Catharsis


Part 2 of the Adagio series


Bodie carried the full glasses back to the table; but it was deserted.

Sitting down and taking a swig at his fresh pint, he let his eye roam around the throng of energetic dancers on the smoky crowded floor. Yes, there was Ray Doyle, giving it all he'd got. Bodie grinned and settled back to watch.

He was a good dancer, old Doyle, a right exhibitionist. You'd never think he had it in him, mused Bodie, watching Doyle's joyous fist punch the air in rhythm, the agile movements of his hips.

When he finally emerged, coming towards Bodie breathless and smiling, he had a girl on each arm. Bodie's eyebrow went up: Doyle had seemed to be dancing for himself alone, with the solitary absorption of one listening to an inner voice. He had eyes only for his partner as he indicated the full pint.

"Brought one for you."

"Me, too," said Doyle wryly, offloading the two girls into spare chairs between them. He gave a not-my-fault shrug at Bodie's questioning glance.

"So I see." Mindful of his manners, Bodie gave them a lady-killer smile. "Nice movin', mate," he added, to Doyle. "Very cool."

"You gotta stay cool," quoth Doyle, raising his glass in salute. "Can I get you ladies a drink?" He turned to them.

They opted for martinis, and Doyle went off to get them, pushing his way between tables. Bodie was left with the girls -- though girls they were not; must be at least Doyle's age, thought Bodie with an inner smile. He was, uncharacteristically, a little at a loss, not knowing how Doyle wanted him to play this. It was just one of the untested areas of their still-new relationship; a relationship that Bodie was deadly serious about preserving.

"What you called?" said one of the girls, winking at her friend. This man with the good-looking fighter's face appealed to her every bit as much as his cheerful, mop-haired friend. They'd landed a stylish pair here and no mistake.

"Bodie."

She made a face. "Bodie what?"

"Just Bodie." And if you don't like it, stuff it, he thought with a hint of savagery.

"Wendy," she indicated her pal, "and I'm Carol."

He looked at them properly, making the usual quick assessment. Scrubbers -- basically; but pretty ones. One with dark curly hair and a thin, attractive face; the other a dyed blonde, hair to the waist, and a revealing cleavage over which peeped full white-skinned breasts. He felt a flicker of interest, put it down with no trouble. He didn't need it. He had all he wanted, and more than he'd ever dreamed of.

Still -- no harm in being civil --

When Doyle came back with their drinks, Bodie was swinging along nicely, his dark eyes flaring good humour.

"There you are, loves. Ice and lemon as ordered."

He sat down between them, opposite Bodie, and grinned around.

"You two mates, are you?" asked Wendy, the blonde breasty one.

Ray Doyle took a slow smacking swig of his lager. "Yeah."

She twinkled at him. "You men; I don't know. Always hunt in pairs."

Doyle shot an amused glance at Bodie from beneath his eyelashes. "We're not hunting."

"Go on," she said, clearly not believing a word of it.

A new number was starting up, fast and bouncy. Doyle pricked up his ears, alert as a cat. He looked, suddenly, sent.

"It's good, this. Dance?" He extended a hand to Carol, pulled her after him into the midst of the vigorous throng.

Bodie, left with Wendy, was now in a position where he could only do the same. He was not keen on dancing, feeling it to be vaguely beneath the dignity of a cool ex-SAS type; and he went into motion without noticeable enthusiasm. Ray Doyle, spinning past him with exuberance and flair, thumped him on the shoulder, winked; and the world turned lighter. He threw himself into the spirit of things and the evening took off.

A whirl of dance, fast chat, drink. He knew he was succeeding at being dry and witty; and everything Doyle said was sharp, amusing, right up there with him, their wits sparking off each other. He knew their two pretty, laughing companions were impressed with their style, and it was undeniably a pleasant feeling. Without being drunk, he was in a perfect state of depressed inhibition, and he was high on the atmosphere.

When, quite late in the evening, the two girls made a trip to the powder room, Doyle looked over at him and smiled, his eyes bright. Bodie smiled back, suddenly soft and full of love. He wanted to reach out and hold him, feel the warm hard-muscled strength through the soft material of Doyle's dark blue shirt; wanted to rub his face against Doyle's. He knew Doyle felt the same way because he leant forward abruptly, and his hand brushed Bodie's on the table. "All right mate?" he said quietly. Bodie lifted a finger, touched Doyle's hand gently; they both watched it. "I want to kiss you," he said, very deep in his throat.

Doyle's mouth lifted at the corners. "That'd set the place alight."

"And me." Doyle was so beautiful in the soft light. Bodie stared fascinated at his smooth pale skin, the tempting cupid's mouth of his partner. He shook his head. "I must be turning daft," he said aloud, amused at himself. "Soft in the head."

Doyle smiled a little, but his mind had moved on. "S'late. What do we do now?"

Bodie came down to reality with a bump, remembering. "Make our excuses and go?" he suggested, cautiously.

Doyle didn't look too bothered. "If you want. Or stay on a bit."

Suddenly all this had turned difficult again; he just did not know what Doyle had in mind. He bought time, saying: "What do you think of 'em?" He jerked his head towards the powder room.

"Not bad."

"You think they'd come across?" The old question of their night-hunting days of the past; set in a new context.

Doyle snorted, setting his glass down. "What do you think? They're expectin' it."

Bodie turned cool, cool as ice; his mouth set in a mutinous line. "Thought we weren't hunting."

"We're not," agreed Doyle. "But if you want us to take them home, no harm in it."

The music was very loud, a booming pulsing beat. It was hot in the room; Bodie pulled at the neck of his shirt. No harm in it...?

He thought of the night, weeks ago now, when Doyle had demanded total commitment from him; Doyle zapping out like a round of ammunition just what he expected of Bodie if they were to become lovers. He remembered his amusement, old Doyle laying down the options and turning down flat the idea of sex without commitment, just like any well-bred girl. Despite the quick amusement he hadn't gone into it in a light-hearted way. Doyle, with his beauty and his faults alike, had won Bodie's heart, swept it and him away to a degree of bemused emotion he hadn't known he was capable of feeling; and he'd pay any price Doyle asked. So he had agreed, and meant every word of his promises.

Now here was Doyle seemingly considering taking these two scrubbers home; attaching as much importance to the decision as whether or not to have cream on one's apple pie.

Doyle followed Bodie's thoughts, watching the conflicting expressions passing over Bodie's aggressively tilted face. "Ah, c'mon, now, Bodie," he said impatiently. "Don't make such heavy weather of it."

"You said --"

Like a marriage, Doyle had said.

"Yeah, I know what I said. I'm plannin' on sticking to it. But I didn't mean we had to deprive ourselves of female company for the rest of our lives."

"Didn't you," Bodie said at last. He lifted his glass, staring ahead.

Doyle had the feeling he was putting this badly, and Bodie was missing the point. "Look, Bodie. Fuckin' them -- do you think that would mean anything? They want us to take 'em home, pass an hour or so in bed, and all I'm tryin' to say is that we've got a choice. Whether we do or not, them or anyone else, it won't make any difference to us. To you an' me."

Bodie stared out into the crowd, his nostrils pinched, his mouth tight; all his certainties shattered.

Doyle struggled to express it right. "I'm just trying to give us more -- freedom," he said, and the moment he'd said it he knew what he'd done.

Bodie tossed back the rest of his pint. "You want freedom, sweetheart," he said savagely, "it's yours."

Doyle caught his arm, mad at himself.

"That was the wrong word. I put it badly. For chrissake, Bodie!" He was getting angry with Bodie too, for his wilful misunderstanding. "I'm trying to be rational about this. It's an important part of our lives. We've no guidelines; we have to work it out, do what feels right -- for us. I could live without ever havin' a woman again, of course I damn well could. But we don't have to feel we've got to do that, if it looks like jeopardising everything else. That's all I'm tryin' to get across."

Too many mistakes; he had lost Bodie completely.

"Here they come," muttered Bodie out of the corner of his mouth, watching the two girls smiling at them, oblivious, making their way through the tables. "Time to make the pitch. What's mine called?"

"For godsake Bodie --"

Bodie ignored him, plunging on. "Wendy, that's it. Wouldn't want to get it wrong. Could be embarrassing. I might come out with 'oh Ray' at the wrong time," he mimicked, blindly hitting out wherever it would hurt most, cause pain as he himself had been wounded. He stared directly at Doyle, his chin jutting mutinously. "But you won't have that problem, will you? You never said it anyway."

Subtle, deadly and true, it hung in the air.

The two girls reached the table, freshly powdered and perfumed and having come to a satisfying mutual decision over the washbasins, in front of the mirrors. It was time for the denouement: the clinch, they figured with years of experience behind them, was about due.

It came, but not quite as they'd expected.

Ray Doyle stood up, springing to his feet in one hard, angry movement. His chair crashed down behind him but he didn't turn. "Goodnight loves," he said. He jumped Bodie, dragged him to his feet, got him in a hard arresting grip, one arm twisted tightly behind his back. "Get out," he hissed into Bodie's hair. "Just get out of here." He began to thrust Bodie hard for the exit.

Bodie was heavier, perhaps stronger, but he had been taken by surprise; and although he was bitterly hurt and violently angry he had enough sense left not to push Doyle any more. Doyle in a temper could be nasty, and this was a very public place. So he let himself go where Doyle pushed him. They went past the bouncers in the foyer, who looked at them in surprise but did nothing more since they were going in the right direction for troublemakers: through the door. Doyle hustled Bodie on round the corner, into a dark alley and pushed him to the wall, not gently. "For godsake, Bodie," he ground out from between clenched teeth, "will you listen to me?"

Bodie gazed back at him, not giving an inch, his face set, his eyes dark and unfathomable; perfectly, angrily mute.

Doyle gave up; released all the pressure and sagged forward, burying his head on Bodie's hard shoulder. Slowly, after several seconds, Bodie's arms came up and held onto Doyle. He gripped Doyle's body against his with hands like steel, not caring that he was bruising the delicate flesh beneath the thick woollen sleeves. It was a gesture not of affection, nor passion; but a desperate assertion of possessiveness. He said nothing.

At long last Doyle raised his head. "Come on. Let's go home."

At the flat, Doyle slammed the door shut and leant against it, breathing hard. "Don't say anything."

They had said nothing all the way here. Bodie had wrenched the car about as if he were in line for Monte Carlo.

Bodie was on to him in a flash, gripping his shoulders, pinning him against the door, his face set in a twisted snarl of fury. "You're always pushing me around!" he yelled at Doyle. "Just put a bloody stop to it will you mate?" He was charged up, on fire with fury: jolts of energy running erratically through him like before a shoot-out began, demanding an explosive release. It was well-nigh impossible for the aggressive ex-para to simply defuse.

"Don't talk about it," continued Doyle, fighting to keep his own cool. "Want to show you something." He tensed his muscles, threw Bodie off and walked into the living room to the locked cabinet where they kept their maps and documents; took a key from his pocket and opened it. He extracted a page of notes he had made earlier about the case they were working on, a map and a newspaper; turned and held them out. "Look at these."

Bodie looked like a bull ready to go into a charge; at battle stance, his eyes flashing black anger, his nostrils pinched and his mouth set in an aggressive pout; you could almost hear the snorts of breath, see him pawing the ground.

Doyle shoved the papers at him again. "Read this. Something I want to go through. On the job, mate. Anything else waits."

Thrown off course, Bodie stared down at his overflowing hands. Doyle carried on, pressing the advantage in hard and quick. "Something struck me today. We 'aven't made much headway with these Securicor jobs. How they do it, fine. They get tipped off by our man about the route and the timing, lie in wait and move in armed to the teeth. We know who our man is --"

"-- think we know," amended Bodie in a growl; but Doyle felt a quick flash of relief -- Bodie had taken the bait. After the disastrous evening they needed so badly to retreat to the part of their relationship they knew they could handle; to mark time there reaffirming its security before they could move on again.

"-- yeah, we think we know who tips them off. And why. All we have to do is catch him at it."

"Not so easy," said Bodie darkly, "when we've tailed the bloke for two solid days and come up with nothing."

Doyle threw himself into a chair, hands behind his head; stared up at the frowning face of his partner. "Not nothing."

"Oh yeah. We know where he has breakfast. We know where he buys his bloody newspaper and where he gets his washing done. Every blasted place he goes into he hands over notes and gets something in return --"

"Yeah, really into give-an'-take, this bloke," agreed Doyle, stretching.

"Look, he can't be getting pay-offs everywhere!" said Bodie, fully into the frustrations of this particular case now. "It must be one of his regular calls. But which?"

"He's a little fish," Doyle said.

"Little?" Bodie snorted. "Listen mate, if it is our man, he's probably funding a letter-bomb campaign single-handed. He's betraying the organisation he works for, laying their money and good name on the line because of some bloody fanatic belief that the world'd be better off without nuclear weapons. I might bloody well agree with him, but I don't nick money, make bombs with it, and send 'em to people to make my point."

"Maybe not little. But still a fish."

"What?" Bodie caught onto Doyle's tone, sat down opposite him and stared.

"He swims a lot."

Doyle let his expression give vent to the little buzz of satisfaction that had been going around in his mind since this had occurred to him, long hours ago. He smiled. "Look at the map, Bodie."

There on the map it was, clearly marked, just one of the stops they'd made tailing the man called John Yip. The ULCF sports complex, a privately run, somewhat seedy place.

Bodie stared at it, unconvinced. "Yeah, he swims. He does judo. He takes Latin at evening classes. Busy man."

"Take a look at this list."

It was a list of names: a complete readout of the employees of ULCF from managing director to part-time cleaner. Doyle had requested it at 4.30 that afternoon when this idea had struck him; it was in his hands by 4.35, which said something for CI5's powers of efficient information-gathering. One name on it had stood out, to a selective computer of a criminal-scenting mind like that of any trained CI5 agent.

DeParry.

"No way. Coincidence," said Bodie at last. "He's behind bars safe for 20 years, after the Spalding hit job."

"Yeah, Joe's gone. Unusual name though. And Joe had a brother."

"Tarring them all with the same brush, Doyle?" But Bodie, who trusted his partner's intuition, was right up there with him.

"It's at the swimming pool," said Doyle, eyes gleaming with the certainty of a hunch that fitted. "Yip passes on the route for a selected job to DeParry or one of his lads; goes for a swim. DeParry's boys arm up, drive off, lie in wait until it's time to throw the lead about."

"Yeah, I reckon you're on to it. Stake out the place then; intercept the message and then --"

"Time to put on our well-known security men act --"

"While someone picks up Yip. Yeah. Swimming pool, though. Not easy to stake out a swimming pool. There's a limit to the number of lengths you can put in --"

Doyle merely grinned, reached for the newspaper he had taken from the cupboard, tossed it over. "Sits Vac."

Bodie found the column; peered quickly down it. He saw it at once; a half-page double spaced ad. of jobs awaiting applications in the local sporting admin. scene. There it was, in black and white.

He looked up at Doyle. "You or me?"

Doyle's smile stretched wider; he looked boyish and very appealing in the open-necked shirt. "Oh c'mon. All that mercenary work? Bet you had to swim across a croc-infested swamp or two. Bound to impress 'em."

"Not crocs," said Bodie glumly. "Midges."

Doyle thought about it, rising. "Make it crocs. Big ones. Sounds better. We'll get the documentation first thing."

"You've been stewing over this quite a while," said Bodie, suspiciously.

"S'right. I'll keep a tail, come for a dip when Yip does. No sweat, sunshine. Can't fail. Only, jump in and rescue me if I start drownin', will you? Hate cold water, myself."

Bodie didn't take it up. "Why didn't you tell me this earlier?"

"Didn't want to spoil your evening," said Doyle, with gentle, wry irony. He gave Bodie a tiny, apologetic shrug, his hands spread wide. After a stony silence, he said, "I'm going to bed. Coming?"

Well, it had done the trick; diverted Bodie from instant action without thought. But it had still to be faced. Doyle lay in the dark, listening to Bodie performing all the last minute things, checking the locks, putting out the lights, anything to postpone the moment.

When Bodie finally appeared he snapped on the bedroom light. He was unsmiling, his eyes very dark and unreadable. "You want me to sleep on the couch?"

Doyle made it easy. "Nah, that's childish. Not for you and me, love."

For a moment he thought Bodie might argue, but then Bodie extinguished the overhead light, tight-lipped, and shut the door. He pulled off his clothes, dropping them onto a chair, and got into bed. He lay rigidly away from Doyle, not touching him.

"You're very insecure, Bodie," said Doyle aloud into the darkness.

No wonder, that Bodie was insecure. As far as Doyle could tell, from Bodie's rare half-confidences that revealed more in what he didn't say than what he did, no-one had ever loved him -- really loved him, stayed steady -- in the whole of his life, from infancy to maturity. Bodie's fault, of course, for presenting such an impenetrable front to the world, veering from flippancy to hard-bitten cynicism with few half-measures. There were reasons for that which Doyle of all people was well-placed to understand.

"But you don't need to be. I meant what I said."

"Oh yeah," Bodie muttered. "Sure you did."

"You don't believe me, do you?" Doyle gave it out as a simple statement of fact; one not to be bemoaned, but considered and dealt with, even if he did sigh. "Tonight -- I was just trying --"

"Look, Doyle," Bodie's voice cut in, belligerent and angry, "You want to screw women, okay, you go ahead. I won't bloody well stand in your way."

"For godsake, Bodie. Can't you see -- ? You were the great screw-em-all Romeo, and --"

"Yeah, an' you were the one on about commitment. Just a joke, was it? I'd've laughed if I'd known."

Doyle lay flat on his back, trying hard not to be exasperated. If he wasn't getting through to Bodie it couldn't be all Bodie's fault, tempting as it was to let fly and shake some sense into the sulky, obstinate so-and-so. Half the trouble, Doyle knew, was wrapped up in the phrase that Bodie, angry and feeling rejected, had hurled at him in the night-club-- you never said it.

It was true, he supposed. Doyle was not by nature romantically demonstrative; whereas Bodie had turned out to be surprisingly affectionate. He liked to touch, lots of close physical contact; he said loving things when they came into his head. Doyle didn't mind any of it; it was easy to accept. In fact, he found the sometimes awkward, always heartfelt gestures of love coming from this man who turned such a hard, aggressive face on the world, touching.

But he didn't need it, as reassurance; Doyle knew quite well, even had Bodie never spoken a word, never reached out for him, that he was the recipient of all Bodie's turbulent devotion: it was there in the dark eyes, in the protective, watchful way Bodie guarded him from the hurt the world could inflict, believing perhaps rightly that Doyle was more vulnerable than he himself.

