door, he turned back to the man on the bed, raising a sardonic brow, “Now you’re up and about again, you ought to know that the front door is alarmed with a direct line to Sussex Police, so if you decide to wander off without warning, the police’ll certainly take notice of you then.” Without waiting to see John’s reaction, he closed the door behind him and wandered back downstairs with two empty mugs.

Once Bodie had disappeared back downstairs, Jack carefully applied the waterproof dressing and armed with a clean change of clothes, crossed the landing to the bathroom intent on having a long and thoroughly overdue shower. He’d been aware of Ray mopping him over with a damp cloth a few times, wiping away the fever induced sweat that had covered him head to toe, and he was grateful, but he hadn’t felt really clean since he’d last left his bedsit over a week ago.  

As he stood under the hot water, he thought about his hosts. They’d asked for nothing from him and yet had fed him, cared for him and sorted out medical treatment for him. They were certainly an intriguing pair. They seemed very different in temperament, but there was something in both of them that he recognised, that he’d first seen in the pub, the watchfulness, that sixth sense. He had it too, it was a necessary part of his job. Or had been, he reminded himself. Pushing away the gloom induced by that thought, he got his mind back to his hosts. If Ray had been a cop, it would maybe explain it, although most of the cops he’d known over the years hadn’t really had such a highly developed ability as Ray and Bodie both had. Bodie may have been military at some point, he had that way of standing, of walking that never really left a soldier. He also had an air of menace, loitering under the surface. Jack recognised it for what it was, knew he had it too, buried, but available when the circumstances called for it. Interestingly Bodie hadn’t yet used the full force of it on him, not that it would have mattered particularly if he had, he wouldn’t be intimidated by it, despite Bodie being taller by several inches and much broader too. He was glad though, he didn’t want to have to go head to head. It could only end badly. He hadn’t managed to get a handle on either of them as yet, which was unusual in itself. Bodie had perhaps been the more affable of the two, but had given very little away, if anything. Whereas Ray seemed the more reserved, although not unfriendly. Then there was the Doctor, he was just as much of an enigma. Colin had barely blinked at his scars, almost as if he’d seen it all before. Maybe he had. If he was a friend of Bodie’s and been a field doctor in the military on active service he would have likely dealt with worse. His demeanour had been different to all the army medical personnel he'd ever known though. Much more like a civilian doctor, although Colin’s down-to-earth bed side manner had been easy to tolerate from the word go. He’d never exactly eagerly co-operated with a medical professional in his life, he loathed being fussed over and hated hospitals with a vengeance. If the small issue of his identity wasn't in the mix he still would have avoided a hospital visit if he could have.

Bone weary with his current predicament, he leant his forearms on the tiled wall, pillowing his forehead, and let the hot stream of water from the showerhead pummel his neck and shoulders. Although instinct had got him away from the pier when he’d first been injured, he’d all but given up as he’d sat on the bench overnight, accepting that it was no more than he’d deserved. Jack sighed. He owed both Ray and Bodie one hell of a debt and with no means to do so he didn’t know how he was ever going to be able to repay them. Shampooing absently, Jack pushed all thoughts away. He'd been reduced to relying on strangers for help and support, with not even enough money to pay them back what he'd cost them. How pathetic his life had turned out to be.

When he finally emerged from the bathroom, clean and dressed, the bed had been stripped and freshly made with clean bed linen.

*      *     *

That afternoon, Ray had suggested that he sit in the sunny lounge that overlooked the neatly tended garden. He’d settled down with both the broadsheet newspapers, with the further option of browsing the eclectic mix of reading material on the bookshelves if he wished.

The room was warm, the sun, low in the sky, streamed through the windows, casting boxy patches of light on the carpet and furniture, and brightening everything it touched. The warm colours of the décor gave a comforting cosiness to the high ceilinged room and the fireplace added to the illusion, despite the grate being stone cold.

From the adjacent study, he could hear the occasional indecipherable murmur of Bodie talking on the phone on the other side of the closed door and from the other side of the room, the cheerful, albeit out of tune singing from Ray who was accompanying the radio as he made bread in the kitchen. Jack stretched himself out on the large sofa, quickly falling into a light doze. He was brought back to consciousness with a start when the study door was thrust open.

“You'll need to enjoy anagrams if you read Doyle's Grauniad,” said Bodie with a grin as he strolled past the sofa. “If you want a proper paper read mine.”

“Ignore him,” said Doyle,” who, hearing Bodie’s voice had wandered across the kitchen to stand at the door to the lounge. “We’re at opposing ends of the political spectrum, so take your pick, left wing for me, right wing for Bodie,” he said, nodding at his paper first and then at Bodie’s Telegraph, “although most of that's not worth reading. That's why Bodie only ever looks at the pictures. In fact, I'm seriously considering cancelling his paper and getting the Beano delivered instead.”

“Nah, I always preferred Dandy,” said Bodie, “Korky the Cat and Desperate Dan. Always wanted a cat when I was a kid.”

Doyle looked up, surprised, not least at the fact that Bodie was voluntarily making any reference to his childhood which was pretty much unheard of. Clamping down his curiosity and keeping to the subject matter in hand, he asked, “Well I can understand Desperate Dan, he was always filling his face with pies too, but why did y’want a cat?”

Bodie shrugged. “Dunno really. They’re adventurers, aren’t they? Independent buggers too. Exploring the world or at least their part of it and they’re pretty near zero maintenance. And I always liked the idea of having nine lives.“ Bodie gave a self-deprecating smile accompanied by another shrug, “Never had a pet when I was a kid and I always fancied owning a cat.”

“Dandy annual it is then,” murmured Doyle.

“Look, while you’re both here, I know I owe you for staying here and for the medical treatment, but I probably don’t have enough money,” two spots of high colour appearing on Jack’s face. “I don’t know what work you do Bodie, but if there’s anything I can do towards paying off my debt, let me know and I’ll pay you both back as soon as I can,” he said earnestly, embarrassed that his personal circumstances prevented him from paying his dues in hard cash.

Recalling the pitifully small amount of cash that John had stashed behind his air vent, Ray immediately waved the offer away and looked surprised when Bodie spoke. “If you know one end of a spanner from the other, I’ve got just the thing.”

Jack nodded cautiously, wondering what Bodie had in mind.

“Bodie, you can’t expect John to work in the garage all day, he’s only just back on his feet. He’ll end up with double pneumonia.”

“Nah, you’ll give him one of your woolly pullys and I’ll stick him in front of a heater, okay with you John?”

Jack smiled with amusement and gingerly nodded again, still unsure what he would be expected to do.

“Good. That’s sorted then.” Bodie rubbed his hands gleefully, “I think that calls for a celebratory cuppa, Raymondo.”

Ray shook his head in defeat, “Don’t let him bully you, John. I’ll go and put the kettle on,” and he wandered back to the kitchen singing loudly as he went.

Bodie winced as he looked at Doyle’s departing back. “Talking of cats,” he paused, but Ray completely ignored him, if anything the volume of his singing slightly increased.

“Bloody ‘ell Doyle, you’ll have the neighbours round thinking something’s being killed in ‘ere.”

“I can’t help it if kneading dough makes me cheerful,” protested Doyle, unrepentant.

Bodie grinned at Jack and spoke loud enough to guarantee Ray would hear. “He really should move out to the country, he should. They're all interbred there ‘an all.”

Ray’s response was swift, the singing ceased abruptly and a fist appeared round the doorway with the first and middle fingers pointing to the ceiling, accompanied by the word. “Pillock.” As the fist withdrew, a tuneless whistle struck up in place of the singing.

Jack’s mouth tilted up on the right side, amused by Bodie’s wordplay and Ray’s response. He was intrigued by the two Englishmen, their frequent levity was at odds with other things he’d learnt. Ray was previously a policeman, not a profession that would normally induce light heartedness and Bodie had already demonstrated that he could be intimidating if he so chose. Yet there was an air of contentment about the both of them, and with an involuntarily pang of envy followed by regret, he knew he'd long ago forsaken the right to experience that particular sentiment again.

Chapter Text

Jack pulled himself out from under the car and pushed himself up. Grabbing a rag, he wiped his oily hands. “That’s the brakes bled, might want to adjust the parking brake,” he said with a raised eyebrow. “How old is she?”

Bodie stuck his head out from under the bonnet, grinning, “She?“

“Yeah, she’s too temperamental to be male.”

Bodie snickered, “Nearly thirty-three years old.” And he patted the Capri’s front wing affectionately.  And you’re right, definitely a she. We can take her out for a run at some point if you want?”

“I’d like that, see how she goes. I wouldn’t have known. The body work and chassis are both in real good condition although her age certainly explains the interior colour scheme.”

Bodie snorted as he studied the seats edged with brown vinyl. Their brown and orange geometric pattern on a cream background fabric was unmistakably a tartan plaid design from more than thirty years ago. “Funny innit, looks bloody awful now. That’s all original and what Ford called a Fishnet Recaro interior, highly fashionable in the seventies.In fact, I think Ray had a shirt just like it,” he grinned and then paused, “unless it was me,” he said thoughtfully and looked slightly aghast at the prospect that he’d owned such a garment. 

Jack gave a small smile at Bodie’s expression, “Well, it damned near looks brand new.”

Bodie nodded, appreciating the compliments. “Yeah, I got lucky finding this one, she’d been undersealed from new I think and kept garaged. I went over the bodywork with a magnet before I handed over any cash. There’s only one small patch of filler I could find. The bloke I bought her off had her resprayed, but I think he baulked at the mechanical problems.”

John chuckled and Bodie knew instinctively that it wasn't something the man did often. As John wandered over to the bench, he said, “Yeah, there are a few of those. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it though.”

Bodie studied John’s back for a moment as he stood at the workbench sorting through the tools. . He’d been working with him daily for almost a week now. At first, he’d let John do nothing more physical than a bit of soldering as they’d worked through the complicated diagrams for the Capri’s wiring loom, and he’d quickly proven his worth as John had solved an electrical short that had been vexing him for over an hour.  In fact, the more time he spent in his company, the more he liked the man’s character. Diligent and able, intelligent, straightforward and easy going. All traits that Bodie appreciated in anybody he worked alongside

John’s likeability meant it was easy to forget his own suspicions. The Merseyside Derby that afternoon had certainly cast doubt on what little John had said about himself.  After Liverpool had been two up by the fourteenth minute, Doyle had typically started to support the Everton underdogs and John had followed suit. His occasional comments on the match had suggested he knew far more about the rules of English footie than a Canadian with a professed disinterest in sport should have known.

Despite the fact that John had commiserated with him over the two all draw at the final whistle by acknowledging the goal that Liverpool had had disallowed shouldn’t have been, Bodie decided it was time he did some more investigations of his own to find out what John was hiding. If nothing else, it would take his mind off that disallowed goal and the disappointing result of a draw. All he had to do was work out how and when. “We always eat early on a Sunday, so best we knock it on the head for now. We can come back to it tomorrow. There’s time for a cuppa before cleaning up for dinner,” he said decisively. “Roast beef and all the trimmings,” he added, rubbing his palms together gleefully.

Jack turned away from the workbench and nodded, now accepting of Bodie’s seemingly endless capacity for tea, glad that in an attempt to blend in with the locals he had made the effort to adapt to drinking it over his old preference of coffee, and in time had grown to like the stuff. Britons seemed to much prefer it, although he'd noticed an increasing number of coffee shops springing up all over the place since he'd first come to the UK.

As they left the garage, Bodie with a last fond look at the Capri, flipped the light switch and closed the door behind him.

John was waiting for him on the stairs. “Can I come running with you tomorrow?”

“Sure you’re up to it? Don’t want you keeling over on me.”

“I’m fine. I’ve been still for too long, need to blow the cobwebs away.”

Bodie gave him a grin, he knew that feeling. “If you want to, I wouldn’t mind the company.”

*      *     *

Bodie was rifling in the under stairs cupboard when Doyle wandered into the hall attracted by the noise. “Where’s John?”

“He’s just gone upstairs to get cleaned up.”

“Don’t leave it too long yourself, mate. Dinner’ll be about twenty minutes, I just came to put the veggies on.”

“Don’t do that on my account, sunshine,” said Bodie, still immersed in the cupboard.

Ignoring Bodie’s reply, Doyle asked quizzically, “What on earth are you looking for?”

Bodie backed out of the cupboard with a grunt of satisfaction, triumphantly holding aloft a tin of black boot polish and two wooden brushes. “Laughing boy wants to come running with me tomorrow and I thought I’d take him through the graveyard, where the grass happens to be quite long. Wouldn’t want his boots to give him wet feet now would I.”  

*      *     *

When Jack came back downstairs, Bodie pointed him to a seat at the table and held up the six pack of lager he’d just retrieved from the fridge. “Now you’re off the tablets,” he said with a grin. Jack smiled and nodded, prompting Bodie to release half the cans from the plastic yoke and fill three glasses.

Doyle brought their plates over to the table and then went back to the unit for his own.

During the meal, Bodie mentioned the long grass in the cemetery and pointed out the polishing kit he’d left on the side to John and then swiftly changed the subject as if it was of no consequence. The continued restoration of the Capri became the main topic of conversation and they tossed around the idea of whether to upgrade the brakes or not.

“The original drum brakes on the back can be replaced with discs and callipers from a Ford Sierra and the front discs can also be replaced with larger ones,” said Bodie thoughtfully.

“Well that’ll vastly improve the braking performance,” said Doyle, spearing a carrot onto his fork.

“It’d need a new master cylinder then, bore diameter’s too small on the original. One off a Land Rover Defender fits apparently, but then I’ll need a T-piece for the rear brakes,” said Bodie, eyeing the roast potato that Doyle had left on his plate. “I dunno whether I want to though.”

“Not all that hard to do,” Jack interjected, “As long as you can get the parts.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s not doing it that I have the issue with. It’s just I want her original y’know. Drum brakes the lot. I always used to be able to get my old Capri to stop when I needed her to, so this one shouldn’t be any different. Do you remember yours being a bugger to stop Ray?”

“Nah, we always used to get them to stop within a couple of inches of where we wanted ‘em to, but then we weren’t comparing ‘em to modern cars back then were we,” said Doyle, tipping his plate over Bodie’s to donate the potato. “There’s more in the oven too, I left some left-over meat and spuds in there on low in case you wanted seconds. John? If you want any more, I suggest you get in quick.”

“Thank you, no. I’m done. That was delicious.”

Jack’s eyebrows shot up as Bodie returned to the table with his plate piled high with roast potatoes and slices of pink beef and he watched fascinated as Bodie devoured every single last scrap.

Doyle, who saw John’s expression, chuckled. "For the first ten years I used to worry he might be pregnant and was eating for two. He's just got a bottomless pit instead of a stomach.”

“I thought he would be full up on tea, dunno where he puts it all,” said Jack grinning.

“Yeah, I even took him to the vets once in case he had tape worms.”

“I am here you know. And not deaf,” said Bodie mildly, “Is there anything for pud, Ray?”

“For God’s sake, Bodie, you'll burst.”

“Yeah, you're probably right,” said Bodie mournfully and then perking up with a wide grin, “unless we've got any ice cream. That just melts into the gaps, it does.”

Doyle gave a knowing shake of the head, "Your poor bloody arteries."

Unrepentant, Bodie cheerfully defended himself. “It’s Sunday, it was long ago decreed that it’s our day off from clean living and as it only comes round once a week, it’s cholesterol day,” said Bodie rubbing his hands in anticipation.

Doyle reached over to the fruit bowl and plucked out a banana, placing it in front of Bodie on the table. “Sorry, mate. No ice cream.” He gave Bodie an innocent smile. “See if you can find somewhere to put that instead, sunshine.”

*      *     *

“Where’d you serve then?”

Jack looked up to see Bodie leant against the door jamb, idly watching him polishing his boots and Bodie saw the flicker of panic that John couldn’t hide.

“Different places,” said Jack guardedly, rubbing the horsehair brush vigorously across the length of his boot to disguise his frustration that he’d fallen so easily into the trap that had been set, while being silently impressed with the Englishman’s strategy. He wondered how long he had been there, watching him, not that it made that much difference. In retrospect, he knew full well that his boot polishing technique had been carefully observed and had revealed something of his past. ‘Dammit, he’d got too relaxed and comfortable.’

Despite what he’d said to Ray about John’s hand callouses tying him to the military, Bodie considered they were too pronounced for John to have been a regular army grunt and combined with the glimpse of fever induced hand-to-hand combat skills he’d seen, he gambled, “Special Forces is my guess.”

Jack continued the furious polishing, while his brain raced through trying to work out how the hell had Bodie known that and what had given him away. After a pause, Bodie carried on the one sided conversation. “Takes one to know one, you see.”

Jack couldn’t keep silent any more, he would be expected to acknowledge the kinship and if he didn’t, or if he denied it, it would create even more suspicion. Bodie had clearly spotted something, it was too much of a coincidence to be a wild guess and at least this way, he could deflect the conversation away from himself. “Really? What regiment?”

Bodie had rarely ever volunteered that he was with the SAS, especially to a stranger, it wasn’t the done thing in his day, but this was for a purpose rather than idle chatter. “Two Para then the ‘Who cares who wins’ lot, Twenty-two Special Air Service.”

“Were you part of the team on the Iranian Embassy siege?”

“Nah, few years after my time. We were a bit more under the radar in my day,” said Bodie with a grin. “After those pictures went round the world, the SAS turned into a politician’s wet dream instead of a covert force. Glad I was out of it to be honest. And now it’s more like the Special Author Service,” he said ruefully. “What about you? You didn’t say which regiment you were in.”

Jack, with his head down, still pretending to concentrate wholly on his boots, clenched his jaw. He’d have to tell the truth. At least he knew that the records of his old unit were locked down from the public’s prying eyes whereas he wasn’t sure he knew enough about the Canadian Special Forces units to be convincing if he was quizzed and Bodie had done some prior research. “First Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta.”

“American, not Canadian then.”

“Dual nationality,” said Jack shortly, desperate to close that aspect of the conversation down.

“I see,” said Bodie knowingly, and grinned happily at him before he turned and walked away, leaving Jack alone with his boots and a sick feeling in his stomach.

Chapter Text

The first tendrils of light were creeping over the horizon as Jack ran alongside Bodie, enjoying the outside air and the freedom after being confined for the last two weeks.

“I think dawn is my favourite time of day,” said Bodie, his words accompanied by small puffs of fog in the frosty air. “A new dawn, a new day, as Nina Simone once said. As ‘Clouds rise from their nests.’”

“Is that George Hitchcock?” asked Jack, relieved their conversation from the night before appeared to have been forgotten.

Bodie nodded, maintaining his easy pace.

“When the child of morning, rosy-fingered dawn, appeared,” countered Jack.

“Ah, yeah, busy girl, our Rosie. You can’t beat a bit of Homer's Odyssey,” said Bodie, “Now the golden Morn aloft, waves her dew-bespangled wing.”

Without missing a beat, Jack responded, the slight smirk showing he'd caught Bodie's remark, despite there being no verbal acknowledgement. “Thomas Gray, the man who knew the pleasure one could arouse from vicissitude. Out of the mid-wood's twilight, into the meadow's dawn.”

“Oscar Wilde had that right,” responded Bodie, waving his hand at the small patch of countryside surrounding them.

The literary passages went back and forth as they jogged through the graveyard side by side, the pauses between each one becoming slightly longer each time as they both searched their memory banks for one more quotation.

Jack with an exclamation of satisfaction managed to remember another one. “Swift as a spirit hastening to his task, Of glory and of good, the Sun sprang forth,” said Jack, enjoying the game. “Rejoicing in his splendour, and the mask of darkness fell from the awakened Earth.”

“Ah Mr Percy Shelley, he was a romantic bugger, but then so’s this,” Bodie gave John a beatific smile. “There was a young lady called Dawn, who wished she had never been born. She wouldn’t have been, if her father had seen, that the end of his rubber was torn.”

Bodie saw John’s astonished expression and beaming, said airily, “I win,” and immediately increased his pace, leaving John behind.

After a couple of faltering steps, the astonishment at the juvenile rejoinder ebbed and with a chuckle, Jack powered after him until he reached his side and grinning at Bodie, they settled back into their earlier pace. Jack was finding Bodie’s companionship and perpetual light-heartedness a welcome antithesis to his own mood and despite having revealed his association with Delta Force yesterday, by the time they got back to the house he was feeling more sanguine than he had for months.

*      *     *

As they were both warming down on the bench opposite the house, keen to avoid any questions from Bodie, Jack thought he should ask some of his own and ventured, “It’s a beautiful place to live, how long have you lived here?”

“’Been down here about two years give or take, although for the first nine months we rented somewhere, we had the work done on the house before we moved in.”

Jack nodded. He’d already seen the car lift in action that lowered down through the drive to the basement level of the Regency villa. “It’s certainly a fantastic house. What made you both move down here? Ray said he worked in London, you as well?”

“I like the sea. What is this, twenty questions?” Bodie said temperately.

“Sorry, was just making conversation.”

Bodie watched as the Canadian coloured slightly before ducking his head away, concentrating on his warm down.

After a while, Bodie relented. “Both Ray and I’d got fed up of London. We’ve got friends down here, Ray and I decided to pool our resources.” Glancing up at the elegantly proportioned house, he considered that maybe John was wondering how anybody could afford such a large piece of prime real estate on the Brighton sea front, maybe he was trying to check out Bodie to see which side of the law he’d sat on after leaving the SAS. Neither he nor Ray would have been able to buy even a tenth of it between them on the salary they’d received from CI5, let alone afford the alterations. “I sold a business a few years ago and then invested the money which helped pay for this place.” Bodie paused before giving his shoulders a light shrug. “And I like the sea.” Bodie gave a self-deprecating grin.

As they wandered back across the road, Bodie pulled out the door key and let them both in as he told John some more about the building work that they’d commissioned before moving in. “It used to be a Bed and Breakfast I think, then an HMO, bedsits or summat, although it was very run down. The other side of the basement from the garage we put in a pool, Ray’d always wanted one. It’s not that big, but it’s got those contra current jets so you can swim against them.”

“Really? It’s impossible to tell from the outside. Same with the garage,” replied Jack, now realising why he’d smelled the odd whiff of chlorine when coming up from the basement garage.

“Yeah, that was a stipulation from the planning office,” said Bodie, “Both cost a bloody fortune and took weeks going backwards and forwards with the plans. Fortunately, there was plenty of other stuff for the builders to do rejigging the bedrooms for the extra bathrooms and sorting out the top floor, otherwise they’d have buggered off and we probably still wouldn’t have moved in even now.”

As they wandered into the kitchen, Doyle handed them both a mug of tea, “Good run?” They both nodded, “Bodie telling you how he nearly killed the builders, is he?”

Jack chuckled, “Did you get interior designers in too? It’s homely y’know, comfortable and bright.” As he said it, he resisted the urge to glance up at the large plastic triangular fish on the wall that had clock hands radiating from its centre, its lurid colours rather at odds with the tasteful decoration that he’d seen throughout the rest of the house.

“High Georgian ceilings and big windows help,” said Ray with a shrug.

Bodie looked at his best mate, determined he should receive the credit. “Ray did it all, chose the colours and stuff. He’s got an artist’s eye. Got decorators in though, didn’t want him to get paint in his hair,” he said grinning, reaching out and ruffling Doyle’s untidy waves.   

“Not quite all,” said Ray emphatically, dodging away from Bodie’s hand. “You chose the colour and picked out the carpet and furniture for the study, remember? Mahogany furniture, pale green carpet and dark cream walls. Took me a while to realise it's basically a three-color desert camouflage pattern.”

Bodie grinned, refraining from saying anything about the colour names. They had both caught his eye because he was very partial to an olive or three and was also overly fond of biscuits. “Sophisticated look though, innit. Go on, Ray, admit it.”

Doyle, pointedly ignoring Bodie, leant towards Jack and in a conspiratorially low voice said, “I managed to stop him from bulk ordering paint in army green, but it was a close call.” Waving one expansive arm he carried on, “The entire house could well have ended up looking like the inside of a mess tent if I’d left it to ‘im.”

Bodie, with mock hurt took a seat at the table, “There’s a lot to be said in favour of a mess tent, mate.” 

Over a leisurely breakfast, Ray started gently quizzing John on the drug dealers, and bit by bit, he told them the rest of the story as to how he’d seen members of the gang trading on the street and had followed them, collating evidence, culminating in being stabbed after being cornered by the gang’s ringleaders down by the pier. Fortunately, some noise or disturbance had spooked his attackers and they’d scattered. Leaving him for dead most likely, thought Bodie. ”You really should leave stuff like this up to the professionals,” he said kindly. At the use of the old CI5 moniker, Doyle snorted inelegantly, choking on his tea and Bodie helpfully thumped him on the back.

Jack ignored the horseplay of the two men, intent on sharing the important information, hoping that he could engage their interest to do something about the gang that wouldn’t involve him having to approach the police. “They have three regular places they make the drops, the busiest is in a side road in the projects, um a council estate you call it, at the other end of the alley that leads onto the High street. I’m pretty sure one of them will be there this morning,” said John, an edge of frustration to his voice, “there’s not really anywhere to watch from though, it’s pretty exposed.”

We can take the Capri said Bodie, a predator’s smile accompanying the sparkle in his eyes, enthusiasm oozing from every pore. Bodie said, "We're back, Four-five."

Jack said "What was that?"

Bodie turned to him, and smoothly repeated himself, "We’ll be back for five,” adding, “so it won’t interfere with dinner," before smiling innocently.

Jack frowned slightly and Bodie rubbed his hands, a gleeful expression on his face. “I could do with a bit of action.”

That prompted another suspicious glance from Jack, who said, with more than a trace of concern, "We are only going to observe. You promise to do exactly what I say?"

“Course,” replied Bodie cheerfully.

“I’ll go and get dressed,” said Doyle, who was sporting sweat pants and a rumpled T-shirt, standing up.

“Hmm, me too, I need the three S’s,” said Bodie as he liberally buttered the last remaining slice of toast.

Jack looked enquiringly at Bodie, who gave an innocent smile, “A shower, a shave and a sh…”

Doyle cut across him, “I’ll see you both back down here,” before throwing a grim look in Bodie’s direction and loping out of the kitchen.

Bodie leaned conspiratorially across the table towards John, “But not necessarily in that order,” he imparted sagaciously before crunching down on his toast.

*      *     *

Bodie was about to shout up to him when Doyle finally came down the stairs carrying a camera bag and wearing an extremely tight, old pair of jeans that looked like they were from the early eighties. “Christ mate, that’s one hell of a pair of Jekylls. Wearing ‘em so tight that people can tell what religion you are is likely to get you nicked for indecency.”

Jekylls?” asked Jack faintly, feeling more bewildered by the Englishmen’s behaviour each passing moment.

“Jekyll and Hydes, strides,” said Bodie and at John’s continuing blank look, “strides, trousers.”

Bodie turned back to Doyle, “D’ya wanna nip into the hairdressers on the way for a quick poodle perm too, Goldilocks? It’s no bother, we’ve got all day, just say the word.”

“Sod off Bodie, you’re only jealous. Just ‘cos your fashion sense hasn’t changed in the last thirty years and you’re still dressing up like the Milk Tray man. How many black polo necks is it that you own now?”

“Timeless classics mate, and you know the saying.” Bodie grinned widely, “All because the lady loves.”

Doyle, ignoring Bodie’s self-satisfied smirk, turned to John, holding up the bulky camera bag, “I’ve got a pretty powerful zoom lens so we should be able to get some decent evidence if he’s there.”

“And we could always make a citizen’s arrest,” said Bodie with a resigned grin.

Jack turned swiftly and glared at him “You are not to approach any of them under any circumstances, you both stay in the car. If for any reason intervention is necessary then I’ll go. This is non-negotiable.”

Bodie's lip curled slightly and he gave a sardonic stare in return.

“I can look after myself,” Jack added, his mouth set stubbornly, which had no effect on Bodie, he just got a quirk of an eyebrow back. “Yeah, course you can, sunshine, you’ve already proved that.”

There was a prickle of anger in Jack's eyes and he glared at Bodie. “Look, I am not going to be responsible for anybody else getting injured, I’ll not risk anybody else.”

“Well you might not be concerned about getting yourself killed, but I could do without the paperwork,” said Bodie, keeping his voice dry.

Doyle watched as John’s face softened into a wry grin. He obviously had a sense of humour as black as Bodie’s.

“We’ll all stay in the car. Okay, mum?” Doyle intervened with a deadpan expression. As John gave a short nod, Bodie exclaimed, “Almost forgot!” and disappeared into the kitchen, emerging moments later with a bag to find Ray and John waiting patiently by the front door.  "Any time you're ready. We should've been out of here ages ago, can’t be late for the party," Bodie said blithely as he pushed past Doyle and opened the front door where he proceeded to stand outside on the step, jangling his keys and grinning. "Don't just stand there. Shake a leg, let's go."

“Any time we’re ready?” Doyle raised long suffering eyes to the sky before closing the front door.

*      *     *

Bodie glanced to his left. Doyle was sprawled in the passenger seat, one trainer supported by the dash, chin propped on his hand, the elbow below it resting on the door. He was staring out of the car’s windscreen across the large area of grass and mud that nestled in the middle of the residential cul-de-sac.

“Goldilocks, if your bloody great hooves damage the dash, I'll damage you,” said Bodie mildly.

Doyle glanced across at him. “Just like old times,” he said happily.

Bodie reached over to the back seat and brought back the bag he’d passed to John earlier. Groping inside it, he pulled out a flask and unscrewing the cup and lid, poured enough to fill the cup just after halfway and held it out until Doyle took it.

“Oh God, you haven’t.” Doyle sniffed suspiciously at the contents of the cup. Bodie’s face was open and guileless, looking like a small boy despite the streaks of grey on his temples, as he protested, all wounded innocence. “What?”

“Brought beef tea.”

“Bouillon keeps the cold off.”

“Yeah it's also disgusting and far too early,” said Doyle with a frown.

Y’want some, John?”

“Be careful before you answer that,” said Doyle glancing back at him.

“I’ll try anything once,” said Jack gamely.

Doyle passed him back the cup and Bodie watched John take a sip in the rear view mirror. He let out a slow smile as he saw John’s eyebrows shoot up before he tipped the cup up for another small sip.

“It’s pretty good.”

Doyle groaned, “Please don’t encourage him, John.”

“That’ll be the vodka,” said Bodie catching John’s eye and grinning in the rear view mirror before he produced a second flask which he opened with a flourish, “and for sir?” and poured out a cup, which he passed to Doyle. “Tangerine and twig.”

Doyle took the cup, sniffing it suspiciously, “Orange and cinnamon, you twerp.” Taking a noisy slurp, knowing how much it annoyed Bodie, he gave a hum of appreciation. “That’s really good. Thanks, mate.”

After taking another loud slurp of the spiced fruit tea, Doyle gave a choked cough.

"Got a sprig caught in your gullet?”

With watering eyes, Doyle shook his head and coughed again.

“You’re s’posed to drink it, not inhale it, sunshine. Do us a favour and keep the noise down, I’m trying to concentrate over here."

“I’m touched,” said Doyle, theatrically putting a clenched fist over his own heart.

“You said it, mate.”

Doyle sighed and sniffed loudly for effect. “And I think I’m getting a cold.”

“Well keep yer germs to y’self, will ya. So much for your healthy living. It’s always you getting colds, me, I never get ‘em.”  

Doyle huffed at Bodie’s dig, but unable to think of a suitable retort, decided he’d be wise to keep quiet and all three of them sat in companionable silence, looking out across the quadrangle of muddy grass, waiting for something to happen.

After another fifteen minutes, Doyle shifted, and then again, squirming in his seat as if he were trying to get comfortable.

Bodie flicked a lazy glance over to him, “Did you catch a dose of galloping dandruff at the supermarket? I’ve warned you about that before, you randy toad.”

“They’re a bit tight,” muttered Doyle ruefully, regretting ever mentioning the lady on the checkout to Bodie, “think me circulation’s being cut off. Must’ve put on weight.”

Bodie snorted, “Nah, I think you always wore ‘em that tight. S’just your extremities have forgotten. You mind you don’t get gangrene.”

Jack looked at the two men seated in front of him. Despite all the larking about there was a quiet competency about the two Englishmen, it gave an impression that they were old hands at this sort of thing. Certainly, he couldn’t have placed the car in any better a position than Bodie had chosen. A clear view to the mouth of the alley, yet far enough away for very discreet observation. Recounting the conversation that morning, and Bodie saying he’d sold a business, made him wonder if they’d been private investigators or some such. A number of coppers went into private security in one form or another after leaving the force, so it would have been a fairly natural progression for Ray. And Bodie being ex special-forces, maybe they’d crossed paths at some point and then gone into business together. Certainly the pictures on the mantelpiece in the lounge showed they’d met years ago and would certainly explain Ray’s comment about old times. Confident he’d pieced together some more of the jigsaw, Jack returned all of his focus back on the alley way.

Peace reigned for another twenty minutes as they watched the various comings and goings. Despite it being a dead end for vehicular traffic, there was a surprising number of pedestrians making use of the foot path that came out near the end of the high street.

Bodie watched as an elderly woman clutching something brown and furry in her arms, emerged from the alleyway. “Here, Ray, why’s that old dear carrying a teddy bear?”

“It's a Shih Tzu.” 

“Bless you,” said Bodie kindly.

A muted snigger emanated from the back seat.

“Cretin,” Doyle said mildly, grinning at Bodie. 

After another patch of prolonged, but comfortable silence, Doyle yawned widely, letting his tonsils see the light of day.

S’like sitting next to a hippo.”

“Bugger off.”

“Nah, s’true. They're semi-aquatic herbivores just like you, all that swimming you do these days in between eating all those mung beans.”

“Sod off.”

“And they’re aggressive and unpredictable too.”

Doyle gave him a pained look. “What time is it?” he asked in a concerned tone, keen to move Bodie away from his comparison. Age had not diminished his annoying habits and he'd conveniently forgotten how bloody infuriating Bodie could be on an obbo when really bored and with little or nothing to distract him.

“It’s past lunch time, I know that much,” said Bodie, pouting slightly and his stomach produced a loud rumble, agreeing with him.

“You not telling me you didn’t pack any food, I don’t believe it,” said Doyle.

“There wasn’t time and anyway, there’s a chip shop at the end of the alley, thought I could nip over there and we could have fish and chips,” said Bodie with a beaming smile.

Doyle looked at his watch. “Wait for the lunch rush to slow down a bit, there’ll be a queue round the block if you go now.”

In an effort to distract Bodie from being preoccupied by his stomach, he nudged him and pointed towards a young woman who had just emerged from the alley way. “Teacher. Thirty-four.”

Bodie cast an approving eye over the woman as she crossed the road before disappearing into one of the houses. He turned to Doyle to grin at him before going back to scanning the street and with satisfaction pointed to a girl who was pushing a pram along the pavement. “Teenage mother. Thirty-six.”

Jack, listening to the exchange, was confused. He’d thought the description of the teacher was pretty accurate, but how could a teenage mother be thirty-six years old and concluded he didn’t really understand the rules of the game the two English men were playing.

“Librarian. Forty-two.”

“You’ve got eyes like a bat, Ray.”

It's eyes like a hawk, bats are blind.”

“My point exactly, sunshine. No way is that bird a librarian. Am seriously thinking of getting your name changed to Penfold by deed poll.

“Eh?”

 Penfold, the giant-headed sidekick to the world’s greatest secret agent.”

“And you’re Dangermouse I s’pose. Well I guess it’s better than being called Mr Magoo.”

Bodie smiled complacently, “Well now you’ve actually had your glasses prescription updated.”

“Sod off,” said Doyle grumpily, “Just ‘cos you can wear contact lenses.”

“Wouldn’t want to hide all this beauty behind specs, would I?” replied Bodie equably. He rubbed his hands together, “Right, who’s for fish and chips.”  

As Doyle was debating between haddock and cod, John leant forward, nudging him. “That’s one of them.”

Picking up the camera that had been resting on his lap, Doyle fired off a quick burst of pictures, capturing a series of images as the man looked around. Early thirties with a non-descript face, the man stood patiently, waiting.

A couple of teenagers emerged from the alley and immediately approached him. Doyle held the camera up to his eye once more. The powerful zoom lens gave him a good close up and he snapped off another two rapid bursts of shots as first money and then a small packet were exchanged.

Another youth had appeared and was hanging back and Doyle was unsurprised to see him saunter over once the teenagers had stepped away. Doyle carried on snapping shots until the man disappeared back into the alley way. Before he could stop him, Bodie was out the car. “Meet me round the front, Ray. You decided on cod didn’t you?” and then Bodie slammed the driver’s door, not waiting for Doyle to point out that he hadn’t decided on cod or haddock or any other bloody fish and that he knew damned well what Bodie was up to. Keeping quiet, aware of John in the back of the car, he slid across into the driver’s seat and turned the key left in the ignition.

As he turned the car around, he saw Bodie disappear into the mouth of the alley and cursing under his breath, he joined the traffic on the main road and made his way round to the high street.

John remained silent in the back seat, but a glance in the rear view mirror showed his face was grim. ‘Know how you feel, mate,’ thought Doyle.

As he finally turned into the High Street, Bodie was stood nonchalantly at the side of the road, clutching three wrapped parcels. Pulling up alongside him, Doyle shook his head in mute frustration as Bodie sauntered round the front of the car and plopped himself into the passenger seat.

“Well fancy meeting you here.” Bodie gave a wide smile as he held up the neatly wrapped food, “Two haddock and one cod and three portions of Brighton’s finest chips.”

Doyle raised an eyebrow at him as he took the parcel Bodie was waving at him, “Oh, and our man’s in the pub. Happened to see him go in,” said Bodie offhandedly with a grin, “He hasn’t come out yet.”     

Doyle kept half an eye out for traffic wardens while he unwrapped his lunch and tucked in, leaving Bodie and John to monitor the pub’s doors.

Twisting round in his seat, Bodie nodded towards Ray. “Best we let the flat-foot drive, his policing skills means he’ll be better following once they leave.”

As Jack nodded, agreeing with Bodie’s pronouncement, knowing full well that there were very few things that would prise Bodie out of the driver's seat during any chase, however mundane, Doyle snorted, “Just ‘cos you want to eat your fish and chips while they’re hot.”

Bodie grinned shamelessly and popped a chip in his mouth.

Having long ago screwed up his chip papers, Bodie exhaled noisily as he looked back over to the pub doorway. Doyle, who’d been pointedly ignoring the surreptitious glances coming from the passenger seat eyeing up his own lunch, anticipated that Bodie would soon start needling him again. Bodie’s food long gone meant boredom would not be far away for his mate.

Just as he was contemplating handing over the remains of his own lunch, the pub door was pulled open and their quarry appeared, closely followed by a second man. “Bloody hell,” exclaimed Doyle, “I know him. That’s Liam.”

“Liam who?” asked Bodie, Ray’s lunch forgotten, his eyes glued to the other side of the road.

“He’s a volunteer at the club,” replied Doyle absently. “Can’t bloody remember his surname, though.” He screwed up his face in concentration. “Pierce, Pearson, dunno, summat like that tho’.”

“He was one of the group down at the pier,” said Jack from the back seat.

All three of them watched as the two men talked briefly before Pierce slapped the other man on the arm in a gesture of farewell and they turned, walking in opposite directions.

Angered by the thought that the man he had worked alongside who held a position of responsibility supervising the kids was a drug dealer, Doyle spluttered, “Bastard. We’ll have ‘im.”

Bodie reached his hand out to open the passenger door as he said, “Best I’m the one to follow him then if you know ‘im. You stick with our man.”

Before Jack could protest from the back seat, Doyle quickly grabbed Bodie’s sleeve, hauling him back into his seat, not willing to let him out of his sight again. “No you don’t, sunshine. There’s no need for us to split up.”

Bodie frowned as he watched Pierce’s departing back. “We’ll lose him. Need to find out where he lives. Don’t want him corrupting all the little bleeders at the centre, do you?” Trying to appeal to Doyle’s sense of justice. “He’s probably only going home, I’ll just follow ‘im and we can get his address.”

Bodie made a move to get out the car again and Doyle reintensified the grip on his sleeve, tugging him back once more. “No need. I’ve got copies of all the primary documents from his CRB checks. Name, address, the lot.”

”CRB?” asked Jack.

“Capable of rape and buggery,” replied Bodie absently, watching disconsolately out the passenger window, as the man disappeared round the corner of the street.

“Ignore ‘im,” responded Doyle and in a prim tone continued. “It stands for Criminal Records Bureau. S’posed to help prevent unsuitable people from working with vulnerable groups like kids.”

Bodie snorted, “For what bloody good they do.”

“I help run a youth club in the summer holidays,” said Ray, by way of explanation.

Bodie twisted round to look towards the back seat and jerked his thumb at Ray. “Teaches all the little bleeders karate.”

“In that case, I think Pierce and maybe a few others might have picked up a few tips along the way,”said Jack dryly.

Doyle turned in his seat to face the other two. “There’s a thought. I’ve got pictures of all the staff. I’d like you to take a look John and see if there are any others you recognise.”

Jack nodded and Doyle started the engine, dropping the uneaten remains of his lunch into Bodie’s lap.

“We’re not going home, are we?” asked Bodie, glaring across at his partner.

“Yep, we’ve got enough evidence to take to the police. Let them take it from ‘ere.”

“I’m sure you used to be more fun in the old days, Ray,” said Bodie, staring moodily at the soggy chips in the bottom of the bag on his lap.

Chapter Text

Doyle scraped the last of the cake mix into the baking tin and smoothed out the surface, making a slight dip in the centre. Putting the bowl and cake beater to one side and the cake tin in the oven, he set the timer. The Christmas cake would have plenty of time to cook before they had to leave for John’s appointment to have his stitches out. Satisfied with his morning’s efforts, he gave a last stir to the mushroom soup he’d prepared for lunch and started to hum quietly as he laid the table.

With impeccable timing, he heard the door down to the garage open and Bodie’s voice drifted through into the kitchen, “There’s only a couple more bits to sort out, then that’s the wiring loom overhauled as well. Really appreciate all the help John. I’ll get those parts ordered and they should be here the day after tomorrow.”

Doyle grinned as he heard the door shut, the alarm clock attached to Bodie’s stomach was clearly in full working order.

“Hello, mate. Is lunch ready? I could eat a scabby horse.”

“No horses, scabby or otherwise, I’m afraid. Just home-made bread rolls and soup.” He grabbed the bowls and ladled out the soup before piling the freshly baked bread rolls into the bread basket as Bodie and John crowded round the sink, washing their hands.

“There’s cake mix for pud though, I saved it for you,” he nodded towards the mixer bowl on the side.

Bodie shook his head in mock sufferance. “You’ve tried that one on me before, Angelfish. Didn’t fall for it then, not gonna fall for it now.”

Doyle nodded at John, “Looks like it’s all yours for the taking then, John.”

John grinned back at him, “Haven’t done that for years, Thanks.”

The Capri was once again the topic of conversation over lunch as John and Bodie discussed what else needed to be done and Doyle was content to listen in between noisy slurps of his soup.

After Bodie had devoured a second bowl, he scooped up the dirty plates and cleared away and Jack retrieved the mixing bowl and sat back down with a distinctly wistful look on his face.

 

Jack lifted the beater out of the bowl and started scraping the cake mix off with his finger and licking it with sounds of appreciation. He smirked at Bodie who was watching him sceptically and held out the bowl, “Sure you don’t want some?”

“It’s raw,” said Bodie, scathingly.

Jack nodded, “Yeah, but it tastes great. Go on, try some.”

Bodie cautiously dipped a finger into the bowl and dragged it against the side. He raised his finger to his nose and sniffed it suspiciously. “If you’re pulling my leg.”

Jack shrugged and returned to cleaning the beater of cake mix with his finger and Doyle watched with amusement as Bodie gave his finger a cautious lick.

“Hey, that’s not bad,” and Bodie dipped his hand into the bowl again, this time amassing a generous clump of cake mix on his finger.

Ray grinned to himself as he wiped down the kitchen table. It had only taken him thirty years of trying to get Bodie to eat raw cake mix. One of life’s simple pleasures that every kid should experience at least once.

*      *     *

Bodie greeted the nurse who answered the door with a cheeky grin, blithely ignoring the disapproving glare she gave the brown paper bag he held in his left hand. He knew full well she had a knife strapped to her right thigh and a snub nosed revolver tucked away near her right ankle. He’d discovered both of them when he had called her Sue rather than Susan. With a surname of Flay, it was rather unfortunate and with his normal irreverence, Bodie had been quick to point this out.

She opened the door wider with a half-smile, his transgressions long forgiven and stood back, inviting them in. “Hello Susan, how’s things?”

Cowley was sat in his wheelchair, alone in the conservatory, his head bent over the papers resting in his lap and he looked up as the three men approached. A thin, liver spotted hand pulled his glasses off his nose and he studied all three of them, lingering a split second longer on John.

Doyle spoke first, “Hello, sir, thought we’d bring John along to meet you. He’s staying with us as a house guest at the moment.”

Jack stepped forward and stuck out his hand, “Hello, sir. Pleased to meet you.”

Och, lad, there’s no need to stand on ceremony, call me George,” and taking his hand gave him a piercing stare.

“Yes, sir, um George.”

Meeting the older man's eyes, Jack was struck by the personal aura of the man. As obviously old and frail as he was, he had something about him that automatically commanded respect and that he found reminiscent of David Palmer.

Bodie handed him the brown paper bag with a sly grin, “Brought you some grapes, sir.”

Cowley took the bag and pushing the grapes within to one side, pulled out the bottle of single malt. With an approving grunt and a smile, he placed the bottle on the table next to him and waved at the various chairs littering the conservatory, inviting them to sit.

Bodie found the file that had been on Cowley’s lap thrust into his hands. “Look at this, Webber is playing us for fools.”

Doyle dragged up some chairs and they all sat down facing each other in a loose circle. Bodie obediently opened the file and started scanning the contents while Cowley continued to talk at him about the suspect that the Intelligence Services had been actively chasing for over two years.

Cowley had never been so loose lipped. Even when they were operational he had always played the triple think, keeping all the cards close to his chest and now, in John’s presence, a complete stranger, he was discussing matters of national security as if they were chatting over a pint and debating the recent appointment of an England football manager. Bodie stole a quick glance at Doyle and exchanged a look. They were in agreement. This wasn’t normal.

After reaching the end of the file, he closed it and looked at Cowley. “Sir?”

Och, don’t sir me, laddie. Tell me what you think.”

Cowley grabbed the file and dropped it into Doyle’s lap and looked at Bodie expectantly.  

“I'll need time to review the file in depth, sir and I'll get back to you.”

Cowley gave him a glare and pursed his lips, but seemed willing to tolerate a change of subject. Bodie updated him on the status of the Capri's restoration and Doyle laid out his plans for the garden over winter, a subject that Cowley, a keen horticulturist himself was always happy to discuss. John as always, appeared content to just listen, which seemed to pique Cowley’s interest and Bodie watched, as bit by bit, he transferred his focus away from Doyle and his plans for a winter vegetable bed and started instead to study the Canadian. To give John his due, he noticed the subtle transition almost immediately, although showed little reaction, waiting for Cowley to make the first move. After studying him openly for quite a few minutes, during which Doyle had rambled on about lawn care to mask any awkward silences, Cowley had cleared his throat and Ray had duly shut up.

“Doyle here is an idealist, despite being in the Met during their darkest days. And a hot head to boot although he’s calmed as he’s got older. Bodie keeps him in check, but you’d always think it would be the other way around, he should be the wild one. Leaving school at fourteen and joining the merchant navy, jumping ship three years later at Dakar and gun running for both sides in the Congo wars.”

Doyle saw Bodie squirming slightly before he protested vocally, “Sir!” looking at his old boss reproachfully.

“Don’t interrupt Bodie.” Cowley turned his attention back to John. “After a stint as a mercenary in Angola & Biafra, not to mention some dubious activities in Jordan, and some time spent in a Congo jail, Bodie saw the light, came back to England and joined up. After making sergeant in the Paras he was seconded to the SAS and then he came to work for me.”

Bodie and Doyle exchanged a concerned glance, but remained silent. Cowley ignored them, his focus still on John. “So you see, one day or even several years does not define a man. Bodie learnt that sometimes there are people he can trust and who will watch his back and that staying can be better than running away. Not everything is black and white, laddie. Both Bodie and Doyle here are the most trustworthy and loyal men I know, you can depend on them. Living proof of that strange alchemy between chalk and cheese, and the best team I ever had.”

Doyle saw a fond expression flash across Cowley’s face, although if he’d blinked, he’d have missed it.

“Despite their appearance of being incompetent fools, they are neither incompetent nor foolish. They also know how to keep a confidence.” Cowley turned to them both and glared, “Don’t you.” Bodie and Doyle straightened their spines under Cowley’s stare and replied in unison, “Yes, sir.”

Cowley extended his hand, “Goodbye, Jack. It was nice to see you again,” and then reached to pull a large plain buff envelope from underneath the mountain of paper on his side table. “Bodie, Doyle, read this tonight, cover to cover and give me your thoughts on the Webber fiasco. I’ll see you both next week?”

Cowley’s eyes flickered over John and then lingered a second longer on Bodie’s departing back and with a flash of irritation turned his head back to Doyle before handing the large envelope to him. Doyle took the package, which judging by the weight of it, contained more than enough reading matter for one evening, knowing when he had been dismissed and nodded as John ventured a “Bye, sir.” Doyle echoed the farewell as he hurried to catch his mate whose shuttered, expressionless face had formed into a concerned frown as soon as he had turned away from their old boss.

As they made their way out into the open air back to the car, Doyle muttered, “Christ, I’m sorry about that John. He’s been fine up to now.” He looked across at the Canadian, who he realised looked as white as a sheet. “You’ve gone pale, you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

He glanced at Bodie who looked absolutely devastated, he’d long dreaded the day that Cowley shuffled off this mortal coil, not only for himself, but he’d always known his best mate would be absolutely distraught. And yet somehow this was almost worse, Cowley’s mind had always been as sharp as tack, and he said the first words that came into his head. As he spoke, he winced internally, they were hardly reassuring. “You knew it might happen, dementia’s pretty common and the old man’s eighty-nine for God’s sake. We’ll talk about it later, let’s just get home.” and he plucked the car keys from Bodie’s hand, as he certainly didn’t look like he was in any condition to drive.

Doyle shepherded them both into the Range Rover and then climbed in himself. He was just about to set off when a quiet voice with a trace of despondency came from the back seat. “Jack. It’s a common nickname.”

Bodie and Doyle both turned in their seats to look back at John.

Jack shifted a little under their relentless scrutiny, wishing he hadn’t said anything at all, yet it seemed unforgiveable to let them think their friend was seriously ill when to him it was blindingly apparent that the old man was well in control of his faculties and knew far more about his own circumstances than he should do. “For the name John. Jack’s a common nickname, especially in the U.S. and Canada. It’s what most people call me in fact.” The two intense gazes that were boring into him were intimidating, but he held their stares, “Maybe he just assumed?” Jack said flatly.

The journey back had been made in oppressive silence and as soon as they got back home, John had immediately disappeared upstairs to his room. Bodie had walked straight to the drinks cabinet and poured himself two fingers of scotch, before holding the bottle up to Ray. Doyle had shaken his head, “D’ya wanna talk about it?”

“Later.”

Doyle had accepted his monosyllabic answer with a silent nod, recognising that Bodie would only talk when he was ready and if he wasn’t ready, nothing could move him to do so. Twenty years ago and for the previous fifteen years before that, the answer, if one had been forthcoming at all, would have been a flat no. Bodie had drained the glass in one gulp and disappeared into the study, closing the door firmly behind him. He’d never known Bodie not square up to any physical threat, he was one of the bravest men Doyle had ever met, but asking him about his feelings would see him retreat as fast as a scalded cat. He'd got better over the years, he would now eventually open up enough to give at least a modicum of insight into whatever was troubling him and sometimes, with gentle cajoling, he would even haltingly talk things through, but his in-built and initial reaction was still to shut everybody off. Doyle knew from experience that trying to push him too early just entrenched Bodie's emotional lockdown even deeper. He'd gently test the waters tomorrow and maybe get him to open up a little, but not tonight, Bodie’d need some time alone first. He was keeping his promise from twenty years ago and he couldn’t ask more from his best friend than that. His mind inevitably drifted back to that time over two decades ago and the shock and bewilderment he’d felt when he’d discovered that his partner had disappeared without a word. The op they’d been on had gone okay. After several days on stakeout, the radical thugs had all been arrested without any fatalities, which was a rarity. He couldn’t even remember what their cause was now, but he could recall that Bodie had suffered a graze to his temple from a bullet. Nothing serious, the ambulance men had assured him, merely a crease, despite all the blood. Under orders from Cowley, he’d been made to stay behind for the obligatory clean up as Bodie had been ferried off by the ambulance. After finally being released at the scene rather grudgingly by the old man, he’d hotfooted it over to the hospital and had been told that because it was a head injury, Bodie was being kept in overnight as a precaution. After looking in on his sleeping partner, he’d gone home to cuddle up on the sofa with his wife of eight months, safe in the knowledge he’d have his partner back the next day.

When he’d got to the hospital the following evening, albeit much later than planned after Cowley had sent him on several errands that had seen him running around without even time for a cuppa for over six bloody hours, he’d sauntered down to Bodie’s private room to find the bed that Bodie had been in was occupied, but not by his partner. Somewhat perturbed, he’d hastily trotted back to the nurse’s station where he’d been told that Bodie had discharged himself several hours earlier, just after lunch.

Half amused that his hollow-legged partner had, true to form, eaten lunch before discharging himself, he’d immediately driven to Bodie’s flat, all the while calling him all the names under the sun. Despite Bodie’s aversion to hospitals, it was an unwritten rule that they collected each other from the hospital, so he shouldn’t have left on his own and he’d leant on the bell for a full three minutes before finally letting himself in with his spare key. The flat had been empty and after checking all the rooms, he’d seen the bed had been stripped and the bathroom sink no longer had the normal littering of toothbrush, toothpaste and shaving kit around it. Closer inspection had revealed that Bodie’s wash bag was missing, the fridge had been cleared of all perishables and the kitchen bin emptied. Back in the bedroom and a foray into the drawers and cupboards there revealed that Bodie’s holdall was gone along with many of his clothes. Although it had all appeared like a planned departure rather than anything sinister, it was unexpected. Not liking it, feeling that something was wrong, he’d driven straight to HQ and had marched directly to Cowley’s office demanding to see him. Betty had told him that the old man was unavailable, but that Bodie had been sent on assignment earlier that day and that Cowley would see him tomorrow at 8 a.m. He’d checked the duty roster, and sure enough, Bodie had been marked up as on a solo assignment.

He’d been well and truly angry. Angry that the Cow would be the one to tell him where his partner was. Angry that Bodie was out there alone, without him watching his back, and bloody furious that despite having been within R/T range the entire day, Bodie hadn't contacted him, the bastard. He would rip him apart when he caught up with him.

He’d trailed home, deep in thought and had only stopped thinking about the strange circumstances of Bodie’s disappearance when Ellie had served up his favourite meal by candlelight and told him that she was expecting their first child. Joyful at the news, he’d grabbed Ellie and hugged her, not letting go until she’d told him all the details, how far gone she was and how long she’d known. After finally releasing her and sitting back down to his after dinner coffee, the thought had popped into his head that he couldn’t wait to tell Bodie he was going to be a Dad. Then it had hit him that Bodie wasn’t there and it had brought him back down from the euphoria of the news with a bump. He’d then had to work hard to conceal his disappointment from his wife lest she not understand and think he was having second thoughts about fatherhood.

Curled up in bed with Ellie that night, he’d struggled to sleep and had been bleary eyed when he’d made his way to HQ to meet with Cowley.

The old man had been in a foul mood and had refused to provide any details as to where Bodie was or how long he’d be on assignment. Ready for an argument, redirecting his anger at his partner towards Cowley, he’d aggressively demanded some answers. "Bodie and I are partners. That gives me the right to know where he is."

"Does it, Four-five?"                            

"Yes. He's my partner and I have his back. That’s your golden rule. You rammed it down our throats when you teamed us if you remember and I can’t do that if I don’t know where he is or why you’ve sent him out on his own."  

"Don’t quote my words back at me out of context, Four-five. You are both operatives working for me. Your duty is to the institution of CI5, and therefore to me. I own you body and soul. The rules were not put in place to pander to an operative’s feelings. Three-seven knows the score as do you. If you haven’t been told then you should accept it is with good reason."  

There’d been too many times over the years where he and Bodie had both known that Cowley’s chief concern had been CI5 and not the wellbeing of the agents involved. Cowley wouldn’t think twice about taking advantage of Bodie’s unswerving loyalty if circumstances required it. Bodie had been the one with the ingrained military discipline to follow the chain of command and play the tethered goat for Cowley even if he had doubts, but he personally had no qualms about challenging his boss’s reasoning or orders. He’d argued for more information and thin-lipped, Cowley had refused every demand until eventually, his patience had snapped and he’d told him. “That’s enough, Four-five. I will not be dictated to by you or anybody else. It’s on a need to know basis and it has been decreed you do not need to know. You have been re-assigned, Murphy will be your partner from today,” and Cowley had thrust a file at him and barked, “You’re dismissed,” before resolutely lowering his head to the papers on his desk. He’d stormed out, clutching the file.

Bodie was a stupid bastard for just disappearing off on Cowley’s say so. As he’d thought it, he’d known it was an unfair indictment, it was just what the bloody closet intellectual wanted people to think, although he’d never really understood why. And he’d wanted to lash out at someone and his absent partner was as good as anybody. Bodie wasn’t thick, just bloody stubborn. Worse than a pig-headed fucking mule, he was.

On the way to the job, Murphy had told him that Anson, the chief gossiper of CI5, had come into the rest room the day before, saying he’d heard raised voices from Cowley’s office before seeing Bodie come out and that Bodie hadn’t stopped by the rest room which was unusual in itself. Murphy had said he’d seen him from the rest room window shortly after and had watched him walk away from HQ, stiff backed, across the car park. If the CI5 rumour mill was to be believed, the only other time Bodie’d had a hissy fit at Cowley was when Van Neikerk had escaped from custody. He’d been undercover, out in the field so hadn’t seen it then either. By all accounts, Bodie’d threatened to resign during that confrontation.

He and Murphy had spent the next three days on a pointless twenty-four obbo, watching a house in Willesden and he’d known by the end that Cowley was keeping him out the way and likely hiding something. As soon as they’d been told they could stand down, he’d gone back to HQ, insisting on seeing Cowley. After waiting for nearly an hour, pacing up and down behind Cowley’s office door, the Minister had come out and he’d walked straight into Cowley’s inner sanctum, not waiting for an invitation, demanding some answers.

Cowley, with a long-suffering sigh had got up, poured out two glasses of scotch and handing one across had said wearily, “Sit down, Four-five.” He had dutifully taken the offered glass, sat down opposite Cowley and waited.

“Three-seven requested re-assignment. He refused to give a reason. He also insisted that the assignment be a solo operation, away from London, declining the offer of a partner and said that he wished to work solo from now on and that if I refused his request, I would receive his resignation.”

He’d sat there, initially shell shocked at the revelation, not knowing whether to be upset or angry that Bodie had reached out to Cowley instead of him. Neither he nor Bodie had ever relished undercover jobs that separated them, the one going in would always be sincerely apologetic to the one who was left behind and would be doing all the worrying; both too used to working side by side, or so he’d thought. So what the hell was going on? When his brain had finally kicked into gear, he’d taken a large mouthful of scotch, welcoming the burn on his throat while replaying all the events of his last job with Bodie in his mind. His partner had been injured, and so immediately he’d mentally shouldered the blame for Bodie leaving. He’d started to analyse exactly what he’d done wrong. Admittedly, he hadn’t been watching his back, he’d gone to the rear of the building, but they always did it like that, a two-pronged attack, cover the exits and meet in the middle to clear the building together. That was standard operational protocol. No, it couldn’t be that then. But why didn’t Bodie want him as a partner anymore? What had he done to his best mate to make him want to quit.

Cowley had looked at him expectantly, waiting for a reason that would explain Bodie’s behaviour. Obviously assuming they’d had a major falling out, but he could offer no explanation for his stupid, half-Irish bastard of a partner’s actions. Cowley had pre-empted his next question, informing him that Bodie was deep undercover, therefore uncontactable and was likely to be for some weeks. After he’d taken a second gulp of Cowley’s finest scotch, draining his glass, the old man had told him to go home as he had the next two days off. He’d meekly set his glass down and left. Throughout the journey home, his concerns had focused on the revelation that his partner was alone with no back up, unable to trust Cowley to keep him safe. He’d always struggled to have the utter faith in Cowley that his partner had always appeared to have. But then Bodie’d always been more philosophical about the fact they both knew that although Cowley cared about his agents, if it came to it, he would sacrifice them before letting CI5 perish. He'd briefly contemplated asking around some of his more longstanding contacts on the streets, but quickly dismissed that as foolhardy. It could put Bodie seriously at risk if he was undercover somewhere locally. Snouts, by their nature, would grass to anybody willing to pay a few quid for any useful titbit.

At home that night, he’d talked it all through with Ellie, who’d been incredibly supportive as he’d gone through every possible emotion, hurt, anger, guilt and finally, in the wee small hours, just plain bewilderment at the turn of events.

The following day, he and Ellie had talked some more and she’d expressed concern about him being on the ‘A’ squad without Bodie watching his back, especially now he was about to become a father. He had mooched around the house, mulling over that thought for the next twenty-four hours and had decided that although Murph was good, he didn’t have that unshakeable sangfroid on the job that was Bodie through and through, and the lack left him slightly uneasy. He was already missing the solid, stalwart presence of his partner. He’d eventually concluded that maybe Ellie had a point. They’d talked about his work before they’d got married, the dangerous aspects of his job couldn’t just be brushed under the carpet and ignored.

