Catch A Fallen Star

This is an amateur publication not meant to infringe on any copyrights held on the Professionals television series. Originally published by Crowrow Productions, October, 2003.

This story is dedicated with love to Tiger Tyger, who waited more than seventeen years for me to keep my promise.


Chapter One

He has to be alive...has to be alive.…

The litany had become so much a part of William Bodie's existence during the past six months that even now when the desperate prayer could at last be discarded, it ran unconsciously through his mind.

Only six months. George Cowley's fierce morality and C.I.5 itself seemed years behind him. As he slipped down the Genevan back alley, Bodie felt that he'd always lived like this: skulking in shadows, looking over his shoulder, his hand hovering over his weapon, always one breath away from death. Once again, hiding from the law was second nature to him.

Bodie grimaced as the falling snow caught in his eyelashes, their reflexive twitch a black sweep against the blue-veined, sleep-starved skin beneath them. He shifted the heavy attaché case. His grip was steady, despite the night's cold. Fat snowflakes drifted lazily downward through the hushed stillness around him, as if in no hurry to meet the ground. Even with the accumulation on his shoulders and the persistent cling of flakes to the rough wool of his black coat, he stood out against the unnatural brightness of the night, each breath a misty cloud spotlighting his location. That irked him for he had dressed for concealment. The snow was, however, keeping the local constabulary and criminal element indoors, for which he was grateful.

A last turn brought him to the warehouse. The ex-C.I.5 agent paused and automatically scanned the area. Aside from the blackened slush path leading from the direction of the larger thoroughfare which Bodie had taken pains to avoid, there was nothing to distinguish this particular building from the blocks of squalid look-a-likes he'd circumnavigated to get here. This warehouse was equally dilapidated. Its white paint had long gone greyish black; over half of the windows were shattered; and the outer wooden staircase was so rickety it looked like a prop from an old horror movie. There were clusters of similar abandoned structures in every city the well-travelled man had visited. It would take a very astute observer, indeed, to isolate this building from its brethren.

But his former boss trained nothing other than astute observers. Like Sherlock Holmes' Watson, a man of Cowley's might fail to properly interpret his data, but never would he fail to notice it.

The footprints were a dead giveaway of something being amiss about this out of the way derelict. The green and white paint of the snow glazed sign above the stairway proclaiming OBERSTEIN'S IMPORTS was far brighter than the faded remnants sported by its neighbours and even the door itself was peculiar. Its wood might be as ancient as the surrounding building, but the shiny, well-oiled hinges were visible even in the half-light from Bodie’s snowy vantage point. Up closer he knew he would see the camera lens concealed in the sign’s "O", but from here it was invisible.

His eyes caught the orange glow of lantern light that peeked through the grime of half a pane of remaining glass. Like fairy light, it danced eerily through the flakes fluttering between his vantage point and destination, lending the alleyway a hushed, haunted feel. Definitely not the run of the mill rat and wino haven. No, something far more sinister was transpiring within. If the appearance of the warehouse didn't testify to that, its aura certainly did.

Shaking off the apprehension creeping up his spine, Bodie stepped from his observation point. Untrodden snow crunched softly underfoot until his shoe sank into the more travelled mush carpeting the approach to the stairs. He slushed his way up the uncertain structure, shivering on the landing until the door clicked open and swung soundlessly inward before him.

So, Bodie thought, this is what a modern-day slave market looked like.

The man waiting in the corridor on the other side of the door was twice as broad as Bodie, all of it muscle, from what he could judge in the dim light.

"You're late," the man said, his faded blue eyes regarding Bodie suspiciously.

Bodie shrugged, as if undisturbed by the threatening tone. For this particular auction, they'd wait for him.

"Brought the money?"

"Of course." Bodie lifted the case fractionally, trying to feign indifference. He’d sold his soul and his future for its contents. But it would get Ray back, and that was all that mattered to him

With a noncommittal nod, the muscle man led the way down a gloomy passage.

Bodie’s attitude toward the contents of his case was nowhere near as nonchalant as he let on. It was hard to be blasé about one hundred and fifty thousand pounds. And that was only the half he was carrying. There was another hundred and fifty sitting in the trunk of the Volvo he’d parked a few blocks away. He hadn’t wanted to walk in with everything, just in case this was a set-up. But his instincts were telling him this was the real thing. The auction was as genuine as the cash he carried.

Never in his life had he possessed so much, or been so disinterested in spending it. Ill-gotten gains, his former boss would have called it. Bodie, too, for that matter.

But...Cowley had failed him, where gunrunning had not. Ray was still alive and Bodie was about to prove it. After that – once his partner was shipped safely home, there would be more than enough time for the outlawed Englishman to make his choices. For the last six months, all plans had terminated at this hour. The haze of unreality that clouded his mind when he tried to imagine any point beyond the next few minutes was unnerving, almost as though his quest would not end here, as if he were forever destined to search and fail, as if Ray were really dead like Cowley claimed.

Bodie cut that thought off cold. There could be no doubting, no second thoughts. He’d given up far too much to turn back now. He was more committed than he’d ever been in his life.

His contact had said that a C.I.5 agent was going up for sale tonight. Bodie had to believe that was true.

Yet, the fears still lingered. So much was at stake here, his sanity if nothing else. He knew that even if Hans were right, there was always the chance that the captive C.I.5 agent mightn’t be Ray Doyle. Wallace had been missing for eighteen months now and Lindstrom had disappeared in the North Country nine months ago; it could be either of them. But Hans' description of a young buck who'd given the distributors their share of trouble didn't seem to fit either of the other missing agents, whereas Ray...

Bodie’s ruminations were abruptly cut off as his environment started to change from the dreary hall to more promising entryways. This was certainly not the right time to be second-guessing himself. He’d been told a C.I.5 agent was here. Until proven otherwise, he had to believe it was Ray. If it turned out to be Lindstrom or Wallace, he was equally obliged to secure their freedom. They’d been mates as well; though, nowhere near as close to him as Doyle. He’d get them out of here, ship them back to Cowley, and then…and then he’d begin his search again.

