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Ray was disorientated when he first woke up. The room was unfamiliar and he tried to recall who he had left the stag party with. He lay quietly for a few minutes, listening to her soft snores, then realised he wasn’t really interested in finding the answer. Quietly slipping from the bed, he retrieved his scattered clothing and cautiously found his way to the bathroom, where he hurriedly dressed before leaving.

He drove home instinctively, totally unaware of his surroundings, his thoughts a confusion of doubts and disbelief.

What the hell had he been thinking, saying yes when Bodie asked him to be his best man? Well, now the day of reckoning had arrived and he was expected to stand there and watch the man he adored tie the knot. Could he really do that?

And after the nuptials, what then? How on earth was their working partnership going to withstand the inevitable changes a marriage would bring? It occurred to him for the first time that Bodie might well have had similar fears when he’d announced his own engagement to Ann. But then he hadn’t gone through with his wedding plans had he, not like Bodie was about to? Well, to be honest, it was Ann who had actually walked away but he would have called it off, eventually, because marrying her would have been as hopeless as pissing in the wind. He understood that now but at the time… at the time he had so wanted to be engaged, so wanted that promise of everlasting happiness and yes, he had very nearly been swept along with the whole bloody romantic notion of it all.

By the time he arrived back home he knew what he had to do - but how was a different matter altogether. Sitting at the table in his chilly kitchen, he weighed up his options over a pot of tea. He’d never considered himself a coward before but, remembering how he’d reacted to Bodie’s confession all those months ago, there was no way on earth he could face a confrontation today - and he doubted the groom would appreciate one either. So, he grabbed the notebook he kept by the phone and tried to put down on paper some sort of explanation. But what could he say if it wasn’t the truth?

He was relieved to see that Bodie’s building was still shrouded in darkness when he pulled up outside an hour or so later. Using the spare key, he crept in and propped the envelope, containing the wedding ring and a brief note, up against the kettle. From the sounds coming from the bedroom it was obvious that someone, probably Murphy, had made sure Bodie got back home safely. That was just another thing for him to add to the list of things he felt guilty about; not watching over him during his last night of freedom.

Unable to resist the temptation, Doyle quietly pushed open the door and smiled to himself as he stood and watched Bodie sleep, mouth open, bent arm resting over his forehead, snoring away obliviously. It really must be love if he found that gormless look so appealing. God, he was going to miss the daft pillock while he was away.

“Good luck, mate. See you when you get back in a couple of weeks,” he whispered before he finally closed the door on a lost opportunity and went back home to his empty flat.

*****

Glancing over his shoulder, Bodie could see that her family and friends had turned up in force. Ironically, he compared their excited chatter with the mumbles coming from the pews on his side of the church. He had no relatives he would risk inviting along to ruin his day but a number of the off-duty lads had managed to show up and he was pleased to see the Cow sitting amongst them.

As he slipped two fingers into his waistcoat pocket to confirm that the ring was still safely tucked away, he was reminded again of the scribbled note left for him sometime during the early hours. Ray was sorry, it had basically said, but he wouldn’t be able to attend the ceremony after all. Why the hell hadn’t he spoken up earlier and told him that he couldn’t be bothered offering a little moral support? Well, fuck him, he didn’t need the bastard anyway. In fact, he didn’t need anyone and if Doyle had so obviously called time on the friendship then he may as well because there was no point in clinging on to his pathetic dreams, no point at all. Funnily enough though, Bodie had actually been surprised that Ray had agreed to be his best man in the first place, considering…

The first few chords of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ forced him to push any further thoughts of his partner out of his head and he couldn’t suppress a delighted grin when he saw her entering the back of the church. As she walked towards him, arm in arm with her proud father, she looked as radiant and beautiful as Bodie had ever seen her and he pledged, there and then, that he would do his best to make her happy.

Suddenly her steps faltered and she looked around anxiously, scanning for someone amongst the guests. Bodie watched as her father leaned down to whisper in her ear and give her an encouraging smile before she nodded her head and the small procession resumed its slow journey down the aisle.

Bodie only vaguely listened to the vicar’s views on the sanctity of marriage. He might question the existence of a god but he had no doubts about his commitment to this woman. As he held her hand and offered his vows, he was utterly charmed by the tear that endearingly trickled down her cheek and, whilst he waited for her answering responses, he realised that he felt more contented than he had in a very long time.

But she didn’t immediately say anything, just looked deep into his eyes as if searching his very soul, questioning his commitment, stripping him naked.

Eventually, she stretched up on her tip toes to brush his cheek with her own, speaking so quietly that he nearly missed her words. He didn’t have time to fully register what she was saying before she cupped his bewildered face between her palms, said how very sorry she was and turned to quickly walk away.

His shout of, “Wait Ali, for god’s sake!” reverberated around the hushed church, although she didn’t seem to hear him.

Two hours later he had locked his Capri back in the garage, still ludicrously trailing tin cans from the rear bumper, and returned to the flat that he had hoped to share with his new bride. But his life had changed now and there was no going back. Long gone were the free Saturday afternoons spent with Ray; laughter, beer and takeaways watching footie on the box and, more lately, the cosy evenings with Ali, curled up together in the oversized armchair.

Castigating himself for such pathetic thoughts, he hung the new suit back in its protective bag, pulled on his bike leathers, climbed aboard the BMW and left London far behind - along with everything and everyone associated with it. Yeah, time to move on.

Even as the sun dropped lower in the sky, he continued to power his bike along the darkening roads until, finally, he could admit that he was utterly and completely lost. He did eventually pull up outside a nondescript pub, its warm lights promising some welcome comfort, but he very nearly turned back at the door when the heat and noise hit him. Taking a deep steadying breath, he strode up to the bar and automatically ordered a pint. Then, after finding a small table by the window, he sat staring out into the night, the beer already forgotten in front of him.

Was it really only six months since he had admitted to Ray how he felt?

“What do you think I am; a fucking queer or something?” was the succinct response he got to his unguarded declaration.

The subject was never discussed again but things had obviously changed. Bodie sensed that Ray no longer trusted him and subtly avoided situations that might find them alone together, making excuses to meet in the local pub instead of at one of their flats. However, their working partnership seemed largely unaffected and they were still hailed as the squad’s best team.

Funnily enough, even though he had dated Ali on and off for a couple of years, their relationship didn’t really start getting serious until Doyle began distancing himself. And as they grew closer, Bodie couldn’t quite believe that she accepted him for who he was and had never seemed too shocked by any of his revelations. Even when, one drunken evening, he had first confessed that he loved his partner. She had smiled softly and told him she already knew that but believed he loved her equally, if not more. She had then rolled around laughing at the absurd thought of Ray being anything but the unrivalled womaniser that he so obviously was.

So, he now wondered why she had she strung him along for so long, only deciding at the very last minute that marrying him was the wrong choice. What had he inadvertently revealed that made her decide she didn’t want to settle for second-best? She was right; she did deserve better and he really hoped she’d find it but he now knew he wasn’t going to bother looking himself any more. When he considered that he had managed to fuck up his two most important relationships by first falling for his best friend and then believing he’d found happiness with the beautiful Ali, then what was the bloody point?

“Love? Hah, an over-rated emotion if ever there was one”, he muttered as he picked up his glass and set about drinking himself into oblivion. He downed the lager in one before he stood up, found a place at the bar and ordered the first of many large vodkas.

*****

Doyle spent the weekend alone. He tried filling his time with cleaning his flat, restocking the kitchen, catching up with the laundry and reading three of the books he’d been saving for his holidays but nothing, not even jogging around the local cemetery in the pouring rain, seemed to stop him worrying. What possible explanation was he going to be able to offer Bodie, when he returned from his honeymoon, that would help them salvage their friendship?

Monday morning came around slowly and with relief he drove in to headquarters, hoping he’d be allocated some work that would require his complete concentration for the next fortnight.

Flashing his ID in the general direction of the security desk as he loped past, Fred attempted to call him back. “4.5. Mr Cowley wants to see you at eight o’clock… and he expects you to be on time.”

Doyle waved his hand in acknowledgement as he continued on towards the rest room, looking forward to a catch-up with some of the squad before they all dispersed. He was disappointed to find it already deserted, although the kettle was still warm and a blue haze lingered in the far corner. Coughing a little unnecessarily, considering there was no-one around to notice, he pushed open the window to clear the air and, whilst he waited for the kettle to re-boil, wandered over to study the duty board. It looked like a couple of big operations were coming together and he was relieved to see that he was on a solo op up north. Yeah, two weeks of peace and quiet; that wasn’t so bad, he granted. Better than being stuck with some snotty new recruit or cooped up with the likes of Anson and his foul cigars.

The door banged open and Murphy charged into the room, squabbling about something or other with Jax who was following closely behind.

“Hey, you two, where is everyone?”

They both stopped and looked at him. “Oh, you’re still alive then?” said Jax, with an unusual touch of sarcasm. “We missed you at the church - but perhaps not as much as Bodie did, the poor sod.”

“Now, come on mate, he’s a big lad you know and doesn’t need me holding his hand. Mind, she’s a lovely girl, is our Ali. Chose the wrong bloke though, when she could’ve had m...”

Uncharacteristically, an angry Murphy was in Doyle’s face before he had a chance to finish. “You fucking bastard!”

Their brief stand-off was interrupted by the shrill ring of the telephone. “Yes sir, he’s here… right away.” Jax replaced the receiver and turned to Doyle. “The Cow wants you.”

As he made his way into his boss’ outer office, he was beginning to realise that it wasn’t only Bodie who’d be expecting an explanation. He would need to think of a plausible one quickly before he met up with those two again.

“Good morning, 4.5.”

“Oh, hi Betty. I’ve been summoned.”

“Yes. You were expected five minutes ago.” Cowley’s secretary continued to clatter away on her typewriter even as she gave him a long withering look.

A little aggrieved, knowing he wasn’t actually late yet, he knocked and went it, settling himself against the nearest filing cabinet, legs crossed, arms folded.

The Controller eventually closed the file he was making notes in, carefully placed his fountain pen on the blotter and looked up to face him. “I’m sending you to Manchester, Doyle, to take over from Miller. It’s a straightforward op; I want details of this man’s activities.” He pushed a buff folder across the desk towards him. “You know the drill. Don’t take any action, just inform me of anything noteworthy. But don’t go losing him!”

“I’ll do my best, sir,” he replied absently as he skimmed through the enclosed photos and typewritten reports.

“I’ll send you some relief when I can but you’ll be mostly on your own with this one,” Cowley reminded him. “Although I do expect Bodie back before the case breaks.”

He removed his glasses and paused a moment before continuing. “On a more personal note, what pressing engagement kept you from his big day, then?”

Shit, someone else expecting him to bloody account for himself!

“It’s hardly any of your…” Doyle paused to consider the sanity of that response. “Something came up,” he added, a little more conciliatorily.

“Have you heard from him?” Cowley surprisingly ignored the hint of insubordination.

“God, no … and I don’t expect to, either. There are some things he doesn’t need my help with.”

“You can be a cruel man sometimes, 4.5. I hope the confidence you have in your partner is not unfounded.” Cowley replaced his glasses and turned his attention back to the thick files on his desk, effectively dismissing him. “Miller will fully brief you when you get to Manchester.”

Leaving the office, Doyle was astonished that he had so obviously failed to consider how any of the squad would react to his absence at the wedding. But to be judged ‘cruel’ came as a quite a shock. Did Cowley really think they were joined at the hip and, if so, then he surely must have presumed there’d be some separation when one of them got married?

He thought he might find Murphy or Jax still in the VIP lounge but, thankfully, it seemed they’d already left the building. Sensing he was missing something vital, apart from Bodie that is, he headed home to pack his bag. It wasn’t unusual for him to work solo on occasion but Doyle was feeling increasingly uneasy as he drove north up the busy M1 later that morning.

