Actions

Work Header

Whistle Blower

Work Text:


Cover by smirra

Bodie slammed the Capri door shut and leaned against it, gazing over the top of the car at Doyle. "You know last month when we said we'd kill for a rest?"

"Yeah."

His eyes crinkled. "I've changed my mind."

Doyle nodded ruefully. "Know the feeling."

It was quiet. Too quiet. The Rest Room was normally populated by the detritus of agents who had been here one minute and called out the next, abandoning tea cups, crosswords, improving reading matter and – regrettably, on one memorable occasion – sardine paste sandwiches in their wake. Such was the level of boredom and discontent, it was now routinely so full that these days it resembled less the Mary Celeste and more a union meeting contemplating industrial action.

In fact, Doyle mused, thinking about the levels of grousing achieved by CI5 agents given spare time and full rein, it was probably a good job they were banned from joining a union.

He and Bodie were lucky: they actually had a live investigation. Not much of one, true, but at least it kept them out of HQ. It was so little of one, in fact, that they had been managing entire weeks in which the off-duty had not been rearranged to pull them back in to cover injury, sick-leave or sudden emergencies.

He stretched reminiscently. They had, at least, been able to take full advantage of their days off.

Arriving at the main doors, they showed their cards to the guard on the door and headed to the stairwell. The lift doors yawned open invitingly. He grinned, and tapped Bodie on the shoulder.

"Hey. Race you. Lift or stairs?"

Bodie turned and grinned back. "You're on." Neatly, he executed a judo trip, and Doyle found himself falling backwards. He caught himself as Bodie fled.

"Bastard," he yelled, and chased the disappearing Bodie up the stairs.

As they paused to tidy themselves outside the rest room, they were summoned by a shout.

"Doyle! Bodie!"

At the end of the corridor, Cowley had leaned out of his door to summon them. Doyle straightened, gave up brushing down his jeans as a bad job, and led the way, leaving a similarly rumpled Bodie with the choice between dishevelled punctuality or delayed sartorial elegance. Honours even, and it wasn't even nine o'clock yet.

Cowley came straight to the point.

"Macmillan. Where is he? How's that coming on?"

"Got a line on his girl, sir, but I really don't think she knows anything. Bodie's chumming up with Cassidy. Hoping to land a job as driver."

Cowley turned to Bodie interrogatively.

"Working on him, sir. But it's slow going. He's got no reason to trust me, and he's terrified of Macmillan. That WPC trying to get to close to him was a mistake. Once he tipped to what was going on, that was it. Over."

"I know. I told the ACC not to compete with us, but..."

The Assistant Chief Constable was a veteran of war both in Whitehall and on the miners' picket lines. Doyle imagined Cowley telling him how to do his job and inwardly boggled. He returned his attention to Bodie.

"...so if that doesn't work, I think the best bet is to wait for Horton's trial. Once Horton's banged up, Cassidy's going to be a much easier mark."

Cowley nodded.

"Right. Leave that for the moment. The trial starts next month so even if someone changes their plea, the whole thing'll last weeks. Could be the end of the month, could be February. I have something else for you."

"Yes, sir." Doyle exchanged curious glances with Bodie. It was nothing new to be pulled off one case and onto another, but what other cases were there at the moment?

He came back to himself as Cowley continued.

"The Home Office has asked us to accommodate a guest." He paused.

Bodie couldn't resist. "Rubber gloves job, is it? Thought that was the Met's job."

Doyle ignored that.

"No, Bodie, and I'll thank you not to be so boorish. The Home Office has asked us to accommodate a guest, because the Minister would like him to be in good health to testify in enquiries the Minister tells me will open next week. He's to be a surprise witness."

"A witness? For what? Select Committee? Crown Court? Evidence to the Lords?" Doyle added when no answer was forthcoming.

"Coroner?" offered Bodie. "Magistrates? One of the royal corgis with no dog licence, perhaps? Footman riding a bike on the pavement?"

Cowley removed his glasses and favoured them with an impartial glare. "That's enough. I've no time for your levity, Bodie. Nor yours, Doyle. Aye, you provoke Bodie into his remarks," he swept on, as Doyle took a breath to proclaim his innocence. "The pair of you, more trouble than you're worth at times."

Bodie seemed ready to take that as a compliment. Doyle shot him a glance. He subsided. Cowley carried on.

"Just take this man, keep him safe for a week, and deliver him in a fit state to give evidence at the end of it." He restored his glasses and held a sheet of foolscap away from him. "No special issues that I can see from this. But that doesn't mean there aren't any."

"Got to be something," Bodie agreed. "I mean, otherwise, why can't the civil service put him up in their usual hotels? Send out for room service and girls as required?"

Cowley scowled. "The details aside, the general sentiments I agree with. If it were just you and Doyle, I'd say that's exactly where you should go. The accommodation, that is. Not the entertainment. And on their budget," he added. His face broke into a humourless smile. "I won't have CI5's funds wasted on West End suppers. Let's see them deal with your creative expenses for a change. If we weren't so starved of funds in the first place-"

He broke off. "That's as maybe. But we are. Right. It's not just you two on this one."

"No, sir?"

"No. I want four of you."

"Four?"

"Four, yes. There are enough of you cluttering the place up here. And you said yourself, the Macmillan job is stalled until Cassidy talks. We'll wait until the trial's over."

Bodie pursed his lips in consideration as Cowley continued. "I've turned the West Midlands business over to the local police – they have the resources to handle it, and I didn't set this agency up to sniff out general industrial sabotage."

"Oh, we on with Jax, then? He'll be pleased to get home, he can't stand having to cheer for the Baggies every Saturday. Who else?"

"Anson."

"Fine." Doyle heard the satisfaction in Bodie's voice and inwardly agreed. He enjoyed working with Anson, who had a lot in common with Bodie. It was hardly surprising given their similar backgrounds. Both armed forces, although Anson without the more unorthodox elements of Bodie's early career, Bodie and Anson had raised breaking the tedium of long watches to an art form, chatting desultorily, telling each other tall tales from their service years, making endless cups of tea, and bickering over the pettiest of issues for hours. Affecting to be no more than an amused bystander, Doyle would listen quietly, enjoying the insight into this previous life of Bodie's.

"Here." Cowley returned the sheet to its folder and brandished it at them.

Bodie took it and glanced at it. "So, no West End suppers? Room service okay, though?" He turned serious again. "Where do you want us?"

"Up to you, Bodie. All of you," Cowley added irritably. "Take a safe house or more standard accommodation. In town or out of it, I don't mind. So long as I can tell the Minister it's dealt with."

"Yes, sir. Understood."

Doyle held out a hand for the folder, and turned to lope out.

 

"Pour us a tea as well, Murph?"

Doyle wandered across the rest room while Bodie dragged two chairs over to Murphy's abandoned newspaper. Picking it up, Bodie surveyed it without interest and dropped it down again.

"Not your type, Bodie?" enquired Murphy. "Off your feed or something? Gone to bat for the other side?"

"Only read it for the crossword," Bodie sounded earnest. "Now this one, look at her. Couldn't do 3 across to save her life."

"So long as she can still do 34 across. Or 36, maybe. Give us another look." Murphy returned with the teas and retrieved the Sun, opening it back up to page 3. "Oh yes, definitely capable of 36 across there. How's it going?"

"Not sure." Disregarding his proffered chair, Doyle leaned bonelessly against the wall as he pondered. "Cowley's really desperate to keep us all doing something, isn't he? Got four of us on the same op now."

"What, all chasing Macmillan? Thought that was all accounted for."

"Nah, we're off that. Got some babysitting job. Some Home Office business."

Murphy blew on his tea. "Oh. That."

"What? What do you know, Murph?"

Murphy took a good gulp and sighed in appreciation. "Ahh. That's better. Sorry, don't know anything, not for sure. But yeah, Cowley was summoned to Whitehall yesterday."

"Whitehall?"

"Summoned?"

Doyle heard himself and Bodie speak as one. He grinned ruefully at Bodie and gestured to him to speak. Bodie took over.

"Bet he didn't like that."

"No kidding. Ruth – she was driving him – said he was in a silent fury all the way there, and on the way back, he was obviously thinking hard."

Bodie winced. "Don't like the Cow thinking. The more complicated his schemes, the more likely we are to get shafted."

Murphy agreed. "Mmm. This got something to do with your job, then?"

"Wouldn't be surprised."

"Don't envy you then. I'll stick to..." he heaved a sigh, "squiring Arab princes round the fleshpots. Hey," he perked up, "Perhaps he'll want to go to Annabel's. It's a dirty job, but..."

"Been," sniffed Bodie. "Rubbish, these days. They'll let anyone in."

"Yeah, look at you," Doyle interjected.

Bodie aimed a punch at him. "They wouldn't let you in to empty the bins. Come on. Let's leave this reprobate and go and see if Jax is back."

Jax was back, and bemused but intrigued by the new assignment. "Babysitting? Okay. Can't be worse than industrial politics in Bromwich." He settled down to read the file. It was not extensive.

"Ah, finally," Bodie observed as Anson arrived. He leaned back and flipped the file over to Anson. "There you go. Can't see what's so important about him, but we just have to hang onto him until the Minister's ready to use him."

"The Minister? Our Minister? Or one of the others?" Anson sat down, one eye on Bodie.

"Good question," Jax looked up. "This guy's spent more time outside England than in. Could be the Foreign Office just as easily. But I think it's the HO. Nothing here in the case file to say otherwise."

Anson pulled a face. "Why is it, Bodie, why is it that every time I am involved in a job with you, you've only got half the story? Does Cowley think you're telepathic, or does he simply not trust you?"

Doyle wondered the same thing, but had no intention of ceding points to Anson.

Anson rubbed a thin cigar in his fingers and placed it between his lips. He chewed absently. "In town? Out in the country?"

Bodie shrugged. "Up to you. I suppose Blackpool's a bit too far?"

Doyle speculated idly on Bodie's desire for Blackpool and returned his attention to the list of available safe house accommodation. "Any preferences? Sensible ones," he added for Bodie's benefit. "We've a free rein on location, but we're to stay low-key."

"Is the Cow actually expecting trouble?" Jax asked the room at large. "Or trying to clear the corridors here out a bit? I reckon stay in town."

Anson fiddled with his lighter, his mind returned to the professional. "Prefer a clear field. If there is a risk of trouble. If we knew."

Bodie nodded. "Somewhere out of London then. Nice quiet house in the country?"

Doyle winced. "Yeah, because the last time you ended up in a vicarage, things went so well."

"Not my finest moment, that, no." Bodie eyed Doyle. "Not helped by you."

Doyle returned Bodie's gaze innocently. "You weren't taking them. Thought I'd..." he shrugged.

"What's this?" Anson flicked eyes between them.

"Doctor Kildare there," Bodie's voice was heavy with sarcasm, "thought it would be a good idea to dope my tea. Make sure I stayed put."

Doyle sounded unapologetic. "You weren't supposed to be in work, if you remember. You were supposed to be resting. You'd already added another week onto it by ignoring the doctor. You definitely weren't supposed to be rowing on the bloody Thames."

"Hey, if I hadn't been on the river, I'd never have spotted Meyer and friends, would I?"

"Yeah, well, look what you did when you did, eh?" Doyle turned to explain to Anson and Jax. "That one," he nodded at Bodie, "decided to take them on single handed, despite the fact that he shouldn't have been able to think, let alone work."

"Was that the time with the boat? When we ended up at Marlow?" Jax asked.

Doyle nodded.

"I remember that," agreed Anson. "The aftermath, at least. But wait, Bodie's saying you doped him? What with?"

"Last batch of knockout drugs I had after breaking my ankle," explained Doyle. "Should have felled an ox. Certainly stopped me from getting up and damaging myself more. Not him, though. Just slowed him down. Made him clumsy. And," he glared at Bodie. "Fucked with his decision making. Not that it was that great before. Turning up at work and expecting to be let loose again. I ask you."

Bodie looked untroubled by Doyle's irritation. "Should have known something was up when you made me a second cuppa. First one too cold for them to dissolve, was it?"

Doyle tilted his head. "Out of the kindness of my heart, that was. Anyway, you were supposed to go home after that appointment, back to rest, and wake up the next day, having actually rested. Only... no... you had to go swanning off with Julia. And get involved in a siege in a vicarage." He rolled his eyes. "Was a good plan, otherwise."

Jax grinned. "Nice one, Ray. Tell you what, though. If you feel I need relieving, just let me know, eh? You and Geoff can do the night watch, and me and Bodie'll have a nice sleep."

Doyle grinned.

"That why it all went to pot, then?" Anson pursed his lips. "Have to say, Bodie, I debriefed the woman, and it didn't sound your usual style. Very messy."

Bodie winced. "Not exactly something to be proud of at the regimental reunion, no. But yeah, I had an excuse. Doped by my own bloody partner." He glowered at Doyle, who saluted him unrepentantly with his mug.

Bodie was distracted from this line by the clicking of Anson's lighter. "Oh no. He's started. Better get on with things before we're fumigated out of here."

Anson stretched out his legs and leaned back. "Come on then. Where we going?"

Eventually they settled on a shortlist of three: two in the city and one in open country an hour or two out of London.

"May as well check 'em out now, you think?" Doyle stood, pushing his chair back with the motion.

"Yeah, why not?" Anson was more leisurely. "Who wants what?"

The others shrugged.

"If it's an hour out of London, how about two of us doing that one, and the others doing both London houses?" offered Jax. He produced a coin. "Toss you for which?"

Bodie eyed it narrowly. "Is that the coin you made such a fuss about when you dropped it down behind the lockers last week?"

Jax looked innocent. "Might be, I suppose. They're all the same."

"Except when you produce that one." Bodie sighed. "You could just tell us which you want to look at."

Jax grinned. "And spoil my fun?" He pocketed it. "Okay then, where we going?"

"Sherbourne," decided Anson. "Leave this pair to the suburbs."

Suburbs was exactly right, decided Doyle as they drew up. But very nice suburbs. Detached house, mock Tudor walls, space for two cars, heavy shrubbery to provide privacy. "Only one phone line," he pointed out to Bodie. Not that they were expecting to need even one, but...

Bodie had the keys and ushered Doyle in solicitously. Serious now, they worked through the house together, checking for essentials, switching the fridge on, inspecting the state of the pantry, and mentally assigning bedrooms.

"Can't put Anson here," Bodie noted. Doyle looked puzzled, until Bodie waved an arm at the door. "Smoke'll get all through the house. I'm not turning out of bed thinking there's a fire at 3am just because he fancies a cigar."

"Ah, come on, mate, he only smokes them to wind you up."

"I know that," Bodie was unappeased. "And he'll do it again on this job given half a chance."

"Put him in the garden, then. Speaking of which..."

They duly trooped out and inspected the neat beds surrounding an elegantly draped laburnum tree. Other than that, the lawn was clear. There was nothing to obscure the view from the back rooms.

There was a strikingly new carpet in one room and they paused, looking down at it.

"Ten to one it was just spilled coffee," Doyle ventured after some time.

"So long as we're the nine chances, not the tenth. If it wasn't coffee, though, what happened?" Bodie turned in a circle slowly. "I reckon I'd come in through that window."

The window frame was old, the putty barely sufficient, but the glass seemed to be original. Bodie inspected it carefully, unembarrassed. Eventually he looked up. "Coffee it was, then."

Doyle nodded, accepting the need for Bodie to check. "And, speaking of coffee..." They headed into the kitchen and made a brief shopping list.