The narrow corridor coughed them out into the cavernous hollow of the warehouse's main room. His eyes automatically searched the area for escape routes. Bodie temporarily ignored the island of light at the far end of the building, concentrating instead on the obscure perimeters to his left and right as his guide led him across the dust-filled space.

Vague half-light filtered through the remains of the tiny windows, a gift of the snow-bright night. Rotted and easy to break through as the window frames doubtless were, they'd still be little help to him as far escape went. Positioned a good fifteen feet above the floor, they were beyond reach. There was no other indication of a break in the wall, no fire door or freight entrance. Only way out, then, was the way in, and whatever lay up ahead.

Closer now, Bodie allowed his attention to fix on the sole source of light in the place, mystified by what appeared to be the set of a school play or one of those dreadful, avant-garde amateur productions which Doyle occasionally hauled him to see. The front wall was dominated by a hastily constructed platform. The pungent scent of fresh cedar from the naked blond wood overpowered even the stirred dust in this section of the warehouse. The stage had a curtain, like any good production hall, but this one would never compete with the red velvet draping the Royal Albert. The tattered grey material looked more like a blanket draped over a banister or a rug hung out for a good beating than a theatre curtain.

As with every amateur acting company Bodie had seen, audience accommodation was given minor attention. A group of thirty or so metal folding chairs had been lined up before the primitive platform. The only thing missing was some pimply kid ushering them to their seats and trying to sell them crisps.

Bodie was relieved to see that most of the other buyers had disdained the near-comic set-up. He silently joined the group of hard-faced men waiting in the shadows furthest from the lanterns.

Curious, he scanned their features, wondering what a procurer of human flesh looked like. Not all of them were here to buy kidnapped scientists and political VIPs, Bodie knew. Some were just here for the information this group also peddled and were relatively harmless. But which were which?

His suspicions as to who was here for the human auction tended toward the blunt, wide-faced Slavs. That physicist Ray had been guarding the night both Doyle and his charge disappeared had, after all, resurfaced behind the Iron Curtain. Bodie tried not to dwell on what Ray's fate would have been were Dr. Russell not rescued; the Cow had refused to lift the 'missing, presumed dead' label from Doyle's file, but Russell's story had given Bodie the will to keep searching.

Cowley's reasons for not reopening the case made perfect sense. No one would go to the trouble of keeping a bodyguard alive that long, much less try to auction him off. But old George's men were far more than mere muscle. There were a dozen well-funded terrorist groups that would pay a mint to get their hands on the inside security information a C.I.5 or MI6 agent could provide. The two British representatives conversing in hushed whispers across from him reaffirmed Bodie's belief that a C.I.5 operative might be worth something to England's criminal element.

The subdued conversations halted as a thin man stepped from between the grey drapes. Beneath a cap of unimpressive, mousy hair, the man's facial features were as bland and commonplace as the dark suit he wore. Were it not for the eyes, one might lose him in a second in the noonday lunch crowds at Whitechapel. The ferocity in that gaze would, however, never be lost in the sea of tranquil blue or overstressed brown which flooded the pubs and restaurants of home at midday. The small black eyes lent the tall, enigmatic figure a dangerous air as they glistened like a cornered rat's in the lamplight.

"Welcome, gentleman. Now that we are all assembled, we will begin tonight's proceedings. The first item will be the plans to a certain missile base in.…"

Bodie tuned out the carefully modulated voice, suppressing a shiver. Odd, under different circumstances that deep voice might be pleasant, but something in its tonal quality touched off an unreasoning fear deep within him. This could be the voice of Death – candy-coated, its sweetness covering the devouring greed beneath.

His gaze restlessly roamed the warehouse while Bodie waited out the auction for the one item of interest to him. The missile base plans were finally sold to a short, bespectacled man with a thick German accent. Part of the tension seeped from Bodie's frame as the little man nervously claimed his merchandise at the far side of the platform, where a short flight of stairs no doubt led from the stage to the ground. After paying for his purchase, the German quickly left the auction.

At least they wouldn't have to hang around and wait for the proceedings to be completed, Bodie thought, trying to ignore the nagging of his conscience. Old habits died hard. He’d spent seven years collecting this kind of trash for Cowley. Bodie was all too aware that with every moment he delayed, another villain walked free.

Interpol, and every government in Western Europe, were hunting these bastards. Upon his escape from England, Bodie had sworn that all he would do was get Ray back. He owed nothing to Cowley anymore and as for the other agencies...the ex-C.I.5 agent had never had much love for bureaucrats. His efforts to get help finding Doyle had done nothing to change that attitude. To a one, they’d all found it easier to file Ray as missing, presumed dead, than to continue the search. They’d all left Doyle for dead and actively interfered with Bodie’s efforts to find his missing partner. He owed them nothing. What did it matter if ten or a thousand villains went free here tonight? It was the authorities’ problem, let them handle it. His only concern was his partner.

Only . . . .

There was a fundamental malevolence to the auctioneer that raised the hackles on Bodie's spine. Without being able to say how he knew, Bodie sensed that the dark clad man was the centre of more than just the operation's stage show. The flair with which he conducted the proceedings was akin to that of a man who'd worked extremely hard and was relishing the final stages of his task to the fullest. The air of sadism which clung to the piercing-eyed figure mid-stage made Bodie want to ensure that the kidnapper was brought to justice. But that would mean involving one form of police or another, which he was still loath to do.

Weighing his dilemma, Bodie waited out the information sale. Over a third of the audience was gone by the time the last document was sold. Bodie checked out those who lingered – one of the Englishmen, a pair of subdued Orientals standing almost unnoticed beside a wooden post, three coffee-skinned men with mid-Eastern characteristics, a fellow with a wide-brimmed fedora covering a shock of ridiculously pure blonde hair, whom Bodie took to be an American from the few words the man had uttered, some obvious criminals like the Brit Black Willie – a few Bodie recognized from C.I.5 files – one or two other nationalities he couldn't place, and the rest . . . Eastern block sorts with a definite Moscovian flavour. A grim and dangerous assembly. Bodie could almost smell the gun oil in the concealed hardware around him.

Ill at ease at being spotlighted in such company with nothing more stable at his back than a roomful of shadows, Bodie silently urged the completion of the auction.