When he’d first introduced Bodie and Ellie, Bodie had been on his best behaviour, charming and entertaining, and he’d been so relieved that they’d got on well with each other, so very different from how it had been with Ann Holly, the last time he’d fallen so deeply for a girl that he’d wanted to marry her. After Bodie had gone home, Ellie and he’d been cuddling together on his sofa, when Ellie’d commented on how close he and Bodie were, "We’ve always spent a lot of time together off duty. Neither of us have close friends outside the job, the hours are too irregular for one." He’d chuckled, “I'm afraid with us it's a case of love me, love my partner.” And he’d squeezed her softly, tightening their embrace before leaning in to kiss her temple while gently massaging her far shoulder with his finger tips. Ellie had laughed back, “Not sure I’d go quite that far, but I like him and it’s good to know you have someone you get on with so well to work with.”

"I'm glad you like him. Bodie likes you, too, y'know. He’s a straightforward bloke and you’d have known pretty quickly if he hadn’t." They’d talked till late that night and he’d explained to Ellie how important his job was to him and she’d accepted the terms that he and Bodie had agreed between them the previous year, long before Ellie had even been on the scene. It had been after a particularly nasty op which had left him with a broken elbow and an unpleasant taste in everybody’s mouth. Aware that they were the oldest agents on the ‘A’ squad by quite some margin and had been ignoring the odds for a long time, he and Bodie had talked about stepping down. They’d agreed that if one of them wanted out, they just had to say the word and they would step down together, admitting that neither would want to be re-partnered. Although they’d never actually got as far as to talk about what either of them would do instead when that day came.

When he’d announced to all in the squad room fourteen months later that he was getting married, Bodie’d been delighted, the first to thump him on the back in congratulation. Bodie’d known that he’d yearned to find somebody to settle down with, to have that solid commitment of a wife and there’d been no hints, however small, that he’d had any problem with his impending marriage or with the job. He’d invited him over for dinner a couple of days later and Ellie, satisfied with Bodie’s assurances that her future husband had only to say the word, had willingly accepted the terms of their long standing agreement and they’d all agreed that nothing need change.

Three months later, Bodie had been best man of course and had conscientiously performed all of his duties during the stag do and up to and including the day, which had gone smoothly and had been the best day of his life. The honeymoon with Ellie had been fantastic, albeit short, he’d not wanted to leave his partner without backup for too long, which Ellie had accepted with a patient smile, and then they’d been back, working the streets, everything the same as it had been for the previous twelve years. He'd been thinking of opening up the subject again about coming off the streets. With the annual assessments coming up in a couple of months, he’d intended to sound his partner out for a back-up plan in the unlikely event either of them failed, but he’d had no real desire to step down and no real ideas as to what their next roles should be. With Bodie’s disappearance, all those promises and plans were null and void.

The thought of being demoted to the safety of ‘B’ squad had been immediately dismissed and unsure where he could go work wise, he’d thought long and hard over his limited options. He could go solo, although the front line without Bodie as a partner hadn’t appealed much and he’d known Ellie wouldn’t have liked that idea. It would have also probably only been for a year or two at best. Age had been creeping up on both of them and although they’d kept it at bay and were just as fit and well as they’d ever been, he had been well aware that being older than Bodie by over two years, he would likely have had to be making decisions about the future before his partner would. He’d been forty years of age when Bodie had disappeared and with his partner and his best mate gone, he could remember thinking that maybe he should call it a day on the ‘A’ squad now he had a baby to think about. The work was frequently gruelling and often dangerous. The only problem he could foresee back then was what he would do instead. What the hell could he do? Being a first class marksman and all the other skills accumulated through his career didn’t really translate across to many other professions. He’d also had to consider his family. On the one hand, CI5 had provided security, at least of a financial kind. The accommodation, the salary and the pension as well as life-long support for his family if anything had ever happened to him. If he’d left CI5, he’d have had to find both a job and a place for them to live. Of course he’d had savings, but they wouldn’t have lasted for long and if he couldn’t find something else it could all turn into a bloody disaster. It was one hell of a risk and he hadn’t been sure it was one he was prepared to take. He’d talked it through with Ellie and she had cried on his shoulder, scared for his safety if he stayed in ‘A’ squad. As he’d comforted her, he’d repeatedly damned and blasted Bodie for walking out on him.

 

Progressively, he’d transferred his anger from Cowley back to his absent partner and two days later, he’d been back in Cowley’s office explaining his position and looking for options. Once again, Cowley had poured them both a scotch and sitting back in his chair, had offered a lifeline by way of giving him a chance to learn what was involved in running CI5 with the objective of taking over in a few years. “I’ll be honest with you, Four-five, I always intended that you and Three-seven between you would take over. We can make a start sooner, no bad thing. Obviously, it will need clearance by the Minister, although I consider that will be just a formality.”

He had been both surprised and saddened by that revelation. And had damned his partner one more time. Bodie should have been there alongside him, to learn everything Cowley had to teach and instead he was undercover in God knows where, doing Christ knows what. He’d known that Bodie had threatened to resign before, but at least the old man was canny enough to know that it hadn't been an idle threat, so he'd been backed into a corner, Cowley wasn’t to blame. He couldn’t even begin to work out what had been going on in Bodie’s head, the man hid his feelings too damned well to give anything away.

He’d decided he would shake the stupid bastard warmly by the throat when he saw him again for disappearing like a bleedin’ magic trick. Between them they had a lifetime of shared experiences and yet Bodie hadn’t told him his plans. If only Bodie’d said something. Although, that would have been about as likely as Derby County winning the FA Cup, the dumb crud wouldn’t ever talk about anything voluntarily. Despite the years he'd worked alongside him at CI5, trying to get him to talk when he wasn’t willing was usually an exercise in futility, so rarely did Bodie open up. Yet he’d invested in their partnership, hell they both had, but Bodie had cashed it in and walked away. There had been a part of him that had wanted to be able to hate him, it might have made it easier to deal with the sense of hurt and betrayal he’d felt at the unexpected desertion by his partner. Bodie was a lot of things, manipulative, obnoxious, narrow minded, bull headed and often irritating, he could antagonise with the best of them. And he could be a right awkward bastard if the mood took him, but he’d never been really mean or spiteful, so whatever Bodie’s motives had been, even if he didn’t understand them, he was pretty sure they weren’t to hurt. Bodie was often obtuse, annoying and bloody arrogant with it, as well as irreverent, childish and impatient. Although he was also incredibly tolerant of his own black moods and unstintingly loyal as well as smart, amusing, almost always good natured, perpetually hungry and damned good company. To say he’d missed having the dumb crud around was an understatement. Bodie had been his supporter, his stooge and his sounding board, and now there was just a large empty space beside him. His partner’s prolonged absence had made him feel like he’d lost his right arm.

He’d found himself getting heated all over again and he’d reminded himself that Bodie was forever telling him he was the cool and collected one. He’d never seen his partner really lose it, there’d always been a shroud of self-control surrounding his actions.

Not that Bodie didn’t have a temper, he could certainly be propelled to anger when pushed too far and six foot of Bodie anger was pretty intimidating, not least because it was seen so very rarely. Yet if there was a threat to somebody or something Bodie cared about, God help the wrongdoer. Bodie'd make sure that after the release of the first torrent of outrage, pretty much all of his energy would be internalised. He’d be like a blast furnace, all heat and fury and then he'd shut the door on his rage and it would be gone, hidden away, and he’d be like the bloody Terminator, all stony and emotionless.

That same manner would be prominent when there was something big and ugly going down and if he was being intimidating, he could come across as an absolutely, unmitigated vicious bastard. There’d always been a hint of a dangerous inner core existing within him, and it would rise to the top, invariably accompanied by a closed off expression that was chilling.

He’d never been sure if that behavioural trait was inherent or there by way of military training. Whichever it was, his actions were never driven by anger, there was never a loss of control and Bodie would use it to best effect. The cold bloodthirsty menace and detached expression that Bodie could switch on and off with clinical efficiency had unnerved more than a few villains over the years.

And if he was hurting, he could certainly be a cold bastard. There was a certain underlying bleakness, a darkness, only revealed when there was due cause, but there all the same. And even if there was always a good reason, they were still the times he found hardest to deal with. Perhaps because his partner was normally so full of bonhomie, the silences were deafening. He knew him well enough that he could always tell when he was troubled, but Bodie wouldn't ever tell him what was wrong. And there was never any getting away from it. Partly, because although he wanted to help, Bodie wouldn’t talk about whatever was on his mind and because somehow his brooding permeated the very air around him, made it heavy somehow, almost suffocating.  He’d told him that once. Judging by Bodie’s reaction, he genuinely hadn't known and had looked contrite for a split second before his lips had twitched and he'd given a slow smile, "Planning on going out the same way as Peter Motteux next time, sunshine? That's kinky, that is." After producing a bawdy chuckle, he’d wandered off to the squad room to make tea. Never having heard of Peter Motteux, he’d chased after his partner and demanded an explanation. Bodie had eventually told him that he’d been some bloke big in English literature in the 17th century and was reputed to be the first person ever recorded of dying from erotic asphyxiation. Trust Bodie to have known such a ribald and random fact, he’d recalled, with a small smile to himself and then he’d realised how much he regretted ever telling Bodie that. He’d have paid a lot to have his mate back, silent or otherwise.

 

The other agents had soon learnt not to mention Bodie in his presence. At first he’d been accepting of the ribbing and joshing that the two lovebirds had fallen out. It had been a standard joke for years amongst their fellow agents because of his and Bodie’s seemingly telepathic ability of voiceless communication and their propensity to spend much of their spare time together, even in the past going out on double dates with their respective birds. But over time, he’d become less and less tolerant of the jokes and general enquiries as to when his partner was coming back and had started snapping back. He'd always been prickly, Bodie was the only one who would tolerate it, letting it wash over him, but the other agents weren't quite so easy-going and in a fit of irrational spite he’d blamed Bodie for that too. In turn, he’d found himself feeling more and more isolated as the other agents started to catch on that his role had shifted, levitating him towards being the boss’s deputy and he’d found conversations would abruptly cease as he’d enter a room and invites for going down the pub and other social occasions had steadily dried up.

Cowley'd had him working flat out, morning noon and night and he'd barely had time to think about Bodie for which he was mostly thankful. But the odd moment where he'd had time to himself, driving home alone to Ellie after yet another gruelling week or when he'd let his mind wander from the mountain of paperwork that seemed to grow, whatever he did. Then his thoughts would invariably be directed towards his missing partner. He'd occasionally asked Cowley, feeling more and more foolish each time, "When’s Bodie coming back, sir?" convinced he was sounding more and more like a peevish six year old.

And every time, the old man had been entirely non-committal. "Soon, Four-five." Sometimes it would be accompanied with a frown and sometimes with what appeared to be compassion. Which worried him. Each and every time though, Cowley had immediately presented him with a vast pile of files that needed something urgently reviewing and he had, somewhat gratefully, thrown himself into it. Just to stop him thinking any more.

Summer had gradually progressed to the russets and golds of autumn. That in turn, had swiftly transformed into the bitter chill of winter and despite closely shadowing Cowley, he’d heard nothing about Bodie or his assignment. After years of spending most working days together it was odd not to have a reassuring presence alongside him, even if he was no longer on the streets. Instead, there was just a Bodie shaped hole. Cowley had been quick to redirect any conversations he’d tried to veer towards his partner’s whereabouts and had clearly been keeping all communications to himself. At one point he’d even wondered if Bodie was still with CI5 or whether he was ever coming back. Bodie’s career path had been volatile ever since he’d left home. Three years had pretty much been his limit anywhere before and he was already at over four times that with CI5. A subsequent check on payroll records had confirmed that he was still in CI5’s employ, although it still didn’t answer the question as to why Bodie had left in the first place.

When Cowley had announced early in the summer that accommodations wanted to rotate Bodie’s flat, already long overdue according to their timetable, with a heavy heart, he'd gone over and packed up Bodie’s personal belongings for storage. It hadn't taken long, the man travelled light. If it wasn't for his gun collection and his hi-fi, his possessions would have fitted in one suitcase. Only the barest essentials. No family photos or personal memorabilia and it was perhaps the complete lack of keepsakes that had made him feel as if he was being all the more intrusive. There’d been three books in Bodie’s flat, two on poetry that Bodie had owned in all the time he’d known him and never asked him about and he’d taken the third, a book on quantum mechanics that he’d found in the bedside table, back to the library, demurely handing over the money to pay the substantial fine due. The image of an ignorant oaf, purposefully exaggerated by Bodie himself was a misnomer. When they’d first been partnered it had taken him a while to discover that Bodie’s reading habits went well beyond the tabloid newspapers that were frequently littered around the squad room and he’d long ago stopped being surprised by how well read his partner was. They’d been teamed for such a long time, longer by several years than any other pairing in CI5, so their partnership was more symbiotic than most. Despite the time they’d worked together, he’d realised with a twinge of guilt and sadness, that outside of the job, he still knew very little about his partner.

Bodie’s rare half confidences usually revealed so little, and thinking back, he’d started to try and read between the lines of what hadn’t ever been said. Before CI5, Bodie’d apparently been alone for a long time, there’d never been any references to anybody ever looking out for him. Likely Bodie’s fault of course, the stupid berk rarely let anybody in too close, the impenetrable barriers were always up and an air of self-containment an extra safeguard.

On the whole though, he was great fun to be with, his cheerful demeanour always bubbling close to the surface. Although he could be absolutely infuriating when the mood took him, he was always quick to find the humour in even the worst situation. Despite the often puerile banter, his humour had other facets. Sarcastic and obtuse certainly, but Bodie could also be blacker than pitch, an SAS thing, so Bodie had nonchalantly informed him. When they’d first worked together, he’d been incensed by the seeming insensitivity of his partner as his jokes had veered between merely inappropriate and totally black and he’d demanded, “How the Hell can you make sick jokes?”  Bodie had shrugged, “Well the alternative appeals even less.” Over time, he’d come to recognise and appreciate the wise rationale and the biting wit. It was as good a way of any of dealing with the horrors that their job regularly exposed them to and crying over things didn’t change anything. The thought crystallised the realisation of how much he depended on his partner to help deal with the aspects of the job that he’d always struggled with. With a wisdom you would expect from somebody of far greater years, Bodie could cut through the emotion, dealing only with the cold hard facts, helping to make sense of events and reminding him that despite all the tragedies and horrors, the job was worthwhile.

Bodie could also be immensely juvenile when he chose, often by way of flippant humour, at least, when his humour wasn't being macabre, but there was also childlike enthusiasm about all sorts of simple things like fireworks, a trip to the seaside or a funfair where he would regress to behaviour more akin to a ten year old. Although, he’d thought wryly, how often the zeal manifested over something food related, due to Bodie’s seemingly limitless appetite and that almost innocent joyfulness was infectious, never failing to buoy up the spirits of those around. Christ, how he’d missed Bodie’s company and continual cheerful banter on and off the job.

He'd remembered the time a couple of summers back when a travelling fair had ended up near his flat. Bodie had almost pleaded with him to go when he'd seen it. As it would never do to give in too easily, he'd toyed with Bodie for a while, despite always intending to have suggested it himself, before appearing to relent. Bodie had almost dragged him out the front door there and then, before practically bouncing along the pavement, full of childish delight, looking like a big, excited kid. Certainly his level of eagerness had been little different from the small children scurrying along beside their parents towards the sights and sounds of the funfair. Popcorn, candy floss and a hotdog had all been devoured in between rides on the waltzer and the sky flyer, and he'd seriously doubted that Bodie would keep it all down as they'd rammed into each other on the bumper cars. But he had. And then after handing over twenty quid and informing the stall holder that his sights were out by a mile, he'd smugly cleaned up at the shooting range, winning four absurdly large soft toys, which the big daft sod had carried back to the Capri and carefully sat side by side on the back seat. When he’d asked what he was going to do with them, Bodie’d shrugged and neatly changed the subject by demanding yet more food. At the time, Bodie'd been seeing a nurse who worked on the children's ward at the local hospital so it hadn’t been hard to guess where the toys'd ended up. Over the years, when the job had caused Bodie to interact with defenceless animals or children, he’d seen more than a few examples of the gentleness and soft-heartedness that lurked under the man’s hard shell. The man was surprisingly generous and thoughtful for one so world weary and cynical about the human race.

On a chilly December morning, reviewing the latest batch of files for potential new recruits, it had taken Cowley to point out to him that not only were the agents recruited into CI5 the crème de la crème, many were also a hotch-potch of life's waifs and strays. Usually with no close family, often products of broken homes or the care system. Not all, but most. And like flotsam and jetsam on a tide, the strays had all ended up together at CI5 like a band of brothers, watching each other's backs. The work was dangerous. And secretive. Close family ties made those aspects of the job harder to deal with for everybody concerned and it was obviously an intentional strategy by the old man. He'd never considered himself to fall into that category, he was one of the exceptions. Bodie's past, more colourful than most, certainly hinted at a miserable childhood that had seen him leave home young and end up as a mercenary, underage and alone in the wilds of Africa by way of a stint in the merchant navy. Very much a loner, Bodie didn’t let many people in. He and the old man were probably the only real exceptions that had been allowed to get a glimpse of anything through Bodie's usually affable, opaque veneer . With all his girlfriends, although he’d always treat them well, Bodie’d always made it clear from the outset that it was just for a bit of fun, would never be serious and as soon as any of them tried to change that, he would gently extricate himself and move onto the next. Bodie may have been dispassionate towards his birds, but he certainly didn’t use and abuse them. The consequences of that were twofold. The majority of Bodie’s ex-girlfriends weren’t forever bitter about the frequently missed dates or antisocial hours the job demanded, and many remained friendly. In fact, they would often be back on the scene sometimes with gaps of several months in between, the crafty bugger always seemed to have a few in reserve. They were the ones that had accepted that a good time with no emotional involvement was all that was available. The second was that Bodie had a different girl on his arm almost every week. No, there would be nobody else perturbed by Bodie’s disappearance. At that moment, h e’d felt pitifully grateful that he had a family to go home to, a loving wife along with a new baby to look forward to.

Certainly, Bodie had felt like family to him. Probably why they’d spent so much time off the job together, although that had changed when he and Ellie had started to get serious and he felt a stab of guilt. There was so much about the job that was alien to Ellie and he could see she didn’t understand even though she said she did. What made it harder was that there was so much he could never talk about with her, Official Secrets Act and all. With Bodie, of course there had been no obstacles and his new role, working alongside Cowley, was presenting its own challenges. Trailing round behind the old man while he’d manoeuvred and negotiated with the denizens of Whitehall had certainly provided some insight and he was starting to truly understand the reasons for some of Cowley’s Machiavellian tactics. Those same tactics that had more than once in the past caused him to question the rationale of trusting his boss unconditionally were becoming all too clear. He was learning that in the corridors of power, there was a giant chess match being played, where CI5 and its agents were the pawns and there was precious little evidence of any white knights.

It was like a big strategic barter. With CI5’s survival as the wager and the ability to keep the roses and lavender alive as the prize. He knew the game had to be played and Cowley repeatedly showed him that his tactics and triple think kept them one step ahead of Whitehall, but it made him question the morality of what they were doing. Some of the decisions he’d had to make, putting agents out there at risk, circumstances forcing him to make expediency the priority, were starting to eat at his conscience. It was just one big dirty game. If Bodie had been there, he’d have been able to talk things through with him. His partner had always been able to reason with him and prove to him that his doubts were unfounded and that the job was right and just. The passage of time, rather than making his memories fade, had just made him miss him more. He’d thought not for the first time whether Bodie’d considered his marriage to Ellie an act of abandonment, although dismissed it as the root cause, the timing just didn’t fit and he’d felt another irrational, albeit brief, wave of spiteful resentment at Bodie’s apparent desertion.

Much of that Christmas had been at home with Ellie, and they’d spent most of the holiday arguing with each other. He’d realised they’d been quarrelling a lot those last few months. Ellie had seemed to always be cranky and tired and had wanted him home all the time, while he’d been pre-occupied with trying to solve the mystery of Bodie’s disappearance as well as working long hours alongside Cowley, absorbing all that was being taught. He knew he'd always been prone to melancholy and Bodie’d always had the knack of pulling him from his bouts of gloom. In fact, he hadn’t realised till then how much he’d come to rely on his partner to buoy his moods, struggling as he was to shake them off by himself. He’d made a conscious decision to be more amenable and to be a better husband to his pregnant wife.

He’d been sitting in a hospital one day waiting for Ellie to come out of one of her many pre-natal appointments and had idly picked up a magazine. After aimlessly flicking through it, an article about demonstrative people caught his eye. Reading it, it explained that there were many different ways people showed affection, even platonically. Some people used what they called service, doing things for someone, others opted to use physical touch, showing a need for assurance or as a way of promoting dominance over another, but that it was the context that was important. The article also pronounced that physical touch could also just be a personality trait learned in their upbringing. As he’d sat there, his thoughts had drifted to his errant partner who had been forever throwing an arm over his shoulder or patting his back or an arm, and he idly wondered which category Bodie fell into. His partner had once gleefully told him years ago as they’d been reminiscing about the early days of their partnership, when they were still sizing each other up, that he’d started the hair ruffling and the occasional fleeting pats on his backside purely to annoy him. He’d believed him wholeheartedly, it was typical of his mate’s behaviour. Childish teasing, yet fundamentally harmless. There’d never been anything overtly sexual or lecherous about the physical gestures and he'd never felt uncomfortable or bothered enough by it to offer a reaction. Especially as in the early days, he'd been certain that a reaction was exactly what Bodie was trying to provoke and he’d been damned if he'd give the arrogant bastard the satisfaction.

 It was the same story with the name ‘sunshine’. It was Bodie’s first of many nicknames for him and had initially been used in a bout of sarcasm in their first month of partnership. He’d been in a particularly shitty mood one day and Bodie had borne the brunt. ‘Oh you’re a real ray of sunshine today, aren’t you?’ He’d got his own back later that afternoon by calling Bodie ‘petal’, just to wind him up.

Bodie had used the nickname many times after that, initially only when he’d been deserving of the sarcasm, but it had long ago become a regular, along with a plethora of other monikers including ‘temperamental little sod’. He’d also known that for years, the by then habitual words had become a reflection of their fraternal and affectionate mutual teasing. Dropping the magazine back on the table, he’d stretched out and stared up at the ceiling while he’d tried to stop thinking about his absent partner.

In March, Ellie had given birth to a baby boy, and they’d named him Andrew Philip, names he’d suggested, although he’d briefly debated the wisdom in naming his son two of Bodie’s three given names that he appeared to hate so much he refused to answer to any of them . Ellie had been delighted with the idea as her father was called Philip and with her aware only that Bodie’s first name was William, he’d chosen not to enlighten her of the reason for either of his choices. She’d become increasingly terse every time he’d mentioned Bodie’s name and eventually, he’d stopped talking about him at home at all. After a couple of days off, he was back at Cowley’s side, full of joy at the birth of his son, interlaced with a veil of sadness that his former partner and once closest friend wasn’t there to share it all with him.

One evening near the end of May, after a lengthy and successful operation had been concluded, he and Cowley had been sitting back in his office having a celebratory whisky and he had ventured to ask about Bodie and what had happened to see if Cowley could shed any light on why he had made his requests. “Och laddie, if something emotionally hurts Three-seven, he shuts down. If he can’t find a solution, he runs.”

“He’s not a coward,” he’d countered angrily.

Cowley had sighed, taking his glasses off, viewing him shrewdly. "No, Doyle, he isn’t. The normal human response is flight or fight. That is what adrenaline does for us in the face of adversity. In soldiers, like Bodie, the urge to flee is suppressed, both by training and peer group pressure. I’m not suggesting that Bodie has ever fled from a danger to himself and in fact, if past performance is anything to go by, he would have done the complete opposite. But neither has he yet learnt to ask for help when he needs it. Bodie is one of those people who takes it upon himself to find his own solutions, in his own way and in his own time. You know well enough he’s done that before. I don’t know what he was running from, but then you know him better than anybody.”

Typically, Cowley had stripped the emotion and dealt with plain facts and studying the older man, he’d realised how tired he looked. Bodie was his blue eyed boy and Cowley had been fishing for his own answers, but he’d had none to give him. “I thought I did.”

Cowley had looked at him almost kindly and said, “His op won’t last for ever lad, he’ll be back at some point. Just be patient.”

Bodie's loyalty to him, to Cowley and to CI5 had, for as far back as he could remember, always been inexhaustible and it still didn't make sense to him that Bodie would have demanded to work solo. Thinking back on Cowley’s words, something had made Bodie feel vulnerable. And the old man was right, Bodie didn't deal well with anything that toyed with his psyche. So, he’d taken himself away until he could come up with a solution, although Bodie had never really isolated himself completely from him before for so long, not like this. He briefly considered the possibility that Bodie had had girl trouble, but instantly dismissed it. In his experience, the only times that Bodie’d ever complained about birds was when one wouldn’t come across, and no girlfriend issues would explain the demands to work solo.

Although in some ways it was the obvious culprit because it was such a major change, it hadn’t made sense that Bodie’s disappearing act was anything to do with his marriage either. Although he hadn't given his partner a second thought when he'd asked Ellie to marry him, he didn't think that was wrong. Then he wavered, giving further consideration to the thought that Bodie had felt abandoned, feeling guilty that perhaps that was the problem. Then he’d dismissed it once more, the timing was off for that. Ellie had been on the scene for over twenty months before his partner’s disappearance so he’d focused on every other aspect of their friendship. He should have spoken to Bodie about getting married before announcing to all in the squad room though, he'd certainly failed him there. On the way home that night and over the next few days he'd gone over every conversation, every circumstance of every minute that they'd spent together in the weeks up to his disappearance. To guarantee he’d omitted nothing he’d made sure he’d recalled everything in chronological order. Nothing had stood out until he'd got to the last ten hours before Bodie had been hit in the gunfight that had left him with the profusely bleeding crease in the temple and with a sick realisation he came up with a reason that might explain why Bodie had bolted.

They’d been stuck in the filthy attic flat for three days, staring through the grimy window, waiting for something to kick off in the house across the street and in an effort to stave off the boredom, thinking he’d get an amusing tale, he’d asked Bodie what had made him come back to England to join the Paras. Expecting to hear his adrenaline junkie of a partner recount a split second decision of fancying the thought of flinging himself out of an aircraft and proceeding to pursue the most interesting route in order to achieve it, the reality had been all the more unsettling.

Ever since he’d known him, Bodie’d had plenty of anecdotes of his exploits before CI5. In his naivety it had taken him a while to realise how much those stories had been sanitized and embellished. First had been rare occasions where Bodie had revealed grim fragments of his past and they’d made him rethink. Then the first time he’d been with Bodie while he was in the throes of a nightmare. The strands of horror filled mumblings that had culminated in a choked off scream and Bodie, sitting up, trembling as the darkness had crawled into his eyes, only then had he realised how horrific the reality had been. Those shadowy insights made a mockery of the tales that Bodie could reel off where the abominations and ugliness were stripped away and replaced with light hearted twists. Bodie certainly knew how to spin a yarn and the stories of his time in the merchant navy wouldn’t have been out of place within the pages of a cruise ship travel guide, just as the times in Africa all sounded like they’d been plucked from a Boy's Own adventure magazine. Most stories of his time in the army had revolved around a scantily clad bird who was invariably defenceless against Bodie’s charm and attentiveness. There’d never been any amusing accounts of his time in Belfast though. After another spate of nightmares where his past had resurfaced, he’d tried to get Bodie to talk about it, but he’d been shut out completely. 

For whatever reason, it had been one of the rare occasions that Bodie'd volunteered anything about Africa that wasn’t full of hyperbole. Bodie had told him about how he'd inadvertently ended up swapping sides, fighting with the side that had been the enemy only a few weeks before. There'd been a village that his unit of mercenaries had strayed into after fighting and securing an enemy stronghold further down the valley. He’d recounted how the men he'd fought side by side with had turned into animals, ransacking the villagers’ homes before forcing themselves on the women and young girls. Raping and pillaging, as Bodie had flippantly described it.

He had been unable to conceal his distaste and he’d seen Bodie swallow at his facial expression before ploughing on with his story. With visible pain of the memories etching his features Bodie had told him how he had stood for hours on the edge of the village, his back to it all. On look out, ordered by his unit’s commander to stand guard, listening to every muffled scream and every sickening assault on the defenceless villagers, but unable to do anything to stop it. When night time had finally fallen, under the cover of darkness, he’d scarpered and after eventually making his way to the next town he’d signed up to another mercenary platoon where he’d spent several weeks helping transport weapons over the border to the troops fighting there. When they’d made the drop, they’d been diverted back to their own front line only to discover that he was now fighting for the opposition. “Came up against my old platoon, didn’t I. Ended up killing some of the bastards who'd attacked the villagers,” he’d said with a haunted look. “After that, I made my way back home. Signing up for the Paras meant at least I’d know I’d be fighting for the right bloody side." He’d listened, but had broken his vow of silence when he'd seen his partner’s facial expression. "Bodie, you didn't do anythi…."

Before he could finish the sentence and say the word ‘wrong’, Bodie had sprung up out of his chair and said, "Next week’s Jackanory will be from Putney. Time for a cuppa, I'll stick the kettle on," and had proceeded to talk nineteen to the dozen about absolute bollocks, thereby very effectively changing the subject.

Well used to Bodie's habit of stopping a conversation cold if it was heading in a direction he didn't like, he'd gone along with it, keen to get away from the subject of Africa as quickly as possible. Seeing Bodie's distress as he’d been speaking had made him feel rather ashamed, regardless of how well Bodie’d tried to hide it, and the sooner it went, the better. Despite early reservations in their partnership about Bodie’s past, he’d known his mate well enough to know that he wasn’t the typical amoral merc. It had been his fault the pain had been brought back to the surface anyway and hurting his partner had certainly not been his intention and the very last thing he'd wanted to do.

 He should’ve known that any question about Bodie’s past wouldn't be innocuous, even one as well-intentioned as asking what made him join the Paras.

Three months later, nearly a year to the day he’d last seen Bodie, he’d got a dawn call from Cowley telling him to pack a bag for a week and that he would be picked up in thirty minutes. Before he could ask any questions, the old man had rung off. He’d leapt out of bed, had a rushed shower, packed a bag, kissed Ellie and Andrew good bye and had been ready when the door bell had rung.

He’d been surprised to see Murphy standing at the door and even more surprised when he’d seen that Murphy was driving Cowley’s car and that it was empty. Once he’d settled in the front seat, he’d turned to his colleague, “What’s this all about Murph?”

“No idea mate, I got a call about an hour ago with orders to pick you up and drive you to Bristol.”

“Bristol? Why?”

“I dunno,” Murphy shrugged, “Cowley just said he’d be in touch with more instructions.”

They’d been on the road for less than twenty minutes and hadn’t even made it to the Chiswick Flyover when the car R/T had beeped. He’d snatched it up and said abruptly, “Four-five.”

Cowley had been on the other end and had coolly told him that Bodie was in Bristol Royal Infirmary and that on arrival he should ask for a Doctor Bennett, who was expecting him, and who would answer any questions he may have.

Cowley had once again terminated the transmission before he could say or ask anything else.

Knowing it would be a waste of time to try and get the taciturn Controller back on the radio, he’d growled at Murphy to put his foot down, slumped down in the passenger seat and stared out the window as they drove, significantly faster than the speed limit, towards Bristol. The journey out of London and through Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire had all been made in silence. It was only when they’d reached the Somerset border, he had finally spoken. “You staying?”

Murphy had shaken his head, “No, I’m to drop you off and check in, then head back. I can stay for a little while though. If you want?”     

He’d shrugged. He’d had no idea what was waiting to greet him at the hospital.

Murphy had navigated his way to the main entrance, dropping him off along with his bag where he’d sent Murphy off with a nod. Without a backwards glance he’d immediately turned and walked through the sliding doors, anxious to track down Doctor Bennett and see Bodie.

He’d been directed up to ward twelve and had then been sent to a side room to wait. He’d stood staring blankly at the grey soft furnishings and the benign picture of a vase of flowers on the wall. He remembered thinking that it was rooms like this where medical personnel told concerned relatives that their loved ones had died. He’d pushed the thoughts away. Apart from anything else, it wouldn’t have made any sense for Cowley to have sent him all the way down here if Bodie was dead and in an effort to eradicate the thought, he’d relentlessly paced up and down the small room, almost carving a groove into the drab, grey carpet.

Finally the door had opened and a serious faced man had entered the room, “Mr Doyle?”

He’d tipped his head in reply, unable to speak as a fear of what the man would say had gripped him, closing his throat.

“I’m Doctor Bennett, Mr Bodie’s under my care, shall we sit down?” Bennett had smiled reassuringly, which he’d found oddly calming.

He’d nodded again, not sure his voice would remain steady and had taken a seat, tension thrumming through him.

“I understand from his solicitor, that along with Mr Cowley, you are recorded in the event of any circumstances such as these, as being assigned Mr Bodie’s lasting power of attorney. On that basis, I am able to disclose details of Mr Bodie’s condition.” Bennett had paused before carrying on, careful to make sure everything he’d said was registering. “He was admitted last Monday, eight days ago and it appeared that he had been quite badly beaten. On admittance, Mr Bodie had a dislocated shoulder and several fractured ribs, as well as multiple surface lesions and contusions. All treatable of course, and we expect Mr Bodie to fully recover from those given time. He also had emergency surgery for a head injury to relieve pressure on his brain. During the operation, the surgeon discovered the serious fracture in his skull needed intervention.”

“Intervention?” he had said weakly, his mind already conjuring up a multitude of nightmare scenarios.

“A metal plate. The surgery was successful and the brain swelling has continued to diminish. Subsequent tests show that Mr Bodie, on one hand is doing very well. The problem we have is that we would have expected Mr Bodie to have regained consciousness by now.”

“Where is he?”

“He’s here, in the Trauma Centre, I’ll take you to see him shortly.”

“He’s asked for me?” he’d asked, surprised

“He’s in a coma, do you understand what that means?” the Doctor had said gently.

“Oh yes, sorry. That he’s unconscious,” he’d said flatly. “Sorry, I’m not sure why I’m here, not sure I can do anything to help,” he’d said almost to himself, the words borne out of either pity or self-doubt that Bodie would want him there and to this day, he wasn’t really sure which of those had prompted them.

“Well a coma is not exactly unconscious like somebody is when they’ve fainted,” Bennett had said softly.  “A coma is slightly different. It’s a state of unconsciousness in which a person can’t be woken. They don’t respond normally to painful stimuli, light, or sound and they lack a normal wake-sleep cycle, nor will they initiate voluntary actions.”

“Why’s he in a coma? We’ve both had head injuries before. Is he brain damaged?” he’d asked, trying to get his head around it all. 

 “We aren’t entirely sure why some patients become comatose and some don’t. A coma may be a response to allow the body to pause bodily actions and heal the most immediate injuries before waking. A compensatory state to preserve the body's expenditure of energy, if you like. I’ll be brutally honest, Mr Doyle, it’s difficult to tell the extent of any damage or indeed whether any damage will be permanent until he regains consciousness. For a patient to maintain consciousness, two important neurological components must function. The first is the cerebral cortex which is the grey matter that forms the outer layer of the brain. The other is a structure located in the brainstem. Injury to either or both of these components is sufficient to cause a patient to experience a coma.”

“And what’s the extent of Bodie’s injuries?”

“Well there’s some good news. We have run extensive tests for Mr Bodie’s brain stem activity and all the tests have led us to conclude that there aren’t any concerns there.“

Bennett gave a quick reassuring smile, before continuing, “We think Mr Bodie’s problems are with the cerebral cortex, the grey matter. It’s responsible for perception, relay of the sensory input via the thalamic pathway, and many other neurological functions, including complex thinking. It’s also worth explaining that the thalamus is where the regulation of consciousness, sleep, and alertness takes place.”

“So he may never wake up? And if he does, he may be a vegetable?” Desperation, anger and frustration had washed over him in waves.

“Comas can last from several days to several weeks, Mr Doyle. There is a good chance that Mr Bodie will wake up. There is also strong evidence to suggest that comatose patients are helped if they can hear a familiar voice. We contacted your boss, Mr Cowley late yesterday and he suggested that you could sit with him, talk to him.”

He had nodded mutely and when the nurse had appeared, taking Bennett’s place by his side, he’d listened to all she’d said, explaining what to expect, everything flying round his head in a whirl.

She’d finally led him to Bodie’s private room, courtesy of CI5 security requirements, and when he’d first seen him, his head elevated, but somehow still crowded by tubes and beeping machinery it had been a shock, despite the nurse’s warnings and calm reassurances.

“He’s lost weight,” he’d mumbled as he’d looked over the pale form of his best mate, supine on the bed with almost preternatural stillness, the only movement, a rhythmic, small rise and fall of his chest.

Despite Bodie being a big man, tall and broad, when looking down at him, he’d seemed small and insubstantial. And shockingly pale, even for Bodie. Small blue veins threaded the skin at his temples and at the tops of his arms. Larger veins were prominent on the forearms and hands that were devoid of body fat. His dense, normally expressive eyebrows were stark against the pallor and there were dusky shadows under the hollows of his closed eyelids. The normally hard lines of his jaw were missing, his mouth relaxed in sleep.

Gone too were the multi layers of clothing that Bodie normally wore, clothes that he'd often thought Bodie unconsciously used as more armour plating against the world, their absence all adding to his vulnerability. His hair was too long and there were several weeks of beard growth, both blatant transgressions of Bodie’s normally fastidious grooming. All these flashed into his consciousness and then were gone before he could process them. It felt surreal, like it wasn't Bodie lying there, and he’d hated himself for thinking like that.

The nurse, whom he’d later found out was called Doris, a maternal and pleasantly plump lady in her late forties, had found him a chair and a cup of tea. He’d sat there in silence, drinking it mechanically while he’d surveyed the bandages that covered half of Bodie’s head and much of his right forearm and hand. He’d winced as he’d assessed the multiple fading bruises and semi-healed deep cuts and scrapes across Bodie’s front that weren’t concealed by the white sheet tucked up under his arms.

“It’s okay to touch him,” a voice had said from behind him.

Disturbed from his thoughts, he’d turned to see Doris smiling reassuringly at him and he’d tentatively extended a hand out and rested it on Bodie’s pale arm.

“Now talk to him.” She’d nodded her encouragement as he’d looked back at her.

“Dr Bennett said he won’t respond to sounds or……” he’d said helplessly, lifting his hand away and bringing it back to his knee.

“Maybe not, love, but it doesn’t mean he can’t hear or feel you, does it?”

He’d heard the door close quietly and he’d been left alone with his thoughts, with Bodie and the steady beeps and hiss of the collective machinery around him.

He’d had no idea he was Bodie’s power of attorney, the stupid bugger had never told him. It had been one of their first instructions when they’d joined CI5. Get your affairs in order. He’d wondered briefly when exactly Bodie had put it all in place, when they’d first been partnered, despite them not getting on with each other, or more recently, and whether there was anybody else that Bodie could have chosen other than him and Cowley. Bodie hadn’t ever really talked about his family and whether that was because he chose not to or whether it was because he didn’t have one, he hadn’t known then, still didn't, come to that.

He’d sat there staring into nothing for several minutes until he’d been unable to stand it anymore, the desperate anger he’d felt and directed at Bodie had made everything claustrophobic and he’d wanted to grab his partner and physically shake him to wake him up. In a state of near panic, he’d had to get out of there, out of Bodie’s room, out of the hospital, and almost at a run, he’d dived out the door. Seeing Murphy leaning against a wall in the corridor had grounded him, and he’d slowed to a stop a few feet away and stood there, fighting to bring his breathing under control, intent on calming himself down. Murphy had pushed himself off the wall and come over, “How is he, Ray?”

“Not good.” He’d run his fingers through his hair, trying to steady his resolve and known that Murphy had seen the tremor in his hand. Murphy had talked to him unhurriedly, going on to tell him he’d sorted a hotel room for him and had handed him the room key.

That small thing had righted him, got him thinking straight again. Of course he was going to stay and if he was going to stay he was going to talk to Bodie, all day and all night for as long as it took, so what the hell was he doing standing out in the corridor? He should be back in the room, prattling on to his best mate, helping him to wake up.

Panic over, he’d clapped Murph on the arm with a small appreciative smile and had gone back into the room where he’d sat back down and told Bodie all about his new job working with Cowley. He’d told him about Andrew and that he’d like Bodie to be Godfather, what he’d weighed at birth, the birth itself and the powerful feelings of unbridled joy he’d experienced as he’d watched his son enter the world and the wondrous changes he’d seen in his son in the last couple of months. A few times he’d had to bite back the irrational resentment that Bodie wasn’t answering and hadn’t been there to tell it all to before. Eventually, he’d scrabbled around in his bag and pulled out the paperback he’d stuffed in there only a few hours ago.

At some point, Doris had brought him a cup of tea and a sandwich and had discreetly left again and he’d gone back to reading aloud.

By late afternoon he was able to help the therapists who’d come round twice already to provide what were called "range of motion" exercises. He’d asked loads of questions and they had answered every single one, showing him what to do to keep Bodie’s joints from seizing up through immobility.

The nurses would come in and move Bodie’s heavily bandaged body regularly too, changing his position every two hours. He’d soon started to help them with that as well and learnt what the early signs of a bed sore looked like when the nurse pointed to Bodie’s toe. The sheet had been folded back, exposing his foot to prevent further chafing, a note made on his chart along with some cream efficiently applied to the sore toe and the nurse had left.

At eight o’clock that night he’d been shooed out by the nursing staff, forced to leave his mate, but promising he’d be back the next day and had gone to his hotel, hoarse and exhausted. He’d phoned Ellie who hadn’t sounded pleased that he was staying down there without any firm date for his return. As he’d laid in bed his thoughts had drifted back to the previous Monday, the day, according to Dr Bennett, that Bodie had been admitted and had received life-saving surgery. Cowley had gone off on the pretext of some errand or other and had been uncontactable all day. He’d come to Bristol no doubt. He’d also been distracted and pensive for all of the previous week. Angry that Cowley hadn’t told him, he was already determined that if Cowley dared demand his return to London, he wouldn't go, not until Bodie came round. But then he’d chase after the bastards who had done this to his best mate. He’d slept badly that night, but had still been back at Bodie’s bedside by seven-thirty the next morning. Bodie had been breathing lightly, but rhythmically, the strong features of his face still relaxed, giving him an appearance of frailty, not something he’d ever have associated with Bodie’s usual solidness. Sure, he’d known for a long time that behind the hard shell there were vulnerabilities in his partner that prevented him from letting people get close to him, but he’d never seen him quite so defenceless. Even when he’d been stabbed years previously, Bodie’s only other really serious life threatening injury, the infection that had gripped him had left him raging, fighting against the fever induced delirium.

He’d been allowed to stay when the nurses had come and gently stripped the bandages from Bodie’s head to remove the long line of staples curving round his scalp. He had sat in silence wincing as each staple had been snipped away. Bodie hadn’t moved a muscle.

As he’d sat watching over his partner, he’d found the untidy beard had irked him, and he knew unreservedly that Bodie would absolutely loathe it when he woke up. Not through vanity though. In fact, despite his regular narcissistic tales of numerous female conquests, Bodie was surprisingly modest about his looks and any references to them were usually tongue in cheek. Sure, he liked fine clothes and being clean shaven, both a leftover from having to rough it in Angola apparently, but he certainly wasn’t one to preen or spend hours in front of a mirror. He merely took advantage of what God had given him and enjoyed the attentions of any number of the women who expressed an interest.

After seeking approval from Doris, he’d brought a razor and foam at the hospital shop and had proceeded to carefully shave his partner’s face. “There you go, that’s tidied you up a bit, I know you hate not shavin’. A hair cut might have to wait a while though, sunshine, I’d make a real pig’s ear of it.” As he’d carefully wiped the last of the thick foam away, he’d swallowed heavily, aghast at the gaunt, sunken cheeks.

He had set himself the same routine every day. As soon as the hotel dining room opened, he’d eaten a snatched breakfast to get him to the hospital for seven-thirty, where every morning he’d relived the shock of seeing his partner so still and pale and felt a resulting surge of protectiveness well up within himself. And every morning, his guts had twisted into a tight knot as he’d fought down the fear that Bodie may never wake up. The rest of each day was spent with shaving, exercising and reading out loud to him. And every time nurses removed one of the many bandages, he’d offered words of reassurance to his best mate about how well he was doing, trying to convince himself just as much as Bodie, if truth be told. He’d stay there until around eight o’clock in the evening when he’d be kicked out with a sympathetic smile by one of the nurses, and then back to the hotel to eat, phone Ellie, check in with Cowley and then sleep.

Eight days and several paperbacks later, Bodie had finally opened his eyes to the world.

He’d immediately pressed the call button for the nurse and leant forward into Bodie’s eye line to offer support, careful not to loom over him in case he appeared threatening, only to see confusion in his eyes as they looked around with an uncharacteristic nervousness. Despite the speed with which Doris had responded to the bell, Bodie’s eyes had been closed again by the time she’d got there.

She’d sat with him then and calmly explained that it wasn’t how it was often portrayed on television. Patients didn’t just wake up from a coma and within moments be sitting up talking. It was perfectly normal that Bodie had only been awake for a few moments. She’d smiled at him, reassuring him that it was a positive. She’d held his hand in hers and explained that over the next few days he would likely see Bodie wake up more often and for steadily longer periods.

When she’d asked him if Bodie had shown any awareness of his surroundings, still shocked by events, he’d only managed a hoarse whisper that Bodie’d just looked bewildered. She’d told him that he was probably in a profound state of confusion when he’d woken up and wouldn’t have known how he’d got there and might also be unable to articulate any speech.  She’d then given him the answer to the question he’d have been too scared to ask himself when she’d said that none of those symptoms were any indication as to a long term prognosis, they were all perfectly normal.

Over the next few days Doris’s predictions proved accurate and every time Bodie’d opened his eyes, he’d made eye contact, held his hand and talked to him. And every time they’d closed again, he’d glanced at the clock and made a note.

By the fourth day, Bodie was awake for periods of up to twenty minutes at a time, although still hadn’t really given much response and all of his worries had started to well up again.

He’d been told by Sheelagh, another one of Bodie’s regular nurses that a coma lasting weeks could result in post-traumatic amnesia that could last up to several months and that the recovery plateau would likely occur over the coming months or even years. He hadn’t been particularly reassured by that and when Doris had come on shift he’d asked her about it. “Oh, Ray love, the outcome for a coma depends on the extent of neurological damage. A deeper coma doesn’t necessarily mean a slimmer chance of recovery. Mr Bodie is doing very well considering and the PTA symptoms you’re seeing aren’t that unusual. They can vary patient to patient, but confusion, agitation, distress and anxiety are all common and so’s an inability to recognise familiar people. Some patients become violent and aggressive, swearing and shouting and some, like Mr Bodie here, will be very quiet and docile.”

The following day there had been a breakthrough. Mid-morning, Bodie had opened his eyes and they’d wavered either side of him, but eventually they’d locked onto his and he’d leaned closer, making eye contact. He’d been rewarded by a rather croaky moan from Bodie.

His initial euphoria had been extinguished when he’d realised that there had been no sign of recognition in Bodie’s face, only a blank look of confusion.

His eyes had closed quickly after that, unlike all his recent bouts of wakefulness and then he’d noticed his breathing had quickened and become somewhat irregular. Panicking he’d pressed the buzzer and Doris had appeared almost immediately.

“See the movement behind his eyelids, that’s REM sleep, he’s sleeping,” she’d said with a smile.

Around ninety minutes later, there’d been signs that Bodie’s nap was no longer a peaceful one. First had been a twitch in his hand and his fingers had curled quickly into a lax fist. With a soft whimper, Bodie’d turned his head on the pillow towards him and a frown had formed on his brow accompanied by an acceleration in his breathing. The spikes on the heart monitor had compacted while the digital readout flashed continuously, displaying steadily increasing numbers. Then there’d been more twitches. Moments later, Bodie had cried out and he had been immediately up, a hand on his arm, speaking to him to break through the dream that was imprisoning his mind.

For the rest of the day and long into the night, Bodie’s periods of wakefulness had been interspersed with nightmares that had steadily intensified until he had been regularly tossing his head from side to side, while cries of terror and pain had accompanied arms and legs fighting the confines of the sheet, and it had become harder and harder to pull him free from their clutches.

In the end, he’d been so worried that Bodie would injure himself, he had physically held him through the nightmares, hour after hour and had refused to leave when the nurse had asked him to. Finally, gritty eyed, he had fallen asleep in the early hours, Bodie, at last sleeping peacefully.

He’d been woken by Doris when she’d come on shift the next morning and had received a reprimand for not going back to his hotel, along with an indulgent smile as she’d handed him tea and toast.


The next day had been a repeat of the last, and in the end he’d climbed onto the bed to lay alongside his partner. He’d felt the frantic kick of Bodie’s heart each time the nightmares had attacked and had gently cradled him in his arms throughout each aftermath that had left Bodie trembling and whimpering. Only once had Bodie woken, wide eyed, jerking away from him so suddenly, that if it hadn’t been for the upraised rails, he’d have toppled off the bed. He had straight away loosened his hold, not wanting to fight against him, the racing heart, the sweat trickling down his hairline and the alarming breathing pattern proof of his partner’s distress. Bodie's chest had lifted and he’d drawn in a long, heavy breath, “It’s okay, Bodie,” he’d hushed quietly, “don’t worry, everything’s okay,” and to his surprise, his partner had almost immediately settled back down. Shortly after, Bodie had opened his eyes and raised his head to peer at him lying next to him, "Why are you here?" he'd asked weakly and seemed puzzled by the idea. The relief from hearing Bodie speak for the first time pushed all rational thoughts away and he’d said the first thing that came into his head, "I didn’t have anything better to do," he'd replied flippantly and had then immediately regretted reverting to their typical banter as confusion and what appeared to be fright had clouded Bodie's eyes.

“Let me up.”

“Not right now, sunshine, need you to lie still for me.”

A minute later, Bodie’d raised his head again. “Can you get me out of here?“ Unsure of what to say, he hadn’t answered immediately and before he could, Bodie’d given a shallow sigh before closing his eyes. His rhythmic breathing and the subtle relaxation of his frame had told him that he'd fallen back asleep.

After seventy two hours, the nightmares had seemed to reduce in intensity and frequency, trailing off and coinciding with a steady improvement in Bodie’s responses and wakefulness.

He’d gone back to the hotel that night, the first time in three days and when he'd phoned Ellie, she’d been cold with him, the ice in her voice reverberating along the phone line at his lack of contact. All she’d wanted to know was when he was coming home. Angry at her lack of understanding, but too tired to argue, all he’d been able to offer was soon, not really sure himself.

On waking from the coma, Bodie had been quietly compliant while disorientation leeched from his eyes. Responding to instructions, obeying like a small child. If asked to turn his head to the side or lift an arm by the nurses he’d done so. On one hand it was a massive step forward, but the apprehensive and bewildered looks that revealed Bodie’s confused and defenceless state were hard to see. Even his appetite was affected. Bodie had lost so much weight, although according to the nurses, much of it had been shed before he’d been admitted, but he now verged on emaciated. His face, even paler than usual, contrasted harshly with the dark circles under his fearful eyes.

 

He’d found himself having to cajole Bodie to eat, not something he’d ever thought would happen. Each meal time a series of soft jibes and gentle bullying were needed to get him to eat more than a mouthful. Bodie wasn’t defiant, just docile and listless. It was like everything about Bodie had shrunk. Not only physically, but also his appetite along with his vibrancy and spark and he’d felt a deep fear starting to build inside himself. The eyes had continued to be watchful and wary. Unclear as to what Bodie did and didn't remember, but under strict medical orders not to try to challenge him in any way, he could do nothing but sit by and watch.

Sitting by the bed the next morning he’d murmured, as much to reassure himself as Bodie, “Be patient mate. Give it a couple of months and you'll be better, stronger, faster.”

The quiet, slightly husky voice from the bed had made him jump. “That’s what they said at the start of every six million dollar man episode. You're the bionic golli, not me.” It had been the first real confirmation that Bodie'd known who he was and that his brain truly was intact.

He’d been so relieved and determined to keep things light, he’d gently teased, “Don’t you believe it, sunshine. You haven't cost that much yet, but Cowley has invested a lot of money in you. And an agent is expensive to replace.” A faint smile had appeared on Bodie’s face as he’d drifted off back to sleep. Four days later, Doyle had been sitting by Bodie’s bedside, as he had every day for over three weeks, when Cowley had turned up.

Cowley had booted him out of the room and after spending some time with Bodie, had come to find him and had barked, “The hospital is satisfied that they have provided as much medical expertise as they can. Now all Three-seven needs is time to recuperate, so on that basis he will be moved to Repton tomorrow where he can continue his convalescence and subsequent rehabilitation. You, Four-five will report to HQ tomorrow at 8 a.m.” He’d wanted to know what Bodie had been up against in Bristol and what had caused his partner to almost die as well as assurances from Cowley that the bastards who had hurt his partner were either six feet under or in custody. He was also itching to know what had made Bodie run in the first place. Cowley had given him some insight into the first of those questions and promised him sight of the operations file. Cowley’d seemed frustrated by the lack of information around what had happened to his partner and Dr Bennett, who had miraculously appeared with impeccable timing, had explained that Mr Bodie may never remember the details relating to, as he’d tactfully called it, the index event.  

Bodie had looked exhausted after Cowley’s visit, the bruised, dark shadows around Bodie’s eyes, far too prominent, his face still too thin.

Dr Bennett had recited a list of his patient’s injuries to both him and Cowley, and as he’d sat looking over Bodie as he’d slept, he’d recalled most of them. “All injuries consistent with systematic torture,” the good doctor had said with a swallow and an undisguised edge of horror to his voice.” The multiple drip bags, all attached to his partner, contained a sizeable list of nutrients that Bodie was apparently lacking. It seemed that starvation had also formed part of his partner’s suffering and more than explained the gauntness.

The idea of abandoning Bodie to Repton while he was still so unwell, especially after his plea to be out of the hospital felt like a betrayal, even if it was the only sensible thing to do. So when Bodie had fallen into another light doze that afternoon as he was still prone to do, he’d left the hospital for an hour, returning with a selection of some of his mate’s favourite foodstuffs, primarily cakes, biscuits and crisps. He’d thought alcohol would definitely be inappropriate, much as Bodie would have appreciated it once he was a bit better, but he'd bought some cola instead, plenty of sugar; Bodie would need all his strength to cope with Repton. His partner had always hated being continually poked and prodded, whether emotionally or physically, and Repton, full of well-meaning hospital staff was an unfortunate and inevitable consequence of his injuries. The reward for his efforts had been Bodie giving him the smallest of tentative smiles before half-heartedly nibbling on a bun.

Doyle had been well aware that it would be Bodie’s worst nightmare being holed up there for weeks if not months. Any convalescence would be tough, but it being Repton, psychiatry its specialism, made it ten times worse. In one of Bodie’s periods of wakefulness he’d promised his partner that he would get down to see him as often as he could. “I'll be fine. You don’t need to run yourself ragged, Ray. I'm not gonna end up in a rubber room at Repton.” Bodie had given him a forced grin, and then his face had turned momentarily sombre before being carefully schooled to conceal all emotion.

As his partner’s level of complaint of discomfort was usually directly disproportionate to any injury, he'd not been reassured. Bodie could moan for hours about a paper cut or the tiniest splinter, but had barely said a word throughout his recuperation from his near fatal stabbing a few years before and hadn’t made any mention of his current injuries at all. He’d seen the facial expression, Bodie wasn’t a very patient man with himself at the best of times, and it would frustrate him no end to be considerably dependent on others for such a long recuperation as he so obviously needed.

He’d spent the early part of September forever on the go, either to be at Cowley’s side, as they’d both dealt with the many demands of running CI5, or travelling down to Repton to see Bodie, or going home to see Ellie before she went to bed. Although mostly he’d been met with unbridled resentment for all the time he wasn’t spending at home. He’d volunteered for Andrew’s night feeds more often than not, guilty that he hadn’t been at home more and thankful for any time he could spend with his son.

The petty and snide digs from some of the other agents towards him had at least tailed off slightly, having been replaced by vocal enquiries and genuine concern for Bodie’s injuries.

Bodie had emerged from his coma pallid and weak. Despite the fact the time he’d been unconscious had been relatively short in coma terms, the muscle atrophy had been significant and his skin had been flabby and loose, not least because of the significant weight loss. He’d also tired very easily, but the medical reports via Cowley, said he’d been making steady progress at Repton and his physicians seemed quietly optimistic that he would make a full recovery. From what Cowley’d said, Bodie had remembered very little of the actual attack that had almost killed him and he himself had speculated that perhaps Bodie’s personality had been affected too. He had, to his disgust, found himself half hoping he was right, at least, as long as it was temporary, because it would then explain why his partner had been off-kilter. Bodie'd been in a strange mood ever since he’d woken up. The nervousness was perhaps understandable and he’d attributed the general unhappiness down to him being holed up in hospital and then Repton; and yet although there was nothing definite, nothing he could put his finger on. Bodie had been distant and oddly stand-offish, worse than when they’d first been partnered. Whether that was simply due to his ordeal, or was specific to him, he didn’t know. The doctors had said that personality changes were common, as well as anger, and that both would possibly resolve themselves with time. He’d also been shocked to read that Bodie’s motor skills had been affected by his injuries. He’d seen no sign of it in the hospital and rereading the reports had seen it was confined to Bodie’s right arm, his dominant and preferred shooting arm, he’d realised with dismay. He could shoot with his left, but half the time, couldn’t hit a barn door, not that Bodie would ever admit it of course. But if he couldn’t recover full mobility in his right hand, it didn’t bear considering. Bodie wasn’t the sort of man who would ever be able to adapt to life as a cripple. Thinking hard, he’d replayed all the hours he’d been at the hospital and realised that Bodie had used his left hand almost exclusively, even once the bandages had been removed from his right arm and especially on anything requiring a modicum of precision, such as eating or drinking, purposefully concealing any weaknesses. He’d been surprised at his own feelings of resentment and exclusion that Bodie wasn’t letting him in.

In the early days, Cowley had forever had to remind Bodie that he’d wanted suspects alive. Bodie had had a habit of shooting first and asking questions later, and when he’d also pointed out to his partner the callousness of shooting to kill, Bodie had immediately retorted, “Why not, they are,” and then in a slightly softer tone, with a look of genuine bemusement, he’d followed it by saying, “do you really think it’s better to shoot and permanently maim?” Bodie had seen combat, of the worst sort, in Africa and in the army, which when he’d thought about it, probably explained a lot about his viewpoint. That had sparked an internal dilemma about what a dirty job they did, being professional killers wasn’t easy, whatever the circumstances. He’d considered the alternatives Bodie had outlined and had never challenged his partner about his methods again.

Thinking more about his visits to see Bodie, he’d analysed the rest of his mate’s behaviour. Although the blank and confused stares had thankfully been banished as more of Bodie’s memory had returned, Bodie had still appeared subdued, any communications made from behind a bastion of reclusiveness, almost unsure and he’d just assumed it was all part of the memory issues. They’d spoken only of inconsequential topics; themes such as football scores and the weather had dominated their conversations. Whenever he’d gently pushed for a change of subject, Bodie would appear to be momentarily alarmed, his eyes showing a flash of panic before bringing his facial expression under control. At no time had Bodie asked about anything personal or about CI5, although he’d seemed happy enough to listen to the squad room gossip that he’d impart each visit and nor did he ask Bodie about his plans for the future. He’d wondered whether Bodie had worked out by then that his ‘A’ squad days were over and was purposely pulling back now he thought their partnership was at an end. The front line was no place for an agent with a metal plate in his skull. As realisation hit that he’d made assurances to Bodie when he’d been in Bristol Royal Infirmary that he would still be a front line agent with his quip about being expensive to replace, he’d been overcome by guilt.

It had been the start of October and Bodie had been at Repton for about five weeks when he’d bumped into Murphy at HQ. Murphy’d said how well he’d thought Bodie was doing, his fine motor skills still not there yet, but getting better every day and nearly back to his old self which was good to see. Murph had summarised, “He says the food’s horrible, that he detests the trick cyclists and hates the physical therapists, that he doesn't like the exercises, that he’s pretty sure the charge nurse has modelled herself on Nurse Ratched and has more facial hair than the collective members of ZZ Top and that he's bored, but that he’s getting better.” And Murph had chortled as he’d recounted they’d had a right laugh with one of the other nurses when he’d seen Bodie a couple of days before. Murph’d followed it up by saying he’d reckoned Bodie would be back in action in no time at all with the effort he was putting in to his physio. He’d listened mutely, nodding and smiling at Murph in all the right places, all the time his mind making comparisons with his own visits. Whenever he’d been to see him, Bodie had always been in his room, sat on the bed when he’d got there, hands loosely clasped in his lap, never laughing and joking and certainly never talking about his treatment, always brushing it off when asked and not really saying much at all, truth be told. Yet Murph’s monologue had Bodie’s stamp all over it and if Murph was saying Bodie was near enough his normal self, despite still having issues above his overall strength and fitness, then his mate had been hiding everything from only him for all this time. Which meant his behaviour and mood weren’t to do with his injuries or his prescribed stay at Repton. He’d decided it was high time he found out what was rattling Bodie and finally get to the bottom of why he had run away.

*      *     *

The next day, with grudging approval from Cowley, he’d made a call to Bodie’s doctor before sneaking away down to Repton and rather than signing in as Bodie’s visitor, he’d seen the doctor he’d spoken to that morning when he’d arranged the appointment. After getting a comprehensive update as to how Bodie was progressing, the Doctor had taken him to a viewing gallery and without making his presence known, he’d watched his partner in the gym below while he was having his physiotherapy. Two nurses were helping him with a raft of gentle exercises for range of motion and calisthenics for muscle building. When he’d completed the exercises to their satisfaction, Bodie had sat down at a small table, first exercising his right hand with a stress ball before picking up shapes with his right hand and posting them through the corresponding slots and then repeating the same with much smaller shapes and tweezers. He’d been concerned to see that Bodie had seemed to struggle with both sets of motor skills exercises, much more so with the tweezers, but at least his face had lost that bleached white look and the Doctor had assured him that Bodie was doing very well. Sure enough though, Bodie had been animated, venting his frustration with the long suffering physiotherapists who were trying to help him get back into shape, followed quickly by a rueful grin and words of apology before flirting with the nurse who’d turned up to wheel him back to his room. All the while, he continued to repeatedly squeeze the foam shape in his hand. Not quite the Bodie of old, but a fair attempt, and none of the wariness and subdued behaviour that he’d always seen up to now had been evident, so now he knew Bodie’s behaviour had changed only towards him.

