The sun had long since set, the last of its light bleeding into the bruised darkness of the night sky. A moonless canopy arched above the carriageway as a lone car drove south, leaving behind the Lakes District's cream teas and B & Bs and heading toward London's grimy streets.
Sitting behind the wheel of the Capri, Ray Doyle was more than happy to be leaving the tourist-friendly quaintness of Windermere. The place set his teeth on edge at the best of times, but now it would forever be linked in his mind with yet another plot hatched by yet another group of nutters out to make a name for themselves. His own personal map of England was a patchwork of such places. Here a failed obbo, there a nearly successful ambush. He sometimes wondered how long after he left CI5 it would be before he stopped inspecting public places for sniping locations, before he stopped judging the threat offered by every passer-by to himself and his partner.
Doyle clutched the steering wheel tighter and turned to study the man curled up in the seat beside him. Bodie was breathing softly, his eyes tightly shut, his face turned slightly toward Doyle. Even in sleep, Bodie's face was etched with lines of pain and fatigue.
Doyle looked closer at Bodie in the dim light of the instrument panel. He was favouring his left side, and though the poloneck hid it well, Doyle knew where to look for the slight bulge of a bandage beneath. He tried not to think of the shirt the poloneck had replaced, now slashed to ribbons and painted with blood, but his breath still caught in the back of his throat as he realized how close he'd come to losing the great lummox.
Blind luck, that was all it'd been. If a rib hadn't turned the thrust of its blade, Bodie'd have had that knife straight through his heart, and Ray Doyle would be returning to London with an empty passenger seat in his car and a Bodie-sized hole in his life.
Doyle wondered yet again if it was all worth it, even as he told himself it must be. They put themselves in harm's way so that others more innocent of the dark side of life wouldn't suffer. Better a willing soldier in this fight pay the price than a civilian. And there were none more willing than Bodie.
A wound in his side, and Bodie'd still managed to take down that man who'd knifed him. Bodie'd looked so pleased as he'd stood over the man that Doyle hadn't noticed the blood on his side. Not until Bodie's face had gone grey and his steps had become unsteady. Then he'd locked their friendly bomb-makers in the back of the Capri and called both the local plods and an ambulance.
Bodie'd played down the injury, of course. Said it was only a scratch, that Doyle was being a mother hen and overreacting. All of which would have been infinitely more convincing if he hadn't collapsed when the ambulance and the police arrived en masse.
That had given Doyle a turn. Bodie's face had lost all of its colour and he'd crumpled in a heap at Doyle's feet. Doyle, convinced that the wound was worse than he'd feared, had sworn at the ambulance attendants for not getting there fast enough. Reluctantly, he'd left Bodie in their care and turned over their prisoners to the police, wishing all the while that he'd had the opportunity to give the bloke who'd stabbed Bodie a proper thumping.
Cowley wouldn't be pleased that he'd be arriving back without prisoners—he'd wanted to interrogate that lot himself—but Doyle was damned if he was going to leave Bodie by himself when they weren't on their own patch. The Cow could send some other poor sods to pick up the bastards if he liked. Doyle didn't give a toss what happened to them.
With the villains someone else's problem, Doyle had returned to Bodie's side, hovering as the attendants applied a dressing to the wound. Reluctantly, he followed the ambulance back to the hospital in the Capri, wishing there was someone else who could worry about the car so he could be free to worry only about Bodie.
He arrived at the casualty ward to find Bodie revived enough to be causing problems. No, he didn't want stitches; no, he wouldn't be admitted; no, he wouldn't take the bloody pills. Doyle calmed everyone down, talked Bodie into having the stitches and taking the antibiotics but not the pain pills. He also talked the doctor into releasing Bodie into his care, but only after promising that he'd watch the berk closely and return him to hospital if the stitches ripped out or Bodie showed signs of fever or internal bleeding.
Which was how he'd ended up on the road, driving back to London with his partner asleep beside him.
He looked over at Bodie again, just as one drowsy blue eye opened.
"Where are we?" Bodie asked, the words slurred with sleep.
"Maybe an hour outside London. We'll have you back in your own bed in no time."
"Good," Bodie said, favouring him with a half-hearted smile before his breathing drifted once again into the easy rhythm of sleep.
Doyle found himself looking at his partner, an unfamiliar feeling welling up inside him, tightening his chest and making him light-headed. He was struck by a ridiculous desire to run his hand across Bodie's hair, to feel the short, silky strands, so different from his own unruly curls, beneath his fingers. He stamped out the impulse almost as soon as it arose. Bodie needed sleep; he didn't need his soft-headed partner waking him up on a foolish whim.
He cursed himself under his breath and wondered when it had happened. When had his liking for Bodie turned into something besides good natured affection? When had he fallen in love?
He nearly laughed at himself, but the laughter would have been hollow. Bitter.
Love. Stupid thing, really. He'd thought he loved Ann Holly, but his feelings for her had been a pale reflection of what he felt for the daft bastard sleeping beside him. He'd kill for Bodie. He wanted to live for him. He'd willingly die for him.
