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Cold Water Morning

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 Part One

 

Prologue

“Well, what do you think of them?” Major Nairn stood at parade rest watching the last truck depart. The civilian standing next to him tipped his head and regarded the taller man with a jaundiced eye.

“I’d not waste my money on some,” he said, switching gaze back to the truck. His sparse ginger hair whipped about his head, stirred by the wind, before settling down into an untidy mess that didn’t quite cover his bald patch. “But the others might just make the grade.”

“They’re all good men, George. You’ve only invited the best on this little jaunt.”

“Aye, I know that and I’ve made my choices. But what I want now is the special men. The ones who’ll work together and do the job I tell them to do, the way I tell them to do it but think for themselves as well. The ones for the A grade.”

“That could be a tall order for any man.”

“Perhaps,” he conceded. “But I’ve got my eye on a couple.”

Major Nairn gave a chuckle. “I’d hazard a guess as to at least one of those, and you may need to be on your toes with that one.”

“Oh, I think I’ll manage Master Bodie.”

Nairn laughed again. “I’m sure you will, George. Come on inside, out of this wind. I’ll get Private Perkins to make us some tea and we can go over those evaluations again.” He looked up at the sky as they were entering the Nissan hut. “Looks like a change in weather coming through.”

George Cowley followed his gaze. Clouds were scudding overhead, pushed along by the brisk wind.

“The forecast was for patchy clouds and only the possibility of light rain. I made sure of that before scheduling the exercise.”

“Well, you know what the forecasts are like, fine and sunny with the chance of rain. I wouldn’t worry too much, it is spring after all.”

Cowley looked at the sky again and a shiver ran down his back, a goose walking across his grave as his nan used to say. He dismissed it as an effect of the wind and followed Nairn into the warmth of the Nissan hut.

Chapter One

Doyle felt cold, very cold. But that might have been an illusion, something he’d conjured up because of the barren bleakness of the country around him. London had been sunny when they left two weeks ago, with almost the promise of a nice spring, even an early summer. That hadn’t lasted much past Leeds, the A1 taking them further and further into dreary cloud laden dimness until they bypassed Newcastle, turned towards Hexham and ended up in the god forsaken reaches of Albemarle Barracks and George Cowley’s version of an extended training and evaluation camp. Now icy fingers played around his neck and tickled down under the collar of his army fatigues to slither along his spine. His feet, clad in heavy army boots and ineffectual wool socks, were chilled too, while the wind hitting his face through the flapping canvas of the truck had long since made his nose numb and his eyes stream.

But it was easier to look out of the narrow gap in the canvas and watch the world go by in a dizzying rush of low stone walls and fleeting trees than it was to shift his gaze to the other hopefuls in the truck and wonder which of them Major Cowley would pick for his new vaunted CI5. How much chance he had of getting into the squad. They had two weeks of training behind them, two weeks of hell that saw them pushed almost beyond the limits of physical and mental endurance. He’d done well. He knew he had; on the firing range and assault courses, the endless strategic and mental evaluations. Now it all came down to this last exercise and Doyle was nervous. So much depended on the outcome and it could so easily end up in a complete balls up if he didn’t get it right … they didn’t get it right. Because this exercise was a two man team effort, only he had no idea who he would be teamed with. And that grated, to have to rely on someone else, someone he didn’t know well enough to judge whether he could trust them.

The other men in the truck were equally as silent. No one had spoken since the last time the truck had pulled to a stop; two names called out and then there were two fewer men for company as the truck pulled away again. Now there were only six left, each lost somewhere in their own thoughts; the only sound the roar of the engine and clash of gear changes, and the monotonous nagging beat of boot heels hitting the floor in staccato rhythm .

“If you don’t stop that I’ll cut off your feet and beat you to death with the soggy ends.” The words were calm, the tone almost detached and Doyle didn’t have to shift his gaze to know who spoke them. He didn’t have to turn his head from the view outside the truck to know who they were aimed at either, but he did anyway.

“So …sorry, Bodie,” Jamie Bryant stuttered out the words as his hands moved reflexively to his knees to halt their agitated bouncing. The youngest out of all the trainees he was also the most nervous. Prone to fidgets and too anxious to please at times, falling over himself with the enthusiasm of a puppy. It seemed a miracle he had made it to PC in the Met never mind this far into CI5 training. But, like Doyle, he was a crack shot with a handgun and not too unhandy with a rifle either.

Jax, sitting beside the lad, winked, his smile a flash of white against the café au lait skin. “Never mind,” he said by way of sympathy. “If we had a guitar we could set up a skiffle group, entertain the masses.”

“Or a black and white minstrel show,” John McCabe, added to the conversation, digging his elbow into Doyle’s side, no doubt expecting some kind of approbation at his clever banter. A guffaw came from further down the truck that had to be Lucas. He and McCabe considered themselves the comedy team of the recruits. Doyle opened his mouth but was saved from responding by another acerbic comment from the man opposite.

“Did you have to work hard at it or were you just born an idiot, McCabe?”

A flush worked its way up McCabe’s face “Hey Jax knows I didn’t mean anything, don’t you, Jax?”

“Yeah, sure McCabe.” Jax nodded. “Wouldn’t dream of doubting you.”

Doyle was starting to feel a little sorry for McCabe, but decided it wasn’t a worthwhile use of his sympathy. Instead he switched his attention to the man sitting opposite, the one so free with the cutting wit.

Bodie; tall, dark and disconcerting. Capable of charming with platitudes one minute and bringing down with a cool jibe the next. A man of so many contradictions that Doyle hadn’t yet been able to figure him out. Ex-sailor, ex-soldier, ex-paratrooper, ex-SAS; and if half the rumours about him were true, ex-mercenary. Doyle wondered how he could have fitted all that into such a relatively short life. The rumour mill also had it that Bodie was no ordinary recruit, that he was a mole, sent in undercover to spy on the other hapless recruits and report their ineptitudes back to Cowley, maybe even to throw the proverbial spanner in the works just to see their reactions. His general disdain and the jaundiced eye he seemed to cast over the other mere mortals in the group just fed the paranoia. But if it were true, and Doyle wouldn’t have been surprised at such evidence of Cowley’s machinations, it would at least explain why he was such a general prick.

What worried him, with only six of them now left, was that he could very well end up with being partnered with said prick for this next exercise.

The truck pulled to a grating stop another ten miles along the twisting road. Doyle waited, tense at the sound of the cab door opening then slamming shut and the heavy fall of booted footsteps.

The voice that shouted out his name was hard and about as cold as the weather. Doyle hadn’t taken much to Warrant Officer Reid, assigned Drill Sergeant responsible for overseeing their training exercises, his screamed commands a constant grate on his nerves, his snarky attitude and insults enough to make him want to punch the supercilious bastard in the mouth even as he’d wondered how the army managed to keep the recruits they did if WO Reid was any example.

Steeling himself he started to rise, hesitating only fractionally when Bodie’s name was called out next. But Bodie had noticed, going by the smirk on his face.

“Looks like it’s you and me, Sunshine.”

Doyle didn’t bother answering, just grabbed the pack he’d been issued at the start of their journey and swung himself over the raised tailgate, thankfully making the distance to ground level without mishap. Falling flat on his face in front of Bodie was not an option. The man in question landed beside him with the agility of an alley cat and the same feline insouciance.

The air was biting outside the truck with the crisp taste of pine, making Doyle cough as it stung his sinuses and caught the back of his throat. It was March; it shouldn’t be so damn cold. He let the pack fall to his feet and glanced at the surroundings. The truck had stopped at the side of a narrow tarred road, one black line in a landscape of undulating moorland stretching towards the hills in the distance, the browns and olives of coarse moor grass broken by patches of heather and bracken. His breath caught at the wild beauty of it and the unrelieved bleakness. He shivered from more than just the cold.

Reid ignored them both, looking instead at the clip board in his hand, busy writing on the attached form. The minutes ticked by as Reid wrote, checked and re-checked and Doyle had decided to pose the question of how long they were going to be kept waiting when he finally looked up from his work. Bodie, of course, had remained silent and at parade rest, his body completely still, the only movement his eyes flashing briefly on Doyle every time he fidgeted with impatience and the smirk that had grown wider with each passing minute.

“You’re now officially on your own. You can consider this an exercise in orienteering if you wish. The objective is to reach the rendezvous point, together, in the quickest possible time.” He held out a plastic covered packet. “Your map and co-ordinates. Good luck, gentlemen.”

Bodie snapped a brisk step forward and had the packet in his hand before Doyle could move. He was surprised there wasn’t a salute in there as well. He shrugged and picked up his pack. If that’s the way Bodie wanted to play it, fine, he could be the Boy Scout.

The truck pulled away, skidding slightly on the loose gravel at the side of the road. Jax had pulled the tarpaulin aside and was watching them. He smiled and sketched a wave. Doyle waved back and hoped young Jamie would be partnered with the likeable black rather than McCabe or Lucas.

“If you’ve finished with your socialising?” Bodie was standing with exaggerated patience, backpack already in place, map in hand.

Doyle caught Jax’s grin and eye roll as he shouldered his own backpack.

“Anytime you’re ready, mate, just lead on,” he said, giving Bodie his full attention and the broadest smile he could come up with.

Bodie just shook his head and started walking. Doyle followed.

~~~

The wind built in tempo, gusts that stung their eyes and had them huddling deeper into their army jackets. It snatched at the map too, almost tearing the plastic covered paper out of Bodie’s grip where he crouched with it across his knee, trying to get a bearing.

Doyle went down beside him leaning in to reach out a hand and hold it steady. Bodie grunted his approval and Doyle watched as he worked, a study in concentration, his eyes flicking from compass to map, finger tracing topographic features, taking a fix on their position and the co-ordinates given to the next check point. Doyle had listened to the lectures and knew how to read a map, knew he could do this himself. But he didn’t mind bowing to Bodie’s superior knowledge and experience so long as he kept that overinflated sense of superiority to himself. After all, he’d got them to the first and then the second control point and the flags where they found their next instructions

Fixated on that long finger moving over the map, Doyle was startled at the sudden words spoken into his ear, and disconcerted when he turned to find a pair of blue eyes staring into his. He hadn’t realised they had huddled quite so close.

“Three miles due east. I make the next check point there. You agree?”

Vaguely surprised that Bode was actually seeking his opinion Doyle pulled his gaze away and switched his attention back to the map. He looked at the co-ordinates they’d been given again and took a moment to match them to where Bodie was pointing.

“Yeah, looks like it,” he said. The wind was picking up again, turning from gusts to a consistent howl, turning Doyle’s hair into tangled knots and making his nose run. He wiped a hand across it in annoyance. “How long do you think it will take us?”

“What? To the next check point or the whole course?”

Doyle looked up at the sky, at the white clouds that were scudding across and the darker, heavier ones on the far horizon.

“At the moment I’d take the checkpoint. I don’t suppose there’s any possibility that’s the last and there’ll be a nice warm army truck waiting to pick us up?”

Bodie’s smile was sardonic. “Not if I know George Cowley there won’t.” He stowed the compass, the map and the instructions back into the pocket of his backpack. “That bloody-minded old Scots git will have us walking the length and breadth of the Cheviots just for the hell of it if he has a mind to.”

Doyle grinned at the irreverence and the telling reveal of Scouse behind that normally polished accent. “You know him well, then?” he asked.

But Bodie’s withdrawal was as quick as his sudden openness had been.

“Not that much,” he said, head bowed to the pack again, rummaging through the contents. “Reckon it will take us two hours to get there, if we keep up a steady pace.”

Right, thought Doyle, so much for friendly confidences.

“Better get moving then,” he said. “I don’t like the look of those clouds over there.”

Bodie followed his gaze. The clouds darkening, the horizon had spread with a frightening speed.

“I don’t either. This wind’s picking up too.” He brought a black woollen hat out of the pack and pulled it on to fit snugly over his short hair and cover the tips of his ears.

Doyle stared. “Got a rabbit in there too?” he asked although he wouldn’t have been surprised if the man delved further and produced the specified article. He’d come up with gum, which Doyle knew was definitely non-standard issue in the food packs provided, and a fancy Swiss army knife so far. He was surprised though when Bodie pulled the hat off his head and tossed it towards Doyle, who caught it neatly.

“Think you need it more than me with that mop,” Bodie told him. Doyle eyed him suspiciously but Bodie’s grin was real enough, eyes crinkled at the edges with humour.

“You make it in the squad and Cowley will have it all gone you know,” Bodie said shouldering his pack.

“What?”

“The hair.” Bodie made waving motions over his own head. “The cow’s not going to appreciate your golden locks.”

“The cow?” Doyle sputtered, ignoring Bodie’s other comment, his hair wasn’t going anywhere, whatever Cowley - The Cow – had to say in the matter. “Do you actually call him that?”

Bodie looked at him in the way that spoke of morons and idiots. “Not to his face I don’t. And you’d be well advised not to either, or within his hearing. And believe me, Sunshine, he has ears in the back of his head.”

“Eyes,” Doyle said without thinking. Bodie paused.

“What?”

“It’s eyes in the back of his head,” Doyle said, patiently. “Not ears. Think you can say ‘ears like a bat’ though.”

Bodie studied him, his expression unreadable. Then he grinned. “Oh, Cowley’s just gonna love you,” he said, shrugging his pack more comfortably on his back.

“Speaking of ears, aren’t yours going to get cold?” Doyle asked, deciding to ignore the comment. “Without this?” He elaborated, sending the hat twirling on his index finger in response to Bodie’s puzzled look.

Bodie shook his head. “Don’t feel the cold.” Which begged the question as to why he bothered with a hat in the first place, but it might have been true as there was a small bead of sweat sliding down the side of Bodie’s face, though he didn’t seem to notice it. Instead he checked the sky again and pulled the pack closer on his shoulders.

“Come on, Goldilocks. Those clouds aren’t going to wait for us to debate the vagaries of the English language and Cowley’s not going to love either of us if we don’t get to the end of this course.”

Doyle pulled the hat down over his halo of curls and followed behind the broad back, wondering how many more surprises the man would spring on him.

~~~

They made good progress, Bodie leading the way, Doyle keeping up just behind his left shoulder. Bodie was good, Doyle grudgingly admitted as they jogged across boggy moorland and scrabbled up jutting shale and grit hillocks. Their checks of the map proved he was keeping them on their course and Doyle was content to let him play scout leader. He had set a cracking pace too and Doyle was pleased to be able to keep up. He might appreciate Bodie’s orienteering skills but he didn’t have to let the man know that.

The snow started falling when they were no more than halfway to their next objective; not the soft drifting flakes made for Christmas stories and snow ball battles, but hard wind-whipped ice; biting at exposed skin and making it sting, coating the ground with a frosty layer of white.

Doyle stopped to glance up at the sky but could only make out huge swirling flakes and lowered cloud. He pressed on, keeping his head down, eyes to the ground, doggedly following on Bodie’s heels as they struggled endlessly through the building snow; until he cannoned into a solid shoulder.

The ‘what the -’ died on his lips as he turned on the spot, realising why Bodie had stopped. They were surrounded now, by a world turned to white fog, snowflakes swirling through it in different directions, as if in a whirlpool. Visibility had been reduced to near zero.

He’d been aware of a harsh wind, aware that it was harder and harder to press against its strength, even in the small protection offered by Bodie’s bulk ahead of him, that the snow underfoot was dragging at his steps. So there was no reason he should have been shocked at how cruel the ice and cold were blowing straight into his face or the way they seemed to spin him sideways, disorienting him until he wasn’t sure which way he was facing, but he was.

Doyle pulled the woollen hat even further down around his ears and tried to keep his balance, searching desperately for the shape that told him Bodie was still there, still with him; relieved when a groping hand connected with his arm, holding him steady.

“We’re in shit, aren’t we?” He had to shout to make himself heard.

“You do have a way with words, Doyle,” Bodie shouted back, his face close. He started to turn again. “Come on, this is only going to get worse. We’ll have to find some shelter.”

“Shelter! You’re joking aren’t you? Can’t see more than a hundred feet in front of us. How are we going to find any shelter?”

Doyle’s argument made Bodie face him again. His eyes were overbright, stark in the reflected white that surrounded them, his short hair wind tossed. Doyle regretted accepting the woollen hat but knew better than to offer it back.

“If we don’t, we die.”

The grim prophesy uttered, Bodie turned into the wind again.

Doyle followed, into a nightmare world of driving snow that made the simple act of walking into a feat of endurance. They slipped and slid on uneven ground and down sudden inclines hidden by the banking snowfall. It must have been hours, but it felt like days. Doyle’s lungs were aching, his legs leaden and his feet lumps of ice that might shatter at the next impact with the ground.

He didn’t see it when Bodie fell. His only warning was the sudden shriek that whipped past his ear and disappeared into nothing. When he looked up, Bodie was gone. He stumbled a few steps nearer to the edge of the steep embankment that had claimed Bodie, but could see nothing through the falling snow. He stepped forward, then teetered as the embankment gave way, sending him tumbled head over heels into the steep hollow.

He lay on his back at the bottom, snow falling into his face, already starting to cover his body. He was lost, he was hurting and he didn’t know where Bodie was. It was nice here though, once he thought about it, and he was starting to get warm again, the snow a lovely soft blanket. He closed his eyes and knew he was never going to get up again.

 

Chapter Two

When Doyle opened his eyes again it was dark. A complete and irrevocable blackness that seemed strange, so he tested lifting his eyelids again. Yes, they were definitely open. And it was definitely very dark. And very cold. Why was it always so cold? And he had no idea where he was. There were smells too; of damp and mould, maybe some dust and a hint of sweat. He moved his head experimentally. Something soft and stringy tickled his nose, evoking thoughts of cobwebs and spiders. He jerked back. But that didn’t seem quite right so he pushed his nose forward again, tentative, and felt strings of damp hair. Not cobwebs then. The next realisation was that something solid pressed against him. Or maybe it was him that was doing the pressing, he wasn’t sure. Whatever the case there was a definite trembling involved, he could feel it against his chest, radiating down through his hips and the thigh draped over whatever the solid object was.

He closed his eyes again, disoriented and confused, trying to remember what had happened and where he was. Tangled memories danced just out of reach, then coalesced into something more solid. Driving wind and snow that blinded, walking for what seemed to be hours, until he knew he couldn’t walk anymore; then free fall and the need to just stop and sleep in the illusion of suddenly blissful warmth, only to be dragged at by rough hands and cajoled to stand up and walk, just walk until he felt compelled to obey. He remembered the house, a hallucination at first, something sent to tease and tempt, until Bodie had slammed against the door and they had both fallen over the threshold and onto a solid wood floor.

Bodie! That was the elusive missing element in the flashbacks. It was Bodie who had pulled him out of his hypothermic funk, got him on his feet and moving again. Who had made him take off his wet outer clothes and pulled him down onto the floor before covering them both with a space blanket he’d pulled from his pack. And whose hair it was his nose was buried in, not to mention whose solid body he was wrapped around.

The knowledge made him hurriedly shift his leg and pull back, a need to put space between himself and the other man he was encroaching on. But the cold at his back and the warmth to his front made him shuffle back in while still keeping a discreet few inches between them.

Bodie had probably saved his life. He thought about that for a moment, not sure how he felt. He’d looked after himself for a lifetime; having any kind of obligation to someone else didn’t sit well, especially someone like Bodie. He tucked the thought away, to be brought out and examined more closely later, when Bodie’s presence wasn’t so disturbingly close.

The shift in his position showed that it wasn’t quite as dark as he’d thought. His head buried in the back of Bodie’s neck and the cover drawn up to their heads had only given him the illusion. There were slivers of pale light slanting in through broken shutters, enough to give him an idea of the dimensions of the room and confirm it was empty, bare of anything substantial but walls and the shuttered windows. He had no idea how much time had passed since the start of the storm or how long he’d been asleep, how close night was away. He suspected it wasn’t far.

A check of his watch showed 4.30 but the second hand wasn’t moving. He shook his wrist but the hand stayed frustratingly motionless. He remembered winding the watch the night before the exercise so either more than two days had passed or the cold and wet had done its worst. Suddenly inspired he reached over and carefully lifted Bodie’s arm. He half expected the man to roll over at the intrusion and ask what the fuck he was doing, but he didn’t. Turning Bodie’s wrist to the light Doyle studied the latest edition 18-karat gold Pulsar digital watch that adorned it, and the network of cracks that all but obscured its LED display. Great. He laid the arm back down again. Bodie remained undisturbed, apart from the rather disconcerting tremble.

He had to move; lying around cuddling up to Bodie wasn’t going to get them out of this situation. He could hear the wind howling outside still, a monster rattling at the shutters and door, demanding entry.

Doyle shivered, his back chilled. He’d been wearing a t-shirt and jumper under the army jacket and trousers but they provided no warmth now and he fantasied about an electric blanket instead of the flimsy space blanket that only half covered him. He’d never liked the cold very much and the current conditions hadn’t made him any more enamoured of it now. The shiver seemed to communicate itself to his companion and if anything the tremor running through his body increased. Strange, because Bodie was radiating enough heat to keep both of them warm, too much heat.

Doyle shifted back slowly, inching away. Surprisingly Bodie didn’t wake, but turned with him until Doyle was outside the makeshift bed and Bodie was lying on his back. It didn’t take the hand Doyle lifted to touch against Bodie’s forehead for him to realise the man was bathed in sweat.

Great! Just bloody marvellous. This was all he needed.

He reached a hand to Bodie’s shoulder and shook gently, then harder when that got no response, a feeling of panic starting to bubble up inside him.

“Bodie, come on you daft sod, wake up. You’re not supposed to sleep. That’s what they say, isn’t it?”

Bodie stirred and his hand came up to push weakly at Doyle with a slurred “ger off”. His eyes stayed shut.

“No you don’t, mate.” Doyle shook him again. “You’re not doing this to me. Open your eyes.”

Something must have got through because Bodie’s eyes slitted open, and Doyle almost wished he hadn’t insisted. They were red, rheumy and feverish, the stare dazed and uncomprehending. He looked straight at Doyle but Doyle doubted he could even see him. Then Bodie jerked up his wild gaze sweeping the room, pupils impossibly wide.

“No! We’ve got to get out!” The shout was raw, cracked from fever or fear, or both and Bodie thrashed, knocking Doyle backwards onto his arse. Bodie tried to get up from the makeshift bed but the effort was too much and he collapsed back, his head thumping on the board floor. Doyle winced in sympathy and struggled onto his knees again, pressing his hands to the still thrashing shoulders to keep him down. The body under his hands strained against him then stilled.

“Bodie, what the fuck is going on?” Doyle shouted, not really expecting an answer, trying to keep back an edge of panic. He was surprised then when Bodie looked straight at him, seeming to take in both him and their surroundings. But it was only momentary and the eyelids dropped, another shudder shook through his body and Bodie was out of it again.

“Shit!” Doyle tried another shake of Bodie’s shoulders, knowing it was pointless. He fought back a sudden irrational surge of anger; at Bodie, the storm, even Cowley for his crazy ideas and elitism. But anger wasn’t going to help. He breathed deeply, trying to calm his mind. Maybe whatever was wrong with Bodie was a passing thing, exhaustion perhaps and he would come right after more sleep. In the meantime they needed warmth, water and food, in that order. Bodie might be as warm as toast from his obvious fever but Doyle was cold and hypothermia wasn’t that far away from either of them.