*****

Alerted by concerned security staff to the wanderer’s early morning return, Cowley went directly to the rest room. He almost missed the dark figure slumped in the depths of the favoured armchair.

It was hard to reconcile the changes that had occurred in just two weeks. He noted that Bodie’s face was marred by dark shadows, stubble and fading bruises. His normally well-cared for biking gear was badly scuffed down one side and there was the lingering odour of stale alcohol pervading the room. Shaking his head, he left him to sleep and returned to his own office to start the day.

Two hours later there was a knock on his door. Bodie looked noticeably better; he’d shaved, showered and changed his clothes but there was no disguising the pale, gaunt look.

“How are you, 3.7?”

“Much as I enjoyed the break sir, I’ll be glad to get back to some proper work. I see 4.5’s up in the sticks and I was wondering if I could work solo myself as well.”

Ignoring the request, Cowley indicated the drinks cabinet. “Pour yourself a wee dram and make mine a large one. I foresee a long day ahead.”

“Eight o’clock is a bit early, even for me,” Bodie muttered before handing a glass to his boss and quietly sitting down empty handed.

Studying one half of his best team, Cowley said nothing more until Bodie finally lifted his head and looked at him directly.

“Have you seen Miss Clarke since your return?”

“I only arrived back in the city this morning, so haven’t been able to catch up with everyone just yet... sir.”

Neither man broke eye contact for a few moments; Cowley continuing his appraisal and Bodie determined to reveal nothing of his inner turmoil.

So, he’s still strong enough to be insolent then, Cowley thought with relief, which helped him come to a decision that he’d been pondering over.

“I intend partnering you with Murphy for a while,” he finally announced.

“As I said before, I would prefer to work solo, if you don’t mind.”

“I will be the one deciding how this department is run. Do I make myself clear, 3.7?”

Bodie didn’t reply immediately, apparently giving serious thought to his answer. Eventually he sat up a little straighter and nodded his head.

“Och man, go home, you’ll be no use to me today. Sort yourself out and report back tomorrow, 08:30 sharp. There’s talk of another drugs war, here in London and I want it stopped.”

Cowley’s confidence was not greatly improved as he watched a subdued Bodie leave his office.

But despite his concern for one of his agents, he still had a ten o’clock meeting with the minister to prepare for.

*****

The following morning Murphy found Bodie making coffee in the otherwise deserted rest room.

“Do you want one? Kettle’s just boiled,” he was asked.

“Yeah, ok”. He watched Bodie search for the best mug amongst the assorted pile of crockery on the drainer before he chose one and spooned in the Nescafe. He couldn’t help but agree with the Cow’s assessment; Bodie did look tired although Murphy had seen him looking a lot worse, remembering how bad he’d been after Doyle’s shooting. Which wasn’t really surprising, considering he’d spent most of his spare time at the hospital, accepting everything the battle-scarred patient threw at him throughout his long and very painful recovery. But to everyone’s relief, Doyle had stubbornly dragged himself through rehab and eventually been pronounced fit for work - what was it, seven or eight months ago?

Murphy could easily understand how his near-death experience had changed Ray; he’d bounced back with a new zest for life, a determination to prove he could be as good as he was before Mayli had attempted to turn him into a watering can and was soon screwing his way through an unsuspecting female population. But there had been a subtle change in Bodie as well - and not necessarily for the better.

“Here.”

A steaming mug thrust under his nose interrupted his thoughts. Murphy grimaced as he tasted the contents. “Christ mate, you’ve forgotten the sugar!”

“Ah sorry, force of habit. I’ll let you make all the drinks in future. This was just an introductory offer for my new partner. Cheers,” Bodie said, saluting him with his own mug.

*****

Doyle was sick and tired of staring at the four walls of the Didsbury bedsit, particularly as the yellow flock wallpaper was slowly disappearing behind large swathes of mould and mildew. He’d stayed in some dumps in his time but this was the pits. The two-bar electric fire was woefully inadequate at combatting the cold or the damp, despite the number of fifty pence pieces he fed the electric meter so he could keep it running constantly. Cowley was going to have a fit when he submitted his next expense chit.

He was supposed to share the kitchen and bathroom with the tenants in the two adjacent rooms but he hadn’t actually met either of them yet, only hearing their clandestine comings and goings late at night. So, he pretty much had the place to himself.

The only brightness in the day was found in his music tapes, some of which he’d sneakily stolen from Bodie’s car months ago. He was currently listening to Ziggy Stardust and was surprised that Bodie hadn’t noticed the cassette had gone missing – or maybe he had and was too stubborn to ask for it back. Doyle had wondered why he’d even ‘borrowed’ that particular one when he preferred R&B himself. Weirdly though, it was fast becoming one of his favourites and therefore the most frequently played. Perhaps he needed some fresh material before he turned in to yet another mad Bowie fan like his partner.

That reminded him; he would need to pick up some spare batteries for his Walkman when he was next out tailing his target because he couldn’t bear to think what it would be like if he didn’t have something to combat the incessant tedium and enforced silence.

“…love descends on those defenceless, idiot love will spark the fusion…” he quietly sang along with Bowie as he changed the roll of film in the camera.

His surveillance duties weren’t particularly difficult either. MacArthur was a man who preferred routine rather than the unpredictable. Up at 09:30, cooked breakfast, trip to the local shop for a packet of fags and the morning paper, then back home to meet the ‘business associates’ who drifted in and out throughout the day. Later on, he might walk down to the pub on the corner for a swift half but he never stayed long enough for Doyle to enjoy the change of scenery.

The surveillance job was simple enough; photograph any visitors and keep records of times and dates. He wondered if Cowley was punishing him for something, putting him on this solo obbo because he was bored out of his brains and left with far too much time to think…

Bodie would have been back from his honeymoon for nearly a fortnight now. A married man. Who would have imagined that ever happening? Even Cowley had predicted that it was highly unlikely he would need to arrange a security check on any one of 3.7’s birds. How bloody wrong had he been?

Doyle did worry who Bodie had been temporarily partnered with whilst he was stuck up here, in Manchester. He hoped it would be Murphy because they’d always seemed to get on well together; their shared army background probably had a lot to do with that. The truth was though, he’d assumed he would have been reteamed with Bodie as soon as he was back from his honeymoon and not still be sitting here in this hell hole.

He also wondered how Ali would be coping with all the unsocial hours her husband would be working. Or the undercover jobs or indeed, the inherent dangers he would face, day in, day out. Would she be expecting him to come in off the streets? Nah, he would never settle for a desk job… or would he? Or would he even have a choice in the matter?

Wrapped up in his uncertainties, Doyle almost missed the blue Saab pulling up on the double yellow lines outside. He grabbed his camera, almost fumbling it in the process and, twitching the net curtains to one side, kept snapping until the passenger and his driver disappeared inside the house opposite.

Shit! Harry Tomlinson as I live and breathe! What the hell is a heavyweight like him associating with a scumbag like MacArthur for?

As he was out of RT range, he knew he’d have to use the public phone downstairs and call this one in urgently. The Cow would not be best pleased if he hadn’t been informed of this development and, besides, Doyle wasn’t sure who he should now follow; MacArthur or Tomlinson, but he dearly hoped it was the latter because that would be where the action was.

*****

Murphy was surprised at how quickly he and Bodie had settled in to an effective working partnership. This was helped largely by Bodie’s willingness to let him lead on the operations; deciding when to move in, which snitch to approach, when to be the good cop, when the bad. He did seem more docile than usual but that was understandable considering the shitty time he’d had lately.

However, he had no idea where Bodie went after their shifts ended. He’d turned down all suggestions of meeting in the pub and had never once spoken about Ali or the aborted wedding or anything else on a personal level for that matter. In fact, now that he thought about it, he hadn’t even mentioned Ray.

He supposed that this was as good a time as any to try and break the ice.

“Do you fancy a quick pint before we head back, Bodie? The landlord keeps a good cellar in The Dog and Partridge, or so the local plods tell me.”

“Nah, we should shift it as the Cow wants these reports on his desk by morning.” Bodie turned towards the carpark at the rear of the police station but Murphy stalled him with a hand on his sleeve.

“Ah, come on, mate. I believe the food’s not bad either. Shame to pass up on the opportunity for a decent lunch.”

The arm was whipped away, shocking Murphy with the abruptness of it.

“I said no.” With that, Bodie marched off to where they’d left the Capri.

Murphy had never been on the receiving end of the legendary temper before and he certainly didn’t want to experience it first-hand right now so he got in the car and they drove back to HQ in an uncomfortable silence.

Luckily, the following morning Bodie seemed more like his old self again, although he was now sporting the beginnings of a shiner and an Elastoplast covered the knuckles of his right hand. He did offer to make Murphy another brew, this time even remembering to add the sugar, and willingly took both their finished reports down to put in Betty’s in-tray for collating. Unfortunately, he was collared by Cowley in the process, who frowned disapprovingly at the black eye.

“Ah, 3.7. I want you and 6.2 in my office in ten minutes.”

“What does the old scrote want now?” Murphy asked when Bodie returned to the rest room. “He can’t have read our reports yet, you’ve only just dropped them off.” He had been hoping for a quiet morning to have a quick kip. After leaving work the previous evening, he’d given his latest girlfriend a call and they’d spent a very pleasurable few hours together. Exhausting but definitely worth every minute’s lost sleep. He had intended to gloat a bit with Bodie but, on second thoughts, realised that probably wasn’t a very good idea.

“How the hell should I know. Get your arse in gear and we’ll find out.”

Cowley appraised them of the new information Doyle had acquired. Intelligence now indicated that Harry Tomlinson was about to permanently shut down the Shoreditch drug ring because he needed their patch for his own nefarious business operations. Concern was being raised because he had been known to use explosives to get what he wanted in the past and he didn’t generally give a toss for any innocent bystanders. Cowley was aware that he was also looking to bring in some local muscle to bolster his mob’s strength, so both Bodie and Murphy were to ensure they got themselves drafted on to his payroll.

He gave them false documents and alternative lodgings to give credence to their back stories and told them to report to the armoury where they were issued with untraceable handguns, knives and knuckledusters.

After changing into more appropriate jeans and old jackets, they dropped some personal stuff at their ‘new’ flats and met up again at the Black Swan; a pub known to be frequented by Tomlinson when he was in town and recruiting. Not the best of circumstances to have their first drink together but at least, Murphy thought optimistically, it was a start.

*****

With relief, Doyle packed up his stuff and left the grotty flat eight days later. He drove directly to HQ and went straight down to the Ops Room where he knew the Controller was updating the squad and where he hoped to get more news of Bodie and Murphy’s undercover operation.

“Ah 4.5, welcome back. Good work up in Manchester. As you know, Tomlinson is about to shut down the Shoreditch gang and, we are led to believe, that he’s planning to do it Thursday night. We are just waiting on some final information from Lewis.”

“Do we even know where the drug factory is, yet?” he asked, keen to get up to speed as quickly as possible.

“Murphy thinks it’s highly likely to be in the old Albion Warehouse on Osman Road. He and Bodie have followed Tomlinson there on several occasions and he, to all intents and purposes, appeared to be surveying the place. Murphy also recognised some of the local dealers who were milling around outside. We’ll know soon enough, if Lewis’ snitch comes through with the goods.”

Cowley unrolled a large map and spread it across the table, holding the corners down with various files. “Once we have confirmation, I’ll want Anson and Jax positioned on the roofs opposite, here and here.” He indicated two red crosses with the arm of his glasses. “You’ll need sniper rifles. I’ll have Jenkins ready them for you to collect from the armoury this afternoon. Doyle, I want you, Lucas and McCabe covering the back. Pick a team of four off the duty roster. Murphy will lead the frontal assault, taking Benny, Taylor, Charlie and …”

“Murphy?” Doyle stood up straighter and frowned at the Controller. “I thought he was working with Bodie.”