He wondered how they'd work the actual sale. Earlier, he'd thought that such a thing would be handled in a more civilized fashion, perhaps by passing photos and bio-sheet to the interested buyers, but the melodrama colouring the previous portion of the auction had dispelled any such illusions. The auctioneer would probably parade the poor sods in front of this bunch of vampires the way old Vlad had dangled the missile plans before them earlier, Bodie thought during the tense intermission which followed the completion of the information auction. This entire set-up disgusted him.

His attention snapped instantly to full alertness as the master of ceremonies stepped from behind the curtains once again. Bodie’s body tensed, ready for anything.

The auctioneer’s feral, glittering eyes raked over the audience.

Bodie couldn’t help but note that a visible shudder passed through each man whom that gaze settled upon. Even Black Willie seemed to shift under the unrefined malevolence of that spooky observation, Bodie noted, and it was said that Old Willie had faced down a hit team of eight armed assassins once, killed every last one of them without batting an eye or breaking a sweat.

Bodie steeled his own body to remain still when his turn to be under that baleful gaze came. He met the unnerving stare with his own particular brand of stubbornness. No one could be that evil, he told himself; it was all the gimmickry – the flickering lamplight, the bizarre setting, highlighted in the utter blackness of their cathedral-like surroundings. Put the auctioneer in a pair of khakis and he'd be just another killer.

Yet, there was something more to this man's wickedness. Attempting to outstare the near-hypnotic gaze, Bodie realized what the underlying terror was. Some men possessed an inherent ability to command the obedience of others. George Cowley had it, so did the auctioneer. But where one looked into the Scotsman's eyes and saw the good at the core of Cowley’s hardness, so one found the evil lurking in these inky depths.

Bodie withstood the glare, just barely. When it finally released him, his entire body seemed to sag with relief, as if a tremendous weight had just been lifted from overstrained muscles.

On a mental level, he knew that his physical reaction was completely out of proportion to the stimulus. He’d weathered gunfights without getting the shakes like this. But he’d been living on nerves and hope for so long that his normal, professional cool was shot to hell. He was a raw, open nerve, reacting on an animal level.

As the sweat evaporated from his brow, Bodie wondered if it were possible that he were no longer entirely sane. But, it was a vague, distant concern, nowhere near as overpowering as his instinctive reaction to the loathsome individual commanding this performance.

Abruptly aware that the auctioneer had once again begun to speak, Bodie's attention riveted on the man's latest spiel.

" . . . member of a little publicized British crime stopping organization. Not of our usual calibre, it was nevertheless thought that this item would be of interest to certain members of our audience. We will begin bids at 5,000 pounds.." A long-fingered hand gestured at the dingy curtain as a reluctant figure was thrust forward from behind.

Bodie stared at the unkempt creature, experiencing a sinking sense of anti-climax. Not Ray, then, or any of C.I.5's other missing operatives. The poor sod was probably an MI6 agent or maybe ISS. Hans had said there would only be one Brit up for sale tonight, Bodie remembered with a sinking heart. He'd have to wait until the next auction or . . . or finally accept that his partner was truly dead.

Maybe it was time. How often had he known Cowley to be wrong about a thing like that and why . . . ?

On stage, the item's lowered head raised.

Bodie's heart contracted as the flickering lamplight shimmered across gaunt features, seeming to highlight the unmistakable lump on the man’s right cheekbone. It was the hair that had thrown him off. In the flickering lamplight, the prisoner’s hair had looked almost black. It was far too long to have been readily recognized as Doyle’s. Unwashed it hung heavily without curls, falling almost to the man's shoulders, but the face it framed . . . .

"Ray . . . . " the gasp was torn from him in a sibilant exhalation that went unnoticed. The cold sweat was back, dripping down his spine in large, chilly drops. Stunned, Bodie gaped at the man whom he'd failed to recognize as his partner.

Everything about Ray seemed changed. Superficially, there was the longer, lank hair and slighter build. Ugly purple and green bruises mottled Doyle’s familiar facial features. The man on stage looked as if he'd been used as a punching bag by someone the size of the behemoth who'd escorted Bodie in. But, beyond the visible changes, there was a fundamental difference in the way Doyle presented himself that had caused his partner's failure of recognition.

It was Ray’s stance that was so different, Bodie realized. Despite his penchant for analysis, Doyle was pre-eminently a physical entity. Ray’s moods and attitudes were always unconsciously revealed by his body. In motion, the only thing Bodie had ever seen to rival Ray's grace and innate sensuality was a hunting leopard – careful of step, its fluid, effortless motion seemed to bring it to its fleeing prey as if by sheer willpower alone.

Much of that same feline superiority had characterized his partner's attitude. Even when still, Ray possessed a certain cat-like intensity that made an observer instantly and physically aware of his presence. Proud and conscious of his attractiveness, Doyle broadcast his confidence and desirability with his every movement. Ray was so self-aware that he was capable of destroying another's equanimity with a seductive flash of his eyes. Instinctive and unalterable, that seductiveness was as much a part of Doyle's character as his unpredictable mood shifts.

Or so Bodie had fancied. The slouched figure on stage revealed no trace of that engaging, infuriating arrogance. Standing motionless under the audience's eye with his baggy jeans and too-big plaid shirt hanging from his wasted frame, Doyle looked as if his entire sense of self had been forcibly ripped from him or . . . .

Ray appeared drugged. The dull-eyed, near-unblinking stare might be so explained.

His blood igniting to liquid fire at what had been done to his partner, Bodie turned his gaze to the auctioneer, merciless murder brewing within. Something slow and excruciating; something Krivas would approve of.

Bodie ruthlessly clamped down on those thoughts and the satisfyingly gruesome pictures accompanying them. His instincts already had him twitching to draw his gun. Tempting as it was to just blow the auctioneer away, Bodie knew that he couldn’t risk it. Ray was unarmed and drugged out of his mind. A move like that could get them both killed. Besides, Bodie doubted if the worst revenge he could imagine could possibly recompense his partner.

"Ten thousand," the bid from Black Willie beside him brought Bodie out of his shock.