"...And another twelve ash-trays for Geoff. Okay, where next?"

Doyle consulted the map.

"You sure you didn't turn the map on its head?"

Halfway across London, they stared in mild disbelief at the twin of the house they had recently left.

"Obviously a very popular pattern. Modish," Doyle educated Bodie.

"Shouldn't be hard to check it out, at least."

They followed the same pattern in the second house and met on the landing, half-laughing in incredulity. "Even got the same bedspreads," Bodie pointed out. "Does CI5 have a standing order with Habitat?"

"God knows. Who looks after this stuff, anyway? Is there an entire safe house section in CI5? Down in the bowels of the building? Does the accommodation office do it?" Doyle was baffled.

"If they do, I want an upgrade. I reckon we should put the guests up in our flats, and us come to these. I could get used to living like this. Did you see the bidet?"

"A bidet?" Doyle managed wide-eyed incredulity. "What's that, then?"

Bodie played along. "You uncultured pleb. Come here, and I'll show you. Mind, need to be messy enough to need cleaning up..." He gestured unmistakeably, groping towards Doyle's groin.

Doyle cast a warning glance at the painting rail and the ceiling.

Bodie took the point. "Yeah, did you check your rooms?"

"Only the basics. No wires trailing across the room to microphones. If we want a proper sweep, we'll need Phillips and friends."

Bodie nodded, back to business. "Okay. We done, then?"

"Yeah. And hey," Doyle was cheerful. "Five o'clock. Friday. Office hours. We really are civil servants today."

They dropped the keys off at HQ, promising dire retribution should anyone choose to use them over the weekend, and signed out. On the steps of the building they paused, looking at each other. Doyle grinned, shamefaced.

"I know. Been so long since we left at a normal time with nothing to do that I dunno what to do now. Done me laundry..."

"...You mean, I did your laundry..."

...Done me laundry, food's in, cashed a cheque this lunchtime, and it's still daylight. Can it get better?"

"Let's see, shall we?" Bodie rubbed his hands together and ushered Doyle forward.

 

They stopped off to change, and then headed to the squash court, where Bodie's stamina outlasted Doyle's darting and diving for the ball. Doyle was torn between frustration – he didn't like to lose, not at anything – and lechery, as his shots forced Bodie to lunge, the edges of Bodie's shirt and shorts sliding back to reveal the skin beneath as he reached beyond his range. The sound of the ball slapping against the walls sang into the air, their breathing becoming stertorous and echoing. There – there was Bodie stretching again, sweat even in his hair now, and his hair starting to curl. He won't like that, Doyle thought absently, not military-short enough for him, he'll be off to the barber, before Anson starts to tease...

Damn!

He came back to himself and narrowly avoided a dark bruise on his arm, belting the ball back with little time to aim.

"Fuck," he heard Bodie gasp.

"Got breath to talk, you're not working hard enough," he managed to taunt, forcing the words out on the breath he didn't have either.

Stupid. Stupid...

He could feel rather than see Bodie's concentration turn inward. Bodie's movements became more controlled, only just stretching as far as necessary, as he reached inside himself for those reserves of stamina.

Damnation.

Doyle pulled the final energy he could into an aggressive burst of shots, hoping to pummel Bodie into a mistake, but –

"My game," Bodie was triumphant. Doyle sank slowly down the wall into a seated position, knees bent, head on forearms on knees. He remained like that long enough to pull Bodie's gaze towards him, and then lifted his head and held out one arm imperiously. Bodie grinned and hauled him up.

They forwent the showers at the squash courts and headed to Doyle's, where a still sweltering Doyle started to strip off the second the door was shut behind him. Bodie made an immediate beeline for the fridge and the ice-tray in the freezer compartment. Emptying all of it into a jug, he filled the jug from the tap, and returned to watch Doyle appraisingly.

Doyle was well aware of his effect on Bodie. Determined to tilt the tables, he flexed his shoulders as he pulled his top off over his head. Ahhhh. He ached. His wrist ached from holding the racquet. His shoulder ached from a mistimed lunge. And inside him... Inside him, something ached from the other night. Time to make Bodie ache, then. He straightened, grinning wolfishly, and reached down to his shorts, his hands slowing.

"Ahh, Ray."

Bodie stood there, watching openly. Although seemingly self-possessed, Doyle could see the intensity in his eyes. His eyes flicked to the jug Bodie held, and he held out his hand. "Thanks." He took a glass up from the sidetable, poured himself a glassful and gulped it down, head back and throat straight.

"Another."

"After."

Bodie's eyes glittered. Satisfaction overtook Doyle. "Want something, do you?"

"You know what I want."

Doyle laughed. "Yeah, I know. Come on, then."

Bodie stepped closer and Doyle reached to draw him in. He rested his forearms on Bodie's shoulders, and leaned slowly in for a kiss. The sweat had dried on Bodie's face. His lips tasted salty. Doyle took his time, and the kiss deepened slowly. Bodie was kissing him back, pushing back. He could feel Bodie's chest moving to him and away as he breathed, and the kiss increased in pressure, Doyle's lips slipping slightly on Bodie's. He nipped sharply at Bodie's lip, feeling the flicker of reaction as Bodie's hands gripped fractionally tighter, and pulled back.

Bodie was breathing carefully as they separated.

"What's this then? It's in the way..." Doyle's fingers travelled down Bodie's shirt. "And you'll do yourself a mischief here."

Impatiently, he reached beneath the fabric, Bodie's penis hard under his touch. Bodie's breath caught, and Doyle's satisfaction increased. Gently now, he ran a finger along the underside of Bodie's cock, feeling it lift away from him until it was caught in the cloth. Leaving it in its confinement, Doyle continued to tease, working gently as he felt its full excitement, pressing hard against the shorts. Bodie must be aching now.

"What, didn't bother to take them off? Can't do a lot for you there," Doyle chided.

"You're a bastard, Doyle," Bodie's voice was dragged out.

"Yeah, I know." Doyle tightened his hand briefly around Bodie's genitals, just fractionally, just enough to tease, and then brought his hands away and up to Bodie's shoulders.

"Come on. Since you're so inaccessible. Suck me. Come on."

"You'll be on the floor if I do that here," Bodie objected, predictably enough.

Doyle tugged him gently in the direction of the wall. "No I won't. Come on, Bodie. Do it."

Bodie wasn't always up for this outside the bed, but followed Doyle willingly enough this time. Doyle settled himself against the wall, the paint cool against his bare back. He reached down and pushed his shorts down a few inches, releasing his penis.

Bodie paused and then went to his knees. Doyle watched, drinking in the view. Ah. Lovely. Bodie on his knees in front of him. A cap of dark hair, and the rest of him all in white.

He continued to look down as Bodie regarded what was on offer in front of him. Doyle's cock was jutting out, hot, glistening as much as the rest of his skin. Finally, Bodie's hands went to Doyle's hips and he pushed Doyle's shorts down a little further, taking back control and confidence as he did so. He pulled Doyle's hips towards him fractionally, and brought his head forward.

A few long licks along the bobbing shaft, Bodie moving carefully around it, and then he brought his tongue to the tip, teasing, covering the glans with light strokes, spiralling, and then suddenly his lips were around Doyle and travelling all the way along, his forehead furrowed in concentration as he sucked.

Doyle's head banged on the wall as his neck went back. He closed his eyes as Bodie continued to work on him, concentrating only on not trying to pull Bodie's shoulders closer, knowing that to be a surefire way to irritate him.

Bodie's lips left him for a moment, then returned, as Bodie brought his hands up to cradle his balls and stroke lightly back toward his arse.

Mmm.

The fingers stopped.

"Go on," he managed, and pushed his hips forward, only realising why Bodie had stopped as his briefs caught on Bodie's hand. "Sorry."

Bodie pulled back, breathing heavily. "I will if you want, but we need something first."

Damn.

Bodie was right. "Go on, then. Get it. I'll keep."

"I bet you will," Bodie agreed. He came to his feet fluidly and took a long kiss, his mouth tasting of Doyle as much as of himself.

While Bodie raided the cabinet, Doyle kicked off his shorts and collected more water from the kitchen. He returned to find Bodie waiting for him, squeezing the clear gel onto one finger and rubbing it absent-mindedly along it as he tapped his foot ostentatiously. Aware of his nudity, Doyle sauntered back into place.

"Don't push it," Bodie reminded him. Doyle nodded and searched Bodie's eyes for acceptance, then gently drew him back into place.

Bodie dropped slowly back down – I could say no, he seemed to be saying – and returned to his earlier activity. Doyle closed his eyes as Bodie's fingers moved gently back, one finger circling his anus and then gently slipping in. He sighed as Bodie probed for a particular spot. And then there was him filling Bodie's mouth, and Bodie's fingers – there went another one in – filling him. All complete. Bodie's mouth was hot, it was wet, and then suddenly there was just air, as Bodie withdrew.

"Keep going," Doyle demanded, urgently.

"Patience," Bodie's tone was amused. "Let me get my breath back." There was a soft chink and then Bodie's mouth returned, taking him in, and...

What?

He was burning... no, not burning...

Ice.

The bastard. The bastard's just taken me in with a mouth full of ice cubes.

Automatically, he began to jerk away, but Bodie's fingers deep in his body reminded him he couldn't. They had found their place now and were stroking that strange part of him, the one buried so deep - what was it for if not for this? - stroking him insistently.

Doyle's mind whirled, a kaleidoscope of colours and patterns, as the burning on his penis resolved itself into cold, and the cold receded to coolness, and whether it was burning or cold it didn't matter, because wow, that was...

Bodie withdrew again, and there was a sudden steady squeeze at the root of his penis.

Where'd he go?

"What you up to?" The faint outrage in his voice irritated him.

"My turn now," decided Bodie. "Not having things all your own way."

The tide of imminent orgasm receding, Doyle grimaced in frustration. "Haven't had my own way yet. That wasn't fair. "

"Poor Ray." Bodie mocked him lightly. He rose to his feet, and reached for the tube again before wiggling his fingers at Doyle and stroking himself to coat himself with the smooth jelly. He looked around the room. "You be alright here, or...?"

For answer, Doyle moved over a few paces and leaned onto the sideboard, taking his weight on his forearms and draping himself obligingly. He cast a look comprised equally of challenge and invitation at Bodie.

Bodie stepped behind him and brought his hands onto Doyle's hips, pushing in with one long stroke. Doyle breathed out, long and slow, as Bodie plastered himself over his back. He must have just pulled his top off; Doyle could feel their skin touching. Bodie pushed in again, less gently this time.

"Yes. Go," Doyle told him, and Bodie took him at his word, and began to move faster and harder. Doyle wriggled fractionally. Reacting to Doyle's movement, Bodie moved a minuscule distance down, and Doyle grunted. "There," he agreed, as the sensations began to radiate through him again, increasing, increasing, and finally bringing him back to the point he had been at before. The sideboard was rocking with each movement, and with one arm he rescued the water jug from disaster before it toppled over the edge, batting it back towards the wall.

Bodie's hand snaked round to grip his penis, and he gasped, straining towards – there, that point – jetting his satisfaction out in pulses, knowing Bodie would not be far behind. A minute later, and he had pulled Bodie over the edge too, and Bodie was considerately bracing himself rather than collapsing onto Doyle's back.

"Mmm." Bodie's lips brushed his ear. "Enjoyed that."

"Yeah," he managed, and pushed up to turn for a long kiss. "Can I have my shower now?"

"I've got a plan. Whoever's out of the shower first cooks."

Doyle yielded. "Alright. So long as I get a drink. A nice cold drink. With ice. If there's any left." He ignored Bodie's smirk. "Now move, you monster."

 

The warbling of the R/T cut through the Sunday afternoon silence.

"4.5."

"Afternoon, 4.5."

"Julia." He grinned. "7.2, even. Or is this a social call?"

"In your dreams, 4.5. No, just updating you."

"Oh yeah? What on?"

"Were you and 3.7 planning on using one of the London safehouses this week?"

Suspicion shaded his tone. "What's gone wrong?"

He could hear her chuckle. "Nothing yet. But I'm duty officer this weekend, and I'm trying to find something in the files, and now I'm looking at an electrical safety report, believe it or not..."

"Oh, you have to be kidding."

Her voice carried on. "...and at the timetable for when that house is needed in the near future. I'm betting Alpha One will have the electricians around this week, and will probably have them do all the ones which need doing soon. If you want to avoid that, I'd use a different house."

He pulled a face at Bodie, who had stuck his head around the door, and returned his attention to the R/T with resignation. "Okay. Thanks for letting us know. Have you told Jax and Anson?"

"Yes. They didn't seem too worried. Anson said he fancied beating you at... croquet?"

"That'd fit. And he'll be lucky. Right, better give them a shout. I'll tell Bodie as well. See you when we're back. 4.5 out." He put the R/T down and looked at Bodie. "Off to the country after all, then."

Easy-going that day, Bodie shrugged. "Okay. So, arrangements?"

After a brief chat between Bodie and Anson, the arrangements were finalised.

"So Anson's picking him up. Jax is bringing them down. We'll rendezvous halfway there. They'll take him to the safehouse. Sherbourne, Sherwood, Sherbet, something like that."

"Sherbourne." Doyle supplied.

"We'll follow at a discreet distance, watch for interested onlookers. And arrive last."

"Makes sense," Doyle agreed. "They scoped the place out. We can check the perimeter out while they're settling in."

"And bagging the best beds."

"That's what I said."

"Yeah. Bet you we beat them to the rendezvous."

"Bound to. You off?"

"Yeah. See you tomorrow. Don't forget your packed lunch and a book, eh?"

Doyle rolled his eyes and went to pack.

 

"Any sign of them yet?"

In a chilly lay-by, Bodie munched egg sandwiches and reached for the thermos.

Doyle slapped his hand away. "That's mine, you've had yours. Anyway, here they are, hawkeye."

A startlingly orange Fiat drew in in front of them, and a white Ford followed into the layby a minute or two later. Jax emerged from the Fiat as Anson and a passenger emerged from the Ford. The passenger hopped agitatedly from one foot to the other. Anson gestured towards the trees and the two of them headed away from the road. Jax walked towards the Capri.

"Hi, Ray. Bodie. Okay?"

Bodie finished the flask. "All fine so far, yeah. You?"

Jax nodded. "Yeah. Not expecting too much are we, really? But so far, so good. Didn't say a lot this morning. Can't work out whether he's nervous or just not got anything to say."

They turned to regard the disappearing figures. After a few minutes they re-emerged, the agitation much subsided.

Doyle grinned. "Definitely nervous. What did you say to him?"

Jax laughed. "Nothing. Nothing at all."

They all turned back to watch the approaching pair. Anson waved. The other glanced towards them, shading his eyes warily. He looked utterly nondescript to Doyle's eyes. Doyle strained for identifying features.

Bodie pulled a face. "Wow, Mr Invisible, isn't he? What'll we call him? That?"

"I'm not calling him the Invisible Man," Doyle objected. "Can you imagine the R/T conversations? 'Sorry sir, nothing to see today.' 'Got a problem, Anson's lost the Invisible Man, can't find him'..."

"Ah, come on, Ray, it'd be worth it just for that."

Doyle ignored Bodie.

"Ah ah, we saw him first. We get to name him," Jax pointed out. "We already have. Friar Tuck."

"Friar Tuck?" repeated Bodie in disbelief. "That?"

"You haven't seen him take his hat off," Jax explained. "Perfect round bald patch like a monk. We should abandon this place, take him to a monastery. He'd fit right in and we could all go home. Leave him here at Sherbourne."