“He was but then the case he was running last June came to court earlier than expected and they called him in as an expert witness. There was no way he could account for his two-day absence without drawing too much attention to himself. Tomlinson is a canny bastard and we didn’t feel it worth risking the whole operation trying to get him back inside.”

“But still worth risking Bodie, eh? He’s on his own in there, you do realise. Who’s watching his back now?”

“Yes Doyle, I am fully aware of the current situation. They discussed it before Murphy left and Bodie seemed to think he could handle it, if he kept his head down.”

“And we all know how good he is at that, don’t we?” Doyle knew he was being unfair, that Bodie could handle most covert operations… it’s just that he could also be a bit bloody reckless at times, as well. “How’s Ali taking all this, then? Is she even aware that Bodie’s deep undercover? Geez, they’ve only been married a few weeks and already he’s putting his life on the line.”

The room went eerily quiet and the other agents kept their heads lowered, seemingly to study the plans in closer detail. Everyone except Cowley, that is.

“Doyle, come, we’ll talk in my office. The rest of you, organise your teams and check out the necessary equipment. We’ll be needing to mobilise as soon as we have word of the exact time and location.”

 

Doyle declined the glass of whisky he was offered, dread forming a knot in his stomach.

“I had wrongly assumed that someone in the squad would have told you…” Cowley hesitated. “I am surprised… so, the whole time you were up in Manchester you didn’t…?” He looked embarrassed and that worried Doyle, because the Cow never looked embarrassed. Or was it shame he could see?

“Sir?”

“I am sorry lad, I should have made it my business to ensure you knew; the wedding didn’t go ahead as planned. Miss Clarke changed her mind.”

“What! What d’you mean?”

“There was no marriage.”

“How … why… what the hell happened?” Doyle asked, struggling to control his building excitement. Was he going to get a second chance, a chance to make things right between them?

“As I said, the young lady called it off. Unfortunately, she left it until they were at the altar. As you can imagine, Bodie didn’t take it too well.”

The poor bastard, Doyle acknowledged, feeling guilty now for his selfish thoughts.

“Why the hell wasn’t I told before? He’s supposed to be my partner, for fuck’s sake. I could have been here for him, supported him.”

“If you had been willing to perform your duties as his best man, then you would have…”

They were interrupted by Betty’s knock on the door. Doyle barely noticed her enter, his head reeling with the implications of Cowley’s unfinished words. Yeah, he should have been...

“Mr Cowley, Lewis has just got back,” she announced. “He confirms that a bomb has been planted in The Albion, set to go off at twelve noon tomorrow.”

“My God, they’ve brought it forward. We’ll finish this conversation later, Doyle. In the meantime, select your team and get them prepared. We’ll move in at first light.”

“Sir? That’s not all.” Betty looked towards Doyle, her sympathy barely hidden. “The snitch told Lewis that he thinks 3.7’s cover’s been blown.”

*****

“OK, Brook, why was that mate of yours knocking around with a copper the other day?”

“I wouldn’t call him a mate, Tomlinson. I’ve only worked with him on a couple of jobs. That hardly makes us best…”

With his arms and legs securely tied to the chair, Bodie could hardly avoid the blow to his unprotected belly.

“Bullshit. He’s a bloody snout and I want to know what he’s blabbed to the filth.”

“How the hell should I know?”

A savage right cross to the chin sent him crashing to the floor.

“Where d’you first meet him?”

“I can’t remember. The Black Swan, possibly?” he offered, hoping a little cooperation would buy him some respite.

He was pulled upright again so savagely that the chair rocked precariously from side to side, threatening to overbalance again before finally settling back on all four legs.

“We’ve checked his digs but he appears to have shipped out. Where’s he gone?” Tomlinson persisted.

“I don’t even know where he lived in the first place!”

“Don’t give me that, you fucking arsehole.” A vicious swipe with a baseball bat, swung by one of Tomlinson’s heavies, shifted a rib or two and Bodie struggled to take his next breath.

“I promise you, you’ll be singing like a bloody eunuch before long, so save yourself a shit load of aggro and answer my fucking question. Where has Mitchell disappeared to?”

“A world bloody cruise?”

He wavered on the edge of losing consciousness when the bat struck his left arm with a sickening crack. Someone grabbed his hair, pulled his head back so he couldn’t fail to see the stiletto blade that Tomlinson was waving menacingly about in front of his face.

“Got anything to say now, hard man?”

Bodie wasn’t sure what, if anything, he could say to avoid that being used on him so he gritted his teeth and defiantly glared back.

Tomlinson wasn’t to be put off so easily though and was evidently in a hurry to wrap up this little inconvenience so he could start to organise his new campaign of attack. The pain, when it came, was excruciating as he pierced Bodie’s flesh with the knife each time he didn’t get the information he wanted to hear.

But Bodie couldn’t be arsed responding any more. What was the point? He wouldn’t believe him until he got the truth and he was never going to get that.

Eventually Tomlinson saw the futility of it all and turned to his goons. “We’ll have to assume that Mitchell grassed and just move the operation forward a bit, that’s all. We may not catch the fuckers at work but we can certainly close ‘em down, right enough, and that’s good enough for now. We’ll take that” he nodded towards Bodie, “and dispose of the body at the same time.”

He then stepped forward and threw another low body punch but then, just before he lost consciousness, Bodie caught a glimpse of the blood-covered blade that Tomlinson was actually holding in his fist.

Fuck!

*****

Doyle knew that time was running out fast. The bomb was primed to detonate in less than twenty minutes. Unfortunately, the position and construction of the device had prevented the Army Disposal Team from even attempting to defuse it so sandbags and anti-blast mats had been packed tightly around to try and minimise the damage. Everyone had already been evacuated from the building and the drug lords and dealers rounded up and handed over to the police… everyone, except the agent Cowley insisted was still imprisoned inside and who his men would willingly continue searching for until the final possible moment.

As he leapt down the last flight of stairs, he barrelled straight into Murphy.

“God Ray, am I bloody glad to see you. Has anyone found him yet?”

“No but he’s here, I know it, so keep bloody looking!” he shouted back over his shoulder as he raced off in the opposite direction.

He knew the rest of the squad were searching the upper floors but Doyle was so relieved that he now had some help with the cavernous basement. He skidded to a halt by the first in another long row of heavy oak doors. Finding it locked, he stretched up to peer in through the iron grille. Empty, or so it appeared with such a cursory look.

“Bodie!” he shouted again, frustration catching in his voice, but there was still no reply. Goddammit, where the hell was he?

As he approached the final few rooms, his confidence that he would find his friend alive had faltered considerably. They’d always been able to anticipate each other’s moves, understand each other’s motives, two parts of a whole, the very best. But that was no longer true, was it? They’d well and truly fucked up and Cowley had had them working apart for ages. In fact, they hadn’t even seen each other for around six weeks so how could he expect things to feel the same?

As he peered through the grille of yet another secured door, Doyle was so lost in his increasing fears that he almost failed to see the body lying dumped in the middle of the stone floor.

“Bodie?” he whispered and then, with more urgency, “Murph, he’s here!”

He tried the handle again, just to be sure, but it remained firmly locked. Kicking out in anger, he realised there was a small broken hatch at the base of the door which he was able to slide open.

Christ, it was going to be tight.

Removing his jacket and holster, he squeezed himself, with some difficulty, through the narrow gap.

At first, he thought that he was too late - Bodie felt so deathly cold - but Doyle released a long-held breath when he eventually found a weak pulse. Dried blood caked Bodie’s body and he could now see that fresh rivulets continued to ooze sluggishly from numerous open wounds scattered over his bare chest, stomach and arms. Even his feet were a blackened mess, he vaguely noted.

“Ray! Where are you?” Murphy’s voice ghosted through the basement.

“Here.”

Just as Doyle finished checking Bodie’s airway, Murphy’s face appeared at the grille.

“Christ, Ray. Is he…?”

“He’s alive. We’re going to have to get him out that way,” he said, tilting his head towards the hatch.

“Jesus, how the hell are we going to manage…?”

“Unless you have a key then that’s the only option.”

“OK, mate,” Murphy replied, pulling out his RT to call in the news that they’d found Bodie but he was in need of urgent medical attention.

Doyle was already struggling with the slippery body. “Chuck us me coat, Murph. I can’t get a grip on him.”

It was hard forcing the uncooperative arms into the jacket sleeves, particularly the left which seemed oddly swollen but, once he’d managed, he was then able to drag Bodie over to the door. Murphy reached through, took a firm grip on the collar and pulled him the last couple of feet - but Bodie’s shoulder caught on the frame with a shocking thud.

“Geez! Come on, Murph, for god’s sake.”

They tried to ignore the additional damage they knew they were inflicting as they pulled, shoved and twisted Bodie into the small opening until, with a final tearing of leather, his body was forced through.

“How long have we got?” Doyle gasped, bending to retrieve his holster.

“About six minutes, by my reckoning - provided the intel is accurate and the bombers know their stuff. So, let’s get out of here.”

They hoisted Bodie upright, slung his arms over their shoulders and dragged him back down the corridor the way they’d come, his bare feet leaving blood-stained trails in the accumulated detritus of the disused warehouse.

They had just started up the second flight of stairs when Bodie’s right foot caught between two iron balusters, pulling them off balance and sending them crashing to their knees.

“We’re not going to make it, Murph. Time’s running out… it’s too far,” Ray conceded. “Help me get him under here then leg it, will you?”

“OK, but you’re coming with me. Bodie’s out of it. He’ll not thank you for risking your life unnecessarily.”

“I’m not leaving him. Deserted him once but never again. I have to stay. Now go!” With that, Doyle pushed Bodie deeper under the concrete steps and tried to offer as much protection as he could with his own body.

Listening to Murphy race back up the stairwell, Doyle hugged Bodie even tighter against his chest, buried his face in the matted hair and willed him to survive long enough to hear his apology. Far too soon though, he felt the floor shift and groan beneath him before the shaken building entombed them under choking piles of dust and broken masonry.

*****

Doyle’s first thought when he became aware of his surroundings again was that his back was broken. The crushing sensation over his hips was horrendous and he couldn’t feel his legs. Panic started to build and he gasped in agony as he tried to move, causing him to inhale more foul, gritty air.

He pressed his face back into Bodie’s hair to stifle a cough.

“Calm down, Ray,” he could imagine hearing his friend say. “That's the main thing, staying cool. Slow heartbeat, slow metabolism. Gotta be cool.” Another quote from Bodie’s ‘Little Book of Wisdom’, he thought wryly.

It felt reassuring to feel the sturdy body beside him, to be so close and to hold him. They might die today but at least they’d be together. The only tolerable way.

Feeling a bit more composed, more in control, he began to assess their situation as best he could.

They were both alive. Trapped maybe, but still alive. That was a start.

He couldn’t see a bloody thing in the pitch black so he cautiously felt around. The area above, just below the steps, seemed clear enough and there were a couple of inches between Bodie and the supporting wall. Most of the debris seemed to be behind, and on, himself. So, if he could just burrow Bodie a little further under then perhaps he could move himself away from the rubble.

“Come on, mate. I could do with a little help here, you know?”

Slowly but steadily he pushed Bodie flush against the wall until there was just enough room for him to move himself further under the protective canopy formed by the stairs. Almost instantly the pressure was released off his lower back and the pain gradually became more bearable, although he almost cried out when the sensation started returning to his legs.

He listened for sounds of rescue but could hear nothing but the rumbling and cracking of the warehouse settling back down.

“Hello!” he shouted. “Is anybody there?” No-one responded.

Murph knew where they were, he told himself, so he would come and find them but, without knowing how much structural damage had been caused above, Doyle realised that they might be stuck here for hours, days even. In fact, since he’d lost consciousness, he didn’t actually know how much time had already passed since the explosion.