He looked around the room they were in, trying to make out more detail. The house was old, that was obvious from the stone walls that he knew would be cold and rough to the touch, and the beams, shadowed silhouettes in the dim light, set high up in the ceiling. A farmhouse? The room itself could be a living room perhaps. The doorway they were lying next to and Doyle half remembered Bodie pulling them through, came without the convenience of a door. He shifted and felt a rustling under his feet and he looked closer. Rubbish and dirt lay scattered across the floor as far as he could see, the debris of neglect and desolation.

He shivered and turned his attention to his discarded jacket, trousers and the two packs they had somehow managed to keep hold of during their blind stumbling through the storm. He could make out the outline of his boots closer to the doorway but his socks were nowhere to be seen. The jacket was still damp when he pulled it on, as were the trousers and he shivered again at the touch of them on his bare legs, then decided it wasn’t worth it, they would only leach out whatever body heat he had left. He threw them on the floor again.

The pack was a better prospect, with its small box of army GS rations that Cowley insisted they all carry. He was grateful for that insistence as he pulled out small tins and packets of food, blocks of chocolate, an empty army canteen - he remembered drinking the last of the water in it long before their tumble down the embankment - a can opener, spoon, fork, even a toilet roll and some odd looking rectangular containers he realised were mess tins, until he found what he was most looking for, the box of matches.

The light from the match threw distorted shadows against the stone walls, but he had seen as much as he needed to by the time the flame reached his fingers. He’d been right the first time, the room was bare, but there was a fireplace set deep in the wall opposite the windows. He gave a grunt of satisfaction; all he needed now was some fuel and a hope the chimney hadn’t been made home to nesting birds.

That proved to be more difficult. While the rubbish scattered across the floor might provide tinder he would need something more substantial to give them a decent fire. Doyle realised he would have to do some exploring while there was still some light. He looked at his trousers again; the thought of their clammy dampness made him shudder.

With a sudden thought he opened Bodie’s pack. The rations he piled with his own. The compass and map went beside them. The thick woollen socks he pulled out last went on to his feet.

“Right proper Boy Scout, aren’t you, Sunshine,” Doyle muttered to himself. Protected by the rations above and around them in the pack, the socks were dry and luxuriously warming. Doyle wriggled his toes at the renewed circulation. Satisfied, and after a look at the still unmoving Bodie, he set out.

There was another room opposite their haven and a scullery and kitchen at the end of the dark passage with a staircase leading to an upper level. Light and snow streamed in through the gap in the back door that lay askew on its remaining bottom hinge.

It was the kitchen that proved the most rewarding. It had its own scattering of rubbish; bits of cardboard, twigs and leaves left behind or blown in through broken windows. It also had an old ruined dresser and an assortment of splintered fruit or vegetable crates stacked next to an ancient woodstove he suspected had long ago lost its floor.

He gathered the wood and loaded it into one of the more intact crates then hurried back to the front room. Five minutes later he had a reasonable fire going in the hearth.

Doyle watched the flame build for a moment, the thin trail of smoke spiralling upwards without coming back down to choke him. So far so good. The first glimmering of warmth began to touch his face as he ate the piece of chocolate he allowed himself as a reward, ignoring the grumblings of his stomach that claimed it wasn’t nearly enough. He knew the wood wouldn’t last very long but it was a start. He shot a glance at Bodie, still comatose on the floor. There was nothing he could do for him yet. But he could try drying out their wet clothes.

He searched the room and found both pairs of boots and placed them as close to the fire as he dared then draped both pairs of trousers and Bodie’s discarded jacket over the backpacks next to them. The socks, both his and Bodie’s, discovered scattered in different corners of the room, he hung from the old ornate mantelpiece, held down by cans of spam from the packs.

The flames of his small fire were mesmerising and he felt disproportionally pleased with himself and his efforts, what he’d achieved. Then reality sank in as he realised he was far from finished and he’d better get on with it.

Whoever had abandoned the house had taken everything of value with them, leaving behind only broken bits of furniture. He found a rickety chair in what could have been the dining room, and fittings not worth the effort of removing. The bathroom even held an old fashioned pedestal bath with two clawed feet left out of the four, giving the tub an oddly lopsided look, and a gaping hole that once would have been the plug hole. Something seemed to have nested in the base.

He set to work with a will on the broken furniture, pulling apart what he could, saving the rest for his later attention. What he collected went by the fire in their room.

Back in the kitchen, he tested the taps over the old fashioned rusting sink unit. They turned after he exerted some pressure and there was a low rumbling sound as the tap vibrated for a second and a dribble of water came out. Then nothing. If the house was connected to mains water he could probably turn it on again, but finding the pipes and the valve would be impossible, at least until the storm died down. He’d already tried the electricity switch with the expected result. Too much to hope that there was still a supply connected.

He set aside the rusting kettle that sat atop the woodstove, then knelt and searched under the old sink, finding nothing but more debris and cobwebs. There was a large built-in cupboard across one wall. He opened one of the doors then jumped back as a large brown rat scrambled out, running over his foot in the process. It stopped just short of the door and sat, watching, whiskers at the end of the pointed nose twitching.

Doyle fought back his feeling of revulsion and stared back.

“Who are you then? Ben Rat?” His own voice startled him, so loud in the otherwise quiet room, just the sounds of the storm as a backdrop. He felt ridiculous to be talking to a rat.

The rat must have thought so too because with one final twitch it turned and raced out of the door.

Doyle barked out a laugh at the retreating tail, the echo of it bouncing off the bare walls. Alone again he turned his attention back to the cupboard, looking in with new caution. But there didn’t seem to be any of Ben’s relatives hanging around. He did find a metal bucket though, still miraculously intact.

Back in the passage he looked towards the closed front door then down at his sock clad feet. Shrugging he pulled the socks off and headed for the door.

Outside, the blizzard seemed to have grown even fiercer if anything, blanking out the surroundings in a white haze. Fighting against the wind Doyle tried to make out details but all he could see were vaguely looming shapes that could have been anything. Collecting some snow was relatively easy. Keeping upright then closing the door against the wind more difficult. He basked in front of the fire afterwards, sitting with his feet out, holding his frozen hands out to the flames, letting the warmth spread over them and his bare legs and feet.

Bodie shifted restlessly under his covering of space blanket, muttering quietly. Doyle watched him, the feeble flame of the fire flicking light and shadow across his face, accentuating the planes and angles. It was a long time since he’d allowed himself to see beauty in another man, and he had to admit that Bodie was beautiful, even with sweat spiked hair and fever filled eyes. Doyle laid a hand on the side of his face; it was hot and sticky damp. He dipped his hand in the snow filled bucket and ran cold wet fingers over Bodie’s brow and down his cheek. Bodie turned slightly into the almost caress, unconsciously seeking out the cool relief. As a panacea it was all Doyle had, but not nearly enough.

He left Bodie and piled more wood on the fire, checked his trousers and discovered they were dry enough to risk putting on and, leaving the bucket of snow to melt, he set out to explore upstairs. They needed more wood and he might find something else that would be useful.

Four rooms spread across the whole top floor, their purpose uncertain: bedrooms, a study perhaps. One had a pair of dusty and badly faded curtains dangling precariously from broken hooks. Another contained an old mattress, abandoned to the depredations of Ben and his kindred. But most of the stuffing was still inside.

A hard yank at the curtains had them tumbling down, dust spilling over his head and shoulders. The mattress he sent crashing over the stair banister to land with a thud on the passage floor, whatever wildlife it contained hopefully scattering on impact.

By the time he’d wrestled the mattress into the room the gloom outside had turned to twilight darkness. He worked quickly then, setting the mattress as close as he dared to the fire and shaking out the curtains. The snow had melted in the bucket, leaving a pool at the bottom, not as much as he’d hoped but it would have to do. He filled his canteen and drank. The water was still icy cold and had a metallic taste but he relished it, not having realised just how thirsty he was. He topped it up again, filling the canteen from Bodie’s pack at the same time. He added some to the kettle he’d retrieved from the kitchen as well, setting it on down on the hot bricks of the fireplace, delighted there were no leaks.

Without a towel or face cloth, a piece of cloth torn from the bottom of one of the curtains had to suffice as he dipped it into the bucket, wrung it out then pressed it against Bodie’s forehead and down to his throat. He lifted the t-shirt to run the cold rag across ribs, chest and down the belly. Heat was radiating from his body and Bodie stirred a little at the cool touch.

The simple act of bathing Bodie was mesmerising and Doyle kept up the ministrations, rinsing out the cloth again, then sweeping his hand up and down over the contours of muscle and bone almost dreamily, feeling some of the fever heat abate, though whether that was a lowering of his temperature or simply a superficial cooling of Bodie’s skin Doyle wasn’t sure.

“What are you doing?”

The question, coming out of a silence Doyle had become used to, startled him badly. He looked up to find Bodie gazing up at him. Feeling almost caught out he snapped back a reply.

“Trying to get your temperature down of course. What do you think?”

“Not sure what to think, am I, mate.” Bodie tried to sit up but the attempt backfired as he fell back with a groan, his arm going up over his eyes. He dry swallowed, battling nausea, then lifted his arm. “God, I feel sick. And someone’s doing a tap dance on my brain. What the hell happened?”

“I was hoping you could tell me. You’ve been out of it since we got here.” Doyle moved to pick up the water canteen then as gently as he could pulled Bodie up against his shoulder, tipping the canteen to his lips. After the first sip Bodie wrapped his hands around Doyle’s and gulped the rest down, gagging slightly. When he finished he leaned into Doyle again.

The body sagging against him did feel a little cooler though and Bodie’s eyes when he looked at him seemed less feverish. “Better,” Doyle asked. Bodie nodded, then winced.

“You can have some more in a minute; see if you can keep that lot down first. I’ll collect some more snow later.”

Bodie looked at him uncomprehendingly, then seemed to realise what he was leaning on and pulled himself upright, shifting his gaze around the room. This time Doyle knew he was taking in their surroundings.

“Where are we?”

Doyle shrugged. “Think it’s a farmhouse. Mainly it’s shelter.”

Bodie accepted that without further comment.

“Do you remember dragging me in here? The storm?”

It was Bodie’s turn to shrug. “It’s a bit hazy. Dunno; think I passed out.”

“We both did. Only you didn’t wake up,” Doyle told him, an edge in his voice he didn’t try to conceal. Bodie looked at him with something like wary apology, although Doyle wondered if he’d ever apologised for anything in his life.

“Yes, well. I’m okay now.” Bodie tried to push himself up, only to fall back against Doyle again with a groan.

“I don’t think so, mate.” Doyle had him up, hauling him over to the mattress. “Here, this will be a bit more comfortable than the floor. Found it upstairs. Think all the spiders have vacated.”

Bodie didn’t object when he settled him on the mattress and Doyle found that more disturbing than the expected belligerence at his nurse-maiding. This fragility frightened him. He lifted Bodie’s head and touched the canteen to his lips again. Bodie drank slowly this time, then drew back when he’d had enough. He was asleep again by the time Doyle let his head sink back onto the mattress.

He covered Bodie with the space blanket and then the curtain, trying to ignore the dust that came out of it to catch at the back of his throat. Chewing on more of the chocolate and sipping the tea he’d made with hot water from the kettle, he gazed into the flames, wondering when this never-ending storm would end and how they were going to get out of this situation they found themselves in – how he was going to cope with Bodie’s obvious sickness. There were no answers forthcoming.

A rustling that came from the corner of the room distracted him. Rubbing at his eyes to get rid of the black spots caused by the light of the fire he peered into the gloom, trying to work out what was making the noise. When his vision cleared he could just make out a be-whiskered nose, two pointy ears and two bright shining eyes.

“Hello, Ben. Come for some company, have you?”

Ben sat up on his back legs and gazed at him solemnly.

“You all alone here too, mate? What happened to your family eh? They scarper with whoever owned this place?”

Ben’s nose twitched and he started cleaning his whiskers. Doyle took that as an affirmative.

“Bet you’re hungry.” He broke of a small piece of his chocolate and tossed it to the rat. It landed just in front of him. Ben went down on all fours again and sniffed curiously at the offering. Apparently satisfied he nibbled at the chocolate until it was gone. Doyle threw him another piece. That disappeared faster than the first and Ben looked up expectantly.

“No more,” Doyle told him. “You’ll end up with a stomach ache.”

The rat looked disappointed but accepting. With one last wash of whiskers and a flash of the long thin tail he scurried off. Doyle shook off his momentary disappointment then shook himself.

“I’m bloody losing it, talking to a rat,” he muttered.

Bodie was sleeping deeply, at least, without the twitches and shakes of his previous unconsciousness. There was room on the other side of the mattress and he was tired now, the stress and physical exhaustion of the last few hours taking its toll. And cold. The door-less doorway and draughts that hunted through the house held the heat of the fire at bay where he was sitting, allowed the chill to creep in and settle in his bones.

When he slipped under the makeshift covers he was met by a comforting warmth from the body beside him. He snuggled as close as he dared and slept.

Chapter Three

Doyle woke to the persistent ache of a full bladder. Light peeked in through the shutters on the window, but it was a fragile light, fighting against the inherent darkness of the room. He groped around; the space next to him was empty, cold and his eyes searched looking for his companion of the night.

Bodie was crouched by the fireplace, setting the few remaining pieces of wood into a newly lit fire. Doyle’s movements must have alerted him because he turned away from the growing flames to study his companion.

“Fire went out,” he said laconically. “I was going to go look for some more wood. Take a bit of a recce outside.” His gaze stayed fixed on Doyle, eyes midnight dark, red glints reflecting in them from the fire. Doyle noted he was fully dressed, black polo neck jumper over army trousers. He looked better, but there was still a fragility in the way he was holding himself.

Doyle rubbed the grit from his eyes and tried to focus. He felt tired and disgusting. He ran his hand over the day’s growth of stubble on his chin, wishing he had a razor, or even just some soap to take away the sweat and grime stuck to his skin. Bodie was just as be-whiskered but still managed a natty air of elegance that Doyle knew he could never emulate in the best of circumstances, much less after more than twenty four hours of roughing it. The thought annoyed him.

“Don’t be daft,” he said, knowing his discomfort was stirring his temper and Bodie really didn’t deserve it, not at the moment anyway. When Bodie gave him a hard look he tried again, more reasonable this time. “You’ve been sick. Probably wouldn’t make it much past the door at the moment.” A canteen was beside the mattress and he picked it up, giving it a shake. There was still some water in the bottom. He swilled it, rolling the water around in his mouth first, trying to get rid of the sourness of his breath.

Surprisingly, Bodie didn’t argue. “Yeah, sorry about that,” he said switching his gaze back to the fire and was staring into the flames. “I’m fine now.”

He didn’t look all that fine but Doyle refrained from comment.

“Doesn’t sound like it’s stopped.” Doyle said after the silence had stretched and the only sounds were the crackle and spit of sparks from the fire and the wind buffeting at the shutters.

“No.” Bodie finally looked up from the fire to glance to the window. “Never known a storm to go on as long as this without a break. It’ll make it difficult for anyone to find us.”

Doyle gave a short bark of laughter. “Bloody impossible, you mean.”

Bodie’s answering smile was mocking. “It’s not quite Africa, you know. Civilisation can’t be too far away.”

“Right. Well, while you wait here for the cavalry I’ll just whip around and find something that might keep us from both freezing to death, shall I?” Doyle pulled his boots towards him and began putting them on.

“Stroppy little bugger, aren’t you?”

Doyle shot him a look, the one that usually made people back off. But Bodie’s grin just got wider and his eyes dared him to make something of it.

“Piss off,” he said, turning back to his boots.

“Wish I could, Sunshine. But the only pissing off either of us is going to be doing is when this storm dies out.”

Doyle debated for a moment, then decided it wasn’t worth the bother of wiping the smirk off the bastard’s face. He grabbed the now empty bucket instead and headed for the passage.

“You could try checking and sorting out those rations while I’m gone,” he suggested at the doorway.

“Your wish is my command.” Bodie gave a mocking salute,

Doyle glared at him before walking away. Bodie’s quiet laugh followed.

~~~

By the time Doyle reached the bathroom he’d managed to calm his bad temper, finding he was more angry with himself than Bodie. He wondered how Bodie managed to get under his skin so much and so quickly. The man was an irritating sod, arrogant and too full of himself. But he was stuck with him for the while so …

After relieving himself in the toilet Doyle set about ripping apart cupboards and shelves with the brute force of an ardent vandal. What he couldn’t rip off the wall by hand he attacked with a two-by-four that had started life as part of a bookcase. By the time he was finished he had a pleasingly large collection of potential fuel.

Bodie silently handed him breakfast when he got back with his booty: oats, a biscuit of indefinable origin and a mess tin full of hot sweet tea.

They sat on the floor in front of the fire eating the meagre breakfast, watching as the fire took hold and flared into a real heat, trying to ignore the cold draught that whispered at their backs.

Doyle stared into his tea, trying to work out ways of broaching all the things they needed to talk about: Bodie’s illness, what they could do to get themselves out of the mess they had landed in, why things had gone so horribly wrong. But he knew no one could answer that last one; it was just fate, karma. In the end he didn’t have to say anything because Bodie spoke first.

“Thanks for what you did.”

Doyle shrugged. “Did it as much for me as for you. I’d be freezing to death too if I didn’t.”

Bodie waved an arm to encompass the room. “Not for this. For taking care of me.”

“Someone had to and no one else was around. Mightn’t feel so magnanimous if I get whatever it is you’ve got too, though.” Doyle quipped.

Bodie raised an eyebrow “Unless there’s a hidden nest of mosquitoes around here somewhere that’s highly unlikely. Malaria isn’t contagious,” he added at Doyle’s questioning look. “Unless the same mosquito that bites me bites you.”

“Where’d you find the one that bit you?”

Bodie’s lopsided grin had a charm all its own. “That’s a long story,” he said. Then the grin subsided and he was silent again. Doyle had a feeling he wasn’t going to hear that particular story, long or short, any time soon.

“Thought they had a cure for it now,” he prodded, taking a sip of his tea. It wasn’t quite Earl Grey, but it was good enough.

“It comes back sometimes.” Bodie put his cup down and wiped a hand over his eyes. “Doesn’t last long. I’ll be okay now, just tired.”

“Get some rest, then. I’ll wake you up if a rescue team knocks on the door.”

Bodie snorted. “That’s about as likely as both of us sprouting wings and flying out of here.” He accepted the invitation though and lay back down on their makeshift bed, covering himself up.

Doyle watched as he drifted off to sleep again. Even his short acquaintance with the man told him that Bodie wouldn’t give in to fatigue or admit to any weakness easily. After some silent contemplation he busied himself by getting some more snow to melt for water, refilling the kettle and their water bottles, leaving the rest in the bucket and re-arranging their supplies. It was a pathetically poor stock: a couple of tins of spam, another packet of oats and two of meat broth, more biscuits. Enough perhaps, if they rationed themselves, for another day.

Bodie stirred a few hours later and had some of the meat broth Doyle heated up for him. Doyle had the rest. Bodie slept fitfully after that and Doyle lay on his back beside him, counting the shadowy cracks in the ceiling until what daylight there was faded.

~~~

Bodie’s fever returned that night. He shivered first then heated up when the tremors set in. Doyle alternated between trying to wipe him down with a wet cloth and pouring water into him to ease the fever and holding him when the shudders racked. Finally, towards morning, the fever broke and he slept more peacefully.

When Bodie woke much later his eyes were clear and this time he looked alert and oriented. Which made Doyle feel resentful - he was exhausted.

“Feeling better?” he asked, keeping his voice even.

Bodie rubbed at his eyes and looked around the room. “Yeah. Guess I was out of it for a while again.”

“You could say that,” Doyle agreed.

“How long?”

Doyle shrugged. “Can’t swear to it,” he said. “But I’d say it’s early afternoon now, so twelve hours or so.”

Bodie kept looking at him.

“Haven’t lost a day, mate, if that’s what you’re wondering. You do remember waking up yesterday don’t you?”

“Vaguely. You went off in a strop and I had to make the breakfast.”

Doyle opened his mouth, a snarled reply already forming, but the woebegone look on Bodie’s face and put upon pout to his lips stopped him.

“Pillock!” he said instead. “And I suppose you’re hungry again.”

Bodie considered that for a moment before grinning. “Now that you mention it, I’m famished.”

Doyle took that as a good sign and fished around among the remaining cans and packets.

“We have spam, or spam. Unless of course your fancy turns in the direction of instant soup; we have some of that too.”

“Think I’ll go for the spam.”

Doyle nodded. “Wise choice,” he said, spooning the congealed mess from an open tin into the mess tins and setting them next to the fire to warm. It looked anything but appetising, but after only munching on a biscuit in lieu of breakfast that morning, in between checking Bodie and collecting more wood, and very little else to eat the day before, he would have considered boiled shoelaces a viable option.

Bodie wolfed his share down so he must have agreed, though Doyle had the feeling Bodie and food were not easily separated. They washed it down with tea.

Bodie gave a satisfied belch, earning him a glare from Doyle, and looked around, as if really seeing the room for the first time. “What is this place anyway?”

“Farmhouse. Looks like whoever owns it just walked away, left it to the elements and rodents.”

Bodie surveyed the rubbish Doyle had managed to push to one side to make a relatively clear space around them, then took in the damaged and peeling ceiling. He seemed less than impressed.

“Can’t say as I blame them,” he said. “I’ve seen doss houses that looked better than this.”

He got up and walked to the door-less doorway and peered down the passage.

“Bathroom’s down on the right if that’s what you’re looking for. Take the bucket with you.” Doyle told him, downing the last of his tea.

Bodie turned back to the fireplace and retrieved the bucket of snow-melted water. “All the comforts of home,” he said, heading for the passage again.

“Nothing but the best for the best,” Doyle assured the retreating figure. “And don’t forget to fill the bucket up again.”

