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"Oi, Bodie! You're not abandoning me, are you?"

Bodie paused, halfway through reversing out of his parking space and stuck his head out of the open window to the doorway where Jax and Doyle stood. "Thought you were abandoning me, actually," he said, "arranging assignations with strange men and all that." he said.

Doyle looked round at Jax, as if trying to judge whether he'd heard the indiscreet comment. "You leave me out of this," Jax said. "See you tomorrow, Ray."

"What was that in aid of?" Doyle said accusingly, stalking over as Jax headed off back into CI5.

"Yeah, I know. Pas devant les domestiques and all that," Bodie said dismisively. "So what's tomorrow?"

"Going for a drink after work, he's paying."

"Oh, is he?"

"You can talk—your local'll be keeping you in free drinks all night, seeing as you'll be spending the evening rigging their darts tournament."

Bodie permitted himself one of his most self-satisfied smiles. "I can't help it if I'm in a class of my own," he said smugly. Not that it was unjustified--Doyle didn't even bother to come to his darts matches because the competition was so uneven it wasn't even funny. "Well, get in," he said. "Uncle George isn't paying us to stand around in the car park."

Doyle ignored the instruction and carried on leaning against the driver' side of the car. "You doing anything tonight?"

"Nah, haven't had the right offer yet."

"Fancy coming round my place? I'm cooking."

Bodie grinned. He knew this strategy of old. "After a skivvy to do the washing up, were you, flower?"

"You know the rules," Doyle said primly. "Those as don't cook, wash up."

"Now there's a question: are dish-pan hands worth a Doyle-cooked meal?"

"Such cynicism! I've got steak."

Washing up or no, Bodie knew his capitulation was a foregone conclusion, but one had to give in with dignity. He sucked air in between his teeth in an exaggerated appearance of doubt. "You drive a hard bargain, mate."

Doyle glanced around the garage and leaned his head closer. "And there's hot sex as an appetiser."

Sod dignity, Bodie decided joyfully, Doyle's on the pull.

That was always a cause for celebration--at least when Doyle was on the pull around him. Birds were all very well in their place, but they couldn't hold a candle to a randy Doyle. Ray seemed to think likewise, judging by the way his lewd offers had increased in frequency lately.

"Congratulations, Raymond Doyle!" Bodie said with manic breeziness. "You have won the exclusive use of the patented Bodie Dishwasher for one unforgettable evening!" It occurred to him that he'd given in too quickly, and he lowered his voice to a growl. "Unless you've been cooking scrambled eggs recently, that is. Or porridge."

Doyle chuckled. "At this time of year? You must be barking."

"Then you're on. Hop in, mate."

He watched the progress of Doyle's backside as he rounded the car to the passenger side, opened the door and slid into the seat next to him.

"Ready, flower?" he asked as he started the engine and then accelerated away, leaving a little more rubber than was necessary on the tarmac.

* * *

Bodie stretched as he got up from Doyle's kitchen table, replete in every way known to man.

"I suppose this is when you cruelly and heartlessly chain me to the sink with the dishes," he said languidly.

"Don't strain yourself," Doyle said, not making any effort on his own part to leave the table. "I'd hate to see you do yourself an injury."

Bodie patted him exaggeratedly on the shoulder. "Well, you'd better come and help me then, hadn't you?"

Doyle swatted his hand away. "Get out of it! If you're going to eat me out of house and home you can at least pay your way."

"I thought I was doing that before dinner," Bodie said as he stacked the plates. "'S why we had to scrub the table twice."

"Brings a whole new level of meaning to 'laying the table', doesn't it?" Doyle sniggered at his own joke. "Call it part-payment. Consider the nice clean dishes to be the other part."

Bodie sighed loudly and started running the washing up water, using too much Fairy Liquid and clanking the dishes around rather more than necessary, but Doyle had spurned and rejected him in favour of yesterday's edition of The Guardian, not breaking the peace until Bodie was noisily rinsing out the newly-emptied sink.

"Oi, Bodie!"

Bodie stopped scrubbing the sink and turned the tap off. "Yeah, what?"

"Your jacket's bleeping," Doyle said, not looking up from his paper.

Bodie left the washing up bowl and grumbled his way out to the sofa where he'd left his jacket, plucking the offending R/T from his jacket pocket. "3.7. Haven't you people heard of evenings off?"

"Not any more, mate," 2.4, who was on Control, said. "Old man wants you in his office immediately with bag and baggage ready for a trip to sunny Belfast."

"He bloody would, wouldn't, he?" Bodie said resentfully. "Oi, Doyle! We're on."

"No, just you, you lucky thing," 2.4 said. "I dare say our lord and master has other plans for Goldilocks."

"You can't send me out on my own," Bodie said, mock camp. "Ray'll get lonely." Doyle put the paper down and got up from the kitchen table, pausing when Bodie held out a hand to stop him. "Just me," Bodie mouthed at him. Doyle paused beside him. "Never lets up, does he? What the hell does he want me for?"

"You'd better come and find out, hadn't you?"

"Yeah, yeah. When he says immediately, does he mean--"

"I'm only guessing here, but he probably means now."

"Don't suppose he told you anything else? Like long this little jaunt is supposed to take?"

"A few weeks, was all he said."

"Bugger."

"You watch your language, laddie," 2.4 said primly in imitation of their controller.

"You can talk. You're the one who mentioned Belfast in polite society. I hope he sends you undercover in a transvestite bar for this. Tell him I'll be along when I've packed and not before."

Bodie snapped the R/T off in disgust. You had two choices at times like this. You could spend your time raging at the unfairness of it all, or you could give in quietly. Neither made the least bit of difference, and anything more than the usual token complaint wasted precious time and energy.

Still, it took a minute of calling muttered plagues down on Cowley's head before he was able to turn to Doyle and say to him, "I get to spend several weeks in beautiful Belfast setting off tonight, by the sound of things. You get to stay here in London, where the birds are willing and the terrorists act like mature adults."

"That's nice," Doyle said sarcastically. "Need to go home and pack?"

"Nah, think I've got enough gear here by now." Bodie strode off, already compiling lists in his head, and ten minutes later had Doyle's best suitcase standing at the door of the rather dilapidated conservatory. He paused, looking at it for a moment.

"Dates to cancel? Milkman? Plants to be watered?" Doyle prompted, pulling a tomato off one of the tomato plants he had standing in the glass porch next to the suitcase.

"Borrow your phone?"

"You paying for the calls?" Bodie fished in his pocket, and held up 50p, so Doyle ended their unwitting game of verbal tennis. "All right, then."

He only had one call to make, as it happened, which made 50p something close to daylight robbery. He dialled the number from memory and let the captain of the darts team know they were doomed to lose. The man was not amused, and, a civil servant himself, exhorted Bodie to take it up with his union.

Bodie cut him off in mid-flow. The idea had a certain appeal, but trade unions weren't exactly permitted in the security services. "All sorted," he said to Ray. "Nothing else to cancel."

"No dates?" Doyle asked.

"Just one," Bodie said confidently, "so I've brought it forward," He pounced, hands going unerringly to the crotch of Doyle's trousers as he bore him down onto the living room rug.

"Oi, gerroff, what do you think you're doing?"

Bodie fished inside Doyle's flies for a moment and then let out a whoop, handling what he found there with effortless flair. "Look what I've found! Hail to thee, blithe spirit! Bird thou never wert--"

"Bodie, you lunatic--!"

"Hmmm, Looks like a penis to me. What do you think, Ray?"

"Course it's a--aaah"

"Feels like a penis, too. And," he bent lower, "it smells like a penis. Let's see if it tastes like a penis." He lowered his head.

"Bodie!" Doyle roared and tugged him away. Bodie let go of it reluctantly, licking his lips as he straightened up, but left his hands gripping Doyle's hips..

"Yep, definitely a penis."

"Unhand me, you varlet! You're going to be late if you keep this up!"

"Do you know something?," Bodie said airily, releasing Doyle's hips, "I don't care. If I'm going to be spending God knows how long in the arse-end of Belfast I've got to take something nice with me to keep me warm on the long cold nights."

Doyle gave a mock groan. "Cut the melodrama, Bodie--it's summer. And there's always birds, or 'ave you forgotten what they're for?"

"Mate, in the bit of Belfast I'm likely to wind up in, birds are a pretty bad idea. Most of 'em have brothers with shotguns. And I don't think dear George would appreciate me paying a visit to the Chariot Rooms."

Doyle nudged him roughly. "Nor would I--you want blokes, mate, you stick to me."

Bodie smirked, having got Doyle exactly where he wanted him. "Hate to break it to you, mate, but that's exactly what I'm doing. Right now, as it happens."

He zoomed straight in on his objective, salivating like Pavlov's dog. Doyle's hands threaded into his hair again to pull him away but they were less insistent now, Bodie noted with smug amusement. He squirmed his tongue against the underside of Doyle's cock and was gratified by the convulsive thrust it brought forth.

"Bloody hell, Bodie!" he heard Doyle say shakily, and then gulp in more air before he could get any other words out. "Shift over, mate. Lemme get at yours."