"Fifteen," this bid came from one of the Arabs.

With a tenuous rein on his patience, Bodie listened to the two bid their way up to fifty thousand. There, the Arab hesitated, leaving Black Willie dangling with the last bid.

Eyes fixed on his partner; Bodie spoke clearly into the pause that followed, "One- hundred and fifty."

"Would you repeat that, please?" the request from the stage shattered the hushed silence.

Bodie spoke again, disappointment tingeing his reply, "I said, one-hundred and fifty-thousand."

He'd hoped Ray would show some reaction to the sound of his voice, but his friend seemed utterly oblivious to all.

"Sod it, Iron George himself ain’t worth half that," Black Willie declared, regarding Bodie from beneath shaggy, coal black brows as though Bodie were completely unhinged. "What ya want him for?"

Bodie ignored the question, stiff with apprehension. If he'd gambled wrong and anyone were to outbid him, he hadn't the cash on him to contest it. A quick trip to the car would remedy that, but now that he’d found Ray, he was unwilling to let his partner out of his sight.

His heart was pounding an anxious tattoo in the silence that followed his insane bid, but Bodie’s strategy proved sound. No one seemed inclined to challenge a man who bid in hundred-thousand pound increments.

"One-hundred and fifty-thousand is the final bid. Will the buyer please come to the concierge?" the auctioneer requested.

Numbly, Bodie stood and walked to the side of the platform where he'd seen the other buyers go. A pudgy, nervous man with washed out, whisky reddened blue eyes sat behind a card table at the platform's steps, the huge doorman positioned at his side.

Bodie handed over his attaché case, standing silently while its contents were counted.

Running a hand through wispy grey hair, the cashier nodded.

"It's all there, boss," the guard called to the platform.

For fear of what his face might reveal, Bodie tried to keep his attention focused on the perspiring money-counter, but at Ray’s first uncertain shuffle, he found his gaze inexorably drawn upwards. As the auctioneer led his partner slowly toward him, Bodie watched Doyle's face, searching for any sign of recognition.

The usually expressive features were unnaturally still, the black-ringed eyes clouded in an unfocused daze.

"Down the steps," the auctioneer ordered, as if Doyle might walk straight off the platform if not so instructed.

Ray's foot dangled over the top step for a full minute, as if over a drop that was perhaps too high for safety's sake, then descended the eight inches or so with agonizing slowness.

"Wait," the auctioneer's voice barked out.

Doyle froze mid-step, turning with uncharacteristic meekness to stare up at the auctioneer.

The crazed-eyed stranger stepped down the stairs. The curtains put them out of sight of most of the audience.

"I’ll miss you, my pretty one," the auctioneer practically crooned.

Stunned, Bodie watched the man in black grab hold of Doyle's hair with his left hand, yanking his partner's head toward him with a painful pull. The right shot up to Doyle's jaw, forcing Ray’s mouth open. Then, before Bodie’s unbelieving eyes, the auctioneer's head lowered to take Doyle in a plundering, open-mouthed kiss.

Paralysed with shock, Bodie was certain at that moment that he was insane or dreaming. This simply could not be happening.

When the image didn't waver and he didn’t wake up screaming, a berserker fury blasted away the numbness.

Bodie was on the stairs before his sluggish mind registered motion. The black-clad auctioneer's body flipped through the air like an empty grain sack as Bodie ripped the sadist off his partner. For a second, Bodie gazed into the unfazed, unfocused green of Doyle’s eyes. Nobody at home. There was nothing there in the red rimmed, bloodshot eyes. No reaction to that fiendish, obscene kiss, no reaction to the sight of his partner, no moves to protect himself from the violence erupting around him, nothing.

Horrified by the absence of intelligence, Bodie turned back to the auctioneer, moving in for the kill.

The slick black barrel of a Magnum stared up at him from the floor.

Conscious of Doyle's proximity, Bodie froze, standing absolutely motionless in his crouch as the giant bodyguard climbed the creaking staircase.

"He's mine," Bodie hissed, ready to dare the gun once the man-mountain stepped between Ray and the bullet's path. Few would have recognized Cowley's suave, cultured agent in the wild, gleaming-eyed predator kneeling on that dusty wood floor. Bodie’s panther-coiled muscles were set to strike; irrational, the killer instinct had claimed him entirely.

That there was an answering madness in the auctioneer’s burning black gaze behind the trigger disturbed Bodie not at all.

"He's right, you know, boss. Money's been accepted. The item's his." This unexpected burst of reason came, surprisingly enough, from the oversized bodyguard. The huge man lumbered between the blood-crazed combatants with a nonchalance that approached imbecility.

As the meaning of the muscle man’s words penetrated the red haze blazing through Bodie’s senses, a chill, like cold, mountain melt-water iced through in their wake. His own proprietary statement rose up to haunt him. He's mine, like Ray was just so much meat to be argued over. Doyle didn't seem aware of his surroundings, but Bodie feared his partner’s reaction when memory called forth Bodie’s savage response at some future date.

"Give the money back," the auctioneer snapped.

The curt order snapped Bodie out of his guilt.

Menacing madness still flamed black heat in the auctioneer’s too-wild gaze.

"You want’ta hand back one-hundred and fifty-thousand pounds?" the incredulous question burst from the mountain of muscle still separating Bodie from his opponent. There was something in the bodyguard's face, though – a touch of cunning – that told the ex-C.I.5 agent of the man’s expertise in handling his irrational employer. "For that little one? Boss, this entire lot will barely bring that in."

Bodie glanced in the direction at which the powerful hand gestured. Four other oversized guards, none as big as the one before him, created a living barrier between the platform steps and a huddle of prisoners. Ten, maybe twelve, peaked faces stared out of the shadowed stage wings at Bodie. Their wide-eyed gazes were all as beseeching as frightened children, each seeming to silently beg him for help. But, although all appeared drugged, none seemed to have been physically abused to the degree his partner had.

Hardening himself to the hostages' plight, Bodie turned back to the madman running the show.