God, how much longer could Bodie survive without that desperately needed medical attention? He had seen some obvious wounds and knew that Bodie had lost a lot of blood because the evidence had been unmistakeable but now he could smell it as well. He slipped his hand between their bodies and felt the warm, sticky, wetness there – so, still bleeding then. Having no other option in their current situation, he simply pulled him closer, hoping the pressure might stem the flow.

But now he was afraid that time was in short supply and he knew he couldn’t risk waiting any longer.

“Listen mate. Fuck, I know you’re probably not even able to hear me right now but I want to tell you how very sorry I am. Sorry I reacted like I did when you told me, er, how you felt. I was shocked. Bloody hell, was I shocked but to be honest, you caught me out. I had no idea you felt that way about me and I was shit scared, you know; scared of what that love would make me, what that would make us. Well, I can tell you, it frightened me to death, Bodie and I didn’t know what to say. But you, you bastard, didn’t give me any time to think, to take it all in. I just needed a moment but you just got up and left. God Bodie, staying and talking to me wouldn’t have killed you, you know. But that’s just typical, isn’t it? Going off on your own, to lick your wounds and build a few more of your impenetrable walls.” Doyle stopped, feeling breathless and suddenly realised that the oxygen levels might be depleting. Something else he hadn’t considered; that they might suffocate to death.

“After that,” he pushed on regardless, “you didn’t mention it again and it n-never seemed the right time for me to bring it up either. You just seemed to go off me so I assumed it was only a p-passing fancy of yours. Love ‘em and leave ‘em, that’s your normal style, isn’t it Bodie, so why would I be any different?” He tried taking a deeper breath and coughed. “Until, that is… things started getting more serious between you… and Ali. C-could see she made you h-happy so it was way too late… for me t’speak up. I couldn’t s-s-tand to see you… together ’cause I could h-have ‘ad it all with you… but, have to tell you… I love…”

Suddenly a voice reached out to them through the dark, “Doyle! Can you hear me, Ray?”

“Murph… here.” Doyle coughed painfully. “L’sen Bodie… found us… g’ting’ out… Don’t, you b-bastard… stuff to tell you if… willing t’listen,” he promised bravely between gasps.

A chink of light, from Murphy’s torch, bounced through the small gap that had suddenly appeared, illuminating their little cavern, followed behind by some much needed fresher air.

*****

Doyle gently stretched his battered body on the hard examination couch, trying in vain to find a more comfortable position. The doctor had finally stopped all his poking and prodding and left him alone with his thoughts.

Recalling the events of the previous hours, he desperately wanted to believe it had just been a nightmare; the assault on the warehouse, the realisation that the bomb couldn’t be defused and that Bodie was, in all likelihood, still somewhere deep inside the building. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a dream - it had been very real, too real. His frantic search was mostly a blur but he couldn’t shake off the vivid image, when he’d eventually found his best mate, simply discarded like a piece of unwanted junk.

And when they’d been trapped, he’d imagined Bodie’s life draining away beside him. He’d had no time to look for serious injuries so he didn’t know whether a deep wound or a catastrophic head injury was slowly finishing him off. He’d felt so bloody useless.

Their rescue, when it miraculously came, was accomplished efficiently and, despite insisting he wanted to wait for Bodie to be brought out, he found himself bundled away to a place of safety.

Kate Ross had accompanied them both in the ambulance, constantly attending to Bodie throughout their journey; starting an IV, padding his injuries and putting pressure on those that continued to bleed. Between her and the ambulanceman, Doyle hadn’t been able to see much from where he lay, just occasional glimpses of a bloody arm or an exposed knee. They wouldn’t give him any answers to his hundreds of questions either, telling him to leave his oxygen mask in place, that they were doing all they could for Bodie and they’d be at the hospital soon.

And here he was, still not being told a goddamn thing!

“Ah, Mr Doyle.” The House Office came in again and drew the curtain around the bed, marginally improving his sense of privacy as he lay there, half undressed. “We’ve had a look at your x-rays and they seem clear but we’ll wait for the Radiographer’s report, just to be certain. Staff Nurse will be in shortly to clean and dress your wounds and I’ve prescribed you some pain relief, along with an anti-inflammatory, so you should feel more comfortable soon. Do you have any questions?”

“Is there any news of my - er - colleague, who was brought in with me? William Bodie.”

“No, I’m sorry. He was initially treated here in casualty but I believe he was taken up to theatre a while back. Do you have any questions about your own condition?”

“When can I leave?”

“We’ll know more once we have the report back and the Consultant has had time to look over your records. You have lacerations, abrasions and severe bruising over the whole of your lower back but the pain you’ve described suggests muscular and soft tissue damage rather than any spinal injury. I think you can probably count yourself very lucky.”

“Could you find out what’s happened to Bodie for me?”

“I’ll do my best sir but, as you can imagine, we’re pretty busy at the moment… Mr Doyle,” the doctor protested. “I strongly advise you to lie still until we can give you the all-clear. Mr Doyle, please…?”

“4.5! Where do you think you’re going?” Cowley demanded, pushing his way through the curtain and placing a firm hand on Doyle’s chest to prevent him sitting up any further.

“Have you heard how Bodie is? They’re not telling me anything.” Doyle glared at the doctor before carefully lying back down again, already regretting the sudden movement.

“Try and be patient, lad. There’s nothing any of us can do until he’s out of surgery. I’ll let you know as soon as I hear anything. In the meantime, allow the doctor here to do his job. You’ll be no good to Bodie if you neglect your own injuries.”

“Mr Doyle, as this gentleman rightly suggests, you’d be wise to remain here so we can make sure you haven’t sustained any serious damage. Please inform us immediately if you experience any increasing pain in your legs or chest or any numbness or tingling around your buttocks, anus or genitals. Have you passed urine since the accident?”

Doyle gave him a contemptuous look that had the desired effect.

“Yes, well… just let me know if you have any problems when you do try.” With that, the doctor picked up his charts and hurried off.

“I know you are worried lad but Bodie’s as tough as they come. He’ll not give up without a fight.”

“Did you manage to see him, sir? I only got a brief look once they cleared the rubble, before they pulled me out.”

“No, I didn’t see much. Dr Ross offered some initial first aid before the ambulancemen rushed him away. She’ll be in later, I expect. Perhaps she can answer some of your questions.”

Cowley pulled up a black plastic chair and sat himself down by the side of the bed. Removing his glasses, he rubbed at his forehead and tiredly instructed, “Begin at the beginning, 4.5. I need to know how Tomlinson managed to escape the cordon we placed around the warehouse.”

“Couldn’t this wait until tomorrow, sir? Or you could ask Murphy, he was there as well, you know?”

“No, I need your report now, 4.5. Best get it done with, whilst it’s still fresh. Besides you’ve nothing better to do other than rest and then, think about it, you’ll be free to concentrate on getting Bodie back on his feet.” Cowley surprised himself with his gentleness, considering the day he’d just had.

The doctor suddenly reappeared. “Mr Doyle. I’ve spoken to the other team and they confirm that Mr Bodie is still in theatre. I’ve asked them to keep us updated but, in the meantime, the consultant wants me to admit you overnight for observation. You will be transferred up to the ward as soon as a bed becomes available.”

Cowley briefly looked at the patient and, realising that no civilised response was likely to be offered, he thanked the doctor himself.

*****

Doyle limped on to ward 4, anticipating another lengthy period of just sitting quietly by Bodie’s bed. He was still not quite used to the relative stillness he found there, after the constant bleeps and hisses thrown out by all the equipment that they’d had Bodie hooked up to when he was in the intensive care unit.

But as he pushed open the door of the small side room, he found Ali already at the bedside.

He was grateful their paths hadn’t crossed sooner because he knew she was a regular visitor but he hadn’t actually seen her for months now; not since their last double date.

“Hello love. It’s good to see you again.” He leant down and kissed her cheek. He noticed she’d tied her blonde hair back in a loose pony-tail revealing her beautiful, make-up free face. So, this was the look that normally greeted Bodie when he had woken up in her bed, he thought to himself. And what had she seen when she’d turned to face him lying beside her, looking all drowsy and unguarded?

She glanced up briefly, tightening her hold on Bodie’s right hand. “Hello, Ray. How are you getting on?”

“I’m fine thanks. The doc’s given me the all-clear and I can start some physio tomorrow.” Bringing a second chair a little closer to the bed, he sat himself down before reaching over to lightly squeeze Bodie’s ankle. “Hey mate, and how are you today? Any chance of you waking up some time soon ‘cause Christmas is just around the corner and I’ve got pressies to buy? We can’t all be lolling around in bed, skiving, you know.”

Like every other morning, he waited hopefully for a reaction that never came.

“I had a quick word with the old battle-axe as I was coming in and she seemed to think there’s been some improvement; your temperature’s coming down so the new antibiotics must be working at last, eh?”

“Really?” Ali lifted her head. “He’s been lying here for ten days now and I can’t see any difference. He’s still not responding to anything.”

“He’s not really likely to, love,” Doyle reluctantly admitted. “Not until they start weaning him off some of the drugs they’ve been pumping into him. Haven’t they told you any of this?”

But she didn’t seem to be listening. She was looking intently at Bodie’s face, brushing her hand over his forehead, searching for anything that might convince her he was telling the truth.

They sat there in silence for a while, afraid to say anything, wanting to be alone with their thoughts.

“What have we done?” she eventually asked.

Yeah, Doyle had been asking himself that very same question, over and over. “I know what I’ve done, and I’ll tell you about it one day, I promise, but not right now, eh? Not here.”

She clutched at Bodie’s limp hand and, without looking up, she started to recall the moment her world had fallen apart. “He looked so bloody gorgeous in the church, you know…” she paused momentarily. “But also, a little apprehensive… the way he fiddles with his watch when he’s a bit nervous. You must have seen him do it?” She absently toyed with the hospital identity band that now encircled his wrist, mirroring his actions.

But Doyle hadn’t and he was resentful that Ali knew things about his partner that he didn’t.

“It’s hard to imagine him ever being vulnerable but that’s exactly what I thought when I saw him standing there alone, waiting for me, and then I realised - you weren’t there with him! I looked for you but no …”

She stopped speaking again and Doyle would have said something, if he’d only known what, but after a moment she lifted her eyes and faced him for the first time.

“There was never any doubt who he’d ask to be his best man; you were his best mate, after all. And you fulfilled your obligations very well, right up until that morning. I’ve known you almost as long as I’ve known Bodie, so your absence immediately confirmed… at that moment I understood… the threat you posed to us.” She was furious, all signs of tenderness and fear vanishing with the building of her anger.

But she hadn’t finished. “I truly believe that Bodie loves me but I’ve never underestimated his devotion to you as well, Ray. It took him a long time to accept that you could never feel the same way and he was moving on. But, if I hadn’t fully realised before, I certainly did in the church; you were jealous and you couldn’t bear to watch us get married! I’m right, aren’t I?”

She glared at him harshly for a few moments and then seemed to deflate, slumping back in the chair in resignation, resting her head on Bodie’s forearm.

Doyle sat there, momentarily stunned by her insight and then, in an effort to distance himself from these painful accusations, he got up and limped over to the window. Looking out, he was surprised to see that life still continued unabated on the streets below; people hurrying to and from their various destinations, happily chatting, oblivious to the drama that inhabited his current world. He’d almost forgotten what his previous ‘normal’ life felt like, when he and Bodie were close.

They both jumped when the door opened and a nurse came in to replace the empty drip bag with a full one. She checked the patient’s blood pressure and left again after recording her work on the chart.

“I’ve let him down more than just on his wedding day.” Doyle admitted.

“What!”

“I shied away from his friendship, I abandoned him on his stag night, I even hit him when it looked like he was coming between me and Ann. You are right, Ali; I am jealous and I can tell you now, it bloody terrifies me.”

