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Doyle woke with an unpleasant jolt. It was painful and startling. His eyes flew open and he had a feeling of deja vu. Confused, Doyle wondered why his body ached so much. He glanced about and quickly closed his eyes. His confusion mounted. The place was unfamiliar; he had no idea where he was. After a few seconds he opened his eyes and glanced about. There were roughly built walls of slatted boards and a ceiling of the same material. Disoriented, he closed his eyes again. He felt a fire burning close by. Doyle heard the crackle of wood as it popped and he could smell it as well. He should look again, make sure he'd seen what he'd thought he'd seen. He should determine what had happened to him. His mind whirred anxiously. He had to have been kidnapped, taken hostage after he'd been shot by... A woman. Dark hair. Almond eyes. Images bombarded him. Darkness, going down, circling, riding in a... Driving. No, not driving. Riding. In a car. Running. Chasing.

In the distance, he heard whooshing sounds that he couldn't place. Their oddness made his blood chill. Desperate to make sense of it all, Doyle struggled to calm his jittery nerves. He took in a shaky breath. His chest pulled, tightened. Pain washed over him once more, and he gasped. Tears filled his eyes. Blackness danced in the corners of his brain, threatening to overtake him. He felt himself slipping away. Slitting open one eye, he saw a face close to his, staring, staring... It twisted and wavered in the dark. Fear mounted. He would have cried out if he could but he had no strength. Instead, the darkness sucked him away.

Doyle had no sense of time when he awoke. He remembered opening his eyes earlier, but earlier could have been an hour, a day, a week ago. He was somewhere, not home. Not in hospital. It was an old place. Some might call it rustic, like a caretaker's lodge on some fancy estate. A stone hearth covered a large portion of one wall, the wood ablaze. It was comforting in a fashion. He'd always liked a fireplace.

Wondering why he was being so calm, he considered his situation. His rational mind told him he should be afraid but he didn't feel well enough to be bothered. As his senses settled and his body relaxed into the comfortable bedding under him, he began to question his predicament.

Doyle had to remember how he'd got to this place. Opening his eyes, he blinked several times. While the bed was soft and warm, he was stiff and sore, with his chest hurting painfully. Each breath brought a tightness that made him want to cry. In his mind's eye, flashes of memories danced across his brain. He saw himself and someone else... Bodie. Yeah, he and Bodie had been trailing... somebody. Trailing? Following! Right. Following two blokes in a blue- Then what happened? Sensations bombarded him. Speed. Running. Noise. Heat. It was something big and loud and dangerous. It was... What? And more importantly, why?

Why?

A voice broke through Doyle's concentration. "Ahh, laddie. Ye're awake again. Thank the gods. I've been fair worried for days now!"

In spite of the discomfort, Doyle made himself turn his head to look towards the speaker. Kneeling beside him was an old man. No, wait. Not old. Mature. Yeah, that's what people in their mid-life, fifties and sixties, like to be called. Mature. This bloke was that, with greying hair and sparkling blue eyes surrounded by laugh lines. That's what he thought the birds called those wrinkles around their eyes. Sounded better than "wrinkles". That meant old. Laugh lines meant maturity. The man was squinting, so for this fellow, laugh lines more than likely meant he wasn't wearing his specs like he should have been.

Wait. He knew this man. An image flitted across his mind. He was sitting behind a large table of some sort, wooden it was, with those eyeglasses he should be wearing now, firmly on his face. He was speaking while his hand moved rapidly across a white square placed on the wood's surface. Doyle blinked. Writing. The stranger... No, not a stranger. He knew this man! Think!

Pain shot across his head. He sucked in a shaky breath, covered his eyes with his hand.

"Laddie?"

Doyle jerked when the man touched his arm. He blinked slowly, unsure. Everything was jumbled up. He felt out of place, somewhere strange. There should be sounds of street traffic and planes and people. Lots and lots of people. Smells of the city: petrol and curry and wet tarmac. But here was somewhere else.

From his side, the whine of an animal, a dog possibly, hurt his ears. He felt something warm and wet lick his face. He flinched. The whine grew louder.

"Hush!" his companion chided. "Do you not recognise me, son? How about your Bodie here?"

A large canine plopped its head on the bed beside Doyle's arm. The animal licked him before it bumped its black nose into him, then slid that snout under his hand. He pulled away but then without thinking, he reached out and stroked the silky head. Intelligent blue eyes blinked slowly at the caress before closing. A huff of warm air came out of the dog- no, not a dog. Doyle tried to focus. Not a dog, a wolf. A sodding wolf! And he was petting it. Fear spiked through him for a moment before he understood that the animal wasn't doing anything harmful to him. All it wanted was to be stroked.

"Eh? Ye dinna ken where you are?" the man asked, his voice unhappy. His forehead crinkled with concern.

Had he spoken aloud? He had no recollection of doing so. "Huh?" Doyle winced, both with pain and his lack of articulation. His head hurt to think. He closed his eyes, unable to stifle a soft moan.

"Drink this."

The man slid a hand behind Doyle's head, raised it enough so that when he pressed a cup to Doyle's mouth, he was able to drink without choking. He manage three sips before the effort became too much. Lethargy coursed through him. He should panic because he understood the feeling: he'd been drugged before. The only thing that made sense was that he'd been kidnapped. Possibly held for ransom because of the information he had about something or someone he couldn't remember at the moment. His partner would be worried. His partner. He had a partner. Doyle was sure of it. Bo- Bodie. Bodie! Bodie would be worried, then frantic, if he couldn't find his partner.

But the dog- wolf's name. was Bodie. Bodie was a wolf. No, that wasn't right. Bodie was like him, human. God, but it hurt to think and he couldn't remember why his head hurt in the first place. And he certainly didn't remember how he'd got to this place, wherever this place was.

"Sleep, then, Ray," he heard his companion whisper.

Unable to fight the drug, hurting and terrified, Doyle surrendered to sleep.

-----------------------------

The incessant beeping noise, accompanied with a whoosh-whoosh, woke Doyle. He scratched at his ear, wishing he could make the annoying sounds stop. They hurt his head, stabbing into his brain with each beep and swoosh. The noises made his blood run cold, as if they meant something horrible. Something he didn't want to remember. His flailing hand was caught and pressed to his side.

"Ray? Are ye with me, lad?"

Ah, that same voice. Familiar in many ways; foreign in others. Doyle opened his gummy eyelids. A soft glow of the firelight greeted him. It was a relief that the light didn't hurt his eyes because the rest of his body was quite uncomfortable. His chest was tight, as if something was sitting on it.

"I've a broth for you to drink, Doyle. Can ye make an effort?"

Doyle nodded once. Mistake. Discomfort washed through his entire body. How could his hair hurt?

"Aargh!" Doyle cried, arching from the bed. The movement exacerbated the pain.

"No, Ray, no!" his caretaker cried. "Relax, please. Breathe in and out to forestall the pain. You've been abed for a long while and your body's cramping. Ray, listen to me!"

Doyle felt the tears leaking from his eyes. He cursed silently, hating his weakness. He was a... warrior? Yes, he was a warrior, a copper. No, that word didn't make sense. He'd never heard it before. He was something else. A guardian. Okay, that seemed right. A guardian, and they didn't cry!

"What happened?" he managed to ask between waves of discomfort.

"Breathe in and hold to a count of thrice. Once... Breathe in, you hard-headed bastard!"

Doyle obeyed. He sucked in a shallow breath, holding it to thrice, before he exhaled.

"Again." After four times, his companion patted his arm lightly. "Good! Do you feel the relief?"

"Yes," Doyle whispered, grateful that pain had receded to a manageable level. "Where am I?"

"In the healer's hall, of course. Where else would ye be with a hole in your fine self?"

Doyle's eyes flew open. A hole? "From what?" Stupid question. He'd taken a bullet, obviously. More than one from the feel of things. "Who shot me?"

"The arrow hit next to your heart, lad. It look all of Mistress Ross' skill and yet you were close to death. Only the twin lambs that were sacrificed finally helped bring you back from the brink."

Doyle blinked, staring at the older man. "Sacrifice?" Had he really said they'd killed animals to make him well? Where was he that killing creatures translated into physical health and healing? And this man... He didn't look like a daft sod. He looked fit enough for his age. His eyes were bright and intelligent. Doyle vaguely remembered seeing him when he woke earlier. The face was so familiar! "Do I know you?"

The man laughed. "Of course ye do. I'm your superior, as you well know, Master Ray. You don't remember me as leader of the guards?"

A cold stab of fear coursed through him. Why was his memory so messed up? He thought for a moment but nothing was any clearer, so he asked, "How did I get shot?"

The man waved a hand through the air. "No need to worry. She's been sent to her death. Your Bodie made sure of that."

Doyle rubbed a hand across his forehead. So many questions. Whenever this bloke spoke, Doyle became more confused. "Bodie... He killed a woman?"

"Oh, aye. She shot you after killing the emissary we were protecting. You were taken off guard. We didnae ken that she had been misled into believing the visitor and by extension, you were responsible for her parents' deaths. Her mind was addled, I would expect." The man shrugged.

"Eh?" Doyle's confusion deepened. He'd been shot; that much he recalled. He remembered coming home, carrying his shopping. He had his arms full, carrier bag, bottles of milk... There had been a figure looming in the shadows of his lounge. He took a few steps forward. How did you get in here?

Then an explosion of pain and noise and falling, falling...

"...the arrow had to be removed. It took a steady hand since it lodged so close to yer heart."

"Arrow?"

The man nodded.

"Not a..." Doyle's head ached.

"A what, Ray?" The man's forehead wrinkled in concern. He swiped at his eyes, squinting to look at Doyle.

"Where are your specs?"

After a long minute, the man finally said, "I dinna understand some of the words you're using. You must be suffering the delirium still. I'll get some of Mistress Ross' potion." He rose and went to the table, where a decanter and several cups rested. He poured out a measure and carried it over.

"Where's this doctor?"

His caretaker's eyebrow rose. Doyle felt a blush creep up his face. Unfamiliar words, he'd said. Why was he using them? "Sorry. Where's the healer, so I can thank her. Ross, you say?" The name seemed vaguely familiar to him but he couldn't put a face to it.

"She's off birthing Mistress Mairen's twins. Could take a few days so I'll see to ye until you're up and about."

The wolf lying on the rug in front of the hearth whined. The man looked over his shoulder. "Aye. You can come over now."

As Doyle watched, the animal gracefully leapt to his feet and walked over. In spite of his bulk, his tread was quiet on his thick pads. He approached the bed tentatively, as if he were afraid of spooking Doyle. He lay his muzzle on the edge and stared at Doyle with large questioning eyes. Doyle returned his stare. This creature was so familiar. He knew him, yet he didn't. The wolf slipped his nose under Doyle's lax hand. Without thinking, Doyle stroked the long muzzle. His hand trailed up the animal's forehead until he found himself rubbing his ears between his fingers. Without knowing why, Doyle sighed with contentment. What he was doing felt so right! This wolf was his as much as he belonged to the wolf. He realised he'd stopped thinking of the wolf as an 'it'.

"Bodie," Doyle said softly.

The wolf's ears perked up and his tail wagged. He licked Doyle's fingers. Doyle laughed, surprised that doing so didn't hurt his chest nearly as much as he expected it to.

"Drink this," said the man as he approached the bed.

Doyle took the cup and made a reasonable job of swallowing the liquid. It had a sweet, appealing taste and his tongue danced with pleasure. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had food or drink. He handed the cup back. "What should I call you?"

"Same as ye always do!" The man shook his head in exasperation. "Poor lad. Your brains are truly rattled. Sir George is ma name, same as it's been since the council made me head guardian of the ward."

"Yes, Sir George." Doyle yawned. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, then. Sleep now, and when ye awake, I'll have a nice gruel ready for that growling belly." Sir George laughed. "And here I thought it was your Bodie here, rumbling at the pleasure of seeing you awake." He grinned.

Doyle couldn't help but grin back. "Cheers."

"Eh?"

"Nothing." Doyle yawned again. He was exhausted. He closed his eyes and again, he was dragged into sleep in moments. Never could he remember welcoming oblivion so much as these past days.

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"This is my home?" Doyle walked into the small dwelling. It was a square wooden structure, with four stout walls. There were two windows, both currently covered with shutters. A well made door would keep out the draughts and a large stone hearth took up half of the far wall. It was similiar to Sir George's abode albeit smaller and the wood smelled newer.

"Oh, aye. You dinna remember building it with the help of the lads when ye came of age?" Sir George followed Doyle, carrying a basket full of supplies that he insisted Doyle would need: bread, cheese, dried meat, fresh vegetables from the communal gardens. There was a crock of fresh milk and a poke of dried herbs in a linen square, for brewing herbals, Sir George had said. "Needs an airing."

There was a bed along another wall. Bodie slipped in past Sir George and Doyle's legs. He jumped on the bed, circled twice and settled down, his muzzle on his front paws. Doyle smiled. In the few days he remembered being here, he'd grown to love Bodie. The creature was wonderful and being near him made Doyle feel good. Whole, like he belonged. Like they belonged together.

When Sir put the basket down on the table that graced a section of the house, Doyle nodded to him. "Ch- er, thanks," he said, remembering to choose his words more carefully. He turned open the windows to let fresh air into the room.

