“Cowley betrayed us.”
The soft words rocked Doyle for a moment, and he didn’t know why, because it was what he was thinking as well. They stood in the railway carriage, autumn air damp, grey afternoon sky lowering and grim. Not even a final ray of sun to shine down on Diana Molner’s body. The metallic tang of her blood sliced the air between them, a scream without sound. Doyle wanted to rage against it, to make the noise, to find comfort in anger and accusation. To be told that he was over-reacting, that Cowley wouldn’t do that to them. It was easy, expected, it had happened before. But Bodie’s voice robbed him of that. Bodie who had always believed. And because they were Bodie’s words, he knew they were true.
“So now what?” he asked instead, feeling strangely detached, as if he was watching his own body from afar. Everything was hushed, the world paused. Poised. Bodie’s back was turned to him, his head bowed. Doyle could hear him breathing, could hear in the distance the sounds of the railway going about its business. A bell rang somewhere, there was a long, drawn out whistle, the squealing hiss of brakes. Bodie swung round suddenly, face set, and he felt himself come flying back to now, to their new world.
“I’ve got a place,” Bodie said, voice low. Calm. “We can hole up there while we figure it out.”
“Too close. This is Cowley. He’d be all over us in no time. Have our own rats informing on us.”
“If you’ve got a better idea, sunshine, then go right ahead…”
Doyle took a deep breath. “I’ve got a place too. A bit further north.”
“Well-well. What are we waiting for?”
And then they were moving.
It took them eight days, a meandering path from city to town, backtracking and covering their way, barely sleeping. They were too high with it to sleep, with the fact that George Cowley, their Cow, had sent them up the creek. And they had gone, without asking, without wondering. They had gone willingly.
They switched cars over and again, gradually filling them with provisions on the way north – some here, some there, not amounts that would be noticeable, but enough to keep them for a good while if necessary. Bodie cropped Doyle’s hair close to his head. They both let their beards grow, made an effort to look other, until it seemed, in the blurred, roaded world, that they did not know themselves.
It didn’t occur to either of them to split up.
Bodie breathed out heavily, spoke flatly. “This it then?”
“Nah. Thought we’d do a spot of sightseeing.”
Bodie shot him a look, opened his mouth and then closed it again. He was too tired for this. His eyes felt pulled, his jaw ached, and the last thing he wanted to do was to fend off his partner’s acidic tongue. “At least no one’ll have seen us,” he said instead, peering into the gloom. “You sure there’s something there?”
In reply Doyle flashed the high beams; briefly they reflected whitewashed stone. “There’s something there. I might not have bin ‘ere before, but I’ve seen pictures. It’s a house alright. A crofthouse.”
“Briga-bloody-doon, mate,” Bodie snorted, and opened the car door. Moisture closed around him as he stood and stretched. He felt a moment’s claustrophobia, as if the fog was hemming him in, trapping him. Stupid. Deliberately he slammed the door, leaving Doyle safely inside the vehicle. The damp settled in a thousand colonizing droplets on his face and on his hair, and he rubbed his hands over his scalp, shivered.
Metal creaked as Doyle joined him in the night, attempting to slice through it with a beam of torchlight that reflected more than it illuminated. He began pulling sleeping bags and other gear from the boot. Silently Bodie moved to help him, made sure the camp stove and the food came in with them, followed the thin light clenched between Doyle’s teeth as it wavered its way across sodden, subdued ground. It took them a moment to find the door, on the front of the building angled away from where they had parked, and then for Doyle to unearth the key, long-hidden under a stone against the wall. The chill gathered closer in his bones, and he willed his partner to get a move on, to get them inside.
But there was no comfort when the door was finally, protestingly, scraped open. Doyle ran the torch over bare-stone walls, a concrete floor. Grit scraped under their feet as they stepped across the threshold, turned a tight circle in the middle of the room, taking in the hole-in-the-wall fireplace at the far end of the building, the few sticks of what could only laughingly be called furniture. Bodie didn’t feel like laughing. “Fucking hell.”
Doyle’s face was leaden in the dim torchlight, eyes buried in deep shadows, mouth drawn. He didn’t seem to react to Bodie’s grim profanity, but played the light around the frame of the door, then slowly, systematically, along the walls again. Finally, with a grunt, he crossed to a second door at the opposite end of the building, reached out and flicked an ancient switch. Nothing happened. Bodie watched as he lifted his hand, slammed it hard against the stone, leaned momentarily into it, and then spun around, his arm raised. “If you’re going to throw the torch, throw it this way, eh?” he said. “I’d hate to lose our main power supply.”
“Shut up Bodie,” Doyle snarled, teeth bared, but he dropped his arm, turned his face away as he visibly gained control of his temper. “There’s supposed to be a generator.”
“You hear a generator, do you?”
Doyle’s gaze could have chilled the devil himself, but Bodie stared him down, immune by now, until Doyle’s lips twitched and he took a deep breath. “Christ, you’re right. We’re both tired. We can deal with it tomorrow.”
They were too exhausted even to eat. There was nothing resembling a bed in the room, so they dropped sleeping mats onto the floor and unrolled their bags. For a moment Bodie eyed the hearth speculatively, before deciding that he had neither the inclination to set it, nor to start another conversation with Doyle about why he was doing so. He pulled off his boots instead, left his coat on, and zipped the down bag around him. His eyes closed of their own accord, and although the pounding in his head continued, he felt it dull a little.
A rustling beside him as Doyle turned over, and Bodie could feel his partner’s exhausted restlessness piercing his own stupor. Don’t speak. Just don’t say anything.
It wasn’t worth ignoring him. Quicker to get it over with. “What?” He couldn’t help sounding impatient, wanting only the sweet oblivion of sleep, to be lost for a while.
What for? They were safe. They were there. “Go to sleep Ray.”
And he knew Doyle was staring wide into the night, and he turned away.
Doyle was woken by a cramp in his legs, a bone-numbing cold, and a stiffness in his back that could be neither curled nor stretched out while still in his sleeping bag. Christ, they should have slept in the car. Blinking in the grey light that slanted through the windows, he peered at his watch. Nearly eleven. They’d slept the night and half the day away. Beside him Bodie slumbered on, his breath a gentle snore, and Doyle moved carefully. If Bodie was still asleep then he probably needed it, and who knew when they’d have a chance like this again. Tonight if they were lucky, he supposed, if anything could be made of this place.
Pulling his trainers on, and wrapping the sleeping bag around his shoulders, he took a fresh look at their surroundings with the optimism of morning. It didn’t help. The crofthouse was a single room, maybe twenty by thirty feet. The fireplace dominated one end, filled with old ashes and detritus. The back door with its useless light switch was at the other end of the adjacent wall, and Doyle absently sucked at the side of his hand where the force of his blow last night had grazed and torn the skin. The generator must be out there somewhere. The rest of that wall was hidden by the wreck of a massive dresser, apparently stuffed full with old newspapers, and what might have been a wardrobe, now lying on its side. A table top with no legs and a couple of rickety chairs stood propped against each other in the corner, and behind them was some sort of sink affair.
The place was supposed to have plumbing too, he remembered. Trouble was, it wasn’t the sort of thing he’d thought about when he bid at the auction. If a house was advertised with electricity and plumbing then it should be the nice simple kind that didn’t require any effort beyond paying the bills. He hadn’t been expecting anything fancy, but after shelling out he’d expected something… more. Presumably that was the risk with auctions, but the whole point had been to leave as little connection to himself as possible, so he purposefully hadn’t come up to look. And he’d never expected that he would.
Frowning to himself, in full reverie, he heard Bodie stir only as a natural background noise, and he jumped when a voice sounded by his ear. “Not got the tea on yet?”
“Only just up.” He glanced over his shoulder. Bodie looked bizarrely cheerful, albeit not himself with a week’s worth of beard settling in. Blue eyes held his for a moment, then he was clapped gently on the back. The weight and warmth of Bodie’s hand soaked into him.
“Well come on then, some of us are used to a decent breakfast first thing.”
“You’re a bit hopeful,” he snorted back, but as Bodie began reeling off a list of the groceries he’d picked up at their last stop he shrugged off the comparative warmth of the sleeping bag and went to examine the fireplace. Might as well save the camping gas if they could. Clutching the rough mantle for balance, he peered under and up, saw a narrow rectangle of sky. Apparently not even birds wanted to nest in this place. Behind him Bodie was pulling apart shelves and drawers, knocking them against the wall if they resisted his destructive wont. Doyle used an ancient two-by-four to scrape out the fireplace, and then left him to set it, rummaging instead for the billycan they’d bought. He took it to the sink, twisted the taps until the rust shook free and they opened, and grimaced at the thin brown trickles that ensued. Rattling the billycan at his partner, he stepped out into the day.
Against all odds the fog had not only lifted, but given way to a patchily clear sky. Giant clouds moved ponderously northeast, yielding to a pale sun. Doyle raised his face to it, closed his eyes. He could hear the stream that ran behind the house, the distant shush of wind across heather and through Scots Pine. He wondered briefly what was missing, before realising that it was the constant hum and whirr of the city; roads, machines, people. Barked orders, chases, gunshots. He and Bodie could be alone in the world. He took a deep breath of autumn-cold air, went to fetch the water.
“So why’d you get this place, then?”
Doyle looked up, back down at his tea, cupped loosely in both hands. “I told you, auction.”
“Not where, why. And don’t make a start on some retirement story.”
A brief twist of wry amusement, perhaps at himself rather than what Bodie had said. “Well, in a way…” He met Bodie’s stare. “Figured it might come in useful one day, that’s all.”
He shrugged. “Last year.”
But Doyle didn’t need to answer, the tip of his head was enough. He didn't need to say it out loud. Drake. Hanish. Molner. It could as well have been any of them; the lives that were worth more than their own. But those words were too close right now, too crowded and too true, and neither one could give them voice. For a moment Bodie wished them back on the road, back in motion. No time to think. But then that too had its dangers.
“Place could be worse you know. It’s sound, dry.”
Doyle looked rueful, “I was stitched up. They saw this Sassenach coming.”
“Too trusting, that’s your trouble,” he said, and then cringed. “This place,” Bodie hurried on, “it’s not exactly overflowing with luxury, but it's viable. For a week or two while we suss it out. Safer than chancing the ports straight away.” Doyle didn’t move, stayed quiet, and Bodie assessed him surreptitiously from under his lashes. Maybe he could pull it off after all, get them well and truly away from … from that.
Doyle's voice, when it came, was pitched low. "Or chancing them at all."
"Doyle, this is Cowley's country, even all the way up here. If we stay, he'll find us."
"There's no trail…"
"That doesn't matter to him!"
"No!" Doyle jumped to his feet, heedless of the tea that sloshed over the side of his mug, that ran down the fingers of his hand. He turned away from Bodie, then abruptly back. "We were careful. Maybe we could have found us, but…"
"We're not the only agents at CI5!"
"No. But we were the best, Bodie."
The words slid, thick as blood, into the air between them. We were the best.
Bodie closed his eyes on them briefly, wanting them gone, wanting them never said, wanting them to be untrue. But they weren't, and so he opened his eyes, faced the day. Faced Doyle. "And that's why he needs us gone now."
"I don't want to leave, Bodie." Flat-voiced, face blank.
But Bodie knew he would. Doyle would leave if Bodie insisted, if he didn't win the fight to stay. He knew why Doyle wanted to stay. Because there was hope in staying. If they didn't leave the country, if they didn't vanish into other worlds, other identities, then they could be recalled, their numbers reactivated, their lives returned to them. Because Doyle loved what he did; for all that he railed against the unfairness, the injustice of it, he believed in what he did, in what they did.
"And if we stay, we'll just end up like Diana Molner." It had to be said. "Is that what you want for us?" Say it. "For both of us?"
Doyle's head bowed, and he took a breath. Bodie could see it lifting his chest, heard it rushing out of him again. Ray had looked tired before this had even begun; Christ, they both had. They should have been planning a couple of weeks away, maybe in the sun somewhere, a couple of birds lying beside them. Where had it all gone so wrong?