She stared at him for a few moments before giving a slight nod of the head and Doyle thought he could see a little compassion in her eyes. Yeah, Bodie had done well, netting her.

*****

A few days later, he and Ali were together in the hospital room; she had popped in as usual during her lunchbreak and was just finishing off a yoghurt. He was toying with an infuriating puzzle he’d found in the car’s glove box.

They had formed a bit of a mutual support system; Doyle tried to organise his own medical appointments around her visits, knowing Bodie wouldn’t be left alone for too long. She was able to concentrate on her busy workload, confident that Ray would be there for him, but always visited again on her way home. It was a routine of sorts that they had settled into.

Neither of them now took much notice of the medical personnel who frequently came in to administer drugs and I.V. fluids, check vital signs, redress wounds or empty the catheter bag. Two student nurses were currently changing Bodie’s position so that, on this occasion, he would be lying more on his left side. Unfortunately, this was made more awkward because his injured arm was elevated in a makeshift sling which was basically a folded hospital sheet suspended from the hooks of a drip stand. As they started to move him, Bodie groaned and his right hand shot out to grasp at the bedding.

Doyle was instantly out of his chair and at the bedside. “Bodie? Bodie mate, are you back with us?” He took hold of the hand that was trying to anchor himself to the bed. “Hang about, we’re just getting you more comfortable.”

The nurses quickly settled him back in his original position and one went off to get some help.

“Sweetheart,” Ali whispered. “Are you hurting love? Can we help you?”

Bodie groaned again and then, to everyone’s surprise, opened his eyes to look around. His unfocussed gaze briefly stopped at Doyle before his lids fell shut again.

The student nurse returned with a doctor and asked them to leave whilst he performed an examination.

“We’ll just keep out of the way, over here, if you don’t mind,” Doyle said, gently pulling Ali over to the window where they could observe most of the proceedings.

Disappointingly, Bodie remained stubbornly unresponsive to any of the prompts or tests and the doctor eventually left, offering encouragement that he expected him to show more signs of regaining consciousness over the coming days.

Once the nurses had completed the task they’d originally started and the doors had finally closed behind them, Ray and Ali pulled their seats up close to either side of the bed and started cajoling and teasing, hoping to reach Bodie, wherever he’d retreated to. Between them, they were confident they could keep this up for as long as was necessary – and they did.

Eventually, Bodie rolled his head on the pillow and grimaced. “… shu’… rup’!” A little slurred but certainly undeniable.

“Make us,” Doyle demanded. “Come on Bodie, if you want some peace, you’ll just have to look us in the eye and tell us… Bodie! Are you listening?”

“P…soff!”

Well, that’s a start, Doyle thought with utter relief.

*****

Becoming aware that there was a conversation going on nearby, Bodie opened his eyes again to find the small side-room filled to bursting with uninvited guests.

“Oh, I’m glad to see that you’re awake at last, Mr Brodie.”

The Ward Sister coughed discreetly. “It’s William Bodie, Mr Fairfax. Bodie, without an R.”

“Quite so, Sister. Quite so. You had us worried for a while back there, Mr Bodie,” the consultant continued unapologetically, brushing a fleck of lint off his pinstriped jacket sleeve. “Until we managed to get that troublesome infection of yours under control, that is. Luckily your body was in excellent shape before your little er, accident. We expect your recovery to come along in leaps and bounds now that the peritonitis is responding to our treatments.”

Bodie felt highly indignant when he then, without so much as a by your leave, lifted off the bed clothes to examine the dressings on his abdomen.

“How is the laparotomy wound, Sister?” he asked, turning to face her.

“Oh, greatly improved, Mr Fairfax. As you requested, the drain was removed yesterday. We’re packing the last two open areas with gauze soaked in Eusol every day and I’m pleased to report they are now closing up nicely.”

“That’s good, that’s good. Now Dr Blake, why haven’t the blood tests I ordered been organised yet? Come on girl, jump to it, you’ll not make the grade if you cannot follow simple instructions.”

“I’ll chase them up straightaway, sir,” a quiet voice replied from within the group before the door opened and closed silently.

“I think it’s time to start the patient on a bland diet, Sister. Begin with some clear soup and unsweetened black tea at lunchtime and if he can hold that down then he can have some dry toast this evening. Has he had his bowels opened recently? We’ll be wanting another stool sample…”

Bodie turned away and attempted to block out the humiliating conversation that continued relentlessly around him. He must have briefly dropped off again because the next time he looked he was surprised to find the room was empty again except for a young student nurse who was gently straightening his bedding.

“They’ve gone then, the pompous twat and his little entourage?” he quietly asked of her.

The nurse giggled as she continued to perfect her hospital corners. “Mr Fairfax is a very well-respected surgeon, I’ll have you know.”

“But lacking any bedside…” he started to say before the door swung open again and another group of junior doctors marched in unannounced, led by a balding man wearing horn-rimmed glasses.

“Give me strength.” Bodie groaned audibly and closed his eyes… but not quickly enough, it seemed.

“Ah, Mr Bodie. Good to find you fully awake at long last. I’m the orthopaedic surgeon who’s been pinning you back together. Taylor’s the name.” The intruder held out his hand then changed his mind and tapped Bodie on his good shoulder instead.

“Are we managing to control your pain better now? Had a devil of a job in the beginning - you were fighting us all the way - but we eventually found the right combination to shut you up.”

Bodie turned, about to give the doctor a piece of his mind, when he saw the grin on the rosy-cheeked face and relented.

“I’m fine. I suppose it’s you I should thank for all this?” he asked, indicating his arm suspended in the large sling.

“Yep, that’s my bit of handiwork. You have a fracture of the humerus that, unfortunately, sustained further damage by the delay in its immobilization, so I had to insert a plate to stabilise it. I’ve been a bit concerned about some persistent swelling in your hand and wrist though, hence the gallows-like contraption. May I?” He exposed Bodie’s left arm and expressed his satisfaction when he finished examining the well-healed wound.

“Can you feel me touching you?” the doctor asked as he brushed each finger with his own.

“Yeah, they’re fine. Did feel numb when I woke up earlier but I’ve been flexing them a bit.”

“That’s excellent news, Mr Bodie. I anticipate we’ll be able to replace this sling with a collar-and-cuff when everything’s settled down and Mr Fairfax has agreed that you can come off bedrest. Do you have any questions for me?”

“How much recovery do you think I can expect?” Bodie shocked himself because he hadn’t really considered the possibility that he might have sustained a permanent injury. Where had his brain been?

“Your ribs will start to feel more comfortable over the coming weeks, although I expect you already knew that, having looked back through your previous medical records. We’ll organise a course of physiotherapy once your shoulder and arm have healed, to ensure you get the optimal range of movement back. Is that what you wanted to hear?”

“If it’s the truth.”

“It is, I can assure you. I’m not expecting any further major set-backs now you’ve regained consciousness but I do hope you will inform us immediately if your pain gets any worse. You will tell us, won’t you, Mr Bodie?” he asked, perhaps a little too optimistically.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“I’ll be ordering some repeat x-rays tomorrow and I’ll be back to discuss the reports with you the following morning. In the meantime, ask one of the nurses if you need to see me before then. OK?”

“OK, doc. Thanks.” He gave up the struggle to keep his eyes open and was out for the count again before the surgeon had even returned the charts to the foot of the bed.

*****

Doyle had been sitting watching Bodie doze for the last half hour, wondering how they were ever going to resolve their difficulties when they couldn’t even hold a civilised conversation. “We have to talk,” he eventually blurted impatiently. Not the subtlest opening gambit but it was better than not tackling the current awkwardness that lay between them.

Bodie opened his bruised eyes and looked coldly at his ex-partner. “Why? You’ve made it quite clear you don’t want to be associated with a poofter and Ali doesn’t want second-best. It’s obvious to me how you both feel. Now fuck off!”

“Come on, mate, be reasonable. It’s not like that, and you know it.”

“Do I?”

“Bodie!” But he’d already closed himself off and turned away. Doyle recognised that a hospital really wasn’t the best place to have this type of discussion but he’d try again another day - he had to - when Bodie was feeling stronger and less trapped.

As he was leaving, he met his boss in the corridor coming in.

“It’s good to see that you’re moving more easily now, 4.5. I presume the physio is helping.”

“I’m doing alright, thank you sir and I’ll be ready for a round with Macklin, soon enough.”

“That’s good. And how is Master Bodie today?”

“Stubborn, pig-headed, obstinate…”

“So, getting back to normal, then?”

Doyle muttered something unintelligible before he hobbled off towards the car park.

*****

Cowley stood and watched the patient through the open ward door. At least some of the surgical paraphernalia had been removed now although Bodie’s left arm was still suspended awkwardly above the bed and an IV was attached to his right hand. All this was a vast improvement on his condition when they’d first brought him in, though. He’d been unrecognisable then.

“Bodie?” Cowley asked quietly as he stepped into the room. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. I wasn’t certain if you were asleep or not.”

“I’m awake. It’s difficult getting any sleep in this place.”

“I must say, you’re looking much better. How are you feeling now, laddie?”

“I’m doing alright, thanks.”

Cowley noted how both his agents had offered almost identical replies to his question. Both refusing to admit to any weakness, standing strong together, even when they weren’t.

“Do you feel well enough to fill in a few gaps in my report then?”

Bodie nodded, a little apprehensively. He had enough gaps of his own to fill, interspersed with some vague dreams he didn’t dare consider might be real.

“Was it Tomlinson himself, or one of his lackeys, who rumbled you?”

“No, it was 6.2 who he rumbled but as Murph had already bailed out, he decided to ask me the questions instead. Guilty by association, you see.”

“Ah, it was unfortunate that his witness statement was required at that particular time although why the barrister hadn’t tried to delay the case for a couple more days when I told him… Oh well, we can’t always foresee every turn of events. I’m sorry you were hurt, lad.”

“I’ve experienced worse.”

“Aye Bodie, I believe you have,” Cowley nodded, “but it doesn’t make it any easier. Did Tomlinson say anything about his future plans?”

“Not in front of me. Once he thought Murph had informed the cops he simply moved the operation forward.”

“Ne’er mind. I’m sure he’ll raise his head again soon enough and hopefully you’ll be back on your feet by the time we’re ready to bring him in.”

A long silence followed before Bodie spoke again. “I’ve decided to quit the squad, sir.”

Cowley took off his glasses and squeezed the bridge of his nose before responding. “That doesn’t really come as a complete shock, considering what you’ve been through but give yourself time to recover and then we’ll talk again. If you would prefer to come in off the streets for a while, or even move into training, then I’m sure there’s a position you will find fulfilling. Just don’t make any rash decisions whilst you’re laid up.”

“I’m leaving. I’ve had enough. Do I need to put my resignation in writing because I can ask one of the nurses…?”

“No, I’ll accept it, if that’s what you really want.” Cowley frowned. “But I do wish you’d wait. Have you discussed this with your partner?”

“Murphy? Nah, he prefers to work solo, anyway.”

“I meant Doyle. What does he have to say?” Cowley knew Bodie was being perverse but couldn’t pull him up on it; not here, not now.

“He hasn’t wanted me as his partner for a long time. Expect he’ll be glad to see the back of me.”

“You’re wrong lad, so very wrong.”

“The doc says I could be out of here in a week or two and I still have some holiday owing, so….” At which point, Bodie suddenly realised the implications of what he was suggesting; that this was effectively the end of CI5 for him. He swallowed before he could continue, a hard lump in his throat threatening to embarrass him. “It has been good working for you, sir and I, er, I appreciate your belief in me. There’s not many people I can say that to.”

“Aye laddie, you’re right, I do believe in you. You’re a decent man with a good, strong sense of loyalty. I’ll personally be sorry to see you go and we’ll miss your particular skills and experience in the squad but it is your decision ultimately. However, I do have a proposition, if you’ll hear me out.”