"Sherwood."

"What?"

"Sherwood. Friar Tuck was Sherwood. It doesn't work if it's Sherbourne."

"Yeah, well. We saw him first."

Doyle shrugged. "Okay. Friar Tuck it is. Off to the greenwood we go, then. Look out for the sheriff. And don't you go shooting any deer."

 

"Welcome to Sherbourne."

They had hung back in the traffic to look for tails, but had seen none. Bodie stopped the car just inside the walls that bounded the grounds surrounding the small manor house.

"Not bad, is it?" Jax had evidently been waiting for them. "Wanna see around?"

"Where's Tuck?"

"Settling in with Geoff."

"I'll go and start catching up, then." Bodie looked at the contents of the boot as he was speaking, and blinked ostentatiously. "What, just a bag? No giant suitcase?" Idly, Doyle offered him two fingers. Bodie hoisted his own bag. "For that, you get to carry your own. See you later."

Doyle and Jax grinned at each other.

"May as well get started, then. Lead on." Doyle gestured expansively. "Let's see where we're playing lord of the manor for the week."

Jax conducted him around the grounds.

"Not bad," concluded Doyle at the end of the tour. They were gazing out at a croquet lawn, frost glittering across it. "Fancy a game later?"

"Never played croquet." Jax was indifferent. "Bit of a wussy game, isn't it?"

Doyle grinned. "Not the way Bodie plays it. Seriously, all that conversation over the Pimms and cucumber sandwiches, think of it less as civil conversation and more as diplomacy before the war starts. Then it's - " he mimed hitting a ball with a mallet " - war. You're in for a shock, mate. Casts a whole new light on our lords and masters."

Jax raised his eyebrows. "Okay. If we can find the bits." Eyeing the hard ground, he returned to the matter at hand. "Anyway, that's pretty much it. High walls, nice flat grounds, one kitchen garden – unused – one bunch of bushes near the wall to that side, the croquet lawn on this side, and this little place..." his voice was dry as he waved at the building "...to cover our heads."

'This little place' was a small manor house. A hall with dining room and sitting room in the original part of the building, and then wings to left and right. The older wing contained a library; the newer held a refitted kitchen, what an estate agent would undoubtedly refer to as 'the facilities', and a large dry pantry off the kitchen. Upstairs were the bathroom proper and two more impressive bedrooms. One of these had a connecting dressing room.

"Might just about fit in at a pinch," allowed Doyle. "I take it you've already bagged the best rooms."

Jax grinned. "Geoff's got the master bedroom, with Tuck in the dressing room. Tuck's not too impressed about that. I foresee whinging. I'm upstairs too. You and Bodie get to set up where you please. The larder – pantry – which is it? Or is it a storeroom? Whatever it is, it's not actually cold. But I'd suggest the library. Or you'll only get Bodie waking you up for a midnight snack."

Doyle laughed. "You know him too well."

"And there's a big sofa bed. Double. And anyway," Jax went on, "Your tea is rubbish. Rather have Bodie in charge of the kettle."

Doyle aimed a punch at him.

Jax dodged easily. "So, how we doing this? You and me chewing over old times and leaving those two to their tall stories? Or sticking you two together like normal?"

Doyle considered the stories. "You've heard them at it too, have you?"

"Must be an army thing. Not like we ever reminisce like that." Jax was virtuous as they turned to troop back in.

"No. Never," Doyle agreed. "But I think we'd better split them up. Just for the sake of sanity. " They moved back towards the house.

 

They found the others in the kitchen. Bodie had the kettle on and Anson had found the biscuits. Packets of them were holding down a large map on the table, spread out between Anson and Tuck. Anson had evidently been giving their charge the lecture which was standard for a new arrival to the world of CI5 protection.

"If you hear me shout 'Down'?"

"I get down." His voice was wobbly but determined.

"If I shout 'Back'?"

"I go back."

"Run back," Anson corrected.

"Run back," Tuck agreed.

"If I shout 'Out'?"

"I make for the back of the house and then out towards the bushes halfway between the side and the wall."

"Good man." Anson stood and clapped him on the shoulder. "Tea up?"

Bodie pushed a mug over. "Take your pick. All white, no sugar. Hey," he added "You. Tuck."

The seated man looked up in confusion. "Me?"

"Yup. You," confirmed Bodie. "How do you take your tea?"

"Black," the man answered. Bodie sighed and turned to drain one mug and pour another, only to be interrupted. "And it's Walters."

"Eh? Oh. You? Oh yeah." A delighted grin spread over Bodie's face. "Walter like Walter the Softy from–"

"No," interrupted the man doggedly. "Walters. Timothy Walters. Not... Tuck. I don't know where you got that from. I heard you all calling me that, but it's not my name."

"Filing error, I expect," offered Bodie smoothly. "T and W... Easy to confuse." He flashed an innocent grin.

Walters looked determined. "I expect you're having fun. But..." he glanced from Bodie to Anson and back "If I'm really in that much danger and you want me to react in a hurry if something happens, then don't expect me to realise it's me you're talking to if you can't be bothered to call me by my right name. Timothy Walters," he repeated.

"Fair point." Bodie was unruffled. "Good afternoon, Timothy Walters. Welcome to CI5, and welcome to Safehouse K. Very lucky we are, here. All mod cons." He poured a fresh mug. "One black tea coming up."

Walters smiled tentatively, and sipped his tea.

A routine agreed between them, Doyle went to fetch his bag in, Bodie having left it in the car as threatened. He settled his sleeping bag on the sofa in the library as Jax had suggested, unpacked swiftly, and prowled round the house. It was a simple design, with one staircase going up from the hall to a half landing, where it split into two to turn and ascend again, arriving at a short landing linking the bedrooms and the bathroom. Not much to get confused about. There was a telephone extension in the master bedroom, with the main handset in the hall and a fuse box by the front door. The basics covered, he went to find Bodie, who was nowhere in evidence inside the house.

Doyle slipped out through the kitchen door and headed to the croquet lawn at the front. No Bodie. He raised his eyebrows and followed the walls round. At the side of the house he found Bodie, absorbed in contemplation of the bushes he'd seen earlier. He sauntered over.

"Alright?"

Bodie nodded. "Just that, really. You came along at just the right time." Indicating the bushes, he looked expectantly at Doyle.

Holly, Doyle saw glumly. "Why me?"

"You're dressed for it." The answer was obvious to Bodie.

"Go on then. Stand and wait. Leave me to get all prickled." He approached them warily, and wormed his way into the centre of the largest. As he suspected, it was largely hollow inside. An ancient can of Harp was crumpled up and there was a scattering of cigarette butts which had long ago been stamped into the ground. He worked his way out again.

"Kids. Some time ago. Drink and fags."

"Not a tramp?"

"Nah. Not enough booze. No other mess."

"Okay." Bodie accepted that. "Last one to the kitchen garden gets the next patrol." He tapped Doyle on the chest, and belted off around the back.

"Where's that?" Doyle demanded of the air in frustration, and then took off after him. "Oi!" He hung at Bodie's tail grimly until the walled garden came into view, a path from it leading to the kitchen. Pushing past, he caught at Bodie, and they fell to the wall together, Bodie landing heavily against him.

"Oof!"

"You started it, you clown. No, don't move. You're keeping me nice and warm."

Bodie grinned, and pressed close for a moment. Doyle remembered firmly that they were on duty, and managed not to take Bodie's mouth with his own. Bodie stepped back, panting slightly.

"Right. Sod this. Too cold out here. We'll send Geoff and Jax next time, eh?"

"They're on the night shift."

"Ah. Damn. In which case..."

"Yeah. They'll be wanting a bit of kip now. We should get back and set up."

The rest of the afternoon passed without incident. Anson and Jax catnapped, and Tuck wandered around the house before settling down with a book until the evening. They handed over to Anson and Jax after the evening meal and went in search of sleep. Doyle established himself on his sofa and left Bodie to find his own place to sleep.

When Doyle sauntered into the kitchen the following morning, he found that Bodie had placed himself into the storeroom, the camp bed fitting neatly into the available floorspace.

"You guarding Tuck or the food here? Expecting an attack from armoured rodents?"

Bodie looked rumpled and his hair was sticking up, but his eyes were bright and alert.

"Got to watch the provisions, yeah. Imagine the chaos if the mice got away with the teabags."

"Mice aren't going to be an excuse if there's no Jaffa Cakes left by tomorrow. I know exactly how many boxes I saw here yesterday."

Bodie grinned, and set about making breakfast.

"Do I smell tea?" Jax arrived and headed straight for the pot. "Ready for the day?"

"Yeah. How was last night?"

"Nice and quiet. We made the usual rounds. Tuck slept through the night. He's awake now, and all yours."

"Thanks ever so," Bodie camped, and Jax grinned.

After breakfast, Jax and Anson turned in. Bodie made an early circuit around the grounds and returned with nothing suspicious to report. Tuck – or Walters as they should remember to call him – returned to his book for most of the morning, but by noon was restless. He paced around the lower floor and looked enviously at Doyle as he returned from a jog around the edge of the grounds.

"Look here. I don't want to be a pest. But am I stuck here all the time?"

"All what time? Only for a couple of days, as far as know. Until they want you at the enquiry."

Walters grimaced.

"Not looking forward to it?" Bodie had returned from the kitchen with tea.

"Not particularly."

"Ah well, be good to get it over with, then, eh?"

Walters' grimace intensified. "I suppose. I won't be too popular after giving evidence."

"Oh?" Doyle accepted his mug and leaned against the wall.

Walters nodded. "It's going to set the cat among the pigeons."

"Yeah?" Bodie was drawn in. "Is this why you're out here with us? Evidence going to be very unpopular indeed?"

"Or because you're going to be a surprise?" Doyle considered the matter.

"A surprise, as far as I know. I don't know. I didn't expect any of this. I mean, I knew I'd be a shock – and pretty inconvenient, too, as far as the FO is concerned – but..." he cast his hands up helplessly. "That man, Anson... All that what to do if there's an attack... I expect this in Mombasa or even Athens. But this is England!"

"Green and pleasant land, eh? Lavender and roses?"

Doyle shot a quick look at Bodie, but Walters had obviously missed the sardonic tone to Bodie's voice. Doyle pursued a different train of thought.

"The FO? I thought this was a Home Office job?"

Bodie nodded tersely. "Yeah."

Doyle pulled a face. "Why does he never tell us anything?"

"You tell me, mate." Bodie sounded resigned.

Walters looked from one to the other, puzzled. "Who's that?"

"Our boss," Doyle explained.

"Ah. Same in all departments, is it?"

Bodie grinned. "Apparently. So who are you, then? What department?"

"Foreign Office. Diplomatic Service. I went in from university, started in Belgium, then a series of moves from embassy to embassy up through the grades."

"Yeah? What do you do?"

Walters waved a hand. "The sort of thing you chaps would be bored to tears by. Accounting and finance, double-checking budgets, that sort of thing."

"Ah. Uncovered evidence of dodgy housekeeping, did you?"

"It was a little more than that." Walters became more serious. "You're civil servants too, yes? And you work in security? Of some sort?"

Bodie grinned. "Some sort, yeah."

"I see." Walters came to a decision. "It wasn't dodgy housekeeping. It was underhand funding of a group who may have been responsible for very bad things. And it must have come from the top."

"Oh?"

"Oh. Yes. It was in my Africa stint. Went from Belgium to Egypt..."

Doyle was mildly amused. "Yeah, I can see the link there."

"Well, it made sense at the time. I wanted to get out of the European routine, so I applied for every African or Asian post going."

"Okay."

"I didn't get to Asia, though. I spent most of my career in African posts."

"Oh yeah? You should get together with Bodie." He nodded at his partner. "He was in Africa. Maybe you've got memories in common." Not that he thought that they would, but, you never knew, perhaps Bodie would let slip a morsel or two about his time there while evading Walters' questions.

Bodie looked long-suffering. "It's a big place, Ray. The odds..."

Walters smiled slightly at Bodie. "They never quite understand the size, do they?"

"Not until they've seen it, no." Bodie sounded rueful.

Walters returned to his story. "I moved around a lot. So I really do know the size of the place. And one of my first placements was in Northern Rhodesia. Zambia, it is now." He pulled a face. "It wasn't a particularly efficient establishment. Dreadful records. It was quite difficult to work out what was going on. There were two of us in the same office, and I gravitated towards him. Gerald. Gerald Perkins. He was very interesting. Very helpful. He'd been out there longer than me. His duties were much more wide-ranging – he was a couple of grades higher, so they would be. He knew a lot of people. And one day..." He tailed off, thinking back. "It was hot even for our room. The fan was sticking. And we were grousing about it, the way chaps do, and he said that he wasn't for that station much longer. He was really quite ebullient. He said he had high ambitions. High expectations. He was on his way up. I didn't think anything particularly of it at the time. I just congratulated him, you know, and said best of British. And sure enough, in a couple of months he was gone. To Paris. Quite a leap from Northern Rhodesia. It's a very popular posting. And then onwards again. I lost track of him quite soon. I had enough to do. Our records were such a mess."

He looked from one to the other.

Doyle nodded. "Go on."

"Well, I sorted some of the records out – I'll come to that – and moved on myself in the end. Pretoria, I think. Or was it Cairo? I can't remember the order now. I carried on in the service. Reached a bit of a crossroads and had to make a decision. Keep moving around, or return to London full time? So I started paying more attention to the news in Britain. The domestic news, rather than financial or international. And I saw two stories that interested me. One was an internal civil service bulletin, and about appointments at the top of the hierarchy. And the other was about paramilitary activity overseas."

"Connected, I imagine?" That was Bodie, not sounding particularly surprised.

"Oh yes. Well, they are to me. Because one of the new appointments was tipped to be my old office mate. It's not settled yet. But it was a very senior appointment. Far beyond where you expect to end up with a degree from a redbrick – which is what he had, we're both UCL men, not Oxbridge – well, you don't expect to end up there unless you're very, very well-connected. I was quite startled. And the other article... The other article had photographs of people accused of various atrocities. Nothing major." He grimaced. "By which I mean, no-one would actually go to war over any of these things. Except as a pretext, perhaps. But unpleasant enough. Villages burned. Workers shot."

"And you recognised something?"

"I recognised someone. One of the accompanying photos. One of them was quite clearly of someone I remember seeing Gerald give a sizeable amount of money to one night twenty-four years ago."

"Really?"

Walters nodded. "It was down as foreign aid in the books."

"Always is, mate. Always is." Bodie sounded resigned. Doyle shot him a glance. Walters missed it and carried on.

"Well, things could be a bit messy then. We couldn't always write cheques. Sometimes we had to disburse in cash. Pounds, dollars, local currency. Obviously it was easier if we could give the requested goods – medicine, mostly, or schoolbooks – but we couldn't always. So it wasn't at all unheard of to end up with a briefcase of cash being handed over. And we couldn't always ask for written receipts. So we had to be scrupulous in keeping our records."

The tea was going cold. Doyle took a mouthful anyway.

"And, of course, we had to rely on knowing who was who. I mean, Oxfam, Cafod, they have hierarchies and payrolls and they can vouch for their staff. But little local groups, not so much. That's where Gerald was so useful. He seemed to know everyone."

"So what did you see?"

Walters looked surprised. "What I told you. Gerald handing over a great deal of money to people who included a man who is now on a list of African war criminals. For events that must have happened almost immediately after that payment." He paused. "The resulting pull-out of some commercial interests left the field open for British investors to move in."

"Can you be sure of that?"

