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Tender Comrade

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Tender Comrade

What will you do when the war is over, tender comrade?
When we lay down our weary guns
When we return home to our wives and families
And look into the eyes of our sons?

What will you say of the bond we had, tender comrade?
Will you say that we were brave as the shells fell all around us?
Or that we wept and cried for our mothers and cursed our fathers
For forgetting that all men are brothers?

Will you say that we were heroes
Or that fear of dying among strangers
Tore our innocence and false shame away?

And from that moment on deep in my heart I knew
That I would only give my life for love
Brothers in arms in each others arms
Was the only time that I was not afraid

What will you do when the war is over, tender comrade?
When we cast off these khaki clothes
And go our separate ways
What will you say of the bond we had, tender comrade?

 

Lyrics by Billy Bragg

 

 

Chapter 1

He was running. The cobbles were hard on his feet, and he flung himself through a forest of twisted mannequins with bald heads and upraised arms. He ran on, through a dingy street with a tattered tea stall where Cowley sat at his desk and poured tea. The patter of the tea as it hit the cup turned into the sound of the wind in the trees as he ran into the wood, and all around him the mannequins’ limbs were breaking like twigs and they were clicking and the final click turned into the click of the trigger and –

Doyle woke up sweating. All was silent and dark, and the normality of his Kensington flat surrounded him. He took a long breath and let it out slowly, expelling the dream. Nightmares were an unfortunate side effect of the job, sure, but that had been a nasty one, unpleasant far beyond its surface strangeness. His heartbeat slowed from its headlong gallop, and he curled back under the covers in the hope that he could catch another hour before it was officially time to wake up. He had been jolted out of sleep, however, and the adrenaline was racing round his body, making his nerves twitch. He shifted restlessly, wishing Bodie was here, now, in his bed, so they could put some of this unwanted energy to good use. His cock hardened and his balls tightened, aching for release. It had been a few days since they’d been together, what with all the running around they’d had to do on this latest case. He wasn’t used to doing without, these days, but perhaps if he just – He reached, closing his eyes again, imagining the hand wrapping smoothly around his length was his partner’s, and within a few strokes he was there. Eased, relaxed and calm, he let his mind drift, and dozed off thinking about his partner. Why had Bodie left it so long to stop Williams?

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Why had he left it so long to stop Williams? Over in Camden, Bodie was mulling over the events of the previous day. He’d slept, but not well, and now he was lying awake, thinking about Doyle, and Miss Walsh, and bloody Williams. He remembered Doyle’s wide-eyed stare, calm confidence fading to uncertainty, and at the last, disbelief. Why had he left it so long to stop Williams? Bodie shifted uncomfortably in his bed. All Doyle’s self-sufficiency had crumbled and his breath had come shorter. He had looked wild and beautiful, and part of Bodie’s delay had been his fascination and – admit it – lust. He kicked restlessly at the covers. Ray Doyle, totally dependent on him, W.A.P. Bodie? Sure, Doyle had depended on him many times before – they saved each others’ lives with such regularity that it hardly occasioned any comment – but this had been different, had had dark overtones of dependency, of submission, of dominance. Under his seeking hand his cock twitched, filling, demanding. He grasped it firmly, stroking, imagining those wide, pale eyes fixed on him. The picture changed, and now he was thrusting into that perfect mouth, those full lips surrounded him, and still those eyes held his, questioning, until they slitted in ecstasy as Bodie came, gasping, into Doyle’s mouth. He groaned, teasing it out till the very end, and stilled, wiping his sticky hand on the sheet. Perhaps he could sleep again now.

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They spent the next day chasing around after Ferris and Twigge. Cowley was annoyed about the instruction to work a joint operation with Dawson, acting head of MI6, and his anger was passed onto everyone in the office that day. Miss Walsh, serenely working her puzzle board, was the only person who avoided his sharp tongue. Bodie, noticing this, was secretly amused and thought it was because Miss Walsh could be counted on to give as good as she got. Doyle was still seething as well, and was spoiling for a fight with Williams. His glare when Williams headed for the telephone to inform Dawson of the scale of the operation was a thing of beauty to Bodie. He loved it when Doyle got stroppy, even though he had to admit that this time Doyle had a point.

He was back to normal when they each drove down the same street in the Capris, lights blazing, engines revving to the max, and screeched to a halt just in time.

‘Three inches?’

‘Nah, four.’ They grinned, partnership re-established effortlessly, and leaving their handcuffed captives waltzing helplessly around a lamp-post, they headed off to the boat yard.

It was deserted. There were no sounds of a man working on his boat, no music playing or the tap of a hammer. Instead, there was just one man wrapped in chains, staring sightlessly at the sky. They separated, searching for his killer, and soon Twigge broke for cover, firing off a volley of shots at Doyle, who returned them with interest. Bodie spotted Twigge scuttling up some stairs and snapped off a couple of shots. It was satisfying to see him tumble back down them, although no doubt Cowley would be irritated at missing the chance to interrogate him.

The stake-out in the van for Ferris, the stake-out of Dawson from office to home to club to home to office… it all seemed endless. Finally, with Williams falling for Cowley’s ruse with the spliced tape, Dawson was spooked into action and the chase was back on. Following Dawson to the river, they just missed him as he zoomed off in a stolen speedboat. Leaping into a yellow dinghy they gave chase at speed, firing at the boat ahead. Doyle was driving and as he turned in a sharp arc, Bodie was thrown off balance and into the water. Hanging on desperately to the wheel with one hand, Doyle reached for his partner with the other, trying to maintain course and get Bodie back on board. After a few frantic seconds, they were sorted out, when suddenly one of Dawson’s bullets hit the side of the dinghy. Bodie had both their guns.

‘We're out! Got a spare mag?’

‘Yeah, in the car. He's going to ram us.’ Doyle’s eyes were fixed ahead, where Dawson was heading straight for their sinking dinghy.

‘Hang on, the Very pistol.’ He scrabbled for it in the cockpit.

‘You get one shot,’ Bodie said, looking at the oncoming boat.

‘Nothing to it,’ his partner replied, standing straight and tall next to him. He took aim.

‘Now!’

Doyle shot and scored a direct hit on the speedboat, which swerved slightly as the cockpit filled with thick dark smoke and then exploded spectacularly.

When the police launch arrived with a fuming Cowley aboard, they were sitting calmly next to one another on the remaining side of the deflating dinghy. Cowley tossed them a line.

‘What happened?’

Bodie replied, deadpan, ‘I think we got a puncture.’ Next to him, Doyle snorted with laughter and hastily turned it into a cough. Cowley was not amused.

They made it to the shore and suffered through Cowley’s fussing. As he turned his attention to the river police, instructing them to trawl for the remains of the speedboat, Doyle grabbed Bodie’s arm with a punishingly tight grip. Startled, Bodie turned to his partner.

‘What? What’s up?’

‘I nearly lost you.’

‘You nearly lost me? Tell me about it, mate – I was the one being towed underwater at ninety miles an hour while sir was poncing about with a bloody gun!’

Doyle’s eyes were blazing out of a pale face.

‘Bo-day’, he said in a threateningly low voice.

‘What?’ It suddenly dawned on him what his partner needed.

‘Oh, yeah, okay, let’s just –’ he patted Doyle soothingly even as his cock leapt, as he pulled Doyle towards the empty warehouse.

‘Come on, mate, this way. It’ll be all right.’ He kept up a constant soothing patter as they stumbled into the darkness, and gasped as Doyle turned and took his mouth savagely. Biting, fumbling with zips and wet clothing, they bared as much skin as they could get to in a hurry.

He heard Doyle spitting into his hand and groaned as Doyle rammed a wet finger up his arse. ‘Oh yeah, go on, more…’ Struggling for silence against the demands of his body, face pressed into the dirty wall, hands outspread to keep his balance, he welcomed the harsh pain of Doyle staking his claim, of reaffirming their lives by pounding into his partner.

‘There you go, mate, that’s what you need, isn’t it?’

Doyle was gasping behind him. Bodie’s balls tightened and sparks flashed behind his closed eyelids. He could hear Doyle’s frantic, hoarse breathing and felt the heat of his breath on the nape of his neck. Doyle shortened his thrusts and Bodie felt his own orgasm approaching hard and fast – a gasp from Doyle, a hiss of, ‘Bodie!’ and he was coming, coming great streams as he pulled on his own prick. He was panting for breath and he felt the hard cock inside him thrust impossibly further and Doyle was coming too, noisy gulps for air and they were together and it was perfect, just this moment together in a scummy dank warehouse.

Doyle withdrew and turned Bodie around from where he was leaning against the wall. Solemnly, he wiped his thumb over the head of Bodie’s cock to clean up the remaining drops of semen, and tucked him back into his trousers, doing up Bodie’s zip and bestowing a gentle pat as he finished. He sorted himself out and put both arms round Bodie, and they stood, foreheads pressed together for a minute, before Doyle took Bodie’s mouth in a long, tender kiss. They didn’t do this often, and the kiss lengthened into something special, a private moment of affirmation in a busy day.

‘Bloody hell!’ The partners turned at the unwelcome voice, to find Williams staring at them. ‘I didn’t know you two were faggots.’ He looked at them, a sneer curling his lip. ‘Who’s the little woman, then? Who’s the delicate little flower who takes it up the arse?’

Bodie’s shoulders tensed and he took a step forward. ‘Fuck off, Williams.’ His muscles bunched, ready to thump the other man.

‘Easy, mate, it’s okay.’ Doyle patted him on the arm and stepped closer to Williams, a small smile on his face and his hands relaxed at his side.

Williams laughed. ‘Is it you, then? The pretty one?’ There was a blur of movement and suddenly Williams found himself on the floor, with no clear idea of how he had arrived there. His jaw hurt, his lip was split, and his wrist was so sore he knew it was broken. He rolled over and tried to rise, and discovered that his knee was a knot of agony as well. He looked up through watering eyes to see Doyle looking down at him with a remote expression on his face.

‘Explain that to your boss. And don’t ever get in my way again or I’ll kill you.’ He turned to Bodie. ‘Come on, Butch, let’s go.’ In silence they walked out of the warehouse.

‘You enjoyed that.’ Bodie nudged his partner, grinning. ‘Come on, admit it. You’re been looking for an excuse since he pulled that gun on you.’ Doyle’s mouth twitched upwards.

‘Yeah, well, I can’t stand MI6. Come on, let’s find Cowley and see what he’s got for us next.’

Bodie looked at his partner, sauntering along, loose-limbed and looking as if he didn’t have a care in the world.

‘Aw, look at you. You’ve fucked, you’ve fought and now you’re all relaxed. It’s quite cute, y’know.’

‘I’ll give you cute, you maniac.’

‘Ooh, you are awful – but I like you.’ Bodie’s Dick Emery impression caused his partner to thump him, grinning, and then they caught sight of Cowley’s scowl and got back down to the day’s business.

 

Chapter 2

They were back at Doyle’s flat, after a paper chase around Whitehall with Cowley. He’d demanded that they dress smartly and had taken them to his club for lunch, then dismissed them early. They entered the sunny flat joking about how he wanted to get away because he had a hot date, locked the door behind them and turned to face one another.

Bodie shrugged his jacket off and hung it carefully over the back of a chair. Doyle ran his hands down Bodie’s arms, smoothing the crisp white shirt. Bodie’s warmth radiated through the cotton, and he could feel the hard muscle beneath the material. He kissed his partner’s throat, feeling the delicious prickliness of stubble and then the smooth expanse of skin suddenly interrupted by the harsh shirt collar.

‘Want you, Bodie’. Bodie raised his eyebrows.

‘What, in the middle of the afternoon, 4.5? What would the Old Man think?’ he said lazily, lust pulling delightfully at the pit of his belly. Doyle subsided onto the bed, where he lay watching Bodie’s approach as he pulled off his tie. He laughed suddenly.

‘You look like a panther,’ he chuckled, ‘all sleek and intent and purposeful, pacing towards me like I’m tonight’s dinner.’

‘If I’m a panther,’ Bodie murmured, as he settled himself along Doyle’s side, ‘what does that make you – a mangy old alley cat?’

‘Oi, less of the old, you sod – ‘ and the rest was lost as Bodie’s mouth descended on his, kissing him ruthlessly, thoroughly, stripping him of any means of retaliation.

Their lovemaking was tender as never before, each taking time to pleasure the other. In all their years as partners, with their coming together fuelled by lust and desperation after close calls, they had never made love quite like this, slow and sweet and achingly fulfilling. Doyle was playing the supplicant, revelling in Bodie’s strength and power, and surrendering control willingly. He stroked the muscles bunching under creamy skin, and as Bodie turned him and readied him for entry, nearly came from sheer joy as his partner’s blunt fingers stroked over his prostate.

Over the last few months there had been times when Doyle felt that sex between them was more than reaffirmation or scratching an itch. They had gradually been spending more and more of their spare time together, often staying at the other’s flat without the excuse of a late night or an early start. This felt different again, and as he began the slow climb towards orgasm, Doyle had the feeling of something new on the horizon. He hoped desperately that he wouldn’t fuck it up too soon.

Thoroughly shagged-out, and still seeing stars behind his closed eyelids, Doyle sprawled over his partner and on impulse, blurted out, ‘Let’s get out, Bodie.’

‘Out? Out where?’ Bodie was half-asleep, blissfully lost in a haze of sated sexuality, and wasn’t quite tracking his partner’s words.

‘The A-squad. Let’s tell Cowley we’ve done enough.’ There was silence beside him. He struggled up onto an elbow and regarded the man beside him intently. ‘You don’t want to?’ A cold feeling spread through his stomach.

‘Why? Because of this?’ Bodie’s face was shuttered, blank, giving away nothing. The relaxed aftermath of their afternoon’s loving dissipated, Doyle swallowed hard.

‘Not just this. I’m tired, Bodie. It’s harder and harder to keep up these days. And that thing on the boat yesterday – you could have died.’

‘Doyle, we could have died any day over the last seven years.’ He frowned. ‘Not sure I’m ready to get out yet.’ He rolled away from Doyle and sat up smoothly. ‘What would we do? Can’t see me behind a desk – can’t see you behind a desk either. We’d go mad with boredom in a week.’ He pinned Doyle with a hard stare. ‘What’s this about, Ray?’

‘How long can we go on, Bodie? Realistically?’

‘We’re still the best on the bloody squad, Doyle.’ Bodie was glaring now.

Doyle was struggling to articulate his thoughts, trying to communicate his formless dread that time was against them.

‘It’s just – we’re the best now, right – but we always get the hard jobs because of that, Bodie. You know we do. One of these days we won’t walk away.’

‘Ah, bollocks to that, Doyle. You want job security, go and join the bloody Civil Service. Sit behind a desk all day and shuffle fucking paper.’

‘No, not that – but there must be other options.’ He rose suddenly from the bed and took his partner by the shoulders.

‘Look, you bastard, life’s great at the moment. I don’t want to throw it away, that’s all.’ He gazed into the hard blue eyes watching him cautiously. ‘All I’m saying, mate, is we need to think about the future. You know we do. Let’s plan for something, is all I’m saying, rather than letting it creep up on us.’

‘What, get out and join a security company? You?’ Bodie snorted in amusement. ‘Come on, admit it – you’d miss the excitement. You’d be bored.’ Doyle shifted restlessly.

‘Suppose so.’ Bodie looked at him, saw the little frown between his eyes.

‘Look, I’ll think about it, all right?’ His partner nodded without meeting his eyes. ‘I will, Ray. Just give me a bit of time.’
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Over the next few days, as they carried out the demands of the job, the conversation nagged at the back of Bodie’s mind. Why would Doyle want to give this up? They were fit and at the top of their game, Cowley’s acknowledged top team, trusted with the dangerous jobs and able to get themselves out of any trouble. Leave now? And do what?

Bodie found himself coming back to it at odd moments, hanging around in the VIP room, waiting to be called out. He studied Doyle, wondering what had prompted his strange request. They were sent on different assignments, and he tried to put it to the back of his mind, but all the time it was there, waiting for a spare moment to pounce on him and gnaw away at his certainties.

Why?

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Life went on pretty much as normal. Anson was injured in a shoot-out because of the need to protect innocent civilians; Lucas fell off a roof during a stake-out and was mercilessly teased about being sent back to Macklin; Jax’s wife fell pregnant again (‘Haven’t you found out what causes it yet?’) and McCabe was sent on an undercover assignment with a beautiful WPC from the Hertfordshire force (‘Give ‘er one for me, my son!’). And through it all Bodie thought about Doyle, and what he’d asked of him. Of them.