It was quick and dirty, and Bodie loved every minute of it. The sound of Doyle's slurping, intermixed with the small grunts and groans that his own actions inspired, was every bit as erotic as the warm heat of Doyle's mouth and the musky bulk of Doyle's own cock in his own mouth. Doyle only had to take his normal noisy mouthful of tea these days to make Bodie's libido sit up and beg; hearing them in the midst of sex tended to make him lose control in an embarrassingly adolescent fashion--

It was moments like this, he really, really loved the bastard.

* * *

Jax, Doyle reflected, had somehow managed to draw the long straw when it came to the CI5 car pool.

Instead of the usual Ford he'd somehow got his hands on a sporty little TVR totally unsuited to the vicissitudes of London traffic, and Doyle whistled appreciatively when he saw it sitting outside his flat. "Nice one, mate. Who'd you have to sleep with to get these wheels, then?" he said.

Jax waved it away. "Luck of the draw, Ray. You know how it is."

"Must make going on the pull pretty easy."

"Yes, it does," Jax said with absolute sincerity. "So where's your other half tonight?"

"You mean Bodie?"

"Who else?"

"Out of town. Package holiday to Belfast."

"He must be happy."

Doyle grunted. "About as happy as I am. I've been in Records all day."

Bloody Cowley hadn't bothered to assign him to an op of any description, merely given him a collection of dossiers on Albanian embassy personnel (with a few seemingly random others thrown in for variety's sake) and told him not to give them back until he knew them better than his own mother. The old bastard hadn't bothered to tell him why he might want to know about Rudi Bajramovic's dodgy South American connections or Kastriot Saliu's suspected homosexuality, of course. That would be too easy.

Bodie had rung him up at lunchtime from Douglas to tell him that Cowley's penny-pinching had reached unplumbed depths. Up to Heysham overnight on a mail train that according to Bodie had stopped at every lamp post, and then sole passenger on a cargo boat to Belfast that had taken a two-hour breather at the Isle of Man on the way. And all so that his old unit--the SAS one, Doyle assumed, having found out the hard way what had happened to the Paras one--could pick his brains for info about an op he'd once run in Liverpool.

"So where are we going, then?" he asked. Jax hadn't been around for ages, so the offer of a night out had been a surprise. A welcome one, though. Jax was good, undemanding company and a very sound friend.

Jax hesitated, almost imperceptibly. "Nightclub called Ganymede's Ballroom. You know it?"

"Never 'eard of it. Sounds fancy."

"It is. Probably the smartest gay nightclub in town."

Hand reaching to do up his seatbelt, Doyle paused for an instant and then completed the movement smoothly.

"Any particular reason?" he asked coolly.

Jax glanced towards him, his expression putting Doyle in mind of a little lost black lamb. He drew in a long, deep breath, hesitated, and then said simply, "it's an op."

* * *

"So let me get this straight," Doyle said about half an hour later. "Cowley wants me to pass myself off as a rent boy in order to sleep with a member of the MoD for the purposes of finding out whether he's in bed--literally--with Albanian intelligence?"

It stunk. That was the only term that Doyle could use to describe it. Not that Doyle hadn't done the same thing many, many times where women were concerned, but never with a bloke before. And never as a ... professional.

Jax blinked. "I'm afraid so," he said. They were still sitting in the sporty little TVR, in the small and dingy car park behind the club in question. The front of the nightclub--the one glimpse that Doyle had had of it--had been of somewhere smart and well-kept, but blandly anonymous; the car park was tidy but sparse, gravelled rather than paved.

Doyle laughed incredulously. "Why me? Do I look like a rent-boy or something?" Jax hesitated, and Doyle, not inclined to be merciful, was struck with awful inspiration. "Let me guess," he said brutally. "I look like the ones he takes home with him, right?"

"I'm afraid so."

"So Cowley is expecting me to tart myself up in tight trousers, open shirt and medallion and parade myself round the poshest gay nightclub in town in the hope that he's the one that bites," Doyle said bitterly, blithely ignorant of how closely the description resembled his normal attire.

"You won't be expected to sleep with anybody else."

"And that makes it better?" Doyle roared, and watched Jax wince. "Why you, anyway. What makes Cowley think that I'd want you on the other end of the wire while we're going at it?"

"Because it's my job." It might just have been a trick of the light, but Doyle had the distinct impression that Jax was blushing. "I used to work at Ganymede's Ballroom.

"Bar staff?"

"Talent," Jax said, his eyes paying rather more attention to removing the key from the ignition than the action really warranted. Doyle listened to the car pinking and ticking as its engine cooled, trying to relate the sound, reliable and very friendly agent that he knew Jax to be with his old informants back in the day. How, part of him was raging, could he have not noticed anything?

"So," he said at length, "The Cow hired you to seduce people on the gay scene."

"To get information," Jax said with the first flash of temper he'd shown. "I know the scene inside and out, and I retired from the other thing when he hired me. As far as anyone at the Ganymede knows, I'm a kept man now. You know the drill, Ray--we're all hired for some specialism or other."

Doyle felt a flash of guilt, and made himself think about Jax, who had just admitted some very delicate personal information to him, instead of Doyle, who was about to get sacrificed to the libido of some MoD nobody. "But Cowley--security--how?" That's great, Doyle, he told himself, That's just great. You're making a really good job of this. Enlightened liberal socialist my arse.

"What's so odd about it? He recruited 5.1 as his tame catman the moment he got parole. And we all know that Lil Baker in records didn't get her expertise on crooked accounts working for the Force. Mr Cowley's a pragmatist. He doesn't care where the skills come from, so long as he gets them."

It was always hard to balance Cowley's Presbyterian religious beliefs with his ability to use anything at his disposal to get the job done. Doyle suppressed ruthlessly the part of him that kept burbling yeah, but-- and merely said. "Good point. MI5 still haven't forgiven him for single-handedly replacing their old boys' network with an old lags' network."

Jax laughed. "Yeah. 'S right."

"So what happens now? What else do I need to know before you throw me to the wolves?"

"Ray, I don't pull anyone onto these ops lightly. I wouldn't be asking if the ramifications weren't pretty serious."

Doyle didn't dignify that with an answer. "What else do I need to know? Starting with who's the MoD man?"

"Jonathan Burns. You should have had his file today." Doyle nodded grimly. There hadn't been anything remarkable in the file--just another former public school boy in a Civil Service job--but that didn't necessarily mean a thing. "Tonight's an easy one," Jax said. "We're establishing cover, getting your face known. Nothing more--Burns isn't even going to be here this evening."

"What kind of secrets has he been spilling?"

"We don't even know if he has. But he's been seen here talking to the Albanian Cultural Attaché, and someone hit an MoD safehouse the night before last. The wife and kids of an Albanian dissident were staying there."

You didn't get to refuse an op when Cowley assigned you to it, but Doyle had been very close to refusing this one. "Bastards. Yeah, all right, you've got me."

Jax gave him a relieved smile. "You know, you're the last person I thought would agree to an op like this."

"Nah, that would be Bodie," Doyle said instantly. Jax glanced across at him and then looked away rather too quickly. "Oh, so he's done one of these too, has he? Interesting. Bet he was a total wash-out." Not, of course, that Bodie had seen fit to impart that gem of information when they'd started sleeping together. But then, he never did, if there was a chance that it might be important to anybody else.

Jax gave a small reluctant grin, closed-mouthed in the lamplight. "That would be on a need-to-know basis. Not that it's any business of yours, but you'd have a hard job doing better.

That, in Doyle's book, was even more incredible than Bodie having done the job in the first place. "We'll have to see about that one."

"Jury's still out, Ray." He flicked open the glove compartment in front of Doyle, and took out a picture of a plump young man in his early thirties with watery eyes and a good-tempered but slightly vacuous smile. It wasn't one of the shots he'd seen in Burns's file, but it was obviously the same man. "If you can manage to sound sincerely admiring the first time you see our Jonathan naked and be nice, polite and willing throughout the op, I'll buy you drinks for a month."

"You're on," Doyle said. "Now let's have the details before I change my mind."

* * *

Seven hours on a mail train and another seven on a cargo ferry did not make for a happy journey. Bodie arrived in Belfast foul-tempered and gritty-eyed with tiredness.

The town seemed to be as hot and sunny as London--which didn't happen often--but the bright sunlight just served to make the grey buildings and industrial equipment of the docks even uglier than they were in the usual rainy murk. It also served to make the scum floating in the harbour as high as a kite.

Bodie grimaced and dumped his suitcase on a relatively clean spot, sitting on it to wait just as a rusted, battered Citroen came round the corner and pulled up by him. The window wound down and a close-cropped blond head looked in his direction, stuck two fingers between its teeth and whistled shrilly.

Bodie left his suitcase where it was while he approached, a small matter of keeping the gun hand free just in case.

The blond had the anonymous kind of face favoured by the SAS. "What d'you want?" Bodie asked in his broadest Scouse.

"You Bodie?"

"What if I am?

"Totty said you might want a lift," the blond said, holding up an ID card so that it was shielded from sight between their bodies. Mike Armstrong, apparently. Bodie checked the ID card out and found all the usual security markings present and correct.

