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Going for the Shore

(Sequel to "Siren" and "Bound to the Mast")

Bodie rolled over with a start; scanned rapidly for the clock that lived on his bedside cabinet, an automatic, everyday action.

It wasn't there.

It wasn't there because he wasn't at home. With a quick glance at the still form beside him he slid carefully out of bed and fetched his watch from where he'd carelessly dumped it last night.

- last night -

checked the time quickly, and got back into bed. He lay on his side, watching Doyle sleep, studying him.

Long spiked lashes lay on pale skin, stirring as he breathed, deep and regular. The beautiful shaped mouth a little open, revealing a bare flash of white teeth; soft curls spilled over one narrow wrist pinned awkwardly beneath his ear. Gonna have cramp there, sunshine...

- held him close; loved him, excited him as he was exciting me, took him with me all the way; loved him...

And even while he was coming Doyle had been crying; unnoticed tears leaking silently from his screwed-up eyes even as his body gathered and exploded its sweet moist life onto Bodie's.

I was loving him, and he was crying.

He reached out, unable to deny his hungry desperate senses; and touched his hair, the riotous floppy coils of brown shot through here and there with single strands of silver and copper. He was drawn so much to this naked defenceless waif he could hardly bear not to wrap his arms around him, press him close; waken him with soft kisses, murmured fervent truths.

Oh, you really are far gone, aren't you?

There was a funny feeling in his guts, a strange fluttering; some fate, or intuition, warned him not to welcome Doyle's awakening; not too much.

So he simply lay there, head on the firm white pillow which smelt of Doyle's hair, and watched him, a snatched, secret pleasure, the more sweet because he had been starved of even such simple self-indulgence for so long.

He sighed.

Go home, Bodie. Go home and find a nice girl, nice uncomplicated wife. Giggles and cuddles at bedtime, bacon and eggs for breakfast, hold hands on the settee at night listening to Demis Roussos -

Who needs it? No way.

He smiled to himself, cynical, a little rueful.

Can't always choose who you fall in love with. Not me, not anyone. How many girls have I dropped, even though I knew - maybe because I knew - they were falling in love with me? Tried to be kind about it...make it easier for them... But there's no kind way, not really.

- will Ray be kind, with me?

The unbidden thought chilled him. He pushed it aside, hard. No use thinking about it. No use at all. Things were happening beside him. A cough. A little snuffling sound. Doyle was shifting irritably, the trapped hand flying out from beneath his cheek. Bodie caught it, prosaically straightened out the fingers and began to rub away the stiffness, smoothing out the red patches caused by the pressure of Doyle's cheek-bone. He did all this quite methodically and impersonally. Doyle's eyes had come open and were staring at him, slightly sticky with sleep. Bodie wanted to lick them.

Doyle yawned then, exposing sharp teeth, curved tongue, wobbly red tonsils. Bodie, gazing down his throat with devout fascination, caught himself at it and reflected wryly that to be so in love with the man even the gaping inside of his throat was an object of wonder bespoke a certain eccentricity.

Next stop, trick-cyclist? The funny farm?

Doyle rolled onto his back, leaving his hand in Bodie's in a reserved kind of way. "You still 'ere, then?" His voice was still thick with sleep.

"Yeah. Where'd you think I'd be?" Done with halfheartedness, he twined his fingers firmly around Doyle's, turned onto his back himself and pulled their joined hands down into the bed.

"Thought you'd have gone home."

"Nah," said Bodie, and gave his arm a little tap. "Told you this last night. I'll keep on saying it as long as it takes for you to believe it. I'm not goin' anywhere, mate, never again. You're stuck with me. Only way you can get rid of me is if - " He didn't want to say this, afraid it might be the straw for Doyle to clutch at, but he wanted no more secrets between them, they had enough to cope with already. He was reminded, distantly, of the old story - close your hand on a fistful of sand and it leaks away through your fingers; carry it open palmed with no restraints, and it stays.

" - is if you tell me you don't want me around. Tell me that - and make me believe it," he said steadfastly, "and I won't hang about."

He had expected a pause, laden with heavy emotion. Instead, Doyle, who had turned his head Bodie's way and was watching him, said straight away, "I couldn't say that. How could I say that?" he asked, quite simply. "I wouldn't mean it."

Bodie shut his eyes. Maybe it was because the sun was shining through the blinds, dazzling him; as cruelly as the moonlight, the night before.

Giving him time, Doyle slid down in the bed, cool naked shoulders disappearing beneath the ridge of cotton sheet folded over the layered blankets. "Cowley-time yet?" he queried, and then elucidated before Bodie had to reply. "Always think of it like that. Lie here every mornin' for a few minutes more, thinkin' of the Old Man dragging that scraggy body out of bed. When I reckon he's up for sure, padding off to the bathroom on the freezin' lino, then I get up. Gives me a buzz, thinkin' of the old buzzard suffering before I have to - "

It was cold. The crisp early air burned ice at the back of Bodie's throat every time he inhaled. He pulled the covers up further, over his ear, turned onto his side to face his partner, slipping an arm over his waist.

"Plenty of time. 's not seven yet."

Ridiculous, that in this first awakening together all he could pluck from the mass of things needing to be said were trivialities.

His hand found the small of Doyle's back, pressed him closer. Doyle, summarily gathered, said nothing, his downcast eyes cautious. He smelt of salt and sweat and sex; over it all his own sweetness rose, triumphing: he was warm, softhaired like a very young animal in Bodie's hands.

Bodie shut his eyes.

"I want to make love to you," he said to the darkness, very quietly.

Lost in a dreamless limbo, too aware of each inch of his own skin alive where it touched Doyle's he listened for the answer, but none came. Risking it, he traced his hand over Doyle, touched his nipples. Doyle sighed, shut his eyes. Encouraged, heart thudding, Bodie kissed him, mouthing the full lips gently with his, drawing Doyle's tongue into his mouth, his hand exploring Doyle's body as his own need became suddenly more urgent, set dramatically alight by the taste of him, the pressure of the soft warm lips under his.

His demanding fingers sought and found crisp hair, smooth skin, soft -

- and his arousal died, drenched beneath the futility of it all.

"Don't bother to fake it, will you?" he said harshly, and threw himself onto his side. He stared at nothing, and saw nothing there.

He felt a touch on his arm, light, unsure. When he wouldn't turn, refused to face the truth he might read in the other's eyes; than the lie. Acknowledging that refusal, knowing its fear, Doyle spoke to the back of Bodie's head; very quiet.

"Don't - "

One word, meaningless as it stood. Don't what? Don't give way to all this love and longing? Don't imagine I'm ever gonna let this happen again? Don't tell Cowley? Don't ever dare touch me again or you'll be lookin' down the wrong end of a .44?

- don't leave me -

Doyle's words last night; the last thing he had said before they slept.

"Don't what?" he asked at last, voice low, almost inaudible, though he had not intended it to come out that way.

He felt the warmth of Doyle's sigh travel across his skin.

"Don't - go too fast. I told you last night," said Doyle, and paused for a moment - turning, Bodie saw the downcast glint of his eyes, far-off as they studied Bodie's face - "you, you scare me..."

He said it slowly, very serious. No hedging now; no spur-of-the-moment, quick as lightning evasions. Doyle had a swift talent for those, a sharp-edged tongue and wits that could flay the sparks out of any opposition and leave them limp. Bodie knew it all too well. In one way, it made this serious, laboured sincerity the more touching.

Doyle, who had made his decision last night in one blinding moment of madness engendered at the memory of cruel tears in Mediterranean blue eyes, continued: "You scare me. Yeah, I told you that last night. I'm not used to it, an' I -" He stopped, and looked away, his voice quiet. "I can't make the most of it, not yet."

Bleak honesty; and courage. It troubled Bodie. Scare him? He reviewed the night before, searched the heated memory, his own overwhelming feelings of gentleness as he held him, urging him on, encouraging him towards the culmination; what was in that, to scare him? No, that wasn't it. It came to him immediately as he stared into Doyle's troubled eyes just why he frightened Doyle. It was because, for once and only in his life Doyle knew this was the real thing: Doyle's instincts, sharper than his consciousness, had sensed that this was genuine love. That at last, there was someone for whom he came first; someone who was moved to be loyal to him, gentle with him, accepting him, for motivations that rose above self-interest. Bodie dimly perceived, now, something of the conflict Doyle must be struggling with; shaken to his depths to have Bodie turn his own game so neatly on himself, half of him must want desperately to get away, not get involved, escape the entrammeling commitment Bodie was unwittingly binding him with by the very fact of loving him.

The other half of his bruised and lonely personality, the one he kept well-hidden except, briefly in moments of irrational temper when the veneer peeled back, revealing all his bitterness and hurt to someone who knew him well: that side of Doyle was thirsting for it, afraid he couldn't live up to it, afraid that Bodie, too, would eventually give up, leave him behind.

He must never let Doyle see his pity. He vowed this to himself as he pulled him into a close desperate hug, burying his face into warm rough curls so that Doyle would not see the brightness of his eyes. He was thinking that he had never known anyone who needed more to be loved. Nor anyone who would find it more difficult to accept.

"You'll have time," he said muffled, answering Doyle at last. "All you want; I promise. Just lie here with me a minute, nice and close and quiet - " and he added, with a catch in his voice that might have been laughter, "we might as well give it a minute or two. Ol' Man won't be on the freezing lino yet, that's for sure - "

So they held each other without speaking, warm breath falling on each other's skin; and gradually they found a sort of peace.


Bodie's howl of outraged despair succeeded where subtler summons had failed.

"All right."

He swung his feet off the settee where he had been dozing, and jogged unhurriedly into the kitchen. Bodie turned and glared at him. His anger, in fact, melted the instant he saw Doyle's sleepy figure trying to create its usual artistic pose in the doorway; he seemed only half-awake and it was decidedly wilted around the edges. Still, he was absurdly attractive none the less, white woolly cardigan pushed up his arms, rather rumpled, faded jeans, bare feet. One hand came up to rub irritably at his eyes; he yawned. Clearly poor old Doyle had been drowsing away out there, happily oblivious to his soon-to-be announced status as plumber's mate.

Bodie firmly ignored the soft little feelings curling in his guts. "Come and give me a hand," he said, trying for crossness but not making it. "'s your flat for chrissake and who does all the work?"

"You're not good for me," Doyle told him, crossing the room to join Bodie at the sink. "Makes me lazy, 'avin' you around."

This was perfectly true; and the casual self-honesty removed the last of Bodie's resentment. "Yeah, well, I figured you were due a bit of spoiling," he muttered gruffly, peering back under the sink. "Make the most of it Goldilocks; I'll probably come to me senses soon." He rolled up his sleeves; he was squatting, to get at the U-bend in the kitchen unit where he had detected trouble; there were splashes of water darkening patches of his brown cords. "Can't do this on me own though. There's a leak just here - see - "

Totally disinterested in matters aqueous, Doyle ignored this; unnoticed by Bodie his gaze had been caught by the unconscious beauty of the man working; the line of the powerful shoulders, the muscular forearms revealed where he had pushed up his white shirtsleeves; the strong, beautifully shaped thighs beneath warm corduroy - sinks, leaks...

They talked very little about the things that mattered.

On an impulse, he dropped to his haunches beside him.

"Bodie - "

Caught by the tone of Doyle's voice, Bodie turned. Behind him, unnoticed, the water dripped in erratic rhythm, clear splashes falling down like snow melting from a roof.

Green eyes looked into quizzical blue; trying to understand, wanting, with sudden urgency, to reach out, be there...

They worked together, lived together; and at night, locked close in the dark silence of the bed, they made love together. And yet they were still very far apart.

Lost chances, wasted time distanced once more, the moment passed as suddenly as it was born. Doyle gave a little sigh, dragging his eyes away from Bodie's, for in another minute they would be unconsciously asking him for something he was still unable to give; and said; "Okay, what is it you want me to do?" He peered in at the faulty plumbing arrangements beneath the sink, making the effort to appear interested. "Wield a spanner or somethin'?"

Repressing the frustration and disappointment welling within - his stupid, optimist's heart had been beating wildly - Bodie also set some of his attention to the task and explained in a few curt phrases just what he wanted Doyle to do.

Life had this funny way of doing this to you.

Bodie had, against all odds, been given what he wanted, what he'd dreamed of without hope when Doyle was as elusive as a sunbeam grasped at in the air by a baby: he had been given Doyle himself. Exclusively, all his.

Therein lay the trouble: it was so near perfection that it was tempting to be greedy, to push for more, more; to stretch that last gruelling inch for the ultimate ideal.

Doyle's love.

No, not that, he admonished himself as he worked on the tight washer with deft fingers, Doyle silent and supportive at his side ready to pass him what he needed; it wasn't that he needed Doyle to love him. He had known from the start that it was unfair to expect love from Doyle; loyalty, trust, sexual attraction would have to be enough. Maybe Doyle would learn to love him in time much as one grew abstractly fond of a room one associated with pleasant times; but if not, if it proved that Doyle was too scarred, too self-protective to give love in return, then they still had enough to make this last, and work. 'Will you ever leave me, Ray?' he had asked into the darkness one night, unable not to, needing to know: and Doyle, spent and sleepy at his side had made his reply unequivocal, instant -


They needed each other. CI5 screwed you up, if you weren't screwed up already. It made you incapable of handling, or relating normally to normal people. By the very personality that had them selected for CI5, they were forever excluded from the world they were employed to protect. And they suited each other: even Doyle fought against that no longer. Yes; they would stay together, and find a sort of happiness.

So, Bodie excused Doyle for not loving him. He never had expected that, and he had enough love in him for both of them in any case. No, what he could not bear was the emotional solitude. They understood each other with an intensity that was close to telepathy; and yet Bodie was alone. If he ran out on Doyle tomorrow, maybe Doyle would be relieved. It was equally possible that he would commit suicide. It was the not knowing that killed Bodie.

Suddenly angry and miserable, he unscrewed the rusting washer with savage wrenching fingers.

Watching him, Doyle's features twisted momentarily: he knew Bodie too well not to understand the cause of his sudden change of mood. He dragged the back of his hand over his mouth, unseeing eyes darting as he followed the movements of Bodie's dextrous hands. He wanted to put things right.

"Look - "

"What." The other man didn't falter in his actions, keeping his head down.

"Let's go to bed." When this produced no response, he reached out a hand, took a tentative grip on a fold of Bodie's shirt, rubbing it between finger and thumb. "Come to bed? Or stay here - be fun, doin' it on the floor - " he tempted, a sensuous lick of fire curling in his voice.

He had badly misjudged this one.

Whipping round, anger blazing in his eyes, Bodie threw him off with some force. He lost his balance, sat back gracelessly on the floor, his eyes going blank.

"You bastard," Bodie said, breathing hard. "You cheap bastard."