Doyle himself never referred to it again. Their lovemaking had turned brisker, but there was still the odd moment of unthinking tenderness between them. Their partnership was solid as ever, and their seeming telepathy was operating at full stretch, meaning that they communicated effortlessly with glances and abbreviated hand signals. Bodie caught Murphy studying them on a few occasions, his handsome face withdrawn and slightly puzzled, but no questions were asked or comments made so he ignored it as unimportant.

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Bodie was in heaven. The bed contained one Anne-Marie Doran, a Pan-Am air hostess he’d found on a recent trip to Heathrow, where she was struggling with her suitcase and a narrow escalator. Wined, dined and seduced, she was now wrapped around Bodie, her warm, scented flesh driving him to heights of lust. He thrust into her, biting at her neck as her sharp fingernails scored lines down his back. She writhed, moaning as her orgasm overtook her, throwing her head back in abandon. Bodie thrust harder, seeking that elusive peak within himself. This flesh was too soft, the grasp around his cock not quite firm enough, and his lips were filmed with cloying, perfumed makeup. Anne-Marie’s moans were quieting now, and he withdrew, rolled her over and pulled her up onto her knees. He thrust into her again, fucking her from behind, wondering if she’d go for it up the bum. His cock nudged at her arsehole, and she squealed, ‘Not like that!’ That’d be a no, then. Getting frustrated now, he crossed her ankles over, and re-entered her. Ah, that was better – tighter, more like what he was used to. Focusing on his building orgasm, he got closer and closer and eventually soared over the peak, closing his eyes as he came, in relief that was as much mental as physical. He withdrew, and rolled off her back to flop onto the bed. He lay with his eyes shut, wondering how soon he could decently get away.

She curled into him, laying little kisses over his neck and ears. She was murmuring something but he wasn’t listening, coming down from his orgasm and just wanting to close his eyes for a moment, to close her out. Why did birds always want to talk, after? Suddenly he knew he had to leave. He made his excuses smoothly and left, promising to call, though from the reaction he got he was fairly sure he wasn’t going to see her again.

 

 

Chapter 3

They went into work early one morning to find the place in a buzz. Rumours were rife: O’Shaughnessy had been spotted coming through Heathrow; Special Branch had lost him in traffic; there was an op being mounted in Holborn; the Provisional IRA were planning a huge campaign in London… but no one really knew what was going on.

At the briefing, Cowley was clear and concise, laying out the terms of the op. ‘And I don’t want anything going wrong with this one,’ he concluded. ‘I want O’Shaughnessy, aye, and any of his compatriots we can lay hands on. Dismissed.’

Finding himself loping along beside Anson, Bodie nudged him in the ribs and grinned. ‘Just like old times for you an’ me, mate – like being back on Falls Road.’

‘Sod off, Bodie,’ Anson grumbled. ‘I’ve got no wish to be back there again. I hate the bloody Provos.’ He looked at Bodie. ‘Why aren’t you on this one, anyway, you jammy bastard?’

‘Nah, the old man’s got us on something else. Me and our Liam had a run-in a few years ago and Cowley doesn’t want him to catch sight of my handsome face.’ They reached the door, and Bodie turned to Anson. ‘Be careful out there, old son – looks like it could be a nasty one.’

Anson punched him lightly on the shoulder. ‘Yeah, will do. Hey, it could be worse. We could be yomping across the bloody Falklands to Port Stanley.’

Bodie grimaced in recognition of the latest news. ‘Yeah. Go for a beer after you get back?’

‘Yeah, you’re on.’ They parted with all else unspoken.

Doyle was fretful about not being allowed on the O’Shaughnessy operation.

‘I know they can’t use you, but there’s no reason for leaving me out of it,’ he grumbled.

Bodie didn’t bother responding to that one. They spent a dull morning chasing round after information, which Doyle categorised as make-work, and then decided to head back to HQ to wait for the big operation to conclude. Bodie was driving back while Doyle sat in his usual sprawl with one foot on the dashboard as he looked moodily out of the window.

‘Hang about!’ he snapped, straightening up abruptly. ‘Pull over, that’s Tosser. I didn’t know he was out, but I bet he’s up to no good.’

‘Tosser?’ Bodie was disbelieving.

‘Well, his proper name’s Tesser. I put him away ten, twelve years ago now. Running a stable of underage kids – nasty. Let’s just have a little look-see, shall we?’

Bodie was about to swing the Capri over to the curb, but the man they were following jumped into a large black limousine waiting for him up ahead. The car pulled away and Bodie followed at a discrete distance. They hadn’t travelled far, with Doyle calling in their position on the RT, when Bodie looked in his mirror and saw something that raised his hackles. The passenger in the car behind them had something raised to his mouth.

‘Oi – trouble.’ Doyle twisted round in his seat.

‘He’s got an RT too. Peel off, quick.’ Bodie spun the wheel to take the side road, but as Doyle was calling it in, Bodie caught movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to catch a glimpse of something impossibly huge. He was flung against the side window, and then in one shocking blare of light and sound the world ended and everything fell away from him.

 

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Pain.

Cold.

Dark.

Bodie. Bodie would come and get him out. When you’d done all you could on your own, your partner came for you. Bodie would come. Callinare, Parker – Bodie always came.

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Tesser stared down at Doyle. He’d taken his time, paying back every hurt he’d had in jail, every humiliation and every beating. He was satiated, almost drunk with the luxury of power and pain. He’d used his boots, his fists, a knife, a length of pipe. They’d hosed him with freezing water. He’d found a cigarette lighter, and made patterns on the man’s skin. Probably the ex-copper couldn’t take much more. Time to end it, perhaps. Nah – he’d spin it out for a little longer. Revenge was sweet, after all.

He spat, and aimed a vicious kick at the semi-conscious man on the floor. Doyle moaned, mumbling indistinctly through his battered mouth.

‘What? What did you say, scum?’ He bent closer, trying to catch the words.

‘What’s he saying?’ His brother craned to hear.

‘Dunno. It’s just noise. The pig grunting,’ and they laughed together, turning away.

Bodie…

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Bodie woke suddenly. His head hurt and his back ached but other than that he seemed to be okay. He pried his eyes open, blinking in the light. Cowley rose from a chair and limped over to the high bed. ‘Bodie. How do you feel?’

‘I’m all right, sir. How’s Doyle?’ His boss regarded him steadily.

‘He’s not here, Bodie. He wasn’t in the car when you were pulled out.’

Bodie struggled to sit up. ‘No, laddie, stay still’.

‘Doyle.’

The one word sounded bitter, but Cowley saw through to the concern behind it. ‘We don’t know, Bodie. I need you to tell me what happened.’

‘There’s nothing much to tell, sir. I was caught like a rank amateur. I thought we were tailing them and it turns out they were tailing us.’ He put a hand to his aching head, willing the pain away. ‘Sorry, sir.’

‘Ach, no need to be sorry, Bodie. Give me your report, and let’s see if we can find Doyle.’

At the end of the terse summary, Cowley looked at his agent. Bodie was pale, with dark circles under his eyes. ‘Rest now, 3.7. They want to keep you in for the night for observation.’

‘But sir!’

‘No arguments, Bodie. I’ll send Murphy for you in the morning. Meanwhile, we’ll dig up everything we can on this old lag of Doyle’s.’ Defeated, and feeling lost and ill, Bodie sank back against the pillows as Cowley left the room. His sleep was punctuated by vivid dreams of Doyle’s face – in ecstasy that last afternoon of their loving, in agony as he was tortured, and finally, chillingly, pale and composed in his coffin.

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Murphy collected him the following morning and spent the ride to HQ updating him on the hunt for Doyle. As they arrived at the building there was a commotion and Lucas and McCabe pulled someone roughly out of their car and in through the door.

‘They got the bastard!’ Murphy’s face was lit with a fierce joy. Silently, Bodie lunged past, intent on getting his hands on the man who had taken his partner.

‘Bodie!’ The command came from Cowley, but Bodie ignored him, totally focused on getting to Tesser. Murphy wrestled Bodie away, pinning him against the wall while Lucas and McCabe took the shouting prisoner down to the basement.

Cowley glared at Bodie. ‘Wait, man. We’ll find out where he’s got Doyle, don’t you worry.’

‘Wait?’ Bodie yelled? ‘What the fuck are we waiting for? We haven’t got time to wait!’

‘And do you want to interrogate him here in the corridor, with everyone passing through? Or d’you want to come with me down to the interrogation room so we can ask him until he tells us? Well?’ Cowley held Bodie’s gaze, then turned on his heel and marched to the lift, shouting for Anson as he went. Bodie hurried to catch him, fuming.

The corridor in the basement was dark and poorly lit. They headed for the small room at the end of the corridor, where Lucas and McCabe were waiting outside the door.

‘All right, you two. Dismissed.’ Cowley opened the door and entered the room, leaving Bodie and Anson in the corridor.

The room was grey and cold. The damp air coming off the walls was full of the stench of hopelessness, with the reminder of countless interrogations like this one. One hip perched on the desk, the tape recorder behind him ignored, Cowley glared at Tesser, propped on the room’s single chair.

‘Where is Ray Doyle?’

‘Ray Doyle, you say? Now there’s a name I haven’t heard for a while.’ Tesser smiled lazily, eyes fixed on the ceiling.

‘Don’t play games with me, Mr. Tesser. You took him out of that car after the accident. Where did you take him, and where is he now?’

‘Oh, I left him in safe hands. He’ll remember my brother all right. Very pleased to see D.C. Doyle, was Jonty.’

‘Where is he?’ Cowley rapped out fiercely.

‘I’ve got no reason to tell you, have I? You’re gonna bang me up in jail again anyway, so what’s it to me?’ He leaned back on his chair. Cowley regarded the man on the chair dispassionately.

‘What’s it to you? I don’t think you quite understand where you are. We’re not the police, not Special Branch or Scotland Yard. Nobody - nobody, Mr. Tesser, knows you’re here. And nobody ever will.’

Tesser looked at him uncertainly, weighing the conviction of his words against his unassuming appearance. Cowley raised his eyebrows.

‘Well? I have other things to do today but I can assure you that some of Doyle’s colleagues are… eager… to entertain themselves.’ Tesser was defiant.

‘You wouldn’t. You can’t, old man.’

‘Oh, no, I wouldn’t, myself. But you could solve a little problem for me. Bodie and Anson, they’re waiting outside. Good men, both of them – served in the Paras, and other regiments, and in some troubled areas of the world. But the problem is, Mr. Tesser, that for men like them, peacetime can be a little… boring. Dull, even. They wonder if their skills are slipping, skills they can’t use much, even in my service, and they get restless. Oh, and you did know that Bodie is Doyle’s partner? He’s got a lot of aggression to work out. But I’m pleased to say that I’ve taught him the value of patience while he’s been with me. Patience, and the art of taking his time.’

Tesser sneered. ‘Bastard. I’m not telling you anything.’

Cowley gave a small, wintry smile which didn’t reach his eyes. ‘Och, well. Your choice, after all.’ He got off the desk and made for the door. ‘Anson!’

Anson and Bodie entered the small room. They were both big men, broad-shouldered and heavily muscled, and they filled the space between the desk and the man on the chair. Deliberately, they crowded him, and Bodie stared down, eyebrows lowered and nostrils flared. Anson cracked his knuckles. Bodie reached out slowly.

Cowley stepped forward again. ‘No, not you, Bodie, not yet. You’ll kill him, and we need him to talk first. Then you can have him.’ Tesser looked slightly uncertain.

‘You can’t do this. I’ve got rights, I have!’

‘No, Mr. Tesser. You have no rights or privileges here. You forfeited them when you took my agent.’

Bodie glared at his boss.

‘Look, sir, we’re wasting time. Just give me five minutes with him. That’s all – just five minutes.’

Cowley shook his head. Anson tapped Bodie on the arm lightly.

‘Don’t worry, old son, I’ll leave plenty for you to play with. We can make this one last a long time – he’s tough.’ Bodie looked at him broodingly, then gave a small nod and stepped back.

‘Right, lads, I’ll leave you to it. Call me when he breaks.’ Cowley nodded to them, then looked at Tesser consideringly.

‘And mind you don’t damage his mouth too much. And leave him conscious! He’s no good to me if he can’t speak.’ The door shut behind him, and Anson shook his head.

‘Nag, nag, nag. You’d think we’d never done this before, eh?’ He smiled and rubbed his hands together.

‘Right, then, sonny, where shall we start?’

db

Cowley came back into the room to find Tesser writhing against the wall, whining harshly with pain. He didn’t look too bad, Cowley considered, if you ignored the beaten face and the misshapen fingers and the flick knife stuck in his shoulder, which Bodie was twisting viciously.

‘Enough now, Bodie. Let the man tell us what we want to know.’ He stood over Tesser, looking down.

‘Doyle. Tell us where he is, and I’ll call these two off.’

He grinned mirthlessly at Cowley through a broken and bleeding mouth. ‘Well, fuck it, it was worth it. You can pick up your boy now. What’s left of him.’

Cowley regarded him with distaste. ‘Tell me where he is.’ The command was rapped out with all the force of Cowley’s personality behind it. Tesser blinked warily, and shifted on the hard floor, wincing.

‘Down by the Queen Elizabeth docks. Number 4 shed.’

 

Chapter 4

White.

Light.

Beeping noises.

Dull ache in one hand. Hot, damp pressure on the other hand.

Dry mouth, gritty eyes.

Sharp intake of breath next to him. ‘Ray!’

Cool air on his hand. Muscle cramps.

‘Welcome back, sleeping beauty. Thought you’d given up on us.’

He cranked his eyelids open. The wry tone of voice was belied by the too-bright eyes.

‘Knew you’d come.’

‘Always, mate. Always.’

Eyelids weighted, Doyle plummeted back into the safe, dark pool of sleep. It was okay. Bodie was there.

db

Bodie sat in the darkened room, watching his partner. Cowley limped through the door.

‘I want a word with you, 3.7. Eight o’clock tomorrow morning, my office.’

‘Yes, sir.’ There was nothing more Bodie could say. He knew what this was about. He went back to watching Doyle breathe.

db

The next morning Bodie was outside Cowley’s office at ten to eight. Doyle had passed a relatively stable night, and Bodie had taken the opportunity to return home for a quick shower and a shave. He knew that the forthcoming conversation was not going to be easy.

Betty’s manner was subdued. She seemed reluctant to meet Bodie’s eyes, and was busy at her typewriter. Bodie was tense about what his boss wanted to discuss, so the atmosphere in the outer office was strained.

‘Bodie!’ Cowley’s voice was raised from the inner sanctum. Preserving his outward calm, but inwardly quaking in his boots, Bodie entered Cowley’s office, where he stood in front of Cowley’s desk at parade rest.

‘Right, 3.7. You know why you’re here. Your behaviour yesterday needs an explanation.’

‘Yesterday, sir?’

‘Don’t play games with me, 3.7. Your behaviour when you entered the warehouse and found 4.5.’

‘I was worried about him, sir. I was relieved to have found him but I was concerned he was badly injured.’

‘You’re evading the issue, man. You kissed him! You had him in your arms and you were kissing him! Explain.’

Bodie’s gaze was fixed on a point on the wall over Cowley’s shoulder.

‘I was relieved, sir.’

‘Relieved? D’you always kiss people when you’re relieved? Did you kiss Murphy when we got him down from that chimney alive?’

‘No, sir.’

‘I’ll have no beating about the bush, 3.7. Are you, or are you not, having a homosexual relationship with 4.5?’

Hating every second of this conversation, not knowing where it would lead and still worrying about Doyle, Bodie ground out,

‘Yes, sir.’

There was a brief, incredulous silence.

‘How long has this been going on for?’

‘Two years, sir.’

‘And you didn’t inform me? You deliberately broke regulations?’

‘No, sir. Yes, sir.’

Cowley took off his glasses and leaned his head on his hand. There was a long pause.

‘Och, sit down, Bodie. I’m hardly likely to throw you off the A-squad – or not for homosexuality, at least. Half the Civil Service would be out on their ears at that rate.’

He paused again and studied the man sitting across from him shrewdly.

‘No, Bodie, what bothers me is that you failed to declare it, both of you.’

He chewed on the arm of his glasses, staring at Bodie.

‘Did you not think you could trust me? I know you’ve always been close. I’ve encouraged that. You’re my best team. I don’t care what you get up to in your spare time – just as long as you’re there when I need you. Och, I know what you all call me. The Old Man, the Cow. Well, a cow looks after its young, Bodie. Remember that.’