"Oh yes. I have a very good memory."

"Of something twenty-odd years ago?"

"Yes." Walters set his shoulders. "I do remember it. I remember thinking it odd at the time. I was familiar with the various charity groups in the area, and I didn't know this one. And they seemed..." he searched for words "… quite paramilitary. I mean, these groups aren't stupid, and they often have protection – especially groups taking much-in-demand food or medicine to one group of people, and another group of people want it too. But this man had his own weapons rather than an armed escort. And there were other things, too. So yes, I remember the occasion and the man. And Gerald."

"But you never said anything?"

"Well, no. It didn't occur to me that it was anything wrong. Just odd. Until I saw that article."

"So your old officemate Gerald, now a Foreign Office mandarin, once gave money to war criminals?"

"Yes. But obviously, it wasn't his idea."

"Obviously?" Doyle wasn't sure it was obvious.

"No. He was just the agent. I'm not trying to absolve him," he added hastily. "I'm just saying that someone more senior would have been involved. He was rewarded not with money but with promotions. So someone senior must have okayed that. More than just one. So it sounds likely that there was a faction within the FO who knew about this. Who funded a military, or paramilitary, group. And British interests benefitted shortly after." He looked at them truculently, as if defying them to disbelieve.

Bodie shrugged. "Not at all impossible."

Doyle considered. "But if it was twenty-five years ago..." He looked questioningly at Bodie.

Bodie nodded. "Yeah. I reckon so. And there was what Murphy said about the Cow."

"And the Cow wasn't happy. Reckon he...?"

"Yeah."

"What are you talking about?" Walters broke in.

"Sorry," Bodie told him. "So if he's now getting a new appointment, and it's that senior, presumably his protectors are long out of their posts. And our boss is just back from a meeting at the Home Office. And telling us to keep you safe. Sounds like the Home Office have got a whiff of this. And they don't like it. So some ministerial inquiries are in order. Wouldn't be the first time they've fallen out with the FO," he added parenthetically. "And they wouldn't be the first department to get the security services involved on their 'side'. And then we all end up falling over each other."

Doyle's mind flashed back to an abandoned train terminal and being under fire from anonymous gunmen, the British accent of the officer in command floating over the air to them; and then to a woman falling from a gas tower, her reputation destroyed to further foreign policy. He remembered Bodie telling him about a car chase that turned out to involve agents from the FBI. He nodded.

"So we're looking after you while they set some inquiries in order. After that, the question is," Bodie's voice was thoughtful, "who and what are we protecting you against? Intimidation? Visits in the night threatening the index-linked pension? Are we just keeping you away from that? Or are they likely to try to detain you for the duration of this enquiry? So you can't appear at all? In which case, we might be expecting visitors."

In another sort of case, too, Doyle thought, but decided not to mention that.

"Well, if they –" Walters paused. "If they did that... " Evidently Doyle didn't need to mention it; Walters had thought of it. "Well. It all sounds like a thriller. But if they did, I'm not stupid. I've written an account of it and deposited it along with what I could put together in the way of supporting evidence. So there's a record of it."

"Yeah?"

"Yes. In a left luggage locker at Charing Cross. The key's with the manager of my building society."

"Very tidy," approved Bodie. "But if we're talking about anything, ah, extra-legal, who, I wonder? Another branch of the services? Independent contractor? Civil service is all supposed to be contracting out and budget cuts these days, isn't it? Quite fitting if they hired a job like this out, really."

"I'm not sure that's particularly amusing," Walters told him stiffly.

Doyle grinned. "That's as good as you'll get from him."

Bodie eyed him and turned back to Walters. "Look, mate, it's up to you. You're the one whose neck we're guarding. Are you really so desperate for a breath of air?"

Walters hesitated. "Well..."

"Can you wait until we've established a bit more about what we might be up against? Or...?"

"Well," Walters prevaricated. "How about at night? What about that instead?"

"Under cover of darkness, you mean?"

"Not that dark, I hope. I was wondering... if it's a clear night, this far from town, there should be stars, shouldn't there?"

"There should," agreed Doyle cautiously.

"I wouldn't mind seeing the stars." Walters sounded wistful. "The British stars, I mean. I used to go stargazing all the time when I was posted overseas. Somehow I never saw much back here. It's too overcast. The stars by the equator, they're..." he gestured.

"Impressive," agreed Bodie. "Yeah." He looked at Doyle. "Tell you what, you ask Anson and Jax tonight, and maybe you can get out for a bit of air then."

Walters considered that and nodded. "I'll do that. Yes." He moved towards the door. "I wonder if there's a star chart in the library?"

"Not worth it if you have to suffer Doyle's socks," Bodie told him, and ducked. "Oi!"

 

"Can't be much of a star gazer if he needs a book," Doyle mused later that afternoon, as Anson and Jax and their charge pottered about in the kitchen. "Shouldn't he know them already?"

"Different stars, you clot."

"Different? How?"

"You see different stars at the equator," Bodie emphasised. "And in the southern hemisphere. No good looking for the Plough and the Pole Star down there. He'll be used to entirely different constellations. Or the same constellations in different places, I suppose. If the land's flat enough, you see some of our stars there, but right down towards the horizon."

"Oh yeah." Doyle was not completely ignorant on the matter, but he was content to let Bodie lecture. "What's for tea, you reckon?"

"Depends." Bodie considered what they had seen in the way of supplies. "If it's Anson cooking, chicken and vegetable stew with mash to soak it up. If it's Jax cooking, I reckon chicken, chips and veg."

It was Jax cooking, and it was chicken, chips and veg. After the meal, Walters headed up to his room, and the four agents dispersed themselves around the kitchen. Anson was deputed to wash up and following an argument about the merits of tea towels against air drying, Doyle and Bodie found themselves drying the dishes, catching Anson and Jax up on the day.

"And that's it. Okay, I'm off. See you in the morning." Doyle thoughtfully extracted a packet of biscuits from the barrel and deftly slapped Bodie's hand away. "Oi. You're sleeping in a bloody pantry. These are mine."

He shut the door on Bodie's complaints and settled down on the sofa in the library room.

 

It was gone midnight when he heard the click of the door. He sat up cautiously in the dark. He had no sense of threat, but his hand reached out for the lead of the standard lamp.

"Bodie? That you?"

"You awake, then?"

"Am now." He found the switch and flicked the light on. Bodie's eyes narrowed against the light.

"Sorry, mate. Jax is clattering around the kitchen getting himself some snack. Woke me up –"

"Ah, the famed SAS, sleep through a thunderstorm, woken by a mouse's footfall – and by Jax in the kitchen..."

"Shut up, you. Thought I might as well find myself a book while he's at it. Bit short of reading material that doesn't involve recipes in there."

Doyle yawned and nodded. He snuggled back under his cover as Bodie found his way around the edge of the sofa bed over to the bookcases and began examining them. Doyle watched the line of his body with a sleepy eye as Bodie squatted easily down and began to peruse old hardback histories and newer paperback thrillers. Eventually he selected one and sat on the edge of the bed to bring it into the pool of light for inspection.

"How come you get the double bed, by the way? And me in a cot in the kitchen?"

"You wanted kitchen duty," Doyle reminded him. "And you can hardly pull out one half of a sofa bed and leave the other tucked in."

"Always got an answer, you." He opened the book and found the publisher's blurb at the start.

"Wilbur Smith?" Doyle read the title from a distance with ease. "Tuck got you all nostalgic, has he?"

Bodie shrugged. "Not a lot to be nostalgic about." His voice was offhand.

"You should tell me sometime."

Caught in the light, Bodie looked back, his face pensive.

"Not a lot to tell, either."

"Got to be something. You and Tuck, it was like you were both thinking the same things there for a while. Wouldn't have said you had a lot in common until then..."

"Mm? Oh, when he was talking about the size of the place? Seriously, Ray, thought you were going to ask if we knew the same pub or something."

"The stars."

"Oh. Right. Yeah. A lot of them."

Bodie had been looking directly at Doyle. Now his stance didn't change, but his eyes seemed to slide through Doyle, gazing beyond. The light and shadow on his face seemed to soften.

"Moved around a lot, I did. Sometimes in cities, sometimes in little villages. Once or twice in the middle of nowhere. Night comes down suddenly there. Compared with here, at the equator it's like turning off a light. Well, a very slow light. And then it's pitch dark. Or it would be if it wasn't for the stars. They're just..." He indicated a semicircle with his arm. "Everywhere in the sky. Thousands. There's entire pale patches up there, and the stars themselves are huge. Burning. And when the moon is there..." He shook his head. "You could probably read a book by it. You can certainly take a compass bearing. Did that often enough. Not just in Africa..."

Doyle listened intently, watching Bodie's face. Why did Bodie always have to reveal pieces of himself at the most inconvenient times? He wanted to know more, but they were on a job, had to sleep. But still, a little more wouldn't hurt...

"Yeah?"

Bodie was silent a little longer. At a faint noise from somewhere outside, he came back to himself from his internal safari – Doyle could see the moment when his eyes focussed and he realised he was looking at Doyle, not foreign skies – and he grinned briefly at Doyle.

"Yeah. Harder to get the light halfway up Scafell Pike, but less chance of meeting lions."

"Got some vicious tabbies here, mind. Can give you a nasty scratch." Doyle followed the change in mood, and shifted to get comfortable. "Was that Jax dropping the toaster, then?"

"Hope not. I'll be wanting that in the morning. Better go and point that out, eh? Night."

"Night. Turn the light out for me?"

"What did your last one die of?" But Bodie leaned over and switched Doyle's lamp off, before finding his way to the door in the dark.

Doyle wriggled down again and dreamed of Bodie making toast on mountains, watched by giant cats and burning stars.

 

He wandered into the kitchen the following morning to find Bodie and Jax putting breakfast together. He helped himself to a mug of coffee and started cutting bread.

"Mornin'. How'd the night go?"

"Morning, Ray. Fine. Tuck was a bit restless. We took him out for a breath of air last thing, and he calmed down a bit."

"Oh, seen his stars, then?"

"His what? Oh, yeah. Nah, he didn't. Cloudy all night. Was raining earlier, too." Jax gestured towards the window. "Bacon and eggs do you?"

"Mm. Ta. Where's Geoff?"

"Upstairs with Tuck." Jax poked at the bacon in the grill and turned round to look at both Doyle and Bodie. "Geoff and I were chatting last night. About the job."

"Careful there. Start comparing notes and we'll start wondering quite how mad we all are."

"Not far off," Jax admitted. "Were wondering a few things."

"Like what?"

"All sorts. How Cowley decides between lone operators and partnerships. How he picks who does what. How he decides whether we take a particular op on..."

"Blimey Jax, heavy thoughts there. Give a man a chance to wake up, won't you?"

Jax carried on. "Operation Susies... Do we all end up doing them, or is it just the chosen few?"

Bodie's face darkened. "Not done one yet?"

Jax shook his head. "Tell you the truth, Bodie, the idea frightens me silly."

"We weren't too confident ourselves on the Molner op," Doyle remembered. He glanced at Bodie. "Well, I wasn't. Dunno about you."

Bodie kept his head lowered as he found plates, but Doyle could see him shake it.

"Nasty surprise, that was."

"What, being asked to do a Susie?"

"We weren't asked, mate. Told. In the middle of the op."

Jax winced. "Seriously? Hadn't realised that."

Doyle agreed. "Mind, we'd have been all right even so. If it hadn't been for..." He trailed off.

"For what?" Jax prodded.

Doyle scowled. "Did that not come out? Didn't realise that."

"Realised what?"

Bodie took over. "We followed the rules. Left our IDs behind. Nicked a car. Nothing to connect us with the department. Then we split. Holed up in the old sidings with her. Dinah. Diana. Whatever. Came under fire from... well, we didn't know at the time. Just that they were obviously English. Too busy keeping ourselves alive then. Then she –" He looked questioningly at Doyle.

"Diana," Doyle supplied.

"Diana, that's right. She threw herself to the lions. Couldn't believe it at the time. But then, looking back, what did she have left? She was in a foreign country, we were going to hand her back to the government she was trying to bring down, she'd seen her brother shot, and their crackpot plan in ruins. Anyway," he paused, "Weren't thinking about all that at the time. We were too busy trying to stay alive. Which is why we only had time to wonder after the event: how did they find us at all?" He paused. "Never occurred to me that the Cow might put the dogs on our trail himself."

"The Cow?" Jax's eyes were wide. "Jesus. Why?"

"Who knows?" Bodie shrugged. "Only God and Cowley, and that's only if the Cow let God know."

"Wow. Hadn't realised that." Jax jumped as fat sparked in the grill pan and turned to retrieve breakfast. "Shit."

"How come you're cooking again, Jax?" Anson was at the door. "It's this pair to do breakfast." He gestured. "Why aren't you at it, Ray?"

"No-one said." Doyle was ingenuous. "And yeah," he told Jax. "That was pretty much what I said too."

"What's this?" Anson looked inquiring.

"Cowley deliberately setting us up," answered Bodie. He summarised for Anson as Doyle and Jax filled plates and carried them over.

Anson shook his head. "You two don't have much luck, do you? What do you do to him? Remember that time when he sent you out with a non-existent intercept squad looking after you?"

"Very clearly." Doyle would have preferred to have forgotten.

"Surprised me, I have to say."

"Yeah, well, glad you let us know about that. We got any brown sauce?"

Anson passed it over and they made short work of breakfast, only barely remembering to leave something for the fifth occupant of the house. Walters emerged soon after and tucked in enthusiastically.

The day dragged on slowly. The three of them walked around the grounds in the drizzle. This seemed to satisfy Walters' desire for fresh air, and he was uninterested in a second excursion in the afternoon. First Doyle, then Bodie, ran laps round the grounds, and then they drank steaming mugs of tea standing outside, sharing the silence. Eventually Doyle turned to go in. Bodie caught his arm and held him, poised and tense, for a second or two. Their eyes locked, then Doyle pulled away. "Go on, then. Get back in."

Back in the house, Doyle listened to Bodie fending off Walters' enquiries about where in Africa he had been, and decided Walters deserved points for tenacity, even if nothing emerged. Anson and Jax surfaced in time for the evening meal and chipped in contributions to the conversation.

They managed to leave the washing up for the others, "Give you and Tuck something to do, eh?" and were curled into their sleeping bags before anyone could suggest a last patrol. The weather had turned bitter.

 

Doyle awoke, scowling, at half past four in the morning. In a house as quiet as this, something, some expanding pipe or shrinking floorboard, must have woken him. And now he wasn't going to get back to sleep in a hurry. He'd be getting up at six anyway. Might as well accept it. He could read until then. But first... As he moved, his bladder reminded him of its presence. Sighing, he pulled on t-shirt and jeans, groped in the dark for his trainers, shoved his feet into them, sockless, and padded quietly out towards the toilet. After that, he made for the kitchen and the kettle.

He froze as he heard the click, and then relaxed as his ears registered its location. Looking round towards Bodie's camp bed in the larder, he shook his head.

"Only me," he breathed. "Want a coffee?"

There was a grumble from the camp bed. Correctly interpreting this as a request, he reached for another mug in the dark and brought the drink over to Bodie, who remained burrowed under the fabric.

Bodie emerged a little. "Ta." He examined Doyle. "You get dressed to head all the way to the kitchen? You don't need to stand on ceremony with me, you know."

"Cold, aren't I? It's brass monkeys tonight." Doyle hopped from one foot to another.