Yes, though it didn't displease him, he didn't need it. But maybe Bodie did. Maybe it was an unconscious sign that it was Bodie himself who desperately needed reassurance. He seemed unresponsive to all Doyle's attempts at explanation; it was time to try some other way.

He wasn't going to find it easy to reciprocate in kind. But if that was what Bodie needed, then that he must have.

So he propped himself up on one elbow, looking down into his partner's cool, hard face. He reached out, lifting threads of Bodie's surprisingly soft dark hair, running it through his fingers. "Such a tough-guy," he said gently, smiling.

Bodie's eyes opened, lightless and narrowed. Doyle continued, teasing softly, "You're such a tough-guy, Bodie. Don't need anyone, you don't -- you even told Cowley that." He let the hair fall, traced his fingers down Bodie's face. "It's all a lie."

He shifted so that he was sitting up, leaning over Bodie, one hand braced on the other man's hard smooth chest; his voice very low, very easy. "Trouble is, I keep seein' all the things that could go wrong for us." He touched Bodie's new scar, moved his fingers on down Bodie's muscular arm, stroking him, absorbed in the feel of the soft skin, the way the simple touch of his fingers raised goosebumps there, the tiny hairs rising in answer to the delicate stimulation. "An' I don't want this to go wrong, Bodie; because I need it more than I ever needed anything." He ran his fingers down the other man's wrist, touched the pulse that beat there, moved on to curl his hand around Bodie's so he was holding on tight. "One thing I can see happening is one or the other of us gettin' jealous, feeling like we're not enough, just because the other fancies some woman --" he squeezed Bodie's hand, hard -- "it's bound to happen. It'd be bloody stupid of us to fondly imagine we can switched off sexual feelings for women just like that. Tonight --" he dropped his head to press his lips to one temple, keeping up the gentle tactile reassurance all the time he was talking, "tonight I was trying to find a way to take the pressure off -- before it happens. To -- to establish that it doesn't matter that sometimes we fancy women -- it doesn't matter. That it won't ever make any difference to us."

Bodie looked as if he was about to speak. Doyle cut him off, raising his voice just a little. "But if it's not going to work for you that way, if you think we can cope the way things are -- then this is a two-way thing, Bodie. So I agree."

He dropped his head again, nuzzled Bodie's throat, slowly. He found an appealing hollow there and explored it softly with his tongue.

"Agree to what?" growled Bodie, totally fazed: by his emotions, by a gathering relief, by Doyle's unusual tenderness. It seemed too good to be real; more like a wistful dream of how he wanted Doyle to be than how he had come to accept that Doyle was.

"Just you and me," answered Doyle, licking his mate. Salt. Bodie always tasted salty. Sign of a good circulation, easy sweat. He felt a moment of totally vicarious pride, that his partner should have such an efficient body. "Just you an' me, sweetheart. If that's the way you want it, then so do I. We'll work it out."

Bodie felt, stupidly, an unfamiliar sharp stinging behind his eyelashes, telling him that if Doyle kept this up much longer he'd be in tears. He flung an arm up, over his eyes.

Watching him, Doyle made as if to brush it away; thought better of it. Leave Bodie that one dignity. "Tough guy," he murmured again, very low, a smile touching his lips; and turned away. He ran his palms over Bodie's chest; leant to touch his mouth to warm lips. "You're beautiful." He moved down, pushing the sheet away so he could see what he was doing. He rested his head over Bodie's heart, listening to its steady reassuring beat. He felt a hand rise to touch his hair, press his cheek, holding him there; so he stayed there for a moment, if that was what Bodie wanted. He too knew the joy of holding a lover close above you, their head below your chin, feeling the warm weight press you into the bed, protective and protected.

Then he turned his face, kissed Bodie's palm and moved on in his slow, sweet exploration, of Bodie's sensuality. To trail his tongue in the dark damp hair nestling in the armpit, running his other hand down Bodie's side to the powerful curve of the thigh. He ran his tongue over cool nipples, feeling them stiffen at his demand, hearing Bodie's sudden sharp intake of breath; and the first shock of arousal lit through his own body. He ignored it. Bodie's hands reached for him, but he evaded them, impatient. He wanted to give Bodie what Bodie had freely given him, so many times.

He stroked Bodie's thighs, his stomach, rubbing his fingers over the smooth skin of the lower belly: Bodie was so damn beautiful. "Shouldn't be allowed," he said in a shaky, laughing whisper. "You're a bloody menace to my sanity, mate..."

He slid his hands around Bodie's hips, underneath him, squeezed. Bodie liked that; he lifted his hips, his eyes tightly shut. Doyle watched his face, running his thumbs lightly between the cleft of the rounded buttocks. Bodie gasped, his thighs flopping apart. Doyle knew what Bodie was asking but he turned it away, bringing his hands around and up again, to play gently in the curls of silky dark hair adorning Bodie's groin.

Bodie had had enough playing. He seized one of Doyle's wandering hands and pushed it onto himself, breathing hard.

Doyle mentally notched up a plus point; it wasn't often he had managed to manoeuvre Bodie into such an open demand. Bodie was tight, guarded, hesitant about making his wishes clear -- afraid? Of what? Doyle wondered. He himself had never made love to another man, and yet he had felt no inhibitions from the start; no hesitation to follow his instincts and the demands of his body to ask of Bodie whatever felt right; while Bodie, who claimed experience in the field, always seemed to be holding back, letting Doyle make all the running -- why?

Because he's afraid of reluctance on my part. Because, even now, he's not sure I won't reject him, came the blindingly clear answer, as his finger made gentle movements on Bodie, and Bodie sighed, his hands gripping the bed.

All a front then, all that smug self-assurance bordering on arrogance.

I had you all damn wrong, mate. All wrong...

His hand was wet. He took it away from Bodie, to look at it; rubbing the translucent slippery moisture of Bodie's excitement between finger and thumb. Curious, he tasted it: slightly salt. Again salt; he thought, vaguely amused, and then he bent his head and took Bodie into his mouth.

At first he used his tongue, in a way he knew would be intensely pleasurable from his own experience; he could imagine all too vividly what Bodie was experiencing, but he stilled his own growing desire; it wasn't his time. This was for Bodie; just for his beloved Bodie. As Bodie's tension grew more urgent, he sneaked a look up; saw Bodie's eyes still tightly shut, and felt surprise, gentle regret. Bodie should be watching this; he'd like it. It was a powerful erotic stimulus: he'd watched, through half-closed lids, Bodie doing this to him, and he knew just how arousing a sight it could be. Next time, he promised himself; and stopped teasing.

He sucked Bodie, hard. As his lips stretched around Bodie's hardness, he supposed vaguely that every man, however straight, wondered at some time just what it would be like to do this. Now he knew; because he was privileged; because Bodie trusted him, loved him enough to let him do this very private thing. It aroused him fiercely, not just because it was like suddenly being able to suck himself, every touch he made, every answering throb from the other man sending twinges down to his own groin; but because of the vast satisfaction of making Bodie respond to his caresses, the delight of feeling Bodie move beneath him, lost in excitement, hearing the deep wordless sounds of pleasure leaving parted lips; and knowing that he was the cause of all that helpless delight. It gave him a sense of power; he felt very necessary, very secure.

Bodie's hands left his hair, gripped his shoulders, his fingers closing in tight, nails digging into the soft skin. Doyle took a deep, shuddering breath, wanting more and harder, the small pain reaching his senses as a sharp sweet tang of pleasure. He released Bodie and muttered fiercely, "C'mon, Bodie. Give it to me. Come in my mouth. Do it..."

On a gasp, Bodie's hips lifted; he pushed himself up and deep into Doyle's throat. Doyle held on, not moving; with one hand he found Bodie's and twined his own fingers in it, wanting to share in it, be part of Bodie's coming.

He felt all Bodie's muscles straining, then holding perfectly still. He felt Bodie's warm seed pulsing down his throat in short, violent waves. He stayed still, accepting all of Bodie into him.

When Bodie's shuddering stopped, he lay for a moment on Bodie's belly, still gripping his hand, examining the strange taste in his mouth, the slight stinging sensation at the back of his throat, hearing Bodie's ragged breathing gradually slowing. Part of Bodie was his now; it couldn't be taken away.

Finally Bodie pulled him up to lie against him, holding him very close. They were both shaking, a little. Doyle's green eyes stared into Bodie's dark ones, fathomless. "Christ, Doyle," Bodie said very low, still breathless, "That was a beautiful thing to do..."

Doyle's lips moved. "You've done it for me."

"Not like that."

Doyle only gave a tiny, negatory shake of the head meaning yes, it had been like that. Bodie wrapped his arms tighter round the body of his mate, his love, and kissed him, ran his tongue around the curve of the lips, slipping it inside. "It's good, with you," he said intense and low, meaning not just the sex but everything. "It's good, Ray."

"An' you; you're good for me." He sighed, very conscious of Bodie's touch, the warm hand travelling down his side to his thighs. Bodie shifted, and touched his lips to Doyle's once more, lingering there because he loved the feel of Doyle's mouth against his; and then he moved down.

Doyle stayed him with a hand. He was trembling with banked-down arousal, fire in his blood; but he wanted Bodie to have tonight, what Doyle had done for him, all to himself.

Eyes half open, he looked down into Bodie's quizzical dark ones. "Not like that. Easy -- like the first time..."

And, understanding, Bodie looked up; saw the tender set of Ray Doyle's chin, the light of need in his heavy-lidded eyes. He would fight the entire world to give this complex, thoughtful man anything he wanted, anything at all. So he did as Doyle asked; but not before he traced a loving finger around the beautiful, bewitching mouth of the man who had captured his heart; and said; "I love you. I love you, Ray. More than my life."

Then, very gentle, very careful, he settled the length of his body along the smaller one beneath him, keeping Doyle safe from the world, moving against him gently, until he felt him tense; and Doyle, a moment later, releasing all his warm love, his tension, his desire to keep this right, forever, onto Bodie's waiting, welcoming nearness.



Doyle bounded up the steps three at a time, one hand lightly running along the iron banister. He felt very good this morning; relaxed and at peace with the world, and everything in it. He had a job to do; and he knew exactly where he was going.

He leaned on the doorbell of the second floor flat, hard; noting the cracks in the paintwork, the garbage overflowing from the disposal chute, the smell of cabbage. It took some moments before he was answered: a sleepy-looking man in a grubby bathrobe scowling at him. Doyle judged him to be in his early forties; the lines on his face due more to stress than age. A time of depression could do that to a man.

Momentarily, he disliked himself for what he was about to do, saw in his mind the arrogant CI5 bully destroying a dream that this man must see; but he couldn't let that stop him. People were getting blown apart through one man's fanaticism; and this man here was an unfortunate casualty of the battle against it. It was part of the job.

So he flashed his ID, and sauntered past the startled half-awake man into the poky flat. The mail lay on the floor: a dismal scattering of brown official envelopes and one stiff, white one, standing out like a ray of hope.

"You're Frank Smith."

"That's right. Look --" He eyed the young CI5 agent with distrust and half-formed fear, not taken in by the casual air of the man, the attractive face. This was the heavy mob, the big boys. What the hell did they want with him?

"You applied for a job with the ULCF? Lifeguard?"

"That's right, but I --" So young-looking, his jeanclad hips lean and slender; but so hard with it, the cold grey-green eyes like stones on a wintry seashore.

"You want the good news or the bad news?" Doyle bent to pick up the white envelope, began to slit it open.

"Look here --" Smith began, outraged, but Doyle easily evaded the outstretched hand and stared at the sheet of paper he held. The information he'd been given at 8.00 a.m. had been correct. Not that one expected anything different from CI5's complex computer network.

"You got the job," he informed the man, and looked up to meet the confused brown eyes of Frank Smith.

"I got it?" He took the letter Doyle held out, saw the words. Through the rush of exhilaration, the unbelieving realisation that two years' unemployment were over, he became aware of the young agent's eyes on him.

"-- but you just resigned," Doyle told him, with a deep felt compassion that was not at all evident in his voice or his eyes; and then he steered the man into the living-room and told him exactly what he had to do.



The slouching attendant stared boredly up at the solid imposing man in track-suit and running shoes before him, and said: "Job's taken. Sorry, son."

"Ah c'mon, give me a chance mate. Closing date for applications is today -- can't be taken. Just let me in to see the big man. Good qualifications --" Bodie winked and patted his pockets, offering something more interesting than a few certificates.

For a fiver the wheezing Drake was bought, and he led Bodie to the Manager's office, muttering tetchily, "Understand -- I can't promise you anything. I 'eard the job was gone."

Bodie assured him there would be no refunds required, and waited as Drake knocked.

Sam DeParry was a world-weary man in his late fifties, grizzled and grey and hard as they come. He radiated irritation as he looked up at the stunted figure of Ben Drake. "Not now, Ben. Busy," he enunciated, as if to an annoying toddler.

"'E asked. About the position of lifeguard," muttered Drake, and backed out shutting the door behind him. He had earned his fiver.

DeParry had a flicker of interest about him: good, thought Bodie, noting it. Doyle had done his job. He faced DeParry over the intervening desk, and favoured him with a small, hopeful smile.

"Lifeguard?" The managing director of ULCF eyed the fit-looking dark-haired man in a tracksuit. "The position's being advertised. You can make an appointment at reception for an interview." He ran a hand through his hair. He'd thought all this tedious business cleared up; he'd picked his man out of the many applicants and then bloody fate had stepped in and rushed his blasted choice into hospital with appendicitis. Nothing shady about it either; always wary, he'd checked with the hospital first thing.

The dark man was unloading his pockets. "No need for that," he said with confident arrogance, "You won't want to look any further than me."

DeParry stared hard-eyed, wondering whether to kick the cocky so-and-so out without another thought. Bodie waited calmly. Finally DeParry's eyes dropped to the documents he held. "Well," he said at last, "you're certainly well-qualified for the job. See you did time in the army --" He looked up quickly, to a face that had varied its impassivity not one jot. "Why'd you leave?"

"Became a pacifist," intoned Bodie, with absolute economy of expression.

DeParry watched him keenly a moment longer; then he nodded slowly. "Then two years in this line -- Torquay, Butlins, Weston -- you been around."

Bodie allowed just a tiny quirk of satisfaction to inform his features; the satisfaction of a none-too-bright man with pride in his one talent.

DeParry made up his mind; he wanted to sweep the whole time-wasting matter out of the way and forget it. "You'll do."

"Thanks mate," said Bodie, with just the right amount of unsurprised smugness.

DeParry rose, stuffing the papers into his in-tray so he could make out the contract later and headed for the door, motioning Bodie to follow. "You didn't become too much of a pacifist, I hope."

"What?"

"-- sir?" gently prodded DeParry, who was the Big Man here.

A friendly 'nah, you don't need to call me that,' was on the tip of Bodie's wicked tongue, but he didn't say it. "Beg your pardon -- sir?"

"Not averse to the odd rough-house, are you?" clarified DeParry. "You might have to double as bouncer. Gets a bit rough in here sometimes. Want you in there sorting them out, not sitting on the sidelines quoting woolly white-livered ideals."

Bodie, frowning, appeared to set the cogs of his mind into grinding motion. He made DeParry wait. Then a slow smile spread across his lips, one capable fist slamming into his palm. "Tell you the truth, there's times I miss the old beat the hell out of 'em days."

Evidently satisfied, DeParry opened a drawer, gave Bodie a slip to sign. "You're on duty as from now. Anything you want to know, dinnerbreaks and so on, Drake'll fill you in." A thought struck him, and he ran his eyes over the solid dark man. "You bent?"

Bodie emitted incomprehension, resisting the temptation to scratch his head, goggle his eyes and let his jaw fall open, village idiot-wise.

"Bent, queer, gay, man," said DeParry impatiently.

Bodie's lips curled. He pinched his nostrils and hunched his shoulders. His eyes glared forth darkly. He looked very, very straight.

DeParry let out a bark of laughter, his guess half-confirmed. "No matter. We get plenty of 'em in here; it's a nelly's paradise. Just don't keep your eyes on the well-filled trunks to the exclusion of the people drowning." He chuckled again, amused by his own wit, and slapped his hand on Bodie's broad shoulder, appraising him frankly. He let the hand linger just a little longer than strictly necessary.

Bodie felt a shock-wave of cynical amusement rising in him. Well, if DeParry wanted him bent, he'd be bent. He'd got the job. Stage 2 was complete. He allowed his lips to curl in a little smile, not too much; and he very obviously didn't move away. He said: "Miss the drowning ones? Not bloody likely, mate, sir. Me, I enjoy givin' 'em the kiss of life too much." And he gave the older man a delightful leer, just managing to dodge away as DeParry, chuckling, made as if to make a lightning grope of his nether regions.



Doyle was discovering that it was extremely difficult to keep one's gun within easy reach at a swimming pool and not be an object of speculation.

He entered the steamy, tiled changing room delineated with stark lines of steel lockers, and knew instantly that this was a bad place. Bad for the soggy crumpled tissues, the old cans littering the dirty floor; bad for the stink of chlorine and urine that assailed his nostrils; bad for the groups of unsavoury looking men wandering about, the wino slumped in the corner swigging cider and singing drunkenly to himself; bad for the all too definable aura of seediness and dissolution. He kept half an eye on his man, who was laying down his towel and searching for an empty locker that still locked. Doyle did the same, a fair distance away. So far -- nothing. Yip had handed over his money and passed through the turnstile without a word to the attendant. Bodie should be here by now, if he'd done his bit. Between them they could keep Yip in constant sight. Doyle knew his hunch was right; all they had to do now was be sharp-eyed, spot the message being passed, improvise some way of sneaking a look at it without being noticed, and --

Easy, he told himself, ironically. No sweat.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Armstrong, the false, obvious trail; he was putting his things down near Yip, almost bumping into him as he turned for his locker, giving a casual eye inside. Don't overdo it, mate, thought Doyle: give him a chance to do what he's here for...and then he turned away. Armstrong knew his job. He looked around, saw some cubicles to one side of the slatted wooden benches. Like any normal young male, Doyle was not at all shy about stripping in an all-male changing room; it would simply never cross his mind to use a cubicle. However, beneath his jacket there reposed a gun, and the cubicles it had to be. It was going to look mighty odd, this sudden attack of coyness, reflected Doyle; especially since for some unknown reason he seemed to be the object of intense scrutiny for several of the half-clad males in the room.

He started off. Yip was only now taking off his shirt; plenty of time. He was brought up short by a round-faced man in trunks who appeared from nowhere to confront him. "Hey," said the man, slowly.

Doyle faced him out, giving nothing away though his mind was running fast on possibilities. Then his new friend smiled, free and easy. "You look fit. Nice body, kid. You interested in some action?" His hand dipped to touch his own nylon-clad crotch, and then was taken instantly away, a gesture so brief and insignificant you'd miss it if you weren't sure.