Bodie recognized that he’d allowed his emotions to jeopardize everything. The first private conversation he’d ever had with Ray Doyle came back to haunt him, reminding him of how he’d bragged to his new partner about his ability to stay cool at all times. He’d put Doyle down that night for being a hothead, but even at his most irrational, his emotional partner had never jeopardized a mission the way Bodie had just done.

Brutally thrusting aside both his feelings for Doyle and his hatred for this degenerate who had destroyed his friend, Bodie reclaimed the veneer of the cold professional. The change was instantaneous. His facial muscles tightened into the challenging sneer, for which the larger member of Cowley's top team was infamous. The wildness temporarily left Bodie. He could feel it being replaced by an icy resolve that was possibly more dangerous in the cruelty of its cold promise.

"Yeah, give the money back, why don't you?" Bodie mouthed off, playing his role as though it were a stranger standing there instead of Ray Doyle. "My boss must be mad. It’d be easier and cheaper to find our own informant than to muck around with your leavings."

The auctioneer climbed to his feet and carefully dusted off his suit. Bodie unconsciously held his breath, watching the war of avarice and insanity turn the auctioneer’s commonplace features as horrid as the hellish gaze. The man looked once in the direction of the audience, as if to reassure himself that what had transpired was completely out of sight before turning back to Bodie.

Most times Bodie would have been unworried about an opponent's response. He knew how the condescending tone he used at such instances tended to make the villains play right into his hands. But this nutter was unpredictable, crazy enough to hand over the fortune from spite – or kill him and keep both Doyle and the money.

That had always been a possibility; he'd known that coming in. Bodie tensed all over, his mind playing out that morbid scenario, until he recalled the buyers who lingered on the other side of that moth-eaten curtain. Realizing how close the other auction participants were, Bodie’s new worry faded. There was no silencer on the Magnum that had been pointed at him moments before. Bodie didn't think even this nutter would be stupid enough to jeopardize a dozen sales for temper's sake.

"Deal's been made," the auctioneer finally spat. "Get them the hell out of here, Miller."

Miller took hold of Bodie’s arm and led him quickly to the steps. Snagging an oblivious Doyle with the other, Miller marched them to the table.

Once the auctioneer had returned to the stage, Bodie shook free of the hold.

"Your boss is one mad bugger," he remarked with affected casualness. Even now he was still fighting the urge to blow the bastard away, his eyes straying to Doyle to try to determine just how much damage had been done.

That foul kiss…although there were rocket scientists for sale here tonight, it didn’t take someone of their IQ to determine that there had been a lot more to Ray’s abuse than a single kiss.

"It's not the boss' fault, really. The stubborn sod here drove him to it. I'll be glad to see the back of this one. Though, in all honesty, he's not even worth the minimum bid anymore," Miller said in a conspiratorial aside.

"What's wrong with him?" Bodie asked, trying to sound simply curious and not concerned. The darkness of the vault-like warehouse helped. With the lights of the auction block falling further behind with every step, the sombre spectre walking silently on the other side of their guard could be anybody in the dusty murkiness.

"Boss likes to know what grade of information he's sellin’, so he'll know how to price the merchandise. This one sort of became an . . . obsession with him."


"Wouldn't talk, didn't scare. Was the damnedest thing. Usually, you can beat the information out of most of our items real quick. But this one was different than the rest. Wouldn't give up a single word of info. He got up the boss' nose somethin' awful with that tongue of his. So, the boss . . . tried other means, you know?"

Bodie knew. He was fully aware of how hunger, sleep deprivation and other methods that he couldn't think about in context to Doyle and remain sane could loosen a man's tongue.

"Why are you telling me this?" Bodie asked, tensed for treachery.

Up ahead, he could see the lessening of the dark that marked the exit of the slightly brighter passage leading to the door through which Bodie had entered the warehouse.

Bodie felt the big man shrug. "Just figured you should know what you're getting. Boss might've broken this one, but he didn't crack him. Doubt if you will either."

"Not my problem. I'm just a delivery boy," Bodie lied, relieved to enter the claustrophobically close passage that led to the front door.

In the small space, his nostrils twitched at the reek that rose from his unwashed partner. Ray smelt like he hadn't bathed since his capture, which was hardly surprising. Bodie remembered going for two months himself without a bath in that Congo prison.

Finally, the door came into sight.

Miller threw the bolt and stepped aside to let Bodie and his new acquisition pass. The grim-faced guard nodded once to Bodie in parting, then quickly closed the door behind them.

The relieved release of his captured breath dissipated in the falling snow in a misty white cloud. Hardly daring to believe that he'd actually pulled it off, Bodie turned to his partner.

"Ray?" he asked with uncharacteristic gentleness.

Doyle remained silent, staring off over Bodie's right shoulder as if he hadn't heard.

Bodie stepped closer until his face completely blocked his partner's line of vision, "Ray? It's Bodie. Don't you recognize me?"

He tried to keep his face calm, tried to offer only the reassuring presence of a friend, but the catch in his voice probably revealed the desperation raging within. The loneliness and isolation of his six-month search made Bodie crave some sign of recognition.

No longer totally rational, Bodie was, himself, in need of comfort.

Doyle’s huge eyes stared blankly through Bodie as though he were invisible, a wall or one of Ray's captors.

Bodie's hand settled lightly on the left side of Doyle's face, which was less bruised than the other. Someone had shaved him recently, and done a bad job of it. The razor nicks distributed among the green and purple discolourations mottling the soft, hot skin brought a thick, choking lump to Bodie’s throat.

Silently, Bodie took stock of his ravaged mate. His quaking fingers touched the lank, filthy hair, running its oily length to land lightly on a bony shoulder. Half-hoping for a flinch or any other sign of awareness, Bodie let his hand linger there. At first he thought there was nothing, that Doyle was totally, completely oblivious to the outside world, but then Bodie felt the muscles in Doyle's neck tense, as an unnatural rigidity claimed the gaunt figure.

The emptiness in Ray's eyes gave way to an expression of resigned horror, as if Doyle had been using the oblivion to numb himself to the situation, only to find its haven too fragile to cushion him from the hideous reality.

At first, Bodie couldn’t fathom what was so terrible about what he was doing. Abruptly, the obscene spectacle of the auctioneer's kiss flashed in Bodie's mind. With his hand's gripping Doyle's shoulder and his face looming so close, physically, he presented a similar threat, but surely Doyle would know that Bodie would never use him like that? Unless . . . .