Bodie grinned and opened his sleeping bag to reveal that he, too, was in tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt. "Got me socks in here to keep 'em warm, too," he admitted. He shivered theatrically, reached for his mug, groaned for effect, and began the process of getting up from the bed while losing as little warmth as possible. Having completed this, he took a huge gulp of his coffee and paused. He swung himself up off the mattress and wandered over to the counter to add – Doyle smiling reluctantly to see it – three spoons of sugar into it.

"Jesus, Bodie."

"What? Energy, this is." Bodie blew thoughtfully over the surface, and then took a leisurely draught of it. "That's better. Thanks."

They stood in silence a while, each contemplating the day ahead. Bodie stretched, idly at first, and then more seriously, limbering up.

"If it's going to be this cold for the rest of the week, we're going to need more heating," he commented.

"Or more exercise," Doyle suggested. He glanced outside at the blackness and paused, his attention caught. "Wow, they're bright. These your stars, then? Fancy a look?"

"What, now?"

"Seriously. We're off-duty. They're there. You've got me curious. Never heard you so lyrical."

Bodie raised an eyebrow, but said nothing for a minute. "Why not?" He picked his holster up by reflex and stepped towards the kitchen door. Doyle followed closely. They stopped a few feet from the door and looked up.

No wonder it was cold. The sky was entirely clear of cloud, and their feet crunched on the ground. Above them, spread over the inky black, was the Milky Way. Light glittered down at them. Doyle could make out the obvious constellations, but tonight, they weren't standing out against a clear background. Instead, the Milky Way spattered light across the bowl of the sky, vaulting above him.

"Jesus."

"Yeah."

"And it was like this every night?"

"Well, not every night, no," Bodie admitted. "But sometimes. Different stars there, but same..." he spread his arms wide to describe the scope.

Doyle edged closer. "Go on, then. What are they all?" The words ghosted across, barely reaching Bodie. He stepped right up to him. He could feel Bodie's warmth to his side.

"Well, that one there's Cassiopeia, right overhead. The W shape."

"Okay," Doyle craned his neck. "And the giant square?"

"Pegasus, the flying horse."

"That's a horse?" Doyle scoffed at the idea. "One star per hoof, is it?"

"Its wings, Doyle. There's the rest of it, over there – and there." He pointed. "And off in the other direction, Jupiter. Or is it Saturn?" He paused, thinking.

"Saturn's got rings, can't be that one."

"You can't see Saturn's rings from here, you prat."

"Really?"

"Really." Bodie moved in behind Doyle, clasping his arms around his waist. "Come here. Easier to show you these ones like this."

Doyle leaned back into him. "Where's the Plough? I know that one."

Bodie turned him around. "Over there." It hung low on the horizon. "Follow it east, you can see the rest of the Bear tonight."

Doyle imagined a giant bear, padding through the sky. "Is there a honey pot constellation?"

Bodie tightened his arms around Doyle and shook him gently. "Idiot. And that one's..."

"Orion," interrupted Doyle. "I know that one. The hunter." Unconsciously he moved Bodie's hands up a bit, mimicking the position of a belt. He felt Bodie stiffening slightly and sighed. "Yeah. Okay. Time to head in?"

He felt Bodie's nod, Bodie's stubble rubbing the side of his neck.

"Come on, then."

Three lonely fox barks interrupted the silence. Doyle peeled away from Bodie, the cold air ghosting down his back, and led the way indoors. They paused for a moment in the kitchen.

"What's the time?"

"Still only 5.15."

"And we're on at six?"

"Yeah."

"You staying up?"

"Nah.. Well. Maybe. Not sleeping. Think I'll read a bit. You?"

Doyle considered. The kitchen was cold, and huddling in the pantry with Bodie as change-over time with the others approached didn't sound wise. The library might be warmer. But should he waste the extra rest time reading, or should he try to sleep? "Dunno."

Bodie formed himself a nest in the pantry, pulling a torch out and illuminating his book. He nodded up at Doyle. "Switch the light out, eh?"

Doyle reached backwards as he passed it, hit it neatly, and retrod his way across the hallway to the library. The library seemed colder now, even after he switched the light on, and the prospect of half an hour watching the clock suddenly unappealing. Mentally, he shrugged. What did an extra half hour of sleep matter? Better Bodie kept him alert and entertained than he lay here counting sheep. He dressed for the day and settled his holster on himself properly, the leather feeling cold on his t-shirt. Even without standing too close, two bodies in the kitchen were bound to be warmer than the two of them curling up under layers of blankets in separate rooms. Activity, that was what he needed.

He hit the light out and padded back out to the kitchen. As he let himself in, a light dazzled his eyes.

"Bloody hell, Bodie." He scowled as Bodie moved the torch beam back towards his book. Bodie was, he could see, fully dressed now, his bedding heaped up around him.

Bodie's laugh was a rumble in the gloom. "Sorry, Ray."

"Yeah, right. Don't mind me. Not come to disturb you." He collected the kettle and headed to the sink. In the dark, he missed the spout. Cold water bounced up at him. He cursed.

"What you up to now?" Bodie sounded tolerantly amused.

"Sorry." He switched off the tap and silence descended. He looked at Bodie, half-lit in the edge of the torchlight. Bodie lofted his eyebrows and caught his glance. A fox barked, again, sounding alien in the darkness. The noise came again. Again, slightly off. Bodie's eyebrows narrowed.

A third bark, and Doyle was on alert. "Did that sound like a fox to you?"

"Not entirely, no." Bodie came up from the camp bed. "Better safe than sorry."

Doyle agreed. "Go on, then, I'll let them know."

Bodie edged towards the door out like a shadow and slipped through it slowly, disappearing into the cold.

Doyle felt his way through the hall and up the stairwell.

"Anson? Jax?"

"Ray?" Anson appeared from the master bedroom. "What's up? Bit early, aren't you?"

"Don't like the sound of the wildlife," Doyle explained. "Sounded fine half an hour ago, but we're just going out for a look around. Back in five minutes, with any luck. You might want to play it safe until then."

"Okay." Anson nodded and turned towards the door. "Jax?"

"Yeah?" Jax's voice was soft.

"Get ready for trouble. Just in case. Doyle and Bodie are going for a quick walk."

"Tip-toeing through the tulips, eh?" There were muffled noises from inside and the sound of someone being roused from sleep. "Tell them not to tread on any landmines."

Doyle grinned. "Do our best not to disturb you, right."

"Great. You can make the tea when you get back. Milk and two, thanks."

"I'll bear it in mind." He headed back down the stairs and out through the kitchen door after Bodie, glancing round to spot him.

There. A dark shadow half-merged with the wall. He crept towards it. He could see that Bodie knew he was there, and edged close.

"Anything?"

A cautious whisper answered him. "Really didn't like the sound of that fox bark. Thought we could-"

A faint noise of shattering glass interrupted Bodie. A split-second later came a muffled crump.

"Jesus Christ!"

"What the hell was that?"

"Library," said Bodie, tersely. He drew his gun. "Wildlife's not so friendly, then." Without discussion, they headed round the back of the house, the route fractionally shorter, racing towards the source of the noise. An acrid smell came to Doyle, and the crackling of fire starting. As they turned the final corner, he could see a flickering dull orange – not strong, but enough to spoil his night vision. Shit. He put up an arm and looked away.

His peripheral vision caught a figure racing away from the house, and then he felt the movement of air as Bodie took off after him. Automatically, he drew his gun, crouched, and took aim on Bodie's quarry, only to curse as he realised his dulled vision under the starlight wasn't enough. But Bodie was there now, bringing the man down with a muffled grunt. There was a solid crack as they hit the ground. They rolled together silently, and then Bodie was on top. With a vicious swipe, he brought his gun down on the other. Simultaneously, Doyle heard shots. Where from? It sounded as though someone had made it to the house. Shit.

"Bodie?" A hissing whisper.

Bodie was scowling, he could tell without seeing it. "No cuffs. Had to belt him one. Dunno if he's still with us."

"Wouldn't worry. If you want a souvenir for the boss, there's at least one more knocking on the front door."

"Who invited him?" Bodie scrambled to his knees and busied himself. "Let me just sort this one out..."

Doyle left him to it. He couldn't afford more time. Round to the kitchen again. The light in there was on, now, and he skidded to a stop. Shit. Someone had made it in. No-one visible, and he didn't have time to waste. He shot the light out without a pause, and blackness collapsed back over the room. He darted through it towards the door and -

Ow. Fuck.

The door through to the hall was no longer closed. He brought his hand up to the side of his head, which had come heavily into contact with the edge of the door. Just what he needed. He pulled back and leant against the wall to collect himself, listening muzzily for sounds in the hall.

The earlier shots hadn't been repeated. He strained his hearing. There was movement. The creak of the stairs. Easing himself round the door, he peered round, his eyes slowly adjusting. He couldn't see anything until – was that two figures slumped on the stairs? On the half-landing? Shit. Jax? Anson? He kept his gun free as he sidled through the door and took a wary step forward.

"Doyle?"

It was Anson's voice. Relief drained through him.

"Yeah."

Anson slid carefully down the upper flight of stairs into view, the two shapes on the floor between him and Doyle. "Nearly drilled you there, mate."

"Thanks."

"Don't mention it." Anson was clearer now. "Two down here. You?"

"One in the grounds. Bodie's got him."

"That's it, you reckon?"

"No-one shooting now, are they?"

"True. Lights?"

Doyle walked warily across the hall and flicked the hall lights on. Still no-one shot at him. Anson moved to the wall and found the landing switches, bathing the stairs in light. The two shapes near Anson resolved themselves into motionless bodies. Doyle surveyed the scene, more conscious now of the smell of smoke from under the library door.

"Looks like that's all. They dead?"

"Was just checking when you arrived."

"Who got them?"

"Me. Jax is with Tuck."

"Okay. Let me check the library."

The library door wasn't radiating heat. Doyle risked opening it and peered round carefully. The smell of smoke was overpowering in the room, but the flames were minimal. He'd seen worse fires when he'd been soldering.

"Ray?" Bodie had caught up with them.

"All over here, apparently. You finished out there?"

Bodie nodded and moved past Doyle into the library. It was unrecognisable, with shards of furniture blown to the edges of the room and other articles missing completely. Shredded paper moved gently over the floor in Bodie's wake. He turned on his heel thoughtfully and glass crunched under his heel. "Blast, not fire. Books don't burn well. Although they shred pretty well," he added, looking around the floor. "Hope you weren't doing your expenses."

"What's the news?" Anson was still upstairs at the half-landing, gun at the ready. Doyle took a last look at the room and ran lightly up the stairs to him.

"Bomb in the library. Through the window. Distraction, maybe? Dunno if that's where they came in." He passed Anson and the bodies and headed into the bedroom. Initially nothing was visible, and then he saw that the dressing-room door was pulled ajar. Jax was visible in the crack of the door.

"Stay back," Jax addressed someone behind him. He opened the door more fully and stepped out, blinking.

"What's going on?"

"Dunno yet. Three men, two in here, one out there, one bomb. Downstairs, though. Presumably that was a distraction. You were supposed to come looking for me in the wreckage, you think?"

"And they would get up here and pick up Tim?"

"Timothy."

Walters emerged from behind Jax, shivering. He had on a heavy sweater over pyjamas and was clutching a bundle of clothes.

"Timothy. Sorry, Timothy."

"Must be," Doyle answered Jax. "Okay, tell you what, me and Bodie'll have a quick recce. You lot get ready to move."

"We're moving?"

"Dunno yet, but I'd think so, wouldn't you? We don't know how much damage there is downstairs, and anyway, someone rumbled us. Give the Cow a bell, find out, eh?"

Jax nodded and turned to Walters. "Okay, then, you wanna get dressed?"

Doyle left them to it and headed back down. Anson had now joined Bodie in the hall. The two were discussing quietly. Bodie looked up. There was soot on his face and forearms.

"Ray!"

"What's the news?"

"Fire's out. Library's a mess. Small device, but messy. Good job you weren't in there. Lights are gone in there," he added as an afterthought, "But the rest of the circuits are okay. Fuse box was fine."

Doyle nodded. "You rescue my stuff?"

"Well, I found your kitbag..."

"Good priorities, mate. Thanks."

"...But you're going to be borrowing some clothes for the rest of the week."

"Ah, bugger. But I reckon we'll be on the way home today."

"Yeah." Bodie frowned. "Who's going to look after him now? Who were this lot? There's got to be a leak. Where?"

"You tell me. You up for a quick check of the grounds?" He looked at Bodie.

Bodie looked resigned. "And we're not even on shift yet. Okay, let this lazy arse have a break. And one of his toxic cigars..."

The corner of Anson's lip quirked up. "Too kind."

"Good shooting, mind," Bodie added. "You deserve this one."

"Thanks, Bodie. Just for you, I'll smoke it outside."

"Wherever you like, mate. Not like anyone'll notice if you use the library, is it?"

He and Doyle headed back out.

Doyle swung the torch beam over the grass, picking up darker patches in the frost. "Least the frost should help. That's us, isn't it? Should be able to pick them up easily enough."

They advanced cautiously over the icy grass and down the drive. The gatehouse loomed out of the dark at them. Bodie checked the cars while Doyle looked for marks on the ground. Nothing. They headed on round to the newer side of the house.

The only marks on the ground were a fox's tracks. The bushes were unvisited, as was the kitchen garden. At the back of the house, though, they found the marks they had been expecting: the tracks of three men. They followed them backwards to the wall, where they found a ladder leaning against the inside.

"That simple." Bodie let out a reluctant laugh. "So presumably they were expecting to have to bring Tuck out this way. Left the ladder for a quick escape."

Rapidly, he climbed it. "There's another one here," he observed at the top.

"Another what?" Doyle was impatient, imagining more visitors.

"A ladder." Lightly, he disappeared down.

Five minutes later, he was back. "Land Rover, rope and blankets in the back. Keys in the ignition, all ready to go. No other car, no other tracks."

Back in the grounds, they followed the tracks onward this time, the frosted grass leading them easily. The man Bodie had subdued was still lying in place, his wrists bound.

"What'd you find to tie him?"

"His belt." Bodie was dismissive. He squatted down. "Where's that torch?" As Doyle shone it over them, there was a mumbled complaint, and the figure shrank back from it. "Ah, he's alright. Someone for Cowley to talk to, anyway. Suppose we'll have to bring him in. Come on, sunshine. Up you come."

They manhandled the groggy figure towards the house.

"Anson! Geoff!"

Anson appeared. "What?"

"Got Kropotkin's heir here for you."

"Oh. Lovely." Anson peered. "He conscious? Can he stand?"

"We could always let go of him and see if he drops." Bodie was panting slightly.

"Let him go in that chair, there, then."

They deposited their semi-conscious charge into the chair. Leaving Anson to keep an eye on him, they returned to the blackness outside and continued to follow their torch beam in the frost.

"Here's where our bomb-thrower split off and chucked it in. And the other two...." They continued on.

"Buggeration."

Doyle scowled. "So if we'd gone round this way instead of the other way, we'd have caught them on the way in?"

"Yeah. In through the bog window. They'd have been caught short, you might say."

"For god's sake, Bodie."

"What?"

"It's not that funny. Just a matter of luck, this one."

"Ah, come on, Ray. You do all the planning – which we did – and then you take the luck you can get. You know that."

Doyle supposed so. They returned to the hall, the house now ablaze with lights.

"Suppose the phone's bust?"

"Imagine so." Bodie lifted the receiver in a perfunctory fashion and paused. "No. Got a dialling tone. Who wants to speak to Cowley?"