And Doyle was shaking his head now, tiny moves, as if it was breaking his heart to admit it even without words.
Time. They needed time.
And he wanted to give Ray something. He wanted to give Ray everything, but all he had to offer was a couple of weeks.
"Not right away though, okay? We can afford to give it a week or so, maybe even two or three. It'll take 'em at least that long to figure we didn't skip straight off. Right?"
Silence. Doyle was staring at the floor.
"So we'll hang out here for a while then. A couple of blokes, up on holiday, escaping the rat race for a while – like one of those retreats Sally was going on about the other day. Spiritual."
Still no reaction.
"Come on mate, we'll put up one of those statues of Buddha or something, burn some incense…"
He got to his feet, bouncing on his toes with a sudden urgent need to do something, swept his eyes across the windows on three sides of the building, came to a stop at the back door. Tossing down the rest of his tea in a scalding rush, he strode across the room, took a firm hold on the rust that passed for a door handle, and dragged it open. “'ere, look, he’s even left you a room full of mud.”
A stretch of silence, and then Doyle came to stand beside him. The door had opened into a small lean-to, which was stacked high with slabs of – as Bodie had said – mud. Except… Doyle leaned back on the doorframe. “Actually mate, I think you’ll find that’s peat.” His voice was steady, and Bodie loved him for it.
“Pete? Who the hell’s..?”
“Peat fuel, you dumb crud. You burn it.”
“Oh,” Bodie surveyed the mud with a better appreciation. “You drink whisky by it an’ all, don’t you?” He rubbed his hands and turned back inside. “So - the sooner we get this lot sorted out…”
A glance at his partner’s face; it could still go either way. Doyle had an elbow on the door jamb, was rubbing one thumb across his lips, and he was seeing nothing in this world. Finally, the eternity over, his eyes snapped back, to the peat, to the cottage, to Bodie. “Yeah, alright then.”
And the air relaxed between them again, the words dissolved as if they had never been. The decision had been made.
"I dunno, mate," Bodie frowned down at the squat piece of machinery between them. "Straight out of the Second World War, that thing is."
Doyle took his eyes off the admittedly unprepossessing engine for a moment to glare at him, unwilling to give up so soon. "Yeah, but they built 'em properly back then. All it needs is a bit of a clean-up, some diesel."
"Tender loving care, eh? Is it worth it, though?"
"Well…" and Doyle could practically hear Bodie's brain backtracking. It didn't seem to have worked though. "We might not be here that long…"
"No." He didn't have the energy to think about it now. "But the nights aren't exactly long and light still, are they? Besides," he added, as Bodie tipped his head noncommittally, "it'll give me something to do, won't it?"
"That's true. Well," Bodie slapped both hands to his stomach, "once you've made me dinner, anyway. Hear that? Hollow that is!"
"You? Hollow? Chance'd be a fine thing…" But Doyle stood up and stretched, arching his back to take out the kinks. He was tired, so tired. They'd barely been awake half a dozen hours, but the hills behind the house had already shadowed their world into dusk. They had a couple of kerosene lamps, but he might as well wait until proper light tomorrow to start taking the generator apart. Once he'd done that he could work on the parts whenever. He left Bodie to gather in the last of their potentially useful finds, and turned inside to where the orange glow of the fireplace was already almost brighter than the light from the windows.
Bodie had fiddled with the plumbing, and the water ran cleanly if not strongly from the tap, fed apparently from the stream above the house. It was a simple place, he thought, absently filling a pan to boil on a trivet over the fire. The trivet, a pair of firedogs, and assorted ancient pokers had been a few of the things on their "saved" pile, and he was glad of them now, as he prodded everything into place. Less like camping, more like… well, not comfort, but less like camping anyway. He'd a vague recollection that the crofthouse had been lived in up until a few years ago, but apart from installing the generator the previous owners had apparently been content with the basics. Something else they'd not bothered to explain at the auction…
There was a shuffling at the front door, and even before he heard Bodie whistling out the back, the hairs on his neck had risen and he had spun around, reaching for his Browning.
He gave a low whistle himself, heard Bodie fall still and silent, and crept towards the door. He turned the handle slowly, edged it open and peered through the crack. There was something out there, he could feel it, and it wasn't anything friendly or surely it would have announced itself by now.
"English! Enough, English!"
For a strange moment Doyle thought the voice was talking to him, until he realised with a release of breath that the shape at the doorway was a dog, sniffing in fascination at the steps and the walls, but remaining, at least, beyond the threshold. He slid his gun back, although he didn't close his jacket, and leaned, apparently casual, against the doorframe.
"Sorry about that." A man was striding slowly but sturdily along the track that led up to the house, something beyond middle-aged, red-cheeked and hearty. "He's a nosy bugger. I hope you don't mind dogs. He's big, but he won't hurt you."
"No, he's fine," Doyle made himself say, through gritted teeth, stepping out to meet him. "Can I help you?"
"Arthur Wheeler." The man held out a hand, gripped Doyle's firmly before letting go. "I run the pub over in Ardnagaul. Maybe we'll see you there sometime? You and your friend?"
Bodie stepped out of the house behind Doyle. "Maybe." He tipped his head backwards to the building, "Thirsty work this."
Arthur smiled. "Aye, Jimmy said you'd been hard at it. Old Tam reckoned you were just holiday-makers, but Younger and my Fiona put him right."
"Your Fiona?" Doyle echoed, at the sudden list of villagers turned out to spy on them. He wouldn't put it past George Cowley to have them all in his pocket, come to that. Maybe Bodie was right, maybe it was too late for them…
"Aye," the man said again. "Well, Tam and Colin, they were having quite the debate about it, but Jimmy – he runs the croft over the hill from you – Jimmy said he'd seen you getting this place cleared out. About time someone did. So when Mary told my Fiona that, she was able to explain." He nodded, as if this was the most natural thing in the world, and Doyle found himself nodding along in time, lost for words.
"Planning to be about for a while, then?"
"Not really…" Bodie began, at the same time as Doyle recovered his tongue and managed "Probably…"
He looked at Bodie, "Yes. We're on sabbatical you see. I bought this place from a bloke in London, thought we'd see what we could make of it. I like it so far. It's nice up here, isn't it? Might write my book. Quiet."
"Oh, less so than you might think. Get all sorts up here, you know. All sorts." Arthur smiled confidingly. "Well, you'll be alright anyway, now that Jimmy's seen you hard at it. Come spend some money in the village, buy a few rounds and you'll be well away, southerners or not."
"My gran was Scottish, actually, from somewhere around Glasgow," Bodie said, to Doyle's surprise. "Married a sailor from Liverpool, and corrupted the bloodline forever." He grinned, outwardly genial, turned the tables. "You're a bit far from home yourself, aren't you?" He was good at that, was Bodie.
"Sussex, a long time ago." Arthur tapped his nose, "Came up on a hiking holiday, not long after the war. Met my Fiona and never went back." He looked at them speculatively. "It can get you that way, and the people are marvellous. Well. Once they know you're not just sightseers." He paused. "Or Americans."
"Jimmy's helped us with that then, has he?" Doyle asked, not sure whether to laugh or cry. All day they thought they'd been so vigilant, so alert to anything, and it turned out half the village knew they were up here, and what they'd been doing.
"Come spend some time at The Rabbie," Arthur repeated. "We do a nice wee dram up there, and the food is all home cooked. What Fiona does with neeps and tatties…" He paused, looked surprised. "Oh! And there I am forgetting why I came!"
Not just to threaten their sanity then. "Oh?"
"Aye, aye! English!" The dog, having decided that the Renault had potential, was busy marking new territory. "Jimmy thought you might like your bed back, you see."
"Aye," Arthur repeated, "Mother Garrow had need of it while her cousin was up from Stirling, and since no one was using it… Well, that's how things work up here. But you're welcome to it back."
"No! If Mrs Garrow…"
"Oh she's dead now!"
"Not in that bed!" Arthur reassured them, "No, and her cousin's long gone. Married a man from Drumnadrochit in the end. No need of it now. So Jimmy thought you should have it back if you were staying."
"That's very kind of Jimmy," Bodie managed, and it was only that Doyle had known him so long that he recognised their imminent danger.
"It comes apart. That's how we got it out. Could strap the boards up on there," he nodded at the car, "balance the mattress on top and Bob's your uncle!"
"That'd be great," Doyle smiled, "wonderful. We could collect it tomorrow then? Uh - from Jimmy?"
"Come up to The Rabbie," Arthur said again, "we'll get you sorted out in no time. Ready for winter – they say it'll be bad this year you know… " And to Doyle's relief he turned away, whistled for his dog. "Tomorrow!"
"Nice to meet you…" Doyle called after him weakly. He turned around, took one look at Bodie, and pushed them both into the house, closing the door firmly behind them and leaning on it, feeling as worn as if he'd just defused a round of Semtex.
Bodie was already collapsed on the floor, laughing soundlessly, clutching his stomach. "Old…" he managed to gasp, "Old Mother Garrow's dead so it…it's alright!"
"As long as Jimmy says so…" Doyle suggested, which set him off as much for the way it affected Bodie as in his own half-hysteria. "At least we'll be able to try Fiona's neeps…"
"Nah, it's what she does to neeps that's something special…"
"And tatties…" Giving in, he sank to the floor beside Bodie, laughed until his own stomach hurt and he couldn't see through watered eyes. He still sobered up first though, sitting up and watching as trembling little giggles coursed intermittently through his partner.
"Christ, mate," Bodie breathed, "I haven't laughed like that in years."
"Yeah." And not at all for over a week now. He used Bodie's knee to lever himself up, turned around to pull him to his feet. "Be good to have a bed if we're here more than a couple of days."
Bodie nodded. "We can take turns," he suggested, good naturedly, "if you're out of your habit of wetting."
"I'll give you wetting…"
It was good to wrestle with Bodie again, too, as if that week had never happened, as if perhaps they were on holiday somewhere, with nothing more to think about than which pub to go to for dinner that night.
He twisted abruptly beneath Bodie, until he was the one lying on top, pinning Bodie's arms to his sides, holding his legs still between his own. He grinned, and brought his face down close to Bodie's. "I think this means I get first turn."
For a moment Bodie lay quiet beneath him, as though he was barely breathing, laughter stilled, and so Doyle gave a final press of his weight and released him. "You can 'elp make dinner an' all."
"'Course I didn't," he said, dealing out another hand, his eyes on the cards. "She died while I was away that first term."
"Not your fault, mate. Besides, long time ago now." He put on his posh accent, the one that reminded him of his father at his worst, "The world moves on, you know."
Doyle grunted, sacrificed cards to the dealer and took up two more, and Bodie wondered which way his world moved.
"Did you have a gran then?"
"Course I 'ad a gran, you moron, everyone has a gran…"
Bodie sighed theatrically, "Did you know your gran? I realise you have trouble with some of the finer nuances of the English language, but," the posh voice again, "really, Doyle!"
"Yeah… well, I knew who she was, wouldn't say I knew her. She was the woman who came around when me mum was too out of it to look to me dad."
"Nah. Well, not her, anyway. He'd go out, come home pissed and angry, and take it out on her. He broke her arm twice, but she wouldn't report him. 'It's not his fault,' she'd say."
Despite himself, Bodie flicked a glance to Doyle's cheekbone, and Doyle caught him doing it.
"Yeah, that was 'im. That was how I ended up moving around a lot for a while. Didn't really settle 'til I got into the Met."
"And then you 'got some discipline', eh?" He pulled the cards together, shuffled them carefully, deliberately.
"Don't knock it…"
"I wasn't mate." I wasn't. "And look at you now…"
He looked up, met Doyle's eyes, and they shared a wry smile.
"Surrounded by the best that money can buy?" Doyle mocked.
"Well, I'm here, aren't I?"
Doyle was quiet then. No retort, no insult, no sarcastic jab about his modesty. Just… a kind of comfortable pull between them, the same feeling that kept them together on a job, that meant they each knew where the other was, what the other was doing, was going to do. For a while Bodie'd thought they were losing it, would lose it, but it was still there. They worked well together.