He turned away, fists clenched, stared out of the window. Grey skies, skeletal cranes reared up into grey skies: grey skies, grey streets, grey smoke from the factory chimneys. From the nearby docks, a siren sounded, long and mournful. Behind him, Doyle rose to his feet without a word, slammed the door. Bodie listened for his footsteps, receding along the passage; the thump of the front door. Soon Doyle appeared below, white feet flying down the stone steps, shoulders hunched into fur-lined leather, hands stuffed into his jeans pockets. Too late, already: the car was parked against the kerb and Doyle opened the door, got in, slammed it shut and gunned the engine, revved it with a roar, and was gone.

Bodie turned away. His heart was aching.

I say I love him, and I do that to him.

He moved around the kitchen doing routine things; filling the kettle for some reason, then setting it on one side; aimlessly checking the contents of the freezer.

That's all he needs. He's trying to make things better in the only way he knows and what do I do. Reject him. Push him away, shout at him, turn him down. Bloody good work Bodie. Well done. Know it or not, crying out for affection he is, and instead of giving it to him you go and kick him viciously to the ground when he's trying, for once, to reach out. Must be wondering what the hell he did wrong.

He put the kettle on the gas ring, lit it; looked around for the jar of coffee. Blend 37 because Doyle fancied this fancy freeze-dried stuff for the times he couldn't be bothered perking up the real thing. Expensive tastes, had Doyle. Bodie spooned some into a mug, and stood staring at nothing, jar and spoon still in hand.

He should know by now what he did wrong, for godsake. What he did wrong was to throw a quick fuck in my face when he knew I was mourning something different; as if sex could make up for it in some way.

So Bodie thought, looking out at the bleak dockland scene; and then he thought again.

For it had to be faced that he had taken Doyle on just those terms. Doyle had never promised anything, save his body, and his presence, and the acceptance of Bodie's loving: nor ever pretended anything different right from the start. He had his own weird sense of integrity; and he stuck to it. It was Bodie who was failing in this relationship.

The piercing rising whistle of the kettle woke him from his reverie; he set down the coffee-jar and poured steaming water onto the granules, mouth set in a new, determined line.

It was late when Doyle came home. Swaying a little, he stood blinking in the sudden light as Bodie, who had been waiting out the long hours tensed up for the sound of the car, came out to meet him.

Doyle stared at him for a moment, then made a gesture with finger and thumb at the door. "Been out," he explained with care.

"Yeah, so I see," said Bodie resigned; and relieved that he had come back in one piece, on his feet. "Come on now. Let's get you to bed, mate." He took hold of him, casting a quick eye out of the window to check that Doyle had automatically put out the Capri's headlights - he had - and began to lead him to the bathroom. Doyle went with him willingly enough; perhaps beneath the alcohol-induced numbness of thought he had been instinctively dreading this confrontation, lest Bodie still be angry, and in the mood for a scene. Bodie said nothing; just led him through the usual bathroom routine, encouraging him to drink a glass of water to combat the dehydration, aiding the wildly un-coordinated fingers to unfasten belt, zips, buttons; settling him in bed.

"You shouldn't have driven home like this," was his only comment as he turned Doyle onto his side, folding himself into the curve of his body with the ease of six-week-old familiarity, knees tucking in behind Doyle's, one arm draped over him, cheek on the pillowed curls. "You should have rung and I'd've picked you up." He smelt of sweat, stale smoke, and alcohol. Bodie, who loved him, thought only: thank God he's safe, and nothing worse than drunk. Here, with me...

Drifting towards sleep, his loved one close held, he was not best pleased when Doyle, hyped-up, turned talkative.

"Played darts."

"Good for you, mate."

"S'good, that... You know what Hegel said? 'E said -"

There was silence after this, during which Bodie resisted with ease the temptation to beg for the revelation of what Hegel had to say on the matter.


"Go to sleep, for chrissake."

"You wanna fuck me? 'S all right if you do."

This thunderbolt, delivered in a sleepy slur, startled Bodie wide awake; but funnily enough did not shock him, nor anger him; nor did it fill him with happiness.

"Well, thanks very much for the charming offer, mate," he murmured, amused, knowing that the sarcasm would go right over his Dionysian errant's head: "I'll take you up on it some other time, okay?"

"Nah, 's all right. You can. I'd let you." Doyle, urgent, half twisted in his grasp.

Bodie repressed a sigh. Now he was getting restless all over again; and Bodie was very tired. He leaned over, kissed the warm tip of one ear, softly. "Nice thought, sweetheart. But we're too tired tonight, both of us. Some day."

His hand was lying on Doyle's flank. He squeezed it reassuringly, beginning a tiny rhythmic stroking motion there, and the tension gradually eased out of Doyle as he relaxed to the slight, pleasantly soothing stimulation. Bodie had thought him asleep when his last words erupted into the blackness:

"I wouldn't let anyone else."

"I should bloody well hope not."

He wondered, as he drifted to sleep himself, if Doyle would remember any of it in the morning.

Awakening, surfacing through layers of foggy grey and strange shifting figures, he finally opened his eyes to the morning and found Doyle was already up. He lay alone in the bed for a moment trying not to be depressed. When he was on the point of getting up, however, Doyle came into the room. He was wearing a brown silk dressing gown that lent him a rakish, faintly decadent air, and he was carrying two mugs of coffee.

"You're an angel," said Bodie, indicating the coffee; he had meant to be campy but the words came out soft, ridiculous. He grinned and batted his eyelashes, to cover his embarrassment. Doyle raised an eyebrow at him, setting the mugs down beside him, disdaining angelic pretensions.

"Don't get up. Sunday." He crossed to the window, threw aside the curtains; a shaft of bright sun lanced in. He winced, drew them hurriedly close.

"Like that, is it? Got a headache?"

Doyle shook his head, but gently. He sat on the edge of the bed. Picked up his mug, and looked down the length of Bodie's body over the white rim. Then he hooked back the sheet and there Bodie lay revealed, thoroughly naked, and very alive to the morning. His eyes travelled over Bodie, missing no detail; finally they lifted to meet Bodie's, which had a faintly defensive shift to them. The corner of his mouth twitched. "Havin' a good dream, were you?"

"Can't remember," confessed Bodie, adding campily, though his heart was beginning to race, "Maybe I'm just exceptionally virile."

Eyes dwelling on his all the while, Doyle reached down without looking, pulled loose the tie of his robe so it swung open. He wore nothing beneath.

"Let's put it to the test."

He smelt of soap and water, fresh as early morning sunshine. Afterwards, lying in Doyle's lazy arms, Doyle's fingers curling and uncurling slowly through his hair, Bodie reflected that here at least was one part of their relationship unmarred; for here, Doyle's intense, wanton sexuality worked for them. He had a flair for it; an instinctive intuition for the erotic, driving Bodie and himself to wild heights of fire and sweetness where they would drown and surface, gasping. He flogged them on, wore them out, drained them dry. Lying here with him like this, Bodie made a resolution, half-formed last night; never again. Never again reproach him for what he can't give; live out what you've got, to the full. It was as easy as that.

His hand traced subtle patterns on the damp silky skin of Doyle's stomach.

"I'm sorry about yesterday," he said abruptly.

Doyle stirred, but didn't look at him. "Don't talk about it."

"Wasn't going to. Just wanted you to know I'm sorry."

Doyle made a sound which might have meant anything. He then verbalised it. "'S not you who ought to be sorry, mate."

Bodie didn't want to delve into that strange, cool statement any more deeply. It had the queer, icy slant of dangerous waters about it. He changed the subject remembering Doyle's drunken pledge in the middle of the night.

"You ever get screwed, Ray?" he asked, fiddling with a loose thread in the blanket. "Don't have to answer, if you don't want."

Doyle didn't startle all over in alarm, though his fingers stilled in Bodie's hair. "You want to do that? With me?"

Bodie's heart gave a peculiar jolt; there was also a sudden diving sensation in his stomach. Despite the fact that he was emptied, for now, of all desire, he found the simple, curious question intensely erotic.

"I dunno. Maybe. That's not what I asked."

Doyle's reply was prompt. "Yeah."

Bodie wasn't surprised, but he was seized with an intolerable curiosity to know more. Although he said nothing, Doyle perhaps sensed this, for he continued abruptly: "Knew this bloke once. I thought he was okay. We saw a fair bit of each other, ten years or so back. He wanted to try it. I - "

" - you?" prompted Bodie when it seemed that Doyle had sunk into a frowning reverie.

Doyle snapped out of it, and set about being resolute. He wanted to give Bodie honesty, though he supposed this particular truth would give him little pleasure. "I trusted him and so I thought it would all be okay," he said all in a rush, "but I'd judged him all wrong, I'm always doin' that with people, and it wasn't like I'd thought."

Bodie was silent; tightlipped and bitter with the fury that had set him on fire, imagination fleshing out the bones of the stranger who had known Ray, gained his trust, then violated it. Hurt him, most probably. The mental picture was far too graphic: Doyle, in pain, hurting and bewildered, while some selfish bastard used his body, slamming into him, too insensitive to comprehend what he had been offered, too ignorant to know how to accept it.

His grip on Doyle tightened. "I'd never do that to you, Ray," he muttered fiercely into nutbrown curls. "Never hurt you like that."

He thought in his evangelism that they had never been closer.

Then Doyle looked over at him, perfectly sincere. "I know that. That's why, last night, I told you you could, if that's what you wanted," he said; and then was left to wonder why Bodie, frozen and bleak and absolutely alone in the chasm that had suddenly split them apart, left the bed and stalked to the bathroom, with cold, dead eyes.

They were too different.

Lying alone in the bed, he wondered how much longer Bodie would stick it.

Although it was only midday, the bar and restroom was crowded with off-duty CI5 agents: an operation had been wound up that morning and for once, nothing had arrived to take its place, though no one expected that to last. The jukebox had been fed with a steady stream of 10p pieces, and was blasting out something forgettable. The new recruit was not listening. Slightly drunk on two pints of shandy - he was learning: at first he had ordered them in halves - he was utterly captivated by a stranger who had just presented himself at the bar.

"That's pretty," he said to Murphy at his side, indicating the object of his attention.

This sort of thing did not come easily to Tony Jones. It had had to be learnt for the sake of fitting in; for he had already gathered in a mere two weeks' apprenticeship to various areas of that powerful organisation of macho he-men known as CI5 that gay jokes were in: campy innuendo not just respectable but obligatory. Even sleepy-eyed, powerful Murph, who was his mentor in these early weeks and who seemed saner than most, had this morning jumped a colleague and bitten him on the neck, Dracula-wise. Perhaps it was understandable; CI5 was a strange place, a tense, strained environment in which every premium was placed on the strength of male-male bonds to win out over whatever entity was threatening the fabric of society and its prowling two-by-two guardians. At its most successful - and the least successful did not survive very long - that bonding was more intense than friendship, more demanding than marriage; they had to joke about it. Thus, queerness was rife at CI5 in counterfeit.

For some, maybe, it was for real. But that was never discussed.

The young Jones, Murphy's protege, had collared onto all of this in a misty kind of way; and, seeking acceptance as any new member of an established group will, was trying to conform. He had not yet, however, got the balance right - as witness this unabashed appreciation of an extremely senior agent. Murphy had a secret chuckle to himself imagining Doyle's reaction if Jones, unchecked, let that appreciation get heard of. He therefore decided it was time for a little fun - and a lesson, along the way, in what was allowed, with whom, and what was beyond the bounds of discretion.

With a wink at the other occupants of their table - unseen by Jones, and also, he took care to ensure, by agent 3.7 who was sitting a little way apart with Lucas, engaged in a discussion of the latest weaponry, both their heads bent over a gun catalogue, oblivious both to the nearby revellers and the latest entrant into the bar - he leant nearer Jones and said in a pseudo- whisper:

"Camp fairy."

"Never?" said Jones, eyes roaming over the slight man with brown curls, rather long; wearing a white shirt with the sleeves turned back to mid-forearm, and close-fitting brown velvet trousers that highlighted the slenderness of his hips.

It was an attire, artful in that it suited him to perfection, and at once very faintly slightly foppish - he looked like an artist, perhaps; certainly someone who lived on the fringes of convention both in fashion and sexuality.

"Yeah," chipped in McCabe, delighted with the whole panoramic fairytale of deception he glimpsed weaved into Murph's two careless words, and anxious to extend and amplify this new and fallacious background for Ray Doyle (a man who, in McCabe's book, got what he was asking for far too seldom): "Good for a - " he leant close to Tony Jones' fascinated ear and whispered - "anytime, he is. S'pitiful, really."

Picking up on this with equal gusto, and before Jones could get a chance to scent the lie, Sam Price took a long swallow of his beer, shaking his head with mournful wisdom. "Poor fellow," he intoned, "in his blood, y'see. Gets 'em like that, sometimes. Can't help himself." His eye ran over the lithe, compact form draped over the bar with malicious pity.

"Ah, come on Sam," put in McCabe. "Don't try and come on so bloody holier-than-thou. We know, don't we, just between friends - " he leant forward and gave Price a hefty nudge in the ribs, accompanying it with a meaningful smile.

"What, not you too?" asked Price in surprise. "And you, Ned?"

"Well, you know, any port in a storm, any hole with a - "

"Sshh - "

" - horn," he completed, unashamed; and so it was, with half-reluctant confession, the whole table admitted that they had, at some point of desperation, availed themselves of the decidedly shopsoiled charms the man at the bar had on offer. Murphy didn't know how much longer they could keep straight faces. He had started all this off with that one brief comment, and although it hadn't turned out as he had intended, he decided to play along with it for a while. Jones, with his long pale face (now pink-tinged with shandy and animation) was inclined to take himself too seriously; and as for Doyle, he had been an awkward little sod lately. Stroppy as hell.

"Does he work here? What's he called?" said Jones, for all his outward cool rather shocked by the proximity of depravity.

"Raymond," said McCabe, dodging the first question, caressing the consonants as he drew them out and managing to make a dark, sinful houri of the name. "That's our Raymond, that is. Sugar-sweet and good to eat." He liked the sound of that and chuckled to himself, raising the pint to his lips. "Sugar-sweet!"

Murphy cast a glance across: but no, Bodie hadn't heard a word of this elaborate put-on, because he would certainly have intervened if he had. Guarded Doyle and his reputation very watchfully, did Bodie: but he was still deep in conversation with McCabe's partner. Doyle himself was totally unaware of the sensation he was creating in one corner of the bar; his back to them, he was just lifting a full pint of beer to his lips, the other hand reaching into his rear pocket to tuck his wallet back in, one buttock lifting to accommodate the sliding fingers.