He’d hung about for a bit to give Bodie enough time to get settled and while he’d waited, he’d pondered again on all the possible reasons why his partner had disappeared. If he’d given Bodie cause to run then of course he would apologise and try to fix whatever he’d done or said and if it was just that Bodie hadn’t wanted to work alongside him in CI5 anymore, well, then he thought he at least deserved that his partner fessed up and told him to his face. When he’d strolled on up to his room, Bodie’d been sat up on his bed, legs stretched out in front of him, folded at the ankles, hands resting loosely in his lap, left concealing right. The relaxed pose carefully schooled to not give anything away and with no sign of the stress ball he’d left the gym with, exactly as he had been for every visit so far. He’d started the conversation in the same vein as all his previous visits, keeping the conversation light, gossip from the squad room, news of successful arrests and tales of jokes played between the other agents along with the details of any subsequent reaction from the agent who’d been the butt of the prank before asking how his treatment was going. Bodie had brushed it all off with a dismissive wave of his left hand, saying everything was fine as if he was trying to reassure him that any concern was unnecessary.

Confident now that Bodie was much better mentally than he’d assumed up to that point, even if physically he still had a way to go and haunted by the thought that Bodie had rushed off to Bristol to get away from him, he’d raised it; unable to hold back any more, needing to comprehend why so he could clear up any misunderstanding between them.

He’d fixed his partner with a threatening glare, fighting back the urge to call him a cold, inconsiderate bastard for disappearing without a word, but had caught himself in time, losing his temper would only alienate his best mate further.  Taking a deep breath and forcing himself to relax his features, he’d asked, almost casually, "Why d’ya leave, mate?”

Bodie, for a split second had looked like a rabbit caught in headlights before he’d shuttered his expression and shrugged, “Just fancied getting away for a bit.”

“That’s not a bloody answer and you know it.” Before he’d been able to stop himself he’d accused, “You’re s’posed to be the one who watches m’back Bodie.” He’d been expecting anger, but instead Bodie had flinched as if stung and had just looked wretched.

 “What's going on in that head?" he’d said, more gently, regretting his outburst, which in retrospect after seeing Bodie’s unexpected reaction had just felt cruel rather than justified. 

Another shrug, "Nothing."

Doyle looked at him, but now there was absolutely nothing to be read in his face. He’d waited, but Bodie hadn’t expanded his answer. “You’re shutting me out. I thought we'd got past all this when you went off to try and deal with King Billy on your own."    

Bodie had frowned, "I just needed to sort something out. It’s nothing for you to worry your golli head over."  

"Well why not let me be the one to decide that."  

"Looking for a career change as a trick cyclist eh?" Bodie’s voice had had a mocking edge.  

Now they were getting somewhere, now he was feeling cornered and absolute denial hadn’t worked, Bodie had clearly decided that the best line of defence was attack. Not quite what he’d hoped, but a step forward from feigned indifference or brooding silence.

“Is it jealousy? That I settled down and you haven’t.”

“Uh?”

“Of Ellie, were you jealous? Did Bodie have a tantrum?” he’d mocked back, purposely taunting to try and invoke a retort.

Bodie’s eyes had flickered restlessly up and down the length of his bed and around the room, looking everywhere but at him.

Bodie’d swallowed hard, "Yeah mate, you got me,” he’d said at last. “Silly me, eh?"

No, that wasn’t it either, but then he’d never really thought it was, he’d only said it to try and get Bodie talking. He knew his partner well enough to know when he was lying and the stricken look in Bodie’s eyes was back again. “Don't lie to me, you’re lousy at it, so I know that’s not it. Why, Bodie? Why won't you tell me? We've been friends and partners for years. Why don't you trust me? Please, just tell me,” he’d said imploringly.

“Just leave it, Ray,” muttered Bodie, a pleading look in his eye.

“Can’t leave it, mate.” God, he felt like an absolute heel doing this.

He’d seen the guilt flood Bodie’s eyes before he’d briefly looked down. Then he’d come back fighting. “Bloody hell, Doyle," Bodie’d caught himself and then tried a different tactic. "Look, I'm knackered. Let's talk about it another time." 

He was a first class bastard. Playing on somebody's emotions to get information had always been a part of the job he'd despised and here he was, doing the same to Bodie. "No mate, I know what you’re like. If I leave it to you, you’ll never talk about it so we're gonna talk now," he’d said firmly, his own guilt at the emotional blackmail preventing him from using it again.  

“Piss off, Doyle.”

"Is putting a gun to your head like Cowley did the only way to get you to talk? Bloody well talk to me, Bodie. When are you gonna get it through your thick skull that I just want to help.”

“Poor choice of words there, sunshine. I think recent events have proved it’s not that thick,” Bodie’d said drily.

“Oh Christ, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, forget it, Ray. Did you see the match on the box last night? I hear it was a good game.”

He’d been just about to answer, managing to stop himself before he got caught out by Bodie’s evasion, “Don’t change the subject.”

Bodie had sighed and shuffled down on his bed to lay flat, staring at the ceiling, lacing his hands behind his head, bent arms resting on each side of the pillow, the relaxed posture doing nothing to disguise the tension in Bodie’s still too thin frame.

“Whatever you say, there’s something you’re not telling me about why you disappeared and I’ve had a hell of a lot of time to think about this one way or another, so let me tell you what I think, Bodie. Do you remember the obbo we were on just before you went off?” He hadn't waited for an answer, but had plundered on, "You were telling me about why you came back from Africa. You'd got to a village and you were ordered to stand gua....."

"I remember," Bodie's low voice had cut across him and he’d sneaked a look at his mate’s face. Bodie’s eyes were uncertain and insecure, but there’d been a challenge in the set of his jaw, clearly not happy with the direction the conversation had taken.

"How old were you?"

Bodie head had turned to him, but his eyes were focused on some distant point. He'd shrugged "Eighteen, maybe nineteen, dunno." A fleeting imprint of painful memory crossed Bodie’s face.

"And how many men were there in your section?"

A pair of impenetrable eyes had stared at him before taking a slow blink and returning their gaze to the ceiling, "Eight, nine including me, but we'd lost two at the defence post, so only six by then."

He’d snorted, only six he’d said to himself. Six against one were impossible odds. “You think you should have tried to stop them. Is that it?"

Bodie’s voice had gone very quiet, which was a very, very bad sign. “Thanks very much for the psychoanalysis. Let me tell you something. There’s quite a lot about Africa that I’m not proud of Ray. Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not, nor ever have been, fucking suicidal,” and Bodie had turned his head away at that.

Bodie was hurting and yet again he was the one that had caused it, the words covering a raft of pain and with absolutely horrendous timing, before he could fix the mess he’d created, a nurse had come to turf him out, because it was tea time for Mr Bodie.

Unable to say anything much while she stood over them both, with an apologetic smile he’d left, promising that he would get back to visit again as soon as he could. As he’d walked down the corridor away from Bodie’s room he’d thought that likening the nurse’s facial hair to ZZ Top’s was not as much of an exaggeration as one might expect. 

It certainly hadn’t gone how he’d envisaged, so much for him being a trained interrogator, but then he’d had a harder nut to crack than most. Bodie’s natural aversion to revealing his inner thoughts combined with their extensive training for resisting interrogation meant he’d probably always been on a hiding to nothing. The man was infuriating. It was only when he was driving home and had replayed Bodie’s words in his head that the realisation had hit him that Bodie’s phrasing could be taken in more than one way. At the time he’d thought Bodie had been referring to his pathetic and amateurish efforts to get Bodie to explain why he’d left, but when tagged with the phrase ‘but I’ve never been suicidal’, it brought a whole new dimension to ‘Sorry to disappoint you’. He’d muttered aloud then, “Christ, did Bodie think he wanted him dead?”  

Of course, he’d apologised when he’d next gone down there, but Bodie had retreated even deeper and was worse company than he'd been on previous visits. He’d sit there staring at nothing, the downcast, hunted look a permanent expression while avoiding all eye contact and not really engaging in anything much. With each passing visit Bodie became more and more distant, and despite his best efforts to conceal it with schooled indifference, more and more despondent. If Bodie had given him an opening so they could talk about it, he’d been sure they could have sorted it out, but as time went by the stupid, stubborn sod had been more withdrawn than ever, culminating in him being near enough a functional mute.

He’d thought they’d got past this. Bodie distancing himself, retreating back into his shell, and it had been a long time since he’d last been on the receiving end. Bodie had been like he had when they had first been partnered, near silent and detached, and if he’d spoken at all, completely offhand. Rigid, lying on the bed, Bodie was hard and cold, still shutting himself away and he recognised a defence mechanism when he saw one. Eventually, one visit, he’d taken a paperback with him into Bodie’s room and after offering to read aloud, which Bodie had declined with a shake of the head, he’d pointedly sat reading it while trying to ignore the unnatural silence that hung between them. That had finally forced a reaction that consisted of more words than Bodie had uttered during all of his last three visits combined, “You shouldn’t be here. You should be at home with your wife. There’s not much point in you keep coming down here, I’m fine. Go home, put your feet up and have a quiet evening in with Ellie. Please, mate.” The defeat in Bodie’s voice had been a shock, one thing Bodie had never been was despairing and an outsider might not have even seen it. Bodie’s cool exterior was still in place, but to his eyes, his mate had looked absolutely miserable.

One thing those times had taught him was how to get a read on his partner’s innermost thoughts and feelings. While he’d been so under par, Bodie hadn’t been quite so proficient at bringing the mask into place, the snatches of emotion being let through to be disclosed on his features for just long enough to be studied and understood. Normally, they were so fleeting they were gone before they could even register. Armed with that foundation of insight, over the years he’d got better and better at deducing his mate’s evanescent sensibilities, but it still wasn’t always easy to know how to deal with Bodie when he shut himself off like this.

*      *     *

The ping of the telephone signalling a call terminating shook him out of his thoughts and he wondered briefly who Bodie had been speaking to, ‘Cowley perhaps?’ No doubt he’d find out soon enough. He sighed and his eyes rested on the buff envelope he’d placed on the table under the car keys when he’d got in. He’d never gained sight of any file about the op in Bristol. Buried somewhere in MI6’s archives no doubt and Cowley had never really divulged much, despite his promises. Asking Bodie to recount it all would have been unthinkable, so to this day he didn’t really know the detail. Only that Bodie had been incarcerated, handcuffed to a chain bolted into the floor, which gave insight into how his arm injuries and dislocated shoulder had come about. The skin grafts had healed well and the ring of scarring around his wrist was barely noticeable now. He pushed the keys aside and picking up the envelope, he ran his thumb under the sealed flap. Peering into it, there was one manila file, almost a centimetre thick and he pulled it out. On the front, in Cowley’s now slightly shaky handwriting was one word, ‘Bauer,’ written in capitals.

Doyle considered that in itself unusual, normally Cowley was fastidious about paperwork, every file assigned a reference number even before being opened. Dismissing it and concluding that it was likely some late information on the Webber case, he opened it and started to read the first page.

*      *     *

Bodie had sat staring into space before dialling Cowley’s number. Something didn’t add up. Dementia didn’t just appear overnight, there were normally some early warnings, the odd item forgotten or misplaced, short term memory lapses that sort of thing, but there had been nothing like that up to now that he’d noticed. The only way to be sure would be to speak to Susan. As his live-in nurse come bodyguard, she would have noticed anything untoward. 

“Have you read the file I gave Doyle, Three-seven?”

“No, sir.” Bodie, out of long ago ingrained habit, sat slightly straighter in the leather bound chair, his long respect for Cowley’s authority overriding the distance of a phone line.

“I told Jack that you and Doyle were neither incompetent nor foolish, should I be re-evaluating that assessment?”

Bodie closed his eyes with relief. That certainly sounded like vintage Cowley, he couldn’t help but smile.

“Well?”

“No, sir.”

“Make sure Jack stays where he is until you’ve talked. Goodnight Bodie.”

With that, Cowley terminated the call and Bodie, gently replacing the phone handset, rested his hand on top of the phone for a contemplative moment before relaxing back into the chair. His brief conversation with Susan had also allayed his fears, she’d confirmed that she had seen no evidence of any mental frailty and as she had carried the phone through to Cowley and passed it over, he’d heard her say, “The call you were expecting, sir.” Cowley had also ably demonstrated there was nothing wrong with his long term memory either. His call sign had been Alpha-Bravo for nearly fifteen years and since retiring, the Cow usually called them by their names, although he had occasionally reverted to using Three-seven and Four-five when he was exerting his particular brand of authority.

Doyle was sat at the table when he heard footsteps on the stairs. He looked up to see John standing in the doorway. “D’ya wanna cuppa?” he said, smiling and then he saw the messenger bag hanging off John’s shoulder.

Jack shook his head. “You've both been great, but I can't keep on taking advantage. I should go, can you say goodbye to Bodie for me?”

“Bodie’s in the study, he won’t be long, he’s just on the phone to Cowley I think.”

Doyle watched as a lightbulb went on somewhere in John’s head and said, “Cowley. George Cowley?”

It registered with Doyle that they perhaps hadn’t mentioned Cowley’s surname to John up to that point. They’d called in on him on the way back from the appointment at Colin’s for the removal of John’s stitches and as they old man had previously expressed that he wanted to meet the man that had utilised resources, they had obliged. They had so many nicknames for him, Father, the old man, the Cow, they probably hadn’t said his surname in John’s presence, and John had been introduced to him only as George. His thoughts were interrupted as John spoke again.

“George Cowley from Criminal Intelligence Five?”

Doyle nodded, his brain in overdrive. Realistically, the only people that knew about CI5 in sufficient depth to know where Cowley had fitted in were other law enforcement agencies or master criminals. And CI5 hadn't officially existed for a long time now. Sure, old school still referred to it, but it had long since been absorbed into MI5 as the Counter Terrorism Division. CI5 as an organisation had been effectively disbanded and relegated to the history books.

“Fuck!” Jack collapsed into the kitchen chair and slumped his head in his hands.

Doyle’s brain went up another gear, profanity was not in John’s arsenal. The worst he’d heard to date from the mild mannered Canadian had been a softly muttered ‘Damn it’ when he’d stubbed his toe leaving the bathroom one night. If it had been either him or Bodie, there would have been a melange of blues the full length of the upstairs landing. “What do you know about CI5?” he demanded.

Doyle watched the blankness sweep over John's face, then after a moment it crumbled away to be replaced with a look of abject resignation and his head dropped.

Jack eventually lifted his head, his face pale. “I met George Cowley at a security summit in err,” he paused, “ninety-six it must have been. He remembered me.” Jack shook his head slowly and his voice took on a pensive edge. “I didn’t recognise him. It’s years ago now. Different glasses,” he said helplessly.

“A security summit?” Doyle thought back rapidly. In ninety-six, he and Bodie had been running the London office when Cowley had become an itinerant, going off like a missionary, spreading the gospel of the idea of an international CI5, thereby guaranteeing its survival. The time frame certainly fitted.

“I was introduced to him as Jack. He said you used to work for him. You and Bodie, you’re CI5?”

Doyle's mind raced. If Cowley wasn't suffering from dementia then it put a whole different spin on it. He'd told John not to run, so what did he think John was running from. If John had been introduced to him in ninety-six then he must have been in the security service somewhere and must have been reasonably senior. Doyle nodded, “Ex, we both retired a couple of years ago. Who the hell are you and how do you know about Cowley and CI5?” As he looked at John, he reflected on the first page of the file in front of him that was now concealed by his own strategically placed arm and was unable to completely suppress a grin. Not only was the old man obviously of sound mind, he was still the absolute master of triple think. .

At that moment he heard the study door opening. John looked up and Doyle saw a momentary panic flash across his eyes. Before he could say anything, John was on his feet and Bodie strolled into view at the far end of the room, his hands wedged into his trouser pockets.

"Bodie," said Jack flatly.

"I think we all need to have a chat," said Bodie, seeing John's withdrawn expression

There was a pause and Jack said, "I'm sorry, I can't. I have to go. Bodie, Ray. Thank you for everything." He turned towards the door and Bodie's voice calmly spoke from across the room "John, Jack, whatever your bloody name is, just think about what Cowley said, what he actually said. Just wait so we can talk. That’s not an unreasonable request is it?"

Jack stopped in his tracks and turned back to him, it was perhaps a low stunt for Bodie to pull, but it was true and he considered it was only fair payback for when he’d put Bodie on the spot over taking him to hospital. These two deserved an explanation and maybe if Cowley had been going to do anything, he'd have surely done it by now, but could he afford to take even that tiny risk?

Jack shook his head “I can’t stay.”

“Bollocks. You are not leaving. Sit down,” said Bodie trenchantly, glaring at him.

Bodie walked up to stand alongside Ray, his eyebrows scrunching into a frown as he crossed his arms over his chest, accentuating his broad frame. “In all the time I worked for the old man, I never disobeyed an order and I’m not going to start now.”

Ray watched as John slowly made his way back to the table, Bodie could pretty much get around anybody, and when his natural charm or joviality failed he could menace with the best of them. “He’s told me to not let you leave until we’ve both seen this and we’ve talked.” Bodie nodded towards the table.

Jack followed Bodie’s line of sight to the manila file open on the table under Ray’s arm and knew immediately it was a file on him. He had always been regarded as a private man, with good reason. He'd never felt comfortable talking about himself and now he had even more cause not to. Feeling self conscious knowing that his whole life was detailed in that file and that both of the men who had cared for him without expecting anything in return would soon know everything about his past, he also acknowledged to himself that he owed them an explanation at least. And if they let him go immediately after, he would never see them again anyway. ‘And if he ran?’ he asked himself. If he ran, and if they wanted to stop him running, how far would he realistically get if all the resources of CI5 were brought to bear.

Looking up when he felt Bodie’s intense blue gaze on him, Jack resigned himself to staying. He had a sudden urge to get out in the open, the walls were closing in on him, needing to at least feel a last chance at freedom, even if it wasn’t real, the garden’s seven foot high walls topped by anti-climb metal spikes made that apparent. “I'll be in the back yard,” he said softly, “give you two chance to talk.”

He dropped his messenger bag on the chair and walked quietly to the French doors and disappeared through them out into the darkness.

“Never disobeyed an order?” asked Doyle, a wicked smile creeping onto his face.

“Never,” said Bodie, mirroring Doyle’s expression. “I was a model employee me, you on the other hand were always leading me astray, amazing I put up with it really.”

Doyle pushed the opened file towards Bodie who slid a chair round to sit beside him and spreading the pages onto the table, they both started examining the contents.

Silence fell between them, interspersed with the odd incredulously murmured expletive as they absorbed the enormity of events that had befallen Jack.

Doyle nudged Bodie and passed him over a sheet of paper, “Teri. She was his wife,” said Doyle flatly. “Poor bastard.”

“While saving Palmer, one of his own killed her.” Bodie slowly shook his head, wondering how anybody could recover from that sort of betrayal.

“He flew the nuclear device out into the Mojave.”

“Hmmm, he’d resigned from active service and then went back in. Bloody amazing he got out of that alive.”

“Makes you wonder, dunnit” Doyle mused, “Did he intend to?”

Bodie shrugged, “We’ve both done stuff with crazily long odds, didn’t mean one of us had a death wish did it?”

Doyle returned the shrug. In the early days he’d wondered whether Bodie’d had exactly that, but over the years had learnt to understand his partner better. Bodie’d not had a death wish, but he’d demonstrated on more than one occasion that he had a cavalier outlook towards dying, a kamikaze acceptance of the fates. An attitude he’d frequently been angered by and had often wondered if it had been taught to Bodie by his Sensei.

“Undercover in Mexico for bloody months, no wonder he doesn’t like drug dealers,” muttered Bodie a couple of minutes later. “I know how he feels,” he said with conviction.

Ray leaned over to look and pointed to the bottom of the page, “Hmmm, ’specially if you end up with a bloody heroin addiction for your trouble.”

Bodie whistled soundlessly between his teeth.

“What is it?” Doyle looked up from his own bit of paper and looked over to the sheet that Bodie slid towards him. “He was the one who brought down Logan. You were right Ray, wasn’t Gabby Logan at all was it.” Bodie’s eyes scanned down the page. "And then he had to fake his own death."

"What that must have done to his daughter," Doyle said softly, as his eyes read down the rest of the page. Bodie looked at him, knowing what it would have done to Andy in the same circumstances.

“How the hell did he survive nearly two years in China and not talk. Brave bastard.” Doyle swallowed. It was inconceivable and gave clarity to the heavy scarring that Jack had on much of his body.

“Well he’s probably not up for another Chinky take away.”

“Bodie,” Doyle sighed, despairing not for the first time at his mate’s gallows humour. “Might explain why he didn't enjoy his grub that night. I just thought he wasn’t feeling too good.”

They shared a subdued grin, trying to find something to cling on to, to stop them drowning in all the horrors the file was revealing at the turn of each page.

Doyle scanned down another page. “Fucking hell. He was put there by his own family. His brother.”

“That’s taking sibling rivalry a little too far innit,” said Bodie, soberly. “And then his old man sticks the boot in.”

Doyle shook his head, “You know what they say, you can choose your friends, but you sure can't choose your family."

“Amen to that.”

Doyle looked up sharply, but there was nothing to be seen in his friend’s face, no clue as to whether he was referring to something about his own family. It was one area of Bodie’s life that he had never ever plagued Bodie about, even in jest. His attention was jerked back to the file by Bodie’s exclamation, “Infected by a prion variant. What the fuck’s that?”

Doyle peered at the piece of paper Bodie was holding and after studying it carefully. “CJD to you and me, mate.” He screwed up his face into a frown, “I think. Or a variation of it, anyway.”

Bodie nodded absently, engrossed in another tightly typed page near the end of the file. “Christ! There's an all agency twep order on him,” said Bodie, sliding the sheet towards Doyle. “Hassan, the IRK peace process, the Russians. It was ‘im.”

Reading it through, Doyle absorbed the chain of events that had irrevocably pushed Jack to breaking point and thought back to another time where he’d seen berserker rage in action first hand. Bodie and King Billy. The death of one of Bodie’s old SAS mob that had manically hit Bodie and caused him to lose it. How very different that could have all turned out if he hadn’t been there, or if Cowley hadn’t stopped Bodie from breaking King Billy’s neck. Finally, Doyle sat back, “Bloody ‘ell.”

Bodie putting the last piece of paper down, shook his head in disbelief. “Poor bastard was left hanging by ‘is thumbs by President Taylor. There but for the grace of…….”

“Cowley and having each other to watch our backs,” Doyle finished for him.

“Yeah.”

Bodie looked thoughtful and Doyle studied him. The multiple aspects of Jack’s history that bore an almost uncanny resemblance to Bodie’s own hadn’t passed him by although he suspected that Bodie would be completely oblivious to it. Being a Government Agent following on from years in Special Forces and the invariable covert ops, the periods of imprisonment in hostile hands, China for Jack and the Congo and Bristol for Bodie. Teri and Marikka, both loved and both dead because of the job. Renee Walker, FBI Agent and Williams, from Bodie’s old SAS unit, both dead and the catalysts for both men to be pushed over the line. Months of isolation, undercover in the clutches of drug lords. Their time spent in Africa, Sengala for Jack, Biafra, the Congo and Angola for Bodie, both involved in fighting the corruption, albeit in different ways. The betrayals by Barry Martin, Krivas and Keller that had left Bodie in pieces, even if he hadn’t shown it to the rest of the world, and for Jack, two former colleagues, Nina and Tony, and perhaps worst of all, Jack’s own Government. The Operation Susies where they’d felt manipulated by the old man had never been pleasant, but paled into insignificance when compared to the things Jack had been up against. Glancing again through the details of some of the operations Jack had been involved with, Doyle observed that Jack had responded in much the same way as Bodie would. When Jack had had a personal reason for being involved or had personal connections with the villains, he’d eliminated those threats with brutal efficiency. Rescuing his family from Ira Gaines and slaughtering the Drazens to avenge his daughter. Saving his girlfriend and her father from execution by raiding the compound single-handedly despite the risk of an imminent missile strike. Apprehending Stephen Saunders and Tony Almeida, executing Christopher Henderson and interrogating Charles Logan at gunpoint. All had been brought to justice one way or another. Then there was Nina Myers, Dana Walsh, Mikhail Novakovich and Pavel Tokarev. They had all threatened, hurt or killed people Jack cared about and they had betrayed him, all taking something important away from him and despite some of the question marks in the file, he had no doubt that Jack had killed every single one of them.

His quip about renaming their house guest Jodie now had a greater breadth, far beyond an observation of a scant number of personal possessions and a pile of clothes neatly folded on a wooden chair.  Bodie likely wouldn’t see it. Different times, different decades even and no doubt very different experiences, but Jack and Bodie had a shared history all the same.

Doyle said gently, “What ya’ thinking mate? I can hear the cogs grinding from here.”  Of course, he’d stood shoulder to shoulder for most of the CI5 stuff, but his own background, coming up through the Met had been so very different to Bodie’s and he couldn’t even begin to wonder what was going through his mate’s mind.

Bodie didn’t answer immediately and seeing his closed off expression, Doyle wasn’t even sure he would at all, but after a lengthy pause, he sighed and said, “Well he’s no cream puff is he.”

*      *     *

Bodie stood at the French windows watching Jack speculatively. He had never really had a place to call his own before now. All the places he had lived in over the years, even the CI5 flats, were places to stay, to store his belongings, to sleep. But not a home. Life as a merc, the army and then the perpetual six monthly moves during his time at CI5 meant that home had always been a distant analogy for wherever he was living at that moment in time. Not that it had ever bothered him. In some ways it had suited him, abiding by his golden rule of not ever seeking any level of binding commitment or permanence to anything. Unlike Ray, who had always complained about the infernal bi-annual uprootings and had spent the first forty years of his life yearning for the white picket fence and the usual paraphernalia that went with it. It wasn’t until they had bought this house that he’d finally got it, that he’d understood what permanence and having a home really meant. With an eclectic mix of furniture and curios, Ray had always had the skill to create a homely, relaxed feel wherever they’d lived. Over the decades that they'd shared their various CI5 flats he'd got used to, and appreciated that homeliness, so very different from the starkness that used to be present in all the places he'd lived on his own, but it was more than that. It was having their names attached to the bricks and mortar, he finally had stable and secure roots. He’d even increased the meagre volume of personal effects he’d moved in with. He was no longer the possessor of merely a half dozen books, a hi-fi and the contents of his wardrobe. With his transient, almost nomadic career, travelling light had always been a consideration, but now he had tools in the garden shed, a restoration project in the garage along with all its trappings, a chess set, a guitar and two long shelves and a half of books and was contemplating buying some more. Hell, he even had a picture on the mantelpiece. Admittedly, it was a photo of him and Ray at their CI5 leaving do, but still, it was a nick-nack, an ornament; a possession with no actual use except to decorate and appreciate and he’d never really had one of those before. Even his collection of hand held weapons, old pistols and knives; all had been purposeful, but as soon as the firearms legislation had been tightened up in ninety-seven prohibiting the ownership of over half of them unless stored somewhere secure like Bisley, instead of getting them deactivated, he’d chosen to get rid of them all.

Although he’d never given much time to analyse it, if he had had to label it, he would have said he’d always been a fatalist. Applying the philosophy of what will be, will be and accepting the law of kismet, he’d lived only in the day to day. He’d never really considered his destiny and he’d certainly not routinely made plans for the future. With the solid cornerstone of having somewhere to call home, that he and Ray owned, all that had changed and he'd finally recognised that permanence and attachment didn’t have to be shunned or feared. He’d not known he was missing out until he’d found it. Jack though, he’d had it all and lost it all and Bodie knew that in his shoes, he would have felt the loss of it keenly.

CI5 had had one fundamental difference to CTU. Cowley had always protected the innocents. There had never been the acceptable loss mandate. Of course innocents had been caught up in the cross fire on occasion and every one of them a tragedy, but never had they been deemed as expendable. The agents themselves, they were different, but then they knew the rules of engagement. CTU had had the typical government remit of the greater good that in his experience, MI5, MI6 and the SAS had all employed, most governments and their agencies did. Happy to sit in their sanitized offices in Whitehall, the U.K. Government were just like the government in the U.S. and any number of governments around the world. But Cowley had always had a different viewpoint and it was one that he’d always believed in. Being at the coal face in Africa and in Special Forces, he'd been forced to make those decisions and they ate away at a man from the inside. That was why he had stayed with CI5 for so long and Cowley had proved it was possible. He used to go ballistic if even a shot was fired in a residential street. His ‘not seen or heard’ philosophy that the public shouldn't even know of their existence was not borne out of any necessity of covertness, although of course that was a side benefit. No, it was to preserve the roses and lavender image and to quell the spread of misery. What the public didn't know wouldn't hurt them. CTU hadn't had that luxury and by the sounds of it, Jack had tried to follow Cowley’s ethos, but to his own detriment.

Doyle sat staring blankly at Bodie, while lost in his own thoughts. CTU had had a charter very similar to CI5’s, the power and autonomy to do what was necessary. Of course Cowley would have been aware of Jack if he’d headed up the L.A office. The Cow had made it his business to know. Doyle remembered the reports of the assassination attempt on Palmer during the Californian primary and the nuclear bombs in the Mojave and Valencia. He and Bodie had both been in situations on the ‘A’ squad requiring split second decisions and a hard head, the atomic device at the bowling alley was just one of so many. Perhaps the device hadn’t been as powerful as those that Jack had contended with, but would have been devastating if it’d gone off and would have left most of London as a radioactive wasteland for centuries. It was, in many ways irrelevant anyway, it wouldn’t have made a difference whether they’d been smeared over one square mile of London or four. Dead was dead either way. He remembered the gut clenching fear as he and Bodie had disabled it with seconds to spare. There had been too many ops to count that had seen them survive by the skin of their teeth, and probably just as many that had left a very nasty taste in the mouth. Some steered in a particular direction by Cowley for the greater good or by a Minister for political expediency. Bodie and he had been forced to do some harrowing things, things that would play on both their minds although they’d both had very different ways of dealing with it all, but the overriding arc had been that they weren’t in it alone. In many ways, Working for CI5 was a bloody awful job. But it needed doing, it was worthwhile and he and Bodie were well qualified for it. Reliant on each other in the field. Watching out for each other. And their partnership had meant they had come out the other side. Jack had dealt with it all on his own and no man could go through all of that and remain unaffected. Christ, the things he’d been forced to do. ‘What was the man’s name in the file? Ryan Chapelle, that was it.’ Jack had been ordered, by the President, to take him to a location and kill him in cold blood. Not even a bad guy, he’d been one of their own and had given his life to save thousands of others. Ray wasn’t sure he could have done what Jack had. Bodie would probably have had the inner strength to do it, but would have suffered for it all the same. Despite his rhetoric about being cool and his steely determination to appear to all as a cold-hearted bastard, he’d learnt long ago that underneath it all, things hurt Bodie just as much.

Bodie stood in front of the French windows, his gaze locked onthe dark garden. Jack was standing, completely still in the darkness, facing away from the window. The dispirited slump of the shoulders was reminiscent of when Jack was sat for hours on the bench and it saddened Bodie that events had brought them full circle. He watched as Jack’s head dropped, a seemingly final act of defeat.

Spurred into action, he grabbed the file from the table and strode purposefully out to the garden. Jack turned to him, expectant, yet resigned.

D’ya wanna read it?” As he said it, Bodie saw the swell of darkness grow in Jack’s eyes and the tug of sadness around his mouth before a small shudder went through his shoulders.

Jack shook his head, "Let’s just say I'm familiar with its contents," he said drily. Bodie’s lips tightened momentarily. "Christ, its cold out here, hold this a sec," he announced, thrusting the buff cardboard file against Jack's chest, leaving him to either grab it or let it fall to the ground. As soon as Jack lifted a hand to it in reflex, Bodie strode off down the garden before stopping in front of the shed. He disappeared inside it and almost immediately reappeared with a string bag of small logs and a black plastic bottle. He came purposefully back up the path towards the house, before diverting towards the chimenea on the small patio and started loading it with the wood. He squeezed the bottle over the top and let a long snake of barbeque lighting gel smother the logs. After placing the gel down on the ground behind him he turned to Jack and said archly, "We could do with some paper to get this going, don't s’pose you know where there's some just lying about do you?" He reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out a box of matches which he held out to Jack. Jack was taken aback, not what he'd expected. Bodie gave a fatuous grin and rubbed his hands together gleefully, "I love a good fire." In two strides he was at the French doors where he bellowed into the lounge, "‘ave we got any marshmallows, Ray? Jack wants to barbecue some."

Ray appeared at the door, “Marshmallows? You’ll both spoil your dinner,” he said mildly.

Jack looked at him stunned, “I can’t stay.”

Bodie shrugged, “Why not?”

“I’m trouble.”

“No y’not. You’re actually a very obliging house guest,” protested Doyle. “You eat what I cook without complaining about it, unlike Bodie here, and you keep him amused. As he’s like an overgrown twelve year old, that’s no easy feat.” He grinned as Bodie petulantly scowled.

Chapter Text

Doyle sat on the sofa nursing his tea, only half watching the start of the Remembrance parade on the television and his mind was inevitably drawn back to the memories that had resurfaced ten days ago to the time when Bodie had nearly died. He was grateful, as he was every year on this day, and every other day, that his partner had survived and picked up on the chain of thoughts that had been interrupted by the disclosure of Jack’s true identity.

He’d been unable to not feel hurt by Bodie’s continued rejection of his company, and after demanding regular updates from the Doctor at Repton, including information on Bodie’s general wellbeing, which had continually reported good progress with no concerns, he had curbed the visits a little, going down every two or three weeks. Although still verbally economic, Bodie had seemed to thaw a little. If it wasn’t the conversation about Africa that had caused Bodie to run, then it must have been something else, but he was determined not to raise the topic again and risk alienating his friend even more. Certainly not while Bodie was still in Repton from where he could be thrown out at any minute, either by a nurse or because Bodie got him kicked out and permanently removed from the list of authorised visitors. He was given the perfect opportunity when Christmas came around.

On the day before Christmas Eve, the buzz in the squad room had been made up of two distinctly opposing groups. The final rosters had been placed on the notice board and those on shift over the holiday were vocally grumbling, while the agents not on shift were talking loudly about their plans. Those on stand-by were split between the two camps, either pleased that they could stay at home or complaining because they couldn’t get away to see family and friends. Jax, one of the few agents who was married, to his disgust was down for a shift on Christmas Day. “Christ, I’m bloody missing Bodie now, mate. He always used to volunteer for me if I was on shift. I haven’t been able to get down to see him for a couple of weeks. How’s he doing anyway?” He’d updated Jax on Bodie’s progress, pleased that he’d asked and bloody delighted that for the first time in all the years he’d worked for CI5, his name hadn’t been on either list for stand-by or for being on shift for the entire holiday period. Later that day, Cowley had told him that he’d been to see Bodie that morning and that he would be ready to be released from Repton as soon as he’d had the initial sign off that his memory was intact, confirming that all the blanks had been filled. “An agent who can’t remember who the villains are is no good to CI5 and would be a danger to themselves.” Then he’d dropped the bombshell that he’d told Bodie that he wasn’t medically fit for ‘A’ squad, and now never would be, not with a metal plate in his skull. “Three-seven didn’t take it well. I think he’d assumed that the plate would be sufficient and that he could carry on as before.”

He’d dropped his head into his hands at that point, only raising it when Cowley had nudged him, holding out a glass filled with a generous slug of single malt.

That evening, he’d gone to see his partner, cursing Cowley’s insensitive timing and the bleakness of Repton had been reflected in Bodie’s face. With a disconsolate shrug, Bodie had told him he couldn’t be released to go home as he was still categorized as a security risk until he’d been officially cleared. The psychologist who would clear him had apparently come down with the flu and likely wouldn’t be back until the New Year. He now knew that Bodie had never been a big one for the festive season, as unbeknown to him, he’d invariably opted to work so the squad members with family could get the time off; but he hadn’t been able to bear the thought of leaving his mate in Repton over Christmas. He’d looked so bloody miserable. He’d leapt up, “Back in a second, mate,” and had gone seeking Bodie’s doctor. Receiving his approval, he’d then phoned Cowley who had also approved and then in a flurry of activity, overseen by Bodie’s slightly confused expression, he’d scooped up Bodie’s belongings, thrust them in his bag and announced “Shift y’carcass, you’re coming home with me, mate.”

Bodie had resisted, in fact he’d resisted for almost an hour, but not taking no for an answer, eventually Bodie had capitulated with the threat that Ellie would never forgive her husband if he was left in Repton over Christmas. In the end, Bodie had let himself be ushered down the corridor of polished institutional lino to the car, meek as a lamb, where he’d been shepherded into the front passenger seat, and he’d watched him close his eyes and lean back wearily against the headrest.

*      *     *

Bodie had dozed off in the car and he’d gently nudged him awake when he’d pulled up in the drive, the house in darkness. Bodie had woken slowly, and watching him in the sodium glow of the street lights he’d noted all the signs of fatigue that were obvious if you knew what to look for in his still too thin face. Bodie had looked sombre and appeared nervous with an air of tension he couldn’t pinpoint. It was the first time in months that Bodie had been away from Repton and back in the real world, no doubt there was a connection. A momentary stab of guilt had hit him that he was bringing Bodie back with him for his and Ellie’s first Christmas with Andrew, but he’d soon quelled it, confident that Ellie would understand. It had dawned on him that this was also going to be the first time that he and Bodie would spend a full Christmas together outside of work. Incredible really, considering they’d been such close friends for over ten years. He’d shown Bodie into the CI5 married quarters that had been home for the last seven months, explaining that Ellie was out, and leaving him settled on the sofa, had gone to turn the kettle on. “When he’d come back with tea, he’d watched carefully to see if Bodie was still disguising any lingering issues with his motor skills and he’d been pleased to see that Bodie was confidently holding his mug in his right hand and there wasn’t the hint of a tremor. He’d been aware the underlying tension shrouding Bodie was still there and thought some inconsequential small talk might get him to relax a little. “How are you getting on at Repton?” he’d said over his shoulder as he’d wandered back to the kitchen to find some biscuits.

“Feel like a lab rat,” Bodie had said, unenthusiastically.

Despite the economical words, there’d been a clear edge of defeat in Bodie’s tone. In all the years he’d known him, that was one thing that he’d never sensed in his partner and it was all the more disturbing for it. When he’d moseyed back to the lounge, biscuit tin in hand, Bodie had been stood in front of the bookshelf, “These yours?”

“Nah, they're Ellie's. She's doing a part time degree in humanistic psychology,” he’d said proudly, moving across the room to stand next to Bodie. Bodie had pulled his finger down the spine of a book titled Existential-humanistic theories. “Ah, we all need something. Rats in a cage only need food and water. The higher-order need things like family and a sense of self-worth. Social roles mate. All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits, and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts. His acts being seven ages.” Bodie had turned away from the book case and said brightly, “Shakespeare, As You Like it.”

He’d frowned, not really understanding what Bodie was on about, but he was long used to his well-read partner spouting random literary quotes and maintaining a steady stream of inane and esoteric facts on a multitude of subjects; all usually punctuated with cheerful profanities. Bodie saw it as a surefire way to deflect questions or fill time on boring obbos, so he hadn’t dwelled on any of it. Trying to convince himself that he’d imagined hearing the strand of hopelessness in Bodie’s voice, he’d been glad Bodie was at least saying something. The last few visits to Repton had been rather one sided on the conversation front and he’d thought it probably had a lot to do with his rather ham fisted attempt to try and find out why Bodie had left.

When they’d both settled back onto the sofa with their tea, he’d broken the silence, “You’ll get to meet Andrew Philip Doyle when Ellie comes back, next in line in the Doyle dynasty.”

Bodie’s eyebrows had shot up, “The baby photos, they’re yours?”

Doyle had nodded, grinning stupidly. Despite him telling Bodie all about Andrew on the first day, it hadn’t felt right showing off about his son once Bodie had woken up and been so ill, but at that point, well he was on the mend and it was unavoidable as he’d be meeting him in about an hour.

“Congratulations mate.” And he’d lofted his mug, before saying, almost under his breath, “Andrew Philip Doyle eh, poor little sod.”

He hadn’t been sure whether that was a reference to being Bodie’s namesake or being a Doyle, but taking a sneaky look at his partner, he’d thought he’d looked inordinately pleased.     

Bodie had stayed awake just long enough to see Andrew and Ellie when they’d got home, but had gone upstairs immediately after. In fact he’d spent much of his time in his room, pleading tiredness. When he’d taken him up tea or to check on him, sometimes he’d found him asleep, but more frequently, found him reading or just laying, staring at the ceiling as if Bodie was trying to be as unobtrusive as possible throughout his visit. Not wanting to push him, he’d not challenged, but he’d known that all was not right in Bodie’s world.

On Christmas Day, Bodie had been asleep the first two times he’d checked and on the third visit, just before midday, he’d managed to prise Bodie from his room whereupon he had quietly participated in the festivities. He’d seemed to enjoy his dinner, or at least the small amount of it he did actually eat, but it had all been conducted with a slightly wary expression on his face. Despite Bodie still being much thinner than he was used to, he’d been pleased to see he was actually eating. Nowhere near his epic portions of old, but of a sufficient quantity that he wouldn’t immediately keel over from malnutrition.

Immediately after dinner, Bodie had insisted on clearing up, alone. He’d been slightly put out by Bodie effectively pushing him away, but had taken up his suggestion of settling down with Ellie on the sofa once she’d settled Andrew down for his afternoon nap.

He’d obviously dozed off at some point because when he’d later wandered into the kitchen, it had been empty. No sign of Bodie and everything washed up and tidied away as if the Christmas dinner had never happened.

It had been Boxing Day afternoon when Bodie had once more been resting in his room and he and Ellie had been sprawled out on the sofa. “When’s he going home Ray?”

“Who, Bodie?”

“Of course Bodie, who else did you think I meant, Andrew?” Ellie’s voice had been sharp and bitter.

“He’s not well enough to go home by himself and I’m not shoving him back to Repton,” he’d said firmly.

“Why not? They can look after him there.”

He’d sat himself upright then, annoyed by his wife’s comment. “Don’t be ridiculous, Ellie. He’s my partner.”

“No Ray, I’m your bloody partner, he’s just somebody you happen to work with.”

He'd narrowed his eyes, the anger bubbling up. “I don’t just happen to bloody work with him. He’s more than that. I told you, we’re close.”

“Well, now I know how Princess Di felt when she said there’s three of ‘em in her marriage.”

Ellie was almost yelling now and in anger he'd yelled back, mercurial as always. “What the hell are you on about, I’m not fucking sleeping with him. He’s the one who keeps me alive by watching my back.”

“He's dangerous.” Ellie had stood up, hands on her hips and had stubbornly stuck out her chin.

“Don't be so bloody ridiculous.”

“He puts you at risk. Face it, Ray. You only stay in the job because of Bodie, because of some macho bloody pact about being a mobile ghetto. If Bodie wasn't there, you'd have faced up to your responsibilities to your family, but rather than leave and get a sensible job, oh no, you decide to be the next controller of CI5.”

He’d stood up and faced her, angered by the accusations being thrown at Bodie’s feet. “I’m off the streets, what more do you want?”

“I want you safe and don’t even try to tell me there’s never been an assassination attempt on Cowley. When I went to the hospital, I thought you'd leave.”

“Bristol? When the hell did you go to Bristol?” he’d challenged. He’d stood there, fists clenched as she’d covered her mouth with her hand and then he’d realised, horror replacing the anger as his voice dropped to a whisper. "Wasn’t Bristol was it. You went to Charing Cross. You told Bodie to go."

As he’d stood there, Ellie's eyes had flickered to somewhere over his shoulder and had widened as if in shock. He’d spun round in time to see his best mate stood in the doorway, his eyes squeezed shut in a silent expression of anguish. Bodie’s face had been paper white as his frame swayed involuntarily and he’d reached out to the door jamb to steady himself before his eyes had jerked open. Bodie’d swallowed hard, turned and walked away, his head bowed. He’d spun back to Ellie and in a low voice had demanded, “What the fuck did you say to him?”

She’d shaken her head and with venom had said, "Why don't you go and ask your bloody partner. You're dying to go after him, it's written all over your face."

 "You heartless bitch. You don't understand, do you? He nearly fucking died." He’d run upstairs and pushed into the spare room. Bodie had been half lying, half sat, back against the headboard, legs stretched out down the bed casually crossed at the ankles looking the very picture of relaxed, just like he used to at Repton and despite the appearance of the posture, he knew it to be a lie. The face closed of all expression and the tension strumming through his partner’s frame just served to confirm it. Bodie’s eyes had flicked over to him and then away again back up to the ceiling and he’d just stayed completely still, rigid and unhappy.

“What did she say to you, Bodie? Was it her that made you leave?”

Nothing.

“Just tell me. Please?” Bodie had crossed his arms across his chest and hugged himself tight, his lower lip jutting mutinously, but hadn't said a word as he’d laid there staring at the ceiling. He’d sat on the bed next to him and gently nudged his shoulder. "Tell me it wasn’t her that made you leave and I’ll go away."

“Just leave it Doyle.” There was a world of weariness in the words, but he couldn’t and finally Bodie had looked at him. "Ray, I’m really tired. Go back downstairs, let me get some shut eye, mate. Please?" Then he’d moved, shuffling himself down the bed until his head was on the pillow and he’d turned on his side to face the other way, eyes clamped shut, curling into himself.

The following morning he’d been in the kitchen, drying up, when his peripheral vision had caught a glimpse of Bodie hovering by the door. “Hello, mate.”

“Where's Ellie?” Bodie had asked, eyes wary and anxious.

“She's taken Andrew to see her sister who’s over from Australia.”

“Oh.” A slightest relaxing of the shoulders had accompanied his response. “She go this morning?”

“No, last night.”

Another oh.

D’ya want some breakfast?” he’d said with an encouraging smile.

Bodie’d shrugged awkwardly, “Yeah, okay.” The lack of enthusiasm for food had been just as concerning as everything else regarding his partner’s state of mind and he’d immediately thrown the tea towel he’d been holding over his shoulder before putting a couple of slices of bread in the toaster. Bodie had stayed where he was, still uncertain and apprehensive, looking like he was ready to take flight any second while watching him go back and forth as first a knife, then a plate and then marmalade had all joined the butter dish already on the kitchen table. He’d gestured to Bodie to sit before turning to the kettle to make tea, glad to have something to do with his hands. He’d been trying to think of what to say next, wanting to have a calm conversation to find out what had gone on between him and Ellie at Charing Cross hospital. Last night, as Ellie had thrown clothes into a suitcase for both her and Andrew, she’d refused to discuss it, despite him pleading to know, so he could try and fix the bloody horrible mess.

The revelation had obviously impacted Bodie too, judging by what he’d seen and heard last night. The first shout had pierced straight through his own slumber and although the second cry had been quieter, it had been more like a strangled sob, so he’d immediately stumbled out of bed. He’d known the sounds and their significance, he’d heard them before. He’d grabbed his dressing gown from the hook on the back of the door and dragging it on over his pyjama bottoms, protecting his bare shoulders from the night chill, he’d padded barefoot across the landing to Bodie’s room. The sound of fear laden horror had come again, slightly louder than the last, as if the nightmare was winning. He’d paused on the landing, unsure whether Bodie would want to see him or not, despite the circumstances. With a deep breath, he’d quietly pushed open the door to see the trembling silhouette of Bodie’s back, sat on the edge of the bed. As he’d stood there, Bodie’s head had dropped into his hands in silent torment.

He’d pulled back from the door, there was little that he could do but offer comfort, and Bodie was not one to accept it easily, he would usually actively refuse any form of solace or consolation. Bodie was at least awake from the nightmare and knowing his presence wouldn’t be appreciated, he’d quietly pulled the door to before creeping back to his room.

Once back in the warmth of his own bed, he’d thought about what he’d seen. Maybe it had simply been the immediate aftermath of the nightmare, maybe it was lack of sleep and only partial recovery from his head injury or maybe it had been the ethereal half-light of the room, bleeding in through the fault line of the curtains, but Bodie’d seemed defeated, shrunken. He’d stared into the darkness remembering the pale, vulnerable figure who had lain silent and motionless in the hospital bed through all his hours of worrying. It was like Bristol all over again.

Despite his weak physical state, that aura of restless energy that Bodie had always exuded was still there, but it was nervous and twitchy now. He’d turned back to the table where Bodie sat watching him, the tenseness of his posture still evident. “Look, mate, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, toast is fine.”

He’d been about to lay into Bodie for being obtuse at a time like this and for being, well typically Bodie really, when he’d stopped himself. Determined to stay calm and get to the bottom of what Ellie had said to Bodie over a year ago, to find out why Bodie hadn’t told him about it rather than just taking off. If he’d just talked to him and told him what Ellie had done, they’d surely have been able to sort it all out. In the end, his plans had gone out the window as he’d stood over his closest friend, all of the stress and worry and frustration from the last fifteen months coming together as an overwhelming torrent. With his fists clenched, eyes stinging, in a low voice, rough with emotion, he’d said in barely more than a whisper, “Don’t ever do that again.” He’d squeezed his eyes shut, fighting the tears that were trying to form, forcing his voice to be stronger, louder. “Promise me. That you’ll talk to me and tell me whatever’s on your mind. That way, you’ll never run again, not without telling me why. You fucking well promise me.”

And, perhaps surprisingly, Bodie had. In fact, over numerous cups of tea, they’d thrashed out a good many things about the past as they’d sat in the sunny kitchen that morning. They’d briefly touched on the future, which as Bodie, with typical flippancy had declared, was a whole new world of opportunity without the ‘A’ squad, before dismissing it with a casual wave of his hand, although he’d suspected that it was all false bravado. Bodie’d refused to say what his conversation with Ellie had consisted of, in fact to this day he didn’t really know the details. All he’d known while sitting at that table, was that it had been sufficient for his partner and best mate of over thirteen years to be driven away through a deep sense of loyalty, hell-bent on protecting his own lifelong dream of a family. At some point during the morning, he’d asked gently, “Why didn’t you talk it through with me, mate?”

Bodie had done a fine impression of a goldfish, opening and closing his mouth several times, struggling to find a way to start, to explain, but not managing, panic showing in his eyes. He’d patiently waited, and to his consternation, Bodie had started to shake and looked like he was fighting off tears. With his eyes tightly closed, Bodie’d clasped his hands together in an effort to control the tremors, his fingers clenched, a ring of white around each gripping fingertip. Bodie had always been contained and controlled, even when he lost his temper, and seeing him like that had been disconcerting. Was it part of the personality changes the doctors had talked so extensively about? Was this what serious head trauma had done to his partner? Was it permanent? Worried, he’d reached out to lay a comforting hand on his mate’s shoulder, and like a startled horse, Bodie had visibly jumped, inhaling a disconcerted breath; an unexpected reaction from a man who was normally so tactile. He hadn’t withdrawn his hand and Bodie hadn’t pulled away any further, although the shaking hadn’t subsided any. “It’s okay, mate. S’just me.”

Although on a job it was often unavoidable, intentionally invading Bodie’s personal space off the job to such an extent was not something he’d ever made a habit of, but shuffling his chair towards his normally self-sufficient partner, he’d leaned over and pulled him towards him. Bodie’s body had been taut with strain, but he hadn’t pulled back and the tremble had still been evident, so he’d hugged him as best he could. Except for Bodie’s harsh breathing as he’d fought to get his emotions under control, the room had been completely silent and he’d sat there for several minutes, holding his quivering mate. Not ever having been a toucher by nature, he’d worried that the involuntary flinch Bodie had displayed meant he was doing the wrong thing although he was pretty sure that Bodie had never had the same qualms about personal space.

In a burst of clarity, the article he’d read while waiting for Ellie in the local hospital that time popped into his head and he realised that Bodie had regularly appeared to use touch as a way of assurance, an affirmation that he was there, alive and in one piece. Immediately after an op, there would be some form of brief physical contact, a pat on the shoulder, arm or back, and if he'd been endangered, the touches were more pronounced and definitely more frequent. It was that thought that convinced him to stay where he was, Bodie at that moment had certainly needed some form of reassurance. "It's all right, mate. You can tell me. Let it out. Nothing bad’ll happen, I promise."

In response, Bodie had wrapped his arms round him and clung tightly and he’d fiercely hugged him back. He'd seen Bodie face gunmen, bombs and explosives and he'd always looked calm and in control, his quick wit never far away. This behaviour was so unlike his partner it was unnerving. Bodie’d looked damned scared for one and he’d wished he could let it drop, but whatever it was that Bodie was battling, it wasn't going to go away and he’d owed it to his partner to at least try to get him to talk it through if he could. Finally, he’d felt the tension slowly leech from Bodie’s frame as the shudders had started to gradually subside. He’d gently loosened his grip, mirroring the other man’s movements, letting him determine the physical contact and when Bodie’d removed his arms, he’d retracted his and sat back, waiting for him to make the next move. Bodie had eventually answered, eyes down, the tops of his ears reddening, “Couldn’t.” Which was followed with a shrug and a mumble, “I’ve never really had a best mate before. Didn’t want you to hate me.” He’d been stunned by the revelation. Apart from the fact that he didn’t think he’d ever seen Bodie blush before, for all his posturing and arrogance, Bodie had revealed much about his own self-worth in that short sentence and he’d pitched a response. “Mate, we’ve been through far too much together for me to ever hate you. Besides, I’m starting to get the feeling that you do enough of that for the both of us.

His partner had let out a guffaw, although as far as he’d been able to tell, there’d been little or no humour behind it and then Bodie’d abruptly clammed up.

With gentle perseverance, he’d managed to get Bodie talking again, which had been a surprise in itself. For as long as he’d known him, Bodie had been an intensely private person, tight lipped about his innermost thoughts and feelings, and reluctant to let anybody in close. He was probably closer to his partner than anybody else on the planet yet he hadn’t really ever had a clue what was going through Bodie’s head most of the time.

After thirteen years of thinking he’d understood and known his best mate, the conversation that morning had finally succeeded in cracking open some of Bodie’s self-made and usually unassailable barricades, resulting in him discovering more about his partner than he had in all the years he’d known him. The barriers had been smashed along with his skull he’d thought with an internal wince. He'd learnt long before, that if any physical threat presented itself, Bodie would be there ready to fight, never backing down, in fact even more so if the threat was to somebody he cared about and he’d never doubted that Bodie would fight to the death if necessary. The flight response had been invoked because Bodie's emotional wellbeing had been seriously threatened, he’d been pushed hard enough by Ellie and so Bodie had disappeared, his warped logic believing it was the only option left to preserve their friendship. Cowley’s comment in his office had been bang on, the old man was far more astute than he’d ever given him credit for. Bodie was so self-doubting, he didn’t believe himself worthy of anybody getting close to him or liking him and the smug self-assurance, bordering on arrogance, that he normally lazily exuded, was a front. Once he’d worked that out, much of Bodie’s behaviour had become clearer. In a way, his first guess about the conversation that had made Bodie run was also to blame. Bodie had admitted that he was still deeply ashamed of his time in Africa. Finding out he’d been fighting for the wrong side had shaken him, making him question if he’d ever been fighting for the right side. Perhaps if that conversation hadn’t taken place the day before Ellie had managed to drive him away, she wouldn’t have been successful and maybe Bodie would have felt secure enough that he could have told him. That internal blast furnace of Bodie’s was rooted in the depths of hell. A store for all the horrors and inhumanity that his partner had been exposed to that were corrosively burning him from the inside. He’d been carrying a shed load of guilt for years, not only by association for the barbarism of his unit that day in Africa, but for his admission that he’d helped to supply terrorists with guns and ammunition and the self-loathing clearly showed in his eyes.

Bodie, the poor sod, had seemingly been punishing himself ever since, a lifelong vow made of penance and self-recrimination as he'd made his way back to England, still little more than a kid. The only way he thought he’d know he’d be fighting for the right side, pushing himself harder and harder, first with the Paras then the SAS and finally CI5, the culmination of Bodie’s atonement, to be a part of Cowley’s elite squad and to keep fighting for what was right. Striving to fulfil the old man’s proclamation to keep this green and pleasant land smelling oh so faintly of roses and lavender. He understood now why Bodie had seemed so competitive when they'd first been partnered. He'd assumed back then that his new partner had been trying to prove to him he was better. Not that at all. Bodie had just been trying to do the best he could, pushing himself to the max.

"Bodie, look at me."

The dark head had risen slowly, eyes hesitant and uncertain.

“Bodie, mate, why didn’t you say any of this before? I would’ve understood y’know.”

Bodie’d given him a sad smile, nervously blinking, “Didn’t think you’d approve of all the things I’d done,” which he’d quickly followed with a shrug, “Dunno really, easier just to forget about all of it, not think about it y’know. Thought I could blank it out and pretend it never happened. No point in sharing the misery, is there?”

He’d seen the spots of high colour on Bodie’s face and the embarrassed shrug, suggesting his first statement had been an honest admission made in reflex and that it had revealed too much, although he didn’t doubt the second answer was also the truth. People weren’t born on this earth with pre-programmed deep insecurities, yet Bodie’s were now so ingrained he’d been almost rendered incapable of opening up about his feelings to even his best mate and he wondered if the terrible damage done to his partner in the past could ever be properly repaired.

His time in Africa certainly appeared to be the cause of many of his self-doubts that were only now rising to the surface and visible. He’d inwardly cursed him for his stoic attempts to handle everything himself and had then transferred his frustration to the long ago times and places that had obviously played cruel games with Bodie’s emotions, messing with his head to such an extent he’d been left with all these hidden wounds. ‘Who hurt you so badly that made you build all these brick walls eh, mate?’ He felt an urge to lash out at all of them, make them feel the same amount of anguish that was still visible in Bodie’s dark eyes. With a start, he’d realised he was equally as guilty. Over the years, during fits of righteousness, he’d said some pretty cruel things to his partner. Years ago now, although he couldn't precisely remember when, but it had been pretty early on in their partnership, Krivas, one of Bodie's old adversaries from his time in Africa, had shown up. Bodie had made it clear he and Krivas weren't friends and yet he'd still accused Bodie of being no different, despite even then knowing that there were a million miles between them both. Only then did he realise how much damage that spiteful comment had probably done.

“Oh Bodie,” he’d said gently, shaking his head while cursing his own thoughtlessness, “that’s what best mates do y’know. Support each other. Be there for the joys and the miseries. You’ve always done that for me and it should work both ways, otherwise it’s a little one sided, mate. Need to let me return the favour sometimes, yeah?”

Bodie had raised his eyes to him, a slightly dazed look on his face.

He’d seen his partner's expression and had dampened down his sense of growing frustration. "Bodie," he’d begun, careful to keep his voice even. “We’re partners and best mates and have been for a very long time. Somehow you've convinced yourself you’re not worth caring about and it’s important you understand this, you’re valued."

Bodie had nodded in understanding, “I’m expensive to replace,” before giving a small accepting smile.

He’d stood up, recognising that his mate’s obtuseness was for once, unintentional, and patting Bodie on the shoulder as he’d passed him on the way to the kettle, had replied gently, “That’s as maybe. The issue is that I don’t want a bloody replacement. Do you honestly think you're the only one who should care a damn? In case you don’t know, you’re important to me. I’ve bloody missed you, mate. Was worried sick when you upped and left without a word.” Knowing Bodie wouldn't appreciate anything too overly sentimental, he’d attempted to lighten the mood. “If I'd known where you were, so I could've got hold of you, I'd have been tempted to twep you meself for running off.”

After making another pot of tea, which had given Bodie a chance to compose himself, he’d spent a long time explaining to his partner that he had been little more than a kid when he’d been in Africa, how the hell could he have expected himself to make informed decisions at such a young age. He hadn’t been sure that Bodie was appeased. It had been seemingly impossible to convince him that he’d not been intentionally evil, merely young, alone and just trying to do what he’d needed to survive. But he’d hoped that the words would settle and flourish, and maybe in time would also help extinguish the worst of his insecurities about himself and their friendship.

After talking for almost three hours, he’d noticed the signs of exhaustion on his best friend’s face, and a clear reminder that he was still a long way from recovery, not that Bodie would have ever admitted to it, so he’d wrapped up the conversation with a speech, maintaining eye contact all the way through, not letting Bodie look away. “You are a man of ethics, a decent man, Bodie. Forget all the shit in Africa and anything else that went before that you’ve been beating yourself up about. It was outside of your control, all of it. What matters is the here and now and despite whatever you seem to think, I know you have both integrity and honour by the bloody shed load. You’re a good man, the finest. You’re also my mate, my best mate, you’re like a brother to me for chrissakes. And you don’t seem to understand this either, I'm also your personal barnacle, whatever happens in the future, whatever you say, whatever you do, you're stuck with me. Don’t you fucking forget that, okay?” Throughout his impassioned and seriously toned speech, Bodie hadn’t said a word, his face flitting between a mild frown and incomprehension as he’d processed the words. At that point, he’d sent Bodie upstairs to lie down, maybe the first opportunity for Bodie’s spirit to heal while his body continued to do so at its own pace.

It was only when he’d shepherded Bodie out to the hall and watched him climb the stairs and reach the top that his mate had said anything. “You reckon I’m a man of ethics, eh?” Before he could even nod an affirmation, Bodie had said rather camply, “I’m a Liverpool boy through and through, I am. I’ll have you know I didn’t even step into Essex till I was at least twenty-five.”

Bodie had given him a genuine smile then, probably the first since he’d disappeared over a year ago and he’d instinctively smiled back before watching him move tiredly along the landing to his room. As he’d walked back to the kitchen, shaking his head, he’d tried to decide whether to laugh or just to strangle the dumb crud. As he’d stood filling the kettle, he’d smiled again. At least Bodie’d actually been listening to what he’d been saying, maybe some of it would even register. Then his smile had slipped away as he’d thought back to the flash of doubt followed by sadness that he'd seen on his partner’s face when he’d made his vow of sticking by him. True to form, Bodie’d resorted to humour when confronted with something that made him uncomfortable.