At last the shadowed darkness outside, the gentle lapping of the fire, and the half bottle of whisky they'd opened to accompany the peat logs, defeated them. Bodie took a final walk outside, and when he came back Doyle was nothing but a long line in his sleeping bag. Bodie crawled into his own, and they lay in front of the fire, two sides of a triangle so that they shared the heat, heads close. The room flickered orange, was flooded through with the smell of peat.
“’s not bad this, actually,” Bodie said suddenly, conscious of a warmth, and a sense almost of well-being, and something else that he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
“’ey?” Doyle managed, sleepily.
“Well. We’re fed. We’re warm. And it might not be the Savoy, and it might not be forever, but no one’s shooting at us.”
“True. Makes a nice change.”
“Yeah, it does.” He turned onto his side, gazed into the flames. “Maybe you're right. It might be worth hanging around for a while longer, you know.”
“Well, I was thinking. If we get ourselves snowed in over the winter then it's not likely anyone else’ll be able to get here either. And it's defendable. We should work out an escape route, but…”
A soft snore.
“…but that can wait until morning.” He trailed off, listening to Doyle’s deep, even breaths. That’s what the something else was. The fire crackled, and there was a slight howl of the wind, and over it all, Doyle sleeping. There was a peace.
“Why’s it this bloody freezing when you’re practically settin’ the place alight?” he asked, tucking the bag closely to him.
“Well, good morning to you too, sunshine.” Bodie spared him a glance, in between turning sausages, “Yes thanks, I had a comfortable night. How was yours?”
Doyle managed a bad-tempered grunt that Bodie took as the apology it was meant to be, and sat up in one fluid motion, bag still clutched around him.
“We let the fire go out. Didn’t bank it down enough. I ‘ad to start from scratch when I got up.”
“Surprised you didn’t wake up, the racket I was making.”
“Mmmn,” Doyle yawned, letting himself be half asleep still, an unusual morning pleasure. “Me mum would’ve killed me.”
“Was my job. When I was a kid. Making sure the fire stayed in overnight, or making it again the next morning. It was coal, mind. God I used to ‘ate that fire.” He smiled suddenly, a dopey, early morning kind of smile with his eyes half shut, and Bodie found himself staring, arrested. “I prefer this one. ‘Specially when it’s got breakfast at the end of it.”
“Well my breakfast anyway.” Bodie turned his attention back to the frying pan spluttering away, “Your muesli’s over there.”
No, of course he wouldn't. Bodie slid eggs onto the bread he'd fried first, held the plate out, and then poured tea and passed that over too. Doyle saluted him with the mug and set to.
"You think we should head over to the village today?" he asked, around a mouthful.
"Look a bit funny if we don't, won't it?"
Doyle nodded, didn't look at him. "Might be the best thing. Get in with the locals, no one'll think twice about us being here."
"You said it yourself, Cowley's got a long reach." Bodie paused. "Then again, your man yesterday said it was going to be a bad winter."
"Not much of a prophecy, half the peaks are covered already. We could get snowed in…" Doyle paused, looked up, and Bodie met his eyes. He had heard then, somewhere in that moment between being awake and sliding into sleep. "Bodie..?"
"Let's see how it goes, sunshine," he said, wanting to make promises, knowing that he couldn't. "If it stays quiet, then…"
Doyle turned back to his tea, his face hidden as he raised the mug high. "Yeah, alright. You know, could be this is all for nothing, could be he doesn't even care."
We were the best.
"Oh, he cares. Maybe not about us, but he cares."
"You know it as well as I do, Ray. We were meant to die in that railway carriage."
And there, more words. Sent out into the chill morning air, they floated free, unbound. And he'd done it himself, despite the fire, and the tea, and the eggs and the fried bread.
Doyle knew it too. "Bodie…"
"We should be keeping a watch still," Bodie said, thoughtful, practical. "We're pretty out of it up here, but we were slack the last couple of nights, sleeping at the same time. Careless."
He turned away, took his holster from beside his sleeping bag, and checked his Walther. He'd clean his guns before he did anything else. They needed to be ready.
Even "village" was a generous name for the sprinkling of buildings that lay just off what could only laughingly be described as "the main road". There was The Rabbie of course, there was a small shop that appeared to sell anything that might ever be needed, and a petrol station with a single pump and a spares shop that consisted of half a dozen dead vehicles arrayed beside a tiny office. What appeared to be a curtained house actually had a bright red and yellow Post Office sign in front of the nets, and a sign declaring it "Open". Otherwise Ardnagaul was made up of perhaps two dozen houses, in various states of repair, and a bus stop.
They paused at the shop to buy newspapers – it was Saturday, Doyle noticed, when had he lost track? – and chatted briefly to the girl behind the counter. She seemed to know exactly who they were, and had a small exercise book all ready to write down their names and the papers and magazines that they'd like her to get in for them.
"Whatever ye fancy," she smiled at them warmly, and Doyle put them down for the Guardian and Private Eye. Bodie added most of the Sunday tabloids, Doyle countered with the Observer and the Sunday Times, and they walked out the door with the girl's laughter tinkling behind them.
"She was nice," he said, as they strolled across the road to the pub. "Wasn't reckoning on the locals being so friendly."
"Not what we're led to believe," Bodie agreed. "Mind you, Arthur seemed to think they were alright."
"Yeah, well, he married one of 'em, didn't he." Doyle paused with one foot on The Rabbie's front step. "Hey, maybe there's a shortage of eligible males."
"What, and they need some outside blood to repopulate the town? Well, I suppose that might make 'em desperate enough to settle for you…"
From his vantage point above Bodie, Doyle reached over to cuff him, liking the grin that warmed Bodie's lips, crinkled his eyes. That was better, Bodie wasn't Bodie without that look to him. He just had to keep him laughing, that was all. He grinned back, and they stepped into the dim interior of the pub.
A voice greeted them immediately, jovial, as if they were old friends. "You made it! We were beginning to give you up!"
Still in the doorway and not that long after opening hours, they glanced at each other, bemused, before their eyes adjusted properly to the light and they could see Arthur standing at the end of the bar, a pair of half-glasses perched on his nose, a pint and a pipe in front of him, leaning over the sports pages.
"Pint of the best do you?" he asked, already moving behind the pump, reaching for a glass. "Fiona!" he called behind him, "They're here!"
A small dark woman came bustling out of the back room, drying her hands on a tea towel. She stopped abruptly when she reached Arthur's side, putting out a hand to rest on his back, and stared at them. No, not at them, at him, Doyle thought with a sudden pinch of worry. Had they been on the news? Surely not, surely… and the pictures would be old, but could they have been recognised? It was his bloody cheekbone…
"Mike," Bodie was saying, reaching out a hand to take Fiona's over the bar, bringing it to his lips with a wink that had her finally shifting her gaze, eyeing him knowingly, "Mike Wells. And this is Duncan. But you can't have been more than a child at your wedding! He said it was after the war!"
She softened still further, the Bodie charm working as well as ever, but then she looked back at Doyle again, and he had to force himself to move up to the bar, to paste a smile across his face.
"It's nice to meet you, Mrs Wheeler," he managed, nudging Bodie with his elbow. "Don't let this one worry you, we're still working on his manners."
"Och, he's not the woon to fash aboot," she said. "Ye've hardly a morsel on yer bones! Reet hungert ye…" she turned abruptly, and vanished again, although occasional words floated back through the door towards them.
Arthur grinned at him. "She'll not rest now until she's fattened you up a bit," he said, passing them both their pints, decently drawn and darkly promising. "She's a proper mother hen given half a chance."
That was all? Well, he supposed he had lost some weight in the last couple of weeks, and it seemed to take some women that way.
"So where's this bed then?" Bodie was asking, "I don't suppose there's any other bits and pieces up for sale around town is there? The last owner didn't leave us much."
"Oh, it's no use going for it now, we'd just get soaked. Have a good feed first, a few pints, and then we'll see how we’re getting on."
Doyle spared a glance out the small front windows. The drizzle had indeed turned into a heavier downpour, bashing away at the faded tarmac of the road and bouncing back up again. But there was a fire at one end of the pub, good smells emerging from the kitchens, and it didn't seem such a bad place to spend the afternoon. And Bodie had positively brightened at the thought of hanging around for a bit, as though he'd completely forgotten what they'd said that morning. Of course Doyle knew differently, knew that neither of them had forgotten anything, and that they'd both catalogued exits and windows and characters as soon as they'd entered the room. He found, however, that it was surprisingly pleasant to imagine otherwise, to pack that other life away and to pretend to be normal. Deep, deep undercover, as just themselves. Maybe Bodie really would find them a Buddha statue.
A soft voice interrupted them, another dark haired lass, though half the age of Fiona. A daughter? Or just a barmaid? Best to tread warily until they were sure. "Here y'are, Fi said to bring these through to ye."
"Maggie! Thank you Maggie, my love." Arthur eyed the two plates with pride, "That's right, just what they want."
Doyle looked suspiciously at the piles of food. There was indeed potato and turnip, but it was sitting next to a huge chunk of steak pie, and he sighed in relief. That he could manage – sheeps' innards, or whatever haggis was supposed to comprise, he was less sure about.
"If it's too much for you…" Bodie began, his own fork already halfway to his mouth.
"Get off, you gannet!" Doyle warned, one eye on Fiona who had come to stand in the kitchen doorway, and hurriedly took his own mouthful. It was hot, and it was homemade, and it was good. He'd had better, he'd had worse, but at least he'd be able to compliment the cook honestly.
"So the people who had the croft before us," Bodie prompted, waving his fork loosely in front of him, and Arthur was immediately away, leaving them to eat their food without having to do more than nod occasionally. After a while Fiona joined in, and one or two other locals who had perched themselves at the bar, and before they knew it they'd been presented with the lineage of half the village. Doyle decided that he'd even understood some of it. He felt full of food, and beer, and on good terms with everyone they'd met, which still half-surprised him. So much for dour Scotsmen, he thought, stretching in his seat and rubbing his stomach, his shoulder brushing Bodie's as he slumped forward again.
Fiona looked at him appraisingly. "Ye'll be wantin' a desk. For yer writin'."
Oh Christ, whatever had possessed him to say writing? He hated writing.
"It's not so much writing he does, actually." Bodie read his mind and jumped in, and Doyle hoped he looked encouraging rather than confused. Or wary. Knowing Bodie he'd drop him right in it. Sure enough… "He's art department, it's more a portfolio than a book."
Only now Fiona was looking at him as if he was some sort of pervert. "Landscapes," he said quickly, hoping he could remember how. "Was feeling a bit drained in the city, you know, looking for inspiration. Thought we'd take a year off."
"Are you art as well, Mike?" Maggie asked, and Bodie shook his head.
"Geography. Continental Africa mostly."
Well, at least no one up here was likely to trip Bodie up in that. But he hadn't painted for years, and he certainly didn't have any gear with him, and the only thing he knew was that he wanted to be here long enough for their cover to matter. Still, they'd have to drive over to Inverness some time for decent supplies, maybe he could pick up something there...
"Well, you'll be happy up here then," Arthur was saying. "Beautiful country. Wonderful." He looked Doyle over assessingly, "Though they say it'll be a bad winter. Still, as long as you don't mind the cold you'll be alright."
"Nah, he's used to it," Bodie said, and Doyle cringed, wondering what was coming. "'S all that modelling they do down in his department…"
But Arthur took it in his stride, eyes twinkling conspiratorially. "Was that how you two met?" he asked, and surprised a laugh out of them both. Bodie gave Arthur a sideways look, but Doyle jostled him and interrupted before he could be plunged into further trouble.
"No, no, he doesn't have an artistic bone in 'is body. Met at a faculty do. Some Christmas thing," Doyle said, to his enquiring eyebrow.
Maggie had come to lean over the bar with them, and Bodie winked at her. She giggled, and ducked her head, and Doyle grinned to himself. Yet another conquest, and barely a day after they'd arrived. And she was bound to know the girl in the shop.
Three pints later, Fiona disappeared back into the kitchen, leaving Maggie busy with the last orders crowd. Arthur clenched his pipe between his teeth, and peered out a window. "Sun's nearly out. Now might be a good time to make our getaway."