The sound of Bodie’s amused chuckle drifted back through the doorway.

~~~

The firelight flicked flames writhing into strange and bizarre shapes, reminding Doyle of cold winter evenings and the childish voices of his brothers and sisters arguing about the faces they saw, or didn’t see, in the hearthside fire.

The nudge to his shoulder shook him out of his comforting memories.

“We have company.” Bodie nodded towards the doorway. A small figure sat watching them, silhouetted where the edge of light gave way to total blackness.

“Hey, Ben,” Doyle said, crouching over their supplies to grab one of the biscuit packs. “Come to say hello, have you?” Ignoring Bodie he broke off a piece of biscuit and threw it at the rat, who caught it neatly in its front paws and quickly gobbled it up.

“Clever boy.” Doyle smiled and threw another piece. Just to prove his first catch hadn’t been a fluke Ben caught that one too. It disappeared as quickly as the first piece had.

“You do have the strangest friends, Doyle.”

He’d almost forgotten that Bodie was there, entranced as he was by Ben’s performance. He glanced at him. Bodie was sat with his back against the wall, watching proceedings with what looked like a cross between bemusement and quiet horror.

“Had to have someone to talk to while you were playing sleeping beauty,” Doyle told him.

“Even unconscious I’m better company than a rat, even a trained one.” Bodie returned. “I would remind you that those are our limited supply of biscuits you’re rather cavalier about sharing with a rodent.”

“You’ve a high opinion of yourself.” Doyle was deliberately provocative, just to see how Bodie would react. “And his table manners are better than yours anyway.”

But Bodie remained annoyingly placid. “Why Ben?”

Doyle waited a beat before answering. “Cause he’s not a Willard.”

He watched the play of emotion cross Bodie’s face, confusion until the connection hit then an amusement that was so infectious Doyle felt himself returning the grin.

“You are something else, Raymond Doyle,” he said. “Here, let me try.” He reached out for the biscuit and Doyle handed it over.

The rat continued to look at them for a moment as if considering the nature of these strange creatures, then switched his full attention to Bodie, focussing on the food in his hand. Bodie snapped a piece off and threw it. Ben snatched it out of the air and Bodie laughed with pure delight. As a reward he threw the rest of the biscuit to the rat.

“Here, have it all,” he said. “You deserve it.”

Ben took him at his word and started on his feast.

Bodie turned his attention back to Doyle. “By the way, what was that about table manners?” he asked, leaning over Doyle his face a comical mix of bruised dignity fighting an emerging grin. “I’ll have you know that belching is considered a compliment to the host in some cultures.”

Doyle laughed and pushed against his shoulders, sending him back to the mattress. “Example of the uncouth is what I’d call it.”

Bodie threw the empty biscuit packet at him.

They were both chuckling by the time Doyle had retaliated with another push that sent Bodie flat, Doyle leaning over him. It seemed far too long since he’d laughed and Bodie, it turned out, was an easy man to laugh with, maybe too easy - those blue eyes staring back at him, deep enough a person could sink right into them if they weren’t careful.

He pulled back, releasing his hold on Bodie’s shoulders. They both sat up, a brief awkwardness brushed aside as they straighten themselves out. It was quiet for a while, disturbed only by the spit and crackle of the fire. Ben finished his dinner and disappeared into the darkness again.

“How long have we been here now?” Bodie’s voice was low, as if the silence was too fragile a thing to break. “Think I’ve lost track again.”

Doyle considered before answering. “It’s been two nights; this’ll be our third.”

Bodie nodded. “Thought so.” He looked at the neatly stacked packets and tins beside the wall next to the fireplace. “Supplies aren’t going to last much longer. Unless you have a secret stash somewhere?”

“I could wish.” Doyle poked at the fire with a length of wood. Sparks shot up from the blaze, showering down on the floor. One landed on his bare hand and he shook it off then sucked at the small burn. “Stupid way to end an exercise,” he said, suddenly angry; at himself, at the things that had gone wrong. “Stuck in a derelict house in the middle of nowhere. We’ll probably starve to death.”

“Right little ray of sunshine, aren’t you?” Bodie tipped his head, listening. “The wind’s died down.”

He was right; there was no ominous rattle at the window panes, the creak of stressed metal or the howl of a turbulent wind, just an eerie quiet.

“Might be able to find a way out of here tomorrow if the storm front has moved,” Bodie continued. “There must be a road somewhere close by,”

Doyle looked him up and down; the tousled hair and face even paler than usual, the slightly awkward way he held himself, as if movement was a studied act instead of instinctive. Bodie’s illness had taken more out of him than he was obviously prepared to admit.

“You’re a bit hopeful,” he said. “Everything’s buried under tons of snow. Probably not worth chancing getting even more lost than we are already, or ending up down some bloody great pothole.”

“Maybe,” Bodie conceded. He gave a jaw cracking yawn. “Would be worth a reccy though.”

Doyle nodded. “I’ll take a look in the morning, see what’s out there.”

Bodie looked like he was going to argue but shut his mouth again and lay back down on the mattress, pulling the covers up to his chin

“There’s always the rat,” he murmured, eyes closing.

“What?”

“The rat, you know. Eat instead of starving.”

Doyle shook his head. “Go to sleep, Bodie.”

Bodie snuffled and turned onto his side. Doyle banked the fire then slid in next to him, listening to his quiet breathing in the night. After a while he snuggled closer, laying an arm across Bodie’s waist, gentle and careful so as to not disturb but to draw the comfort he sought into himself. Eventually he too slept.

Chapter Four

The wind caught at George Cowley’s coat, blowing the hem so that it whipped at his legs, the sting of it felt even through his trousers. He was standing in the inner ward gazing across at the ragged and dispirited group of men huddled together in the lee of the castle walls. His recruits, the men he hoped would form the elite of CI5; battered and bruised and frostbitten, almost lost forever and now being tended by the volunteers of Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue - an inglorious end to his most ambitious recruitment strategy so far. He wondered how it could have all gone so spectacularly wrong, what he could have done that he didn’t do to stop this disaster.

The castle overlooking the market town of its namesake, Barnard Castle had been turned into rescue headquarters by virtue of its proximity to Newcastle and the fact the roads had been cleared for general traffic to that point.

“No one could have predicted this, George. Not even you.” The words were softly spoken with no tone of rebuke. But Cowley shook his head.

“Predicted? No. But the fact remains this happened on my remit. The responsibility rests with me.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself. The blame, if any, belongs with god, not man. And we have most of them back. That’s got to count for something.”

“Not in my book it doesn’t, Fred.” His eyes drifted to the lone stretcher and the sad bundle that lay covered on it. Major Nairn saw the movement but remained silent. When Cowley started to walk towards the stretcher and the man sitting beside it he followed.

Cowley looked down at the man when he reached him. There was strain written across his features and his hands shook so much around the tin cup of coffee they held the liquid spilled out and down his fingers. He appeared not to notice.

“Jax,” Cowley’s voice was quiet but still had the power to reach above the sound of the wind. “Are you all right, lad?”

Jax looked up at him, eyes haunted. “Yes, I’m fine.” His voice shook a little as he glanced at the stretcher. “I tried, sir. But Jamie fell and I couldn’t get him up.”

Cowley reached down a hand to touch Jax on the shoulder, consoling where he held on and finding consolation for himself.

“I know, son. You did your best. But now you should go with the others; they’ll be leaving soon.”

Jax nodded and started to rise. Major Nairn helped him to his feet.

“What about Ray Doyle and Bodie? Have they been found yet?” Jax was still holding tight to the cup but Cowley doubted he even realised it.

Cowley cast a glance at Nairn who shook his head.

“Not yet. But they will be.” Cowley hoped what he was saying was the truth. “They’re most likely holed up somewhere, waiting out the weather.”

Jax nodded “Yeah, knowing Bodie, the jammy bugger’s probably swanning it in some posh hunting lodge, lording it over Doyle.” Cowley flinched at the hopeful smile that didn’t reach his eyes. He watched as Jax went to join the other survivors.

“Aye, we do have most of them back. But one is dead,” he said to Nairn. “And two still missing. That is unacceptable. They are my men, my responsibility. We have to find them.”

“The rescue services are doing the best they can, George. The conditions are appalling.”

“Their best is not enough. It’s that simple. What about helicopters?”

“We have two more coming up from Wattisham. Should be here this afternoon.”

Cowley nodded. “And extra army personnel? There must be more manpower that can be deployed.”

“Otterburn’s still closed off. I’ll see about getting some reserves in from the Gateshead barracks.” Cowley might not be in the service anymore, have no real jurisdiction over either Nairn or the army but his personal authority was still very much alive and active.

Cowley nodded again. “Thank you, Fred.” He turned back to where his men were being loaded into rescue vehicles for transfer to Newcastle. He moved towards them, beginning to issue orders to rescuers and rescued alike.

Nairn left him to it.

 

Chapter Five

They argued again the next morning, Doyle out of sorts because he’d woken still curled up around Bodie and that embarrassed him in the light of day. Bodie hadn’t seemed bothered, or even to notice as Doyle hurriedly withdrew, but perversely that only made Doyle more irritated.

The weather was calm and Bodie all for making a break for it, finding that elusive road he just knew had to be out there, the one that would lead to civilisation, or at least a village where they could get help. Doyle let his more pragmatic side take charge in a less than subtle manner.

“You couldn’t walk ten feet in that snow without falling on your arse. And I’m not carrying you!” he snorted.

“Never asked you, did I?” Bodie threw back. “Anyway, got you here in the first place, didn’t I?”

Doyle had to give him that. He’d probably be lying in a ditch somewhere, a cold corpse, if Bodie hadn’t pushed him on. He owed him that. It didn’t make him any less snappish though.

“Doesn’t mean it makes sense for you to hare off now. If anyone should go, it’s me. On my own.” He added at Bodie’s look. “I’m fitter than you are right now, stand more chance of getting far enough it’ll do us some good.”

“And if the weather doesn’t hold? You’ll be stuck out there on your own with no one to back you up.”

“If this road’s as close as you think it is I should be able to get help before another storm hits. If not, I could make my way back here.”

“That makes as much sense as both of us leaving.”

“Then we both stay,” he countered. “Wait for Cowley and the rescue services to find us.”

“That could take days! They have no idea where we are. We have no idea where we are. They could be looking for us in the wrong direction for all we know. Are they even looking for us at all?”

“’Course they’re looking for us. You think Cowley would just forget we exist because we didn’t turn up at his rendezvous point? What about the others? Jax, McCabe. They’re probably all out there too, somewhere.”

Bodie turned away then and stared into the fire.

“Fine,” he muttered. “Have it your way.”

“Fine,” Doyle echoed, the frustration that simmered for so long boiling through to the surface. He turned to the doorway and walked out, leaving Bodie to the fire and his own thoughts.

The world was a silent neverland of white when Doyle stepped from the front door, fog and snow converging into one. There was no wind but the icy air bit into his throat and lungs making them ache.

The house looked small and forlorn from the outside, the stone walls depressingly drab. A low dry stone wall girded the yard with a couple of wrought iron gates hanging askew from the gate posts. They must have managed to stumble right through them in the storm without even seeing them.

Eerie monstrous shapes loomed out of the mist to resolve into a strand of conifers - the Christmas-tree smell another contradiction to the spring season it should be - and, as he moved closer, a barn. Hard packed ice crunched under his boots, making him slip and slide.

He was forced to kick away the banked snow to get the barn doors open. Inside it was dark and musty. Mouldy bales of hay spilled out across a floor strewn with odd bits of tools and pieces of farm equipment. A tractor engine, old and rusted, lay against a wall, the chassis of a Morris Minor took centre stage - discarded playthings of giants, left to rot where they had fallen. Part of the pitched roof had collapsed, opening to the sky, letting in both light and weather.

Doyle picked his way through the debris, regretting the heated words he’d exchanged with Bodie. Pissed off that Bodie was such a stubborn sod he couldn’t see the uselessness of bravado, a reluctance to admit to any weakness. That he could be accused of the same stubbornness didn’t help. At least it had been a peaceful night with no return of Bodie’s previous fever or chills.

Doyle thought about that. Thought about the peace that had settled over him and how comfortable he felt waking up plastered against Bodie’s back, his arm still tethered around Bodie’s middle; until reality set in.

Doyle was sure Bodie had already been awake, could feel the hard evidence of his interest, so easily written off as early morning nature. It had been too close to a revelation though, one that he doubted Bodie would appreciate.

Last night had been a mistake. One he dare not repeat, not if he wanted to be part of CI5 if - when they got out of here. Bodie was attractive, desirable but unobtainable and the sooner he accepted that the better.

Distracted by his thoughts Doyle climbed the ladder leading up to the loft. It was brighter there, shadows pitted against a fog-laden daylight. And it was bare of anything but boards and more piles of straw. Doyle shrugged, and nearly missed the hessian bag tucked between the mouldering heaps. Kneeling he pulled at the tie holding the bag closed and tipped it up, holding his breath at the round objects that tumbled out onto the floor. Turnips, old, almost dried out, taproots and tops discoloured brown and lifeless, but nevertheless edible still. He spent a moment wondering how long the bag had been stored in the loft and who had put them there, then decided he didn’t care.

Gathering the turnips back into the bag he tied it again and stood, taking a step towards the ladder. The board under his foot creaked, held, then broke with a resounding crack. Doyle’s foot slipped through and he fell forward as the rest of the boards gave way. There was no stopping his ungraceful tumble to the lower level and darkness.

----

The cold forced Doyle to consciousness again. And the pain, a throbbing in his lower leg that almost matched the one in his head. He opened his eyes and colours danced bright and shining in front of them before he realised he was staring straight through the opening in the barn roof and into the white world beyond. He turned away from the dazzle of it, tried to sit up but the movement produced pain and a feeling of nausea that made him retch.

He lay still until the sickness passed. When he thought he could manage it, he lifted a hand to the back of his head. There was stickiness and a bump the size of a small egg. Next he tried moving his leg. But the movement brought another round of dizziness and a scream to his lips. He remembered his foot twisting unnaturally when it went through the broken boards. He stopped, steadying his breathing, until the pain dissolved into a dull ache then cautiously looked around, trying to get his bearings.

The loft floor had dumped him near one of the barn walls, landing him on a pile of loose straw that had broken his fall. Unfortunately it was the back wall and the open barn door seemed an interminable journey away. And he hadn’t told Bodie where he was going, too annoyed with him to bother. God, what an idiot he was.

Well, he’d got himself into this mess. He’d have to find a way to get himself out.

This time he tried moving slowly until he managed to get himself into a sitting position without passing out. Shuffling on his backside until he backed himself against the wall and gritting his teeth, he pushed himself upright onto his good leg. His vision blanked for a moment and sweat broke out on his forehead as the thumping in his head crested. Gradually the pain eased and the world stopped moving. Leaning back against the wall for support he began a half hopping, painful inching progress towards the doorway. Until his good leg slipped out from under him and he went down again.

“Fuck!” He lay there, a ball of misery, cursing steadily as his head thumped again and his leg shouted its own outrage, until a voice interrupted.

“Doyle, is that you?”

Doyle drew a deep breath, irritation fighting the relief at hearing Bodie’s voice.

“Who do you think it is?” he managed to shout back. “No one else around here as far as I know.”

The welcoming shadow of Bodie’s bulk fell across him and Doyle looked up into worried eyes that contradicted his words.

“Still in a good mood I see. What happened?”

“I fell, that’s what happened. How’d you find me?”

“That rodent of yours was jumping up and down like something possessed. Thought I’d better come and see what trouble you’d got yourself into.”

“Are you serious?”

“No.” Bodie looked at him pityingly. “It’s just a rat, Ray. Not Lassie.”

Doyle laughed, and it hurt.

“Smart arse,” he said, holding up his arm. “Think you can help me up here?”

But Bodie was already on his knees, hands running carefully over Doyle’s head.

“You’ve got quite an egg there. Any other damage?”

“My ankle, I think.”

Bodie’s hands moved quickly down his body, testing, looking for injury. When he reached Doyle’s foot they were gentle but that didn’t stop the gasp he couldn’t hold back.

“Hmm, could just be sprained.” Bodie suggested doubtfully. He stood and reached down, catching Doyle under his arms. “C’mon, Sunshine. Let’s get you back inside.”

Doyle winced as Bodie lifted him, aching from head to damaged foot. He leant against Bodie for support. “Don’t forget the turnips,” he told him.

Bodie looked at him with a puzzled frown.

“The turnips,” Doyle repeated, pointing to the hessian bag. “Must have dropped them when the floor gave way.”

Bodie shook his head. “Rats, turnips. You will never cease to amaze me, Raymond Doyle.”

Retrieving the bag with one hand, he wrapped the other tight around Doyle’s waist. “Come on, it’s cold out here.”

---

Half supporting, half carrying, Bodie dragged him back inside the house and lowered him down onto their makeshift bed. They were both panting by then and Doyle relaxed back with a sigh of relief. As much as he didn’t want to admit it to Bodie, his body ached, as well as his foot. His head wasn’t much better.

“Looks like neither of us will be wandering off looking for the rescue services,” he said.

Bodie huffed. “Yeah, between us we make a fine pair of invalids,” he said, carefully lifting Doyle’s foot into his lap. He produced the Swiss Army knife from his pocket. “Your ankle’s swollen so much already I’m going to have to cut this boot off. Okay?”

Doyle nodded and Bodie began to cut down the side of the boot, trying not to jog Doyle foot in the process and Doyle tried not to grimace.

“I think it might be broken,” Bodie said at last, after the boot was an irreparable heap of ruined leather on the floor and Doyle was trying to catch his breath again. Bodie set his foot on the mattress. “Stay here. I’ll see what I can find that might help.”

“Not going anywhere,” Doyle mumbled, shock catching up with him.

Bodie had the cheek to grin down at him. “No, I guess you’re not. Suppose it’s one way of keeping you under control.”

Doyle tried to think of smart comeback but he was drifting off already so thought he’d save it for later.

He came out of his doze when something very wet and very cold landed on his foot. He gave a strangled yelp and tried to sit up, only to be pushed back down again by a strong hand against his chest. “What the fuck!”

“Take it easy. It’s just some snow. Might help take the swelling down a bit.”

“Are you crazy? Ever heard of frostbite?”

“Relax! You won’t get frostbite, Ray,” Bodie’s voice still had amused undertones to it. “The snow will melt before that happens.”

“Oh, that’s all right then.” Doyle didn’t try to hide the sarcasm.

Bodie laughed outright. “Guess it’s my turn to look after you,” he said. “So you’d better start doing as you’re told.”

Doyle gave him a look that usually felled most people but it just seemed to bounce right off Bodie’s hide. The hand had moved from his chest and was now easing under his shoulders to lift him. “Here, sit up a bit so I can take a look at that head.”

Surprising even himself, Doyle obeyed without complaint, leaning against Bodie as he was lifted into a sitting position. His head swam but he closed his eyes, opening them again when the nausea settled.

“Hmm,” Bodie muttered, gently pulling Doyle’s head down onto his shoulder and parting his hair. “You’ve got a lump. Probably concussed too.”

“I thought we’d already established that.” Doyle’s voice was muffled by Bodie’s jacket but he still managed the sarcasm.

“So we had,” Bodie said, unperturbed. “Keep still will you?” The fingers probed a bit more and Doyle winced.

“Sorry,” Bodie murmured. He moved away but was back in seconds, this time with a damp cloth in his hands.

Doyle closed his eyes as Bodie cleaned the blood away, the attention soothing rather than painful. Eventually he appeared satisfied and sat back.

“Right, we need this out of the way,” he said, reaching for the hem of Doyle t-shirt.

“What?” Doyle moved away from the hands instinctively.

“I need to check if there’s any more damage. You could be carrying a cracked rib the way you’ve been holding yourself every time you move.”

Doyle stilled and allowed Bodie to pull his shirt up. He heard Bodie hiss and looked down at the blue and black bruise that was forming across his ribs.

“That’s - impressive,” Bodie said, pressing his fingers against the bruise and palpating gently. Doyle tried not to wince again. “Ribs seem intact though. You’re lucky.” Doyle’s breath caught as Bodie’s fingers lingered. “Must hurt,” he murmured. Bodie’s voice was low, pensive, his gaze following the flow of his finger as it traced the outline of bruising, brushing lightly over rib and stomach.

Doyle tried breathing again and Bodie stopped his exploration. Pulling Doyle’s shirt back down he abruptly stood.

“Lie down, I’ll get you something to eat, then you can get some sleep.” His tone was impersonal, bored almost.

“Not supposed to sleep with concussion, are you?” Doyle said, feeling a keen loss at the sudden withdrawal.

“If you were going to go into a coma you’d have done it by now,” Bodie dismissed the idea.

Doyle sighed and lowered himself back onto the mattress. There were some things about his companion he thought he was never going to understand.

----

The fog cleared later, leaving a weak sun shining in through the window and catching in Doyle’s eyes when he opened them. He blinked a few times and realised his head felt better and his foot was bearable but he was stiff and sore and didn’t feel much like moving. There were hazy memories of Bodie feeding him soup and exchanging the snow compress for a more conventional tightly wound bandage torn from the end of their curtain blanket. There wouldn’t be much left if they kept going on like this Doyle thought. Then there was silence and he had slept.

It was the sound of footsteps and rustling that disturbed him, drawing him away from lingering dreams of soft touches and quietly murmured words. Bodie was standing beside the mattress.

“Look what I’ve got,” he said, pleasure and pride dimming any qualms he might have had at waking Doyle up. His earlier distance seemed to have disappeared along with the fog.

Doyle looked suspiciously at the large, very dead hare Bodie dangled by its legs in front of him.

“Where’d you get that?” he demanded, visions of exotic diseases springing to mind.

“Killed it of course. What’d you think?”

“Dunno, thought it might have keeled over of old age or something. How’d you kill it?” He was still suspicious.

Bodie grinned. “With a rock.”

Doyle stared at him.

“I’ll have you know I hit everything I aim for,” Bodie said, all hurt dignity.

“Must’ve been a bloody slow rabbit then.”

“Hare, Raymond. It’s a hare, not a rabbit. Subtle difference. And if you don’t want any I’ll keep it to myself.” He made to turn away with his prize.

“Didn’t say that, did I?” Doyle was quick with the denial. Rabbit, hare whatever, it was food and he was hungry.

Bodie’s grin was hawkish. “Wanna give me a hand to skin it.”

“Me!” Doyle squeaked, horrified. That made Bodie laughed outright.

“I’ll let you off this time,” he said. “But you’re cooking it.”

Doyle considered that with serious intent, making Bodie wait, the look of mischief on his face too entertaining to wipe away too quickly.

“You’re on,” he said, finally.

Bodie’s smile was a reward in itself.

With Bodie’s help Doyle set himself up next to the fire and peeled turnips after Bodie had expertly skinned and prepared the hare, a process Doyle tried to avoid watching.

“Where’d you learn to do that?” he asked as Bodie washed the carcass in the water bucket then rinsed his hands.

“Here and there,” Bodie told him.

“Where was ‘here’ and how far away was ‘there’?” Doyle asked, risking a return of the previous detachment.

Bodie waited so long before answering Doyle thought he was being ignored.

“’Here’ was Liverpool. ‘There’ was lots of places, but the skinning was courtesy of my grandfather; he liked to hunt. Believed the true hunter dressed his own kill.”

“You must have been close.”

Bodie shot him a wry look. “With my grandfather? No. He took me along because he had the insane desire to ‘make a man of me’. My cousins were far more to his liking.” He handed Doyle the cooking pot. “This hare stew stand a chance of getting cooked anytime soon?”

Doyle took the hint and dumped his peeled turnips in the pot. Bodie added the carcass and settled the pot in amongst the hot coals. It didn’t take long for the water to start bubbling. Doyle added one of the last remaining soup packets, hoping it would help the flavour along.

With no entertainment available they drifted into small talk, steering clear of the personal and Doyle was grateful that Bodie hadn’t completely withdrawn behind his self-imposed wall again. Those glimpses of a playful Bodie were a gift he didn’t want to lose. He was surprised later though, when Bodie started asking his own questions.

“So, why does a bright young copper like you want to sign up with CI5?”

Doyle glanced up from stirring the contents of the pot. “Bright?” he questioned. Bode was looking at him with some speculation.

“So rumour has it.”

“Didn’t think you’d be the type to listen to gossip.”

“Nothing wrong with gossip if it tells you what you want to know,” he said, unabashed. “So long as you sort the bluster from the bullshit.”

“And you’d be an expert on both?”

Bodie laughed. “Don’t ever bullshit a bullshitter, mate. And you didn’t answer my question.”

Doyle considered him for a moment, wondering whether to give Bodie what he wanted. Working on the policy of tit for tat, he finally replied.

“There was a copper helped me once, a long time ago, when I was a wild kid. You know the way it is when you’re thirteen and you know it all?” Doyle grinned at the memory of that wayward child he’d been. It seemed a lifetime ago now. Bodie nodded his understanding with his own half smile.

“Anyway, he turned a bad situation around, kept me out of the trouble I was headed for. Got me thinking too about what I was and what I stood a good chance of becoming. Guess he was what decided me to join the force, do some good in the world. Then my partner, was shot just after I saw one of those flyers about CI5 and it seemed being a copper wasn’t enough somehow. We’d get the small fry, make an example of them. But real criminals, the big ones that run the operations, we can’t touch half the time. So when I got the invite to apply, I did.”

“Takes more than ambition, you know, and a desire to set the world to rights, that’ll get you into that kind of outfit.”

“I’ve passed all the tests up to now.” Doyle shrugged, the disaster of this final evaluation weighing heavy.

“Seen you out on the firing range; where’d you learn to shoot like that?” Bodie’s smile had an honest appreciation to it.

“The Met gun club. Champion marksman two years running,” Doyle told him with some pride. “What about you? I’m surprised you’ve had to go through all this training and tests. Would’ve thought the SAS would make you a shoo-in.”

Bodie raised an eyebrow at him. “You’ve been listening to rumours too.” Doyle just grinned at him. “Nothing’s a guarantee with Cowley. I’ve been doing some work with him on secondment but I still have to go through the same rigmarole as everyone else.”

Doyle studied the fire. So Bodie was just as uncertain about gaining Cowley’s favour and admittance to the hallowed corridors of CI5 as the rest of them were. That was interesting.

 

Chapter Six

Ben turned up when they were eating, drawn no doubt by the smell of cooking hare. Bodie tossed him half a biscuit then shared the rest with Doyle. It was the last of their supply.

“That bloody rat is getting far too comfortable with human company,” Bodie muttered as Ben watched them from the far shadows of the room. “I’d swear he’s sizing us up for his next meal now that the biscuits are gone.”

The stew turned out not so bad, the hare meat tender and the turnips adding a slightly bitter tang. Not exactly haute cuisine but better than nothing Doyle supposed.

He felt lazy and replete settled by the fire, alternating a watchfulness of the flames with watching Bodie; the way he licked the spoon clean, the almost delicate sweep of tongue over plastic.

Bodie glanced across, catching his gaze on him and Doyle thought to look away but didn’t. They shared the silence for a moment and Doyle watched firelight spark lights in the dark irises.

“Want some more?” Bodie asked finally, waving the spoon at him.

Doyle shook his head. If Bodie didn’t finish all the stew off now there would be enough for the next day, but judging by how much he’d already eaten the man had a rare appetite

Bodie’s eyes slid away from their contact with his. “That wasn’t half bad,” he said in unconscious echo of Doyle’s thoughts. He carefully licked the spoon again before regretfully replacing it in the saucepan.

“Could see you enjoyed it,” Doyle told him, still watching, the man a magnet he couldn’t seem to pull away from.

“What exactly are you insinuating, Raymond?”

“Me? Nothin’. Can see you’re just a growing lad.” Doyle looked pointedly down at the pot. “Good thing you’re handy with rocks though.”

Bodie’s attention was back on him. He leaned in, mock fierce. “One of these days, Raymond.”

“Yeah, what?” Doyle threw out the challenge. Bodie face was inches away, so close their breaths mingled and Doyle felt the flush of body heat against him.

They stayed like that for what seemed like an eternity but could only have been seconds, Doyle, mesmerised, waited for Bodie to close the gap between them; wanting, needing to feel the pressure of that solid body against him. But Bodie drew back and the spell broke.

“You …,” Bodie started, then stopped and shook his head. “I need some air.”

He was gone before Doyle could say anything.

