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Standing on the Edge of Forever

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Prologue

A fragile, early light seeped through the cracked window, casting a silvery grey glow over the stone floor where Doyle sat. Less welcome was the wind, which whistled through the same window causing icy blasts of air to gust around the room.

Doyle shivered and fruitlessly pulled the thin blanket more tightly around his shoulders.

It was just before dawn and bitterly cold in the broken down homestead they were holed up in, its decrepit state doing little to protect them from the brutal elements outside. In order to dodge the Russian patrols near the Afghan border, they were taking the high mountain passes, travelling at night and resting during the day. But the high altitude meant enduring perishing conditions and negotiating treacherous paths in the dark. Not the easiest journey Doyle had ever made, not by a long shot.

He picked up his small cup of sweet tea and sipped the hot liquid, relishing its precious heat. Just two more days and nights of this, and then with a bit of luck he would be on his way back to London.

Wearily, he leaned back against the wall. The spicy smell of tobacco wafted in from the front room where his Afghan guide, Ajani, and two hired Sherpas were sitting with their tea and roll-ups. Doyle would’ve been happy to rest in there with them, but they always politely insisted he sleep separately, a gesture of courtesy they said, although he suspected that wariness towards the infidel was the more likely reason.

Exhausted from the night’s trek, Doyle took a last sip of his tea and settled as best he could on the cold, hard floor to sleep.

He had just drifted off, hovering in that twilight of semi-sleep, when he was suddenly shaken awake by Ajani.

Dushman! Dushman!” Ajani whispered urgently. Enemy! Enemy!

Immediately alert, his heart thudding wildly in panic, Doyle grabbed his AK47 and jumped up. He ran into the front room and came to an abrupt halt as several Russian soldiers came storming through the front door, rifles aimed at him. The Sherpas were nowhere to be seen.

The soldiers shouted at Doyle to surrender, and heart still pounding rapidly in his chest, he dropped his rifle and raised his hands.

“I’m a journalist!” Doyle said in stilted Russian, gesturing to himself. “Reporter! And this is my guide!” He pointed to Ajani, who was standing next to him rigid with fear.

One of the Russians stepped forward and gave Doyle a cold smile. “Spy,” he said calmly.

And before Doyle could react, the butt of a rifle was swinging towards his head, and everything went black.

oOo

Hereford, April 1984

“Come on, Shorty, let’s get your coat on.” Bodie crouched down in the hall and helped his daughter put her arms through the sleeves.

“I’m not Shorty, I’m Lucy!” she said with all the indignation a four and a half year old could muster.

“You’re shorter than me, so that makes you Shorty,” Bodie said, just like he always did and waited for the frown. He wasn’t disappointed.

“It’s not fair, I can’t grow any quicker,” said Lucy, emphasising this injustice to Bodie with a small glare. The glare then vanished when a more important matter occurred to her. “Can we have ice cream later, daddy?”

“That won’t make you any taller, will it?” Bodie teased, doing up her coat buttons.

“It might do,” was Lucy’s earnest reply.

“We’ll have to ask mum,” Bodie said, smiling to himself as he stood up. If it was down to him, Lucy could have anything she wanted. It was just as well her mother wasn’t such a push-over. “Karen?” he called through to the kitchen. “Come on, let’s go.”

His wife came into the hall carrying a quarter-full bag of Mother's Pride. “Hope you don’t want toast for breakfast tomorrow, this is all we’ve got.”

“We’ll go to the shops on the way back, stock up on a few things…” He broke off as his pager started bleeping.

Karen sighed. “Perfect timing as always.”

Fishing the gadget out of his pocket, Bodie glanced at the digits on the screen. “Sorry, love, I’ve got to go.”

“What a surprise,” said Karen, her voice taking on the resentful tone Bodie was hearing more and more, lately. “Job first, family second, as usual.”

“Look, I'm sorry, all right?” Bodie said patiently, wishing it wasn't like this every time he was called out. “But I’m on standby, I can't just ignore it, can I?”

“You’ve got to go, daddy?” Lucy looked up at him unhappily. “But what about the ducks?”

Bodie smiled reassuringly at her. “Don’t worry, you’re still going to the park. Mum'll take you,” he said, stroking her hair.

Lucy pouted. “But I want you to come!” she said sulkily.

“Next time, princess,” promised Bodie. He picked her up and spun around with her in his arms, revelling in her delighted squeals. “Love you, sweetheart,” he breathed, before putting her down with a big, noisy kiss on the cheek, making her giggle.

He turned to his wife, leaned in and kissed her. “I’ll call when I can,” he told her softly, running a finger gently down her cheek, hoping to coax a smile from her. “OK?”

She gave him a reluctant smile and nodded. “Make sure you do.” She picked Lucy up. “Say goodbye to daddy.”

“Goodbye, daddy,” Lucy said obediently.

“Bye, sweetheart. You be a good girl for your mum.”

He gave them both another kiss, and grabbing his kit bag and crash helmet from beneath the hall table, he left the house.

oOo

Arriving at 22 SAS base at Bradbury Lines, Bodie joined five more from his troop in one of the briefing rooms.

They were just going over the details of a confirmed kidnap threat on an Irish politician, when there was a knock on the door and a clerk entered.

“Sorry for interrupting, sir,” the clerk said, apologising to the officer standing at the front. He turned to where Bodie was sitting. “Bodie, Boss wants you.”

“Now?” Bodie frowned. “But we’re in the middle of a brief.”

“Right now.”

Laughing off the slanderous suggestions from his colleagues about what he must’ve been up to, Bodie slid his feet from their resting place on a spare table and headed to the CO’s office. He hoped he wasn’t being stood down for some reason, he wanted to be part of this op.

He knocked on the door of his Commanding Officer.

“Come in.”

“Boss,” Bodie greeted Colonel Denbury, who was seated behind his desk.

“Bodie, sit down.”

The older man waited as Bodie settled in the chair opposite him. His usually animated craggy features were frozen into a solemn mask, and Bodie’s spine tingled ominously.

“I’m afraid,” the Colonel said gravely, “I’ve got some terrible news.”

With a sense of foreboding, cold fear rippled in the pit of Bodie’s stomach and the back of his scalp prickled.

“Your car’s been involved in an accident,” the Colonel continued carefully, his face filled with sympathy. “I’m sorry, your wife and daughter were in the car… it was fatal.”

The words settled around Bodie almost gently, at first, before their meaning pierced through the shield of shock and denial with such intensity it completely paralysed him. The rapid pounding of his heart made it difficult to breathe and the thundering of blood in his ears deafened him, and Bodie sat powerless as the anguish roared inside him.

oOo

One Year Later

Bodie was running his usual route around the park, same as he did most days.

His existence was made up of routine; it was the easiest way to get through each day. A run in the morning, a shift at the council offices, and then a pub afterwards for a couple of pints.  If he wanted a fuck, he’d pick someone up, otherwise he’d head home after last orders, and have a few whiskies to help him sleep.

His feet pounded the park’s damp ground in a comforting tattoo. His mind was gratifyingly calm when he ran, an almost meditative state as he focused on his body’s rhythm, his stride lengthening as his muscles warmed.

He’d been granted a Compassionate Discharge from the army. It wasn’t something they did often, but Bodie had been adamant he wouldn’t go back and eventually, with the intervention of Colonel Denbury, his discharge had been approved.

He’d thought he might leave Hereford too, leave for somewhere that wouldn’t haunt him with memories at every turn. But it was those very same memories that bound him here, feeding his pain. It would be cowardly to leave.

His family and in-laws had eventually got the message and stopped calling round, as had his mates. He didn’t deserve their sympathy or their kindness. He had no right to any of that. He’d failed his wife and daughter, hadn’t been there to protect them, and now they were dead.

He only deserved to live with the guilt and blame that festered inside him every moment of every fucking day, a permanent heavy ache in his chest.

That ache was the only thing he felt, the only way he knew he was still alive. Everything else was numb.

He ran past the park’s entrance gate on another lap. It was almost dawn and barely light on a murky spring day, but through the shadows, Bodie spotted a flicker of movement... another runner, obscured behind the hedge that lined the pathways.

It was strange that this caught Bodie’s attention. The irrelevance of life around him didn’t usually register, it was just a nuisance on his periphery, white noise that he automatically blocked out. But something about this made his senses itch warningly.

He speeded up, angry that his focus had been disturbed, that something external had encroached into his private world.

The runner stuck with him, a presence in the shadows, just out of sight.

Veering onto another path, Bodie slowed to a walk and then stopped by one of the lakes, causing a flock of ducks to eagerly swim over to him, hoping for an early breakfast. He stood hands on his hips, pretending to catch his breath, aware that his fellow runner had slowed too.

So his suspicions were confirmed: he was being followed.

There was a gap in the hedge just a few feet ahead and Bodie casually made his way nearer, still feigning fatigue, stretching his arms lazily over his head as he went.

As soon he reached the gap he sprung through it, instantly seeing the figure of a man to his right. The figure turned and started to run, and Bodie sprinted after him, quickly gaining on him. When he was just a couple of feet away, Bodie rugby tackled him to the ground, and with a brief scuffle pushed him face down into the dirt.

“Who the fuck are you?” Bodie demanded, bending his captive’s arm in a lock up his back.

The man tried to lurch Bodie off.

Bodie tightened the lock fractionally, making the stranger grunt in pain. “You’ve got five seconds or I’ll break your fucking arm!”

“That won’t be necessary.” A calm, authoritative voice with a Scottish burr floated over to where Bodie knelt above the prone man.

Bodie spun his head round to see a middle-aged man in a dark overcoat standing a few feet away. With thinning, blond hair and a lived-in face, he looked familiar.

“I apologise for disturbing your run,” the older man continued, “but I’d appreciate a few minutes of your time.” He gestured towards the crumpled figure on the ground. “And I’d be very grateful if you’d let him go, he was merely acting under my orders.”

Bodie didn’t move. “And who are you?”

“My name’s Cowley.”

It came back to Bodie then: Major Cowley. He’d visited Bradbury Lines a couple of years back and given a talk on interrogation techniques - a valuable insight for soldiers at high risk of capture. Injured out of the army, he now worked for MI6.

So what the fuck did MI6 want with him?

Warily, Bodie stood up. The man on the ground furiously sprung to his feet, glaring at Bodie.

“That’ll do, thank you, Anson,” said Cowley. “You can wait by the car.”

Anson frowned. “Sir, I don’t think -”

“Don’t worry, Sergeant Bodie won’t harm me.” Cowley took a couple of steps towards Bodie. “Will you, lad?” The Scotsman’s dark, steely eyes challenged Bodie to disagree.

Bodie held his gaze squarely. “Perhaps you could explain why your goon was following me?” he demanded, earning another dirty look from the departing Anson.

Cowley smiled. “I don’t do much running, these days,” he said, “and I didn’t want to miss you this morning.” He glanced round to check Anson was out of ear shot. “I have a proposition for you.”

“I’m not interested,” Bodie snapped. The SAS crossed paths with MI6 often enough for Bodie to know he had no desire to get dragged into their shady world.

“Oh, come now,” Cowley coaxed. “You must be intrigued, at least?”

“No. Now if you’ll excuse me -”

“I’m afraid it’s not optional,” Cowley said, firmly. “And we don’t have much time.”

“I’m sure you already know this, but just in case you’ve forgotten, I’ve left the Regiment,” Bodie ground out. “I’m a civilian now.”

“As SAS, you must know your skills can still be useful to Her Majesty’s services, even after you’ve left,” Cowley stated. “In an unofficial capacity, of course.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Bodie derisively. “When you need a deniable operative to do some dirty work for you, right?”

Cowley smiled, conceding the point. “Or, when we need someone capable and discreet.”

Bodie stared at the older man angrily, considering his options. The sooner he heard Cowley out, the sooner he’d be rid of him. “All right. What do you want?”

Cowley gave him a satisfied smile. “This way,” he said, and directed Bodie towards a black Rover sitting outside the gates of the park.

oOo

With a sullen Anson driving, Cowley’s car had taken them to Hereford Airfield, a long abandoned military airfield, now in limited use for small civil aircraft. To Bodie’s surprise, Cowley had a helicopter waiting there to transport the three of them to London. Staring out of the aircraft’s window at the patchwork land beneath him, Bodie racked his brains for possible reasons he’d been picked up. Whatever it was, it must be something big if Cowley was going to this much trouble. Well, Bodie would hear him out, politely but firmly tell him to fuck off, and then hopefully get a lift back to Hereford.

In under an hour they were at Battersea Heliport, where they transferred to another car and Anson drove them to MI6’s Headquarters in Lambeth.

Still in his blue tracksuit and trainers, Bodie sat with his arms folded and looked impatiently around Cowley’s small office.

“Would you like tea, coffee?” the Major offered.

“Just get on with it,” said Bodie.

Cowley put on his glasses and pulled a 10x8 inch photograph from a file. He slid it across the desk to Bodie. “Raymond Doyle. He’s a freelance journalist.”

Bodie picked up the black and white headshot of a man looking directly into the camera. Wild curly hair around a well-proportioned face; an uneven right cheek, strong nose, full mouth and wide-spaced eyes that must have all but burned the photographer with their intensity.

Looking at the distinctive face and unusual eyes boring back at him, Bodie felt a flicker of… something. He chucked the photo back on the desk. “What about him?” he asked.