"You're on the mend finely," Sir George said. "I'll be expecting you back to the job in a few days' time." He looked gruffly at Doyle, expecting and receiving Doyle's, "Yes, Sir George." This companion wasn't one to coddle so he nodded and after an admonition to eat a good dinner, he took his leave.

Finally alone for the first time in days- or for as long as he could remember, Doyle sighed quietly. All he wanted was a cuppa and a kip. "A cuppa? What in the gods' name is that? Your brain is more addled than Sir George realises."

The bundle of herbs called to him. A cup of something hot would help immensely, even if it wasn't what his wonky brain asked for. Tea? He knew what passed for tea in this place and he wasn't against the occasional cup of herbal when he was feeling poorly. He sniffed the packet of dried roots and grasses. This was not what he wanted; it was not the taste of strong black tea that seemed to dance on his tongue. It felt like a real memory. But how could it be? He closed his eyes for a few moments before he let out a frustrated groan. "This is tea. Shut up and drink it."

Finished with his beverage, he looked about. When he touched the handle of the bucket that was resting beside the door, Bodie leapt to his feet. He gave a chuff and looked expectantly at Doyle.

"What?" Doyle picked up the bucket. "All I want is water. Does that mean something to you?"

Bodie chuffed again, and dashed out the door. He paused, looking over his shoulder. Doyle laughed, following his wolf. His wolf! The idea came easily to his mind. Bodie was his wolf. He was Bodie's - what? Master? No, not his Bodie. Companion. Friend. That worked. Companion and friend.

A sharp sting to his bum made him jump.

"Hey!" he cried. Bodie sat behind him, his tongue lolling from his mouth and if Bodie could have done so, Doyle would have sworn he was laughing. "Cretin."

Bodie woofed and raced past Doyle. A passing villager grinned at Doyle. "He knows who's in charge," the woman said.

"Yes, and it's apparently not me." Doyle smiled.

"Never has been," she responded before she hurried on her way, a basket of clothing in her arms.

Doyle knew she was going to do her washing. How he knew he had no idea. He'd never seen her before yet her name came easily. "Good day, Mistress Ellisara."

"And to you, Guardsman," she called over her shoulder. "Be well."

Doyle saw Bodie moving, circling him. Before the wolf could nip at his bottom again, he glared at the creature. "You're asking for it."

Bodie somehow managed to look innocent. He turned and trotted off down a lane until he disappeared behind a bush. Doyle chuckled, following his friend. Obviously the animal knew where the village water supply was. Doyle didn't, yet he knew it was this way.

"You're daft, sunshine," Doyle said to himself as he walked briskly after Bodie. He was feeling good. His chest was healing, and other than the occasional twinge, he felt normal.

Or what passed for normal these days.

It turned out that the clear water Doyle needed was from a nearby creek. A portion had been dammed up with boulders, making a convenient place to walk on. While he dipped in his bucket, Bodie splashed downstream in a shallow section. The water was warm from the day's sun. Bodie was engaged in chasing a frog. Doyle took the opportunity to wash his face and hands. He moved away from the drinking water supply. Instinctively, he knew not to contaminate the water, and the idea seemed to be borne of long practice. His long hair was tied back with a strand of woven cloth. He unloosed it and ran his fingers through the tangle of curls. It needed a good washing. Maybe tomorrow...

Doyle didn't hear Bodie sneaking behind him. He only felt the wolf's paws when they landed on his back, sending him head first into the water. He landed with an ungraceful splash. Sputtering his indignation, Doyle stood up. The water reached his waist. He was truly soaked now so he stripped off his tunic and leggings, and tossed them onto the beach. They were clean when he put them on earlier in the day and would service for a few more wearings before washing.

Now that he was in the water, he reckoned he might as well have a wash. He dunked in again and rubbed the long strands with his fingers. Bodie stood on the bank, barking at him.

"What? You're in trouble now. You've caused more than enough of it for one day."

Bodie pulled a mouthful of grass. He dropped it into the water. It floated towards Doyle, where he scooped it up. A memory came. This was rootsoap. "Thanks!" he said to Bodie. Bodie grinned, his tongue lolling sideways., and looked pleased that he was smarter than Doyle. "Smart arse." The rootsoap lathered easily and he made quick work of washing his hair. He rinsed and cleared his eyes. Bodie stood on the creek bank, a rabbit hanging from his jowls.

"Went hunting, eh? I suppose you expect me to cook it for your supper?" Doyle climbed out, used his tunic to dry off, and pulled on the damp leggings. His brain briefly flashed an image of white cloth that one wore under one's trousers. Briefs? Doyle pushed aside the image. He was quickly tiring of these memories or visions or hallucinations. They only served to distract him and make him think he was daft. He concentrated on his wolf. "You want mashed carrots and bread with it as well? Maybe a nice gravy?"

Bodie gave him what Doyle could only describe as a withering look. He turned away, trotting off towards home, his tail flicking this way and that, conveying his disdain for Doyle's comments. Doyle was, after all, lucky Bodie put up with him.

Doyle laughed at his companion's easy to read body language. Gods, he loved that creature. Still, he couldn't let Bodie have the last word.

"Everybody's a critic. You'll eat what I cook and like it!" he shouted after his friend. All he saw was Bodie's back end, tail in the air. Doyle felt as if Bodie had given him the two finger salute. In jest, of course. Whatever a two finger salute was.

Doyle rolled his eyes, and was about to follow the wolf when he remembered the bucket at the last minute. Scooping it up by the handle, it was with a happy step and a whistle on his lips that he followed his friend home for supper. He needed a cup of grass tea and food. How he longed for a custard cream along with a pot of good Chinese tea. Doyle came to a full stop. Custard cream? Chinese tea? What in blazes were those? He wished his befuddled brain would fix itself before it got him into trouble. With a shake of his head at his own weirdness, he headed for his house.

----------------------------

True to his word, in three days' time, his superior had an assignment for him.

Sir George's quarters were as neat as Doyle had expected. He had a bed, a cupboard for personal items, and a table with three chairs. His superior sat behind the table on one of the chairs. The other two were placed in front of it so visitors and guardsmen would have to sit and face Sir George while he listened to grievances and issued orders. Doyle sat in one of those chairs and Bodie lounged at his feet.

"I've a task for you, Doyle." Sir George leaned back. There was a thick red woven blanket folded on the seat. Sir's back still bothered him from time to time. An old war injury, he'd told Doyle years ago. Which war Doyle hadn't a clue but Sir George had been in his country's service for most of his life. It could have been any one of four or five armed conflicts that occurred when the man was younger. It wasn't polite to delve into another's life unless they offered, and Doyle respected societal etiquette.

Sir George sat back. The table before him was spread with messages from various towns. Doyle could see the seals of two neighbouring villages on top of the pile. From a side stack, Sir lifted a roll of paper. "I got this at daybreak. One of the lasses in Sir Patrick's realm has been under harassment. His top team are otherwise engaged so I've taken the liberty of offering your services."

Bodie let out a yap. Sir George glanced down at him briefly. "Aye, Bodie. Of course, and yours as well. Excuse me for forgetting the brains of the team." He laughed when Bodie straightened himself up, ears pricked forward. Sir George chuckled again. "I swear, Master Ray, at times I'd say that animal understands language."

Doyle put a hand on Bodie's head. "I have no doubt." He scratched his soft ear. Bodie tilted his head, closed his eyes and looked about as content as a well-loved creature could.

"On your way then. Mistress Suzane is her name. Lives two miles past Rock Creek Lake on the south end. She's been made aware of your duties."

"Can you tell me what seems to be the problem?" Doyle asked.

"Oh, aye. Sorry, lad. I've got an important meeting and I'm late. The council... Well, no matter. It seems that the lady is haunted by a ghost which is determined to do her harm. I expect it's outlaw magic of some sort. See to it." Sir George rose, gathered his papers, and after a farewell to Doyle, rushed from the room.

"A ghost? Bloody magic? By the gods, I get the worst assignments. Another rich lass needing hand-holding." Doyle sighed with exasperation. "Bodie, if there's anything I can't abide, it's these hoity-toity types and their tribulations." Bodie kept his attention on Doyle as he spoke. He looked as if he were telling Doyle to get on with it and do his job. "All right! All right. I get the message. It's off to work we go or there'll be no food in the larder. You'll have to hunt to eat." Bodie glared at Doyle, lifted a lip. "You put those teeth into my arse and not only will you have to hunt, you'll be sleeping in the barn with the cats!"

Bodie let out a woof that Doyle was sure was a chuckle, and followed Bodie out of his superior's abode. It only took him a few minutes to pack a satchel before he and Bodie were off to find this ghost and protect Mistress Suzane from it. Ghost, indeed!

---------------------------

The lady of the house was tending her garden when Doyle approached. Bodie was being ridiculous. He insisted on circling the dwelling and coming in the back way. Doyle didn't bother discouraging him because once Bodie got a notion into his head, there was no dissuading him. Still, Bodie ran on instincts. Doyle ran on logic and brains. He snorted at that as he shouted a greeting.

"Morning, Mistress."

The woman rose, dusted off her hands and put one over her eyes to shield them from the sun. "You must be the guardian that Sir George insisted on."

"Yes." Doyle held out his hand. "I'm Doyle."

"Suzane." She shook it firmly. "I'm not one for vapours but this has been trying the past week. Thank you for coming. The sooner this is ended, the better. I have a lot of work to do to prepare for the annual festival."

While she spoke, Doyle sized her up. Mistress Suzane seemed the all right sort. She didn't seem overwrought by what was happening to her and appeared to be ready to do what was necessary to solve the problem. Physically, she was rather pretty, with long brown hair that curled at the ends. It was tied back with a brightly coloured length of ribbon and her shift was clean and neat. She was of his age, and Doyle expected that she brooked little by way of frights and curses. Her smile was ready and touched her hazel eyes when she asked Doyle in for tea. He smiled in return and accepted. She lead the way, pausing when Doyle did.

"That's Bodie," Doyle said, waving a hand towards the wolf behind them. He sat on a bed of pansies, a wolf grin on his face.

Mistress ran over to him and knelt down in the dirt. She did not admonish him for squashing her flowers. Instead she clasped her hands in delight. "Oh! He's beautiful!" Bodie looked immensely pleased at the praise. She must have realised she was inches away from a large animal capable of causing harm in moments. With a glance at Doyle, she asked, "May I touch him?"

Doyle shrugged. "Ask him."

"He understands?"

"He understands everything."

While Suzane was fawning over Bodie, Doyle muttered, "He understands way too much sometimes."

"What?" she called over her shoulder.

"Sometimes he's too smart for his own good," Doyle offered.

She turned back to Bodie. "Oh, I doubt that!" Mistress stroked his ears and neck. Bodie closed his eyes, revelling in the attention.

"Next he'll be getting you to feed him."

Mistress rose, dusting off her dress. "I have some freshly butchered shank on the spit this minute. There'll be plenty for dinner." She walked towards the house. "Although I expect you like yours on the undercooked side?"

Bodie wuffed, his tail wagging. He leapt to his feet and waited, clearly expecting that meat this instant.

"A way to that creature's heart is definitely through his belly!" Doyle said with a laugh and a shake of his head. "Still, he's a keeper."

Bodie gave Doyle a wolf grin, bumped Doyle's hand with his snout, then followed the mistress inside. Doyle hoped there'd be something left for his own dinner after Bodie got finished.

---------------------------------

Doyle was asleep under the pines wrapped in a thick blanket next to Mistress Suzane's lodgings when a strange sound woke him. He started at the low call of Mistress' name. Suzane! Sssssuuuzane! Suzaaaaaaaane! It was from next to him, yet from across the meadow. It surrounded him, gruff and frightening even to him.

Bodie had been stretched along Doyle's length but he was already standing. He must have heard the noise before it registered to Doyle. He lifted his nose to sniff, his eyes slitted in concentration.

"What is it?" Doyle asked.

The hair on Bodie's backbone bristled and a growl rumbled from his throat.

"Get 'em," Doyle said softly, standing himself, his bow at the ready. He had a long knife in its scabbard and he touched it for reassurance.

Bodie took off, his pads silent on the thicket of pine needles. Doyle followed as well as he could. Bodie had much better night vision. Ahead, Doyle saw the occasional flick of Bodie's tail. The white made a startling swatch of colour in the darkness as it caught the glow of the moon.

His own steps quiet, Doyle followed Bodie from the tree cover and together they circled Mistress' house. He hunkered down, slinking along. He couldn't see Bodie but he understood that Bodie would have circled from the other direction. A piercing scream cut the night air. Mistress Suzane!

Doyle bolted for the main entry, dropping the bow and arrow. It would be useless in the close confines of the living quarters. Pulling his long knife, he had to smash through the locked door. Mistress was sitting up in her bed. Blood covered her face and hands, as well as the blankets. On the bed lay a skinned animal. She jumped when he entered, letting out a squeak of surprise.

"Mistress!" Doyle shouted, taking in the entire living space in a glance. A fire burned in the hearth, casting light and shadows. He saw nothing threatening lurking about. "It's Doyle! Remember?" He rushed to her side. "Mistress!"