"I'd love one, if you're going my way," he said, and returned the gesture with his own, and after a nod from the blond, opened the boot and chucked his case in before climbing into the passenger seat.

Armstrong appeared to be the strong, silent type with not much to say for himself. He didn't say a word the entire journey, leaving Bodie free to look out at the city as they passed.

It didn't seem to have changed a bit since Bodie's days in 3 Para. Which is to say, it could still be described with a clear conscience as bloody awful. The respectable part--that was, the small, wealthy protestant areas around the University--was still grey and tedious, full of young people wearing what in London would have been old people's clothes; the parts where they were headed to now were only an inch short of battleground and the only reminder that anybody needed that civilization was little more than a collective delusion. Cowley had always understood that; Ray, bless him, disbelieved it with a fervour that was one of his greatest charms.

When the car pulled to a halt it was round the back of a pub with boarded-up windows.

"That our digs?" he asked.

"Yeah."

"Lovely. Is it as squalid as it looks?"

Pleasantries were obviously not considered worthy of answer. Armstrong shrugged and led the way in.

Bloody Cowley, Bodie thought as he strode inside, dragging his suitcase behind him. Bloody SAS, for that matter. Course, now he was CI5, he wasn't good enough for them. No matter that Cowley kept his people as highly trained as the SAS or more. No matter that Bodie had been doing ops against the IRA for nigh on ten years, and certainly no matter that in that time he'd been either careful or lucky enough not to be identified. No, all that made no difference. He was supposed to give his brains to them to pick faces, names and aliases from while sitting at home like a good boy in this shithole that probably didn't even contain any alcohol. "Should've brought me library book," he muttered.

"Leave your case," Armstrong told him, and led him into what had originally been the snug, all dark wood tables and panelling with paler rings worn into it by generations of wet beer glasses having been set down on it. Three other men were waiting there for him, poring over a great many piles of paper on the largest table. One of them looked up as he came in.

"Bodie, you mouthy Scouse bastard, where the hell have you been?"

Bodie had never worked with Pete Totty, though they had lifted the occasional glass together between postings back when Totty had been new in the regiment. He was short and broad, like a boxer, and not half as funny as he thought he was. Knew his stuff, though.

"Here and there," Bodie said nonchalantly, eased unbelievably by the friendly greeting. "Earning an honest crust and all that. I hear you're a Sergeant now."

"It beats labouring away in the rank and file," Totty said easily. "You look well. Semiretirement obviously suits you."

The ragging was obligatory, of course. Not rising to it was even more obligatory. "Well, you know me--I've always preferred a life of leisure. Besides, near as I can tell, the SAS is pretty much the perfect preparation for CI5."

"How's that?" one of the other men asked.

"The pay stinks nearly as badly as yours does."

Totty hooted with laughter. "You are behind the times, mate. Remember the Iranian Embassy affair?"

"Oh, that thing," Bodie said dismissively.

"Yeah, well, as a result of 'that thing' we're everybody's favourite boys now. They've started paying us like civilised human beings instead of mentally retarded shop assistants. You should have hung around, mate--you'd be on officer-level pay now if you had."

He would? He'd somehow missed that piece of gossip when it first came round. "Nah, can't see myself leaving the bright lights of London for a provincial backwater like Hereford again. Not my style."

"Nah, you never did have the patience. So what's the new mob got going for it apart from appalling wages then?"

Bodie thought, just for a moment, about Doyle, his irresistible way of moving and his dirty laugh, the way he slurped during certain activities. "Oh, it has its good points. Like ..." It took him a moment to drag his mind out of the gutter. "Like no uniforms, no shoe shining for pointless inspections, no baby officers fresh out of Sandhurst with their ears still dripping, no DLB..."

"You might have a point with that last one, pauper" Totty said ruefully. "Where they got him from I don't know, but I wish they'd send 'im back. Now, your Cowley-- he's rumoured to be a sound man."

"The soundest," Bodie said with absolute confidence. "He's one of the biggest bastards I've ever met. Anyway, are you going to introduce me to your minions, or do I just point and say 'Oi'?"

"You can try," the short one on Totty's left said. His tone said, bring it on. He had a wild shock of dark hair and the petulant face of a spoilt child grown up.

"Play nicely, children. Bodie, Mr Grumpy here is Robbie Lees, usually known as Sleazebag, t'other is Jock McRae. You've met Mikey, of course."

McRae looked grey and reserved; Lees (Bodie suspected that even thinking the nickname 'Sleazebag' would get him into a fight) looked like he was looking for an excuse to make trouble. Armstrong appeared never to say anything at all. And from distant memory, Bodie had the strong suspicion that Totty would be rubbing his nose in the SAS's change in pecuniary fortunes on an hourly basis. And the table piled high with papers looked very much like it would shortly belong to him.

It was promising to be a truly jolly visit.

* * *

Ganymede's Ballroom was, Doyle assumed, a very camp interior designer's idea of what a real ballroom should look like. Broken shards of light glinted and spun from the chandeliers, speckling the pale pink walls and vases of lilies with gleams of luminescence. The waiters wore something nearer livery than evening dress; the guests wore dinner jackets.

Doyle made a minute adjustment to one sleeve of his silk shirt and flicked off an imaginary particle of dust. Not because it needed it but because the act of preening was a central trait of the Ray Dwyer persona he had constructed and, more importantly, a permissible channel for the endless nervous energy that this particular role inspired. Ray Dwyer, to put it kindly, was a tease.

Dwyer would flirt, archly and a little sarcastically, with all comers, before pleading a prior engagement for whom he was even now waiting; would waft through the crowd with a champagne glass in hand, and leaving only the lightest, faintest scent of musky aftershave in his wake. He, of course, would show no sign at all that he was scanning the faces around him for an errant under-secretary in the MoD who would apparently be irresistibly drawn to the ethereal, elusive air that the silk-clad Ray Dwyer was giving off.

A passing young man in an evening suit slid a palm over Ray's leather-clad backside. Doyle would have told the man to piss off, with a sharp enough wrist-lock on the offending hand to drive the point home; Dwyer merely twisted sinuously out of reach and told the offender prissily, "It's bad manners to touch what you can't afford."

For a moment he slipped enough out of character to be pleased with himself. Jax had staked a month's round of drinks on his inability to maintain what Jax called a polite, deferential persona, and Doyle called a mealy-mouthed submissive one for any length of time. After all, sex with strangers was one thing: being nice to cretins was another entirely. Cowley thought he had a problem with authority. In Doyle's book, all he merely had a problem with was idiots telling him what to do.

"Well, you are an exquisite creature, aren't you?" a plummy voice behind him said.

Doyle turned and gave a languid once-over to the plump, blond young man at his elbow. Contact, the agent brain said victoriously, recognising Jonathan Burns easily. "To know me is to want me," Doyle said, shading his eyes for a moment with subtly darkened eyelashes.

Burns was as plump and blond as his picture, if a little pinker in the cheeks. He was maybe a whisker shorter than Bodie, his face impeccably clean shaven. Doyle could not tell the colour of his eyes beneath the puckered eyelids—grey, maybe, or a nondescript blue--though the slight stooping of his posture suggested that he usually wore glasses. His evening dress looked expensive. Probably was, Doyle thought, not that he particularly cared. Bodie would have known; but Bodie was not a good person to be thinking about right now.

"Oh, I do, I do," Burns said almost fervently. "It's just that I haven't seen you before. I'm sure I'd have remembered you."

"I'm sure of it. Most of my clients come to me through my private practice."

"Practice? What a very clinical word."

Ray stepped closer, almost into the man's personal space, and took a delicate sip of the lime and soda water he had garnered in lieu of champagne. "Trust me, I'm a doctor," he said in a low voice without a trace of its usual roughness. "I have a very private practice."

Burns gave a half-gasp, and Doyle noted automatically the signs of deepening arousal. The op was new enough that he had to put on the Dwyer persona a little firmer to prevent his instinctive distaste from coming through.

"Do you have a waiting list? Do you think you can fit me in?"

"I'm sure that I can ... accommodate you."

"You like to top, don't you? I can always tell. Tell me, do you ever bottom?"

"When I feel like it," Doyle said, and thought, Is there a sign on my forehead or something? Even Jax had as good as said to him that nobody would ever believe in Doyle as a bottom boy. Why this was the case, Doyle had no idea. Personally, he did it whichever way round he felt like at the time, and Bodie (equal opportunities lecher that he was) was usually more than happy to go along with him.

Well, a top he was, to the denizens of Ganymede's ballroom. It seemed to work well enough because the core of the membership was made up of respectably married men looking for things that their wives could not or would not give them. But it had had the annoying side effect of making his backside irresistible to all comers. It was only his careful adherence to the Ray Dwyer persona that ensured he hadn't left a trail of broken wrists behind him.

"And you don't feel like it today," Burns said, not quite as a question.

"Not today, darlin'. I will, however, give you the ride of your life for a small fee."

Burns gasped almost audibly and the front of his black trousers suddenly became considerably more taut. "That would be truly fabulous. Lay on, MacDuff, and I'm sure we can come to a suitable arrangement."

