Stop and Start

by P. R. Zed


Bodie hated the hours before an op, the hours when there was nothing to do but clean his weapon, check his spare magazines, practice his draw and wait. In those hours, his palms would break out in a sweat at the thought of what lay ahead and adrenaline would pump into his system by the gallon, making his nerves jagged and his heart race.

The hours before in an op were bad. But the actual op? Once it all started and he was surrounded by enemies with nothing but his skill and his gun and his partner to keep him alive? Once the bullets were screaming past his head and the adrenaline was exactly what he needed to speed up his responses? Those were the moments Bodie was made for.

In the middle of a firefight his concentration was absolute and his blood sang with a wild joy. Times like those he'd catch Doyle's eye and they'd both grin and he'd know exactly what the silly sod was thinking. Times like those, they were unstoppable.

But they weren't infallible. Sometimes they made mistakes; sometime the villains were nearly as good as they were. And sometimes they just had a run of bad luck.

This day, Bodie wondered if his luck had run out entirely.

It was supposed to be an easy op. Lucas and McCabe had a pair of derelict houses under surveillance and were ready to pull in the occupants, members of a would-be terrorist cell, before they progressed from talk to action. Word was they were cream puffs.

Word was wrong.

Bodie and Doyle took the second house, where two members of the cell were meant to be hiding. They kicked the door in and then Doyle searched the main floor while Bodie took the first. The first and second rooms were empty of everything but a few abandoned pieces of furniture. In the third room he found the expected terrorists, a couple of scrawny kids scrambling to get hold of the FN rifle and Browning pistol on the table in front of them.

"CI5. Drop it," Bodie yelled, aiming firmly at the kid with the rifle, both hands on his gun, his feet in an easy firing stance.

The kids ignored the order, moving faster, as if they thought they could get sorted and shoot before the man aiming at them from the door could pull the trigger. Poor deluded bastards. Bodie almost felt sorry for them. Almost.

"I said drop it," Bodie said, giving them one more chance. When the kid with the rifle swung it in his direction, Bodie pulled the trigger on his own gun. Nothing happened.

Stoppage.

Swearing, Bodie moved swiftly toward the two kids, wondering if he could reach them before they found the nerve to shoot. The kids charged him in turn. The one with the rifle panicked and fired a round into the wall behind Bodie. Bodie sucked in a deep breath as the bullet passed by inches from his head, and reached out for the rifle barrel, reckoning that if he could get hold of the weapon both these little shits'd crumble.

But somehow he'd lost track of the second kid. Then the gun butt struck him behind the ear and he went down, his vision going grey. He held on to the edges of consciousness, refusing to succumb to the blackness that threatened to close around him, shock dulling the pain he knew he'd feel soon enough. He couldn't even move as one of the kids kicked away his gun and proceeded to apply the same boot to his ribs. He was only thankful the kicking stopped before he felt anything break. Then he was bound and gagged and left like so much baggage in the corner while his captors took positions on either side of the door.

He wanted to yell, needed to warn Doyle to be careful, that he was being set up, but the kids had known what they were doing with the gag and he could only lie on his side and watch as events played out before him.

Soon enough he heard the clatter of Doyle's boots on the stairs. He held his breath, waiting for the next step, hoping that Doyle wouldn't be stupid enough to step in front of the guns that were waiting for him. He knew better. Doyle was a professional, same as he was.

There was the sound of more feet on the stairs - Murphy? - and more silence. And then, just as Bodie was hoping, fearing they were going to wait for these two mad bastards to surrender, he saw something small and black thrown into the room.

Flash-bang. The sound was like being caught in the heart of an explosion, the thunderous roar deafening him, the events of the next seconds played out in a surreal, muffled almost-silence.

Doyle and Murphy entered the room, coming in low and breaking left and right. Their targets were still reeling from the concussion grenade. Doyle dropped his target with two well-placed shots to the chest. Double-tap. Murphy's target got off one shot, the bullet going wild and slamming into the ceiling before Murph took him down with a shot to the head.