She turned her eyes to him and caught her breath. "Sir Doyle?"

"Are you hurt?" he demanded, taking in the bloody carcass, a large hare. It was an ill omen to be sure. There was far too much blood to have come from a small animal. It covered the bed and dripped onto the floor.

"No," she finally answered. Her eyes were terrified but she forced herself into composure. "I'm not injured, only being silly. I apologize for screaming like a ninny."

Doyle shook his head, admiring how quickly she could gather her composure. At that moment, Bodie raced into the room. He didn't pause but jumped on the bed and began licking Mistress' face. He whined, giving comfort as he did so. Mistress gave a watery smile and hugged the large creature. Bodie rolled to his back, oblivious to the mess, and showed his belly. Doyle couldn't remember seeing his Bodie so subservient to anybody before. Then again, how did he know this? Another of the weird preception moments coursed through him. Doyle shook it off. He didn't have time for strange sounds and even stranger impressions.

Looking at Mistress rubbing his wolf's belly, he felt a small spike of jealousy course through him but quickly he castigated himself. It was ridiculous to be jealous of this woman. She was in danger and Bodie was offering comfort. This way, Doyle didn't feel the need to offer his own succour; Bodie was capable of doing more to calm her than he was.

"I take it you didn't find anybody?"

"What?" she asked.

"I was asking Bodie."

"Oh. He's such an intelligent fellow!"

Bodie chuffed out a snort before he rolled over. He blinked at Doyle, clearly stating he hadn't seen anything. Then he dipped his head and gave Doyle a sideways glance. Bodie was confused about something.

"Did you not smell whomever did this?" Doyle asked. Bodie barked a negative. He hadn't smelled anybody? That didn't bode well for Mistress. That meant this stalking might well be by curse, not by something as simple as a villain out to scare her for money or her person. "I'm going to check the perimeter. You stay and guard." Bodie lay down on the messy bed. Doyle scooped up the carcass and took it with him, stopping only to grab a lantern.

It took him thirty minutes in the dark before he found the spot. The bark of a willow tree had been scraped clean, the size of two hand-spans. The markings etched there, along with more blood, told him that somebody wanted Mistress to suffer. For what dire reason, he needed to find out. Retracing his steps, he paused to bury the dead hare before he returned to the house. Suddenly, he had a vision of a grave. There was no stone, only a gaping maw in the raw dirt. He jerked back, blinking. A hearse rumbled up on the drive beside the grave, white curtains in the windows. The black paint was shiny, not a speck of dust on it. A man climbed out. Tall, dark, impossibly handsome. His face was sombre when he skirted the hearse to open the rear door and pull out the wooden coffin far enough to lean over it. The grieving man put a hand on the wood, leaned down and said clearly, "Doyle, why'd you go?"

Doyle backed up until he fell on his arse. He looked around. There was no grave, no hearse, no strange man. "Fucking bloody hell," he muttered, getting to his feet. He kicked the last clods of dirt over the hare's grave and ran out of the forest to Suzane's house.

Mistress had washed and was wearing a clean shift. She'd stripped the bed; the bloody coverings were piled in the wash tub outside the door. She was scrubbing the floor when Doyle entered. Bodie was keeping watch with one eye while he lay on the hearth rug gnawing on a large roasted bone.

"Cretin," Doyle said to Bodie, who merely slapped his tail on the floor several times.

"Why is there a curse on you?" Doyle asked without preamble. "I deserve to know. Sir George told me nothing."

Mistress paused then resumed her task. "He didn't want you to take this task with any preconceived notions, I'm sure. It all stems from my father."

"And you told Sir George this? Stupid question to ask but Doyle did it anyway.

"Of course."

"Of course. Only he didn't tell me. Of course." Doyle sat down. Bodie came over and put a head on Doyle's knee. He scratched and rubbed the velvety ears. Having Bodie close always helped to calm him and think straight. "Why doesn't he feel the need to give his men the full stories before they rush into assignments?"

While Doyle watched, mulling over the implications of the runes in the tree, the blood and the hair, Mistress finished her chores. "Tea?"

"Please."

As she prepared the drink, she said, "I suggested to Sir George that not giving you all the details would mean you could look at what is happening with untainted eyes." She poured hot water over the sachet of herbs. "I didn't know that Fennmore Argus was my father until a brief time ago. It seems he has evidence of corruption regarding half a dozen leaders in the capitol." Suzane brought a cup to Doyle. "I received a small satchel by messenger one afternoon. It was a complete surprise to me when I opened it and discovered what lay inside."

He took the offered cup with a nod of thanks. It tasted heavenly after tonight's adventures. "Good, this."

"I grow the herbs myself."

"Right. I knew you sold your teas in the village. I can see why."

"Thank you," she said, blushing.

"Go on with your story, please." Doyle enjoyed his cuppa slowly. No telling when he'd get another one this tasty. No wonder she made a good living selling her herbs and teas.

Suzane drank her own tea. "It's really quite simple. I am to give up the evidence or I'm otherwise destroyed. By what means I have no idea."

"Ah," Doyle said. "Simple but effective."

"I've refused to allow it. I detest corruption of any sort." Mistress' mouth was a firm line and her eyes were cold.

Doyle finished his drink. "Of course you do." Bodie raised his head and glared at Doyle. "What?" Bodie curled a lip. Doyle rolled his eyes. The wolf went to Mistress' side and leaned against her leg. Doyle took the hint. That damned animal was too smart for his own good. "Sorry, Mistress. I didn't mean to be flippant but if your life is at stake, isn't it better for you to do as demanded?"

"One must stand up for one's self, as you well know, Sir Doyle. You do it every day. Why should I not do the same?" Suzane sat tall, her shoulders squared. "Besides, if this information is brought to the head council in Londonium then my father will be freed from prison."

"I had no idea he was imprisoned."

"The note enclosed in the papers explained all. How he was able to get the satchel to me I do not know, but he is in private incarceration until he turns the information over to whomever is holding him captive."

"You don't know who's behind this?"

"The papers themselves are sealed. My father's letter to me gave only scant details as to their content. He thought it would keep me safe not to know. Sir George and I agreed to leave them as such until the meeting two weeks' hence. This way their validity is assured." Suzane rolled her eyes. "Of course, we know that his efforts to protect me have failed, but I will not give in to these demands."

Seeing the determination in her eyes, Doyle nodded slowly. "All right. So it's not a curse yet it is."

"More tea?"

"Please."

Doyle watched her closely. "You are not like most women."

Suzane laughed brightly. "I am not most women," she said succinctly.

"No, you're not."

Doyle wasn't surprised when Bodie woofed his agreement of Mistress' statement. The creature was clearly enamoured with her. She was smart and pretty, able to care for herself. Doyle knew she was widowed these past five years. He firmly ignored his own brain asking how he knew this. If he acknowledged every odd quirk of his mind, he'd go mad. Doyle accepted that he knew that she and he were of the same age without understanding how. Details came to him easily: a hunting accident with a wild boar, one of the most fierce creatures in this land. She was free. Doyle should be attracted to her. Should be... But he wasn't. He liked her (not as much as Bodie did, apparently) but he didn't want her in the physical sense. He hadn't wanted anybody in his bed for as long as he could remember, and he hadn't had a close companion until Bodie had come into his life.

A sudden chill raced down Doyle's back. How had he spent years in celibacy and not paid attention to it? There had to be something wrong with him. He didn't desire any woman in his own village, nor had he been attracted to any other woman he'd met while performing his duties as guardsman. He swallowed a final gulp of tea. If he wasn't charged with protecting Mistress, he would have run from the house and not stopped running until he was beyond exhausted. He did not want to think about his own body. It betrayed him, not wanting what other men in the village and nearby towns wanted: a wife and children. He wanted... something else. So it was easier to ignore his body's desires than delve into his own mind to identify what he wanted. What he needed. What he would never have.

"Sir?"

"Eh?" Doyle started, lost in his thoughts. "Sorry. What were you saying?"

"I was asking about what we were going to do about this horrible person who's determined to frighten me to death. Sir George said you were the best."

"Thank you. I'll continue to keep you safe." Bodie barked. "So will he." She smiled, looking reassured, but Doyle didn't feel like 'the best'. He felt useless and helpless. Bodie slid his nose under Doyle's hand. Doyle stroked his wolf. Bodie could always sense his feelings and he was here to offer comfort. "Good fellow." Bodie grinned his wolf grin. Doyle's heart warmed. Bodie was a creature he could love unreservedly. He was glad he had this fine animal as his companion. When he thought about it, he realised there was nothing else he desired as a friend. Be content, he told himself. Doyle hoped he could take his own advice.

"I'm going to try and have a kip." Doyle rose.

"Excuse me?"

He'd done it again. Spoken before he'd thought. Used a word foreign to himself and to Mistress. Quickly he blurted out, "Sleep. It's three hours until dawn. I doubt this-" he waved a hand, "will try again. You should do the same."

"Thank you."

Doyle headed for the door. Bodie stayed where he was, at Mistress' feet. "Staying?" Bodie chuffed. "Good lad. Keep sharp." With a final parting glance at his companion, he went to his makeshift sleeping pallet and crawled in. Sleep came quickly and it was dreamless. No strange noises, no odd visions. Thank the gods.

----------------------------

The next morning dawned cool and drizzly. Fog rolled in and out of the meadow surrounding Suzane's home. Doyle was restless while Mistress seemed calm. She had herbs spread out on her table, along with needle, thread and muslin. She hummed as she sewed the leaves into the muslin squares. He glanced at her occasionally while she worked. Sometimes she looked up, caught his eye and smiled back. Her eyes told him she would welcome his advances. He liked her, truly he did but... Stop it!

Doyle paced the floor. He watched through windows as long as possible before that unsettled feeling forced him outdoors. He tugged his coat closer and pulled his hat down over his ears. His blade was tucked under his arm in its sheath. His bow with a notched arrow was in his hand. He was chilled from the rain but walking felt good. His muscles warmed and his head cleared. He could occasionally hear Bodie ranging off to his right, the wolf's quiet way letting only the slightest sound. Doyle had excellent hearing. He also had a connection with Bodie that nobody could understand. He and the wolf were one.

It made his heart glad to share his life with one such as Bodie.

Doyle was still thinking about Bodie when he heard a voice. He stopped short, became still. His heart thumped. It took a few seconds to calm himself and he listened intently. Softly, from around him, beside him, in him, he heard a voice: "...taken a downward turn. That strong will you say he has doesn't seem to be working." The tone was familiar, the cadence strange. Before he could place the person, he heard a second voice: "It will." Another speaker, again known but not. Whose strong will? His own? The first speaker said, "The surgeon doesn't think he's trying." The second man spoke quickly, his tone firm. "Well, I know what he means. Give Ray half a chance, he'd blame himself for the invention of gunpowder."

Confused, Doyle rubbed his head. His name was Ray. But what about the other statements. Why did this surgeon think he wasn't trying? Trying to do what? And gunpowder? He wasn't sure what it was but why would he blame himself for its invention? Maybe it was harmful or dangerous or something that brought ill omens. Before he could think about the strange words further, there was a sharp yelp of pain from the direction where Bodie had been. Startled, Doyle took off at a run towards the sound, heedless of the branches slapping his face. The ethereal conversation was forgotten as he raced, not calling out until he knew the reason for Bodie's cry. Someone - or something - could be lurking about and he hoped he had the element of surprise on his side if there was to be a fight. As he broke through the under-brush into a small clearing, he saw Bodie on the ground, stretched out on his side. He was still as death.

"Bodie," Doyle whispered, sliding on the wet leaves to fall to his knees beside his companion.

Tentatively Doyle ran his hands down Bodie's fur. He saw no blood but when he spoke to the wolf, he didn't respond. Cautiously Doyle turned Bodie over to examine his other side. Again, he didn't see any injury responsible for Bodie's unresponsive state. Further examination revealed his breathing was slow but his heart was beating steadily. What had felled the wolf? A spell of some sort perhaps? Before Doyle could rise and carry his friend back to Suzane's house, a woman's scream rent the air, then was abruptly cut off.

"By all the gods!" Doyle cried. On his feet instantly, he gave Bodie a worried glance before he pelted for Mistress' home. She wasn't the screaming type so the sound he'd heard made his blood run cold.

Doyle ran through the brush. Roots tried to snag his ankles and branches seemed to reach out to entangle in his clothing. By the time he slid to a stop at the forest's edge to survey Suzane's home, his face was bloody and his clothing torn. Something had tried to stop him from making it out of the forest. Fury raced through his body. He was at the end of his patience and determined to stop whatever threatened Suzane and had harmed Bodie.

From his vantage point, Doyle could see nothing moving in the area between the edge of the woods and Mistress' dwelling. He squinted, listening intently. A faint sound reached his ears. Hard breathing; footsteps; dragging...

"No," he whispered. "Please don't let her be dead." Doyle emerged from the brush. Hunkering down, he hurried to the house, keeping low under a window. With his knife in hand, he pushed his back against the outer wall, squatting under the opening. From inside, the noises continued.

Taking a chance, he turned silently and bobbed up. There! Two women occupied the room. The one standing upright, holding out her hand, was a stranger. The other was Suzane. The strange woman was busy staring at Suzane; Doyle was not directly in her sight line so he watched cautiously.