“He’s been taken by the Russians, in Afghanistan,” said Cowley. “We need to get him back.”

Bodie gave a snort of disbelief. “You normally leave captives out there to rot, what makes him so special?”

Cowley hesitated briefly. “Because he’s one of ours.”

“He’s a spook?” asked Bodie, surprised. He glanced back at the photo. This Raymond Doyle didn’t look like your usual bland MI6 agent.

“Let’s just say he’s an asset,” replied Cowley.

Bodie nodded. “I see. In other words, you’ve got something on the poor bastard and make him work for you.”

“No, Doyle came to us,” Cowley said. “His investigations take him to some of the world’s most hostile territories and he often comes across information he knows we can use or pass on to other agencies... mostly intelligence involving the drugs and weapons trades, sometimes child trafficking…”

“So he’s a glorified snout,” said Bodie, unimpressed.

“He’s a man of integrity,” Cowley said sharply. “He uncovers atrocities being committed in the hope they might be stopped, or in the very least that innocent lives might be saved.”

“Yeah, very noble, I’m sure,” Bodie said, unmoved. “But don’t tell me you want him back just because you admire his principles.”

Cowley glanced down at the photo. “He recently discovered the identity of a mole in MI6,” he said gravely. “A double agent here in this organisation, working for the Russians.”

“Bet that went down well...” muttered Bodie.

“His latest investigation was into the Russians’ treatment of the Afghan people. He wanted to highlight their suffering and pressure the Government to do more to help. He had good contacts and was accepted in by one of the Mujahedeen tribes.”

“On his own?” asked Bodie.

“Yes, he tends to work alone,” confirmed Cowley, taking off his glasses. “He’d been there three weeks when he got wind of this double agent, someone telling the Kremlin our plans, someone high up. He thought it was someone in the CIA, at first, but then discovered it was someone from our side. He passed this information to me through one of his contacts.” Cowley paused a moment. “He was supposed to be leaving Afghanistan and returning here. But then I received another message, saying that Doyle had been captured.”

“And you think he’s been lifted because of this double agent?” Bodie asked.

“Undoubtedly,” said Cowley. “Whoever he is, he knows Doyle found out about him.”

“How long have they had him?”

“He was taken at least sixteen hours ago,” Cowley replied.

“What makes you think he’s still alive?” asked Bodie. “If the Russians know he has the name of their man on the inside, they’ll kill him and everyone he might have told.”

“Because they'll think he's a spy, and they'll want to interrogate him first,” said Cowley. “That should keep him alive... for a while, at least.”

“True,” agreed Bodie. “It might buy him some time.”

“Once they realise he's of no use to them, then they’ll kill him,” said Cowley. “We need to get him out of Afghanistan and safely back here before that happens.”

“Yeah, so you can get the name of your mole,” said Bodie. “Look, I’ve been out of the game for a year, why me?”

“I’d have thought that was obvious, Bodie. Two reasons. Firstly, because your record speaks for itself.  You were one of the best.”

“Not anymore,” Bodie said, surprised by a pang of regret he felt admitting it, for the loss of the highly efficient and proud SAS Trooper he’d once been.

“You’ve maintained a good level of fitness, and judging by that little performance this morning, your survival instincts are still intact…” Cowley paused. “Despite the heavy drinking.”

Bodie frowned as the realisation dawned on him. “You’ve been keeping tabs on me...?” he said incredulously, berating himself for not realising it before. How else would they’ve known he’d be at the park?

Cowley didn’t bother denying it. “Sometimes we keep an eye on people, that’s all,” he said, mildly. “I can’t say I’m happy to see a man of your calibre working as a security guard. Nor do I like that you feel the need to slowly kill yourself with beer and cheap Scotch every night."

Fury ignited by shame rose up in Bodie and he sprung to his feet. "It's none of your fucking business!" he shouted.

“You’re throwing your life away, man,” Cowley said sternly, unfazed by Bodie’s rage. “People worry about you. Your friends, the men you knew and fought alongside for nearly a decade, your family... all the people you’ve turned your back on still care.”

“So you spy on me and follow me?” said Bodie furiously, not wanting to think about the people from his previous existence, before his world had been shattered in one devastating moment... It was fatal.

“No, but people talk,” said Cowley. “It’s not difficult to pick up local gossip, to hear about the tragic decline of the highly decorated ex-SAS soldier,” he added caustically.

“I don’t give a fuck what people say about me!” Bodie fumed, the humiliation of what Cowley was telling him crawling through his veins. “What gives you or anyone else the fucking right to judge me!”

“That’s enough! Now, sit down!” ordered Cowley.

Bodie glared at him before slowly, grudgingly obeying. He took a deep, steadying breath, willed himself to calm down. The sooner he heard Cowley out, the sooner he’d be rid of him.

He leaned back in his chair, aware of the Major’s shrewd gaze on him. “So what’s the other reason you want me, then?” he asked scornfully. “Pity? Worried I’ll top myself, so you thought you’d send me to a war zone, instead? Thought that might cheer me up?”

“I can’t risk the mole finding out about this rescue mission. So I need an outsider. Someone unconnected to the army and the security services, but who’s capable of carrying out this kind of operation. You.”

“Well, I’m not interested,” Bodie said firmly. “And anyway, I’m not up to it. A daily jog round the local park is hardly adequate training for a job like this.”

“You do yourself a disservice, Sergeant,” said Cowley. “After nine years in the SAS I’m confident you’re up to it. You can spend some time on the range this morning. I’m sure your training will come back to you.”

“You can’t make me do this,” Bodie said evenly. “There’s nothing you can use as leverage. There’s nothing you can threaten me with.”

“I don’t want to threaten you, lad. I just want your help.”

“And I’ve told you I’m not interested. Find yourself some other mug to go and rescue your precious ‘asset’,” Bodie said, and watched as the Major considered his next move.

Cowley leant back in his chair. “It’s not just Raymond Doyle’s life at stake here. As you’re no doubt aware, we have SAS patrols on the ground in Afghanistan,” he said. “In the last three months we’ve lost five men. Two were from your troop, Bodie.”

“Ex-troop,” Bodie corrected. “Who?”

Cowley slid on his glasses and flicked through a file, pulling out a sheet of paper. “Robert Henessey and Jonathan MacLeod,” he read out. “Their brief was to lay explosives and bring down one of the main supply bridges... but they were ambushed within an hour of their infiltration.”

Shit.

“Of course, we now know it wasn’t just bad luck,” Cowley continued. “The Russians were waiting for them, knew they were coming.” Cowley took off his glasses. “All our present and future covert operations are jeopardised, until we plug this leak.”

“Yeah well, I’m sorry about Bob and Mac, but this is your problem... I’m out of all that now,” Bodie said defiantly. Fuck Cowley. If he thought he could manipulate Bodie with a bit of emotional blackmail, he could think again.

Cowley got up and stepped over to the window, looking out. “Do you think this is what Karen and Lucy would have wanted?” he asked conversationally. “You, cutting yourself off from the life you enjoyed, from all your family and friends, your colleagues…” He turned to face Bodie. “Do you think they’d like to see you blaming yourself for their deaths?”

Stung by the bitter truth of the words, Bodie charged out of his chair. “Don’t you dare even mention their names, you bastard!” he shouted, inches from the Major’s face. “You don’t know anything about it!”

Cowley didn’t flinch. “I know it wasn’t your fault,” he said firmly. “And I know that you punishing yourself won’t change what happened.” He looked at Bodie, daring him to disagree. “So why not do this job?” the Major continued. “It’s not like you have anything better to do, is it? What have you got to lose?”

Breathing heavily, Bodie gave a bitter laugh. “Oh yeah, like you’re doing me a favour!”

“No. I need you,” Cowley replied, bluntly. “Ray Doyle needs you. You’re his only chance. You can help us, and you’ll be well paid for your services.” His face softened marginally. “And, you never know,” he added, “it might remind you how to live again.”

Bodie bit back a snarled reply. He knew exactly what Cowley was doing, needling him, poking at him from all sides with a sharp verbal stick, like a weary circus tiger he needed to perform for him. And the galling thing was, it was working. He'd stirred Bodie's blood up.

Bodie looked over at the photo lying on the desk. Stupid bloody do-gooder. Bodie could just imagine what this journalist was like, had met his type before: a bloody idiot with a bleeding heart, totally unprepared and out of his depth in a hostile environment. Chances were this Ray Doyle was already dead, and it would probably be a suicide mission trying to break him out of some hellhole in the Stan.

Suddenly, the job quite appealed to Bodie. Why not? he thought. As Cowley had so kindly pointed out, he had nothing to lose.

He looked back at Cowley. “All right,” he said. “What’s the plan?”

oOo

Bodie was studying the map of Afghanistan spread out on Cowley’s desk, memorising the area he would be operating in.

“Does Doyle’s family know he’s been lifted?” he asked.

“He has no family… none to speak of, anyway,” Cowley replied. “Both his parents died several years ago, he has no siblings or spouse.”

“No-one to ask any awkward questions, eh? That’s handy for you,” said Bodie.

Cowley ignored the jibe and passed him a file. “Here’s your in-country brief, containing all the latest data we have.”

“How reliable is the intel?”

“It’s impossible to know until you get there,” said Cowley.

“Terrific.”

“Also in that file are details of your contact, Samir, and where you’ll meet him.” Cowley handed Bodie a separate piece of paper. “This is the legend you’ll use to identify Samir. I believe he was one of the last people to see Doyle. He’s trying to find out where Doyle’s being held.”

“And if he doesn’t?” asked Bodie.

“Then you’ll have your work cut out for you, won’t you?” said Cowley, with a benign smile. “You’ll meet up with Samir as soon as you’re on the ground. He’ll also provide transport.”

“Yeah, a donkey and cart probably,” muttered Bodie. He glanced at his watch and realised he was due on his shift at the Council in ten minutes. “I need to make a call,” he said. “Tell work I won’t be in.”

“Your employer has already been contacted on your behalf,” Cowley stated. “They’ve been told you have the flu, so they aren’t expecting you for a few days.”

Bodie stared icily at the Major. “I see,” he said. “Anything else done on my behalf I might want to know about?” he asked sarcastically.

“Not that I can think of,” said Cowley, unruffled. “Now, give me a list of what you will require. Weapons, NVGs, clothing… anything you need before departure, I’ll see you have it.”

“How about a room at the Ritz and a tab at the bar?” suggested Bodie.

Cowley smiled. “No time for that, laddie, you leave for Afghanistan this afternoon.”

oOo

Buffeted by the wind, Bodie stood near the edge of the aircraft’s open tailgate, his parachute a reassuring weight on his shoulders. It felt strangely comfortable to be back in army gear, with his rifle strapped to his side, and his bergen sitting behind his knees attached to his rig’s harness.

His eyes were locked on the loadmaster, waiting for the signal to go. He hadn’t jumped for over a year, but he found himself mentally going through the drills, remembering exactly what he needed to do and when, the result of hundreds of hours of training and exercises. Cowley had been right about that much, at least.

He'd spent the morning pouring over maps and intel, memorising details of the mission; places, names, times, routes, RVs. It had felt odd being back in operational mode, his brain sluggish at first, rusty at having to actually think, but quickly sharpening up as the hours ticked by. A kind of muscle memory in the brain, Bodie thought, vaguely surprised at how easily everything was coming back to him.

After a couple of hours on the firing range to re-acquaint himself with firearms and zero in his rifle, he’d been driven to Brize Norton where a plane was waiting to take him to Afghanistan.

At Brize his requested equipment was provided, and he’d changed into SAS issue desert camouflage jacket and trousers, and packed his bergen and belt kit. He’d managed to get a few hours’ sleep after take-off, the roar of the plane’s engines acting as a familiar and comforting kind of lullaby.

The loadmaster raised his index finger – one minute to go.

Bodie shuffled forward until he was standing right on the edge, looking out over the Afghan night sky. His heart was racing, the adrenaline flooding his body…

And then the loadmaster gave the signal and without hesitation Bodie leapt out into the black abyss.

Down, down, down he plummeted, deafened by the rush of air, and for several seconds nothing existed but him and the dark heavens. Somewhere in the back of his mind he recognised with a jolt the thrill of it... he’d forgotten what it was like to feel so alive, so exhilarated...

He checked his altimeter, and at 4000 feet pulled the cord to deploy his canopy, knowing he should be still high enough for the opening crack not to be heard on the ground below. There was a juddering sensation as the chute unfurled and a sudden jerk as he was pulled upright, his fall abruptly slowing.

He looked up at the canvas, checking to see it had opened correctly, and began to steer towards the coordinates Cowley had provided.

A glance at his altimeter told him he was at 200 feet and suddenly the ground was rushing towards him. He released his bergen, feeling it slip down to hang at the end of the attached line, and prepared himself for landing.

He hit the ground running, grateful for the pearlescent light from a half moon filtering through the scattered clouds, his parachute floating quietly to earth behind him.

He unclipped his chute and bergen, and releasing his rifle he cautiously checked his immediate area. Satisfied he hadn’t landed by any Russian Patrols or been spotted by any curious locals, he roughly bundled up his canopy and buried it under a pile of rocks between some shrubs.