It was reassuringly Bodie of old, he’d thought with a grin and his mind had involuntarily flooded with the aspects of Bodie’s behaviour that had been subtly different during his short stay. Silly things many of them, that anybody who didn’t know his partner well, wouldn’t have noticed. Like when they’d first arrived, rather than flopping down into the sofa, Bodie’d sat almost primly, clutching his mug, tension leeching from him in waves. And normally, on entering any room for the first time, he would have prowled the perimeter before settling. He hadn’t thought about it before, his mate would frequently gravitate towards an unfamiliar bookcase, so that aspect of his conduct had been comfortably familiar. And then there was the amount of time he’d spent asleep. Over the years on obbos he’d seen Bodie fall into a deeper sleep, but only when he was watching his back and the other agents had often commented that Bodie slept with one ear and one eye perpetually open. His partner had always been a light sleeper, whereas Bodie hadn’t stirred when he’d gone into his room any number of times on Christmas Day. He’d been completely oblivious to his presence, sleeping deeply. At Christmas, the changes to his personality and psyche were plain to see when he’d given it due consideration and it’d all been a stark reminder as to how far Bodie still had to go. The behavioural abnormalities certainly weren’t limited to his confessions over the kitchen table.

He’d never told Bodie how important he was to him before. Partly because it wasn’t really the done thing and Bodie would have most likely just laughed at him, and partly because he’d thought that any hint of commitment, however small, might make his partner feel trapped and he’d end up running a mile, and he hadn’t wanted to rock the status quo. Making demands of Bodie was a regular sport, but he had his limits and trying to pin him down on anything was a sure fire way of exceeding them. Bodie, a master in the art of evasion, certainly hadn’t wanted to talk about it when he’d chased after him across that field and ripped the bomb off him. Bodie had flatly told him that he shouldn’t have taken the risk. And as far as Bodie was concerned, that had been the end of the matter and whenever he’d tried to raise it he’d been completely frozen out. He’d tried anger then, but Bodie had still refused to discuss it, and had just become elusive until his own anger had dissipated.

He’d never truly believed it, when the night before the Parsali op, Bodie’d said he’d only joined CI5 for the money. He'd doubted that statement at the time. Bodie’d never seemed the type to be motivated by money. He’d always been indifferent about it, usually excessively generous with it, often to the point where others could take advantage and he'd usually step in, pointing out that Bodie had more than stood his corner. Bodie by comparison, had often gently accused his more responsible approach to finances as being tight-fisted, teasing him until it had become squad room folklore. As long as Bodie had food in his cupboard, enough money in his pocket for beer and to show his latest bird a good time, he was content.

Apart from anything else, the job didn’t pay enough for money to be the only lure and Bodie could've made far more if he'd stayed in the mercenary game. On that same night, Bodie had assured him that unlike himself and Cowley, he’d be going downstairs, not up if he didn’t make it through the op and although that had been several years ago, he’d never called Bodie on it. Maybe if he had, things would never have got to this stage. Although Bodie had never voluntarily talked about his past in any detail, all of his personal history carefully locked away, it wasn't until after that conversation in the kitchen that he’d known how much was shrouded in a perpetual darkness. And every single bit was baggage. He’d known too that he would likely never truly learn everything about Bodie’s history, that he would always hold something back. The man had been alone and bottling everything up as a defence against the world for far too long for him to suddenly become an open book. But he’d also recognised he didn't need to, he already knew enough. The long talk had not told him anything new about what sort of man Bodie was, it had merely affirmed what he'd known all along. Whether it had taught Bodie anything, only time would tell.

Even after their lengthy conversation that morning, he hadn’t known what Bodie’s plans were, but had been sure that if he’d wanted to, Bodie could come back to CI5. To come back would be a tough ask of him though. He would need to get his physical fitness back to at least a reasonable standard, which would require gruelling months of effort. He’d have to pass a harsh physical exam as well as suffer a battery of psychological tests too, which with his almost pathological resistance to their methods would be a significant personal ordeal. And with his ‘A’ squad career over, which effectively ended their partnership as it had been, he’d been worried about what decisions his best mate would end up making about his future. Bodie had always been touchy and secretive about those past aspects of his life that he'd sooner forget and respecting that, he’d made a promise to himself that day too. He’d vowed that he would never ever again push Bodie to reveal anything about his past just to satisfy his own idle curiosity.

*      *     *

Doyle leant back against the sofa, drained by the emotive recollections that had flooded his thoughts. He was forever grateful for the way things had turned out for Bodie and that he had made it through. Despite how harrowing the memories from that time had been he’d been glad to revisit them, they had served as a synoptic reminder to never take Bodie for granted and how much he valued his friendship. Bodie had taken loyalty to a whole new level and was frankly too bloody faithful for his own good. He had been and still was, the best friend a bloke could ever have. Now, the only outside trace of Bodie nearly dying was the small patch of hair above his ear that would stick up in a rebellious tuft if it wasn’t smoothed down. Whether Kate Ross or one of the other numerous trick cyclists, during one of the many sessions his mate had endured, had ever managed to truly untangle all of the burdens in Bodie’s mind, he wasn't sure and would likely never know. He doubted it, Bodie’s ingenuity at stopping them getting inside his head had beaten many of them over the years. He also doubted that his words had genuinely had any significant long term impact either. An outpouring of feelings and emotions like Bodie’d had that morning would have been cathartic for most people, although he wasn’t confident whether it had been for Bodie. He’d never made reference to it and certainly hadn’t made a habit of talking about his feelings since.

One thing he knew, even as long ago as that morning, despite not considering it at the time, was that if Bodie had ever come to him and told him what Ellie had said, there would never have been any doubt on his part. Ellie probably wouldn’t ever understand that and it seemed Bodie hadn’t either, which saddened him. It was perhaps a viewpoint that would appear odd to many, but he knew Bodie always had his back. Whether when in the line of fire or recuperating after injury or anytime in between. Like after he was shot, Bodie had clucked over him like a mother hen, which had caused him to be amused, grateful and irritated in roughly equal measure and he idly considered how much of that behaviour had been motivated by misplaced guilt on Bodie's side that he'd ever been shot at all. No blame could be laid at his partner's feet. It was wholly his own fault. Not locking his front door, bloody schoolboy error that had been. No, he trusted Bodie more than anybody else on the planet, and always had. Bodie’d perhaps not realised that.

What was interesting though, was that the deeply held insecurities that Bodie had displayed that day had never revealed themselves again quite so blatantly and Bodie’s behaviour had also subtly changed. Bodie had either decided to let it all go and maybe even forgive himself or he’d finally mastered burying it all so deep it was invisible to those around him. Only very occasionally would there be any hint that Bodie was still not truly at one with the self-belief he exuded from every pore, and every time, it was a stark reminder of his own insensitivity. Sometimes, Bodie would volunteer something, some innermost thought or emotion, insignificant to most, but enough to cause his mate to blush with embarrassment. Not often certainly, only a handful of times over the years, but still, it was a shift to Bodie opening up a little. Bodie’d been bloody lucky to have been able to make such a complete recovery and he considered not for the first time that it was amazing that both he and Bodie had come out of their careers, not only alive, but in one piece. Scarred, but intact. He had a spot of arthritis in his left hip, not that he’d told Bodie about it. The daft sod would have him wrapped up in cotton wool and be running round buying a zimmer frame before he could blink if he told him. He’d then also no doubt take the piss by telling him it was likely caused by him continually slouching against Cowley’s filing cabinets for all those years. Colin had told him to lay off the running, so he had, and it had helped, swimming and using the gym a couple of times a week had now taken its place.

*      *     *

Jack glanced across at Bodie and Ray as they sat side by side on the sofa, Ray’s face mirroring his own thoughts and Bodie’s showing nothing at all, which was a likely reflection of his own carefully schooled countenance. His attention immediately flicked back to the television and he watched as the camera panned over the various members of the British Royal family who’d gathered at the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall. While the military bands from the Army, Marines and RAF played, talking over the music, the very English sounding commentator informed all that the two minutes silence that represented the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in nineteen-eighteen, when the guns of Europe fell silent was imminent. And moments later, the silence was started by Royal Marines buglers sounding the Last Post.

Jack had never had a chance to properly grieve the passing of so many of his colleagues who had fought by his side and too often circumstances had forced him to be absent from their respective funerals. And for just as many, even when first finding out about their deaths, he’d been unable to even take a moment, having to carry on, too much at stake to stop and pay his respects. Because of this, he’d always tried to avoid thinking too much of those that he’d known and cared about who had selflessly given their lives for their country, but caught up in the live broadcast of the memorial service, he considered it to be disrespectful to do so now and he gave in to the memories. Chase Edmunds, Renee Walker and President Omar Hassan. Then further back there was Larry Moss, Bill Buchanan and Senator Blaine Mayer. Tony Almeida tipped over the edge of sanity by the need to avenge his wife’s death. Well he knew well enough now how a need for revenge could make that happen.

Then before that, Mike Doyle, Ray’s namesake, permanently disabled after losing his sight. Audrey, psychologically damaged by that son of a bitch Cheng Zhi because of her association with himself. Then the names came thick and fast, Wayne Palmer, David Palmer, Michelle Dessler, Edgar Stiles, Curtis Manning, Lynn McGill, Paul Raines, Milo Pressman, Adam Kaufman, Gael Ortega, Ryan Chappelle, George Mason, Richard Walsh and his beloved Teri and so many more before her. Thanking them for their friendship, support and sacrifice, he felt his eyes stinging hot with tears. As the Royal Marines buglers sounded The Rouse, the gunners of the Royal Horse Artillery fired a gun salute at the end of the silence and he wiped his tears away with his sleeve.

Somewhat self-conscious of his unconcealed display of emotion, he snatched another glance at the Englishmen. They both looked equally as sombre and were wholly focused on the television. No doubt they both had a long line of friends and colleagues who had lost their lives in the line of duty and either hadn’t seen his tears or were choosing not to.

He returned his eyes to the television and watched as the Queen of England laid the first wreath, followed by a long stream of other Royals, not all of whom he recognised. There were other members of the Royal Family watching the ceremony from the Foreign Office balcony and he didn’t recognise any of them either. Wreaths were then laid by the Prime Minister the other leaders of the major political parties, followed by the Foreign Secretary, each one introduced by the commentator. Then the Commonwealth High Commissioners and representatives from the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force all had their turn. Then the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets; and finally, the civilian emergency services.

The television images panned over to a white haired, bearded man, who apparently according to the commentator was the Bishop of London, and who was giving a sermon.

Bodie stretched, he’d never been a great one for religion. Ironic though, that when Ray had been shot and almost died, he’d gone to the hospital chapel and although he hadn’t prayed, he’d lit a candle, determined to cover all the bases on Ray’s behalf, just in case there was somebody up there after all.

As the hymn O God Our Help In Ages Past started, Bodie sighed. He could never hear it without thinking of Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall and how the prisoners communicated the death of Prendergast by changing the words. He was sure they were not the thoughts the hymn was intended to evoke.

Ray’s bony elbow nudged him gently in the ribs. “You okay, mate?”

He gave a nod and a half smile, he’d long ago said his good byes to fallen comrades and saw little point in reliving the sadness by mourning them on every second Sunday in November, preferring to remember them throughout the rest of the year instead. That said, he respected the significance and motive of the occasion and the need of others to mark it, so was always willing to sit next to Ray as a supportive presence while he watched the ceremony.

Bodie watched the huge parade of veterans march past the Cenotaph. Somewhere in there being wheeled along by his protection officer was the old man. Probably one of the oldest there and no doubt some of his NCO peers from the Paras and the SAS were in there too, tucked in amongst the other scarlet uniforms of the Chelsea Pensioners. He had his own collection of campaign medals and ribbons that he could wear if he so chose, yet he never had. He’d never felt deserving. Kate Ross had classed it as survivor guilt, his view differed. It was more that he had just been doing his job, he hadn’t needed plaudits and he certainly hadn’t needed any reminders of some of the more ugly acts of warfare that he’d been involved with. They had, in the end, agreed to disagree.

He continued to idly watch as the faces came alongside the Cenotaph, saluting as they passed and he let his mind drift away again. He should give Kate a ring, he hadn’t spoken to her for a while, and find out how she was doing. He smiled inwardly. Theirs was an unlikely rapport, borne from hours of prescribed contiguity. As the CI5 trick cyclist assigned to him after he'd been released from Repton, neither of them had had any choice, and yet despite all his reservations, she had helped him personally and then subsequently, professionally. He still wouldn’t say he entirely trusted her profession as a whole, but she’d steadily won him round, and over time, gained his trust. 

*      *     *

 “Don’t know why you talked me into this,” grumbled Doyle as he peered into one of the bags that a supermarket delivery man had just deposited in a pile on the kitchen unit. “Oy, you listening to me?”

Mmmhmm. Avidly,” Bodie lied glibly, as he focused back on sandwich preparation, “I take it the bird on checkout three hasn’t come across yet then?”

“Sod off,” muttered Doyle, “That’s not the reason I prefer to go to the supermarket.”

Bodie grinned at his mate who was moodily scanning the itemised receipt laying on the unit, comparing it to the bags’ contents.

“Bloody plums are hard,” said Doyle with a scowl, rifling through the carton of fruit, squeezing them one by one.

“I’m sure Colin can get you some ointment for that, sunshine,” suggested Bodie, his mouth crammed full of sandwich.

Ignoring him, Doyle frowned, “I don’t even remember ordering plums.”

“You didn’t. I added them onto the order afterwards, you’d forgotten them.”

“Had I? When did I say I’d buy plums?”

“You said you were going to make the plum pudding this week,” said Bodie patiently and then with mock concern followed up with, “I’m starting to get worried about you, mate. Are you going senile in your old age?”

Doyle grinned, “You dumb crud, there aren’t any plums in a plum pudding, it’s all dried fruit.” He stared at the plums thoughtfully and then grabbing hold of the receipt, suspiciously scanned his eyes down the list, “I take it the three swiss rolls on here are down to you as well, are they?”

Bodie gave him a look as if butter wouldn't melt, and said casually, “Is Neck flying over for Christmas?”

Doyle smiled at the swift change of subject and Bodie’s use of Andy’s nickname that had stuck years ago, but was certainly no longer applicable; Andy was taller than him now, having grown like a weed in the latter half of his teenage years, and was now just an inch shorter than Bodie.

The nickname had come about when Andy had only been three or four and Ellie had been being particularly awkward about access rights. As usual, the demands of CI5 had compounded the problem. He’d supposed to have had Andy stay that weekend and had in the end, turned up twenty four hours late, straight from supervising an operation that had blown up with little or no warning, so Bodie had been with him, both of them exhausted. “I had plans Ray. You’ve ruined them and Andy was in tears last night. You can only have him for two hours, I promised to take him to the cinema to see The Lion King to make up for his Dad letting him down again, so don’t be late bringing him back.”

They’d taken him to the nearby park and all three of them had kicked a football around for a while after Andy had shown off his skills on the monkey bars.

He’d left it until the last minute before leaving the park, wanting to maximise the time they could spend together, which had backfired when they’d walked back to the car and Andy had announced he’d left his gloves on the park bench.

His tiredness and frustration had spilled over and he’d taken it out on Andy, telling him he was a pain in the neck, before running the half mile or so back to the bench to retrieve the forgotten gloves. As he’d jogged back towards the bench, his tired brain had finally registered the wobble in his son’s lower lip that his words had caused, and by the time he’d returned to the car, the guilt at unreasonably snapping had grown to epic proportions and he’d fully expected to see tears.

He’d lifted his son down from where he was perched on Bodie’s shoulders and had hugged him, apologising for shouting. Andy had hugged him back, nuzzling into his neck, before pushing himself upright and grinning at him, “S’okay, Dad. Bodie explained.”

He’d raised an eyebrow at Bodie who had just looked at him innocently.

After they’d dropped Andy back, two minutes earlier than Ellie’s imposed deadline, and they were on their way back home, he’d turned to Bodie and said, “Well? What did you explain to him exactly?”

Bodie had glanced across at him, looking worried, “He was a bit upset, told me he hadn’t meant to leave ‘em behind. So I told him that it was my fault.”

“How did you explain that one away then?”

“Well, I said it was my fault for being tall and so you always had to look up to me.”

He’d snorted at that particular revelation and Bodie had smiled slightly sheepishly before continuing, “and ‘cos he was shorter than you, I told him your neck wasn’t used to it.”

“How will that bloody help, mate?”

“Well I told him he’d soon grow, but that in the meantime, he could always sit on my shoulders so you’d have to look up at him instead.”

“You’ll soon get fed up of that.”

Bodie had shaken his head and had murmured, “Nah, if it keeps ‘im happy, it’s fine.”

Andy had raised the subject again next time he’d seen him although Bodie hadn’t been there, but had been easily appeased when told that it looked like he’d grown an inch since they’d gone to the park. When Andy had seen Bodie next, he’d proudly informed him of his growth spurt and then the two of them had engaged in a lively and cheerful debate, with much giggling, as to whether Andy’s height excluded him from being classified as an ankle biter or not. Andy had assured him it did and that he wanted to be called a pain in the neck instead of an ankle biter, and with the irrefutable logic of a small child, he’d explained that every week he’d be taller so Bodie and Dad would be sillier and sillier to continue to use it.

Bodie had predictably seized the gauntlet and from that moment on, the name had stuck and true to his word, Bodie had faithfully carried Andrew on his shoulders whenever Andrew had asked. Then there were the hours that Bodie’d spent with Andrew, playing with Lego and other toys, sprawled out on the floor. And that infernal train set that he’d bought Andy for Christmas one year and that Andy had adored. Bodie had sat cross legged on the floor, side by side with Andrew, hour after hour, watching the train go round and round the small oval, Bodie’s tolerance and patience far exceeding his own. Reading to him for hours and as Andy got older, imparting sage advice when asked for his opinion and yet he’d never ever come between father and son, always giving them space and time on their own, instinctively knowing when it was needed. Bodie would have made a great Dad and certainly his own relationship with Andy wouldn’t be half as good as it was if he hadn’t had Bodie’s support over the years.

“Nah, he sent me an email the other day, says he wants to come over in February, said he’d let me take him skiing before he starts his new job, cheeky sod.” Doyle grinned.

Bodie chuckled, rubbing his hands briskly together. “Excellent. Where d’ya fancy going this time then? Alps? Or somewhere further afield?”

“You want to come?” said Doyle, feigning surprise.

Bodie looked uncomfortable, “Ah, well. I just thought,” his voice trailed off into a mumble and he stared down at his sandwich.

Doyle immediately felt guilt-ridden that Bodie had been made to feel awkward by his teasing, it was so easy to forget the bloke wasn’t always so self-assured as he made out. “I bloody well hope you do, Andy’d disown me if you weren’t there.”

Bodie looked up and beamed at him before taking a massive bite of his sandwich, his cheeks bulging as he chewed contentedly. Doyle then knew he’d just been played. He knew it and if he could think of a way to, he’d call Bodie’s bluff. Looking like he was on the verge of saying something, Doyle abandoned the temptation and grinned back at him, for once at an advantage over his mate’s quick wit, “Don’t talk with your mouth full.”

*      *     *

“Jack? Bodie?”

“In here,” called Bodie, not moving from his comfortable sprawl on the sofa, the football match that had kicked off at four o’clock having only just come to a close.

“How d’ya get on?” the Englishmen both asked in unison and Jack chuckled from the armchair.

“How about you fill Ray in on the football match first while I make some tea?” he offered, standing up.

Bodie and Doyle gave matching half shrugs and grins, Ray followed up with, “Cheers, Jack. The tea down the local nick is just as bad as it always used to be in the Met. I could do with a decent cuppa.”

Jack wandered off and over the muted sounds of the tea being made, Bodie gave his post-match report of the 1-1 draw between Liverpool and Chelsea, during which, by the sound of it, Suarez had yet again outperformed his team mates. “Bloody lucky we got away with a draw,” said Bodie gloomily, “Ain’t gonna win with half the team playing like a bunch of girls.”

Remembering Derby County’s loss against Millwall the day before in the division below, their relegation five years previously having seen an end to the friendly rivalry during matches between Derby and Liverpool between him and Bodie. Now, despite being a stalwart lifelong Derby County supporter, he’d also become a Liverpool supporter by proxy, knowing it was surprisingly important to Bodie that his team do well. Grudgingly about to offer his condolences, he was saved from doing so by Jack appearing with three steaming mugs of tea. Bodie immediately brightened up at the sight of the tray which also held a plate of biscuits and rubbing his hands together gleefully, said “Right, so tell us what the local plod alongs have been up to.”

Ignoring the well-worn jibe, he'd heard Bodie call his old mob much worse over the years, Doyle grinned as he took the biscuits and his mug off the tray with a nod of acknowledgement to Jack and carefully placed the plate out of Bodie’s reach between himself and Jack’s chair. After a noisy slurp of tea and a sigh of appreciation, he said, “Well, seems they took our advice. Didn’t go in mob-handed, set up a watch and nabbed all of the dealers. Two spilled their guts and they set up a sting, raiding the main distributor’s house at six this morning. Got quite a haul according to the D.C.I.”

Jack had done much of the legwork, tracking the dealers and noting the details of their scheduled drops. Based on that framework of information, their own surveillance had been comprehensive and combined with the photographic evidence they’d amassed over three days, it had then been merely a matter of getting the right ear to tell it all to. It had been agreed that Doyle would manage that aspect solo. Jack for understandable reasons didn’t want to be involved and Bodie had never really seen eye to eye with any copper, ex or otherwise, apart from Ray, so it had been a tactical decision. Initially, he’d met some resistance from the young constable at the front desk, however once he’d disclosed his credentials as the ex-head of CI5 and had demanded an audience with the Detective Chief Inspector, attitudes had swiftly changed.

“Six a.m. on a Sunday morning,” said Bodie approvingly. “Always a good time, even scumbags like a lie in.”

Doyle and Jack nodded in agreement, “They reckon they’ve got enough evidence to send all nine of ‘em down for a long time, may even have some evidence to track it back to other drug rings too. They’re still bagging up evidence mind, but they said it was the biggest haul in this neck of the woods for about ten years.”

“So all the wooden tops are going to be off their little pointy heads celebrating down the pub tonight then?”

Doyle chuckled as he nodded, “We were invited down by the D.C.I. too, but I politely gave our excuses. I assume that was the correct response,” he said slyly. What with Jack’s circumstances and Bodie’s rather disdainful view of most coppers he thought it unlikely either would be keen to join in the celebrations.

*      *     *

“Bodie?”

“Hello, sir,” Bodie switched the phone to his other ear and settled back down in the chair. It wasn’t a social call, he knew that much. Cowley usually only rang when he wanted him for something. “Is your house guest still with you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good, I thought as much. Pass on a message would you, laddie. I need him to stay for a while longer.”

“Right. Can I ask how long a while is?”

“May be a few weeks. I trust you and Four-five have no objection to that?” Cowley’s acerbic tone vibrated down the line.

“None from me, sir.” Although they were harbouring an international fugitive, he and Ray had both agreed between them that Jack could stay as long as he needed to. “I’ll need to speak to Doyle though.”

“You do that. Let me know his decision. I heard about the arrests this morning. I trust your identities weren’t disclosed to any of the gang members?”

“No, sir. It was only Doyle that came forward and the D.C.I. kept him out of it completely.”

“Good. I’ll talk to you next week,” which was followed by a soft click as Cowley terminated the call. Bodie smiled to himself. Cowley’s gruff enquiry had given him confirmation that none of them had been exposed to any risk. Their evidence would not be used in court, the police had accumulated enough of their own. No doubt they would get to hear the sentences dished out when the cases went to court, but other than that, as far as they were concerned, it was all over, neatly wrapped up and case closed.

After seeking out Ray to confirm his views on Jack staying longer hadn’t changed, Bodie wandered upstairs and knocked on Jack’s door.

Jack pulled it open almost immediately and Bodie saw his meagre pile of possessions laid out on the neatly made bed, his messenger bag open and packing obviously in progress.

“You got somewhere else you need to be, Jack?”

Jack bowed his head momentarily before looking him straight in the eye. “You’ve both been great, but I’m taking advantage. I’m fully recovered and it’s not fair on either of you. And now the arrests have been confirmed,” Jack trailed off and bent to fold the last of his belongings into his bag.

Bodie considered telling Jack about Cowley’s call, but decided against it, if he couldn’t convince him to stay then he could use it, but for now he’d keep it in reserve. He wanted Jack to know he could stay because he was welcome, not because Cowley demanded it, the bloke needed to know he had friends around him.

“Both Ray and I want you to stay. Was hoping you’d stay for Christmas, actually. S’been good having you here,” said Bodie, sounding crestfallen.

Jack kept his eyes down and started to do up the buckles on his messenger bag. With a slow shake of the head, he said quietly. “Look, Christmas is a time for friends and family.”

“Spot on, mate,” retorted Bodie firmly, and with a shrug added. “Ray and I, we're each other's family, but you’re right, it’s also a time for friends and both of us consider you our friend, so it's sorted.”

He pulled Jack's messenger bag from his hand and dropped it back on the bed, "Besides, if you're here, means you can peel the spuds."

Chapter Text

Doyle wandered out of the kitchen, purposely ignoring the ringing phone, knowing that Bodie would answer it from the office. And sure enough, just as he passed Jack on the way to the bookshelf and his favourite cookbook, the ringing stopped, only to be replaced with the low murmur of Bodie’s voice finding its way through the closed office door as he took the call.

“You've known Bodie a long time.”

Somewhat surprised by the question, Doyle raised an eyebrow as he looked across at Jack, but couldn’t help except smile fondly as he said “Yeah, over thirty five years. Didn't get on when we first met, chalk and cheese Cowley used to call us, but then we just clicked.”

“Um the picture on the mantelpiece. I’m cramping your style.”

“What do you mean?”

Jack looked decidedly embarrassed, “You’re sleeping in separate rooms and Bodie said you’re partners.” He waved his hand vaguely at the stairs and back to the pictures adorning the fireplace.

Doyle looked across at the pictures trying to understand what Jack was getting at. The five pictures all smiled back at him. Two of Andrew taken years ago, one at aged one, laughing in his high chair, covered head to toe in spaghetti bolognaise, when he’d been left in charge at feeding time, another of him aged five on a beach, determinedly burying Bodie under the sand and a third one of him snowboarding, taken just last year. In the past, both Bodie and Ellie had said that Andy was the spitting image of himself when he was younger. He couldn’t see it himself, he’d always thought Andy had inherited many of his mum’s facial features. The other two were of himself and Bodie, one at their retirement party and one of them given to them by Murphy at their retirement do, taken over thirty years ago. Spanning a lifetime of shared experiences, each photo showed a nearly identical pose, both of them grinning into the camera with Bodie’s arm loosely draped around his shoulders. Seeing those last two through Jack’s eyes, he had an inkling as to what Jack was getting at. “Ah, we may have misled you a bit there, sorry, force of habit. When Bodie said I was his partner, he was referring to the fact we worked together. We’re just mates.”

“Oh.” Jack blushed “Sorry,” he murmured.

Bodie came bounding out of the study, “Don’t s’pose there’s any tea is there? A man could die of thirst ‘round here.”

He stopped when he sensed the atmosphere, “What’s up?”

“Jack was just looking at the pictures,” and Doyle pointed at the framed photo of the two of them back in the seventies.

“We still love each other,” said Bodie with a shameless smile, “Don’t we, Angelfish?”

“Bodie…,” warned Doyle, his eyebrows knitted together in a frown. “Jack here is concerned about compromises being made around sleeping arrangements.”

Aaaah,”said Bodie with an enthusiastic nod towards Jack. “Yeah, well it’s for his benefit, I’m finding it a little restrictive, not so much freedom you understand, but thought it the decent thing to do while we had a guest in the house.”

“Cut it out you dumb crud, I’m serious.” Doyle glared at him, the mischievous gleam in Bodie’s eyes telling him the deadpan delivery was a front and that Bodie was in full prankster mode having caught on extremely quickly.

Bodie looked first at Ray and then Jack, whose face had reddened and was looking decidedly uncomfortable. “Look, it’s not such a big deal. I sometimes sleep in m’birthday suit or raggedy old ones, but since you’ve been stayin’ I’ve made sure I’ve worn me best ‘jamas.”

“Now explain our relationship status.”

Doyle still looked irked so Bodie quickly said “I can’t cook and he’s bloody untidy. What’s the problem here?” He quirked an eyebrow.

“Jack thought he was cramping our style and was all set to leave.” 

“Cramping our,” he paused, playacting a delay as if it took a moment before full comprehension hit, “Aaah.” Doyle could still see the glint of amusement in Bodie's eyes even though it didn’t show on his face. Bodie moved round behind Doyle and bringing his hands round with spread fingers, grasped at Doyle’s chest as the corners of his mouth were curling irrepressibly, “Ray’s moobs aren’t big enough for my tastes, I’m more a thirty-six D cup man meself, so our relationship is purely platonic, mate.”

Gedoff,” Doyle pushed his hands away.

Jack looked at them both, “In the car? You were looking at their….” Realisation dawned, the incredulity clear in his tone.

Bodie looked chastened for only a split second before his expression was more akin to the cat who’d got the cream, while Ray looked like a schoolboy, bowed head, shuffling his feet with embarrassment at being caught by the head master. “I know it looks like we’re a couple of lecherous old bastards,” said Doyle shamefacedly, “watching birds was just something we used to do thirty years ago when we were stuck in the car on a boring obbo and it was a little trip down memory lane.”

“And we’re both very keen ornithologists,” added Bodie helpfully, unable to even try to maintain a contrite demeanour for long and gave a self-satisfied grin which resulted in a sharp admonitory poke in the ribs from Doyle’s bony elbow.

Jack snorted, “Well if it’s any consolation, I thought Teacher thirty-four was quite attractive.”

Bodie gave him a conspiratorial smirk.

“And I’m sorry for getting the wrong idea.”

Doyle chuckled. “It’s fine. To be honest we play on it a little. Here in Brighton, there’s a large gay community. It’s one of the benefits of living in this area, nobody bats an eye at two blokes living together.”

“Common misconception mate, but we are both red blooded, straight males. Bromance it may be, but that’s as far as it goes. Ray’s the wrong sex for my tastes. A bit too furry and macho, he is,” Bodie grinned brightly, “When we were first working together, people used to think we were involved. Attitudes were different back then though.”

“Yeah, although somehow Morecambe and Wise used to get away with it,” said Ray with a wry grin.

Seeing Jack’s slightly confused expression, Bodie explained, “They were a comedy duo on the telly back in the seventies. They were funny, but nobody ever called ‘em gingers.”

Jack was trying to work out what having red hair had to do with it when he saw Ray frown at Bodie, interrupting him.  “Nobody said they were gay and they used to do sketches while they shared a double bed. They copied that from Laurel and Hardy.”

“Oh,” mumbled Jack, still wondering about the red hair. 

Ray smiled at him, “Although there was a non-fraternization policy at work, it didn’t stop half the squad trying it on with most of the secretaries, so I think people made assumptions. We used to work all day together and then socialize together too, although we also used to spend quite a bit of time pulling birds, ‘specially Bodie here, I’m sure he was trying to work his way through the telephone directory. At one point I offered to get a revolving door put on his bedroom.”

With a hint of another self-satisfied smirk, Bodie said, “Used to compete with each other to see how many birds we could pull. Despite us having nothing to hide it did start to worry us a bit when so many people jumped to the wrong conclusion.” Bodie sighed. Even Cowley had raised it once. That meeting had been a mixture of initial anger and disappointment that the old man had believed they would have deceived him in such a manner and then subsequently, cringing embarrassment which had slowly morphed into dry amusement at the old man’s significant discomfort. Although all Cowley’d been worried about were the security implications for CI5, they’d both been less than pleased at the unfounded accusations and the invasion of privacy. In fact Ray had been absolutely furious that Cowley had challenged them with no basis other than inappropriate squad room gossip.  “Although back then, I’m sure it was only ‘cos Ray here was such an old woman that people used to tease us.” Bodie lifted an arm to stave off an expertly thrown cushion before tossing it back onto the end of the sofa.

“Oh and don't worry about Bodie sleeping in the altogether. In all the years I've known him, he's never worn less than three layers. I'm sure he thinks he's a human onion. Similar shape as well. Too much Swiss roll, innit, mate." Doyle smiled innocently at him. Bodie quirked an eyebrow and with a camp toss of his head, with exaggerated histrionics, clutched his chest. "You know how to wound a man, Ray." He grinned across at Jack and gave a shrug, “We ended up sharing a flat when we were working together, so when we retired we both had to find somewhere to live. Accommodation had come with the job and so we ended up renting somewhere together too. It was sort of a natural progression to buy somewhere and live under the same roof.”

Bodie didn't expand his answer to explain that when they’d started sharing, Ray had been paying crippling maintenance charges set by the newly created Child Support Agency that hadn’t taken into account the complicated series of deductions that were made from the CI5 salary for the provided accommodation, and which had left him with virtually no disposable income. With the pressures of the job, relationships had often been difficult and successfully juggling the work life balance had always been an almost impossible task. Spending time together socially had been a natural extension of their working partnership and after Doyle and Ellie had split up, sharing accommodation had killed multiple birds with one stone.  Of course, over the years, they’d both been out with women, but the usual problems of any girlfriend having to play second fiddle to the job had scuppered many relationships and his own testosterone fuelled urge to bed every skirt that moved had steadily diminished with age. As he’d never really considered himself as husband material, he’d always made it very clear to any female who chose to spend time in his company that nothing more than a good time would ever come of it and had always called a halt to a relationship if it looked like it was turning into anything too heavy. He’d always felt that he wasn’t in a job that suited to being married, but then he’d come up with a list of reasons as long as his own arm as to why he wouldn’t marry so he didn’t have to admit it was because the commitment scared the hell out of him.

Ray had also seemingly lost that drive to settle down after he’d split up with Ellie, finally resigned to the fact that being in CI5 was totally unsuited to being married. They had both accepted that they would remain single and had been of that view for quite a few years. CI5 had been completely incompatible with any form of social life outside of the security services. Yet they’d both considered the job important enough to make those seemingly relatively small sacrifices, so neither of them had ever had any really close friends apart from each other and ex-colleagues. The job had made them outcasts and misfits in normal society and although neither of them dwelled on it, they both knew how much CI5 had taken from them over the years.

“That worked out and although our pensions are fairly generous, they’re not infinite, so we decided to pool our resources and we ended up moving out of London and buying this place ‘cos it was the only thing big enough for all Ray’s clutter,” continued Bodie.

After giving Bodie a glare, Doyle didn't add that the generosity of the pension was surely a by-product of the fact that not many survived to actually ever draw it and that in fact Bodie had paid for the house virtually single-handedly. Nor did Bodie explain that although the house had been paid for by legitimate means, because the pool installation had been monumentally expensive, that aspect of the building works had needed to be financed by some of the lucrative investments he’d made with his earnings from his merc days. Even Ray didn’t know that. He hadn’t ever wanted to touch that particular nest egg, considering it tainted, but the guilt over how it had been originally bankrolled had been bested by the desire to give Ray his dream of living in a house with a swimming pool.

Doyle shrugged, “We’d known each other and been working side by side for years. We didn’t think living under the same roof would be an issue.”

Bodie remembered back to the first flat they’d shared. Of course, they’d had their disagreements, mostly over their different standards of what they classed as orderliness in the house. Ray was a messy bugger and he’d struggled initially with the amount of disordered clutter that Ray’d liked to surround himself with, unused to having that many personal possessions around him. He’d learnt long before that when Ray lost his temper he was like a balloon. If you let him have his rant and stood back he'd go off like a rocket, a frenzied expulsion of hot air. But once he'd got it all out of his system he'd be back to being a benign golli, chewing on his lower lip while he tried to think through the problem. He’d always let Ray have his temper tantrums, quietly tidying up behind him before gently coaxing him out of his mood, and his partner had stopped protesting so much, learning that having things in their correct place made it a damned sight easier to find them when they were wanted the next time. Within a fairly short space of time they’d both adapted completely, developing workable compromises between them, and their cohabitation had been pretty harmonious ever since.

“I’m easy to live with, it’s Ray who’s the moody bastard.”

Doyle knew it was a fair assessment, Bodie was incredibly easy going and tolerated his moods. Despite that, he was no pushover and there were times he would put his foot down and assert himself. Doyle knew he got away with far more than was fair. Not that he'd admit that of course. “Easy if you think obsessive tidiness is normal,” said Doyle and he gave a reciprocal grin to Bodie.

“Tidy room, tidy mind, sunshine.”

Ignoring the age old opener to one of their many rounds of competitive banter, Doyle grinned at Jack, “We decided that if it’s good enough for Ant and Dec.”

“Who?” Jack was starting to lose the thread of the conversation again.

“Ant and Dec are a couple of lads off the telly who used to live together,” said Doyle helpfully, “One of ‘em’s got married now I think, although don’t ask me which one.”

“Ant,” said Bodie with conviction.

“How on earth do you know that?” asked Doyle as he reminded himself that he should never be surprised at the amount of random facts, trivial or otherwise, that tumbled around inside his mate’s head.

“Font of knowledge I am, read it in the paper down the Takeaway, didn’t I?” Bodie grinned at him, “Anyway, they still live next door to each other or summat and nobody seems to give a flying fu…..”

Doyle’s wince caused Bodie to halt mid-expletive and moderate his language for the polite American, “Nobody seems to mind.”

“Understanding wife,” said Jack.

Bodie saw Doyle’s face drop and immediately took charge, steering his mate to the kitchen with the instruction to make tea as he was parched. Doyle pushed him off. “Bodie, it’s okay. I’m okay, honest.”

Bodie stepped away, eyeing him carefully and Doyle sighed, exasperated. Despite being semi-retired, Bodie never went off duty, acting as shield and protector, still scarred by the thought that he’d let his partner down by disappearing. He knew deep down that it wasn’t even that Bodie doubted his abilities, they’d worked too long in the field as partners for that to ever be true. It was just one of the many rather ham fisted and convoluted ways his mate demonstrated his commitment to their friendship. On one hand, it was appreciated, but it was also extremely infuriating if you merely wanted to make the tea or do the grocery shopping. Employing Bodie’s tactic of changing the subject, Doyle grinned at him and said, “You still think the neighbours haven’t twigged?”

“Eh?” said Bodie, nonplussed.

“Harry and Paul, our neighbours.”

“Yeah, what about them?”

“They know we’re not a couple.” Doyle said firmly as he filled the kettle from the tap.

“They do? How d’ya know that.”

Doyle shrugged, “Harry mentioned it soon after we’d moved in. Said nothing was registering on ‘is gaydar.”

Bodie chuckled, “So you’re telling me that everybody thinks we’re bent except for poofters.”

“Pretty much,” Doyle replied with a nod, trying not to cringe at Bodie’s non P.C. terminology. “Told me I had a lovely arse though.”

“Just as well ‘e didn’t see you in those tight jeans the other day then, Goldilocks. I’d have had to fight ‘im off to protect your virtue.” Bodie glanced down at Doyle’s backside and with a devilish gleam in his eye, gave it a swat with his palm.

Doyle tried to dodge Bodie’s hand, but was a split second too late and glowered at him instead. 

“I can see some fun times ahead next time we see one of ‘em,” said Bodie happily, his mind already cataloguing a long line of wind ups for their neighbours.

Seeing the familiar glint of mischief in Bodie’s eyes, Doyle snapped, “Don’t you bloody dare. Don’t you go upsetting Harry ‘n Paul, we have to live next door to ‘em.” Ray looked at him sharply, knowing Bodie of old and imagining all sorts of nightmare scenarios.

“Okay, mum. I’ll behave meself.” Bodie gave a small sigh at the opportunity lost. “Any Jaffa cakes? All these startlin' revelations, they're playing havoc with m'sugar levels. Goininta shock, I am." Doyle retrieved the packet of biscuits from their latest hiding place and passed them to Bodie who waited until he had eaten two before saying anything. “Knowing that makes me feel better anyhow.”

“Eh? How come?”

“When neither of ‘em came onto me, thought I was losing me irresistible touch, didn't I,” replied Bodie with a mournful tone, completely at odds with the grin on his face.

“Prat,” said Doyle with a smile as he reached to the cupboard for the mugs.

Bodie stood back and watched as Ray busied himself with the teapot and not for the first time, considered himself extremely lucky. Overall, he thought he’d had a serendipitous past, not least because he had a future he could look forward to. Lucky to have ended up on CI5’s ‘A’ squad considering his route to get there and able to do a job he thought was important and that he was damned good at. Lucky that he’d survived the head injury that had nearly killed him and had suffered no lasting effects. Fortunate to have had the financial where with all to afford a house like this and incredibly lucky to have a close mate like Ray, whom he could enjoy retirement with. And, through Ray, his relationship with Andrew, who was the closest he would ever come to having a son and gave him much joy with none of the parental responsibility that scared the hell out of him, not that he’d ever admit that to anybody. His thoughts automatically drifted back to the pivotal time in his life that had led to the latter three.

His time undercover had been miserable from the start, he’d never been as comfortable with undercover work as Ray and neither he nor Cowley had expected it to last so long. They’d both thought it would be a few weeks, tops and as he’d only needed a couple of months away, just long enough so it would be too late for Ellie to follow through with her threat, it had seemed the perfect solution, although he’d had to fight with Cowley to get him to agree. He’d known as he’d marched out of Cowley’s office that word would soon be flying round HQ and therefore Ray would get to hear that he and the Cow had been having a slanging match. After that, all he’d had to focus on for weeks was the job, first firmly embedding himself into the drugs gang while trying to unravel all the tendrils that led to funding arms deals and terrorists and too deep to make contact with Ray. Then he’d been slowly squeezed by the gang until all but the most occasional methods of contact had been surreptitiously closed off, rarely getting a chance to leave intel at one of the pre-arranged drops. And then held prisoner, while they’d attempted to forcefully extract information from him. Now of course, they knew that all the intel he’d repeatedly risked his cover for, sending it back via the drop points, had been false, fed to him by the gang members who’d known exactly who he was from the start. And being stuck in that filthy cellar for weeks with only a stinking slop bucket for company hadn’t been a picnic either. He’d also missed Doyle, their working closeness had been there a long time, so in hindsight it had been inevitable. Of course he’d adjusted, sort of, although it had been an unpleasant transition, all the while, agonizing over whether Doyle would ever forgive him for disappearing on him.

Harder to deal with had been the knowledge that he wasn’t doing his own reciprocal job of covering Ray’s back and the worry had gnawed at him. All he’d been able to do was trust that Ellie would keep her word and somehow keep him safe. When Ray had told him he was getting hitched, he’d immediately accepted that the changes that had been steadily taking place over the last few months would likely be permanent. When he’d first started going out with Ellie, Ray had been available less and less, a sure fire indicator that he’d been serious about his new bird, so it was perhaps less of a surprise than it could have been. Ray hadn't dropped out of his life completely, they still worked alongside each other most days, it was just the hours of down time had been seriously curtailed because of Doyle's new bird.

 He’d long ago been exposed to the fact that important people in his life would come and go, and of course blokes went off and got married all the time, although he’d never really expected Doyle to be one of them. Not for any particular reason, despite that he’d thought at the time that their current lives didn’t really lend themselves to a wife and children, it was just that he’d never envisaged anything changing and although somewhat dismayed that their close friendship would invariably shift, he'd acquiesced the loss. He’d buried his disappointment and had found other ways to fill his time, adapting his social life accordingly. There had been a positive. On all of the rare weekends he’d had where he wasn’t working he’d been able to go BASE jumping down at Cheddar Gorge without Ray getting wind of it. Ray would have given him a right old earful if he’d known what he was up to and if Cowley had ever found out, well that wouldn’t have borne thinking about. BASE jumping was a perfect outlet, though. Because some of the jumpers didn’t want to attract attention to themselves when they jumped off certain places like St Paul’s Cathedral, they tended not to want their names known so they often used their BASE numbers as a way of keeping their identity hidden. That meant he could do the same and that word could never get back to Cowley. Although he’d still missed the after work drinks and Saturday nights in front of the box watching Match of the Day with Ray. And their days out on the bikes, churning up the countryside had already become few and far between.

Their own partnership was so close, when each of their lives had been saved by the other as often as theirs had it was inevitable, and the last thing he’d wanted to be accused of was coming between Ray and Ellie. Outsiders had never really understood the dynamic of their partnership. In their line of work who you partnered with could make the difference between death and survival, so when you found someone you trusted and worked well with, the bond you forged was strong. When he and Ray had double dated in the past, their birds had invariably commented on their closeness. He’d been well aware that it would do no good for Ellie to feel threatened in any way, so he’d purposely stepped back, philosophically accepting his relegation to second place in Ray’s social calendar and had carefully filled a large chunk of his spare time by going out with birds. The CI5 lads had also filled much of the void, so all in all, he hadn’t lacked company during his few off duty hours. Of course, while chatting about the day by day events taking place within CI5 with the other agents, the easy camaraderie he had with Ray hadn't quite been there, but it had been close enough. Although he’d always assumed Ray’d be right there beside him, he’d known how much his partner had wanted to settle down. He should have known, if he’d ever thought about it, that marriage had always been on the cards for Ray and it had been good to know that his best mate would finally be content. Certainly, he’d thought Ellie a far better choice than that ice queen Ann Holly. Acknowledging the innumerable hours of companionship that Doyle had provided on and off the job he’d purposefully ignored the possibility that Doyle might have wanted to leave CI5 after getting married. He’d not been willing to think about a future without Ray as his partner and best mate and he hadn’t been able to imagine what it would be like in CI5 without him. He’d known it would be different once Ray was no longer single, but he’d still be working alongside Doyle, still covering his back and he’d been confident that Ray would tell him if he wanted to step down because of their agreement.

Shame that Ellie hadn’t considered all that enough. Birds had never understood the job though. The crap hours, the emergency calls to duty that required immediate attendance. Hell, it wasn’t just birds, even mates outside the job never really grasped it. When Ellie had come to see him in hospital it had been unexpected. Up to that point, he’d genuinely liked Ray’s wife and she’d seen to it that he was damned if he’d given in to her and damned if he hadn’t. He’d been shocked and angry that she’d threatened to abort the baby. If he hadn’t gone, Ray would have possibly lost out on having a child and he’d been convinced that Ellie would have made sure that Ray would have found out. The loss would have irrevocably affected Ray and tarnished their friendship and likely eventually destroyed it. Him leaving had also risked their friendship, he’d known with certainty that Ray would feel betrayed that he’d upped and left without a word, but he’d considered it a risk worth taking, at least it was potentially salvageable. After all, he’d have been back after a couple of months and Ray would have forgiven him eventually, especially if he’d said he’d had some personal shit to deal with. If Ellie had gone through with a termination, well there would have been no coming back from that, but Ray was never meant to have found out.

Whilst being held captive for those many months he’d concluded that he would never get an opportunity to ever explain any of it to his partner. The repeated interrogations as his captors had tried to get him to talk had left him convinced there would only ever be one outcome. The punishments for his lack of co-operation had quickly intensified. Regular beatings along with the steady reduction in his food supply, then the fractured ribs and in the final month, a dislocated shoulder had left him physically weakened along with the complete withdrawal of food and after blacking out during a particularly savage beating he’d not known anything until he'd woken up in hospital. And waking up, confused and scared had been bloody grim. It had felt like somebody had let a bomb off in his head, all his thoughts, recollections and emotions fragmented and scattered, the subconscious mixing shards of deeply embedded memories in with the recent and all of it competing with the overwhelming and infernal headache that had made it even harder to get a grip on it all.

Ray had been the only tangible thing that had slowly helped him make sense of everything, grounding him in the seemingly alien body, mind and surroundings he’d woken to and the maelstrom of nightmares from times past that had plagued him. Endless swirls of blood, dirt and the stench of death that had mingled with coils of pain, terror and confusion. On coming round, caution had instinctively taken over, letting him quietly watch and wait, not trusting anything until his mind had processed enough back in order for him to understand where he was and why. He’d never really got all his memory back of what happened for him to end up in hospital, just vague flashbacks of his time undercover that he’d been unable to piece back together. The op had been a wash out and when Cowley had come to see him in Bristol, as his boss wasn't really known for his bedside manner, he'd expected a bawling out for getting caught. He'd been more than surprised by Cowley’s apology for leaving him under for so long, though it hadn't softened the blow of being sent to Repton. That place had been almost as traumatic as Bristol, round after round of trick cyclists and nurses, always pushing, probing, looking for weaknesses and all his dignity stripped away while he’d struggled to recover sufficiently to at least make it to the bloody bog under his own steam.

There’d also been the constant fear that Ray would find out why he’d left. He’d known that if he’d stayed, even if she hadn’t gone through with her threat, Ellie’s obvious resentment of him would have steadily rotted their marriage and he hadn’t been prepared to risk Ray resenting him too. Christ, Ray didn’t half pick ‘em, poor sod. Ann Holly had been bad enough and then Ellie turning up out of the blue at Charing Cross. Ann had been brittle and cold where Ellie had appeared soft and warm. Turned out she was just as bad, maybe worse actually. At least the Holly cow had been up front from the start about what she’d wanted Ray to be. Ray’s dogged determination to find out why he’d left had been exhausting. Hadn’t really thought that bit through though had he. Doyle had a lways niggled away at things until he’d got to the bottom of them and they made sense in his own head, even though sometimes it was better to let things be. The nervous tension that used to flood him every time Ray had visited had been draining in its own right. It had almost been a relief when Ray’d challenged him at Repton that time, the waiting had been excruciating, knowing that the subject would inevitably arise, it was just a matter of when. And Ray still hadn't known, he’d had no clue and the emotional aftermath had been just as bad. He’d still been struggling with the psychological aspects of his imprisonment and along with the head injury, he hadn’t really got everything sorted out in his head. Guilt building up that his reactions that day had just made everything worse, but he hadn't dare mention it to Ray, it would have just started him off all over again. For several days after Ray had come and challenged him, he’d barely had the energy for his physio sessions. He’d got out of bed, but nothing more, no trips to the TV room or anywhere else. Instead, he’d stayed in his room, mostly sleeping. The emotional upheaval had sapped everything from him, including his spirit. He’d never really understood why Ray hadn’t ever mentioned Andrew. It would have been a huge weight off his mind knowing that Ellie had kept to her word and that she hadn’t been lying about the pregnancy, but of course he’d never been able to ask Ray whether he had a kid, it would have opened up a whole new huge can of worms regardless of what answer Ray’d given.

And then everything had catastrophically backfired that Christmas. There was still a part of him that felt guilty that he’d given in. If he’d never gone, Ellie would have never blurted it all out and Ray would likely, to this day, have been none the wiser, although the other half of him was almost glad it had all come out into the open. Would have been a bloody sham of a marriage if Ellie hadn’t been found out. Trust was something he’d always valued and there were only a handful of people on earth that he genuinely trusted with no exception. Ray was one of that small, select group and he would have had to live with the guilt of knowing that his best mate’s family life was built on foundations of deceit, although he would never have said anything, preferring to convince himself that Ellie wouldn’t have ever gone through with it. Trust was such a small word, and yet so important. His and Ray's friendship and partnership were both based on trust, and yet knowing that about Ellie had made him feel like he'd betrayed it.

But Ray had steadily worn him down. He’d been so bloody tired that evening, he’d spent half the morning and much of the afternoon in the gym, venting his frustration at the psychiatrist’s failure to give him sign off and then Cowley’s news that he was finished on the ‘A’ squad had meant he’d pushed himself beyond endurance. Ray’s persistence combined with the exhaustion from his workout had left his brain addled and the mention of Ellie not forgiving Ray, by way of teasing blackmail, had instead set off a panic alarm and he’d immediately caved. He’d been so relieved when Ray had told him about Andrew. He’d started to think that Ellie had lied to him about being pregnant and that her threat to terminate the pregnancy had been empty, although at the time he hadn’t been able to take the risk.

Ray was a good mate, he’d never ever made reference to when he’d emotionally broken down at the kitchen table that Christmas. A lifetime of drifting alone had made privacy habitual, and unused to being that unguarded, he’d felt uncomfortable for a long time that he had told Doyle so much. He’d never intended revealing those things about himself to anybody. There wasn’t a time in his life that he could remember trusting anyone enough to let his guard down to that extent and even then, he hadn’t meant to and despite taking his time, gathering the right words to say, things had still spilled out that shouldn't have. Trusting, was not something he did freely, that instinct had long gone, yet he’d trusted Ray with his life, almost from the first moment he’d met him. Emotional stuff though, that was different. There were some things that even with that trust in place that were just too important or risky to share. What Ray’d said to him that morning, telling him that he believed in him and his declarations of how much he cared, affirming his place and importance in Ray’s life still left him slightly dazed when he thought of it. Despite all the times people had let him down in the past, all the disappointments and all the treacheries, Doyle had promised he wasn’t ever going to walk away from him. Although he hadn’t been sure he could believe it, that promise of unconditional support and that Ray’d forgiven him for leaving and wouldn’t ever judge him by the things he’d seen and done in Africa had been like chicken soup for the soul. Funny really, because when that Mathers bitch had revealed more of his past than he generally liked people knowing, Ray hadn't asked him a thing about it and knowing how naturally curious Doyle was, he’d taken the lack of interest as disapproval. Although he’d been tempted to come clean and tell all to Ray then, he’d bottled it. He should have had more faith. Although he’d been sure enough that his moralistic and decent partner accepted him as he knew him in CI5, he’d never been sure enough that Doyle would be able to forgive him his past if he knew the detail.

The fact he’d divulged so much just showed how far away from being back on his feet he’d really been back then, even after four months. He’d been terrified that Ray would either blame him for the collapse of his marriage or be unable to forgive him for leaving. But, he’d stuck by him with his vow of abiding friendship and he’d received further affirmation of Doyle’s personal loyalty when Ray’d made it clear he wanted him to stay longer when the day after, he’d said he was going back to Repton.

“You need to sort things out with Ellie, mate and that'll be a whole lot harder if she sees me hanging about.”

“Well what about when you receive sign off. Come and stay here for a bit.”

“Nah, it’s best I don’t, anyway, I need some time on my own, what with the hospital and Repton, I haven't had a minute to myself y'know?”

He hadn’t been prepared to admit to himself how worried he’d been about slowly losing Ray’s friendship as they drifted apart if he’d had to leave CI5. It was regularly commented on how different they were from each other, that they had very little in common outside the job, hell, even Cowley used to call them chalk and cheese.

And then there’d been the old man. When he’d finally been signed off it had been early February, the bloody trick cyclist had been struck down with pneumonia on top of the flu, delaying his sign off and then he’d immediately been summoned to see Cowley, who would have been well within his rights to pension him off on the spot. He remembered with a gulp the sinking feeling when he’d thought he was being given his marching orders, despite the fact he’d had his letter of resignation ready to hand in his pocket. “I can’t take you back into CI5 until you’ve been fully signed off, which will take months, you are nowhere near full health.”

“No, sir,” he’d said obligingly, waiting for the guillotine to fall.

Och, Bodie, don’t look like that. You know you’re not ready. But you will be, if you want to be. There’ll be physicals and the extended psychological assessments of course because of the duration of your undercover assignment, but there’s no reason why you can’t come back. You just need some time. I have an interim proposal for you, if you’re interested.”

The thought of physical assessments didn’t worry him, he knew he could get his fitness back, Cowley was right, he just needed some time. The psychological tests were a concern, never before having been undercover for such a lengthy period, he’d always managed to avoid them in the past. But this time they seemed unavoidable. “Yes, sir,” he’d said doubtfully, wondering whether there was even any point now he was off the ‘A’ squad. Considering how he’d behaved when he’d demanded the solo op, Cowley seemed to be being particularly lenient and he’d been waiting for the sting in the tail.

“Sit down before you fall down, Three-seven.” And a pair of kindly eyes had gestured to the chair. That had been a surprise. The Cow obviously hadn’t held a grudge for being shouted down and threatened with his resignation several months before, although he’d felt pretty gutted that he was so clearly so far away from full fitness that even Cowley felt sorry for him.

“The Ministry want to build a new state of the art training centre. Cross departmental as well as the various armed forces and they need somebody to oversee its planning and development. You’ll be seconded to the Ministry from CI5. It’ll mean being based out on Salisbury Plain for a few months, but you’ve seemed quite keen to work solo on occasion in the past so I doubt you’ll mind that.”

Ouch. He’d seen the whisper of a wry smile on the old bastard’s face, but it had gone before it had barely got there. And then if he’d needed confirmation that he’d been forgiven for his imprudence eighteen months before, it’d been given when Cowley had proceeded to open the bottom drawer of his desk and pull out the decent malt before pouring out two glasses.

He’d barely been handed the glass when Cowley had commanded, “You’re to go to Whitehall, a junior minister, Walter Forbes-White is expecting you and he’ll provide you with all the details I’ve organised. You’re to report to Major Wainwright on arrival at Bulford Camp, he’s an old friend, so don’t let me down with any indiscretions. Wilson will take you down there. You will uphold CI5’s reputation for the duration of your stay. Is that understood, Three-seven?”

“Yes, sir.”

Cowley had transferred his focus to one of the many files on his desk and almost as an afterthought, had said, “On your way laddie.”

He’d gulped down the providentially small dram of single malt and shot to his feet, “Sir,” while holding in check the urge to salute his gratitude. As he’d left Cowley’s office, Betty had thoughtfully provided him with further details of where he could find Walter Forbes-White. As he’d made his way over to Whitehall he’d struggled to deal with the cacophony of city noise and the swarms of people, his brain unable to process it all and he’d been glad to reach the sanctuary of the Royal United Services Institute next to the banqueting hall in Whitehall. With a heartfelt sigh of relief, he’d made his way up to the second floor office where the junior minister apparently resided and knocked on the door.

“Come in, come in.”

He’d obeyed and had immediately wondered if he’d somehow scared Walter Forbes-White, who’d looked decidedly worried as he’d walked into the office, as if he was about to march over and stick his gun directly under Walter’s chin.

As he’d patiently watched him rifle through the Eiger sized mountain of paperwork on his desk, he’d swiftly concluded that Walter was a bumbling idiot. Finally two files were pulled from the pile, which teetered dangerously before settling. The two manila files of differing thickness were cautiously handed over and he’d all but ignored Walter Forbes-Whatsit until he’d read through them.

When he’d looked up, he’d been expecting a look of supercilious impatience, but surprisingly Walter had just looked pleased. Still a bumbling idiot, but at least he was a pleasant one.

“Well we’ve already come up with a name,” Walter had said happily. “M.A.S.T. Military Allied Services Training Centre.”

Oh God, and he was going to be stuck with this moron for the duration. Bloody desk jockeys and their acronyms. It was all B.O.L.X. He’d put on his plummiest voice, “Well that’s the important bit covered then.”

The Ministry moron had beamed at him, the mockery going completely over his head and he’d started to explain how they’d chosen the name. Not even slightly interested, he’d let his mind drift. Whilst feigning attentiveness, he’d studied the man instead. Walter was wearing a flamboyant yellow jacket and he’d continually nervously bounced on his toes. The man’s windswept, unkempt jet black hair combined with male pattern baldness had left him with what looked like a half-hearted Mohican. Along with a handle-bar moustache and a bright red complexion on a round face, he’d thought aimlessly that the overall effect was reminiscent of Zebedee from the Magic Roundabout. He had forced himself to drag his attention back to the voice that was wittering on, “………marvellous play on words, mainstay and so on, yes we’re all absolutely thrilled with the choice.”

Bodie’d known full well that army slang was commonplace, always succinct and often irreverent or plain filthy, but the bloke had looked so pleased with himself that he hadn’t been able to bring himself to point out that the military personnel would make some sort of joke out of whatever they called it. He’d thought that if they saw the upper class twit too often, there’d be plenty of nicknames to go around, but had instead, thanked him for the files and his time, and had hot footed it out of Zebedee’s office. It was only as he’d left Whitehall to go back to HQ, he’d realised that Cowley hadn’t even asked for affirmation that he’d do the job. Collecting his holdall from HQ, he’d not wasted any time and pulling Wilson from the squad room, they’d set off for Wiltshire.

When he’d turned up at Bulford Camp, he’d reported to Major Wainwright as instructed and perhaps because of the environment of being on an army camp he’d immediately reverted back into the army way of life and had saluted the officer. Major Wainwright had immediately returned the salute before offering him a seat with a wry grin. He’d gone on to explain that as part of the Defence Training Estate on Salisbury Plain, there had been an area selected for the new Training Centre, adjacent to Bulford Ranges. The Major had pulled out a map and shown him the designated area.

“Knowing George, he won’t have told you that he’s organised for you to complete basic training?“

“No, sir. He didn’t mention it.” He’d mentally called the Cow every name under the sun at that point.

The Major had given a rich chuckle. “Thought not. I’m not entirely surprised, he can be a right bastard when he wants to be.”

He’d kept his face impassive at that observation. Although he’d silently agreed, he hadn’t been sure he’d liked somebody else saying it.

The Major had nodded at him, apparently appreciative of his blank expression. “George speaks highly of you though, I understand you were in Two Para and Twenty-two SAS before CI5.”

“Yes, sir.”

The Major had then proven himself to be a decent sort, giving him the choice of how he wanted to play basic training. Be an anonymous recruit or provide some detail of his background to the rest of the intake to dispel any curiosity. He’d opted for the anonymous option, citing CI5 security, which of course had needed to be considered, although the real reason was far more practical. He’d had no wish to have hordes of pimply faced youths quizzing him about his time in active service with the Paras or Twenty-two, if that got out. Although he’d wondered how long it would take before suspicion was aroused. It would be fairly obvious that he was at least twenty years older than the other recruits and that he’d had previous experience, even allowing for the fact that he would be rusty on the parade ground and that his fitness was decidedly under par.

The Major had closed the interview by informing him he should contact him with any questions about the Training Centre and that he was expecting a full proposal in fourteen weeks to coincide with completing Basic Training. He’d then been told he would be based at ATC Winchester during his initiation. The Major had summoned transport and shaken his hand and he was soon on his way to barracks at ATC Winchester with instructions to report to Staff Sergeant Green on his arrival.