"Nearly out" was a kind description, Doyle thought, as they emerged into the darkening afternoon. What sun there was, occasionally blinking from behind the clouds, was already low on the horizon. But Mother Garrow's turned out to be only just down the road from the pub, and although Jimmy was nowhere to be seen, Arthur had the key on a long string in his pocket.
"Shouldn't be a minute to take it apart," he said, not quite looking at them, and, suddenly dubious, Doyle caught Bodie's eye. Bodie just raised an eyebrow, so Doyle shrugged and followed him in. They were here now. Probably there was some headboard that would need the bolts undoing before it would fit onto the car roof.
He nearly ran into Bodie, who had stopped suddenly in the doorway to the front room. He pressed close, hoping that Bodie would move, and, when he didn't, looked over his shoulder.
The bed was huge. It was at least a king size, and possessed of a properly sprung box as well as a mattress. The headboard was magnificently curved and scrolled, and the foot seemed to be some sort of chest affair. It would take up at least half the space in the crofthouse.
Doyle let his head fall forward onto Bodie's shoulder. There was no way that thing was going to break into enough pieces to fit on top of the Renault without ending up firewood.
"Aye, well." Arthur had the grace to look slightly abashed. "Perhaps it would be better to borrow the horse box from Hamish down the road. I'll just nip out and see where he is while you get the thing apart, shall I?"
Doyle shoved at Bodie again, and this time he did move out of the doorway, letting Arthur squeeze past them and make good his escape.
"We've been done," Bodie said mournfully. "We'll never get that out of 'ere, let alone into the 'ouse."
Doyle eyed the bed consideringly. It was big. Still, faint heart… "Ah, c'mon mate, where's your sense of adventure? Besides, at least we won't have to take turns with this."
In the end, Arthur returned with not just the horsebox but a couple of young lads to help them get it all loaded. They looked Bodie and Doyle up and down, not quite as friendly as the locals in the pub, but they were half-smiling as they shook hands, and more importantly they'd brought a toolbox with them. The horsebox itself was another adventure of the imagination; the base was solid enough, but the sides were rather loosely held together slats of wood, and there was no roof at all, prompting Bodie to use a lot of rope and tarpaulin before he finally pronounced it secure.
"That's wonderful." Arthur nodded happily, "That'll get you there nicely. Get a decent night's sleep now, eh? Eh-eh?"
"Thanks lads," Doyle said, as he saw Darren and John edging off, mumbling. "We owe you one."
It had started raining again, a fine drizzle that trickled easily down the collar of his jacket, and he pulled it up. Suddenly the idea of being snug in the crofthouse, fire blazing while they worked to put the bed back together again, seemed more attractive than anything else.
"Do we need to bring this back up tonight?" he asked Arthur, nodding at the horsebox.
"No, no hurry. Only thing it's ever used for is moving furniture. Tomorrow will be fine. Or the next day. No hurry."
"Right, well, thank you…"
"My pleasure, m'boy. You'll be alright now," Arthur pronounced, managing to look pleased and yet at the same time to start backing away down the road, very much as though he was suddenly retreating. Doyle turned to see what had caught his eye, and smothered a grin. Fiona had emerged from the front door of The Rabbie, kicking the bolt down behind her, and was looking up and down the street. She caught sight of her man, who seemed to pretend he hadn't seen her and lengthened his stride somewhat. "Probably be a bit wobbly on the corners, of course!" he finished, spinning around and abandoning all pretence.
Fiona stopped beside the vehicle, her eyes on Arthur all the way. "We wouldnae expect less of it," she called to the back of Arthur's head as he whistled to English, pulled his cap lower over his ears, and vanished around a corner.
"Why's that then?" Bodie asked her, winding an extra length of rope around the slats, just because there was another one in his hand.
"Ach, it's no verra guid luck that bed. Dinna tell ye that now, did he, afore he foisted it on ye?" Fiona sniffed disapprovingly, then sighed. "And ye've got it in there now…"
"Bad luck?" Doyle gave the mattress a final testing push and looked at Fiona, "How can a bed be bad luck?"
"Weel," she began in a hushed voice that still managed to carry easily to them both, "Auld Mither Garrow died in that bed ye ken."
"But Arthur said…"
"Aye, weel, he's heerd for months now how much Jimmy needs the space to let out again, and they're great ones together, ye ken." She paused. "And then there was her cousin, Moira."
"What happened to Moira?" Bodie's eyes were wide, and Doyle frowned at him as Fiona leaned conspiratorially in his direction.
"Weel now." She waved Doyle closer as well. "She was tekken too. Turns out that she…" another pause, "she married a mon frae… Drumnadrochit!"
"No!" Bodie said, and it was all Doyle could do not to kick him.
"Aye, true enough!"
"Ah, that's alright Fiona love," Bodie favoured her with his best smile, "neither of us is likely to marry a man from Drumnadrochit…"
She gave him the sort of look up and down usually reserved for halfwits and damaged animals, and Doyle had to lean on one elbow against the horsebox, so that he could cover his own grin.
"Weel, anyone can see that," she said scornfully, "but it'd not be a guid start to yer new hame to… Aye! I ken! I ken what we'll do… Dinna move, dinna move…" As they watched, bemused, she bustled her way back past the pub and to the next house along. After a minute she vanished inside.
Bodie was smirking. "You do realise they think…"
"Alright for her to give the orders," Doyle interrupted, rolling his eyes, and hunching his shoulders away from the thick moisture of the air. "I bet she's got more work in that nice warm kitchen to look forward to."
"Yeah and then there's her imagination to…" Bodie began, and broke off as Fiona emerged from the house with a tall man following close behind her. He was dressed head to toe in black, except for the pure white of his dog collar, and he was carrying…
"She's got the priest out! Oh my gawd…" Doyle turned himself around under guise of fiddling with the tarpaulin, and caught Bodie's eye. "You know there were nearly a dozen places for sale at that auction, an' I picked this one."
Bodie kept a straight face. "Now Doyle, you're among god-fearing people, - your god is exactly who you're about to get."
"This is Reverent Macallan, but he's in a breeshel to get to a kirstenin' away up Glenchalder."
"Oh, there's no hurry…" Bodie began, trailing off at Fiona's glare.
"Wheesht!" Fiona ordered, "Let the guid mon do his work!"
They watched as Macallan took out a bible, and a small vial, and began to work his way around the horsebox. Fiona stood with her head bowed, a reverence in every breath she took. After a moment Macallan took his own deep breath, put away his accoutrements, touched her shoulder in farewell and turned his back on them.
"I reckon he knows you're not a good Christian lad," Bodie whispered out of the corner of his mouth, as Fiona inspected the horsebox herself, and this time Doyle did kick him.
"There noo, ye're set!" she practically beamed at them both. "We'll just get the rest o' yer kit an' ye can awa' be."
"I think we've got it all here…" Doyle began, broke off as she turned to look at him again. She took his arm, tucking her own into it, and led them both back up to The Rabbie.
"Oi, Bodie," Doyle was saying, with a bare trace of impatience, "I wouldn't mind a hand this end."
Bodie brought his mind back to the job, to where Doyle was waiting for him with the end of the bed raised and braced against his legs. He slid the bedhead into position, turned the bolts, and eventually the thing was done. They shoved the mattress on top, stood back and looked at it. It was a monster of a thing, would have been much more at home in some laird's castle, and god only knew how it ended up in Mother Garrow's front room. It didn't take up quite half the crofthouse, but it was a definite… yeah, he'd have to say it was a definite feature.
He glanced over at Doyle. Doyle had been talkative, had even laughed once or twice, especially in the twilight zone that was the village. But there was something missing, something about Doyle that had seemed empty ever since this morning, and Bodie was very, very afraid that it was his fault.
"Y'know, I'm not sure," he said, and waited for Doyle to look at him enquiringly. "I think… Yeah, I think it might be better if it was maybe on the other side of the room. Against that wall."
Doyle frowned, not catching on. Not like him…
"A much better ambience, don't you think?"
"Your ambience can think again, mate," Doyle said, a corner of his lips finally curving upwards, "if it thinks I'm moving this … thing another bloody inch." He stared at it for a brief moment, head tilted to one side, then let himself fall to the mattress, arms spread above him, eyes closed. Doyle's t-shirt, which had come untucked as they worked, rode up, leaving his stomach bare.
From the opposite side of the bed Bodie could see skin, dusky in the dim light, planing away into Doyle's jeans, his stomach hollowed just enough that there was a thin space between skin and denim, just enough, perhaps, for a hand to slip between… He caught his breath as Doyle writhed slightly on the mattress.
"Mmmn. Beats the floor, I must admit." Doyle opened his eyes, tilted his head back to look at Bodie, "Go on, have a feel."
Can't was his first thought, and then he swallowed, forced himself to pretend, and sat down, let himself lie back. At least with his shoulders on an opposing line with Doyle's he could no longer see temptation. He'd thought he was over this years ago, thought he'd made a deal with himself. You can have him to here, after that he's just Doyle, just your partner. Of course, he'd never been alone with him before either, not this close for this long, not without the job as a buffer between them, a constant reminder of the order of his world.
And now he had to sleep with him too.
"I'll take first watch," he said abruptly, clambering to his feet. "What d'you reckon, four hours on, four off?"
Doyle half turned on the bed, lying back on one elbow to watch him. "You were serious about that."
"Of course I was. I don't trust him, Ray."
"No." Silence, then "Alright. Midnight 'til four 'til eight?"
No fight. Doyle wasn't there.
Bollocks. He shook himself. He was antsy because he wasn't really sure how long their delaying tactics had bought them, because he didn't trust Cowley, and because the house they were now living in was apparently on another planet. Everyone was nice enough – more than friendly, in fact – but they weren't like people he'd met before.
And Doyle was just trying to adjust too, that was all it was.
"Come on, let's have this lot out then," he suggested, turning to the boxes. They contained half a household; sheets, pillows and cases, blankets and towels, assorted things for the kitchen, for the bathroom they didn't have. There was a handful of books, an old radio, and a set of Scrabble. They took a moment to unpack, to make the bed with sharply-ironed white sheets that seemed oddly out of place. They spread the blankets, opened out their sleeping bags and piled them on as well. The fire didn't keep the place that warm at night.
Finally, there was only one box left, the oddest one of all, given specifically to Doyle. Bodie turned from piling the books onto one of the shelves of the ancient dresser they'd managed to resurrect, and found him staring at it.
"Go on," he said quietly. "You might as well unpack it. They're going to expect to see it out if they come noseying around.
"Gonna expect something to be on it as well, aren't they?" Doyle grumbled, pulling out the easel and casting a speculative gaze around the room. Eventually he shrugged and stood it beside the window nearest the fireplace. Then he leaned the stretched canvases and the canvas boards against the wall, and the brushes in their jar alongside the half-full bottle of turpentine on the windowsill. Finally he took out the smaller box of squeezed paint tubes, and just stood for a moment, balancing it in his hands.
"She wanted you to have them, Ray."
"Yeah, and a right bloody farce it is." Doyle's voice was harsh, "I can't paint."
"You went to those classes when you were a kid…"
"Yeah, a kid is right. That was nearly twenty years ago, Bodie. And for your information I couldn't paint then either."
"They wouldn't have let you in if you couldn't paint, even I know that."
"We could always move on…"
"No!" Doyle's voice was certain now, as he'd know it would be. "I'll do it. I just don't have to like it, do I?"
"She just needed to get rid of it. She thought she was doing you a favour."
"Giving me her dead nephew's gear?"
"You saw the picture." Queer, it had been, seeing almost-Doyle staring out of the picture frame. Apparently Fiona had more than one reason for looking sideways at him all day.
"Yeah, but if you hadn't told her I was a bloody artist… If you'd stuck to the original story…"
"You hate writing, Ray. What were you gonna do, make yourself sit down at a typewriter every day like a good undercover cop? This way you at least get to do something relaxing. Get out and about a bit."
"Yeah…" Doyle said again. "Well, I suppose it's a hobby, innit?"