Crouching there in the dark on his own, listening to the unfamiliar night sounds, he felt a rush of fear as he realised there was no going back now. If he fucked this up, there was no-one to help him out, and Cowley wouldn’t mount another rescue operation if he ended up as Ray Doyle’s next door neighbour.

Bodie closed his eyes, took a few slow, deep breaths, pushing the fear back down. The black and white photo of Doyle flashed in his mind…

You’re his only chance…

Bodie stood up. Right. He didn’t have time to fuck about feeling scared. He had a job to do, he had to get this journalist out and back to the UK. As long as Cowley had got the coordinates right and the pilot had been on target, Bodie had a four mile tab to the village where he’d meet his contact, Samir.

Bodie checked his Magellan navigation device and started walking, the image of Doyle still focusing his mind.

oOo

He kept up a fast pace, the exertion keeping him warm despite the chill of the night air. Following dusty roads and stony tracks, he reached his destination without incident, and stood on the outskirts to view the old stone village. It looked like a bomb site, devoid of any life, but Bodie knew this was a deliberate illusion to deter the Russians from bombing it again. The Hind helicopters were sent to flatten anything that looked remotely habitable, and would redo the job at the first sign of rebuilding work.

Bodie scanned the landscape, the moon casting a ghostly glow over it, but the only movement was from flags fluttering softly on sticks dotted along the hillside... graves, he realised.

On the western edge of the settlement, just back from the road, Bodie saw the L-shaped remains of the wall he was looking for and stealthily made his way over to it. He checked his watch; 2:23am local time. The contact Cowley had arranged for him should be here soon, all Bodie could do was wait.

oOo

Softly treading footsteps alerted Bodie from his concealed position behind the wall, and he saw the silhouette of what appeared to be a lone Afghan man approaching. The man stopped by the wall and leaned against the brickwork close to Bodie.

“The moon is very bright tonight,” the Afghan said quietly, in heavily accented English.

“Will it be bright tomorrow?” Bodie responded, with the pre-arranged phrase.

“No, it will rain tomorrow,” was the reply, just as Bodie expected.

His Browning 9mm pistol in his hand, Bodie stepped cautiously out from the other side of the wall to find a young man with a rifle slung over his shoulder. “What’s your name?”

“Samir.”

“You’ve got information for me?”

Samir nodded. “Yes. And a car. Come, it is just along here.” He gestured for Bodie to start walking with him.

“Do you know where Raymond Doyle is?” asked Bodie.

“Yes, he is held in a small prison camp not far from here,” Samir replied. “But they may move him soon.”

“How long has he been there?” Bodie queried.

“Since yesterday.”

“And he’s alive?”

Samir looked distressed. “I cannot be sure, but I hope.”

Bodie hoped so too, otherwise this was a gigantic waste of fucking time. “You know him?” he asked.

“Yes," Samir nodded. "He is very good friend of my people.”

Interesting. Sounded like this Raymond Doyle had won round the locals. No easy task, that, in a country ravaged by years of war.

Reaching the vehicle, Bodie saw it was an old Nissan pick-up truck, with left-hand drive. It seemed to be held together by several coats of paint, and Bodie hoped it was more reliable than it looked.

Samir yanked open one of the doors and delved beneath the driver’s seat, pulling out a scroll of paper. “Here is camp.” He unfurled the sheet to reveal a sketched drawing.

Bodie used a small torch from his belt kit to see the drawing better.

“Mr Doyle is here.” Samir pointed to a row of three structures in the middle of the camp. “This where prisoners held.”

Bodie studied the plan. It was basic, but as long as it was accurate he didn’t care. If the camp was small, as Samir claimed, hopefully the number of soldiers there was small too.

Bodie pulled out his map of the area and laid it on the bonnet of the truck. “Show me where the camp is.”

“It is here,” said Samir. “It is maybe eight kilometres away.”

While planning his approach, Bodie tried to find out everything Samir knew about the prison camp and the surrounding area.

Once he had eyes on the target he might have to adapt, but for now he was ready to go.

oOo

Following the route on his map, Bodie drove with headlights off, the truck’s suspension battling hard with the bumpy roads. He kept his mind focused on Ray Doyle and the op, not letting himself think about anything else.

He wondered how the journalist was bearing up, assuming he was still alive. The poor bloke might be a fucking idiot, coming out here thinking he could save a nation, but he didn’t deserve to die.

Bodie found somewhere to leave the truck about half a mile from the prison camp, and ran the rest of the way under cover of darkness. Spotting the camp’s entrance up ahead, he slowed his pace and carefully made his approach.

The perimeter of the camp was surrounded by a high mesh wire fence. Near the main gate, Bodie lay down on his stomach and inched closer. He could see a sentry hut and in front of it two figures sitting on a fallen tree trunk. He could just about make out the silhouettes of their rifles resting across their laps. He could also see the tell-tale glows of their cigarettes. That suited Bodie; they were obviously fairly relaxed, not expecting any trouble.

He backtracked away from the smokers, before making his way towards the fence. Edging along the perimeter, he couldn’t see any sign of other sentries. He pulled out his small torch and some wire cutters, and snipped out a rectangular area, then carefully pushed up the wire flap he’d created, and wriggled underneath the gap into the compound.

He was barely through the wire and standing on the other side, when a whiff of nicotine warned him of an approaching guard. He pushed himself up against a tree, melding himself to the bark and sliding his knife from his belt kit, as he heard the tread of footsteps to his right.

Bodie waited, breath held, knife nestled in his palm, listening as the shadowy figure passed about fifteen feet away from him. Counting off sixty seconds, Bodie peered round to check the guard had really walked on, and seeing it was clear, he edged round to the other side of the tree.

The camp was lit by several large lamps, casting a mixture of dull light and soft shadows across the area. To his left, Bodie recognised two large structures from Samir’s drawing, probably the living quarters. To his right were the guards at the entrance. Up ahead were three huts right in the middle of the camp, one of which hopefully held Raymond Doyle. With nothing to use as cover, Bodie realised he’d just have to make a run for it.

Now or never, he told himself, as he re-pocketed his knife and pulled out the Browning. With one last look either side, he sprinted low and fast across the open space to the first hut and pressed himself up against the side, listening carefully.

The hut had a window covered by a metal grill, but it was too high up to see through. Bodie looked down the shadowed side of the hut and saw a small grate close to the ground. He crept along towards it, dropped to his stomach and peered through the grate to look inside the hut.

It was dark inside, though light from the camp was filtering through the grilled window, casting stripes of muted illumination across the middle of the floor. Bodie scanned the dark sides for any defining shapes, but it was empty.

Bodie felt a wave of anxiety that he might be too late and Ray Doyle had already been moved… or worse.

He got to his feet and sidled round the far end of the hut. Apart from the sentry hut at the entrance, he was fairly well hidden from view on this side, with woodland lining the outer edge of the camp.

He crept along the gully looking for a grate on the middle hut. He spotted it like the other, low to the ground. Dropping down, he slowly brought one eye in line with the grate and peered through.

At first he thought the hut might be empty like the previous one, but then a shiver of movement amongst the shadows on one side caught Bodie’s eye, and he could just make out a human shape curled up in the corner.

It was impossible to make a positive ID from this angle with the prisoner on the floor, so Bodie tapped very lightly on the grate. He saw a head jerk up, listening. He tapped again and waited as the man cautiously crawled towards the grate. Bodie held his finger to his lips, hoping the man would understand and not be alarmed.

As the prisoner emerged from the shadows, Bodie got a better look at him. The curly hair was a little limp, the unshaven face was gaunt and bruised, and there was a large gash on the left temple. But despite the lack of light, Bodie recognised the unmistakeable eyes and distinct cheek bones of the man in the photo.

This was Raymond Doyle.

Bodie felt an inexplicable surge of elation. Doyle was battered and incarcerated, but he was alive, and now Bodie was going to get him home.

When the prisoner was a few inches from the grate, Bodie spoke. “I’m going to get you out, OK?” he said, in a low voice.

“Glad to hear it,” the man replied. “And who might you be?”

Bodie wasn’t sure what reaction he’d expected from Raymond Doyle when he realised he was being rescued - anything from delight to disbelief - but this calm, almost condescending, enquiry as to his rescuer’s identity was one response Bodie hadn’t considered. “Cowley sent me,” he said, predicting that the Scot’s name would be explanation enough.

“Oh, very thoughtful of him,” said Doyle, his face breaking into a big smile.

It was so unexpected, such a warm smile, inviting trust and friendship, that Bodie’s treacherous heart gave a small skip of appreciation.

That smile probably went some way to explain him winning people round, Bodie thought distractedly, before berating himself for being charmed by it. The bloke was a bloody journalist, it was part of his job to make people like him and confide in him. “Are you alone in there?” he asked, in case Doyle had any room-mates he couldn’t see.

The prisoner nodded. “Yeah, if you don’t count the rats.”

“How many guards are there, do you know?”

“Three that I’ve seen, but there’s more around the camp,” Doyle replied softly.

“How often do they check on you?”

“They took my watch, so I can’t be sure, but it’s at least every couple of hours,” Doyle said. “The last time must’ve been about half an hour ago,” he added, pre-empting Bodie’s next question.

“Are you injured? Can you walk?” Bodie had envisioned having to carry the poor fucker, if he’d been badly tortured.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Doyle replied without hesitation, his eyes glinting in the darkness.

An echo of laughter carried across the camp, startling both men.

Bodie got up and crept along to the door at the front of the hut. It was a slim double door, the handles secured at the centre with a heavy chain and padlock. Bodie holstered his weapon, and pulled a lock-pick from his belt kit.

He carefully inserted the tension wrench into the lock, and slid the pick in, applying pressure and turning the pick until he heard the pins click. He pulled the padlock open and slid the chain from the door handles.

Drawing his weapon, he slowly opened one of the doors and slipped inside. He found Doyle standing in the middle of the hut, lit by the slanted rays of light cast through the grilled window.

He was dressed in local clothes: baggy trousers, long shirt and a thick, heavy waistcoat. His gaze raked Bodie up and down. “Just you, is it?” he asked.

“That’s right,” said Bodie, bristling. “Why, don’t think I’m up to the job?”

“Not at all,” Doyle said, with another disarming smile. “You look very capable to me.”

For someone imprisoned in a Russian camp, the bloke was in surprisingly good spirits, thought Bodie as he glanced out the door. “Right, well I don’t suppose you’ve got much packing to do,” said Bodie, “so shall we go? We’ll head straight for the trees, OK?”

“Ready when you are,” said Doyle.

They edged out of the hut, with Doyle limping heavily, Bodie noted. So much for him being fine.

Closing the door behind them, Bodie eased the chain back through the handles and re-locked the padlock. No point advertising.

He jerked his head for Doyle to follow him around to the side. But, as Bodie started to move along the gully, Doyle instead made a dash towards the door of the third hut. Bodie managed to grab him, and brought them both roughly to the ground in the shadowed space between the two huts.

He lay on top of Doyle with just enough weight to hinder his movements, mindful of any injuries the poor bastard had incurred.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Bodie hissed into his ear, as Doyle struggled to get up.

“Ajani,” Doyle said breathlessly. “Got to get Ajani. He’s in there!” He looked over towards the last hut.

“Who the fuck is Ajani?” Bodie asked, confused, sure that Cowley hadn’t mentioned the name.

“He’s risked his life for me. I’ve got to get him out,” Doyle said.

“Oh yeah, and how you going to manage that, then?” said Bodie. “Got a lock pick or some chain cutters hidden under that garb, have you?”

“You can get him out,” Doyle urged.

“Forget it!” whispered Bodie firmly. “We haven’t got time.”

“He’s here because of me… I’m not leaving without him!” Doyle hissed back, surprising Bodie as he almost managed to buck him off.

“Jesus, Doyle!” cursed Bodie, trying to suppress him without hurting him further. “You’re going to get us both caught!”

The struggling immediately stilled, though the body beneath him remained tense.

“I can’t leave him,” Doyle insisted.

His face was just inches from Bodie’s, expression determined, eyes alight with spirit, and Bodie had a flashback to when he first saw Doyle’s photo and the flicker it had sparked in him. Something fluttered in his gut and Bodie found himself unable to refuse. “All right,” he said. He was suddenly very aware of their physical contact, of Doyle’s body against his own, and he carefully lifted himself up. “I’ll get him. You wait here.”

Bodie crept towards the door of the third hut, wondering why the fuck he was jeopardising the whole op to get this bloke out, just on Doyle’s say so.

Once again, Bodie quickly picked the padlock and eased the chains through the handles. He slowly opened the door, prepared to knock this fella Ajani out, if he so much as breathed too loudly. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he’d just spotted a bundle of shadows on one side of the floor, when he was suddenly aware of someone behind him.

He spun round, whipping out his knife, about to strike… and found Raymond Doyle standing there.

Ignoring Bodie’s thunderous glare and the knife poised threateningly in his hand, Doyle’s gaze anxiously swept the hut, and seeing the prone huddle he limped over and dropped to his knees.

Bodie glanced out of the door and then at his watch. They were pushing their luck, he needed to get them away from here. He went over to where Doyle was kneeling. An Afghan man was curled on the floor, he looked young, his beard mere fluff.

“Ajani!” Doyle whispered urgently and gently touched the figure. “Ajani!”

He was too still, his slight frame too rigid, but Bodie checked for a pulse anyway. “He’s dead.”