Doyle was sure all right. It wasn't the first time he'd been asked, no, not by a long way. At one time, when he was going through a wild and insecure 17-year-old phase, he'd wondered if it was something nancyish about him and thumped anyone who'd appeared to be trying it on: but as his experience of the world grew he'd come to see that if you were an attractive male the more butch you were, or appeared to be, the more likely you were to encounter this sort of thing.

"Not that kind of action, mate," he answered, and added to soften it, because the other's expression of disappointment was almost comical, "Thanks, all the same."

That was rich, really, he considered with dry amusement as he drew the ribboned curtain of the little cubicle across; considering what he did with Bodie, what he allowed Bodie to do to him, not to mention all the exciting things he'd dreamed up for them to do to each other just as soon as he overcame Bodie's strange lack of confidence...

But that was Bodie; and he loved Bodie. However, not given much to self-delusion, Doyle had known for years he could, if he chose, find pleasure in sex with another male. Anyone probably could, if they wiped out years of ingrained repression and social taboos, for it all came down to the fact that making it with another warm, responsive human being regardless of their sex was a hell of a lot more fun than always making it alone. But he hadn't chosen to before, and that was important, because it was one thing to offer Bodie. Bodie who was having trouble handling this, despite all the predictions there might have been to the contrary. Devil-may-care, love 'em and leave 'em, take it as it comes and finish it without a backwards look when it seemed to be getting heavy: that had been Bodie. And then when he'd finally fallen, he'd fallen so hard it had destroyed all his defences at a stroke and left him insecure and foundering.

Finally fallen? I wonder, thought Doyle as he slipped off his holster and quickly wrapped it in his shirt. Maybe he's been this way before, loved someone who let him down. Like Ann, he thought tightly: bitch. Maybe Bodie had an Ann locked away somewhere deep within himself, someone who'd destroyed his faith in anything lasting ever again. He'd probe gently, when Bodie was at his more communicative; see if he could find out.

There was also, he considered as he slid off the last of his clothes and hustled himself into the tight navy trunks, one other thing he could offer Bodie which he hadn't yet. It was an idea that appealed to Doyle; it made him feel shivery inside just thinking about it. Bodie had made no moves that way; not that that meant anything. He pushed it all to the back of his mind, went through the curtain with his things. He noted that Yip looked just about ready to take the plunge, closing his locker. Armstrong was painstakingly checking the mechanism of his.

Doyle found an empty one, stashed his things inside, including the concealed gun; he hunted for a five pence piece, inserted it, slammed the door shut and removed the key, and then slipped the pink rubber bracelet it was attached to around his wrist. He would have to perform all those actions in reverse to retrieve the gun: hardly going to be the fastest draw in the West, is it, he thought with black humour.

At the poolside Yip dived straight in. Doyle paused for a while, testing the water, with one hand on the metal stair-rail. There was Bodie, looking every inch the part, tough and solid in a dark blue tracksuit and bare feet sitting on an observation chair. He was looking boredly around, his eyelids drooping in apparent disdain. Bloody cool, this water. He hadn't been kidding when he'd said he disliked swimming. In the Med, now: well, that was a different thing. Take his mate there one day...his mind began to fill with happy, day-dreamy images of himself and Bodie on a sun-warmed beach, with no Cowley, no CI5, no hurry; all the time in the world to be easy with one another -- He jerked back to attention as he realised he had lost sight of Yip, no sign anywhere of the dark head; he glanced at Bodie and saw his partner make an almost imperceptible motion of his head, and there was Yip, surfacing at the other side. And if he, Doyle, didn't take the plunge soon it was going to look mighty unenthusiastic for a man who had apparently been in the mood for a swim.

One thing for it; he could give Bodie a show. Bodie might think he was the slickest thing in the water since Moby Dick; but Doyle knew a thing or two himself. He walked to the deep end, stood on the edge looking down into the greyish water for a moment. Then he tensed, and threw himself upwards, curving over and cleaving the water cleanly, its coldness on his warm skin making him gasp as he surfaced, and struck out smoothly for the length. Each time his face rose from the water he alternated his glances between Yip and Bodie, beginning to enjoy his own easy fast movements through the water. He felt as if he could keep this up forever. And might have to, he reflected ironically, watching Yip turning for yet another width, on a cross-pattern to his own path.

Bodie let his cool dark gaze roam constantly around the pool, ostensibly a man devoutly on the lookout for swimmers in trouble. That was a thought -- he sent up a faint prayer to Neptune, or whoever it was that looked after water devotees: since if he did have to plunge to the rescue the Magnum nestling snugly beneath his arm was likely to come off badly in the encounter. Not that he was expecting any trouble -- if there was any, and he needed the gun, it would mean he and Doyle had botched the job and he didn't fancy being the one who had to tell Cowley. He watched Doyle with ungrudging admiration -- Doyle was a pleasant sight, in action face down in the water, arm over sleek arm, his legs kicking out strongly in perfectly co-ordinated action, his neat navy-clad buttocks clenching and unclenching. Now there was a thought to conjure with...Bodie actually shivered as the image of a cool, wet Doyle came into mind; one passive in his hands.

Maybe one day...

Doyle neared the end of his eighth length, made a face at him that might have been the inadvertent water-choked grimace of a man nearing exhaustion -- or might have meant that Ray Doyle was fed up -- and turned to begin again.

Yip climbed the steps, both hands on the metal handrails, his white body goose-pimpled.

Bodie tensed; but Doyle was only halfway up the pool. How long would it take? Ten seconds from now maybe, if the contact was waiting? Armstrong, for whom Bodie had a grudging respect if only for having survived a fortnight working with Doyle, was scrambling out of the water, following.

Come on, Doyle. Bodie sweated it out, there on his high vantage point watching the lazy strokes of a tiring man, wondering how to attract Doyle's attention. Subconsciously, he was counting the seconds since Yip's departure: five...six...seven...

On 'ten,' Doyle, unhurried, reached the far end, turned as if to begin yet another length. Bodie groaned inwardly, could not get his partner's eye. Then, as if suddenly realising he'd had enough, Doyle changed his mind, reached for the grab rail and eased himself out of the water.

Go it, mate, thought Bodie, relaxing as he watched Doyle saunter for the changing room, dripping. I'm right there with you.

But he wasn't there with him, and he experienced a moment of apprehension, waiting...

He didn't have long to wait.

After a quick shower, Doyle towelled off vigorously. He opened his locker after a fight with the uncooperative rubber wrist band and the fiddly little key; took out his things and trotted off to the cubicles once more. Armstrong was already at his locker; Yip was still under the shower, head thrown back, eyes blissfully shut beneath the steaming spray. Must've been luckier than me, thought Doyle sourly; his own shower had been a limp, tepid trickle. Obviously being a regular helped. The changing rooms were quite crowded now. It was a funny place, this: although Doyle was confident he had done nothing to arouse suspicion there seemed to be eyes on him all the time and he wasn't quite sure why. He drew the curtain of his cubicle across and began to dress.

He was surprised a moment later by a piercing hiss. He looked down to see a hand under the wooden partition. It was holding a note.

Bemused, he took it. There was no writing on the scrap of paper, only a crudely-drawn, eyebrow-raisingly explicit picture, and Ray Doyle, holding it, was left to reflect ruefully on the motives unerringly assigned to people who took shameless public showers in the nude, then darted invitingly into the nearest cubicle...

Thoughtless, he cursed himself: but then he hadn't known this place was a meet for queers. Should have guessed, maybe, he berated himself, after the first encounter. He tossed the note back over the partition and said aloud: "Thanks, but no thanks."

Unfortunately his admirer, utterly bewitched by the vision of Ray Doyle in the shower, was not the type to give up easily. He appeared, in person, parting the plastic curtain, bright-eyed as he let his gaze run over the bare muscled thighs, the tight green briefs. "C'mon. You haven't even seen me. You came in here looking for some action, dincha?"

Doyle turned, disbelieving, arrested in the action of buttoning his shirt; his face was hard, his eyes chilly with anger as he surveyed the man standing before him. He was youngish, not unattractive in a beefy kind of way, but that didn't move Doyle, who was alight with fury on at least two counts -- the invasion of his privacy, and the interruption of his job.

"I said, 'no thanks,"' he said with deceptive calm. "You want me to put it less politely?"

"Bluff," decided the man, who had red hair, cheerily.

Doyle took a step towards him. "Then call it."

"Very macho," approved his admirer. "I like it." His eyes slid down to Doyle's groin; he seemed to have totally missed in Doyle's slender form that he was playing with fire in the presence of a volatile force greater than his own. He reached out his hand.

Doyle caught it before it got halfway, less than gently, since he just could not believe the effrontery of the man. He threw him off, with easy force.

The other, winded, glared up from where he'd been thrown; and then launched himself forward. Others, alerted by the sounds of conflict, were appearing from nowhere. Suddenly Ray Doyle was into a fight.

The wheezy dwarf-like Drake, whose office had a window into the changing room -- a perk of the job, given the many interesting things that went on there -- was breathily onto his microphone, in an instant.

Bodie lounged moodily at the poolside, heard the loudspeakers -- used for polo matches, and rarely at that -- crackle into action: "Lifeguard to the changing rooms -- lifeguard to the changing rooms --"

He was off his perch in a bound, scorning the ladder, landing neatly and pelting off for the scene of the trouble. As he'd expected, he found Doyle in the centre of it, wary-eyed, and cool in pants and shirt, backed into a corner; there were three men facing him and one held a broken bottle, its viciously jagged edge an inch from his throat.

Bodie took the man from behind, getting his wrist in a smooth stranglehold so that the bottle dropped quickly, from suddenly nerveless fingers. "All right -- what's all this about," he said, in his best threatening army style.

"Bloody maniac," snarled Doyle, reacting with what he felt was well-deserved fury. He charged blindly at the redhead, limbs flailing. Bodie caught him easily, threw him off. "No trouble. Not in these baths. This is a clean place and don't you forget it," he said forcefully, glowering around. He was a big, strong man. The situation defused.

Doyle, grumbling to himself and without a glance at Bodie, swung off back to his cubicle. Can't leave him alone for a minute, thought Bodie, not for the first time; and then he ran his eyes over the others and singled one out. He took the shoulder of the man who'd had the bottle and growled at him "You -- out." The man's feet left the ground. He found himself whisking along at high speed. Aggrieved, he twisted in his heavy aggressor's grip; Bodie didn't need to alter his stride. "My -- things --" gasped the ex-swimmer.

Bodie hoisted him over the turnstile, rather like shifting a sack of potatoes, watched by the astounded Drake from his attendant's position. The man landed with a thud and a whine. Bodie trotted back to the changing room and collected the only untenanted damp bundle of things, heedless of the curious glances at him from the other changers, noting as he did so that Doyle was now fully dressed and combing his hair. Returning, he threw the bundle over the turnstile. "Don't come back." And in an aside, "Hydrophobia," he confided to Drake.

As he did so, John Yip appeared. He saw Bodie there and busied himself looking at a noticeboard. A little light went on in Bodie's brain. He moved on without glancing Yip's way, and went unconcernedly back to his post. Or so he hoped they'd assume; in fact he never got there, ducking behind a line of lockers and peering cautiously out after a few seconds had passed. He could hear nothing of the conversation; it seemed low-key, but then Bodie, who had after all met Drake, could imagine why. And then he saw it. Yip extracted something from his pocket, handed it to Drake, who took it and stashed it under the counter. There were people queuing for entry, and the whole affair was very casual. All the same, Bodie felt sure --

He was conscious of a light touch on his shoulder. Doyle, sauntering past. He stopped, reached into his bag for something, all without looking up at Bodie lurking in his hiding place.

"All done," muttered Bodie. "In the attendant's office somewhere." Yip was going out. They could forget him now, once and for all; he'd be picked up tomorrow sometime, when the action was over. "Looked like a green book. Up to you, sweetheart."

Doyle bounced his head once, muttered an audible 'damn' as he stared into his bag, as if he'd forgotten something, and turned once more for the area near the showers.

Drake wasn't looking. So Bodie used the moment to escape, passing Doyle on the way without a glance, and went back to his post.

Doyle hunted around for a moment or two, to give Bodie time to get well out of the way; then he went into action. Create a diversion. Easy. He caught sight of the unfortunate redhead who'd been unwary enough to try it on with him, and who was ignoring him pointedly, shrugging on his jacket, clearly hurt. It's not your lucky day at all, mate, thought Doyle with a hint of ruefulness; and he abandoned his shamming search.

He marched over to him, took him by the shirt collar in one strong hand. Green eyes blazed fury. "You ever try that again an' you're a dead man," he promised, loudly and aggressively, noting abstractly the heartening prickings of interest all around from other half-clad males. "Whaddya think I am, queer or somethin'? Well, do ya?" He pushed the man up against a wall and leaned on him.

"Look, kid --" He sounded coaxing, worried; Doyle suspected he really wasn't a bad chap. It was a shame...

"I'm gonna beat you into a pulp," Doyle threatened, and dodged easily as the expected knee-lunge at his groin came. "I'm gonna give you some action, all right. S'what you wanted, isn't it? I'd like to cut your balls off, you bleedin' pervert --" He let go of him suddenly and whirled around at the intrigued onlookers. "Yeah, an' all of you too!" He tangoed around the room, yanking open curtains to glare at startled twosomes, dislodging furtive couplings from nooks he hadn't previously noticed, really rather enjoying himself; a ferocious scowl plastered across his features. No-one moved, all transfixed by the fascinating sight of the wild green-eyed curly-headed creature creating a storm in their midst.

"You're all a load of fuckin' pansies!" Doyle yelled, coming to his climax, standing alone in the centre of the room.

It failed to erupt. Into the silence, Doyle started landing punches; airy wheeling jabs for the most part, darting here and there. Like a heavy lumbering animal, the room at last began to stir, to dislodge the itch of the mercurial flea. Doyle danced among them, having the time of his life, inflaming tempers right and left, ducking neatly as fists began to fly, playing the part of the devil's advocate, rousing uncoordinated passions everywhere. Doyle stood between two men, one of whom was about to let fly at him. "Hit him for me mate," he said clearly, and ducked; above him, fist met jaw. The whole room was a free-for-all. He noted that the dutiful attendant had abandoned his post and was there on the outskirts; babbling and practically hopping from foot to foot in excitement. Bodie was there too by now, sorting things out with efficient brutality. Doyle picked his bag up and sauntered jauntily out. No-one noticed him go.

Jerking an eye around, he ducked into the little glass-walled attendant's cubicle, rifled through drawers at speed. He came across what he was looking for very soon, which was a relief since although Bodie would delay Drake's return as long as possible, he couldn't do it forever without arousing suspicion: it was a book of season tickets with the name Yip inscribed on the cover, needing renewal. On the back page was a pencilled message, which Doyle committed to memory; then he stuffed the book back where he'd found it.

"Hey."

Doyle's heart stopped. If they were blown now... He poked his head cautiously up.

"Two and a half," muttered a customer at him; and he thrust out a note and some coins.

"In you go, guv'nor," said Doyle in his best swimming-pool attendant style.



All sewn up. The raid, as restyled by CI5, had gone off exactly as planned. Instead of the surprised guards DeParry's heavies had been expecting, they met a thoroughly wised-up Bodie and Doyle, who were not at all put off by the screeching of tyres on their country-lane drive, nor the masked faces. They were safely delivered to the local nick. Armstrong was given the job of picking up Yip, who threw a fit of mental instability, screaming as he was taken away that it was all in a good cause, that the Big One would Drop while he was behind bars and everyone would remember him then, and respect what he'd been trying to do...

DeParry, cogitating ruefully on the sudden and unannounced resignation of the second lifeguard in two days -- and a damned good-looking one, at that -- was also picked up, and was secured in a jail not fifty miles away from his equally corrupt brother. The last trick of all came some weeks later, when under irresistible persuasion from that many-faceted organisation known as CI5, the new management of the ULCF sports complex contacted Frank Smith, unemployed, advising him that the position of lifeguard at the soon to be reopened swimming pool was his for the asking. Looking back over it all, Bodie and Doyle decided it had been -- well, an interesting experience.

"An' I tell you what, mate," said Doyle ruefully as he brought his lazy partner a drink, "I nearly lost my honour in there, I can tell you. I was as close as that" -- he snapped his fingers -- "to being thoroughly molested."

Bodie was all smugness and long-lashed disdainful eyes. "You were. Huh. Small queens --"

Doyle stared.

"-- but I," Bodie told him, "I landed the Big Man."

And he smiled.



Doyle checked out; it was quite early but he'd done all he could for the day. Bodie was off somewhere coming the heavy; bullying information from an ex-lag with a record of violence who might know the whereabouts of the man they were after, and even if he'd forgotten no doubt Bodie would help him remember. It was all quite straightforward, no problem, two days' sweat at the most; and so Doyle was going home.

"All in order, 4.5. And by the way --" the duty agent smiled at his jeanclad colleague -- "Good news."

"Yeah?"

"There's someone waiting to see you. Bird."

Doyle wasn't into guessing games. He waited, cool-eyed.

"Nice, classy looking bit," allowed Simpson at last, a little disappointed. "Came in earlier looking for you; you were out. She decided to wait." He eyed the other speculatively; yeah, he supposed Ray Doyle had what it took, even for the likes of the beautiful girl who was so determined to see him.

"Name?" suggested Doyle coldly. As far as he knew there were no women involved in the current case.

Simpson gave up on the ribbing, and supplied, looking down a list: "Holly. Ann Holly."

She was just the same, fragile and stylishly dressed. His whole body responded in a surge to the sight of her, sitting there in CI5's stark waiting room, nervously twisting the strap of her cream leather handbag, hollow-cheeked and clear-eyed; but it was a different kind of reaction from two years ago. Two years, and now everything was impossibly different.

She rose, with natural elegance. "Hello, Ray."

He acknowledged it, still standing as she went on in a rush: "I'm sorry I had to come here. Am I disturbing you? I went to your old flat first, but --"

"-- I'd moved," he said with a hard, polite smile. "Yeah, we do move around a bit." What did he have to say to her? "You back from the states?"

At the rhetorical question her eyes dropped. He noted every reaction, every nuance of expression very carefully, out of habit. "Love the old homeland too much I suppose...I couldn't stay away too long."

He nodded, accepting the trite answer; took a turn around the room. "Why'd you want to see me?"

In the act of reseating herself, she looked up, startled and tense. He wondered cynically to himself if she'd expected this to be easy. "Of course I wanted to see you."

"Why?" he challenged, hard-eyed. "Now you've had two years to think about it, it's suddenly all right, is it? Or did your latest attachment fall off his pedestal too?"