He went on for a while longer. Bodie wasn’t sure if he was relieved, or just resentful. Yet again the Old Man was meddling, controlling his life. It had gone slightly better than expected, he supposed, although at the moment he didn’t much care, totally focused on Doyle and his recovery.

Cowley’s parting shot, however, had been vicious.

‘An’ ye’ll see Dr. Jackson about this, is that clear?’

‘Oh, sir, no!’

‘No arguments, Bodie.’

‘But sir…’

‘See to it, Bodie.’

See Jackson. The most pig-headed, arrogant, irritating bastard in the entire medical profession. Staring out of the window, Bodie cringed inside at the thought of the forthcoming appointment. When Kate Ross had left them for the rarefied world of academia, the squad had to a man rejoiced. They knew she meant well, they knew she was there for their own good – and they knew how to get round the questionnaires, the chats, and the exasperated sighs from the woman sitting opposite them. The fact was, she was a good-looking woman who had never been directly involved in any violence. All her degrees, years of training and practice and computer studies could not overcome the mistrust felt by agents. How could she understand what it was like to kill a man, to end a life? She spouted the right words, she sometimes made sense – but when it all came down to it, she didn’t know. And of course, it hadn’t helped that the red-blooded males of the A-squad had all wanted to shag her senseless.

Enter Aaron Lemar Jackson, MD, PhD, MPH. No-one knew where Cowley had found him, or why he was suddenly inflicted on CI5’s finest, but the general consensus was that he should be shipped back to the Viet Cong a.s.a.p, preferably in small pieces. He had an unerring ear for evasion, and a tough demeanour that took no bullshit from anyone. He was also built like a brick outhouse, and they could all believe that he hadn’t just stayed safely in the background on his tour of duty. Bodie wasn’t looking forward to having to talk to the bastard at all.

db

It was hard on Bodie as the news spread like wildfire round the building. He was heading up from Records and passed the secretaries’ office when he heard the giggling within. He recognised the girl speaking as Jennifer, a girl with whom he’d had a brief affair in the pre-Doyle era. She had a slightly posh accent and he could hear her clearly as he came round the corner of the corridor. She was talking to one of the others but he couldn’t identify the other girl.

‘Well, sweetie, you were so taken with him at the time, but didn’t you guess?’

‘He’s such a stud in bed – what a waste!’ A second voice, strongly East-End.

‘Perhaps you should try and convert him back, darling. After all, you never know.’

‘Ooh, no, I couldn’t! It just wouldn’t be the same, somehow! What if he wanted to… you know…’

‘What?’ A third girl.

‘She means, darling, she doesn’t want to take it up the bum.’ They giggled.

‘I wonder which one of them does…? There was a chorus of protest.

‘Oh, don’t be disgusting!’

‘Eww, I don’t know how they can!’

‘You’ve got such a filthy mind!’

‘It’s not natural!’

He moved on up the corridor, brooding.

Later, after he’d returned from the hospital, he headed for the VIP room. As he approached the door, he caught another conversation. He paused, listening.

‘Well, I’m not going on obbo with him. Bloody shirt-lifter – you wouldn’t be able to turn your back for a minute!’

‘Come off it, Pennington, you’ve worked with him before and he’s never laid a finger on you. What makes you think it would be any different now?’ Anson sounded mildly impatient.

‘After all, who’d fancy you, eh?’ That was McCabe.

There was a snigger round the group.

‘All I’m saying is, I don’t like it, and if he even looks funny in my direction I’ll – ‘

‘You’ll what, Pennington?’ Bodie burst through the door, out for blood. Listeners don’t hear any good of themselves, true enough. ‘Well?’

‘It’s not natural, that’s all I’m saying.’ Pennington blustered on, looking for back up and not finding much from his fellow agents.

‘I mean, you and Doyle? Poofters? What do you do, dress up in women’s’ clothing and give each other flowers? It’s disgusting!’ He took a breath to pontificate further but Bodie had had enough. There was a short, vicious brawl before anyone could separate them and Pennington was dragged out by Turner, bleeding profusely from a broken nose.

‘Anyone else got anything to say?’

Bodie glared challengingly round the room, defying his colleagues to say anything. There was some muttering and shuffling of feet, and suddenly it seemed that there were important and urgent things to do elsewhere. Within minutes, only Jax and Anson were left.

‘Well? Are you going to have a go as well?’

Jax moved towards the door.

‘Take a look at me, mate. I’m black. There’s prejudice. Learn to live with it, ‘cos it never goes away.’ He slipped out of the door and was gone, leaving Bodie looking at Anson, who shrugged.

‘It doesn’t bother me, Bodie. Live and let live.’ Bodie stared at him, still ready to fight. Anson backed up, hands in the air.

‘Come on, Bodie. You can’t expect the lads not to take the piss. I suppose we always wondered. You’ve never kept any sort of personal space between you, and you’re never far apart. You kept it pretty quiet, though.’

‘It’s no one’s business but ours.’

‘Yeah, I know. How’s Doyle doing, anyway?’

‘All right. It’s going to take a long time, though. That bastard made a right mess of him.’

‘Mmm. What’s going to happen after?’

‘I don’t know. They don’t know how he’ll heal, yet. He might be crippled for life, they say.’

Anson winced. ‘Poor bastard. Does he know that?’

‘Nah, he’s too ill to be told anything much yet. There’ll be plenty of time, if it comes to that.’

He hesitated, and thumped Anson lightly on the arm.

‘Thanks, mate. Y’know.’

‘Yeah, I know. Come on. If you think you can keep your hands off me, I’ll buy you a cup of tea and you can tell me what the Cow said.’

db

The conversation with Murphy went very differently. Reassured by Anson’s matter of fact attitude, Bodie was less on his guard with Murphy, who was generally agreed to be the most easy-going, laid-back bloke on the Squad. Girls liked him, his fellow agents liked him and he could charm anything out of any of the secretaries. Bodie had always got on well with the tall agent. They shared a common history of service in the SAS and had a similar black sense of humour. He had no qualms therefore about their shared journey to the airport on an escort job.

Doyle was improving slowly, and Bodie was doing odd jobs on the squad – checking on leads, liaising with other departments and escorting visiting dignitaries like today’s Russian – nothing that would take him out of Doyle’s vicinity for long. Bodie and Murphy had been sent on an airport drop-off, accompanying a VIP back to Heathrow, and all they had to do was stand around looking menacing until the man was whisked through Security and onto the plane. There hadn’t been much opportunity for chat while they were on duty, but Murphy was still quiet as they were heading back to the car.

‘You okay, Murph?’

‘Yeah, I’m fine.’

Bodie looked across at his colleague. One of the things he valued about Murphy was that he was comfortable with silence, but this didn’t feel like one of those moments.

‘Sure? Not missing Oojanickabollockoff already?’ Murphy managed a smile at the nickname Bodie had coined for the voluble Russian they had been escorting, but there was obviously something troubling him.

‘Nah. Look, Bodie – this thing with Doyle…’

Instantly Bodie was wary, waiting for the disgust, the disparaging comments. He had thought better of Murphy, but he supposed he was wrong. Deliberately misunderstanding, he adopted a light and breezy tone in his reply.

‘He’s doing better, they’ve taken a lot of the tubes and stuff away. Still be in hospital a fair while, though.’

‘That’s not what I meant, and you know it. You and Doyle…’

‘Yeah – what of it?’ Jaw set, he turned to face Murphy full on. ‘You got something to say about it?’

Murphy held his gaze. Looking at him, Bodie was surprised to see sadness in the other man’s eyes.

‘Only… I never saw it coming. And I’m pleased for you, honest I am. It’s just - I wish it was me.’

Bodie was gobsmacked. Murphy?

‘Tell me, Bodie, was there ever a chance?’

He gathered his wits together. He’d always liked the other agent, but he’d never suspected Murphy was gay. Or bi. Whatever. He struggled to formulate the right words, to explain what he and Doyle had together. He couldn’t. It was too private, too personal, and Bodie had never been one to wear his heart on his sleeve. But Murphy deserved an answer, and was still standing there, still looking at him in this busy access road, with airport officials bustling all round them. He shook his head.

‘I’m sorry, Murph.’ It was the best he could do.

Murphy nodded, and turned away. He took two paces, and turned back again, reaching out a hand to Bodie’s arm.

‘It’s better, in a way. Knowing that there never was a chance, not that I’d missed something. Oh, you needn’t look at me like that, Bodie. I’m not going to embarrass you. I’ll never speak of it again. I’ll drown my sorrows and find a willing bird. But I just… I had to ask. To know.’

They drove back to HQ in silence.

 

Chapter 5

Doyle’s recovery was slow. Bodie haunted the hospital, irritating the nursing staff and getting in the way of the auxiliaries. He was silent, almost sullen, mouth pulled down and eyes lowered. He didn’t speak much, preferring to stay by Doyle’s side with his eyes on the equipment measuring and beeping and keeping Doyle alive. The litany of Doyle’s injuries went on and on: hairline skull fracture, shattered tibia and ankle, broken wrist, dislocated shoulder, broken ribs, pneumonia, cuts, burns – Bodie wasn’t sure which machines were monitoring which bits, but slowly, gradually, the tubes came out and the machines were removed until it was just his partner lying thin and pale in the narrow white bed.

db

‘Ah, Bodie, I’m glad I’ve caught you. A word.’ Not quite sure what to expect this time, Bodie followed his boss into his office warily and took a seat when Cowley waved impatiently towards the chair.

‘I’ve been looking at the reports from the hospital. Doyle is doing well, but there’s a lot of damage there. He’s going to need intensive therapy when he gets out. Have you given any thought to this?’

Bodie shrugged. ‘I know he’s going to have to work hard, sir. He can do it. He’s done it once, he can do it again.’

Cowley frowned. ‘It’s unlikely he’ll make it back to the A-squad this time, Bodie. There’s just too much damage, and he’s five years older than when May-Li shot him.’

Bodie stared at him blankly. Not make it back?

‘Och, surely you realised, man?’ Bodie continued to stare, then blinked, swallowed, and looked away.

‘I suppose so, sir,’ he said gruffly.

Cowley’s manner softened.

‘Ah, Bodie, that leg of his – it looks as though Tesser, God rot his soul, broke it and then deliberately stamped on the pieces. It’ll never heal well enough to return him to active service.’ He paused.

‘And that being so, we need to think what to do. It’s early days yet, and he won’t be out of hospital for a while, but we need to talk frankly, Bodie.’

He pulled open his desk drawer and took out a bottle and two glasses. Pouring the drinks, he pushed one across the desk to Bodie.

‘Two issues, 3.7. One, your partnership. Two, your future.’

‘My future, sir? What about Doyle’s future?’

‘We’ll come to that, Bodie. Firstly, tell me – this… relationship… of yours, how strong is it?’

‘With respect, sir, that’s none of your business!’

‘It is my business, 3.7. It’s my business unless I tell you it isn’t, the same as your lives are mine until I’ve finished with them! Now cut the histrionics and tell me – is this thing with Doyle just physical or are you emotionally involved as well?’

Bodie glowered at him, hating every second of this.

‘Och, that’s a stupid question. You’ve been emotionally involved for a long time, haven’t you? I remember what happened with Ojuka. Mind, I didn’t expect it to turn physical. But Bodie, I know what happens in the military, when you’re a long way from home and there’s danger all around. What I need to know now is whether this will continue? Or was it a temporary aberration?’

Bodie nearly squirmed in his seat. The Cow, asking about his intentions? Correctly deducing his agent’s discomfort, Cowley shook his head impatiently.

‘I need to plan, Bodie, and I can’t do that unless I know what you’re going to do.’

‘I hadn’t thought about it much, sir. He’ll be in the hospital for weeks yet.’

‘Aye, it’s going to be a hard road for the lad to travel.’

‘I’ll be with him, sir.’

‘Will you? Easy to say now, Bodie, but Doyle’s never been one for sweetness and light even when things are going well.’

‘I know, sir.’

‘And if it means leaving the A-squad?’

‘If I have to, sir, yes. Look, what are you getting at? You’re just going to kick Doyle out, because he’s no use to you any more?’ He rose out of his chair and glared at Cowley across the desk, challenging him.

‘Because if you are, I’m out too. I can’t believe you’d just dump him, like an old –‘

‘That’s enough, 3.7!’ The command was rapped out with enough force to stop Bodie’s tirade, and he sank back down to his chair, breathing heavily.

‘I’m not dumping anyone. I’m asking if you intend to help Doyle through his rehabilitation, and what he might do afterwards, and what you want to do. I’ve had this day in mind for a long time. Och, not Doyle being invalided out. But the future, Bodie, the future.’ He rubbed his hands together briskly.

By the time he left Cowley’s office, Bodie didn’t know what to think. He had a range of options to consider for both of them, a new flat for two to move them into, and instructions to speak to Macklin at the first opportunity. Dizzy with possibilities, and not sure if he’d been outmanoeuvred again, he headed for home with a lot to think about.

db

Bodie was back at the hospital, waiting for the nurses to release Doyle from the daily torture of feeding and washing and bedpans and the like. Eventually they swished the curtains back from around the bed and left the room, allowing Bodie to have a good look at Doyle.

He was restless, shifting uncomfortably until Bodie raised the head of the bed slightly and rearranged his pillows. As he slipped an arm under Doyle to help ease him upwards, he caught the faint, elusive scent of his partner, nearly buried under hospital antiseptic and harsh soap. It prickled at his conscience and without thinking, he blurted out his thoughts.

‘Ray, I’m so sorry. I should have listened when you said you wanted out.’ Doyle looked at him in silence for a moment.

‘It’s not your fault, Bodie. No one could have predicted what happened.’

‘Anyway, I’ve told Cowley.’ Doyle frowned. He was tired, and he ached, and he didn’t understand.

‘What’ve you told Cowley?’

‘I’ve said we want out. Off the A-squad. Like you wanted.’

Doyle looked at him in disbelief. ‘You’ve what?’

Bodie straightened up defiantly. ‘You heard. Asked him for a different job.’

Doyle couldn’t believe what he was hearing. After all this…?

‘But you didn’t want to. You said.’

‘I said I’d think about it. And I have. So I told him.’

Doyle was furious. ‘And what about me? I can’t believe you did that without talking to me first! Fucking hell, Bodie, how long have we been partners?’ He subsided back onto the pillows, wheezing. Bodie watched his partner steadily, although a slight blush on his cheekbones gave him away.

‘You were the one who wanted out, a while back – I’ve just made it happen.’

‘And what did he say?’ Doyle’s eyes were glittering now, his weakness and his anger prompting him to the threat of tears. ‘Come on, you bastard, tell me – what’s gonna happen when I’m fighting my way back?’ He was gasping for breath now, pale and shocked.

‘Ray.’ Bodie dropped to the side of the bed and took his partner’s hand. ‘We both know you’re not coming back from this one. Not this time, mate.’

Doyle clenched his jaw and turned his head away, but not before Bodie had seen the errant tear making its way down one cheek. There was silence in the room and then, in a small voice, ‘I know.’

‘It was a miracle you came back after the shooting, you know?’

Doyle lurched around again, wincing in pain.

‘It wasn’t a miracle, Bodie! It was bloody hard graft that did it, yeah, and support from you, from Cowley, Macklin, from everyone. And if you’re saying you won’t give me that support again, well, you might as well leave now, because we’re finished.’

‘Don’t be bloody stupid. Of course I’ll give you all the support I can, everything you need. I’m just saying that it’s time we both got out of the A-squad, that’s all.’

There was no response from his partner. Bodie looked down at him. He looked tired and ill, and even the normally rambunctious curls were flattened and sad.

‘Look, Ray, give it a bit of time. They won’t let you out of here, not yet, but as soon as they do you’re coming home with me. I asked the old man for a double flat and leave so’s I can help you till you get back on your feet.’

‘Oh, yeah – for what? No point, is there?’

‘Come on, you know damned well there’s going to be weeks of physio after the casts come off. You’re going to need help, and it’s either me or somewhere like Repton.’

‘I’ll say it again, Bodie – for what?’ The rest of the sentence was an indistinct mumble into the pillows. Bodie leaned over the bed.

‘Say that again?’

Doyle turned back to face him. ‘A useless bloody cripple, that’s what I’ll be!’

‘You cloth-eared twit!’ Bodie was exasperated. ‘Don’t you ever bloody listen?’ He looked at Doyle again, hunched against the pillows, defensive, hurting and scared. He softened. ‘Ray, you will get better. You won’t be a cripple.’ He wiggled one hip into the pile of pillows and slipped an arm around Doyle’s shoulders. Doyle turned his face into Bodie’s shoulder silently, and Bodie buried his face in lank curls.