~~~

The frail sun had long gone down before Bodie came back. Doyle heard his footsteps, knew he was there, standing in the doorway looking at him. Doyle didn’t stir, feigning sleep in case movement drove him away again.

At last Bodie moved and there was the rustle of a jacket being removed. Doyle felt the sudden rush of cold as covers were lifted and the side of the mattress dipped then Bodie lay still and the covers settled. Minutes later he turned into Doyle’s side and he could feel the chill from the cold body. Bodie sighed and his forehead came to rest by Doyle’s shoulder. Then he was still and Doyle knew he was asleep.

Doyle slipped into sleep too, the whisper of warm breath comforting on his neck.

~~~

What seemed like hours later Doyle was jerked into wakefulness by a feeling of being watched again. He was surrounded by darkness, wrapped in living heat. It took him a moment to realise the warmth came from arms and legs and a torso so close there was no space between them. He turned his head to meet eyes the colour of night gazing down at him. Unable to stop himself Doyle reached up to trace fingertips over the lips just visible in the light from dying embers. Bodie turned his face into his hand.

“Ah, Raymond Doyle. What you do to me.” The words were whispered against Doyle’s hand, breath tickling his palm. Then Bodie’s head lifted and filled Doyle’s vision again.

His mouth was hard, his beard scraping against Doyle’s cheek as he kissed him; his lips urgent, desperate. Doyle responded just as desperately, giving in to his desire for this man whose hands were demanding a response, fleeting thoughts of consequences pushed away. Regrets were for tomorrow.

They moved together, a symphony of touch and desire, mouths and hands desperately seeking skin, the rough burn of whiskers adding to the sensations.

Their lovemaking was silent, the rasp of clothing being pulled aside the only sound in the stillness until Doyle gasped as Bodie’s weight settled on him. Bodie hesitated, on the brink of moving away.

“No,” was all Doyle said, reaching up to pull him back down again and kiss away the doubt.

It couldn’t last, their need was too strong. Doyle came with a violent thrust of his hips that jarred his ankle and sent pain arching across his ribs. Bodie followed, spilling on Doyle’s hand as it touched his cock.

They lay tangled together, breathing harshly, until Doyle moaned and shifted, trying to move the leg that had become trapped in the covers. Bodie immediately rolled off then came to rest on an elbow, looking down.

“Sorry, did I hurt you?” he asked, worry creasing his forehead.

Doyle wriggled, got his uninjured foot loose and tried to steady his breathing.

“I’m fine,” he said. “Great in fact, so come back down here.” He reached up and pulled Bodie back down beside him.

“We need to talk.” Bodie snuggled into his side, head resting on his shoulder.

“Tomorrow,” Doyle told him, refusing to give up his sated feeling and languor for something as mundane as conversation.

“Okay.” The voice was soft and sleep filled, lips gentle against his skin. Doyle fell asleep again to the sound of Bodie’s quiet breathing.

~~~

They didn’t talk when they woke up again. It seemed more important to investigate their new territory; peel each other of their remaining clothes and explore the creases and hidden valleys of each other’s bodies.

Bodie’s hands were gentle on him, careful not to hurt already damaged skin or bone and when he parted Doyle’s legs to lick in the soft crease between groin and thigh Doyle begged for more. And Bodie gave it to him

They didn’t talk when they had finished either. Or not about the things Doyle knew they should.

“What’s your name?” Doyle asked when their bodies were still again and they were sated and could breathe without conscious thought.

Bodie lifted his head from its perch on Doyle’s stomach and stared at him.

“Do you normally have sex with nameless men?” he asked. “Or is it that you just can’t remember mine because I blew your mind as well as your cock.”

“You know what I mean,” Doyle tapped his fingers against Bodie’s skull. “Your first name. Can’t keep calling you Bodie, can I?”

“Don’t see why not. Everyone else does.” Bodie lay his head down again, the subject obviously closed as far as he was concerned.

Doyle tried again. “Your family didn’t call you Bodie did they?”

Bodie sighed “My names are William Andrew Phillip. When I was a kid I was called William.”

“That’s a bit of a mouthful.” Doyle noticed the lack of mention of family but knew this was not the time to probe, well maybe just a little. “So, when did William become just Bodie?”

Bodie lifted his head again “William got left behind somewhere in Africa. Bodie was more suited to the clime. You always this nosey?

“Sign of a good detective, mate.” Doyle yelped as Bodie bit his navel.

“Sign of a know-all you mean. You do know what happened to the cat that got too curious don’t you?”

“Pillock,” Doyle told him, rubbing the sore spot. His hand came away sticky so he rubbed it in Bodie’s hair.

“Ger off, yer mucky pup.” Bodie jerked away, swatting at his hand. “Stay there,” he said, getting to his feet. “I’ll put the kettle on and get something to clean us up.”

Doyle watched as Bodie added wood to the fire. Flames flared up in response to the new fuel, throwing light and shadow across his sweat stained body as he bent to fill the kettle with snow melt. With quick efficiency he had tea brewing in their tin cups and was wringing a less than clean cloth out in warm water.

He brought the cloth back to the mattress and squatted. Slowly and methodically he began washing Doyle down, cleaning away the sweat and grime of nearly four days as well as the evidence of their lovemaking.

Doyle lay still under the ministrations, watching the changing expressions cross Bodie’s face; concentration, a frown that said he was thinking too much. He was getting to know Bodie’s moods, see past the hard exterior to the warmth he knew was inside but kept hidden from the world.

“The swelling’s gone down a bit.” He was examining Doyle’s foot carefully. “Not that much though. Reckon you have broken it.”

“Suppose I won’t be doing any calisthenics for a while then.” Doyle was philosophical.

“Probably not,” Bodie agreed, far too cheerful about it. “Guess you’ll just have to sit around looking pretty.”

Doyle snorted. “I’m sure Cowley will appreciate that.”

“Don’t worry,” Bodie told him, patting his knee. “I’m sure there’ll be a desk job in it for you at least.”

“Cheers, mate. Great way to make a person feel better. At least you’ve got the SAS to go back to.”

“There is that,” Bodie laughed, seemingly unaffected by the prospect, and helped him on with trousers and t-shirt, then Doyle admired the show while Bodie washed himself and dressed.

They sat then, Doyle with his injured leg outstretched, elevated on the piled up cover. The fire was blazing happily so they warmed up the stew for a late breakfast.

“Can I ask you something?” Doyle said to break the silence and because he wanted to know.

“Would it make any difference if I said no?” Bodie asked him, but he didn’t seem perturbed by Doyle’s new inquisitiveness.

“When did you know you liked men?”

Bodie sat back at that and looked Doyle over from head to toe, appreciation in his eyes.

“Suppose I was about twelve or thirteen. As a revelation it wasn’t particularly startling, but then public school tends to shatter one’s illusions about oneself. What about you?” he spun the question neatly back.

“Nothing so prosaic. Think I always knew. Started making out with the girls an’ realised I’d like to make out with the boys as well. Kept that to meself though.” He remember the look of disgust on his parent’s faces when a neighbour told tales about young Raymond and the boy from down the road. Gary his name had been. And their looks of relief when he’d signed up for the force. “Keep a cap on it most of the time,” he finished. “Gays and the police force don’t mix.”

Bodie nodded in understanding. “Same with the military,” he said. “Bit like the Yanks. Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“Suppose it’ll be the same in CI5,” Doyle mused. “If Cowley doesn’t ask us, we don’t have to tell him.”

He felt Bodie stiffen beside him, a sudden chill pervading the air between them. Worried, he started to speak but the clear piping tones of a childish voice interrupted.

“Wey man, a telled yez there wore smoke comin’ oot o’ yon chimbley.”

They both froze. The sound, what it meant, the hope it brought all too sudden after the long days of hopelessness.

Then there the other sounds filtered through; voices, the thud of boots on snow and the distant sound of an engine.

They looked at each other and Bodie hurried to his feet. “About bloody time,” he shouted from the doorway. Suddenly the room was crowded with men dressed in heavy outdoor clothing and one small excited child who ran between them all chattering in an undecipherable Northumbrian accent.

Things happened quickly after that. Their rescuers, were responding to a call from a local villager whose son had been out with his toboggan as soon as the blizzard cleared. Making use of a downhill slope he’d stacked it against an almost hidden stone wall surrounding the derelict house then legged it home as fast as he could when he’d seen the signs of activity.

Almost before they knew it Doyle’s foot had been examined and declared a case for evacuation.

“Ye’re lucky, mind, man. We’d aalmost given yez up fer deed.”

“You’re not the only one,” Doyle said, looking for Bodie. He’d been swallowed up almost immediately by the throng but he spotted him now near the passage, being helped into a coat similar to the ones the rescuers were wearing. Their eyes met across the room and a flush that might have been caused by the new warmth of the coat stole up Bodie’s face. Then he turned away and left in the company of his guardians.

Doyle felt a chill. The relaxed and caring Bode he’d got to know in their solitude seemed to be gone and the familiar cold stranger back.

There was no sign of him when Doyle was helped outside. Hovering overhead with a noise that threatened to shatter the remaining windows in the house, the helicopter that was to air lift him to hospital eventually landed on the far side of the stone wall on the snow covered field. Doyle was surprised when Major Cowley climbed out and made his way across the field towards them.

“Och, it’s good to see you, lad.” He clapped Doyle on the shoulder.

“It’s good to see you too, sir.”

He looked around. “Where’s Bodie?”

“He’s bin tyeken back ti the base in one o’ yon jeeps.”

Cowley nodded. “Come on then, lad. I’d imagine you’ll be glad to get away from here.”

“Yes, sir.”

As he was helped into the back of the helicopter Doyle cast a glance back towards the house. He didn’t expect he would ever see it again. He felt strangely bereft, as if he was losing something important.

~~~

The rat leapt onto the window ledge and stared out of the window, its nose twitching, catching the smells that drifted up from the strange monster in the snow covered field on the other side of the wall. It had a good nose, one of the best in its family, which was why it was always sent out as scout. It had kept the knowledge of the humans in the house to itself though. The others would not understand its fascination with them.

It watched as its strange benefactors left with their companions. They didn’t go together although it thought each would not have wanted to be parted from their mate. But it accepted that humans were different from rats.

It waited until the monster had swallowed up the one then leapt down from the windowsill. It would call the others. There were scraps left, lots of them. They would feast.

 

Part Two

 

 

Prologue

The boy stood with his mam on the doorstep, his small suitcase clutched firmly in his hand, and watched as she reached out for the doorknocker. It was different from any doorknocker he had seen before; ugly and monstrous, like pictures he’d seen in books, what his mam had told him was a gargoyle. His mam hesitated with her hand just above it and he wondered if she were frightened the gargoyle would bite her hand. He though it might. Then she grabbed the monster and banged it down hard, well maybe not so hard, but it made a nice satisfying sound.

“So this is the little bastard, is it?”

The man who had opened the door was tall, taller even than his teacher at school was, and the boy had to stretch his neck right back to see all of him. His mam said he wouldn’t see his teacher again. He wasn’t sure why. The boys at school called him a bastard too. His best friend told him it was because he had no dad. He mam said he wouldn’t see his best friend anymore either. That made him sad. He shuffled his feet and sniffed.

He mam murmured something to the man that the boy couldn’t hear and the man stepped back.

“You’d better come in then,” he said. His mam held his free hand and they crossed the doorstep.

The man took them into a big room with lots of pictures on the walls and fancy little white cloths mam called doilies on the couch and chair. Most of the pictures were of Jesus and he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to cross himself or not in front of them. There was a lady there too. She looked a bit like his mam, only a lot older and her hair was all grey streaked instead of black like his mam’s. She didn’t smile at him.

His mam kissed the lady on the cheek. This time he heard her when she said “It’s good to see you, mother.” And the lady told her, “It’s time you came home, Elizabeth.”

The lady was looking at him then, from his feet to the top of his head. It made him squirm.

“What have you called him?”

“William Andrew Phillip,” his mam told them, then she added “Bodie.” And they looked at her all funny.

“That’s a mouthful! And how can you give him that tinker’s name? He didn’t marry you after all, so the child isn’t even entitled to it.”

He didn’t understand what the lady was saying and he didn’t like the way she was saying it, but he wasn’t sure why.

“His father acknowledged him. And he was going to marry me, before he …” His mam’s voice went low then and the boy squeezed her hand tighter. “Died. And he wasn’t a tinker. He was a sales representative.”

The lady gave what his mam always said was an ‘elegant sniff’. The boy thought it was just a sniff like he did when his nose ran, only quieter.

“Doesn’t say much, does he?” The man was looking at him now too.

“William, say hello to your grandmother and grandfather,” his mam told him.

“Iya granddad, grandma.” The boy tried to look happy to see them, but it was hard, especially when he was being stared at like that.

“This won’t do, Elizabeth,” the lady, his grandma, said. “He sounds like something straight off the docks.”

“We’ll have none of that sort of thing around here,” the man, his grandda, added, his face screwing up like he’d just bit into something nasty.

The boy couldn’t work out what he’d said so wrong in those three words. But no one told him and he didn’t want to ask his mam, she’d looked so sad and lonely since they had come into the house, like she didn’t want them to be there at all. His mam had never been like that before. They’d always been happy even when they didn’t have a penny to put in the meter. They’d made igloos from blankets to keep warm and laughed and played in the darkness under the covers.

“The right school will put a stop to that and teach him some manners.” His grandda had a stern look, not kind at all. Not like his mam’s friends; they were always kind to him and friendly. The boy decided he didn’t like his grandda very much, he made his stomach go all twisty.

“I’ll not have him going to boarding school, father.”

“He’ll go where I say he goes, daughter. Your brother’s boys are at St Edmonds’, same as he was. This one will go there too.”

His mam didn’t say anything to that and the boy squirmed. Boarding school didn’t sound very nice and he didn’t want to go somewhere that wasn’t nice. His regular school was nice, even when the other boys were calling him nasty names.

“Well, you’d better get him settled, Elizabeth,” his grandma, said. “He’ll have the attic room. Cook has left some milk and biscuits by the bed. You can take him up now. Then we can talk.”

“Yes, mother.”

His mam took him up a lot of stairs, right up to the very top of the house, to a little room with a bed and a chest of drawers beside it. There was a wardrobe in one corner and the roof slanted down one side, right over the bed. She told him the room was his now and helped him unpack his suitcase and put on his pyjamas, then he climbed into the bed.

The boy sat up in bed and drank his milk. He took a bite out of the biscuit. It was good, all sweet and crumbly.

“I don’t want to stay here, mammy,” he told his mam through biscuit crumbs. And it was true, even though he liked that there was a window that looked out over the park and he could see for miles and miles. Or that when he looked up the roof was close and the room was almost like a little hidey-hole that no one would find him in.

“You have to, Will.” His mam always called him Will when they were alone. “It won’t be so bad here. Your grandfather and grandmother will look after you. And I’ll be here with you too. At least for a little while.” His mam coughed then, the way she did all the time now.

“But you know I will have to go away soon,” she said, after the coughing had passed.

Biscuit forgotten, he tried to put his hands over his ears like he always did that when his mam told him she would be going away, so he couldn’t hear her.

“No. No, I won’t listen,” he shouted. But this time his mam wouldn’t let him. She held his hands so gentle before he could move them. And made him look at her. He always liked to look into her eyes, they were so pretty; big and blue, like the sky on a summer day, and her lashes so long and dark. But now they had tears in them and he didn’t want to see that ‘cause it made him cry, but he couldn’t look away.

“You must promise me you will be a good boy and do as your grandfather tells you until I come back,” she told him.

“You will come back, won’t you?” the boy sniffed.

“If you promise to be good, I’ll promise to come back.”

“Promise,” he said.

“I promise too,” she told him.

He did start to cry then and his ma held him and rocked him until he fell asleep and she didn’t even tell him that big boys like him didn’t cry.

----

His ma went away the next week. But she did come back, like she promised. The boy tried very hard to keep his promise too. But it was hard. No matter what he did, his grandfather found something wrong and punished him for it. Most of the time he wasn’t even sure what the wrong had been.

The boy got used to living in the big house with his grandda and grandma. He even got used to calling them grandfather and grandmother like his cousins, James and Bradley did. He never did quite get used to being the outsider though. Or the cruel tricks his cousins like to play on him with such casual indifference.

He hated being called William too, but he didn’t want his cousins or his grandparents calling him Will; that was his mother’s name for him. He was called Bodie at school and that suited him just fine.

His mother died when he was seven, three weeks after she returned to the house.

That was the first time he ran away.

Bodie dreamed sometimes of his mother and how happy they had been when they lived alone together.

When he was fourteen Bodie packed his bag to go back to school after half-term. There was no one to see him off. His grandfather was at his office in Seaforth and his grandmother out visiting.

Bodie set off for the railway station, bypassed it and kept walking. He never looked back.

 

Chapter One

Bodie looked at the scrap of peeling paint on the wall just above Cowley’s shoulder and tried to concentrate on what the man was saying but the slight imperfection in a near pristine office bothered him.

“You’ve been checked out by the medics and found to be fit enough for duty.” Cowley’s voice punctured a small hole in his subconscious and he nodded. “I understand you’ve also been given a course of prophylactic treatment for the recurring malaria?”

Bodie nodded but Cowley had stopped speaking, so he shifted his gaze from the wall and returned his look. “Started the medication yesterday,” he told him.

“Perhaps in future you could attend to medical matters in a more timely manner. Sick leave is a limited commodity in CI5.”

“Yes, sir.”

The briefing continued and Bodie went back to his contemplation of the peeling paint.

“I hope you’re taking this in, Bodie.”

Bodie blinked and focussed again, unfazed by Cowley’s piercing gaze. He’d faced off against fiercer opponents than the old man, had handled Cowley’s stern personality well enough in their previous dealings. He could handle him now.

“Yes, Sir. Personnel. Security. Flat. You mentioned Paddington, Sir.”

Cowley’s gaze didn’t waver, causing Bodie to reassess his previous opinion, suddenly aware his estimation of the man could have been a little off centre. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat under those watchful eyes that suddenly seemed to see right through him.

“So I did,” Cowley said, finally. He glanced at the papers in front of him then leant back in his chair to watch Bodie once more.

“When the subject of your secondment to CI5 first came up there was a suggestion from your superiors that you have some difficulty ‘toeing the line’. Is that true, Bodie?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know, Sir. You’d have to discuss that with them.”

“Believe me, Bodie. I have.”

Bodie had to admire the old man’s intimidation techniques; they rivalled anything he’d seen before, and he’d seen experts. Peeling paint forgotten, Bodie focussed his attention this time when Cowley continued speaking.

“If you are to continue to work for me in any capacity there will be none of that. I demand obedience and loyalty in my men. I give the orders, you obey, without question, no matter what. Do you think you can handle that?”

Bodie opened his mouth to answer but Cowley forestalled him with a raised hand.

“No. Think carefully before you answer. ”

Bodie gave it the required pause. He wanted this job; he’d do what was necessary. “Yes, Sir.”

Cowley seemed satisfied. “Good. Now there is also the matter of your assigned partner.”

Bodie started. “Partner, Sir? I’d prefer to work alone. I thought I’d been clear about that in my application form.”

Cowley spared him another hard stare from over his glasses.

“You were. However I’m the one who decides such matters. CI5 is to be an organisation of partners, not individuals. Anyone working alone will do so only under special conditions.” He shuffled some of the papers until he found the one he wanted. “My decision has been to pair you with Doyle.”

“No!” Bodie’s protest was stark and involuntary, uttered without thought and immediately regretted for the reaction it brought to Cowley’s face. He stuttered then, trying to recover. “I-I’m not sure that would work, Sir.”

“And why is that, Bodie?” Cowley’s interest was palpable and Bodie fought for control and an explanation that would draw the man’s attention away from his mistake.

“Well, Doyle’s not ready for active duty yet, what with the leg and everything. I was hoping to go straight into action.”

“Oh, I had no intention of holding you back, Bodie.” Cowley seemed amused but his gaze was sharp. “You’ll be assigned solo duties for now.”

“One of those special conditions, Sir?”

Cowley didn’t even blink. “Indeed. But working in records really doesn’t require a team mate, does it?”

“No, Sir,” Bodie grimaced.

Cowley had returned to the paperwork in front of him. “Judging by both your and Doyle’s assessment results you are evenly matched, complement each other in fact. You both score in the highest percentile for marksmanship, Doyle holding a slight edge in hand guns while your advantage appears to be rifles.” He flicked through another page. “Aptitude tests within acceptable parameters. As such there is every chance of a successful teaming”

He looked up again. “You certainly both proved your resourcefulness recently. And your ability to work together. Which makes this reluctance to be partnered with Doyle all the more puzzling. ”

“That was different,”

“How so?” Cowley was interestedly waiting for Bodie’s response.

“Just was,” he told him, his usual articulation failing him in his anxiety to explain something he was not sure he entirely understood himself. He took a breath and tried again. “We were alone without support. We had to get on with it. Don’t get me wrong,” he added hastily. “I like Doyle well enough.”

Too well. Walls had been broken that must be repaired.

“But I work better on my own, always have.”

“Well perhaps it’s time to change your ways,” Cowley told him. “Unless of course you would prefer to return to SAS duties or your regiment?”

Bodie just managed to hide the flinch, or he thought he did.

“I thought not.” Cowley picked up a slip of paper and held it out. “Take this to the armoury. You’ll be issued with a weapon. Personnel have your ID ready and the details of your accommodation. You have the rest of the week in which to sort out your personal affairs and acquaint yourself with CI5 procedures. I’ll expect you to report for duty as of 7.00am Monday morning. Once Doyle has been passed as physically fit by Macklin we’ll revisit the question of your partnership.”

The interview apparently at an end, Bodie rose and reached for the paper.

“Thank you, Sir. You won’t regret this.”

“I hope not, Bodie.”