Staff Sergeant Green had apparently been made aware of his circumstances as he had requisitioned all the items that he’d need, but hadn’t packed, like swimming trunks and extra towels, as well as some buckshee kit which had included a sewing kit, boot polishing kit and other random paraphernalia. He’d quickly been brought up to speed, the batch of recruits he was to be barracked with were already well into week one, although Green had assured him he hadn’t missed anything much so far. From memory, he’d guessed that much of the time had been spent on Attestation, the formal ceremony to join the British Army, kit issue, administration and weapons training. Green had told him with a grin that he’d have the barracks to himself tonight, as the recruits were all on Exercise Icebreaker, their first night in the field. He’d chuckled, glad he’d been excused that particular experience as it had been absolutely pissing down for most of the day. Green had led him to his barracks and he’d been pleased to see that the rest of his kit had already been stacked on his bunk. After he’d neatly filled his allocated locker, Green had pointed him towards the mess hall and he’d wandered over to get something to eat. 

He’d eaten his fill and as it had finally stopped raining, he’d wandered round the camp, getting his bearings before stopping at one of the many phone boxes, conscious that he owed Ray a call . He’d rung HQ and after confirming Four-five was on duty and available, he’d been patched through to Doyle’s RT. He certainly hadn’t wanted to disturb Ray at home, not with the situation between him and Ellie as precarious as it was. “Hello, Goldilocks.”

“Bodie!” The genuine warmth in Ray’s voice had been a relief to hear. He’d realised how much his mate had been put through the wringer by the events of the last eighteen months and despite his own claims that he never felt guilt, he’d felt bad about it. “How are you settling in?”

“Bloody marvellous. Cowley’s signed me up for basic training.”

Ray had guffawed loudly and it had taken him a while before he could speak again, he’d been so amused. “Sly old goat. Still, I’m sure it’s better than a refresher with Macklin. How long is basic training anyhow?”

“Fourteen bloody weeks,” said Bodie mournfully.

“Oh you poor old thing. Look I’m sorry, mate, I gotta go, got a bloody meeting at the Ministry. I’m sure they think we’ve got nothing better to do than trot over there and listen to them tell us how difficult their jobs are. Keep in touch though, yeah?”

“Yeah, will do, mate. Cheery bye, sunshine, Three-seven, out.”

He’d spent the following morning gravel bashing, marching  inanely round the drill square and had quickly tired of hearing his fellow recruits be repeatedly bawled out with phrases like ‘I’m going to rip your arm off and slap you with the soggy end,’ which had been used regularly when he’d completed basic training first time round en-route to the Paras. He’d kept his head down and had dutifully followed orders, determined that he would not be ridiculed and mindful of Cowley’s warning that CI5’s reputation was at stake.  As it had turned out, he’d been booted off after four weeks. Although Major Wainwright had kept up his side of the bargain and he’d remained incognito, he’d apparently proven to be too much of a distraction to the other recruits. It hadn’t been the obvious age gap, which had been his initial thought, rather it had been his proficiency, for which he’d been secretly pleased. Staff Sergeant Green had told him that his foot drill, weaponry skills and general competence in the field had made him stand out, and that the others in his unit had developed an inferiority complex resulting in a higher than expected drop out rate.

Although he’d easily slipped back into Army life, he’d been mightily relieved to have been kicked back to Bulford, completely unconcerned that the Cow’s plan hadn’t worked. The training had seesawed between extreme tedium and intense physical exertion that had left him frequently exhausted. He was certainly fitter, although still a long way from where he’d been before, despite spending most of his limited free time in the gym. Initially, it had been utilised to prevent him showing up CI5 with his lack of fitness, but had turned into a useful method of avoiding having to socialise with the rest of his unit without causing offence.

Back with Major Wainwright, he’d discovered he’d been assigned accommodation, the property typically designated as married quarters, although not usually furnished, a two bed MOD house just down the road. When he’d got to his new digs, he’d also discovered his CI5 car parked up outside. He’d slept the sleep of the just that night.

Paperwork had never been his friend, but he’d been glad of it at the time, needing something to aim for. Initially, he’d also been curious about how he would find the abundance of free time and the consistent hours. He’d never before had a nine to five job, yet fatigue and gratitude for it had made it an easy schedule to adhere to. He’d spent the next couple of weeks slowly increasing his fitness, initially with workouts in the gym and gently jogging the couple of miles down to the River Avon and back, before increasing pace and distance. It’d been pretty miserable on his own, but it wasn’t too long before he’d met a couple of his neighbours, army regulars who were more than happy to run with him and he’d managed to hold his own, although he’d been absolutely knackered the first few runs out and long hot showers had done little to relieve his aching muscles. When asked, he’d always given the bland answer of civil servant and a couple of them had taken it at face value, although one, Captain Mike Dean, his neighbour from two doors down had raised his eyebrow in disbelief, “Funny that, you’re not like any civil servant I’ve ever met.”

As they’d jogged along he’d grinned, “Well you’ve never met me before, ‘ave you.”

Mike had merely grinned back and hadn’t pushed for anything else.

Reunited with his car, he’d been able to travel around, talking to various contacts across the armed forces and other intelligence services to get their input on what they felt their individual training needs were for their personnel. He’d also organised a trip up to Whitehall to keep Zebedee apprised of progress, which Ray had somehow managed to get wind of, and had insisted on getting together with him for a beer after his first meeting.

After taking a deep slug of his beer, Ray had asked with a grin, “How’d ya worm y’way out of basic training then?”

“Was upsetting all the little crows, wasn’t I,” he’d said with more than a hint of smugness, “They all started running back to their mums when they couldn’t keep up with me.”

“Crows? You always were one for the birds, mate, but surely you should have been spendin’ all your time polishiny’boots and cleanin’ the urinals with y’toothbrush.”

He’d shaken his head in mock derision, “Crows are the ‘can’t read or writes’, sunshine.”

They’d ordered some food and over a distinctly average cottage pie, Ray had told him that he and Ellie were working things through, which he’d been pleased to hear, although Ray had quickly changed the subject claiming that he wanted to hear about what he’d been up to and why he was back in London. He’d filled Ray in on everything he’d done and had told him about the ministry moron, Walter Forbes-White.

“If he’s Zebedee, that makes you Dougal. As I recall, he ‘ad a sweet tooth an’ all,” Doyle had chortled.

“Pollux,” Bodie had said, acknowledging Ray with his half empty beer glass.

“Eh? That’s a bit strong, mate.”

“No,” he’d said affably, grinning at Doyle’s indignation, “Pollux was what Dougal was originally called in the Magic Roundabout.”

Doyle had shaken his head, “How the hell do you know that?”

He’d shrugged, “Dunno, I’m just well read,” he’d said smugly. “Anyway, I can’t be Dougal. Do you really think I’m like a drop-eared Skye Terrier?”

“Nah mate, they’re long haired aren’t they.”

A few days later, he’d received through the post a carbon copy of an excerpt from a book which had a picture of a Skye Terrier above a summary of their characteristics along with a scrawled, hand written note from Doyle that had said “On the other hand….”

He’d read the text, “Though stylish, a Skye is also heavier and more powerful than you might imagine from just seeing a photo. They have a robust body, heavy bone, and a strong temperament. One of the few terriers who is laid-back indoors, the Skye Terrier is easy to exercise, requiring only walks and play sessions. However, he is a fearless, agile chaser with lightning reflexes and should never be let-off leash unless in a safe, enclosed area. He is intensely loyal to his family (sometimes attaching himself to one person), the Skye Terrier needs a lot of personal attention -- he cannot be ignored. Skye Terriers are cautious with strangers and should be extensively socialized when young so their wariness does not become suspicion. They are dominant with other dogs and should not be trusted around smaller animals such as cats, rabbits, and rodents. Likewise, the Skye Terrier can be dominant with family members who are wishy-washy. Skyes have great depth of character and prefer to make their own decisions, but they will respect an owner with an equally strong character and a firm voice who knows how to lead a proud, strong-minded dog. Skyes do not suffer fools gladly. They are highly sensitive to correction and likely to retaliate if handled harshly or teased. One of the most self-willed and independent of the terriers. Suspiciousness/sharpness toward strangers in some lines, or when not socialized enough. Aggression toward other animals -- chasing instincts.”

He’d sent back a picture of a miniature poodle along with a handwritten note, “Is very small, light and graceful, athletic and agile. Has a curly coat that is virtually non-shedding. Comes in a variety of colours. Is one of the brightest and most attentive of all breeds, such a skilled reader of body language and expression, that he often appears telepathic. Barks a lot. Difficult to house train.”

Two days later, he’d received another envelope. Inside was a single sheet of paper with just one word, written in Doyle’s familiar scrawl. “POLLUX.”

Over the next few weeks, after talking to senior figures across all the services, he’d worked hard, putting together detailed plans for extensive training facilities as well as proposals for multiple training courses, ably demonstrating the purpose of each facility. Despite concluding that regular hours and copious amounts of free time meant predictability, which in his eyes, had always equated to boredom, he'd found himself quickly warming to the task that Cowley had set. Having state of the art training facilities for CI5 had been a long held wish of his own, and in past fanciful moments on boring obbos, he'd thought about what those facilities could look like. All of these ideas and more were swiftly put down on paper and when he'd finished, he'd set his pen down and had sat back wondering if the all omniscient Cow could read his mind and had known that improving the training facilities was something he'd previously thought long and hard about. His proposal had paid particular attention to the gaps that the feedback had identified across the various current training regimes and he’d incorporated elements accordingly. Every item in his proposal was justified and although the lowest utilisation would be the Olympic sized swimming pool, he’d thought the civilians and personnel based at Bulford and the nearby Larkhill Camp would appreciate having a brand new pool on their doorstep, so it would get plenty of use one way or another. He’d had absolutely nothing to do once he’d submitted his proposal to the Defence Infrastructure Organisation that managed the entire military training estate, giving him plenty of time to continue to work on his fitness. One of the pleasures he'd yet to fully make use of was the large expanse of Salisbury Plain on his doorstep that was just crying out to be explored.

In fact, three weeks before his fourteen week deadline, the morning he’d delivered his proposal to the DIO HQ at the nearby Westdown camp, armed with a map, a packed lunch, an information guide sheet and a rudimentary survival kit, he’d set off on a six mile walk from Tilshead, following the public footpaths. Enjoying the space and solitude, he’d revelled in the relatively limited stimuli of isolation. Ever since waking up in Bristol, his brain had seemed to go into some sort of melt down when there was too much going on around him, be it noise or activity. His mind struggling to cope from one moment to the next and he’d had to concentrate really hard to segregate and distinguish each catalyst, extracting it from the maelstrom in his head. Following the guide sheet, he’d found the trees etched and carved by soldiers over the years, including one made by a GI in 1945. He’d walked along the edge of the FIBUA village, created at the height of the Cold War and designed to look like a typical East German village for fighting in a built up area training exercises. Slightly further on, he’d encountered the ghost village of Imber which had been requisitioned for training for the D-Day landings and all the residents evicted in 1943, recognising it from training exercises undertaken during his time in the Paras and the SAS.

When he’d reached a thicket of trees, he’d stopped for lunch, glad of the shelter from the wind they provided, long ago strategically planted along the crest of the hill by the M.O.D., and watched the wildlife cautiously re-emerge from where it had taken fright at his arrival. Rabbits and even a deer slowly revealed themselves and with a self-effacing grin, he’d quietly withdrawn, careful to keep downwind while testing his skills of stealth, not wanting to disturb the wildlife twice. The second half of the walk had far less to see, in fact the only disruptions to the landscape had been the lone farm on the outskirts of Tilshead along with a sign hammered into a tree advertising a lightly forested area of land. According to the notice, it covered two acres and was available to lease.

He and Mike Dean had regularly gone running together and it wasn’t long before Mike had invited him round to dinner to meet his family, which had been a pleasant surprise and had turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Offering to help tidy up after dinner had resulted in Sarah, Mike’s wife, shooing them off to the pub for a beer while she’d cleared up and put the kids to bed.

As he and Mike had taken a relaxed stroll to the pub, he’d said, “Thanks, I really enjoyed the meal, Sarah’s a great cook. In fact all your family’s great, Mike. Your kids are a credit to you.”

Mike had grinned, “Cheers, although the kids aren’t always that well-mannered. Richard was on his best behaviour. He’s car mad and he’s been drooling over yours since you moved in.”

He’d chuckled, “I’ll take you and him out for a spin at some point then, if you’re free over the weekend, I’m around.”

“You sure? Don’t have to be back up at CI5 anytime soon then?”

He’d raised a quizzical eyebrow at Mike, he hadn’t thought anybody at Bulford knew who he was apart from Major Wainwright. Mike had snickered, “Your secret’s out. The new training facility is creating a bit of a buzz and people are interested. I think they were generally horrified when they thought a pen pusher was coming up with the design so they checked out your background. Apparently they got the requested information at eleven hundred hours this morning.” Mike had grinned widely at him, “By thirteen hundred hours it was all round the camp.”

He’d snorted inelegantly, “So much for MOD discretion, I’m on secondment so I’m not officially anything at the moment.”

“I heard that you were injured and you’ve been sent down here while you recuperate, which explains all the assessments you’re having. What happened?”

He’d given a tacit grunt in reply, not wishing to discuss anything of a personal nature and Mike had taken the hint, “Sorry, I guess it’s covered by the Official Secrets Act or some such isn’t it, didn’t mean to pry. What I should have said was, how’s the recuperation going?”

He’d grinned, appreciative that Mike was willing to let it drop so easily, “You tell me? You run with me, seen any improvement?”

“Yes of course, but I don’t know how fit you’re aiming to be or by when.”

He’d sighed, “Fitter than I was when I was with the regulars and as soon as bloody possible.”

“We can run out with fully laden Airborne Bergens if you want? See how you fare and we’ll take it from there.”

As good as his word, Mike had knocked on his door the following night and had thrust a heavy bundle of camo pattern and webbing at him, “Break you in gently, yours is only forty pounds.”

He’d been just about to say that he was planning on starting with ten when Mike had chuckled, “There’s five sand bags in there, three at ten pounds each, two at five, build up to it yeah?”

He’d grinned and invited Mike in for a beer. Once in the lounge and beers had been opened, Mike had noticed the plans for the training centre which had been spread out on the dining table. After seeking permission, he had given them a thorough review which had been accompanied by several nods of approval. He’d described the assault courses and Mike had offered,“Well if you ever want a guinea pig, Richard’ll be up for it. Loves this sort of thing. I organised for him and his mates to have a go on the small one up at Larkhill, best day ever was the general consensus.”

The following morning he’d run out in boots with one ten pound sandbag and had managed not to disgrace himself.

With strategic use of a well wrapped bag of flour, over the next few weeks he’d gradually increased the weight of the backpack in two pound increments, flooding his mind with memories of his time in the regulars. Light infantry in his opinion had always been a misnomer. By his recollection, it was anything but light.

With all his free time, he’d also taken to hiking and with Salisbury Plain on his doorstep, after seeking permission from Major Wainwright, he’d gone off exploring. Mindful of the red flags warning of live firing exercises and armed with map, compass, a tarp and a bivvy bag, along with various items from his requisitioned kit that had come back with him from Winchester, he’d taken to camping out as he’d roamed the plains, actively embracing the solitude after months of being crowded by well-meaning hospital staff. Exploring by day and relaxing under the big sweep of early summer sky at night.

His prolonged and isolated imprisonment by his captors, followed by his lengthy stay in hospital where he’d barely been left alone for a minute, had made him feel just as trapped because of his weak physical state. Then the culmination, the interminable residence in Repton where he’d still been subjugated, even if only by Cowley’s orders, all had unsettled him. Inactivity and confinement of any sort had been an issue since his long ago stint in a Congo jail, and the wide expanse of Salisbury Plain was certainly helping to douse the memories of his recent lengthy incarceration.

Even though it was probably the only thing that had given him any pleasure during his time there, star gazing was something he hadn’t really done since Africa, the light pollution in London making it an impossibility. He’d spent the first couple of nights re-familiarising himself with the various northern hemisphere constellations that had been visible from the African savannah, remapping their locations and axes in his mind.  

Once he’d charted the sky, there was nothing to stop his thoughts roaming beyond his immediate surroundings. He had a Bermuda Triangle like part of him where a whole ocean of suppressed memories and emotions of past events could be lost and he’d carefully navigated his mind around it to avoid thinking of anything that had gone before in case the floodgates were opened. He’d always considered B.C., as he called his life before CI5, dead and buried and sealed off as irrelevant. All the stored wounds, long ago locked away in order that they could be effectually ignored.

The present had held little allure either, which had left only one option and he’d found himself untypically thinking about his future and what the hell he was going to do now he was off the ‘A’ squad, and his partner, now ex-partner, had moved on without him.

He’d pondered on what could be in store for him back at CI5 when his secondment was finished. He wasn’t sure whether his pride could face the ignominy of the ‘B’ squad, but he didn't see where else he could go and despite having typed his resignation weeks before, he had for the first time properly considered the ramifications of leaving. He’d let the idea roll around in his head for a while and hadn’t liked the result.

His tantrum in Cowley’s office before Bristol when he’d threatened to resign had been borne out of desperation and although not an idle threat at the time, once he’d calmed down, he would have subsequently been devastated if Cowley had accepted it. He’d always succeeded at being a true loner, resistant to emotional involvement, even when part of a group as he’d been in the army. He’d thought joining up would give him a sense of belonging and camaraderie that he’d been striving for ever since childhood, but he’d also been careful to keep to himself, never becoming too friendly with anybody and had purposely avoided getting too accustomed to things. Safer that way. It wasn’t that he hadn’t cared a jot, being part of a brotherhood with a sense of all in it together was as close to a home as he’d ever find and in some ways it had been. But, because of his safety measures, it had also been very easy to turn his back on it.

 Somehow, without him noticing, CI5 had become too important for him to just walk away without looking back and the thought of doing so made him feel slightly lost; an emotion he hadn’t felt for years, probably not since he’d first boarded the tramper to leave England’s shores and go off to sea. His past had proven that involvement and commitment always left him unprotected and susceptible, but there had been a fundamental flaw in his strategy. The esprit de corps of a two man team was far greater than any he’d felt with his army section. The closeness required on the job that had made theirs such a successful partnership had made it impossible to keep Ray shut out and there was no escaping that vulnerability now.  

Staring up at the stars, he’d let out a gusty sigh. At least Ray was off the streets. He’d not liked the thought that he’d still not been there backing up his partner, but he’d also recognised that in his current state he'd be more of a liability and Ray didn't need him any more anyway. Cowley and Ray were two men who had proven time and time again they were incorruptible and they'd both unreservedly won his trust and personal loyalty. He respected Cowley as he had never respected a commanding officer before and he'd let his partner in much too far, trusting him more than he could ever remember trusting anyone, much more even than Cowley. Ray was like a brother. Not only that, he was the best friend he'd ever had and was irreplaceable. Ray had healed some of the parts of him that had been ripped away by Africa, Belfast and the missions he'd undertaken in the SAS that had left him as cold as stone. The work at CI5 had often been just as grim, but with Ray alongside him, with his humanity, somehow he'd been able to counter it all, learnt to defrost the glacier inside. He’d snorted softly to himself at the whimsical metaphor and the noise had sounded loud in the night’s silence.

CI5 was different, Cowley’s unbending rule about protecting the innocents meant their work was honourable and that set it apart from all the other jobs he'd had before. Losing Marikka years ago had hurt deeply, but it had only served to further highlight that distinction, cementing his belief in CI5. Willis and MI6 had been prepared to twep her in the interests of the state, even though she was an innocent. Cowley had hauled him in to HQ after he'd walked off in a rage and made him very clear of the facts before telling him 'I'm sorry lad.'

He’d also been genuinely surprised and touched by the steady stream of visits from all the other agents during his stay at Repton. The distance from London alone made the trip a significant time commitment on an agent’s busy life, but that hadn’t stopped any of them regularly making the journey, often alone, sometimes in pairs. He'd never before had anybody give a tuppenny damn about him and he wasn't really used to anyone worrying about what happened to him. Ray was an exception, he’d had a vested interest after all. As partners they had a dependency on each other and weren't out there alone. Cowley too, to a certain extent was probably an exception. He also had a vested interest in his fitness to do the job. Although he had shown more than a hint of humanity over the years and had shown more concern during all his visits than he had expected, especially now he was no longer an active agent.  He'd been suitably abashed when the old man had warned him not to ever threaten him with his resignation again, cautioning him that next time, it would be accepted. Oddly that had given him a boost too, because it meant the old man hadn't written him off quite yet.

CI5 had given him a sense of acceptance far greater than that he'd ever felt in the army, Before CI5, he'd always felt unclean somehow, his mercenary background always being referred to and although he'd always outwardly taken it in good humour, he'd never been able to get away from it, always feeling like the black sheep. At CI5 he'd been able to forget it for the most part, whether it was due to the brooding intimidating behaviour he'd favoured when he'd joined, or even if it was viewed as the skeleton in the cupboard nobody talked about out loud he didn’t know. Nor had it been continually thrown back in his face, in fact, in some circumstances, his knowledge, his contacts and his expertise had been deemed a bonus. In the army it had been like sitting listening to that damned Mather woman every week and there’d been some sadistic bastards in both the Paras and the SAS who had shown a rather rapacious interest in his history. Being good at the job was one thing. Taking satisfaction from a job well done was another. Revelling in maiming or killing another human being was a whole something else and there had been far too many occasions where men in his unit had done just that, leaving that same feeling of distaste that his time in Africa had spawned. Although he’d never liked it, he’d not ever felt guilty about intentionally taking another life, he didn’t feel he had cause to. He’d only ever deliberately killed in self-defence or to protect another, kill or be killed was what it boiled down to. Ray would sometimes chew it over for days, battling his conscience, finally accepting that it had been necessary. But then Ray would feel guilty for most things at some point, so that was hardly a surprise. He’d told Cowley once that Ray'd feel bloody guilty over the invention of gunpowder, which while acerbic, was entirely accurate.

Even before Africa, he’d started to learn that setting expectations of his fellow man to very low meant he wouldn’t ever be disappointed. On the whole, that had stood him in good stead, dealing with the criminals and low life that littered the streets of Britain, never being thrown by the depths people would stoop to. Some years back, very early on in their partnership, Doyle’s unswerving loyalty and friendship had given him cause to step back and revise that blanket policy. Being constantly surprised by his partner’s actions both on and off the job had forced him to re-evaluate. Snarky sod he may be, but he’d never kept tally, never said ‘you owe me’, like so many others that he’d worked with before and that alone had meant he’d lowered some of his own self-erected shields. He had always put great stand on personal loyalty, but if it was you owe me, then that tainted it somehow. Loyalty had to be given freely with no conditions, otherwise it was merely obligation. It was a hard thing to try and explain, even to himself, and he'd struggled to rationalise it as he'd stared up at the night sky. Even in the army, he would have died for the others in his unit, but it would have been with a sense of duty rather than for personal loyalty.

CI5 had offered an unconditional sense of belonging, not demanding anything else in return, much like a family would. A family that as a younger man he’d yearned for. If he’d had a father like Cowley or a brother like Ray, he likely would never have left Liverpool.

He’d certainly changed in the time he’d been in CI5. Life till then had been corrosive, eating away at him from the inside out. He'd been envious of Ray’s belief that mankind was fundamentally good. Africa and Belfast had between them, snuffed out that particular belief long ago and yet the team within CI5, but primarily Ray and Cowley had proved it existed and he'd started to find that belief again.

Those aspects of himself that he'd kept locked up so long he'd almost forgotten they existed, those were the things CI5 had revived, the ability to care and to become involved. Restoring his soul, that same soul that when he left the SAS he wasn't even sure he had any more. "I've never spent so long in one place, in the same job or been surrounded by the same people for so long," he’d muttered as he’d topped up the camp fire for the last time before settling down for the night.

 In fact, it was Ray that had changed him, balanced him, letting him see that compassion wasn’t a weakness and that not everybody was out to get him, all while watching his back, trusting that he was doing the same for Doyle. And Cowley too. Cowley’s rule of protecting the innocents was partly responsible, that and Ray’s idealism, that sense of compassion and humanity that would spill out, usually after a heavy drinking session, when the guilt became too much for Doyle to contain.

 Freezing all emotions had been the only way to survive before then and he’d begun to steadily ossify. His experiences in Africa had desensitised him from death and horror and any longer in the SAS, he was pretty sure there would have been no way back for him. Sometimes, it had been hard to accept he was fighting for the right side there too, some of the things Her Majesty’s forces had demanded of him. CI5 had been the lifeline that at the time he’d not realised he’d needed. He was a survivor, and that basic survival instinct had brought him to CI5.

Cowley's ongoing support, even if it was currently from afar, had certainly underlined the old man’s assertion that a cow looked after its own, giving milk to its young. And along with the steadfast backing of the people he worked with, it had been a welcome salve, but all those events were now all conspiring against him, making the sentimental tug of CI5 all that much stronger. Despite his intentions of never letting anyone in, not just CI5, but the people within it had, without him realising it, become his family and he didn’t want to cut those emotional ties loose. He'd certainly miss the camaraderie if he was to be out on his ear. Cowley would see to it that he got a pension if he was invalided out, but he knew the Cow couldn’t afford to keep him on out of pity, and he himself couldn’t think of anything worse either, he’d just hoped that it wouldn’t be a death knell for his friendship with Ray and that they’d keep in touch. A mutual dependency had grown out of their close working relationship and friendship and despite Ray's assurances at Christmas, he wasn't sure whether their friendship would be sustainable now the partnership was effectively dissolved. If he left CI5 and became a civilian he would automatically have to be excluded from any detail of Ray’s day to day existence which would inevitably place a strain on their friendship. Up to this point, he’d always felt secure in the partnership, even when Ray had started going out with Ellie and even in the early days when they were still warily circling around each other, learning what made the other man tick.  And now, Doyle was moving on up, as well as fighting to save his marriage and his presence in Ray’s life could only complicate things.

He went back to the idea of staying with CI5. He couldn’t move up like Ray was doing, not that Cowley had even so much as hinted at it, but then he’d long ago accepted his background would preclude any promotion above the rank and file. The corridors of Whitehall were no place for an ex-merc, so the only way was down. Doyle becoming one of the suit and tie brigade was ironic in its own way, his partner was the scruffiest bloke he knew.

‘B’ squad would be day after day of interminable stake-outs and without Ray’s company would be unbearable. So although he’d wanted to stay in CI5, he’d also thought he might end up wanting to hold a gun to his own head if he did. The insight that these moments of reflection gave him that he’d long ago unconsciously committed to his partner, his boss and the job, and that leaving them all behind would hurt, had scared him. As he’d laid snug in his bivvy bag, he’d started to try to come to terms with the fact that his days in CI5 were likely numbered, and he should start thinking of an alternative career. At least he didn’t have any money worries, despite still being on reduced pay due to his health. Spending a year under cover and a further six months in Repton had meant he’d barely spent a penny in eighteen months. Cowley had told him that his belongings had all been boxed up into storage when he’d come down to Bristol so he hadn’t even had any accommodation deductions for nearly twelve months. Combined with a few prudent investments made when he’d first come back from Africa, he had enough money for any number of options for his immediate future. Injuries themselves had never bothered him in the past, they went part and parcel with the job. It was always the fear that an injury would stop him from getting back to top form and not being as good as he was before. Well, that time had unfortunately arrived. With another resigned sigh, he’d forced himself to focus his energies into contemplating life after CI5 and coming up with a plan. Legging it to Bristol had been an error of judgement. A stupid mistake. Ellie had put the wind up him and whether it was as a result of the crease to his temple or the look of disgust on Ray’s face when he’d talked about Africa, his overwhelming instinct had been to remove himself from the problem, thereby alleviating the issue.  He’d then spent much of the next twelve months chewing his knuckles because he’d let his partner down and for much of his imprisonment, thinking he wouldn’t ever get a chance to put things right. No, this time he wouldn’t run, wouldn’t make the same mistake twice, he’d stay down here for a while, out the way, get himself back to full health and let Ray get his marriage back on track. Maybe once he got medical clearance and approval from Cowley he could hack ‘B’ squad after all and if he couldn’t, then he’d keep his promise to Ray and explain why he couldn’t stay. Whether their friendship could survive them going their separate ways without the common bond of CI5 and Ray would keep his promise to always be there, well only time would tell, but he trusted Doyle more than he'd trusted anybody else, he'd never let him down before. He’d snorted quietly to himself. Maybe, he’d finally grown up at last.

Three weeks after submission, he’d been summoned to a meeting up at the camp at Tilshead. Much to his surprise, his proposal, with no requested alterations, had received unanimous approval from all the agencies and the armed forces. Still only part way through his psychological assessments he’d then been left with supervising the building work which had been slow to start and boring in the extreme.

“Oy, you gonna take this before me ‘and drops off?”

Bodie, jerked back to the present by Ray’s sharp tone glanced down at the mug being held out to him, “Oh, sorry, mate, was thinkin’.”

“Gathered that. An’ if I ask you what's going on in there, will you tell me?"

Bodie sighed, more as a delaying tactic than anything else, before taking a sip of his tea, “Cowley’s up to something.”

“Eh?”

“He just rang. Wanted to know if I’d be willing to get Jack match fit.”

“What for?”

Dunno, he said he’d let me know.”

*      *     *

“Ray, that was an amazing meal,” said Jack, sitting back, rubbing his stomach with contentment.

Doyle eyed the empty plates with satisfaction. Jack had eaten almost as much as Bodie and there was not a single leftover vegetable and barely enough turkey left for a decent sandwich. “Glad you enjoyed it.”

“Was a proper thanksgiving dinner. T’was really kind of you to go to the trouble. Thank you.”

“Well I doubt it was up to the standard you could get back home,” Ray said cheerfully.

In response to his comment, he saw Jack’s eyes briefly cloud with sadness before Jack’s defensive mechanisms could conceal it. Jack blinked, wiping his face of all expression. ”It was great,” Jack said quietly, gathering up the empty plates.

Doyle bit his lip, now painfully aware of his specious conclusion. Despite the impression his file had made, Jack was not completely insensitive, and was possibly just as soft and vulnerable as Bodie underneath it all. In an effort to restore the relaxed atmosphere there’d been before his rather thoughtless remark, he said light heartedly, “I hope you both left some room,” and retreated to the fridge to retrieve the dessert and busied himself dishing it up, giving himself and Jack similar sized portions and Bodie significantly more.

"What's that then?" Bodie asked, staring at his plateful of orange tart dubiously.

“Pumpkin pie“

“Pumpkin's a vegetable.”

Doyle sighed, “D’ya know, mate, you bring a whole new meaning to the phrase whining and dining.”

Jack chuckled. “I’ll have your slice if you don’t want it,” he said eyeing up Bodie’s plate.

“Didn’t say I didn’t want it,” said Bodie, pouting. “It’s not a pie anyway, it’s a tart,” he muttered petulantly.

“You always were fond of a tart, Bodie. Just try it.” Doyle’s patience had run out. “For God’s sake. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.”

Bodie’s only answer was a scowl directed at Doyle.

Entertained by the exchange, Jack couldn’t disguise his amusement. He caught Doyle’s eye who grinned at him and Bodie glared at them both before going back to suspiciously staring at his dessert. 

After liberally smothering it with cream, Bodie took a spoonful and chewed thoughtfully. “Hey, that’s not bad, it’s like custard. Readying a larger second spoonful, he stopped chewing and narrowing his eyes with suspicion, he looked up from his plate, “You’re having me on. It’s not really pumpkin, is it, what’s it made out of?”

Pointedly ignoring Bodie, Doyle turned his attention to Jack. “How’s your injury feel now?”

It’s fine, felt a slight twinge when I was out running about ten days ago, but nothing since, so I’d say it was fully healed, thanks.”

“That’s good and how’s the running going?”

“Great, but it’s been damned blowy the last couple of days. Better than rain though, I guess,” Jack smiled.

“Ah, that’s what comes of living on the south coast, the bracing force six wind that comes straight off the English Channel.”

Bodie who’d been wearing an impressive pout due to being ignored, and had all but inhaled his dessert, started to noisily scrape his plate clean with his spoon as if he was trying to take the glaze off. Jack suppressing a grin at the infantile antics, over the noise of Bodie’s spoon, said,” “Do you ever go running Ray? Don’t want you to be missing out, come with us.”

Before Ray could answer, Bodie interjected, “Nah, he can't go out when it's blustery, Doyle's too scrawny, get blown straight off the pier, he would." And with a look of cherubic innocence licked his spoon clean before smiling cheerfully and placing it neatly on his plate.

Jack couldn’t help it, he snorted slightly, a half laugh. Bodie’s behaviour was so blatantly childish, it reminded him of Kim when she was six. 

Sitting back with the realisation that some memories were fond and weren’t painful to recall, Jack knew he had these two men to thank for that. Their relaxed affability and acceptance into their home had started to lighten the dark misery within him that had been weighing him down.

Chapter Text

Bodie stood in the shower after his early morning run thinking about Cowley’s request and how he was going to approach it. Quickly cementing the plan for the day ahead in his mind, his thoughts drifted back to his time in Salisbury and the fortuitous circumstances that had enabled him to buy their house with its own gym facilities, which would in turn, make obeying Cowley’s order ridiculously easy.

After basic training, he’d kept pushing himself when he’d been down in Wilts, feeling better for it. With his physical rehabilitation plan taken care of, he’d turned to thinking about his mental rehabilitation. The idea for the activity centre for the general public had been prompted by the sign he’d seen for the land and Mike’s comment about Richard enjoying the assault course so much had been the clincher. He’d poked at the idea, kicked it around and then decided in for a penny. In some ways, it had been the same sort of thing as the training centre, but scaled and toned down multiple notches and almost immediately it had been a roaring success, far exceeding his own expectations. As the building work on the training centre had progressed, it’d required minimal involvement, more a case of monitoring progress and reporting back to the interested parties. Ray'd also regularly kept in touch. As he’d been working pretty much eight to four by then, the building works being conducted by a bunch of clock watchers, he’d usually been the one to drive up the A303 and onto the M3 to London to meet up with Ray and the other CI5 lads for a beer after meeting with Zebedee for progress updates. Then Ray and he would go off on their own, either to another pub or for a bite to eat and a catch up. Ray had never volunteered much information about how he was getting on with Ellie and he hadn’t liked to ask, it was none of his business, but he could see the lines of strain around his mate’s eyes and had been concerned. He’d been in Wiltshire almost a year when he’d met up with Ray on one of their regular meets and Ray had told him that Ellie had gone to visit her sister in Australia and would be away over Christmas. He’d just hoped that it wasn’t the beginning of the end for Ray’s marriage.

He’d been busy down in Wilts too, there were by then four adventure centres in the south, one in Worthing, West Sussex, another in Hampshire on the edge of the New Forest and one just west of Exeter on the edge of Dartmoor. The latest was Oxfordshire. All of them relatively accessible there and back in a day from his base just outside Amesbury.

A little over three months later, he’d been summoned to HQ. He smiled to himself as he recalled that particular meeting with Cowley. He'd gone to the meeting intending to leave CI5, already decided on how he'd explain his decision to Doyle.

“You’ve been keeping yourself busy, Three-seven.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Working for somebody else?”

“Absolutely not.” He’d left a rather impertinent pause before belatedly adding, “Sir,” somewhat affronted by the suggestion he’d been moonlighting.

“So you’re not involved in setting up a company called ‘Above and Beyond’ with activity centres in,” Cowley had studied a piece of paper in front of him, “four locations.”

“Yes I am. Sorry, sir,” he’d said unapologetically. As far as he was concerned he’d had nothing to apologise for, his seeming act of contrition no more than an acknowledgement that he had misunderstood the old man’s statement. The training centre had always taken priority and he had delivered everything required and more, and anything to do with the outward bound centres had always been managed in his own free time. He’d long ago refined the art of apologising to top brass whilst expressing not an ounce of remorse. Cowley had always seemed to tolerate it far better than some of his former superior officers, who’d often chosen to describe it as dumb insolence. “Was working for me, sir. Thought it would be good for my rehabilitation,” he’d replied cheekily.

He’d seen Cowley’s lip twitch, but had maintained his parade rest stance, judging he was likely on thin ice.

“I see.”

Cowley had studied the piece of paper again and he’d kept his eyes locked to the hair line crack in the plaster that was conveniently directly in his eyeline on the wall behind Cowley, “You must have invested a significant amount of time and effort, they’ve been quite successful, I hear.”

“Yes, sir, I’ve got plans for two more opening later thi…”

“That wasn’t a congratulatory observation, Bodie. You were supposed to be focusing your energy on the training centre.”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir,” he’d said, careful to look and sound anything but.

Was that another lip twitch?

“Major Wainwright has said he’s satisfied with your work on the training centre so far, as are Whitehall. However they have said that your involvement is of no further benefit to the project and that they will manage it themselves from this point on. It would appear that your presence in Wiltshire is no longer required. I think that there must be a far better use of your time than you playing Tarzan, don’t you agree, Three-seven?”

Zebedee had come down to seen him and the Major just the other day and had positively drooled over him and the new facilities. The Major had also been more than complimentary and was not someone who he’d felt would give false praise. Not that the same could be said for Zebedee. In fact, for much of the meeting, Zebedee had looked like he was about to wet himself with excitement. Used to Cowley’s typical understatement and finding it almost refreshing after Zebedee’s gushing, he’d said with an air of resignation, “What would you suggest I do, sir?”

“I want you back here at CI5, it’s time for you to come in from the cold, laddie.”

“Sir, I’ve been thinking about this and I don’t think the ‘B’ squad’s for me,” and he’d reached into his pocket to pull out his letter of resignation.

“Hmmm, and why’s that, Three seven?” Cowley had steadfastly ignored the slightly crumpled envelope.

“I’d get bored pretty quickly, could put other agents at risk.”

“I disagree with that, Three seven. I don’t believe you’d risk the lives of other agents.”

He’d opened his mouth to say something, but before he could utter even a syllable, Cowley had barked, “Don’t interrupt.”

As Cowley had glared at him, he’d bitten his tongue, curbing his urge to protest and had let Cowley continue. “However, I also agree that ‘B’ squad isn’t the right place for you. I have something else in mind until Colin can conduct your CI5 medical.”

His heart had sunk. Of course, if he’d thought about it, he would have realised there would have to be a final medical report to assess his injuries and provide justification for being invalided out. Sighing internally, he’d tried to curb his own frustration and accept it just meant he wouldn’t be able to make a clean break quite yet. He could always tend his resignation after Cowley had deemed his duties in the Outer Hebrides to be completed.

“Ah, um. Yes, sir.”

“But to start with, it should be on a part time basis, 2 days a week.”

His mood had plummeted still further. When would they all stop treating him with bloody kid gloves? He’d kept his gaze locked in front of him as he stood in front of Cowley's desk, not lowering it to meet Cowley's eyes “I’m fine sir.”

“Don’t interrupt”

Cowley’s lip had twitched again.

“I also think Four-five should be informed, don’t you?”

“Oh, Christ.”

“When will you learn that I do not approve of blasphemy in my office under any circumstances, Three-seven.

“Sorry, sir. No excuse, sir,” he’d said obligingly and had looked suitably chastened while the ramifications of the conversation he needed to have with his ex-partner swirled in his mind.

“Hmmm, Doyle is on his way back here from the ministry. My interest must always be with CI5, not the individuals, however I suggest that you be the one to tell him the good news of your change of status. You’re dismissed.”

“Yes, sir.” He’d turned away with a sinking heart, stuffing the envelope back into his pocket. God only knew how he was going to break it to Ray, the last thing he wanted to do was rock the shaky foundations of any progress Ray’d made with Ellie and him back working in close proximity in London would no doubt cause a seismic reaction.

“Oh and Bodie, lose the playgrounds. You’ve got sixty days to get rid of them under your own initiative before you’re back on full time status. You cannae have any other form of employment when working as an active operative, it’s in the small print.” He’d seen Cowley’s lips twitch for a third time and had needed to work hard to suppress a large grin, the old bugger had been toying with him. The demand to be part-time was only so he could transition from Wiltshire and the words active operative had given him a shimmer of hope that was currently blossoming inside him.

“Yes, sir.” He’d quickly sobered when he’d thought again of the conversation he needed to have with Ray.

As he’d walked out of the office he'd slowly shaken his head trying to square it with himself as to how he had just agreed not only to stay, but to sell off his fledgling business.

While he’d been waiting for Doyle to come back, he’d sat in the squad room, clutching a mug of tea, playing his options over and over in his head. All his life he had been governed by other people’s rules, the merchant navy, the army and now CI5, but he’d also had his own rules to live by. Three golden rules that had stood him in good stead. No involvement, look after number one, and never come between a man and his wife. CI5 had caused him to break the first two and it looked like it would be responsible for breaking the third rule too. His loyalties were split, Cowley, CI5 and his ex-partner. All he could think was that he didn’t want to leave CI5 or let the old man down, but if he stayed, he could stuff up his mate’s marriage even more. Doyle was onto a good thing, stepping into Cowley’s shadow so that one day, he could take over. The last thing he wanted was Doyle trailing him to the Outer Hebrides, or wherever Cowley decided he should go, out of some sense of obligation and putting further pressure on his already shaky marriage. And if he sold off ‘Above and Beyond’ and then quit CI5, he’d have nothing. He’d comforted himself with the thought that he’d built up the business from scratch, so had known he could do something similar again, maybe something else for the city toffs who were happy to pay to try communing with nature. Perhaps running some orienteering, tracking, and survival courses. No need to even buy land for that if he could get permission to use one of the National Parks. Or maybe he could try his hand at something completely different. What he’d told Cowley had been the truth. ‘Above and Beyond’ had been part of his rehabilitation, a way of reassuring himself that his brains didn’t look like piccalilli and that his head still worked the way it should. Building up a successful business from nothing in just a few months had given him that proof. 

Finally, Ray had returned to HQ and had been delighted to see him, his welcome warm and genuine, accompanied by a gentle thump on his shoulder. He’d wondered if it would still be as warm after he’d told Ray he was coming back permanantly. He’d waited impatiently while Doyle had updated the old man and when he’d finally emerged from Cowley’s office, Ray’d saved him from having to ask by cheerily saying with a grin, “Time for a pint?”

Ray’d got the drinks while he found a table in the corner and once they had both settled, he had dropped his bombshell. Ray had been nothing but pleased and he had tentatively voiced his concerns, trying to explain he would keep a low profile. Ray had cut him off mid-sentence and had soberly informed him that Ellie had moved into the spare room and that he was seeing a solicitor the following day to commence divorce proceedings. He’d been slightly surprised when Ray’d told him that he himself had instigated them and at how calm Ray had been about the whole thing, his resigned acceptance that the breach of trust had been too great and that he and Ellie were finished. The only hint of emotion showing when he’d said somewhat bitterly, “Relationships have no place in our world.” Two pints later and after a noisy slurp of beer, Ray’d pondered aloud, “Why couldn’t she have understood that in our job, the person you trust is your partner. All she had to do is talk to me.” A further pint and a half later, Ray was predictably blaming himself. “I was greedy, wanted it all. Wife, kids and the job. ‘M just sorry that you got dragged in. Royally fucked everything up, didn’t I.”

Ray'd continued to drink heavily and had become even more maudlin. He’d let his mate get it all off his chest while providing a supportive ear and a steady stream of fresh drinks. Pints with double scotch chasers for Doyle, lemonade with a slice for himself, content to let Doyle continue to believe it was gin and tonic. When Doyle could barely form a sentence, let alone walk, he’d scooped him up and half carried him out of the pub while Doyle had muttered ‘Wh’couldn't sh’understand, Bodie? S'job’s too 'portant to walk away.’ Unloading Doyle from the car at the other end, he'd fished out his bedsit keys from his pocket and after near enough carrying him up the flight of stairs had deposited his partner’s dead weight unceremoniously on his bed. After relieving him of his shoes and jacket, he’d rolled him over onto his front in case he puked in the night and leaving a large glass of water and a bucket next to his unconscious partner, he’d crashed out in the armchair on the other side of the room. Doyle had suffered one hell of a hangover the following morning, although nothing compared to the one he'd had six years later, after Ellie had announced that she was emigrating to Australia to be with her sister, and that she was taking Andy with her.

By the end of the third of his two day weeks, he was sick and tired of the crummy bedsit that had been allocated to him for his one night a week stay in London. And he was even more fed up of sitting in records and had gone to find Cowley to request another assignment, but had been told he was unavailable. By the end of the fifth week he’d found buyers for all of the four ‘Above and Beyond’ sites. Two had been sold and the other two would be signed over in the next few days and he was starting to come to the conclusion that if the rest of his CI5 career was going to be confined to records, he wasn’t going to last long.

By the end of the seventh week he was spending less than five percent of his time doing the job he’d been ordered to do, which he was experienced enough to now know, was a complete waste of time. Colin had been giving him the royal runaround, never available to conduct his assessment when he said he would be and for the previous four weeks, Cowley had made himself unavailable. After two weeks of that he had changed his strategy, amusing himself by chatting up all the secretaries and by endeavouring to be a sufficiently disruptive presence that Cowley would be forced to call him in for a bollocking. At least that way he’d get to see the wily old bastard so he could hand over his resignation. When he’d exhausted the entertainment value of the typing pool, he’d taken to hanging round the squad room, viewing the comings and goings from an angle of roughly thirty five degrees from his then customary place, lounging on the sofa. When that hadn’t worked he’d even attended a couple of briefings, sitting quietly, right at the front so the Controller couldn’t fail to see him, but both times, the old man hadn’t even shot a glare in his direction and at the end of each briefing had proved elusive.

 On the second day of his final part time week, Betty had called him in to tell him that Cowley had left him a message, handing him a folded piece of paper.  The note had stated in no uncertain terms that he was getting underfoot in the squad room and that the secretarial pool’s output had more than halved since he'd returned from Salisbury due to his uncalled-for presence. As he couldn’t manage to stay in records as ordered, rather than hanging round HQ making the place look untidy, he should report to Macklin at eight a.m the following Monday.

Monday would be his first day on active service as a full time operative for over a year and despite his best impression of innocent pathos for Betty’s benefit, there had been more than a small part of him that had been secretly pleased. Cowley had clearly changed his mind and he was to be let back out on the streets, and recalling the conversation eight weeks before, it wouldn’t be on ‘B’ squad. He’d never thought he would look forward to being in Macklin’s clutches, but left HQ that night with a considerable spring in his step.

Having spent the weekend packing up his stuff from Salisbury and saying good bye to the people he’d met down there, the following Monday he’d turned up early and had changed into tracksuit and running shoes, ready for Macklin. He’d been seething with frustration when he’d been told he was there for observation only and he’d stood next to the gymnasium wall, arms crossed over his chest, not caring who saw his thunderous fury while he’d brooded. Annoyed with himself for getting his hopes up, incensed by the thought that Cowley had sent him here to be humiliated, and fuming at Macklin for being the messenger. Eventually as he’d slowly calmed down sufficiently to be aware of what was going on around him, his attention had drifted to the batch of raw recruits that were being put through their paces. There were a couple of them who had stood out, they had real talent. The majority fell into the category of potential and there were a couple who were absolutely useless and would never make it to ‘A’ squad and would probably struggle to even make it as far as ‘B’ squad. They could perhaps be coached if their other skills were up to scratch, or maybe they were heading for a back office role, but there’d need to be a review of their files to see what roles might suit and then another raft of tests to establish suitability. Cowley expected the men and women of CI5 to be the best, so employing the mediocre wasn’t ever an option.

When Macklin had wrapped up, he’d walked out, not talking to anybody, his level of frustration far outweighing any obligation of social niceties.

He’d got halfway home when a call had come through on his R/T from control telling him to report, along with the recruits, to the firing range at eight the following morning. Slamming the R/T down on the passenger seat, he'd turned the car around and driven to the pub where he'd proceeded to get gently plastered.

Despite having the hangover from hell, he'd dragged himself out of bed the next morning and after downing some painkillers he'd turned up at the shooting range down at Handcross on time. At least he'd get some satisfaction shooting the hell out of a few targets. He was to be disappointed. When he’d gone to get some ear and eye protection from the armoury along with several boxes of ammo, Charlie’d said, "Ah, Bodie, message from the old man. He said to tell you that you are here to observe only."

More than furious, he’d slipped on the protectors and stood at one end of the firing line, just behind it and glared at all the recruits. There’d been the odd glance directed his way the previous day and now they were coming thick and fast. Fed up with the scrutiny it was only a matter of minutes before he’d roared, “Ceasefire!”

Taking on the role of Range officer, he’d continued to bellow, “Chamber is empty and magazines removed. Hands off! Step away from the firing line.”

“You in lane three, step away.” Despite his call, the bloody idiot in the third lane was still pissing about with his weapon, so he’d marched over to see more clearly what the hell the recruit was buggering about at. About to rip into him, as he’d got closer he could see the recruit’s hands were shaking so hard it was hardly surprising he hadn’t successfully cleared his weapon. “Calm down,” he’d said softly, not wanting to spook the recruit anymore while he had a live weapon in his hands that he clearly wasn’t in control of. “What’s your name?”  

“Harris, sir,” the young lad had said nervously.

He’d suppressed a wince, estimating that in best Cockney tradition, the recruit would be known as Arse by the end of the week’s initial assessment and then, if in the event he made it into CI5, it would be with him forever.

“Okay, lay down your weapon Harris and step away and let me take over please.”

With undisguised relief, Harris gently laid down the hand gun and took two steps back so he was well behind the firing line. He’d stepped forward and with experienced hands had quickly confirmed the magazine was removed and the chamber empty before pointing the gun down range, laying it back down on the bench and stepping back himself.

Turning to face the recruits who were all staring at him now, he’d spoken loudly. “Let’s get something straight. I am here to observe all of you. You are not here to observe me. Are we clear?”

Although most of the recruits had sheepishly nodded their compliance, a couple of them had looked down and away from him and there were three who’d just stared moodily back at him. Making a mental note of their faces, he’d glanced at Harris who’d continued to look bloody terrified.

He’d moved closer to Harris and discreetly settled a restraining hand on his arm, before calling out, “Load and make ready.’’ All the recruits apart from Harris had stepped forward and he’d turned his attention to the young man standing next to him, knowing Charlie would take over as RO while he was otherwise engaged. “So, Harris, ever fired a gun before?” he’d asked conversationally. Harris, with his eyes downcast, had shaken his head, “No, learnt it on line, but with a rifle.” He’d shrugged, dejectedly mumbling, “I didn’t know I’d have to do this for an office position, otherwise I’d’ve made sure I learned all the handguns too. I did all the self-defence courses I could find.”

Remembering him from the day before, Harris certainly hadn’t been the worst and in fact, if he was destined for admin he’d given a fairly impressive showing. The lad had looked so downcast, he’d decided the first thing he was going to do when he left here was to go Cowley and tell him it was bloody stupid trying to evaluate recruits for HQ positions alongside the agents. It would do both groups no good at all, the back office staffers would feel inferior and the agent recruits over confident.

“So what’s your specialism then, something to do with defence techniques or martial arts?”

Harris had shaken his head, “No, formal logic.”

He’d raised an eyebrow and before he could say anything, Harris had expanded his answer by way of explanation, enthusiasm lighting up his face. “It’s the branch of logic concerned exclusively with the principles of deductive reasoning. I’ve been developing a software program using an algorithm based on formal logic for trawling databases, it’ll make links to facts or people in the database that otherwise wouldn’t be picked up. It learns all the time, so it continues to give better and better results.”

“Well perhaps I should start calling you Aristotle instead then?” he’d said kindly, referencing the earliest known studier of the science, keen to get Harris back on the task in hand rather than on in depth analysis of the joys of algorithms and computers.

Harris had blushed, now very aware that his explanation had been superfluous and ignoring the high colour, he’d gently guided the young recruit towards the weapon lying on the table in the booth.

He’d taken Harris through everything slowly, showing him the magazine, how to load a bullet to the chamber and how to clear it. The lad had picked it all up quickly and within a couple of minutes, he’d been showing him how to hold the gun correctly, righting his stance and explaining how to manage the recoil on a double tap. It didn’t take long for Harris to be confidently firing round after round into the centre of the target thirty yards down the lane, reloading and firing again. After one last minor correction to Harris’s stance, he had wandered down the rest of the line, critically appraising each of the other recruits. He’d stood behind one recruit who was firing confidently and sensing Bodie behind him, had laid down his weapon and turned around, a sneer on his face. “I don’t need any help from you, thanks. As you can see, I’m doing perfectly okay on my own.”

Remembering the recruit was one of the three who had already had their card marked, he’d stepped forward, deciding the cocky little prat in front of him needed taking down a peg or two. Pushing the target back to just over one hundred metres, he’d loaded a fresh magazine and proceeded to briskly fire out a smiley face, the eyes perfectly symmetrical and the nose bang on the bullseye. As he’d pulled the target back up towards them, he’d seen the recruit’s jaw drop and had said, “The first thing you need to learn is that to get into CI5, just doing okay isn’t good enough. And when you’ve learnt that, then you need to learn that you shouldn’t ever reject an offer of help, because you might learn something that could save your life one day.”

He’d walked off, not giving the recruit the chance to respond and irritated with himself that he’d felt compelled to demonstrate his proficiency. Although he’d gleaned some satisfaction from his performance, he’d had no need to prove to any of the recruits he wasn’t past it and could still shoot as well as he ever could. The times he’d come up here rather than drive back to Wiltshire, waiting until just before lock up and persuading Charlie to leave the keys with him for the night. Then firing box after box of ammo at the targets until he could barely hold his gun anymore and coming back, time after time until he could shoot as well as he ever could. Although he’d never told anybody about his night time visits, Cowley had probably known all the same. The wily old bastard somehow always knew what everyone was up to. He leaned back against the wall to watch, occasionally moving up and down the line making a mental note of each recruit’s overall performance. After he’d done that several times, with a sigh, he’d checked his watch, deciding it was time to see the recruits perform with rifles. Taking on the role of RO once more, he’d called a halt to the proceedings and issued instructions to swap out their weapons from the armoury.

Once all the recruits were back at their places, he’d automatically gone back to Harris, anticipating he’d need some help to get going, but Harris had looked completely comfortable with the weapon and when he’d given the orders to load and make ready, Harris had looked like he’d been doing it all of his life.

When Harris had shot his rounds and needed to reload, he’d stepped forward, “Where did you say you learnt to shoot a rifle?”

“Off the internet.” Harris had shrugged, “I learnt all of it off the internet.”

“What? You’re saying you learnt self-defence off the internet?” Harris had nodded glumly, “Yeah, was a bit different doing it against somebody real yesterday.”

He had snorted at the ridiculousness of Harris’s claim, yet didn’t doubt the honesty of the sincere reply. “You’re a bleedin’ nutter, Harris. Aristotle’s a bit of a mouthful anyway. Gonna call you Bottle from now on, ‘cos by Christ, you’ve plenty of that.” With a grin and a friendly clap on Harris’s shoulder, he’d continued on down the line.

He wasn’t at all surprised when Charlie told him he was to stay with the recruits for the rest of the day. Sessions with Kate Ross were the delights in store for the recruits that afternoon and observing the newbies had been more interesting than he’d expected. Some showed nervousness and subsequent relief that the interview and psychometric testing was over, others appeared indifferent and he could break those into two distinct groups. Those that were overly confident and the ones that were covering up, after all, he himself was a master of that particular tactic.

Driving home that day, he’d idly pondered every recruit’s suitability for CI5 based on what he’d observed over the last two days and had then purposefully shoved it all out of his mind as he focused on planning that evening’s entertainment with the delectable Melinda.

The week had continued in much the same vein. Every night, control had contacted him on the R/T instructing him to go to wherever the recruits were the following day. And every day on arrival, he’d been told he was there to observe, though by the third day, he’d been prepared for it at least. He’d stood to the side watching the recruits as they’d progressed through assessments for defensive driving, rifle shooting on the outdoor range followed by sniper skills with the last day set aside for assessing their overall fitness, culminating in a gruelling assault course.

 As the hours had passed, he’d started to mentally categorise them, filtering out the wheat from the chaff, noting that some of the recruits destined for back office positions were a damned sight fitter than some of the candidates who were applying for agent status.

Although by Thursday morning he was resigned to the fact that he would spend the rest of the week watching the recruits, as he’d walked out the door on the Friday night, he’d tried to cheer himself by thinking about his plans for the weekend’s recreational activities.

He’d barely been in the car five minutes when his R/T had beeped, informing him that Mr Cowley would see him in his office at seven thirty on Monday morning to discuss the latest intake. And that the recruit’s personnel files and all the classroom based assessment test results were at HQ ready for him to collect so he could prepare a report on each.     

Cursing loudly as he’d fought his way through the Friday night traffic all the way to HQ, he’d collected the large bundle of files and shoving them under his arm, had gone back to his crummy bedsit. Armed with a takeaway and a bottle of scotch, he’d settled back into the armchair and started to read the files, more interested than he’d wanted to admit to himself as to whether his preconceptions made by observation alone aligned to the personnel file of each recruit. Each file contained a report from Macklin, as well as respective scores for fitness, perception, alertness, reactions and the reports of their psychological assessments covering stress tests, personality tests and everything in between.

He’d perused each file as he’d munched on chicken and chips, pleased to see that Bottle had excelled in all of his psychological assessments.   

*      *     *

“It's a wonder he doesn't look like a tea pot y'know, although the shape’s similar, I s’pose,” said Doyle to Jack as Bodie gulped his third mug of tea down.

Giving Doyle no more than a quirk of his eyebrow, Bodie placed his mug in the dishwasher and turned to Jack. “We’ll do a session and have a late lunch. All that fresh air's made me peckish, don’t think I can wait till dinner.”

“Mate, when have you ever not been peckish? Why don’t you have a light lunch now? You can do some gentle stuff on the weights till it settles.”

“Nah, Jack and I are gonna spar for a bit,” said Bodie, “I’ll see you upstairs, I need to visit the plumbing on the way.”

Doyle’s voice rose, “You’re going to spar? I thought you were gonna just do circuit training.”

Poking his head back round the kitchen doorway, Bodie gave Doyle one of his best smug looks and smiled, “Now where’s the fun in that, sunshine.”

Doyle waited until he’d heard Bodie’s feet reach the upstairs landing before turning to the American who was idly staring out the window.

“Jack?”

“Hmmm?”

“No head shots.”

Jack looked at him,

“No head shots on Bodie. Or you’ll have me to deal with.”

For the first time, Jack saw that Ray Doyle also had a hard side that competed admirably with Bodie’s.

He nodded curtly and marched out of the kitchen, wondering what he was supposed to make of such a warning.

Meeting up with Bodie, on the landing, Bodie opened a door which up to now, Jack had assumed was a cupboard and followed him up another flight of stairs to the top of the house.

At the top of the narrow stairs, Bodie pushed open the door and led the way into a large open space, stopping at the edge of a large crash mat. To Jack's left was the front of the building, the windows were full length and ran the entire width of the room, on one side opening out to a small balcony area. Inside, was a long low sofa and coffee table, perfectly placed to appreciate the view over the English Channel. At the back of the room was a fairly comprehensive selection of gym equipment, a cross trainer, treadmill and rowing machine as well as a bike and a couple of weight machines and resistance trainers. In the corner, suspended from the ceiling was a punch bag and behind that, a Wing Chun wooden dummy. So high above ground level, there was no street noise other than the odd seagull and he became aware of an air conditioning unit emitting a quiet hum, keeping the air fresh and circulating, and the temperature constant. 

Jack whistled through his teeth. “The view's incredible. How often do you and Ray come up here? I think I could spend all day, every day just staring out the window.”

“I use it most days,” said Bodie with an air of resignation, don't get to see much of the view though, waving his arm vaguely at the various pieces of gym equipment.

Well that explained where Bodie had been disappearing to each day and how he could eat enough for three and still maintain his physique.

Bodie toed off his shoes and stripped off his socks and track suit jacket as Jack followed suit.

They both warmed up and then with a mutual nod, moved to the centre of the mat. Both of them bounced on their toes, evaluating the other and Jack made the first move. Bodie deflected it easily and made a counter attack. Jack in turn defended and they broke apart, still warily circling each other.

As they came within reach of each other again, Jack feinted right and then threw a left handed punch that missed Bodie by millimetres, his quick reactions allowing him to dodge the jab.

Then they fought, thick and fast. All punches were pulled, but it didn't stop the adrenaline from flowing. That each of them was an unknown quantity to each other fuelled the challenge and they discovered that they were surprisingly evenly matched.

Bodie's greater reach, weight and power versus Jack's agility, lower centre of gravity and lesser years. They both had different skills, different tactics and when one found a way to beat their opponent, they each showed the other man the move, trading their own wealth of knowledge and experience.

After an exhausting forty five minutes, Bodie collapsed on the mat and lay there on his back, knees bent while the sweat beaded on his brow and ran down onto his temples. 

Jack gratefully sank down onto the mat a few feet from Bodie, assuming the same posture. 

"Any idea who won?" asked Bodie with a grin.

"Well I'd like to say me, but I don't think I have the audacity to say it,” said Jack turning his head to the Englishman and returning the smile. "I think this should go down as an honorary draw."

Bodie pursed his lips as he appeared to give the suggestion due consideration. "Yeah. Okay then."

There was a moments silence before Bodie spoke again, "Right, five more minutes to get the wind back and then another session. We can work on the equipment this afternoon. Ten minutes on each I thought, how does that sound?” 

“Sounds good,” said Jack, his heart rate and breathing nearly back down to normal levels. He sat up and stretching across the mat, he reached for the two water bottles and rolled one across the mat in Bodie’s direction.

Bodie stopped it with his hand and pushing himself up with his elbow, twisted the lid and gulped down nearly half the bottle. “Aaah, had a throat like a Turkish wrestler’s jockstrap. Almost better than a pint.”

"Most dangerous substance on the planet."

Bodie raised an enquiring eyebrow.

"Water. Major component of acid rain," said Jack with a grin.

Bodie chuckled, "Next session, no pulling punches."

Jack looked at him, concerned. "I don't want to hurt you."

"Cocky aren't you. Don't worry about it. I'm not worried about when I hurt you. Colin'll just patch you up again.”

*      *     *

Bodie crashed to the mat. "You held back" he said accusingly at Jack who was leaning over him with a troubled look on his face.

"I don't want to hurt you."

Bodie grunted. "Last warning, sunshine. Don't hold back. They won't," he said, his tone falsely light, yet full of menace.

He hoisted himself up on Jack's offered hand and they resumed the slow, wary dance, circling around, each looking for the first opening.