Suzane stood about two feet away from the first woman. She swayed on her feet; her eyes were open; her arms hung limply at her sides, and she seemed to be in a trance. Some invisible force was holding Suzane on her shaky legs. The other woman was speaking in low tones, quickly and in a tongue Doyle didn't understand. She had to be a witch, casting her spell, or Suzane would have defended herself. The stranger spoke louder and faster, waving her arm from side to side. Suzane wavered in the same direction as the woman's hand. The witch cried out. Suzane opened her mouth as if to scream but nothing came out. Her eyes seemed to bug out. Woodenly, Suzane raised her right arm and pointed past the witch's shoulder to the wall behind her. The witch laughed in triumph, flicking her wrist. Instantly, Suzane flew through the air, slammed into the wall to land in a crumbled heap on the floor.

Doyle knew he couldn't rush in headlong. The woman's powers would fell him instantly. He had to be careful and smart. Smarter than a witch whose limit of powers he had no idea. Biting his lip, Doyle saw the witch turn to where Suzane had pointed. She gleefully rubbed her hands together before waggling her fingers in the air. Three logs sprang open, revealing a small cubicle that was cleverly hidden. Another flick of her fingers, and a small valise sailed into her outstretched hand.

Breathing in and out several times to calm himself, he stayed low and hurried back to the forest. He sheathed his knife and walked to where he could be seen from the front entrance. Making as much noise as possible, he began to weave across the open area towards the house. On his way, he purposefully stumbled, picking handfuls of this flower and that grass, being careful to gather a good bunch of the small blue wild flowers with the ragged leaves. He gathered large yellow daisins to conceal the blue ones, along with a good bit of purple lavuden. Clutching the bouquet, he began to sing at the top of his lungs. He sang the bawdiest tune he knew while he staggered across the open space between the door and the forest.

The witch emerged from the house, the satchel held tightly in one arm. Doyle waved wildly.

"Oy! Mistress!" He gave a drunken giggle and a loud belch before he tripped over his own feet to sprawl in the dirt. Laughing, he rolled over, keeping a firm hold of the greenery. "How are ye this fine evening?" he sputtered, hiccupping.

"Moron," the woman spat out, coming close enough to kick Doyle's left leg. He'd sport a good bruise on his calf. "It's morning, you drunken fool! Now be gone!"

Doyle struggled to his knees. He swayed, grinning. "Is that any way to treat your suitor? Come to ask for your..." he eyed the woman up and down, pausing his perusal at her bosom. He licked his lips, clearing conveying his desire to have his way with her ample endowments. "...fine attributes in marriage!"

Insulted, the witch became an affronted woman in a flash. She lifted her lip in a sneer and glared down her nose. "Marriage? You're a bigger prat than I first thought! As if I'd ever marry the likes of you!" She tossed the satchel aside and raised a hand.
Doyle somehow managed to hide his flinch, sure she would put some deadly curse upon him. However, she didn't attack him; she merely pointed back to where he had come. "Now go before I gut you like a dead fish." The witch stood over Doyle, hands on hips.

"But," he sputtered, "you promised me, Mistress Suzaneeeeee." He whined out the name, letting the 'e' trail annoyingly. He crushed the flowers and herbs together, turning them into a pulp. He let the juices coat his palms while he did his best to appear upset over her dismissal of his fine offer.

"I am not-" The witch bit off her words, clearly refusing to be drawn further in to this insane man's rambles.

Doyle took his opportunity. He stumbled to his feet, pretended to lose his balance. The witch made her mistake. Instead of stepping away, she held her ground. Doyle slammed his palms onto her face. The potion he'd made with the lavuden, witch's wort and wormline made her scream. Her flesh burned under his hands yet his own flesh remained unharmed. Only a true witch could be harmed with this particular concoction.

"Thank you, Sir George," he muttered, holding on while she flailed in his grasp, helpless to defend herself. Sir George had taught him well, even when he complained that he'd never need herbal lore. It was a fair good thing that he remembered his lessons.

---------------------------

Doyle was ever thankful that the witch didn't scream. It was dismaying enough to have her squirming in his hands as her flesh burned. He held on, eyes locked on her, until she stopped moving. To be sure she wasn't faking her unresponsive state, he kept hold for another full minute. Finally, when his arms began to tremble from her dead weight, he dropped her to the ground. Breath heaving, Doyle dragged the body into the woods until he found a large patch of lavunden. Laying her on the flowers, he stared down at her for a few seconds before he shook himself back to motion. He gathered several large handfuls of witch's wort and wormline to sprinkle upon the witch's body. The combination did its work. The body disintegrated into the earth, swallowed up in less than five minutes.

It smelled horrible and sounded even worse, but it was done. Grimacing, Doyle absent-mindedly wiped his hands on his tunic.

"Doyle? Sir Doyle?"

"Suzane!" Doyle sprinted back to Mistress' home. She stood in the doorway, leaning heavily upon the frame. Doyle caught her in his arms and lifted her easily. He took her inside, gently settling her on her bed. "Rest now. Are you back among us?"

"Aye," she said softly, wiping her eyes. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For saving me." Suzane looked around. "Where is he?"

"Oh, God." Doyle straightened. It was unforgivable that he'd forgotten about his Bodie!

"What?" Suzane grabbed his sleeve. "Tell me, please. Where is he?"

Uncaring, he wrenched it free. "I must go to him!"

Suzane must have seen the anguish on Doyle's face because she covered her mouth with her hand, stifling a cry of pain. She was more upset over Bodie's predicament than her own. Doyle didn't have time to comfort her; he must go to Bodie! Like a mad man, Doyle ran towards the forest, sure that his dearest friend was dead. He was barely ten yards from the tree line when a streak of white burst out of the underbrush, felling Doyle.

Doyle flew back, landing in the dirt in a tangle of limbs. Bodie pressed his front paws against Doyle's chest, taking the breath from his lungs with the weight of the wolf. "Bo..."

Bodie kept his full weight on Doyle, leaning down to lick Doyle's face. That long warm tongue laved his entire face before he paused, looking at Doyle with love in his eyes. Doyle let out a cry of half pain, half relief. Bodie was alive! He must have been released from his fugue when Doyle had killed the witch. Doyle threw his arms around Bodie's torso and dragged him down. Together they rolled and tumbled in the dirt. Bodie pretended to growl and nip. Doyle pretended to wrestle. When both were covered in dirt, Doyle flopped back, laughing. He sounded somewhat hysterical to his own ears. Bodie bit his flank. Doyle cried out at the sharp nip but it brought him fully back to his senses.

"Ah, sweetness, I thought you'd left me." Doyle rubbed Bodie's dusty fur before he scratched his ears. Bodie closed his eyes, tilting his head. He sighed softly, making Doyle chuckle. "I do love you, you mad bastard."

Bodie cracked an eye open, and gave Doyle a wolfish grin.

"Come on, you. We must attend to the mistress, and then, I don't know about you, but I want to go home to me own bed."

Bodie pushed his snout into Doyle's face, gave him a final lick, and then raced into Mistress' open door. No doubt he went looking for a shank. Doyle's belly rumbled. He rose and hurried over. He'd best get his share before that cretin ate every morsel himself!

As he walked back to the house, dusting off the worst of the dirt, he heard a strange sound. Whoosh. Beep. Whoosh. Beep. A sharp jab to his inner arm made him jump. He rubbed the spot. A bug perhaps, but the skin was clear. He turned in a full circle, put a finger into an ear and shook it. Whoosh. Beep. Whoosh. Beep. He must have stood here for far too long because the next thing he felt was Bodie's annoying teeth nipping his arse.

"Hey!" Doyle cried, startled. "Stop that, you prat!" Bodie gave a woof, looking concerned. Doyle patted him. "I'm all right. Starving. Did you save me anything?" Doyle swore Bodie looked guilty. He picked up the long-forgotten satchel that Suzane held so dearly. The corrupt members of the council would not be happy with the witch's failure nor with Suzane's presentation of evidence at the next tribunal. He smiled. It had been a good day.

Bodie sat before Doyle, licking his muzzle. From the satisfied look in his wolf's eyes, Doyle knew the truth of it. "Guess I'll not be having meat with my biscuits, eh? But if you haven't left me a bite of cheese you shall be sleeping in the barn with the chickens tonight!"

If a wolf could shrug and look not the least bit guilty, Doyle was sure Bodie did at that moment.

---------------------------

The unusually hot sun scorched the crops. They withered on the vines, and no amount of tending by the village women made a difference. Two homes burned during a lightning storm, and a child died in the inferno. There was a council meeting, and a decision was made. Three months after Doyle surfaced from his near death experience, another's death was being discussed behind closed doors. When Sir George came to his home and told him the decision, he exploded with rage.

"I refuse to be part of this!" He clenched his fists, glaring at Sir George. "How can you sanction such a thing?"

Bodie leap to his feet. His hackles rose as he also stared at Sir George. His dark blue eyes turned black, and his stiff legged walk conveyed his anger.

Sir George lifted his chin. He looked from Bodie to Doyle. In a tight voice, he said to Bodie as if the creature could understand him. "Stand down." When Bodie remained in position, Sir George took a step towards him, yet he glanced at Doyle. "I will not tolerate this action!"

Doyle let out a deep sigh. "Bodie, go and lie down." Bodie obeyed, albeit reluctantly. He walked over to the hearth and dropped to the rug spread there. The look he gave Doyle said it all. "Sorry, mate," Doyle said softly. "I know you're furious also but I'll handle this." Turning back to Sir George, he said again, "I won't allow this to happen.

Sir George stood before Doyle, meeting him eye to eye and toe to toe. "Understand this: I would do anything necessary to protect our lands. To keep it smelling ever so sweetly of russbuds and sage-mint." He rose, paced, rubbed at his temples. "Listen, laddie, I understand. It hasn't been in your lifetime that we've had to choose. But this sacrifice must be made!" He let out his own unhappy sigh. "I must abide by the council of elders. They rule the WhiteHall and I canna disobey."

"You're a coward," Doyle said softly, menacingly. "I will stop this."

"How?" Sir George threw out his hands. "The council will draw lots tonight. You know as well as I that no one, from babe to bed-ridden elders are to be excused from the lottery." He rubbed his temple as if it pained him. "Even I and council members are not excused. It is the fairest way."

"Fair? What in bloody hell is fair about killing somebody. And in secrecy no less!" Doyle sneered. He paced in agitation. "Bloody ruling clan! I'm tired of them and their bloody laws! They never mix with any of us. They sit on their high thrones and issue edicts down to us, their minions!"

"I do not disagree," Sir George said softly. "But my hands are tied. If they remove me, then what?"

Doyle stopped in his tracks. He considered the implications of losing Sir George. He'd begun to feel part of the village, although he still had spells when he was sure he was in the wrong place or more strangely, in the wrong time. The villagers were easy going, hard working folk. They liked to till their fields, or shoe horses, or sew clothing. Mistress Genevie was the best baker Doyle knew, and he'd had a lot of puddings in his life. Little ten year old Jemmer had taken to following Doyle when he could, declaring he would be a guardsman when he came of age. The thought of any of his friends being chosen chilled him. The idea that anybody in the village would die made him furious. But the village needed Sir George more than they needed any other single person. He hated himself for the thought yet he admitted aloud, "Then the people would suffer. You keep the taxes from being outrageous and you make sure the little ones are educated. You must remain in place, for all of our sakes, or life would be more uncomfortable than it sometimes is."

For a moment, Doyle was sure he would be sick. His belly clenched at his own words and at the look of gratitude on Sir George's face.

"You won't interfere," Sir George stated. "I could order you out of the village for two days hence if you intend to cause any trouble."

With a loud sigh, Doyle hunkered down beside Bodie. He stroked the soft white fur and rubbed Bodie's left ear between his finger and thumb. Bodie closed his eyes and lifted his head. Doyle smiled at Bodie's pleasure. If only his life were so simple. Food and drink, a soft bed, and love. That's all Bodie asked. In return, he gave undying loyalty and friendship. Doyle loved this creature and once again wished he could have found someone of his own species to spend his life with. But being with Bodie was good enough. It had been for as long as he could remember. Doyle accepted that he would be without a lover for the rest of his life. As long as he had his beloved wolf beside him, he was content.

"Doyle?" Sir George said into the silence.

Doyle sat back on his haunches. He looked up at his superior. "I will be the one."

Sir George's eyebrows rose. "What? Dinna tell me you mean..."

Doyle could see the hurt, the anger, the fear in Sir George's bright eyes. Bodie rose, growling low in his throat. The fur on his spine stood straight up. "Settle," Doyle said soothingly, stroking the hair back into place. "It is my choice."

Bodie whined, licked Doyle's cheek where it had been broken years ago and had healed badly, and chuffed out a small bark. Bodie had agreed to let Doyle make his decision. Doyle felt himself tear up at Bodie's show of loyalty, although he did briefly wonder at his companion's easy acquiescence.

"Ah, laddie, I dinna wish this!"

"Thank you," Doyle said, resting his forehead against Bodie's head. "For understanding." He lifted his eyes to look at Sir George. "But I do. Go and make the arrangements." At Sir George's hesitation, he snapped, "Now."