Somehow, he'd kept this emotion hidden from himself until now. There'd been hints before now—a frisson of fear when Bodie was pinned down under fire, a satisfied glow when he threw a friendly arm over Doyle's shoulder—but he'd been blissfully unaware of how deeply this ran through him, how firmly entrenched it was in his sinews, in his bones, in his blood.
Until this week.
They'd travelled to the Lakes District on Cowley's order, sent to a land more usually haunted by foreign tourists and day trippers to hunt for a rumoured cell of bombers. But along the way, Doyle had found something infinitely more valuable, more disturbing, more unsettling: love for a man who'd been at his side for so many years that he'd long since taken him for granted.
Bodie was always there. Whenever he needed him, Bodie was at his side, offering support, saving his life. It was Bodie who'd picked up the pieces after Ann had left him, Bodie who'd saved him when he'd had a stoppage, Bodie who'd found him lying shot and bleeding in his flat and Bodie who'd been there, hovering over him like his own personal guardian angel when he'd finally awoken in the hospital.
Not that it didn't work both ways. He'd saved Bodie, too, when they'd been minding Ojuka, when those bloody terrorists had strapped a bomb around his neck and the stupid berk had run from him, trying to make a noble gesture and nearly getting himself blown up in the process. And he'd been there those times when he hadn't been able to save Bodie from a blow, from a blade, from a bullet. When he'd had to keep his own vigil in a hospital room, when he'd had to cajole the nursing sisters to letting him stay long past visiting hours so that his face would be the first Bodie saw when his eyes opened.
Christ, he should have seen it years ago. But now that he had seen it, what should he do?
Strangely, he wasn't at all worried about being thought a queer, a ponce, and he somehow knew Bodie wouldn't be either. He knew Bodie'd had some experience with other men. He'd made enough veiled comments about the merchant navy and Africa that Doyle knew some of it had to be true. And he'd made his own, usually drunken, confessions about his fumbling encounters as a student. They were neither of them virgins, neither of them innocent.
No worries about wounded masculinity then, for either of them. But what did worry him was that in trying for something more, he could end up with so much less. A life without Bodie was desolation itself, not to be thought on.
He spent the remaining drive into the city worrying the question in his mind: speak his mind, his heart, or stay silent? And no answer was forthcoming.
It was just before eleven when he pulled in front of Bodie's block of flats. The regulars were just beginning to trickle out of Bodie's local in an unsteady stream. Beside him, Bodie was still sleeping deeply, his jaw gone slack with fatigue, his brow wrinkled in a slight frown. Doyle wanted nothing more than to smooth the care from his face, to soothe away his pain. Instead, he lightly nudged Bodie's shoulder.
"Oi, we're here."
Bodie came awake with a start, grimacing slightly as he pulled the wound in his side. "What?" he said, still dazed with sleep.
"Your castle awaits, Sleeping Beauty," Doyle said, nodding towards Bodie's building.
"Who're you then?" Bodie asked, giving him a dubious look. "Prince Charming?"
"Sorry mate. 'M just a toad waiting for a kiss from his prince."
"It was a frog in the story. And a princess."
"Was it? Must have gotten it wrong, then."
"Wouldn't be the first time," Bodie said with a frown. "Christ, I'm stiff. Help us up, would you?"
Doyle pulled Bodie out of the car, taking as much care as he could not to jar him, then supported him as they made the long climb up to his second floor flat. Bodie insisted all the way that he didn't need any help, but Doyle ignored him. The white-knuckled grip on his arm showed Bodie's complaints for the lies they were.
He used his own key on the door—with no discussion needed, they'd exchanged keys after he'd been shot—and prodded Bodie toward the bedroom.
"How about a night cap?" Bodie asked, making a weak attempt to swing into the lounge. Doyle grabbed him by the back of the jacket.
"The only night cap you're getting is a cuppa. And then only if you're very good."
"Yes, mum," Bodie said, more meekly than Doyle would have expected, a clear indication, as if he'd need it, that Bodie was hurting.
Once in the bedroom, Doyle turned down the covers, noting the impeccable hospital corners folded with military precision, and eased Bodie's jacket off his shoulders. Then he went to put on the kettle for the promised tea while Bodie got his kit off and got into bed. When he returned to the bedroom, a mug of well-sugared, steaming tea in his hand, Bodie was tucked into bed, covers pulled up to his nose.
"Shift yourself, sunshine," Doyle said, before sitting on the bed and handing over the tea.
"Ta." Bodie sat up and took the mug gratefully, blowing on the hot liquid before taking a noisy sip. His face was more open than he usually allowed, and with his mussed hair and the covers piled around him, Bodie looked like nothing so much as a schoolboy stuck at home with a bout of the flu.
Needing a distraction from such foolish thoughts, Doyle put a hand to Bodie's forehead. "No fever, then?"
"No fever. And the dressing's fine too. I checked."
Not entirely willing to trust Bodie where his well-being was concerned, Doyle pulled back the covers to reveal Bodie's bare chest and the wound dressing. As promised, the dressing was clean and dry, no blood seeping through it.
"Don't trust me?" Bodie looked at him with hurt in his eyes that was at least half feigned.
"To look after yourself? Not bloody likely, mate. You'd stick a plaster on a gunshot wound and call it sorted."