‘It’ll be all right, sweetheart. We’ll make it right. You’ll see,’ he whispered.

 

Chapter 6

Doyle was finally out of hospital and the convalescent home. Recovered from the pneumonia, but still with a dragging cough if he overdid it, the cracks and fractures were healing slowly. Bodie was careful to smooth on the cream for the burns and the scars night and morning, indulging in a need to care for his partner beyond the basics of hygiene. The broken leg and shattered ankle were the most difficult to deal with, necessitating part-washes with flannels and much swearing from the wheelchair’s grumpy occupant, but they managed, and if Doyle was more strongly Doyle-smelling than he used to be, well, Bodie could cope with that on a temporary basis.

Their days were full, but of nothing significant. Time was the enemy now. From the moment they woke, to the last fag-end of the day, they were busy doing nothing. Doyle struggled with the pain of getting out of bed, getting washed and dressed and into the clinic for his physiotherapy. The sadists in charge of his treatment pushed and pummelled him, calmly asking for ‘Just another two, Ray, or, ‘And how far can you extend the arm today?’ as Doyle strained to his limits trying to do as they demanded. Because everything took so long, it seemed as though they were just through at the clinic when it was time to eat, then time to reverse the whole painful morning routine and get Doyle back into bed.

Their relationship suffered, although this was not unexpected. As Doyle’s physiotherapy progressed, his temper gradually levelled out until he was back to the silent misery he had perfected in hospital. Without the flare-ups, Bodie lacked the warning signs he depended on to navigate their new relationship, and took to spending more time back at HQ, going through their open files to finish as much as he could.

With considerable trepidation, he had accepted Cowley’s offer to move over to the training centre with Macklin, Towser and Crane, and he was preparing to leave the A-squad, and his glory days, behind him. He too became silent and withdrawn. The other agents walked warily, not understanding why he was moving on, and relations were strained. There was the occasional sniggered comment that he wasn’t supposed to hear, and one B-Squad wit had a nasty encounter with a door that resulted in two broken fingers and a furious lecture from Cowley, but on the whole, his colleagues were puzzled and consequently not talkative.

It was late, and Bodie was putting off going back to the flat. The building was quiet, and he wandered into the empty VIP lounge, where he trailed one finger lightly along the wall. Stupid to get choked up about a grotty rest room. He gave a mirthless snort of laughter, and turned towards the door. A figure loomed in the dim light, eyes gleaming in the darkness.

‘Bodie.’

‘Bloody hell, doc, you made me jump.’

‘How’s it going?’

‘Fine, yeah, just on my way home.’

‘Gotta minute?’ It was not a request. Bodie nodded, and followed the doctor to his office.

Jackson switched the green-shaded lamp on and motioned Bodie to the armchair. ‘Sit.’

It wasn’t technically possible to sit at parade rest, but Bodie gave it a damned good shot.

‘Relax, man. I just wanted to know how you’re doin’. Just shootin’ the breeze.’

Oh, yes, right – and there were little pink piggies orbiting the ceiling.

‘We’re getting there.’ Wherever there was.

‘How’s the transfer to the Training Centre goin’?’

‘Yeah, it’s going well. Should be all moved over in the next couple of weeks.’

‘And how do you feel about it?’

‘Feel? It’s a job.’ Bodie was determined not to shift in his chair, to wait the bastard out.

Jackson sighed. ‘See, Bodie, you can spout this crap all day, and Mr. Cowley might believe you, but I know better. The sooner you admit you’re hating every second of this, the sooner you can deal with it and move on.’

Shocked, Bodie stared at him. ‘I thought you were supposed to be on our side? What happened to the softly, softly approach, eh?’

‘I saw this a lot back home, you know. Vets would come back home to a loving family – only the family had moved on, and the servicemen had seen unimaginable horrors. It doesn’t make for a balanced relationship, for sure.’

‘Yeah, well, me and Doyle, it’s not like that. We’ve both seen horrors, and we’re both getting out while we still can.’

‘Mm-hm. Tell me how you’re dealin’ with your issues with moving over to the Training Centre.’

‘Kate Ross was never like this, you know.’

‘Go home, man, and talk to your partner. Tell him that you’re scared. If you can’t talk to me about your feelings about being sidelined, talk to him about it. Then come back and see me on Tuesday at 10am sharp. But be prepared to open up, Bodie. I’m all done with you pissing me around.’

db

Later that evening, he lay next to Doyle in bed, listening to the other man breathing. There was a rightness, a comfort in the scrawny body by his side, that he hadn’t found with Anne-Marie or… what was her name? Victoria – no, Vanessa… or any of the other casual lays he’d had. Doyle wasn’t yet up to sex – in fact, they hadn’t mentioned it at all, and Bodie reckoned Doyle was still in too much pain to be even thinking of it. He sighed. Had their relationship become exclusive? When had he lost the ability to enjoy screwing around as he’d done before? If he couldn’t take much satisfaction in air-hostesses and the like, and Doyle wasn’t up to much yet, what was he going to do? Glumly, he rolled over and buried his nose in Doyle’s armpit. His partner grumbled in his sleep, and Bodie smiled reluctantly. Perhaps Rosie Palm and her five daughters weren’t that bad, for a while.

db

Slowly, gradually, Doyle regained his fitness and his mobility. The physiotherapists warned him against trying to go too fast, and advised that he aim for long-term fitness rather than a quick recovery which might not have the firm basis of strength which would see him back to work. Most of his injuries were fully recovered, but they had warned that his leg would always be weak, with too much damage to ever regain complete strength and mobility. He found it difficult, this need to move more carefully, to plan ahead and never to rely on the swift, joyful ease of movement that he had once had. Without being vain, he knew that one of the things that had formed part of his attraction was his fluid gait and the long-legged, sexual stalk he had perfected. He knew that Bodie, for example, had been fixated on his bum and legs years before he’d made his move. It was so hard to accept that he couldn’t now do everything as he could before Tesser. His original gratitude that he still had his leg – his life, come to that – had worn off, and he suffered a silent resentment of his loss.

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First day back. Doyle wasn’t sure whether to be pleased, wary, or just plain scared. The last time he had made it back after months off was after May-Li, and he had been re-joining the squad as a fully-functional agent. This was different. This time he wouldn’t be sent out on a call, wouldn’t be hanging around in the VIP lounge drinking tea and waiting for the balloon to go up. This time he would be feeling his way, shadowing Cowley – and won’t that be fun – without having the solid warmth of Bodie at his shoulder.

Consequently he was on edge and prickly with his colleagues, however pleased they were to see him back. Told by Cowley in no uncertain terms to smarten up, he had dressed in his dark grey suit which had hitherto been reserved for Cookie’s wedding and funerals, one of which, ironically, had been Cookie’s. That morning Bodie had solemnly presented him with a new tie, which had resulted in a snarl, a tussle, and a reluctant grin as Bodie winced theatrically at the mess he made of tying the knot.

He also wasn’t quite sure what his colleagues would make of his relationship with Bodie. Bodie had told him about the problem with Pennington, and Doyle went into the office prepared to fight to prove his masculinity. But in the end it was a non-event, with only a couple of his colleagues looking at him warily, and most were so pleased to see him back again that few comments were made. The news about the pair of them was old now, and none of them, when it came down to it, were surprised, so they were more focused on Doyle’s new role, teasing him about calling him ‘sir’ and wondering aloud if they should call him the Calf.

He was surprised at how giggly the secretaries had become, and wondered in passing if there was something he was missing. Bodie hadn’t told him about that conversation, so Doyle was slightly puzzled by meeting what appeared to be the entire complement of secretaries and admin staff as he headed through the corridors, and more puzzled still by the fact that he didn’t seem to be included in the joke.

Having other things on his mind, however, he dismissed it as of no importance and made it up to Cowley’s office on time, where he was instantly commanded to accompany his lord and master to Whitehall for an introduction to the Minister and anyone else Cowley though it useful that he cultivate. Taking a deep breath, he headed off into his new role.

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At the weekly briefing of his senior staff, Cowley dealt with the regular items on the agenda. Pennington and Lucas were on sick leave, and there was a problem with one of the latest intake, Chegwin, who couldn’t work well with any of his new colleagues. Opinions ranged from neutral (Dr. Bennett) through thoughtful (Jackson) to dismissive (Macklin). Agreement was reached to observe the hapless Chegwin more closely over the next few group exercises and return to make a decision next week.

‘And now, gentlemen, Bodie and Doyle. How are they doing in their new roles?’ Cowley looked around the room, eyebrows raised over his heavy glasses.

Macklin shifted in his chair, smiling. ‘Bodie’s settled in very well. He’s enjoying the responsibility, and he’s fascinated to see the theory behind what we do. I think he’ll do nicely.’

Cowley nodded. ‘Aaron? Anything to add?’

‘Nope. Bodie’s fine. I’ve had some talks with him, but there ain’t nothin’ unexpected in what he’s doin’. Doyle, now, there’s a cat of another colour.’

Cowley frowned. ‘What do you mean? I thought he was doing rather well, myself. Certainly I’ve had no concerns.’

Dr. Bennett leaned forward. ‘From a medical perspective, everything has healed well and he’s come through the physiotherapy in excellent shape, if you consider what happened to him. I didn’t think he’d get as much mobility in that leg as he has done. He worked hard, pushed himself to the limit, and it’s paid off. Physically, he’s able to do much more than I expected. Brian, you have him for limited training, don’t you? How’s he doing with you?’

Macklin shrugged. ‘We’re having to work on different strategies. He’ll never be able to trust that leg for sudden acceleration, and if he twists it wrongly you can see it hurts him. But he’s stubborn, and he just grits his teeth and gets on with it. Why, Aaron, do you think there’s a problem?’

Jackson shrugged. ‘He ain’t dealing with what happened. If you push him, everything’s fine. He says he’s been hurt before and gotten over it, so he knows just what to do this time round.’

His colleagues looked at him. He raised his hands. ‘I’d expect more difficulty adjusting, given his file and what I know of him so far.’

Macklin frowned quizzically. ‘You’re complaining because he’s well adjusted? He’s dealing with his new job well?’

‘All I’m sayin’, he’s buttoned it all down. Keep out, no entry. He won’t talk to me about it, for sure, and I’m not certain he’s talkin’ to that partner of his either. Suppression of trauma – he can go on doin’ it for some while, but it’s gonna bust out again somewhere, for sure.’

Dr. Bennett was nodding thoughtfully. ‘So what can we do?’

‘Do? Keep an eye on him, and hope we can all pick up the pieces when it blows.’

The meeting ended on an unsatisfactory note, with none of Jackson’s colleagues being exactly sure what he was concerned about. Cowley was more conscious of Doyle’s presence beside him as they headed for a briefing with the Minister, but Doyle was his usual idealistic, irreverent self and Cowley soon forgot Jackson’s warning.

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Much to his surprise, Doyle found that following Cowley through the shadowy maze of politics was fascinating. He began to anticipate his boss’s triple think, and was kept on his toes as Cowley demanded answers to scenarios and predictions as to which way someone would jump. The Tory landslide victory on 9th June had resulted in a massive shuffle and re-organisation, as the incumbents of Whitehall scrambled to adjust to the new boys in the Palace of Westminster. He became accustomed to finding his way around the buildings, and started to cultivate a network of secretaries and under-secretaries who acted much as his grubby informers had done out on the streets. He became aware of the different strata of power, and where the little fish hung out, and who the sharks were patrolling the corridors. He started to see the connections forming, began to join the dots, leaping across gaps with a spark of thought to create new links in this strange, shadowy network of power.

His leg still pained him at the end of the day, and he still had to take time out for physiotherapy and the dreaded sessions with Jackson, but on the whole life was tolerable. And his relationship with Bodie was improving again. They were both busy, with a purpose and a rhythm to their days that gave them a stable base on which to build their domestic partnership. It made a nice change, that they were both home most evenings, and they settled into a routine where one cooked and the other pottered around, chatting idly about their day.

One night, Doyle looked across at Bodie, who was lounging on the settee, concentrating on the crossword, and muttering as he scrubbed fiercely at the paper with a rubber. Bodie’s shirt was unbuttoned, one sock was hanging off his foot, and his hair was standing on end. Doyle started laughing.

‘Domestic bliss, this is, mate. Here’s me at the stove, cooking your tea, and there’s you taking your ease. Shall we go shopping for curtains tomorrow?’

Bodie looked up, still distracted by his puzzle.

‘Tomorrow? No, I’m testing that new batch of handguns.’ He paused as Doyle collapsed in a heap, whooping with laughter. ‘What?’

His partner was unable to answer, and Bodie started to laugh as well, unwillingly and with some irritation. ‘What’s so funny? Tell me, you bastard.’

‘You! You weren’t listening, and then you –‘ he broke off as a fit of coughing struck. Bodie abandoned the settee hurriedly and went down on one knee by his partner, carefully straightening him up and supporting him through the spasms. It took a while for Doyle to stop coughing, and Bodie noted the white face and cautious movements. It still worried him, that Doyle wasn’t completely recovered. All the medical team agreed that he had made great strides, but there were always going to be limits. He rubbed gentle circles on Doyle’s back, and sat quietly while Doyle wiped his eyes and blew his nose.

‘Sorry.’ His voice was husky. ‘Didn’t mean to get carried away.’ He paused, and sniffed again. ‘Tea’s burning.’

‘Bugger!’ Bodie leapt to his feet and headed for the pan on the stove. He was busy for a few heated moments, rescuing enough of their meal to get by, and throwing some baked beans into the mix to bulk it out. While he was doing all this Doyle was watching silently, still hunched in his chair. Bodie had one eye on Doyle and one on the odd-looking chilli.

‘You all right?’

‘Yeah, I’m okay. Just thinking – I’ve never said, but thanks.’

‘Thanks for what?’

‘For looking after me like you do. Can’t be much fun, sometimes.’

Bodie abandoned the chilli and came over to sit at Doyle’s feet. ‘You are a prat, you know.’

‘Me? Why?’

‘What else would I do?’

‘Yeah, but looking after me’s not your bloody job.’

‘Doyle. Stop being such a steaming great pillock. Who else’ve you got? Who else’ve I got, come to think of it? The Bisto kids, that’s us, the mobile ghetto. All for one, an’ one for all. Any other bleeding cliché you can think of. Now come and eat this bloody meal while there’s some of it left.’

 

Chapter 7

Gradually, Doyle’s health improved and the physiotherapists eased off. The day came when they gave him a maintenance programme and waved him off from the clinic, albeit with a standing invitation to return whenever he felt there might be a problem. His weekly appointments with Jackson tailed off to fortnightly, then monthly, and his life with Bodie became settled, if not exactly thrilling. Their schedules were sometimes very different, with Bodie putting in long hours when training exercises overlapped with extended weaponry trials, or Doyle was stuck until late with Cowley deep in the corridors of Whitehall. In addition, the operations Doyle started to take over from Cowley often necessitated late nights or early starts, and there were days when the partners hardly saw one another.

Deprived of the partnership that he had come to rely on, Doyle’s tendency to brood overtook him, and he spent long hours wondering what his life had come to. He enjoyed his new role, but it was different from his previous life, and he found it hard to share his thoughts with his partner. He had found it hard to climb back from the beating, and the long weeks in hospital and the agonies of rehab had altered his perspective on life. He hated the fact that he still had to use a stick if his leg was paining him. The physical limitations that were now imposed on him troubled his sense of self, in that he had always been able to rely unthinkingly on a fit body and had never previously considered any limitations. Those limitations now made a vast difference to the quality of his life, and he hadn’t yet been able to find a way of coping.

He was operating pretty much on his own – oh, there was Cowley, always bloody Cowley, but that was still a subordinate role and the keen sense of partnership he had relied on with Bodie was missing. And Bodie… what was he getting out of this?

Hard, muscled, superbly fit and with a bright, shining edge to him that Doyle had rarely seen, Bodie was thriving on his new role. He’d lost weight and developed new muscle, and there was a settled quality to him now that Doyle had never seen before. Doyle thought morosely that there was more inequality now in their relationship than there had been in the past. He’s still doing all the physical stuff an’ I just get to run around bloody Whitehall, yes sirring an’ no sirring.

Uneasily, Doyle’s thoughts kept circling round to the same question: he could have anyone he wanted. Why does he stay with me?

He never found an answer.