“No!” Doyle shot back.

“There’s nothing we can do. Come on!” Bodie grabbed Doyle under his arms and hauled him up. “Or we’ll be joining him!”

“Bastards!” Doyle muttered fiercely, as Bodie hustled him out of the hut.

“We’ll go straight towards the trees,” Bodie whispered, checking his gun. “Stay behind me and if there’s any drama, get down.”

They sidled along the gulley, the huts either side offering protection. As they reached the end, Bodie slowed to a stop. He sensed Doyle close behind him.

Pressed flat against the side of the hut, Bodie cautiously edged his head around the corner. Slightly blinded, he took another step forward...

Suddenly the barrel of a rifle was jammed hard under his jaw and a Russian guard appeared from the other side.

Fuck.

His heart pounding, Bodie slowly raised his hands, hoping to buy himself a few seconds and calm the guard, who seemed stunned by his find.

“All right, Ivan, keep cool,” Bodie muttered, allowing his gun to slip to the ground.

The guard was young, just a conscript… he’d probably just been for a piss when he stumbled on this unexpected prize. Babbling something in Russian, he stabbed hard at Bodie’s neck with the rifle, forcing him to move out from the gulley. Bodie cautiously complied, while his mind raced through his very limited number of options. Wondering what would happen to Doyle if he was killed, Bodie took one more step, and was just about to twist and slap the rifle away from his body…

But a shadow suddenly loomed above the guard, and struck down heavily on the back of his head. There was a sickening crack and the guard dropped to the ground to reveal Ray Doyle standing behind him holding a rock.

They locked eyes for a second, before Bodie bent down and dragged the guard’s body underneath the hut.

The adrenalin still flooding his veins at such a near-miss, Bodie picked up his gun and grabbing Doyle’s wrist, he sprinted towards the trees, pulling Doyle with him. Once they were under the cover of the woodland, Bodie stopped, listening, poised to hear any pursuers, but there was only the rustle of the night breeze through the trees.

He looked at Doyle, who was holding his ribs and trying to catch his breath. “You all right?” Bodie whispered, worried about the journalist.

Doyle nodded. “They’re just bruised, I’ll be OK.” Giving Bodie a reassuring smile, he said, “Come on, let’s go.”

They started to run again, heading for the fence and Doyle, despite his injuries, managed to keep up with him.

oOo

They made it to the road and to where Bodie had left the truck. It was getting on for dawn, the cold darkness diluted by the creeping rise of the sun on the horizon beyond the mountains.

“Get in.” Bodie watched as Doyle manoeuvred himself carefully into the passenger side. The last half hour had clearly sapped his last reserves of energy. Poor bloke must be shattered, thought Bodie, impressed by the journalist’s fortitude. He delved in his bergen and pulled out a water bottle and a couple of bars of chocolate. “Here you go, get these down your neck... sort you out in no time.” He chucked them onto Doyle’s lap, and got in the driver’s seat.

Doyle nodded his thanks, before taking several long gulps of water. He gave a sigh of satisfaction. “Ah, that’s better, been dreaming of fresh water.” He ripped a wrapper off one of the bars and took a bite. “Hmmm, nice,” he said, chewing enthusiastically. “All I got in there was a bowl of grey slop.”

“What, no a la carte menu? Perhaps you should write and complain,” said Bodie, as he started the truck and set off along the road.

Doyle grinned. “Oh, I will, mate. Going to write a whole bloody article about them when I get back. Mind you, their culinary deficiencies will be the least of it.”

“Their room service not up to scratch, either, then?” said Bodie.

“Room service? Now you’re talking.” Doyle gave a dirty chuckle. “Wouldn’t mind a bit of room service.”

The suggestive comment with accompanying chuckle prompted an unexpected flash of heat in the pit of Bodie’s stomach. He ruthlessly quashed it. “Yeah? Well, you’ll have to make do with water and chocolate til you’re back in the UK,” he said, managing to sound bored.

Bodie felt Doyle’s eyes on him, and determinedly kept looking straight ahead at the road.

“That’s OK,” Doyle said. “I can wait.”

oOo

After devouring the chocolate and drinking more water, Doyle had fallen into a brief, exhausted sleep, undisturbed by the ruts in the road as the truck bounced along.

He woke with a demand for more water.

“In the back,” Bodie told him, glad to see he was looking more revived.

They rumbled along for a while in silence, with Bodie heading for a range of low, rounded foothills in the distance, silhouetted in the dawn light.

“Where we going?” asked Doyle.

“Over towards that ridge. We’ll get a pick-up there.”

Doyle peered through the windscreen at the outline of elevated ground ahead of them. “Chopper?”

Bodie nodded. “Yep.”

“Bit risky, isn’t it?” said Doyle.

Cheek of the bloke… “Not got a lot of choice, have we?” Bodie snapped. “Everything tends to be a ‘bit risky’ when you’re on the run in enemy territory, and a chopper’s our best chance of getting across the border. But if you’ve got a better idea, let's hear it.”

When Doyle didn’t answer, Bodie slid a glance at his passenger and found the greenest eyes he’d ever seen looking back at him with unhidden curiosity. Despite the cuts and bruises Doyle looked almost ethereal in the amber light, the rising sun casting an iridescent glow over his face. Like a maverick angel who’s been in a fight, thought Bodie.

“We’ll be fine,” he said after a moment, offered as an apology rather than a reassurance.

“Never doubted it,” Doyle replied mildly.

They drove on, stopping only for Bodie to refill the petrol tank from one of the jerry cans in the back.

As they set off once more, Bodie could feel those inquisitive eyes looking at him again, and waited for the questions to start. He didn't have to wait long.

“’Bout time you introduced yourself, isn’t it?” Doyle said. “You obviously know who I am, how about returning the favour?”

Bodie considered which alias to use. “Bodie,” he said, wondering where the fuck that had come from.

“Ah. Short and sweet,” Doyle replied, disbelieving. “So, Bodie. Cowley sent you?”

“Yeah.”

“Special Forces are you?” asked Doyle.

“That’s right.” Easier than having to explain.

“How long you been playing at James Bond?” said Doyle.

Bodie bit back a retort that actually Bond worked for MI6, same as Doyle. “Did Selection in ’75, if that’s what you’re asking,” he said instead.

“Must’ve seen some action, then. Northern Ireland?”

Bodie nodded, keeping his eyes on the road.

“Falklands?”

Bodie nodded again. Blimey, could tell the bloke was a journalist.

“And I bet you were one of the Flash Harrys at the embassy a few years back?” Doyle said, amusement in his voice.

Bodie felt a faint smile tug at his lips; he should’ve been annoyed by the cheeky bastard, not amused. “Actually, I missed out on that job.”

“Oh, missed out on all the glory, didn’t you?” said Doyle, with a teasing smile.

“You’re a fine one to talk,” Bodie replied.

Doyle frowned. “How d’you mean?”

“Hardly opt for the quiet life, do you?”

“Have to go where the trouble is,” Doyle said. “Nature of my job.”

“Same here,” said Bodie. Used to, he amended to himself, feeling another pang of regret for the job he’d left.

Fucking Cowley. It was all his fault, sending Bodie on this fucking op and stirring everything up.

But he had no more time to dwell on it, as he spotted what looked like a static vehicle in the distance. He pulled into the side and got out his binoculars.

“Check point,” he said, his suspicions confirmed.

“How many are there?” asked Doyle.

“Looks like there’s four of them.”

“We could take ‘em.”

Bodie raised an eyebrow. “We?”

“Yeah, we,” Doyle said firmly. “Or by myself if you’re not up to it,” he added, hackles clearly rising.

“All right, keep your hair on,” said Bodie. The do-gooder had a short temper, apparently. “Didn’t think your lot went in for fighting.”

“My lot?”

“Peace to all men and all that,” Bodie clarified.

“Yeah, well… I don’t suppose they’d be up for peace negotiations just at the moment, do you?” said Doyle, sarcastically.

“Maybe not, but taking them on is too risky. We have a contact here, they’ll send in the Hinds and track us down easily.” Bodie glanced at the map and then at his watch. “We’ll have to go round, we’ve got time. But just in case there’s any trouble…” He pulled out his Browning. “You know how to use a firearm?”

Doyle swiped the gun off him. “Course I do,” he said, giving Bodie a mildly exasperated look tempered with a smile.

Bodie watched Doyle smoothly pull back the top slide and check the chamber, then check the safety was on, a weapon clearly not unfamiliar in his hands.

“Here, take these, too.” Bodie passed Doyle some spare magazines.

He realised he needed to reassess his original opinion of Raymond Doyle. Never mind the captivating smile and those all-seeing green eyes, the guy was nothing like he’d expected. From what he’d seen so far, this particular do-gooder was as tough as old boots. Spirited, brave and determined also sprang to mind, Bodie acknowledged with approval. Bit of an enigma, by all accounts… how did this man, whose work was striving for peace and justice, reconcile coshing young conscripts over the head and using firearms?

Still wondering about the conundrum that was his passenger, Bodie stuck the truck in gear and turned back the way they’d come. There’d been a track about a mile back, and according to the map it should take them at least part of the way round towards the foothills. If not, they’d just have to go off-road and hope the bloody suspension held.

oOo

An hour later, as the morning sun started to heat the chilly, barren landscape, Bodie pulled up and checked his compass and coordinates against the Magellan. They were a mile from the pre-arranged rendezvous, with pick-up due in just over two hours. He glanced at Doyle who’d fallen asleep again.

Right, time to find somewhere to rest up for a bit. He drove on for a few minutes, before spotting a small stone structure part way up a very steep hill.

He nudged Doyle gently with his elbow. “Oi,” he said, softly.

Doyle startled awake, before seeing Bodie and relaxing. “Wha’s happening?” he asked groggily.

“The RV’s about a mile away. Thought we could hole up over there for a bit.” Bodie pointed towards the stone hut. “Got a couple of hours to spare.”

“How d’you know we won’t find a welcome party waiting for us in there?”

“I don’t. But I doubt the Russians are sitting around in there… maybe a shepherd or two, if we’re unlucky. Fancy it?”

Doyle shrugged. “Yeah, why not? Got nothing better to do.”

“Have to stash the truck somewhere first, it won’t make it up that hill.” Bodie jammed it into gear and headed up the base of the hill where the vegetation was thicker, spring beginning to turn the dusty terrain into a greener land, studded with wild flowers.

He parked behind some bushes which shielded the vehicle from the road, and they made their way cautiously up the steep incline towards the stone hut, weapons at the ready.

Reaching the side of the building, Bodie turned to Doyle and indicated the front with his rifle. “We’ll go this way. Stay tucked up behind me, right?” he whispered.

Doyle shook his head. “No, you take the front, and I’ll cover the rear,” he whispered back, checking the Browning.

Bodie stared at him. “What training have you had?” he asked suspiciously. It was becoming very clear that Doyle was more than just your average journalist, something which Cowley had failed to mention to him.

“Enough,” replied Doyle firmly. “Now, shall we get on with it, or do you want to stand here and go through my CV?” He looked at Bodie, challenging him.

Fuck it. Bodie had relied on his gut instinct often enough in the past, and right now it was telling him loud and clear to trust Doyle. “OK,” he nodded.

He was rewarded with a quick smile, before Doyle turned and headed off towards the back of the structure.

Bodie edged his way towards the front, the butt of his rifle firmly in his shoulder. At the corner he peered round and saw a door, and a window beyond it. He glanced behind to see Doyle slowly disappearing around the back of the building, his weapon held in front of him.

Crouching low, Bodie ran to the far side of the window. He straightened up and cautiously looked through the cracked glass. Spotting movement he instinctively reared back flat against the wall, before registering the movement had been Doyle at an opposite window. Slowly, he once again peered through the dirty pane, and sure enough a few brown curls and part of Doyle’s face appeared at the window on the other side. Between them was a dark, derelict looking room.

Bodie lowered his rifle, and tried the door. It swung open. After waiting a moment, Bodie looked inside and seeing nothing but an empty, decrepit space, took a step in.

Doyle joined him inside, tucking the Browning into his waistband.

“We should be all right here for a bit,” Bodie said, sliding his bergen off and propping it by the door, looking around.

It was just a small stone hut, probably used by goat herders. It was empty apart from a few wooden crates by a fireplace. Not ideal by any means, but there were risks if they stayed on the road, too, and at least Doyle could get a better rest here.

“How you feeling?” asked Bodie casually, giving the journalist a quick once over. Doyle hadn’t complained of any discomfort, but the strain on his face and the cautious way he was moving told another story.

“Yeah, fine,” Doyle replied, just as Bodie had expected.

“Tell you what, why don’t you get your head down for a bit, and I’ll keep a look out,” Bodie suggested. When Doyle didn’t move, he added, “Then you can do the same for me.”

Doyle seemed to accept that and lay down carefully on the floor. Within minutes he was breathing deeply and evenly.

oOo

Doyle had been asleep for about forty minutes. Bodie, standing by the window with half an eye on outside and the other half on Doyle, saw the moment he came awake, trying to wrestle away from Morpheus.

His eyes flew open, his breathing short and shallow until his consciousness took in his surroundings. He sat up, sagging back to lean against the wall.

Recognising the tell-tale signs of a sleep infested with bad dreams, Bodie passed him a water bottle, which Doyle took without thanks and drank from.