Too much. She rose again, in a hurry, one hand scrabbling at her bag. "I see. Well, I'm sorry to have troubled you. Goodbye, Ray."

As she pushed past him, he saw, astoundingly, that her eyes were bright with sudden tears. He caught at her, stopped her with a hand. "Sorry," he said wearily. "CI5 habits... Been a long day."

She looked up at him, unsure. He was a stranger. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make things -- difficult for you. But I was -- here, and I thought I'd like to see you again. We were friends."

Friends. He'd been in love with her, bewitched by the sight of her, the scent, the touch of her cool narrow body, enchanted by the sharp tenderness of her mind...

With sudden, painful insight, he knew that that was how Bodie felt for him; he stepped out of himself as he looked at Ann, and saw Bodie looking at him. She was so slight in his hands, thin-wristed like a delicate fawn, her wide eyes looking up at him. Yes, like Bodie felt for him, but he had never really known Ann, understood her, nor felt her understand him the way it was with him and Bodie. He shook the comparison away. He'd loved her, but that was over, and now she could be a friend, one for whom he'd do a little more than most.

"Are you due anywhere?" he asked her, more gently. "We could go and have a drink. Tell me how it was out in the Bright Lights."

"Yes, I'd like that," she said seriously, then smiling, and he grinned back.

It was of course actually too early to drink. They had tea instead, something he hadn't done in months, in an upmarket tea-house; and she told him about New York, her hands wrapped around a bone-china teacup, leaning forward, a little flushed as she chatted on; too nervy.

"And how about you?" she ended up, after an awkward silence in which he, who had long since lost track of the long office anecdote she'd been telling, had raked around for something to say; he'd been idly wondering just why he never had tea out any more, his mind supplying the answer simultaneously with the picture of his rugged ex-para lover sitting where Ann now sat, a tiny tea-cup in one sturdy hand --

He grinned, dismissing the thought. "Oh, fine. Here and there; you know."

She looked away, down at her plate. "I wasn't very kind to you, Ray. I should have stayed -- talked about it. I was -- angry."

"You didn't trust me," he said lightly, but with a very real edge of cynicism. "Understandable."

"Yes," she agreed coolly. "I think it was. Since you didn't trust me, either."

He shrugged. "It's my job not to trust people, love. Take it or leave it. You made your choice."

They were still miles apart over that, it was obvious.

He signed to a passing waitress for the bill. She was watching him, his fey attractiveness stirring old memories; but she doubted, somehow, that he was remembering. "You've got someone else, of course. After all this time."

He didn't hedge it. "What'd you expect?" The bill arrived on a saucer, and he reached into his back pocket for his wallet.

It hurt her, though she'd known it must be. He had been so alone, so ready for her love-inspired onslaught; now he seemed self-contained -- complete, giving out nothing because he needed nothing in return. He was an attractive, hungry male: no use expecting him to be around and waiting when she broke the years of silence. She'd known all this before she came. But still, it hurt.

"Is it serious?" she asked, smiling over the pain.

"Terminal," he said with black humour. As it always did when he was uptight, something in him was wishing for Bodie even now, the enfolding dark grace of him, loving him, giving him the peace and contentment of understanding; no one else had ever done that for him. He placed a note on the saucer as she said, sincerely, "I'm glad for you."

"And you?" he asked, out of concerned curiosity as well as politeness. She dropped her head, fiddling with a teaspoon. Then she looked up, with a small smile. "I had someone. It didn't work out. But there's plenty of time."

Doyle was tired of the little hurt smiles, the nervous gestures, the wistful, urgent projection that all was not well. He was sure she was doing it unconsciously; but nonetheless, she was emitting all the signs of a cry for help with every minute that passed. He was about to speak when she rose abruptly to her feet. "It's been very nice, Ray, seeing you again. It really has, and thank you for the tea. I really must be off now, just look at the time."

Again that brittle little smile. He rose, too. "I'll take you home."

"No really, I --"

"Don't be daft," he said shortly, and put a hand under her elbow.

"It's only a short walk, honestly." Once again, he saw she was on the verge of tears; they were standing out brightly in her averted eyes. It was so unlike her. There was more to this than mere disappointment at finding a lover of two years past settled with someone else; if she'd loved him that much she'd never have left. He was sure of it. Christ, he'd hung on weeks expecting her to change her mind; and even now he wasn't sure he was out of the habit of searching the mail for a glimpse of her handwriting.

Outside the cafe he said, turning her to face him, "Are you in some sort of trouble?"

And caught her against him, startled, as she buried her face in his shoulder and wept.

He drove her to his own flat, the one he had not lived in for two months or more but had kept on not out of any doubts, but because of a vague feeling that it might come in handy. In any case, CI5 paid the rent, making only a nominal salary deduction.

And Ann would probably feel awkward with Bodie around, if she was going to unload her personal troubles, so all in all this seemed the best place to take her. It felt damp, and he got the central heating going; Ann settled in a chair with her coat around her knees. The next thing he did was call back to base, to let them know where he was in case Bodie needed him in a hurry. At one time he had believed, perhaps naively, that Bodie was as infallible as he made out; but these days he was never entirely happy when Bodie was out on his own, some feeling always nagging at him that Bodie, however competent, lacked Doyle's intuition, copper's nose, call it what you like; and might get into trouble.

There was nothing in the fridge, he'd cleared it out weeks ago, but there was drink around he hadn't yet bothered to move out. He poured whisky for Ann and himself and went in to her. She'd had time to recover herself, powder her nose and refresh her lipstick, and he smiled at her. She smiled back. "Right then, give," he said without preamble, sitting near her. "You're in some sort of trouble?" And when she said nothing, her styled auburn hair hanging loose around her profile, concealing her expression, he said impatiently, "Ah, c'mon, Ann. I've never seen you so uptight. It's not just seeing me again, is it? After two bloody years, you can handle that. So, what?"

And slowly, with many stops and starts, he got the story out of her. A nasty little tale; one he'd heard before, and would never have dreamed his capable ex-love would have got herself involved in.

"So," he said grimly, "you had an abortion."

She nodded. It was such a relief to be in the company of someone she knew could cope, might even be willing to help, that she was still inclined to be tearful, though she hoped she was concealing that from Ray.

"It wasn't mine, was it?" he asked, a new thought assailing him; he looked at her hard.

"No, of course not," she said quickly, seeing the look on his face. "This was months after you. It was -- an accident --"

"Aren't they always. So you needed money for that. And then you found a good Samaritan who was willing to give it to you."

He sounded cynical, angry. "He seemed all right. I thought he was a friend. I truly believed he was, Ray. He gave the money; I was going to pay it back, only things were difficult, I couldn't pay it all at once and he didn't press me for it, he was very understanding, or I thought he was, and it was months after that he turned unpleasant..."

"And then he persuaded you to smuggle drugs," he said tightly. The bastards, all of them; money-grabbing predators who homed in like ghouls on the unwary, the low and needy, life's losers, offering help -- and then pounced.

"I didn't know it was drugs, Ray, you've got to believe that, I didn't know; I knew, obviously I knew it wasn't legal, I thought it might be stolen goods or something, but he was threatening me, he'd changed, Ray. He said he had a gang of heavies who'd scare me into it, they'd hurt me if I went to the police, and I'd be put away for having an illegal abortion -- if I wasn't dead anyway... When I realised, I just gave in. I ran away." Her voice choked on a sob.

"Christ, Ann," he said tersely, "if it was money, you could have asked me right at the start, couldn't you?" It hurt him to think she hadn't been so deeply into it, even when it was over, as not to trust him to turn to for help if she were in trouble.

"Ray, I thought of you, really I did. But it was someone else's child -- and it was a lot of money. #3000 -- you'd never --"

"Of course I could," he said harshly, sick at the thought that all this had come about for lack of a sum he could have raised in an afternoon. "I may not talk like you but I'm not a bloody pauper, you know." He continued, after a pause, "It would have been much easier, that's all, if you'd asked me to help then."

She was clearly battling with tears again. Christ, she'd changed: it just proved yet again the wreck of character and life that contact, however indirect, with drugs could create. "If you can't do anything, Ray; honestly, I don't want you to feel --" she was about to say 'guilty,' but caught it in time --"that you have to be involved. I just thought --"

He knew what she'd thought; could imagine what she'd built him up to be as the other hopes died. Well, he was strong, resourceful, and he knew his way around these things; her late, ironic trust wasn't misplaced in that way. He said wearily, "Yeah, I can do something. The first thing is to get you under protection; you said he threatened you? Right. You'll have to give them a full statement -- yeah, I know," he said, seeing her face, "It won't be a lot of fun, but believe me the guys who deal with these things, they've seen everything, heard it all. You won't be a person to them -- just a numbered file..." He made explanations, knowing that the matter-of-fact details would make it all seem less frightening; he poured her another drink when the first one was gone, sitting beside her and putting an arm around her shoulders, feeling vastly protective as the thin fragility of her clung to him: yes, he'd missed this...

She raised her face to him, smudged dark circles around her eyes making them look huge and shadowy. She asked, huskily: "Ray -- will I get sent down?"

He hugged her tight. "It's not very likely. No; it's even less of a chance than that. Course you won't."

As she wept out six months of reined-in tension and fright against him, he held her close, ached for her and what she'd gone through; and even, distantly, for what he had lost, so that when she turned her mouth to his, blindly seeking, he was there with the comfort she needed, for the sake of what had been, and could never be again.



Bodie sauntered into the building that housed CI5, looking for Ray Doyle. He didn't find him, and since he had to make a report he got that out of the way fast, twenty lines of the clipped unembellished notation he was accustomed to use in these circumstances. Then he rang the flat. No reply; and still no sign of Doyle. He should have been back hours ago. Bodie went to the duty office to enquire, recognising the ridiculous twinges of apprehension in him. "Doyle been in?" he asked of the operative on duty.

The other looked up. "Yeah. And out."

"Gone home," nodded Bodie with relief and prepared to turn. Doyle must have been on his way home when Bodie'd rung. "How long ago?" he was prompted to ask.

"Few hours," replied the man laconically. He stretched out his legs and unfolded a newspaper.

"Hours?"

"Yeah, that's right," said Allen distractedly; he'd just come on duty, he was here until dawn, and he always had a race with himself on night shifts to see if he could get every clue filled in before the deadline.

Bodie pushed both palms onto the desk, thrust his dark head close to the other agent. "You're telling me," he snapped, low and dangerous, "4.5 told you he was going home hours ago?"

Allen put down the newspaper, paying attention with a wary eye. 3.7's unstable temper was well-known, and respected if you had any sense. "That's right. Not me, personally," he said placatingly. "It's here on the sheet -- he checked in at 4.15, left 4.30, rang in at 5.35 to say he was at home."

It was now after 6. "I rang him 5 minutes ago, and he wasn't in," said Bodie; tightly.

Allen winked. "Too busy to answer the phone."

Bodie was in no mood to play around. "C'mon mate," he snarled. "He's a bloody CI5 agent, and he answers the phone."

"Did you let it ring long enough?" asked Allen. "He might have been at an -- er -- awkward moment."

Bodie made a face of absolute exasperation. "I'd better get round there. Thanks for all the help," he said with pointed sarcasm, and turned again for the door.

Allen was also a CI5 agent, and hadn't given up on the problem, despite appearances. Something suddenly struck him. "Wait a mo., 3.7."

Bodie turned, with a face like thunder. "I think I see what's up. He's been staying with you, hasn't he?"

Bodie acknowledged it, cold-eyed, though Allen hadn't given the words any unwanted significance; it was a common thing for CI5 teams to put up together for periods, made things a hell of a lot simpler in many ways. "Well, there we are then," said Allen triumphantly. "When I said he'd rung in to say he was home, the number he gave was for his flat, not yours. It was your flat you rang just now, wasn't it? Well, that's why he wasn't in."

So that was it. Doyle had gone to his own flat for an hour or two; check it out, fetch something, the reason didn't matter. Relieved, Bodie just glanced at the sheet Allen held out, seeing the telephone number beside Doyle's name on the current call list: and nodded. "OK. Thanks, mate. I'm clockin' out, then."

"Stands to reason," said Allen, "there's things he'd feel a bit inhibited about getting up to in your flat. When you might walk in at any minute."

Bodie paid it no attention, about to leave, but Allen was full of all-male gossip as he contemplated his lonely newspaper, the long black hours that stretched ahead of him when folk in their right minds -- and who didn't work nights for CI5 -- were warm in bed, snuggled close to the one they loved... "Simpson said she was a real looker," he said wistfully, shaking his head. "Real class. Much too good for a roughie like Ray Doyle."

Bodie turned his head, emitting a single, growled word, "What?"

"The girl waiting for him," explained Allen patiently. "The girl he left here with. He must have taken her to his flat."

"What," said Bodie, "are you on about?" He was gripped with disbelief; and also a sickening, dawning sense of inevitability; like cancer it was the thing one feared, told oneself one was foolish to worry about -- and was fatalistically sure one would get, in the end.

"There was a girl here, waiting to see him -- that's what Simpson told me." Allen was getting edgy, at the way his moody dark colleague looked. He rummaged among the day's sheets, keen to offer proof though he wasn't sure why, stabbing a finger at the relevant note as he held it out. "Look. Ann something."

The proof was there, in black and white.



Bodie's anger, fear, misery, had built until he was barely rational. He had tried to stop it; had given Doyle time, gone to his own flat and waited. There had been no word, and no message left. The facts were undeniable. It was now nearly 8 p.m. Doyle had left CI5 with the girl he had loved, and spent nearly four hours with her in his own flat. Bodie ached, and burned at the same time. What price now the scrubbers in the night-club? At least they would have been together; there would have been nothing to hide. If Ray needed women, Bodie could have given him that, should have done, as Ray had wanted.

But this -- this furtive encounter, not with a mere female body which would afford satisfaction and nothing more, but with a girl Doyle had loved, been in love with, and so shaken by her leaving him it had taken months for him to recover, months before Bodie, patient beyond his own understanding at the time, had won more than the most mechanical of smiles from him...

Oh yes, this was something else again.

It was a betrayal that hurt him, broke his heart; and with the sadness came an unerring anger.

Riding high on fury, Bodie slammed shut the door of his empty flat with such force that it refused to catch; did it again with gritted teeth, and strode to his car, hands thrust angrily into his pockets.



Doyle finally peeled Ann away from him, but gently. The touch of her clinging, shaking body, the touching wetness of her face as she pressed it against his, had roused in him tenderness; and desire too, but it was an echo only, easily put aside with only gentle regrets; and those were for her, not himself. "Hey, c'mon now," he said, taking her shoulders and turning her face up, "We're on your side. You'll be all right." He checked his watch, nearly bolting out of his seat as he took in its message. Christ, Bodie'd be going mad.

"Where are you going?"

"Quick phonecall," he answered as he dialled, frowning when there was no reply. Bodie should have been back hours ago. A quick worry slid into his mind and threatened to grow -- what if things had gone wrong? He'd better call Control. And if they didn't know, he'd have to get moving, and fast, for Bodie's last known location. He was his partner, for godsake; if there was trouble he should have been there. Behind him, a voice said: "I'll be in the bathroom, all right Ray?"

He hardly took it in, punching the button that would connect him instantly with CI5; and then he heard an instantly recognisable sound -- a key, turning in a lock.

Bodie, had to be.

He turned, with relief. "I was gettin' worried --" he was about to say; but the words stilled on his lips.

Bodie, cold-eyed, with a face that spoke of something terribly wrong though it showed nothing at all. He said only one thing; but it was enough to open up the rift between them.

"Cosy."

"Look, mate --" Doyle began, only uneasy, mildly exasperated, as yet.

"'Might be useful to keep two places on,"' said Bodie, looking around at the low lights, the two glasses. "Yes, I'm beginning to see that it might be. For you."

He knew Bodie in this mood. So quiet you knew there was chaos beneath; so controlled you knew the storm was close. Doyle also flipped gear. "Ease up," he warned: two words, in the same dangerous tone.

"Yeah, why not. You warned me, after all." He took a prowl around the room. A predatory jungle fighter geared up for revenge.

Doyle took a deep breath, needing to. He'd summed up the nature of this from the start, seen how wrong it was, how carefully his volatile partner needed handling; and yet his own temper was on the move, beginning to react to the lack of trust that smacked into him as surely as betrayal. The betrayal that Bodie had assumed in him, without asking for one word of explanation. Bodie was waiting; his whole attitude one Doyle knew well, and one he had never expected to see directed at him.

"Calm down. It's not what you think."

Bodie ignored him. "Where is she? In the wardrobe? How conventional. Expected more guts from you, Doyle."

Suddenly he picked up one of the glasses from the table. He eyed it with deadness. "Too many clues." He threw it, quite dispassionately, back onto the tabletop where it shattered instantly.

The other man had one last try. Perhaps it wasn't too late to redeem disaster; send this unnecessary hell back to its spawning ground. But Doyle, who knew himself, was already chillingly conscious of the fact that even if that were to be, it was the creeping death that had started now in Doyle himself, the death of trust and with it, the beginning of the death of love, that Bodie would have to fight from now on.

"One chance," he said, soft and deadly, watching Bodie intently from low-fringed green eyes. "You've got one chance to let me explain."

Bodie laughed. It was an unpleasant, chilling sound. "A few weeks blissful screwing with you haven't made me forget the way it goes. I don't need your explanations, my sunshine. I can work it out quite well for myself."

Startled by the noise of breaking glass, Ann appeared at the door, in the middle of combing her hair. "And here is the pretty lady," said Bodie amiably. "Was he good?"

"Hello, Bodie." She was clearly puzzled by all this, her eyes flicking uneasily between the two men, but she remembered him all right. She'd never liked him much and felt that it was mutual, but she'd known that Ray was close to his enigmatic dark partner and therefore he had to be endured.

"I asked you, was he good?" Bodie repeated, unevenly; and this time the unbearable tension crackled like a live wire into being; it would not be stopped now. "Oh, but he always is. Silly question. Inventive."

Bodie had killed it. It was over, finished; and unlike the words of the poet, not with a whimper, oh, not at all. Doyle was in a blaze of fury and he wanted Bodie to blaze too, he wanted them to go out in one glorious and final inferno of destruction. He kicked the table out of the way with a deft lunge, and, yelling, charged Bodie head on.

Bodie saw it coming, was not distracted by his own anger, nor by Ann's sudden noise of surprise. He rammed Doyle's onrush out of the way, blocking him and twisting him, shaking the treacherous body with uncaring violence; he drew back his arm to let fly.