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Bodie had taken to his new role like a pig to muck. Initially secretly reluctant, he fought a war within himself, on the one hand grateful to anything that would keep Doyle safe, and on the other deeply resentful that he had had to give up a job he loved earlier than planned. Sure, he knew that he – and especially Doyle – was pushing the upper limits for age in their roles, but he’d thought he had a few years yet, years where he didn’t have to think about what he would do next. Suddenly, ‘next’ was forced upon him. Finding Doyle so broken, and nursing him through his recovery with a devotedness he hadn’t realised he possessed, he had bulled his way through the last year without thinking much beyond the next few days. First it was waiting to see if Doyle would make it, then it was waiting to see how much he would recover, then it was helping him through his therapy – the list went on. He was grateful for Cowley’s offer to get them off the streets, he truly was – but it would never be the same.

It wasn’t the same. It was better.

For years he had followed orders, first as a teenager in the Merchant Navy, then in the mercenary troupe, jumping to Krivas’ directions. He’d gone from there to the Paras and the SAS, still in small units, doing as commanded. It had taken time to work things out with Doyle when they were first partnered, learning when to trust and how to balance this partnership of equals. Cowley still called the tune, but he expected all his agents to think for themselves and to make the right decisions.

Now, unexpectedly, he was on the other side of the equation. He, Macklin, Towser and Crane planned out the training programmes, assessing individuals and partners to test their limits, and cajoling, badgering and ordering the new recruits through hazardous exercises designed to temper them and weed out the ones unsuited to CI5’s uncertain lifestyle. It was fascinating to see the whole plan unfold, to lead them on by giving them more and more, to push until they thought they couldn’t do any more, and to lead the debriefs when some unlucky sod cocked it up beyond repair. He’d commented to Macklin one day that he never knew there was so much method behind the madness, and Macklin had just winked.

And it was great to go home to Ray every evening. Well, of course not every evening – there were night training exercises and joint exercises with other training groups, but on the whole Bodie hadn’t realised how good it felt not to be at the sharp end any more. Slightly concerned about this, he’d pondered for a while and had a word with Macklin. He’d never have thought he’d get on so well with Brian either, but the instructor was very different when he was on your side and wasn’t beating the hell out of you, Bodie decided. He had a wickedly dry sense of humour and an unexpected compassion that he kept well hidden. So one day he’d decided to ask Macklin’s advice. They’d sent the latest sorry excuses for trainees off to the showers, and were clearing the mats away in the deserted gym.

‘Brian, can I ask you something?’

‘I would think so. You don’t normally ask if you can ask.’ Macklin looked over at him quizzically.

‘How did you know you’d lost your nerve?’

Macklin’s eyebrows rose.

‘I mean, I know you said that your nerves were shot to hell. You couldn’t face a target that shoots back any more. But how did you know you couldn’t go back to an active role?’

‘Where’s this coming from, Bodie? You haven’t lost your nerve. And it’s hardly the same situation.’

Bodie backpedalled fast. ‘No, sorry, forget I asked.’

‘Bollocks. What’s the matter?’ Macklin looked at him shrewdly. ‘You? Or Doyle?’ Bodie gaped at him.

‘It could be anyone. It could be young Chegwin – we’re all worried about him. Why d’you think it’s me or Ray?’

‘I’ve just said, you haven’t lost your nerve. And Doyle’s situation’s different anyway – he can’t go back. Come on, Bodie, give – what are you worrying about?’

Bodie studied the floor. Did he really want to have this discussion? He could feel a pale blue gaze boring into him. He capitulated. He had to talk to someone.

‘I’m enjoying this too much. It just occurred to me, I was dreading coming off the A-squad. And look at me now – all happy and complacent, and home in time for tea like some bloody commuter.’

Macklin gave a harsh bark of laughter. ‘So you’ve grown up. And survived to do it, which is something.’ He regarded Bodie benevolently. ‘George and I talked this over, Bodie. Oh, Jack and Aaron had their say too, but George didn’t want to lose you. He’s got a bit of a soft spot for you, Bodie. After Doyle got his he was worried – we were all worried – about what would happen. He didn’t know if you’d just walk away.’

Bodie took a breath to refute this, but Macklin waved him to silence again.

‘George thought – and I agreed with him – that your partnership was too strong for you to walk away this time. I must admit, I always wondered about you and Doyle after the Parsali affair, but it was none of my business while you were still getting top marks on the grade 7s and the training.’ Macklin fell silent and looked over at Bodie.

‘The thing is,’ Bodie said, and then stopped, affronted. ‘Oi, what do you mean, I’ve grown up?’

‘What did you think you were going to do when you hit 40, Bodie?’

‘Dunno. Never thought I’d get there, you know? And then, with Ray… always thought we might do a Butch and Sundance.’

Macklin nodded. ‘You’re the lucky ones. Make the most of it.’

None of which answered his question, but Bodie left for home feeling faintly reassured.

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Doyle was unhappy. Professionally, he was doing well – trusted with more responsibility, he was now allowed to represent Cowley at some of the meetings with ministers, and could usually predict Cowley’s questions at the debrief afterwards. He was establishing a more equal relationship with Cowley, and the old man was gradually relinquishing the checks and balances he had put in place while Doyle found his feet in this very different environment. No, professionally, Doyle was enjoying his role. It was his personal life that was causing him problems.

The other agents had settled down, now seeming to take his and Bodie’s relationship for granted. True, there wasn’t any difference in how he treated Bodie at work, or how Bodie treated him, and they had always been a tight team. They were separated now, spending their days apart, and Doyle found that he missed Bodie more than he could have imagined possible.

Never previously insecure, he started to doubt himself. Physically, it seemed that he was as good as he was going to get. When Bodie left early one morning for a training exercise, Doyle stripped his clothes off and took a good long look at himself in the bathroom mirror.

A tired, middle-aged man looked back at him.

He’d never been particularly bothered by his looks. He was aware that there was a fey quality to his appearance, and that sometimes he was gargoyle-ugly. His body had always served him well and he’d never thought much about the way he was put together, although the girls had liked it well enough. But now – now he looked and was revolted by what he saw.

He’d lost weight and struggled to put it back on, so he was scrawnier than usual. He’d also lost muscle tone and definition, which made his joints stick out. His skin was pale, and still mottled where new pink skin was replacing the scars from the burns and cuts in the warehouse. But his leg – mangled and twisted, with a huge, jagged purple scar writhing up the outside where they’d cut and pinned and stitched, and smaller scars dotted around at random – oh, it was ugly. He smoothed a hand over his shoulders, feeling the points and knots of bone that protruded, and the dips of flesh where once muscle had swelled. His hair was greyer, and his eyes were tired, and that damned cheekbone stood out like a ledge.

Poor Bodie. He doesn’t deserve this.

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Bodie kept thinking about what Macklin had said to him.

‘You’re the lucky ones.’ Gradually, Bodie came to realise that he was grateful for many things, and that his life now was satisfying and fulfilling in a way it had never been before. He’d never stuck at anything much, always pulling up and moving on before he got too involved. Now he was so involved he couldn’t get out if he tried. His prized independence, his devil-may-care attitude, his reckless attack on life - all of these were gone, defeated by his need and love for Doyle. It was just better with the two of them. He felt an unaccustomed tenderness for his partner, and whereas before he might have cared for him out of a sense of duty, now he did it out of love and thankfulness. His reaction to Doyle’s battered body had surprised him: he cared for Doyle’s scars as an act almost of worship, seeing them as honourable wounds bravely earned. Doyle’s fight back to fitness – for the second time – was amazing to Bodie, and he knew Doyle had done it as much for Bodie as for himself.

He remembered what he’d whispered to Doyle when they’d found him in the warehouse: clasping the broken, battered body in his arms he’d pressed kisses to Doyle’s face and begged him, pleaded with him not to leave him alone. Thinking back to the time he’d hung over the viewing balcony as they’d operated on Doyle, as they’d dug the bullets out of his chest, he remembered the agony as Doyle seemed to stop fighting.

‘Do not go gentle into that good night…’

And he hadn’t, he’d fought, and fought well enough to get back to full fitness on the squad, next to his partner as if he’d never been away, never contemplated that it was all too much.

But here they were, five years on, and things had changed now for both of them. And changed, definitely, for the better. Doyle was still beautiful, still made him catch his breath whenever he entered the room. Oh, yes, perhaps that fluid, sexy walk was gone forever. He’d had an unexpected pang of sadness, the other day, in the car, when he realised that Doyle would never again sit in the passenger seat with one foot up on the dashboard. But he could live with that, if it meant that his partner was still by his side.

He knew Doyle was unhappy with his body and how it had healed. He’d been self-conscious about the scars on his chest for a long time, until they had healed to a silvery tracery almost unnoticeable under the chest hair that grew back as thick as it had ever been. Bodie saw him struggle with the new limitations, and noticed how Doyle, never a vain man, now avoided mirrors and reflective surfaces. He did his best to accommodate Doyle in this new attitude, not referring to his scars other than to make sure they were cared for, and, sensing Doyle’s discomfort about his body, rarely commented on his physique. Doyle had become oddly shy about his body, and Bodie respected this, although he wished that Doyle could see how much it didn’t bother Bodie. Still, perhaps this would come as Doyle adjusted.

Yes, out of the blue, he was happy. Content. Settled. He grinned, realising just how bloody middle-aged that sounded.

 

Chapter 8

‘Mount an operation, Doyle. Take as many agents as you see fit, and close this group down. I’ll not have a weapons shop operating here. Let me know how it goes. I’ll be with the Minister. And remember – no fatalities. We need to know their contacts and they’re of no use to me if they can’t talk.’ With that, Cowley left the office, leaving Doyle to marvel at his change in fortune.

This was another test, he knew. Cowley would be watching to see how many agents he took. The trick was to get it done with the minimum of squad members but make sure no one got away. He thought about the warehouse complex, a vast, empty sprawl of hiding places. How was he going to do this? As he reviewed the information in the files, an idea surfaced and he picked up the phone with a smile on his face.

‘Ello, ‘ello – how’s it going with the kiddiwinks?’

‘Ray! It’s going, but bloody slowly. Can’t trust some of them to remember which end of the gun the bullets come out of, sometimes,’ Bodie said gloomily. ‘What can I do for you, then?’

‘If I told you that, mate, we’d both be arrested.’ Doyle’s husky voice sent a shiver down Bodie’s spine. He lowered his voice and murmured,

‘Save it till later, angelfish, and show me instead.’

Doyle cleared his throat. ‘Thought you and the children might like a little outing to the fun fair.’ He rapidly outlined his plan to use Bodie’s trainees to get some help on his operation. ‘Mutual benefit, see? I get to look clever to Cowley for not taking too many of the squad, and you get to give your trainees some real exercise. Only don’t bring the ones who haven’t worked out which is the pointy end yet, okay?’

‘Yeah, sounds good. Nice and safe, and you and I can sit in the car and observe.’

With two other agents co-ordinating the bust inside the warehouse, Bodie and Doyle sat in the car together, waiting.

‘It’s just like old times, this is,’ said Doyle happily. ‘You an’ me, on stakeout, in a cold, dark alley –‘

‘Yeah, only this time we’re lurking with the RTs and hopefully the young ‘uns get to rush in and do all the dirty work.’ Bodie looked over at his partner. ‘Do you miss it?’

Doyle sighed. ‘Yes, I do. I’m only allowed on this because I’m sitting here co-ordinating like Cowley used to do with us. We’re three streets back and I’m still itching to rush in there and get the bastards. It’s not the same, Bodie, and it never will be again.’

‘I know, mate, but it’s better than the alternative, surely?’

‘Suppose so. It’s bloody hard, though. At least you still get to do some active stuff.’

‘Yeah, well that’s not all it’s cracked up to be, I can tell you.’ Bodie thought of some of the hair-raising antics the latest recruits had tried.

‘I just wish…’ Doyle’s sentence tailed off into nothing. Bodie looked at him quizzically. He shrugged and shook his head. Bodie patted his thigh, knowing what the other man was thinking.

They fell silent again. Movement behind them had them both on the alert, then as they assessed the situation they relaxed and slumped further into their seats. A late dog-walker passed their car. He was a large, bald man, mincing delicately along the pavement with a small, fluffy dog on the end of a lead. As he passed them they could hear him talking to the dog.

‘Come along then, my little Snookums, let’s finish our business and get you home to the warm.’

The partners cracked up at his high, fluting voice.

‘Think he’s compensating for something?’ They laughed together. Bodie nudged Doyle.

‘Hey, that dog looked like you do, when you’re just out of the shower and you’ve dried your hair in a hurry. All pouffed out and fluffy. P’raps I should call you Snookums?’

‘You do and it’ll be the last thing you do for a while. Anyway, who is it who likes my curls, eh? Gripes and moans when I have them cut?’ He looked over challengingly. ‘What would you hang on to when I’ve got my mouth round your cock, and you don’t know which way’s up any more, eh?’

‘Yeah, all right.’ Bodie shifted uncomfortably in his seat, readjusting his inconvenient erection, and reached over to ruffle the soft curls. ‘Just need a nice red collar –’ the rest of the sentence was lost in the ensuing scuffle as Doyle defended his dignity, until they were recalled to the moment by a squawk from the RT, and the operation was on.

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‘It wasn’t an utter disaster. None of them actually shot their own foot off.’ Bodie was gloomy. ‘Bloody hell, but they’ve got a long way to go, though.’ He turned and set the locks on the door of their flat.

‘Ah, give it a rest. They did okay. The Old Man’ll be pleased, anyway – no fatalities.’ Bodie grunted, and headed off for the shower.

Bodie returned from the bathroom and paused in the doorway, grinning. Doyle had turned on the radio as they came in, and it murmured away in the background.
The Stray Cats’ Stray Cat Strut was playing, and Doyle was dancing to the music as he moved around the kitchen, crooning, ‘I got cat class an’ I got cat style…’

‘Alley cat, that’s you!’ Bodie was gleeful, and Doyle threw the tea towel at him, grinning.

The music changed, Elvis’ I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You playing out, sweet and sentimental. Bodie smiled, and drew Doyle into his arms, holding him close, dancing with him, stockinged feet sliding on the old parquet floor. With blissful expertise Bodie steered his partner through the movements of the dance, Doyle content to trust and to turn in his arms, both enjoying this moment together. He put his head back for a moment, exposing the lovely long line of his neck, the golden hue of his skin warm against his crisp, white shirt. Bodie kissed his throat sweetly, nuzzling into the warmth and scent of his partner. As the music faded, Bodie swept Doyle off his feet and round in a circle, Doyle laughing at him and with him. Looking into the other man’s eyes, he felt as though he was overflowing with love and tenderness.

‘Oh, Ray, I do love you so!’ The words burst out of him without thinking, but he knew they were the truest thing he had spoken for a while.

‘Ah, Bodie-mate, you mean the world to me, too. I know I don’t say it often enough.’

‘It’s just – I can’t –‘ Bodie broke off, frustrated. Doyle smiled into his eyes and took a breath to say something. Bodie put a hand over his mouth.

‘No, don’t joke about it. Just listen a minute. You’re it for me, Ray. This is everything I ever want. I can’t imagine living without you. After I left home, I made myself… something else, but you, you’ve made me more.’ He shrugged. ‘You make me happy, and I never thought that would be for me.’

Doyle looked solemn. ‘Is this a marriage proposal, Bodie?’

Bodie’s smile was brilliant.

‘I guess it is, at that.’ He sank to one knee. ‘Raymond Doyle, will you do me the honour of loving me forever? Forsaking all others, as long as we both shall live?’

Doyle laughed. ‘Well, you’ve proven yourself in the sickness or health stakes, I’ll say that for you!’ He pulled Bodie to his feet and took his face in his hands, and kissed him gently.

‘William Andrew Philip Bodie, I love you, and you’ll do me for the rest of our lives.’

‘You can stop that right now, you bastard, you don’t think you can get away with calling me by all my names after my grand declaration, do you?’ They laughed at each other, giddy and breathless, and hiding this sudden realisation of love and of rightness in their comfortable, accustomed flippancy.

Doyle was buoyant, fizzing with energy. He grabbed Bodie and waltzed him round in a circle, laughing.

‘Come on, Butch, let me help you forget all your troubles. C’mere.’ Their lovemaking was passionate, tender and full of laughter. Bodie was pliant and generous: Doyle felt like a king.

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The unaccustomed euphoria soon wore off. Feeling better than he had for a long time, Doyle was busy around the office and made time to cross over to the Training Centre to help with the evaluation of the new trainees. He saw how easily Bodie was fitting in with Macklin, Crane and Towser and how they each brought different strengths to the team. Doyle was more conscious of his physical weakness compared to the superbly fit trainers, and consequently pushed himself hard, with the inevitable result that he strained his leg, and for a short while was back in the clutches of the physiotherapists.