Doyle grinned evilly. "And wake him at –" he glanced at his wrist, then remembered his watch was by his bed still "– uncivilised hours in the morning? You bet. Let's just check how we're doing."

"Ready to go, pretty much," Jax clattered down the stairs. He looked up. "If we've still got power, any chance of a cup of tea? Might calm Tuck down a bit." He disappeared into the kitchen and a few seconds later the sound of the kettle issued from it.

Doyle grinned. "Can't take the policeman out of the boy."

"You should know. Anyway, the army runs on tea, too," Bodie admitted.

Jax reappeared. "It's all on the counter. I'll swap with Geoff." He headed upstairs, stepping lightly over the bodies on the stairwell.

After a couple of minutes, Anson emerged from the bedroom, case in hand. He hefted it carefully as he passed the bodies. "Tea? Where?"

Bodie indicated with his head.

Anson disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a steaming mug. "Walters is packed, and ready to go. Raring, in fact."

"I bet. Not what you expect of a career in the diplomatic service, is it, really?"

"Not really. My mother always reckoned–"

Anson broke off as Walters emerged and came cautiously down the stairs, his smaller bag clutched in his hand. He stopped and stared down at the figures on the half-landing, seemingly mesmerised by first one, then the other.

Doyle winced. He had forgotten that not everyone was blasé about walking past the corpses of people who had tried to kill them.

"Down here."

"Hmm?" Walters emerged from his own thoughts.

"Down here. Tea." Bodie's tone was matter of fact.

"Oh. Yes." He hurried down the lower flight, casting a final glance backwards.

"Good man. Sit down for a bit."

"I.. think I'll stand, if you don't mind. Don't think I can sit at the moment." Walters moved aimlessly around the hall, casting his eyes to and from Doyle.

Eventually Doyle became uncomfortable under the gaze. "What?" He turned to the others. "What?"

"You're bleeding, Ray," said Bodie, matter-of-factly. "It upsets people."

"Eh? Where?"

"Head. Wouldn't worry, mate. Nowhere important."

"How'd you do that?" Anson was curious.

"Smacked it on the kitchen door."

"Kinky."

Doyle glared at Anson, and then at Walters, who had unexpectedly burst into giggles.

"Sorry. Sorry..." he wheezed. "Not funny. Sorry..." Eventually he got himself under control. "Sorry. Don't know what came over me."

"Shock," suggested Anson, laconically. "Here. Have a tea. Good for shock. And you, Ray. For god's sake, clean yourself up. You look a mess."

He brought a hand up to his head and took it away, sticky. Resisting the impulse to brandish it at Anson for that, he wiped his hand on his jeans, catching Bodie's rolled eyes.

"What?"

"Nothing. Don't mind him," Bodie commented to Walters. "We try not to. And anyway, bleeding's a good sign. Shows you're still alive. Hard to know with this one."

Doyle aimed a punch at Bodie.

"Alive?"

Bodie fended off Doyle and nodded to Walters. "Yeah. Don't bleed when you're dead."

"Then... then..."

"What?"

Walters looked panic-stricken. "Then... he..." He pointed up the stairs.

"What? Which one?"

Doyle was up the steps in a split-second and turning over the bodies roughly.

"Jesus."

A tiny trickle of blood was oozing from the nose.

"He's right, you know. Christ knows how, but he's still alive."

"So long as he's not shooting." Anson shrugged.

Walters looked from one agent to another, apparently aghast at their indifference. Jax appeared, struggling under two cases, and paused, aware of the atmosphere.

"What's up?"

"This one's still alive," explained Doyle. "How did we miss that?"

Jax raised his eyebrows. "Seriously? Who missed, then?"

"I didn't miss!" protested Bodie as Jax descended and dumped his cases, narrowly missing Doyle's foot as he followed behind.

"Nor me. Anson's the one who did all the shooting. And the clearing up."

"I was interrupted," Anson pointed out. "By you, if I recall. We were busy in here. You two were the ones running around. I reckon that means you get to deal with him now."

Bodie groaned.

Doyle noticed Walters blanch at Jax's suggestion. What does he think we are? He reached over to touch his arm. "Hey, don't worry. It's not like that. He means getting him back to HQ. But after the hospital. Bodie doesn't like waiting in hospitals. Not even when it's me."

Bodie backed Doyle up. "Especially not when it's you. You steal all my nurses."

"You steal my grapes."

"Have to. Can't have you catching them in your mouth. They'll be putting you in the children's ward next time. Or the zoo. A vet's what you need."

They could keep this up as long as necessary, and Walters was calming down as they ragged each other. Eventually Bodie broke off. "Right. Enough of this. I'll ring in."

The conversation was short. Bodie turned to the others.

"Okay. Mr Walters, you're to return to London, where your ministry – well, a ministry – will be pleased to see you. One of us is going with you. One of us is bringing Mr Fawkes here in – also to London. One of us is staying here to oversee the clear-up until the local plods get here. One of us is accompanying the gentleman with the nosebleed to hospital. Where I suspect the lucky winner will get to sit with him until he can be moved up to London. Any volunteers for anything?"

Matters were settled rapidly. Jax would drive Walters back. There were three cars between four of them, and they couldn't really expect to put Walters in a car with the man who had tried to kill – kill, Doyle wondered? Or snatch? – him. So Anson would take their groggy bomber back. Bodie and Doyle would stay.

Tuck, his babysitters and the bomb-thrower were gone by seven. Doyle sighed and prepared himself for a long day dealing with hospital and police bureaucracy and chains of command. Although he had the experience to deal with the police force and so was logically the one to do it, he knew better than to leave Bodie to stew in hospital, waiting for news on the life of someone he would undoubtedly have preferred to shoot dead at the time. But there was always the chance that the man might come to and say something they could use, so someone had to stay with him. So while Bodie oversaw the arrival of the local force and forensics team, Doyle loitered at the man's bedside, was chivvied away by nurses, endured having his own graze bound up, returned to his post, begged endless cups of tea, and wished Bodie was there too.

The day dragged on. Towards the end of the afternoon, Bodie arrived, tired, as unshaven as Doyle, and clearly wanting nothing better than to be back home and near the action. He took over from Doyle, then Doyle took over from him, all the while waiting for him to say something they could use.

The unknown man died without regaining consciousness. They informed the less than delighted local police and turned the matter over to them.

Back at the safehouse, further salvage of anything from Doyle's room was impossible. They glanced over the kitchen and living area, retrieved a pack of cards and a transistor radio, and phoned in.

"3.7 to control."

"Control receiving, 3.7. Any news?"

"No joy. Dead, didn't say anything. We're coming back. What's the news at your end?"

"For your case? Your boy's back with the ministry. Your bomber's in the interrogation suite. Anson and Jax are with him. Alpha One is with the Minister, and there's nothing listed for you today, because no-one knew when you'd be back in London. Any idea?"

"We're setting off now. Back by... 10pm? 11?"

"Okay. I'll inform Alpha One. If you don't hear back once you're in R/T range, assume you're due in tomorrow at eight. Anything else?"

"No, that's it. Thanks, Jen."

"No problem. Control out."

The journey back was uneventful and they pulled up in front of Doyle's well before ten. He stretched and yawned.

"Thanks. Dying for a shower."

"Me too." Bodie sniffed disdainfully at his sleeve. "And getting these off."

"Least you've got most of your clothes to change back into."

"Look on the bright side. Less laundry to do."

"Thanks for that." Doyle pulled himself up and out of the car before leaning down to the window. "See you tomorrow. Pick you up at half seven?"

"Sure." Bodie gave him a brief wave and was gone.

 

In the event, Doyle was at Bodie's by seven, in time to help him polish off a large breakfast.

"Wonder who's got Tuck now, then?"

"Dunno, but if he ends up in one of those houses we checked out I'm not going to be pleased. Could have been there all along."

"Are you still pining over that bidet? Just because– "

Doyle was interrupted by the sound of Bodie's phone. Bodie leaned over to answer it.

"Yeah, 3.7. No... What? Why..." He shrugged. "Well, okay. 8am then. See you then."

"What was that?"

"Control." Bodie sounded puzzled, then cheered up. "We've got a day off, mate."

"Eh?"

"Yeah. Don't come in today. Not at all. Not even to catch up on paperwork, apparently."

"Yeah, right. Like that was likely. You serious?"

Bodie nodded. "Tomorrow instead."

"What? Seriously serious?"

"Apparently."

Doyle blew his lips out. "Wow. Both of us?"

"Yeah." Bodie was recovering from his surprise and starting to sound like a child with two presents and unsure which to open first. "What'll we do?"

Doyle could think of quite a lot of things to do. But first... "Is it worth getting our report written first? And I wanna know where they're up to with that guy they brought in. I'll give Geoff a shout, eh? Or Jax?"

"Aw, Ray, seriously?"

"Well, okay. Maybe not the report. But the interrogation, sure. Give us a minute, eh?" He raised his hands placatingly. "I promise, we're not going into HQ."

"I know I'm not. It's you I'm worried about."

Doyle was already on the phone. "Hi control, it's 4.5. Yes, on 3.7's phone. Is Anson about? Or Jax? Can you run one of them down for me?" There was a pause. "Oh. All right. Well, can I leave a message? Tell them 4.5's wondering how the interrogation is going. Yeah, just that. Thanks." He put the receiver down and shrugged. "No joy."

"Ah well. You tried. What you fancy doing today, then?" Bodie rubbed his hands together as he got up, and his eyes crinkled.

They began with a long run, driving out to Hampstead Heath and then pounding steadily through the murky December gloom.

"Fancy a dip?" Bodie asked between breaths as they neared the Highgate ponds.

Doyle bared his teeth. "Damn, and me without my swimming things."

"Don't need 'em, do you? Day like this, there won't be anyone here."

"You'd be surprised, mate. Don't think the Cow'd be happy if he has to pull me out of a cell for public indecency. You go. Wouldn't want to spoil your fun."

"Oh no, mate, you first."

"No no, I insist."

As they rounded another bend, they spotted someone striding purposefully towards the ponds dressed in bathing trunks, bathing cap, and plimsolls, towel tucked under his arm.

Doyle slowed to a halt to regard him in grudging admiration. "In this weather? Now that's just showing off."

"Yeah, well, he wins. I'm feeling my bits shrivel just thinking about it."

"Can't have that. Got a use for them."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah."

"Darling," Bodie camped, "You're so romantic." The effect was lost by his panting.

After the run, they split up for groceries and other small jobs, before Doyle let himself in at Bodie's in the early evening bearing a takeaway menu and a bottle of wine.

Bodie looked up from the sofa.

"What's this, then?"

"A hint."

"What, that you don't know how to cook?"

"Get out of here. No, that we've got a day off and we're not responsible for anyone else. So..." Doyle brandished the wine.

"An excellent year, I'm sure. And the menu? Greek, eh? Is that a hint? Bit of the old...?"

"You guessed." Doyle dropped the menu on the table. "Course, I forgot about an appetiser. Damn." His voice was mocking.

"Oh, I wouldn't worry, Ray," Bodie surged up from the sofa. "I reckon you might have brought something worth trying with you. Let's have a look, see what else you have to offer..."

 

They did get around to the meal, but it was some hours later. Afterwards, Doyle left the wine with Bodie, unopened, and headed back home. He slept well and deeply, and was jogging on the spot as he waited for Bodie to pick him up in the gloom. They sped in, eager to find out what had transpired in their absence.

 

At the door of the rest room, they almost collided with Jax.

"Hey!"

"Oh. Hi, Ray. Bodie." Jax looked faintly flustered. His eyes darted between the two. He stepped back, then moved forward again.

"Hey. The Cow wants you. Straight away. No stop-offs, he said."

Bodie looked put out. "Not even a cup of tea? I'm gasping."

Jax's smile was weak and clearly forced. "Not even a cup of tea, no."

"You okay?" Doyle peered at Jax. "Bad interrogation, or what?"

"Oh. Just... unexpected." Jax shrugged. "You know."

"Er, yeah." Doyle wasn't sure he did, but agreed to save time. He turned to Bodie, who was clearly still hankering after his drink. "Come on, you. Cow first. Milk later."

Bodie looked loftily at him, but turned. "Okay then. See you, Jax."

"Yeah." Jax paused. "Bye, Bodie."

Bodie waggled his fingers in a wave and headed in the direction of Cowley's office, Doyle following, his mind distracted by Jax's air of uncertainty. He greeted Betty automatically, a part of him noting that she was similarly preoccupied, focusing on her typing rather than on badinage with Bodie. She didn't meet his eyes.

"You're to go through."

Bodie nodded, evidently puzzled by the same thing as Doyle, and knocked. Cowley's voice summoned them in. Bodie sailed through, rubbing his hands together. Doyle grinned unwillingly at him. Trust Bodie, always ready for a new day. New challenges. Even without his tea... He caught Cowley glaring at him from his place standing by the window and wiped his face clean of expression.

"Morning, sir." Bodie echoed Doyle's greeting.

"Good morning. Is it now? Aye. Well. We'll see."

Not quite the opening Doyle had expected, but the Cow had been known to have bad days. He exchanged a glance with Bodie. Perhaps the Cow's leg was giving him trouble. Or the interrogation. Perhaps he'd been up through the night. He arranged himself comfortably against the filing cabinet, his accustomed place. How often had he stood here, waiting for a new assignment? Waiting for Cowley's words, but watching Bodie from the corner of his eye? Planning his day?

He took in the reel-to-reel tape deck on the desk and the sheaf of foolscap besides it. Had their bomber broken so easily? Or perhaps someone had got somewhere in their previous investigation. A confession, perhaps, or a set of recorded voices for them to put names to. Not satisfying in an adrenaline-pumping sort of way, but you couldn't have everything, and if they could fit more pieces into that jigsaw...

Bodie was looking at it too. He raised an eyebrow slightly to Doyle and waited.

Cowley moved away from the window, his gaze taking in Doyle in his accustomed slouch and Bodie, all morning cheer. He continued to look at Bodie.

"I gather your man died without talking."

"Yes, sir. Never came round," Bodie agreed. "And no rambling while unconscious. No weird hand signals. Nothing like that."

"Mmm. And there were outside witnesses to all of that," Cowley continued.

"Sir?"

"Someone with him at all times."

"Well, yes, sir. Me and Doyle. On and off." Bodie shrugged. "Bar the occasional trip to the coffee machine, but really, sir..."

"No. Outside CI5. Hospital staff."

Bodie looked at Doyle, who shrugged back at him. Bodie turned back to Cowley. "All the time? Well... not standing by the bed, no, but we were in Casualty, so staff passing by all the time. And then up to a ward. Not in a private room, though. Yeah, I'd say he was pretty much in full view all the time. Why, sir? Is there a problem? No-one got to him through us."

"What's going on, sir?" Doyle was starting to get a bad feeling. "Are they saying someone got to him? Through us? Okay, we were in a hospital full of patients and staff –"

"In the circumstances, that's just as well."

"Then what's up? I don't understand. Sir," he appended belatedly.

Cowley moved to his desk. "These are the transcripts of the initial interview with your bomb-setter. One Vic Dunbar. Of interest to Special Branch, who will doubtless want him as soon as they find out we have him. This is the original tape." He fitted it onto the spindle. Staring at them bleakly – What is going on? wondered Doyle – he started it playing.

A voice was speaking, in what was evidently a large room.

"... I never knew what for. Just a diversion, that's all." The speaker paused. "Bigger the better. Cause a fuss at one end of the site, leave my clients time to get in at the other end. Don't let the little bald geezer escape. The rest of it was up to them."