Whipcord muscles straining, Doyle broke free with a hiss of effort, catching Bodie's arm and wrenching it around. "Not me," he whispered while he had Bodie close in a terrible parody of a lover's embrace, a malevolent smile twisting his lips. "Not me, sweetheart. I'm as good as you; with you all the way --"

He leaned back and delivered a vicious blow into Bodie's belly, past all caring, past anything but obeying the efficient training of his body to inflict disabling damage, to win at all cost; coupled to the need to hurt, to exact penance for the wrong done to him. It was a dangerous mixture; and that Bodie was running on identical instincts and emotions, and the same training, was all that could prevent them from killing each other, here tonight. He watched Bodie crumple, with black, sick pleasure. But it wasn't over yet, he knew that. Bodie was already rising, and he could hear Ann, shouting at them to stop it, stop it, stop it...

Doyle sent a vicious kick flying at Bodie's ribs, too quick to be caught by Bodie's snaking hand. He smiled devilishly as he dodged easily out of reach; Bodie must think he was a fool to be caught by that one.

Bodie, painfully winded, watched that arrogant smile curve over Doyle's lips, and exploded into murderous action. Years of gut-fights like this ruled him; he was on a line to kill, or die trying. Doyle had had his moment of advantage; Bodie waded in. One fist thudded into the soft flesh of Doyle's mouth -- that wiped the smile away, to be replaced by a smear of blood that welled, and trickled, and was splattered by Bodie's next punch, one to his chin, two, three more, following fast as he pressed Doyle back. Someone grabbed him from behind, a light and insubstantial grasp he was free of in a moment with one impatient, flying blow. But it had delayed him and Doyle was in there again, grim-faced, curly head down, landing punches right and left.

The world exploded in Bodie's face; he was gasping on pain and nausea. He made a forward lunge, almost blind, grabbed the slighter man and hung on until he could throw him back far enough for a vicious delivery at gut-level. He felt his bunched, rock-hard fist slam into something soft, and knew it must be over.

The other man doubled over, fell to the floor, one hand curling around his stomach. The predator triumphant stood aloft.

Bodie moved in for the kill.

Stood over his wheezing opponent, ready to finish it; saw the tight hard gasps for air racking his opponent, the screwed-up agony of the face, the hand pathetically wrapped around himself, trying desperately to hold away the pain --

Reality arrived, slamming on the brakes and shocking him into awareness. His nose was throbbing, and itching. He raised a hand to it, and it came away running with blood. He stared dazedly down at Doyle and made as if to kneel.

"Don't you dare touch him!" came a loud screech. Startled -- he had forgotten there was anyone else in the world -- he caught sight of Ann Holly, viewed her with perfect dispassion, saw her disbelieving anger, the mark on her face, and did not even know that it was he who had inflicted it on her.

"You bastard." She was shaking, and glaring at him. "You -- bastard --"

He didn't care. Not about her. Didn't answer. The real agony came when Doyle, crumpled and fallen, pushed his anxious, fumbling hands away.

"Leave me alone," he wheezed; and the anger came through even the weakness. "Jus' leave me alone. If you touch me, I'll throw up on you, so help me, I swear it."

He ignored Ann, pushed her hands away too as he dragged himself up, that betraying hand still clutching his tender guts. Then he was on his feet, swaying a little, cold hatred gleaming out at Bodie, his shirt disarranged, his face a mess. Bodie looked little better but he was unaware of it as he looked at Ray Doyle, who was spectacularly marked, two bruised cheekbones now, the skin around one eye beginning to darken, his lips swollen, a ragged red trail of blood at the corner of his mouth. But more than all that stood out the force of his eyes.

"You fuckin' bastard."

The words fell between them, and the rift was secured; made true.

Bodie wiped a hand around his face, not even conscious of doing so, looking around for the jacket he had not taken off. They had damn near tried to kill each other. "And I talked about love," was all he said, with bitter cynicism.

"Love," yelled Doyle, in a temper, astounded at Bodie's stupidity. "You don't love shit, Bodie. You don' know the first fuckin' thing about love, you don't."

He became conscious of something cold and wet, flapping at him. Ann, dabbing at him with a cloth. He threw her off too, with the same channelled anger. From now on he was on his own, and better that way. His coldly contemptuous gaze raked them both with the wounded miscomprehension of one twice betrayed; he had loved them both, made his vows to each of these two, given himself with full-hearted determination; and each of them had been unable to trust him. He stared at them; saw Bodie dark and ruffled, bloody nostrils still flared with the dregs of anger; Ann confused and shaken -- and he hated them.

"If I were you," he said, deliberate and icy though his stomach was heaving and he felt bruised and hurt all over, "you two: I'd make do with each other. You're an ideal match, I'd've thought." He snatched up his jacket, and paused at the door for the final thrust, looking back at his two ex-lovers. "And you can swap notes, on just how good I was."

The door slammed. Bodie was left with Ann, wordless.

"I'm going home," she said, in a sudden flurry of temper. "You big violent -- oaf, you might have killed him." She marched around collecting her things.

Bodie ran for the door.

He caught up with Doyle before he reached the bottom of the stairs, grabbed his shoulders, turned him around. "Ray --" He stopped, aghast. His partner looked terrible. Bodie was full of a lot of things right now, but deep shock at what his violent temper might have led him into doing was foremost.

Doyle wrenched away. "Don't touch me. Don't ever, ever touch me again." He backed off, his face twisted up in anguish, of a pain that was not merely physical, and the harder to deal with because of that; amazingly, Bodie saw that there were tears running freely down his face, mingling with the blood. "Go away," snarled Doyle, his eyes dilated wide and gleaming with tears of anger, pride, hurt; tears that he had not intended Bodie to see. "Just go away. If you come near me tonight I'll kill you. I don't need you anymore. Too -- bloody -- unreliable --"

His voice choked. He sniffed hard, hunched his shoulders into his jacket and walked away, unsteady on his feet. Bodie followed him out of the building, but Doyle didn't turn. With brooding eyes Bodie watched him lean one arm on a wall, as if suddenly too exhausted to go on, dropping his head onto his sleeve in an attitude of utter defeat. But even now, the rigidity of his tensed pose seemed to yell, 'keep off.'

With a sudden, angry motion Bodie thrust his hands into his pockets and walked away.



Fuck Doyle anyhow. He marched around his own flat angrily, drinking whisky, sitting down, getting up, his stomach in a balled knot of tension. He was restless, completely unable to relax, or to stop the confused jumble of thoughts running ceaselessly through his head. Crazy words like unfaithful...untrue...kept mocking at him; he was wounded and bitter and aching and most of all --

He was very, very miserable. He had lost Doyle.

Doyle had betrayed him, let him down; turned all those fancy-sounding phrases and promises into something meaningless and trashy, a mere Excuse to Fuck. He fancied you and he had you. Did you seriously expect he'd be content with you, just you, forever more?

No, he hadn't expected that. But Doyle, unasked, had said so -- "just you an' me" -- and sounded as if meant every word. Fuck Doyle. His tired, bitter mind repeated the meaningless phrase, over and over; but it couldn't stop the thoughts. He ached all over; his whole body and mind felt like one big raw wound.

Have a bath, soak away the aches, go to bed and in the morning it would all be...

He couldn't sleep.

His thoughts had taken a new, and frightening turn. He had hit Doyle, and hurt him. Saw again that vicious jab to the belly, watched Doyle fall again to the ground, his hand clutching the agony that Bodie, his mate, his partner, had violently rammed into him, as deliberate and brutal as a rapist. In the dark of the bedroom he squeezed his eyes shut, denying himself, Doyle, Ann Holly, everything -- but still he felt his fist lance again into the softness that was Doyle, saw him fall, wheezing and defeated, the sharp sick agony etched into the screwed-up face; endless visual and tactile replays of the pain and hurt he, the stronger and heavier, had deliberately inflicted on the slighter man. And then simply let him walk, or rather stagger, away.

"Goddamn you!" he yelled aloud, surprising even himself, and then he threw the pillow violently aside and threw himself out of bed.

He dialled Doyle's flat; let it ring -- one, two...fifteen, twenty times.

He broke the connection, tried once more against the small chance of having wrongly dialled; but there was still no reply. He was beginning to worry, badly. He forced himself to keep a tight grip and got hold of Control, recognising Allen's voice at the other end. "3.7. The Holly woman," he rapped out, peremptory. "She leave a phone number? Address?"

"Lost him again?" drawled Allen's voice. "Tut-tut, three seven. Ever considered a ball and chain?"

Bodie ignored it. He was at his limit. "If you've got the bloody number mate, give it to me."

"She didn't leave it. Could probably trace it. Want me to run a check?"

"You'd better."

Bodie only had to wait a few minutes but it seemed forever as his angry foot kicked restlessly at the phone table, and his free hand thumped into his thigh.

He got the number, scribbled it down. "OK. If 4.5 calls in let me know, OK?"

"OK, I'll make a note. Look, what is --"

"Forget it!" snapped Bodie down the line, and then he thumped down the phone and tried calling Doyle on the R/T, but he knew it was only a slim chance and was unsurprised when it remained unanswered. He called Ann Holly's number. Christ, if Doyle were with her, he'd be mad as hell at Bodie's further intrusion. But he only knew he suddenly, desperately needed to know that Doyle was safe. Even with you; he said silently to himself as the ringing tone began, even with you, loving you. Just so long as he's safe...

"Yes?" She sounded curt.

"Bodie. Is Ray there?"

Astounded at the effrontery, and fully charged up with belatedly coherent anger, she drew breath to reply. After all, it wasn't every day one got the chance to let fly with all the things one, fuming, has formed into words since the encounter with an opponent where one had been left speechless.

He made several attempts to interrupt, but it was useless. Finally his temper snapped and he fairly yelled down the phone, "Will you listen to me! It's important!"

"What?"

"Is Ray there?" he demanded. "Just tell me yes or no; and I'll hang up. I won't come round."

"Of course he isn't here," she snapped, matching him for irritation.

That was all he needed to know. Oh Christ. He forced himself to be calm, to think things through. "If he turns up, will you tell him to call base? Just that."

"If he turns up," came the brittle voice, "he's going back right where he came from. What I saw tonight --"

"Just tell him. And if you don't, love, I'll have a CI5 obstruction notice slapped on you so fast you'll be having your bloody breakfast behind bars, is that clear?" he promised, viciously, and put down the phone.

He'd probably gone a bit too far. No time to worry about it now; he was riding high on panic. He rushed himself into his clothes, shrugging on his holster and his jacket last of all and dashed out of the flat. It was midnight.

Doyle's apartment was the first call, but it was dark and empty, the signs of the scuffle unsmoothed out, the table lying where Doyle had kicked it. It must have been Ann who shut the place up; the door had a Yale lock that would catch when it was pulled to. He left the place. Outside in the cooling summer-end air he walked along the path Doyle had taken, coming to the wall where Doyle had leant his head in that terrible taut pose of a hurt animal defending its position with the last, the very last shred of defiant determination.

He looked over the place he thought Doyle had stood, moved along a few feet, and came across what he had half been expecting, fearing to find.

There was a shiny trail down the wall, a dark puddle beneath, gleaming dully in the lamplight. Doyle had been sick here, alone and untended, heaved his guts up with Bodie walking away. He crouched on his heels and examined it with ruthless efficiency, but it was difficult to tell in the confusing shades of streetlight whether the vomit contained blood, or not. He thought not, but that relieved his frantic anxiety no more than a little. He should have been here. He cursed himself endlessly and repeatedly; he had caused this to happen to Doyle, his own uncontrolled violence had done this totally unnecessary thing; and he had not even been there, he had turned and walked away while Doyle, alone and hurting, had lost control and chucked his guts up against a wall. His own stomach clenched; he hated himself more in that moment than ever before. Should've stayed out in the bloody jungle, mate. With the other animals. That way he'd never have met me -- never got hurt --

It was going to be a sleepless night. He was already running, blindly searching as if he might come across Doyle at any moment, slumped in a gutter, huddled by a wall; but already there were alleys branching off everywhere, he was hours too late, and way off course.

He forced himself to stop, breathing hard; and think, about what he was doing, what needed to be done. First thing. He was hunting. Hunting Doyle, who was not at his own flat, nor Bodie's, nor at Ann Holly's; nor had he left his whereabouts known to base. That was all fact. Negative information, but it gave him somewhere to start from. What came next? Find other possibilities, check them out, eliminate them one by one until the end of the trail was reached.

This was better. He was thinking straight at last, now he had something to do, something positive to concentrate on. Possibilities. Since he had not gone home, Doyle had most likely gone to get drunk. Bodie, a twin mind, had earlier seriously considered that himself. It was now after midnight, and all the pubs were long closed; but if Ray Doyle didn't know places where one could buy drink after hours then no-one did. Bodie knew them too. Far too many of them. He needed reinforcements. That was the next thing to do. He ran back to his car and drove off, taking corners too fast.

He was pounding on the door before he knew it, fidgety with impatient frustration and worry. "OK, OK. Don't break the door down. Who is it?"

"3.7. Open up, for godsake."

Bolts being drawn back. Murph opened the door, dark hair rumpled, the light of duty springing into his lazy eyes. He was wearing a dressing-gown, and holding his gun. Sensible precaution to take, with callers after midnight.

He stared down at Bodie. "What the hell...?"

"Doyle's missing. Get dressed -- need you to help look for him."

"Missing?"

"Maybe hurt. Hurry up, Murph, for chrissake!"

Bodie's urgency transmitted itself. "OK, OK. Where?"

"No idea. You try the late-night Chelsea dives, low profile, don't ruffle any feathers. Keep in touch." Then he was gone, flying down the stairs. Murphy called after him but he didn't turn, and Murph watched the big dark man disappearing down the stairwell with bafflement. All he knew was, he had to go looking for Ray Doyle, Bodie's oh-so-cool partner whom no-one got close to -- with the exception of Bodie, one presumed. In fact, Murph privately assumed quite a lot, about that particular relationship, and wasn't any fonder of 4.5 for his assumptions. But he had a healthy respect for the ex-SAS man, as well as a genuine liking, and he abandoned all thoughts of sleep with reluctance as he went to climb into his clothes and join in the search.

Three hours and ten hellholes later he'd got nowhere. In the heat of the moment, he'd taken all this on remarkably unbriefed, he belatedly realised. Trailing round hordes of drunken jerks in smoky rooms in the middle of the night was not his idea of fun, nor did it seem to be getting him any nearer agent 4.5. He called up Bodie and demanded more information. Bodie happened to be within a mile of his location; they met up with a screeching of tyres.

"Look, Bodie," he began, slamming his door and going towards the other CI5 agent -- who looked distraught, he noted with some surprise --"You're going to have to give me more details on this one, it's like looking for a bloody pin in the desert. So he's missing. Who's got him?"

"We had -- a row. I hit him --"

"What?" The prosaic Murphy was no more enlightened by this, but he saw in the dim light from a nearby streetlamp that his tough colleague, the one with the most violent past, the worst reputation, the foulest temper; the most nearly insane of them all -- was shaking.

"We had a row," repeated Bodie in a monotone. "I hit him. I can't find him."

Murphy, who was tired, and soured by the fruitless search, and very conscious that there were too few hours until CI5's early morning call summoned him to duty, erupted. "You mean," he roared, "you had a row? You mean, I'm scouring the bloody streets all night because you and your partner had some blasted punch-up and now he's gone off in a mood? Oh christ, Bodie, now I've heard it all. Loosen the fucking apron strings, for chrissake." He turned on his heel, fuming, got into the car and slammed the door with a resolutely final thud. He was going home to bed.

Bodie stood and watched his colleague drive off. Nobody understood. He had to find Doyle, he had hurt him; but no-one understood.

Dawn was breaking when Bodie, half-mad, remembered who might understand how important it was to find Doyle.



Doyle was singing. He didn't know the words, but the tune seemed familiar so he was belting along with the best of them anyway. He knew he was very drunk. It felt wonderful. It felt wonderful because the creeping agony at the back of his mind had receded until he could no longer remember why it was there; and even the pain in his body was a hazy thing now that he was sprawled along a soft carpet, utterly relaxed. The man beside him passed along the bottle; he took a healthy swig and held it out to the next, resuming the song with gusto. There was an annoying bleeping noise ruining his concentration on the tune; he felt carefully inside his jacket with a scowl on his face, hoisted out the plaintive R/T, stared at it with disfavour.

Bodie

The name lanced through his fuddled mind and let in the pain.

He threw the offending object with all his strength at the opposite wall. He heard the casing crack; and then it fell silent where it lay. That was that.

All around, people were leaning and looking at him with owlish surprise. Firmly, Doyle relinked arms with the men at either side of him and resumed the sing-song.

Oh, Santa's just come down the chimney
It made quite a mess on the hearth




Cowley was not asleep when the call came, even though it was only four in the morning; he'd woken suddenly, lain staring at the ceiling for a while and then decided that Morpheus was likely to remain elusive for the remainder of the night. He was just pouring boiling water onto warmed Ceylon leaves when the phone rang.

His sparse sandy brows drew into a frown almost immediately.

"-- not a very good show, is it, Major? He was carrying ID, and we picked up his damaged R/T in the vicinity. Not good, not good at all."

Cowley met it without compromise, but allowing a note of chilly politeness into his voice; the only concession the police officer was likely to get. "I quite agree. Did he give any explanation?"

"You must be joking. Passed out cold." The officer was resolute in his determination not to use 'sir.' It wasn't often one got the chance to prod at CI5 like this. He spoke with self-righteous reproach as he continued --"Been brawling, from the look of him --"

"Is he hurt?" Cowley cut in, sharply.

"Minor injuries. You appreciate my position, Major. A senior operative from an organisation supposedly dedicated to keeping the muck off the streets, picked up during a raid on an illegal drinking establishment --"

"Where was this, exactly?"

"Henry Dan's place, North Circular Road."

"I know it." Cowley's lips pursed in distaste and irritation. A seedy dive, indeed; and certainly not the kind of place one expected one's crack agents to disport themselves. "Where is he now?"

"Dan?"

"No," Cowley ground out, "Doyle."

"Behind bars," said the man, not without some pleasure. This would be whitewashed over, of course; like any government organisation CI5 had to be kept lily-white and smelling pure even if it meant bending the rules. But he didn't see why there shouldn't be a little bit of private needling. "On a very hard bed. I hope you'll see to it that he's suitably reprimanded, Major. But it'll take a while to get the alcohol out of his system --"

"Aye, and I know just the way," prophesied Cowley grimly; and then he set out to pick up his severely out-of-line young agent.

Ray Doyle looked a mess. He had to be shaken awake and half-dragged to his feet from the narrow bed where he'd been dumped; he was unshaven and his skin was a greyish colour, relieved only by the colourful array of bruising around his cheekbones and jaw; his shirt was stained and he stank, of sweat, smoke and stale alcohol; his eyes were bloodshot and unfocussed.