This coincided with a period when Bodie was away on training exercises, and Doyle started to brood again. Cowley, who normally ignored Doyle’s physical limitations, chose that moment to be unusually sympathetic, which unnerved Doyle and made him wonder if he was failing somehow. He neglected to consider that Cowley didn’t suffer fools lightly and would doubtless let him know precisely where he was failing to measure up, should this be the case. In fact, Cowley had been pleased to note that Doyle had been helping with the evaluations, seeing it as a healthy sign of integration with the rest of his senior team. At a busy period, juggling an upcoming collaboration with the French Surete, Cowley wondered absently if Doyle was missing his partner and hoped that, if so, it wouldn’t interfere with his performance. His pep talk was sadly misinterpreted by Doyle, who spiralled further down into gloom.

 

Chapter 9

Doyle fidgeted impatiently from foot to foot. Cowley had asked – told – him to meet his temporary colleague at Heathrow and then get him settled into his hotel, though why the bloke couldn’t get a taxi and settle himself, like normal people, Doyle didn’t know. His thoughts drifted to Bodie, no doubt demonstrating just why he’d been one half of Cowley’s top team to some more trainees. Doyle’s lips curved in a wry smile. He didn’t envy anyone who had to face the unholy trinity of Macklin, Crane and Bodie, with Towser in reserve for dull days.

He felt like a right prat, standing at the barrier holding a card with the name ‘Leon’ written on it, like all the chauffeurs – only he wasn’t in uniform. Passengers started to trail through the exit and he stiffened, not quite sure what he was looking for. Businessmen, businessmen, a very glamorous dolly-bird indeed, families, more businessmen… and then someone was approaching him.

Six foot two of masculine perfection looked down at him from tawny eyes. Doyle blinked, twisted by conflicting emotions. He was used to Bodie’s good looks but still had moments of feeling like the ugly duckling next to his partner. Now here was another one, casually but elegantly dressed, with a discreet scent of expensive aftershave and beautifully cut hair. A broken nose stopped the features from looking too perfect, and one dimple added charm.

‘M’sieur Raimond Doyle?’

The man’s voice was deep, husky, and had a fascinating slight accent, rolled Rs and all.

‘Just like out of Women’s Weekly,’ Doyle thought to himself. ‘I’ll be swooning at his feet next.’ Unwillingly, though, he was conscious of the small lick of lust in his belly.

‘Yeah, that’s me. You’ll be Thierry Leon, then?’ He pronounced the name as it looked on his card, with a soft th- .

‘Non, non – Ti-erry. No aitch. Ti-erry. Thierry. Say it?’

‘Thierry.’

‘Ah, that’s better. So, you are to take me to my hotel?’

‘Yep. Dunno what you’ve done to deserve that one, though – it’s bloody nice.’

Leon shrugged slightly. ‘The Surete – we do not rough it,’ he murmured with a slight smile.

And very nice too, thought Doyle to himself as he ushered his new colleague out to the car. He didn’t think too carefully about whether his comment applied to the hotel or to the man himself.

db

Bodie nudged his partner as they slumped in front of the late-night match.

‘What’s he like then, this frog?’

Defensively, Doyle wriggled slightly on the settee. ‘What d’you mean, what’s he like?’

‘Well, you haven’t said much about him. Old, young, fat, thin, tall, short? Does he speak like that bird in ‘Allo ‘Allo – you know, that Vicki Michelle?’ Bodie chuckled. ‘Does he say, ‘I shall say zees only once’?’

Doyle twitched uncomfortably. ‘Tall, built like a brick shit house, about our age, I suppose.’

Bodie turned to stare at him. ‘That’s it, then?’ His partner blinked back at him.

‘You’re being a bit cagey – what’s up with him? Or have you already murdered him and dumped the body?’

‘No, he’s okay actually.’

‘What’s the problem, then?’

‘Dunno, really. He’s always suggesting we should go for a drink, or eat out. I suppose he’s lonely – he’s been here for four weeks now. Must be a bit dull, going back to a hotel room every night.’

‘Go and see that bloody film you’re always harping on about. I’m not coming to any art-house, poncy French film. Go on, take him – he can translate the feelthy bits for you.’

‘What, the Bunuel? Yeah, I could do – hadn’t thought about that.’

‘Take him next week – did I tell you I was away again from Saturday?’

‘No – where are you going? Anywhere nice?’

Bodie glanced over with a long-suffering look.

‘Chance’d be a fine thing. No – Dartmoor, with the latest intake. Joint exercise with Nicholson and his babies. Teach ‘em not to wet themselves when a rabbit hops by.’

‘Knowing you, you’ll have the poor thing skinned and roasting over a fire before they even wake up.’

‘Mmm, yummy, yummy – just up my street.’

db

It was a long week without Bodie. Doyle spent more time with Leon, feeling that there was nothing much to hurry home for. They ate together, went to the pictures and spent a couple of evenings at the bar in Leon’s hotel, finding that they had more in common than first suspected. Doyle waited for Bodie to call on the first couple of nights, but by mid-week had rationalised that the number of telephone boxes on Dartmoor was probably zero, and resigned himself to hearing all about it after Bodie was back. He missed his partner, missed him with a physical ache deep in his balls late at night, and missed his black sense of humour during the day.

On the Thursday, out of the blue, their case broke in a flurry of activity. Doyle and Leon were co-ordinating the operation, which saw nine terrorists taken without any loss of life and a hoard of small arms seized from the warehouse which was being used as a drop. Ripples continued to spread out all day, with lesser gang members being rounded up at other locations, and Doyle and Leon sped through the streets from place to place, keeping tabs on the operation over the airwaves and directing joint teams of police, army and Interpol.

They made their way back to HQ at the end of a long day to find Cowley waiting for them.

‘A job well done, lads, well done indeed.’ Leon had met Cowley before and had not been terribly impressed by the Scot, but Doyle knew how rare that sort of praise was, and was gratified.

‘Thank you, sir.’ Cowley nodded at him, and Doyle’s heart swelled in gratitude. To think he’d nearly walked away from Cowley’s offer, back when he thought he’d be a useless cripple. Flying high on goodwill and elation, Doyle turned to his erstwhile colleague.

‘That’s it, then. If we get everything tidied up, you can go back home.’

‘Yes, but not now, hm? Now I would like to return to my hotel, and have a shower. Will you take me? We could have a drink to celebrate.’

‘Yeah, sure – good idea.’

db

Back in his room at the hotel, Leon stretched slowly, eyes slitted in satisfaction. A small smile played around the well-cut mouth. ‘Well, mon cher, a neat operation. We should celebrate.’

Doyle brightened. ‘Yeah, great – you wanna go out?’

‘No, no. I want to stay in – with you.’

Doyle’s heart hitched as Leon moved to stand directly in front of him. He could feel the heat of the other’s body, and smell the discreetly expensive aftershave, with a tantalising undercurrent of sweat. One hand traced gently down the side of Doyle’s face, and long fingers curled under his chin.

He put a hand up abruptly to stop the caress.

‘No, I don’t think that’s a good idea.’ He swallowed, and took a step back. ‘Look, I think you’re a great bloke, and I’ve had a great time working with you, it’s been great, yeah, it’s just –’ he broke off, aware that he was babbling and that his mouth was dry.

Leon stalked him as he stumbled backwards until, inevitably, his way was blocked by the bed against the back of his knees.

‘You don’t want to? Oh, I think you do, mon cher.’

Doyle blinked, fascinated. His breathing hitched and his heart was pounding in his chest. His tongue stole out to lick his lips.

‘No, I can’t – Bodie –’

Leon snorted. ‘This Bodie of yours, whom you never mention. Does he make your heart sing? Does he tell you how beautiful you are, does he court you and make you sigh with pleasure as his lips taste your pulse?’

Doyle gave a short laugh. Beautiful? No, that’s Bodie.

‘Come, let me show you.’ And Leon moved forward and took Doyle’s mouth in a kiss. Gentle and utterly seductive, his tongue traced the outline of the other’s full lips and teasing, testing, asked for, and was granted, permission to enter. The kiss deepened, becoming more demanding. Leon stroked his hand lightly down Doyle’s back and fluttered his fingers at the base of the supple spine, before cupping his buttock and teasing at the curve. Hesitantly, Doyle’s hands came up to the big Frenchman’s waist. Leon broke off the kiss and looked down at Doyle. His face was dreamy, pupils blown wide with desire, and swollen lips that were wet and parted.

With a growl, Leon swept Doyle off his feet and onto the wide, high bed, nibbling at his jaw line and down towards his collar bone, leaving stinging little bites that he then soothed with gentle kisses. Eyes closed, Doyle surrendered to the pleasure, unresisting in the struggle to remove his shirt.

A warm tongue teased at his nipples, biting lightly, and a warm hand rubbed gently over his groin, stimulating his cock into a leap of interest. A skilled hand flicked the button of his trousers open and slid down the zip. Doyle shook his head and raised a reluctant hand to block this manoeuvre.

‘Ah, no, mate – don’t –‘ but it had no effect on Leon, who took his mouth again with a thoroughness that was designed to stop all protest. Busy fingers worked around his nipples, then captured his hands and pinned them above his head.

Hot, wet heat engulfed his cock. Doyle stiffened, thrusting blindly into the mouth that was expertly sucking him off. He was so close…

The mouth was removed and he was flipped onto his front, legs spread out, and Leon’s busy fingers probed his anus, swiftly followed by his tongue. Oh, that was good.

His treacherous body welcomed the invader, stiffening urgently as it was replaced by fingers that teased at his prostate, sending jolts of pleasure surging through his cock and balls. The fingers withdrew, and Doyle stifled a moan. No…

‘Ah, just a moment… here…’ Doyle could hear Leon breathing hard, and felt him settling between Doyle’s legs, hands pressing hard on Doyle’s shoulders. A blunt, snub pressure, and Leon’s cock replaced Leon’s fingers. A moment to adjust, and then Leon began to thrust, smoothly and relentlessly, hitting Doyle’s prostate with each stroke. It went on forever: it was heaven; it was hell. Eyes screwed shut, Doyle bit his arm as he came, hard, staining the satin sheets with his semen and the satin pillow with his tears.

Leon finished with a grunt of satisfaction and stilled, breathing heavily. He pulled out of Doyle’s unresponsive body and rolled over to lie next to him, smiling charmingly.

‘Mmmm… thank you, mon cher. But did you not enjoy it?’

‘I shouldn’t have done that.’

‘Why not?’ Doyle shook his head mutely. Leon raised his eyebrows, and trailed his fingers through the mess on the sheets. ‘See, it was not so bad. You enjoyed it.’

‘I’m a right bastard. I should have said no.’

‘Does it matter?’

‘Of course it fucking matters! I can’t believe I’ve done this to Bodie.’

‘Bodie? What does he have to do with this?’

‘What d’you mean? He’s my partner. I’ve just fucked around with you. Oh, I don’t believe it.’

‘Well, yes… but partners, wives…’

‘Look, mate, it may not mean anything to you, but it does to me!’

A Gallic shrug. ‘So, it’s love, then. But does he love you, this Bodie of yours?’

‘He says so. Don’t see how he can, though.’

‘Do you tell him you love him?’ He looked at the downcast face before him. ‘Oh, you English! So reserved, so proper. How is he supposed to know if you don’t tell him?’

‘We don’t make a bleeding fuss over it, okay? It’s just… there.’ Doyle ran impatient fingers through his hair. Leon looked at him with a small smile on his face.

‘Oh, the drama! You have had a pleasant time with someone else. Hardly a crime, no? Don’t tell him if it bothers you.’

‘But that’s worse, can’t you see?’ Doyle flung away from the bed, dragging his clothes on anyhow. His jaw was tight with tension and he felt sick and sore.

‘But it means nothing! Well, to me it was a memorable end to the operation and now I shall go home, and remember you with fondness. You are truly delicious. And if it has made you think, that is surely a good thing.’ He looked at Doyle shrewdly.

‘You weren’t happy. If you’re not happy now, at least you know what you don’t want. See you, it’s like a marriage. One has the partner for comfort, for domesticity, for peace and one has the lover for spice, for variety, for fun.’

‘But can’t you have both in the one person? Bloody hell, you French, you compartmentalise everything!’

‘I don’t see the problem. Just don’t say anything. I leave tomorrow, and that’s all.’

‘But that’s so fucking dishonest! And just when we’d… oh, never mind.’

‘But what did you think we were doing? We have been dancing together since you collected me from the airport. I wanted you from the moment I saw you standing there, impatient, fierce, and so sexy.’

‘Sexy? Ha, that’s a laugh.’ He flung away to the window again, scowling. Leon looked at him curiously.

‘You don’t see yourself as sexy?’ Ray, you’re delicious. Surely you can see that?’

‘Yeah, well, that’s what Bodie’s always tryin’ to tell me, only I thought he was just being… I dunno… kind. After the leg an’ all.’

Leon shrugged.

‘The leg, it bothers me not at all. It’s nothing to do with physical desirability. It doesn’t affect who you are, how you are. Unless you let it, of course.’ He paused, considering.

‘I’m sorry it ended like this, though. I thought we could enjoy each other, have some fun and part friends.’

‘Yeah, well you were wrong there, weren’t you? Have a safe flight home and don’t ever come back again.’

With that he left the room, slamming the door behind him.

By the time Bodie returned from Dartmoor, cold, filthy and cockily triumphant over his team’s victory, Doyle had determined on silence. And if he was quieter than usual, and more inclined to brooding introspection, Bodie, in his elation, never noticed.

 

Chapter 10

Doyle was fidgeting. Bodie noticed his partner was unsettled, but wasn’t sure if this was something to do with Doyle’s day or if it was just his partner struggling with a fit of the moodies again. He decided to ignore it and let it go. Sometimes it didn’t do to call Doyle on his moods. Sometimes he could get him to talk it out, but at other times it just precipitated more angst than Bodie felt capable of dealing with.

‘Bodie, I need to talk to you. I need to tell you something.’

‘If you’re gonna tell me you’ve forgotten to bring in bog roll again, Doyle, I shall be seriously pissed off. Ha – pissed off – geddit?’

‘No, seriously, Bodie, we need to talk.’

‘Talk? You’re sounding like a bird, Doyle. What’s up?’

‘Look, I’ve – I’ve done something terrible. And I don’t know if you’ll forgive me.’

‘What? Ray, what’s the matter?’

Doyle wheeled round and away to the window, where he stood looking out into the street. Silhouetted against the window, the sunlight struck copper glints on his hair and gilded his profile and the long, beautiful line of his throat. Bodie felt a prick of lust as he watched his partner.

‘Remember when Leon was here?’

‘’Course I do. It’s only a couple of months, mate – I’m not senile yet.’

‘Remember when you were away on that training exercise in Dartmoor?’

‘Yes,’ impatiently. ‘Doyle, what is it?’

Doyle’s hands were clenched into fists.

‘I need to tell you, Bodie. I want the slate clean between us. No secrets.’

‘For fuck’s sake, Doyle, what is it?’

Doyle took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment.

‘When you were away, I slept with Leon.’

Bodie froze. Then,

‘You did what?’

‘I didn’t want to, Bodie, I swear. He started it and I should have decked the bastard, I know.’

Bodie’s focus shrank to a terrible pinpoint. There was a buzzing in his ears and his vision was fuzzy round the edges. He clung desperately to the one thing that might make sense.

‘Did he force you? Was it rape?’

‘No. No, it wasn’t.’

‘So you wanted to?’

‘No! It just happened!’

‘Oh, it just happened, did it? You just happened to fall onto his dick? Several times?’

‘No! Bodie, it wasn’t like that! I didn’t mean anything to happen, but we went back to his room for a drink and it just… happened.’

‘And why are you telling me now?’ Bodie’s voice was coldly, poisonously reasonable. ‘Going to dump me, are you, and run off to France?’

‘No! It’s just that I wanted it to be clean between us. Honest. That night, you know, when you said… that meant so much to me. I couldn’t go on, knowing you didn’t know.’

‘Right. So that’s okay, then, is it? You’ve told me, and now it’s – ha, clean – between us. All over and done, yeah?’

‘Bodie, please! I can’t explain it, it didn’t mean anything – well, it did, because I’d give anything for it not have happened. But it did, and I’m so sorry. I never meant to.’

Doyle was looking at him, those beautiful eyes filled with counterfeit pain. He should have known. It had been too good to last, after all. Yet again, no one stayed with Bodie for long. He let loose with a beautiful savagery. If his personal world had fallen, the rest of it could crash and burn, as far as he was concerned.