"Ray, it's me, Bodie. Don't you . . . ."

The growing panic in the pinched features at the sound of his raised voice answered his question.

No, Doyle didn't know him. Not right now. With all the drugs that had no doubt been pumped into him to keep him this docile, it was entirely possible that Ray didn’t know his own name at the moment.

Before he could release Doyle or dispel his fears, Ray gasped as if in terror. As the deeper breath of the gasp flooded his lungs, Doyle erupted into a fit of deep, wracking coughing.

Bodie could hear how filled his partner’s lungs were with congestion. Now that they were outside in the night’s quiet and he was actively listening for it, Bodie could also hear his partner’s laboured breathing.

Shocked by the raucous explosion, Bodie held his friend erect as the cough threatened to topple his unstable partner into the snow at their feet.

"It's all right," Bodie soothed. "I'm not going to hurt you. Please, Ray, calm down."

Gradually, the coughing stilled to a noisy wheeze, and then finally to the shallow, careful breathing that had hidden the infirmity.

"Better now?" Bodie checked.

He didn’t receive a response, but at least the tearing eyes regarding him suspiciously were no longer blank. Bodie released Doyle's shoulders and took a step back from him.

Only then did he notice the snow that was collecting in the long hair and soaking through the worn fabric of Doyle’s filthy plaid cotton shirt. The wind had picked up since Bodie had entered the warehouse. Earlier the snowflakes had fallen so gently, but now the wind was hurling them against bare skin in stinging pricks. The unbruised portions of Doyle's face were turning a bright pink and a shiny stream of moisture dripped from a nostril caked with dried blood. As Bodie became conscious of their exposed position at the top of the old wooden staircase, a shudder convulsed his under-dressed partner.

The car was six blocks away, Doyle looked frozen after only a few moments exposure. Bodie realized that his partner would never make it to the car dressed as he was.

"Catch your death this way," Bodie commented, shrugging out of his coat. He held it out for Ray to slip into, but Ray remained rooted in the pile of snow collecting around him, once again treating Bodie to that blank stare.

Cursing whatever drugs were responsible, the taller man mumbled, "'s not a bloody matador's cape. In you go, mate."

With a light grip, he guided one drastically thin arm and then the other into the coat sleeves. He was almost relieved to feel Doyle flinch at his touch, glad that the silent man was at least that much aware of his surroundings.

Always, Bodie's full length coats were big on his partner, the extra few inches in width that separated them making the garment that much longer. Tonight, Doyle was all but lost in the voluminous folds of the warm material.

Bodie swallowed hard, trying to block out the bruised face and emaciated figure that belonged more to some refugee from an internment camp than to his partner. His Doyle was still in there, hidden somewhere behind the dead eyes and wounded flesh. As he bent to button the coat that was flapping wildly about with each gust of wind, Bodie realized it was going to take some effort to locate that lost man.

A shiver gripped him as the latest wind pelted his bare face with ice-like pellets of snow. His black polo was totally inadequate for this kind of weather. Knowing that they both had to get indoors as soon as possible, he took hold of Doyle's arm, part of him hoping for some show of resistance.

It was the drugs, Bodie told himself, trying not to be disheartened by the meek acquiescence as Doyle allowed himself to be guided like a blind man through the confusing maze of deserted alleys to the car.

The wind ripped through the narrow spaces between darkened warehouses with a ferocious might, ripping savagely at their faces and stinging unprotected eyes until they stumbled almost blindly through the hostile night.

At last, Bodie spotted his Volvo, its battered black frame almost invisible under the white mounds. The snow coating the lock on the door felt almost warm to his frozen senses as he brushed it away. Hastily, Bodie installed his damaged charge in the passenger seat. He leaned over Doyle to clumsily turn on the motor, affecting not to notice how Ray flinched far back into the unyielding leather seat at Bodie’s nearness. Hauling back out, he switched on the heater and defroster, then slammed the door securely behind him.

Walking quickly to the boot, Bodie brushed off the deep mound of snow that had accumulated on top of it, then opened the boot to extract the small snow shovel stowed within. Working rapidly, he shovelled out the car.

Bodie’s face was tight and numb by the time he was through, his shirt and trousers soaked straight through with ice water. Never so grateful for warmth, Bodie climbed into the driver’s side.

Doyle paid no attention to him as he claimed his seat behind the steering wheel.

Brisk rubbing returned some sensation to his frozen fingers, all of it agonizing. Once Bodie could bend them around the cold leather of the wheel, he cautiously inched the car forward.

Apparently, his efforts had been sufficient to free the car. A small bump and they were crunching their way out of the desolate neighbourhood.

Leaving the warehouse district was akin to surfacing from a nightmare. The gloom of the narrow back alleys gradually lessened, the streets widening and brightening with each block they put behind them. Though equally deserted on such a bitterly cold night, the picturesque shops and quaint buildings lining the empty avenues cheered him, marking as they did a return to normality.

Glancing at his chillingly silent mate, Bodie amended that thought to returning to civilization. That dull-eyed stare would never be normal for Doyle, or so he prayed.

Paused for a red light, his gaze fell upon a call box on the corner. This intersection was as deserted as the last dozen, with nothing but snow blowing across it. The freezing white downpour was accumulating in dune-like mounds by buildings and parked cars like sand in the Sahara.

Unable to ignore his smarting conscience a moment longer, Bodie shifted into park and stepped back out into the frigid wind. Doyle's complete lack of interest at their unannounced delay fuelled his resolve as he dug some change out of his pocket and made his way to the telephone.

The question of whom to call temporarily defeated him. The police were his first thought. But even if his German – picked up in Amsterdam and nurtured to the point where he could order from a menu or bid on an arms shipment – were sufficient to the task, he sincerely doubted his ability to convince a bored desk sergeant of the truth of his outlandish tale.

No, it had to be someone already familiar with the situation. They were few in number, for the security blackout surrounding the disappearances was unbreached.