Cowley's nostrils wrinkled, but he didn't say a word. He let the young uniformed policeman assist Doyle from the cells, watching with a hard eye as Doyle, swearing, pushed him off and completed the journey to the car on his own two feet, which showed an alarming tendency not to co-operate. He half-fell into the rear seat of Cowley's car; his boss threw the plastic bag containing his possessions in after him and drove off. It would take a conciliatory letter to smooth this over, and Cowley did not like having to crawl with apologies to the police force; he didn't like it at all.

The object of blame sat slumped in the rear seat, his head in one hand, leaning forward. All Cowley could see in the mirror was a downward-slanted cap of wayward curls. Doyle was saying nothing, either; and he was wise there because Cowley had enough in him for both of them.

Nevertheless, when the car rolled up against the kerb outside the Victorian house he was currently occupying, his touch was not rough as he took Doyle's elbow and helped him out of the car. The younger man stopped when they were just inside the gate; he was breathing hard.

"Doyle -- ?"

Without a word, the man leant over and was neatly, comprehensively sick over the flowerbed. When it was over, Cowley said acidly: "If those tulips fail to come up in spring you'll be scrubbing CI5 ablutions for a week."

It roused nothing. Not a tremor of response from this man, who had an answer for everything; whose reactions were usually underplayed, sharp, exactly timed; nothing. He simply stood there, trembling in the cool dawn air, head down; he looked a strangely vulnerable figure.

Some of Cowley's anger vanished; though more of it remained. "Come on, man," he said roughly, taking Doyle's elbow, "I think we've amused the neighbours long enough."

Doyle detached the hand with efficiency; but he followed Cowley up the path and inside the old gothic mansion. Cowley's first, icy-tempered ideas about how to run this interview had undergone a radical change, in the face of Doyle's obvious distress. Obvious to him. Anyone else would think the young, tough man was coping, and coping sullenly, with a difficult situation in which it was wisest to keep a low profile. Cowley saw something else; he saw that there was nothing but misery in the way Doyle was reacting. He was operating from the void of one who has seen the way to hell; and no way back.

Anyone else -- but there was, after all, someone else who knew Doyle, even better than Cowley did. And where were you, thought Cowley grimly, where were you when your young love was running wild and loose in the night? He showed Doyle to the bathroom -- ridiculous, with its big four-footed bath and cranky old-fashioned geyser -- and rang Bodie's flat. No reply. He tried CI5 -- and learnt that agent 3.7 was apparently out searching for his partner, for some reason no-one seemed quite clear about. He left instructions for Bodie to call him the moment he showed up, but he did not try any further measures to contact him; he was beginning to wonder --

Doyle reappeared; he had wrung out his soiled shirt in clean water and put it back on, damp beneath his jacket. He had washed his hair, too; it stood out in fluffy light-brown curls around his white, landscaped face. In view of the damp shirt Cowley set him in the chair nearest the big ungainly radiator that hugged the wall beneath the window, and gave him a mug of tea. He asked one question, brusque and unemotional: "Are you fit to talk?"

After a moment, Doyle gave a nod, wrapping his hands tighter around the mug as if to warm them. He still hadn't looked at Cowley, without deliberately avoiding his eyes; he seemed to have his attention totally elsewhere, locked onto some bleak, inner vision. Cowley took a deep breath. Time for business. To demand, with freezing contempt, just why his unruly young agent had allowed himself to get into a helplessly drunken state in an illegal drinking parlour with ID on him; he prepared to launch a flood of scathing invective that would reduce the man to the sour awareness that he was nothing, save the head of CI5 willed it so --

Not one word of it ever emerged as he surveyed the pale young agent slumped opposite him. He looked exhausted, as if he'd gone ten rounds with Macklin. How long since he had been shot through the heart? Little over two years.

"Come on, laddie. To bed," he said, as gently as he knew how; and then, when Doyle's dull eyes met his, added more sternly, "No repetition of this, that's understood; and we'll have it out some other time."

He surprised even himself, sometimes.



Bodie leaned on the doorbell. He had been up all night; he had been in a fight; he had suffered one of the worst emotional shocks of his life. He was conscious of none of it; of nothing, save the one burning resolution left.

He had to find Ray Doyle, and time was running out.

Eyes red-rimmed, face grim with purpose, he pushed past the slight older man as if he didn't exist. The jungle-fighter in him had never seemed more predominant; though his hands were empty you could almost see the cocked rifle held there, scent the danger of his cat-like alert, the restless sweep of his eyes.

It reminded Cowley once more of just how close to the edge his two top agents were; the tense complex one, and the single-track fighting man; how little it would take to push them into insanity. He'd seen it happen before, with men both greater and meaner in spirit than these two; it could happen to any of them. He, George Cowley, ran them on a knife-edge, fostered that haunted intensity; that tightly reined nerve; he fostered it for the sake of CI5. And if he let it go? Slackened the reins and set them free? They'd run down, along with the sharp fighting edge, the keen, almost premonitive intuition: they would lose too the oddness that set them apart, the oddness that always hovered, to threaten their eventual sanity.

Or would they lose that difference? Was it already too late with them for life to set them apart?

Either way, he'd hoped that the strange, fierce love they'd conceived for one another might steady them down; and it had seemed for a while to be working out that way. They had been calmer, more relaxed; just as tuned-in to the realities of CI5 life and death, just the same excellent team; yet one step further away from the permanent isolation of madness. In insanity, no-one has a partner.

"Bodie," he said aloud. He was getting old.

Bodie turned to face him in the hall. He looked terrible. "I've -- lost Doyle. Have to find him -- sir --"

That pathetic 'sir,' recalled with an obvious effort and used under stress, touched Cowley's heart. He took Bodie's leather-clad arm, led him into the living room. "Doyle's safe," he said without preamble. "Come and sit down. He's safe."

"Where is he? Is he hurt?" Bodie had tensed all over, rigid with alert.

"No," said Cowley, who'd made sure of that as he leaned over Doyle and watched him drift into an exhausted sleep, still drugged with alcohol; then searched him with expert hands. "Not seriously."

"Where is he?" demanded Bodie. "I need to see him."

"Better not, laddie." Cowley said it gently, but it was a bad tactical move. Bodie sensed weakness, moved in, eyes glittering, repeating: "Where is he?"

Cowley was not afraid of Bodie, not even this Bodie. His patience snapped.

"3.7! Believe it or not, I have better things to do than nursemaid your partner through the night and then face an insubordinate inquisition from you. He is safe, Bodie, you have my word on it, and that's all that need concern you at the moment. Dammit, man, you're in no state for anything and neither is he. Go home and get some sleep. Has it occurred to you that you are on duty in three hours?"

For a moment, he thought the other man was about to unleash the madness on him, the dark eyes bright with cold temper; and it crossed his mind that Bodie too must have been through a very special kind of hell that night.

Then Bodie turned away. "I have to see him, sir," he said in a quiet voice. "You don't understand."

"No, but I'm beginning to," snapped Cowley. "And I don't like it. In fact it's probably to your advantage if I don't understand -- too much. Are you with me, 3.7?"

Bodie was not with anyone, right then. He struggled to regain his tattered self-control. Doyle was safe; Cowley had said so and so it must be true, because he trusted Cowley implicitly. That particular madness, of fearing Doyle dead at his hands had obsessed him throughout the blurred images of the long night; now it subsided. What he had forgotten was that it didn't end there.

He had forgotten that Doyle's safe recovery, desperately welcome though it was, only heralded a new set of problems. His, Bodie's, ruinous uncontrolled violence had been directed against the man he loved; he had done his best to hurt him, beat physical penance out of him without a thought for the consequences. However could he trust himself again?

That was irrelevant. What mattered was that Doyle would certainly never trust him again.

He persisted, to this hard inflexible man: "Is he here?"

Cowley hesitated, too long.

"If I could just see him, sir," said Bodie; and it was with amazement Cowley heard a note in the other man's voice he had never heard before, "Just see him. I won't --" his voice changed, but he caught it instantly and went on quite steadily, "I expect he's asleep, is he sir? I won't wake him up."

Unusually dumb, Cowley showed him where Ray Doyle was, and stayed with him. Bodie had found his partner.

Gentle in sleep, Doyle lay on Cowley's pristine spare-room bed, covered with a quilt. Bodie leant over him intently, seeing the dark bruising with a pang of guilt, regret: the closed eyelids and the spiked doll's lashes, feeling the warm breath stirring against his own skin -- Doyle was alive.

Cowley pulled on his arm, steady and insistent. Bodie went with him.

Cowley looked at him with a kind of pity, and weariness too. How long had it lasted? Twelve weeks, or a little more? They'd done well, then -- he'd privately given it a matter of days when it had begun. Then, as time went on, he began to be conscious of a cautious surprise -- they were so well-matched, so tuned to one another, that if one of them were female there would be no doubt, none at all, that here was a pair of lovers who would outlive the first passion, and settle to an easy belonging that would last them their lifetime --

All fantasy, wiped out; and he was proved, bleakly, right.

He said, quite gently, "Come on, laddie. Go home. Get some rest. I'll have you called."

Bodie nodded, looking as if he didn't know quite where he was, nor where he was supposed to go. His hand reached for his car keys, held on to them as if they were a guideline, and he headed for the door without another word.

From the wide window Cowley watched his agent going down the path, easing himself into the Capri, slamming the door briskly and driving off. He sighed, and shook his head irritably. Someone should be with him. But Cowley couldn't be in two places at once. Who else did they have? Only each other, and it seemed they had lost even that.

When Doyle awoke, he was stiff, and sore, and had a raging headache that pounded sickeningly when he moved, threatening to unsettle his stomach violently. His mouth tasted foul, thick as a navvy's sock; and, worse than any of that, he remembered even before he opened his eyes exactly why he was here. He flung his arm up over his eyes in instinctive defence against the crowding memories; and after a moment of lying there very still he got up to face the day.

It was after ten. He washed, thoroughly, in the antique bathroom and then took a quick check around the house. No sign of Cowley. He hardly remembered the events of the morning, except that he had been sick over the tulips and the old man had been gentle with him. No doubt that would soon be rectified. In the kitchen he found a note -- 'Doyle -- my office as soon as you arrive' -- which was Cowley's way of giving him the morning off, and a bottle of aspirin prominently displayed beside it which might have amused him on any other day but this. And all the days to come.

He used his boss's razor ruthlessly, wincing as the lather stung his bruised skin; but he balked at using Cowley's toothbrush. He had to get home. Not home, he corrected himself; and then he remembered that he had no car. His own he had parked outside his own flat hours before it all began, and it was presumably still there. Nothing else for it, he'd have to call a taxi. It was then that he noticed the keys left out on the table, with a Rover tag. The old man had left his car for him.

When he let himself into Bodie's flat he stood for a moment, quietly listening, but there was no sound from the inner rooms. He went first to the bathroom, to clean his teeth, spitting out the water with satisfying venom into Bodie's ice-blue porcelain bowl; and then he went into the bedroom for a clean shirt and underwear.

He stopped short.

Bodie lay there on the bed, fully dressed, sprawled out on his stomach. After the first shock, Doyle went quickly over and examined him. He was breathing deep and even; peaceful and at rest.

Nice for you, mate; Doyle thought savagely, staring down at the dark cropped hair, the fists tangled in the bedding, the closed eyes. Sleep sweet, sunshine, sleep sweet.

Noiselessly, he removed what he needed from the drawers packed with his clothes, changed swiftly in the bathroom, and left for work. The reason why Bodie should be asleep and at home at this hour eluded him, and didn't bother him much.

He reported to Cowley's office. The old man looked tired this morning, but any sympathy one might have had for him was instantly dispelled at the undiluted crispness of his tone. He made no reference to the events of the night before, apart from a routine enquiry into Doyle's state of health, answered with equal economy. No mention was made, either, of Doyle's missing partner, and Cowley outlined the day's assignment -- a routine shepherding of new recruits around the shooting ranges, the psychological couches, the fitness, perception and alertness trials, all grounds they'd come to know well should they decide to undergo the rigorous selection procedure of CI5.

In other words, a day released from duty. He supposed he ought to feel either grateful, or resentful; but he felt nothing much at all. He supposed, also, that Cowley was saving the big lecture until he had the two of them together.

Cowley was ready to dismiss him, but he had another duty to perform; another pay-off to make.

He requested, very formally, that Cowley allot him time to lay a matter of semi-personal consideration before him, either now or at some prearranged appointment; and when his boss gestured to him to go ahead, gave him Ann Holly's story in flat, unemotional language.

It was clearly not what Cowley had been expecting. Doyle could read little in his face save the usual hard concentration. At the end of it, the controller of CI5 leant back in his chair, taking off his glasses and holding them in one hand. "It's not CI5 business."

"No sir. Police brief -- Drugs Squad --"

"Are you requesting permission to deal with it personally?"

"No, sir. But I need your authority to involve the relevant authorities," said Doyle, patiently quoting the small print.

"You have it," said Cowley briskly, adding, "Handle the matter in your free time, 4.5 -- you've used up your goodwill in this department for the next ten years."

And with that chilling notification, Ray Doyle was dismissed.

He ran into Murph on his way to the waiting room where he would collect the rookies. Murphy was in a difficult mood. Skittish and resentful all at once. He took Doyle by the arm and pushed him to the wall. "Don't get lost again," he said with heavy-handed mockery.

Doyle stared at the hand on his arm until it disengaged itself. Then he looked up. Staring into chill green, Murphy felt a flicker of unease. He stepped back, making an effort to redeem the situation with a more light-hearted approach.

"Keep close to him in future. He gets twitchy when you're out of sight. Ever thought of marrying him? He'd be happier knowing where you spend your nights, you know."

"You'd better tell me what you're on about," said Doyle with deadly quiet. "And make it quick."

Murph felt a very real sense of grievance, and despite the droll tone, his own eyes were hard. "Your partner," he said with deliberation, "took it into his head to be up all night looking for you. Probably wanted your recipe for lasagne, or something. So he dragged me into the search. We had a nice time of hide and seek around London until the small hours. Where were you? Fucking your way through the phone book?"

"No," said Doyle with terrible restraint, "but I might be next time. So do everyone a favour and lay him out cold if he tries it again, will you? Big lad like you, Murph, no problem."

He walked on, leaving Murph to stare after him, shaking his head. It was better to work solo; Murphy was quite convinced of that.

It was news to Doyle that Bodie'd been up all night looking for him. He didn't let it touch him. But the new would-be recruits to CI5 were impressed one and all by the hardness, the underlying viciousness of the established agent who showed them the ropes; and wondered if they, should they be fortunate enough to be accepted, would become as cold, hard-eyed and fine-drawn with tension as this hard-bitten man assigned to their care.

It was well into afternoon when he met Bodie. He was whisking his recruits around the training hall; watching their disbelief, first at the scruffiness of it all, then by the finely-honed efficiency, the fast unthinking skill of the men who worked out here, which wiped out the earlier impression of laxity, never to return.

"-- you don't call me sir," he was saying for the fifth time to one recruit who was fresh-faced and bright-eyed and who reminded him vaguely of Tony Miller, long dead, when he saw Bodie; pale, remarkably spruce, watching him from the other end of the spacious building.

"Are we expected to reach that standard?" asked the recruit, gawping at a far off cardboard cutout.

"Yep, an' if you don't they line you up over there and use you in gun fight as target practice. Want a demonstration?" Without waiting for their answer, he picked up the rifle he'd signed out of armoury on the way here, weighed it in his hand. Some perversity of his mood made him change his decision. He called Bodie over.

Bodie was very unreadable, very remote this afternoon. Doyle matched him for that all the way. He nodded coolly at his band of would-be merry men. "The rookies need a demo, supershot. Here." And he threw him the rifle.

Bodie caught it, swung it to his shoulder. Wasting no time, he let rip, following the line of targets with economic bursts of ammunition, his eyes screwed up in careful concentration; and each one fell in turn. The men watching were impressed, or discouraged, or enthused by the academically perfect performance, each according to his nature. Doyle was conscious that he himself was singularly lifted, pleased by it; he had wanted Bodie to come up to expectation. He wanted Bodie to be superb at all things, a match for himself.

Bodie misunderstood the impetus, however; he assumed that Doyle had been hoping he would make a fool of himself, and he chucked the rifle over at him with a terse: "Sorry to disappoint you."

Their eyes met. Each took in the signs of change in the other, and knew himself to be the cause. To Doyle, Bodie looked guilty and hurt, angry -- and bewildered. There was something pathetic about Bodie. Doyle, who knew all the facts of the misunderstanding whereas Bodie only had access to a few, having dreamed up the rest, felt vaguely sorry for him. But he still had no forgiveness in him to offer.

"Tea break," he ordered, sensing that his inattention to the recruits was becoming noticed, and swung off, leaving them to follow.

Bodie was beside him. They talked quietly as they went along, in a kind of intermittent verbal shorthand.

"Cowley wants to see us."

"Are you surprised?"

"4.30."

"I'll be there," he said with a kind of mad gaiety.

Bodie gave him a quick glance. "You OK?"

"Nope. Never felt worse since the cat got the guppies, how about you? After your nice long lie-in?"

"I was up all the bloody night."

"Murphy too, so he says. He thinks we ought to get married, what do you say?"

"Where were you?"

"Screwing all my ex-girlfriends, of course."

"One by one? Or all together?"

"Make up your own story, sweetheart; you're the one with the wonderful imagination."

Fast-paced, they had come to the end of the building and all they had to say. Bodie looked Doyle over slowly, quelling his own tense anger; his partner met his gaze steadily, hands stuffed into jeans pockets, the wind scudding through his brown hair, feet in white kickers planted firmly apart. Behind him, a respectful way off, the potential recruits clustered like sheep, waiting for the pack dog to make a move. It struck Bodie that Doyle was taking all this calmly, too calmly: the anger in him running too deep to show. He said only: "Enjoy yourself with the kiddies. See you 4.30."

"It's a date."

The image of him standing there remained with Bodie a long time.

Cowley's office, 16.30 hours. Bodie was on time, Doyle late. They stood for the duration of the lecture.

Cowley did not seem angry; but he was totally distant. No sign now of the understanding he had earlier shown. He was cold, and hard, and he explained anew to them exactly what they meant to him. Which was that they were CI5 agents, paid to do the job they were assigned to do, and anything that stood in the way of their efficiency as CI5 agents must be instantly and finally removed. The alternative was very clear: dismissal. He had tolerated their relationship -- he used the word coolly, with no overtones -- on the promise and the understanding that it would not affect their performance and the discharging of their duty to him in the smallest degree. The mistake in trusting them to keep to that understanding had been his; and he did not like making mistakes. Therefore he was giving them one final chance. Any recurrence of the events of the previous night, or anything like it, and they were through with CI5. Dismissed.