Bodie was sceptical that anything would induce him into staying but he nodded anyway.

“I’ll accept your resignation on the day you are pronounced fit to work, and I’ll wave the notice period if necessary, if you’ll just use the intervening time to consider all your options. If you’re still of a mind to leave then I’ll not argue any further. I’m basically giving you the opportunity to stay on the payroll whilst you recover your health.”

“That’s a generous offer, sir.”

“I don’t want to lose you, son. Replacements are very expensive. So, do you accept?”

“I’d be a fool not to,” Bodie acknowledged

“That’s true. Then get some rest and I’ll be back tomorrow to finish that damn report.”

Cowley left the room and Bodie closed his eyes, tightly.

There was really nothing more to consider. He had no choice, he still had to leave but at least he now had some time to plan his future.

*****

Ali stood at the foot of the bed, watching the patient sleep, his bare chest still colourfully decorated with healing wounds and fading bruises. She couldn’t imagine how many more lay hidden beneath the sheet.

He must have sensed her presence because he opened his eyes and, after a moment, smiled. “Hello love.”

“Hello darling.” She moved round to the side of the bed and accepted the hand he held out to her. He’d always made her feel cherished, protected.

“It’s good to see you. How’s things going?” Bodie asked, genuinely interested.

“Fine thanks. I’ve been offered a promotion; department head, would you believe? Start next week.”

“That’s great; you deserve it. I hope they’re offering you a good pay deal. Tell me if they’re not and I’ll go around and make them er, consider all their options.” He released her hand and raised his clenched fist with a small shake.

They both laughed at the absurdity, considering his current condition.

“I must say, you’re looking a lot better this morning,” she observed with approval as she pulled the chair closer.

“Oh, I am and should be out of here in a few days.”

“Really?” She was shocked because no-one had suggested that he was anywhere near fit enough for discharge.

“Yeah. I’m ready for a bit of rest and recuperation, then it’ll be back to business as usual.” He winked at her suggestively.

“Bodie?” she said, taking a deep breath. “Mr Cowley tells me you want to resign. Is that really true?”

He looked away, furious that he was, yet again, the topic of another little discussion. Yeah, he really had to get away from these people who thought they could arrange his life for him.

“Sweetheart? Talk to me,” she prompted when he failed to respond.

“I’m getting out while I still can. It’s a crap job and I’ve done my bit. Time for someone else to risk getting their head blown off,” he quietly replied, annoyed with himself because he should have been ready for this. Bloody drugs, clouding his brain! The sooner he came off them the better.

“What are you planning to do?”

“Not sure yet. The world’s my lobster, and all that.” He tried to control his annoyance and not rush into committing himself to anything just yet. She didn’t deserve lies.

“But you’ll be staying in London, right?” Ali persisted.

Shut up, will you? She was probing for answers he was ashamed he hadn’t prepared yet.

“Probably not. No point really…nothing to keep me here now.” Yeah, he thought to himself, that was basically true.

“But what about your friends?”

Finally, he turned to face her, all trace of his smile long gone, falling back on the old adage - the one he’d worked hard to leave behind when he quit the mercs - that attack is the best form of defence. “Friends? What friends? No, ’s time for a fresh start. Been here too long as it is.”

“What about me and Ray? Doesn’t our friendship count for anything?” She was starting to whine and that was so unlike Ali.

He gave some consideration to his answer but it was still wounding when it came. “Not enough, apparently.”

She stood up to leave, the chair toppling backwards in her haste.

He knew he’d crossed the line now so he twisted his knife in a little deeper, just for the hell of it. “Hey, you and Doyle should go out for a drink together sometime. You have a lot in common.”

“You bastard!” She spat before turning away, hurt beyond reason.

“Goodbye, Ali,” he said remorsefully once the door had banged closed behind her.

*****

Doyle came across her sitting on a bench near the car park, dabbing at her nose with a soggy tissue.

“Come on, love. Let’s go and get a drink and you can tell me what he’s done now.”

Ali picked up her handbag and they strolled, arm in arm, back into the hospital and down the long corridor. As usual, the visitor’s canteen was very busy but she was able to grab a small table when it became vacant whilst he queued up at the counter.

They sat quietly for a while, sipping their coffee, before she felt composed enough to tell him that Bodie was threatening to leave London and had even had the gall to suggest she and Ray got together.

“Bloody cantankerous… he’s got his kecks in a twist over somethin’ and, typical of Bodie, he’ll have got it all wrong. I’ve known you a long time, Ali and I never would have put you down as hurtful. He said you thought he was second best. What did you actually say to him in the church?”

“What? No! No, he’d never be second best. It’s me, I don’t want him to think he’s having to settle for second best because it’s you he really wants. He’s loved you for a very long time, Ray - I think he always will. You’d only have to click your fingers and he’d be all over you like a rash. I used to be so sure - until I realised you really loved him as well, you just hadn’t accepted it.”

“He certainly doesn’t want me now. He might have done once but he’s changed his mind.”

“Don’t be thick, Ray. He’s leaving the squad because he thinks he can’t continue to work with you the way he feels. He’s angry – with you, me, Cowley, with life itself. Tell him how you feel - but do it soon, before it’s too late. I wouldn’t put it past him not to do something stupid.”

*****

Doyle was surprised to find Bodie sitting up in a high-backed chair when he next visited. He was now wearing a white T-shirt and blue pyjama bottoms, which hid far too much of the bare flesh that he’d been feasting his eyes on recently.

“My God Bodie, you’re looking almost human again. Still got a long way to go to reach tall, dark and incredibly handsome, though,” he said, covering his disappointment.

“Har, bloody, har!”

He felt Bodie’s eyes follow him as he wandered slowly across the room and made a conscious effort not to wince when he sat down on the side of the vacated bed.

“Why are you limping, Doyle?”

Eyes like a bloody a hawk, does Bodie… when he’s awake.

“Oh…um, I tweaked my back,” he replied, absently picking up and flicking through the Biking magazine he’d brought in the day before.

“Doing something stupid, I’ll bet.”

“Hey, have you had a decko at the new Suzuki? Wouldn’t mind a quick whirl round the block on that beauty.” He held up the article for Bodie to see.

“Doyle! Were you doing something stupid?”

“Sorry, didn’t realise it was a question. Thought you were being all rhetorical or what not.”

“Well?”

“Yeah.” But then Doyle’s mind was taken back to the warehouse and he relived the intense fear he’d felt there. “No, I was doing something important… something essential.”

“Yeah? Listen mate, just be careful out there. You shouldn’t be working solo; you need someone watching your back…” Bodie trailed off, realising that would never be his role in life again.

“Lucky I’m not working at the moment then,” Doyle confessed but then followed up with the lie that he had taken some overdue leave.

“Ah, that explains why your ugly mug keeps turning up here, then.”

They sat in silence for a while; Doyle pretending to be interested in the magazine and Bodie pretending to sleep. This wasn’t going to accomplish anything, Doyle admitted to himself and realised he would have to be the one to start a meaningful conversation.

“Have they said when you’ll be sprung from here, yet?” he asked.

Bodie opened one eye and stared at him before nonchalantly swinging his arm gently from side to side in the sling. “Well, not today, obviously.”

“Obviously not today you cretin but haven’t they given you any indication?” Doyle persisted.

“No. This is the first time they’ve allowed me to get up and sit out of bed so don’t think they’ll be too keen on me riding me bike just yet, d’you?”

“Okay, okay, so you’ve still got a bit of recovery to go through but have you made any plans for when you’re back on your feet?”

“What are you getting at, 4.5?” Bodie asked suspiciously.

“What do you mean? I’m just interested.”

“Then I’ll be sure to tell you as soon as I’ve decided.”

Well, that went well, conceded Doyle. Why was it so bloody hard talking to Bodie about their futures?

*****

“I had another visitor earlier,” Bodie informed Ray when he called in again the following day.

“Oh yeah, and who was that then?” For some strange reason, the possible answers worried him.

“Dr Ross.”

“Oh,” Doyle said on a sigh of relief. “What did the Ice Queen want?”

“To start my psych evaluation.”

“Hah, hard luck mate but you knew it would happen sometime, didn’t you?”

“We had an interesting little chat. She told me I owe you my life - you and Murph. Is that true?” Bodie was looking at him with a strange expression.

“You’re my partner. Of course I’d save your sorry arse. You’d do the same for me, wouldn’t you?”

Bodie’s face was still unreadable but he admitted, “I don’t remember much. Thought at first I might have been dreamin’ when I imagined you talking to me but you were actually there in the warehouse, like?”

“Yeah, it was me prattling away. You weren’t in the mood for a two-way debate so I had to yak for the pair of us.”

“What did you talk about?”

“Ah, you know, the usual crap you have to come up with to help pass the time.”

“So, nothing significant, then?”

Doyle could see disappointment etched across Bodie’s face and relented. “What did you think I said?” he asked quietly.

“That you were scared.”

“Scared? No, I was terrified!” Doyle corrected. He took a deep breath before continuing. “Terrified that you were going to die…”

Just go for it, you coward! He’ll leave you if you don’t.

“… and I wanted to tell you stuff. I’ve been a right pillock, you know. Yeah mate, I told you important stuff that I should have told you months ago. That I was scared what my feelings for you would do to me, to us and in the end, not saying anything at all cost me your friendship.”

“I wasn’t sure I actually heard you or if it was just wishful thinking. So, you do love me then?” Trust Bodie to go straight for the jugular.

Crunch time.

“Yeah.” Doyle whispered. “Yeah, I bloody love you.”

Bodie looked at him affectionately. “You know Ray, pillock doesn’t come close to describing what you really are.”

“I know, I’m sorry.” He suddenly realised Bodie had actually used his first name and he couldn’t remember when he’d last done that.

“I don’t know what I’m to do with you but as I can’t manage anything at the moment,” Bodie nodded tiredly towards his left arm. “I don’t have to decide what you deserve just yet. Are you still scared?”

“Yes. No.”

“Well, that’s clear enough.”

“Yes, I’m still scared because I’m not the only complete pillock here, you know. But no, I’m not scared because I don’t care what it makes us.” He looked up and saw that Bodie had closed his eyes and wondered if he gone too far, said too much. “You look knackered, mate. Second time out of bed and you still can’t even manage a couple of hours. D’you want me to help you get back in?”

“No! No, press the bell, would you? The nurses will be a safer option all round.” And with that, Bodie smiled at him for the first time since… God, he couldn’t remember when that had last happened, either.

*****

Doyle was a bit concerned when he next visited and found Bodie’s side room empty but he convinced himself he’d perhaps gone for more x-rays and he hadn’t just done a runner. He was therefore really chuffed when the man himself walked in ten minutes later, unencumbered by any drip stands.

“Come on mate, sit down before you fall down. Where’ve you been, you look dreadful.” Doyle vacated the chair but Bodie ignored it completely and carefully lowered himself back onto his bed, heaving a sigh of pure relief as he lay down.

“Mr Bodie!” The staff nurse followed him in briskly. “Just because Mr Taylor said we could lower your arm and apply an ordinary sling doesn’t mean you can start running around the ward.”

“I wanted to use the bog… with a bit of privacy, if you know what I mean?” he said indignantly.

“We would have brought you a commode, or even a wheelchair, if you’d only asked. Does that mean you’ve had your bowels opened then?”

“Oh, for God’s sake, get me out of here, Doyle,” he pleaded.

“Yes or no, Mr Bodie? It’s a simple question and you can stop Mr Fairfax pestering us during every ward round,” the nurse demanded, obviously frustrated when she wasn’t able to give the consultant the answer he wanted.

“Yes, I’ve had my bowels opened. OK?”

“That’s very good. Can I get you some pain relief? You look a little green around the gills.”

“No thank you. I’ll just rest here for a bit.”