McCabe moaned in ecstasy, eyes rivetted; and Sam Price made cupping motions with his palms, a lingering caress on imaginary curves, lips pursed in soundless appreciation. It was one of those days when puerility seem inevitable, and fitting. Puerility, Murph mused into his pint was not an attribute one could often associate with Ray Doyle. Though Bodie seemed to find him amusing; Murphy had often observed the two of them, heads close, attentive solely to one another, lit with the appreciation of some private joke; Doyle had a surprisingly deep, earthy chuckle that surfaced at such times, and Bodie an easy, affectionate expression that was almost indulgent, almost -

But that was another story.

Bodie and Doyle were a very exclusive pairing, in all senses of the word. Rigidly exclusive: barriers up everywhere, sealing them within, keep out, trespassers will be executed.

Doyle was turning now, pint in hand, surveying the bar and its occupants with distant preoccupation; his eyes passed over the table of miscreants without interest. All of the old hands had averted their eyes in plenty of time; and it was only Tony Jones, who was not part of the joke, who remained staring, captivated by the odd, unsculpted face which seemed first hard, then delicate as the lights falling on it shifted, drawing different moods. A fallen angel, yes: burning religious fanatic turned courtesan. Doyle registered the glance but passed over it, only returning when he sensed it persist beyond chance. For a moment he stared out over the room and the new recruit, and met Jones' gaze, holding it for a second in incurious appraisal before he turned away, seeking something else.

McCabe's devil was quick to jump in and make capital on this. "See that? See the way he looked at you?" he said in an aside to Jones. "That's the look, that was. Seen it before when he gets a glimpse of a new face."

"Scented new blood," confirmed Sam Price, sagely. "S' like an obsession with him."

Murphy, as suddenly as if it had been switched off, had ceased to pay the running hoax any attention; something more interesting was happening. Doyle had seen Bodie, had started to move that way; then he had spotted Lucas and checked, staying where he was. He hooked a bar stool towards him and rested one foot on its rung, propped an elbow on the bar, and looked outwards again. Murphy, fanciful, imagined an electric stream of compulsion there; Doyle bringing every inch of his will into unseen force, focusing every atom of concentration onto Bodie.

Bodie looked up.

Murphy watched; he had totally left the antics of his companions aside to participate, instead, in this. Not that there was much to see: Bodie looked away again quite soon and Doyle lowered his eyes.

That's it then, thought Murph amused: you've had it, Lucas. Bodie's had his summons; you can write off your cosy little chat about the biggest and best blasters 'cause however much he might look as if he's still right there beside you, take it from me - he's gone -

For a moment, Murphy, who was not prone to jealousy of any sort, wondered what it must be like: to be the one, and only, person Ray Doyle searched out, looked for when he came into a room...

He was drawn abruptly out of these oddly wistful musings as Tony Jones stepped across his line of vision, heading for the bar. Murphy lifted his drained glass in a tragic pose, studying it. "Remind me," he said to no one in particular, "to give a refresher course for the babes on the politics of getting in rounds for the oldtimers."

No one was paying him any attention. McCabe nudged him, his face stretched wide in a delighted, transfixed grin as he stared concentratedly ahead. "He's gonna do it. He's really gonna do it. Watch. Watch."

A tiny flicker of apprehension started up in Murphy's belly.

"Gonna do what?" he asked, his attention with all of theirs on the tobacco-coloured head weaving in and out, tracking a path for the long curve of the bar.

Sam Price set his glass down with deliberation, smacking his lips preparing.

"This is Tony Jones," he declared dramatically, "taking CI5 by storm. Leaping right in at the deep end, through the door of the tiger's cage, unafraid. He, bold, brave, and full of spunk - " McCabe cackled obscenely which earned him a severe look from the newscaster - "is about to make the very first - and, friends, the very last - pass at CI5's very own Goldilocks..." He raised his voice a fraction at this; the ex-SAS man's unselfconscious predilection for nicknaming his partner in a succession of occasionally unmacho ways raised many opportunities for ragging ribaldry.

Murphy: the flicker had knotted into fullscale unease. "You bloody idiots. Don't you ever know when to draw the line?" he muttered, watching with a fatalistic sense of pending disaster. Bodie had heard Sam's final words and had glanced their way at last, then keenly, with dawning concentration to the bar.

The tobacco-coloured head leant near to the mop of dun curls. In an agony of gleeful anticipation, McCabe squeezed something hard; it turned out to be Ned Starmer's left knee but Ned was also too caught up in the tiny drama to notice.

Bodie stood up, knocking back his chair.

There was a brief, but conclusive, scuffle at the bar.

Murphy's table of pranksters fell about with knee-slapping laughter. In the melee two pints of beer got slopped over and nobody cared. The rest of the occupants of the room were beginning, lumberingly, to be aware that something, somewhere, was going on; and were looking for its epicentre.

Doyle took no notice of any of it. His concentration was frozen, narrowed down entirely onto the man he was holding. Unexpectedly green eyes like winter ice speared into the new recruit, who was in fact taller than himself, but who was at present forced to look up due to the position Doyle held him pinned in, back bent like a clumsy bow over the bar stool.

Doyle hitched up one buttock casually onto another stool and continued to hold him there, gripping the open neck of Jones' shirt tightly so that it was half-choking him; he took a long, thoughtful sip of his pint, eyes never leaving the half-terrified face of the other man. He spoke for the first time, in a conversational, affable tone:

"Someone's got itchy fingers. You'll just have to learn to keep them to yourself, won't you? I'm sure you won't forget again."

Tony Jones coughed, because he could scarcely breathe. One foot kicked weakly and impotently at the tubular feet of the stool Doyle was perched on with such humiliating casualness; his hand came up and scrabbled desperately at the fingers twining his own shirt tightly around his windpipe. Watching the struggles with a dispassionate eye, Doyle loosened the steely grip of his fingers just a little. Out of the corner of his eye he noted that Bodie had arrived by now, was standing a little way off, just watching, hands clenched, then flexing by his sides. Playing to Bodie now, as he always did without being altogether aware of it, he took another leisurely sip of beer, savouring the taste, and looking down in a reflective kind of way at his victim: up and down, from his face to his knees, missing no detail.

Tony Jones, pale, dazed, and abruptly sobered out of the hazy warmth of two pints and flowing camaraderie which had dissolved the instant the shock of his ghastly mistake was made clear to him, couldn't move: although the strained discomfort of his pose was ricking his back painfully. Unable to take his eyes off the fascinating presence that held him in thrall, he stayed very still. The whole room was still with him; Doyle's quietness projecting an aura of leashed, volatile power, a terrible waiting menace.

"What's your name. Who the hell are you anyway?"

And, breaking the tension so that one and all jumped, the jukebox burst loudly into life, blaring out Derek and the Dominoes. Gradually, interest faded, people turned away, resumed conversation. Only Jones and Doyle were left, locked in silent combat where there was room for one will alone to prevail.

Jones said nothing. His tongue came out, moistened dry lips; he swallowed convulsively, eyes darting around. Swift as a serpent, Doyle kicked the chair away from beneath him with sudden, shocking violence, rescued Jones' dive with a jerking hand, and slammed him upright against the bar, pinning him.

'Layla' screamed out the jukebox, 'got me on my knees...' Green eyes stabbed smiling merciless anger at him. Teeth bared, Doyle whispered, a caress of sibilant suggestion.

"I asked you: what's your name?"

His voice was hoarse and wouldn't work right at the first attempt. He cleared his throat and tried again.

"Anthony Jones."

After a moment Doyle nodded, eyes sliding incuriously over Jones' dead-white face. He allowed a small, white-toothed shark's smile to curl aside the corner of one lip.

"And so, Tonio," he drawled, "you want to play games with me? Is that right?" Playful now, a sunwarmed tiger patting a dying mouse around, he thrust his hips forward, once, twice bumping their groins together. He was very close. He smelt of beer and bruised pine needles, and he was warm and very masculine against Jones' skinny length, every muscle relaxed yet on the brink of tension, ready to pounce should Jones unwarily seek to escape. For a moment his mouth hovered, slightly parted.

"Let me go," said Jones, turning his head aside.

"Let you go?" repeated Doyle astounded, insanely cheerful now. "What, when I'm just beginning to enjoy it so much?" He had both hands pressed to the bar, encaging Jones' sagging frame; now he removed one and slipped it around him, rubbing the small of his back intimately, a slow, insistent pressure.

Bodie caught the eye of the girl behind the bar who was watching the whole thing with barely concealed disgust; he gave her an encouraging smile which forced her into looking away, embarrassed. He himself had said nothing, just looked on. He ordered a drink as if nothing was happening.

"Please let me go," said Jones quietly.

'Layla' wailed the banshee, 'beggin' you darlin' please - '. The insistent jangling guitars were fading now as the record came to an end; beneath its cover the scene in the bar had been forgotten. Only Murphy kept a weather eye that way. Another record was beginning, something quieter, and Doyle's mood changed with it. The wild mocking light in his eyes snapped out and the cruelly careless amusement faded from his face, leaving him cold. He stared at Jones, keeping him close with that one locking an arm around him like a steel hoop, rocking him slightly.

"On the other hand," he said, and now his voice was ice once more; "on the other hand, Tony-boy, if all this is just a put-on, some mudlark's bright idea for a good laugh at your expense and mine: then you can notch it up to experience, and then go and lay one into whoever set you up for it, can't you?"

Tony Jones was released then, so suddenly that he sagged and clutched at the bar for support. Smoothly, Bodie was there with him, watching Doyle's unhurried retreat from the room with half an eye. "Get this down you old son," he said amiably enough, and handed the younger man a tumbler of neat whisky. Jones took it, numb, hardly conscious of his surroundings. Bodie guided him across the room, pushed him down beside Murphy.

"Look after him a bit better, can't you Murph?" he said with a flash of the irritability that comes with the release of tension.

Murphy acknowledged that with a glance. He had, in fact, been mad with himself for starting the whole thing off in the first place, and for misjudging Jones' nerve. "Don't you take any more notice of these nutters," he said in a friendly, casual way, ruffling the brown head, "and especially not if they tell you George Cowley likes whisky and orange when it's your round." And that, he hoped, would put an end to it, get it into perspective, a joke that rebounded with no harm done. An encounter with Ray Doyle at his most caustic was not the best way to begin your acquaintance of your colleagues to be, true: but on the other hand, it was no good being too sensitive, not in this company...

McCabe had practically forgotten the whole thing already, but he had noticed Bodie. And the picture of Doyle's anger had burned into his memory.

"Hey, Bodie. Your partner - 'e's a bloody head job," he said, shaking his head disgustedly. "Absolute bloody head-case."

Bodie gave it a moment; just long enough so that the silence became pricked with tension. Then: "Maybe. But my partner doesn't get his kicks," he said with deliberation, jet-hard eyes staring them all down, "from setting up amateurs to get kicked in the teeth. He - " a dark-fringed glance flicked towards Jones - "maybe didn't deserve what 'e got. Have a think about who did." With this parting shot, he left.

"We know how his bloody partner does get his kicks, anyway," growled McCabe; and then, immeasurably cheered out of the sudden discomfort by the astounding wit of his own comment, began a long, bawdy and totally improbable tale about the secret orgies held behind locked doors in the CI5 typing pool.

Doyle was waiting for him in the corridor not far away; leaning against the wall, arms folded.

"Bit hard on him, weren't you, mate?" was Bodie's only remark as Doyle fell into step beside him.

"Scared the living daylights out of me," muttered Doyle scowling. "Then he had the bloody nerve to come on at me as if I were some slack-assed fairy queen..."

"He's only a kid," commented Bodie mildly; he was treading warily around Doyle these days. "McCabe led him on, bit of a dare maybe. He'd never have done it off his own bat."

"McCabe's a nutter," was Doyle's opinion; happily unaware of that same agent's identical avowal concerning him. He was experiencing a tiny prick of conscience, remembering the stark white face, the panicking brown eyes. "Ah well," he shrugged, "nothin' worse than 'is pride got hurt. Make it up to him sometime."

He stashed the promise aside carefully in his memory, and promptly forgot the incident. As everyone had.

In the bar, Tony Jones nursed a fresh pint and a sorely hurt ego, brooding.

In the matter of their personal affairs, there was still worse to come.

There began a new, unsettled phase, where Doyle seemed to be throwing everything at Bodie, testing him to the limit as if experimenting with the risk, calculating icebloodedly just how far he could push Bodie before he fell; at this time he seemed deliberately to be inviting Bodie's default. They lived through it: mainly because Bodie found reserves of tireless strength and sensitivity to cope with it, reminding himself over and over to see it for what it was, a harrowing desperation on Doyle's part, one he should have worked through in the process of childhood and presumably never got the chance; a desperation to find a proven security, rock-solid, one he could believe in with unswerving faith and rest. For Doyle, despite the cool ultra-selfconfidence he faced the world with, suspected himself of being unlovable, past hope and help, a bit of warped human trash. Bodie stayed steady, holding on, drifting over the storms and the vicious drunken abuse; remaining grittily unprovoked when Doyle, eyes shining with wild, malicious misery would stand before him, inviting with all the force he could project some physical retaliation, ritual castigation for the hurt he knew he was giving Bodie without being able to stop himself.

It was, too often, a temptation that was almost painful to do just that: lay into him, thrash the violent anger out of him till he had no spirit left to wound them.

Ruled rigidly by instinct, Bodie knew that to do anything of the sort would be disastrous. He continued to cling on, meeting anything Doyle threw at him with steadiness, with commonsense, with love. Caught in a crazy, bleak whirl of destructiveness that none of those they worked with would have even guessed at, they simply existed, from day to day, emotion to emotion.

Just when Bodie was beginning to think that none of it was worth it, that they were doing each other nothing but harm; as has a way of happening, just as it became unbearable, it changed.

It was a cool early-Spring day, but he was sweating even while the violent chills ran through him. There was a stinging pain in his left arm. Stumbling, too; and that wouldn't help. He had to stay alert, or he wouldn't have a lump of lard's chance in Hell.

Split up from Murphy, who now seemed to have vanished entirely, along with the entire stock of CI5 agents drafted in on this job, he had no idea what to do. Instincts, training, well-memorised scribblings on lecture blackboards, all had fled him and left him drifting, because nothing here bore any resemblance to anything he had been taught. Go back to the cars, his dazed mind urged: only the cars were on the far side of the complex of soon-to-be-demolished buildings, and he was by no means sure that the armed men they had been trying to round up had conveniently left. Be nice to be picked off as he tried to sprint across the courtyard: his mum'd be glad of the extra money, what were the pension rates, now?

He recognised the rising bubble of laughter in his chest for hysteria and stopped, taking several deep breaths. Then he peered around the crumbling corner of an edifice, blinking to clear his sight. Jesus Christ.

That shootout.