They were silent as they left the office. There was nothing to say. Except the tying up of loose ends.

"I'll be around to collect my things."

"When?"

Doyle slanted him a glance. "Does it matter? If you're not there, I've got a key; I'll leave it when I go."

"It's over then," said Bodie. Strangely, unbelievably, he found he wanted to weep, bawl his eyes out in a way he hadn't done since he was a kid, and not often then. It had all happened so fast. This time yesterday, 24 hours ago, he had been driving back home, his mind on the job; and at the back of it the warm secure knowledge that soon he would be home with Ray.

But even then, Doyle had been making his assignation with Ann Holly.

"I don't know," said Doyle, staring away.

Bodie had lost the thread of the conversation, and had to struggle to collect it. He balled his fists, looked the other way, angry. "Whaddya mean, you don't know," he jeered. "You mean, you might come back to me when you've screwed the Holly woman out of your system?" Anger, he told himself, savagely, that's what he needed, to hold off the shaming stupidity of tears...

Doyle began to walk away without speaking. Bodie went after him, made as if to grab his arm, caught back the gesture in time. "Where the hell are you going?"

Cool eyes met his, assessed him as dispassionately as if he were a total stranger. "It's a waste of time being with you right now. When you feel like talking sense, you can come round to my place."

"Don't count on it," snarled Bodie, and they split up.

Doyle went to see Ann; at the door of her flat he was stopped by a plainclothes officer who materialised apparently from nowhere if you were an ordinary member of the public; and probably from the curtained flat beneath if you were a CI5 agent with your eyes open. He was allowed in on production of his ID.

She received him with surprise; he noted that she didn't seem unduly pleased to see him. He declined the offer of a drink and questioned her briefly on the police arrangements.

"Well, I certainly feel safer. But I can't say it's pleasant living constantly under the eye of Big Brother," she said, with all the old acerbity he remembered returned in full. Then, her eye met his and slid uneasily away. "I suppose I ought to thank you." It came out grudging in the extreme.

He made a brief, mocking gesture of dismissal. "Nah, don't feel like that."

Suddenly repentant, she said: "I'm sorry, Ray. I am grateful. But -- after that night, I suppose I thought you'd forget all about it."

He shook his head, his eyes on a bruise -- maybe one, two days old -- disfiguring her right cheek. "The fuzz knock you about?" he asked, not because he suspected it but to draw her out.

She was unsmiling as she replied: "No. Your friend -- Bodie."

"Bodie hit you?" He frowned. Now that he couldn't imagine.

"Not deliberately, I suppose. It just happened while you and he --"

He understood. "Yeah. Does it hurt?"

"Not much. Ray -- ?

"-- don't ask."

"I was only going to say, he rang me up that night. At about midnight, or just before."

"Did he now. Ask you for a date, did he?"

"He was looking for you. He sounded -- wild."

"Don't worry love, he's found me now. He won't trouble you again."

She was watching him, eyes narrowed in puzzlement and calculation. "I don't understand what --"

He cut her off, brusquely. "I'm not askin' you to understand. I'm sorry you got involved that night. I just wanted to check you were okay, in good hands. Any worries?"

If she had, he guessed she wouldn't unburden herself to him. Not any more.

"I've got a good lawyer."

"I'll keep an eye on the way things turn out."

"Yes." Suddenly she smiled, but there was no humour in it. "You can always bring me a cake with a file baked inside it..."

"It won't come to that." As if sensing that this was their final farewell, she made a move towards him but he side-stepped it. He felt as if it would be a very long time before he would ever actively want someone to touch him again. So they said goodbye without the dimension of contact, and as he left her flat he knew it was very unlikely he would ever see her again.

Bodie turned up that night around ten. He was dressed in his silver-grey anorak affair, a sloppy roll-neck sweater, and creased cords. He was red-eyed and unshaven. He looked a mess.

He was carrying two suitcases which, when Doyle let him in, he dropped on the living room floor.

"Brought your stuff."

"Saved me a trip. Thanks."

"The little woman will be unpacking for you, I presume," said Bodie, looking around.

Doyle didn't reply to that. Any thought he might have had that this would be a rational discussion, setting the stage for forgiveness and the healing of wounds -- if that was going to be possible, and he doubted it -- instantly died.

"You've done what you came for," he said without looking at Bodie. "Now get out of here."

"Like hell I bloody will."

Bodie advanced on him. Doyle didn't move. He made each word very clear, very precise, because if he wasn't calm he'd be yelling and they'd be into a replay of the other night's violence. "If you're going to stay in this mood, then you can get out. I've had enough of your bloody caveman tactics to last a fuckin' lifetime. If you think you can manage to keep your fists off me, and talk sense, and listen, and think, then you can stay. Otherwise --" he made a wide gesture towards the door --"you go, Bodie."

Bodie made an effort to slam a hold on his turbulent emotions. He halted where he was. "We need to talk."

Doyle's lip curled. "Yeah, talk, fine. If talk means communication and not more of your mindless abuse. It doesn't take much to get us going, Bodie, we found that out the other night." He threw himself into a chair, not looking Bodie's way.

Bodie looked him over silently, seeing anew the bruises: there would be others too, beneath the concealing sweatshirt. "Are you okay?"

"You asked me that already. There are only two responses to being beaten up, Bodie; either you die or you don't. I didn't, so you can cut out the guilty concern."

Bodie took a deep breath. There were thousands of questions running around in his head. Weary, he asked the simplest:

"What are we going to do?"

And Doyle, turning his head, looking at him with wide lightless eyes, answered: "I don't know."

There was silence between them for several moments. Bodie sighed to quell the rising frustration, paced edgily round the room. Hands shoved into his pockets his back to Doyle, he asked: "Are you still seeing Ann?"

"Probably not," Doyle stopped and thought. He saw no reason to enlighten Bodie over the facts of that affair; Bodie's betrayal still rankled too keenly, calling forth an answering streak of cruelty in himself. But neither was it fair to deliberately delude the other man over the way his relationship with Ann was going. So he added coldly, "If you mean 'see her' in a social-cum-sexual sense, then no, I'm not, nor am I ever likely to be so you can get that out of your head."

Bodie thought about this. He had a headache coming on. "Then why --"

But maybe, if Doyle was telling the truth, it would be better to leave Ann out of this. He was hurt and angry and bitterly jealous, but when it came down to it Bodie wanted more than anything for them to be able to salvage something from this. If Doyle was no longer involved with Ann Holly, then that was maybe all that mattered. So he took a cautious step forward. "Ray -- if it's over with her, then maybe we could try again. I could forgive you that, it wouldn't need to --"

Doyle's head came up. "Oh, you could forgive me, could you," he repeated, very low, very controlled.

"Yes, but that's not the only --"

"You're too bloody right it isn't!" yelled Doyle, startling Bodie. He stared into Doyle's bitter, hard eyes. "Ray --"

Doyle was about to shout again, but he forced himself to breathe deeply, regaining a measure of calm. "Go away, Bodie. Just go away. We're not gettin' anywhere and it's -- it's all too close. Just get out of here before I --"

Before I give way to the fury running loose in me and hit you again, pound it into you as violently as I can just what you've done, you stupid, thoughtless bastard...

Bodie had grievances of his own. "Before you what?" he sneered. "Somehow I get the feeling you're blaming me for all this. Christ, mate, you really take the biscuit, you do. Coming all over the injured party. Yeah, I know I hit you and I'm sorry, but you're the one who bloody well made all the promises and you're the one who broke them."

"Yeah," agreed Doyle with a little, cynical smile. "Totally untrustworthy."

Bodie was hardly listening, pacing angrily around the room. "If you'd wanted to see her again...I could have understood that. I'd've given you time. But you --"

He stopped. Doyle threw himself into a chair, looked up, and prompted: "I?"

"Oh bloody hell, Doyle!" exploded the other man. "You know what I mean. You -- it was all so furtive, Ray! If you'd only told me first --"

Doyle laughed. "Yeah, stupid of me, wasn't it? I must need my head examined. Not like me, was it? After what I said an' all. About the commitment, and that. And you don't even know the most stupid thing I did of all, Bodie."

Bodie stared down at him, beginning to realise that Doyle, although outwardly calm, brazening it out, was running on fury with a tension so great it was threatening his rationality.

"The most stupid thing I did was to worry about you," Doyle was continuing way out on his own line of thought. He wore a grim, provocative smile. "I left my number for you in case you were in trouble, you might need to find me in a hurry. That's what was on my mind that night, bloody funny, isn't it. A real fuckin' laugh. You think about it, sunshine. Go home and think about it and then laugh yourself sick."

"Yeah. Yeah, I'll do that," said Bodie slowly. His head was really pounding now; he wanted to go home and sleep. "And when I've laughed myself into thinking straight, I'm going to do what I should have done two days ago. I'm going to go to Cowley and bloody well sign myself free of you."

He turned. Doyle grabbed his arm from behind, yanked him around and let him go. He was whey-faced, stony-eyed, and absolutely determined. "No you don't. You selfish bastard, don't you ever think of anyone but yourself? You ram this down Cowley's throat any more and that's the end, I swear that. We promised him we wouldn't let this make any difference to him, and I'm not havin' you implicatin' me in lettin' him down. We're a goddamn team and we stick together and we do our bloody job until Cowley says otherwise." He fixed Bodie with a glare. "Cowley, not you or me for some fuckin' personal hitch, not unless you want us turning into two bitchy queen types, do you want that Bodie? Well, do you?" he fairly shouted, glowering at him. "You want us to stage a big scene in Cowley's office screaming about how we had a big fight and we can't work together any more?" He stopped, and went on a little more calmly, "You're the big pal of the old man. Do you wanna do that to him? You want him to think that about us? For godsake will you say something!"

Bodie was about to let fly, yell back at him, but he shut his mouth and turned away. "No, I don't want that," he said quietly, his back to Doyle. Legs braced aggressively apart, hands thrust into pockets, the broad sweep of his shoulders, he looked a tough, invulnerable figure. But Doyle saw the downcast head, and he was forcibly reminded that they had come to this crisis because of the insecurity of Bodie's nature; the very insecurity that had drawn Doyle to him, made him want to protect him, give him a measure of love and happiness in the time they had left. It made him gentler as he said: "Then you meet me tomorrow at CI5 and we get on with the job; and we don't talk about this or think about it, not ever, not while we're on duty. I'd like to think we still had some bloody honour left. D'you understand? Otherwise, I'm telling you, I'll go, Bodie. It'll be over then once an' for all."

"Isn't it over now?" demanded Bodie, bitterly. "Well, isn't it?"

Doyle turned away, suddenly weary. "I don't know. I don't know, Bodie. I hope not."

"You're assuming, I note, that I'll want you back?" Bodie was incensed, that Doyle, to his mind the party with the larger share of guilt, should be so sure of him.

Doyle gave him a harsh, tremulous laugh. "Yes, that's one thing I am sure of. About the only thing I'm sure of in this whole fuckin' mess is that you'll be back 'ere beggin' me in less than a week."

"You really think so, do you."

"Yeah." Doyle stared at him, looked into misery-dark eyes belying the arrogance of the angry voice, the aggressive pose. He wished he could explain how he felt; as hurt and angry and betrayed as Bodie himself, but more important than that, it wasn't that he was trying to punish Bodie for the hurt. It was that he couldn't override his own resentment, his own sense of failure, enough to let Bodie through.

"Bodie -- I said at the beginning I couldn't handle this. Then it was good with us, and I thought, yeah, maybe it's going to work out. But you -- " he screwed up his face with the necessary concentration to express himself -- "you're so bloody emotionally immature. I can't fight it any more. I got enough problems of my own, without yours as well." And, seeing Bodie's stark-white face, the numb expression, he said: "Go home, Bodie. Let's just give it a rest for a while."

There seemed nothing that Bodie could say.

The next day back at work he had thought would be difficult. Knowing Doyle expected him to be awkward, he gritted his teeth and sat on every impulse save those connected with his job. And he was taken by surprise at the end of the day, to realise that it hadn't been so difficult; they still worked together well, still interreacted with the same near-perfect intuition and response. He had quite simply forgotten, or put aside, their personal differences during the course of the day, during which Cowley had kept them inordinately busy. He was glad that it was so. Although they were emotionally estranged, they were still just as close.

Now it was only the nights he had to worry about.

Nights when he was by turns angry, lonely, resentful, guilty. One emotion only remained constant; his unhappiness. He wasn't happy without Doyle, and it wasn't any good trying to deny it; he missed him. Not just in the big empty bed -- the pillow still smelt of his hair -- to wake and find his arms empty, missing the snuffling and scents and warmth of the once well-known body next to his; not just the fevered excitement of Doyle, sensual and abandoned, leading him on to wild, crazy heat; and the warm gentleness that followed, when, damp and sated and tired they lay together in unspoken gratitude, and love.

Yes, he missed all those things, and sometimes the longing was almost unbearable, but also he just missed having Doyle around. His clothes, missing from the wardrobe, the scent of piny aftershave he sometimes used which had come to permeate the bathroom; the weight of him as they watched TV at night, leaning on Bodie's arm; the noise he'd made; yes, the silence of the place obsessed Bodie. No-one ever spoke, or sang, in the flat now.

To assuage it, he began to spend more time out; in bars, clubs, anonymous places where he could be ignored. Inevitably he met a woman, a tall creature with long red hair who chatted with him for the evening. Bodie had never been conscious of loneliness in his life until he had come to know what it was to be free of it, having Doyle always with him. Irritating he could be at times, but mostly it just seemed -- right. Natural, and good. Now he had lost all that and he was lonely; a keen aching tang in his guts every time he stepped through his front door and knew he would be alone until he left for work the next morning.

So he took the girl home, and for the first time in weeks the flat was full of talk, and laughter, and later, love.

Only it wasn't the same, and he couldn't sleep after; he left the naked length of her on his bed and sat in the living room open-eyed until dawn.

It was soon after this, and perhaps because of it, he began to think again about Ann Holly. As Doyle had demanded, they did not speak of it in the day, and never met off duty. But Doyle had asked that Bodie think about Ann, and when it was not too painful any more he did, wondering why Doyle had not told him he was seeing her again; it was just not like Doyle to be furtive.

Well, that was obvious. Doyle hadn't had time; Bodie knew that she had turned up at CI5 and waited for him. If Doyle had not been expecting her, and now Bodie thought about it, there was no evidence that he had been, rather the reverse since she would not then have needed to come to CI5 at all, then he would not have had time to contact Bodie even if he'd wanted to.

Doyle had loved Ann, had really fallen for her in a big way; and so Bodie had assumed he'd been delighted, all his dreams made true, when she'd arrived unexpectedly on the scene. And so he had taken her away, and made love to her, without a backwards glance at his newer relationship?

Bodie frowned, his tired bitter mind sensing that something was wrong, but unable to cope with it. He backtracked, trying logic where emotion had failed. You had to take the facts to arrive at the truth of something. So, take them. Ann Holly had arrived at CI5. Doyle had gone with her to his own flat.

Of course he did, thought Bodie, sidetracked; how could he not? I'm second best to him. He'd have married Ann and been happy; only she copped out and I was next on the scene. Not a very good substitute, maybe -- Bodie laughed mockingly at himself -- but he was ready for someone to love him, after Ann left, and Bodie had fulfilled that need in generous measure.

But Doyle, so serious, so determined to have commitment; making safeguards all the way -- why?

Because he didn't want me to walk out the way she did.

Bodie frowned. Doyle had wanted this relationship to work. He had done all he could to make sure that it would, not trusting to luck and love like his more haphazard partner. Yet, after all that, it had been Doyle himself who had --

The cycle seemed endless. Bodie couldn't make sense of it, but, patient in his desperation, he tried again from the beginning. Everything fitted. Everything was out of synch. He had to find the flaw.

Eventually, he narrowed it down. Either Doyle had been using him to fill a gap, a substitute he'd make do with until something better came up -- and Bodie not only didn't want to believe that, he couldn't believe it, knowing Doyle as he did -- or Bodie had been wrong, all wrong, about the Ann Holly business.

There seemed to be only two ways to find out. One he rejected instantly, since he never wanted to see Ann again. The other he finally carried out.

Doyle answered the entry phone, and let him in. He was pale, very serious, in a white T-shirt and jeans. It struck Bodie, looking at him properly for the first time in days, that Doyle was thinner, more delicate looking than he remembered him; and it drove other thoughts temporarily from his mind.

"You all right?" he asked, vaguely uneasy.

Doyle ignored him, pushing past and going into the lounge, leaving Bodie to follow. "Okay, what did you come here to say?" He threw himself into a chair and looked up. His eyes looked tired, almost bruised with fatigue.

It was then that Bodie asked the question he should have asked at the start, or, if he had fully trusted Doyle, never needed to ask at all; and, sparing him nothing, Doyle gave him the answer.

It was too much to take in.

So it had been he, not Doyle, who had broken everything, smashed their fragile new love, as thoughtless and vengeful as a blundering child entrusted with something too precious for it.

"Why didn't you tell me," he said, very low. His fist slammed down onto the sideboard and his voice rose almost to a shout. "Oh christ Ray, why didn't you tell me!"

Doyle stayed calm. He had retreated, in fact, to a state where he was never anything else. "When? At the time? I tried to. You weren't in the mood to listen, you were so sure of my devious two-timing nature. Or since? It didn't seem important any more. Too late."

"I'm sorry." Bodie meant it; it came from the bottom of his heart. He came over, stood in front of Doyle looking down, eyes very dark. "I'm sorry mate."

Doyle made a sound, halfway between a groan and a laugh. "Yeah, I'm sure you are." He met Bodie's eyes. There was no resentment there, nor reproach, just a hurt so deep it struck straight to Bodie's heart.

"You forgive me?"

Doyle's considered answer, quite flat, came moments later. "I can't."

Bodie was arrested by a new shock. He had, oh god, he didn't know, expected that Doyle would say something very different. "Never? That's a bit hard, isn't it?"

Doyle sounded almost disinterested. "You'll do it again. You've done it before, remember? You thought I wanted those women in the night-club, can't live without 'em I can't, according to you. You'll never think any different will you, you'll never trust me. She didn't, either," he added.

"But I'm not her," said Bodie, hopelessly, stupidly.

Doyle glanced at him. "I know that. I thought you were different. Maybe you are. But I'm the same, obviously."