"That's the spirit!"
"So what's your excuse then?"
"Eh?" Bodie hadn't thought about that.
"For being up here with me?"
"Me? I'm just your slothful friend, along for the ride. As soon as you're rich and famous you can keep me in the manner to which I'd like to become accustomed." Posh voice, and Bodie had the satisfaction of seeing Doyle half-smile. That was it, nearly there. "And if you're very good I might even deign to sit for you now and then…"
"Deign to sit? It's getting you on your feet that's the problem," Doyle retorted, and Bodie acknowledged a fair hit with a nod of his head and a smirk. Doyle grinned back at him across the bed, with its crisp white linens and piled sleeping bags, and the evening slid into the night.
They saw the locals occasionally, driving up to the pub when the weather was reasonable, staying hermited away when it wasn't. Doyle worked on the generator, or he painted, and they both read, and hiked long hours together over the hills and valleys. There was no sign of Cowley, no sign of strangers in the village, and very few on the road. Gradually they fell out of the habit of keeping watch, slept side by side in the big bed, barely ever touching, even accidentally. There was, after all, plenty of space between them.
And yet sometimes Bodie found that he was watching Doyle, just watching. When he caught himself at it he had to force himself to turn aside, jaw clenched. That sort of thing gave people power. He’d given Cowley power over them and look what had happened. Better to turn away. Until the next time his eyes were drawn, and the pull was ever stronger, and he knew that he wanted, instead of looking, to touch, and to be touched. The power was already there. He thought Doyle knew, he was sure Doyle knew, but if he did he gave no sign. Doyle carried on being Doyle, and that too was a part of the rhythm of Bodie's life.
It meant that the roads were becoming difficult to pass, that their little valley could well be cut off for days, that even the half-vigilance they were still practising might be relaxed just that little bit further, however briefly. Besides – he stretched his hand ever so slightly, so that now the back of his fingers lay against Doyle's shoulder as well – he'd always liked it when it snowed, even when he was a kid. It was what he'd missed most when he was abroad, the strange tingle of waking up the morning after, to see the world cold and clear and white, to watch its sharp frigidity from the warmth of inside, knowing that later, later after food and a hot drink and the snugness of being indoors, you would take yourself out and impress yourself into that strange world, slide your feet through it, clutch it in your hands, and it might all be gone again the next day…
Beside him Doyle stirred, and there was a delicious moment when he pressed himself against Bodie's fingers, solid and strong, before Bodie pulled them out of the way, wriggling a little himself to excuse it, closing his eyes again just so that he could open them sleepily and see Doyle waking up. But when he did, it was to see Doyle's eyes focused sharply on him, awake and alert and suspicious. "What?" he asked, managing to mumble, not quite managing to take the happiness out of his voice.
"You. You're grinning like you've just had a very good night, and I'm wondering if I dare move for rolling into a wet patch."
Trust Doyle. "Get your mind out of the gutter, mate, we don't all lack your self-control." Though he knew that Doyle wasn't doing anything about it either, that they both woke up hard and some nights went to bed hard, and at times that was just what you had to put up with. The fact that it was Doyle making him hard, and all too often keeping him that way, had nothing to do with either of them.
Now that they were awake, though, he could nudge him more honestly, point at the window. "It's snowing."
"Thought somethin' was off," Doyle lifted his head obediently, then raised himself onto his elbows, and looked long and hard at the flakes. Slowly a smile spread across his face, and he turned to Bodie, sharing the moment, looking as much a kid as Bodie felt. "Snow."
"Well spotted. Almost like a trained observer." But Bodie grinned back as he spoke, purely because he couldn't help it, there was no resisting Doyle in this soft mood.
"Sod off." Doyle turned back to the window, gazed some more. "Reckon it'll stick this time?"
"It's cold enough." Bodie closed his eyes again, stayed burrowed where he was, loving that Doyle was so close, and so still, and that this morning was… different.
Doyle seemed to suddenly realise that he was starting to shiver, and collapsed back onto the pillow, pulling the blankets up to his chin and scrabbling to make sure they were tucked all down his side. His movements let in tiny puffs of the cold he was trying to keep out, stirred up the warm, Doyle-scented air that Bodie had been keeping trapped all around his own body, and brought them just that little bit closer together. Did Doyle know they were nearly touching, Bodie wondered, that he could feel the rise and fall of Doyle's breath as though it was his own? If he moved his head just a fraction, tucked himself just a little bit further down in bed, he would be resting, ever so barely, against Doyle's shoulder again… And in the magic of the morning, he did, and Doyle was still, and quiet, and Bodie's own breath steadied again, and he fell asleep.
"Not bad," he said, knowing nothing about it, but quite liking what he saw. It was and it wasn't a picture, the paint slashed onto the canvas rather than brushed, lines of pale lilac and blue, distant rises that seemed to pull you in, and a feeling of space, wide and empty, except for a single dab of a figure off to one side, wending through field and moor.
"Not good, either," Doyle replied vaguely, tilting his head to one side to look again at what he was doing. Abruptly he put down the palette he was holding, dropped the brush into the jar of turps, and reached for a rag to wipe his hands. "Good job no one around here knows that art departments have standards."
"No, I like it," Bodie protested, bringing a half smile to Doyle's lips, a slanted look in his direction.
"Yeah, but we all know you 'aven't got any standards either," Doyle threw the cloth at him, took the mug easily out of Bodie's fingers, and backed off with it, slurping loudly. "Thanks, mate."
"Lazy bastard," Bodie rejoined, with no malice, and went to pour another cup.
The snow had stopped falling outside, and although the clouds hung heavy in the distance, there was a line of pale blue sky directly above them. Bodie took his tea out, was stunned at the way the cold air took his breath away. "Gotta be well below freezing," he said, as he heard the door scrape.
"Right brass monkeys," Doyle agreed, stepping out beside him and shoving his hands into his pockets.
"Well, there's one way of keeping warm," he suggested, innocent to the last.
"Oh yeah?" Doyle's eyes were focussed on the distant horizon, perhaps on the silver line between earth and sky. Perfect.
"Yeah." He let the remains of his tea dribble to the ground, stepped casually behind him, and shoved a handful of snow down Doyle's neck.
Doyle's shout was a thing of beauty and a thing of danger, and Bodie retreated around the side of the house, scooping more snow from the window ledge as he ran, pounding it between his hands into ammunition.
The war was hard, and relentless, and lasted more than long enough to have them hot and gasping for breath, sucking in the chill air, eyeing each other suspiciously despite the called truce. Doyle, who'd taken the worst of it in the end, jumped whenever Bodie turned around, and Bodie took full advantage of that new game for a whole five minutes before being shoved to the ground and having his face rubbed in the snow. One thing for a beard, at least it kept some of the cold out.
"Pax!" he shouted, the warm weight of Doyle against his back a stark counter to the cold of the snow. "Pax, alright? I give in!"
Doyle sat back on his knees, eyes practically sparking suspicion, and Bodie scrambled upright. "Pax, I swear."
As one, they surveyed the mound of snow their scuffling had produced, looked once at each other, and started shovelling it together with their hands. Bodie felt like he was ten years old again, and the best thing was that he knew Doyle did too. They fought over whether their snowman was male or female, whether it should have legs or tits, whether they should bother to dress it at all. Eventually they settled for Doyle's long-abandoned scarf and an arrangement of pebbles uncovered from beside the steps, giving him a face and a set of buttons down his rounded belly.
Finally they stood back and surveyed their creation, short and squat, slightly lopsided. Neither of them said so, and he wasn't recognizable in any way, but they both knew now that it was Cowley. After a moment of quiet, in which they could hear each other breathing, could practically hear each other's heartbeats, Doyle scooped up more snow, squeezed it into a solid lump of ice, and hurled it at the creature. It took a chunk from Cowley's shoulder, and Doyle already had more snow to hand, aimed this time more squarely at his head. The next snowball he threw to Bodie, and Bodie took a breath, took his own aim, and let fly.
It took a bare ten minutes to destroy what they had created, and when it was done, when the snow lay in a rough heap upon the smooth layer beneath it, Doyle waded his way through, giving it a final vicious kick, and then turned to face Bodie.
"Nearly as good as bullets," he said, voice pitched so low that Bodie almost missed it, and then he spun, stomped his boots violently clean, and disappeared into the house, the slam of the door loud against the quiet hills.
And he knew that Bodie had taken it all harder, even harder than he had, knew because there was still an echo from what Bodie had said, all those afternoons ago.
Cowley betrayed us.
Right now he did want to kill Cowley. If he was in front of them now, he would happily shoot bullet after bullet through his sorry hide, for what he had done to Bodie. To them both. Doyle closed his eyes, crouched in front of the fire, letting its heat soak into him. He heard the door open behind him, heard Bodie pulling off his boots, then the water running thinly into the sink.
He'd try painting again, that's what he'd do. The light was dying, and he knew he was no good at it, but Bodie had been right, it was somewhere to lose himself, a minutiae of detail that he knew he could transfer to paper, to canvas, if only he could see it properly. Not so different to a weekend on obbo really, you just had to see it all from the right angle, to capture what it all really meant instead of what it appeared to be.
Deliberately not looking behind him, not thinking about Bodie or Cowley or any of it, he slid a fresh canvas board onto the easel, chose a brush from the jar, and took another newspaper from the pile they'd rescued from the old dresser. If he thought of something else… and that was when he looked down to wipe his brush, and his almost-face looked back up at him. Fiona's nephew.
Doyle started. The newspaper was years old, he'd only just joined CI5 when it was printed, but the face was younger still than he'd been then. Eighteen years old; wide, slightly slanted eyes, smooth skin, and full lips under a riot of curling hair. No plastic cheekbone for this young man, he was flawless. And yet it wasn't Fiona's nephew he found himself staring at, it was the face beside him. The other young man who'd been killed in the accident, slewing their bike across a motorway of fast-moving cars, no chance, no chance in all the world that they would live through it.
The boy's lover.
And as it did sometimes in a case, all the pieces slid themselves together, all the little details, all the oddities, all the maybes and possibilities, and suddenly he was staring at the picture the way it had really been.
"Bodie." He was proud of the way he kept his voice steady. He'd lost his temper once already today, and he hadn't wanted to, not with the way they'd begun, not with the fresh white promise of the world. They'd scuffed it up of course, it hadn't taken too long to muddy it all back into reality, but if he could just keep pretending that none of it really mattered then it could still be alright. They could stay.
"Bodie, have you seen this? Did you know?"
He held the newspaper out in front of him, letting Bodie skim over the pictures, the headlines, the newsprint. It must have been shocking for the families, he thought vaguely as he waited, to have their dirty linen splashed out in big black letters. Two young men, running away so that they could be together, could be together like that, and then to have them both die, and to have it all aired in public. It must have been shocking.
"They don't just think I look like young Callum," he nodded towards the paper. "They think we're in here living together. They think we're a couple for Christ's sake. No wonder you never got anywhere with Maggie." No wonder Marie in the shop laughed whenever we came in together. But he was calm. He was calm and he was perfectly fine, because it didn't really matter.
It wasn't the one thing, the one thing he'd worked so hard to keep a secret, that he'd fought against for years, that he struggled with every day, and now every night, with Bodie lying so close beside him. It was just something else to deal with, something that didn't really matter. Wasn't it?
"Probably," Bodie said, his voice sounding strangely far away.
"Probably? Oh definitely." He was certain, the pieces were all there together now. The way Fiona had treated not just him but the pair of them, the house-warming present, the way everyone was so nice to them. "They all think that they have to treat us well, because the last time they drove a couple of poofs out of town they ended up dead."
"So? What does it matter what they think?"
What did it matter?
"Doyle, they're a town of tiny little people who've probably not been further than Inver-bloody-ness in their whole lives. They know every detail of what everyone is doing practically before they do it, including us! What does it matter what they think or why they think it? It's not like we're gonna be here forever."
Practically before they do it… Yes. Something else slid into place, the strangest sensation that everything was about to change, and he stood still as the snow, waiting.