The Cow won't be well pleased, Bodie thought as Doyle and Murph threw the kids' guns into the hall and checked the room for any remaining hostiles. No one left to interrogate. As Doyle approached him, he nearly giggled, recognizing as he bit back on the impulse that it was only shock-induced hysteria.

Doyle used the knife he always seemed to have with him to slice through the ropes that bound Bodie, removed the gag, then helped Bodie sit up.

"You hit?" Doyle asked. Bodie felt the words through Doyle's hands on his shoulders more than he heard them.

"No," Bodie said. "One of them clobbered me with his pistol butt. And I took a bit of a kicking, but that's all."

"That's all?" Doyle repeated, as if he couldn't believe the words. "YouÉ" And then Doyle's words dried up. As Bodie watched Doyle's lips thinned and his face twisted into an expression Bodie couldn't decipher. Anger? Disappointment? Pain? Frustration?

"Ray?"

"You stupid, fucking bastard, Bodie," Doyle grabbed his arm roughly. "What'd you want to go and get caught for?"

"I didn't plan on it, Doyle. Had a stoppage, didn't I?"

"A stoppage. Fuckin' hell, Bodie. Did you check your clips?"

"Course I did."

"You didn't keep the bullets loaded in the magazine, did you? Plays hell with the springs."

"'I'm the one that taught you that."

"They could have killed you."

"They didn't."

"Thought they had done, didn't I? Heard the shouting and the shot and then nothing." Doyle's voice caught on the last words, and that made Bodie look at Doyle. Really look at him. Made him notice the too-bright eyes and the pulse fluttering too quickly in his throat. Made him aware the hand on his arm was holding him so tightly, Doyle's knuckles had gone white.

"I'm not dead, Ray." He put his hand over Doyle's and held it firmly. "Not even a little bit."

"Christ," was all Doyle could say. Then he pulled his hand away from Bodie, stood and walked out the door and down the stairs, leaving Bodie and Murph staring after him.

"Bloody hell," Murph said. "What was that about?"

Bodie frowned, struggling to think around the pounding of the ocean in his head. He thought he knew all of Doyle's moods, from guilt to sarkiness to mischievous humour, but this mood he didn't recognize at all. All he knew was he had to get to Doyle before Doyle went to ground.

"Give us a hand up, Murph."

"You okay to stand?" Murph looked at him dubiously. "I've seen ghosts with more colour in them."

"Don't you bloody start," Bodie said. "I've had worse beatings from Brian and Towser. And I want to get away from my mates here, don't I." Bodie nodded at the bodies on either side of the door, the blood pooling around them.

"Fair enough," Murph said, then hauled him to his feet.

Bodie tried to hide the dizziness that caught him at first, but couldn't have done a very good job. Murph said nothing, just put an arm around him and led him out of the building.

Outside, there were more agents and George Cowley himself, shouting orders. His head finally clearing, Bodie shook off Murphy's grasp and wandered into the chaos, seeking out his partner. He finally saw him, pacing beside the gold Capri that was his current favourite car in the pool, pulling a hand through his mop of curls.

He moved to join him, but was brought up short by George Cowley's voice.

"3.7!"

"Sir?" Bodie turned to face the Old Man.

"Murphy tells me you took a beating."

Bodie deluded himself there might be a thin layer of worry buried beneath Cowley's usual brittle exterior. "Nothing serious, sir. I'm fine."

"You don't look fine. I want you checked out."

"I don't..." Bodie started to protest.

"That was not a polite request, Bodie. It was an order." Cowley looked over to where Doyle was still wearing a hole in the macadam. "4.5."

Doyle jerked in surprise.

"Take your partner to the hospital. Murph tells me he was knocked on the head."

"Wasn't that bad," Bodie muttered. "Didn't even black out."

"When you've received a degree in medicine, I'll ask you for your opinion, 3.7. Until then, I'll trust to the doctors to let me know if my agents are in need of medical assistance."

"Yes, sir."