"Go on." That was Anson, level and cold.

"So they give me the address, and I come out to Bucks, and-"

"Wait. They had the address? Where from?" Jax, shooting the question in.

"No idea. They just knew where to be. Told me on the Monday afternoon, I was there that night, spent that night and parts of the next day watching. Had to be a quick job. And only one chance. So I went for the poofs. Two with one stone, that way. I-"

"The who?" Anson's voice was louder, obviously nearly the microphone. He must have leaned right in. Despite expecting Anson's reaction, Doyle almost jumped himself.

There was a defiant laugh. "The poofs. You know who I'm talking about."

Short silence, then: "You must do. The other two? The ones in the new wing. All over each other, they were. No idea why they kept two beds. They never even needed to talk to each other."

"Okay, we'll start again," cut in Anson, bored.

"God's truth, guv'ner. S'why I went for them. Get the right bed, and take two of them out at once."

Over the rushing in his ears, Doyle could hear the tape continue.

"Jax, get the gear. We'll start again."

"You threatening me, guv'ner?" The voice was sly now. Insidious. "Won't change what I know. The only thing we need to talk about now is who I tell it to."

Cowley's finger stabbed down on the machine and the reels came to an abrupt halt. The clunk was loud in the room.

"Have you anything to say?"

Doyle's mind was awash with confusion. They hadn't gone near each other, not like that. Not in the gatehouse. Not anywhere. Where had he seen them? Had he seen them? At all?

"Nothing?" Cowley's voice was acid with distaste.

How had they failed to see him? Where could he have been? He scowled to himself.

"Doyle?"

He glared back, remembering belatedly that it wasn't Bodie who was his companion through one of his terrier-thoughts, as they worried over a problem in the car, or the pub, or jogging. Instead, it was Cowley, in Cowley's office, and they were in serious trouble.

"Sir?"

"Sir," mocked Cowley. "Aye, sir. Yes, sir. No, sir. Three bags full, sir. My best men. The two of you. And you land me with this." He gestured furiously at the tape. "By the time Betty brought me that transcript, it was too late. She's seen it. One of the night staff had typed it. Anson and Jax have heard it. They tried every possible way to shake his story, by the way," he added as an afterthought. "They tell me they didn't believe it at first. They didn't want to believe it. So they set out to get the real story."

Thanks, guys.

"But he stuck to this one. That, against all sanity, he believed you to be... found in compromising situations. That you were clearly focused on each other. That by bombing one room, he had every expectation of finding both of you in one... bed." His voice came to a halt.

Doyle found his voice. "That's ludicrous."

"Aye. Ludicrous. I should say so. What possessed you? What possessed the pair of you?" Cowley's voice held a cold fury.

Bodie's voice overlaid Doyle's.

"What?"

"But, sir..."

Cowley waved their objections aside. "Ludicrous, yes. Incredible, yes. But why do I have a recorded and typed statement here claiming it? Why did Dunbar stick to this story when Anson and Jax went to some lengths to get another story from him? The real one. Or, at least, the one they expected to hear?"

"I don't know, sir, but I know he's lying!" Doyle's voice was rising, but Cowley rode on.

"So why this? Why this, now? What gave him this idea?"

"I don't know! We're just... good together, I suppose!" Doyle gesticulated, his temper rising rapidly. "We know where we are with each other! I go left, he goes right. I shoot high, he shoots low. I burst in the front, he waits at the back. We don't need to stop and discuss it, we just get on with it. If he saw us quartering the grounds or something-" oh, hell, landing on each other that first day, by the kitchen garden? "-maybe that was it."

Cowley wasn't having any of it. "No. That's not enough. There's got to be something more. I told you once – I tell you all once – I expect you to be like the Bisto Kids. A whiff of something in the air, and you follow the scent back to the meat. Well, I can smell a whiff of something in the air, too. And it's insubordination and bloody-mindedness and a stain on CI5's integrity!"

"Now look here, sir..." Bodie started forward.

Cowley waved him back. "I've seen this man myself. Off the record. I don't think he's lying. Yes, he's a nasty piece of work with a petty mind. But he saw something. Something that made him think that not only would he create a distraction, he might take both of you down, both of you at once. What made him think that?"

"There's nothing to this," Bodie objected.

"That night, how did you both come through it, then? One room was obliterated. Were you actually in separate beds, or were you in-"

"Of course we were in separate beds!" Doyle shouted back, interrupting Cowley's stream of accusations. "We were on a bloody op!"

Cowley, who had paused to draw breath, clearly preparatory to outvoicing him, stopped completely. And looked at him. Doyle blinked, thrown off-balance. He glanced from Cowley to Bodie in confusion. Bodie was looking at him in resigned acceptance. Why? What had he done? What had he said? All he'd done was reiterate that they were in different rooms...

Oh.

The silence stretched.

"And if you hadn't been?" said Cowley softly. "If you hadn't been working? Where would you have been then?"

His mind raced. There were a thousand answers to that. 'In my own bed. What do you take me for?' 'What do you take us for?' 'With Louise.' 'We do share rooms occasionally, you know. It was CI5 who made the booking for us in Green's town' – no, that wouldn't do, don't say that, we were supposed to be making them think we were gay then – what about... Shit.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bodie relax. He wasn't reassured. That was Bodie's ominous relaxation: a very conscious relaxation, his mind calming to focus on only the essentials.

"Sir?" asked Bodie.

"You heard me, Bodie."

Bodie looked back at Doyle. Doyle returned the gaze. Up to you, Bodie.

"I'd have been in my bed, sir." The faintest of emphasis on the 'my'.

Doyle turned his head truculently back to Cowley. If that was the way Bodie wanted to play it, fine. "And I'd have been in mine." He could say that with no qualms. It was true, after all.

Cowley looked suddenly old. "Don't play with me, laddie. Your bed, his bed. Are they the same bed?"

Doyle realised with a shock that actually... "No. They're not." He smiled a twisted smile at Cowley. "You can go and count the pillows if you like."

"That may yet happen, Doyle." Cowley's voice was cutting. "If I have to."

Doyle's eyes widened. "You're actually serious. You're taking this guy's word over ours. This... toerag, whoever he is, wherever he came from, whatever he's up to. You're taking him seriously."

"Aye, Doyle, and with every prevarication that falls from your mouth, I'm inclining to believe him."

"Him? Who the hell is he? He's a killer, sir! He smashed a window, chucked an explosive device in, and legged it. He and his mates had a good go at plugging all four of us and your precious witness – your witness we put our lives on the line for – and you're listening to him? Is that what we can expect from CI5 now, then? The new eighties CI5?" His disbelief was rising. "It's a good job that wasn't the rule when that Mather woman was on the prowl, isn't it, sir, or you wouldn't have trusted me then. You'd have hung me out to dry!"

"Aye, Doyle, I trusted you then. I trusted you as one of my best operatives. I trusted you to be worth the trouble of keeping."

Doyle's eyes narrowed. "You mean..."

"I mean that you fight fire with fire, as I've always said! I needed you on my force more than the state needed you convicted. And convicted in a trumped-up court-martial, the effrontery of it! Yes, Doyle, the only thing I needed was to be sure in my mind whether you did that deliberately or accidentally, and how in control of that temper of yours you were."

"You didn't care about whether I..." Doyle was incredulous.

"I cared, of course I cared! I cared about whether CI5 could keep you, and whether CI5 would survive it! I set this service up to protect the country, and I – and it – will do whatever is necessary to do that!" He paused. "And if that means rooting out corruption and those who can be compromised, then that's what I'll do."

"Compromised?" Bodie started forward. "Now wait a minute, sir..."

"Compromised, Bodie! Now this story has started—"

"What story? There's no story!"

"Oh, there's a story, Bodie, or why else would someone who doesn't know you from Adam come up with this one? It was you and Doyle he singled out, not Jax and Anson. Can you say that that's just accidental?"

"Of course I bloody well can! Jesus Christ! Look, just give me five minutes with him..."

"Ah yes. Blasphemy and intimidation. It's come to this, has it? Back to your roots?"

Bodie wasn't backing down. "There's nothing here."

"There is, man. If this man can see something, others can. And others will. Others do." Cowley looked at the two of them with distaste. "Decent men can tell the difference between fishing trips and dirty weekends, if that's what men like you do. If that's not what you're up to, then decent men wouldn't be so close that they give grounds for suspicion in the first place."

Doyle's rejoinder was overridden by Bodie.

"Men like... Men like...? Men like us, sir, me and Doyle, we risk our lives with every assignment we get. We do it for you. We do it for CI5. We do it for our country."

"You sold arms overseas without worrying over much about your country, Bodie,"

"I was 19!" Bodie's fury erupted. "Haven't I given enough back?"

"Given back with one hand, Bodie, but if you and Doyle are this... involved, that's not a gift Her Majesty's government wants to receive. It never has done. You know that. The armed forces, the merchant navy, the police force, the security services: none of them allow... homosexual... behaviour. Positive vetting in the civil service isn't their idea, you know that. It's us – the security services – who demand that of them." He looked between them, grimly. "Aye, you picked the wrong careers with your inclinations."

"Inclinations?" Doyle held himself together, barely. He found himself pacing the small office rapidly, trying not to tower over Cowley. That wouldn't help. Not now. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Bodie restoring his own calm.

"Yes, Doyle. You are, aren't you? The pair of you."

He wasn't giving up. "We're a partnership. A bloody good one. A partnership you made!"

"A partnership is what I made. Not whatever you two have taken it to."

"You actually disapprove. You disapprove of the whole idea." Bodie was watching Cowley in realisation. "Ever since that Gay Youth Organisation job, I thought you must be pretty tolerant on that quarter. Surprisingly tolerant." There was the faintest of queries with the emphasis.

Cowley reacted with disgust. "You thought I was...?"

Bodie said nothing, but raised an eyebrow.

"What I tolerated was the Gay Youth Organisation, advocating practices that are criminal."

"Criminal? It's legal!"

"Legal if you're over 21. That was a youth organisation, Bodie, a youth organisation! Tell me how many of a youth organisation are going to be over 21? Yes, criminal practices. No, I didn't like it, but I tolerated it. For the sake of that operation. But that assignment was never about homosexuality. It could have been anyone who made that first contact. I sent you there, and you found unlicensed drinking, petty criminals, miscarriages of justice. Police officers acting as a private army. Enforcement and intimidation. All sorts. Interesting that of all of those, what you remember is the homosexuality... Was that when it started, then? Did I, me, inadvertently enable that?"

"No!" Doyle started, "We never..."

His words were ignored. "No. That operation was about a chief constable gone bad. Bad, Bodie. No longer of any use to the country he was supposed to serve. It was not an opportunity for you to engage in... whatever... with official sanction."

Cowley paused. "Which brings us back to you."

"What about us?"

"You're not a foolish man, Doyle. You're well-informed. What is on the government's mind at the moment? What are the big political stories of the day?"

Doyle blinked. "Well... the new bill, the... "

"Aye. And what clause does that bill contain? What has been exercising parliamentary debate time to the exclusion of all else?"

"Clause 28." His voice was hollow.

"Clause 28. Aye."

"But that's nothing to do with us! That's about schools! Teachers! Jenny Lives With Eric And Martin!"

"What it is about, Doyle, is the fact that homosexuality is not acceptable in the minds of the government of the day..."

"Which makes a good number of them hypocrites," observed Bodie. "Remember that time we had to babysit the junior minister and his, ah, advisor? Very naughty. Did he vote for it, then? I bet he did."

"Enough! That, Bodie, is exactly the point. That behaviour is blackmailable. It's a pressure point. A security risk. And the people who are exposed invariably fall, bringing down others in their wake. We can't afford that. We can't afford them."

"You're going to sack us," realised Doyle. "You haven't even listened to our side. The appearance of guilt, that's all. I always knew you could be a cold bastard, even before you sacked Morgan--"

As soon as he said it, he realised he'd gone too far.

"I could sack you for that remark alone! You don't call me names. You've let your success go to your heads, the pair of you. Aye, I can see it now. Speaking out of turn in front of me, behaving out of turn behind my back, that's what it comes to in the end."

"Behind your back? That cuts both ways, sir." Bodie had clearly come to the same realisation as Doyle. "If we're going to have it out, let's add a few more things to the list. Interesting what comes out when you have time to talk to your fellow agents. You get to remembering old times. Old operations. The time when someone promised you an intercept squad on your tail and it didn't turn up. The time when CI5 was called in just because an old friend asked your boss. And you complain about ministerial interference! The time when we were gassed – gassed – in the road and our boss knew it was coming and didn't tell us. I'd have taken that, sir! I'd have taken that as part of the job. All you had to do was warn us!"

"The time you sent us and Charlie to shuttle another country's agent all around London to be shot at, and let us think he was the real deal!" Doyle joined in as Bodie paused for breath. "And you thought we'd leave him!" He noticed absently that they were both avoiding the big one, and took the plunge. "The time you dumped a Susie on us, and changed all the rules."

"There are no rules in an Operation Susie, you know that," snapped Cowley.

"No rules, no. If we get caught, it's our problem and we're nothing to do with CI5. Yeah, we know that." Doyle was undaunted. "Not all of us sign on for Susies, and those of us that do, we know, and, yeah, we take the risk. What none of us ever considered, sir, was that CI5 wouldn't just wash its hands of us, it would actively join in the pursuit. Join in. And before you say that was part of the deal, no. It wasn't."

"Deal, Doyle? Deal? You don't make deals in CI5. You sign up to serve the country. I witness, and I use you as I see fit. And as of now, I don't see you as..." he cast a disbelieving glance between them "...as fit to babysit a milk crate."

"Worried we'll turn it, sir? Curdle it with our unnatural inclinations?" Bodie's voice was well on the way to curdling cheese, let alone milk. "Not that I'm admitting to any such thing, you understand. Tape or no tape."

Cowley stopped. Neither Bodie nor Doyle said anything. Doyle was feeling heartsick. Bodie's face was set, emotion locked away. There was a cold, remote look to him. Cowley looked at him, disillusion evident in his eyes. "Stubborn to the end. Aye. And you, Doyle?"

Bleakly, he stated what he thought. "Doesn't seem to matter what I say, sir. You've made up your mind."

"I made it up the second I saw the two of you swagger in. So pleased with yourselves. And utterly useless to me." Cowley's tone was bitter. He paused, before beginning again in a quieter tone.

"Timothy Walter – the man you called Tuck – disappeared almost as soon as he was handed over to the ministry's minders. His body was dragged out of the Thames this morning."

Bodie stared blankly.

Doyle sagged. "What?"

"There's to be an enquiry, but initial reports are that he drowned. And his evidence with him."

Doyle's mind moved fast. "Did they get the files?"

"What's that?"

"The files he was sitting on," Bodie elaborated. "We know where they are. They can go to this enquiry, wherever it is."

"Useless."

"What?"

Cowley waved down Doyle's response. "There's nothing usable that way. Anson and Jax didn't hear that remark directly, only relayed from you. You're the only witnesses to that."

"So we testify. Bear witness," Bodie amended. "Tell them about it. Trial or internal inquiry. Whatever it is. Whether you kick us out or not, we know our duty." His tone was unforgiving.

"Och, there won't be a trial. There won't even be an inquiry. It'll be a quiet meeting between those who need to know. Security services. Representatives from the Ministries involved. Civil servants. We'll keep the politicians away from it if we can."

Bodie shrugged, unconcerned about the precise nature, and then paused for thought.