About to give up, the faces of the other captives flashed through his mind. Bodie was under no illusions as to their fate, should he not follow through. Doyle could well have been one of them. They’d all be sold to a hostile bidder for whatever information they were unlucky enough to carry locked in their heads, and once the information was extracted, they’d be expendable. That was if they were lucky. It was possible that some wouldn’t sell and they’d be bound to that sadistic madman indefinitely. Bodie couldn’t allow that to happen, yet he didn’t know whom he could contact to prevent it.

Who knew about the auction that was in a position to help? Cowley was out, as was the British Consulate. That left only locals and . . . .

Schueller. The name flashed out of nowhere, leaving Bodie to uneasily consider it as he shuffled from foot to foot in six inches of very wet snow.

The more he thought of the efficient Interpol agent, the less Bodie liked the idea. Wanted fugitives did not usually go around ringing up international police forces, not those interested in retaining their freedom at least. He considered his situation. His liberation from Cowley's ‘protective custody’, i.e., house arrest, was perforce of circumstances unsanctioned. Doubtless, he was still a very wanted man in his homeland.

But as for the rest of the world? Were it to come to light, his involvement in the gun running operation that had financed Doyle's rescue would elevate him to the level of international criminal, but Bodie thought that an unlikely happenstance. Marty knew how to keep his mouth shut. Only those directly involved in the deal were aware of Bodie’s complicity and they couldn’t speak about it without incriminating themselves.

For now, he was probably safe. Cowley was a great believer in cleaning his own doorstep. All of C.I.5 and the other law enforcement agencies at his former boss' disposal were undoubtedly still on the lookout for the errant C.I.5 agent, but that would be as far as it went. Aside from exiting the country without a passport and losing his temper with the infuriating Scotsman, he'd committed no crimes within the U.K., nothing of which Interpol would be aware.

Bodie raised the telephone receiver to his ear, the chill of the cold black plastic smarting through his bright red hand.

Memory was a funny thing, he thought, dialling the little-used number. If his life depended upon it, Bodie doubted if he'd be able to cull up the number and address of his last flat – Doyle's, maybe, but never his own. Yet here he was, able to recall on an instant's notice a number used a maximum of six times a year. Probably because it was learned for the Cow. If you learned something for Cowley, you learned it for keeps.

The phone was answered on the second ring. "Schueller, bon soir, avec vous?" a familiar gruff voice demanded.

"Bodie, C.I.5." Trying to sound official, Bodie did his best to keep the shiver and nervousness out of his voice.

"Ah, monsieur Bodie, we do not hear from you in a long time," Schueller greeted, switching to English. His tone lightened to as cheerful a sound as possible for such a deep-voiced man to attain, "Your monsieurs Murphy and Jax are . . . how do you say . . . efficient men, but not so charming as my good friend Mr. Bodie."

Bodie's mouth twitched toward a grin. The last time Scheuller had spoken to 'his good friend Mr. Bodie,’ the conversation had degenerated into a long distance shouting match. Ignoring the sarcasm, Bodie proceeded as though the last six months had never happened, "I've got a gift for you, Schueller. You might even wrangle a promotion out of it if you get your boys moving fast enough. Our information has it that that kidnapping ring that bagged Rogers and Perot are holding another garage sale."

"When?" all humour had left the heavily accented voice.

"Right now." Bodie supplied what details he could, hoping not to sound over-informed. The hatred in his heart made him long to be in on the bust, but explanations would be too awkward. He'd have to content himself with reading the details in the morning news.

His approach must have been just right, for Schueller rang off after an abrupt thanks, without asking any embarrassing questions.

Bodie slowly replaced the receiver and returned to the car. Doyle did not look at him as he reclaimed his seat, but Bodie smiled at him as if he had, leaning forward to warm his hands by the heater.

The journey to Jacque's hotel was conducted in a silence as impenetrable as that of the icy night. Bodie wondered as the car passed through the empty streets if the quiet were as laden with thought as it felt to him or if it were his own imagination. Tension seemed to crackle through the Volvo's close quarters, priming his overstretched nerves with its sense of expectancy.

His partner had always had a way of silently projecting his emotions so that the very environment seemed to crackle with them. The phenomenon was different from simple mood shifts. Bodie had dealt with many a moody bastard in his time, some of them blood-crazed mercenaries who'd knife a fellow for looking at them the wrong way, but none had Doyle's dubious talent for emoting hostility. There were times when Ray's emotions were almost a tangible presence, times when Doyle would walk into a room and everyone present therein, from Bodie, who was most familiar with him and therefore possibly more easily influenced, right on up to Cowley would shift uneasily at Ray’s entrance, all hit with the deluge of raw emotion. Usually, it was anger Doyle communicated most fiercely. Tonight it was apprehension, a fear so powerful that Bodie thought he could reach out and touch its cold presence.

Yet, no sign of it showed outwardly. Each furtive glance Doyle's way revealed the same stony profile. Lit by the green glow from the dashboard, the pallor in the sparse unbruised areas of Doyle's left cheek seemed downright ghostly. The unseeing stare, focused on the windshield with its noisy sweep of wipers, unnerved Bodie totally, so discordant was it from the vehement emotional bombardment.

He sighed with relief as Jacque's street came into sight. His old friend's hotel stood out amongst the rows of neat, old homes. Not because Gypsy's Rest was any newer than its neighbours, but because its bright green paint insisted upon recognition amongst the dignified, white-washed dwellings surrounding it. A character and warmth imbued the inn that was greatly reflective of its peculiar owner.

The relationship that existed between Bodie and Jacques Dupres had been a curious one from the start. By rights, Bodie should have detested the older man on first meeting in Angola. With the appearance and enthusiasms of a befuddled English lit professor, Dupres should have been out of his depth when dealing with the crude mercenaries with which his supply operation brought him into contact.

But that geeky weakness was only appearance, as Bodie had learned quite early. Dupres’ easy charm and ridiculously out of place, genteel mannerisms masked a core of steel and a lust for adventure that possibly eclipsed his own. Even Krivas dealt straight with Dupres. That, Bodie had never understood; respect simply wasn't in that cutthroat’s makeup. Yet the mercenary leader had always treated the somewhat dotty pilot – whose most offensive act in Bodie's opinion had been the loan of a particularly bad book of poetry – as though Dupres were an object to be feared.