Nothing, but nothing he'd come across in two years on the Fraud Squad had prepared him for the sick reality of concentrated volleys of spattering bullets flying right and left, spraying dust around his feet, smacking into stone-work. He had lost his nerve completely, though he was not a coward, and with it control of his guts, involuntary terror weakening him. But the shame of that, plus the bitterness of the knowing that he had been absolutely no use to anyone, dead wood, had yet to sink in fully. For now, he was focussing every sense on the most basic instinct of them all: survival.

Had to risk it. He took a step forward, walking awkwardly because of the state of his clothing - christ, bloody legs won't stop shaking. Then another step. Past a little alleyway between the shells of two houses, tripping over rubble. Absolute silence, everywhere. On -

He was, shockingly, seized by the hips, dragged backwards, a silky voice coiling danger in his ear through his damaged nerves:

"If I were the bad guys, sunshine; you'd be dead."

And weak-kneed with further shock, he twisted to face the mocking, slant-eyed gaze of Tony Jones' personal bete noir: the pose - hand poised on hip, curly head arrogantly tilted - unmistakeable. Ray Doyle.

Disliked, feared, distrusted. But not the enemy, as such.

"Fuckin' 'ell, Doyle," he snapped, tearing himself free, "watch what you're fuckin' doin'."

He met the suddenly measuring gaze with resentment, unconscious of the appraisal there which had quickly taken in the marks of panic, shock, not-quite-rationality about their newest recruit. By rights, Jones should never have been in this at all, even if it hadn't gone disastrously wrong. He was a good, skilful man and shaping up nicely, but he should never have been brought out on this, wouldn't have been had they not been so short-handed when the call came in.

"Okay, okay. C'mon in - it's only small, but we're looking around for somewhere more suitable," he said with humourless flippancy, standing aside to usher him in with mocking courtesy; and Jones took stock of the situation, only just beginning to experience the vast relief of realising that he wasn't alone any more, that someone else was here who would cope. For, like them, hate them, hardly know them, you could not help but be aware of one overriding thing about these two: their success-and-survival rate.

For the first time in minutes, the tight pain of fear in his chest eased. The alley was small, barely three feet wide, open at each end. Redbrick walls towered each side; the floor was patched with caved-in rubble. At the other end crouched 4.5's burly sidekick, dark head bowed over the rifle he was checking over, the sheen of his leather jacket dulled with powdery dust. He had glanced up once, briefly, to see Doyle's find, but now his interest seemed to have dwindled and he was once more wholly preoccupied by his swift, methodical care of the gun, and his constant surveillance of the wide-open spaces.

Jones wasn't too sure how he felt about agent 3.7, Bodie by name. On the surface more gregarious than his renownedly difficult, moody partner, he was in fact little different in approachability, just as closed-off beneath the surface. While Doyle, quick and clean, dispensed with camaraderie altogether, Bodie on the other hand projected a friendly air but didn't stand up to any probing. He would coach in arms' use with patience and skill, employing a smirky sort of humour that livened things up: but he was intolerant of incompetence and did not encourage conversation off that confined to the job in hand. Maybe Murph was right: any warmth, any opennness these two had, they reserved strictly for one another.

Jones had no particular feelings for Bodie other than ungrudging admiration at his easy skill and accuracy with heavy guns; no, it was this one he disliked, the slippery vicious gutter-rat whose fur he had so embarrassingly ruffled soon after joining. Not that Doyle seemed to have it in for him personally or anything like that; but the way he looked clear through people with bored disinterest bespoke a definite arrogance that rattled Jones intensely. Of course, it couldn't be denied that they both were superbly good at their job, not only more than competent in any field you cared to name, but they had something else too, something rarer; a blend of keen intuition and sometimes-unconventional initiative. In short, they took risks; which came off, because they had the skill to back them up.

"Check 'is gun," Bodie was saying, briefly, without looking up from his task.

Jones had slid weakly to crouch with his back against the wall. Doyle sank to the same position in front of him, holding out a hand. "Less'ave it."

It took Jones a moment to catch up. "Lemme look over the shooter," Doyle explained shortly. "Just to make sure you 'aven't got a stoppage."

Don't trust the raw recruit to load it right, was Jones' bitter, absolutely correct guess at the motives of that; but at least Doyle hadn't said so, which he supposed revealed a certain diplomacy he hadn't before suspected in him. Doyle checked it over quickly, handed it back. "You've got ammo for it? Yeah? Gonna need that, sunshine. So look after it. You're bleeding," he said, abruptly changing the subject, nodding at Jones' hand. "Bullet-flash, is it?"

And before Jones had time either to reply or to object, Doyle, balanced back on his heels, took the injured hand in both of his and turned it in gentle fingers, searching.

"Where the hell is everyone," said Jones between gritted teeth; squeamish, he was not watching what Doyle was doing. "We got split up - "

"Chasin' a red herring, moress'pity." Doyle glossed quickly over the seriousness of this, but in fact he and Bodie had gone through a moment of incredulity, then a flashpoint of gut-twisting fear which settled into grim resignation as they adjusted to the fact that they had been left alone to handle several very dangerous, totally ruthless raiders fighting for their lives, unhampered by the impulse to preserve anyone else's. It had happened before. The thing was, not to dwell on possibilities. Just get on with the job.

He elaborated: "See, after we cornered 'em up there, a few of them managed to break out, Murph and company must've followed them, the cars are gone. Trouble is - " he turned the hand deftly, noting the calibre of Jones' wince with a careful eye - "some of them got left behind. An' only you, me and 'im to stop 'em beating a sharp retreat." He shook his head; and, unexpectedly, grinned. A curl had flopped down to mingle ticklishly with his eyebrow; he brushed it impatiently away.

"How bad is he hurt?" Bodie's voice filtered over to them, abrupt. Jones had not thought him paying any attention to himself and Doyle; he seemed to be concentrating single-mindedly on the lookout he was keeping at his end of the alley.

"Flashburn, messy, not serious. Wrist may be sprained - lucky it's 'is left," answered Doyle, refraining from adding that in his opinion rank fear and hamhanded inexperience were likely to prevent the young man from being anything other than an additional handicap. Bodie would know that, anyway. So they were fighting against uneven odds. It had happened before.

"Good. In that case, we better make a move," came Bodie's grim voice, "'cause if Murph loses the ones that got away they'll be back with a boat, and then, Superman, we won't have a prayer. Nor will their hostage."

"If they've got one."

"Did you ever see a bankrobber in plaid skirt and brogues?"

Much of these seemed to be over Jones' head; belatedly, he realised that the world hadn't, after all, ended; that he was still in a job, and that like it or not he had been adopted into a team and should be making some contribution.

"Lemme just fix 'im up, okay," Doyle was answering. "Don't want CI5's newest and brightest keeling over before 'e makes his mark, do we?" As he spoke, he winked at Jones, making a small conspiracy between them over his partner's edgy impatience; and though the words were mocking his tone was not. Jones found himself responding, a lick of insidious warmth beginning in him that was more than the cessation of enmity: the attraction all the stronger given the previous hot hostility to contrast. From one peak to another. It was a strange feeling; as if he had opened a door at last to confront a long-held prejudice only to find the man he was looking at quite different from the one who had lived in Jones' unforgiving mind.

"What's going on then?" he asked at last, looking down at his own wrist, still captured in one of Doyle's hands; the other was groping around in his jeans' pocket. Neither of them answered for a moment.

"Shit," Doyle swore, screwing up his face in annoyance at the reluctance of his tight jeans to allow him access into the pocket. "Goin' on? There's four, maybe five of them holed up somewhere over there - " Doyle gestured somewhere in Bodie's direction - "probably got the cash with 'em, too, would've been too heavy for the ones who cut and run to handle. They've possibly got a hostage, who may or may not still be alive; they aren't budging for now because they know we're down 'ere just waiting to pick 'em off if they move out, and they don't know there's only two," he covered it without fuss, "three of us. They got the river behind them and while that's good in that we've got them pinned it means that they might be gettin' reinforcements along that way if we don't close 'em out in time."

"Murph and the rest'll be back soon, won't he?" checked Jones, hiding his anxiety under a casual tone.

Noting it, Doyle lied, equally calm, "Oh yeah, sure to be. Spit."

He held a large, folded white hanky in front of Jones' mouth. Diverted as Doyle had intended him to be, Jones eyed it faintly cross-eyed. "Wha...?"

"Spit," Doyle repeated, and then as Jones goggled at him added patiently, "You got some dirt in there, sunshine. Don't want tetanus, do you? Saliva's antiseptic, not quite Savlon maybe but it'll do." And he watched as Jones tried, drymouthed, to comply. After an unproductive moment he leant his head nearer, murmured with a hint of devilishness:

"If you don't, I will."

Intrigued and amazed by this new side to Doyle, eyes never leaving the faintly malicious slanting gaze, the wolfish grin, Jones absentmindedly dampened the hanky to Doyle's satisfaction.

Doyle cleansed the visible particles of dirt from the angry graze deftly. There were involuntary tears in Jones' eyes by the time he finished, and he was grateful that luckily Doyle had been too preoccupied to look up from his task. Now he was binding up the wrist firmly, the capacious handkerchief flying around the injured area. "Good job you had such a big hanky," he said, because he was embarrassed to be such a nuisance and couldn't think of anything better to say.

Bodie without turning, jumped in instantly: "Nose his size, what'd you expect."

"Thank you, Bodie."

"Given up buyin' 'em for him, now I just quarter sheets."

Doyle raised his eyes heavenwards, pained. Jones smiled, looking down. Doyle was examining his handiwork, hands resting down-palmed on his muscular jean-clad thighs; Jones looked at the downcast head of coppershot curls greying at the temples and realised with a shock that Doyle was not as young as he had assumed, despite the youthful face and style of dress; late thirties rather than early. He was very close, so close that Jones caught a faint whiff of his sweat as he shifted, and a tang of a warm piney aftershave; he seemed somehow at once safer and more endearing than Jones had suspected, but he had no time to savour the sensation because it struck him with a sudden unpleasant jolt that if he could scent Doyle's sweat from here then it was a dead certainty that Doyle -

His thin pale features flushed with mortification as Doyle finished with a neat knot and looked up. One hand pressed to his stomach his eyes slid away from Doyle's with guilty embarrassment. " - bit of an upset stomach - nerves - happened when I - sorry - " he gabbled on and Doyle's brow furrowed a little, whether in distaste or sympathy Jones didn't know.

"Look, don't worry about it, it - "

"What's that?" Bodie demanded, cat-like instincts picking up on what Jones would have far preferred for him to have missed.

Doyle turned his head that way, springing to his feet. "Nothin', just superhero here got a touch of the squitters," he said casually. "Like, you remember that time I was driving the speedboat and you tipped over the edge - "

Bodie caught on instantly and said, effortlessly aggrieved, "You took your bloody time hauling me back in. Eighty mile an hour you were doing, bloody James Hunt on waves, and me upside down with me 'ead half an inch from the water - "

"He'd 'ad curry," Doyle explained solemnly to Jones as if Bodie had never spoken. "Of all things, he 'ad to have the curry."

"Chicken curry it was. From that little place down Needle Street - " approved Bodie, with a reminiscent smack of his lips.

"And", said Doyle with heavy emphasis, staring at Jones with wide, guilefree eyes, "I had to sit next to him in the car on the way home. For an hour. Never said a word, I didn't."

"You shut up, Raymondo," remarked Bodie in a friendly enough way, "or I'll tell 'im about the time you fell off that - "

"Nah, don't do that," interrupted Doyle swiftly, "E thinks I'm made of steel - don't you, Tonio? - and I worked hard enough at the image, don't want it ruined."

He grinned at Jones, chipped tooth showing; one hand combed haphazardly through already haphazard curls and the other he extended. Jones knew perfectly well that Doyle, in some strange diffuse way, was apologising for their disastrous beginning: he hunted around for that lingering resentment to kill it off and found it already gone. Smiling in return, he took the offered hand and was pulled to his feet. He felt ridiculously happy, like this was going to be the best day of his life.

Euphoria vanished quite soon. Bodie too was standing now, squinting out cautiously, rifle at the ready. "We better get going: oh, only if you're ready, of course," he said with exaggerated courtesy, one mobile eyebrow upquirked.

"Are we getting out?" Jones asked, heart taking a dive. His ragged nerves soothed, he had come to feel oddly at home in the peeling narrow alley, buffered by the strength and resource of the other two, their jerky humour helping to establish a web of security, a place to regain one's footing. If they, on whom the burden of decision and action fell, should seem so perfectly in command, perfectly untroubled, why should Jones feel any unease?

Doyle was answering him: "Can't stay 'ere, can we? Pushing our luck as it is. Rats in a corner."

It hadn't occurred to him that that ease might be a façade; a groove they moved into because they had learned at cost that it was necessary, that they might be in deadly danger, the world's end on a countdown of ten and still they had to stay as cool and as clearheaded as if this was a scout's weekend orienteering jaunt, the biggest threat a thunderstorm and only summer uniforms to shield warm skin.

His eyes dark with trouble, he looked up to find Doyle watching him, one hand stilled inside his jacket. Jones had nothing, laid himself open to whatever Doyle could offer; he was bland and formless, waiting for the scrawl of distinction, for Doyle to shape him with a quick, careless hand.

Doyle said: "You'll be all right, Tonio. You better be. Cowley'll kill you if you don't save us, 'cause Bodie 'ere's his blue-eyed boy."

The glitter of a friendship in a tilted gaze. Jones took a deep breath, nodded. He was steady. He'd make it. Satisfied, Doyle slung a rifle over his shoulder, drew his handgun with unconscious left-handed skill, twirled it, replaced it, downcast eyes on some distant inner concern. Feeling Jones' intense, hungry gaze on him, he looked up, tossed him a flying grin. "We're gonna go out and get 'em before the bastards come and get us," he growled, heavily macho, and scowling, punched a fist through the air; then his features smoothed out, levity gone as he added, "S'good policy, that."

Bodie threw back, "Yeah. And it pleases Cowley better." It made Jones jump: for a moment, he had imagined quite stupidly that he and Doyle were alone.

"Who cares," snarled Doyle, "it's my skin I'm aimin' to save, not Cowley's crime quotas. Ready?"


Eyes slitted in careful concentration, Bodie leant out, sighted in the big gun, and fired.

Far off, a pane of cracked glass shattered. Within, you could just about make out black shapes, scattering. One, a featureless blur, leant far out and Jones watched, mesmerised. A weight leaned in on him, pressed him to the wall as Doyle shielded him against the rip of bullets, staring over his shoulder at the brickwork. Bodie was firing again, a long burst, holding on, overriding the vibration as the heavy retort kicked back at his shoulderblade. A long way away, the figure jerked sideways, toppled out of the sharded window, falling in a graceful arc, turning a perfect somersault in the air. It was a sight almost beautiful for the pure, free movement alone and they all watched hypnotised; but it became real when he hit the ground.

Jones looked away. Bodie stayed where he was, head slightly tilted to one side, hard classic face expressionless.