“You hungry?” asked Bodie “I’ve got some more bars in my bag.”

“Just thirsty,” said Doyle, taking another long drink of water.

“And I’ve got a medical kit, if you need any dressings or pain killers?”

Doyle shook his head. “No, I’m all right.”

“What about the cut on your head? Or that limp of yours?” Bodie persisted.

“Oh, that… yeah, a hot iron on the soul of your foot will do that,” Doyle said, with a sarcastic smile.

Bodie inwardly winced.

“Could be worse though, couldn’t it,” Doyle carried on bitterly. “Could be dead, like Ajani.”

Ah, that no doubt explained the bad dreams and subsequent bad mood. Bodie took a bandage from his kit and passed it to Doyle. “Put it round your foot,” he said, fully expecting Doyle to refuse, but to his surprise Doyle took it without argument. “Who was this Ajani?” asked Bodie.

“A local kid. He was my translator and guide,” said Doyle, taking off his rubber sandal.

“Dangerous work,” commented Bodie, watching as Doyle wrapped the bandage around his foot.

“Yeah, but he wanted to help, to do something…” Doyle carefully put his sandal back on, eased himself up from the floor and started moving, gingerly. “He’d take me to the villages. Christ, you wouldn’t believe your eyes, Bodie. These people had their meagre homes razed to the ground… often with them still inside.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen,” said Bodie. “Before I picked you up,” he added, at Doyle’s questioning look.

“Well, you understand, then,” said Doyle. “You understand why something’s got to be done to help. And fast. Some of the stories I’ve heard…” Doyle stopped, stared at the floor.

“Can’t fix all the horrors in the world, you know, Doyle,” said Bodie, wanting to comfort, but aware his attempt was clumsy.

“Can try, at least, can’t I?” replied Doyle, fiercely.

And Bodie didn’t doubt that for one second. Not even the threat of Spetsnaz and the Russian army were going to deter Raymond Doyle from trying. “So what happened? How did you get caught?”

“Found out about this informant,” said Doyle. “Someone helping the Russians. Assumed it was someone on the American’s side, at first -”

“Why’s that?” Bodie interrupted.

“The CIA train and equip the Mujahedeen, I thought one of ‘em must’ve jumped sides. Turns out it was a bit closer to home than that.”

“Why didn’t you tell Cowley, soon as you found out?” asked Bodie.

“I did, but I wanted to get him a name, too. Heard about this disaffected Russian near the border who was happy to tell tales in exchange for a few gold coins. Ajani insisted on coming with me, said I’d need him. Took three nights trekking to get there. I got the name, but we were on our way back when the Russians jumped us.” Doyle kicked a couple of crates. “Shouldn’t have let him come with me,” he said angrily.

“How’d they get onto you? This disaffected Russian guy tell them you’d been asking questions?”

Doyle shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe. Somehow the informant found out his cover was about to be blown...”

“And you got lifted,” finished Bodie, seeing how easy it must’ve been for the Russians.

Doyle nodded.

“Cowley told me you were trying to get out,” said Bodie, “to get back to the UK?”

“Yeah, I was,” Doyle said. “That was the plan. But like I said, I wanted to get a name first. Wasn’t enough giving Cowley only half a story.”

“Yeah, well, that decision nearly cost you your life,” snapped Bodie, inexplicably annoyed by the stupid risk Doyle had taken. “You should’ve just got out and left it to Cowley to find his bloody spy.”

Doyle looked at him, eyes suddenly flashing angrily. “And what the fuck would you know about it?” he demanded.

“I know you should fucking well think about what you’re doing, before running off, trying to play the bloody hero!” Bodie shot back.

“Oh yeah, well you would say that! You’re just a bloody foot soldier, just do what you’re told, don’t you? Can’t think for yourself!” Doyle spat furiously. “You haven’t got a fucking clue what’s going on, and you couldn’t give a toss!”

Feeling like he’d been punched, Bodie grabbed the front of Doyle’s shirt and ruthlessly slammed him back against the wall. “Don’t you dare try and tell me what I think or feel!” he snarled, an irrational rage boiling up inside him.

“Why not?” sneered Doyle, his hands grasping Bodie’s wrists in a brutal grip. “Can’t face the truth?”

“I have to face the truth every fucking day!” Bodie roared, his heart pounding with a mixture of pain and fury.

“Oh yeah, soldier with a conscience, are you? That’d be a novelty!” Doyle scoffed.

His anger over-riding the crushing pressure at his wrists, Bodie tightened his hold on Doyle’s shirt, twisting it up round his throat. “I left the Regiment twelve months ago,” he hissed, feeling his face contort with emotion, “but got dragged back to rescue your sorry arse, you ungrateful bastard! If you think I’m so fucking stupid, perhaps I should leave you here and you can try and get out on your own!”

Distantly, Bodie realised that Doyle had stilled beneath his hands, that the brutal grip on his wrists had become a more gentle hold. As the thoughts penetrated, he also realised that Doyle was watching him with a mixture of caution and concern. All the anger was gone from the bruised, unshaven face and the flashing ire in the green eyes had been replaced by something else entirely.

The realisation was like a bucket of freezing water over his head, and he dropped his hold and escaped to the other side of the room.

Anguished, he closed his eyes and took a deep, shaky breath. Jesus… what was wrong with him… Doyle must think he was a fucking psycho… He was meant to be protecting the bloke, not almost throttling him because he hurt Bodie’s feelings…

“Hey…”

Bodie took another deep, steadying breath, and slowly turned round to face the journalist. Doyle’s expression was one of worry, though whether that was for himself or the psychotic ex-SAS man he’d been lumbered with, Bodie wasn’t sure.

“Sorry,” said Doyle. “Might seem like I'm an ungrateful bastard, but I’m not really.”

“Forget it,” Bodie said stiffly.

“Didn’t mean what I said, was just angry,” Doyle explained, his gaze steady.

“Doesn’t matter,” Bodie said, wondering why the opposite was true. Why did he give a shit what the journalist thought of him?

“Yeah, it does,” Doyle insisted. He ran a hand back and forth over his hair. “Just sometimes my temper gets the better of me.”

Bodie nodded, stupidly pleased to hear Doyle say that. “Are you all right?” he asked, horribly aware of Doyle’s grunt of pain when he’d been slammed against the cold stone wall.

“Yeah,” Doyle said. “Nothing a bath and some Radox can’t sort out, anyway,” he added, with a smile. He paused and seemed to consider his next words. “Didn’t realise you’d been dragged into all this unwillingly.”

“Well, I didn’t have a gun held to my head or anything, if that’s what you’re thinking,” said Bodie, wishing his own temper hadn’t got the better of him and revealed too much.

“Even so…” Doyle shook his head. “Why did Cowley send you over here, if you’re not in the army anymore?”

Bodie eyed him sharply, suddenly afraid his gut had been wrong. “Why d’you want to know? Sniffing out a bit of background for your story?”

Almost imperceptibly Doyle flinched. “Deserve that, I suppose, but no.” He looked at Bodie intently. “Wouldn’t do that to you. I was just curious, that’s all.”

He looked genuinely hurt, and Bodie immediately regretted the question. “Cowley sent me because he wanted an outsider for the job… you know, less chance of Superspy getting wind of it.”

Doyle nodded. “Right, makes sense. So why did you leave the army?”

Totally unprepared for the question, Bodie looked away and tried to ignore the sudden familiar, heavy pain in his chest.

“I… couldn’t stay,” he managed, after a moment.

“Why not?” asked Doyle.

Bodie shook his head, trying to deny the question, deny that he should have to answer. But he made the mistake of looking at Doyle, and haltingly the words came out. “My daughter, and wife…” He swallowed against the tightness in his throat, “…were killed in a car crash. It was my fault.”

Muscles tense with pent up emotion, Bodie waited for the feigned sympathy and ineffectual words, and wondered if he’d be able to stop himself lamping Doyle if he made some pathetic platitude.

But instead, Doyle just looked at him steadily, before sitting down on one of the crates. With no hint of feigned sympathy, he said, “What happened?”

His legs suddenly shaky, Bodie sat down beside Doyle. He took a deep breath, had to force the words from his mouth. “We were going to the park.” He stared blindly at the floor. “But then, I got called out, had to go into camp, so… they drove to the park on their own. A man in a BMW jumped a red light. He was over the limit.”

“Go on.”

“I should’ve been with them,” Bodie said, his voice a harsh whisper. “If I’d been driving, it might not have happened… If I hadn’t gone into camp, they might still be alive...” His voice cracked on the last word as he fought the all too familiar wave of impotent fury and bone-crushing guilt that surged up inside him.

Locked in the memory of that day twelve months ago, Bodie slowly became aware that Doyle had put his arms around him and pulled him into a fiercely tight embrace. Too surprised to react against it, Bodie let himself be held, firmly enclosed within strong arms and pressed against Doyle’s warm body.

The effect was almost immediate, calming the turmoil crashing inside him, anchoring him, and as the seconds ticked by, with Doyle wrapped around him, Bodie felt the pain in his chest ease its grip.

Finally, reluctantly, Bodie pulled back slightly, feeling ridiculously bereft as Doyle’s arms fell away. He roughly ran his sleeve over his face and started to move away, but Doyle pulled him back down onto the crate.

“Oi, don’t run off,” Doyle said gruffly. “This is the first time you’ve talked about it, isn’t it?”

Bodie didn’t answer. Didn’t need to.

“What happened to the BMW driver, Bodie?”

And Bodie knew what Doyle was really asking. “He’s dead,” he replied flatly. “Died from his injuries in hospital. But if he hadn’t, yeah, I’d have killed him.”

Doyle just nodded.

“Does that sicken you, Doyle?” Bodie goaded, needing to know. “That I’d kill him?”

Doyle shook his head. “No. I’d be surprised if you didn’t want to kill him… I’d have felt the same. Don’t think it would’ve helped, though.”

“Oh yeah, and what would you know about it?” Bodie challenged.

Doyle glanced at the floor. There was a short silence, then he said, “My kid brother. Got in a fight and died from a knife wound when he was fifteen.” His voice was flat, his face reflecting long held grief. “Blamed myself for not looking out for him and wanted to get the bloke that did it.”

Christ, no wonder they’d been no pathetic platitudes, Doyle knew what it was like

Struck by the revelation, Bodie could all too easily imagine a fiery, young Doyle, probably still a teenager himself, out to avenge his little brother’s death. “What did you do?” he asked.

“Found out who did it. This lad I was at school with, same age as me. I jumped him one night, when he was leaving the pub. I had so much anger… I just wanted to smash his brain into the road…” Doyle shook his head slowly. “He gave as good as he got and I ended up in hospital. Got a plastic cheekbone as a memento,” he said, with a rueful smile.

“And the bloke who did it?”

“Oh, he ended up in hospital, too,” Doyle replied with a trace of satisfaction, then paused a moment. “Thankfully it wasn’t the morgue. I think that would’ve really fucked me up if I had killed him.” He looked at Bodie. “And it wouldn’t have brought Robbie back,” he added.

Bodie was disconcerted to realise he had a desperate urge to put his arms around Doyle and hold him close, offer him comfort and understanding, just as he had done for Bodie. He abruptly stood up, needing to try and get his ragged emotions under control.

“You OK?” Doyle asked, looking up at him with concern.

Ignoring the question Bodie looked at his watch. “Time we got going,” he said, striding over to the front window. He stared blankly through the glass, still caught up with Doyle’s story.

Doyle came over and joined him, looking out. “How long will it take to get to the RV?” he asked.

“About fifteen minutes, as long as we don’t run into trouble on the way,” Bodie replied. He could see down the dry, rugged valley to the road they’d come along. All seemed to be quiet out there. He turned to Doyle. “Thanks,” he said softly. “For telling me about Robbie.” He suspected it was something Doyle didn’t share with many people.

Doyle shrugged it off. “That’s OK.”

And damn him, if Bodie didn’t still want to put his arms round him and chase away the sadness those memories stirred up...

“Right, let’s go,” he said briskly. He picked up his bergen and rifle, and scanned the room to check they hadn’t left anything.

He was about to open the door, when Doyle put a hand on his arm.

“Just one thing,” said Doyle. “Tell me your real name.”

“Already have,” Bodie replied, pleased that it mattered to Doyle.

“Bodie? Your real name is Bodie?” Doyle asked.

“Got a problem with that?” said Bodie, without heat.

Doyle gave him a brilliant smile. “Nope, no problem at all,” he said. “Just surprised you gave me your real name, that’s all.”

Yeah, thought Bodie, me too.

He opened the door a crack to check the coast was clear and spotted a big truck in the distance, heading along the road that ran beneath them.

He quickly shut the door, grabbed his binoculars and went to the window. “Russians.”

Doyle followed him, pulling out the Browning. “Coming this way?”

“Yeah… I can see three of them sitting in the front, and there’s probably more in the back.” Bodie stuffed the binoculars back in his bergen. “We’d better get ready to move, we’re like sitting ducks in here.”

They both watched silently from the edge of the window as the vehicle got nearer and nearer, and then finally rumbled past.

“That was close,” murmured Doyle.

Bodie was about to agree, but then noticed the vehicle was slowing down. “Hang on… they’re coming back.” As he watched, the truck started reversing and then turned and trundled up the steep incline towards the hut, following the route Bodie had taken.