* * *

"Success," Lees said as he came into the snug where the others were gathered. "I got in and out and no one noticed a thing.

"That's what all your girlfriends say," Bodie drawled, not looking up from the large pile of suspected IRA members and sympathisers he'd been identifying for the last three days. Large numbers of them seemed to tie in with the year-old Liverpool op they'd brought him in for, though he spotted a number of very old friends from his 3 Para days. Just went to show how much difference it all made.

"Very funny, Bodie. That joke's so old it needs an undertaker."

At least I still have a sense of humour, Bodie thought wryly, and wondered how long it would last. A fortnight in, and the confinement was beginning to tell on him. He'd caught himself pacing the landing the night before, so he'd tried to drag Totty into an impromptu sparring match to work off a bit of energy, but either Totty remembered Bodie's reputation from the bad old days before he'd left or he'd worried the match would draw attention to the supposedly empty building. He'd refused, anyway, so Bodie had traipsed down to the payphone that was the one working amenity in the building and rung Doyle's number for about the fiftieth time.

There'd been no answer, just as there'd been no answer at any time in the last week. The job must have gone crazy, Bodie supposed, and hoped it would wear off soon--Doyle turned into a right whinger when he didn't get enough sleep.

The other four had obviously gone into briefing mode so Bodie shuffled up his photographs and left them for the other side of the bar. Might as well call again, he decided, just in case Ray was on nights.

* * *

"I've left the money by the bed," Burns said, with a near-wink that said, it's a cliché but what can you do?.

"Nice of you. I'll write you a receipt," Doyle said, as he did every time Burns said these words. Things were ... progressing, he supposed. Not that he knew how the Albanian end of the op was coming along, naturally, but he'd found out soon enough that Jonathan was the type who liked to talk after sex--even, sometimes, about his job. He had the typical isolation of a fully gay man in a heavily-scrutinised career, and sometimes the assignations seemed to be nothing more than a thinly-veiled excuse to have a sympathetic listener.

That was the difficult bit, not the sex, which was more or less a matter of 'insert tab A into slot B.' The first time Jonathan had talked about his job, Doyle had even--and damn the op-- interrupted him with a 'not sure you should be telling me this, sunshine.'

"Oh, I'm sure it's covered under doctor-patient confidentiality," Burns had replied, calling his mind back to their first contact.

"Trust me, I'm a doctor," Doyle had purred, and then felt like a heel for days afterwards. Not that Jonathan had broken the Official Secrets Act, but Doyle was pretty sure that he'd been skirting the edges of it. Until tonight.

It had just been one toe over the line--something only someone in the security services would be able to interpret-- but it'd been a toe all the same, and Doyle hated it. The trouble was, Jonathan--Burns, he corrected himself--was far too easy to like. He was sweet and charming with a gentle sense of humour that got straight through the Dwyer 'sex is a job that I'm good at' undercover façade. Effete, maybe, for all his campness and his occasional bursts of wit, but there was an air of something a little like innocence underlying it. Which left Doyle feeling like he was leading a lamb to the slaughter.

The door closed behind Jonathan with a quiet snick. Doyle listened to the soft sounds of his feet on the carpeted corridor, and the ding of the lift as it arrived. It was only as the doors closed that he opened the drawer of the bedside table, and with a single disgusted gesture swept the banknotes Jonathan had left into it. Then he picked up the phone and dialled Jax's number.

"How the fuck did I let you talk me into this?" he asked without any preamble whatsoever, and was startled by the hoarseness of his own voice.

There was a brief pause, in which he could almost hear Jax changing gears. "I'll be right over," he said after a moment. "Don't go anywhere."

"I don't need--" Doyle stopped and swore, realising that he was talking to the disconnected tone. He got off the bed, looking down at himself angrily. What he wanted now was a good long shower, and Jax could damn well wait for him while he had it.

* * *

It wasn't as if the call had been unexpected. Rather, Jax was surprised it had taken as long as it had.. Still, the same quiet empathy that had once taken him to the top of his branch of the world's oldest profession was the reason--far more than the profession itself--that Cowley gave him the running of these too-sensitive ops.

There was no answer from the door when he rang, but the sound of the shower within allayed his worry somewhat. Few agents went off the deep end to the extent that he'd seen Doyle do it on occasions, but hopefully the shower would give him time to get the worst of whatever it was that was bugging him under control. He just hoped that the forthcoming explosion could be contained.

Doyle opened the door to him five minutes later, clad in a crimson satin bathrobe. "How do you stand it?" he demanded.

Jax pushed past him and closed the door. "We're not doing this to hurt anyone, Ray. If he's done nothing wrong, you'll just disappear from the scene and nobody'll be any the wiser. He'll find another escort soon enough. If he is involved, then he needs to be stopped. You know that."

"He trusts me." Doyle was still standing by the door, looking over his shoulder to follow Jax's progress across the room.

"So have women you've wooed on the job." But that wasn't the point, and Jax knew it. The point was that what Burns, grown man that he was, had knowingly offered Doyle was his vulnerability and loneliness, and Doyle wasn't the man to trample on that. "Come 'n sit down, mate, we need to sort this out."

"It fucking stinks," Doyle said, but came and sat down anyway, across the coffee table from Jax, his right ankle resting on his left knee and his face a picture of discontentment, the broken cheekbone standing out in stark relief.

"Yeah, I know. Sorry mate."

They sat silent for a moment. Doyle was staring into space, probably berating himself with guilt for what he was going to do to Burns. Jax thought back to the remains of the woman and two teenage boys that had been dug out of what was left of the MoD's safehouse.

"It sometimes makes it easier," he said, "if you stay in character the whole time."

Doyle gave him the kind of look he usually reserved for dog turds. "Yeah, but what's the price? What about afterwards, when the op's over?"

"Afterwards won't compromise the op, Ray," Jax said gravely

"So the end justifies the means," Doyle said nastily. "I thought you were better than that particular piece of bullshit."

"Look--Ray---maybe it does justify it and maybe it doesn't," Jax said slowly. "I don't think we can afford to go into it now because we're in the middle of an op that we have agreed to do, because of a security breach that we have to stop. People have died, Ray. That's what we need to stop."

"Well, pull him in then," Doyle roared. "Pull him in and ask him the bloody questions. You know as well as I do that he's an honest man. He'll answer you, I'll stake my career on it."

He paced over to the window and stared out. "He's starting to fall in love with me. I can see it. You're setting me up to betray him to see if he might have been behind the security leak. That's damn flimsy."

Jax looked at him for a very long time. Doyle's face was hard and hostile, giving no quarter so that he looked old and ugly before his time and unspeakably malevolent. There wasn't a trace of the distress that Jax knew was roiling behind it. "Are you in love with him," he asked.

"What do you think? Of course I'm not in love with him! I'm not allowed to be, am I?"

"Are you?"

Doyle sagged, the tension leaking out in a single exhaled sigh. "I don't know. I like him, feel sorry for him even, but ... I don't know."

Poor bastard, Jax thought. Doyle was totally unsuited to this kind of operation, for all that he'd made a damn good stab at it. "Maybe you should take a day or so out," he said. "Go home and get some sleep in your own bed, come back to it fresh."

Doyle laughed bitterly. "Jax, if I come out now, I won't be going back. Nah, I'll stick it for now, keep on at it a bit longer. Maybe you're right about the staying in character thing."

"It can make things easier," Jax said, and breathed a mental sigh of relief. Crisis averted, he knew. It was bound to rear its ugly head again later, but by any luck the leak would be stopped by then.

He hated these ops with a passion. Never more than one a year, often fewer, the stings he couldn't handle himself always resulted in huge fallout for the agents who undertook them. In all the times Jax had worked with other agents only Bodie had appeared to go through the op unscathed, but even Jax, who knew next to nothing about him, had sensed that there was something going on beyond the unrippled surface. He simply hadn't known what.

He'd noticed the change in both Bodie and Doyle shortly after that op. Somehow he doubted that it'd been entirely unrelated.

* * *

There was a spider crawling along the skirting board, eight legs moving in complicated synchronicity over unspecified brown lumps and smudges which marred the yellowing paintwork.

Bodie watched it, eyes flicking from its uneasy progress to the inside of the boarded-up windows at the front of the pub. Cheap, grimy chipboard on the inside; on the outside they were probably graffitied with a choice selection of sectarian slogans. Maybe even turned into a full mural. Christ, he didn't even know if the pub was in a Catholic or a Protestant part of town.

The twin burrs of the ringing tone were loud in his ear, the receiver clutched tight against it. Looked like Doyle wasn't home, again. He was beginning to expect the phone not to be answered.

God, he hated Belfast.

Was none too sure about the SAS either, right now. Totty's lot were odd and unfriendly, and far more serious than the squads he'd once been on. They were tight with each other, but the camaraderie, the tightness looked entirely different when you were the one on the outside. He'd changed, since he'd last worked with them. It left him feeling ... disconnected.

He'd stopped pacing five days ago. Idleness seemed to have its own momentum, and these days he just ate and slept, annotated the records they put in front of him, waited to go home, rang Doyle and listened to the phone ring at the other end as nobody answered.