"Five point eight?" he enquired with economy, the roving eyebrows arching a little.

Jones winced at the black tastelessness, but Doyle looked unconcerned. "Nah, that's ice dancin', mate, not divin'. Lost points on the finish, anyway." Without warning, he hit Jones on the shoulder.


Jones ran, blind, following an invisible cord that linked him to the man ahead; ducking and weaving, they took a short-coursed zigzag for shelter. Doyle moved with the agility of a leaping, crouching acrobat, keeping always just ahead. Jones was right there behind him, experiencing a mad uplift in exhilaration; it was all a game, they were desperadoes running wild, fighting devils; they were heroes of a golden age flashing quicksilver swords against the slow cudgel of the ogre, rovers in the greenwood righting wrongs...

When they reached the line of buildings, Doyle threw himself through a doorless entrance, and stopped. Jones, following at speed, cannoned into him. Doyle caught him by the shoulders and steadied him; breathing hard, heart thudding so it seemed it might explode through the walls of his chest Jones looked down dazedly into sea-green eyes.

Unexpected, unstoppable, the urge surged into him; a churning inchoate longing. For a moment, eyes locked together, neither man moved. Then:

"Don't," Doyle said violently, and with one swift movement he had twisted himself free, and away.

The spell had died in the making; the new life pulsing through him blinked out, leaving him cold. Jones dropped his hands, reality drenching him like a shower of sleet. He was shaking. Oh Christ. Jesus Christ.

"I'm sorry."

There was a moment of awful silence. Jones clenched his hands tight on his palms. The scent of pine and sweat; the insistent whining of a guitar - got me on my knees - and eyes like winter ice.

Then Doyle turned away, rubbing a weary hand over his eyes. "Gets you like that sometimes. Forget it."

Jones just could not believe what he had done. "That's twice I - oh god, you must think I - "

Turning, hands planted on his hips, Doyle interrupted shortly, "I'm not thinkin' anything. Look, we got a job to do. Just forget it for now, talk about it later, okay? Straighten you out..."

He was breathing harder now than when he had ended his run. Bodie must be wondering what the hell the delay was about. Crouching, manhandling his smg into position, he leant out of the doorway and began firing, offering with the distraction time for Bodie to join them. Jones watched, hugging relief and something else, a dawning anticipation - Doyle was going to talk to him, straighten him out - to himself, a little, secret warmth. They had made some sort of beginning. They were on their way.

Then Bodie appeared, running hard and fast, not from the same place that Doyle and Jones had left; he had doubled back to the other entrance to the alley and instead of crossing the dangerous open space he was keeping to the walls. Doyle, leaning out precariously as he was, must be partially obscuring the view of him from the raiders, who were firing back at him spasmodically, but their line of fire was as awkward as his and none got close.

"Okay, mate."

Bodie, panting, had flashed past him into the shell of a room. Jones noted abstractedly that he moved with grace and speed, a true athlete rather than the whippy acrobat that was his partner. Doyle had withdrawn instantly, using the butt of the big gun to push aside his leather jacket; he reached inside and rubbed the muscles across his ribs which were aching from the strain of holding the unnatural position. Bodie was wasting no time: he had gone to the back wall and was looking out, assessing chances. A dab of peeling wallpaper, pink roses, hung tenuously from a slab of plaster still adhering to the brickwork near the fireplace; it seemed unbelievable that this place had once been the cosy livingroom of an unknown family long since passed on.

"What now?" asked Jones.

"Now," said Bodie without turning, "we're stormtroopers. You watch the Iranian embassy affair on the box, a few years back? Springing the hostages. That's us. But without..." he swung round and his smile was humourless, dark eyes slanted in devilish array, " - the heavy artillery."

"Innate skill, an' genius, that's what we got," Doyle added. He ran a hand through disordered curls, taking a deep breath. He glanced briefly over at Jones, unfathomable; and with another tang of excitement, fear, anticipation, Jones guessed that Doyle had not yet put what had happened between them aside. He thought again, hazily: today could change my life.

Bodie was unaware of any undercurrent. He was answering Doyle, "Genius is just about what we'll need. Come and look at this."

And then Doyle did forget everything but the reality of the present situation; he recognised Bodie's grim tone all too well. He joined him at the far wall; stuck his head cautiously through the window frame. A single glance was all he needed.

One fist thumped into the wall. "Oh fuck it." His upper lip curled back in a vicious snarl as he spat out the words, whirling around, snappy with temper and tension. "Fuck it." For from here it could be clearly seen that the raiders had chosen a position which was tactically close to impregnable, with the resources they had.

Bad news. There would be no easy cornering of them, no swift sure bloodless coup. Jones moistened his dry lips nervously. All his instincts led him towards staying here, where they were reasonably safe, until they were joined by reinforcements; but it was not they who were the hunted, the prey, the guilty, and logic argued against such inefficiency, such a waste of opportunity. He supposed that there was nothing foolhardy about these two; he trusted them to do the right thing. Including retreat, holding-off, if that was the only option. He glanced over at Doyle, who was staring at the floor, frowning, the toe of one white-trainered foot scuffing the eddies of dust; a moody, hunched-shouldered figure.

"When we get out of this," Doyle said at last, without looking up, "tonight; I wanna have the best bloody paella Vesta can come up with."

The drifting, inconsequential remark, at a time like this, puzzled Tony: he had been awaiting the neat verbal delivery of some plan staggering in its infallibility. Bodie was answering as he sorted through the remaining ammo clips, dividing them into two piles. "Yeah? Sunshine; you'll deserve it."

Though they were not even looking at one another, and the words had meant nothing, Jones experienced the sudden intuition, shocking in its irrefutability, that these two were very close; it came to him as a blinding certainty they were, somehow, irrevocably bound up to one another in some way he could not even begin to conceive.

He had never even seen them touch.

The strange feeling that was not even jealousy remained with him even when Doyle, lifting his head, looked straight at him and added: "Or even some of that bloody Needle Street curry. Take you with us, Tonio. How about it? You wanna paint the town red with us tonight?"

He held his head high, because the inclusion of himself had been intended generously, and called forth his pride, answering: "Any damn colour you want," without a tremor in his voice.

It seemed that Doyle, however dearly wanted, was not to be for him.

But Doyle's liking, and respect, he vowed to himself fiercely, that he would have.

Moving on wooden feet, yet with new purpose and new sense of his own adulthood he joined the companions at the other side of the room, where they all looked out in silence at the skeletal wrecks of unsculpted masonry that housed an unknown number of armed and dangerous men, a hostage, and half a million pounds (at a guess) in gold and silver bullion.

Doyle was squinting up towards the leaden sky, measuring, quick eyes darting from strut to exposed girder, to jutting ledge.

"Any chance?"

"Might be. Reckon we better try it, if you're happy about it."

"I'm thrilled."

The short exchange meant nothing to Jones: either he had missed something or they were communicating at some level of shared unspoken conclusion. He stayed quiet; an onlooker.

Decisively, Doyle was stripping off his worn leather jacket, which he tossed over to Tony Jones. "Keep this for me."

As Jones took it, surprised, Doyle was rolling back the sleeves of his thin beige shirt. "I don't wanna mark on it, mind," he warned. "I'm very fond of that jacket."

After a moment's reflection, Jones took off his anorak and slipped into the borrowed jacket; although he was some inches taller than the other man he too was slightly built and it fitted him well. Doyle's warmth rose around him, and with it the faint, not unpleasing scent of his sweat. The jacket hugged him as he slowly eased his anorak back on over it; there was a bittersweet catch in his guts, apricots and aloes. Lovesick...

Bodie was clipping ammo swiftly onto a belt. Task completed, he caught Doyle by one bare forearm and slipped the belt around his hips, deftly fastening it for him. Doyle stood patiently in his grasp, head down, eyelids dropping thoughtfully over darkened eyes, his full consciousness on psyching himself up for the task at hand.

"What you going to do?" Jones finally asked, since it seemed no one was going to volunteer the information.

Checking his handiwork, ensuring the clasp of the belt was secure, it was Bodie who answered, pointing vaguely out of the window frame. "The Human Fly here's going up there, over the roof. Plaster'll be thin between the rafters, or there might be a trap-door. 'E can break through, give 'em a nice surprise."

"I'll go with yah," Jones offered to Doyle over the lump of panic in his throat; it was not just that he would by now have followed Doyle to hell and beyond, but a superstitious reluctance to let Doyle go; it was daft, but as he felt he could be some sort of talisman for him, the feeling growing into near-certainty that he did not want Doyle to go, that nothing could happen to Doyle if he, Tony, were by his side, staunch and faithful... If anyone had reminded him, now, that a few short hours ago he would have sworn hatred for him, he would not have believed them.

Neither of them jeered at his suggestion, nor paid it much attention; neither of them was seeing the premonition of disaster that had swiftly touched Tony. Bodie jabbed a finger at his chest. "You, son, are coming with me. Give 'im back-up. We'll go in the door and up the stairwell while he appears like the Archangel up above. They won't know what hit 'em. You ready?" This to Doyle, who nodded once, tightly.

"But they'll panic. Start shooting," said Jones, and wondered why no one bothered to reply.

At the corner of the building Doyle stopped to tighten the laces on his trainers, overlooking no little detail that might get in his way, slow him down when every slick second was crucial.


Jones withdrew his limbo-like attention from Doyle's feet. Doyle was pointing at him. "Look after 'im," he said jerking a thumb at the other man, whose eyebrows were set in a brooding dark line. "And you. No heroics." He was watching Jones very intently, puckish face aggressively tilted; he shifted the machine gun from one hand to the other and reached inside his shirt to free the links of silver chain he wore where it had snagged painfully on the fine hair there: continuing, "no heroics, because me, you see I'm greedy for glory and can't stand it if anyone outshines me. So you look after yourself, Tonio."

"I will." He wished he could think of something else to say, something better that Doyle would remember and take with him, but Doyle's attention had left him already, moved onto Bodie. "And you - "

They turned slowly to face one another; Doyle moved until he was within six inches of the bigger man, staring up, eyes bright, almost insolent. " - you, don't you bloody well louse this up," he said with sprite-like aggression, planted on the balls of his feet, rocking a little. "'Cause I wanna get me OBE before I snuff it, okay?"

"I'll keep it ever in mind," Bodie promised smoothly, eyes dwelling on his partner's face, roving over his eyes, the flawed line of his cheek, the sybarite's mouth - "And sod the OBE, mate, I got bigger plans for you than that before you join the harp- and-clouds league."

Caught up in the open implication of that offhand, laden avowal, and in the sight of Ray Doyle, with one foot on a protruding, ragged brick, testing it, then briskly and efficiently beginning to scale the wall towards a black sky, it took Jones several minutes of following Bodie in a weird in-and-out dance of the doorways to realise what they had really been saying to each other while their eyes wove a subtle snake dance of expression, and they didn't touch, once.

They had been saying goodbye.

The ascent of the vertical wall was tiring and strenuous, but not difficult. However, after a gut-diving wrestle with a solid-looking drainpipe that eased itself treacherously away from the wall the instant he entrusted it with half his weight and all his balance, Doyle's nerves were screaming, his muscles protesting fire by the time he finally pulled himself up and over the edge of the roof.

No time to lie there recovering, though he let rip a torrent of swear-words when he discovered a rip in his jeans where they had caught on a nail. He set off immediately, picking his way over the uneven ruined roof, cluttered with struts and slates and areas of unsafe plaster. The big machine gun was an encumbrance, swinging and dangling across his body if he ceased to steady it even for an instant, but he hung onto it grimly. Gonna need you, my friend. Bloody 'ell. Looked routine, today did. How the fuck'd we get into a personal Armageddon?

Bloody Murph. Give him a rocket for skatin' off and leaving us to nursemaid 'is baby in this nestful of vipers...


A rueful, involuntary smile traced briefly across his lips.

Not a bad kid, despite - everything. Gonna have to sort him out over all that. S'funny. I thought he just had the hots for anything wellformed in jeans. It's not that at all... Funny how you can be wrong about people - but me, I do it all the time...

So what is it with Tonio? What's 'e looking for? Needs something, someone, steady, that's it - can't find his feet among us, needs someone behind him to give 'im a cuddle when he has a bad day - christ don't we all - must be days he can't sort out the bad guys from 'is colleagues, Pinnochio with the Fox 'e is among McCabe and those...

He's okay, though. Scared shitless today - literally - but holding up. He'll make it, that one. Can tell. Give 'im six months - maybe when we get out of this I'll give him some small-arms trainin', he's not 'appy holding that Browning, maybe something smaller...

Have to keep a bit of distance there though. Can' 'ave him jumping me every time we're on our own, not lovesick like Rivers (don't think of Rivers) nah, Tony's got more sense than that.

Lovesick. Bodie was like that; 'e's changed. I thought it wouldn't last - but it isn't that, 's not that he's restless, lookin' to move on, no, whichever way I turn he's there. I hope to christ you find someone like that, Tonio - and till then -

Let 'im tag after me an' Bodie for a bit - do 'im good - just till he finds his feet -


Momentarily off balance, one foot wavering precariously over an area of plaster he threw himself neatly forward to brace his hands on wooden rafters which safely took his weight. His palm was shot through with splinters. His train of thought broken, he gave every spare cell of attention now to the scramble across the rooftops, counting the definitions of rooms; five, six, three to go, have to be quiet now, quiet as a bird.

Bodie towed Jones after him into an alcove; dragged a hand over his eyes. Sweat was running off him inside his clothes; the atmosphere was heavy, a thundery stillness about. He cast a quick glance at this partner in loco; mulish brown eyes stared out at him from under a scraggy too-long fringe. God; where was Cowley getting them from these days? Nah, thass not fair, a more generous twinge prompted; the kid's okay. Bit wet maybe; but okay.

Bodie would, however have been a lot happier without him. Himself and Doyle, that was one thing: give them any job like this and they would run easy and uncomplicated, knowing what the other would be doing, thinking, no complications of uncertainty, of lack of faith.

Throw Factor X, like young Jones here, into the works and god knew what might go wrong.

Bodie was far, far happier thinking just for himself: and for Doyle of course, but that came as naturally as breathing. Nevertheless Tony Jones was here like it or not and Bodie had a duty to him as well as to the job.

"You okay?"

"Yeah," said the new recruit, brushing the curt enquiry aside abruptly, staring out and up at the stark skyline. "Will Ray be all right? Those roofs don't look any too safe."

Bodie repressed a grin. Ray, now. So Doyle had charmed his way even behind the stony demeanour of this one. Don't even think about it mate: he'd eat you alive, he was thinking, even as he answered.

"Don't you waste time worrying about Ray. Moves like a cat, he does."

Got instincts like one, too. And you sunshine, couldn't handle him for five minutes - go under without a fight and be left on the floor to watch him walk away, you would.