"So they think we're queer, Doyle. Pansies. Poofs. At it like rabbits on a summer's bloody day. Well I'm sorry," Bodie's voice had risen, which was strange, and it even trembled just a little, "because if that offends you then you're shacking up with the wrong bloke!"
Doyle looked up at Bodie then, abruptly. It took a few seconds for the words to sink in, for what they meant to sink in. Life was never as simple as this, as clear and as easy as this. He needed to be sure. "You mean you…"
Bodie just stared at him, his hard stare, his best I-defy stare, waiting for Doyle to make something of it.
So Doyle stared right back at him, but he spoke softly, and he lifted one hand to the corner of Bodie's eye, brushed lightly just where the skin should have been crinkling. So hard to make Bodie laugh, sometimes. "I wish you'd told me before," he said simply.
Bodie's eyes widened almost imperceptibly, and he still didn't say anything, but Doyle knew it was okay. They always knew which way the other would break, and they knew now too. Maybe they'd even known before, had just lacked the guts to actually do anything about it, to make this move that would change everything once and forever.
He let his hand fall, his fingers sliding across Bodie's shoulder and down his arm, feeling him shiver just once, and then he took his wrist and pulled him towards the sink at the other end of the room.
"Doyle?" Bodie's voice was rough, as if he'd just woken up.
"It's alright," Doyle said, coming to a stop but not letting go of him. He rubbed his thumb softly over the thin skin on the underside of Bodie's wrist, down to the palm of his hand, and Bodie's fingers curled just a little. Doyle reached into the cup beside the sink, took out Bodie's razor, shiny and still almost-new. He'd not had much use for it. "I want to look like us again."
He moved to put the razor into Bodie's hand, to close his fingers around it and step away from the sink so that he could get on with it, but Bodie reached up to stop him, was shaking his head.
Doyle's heart stopped. He'd been wrong? Could he have been so wrong?
"Do it for me," Bodie said.
And Doyle breathed out again, breath he didn't know he'd taken, and the world was colour, and it belonged to them.
He followed the familiar ritual with care. Familiar because it was Bodie's ritual, because he'd lost count of the number of times he'd leant against a bathroom door somewhere watching as Bodie lathered the soap, as he dampened his face, as he slid fingers to stretch the skin, but the care was something new. The angle was new too, standing, legs straddling Bodie as he sat still in a chair, in Doyle's hands, his face tilted up. They both prickled with it, with the awareness of what they were doing, of what they were about to do, until Doyle ran the blade for the last time along Bodie's jaw, until he washed away the last of the soap, and used both his hands to soothe the warm skin.
And then he just stared, because Bodie was Bodie again, and he almost wanted to cry with the relief of it. "There you go, 'andsome. Your turn now." He gave Bodie the razor, started to change places with him, but Bodie stopped him with a hand to his waist. Bodie'd never put a hand on his waist before, and somehow the thought was unbelievably arousing. And then Bodie stood up and kissed him, and that was unbelievably arousing too.
He stood for a moment afterwards with his eyes still shut, feeling the tingling on his lips where Bodie had been.
Bodie was grinning, his eyes laughing at him. "Thought I'd better try it while I could. You won't be growing one again."
It was an order, and it was a demand, and Doyle shook his head, a promise.
Bodie's hands were surprisingly gentle on Doyle's face, and when it was finished, and they were both shaved and fresh and new again, his hands were gentle undressing them as well, pushing them back to the bed. But the heat grew, and with it the urgency, the need for a touch here hard, a hand there firm, until even the bed was too soft, too yielding under them. Doyle felt Bodie thrust up beneath him, every inch solid and implacable as he pushed back down, skin slick between them, feeling every twist and strain of muscle as though it was his own.
Their limbs twined together, so that Doyle barely knew where he ended and Bodie began, but it had always been like that, Bodie his phantom-self no matter how far apart they were. He closed his eyes, Bodie's lips on his neck, his throat, his chin, on his own lips, Bodie's hands tight on his arse, Bodie's fingers moving gently, but determinedly, into him… And he came then, everything splintering into gasps and moans, and he felt Bodie following him, heard half-whispers of his own name, Bodie's breath warm and wet in his ear, Bodie's coming warm and wet against his stomach. And then he slept.
They fucked, in the big, unlucky bed, taking turns to move slowly into each other, to surrender and be surrendered to. When Bodie could not see Doyle's face, intense as he came beneath him, or could not feel Doyle tight around him, or hard inside him, he dreamed of it, and burned for it, and insisted they do it again. And Doyle laughed, and rolled his eyes, and reached for his prick and surrendered with him again.
Day blurred into night, the occasional blizzard swathing the sun to dark, just as the midnight moon reflected back at them across the snow, and on nights when it was clear, the Merry Dancers stretched green across the sky, Doyle swearing he could hear them crackling and spitting as they swayed on the solar winds. Bodie swayed with his arms around Doyle, hissing nonsense into his ear, making him laugh out loud until they were both cold enough to retreat back indoors to the fire and to the bed.
Inevitably, one day, someone knocked on the door.
Doyle exchanged glances with Bodie, whose lips could have been twitching at English, as the dog enjoyed his attentions, and passed Arthur a cup of tea. "That's Jimmy's peat, is it?"
Arthur nodded, "Oh yes, he has it stashed all over the place, but this is the closest. Nice and dry. Not much room up at his place, y'see."
"I see." Doyle paused, thinking. The peat burned slowly, so there was plenty left, but still, on principal…
"Well, it's just that I bought the place as is, you see." Doyle looked apologetic, "Figured the peat was part of it."
"Oh. Oh no. That was Jimmy's peat, he was just storing it here."
"Shame we didn't know before," Bodie interjected, "I mean…" He glanced at the fire, and Doyle smothered a grin.
"You've burned it? You've burned all of it?" Doyle had seen plenty of men looking shocked, but never quite like Arthur. His face, normally on the florid side of rosy-cheeked, was nearly puce, his eyes wide, and his mouth had actually dropped open. "But…"
"We-ell…" Bodie began again.
"Not all of it," Doyle interrupted, taking pity on him. He had, after all, been the man who brought them the Bed. "In fact there's a fair bit left, really."
"Most of it actually," Bodie smiled, and Arthur eyed him suspiciously.
"Honest. Look," Doyle gestured towards the back door, led the way over when Arthur seemed hesitant. He'd never seen a man as worried as Arthur, either. "Sorry. We were having you on a bit."
"You mean… oh. Oh!" Arthur's eyes twinkled, joviality restored in an instant, "Well, that's alright then!" He paused, looked sideways at them, "You know, Jimmy wouldn't be averse to selling you some you know. Might want something for what you've already burned, mind you."
"Yeah, yeah," Doyle nodded, having seen that one coming several miles away. "I expect we could come to some arrangement."
"Jolly good, jolly good. I shall tell him to pop over then, with the van. You might not mind giving him a hand?"
Bodie rolled his eyes at Arthur's back, but it was good-natured. They'd both been feeling the lack of exercise, sliding carefully along the icy hills all they could manage for the last few weeks. "About time we met this mysterious Jimmy," he said. "Was beginning to think you were making him up!"
"No, no," Arthur glanced at Doyle before giving a quick smile, "he's quite real. Fiona's brother, in point of fact." He clicked his fingers at English, and the dog left Bodie's side, and the fire, and slid through the door as soon as Arthur opened it. "Jolly good. We'll see you at The Rabbie, will we?"
"If the car starts…" Doyle's voice trailed off as the door closed. He'd only just turned to Bodie before it opened again, and Arthur reappeared, waving his pipe in one hand, an envelope in the other.
"Nearly forgot! Chap who's delivering your art equipment said to tell you he'd bring it by next week, said in the meantime he'd leave you the invoice!" He turned around again. "Right! Afternoon!"
The door slammed loudly against their sudden silence, and Doyle stared at the paper in his hand.
"Ray? Tell me you ordered paint last time we were in the village?"
"I didn't order any paint."
They were still.
"Open it," Bodie said at last, harshly, and Doyle moved his fingers over the envelope, slid one beneath the flap. There was a single piece of paper, folded once, and he read it quickly, like a punch to the stomach.
"Well?" But Bodie had reached out and snatched it from him before he could form the words. "Congratulations, Susie successful, happily finished. Hope you've made the most of your leave, Macklin looking forward to seeing you. I'll just bet he is. Signed C."
"He's put us in for a refresher?" Doyle wondered out loud, not sure that he believed it, not sure that he could afford to believe it. But Bodie was looking at him with a frown, face pale.
"So that's it then? He's fixed it for us to go back, and we'll go crawling on our hands and knees, will we?"
"You can't believe him? You're not actually thinking of hanging around? Christ Doyle, how gullible are you?"
"Of course not!" Doyle snapped, feeling his temper rise in turn, feeling the heat start in his gut, and pull his muscles tight, turn his eyes hard, his words sharp. How could Bodie think that of him? "That doesn't mean I'm going to panic at the first sign of trouble!"
"Well if you think I'm going to sit around, meek and mild, waiting for him to come and get us…"
"No, you're going to run away, aren't you?" The words sang out of him, harsh and glorious with his anger, with Bodie looking at him like that. "Just leave it all behind, leave everyone behind and run away! It's what you wanted from the start!"
"Well I'm damned if I'm going to be Cowley's fall guy for this one – and I thought you had more guts than to cower in a corner until he drags you back to stand trial for something he ordered us to do!"
"He knows we're here, he could have killed us any time if he'd wanted to, but he hasn't, has he?"
"A clean kill? Not his style, is it?" There was bitterness in Bodie's voice, and Doyle hated it, hated what Cowley was doing to them again. "He'll have some political triple-think worked out by now, to make CI5 look good, and keep us quiet at the same time."
Doyle clenched his jaw, stared out into the snowed world, trying not to say something that would drive Bodie away, that would send him running alone into the wilderness. He couldn't focus, there were too many thoughts screaming through his brain, faster than he could catch at them, and none of them made sense. If Cowley wanted them dead, then they would be. But if Cowley wanted them to stand public trial, to take the rap for Molner's death, then why the warning? Why not just pick them up now? Why warn them, and give them the chance to run? Unless they were supposed to run? But…
He turned his head to see Bodie standing by the bed, barely feet but entire worlds away from him.
"We can't stay here, you know we can't."
Doyle stared at him, the rush of anger draining away. Bodie was frightened he realised, the one clear thought in all the tumult. Bodie was as scared as he was himself, and despite everything he was saying, he didn't know what to do either.
"I know," he said quietly, at last. "But if he followed us here, after all this time, then he'll manage it wherever we go."
"If we stay."
And Doyle knew that stay wasn't the crofthouse, and it wasn't even Scotland. He closed his eyes against Bodie's certainty, just for a moment. "Do you trust me?" he asked, opening his eyes again, watching Bodie's blank-mask face.
"With my life," Bodie said softly, but he didn't move. And what, after all, did that mean to Bodie? He'd trusted – they'd both – trusted Cowley with their lives, and if anything did, then surely that proved it was all worthless, that all the trust in the world could be betrayed by anyone?
Would Bodie know that Doyle would rather die than betray him? Surely he had to know.
"Three hours. Give me three hours, and if we don't know anything else by then, we'll go."
"What d'you think you can do in three hours?"
Doyle shrugged. He didn't know, not really, but there was something nagging at him, something at work that he couldn't quite see. He needed time to figure it out, not enough time for Bodie to get suspicious and take off without him, but enough to let it all stew in the back of his own mind, to let it all come together and make some kind of sense.
"Cowley won't have come up himself, will he? It'll be one of the lads. Maybe I can figure out the state of play, get an idea of what's going on."
"You're just gonna waltz up and ask, are you?"
"Maybe that's exactly what I'll do. If I can get 'im on 'is own, get 'im talking about anything that might give us a clue…"
"And what's to stop him slapping a pair of cuffs on you then and there?"
"If that's what Cowley wanted, he wouldn't be playing games with notes and messages, would he? There's something going on…"
"… and Our Hero wants to figure it all out and save the day, eh?"
"Yeah," Doyle looked up defiantly, head tilted, hands on hips. "That's right, I do."