He put the phone down, ending the aborted call. Old bastard must be working Doyle all hours.

He'd had a brief conversation with Control the previous evening. Doyle was 'on assignment', which at least meant he wasn't hurt or dead, or that Cowley didn't want him to know if he was. Bodie didn't think that a brief secondment to the SAS was major enough to justify keeping that kind of information from him, but he still rang three times a day, just in case.

Be careful, he'd been tempted to say before he left. Watch your back. But Doyle knew it anyway--'Teach your grandmother to suck eggs, why don't you?' he'd have said-- and putting it into words was bad medicine. Doyle'd be careful--he always was.

* * *

Jonathan was being blackmailed, poor dear, Dwyer thought abstractedly as he went through his daily ritual of changing the sheets. That was the trouble of having a job like that and tendencies like this. Not only was Jonathan being blackmailed but he was paying up. With information.

When Jonathan had told him that, a distant part of Dwyer had reacted with angry outrage. Why, he wasn't quite sure. It wasn't his job to judge--other people would be doing enough of that soon enough, but still, the feeling of outrage persisted.

There'd been something bothering Jonathan for weeks and this was the first time Dwyer had had an inkling of why. He wondered abstractedly if it was because it was the first time that Jonathan had caught him in the mood to turn over for someone, and supposed it must be. People always seemed to take it funny when he did that, as if it meant something.

Which of course it didn't. He was a professional, and it was called paying the bills.

He abandoned the bed as the phone rang, and went to answer it.

* * *

"Hello?"

The voice on the other end of the phone was enigmatic and husky. Ray was obviously in Dwyer mode, the way he was almost constantly since Jax had had his last discussion with him.

"Ray, it's Jax."

"Jaxie. And what can I do for you?"

Jaxie. Now there was a name he didn't particularly care for. "My old man's just been onto me. Message for you. Are you free right now?"

"That depends on what he's paying. But I am available, for the right price."

Jax spared a moment for a wry thought that nobody of any significance in his former profession would ever accept the pittance that CI5 offered and grimaced. "Actually, it's domestic, I'm afraid. All very tedious but it has to be done. It's your old house," he said, meaning Doyle's real one, in contradistinction to his undercover flat, "There's been a burst water main in the street outside, and the ground floor's pretty much flooded. Landlord rang up, wants you to come and clear it up before it damages the woodwork."

The sensuality vanished from Doyle's voice as though it had never been there. "Marvellous. Bloody marvellous. And you think I should drop everything and come and sort it out, am I right?"

"The old man does," Jax conceded, feeling grateful that at least Ray's undercover persona had just a slightly sweeter temper than his normal, untrammelled personality, and slightly miffed that it was now emerging from under the sensual and lofty Dwyer.

Ray gave a world-weary sigh. "So I suppose he's expecting me to drop everything, run back there, and clean it all up, rather than sending some other grunt over there with a key."

Jax could almost hear him turning back into Doyle. "It's still your flat, mate," he said.

"Yeah, well, he can stick it up his own arse for all I care. It wouldn't hurt him to send someone in for once instead of pulling me off the nastiest op I've ever had and then sending me back," Ray said, voice getting more acidic by the second. Then he sighed loudly down the phone. "All right, I'll do it. How long can you spare me?"

* * *

"Good morning, children," Totty said, sloping into the snug with an obnoxious grin on his face. The bastard had just been outside. Out where there were real people and real jobs to be done and people counted on you to stay alive. "And how are we all today?"

Bodie didn't bother to answer the question, just looked through him moodily. "Cheer up, pauper," Totty said to him. "I'm sure your boss'll let you go home sometime soon."

And that was another thing. They'd picked his brains dry by now – knew the identities, aliases, histories and habits of every confirmed or even suspected IRA man Bodie had ever come into contact with. They knew enough to sort through any new data they gathered themselves, but still he was stuck here in this shithole of a pub.

Bodie got up from his chair and stalked out, fed up with the company already..

"Think it was something I said?" he heard Totty ask the other three. Lees sniggered, and the other two grunted.

"So when do we get rid of the miserable bastard, then?" Lees asked. "He's done what we brought him here for a week ago. Why are we still keeping him?"

Totty sighed. "Buggered if I know--just that Cowley doesn't want him back 'til Friday. Good heavens, Sleazebag, you don't expect anyone to tell the likes of us what's really going on, do you?"

Bodie felt himself go cold. Cowley wanted him to stay away. Cowley wanted him to stay away and he couldn't get hold of Ray. Something had happened, it must have done. Something involving Ray and now Cowley wanted to keep him away from whatever it was. Some job gone wrong, which Cowley knew perfectly well he was going to overreact over so he'd just not been told about it.

Bodie strode to the phone, and before he thought better of it dialled the number that connected him to Control. " 3.7 here," he said. "Is 4.5 around?"

"Long time no see, 3.7," 2.4 replied. "No, he's not. Dunno where he is, I'm afraid. Just marked as 'on assignment' with none of the usual details."

"Now c'mon! Don't tell me the gossips don't know either."

"I never gossip," 2.4 said primly, and utterly erroneously. "Nah, he seems to have fallen off the face of the planet. Must be undercover, I suppose, but wherever he is, Cowley's keeping it very dark."

And that, Bodie realised quickly, was all he was going to get. He thanked 2.4 in suitably sarcastic terms, told him what a bloody boring place Belfast was and rang off. Then, on an impulse, put in another 10p and dialled Doyle's number once more.

* * *

Doyle had driven almost all the way back to his flat when it hit him suddenly how strange it was to be himself again. The plain cotton t-shirt he was wearing felt awkward after days of silk, the denim of his jeans stiff and rough compared to Dwyer's thin leather trousers.

His arse was aching as he pulled into his usual parking space, but Doyle dismissed it as irrelevant. He knew the score now, and the op was nearly over, at least as far as his role was concerned. He'd have more than enough time to worry about his morals later. If he started now, he wouldn't be able to go back to it at all.

If he thought about it, it was so confusing, so bewildering that it left him feeling lost and naked, and that made him angry. He just wished he knew who he was angry with, apart from himself.

He got out of the car and locked it, walking round to the gate into his back yard. They weren't joking about water problems, judging by the two Water Board vans and the six-foot hole in the road. In spite of the sun beating down the gutters were still running with water though the pavement looked mostly dry.

He shrugged. Better go and see what the damage was.

The patio outside his flat gave him his first inkling of what he'd be dealing with. The three neglected tomato plants in their polythene grow-bags were wilting yellowly in the bright sunshine as he pushed open the gate of the yard, oblivious to the thin, clear plane of water that swirled hopelessly around their polythene casings. Ripe and near-ripe tomatoes hung from the drooping branches, stunted from lack of water.

They were cherry tomatoes, the largest no bigger than an inch in diameter. The day he'd left for Belfast Bodie had pulled an early-ripened tomato off the one nearest the gate as he'd been leaving, popped it in his mouth and then turned to kiss him, right there on the patio in summer twilight. Full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes, that was Bodie all over.

There was nothing that tasted quite like home-ripened tomatoes.

He unlocked the porch door before he could dwell on the taste of Bodie's mouth any further and opened the door cautiously, shifting his feet instinctively out of the way of the water that overflowed as the door opened. Then he wondered why he had bothered: the water was already soaking through the soles of his boots.

He took off the boots and left them, socks tucked carefully inside, on top of the dried-out grow-bag, and took his first few steps inside, through the layer of water.

There were letters on the back doormat that were now little more than a wodge of papier maché. He picked them up and shook off the worst of the water, putting them on the porch windowsill and leaning them against the glass. Then he looked around to survey the rest of the mess.

The floor was tiled wood, for the most part. He could mop the water off it quickly enough though the polish would never be the same again. The waterlogged rugs could go over the washing line.

He opened the bathroom door and sighed. Whoever thought carpets on bathroom floors was a good idea had been off their rocker. How he was supposed to get it dry he had no idea.

The whole thing was just too depressing for words. He decided that the mess would look better after a cup of tea, and had nearly got to the point of switching on the kettle when a little voice in the back of his head reminded him that he had no idea where the wiring in the flat ran, and whether Thames Water's little problem was about to become the Electricity Board's little problem. He swore, deciding he wasn't in a rush to find out, put his mug down, and got out the bottle of lemon barley water he'd bought for his nephews. They, little shits that they were, wouldn't touch the stuff so, loath to throw it away, Doyle was drinking his own way through it instead.

It was sharp and too-strong, with an afterburn that reminded him strongly of bile. He choked, and nearly dropped the glass, catching it a foot above the floor at the exact same time that the phone started ringing.

He snatched the phone up before it could ring again. "Yeah?" he snarled into it.

And then stiffened instantly as Bodie's near-nonchalant voice said very clearly down the line, "I was beginning to think you'd gone off me. How's tricks, mate?"

"Fine," he said uncertainly. The guilt he'd been tamping down for days came roiling back up. Bodie didn't know he was being cuckolded. He didn't know a thing. "Just fine."