~~~

Cowley watched as Bodie left the room. He knew he would be a prickly, insubordinate even, addition to the squad. His records showed him to be an excellent soldier but a loner, one who had a distinct antipathy for authority. He was prepared to accept that, needed it even. But he also needed to control that streak, turn it to his own advantage.

His reaction to being partnered with Doyle had been unexpected. The two men had spent days isolated in each other’s company, struggling for basic survival. If they hadn’t learnt how to get on, how to work together, they wouldn’t have come out of the experience as whole as they had.

Something had happened that wasn’t obvious on the surface and he wanted to know what that something was.

He picked up the phone. “Betty, as soon as Raymond Doyle arrives send him straight in to me.”

~~~

The clump of Doyle’s crutches on the hardwood floor outside his office brought Cowley unwanted reminders of the so recent disaster they had all faced. He pushed them aside as Doyle stumped awkwardly through the door then balanced precariously before managing to manoeuvre into the chair Cowley waved him to.

Cowley could have gone to help, he supposed. But he knew his assistance would have been rejected outright, with an added dose of indignation. Although they might not realise it, there was a similarity, a synchronisation between the man now in his office and the one that had left it not so long ago. While they were chalk and cheese on the surface - Doyle passionate and hot tempered, Bodie cold and controlled until pushed - both men were resilient, and independent beyond the point of annoyance. He knew they would make a good team and he meant to see they became one.

Doyle was the first to speak. “You wanted to see me, Mr Cowley?”

Now that he was settled Doyle sat relaxed, almost sprawled, in his chair, with none of the military tension that often held Bodie in an attitude of rigid attention.

There was a set procedure for Cowley’s new agents, paperwork to be completed and a speech to be given, similar to what he’d done with Bodie. But there was plenty of time for that with Doyle; he wouldn’t be on active duty for a few weeks yet. This time he decided to change tack.

He took off his glasses and leaned back in his own chair in almost-imitation of Doyle.

“Tell me about the exercise, what happened when the storm hit, how you and Bodie found the farm.”

Doyle shifted on his chair. “You have my report,” he said. “And Bodie’s, I assume.”

And there was the first indication that there had been no meaningful contact between the men since their rescue. “Yes. But I’d like to hear it from you, in your own words.”

Doyle’s eyebrows rose but he settled to the task after taking a moment to marshal his thoughts. As Cowley expected, with Doyle’s police experience he was able to easily organise a verbal report into a logical sequence and as he began Cowley listened, watching his face as much as listening to the words, trying to decide how much he was leaving out. Disappointingly he gave nothing of any consequence away.

When he was finished Cowley had a question.

“So during the whole episode there was no conflict between the two of you?”

Doyle snorted. “Bodie and conflict go together,” he said. “He can be an arrogant arse when he wants to.”

Cowley had to smile at that, as much at Doyle’s assessment as his obvious knowledge of the man.

“We worked it out though,” Doyle continued with a small smile, then shrugged. “We had to.”

“So you’d be surprised that when I told Bodie I intended partnering the pair of you he refused?”

Shock passed over Doyle’s features, but it was gone so quickly Cowley would have missed it if he hadn’t been watching closely.

“His choice,” Doyle said, his tone flat.

“No,” Cowley told him. “It’s my choice. And once you are fit for duty I intend seeing that choice is carried out.”

Doyle shrugged. “Good luck with that, Sir. Was that all? I do need to get that accommodation you promised sorted out.”

There seemed no point trying to pursue the current line of conversation so Cowley nodded.

“Yes, that will be all for now. You’re to report back as soon as you are cleared for duty.”

“Yes, Sir.” Doyle gathered his crutches around him and left with perhaps more of an overstated clump than he’d entered with, leaving Cowley with a lot to think about. Whatever the problem was between them, neither was oblivious to each other.

~~~

“Why did you tell Cowley you didn’t want to work with me?”

The words were flung in his direction as soon as soon as Bodie opened the door to the rec room. Doyle, his eyes full of green fire, leant against the counter top, cup in hand, crutches beside him, watching as Bodie carefully closed the door behind him.

Bodie drew a deep breath. This was the conversation he didn’t want to have. Thanks to Cowley, it appeared he would be having it.

“Nice to see you too, Doyle. Any more of that tea going?”

Doyle’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t be a smartarse, Bodie. What did you say to him?” he said. “Or, rather, what did he say to you?”

Bodie sighed. “He told me we were to be partnered. I told him I didn’t think it would be a good idea, that’s all. And that I prefer to work alone.”

“Why?”

Because I’ve always been alone. Because I can’t be with you. It will take more of me than I can give.

The question, so simple yet so very complex had no easy answer that Doyle would understand, or forgive.

Doyle must have seen something of it in his face

“Don’t do this Bodie.” He sounded perplexed, as if sorting through a puzzle he didn’t quite understand.

“Do what?” Bodie was deliberately provocative, measuring the bright shards of anger that flashed quickly in the green eyes before Doyle visibly held himself in check.

“You know what I mean.” He put the cup down carefully and picked up his crutches, tucking them into his armpits.

Bodie watched as he made his way towards him. Doyle didn’t know it but Bodie had seen him around headquarters over the last few days, had watched him from a distance, unseen, trying to balance on his crutches, clumsy and unco-ordinated. Now he noted he was getting better at mastering the things, as Bodie never doubted he would.

Doyle waited until he was a breath away before speaking again.

“Okay, I get it. What happened at the house stays there. We can’t be like that here. There’s too much to lose if anyone finds out.” He reached out with one hand to touch Bodie’s cheek, his fingers gentle, his balance slightly off skew now. “But we don’t have to give it all up, do we? Our friendship? I thought we were friends first and lovers second.”

Bodie turned away, the better to shut out the look of hurt that he knew would morph into betrayal with his words. His cheek felt cold as Doyle’s fingers slid away.

“A one night stand doesn’t make us anything, Ray. We did what we did for survival. We slept together because we were lonely, that’s all. There was nothing in it.”

He felt Doyle recoil behind him, even though he couldn’t see him. But when he spoke his voice was even, dry almost.

“Cowley is going to insist we be partnered, once I’m on active duty.”

“Then I’ll do my best to persuade him otherwise.”

“You’re a bastard, you know that?”

There it was, the final anger, ready to explode into life. It was time Bodie left.

“Oh, yes. All too well. I’ve been informed of that fact all my life.”

Bodie didn’t look back as he pulled the door open again and left. He closed his eyes though, at the brittle sound of crockery breaking against the door.

He spent his last night in the cheap bedsit he’d been living in before moving into the high tech, high security apartment arranged by CI5 drinking his way through the best part of a bottle of scotch. It didn’t cloud the visions of furious green eyes or stop the echo of breaking crockery.

~~~

It was only a few days after his confrontation with Doyle that everything changed for Bodie and the question of a partnership, their partnership, became moot, for the time being anyway.

Assigned a solo obbo job where he had nothing to do but watch the rain from a spring storm fall outside the window and count the drops that splattered onto the floor through the hole in the roof, Bodie welcomed the interruption of an urgent call to HQ.

He found his boss looking both grim and harassed, his usual neat precision absent, along with his jacket. His tie was hanging askew. He looked up as Bodie entered.

“Ah, Bodie. Have a seat.”

Bodie obeyed, taking in the scattering of files on Cowley’s desk, its condition almost as dishevelled as its owner. Whatever was going on, it had the wind up the old man.

Cowley didn’t waste any time getting to the point.

“There have been some rather alarming indications that an IRA terrorist faction based here in England is preparing to arm themselves,” he began. “What their target is remains unclear at the moment as we have been unsuccessful so far in getting anyone close enough to the group to gain that information. Intelligence sources in Ireland haven’t been able to come up with anything of value either, other than the fact that the ringleader has been very active in attempting, unsuccessfully so far, to broker an arms deal.”

Bodie shifted in his seat, waiting for Cowley to come to the point of his summons. He thought he’d welcome anything that stifled the boredom of the last few days. He didn’t have to wait long.

“Which is the reason I’ve called for you, Bodie. We need an operative to go undercover and make every effort to infiltrate this group. Specifically, you.” The statement was bald, delivered with no prevarication.

“Why?” Bodie questioned, then repeated it in case there was any doubt. He had a feeling he knew anyway. “Why specifically me?”

Cowley sat back now and held Bodie’s gaze. “You have the background, and the experience to carry this off. And the appropriate calling card to get yourself into a position of some trust with the man we are after.”

“What? My history as a mercenary or the one where I was an arms dealer?” Bodie muttered, wondering if his past was ever going to be just that – the past.

“Possibly both.” Cowley didn’t give him an inch. “You know how to talk the talk, as they say. But that’s not the only reason.” He reached over for one of the files and opened it, sliding out a photo of a man,

He looked vaguely familiar but Bodie couldn’t place him.

“Sean Ahearn, dock worker and, apparently, IRA activist. His father, Connor Ahearn, was a chief clerk in the shipping company Coastal Containers, the owner of which was one Declan Aloysius Kennedy.”

 

“My grandfather,” Bodie finished, surprised at the extent of the man’s knowledge. Then he wasn’t surprised at all.

Cowley nodded. “Yes. Your cousin owns and runs the business now.”

Bodie nodded, his interest in the family enterprise long past. “So I believe,” he said. “Wasn’t sure which one though. I had two of them. Cousins I mean,” he qualified, knowing he was being too flippant but somehow unable to help himself.

Cowley waited for a moment before speaking again, perhaps judging the degree of Bodie’s reluctance to discuss family matters.

“James Kennedy took control of Coastal Containers in 1965, shortly after the death in a car accident of both Declan Kennedy and his son, Joseph. I gather your contact with your family has been minimal.”

“You could say that. My family have shown as much interest in me since I left as I have of them, so the feeling is mutual.”

“And they have no idea of your activities in recent years?”

Bodie shook his head. “Not as far as I know. I ran into my cousin Bradley a few years ago, in Africa of all places. He was in the diplomatic corps. He stopped long enough to tell me grandfather and Uncle Joe had died and that was all. Generous of him I suppose, he could have kept on walking.” He looked at the photos of Ahearn again.

“I remember Connor Ahearn, he used to talk to me when I was summoned to my grandfather’s office. He was my grandfather’s employee, that’s all. Didn’t even know he had a son, or anything about him really. And I haven’t been back in the area for years.”

If Cowley thought anything of Bodie’s rather odd wording he said nothing. Bodie was grateful for that. He’d given enough away already.

“However tenuous, you do have a connection with Ahearn and with the Merseyside docks. We can use that to our advantage.”

“It’s not going to be easy. I might have a history there but the Liverpool Irish aren’t exactly the trusting sort.”

“No one ever said working for CI5 was going to be easy, Bodie.” Cowley told him. “You have possibly the best chance of any of my operatives to make contact with Ahearn.” He stopped then and leant forward to fan out several other photos in front of Bodie.

“These men will be dangerous, more so for the fact, judging from the information we do have, they appear to be a breakaway group who haven’t managed to secure the firepower they want through normal IRA sources. They will be anxious to prove themselves and that makes them both amateurs and unpredictable.”

Bodie glanced at the photos then got up and walked to the window studying the rain that was still sheeting down outside, making the world dull and grey, the same as his mood. It wasn’t the danger that worried him, well not entirely. It was what Cowley was asking that tore at him. He’d finally found a job that he could do that had meaning and a purpose – a good, just fight that he didn’t have to feel ashamed of, and for a man he respected more than he had most men before. Now that man wanted him to walk back into what he’d left behind years ago, had run away from - wanted him to come full circle. He wasn’t sure he could do that, whether the memories might overwhelm him. But what else could he do?

He turned away from the rain. “When do you want me to start?”

“You’ll leave tomorrow.” Cowley’s expression softened. “I know I’m asking a lot of you, lad, this early on. It wasn’t the way I’d hoped to bring one of my new operatives into the field, or what I would have chosen to send you into.”

He handed the folder to Bodie. “This is all the information we have on Ahearn. There is a chit for expenses that you can redeem from accounts and details of the cover that’s been set up for you. It also contains the number of a direct line to this office. You’ll report in regularly. Once you’ve established contact with Ahearn we can move a base of operations into the area.”

“If I establish contact.”

“Yes, if. This could be a long job, Bodie, I’ll not deny that. But it’s a necessary job.”

Bodie opened the folder and glanced down at it, startled when a glass appeared in front of him. He hadn’t even heard Cowley move.

“Get this down you, lad. It’s chill outside and it will warm you.”

Bodie had no trouble obeying the order. The scotch burned as it went down but Cowley was right, the warmth seeped into the cold place that had entered his stomach. He suspected the man knew a lot more about Bodie’s history than he let on, and that while his sympathy was there, he knew better than to express it.

He left Cowley’s office with the folder in his hand and the taste of scotch still in his mouth. And wondered what he was getting into.

That night he studied the contents of the folder in detail. The information on Ahearn was sketchy and his affiliations with any IRA factions vague but his name had surfaced with disquieting regularity amongst sources within the arms industry. There was nothing of any consequence about Ahearn’s associates. In other words it was all a big fat question mark.

Chapter Two

It was like a homecoming of sorts, the Merseyside docks as familiar as an old friend, if not as welcoming. They had been his home, his playground, once; now they were his cover. Cowley had arranged a rundown flat in a tenement in Vauxhall, just off Scotland Road, and a job on Seaforth dock.

Spring turned to a lacklustre summer that drifted into another wet and miserable autumn and as the months flowed by Bodie’s frustration grew along with his feeling of isolation. It was a different isolation from that of the Northumbrian wilderness, one that left him with a sense of loneliness he hadn’t had since his childhood. His regular contact with Cowley did nothing to alleviate the feeling of being cut adrift. He thought of Doyle sometimes, wondered what he was doing. But he never asked Cowley about him; that sleeping dog was best left lying where it was.

The life of the docks fitted him like a well-worn glove and he slid easily back into the world; the grimy streets, the smoke and chaos and the towering ships bringing back memories he thought he’d pushed away a long time ago. Bodie hadn’t done anything like the hard physical work of a docker since his time in the merchants. It was good, different from the life of soldiering he had taken up after he jumped ship in Mombasa. There was something clean and honest in working with his hands and muscles again.

While the work was hard, trying to establish a connection with Sean Ahearn was even harder. The big redheaded Irishman had marked him, Bodie knew that, had seen the speculative look he’d given him, the hint of recognition, when he’d been introduced to Ahearn as a new hand. But so far the man had steered clear of the bait Bodie dangled, keeping a polite but disinterested distance even when they were working together. Bodie had known this undercover assignment would be anything other than a quick in and out job. That didn’t help his patience as the months crawled along with no tangible result. But he also knew better than to push too hard; impatience could get him killed. So he did his job, made friends with his fellow dock workers; drank with them, worked with them, checked in once a week with Cowley, and waited.

Finally, the break came that changed his luck.

~~

It was 6.30 in the morning and the dock was a hive of activity with a Brazilian cargo ship in port being loaded. Forklifts and pallet loaders were weaving their way through the stacks of containers, lifting and moving the cargo into position as worker-ant-dockers shouted directions, issued orders and steadied the loads. Meanwhile the huge pedestal crane swung its load overhead with dizzying accuracy. Further out in the channel more ships were waiting.

Bodie was working with one of the pallet loaders when the bullet-sharp crack first alerted him. He’d head that sound before, knew what it meant. Others around him had heard it too, their knowledge the same as Bodie’s. Workers scattered, leaving their machinery unattended, some throwing glances up at the crane, its load now dangling askew from the remaining rigging. Bodie moved, instinct sending him out of the danger zone, until he saw the apprentice. The lad was three feet away, frozen, staring up at the container that now swayed dangerously almost directly overhead. Bodie swerved, grabbed the boy by the top of his safety vest and ran, dragging him stumble footed behind. He pulled both of them flat as another crack split the air and the container thundered to the ground, sending debris flying out across the dock.

There was silence for a long moment before sirens began wailing and everyone found their voices, shouted enquires echoing back and forth across the entire dock area.

Bodie helped the shaking boy to his feet, brushing him off. There was a cut on his face where a flying piece of wood must have grazed him. But before Bodie could check for more damage he found himself being pushed aside.

“Fionn, kid. Are you hurt?” Sean Ahearn had his hands on the boy’s shoulders, studying his face.

“N-No. I’m fine, Uncle Sean.” the boy muttered, swiping at the blood on his cheek. He looked at Bodie, gratitude in his eyes. “Thanks to him.”

“Aye, kid. You’re right there. If it weren’t for Bodie here we’d be scraping you off the deck about now.” Ahearn spared Bodie a glance before looking back at Fionn again. “Best waken yourself up a bit next time though, need to be sharp in a job like this.”

“Yeah, sorry Uncle Sean. But I’m okay, honest.” The boy was looking embarrassed now and his uncle took pity on him.

“All right, off you go, then. Get the nurse to check that cut. Then report back to your team leader, I’ll let him know where you’ve gone.”

The boy ran off and Ahearn turned his attention to Bodie. He was a solid man, although more from muscle than overweight and the flush of high colour that often goes with red hair obvious now with the exertion and excitement of the last few minutes.

“Reckon I owe you a drink or two,” Ahearn said. “Thing is, you’ve saved me as well as the lad. My sister’s boy. Got him this apprenticeship. She’d kill me if anything happened to him.

Bodie shrugged. “It was just lucky I was close enough to grab him in passing, so to speak,” he said, grinning. “I’m not one to turn down the offer of a drink though.”

Ahearn gaze was steady, assessing. “Good. I’ll stand you a pint in the club after this lot’s cleared up.”

“Club?” Bodie queried.

What? You don’t know Finnegan’s? And you a true Irish lad.” Ahearn shook his head in mock sadness. “Time your education was seen to, boyo.”

“You’re on,” Bodie told him,

“Right, after shift then. Anfield, round the corner from the stadium. Can’t miss it.”

Bodie nodded, well pleased with his change in fortune.

~~~

Bodie blinked furiously, the light outside still bright enough to make it hard for his eyes to adjust to the darkness of the club. Finnegan’s hadn’t been hard to miss. A converted Victorian house, it stood centre of attention at the corner junction, a jewel amongst the worn down terraces around it. The interior was dim and smoke laden, the Irish nature of the club in full evidence: Guinness posters dotting the walls, republican and green harp flags taking pride of place behind the bar. It was full but he spotted Ahearn and his crew gathered around the dart board. Dodging through the mass of tables and bodies Bodie made his way over.

Ahearn acknowledged him with a nod then turned to the other three men. “You all know Bodie, don’t you?”

There were smiles and nods; a few wary looks as well as Ahearn shouted out names. Bodie recognised them. All associated with Ahearn, all with their pictures in the same file as Ahearn’s on Cowley’s desk. Martin Dougherty, another redhead with hair even more fiery than his leader’s and probably a temper to match. He was one whose greeting was more wary than welcoming. Brian ‘Jingles’ Caffrey had the look of an elder statesman and the weathered face of a man who had worked the docks all his life. Finally there was Fionn Malone, Sean’s nephew and the lad Bodie had dragged out from under the falling crane load. Young, enthusiastic, the hard edges of the other men not yet established in the openly friendly face.

“Here,” Ahearn handed his darts to Bodie. “Take my turn. I’ll grab that pint I promised you.”

“He’s only thinking he’s lost the game,” Jingles mocked. Bodie wondered where the nickname had come from, but doubted he’d ever find out.

Ahearn gave the man a steady look. “Don’t go getting too cocky. Game’s not over yet.” He turned towards the bar, guffaws and suggestions about his dart playing abilities trailing after him.

As Ahearn disappeared into the welter of bodies attention switched to Bodie.

“Heard about you saving our Fionn.” That was Jingles again. “Sean’s not the emotional type but he sets great store by the kid for some reason. Reckon you did him a favour, even if the silly bugger should have had more sense than to stand under a falling load.”

“Hey, I am here you know.” Fionn broke in, all hurt dignity. He looked shyly at Bodie. “Yeah, thanks Bodie, don’t know how you moved so fast though.”

“I was blessed with fast reflexes.” Bodie flashed a grin, then added more seriously. “The truth is I was just lucky, in the right place at the right time.”

“Right, if you’ve all finished with the mutual admiration society, can we get on with the game?” The sour interruption came from Dougherty.

Jingles laughed. “Don’t be in such a rush to lose, Marty.” Dougherty gave him the finger, which just made Jingles laugh even harder.

Bodie took his time to test the darts in the palm of his hand. They had a good balance and the weight felt right for him; the shafts solid and flights in perfect condition. These were expensive tools, the mark of a serious player. He checked the figures chalked up on the scoreboard. They were playing 501 and Jingles had been right. Ahearn was behind the pack, sitting on a 165. Dougherty and Fionn were down to either three or two dart possible checkouts while all Jingles needed was a double. He did the calculations in his head, added a consideration as to whether he should bail Ahearn out or not, then stepped up to the board. His first dart landed where he wanted it to, in the 1. The next was equally as accurate, hitting fair in triple 20. A half-hearted cheer went up, appreciation of some well-placed darts vying with the knowledge of a win in the offing.

He blocked out the comments from around him, the ones meant to put him off, and took a deep breath. This time there was a more enthusiastic cheer as well as a few groans as the dart landed in the triple 18. All Ahearn had to do now was score a double bull.

“Nice grouping.” Ahearn was waiting, pint in his hand, as Bodie turned from the board.

“Thanks.” Bodie took the proffered beer and handed back the darts.

“Your turn, Marty.” Fionn prompted.

Marty scowled and stepped up to the board. He missed his double but ended with an even number. Fionn’s enthusiasm got the better of him and he busted on his second dart, much to his disgust.

Jingles approached the board with a casual swagger. A crowd had gathered by then, sensing a victory in the wind and there were shouts of ‘game on’.

“Winner gets his drinks bought for the rest of the evening by the loser, right, Sean?” he said.