"It's too late for us to be saved, Ray," Bodie said, and now his voice was nearly a whisper, surely as close to pleading as Bodie would ever come.
"Maybe," Doyle conceded, because it might be true. "Just three hours, Bodie. Please."
And Bodie swallowed, and breathed out through his nose, head dipping to his chest, and Doyle knew he had won this small victory. Just, please, don't let it be the victory that cost him the war.
That cost him Bodie.
"Alright," Bodie said. "But I'm coming with you."
No! No, he couldn't do it with Bodie there, not this time. Bodie had the power now, Doyle would follow him anywhere on a nod, and Bodie was in just the mood to nod at the slightest whiff of misgiving. If he could just be alone to let it all work its way to where he knew the answer was. To where he knew enough that he could convince Bodie that it was okay.
"And what good's that if I'm wrong?" He could concede that much, because he felt sure it wasn't true.
"I'll be careful," he promised. "Three hours."
Bodie nodded, resigned. "Three hours. If you're not back by six then I'm taking the high road."
"I'll be back."
Doyle wanted to kiss him, to hold him one more time, just in case, but there was an aura of keep off about Bodie now, and he found that he was more afraid of that cold than of anything else.
He went to try and start the car.
He stood still, listening to the echo of the door slamming behind Doyle, to the reluctant turning of the Renault's engine, to the sound of it struggling up the track, and finally onto the road to Ardnagaul. Then he stood listening to the quiet sounds of the fire behind him, the quiet that had been so peaceful when Doyle was here with him, and he breathed deeply and calmly, and he planned their next move. After a while, he pulled out a couple of bags, one for each of them, and began to pack.
Rounding the bend to the village was a surprise, a sudden assault of colour against the night. The Rabbie was lit, of course, and the telephone box across the road, but there were Christmas lights around the pub windows, and some of the houses, and they spiralled up the two fir trees in the car park as well, red and green and blue and white, blown into movement, a wildness to their festivity that Doyle eyed askance. He didn't want wildness and wind and this primal night, he wanted to be at home with Bodie, in the quiet, with their fire and their bed and Bodie's laugh above it all.
With a sigh he pulled into the car park, wishing he knew the locals well enough to recognise their vehicles, to know whether there were strangers here tonight. The Rabbie was, though, the only place that Cowley could send an agent without being over-conspicuous. Anyone could be a tourist, even at Christmas, but news of other visitors would be easy to come by here as well. This time the locals' curiosity would work for them, he decided.
With an eye to the time, and to the empty streets around him, Doyle peered through the garish windows before deciding to walk boldly in. The way this lot kept an eye on each other, there was little point trying to sneak around, the inhabitants of Ardnagaul could give some agents lessons in observation.
"Didn't bring your other half?" Arthur greeted him, red-cheeked and jolly behind the bar, pulling him a pint without asking.
"Nah, lazy sod's curled up in front of the fire. Thought I'd come and see if Jimmy was around, get this peat sorted out. Bit mean to leave it late at Christmas, innit?"
"Weel, there's kind o' ye," Fiona smiled. "There's nae monie would think o' that on a nicht like th' nicht." She took his elbow, bustled him up to a tall man sitting at the bar with a book open in front of him. "Jimmy, this is…"
"Aye. The Sassenach."
"Ah, wumman, dinna fash." Jimmy looked with kindly eyes at his sister, ducking as she reached up to cuff him.
"Tak nane o' his havers now," she said to Doyle, and with a final pat of her brother's arm, left them to it.
"You're Callum's father," Doyle said quietly, unable to ignore the way the other man was looking at him. "I heard about what happened. I'm sorry."
Jimmy shook his head, " Nocht t'do wi' ye, lad. Fowk mind an' gab wheen they've naethin' t'do. It was a lang syne ago."
Doyle nodded, unaccountably awkward. He wondered what he must look like to this man. "Stop by for the peat any time you like," he said. One way or another they were unlikely to be there when he did. "If you let me know how much it is, we'll leave you a cheque for what we used."
"Aye, though I dinna mind the size o' them. I'll come by afore lang an' tak ay luik."
"Right then," he felt himself dismissed, felt strangely cheated by this serious man after the friendliness of everyone else. But then, he didn't look like everyone else's dead queer son… Taking his beer with him he went to stand by the fireplace for a moment, warming his back, then walked restlessly over to the bar. There was something…
His skin prickled, and he tried to breathe normally, to look casual as he surveyed the room. A dozen or so locals, all men he'd seen the first time he and Bodie had come in to The Rabbie. Maggie and a couple of young girls sitting around a table with spritzers, Arthur and Fiona chatting at one end of the bar - it looked normal, and yet… he felt hyper-sensitive to it all, his copper's nose alive to everything.
"Sometimes, lad, it can seem as though people do all the wrong things, for all the wrong reasons."
Doyle spun around, caught the swing of the door to the gents' in the corner of his eye, drew and held his gun low and out of sight in a single, smooth movement. George Cowley didn't even flinch.
"And sometimes, sir, it can seem as if they're nothing but liars."
"You won't be needing that here," Cowley turned his back, walked over to a small table in the corner, where the remains of a meal had been pushed to one side. There was a large glass of whisky too and he held it a moment between both hands as if examining the colour, before taking a healthy swallow. Doyle tucked his Browning into the waistband of his jeans, hidden by his jacket, but close by his hand, and followed.
"Ach man, sit."
Doyle sat, frowned. "You've been watching us how long?"
"Nearly three weeks, one way or another. You did a good job with your vanishing, as I'd expect of you. I arrived two days ago."
Doyle thought. Two days ago they'd stood outside the crofthouse, watching the fog roll in, his arms around Bodie's waist, his hands playing up and down the bulge of Bodie's cock until Bodie dragged him back inside and…
"And you want us back?"
Cowley avoided his gaze briefly, then turned his head to look him directly in the eye. "Aye lad. You're still the best I've got."
"I hope you'll reconsider."
"Depends how likely we are to find ourselves on the wrong side of the tracks again. You know, where we end up dead? Shot by our own side?"
"You're no more likely to end up dead than you ever were," Cowley said, his voice low, "and the other… was never a real danger."
"Easy to say now that we're alive to tell it to."
"No lad. I had no choice in giving them the safe house, but I knew I could pre-empt their strike."
"Diana Molner might say differently."
"Aye, she might." Cowley rubbed a hand over his face, took a swallow of his drink, and Doyle lifted his own pint. He was slowly becoming aware of a … an attention all around them, and when he glanced to either side he saw people turning away, shifting their eyes. "That was unfortunate…"
"Unfortunate!" Cursing himself, even as the word left his mouth, loud and harsh, Doyle felt the atmosphere in the room thicken, felt themselves become the eye of the storm. One by one the locals came and stood around their table, silent, waiting. Cowley sat back in his seat, and Doyle couldn't decide if he looked wary, or merely interested in what would happen next. How must it be, to be that confident of your every move, of your place in the world?
"Everything alright, Duncan? This man bothering you?" Arthur asked, his mild voice belying his solid position at Doyle's back, one hand firmly wrapped around English's lead, the other resting atop a sturdy walking stick.
"No, it's alright Arthur." Doyle tried to speak quietly, calmly, reaching out to give English a casual pat, "Everything's fine."
"Only, we've had an eye on this one since he arrived. Met up with a gentleman says he's staying over in Clackammon, but Fiona's cousin runs the hotel there, and she's never seen him."
"Ah…" Doyle raised an eyebrow, and Cowley half-smiled, spoke softly.
"Peters," he said. "You'll be glad to know he's spent a very uncomfortable fortnight trailing you around."
"We haven't gone anywhere in the last couple of weeks…"
"Aye, I know. Peters has spent rather a lot of time outside in survival gear."
Doyle, who knew and didn't mind Peters, felt mildly sorry for him, but couldn't resist a jab anyway. "Always the poor workers who catch the worst of it, i'n't it?"
"Indeed," Cowley dismissed it, easily, brusquely. "I wonder if you could explain to your… friends that you really are in no danger so that we can continue our conversation?"
"An' how would he tell us the truth wi' you sittin' there?" someone asked, and there was a muttering around them. Doyle didn't know whether to be touched or irritated.
"It was one like him sent young Callum off," said another voice.
Beyond them, Doyle could see Jimmy bowed over his book at the bar, rigid, determinedly unhearing. "Really," he tried a smile, "it's fine. This is my boss, come up from London."
"He does nae look like an artist," someone else observed from the back of the group, and Doyle smothered a smile. Cowley, after all, was not smiling.
"Oh, he's very good," Doyle assured them.
"Is yon other mon an artist as weel then? Yon glaikit in the snae?"
"Guess I've started a fashion."
"We need young Duncan here back in the department." Cowley said, "He's a man of talent, and I will nae waste such talent. Especially when there's no good reason for it."
The worst of it was, Doyle believed him. Cowley wasted no opportunity, and that was just how he saw his men – as opportunities to keep England, and Scotland too, pure and clean and, what was it? Smelling of roses and lavender…
"Will you come back, lad?" Cowley asked quietly, then.
"I don't know. I don't know, sir."
Cowley nodded. "You'll have to talk to Bodie, of course. Why don't I come…"
"No!" A shift in the group again, a minor sway closer. "It wouldn't help sir, not right now."
"Alright then." Very carefully, Cowley stood up, drained the rest of his glass. "In that case I'll be away to my bed. I'll be back in London tomorrow, but I'll come for your answer on Thursday." He paused. "Sometimes what seems most right at the time is the worst thing we can do."
Cowley's footsteps retreated up the carpeted stairs, and the protective circle around Doyle broke up, the occasional hand patting his shoulder comfortingly. He stared unseeing into the middle distance, wondering whether he could have heard right. Cowley admitting he might have misjudged? He knew beyond all doubt that the old man was being honest with him, although how he would explain that to Bodie… He glanced down at his watch. He still had over an hour, ample time to get back. It wasn't worth finding Peters, not now that he'd heard it from the Cow's own mouth, he might as well head off and set Bodie's mind at rest. Try to set Bodie's mind at rest.
He nodded goodnight to Arthur and Fiona, and there was a rumbled farewell from the rest of the pub that brought a smile to his face as he stepped back into the night. The snow was coming down more certainly now, flakes tossed hither and yon by eddies of wind, twisting their way to the frozen ground. The tails of Doyle's coat whipped smartly around his legs, and he thought longingly again of their fire. Christmas, was it? He'd forgotten completely. They were usually either on duty over Christmas, or else closeted away with some bird or other. Christmas with Bodie, and – he paused to calculate – three days alone before they had to decide anything…
The Renault took forever to start this time, just when he wanted to be home, and he was on the verge of returning to the pub to cajole the loan of something less reluctant when it finally turned over. The fan blew dust and cold air at him, and he turned it off, letting it warm up with the engine as he drove. Bodie would believe him. He'd make Bodie believe him. He had some faith in Doyle's instincts by now, and surely that still counted for something.
He was nearly home, rubbing another patch clear on the windscreen, when the tyres lost their grip again. This time there was no snow bank to save the graceful slide, this time he was caught between curve and mountain slope and gravity, and there was no stopping the slow twist and tilt when the car tipped over the edge.
They both had a tendency to cut it fine, and Bodie knew that staring into the night counting the minutes was both unproductive and likely to wind him tighter than ever, but he found himself drawn to the window nonetheless, gun foolishly in hand, as though that could save him against Cowley, against Ray, against himself.
The weather was forecasting blizzards, and he wished they'd thought to listen before Doyle had gone running into the night. There was a chance he'd get himself stuck in the village, time limit or none, and they'd both be left fearing the worst. At least Doyle would realise that Bodie was snowed in, that he'd been given a kind of reprieve by the storm. It was just himself that was stuck for answers, not knowing whether Doyle was cosy over a beer in The Rabbie, or cuffed and under interrogation already…
Forty minutes before Doyle was due back.
Bodie stared into the night.
There was a wetness across his eyes though - he'd caught his head on the steering wheel probably, gashed his forehead. Again. Ah well, couldn't have it all your own way, could you? It made him feel dizzy, but that was to be expected as well. He took a breath, tried to get his bearings.