"It's pretty boring up here, you know. Nothing every happens. Almost a vacation, really, except that the company isn't up to scratch."

Doyle made a noncommittal noise down the phone, noticing a couple of paperbacks he'd left on the floor by the sofa. They'd have to be chucked, he supposed.

"Old man been working you too hard, mate? You sound all in."

Come on, Doyle, wake up Doyle fulminated at himself. If you don't pull yourself together he'll start asking questions. He wound the coils of the telephone cord around his index finger and then let it slide off, a nervous twitch he made no effort to still. "Nah, nothing serious," he said casually. "Just long hours and boredom. I only got to come home now because Thames Water have sprung a leak outside my front door."

"Ah, poor flower! Do all your smalls need drying?"

"No," Doyle said with bitter certainty, "All gloriously dry. Because they were all sitting in the linen basket waiting for me to get a spare hour to go to the laundrette. I'm having to go without til I can get to the laundrette."

Bodie chuckled. "God, I've missed you," he said, and Ray's heart lurched unpleasantly.

"Look, I've got to go," he said, far too quickly. "Got flood damage to sort out. I'll see you--" he hesitated, not knowing when to say "--later." The last thing he wanted to hear was how Bodie had missed him. He didn't want to hear Bodie's voice warm and affectionate and--God--knowing nothing at all about how he'd been deceived for Queen and country.

He hung up before Bodie could reply and, feeling like shit, stared around his living room at all the furniture he was somehow going to have to carry upstairs.

* * *

Bodie stood there motionless, looking at the receiver in his hand. He could still hear, however faintly, the disconnected tone humming down the line.

He didn't want to talk, he thought numbly, and then: No--he didn't want to talk to me. It was four weeks and a day since Doyle had stood on the kerb next to Bodie's Capri and told him to have fun--but not too much. He didn't even ask when I was coming back.

He put the phone down, settling the handset in its cradle so gently its return was barely audible. Most of him didn't know what to think or do, the sense of disconnection that had dogged him since his arrival in Belfast welling up again.

Back in the bad old days he'd have gone out and found an older woman with a sophisticated veneer of reserve to charm into his bed, but you didn't do that in Belfast even if you were allowed out of the bloody building, and you certainly didn't do that when you had a Ray Doyle of your very own waiting at home for you.

Assuming, of course, that he did. What the bloody hell was going on?

Bodie wheeled around to stare at the boarded-up front door of the pub, and then strode to the back of the building where Totty's lads got in and out. He pushed his way past McRae, who was on his way out, ignoring his outraged screech, and strode through the back yard, down a litter-strewn alley and out onto the volatile territory of the Shankill Road.

The sunlight made him squint and tear after nearly four weeks cooped up indoors but he ignored it and strode on, returning the hard stares of the locals with a glare that was an open challenge. The air was still, and smelt of exhaust fumes and grime. He kicked at the rubbish in the gutters as he strode along in a purposeful line chosen only because it represented open street.

A handful of youths -- nobodies in particular-- accosted him before he'd gone half a mile from the pub, three crew-cut young bloods in denim and leathers, not particularly caring which side he was on. Two had knives and the third a chain, and Bodie gave them a smile that was almost a snarl. He didn't need to say a word.

The fight that ensued was brief but cathartic, its outcome almost preordained. When the three were bleeding in a heap on the pavement he turned back to the pub, taking a nice long detour through abandoned industrial areas and dilapidated housing estates. If he was going to be in trouble when he got back, he might as well do the job properly.

By the time he pushed open the pub's back door, he'd managed to reassure himself that Doyle was merely feeling overworked and underpaid, and badly in need of a reminder of exactly how wonderful one W.A.P. Bodie actually was. He could handle it when he got home. Ray'd be fine.

* * *

Doyle backed away from the phone he'd just hung up, conscious of how far he was from being Dwyer now. He'd betrayed Bodie in every possible way with Burns, and before too much longer he'd be betraying Burns in his own turn. A real prince among shits, aren't I? he thought.

He walked through into the kitchen area in search of mops and buckets, stopping just inside the door.

His kitchen was spotless. He pulled the mop from its cupboard and filled the bucket from the sink, leaving the dry sponge head of the mop in the water to soften. Beside the bucket, he could see the crockery he and Bodie had used in their last meal here neatly lined up on the draining board.

Bodie had washed up, he remembered. You could tell by the way he arranged the cutlery in the drainer--knives in one compartment, forks and spoons in another, cooking implements in the third, teaspoons in the small central section. Doyle had ribbed him the first time he'd seen him do it. You never know when finding a teaspoon immediately may turn out to be a matter of life or death, and Bodie had responded by inventing increasingly improbably self-defence moves using teaspoons.

Sighing and ashamed again, he slunk outside, leaning against the wall in the bright June sunshine amid his wilting tomato plants, and let himself think, self-indulgently, about Bodie.

It had begun, in a way, the first time Bodie had caught him unawares with one of his awful jokes, and surprised him into dropping his 'you're not funny so don't think you are' façade and actually laughing, instead of treating his morally bankrupt partner with the contempt he so richly deserved.

The situation they'd just survived had been bad, the joke had been worse, and Doyle's laughter bordering on the hysterical. It had earned him a smile of such uncomplicated happiness from Bodie that Doyle had fallen silent, almost awestruck. It was as if in that one moment he'd won Bodie's eternal friendship. All those dreadful jokes, invitations for drinks which Bodie would of course pay for, incredible long-range shots followed by coy looks at Doyle for ungranted applause—he'd known all along they had all been bids for his attention; he just hadn't realised that it had actually mattered to Bodie.

That devotion had been his for the asking since almost the first day, hidden underneath the superiority that was both more and less of a front than people generally thought. Even in those early days, Doyle had not trampled on it as thoroughly as he had now, with this poor stupid undersecretary who didn't have the sense to know when to keep his legs together, or the backbone to take his stripes like a man when the shit hit the fan.

It was going to bloody kill Bodie. The one thing his partner could never understand or handle was betrayal from the people he loved. It was the thing that sent him right off the handle, cut him to the bone. He just hoped Bodie didn't do anything stupid when he found out.

* * *

The arrest went down three days later back in the perfumed environment of Ganymede's Ballroom, a scent that now filled Doyle with unalloyed self-contempt. He could see Burns lurking behind a potted palm, of all imaginable idiosyncrasies, holding an A4-sized brown envelope that stood out like a sore thumb in the upmarket ballroom. He hadn't caught sight of Burns's contact yet. Five minutes earlier he had been all over Doyle before running off, pleading an urgent errand. Doyle had sauntered off to find himself a strategic spot that would cover the one area that Jax couldn't, not making eye contact with an elegantly dressed Pennington on the way.

Jax had chosen Pennington as their backup. He hadn't said why, but Doyle sincerely hoped it was because Pennington had done an op at least as unpleasant as this one.

"Kastriot Saliu just happens to have arrived. Taken a quick trip to the gents," Pennington muttered to him as he passed, pausing to admire a reproduction Degas on the walls. "What is it with the eastern bloc and Cultural Attaches anyway?"

"Plenty of free time to play espionage," Doyle said back, barely moving his lips. "How much Albanian culture is there anyway?" He strolled on, eyes scanning the crowd for trouble, noting absently how people moved out of his path, the very ones who'd been trying to solicit his services just a week before. They sensed the difference in him now, even if they couldn't put a name to it.

Pennington was responding to the air of menace he was giving off too. That was good. Even with the knowledge of what he'd done there was no way he was having second-string incompetents taking the mick out of him.

It didn't take long. Jax intercepted Burns just outside the door of the gents, taking advantage of the momentarily empty corridor.

"I'm sorry," he said, pulling out his ID, "but I don't think you want to do that."

"Who are you?" Burns asked, sounding shocked and guilty, voice rising in what was more of a whimper than a shriek.

"Richard Jax, CI5." Jax flashed his ID under cover of the envelope. "I think it would be best if you came with us."

Burns turned to run, and Doyle stepped right into his path, one hand pushing on the slightly flabby chest.

"You?" Burns whimpered, hurt bewilderment contorting the plump face.

"I'm sorry."

"But you said, it's not a crime. It's not a crime, is it, to be like we are?"

"It's a crime to divulge information covered by the Official Secrets Act," Doyle said harshly, using the hand on his chest to steer him back to Pennington and Jax.

"I trusted you,"

"I imagine rather a lot of people trusted you, Mr Burns," Jax said. "Now, are you coming quietly or would you rather be publicly handcuffed and led out of here?"

"I'll be quiet," Burns said softly. "I won't make a scene."

They left quickly, via a convenient back stair which had been either deliberately or accidentally cleared of people. According to Pennington, Saliu appeared not to notice a thing.

Jonathan stared straight ahead all the way to CI5 and never so much as looked at Doyle.

* * *

Headquarters looked exactly as ever as Bodie strode in the door, wearing the manic, faux-cheerful morning face he reserved for commanding officers and iron-knickered girls. Betty, in a manner of speaking, came into both categories.

"Good morning, Betty, my love!" he said brightly. "And how are you this beautiful summer's day?"