"I'll expect to see you both in my office, tomorrow at eight ready for a full debrief. Be ready to explain those bodies." Cowley nodded at the house they'd emerged from. "And Bodie, I want an official note from a doctor on your condition. I don't want you avoiding the hospital and then dying of a brain haemorrhage at home."

"No, sir," Bodie said, wondering if the Cow were actually concerned for him.

"You'd be expensive to replace." Ah, that was more like the George Cowley he knew, bothered only about the smooth running of CI5. "On your bike, lad."

Without another word, Bodie made his way over to where Doyle waited for him. Doyle was leaning against the side of the Capri, armed crossed, his expression completely shut down. It was on the tip of Bodie's tongue to make a joke, to jolly Doyle out of whatever foul mood he'd worked himself into with a sarcastic remark or a caustic crack, but one look at Doyle's face and he abandoned the plan. At this moment, his partner wasn't about to be jollied out of anything.

Instead, Bodie simply got in the passenger seat and waited. He counted to ten and then thirty and still Doyle stood outside the car, facing away from Bodie, tension radiating from his sinewy frame. Finally, when Bodie had reached seventy and was just about to break and ask Doyle what the fuck his problem was, the driver's door was wrenched open and Doyle sat down without a word.

Doyle peeled out of the car park with a squeal of tyres and Bodie noted they were headed toward Guy's. Bodie reckoned his mental map of every casualty ward in London and its environs was probably a sign that he should change careers, but at least if a villain dumped him in Wimbledon or High Wycombe, he could stumble to a hospital on sheer instinct.

Fortunately, he didn't need to stumble to Guy's. Doyle delivered him to the door with grim, silent efficiency, and then stayed at his side as a young, Indian doctor shone lights in his eyes and poked and prodded until she'd found every tender spot on his head and ribs.

Finally the doctor pronounced him free of concussion, gave him pills for the swelling, pills for the pain, a note for Cowley and turned him loose. Through it all, Doyle hadn't said a word. He'd simply stood against a wall of the examination room, his arms crossed in front of him, a scowl creasing his brow. He'd been still as an ancient effigy, his only movement a curt nod when the doctor had asked if he could stay with Bodie overnight.

It was nearly ten when they left the hospital, the sky dark, the traffic thinned out as much as it ever did in central London. Bodie's current flat was in Camden, so Doyle crossed the river and headed north, still without saying a word. Too tired for the fight that was no doubt brewing with his partner, Bodie closed his eyes and leaned against headrest, careful to avoid the spot where that stupid dead kid had bashed his skull.

The steady thrum of the car's engine must have lulled him to sleep, because the next thing he knew he was being shaken awake by a hand that was gentler than the face that greeted him when he opened his eyes. Doyle wore the same scowl he'd had in the hospital, though his obvious bad temper was now overlaid with a fatigue that seemed to have stretched the skin too tightly over his bones.

"We home?" Bodie asked, blinking several times to sharpen his focus.

"You are," Doyle said, the first words he'd said for hours. "Shift yourself, would you? I don't fancy carrying you up four flights." Doyle's voice had taken on a harsh undertone that Bodie told himself must be from lack of use.

Not waiting for Bodie to answer him, Doyle left the car and made for Bodie's block of flats. Bodie sat in the car for a few moments longer, fighting the light-headedness that chose that second to waver through him and wishing he knew what the fuck was wrong with Doyle.

Doyle had opened the doors ahead of him and Bodie trod slowly up the stairs, his mood weighed down by aches and pains and uncertainty. Once in the flat, Doyle shut the door behind him and set the locks. Bodie kicked off his shoes and made straight for the lounge and stretched out on the sofa. The room was dark, but Bodie closed his eyes against the streetlights that were streaming in from the window and setting off his headache, so he heard rather than saw Doyle move into the room.

"You should be in bed," Doyle said, his tone flat except for that curious harshness still lurking in the background.