Bodie recognised in himself a certain satisfaction in thinking this way; he acknowledged it wryly, something sweet for all the pain, that of all the people who would undoubtedly like to imagine themselves mastering Ray, making him melt to them, it was only Bodie who was in with a chance.

Just don't count on it.

"So what now?" Jones was asking, unaware of Bodie's private meanderings though he had noticed the sudden sliding-off of Bodie's attention.

Bodie snapped into it, checking his watch. Ray'd be there now, or not far off. "Now, you listen. We go up the stairs. No noise. When Doyle jumps the roof, then we go for the door. You keep behind me - try and take out one or two if you get the chance. But - " and Bodie's voice slid into a deceptively gentle lilt, silk over ice, and velvet-blue eyes stared down into Jones' as Bodie took hold of his shoulder, squeezing - "remember Ray'll be in the thick of them, most likely. And if you wing him by mistake, sunshine; if there's one mark on him caused by you then I'd be very, very angry with you." He smiled; his eyes stayed hard as flint.

The fingers bit into bone; angrily, Jones twisted himself away. "Of course I bloody well won't. Whaddya take me for?"

Bodie gave a little smile, unseen, amused by the raw touchiness. "Okay. But you'll learn - one of the hardest things isn't how to hit people. It's how to avoid hitting the wrong people. You get two criminals in a crowd of twenty shoppers on the street - " he shrugged, and, having made his point, smiled again to offset the lecture, and slapped Jones on the back in a brisk, friendly fashion. "There may be a hostage, remember," he thought to add as an afterthought; "same thing applies. C'mon."

Jones supposed that, after a while, he might even begin to like Bodie too.

And there was tonight, he thought as he followed Bodie on the last stage of the journey: tonight, Doyle had said they would paint the town red, just the three of them...

Life turned you upside down sometimes. A new day every morning, and you never knew what each had in store for you.

At last, he had arrived. He was happy for the first time since joining CI5.

Doyle was on target and ready to go. He knew he was in the right place, because he could see them from the pattern of rafters stretching back behind him and from his own careful count that he had reached the seventh room along; was crouching belly-down under an open sky right over a roomful of gun-toting thieves. He could in fact hear them talking, in some excitable middle-eastern tongue. Checking his watch, he guessed that Bodie must also be in position. He gave it another minute to be sure, shivering a little as the icy wind cut through his thin fluttering shirt to strike chills into his warm skin. Roused to fine-drawn tension by the proximity of danger, he was nevertheless unmoved by it; if your number was up, there was fuck-all you could do about it, that was the tenet they all lived by, had to, or be useless wondering. He watched the sixty seconds tick by, precisely. Then he picked up a chip of slate, weighed it in his hand, aimed it carefully and threw it so it landed with a flip and a skid on the plaster over at the far corner of the room beneath. All attention over there, please.

It was a matter of seconds then to dive two-footed through the weak plaster, gun held at the ready, landing squarely in a crouch three yards beneath, facing six, eight bewildered men just as Bodie burst through the door at the side of him. Uzi sighted in to hold them at bay, yelling loudly for them to surrender. It was all noise and confusion and dust, no time to think much, just do what came instinctively, hope to get lucky, force a quick submission by sheer advantage of surprise and aggression.

It deserved success. They didn't even need luck to ensure that success: just the absence of misfortune, but then it had been a day of misfortune.

With a terrible cracking sound, the floor began to subside; rotting timber gave way and fell, masonry cascaded about them and the whole room shivered, and disintegrated.

Shouting unintelligible things, the raiders fell, sliding in a tangle to the lowest corner of the tilting room. One had been knocked out and lay with closed eyes, blood trickling from a marble-white forehead. Another, already recovering, was groping for his gun but the whole structure was unstable and for a moment the two sides were united on a common front: the necessity of escaping from a collapsing building.

Doyle's instincts took him up; with the aid of shifting planks, quick limbed as a monkey he managed to haul himself back onto the roof. Jumping madly from one strut to another, never pausing long enough to test its stability, he was crouching low to avoid any shots loosed his way, but none came. He reached a place which seemed solid enough, and finally he ducked into a natural position of defence between two large redbrick chimneys. He squatted, regaining his breath, rubbing dust out of his eyes, taking stock.

He had ripped his jeans in another place and gashed his thigh beneath. Not serious. He had scraped one elbow: although rivulets of blood were running down ticklishly, it was only a graze. He did try to lick it, but his tongue simply wouldn't reach that far - where are you when I really need you, Bodie? - so he put the raw stinging pain to the back of his mind and concentrated on the rest of his equipment. His R/T was missing: there was something wrong with the damn thing anyway, some radio transmitter in the area perhaps, for when he and Bodie had tried to raise Murph seconds after he and the rest had screeched off and long before they would be out of range, all they had met up with was a low crackle of harsh static. But he still had his rifle, slung from his dust-streaked shoulder; his hand-gun was still safe in its holster though it would be practically useless from this height; and the ammunition belt still circled his hips. Thanks, Bodie.

Where the hell was everyone?

He pivoted cautiously around, checking all angles. Dread struck home: what if Bodie had been trapped down there? Caught, crushed beneath a chunk of wall while Doyle cut and ran, saving his own hide?

He scanned the courtyard beneath him with increasingly panicky eyes.

No, it was all right. There Bodie was, unmistakeable the solid powerful figure in black, running; although from this distance Doyle couldn't make out detail he could see in his mind the mouth that would be twisted into a brutal sneer, eyes jetting determination. Eyes that in the dark caressed him naked; lips that, tender, followed the line of his gaze. Bodie was taking a line right across the open space; risky, that. Doyle frowned, teeth sinking into his lower lip as he raised his rifle, watching carefully. Can cover you from 'ere just fine, sunshine; banking on that, are you? Trust me.

Reflexes jumping, he fired a warning burst at a shadow that moved, and another. This was how it should be; his blood sang with the exhileration of it, strung out on nerves and the excitement of this the deadliest of games. The raiders had split up; Bodie was rounding up one and drawing the others from hiding-places in the process, relying on Doyle for cover. That was just fine; the best fuckin' rifleshot in the squad; not counting you, of course. Everything was looking rosy. They were doing okay.

He had forgotten Tony Jones.

A precise shot of Doyle's winged one of the opposition, non-fatal leg wound, wouldn't do to kill 'em all even when the bloodlust was high. Cowley jibed at wholesale slaughter. The man fell to the ground writhing; reaching out at the extent of the arched agony for the gun he had dropped as he fell. Doyle frowned; raised the gun to his shoulder, considered one more direct shot to end the man's interest in the action once and for all. But then a lanky figure in a dun anorak that matched his hair darted out from one of the entrances and kicked the rifle away.

Doyle relaxed, lowering his gun, using the time to reload. Good for you, Tonio. Make an ace someday, you will.

He looked up again, ready once more.

And all his exhileration, fled; for all at once the tight line of fine control they had established slipped and fell into tatters, destroyed by a cruel chance that haunted Ray Doyle for years to come, the moment forever frozen in his mind.

Bodie was hustling one of the raiders out of a doorway at gunpoint. Jones was still in the courtyard attempting to haul the wounded man to the support of a wall. It was an operation all but wound up.

And then, incredibly, a gunman, no two, appeared like magic on the roof below Doyle's and perpendicular to him, some ten metres apart from one another, focussing with raised rifles on their two targets down there, exposed and vulnerable out there in the wide open spaces.

Doyle shouted, loud and desperate, but it was already too late, he knew that. As if in a dream, he saw himself lift the rifle, balance it on a braced, crossed arm; judge distance, angle, make the choice of target - unfair, his mind screamed at him, to have this much power - sight it in, fire, hold on firing -

The gunman nearest him folded and fell. Bodie, hearing the shots, scrambled for shelter, but without knowing it, he was already safe. Only Doyle knew that, for he had made the choice.

The other loosed off his shot at his target a second before Doyle shot him, too.

Sweating, sick, Doyle lowered his rifle. His hands were shaking, now it was all over. Over too late for Tony.

Too early.

Oh god, no.

Sprawled out on his back on the cold stone, with the tufts of green grass sprouting in the cracks, lay a young man in a brown anorak, and even from here you could see the ominous rivers of crimson leaching into cloth.

In a frenzy of haste Doyle scrambled, hung, and dropped. The vast leaden sky overhung a deadly silence; and Doyle crossed the courtyard running easily, unscathed, dropping to his haunches beside his young colleague.

He could see at once that there was no hope: that among the lives lost here today - all, every one of them due to him in one way or another - Tony Jones' was destined to be one of them.

Sick to the depths of his heart, he squatted there, watching the flutter that bubbled wetly in scarlet as ruptured lungs made a last desperate bid for oxygen. There was nothing left but this; nothing of life save this last involuntary contraction of unthinking muscle.

"I'm sorry," he said aloud. This was all his; no escape from the accusing finger stabbing his way, not this time.

"Sorry, Tonio."

Revenged, indeed, for a moment of tipsy misguidedness.

"It just wasn't your day, was it?"

Why did it have to be him?

For once, the repetitive rhetorical question hurled out by all those struck by grief was answered at once, no excuses, no excuses.

It had to be him because it couldn't be Bodie, that was why.

"Just not your day at all."

Couldn't be Bodie, because he's all I've ever had in my life and I've got to keep him, you understand that, don't you?

As the flicker in the shattered chest ceased forever, the clouds parted.

When Bodie, covered with a fine sheen of exertion, finally completed his rounding up of the raiders left alive, he went to find his mate, coming out into the courtyard, blinking in the sudden sunlight that had broken through to shine warmly on the carnage beneath.

His heart contracted.

Doyle was squatting beside the body of their colleague. His face looked blurry, as if he were crying, but his eyes were quite dry. He looked up at Bodie's approach.

"I couldn't cover both of you," Doyle said.

"Oh christ - poor kid," Bodie said grimly, tightly. He stared down at the still, ruined chest knowing that there was nothing to say, knowing that after all this time he was still always astounded at the simplicity of death, the way a life could be pinched out in a flash and leave nothing.

"Just wasn't possible," Doyle continued as if Bodie hadn't spoken, "not to give you both cover. Not with two of them goin' for you from different positions. See - I couldn't cover both of you."

This monotonic, lackluster litany was sending a fine prickle down Bodie's spine, alerting him to an instability there somewhere. "Okay," he said quietly, reassuring. "You're not Superman, pet. You did okay. Come on now." He put out a hand, meaning to lay it on Doyle's shoulder, but Doyle ducked, shying violently away.

"Died in my jacket - "

He reached down, touched the still-warm leather; his fingers came away slippery and bloody. They both stared at them. Bodie was the first to avert his eyes.

"I'll buy you a new one."

He realised the seeming unfeelingness of that the moment it left him, wincing inside, but Doyle didn't seem to have noticed anyway, tracing swift gentle fingers down the thin plain face, to close the blank glassy eyes.

"Come on, Ray," said Bodie, suddenly urgent. He had seen Doyle on vicious downers too many times before. "Come away now." And to his relief Doyle came, rising to his feet, rubbing his sticky fingers down the side of his jeans in an absent gesture.

"Got three prisoners back there," said Bodie. "You go check on 'em - no," he quickly revised, with a look at the cold, vengeful eyes fixed beyond him, "I'll do that, you go scout around out there, call up Base from the car, tell 'em we've got three of 'em alive, no hostage, must've dumped her, how about that?"

Action, he decided; the duty, the clinical detachment of reports, that was the way to divert Ray for now.

But the night still had to be faced.

"How about the paella?" asked Bodie entering, decidedly matter-of-fact. He had his sleeves rolled up and was busy projecting the image of a man ready for culinary action.

Doyle had hardly spoken since they left the clearing-up operation to the cavalry who had arrived too late. Murphy's cheerful smile had disappeared and not returned, but he had taken the news quietly. He had hardly known Jones anyway; none of them had. To Cowley would fall the task of informing the young man's parents, for whom, presumably, as for all of them, this had begun as just another day.

Looking at Doyle now, it needed no special insight to see that he was explosive with tension, tensile with banked-down anger and emotion. He only shook his head briefly to the offer of food, throwing one leg up on the coffee-table. As Bodie watched, stilled with apprehensive concern, he tipped back more whisky, and suddenly, in an unpremeditated moment terrifying in its violence hurled the glass overarm across the room: it travelled in an instant and crashed explosively into the wall, splintering into a tinkling myriad of sparkling fragments.

Bodie released a breath, slowly; crossed the room. Unstirred by the fiasco - he had not even bothered to watch the glass hit the wall - Doyle lay there apathetically, looking unkempt. His shirt was carelessly fastened and damp with sweat; his jeans were dirty, streaked with building rubble, torn in two places; his eyes were bloodshot and his breath, already, was warm with the scent of whisky.

"You look like you just knocked off hod-carrying," said Bodie; he picked up one grimy hand which lay passively in his, the fingers slightly curled. Bodie uncurled them onehanded, examined the palm.

"Thought it felt a bit rough. You've got splinters here mate, want me to get 'em out for you? 'S a bit of a cissy complaint, splinters; you'll never live it down if you have to cry off target practice because of these."

Having spoken lightly to fill a void, he had nevertheless forgotten that Doyle would be looking for a fight.

He had stirred at last, kicking irritably at his shoes until they fell off. "Oh yeah. And we mustn't be cissy, must we? 'S a court martial offence, that is, in our job. Gotta stay tough and mean."

"You don't have to be tough all the time," Bodie contradicted him gently; he wasn't having Doyle get away with that. "No one's asking that of you. That's your decision, Ray."

He was keeping his tone brisk, almost impersonal. It wouldn't take much tonight to push Doyle right over the edge into rank self-pity; and ragged himself, Bodie didn't feel up to soothing it away.

When he returned with tweezers, TCP and cottonwool, and squatted by the settee, Doyle was sitting up; a fresh glass of whisky propped on his chest. He did however transfer it to the uninjured hand and held the other out to Bodie, without looking at him. Bodie took hold of his forearm, sliding fingers over warm skin to push up the shirtsleeve; Doyle's arm felt good to hold, fine muscle over bone, silken haired... A moment of erotic yearning pierced him from nowhere and he stayed there, shutting his eyes. Oh Christ, do we have to go through all this?

Bodie too was tired, overwrought and depressed. It came to him in a flash of resentful, instant anger that he was denied the most basic right of any committed relationship; all he wanted now was to slide his arms beneath Doyle's shirt, wrapping them round him, and be held in return, close to him, weep his own anger, frustration, despair at the events of the day into the harbour of Doyle's understanding, for who was better placed to understand, to share in that, than Doyle? - and yet, if he touched Doyle now in that way, Doyle would undoubtedly throw him off, reject him with swift and unloving finality, giving no quarter to Bodie's need for comfort which was just as great as his own, and far easier to satisfy.