"Mr Cowley wants your report on his desk by eight thirty," she said to him without preamble. "Then he'll see you at nine."

Bodie dropped his bright and breezy demeanour in favour of a more honest one of deep depression.

"God, he never lets up, does he?"

"No, he doesn't, 3.7, so you'd better get on with your work and leave me to get on with mine."

Bodie took the dismissal in the spirit in which it was meant and took himself along to the empty rest room (everybody else, he supposed, was still in their warm little beds, sleeping the sleep of the just) where he hauled the battered spare typewriter from its resting-place on top of the B Squad's lockers and set it up on the scuffed and graffitied table.

By his watch it was 7:23 AM, which gave him just over an hour to type up the events of the last month. Mouth set in a sulky line, he set about the tedious business of putting down everything Cowley might need to know about his month of secondment to the SAS. Why Cowley couldn't just get the reports from the SAS themselves he had no idea. Probably didn't trust them, or something.

He was about three paragraphs from the end when the door opened and he looked up hopefully. It was Jax, who slid over to his locker with a muttered greeting, not looking in his direction.

"Oi, Jax, you seen Doyle lately?"

Jax stilled for an instant, and then went back to his locker. "Oh, it's you, Bodie. How was the op?"

"Bloody boring. Belfast in summer's just as grim as Belfast in winter." And then, not to let Jax off too lightly, "What's Doyle been up to?"

"The usual, I expect. Look, I'm supposed to be on duty five minutes ago, I've got to go."

He did dash then, with the kind of haste that to Bodie suggested a guilty conscience. He was becoming more certain by the moment that something unpleasant had happened, and that he was somehow disconnected from what it was. He dashed off the last three paragraphs and pulled the page roughly from the typewriter, nearly tearing one of the sheets of carbon paper beneath it, and took it to Betty's office, where he dropped it in Cowley's in-tray with a flourish that caused Betty to eye it suspiciously and gesture him peremptorily to a seat outside Cowley's office. She picked up the papers and knocked on the door, leaving Bodie outside alone.

Bodie leaned back and closed his eyes, letting himself drift even though his hearing remained alert. All the same, he'd drifted far enough that Doyle's voice saying, "Hello, Bodie," sounded remarkably close.

Bodie's eyes flicked open and he gave his partner a quick once-over, checking for visible injuries. "Ray! How's tricks? Have you missed me, petal?" he asked. I've missed you, I love you, and I need to know what the hell is going on, his brain rambled on, but he left the words for later.

"Not in the least," Doyle said, but his tone was preoccupied and uncertain. "What happened to your face?"

"I took a walk on the Shankill Road," Bodie grinned sheepishly. The dressing-down had been irrelevant, and Totty hadn't even reported the incident to his own superior or to Cowley. He should have done, naturally, but Bodie wasn't exactly going to force the issue.

"Well, that was smart, wasn't it?"

"'S what happens when you let me off the leash, darlin'."

Doyle did not look his normal self. There were dark circles under his eyes, and his expression was dark and haunted. His voice was dull and preoccupied. "Cowley really has been working you too hard, mate," Bodie said, brushing a hand against his arm.

"Not really." Doyle stepped away from the contact and Bodie hesitated. Ray seemed to be in the kind of mood where he needed careful handling and, without knowing why, he could pretty much guarantee he'd say or do something inflammatory and cause an explosion within the next five minutes. It was probably best, Bodie decided, to get the explosion out of the way so that at least he'd have a clue what was going on when the smoke cleared.

"Well, in that case," he said brightly, "you won't mind coming round my place tonight, have a drink or three and watch the tennis. Make up for lost time, and all that."

The look in Doyle's eyes at that was one of something close to panic, and Bodie's worry deepened. "No! I mean, I can't, sorry. I've got something on tonight."

"Tomorrow night, then."

"No."

"Then when? Ray, I haven't seen you for nearly a month!"

"Listen," Doyle said expressionlessly. "I think it's best if we stop seeing each other."

Whatever Bodie had been expected, this had not been it. Particularly not in the middle of headquarters, with Cowley and Betty just one mint-green prefab wall away.

"What? Why?" It came out as a squeak.

"Look, it was fun," Doyle said firmly, "But it's over now. I ... met someone. While you were away."

Bodie's innards lurched uncomfortably, as if cast adrift from their moorings, but, paralysed, his face didn't move.

"And it's serious?" he said eventually.

"Think I love him."

Him. "And that's it. Thanks, it was nice, goodbye."

"We can't have this conversation here."

Bodie stared at him, speechless. But you started it were the only words he could think of, petty and childish as they were.

"Later, then," he said shortly, and they sat in tense, unhappy silence until Cowley called them in, to send them both onto an obbo that was the last word in pointlessness.

* * *

It was the perfect night to go on a bender, Bodie thought, pushing open the door of the Red Lion.

They hadn't discussed it later, as it happened. The subject of their obbo had been a disused petrol station in Notting Hill, of all places. Doyle had hardly said a word to him all day, not even a request to pass the binoculars. Then he'd been pulled back to HQ for a debriefing and Bodie had been smoked at by Anson for two hours before being allowed to go home himself.

He ordered himself a double scotch at the bar, and chose himself a dark corner to drink it in. Drink himself under the table, that would be the thing. That way he'd feel so rubbish in the morning that he wouldn't be bothered by minor things like the fact that Doyle, who was his partner, for God's sake, had just decided to cut him loose.

The pub door opened, and Bodie glanced up to see Jax come in. The agent glanced at him, eyes skittering away as if ill at ease around him.

Jigsaw pieces fell into place in Bodie's head, one, two, three, all in a row. Jax, the one person who'd acted guilty around him, the person who handled the really, really sensitive ops. He stood up, drawing himself up to his full height, and stalked over.

"I want to talk to you," he said. "About Doyle."

Jax sighed, his eyes going narrow and wary. "I'm off-duty. Can't it wait?"

"No, it can't. Tell me if I'm wrong, but I think you know what Doyle's been up to while I've been away."

"If he wanted you to know, he'd tell you."

"Jax, I'm not some wet-behind-the-ears Sandhurst graduate," Bodie said in a low voice, escorting Jax over to his table. "I know the score where CI5 is concerned, and I know the score where your ops are concerned."

"I'm sorry, Bodie. You know I'm not authorised to--"

"Just answer me one thing: Was he on one of those jobs of yours?"

For a moment he thought Jax would evade or lie, but Jax broke first, looked down at the tiled floor. "Yeah. He was."

"What happened to his target?"

"Bodie, you know I can't--"

Bodie lost all patience and drew himself up to his full height. "Just answer the question, Jax. I'm asking because I give a damn about his sanity – unlike the bastard who assigned him to this op in the first place."

"Bodie, I know they're not easy jobs--on anyone--but that doesn't change the fact that it has to be done. You know that. You've been there too. You remember the Massimilliano op?"

"Yeah." Not really. For some reason, most of the details were surprisingly sketchy in his mind. "It wasn't a problem. I just got on with it.."

"But Doyle isn't you."

"No," Bodie said, his mind dwelling darkly on what Doyle's conscience could do to him with very little prompting at all. "He's hot, very hot. Feels things, takes them personally." As Jax ought certainly to know. "Which leads us onto an interesting question." He sat down opposite Jax, leaning forward on his forearms. "Given that we both know about Ray's little conscience problems, don't you think it was a little unwise to put him on this op?"

"He was the only one who fitted," Jax protested.

"Because," Bodie went on as if he hadn't heard, "if someone knew it would play silly buggers with his head and went and pushed him into it anyway--probably via his outsized sense of social responsibility--then I don't think I'd be that inclined to trust them around my partner. Would you?"

Jax met his eyes, full of guilt.

"Now how about you tell me about this op, then?"

* * *

"It was an op! All this was about an op?" Were the first words that Doyle heard when he gave into pressure and went to find out who was leaning on the doorbell of his flat. "Christ," Bodie said, muscling his way past him, "And you let me think it was serious."

"It was serious," Doyle said defensively, following along behind him. "Do you expect me to dismiss it--just an op--like it was any other undercover operation?"

"It was any other undercover operation. Come on, Doyle, we've all done it. We've all had to do it. It's not worth the melodrama you're giving it."

Doyle folded his arms. "The ends justifies the means, is that what you're saying? No matter what you do? 'Oh, you've been unfaithful, Doyle, but don't worry about it, at least you were on the job.' Is that what I have to look forward to from you next time we need to get info out of a bloke?"

"Now you're just being unreasonable."

"What is there to be reasonable about? I've just discovered that my lover would cheat on me in an instant if he was called on to do it for the job."

"It's a job, Doyle. How often do we have a choice about an op?"

"I don't know. But if it's okay to do that when it's a job, how soon before it's okay to do it when it's not a job.

"Come on, you know me better than that, Ray."

"Yeah, well, maybe I know you too well. Familiarity breeds contempt and all that. Maybe I got together with Jonathan, discovered he had what I needed."

"You're a liar, Doyle. You don't mean a word of it. You—you just don't. What'd he do for you, eh? What could he give you that I haven't given you three times over?"