Obviously still in shock, Sir George didn't reprimand Doyle for his curt attitude. He swiped at one eye, nodded and hurried from the building.

Doyle wrapped his arms around Bodie, breathing in the familiar musky scent of his best friend. He revelled in the softness of Bodie's coat and the comfort he found hugging him. They stayed like that for a long time. Finally Doyle crawled into his bed. Bodie followed, lying close to Doyle. Mindlessly, Doyle stroked Bodie until he fell asleep. Doyle lay awake in the dark, listening, his body tense. The nights were the worst. Although his house's walls were sturdy and few night-time sounds penetrated unless he opened a door or window, that didn't stop the noises his brain insisted on creating. How long it would be before he was completely healed, he had no clue. The night was still. His eyes closed, and while his body relaxed, his mind raced.

Whoosh-whoosh-whoosh, interspersed with the highly annoying, beep-beep-beep. Some nights, like tonight, when he was especially tired, he fancied he could hear the tread of soft-soled shoes on lino, the creak of a trolley rolling by, the hushed whispers of people fussing with his arms or legs, and the quiet voice of someone he loved reading, Haply I think on thee, and then my state, Like to the lark at break of day arising...

Strangely, the words soothed his soul, as did the voice. He was hallucinating, of course. His mind was altered since his attack. Mistress Ross had said as much, when he'd found the courage to enquire about it once. She gave him a brew to drink and he drank it faithfully. When she'd asked again, he said the noises and voices had gone.

Doyle had lied. But he realised that their continued presence didn't interfere with his daily activities so he'd gone back to his duties full time. They were part of his life now, and he had grown to like them. They made him feel as if he were real. Like he belonged here in spite of the feeling that he did not.

As to his decision to offer himself as sacrifice, Doyle knew it was the right thing to do. His heart was assuaged. His mind was at peace. He could sleep now, knowing everything was right with his world.

----------------------------

It was a clear, cold night when Doyle was taken to where he would be burned alive. Sir George was in front, a haversack on his back. He carried a lantern to light the way. Bodie followed Doyle, constantly bumping into the backs of his legs. Bodie was not happy, not by a long shot. Doyle pulled the thin folds of the white robe he wore closer to his body. It was far too light-weight to keep him warm. With an inward snicker at his own predicament, he realised the material would burn quickly and hotly. Marvellous. He trod barefooted on the snow. It crunched under his feet, making a loud sound in the still night. On his head, Doyle wore a wreath of holl-berries, a symbol of renewal and rebirth to their clan. It had not been worn by a sacrifice for five summers and winters. Thank the gods, a yearly sacrifice had been done away with long ago. Now it was only used for the direst of conditions. Having the village infiltrated by a killer, along with the withering of the last of the Autumn's crops and the ill omen of the lightning strikes, called for drastic measures.

Sir George stopped, setting the lantern on a large boulder and dropping the sack to the ground. Doyle stopped beside him.

"Brought me a last meal, eh?" Doyle asked.

Sir George glanced at him sharply. "Dinna joke, Ray. My heart is hurting as it is. If you must know, I brought essentials just in case..."

"In case of what?" Doyle asked, not really interested but it gave him something else to think about for a short time.

"Ye never know what the gods have planned." At Doyle's quizzical look, he said, "a blanket to wrap myself in since I will stay with ye until dawn. These old bones... Well, no matter. Also some blessed oils to anoint-" Sir George's voice faltered. He cleared his throat. "To anoint you with afterwards."

"Not that there will be much left."

Sir George rubbed his eyes. "No, but still, I must do this."

Doyle put a hand on his shoulder. "Thank you." Sir George shrugged.

Doyle took the opportunity to look around. The glade that had been chosen by the clan's holy man was beautiful. Any other time Doyle would have loved it. The evergreens grew close in an almost perfect circle about 60 paces across. On the lower branches, the village women had decorated the area with pine-balls that had fallen from the trees. They had coloured them with paint of red, yellow, green and blue, and tied them to the branches. It was their contribution to his sacrifice, a merry sight to help him on his way.

Above him, the tall limbs created a canopy. He craned his neck, looking at the stars he would see through the branches. They were sprinkled like tiny crystalline droplets on a length of newly woven blue-black cloth. Bodie's nose bumped his hand, bringing him back to the present. Doyle looked down at his friend, stroking Bodie.

"It's all right," Doyle said softly.

Bodie whined, his eyes dull. The wolf understood. Of that Doyle had no doubt. He sighed, returning to his perusal of the place of his death. It was indeed a special glade. A large pile of wood was laid in a precise pattern. There was no haphazard tossing of the fire fuel here. Each log, branch and kindling was carefully arranged in a pattern that the holy man had drawn out whilst he was in a trance. It came from the gods, as all knew, and it was not questioned.

The largest logs, a good two hand-spans across the ends, were in an eight-sided figure, with the same diameter logs cut into pieces that fit like the spokes of a wagon wheel. In the centre, the logs met another smaller octagonal shape, and the centre of that held the wooden platform upon which Doyle would stand. It reminded him of the sunburst drawn on one of the walls of the main ceremonial hall.

The platform was flanked by two upright poles. Doyle's mouth went dry. His arms would be lashed to the pole so that he could not escape when the flames began to lick at his skin. He began to tremble. Silently he prayed that the smoke would choke the life from him before the fire could do its worst.

Bodie must have sensed Doyle's fear, because he put himself across Doyle's path, a barrier that Doyle had to circumvent.

"No, Bodie. You can't stop me. Please..." Doyle gave Bodie a watery smile. "I need you to be strong so I can be. I can't-" His throat closed. Doyle dropped to his knees, pulling Bodie close. "I couldn't let anybody else die. The others had children or were children! The old ones deserve peace. I have-" He caught himself before he said nothing, but that wasn't true. He had Bodie. If only... But it wasn't to be. As beloved as his Bodie was, he was still a wolf. Children need their mothers; parents their children. Bodie would survive without him. Bodie was strong and brave.

Bodie licked his eyes, whimpering softly. Doyle swiped away the tears.

From around the circle, a low sound began to rise in crescendo. Doyle jumped. He hadn't noticed the ring of onlookers who stood back far enough so that their faces were hidden in shadow. They hummed in unison. The council, no doubt, here to make sure the ceremony went on as planned. There had to be an accounting, after all. Enemies had to be vanquished, such as the one who'd crept into the village, shot Doyle and killed the emissary from Doverclif as Doyle guarded the woman. Crops had to be encouraged to grow. Rain had to be tempted to fall. This sacrifice was because the last year, it had been a terrible time for all.

It was up to Doyle to rectify those misfortunes. Forfeiting his life would fix all of the village's calamities. The council believed; the villagers believed.

Doyle believed.

"It's time," Sir George said from beside Doyle. "The stars are in their proper position. Come."

"Bodie, go home."

Bodie stared at Doyle. He could clearly read Bodie's thoughts: Are you barmy? I'm not going anywhere!

"He may stay, if you wish it," Sir George said, "but he mustnae interfere."

Doyle met his wolf's gaze. Bodie blinked once. "He understands."

Doyle waved a hand. Bodie retreated to the edge of the glade, behind Doyle, and lay down. He turned away from Doyle, his dismissal a stab in Doyle's heart. It was better though, if Bodie kept his anger burning. It would keep the pain of losing Doyle at bay for the time being. He would hate it if Bodie went crackers and hurt somebody in his grief. Poor Bodie...

Sir George put a hand under Doyle's elbow. He squeezed lightly. "Ahh, laddie..." he said softly.

Doyle didn't look at him. Instead, his attention was drawn to the sudden flare of a torch. One, then two, then three, and so on, as each onlooker lit his torch from the one standing beside him. In the end, Doyle counted thirteen, the number chosen by the village shaman. Thirteen would verify that Doyle's sacrifice had been made.

Sir George led him closer and closer to the pyre.

----------------------------

Doyle paused, closed his eyes, took in a deep breath. That's when it happened. Something large and heavy slammed into his back, knocking him and Sir George to their bellies. Doyle sprawled in the dirt, shocked for a second before he registered what had transpired.

As he looked towards the fire circle, he saw his Bodie racing forward. Bodie made a huge leap and landed gracefully on the platform upon which Doyle was to be sacrificed. Before Doyle could take his next breath, thirteen torches were thrown onto the pyre, arching through the air to land in sprays of sparks. The dry tinder placed under the larger logs burst into flames.

"No!" screamed Doyle. "Stop!" He scrambled to his feet and rushed forward. His only thought was to save Bodie. Bodie was his friend, his family, his devoted companion. He had to rescue him!

The fire licked at Bodie's fur. The pure white hair began to smoke and then to singe, turning black. Bodie looked up to the sky, opened his jaws and howled. It was a pain-wracked sound, mournful and terrifying. Doyle's skin crawled and tears raced down his cheeks.

"Bodie!" Doyle cried, sliding forward on the dirt. He was inches away from reaching Bodie when strong hands caught his ankles. He crashed to the ground, the air knocked from his body as he landed fully on his face and stomach. As he was dragged backwards, he thrashed in the firm bonds that held him.

"Let me be!" he screamed. He kicked as hard as he could. There was a grunt of pain as his foot met flesh. "Leave off!" Doyle twisted and lunged like a wild thing, trying to break free. No, not like a wild thing. He was a wild thing! "Bodie! Bodie!" Doyle screamed his friend's name over and over, clawing at the dirt.

Suddenly, Doyle froze. His world stopped in that moment. He had one last glance at Bodie standing in the centre of the pyre, engulfed in flames. Horror overtook him. Failure. Dismay. He was too late. Bodie swayed before collapsing onto the burning logs. The thick smoke burned Doyle's eyes. Bodie disappeared from his view.

"Oh gods, no!" Doyle sobbed. The hands holding him captive let go. He leapt to his feet quickly, stumbling forward in his haste. His legs collapsed under him much as Bodie had. Bodie was gone. All he could do was watch the remains of his beloved wolf's body char. He sank to the ground, wrapping his arms around himself. Doyle cried silently, rocking himself. He couldn't take his eyes away from the burning corpse. In a few minutes, all that was left was a smoking remnant of the magnificent creature Doyle had called friend for a dozen years.

"Bodie," he whispered, despair filling every cell of his body. He should have been the one to be sacrificed, not Bodie. He had been chosen. He had failed. Himself. His village.

His Bodie.

Doyle's tears blurred his vision. The fire began to temper as it ate through the fuel, ate through Bodie and the wood. Doyle's stomach lurched. He clamped a hand over his mouth. Bodie... burnt beyond recognition, gone, dying horribly. He was sick, vomiting up what little had been in his stomach.

Finally, the heaves stopped. "My fault, my fault, my fault." He chanted the litany into his palm unceasingly. How could he survive this? Bodie would want him to be strong but how could he be strong without his companion beside him?

"Don't let his sacrifice be in vain," Sir George said softly.

Doyle turned to look into Sir George's pain-filled blue eyes. His mentor hunkered down beside him. He had been the owner of the hands that had kept Doyle from the flames. He should hate Sir George but he didn't. Couldn't.

Doyle shook his head. "I can't-"

Sir George glared at him and his tone was rough. "Aye. You can and you will. He did it for you. Dinna taint his memory with your self-castigation. He'd bite your arse for it, if he still could." Sir George put a hand on Doyle's shoulder. "He'd kick ye in the bollocks for not honouring his wishes."

Doyle couldn't stop the half formed smile that came to his lips as he remembered Bodie nipping his backside for some slight or another. His hand touched the spot where Bodie's white teeth had often pinched his flesh. "Yeah, he would, wouldn't he."

Sir George didn't answer. He must have understood that Doyle was talking to himself rather than to him. Sir George waited patiently until Doyle was ready to speak.

After many long minutes during which the embers crackled and snapped, Doyle finally said, "I will always miss him. He was my best companion, my friend." Doyle swiped at his eyes and then at his runny nose. "He was brave and loyal. He was-" He hiccuped. "Beautiful."

"Aye."

"I will never find another like him."

"Maybe..." Sir George sucked in a loud breath.

Doyle looked at Sir George sideways when he heard the garbled sound. "What?"

Sir George wasn't looking towards Doyle but was staring at the fire. His eyes were wide and his mouth had fallen open. He let out another gasp of surprise before he went back to his hands and used them and his feet to scuttle backwards, away from Doyle. Terror was etched on his features.

Doyle had never seen that much fear or distress on Sir George's face before. "Sir?" Doyle followed Sir George's line of sight. What he saw made him gasp even louder than Sir George. He let out a cry of surprised astonishment. Unable to look away, he too stared, slack mouthed.

The flames had died to glowing embers. The lump that was once Bodie, his treasured Bodie, had burnt away to cinders. But in the centre of the fire circle, standing on the hot coals with bare feet, stood a man.

A live and breathing man.

Without realising it, Doyle rose to his feet. His eyes hurt from the smoke that blew into his face. He scrubbed at them unmercifully, desperately trying to clear them. He had to be hallucinating. His grief was all encompassing and it was possible his mind had snapped. His mouth was dry; his throat as tight as if in a choke hold. He had to get closer. In shock, he somehow managed to take one step forward, then two.