“You think they saw something?” asked Doyle.

Bodie shook his head. “No, they’re just checking the place on the off chance, but soon as they spot the truck they’ll be suspicious.” He strode to the back window and smashed the cracked glass out with the butt of his rifle. “Come on. They’ll have to come up on foot like we did, we can pick them off as they approach.”

They clambered out through the window and scrambled further up the hill before lying down in the dusty earth. They couldn’t see the Russians anymore from their higher position, but heard doors slamming as the soldiers got out of their vehicle and heard the shout as someone spotted the truck and alerted the others. The truck’s doors opened and closed as the Russians checked inside.

Thank fuck they’d brought all their gear with them, Bodie thought with relief. With a bit of luck the Russians might just think a local had left the truck there.

Bodie glanced at Doyle. If he was scared, it didn’t show. His eyes were wide and alert, the Browning extended steadily in front of him ready for action. Definitely more than just your average journalist.

Doyle looked over and flashed him a grin. “Ready, sunshine?”

“As I’ll ever be. You take the left, I’ll start from the right,” said Bodie, as the Russian soldiers came into view - eight of them in total - climbing the steep slope, their rifles held up ready to fire.

Bodie eyed the one on the furthest right through his sights, finger hovering lightly on the trigger. He followed his target as he got nearer, trying to control his breathing while his heart raced.

He pulled the trigger, rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, taking out two Russians, and then again and getting a third. He heard Doyle firing the Browning and saw the two on the left fall. Impressive shooting, that, given the distance and that he was using a pistol.

The remaining three Russians reacted by dropping to the ground. They were shouting to one another and firing wildly up the hill towards Bodie and Doyle. A hail of bullets pinged over their heads, as they ducked down in the earth.

Fuck! They’d been so close to getting away… they didn’t have time for this now. If they weren’t at the RV on time, the chopper wouldn’t wait for them.

“I’m going to go round and come up behind them,” Bodie said to Doyle. “Cover me.”

“OK.” Doyle pulled the magazine clip out and slapped in a new one. He looked at Bodie, “Ready? Go!”

Doyle started firing at the three remaining soldiers, forcing them down while Bodie got up and sprinted round the side of the hut. Coming up behind the Russians he got down on one knee, his rifle in his shoulder. His lungs were heaving as he tried to hold his weapon steady and look through its sights. The three Russians were spread out along the hill, one of them lying flat and two of them kneeling while cracking off rounds up towards Doyle.

Bodie squeezed the trigger. He managed to get one of them, then another. As he swung his sights along to the last man, the Russian spun round low on the ground and saw Bodie. Bodie fired, but the bullets went wide as white hot pain suddenly seared through his right arm, jerking him backwards. His arm felt like it was on fire and he twisted and dropped to the ground, his head flat in the dirt as bullets flew inches over him.

When there was a lull in the firing, Bodie pushed himself up slightly and saw the Russian crawling closer. Using his left hand, Bodie started firing at him, forcing the Russian to stop his attack and hit the ground.

Bodie let off a few more rounds and then got the sound every soldier dreaded:  the dead man’s click. There were no bullets left in the chamber.

The Russian must have heard it too, because he sprang up and started a low cautious run towards Bodie, knowing he had a few precious seconds of advantage on his enemy.

Lying on his back, scrabbling desperately for a spare magazine, Bodie tried to block out the excruciating pain in his right arm. He could hear the Russian approaching fast and steeled himself for the inevitable bullet that was only moments away. His heart hammering with terror, he turned his head to face his death and saw the Russian only a few feet away, his rifle aimed at him.

Then there were two shots in quick succession and the Russian fell.

Doyle.

Panting, Bodie stayed where he lay on the ground, his useless rifle at his side.

“Bodie!” Doyle came rushing up and dropped to his knees beside him, his eyes running in rapid assessment over Bodie before concentrating on his upper arm.

Bodie glanced down to see the flesh there had been ripped apart by a bullet, leaving a long, deep, angry gash. “I’m all right…” he managed to say, his heart still racing, not yet able to believe he wasn’t dead.

Gentle fingers peeled the tattered, blood-sodden fabric of Bodie’s sleeve away from the wound. “You’ve been fucking shot!” Doyle said, his voice a mixture of anger and distress as he delved in the bergen. “That’s hardly all fucking right!” He pulled out some padding and pressed it down onto Bodie’s arm.

“It’s just a flesh wound. Didn’t go right in. I’m OK,” said Bodie, finding himself ridiculously moved by Doyle’s concern, even though he was probably just worried about losing his ticket out of here. “We need to get moving, if we’re going to make the RV.”

“OK, but I’m bandaging you up first. Hold this in place,” Doyle instructed, before helping Bodie up. “Let’s get you in the truck.”

With Doyle carrying Bodie’s bergen, they hurried back to where they’d left the truck.

“Get in the passenger side,” Doyle said firmly. “I’m doing the rest of the driving.”

Doyle got out the medical kit and patched up Bodie’s arm. Bodie watched him, watched the concentration on his face as he carefully tried to clean the area as gently as he could, before covering the wound with fresh padding and securing it with gauze. Yet another side to the enigma.

“There,” Doyle said, checking his handiwork. “Didn’t know I could give Florence Nightingale a run for her money, did you?” he said with a grin.

The effect of those bloody smiles wasn’t lessening any, Bodie realised tiredly, when he found himself staring at Doyle a little too long. If anything, they were getting more potent, and more difficult to try and ignore...

“Does it feel all right?” Doyle asked, misinterpreting Bodie’s silence for pain.

Bodie looked down at his heavily bandaged arm. Did it feel all right? Yes, it felt more than all right. Not his arm, that hurt like fuck. But the feeling that Ray Doyle cared about him, that felt unexpectedly good, replacing the cold chill in his soul with a fluttering warmth he wanted more of.

Guilt began to gnaw inside of him. “Yeah, feels fine,” he said curtly, his warring emotions making him brusque.

He was aware of the sideways glance this earned him, but thankfully Doyle didn’t comment. Instead, he just said, “Good. Let’s get going, then.” He started the engine. “Which way?”

“Back down onto the road, and then right,” said Bodie, checking his map.

And they set off for the last part of their escape.

oOo

The RV was part way up the side of a low mountain ridge. They’d driven as far as they could in the truck, before having to make the rest of the way up a steep, narrowing pathway on foot. Bodie had worried about Doyle managing the difficult route with his injuries, but he’d surprised Bodie yet again, by proving to be extremely adept at negotiating the mountain paths.

Reaching the RV with just minutes to spare, all they could do was wait. Hot and out of breath from their ascent, they hunkered down to rest between some rocks, about thirty feet from the edge of the mountain’s natural plateau.

Despite his best effort to ignore it, Bodie was only too aware of Doyle sitting close beside him, of the pull he felt. He looked up at the clear, blue sky, willing Cowley’s bloody flying cavalry to appear and rescue him from his inner turmoil, if not the Russians.

Once the chopper picked them up, other people would take over. He and Doyle would be taken across the border to Pakistan, where a plane would fly them back to Brize, and Doyle would be delivered into Cowley’s care. Bodie’s job would be over, and he wouldn’t see Doyle again.

Bodie felt a sharp pang of loss, of something precious sliding from his grasp.

He mentally shook himself; Christ, he was being fucking ridiculous. It must be the blood loss making him slightly delirious…

But... He couldn’t deny that something had altered inside him… shifted… and certain emotions were being stirred back into life, however much he might try and fight them.

His mind kept flashing back to the sensation of Doyle holding him, of his face so close to his own, eyes alight with something Bodie wasn’t sure he wanted to identify…

“Oi!”

Bodie turned his head to find Doyle looking at him. “What?” he replied, hoping he appeared more nonchalant than he felt.

Doyle adjusted his seated position on the rock. “Cowley know where you live?” he asked.

Remembering all too clearly his conversation with the Major in his office, Bodie nodded ruefully. “Yeah, and he probably knows the contents of my fridge and my inside leg measurement, too.”

Doyle smiled. “Yeah, know what you mean. Sly old bastard, isn’t he.” He fidgeted on the rock again. “So… he could put me in touch with you… after all this?”

Bodie’s treacherous heart skipped a beat in joy. Was Doyle a fucking mind reader or something?  “Well, yeah…” He stopped as a low thudding reverberated through the sky. He looked up as the tell-tale whocka whocka grew louder. “Get down!”

They both squeezed down into the crevice of the rocks. The odds of a Russian Hind helicopter reccing these particular co-ordinates at this precise moment in time had to be long, but that didn’t mean it was impossible.

Bodie lifted his head up a fraction and saw the helicopter glinting high in the sunlight. It was coming in fast, a blob of dark green against the blue sky. As it got closer, he could see it was a SA 330 Puma.

“It’s OK, it’s our lift,” Bodie said, relieved.

They edged out from the rocks and crouched down to watch as the Puma closed in, the whump whump whump of the propellers’ blades filling the air, making the ground beneath them vibrate.

It came in to land, hovering inches above the plateau, until its three wheel blocks touched the ground with a graceful bounce.

They sprinted low towards the craft, the downdraft roaring around them, whirling up dust and grit.

A crewman was waiting by the open door. He put his hand out as Doyle stepped on the side bar, and pulled him up inside. Bodie followed a split second behind, and the helicopter instantly started to rise. The nose dipped sharply, and they were away.

For the first few minutes of the flight Bodie steeled himself for the helicopter’s missile warning system to go off, but they managed to cross the border without incident.

Over the roar of the engines, the crewman introduced himself as Sergeant Cole. Sitting on the seat opposite Doyle, his back against the side of the craft, Bodie watched as Cole took out a medical kit and patched up Doyle’s head wound, and cleaned and re-bandaged his foot.

Able to relax slightly, Bodie thought back over the last twenty-four hours. This op had changed him. More specifically, meeting Raymond Doyle had changed him. Back in Cowley’s office, he hadn’t cared if he’d died on this op, but now… now, he knew he didn’t want to die. And it was a novel feeling after twelve months of indifference.

Twelve months.

And that of course made him think of Karen and Lucy, and he was suddenly overwhelmed with guilt, the usual leaden weight pressing down on his chest. How could he think about a future when he’d let his family die, when his beautiful baby girl - who he should’ve protected above all else - was lying dead in a grave? The pain of loss tore through his heart, tears shamelessly pricking the back of his eyes as he remembered his last precious moments with her, holding her in his arms.

At that instant, Doyle looked up. His eyes locked on Bodie’s, steadying him with a gentle understanding and a silent comfort that eased the pain in Bodie’s chest. Just like he had in the shepherd’s hut.

When Sergeant Cole finished his first aid, Doyle shifted across the craft to sit next Bodie. He didn’t say anything, there was little point over the noise of the engines. He just sat beside Bodie providing a reassuring presence, a balm to his tattered soul.

And in a moment of clarity, Bodie realised he should stop fighting against this… this… connection, or whatever the fuck it was that he felt with Doyle, and accept that he was possibly on the edge of something incredible, if he was only willing to take the leap.

If he was brave enough to take the leap.

Twenty minutes later they were at the Pakistan Airbase in Peshawar, getting on a plane for the UK.

oOo

When they landed at Brize, to a mild and damp English afternoon, Cowley was there to meet them.

He put his hand out. “Mr Doyle,” he said, with a welcoming smile. “I’m very glad to see you.”

Doyle returned the handshake. “Likewise,” he said wryly.

Cowley showed him into a waiting car. “I’ll take you to a safehouse where you can freshen up and get some rest.”

“OK,” said Doyle, with a swift glance at Bodie.

Doyle looked exhausted, even though he’d slept for several hours on the plane. Bodie had slept fitfully, looking at Doyle during his sleepless hours, possibilities fizzing daringly through his veins.

“We’ll visit a doctor on the way, who’ll check you over and provide anything you might need,” Cowley told Doyle, before closing the car door for him. He turned to Bodie. “Good job, Bodie, you did well. Did you have much trouble?” he asked, flicking a look at Bodie’s bloody, bandaged arm.

Bodie shook his head. “Not really. Went pretty smoothly, overall. It helped that Doyle knew how to handle himself, of course,” he added, pointedly.

“He was in the Metropolitan Police for a number of years, one of their top marksmen, I believe,” said Cowley. “Didn’t I mention it?”

“No, you didn’t.”

“Well, it must have come as a nice surprise for you, then,” Cowley responded, unruffled. “Right, you will stay at the safehouse with Mr Doyle tonight. Nobody will know your location except myself. There will be a debrief tomorrow, then you’ll be free to return to Hereford.”

“What about your mole?” asked Bodie, trying to quell a sudden flutter of panic. “Doyle isn’t safe until you’ve got him.”

“I’m well aware of that, Bodie,” said Cowley briskly. “Raymond Doyle will be fully protected until it’s been taken care of. Now, shall we go?”

oOo

Cowley drove them to the physician’s house and introduced them to Dr Ryan, who seemed unfazed by the unkempt state of two of his guests. A middle-aged man with a big smile, Dr Ryan welcomed them warmly and took Doyle into another room to treat him.

Bodie sat awkwardly in the living room with Cowley, drinking tea - served by who he presumed was Mrs Ryan - until the doctor re-appeared with his patient.