Jack saw his opportunity and attacked, pulling his punch at the last second, but crashing Bodie to the soft mat again. Bodie lay still, unmoving and Jack moved towards him, concerned. He crouched down to the still, silent form, putting a hand on the shoulder closest to him.

With precipitous speed, Bodie moved and attacked fiercely, pinning Jack down with nowhere to go. Jack saw stars as he received a flat handed blow to the side of his head which told him Bodie was now deadly serious.

There was nothing he could do to stop Bodie without risking hurting him and as he curled up, trying to protect himself, he vaguely registered that although Bodie wasn't pulling his punches, he was avoiding the site of the stab wound. Focusing on places that would bruise, would hurt, but wouldn't cause lasting damage. He rode it out and just as suddenly as the attack started, it stopped.

“What the hell are you playing at?”

Jack unfurled himself at the sound of the angry voice and leant back on his elbow to look up at Bodie who was glaring down at him. He leapt to his feet and marched away, turning after a few paces, the adrenaline still pumping through him, “I told you, I don’t want to hurt you.”

“That’s not going to happen, I know what I’m doing.” Bodie’s anger triggering his accent to boomerang back and forth between the Home Counties and the Wirral.

“That’s not the point.”

“I’ll have to tell Cowley you’re not up to it. That what you want?” Bodie was shouting at him now. “You’re gonna be on your own out there. You can’t afford to give a shit about the other bloke.”

“I don’t want to hurt you, dammit.” Jack shouted back, his frustration leeching through.

“Bodie, I told him.”

Jack and Bodie both looked towards the source of the soft voice. Summoned from downstairs by the sound of raised voices, Doyle was leaning on the door jamb.

“Told him what, Ray?” 

Doyle, ignoring Bodie, said, “Jack, go and have a hot bath, it’ll help the bruises, use my bathroom. Let me talk to Bodie a minute.”

“You can play with Ray's rubber duck. It’s all you’re bloody good for." Bodie was white faced and angry.

The contempt in his voice made Jack flinch, then stiffen. He banked down his own anger, aware of the potential danger in both of them losing their temper. He took a couple of wary steps backwards before turning towards the door. Ray moved aside to let him through and as he passed him, Ray rested his hand briefly on his shoulder. “Thanks, Jack.”

Jack glanced back at Bodie glowering as he stood on the mat. Despite his age, he still looked powerful and dangerous.

Doyle focused his attention back on Bodie. “I don’t want you to take any risks mate, he’s highly trained, you at least understand what he’s capable of.” Doyle saw Bodie was about to protest, his eyebrows drawn together in a ferocious scowl. “He wouldn’t do it on purpose of course, but….”

Bodie cut him off mid-sentence, “He’s the one taking all the fucking risks, Ray, he’s gonna be out there on his own with nobody watching his back. We owe it to him to help him as much as we can. He’s one of us.” 

Ray ignored the menacing aura exuding from his partner, after over thirty years he was completely immune to it. “Bodie, calm down, you’ll give yourself a bloody coronary.”

Doyle watched as Bodie paced up and down the mat, nostrils flaring and fists clenched. “For fuck’s sake Doyle, there is nothing wrong with me. Twenty years later and you’re still,” Without warning, he stopped pacing, facing the door and with a yell of frustration, stamped his foot. “I’m not some bloody kid who needs wrapping up in fucking cotton wool.”

Doyle fought down the urge to laugh, deciding it wouldn’t help and instead said “Really? You’re certainly acting like one. Andrew used to stamp his foot, grew out of it when he was nine or ten though.”

“Fuck off, Doyle,” although there was less heat in his voice.

“Work it off mate, then we’ll talk.”

He left Bodie muttering and making his way back downstairs, grinned at the petulant behaviour he’d just witnessed. Despite his protests, Bodie could rival any teenager on having a tantrum. Leave him alone and he’d calm down and with a bit of luck he’d soon be back to being all full of Bodie bonhomie. 

*      *     *

Jack studied his crinkled finger pads. He should probably get out of the bath now rather than top it up for the third time with yet more hot water before his skin absorbed any more and he became completely waterlogged. He glanced at the side of the bath and couldn’t help the smile as he looked again at the plastic duck on the side of the tub. Luminous yellow with an orange beak, three smaller ducklings queued up behind it.

It had been nearly an hour ago that the sound of sharply exchanged words had wafted up the stairs, immediately followed by the slam of the front door, which he assumed had been Bodie going out, as the house had been quiet ever since.

Regretfully heaving himself out of the warmth of the bath tub, Jack dried himself off and quickly dressed, the long soak had certainly removed a lot of the stiffness in his bruised muscles from Bodie’s short lived, but intensive attack. Bodie angry had certainly left an impression, some of the bruises were already coming out, courtesy of the bath. As he made his way back out of the bathroom, through Doyle’s bedroom, he glanced curiously around him. Ray was certainly the messy one. A scattered whirlwind of belongings littered every surface, a bike magazine and an empty glass on the bedside table, an alarm clock and a lamp pushed right to the edge. On the chest of drawers, a picture of Andrew, half concealed by two tall cans of deodorant and various toiletries. A small pile of crumpled clothes were draped haphazardly over the laundry bin in the corner. Although the clutter was certainly not slovenly, on a tidiness scale, it was somehow just over what he would class as lived in and a contrast to the orderly homeliness in the rest of the house. As he reached the door, he spied a poem, framed and hanging on the wall alongside. His eyes automatically scanned the lines of text and after reading it through, considered it a thought provoking piece. 

*      *     *

Sat in the lounge with Mozart playing softly in the background, Doyle let the music wash over him, expunging the tension created by Bodie’s outburst. Doyle didn't think he'd ever won an argument against Bodie when he was in a mood like this. If prevented from disappearing off, he would childishly goad, continually shifting the goalposts, turning everything around until it was impossible to keep up or even want to and forcing a reaction from anybody near him before ultimately storming off anyway. Wryly acknowledging to himself that when Bodie really lost his temper the best place to be was well away from him until he’d calmed down, Doyle recalled the way the walls of their villa had shaken with the force of the front door as Bodie’d stomped out, slamming it behind him. Hearing Jack come down the stairs he waited for him to appear in the doorway. “You’re safe,” he grinned at Jack, “He’s gone out.”

“Not sure that’s much better, he’ll still come back at some point,” said Jack gloomily, sitting down in an armchair. “I don’t want to fall out with either of you.”

Doyle chuckled, “His parting shot was that he was going up to Notting Hill and that he had his mobile in case I panicked he might fracture an eyelash. You have nothing to worry about. If previous experience is anything to go by, Bodie will have calmed down by the time he gets to Surrey if not before and by the time he gets to London he’ll have forgotten all about it.” He grinned, confident he knew the exact destination. Melinda lived in Notting Hill and she’d been seeing Bodie on and off for years, seeming to be someone for whom the friends with benefits relationship suited, and a tumble with a warm bird was always guaranteed to improve Bodie’s mood. “So, knowing him, he’ll be back tomorrow morning and will be back to his normal ebullient self.” It would certainly be a relief, Bodie’s brooding anger had permeated the atmosphere, leaving the ambience of the house feeling rather solemn, although at least he’d told him where he was going.

Jack looked at him doubtfully.

“Jack, I’m sorry. It was unfair of me to dump that on you without any explanation.”

Jack shrugged. “It’s good you look out for him.”

A memory long forgotten reared up from the depths of Doyle’s past. In Cowley’s office, very early on in their partnership. In fact it could even have been when Cowley had told him he was to be permanently partnered with Bodie. “Three-seven needs somebody to look out for him.”

Doyle had snorted, “Bodie doesn’t need anybody, he’s made that perfectly clear.”

“Aye, that’s what he’d have you believe. Perhaps it’s just such an alien concept to him that he doesn’t realise it himself yet.” Doyle realized that he hadn’t just forgotten the conversation, he’d actively dismissed it, too new to CI5 to appreciate Cowley’s wisdom and too self-absorbed in trying to ditch Bodie as his partner to be willing to take the time to understand what made the ex-merc tick. He’d just assumed that Cowley had meant whilst they worked together, doing what partners should do, covering each other’s back. The next few months had seen a fledgling friendship develop from reciprocated respect for each other's skills, which in time had evolved into an unshakeable mutual trust, and from there, their deep personal bond. Brothers in arms, comrades, an alliance closer than one of family. Whatever it was, friends didn't really cover it, but surer than anything else in his life, he knew Bodie needed someone. He didn’t have anybody else and despite his best efforts in the early days to keep everybody at arm’s length, Bodie was not suited to solitude.

Jack saw Doyle stare back at him as if that should never have occurred to him, “Sorry, none of my business,” said Jack quickly.

Ray ran his hand through his hair and leant back into the armchair, feeling somewhat ashamed that it had taken him over thirty years to understand that particular conversation, even if he'd worked out the intent while sitting at a sunny kitchen table one Christmas a mere twenty years ago. “It’s fine. Bodie is,” he sought for the right word and gave a sigh of frustration as it eluded him, the already overlong pause forcing him to use an inadequate substitute, “complicated.”

He looked sharply at Jack, “I know that doesn't explain anything much, but believe me when I say he cares.”

Jack didn’t say anything, but mirroring Doyle’s movements, relaxed back into the armchair.

Doyle sat there, trying to think of a way to describe his best mate. He was a study in contradictions. It wasn't even that Bodie was complicated. There was a huge chunk of him that was incredibly straightforward. That part of Bodie was a jumble of black and white, with very few elements of grey. From his almost childlike anticipation about things, as well as his rarely seen temper, that was often childish too, although anger of any sort was far outweighed by his overriding sense of fun. All were poles apart from the harrowing life he’d lived that had forced him to grow up fast, exposing him from a young age to far more than any man should have to see in a whole lifetime. There was no doubt his mate was a hard man, not burdened by the idealism that he himself had wrestled with over the years, often calling him out over what Bodie’d described as his bleeding heart, yet morally Bodie didn’t have what it took to be truly callous and ruthless. The protectiveness and compassion that existed by the shed load just under the surface was proof enough. And the man had his own ideals, even if he didn’t wear them on his sleeve. The physical presence of Bodie, broad and tall at a whisker under six foot which gave credence to the brooding menace that he almost unconsciously radiated, seemed completely at odds with his light-hearted natural disposition. The frequent slides into inanity and the garrulous banter he could engage in for hours, themselves a direct contrast to his sharp intellect and pragmatism, both of which he had by the bucket load. His unwillingness to reveal anything of his history or innermost thoughts and to commit to any personal involvement and yet he’d been his best mate for over thirty years as well as being the driving force for buying this house and them living under the same roof for the last twenty. Buying the house. Well, the bloke could still surprise him, even now. The deep rooted insecurities and penance that had taken years for him to discover despite their history, due to Bodie’s brilliant disguise of assured self-confidence that so often, even now, appeared to border on arrogance. Those same insecurities that he wasn’t worthy of caring about, unexplainably had never affected him on the job, believing and trusting in him enough to do his part of watching Bodie’s back. And yet despite the inevitable conclusion that Bodie had gone from child to adolescent runaway without anybody to care about him, Bodie cared about those around him far more than was right or proper. He should, by rights, have been a cold, unfeeling bastard, but that was just the persona he’d adopted as a defensive shield so nobody could ever accuse him of not having his priorities in the right order on the job. No, Bodie had never let his insecurities interfere, he’d always exuded composed certainty throughout his time at CI5. It was one of the things that had made him such a good agent and a great partner, always calm and controlled, even in the face of the greatest adversity.

Off the job, the man often acted on impulse, not thinking about things until the last minute, it was part of what had always made him such good fun to be with. Forever surprising those around him with yet another wild and whacky act of spontaneity which would engage them in all sorts of recreational activities that he himself wouldn’t ever have had the imagination to think of. The product of one such event at the seaside on one of their rare weekends off, was the photo on the mantelpiece, but there had been plenty of others, all of them great memories. Yet the man was a brilliant military tactician and strategist and would plan complex field operations for days with a seemingly unrivalled ease, producing such remarkable campaigns that had even left Cowley’s triple think in his wake. The plans would cover all the bases, always having contingencies and adaptable elements for changing conditions. In hindsight, Bodie had been wasted on the streets in ‘A’ squad, not that his mate would hear any such thing ever be said. And the sad irony was that he felt responsible for ruining Bodie’s career on the streets and yet the dumb crud didn’t harbour any bad feeling towards him or Ellie, which he couldn’t quite understand.

Then there were the early mornings. Throughout his time at CI5, Bodie had never been a willing early riser, always having to be dragged from his flat, often quite literally, grumbling and cursing about how he was missing his beauty sleep. He'd always been easily cheered by the mention of breakfast though, and the promise of an extra rasher or sausage used to serve as a suitable lure for an extra third lap around the cemetery. 

 Now he had no specific reason to get up, he was out most mornings before dawn, voluntarily pounding the streets. The same man who was cynical about relationships, having been burnt badly in the past and the two women in his life that he'd declared deep feelings for were both dead. Love wasn't worth the pain, Bodie’d said long ago, and yet he favoured the romantic poets and had been seeing Melinda regularly enough to call them an item for nearly twenty years, and for the last fifteen or so of those, exclusively to the best of his knowledge. He grinned to himself as he considered that it had been quite a few years since he’d heard Bodie use the maxim that a bird should be warm, under fifty, and should come across. Two out of three was obviously an acceptable compromise with his advancing years.

Even how he preferred his bloody tea was a contradiction. He preferred it unsweetened and strong enough to stand the spoon in, proper brew, Bodie put it, like tar was his own opinion, and the almost diametric opposite to his own preference of milky tea with two sugars, which Bodie had once called NATO, Normal Army Tea Order, chuckling as he’d stirred in the sugar. And yet, Bodie was the one with the armed forces background and the sweet tooth. How could he begin to explain to Jack that the aspects of Bodie that he’d seen were such a small part of his best mate and were merely a fragment of the complexities that resided under the surface.  

And he could be incredibly boorish one minute, revealing his rough Liverpool roots and then, in a blink of an eye, his upper class accent and his propensity to be the epitome of sartorial elegance providing the perfect blind.

He concluded it was nigh on impossible without being disloyal. Despite all the contradictions, the paradox was that Bodie was, in essence, a straightforward bloke, so he abandoned the attempt and with a sigh, changed tack, “He won’t apologise to you.”

Jack recalled Bodie’s anger when they’d been upstairs, he’d recognised it had been borne out of frustration more than anything else and he’d heard what had been said as he’d made his way down to the bathroom. Smiling benevolently, he said, “I don’t expect one.”

Doyle raised an eyebrow, “You don’t?”

“You think I deserve one?”

Doyle gave a bashful grin, “Only from me.”

Jack grinned in reply, “Accepted.” He paused, “Although looking out for a friend never warrants an apology.”

Doyle sighed again, “What Cowley said, about Bodie’s past, his early life. It isn’t a reflection of who he really is.” A slight note of defensiveness in his voice.

“Which was George’s point, I think,” said Jack drily. “You’ve read my file, do you think any one of those things in isolation are a fair reflection of who I am.”

“Touché.”

Jack studied Ray. He’d not really had an opportunity to talk to him properly, having spent far more time with Bodie the past few weeks. Initially he’d thought Bodie the more unapproachable, although as it had turned out, Ray had been far more reserved and insular. Yet for all his chatter, Bodie didn’t really say very much, and he’d soon realised they were both like Russian Matryoshka dolls in their own way. Under the skin was a whole new layer to understand and get to know. Chalk and cheese George Cowley had called them. He’d said Ray was an idealist, not an easy viewpoint to maintain in a job like he’d had at CTU and he was pretty sure that CI5 would have been much the same. His job at CTU didn’t define him, either. “Do you want to tell me why you were so worried?”

Ray sighed, “Bodie went undercover, years ago now, but he had nobody covering his back. His cover was blown and he suffered a near fatal head injury.” He paused, remembering the fear of sitting in the hospital praying that Bodie would wake up and would be whole.”

“It’s always a risk,” said Jack softly.

 “Yeah. And, well I feel responsible.”

“Why?”

Doyle considered the question. He had a pretty good idea what Ellie had threatened Bodie with, although he’d never had it confirmed, “It’s a long story, but let’s just say that Bodie went undercover to protect me and my son over something that had nothing to do with the job. I didn’t ask him to, in fact I didn’t find out why he’d gone under cover until it was too late. It bloody finished his career in the ‘A’ squad. And damned near killed him into the bargain.”

“Does he blame you?”

“No. And never has and sometimes I wish he would. He’s just so bloody accepting. What will be, will be, you know? And he’s always looking out for everybody else and never for himself as if he doesn’t deserve anything good.”

“You feel guilty.”

“Too bloody right I do,” Ray clenched his fists, the emotions to accompany the memories from that time rearing up unexpectedly.

“Do you respect his opinion?”

Doyle looked at him, taken aback, “’Course I do. He’s one of the smartest blokes I know.”

“Well, maybe you should respect his opinion that you’re not at fault then.” Jack offered with a small smile.

Doyle gave him a sharp look and sat pensively, chewing his lip as he considered the American’s advice.

Jack disappeared into the kitchen and Doyle heard the sounds of the kettle being filled and turned on, the rattle of mugs being taken down from the cupboard and the teapot being warmed in readiness and he let his mind drift away from the familiar noises and let his brain process. A few minutes later Jack reappeared with two steaming mugs

“So you two met working for George Cowley? How long did you and Bodie work together?”

Doyle nodded, “We were first partnered in seventy-six, CI5 was pretty new back then. Thirteen years as partners on the ‘A’ squad out on the streets, then in ninety-two, after Bodie had recovered from his injury, we were based at HQ, initially working under Cowley until he subsequently went off on his travels round the world.” Doyle sighed, “Dunno if I’d have been able to do the job for so long if it hadn’t been for Bodie.”

Jack studied him for a moment, understanding the unique relationship of these two men who'd taken him into their care. Their closeness. It went a long way to explain the faux pas he’d made regarding their relationship after Bodie told him they were each other’s family. He'd thought he'd had that closeness with Tony. He likely could have had it with Chase, given time. He'd had it with Richard Walsh and Renee too, and with her it’d had nothing to do with sex, although it had ended up that way, and look how that had turned out, he thought sadly. Parking that line of thought he directed his mind back. It was that in-depth trust that the partner alongside you was looking out for you and often held your life in their hands and having that belief in your partner day after day that created an unshakeable tie. After Tony's betrayal he'd thought he could never have that implicit trust again, but he realised he’d been wrong. Despite his initial concerns about Renee in New York, he’d still trusted her in the field to watch his back and he still had Chloe’s trust. Her actions and promises made in New York were proof of that, she’d put herself on the line to give him enough time to get out and he had also given it to these two men just by staying here. And George Cowley, too. And for that alone he was grateful. “Bodie told me the other day that he considers you his family. After thirty-five years on the job as partners, I can see why. I’m not sure I’d ever considered staying in it that long, although I somehow was never quite able to walk away, always ended up getting sucked back in, And I guess I’m not much good for anything else” muttered Jack. “What made you quit?”

Doyle considered the question. Over the years the job had changed beyond recognition. In the early days, communication on the streets meant talking to people, either face to face or by finding a phone box, which had invariably stunk of piss, to communicate with HQ when their R/Ts were out of range. Then came mobile phones and the internet. Bodie had adapted better than he had, truth be told, embracing the technology and learning to talk the language of the nerds in the computer room, understanding the meaning of packets and protocols, hacking and hashing and had oft used the acquired knowledge to enhance his operational tactics and strategy. A friendly, but shy geek in I.T., whom Bodie, for some reason had nicknamed Bottle, had somewhat surprisingly taken Bodie under his wing and spent hours patiently teaching him how to navigate the sophisticated computer systems and understand the true scope and impact of the digital data explosion and his pupil had flourished under his tutelage. Bodie’d taken control of setting up the office here in the house when they’d first moved in, installing a sophisticated mix of secure software and hardware that had been way beyond his level of understanding, ensuring the communication lines were as protected as the latest technology allowed. He’d always been more of a Luddite, preferring to meet people face to face, rather than opt for the impersonal communication of email.

With those new technologies, new vulnerabilities had also been created and it had quickly evolved into a battle to defend attacks from all sides, leaving him feeling like he was floundering in their wake and very fortunate that Bodie had invested the time and effort to make sense of it all. When they had finally exposed a corruption just over seven years ago from within their own I.T. department, selling information to the enemy, it had left a bitter taste in everybody’s mouth.

The autonomy of CI5 had always been a concern of his, never more so than in the aftermath of that exposé. As the old man had said, the greater the power, the greater the potential harm if abused. Although the freedom from review from their political masters had in reality become somewhat of a misnomer, both he and Bodie had debated long and hard about who they’d trust sufficiently to hand over the reins of CI5 to, when the time came. It had been less of a disappointment and more of a blessing in disguise than it should have been when the ministry had announced that CI5 was to be effectively disbanded to re-emerge in the armpit of MI5 as the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre after the July 2005 London bombings. As further protection, the Counter Terrorism Command had been born in 2006, a merger of SO13, the Anti terrorist branch and Special Branch SO12 of the Met Police, his own idea to provide some level of failsafe and prevent individuals within MI5 from having complete sovereignty. There was much to be said for the maxim ‘who watches the watchers.’

“Getting too old for it,” he said ruefully. “When we first joined CI5, the single biggest threat on our doorstep was probably the IRA. Then, drugs and guns were the bread and butter. Find and intercept the shipments, cut off the funding and close down the terrorist cells. Then espionage gained a foothold and what lay behind the Iron curtain was suddenly a threat far greater than any other. And now we’ve got terrorists who can’t decide on their own name, Al-Qaeda, Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, ISIL, ISIS, Islamic State, Daesh,” Doyle threw up his hands in frustration, ”Not to mention the cyber-crime emanating from Russia and China. No real place for an organisation out on its own like CI5 anymore. It’s never bloody ending, like a cancer. Take out one criminal and three more take his place.”

Jack purposefully ignored the memories of Chloe, CTU’s own resident computer whizz whom he had relied on so heavily, that were pressing in from the corners of his mind and focussed on the conversation. “And if you don’t, there’d be four instead of three.”

Doyle chuckled, “Bodie said the exact same thing to me once, and I know you’re both right.”

“Well when he wants to be, Bodie certainly makes sure he’s heard. He has a presence.”

Despite the mildness of the tone, Doyle wanted to explain. "Bodie's been around, seen and done a damn sight more than most. But he’s straight, his personal honour code is also a damned sight cleaner than most. He cares. He wants you to be safe. Which was what that was all about by the way.”

“Yeah, I guessed that,” said Jack, “I heard what he said, I appreciate it, just so you know, but there’s not much left for me now.”

“You're wrong you know.” Ray’s voice interrupted his thoughts that had drifted back to Chloe. “There's plenty you can do. With your experience, you can still be out there if you want to be. Or you can lose yourself, settle down. But whichever you do, do it whole heartedly. No point getting smeared across a pavement just because your heart wasn't in it, is there?”

Jack expelled a slow puff of air. So often he’d had to cast his scruples aside to achieve the right outcome for the greater good, and every time it had frozen a part of his soul. It was the only way to deal with all the shit that happened in this crazy, often inhumane world. Close himself off and protect himself as best he could. His mind was suddenly populated with a line from the poem on Doyle’s wall that had struck a chord with him on reading it. “And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

Ray nodded. “We’re the ones that deal with the darker aspects of life. Here’s another bit of Desiderata I try and live by, ‘Keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.’ The trick is to not let that darkness eat you up, and Bodie’s good medicine for that.”

Jack nodded. “I’d noticed,” he said with a sheepish grin. “Pretty much perpetually cheerful, isn’t he.”

“On the whole,” agreed Doyle, “although you should have been here when he broke his ankle a few years back. After three months of him being in plaster, I could have happily strangled him. Half the time he was like bloody Bambi on ice on his crutches, too damned impatient to move at a sensible pace and forever going arse over tit. Caught him sliding down the banisters one day. He claimed it was too slow going down the stairs, stupid bloody idiot,” he said, shaking his head at the memory.  

“Injured on the job was he?” Jack enquired, with a sympathetic wince.

“No, nothing so mundane, he replied with a rueful half grin. He’d been seeing the warning signs for a while now. Bodie was full of potential energy, like a coiled spring, and his announcement the other morning that he was bored had been only one of the many clues. Uncomfortable sat still, never one to relish enforced inactivity, his partner still preferred action and excitement. Although Jack had proved to be a welcome distraction it wouldn’t be too long before Bodie, an eternal thrill seeker, would be doing something else reckless. Over the last twenty or so years since leaving the ‘A’ squad, Bodie had experimented with several extreme sports, indiscriminately hurling himself down the black runs on skis or a snowboard, despite not always being in control, then he’d moved onto paragliding and parachuting, which he’d rejected as too tame. Been there, done that, he'd proclaimed dismissively.

Activities that were high on the thrill scale, yet relatively safe, were invariably short lived, they all seemed to lack something that Bodie craved. White water rafting and deep sea diving in waters known for being inhabited by sharks had both failed to provide a big enough challenge for Bodie to consider either an achievement or something worth repeating. In his eyes, as Bodie had survived both unscathed, both had been successful. BASE jumping, which had resulted in the broken ankle, less so. Having Bodie on crutches had made his partner moody and uncooperative throughout his recovery and it was an experience he didn't want repeated, so he’d laid down the law, forbidding his partner to participate in any further jumps. He’d recently thought about setting up a rope in the garden, so Bodie could try slacklining, but knew that if Bodie took to it, within an hour he would want it raised higher off the ground. And within the week would be on line, booking flights to the Alps and hunting down a Tyrolean traverse site to give highlining a try.

Doyle sighed, trying to dispel the worry. Bodie, despite his age, was still a force of nature and sometimes, keeping him amused enough so he didn't go and accidentally kill himself was hard.

“Daft pillock’s an out and out adrenaline junkie. I spend half my time trying to come up with safe yet exhilarating activities to stop ‘im from going off and doing something really daft. I’m fast running out of ideas though and there’s no way I’m going to put up with him if he ends up in another plaster cast. Apart from anything else, there’s a distinct risk that I’ll succeed where all of the extreme sports have so far failed and kill the annoying bugger meself.” He sighed in affectionate exasperation, “He’s such a bloody child at times.”

Jack had already done the arithmetic, Bodie had said that the Iranian Embassy siege was a few years after he’d left the SAS, which meant he’d probably only been twenty-six or twenty-seven when he’d joined CI5. Judging by what George Cowley had said about his past, he’d had to have started unbelievably young to have fitted everything in. “Sounds like maybe the first time round, he didn’t get much of a chance at being one, so maybe he’s just making up for it now.”

Doyle was speechless, Jack had spotted in a matter of weeks what it had taken him years to understand. How the hell did he work that out? Jack chuckled at Ray’s expression and then leant back in his chair, looking momentarily thoughtful. “Has he ever tried surfing? I noticed a few surfers down by the marina over the summer, although it’s probably not the best place for a beginner. If he makes sure he always goes out with a buddy who’ll help him out if he gets into trouble and has some lessons so he can learn how to avoid the dangers he should be fine.”

“That’s not a bad idea. It’s his birthday in a couple of months, maybe I could buy him a board and some lessons. Not that I’d have a clue what to buy.”

“It’s pretty straightforward really. Any decent surf shop should be able to advise you on the shape of the board, but I’d say there were two other things to look out for. Get a thruster fin board. The thruster setup is three equally sized fins on the bottom of the surfboard in a triangle formation, one fin at the end of the board below the other two. Gives the best combination of stability and drive so it’s good for beginners through to the more advanced. The only other thing to do is to make sure the surfboard has a leash with a swivel because when he’s starting out, he’ll be falling off a lot.” 

“You sound like you know what you’re talking about.”

“Well I did live in California,” said Jack drily.

*      *     *

Doyle rummaged through the refrigerator, trying to figure out what he fancied cooking after a long afternoon of catharsis. His eyes rested on the tub of Cornish clotted cream and a bag of mussels that he’d bought for a new seafood dish that Bodie’d said he’d fancied. He smiled to himself recalling the events that had transpired resulting in him taking on the demanding role of catering to Bodie’s bottomless pit of an appetite.     

When Bodie'd first left Salisbury and come back to CI5, he'd been like a square peg in a round hole, oddly unsure of himself, certainly unsure of his role within CI5, yet to find his own place in the organisation, although typically, he'd concealed it. Selfishly, he hadn't given Bodie a thought, too wrapped up in his own problems and Cowley’s triple think hadn't helped any, sending Bodie off on a seeming hotchpotch of errands after burying him in records for an eternity. Paying rent and maintenance to Ellie and Andrew as well as paying for the divorce that was underway he'd been absolutely skint. No money for even the odd pint, let alone eating out and he'd repeatedly had to decline Bodie’s invites out for a beer or a takeaway, embarrassed to say anything because Bodie would have immediately stepped up, which would have been neither right or fair. What he hadn't banked on was Bodie's hurt expression that he’d caught glimpse of after declining an invite down the pub for the fifth time in two weeks. Then he'd had to come clean. Bodie had shrugged and then ever the pragmatist, had said almost offhandedly, “Well there's an easy solution to that. We’ll go to accommodations and see if we can get a two bedroomed place we can share, we'll both save money that way. I need to be prepared in case I get booted out and at least Cowley won’t be able to kick me out m’flat if it’s yours as well and we can travel into HQ together. That'll save time picking each other up in the mornings and save money on petrol.” He’d given a flash of a smirk then followed on with, “And you can make sure I'm eating properly.” He’d seen the sense of it and had cautiously agreed, and watched as surprise, relief and gratitude had all played across Bodie’s features in quick succession. Murphy had wandered into the squad room at that exact moment and with a brilliant smile Bodie had turned to him as he’d gleefully rubbed his hands together, “Coming down the pub with us for a pint or three, Smurf? They’re on me. I’ve got cause to celebrate ‘cos I’ve just got meself a live in chef, I have.”

He'd given Bodie a shove and a growled rebuff at that point, but it hadn’t passed him by that Bodie had been remarkably generous in spirit as well as financially, craftily including Murphy in the pub invite so he wouldn’t be the only one being bought drinks for. He’d also made out that he was the winner of their new domestic arrangements. The man was on the cusp of forty and he’d known he’d learnt to cook some things, although more often than not he'd lived on bloody takeaways or his latest bird’s goodwill and despite the inference that he would be doing all of the domestic chores, Bodie had never taken the piss. From that first flat share, household tasks had been split equally. Bodie had done more if anything.

The fridge beeped at him, warning of the temperature change and with a final glance at the clotted cream he closed the fridge door, an idea starting to formulate in his subconscious mind and he left it alone, returning his thoughts to his reminiscing.

A week later it’d been the start of Bodie’s second full time week back at CI5 and Cowley had had Bodie out and about every day the previous week and he hadn’t seen hide nor hair of him. While he’d been waiting for Bodie to turn up, both of them summoned to HQ by Cowley, he’d wandered into the squad room to make himself a cuppa. As he’d crossed the room, he’d nodded to the three agents who were lounging on the aging sofa idly squabbling over a dog eared edition of Mayfair that had been lying around the squad room for weeks. As he’d rifled through the mugs trying to find the cleanest, he’d heard a snide voice.

“I hear you and Bodie are setting up a love nest together. Sure you’re not on the rebound?” followed by an assortment of sniggers.

“Got something to say, Anson?” Bodie had flown into the squad room and had had Anson pinned up against the wall, his arm across his throat before anybody could react. He’d watched as Anson had considered his position. He'd hoped he knew better than to try and worm his way out of it, the cold edge to Bodie’s voice was threat enough. Despite Bodie’s normally easy going, good nature, it was known he was not to be pushed. That darkness that lived deep within him, all at CI5 had seen a glimpse of at one time or another and that, maybe along with his somewhat shady past, introduced an element of doubt. What the other agents didn’t know was that Bodie’s dark side had never been revealed as out of control. Bodie was safe, and by extension, he knew Anson was safe and so he didn’t intervene.

The same toolset Bodie used on miscreants, worked equally well in the squad room it seemed. “Sorry, Bodie. Was just making a joke.” Anson’s voice was hoarse, the pressure against his windpipe unrelenting.

With a muscle jump to the jaw, Bodie had growled at him, his voice low and threatening, “It wasn’t a joke, was it? And I know this, because jokes are funny. You are just an inconsiderate prick. What gives you the fuckin’ right to comment on anybody else’s life.”

“Sorry, Bodie.”

“Not just me you need to say sorry to, is it.”

Anson’s eyes had darted across to him. “Sorry, Doyle,” his voice now reedy from the persistent stress on his trachea.

Watching silently from the bench that held the kettle, he’d given a terse nod in acknowledgement of the apology and seen Bodie release some of the pressure. Bodie’d turned back to Anson, his forearm still pinning him to the wall by his neck. “Next time you want to say something, say it to both our faces rather than nasty little digs behind our backs. Okay, sunshine?” and had given him an unpleasant smile as he’d brought his free hand up and firmly patted Anson on the cheek before completely releasing his hold.

Anson had nodded, rubbing his throat and scowling, red faced. The other two agents had melted away, quickly finding things elsewhere that had urgently required their attention, swiftly followed by Anson, leaving him and Bodie alone in the squad room.

“Bodie, I’m sorry. I’ll ask Accommodations to assign us separate flats as soon as.”

Bodie had looked across at him with light-hearted unconcern, “Don’t do it on my account. While you’re there, I’ll have a cuppa and if there’s any biccies going, mate.” And with a cheerful grin, he’d bounced into the sofa and pushing the well-thumbed Mayfair aside, had proceeded to absorb himself in the tabloid newspaper that a previous incumbent had discarded.

Abandoning his intention of making tea, he’d moved over to Bodie, “You don’t need the squad whispering behind your back, mate. Any more than I do come to that. Be best if we scrap the idea.”

“Where’s m’tea?” Bodie’d asked plaintively, looking up from his recently acquired newspaper and completely ignoring his statement.

“Sod the bloody tea,” he’d retorted. Knowing full well that Bodie's total preoccupation in the tabloid was feigned and frustrated by Bodie’s complete disregard of the events that had just taken place, he’d stomped out of the squad room.

Before he’d got barely ten yards, Bodie’d come up alongside him and slung a consolatory arm over his shoulders. “Okay?” Bodie had looked at him, brows knitted in concerned query.

It had never ceased to surprise him how fast and how quietly Bodie could move. For such a big man it should be impossible, he was built like a bulldozer, broad and solid. And since when did they ever build bulldozers for stealth or speed. Dismissing the errant thought, he’d shaken the extended arm off with a hiss, “Yeah, that’ll really help with the bloody rumours no end.” And had increased his pace down the corridor. Bodie’d taken his arm back, but had also kept pace with him when he’d really rather have been left alone.

“You’re not really bothered by what that prat Anson said are you? That old chestnut of us two getting it together has been doing the rounds for years.”  

“Yes I bloody am.” He’d stopped his march, turning to face Bodie and had sighed, “No, not what he said, you’re right, it’s old news and has never bothered me, just how he said it.”

Wad’ya mean?”    

About to launch into an explanation, he’d bitten his tongue. He hadn’t been able to express Bodie that it was the bloody job that was the cause. The other agents treating him like a mole now he was recognized as Cowley’s heir apparent and that it had been building up for months, steadily making him more and more miserable. He'd thought there had been a truce at Christmas when Anson had presented him with a small brightly wrapped gift. He'd unwrapped it to find three lip salves. With a puzzled look, he'd looked up and Anson had said, “All that kissing arse you do, your lips must be terribly sore.” He'd laughed along with all the others, but the glint in Anson’s eye had told him that it wasn't the last he'd hear. He couldn’t bring himself to tell Bodie that the old man had always intended they’d both take over. Bodie as his best mate, was the person he'd always sought out to talk job related things through with. It would be unfair to talk this through with Bodie, to dangle a fucking great carrot. Judging by what Bodie’d told him, or rather not told him, for whatever reason, it appeared that Cowley had either changed his mind or Bodie had decided he didn't want the job. He didn't want Bodie to stay out of a sense of obligation, and he certainly wasn’t going to rub his mate’s face in it. Suppressing his anger, he’d thought ruefully how quickly he'd reverted back to taking things out on Bodie. It was as if the last two years had never happened. Glad Bodie was here and in one piece, he sighed, gently thumping Bodie’s shoulder, "You're right mate, I'm sorry. Who cares what they say. It's just been a shitty morning.”

“No, hang on. That isn’t the first time Anson’s been stirring it up, is it. How long has this been going on?”

“Bodie! Doyle! In here!” To his relief, the unmistakable voice shouting from Cowley’s office had curtailed their conversation and they’d dutifully hotfooted it back down the corridor, knocking on Cowley’s door before presenting themselves to their boss.

Cowley had waited for them to take their customary positions in front of him, Bodie, hands neatly clasped behind his back at military parade rest, while he’d settled against the filing cabinets and Cowley had peered at both of them over his glasses before linking his fingers together loosely on top of the full desk. “CI5 has grown into a mighty oak from its inception fifteen years ago and it is fast becoming too unwieldy for one man at the helm.” He’d paused, which only served to increase the impact of his words, “Aye, chalk and cheese you may be, but you serve to complement each other.” Cowley had sat back and pensively chewed the arm of his spectacles.

“See, Doyle? I’ve been telling you for years you’re s’posed to say nice things about me.”

He’d struggled to keep a straight face. Trust Bodie to try and make him laugh halfway through what should have been a very serious conversation about both their futures as well as the future of CI5. God, he’d missed the dumb crud.

“Bodie!”

“Yes, sir?” Bodie had enquired politely.

“I shall give you the benefit of the doubt, Three-seven and assume that your poor play on words is not a consequence of your recent head injury. Primarily, because your ill-timed attempts at levity have been an ever-present condition.” Cowley’s rebuke had been swift and Bodie’d wiped his own grin and looked suitably chastened. The old man had leant forward, shoving his glasses back on his nose. “For the avoidance of any doubt, what I am proposing is that you and Doyle would take over the running of CI5, you are his counterpart, as he is yours. Do I make myself clear, Three-seven?”

“Yes, sir. Crystal.” Out of the corner of his eye he saw Bodie had straightened under Cowley’s glare before throwing him a concerned sideways glance.

He’d interjected, feeling the uncertainty that was radiating off his mate in waves. “Sir?”

Cowley’s gaze had shifted across to him, “Yes, Doyle?”

“Can we have some time to discuss this and get back to you?”

Cowley had sighed and shoving his glasses back onto the end of his nose, he’d picked up his pen. “You have until the end of the day,” and with a last glance at both of them before bending his head back to the papers on his desk had said, "Don't let me detain you, gentlemen."

He’d bundled Bodie out the door. “You, me, pub,” he’d said succinctly and Bodie had given him a short nod.

By mutual agreement, they’d opted to make the ten minute walk up to Piccadilly. With a bit of luck, by going further afield, they wouldn’t be disturbed by any of the other agents who would be likely to pop into one of the pubs local to HQ for a lunchtime sandwich and a pint. When they’d got to the Queen’s Head, Bodie’d said, “Grab us a table, mate and I’ll get the beers in. Usual?”

He’d nodded and secured them a table tucked in a dark corner, away from the other punters.

Bodie’d returned from the bar, a full pint glass in each hand and two packets of cheese and onion gripped between his fingers. “Ordered you a sarnie too, got these to keep us going.”

He’d nodded and smiled, looking forward to watching Bodie happily work his way through both packets and then hopefully, when the sandwich came, still pounce on it as if he hadn’t eaten for a week. He’d pushed the crisps to one side, sure to leave them within Bodie’s reach and had wrapped his hand round the lightly chilled pint glass. After taking a long swig of beer, he’d carefully placed it back on the beer mat and sucked the resulting thin froth moustache from his upper lip. “Right, mate. Wanna tell me your thoughts?”

Bodie, seemingly oblivious to the mute misery on his own face, had followed his lead on the delaying tactics, burying his face in his pint glass to take a long draught of beer. And while he’d watched, he’d deliberated the tactics he could use to get his clam of a partner to talk things through.

Mirroring his own actions, Bodie’d rested his now half empty beer glass back on the table and had said quietly,

“I don’t think I’m cut out to be a stamp licker, sunshine,” Bodie’d sounded almost apologetic, his solemn, dark eyes revealing little of his internal thoughts.

“Not sure that’s what the old man had in mind, mate.”

Bodie had swallowed the remains of his pint in two large gulps. “Another?” he’d said, standing up, Bodie’s hand outstretched for his glass.

He’d shaken his head, his glass still over half full and had idly watched Bodie make his way to the bar and exchange a few words with the barmaid before putting his glass down and walking towards the door. He’d been out of his seat like a shot, hurrying after him. Two paces from the exit, he’d caught him and had shot a hand out to grab Bodie’s wrist. “Stop bloody running away, Bodie.”

Bodie’d shaken his hand off as a reflex glimmer of annoyance had appeared on his face, then just as quickly, a smile had formed, “I’m gonna take a leak, mate.” And with a look of smug arrogance that he hadn’t seen for a long time and was unquestionably his partner of old, Bodie’d pointed to the sign above his head.

“Oh,” had been his abashed response.

“Besides, got sarnies comin’, ain’t we.” With a beaming smile, Bodie’d patted him consolingly on his upper arm, chuckled and pushed his way through the door. He’d gone back to his seat feeling a bit of a prat. Of course, he’d not doubted Bodie’s word about coming back, so had sat calmly sipping his pint thinking about the conversation they’d had on the way over, Bodie’d spent the first half of the walk grumbling about his week spent trailing round after the recruits. He’d then given an intelligent and insightful appraisal of each of the candidates before complaining bitterly about spending a significant percentage of his weekend writing up the report to give to Cowley that morning, which had well and truly scuppered his plans to spend the weekend with the delectable Claire. He’d smiled to himself, now confident that he knew what Cowley’s various manipulations had been leading up to.

Soon enough, Bodie had come back via the bar, collecting a pint on the way, and beating the sandwiches by about fifteen seconds. They’d looked good, thick slices of ham hock, slathered with home-made chutney in thick door steps of fresh white bread. Well aware that he wouldn’t get anything out of Bodie whilst competing for his attention with lunch, he’d impatiently nibbled at his own.

Finally, Bodie’d leaned back in his chair with a sigh of repletion, his plate completely empty bar the odd crumb.

And before his mate could initiate another delaying tactic, he’d kicked off the conversation “So?” staring across at him, sounding more curt than he’d intended. 

Bodie had cocked a raised eyebrow in his direction before giving a slight shrug as he’d picked up his pint glass. “Look, mate. It’s not that I’d have a problem working for you, I just don’t think I could sit behind a desk polishin’ a chair for the next twenty years.”

“Have you thought about what Cowley’s been ‘avin you do since you came out of Repton?” thinking to himself that sometimes his quick-witted partner could be incredibly dumb.

Swallowing his mouthful of beer, Bodie’d scowled. “No.”

“No?”

Bodie had reached for the first packet of crisps which were expeditiously crunched and swallowed. He'd watched in silence as Bodie'd stared at his beer glass, a slight frown as he’d concentrated, until finally he’d looked up and said, “Y’think he planned this?”

“Since when has the old man done anything that wasn't planned?”

A look of blatant surprise had washed over Bodie’s face as he’d absorbed the ramifications. “Clean living and hard work are always rewarded. Well done, my son,” Bodie’d replied, with a perfect balance of sincerity and his typical glib offhandedness as he’d cocked his pint glass towards him before taking another long swallow of beer.

He’d been momentarily puzzled by that remark and then something had clicked. ”Hang on, mate. What did you mean, working for me?”

Bodie’d not replied, instead showing an inordinate amount of interest in his pint glass.

“Bodie, I don’t want to do the job if we’re not equals and not only that, mate, he told me bloody ages ago that he always intended we'd take over together. You’d have full operational control of the field agents and I’d keep Whitehall off CI5’s back and we’ll share everything else. It’d work.”

He’d seen Bodie’s eyes spark with interest before that infernal bland expression wiped it away and Bodie had slowly shaken his head, “You’re doing okay without me. Don’t want to piss on your parade, sunshine.”

He’d laughed bitterly at that point. Bodie was well respected both in the squad room and by the back office staff. Not only that, despite his often wince making bluntness and his inability to open up to people, his light hearted demeanour resulted in him being well liked at HQ. More so than himself, he’d accepted wryly. He'd never had the easy affability that Bodie had, after all, he knew he could be a snarky sod. Bodie tolerated it, letting it wash over him like water off a duck's back, but the other agents had never been so forgiving. Although he’d not thought he’d wholly deserved the way he'd been treated while Bodie’d been away, he hadn’t been sure there was a way back and if there was, he’d had absolutely no fucking idea of the route.

 “You think I’m doing okay, do you? You heard Anson earlier, it’s been like that damned near since I came off the streets. I can do the Whitehall bit, never thought negotiation and diplomacy would be my forte, but I think I’m doing a good job. It’s the same as being on the streets in many ways; the corridors are just as grubby. The civil servants there are neither civil nor anybody’s servants, but CI5’s fighting a war there too. Diplomatic immunity, lobbyists from all areas of industry with far more influence than is right or proper, a bid for a new defence contract with another country, in fighting between departments or a deal struck with some bastard despot in a small African nation. They're all in the mix, all vying for CI5’s budget, all hoping to shut us down one minute, then wanting to engage our services for their own ends the next, all playing a game.” He’d vented, letting Bodie see his frustrations.

Bodie’d shrugged, “Can’t help you there, sunshine.”

“You’re the strategist, planning field ops is right up your alley.”

Murph could do that.”

Murphy was one of the few agents who hadn’t given him a hard time, but it was not the time to split hairs and he’d wanted to thump Bodie, irritated by his refusal to consider Cowley’s offer. Instead, he’d sighed explosively, “But I’ve lost the respect of the other agents, they think I’ve sold ‘em out somehow,” he’d said sharply, rubbing the top of his nose in frustration, “and that’s gonna cause problems operationally. Cowley’s noticed and I don’t have a fucking clue how to fix it.”

Bodie had taken another sip from his glass before shaking his head again, “Thanks for the thought, mate. Can’t see it happening m’self. Whitehall wouldn’t allow an ex-merc to head up CI5, even as a joint controller. And there’s no way that the old man would risk CI5 by letting me try and prove ‘em wrong and convince them otherwise. I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick.” He’d given a slight shrug and followed it with what was obviously an afterthought, “But if I can help out with the operational side, I could do it from behind the scenes, I s’pose.”

He could have shaken Bodie at that point. Instead, he’d sounded his mate out a little more. “You’d do that?”

Bodie had nodded, the spark of interest flaring in his eyes again, “I could do my bit for charity.” Bodie paused, before smirking at him over his pint glass “’Help the Aged’, so yeah, I could give you a hand. I’ve some ideas around changing the training structure and the recruitment evaluations. I could put something together for you to look at. Then there’s also the op in York coming up. I was reading Pebble’s preliminary report and I’m sure there’s an opportunity we’re missing there by not following up with Baylis.”    

If he’d needed any further proof that Bodie was perfect for the job, Bodie’d just given it. He’d read the preliminary report from Jerry Stone too, and hadn’t made the connection with an old case involving Michael Baylis, who at the time, had been serving a lengthy sentence at her Majesty’s pleasure, but once highlighted to him, it had become obvious. “No, mate, that’s not gonna work.” He’d shaken his head vehemently before pausing, determined to make sure that Bodie was interested for himself and not just because Bodie’d thought he’d wanted it. And there it’d been, the flicker of disappointment that had washed over the face sitting opposite him, giving him the peace of mind that Bodie wasn’t being compelled to do the job out of some sense of obligation. Immediately, he’d grinned widely and held up his glass, “Equal roles, sunshine. We’ll be joint controllers. I need to keep you somewhere I can keep an eye on you. Besides, it’s taken me thirteen years to bloody well train you up to be my partner, I’m not losing you now.

After poking around in the larder and then the freezer, staring blindly at the contents of both, he opened up the fridge for a second time, but closed it almost immediately, spurred into action as his subconscious thoughts finally took shape, morphing into a plan. 

He wandered back into the lounge where Jack was standing at the French doors, surveying the dark garden.

“Do you like Indian?”

Jack turned and nodded.

“Good,” said Doyle, “’cos there’s a restaurant in town that delivers, which’ll be open soon and does a great curry and I have an idea that if you’re up for it, should help you and Bodie get back on even terms.”

Chapter Text

 

“And how was the warm and fragrant Melinda?”

“When are you gonna learn, Doyle. A gentleman never tells.”

Bodie was looking away from him, pouring tea, so for once Doyle couldn’t try and get a read on him. Over the years he’d become quite adept at picking up the tiny clues that Bodie let slip before presenting his face as a blank mask. Invisible to most, it had taken him a while for him to see them, the fleeting windows into Bodie’s innermost feelings, so quick were they to appear and disappear, but since Bodie’s lengthy stay in Repton he’d learnt where to look. The eyes were the biggest give away, but there were other small nuances that would help give a diagnosis. The amount of tension in the jaw and the depth of the short, thin crease in his forehead were both fair indicators as to how annoyed Bodie was. The tenseness of his shoulders was usually the best indicator for how defensive he was feeling, but there didn’t appear to be any this time. Was that mock severity in his tone or was he still decidedly pissed off? Not having a barometer for Bodie’s mood, he opted to use a bit of nonsense to get his mate to be a bit more forthcoming. “A leopard can’t change its stripes, Bodie. I’ll watch your back, mate whether you like it or not, just like I always have.”

Bodie dutifully obliged by turning round to face him to play the straight man. “Spots. Leopards have spots.” before taking a gulp of tea.

Doyle looked theatrically puzzled, “You sure?”

Bodie nodded emphatically. ”A hundred percent positive. On the other hand, if I’m wrong, explains how what I thought was a zebra in Angola could run so bloody fast.”

 “Idiot,” Doyle grinned, relieved.  Bodie had obviously got over throwing his teddy bear out of the pram. Looking back down at his crossword and not one to miss an opportunity he pushed a little more. “Three down, five letters, infantile, second letter ‘oh’,” he murmured, “well Bodie fits,” which he followed with a chuckle.

Bodie arched an eyebrow. "I think the word you want is young, mate. Which of course I am, when compared to you,” he said smoothly.

Bodie could invariably give back better than he got and Doyle gave him a wry grin of acknowledgement, along with a two fingered salute before filling in the answer.

Dropping the pen down, Doyle leaned back in his chair, “Right, mate. You need to go and pack. Warm clothes for outdoors to see you through till Tuesday.”

“Why? Where we off to?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“I don’t like surprises,” countered Bodie, an edge of mulish petulance to his voice, his lower lip sticking out slightly for added effect.

Doyle couldn’t help but smile back at the pout. “Since when? Trust me, you’ll like this one.”

Bodie watched as Doyle ambled away. Whatever Doyle thought, he wasn’t all that keen on surprises, not those he had to wait too long for anyhow. He gave a deep sigh, Ray wouldn’t give in and tell him, he’d just have to ride it out.

“Bodie!” Ray’s voice called down the stairs, “We need to be on the road by nine.”

*      *     *

 “Are you gonna tell me where we’re headed for?”

“Exeter.”

“Exeter?” Bodie raised an eyebrow as he glanced across at Doyle, sprawled in the passenger seat.

“Exeter,” replied Doyle decisively.

“Why?”

“’Cos I thought you’d be hungry by the time we reach there, so I’ve booked us in for lunch.”

Bodie glanced in the rear view mirror, Jack was sitting quietly, looking out the window. He felt Bodie’s eyes on him and looking at his reflection, gave him a cautious grin, “Don’t ask me, I’m a foreign tourist remember?”

Despite the previous night’s spat between Bodie and Jack, Doyle was pleased to note that conversation consisted of relaxed small talk, all inconsequential, interspersed between long comfortable silences. Bodie’s driving was as smooth and efficient as ever, even if it was frequently just over the speed limit and Doyle and Jack spent the journey enjoying the changing scenery as they drove west. Doyle saw Bodie start to truly relax over the length of the journey, he’d always enjoyed driving and the powerful Range Rover certainly ate up the miles in a very pleasing fashion.

They arrived at the restaurant on the west of Exeter ten minutes earlier than their table booking and after a very filling lunch, Ray offered to take the wheel as he doubted Bodie had racked up much sleep the night before.

Bodie had willingly handed the keys over, and before they’d barely left the restaurant’s car park his eyelids were drooping, further confirming Doyle’s suspicions. He drove them to the cottage that he’d booked on line.

As prearranged, a quick knock on the neighbouring front door got him the keys. Taking pity on Bodie, who was still bleary eyed from having been deeply asleep in the passenger seat, he uncharacteristically started to unload the bags and with Jack’s help got everything indoors.

Bodie followed them in, suppressing a yawn, “Bloody ‘ell, this is a bit of all right.”

Doyle grinned, “Nice innit, found it on line.”

Outside, the lime washed rough stoned walls of the traditional Cornish fisherman’s cottage had given no clue to the internal decorations with all mod cons. Despite the relatively small windows, it felt light and airy. “Are y’gonna tell me what all this is about? Where the bloody hell we are would be a start.”

“All in good time, sunshine. Right, I’ve got to nip out, if you two can sort out the sleeping arrangements and get unpacked before sticking the kettle on, I’ll bring some milk back with me.”

“Doyle?”

Bodie’s patience had finally worn through. Doyle suspected that if he hadn’t fallen asleep, he would have demanded to know what was going on soon after leaving Exeter. “We’re in Newquay. That’s a clue as to why we’re here. It’s famous for it.” 

Bodie reeled off all the things he could think of, “Cornish pasties, pilchards, cream teas.”

“Yep, we’ll have time for them as well. I promise you’ll find out when I get back. Won’t be long. I’ll give you a clue though, it doesn’t involve your stomach.” With that, Doyle disappeared out the front door of the cottage, slamming the door behind him. As he stood looking around him, he heard the Range Rover start up and pull away. 

Jack was in the kitchen unloading provisions from the box brought in from the car and Bodie automatically went to help him, picking out the items destined for the fridge.

“Don’t s’pose you’re gonna tell me are you,” Bodie growled, his frustration apparent.

“Sorry, best I don’t. Don’t want to upset Ray as well as you, do I.”

Bodie received the reply with a snort and they finished emptying the box in silence.

Bodie sighed, “Might as well have a look round upstairs. Coming?”

Jack nodded and between them, they grabbed all the bags and both climbed the narrow, steep staircase. Upstairs were two large bedrooms. The first had a double bed along with a small en-suite shower and toilet, the other, a sunny room with twin beds, opposite a larger bathroom. 

Dropping Ray’s bag on the double bed, Bodie nudged Jack and nodded to the second bedroom, “That’s us.”

“I’m not gonna run off you know,” said Jack with a smile. “Wouldn’t you prefer to be in here with Ray?”

Bodie threw himself onto the twin bed nearest the door and bounced up and down a couple of times, checking the softness, as he replied. “Not bloody likely, Ray leaves the bath with more rings on it than Saturn. Why do you think we have separate bathrooms at home?” Bodie grinned at him as he stood up, leaving his bag behind on the bed. “Besides, you’re tidier than Ray and you don’t snore so loudly.”

Jack took that as the peace offering it was meant to be and grinned back. Quickly unpacking, they made their way back downstairs and put the kettle on to boil.

Doyle returned soon after and on hearing the Range Rover pull up, Bodie went out to meet him. Doyle slid out of the car, two wetsuits draped over his arm and that was when Bodie saw the brightly coloured surfboards laid out in the boot.

“What the..? You do know it’s November and this isn’t Hawaii, don’t you?”

Doyle just grinned fatuously, thrusting the wetsuits at Bodie. “There’s a whole host of bits and pieces here to keep you warm and stop any bits falling off,” and he went to the back of the car, opened the boot and pulled out an armful of scrunched neoprene.

As he shut the boot, Doyle nodded at the wetsuits Bodie had folded over his arm. “Don’t worry, petal. Those are five mill wetsuits you’ve got there and here I’ve got boots, gloves and hoods along with thermal rash vests to protect your delicate skin from any chafing.”

As he locked the car, Doyle was pleased to see the glimmer of interest in Bodie’s eyes that were busy scrutinising the surfboards through the rear window.

“So why only two surfboards then?”

With immeasurable patience, Doyle explained, “Jack can realistically only teach one of us at a time and I’ve bought m’paints down, so I’ve got something to amuse meself. Besides, I’m not bloody daft enough to want to go surfing in November.” Doyle grinned again and with his arms full, he gently nudged past Bodie to wander back into the cottage.

Bodie trailed him back inside and dumping the wetsuits on the modern sofa, he held the first one up against himself, then the other, “This gonna fit me, mate?”

“Should do, it’s your size, nip up and try it on if you’re not sure. The hire place is open for another hour so I can always pop back and swap it if needs be.”

Bodie nodded, “Okay, anything to go upstairs?”

“Only my bag please if you’re going, mate.”

“Already done, sunshine. You’re in the double.”

Feeling in a generous mood, pleased his surprise had been so easily accepted by Bodie, despite the rather inapt time of year, he called out to Bodie’s departing back, “I was gonna share with Jack.” 

Bodie turned on the stairs, revealing the wetsuit draped over his shoulder and looking unexpectedly serious, “Not bloody likely. You snore like a walrus with dodgy sinuses and all those mung beans you eat, they play havoc with your digestive system. Not gonna inflict any of that on Jack, am I,” he said, before disappearing up the narrow staircase.

Doyle shook his head in mock annoyance and exchanged a wry smile with Jack who was pottering in the kitchen, seeking out all the accoutrements for tea-making. They comfortably stood side by side, tidying their supplies away, brewing the tea and making initial preparations for the evening meal, chatting idly about the intended plans for their short stay as they worked. “I checked at the surf shop, they said best to avoid an hour either side of high tide ‘cos when the tide’s full, the waves break close to the beach which they said aren't the best conditions for learning to surf. Suggested that a better time would be two hours before low tide.”

Jack nodded knowingly, “Yeah, every beach is different, depends on the topography as to how the waves form and break. Some beaches are best in high tide and some suit a mid or lower tide. We’ll need to have a look at the tide tables tonight.”

Doyle shook his head with a smile, “No need, they had them in the window of the surf shop,” and he pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket. “Oh. High tide’s at twelve forty and low tide’s at six forty five and nineteen hundred. That’s not gonna work then, you’ll both be surfing in the dark.”

“We can go out at about oh nine hundred, that’ll be fine. The temperature might be a bit low to spend too long in the water anyhow.”

“They also recommended the south end of the beach, said the north end was for more experienced surfers, but warned to look out for rip tides even on the southern side.”

Doyle was starting to think this perhaps wasn’t such a good idea. If Bodie got wind of any of this, he’d likely want to go straight to the northern end to seek out the bigger waves. “Look, I know that me fussing caused all the problems the other night, but Bodie’s a mad idiot, do me a favour, don’t let him get trampled by the white horses tomorrow eh?”

Bodie said from behind them, “Jack’ll keep an eye on me, won’t you.” Jack visibly jumped at the unexpected interruption. Bodie raised an enquiring eyebrow at the American while his thumb jerked towards Doyle. “Mother hen ‘ere’s a worrier.”

Doyle, well used to Bodie’s noiseless approaches, as a mild rebuke, said, “I wish you’d stop creeping around, Bodie. Could give a bloke a bloody heart attack.” Looking at Jack, in an apologetic tone, he continued, “Moves around like a bleedin’ mouse,” and gestured at Bodie with the tea towel.  Jack grinned at the almost ridiculous simile, after all, Bodie was physically far larger than either of them. Bodie pulled out a chair at the table and nudged another one out with his foot for Jack, “So, now you’ve taught Ray about bathymetry, is there anything I need to know up front?”

Burthy what?” said Doyle.

“The shape of the sea floor, my son,” said Bodie nonchalantly, leaning back in his chair, a half-smile on his face.

Doyle raised his eyes to the ceiling, wishing he hadn’t asked.

Jack shook his head slowly, “I’ll show you where to enter the water, where to stand on the board and which waves to catch. The best conditions to start off with are white water, beach breaks with slow, spilling waves, no higher than your waist.”

Ray joined them at the table armed with three mugs of tea and he sat there noisily slurping, listening as Jack talked through the basics of surfing. 

“The wind direction makes a difference, the best for surfing is offshore, when the wind’s blowing off of the land towards the water, but a light onshore’s still good. A strong onshore can make the waves choppy. In short, a light wind whatever the direction is always better than a strong wind, so anything under fifteen knots is good.”

Bodie nodded. “The wind’s dropped today, hopefully it’ll stay that way,” he said with a wide grin, his eyes starting to sparkle with anticipation.

“The swell size, or the size of the waves have to be a certain size to be able to surf them. One metre’s swell is small and four metres is considered large. If you’re surfing whitewater you can surf on any swell over half a metre. Once you go on the unbroken waves, you need to start off on one metre, not much higher.”

“Unbroken waves?” queried Doyle as Bodie rubbed his hands in anticipation.

“The green ones out the back,” chuckled Jack. “I won’t be suggesting Bodie tries those tomorrow. As the saying goes, white is right, green is mean.”

Chapter Text

After watching Jack show Bodie how to stand up on the board and correct his stance a couple of times, confident Bodie was in good hands, he settled himself down in the lea of the cliffs of Pentire headland. Sheltered from the stiff sea breeze, he started to sketch the rows of gaily coloured beach huts that hugged the bay's perimeter. The next time he glanced up, Jack and Bodie had both disappeared and peering over his glasses, he used his hand to shelter his eyes from the bright sunshine and saw the two neoprene clad figures bobbing in the water. They both caught the same wave and it was only when one of them stood up, he could see it was the slighter silhouette of Jack. Bodie was quick to follow, although appeared to rise more cautiously, but there was a good twenty seconds while both of them rode the wave before Bodie lost his balance and dove off his board. 

Doyle watched for a while longer as Bodie visibly gained in confidence, staying up longer and longer each time, but still not matching Jack for finesse or skill. He was pleased, there were long lines of white water waves breaking left and it looked like Bodie was managing pretty well, but that it was proving challenging enough that it wouldn't be a five minute wonder. If his mate was enjoying it as much as he appeared to be, he could see this becoming a favourite past time and, as long as Bodie didn’t want to go charging off chasing fifty year storms like his namesake in that film Point Break, a relatively safe one at that.