"What...?" Doyle whispered. He reached out, his hand snaking. "Who..?"

The man looked directly at him. His eyes were midnight blue. His hair was a long curtain of black waves that fell past his shoulders. His jaw was strong and his body- Oh, gods above, his body was magnificent. The stuff of Doyle's dreams. Wide of shoulder and narrow of hip. A chest firmly muscled and a slim waist that begged for hands to hold just so. Unable to stop himself, Doyle kept up his inspection. Below that slim waist, down, down the flat belly and pelvis, until he saw the thatch of dark hair and what he would forever swear was the finest cock and bollocks on any living fellow he had ever seen. Full and rich and thick...

Doyle's body stirred. He flushed, and blood rushed to his crotch. Never before had he arisen so quickly, to such hardness. He moaned softly, touching himself with one hand while he still reached out with the other. His mind was in turmoil. What should he do? Would this wonderful creature disappear if he touched him? Doyle took another step. He had to touch! Just once. Then he would succumb to the madness that was overtaking him.

One touch...

The apparition gazed directly at him. He smiled, held out his hand.

"Doyle," the beautiful creature whispered.

Doyle swayed, lurched forward. Had the vision spoken aloud? In that single word, his name, Doyle heard richness and arrogance and something else... He shook his head slightly, sure he was going mad. "Who...?" No further words would come but he didn't care. He would go into insanity gladly if this fire god would go with him.

Something, a sound from behind him perhaps, or a call of his name, caused Doyle to swivel his head to look over his shoulder. Sir George sprawled in the dirt, leaning back on his hands. He stared not at Doyle but at the fire. Sir George could see Doyle's vision? How could this be? Sir George was powerful. Maybe he had the sight. Maybe he could see through the veil of death or onto the plane of spirits. And Sir George was brave. He was not afraid of any man. But was this a true man? While Doyle watched Sir George, he raised his arm, as if ready to cover his eyes if need be, but for now, he kept them affixed on the man in the fire. Why would Sir George feel he should hide from this wondrous vision?

Returning his attention to the beautiful being, Doyle watched with incredulity when the man walked across the fiery coals without incident. His skin didn't blister or burn, and his face was serene. He had to be an apparition. No mortal could survive the fire. He strode through the flames as if he were walking through a field of wild flowers on a summer day.

The vision made his way to stand before Doyle, pausing before him. "My love."

Doyle stared. Those eyes! He had loved those eyes for years. He knew them well. The name was on his tongue, yet his lips refused to speak clearly. "B-b-bo...?"

The man smiled. He lifted Doyle's chin and held it. "Look at me and tell me what you see."

Doyle stared into the blue eyes. They were dark and bright and full of life. They were as he knew, well loved to him. He knew exactly whose eyes they were yet his mind couldn't form the thought. He licked his lips, swayed again.

The man's strong hand clamped him under the elbow. "Ray," he whispered, leaning forward.

They were almost of a same height. Doyle closed his eyes, tipped his head slightly. Warm lips touched his. Warm and alive! He gave a soft cry, pulled back. Looking directly into the eyes he loved so much, he found his voice. "Bodie."

Bodie grinned. Then his grin turned into a laugh. He threw his arms around Doyle and lifted him from the earth. He spun them around and around until Doyle was so dizzy he was sure he would be taken ill for the second time this night.

"Stop!" Doyle slapped Bodie's right bicep. The muscle twitched under his palm. As Bodie slowed and set Doyle back to his feet, he flexed the muscle where Doyle's fingers rested. Doyle stroked it, still not sure he should believe what he was seeing.
"How is this possible?" he asked, his hand moving up and down. The flesh was real. He could hear each breath Bodie inhaled and exhaled.

"Your sacrifice made it possible for me to come to you." Bodie smiled, kissed Doyle on the tip of his nose.

"But it was your sacrifice! I did nothing but watch you die!" Doyle crossed his arms over his chest. He tried to turn away but Bodie's hands on either of his elbows forestalled his retreat.

"You do not understand, Doyle. I remember everything. I have been in my animal form since you found me those twelve years ago. Since then-"

"Wait. What do you mean, in your animal form? You have more than one form?" Doyle asked incredulously.

Bodie laughed aloud. "Of course. Can't you see that I am no longer a wolf?" He waved a hand down his own body.

"Well, of course, but-"

"No. Not now. We must finish the ceremony before I can be assured that I will remain in this body until you no longer wish it to be so."

Feeling stupid, Doyle stared at Bodie, blinking owlishly. "Wait... Until I... no longer wish it?" He rubbed at his temple. Tales of shape shifters, changelings, told around the fire pit on long cold winter nights. "You're a morphis!"

"Exactly!" Bodie grinned.

Doyle returned his grin. "Why didn't you tell me?" He smacked Bodie's arm, hard.

"Ouch! Tell you? Are you daft? I was a sodding wolf! How did you want me to tell you? I couldn't speak or write, in case you hadn't noticed!" Bodie threw out his hands, exasperation clear on his face.

"I don't know! Scratched some message in the dirt? How was I to know?" Doyle cried, horrified that he'd treated something as rare and marvellous as a morphis as an animal, as a treasured pet. He was sure he would now be ill, and he didn't need to be spun in a circle to be so.

Bodie shook his head, chuckling softly. "Silly git. Our way is for our bonded mate to discover it on their own. Or not, as it happens sometimes." He shrugged. "I'm glad you had the sense to find me. I've waited a hell of a long time for you this time!"

Doyle was shocked at the affection in Bodie's tone. How could this wonderful creature be so kind to him? Sick at heart, Doyle shook his head vehemently. "You can't be this calm. Not after you- I let you die!" He turned away from Bodie. "I let you die."

Bodie's hands rested on Doyle's bare shoulders. "You had to, or I wouldn't have been able to change."

"But I didn't know that," Doyle whispered.

"And yet each time you somehow find me."

Doyle spun on his heels. Bodie dropped his hands and smiled. "Each time?" Doyle asked. "What the fuck?" Shocked at his own words and the unusual phrasing he'd never used before, he clamped a hand over his mouth.

Bodie laughed. "It's always the same. You never remember! But it doesn't matter, mate. We're here and we'd better get to it."

Doyle stared at Bodie. His words made no sense. Always the same... Never remember... The morphis- maybe Bodie was as addled as he was! His head began to pound and he looked around frantically. Someone had to help him or he would surely go mad. Now his insanity would be from his ill treatment of a morphis. A morphis! Sir George sat a few feet away, his eyes fastened on the men. He was taking in all that was said. Sir George stood up and turned to the council. The members were standing awestruck. No one had ever seen a morphis emerge in their lifetimes to be sure. The news would be over the entire county by morning meal.

"Be gone with ye!" Sir George shouted at them, angrily waving his hand. "This is done tonight! No one dies here."

Silent as new falling snow, the council melted away. Sir George tugged on Doyle's robe. "Heed what he's said." He inclined his head towards Bodie. "You must seal the bond before the embers burn out or he will not be able to keep this form."

All of his own misery was wiped out in a heartbeat. Bodie would revert? "But he'll return to his wolf?" Doyle asked, needing to understand. .

Sir George shook his head. "Oh, no. Nothing quite so simple, my boy. Now that the morphis has changed into his form that you and he share, he will cease if the bond is not sealed. He died in those flames and he will return to the embers."

"No," Doyle said, his teeth clenched and his hands in fists. "I will not lose him again."

Sir George rose. "Do you love him enough to take him to mate?"

All of Doyle's dreams were realised in Sir George's seemingly simple question. A mate, a true mate, and if he believed Bodie's words, his always mate. His true love through time. Doyle smiled. "Yes."

"You understand what that means?" he asked firmly. "No others or he will not survive. He is special and must be treated as such." Sir George shook his head. "Not as a fragile flower, but as a blooded man who needs his mate strong and loving. He must hunt and run. He must be your equal, your friend, your superior and your inferior. Do you understand?"

Doyle straightened his shoulders. "I agree. I love him. I always have."

"Then do this quickly. Even now the fire dies..." Sir George hurried to his discarded satchel. He pulled out a blanket and then took another second to find something in the bottom. His face was alight with joy as he handed the blanket to Doyle before he turned to Bodie. "You have protected him for many years, well and proper. He loves you and you, he. Are you able to accept him as mate?"

Bodie smiled. "Let's get on with it."

Sir George's grin was full and happy when he waved a hand. "This glade is sanctified. It is yours until the last ember dies. Take this," he said to Doyle.

"Eh?"

"Take it." Sir George grabbed Doyle's hand and pressed a small vial into it. It was to have been the oil that I'd have mixed in with your ashes, but you and this one have better use of it now."

Doyle trembled when he looked at the vial. He knew what he would do with it and the anticipation made him giddy.

Seeing Doyle's reaction, Sir George chuckled. "Good lads, the both of you. I'll have food to break your fast when you are ready." He turned and melted into the thick forest surrounding the glade.

Doyle took in a deep breath and slowly exhaled. "Ready?" he asked, holding out his hand. He was surprised that it was now steady as a rock. But then being with Bodie gave him courage.

"I am," Bodie said, taking Doyle's hand. "But..."

Sure that his heart missed a beat, Doyle looked into Bodie's eyes, not able to hide the surprised hurt that he knew showed on his face. He swallowed around a suddenly tight throat. "But... what?" he asked, his voice rough.

"But can we hurry," Bodie said, a whine in his tone. "I'm peckish and there's no telling how good I'll be at this if I don't refuel soon! I need lubrication!" Bodie stuck out his lower lip.

Those lips, that pout made Doyle's cock harden even more. "Gah." He pinched the head of his own cock. "And you shall get it," Doyle said huskily. "I'm going to burst, lover. Let's do this now." Doyle grinned, petting Bodie's hair with the same affection he'd used on his wolf for the past decade.

Bodie tipped his head, sighed happily, and rubbed against Doyle's hand. Doyle let out another soft cry before he quickly spread the blanket. His heart was filled with such love for his wolf that he was sure his emotions would overwhelm him. His wolf. At the moment, he had something important to do. He would think about Bodie being his wolf later. After. Much later.

Unconsciously Doyle waved his hand. Bodie understood instantly, as always. He dropped to all fours on the blanket before Doyle. Bodie spread his legs so that his full cock had room to swing between his legs. Doyle shuddered at the sight. Bodie was magnificent. All sinew and muscle and creamy white skin. Without preamble, Doyle dropped to his knees behind Bodie, spread his buttock cheeks wide, and drove his tongue into Bodie's body. He delved in again and again.

Bodie cried out loudly, shuddered, and came onto the blanket. Thick white strings of semen pooled on the soft blue wool. "Ray!" he cried, hips jerking in rhythm to his cock's release. He moaned when Doyle grasped Bodie's cock and milked him dry. Bodie made small cries of pleasure with each stroke of Doyle's hand. Finally, Bodie's head sagged downward, his breathing rapid. Sweat beads dotted his shoulder blades. He shivered in the aftermath of his orgasm. Doyle leaned forward to lick across Bodie's back.

"You are mine," Doyle whispered before he bit down onto the tender flesh at Bodie's neck.

Bodie cried out again. "Yes!"

Doyle spared a glance at the fire. It had burned to a pile of ash. Only a few of the larger pieces still glowed red. Bodie had to stay! Doyle moved quickly. He found the vial he'd dropped beside Bodie's knee. With his thumb, he popped the stopper. It sailed away, silently landing in the tall grass. Doyle dumped the contents into his palm. It was cool but heated quickly. He hurriedly coated his hard cock. His body was ready. It took all of his will power not to come onto Bodie's fine arse. No, it must not be. He had to claim his lover.

Biting his lower lip hard, Doyle positioned himself at Bodie's entrance.

"Please," Bodie begged, moving back until Doyle's cock-head breached his body.

"Bodie!" Doyle cried when he slipped inside. "Oh gods. Oh gods." He pushed. Bodie relaxed his arse. Doyle slid home, not stopping until his bollocks met Bodie's. "You are mine, Bodie. I claim you for my own."

Bodie flexed his arse muscles, squeezing Doyle's cock in response. "I am yours. You are mine, Ray Doyle." He squeezed again.

Doyle gasped, and moved. He pulled back far enough so that when he looked down, he could see Bodie stretched around his flesh. He enjoyed the sight of himself glistening and red, breaching Bodie's body. With a grin, he held onto Bodie's hip bones and pushed in as far as he could. Bodie gasped. Doyle looked down where he and Bodie were connected. As he pulled out, he revelled in the sight of his cock claiming his lover. It felt so marvellous that he wanted this to last forever. Bodie must be feeling the same because he was trembling and keening, spreading his legs even more, encouraging Doyle to delve deeper. His body took over, thrusting in the rhythm of lovemaking that set his senses tingling. He tried to last as long as possible but Bodie's arse was too sweet. Doyle's mouth fell open when the orgasm overtook him.

Bodie grunted deeply with each thrust. He raised his head as Doyle took him, marking him with his scent for all to understand. Bodie turned his face to the sky. He howled his pleasure until he collapsed onto the blanket, bringing Doyle down with him.

They lay in a tangled heap, unable to move. Doyle never heard anybody approach but as the edges of sleep dragged him down, he was aware of a cover being tossed over him. With his arms around Bodie, he let himself drift away.