"Don't suppose you could brew us up a cuppa?" Bodie asked without looking up. An irritated sigh was the only response, and then he heard Doyle walking down the hallway to the kitchen. Eyes still closed, Bodie listened as Doyle filled and boiled the kettle, assembled cups and sugar bowl and rooted in the cupboard for the tea bags. The homely sounds lulled Bodie, washing away the day's events and putting him to sleep in less than a minute.

He jerked awake to the sound of footsteps behind him.

"Who...?" he started to ask as he struggled to see in the dark. He sat up, and winced as his head gave a throb.

"Only me," Doyle said, and that was enough to bring the day rushing back to Bodie. He looked up to see Doyle standing, two steaming mugs in his hands. Doyle handed him one mug and then moved to the entrance. "I'll put the lights on."

"No," Bodie blurted out. "They'll do my head in. The dark's good." He took a sip of the tea that had exactly the right amount of sugar and milk. He sighed in contentment as the hot liquid warmed him through. "'S good, that."

There'd been no further movement, and Bodie looked up to find Doyle still standing at the doorway, his expression obscured by the gloom of the room.

"Why don't you sit down, Doyle?" Bodie nodded at the space beside him on the sofa. "Stay a while."

With obvious reluctance, Doyle did just that, sitting as far from Bodie as he could get, fidgeting awkwardly with the mug in his hands. Bodie concentrated on his own tea, feeling it restore him more than the doctor's pills and potions ever could have done.

When he'd taken the last swallow, Bodie put down the mug, leaned back and turned to his partner. Doyle's head was bent and his hands clutched the mug tightly. He obviously hadn't drunk a mouthful of the rapidly cooling tea.

"Give us that, before you spill it." Bodie reached over and took the mug from Doyle, then placed it on the coffee table. Then he moved a bit closer to Doyle and poked him in the side. "Now tell Uncle Bodie what's wrong, why don't you."

"I'd think it'd be obvious," Doyle said, his mouth pulled down in obvious misery.

"If it was obvious, I wouldn't ask," Bodie said, exasperation overcoming the pain in his head and the weariness in his bones.

"I thought you were dead, you stupid git." And this time it wasn't harshness in Doyle's voice, it was a bloody crack, right down the middle.

"What the hell, Doyle? It's never bothered you before," Bodie said, but even as the words left his lips, he had a flash of memory: pain and blood and sirens and hospital and Doyle leaning over him, his face gone wet with tears.

"It always bothers me," Doyle said, as if he could read his partner's thoughts. "You get hurt and I feel like I've been gutted. Every time." Doyle finally looked up. His eyes caught the glow from the streetlight, glittering an unearthly silvery grey. "Every fucking time."

"Bit over the top, that," Bodie said hoping he could restore Doyle's equilibrium and avoid the monstrous wave he could see heading for him at full clip.

"You fucking bastard," Doyle said, but there was more resignation than heat behind the insult.

Later, much later, Bodie reckoned maybe it had been that, the resignation, that finally did it, made him stop fighting and let the wave take him, swamp him and leave him flailing alone in deep water.

Except he wasn't alone. Doyle was there with him.

Even in the murk of the lounge, Bodie could see Doyle's chest rise and fall with the effort of each breath, could hear Doyle's breath coming faster than normal. He could see the fingers of Doyle's right hand tap out a nervous tattoo on the back of the sofa. He could even smell the faint tang of Doyle's sweat.

And that was when it hit him. Doyle was acting like he was waiting for an op, waiting for the bullets to start flying, waiting for his world to end. Or start.

They'd both done enough waiting.

Bodie moved closer to Doyle, placed a hand tentatively on his knee. Doyle blinked hard, once, twice, as if trying to decide what Bodie was on about.

"Mind the ribs, won't you?" Bodie whispered.

As if that were the only encouragement Doyle needed, he moved closer, then closer still. One touch of their lips and Bodie felt it again: that wild joy he only felt when surrounded by danger and protected by his partner. But this time there were no bullets, no enemies threatening to kill them. This time the only danger was in falling too far, too fast, in trusting each other.

And as Doyle embraced him, surrounded him, loved him, he was sure, absolutely sure, that was no danger at all.

Fin


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