As the sketch took more and more of his attention, the gaps between his glances down to the shoreline progressively lengthened. Having been completely absorbed in his sketch, it was some time later before he looked down the beach to the water again and they were both riding a wave, Bodie already visibly improved, looking far more relaxed as he rode in. As they both sunk slowly into the water, they continued inshore. Once on dry land, after unhooking their board tethers, they began a slow jog up the beach towards him. Folding down his sketch pad, he started to pack everything away before standing up to greet them as they got closer, both covered from crown to toe, looking like neoprene clad ninjas, each carrying their bright surfboard under their arm. As they got nearer, he saw both pairs of eyes glittering with the aftermath of an adrenalin surge and the large grins on their faces were testament to their enjoyment.

He pulled the towels from the bag and held them out, “Here ya go, one each. They’ve been cuddling up to a hot water bottle, so should be toasty and there’s a thermos with hot chocolate in the car.”

They gratefully took a warm towel each and kept moving as Doyle fell in alongside them. “You were looking pretty good out there, mate.”

“Yeah, not too shoddy, bloody good fun, it was.” Bodie nodded at Jack who had pushed back his neoprene balaclava and was rubbing his hair dry with the towel. “An’ he’s a good teacher.”

Still tramping smartly across the sand, Jack stuck his head out from under the towel and with a smile and a self-deprecating shrug said, “There was a strong undertow out there, made for some good surf and you picked it up pretty quick.”

“You obviously explained it slowly enough and in small, simple words so he could understand it all,” said Doyle, grinning. “Sooner we get back, sooner you can both have a hot shower and get out of all that rubber. And best do it before Bodie here gets a taste for it.” Doyle sniggered like a schoolboy.

Bodie pouted at him, but it didn’t last, the carefree, childish joy that Bodie could occasionally display was in full force and Doyle was pleased to see it had infected Jack as well. The care-worn look that had shrouded the American for all the time they’d known him had finally been expunged even if only temporarily.

“Not likely, sunshine,” Bodie responded cheerfully, “I like sex the same way I like my ice cream. Plain vanilla.”

“How do you manage to bring food into every conversation, mate?” Grinning at both of them, Doyle saw how cold they both looked and offered, “How about I go on ahead? Get the car warmed up before you both turn into corpsicles.” Increasing his pace, he shot off ahead towards the northern end of the beach and the car park, kicking up sand in his wake.

Bodie acknowledged he was now decidedly cold. It’d been worth it though, he decided. He could get to like surfing a whole lot, especially in warmer water. He cast a look over at Jack who looked equally as cold and caught his eye as he gave a shiver. “The water was a little cooler than I was used to,” Jack said with a hint of awkwardness.

“A little cooler?” Bodie spluttered, “That's like saying Antarctica's a little bit nippy. Bleedin’ freezing out there, it was,” he protested and then without hesitation, grinned. “Bloody good fun though.”

Bodie nudged Jack and pointed out to sea, towards a lone surfer at the far end of the beach who was riding some big breakers. “That looks like a lot of fun. I can work up to that,” he said confidently.

“Don’t go out on your own until you’ve got a hell of a lot more hours under your belt. If you get the chance, give California a try, it’s warmer for a start, and you won’t be a solo surfer there for long.” Jack said with a smile and a trace of wistfulness.

*      *     *

Doyle held his hand over his glass as Bodie went to top it up. “Not for me, mate. I’m gonna call it a night. All that fresh air has done me in.”

Bodie raised half an eyebrow at his declaration and Doyle grinned innocently back up at him knowing full well that Bodie knew it was an excuse. He had no qualms leaving the two of them alone without a referee, confident that there were no lingering notes of discord between them and apart from anything else, Bodie was a cheerful drunk. Admittedly, Jack was an unknown quantity, but judging by his reaction to Bodie’s controlled aggression in the gym, although his history showed he was certainly more than capable of doing some damage, he wasn’t about to try and knock seven bells out of his mate. Without lingering, Doyle drained his glass, bid them both goodnight and swiftly trotted up the stairs, leaving them to it.

With topped up glasses, Bodie and Jack sat quietly, both periodically taking small sips of their respective drinks, savouring the taste of the single malt and relishing the peace and quiet of the small cottage.

Bodie appreciated Doyle’s tactful withdrawal. While Jack had been in the shower earlier, Ray’d told him they’d had a chat and that there had been an air of resignation about Jack that had concerned him. He’d independently already decided he needed to talk to the American and understand what Jack’s intentions were. Realising, based on his history, he’d made several assumptions about the man sitting opposite him, he wondered whether Jack had gone along with the old man’s plan out of some sense of duty. Or maybe even a concern that if he didn’t, that Cowley, or he and Doyle would dob him in.  He’d learnt much from Kate Ross over the years. In Repton and afterwards, the nightmares had still been coming all too frequently, but he'd resisted letting any of the trick cyclists inside his head.

The turnaround had started when he’d been more than halfway through his stint in Salisbury and over the years since, Kate Ross had gone from arch enemy to a valued colleague, before they’d embarked on a tentative friendship, which had developed into an enduring one, surprising both of them. Once a week she'd travelled to see him or he'd dropped in on her and after a poor start, they had eventually come to an understanding. Keeping the pain private had always been his self-imposed mandate, but he’d found an unlikely ally. Admittedly she’d backed him into a corner, telling him she couldn't sign him off if he spent every session glowering at her, barely speaking. She'd offered him the option of setting some ground rules and most she'd accepted, and where she couldn't, she'd explained why.

He'd falteringly opened up to her about a few things. In hindsight, probably because he’d still been recovering from his head injury, although he’d expected some level of criticism or at least some reaction, but she'd given neither. Instead, she’d turned it around, helping him see things objectively before reiterating some of the things that Ray had said that Christmas, while throwing questions back at him in a way that made him see much of it for himself. He'd left that first session slightly shell shocked, his brain still processing what she had said and how it had made him look at things differently. The next session, he'd clammed up again, feeling somewhat manipulated, after all, none of it hurt if you never talked about it, or at least that’s what he’d taught himself many years previously. Kate had patiently started back at the beginning, reminding him of all the ground rules they’d agreed. He'd then said a couple of things, recounting horrendous circumstances in Africa, trying to shock her, and she'd merely nodded at him, knowing exactly what he was up to, before telling him so. It hadn't stopped her from her weekly visits, which had been the plan, and nothing had happened, she hadn't used the information as a weapon. Instead, she’d used the information he’d imparted to instigate dialogue, and had helped him come to terms with events past and present, showing him that trying to bury things didn’t truly solve anything, they just festered under the surface. And like a wood decaying fungus, the rot was slow and pervasive and if not purged, would eventually cause more damage than if expelled through counselling. Citing it as an example, his attempts to deal with everything on his own with King Billy had been revisited and analysed; far more than it had the first time round, in fact. Back then, he’d steadfastly refused to discuss any of it, considering the matter dealt with and closed. The perpetrators were behind bars and nothing he could do or say would bring Williams back and although Ross hadn’t been happy about it, he’d been signed off as fit for duty. Although he’d always wondered how much eventual pressure from Cowley had influenced that decision when they’d reached deadlock. The second time, she’d explored the reasons why he’d felt that he couldn’t talk to anybody else about it, and that had ended up with him learning a hell of a lot about himself that he hadn’t realised, or hadn’t been willing to admit before. Eventually, she’d got him to open up about his incarceration in Bristol and to admit that near the end, he’d been looking for a way out. He’d been near breaking point and had felt ashamed he’d sunk to that all time low. He hadn’t feared death by their hands, and if he’d actually ended up talking he wouldn’t have wanted to live with himself anyway, the guilt of that betrayal would have been too much, but he’d felt deeply resentful that he wouldn’t have ever have had an opportunity to explain to his partner that his disappearance was not Ray’s fault. His captors had been experts, metering out just enough food and water to keep him alive and repeatedly wounding him sufficiently to damage, but not let him die. All judged perfectly to keep him on the edge of consciousness to facilitate repeated interrogations and to maximise his suffering. An act of self-preservation rather than a coward’s way out was how Kate had categorised it, and pointing out to him that his endurance had taken far more mental strength as he could have chosen to talk at any time. His captors would have ended it just the same, but far quicker. She had helped him get more than a few things straight in his head, neatening up the memories so they made more sense and there’d been no recriminations from her. Kate Ross had managed to rationalise something that he’d thought couldn’t be rationalised. Who in their right mind would do their job, let alone try and twep themselves rather than give up any classified information? He’d even eventually been able to forgive himself for that moment of weakness in the dank cellar which had haunted his dreams for months.

“What do you wanna do, Jack?”

Jack looked across at him, his eyes refocusing from where they had been staring into the middle distance. “I’ll do what Cowley wants,” he replied firmly, knowing what Bodie was referring to without needing to ask.

“Why?”

Jack shrugged, “I was talking to Ray about the job the other night and he said about taking out one criminal and three more take his place.”

“And if we hadn’t, there’d be four instead of three,” said Bodie immediately.

“Exactly. But there’s still three,” said Jack with a grimace.

“S' why did y’do the job you did. Why? There’s plenty of other ways to earn a living.”

Jack shrugged, uncomfortable with the question. “Because it needed doing and there aren’t too many other people willing to do it.”

“And you’re damned good at it.” Bodie paused, waiting before delivering the crux of his argument. “And because of that, you gain fulfilment from it. And that’s the bit you feel guilty for.”

Jack’s head snapped up.

Bodie looked at Jack’s face, knowing he’d hit the nail on the head. Doyle’d had the same dilemma many a time and he knew the signs and was also well aware of how guilt could change a man. He’d had enough self-imposed guilt for what had happened in Bristol and what he’d put Doyle through when he’d disappeared that it’d made him so overly protective and determined that Doyle shouldn’t ever be hurt again, emotionally or physically, by anything he did or didn’t do. Doyle usually tolerated it, but had pushed back on more than one occasion, accusing him of suffocating him.

Jack slowly shook his head, “Not in New York it wasn’t. Broke all the rules.” He sighed, “All my own rules,” he added, fiercely. He took a sip of his scotch and stared down at the floor, continuing in a low voice, “When I attacked Logan’s motorcade I took out quite a few of the protection team. Didn’t kill any, but I’m pretty sure there were a few life changing injuries in there.”

Bodie shrugged, “That’s called collateral damage. Friendly fire happens in our business. Not a good situation, granted, but as I read it, you didn’t have a choice. All official channels had been closed down.”

“There’s always a choice,” Jack replied, resignedly.

“Seems to me the only choice you had was to do nothing which is not much of one when there’s a cover up of a conspiracy inside the US and Russian governments. All linked to the murder of a foreign President and terrorists who were intent on making a dirty bomb on US soil. You did it all for the right reasons.”

Jack shook his head again, “Revenge had quite a lot to do with much of what I did after Renee was shot. Lost it there for a while.”

“Nobody ever said that sanity was a prerequisite for the job and you’re only human, Jack. And from what I read at the time, there was still a hell of a lot at stake. That treaty signing needed to be stopped. And I doubt there were too many in the US that mourned Logan or Novakovich.”

“If I’d killed Suvarov like I’d planned, I’d have caused a third world war.”

“Then we’d have been having a different conversation,” said Bodie crisply, “and I doubt you’d have got out of there alive, anyway.”

Jack shrugged, “I never expected to.”

“None of us are perfect. But as far as natural selection is concerned, you’re good enough, and that’s why you’re still here, so don’t throw away the opportunities you’ve got. If you go out there ill-prepared, you may as well write your own death warrant and I think that would be a terrible waste. Cesare Pavese once said, ‘No one ever lacks a good reason for suicide.’ You can guilt yourself over things you’ve done, although it won’t change anything, but you certainly can’t beat yourself up for things you didn’t do.”

Jack slowly mulled over the words which had resonated with him and without meaning to, blurted, “It wasn’t the drug dealers. It was a kid.”

Bodie raised an eyebrow, “That knifed you?”

He got a nod in reply. “Yeah, he was only about eleven or twelve, caught me unawares. Was just tryin’ to talk to him and stop him from taking the drugs he’d just been given.”

“Given?”

Jack nodded slowly, “Hmmm. I’d been watching them. Dishing out wraps to a steady stream of customers, but then they called this kid over. Didn’t look like he wanted to go, but they kept on at him.

Bodie stayed silent, knowing there was more.

“I intervened and they turned on me, but at least they left the kid alone. Something distracted them and they cleared out, off to find some other marks, I guess, and the kid went under the pier. I followed him, wanted to make sure he didn’t become another one of their victims.” Jack glanced up at him before returning his gaze to the floor. “Didn’t say it before, I mean, how do you try and explain to a stranger that you were following an eleven year old kid without somebody adding two and two together and making five. Sad reflection on today’s world, but it’s how it was. I also didn’t exactly want to declare myself as an easy target by admitting to you that I’d been done in by a kid. I was in a poor enough state as it was after spending the night on the bench. Sorry I lied to you.” He looked up again, the start of a sheepish smile creasing his mouth.

Bodie shrugged and waved a dismissive hand, “So how’d he get the jump on you?”

Jack sighed, “I got lax. Didn’t even consider him a threat. I was still a few feet away from him, didn’t want to panic him, y’know? And before I knew it, he’d charged at me and a shiv came out of nowhere. Didn’t even realise what he’d done at first and by the time I had, he was off and running. My own fault, I guess. I didn’t want him to get hurt, that’s all.”

“Soft hearted, that’s your trouble.”

“You’d have done the same."

“Not me, sunshine," Bodie muttered. “I’m a cold-hearted bastard through and through.”

Jack, recalling Bodie’s attentive care towards him when his fever had been at its height, inwardly disagreed. That sort of compassion was instinctive and hadn’t been feigned, but before he could say anything, Bodie swiftly interjected, “Was it really that you got lax or was it that you just didn’t care what happened to you anymore?”

Jack winced at the directness of Bodie’s question, although gave it due consideration before answering, “A bit of both, I guess.”

“Hmmm, not sure it was.”

Jack’s head snapped back towards Bodie, “So why did you say it?” he replied somewhat defensively, before staring into his glass, wondering how much his alcohol intake was affecting his thought processes. 

Bodie grinned, “Was just an idea, but doesn’t explain why if you didn’t care what happened, you weren’t willing to admit how you’d been done over by a kid when I first got you back to the house. Y’said you didn’t want to make yourself an easy target. Complete contradiction there, sunshine.”

Bodie drained his glass and reached for the bottle. “Drink up, you’re lagging behind and I hate drinking alone.”

Jack tipped his glass back, swallowing the last small mouthful of scotch and held it out, “If you want me coherent you’re gonna have to slow down a bit.”

Bodie chuckled as he poured a generous measure into the outheld glass. “Nah, best lubricant for all the cogs in y’head, this is. I wonder whether it’s some manifestation of self-blame for what happened in New York. Punishing yourself by getting hurt so it will purge the guilt.”

Jack sat back, focusing on the half full tumbler as he contemplated the theory. He hadn’t thought there was any connection, but certainly the many innocents that had been hurt by his actions too often crowded his thoughts and a lot of what Bodie was saying was making some sort of sense. “I never wanted to hurt people.”

 “That’s idealistic,” said Bodie sharply.

“Yeah, stupid in our game.”

“Don't consider idealism a weakness,”

“I don't,” replied Jack, “It makes things harder.” He rolled his near empty glass between his hands as he continued softly, “I remember somebody saying to me once, rules are what make us better. I knew that, but I had to say 'not today'. He died a few hours later.” Jack sighed before adding soberly, “The man who killed him wasn't playing by the same rules.”

Bodie studied him, there was a similarity there to Doyle that he hadn’t really thought about applying to Jack before. Doyle, whose moral stance was a conundrum to him and always had been, shouldn't have ever ended up working at CI5, which had just served to fuel that inner conflict he had. He was never suited to working in such a high octane environment where people could die by his hand. Continually wanting to view the world through rose tinted spectacles, which in their world was only ever going to cause disappointment, Doyle was regularly troubled.  His distress used to manifest itself through his fiery temper. And yet working with him had been a valuable fulcrum in helping him find some balance, his own more cynical nature often blinding him to the other viewpoint.  The years had dampened some of Ray’s idealism and age had at least taken the edge off the sarky little sod’s sharp tongue and frequent displays of annoyance and frustration. Jack’s temperament wasn’t as volatile as Doyle’s, but he had that same idealistic nature and it sounded like the conflict between his morals and the events in New York had reached critical mass. “Cowley told us years ago that some rules are made to be broken. He's right. Sometimes, you don't have a choice, and as long as you are doing it all for the right reason, then you're doing the right thing.”

Jack grunted, “Sometimes it’s difficult to tell.”

“You wear the white hat, mate.”

“Feels like it’s covered in blood sometimes,” said Jack, an edge of bitterness in his voice.

“Goes with the territory. But you can go full circle. Four instead of three and underneath it all, the hat’s still white. You’ve still got your moral compass pointing the right way, you trying to help the kid under the pier proves that.”

“What's your first name?”

Accompanied by the slightest of frowns at the abrupt subject change, familiar enough with diversionary tactics, Bodie answered "William. Followed by Andrew Philip. I was such a regal baby."

Jack ignored the glib rejoinder, “And you prefer Bodie because?”

A shrug accompanied his next answer, “I don't like any of ‘em much."

Bodie had long ago decreed that first names were the seed to anyone first making a connection with him. Somewhat irrational in hindsight, yet it had given him an extra layer to his shield when he’d needed it, when aloofness and detachment towards the rest of the ship’s crew had been his only defence against confessing his fears when he’d first left England. It had worked, so he’d stuck with it, and he’d never been that fond of his given names anyway. His childhood memories were full of somebody or other in authority calling out his name in order to make him do something he didn’t want to do or to punish him for something he had or hadn’t done, but fifty years on, those memories were of little significance now. Not that he could see it happening, but if Ray or Cowley suddenly started to call him William, he wouldn’t particularly mind, although he certainly wasn’t going to suggest it.

*      *     *

Ray knocked gently on the door, but when no response apart from rhythmic snoring was forthcoming, he opened the door to deliver the two mugs of tea and couldn't help, but grin. Two chairs, on opposite walls with near identical piles of neatly folded clothes and a pair of boots neatly placed beneath each chair, the barrack-room neatness exposing their shared history of an army background. The two heads, one blonde and one dark, were barely visible beneath their respective duvets.

Doyle quietly placed the mugs down on the bedside table between the twin beds before creeping over to the window. Swiftly yanking the curtains wide open, generating a satisfyingly loud metallic grind as they were dragged along the curtain rail, he announced in a booming voice,"Wakey wakey, rise and shine. Breakfast in twenty minutes."

He was rewarded by the two heads raising off their pillows, both of them blinking rapidly against the low winter sun now streaming through the window before simultaneously slumping back down with a groan.

“Well if it isn't Somnus and Hypnos,” chuckled Doyle.  

"Sod off, sunshine," emanated from the dark haired head that was back buried under the covers.

“I'll second that,”.groaned Jack, before sitting bolt up in bed. "Dammit, he meant you, didn't he. Sorry," he said ruefully.

Laughing, Doyle nodded, unoffended and highly amused by Jack's unintentional gaff, before leaving them both to it and going to make a start on breakfast.

Bodie had stumbled to the shower first, years of being at Cowley’s beck and call at all hours had taught him to get up and out in the morning, regardless of the size of the hangover, his autopilot overcoming the need to think and Jack gratefully took advantage of the extra minutes in bed.

Bodie nudged him when he came back from the bathroom, and Jack obligingly sat up with a low groan, his head in his hands. “How much did I drink last night?”

Dunno, mate. I was plastered,” said Bodie with a mournful look.   

Bodie was trying to smooth his hair down in front of the mirror when Jack wandered back from the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his middle, his colossal assortment of scars standing out brightly against his skin, reddened from an obviously steaming shower. Bodie barely noticed them, he had enough of his own.

When they both got downstairs, a nauseatingly cheerful Doyle was concocting a huge fry-up and whistling along with the radio that was reverberating off the limewashed walls with some thumping music.

Bodie leant over his shoulder inspecting the contents of the frying pan, “Doyle, you can be a complete tool sometimes.”

“Sorry, mate. Can’t hear you,” Doyle spoke unnecessarily loudly, right in Bodie’s ear. “Let me just turn the radio down a bit.” And he leant over to the back of the unit, killing the sound on the small portable. “Ah, that’s better, both sleep well did you?”

Bodie grunted and slumped into one of the kitchen chairs at the table.

Jack nodded politely, wincing slightly at the movement.

“Jack, if you’re feeling rough, there’s some painkillers there if you want ‘em,” said Doyle pointing to the far end of the table and a small packet of paracetamol.

Jack immediately moved towards the box of tablets. “Thank you.” And pulling out a strip, pushed two into his hand.

“Don’t ask me how I’m feeling, will you, eh?” said Bodie, full of indignance.

“How are you feeling?” enquired Doyle dutifully.

“Don’t ask,” sighed Bodie reaching for the other strip of painkillers.

Despite his pounding head, Jack couldn’t help but laugh.

Chapter Text

“Stopping off somewhere are we?” Doyle asked mildly as the exit for Brighton sailed past the Range Rover’s window.

“Yep. We’re calling in on the scab lifter before we go home,” replied Bodie firmly.

Doyle frowned, “Colin? Why? Are you ill?”

“Nope,” Bodie glanced across at Doyle and grinned, “The exact opposite, in fact. A picture of ‘ealth, I am.”

*      *     *

Doyle sat in the waiting room of Colin’s private medical clinic, he and Jack the only ones there. Bodie had been in with Colin for about twenty minutes now and his boredom was fast being overtaken by an uneasy feeling. At the sound of Colin’s door opening, he and Jack both looked up, and Colin, grinning at them both, waved them in.

Doyle stood up, unkinking his muscles that had seized after spending much of the day sitting down, first in the car as they journeyed back from Newquay and then in Colin’s rather bland waiting room.

Y’need to get some comfortable chairs in here, Col. Or is it an intentional strategy to stop people takin’ root?” he said as he trooped past Colin into his office, Jack following on behind him, noting the row of three chairs, identical to those in the waiting room, lined up and facing Colin’s desk.

“They’re designed to encourage good posture.” Colin smiled, “If you don’t slouch in them, you’ll find them much more comfortable.”

Bodie appeared from behind the privacy curtain in the corner, doing up his cuffs and Doyle looked over at him, concerned.

“There’s nothing to worry your golli head about, Ray. Just both of you sit down and listen to all the good news.”

Doyle did as Bodie asked and Jack took the far right chair leaving the one in the middle for Bodie.

Colin took his seat on the other side of the desk and smiled. “I have just conducted Bodie’s half yearly medical and although I won’t have the blood results back for a couple of days, early indications are that there are no issues, respiration and heart rate are both excellent for a man of his age and his previous blood work showed no concerns. In short, despite the fact that he appears to live on a diet of saturated fat and refined sugar, somehow he has defied medical science yet again. I have of course told him that may not always be the case, but for now, he is A-one fit.”

Doyle glanced across at Bodie who was looking rather smug and started to feel faintly irritated. “So what’s this all about, mate.”

“Just listen, Ray. Colin?”

“Bodie also asked me to do some X-Rays, Colin twisted his computer monitor round to them, which was displaying a white on black image of a skull.

Changing the image to another one, taken from a different angle and using his pen as a pointer, Colin indicated the metal plate and circling the area, explained how the skull had regrown, surrounding the twenty year old metal plate.

“In short, gentlemen, the grey matter is well protected, the bone has fully grown back over the plate, so is as strong, if not stronger than it was before the initial injury. Bodie’s head is fine, although obviously, I can’t vouch if anything actually goes on inside it.

Glancing sideways, Ray saw Bodie’s bottom lip start to jut forward and jumped in, "Ah Col, that's unfair. We know there's plenty that goes on in Bodie's head.” Out of the corner of his eye he saw Bodie’s face start to take on a self-satisfied look. “His one and only brain cell always tells him when he's hungry, so there's high brain activity just there." Colin chuckled and Bodie’s bottom lip jutted out a little more, a fine scowl in evidence. Satisfied he'd scored a point, Ray sat back, grimacing slightly at the uncomfortable chair, deciding that Bodie was a complete pain in the arse, but that maybe he should butt out and let Bodie help Jack in his own way without any further interference. After all, Bodie had experience in this field, he had little or none.

*      *     *

A few weeks after the divorce had been finalised, Bodie'd hauled him out of their flat one night with the order that it was time for him to get back in the saddle. It was swiftly followed by several lewd remarks about hairy palms and that his truncheon needed to make other acquaintances beyond his right hand, before it withered and died. Bodie had taken charge of his social life for a while then, pulling him out of the flat when morosity had become his overwhelming emotion and dragging him to pubs, nightclubs and anywhere else Bodie had deemed a good time was available. At first, he'd found himself feeling coerced and going out had been under sufferance, but as time went on, all of that was gently eroded by Bodie’s irrepressible and buoyant cheerfulness, never pushing him too far, just enough. And after a while he’d realised that Ellie's leaving didn't physically hurt anymore. There was a huge sadness, but even that would settle in time. Bodie certainly had a talent for fixing broken people. He'd done it for him twice now, the first when he’d been shot and hadn't really seen any way back to the ‘A’ squad for himself and then again, after the divorce. And then Bodie’s own recovery, miraculous when he thought back to how he’d been before Salisbury. Bodie as part of his new role as co-controller had also excelled as a rehabilitative trainer, getting agents back up to peak fitness after illness or injury and working with Kate Ross of all people, helping agents to cope with the psychological fallout of their job. Bereavement, survivor guilt if a colleague had bought it, PTSD, Bodie had dealt with cases concerning all of those. And more.

Bodie, despite his regular complaints about being no more than a paper shuffler and the assocated risks of secretary’s spread, had blossomed in his new role. From the start he’d proven he was a worthy Director of Field Operations. On call whenever anything big went down, managing hostage situations, major busts and the like. And even more surprisingly, he’d also instigated an exchange of theories with the other domestic agencies, forming collaborative alliances; Making case histories available and sharing intel, no hint of desired retribution for the events in Bristol, or perhaps because of them. All helping to forge future policy and procedural formats. It was several years before he’d found out that between them, Bodie and Bottle had devised a way to infiltrate MI5 and MI6’s so called secure networks, so they always knew what was really going on. Training, strategy and tactics, all managed with seemingly no struggle. Despite his frequent bluntness, Bodie could also play the diplomat and had thrown the odd plummy dipthong around Westminster, looking and sounding like an old Etonian, whilst wearing what appeared to be an old school tie. The first time they’d turned up for a joint meeting, an old codger walking past them in the corridor on their way to meet the minister had seen the tie and made reference to an exclusive public school with an approving nod. Bodie had waited until the minister was just coming through the door before gleefully whispering in his ear that the tie was from his amateur cricket club. While he’d been concentrating on not smirking at Bodie’s sheer gall, Bodie had proceeded to masterfully play the minister at his own game, securing a significant budget increase for the following year as if he’d been doing it all of his life.

Bodie’d also seemingly effortlessly restored their working relationships with the other agents that had gone to hell in a hand cart while he had been away. Within a relatively short space of time the others on the squad had wordlessly declared their allegiance, snuffing out Anson’s digs and choruses of ‘give it a rest Anson,’ could regularly be heard for the first few months. One day walking past the squad room he'd listened to McCabe scathingly calling from across the room. ‘Anybody would think you were jealous, Anson. Ray was married for crissakes, don't be such a twat'

And then Bodie’d even won round the trickiest of them all, Anson himself. When the smoke free law came into force in the summer of 2007, HQ had been no smoking for ten years. Yes, he’d even managed to help Anson give up smoking those bloody stinking cigars, persuading him to agree to visit a hypnotherapist, volunteering that CI5 would pay half.

*      *     *

Saying their goodbyes to Colin, the three of them had piled back into the Range Rover for the short trip back to Brighton. Bodie was more than satisfied with the outcome. Ray would have always had a lingering unease and he didn’t want Jack to have any excuses. This way, he could propose some more sparring sessions and there would be no concerns regarding his old injury. Their long chat the night before, over copious amounts of scotch, had revealed some of Jack’s self-doubt and the self-destructive vibes that had been prominent through the conversation had given him a starting point. He knew there was still work to be done on those. Jack had diverted the conversation away from himself several times, but Bodie, in charge of the scotch bottle, had made sure that Jack had drunk considerably more and combined with his larger and broader build, he’d been significantly less inebriated than Jack and had repeatedly steered the conversation back on track. Now Jack’s tongue had been loosened once, by way of a large quantity of whisky, there wasn’t much left for him to hide, and a few more discussions like that one would help Jack get his mind in the right place before he went off to do Cowley’s bidding.

Chapter Text

It was his own fault, Doyle mused to himself. He had created a monster. Not that he minded all that much, but during the second half of November and for all of December, Bodie often made him feel like Ebeneezer Scrooge as he curtailed his mate’s eagerness to turn their house into a Winter Wonderland. His enthusiasm for all things festive was unbound and often exhausting. There were already several huge boxes in the eaves space filled with Christmas decorations and when Bodie saw the first signs for Christmas Trees on sale, it had a similar effect as saying ‘walkies’ to a Border Collie, so over the years, he’d been obliged to lay down the law. Despite the house's fourteen foot high ceilings and broad dimensions, if left to his own devices, there was a distinct possibility that in his exuberance, Bodie would purchase a Christmas tree so large that they would need to undertake major alterations to the building to get it inside and stood up in the lounge. He had long ago engineered it so that the size of the tree would be restricted to what Bodie could manhandle without his own involvement, claiming that the pine oil played havoc with his skin. He always felt guilty as he watched his mate struggle with it, but knew if he relented, he would end up regretting it for every year to come. Long ago he had come up with a law that Christmas decorations could not go up before mid-December as it spoiled the magic otherwise, and out of deference to a younger Andrew, Bodie had abided by it, and now it was habitual. Last year, he’d also forbidden him from going up more than one storey on a ladder to adorn the outside of the house with lights in case he killed himself; although he was waiting for the day that Bodie suggested that he could rappel down from the top floor.

It had all started the Christmas that Bodie had been stationed down on Salisbury Plain. He'd been particularly snarky with his partner when they’d met on one of Bodie’s occasional visits up to London. The tension of the job had been getting to him and the news that his wife was taking their son to her family for Christmas as she’d told him they needed some time apart had still rankled, even though he’d known it to be a good decision.

When Bodie had discovered he was going to be on his own, he'd invited him down to Wiltshire and he’d snapped back at him. "Not bloody likely, you only want me there to do the sodding cooking."

"Nah, I'll cook."

"You?" he’d spluttered slightly at this announcement.

"Yeah, me. I can cook y'know mate. How d’ya think I’ve been feeding meself all these years?"

He’d snorted inelegantly, "Don’t tell me, you’ve managed to rope a bird in down there to cook for ya? Ta very much, but I don’t really fancy spendin’ Christmas sitting there watchin’ you tickle her fancy with yer tinsel.”

“Not a chance. Every bird down there’s a well-used squaddie mattress. Havin’ one in a garrison town’s the quickest way to get a dose, that is. And anyway, no need, mate. Melinda's in town, she's on long haul, so I’ve been popping in to see her occasionally when I’ve been updating Zebedee. She’s cooking for me tonight, as it happens.”

“Managed to stop her serving you dinner in a little plastic tray yet?”

“She only did that once, left over fillet steak from Concorde. Very nice they were too, all three of ‘em.” Bodie’s face had taken on a slightly dreamy expression at the memory of the prime cuts of beef.

”Hmmm, well no wonder you enjoyed it. Face it Bodie, feeding y’self usually consists of nipping down the road for a takeaway. And sticking a couple of slices of bread in the toaster to go with cold baked beans isn’t cooking.”

Bodie had smiled serenely before standing up with their empty glasses, " Come'n Raymondo, where's your Christmas spirit? It’s just a matter of following a recipe innit. It’ll be proper Christmas grub and I promise you won't have to lift a finger." 

He’d watched his mate wander to the bar for refills and had sat back pondering the invitation. Over the last year, he'd made sure they'd kept in regular contact, wanting to reassure himself that Bodie wasn't planning on quietly disappearing and to show his partner that he had meant what he'd said the previous Chrstmas. Although he’d liked the idea of spending some quality time with his all too frequently absent partner, he had been puzzled as to the true motive behind the offer. Before, Bodie had always seemed fairly indifferent towards Christmas, which if he'd thought about it was odd in itself. The food alone should have made it a favourite. And presents, he adored presents. Food and pressies, what was for him not to like? He'd certainly never whinged about working over the festive season, but then he hadn’t known that his partner used to voluntarily swap shifts with other agents either. There’d never been a pathological avoidance of all things Christmas, Bodie’d always cheerfully joined in any events organised by the squad and had always swapped small gifts with him, but had never really appeared to participate in anything outside of CI5 and he’d certainly never seen even a scrap of tinsel at Bodie’s flat. If they’d spent any snatches of time together over the holiday, he’d always had the feeling that Bodie was humouring him, going along with it all to appease him, not in any way unkindly, but humouring him all the same.  In hindsight, he had a feeling that Bodie would have ignored Christmas completely if he could have. He’d had to drag out of him when his birthday was when he’d realised he’d never once heard Bodie mention it after five years of their partnership.

Bodie’d returned with two full glasses and as he’d sat down, he’d said, “Not being funny mate, but you don’t do Christmas usually.”

Bodie had shrugged, “Was always working wasn’t I. Not much point going to all the aggro of decoratin’ the flat if you’re not going to be there to enjoy it, is there, sunshine? But this year’s different.” And had immediately raised his glass to his lips and taken a long swallow of lager, signalling the end of the conversation.

He hadn’t let on that he’d known that Bodie volunteered to work every Christmas. He’d felt rather guilty at that moment, having never really considered him in his plans before. Of course over the years, many Christmases had been spent working although there’d been odd occasions when he had been elsewhere over the Christmas holiday season and he’d asked what his mate’s plans were, but of course Bodie had always been rostered to work. When he’d ever commented on the unfairness that Bodie had drawn the short straw yet again, Bodie’d always just shrugged, saying that the agents with family were more needful of the time off. If he’d ever asked beyond that, Bodie’d been typically non-specific, affecting complete and utter boredom with the topic and he’d never pursued it further. But he’d wondered whether that had actually been an evasive cover, although he couldn’t actually think of anything that anybody would want to hide.

Although Bodie’s offer had appeared sincere and heartfelt, with some misgivings he’d got down to Wiltshire late afternoon on Christmas Eve. He had easily navigated his way to Bodie’s house by way of the clear directions he’d been sent, knowing he was in the right place when he saw Bodie’s car, a mirror of his own Nissan 200SX, different only in colour. His dark green, Bodie’s a navy blue.

He’d rung the bell just as dusk was creeping in and Bodie had opened the door with typical largesse, a grin almost splitting his face in two. “Raymond, my old son. Come on in,” and had given an exaggerated bow before extravagantly flinging his arm back in invitation.

Stepping into the hallway, he’d been surprised to see tendrils of ivy up the banisters and sprigs of holly intertwining more ivy framing the doorway into the lounge. Bodie had grabbed his bag from him, putting it at the bottom of the stairs. “I’ll take it up later, I bet you’re gagging for a beer now though?”

He’d followed Bodie into the lounge and had looked around, mouth gaping. The lounge was festooned with decorations, but not the garish multi coloured bits and pieces he’d been expecting at best. The only colour was from the gentle twinkle of fairy lights nestling in the densely needled, real tree. Everything else was silver and white, interspersed with more twists of holly, ivy and pine branches, all blending into an overall effect of elegant festiveness. There were even fat silver candles flickering softly on the mantelpiece.

He’d turned to see Bodie’s departing back, on his way to get beer no doubt and had said, “Bloody ‘ell, mate. Looks like something out of Homes and Gardens magazine.”

He’d seen his mate’s shoulders stiffen as he’d disappeared into the kitchen and when he’d come back into the room with two cans, he’d made sure Bodie hadn’t misunderstood it as criticism, very conscious still of what had gone on before that had been instrumental in Bodie’s disappearance. “It’s bloody fantastic.”

“You like it?” asked Bodie, his face hopeful as he’d handed him a can.

“What’s not to like,” he’d said grinning. “Based on your previous efforts, I was expecting a strip of shaggy tinsel and a picture of a page three bird wearing a Santa’s hat pinned up over the telly.”

Bodie had coloured slightly and grinned sheepishly, “Told ya, was always workin’ before and anyway, nothing but the best for you, my son.”

They’d spent a pleasant evening in front of the box. Bodie had produced smoked salmon, bread and salad for dinner and when he’d raised an eyebrow, he’d been told a mite defensively that fish was traditional on Christmas Eve and he’d tucked in, more than happy with the touch of luxury.

Sprawled out on the sofa that evening, beer in hand and several empty cans littering the coffee table, he’d briefly studied his mate. He’d certainly started to look much better, the man who’d broken down in his kitchen twelve months previously had been supplanted, although any reference to that short time of absolute defencelessness and vulnerability would be unforgivable as it would serve only to humiliate. He’d certainly lost much of the gauntness he’d had the previous year and although the former muscle tone was on its way back, the face was still too lean and it looked like Bodie still had a way to go. “I’ve let you down, mate and I’m sorry.”

Bodie had looked across at him from the armchair, frowning, “Whatcha on about? Let me down how?”

Suddenly aware that his high beer consumption had made him maudlin, but unable to stop himself, he’d carried on, “You’ve been on your own down here.” He’d waved his arm effusively. “Should’ve helped you more. You were there every step of the way after I was shot, helping me get back.”

“Don’t talk bollocks, Ray. I’m doing okay,” Bodie’d fired back, on the defensive once more.

It was typical Bodie behaviour in many respects. Hide the pain, suffer in silence and solitude down here rather than let anybody else help, lest they share the ignominy of his slow recovery. Not very tolerant of pity or sympathy was Bodie. Daft sod. “Yeah, but if it hadn’t been for me getting married to Ellie, you wouldn’t have gone to Bristol and you’d still be in the ‘A’ squad.”

“I’m old enough to make my own decisions, Doyle. I chose to go to Bristol, nobody forced me. Just drop it okay.”

“Yeah, but what if.”

Eyes glowing with impatience, Bodie’d vehemently cut him off, mid-stream, “If, if, if. Ifs are bloody meaningless. If your Aunt had bollocks, she’d be your Uncle. What and if are two words as innocuous as words can be. But stick 'em together and they’ll haunt you for the rest of your life, mate. Don’t you dare ever regret meeting Ellie. If you hadn’t, you wouldn’t have Andrew.”

He’d stared at his half empty beer can, hoping for some enlightenment to counteract Bodie’s argument, but nothing had been forthcoming, Bodie’d been right, he’d just wished that his partner hadn’t paid such a high price.

They’d both had a relatively early night, equally tired and after Bodie had pointed him to his room and given him first dibs on the bathroom, he’d settled into bed and replete with beer, he’d fallen asleep relatively quickly.

The following morning he’d woken early and after relieving his protesting bladder, he’d got back into bed for a little while, relishing the peace and quiet that London living never provided. When the need for a cuppa had driven him from the bed, he’d washed, shaved and dressed in short time before going downstairs to put the kettle on. The lounge smelt faintly of pine, courtesy of the stout Christmas tree and he’d taken a deep breath in, appreciating the aroma and had been amused to see two stockings leaning up against the fire surround; one each side, that certainly hadn’t been there when he’d gone to bed. When he’d reached the kitchen, he’d been more than surprised to see Bodie already up and hard at it with his hand embedded in a huge turkey.

“Morning, sunshine. Merry Christmas.”

“Yeah, morning. Merry Christmas,” Bodie’d replied distractedly, withdrawing his hand with a sigh.

Wassup?”

“Giblets. It says they're in the turkey, but I can't find em.”

He’d pushed his sleeve up and shoved his hand into the bird's cavity. Quickly withdrawing his hand, he’d thrust it into the neck end, "Nope, definitely no giblets."

"Shit." Bodie had given the turkey a menacing glare.

“Why? Doesn’t matter, does it?”

“Says I need ‘em for the gravy.”

He’d shrugged, “No worries, you can make gravy without them, no big deal.”

“Oh. Okay.” Bodie’d looked rather dejected, but had proceeded to refer to his recipe and had started to insert a multitude of items into the turkey. He’d watched on in wry amusement as a string of items disappeared into the bird, culminating in a halved lemon and handfuls of fresh herbs, never having seen his mate be quite so adventurously industrious in the kitchen before.

“Uh, mate. How many are coming to dinner?”

Bodie’d looked across at him, puzzled. “Just us two, why?”

“Well that turkey’s big enough to feed the whole of CI5, mate. Including all the secretaries. Never mind, I guess we can eat it Boxing Day too,” he’d said grinning as he’d filled the kettle.

“Nah, I’ve got us a ham for tomorrow.”

“A ham?”

“Yeah, traditional innit,” Bodie had said dismissively as he’d loaded the weighty turkey into the oven, which had been a bit of a squeeze, and then without a word of complaint, Bodie’d started on the vegetables. He’d looked on in astonishment as first potatoes, then sprouts on their stalk, carrots and parsnips had all been pulled out of a cupboard and set upon with a peeler. It became quickly apparent that Bodie didn’t know one end of a sprout from another and he’d hastily grabbed a knife and said, “I’ll give you a hand,” as he’d rescued them from Bodie’s ministrations. Bodie’d protested, “Hey, I told you, you don’t have to.”

“It’s fine, I don’t mind helping, sunshine. Just didn’t want to spend the holiday slaving in the kitchen on me own.” He’d grinned and started breaking them off and hadn’t commented on Bodie’s sideways glances, watching as he’d prepared them, peeling only the outside leaves if they were marked and cutting a cross into their stalks.  

They’d worked companionably, side by side until all the vegetables were prepared, ready for cooking and then Bodie had cleared down while he’d prepared some tea and toast.

After breakfast, armed with fresh mugs of tea they’d made their way back into the lounge and after investigating their respective stockings, they'd exchanged presents. He’d seen the stack of wrapped parcels under the tree and was embarrassed to discover that they were all for him, bar two, which were for Andrew. “Bloody ‘ell mate, you’ve gone mad,” he’d said grinning, as he’d ripped off the wrapping paper of the first to reveal a chunky knit, traditional cream Aran sweater. Holding it up against his torso, expressing his delight, he’d said. “That’s smashing, mate. Thanks.”

He’d found a first edition copy of a book of nineteenth century romantic poets in an antiques shop that he’d thought his mate would like, so had bought it and wrapped it up. Bodie had been chuffed to bits although when he’d unwrapped his second present he’d burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny?” he’d groused.

Bodie had held up the navy silk tie and with a grin, said “You’ll see.” And had thrown him another present to open.

As he’d ripped off the paper, he’d got the joke. Bodie had bought him the exact same tie, but in dark green. “Matches m’car,” he’d said happily, holding it up to his neck.

“Well now you’re wandering the walkways of Whitehall,” smirked Bodie, “although you need to learn how to tie it first. Seriously thought about getting you a clip on, mate.”

Cowley’d have a fit,” he’d said gloomily.

Bodie had gathered up the discarded wrapping paper. “Fancy a bit of Christmas Cake?”

“Don’t tell me you made a cake?”

“Nah, there was an old dear down the market who had a stall. I think she was a bit of a nutter though, after I’d bought it, she told me to feed it.”

He’d laughed, “She meant add alcohol to it, keeps it moist.”

“Oh.” Bodie’d shrugged, “Well I got a Yule log too.”

“You’re offering to share Yule log? Bloody hell, well go on then, as it’s Christmas.”

He’d followed Bodie into the kitchen and filled the kettle as Bodie had pulled out a boxed cake from a cupboard and a long knife from a drawer. He’d cut a generous slice and tipped it onto a plate and as it had landed, Bodie had exclaimed, “It’s chocolate swiss roll!”

“Yeah, course it is, didn’t you know that when you bought it?”

Bodie had mumbled, “Yeah, course,” and had turned back to the cake, cutting a large wedge and sliding it across onto a second plate.

He’d basted the turkey and set the potatoes on to par boil while Bodie had made tea and armed with steaming mugs and cake, they’d gone back to the lounge and after some contented munching, they’d spent a lazy couple of hours watching the telly. 

He’d dozed off at some point and when he’d come to, Bodie was nowhere in sight. Stretching himself awake, he’d wandered into the kitchen to find it resembling a war zone as his best mate, clearly way out of his depth, was manfully trying to single-handedly finish cooking the Christmas dinner. He’d stepped in and gently taken over while Bodie had busied himself laying the table, even producing crackers, before taking on the role of kitchen porter, following instructions without protest.

The dinner had been delicious and to his amusement, Bodie, with a slight wrinkle to his nose, had dutifully eaten all the sprouts he’d dished onto his plate. He’d teased him, Bodie’s aversion to vegetables had been longstanding. Bodie’d looked thoughtful for a moment before responding very seriously, “Well don’t get me wrong, mate, don’t think I’d want to eat them too often, but turkey and sprouts, without ‘em, it wouldn't be a Christmas dinner. Couldn’t not eat ‘em, could I.”

Both full to bursting, ignoring the washing up and deciding to save the Christmas pudding until later, they’d collapsed back down on the sofa. In an ambience of festive goodwill, further enhanced by alcohol, they’d watched the Queen’s speech as she’d acknowledged the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall two years prior before talking about a start of a new era for the Commonwealth. Over the closing credits, Bodie’d raised his beer can, “Happy Christmas to you too, Ma’am.”

He’d knocked his own can to Bodie’s, “Happy Christmas, mate,” closely followed by a rather indelicate burp. And they’d sat relaxed, side by side for a while until Bodie could no longer ignore the washing up. He’d let him do the lion’s share, feeling too lazy to move, but eventually his conscience had forced him out to the kitchen to help. After confirming with his host, he’d dropped the shop bought pudding into a saucepan of boiling water and had made some whisky cream, nudging Bodie as he’d poured a generous slug into the bowl of whipped cream and icing sugar, “Don’t tell Cowley, he’d have a purple fit if he thought I was wasting good scotch.”

Och, laddie, tha’s no way ta treat a fine single malt.”  Bodie’d hammed it up, making Cowley’s accent even thicker and making a fair job of it. Not that he would ever tell him so, of course and despite the mimicry being en pointe, he couldn’t resist a jibe, “Not bad, mate. Can you do a Scottish accent as well?”

They’d both grinned in shared amusement and Bodie had surreptitiously stuck a finger in the whipped cream before he could stop him. “Oy, Gedoff, gannet,"pulling the bowl back out of Bodie’s reach.

After lavishing more scotch on setting light to the pud, they’d spent the rest of Christmas Day companionably relaxing in front of the goggle box, watching a film neither of them had seen and had then both stumbled, rather the worse for wear, to their respective bedrooms.

He’d woken early on Boxing Day, still unaccustomed to the quiet of rural Wiltshire and had padded downstairs.

Armed with a cup of tea he’d parked himself on the sofa and had rifled through the short stack of magazines piled on the bottom shelf of the coffee table, looking for something to read. Halfway down, he’d found a lifestyle magazine and intrigued as to why it should be in the house he’d flicked through it. When he’d found a rather familiar picture he’d looked around the room in surprise. The Christmas decorations he’d admired on his arrival were an almost perfect replica of the picture in the glossy magazine. Scanning the accompanying article, it had detailed all the traditions that Bodie had seemed hell-bent on following, along with a comprehensive set of instructions to create the menu and the decorations adorning Bodie’s lounge.

Reflecting back on the previous day, there had been several clues beyond his usual ineptitude in the kitchen that could mean for whatever reason, Bodie had never properly experienced a regular homespun Christmas. The previous year, he’d spent much of it in his room and earlier years, had always rostered himself to work in CI5. Naturally, the army, Africa and the merchant navy wouldn’t have provided a domestic setting. But before that, surely he would have had some memories that would have stayed with him. There were a million reasons why people didn’t celebrate Christmas, religion being one. Even some Christians didn’t celebrate it, citing that it was a recycled pagan celebration and that God condemned using pagan customs to worship. But Bodie had never given any hint that religion of any denomination had featured in his life and he couldn’t help but wonder about the policy the old man exploited when selecting agents. Perhaps there weren’t any memories from Bodie’s childhood, or maybe just none worth reviving.

Of course, maybe Bodie’d had a bird here at some point even if he didn’t have one now and it was her magazine. Then he remembered the moment of tension created by his quip about Homes and Gardens magazine when he'd first arrived and the multiple parallels were a little too coincidental. It had been almost inconceivable that Bodie, a quintessential swiss roll devotee had expressed surprise at the Yule Log’s composition. He considered it a ridiculous notion that Bodie hadn’t known, and yet with all the other evidence, it suddenly seemed more plausible. Stuffing the magazine back into the pile, he’d sat back pondering the insecurities that Bodie had revealed almost exactly twelve months before, and lost in thought had slurped at his tea.

Bodie had joined him downstairs soon after and over breakfast, had outlined the plan for the day. “Thought I’d take you round and show you what I’ve been up to while I’ve been down here and invite Mike and his family over for a beer tonight so you can meet them if you’re up for that? They live a couple of doors down and I’ve been running with him for the last few months.”

He’d nodded, looking forward to seeing the new training centre and feeling glad that Bodie’d had somebody down here supporting and encouraging him on his way back to fitness, remembering how grim it had been after he’d been shot, even with Bodie’s ongoing support.

As they’d made their way out the door, he’d noticed a young lad about twelve or thirteen years of age, eyeing up their two cars. In a low voice, he’d asked, “Is my motor likely to still be here when we get back? And I don’t mean up on bricks. ”   

Bodie’d looked round and chuckled, “Hey Rich, which d’ya think’s the nicest?”

The blonde lad had looked over with a grin, “I reckon it’s gotta be the green one, racing green innit.”

Bodie’d sauntered over, jingling his car keys in one hand, a long cardboard tube in the other. Tapping the tube against Richard’s shoulder he’d said, “Well that happens to be Doyle’s car,” nodding his head back towards his partner, “he drives slower than me, but if you ask him, I’m sure he’ll take you out if it’s okay with Mike. We’ll be back later.”

“Thanks, Bodie, Mr Doyle”, Richard grinned broadly and scampered off, no doubt to seek his Dad’s permission. 

He’d turned to Bodie, one eyebrow raised.

“You don’t mind do you, sunshine?” Bodie’d looked at him rather sheepishly, “If you’d rather, I can take him out, but I mentioned to Mike that you’d be coming down, thought we could have a drive out if you’re up for it. There’s a perfect road for it a couple of miles away, it’s a public highway, plenty of twists, but you can see for miles so we’ll know in plenty of time if the Meat heads and Mod plods turn up.”

The who?”

“Army slang, it rubs off after a while.” Bodie’d grinned apologetically, “Military and M.O.D. Police. With a bit of luck they’ll all be tucked up at home polishing their ‘andcuffs.”

Rising to the bait, he’d succumbed to Bodie’s childish enthusiasm while knowing full well their age old competitiveness and one-upmanship would make it a damned sight more than just a simple drive out. As he’d climbed into Bodie’s car, he’d grinned his acquiescence while wondering what Cowley would say if he knew two of his agents, one of which was his deputy, were racing each other around the countryside like hooligans.

Bodie’d thrown the cardboard tube onto the back seat and had driven him to what had looked like a farmyard entrance. He’d hopped out and opened the gate, closing it behind the car as Bodie had driven through and had bounded back into the passenger seat before Bodie had turned down an unmade track, signposted to something called, ‘Above and Beyond.’

At the end of the short track, Bodie’d pulled up into a clearing and they’d both got out. “What’s this then?” he’d asked, rather dubiously, taking in the collection of wooden huts off to one side, nestling in amongst the trees.

“I’ll show you,” Bodie’d said, rather smugly.

He’d dutifully followed Bodie through the trees as he was shown a medium length zip wire, and an interesting overhead assault course. Bodie’d chatted on, explaining the design and he’d then been led round a ground level assault course, which Bodie’d explained had been designed for encouraging collaboration and team building. Looking it over with an experienced eye, he’d nodded, seeing multiple points across the course where a solo foray would fail, but with one or more partners would be a relatively simple obstacle. He’d thought it all looked a bit easy for a military training centre, certain that CI5 agents would demolish the course in about thirty seconds, but he hadn’t liked to say anything to deflate his mate’s obvious pride in their surroundings. He was also surprised by the scale, not quite understanding how a site this size could accommodate all the personnel that he’d understood would be processed through the centre.

They’d walked back towards the car alongside an area that had brightly coloured demarcation tape around its boundary and he’d wondered about its purpose.

“What’s that for?” he’d asked, pointing into the taped off area.

Aah, that’s the best bit, sunshine. S’why I saved it till last.” And with a cryptic smile, Bodie’d led him across to the sheds and unlocking the largest one, he’d waited for him to disengage an alarm system before following him inside and had looked around him, confused by the racks of protective body armour, helmets, goggles and guns with plastic extensions.

“Paintball markers,” Bodie’d said with a grin, an expansive arm waved at the full racks down the length of the shed’s walls. The other shed has a café and there’s a toilet block over near the farmyard with a septic tank. So, what d’ya think.”

“Um, not sure what to think to be honest, paintball sounds like fun though.”

“It is,” Bodie’d said firmly, “Mike and a few other lads came over before we opened and we did a few trial runs, they all loved it. I’m seriously thinking of suggesting it for the training centre.”

“The training centre?” he’d said, completely confused, “So this isn’t the training centre?”

“Nah. Christ, our boys would turn up and laugh. This is for the wonderful Joe Public, gets ‘em out into the fresh air to do a bit of team bonding and let off steam.”

He’d walked to the shed door and looked around again with fresh eyes, now able to fully appreciate the purpose and he’d turned back to Bodie, “It’s bloody fantastic, but how come you’re involved in this and not the training centre then?”

“I’ve been doing both, the training centre’s being built at the moment, I’ll show you, come on.”

He’d waited outside the shed looking around again while Bodie’d reset the alarm and locked up, this time noticing the odd splodge of paint on some of the tree trunks and in the scuffed up dirt behind the barrier tape which was obviously the boundary of the paintball arena. Walking back to the car, he was puzzling over what Bodie’d told him and itching to find out what his mate had been up to.

Once back in the car, Bodie’d explained. “It was an off chance remark that Mike made that first got me onto the idea. He saw the plans for the training centre and said that Richard would love the assault course. Got me thinking and I was out for a yomp one day and saw this parcel of land for lease. ‘Cos of all the trees it was dirt cheap, but perfect for this and it sort of sprung from there. We opened four months ago and it’s been fully booked every day since. We do mainly corporate work during the week and paintballing at the weekends, but anybody can come up and use it. We did some advertising and invited a couple of large local companies down an’ it all just took off. Getting planning was the biggest headache. Spent bloody hours down the planning office charming the two birds in there. Didn’t change a bloody thing mind, still took ages. Got it all through eventually though,” he’d said with a grin.

He’d shaken his head in disbelief, partly at the news that the women in the planning office hadn’t immediately succumbed. Bodie on a full charm offensive was a sight to behold and usually resulted in any females becoming putty in his hands in a very short space of time. The most amazing thing was how he had pulled all of it together in only a few months, it was incredible.

“The public liability insurance is a bit steep, but we’ve got all the safety kit and Phil, who manages it, keeps a tight ship. Anybody not following the safety procedures is immediately kicked off site.”

“Phil?” he’d said faintly.

“Yeah, mate of Mike’s. Ex-Army captain, just finished his commission and wanted to stay in the area ‘cos his kids are still at school.”

He’d wanted to say how proud he was of his best mate’s achievements, but worried it would sound trite and patronising or even worse, would embarrass Bodie. He’d decided to keep quiet until he could work out how to say what he wanted.

The training centre site was far bigger, but in many ways, there was less to see. The building work had clearly started. Low, partially built walls and concrete slabs scarred the muddy landscape, the dotted bright yellow heavy machinery stark against the cloudy sky. With the plans relinquished from their cardboard tube and spread over the bonnet of Bodie’s car, he could see what each set of foundations represented and he could picture the vision his mate had designed. He was impressed with all of it, although he’d not really expected anything less from his partner. “This is brilliant mate, just what we need. I just can’t believe you’ve done all this as well as set up a bloody business.”

As he’d rolled up the plans and slid them back into their cardboard tube, Bodie’d grinned at him, “All the lads’ll hate my guts when they get sent down here. The training plans I’ve devised make a session with Macklin look like a bleedin’ holiday camp.”

After they’d folded themselves back into the car he’d said offhandedly, "So, you found any birds to keep you warm at night whilst you've been down here?"

Bodie’d sighed dejectedly, "Nah, in the local, the bar's five deep with squaddies waitin' their turn, didn't fancy their sloppy seconds. And the only one behind the bar that there isn't a queue for’s got a moustache.”

"A moustache?" he’d queried, thinking back to Nurse Ratched and ZZ Top.

"Yeah, but to be fair he carries it off. He's called Dave." Bodie'd said with a snigger.

"You dumb crud." Well that confirmed the provenance of the home magazine under Bodie's coffee table. No bird, so Bodie must have bought the magazine himself. He’d briefly debated breaking the promise he'd made to himself the year before and had then dismissed it, annoyed with his own weakness for even thinking it.

"Eh?" he'd said, realising Bodie had been talking to him.

"I said, I saw Claire the other week when I nipped back to London to see Zebedee. And I’ve caught up with Melinda too," Bodie'd said cheerfully. "I've been out of Whitehall as early as midday a few times and she's on long haul at the moment, so she's doin' five days on, two days off. Thought I’d told you that," Bodie’d quirked a puzzled eyebrow at him.

"So the job's not all bad then?" he'd said dryly, ignoring the query.

"Aaw come on now, Ray, you wouldn't deprive a bloke of a little R&R after slogging away for Queen and country on a new training centre, would you?”

He’d chuckled, hoping that if his mate had sufficient energy spare to have two birds on the go at the same time, it meant his recovery was progressing well.

When they’d got back home, after a quick early lunch of turkey sandwiches and Bodie had demolished several mince pies, they’d called on Mike, and after introductions, Richard had asked to be in his car and so Mike had gone with Bodie. Following his partner up to the road he’d mentioned, Richard had been almost beside himself with excitement, asking a stream of questions about the car, its top speed and the engine.

Bodie had pulled out to the other side of the road and slowed to a standstill. He’d come up alongside him and a quick conversation had determined the finish line. From the passenger seat, Mike had provided a three finger countdown. “Hold on,” he’d cautioned Richard, who could only nod, too excited to speak, his eyes shining with eager anticipation.

As the last finger had disappeared, both cars had lurched forwards, evenly matched, rear wheels spinning slightly. It wasn’t too long before Bodie, always the better driver had started to inch ahead. He’d kept with him, but as the finishing line approached, Bodie’d had half a car length’s lead. On the penultimate corner, Bodie’s car had gone wide into a layby, wheels spinning on the loose gravel, losing traction and speed, but he’d recovered well, resulting in his car ending in second place, but only by inches. Well aware that the soft hearted sod had let him, or rather had let Richard win, Doyle’d grinned across at his mate who’d stopped alongside him. “Okay Rich?” Mike had asked. Richard was bouncing up and down in his seat, eyes now shining with adrenalin. “Yeah. And we won. Bodie said Ray drove slower, got that wrong, didn’t he.”

While Richard recounted every millimetre of the race in excited squeaks, they’d made their way somewhat more sedately back to the house, where Richard had beamed at him and said, “Thanks, Ray, that was brilliant,” before getting out of the car. After Bodie’d invited Mike and his family over for a drink later that evening they’d parted company from Bodie’s neighbours and as soon as they were back indoors, Bodie had immediately gone to the kitchen and had started busying himself with preparations for dinner that evening.

While the ham cooked, they’d chatted some more about the training centre and ‘Above and Beyond’ although certain topics had been avoided. Bodie’d been careful to avoid any questions about how he and Ellie were getting along and he’d been just as reluctant to find out what Bodie’s plans were once the training centre was built, fearful of the answer.    

After dinner, Mike turned up with his family and once the introductions were out the way, the beer and conversation flowed freely.  Mike and his wife, Sarah, were entertaining company and the kids were both happy enough planted in front of the telly with a glass of coke each. Eventually, with a sigh, Sarah announced that the two rug rats needed to go to bed as they had an early start in the morning visiting the in-laws. As they were going out the door, Bodie’d said to Mike, “Meant to tell you, I’ve been in touch with Jim and Chris, they’re both really interested in the manager jobs so I said I’d go and meet up with them both next week. Thanks for organising it.”

As Bodie’d come back into the lounge, Doyle’d said, “Manager positions? I thought you said a bloke called Phil was running ‘Above and Beyond’,” interested in the reasons for the further recruitment.  

“Well, I’ve got two more opening soon,” Bodie’d said almost bashfully, “They were much quicker to set up than doing it the first time. They should be up and running in about a fortnight if all goes to plan.”

After Mike’s family had been and gone, although it had been an enjoyable interlude, the discovery that Bodie had three ‘Above and Beyond’ sites had put a dampener on his mood and he’d spent the rest of the evening drinking heavily. Although he was genuinely pleased that Bodie had carved out a successful business, well aware that once Bodie made a decision, he quickly acted on it, he was conflicted by the thought that the obvious intent of a new career meant Bodie’d be leaving CI5. They'd relied on each other so much, for such a long time, it was strange knowing he’d not ever be working with his partner again. He’d been clinging onto the expectation that Cowley would bring Bodie back to work alongside him like he’d outlined last year. Maybe he’d changed his mind or maybe Bodie hadn’t wanted it. Either way, it looked like it was a fait accompli that Bodie would be moving on. Some of the decisions that Cowley was leaving to him to make weren’t easy ones to make and for a while he’d been feeling like he was on one of those impossible, continually rising M.C. Escher staircases. Finding his way through the diplomatic maze of bureaucracy and the Whitehall in-fighting that kept all the governmental plates spinning had, despite his initial reservations, become the easy bit, it was the operational stuff he was struggling with. Despite him and Bodie having been the agents on the other end of the piece of string for so many years, he was still finding it challenging to square his conscience and had started to actively fear the consequences of getting an operational decision wrong. Because the stakes were so high, he dreaded the day coming when it would happen and he’d considered it only a matter of time. He was already finding that his decision making was being compromised, which could in itself bring disastrous results. Bodie had always been the far more skilled tactician. His knowledge and personal interest of military strategy had given him a vast insight and over the years Bodie’d almost always been able to best his partner by coming up with a better plan when they’d been out in the field. Having Bodie alongside him would have just made things better anyhow. He’d wanted to talk through with Bodie what Cowley’s plans had been and find out why Bodie was making plans outside of CI5, but knew it wasn’t his place. He’d also still been worried about him. Sure, he was well on the way to a full recovery, he’d been damned lucky, but without Cowley’s guidance and to a certain extent, his own friendship, he’d wondered where Bodie would end up. Once his recovery was complete, running a business would not provide the outlet Bodie needed for his excess energies, and there was a risk he would end up doing something rash and reckless. For the first three or so years of their partnership, he’d wondered how much longer it would be before Bodie decided to move on from CI5. The merchant marines, the mercs, the Paras and the SAS, none of them had kept him for long. And then one day he’d stopped worrying, finally believing that they would stick together and that Bodie would see it through to the end alongside him. On that thought he’d given a doleful sigh and Bodie’d looked across at him, “You okay, mate?”