“Just throw the bloody darts, man,’ Sean growled.

Jingles grinned and lifted the dart. And threw a double, only it was the wrong one. Jingles swore and someone in the crowd shouted, “Right church, wrong pew, Jingles. Wanna borrow me glasses?”

“That’s what happens when you play with amateurs,” Ahearn grinned. He winked at Bodie as Jingles cleared the board. “Now watch the professional.” The dart landed with precision in the centre of the bull.

“I believe you lot owe me and Bodie drinks for the rest of the night.”

~~~

Bodie opened his eyes and grimaced at the shaft of bright sunlight that struck his eyeballs. Groaning, he turned over to face the wall, and the smell of mildew hit his nostrils and caught at his throat. Cowley could never be accused of extravagance with government funding if the rundown flat he’d organised for Bodie was anything to go by. At least it boasted a small hot plate and an equally small fridge and had its own bathroom. He huddled under the blankets, debating the merits of a cup of coffee to try and rid his mouth of the taste of sour beer, only his stomach roiled at the thought. Thanking the gods of dock workers, whoever they were, that he wasn’t on shift that day he closed his eyes and wished he could stay right where he was, at least until his head stopped pounding. But he knew he had to move, Cowley would be waiting for his call.

The night before had gone to another game of darts and more pints, many more pints. Bodie’s memory of events was hazy after the first five or so. He did remember Ahearn toasting the ‘hero of the day’ with the best Irish whisky behind the bar and Fionn placing a laurel wreath of paper beer mats strung together with spit on his head. After that nothing until he’d pushed the door of the flat open and fallen on the bed.

The smell of the mildew was too much and Bodie turned onto his back, the motion making his stomach lurch again. Admitting defeat he tumbled out of the bed and made a dash for the bathroom, just making it to the rust stained porcelain of the toilet before the contents of his stomach disgorged into the bowl. He stayed there, kneeling, feeling sorry for himself, until his stomach stopped heaving and he was able to reach the sink to wash the taste of stale beer and bile from his mouth.

Surprisingly, he felt better by the time he made it out of the bathroom. He settled for black tea rather than coffee and downed several pieces of toast he rescued from what was laughingly called a toaster before they became burnt offerings. Fortified, he braved the bathroom again for a quick wash at the sink, and throwing on a clean pair of jeans and jumper headed out to make his call.

There was a phone box in the street outside the tenement and he was in luck because it hadn’t yet been vandalised. Studying the graffiti scrawled on the wall of opposite building he waited while the phone continued its monotonous ring tone, hoping Cowley was there and that he appreciated the effort it had taken for Bodie to make this check in.

“Cowley.” The abruptness of the response startled him, coming just as he was about to give up on his call being answered.

“Sir, it’s Bodie. I’ve made contact. Ahearn and I have just become bosom mates.”

“Ah, good lad. There’s no suspicion?”

“Not as far as I can tell. Ahearn’s cagy but he seems to have accepted me into the fold well enough.”

“Good,” Cowley repeated, his satisfaction tangible even over the inanimate telephone line. “The base of operations can be moved to your location now we’re closing in. I’ll let you know your new contact routine on your next check-in.”

Bodie thought he was being optimistic but didn’t say so. He was about to hang up with an affirmation of the arrangements when Cowley spoke again.

“Bodie, be careful.”

Surprised at the note of concern in the controller’s voice Bodie replied with complete honesty, “I plan to, Sir."

Chapter Three

Bodie discovered he liked Sean Ahearn. He had a way about him that reminded him of Sean’s father, Connor. A man who always had time for a young troubled boy who sometimes just needed someone to talk to. Connor hadn’t been able to help the young Bodie against his grandfather or his cousins, but he was a good listener. Sean had the same ability to make a person feel comfortable in his presence.

“I knew your grandfather, you know,” Ahearn said without preamble. It was two weeks after the infamous darts game and evenings in the Irish club had become a ritual when they were off shift. Tonight it was just Ahearn though and Bodie wondered if he’d warned the others to stay away. “My father was Connor Ahearn, worked for him at Coastal Containers for years.”

Bodie nodded. “I remember. Wondered if he was a relative. Is he still with the company?”

“Nah, retired years ago. Went back to the old country, back home to Armagh.”

Bodie started, surprised that information hadn’t been contained in Cowley’s report. He’d never realised that Connor Ahearn came from the same part of Ireland as his grandfather. Their connection became clearer now and Bodie realised the families were more intertwined than he thought.

Ahearn took a sip of his beer. “Heard you went off to foreign climes when you were just a nipper. Upset your grandfather no end.”

Bodie waited before replying, deciding on what to tell and what to keep back and what Ahearn might be most interested in, or what he already knew.

“Yeah, the black sheep of the family,” he said finally. “The old man’s greatest disappointment.” He made it sound amusing, as if a grandfather’s disdain held no particular care to a young lad who had yearned for a life of adventure and didn’t believe in waiting.

Ahearn seemed to buy it. “My dad had a few tales to tell there,” he agreed. “Could make life difficult if you didn’t toe the line, could the old fellow. Dad was right upset when he passed on a few years ago though. You’ve not been to see the family then?” he added on a different tack.

“Black sheep, remember? Not sure I’d be welcomed with open arms. Especially with the way I left.”

“You could be right at that. So, what’s brought you back now?”

“Missed the dirty streets of Liverpool.”

Ahearn chuckled his amusement. “Now I don’t believe that for a minute. Not from a kid with itchy feet and a yen to see the world.”

“Don’t see that much of that world from a cargo ship,” Bodie grimaced. “Even less in a jungle when the natives are restless.”

“Things get a little hot, did they?”

“You could say that, and it wasn’t just the temperature.” Bodie paused for another sip of his beer. “I got out while the going was good and Old Blighty beckoned. Seemed as good a place as any at the time.”

“So you came back to dirty streets and a job hauling cargo. Must be a bit of a letdown after a life of adventure.”

“It pays the rent. Not much else mind,” Bodie conceded. Ahearn was definitely fishing and all Bodie had to do was give him what he wanted. He decided to be blunt. “Why so curious?”

Ahearn paused and considered. “Think we could get on, us two, so I’m going to be honest with you, Bodie and I hope you’ll take that to heart and be honest in return.” Bodie hesitated, then nodded and Ahearn seemed satisfied. “You have an interesting history, one that could be of use to us, if you’ve a mind to let it, that is.”

“Okay, now I’m curious. What are you into, Sean?”

Instead of answering, Ahearn looked around the bar, at the snooker players and the men at the bar. The noise level was high, garrulous voices raised loud in happy argument while the strains of The Wearing of the Green came from a far corner, and Bodie remembered how much the Irish loved to hear the sound of their own voices.

“See all these men? Irish to the core every one of them, republicans and proud of it.” He turned his attention back to Bodie. “Your grandfather was a republican, supported the cause. What about you, Bodie? Are you a supporter too?”

A lot depended on his answer so Bodie took his time, knowing better than to jump too soon.

“My grandfather preached independence and a united Ireland until I knew the mantra off by heart. But me? Well. I’m only half Irish and a mercenary. Or I was. Sectarian wars were part of my business. Now I’m just an ordinary dockworker, trying to make a living. ”

“Ah, but it’s the Irish half that counts. And you can’t tell me the lessons your grandfather taught you mean nothing.”

“I didn’t say that.” What his grandfather had taught him had nothing to do with nationalistic pride, but he wouldn’t be telling Ahearn that. “What do you want from me?”

Ahearn studied him for a moment, then spoke. “If you’ve a mind to you could be of service to the cause, at a profit to yourself of course. If patriotism isn’t enough, that is.”

“And what kind of service were you thinking of.”

“The kind that tells me how and where to acquire a shipment of arms. You’ve done it before, you know who to go to. You can do it again now, only it would be for a better cause than some black rebel in a tin pot African country no one has ever heard of.”

Bodie raised his eyebrows. The barefaced request for his service as a gunrunner surprising, but no more surprising than the comprehensive knowledge the man admitted to. Ahearn was watching him, waiting for his answer, waiting for his reaction.

“How do you know I ran guns, or who I ran them for?”

“I have my sources,” Ahearn told him with a sly grin. “So, what do you think, Bodie, kid? Want to take on the job of quartermaster for us?”

He wondered who, or what, his source was. If Ahearn found out about his army and SAS experience and that he’d served two tours in Ireland itself, this could blow up in his face. It was too late now to back out though, he was in too deep

“You mean become a part of the IRA? I assume that’s what you and the others are, provos? And why do you need me to get your arms? The IRA get most of their stuff from Gadaffi or American sympathisers.”

“We prefer to do things our way,” Ahearn told him stiffly, neither confirming nor denying the IRA connection. “So, are you in?”

“Yeah, why not. I’ve been in the middle of wars that were nothing to me. At least the cause has meaning. It seems I’m more of a soldier of fortune than a dockworker anyroad. ”

“That’s the spirit,” Ahearn said, rubbing his hands together. “Just one more thing I’ll be saying. I’ve taken a bit of a chance with you, Bodie. So don’t go letting me down now, will you.”

Bodie took in the warning and the cold hard glint in Ahearn’s eyes. He nodded his understanding. “You have nothing to worry about, Sean,” he said. “Even a mercenary owes loyalty to his comrades.”

“Good. Now, let’s have a drink to seal the bargain.”

~~~

Bodie dreamt that night, dreamt of blood and the dogs of war let loose; heard their howls and the screams of their victims. He woke, sweating and anxious, and thought it had just been the wind, but it was calm outside. It took a long time for him to get to sleep again, hard to get the dream images out of his mind. Finally in the grey dawn of morning he dozed, his thoughts kinder at last.

He was on early shift at the dock so the soothing doze was cut short by the necessity to get up and dress for work. He felt muddle-headed and queasy when he got to the dock. The feeling worsening with Ahearn’s cheery wave and Jingles’ grin. Bodie felt a sudden longing for an end to this assignment so he could go home, even if home was only an empty flat in London.

~~~

There was a meeting that evening in what Bodie assumed were the unofficial headquarters of Ahearn’s merry band of terrorists – a disused warehouse at the lower end of the dock. They sat on makeshift stools comprised of upside down wooden boxes. Another larger box served as a table, a lantern set in the middle that threw shadowed light around the edges of the warehouse. There was a bottle of Irish next to the lantern and five glasses.

“How do we know we can trust him?” That was Dougherty when Ahearn confirmed Bodie’s official acceptance of Ahearn’s offer, which didn’t surprise Bodie one bit. The man’s attitude towards him hadn’t changed a lot over the weeks and the best Bodie had come to expect was sullen acceptance.

“Of course we can, can’t we, Bodie? He’s one of us now.” Ahearn was smiling with the benevolence of a kind uncle offering treats to favoured nephews. Bodie wasn’t fooled. If his cover was blown he had no doubt Ahearn wouldn’t hesitate to punish him as he saw fit for the betrayal, perhaps even kill him. He tried to ignore that knowledge, relax and accept the overtures of friendship being offered. He needed their trust, their confidence, and access to their secrets.

Jingles was nodding his approval of Ahearn’s words. “Welcome to the club, Bodie,” he said.

Fionn was all smiles. Dougherty still glowered.

Ahearn poured a generous amount of whiskey into each glass then raised his own.

“A toast, gentlemen, to our venture.” He raised his glass. “To us.”

The toast was echoed by the others. Bodie settled for “Cheers” and downed the fiery liquid.

 

“This is it, boys. We’re taking the war to the British,” Ahearn was beaming. “It’s time for a rising here in their own backyards, and we’re the ones who are going to do it. We’ll make them sit up and take notice, no mistake.” He glanced at Bodie. “And Bodie is going to help us do it.”

The words chilled Bodie and any concept he might have had that Ahearn and his gang would give up on their mad schemes evaporated. They were deadly serious and Cowley was right. They were also amateurs and doubly dangerous for it.

“Right, let’s get down to business.” Ahearn said. “Bodie, when can you can arrange a shipment of arms for us?”

“It might take some time. I’ll have to check if my contact is still operational,” he said, not sure Cowley would appreciate his new role as a gunrunner. “You’ll need the cash up front, and it won’t be cheap.”

“Don’t worry about money,” Ahearn told him. “We’ll be well financed.”

Bodie nodded, another piece of intel slotting into place. “Right then, tell me what the plan is and what you’ll need and I’ll see about getting it.”

It was never going to be that easy though.

Ahearn shook his head. “Don’t get me wrong, Bodie. I trust you like a trust me own mother, but for the moment I’ll be keeping the details of the operation quiet. As for what we need, I rather thought you’d be able to give us some advice there.”

They haggled for a while, Bodie giving estimates of what he thought the outlay would be for the arms they were discussing, Ahearn raising objections at the high cost, despite his assurances of sound financial backing.

“Do you want the best or not?” Bodie asked him. “Personally I’d prefer guns that fire, not ones that block up and blow your hand off. The man I’ll be talking to deals in the best merchandise. Take it or leave it.”

“You drive a hard bargain, Bodie.” Jingles was grinning at him and Bodie wondered if the man ever displayed anything but genial bonhomie.

Bodie shrugged. “It’s a hard business, Jingles. You’re playing with the big boys now. They’re in it for profit, not charity.”

“And is that what you’re in it for too, Bodie, the money? What’s your take going to be in the deal?” Dougherty’s sneering question hung in the air.

Bodie turned on him. “I won’t take a cut on the arms, if that’s what you’re asking. The good old British government cut me loose in Africa and I spent three months in a Congo prison because of it. I don’t owe this country anything. I’m in this with you. If you think otherwise I’d be happy to take the discussion outside.”

Dougherty looked ready to take up the challenge for a moment, then Ahearn intervened.

“Now, now. I’m sure Marty didn’t mean anything by it. Did you Marty?”

Dougherty gave Bodie a filthy look but he backed down, muttering under his breath. Jingles and Fionn had been watching the altercation; Jingles with interest, while Fionn just looked a little scared. Now Jingles picked up the bottle of whiskey and poured a measure in each glass.

“Time for another drink, I reckon.”

“Good idea.” Ahearn said, picking up his glass. Bodie copied him then waited on Dougherty. With a half grunt Marty grabbed at his own glass and swallowed the contents in one gulp. Bodie followed suit. The tension in the room eased.

With nothing much left to discuss until Bodie had more information on the arms deal the meeting broke up a short time later, Jingles, Fionn and Dougherty all disappearing into the shadows together.

Bodie had caught a bus then walked to the warehouse so Ahearn gave him a lift back to his flat. It was a mostly silent trip, Bodie more concerned with what had happened in the meeting than making conversation.

“Something on your mind, Bodie?” Ahearn asked when he’d pulled up in front of the tenement.

Bodie thought for a moment before answering. “Yeah, there is,” he said finally. “Dougherty.”

“Ah, yes. Sorry about that. The kid has a hard time trusting people. Don’t worry, he’ll come round when you get those weapons for us.”

Somehow that wasn’t entirely reassuring.

“I’ll be working on it, Sean. Give me a couple of days. My contact is a London lad. If he can’t deliver he’ll know who can.”

“Aye, I know you’ll come through for us, boyo. Then we can really get down to business.”

Bodie nodded in agreement. “Looking forward to it, Sean,” he lied, getting out of the car. Ahearn sketched a wave and put the car in gear.

He watched as the car receded into the darkness. When it was no longer visible he went into his flat, hoping Ahearn believed him, hoping he’d made no mistakes that would cost him more than this undercover job.

 

Chapter Four

The day was unusually warm, just a light breeze drifting in from the Irish Sea, sending up little white ruffles on the otherwise flat surface of the mouth of the Mersey. Bodie stretched his arms along the back of the bench seat and lifted his face up to the sun, the warmth sinking into his skin, taking away the smell of the dockyards and the taint of deception from his skin. He let his thoughts drift into visions of dark curls and green eyes, a tatty mattress and a rat that performed tricks, and a peace he’d never known before. When regret fogged the images he sighed and let them slide away.

He didn’t move when the tranquillity of the moment was disturbed by the rustle of clothing and a heavy thump at the other end of the bench. The rustling continued as his new companion pulled a newspaper from the pocket of the trench coat he was wearing and opened it to the centre page. He didn’t have to wait long for the silence to be broken.

“Nice day.” McCabe sounded bored despite staring at the sparsely clad model that seemed to be staring back at him. The trench coat looked new and Bodie wondered if he’d been watching The Third Man lately.

“Better than some,” Bodie replied.

“Not a bad number this, plenty of sea air. Nice relaxing time in the sun.”

Bodie turned to look at him.

“Tell you what, you take on the dockwork and I’ll do the liaison, how’s that sound?”

“No need to get sarky. You sound just like bloody Doyle. And I get to hear him often enough.”

“Cowley partnered you with Doyle?” Bodie tried to keep the incredulity out of his voice.

“No bloody fear. Tried it for two days. The bastard got right up my nose, same as he did with everyone else Cowley tried to set him up with.”

Bodie grinned. That was his Doyle all right, all piss and vinegar, no patience for the fools or clowns of the world. It would take a better man then McCabe to keep up with him. His mood darkened as quickly as it had lightened. Doyle was never ‘his’ and never would be. It was best to remember that.

“Three days alone like that, stuck in a snowstorm, surprised you didn’t kill the sod,” McCabe carried on, oblivious to Bodie’s changing mood.

“Doyle’s alright. Maybe you should just learn to trust whoever you’re partnered with.”

McCabe had turned to stare at him. “You should talk. Turned him down sharp enough yourself when Cowley tried to pair you up.”

“Who told you that?”

“Words gets around.” McCabe tried a knowing look. “Anyway, he’s all yours now so you’d better get used to it. Cowley’s sending him in as your arms dealer. You have a meeting with him tonight.”

“Where?”

“It’s all in here.” McCabe closed the paper and lay it down on the bench between them. “And Cowley wants you to find out who the financier is.”

“Does he, now? And how does he expect me to do that?”

“Said you’d think of something.” McCabe got up then and walked off without a backward glance.

Bodie waited a few minutes then picked up the discarded newspaper and left too.

~~~

Bodie arrived at the rendezvous point not sure what to expect.

Doyle was already waiting for him, leaning against a lamp post, legs crossed at the ankle, hands in the front pockets of his too-tight jeans. The lamplight haloed his face in eerie soft light and Bodie couldn’t decide if he looked more like one of Botticelli’s angels or a rent boy waiting for a pick up.

He stood there, out of sight, staring, taking in how much Doyle had changed, how much he was still the same. There was a new wariness about him and his hair was longer, blowing around his face in uncontrolled tendrils. Bodie smiled at the evidence of who had won that argument between the controller and Doyle. But it was the same Doyle he’d locked horns with in a rundown farm in Northumbria, the same Doyle he knew every inch of and had revelled in. The same Doyle who had looked at him with disgust the last time he had seen him. His expression was neutral now, his face a careful blank, except for the tightness in the creases around his eyes. The edginess was there too, underneath that layer of casual indifference.

Finally he stepped out from the shadows where he’d been concealed. Doyle watched him with studied indifference and Bodie knew he’d been aware of his presence all along.

“You know what they say about people who hang around on street corners, don’t you?” Bodie said as he drew closer.

“The same thing they say about the blokes who approach them,” Doyle shot back.

Bodie grinned. “We’d better take it off the street then. Before we get arrested for loitering.”

Doyle’s face broke into a smile as he heaved himself off the lamp post. “Step this way,” he said. “My office is just around the corner.”

Doyle’s office turned out to be the White Stag, a free house jammed between a Chinese takeaway and an abandoned tenement. It was a week night and the pub was relatively empty. Doyle chose a corner booth, one that put their backs to the wall and facing the door.

“Mine’s a pint,” he said, sliding onto the bench seat.

Bodie took the hint and headed to the bar, aware of Doyle’s eyes on him all the way.

There was an awkward silence when he returned. “Doyle …” he began, but the glare in Doyle’s eyes shut him off before he could say any more.

“Forget it, okay? I assumed; you set me right. It’s history and we have a job to do. Let’s just stick to business.”

Bodie nodded, pushing his feelings back inside where they belonged.

“You do realise you’re being followed, don’t you?” Doyle said, a slight frown hollowed between his eyebrows.

“Yeah, that’s Dougherty. Been trailing me around since my ‘initiation’ into the fold. Don’t know if Ahearn put him up to it or Dougherty thought of it all by himself. I let him think he’s getting away with it when it’s to my advantage, like now. He can run back to Ahearn with the news that I’ve met up with my arms dealer.”

He’d first noticed Dougherty dogging his steps when he was on his way to the meet with McCabe. It had been a simple matter to lose the man in a way that made it look like a slip on Dougherty’s part. There were some advantages to dealing with amateurs.

“Nice trusting bunch you’ve got yourself mixed up with.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” he said, then gave voice to his thought of a moment ago. “Trouble with amateurs is you’re never sure what they’re going to do next. Professionals now, are predicable.” He looked around the pub. Old and threadbare though the fittings were, it had a feeling of decrepit comfort. “Nice set up by the way. The only genuine arms dealer I know works off the Woolwich Ferry

Doyle smiled. “At least this is stationary. So, what does an arms dealer need to supply to potential terrorists these days? ”

Bodie fished in his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. “I have a shopping list.”

Doyle took the paper and scanned it quickly. “Armalites, AK-47’s.” Doyle’s eyebrows rose at the next items. “Semtex, detonators, timers. Christ, what’s he want to do, blow up parliament?”

“Wouldn’t put it past the idiots. Funny thing is they could just get hold of a load of fertiliser some fuel, even sugar … make their own bomb without bothering with the fancy stuff.”

“Your knowledge borders on the scary.”

“It comes from a pure and blameless life.”

“I can see that.” Doyle’s grin was the one Bodie remembered so well. It vanished on his next words. “What’s the plan?”

“We’re here, discussing how much all this is going to set Ahearn back and how soon it can be delivered. Ahearn wants to see some samples, not an unusual request from a buyer. We organise a meet with him; you’ll have to get Cowley to set you up with some merchandise for show and tell. If Ahearn’s satisfied, he pays a deposit and you take the order. All in a display of good faith.

“How much would all this set Ahearn back?”

“A lot more than he could put together, that’s for sure. Ahearn tells me he has backing but so far hasn’t let on who that might be. Apparently Cowley wants me to find out. ”

“Then here’s hoping we can draw them out.”

Doyle raised his glass and drank. Bodie saluted him with his own drink before taking a deep swallow.

“So, how much do I need to know about arms smuggling to pull this off?” Doyle asked.

~~~

They stepped out of the pub together. Bodie could see Dougherty standing in a doorway further down the street, his back to them in an apparent attempt to light a cigarette against the breeze hunting down between the buildings. He shook his head at the charade and Doyle looked amused.

They made a show of shaking hands and Bodie watched as Doyle disappeared into the darkness. Bodie waited a few moments to be sure Dougherty was ready, then walked in the other direction. He was trailed all the way back to his flat.

Bodie dreamt again that night, but when he woke the dreams were only shadowy fragments of memory.

~~~

Ahearn’s meeting with his new arms dealer took place two days later in a back alley behind the dock railway, just as the light was beginning to fade from the dull grey sky of day. Doyle was waiting for them, leaning against a clapped-out old van that looked just about ready for the scrap heap, in his usual insouciant pose that Bodie recognised was as natural to him as breathing.

Bodie shivered in the crisp air as he got out of Ahearn’s Vauxhall, the almost Indian Summer feel of the last few days gone now as winter closed in. Fionn, his constant chatter from the back seat of the car still ringing in Bodie’s ears, was close on his heels.