The hopelessness there hurt Bodie more than the thought of Doyle with Ann had; he had the sudden, crazy wish that if only it were possible to take back the days, wipe them out, and start again...He shut his eyes, squeezed his lids down hard. "Ray --"

"I know. You want a drink," said Doyle with faint, insane humour, and he got to his feet. Bodie put out a hand, blindly; Doyle watched it but made no move to take it.

"We could try again," said Bodie, very low. "Ray, please. You could let me try."

He could hardly believe it was his voice he heard, let alone what he was saying. In his entire life Bodie had never begged anyone, nor suffered more than a passing regret at their default. He didn't care. His hand went out, touched the wall behind him. Not knowing what he was doing, he dropped to his knees.

Doyle stayed where he was, looking down at him, wide green eyes thoughtful. He shook his head. "No --"

"Ray," said Bodie between gritted teeth, "For god's sake. I made a mistake. I'm sorry. You want me to beg? So help me, mate, I'd do that if that's what you want. Do you want that?" Defiant of the loss of pride, he sniffed hard and stared up, unrepentant of the wetness around his eyes. This was a hell the like of which he'd never dreamed.

Doyle slipped to his knees, too, looking into his eyes with a kind of rare, impatient tenderness. He reached out, touched Bodie's face, rubbed the wetness between his fingers. "No," he told him gently, "I don't want you to beg. It'd make a pretty picture, Bodie, but then I gave up pretty pictures long ago."

Bodie made a convulsive movement to get away, anywhere.

"You're such a poseur, Bodie," Doyle said, watching him. "All that passion at the start, then the paranoia, then the wounded anger, and now the sorrowful martyrdom. What next? Attempted suicide?"

Bodie turned on him, sharp as a whipping snake, brutal, humiliated anger clear in his eyes. He grabbed Doyle's shoulders and pushed him to the floor and stayed above him, breathing hard.

Doyle laughed up at him, infuriating, staring up with wide clear eyes. "Oh, more violence now is it? Go on, hit me again. I shan't fight this time. Or is rape more what you've got in mind? Carry on, sunshine --" the soft word bit --"just carry on. Rape me. I dare you to." Some devil made him add, betraying lost unspoken secrets of the dark, sorrows shared and stored aside to be solved -- together -- "It won't take long. It doesn't usually."

Something broke free inside him, some searing whiplash band of cruelty, and something else writhed in horror -- oh god how low we've come -- I've come -- and at the same moment Bodie tore himself free and rushed for the door.

Helpless sobs of laughter shook Doyle as he lay there watching the empty room; eventually they changed to the harsh sounds of misery.



"You want to go for a drink?" Bodie asked, off-hand, as he switched off the engine.

He was surprised when Doyle made an equally low-key acceptance, but made no comment. The weeks passed by, they were as close as working partners could be, and as far apart as they had ever been.

They sipped warmish beer slowly, in a nondescript pub off the Strand, without looking at one another. Doyle seemed far away, very remote, lost in his own thoughts or lack of them. Bodie watched his averted face in a mirror to one side; too strung up and too busy to notice much on the job, he noticed now that Doyle was not looking well. In short, he did not look as if he were thriving. No love being entirely unselfish, a small, unworthy part of Bodie was pleased by that; he had been rocked to the limits of his innate insecurity and desperately needed reassurance that Doyle missed him in some way, but he killed that satisfaction instantly because he loved Doyle and wished him no unhappiness. And Doyle was unhappy, he could see that. Or if not, he was simply allowing no emotion through, he was just existing, and Bodie was troubled as he watched him, that October evening.

He had forgiven Doyle by now for the hurt Doyle had so deliberately given him at his flat many days ago; he understood all too well the reasons behind it, and he had done the same thing himself in different ways. Nor was it to be forgotten that all this was Bodie's fault. Everything would be all right if only Doyle would agree to try again. But Doyle was not going that way. Bodie had made many tentative openings in that direction, from stubborn bullying tactics to reasonable persuasion, refusing to give up; but Doyle remained firmly, politely impenetrable, rejecting every advance. It made things no easier for Bodie to see the hell Doyle was putting himself through. Nor could he see any way out. Christ, Doyle looked as if he were living a nightmare. What did he see in all this that Bodie had not seen? The death of his chance of ever being loved again? Bodie knew himself to be more resilient than Doyle in some ways; Doyle shouted less but felt it more. He leant a little nearer his fragile companion, every protective instinct in him on full alert.

"You okay, mate?" he asked quietly. "Life all right, is it?"

Skin clear as honey, eyes translucent as glass, Doyle turned to look at him. He had a puzzled, faintly hostile air, as if Bodie had set him a question way beyond his understanding, or alternatively, too simple to be worth considering. He didn't say anything. What Bodie wanted to do, very badly, was to snatch him up, hold him fiercely close and tell him over and over that he was loved, that Bodie was sorry, desperately sorry, and would do anything at all if Doyle would only let him try again.

He did nothing of the sort, having tried it before. Doyle was wary now of any such declarations; Bodie had lost the right to his trust.

"You know I'm moving?" he heard himself say.

Doyle stirred. The last of the afternoon sunlight filtered through dusty paned glass and picked out autumn tints in his hair. "Yeah. I was there when Cowley told you, remember?"

"Yeah. So you were."

Leaving the flat they had shared, moving on to another which would be as anonymous as the other one had been, until Doyle had come along and brought it to life, infused it with his own personality, the gentle, fierce pleasure of their union. They had made love for the first time there.

Bodie was glad to be leaving it.

"How about coming back with me?" he asked, with near-diffidence.

Doyle shrugged. "What for?" He drained his glass and looked up.

"Why not?" said Bodie, suddenly angry. "Why not, for god's sake? We're mates, we work together. You wanted me to stay working with you and I've done that. So I can ask you back to my place for a bloody drink, can't I?"

"Not tonight, thanks," Doyle said mechanically and got to his feet, shoving his hands into his pockets. He stayed there for a moment, looking down, seeming to look through Bodie rather than at him.

"See you around."

Bodie watched him go, pushing through the swing doors of the pub, vanishing from sight. He got himself another drink, and then another, and did not leave for a very long time.

The doorbell rang, late at night. Bodie had packed up his things ready for the move; all that remained to do when the van came was shift it all down the stairs.

He showed his visitor in, wordless. Cowley picked his way through the clutter of boxes; crates and strewn packing material with precision, and took a seat.

"It's very late, sir," said Bodie, who was not in the mood for company.

"I'm well aware of the time, laddie," Cowley returned, but without the usual acid bite. He seemed preoccupied, and as disinclined as ever for small talk. He accepted a whisky and took several sips in silence before he came to the point.

"I'm not happy about 4.5."

Bodie stiffened. He'd just known the sniffy old bastard wouldn't be able to bear being left out of it much longer. Normally he cautiously welcomed any of Cowley's small overtures of friendship, if such they could be called; he genuinely liked the old sod. But this was hallowed ground; keep out, stay off the turf. His stony face gave over the message with perfect clarity. His boss made an impatient gesture.

"Och, Bodie! Leaving anything else out of it, he's your partner, and you'd do well to remember that. His well-being is your concern, and should be if you've any sense, or you'll be ending up with a bullet in your back because Dreamy Jack there lapsed into one of his increasingly frequent moments of introspection and forgot to watch it for you. I'm not here for my own amusement, man. 4.5 is one of my best operatives and anything that affects him is my concern as well as yours, because any weak link in my organisation is my concern. And 4.5 is well on the way to becoming just that -- a weak link."

"He has a name," said Bodie tightly.

"Aye, and that name's going to be emblazoned on a tombstone before very long if you two don't sort yourselves out!" blazed Cowley, eyes piercing over the rim of the glass; he set it down very deliberately, on a pile of books tied together with string. "What's the matter with Doyle, Bodie? Can't you see it? Have you looked at him lately?"

All the time, thought Bodie; I look at him all the time. Catching Cowley's eye on him he picked up his own glass, taking refuge behind it, and in the harsh taste of the liquid. Then he said, slowly, "I know he hasn't been himself lately. But he hasn't made any mistakes on the job. He just needs time."

"Time!" Cowley waved a hand in angry rebuttal. "How much time does he need? Another six weeks? Bodie, Bodie; look at him. He's like a man stumbling along in the dark; how long will it be before he pitches over the edge?" His voice had changed, and Bodie, startled, clearly caught the harsh urgency in it. "One mistake. That's all it takes. One mistake, and he could be lying dead at your feet. Like Allinson. Like Miller. Like Cook. Too late then, laddie. Too late then to dry his eyes and listen to his troubles and set him on his feet again. You think about it."

He stopped abruptly. Bodie just stared, dumbly. The old man cared; he might try to hide it under a flim-flam facade of hard-lining concern for the organisation; but he cared. He was worried about Doyle; he knew, better than any of them, how short time was, how few chances one was given. Cowley had watched too many young men die.

Cowley got stiffly to his feet, his thin sandy hair dishevelled when he'd run a hand through it in his anxiety to get through to Bodie. "I've said what I came to say." He was brusque, now, annoyed at having lost his cool. He had in his briefcase a sheaf of reports compiled over the last few weeks that catalogued Doyle's increasingly low morale; he had intended to lay them starkly before the man's partner and let Bodie draw his own conclusions.

Well, what he had done was maybe just as good, in its way. He looked at Bodie, waiting for some reaction.

"I'll keep it in mind, sir," said Bodie, at last. He took a deep breath, suddenly wanting to be honest with the old man. "I've tried, but I made a bad mistake with him, and he took it very hard -- he's been let down before, sir, and he --"

Bodie stopped, having found it harder than he'd thought. He discovered that there was no way he wanted to talk about his relationship with Doyle to Cowley. Cowley merely nodded briskly. "He's a stubborn character. And he feels things very deeply, keeps it all bottled up inside. Don't give him too much time, Bodie. That's my advice."

He walked to the door. Bodie followed to see him out. Just before he left Cowley said, seemingly inconsequentially: "That Holly girl. Never brought the lad anything but bad luck --"

Bodie shut the door. Troubled and indecisive, he leant against it, wondering what to do. The easiest course of action seemed to be to go and get another drink; which he did, and sat amid chaos, thinking. He was as worried about Ray as Cowley was, and yet there seemed nothing left to try that he hadn't already tried, and failed with. It was very late. Maybe tomorrow -- yes, tomorrow he'd talk to him again, make him see sense.

He went to bed.

The phone was ringing. Swearing, he grabbed for it as he surfaced from deep sleep, knocked the receiver off the table with a jarring crash, retrieved it, fumbling frantically. Phonecalls in the middle of the night always meant trouble.

"Bodie?"

He was still breathless from the struggle. "Yeah, sorry mate, I --"

Doyle misunderstood the delay, and the apology. "Look, I don't care if you've got a whole bloody harem round there, just get round 'ere."

Bodie felt no exhilaration, more a stab of fear -- Doyle sounded quietly desperate. "What's up, mate?" he said, sharp with urgency. "Ray?"

"Get round here," Doyle only repeated; and the line went dead.

The car screeched to a halt, burning rubber against the kerb. Bodie wrenched on the handbrake, grabbed the keys, slammed the door, raced into the building. The door was unlocked. He was up the stairs four at a time, his heart thudding with fear, apprehension. He burst into Doyle's flat, through the living room door; and came to a sudden halt.

Doyle was by the window, his back to his visitor, one hand holding the curtain. He appeared to be staring out, though the glass showed him only the blackness of a moonless night.

"Ray?" said Bodie gently. And as his partner did not reply he crossed the room in three angry strides, taking Doyle by the shoulders, all his fear and tension breaking out as he turned Doyle hard to face him, snapping: "Oh come on Doyle, for chrissake! What is it?"

The man in Bodie's hands did not move, simply surveyed him with unnatural calm. Bodie looked him over in return, angrily. Doyle was wearing grey-green slacks widebelted on narrow hips; a matching shirt open at the neck, and a thick cream wool zip-up jacket; for all that, he looked cold, his marked face very pale, and there were shadows under the green eyes not altogether due to the wavering long lashes. He was taut as a bow, and the silver chain resting on his throat jumped with tension. Bodie, moved as ever by the vulnerability, the mysterious cool beauty of his mate, wanted only to hold him tight: wrap reassuring arms around him, cradling Doyle's head on his shoulder, telling him over and over that everything would be all right.

But he couldn't say that; because he had failed before to make everything right for Ray Doyle, he had sworn to himself a deep silent vow to keep him safe, never to let him down; and he would never again trust himself to make Doyle that promise.

So Bodie stayed silent a moment longer, holding the slighter man's body in his hands a safe distance away. Then he said, struggling to sound quiet, normal: "You're cold. Come and sit down, eh? I'll get you a sweater, make a cup of tea. What happened? Someone try to get in or something?"

That was a thought. In the blind panic he'd been in since Doyle's telephoned cry for help, he'd abandoned all his usual fighter's caution; for all he knew Doyle might be under fire from a terrorist; there might be someone in the bedroom; he might have walked into a trap. He glanced around; but there was silence; nothing. All as it should be. Except Ray Doyle on the verge of collapse.

He turned back to face him, eyes dark with trouble. Doyle said, very quietly, "I can't go on, Bodie."

Bodie's insides clenched; took a sudden drop. He'd been expecting this for weeks; yet clung on to some frail hope that refused to die, fuelled by his own stubborn yearning love that would not, even now, take defeat. He supposed bleakly he'd even been hoping, on the frantic drive here tonight, that maybe... But it was not to be; now he'd heard it from Doyle's lips, not in some black nightmare he'd awake from crying Doyle's name to an empty room; but in reality. He'd gambled; and lost. Time to make the pay-off. He felt sick; and swallowed.

He dropped his hands from his partner's shoulders, releasing him with finality. Doyle would very likely have some idea in mind about resigning; but Bodie knew he was the one who had to go. He said, very low, very calm, "All right. It's my fault, mate; so don't go blaming yourself. I'm sorry for -- everything. I can get in touch with Cowley right away, leave the minute I've sorted it out with him --"

Where would he go? He dismissed the absurd question impatiently; who cared: You could drive on and on through endless roads until the night came to an end and your life or all that mattered of it, ended with it. Out of the deadness he looked at Doyle, waiting for some last word; some tinge of surprise touching him when he saw from the flickering green eyes that Doyle hadn't heard a word he'd said.

Instead, Doyle moved forward, until he was within an inch of Bodie. He said, with furious intensity, "You hurt me. Christ, Bodie!" His voice had risen, so he was almost shouting. "You hurt me so -- bloody -- bad --" He clenched a hand onto the lapel of Bodie's jacket, pushed him. Bodie took a step backwards, in a whirl of bemusement as Doyle went on, the words coming out more like harsh sobs, "I tried every bloody way I could to convince you, I kept on and on tryin', but you wouldn't listen, you never believed a word I said --" He continued to push Bodie backwards, with careless, frustrated fury, his breathing uneven, his face twisted up with anguish. "You're so screwed up inside you couldn't trust me, an' you didn't want to trust me Bodie, it didn't need to be Ann, it could've been anyone, anyone at all to give you an excuse to run off panickin' and lashing out --"

"No," said Bodie when Doyle drew a ragged breath, "No, it wasn't like that Ray, I --"

"Shut up!" hurled Doyle at him. "No excuses. Just shuddup, will you?" He gave Bodie a vicious jab with his elbow, knocking him onto the settee, and fell on top of him, pinning him there.

For a moment, Bodie thought Doyle was going to try rape; and though his instincts crowded up in revolt -- not like this -- he forced himself not to resist; to be still. If Doyle needed that, to force this from Bodie as some sort of penance for the hurt, then Bodie would give it; though he knew it was no way out; an ugly answer that was no real answer at all. But Doyle only lay on him, gripping him tightly in cold hands, shivering; he pushed his face into Bodie's neck.

"I can't go on, Bodie," he whispered painfully. "I can't go on without you."

Bodie fought to deal with it, struggling with confused emotions. He was conscious of Doyle's weight pressing him into the settee; the scent of Doyle's hair close to his; the feel of wool beneath his hands; Doyle's heart pounding like a fluttering bird through the thin shirt against his chest. He forced himself not to move; not to do anything that might distress Doyle any more; he just didn't trust himself to do the right thing. He was way past sexual desire. And Doyle was crying; tears running down his face and sliding around Bodie's neck. He seemed unconscious of them as he continued in a near whisper, "I can't live without you, but I can't live with you. It scares the hell out of me, but --"

Bodie had words at last, because if one thing emerged coherently from the harrowing wreck they seemed to be making of their lives, of the love he had meant Doyle to find only happiness in, it was that Doyle was not, after all, sending him away. He touched his face, gently, tentatively. "I know," he whispered, "I know. It's the same for me too. Don't let it frighten you. I wanted you to be happy..."

Doyle went on, unheeding: "-- but it's all I've got."

They lay that way awhile, in the silence of the post-midnight hours, holding each other close with desperate, gripping strength. Bodie began to hope, a tremulous, fragile hope, that maybe, after all, it was all going to be all right...

Finally Doyle raised his head. "No more promises, Bodie," he said, savagely. He sniffed hard, and brushed his hand over his eyes; it came away damp and he stared at it without surprise. "No promises. It didn't work that way before, an' maybe it wouldn't again --"

"Ray --" said Bodie, drawing a breath.

"No," said Doyle, harshly. "I don't trust your promises any more, just like you don't trust me." There was a silence. Then he added, "We'll live apart for a while, see how it goes. I couldn't take being under your eye yet, worryin' all the time in case I was a few minutes late home an' you were takin' London apart with your hands thinking I was havin' a quick one with some bird --"

Bodie couldn't take any more; he'd come through despair to hope, and now this bleak vision of their future coming from the lips of this hard stranger. Years of trained, automatic repression snapped, whipped away; and he broke.

He rolled away from Doyle and dropped to the floor. Curled into a ball he lay staring ahead in blind, dead misery. He heard someone crying and he didn't care that it was himself; for he owned all emotions now and was master of none of them.

Doyle raised himself and stared. Bodie, on the floor, oblivious; terrible harsh sounds of grief tearing loose from the bottom of his throat; all his pride lost; that last dignity stripped away. I did this...

Dear god, no.

He was there, holding him, struggling to release Bodie from the terrifying foetal position, refusing to give up; and finally his determination, his desperation won out and Bodie was in his arms, clinging on to him. Doyle kissed him, over and over, his tongue rubbing away the tears, never letting his grip relax, murmuring fierce, foolish words. Presently, he slid Bodie's clothes away, and then, because Bodie seemed to want him to, and because they needed closeness so badly, he laid his face on Bodie's tear-wet one and took him, with no violence, only tenderness and a love so deep it seemed they might destroy each other with it. It was a union born more of need than passion, a struggle to complete, but he did it; and eventually they were both released into calm, and finally, sleep.

-- THE END --