‘You selfish little bastard, Doyle. I was happy, d’you know that? Happy for the first time in my life. Should’ve known it was too good to be true. And how many others have you screwed, eh? D’you even know?’

‘Bodie, there hasn’t been anyone else. And this was a mistake. All right, it was a mistake I shouldn’t have made, I know that. And I wish – I wish – I hadn’t done it. But I did, and I can’t change that. I just want to make it right.’

‘Right? Well you’ve screwed that up good and proper, sunshine. Just like you screwed that bloody Frog. Good, was he?’

Aching with grief, Doyle looked over at his partner. ‘Bodie, I’m so sorry.’

‘Sorry? Sorry doesn’t quite cut it, Doyle! You’re ‘sorry’ if you bump into someone at the coffee machine and spill their drink. You’re ‘sorry’ when you can’t find the right change at the newsagent, and you have to give the man a pound note.’

He glared at his partner. Eight years, and it had come to this.

‘I believed you, you know. When you said I was it for you. Oh, I know we never said anything, but there hasn’t been anyone else for me in a long time. And I thought – hell, I knew – you thought the same way. Have you been fucking round bloody Whitehall, then? Secretaries? Hell, anyone who caught your eye?’

‘Look, all right, I know you’re angry. And there’s nothing I can say. But I don’t –‘

‘You know what, Doyle? You’re absolutely right, there’s nothing you can say. So why don’t you just fuck off and leave me alone.’

‘Bodie!’ Doyle was getting angry now. ‘Come back here and listen, you bastard!’

Bodie stormed into the bedroom and started to gather clothes and shaving tackle together. In some remote corner of his mind he noted that his hands were shaking slightly, and he couldn’t quite work out how to fasten his bag. He was aware that Doyle was shouting at him from the doorway, eyes blazing in a white face, but the sounds didn’t translate into words.
He took a last look round the bedroom. Nothing else here for him. He turned to go, and found Doyle blocking his path.

‘So help me, Doyle, get out of my way or I’ll kill you.’

‘Where are you going? Bodie?’

He shouldered past Doyle and left the flat.

Doyle sank onto the bed, his legs giving way. He heard the front door slam, then a few seconds later, the door to the block of flats. An echoing silence, then the roar of the Capri’s engine and the squeal of tyres as it fishtailed away from the curb. Then nothing.

 

Chapter 11

There was a tap at her door. Intent on her work, she said, ‘Enter!’ without looking up. The door opened but no one stepped through. Students. Either arrogant in their learning, or with no self-confidence at all. A husky voice murmured, ‘Kate?’ and she looked up, transfixed, to see in front of her someone she had never thought to see again.

‘Ray!’ He hesitated in the doorway.

‘Is this a bad time?’

‘No, not at all. It’s good to see you again.’ Professional antennae quivering, she looked at the man she hadn’t seen for two years. He didn’t look well. ‘How are you, Ray?’

‘Oh, fine. Just passing. Can I buy you a cuppa?’

She paused, considering him.

‘That would be lovely.’

As they walked down to the coffee bar, she was thinking rapidly about what might have brought Ray Doyle in search of her. For it had been a search: CI5 knew in theory that she had returned to Oxford to teach, but it was unlikely that Ray knew which college to find her in. They were chatting idly and awkwardly about nothing much – the beauty of the buildings around them, the drive from London, and how Kate was enjoying teaching again. They got their coffee and headed over to a table in a quiet corner. ‘And how’s Bodie?’ His skin was instantly suffused with colour. Those green eyes met hers and she was surprised to see the misery in them. He shook his head mutely.

‘He’s not dead?’ She was shocked, even knowing how dangerous the lives these men led.

‘No, no – he’s okay.’ Doyle’s reassurance was hasty, but he dropped his eyes to the table again. Twisting his untouched mug of tea between his hands, he didn’t seem to be able to restart the conversation. She captured one of his hands in hers. His fingers were cold, even though he’d had his hands wrapped around his mug.

‘What is it, Ray? Is it Cowley?’ She knew it wasn’t, because they kept in touch sporadically and she’d had a memo from him just the week before. ‘What’s the matter?’

‘I made a mistake.’ She waited, but he seemed to think that was enough.

‘On an operation?’

‘No. With us.’

This was more than she was willing to handle in a public place. If she was right, the man in front of her was on the verge of a breakdown.

‘Come on. Come with me, Ray.’ She could take him back to her rooms, where she could find out what was wrong. Installed on her settee, she tucked a blanket around his shoulders. The soft material was warm and comforting, and she thought it might help him to feel safe and cared-for – enough to tell her what was wrong, at least. She was puzzled as to why he had sought her out when she knew that CI5 had found a very able psychologist to replace her.

She sat close without crowding him. ‘You look sad, Ray. Is that how you feel?’

He nodded. ‘I had a one-night stand, and he left.’

She looked at him, wide-eyed. ‘I’m sorry to hear that, Ray. Can you tell me a little more?’ Who? Bodie? Things must have progressed after she’d left.

‘I was injured again. I’ve been stood down from the A-squad. Bodie left too. He looked after me, and I slept with a bloke from the Surete. Bodie didn’t know but I told him the other day and he left.’

So much information in a few stilted sentences. This was going to take time and all her skill to unravel.

Three hours later, Doyle had talked himself hoarse. Initially reticent, the barriers had broken and she hadn’t had to do much other than listen and occasionally steer the conversation to clarify something he’d said. He was dozing now, curled up on the settee with the blanket tucked around him. She could see that the strain hadn’t left his face and she didn’t think he’d slept restfully for some time. She slipped into her bedroom and picked up the telephone.

‘Mr. Cowley, please. Kate Ross. Mr. Cowley, it’s Kate Ross. Yes, fine, thank you. Mr. Cowley, I’ve got Ray Doyle here. Yes, yes, that’s right. No, in a bit of a state, I’m afraid. I see. No, he’s asleep right now. Yes, of course. Good bye.’ She put the phone down and returned to her sitting room.

Doyle had just woken up again as she drew the curtains. He blinked as she switched on the lamps. ‘Sorry.’

‘Don’t be sorry, Ray. I’m glad you felt able to come and find me.’ She sat down next to him and laid a hand on his arm. ‘I rang Mr. Cowley, Ray. He’s sending someone to bring you back. I didn’t think you’d want to drive back on your own.’

He nodded. ‘What am I going to do, Kate? If he doesn’t come back?’ There was a terrible bewilderment in his eyes.

‘Why do you think he won’t come back?’

‘I really hurt him. It’s stupid. He was so happy, and all I wanted to do was clear the slate so there weren’t any secrets between us. I didn’t know there’d only been me since I came out of hospital. He never said.’

‘It sounds like you love him very much.’

‘I do. I only wanted it to be right.’

There was a knock at the door. Rising, she said, ‘You can’t make him come back, Ray, but I think there’s a good chance he will do. Give him some space to think it through. All you can do is wait.’ She moved towards the door. ‘Are you ready?’

‘Yeah. Do you know who it is?’ She could see the rising hope in his eyes and moved swiftly to quash it.

‘Mr. Cowley said he’d send Murphy.’

His shoulders sagged and he nodded dispiritedly. She opened the door and Murphy came in, all smiles and charm for Kate, but she didn’t miss the anxiety on his handsome face as he looked over at Doyle.

‘All right, mate? Ready to go home?’ Kate winced mentally. That was Murphy all right – genial, easy-going, and as tactless as an Exocet.

‘Sorry, Kate – can I use your loo?’ She showed Doyle to the bathroom and hurried back to have a word with Murphy.

‘Has Mr. Cowley said anything?’

‘No, not much. What’s up with Ray? Is he okay?’

‘He just wanted to talk something over, that’s all.’

‘Is it to do with Bodie?’

‘You know about Bodie?’

‘I know he’s gone walkabout, yeah. He came in, gabbled something at Cowley, dumped his ID and left. Is Ray all right?’

‘He’s worrying about Bodie, Greg. There’s nothing –‘

She broke off as Doyle came back into the room. She fussed over him, finding his jacket and making sure it was zipped up against the cold. She didn’t like the way he stood docilely under her hands. They said their goodbyes and she escorted them through the quadrangle to the main gate, nodding at the porter as they passed. She was pleased at the way Murphy shepherded his charge into the passenger seat of the car, closing the door gently on him before coming back for a word with her.

‘Thanks, Kate. We’ll look after him, don’t worry.’ He kissed her cheek and she watched them drive off before heading back to her rooms to ring Cowley. She paused and thought for a minute before dialling, then consulted her address book instead, looking for another number.

‘Aaron? Kate Ross.’

 

Chapter 12

Bodie woke up with a crashing headache. It took him a minute to work out where he was, as the small room was unfamiliar. Then he placed it. Brighton. He’d run from London and from Ray, run to the coast again, and a bottle and oblivion. Stupid. He hadn’t been able to leave his thoughts behind. Swearing, he dragged himself over to the sink in the corner of the room and drank from the tap, spluttering as the cold water splashed into his nose and eye. He checked his watch: 7:30. For a moment he wondered if it was morning or evening, then realised that he’d crashed out after arriving at the boarding house at lunchtime, drinking his way through half a bottle of scotch with a grim determination to blot out the morning’s events.

What to do? Why the hell had he chosen Brighton? He didn’t want to stay at home, sure, but Brighton? It wasn’t a port, if he was thinking of shipping out again (was he?), and it certainly wasn’t to his taste, full of impoverished students and genteel pensioners. He could go out, find a pub and get plastered again, pick up a bird and shag her senseless. There wasn’t much else to do, unless he wanted to go home. No. There is no home. He pulled off his jumper for a quick wash before he went out.

The first pub he found was deathly quiet, with a middle-aged couple sipping what looked like port and lemon. The second one was much livelier, with a driving disco beat assaulting his eardrums as he opened the door. It was packed to the gills with partygoers. He smiled mirthlessly and made his way over to the bar. There would be good hunting here tonight.

Two drinks later, he wasn’t so sure. All the girls were young and shrill, and they moved in packs, giggling and preening as he caught their eyes. His head ached. He headed back towards the bar with a frown on his face. ‘Another.’

‘No luck, then?’ the barman summed him up professionally.

‘What?’

‘No luck. With the girls,’ he elucidated.

‘Oh, no. Not my type.’

‘And what might that be, may I ask?’ The barman’s hand lingered just a shade too long as he gave Bodie his change. His interest caught, Bodie studied him from under long eyelashes. ‘Something a little bit… stronger. Darker, perhaps.’ The barman held his gaze.

‘I like ‘em tall, dark and handsome myself.’

‘Do you, now.’ Bodie smiled slowly. ‘And when do you get off, then?’

‘With any luck, at about the same time as you.’ The barman winked. ‘I’m Tom. Have another drink, but take it slowly. I don’t want you incapable, sunshine.’

Sunshine. Bodie sobered abruptly.

‘Ah, no, sorry. Changed my mind.’ He slid off the stool and stumbled towards the door, desperate to get out. He was unaware of Tom shouting, ‘Bloody pricktease!’ and of the giggles of the girls as he pushed his way through the crowded pub.

Back in his poky little room, he looked at the empty bottle on the bedside table. Right. Time to go and stock up and drink until he was incapable of thinking. He didn’t want to think. He slammed the door on the way out to the off licence, checking his wallet grimly.

db

Bodie groaned. It was all a painful blur. He vaguely remembered someone hammering on his door, hammering until he wanted to kill them because his head hurt so much. He’d launched himself off the bed but had to divert to the sink when the nausea swirling in his belly had overcome him, and he’d only just made it in time. The sour stink of vomit still hung around the room. He gazed around blearily, hating his surroundings and despising himself for sinking so low. He made a grab for the bottle next to him, but it spun away from his clumsy grasp and skittered across the floor. He noticed that it was empty anyway, and sagged back across the bed, flinging one arm over his eyes to block out the light. He drifted off into a half-doze, surfacing every now and then when his stomach churned and sent bile burning up into his throat. Gradually, his guts and his mind settled, and he began to consider what he should do next. His options were limited. He flung the tiny window open and leaned out, and immediately felt better as the fresh air hit his face. He couldn’t stay here, in this sordid little back-street room. He gathered his meagre belongings together and left the boarding house without seeing the landlady.

It was dark outside, and the rain fell as warm and soft as tears. He found himself in his car, with no real idea of where he was heading. He wanted Doyle, wanted him desperately and hated him for making him feel like this. He couldn’t go back to the flat. He had no idea if Doyle was there or not, but he couldn’t risk facing him, with all his defences stripped away. He swore violently and thumped his fist against the steering wheel, before wrenching the wheel around and pointing the Capri’s nose back towards London.

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Macklin came awake suddenly. Reaching out to touch the warm body next to him, he rose silently from the bed and pulled on his jeans. Padding to the door, he slipped the safely off the Glock he’d picked up and looked through the spyhole in the door. Frowning, he undid the bolts and threw the door open.

‘Bodie. Trouble?’ He glanced swiftly around the hallway, looking for anyone who might be concealed in the shadows.

‘Brian.’ Bodie stood on the doorstep, swaying slightly. He was dishevelled, and stank of stale whisky.

‘Bodie? It’s three o’clock in the morning. What’s wrong?’

‘Is it? I’m sorry. I didn’t realise. I’ll go.’ And he turned away, back down the hall. Macklin swore, and took three long strides after him, grabbing his arm and swinging him around.

‘Come in.’ He took Bodie into the living room and switched a lamp on. ‘Coffee?’

‘Yes, please.’

As he made the coffee, Macklin could hear movement from the bedroom. He carried the two mugs through to the living room and gave one to Bodie. A dishevelled head poked around the door.

‘I’ll be off, Bri. I’ll be back into Heathrow on Thursday, all right?’ Bodie blinked. Was that a bloke? Macklin shot out to the hall.

‘Richard…’

The voices were an indistinct mumble and Bodie strained to hear. All he heard, however, was the door to the flat shutting quietly before Macklin came back into the room. Bodie wasn’t sure what to say.

‘Go on, Bodie. Say it. You didn’t know I was gay as well.’ Macklin looked irritated, embarrassed and amused all at the same time.

‘I never thought about it,’ Bodie said simply.

‘Well, I suppose I can’t accuse you of prejudice,’ said Macklin wryly. ‘However, I would appreciate it if you’d keep it to yourself. All the important people know. I was going to tell you at some point, now we’re working together, but the subject never seemed to come up.’

Bodie nodded. It didn’t seem important in the light of his troubles. He sat gazing into the depths of his coffee mug. Macklin watched him for a few minutes.

‘Going to tell me?’ he asked quietly. Bodie shook his head silently.

‘Okay.’

They sat in a restful silence for a long time, with Macklin relaxed in his chair. Gradually, the tension drained out of Bodie and he eased back into his seat. He didn’t want to talk to Brian, but it was nice to have another human being there, someone who understood that you didn’t want to talk about it. Gradually the sky lightened behind the curtains, and still they sat there, Macklin keeping a silent vigil with Bodie, until finally Bodie stirred, and got to his feet.

‘I’ll be off, then.’

‘Okay.’

‘Sorry for disturbing you.’

‘Don’t worry about it. Let me know if you need anything, okay?’

‘Okay. Thanks.’

Bodie had thought long and hard through his wakeful night. He thought about his partnership with Doyle, from those first suspicious weeks through the development of trust. He thought about their ease of communication, of their utter willingness to depend upon one another, and of their fierce loyalty to each other. He thought about his life with Doyle, and with an unshrinking lack of sentimentality, how it might be without him. He thought about the way their partnership had developed from a quick tension-relieving shag through to love. He considered Doyle’s confession, and wondered if he would have done the same. He recalled how Doyle had offered him his confession as a clearing of the slate, in preparation for something stronger. He remembered all the one-night stands he’d had, sometimes when he was seeing Doyle, and how he had considered them as nothing, as solving a temporary physical need. He thought about his more recent attempts to get off with people other than Doyle, and how they had all failed. If Doyle truly loved him…

He thought about all this, and he drove back through the empty streets to their home.

 

Chapter 13

Doyle was operating on automatic. Murphy had brought him home, turned the heating on, checked the fridge, sniffed, gone to the shops and come back with a load of shopping, but had clearly not known quite what to do other than the practical.

All Doyle wanted was to be alone. He eventually got rid of Murphy by saying that he was tired and wanted to sleep, and he did in fact curl up in the big bed, where he buried his face in Bodie’s pillow, trying desperately to find some trace of his partner’s scent.