Doyle straightened as they approached and Bodie made the introductions.

“Bodie here tells me you can supply the merchandise I’m wanting.” Ahearn didn’t waste any time.

“I can arrange for shipment of certain goods, if that’s what you mean.”

“You have some samples to show me?”

Doyle looked around carefully then took his time unlocking the back of the van. The inside was as dirty as the outside, apart from two pristine metal boxes. Using the same set of keys he unlocked them and pulled out an AK47, handing it to Ahearn who checked it quickly and professionally before handing it back with a nod. The other box contained a variety of handguns and ammunition. Ahearn picked out a Browning and checked it as efficiently as he had the rifle before handing it to Fionn.

“What do you think of that then, kid?” he asked.

Fionn, his face flushed with excitement, took the weapon and gave it the once over with a similar precision to his uncle and Bodie wondered if the boy’s mother was aware of that expertise and what Sean was getting her son into.

“Looks good to me, Uncle Sean,” Fionn said, giving it back to Ahearn, who replaced it in the box before turning his attention back to Doyle.

“How soon can you deliver the full order?”

Doyle appeared to consider. “Your list is quite small. My supplier should have most of the items in stock so no need for an end user certificate; the order can be shipped directly from his warehouse in Europe. Five days, six at the most, so long as delivery is in this area.”

“It is,” Ahearn confirmed then flicked a glance towards Bodie then back to Doyle. “I thought you would be supplying the goods yourself from your own stock.”

Doyle looked at him with an air of studied patience. “I’m a broker, not a licenced dealer. You want to buy this lot legitimately then you go direct to the registered arms dealer, or better still you can go to the manufacturer with all the required documentation. If not, you come to me. I’m sure Bodie explained all this to you.”

“Yet you have these arms already.” Ahearn indicated the two boxes.

Doyle sighed. “As we said, samples, to show potential customers. I can get what you want, including the Semtex, but it’s going to take a few days. Do you want to deal or not?”

“Oh, I want to deal,” Ahearn confirmed. “What price are we discussing?”

“For the lot, fifteen thousand pounds,” Doyle told him, quoting the price he and Bodie had settled on as being the going price for what Ahearn wanted. “Plus ten per cent for my shipping charges, so sixteen and a half thousand. Half now, the rest on delivery.”

“What’s to stop you pocketing the money and disappearing?”

“You’re not a very trusting man are you, Mr Ahearn?”

“Not when it comes to money. And you, my friend, drive a hard bargain.”

Doyle shrugged. “Have to make a living, don’t I. And I’m not going to sully me reputation for a few thousand pounds. Don’t worry, Mr Ahearn, you’ll get your goods, guaranteed delivery to your destination of choice.”

Bodie was leaning against the van with his arms crossed, watching the exchange with interest, proud of the way Doyle was handling himself. He’d known he could pull this off.

“It’s okay, Sean,” he said, standing upright. “I’ve dealt with Doyle before, he’s good for it.”

Ahearn seemed satisfied. “Fionn, get the bag,” he ordered.

Fionn grinned and hurried to the Vauxhall, returning with a battered holdall that he handed to his uncle.

Ahearn rested the bag next to the box of handguns and ammunition. When he opened it Bodie could see it was filled with bank notes, dollars as well as pounds. Ahearn counted out the required amount and handed it to Doyle.

“Bodie knows the delivery point we’ll be using. He’ll give you the information when you confirm the shipment has arrived.”

Doyle didn’t wait around once he’d collected his money. Slamming the doors of the van shut and locking them again he nodded to Ahearn. “Right. I’ll contact Bodie about the delivery arrangements once the package has arrived. Good to do business with you, Mr Ahearn.”

Ahearn gave Doyle a last appraising look then returned the nod. They watched as Doyle drove off and Bodie dared to hope that the next few days would see an end to the operation.

~~~

Bodie spent the next week following his usual routine and trying to stay patient. The job was coming to a head, he was sure of it. Soon he could stop the charade. And he wanted that, desperately. The winter cold of the docks was seeping into his bones, his psyche, he longed for the warmth of knowing he was where he belonged, and while he wasn’t sure where that was yet, CI5 or back with the SAS, or somewhere else, he knew it wasn’t Liverpool, the place of his birth.

Evenings found the gang in the Irish club as normal, Bodie accepted as part of Ahearn’s group now. Ahearn himself seemed to embrace his new brigade member with open arms but Bodie had seen more than one speculative look come his way whenever Ahearn thought he wouldn’t notice.

He checked in daily with Cowley by phone, it being deemed too risky for any face to face meetings with Dougherty still just as likely as not to appear out of the woodwork, a constant if not totally consistent tail. Bodie suspected Ahearn knew of the man’s activities even if he hadn’t specifically ordered Dougherty to keep an eye on him.

Finally the confirmation he was waiting for arrived.

“I think we’ve let Mr Ahearn wait long enough,” Cowley’s voice down the line was the best thing Bodie had heard in days. “You can let the gentleman know that his shipment is ready and can be delivered tomorrow night. Our men will be in position around the warehouse. We’ll allow them to accept delivery of the goods then strike.”

Bodie breathed out a sigh and wondered how much manipulation it had taken for Cowley to authorise delivery of arms and ammunition to a suspected terrorist.

“What about the backer? He might not appear. Do we still take them in?”

“If I was a betting man, Bodie, I would say that whoever is providing the finance for this venture would want to see what his money has been invested in. I think he’ll be there, either that or Ahearn will take the goods to him after the delivery. We’ll follow. Either way we get them.”

“Hope you’re right. It’s Doyle’s and my neck on the line here. If my cover gets blown it will be both of us that will go down.”

“Believe me, I know that, Bodie and I’ll be doing everything to ensure that doesn’t happen. We let them go in and anyone who comes out we follow. The first sign of trouble, I’ll pull you both out.”

And with that Bodie had to be content.

There were grins all round when Bodie delivered his news that night in the club and Ahearn nodded his approval.

“Tell your mate he can deliver it to the warehouse tomorrow night; 7.00 should do it. His money will be waiting for him. You’d better show him the way.”

 

Chapter Five

Bodie was leaning back against the grubby brick wall of his tenement when a familiar rattletrap vehicle pulled up in front of him and the passenger door pushed open.

“Now who’s hanging about on street corners?” Doyle said, urchin grin bright in the soft glow of the interior light.

Bodie straightened and hooked one hand onto his hip, striking an exaggerated pose. “I’ve got the time, if you’ve got the money, Ducky.”

Doyle’s laugh was pure and unadulterated. “Get in, you pillock.”

“Took your time didn’t you? Bloody brass monkey weather out here,” Bodie told him, settling himself into the van and rubbing his hands up and down his arms.

“Was waiting for Cowley’s all clear,” Doyle told him. “He’s got the whole street covered, set up a surveillance point in the building opposite. Nothing’s going to get in or out without he’s got eyes on it. I’ll be glad when this lot is over though. Got a bad feeling about it.”

“You and me both. Watch how you drive!” he added as Doyle swerved around a corner. “There’s bloody semtex and detonators in the back. Well at least I hope there is, otherwise Ahearn and his merry men are going to be pissed.”

“It’s all there,” Doyle assured him. “Cowley’s done us proud.”

“Good, just make sure you don’t make us go off with a bang.”

They were two blocks from the warehouse when a figure emerged from the shadows of the street and stood in the middle of the road, waving them down. Doyle slammed on the brakes, throwing Bodie forward, an outstretched hand the only thing saving him from cracking his head on the dashboard.

“What the …” Doyle’s exclamation broke the silence. The figure, having successfully brought them to a screaming halt, made its way to the passenger side of the van and rapped a knuckle briskly on the window. Bodie realised who it was and rolled the window down.

“Hey, Bodie. This your gun runner mate then?”

“Yeah, Ray Doyle, this is Jingles. Jingles, Ray Doyle. Now that you both know each other, mind telling me what the fuck you’re playing at?”

Jingles was unperturbed. “There’s been a change of plan. Sean sent me to stop you.”

Bodie felt his blood freeze. “What do you mean, a change of plan? The meet’s set up for the warehouse, we’re nearly there.”

Jingles shrugged. “Sean decided on a change of venue. It’s not far.” He opened the door and clambered in. Bodie shuffled over to give him room. “Well, what are we waiting for?” Without pausing for the answer, he kept talking. “Turn left at the next corner, Ray. You don’t mind if I call you Ray do you?”

“Um, No,” Doyle stammered, clearly thrown off his stride by the sudden dips and turns of Jingles’ conversation. “Where exactly are we going?”

“Like I said, it’s not far. Bodie, you might even recognise it.”

Bodie glanced at Doyle, who raised his eyebrows, questioning. He knew Doyle would follow whatever lead he gave but what lead could that be? They had nothing without handing the armaments over to Ahearn and his backer. There was no choice but to follow Jingles’ instructions, no opportunity to contact Cowley and tell him of the change of arrangements. They were on their own while Cowley and the rest of CI5 watched over an empty warehouse.

He gave a shrug and Doyle nodded his understanding. He put the car in gear and started forward.

~~~

Jingles directed them onto backstreets through Bootle and past Albert Dock. When they turned onto the A561 Bodie became sure of their destination, the streets and neighbourhood a reminder of a childhood he’d spent long years trying to forget. The green woodland of Sefton Park came as no surprise and when Jingles told Doyle to turn into a driveway on Mossley Hill Road sheltered by a privet hedge and tall standing oaks his only reaction was to breathe out a gusty sigh.

“Thought you’d know it,” Jingles said, climbing out of the van. “C’mon, they’re waiting for us.”

Bodie clambered out after Jingles then stood, gazing around. It was the same but not the same. Hidden from casual view the red brick house stared down at him from its imposing height.

Doyle had moved up beside him. “You okay?” he asked.

“Okay? No, not really,” Bodie told him, moving towards the door. The doorknocker was there still, its gargoyle features twisted into a fierce grimace. But it was tarnished with flecks of green showing through the bronze. And it looked like one of the eyes had been chipped away - nothing left now to frighten a small child.

“What is this place?” It was Doyle again, still beside him.

“I lived here, once, a long time ago.” Bodie lifted his hand to the gargoyle, about to ghost the hand that had lifted the knocker all those years ago. He pushed at the door instead and it opened to his touch.

“Go on in, you’re expected.”

Jingles’ voice sent an unexpected chill down Bodie’s back. His bad feeling of before had returned tenfold, and not just because of the echo of stirred memories. He glanced at Doyle and knew he felt the same disquiet.

With no other option Bodie pushed the door wide and stepped into the house.

If he thought the outside had changed, the inside of the house was a revelation in difference. Gone was the antique furniture, the brocade chaises longues and the doilies. In their place was pure modernity, stark and utilitarian, the pictures of Jesus on the walls replaced by Picasso prints, giving a rather absurd effect to the old house.

Ahearn and Fionn were waiting in the sitting room. There was another man there too. Bodie knew him straight away, even though it had been years since they had set eyes on each other. Tall, like their grandfather had been, James had also inherited the same sneering expression that was reserved for Bodie and other lesser beings.

“Hello, James,” he said.

James nodded his acknowledgment. “William,” he said, sarcasm evident. “So, the prodigal returns.” He was dressed in slacks and a check sports jacket, complete with a knotted silk scarf, giving him a carefully cultivated debonair look. “I must admit I was surprised when Sean told me you’d come back. Didn’t think you’d show your face around here again.”

“It’s nice to see you too, James.” Bodie returned the sarcasm. He took a slow deliberate look around the room. “So, you got the company and the house. And you’ve changed the décor,” he said.

“Well, I was always the favourite, wasn’t I? And the olds did have appalling taste.”

“Grandfather would be turning in his grave to hear you say that.”

“I think grandfather would be turning in his grave just to see you standing in his sitting room again.” James’ gaze settled on Doyle. “William’s manners don’t seem to have improved. He hasn’t bothered to introduce us yet,” he said. “I’m James Kennedy.” He held out his hand and Doyle took it.

“Ray Doyle,” he said. “You two related then?”

“Cousins,” Bodie supplied before James could answer. He ignored James and looked at Ahearn. “Why were we brought here, Sean? The meet was supposed to be at the warehouse.”

“I would have thought that was obvious, Bodie. James is part of our brigade, an important part. We thought it was time you two met up again.”

Bodie turned his attention back to James. “Never would have picked you for believing in any cause but your own.”

“You never did understand the family, did you, William? The Kennedys have always been republicans and proud of it. Proud of our roots, where we come from. But you were never a Kennedy, just some half-Irish by-blow. Grandfather gave money to the cause. I’ve taken it a step further. We will win the war against the British and you’ll be helping us, whether you like it or not.”

There was a fanatical light in his eye that Bodie recognised. It had new purpose now and Bodie was suddenly afraid.

“Bodie’s helping us all right.” Ahearn said. “It’s all in the family now.”

James turned to him, a look of scorn on his face. “You’ve been well and truly had, Sean. William here isn’t all he seems to be. Are you, William?”

“What do you mean?” Ahearn asked. But James ignored him, his attention completely focused on Bodie now.

“Did you really think you could get away with it? That you wouldn’t be found out?”

“What are you talking about?” Bodie said. He braced himself. Beside him Doyle had stiffened and Bodie knew he was ready.

James laughed then, the sound unpleasantly loud in the room. “William Bodie, ex mercenary, ex gun runner. He didn’t tell you he’s also ex British soldier and SAS, served in bloody Ireland as well. Didn’t tell you any of that did he, Sean?”

Ahean stared, opened mouthed. But anything he might have said remained unstated as Dougherty barged into the room.

“They weren’t followed,” were his first words. “And you were right, Mr Kennedy. The area around the warehouse has been cordoned off, there’s cops everywhere.”

“What!” Ahearn was looking back and forth between James and Bodie, horror and slowly dawning comprehension on his face.

“Now do you understand?” James sneered. “You’ve been completely taken in by my cousin. I had someone in the ministry check up on him. And Dougherty‘s been following him for me. They’re working for the police, or MI5. Both of them.”

“You bastard,” Ahearn shouted, swinging his fist at Bodie’s face. Bodie blocked the blow and landed his own punch in Ahearn’s midriff, sending the man staggering back. From the corner of his eye he could see Doyle grappling with Dougherty.

“Stop.” The gunshot that rang out accentuated the demand. Everyone froze.

“Look what you’ve made me do! Now I’ll have to get someone in to fix that hole in the ceiling.” There was petulance in James’ eyes as well as fury and Bodie half expected him to stamp his feet. There was nothing unsteady about the gun in his hand though. Bodie straightened, his hands held away from his sides.

“What about the shipment?” Ahearn was leaning against the back of the couch, trying to catch his breath. “Is that a fake too?”

“Why don’t you find out? I’m sure Mr Doyle will be more than willing to hand over the key, won’t you, Mr Doyle?”

Doyle hesitated and James pointed the gun directly at his face.

“Do it, Ray. He’s just mad enough to shoot one of us.”

“You never told me you had a nutter for a cousin,” Doyle muttered, fishing in his pocket for the key. Ahearn snatched it and started out of the room, motioning for Dougherty to go with him.

“Yeah, sorry, should have mentioned it.” Bodie responded.

“Shut. Up.” James enunciated slowly. They did.

“It’s all there, the whole lot.” Ahearn sounded pleased when he and Dougherty returned minutes later. And well he should be, Bodie thought. They’d managed to get a shipment of arms for half price.

As if to rub it in James spoke again. “Thought you’d taken us for fools, didn’t you, William? Look who’s the fool now. You’re right though,” he told Ahearn. “He is a bastard. My grandfather’s bastard grandson. Teach him a lesson, Sean.”

“It’ll be a pleasure.”

Before he could move, Dougherty grabbed Bodie from behind while Ahearn advanced. Bodie used his weight to twist in Dougherty’s hold and nearly broke free before Ahearn’s fist punched into his belly, leaving him gasping for breath. Doyle shouted and started forward but James’ gun crashed down on the side of his face and he fell.

“Still too much of a coward to do your own dirty work, James?” Bodie got in through gasped breaths before the next blow hit.

“I wouldn’t sully my hands with you.” James’ malice was real as was the pleasure in his eyes as he watched. “Just make sure you don’t kill him, Sean. We could have a use for both of them still.”

The blows came then, fast, steady, methodical, one after the other. Bodie could hear Doyle shouting but couldn’t make out the words. He tried to look, to see Doyle once more before Ahearn or Dougherty killed him, as one of them surely would. But all he could see before his vision began to grey out was Fionn, newly arrived and standing in the doorway with a hand over his mouth, looking horrified and sick, idealistic innocence lost in the reality of bloody violence. He fell and Ahearn’s boot replaced his fists. Bodie tried to roll into a ball, raising his arms to protect his head. Then everything went black.

---

“Wake up, Bodie. C’mon, you’re not doing this to me again. Wake the fuck up.”

The words were an invasion, punishing his already throbbing head, but at the same time they were strangely familiar. He was floating in a sea of pain and some knob was shouting at him. It was untenable. He tried to turn over, away from the noise but even the slight movement brought more waves of pain.

“Bodie, can you hear me?”

He knew it was Doyle, had to be. Only Ray Doyle would shout at a dying man. And he knew he was dying, had to be ‘cause he hurt so much.

He tried to speak but what emerged was a croak. A bit of swallowing to get some spit going and he tried again, with a bit more success; the croak had become a groan. He kept his eyes shut though; he wasn’t quite ready for that adventure yet.

The third attempt produced a whole sentence. “Shit, Doyle. The whole street can hear you.” It must have been comprehensible because Doyle answered.

“Well that’s handy. Maybe the whole street can come rescue us.”

Deep concentration, and he managed another sentence.

“Give over, will you? You’re making me head hurt.”

There was a quiet laugh, one without much humour, and a sigh that sounded like relief.

“Thought you’d gone into a coma there for a while.”

“Give me another minute and I just might take the option.”

Another humourless laugh and rustle of clothing and Bodie knew that Doyle was crouched down close beside him. “No you don’t, mate. You’re awake now and that’s the way you’re staying.”

He opened his eyes then and looked around. Their captors had kindly left the light on; its dim glow showed him the familiarity of the cellar they were in. Unlike the rest of the house it hadn’t changed much. There were still the casks and boxes littered in the passages between the wine racks that reached high, nearly to the ceiling. The same wine racks James and Bradley had pushed him into long ago then told their grandfather he was the one who broke the precious bottles and spilled the rare vintage over the cement floor. His grandfather had been beyond angry and Bodie had suffered.

Stuffing the memory back where it belonged, Bodie turned his attention to Doyle. The side of his face was marred with a new bruise over the already damaged cheekbone and blood was still seeping from the gash James’ gun had opened there. He was looking at him with a mixture of relief and concern, and maybe something Bodie couldn’t quite read.

“You okay?” Bodie asked.

Doyle swiped at the graze, smearing blood over more of his face. “Doing better than you at least.”

It was Bodie’s turn to chuckle, only it turned into a gasp. He waited a moment for the effect to subside.

“Here, give me a hand.” He said and gritting his teeth he started to move. It hurt, but not as badly as he thought it would. Doyle slid his arm behind his shoulders, helping him into a sitting position with his back against a wall. It was cold, like the floor had been. His whole body felt chilled.

“God, what hit me?”

“A friggin’ big Irishman called Ahearn and an even bigger one called Dougherty. After they’d finished knocking seven kinds of shit out of you they threw us down here. Don’t think they broke anything but you’ve probably got a concussion.”

“Ah yes. I remember that. The hitting, I mean.” Bodie wished he didn’t. And he wasn’t sure about the no broken bones bit, it felt like at least one rib was cracked. “How long was I out?”

Doyle looked at his watch. “Not that long, maybe fifteen minutes. Just long enough for your cousin and his friends to unload the van and probably get rid of it.”

“Cowley’s going to be pissed.”

Doyle nodded wisely. “True,” he said. “Wonder if he’s worked it out yet.”

“Must have. They’ll be looking for us by now. Not that it’ll do much good. James was right, I was a fool. Didn’t connect the dots. But then I never did with them.” He couldn’t have qualified the ‘them’ to Doyle if his life depended on it. That nebulous thread that said ‘family’ was too thin, too distant for definition. A weight of depression crashed down on him then; worse than the beating, the bruises, it threatened to overwhelm him with a despair he hadn’t felt for years.

Doyle slipped off his jacket and wrapped it gently around him. “Here, you’re shivering.”

Bodie hadn’t noticed.

Doyle slid down beside him and they sat, shoulder to shoulder. “Sorry about your cousin,” he said.

There was a question there, an invitation and Bodie had to make a decision. But this was Doyle and as much as he’d tried to deny it, he was possibly the one person he could talk to, could tell something of his past. His shivers had begun to subside and the knot inside him loosened a little.

“Don’t be. He’s even more of a bastard than me. And I was born one. He doesn’t have any excuse.” He leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes, thinking.

“I lived in this house for ten years,” he said when he felt ready to speak again. “My mother brought me here when I was four. She died when I was seven, so my grandparents brought me up. I was the family disgrace though, the fatherless child of an unwed mother – a fact they never let me forget. As you’ve guessed, my cousins felt much the same way. James was a spiteful bully as child. He hasn’t changed much. I left when I was fourteen. End of story.”

There was more of course. But that was all Bodie could give right then.

Doyle didn’t push, for which he was grateful. They stayed silent for a while before Doyle finally spoke.

“I see.” He hesitated again. “Good thing you can’t choose your family, mate. Would’ve had to seriously consider your sense of taste there.”

Bodie laughed at that, or tried to but it made his ribs hurt. The knot was completely gone and he felt almost lightheaded, which could have been the concussion.

“I don’t suppose there’s any way out of here other than that door, is there?” Doyle was looking around the room again,

Bodie shook his head. “Not even a coal chute,” he grumbled. “Grandfather had it all sealed up long ago. Pity we left Ben behind at the farm, he could have wriggled under the door or something. Gone to get help.”

Doyle smiled at him. “Thought you said he wasn’t Lassie.”

“I’m an idiot!” Bodie interrupted as another childhood memory fought its way to the surface.

“I’ll give you that, but what brought on the sudden revelation?”

Bodie turned to look at him. “There’s a window. It’s small but you just might be able to get through. It’s hidden behind one of these wine racks.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. My cousins locked me in here often enough. Ended up I knew the place like the back of me hand. Used to sneak out through the window and go off to the park, then come back when I knew James or Bradley, his brother, would be coming to let me out. It used to scare me stupid being locked in here until I found the escape route. They always turned the lights off so I’d be in the dark and that’s how come I found it; the light you know.” He broke off and started to rise, his body screaming a protest but a feeling of hope stirring.

“They never did figure out what I was doing, gave up trying to frighten the bejesus out of me that way after a while. That’s why I’d forgotten, must have been about six the last time I climbed out of that window.”

Doyle was staring at him and Bodie stopped to stare back.

“What?”

Doyle shook his head. “Nothing,” he said, getting to his feet and helping Bodie the rest of the way up. “Where’s this window then?”

The first couple of steps were the worst then his body loosened up a little and leaning most of his weight on Doyle he managed to steer them towards the rear wall of the cellar.

He was panting by the time they got there but the window was where he remembered, high up on the wall and partially hidden by a wine rack. It had turned dark outside and the glow of a street lamp cast a hollow light through the glass.

“How did you manage to reach it?” Doyle asked, a hushed wonder in his voice.