Doyle's last conscious thought was one of pure joy. He'd found his forever mate.

------------------------------

The annoying buzzing of an insect stung Doyle's ears. He groaned at the irritation. The creature landed on his nose. He tried to lift his left arm to swat it away but his arm was heavy, refusing to cooperate. Must'a fallen asleep, Doyle thought. He didn't remember sleeping on the arm but then, when does one remember those things upon waking?

The buzz-buzz-buzz continued. The bug walked along his upper lip. Doyle's annoyance rose. He tried his right hand. It answered his call, and he swatted the insect away. But when his fingers touched his lip and nose, he didn't feel any insect, only something stuck to his skin. He dug at the nuisance, pulling at it. It was only after he'd yanked it from his flesh and looked at it that he realised it was white sticky tape. It was attached to a length of small tubing. Staring at it, understanding dawned. It was for oxygen.

Bloody hell.

With the buzzing and beeping still ringing in his ears, Doyle looked around. He was in a sodding hospital bed. His left arm was fastened to a length of hard plastic and an intravenous needle was jabbed into his arm. He looked down his body. A huge white square of gauze covered his chest with tape around the edges. He didn't see any blood, for which he was thankful, but why didn't he remember?

Hospital. Check. Pain. Check. Headache. Check. Something else... something was wrong, missing, gone.

Bloody fucking hell.

Bodie.

Bodie!

Doyle began to panic. He needed Bodie. His Bodie!

Memories flooded back in a torrent. Images flashed before his eyes.

...He and Bodie running through the fields near their village. Bodie's white fur glistened in the sun. He let out his wolf-life chuff at Doyle, urging him to run faster. Who would make it to the lake shore first? Bodie always won. Four legs were faster than two.

...Doyle slinking through the underbrush, bow in his hand. An arrow was seated in place, and his fingers itched to let it loose. From his left, Bodie circled their prey, a large wild turkey. Doyle hunkered down, knowing that Bodie would send the bird directly at him. Ready, Doyle waited until he heard the turkey's cry of distress as it rushed towards his arrow.

...Bodie's teeth were bared at Doyle as he volunteered for the fire. The village needed a sacrifice and he would not let anybody else claim the honour. Inside, he scoffed. He didn't believe that burning someone alive would bring harmony to the village, but the council and most of the citizens did. He would stand in place of the woman who had been chosen by lots. She had three young ones who needed her. Bodie didn't need him, not really. Bodie was strong, the best hunter in the land. He was fast and agile, his teeth able to rip into a deer's throat in seconds.

Memory! Doyle remembered. How he'd stepped towards the flames until they'd lapped against his bare skin. No wait, that wasn't right. He'd been pushed aside hard enough for the breath to he knocked from his lungs. When he could speak it was to scream when Bodie leapt past him and stood in the centre of the fire. His precious creature had howled in pain as he died.

And then he remembered Bodie arising from the flames, a morphis turned human. They pledged themselves to each other, sealed their bond with sex and love. Doyle remembered how they fell asleep in each other's arms, content. Another life time fulfilled, as Bodie had told him.

Another lifetime...

Tears streamed out of Doyle's eyes, down the sides of his face and onto the sheets under him. Bodie. His wolf turned man, was gone. He was here, home, in hospital. Now the memories of today and yesterday and the day before formed, pushing away the other life. That other life had Bodie with him, loving him, being in love with him. This life... did not.

-----------------------------------------

Five days later...

Doyle could hear Cowley speaking outside his hospital room door. He was finally breaking out of this place today. Where was bloody Bodie? Never on time when you needed him. Doyle sat in the hard plastic chair, his haversack at his feet. He rested his fists on his thighs and resisted the urge to itch the healing surgical incisions.

"I don't think he's ready," Cowley was saying.

His doctor answered, "He's physically ready, Mr Cowley. Mentally... That's not my department. We have trained people for that."

"Aye, as do I. I shall get him into evaluation immediately. Thank you."

Silence for a moment before the door opened.

"Doyle," Cowley nodded in greeting. "Bodie's on his way."

"Thanks."

"Is there anything-"

"No," Doyle said curtly.

Cowley stood straighter and glared. "My office, tomorrow morning, 9 am."

"Why?" Doyle asked, not meeting Cowley's eyes. "I'm not fit for duty."

"Oh, I understand that. But you're fit enough for Doctor Ross."

Doyle would have leapt to his feet if his body had allowed it. "I'm not-"

"You are," Cowley said firmly, "or I'll take your resignation now."

"Resignation?" Bodie said from behind Cowley. "What the hell-"

Cowley glanced over his shoulder at Bodie.

"Sorry. Sir," Bodie added hastily. He tempered his tone when he asked, "Why are you taking Doyle's resignation before he's been evalled? You haven't given him a chance."

With a sigh, Doyle said, "Bodie, it's all right. It's not Cow- Mr Cowley's fault. I'm being a dolt."

Bodie seemed to relax. "Nothing unusual, then," he quipped.

Doyle rolled his eyes at his partner. "Berk."

"If you two are able to handle yourselves," Cowley said, putting on his hat, "I have work to do. 9am sharp, 4.5." He waited until Doyle said, "Sir," in acquiescence before he brushed past Bodie. He paused. "A week, 3.7, then you're back on duty full time. Doyle doesn't need a nurse-made past that time."

"Sir," Bodie said. "Thank you."

Cowley looked past Bodie at Doyle. "You've got your work cut out for you."

After Cowley left, Bodie strolled into the room, hands in pockets. "What was that in aid of?"

"Doctor says I'm depressed," Doyle said, trying to put a smart turn on it. He shrugged.

"Anybody'd be depressed with holes shot into them. Give yourself a break." Looking around, Bodie gave a theatrical shiver. He picked up Doyle's haversack. "Let's get out of this place. Gives me the creeps."

Doyle had to smile. "You're not the one who's been here for four weeks, mate. It's like being at the Ritz."

Bodie put a hand under Doyle's elbow and helped him up. "Isn't that the whore house over near-"

Doyle let Bodie assist him. He was too tired to protest. "No, you cretin. That's the Blitz."

Chuckling, Bodie led Doyle over to the waiting wheelchair. "In you go. And how would you, a fine upstanding young CI5 agent, know about the Blitz?"

Doyle laughed, then winced as he pressed his palm to his chest. "Don't make me laugh. Hurts. Besides, you forget I was a fine upstanding young copper for a time."

Bodie pushed Doyle towards the lift. "Ah, right. A full and formative life you've lived, 4.5. I keep forgetting."

Feeling almost normal now that he was with Bodie again, laughing and talking, Doyle felt better as Bodie pushed him out the main entrance towards the waiting Capri. He'd thoughtfully parked the wrong way so that Doyle had easy access to the passenger seat.

"Your chariot, m'lord," Bodie said, opening the door with a flourish.

Doyle waved him off but Bodie would have none of it. He wrapped his arm around Doyle's back and held his left elbow in his palm. For a second, Doyle thought that Bodie squeezed lightly, maybe even hugged him, but before he could think about it, Bodie was sliding his bum into the seat and closing his door.

Bodie climbed into the driving seat and after making an illegal turn in the middle of the road, smoothly drove away. Doyle could tell he was being careful not to jostle the car. He kept his eyes fixed on the side of Bodie's face, searching for anything that would show that Bodie cared for him past their being best mates. He saw the familiar features of dark hair and pouty lips. He saw one blue eye that scanned the road ahead, occasionally looking into the mirror, efficiently navigating London's normal traffic congestion.

"What?" Bodie said, not taking his eyes from the road.

"Eh?"

"You're drilling holes into the side of me head with your peepers. Did I miss something when I shaved this morning? Got a pimple?"

"No, nothing like that," Doyle admitted. "Just... missed- He almost said 'you'. Instead, he quickly changed it to, "this". He waved a hand to encompass the car and Bodie and London in general.

"Ah." Bodie shifted down to stop for a red light. He took the opportunity to look over at Doyle. "Thought you might have missed my handsome face. My mistake." His tone was light and teasing.

Doyle stared, wishing desperately that he could say something about... What? The dreams he'd had about Bodie? How in sodding hell do you say to an ex-merc, CI5 agent, tough as nails man that he'd been a wolf in a former life? That he'd sacrificed himself for Doyle, turned into a man, and they'd shagged. No, not shagged. Bonded.

Doyle let out an inelegant snort. As if he would or could ever say a thing about it. Even now, as Doyle tried to picture Bodie as a pure white wolf with striking blue eyes and sharp teeth, the image seemed to flicker and fade. When he recalled Bodie standing newly transformed in the sacrificial fire, Bodie was a wisp, wavering in the glow of the fire. He was losing himself, his former self, his other self, and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

"Hey," Bodie said softly. He'd reached out and put a hand over the hand that Doyle didn't realise he'd clenched so tightly that it hurt. "Are you in pain?"

Doyle nodded curtly. Best not to speak or he'd start sobbing like a child. Or worse, tell Bodie what had happened.

Or had it happened? He wasn't so sure now. He'd been doped to the gills. He'd simply been hallucinating. There was no other life, no reincarnation, no parallel dimension. That was the stuff of science fiction, not real life. Doyle swallowed and slid his hand out from under Bodie's. For a second he would have sworn he saw a flash of hurt on Bodie's face but it zipped by and was gone. Another hallucination. Another dream. Another life. Another hope. Only a hope.

"I'm not feeling that good," Doyle said. "I'd murder- Like a cuppa and a kip."

Bodie grinned. "Your wish is my command, m'lord."

"Don't call me that. Please."

"Just kidding."

"I know. Sorry."

Bodie cast Doyle a cheeky grin. "Glad you're all right, mate."

"Cheers." Doyle sighed, rubbed his eyes. "Where are we going?"

"Old man wasn't taking chances after the other place was compromised so we've got new digs." Bodie drove for another five minutes before pulling up before an especially nice block of flats.

"Wow," Doyle said, impressed.

"Two bedrooms, lounge, kitchen and get this, big bathroom with a claw foot bath big enough for both of us-" Bodie cleared his throat. "For you to have a good soak. Nice therapy for you after laying in bed all those weeks." He parked and got out, snagging Doyle's bag from the back. "Hang about."

In a flash, Bodie was beside Doyle, opening the door, helping him out. Doyle clenched his teeth. "I'm not a cripple." Again, that flash of disappointment or dismay crossed Bodie's face, but this time Doyle truly saw it. He was instantly apologetic. "Sorry, mate. I'm being a prick."

"Nothing unusual in that," Bodie said with a grin.

"Two days."

"Eh?" Bodie asked, leading Doyle up the pavement. He dropped Doyle's arm at the front entrance and fished out a key.

"You can mother me for two days."

"Oh. Right. Five."

Doyle narrowed his eyes. "Three."

Bodie pushed open the entry door. "Four."

"Deal." Doyle smiled at his partner.

Bodie laughed. "Third floor, corner. Secure flat, with nobody above."

"Are you expecting an assault?" Doyle asked, not thinking about his words.

"Already had one, didn't we?" Bodie said softly.

Doyle pushed the lift button. "Ah, Bodie, I can't imagine what it was like for you, finding me like that." He recalled Bodie's telling, of pushing open the window and finding him lying in a heap, blood pooling on the floor under his chest and seeping through his layers of clothing on his back. Bodie had said that the tweed looked garish with the red of his blood. Didn't match, Bodie had joked, but Doyle had seen the distress in his eyes with the memory of it.

"Stopped my heart. Sorry. Wrong thing to say." Bodie blushed.

Doyle walked into the lift with Bodie behind him. He turned to his partner, put a hand on his arm. "No more 'sorrys', okay? It's done with. I'm alive. Kuolo is dead. You saved me. End of story. From now on, we laugh about it. Deal?" He held out his hand.

Bodie took it, lifted it to his mouth and before Doyle could say anything, he kissed Doyle's fingers. Doyle was shocked but what he saw on Bodie's face, which had turned bright red, was abject horror.

"Shit," Bodie said, dropping Doyle's hand as if it were on fire. "Sorry. Fuck. Sorry."

The lift door opened and Bodie hurried out. He didn't look back at Doyle but Doyle knew he was scared and terrified and ready to bolt.

Doyle wasn't going to let him.

------------------------------------

Doyle slowly walked into Bodie's- their new flat. Bodie had left the door wide open, and Doyle could hear him in the kitchen, clanging pans and muttering under his breath. He didn't take the time to admire the new dwelling. Instead, he carefully walked to the kitchen doorway. He was feeling quite all right and the idea of jostling himself made him cautious. He leaned gingerly on the frame.

"Bodie."

Bodie stiffened slightly but he didn't stop. He filled the electric kettle and set cups on the table, along with milk and sugar. Spoons. A plate from the fridge covered with foil. A bowl soon joined the plate. Two smaller dishes at each place, along with a paper napkin. All the while Bodie never looked at Doyle.

"Bodie." Doyle walked over to his partner as he put tea bags into the pot. He wrapped his hand around Bodie's wrist. "Stop, please." He was astonished to feel tremors coursing down Bodie's arm. Bodie was terrified! He was sure Doyle would shout and scream and call him 'nancy boy'. Fuck of a lot Bodie knew about him. Had he been that good at hiding all these years?