Maybe, come to that, Bodie wearily thought, maybe it was Bodie's fault as much as anyone's. He did after all work hard at appearing cool, very much in control, around Doyle these days, always the rocksolid hard man who would cope with anything. He did this out of a very real fear that Doyle, once his eyes were opened to the fact that Bodie was still as vulnerable as himself, would lose respect for him, cease to cede to the ties Bodie bound him with, and drift out of reach.

Maybe he was wrong. Maybe what Doyle needed most was to be shown, no punches withheld, and with no chance of mistranslation, that after a bloody day Bodie needed reassurance and comfort, the simple, priceless comfort of sexless physical intimacy. It was little enough to ask.

His heart was aching as he looked at his battered love.

Let me be close to you, sweetheart... It would help, can't you see that?

But no, Doyle couldn't see that; he never could see past the conflicting jungle of his own emotions. Never recognised his own bitter unconscious cry for help that he was projecting in his behaviour, sunk in maudlin self-hatred which moved him to snarl and lash out at every tentative gesture of affection; rejecting all the simple, direct ways of dealing with a dark mood as if they were a weakness.

Bodie could see it all too clearly. But, no gestures, not tonight. Tonight, Doyle was on his own; Bodie was too tired.

He got on with his task, extracting spears of splintered wood from the colourless palm until it was an angry red and beaded with blood. Then he scrubbed it with antiseptic.

"Thanks," Doyle muttered from habit; and rose to get another drink.

"Don't offer me one, will you," said Bodie: and slapped a mental pause on the unstable resentment he could feel beginning to threaten all his determined calm -

Just stay clear. Mustn't lose it - not tonight, of all nights...

Doyle slanted him a glance. "You live 'ere, don't you? If you wanna drink, it's all yours."

"Mind those bare feet on all the glass," said Bodie with deadly sweet temper, and he got up to get his own drink.

"I ever tell you about Joe Aubin?" he asked, concentrating with an effort because now the lonely aching part of him was threatening to swamp him, make him do something ridiculous, "taking a leak at a Beirut bus station, he was. Bomb goes off on the street, blows the window in, glass flying everywhere, blood. Poor old Joe, for a moment there 'e thinks 'e's lost his prizest possession, but you know what it'd done?" He took a thoughtful, smacking swig of his whisky. "Circumcised him. Neater'n a surgeon's knife."

Doyle's predictable lack of reaction snapped something in Bodie. Grim-mouthed, he sat down beside him, took another long swallow to give him strength, set his glass down in front of him with absolute precision, and plunged in.

He took Doyle's chin in his hand, thumbnail caressing the cleft in his chin, then digging, holding him still, beneath the wide startled eyes.

"Okay, Ray. We'll get drunk. We'll do anything you want. We'll go and pick up a bird and take turns with her all night if you think that'll help. Or we'll fight. That's what you want, isn't it? Go on push me a bit further: it won't take long, now. Then I'll guarantee to lay you out cold in ten seconds if it's that sort of penance and oblivion you're after. Wake you up in the morning with a nice cup of tea, slab of steak for the black eye, how's that?" His tone wavered beneath facetiousness and open bitterness; his eyes never left Doyle's. "What we're not going to do is sit here on the edge all night. But make up your mind soon, mate; I'm shattered and I can't take much more of this."

Too late, he foresaw the reply he had well and truly let himself in for.

"Nobody's asking you to."

Hurt crowded in on him; unseen, Bodie clenched his fists.

Weary, he leaned his head back against the soft plush cushion. "Cruel, Ray," he observed, and the words strung out a frail line of brittle ice between them, "very cruel."

Doyle said nothing. After a moment, Bodie continued. "But as you're likely to point out, that's in the rules, isn't it? Good old Bodie, lies down like a dog every time you feel like kicking something, and without even being asked, too. That's love, Ray. Even the cynics have to admire the blind stupidity of it." Though his tone was light, the bitterness stabbed home.

It got through to Doyle as nothing else had; for the first time he seemed to become aware of Bodie as a physical presence, turning his head to look at him.

"It was my fault he died," he said at last; it was a sort of breakthrough, and in that offered truth Bodie felt the apology, and accepted it: "I might as well have pulled the fuckin' trigger on him myself."

"Oh yeah. And your fault the Molner girl spread wide her arms and took one in the heart. And your fault Ann Seaford ended up face down in the Thames breathing H2O and slime. Then there was Benny - " he pulled names from places he thought buried, an unfolding catalogue of past lives, stabbing them home until Doyle, his face splintered with anguish, jumped to his feet and howled with a controlled violence.

"Don't list 'em all Bodie: I know what I've done."

"You think you know," Bodie said. "That's your trouble; think too bloody much, you do. You really imagine they'd all be alive today if not for you?" His voice expressed polite incredulity that strengthened, unasked, into open derision. "What it must be, to have such a sway over Fate."

Doyle, restless, turned this way and that making for the window then changing his mind. Moving fast he went to his jacket, hanging over a chairback, extracted an opened packet of cigarettes. He tossed the pack and a lighter over to Bodie and then refilled their glasses; some of the translucent brown liquid slopped over the table and lay there puddled, reflecting the overhead light. Bodie extracted two cigarettes and held out one for him. Doyle's mouth parted for it instantly; he cupped his hand round Bodie's to shield the brief blue flare of the flame, dragged eagerly once, twice, drawing in the smoke. Both behind-the-sheds smokers from an early age, they had technically given up this habit, resorting to it only occasionally. Bodie exuded a steady stream of smoke from curled nostrils and watched Doyle pacing around, sucking the life out of his cigarette - he was a greedy, impatient smoker. Finally, snatching it away from his lips, Doyle broke the silence.

"Yeah, okay," he said abruptly. "But Tony Jones died today because of me - don't bloody say anything - " his voice had risen to intercept Bodie's instinctive denial - "he was trustin' me, he thought it was 'is lucky day when we popped up from nowhere when he was alone and panickin', and I couldn't help him, I got the bloody kid killed, and it makes me sick, here," he punched one fist into his own chest, hard, so that it hurt.

Without looking at him, Bodie said quietly, "You liked Tony, didn't you."

Doyle stared at him, eyes wide open, the cigarette untended in the corner of his mouth. He brought swift fingers up to it, inhaled sharply; after a moment smoke streamed downwards from his nostrils which flared, very slightly.

"Like him? I didn't even bloodywell know him," he said viciously, and his arm flew to stub out the butt in the ashtray with sharp, jerky movements that sent glowing red sparks everywhere.

At least he was talking. "He seemed to like you," Bodie said, slowly, though he was not sure it was the right thing to say at that time. "Thought you were the Angel Gabriel, mate."

Doyle's reply was swift and unequivocal. "He didn't know me, either." He tipped some more whisky down. It wasn't helping. Maybe the truth would.

"You know why Tony died, Bodie?" He answered himself. "No, you don't know. You weren't up there with me. He died because I had one of those choices to make; two bloody bastards to send into eternity, no time to think even about whether it's right or wrong, they've got to go an' you know it. Which do you take out first? Which?" He stared at him, demanding his answer. "When you know what's hanging on your choice?"

Sudden and sickening, the truth Bodie had been staring in the face had its mask ripped away.

He said into the pause, over the tightness in his throat: "You made the right decision. By the book. If it's any comfort."

It was unarguable. If there had to be a sacrifice, then however great the heartache, or lack of it, then one sacrificed without the damnation of bias, the more expendable, the weaker. There had been no choice, for Doyle. Tony Jones had been training for CI5 for ten weeks. Bodie had as many years of experience.

"Oh yeah. The right decision," Doyle repeated. "But of course, for the wrong reasons." No comfort.

Something died in Bodie; he lost it all, every last impulse to tread with care. Sick, he stared into Doyle's cool, aquiline face. He spoke slowly, from somewhere far away.

"Right reasons, wrong reasons, you did what had to be done and you know it. You can't really be saying you'd be happier if I'd died out there today instead of him? You'd be feeling better now if you'd done that, would you? Christ," Bodie said, shaking. "It might even have been worth it. At least I'd've escaped this."

Disregarding this for what it was, melodrama from someone tired and hurt and at the limit of reason, Doyle jumped around, staring down. In that moment it all became clear to him, exactly how he felt and why he was feeling it, and he expressed it with perfect clarity:

"I'm sayin' that no one should ever have to make that choice," he said with deliberation; and then, into the silence of comprehension added, "not you, not me, not even on George Cowley's orders. We're not God, or even fate. Look what it's doin' to us, Bodie if you need any proof. Look at you. Look at me, so screwed up I can't - " He stopped, gaze dwelling on the downcast dark head, Bodie's elbows on his knees, hands clenched together, and said abruptly, "I know I don't give you what you want."

If it was a question, Bodie did not choose to reply.

After a moment, Doyle said again, distantly, "No one should ever have to make that sort of choice..."

Bodie let him go then; hoping with weary detached despair that this time Doyle could work things through on his own.

For once, he found he didn't much care what hell Doyle was out there getting himself into so long as he could get some rest. His head was pounding. He dragged himself to bed and was asleep within minutes.

Midnight was long past, and the world slept at peace. Doyle stood for a moment by the open door of the bedroom, looking over at the humped form in the big bed. He was finding it hard to focus; so he crossed the room, walking as precisely as a dancer, and sat down looking at the dark rumpled head. Rudely awakened by the sudden weight beside him, Bodie turned over.

Doyle glanced at the other half of the bed. "Left a space for me."

The light from the hall fell on him in the dark bedroom. He looked severely disordered, a debauched cherub with all his clothing rumpled, his white shirt half out of his jeans, the curls over his forehead limp with sweat. As Bodie, coming round to greater awareness, noticed a bruise darkening the fragile skin beneath one eye. "What the hell happened to you?" he demanded groggily, sitting up and reaching out for the light switch.

Doyle's hand, wildly swinging, knocked it away. "No lights!" he said harshly. "Don't want the light, got enough in my head already, don't put it on."

"Your liver," yawned Bodie resigned, "will be as pickled as a walnut by the time you're forty." He noticed abstractedly as Doyle swayed nearer that his breath was sweet, and natural, hayfields and honey, but the fact didn't slot into place anywhere, he was not awake enough. "Are you hurt? Apart from that?" He stroked the soft skin with a fingertip, the bleakness of the evening dissipated after dreamless sleep.

Doyle smiled at him, a slow lick of warmth. He could, on occasion, be so affectionate when drunk it was tempting to keep him that way. "I'm dyin'," he owned. "Be dead by mornin'."

"What?" Bodie was only half-amused; looking at Doyle anew there was a feverish glitter about his eyes that he didn't like. He reached out, but Doyle's reactions were fast, very fast for a man with six, eight ? doubles inside him; sidestepping the hand.

"S'true. 'ad a premonition. An' - you gonna write my epitaph, Bodie? Make it a good one. Got gypsy blood, I 'ave. Who needs crystal balls?"

He laughed, a surprisingly deep, earthy cackle; it made Bodie laugh too. The sound arrested Doyle's crazily wandering attention, brought it down to the man in the bed.

He stared down at his dark-eyed lover, images flickering through his racing mind: he had killed Tony, no one liked him, but Bodie - oh christ, for Bodie he was the centre of all things - Bodie was pleased he was there. Bodie was pleased to see him. He took in the lazy smile lurking in the man's eyes, the bare smooth chest planed and contoured with hard muscle over ridged bone; the bare powerful forearms downed darkly with hair lying at ease on the cover - arms that would wrap him up, fold him in, take the pain on himself...

"Come to bed, Ray," Bodie said softly.

He shook himself, because this was something he had brought upon himself and must be faced out by himself, and stood up, taking two steps back from the bed.

"Love to," he said with exaggerated care. "Just lemme clean up, okay?" Finger and thumb pointed vaguely in the direction of the bathroom. "Then I'll come back an' - " he gazed at Bodie with concentrated sultry promise, "I'm gonna rape yah."

"Oh yeah," scoffed Bodie gently, "Crystal balls and all? Well, I'll be here, mate; I won't go away."

He waited open eyed until he heard the bathroom door close, shutting out the light. Now he was totally in the dark. He meant to wait, until Doyle came back having spewed up [text missing]cls of sour beer or whatever; and he turned onto his side, cheek pressing comfortably into a new, cool patch of pillow.

'Gonna rape yah.'

Bodie smiled to himself. Doyle's self-mocking avowal was not going to be fulfilled tonight, that was for sure. He liked the sound of it anyway - and the warmth that had prompted Doyle to say it, for although the words were unloving the tone had been soft, lilting. Bodie yawned, hand sliding down his own body to take hold of himself squeezing gently. Yeah, sweetheart, you do that; come and sink into me. I'll take you on, make you forget.

He yawned again. He was exhausted. Bloody CI5. You worked ten, twelve hours; and it took 23 out of you. Maybe Doyle was right. Maybe they ought to get out when they could. Hurry up loved one, wanna sleep with you here safe to hold... He could hear Doyle moving about in the bathroom, a tap running, the toilet flushing. Be here in a moment.

This is what it's going to be like - maybe forever? Things going wrong, arguments. And then he'll come back. He'll always come back...seems happier than when he left, anyway. Tomorrow, on standby, laze in bed till late, lovin' him, make him feel good...sensual little creature, my Ray...make him forget...

Without even knowing it, Bodie had fallen asleep, his hands closing tight on a frail fantasy.

In the bathroom Doyle crouched in a corner, quivering. One hand was wrapped around his stomach, pressing there; but it was a useless gesture because the gripping cramps were far too strong for anything human to assuage. He was not thinking, just concentrating on survival though the price seemed very high. He could see his own blurred image reflected in the polished black side of the bath, a potpourri of angles and lines, it was shaking. Before he had sunk here, doubled over the agony in his guts, he had been followed by this face in the mirrored tiles that seemed to be everywhere, haunting him with his own white blurred face, the peculiar slant of his too-vivid eyes. Capricious... It was better down here, less to see; but oh christ the pain was bad... He'd had similar reactions before, on other oblivion-seeking trips, but never so intolerable as this.

He could hear his own breathing, harsh and fast; with every indrawn breath an agonising spurt of agony would lance through his entrails. He rested his cheek on his jean-clad knee, inhaling the scent of warm denim and himself, and squeezed his eyes shut. If it went on like this, he'd be crying out, and he didn't, didn't want to put Bodie through this. It had become important to him, the only important thing he had left to cling on to, while his head pounded in sickening waves and the pain inside him clamped and twisted down.

Gasping, as it released him, he noticed the unlocked door. Painfully, he began to reach out for it, but before he had made a foot of the way there were other more pressing urges to be considered. Slow and badly co-ordinated he didn't make it to the bowl in time, but it didn't matter, the terrible heaves racking him were dry, wrenching at his empty stomach in vain.

After that he just lay on the carpet, shivering; wondering dimly if his prediction was going to come true.