"Aye. And by then, someone will have heard about the whispers. They'll be all over Special Branch, and God knows where else. And I'll be explaining to the private secretary that yes, my evidence is being provided by two men at the centre of allegations of... misconduct. And the nature of that misconduct will leak out. And then the private secretary will gently point out to me that they cannot trust the testimony of agents so obviously vulnerable to pressure. And he'll remember it, and the next time he talks to Henry in procurement or Gordon in defence and needs a favour - or some information - he'll pay it back with you. You'll be good currency, up with your Junior Minister, Bodie," he reminded them, his voice caustic. "And then when Henry raises questions about my budget, he'll know that I have something to protect. And I'll lose ground." Cowley's voice was slow now, weary. "I don't need to tell you this. You know it already. You were good agents. You weren't stupid. At least, you weren't until.... Well."

He replaced his glasses. "You're no good to me now." He motioned them away. "Go."

Doyle stood, irresolute, as Bodie crossed the room to stand beside him. "Go?"

"Just go, Doyle. Out of my sight. None of your storming down the corridors. No dramatic gestures. Write up the rest of your report. Make it usable."

The bastard. He still doesn't believe we did nothing, and he wants what he thinks we did left out of his report.

"And then be off." He stopped and stared at them impartially. "I won't humiliate you with a public expulsion. But that's not for your benefit. That's because I'm two men down. My best men, or so I thought once. I don't want to disrupt the squad I've got left any more than necessary. So I won't make you march out of here without your ID and guns. But by the end of the week, I want those handed in to the armourer and the front desk, along with your keys and anything else that needs to come back here." He looked at them, searching for something in their faces. "Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir." Doyle's answer was automatic. He looked at Bodie, in time to catch Bodie's eyes widening and then his entire face shutting down and his stance shifting indefinably into military style posture.

"Sir."

"Go."

Bodie turned and left, pace even, and back rigid. Doyle wanted to hang back for a minute. He wanted to stay, wanted to rage, wanted to console Bodie, wanted to take the arms and legs off this Vic Dunbar in the cells. But none of them were realistic options. He followed Bodie, hurrying a little to catch up.

Betty was on the phone as they left Cowley's office. As soon as she saw them, she paused in her conversation and covered the receiver. She darted a brief look at them, her face sombre.

They took the point. Bodie shook his head slightly at her, and they slipped out.

There was no-one else in the corridor as they walked past the VIP Lounge. Voices were raised in there. Was it his imagination, Doyle wondered, or could he hear incredulity and snide commentary in there? He knew exactly how fast the CI5 grapevine could transmit its news. Were they the topic of conversation, or was it simply a room full of bored agents being snippy with each other?

Well, fuck it. He needed to talk to Bodie, and until he had done, the rest of CI5 could take a long walk off a short cliff.

Once they were in their shared cubbyhole, he shut the door behind them both with exaggerated care. He stepped back, regarded it, and then slammed his fist into it.

"Argh!"

"Ray."

He hit it again.

"Ray!" Bodie caught hold of him. "Stop it."

His face twisted with frustration, he turned. "Bloody hell, Bodie!"

"Yeah. I know." Bodie seemed impossibly calm.

"Aren't you... Don't you... How are you just standing there?"

Bodie looked at him. "You expected anything else? If it happened?"

"Well, I... " He paused, stuck. "I..."

"Really?"

"Didn't bloody expect it to happen, did I?"

"We knew it was a risk."

"But how? How did that bastard make that out? We didn't bloody well do anything!"

Bodie shrugged. "Would have done, though. Too late now."

"No it's not! I want to know, Bodie! I want to know what we did!"

"Keep your voice down, eh? Yeah, I want to know that too. But we're not going to get any answers on that for a while." He came forward, held Doyle by the shoulders and shook him slightly. "Right now, we need to get that report written. If you still want to do it. And then we need to make plans."

Doyle blinked. "If I still want to..? Course I do. Well, no. Last thing I want to do, but I'm going to do it, aren't I? Not that he's going to believe parts of it, is he? Bastard." He scowled, struck anew by the injustice of it. "How come he believed it?"

Still holding him by his shoulders, Bodie looked at him levelly. "Well, it is true, you know."

"That's as may be, but not like this!"

"Yeah, all right. But it's still true." Bodie paused. "At least..."

"What?" Doyle got Bodie's drift. "Don't be daft. Of course it's still true."

Bodie's shoulders relaxed fractionally.

Doyle shook himself. He brought his hands up to hold Bodie's wrists. "You pillock." He moved his head forward to rest his forehead against Bodie's. They stood there, still, for a while. Eventually, they pulled apart.

"You alright to get on with this?" Bodie queried.

Doyle pulled a rueful face. "And how much choice have we got, exactly? If we don't hand this in, he's quite capable of... I don't know, docking our last month's pay, or screwing up our pensions, or something. If we even get them now," he added, as an afterthought, pulling a chair out and leaning on it.

Bodie considered that. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Sit down, Ray, and let's get this over and done with."

They worked steadily for a couple of hours, describing what they had seen, heard and done, giving their impressions and opinions, and detailing what Tuck had told them.

"After which, agents 4.5 and 3.7 repaired to a convenient camp bed and..."

"No, Ray."

Doyle smiled sourly. "It's only what he thinks. Might not be true, but..."

He caught Bodie's eyes. "And how come you're so calm about this anyway?"

"Calm?"

"Yeah. We're out. Out." Doyle repeated the words to himself, disbelievingly. "Christ knows what we do now. I can see a lot of jobs we won't be getting in the future, I can tell you that. But you, you're just..."

"Just...?"

"Calm."

Bodie shrugged. "It was always a risk. And that's the thing about risks. You have to decide whether they're worth it." He stretched. "Like working here in the first place. Could end up dead. Could end up crippled. Is it worth it? I thought it was. Now with this," his voice slowed. "With this, we knew we could end up found out. And we knew – or I damn well hope you knew, Ray, because it's a bit late to find it out now – we knew could end up out of a job. Is it worth it? I thought it over, Ray. I've thought it over more than once. I decided it was. And once you've decided that, then if it happens, you just have to tell yourself: you decided it was worth it, you kept on doing it, and," he shrugged. "Here we are."

Doyle regarded him. So Bodie had sat down and thought this through. When, he wondered? When had Bodie come to regard what they were doing, what they were to each other, as a bigger thing than their work, a job they performed swiftly and efficiently, a job that few people could do, and fewer still enjoy? Was it before Doyle had done the same, or after? He had certainly never given any indication of it.

"Ray?"

Bodie was waving a hand before his eyes. "Ray? You with me?"

He collected himself. "Yeah. We done, then?"

"Nearly. Cuppa, I reckon, and then polish it off."

Doyle nodded, and stood up. He stretched, joints cracking, and turned to the door.

"Good idea. Want me to fetch them?"

Bodie rose too. "Think I'll come with you."

Oh. Yes.

At the door to the rest room, he paused and glanced at Bodie. "Ready?"

Bodie nodded, mouth quirking ruefully.

Doyle sauntered in, glancing rapidly round.

Jax and Murphy were there, and Miller from the B squad; along with a couple of other agents trying to pore over lists in their hands while juggling armfuls of files. They were grumbling quietly together.

"So if you take these three, and Bill the rest, then... God, this is going to take weeks."

"I know. It's stopped everything. What about– Ow." The speaker stopped, interrupted by a hand on his arm, and looked round. "Oh."

There was an awkward silence.

Doyle felt no compulsion to break it and continued on his way to the sink. He found a couple of mugs, rinsed them briefly, and switched the kettle on. Bodie followed him over and leaned against the surface, his hands in the pockets at the front of his jacket, looking over the room.

"All right?"

Jax broke the silence. "Bodie. All right?"

Bodie stretched, bringing his arms at full length round into the air. "Yeah. All right. All right, eh?" He flashed one of his rapid conspiratorial grins at Jax. Jax looked uncomfortable.

Doyle concentrated on the kettle and on spooning coffee into his mug. "Bodie. Tea? Coffee?"

"Tea," Bodie confirmed.

Doyle dropped a teabag into another mug. "Anyone else? Jax? Murph? Dusty?"

An embarrassed mumble. The sound of people moving. Turning in disbelief, Doyle saw Miller and the agents with the armfuls of files moving towards the door.

He watched them depart in silence.

"Well," he addressed the room. "That didn't take long, did it?" There was no response. "And to think the Cow spent all that time trying to get us out on the streets and not in here. And all it took was us to walk in here. Bad news travels fast." He poured the water into four mugs and carried one over to Bodie. "Tea there if you want it," he informed the other two.

Murphy shook his head slightly. He seemed to be studying them.

"Wasn't us," Jax told Doyle. "We didn't say anything."

"Yeah, okay, Jax. I'm sure you didn't. But someone did."

"Fiona, probably," commented Murphy, still switching his gaze between them.

Doyle looked blank.

"Fiona," Murphy elaborated. "Typing pool. She's seeing Dusty, and was on the late shift day before yesterday. She probably did the transcripts."

Jax nodded to him. "Yeah, she did."

Doyle looked at them. "Lovely. So it's all round CI5."

"Something is. Dunno how accurate it is."

"Eh?"

Jax shrugged. "We've been told not to talk about it. Not just me and Anson. There was an all hands briefing yesterday. Pretty much everyone called in. The Cow read the Riot Act to the whole squad about rumours and security. No names. No mention of what it was all about."

"Loose lips sink ships," Murphy intoned.

"He did? When?"

"Yesterday," Jax answered. "We started on Dunbar as soon as we got back on Wednesday, and he dropped that little... bombshell..." he frowned at his own phrasing and paused. "I take it you know what he said?"

"Yeah. The basics. Said he thought he'd catch the two of us with one bomb."

Jax nodded. "Yeah."

"I've heard the rumour," interrupted Murphy. "So you may as well stop being coy." His eyes flickered between the two of them. Neither responded.

Jax shrugged. "We assumed he was out to cause trouble at first. We stopped the tape and asked him again. Several times. Thought we'd get a better answer out of him. But..." he shrugged again. "No. Then Cowley called for a transcript. He read it, and all hell broke loose. Had us two in for ages. Spent some time with Dunbar himself. Next day – yesterday – full staff meeting, announcement of security issues, anyone gossiping would find their future under review, and suddenly everything's in the air..." He paused, and added, "Nothing specific about who or what. But the word's out about..." he hesitated, "Blackmailable behaviour. And it was pretty obvious who was missing from the room in the briefing."

"What he's not saying is that you made bloody fools of us," came from behind him. Anson entered the room. He had obviously been listening, and gestured between himself and Jax. "Cowley doesn't know which is worse. That you were at it and we didn't know, or that you were and we knew all about it. Either way, he's not pleased. And neither, I have to say, am I. You dropped us right in it." He scowled at them impartially. Coming over to the counter, he lifted an unclaimed mug. "This mine, Jax?"

"Help yourself," Doyle answered sourly.

Anson looked at it more carefully. He didn't put it down, but Doyle noticed he didn't immediately drink from it. He carried on. "So yeah, in amongst everything else yesterday, we were on the carpet, too. For failing to notice, or failing to report...."

"What? Failing to report what?"

Anson looked at him levelly. "Whatever you two were up to."

"Oh, come on, Geoff! Nothing!"

Anson carried on. "It's the talk of CI5. Despite the briefing yesterday. The word's all over the place that you two are..."

"What?"

"Go on, Geoff, you can say it." Bodie's voice mingled with Doyle's heated question.

Anson paused. "You know what I mean."

"Yeah. We know." Doyle was suddenly tired.

"Yeah. Well. That. Is it true?"

Doyle stared. "If we say yes or no, will it make any difference? It didn't to Cowley."

"Of course it makes a difference." Anson was impatient now. "Because we've just come back off an op with you. An op where we're all supposed to pull together. And if you two really are – what's being said," he paused, "Then how can I be sure that you're looking after the rest of us as much as you're looking after each other? You've been in the army, Bodie," he turned to Bodie, who nodded. "You have to be able to trust the guy at your back. I don't mean like that," he anticipated Doyle's immediate expostulations. "I mean trust him to look after you. Be there and ready to shoot if there's a threat we haven't seen. And now, if we're in a situation with half the squad involved, and you have a choice between looking after one of us, or looking after the other... " he looked between them, "Frankly, how can I believe it would be us?"

"For Christ's sake!" Doyle erupted. "Did you have any worries about that three days ago? Did you think we wouldn't be there in that house? What's changed? I can't believe I'm hearing this! What–"

"Ray." Bodie put out a hand. Doyle looked at him. Bodie shook his head.

Doyle subsided and the room sank into an antagonistic silence. Doyle looked around challengingly. "That's how it is, then?" he asked of the air.

No-one was willing to answer.

"I see."

He cast a glance at Bodie, who was holding the gaze of the other agents. Friends and workmates once. Eventually he stirred.

"Well. Can't stand here gossiping. Got a report to hand in, eh, Bodie?" He put his mug down. "Let's leave this lot to their sitting around and..." he waved his hand, "idle speculation... and get that done, and then be off."

Bodie appeared amenable to this and started to turn.

"Sitting around?" Anson interjected. "Idle? You've got a nerve. CI5's in turmoil now. Chaos."

"And how exactly is that our problem? If you lot weren't spending all your time gossiping, there'd be nothing to cause trouble, would there? If you'd stop speculating about what we get up to and concentrate on the job, there'd be no problem, would there?"

"Concentrating on the job? That's a laugh. Didn't you listen to what Jax said? We're in the middle of a full-scale security review here, thanks to you two. Re-vetting. All round. Cowley's apoplectic that he didn't know, that we didn't notice, that you've been..." he waved a hand. "He wants to know what else he missed. What else is going on around here. He's expecting a few more bad apples to fall now, I reckon."

Doyle's fury boiled over. "Bad apples? Us? You bastard, I'll..." He started forward, seeing Anson tense, ready.

Doyle was grabbed from behind in a firm hold, and struggled.

"Get off me, Bodie!" Bodie's grip tightened. "Bodie!" Bodie didn't let up. Doyle twisted furiously, but eventually had to admit defeat. "Yeah. Alright." He brushed himself off as Bodie released him. "Sorry," he offered grudgingly.

Anson inclined his head. "Yeah. Me too." He wasn't talking about just then, Doyle realised. He nodded and walked out. Bodie followed a few seconds after.

Back in their cubbyhole, he ran his hands through his hair in distraction. "Okay, so I fucked that one up, didn't I?"

"Not really." Bodie looked untroubled. "All things considered, I think we were all very well behaved. No blood on the carpet. No blood feuds. No blood, even."

"Just as well about the blood, because I know what they'll be thinking of next."

Bodie nodded. "Yeah."

"Don't fancy hanging around to find out which of them says it first, do you?"

"No." Bodie picked a few odds and ends off the desk and then returned them. "Nothing much to keep us here, is there?"

"No."

"Let's go, then." Bodie's smile was uncomplicated and for him alone. "We've got a choice now, mate. All sorts of choices. Where do you want to go? What do you fancy doing for Christmas?"

Doyle's grin was defiant. "Dunno what, yet, no. But I know who."

Bodie relaxed. "I bet you do. Well. Let's see what we can do about that."

They headed back to Betty's office. Whether by accident or design, she wasn't there. They left the file on her desk and trooped down the corridor. The rest room door was ajar. No-one was in there now. A row of neatly-rinsed mugs were arranged on the draining board.

They closed the rest room door, padded down the dark corridor to the main entrance, and opened the door onto the world.