“Then please, use the bell in future. Now, I’ll just go and get some supplies so I can redress your feet. Have you seen the mess you’ve made of your bandages? You’d think I didn’t have enough to do already.”

Doyle watched her leave, admiring the way she stood no nonsense from the awkward sod, treating him more like a sulky teenager rather than the hardened CI5 agent that he actually was. He turned away to hide his smile because there was nothing to be gained from winding him up any further, especially when he’d come in today intending to find some more answers of his own. “Are you going to pout for long or can we talk?” he asked.

Despite Bodie not replying, he decided to push on regardless.

“I’ve been chatting to Ali. She’s a lovely girl but far too good for you, mind. Be nice to her when she visits. She still loves you but she’s helped me get things straight - clearer in my head. She wants you to be happy but realises that you wouldn’t be that, with her. That’s why she called the wedding off.”

“She was wrong; I would have been but she didn’t give me a chance to prove it to her.” Frustration was very evident in Bodie’s voice.

“Are you saying you’re sorry the wedding didn’t go ahead?” he pursued, needing to know the truth but fearing the answer.

“Yes. No.”

“This indecisiveness is becoming contagious,” Doyle said with a small smile.

“Yes, because I would have made it work and Ali wouldn’t have been hurt. But no, not if I finally get what I want.”

“And what’s that, then?”

“You.”

“You will. You have,” Doyle reassured quietly. “I wish we were somewhere else right now because I want to show you, convince you.”

“Tell me again then, how you feel,” Bodie requested, a little uncertainly.

“I love you.”

The door swung open again and the nurse banged in with her dressing trolley before proceeding to wash her hands in preparation for the additional and totally avoidable procedure she was being forced to undertake.

*****

He had been home less than four hours before they both realised it wasn’t going to work as well as they’d planned.

“Do you want a cuppa with your tablets?” Doyle asked.

“No.”

“No what? You just want water, then?”

“No, I don’t want a cuppa and I don’t want the bastard tablets!”

“Come on mate. The doctor said…”

“The doctor said what? What has he been saying to you that he didn’t discuss with me first? I’m sick of this; everyone having secretive little conferences behind my back. I’ll decide when, if, I take my fucking pills.”

“Listen mate, if you don’t want a long stay in the Scrubs then you’re going to have to work with me here.”

“I don’t have to bloody do anything.”

Doyle stood and stared back at him before nodding his head and turning away. “Fair enough. I’ll make us some lunch.”

He returned a short while later and positioned a tray with a bowl on Bodie’s lap.

“Soup? I’m not a fucking invalid, Doyle! I can have solid foods now, you know.” Bodie tried to stand up to dislodge the whole lot but it was snatched away before he’d even moved an inch.

“Put it down Doyle and just piss off!”

“Bodie?”

“Just go home. I can manage without you fussing over me like some fucking mother hen.”

When he returned an hour or so later, Doyle found coffee relentlessly dripping off the kitchen worktop, sugar crunching underfoot and tablets scattered over the kitchen table, a claw hammer lying amongst the remnants of the plastic bottle they’d been dispensed in.

He discovered the awkward bugger asleep, lying half in and half out of bed, a frown furrowing his forehead.

Doyle carefully removed Bodie’s trainers then lifted his legs into bed and folded the quilt back over him. He didn’t feel he could remove the sling as well so he just had to hope the stupid git didn’t strangle himself where he lay.

He returned to the kitchen to tidy the chaos before preparing something Bodie might actually eat.

He must have dropped off in the armchair himself because he awoke some time later, sensing he was being watched.

A dishevelled Bodie stood by the bedroom door, shirt half untucked revealing an enticing glimpse of bare flesh, one trouser leg caught at half mast, a sock missing and his hair standing up in short tufts.

“I thought I told you to go home?” he growled.

“And I did… but now I’m back. Just look at you,” Doyle said affectionately. “You’re a right mess. What would Sister say if she saw you now?”

“I’m going for a piss.”

“No, she wouldn’t. She’s too much of a la-dee.”

The bathroom door slammed shut.

Doyle went and put the kettle on and, by the time the tea was brewing in the pot, Bodie was back, wavering in the kitchen doorway.

“Come on mate, sit down. My back’s not strong enough to pick you up off the floor just yet.”

They sat at the table, drinking their tea in silence.

“I collected up all your tablets and put them over there.” Doyle eventually said, pointing to a red and white mug on the fridge proclaiming Liverpool FC were the Champions of Europe, 1977 and 1978. “I know you don’t like relying on painkillers but what did you hope to achieve by destroying them?”

“I couldn’t get the fucking top off with one hand. Bloody child-proof caps.”

Doyle turned away, hiding his grin before he dared speak again. “I made us a meal, so don’t go eating all those,” indicating the half-empty packet of Jammie Dodgers. “Do you fancy something hot now or do you want to wait ‘til later?”

“Why did you come back?” Not the answer Doyle was expecting, then.

“I only went home to get my toothbrush,” he announced, producing it triumphantly like some magician’s wand, from his shirt pocket.

“You were gone a long time. I thought you might have pissed off for good.”

“You silly arse. When will you get it through your thick skull? I’m yours and I come with a life-time guarantee. I went home to pack a suitcase. I also emptied my fridge and kitchen cupboards so I now have some clean clothes and we have something, other than tinned soup, to eat. OK?”

Bodie looked at him sheepishly. “Sorry about that,” he eventually conceded, having belatedly realised that his own food stocks must be at rock bottom now.

“When you’re up to it, you can supervise me while I pack up the rest of my stuff and bring it over here. In the meantime, are you are going to let me help you? I want to, you know? I want to make your favourite meals, wash your hair, help you dress properly, drive you places. I want to because I love you.”

His resolve was tested again later that evening when Bodie announced he was going to soak the hospital stench off in a hot bath before hitting the sack.

“G’night mate,” Doyle said as he rummaged around in the kitchen, looking for the six-pack he’d brought over. Who’d have thought it; 8 o’clock on a Saturday evening and there he was, sitting in Bodie’s flat, watching Dr No on the telly whilst Bodie slept in the other room? Mind you, it was no hardship watching the beautiful Miss Andress emerge from the azure-blue sea, wearing nothing more than a skimpy white bikini and strapped-on fishing knife - but it was just not what he had been hoping for. Then again, it was a heck of a lot more than he could have even dreamed of not so very long ago.

A loud crash interrupted his musings. Doyle found Bodie forlornly sitting on the closed loo seat cradling his arm close to his chest, with the contents of the bathroom shelf scattered across the floor.

“Do you need a hand, mate?”

“Sod off Doyle, I can manage.”

“Yeah, right! Come on, shift yourself or all that hot water’s going to waste.”

Ignoring the scowling face, he silently helped Bodie undress and step carefully into the bath. He almost heard the hiss of relief as he leant back and relaxed into the warmth.

Having eventually found the bottle of shampoo lodged behind the radiator, Doyle gently encouraged Bodie to slide further down and dunk his head so he could wash out the residual blood and dried up scabs on his scalp.

He swallowed hard when his eyes were drawn down to the cock that gently swayed beneath the lapping water. He’d seen it before but never with the knowledge that it could, one day, be shoved up his arse. It might have been a long time since he’d last been fucked but he’d not forgotten how it felt and he clenched his buttocks in anticipation.

Bodie cleaned what bits he could reach himself and then, surprisingly, passed him the soap, leaning forward in silent request. Doyle tried to wash his back as clinically as possible but couldn’t deny that it felt good to firmly run his hands over the glorious, wet expanse - so he allowed himself time to enjoy every single moment, for it might be all he’d get for a while.

When his hard-on became too painful, he knew he had to stop. “I’ll leave you to soak for a bit, eh? And don’t be an arse, Bodie; give me a shout when you’re done.”

He made his escape, collected a clean towel from the airing cupboard and leant on the wall outside the bathroom, waiting for the royal summons he knew wouldn’t come. He eventually heard the sounds of draining water. “Here, I brought you this. Knew you’d forget it - and I was right, wasn’t I?” he said, walking straight in and offering a hand for Bodie to pull himself up on.

Once he was safely out of the bath, Bodie refused any further help and Doyle was convinced he then climbed into bed still damp around the edges. Stubborn son of a bitch!

Round one complete. He could do this, he really could, he tried to convince himself as he set about clearing up another bomb-site.

He had been up for a few hours the following morning before Bodie finally found his way into the kitchen, wrapped in his short terry dressing gown and not much else by the looks of it. Doyle didn’t make any sarcastic comments about the late hour because he knew the poor sod hadn’t slept well. Bodie’s first night back in his own bed and their first night sharing it - two momentous events that might never have happened, if things had turned out differently. Doyle had considered this, as he too had lain awake for most of the night.

“Tea’s fresh in the pot,” he announced as he stuck some bread in the toaster. By the time he’d cooked and plated up a full English, Bodie had already eaten a couple of Weetabix and, Doyle noted, poured cups of tea for both of them.

“That hit the spot, Ray, thanks. Hospital food’s crap. I don’t know how they expect you to regain strength when they serve you porridge you can cut with a knife and tasteless slops that bear little resemblance to what’s written on the menu. I’d have starved to death if you hadn’t smuggled in those emergency food parcels.”

“You’re welcome, Bodie although I would have liked to see you eat more of it. I don’t know where your appetite went but I’m glad to see it back,” he said, indicating the empty plates.

“It’s your cooking, mate. Can’t beat it. What’s for dinner?”

Doyle smiled across the table. He felt like he’d finally come home.

He got up to clear the plates but couldn’t stop himself wiping off a spot of runny yolk, caught in Bodie’s stubble, with the corner of the dish cloth before he used it to wipe down the table. Their eyes met and he wondered why he hadn’t just pointed it out rather than risk a broken wrist.

But Bodie just winked. “Thanks, mate. I hate being being caught with egg on my face,” the irony of the euphemism obviously not lost on him either.

After that, Bodie totally surprised him by accepting help with some of the everyday tasks that he just couldn’t manage with his one good arm; fastening buttons, tying laces, doing up belts, knotting ties and cutting up food. Doyle quietly got on with it all. He longed to touch Bodie intimately, caress him, snuggle up in bed with him - kiss him - but he’d have to wait until Bodie felt their relationship was more evenly balanced. In the meantime, he just enjoyed the close proximity these little chores brought them.

*****

“You’ve always been a crap passenger, Bodie. Other people are quite capable of driving safely, you know. So just shut the fuck up or you can get out and walk!”

“Well, I only asked because I tend to use all four of the cars tyres when I’m pottering round town.”

“I’m telling you Bodie, don’t push me.” Doyle turned and glared at him. “Who do you think Ross will blame if you arrive late for your appointment? Clue… it won’t be you, that’s for sure. Now, just zip it and hold on tight.”

“Charming,” Bodie replied, smiling to himself. He found it highly amusing that Doyle seemed more anxious about this, his first session with the psychologist, than he was himself. He’d been through tougher interrogations than she could ever dream up so he wasn’t in the least bit concerned.

Doyle drove straight into the carpark at HQ. “I’ll wait over in The Bell. Meet me in there when you’re done, yeah?”

Bodie pulled himself gingerly out of the car and leant on the roof to look across at him. “OK. I won’t be too long so don’t be talking to any strange men, 4.5.”

“Good luck, mate,” Ray shouted to the retreating figure who responded with a two fingered salute over the shoulder.

An hour and a half later, Bodie pushed through the pub doors and immediately located Doyle sitting by the window with a couple of fresh pints on the table in front of him.

“Betty came across and told me you were about finished,” Doyle explained, in response to Bodie’s raised eyebrow. “How did it go then? Was beginning to think she’d had you sectioned, the time you’ve been gone.”

Bodie lifted his glass, studied it for a moment, before downing half the contents.

“God, I needed that. Thanks.”