It was the longest, loneliest night Doyle had ever spent. He looked back on the night Ann had left him, and wondered remotely why he had thought he was alone then. His relationship with Ann, he now saw, had been based on a tangled web of misunderstandings, false hopes and expectations of change on both sides. What he had had with Bodie had had a solid foundation of friendship, of shared experience and of care, as well as the passion that ignited the sparks and the flames. Had had.

How had he misjudged the situation so badly? He knew he’d always brooded. But this time, oh, this time he’d put his own needs above his partner’s. He’d judged his desperate need for absolution to be greater than Bodie’s peace of mind. He’d rationalised that even though Leon was unlikely ever to mention it – ever to come back to England, for that matter – and most likely Bodie would never have known, he, Doyle, had to clear his conscience before he could feel happy. In doing so, of course, he had lost his chance of happiness. He knew Bodie well enough to know that when Bodie felt betrayed, he moved on. He was probably overseas already. He was most likely kicking himself for getting so involved, and would be looking for something with no strings attached.

He thought about how much he had hurt the man he loved. Theirs had been a stormy relationship, starting with distrust – on the one hand, of a plod, a copper, and on the other of an untrustworthy mercenary who would sell out his granny for money. But Cowley had been right to put them together, and once the posturing was over and the partnership had established itself, they worked together better than anyone Doyle had ever known.

Their first fumbling into sex had been swift and rough. It had been a bad operation, with members of the public injured and one killed, two agents hurt, and an uncomfortably close call for Bodie. He’d disposed of two villains but one had come up behind him and was throttling him with a length of chain. Doyle had saved him, pulling off an extraordinary shot: left-handed, leaping off a wall, drilling one bullet straight through the centre of the bad guy’s forehead. The adrenaline took a long time to dissipate, and later he and Bodie had found themselves in Bodie’s flat, grappling fiercely, biting and kissing and fucking like animals. Wary of the aftermath, Doyle had been surprised – but pleased – that it had just intensified their relationship, and had given them an even stronger bond than they’d had before.

Physically, he understood Bodie. Mentally, it had taken a long time to work through his defences, to trust and be trusted in return. Bodie’s care for him over the last 18 months had been – not surprising, exactly, not unexpected, but selfless, somehow. He’d given so much, patiently and willingly, and without expecting much in return. The depth of his commitment was only now apparent.

And he, Doyle, had fucked it up. Literally. He couldn’t see Bodie ever forgiving him. He knew that on the Squad, it was he, Doyle, who had the reputation for holding a grudge, for being unforgiving. But in reality, it was Bodie who never let go. He gave his trust so infrequently that it was total commitment, and woe betide the person who betrayed him. Krivas was only one example. Doyle could usually find other reasons or excuses for why someone had done whatever they had done. He was used to thinking about things, sometimes, he admitted, over-thinking things. But Bodie, much more live-and-let-live on the surface, had a deep core of certainty and an unshaken stance on loyalty.

Doyle was not a religious man. He had seen so much hurt, injustice and evil in his life that he could not believe in an all-seeing, forgiving God. But as he lay there, staring into the dark, one thought coalesced in his mind.

Please, even if I never see him again, keep him safe.

Chapter 14

Doyle was busy. The bleakness that had overtaken him after his sleepless night was still with him, but it would be worse, he knew, if he sat and moped. Besides, he had commitments now. He got up, showered and dressed, and was in Whitehall at 8am for his weekly debrief with the Minister. If the Minister noticed his abstraction, or if the Minister’s secretary (a terrifyingly well-groomed Sloane Ranger) missed her weekly flirtation, Doyle was unaware.

He headed back to HQ on autopilot. Cowley was away at a conference, an urgent review of how Michael Fagan had been able to breach the Palace’s defences and talk to HM Queen Elizabeth II whilst sitting on her bed, so Doyle took on the burden of business for the day, only answering when prompted and giving not a single iota of attention to anything other than the documents in front of him.

Betty put her head around the door at the end of the day.

‘I’m going now, Ray.’

No answer.

‘Ray! I’m off.’ He looked up blankly. ‘Home. It’s after seven o’clock.’

‘Oh, yeah. Yeah, right. Thanks, Betty.’

He supposed dully that he should probably go home as well. He collected his wallet and car keys, and shrugged on his jacket. Driving through the dusk, he wondered vaguely about the inhabitants of the houses he passed. Daffodil-yellow street lights, cosy, golden interiors of houses and flats, there was no way of telling if the people inside were happy or lonely. Did it matter, he thought, that you’d loved and been loved, if you then had to fight out the rest of your life on your own? Wasn’t it worse, in the end, to know what happiness was when you’d destroyed it and could no longer claim it as your own? What was that quote – ‘better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’? Bollocks. It was worse, far worse, to have thrown it all away.

He pulled up outside the flat and got out, locking the car and taking a moment to gather himself before going in. The cool kiss of the rising wind lifted the hair on his neck and sent a shiver down his spine. Autumn. Always a depressing time of year. Loss, again. The year coiling down into decay, into cold, damp winter. Bodie was probably heading for somewhere hot and sunny. Never could stand the cold, his Bodie.

Automatically, he entered the flat and set the locks. He caught sight of a note from Bodie on the kitchen table, and it pinched at his heart. No more little scrawled notes. Never any more. Oh, but he needed to get out of this place. It was too big for him, and every corner reminded him of Bodie. Here in the hallway they had made love, fast and frantic because Doyle couldn’t wait to get them to the bed, jeans round his ankles as he pushed into Bodie’s arse, loving the feel of his balls slapping against those plush buttocks. Here Bodie’d had him, against the window of all places, his cock rutting against the cold glass, with Bodie joking about how the neighbours could get a right eyeful if they were looking the wrong way. He remembered gripping Bodie’s hips, pushing back at him, hissing out an impatient demand for him to get on with it rather than bloody talking. And here, in the bedroom, together under the cool sheets, making long, leisurely love in the afternoons, tossing each other off as a quickie because they couldn’t bear to go into work until they’d got each other off just one last time.

Yes, he would speak to Accommodations tomorrow.

There was a knock at the door. Uncaring, he ignored it. It would be a neighbour, or perhaps some Jehovah’s Witness or a charity collector that someone downstairs had let into the block. No one he wanted to engage with, anyway.

The knock came again. It was quiet and slightly hesitant, but it would go away if he left it.

There was the scrape of keys at the lock, and the door opened slightly.

A husky voice called, ‘Ray?’

Bodie?

He sat up, startled, all his attention straining on the doorway. A figure approached hesitantly through the gloom.

It was Bodie. Don’t assume anything. He might just be here to pick up his stuff.

‘Ray, can I come in?’ The cool scent of rain drifted off his jacket.

‘Uh… yeah, sure. You live here, remember?’ Oh, shit – what a stupid thing to say.

‘Can we talk?’

Warily, Doyle considered him. His heart was thumping in his chest, and he was desperate to fling himself on Bodie, to bear him to the ground and tie him down and never let him go until he had explained, apologised, begged forgiveness and received absolution. He forced himself to remain still and to maintain the appearance, at least, of calm. He knew very well that Bodie could read the tiniest signs, but he was unsure of what Bodie wanted.

‘Yeah.’ He cleared his throat. ‘That would be great.’

Bodie studied him from under those long lashes.

‘I’ve been a pillock,’ he began abruptly. ‘But I need to explain, if you’ll let me.’

‘Bodie-mate, you don’t need to explain anything. It’s me that was in the wrong. Don’t –‘

Bodie flung up a hand, stopping Doyle mid-sentence.

‘I need to say this, Doyle, and it’s not easy. So just – hear me out, if you can. If you’ll listen.’

About to protest that of course he would listen, of course Bodie could talk, Doyle looked at the tight control his partner had over his face and his body, and the tension evident in his posture. He nodded.

‘I said the other week that you were the best thing that’d ever happened to me. That you were it for me. That’s true, but I never knew why you stayed with me.’

Doyle took another breath to protest, but Bodie stopped him with that up-flung hand again.

‘You’re beautiful, Doyle. You could have anyone you ever wanted. I’m not surprised what’s-his-name came onto you. I’m just surprised you stuck with me. And you’re so strong, you fought your way back again, and you’re Cowley’s number two, and here’s me over in the training centre, turning into a fat old has-been like Barry bloody Martin. And I was comfortable, and complacent, and I thought this was it, we’d made it against all the odds and we’d be happy ever after like all the fairy stories. And then you told me, and all my illusions shattered, and the castle in the clouds all came tumbling down.’

He paused, and Doyle looked at him, waiting desperately for the moment to jump in and refute all that he’d been saying. But Bodie’s jaw was still working, and the tension was still evident in his shoulders, taut as wire, and so he bit his lip and kept quiet.

‘Y’ know, looking after you, when you were so badly injured? Your scars were like badges of honour. I worshipped them. Because it meant that you’d made it, you’d come back, and you were with me, and we could be together. An honourable discharge off the Squad, home free.

And then it seemed like you didn’t want me, after all.’

Doyle couldn’t bear it any longer.

‘Oh, Bodie.’ He was on his knees, scrambling towards where Bodie still stood, but Bodie pulled back and Doyle was left stranded in the middle of the floor, hand outstretched.

‘I just need to know, Ray. That’s all.’

From his undignified position on the hard floor, Doyle looked up at his partner with hope in his eyes.

‘What, Bodie? What is it you need to know?’

‘Did you ever love me? For me, I mean? Not for what you thought you should do, or what you thought happy ever after might look like. Me?’

Hope turned to ashes in Doyle’s chest. Not, ‘Do you still love me?’, but instead the bleak question, ‘Did you ever?’ That was it, then. It was all over. Bodie didn’t love him any more and had just come back to clear up that final question in his mind, so it was a clean and tidy end.

He’d hesitated for too long, turning over the implications of the question in his mind. Bodie shrugged, and turned away.

‘Thought so,’ was all he said. ‘Take care of yourself, Ray.’

The door clicked gently as it closed.

Doyle sprawled over the floor like a marionette whose strings had been cut. The rollercoaster of emotions had left him drained and unable to think clearly.

Bodie came back… he’s gone again… he asked if I loved him… he thinks I don’t.

And then a sudden determination came over him. He was not going to let Bodie go, thinking that Doyle had never loved him. He hurled himself to his feet and out of the door, leaving it heedlessly open behind him, and threw himself down the stairs with no regard for his safety or his bad leg.

Bodie was crossing the street to his car, head down and moving swiftly and with determination. Doyle sped across the road, limping, uncaring that he had no shoes on, only knowing that he had to reach Bodie, had to make him understand.

Bodie turned when he heard Doyle approaching.

‘Bodie, please! Please let me explain.’

‘Oh, Ray, it’s too late.’ It was the weariest, the saddest that Doyle had ever heard Bodie.

‘No! I won’t let it be too late! I need you to listen to me now, Bodie. Please.’

‘You said it all, Ray, when you said nothing, just now. It’s over. There’s nothing left.’

‘There is! There’s got to be! I’m not letting you go, you bastard, thinking that I never loved you. I loved you to distraction, and I still do now.’

The soft chill of the November evening surrounded them, frozen like a tableau in the street. Doyle thought he caught a glimmer of hope in Bodie’s eyes, but then Bodie shook his head.

‘It’s not the thing with Leon that bothers me, Ray. Don’t think that. I know how these things can happen, and we’ve both had enough women that we know these things can blow up out of nowhere. But you‘ve never really believed me when I’ve told you how beautiful you are. You just can’t quite commit, can you? There’s always that little bit of cat-that-walked in you.’

He held Doyle’s gaze, smiling slightly, a fond smile.

‘If there’s nothing left, Ray, let’s end it now. Let’s part friends, eh? I’ll ship out, and you can build up your life again. Find someone you can be happy with.’

Doyle felt his temper rising at this.

‘Oh, yeah, an’ what will you do, you bastard? Run back to Africa and sign up for the first war you can find? There’s plenty left between us, you just don’t see it! Look, you’re the beautiful one, Bodie. I’m scrawny and scarred and grey. I know what you say, I hear you tellin’ me I’m beautiful, but I can’t see it myself. But if you’re happy with it, so’m I. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, mate, and I don’t know how to convince you that I only want you. I know you can’t go by my actions, but I’m willing to wait, if that’s what you need. Only don’t walk away, Bodie. Please don’t leave me. Remember in that warehouse, when you were asking me not to go? Well, that’s how I feel now, Bodie. Desperate, and lonely, and I don’t see how you can still love me, but by God if that’s what you tell me, that’s what I’ll take.’

He paused, chest heaving with emotion, and grabbed hold of the man in front of him.

‘Don’t you see, you dumb bastard? Build up my life again? You’re the only one I can be happy with! It’s you I want, not anyone else! I’ll say it again, Bodie, and I’ll say it till my dying day – I’m so sorry about the thing with Leon. Christ knows I wish it had never happened. But please, I’m begging you – please let’s just go back in that flat and see if we can work it out.’

Nothing. He tried one last time, putting heart, soul, everything he had into one word.

‘Please.’

A slight softening in the rigid figure before him. He lowered his voice, talking fast, his words tumbling over one another in his desire to convince.

‘Bodie, what you said about bein’ fat and turning into Martin. You’re bloody gorgeous, mate. When you came in to the office in the middle of a training exercise, an’ you were all in your camo outfit, with the boots – you made my mouth water, Bodie. You made me so hard I thought I was gonna come in my pants there an’ then. I was nearly down on my knees, begging for you, in front of everyone. You looked so fit, an’ tough, an’ hard. An’ that’s the problem, see? Why would you stay with me? I’m never going to be like I was. But if you can live with that, so can I. An’ I can’t promise that I’ll stop natterin’ about every bloody thing that’s on my mind – I’ll try, Bodie, really I’ll try. But sometimes I don’t mean it – I’m just talking it out like thinkin’ it through. But please, Bodie – please don’t leave.’

Bodie blew out a sharp breath.

‘Ray – I don’t need you to change. That’s what I love about you, all the nattering and your rants at what’s not fair. I just don’t think I’m enough for you.’

‘But that’s exactly how I feel!’

They stared at each other, bewildered.

‘Seriously, Bodie – you could have the earth, but you’re stuck with just me, and I’m holding you back. That’s how I see it, mate.’

‘You prat, Doyle. You’re Cowley’s number two, headed up the ladder, and here’s me, a bloody gym teacher, holding you back?’

‘Why would you think you’re holding me back? What from?’

‘From advancing your career… I dunno, dammit!’

‘Bodie, mate – all I ever want is you. That’s all. Yes, it’s great that we’re both still in CI5. But honestly? I’d throw everything over to be with you.’

‘Ray… I thought you weren’t happy.’

‘I wasn’t happy, you pillock – I wasn’t happy with my bloody leg! You were the only thing keeping me sane!’

‘I thought you went to Leon because you’d had enough of me.’

‘Oh, Bodie – the thing with Leon happened because I was too much of a bloody coward to face up to what I needed. It was a mistake, a huge mistake. I should have told you how I was feeling. If you’d said this then… if I’d asked you –‘

Bodie gave a wry grin. ‘Listen to the pair of us, talking about our feelings.’

Doyle looked at him, daring to hope for the first time in days.

‘Does this mean… can you come back? Can you forgive me?’

‘Ray, sweetheart, there’s nothing to forgive. Okay, you had a one-night stand with someone, someone who’s left the country, and it didn’t mean anything to you. That’s –‘

‘No, Bodie. It did mean something – that I’d hurt you and betrayed us. What we had. I can’t just forget it.’

‘No, okay, let’s not forget it – but let’s not dwell on it either.’

He held out his hand to Doyle, who took it as though it were a lifeline.

‘Bodie, I love you. I always will. I can’t say any more except please can we try again?’

‘We don’t need to try again, Ray. I love you too. That’s all we need.’

‘You think so? Will that be enough for you, that I promise it won’t happen again?’

‘I did a lot of thinking, Ray. I understand why you wanted to tell me. It’s because you love me, isn’t it?’

Doyle nodded mutely, eyes fixed on his partner.

‘The thing is, I’d do anything for you, Ray. Die for you – you know that. We’ve been through such a lot, it’d be stupid to let such a little thing get in the way now. Either of us could have been killed at any time over the last few years. Well, we survived, and we’re standing here now, and we’ve got a chance to make a life together. All I really care about is you, and that you love me. So come on, sunshine.’

Finally convinced, Doyle smiled – such a joyous, loving smile that Bodie couldn’t help but return it. They stood together, locked hand in hand, until a late dog-walker harrumphed past them with averted eyes and brought them back to their surroundings.

Crossing the road, they went home.