“Right, here we are. Mr Doyle will be good as new in no time,” he told Cowley, jovially. “Just needs lots of rest for a while and to keep those wounds clean. Right, who’s next?” he asked, beaming at Bodie.

“Your turn, sunshine,” murmured Doyle with a smile, as Bodie passed him to go into the treatment room.

Dr Ryan examined the bullet wound carefully. “Well, you were very lucky, young man, weren’t you. We won’t stitch it, you’ll be glad to hear. We want it to heal cleanly, upwards from the inside. You must have it checked again in a couple of days, to make sure there’s no infection.”

Bodie gritted his teeth as the doctor briskly cleaned the torn flesh before re-dressing it.

“There, it should heal up and be right as rain after a bit of physio,” the doctor said cheerfully, tying the bandage.

Steering Bodie back out to the living room, Dr Ryan repeated the positive prognosis to Cowley with sunny aplomb. He then provided both his patients with antibiotics, painkillers and fresh dressings, before merrily waving them all off.

It took twenty minutes from the doctor’s for them to reach the safehouse, a nondescript detached house in a residential road on the outskirts of London.

Cowley showed them in and immediately despatched Bodie to make sandwiches and coffee in the well-stocked kitchen. Bodie knew Cowley was finally having his private conversation with Doyle, getting the information he so badly wanted. Bodie was only surprised the old man had waited this long to ask for the double agent’s name, and suspected there was a long night ahead for the Major and his department.

When Bodie joined them in the living room, carrying a tray laden with refreshments, Cowley stood up. “I’ll be on my way. If you need to contact me, there’s a phone number on the pad in the hall,” he said. “Seven o’clock tomorrow morning, Bodie. A car will pick you up and two agents will remain here with Mr Doyle. I can see myself out.” Bidding them both good night, he left the house.

Bodie placed the tray on the coffee table. “You’ve given him the name of his spy, then?” he said, sitting in an armchair opposite Doyle and passing him a mug and plate of sandwiches.

“Yeah. Doesn’t waste any time, does he?” remarked Doyle, tucking hungrily into a ham sandwich.

“Sooner he gets his mole, the sooner you’re a free man,” said Bodie, taking an unwanted bite from his own cheese and pickle.

“And what about you?” asked Doyle, between mouthfuls. “What will you do when this is over? Got a day job, have you?”

Bodie inwardly winced at the thought of his job. He couldn’t imagine doing that anymore. “Err, well, I was working at some council offices... security, you know.”

Doyle frowned. “Talented lad like you is a bit over-qualified for that, I’d’ve thought?”

Bodie shrugged. “Suited me for a while,” he hedged. “Don’t think I’ll be going back there, though.”

Doyle smiled at him, that beautiful smile with the added something that did funny things to Bodie’s hard fought equilibrium. “Time for something new?” he asked.

And the pieces slowly fell into place in Bodie’s mind. Yes, it was time for something new. Something had been awakened inside him, and he couldn’t merely exist any longer. He wanted more. He wanted to take the leap. He just hoped he wasn’t the only one.

Doyle was still looking at him, waiting for him to respond.

Bodie nodded. “Yeah,” he said, holding Doyle’s gaze. “I hope so.” Slightly self-conscious at what felt like a declaration, sure Doyle could read his every thought, Bodie changed the subject. “You know Cowley’ll want to fully de-brief you?” he said.

“I'll tell him to get his kicks somewhere else,” Doyle said, straight-faced.

Bodie laughed, the strangeness of it making him acutely aware it was the first time he’d smiled or laughed in a long time. “I mean, about when you were lifted,” he clarified, slightly distracted at the way Doyle was smiling happily back at him. “He’ll want to know everything.”

“Want to know what I told ‘em, you mean. Yeah, well I didn’t, did I? Played ignorant.”

“Bet that was a first,” commented Bodie, knowing that playing dumb wouldn’t come naturally to this man.

Doyle ginned. “Yeah, wasn’t easy going against type,” he said. He took a sip of his coffee. “But I didn’t know anything they wanted, anyway. Offered them Cowley’s phone number, but I don’t think that’s quite what they were after.”

“Just be prepared for hours of questioning.”

“Terrific,” said Doyle. “Right, well I think I’ll have a bath and turn in.” He stood up and drained his coffee, before putting the empty mug on the table.

Bodie looked at him, in all his tired, dirty and battered glory as he stood there, and let himself consciously acknowledge the physical attraction he felt, let himself enjoy the visual pleasure of Ray Doyle. Only, it was more than that… Bodie was drawn to Doyle, helplessly, hopelessly drawn to him, like a man who had been floating aimlessly in the ocean, and who had found a life raft. The urge to grab it and cling on, tightly, was shamefully fierce…

“Well?” said Doyle.

Bodie was dragged from his thoughts to see Doyle looking at him expectantly. “Sorry, what?”

“I said, what about you?” Doyle repeated, patiently. “You going to turn in, or have you got to stand guard by the door all night?”

“Oh... think I'll stay up for a bit,” said Bodie. “You go ahead, though, you should find everything you need.”

Bodie watched as Doyle made his way out of the room, heading for the stairs. Never mind Cowley, it was going to be a long night for him, too.

oOo

Of the three bedrooms available, Doyle appeared to have fallen asleep in the smallest. His silhouette was clear under the blankets, as Bodie poked his head round the door on his own way to bed.

The upstairs was filled with the aroma from Doyle’s bath. Bodie ran his own and after soaping himself clean, careful to keep his bullet wound dry, he let the heat of the water sink comfortingly into his bones. Although he was tired, his mind was abuzz with careening thoughts, and he knew sleep would be elusive.

Wearily getting out of the bath, Bodie towelled himself dry and went into one of the spare bedrooms. It turned out to be well chosen, as on the dressing table was a box containing his keys and wallet, last seen when he’d given them to Cowley for safekeeping at Brize.

Opening the wardrobe, he found a basic selection of casual clothes, including what he’d been wearing in the park when Cowley had picked him up, all freshly laundered. Pulling on his track suit bottoms, Bodie flicked off the light, and sat down in a chair by the window. Parting the curtains slightly, he prepared to watch the night slowly turn to dawn.

Bodie had no idea how much time had passed when he heard Doyle get up. He tracked his footsteps to the bathroom, followed by the toilet flushing and footsteps back out onto the landing. They paused in the open doorway to Bodie’s room.

“How you feeling?” Bodie asked, turning to look at him.

“A lot better. Mostly thanks to Dr Happy’s pills, I suspect,” Doyle replied wryly, as he came into the room. “What you still doing up? I was only joking about you keeping guard, you know,” he added.

He stood a couple of feet away, wearing just a pair of boxer shorts, markings from his incarceration clear on his body, despite the lack of light. If Bodie could have gone back to Afghanistan at that moment and killed every one of those fucking Russian guards, he would’ve done. He took a deep breath. “Couldn’t sleep, that’s all,” he said, his voice sounding shaky to his own ears.

“You must be knackered,” Doyle said. “You can’t have slept much in the last twenty-four hours.”

Bodie shrugged. Tiredness overwhelmed him, truth be told, but so did his emotions, restlessly tugging him between hope and despair in seconds, and back again.

Throwing him for another loop, Doyle sauntered over to the double bed and got in. Propped up on an elbow, he held out his hand to Bodie. “Come on, you need to sleep,” he said, as though this was the most natural thing in the world for him to do.

Bodie couldn’t have resisted if his life depended on it, and in a way he rather thought it did... or his sanity, at the very least.

Slowly, he went over, took Doyle’s proffered hand and slid into the bed. Doyle slipped an arm around him and pulled him close, so Bodie could rest his head on Doyle’s shoulder.

“There, now sleep,” Doyle murmured, both arms around Bodie.

And Bodie did.

oOo

In the early hours of the morning, Bodie woke. He was wrapped around Doyle, one arm across his chest and a leg resting across his thighs.

The first thing Bodie was aware of was the glorious feel of Doyle’s body; soft, warm and solid.

The second was his erection pressed against Doyle’s hip.

He managed to hold himself still a few moments before giving in to a tentative thrust and feeling pleasure ripple through him down to his toes. He stifled a groan, unable to resist another delicious thrust.

“You too, eh,” murmured Doyle, a smile in his voice. “Fancy doing something about it?”

Bodie felt his heart rate quicken, let his hand hesitantly run down Doyle’s stomach to rest over his shorts, feeling him big and hard beneath his palm.  God yes, he wanted to do something about it, wanted to touch Doyle, to kiss him… to make him come… “Yeah,” he whispered. “What d’you have in mind?”

“How about getting these off for a start,” suggested Doyle, tugging gently at the waistband of Bodie’s tracksuit bottoms.

Bodie slid them down, kicking them off to the end of the bed as Doyle slipped off his boxers.

“Now, come here,” said Doyle huskily, opening his arms.

Already breathless with yearning, Bodie slid on top of Doyle, adjusting his hips so Doyle’s erection rubbed hotly against his own. He could see Doyle’s face in the semi-darkness, his head tilted invitingly upwards, his eyes heavy with desire.

Bodie slowly bent his head and touched his lips to Doyle’s. He was immediately lost in a sensory world of exquisite pleasure. Doyle’s lips were soft and warm, opening to him as the kiss deepened, his tongue gently demanding. Hands stroked down Bodie’s back, gently cupping his buttocks, encouraging him as he rolled his hips, his cock brushing beautifully against Doyle’s.

“Oh, yeah…” urged Doyle breathlessly between kisses.  “Just like that… you feel so fucking good…”

Flying on the sensations, Bodie moaned as the pleasure built, Doyle’s hands gripping him harder as the sparks of ecstasy ignited through him. “Oh, Christ,” he gasped.

Desire flooded his veins as Doyle matched his rhythm, their thrusts gaining in urgency with the glorious slide of skin against skin. With every nerve-ending in his body alight with lust, Bodie was suspended on a cloud of almost unbearable pleasure, before tumbling over the edge of climax, vaguely aware of Doyle crying out and the wet slickness between them.

After a few moments, Bodie managed to rouse himself enough to slide off Doyle and flop onto his back.

They lay side by side, their breathing gradually slowing, until Doyle turned to look at him. He softly cupped Bodie’s face and gave him a long, lingering kiss. “Beautiful,” he murmured drowsily. “Knew it would be.” He fumbled for Bodie’s hand, and then promptly fell asleep.

Suffused with a wondrous contentment, Bodie soon followed.

oOo

Ringing penetrated his sleep, waking him with a start. His heart thudding in his chest, Bodie sat up, taking in the vacant other half of his bed.

He heard Doyle talking downstairs, then another man’s voice…

Shit! Cowley’s fucking agents!

Grabbing his watch from the bedside table and seeing it was seven o’clock, Bodie leapt from the bed and fished his tracksuit bottoms from the tangle of bedclothes at the base of the bed. He pulled them on and dragged his T-shirt and tracksuit top from the wardrobe.

“We’ve got visitors,” Doyle announced, strolling into the bedroom and looking far too nonchalant for someone who had almost been caught in bed with another bloke.

At least he’d found a dressing gown from somewhere, Bodie thought, doing a double take as he recognised the outline of his Browning in one of the pockets.

“Your chauffeur and my guard dogs,” Doyle carried on. “I’ve told them you’ll be down in a minute.”

“Shit, what if they’d let themselves in!” Bodie hissed, still flustered from the rude awakening. Christ, he hadn’t slept that soundly for months. “Or it could’ve been one of your Russian mates, come to finish the job!”

Doyle looked unconcerned. “The deadlocks were on,” he said. “Even if they’d had a key, they couldn’t’ve got in. And don’t worry, I was prepared for unexpected visitors, too,” he grinned, patting the weighed down pocket of his robe.

Feeling fractionally reassured by that, Bodie delved in the bottom of the wardrobe and found his socks and trainers. Pulling them on, he racked his sleep-addled brain for what to say to Doyle… Can we see each other, when this is over? No, that sounded pathetic, like a fucking Barbara Cartland novel… but he needed to say something, to see if there was any chance Doyle felt what he felt, if there was any chance Doyle wanted to take the leap with him…

The sound of someone coming up the stairs halted his thoughts, and a tall, blond man appeared in the doorway. “Sorry,” he said insincerely, “but one of us has to be with you at all times, Mr Doyle.” He turned to look at Bodie. “Your lift’s downstairs. Major Cowley doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”

“Yeah, all right,” Bodie muttered. He glared at the man, willing him to leave them alone, but he stood there like a bloody statue, watching Bodie tying his laces.

Oh, for fuck's sake! How was he supposed to talk to Doyle - gauge his feelings - with that tosser standing there!

“All right if I go for a piss, is it?” Bodie asked caustically, and stalked past the agent to the bathroom.

Having washed his face and teeth, Bodie came out to find himself alone upstairs. He went back into his bedroom, trying not to look at the unmade bed where he’d spent the night blissfully with Doyle, and grabbed his wallet and keys from the dressing table.

Jogging down the stairs he found another agent standing by the door, a mug in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

“’Bout time,” the agent said crossly, putting the mug on the hall table. “Cowley’ll have my nuts in a vice if we’re any later. Let’s go.”

Not willing to leave without seeing Doyle one more time, Bodie looked frantically towards the kitchen where he could hear voices. “Yeah, OK, I’ve just got to grab something,” he lied, and strode quickly down the hall.