It was almost impossible to see anything outside the car, but he was pretty sure that he'd been just the other side of the hill behind their crofthouse when he lost it. The road wound its way another couple of miles before becoming the long track that led to the house itself, but in fact it was really only just over the rise there. He was pretty sure. A gust of wind buffeted the car, sent snowflakes against the window by his head, and he realised that if he was going to make it home to Bodie, he had to move now.
The road was too long, and too empty. He'd get himself up the hill and home that way, much the easiest thing.
The door seemed strangely recalcitrant about opening until he realised that he was fighting against snow that lay a good few feet deep. With a sigh – what he wouldn't give for a pair of skis, to be away, away, rushing into the night… – he wound down the window and let himself out that way. The air was cold on his face, reaching down his neck and through his coat already, and he sank to his knees in a floor of solid cold.
Something about time…
Bodie! Bodie was waiting for him, and he didn't have much time… He pushed his sleeve up, trying to make out the dial of his watch, but he couldn't. After a moment's thought he trudged to the front of the car, held it down low to the headlights. Half five. Felt like the middle of the night. What was happening in half an hour? That's right, Bodie was going to… to take the high road.
Doyle looked up the hill beside him, the path of the car’s tumble easy to see, and then at the angle of the headlights. They were practically pointing him home, through the snow and over the hill, and far away. If the battery held out he could use it as a kind of directional beacon, and surely the snow would be less deep the higher up the hill he climbed? There would be more wind up there, so it would blow it away, clean out the cobwebs, push him home to Bodie…
Swiping at the blood on his forehead, Doyle began forging a path through the snow.
Where would he go? How would he get there? He cursed himself for a fool, opened the door and let the wind chill his body, let it cut into his face, the snow sharp as grit where it hit his skin. It blew straight down from the hills behind, buffeting him as he peered into the dark.
Where the hell was Doyle?
And that was when he thought he heard it. Not a car engine, but a voice in the night, pushed along on the wind, shredded into half-sounds. He turned his head, strained his eyes along the track, but there was nothing to see apart from the snow and the dark. Was he imagining things now?
No! There, again… but surely that was behind the house. Pulling on his coat he ran through the building, snatching a kerosene lamp in either hand, dropping one on the windowsill of the lean-to, and slamming the door behind him.
Nothing but wind, howling around the corners, screaming through the eaves. It was getting worse, not better. Why the fuck was Doyle out in it? Why wasn't he warm and safe and in the Rabbie, and…
No answering roar, no answering cry.
Bodie pushed forward against the gale, glancing back once at the light in the window, and then struggling on into the darkness. "Doyle!"
And this time there was something. He called again, held the lantern high, strode on upwards. The stream was to his right, half-buried beneath the snow, but he used the irregular line of it to orient himself, pausing now and then to listen into the wind. Had the voice come from beyond it? It was so hard to see…
There was a sudden splashing, a cut-off shout, and Bodie started to run, a peculiarly slow-motioned gait, like running on the moon might be, like wading through the ocean. Like touching on nightmares.
A figure reared up in front of him, this side of the stream, stood swaying in the glow of the lantern. "Bodie? 'M I on time? Think I migh' be… be late…"
"Doyle! What the hell happened, why..?"
"'M cold. Bodie? I jus' needa lie down f'r a bit." Doyle took a step forward, swaying, stumbled into Bodie.
"Christ you're soaked!"
"Fell in. S'rry…Go' y'r coat all wet…"
Doyle was shivering, his teeth chattering so hard he could barely form words, let alone make sense, and he let Bodie take his weight, lead them back through the snow-churned path to the house, even let himself be propped against the wall while Bodie opened the door and then practically carried him through, dropping him onto the chair by the fire.
"Doyle? Come on mate, tell me what happened!" His skin was like ice, and he fought as Bodie tried to peel his clothes away, hugging them to him.
"'M cold Bodie, I need my clothes on!"
"Not this time, sunshine. Come on, let me… you'll feel better, I promise."
"Warm in 'ere a’ leas’… We home then, Bodie? Are we home yet?" Doyle's eyes were unfocussed, eyelids drooping. It seemed to take forever to get him undressed, to rub him gently dry with a towel and tumble him into bed, where he lay shivering while Bodie saw to the cut across his forehead, and to another long gash down his arm.
"What happened here, Ray?" he asked gently, as Doyle tried to push his hands away.
"Car went off the road, bumped me 'ead. Oh, that…" he gazed uncertainly at his arm, "Fell over a wall, dry stone wall… wet stone wall… Might've been then." He gave an odd half-laugh. "Fell into the river too. Bloody clumsy. Cowley'll send us t’ Macklin… 'M cold Bodie."
"I know, sunshine. Here." Bodie turned to the fire, piled on slabs of peat, then took off his own clothes and climbed into the bed as well, pulling Doyle to him, wincing at the ice of his skin, at the small shudders that coursed through him.
"Did you see anyone in the village?" he asked, caressing Doyle's temple with his thumb, small, soothing movements. What happened? Why are you half-dead? Who did this?
"Cowley…" Bodie wasn't sure at first if that was an answer or a worry, but after a moment Doyle continued, his voice low, sleepy. "Cowley was there, at the pub. An' Peters, but I di'n't see him. Cow wan's us to come back, Bodie. Think i's alright." He raised his head suddenly from Bodie's shoulder, met Bodie's eyes. "'S gonna be alright," he said, and then he closed his eyes and fell asleep.
Bodie tightened his grip, and listened to the wind, and to Ray's breath, and let all his thoughts go, except that Ray was here, and safe. After a while he couldn't stop himself turning his head and placing a kiss amongst Doyle's curls, and then he did it again, and again, waiting for both their shivers to gradually subside, and then he lay there, sleepless, in the night.
Eventually Doyle's breathing slowed enough that he could lean forward, kiss Bodie deliberately, and then draw back, smiling, so that he could focus on Bodie’s face, on Bodie’s beautiful face…
Bodie's eyes were bloodshot, his face a frown.
Things dark and uncertain… "What's up, sunshine?" he asked gently, knowing he should try harder to remember, not wanting to.
"Tell me what happened yesterday, Doyle."
"Yesterday?" Yesterday – fuck. He closed his eyes, turned his head, and sank down into the pillow as it all started to come back to him, rushing in like a flood, heavy and tidal in his head, as though he might drown with it. As his body twisted itself away, Bodie started to let him go, his fingers trailing against Doyle’s skin until he was nearly free of him – and then his hand closed over Doyle’s hip, pulled him back onto his side. Held on.
“You said Cowley was there.”
"Yeah." Doyle opened his eyes, needing to see Bodie as he told him, wondering if he'd be able to get past the caution Bodie masked his face with. "Cowley was there alright. Came right up to me, bold as you like."
"You got away though." Sure enough, Bodie's face was blank, his voice set low.
"It wasn't like that. He went upstairs to bed. Asked us to come back, apologised for what happened – well, near as he ever gets – and then 'e just went upstairs to bed."
"So who did all this then?" Bodie asked, bringing his hand up to brush hair away from Doyle's forehead. "They follow you when you left?"
"Not unless they were disguised as snowflakes," he said, and surprised an amused snort from Bodie. He grinned wryly. "You're always telling me I'm too fast on the corners."
"You are. You sure they didn't fix your motor?"
Doyle shook his head, realised Bodie's hand was still resting lightly against him. Nice that. "That thing? They didn't need to, it coulda done the job for them. I slid, me own stupid fault." He raised his eyes to catch Bodie's, heard a defensive note creep into his voice. "Was rushin' to get back to you, wasn't I? Before you went and did something stupid."
"More stupid than driving off a cliff?"
"There is that…" Doyle was distracted by the softening of Bodie's face, by the way his jaw was relaxing just enough to notice, by the light that was returning to his eyes.
"And you couldn't have waited by the car for some nice Scotsmen to come along and rescue you?"
"In that weather? Besides, they were all down the pub." He smiled reminiscently. "They threatened Cowley you know," he said, watching more closely still to see Bodie's reaction. Bodie would talk, trying not to smile, could never quite manage both somehow.
Sure enough, his lips twisted, and he sucked them in at the side to stop himself grinning too widely. "Cowley? You're having me on."
"I swear," Doyle grinned himself, as the memory returned in vivid colour. "I lost my temper a bit…"
"You? Not possible."
"… twat… an' they all just got up and walked over and stood in a circle around the table. I kept expecting it to all go black and white, and Cowley to turn into Bela Lugosi…"
"What did he do?"
"Well, that's what's so peculiar, he didn't do anything. He almost looked…" Doyle trailed off, trying to decide if his memory was true after all. "He almost looked approving. And then he just went to bed."
"It's not a bad place to be." Doyle watched as Bodie pushed himself up on an elbow, but he was still surprised when he leaned down to kiss him, on his lips first, then his cheek, and his throat, until finally he just buried his face in Doyle's neck, and lay there, a heavy, welcome weight.
There was mumbling on his skin, Bodie's lips moving.
"I said," Bodie moved his face barely clear of Doyle's neck, spoke softly up into his ear, "I should never have let you go up there alone."
"I'm a big boy. I would've rolled the car whether you'd been there or not."
Bodie shook his head just slightly from side to side, still tucked close enough that Doyle could feel every move his eyelashes made. "Not what I meant." He took a breath, let it out, warm and wet, and smelling of Bodie. "I wouldn't have left you know."
"I know," and Doyle realised that he did, that he always had. "I…"
There was a pounding at the door, and then it burst open.
"An' Jimmy's house not five minutes from where you went over," Arthur said again, wonderingly. "If you'd faced the other direction you couldn't have missed it!"
"Well," Doyle met Bodie's eyes, and Bodie held them, refusing to be cowed by whatever he might say. "I was a bit knocked up. Just wanted to get back home, really."
"Aye weel, tak a telling, quicker to open yer eyes…"
"Dinna wairm 'is lugs," Jimmy frowned at his sister, "All's weel."
"But you'll be back in London for Christmas, your friend was saying this morning?"
Bodie started. Would they indeed?
"Don't know yet," Doyle was saying, "haven't really decided."
"Maybe," Bodie found himself agreeing. "If the price is right." He glanced at Doyle. "I'm quite enjoying it up here though, minor mishaps aside."
"Minor mishaps? And me, aching all over?" Doyle groaned theatrically as he moved an arm, causing Fiona to frown and tut.
"We'd best leave you to give 'im a rub down," Arthur pronounced shamelessly, and Bodie laughed as Doyle actually turned red, a hot wash of it up his neck and across his face.
"It's funny," Doyle said when the door was finally shut, and the quiet close around them, "that lot live over ten miles away and we’ve seen them maybe a dozen times, and they knew more about us than Cowley ever did."
"You don't reckon he knew?"
"From the look on his face last night? No."
"Well, we're good at undercover, us." Bodie let his lips curve up in a smirk. Doyle was still sitting on the bed, leaning back on his hands, relaxed and apparently needing a rub down… "Take these covers, for example…"
"Oh yes!" The door pushed open, and Arthur stepped back over the threshold. "Nearly forgot. Jimmy says the peat'll be near enough forty pounds worth by his reckoning, and he'd rather cash to a cheque. Happy Christmas!"
Bodie, who'd managed to slide himself onto Doyle just as the door opened, remained where he was, face down on the bed, Doyle recumbent beneath him. This time their shaking had nothing to do with the cold.
"'E can kick us out if he wants," Doyle said defiantly, idly tracing a finger around Bodie's hand.
"Save us having to decide if he did," Bodie half-teased. "I'm going to miss this fire, you know," he added, changing the subject as they always seemed to do.
"I'll buy you one of your own," Doyle promised expansively. "Or at least nick a couple of those bits of mud for you. You can keep it in a corner of your flat, stick your nose in it occasionally…"
"We could always give Cowley a bit for Christmas…"
"He'd only… eh up, what's that?"
Bodie heaved Doyle off him, got up to stand beside the window, and squinted down the track, to where a small black car was wending its way towards them. Took a breath.