“Well, what did the lovely doc do to you? She manage to find any brain cells? Has she declared you insane? Is she gonna let you back on the squad?” Doyle eventually got to the important question.

“She made a monkey out of me, that’s what she did, and I didn’t think I was monkey material,” Bodie admitted, with a deep, self-depreciating, “Oo, oo, oo!”

Doyle laughed with relief. “Come on, Cheetah. Drink up and I’ll drive you home a bit more sedately. We can talk better there.”

*****

“Welcome back, 3.7. I’m glad you’ve elected to remain with us.” Mr Cowley stood up, walked around his desk and offered Bodie his hand. “I’m presuming Doyle helped you reach your decision.”

“Er, yes sir.”

“So, you’ve settled things amicably between yourselves and you want to remain partners?” he persisted.

“You could say that.”

“Then I can expect your work to be up to its previous standard and not as it has been latterly.”

“We’ll do our best, sir.”

“Dr Ross tells me you’ve been attending her weekly sessions regularly and she’s happy with your progress. Have you found them helpful in any way?”

“I suppose so,” Bodie reluctantly admitted.

“Excellent. And Miss Clarke, how is she these days?”

“Er, she’s accepted a new job up in Edinburgh. Left four weeks ago.”

“Sensible young lady.” Cowley smiled benevolently.

Bodie wasn’t sure if he was referring to her narrow escape or her choice of new home, north of the border.

“Right, your retraining starts today. You’ve got two weeks with Macklin before Doyle joins you for the following fortnight’s team re-evaluation with Jack Crane. On yer bike, laddie.”

*****

Kicking the door closed behind them, Bodie hardly allowed Doyle time to drop his bag before he was on him, turning him, shoving him back against the wall and scrabbling at his clothing. The jacket was discarded first but any self-control that he might have had was soon lost as he ripped at the shirt buttons, tearing it open, desperately needing to run his palms roughly through the chest hair that had taunted him for so long.

He leaned forward and latched onto Ray’s mouth as if his life depended on it. The kiss was savage, brutal, mind-blowing.

“Geez…” Ray gasped when Bodie eventually pulled away to catch his breath, saliva still linking them with its glistening threads. But he didn’t go far, just dropped to his knees, unzipping Ray’s jeans as he went, so he could delve in to get his first touch of warm, rigid flesh.

“Bed, Bodie… bed…” Doyle pleaded but his hips pushed forward invitingly and Bodie used the opportunity to carefully shove trousers and pants down and take that long cock into his mouth.

Its bulk, its strength, its silken sheath was everything he had dreamed it would be and he gloried in the knowledge that it was his; nothing, no-one stood in their way now.

Doyle bucked again involuntarily, shoving in deeper, causing Bodie to gag.

“Fuckin’ hell, I’m so sorry….” Ray’s hands were clasping Bodie’s head, urging him away.

But he wasn’t to be discouraged; their eyes met, Bodie moistened his lips and sucked the head back in, slowly, enticingly.

He grasped Ray’s buttocks with both hands, his fingers massaging the muscles convulsively. He relished the complete control he had as he set the speed and rhythm of the movements, learning more about his friend – the feel, the taste, the smell - than he ever thought was possible.

Looking up again, he was mesmerised by the sight of Ray plastered to the wall, eyes tightly shut, shirt hanging open, head rolling from side to side. Totally wanton.

Bodie came in his pants, kneeling there in the hallway, fully clothed and untouched, his groans reverberating around the prick still held firmly in his mouth pushing Doyle over his own precipice.

 

“I found it hard keeping my hands to myself the whole time we were training.” Doyle admitted as they lay slumped together in the hallway.

“Hmmm?”

“You do realise that, don’t you Bodie?”

“Yeah…” was the mumbled response.

“It drove me mad,” Doyle exclaimed indignantly, poking Bodie in the ribs.

“God Doyle. Give over, will you?” He still hadn’t managed to open his eyes, wanting to continue enjoying his post-coital bliss for as long as possible.

But Doyle had other ideas. He started shuffling about, annoyingly catching him with elbows and knees.

“What are you doing, Ray?” he finally asked, rousing himself from his stupor. Ray was straightening his clothes irritably and Bodie realised something was wrong.

“I felt just the same,” he confirmed, reaching for the hand that was shoving shirt back into jeans, and pulling him close again. “It was hard not to stare at you all the time like some love-struck adolescent; scrambling up the cargo net ahead of me, sprinting round the course in that threadbare tracksuit of yours that hides nothing and, I’ll have you know, I nearly had a stroke when you stripped down to your skivvies to swim that bloody river. I needed you too, mate but I had to put all my energy into passing the bastard assessment. I couldn’t let you distract me… couldn’t jeopardise our partnership.” Bodie sighed at the unbearable thought of failure.

Doyle propped himself up on Bodie’s chest so he could see his face and look in to his eyes.

“Yeah, I know what you mean but we’ve both passed and we’re back on the squad, stronger and fitter that ever. We’ve got the whole weekend off so let’s not waste it, eh?” He seemed more than reassured by Bodie’s admission.

The kiss that followed was their sweetest yet.

*****

Two weeks later, Doyle was lying on his side, head supported on a bent arm, staring at the pink scars that were scattered over Bodie’s bare torso. He leant over and gently laved the one closest to his heart.

They were both knackered after an op that had proved very successful although three of their lot required hospital treatment, albeit for minor injuries. By all accounts, the casualty numbers should have been greater had it not been for some brilliant CI5 teamwork, particularly by the recently reinstated Bisto Kids. It had been like old times; working in complete harmony and requiring very little verbal communication to round up the villains and secure the arms cache.

Only one incident cost Doyle a few extra grey hairs. Bodie had been stationed behind some packing cases, perhaps ten, twelve feet away and they had both been concentrating their fire on the enemy, pinning them down at the far end of the building, whilst McCabe and Anson had made their cautious way around to attack from the rear. Doyle had been distracted briefly by some shots coming from an open doorway off to his right but once he’d felled the escaping gunman, he was back to support Bodie. But Bodie’s gun had gone ominously quiet and, when he looked over, Doyle couldn’t see him either.

Shit!

A moment, a whole lifetime later, his partner’s head had popped back up, jiggling his gun around, with a delighted grin plastered over his face. Despite knowing it must have been a stoppage, Doyle couldn’t help it… he grinned right back at the stupid pillock. God, is this what love does, he’d thought; turns you into a raving lunatic at the most inappropriate times?

The body started to squirm beneath him, vying for a little more attention. “Don’t stop, Ray. I like that cheeky tongue of yours.”

“Ah, so you’re awake then? Thought you were going to sleep the clock round.”

“What, and miss a night of passion with that sexy body of yours? No way, Jose. I was just getting my second wind… or was it third, I’ve lost count?”

And with that, Doyle found himself unceremoniously rolled over and a warm Bodie plastered down his front, their cocks jousting enthusiastically in the tight space between their sticky bellies.

“Do you think we should tell the Cow about all this?” Bodie later asked, with a sweeping gesture of his arm encompassing the wrecked bed.

“What? Tell him about the fantastic sex we’re just had?”

Bodie looked at him in exasperation. “No, you fool. The fact that we are having sex. The fact that we’re two blokes having fantastic sex.”

“God, no. He’d throw a fit if he had to deal with that little bombshell. ‘S not worth the risk, mate.”

Bodie swung his legs out and sat on the edge of the mattress, head bowed, elbows resting on his knees. “You don’t think he’d accept us then? Let us stay on the squad if he knew?”

Doyle scooted up to kneel behind him and wrapped his arms around the strong neck, their skin still warm and damp, sticking together comfortably. “I love you Bodie, I always will, but I’m selfish and want it all; I want you and I want to keep my job. If we tell Cowley it’s likely he’ll split us up or even boot us out altogether if he’s pushed and I don’t want either of those things to happen. What’s to be gained by telling him, eh?”

“He’s been good to me Ray and I respect him. Sometimes I think he suspects we’re closer than we’re letting on. I just hate being dishonest with him.”

“Listen Bodie. He’s an old puritanical bastard who wouldn’t risk his beloved CI5 for the likes of us. Let’s keep it between the two of us for now and then, when we retire, we can tell the whole world.”

“And what if we don’t make it to retirement, eh? What if one of us takes a bullet or a knife that we don’t survive? I’ve never believed I’ll make old bones. Never thought I’d get to 40, to be honest. So, we’ll always have this dirty little secret, then? The truth will never come out? I can’t stand the thought of that, Ray.”

“Bodie, Bodie, Bodie. What am I to do with you? So hard on the outside,” he said, squeezing a rock-solid bicep, “but just a big old softie inside.”

“Don’t mock me, Doyle.” Bodie abruptly stood up, dislodging Doyle’s arms. “I’m telling you, just don’t mock me.” Standing in the middle of the floor, glaring down at his lover, he still looked ferocious despite being stark bollock naked.

“Bodie, love. Come here. Come and sit down, will you? I can’t talk when you’re threatening me with that monster.” He bravely tried a bit of humour, nodding towards Bodie’s groin.

It worked because Bodie eventually relented and returned to the bed but his body was still fairly buzzing with tension.

“His opinion means a lot to you, doesn’t it?” Doyle acknowledged, rubbing his palm across Bodie’s thigh. “OK, we’ll tell him, if that’s what you really want, and face the consequences together. If he tries to break the partnership up then we’ll quit. If he throws us out then we’ll just walk away. But whatever happens, we stick together. OK?”

“I don’t want to leave the squad either, Ray but I do think the old man deserves to hear the truth from us.”

“We’re seeing him tomorrow so we’ll tell him then. In the meantime, let’s make use of this rather large bed because we may be unemployed and homeless in a few short hours.

 

The following morning, they stood nervously together outside their boss’ open office door. His secretary’s desk was unoccupied, the trays were empty, the drawers securely locked and the Olivetti Typewriter tucked neatly away beneath its grey plastic cover. Things must be quiet on the espionage front if Betty had been granted precious time off on a Bank Holiday.

The Controller looked up from the report he was reading and smiled. “Guid mornin, you two. Come on in. And don’t just stand there Doyle, pour us all a wee dram. We’ll celebrate Hogmanay with a drop of Scotland’s finest.” He indicated a half-empty bottle of Glenfiddich on the filing cabinet.

Doyle found three crystal tumblers and poured hefty measures into each. They’d all be needing it.

Cowley stood up and raised his glass. “Lang may your lums reek, lads.”

“May our flues be forever smokin’, sir?”

“Really Bodie! Inuendo at this time of the morning? Sometimes I find your ribaldry quite…”

“Good health sir,” Doyle interrupted before turning to scowl at his partner.

“Aye, 4.5 and let’s hope it’s an improvement on the last one. For all of us, I might add.”

“Sláinte.” Bodie tilted his glass towards his boss before taking a sip. “Mr Cowley, sir. We do need to speak to you.”

“Yes, yes 3.7. All in good time but first I want to fill you in on your next assignment.” He sat back down at his desk and pulled a file from the top drawer. “I have a particular job that will suit your specific… how shall I put it? Skills?” He spread out the contents, selected a black and white head shot and studied it quietly for a few moments.

Doyle turned and shot a questioning frown at Bodie who simply raised an eyebrow and shrugged in response.

“Sir?”

Apparently coming to a satisfactory decision, Cowley carefully replaced the photograph in the pile and slipped everything back into the folder before turning his attention towards his two top operatives. “I was recently approached by a gentleman called Thomas Pellin and he is asking for my help. I think you’ll both appreciate the delicacy of this particular undercover role.”

Bodie looked closely at his boss and, for some inexplicable reason, had the distinct impression that the wily old bastard already knew what they’d come to tell him.

Was it really possible, he dared to wonder, that they could have everything they wanted; each other and keep their job?

Yeah, it might only be January 1st but this New Year was already showing great promise.

The End

2019