He found Doyle, the blond agent and another dark-haired man sitting round the kitchen table, drinking tea. They all looked up at him as he came in.

“I’m just off to see Cowley,” he said, looking at Doyle sitting there in his dressing gown, and trying to sound casual. “Then I’m going back to Hereford. Hope you’re not stuck here too long.”

“Yeah, you and me both.” Doyle smiled at him, a ridiculously sexy smile to Bodie’s mind. “Oh, and I haven’t forgotten about the contents of your fridge,” Doyle added, with a ghost of a wink.

Bodie couldn’t stop his face breaking into a huge smile. “No, make sure you don’t,” he replied as steadily as he could manage.

Anything more inspirational to say was not forthcoming, so Bodie left, before he could make a fool of himself.

oOo

His escort broke nearly all the speed limits to get them to MI6 on time, only for Bodie to be told on arrival that Cowley was not available. He spent several hours waiting in a small room, thinking about Doyle and wondering how the journalist was getting on stuck in the safehouse with the two agents, before he was finally de-briefed by a spook called Lewis.

It was late evening when they finished and Bodie was then informed the Major wanted to see him. He was taken to Cowley’s office and required to go over the entire op again.

Cowley confirmed that he was closing in on his mole, thanks to Doyle, but he would provide no further details. Bodie didn’t care, didn’t matter to him how they were doing it, just as long as Cowley’s boys caught the mole before he caught up with Doyle.

Just as he was opening the door to leave, Cowley stopped him.

“Oh, one other thing,” the Major said, taking his glasses off and standing up behind his desk. “Ray Doyle asked me to pass on his thanks to you, for getting him out of Afghanistan. Said he didn’t get a chance this morning before you left.”

With great difficulty Bodie kept his face neutral under the shrewd gaze of the older man. “You’ve seen him? How’s he doing?” he asked, managing to sound only mildly interested.

A small smile played on Cowley’s lips as he considered the question. “He’s doing fine, if already a little frustrated by his confinement.”

Yeah, Bodie could imagine; Doyle might’ve been liberated, but he still wasn’t free. “Well, give him my best, will you?”

Bodie made himself leave then, in case he said something stupid, like ask if he could go back to the safehouse.

Having been quietly escorted from Cowley’s office and directed out onto Westminster Bridge Road, Bodie got into the car which would take him away from London and Doyle, and back to Hereford.

oOo

Three Weeks Later

Bodie stood looking at the headstone, at the words elegantly etched into the granite.

Mother and daughter...

It was the first time he'd come to the cemetery since the Afghan job. It still hurt, he could still feel splintered with grief and guilt. But he no longer felt the gut-wrenching pain that had consumed him for all those months. He was no longer caged by what he’d lost.

Instead, in the middle of a war-torn country, he’d unexpectedly found something so different it was incomparable; a tough, feisty, gorgeous man who felt like the other half of his soul.

And who he hadn't seen or spoken to since.

But he had hope. Ridiculous, unaccountable, refusing-to-be-ignored hope, which flared brightly every time he thought of Doyle’s cryptic last words to him in the safehouse kitchen.

He turned and started to walk back along the wide gravel path towards the entrance gate. It was a fresh spring day, the blue sky decorated with a variety of white, fluffy clouds, and a brisk breeze to keep them dancing past the sun.

As Bodie approached the gate, he saw a figure leaning casually against the black wrought iron and his heart skipped a beat in surprised recognition.

Doyle!

As Bodie got nearer, Doyle pushed himself off the side of the gate and strolled forward to meet him. He was in jeans and a bomber jacket, and clean-shaven, his skin smooth and clear save for a thin scar over his temple. He looked vibrant and breathtakingly beautiful.

Trying unsuccessfully to supress a smile, Bodie asked casually, “What you doing here?”

Doyle smiled back at him. “Come to take you home,” he replied, as though it was obvious.

“Oh, right. How d’you find me?”

“How d’you think? Cowley, of course,” Doyle said. “Well, he told me where you lived, anyway.”

“He must’ve thought it a bit odd, you asking for my address?”

“If he did, he didn’t say… handed it over quite happily, in fact. By the way, is your phone off the hook? Been trying to get through for a couple of days.”

“Ah.” Bodie pulled a wry smile. “Probably BT taking revenge over an unpaid bill,” he said sheepishly.

Doyle narrowed his eyes. “Thought Cowley was meant to be paying you… you blown it all, already?”

“No… just haven’t got round to paying the cheque in, yet,” Bodie admitted, money matters being the last thing on his mind, lately. “So, how did you know I was here?”

“Didn’t.” Doyle shrugged. “Just thought I’d try a few places when I found you weren’t home.”

“Often go looking for people in cemeteries, do you?” Bodie teased.

Doyle grinned. “You’d be surprised, mate... anyway, found you, didn’t I?”

“Does that mean Cowley’s finished with you?”

Doyle pulled a face. “For now. Had to endure two weeks of MI6 hospitality with twenty-four hour protection. I was almost hoping the mole would find me and put me out my misery.”

Bodie smiled in sympathy. He knew that despite the comforts of the safehouse, it would still be just another prison to Doyle. “And they got him, this double agent?”

“Yeah, it was someone above Cowley. Felt quite sorry for the old man, could see he was upset about it.”

“I expect he’ll survive,” said Bodie, unmoved.

Doyle eyed him. “What about you, what you been up to since I last saw you?”

Bodie shrugged. “This and that…” he lied, not willing to admit he’d spent a restless few weeks, hoping and waiting for this very moment. “Still deciding what to do next.”

“I see,” said Doyle, clearly not fooled. “And how’s the arm?” he asked.

“Good as new,” said Bodie cheerfully. “Or, it will be, soon,” he amended under Doyle’s disbelieving look.

“Right, well, shall we go then?”

“Your place or mine?” asked Bodie, happiness making him feel almost dizzy.

“Same thing, isn’t it? Yours is nearer, obviously... Mind you, Cowley’s asked to see us both tomorrow, so perhaps we should go to mine, as it’s in London.”

“I can’t wait to kiss you,” Bodie breathed helplessly.

“In that case, we’d better go to yours,” said Doyle, grinning. “Think you can wait five minutes?”

Bodie smiled, nodded. “And what’s this about Cowley… why’s he want to see us?”

“Said he had a proposition for us,” explained Doyle. “You know he’s leaving Six, setting up some new outfit?”

Bodie shook his head. To be honest, at this precise moment he didn’t give a toss about Cowley or anyone else. Only about the man standing opposite him. His hands itched to reach out and touch, pull him close, kiss him…

Seeming to read his mind, Doyle smiled knowingly. “Come on, you.” He jerked his head towards the gate, and started walking.

But Bodie grabbed his arm, made him turn back. He needed to be sure Doyle wanted the same as him, before he took this irrevocable leap into the future.

He searched Doyle’s face. “This... us. It might not be easy,” Bodie said carefully, a question rather than a statement.

Doyle’s expression was untroubled. “Maybe not… still be worth it, though.” He took a step closer to Bodie. “Wouldn’t be here just on a whim, you know,” he said softly.

Bodie couldn’t hide his smile. “What you waiting for, then?” He started walking, jostling Doyle along with him. “Let’s go home.”

oOo

Epilogue

Bodie gasped as Doyle drove into him, every thrust igniting a path of intense pleasure from his balls to his cock, an almost unbearable, exquisite sensation.

He pushed back, hard, matching Doyle’s rhythm, making Doyle pound into him… Doyle’s balls slapping against him, his cock impaling him…

“Bodie,” Doyle’s voice was husky, breathless. “I’m not going to last with you doing that…”

Bodie pushed back harder, revelling in the feel of Doyle filling him, surrounding him… joined to him…

He stilled and came with a moan, wave after wave rippling through the core of him, a hot wetness suddenly inside him, as his own semen erupted gloriously over Doyle’s fist.

Panting, he slid down onto his front, with Doyle still on top of him.

“All right?” asked Doyle.

Bodie gave a breathless laugh. “Never better,” he replied, the lightness of his tone belying the truth of the words.

Doyle rolled onto his back, pulled Bodie to him and kissed his forehead.

Bodie closed his eyes, relishing lying naked against Doyle. The wonder of it - of Doyle - hadn’t faded in the weeks they’d been together. Instead, it got stronger every day. Bodie could hardly recognise the shell of a man who had agreed to go to Afghanistan, half hoping it might end his miserable existence, to the man he was now, ferociously in love with Doyle. Here in Doyle’s bed, in Doyle’s flat… it felt like another lifetime.

His house in Hereford was on the market. When the time came, Doyle would help him sort through all the things from his previous life: the things to keep, the things to throw away, and the things he might never be able to look at again, but couldn’t bear to part with.

He wrapped an arm firmly around Doyle. “So… how much longer have I got you for?”

“Hmmm?”

“How much longer until you go off gallivanting somewhere on another job?” Bodie clarified. “We’ve hardly moved from this bed in the last month.”

“You complaining?”

“Never,” said Bodie, nuzzling Doyle’s neck. “Just know we’re going to have to join the real world again, at some point.”

“Yeah, well, that’s the joy of being freelance, can stay here in bed with you as long as I like… so long as there’s a bit of cash in the bank, of course,” Doyle added, with a grimace. “Still waiting for the bloody Times to pay me for my article.”

“Won’t have to worry about money once my place is sold. Should tide us over for a while.”

“What, you mean I could be a kept man? Quite fancy that idea,” Doyle mused.

“Don’t give me that,” snorted Bodie. “You’d be bored stiff.”

“Well, you’re half right…” Doyle smirked.

Bodie ran his hand down under the bed clothes. “Not at the moment, I’m not.”

“Just give me a few minutes… insatiable, you are,” said Doyle, happily. “Anyway, never mind me getting bored, what about you? Don’t tell me you won’t be getting itchy feet soon.”

“Yeah, you could be right,” Bodie conceded. His happiness had brought him a new lease of boundless energy, a growing desire for the kind of action and adrenaline he used to thrive on. “I’ll have to find myself something, won’t I?”

“Well…” said Doyle, hesitantly, “I was thinking, you could come gallivanting with me…”

“You mean, you want me to join you on your intrepid expeditions, righting the world’s wrongs?” said Bodie, all innocent wonder. “Well… I’ll have to think about it...”

Doyle mock punched his arm. “Yeah, all right, you do that. Just don’t take too long, or I might change my mind about having you along.” He looked at Bodie. “You don’t regret us turning Cowley down, do you?”

Cowley’s formal offer for them both to join his new department had been a good one. A new security service to counter growing international threats, hiring only the best, and providing the latest weaponry and training techniques, along with a generous salary. But it sounded too similar to being in the Regiment, and Bodie wanted – needed – something different.

“No.” Bodie shook his head. “Don’t want to work for Cowley, it’d be like going backwards… just being a foot soldier again, doing what I’m told...” he said, lips twitching.

Doyle rolled his eyes. “Never going to let me forget that, are you?” he said with resignation.

“Probably not,” Bodie grinned. “But I mean it about Cowley.” He ran a finger gently down Doyle’s nose and over his lips and chin, marvelling at how perfect his profile was. “I like the idea of gallivanting with you, though,” he said softly. “That’s a much more tempting offer.”

“More like moving forward, is it?” asked Doyle.

Bodie smiled. “Yeah. Just you and me, not answerable to anyone but each other. That suit you?”

“What do you think?” said Doyle. “Course it does. Only heard Cowley out for your sake, in case you fancied it.”

Surprised by this revelation, Bodie propped himself up on an elbow and looked down at Ray. “Seriously? You mean you would’ve gone along with it, just for me?”

“Yeah,” said Doyle simply. His hand lovingly stroked Bodie’s face. “If it was what you’d wanted.”

His heart fit to burst, Bodie settled back down beside Doyle, linking their fingers. “When did you know?” he asked.

“Know what?”

“About us… that we’d get together,” said Bodie.

Doyle gazed up at the ceiling. “Didn’t, at first. Didn’t think you’d be interested. You had this haunted air about you, and you didn’t smile. Could tell that something had happened, that you were… hurt.” Doyle raised their joined hands to his lips and kissed Bodie’s fingers. “Just knew I wanted to make it better, not let anything hurt you again.”

“Oh, so it was all boringly honourable, then,” said Bodie in a disappointed tone.

“Hardly. Fancied you something rotten,” Doyle replied. “And you know I did,” he added, in mild rebuke.

“Yeah, I know now,” said Bodie. “Didn’t know at the time, though. Wasn’t sure what you thought of me.”

“I thought you were bloody gorgeous… and totally unattainable,” Doyle said, grinning reminiscently. “All mean and moody in fatigues, you were, like a walking fantasy. Lucky for me, turned out you weren’t as unattainable as I originally thought.”

“Oh, I was just playing hard to get…” Bodie said airily. “Didn’t want you thinking I was easy.”

Doyle slid on top of him, his body warm and heavy. “You’re never that, love,” he murmured, with a smile.

“Oi, you accusing me of being difficult?” Bodie demanded, slightly breathless from the effects of a naked Doyle lying on top of him.

“Course not,” said Doyle. “Just… beautifully challenging,” he said, with a grin.

Then, before Bodie could protest, Doyle kissed him, his lips covering Bodie’s in an intoxicating exploration of his mouth, his groin thrusting against Bodie’s in tantalising promise.

And Bodie decided retribution could wait until much later.

The End