Apparently so.

"Please," Doyle repeated. Bodie stilled. "Do it again."

Bodie's head came up so quickly Doyle was sure he'd snap a vertebrae. "What?"

"Do it again. Kiss me again. But not my hand this time." Doyle put the backs of his fingers against Bodie's cheek.

Bodie's eyes hardened. "Don't fuck with me," he said, his voice as solid as ice.

Doyle smiled. The best way to Bodie's heart was either through his stomach or through his daft sense of dark humour. Doyle would milk it for all its worth. "Why not? I mean, I know I'm just out of hospital but me parts are working." He grinned. "Or would you rather have at it first?"

Bodie shook off Doyle's hold. He stood with his hands on his hips. His chest was heaving and his face was flushed. Doyle couldn't remember seeing Bodie this angry before. "I should kill you for that."

"What? Inviting you into my bed? Asking you to kiss me?" Doyle laughed out loud, even though it hurt his chest. He pushed Bodie with his hand. "Well, are you or aren't you going to kiss me?"

Bodie's eyes burned with rage. He was barely a foot away and it was easy enough for him to grab Doyle's shirt front in a fist. Doyle didn't protest. He let Bodie haul him close, crushing them together. Pain lanced through him but he bore it without comment. Bodie's hand cupped his head, fingers tightening. Bodie's mouth crushed his in a fierce, painful kiss. When he released Doyle's lips, he bit his lower lip, drawing blood. Then he stepped away and swiped the back of his hand across his blood-stained mouth.

"There," Bodie said coldly. "Is that what you want?"

Doyle stood his ground under Bodie's steely gaze. He shook his head and wiped his own mouth.

"Thought so," Bodie spat out.

"This is what I want." Doyle cupped Bodie's cheeks with his hands and leaned in. Bodie's eyes widened as Doyle kissed him. It was a firm kiss, with gentleness. With love.

Doyle's eyes slipped closed and he lapped at Bodie's mouth. Doyle was sure it was astonishment that made Bodie's lips part, not the desire to deepen the kiss. Doyle didn't care. He'd wanted this for so long that he wasn't letting this opportunity, perhaps the only one, pass him by. He dove into Bodie's mouth, licking and nipping at his lips, until both of them broke apart for air.

Standing there, with his hands still on Bodie's face, panting with a mix of excitement and pain, Doyle said, "That's what I want."

Doyle released his mate, turned and walked out of the kitchen. He wandered through the flat, down the hallway and into the first bedroom. Bodie's clothes were in the wardrobe. Of course Bodie would take the room closest to the front entry. Security. They'd have to go through Bodie before they got to him. He smiled and checked out the other bedroom. His jumpers, jackets, jeans and other sundries were neatly hung in the cupboard. Underpants, vests, bits and bobs were in the chest of drawers. He pulled out pyjama bottoms and a vest, and found the bathroom.

The claw foot bath was indeed big enough for two.

-------------------------------------

The soak was heaven. Steam from the hot water rose up around Doyle's head like Medusa's tendrils as he reclined fully in the water. It felt so good to be clean! Thank heavens the doctor had said he could bathe now that his stitches had been removed. Those sponge baths weren't the same. The puckered scar on his chest stood out a stark red after being in the hot water but he didn't care. It felt too good.

A rap on the door made him groan. "Yeah?"

"Tea."

"Okay."

Footsteps sounded as Bodie walked away. Doyle sighed. One syllable conversations were not what he wanted. But his belly rumbled and tea waited. Gingerly he climbed from the bath to dry and dress. He joined Bodie in the kitchen as Bodie was removing the covers from the plates and bowl.

"Hungry?" Bodie asked.

"Famished," Doyle answered, surprised that he really was hungry. He'd picked at hospital food but this- This looked delicious.

Fresh bread, sliced roast beef and ham, tomatoes, cheese and pickles. Jars of mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup. There was a bowl with a salad packed with leafy green lettuce, radishes, carrots and beetroot. Another smaller bowl held a creamy dressing. A steaming pot of tea, and invariably, a plate of several kinds of biscuits, including those damned Jammie dodgers that Doyle avoided because he loved them so much.

"Ta, Bodie." Doyle sat down across from his mate and dug in. He gobbled up half a thick sandwich piled with all on offer, and a huge serving of salad with dressing. Satiated, he sat back and rubbed his belly. Unable to resist a sweet in spite of being full, he nibbled on a biscuit and drank a second cuppa.

Bodie was unusually quiet throughout the meal, although he ate with his usual hearty appetite. That told Doyle he was processing, ready to talk. A non-eating Bodie meant trouble. An eating Bodie meant the world was spinning properly; it was only a matter of time now.

Doyle met Bodie's eyes. He wasn't in the mood for dancing about the subject so he got to the point. "Been waiting for you for two years. Loved you that long."

Bodie set down his cup. "You mean that."

It was a statement, not a question, but Doyle nodded anyway. "I mean it." After a pause, he asked, "You?"

Bodie gave a faint smile. "Twelve months, six days and a few hours. Give or take."

Doyle smiled in return, then said, "I was careless. Didn't set the locks. Didn't think..." His throat closed. "No, I wasn't trying to off meself but I wasn't paying attention. Not like I should have been. I'm sorry."

With a nod, Bodie said, "That day, when you left me at the Coroner's Court, something told me to go with you. Least I could've done was to tail you, but I dismissed it."

"Ahh, that sixth sense you have."

"Should have listened. I'm sorry as well."

"I'm a grown lad, Bodie. I said I wanted time alone and you gave it to me. Wasn't your fault." Doyle pushed his cup away and yawned.

"All right, you. I'm tucking you in." Bodie jumped to his feet. "I'll do the washing up."

Doyle yawned again and got up. "Of course you will. I'm just out of hospital, you know. Too weak to do the washing up."

"Moron."

Doyle smiled. "See you in the morning."

"Said I was tucking you in." Bodie followed Doyle down the corridor. He pulled back the coverlet on the bed. "In you go."

Doyle shook his head in exasperation. "Moron," he echoed.

"Yeah, but it seems I'm your moron after all."

Doyle closed his eyes. "You are at that. Bodie?"

"Yeah?"

Doyle opened one eye. "Good night kiss?"

"After you take the tablets."

"They make me sleepy."

Bodie laughed, handing Doyle a glass and two tablets. "Swallow."

Doyle did as bid. "Now?"

"Now."

In spite of being tired and in some discomfort, his belly was full and his heart was warm.

And that kiss was the stuff of sweetness.

------------------------------------

"Doyle! Ray!"

Doyle fought the hands that held him down. He had to get to Bodie! Bodie had pushed him down and raced into the fire. His Bodie! His beautiful wolf was burning!

"No!" Doyle screamed, fists flailing.

Strong hands clamped around his, holding them down against his chest. Pain lanced through him. Each breath hurt. Smoke filled his lungs and burned his eyes.

"Bodie!" Doyle screamed. "Nooo! Don't do this!"

"Ray, I'm here!"

Doyle felt himself being yanked up and into somebody firm. Something... Arms? Yes, arms circled his shoulders, pulled him close and held on. Doyle sobbed into the shoulder of- "Bo-die?" he asked between hiccups.

"Yes, mate." Bodie's hand cupped the back of his head. "Shhh. It's okay. I'm here."

"Bodie." Doyle held on tightly. "You died."

"Nah. I'm right here. You know that. We had tea together not four hours ago. Remember?" Bodie's fingers massaged Doyle's scalp.

"Oh, Christ." Doyle released his hold. "Sorry. I was dreaming."

"Hey. No more 'sorrys'. Wasn't that the agreement?" Bodie kissed the top of Doyle's head.

Doyle shivered. "I swear, I saw you in flames. You were... something else."

"Eh?" Bodie pulled back far enough to look into Doyle's face. "Something what else?"

"Don't know." Doyle shivered.

"That's it. I'm staying right here. Get yourself back under those blankets. Your hands are frozen." Bodie gently pushed Doyle away. "Shift it."

Doyle complied, laying down on one side of the double bed. Bodie lay on the other.

"Is this okay?" Bodie asked.

"Yeah." Doyle snaked a hand over to rest on Bodie's flank.

Bodie jumped. "Christ. Give me those paws." He took both of Doyle's hands between his. "Eek!"

"What now?"

"Your feet are blocks of ice!"

"Sorry."

Chuckling, Bodie rolled to his side. "Come on, then. Spoon up against me."

Doyle looked at Bodie like he'd grown two heads.

"Don't you dare say a word. Now move it."

With a shaky smile, Doyle rolled to face away from Bodie. Bodie manoeuvred himself until he was pressed against Doyle's length, with Doyle's back against his chest, and Doyle's arse pressed into his groin. Doyle sighed happily when Bodie's arm circled his waist. He could tell his partner was being careful to avoid his scars.

Doyle look Bodie's hand in his. "It's okay. I won't break."

"You almost did," Bodie whispered, his mouth inches from Doyle's ear.

"Didn't, though." Doyle sighed again, relaxing. His cloth covered bum was warm as was his back. He was sure there was an extra inch he could use, so he pushed back against Bodie. Bodie gasped.

"Ray," Bodie warned. "I'm not... Stay still."

"Why? Oh." Doyle grinned into the dark. Bodie liked this. Bodie liked Doyle's arse in his crotch. Bodie was getting hard, growing against Doyle's cheek. Doyle wiggled slightly.

"Stay still!"

"Can't. Itches."

"What itches?" Bodie asked, his tone as if he were speaking to a child.

"Me chest."

"Do you want me to put some ointment on it?"

"Would you?"

After Bodie huffed an annoyed breath on Doyle's cheek, along with a long-suffering sigh, he climbed from the bed. He returned with a tube of cream in hand.

"Roll to your back."

Doyle complied. He hiked up his vest. "Nice, isn't it?"

"Looks good to me. Means you're alive, and that's all I care about." Bodie bit his lip and squeezed a dollop of cream onto his hand. He blew on it. He must have been the question in Doyle's eyes because he raised his eyebrow. "What? It's cold!"

Doyle felt as if his heart would burst with happiness. Bodie cared that the cream was cold. Ergo, Bodie loved him. He couldn't keep the grin from his face.

"What?"

"You love me," Doyle said softly.

"Yeah. So?" Bodie dabbed the cream on Doyle's scar and gently rubbed it.

"Oh, Christ, that feels good." He sighed. "Love you, too."

"Good." Bodie kept up his ministrations. Doyle blushed. Bodie saw his cheeks flush. "Hurt?"

"Ah, no."

Bodie looked at Doyle's face and then realisation dawned. He glanced down at Doyle's crotch. His pyjama bottoms did nothing to hide the fullness. His eyes widened and then he laughed.

"Oh. Is that all?" Bodie grinned. "Nothing that I can't take care of one of these days. After you've recovered, of course."

Doyle groaned. "Are you going to leave me like this?" He waved a hand at his tented bottoms.

Bodie shrugged, continuing to rub the cream onto Doyle's scars. "You're not well enough for strenuous activities," he said firmly. "Doctor's orders."

"Doctor's orders? When did he say that?" When Bodie didn't respond, Doyle looked at him through narrow eyes. "You're a sodding liar! Never mind then." He reached for himself, sliding his hand under the band of his pyjama bottoms.

"I don't want to hurt you, Ray," Bodie said quietly. He capped the cream and set it aside.

"You won't."

Bodie nodded once. He crawled gingerly down the bed and pushed Doyle's bottoms lower, freeing his cock. "Jesus, you're gorgeous."

"Thanks." Doyle knew he blushed again. Nobody had ever called him gorgeous before. "Yours is nice too."

"Eh? Oh!" Bodie looked down at himself. His cock had poked out the slit in his pyjama bottoms and it was leaking pre-cum onto the sheets.

"Come on, then," Doyle said, rolling to his side. "Come closer."

They lay facing each other, nose to nose, lips to lips. Each reached for his lover, grasping firmly, stroking, stroking, until both gasped with the pleasure of orgasm. Doyle came first, having been denied release for far too long. Bodie followed, and he laughed, kissing Doyle's nose.

"We're a mess now," Doyle said sleepily.

"I'll get a flannel." Bodie rolled out of bed, returning shortly with a towel and a warm cloth. He made as if to clean Doyle but Doyle snatched the flannel from his hands.

"I'm not that sleepy." A quick wipe and Doyle tossed the cloth onto the floor.

Bodie raised an eyebrow. "Want me to take that to the bathroom?"

"Nah. Lino. Won't hurt it."

"Lift up." Doyle complied. Bodie covered their semen spot with the towel before he climbed back into bed. "There. Can't sleep in a wet spot."

Doyle chuckled, rolling to his side away from Bodie. Bodie spooned up immediately and covered them with the blankets. He kissed Doyle's ear.

"I'm glad you didn't die," Bodie said.

"Me too." Doyle closed his eyes. He laced his fingers with Bodie's and as he drifted off, he thought he heard the howl of a wolf. Nah, he was being daft. There were wolves at the zoo, but that was miles away. Probably a dog. There were some detached houses that bordered this block of flats. A dog tethered outside, close by obviously, wanting to be in. His last thought was that when the dog howled, it sounded exactly like...

The End