“Climbed the rack of course. Didn’t weigh all that much. I was only six, remember.”

“Yes, I remember.” There was that look again, the one Bodie couldn’t quite fathom. “Well, I’m not six and it won’t take my weight. And do you really think I can fit through something that narrow?”

Bodie looked at Doyle and back at the window. It was going to be a near thing.

“If you can get your shoulders through, that skinny arse of yours will follow.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

There was definitely irony there but Bodie flipped it off and looked around for something Doyle could climb on.

“There.” Doyle was pointing to a cabinet standing against the wall between two racks.

Between them they managed to slide the cabinet as far as the window. An empty wooden box on top of that and Doyle was balanced in front of the window.

“Give me your hand,” he said, looking down at Bodie. “I’ll pull you up.”

Bodie was holding onto the box to steady it, or maybe he was holding on because it was the only thing still keeping him upright. He shook his head. “I can’t climb up there, much less fit through the window. You’re on your own.”

The thought chilled Bodie. Even if he could have used this escape route he knew that in his present condition he would have been nothing but a hindrance, that Doyle would risk himself to get Bodie away, and he couldn’t have that. But it worked both ways, he wouldn’t be there to watch Doyle’s back and that scared him.

“Don’t,” he started to say, then stopped. Don’t what? Don’t go. Don’t get killed. Don’t leave me. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

Doyle hesitated, as though to argue. But then he seemed to realise the hopelessness of trying to get Bodie out as well. “No chance, mate. Stay put, eh? I’ll be back for you.”

“Not going anywhere.”

Doyle’s chip-toothed grin flashed for him before he faced the window again and pushed it open. Shoulders at an angle, a heave and quick twist of those agile hips and he eeled through.

Bodie waited a few minutes to catch his breath then made his way back to where they’d been sitting against the wall and slid down. Doyle’s jacket was on the floor where it had fallen when they went in search of the window and Bodie picked it up. He draped it over himself. It was still warm, from Doyle’s body or his own. It had Doyle’s smell on it though and he breathed it in. He closed his eyes.

He was almost asleep when the door of the cellar crashed open and rough hands started dragging him to his feet.

Chapter Six

Doyle took one last look at Bodie then slipped through the window to freedom, landing almost headfirst in a rhododendron bush. He waited, not daring to rise, until he was sure there was no one around. Finally, when the only sound was the lonely hoot of an owl and the moving shadows resolved into trees stirred by the slight wind, he moved.

The window had led out onto the grounds at the back of the house. Doyle could make out the high stone wall bordering the property, its outline illuminated by moonlight. It seemed the best bet; he needed to find a phone box and contact Cowley. Then he had to get Bodie out of that basement.

He made his way across the open expanse of cultivated lawn to the shelter of trees and shrub. He hesitated there, looking back towards the house, at the lights showing through the windows and the brief glimpses of figures moving in the rooms. He could barely see the dim light of the basement through the rhododendron but it was there.

Bodie was there too, alone, waiting. That thought and the brief look he’d been granted into Bodie’s history chilled him, even while it gave him something of a better understanding of the man himself. Some of the hurt from Bodie’s rejection of him melted under that understanding. Not all mind, but some. The man was still a bastard, whatever the circumstances of his birth. And when he got him out of that basement he’d tell him as much. He couldn’t help the wonder at what kind of grandparents held a child responsible for the accident of their birth, though.

Thoughts of families and what he intended doing to Bodie were pushed aside when he made it to the wall. It wasn’t high enough to be a problem and he had no difficulty climbing up and over.

He found a phone box half a block from the house. It took five minutes and all the change he had to convince HQ to put him through to Cowley, the sound of the controller’s voice on the other end of the line a welcome relief.

“Where are you, Doyle?” Cowley’s voice was calm but Doyle could hear the undercurrent of tension.

“Sefton, near the park. They sussed us, changed the meet. It was Bodie’s cousin.”

Cowley surprised him then. “Yes, I know. James Kennedy. I should have checked his background before this, then I would have uncovered his political associations.”

“Pity, that.” Doyle couldn’t keep the edge out of his voice. “Kennedy has Bodie in his cellar and he’s in a bad way. I wouldn’t put it past Kennedy to kill him. We need to get him out.”

“I’m sending back up now. It will be with you in a matter of minutes.”

“Yeah, well. Bodie doesn’t have minutes. I’m going back in.”

“Doyle! Wait for backup, that’s an order!”

The monotonous tone of the phone requesting more money broke across Cowley’s voice.

“Sorry, sir. Run out of coins.” Doyle replaced the receiver.

~~~

Doyle skinned over the wall again, this time from the opposite side. The rear of the house was as quiet as when he’d left but now all the curtains had been drawn on the windows and there were no lights showing, not even in the basement. Doyle tried not to think of what that could mean.

He began to move, breathing a sigh of relief when the sound of voices reached him as he neared the front of the house. Regretting the lack of a weapon and cursing the rustle of an autumn fall of dead leaves under his feet, he flattened himself against the wall and risked a look through a window into the lighted sitting room.

They were all there: Bodie’s cousin, Ahearn and his henchmen. Bodie was in the middle, held by Ahearn and Dougherty while Kennedy screamed in his face.

“Where is he? Tell me now.”

Bodie ground out words through a swollen mouth. “Probably half way to London, you stupid berk. Give it up, James, you’re done.”

“Not yet, I’m not.” And Kennedy hit him hard, a blow to Bodie’s midriff that had him sagging in the hands that held him.

Kennedy turned away as if the blow had been nothing, while Bodie gasped and retched as he tried to drag air into his lungs.

“Fionn, Jingles, see if you can find him. He can’t have got too far. They weren’t down there that long. Search the grounds.”

Doyle watched the two men leave the room and heard the slam of a distant door. With attention focused on Bodie again Doyle took the chance to glide past the window.

“What about him?” Ahearn said. They had let Bodie go and he was kneeling on the floor, still gasping.

“We get rid of him. Then we move the guns. I think it’s time I took a trip to the family hunting lodge.”

Doyle had reached the front door. The gargoyle glared at him with lopsided malevolence. He ignored it and tried the handle, breathing a sigh of relief when it turned. The door opened noiselessly and he stepped inside. Another couple of steps and he was at the door of the sitting room.

Bodie was still kneeling, Kennedy standing in front of him, the gun in his hand pointed at Bodie’s head while the other two men stood watching.

Kennedy was speaking, his voice as calm as if he were discussing the weather. “Dougherty, go and see what those other two are doing. If they haven’t found Doyle by now it’s too late.”

Kennedy’s back was to Doyle but he could see Bodie’s face. It was calm, resigned almost, until he saw Doyle and surprise lifted his eyebrows. Doyle lifted his finger to his lips. Bodie’s nod was a slight movement of his head.

A side table stood next to the doorway, dark stained mahogany, polished until it shone. But Doyle was more interested in the heavy statue of a rather incongruously modernist cupid that rested on top. He carefully picked it up.

“Bodie, down.” He shouted the instruction at the same time as he pitched the statue at Kennedy.

Bodie went down and Kennedy swung round, the gun going off as his finger, already tightened on the trigger, completed the action. But Doyle was moving and the bullet went wild. The statue didn’t though. Missing Kennedy it collected Dougherty high on the temple and the man dropped like a stone.

Ahearn meanwhile had drawn a gun from the waistband of his trousers and was swinging around wildly, trying to decide on a target. Doyle took advantage of his indecision and kicked the gun out of his hand.

That was when things got a little crazy as two figures burst in through the front door and another came in from the back, all bearing guns. Doyle recognised Anson and McCabe but couldn’t make out who the third was, until the light reflected in his face and he realised it was Cowley himself.

Ignoring the armed men Kennedy turned his gun on Bodie again and Doyle knew he was going to shoot. He snatched up Ahearn’s weapon and fired. The bullet took Kennedy high in the shoulder and he staggered back but didn’t drop the gun. Doyle fired again and this time Kennedy went down.

There was silence then, the echo of gunfire fading as quickly as it had exploded.

Doyle looked around at the carnage and confusion. There seemed to be agents everywhere and someone was using an RT to call an ambulance. Ahearn was the only one of the gang still standing. He had his hands raised and a stunned look on his face.

“Are you all right, lad?” Cowley was beside him then and the concern was real, caused no doubt by a growing bruise and the dried blood that he knew caked the side of his face.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Bodie’s not though.” He started towards where Bodie had fallen and saw that Anson was trying to help him up. He had a sudden thought.

“There’s three more, they should be here still. And the guns.”

“All taken care of.” Cowley was looking satisfied now. “I have the house surrounded, they walked right into our arms. The van with the weapons still inside is parked in the garage.”

Doyle shook his head. He’d thought they would at least have had sense enough to dispose of the van as quickly as they could.

Bodies was upright now, shrugging off Anson’s helping hand as Doyle reached his side. He was looking at his cousin and the blood spilling across the pristine carpet. Jax was beside the body, trying to stop the flow with a cloth that could have been a linen napkin. Bodie’s face was blank, all expression wiped clean so that Doyle couldn’t tell what he was thinking.

Bodie’s gaze moved to Dougherty, still out cold, the statue that had knocked him out lying beside him.

“Felled by cupid. How inappropriate,” Bodie said, his voice as colourless as his face.

Doyle laughed then and couldn’t stop, but he managed to catch Bodie as he swayed and started to fall.

~~~

“Thanks.” Bodie was sitting on the edge of the hospital bed, feet firmly on the floor - ready for a quick exit as soon as the nurse returned with his clothes. He was dressed in one of those white gowns that didn’t close at the back. He blamed Cowley for that. He was the one who had insisted he be carted off to hospital after all. Doyle, assigned guardian duties, was sitting next to him. They were both staring at the floor.

“For what?”

“Saving my skin.”

There was a moment of silence. “I shot your cousin.”

Bodie thought about that. “You just got in first. If I’d had a gun and could stand upright, I’d have shot him.”

He sensed Doyle looking at him and he turned, meeting the gaze of a slightly frayed guardian angel with tired eyes and a day’s growth of stubble on his chin. He thought he probably didn’t look much better.

“Your cousin was, is, an arsehole.”

There wasn’t much he could say to that so Bodie just nodded.

“You came back for me.”

“Said I would, didn’t I?”

“So you did.” Bodie searched Doyle’s face, the muted light of the cubicle bringing out the sharp edges and angles of bone and brow. He lifted a finger to trace the outline of the broken cheekbone and dark bruise marring it, uncaring of the intimacy because he was tired and defences didn’t seem to matter any more with this man.

“You never did tell me where you got that.”

“You never asked.”

“I’m asking now.”

“Fair enough. And some day maybe I’ll tell you.”

“That embarrassing, is it?”

Doyle gave him a shove. “Pillock,” he said but there wasn’t a lot of heat in it.

Just then the curtains parted and George Cowley stepped into the small cubicle, Bodie’s clothes draped across his arm.

“Ah, Bodie, the medics have passed you as fit to leave, on the condition that you report back if there are any worrying symptoms. I’m sure you’d be aware what ‘worrying symptoms’ implies.” He dumped the bundle of clothing on the end of the bed.

“Thank you, Sir.” Bodie told him, starting to get up, then thought better of it. Being bare-arsed in front of his boss was not a situation of choice. Doyle was grinning at him, almost as if he’d read his mind.

“We have all of Ahearn’s gang in custody, including Dougherty, who has been passed as fit enough for interrogation. It seems they were working on their own with no link to any Provisional IRA factions.”

“Preserve us from the idealists of the world,” Doyle muttered.

“Something like that,” Cowley agreed. “Bodie, your cousin is in intensive care. He may not survive. I’m sorry.”

“I’m not,” Bodie said shortly. “He brought it on himself. I’d not see him dead but I can’t grieve for him.”

Cowley nodded. “We have traced your other cousin, Bradley. He has a low profile job in the ministry. I suspect he might have been James’ source of information about you. But so far there is no obvious connection that points to his involvement in James’ and Ahearn’s activities.”

“When we were kids, where James led, Bradley followed. He’s probably in it up to his neck, but you might never prove it.”

“I agree. I’ll be keeping an eye on him though. You can be sure of that.”

“What about Fionn?” Bodie asked suddenly, the memory of the lad’s shocked face at his beating surfacing. “He’s just a kid, got himself into all this because of his uncle. He doesn’t deserve to be tarred with the same brush.”

“He’ll have to be charged of course. But I’ll do my best to have the charges reduced. His mother is with him now.”

Bodie nodded his thanks. If anyone was an innocent in all this it was the lad.

“In the meantime,” Cowley continued. “You can have tomorrow off, you too Doyle. But I expect you to report for duty the day after, as partners.”

He eyed them both, eyes sharp, waiting for a response.

Bodie hesitated, aware of Doyle watching him, refusing a reply until he spoke first.

“Yes, Sir,” he said and felt a weight he hadn’t known exist lift. Then was nervous again waiting for Doyle and breathing a silent sigh of relief when he nodded.

The half-expected arguments having not materialised Cowley relaxed as well, his features settling into an almost benevolent look that Bodie didn’t trust at all.

“Doyle, I can leave you to see Bodie gets home?” he said, preparing to leave.

“Think I can manage that.”

“Good.” He stopped at the curtain and turned back. “Well done, lads. You did a good job today in difficult circumstances. No more than I would expect mind, but still, well done.” He turned a hard look on Doyle. “However, Doyle, the next time you disobey my direct order I won’t be feeling so magnanimous.”

Doyle flushed and ducked his head. “Yes, Sir.”

Bodie looked him a question as Cowley left but Doyle just shook his head. “C’mon, butch. Let’s get you dressed and out of here.”

~~~

Home, Bodie thought as they approached the outskirts of London. It had been past midnight when he and Doyle left Liverpool, after they had stopped by Bodie’s rundown flat to collect his few belongings. He considered suggesting they stay there for what was left of the night, get some sleep; he knew Doyle had to be just about as exhausted as he was. But he wanted to be away from it all now, a distance put between him and the city of his birth. So Bodie didn’t make the suggestion, just hoped Doyle wouldn’t mind too much the long hours of driving it would take for their journey home.

There it was again, that word. Well, he had a home now, a flat he had hardly got used to before going undercover, but his until Cowley moved him again. (‘Security is paramount, never too long in the one place,” Cowley had stressed in his induction meeting. He remembered that at least, even if other memories of that interview had slipped away.) It didn’t seem exactly right though, it was just a place, whereas ‘home’ held another concept he wasn’t quite sure he grasped. He looked across at Doyle, concentration and the lights of the dashboard making his features look harsh and uncompromising. Bodie suspected he had a lot of ground to make up there.

They hadn’t talked much on the journey. Between Bodie’s bouts of introspection and Doyle’s sudden moody silence there didn’t seem much point in trying to make conversation so he mostly dozed or stared out of the window. They stopped for petrol and breakfast at a service station and Bodie downed a Little Chef Olympic breakfast while Doyle frowned and settled for omelette and bacon.

The darkness of the night started to give way to dawn’s light, a beautiful golden skyline gathering on the horizon giving promise of a rare nice day as they reached London. Doyle weaved their way through the outskirts of the city. It was early yet and traffic was modest more than heavy.

It took another hour to reach the flat in Paddington and Bodie had trouble recognising it at first, it was so long since he’d seen it. Doyle found a parking spot a few yards further down the road and they walked back together. He waited while Bodie fumbled the key in the lock.

“You coming in?” he asked as his fingers finally co-operated and he had the door open.

Doyle nodded. “Cowley said to see you home. I’m seeing you home, all the way.”

Once inside, the familiarity of it all came back to him - the faded but serviceable furniture, the telly that flickered when it started up. He knew if he went into the kitchen he’d see the crack in the linoleum and the dishes he’d left to drain on the sink would still be there. It was a homecoming of sorts.

“I’m all the way in now,” he told Doyle, throwing the keys into the dish on the hall stand. “Duty done; you can go on to your own place if you want.”

“You don’t get off that easy,” Doyle said. He looked around the flat and shivered. “It’s like a bloody igloo in here. Where’s the boiler?”

“Next to the bathroom. End of the passage.”

Bodie went to open the curtains as Doyle stamped off down the passage. He hesitated by the window for a few moments to let the winter sun fill up the room and warm him.

“Why didn’t you do your best to persuade Cowley we shouldn’t be partners?”

Bodie winced at the use of his own words, uttered long ago and without the knowledge he now possessed. Doyle was standing right behind him; he could feel his presence, his heat close at his back.

“Changed my mind, didn’t I?”

“You changed your mind,” Doyle repeated. “That’s handy. Mind telling me why.”

Bodie turned to face him then. “I’d discovered something,” he said, leaning back against the window frame with his arms crossed defensively.

Doyle tipped his head to the side in an almost-fake curiosity. “Yeah, what’s that? Must have been earth shattering.”

“It was, for me. I realised I’d made a mistake. Several in fact. But I was hoping it wasn’t too late.”

“Did you now? And what if I’d decided you were right after all, that there was no mistake and we shouldn’t be partners?”

“Well, I was hoping you hadn’t. But if you had then I’d have to try and persuade you otherwise.”

Doyle’s gaze was disconcertingly piercing, as if he could see through any subterfuge Bodie might try on him.

“You know, don’t you, if we do this you’ll not get to walk away from me again?”

“Believe me, Ray, I value my skin. So no, there won’t be any more walking done, not by me anyway.”

Doyle relaxed slightly and smiled at that. “Just so you know,” he said.

Bodie nodded acknowledgment. There was still a way to go before Doyle was going to trust him again. Lifting his hand he brushed the pad of his thumb over the broken cheekbone as he’d done the night before.

“Is it okay if I do this?” he asked.

Doyle’s eye’s flicked almost close. “Yeah.”

His lips parted and Bodie let his thumb outline them almost without thought, only remembering to seek permission at the last minute. “This?”

“’s okay.”

The words vibrated against his thumb and he closed his eyes to the feel of it, dropping his hand and leaning in to trace his lips over where his thumb had been. “That?” he whispered.

Doyle didn’t answer this time. Instead his tongue, warm and wet, slipped out to brush against his lips and linger, soothing over the cut and swelling at the corner of his mouth. Bodie ignored the sting and accepted Doyle’s tongue against his mouth, falling into the kiss and his new partner’s arms.

They stayed like that, chest pressed against chest until the need to breathe forced a halt and the arm wrapped around Bodie’s waist tightened, making him wince. Doyle drew away then, loosening his grip to step back and survey the darkening bruises on Bodie’s face and the speck of blood that had formed on his lip where the split had opened again.

“C’mon, mate. You’re not up to this right now. And neither am I,” he admitted. “Let’s get you into bed.”

“Could just stay here, make out on the couch for a while. Nothing too strenuous,” Bodie suggested but Doyle shook his head.

“There’s time enough,” he said leaning in again to brush his lips against Bodie’s mouth and whisper. “When we make love again I want to be able to enjoy you, every inch of you, slowly. Make you forget your own name.” He kissed him then, hard, before pulling back again.

Bodie wanted to argue but his legs were weak and his head spinning from more than the kiss and the promise so he obediently followed Doyle and didn’t complain when he was helped out of his clothes and into a pair of pyjama bottoms.

Doyle disappeared for a few minutes as Bodie climbed into bed. When he came back he had a glass of water and a bottle of pills in his hand.

“Pain killers,” he said, settling down on the edge of the bed and shaking a couple out into his hand.

Bodie accepted the pills and swallowed them down with a sip of the water then lay back against the pillows. “You’ll stay?” he asked, reaching for Doyle’s hand.

Doyle nodded. “Yeah, I’ll stay.”

Bodie watched him draw the curtains on the bright sun and strip down to his underpants then slide into the bed next to him. They lay there side by side for a while, not saying anything. He felt Doyle shift and knew he was looking at him.

“What?” he said, finally breaking under the silent regard.

“Was just wondering what those other discoveries of yours were.”

Bodie shifted uncomfortably, not sure he wanted to reveal as much of himself as the not-quite-a-question asked. But that was old inhibitions and this was Ray.

“That where you are born isn’t necessarily home and I don’t always have to try proving to everyone that what I was born is what I am.”

“Dunno about that last bit,” Doyle countered smartly, then drew back as Bodie tried a half-hearted punch to his ribs. “But I do know home is what you make it and who you make it with.”

Bodie could see the half flush of embarrassment on his face at the apparent sentimentality of his words.

“Why, Raymond. You’re blushing.” That earned him a retaliatory swipe.

They were quiet for a while then Bodie spoke again, unable to leave it alone it seemed.

“Think we can make a go of it? Being partners I mean.” He waved a hand to encompass them both. “And this, us.”

“Well, we’ll either make it or we’ll kill each other.”

“There’s that,” Bodie agreed.

“Go to sleep, Bodie.” Doyle turned onto his side and Bodie turned with him, snuggling into the arms that opened for him. With his head pillowed on Doyle’s shoulder, he slept.

 

Epilogue

Coldwater morning
Take off your nighttime shoes
Coldwater morning
I've been waiting so long for you


Shadows flicked across the walls of the bedroom, phantoms created by storm clouds racing over a full spring moon. Doyle didn’t notice, too caught up in the sight of his lover stretched out beneath him, the same moon casting a dim radiance across alabaster skin, accentuating muscle and curve. He was beautiful, his Bodie; especially now, his face open and filled with desire, moaning with pleasure as Doyle ran his hands up and down that exquisite body. He bent forward to take those moans into his mouth, savour the feel of them; his tongue thrust deep as they breathed the same air. They were grinding against each other now, hard thrusts and busy hands that threatened bruises on tender skin. Then Doyle raised himself up onto his knees, straddling Bodie and pressed down until Bodie was in him and around him and all of him. They moved together, a symphony of motion and Doyle stared into Bodie’s eyes, saw his soul laid bare as he came inside him. Doyle followed seconds later gasping out Bodie’s name.

They lay tangled then, sated and breathless, not bothering to move as exhaustion claimed them.

Doyle woke later, disturbed by the sound of rain falling on the roof. He lay there, listening to the rainfall and the small snuffling sounds coming from his companion, watching pretty pink fingers of dawn begin to creep through a crack in the curtains.

They shifted sometimes during the night, drawing away after lovemaking, seeking their own space. But inevitably they ended up together, drawn towards each other as though unwilling to stay apart for long. That night they had barely moved and Doyle could feel the warmth of Bodie’s huffed exhalations on his neck.

They had been partners now for six months; lovers for the same time – or longer if you counted sex in an abandoned Northumbrian farmhouse. Cowley had been right, chalk and cheese they might be but as a team they were the best. As lovers they were even better.

He’d learned so much about Bodie in that time: his moods and the things he hid from the world, where he liked to be touched and what made him shout with mindless pleasure.

He ruffled the short hair, loving the feel of the silky strands running through his fingers.

Bodie stirred and shifted slightly. “Wassa matter?”

Doyle moved his hand to the nap of Bodie’s neck, stroking softly “Nothing, love. Just daydreaming.”

“Nightmare?” His voice was slurred with sleep but with edges of concern. They both had those, the ones that woke them shaking and in a cold sweat.

“Nah, nothing like that, just watching the sunrise.”

“’s okay then. Should be sleeping though, sunrise is overrated, sleep’s not.” His arms tightened around him and Doyle relaxed into it. Bodie was already falling back to sleep, reassured that all was right with the world.

Yes, he knew so much about this man. But there was still more to learn, more secrets to pry out of him, more things to be discovered. Doyle had a feeling their future together would be an adventure in itself.

He was looking forward to it.