“I’m your partner, Bodie. You need lookin’ after.”

“I’ve been taking m’vitamins, Angelfish, don’t worry.”

Y’need a keeper, someone to watch your back.” He’d hiccupped loudly and looked mournfully first at the empty scotch bottle on the coffee table in front of him and then at the bottom of his empty glass. He’d gazed round abstractedly. “You took the other bottle of scotch away,” he’d mumbled despondently.

"Thought you’d probably had enough. You're plastered," Bodie had said indulgently, “I think you’re the one that needs watching out for, a hand up the stairs perhaps?” His partner had disappeared into the kitchen, returning with a large glass of water. He’d looked at it stupidly, before looking up at Bodie, owlishly blinking in confusion, wondering why he should drink it when he’d been drinking all night. After several minutes of Bodie’s firm coaxing, he’d eventually drunk it under protest. Bodie’d taken the glass off him, then hauled him up off the sofa with an "Upsy daisy, Ray," and had proceeded to gently shoo him to the bottom of the stairs before providing steadying support as he’d groggily staggered up them, indignantly protesting all the way. After guiding him into his room, Bodie’d gently tipped him down onto his bed and by hoisting first one foot up, then the other, had pulled off his shoes.

He’d looked up at his partner, struggling to focus, “Y’need to keep your strength up if you’re gonna get better, mate. Need looking after. I’ll do some cooking tomorrow while you’re out, all that leftover food you’ve got.”

Bodie’d turned the bedside lamp on and pulled the curtains before making his way to the door. He’d turned back with a smile. "Anything you say, sunshine. Get undressed and pour yourself into bed, I need to get m’head down. Some of us have got to be up bright and early. G’night, mate." Flicking the main light off, Bodie’d disappeared and as the room gyrated around him, he’d fumbled his way out of his clothes before sliding into bed.

He’d woken late in the morning to find headache tablets and a large glass of water left on his bedside table. Inordinately grateful for both and for Bodie’s clemency, he’d taken the tablets with a long gulp of water and had lay back down with a groan. The silence from outside that had seemingly existed the previous two mornings was now full of bird song and strange countryside noises, none of which he’d really noticed before and he’d buried himself back under the duvet, thinking to himself that he almost preferred the incessant hum of city living. Eventually, his pounding head had dulled from full blown pneumatic drill to sledgehammer and he’d dragged himself to the bathroom to complete his wake up.

Once dressed and downstairs, he’d made a beeline to the kettle and while waiting for it to boil, he’d studied the contents of the fridge and Bodie’s cupboards. After a fortifying cup of tea, he’d grabbed Bodie’s house keys from where they’d been thoughtfully left where he’d be sure to find them, and had set off to do some food shopping.

He’d spent a productive morning making various meals out of the Christmas leftovers and by the time Bodie’d returned, ready for a late lunch, the freezer was full to bursting and ham and cheese sandwiches were prepared ready for cooking under the grill.

“How’s your head, sunshine?” Bodie’d asked with a chuckle, “You were snoring like a wart hog when I left this morning.”

“Mine? Absolutely fine. I was up with the larks, must have only just missed ya,” he’d replied nonchalantly.

“You’re telling me you’re not feeling even the slightest bit delicate?” Bodie’d asked with a smirk and a knowing raise of his eyebrow.

“Better than earlier, in fact the headache’s almost gone. Was it you that gave the sparrows megaphones?” he’d said with an awkward grin. Not wanting to explain why he’d got so drunk the night before he’d quickly changed the subject. “I’ve made us a ham and leek pie for dinner tonight and in the freezer you’ve got three individual turkey and ham pies, turkey casserole, turkey stew and ham and corn chowder, so you won’t starve once I go back.”

Bodie’d been very appreciative of his culinary skills and full freezer, although he’d glanced at him across the table several times looking thoughtful as they’d eaten their sandwiches. When they’d finished, Bodie had gathered up the plates and said, “Come on, mate, we’re going for a yomp,” and he’d walked Ray a couple of miles across the fields to show him the stones. After they’d stood admiring Stonehenge for a while, as if to prove his fitness, at an outlandishly fast pace, Bodie’d run back.

When they’d stood by his car late that night, Bodie’d fumbled over his good bye. “It’s been superb, mate. I know the circumstances for you weren’t great, but it’s been a real belter having you here, it has. Best Christmas ever.”

He’d agreed, no CI5, no fighting with Ellie, just Bodie’s easy company. As he’d driven up the M3 towards London, the thoughts of seeing Ellie again and working at CI5 without Bodie had just depressed him.

Ever since that year, even when the job had tried its best to interfere, Bodie had made plans and had embraced Christmas. Although Doyle had a long held sneaking suspicion that first Christmas in Wiltshire had been arranged purely for his benefit rather than for Bodie's own, as if he was trying to keep Doyle distracted and blot the memory of the previous year. And it had worked, and over the years since, the memories had naturally faded and with Bodie’s eagerness to mark the occasion growing, Christmas had become a bigger and bigger event. Now he was busy with preparations from early December as well as trying to curtail Bodie's zeal for all things festive, having long ago proved that there was a thing called too much enthusiasm. Over the years, ground rules had also been set about how many presents, not that limiting Bodie to two presents really worked, his generosity often excessive. Ray chuckled to himself as he remembered the Christmas before last and the extremely large, irregular shaped present that had appeared under the tree with his name on it.

Once he’d ripped through the multiple layers of wrapping paper that had been holding all the contents together, he’d revealed eight different sized boxes, each one housing a saucepan that together made a comprehensive and matching set. Bodie must have had one hell of a job to wrap them all together like that. He’d probably used about a mile of wrapping paper too. He’d sat back and just stared at them.

“They all right, mate?”

He’d looked up to see Bodie watching him intently. He’d opened one of the boxes and pulled out its contents. The saucepans were solid, but not too heavy, and judging by the brand, bloody expensive. “They’re smashing.”

He’d seen Bodie visibly relax, “Was worried you’d think ‘em a bit, well y’know domesticated, but I know you like to cook and you’ll have more time now.”

“And you like to eat.” Doyle had grinned.

“There is that.”

“They’re perfect. Thanks, mate.”

He’d known for a long time he couldn’t compete with Bodie’s bank balance and he’d felt it was rather one sided, worried about not contributing his fair share. Especially when Bodie had first unveiled his plans for the ridiculously expensive house alterations he’d planned. Including his own desire for a swimming pool and a gymnasium, both revealed several years previously during an offhand and rather whimsical conversation that Bodie had obviously remembered. When he’d spoken about it to Bodie, expressing his concerns, he’d shrugged it off, “Can’t spend it when I’m dead. I’ve left it all to you anyway.”

He’d blown up a bit then, shouting he didn’t want Bodie’s bloody money, not now and not when he was fucking dead either.

Frustrated, Bodie had bitten back quite vehemently, “Look mate, I intend to retire in comfort. I think we both more than did our bit to earn that right. And just because the world is so fucking skewed that setting up a couple of jungle gyms, just so a bunch of fanciful city types can prance about pretending to be James bloody Bond, pays more than can be earned by the likes of CI5, on the street, risking their lives, doing the real bloody job.”

Doyle had interrupted Bodie’s impassioned speech, “You think we were like James Bond?”

“Well, never had the Aston Martin, did we.”

“Or the high tech weapons.”

“Or the gadgets.”

“Nah, we didn’t have a ‘Q’ did we.”

“Or a Miss Moneypenny,” Bodie had said ruefully.

“We had our own ‘M’ though with the old man. D’ya reckon the reason the head of Six is still called C, is ‘cos of Cowley?”

Bodie had scowled, his disdain for MI6 had festered for a long time, ever since Willis had tried to have him eliminated, worsened by his treatment by them in Bristol. “I don’t think Six have that much imagination. I think it’s short for Chief. He signs his letters with C.”

“Oh.”

“Probably ’cos he can’t spell Chief,” he’d added as an afterthought. “Could probably manage to write something in full beginning with C if it was only four letters. Maybe I’ll suggest it.”

Doyle had sniggered. “Our cars were good though, we had the Capris, then the 200SXs.”

“True. Although those bloody Nissans liked to go sideways, twitchy as hell and a bloody handful in the wet, they were. You had to be on guard all the time. I still miss the old Capri. Sure, it used to have a twitchy back end, but it could at least be tamed,” he’d said wistfully, then his voice had brightened, “Wonder if I could buy one, do it up, y’know. T’would be a good use of the garage.” Like a flash, he was back on topic. “Anyway, we had Betty, she was better than Miss Moneypenny.”

Doyle had nodded his approval, “Too right, and you’ve got Roger Moore’s mobile eyebrow.”

At Bodie’s expression and ridiculous Roger Moore impression, Doyle had exploded into noisy laughter and the argument had diffused into nothing.

No, Bodie had never really given any consideration to generally accepted boundaries. Give him an inch and he’d take bloody miles. Although on the surface he was indiscriminate in ignoring them, he had his own set of rules he lived by based on his own moral code. The really important thresholds would never be breached. His own girlfriends who’d been of significance, they’d automatically been out of bounds without anything ever being said. The casual birds though, they’d always been fair game, along with other stuff that in the grand scheme of things were inconsequential; The number of presents. The size of the Christmas tree, the food off his plate that Bodie would pinch without so much as a blink. Belongings that he’d help himself to without asking. Personal space. All of those, as well as a million other things. Bodie had always disregarded all of the limits, almost as if he didn’t know they were there. Had never been taught they should be. He would push Cowley too, and get away with far more than one would expect, although the Cow always used to bring him in line before he could go too far. Maybe it was the reason for the old man's paternal behaviour towards Bodie, giving him that guidance that parents gave to their offspring and that maybe Bodie’d never had. Over the years, he’d learnt to do the same. Bodie would test limits, push at them until made to stop and then with a metaphoric shrug, invariably, he would amiably comply. Until the next time.

Bodie was definitely up to something now though, he’d disappeared off with Jack yesterday morning, coming back an hour later with two six foot lengths of two by two soft wood, which they’d carried through the house straight to the garden and had promptly barricaded themselves in the shed.

When he’d taken them out mugs of tea, Bodie had greeted him at the shed door, filling the doorway so he couldn’t see past him and as he’d wandered back towards the house, he’d heard mischievous laughter. Both of them had disappeared off out again an hour ago and he considered it was only a matter of time before he found out what they were up to. It was nice to see Jack loosening up a bit, judging by the contents of his file, laughter and happiness had been lacking from his life for a long, long time. Bodie was a good remedy for that particular ailment and confident that the sensible and usually far too serious American would keep Bodie in check from going too far, he wasn’t curious enough to want to spoil the element of surprise of whatever the two of them were cooking up.

It was almost two hours later when he heard the Range Rover pull up and a moment later Bodie’s voice from the hallway, “Ray?”

“Up here, I’m painting. Did you want me?”

“Nah, carry on, sunshine, just lettin’ you know we were back.”

Studiously ignoring the strange knocks and other sounds along with lowered voices that wafted up the stairs he soon became absorbed in his painting again and his concentration was only broken when a significant time later, a plaintive voice called up, “Ray, are you coming down? I’ve made tea.”  

Taking that as the signal that Bodie and Jack were ready to reveal whatever it was they’d been doing, he yelled back down, promising his imminent presence before carefully rinsing out his brushes and jogging downstairs.

“Bloody hell. Nipped up to Trafalgar Square to get that did you?” he muttered as he surveyed the large Christmas tree that now dominated the far corner of the sitting room. It was fixed in place by a smart looking, painted wooden stand. The reason that the day before, Bodie had needed to wash the same hunter green paint off his hands, now explained.

Their efforts in the shed couldn’t be criticised, the solid supports and braces ensured stability for the tree that was easily twelve feet tall. But sure enough, Bodie had done it again, found a way to bypass the limits he’d set.

Intending to express annoyance, he turned to Bodie who looked enraptured as he stared at the tree. Unable to bring himself to burst the bubble of childlike joy, despite his reservations, Doyle couldn't help but grin.

“It’ll look great once we get the lights on it, Ray.” Bodie smiled happily, “Might need to get some more though, it’s a bit bigger than we’ve had before.”

“Just a bit,” said Doyle drily, shaking his head long-sufferingly as he took the mug of tea that Jack passed him. “May have to warn the neighbours though.”

“Neighbours? Why?” Bodie frowned slightly.

“Likely to be brownouts if you get enough lights to cover all of it.”

An irrepressible smile broke through Bodie’s frown, “Pillock. So, do you like it?”

It was no good, he was going to have to speak to Bodie, get him to rein it in. He glanced across. Bodie was watching him, the frown creeping back, the previous enchantment with the tree muted by concern. What the hell, the tree was in now. What good would it do to say anything? All it would achieve would be to spoil Bodie’s pleasure. With an accepting grin, careful to keep the note of sufferance out of his voice, he replied “Yes, mate. It’s great.”

A sideways hopeful glance and the corners of Bodie's mouth quirking upward were the reward for his restraint. "Yeah? You mean it?" All it took was a nod and the eyes regained their animated glow in an instant.

“Don’t expect me to bloody decorate it though, will you.”

 “Wouldn’t dream of it, mate. You’d never get all the pine needles out of y’golli hair for one thing,” Bodie said cheerfully. He turned to face Jack and rubbing his hands together gleefully, hotfooted it out of the lounge calling back over his shoulder, “I’ll get the boxes down from the loft. We can make a start with the lights.”

Jack glanced warily back at Doyle, who shrugged resignedly and muttered, “Bodie always was a bloody force of nature,” before giving Jack a wickedly sly grin, his eyes full of amusement, “and you get to deal with him this year.”

Jack gave a deep laugh and a nod of acknowledgement before sauntering out of the lounge.

Chapter Text

Doyle ripped off the wrapping paper and smiled happily at the revealed Classical CD, “Nice one, mate,”

“Why you’d want any piece of music that even the cloth eared bloke that wrote it considered bad enough to call pathetic is beyond me, sunshine.”

“Beethoven did not call it pathetic, its Sonata Pathétique, you uncultured cretin,” retorted Doyle equably.

Jack leant over Ray’s shoulder to look at the CD case. “Busy tedium doesn’t sound much better.”

“That’s Bizet’s Te Deum as you well know. Don’t encourage him,” Doyle said, nodding at Bodie.

Bodie grinned at Jack, “Whatever it is, it’s bound to be better than Mahler.”

“Um, I’ve got something for both of you, be right back.” Jack disappeared out of the room and they heard him softly make his way upstairs.

Bodie looked around him at all the gifts he’d unwrapped, "Socks, slippers, handkerchiefs, tie, aftershave...When did we get old, Ray?” he said contentedly.

“Age is a state of mind mate and you for one can’t be old, you haven’t even grown up yet,” said Doyle with an affectionate grin.

They heard Jack coming back down the stairs and as he came into the lounge he looked uncomfortable, almost embarrassed. He lifted one arm from where it had been resting against his breastbone to reveal a pale ginger kitten with bright blue eyes. “Um, remembering the conversation we had a while back, just wanted to show my appreciation for all you’ve both done, but if you don't want to keep him, I can take him back after the holidays. Otherwise, he's yours, you just need to go to the vets to get him signed over to you.”

“A kitten?” said Bodie, his face turning into a wide beaming smile, “Ah, that’s fantastic.”

“He’s got a bandage on his leg at the moment, he was a rescue. The vet said it can come off the day after tomorrow and that there shouldn’t be any problems,” Jack said, slightly apologetically.

Aaaw you got a poorly leg, mate?” said Bodie softly, putting his hand out for the kitten to sniff.

“Is he housetrained?” asked Doyle, watching the kitten who was now looking around with interest, while he mentally listed all the disadvantages of being a pet owner.

“Fully. I’ve got food and everything else he needs upstairs. He’s not allowed out quite yet. He just needs a name.” Jack bent down and gently placed the kitten on the floor.

“George,” chorused Ray and Bodie, both grinning widely.

The newly christened George beelined straight for the Christmas tree and after disappearing underneath it, silver tinsel started to shake in various places up the tree as he made his way through the branches. Suddenly his head appeared just over halfway up the tree and after looking around, he started to mew pitifully. Ray, who was closest to him, immediately stretched up to rescue him and with a calming stroke across his ginger fur, placed him gently on the carpet and George immediately disappeared back under the tree again. Obviously deciding not to scale its dizzy heights again, he soon cautiously ventured out from under it, and then scampered across the carpet to attack Bodie's shoelace, not appearing to be hindered by his bandaged leg. Once the shoelace had been hunted to George's satisfaction, he then started to claw his way up Bodie's left leg.

""Ow! Get ya hooks out," said Bodie, gently extracting his trouser leg and shin from George's needle like claws before bringing him up to his lap to stroke him. “Who decided to make kittens all cute, soft and warm and then stick tiny razor blades on their feet?”

George immediately started to climb onto Bodie’s shoulder and once he’d reached his target, immediately settled down, nestling into Bodie’s neck, purring loudly.

“You do realise that keeping George means you can't sing anymore Ray?”

Doyle looked at him, one quizzical eyebrow raised.

“People would think you were strangling him.” Bodie flashed him an innocent grin and cupped a protective hand around the kitten nestled into his neck.

Ray gave him a swift two fingered salute. He turned to Jack. “George is gorgeous,” Doyle was interrupted by a snort of laughter, “Never thought I’d hear you say those words in a sentence, mate,” said Bodie, still chuckling.

The kitten in question raised his head and looking rather indignant at being disturbed by Bodie’s mirth, clambered down to settle down on the sofa, curled against a cushion.

Studiously ignoring the sounds of Bodie sniggering, Doyle turned to Jack, “What I was going to say was George is gorgeous and we’d love to keep him. Right Bodie?”

Abso-bloody-lutely, he’s a belter, he is.”

No longer providing sleeping accommodation for George, Bodie took the opportunity to stand up, reaching under the tree and handed Doyle another present. It was small and flat, no doubt the joke present that Bodie always bought him. Previous instances included the obscenely garish Angel fish clock that had pride of place in the kitchen and the rubber duck and ducklings, bought because of his love of a lengthy, steaming bath. Ripping off the paper, he revealed a leather key fob. Turning it over, he saw it was identical to the one he’d last seen when he’d sold his old bike to pay for the divorce, an original, genuine Harley Davidson key fob.

He laughed, “Thanks mate, you remembered. Always said I wished I’d kept it, bloody daft I gave it away with the keys when I sold the bike. Where the hell did you manage to find one, they’re as rare as hen’s teeth.”

"Ah!" Bodie said, and turned a pair of guileless eyes towards him with a smile. There was a momentary look of mischievousness as he exchanged a quick grin with Jack, “Found it at one of the places we went to when we were out looking for parts for the Capri.”

Doyle pulled out two presents from under the tree, sliding them across the floor to Jack. He looked at Ray in surprise who shrugged nonchalantly.

“From Father Christmas,” Bodie supplied helpfully.

Jack smiled, he’d already been gratified by the sight of three stockings hanging from the mantelpiece that had greeted him that morning, the mix of fruit, nuts and sweets in his stocking were a kind gesture that had brought back fond memories of Christmases when Kim had been small.

He ripped the paper away from the larger of the two packages to find a pile of new clothes. He looked at them for a long time, they’d been chosen with care that much was obvious. There was a shirt almost identical to the one that had been ruined when he’d been stabbed, a dark, almost black top, to replace the one he was wearing which had started to fray slightly at the cuffs, and a new pair of jeans as well as socks and underwear. All practical and all of high quality. He blinked before finally looking up at both Bodie and Ray, swallowing heavily, “I don’t know what to say. Thank you.”

“Best make sure they fit,” said Doyle kindly, “anything that doesn’t, we can exchange.”

“Santa thought they might be useful on your travels,” said Bodie, smiling. “Go on, open the other one.”

Jack did as he was bid, reaching down to the much smaller packet, he pulled the paper off and stared in silence at the branded box in his hand. He carefully pulled off the lid to reveal a military grade watch, identical to the one on his wrist save for the large crack across the width of the glass dial. He shook his head slowly, “I can’t accept this, it’s too much, way too much,” he whispered, a lump forming in his throat at the efforts these two men had gone to. The brand of watch was not only expensive, it was exclusive too and so damned hard to get hold of.

Doyle, sensing that Jack needed some time to compose himself, reached under the tree again, pulling out a vast rectangular gift that despite its size had been hidden strategically right at the back and pushing its bulk across the floor to Bodie’s feet, and said, “Last one, sunshine.”

“For me?” Bodie’s face lit up in surprise. Doyle nodded and smiled at the rapturous look on Bodie’s face, pleased that he'd been able to really splurge out on his mate. Andy was now out of full time education and had worked over the summer, refusing any financial support and he'd thoroughly enjoyed researching and sourcing the massive track layout that Bodie was now ripping the paper from.

Bodie chuckled delightedly and rubbed his hands together, “Scalextric. Aaah, that’s fab, mate. We can have races.”

Doyle reached under the tree to pull out a small boxy package which he passed over to Bodie, “Forgot about this one, here ya go.”

Bodie ripped off the paper and laughed gleefully at the two slot cars, both Ford Capris, one silver, one gold.

Bodie, already down on his hands and knees was starting to open up the bigger box.

Despite the generous proportions of their living room, the track layout at nearly two hundred square feet, was so big they’d need to move furniture around to set it up downstairs, it would probably be better in the gym. “Don’t want to be a killjoy, mate, but we need to be setting off to the old man’s soon,” warned Doyle. Bodie looked longingly at the contents and then regretfully replaced the lid. “Yeah, you’re right. I want to stop off at the lock up on the way, anyhow.”

Bodie pushed himself up off the floor and before Doyle could ask why they had to go via the lock up, Bodie exclaimed, “Hell, what are we going to do about George?” He looked at Ray and Jack. “We don’t have a pet carrier and we can’t leave him here on his own, he’s too little,” he said, concern wrinkling his features. He moved back to the sofa and gently rubbed behind the kitten’s ear. George squirmed in delight, rubbing himself against Bodie’s finger, before capturing it in his front paws and licking it with a rough tongue. Bodie gently waggled his finger and George responded, closing his jaws around it, gnawing gently.

“I can stay and look after him if you want?” offered Jack.

“Not bloody likely, you’re joining me as galley slave in the kitchen. Do you have any idea how boring preparing sprouts is?” retorted Bodie plaintively.

Knowing full well that the kitten wouldn't come to any harm if left alone for a few hours, but that Bodie wouldn't hear of it being suggested, Doyle grinned at Bodie’s poorly disguised soft heartedness towards Jack, “Nobody stays behind, it’s Christmas. George can come with us. I’m sure we can find a couple of cardboard boxes for the car that can double up as a bed, it’s fine. We ought to introduce the old man to his namesake anyhow.”

Bodie looked cheered by the suggestion and bounded off to find the necessary boxes and Ray and Jack started loading up the car with all the food and drink.

*      *     *

Bodie pulled up at the door to the lock up and as he applied the handbrake, he turned to Doyle in the passenger seat. “Would you give us a hand, mate? Jack, you okay staying with George for a minute?”

Jack nodded and Bodie killed the engine before getting out. With a quick spin of the keys on his finger, he found the one he wanted and unlocked the shabby, but well secured door. Flicking the light switch he swiftly made his way to the back of the large storage unit. Doyle followed him in, somewhat surprised that Bodie had revealed the lockup’s existence to Jack. Not even Cowley knew about this place. Although much of Bodie’s old stash had been disposed of when they’d retired, the weapons long gone, there was still an old car, its battered bodywork belying its mechanical state. He was fairly sure that Bodie had one or two sets of false ID and the odd weapon still tucked away somewhere though. Old habits and all that. Over the years Bodie had revealed several of his boltholes to him. And he’d never asked how many or how long he’d owned any of them, but he’d often speculated that Bodie would always have at least one that he would never know about, but that was fine. “What we doin’ here, mate?”

Bodie strode over to the back of the unit and gestured to a tarpaulin, “Give us a hand here, Ray. Help me lift this off and you’ll see.” Doyle moved to the other end of the crumpled tarpaulin and reached over and they simultaneously pulled it back. A cloud of dust blew up, causing Bodie to immediately sneeze and sniff wetly. Used to his mate’s standard reaction to even a speck of dust, Doyle murmured absently, “Bless you,” as his eyes widened in surprise when he saw what had been revealed. Crouching down, he stretched a hand out to the fire engine red fuel tank that was resting on a mass of motorcycle parts.“

“It’s a Nineteen-sixty five Harley XLRTT,” said Bodie, “Well it will be when you’ve put it all together. At the moment it’s a motorbike jigsaw puzzle.” He grinned at Doyle who was just staring, his gaze alternating between the pile of bike parts and the fuel tank. “The bloke I bought it off assured me it was complete and I couldn’t see anything obvious missing.” Bodie paused, trailing off.

Doyle pondered the likelihood that Bodie had just happened to find the bike while out looking for parts for the Capri with Jack. He was absolutely poleaxed. It was the model of bike he’d dreamed of owning for years and it had only been available by special order when it was new and apart from anything else, the amount of dust on the tarp suggested the pile of parts had been there much longer than a few weeks. No, Bodie had clearly gone to great lengths to ferret out the bike and typically was playing it down. Considering it was over twenty years since he’d been forced to sell his old one to help pay for the divorce, he doubted that anybody else he knew would even have remembered he’d ever owned a bike and certainly nobody else on the planet would have known that a Harley XRLTT was his dream machine. Crouched, still looking at the bike, Doyle felt immensely humbled. All the small memories that Bodie must have stashed away over the years that he kept producing. ‘A lifetime of shared experiences.’ he thought, reminiscently.

He was jerked from his thoughts by Bodie’s voice, “Is it the wrong one?”

Doyle gulped, “It’s bloody fantastic, Bodie.”

After another lengthy silence, as Doyle had examined all the parts with wide eyes, he stood up, his knees creaking slightly, and grabbing Bodie’s head with both hands, fingers splayed above each ear, pulled it down, giving him a smacking kiss on his crown.

Turning back to stare at the pile of bike bits, he’d muttered, “This must have cost you a bloody fortune."

“Nah, got a deal, I did,” came the offhand reply.

Doyle had a pretty good idea how much the bike, even in its current state, would have set Bodie back, and it wouldn’t have been an insignificant amount.

But it wasn’t about the cost when it came down to it. That was more of a concern than anything else and he’d give Bodie a talking to about that later. It was the time, the effort and the thoughtfulness behind the fact that Bodie had remembered him expressing his desire to own such a bike, all those years ago.

“Thanks a million, best present ever."

With a light snort, Bodie casually disagreed, “Nah, best present was the Angelfish clock, sunshine."

He glanced at Bodie who looked happy enough, but the memories of when he’d first learnt how much his partner had endured in Bristol and that first Christmas together when he’d discovered it had all been caused by Bodie trying to protect his back had been recently resurrected and were fresh in his mind. For only the second time in his life, he wanted to express how much his mate truly meant to him, needing to make sure Bodie knew. "Have I ever said how much I love you, you stupid bastard."

Bodie let out a deep chuckle, "and they say romance is dead."

Between them they re-covered the motorcycle parts, and as Doyle straightened up he said, “Thanks, Bodie. And not just for the present, but for being the best mate I could have ever wished for.”

Looking slightly uncomfortable, Bodie appeared to be struggling to express a reply to the sincere declaration, unable for once to hide behind humour.

Leaving it for a beat, Doyle put his mate out of his misery and smiled, "You don’t have to say anything, I heard you told Jack that we were each other’s family. You got that right, sunshine.”

As they made their way out of the garage, he threw an arm over his partner’s shoulder and squeezed. Bodie’s arm clutched him back as he grinned at him lazily. "Can I just check something? ‘Ave you suddenly decided you're a poof or can I let go now? If we stroll out there like this, Jack's going to think we were winding him up and that we really are bent.” Doyle laughed as he stepped back, releasing Bodie and pushing the larger man away with a playful shove followed by a solid thump on his arm. "Prat,” said Doyle, smiling, “You really don't have to keep buying me stuff, mate. I stand by what I said years ago. I'm your personal barnacle, remember?"

Bodie’s eyebrows shot up in surprise that his partner recollected the declaration, said so long ago, before smiling widely, inordinately pleased, followed by a small self conscious shrug, “Wanted to, mate. Now the Capri’s finished, you've gotta have summat in the garage to work on. No point ‘avin it otherwise, is there.”

*      *     *

“Who's this then?” Cowley smiled as the ball of ginger fluff encased in Bodie’s arms unfurled and inquisitive blue eyes looked around as the kitten extended a paw and stretched a yawn.

“Meet George, sir.”

The old man’s eyes glinted with humour. “A fine name,” he said cordially, his mouth twitching irrepressibly as the kitten was held towards him by way of introduction.

Taking him onto his lap, the kitten sniffed cautiously and then with complete trust settled down on his left knee. As he gently stroked the newcomer, Cowley looked across at the three men now settled into the leather furniture, all three of them truly incorruptible, a valuable trait in anybody within the secret service and considered each of them in turn. Bodie and Doyle, his best team for so many years and his worthy successors. Young scallywags the pair of them. Even now. He fondled the kitten behind the ear. George, indeed. And he’d so nearly lost both of them more than once over the years. Doyle shot in his own flat through an act of momentary carelessness, not locking his front door. Bodie had got to him in time, although Doyle’d died for a minute on the operating table, the bullet so close to his heart. Then against the odds, getting back to 'A' squad fitness, defying the doctors. He'd been so gratified when he'd been able to inform Doye he'd passed his assessment. And Bodie. The man’s strength of will to get his fitness back after his head injury had been immeasurable and he’d done it with sheer guts and determination, despite not thinking he had a future in CI5. Bodie deserved tremendous credit for that alone. He took a moment to reflect on the little things he had done to help the man along. The short stint of basic training, just enough to get Bodie’s blood pumping again and erase the despondency that had hung around the man like a cloud, until Bodie’s own self-motivation had been ready to take over. Bodie’d never questioned that it came to an end early, which had been his objective. To leave him in Winchester for any longer than a month would have eroded the man’s pride. Then the stint in Salisbury, letting him go to ground elsewhere than CI5 to lick his wounds and recover his physical fitness in his own time, away from those that knew him, while creating a legacy that would forever remind the laddie of his value. Even more pleasing had been that the committee had accepted all of Bodie’s proposals in their entirety. Almost unheard of in those circumstances with so many security agencies involved. He'd been inordinately proud of his man when he'd heard that. When Bodie’d first come back to CI5 he’d had lingering doubts. Although never as obviously truculent as Doyle, Bodie’s subservience had been marked. Despite the odd hint of insolence, he had considered the lad’s behaviour beyond the bounds of Bodie’s typical military discipline to accept orders. Unsure whether it was a leftover of Bodie having been in a military environment or a permanent state caused by his injury, he’d surreptitiously observed Bodie’s behaviour. In fact, Bodie had met all his hopes and expectations. Fairly quickly becoming completely disruptive around HQ, rather than quietly working in records as ordered. Then lastly, the time spent with Macklin and the recruits, perhaps a harsh way to prove to Bodie that he had what it took and could still have a valued place within CI5. Brian had told him as much, certainly he’d reported that Bodie had behaved exactly as he’d hoped and that had been another tick in the box that his man was truly recovered. The brooding menace that Brian and Charlie had both reported was the antithesis of the anxious docility he’d seen in down in Bristol and had still seen in evidence in Repton. When he’d seen him awake in Bristol that first time, Bodie’s eyes had been filled with hesitation and even though the physical changes since he’d last seen him were significant, the substantial weight loss and the injuries, it was his eyes that had made the biggest difference. Even when he’d first been released and he’d despatched him to Salisbury there had been a hint of lingering timidness and there’d certainly been none of the customary backchat. Bodie unsure of himself had been a concern and a direct contrast to the agent he had been before. He knew his men, knew that Bodie would obey his orders, under sufferance quite possibly, but would obey them all the same. It had all been down to Bodie in the end though. Yes, of course the laddie could play up on occasion, but only when he knew he could get away with it. Certainly, in the early days, his expense chits had been a remarkable fabrication more than anything else, but that had easily been rectified. It was a game, like a small child, he'd see what he could get away with, laziness, cheekiness, whatever and he could usually be brought into line with just a look, but more importantly, when it mattered, Bodie would give his all. The challenge with him had always been to channel all of that energy in the right direction, providing boundaries and structure without Bodie realising that he was doing so. He’d always needed to be kept occupied because with that particular young man, boredom led to waywardness. Despite all that, the man was not short of self-discipline and in all the time he’d been with CI5, Bodie'd never let him down. And he regretfully thought the same couldn't be said for himself.

Engineering the psychiatrist’s availability and deferring Bodie’s release from Repton until he was definitely fit enough to be moved on to Salisbury had been perhaps unkind, but Doyle had come through that Christmas as he'd hoped. Sending him to Salisbury Plain, telling him that CI5’s reputation would be reflected by his behaviour had been enough. Bodie had never been one to readily accept defeat and his tenacity and loyalty to CI5 had seen him through the gruelling months of his physical recovery. His energy and vitality were an integral part of who he was and without it, Bodie would have never coped well in any role beyond the ‘A’ squad. The protective headgear that he’d insisted the lad wore in the gym whenever assessing a new intake, Bodie’d hated it, complaining it affected his primary senses when it was on, but he’d complied, albeit sulkily, and worn it.

Cowley sighed as he thought back. From the little that Doyle had said and the timing of the subsequent divorce, Bodie’s insistence to go solo had been something to do with Doyle’s ex-wife. They had been close as partners before Doyle's marriage and they had spent much of their free time together too. He'd never discouraged it, the close friendship and reliance on each other had enhanced the partnership on the job and had also given Bodie a reason to stay. Marriage was a difficult balancing act on the ‘A’ squad and he suspected that the closeness as well as the job had been a significant contributor to the breakdown of the relationship between Doyle and his wife.

Despite all Bodie’s posturing about looking after number one, he was the least self-centred and selfish person he knew. Certainly Doyle could still learn from him. That op in Bristol had turned out to be a disaster from the start and even now, he couldn’t honestly say his only motive for leaving Bodie undercover for so long had been to gain the inside information on the splinter group. He’d been furious that Bodie had resorted to blackmail, his threat of resignation forcing his own hand to split up his top team and jeopardising his long held plans for them to take over as joint controllers. He had considered Bristol an apt punishment at the time, knowing how much Bodie had hated undercover work and he’d been gone less than a month when he’d received the uncorroborated whisper of intel saying that Bodie’s cover had been blown. Of course there’d been due diligence. It was standard procedure to check before an agent was sent undercover into any situation. But still angry with the man, he’d chosen to ignore the hearsay and rather than review the quality of the appraisal undertaken, he’d chosen instead to channel his energies in other directions. He’d let his own sentiments cloud his judgement and interfere with the decisions he’d made in the running of CI5, resulting in the serious injury and near death of a top operative and he was yet to forgive himself for that transgression. He still felt significant guilt that he'd left Bodie unprotected in those circumstances. His primary objective had been to secure the evidence against the gang, but in hindsight, he acknowledged that he'd let his personal feelings get in the way, wanting to metre out a punishment for Bodie’s tantrum. Deciding he'd been far too lenient with the lad for far too long and confident that a lengthy spell undercover would make him think twice before making such demands again, he’d left him out in the field. And then things had started to go wrong. Each carefully planned route of contact had been closed off, one by one. Bodie’s check-ins becoming more and more erratic and infrequent. He should have known long before then there was a problem, the intel being sporadically provided by the agent had been off, hadn't tallied with anything he’d already known. Then all communication from Bodie had dried up completely and the minister's refusal to authorise an extraction had left Bodie dangerously exposed. Of course, he'd eventually found out that both MI5 and MI6 were involved, the French arm of the drug gang guaranteeing MI6’s involvement and overall jurisdiction. He’d even tried talking to the head of MI6 and had tried to call in a few favours, but with the excuse of the risk of compromising the larger operation being run, Willis'd typically refused to cooperate and he'd been backed into a corner, having had no choice, but to leave Three-seven to the fates. Bodie had been used as a perfect distraction, taking the heat off the undercover MI6 agents and viewed by them, not for the first time, as completely expendable. They had justified their actions by claiming that they had immediately called it in when Bodie’s body had been dumped, clearly left for dead, after he'd been imprisoned for months by the drug runners. As well as being half starved, repeatedly questioned and viciously beaten during his incarceration, according to the MI6 agent who had been present during the interrogations, Bodie, a man of colossal mental strength hadn't said a word. He was glad that Bodie’s memory had blanked much of that time out, but he’d made sure the laddie knew he hadn't talked. That would have done more harm to him than good if it had been left as an unknown. He had instead, repeatedly goaded his captors, fuelling their irritation to create distraction. That, he could well believe. Being irritating was one of Master Bodie’s more questionable talents and when he put his mind to it, that young man was more than capable of inciting even a saint to transgress.

At least he'd managed to protect Doyle from all that, although that also had ultimately been to protect CI5. Doyle would have gone to Willis, guns blazing,if he'd ever told him even a tenth of what had gone on and both Doyle’s tenure, and likely CI5 itself, would have been history. Cowley’d firmly believed that CI5 should defend the innocents, but in order to achieve that, he’d expected a lot from his agents and, he thought wryly, sometimes, he’d expected too much. Cowley considered himself a grade A bastard for all he'd put his men through, but it went with the job. Not only had they been his best team in the field, the Bodie and Doyle double act in his office had almost always brightened his day. Aye, Doyle hadn’t been the only one to miss Bodie for the months he’d spent in Bristol, his irreverence had mostly been entertaining. Not that he’d ever tell the lad that, mind. He’d been so very relieved to hear from Doyle that Bodie’d come round from his coma and more than delighted that he’d opted to come back. He’d been worried that Bodie would revert to previous form and move on to pastures new. He’d always had a soft spot for him, their shared military backgrounds had probably had much to do with it, he mused, although Bodie’s background had been very different from his own and the laddie’s history had certainly not been an easy read. The man had seen far too much, and suffered for it far too young and gave credence to the impression on first meeting that he was cynical and cold. He'd not wanted an unfeeling killing machine on his books; that wasn't what CI5 was about, but he’d thought he’d seen something beyond the facade. He'd been proved right so many times since. The laddie may have been a blunt instrument, still was in many respects, yet even in the early days, the difficult ops would always leave Bodie appearing detached.The cool veneer that had often looked like callous apathy had come down like a shutter every time. In fact, in the early days, it had been believed to be indifference by many of the other agents, his partner included. As it was only those who had feelings that would be affected, regardless of how those feelings manifested, he’d considered it proof enough that Bodie wasn’t as cold as he made out. As one of the poets that Bodie favoured so much, once said, no man is an island, although Bodie’d been as close to it as a man could get. Doyle was the complete opposite, wearing his heart on his sleeve, and believing that they could serve as suitable antidotes for the other, he’d partnered them.  He also liked to think that over the years he’d guided the younger man, acting as a paternal role model. That applied to both of them actually. He’d always known that Doyle had always thought he had a soft spot for Bodie. In truth, he’d let both of them get away with far more than the other operatives, it was just that Bodie had needed to learn that somebody cared and valued him, not just for him as an agent, but for him as a person and that he wasn't just a means to an end. Sure enough, with the familial environment of CI5 around him, Bodie had slowly changed, becoming that little bit more open, eventually allowing himself and Doyle to get a little closer to him. He'd also repaid that sentiment in spades. Impudent he may be, but Bodie was at heart, a kind and thoughtful man and despite all that he’d seen, done and suffered, he’d come through the other side. It was an indubitable testimony to the man’s resilience.

And Doyle, always harder to deal with than Bodie. His natural prickliness and short temper meant that sometimes he was hard to like. He would occasionally let the stress of doing his job well get to him; his dedication to protecting the roses and lavender. But then the man’s idealism had generated a perennial internal conflict that he’d had to deal with. And once that was understood, it made it easier to see past the irritability and appreciate the individual underneath. He was a man of great integrity and he’d come to respect that idealism anew as he’d spent more of the day to day with Doyle, training him for succession, knowing he was the right man for the job. And he too, returning to the streets after his near fatal shooting. Fighting his way back to the high standard of fitness that the A squad demanded had taken tremendous courage. And although he'd had Bodie's support from the sidelines, coercing, goading and encouraging him as necessary, it had still required Doyle's immense strength of character to make it. Over the years they’d been in ‘A’ squad, Doyle had learnt to work with, and manage Bodie, a feat in itself; As MI6 had observed, that young man could be remarkably irritating. He’d also given some balance to him; Bodie’d had to become self-sufficient from a very young age, and letting him see that compassion wouldn’t be considered a failing had helped bring that balance. And Bodie in turn, and in his own way, had helped Doyle deal with the dark side of the job. Against the odds, even though they were individually both top agents, they had forged a partnership that had become far greater than the sum of its parts. If Bodie hadn’t come back, he’d thought he might lose Doyle as well at one point. The decisions required to send men into dangerous situations, to potentially make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good were never easy and Doyle had struggled with that aspect of the job far more than was healthy. He, himself had never relished that part of the business, having to be merciless was never something he enjoyed, but realizing and accepting that losses were inevitable and that if the loss of one man meant the saving of hundreds of innocent people, then the loss was defensible. Of course he’d grieve the death of any of his agents, but viewed the losses as an unfortunate, yet necessary forfeiture. Fortunately, over the years, the losses had been relatively few and could have been so much worse. Bodie had handled it all in much the same way, recognising that the men under his command were highly trained and had made sure they stayed that way, so were as prepared to deal with the risks as they possibly could be and that sometimes it was the only way to get results.

The two of them were yin and yang, differing personalities and yet like light and shadow, each of them reliant on the other for existence. Proof enough were the numerous times they’d saved each other’s life over the years. He was proud of both of them, inordinately proud and he considered them both very much the sons he’d never had. Despite all the pressures of the job, the two had remained friends through all the ups and downs of their time in CI5 and he was glad they had each other to share the enjoyment of their well-deserved retirement. They’d all long ago missed their chance to settle down with anybody. CI5 had made it near enough impossible for him to have a successful relationship and he could count on one hand all of the agents over the years who had stayed married for more than two years. Of those, all of them had a spouse somewhere in the security services and so truly understood the demands of the job. Both Bodie and Doyle had been in the same position. Not that he’d ever considered Bodie the marrying kind and had said as much to him thirty years ago, and Doyle’s failed marriage had seemingly eradicated his wish to settle down. Perhaps accepting that the job was nigh on incompatible with a long term and committed relationship, yet too important to walk away from, but at least their enduring friendship provided companionship. His two top operatives had, against the odds, survived. During their time on the streets they'd risked their lives on almost a daily basis. Surviving due to their exceptional partnership, skills and reactions although Lady Luck had also had a hand in.

 Although he’d nearly blown it with both of them some months after. One of the few occasions that his triple think hadn’t worked. Placing all the pieces together and foolishly coming up with the wrong picture. The reason for Bodie’s disappearance. Bodie requesting a two bedroom property from accommodations so they could flat share. That he had combined all that with the rumours and jokes that had buzzed around the squad room for years had very nearly seen them both walk out the door. In fact he’d half expected to see their resignations arrive on his desk for several weeks afterwards. And justifiably so, he reflected grimly. He’d had no business accusing them of impropriety and being a blackmail risk based on nothing more than rumour and supposition, but he’d been swayed by the need to protect CI5. Doyle had been furious. Bodie had typically come out with some tasteless, ribald remark, although it had done little to disguise his cold fury and disappointment. And it was the disappointment in Bodie's eyes at his belief they would have deceived him so that had told him that he had got it so very very wrong. Doyle had momentarily been rendered speechless before he’d burst forth with an angry stream of invective at the accusations being laid out before them. He had tried to justify his accusation by him always having to know what the position was in case anybody at the Ministry expressed any level of enquiry towards their living arrangements and had chosen to investigate. If he’d thought about it rationally at the time, Bodie’s steady stream of girlfriends would have precluded any possibility on the basis of free time alone. His sexual exploits had been legendary throughout his time in CI5 up to that point, although over the subsequent years, the additional responsibility of being joint controller had appeared to curb his pace. Or maybe it had just been age. Or perhaps he had just learnt to talk about his conquests less. Doyle had started working his way through the female population of London again after the divorce too, although at a much slower rate. Before he’d met his wife, he’d been almost as bad as Bodie, both of them sowing their wild oats far and wide and with remarkable frequency, if the tales of their exploits were to be believed. There had been plenty of people in Whitehall at that time that would have liked nothing more than to see CI5 brought to its knees, despite all the good results they’d achieved over the years. No, not the first time he’d had to put CI5 above the individuals that served it and it hadn’t been the last, by a long chalk.

And Jack, who was an interesting mixture of the two finest operatives he’d ever known. Resilient and smart, as well as ruthless when necessary, but also fiercely honest and loyal. A soldier, but a skilled, free-thinking one, as well as a leader, much like Bodie. Certainly not cold hearted, but neither did he appear to be conflicted, very similar to Three-seven, in fact. But Jack had that moral superiority that he quietly admired in Doyle and both of them lacked that self-containment of Bodie’s that meant they would seek out real human relationships. And yet that had been ripped away from him by the death of his wife and Audrey Raines being kidnapped by Cheng. Renee Walker appeared to be the catalyst for tipping him over the edge, he’d likely got close to her too, it certainly would explain the reaction. The pinnacle to all the events that had isolated him from the world and prevented him from leading a normal life.

Jack had certainly more than earned the right to be trusted by his government and its President and they had both spectacularly failed him, he surely didn’t deserve to be a hunted man. Now he would forever be deprived of the right to enjoy peace after the wars he’d fought, all because he’d found himself waist deep in corruption and treachery from the highest levels of government. Instead, whichever way he chose to live his life, he was now destined to suffer and be spat upon by the filth of the earth rather than live as a free man. Prolonging his stay with Bodie and Doyle had worked up to now, but he knew that Jack would be moving on soon, regardless of his own plans. Bodie had already fed back the American’s reluctance to compromise them all any further by letting them continue to harbour an international fugitive. He needed to start revealing his aces. Bodie had confirmed he was up to the task. Neither of them would have been prepared to send Jack into the lion’s den if he’d had no chance. Although not quite the traditional Christmas present, he’d give Jack the file on Karl Rask today and he was confident it would be appreciated by Jack all the same.

Cowley watched on in silent, wry amusement as Doyle started to organise the two younger men, reeling off a series of jobs that were waiting in the kitchen before sinking down next to him and idly scratching behind the now sleeping kitten’s left ear. “Bodie’s sixtieth birthday is the week after next. He doesn’t want a big fuss, was quite adamant in fact. He said a meal with us two would be perfect. Was wondering if you’d be free, sir?” Doyle looked at him expectantly.

“Aye, that would be very pleasant, thank you. While I remember, I’ve something for you, for all three of you actually, Jack included. The details are all in here. Open it tomorrow, just you.” And as he said it, Cowley reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a small white envelope, handing it to Doyle.  

Mid-afternoon, they all sat down to Christmas dinner with all the trimmings and Doyle watched with glee as Bodie filled his plate. Of course he piled it high, but for a change, willingly included all the vegetables. Carrots and roast parsnips were perhaps less surprising, but every year he ate the sprouts. Despite the fact that Bodie was a veritable human dustbin, for the other three hundred and sixty-four days of the year, sprouts were treated like an enemy combatant. In fact the only other green thing that he'd ever seen Bodie let past his lips without vehement protest was when the silly bugger had ordered bloody daft crème-de-menthe cocktails for them both, complete with paper brollies and cherries.

It was only when they were all sitting down after dinner with coffee and a scotch that Cowley produced a file seemingly from nowhere and ignoring Doyle’s slight frown of disapproval, he presented it to Jack along with instructions for them all to read it and destroy it once the information within had been absorbed.

Chapter Text

Bodie jerked the piece of string and watched in vague delight as George pounced after it. "He's gonna be a great mouser," he said proudly, looking up at Ray from his position sprawled on the carpet. "Long as he doesn't chase after the sparrows or crap in the herbaceous borders, he and I will get on fine," said Ray darkly. "Don't listen to 'im, mate," Bodie reached out and ran his fingers gently down each side of George's head, flattening his ears. George pulled away, shaking his head, before putting a paw up to Bodie’s fingers.

Ray slowly shook his head and rolled his eyes at his mate’s kitty coddling, “I’ve just made a pot of tea and lunch will be in forty-five minutes. I’ve got something for you as well. An early birthday present.”

*      *     *

Bodie wandered into the kitchen with a bundle of ginger fur draped around his shoulders, now George’s customary position. Doyle considered with a mix of affection and amusement how quickly the kitten had very much become Bodie’s pet. But then the great, soft-hearted sod had encouraged it too by taking the bloody thing upstairs at night to sleep on the end of his bed as well as frequently seeking him out for play time or a cuddle during the day. It was a fair bet that wherever Bodie was, George was close by.

Fortunately, Bodie didn’t seem to suffer any ill effects from George’s fur, certainly his somewhat sensitive sinuses hadn’t seemed to have any problems. Just as well really, Bodie would’ve been devastated if it’d turned out he’d had an allergy. He’d also been decidedly tolerant of the dusting of fine hairs that the kitten left behind on his clothes, Bodie was normally fastidious about his apparel, yet he’d just given him a nonchalant shrug the first time he’d seen Bodie use the clothes brush before leaving the house and that now lived within easy reach in the understairs cupboard.

"You'll need to book him in for his injections in a couple of weeks."

Bodie looked stricken, "I know it's best for George, but bloody hell, he's so little still, seems cruel."

"Nothing compared to chopping his knackers off at four months old."

Bodie winced sharply, "And there was me thinking a moggy’s life was just round after round of sleepin’ and eating.”

“Nah, it’s better for him in the long run. Stops ‘im roamin’ off and wanting to hump every Molly in sight.”

His face took on a serious expression. “In fact, thinking about it, I’m surprised nobody thought of doing the same to you in your younger days, mate.”

“Only one thing to say to you about that observation, Goldilocks,” said Bodie calmly. “Bollocks.”

Doyle grinned, sometimes being the mature, sensible one in their friendship had its own rewards.

Doyle handed Bodie the small white envelope he’d been guarding since Christmas. “Present from Cowley.”

“What is it?”

Despite knowing the envelope’s contents, having followed Cowley’s instructions, Doyle shrugged, “Open it and tell me, I'm all ears."

Bodie took the envelope with a grin. "Noticed that," he said, “Like a bleedin’ wing nut, you are. Lugs like an elephant’s.”

“African I presume?” said Doyle patiently, having heard it all before. Exchanging amiable insults had been a habit for over thirty years.

“’Course,” replied Bodie, as he ripped open the envelope, “they’re the biggest, aren’t they.” Bodie paused as he read the envelope’s contents before looking up, eyes shining, “Bloody ‘ell, the old man’s surpassed himself. What were we saying a couple of months ago? I swear he’s bugged the bloody house y’know.” And passed the sheet of paper across to Doyle.

Glancing at the piece of paper, re-acquainting himself with the words, Doyle chuckled, “So, it’s a nice hearty lunch and an afternoon nap for all of us.”

*      *     *

Bodie glanced in the rear view mirror. Jack was sitting there quietly, staring into the middle distance out of the window. Cowley’s file had been taking up all of their time over the last week. A full profile on an international criminal named Karl Rask, a terrorist, human trafficker and arms dealer amongst other things, who’d based himself in various locations around central Europe and had therefore always been out of Cowley’s direct jurisdiction. By regularly moving around he’d always evaded the authorities and was sufficiently careful so that all evidence amassed to date was circumstantial. With nothing conclusive, there’d never been an agency willing to try to convict him, but there were too many suspicions for the man to be wholly innocent and Cowley had been gathering evidence on the man for some time judging by the thickness of the file. All three of them had spent several hours going through the dossier, looking at all the options for how Jack could break into Rask’s inner circle and yesterday, they had finalised their plans. How Cowley had predicted their timetable was uncanny, as they were now on their way to the old CI5 facility just outside Handcross, a small village south of Crawley about 30 minutes away from their home in Brighton.

The gates of the rural old manor house loomed into view through the darkness, and Bodie swung the Range Rover into the wide sweeping drive that led down to the main house, set half a mile further on down the valley. They’d agreed that Jack would leave in the morning, as well prepared to embark on bringing down Karl Rask as he possibly could be, the only thing they hadn’t had the opportunity to cover had been firearms practice and Cowley had seen fit to take care of that.

Pulling up in front of the rambling manor house, the headlights picked out another car sat by the main entrance. “Looks like Murph’s here already,” said Doyle, nodding at the dark car in front of them, and as he spoke, the door of the car opened and the tall form of their ex colleague unfolded itself from the driver’s seat.

Bodie switched the engine off and the three of them alighted, Jack hanging back, letting the other two take the lead as they strode forward to greet the fourth man.

“Hello you old sod,” said Bodie cheerfully, hand outstretched, “How ‘ave ya been keepin’?”

Murphy grasped the extended hand and shook hands with Doyle before replying, “Ploddin’ on, same old, you know how it is. Retire next month, can’t say I’ll miss it.”

“Well you bloody well keep in touch, you bugger,” said Bodie cheerfully, clapping him on the shoulder.

Doyle knew Bodie wouldn’t let Murphy fade quietly away. Bodie was far better than him at keeping in contact with all of the old mob, regularly organising social gatherings and exchanging emails or phone calls and had been an absolute rock to their colleague when Murphy had lost his wife to liver disease a few years ago.

No, Bodie was the one who organised the reunions, for Cowley’s upcoming ninetieth and when CI5 had officially been disbanded by the Home Office. Ironic really, considering he'd been the one to shun any level of human involvement, however tenuous, when he'd first joined CI5. So incredibly insular he'd been, no fraternising with work colleagues in any form and for somebody that needed people around him, it must have been bloody miserable, daft lummox.

Murphy raised an enquiring eyebrow towards Jack and after brief introductions of first names were exchanged, Murphy, knowing better than to push for any information that wasn’t volunteered, led them to the boot of his car. He unloaded four large aluminium firearms cases and with each of them carrying one of the bulky silver trunks, said, “I opened up earlier, nobody’s about so you’ve got the place to yourselves,” and led them in through the main entrance where Bodie immediately sneezed. Neither Doyle or Murphy offered any reaction to the explosive noise having expected it as soon as they crossed the threshold into the old, long ago abandoned building. “Dust,” he said apologetically to Jack, “gets right up m’ hooter.”

Jack grinned as Bodie fished for a hanky in his pocket and they continued down into the expansive sound proofed cellar that had long ago been converted to an indoor firing range.

After carefully planting his silver case on the floor, Murphy straightened up. “Right, all the protectors are in the cases so I’ll leave you and the Double Alphas to it. I’ve got a thermos of soup with my name on it waiting for me in the car.” Murphy grinned at Jack who nodded his thanks before returning his gaze to the set of matching aluminium cases.

“Cheers Murph,” Bodie and Doyle chorused at Murphy’s departing back and received a waved hand in reply.

Bodie rubbed his hands together gleefully, “Right, let’s see what we’ve got.” He spread the cases out over the floor and opened the first one, laying it flat.

Jack went to help, reaching for the case nearest to him. “Double Alphas?”

Bodie chuckled, “It’s a tease really, the alpha is the active return on an investment, a reference to Cowley who always said he had a lot of money invested in us and that an agent was expensive to replace.”

Doyle offhandedly imparted, “Murph’s into playing on the stock market as a side line. And our call signs were Alpha Bravo,” he nodded at Bodie, “and Alpha Delta.”

“We weren’t actually gonna change ‘em, we would have stuck with Three-seven and Four-five,” Bodie shrugged as he stood up from opening another case, ”but the lads insisted and when we took over from Cowley neither of us were gonna take his Alpha One call sign away from him.”

“And I wouldn’t let ‘im be Alpha Three to my Alpha Two,” Doyle grinned at Bodie.

“You took over? You didn’t tell me you two ran CI5. Not that it surprises me all that much,” said Jack, resting his gaze on them both with mild reproach.  

Bodie shrugged, “Long time ago now. Six has got its own Counter Terrorism Command and along with SO15 being created in two-thousand-and-six, CI5 was merged across the two and we helped with the transition. Cowley’s still got a hand in, working behind the scenes and we both do the odd bit of consulting as well.”

“Bodie more than me,” added Doyle.

Bodie stepped back to survey the open cases laid out on the floor before him and his face lit up at the sight of the wide array of weapons and stocks of ammo. Standing in between the other two men, Bodie pointed to some of the guns that nestled in their foam cut outs, “Beretta 92G-SD, German Heckler & Koch P30, Austrian Glock 26, Belgian FN FNP 40, Czech CZ 2075 RAMI. Oh and look, an Italian Arsenal Firearms Strike One, that’s new this year, that is. And plenty of boxes of nine mil parabellums.” He finished, his eyes happily continuing to roam over the cases.

Jack gave a pleased sigh, “And a Sig Sauer 226, always my weapon of choice. I’ve missed it.”

Bodie clapped his hands together, the sound reverberating gently around the large empty space. “Right, what are we waiting for,” and with a look of unbridled cheer, he pulled three pairs of bright yellow ear defenders out from the nearest crate and a couple of boxes of ammo. “We’ve got the whole night ahead of us.”

 

*      *     *

The morning was dawning crisp and clear with the sun just breaking over the horizon as the car pulled in to the derelict railyard. They were just outside Ashford, from where Jack could make his way on foot to the Channel tunnel passenger terminal. After spending the last six hours shooting, all three of them were tired, although Jack had fared better than the two Englishmen, he had youth and adrenalin on his side. Doyle and Bodie had both watched Jack’s performance with interest and after a slightly shaky start, he’d more than demonstrated his proficiency. They too had started poorly, all three of them out of practice, but had likewise soon recovered, muscle memory and years of training coming to the fore and all of them had become progressively more competetitive as the night had worn on. There’d been much amusement at Bodie’s chagrin at being outperformed. Doyle, always marginally better with handguns than Bodie, hadn’t lost his edge and Jack had scored higher than both of them, although all three had far exceeded what would be considered first-rate marksmanship by most and the difference between their scores and skill levels had been marginal at best. When they’d moved onto rifles, neither Jack nor Doyle were able to wipe the smug look of satisfaction that had stayed on Bodie’s face as he’d out shot them both, but again, the difference in proficiency between the three of them had been barely noticeable. Jack had more than proven his capabilities. And combined with the innumerable hours spent over the last couple of months, either in the gym, sparring on the mat or in lengthy conversation, frequently over a protracted game of chess that had often run late into the evening, Bodie considered him as prepared as he could be to deal with whatever would face him when he made it to mainland Europe. Doyle reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope which he passed back to Jack. “We’ve secured you a new identity, should get you across into France without any trace.”

Bodie turned in his seat to face him, “And there’s a burn phone in there, it’s got a scramble filter, so you can talk for up to ninety seconds undetected.”

“I can’t thank you both enough for everything.” Stepping out of the car, as he came up alongside Bodie’s door, Bodie said sincerely, “Look after yourself, Jack.”

“Yeah, you too.” He reached in through the open window and shook hands with first Bodie, then Doyle. “Thank you.”

Without looking back, Jack strode away from the car trying to eradicate the feelings of de ja vue.

Bodie and Doyle exchanged a look before both of their gazes rested back on the American’s departing back. Despite their assurances to him that their’s was an open door, with a deep sigh, Bodie said softly, “We won’t ever see him again, you know.” Doyle gave a short nod, his eyes not straying from watching Jack walk away.

After a short pause, Bodie spoke again, his tone offhand. “D’you remember when I was in Bristol?”

Startled by the sudden change of topic, Doyle queried, “Eh?” before quickly recovering, “Yeah, course I do, mate. Not likely to ever forget it.”

“Don’t think I ever told you, you helping me through the nightmares while I was in there, it made a helluva difference.”

Doyle stared at him for a moment, expecting him to look over, but Bodie remained steadfastly looking forward.

Having no idea what had prompted the belated acknowledgement, he was about to query the cause and delve deeper. Noticing the spots of high colour on Bodie’s cheekbone and on the tip of his left ear, he changed tack and gave a dismissive wave of his hand, “Think nothing of it, sunshine. Was the only way I could get any shut eye, if you must know. The chair wasn’t that comfy and I couldn’t be arsed to go back to the hotel that night.”

At that, Bodie turned his head, his face expressionless. He raised one sceptical eyebrow and his face softened into a smile before he returned his gaze to the tracks that were glowing under the auriferous sky.

As he started the engine, Bodie said, “Wondered if you fancied a trip to California sometime soon. I’ve already checked with the old man, he said George could stay with him.”

Doyle chuckled, “Great minds. I asked Andy last week if he fancied doing a split trip, thought we could go skiing in the States this year. Utah’s s’posed to have some good resorts and after, we could all catch a flight across to the west coast for a spot of surfing. So you’ll just have to behave y’self on the slopes and not break anything.”

“Me?” Bodie turned to him, all injured innocence, as a train thundered past behind them, and swung the car in a tight circle before pulling back out onto the main road for the long drive home.

As the sound of the car’s engine faded away into the distance, Jack looked left before stepping over the tracks the passing freight train had just traversed. He reached into his jacket and pulled out his sunglasses, putting them on to defend against the sun that was low in the sky, casting a golden shroud over everything as it rose. Ducking his head, he pulled the strap of his messenger bag back to the opposite shoulder and walked alongside the train tracks towards the docks and into the rising sun, his mind transferring to thoughts of what lay ahead once he made it into mainland Europe.