Be dead by mornin'.

Bodie woke in daylight. The other side of the bed was unoccupied. He slid a hand into it: cool. He frowned, a quick worried twinge stabbing him, but then he remembered, Doyle had come home. Been talking to him. Seemed okay. Where, then? He sat up, listening, and to his relief heard the sound of running water. He slid his legs out of bed, picked up his [text missing] and went naked to the bathroom to pee, yawning, as he went.

Doyle was in the shower, barely visible behind the shiny green curtains. That image was firmly engrained in Bodie as both strongly erotic and also unhappy. He closed his mind to it as he planted himself in front of the toilet, turning his head to say, "Mornin', angelfish."

The shower stopped, the curtains swept aside, and Doyle appeared stepping over the edge of the bath. He didn't meet Bodie's eyes as he muttered, "Mornin'."

Bodie finished what he was doing and swung around. Doyle was hauling a towel slowly back and forth over his shoulderblades, eyes shut. His hair was dripping all over the carpet. He looked droopy and half asleep.

"Hey," said Bodie, "You okay?"

Doyle nodded. He was feeling raw and dozy; very slow. "Goin' to bed," he managed dropping the towel, giving up.

Bodie debated for half a second whether to follow him now or go to the kitchen and make coffee first. He followed him, snatching up a dry towel on the way.

"What you doin'?"

"Drying your hair, Prince Neptune; don't fancy you dripping all over me." Bodie thought, amended that. "Depends what it is, of course," he murmured in a low and provocative tone; but Doyle didn't respond, lying with closed eyes but leaning Bodie's way, suffering Bodie's rough ministrations with the towel in silence. The sodden brown twists soon began to fluff up as the moisture was absorbed by the towel.

Bodie tossed the soggy thing aside, lying down close to his mate and pulling up the covers once again.

Doyle was chilled to the touch and damp in places. Bodie rubbed him gently here and there, trying to warm him; ignoring the discomfort of the damp bed. He pulled Doyle closer with hands beneath his armpits, clean hair springing there, and settled them both on his own dry patch.

"So, what happened to you?" he asked lightly. "Didn't come to bed last night?"

Doyle shook his head. He looked fragile this morning, very pale-skinned except for the dark bruising around the eye, his eyelids blue-veined eggshell; and every now and then an immense shiver would seize him and then die away. Getting some bug? Bodie wondered, and kissed each eye in turn, while his hands stroked gently up and down naked skin.

"That must have been some hangover," he commented grimly. To have kept Doyle out in the bathroom all night...

Doyle yawned; he was finding the warmth and comfort of Bodie's soft velvet skin all around him incredibly soothing to his ragged nerve-ends: his terrible racing tension was beginning to subside, leaving him floating. "Yeah, and without the pleasures of drinkin'," he said, lulled; but there was to be no further peace.

Dopy as he was, he knew what he'd done the moment the words left him.

His eyes flew wide open, which of course was his second mistake.

Bodie had not yet arrived, incredulous, a little amused. "Without the - ? Ah, c'mon mate, when you came in here last night you were as high as a - "

Disbelief stopped him; and tumbled into sick certainty as he gazed down into Doyle's wide dark eyes, the pupils huge and velvety with only a narrow pale ring of green surrounding.

"Oh jesus christ."

He didn't know which of them spoke. Frozen quietude broken, he threw back the covers, seized Doyle's limp unresisting arm, searching the tender white skin of the inner elbow with hard, raking eyes.

Sure enough, over the great blue vein pulsing there was the tiny pinprick mark of self-immolation, of utter betrayal.

Bodie threw the arm down with force. "That your handiwork, is it?" he asked with teeth clenched so hard the muscles in his jaw ached: maybe, just maybe someone had done it to Doyle when he was drunk and incapable and it seemed like a good laugh -

From within the echoes of drugged apathy, Doyle found a measure of bravado. "Yeah," he drawled, looking up with bright eyes, "shootin' up - 's a damn sight more fun than shoot-outs."

The weak pun struck him as funny and he started to chuckle.

Bodie put a stop to that by hitting him.

He felt the flat of his hand make sharp contact with Doyle's cheek, jarring the fluffy head on the damp pillow. Doyle winced; but other than a sharp intake of breath made no further sound. Darkly serious now, he watched Bodie all the time.

Bodie stared back, not seeing the naked battered Doyle that lay limply before him, but a terrible vision of Doyle, alert and in full self-possession, sliding up his shirtsleeve above his elbow, with the needle deftly held in the other hand, finding the spot, sliding the point unflinching into the veins: closing his eyes perhaps, head tipped back, as the rush crept through his blood, enchanting.

Doyle would know how to do all that without even thinking.

He was an expert in drugs, was Doyle; knew his way around the haunts, where to get whatever dope you craved a flirtation with, where to put it when you'd got it. As most CI5 men had, both of them occasionally used drugs, to hype themselves up, to stay awake and one step ahead; or to get down, to relax: speed, downers, poppers, coke. The odd joint of marijuana, which Murphy cultivated lovingly in small brown pots on his window ledge.

But this - injecting himself, 'shooting up' with god knew what junk, alone...this was something quite different.

He stared at Doyle, sick. "I thought you despised this shit, Ray," he said, low. "Ray Doyle, moralistic puritan lecturing the gutter kids to stay clean if they don't wanna end up with their brains turned to mush: oh, that's a right bloody laugh now, isn't it. I just bet the pushers are laughing themselves sick right from here to the Heath. You know," Bodie added, dispassionately, eyes sweeping the naked form with bare contempt, "Tony Jones was wrong about you. He thought you had guts."

That got there. Doyle dropped his eyes.

Bodie asked just one question, harsh and tense.

"How many times?"

The answer came at once, unwavering. "Not before."

Bodie nodded, removing his gaze. He got out of bed and walked over to the window, leaning one arm on the wall and resting his forehead on it, thinking.

Okay, so it wasn't serious - yet. One isolated fling with the big H or whatever it had been - and Bodie didn't care - wasn't going to turn Doyle overnight into another Tin Can. His anger had in fact dissipated the instant he had hit Doyle, leaving him only urgent to rescue this; make it impossible for Doyle to wander down that particular path ever again. Anger wasn't the way. Nor recrimination; making him feel sicker about himself than he already did. Or the heavy-handed approach, blackmail - 'you do that again and that's it, I'm sodding off and leaving you to it.'

Defiance alone would probably push Doyle into it if that was the line Bodie used: he supposed, wearily, that that was exactly what Doyle was expecting. One more trial, another fence go scale; pass this one and the sky's the limit, pass Go, pick up $200...

He pushed himself away from the wall and turned. When he spoke, his voice was steady and impersonal, as were his eyes, resting on the still figure in the bed. Doyle looked marmoreal; a biered corpse in a mausoleum.

"All right, Ray. I'll take you through heroin, if that's what you want. And I'll bring you out the other side," he said with unemphasised, pure certainty; "yeah, I wouldn't let you go under. I'd even be able to live with you afterwards, because I love you and that won't change. But you," he pushed the point home, sliding it in like a sliver of glass, "you haven't got that advantage, have you? And I doubt very much you'd be able to live with yourself."

There was a long, still pause while Doyle took it in, his flickering eyes the only indication he had heard. Bodie came back to the bed then, leaning over him, the hard resolute glitter of his eyes fading out. Normality was resuming. He touched Doyle on the shoulder. "All right, mate?"

Doyle looked up at him. His hand came up to grasp the one that rested on his shoulder, pressing it there with iron-clad force. "I wouldn't do it again," was all he said.

"No," Bodie answered him, knowing that neither of them need have spoken.

Then Doyle shut his eyes. "I need you," he said fiercely, hoarsely; and sexual tension sprang up between them.

"Maybe you do," said Bodie, and there was a curve of lazy arrogance in his voice: "but this time, sweetheart, is about what I need."

At first, Doyle sought to return Bodie's sexual assault with his own fervour, but he soon eased off, his instincts gathering what Bodie needed; this time, all that was required of Doyle was to surrender. It was not that Bodie was rough with him; he handled him with deft care, but for this one time and once only Bodie was taking what he wanted, concentrating on being good to himself. When he drew Doyle's nipples into his mouth, raking them with his tongue, it was not for Doyle's pleasure but his own, the rough/sweet feel of him intoxicating; likewise the hands that roved and plundered the slighter man's body seeking not to excite him but to transfer sensations to Bodie's own inflamed senses; slick and heated, he pressed himself to Doyle. "So fuckin' sexy," he murmured against Doyle's throat, "you are - "

Doyle was himself desperately aroused by the frenetic urgency, the hard power of the lean male body stirring his to life; swept along with it, he nonetheless experienced an extreme shock when Bodie turned him onto his stomach and knelt over his exposed, vulnerable nudity.

Doyle shut his eyes, waiting. Even this - he had promised Bodie this. Unseen, he sank his teeth into his own forearm.

Bodie paused, staring down at the whipcord body lying passive, under his own sway; and his own upthrusting maleness pointing sharp and threatening from the nest of crisp dark hair at his groin. He sucked in a breath, dropped onto Doyle, fitting himself to his curves, easing in between his buttocks, pressing over warm dry flesh. Impatient, he raised up on one forearm, leaned over Doyle and turned his face to one side with a guiding hand in his curls, cupping his hand beneath his mouth.


"What - ?"

"Spit, damn you," Bodie hissed, not bothering with delicacy, and when Doyle obliged he curved his hand over Doyle, parting him with the other hand and stroked in him with the damp palm. Then he sank back into the enveloping channel, burying himself against Doyle, his breath coming hard and fast against the nape of the other man's neck.

Braced for penetration, Doyle tried to force himself to relax, but only succeeded in clenching up with panic. Fists tangled in the bedding, it took him some moments to assimilate the fact that Bodie was not trying to go into him, was merely fucking the warm dark cleft with long slow strokes, pressing Doyle's buttocks tightly around himself, rubbing over the sensitive depression of the opening to his body, dipping into it but withdrawing before he came to the resistance. Bodie's face was turned into the meeting of neck and shoulder, his breath warm against Doyle's skin, his face screwed up with anguish and ecstasy; "So beautiful," he whispered there, "you're so beautiful, Ray..."

All of Doyle lifted in response, lit with the same fervour. He wriggled, to allow his cramped cock to spring free, ground it down into the yielding bed. Doyle's movements excited Bodie; he slipped his hands around his chest, cradling him close beneath himself, lifting him up, pressing down into the slick soft welcome and holding still: with a choked sob he was coming, the warm bolts of sweetness running freely between Doyle's thighs.

Doyle stiffened with him, catching a breath; but it wasn't - quite - enough, just too soon for him. He let out a wheeze of frustration, his balls knotting in a sharp spasm of intense disappointment, Bodie soft and limp on him, sticky. Mindless, Doyle bit into the pillow.

After a moment Bodie moved away from him and rolled back onto his back, his arm over his eyes, still very much within himself. Accepting that this time he was on his own, even understanding it, Doyle too turned slowly onto his back. He shut his eyes. Beside him Bodie breathed, light and regular. Perhaps he was falling asleep. Drifting, unhurried, Doyle touched his hand to his own skin, stirring whirls in the soft body hair, finding a nipple still damp from Bodie's tongue, fingertip teasing it softly. The tingling shot through him and he drew in a sharp breath, the other hand sliding down himself until it came to his parted thighs, and curled around the warm shaft of flesh, fitting there with knowing ease. He handled himself with unrushed surety, letting the scattered remnants of pleasure slowly gather together once more under the steady, sweet fondling.

Bodie woke only slowly to the awareness of what Doyle was doing. Even then he made no move to take over, merely shifting to one side so he could watch him, pulling down the sheets. As the cold draught of air swept over his glowing skin Doyle slowed the movements of his hands, but he showed no other reaction to Bodie's attention, picking up the slow, rhythmic build towards the end. Though his own orgasm was so recent, Bodie felt an arrow-leap of arousal watching Doyle's face, absorbed by himself, the changing expressions touching it, then passing on as he focussed all his concentration on the inner voice leading him to what felt good, how to hold it - there - make it sweet, let it grow. Bodie leant over him, placed one hand on Doyle's flat chest, gently massaging him; with the other hand he searched out the cleft beneath him, lush with Bodie's own seed. He watched Doyle's face intently; and as he penetrated him the round features twisted and he made a little whimpering noise, his hand lying still and flat-palmed on himself.

"Go on," Bodie whispered into his ear. "Finish it. Go on. I love you." And he played with him gently, rubbing the nerve-rich sphincter with his thumb until Doyle, wordless and gasping, shuddered convulsively and came, spurting over and over his own stilled careless fingers, Bodie taking his mouth, kissing him with tender bruising force, completing the dual penetration of his body, Doyle helpless in his hands.

When they were peaceful again, Bodie whispered against tender, swollen lips, "How was that? That the way you like it?"

Breathless still, Doyle instantly shook his head. "Too lonely."

You know, thought Bodie amazed, we might actually be getting somewhere.

Lush with sudden love, he settled down beside him, turning them face to face, warm bare skin pressed close. "Too lonely - you're right."

Unasked, Doyle pressed a brief kiss onto the forearm lying beneath his chin. He had his eyes shut; a relaxed sprawl. All the signs were that he was going to sleep.

"Made me a promise, I seem to remember," said Bodie amused, into an ear. "You gonna rape me now, then?"

"Yeah, okay," Doyle yawned, flat out. "Just give me two, three minutes."

"I'll set the alarm."

The clatter of the letterbox which signified the arrival of the newspaper woke Bodie from his semi-doze, with a start as if he had fallen off a cliff. He looked down at the half-doped tousle-haired bundle he held; gave it a little nudge.

"We better shower, Oliver Twist. So high in here I can hardly breathe."

Doyle barely stirred, only to snuggle down further in the bed. "Nah. Need some kip."

Bodie looked down at the relaxed form, taking in the little lines of stress tightening the skin around his closed eyes, the shadows of exhaustion in the hollows of his face.

"Bad night, huh," he said softly. There was a silence. Then:

"Yeah," said Doyle, muffled.

"You bloody idiot," said Bodie roughly, because he wanted too much to be soft, "you should have called me."

"You couldn't have done anything."

"Still a bloody idiot."

Again silence. Then Doyle gave a little smile into his pillow, his lip curling back; the chipped tooth curiously attractive. It was funny, Bodie thought as he watched him, every flaw Doyle had, managed to lend him a little extra unconscious charm. Or maybe it was just that Bodie was in love.

Doyle said: "I bet you wonder why the bloody hell you got yourself into this."

"Only sometimes," Bodie told him; and his eyes said much, much more as he ruffled still-drying curls and left him to sleep.

It was strange, but Bodie knew beyond doubt at that moment that the worst was behind them.

Premonition being two-faced, he was, of course, quite wrong.

-- THE END --