"I'm not that bad, surely."
"Not quite that bad," Doyle admitted. "But bad enough."
"You should look in a mirror some time. You could give a university lecture series on the lack of sense shown by CI5 operatives when recovering from major injury."
Recognizing an argument he could only lose, Doyle ceded the battlefield, though not quite gracefully.
"Never mind my bad habits. It's you I'm concerned about." Doyle brought the covers back up to Bodie's chin. And that should have been all. Instead, a madness born of too long in the car with only his sleeping partner and his own thoughts for company chose that moment to infect him. His hand drifted from the duvet to Bodie's face, resting lightly on one stubbled cheek. Seemingly of its own volition, his thumb brushed the edge of Bodie's lower lip.
He only realized what he'd done, what he must have revealed, when Bodie's eyes widened in what could only have been shock. An uncomfortable silence stretched out between them, making Doyle damn himself and his impulses.
Carefully, Doyle pulled his hand back from Bodie's face.
"I should go," he said quickly, forgetting for an instant his promise to the doctors, forgetting that Bodie still might have need of him, of his strength. He rose quickly from the bed, only to be stopped as Bodie's hand on his wrist pulled him back down to the bed.
"Stay," Bodie said.
"Because I need you." Bodie sat up straighter in the bed and put his mug of tea down. "Because I want you." He leaned forward. "Because of this."
As Bodie's lips touched his mouth for the first time, Doyle held his breath and tensed his muscles so tightly that he could feel them trembling. Bodie didn't press the contact, but maintained it, his lips warm and soft against Doyle's own. And gradually, Doyle felt the tightness within him relax and unfurl, a brilliant white sail spread before a clean summer breeze. He opened his own lips and welcomed Bodie's tongue with his own.
He could taste the tea in Bodie's mouth, and the sugar, and something else that was uniquely Bodie. He deepened the kiss and felt Bodie follow where he led.
Doyle could feel his heart beating fast in his chest, could feel the blood moving through his veins, pulsing in his lips, his throat; he could feel his cock throbbing with want. A moan emerged from the back of his throat and Bodie answered it with a sound of similar need.
Acting on instinct, Doyle put one hand to Bodie's face, drinking in the feel of him through his fingertips, the softness of his skin, the roughness of the stubble on his cheek. He deepened the kiss, thinking that he'd never felt like this before, not with woman nor man.
Wanting to feel more, to join more than lips with Bodie, he pulled his partner toward him. Only to have the spell broken as Bodie yelped in pain.
"Watch it, mate," Bodie said, his hand going to his side.
"Sorry won't cover it if we've got to go to a casualty ward and explain exactly how you ripped out my stitches.
Doyle checked the dressing.
"It looks fine, you great baby."
"I'm not a baby," Bodie said petulantly, relaxing further into his pillow. "And anyway, at least I'm not thick."
"You calling me thick?"
"It's taken you long enough to catch on, hasn't it. And then you didn't let the penny drop until I couldn't do anything about it."
"I suppose you're so much smarter than I am."
"I'm the very model of wit and intelligence."
"Go on, then," Doyle dared him. "Prove it. How long have you known?"
"Oh, I don't know." Bodie's eyes got evasive.
"How long?" Doyle pressed.
"Since I first saw your scrawny arse in the Cow's office, I suppose." He made light of it, but Doyle could see how deeply that admission ran. "What about you? Why tonight, of all nights?"
"Because," Doyle started slowly "as many times as I've seen you hurt, this was the first time I realized how easy it would be to lose you." He stopped and swallowed before continuing. "And I realized how empty that would leave my life."
"Daft bastard," Bodie said, but there was a deep affection showing in his face. "C'mon, then," Bodie said, nudging him in the ribs. "Get your clobber off and into bed. If we can't do anything else, at least you can give us a cuddle."
"CI5's great Don Juan settling for a cuddle. If you don't watch it, the lads'll be saying you've gone soft."
"Only if you tell them."
"I'm hardly likely to do that, am I?" Doyle said as he stripped off his clothes and crawled under the covers. He laid one careful hand on Bodie's chest, taking pleasure in the feeling of Bodie's chest rising and falling beneath his touch. "We've got our reputations to uphold."
"I reckon our reputations were ruined years ago. Murphy's been looking at the two of us strange for yonks. And Cowley probably knew even before I did."
"That doesn't bear thinking on, does it?" Doyle said, giving a slight shiver.
"Then think on this instead: I love you, Raymond Doyle. Though I can't imagine why. Stroppy bastard like you."
"Love you too, you stupid sod."
"Well matched, then, aren't we?" Bodie said with a tired smile.
"That, we are," Doyle replied. Turning on his side, he kissed Bodie once more then lightly laid a hand on his chest as Bodie succumbed to his healing body's demand for sleep. Then he plumped the pillows and settled in to watch over his partner until dawn.
It wasn't the first time he had kept vigil over Bodie, nor, given their jobs, would it be the last. But he would always remember this night, the night that he finally reached the destination he hadn't even realized he'd been searching for, the destination that had taken him on such a long journey, not just of miles, but of years.
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