There was a lost note at the back of the words, and some self-destructive part of Doyle pushed on. "He was gentle," he said harshly, "and funny, and he mewed like a kitten when I fucked him."

The sound Bodie made was somewhere between a gasp and a sob, and Doyle welcomed with a feeling of homecoming his upraised fist.

"Damn you, Doyle--!"

Yes. This was what he deserved, what he needed.

Bodie halted, and then let his fist fall. "You're looking for punishment," he said in sudden revelation. "You think that'll make it all right, even if it destroys a perfectly good working partnership in the process. You stupid bastard! Well, you can forget about that. You want punishment? Well, you're not bloody getting it from me."

"I don't deserve anything less."

"Yeah, well, I'm not planning on paying for your sins, so you can just leave me out of it. I know you didn't have a choice about doing it. Why don't you know that?"

"It doesn't make it right," Doyle said stubbornly. "Or don't you think fidelity matters?"

"This isn't about fidelity, Ray. I don't give a monkey's what you've done or who you've done it with. You can do what you want with whoever you want for all I care, because I'm your partner. They're not. Sleep with every bloke in London, for all I care. You're still mine."

Doyle looked at him, troubled. "Yeah, it was just a job," he said, "but that doesn't mean I didn't fall in love with him a little."

"You know something, Ray? I wouldn't expect you to do anything else."

Doyle looked up, confused. The expression on Bodie's face seemed to be something close to affection. "What?"

"'S a funny thing about these jobs, Ray. You know you shouldn't get involved. But every single time you do."

"So this is normal confused lust on my part, then, is it? Nice to know you trust me to know my own feelings."

"You know that's not what I mean. You let yourself care, mate. It's not good or bad; it's just you." He chucked Doyle under the chin in a gesture that ought to have been patronizing but wasn't. "And as it happens, I rather like you."

For Bodie this was more or less an expression of undying love. Doyle sighed. There really was no way to answer that. "You're not bad yourself, mate," he said, meaning much the same thing. "Look, give me a day or two to think about it, get my act together. Most of what I'm getting over is my own idiocy anyway. I really thought—oh, never mind."

Bodie nodded. "A day or two you shall have," he said magnanimously. "But after two days I'm going to start following you home." He seized Doyle round the waist and pulled him close, giving him an unromantically sloppy kiss on the cheek before releasing him and stepping away. "Remember, it's four weeks since I last had me conjugals. Much longer and it'll spoil my aim."

Doyle sniggered dirtily, for the first time in what felt like years. "Can't have that, can we?" He didn't even bother with his usual suggestions about birds, Rosie Palm, and vacuum cleaner attachments. He was smart enough by now to recognise when Bodie was giving him an incentive.

* * *

As it happened, it only took a little under 24 hours. It was Doyle's turn to drive after another uneventful twelve hours of observation. The heights of excitement for the day had been the postman's delivery of a letter to the obviously empty garage just before eight-thirty, and a group of teenage boys trying and failing to break in by the back door around four-fifteen.

Doyle had been as silent as the previous day, and Bodie had let him have that silence, looking at him with a warmth that suggested that even being in the same room with him fed and nourished some kind of reconnection between them. He'd touched Doyle with the casual ease that he'd used in the years when there'd been nothing going on with them, and it had been obvious to Doyle by ten AM that it wasn't enough.

They'd go home, he decided as he started the car and edged it out into the evening traffic, and reconnect properly. He'd given Jonathan something close to love, but ultimately Jonathan had chosen his own path, or allowed it to be chosen for him, the moment he'd given in to Saliu's blackmail.

It wasn't fair, that so simple a thing as homosexuality opened a man up to disgrace, hatred and blackmail. But it was hard, cold fact that those were the consequences, and if you couldn't take them then you had no business letting others place their lives in your hands. Jonathan had been a tender soul through and through, shocked speechless when Cowley had told him about the three deaths that had resulted from his weakness.

Unwittingly his mind called back memories of their liaisons. Jonathan had only ever wanted it gentle, making Doyle hold back not because he asked for it but merely by needing it. It had been ... sweet, he supposed, having sex like that, something new and beautiful, but it hadn't been real. Not like Bodie, who could take and equal whatever Doyle felt like giving out, in equal and opposite reaction.

Doyle took his eyes off the traffic for a moment to glance across at Bodie, silent in the passenger seat. Bodie cocked an eyebrow at him and flashed an exquisitely smug smile. "Tonight?" he asked, and Doyle knew damn well Bodie knew the answer. There was something hot and dark in his eyes that flared up like furnaces when he met Doyle's eyes.

Yes, he thought, and the thought unleashed a tide of lust that had been pent up since the op had begun. No more performing to order, no more professional bloody control, no more pretending. Bodie had the strength and the sensuality to let him do what he damn well wanted and relish every minute of it.

He slewed the steering wheel of the Capri round into a narrow alleyway with a screech of tyres almost worthy of his partner.

"Problem?" Bodie asked, but judging from the arch of his eyebrows he knew exactly what the problem was.

"Get out of the car," Doyle said roughly as he wrenched his own door open, snatching up the tub of Vaseline he kept under the driver's seat for greasing his holster when he was out of resin. Different kind of holster now, he thought as he pushed Bodie up against the alley wall and claimed his mouth. Bodie's eyes were fierce and eager, his tongue almost aggressive. His hands rubbed and rummaged over Doyle's backside, seeking the perfect point of contact. Completely different kind of gun.

"It's about bloody time," Bodie said breathlessly as Doyle turned him to face the wall so that his hands were flat against it each side of his head. Doyle pushed his black cords down until they rucked up at the top of his thighs, the skin of his arse glowing pale even in the alley's murk. "What kept you?"

"Shut up." Doyle growled, fingers burrowing hard into Bodie's entrance, bending and twisting to loosen the sphincter with fast efficiency.

Bodie moved backwards onto Doyle's fingers in enthusiastic cooperation. "Thought I'd've gone nuts before you got your head out of your arse and-- bloody hell, that's good."

"Shut up, Bodie," Doyle growled again, drawing his fingers out as quickly as he could and smeared the remainder of the grease on his hands over his own painfully hard cock, positioning it at Bodie's entrance with indecent haste.

"Get on with it," Bodie had just enough time to say, and Doyle thrust in.

Bodie was tight around him, and Doyle gripped his hips harder as he pushed, relishing Bodie's long moan and pants for breath as Doyle's cock pushed in between the pale arse cheeks.

"Nice to see you ... haven't let anyone else in here," Doyle said breathlessly.

"Belfast, mate."

"True." Just a little further ... Doyle pulled Bodie's hips back towards him, enjoying the way Bodie groaned and panted, and threw his head back as his prostate was rubbed. "Must be feeling seriously deprived."

"Didn't notice," Bodie said with difficulty. "Must be getting old-- God, that's good."

Doyle spared one hand from the punishing grip he had on Bodie's hips to grab a rough hold on his cock. "Yeah," he said, and started to take him hard, with rough forceful thrusts that Bodie met just as roughly, swearing under his breath.

"That's ... bloody perfect," Bodie gasped out. "You always make it so bloody perfect--"

Doyle grunted with satisfaction as a harder, deeper thrust brought the running commentary to an end. Quite aside from the fact that they were in a public place, if Bodie had breath enough to talk then Doyle hadn't driven either of them far enough out of their minds.

"Harder--"

"Shut up." Doyle reached up and covered Bodie's mouth, and nearly shot out of his skin when Bodie licked his palm just as his next thrust reached its deepest. "Bloody hell, Bodie!"

Bodie was right, it was bloody perfect, the way he could thrust with all his might and still have Bodie rear back to meet him, the way the breathy pants and groans filtered even through the tight fingers of Doyle's hand against his mouth, the way Bodie's tongue brushed his hand, mouthing love- and lust- words against the damp skin of his palm. The way Bodie surrounded him, body soul and mind, hot, dark and tight, and oh so close--

Who else could he ever, ever need?

He thrust deeply, freeing Bodie's mouth to grab his hip once more and came explosively deep inside him just as Bodie himself shuddered and convulsed and the cock in his hand let fly its load.

When the aftershocks cleared, he was draped over Bodie's back, arms wrapped loosely around his waist and cock still buried deep inside.

"I'm an idiot," Doyle said quietly, bringing one arm up to wrap it around Bodie's chest as he tightened the other about his waist.

"Soft-hearted, that's what you are. Doesn't do you any favours, does it?"

"As opposed to that heart of yours you swear you don't have."

"I don't."

Doyle chuckled. "Course you don't. Never crossed me mind that you might 'ave." He sighed and pulled back, gently separating their bodies. "Come on, sunshine. Uncle George will have words to say to us if the local fuzz spot us here."

Bodie pushed himself away from the wall long enough to pull his cords back up and tuck himself inside, then with gentle hands attended to the part of Doyle's person that he'd carefully left hanging out, patting it proprietorially after doing up the zip before giving him a far too chaste peck on the lips.

"Uncle George can do the other thing," he said cheerfully, heading back to the passenger side of the car, his mind turning instantly to more important matters. "I don't suppose we can stop at the chippy on the way home? I'm starving."