The solution to the mystery hadn't surfaced until six months after Bodie had quit Krivas' mob. The group Bodie had been running with then, headed by a less-than-brilliant tactician named Banner, had come across the downed pilot and his plane's wreckage in the war-ravaged desert wastelands of North Africa. Banner's squad had held a grudge against Dupres since his untimely shipment of ammo had allowed the remnants of General Uttaba's army to break through Banner's siege of their stronghold. Bodie could still recall the fierce courage exhibited on that blazing afternoon when, surrounded by Banner's pack of bloodthirsty strong men, Dupres, already weakened from his injuries, attempted to make a stand against the lot of them with nothing more than a small knife for defence. To this day, Bodie could till hear Jacque's outraged warning for Bodie to mind his own business when he'd attempted to even the odds a little. His intervention had gotten them both stranded in the middle of a very arid nowhere, but at least they'd both been alive.

The gruelling trek back to civilization had been the turning point of Bodie's life. During that three-week ordeal, Dupres had convinced Bodie that mercenary life wasn't really for him. No easy task, Bodie knew, when dealing with someone as stubborn and arrogant as the youth he'd been then. His mistake had been recognized that first night in camp when the savage realities of the career he'd chosen had ripped all romantic illusions and most of his dignity from him, but correcting the error required a courage Bodie had thought beyond him. At less than twenty-one, Bodie had believed his life over, his bridges all burned behind him. What, after all, was there to go back to? At least in Angola he had a place, something he was good at doing.

Dupres had opened his mind to the possibilities he'd been ignoring. Not with emotional appeals and the "if I were you, sonny, I'd get out of this shit," lectures the few veterans who'd taken an interest in him doled out, but through a remarkably devious form of manipulation that made each change seem Bodie’s own idea. Even the paras had been Dupres’ suggestion. Bodie knew that alone, he never would have thought of bringing his dubious expertise to the special branches.

Yes, he owed a lot to Jacques Dupres, but the older man had never seen it that way. Jacques regarded himself as beholden to Bodie for saving his life.

That Bodie’s attempted rescue had resulted from disgust with his comrades as much as from any unlikely Good Samaritan impulses had never shadowed Dupres' affections, try as Bodie would to discourage him at first. In time, their unlikely friendship became one of the few stable points in Bodie’s life.

Distance hadn't diminished their bond. Whether it be Amsterdam, Angola, London or Switzerland, Bodie knew he would always find a home wherever Jacques Dupres was laying his hat at the time. An occasional letter or post card had been enough to keep them in touch through the years, and on the rare instances Bodie did manage to lose track of his vagabond mentor, there was always the fail-safe contact point of Dupres' sister, who lived in an eagle's nest on some godforsaken peak in the Swiss Alps.

Fortunately, such drastic measures hadn't been needed to contact Jacques this time. For better or worse, the former pilot had finally settled down to collect books, antiques, curios, knickknacks, and straying tourists in a rapidly shrinking hotel in Geneva. It had been sheer luck that the auction which had turned Bodie rogue was taking place in the same town in which Dupres lived. It was actually the only bit of good fortune Bodie'd had since the start of this nightmare.

The Volvo coasted to a stop before the hotel, settling into the unbroken snow with a subdued crunch.

"Here we are, Ray," Bodie announced to his catatonic passenger. "Never told you about Old Jacques, but I think you'll like'm."

He helped his partner out of the car, guiding him up the stairs and out of the cold as quickly as possible.

Bright light and warmth embraced them as they crossed Jacques' threshold. Sweet smelling smoke from the spruce log flaming on the grill in the lobby's hearth mingled with the lingering aroma of the Bavarian pastries baked fresh in the kitchen each morning. The combination was pleasant, a distinctive fragrance Bodie fondly associated with this place, the same way he did certain perfumes with the special ladies in his life.

Beside him, Ray stumbled. Bodie grabbed hold of his arm, steadying the wide-eyed man against the sensory overload. The Gypsy's Rest was the utter antithesis of that horrid warehouse in which Ray had been held prisoner. Bodie figured that after the unrelieved gloom and prison-like cold of that huge, empty building, the cramped brightness and cheerful disorder of the hotel reception area would probably be hard for Doyle to get used to. Though large, the lobby had very little free space.

A huge mahogany reception desk took up the wall directly to their left. Gaudy souvenirs from all corners of the earth crowded its counter, barely allowing space for the huge registration book.

An enormous fireplace claimed the wall directly in front of them for its own. A large fire blazed its welcome in the oversized hearth, flicking orange light erratically across the row of pictures on the mantle and adding a certain threatening aspect to the thunderbird depicted in the red, burnt orange, black and white threads of the Navajo blanket hanging above it.

Oil paintings, wall hangings, and other patches of mysterious objects d'art dotted the white walls with bright blazes of colour. The effect wasn't bad now – firelight lent a gentle glow to the haphazard collection, muting its intensity – but when the curtains veiling the huge dormer windows in the south wall were drawn apart and sunlight flooded the area, the conglomeration could be quite overpowering to the unprepared.

Not to be outdone by the decorations, Jacque's furniture also appeared to strive to overpower. The behemoth Victorian pieces all matched each other, amazingly enough. Plush, royal blue velvet covered sinfully soft down cushions. The wood of the furniture was dark with a rich lacquer that was only beginning to show the effects of their daily dose of sunlight.

The only stand organization had made in the chaos of the lobby was the bookcase built into the right wall. From ceiling to floor, row upon row of neat leather-bound tomes turned their spines to the reigning disorder. But even here, mayhem had penetrated. Those books might look orderly, but Bodie had learned that there was no system to their arrangement, Jacques seemed to just dump a book where he could easily get at it or where the colour of its binding best blended with its neighbours. The most frustrating part of the insane system, even more so than having to search every shelf for a desired book, was the fact that their owner could invariably put his hands upon a desired book the instant Bodie was forced to seek assistance.

The chaotic cheer of Gypsy's Rest seemed to embrace him, its familiarity lulling away nervous tension the same way the hearth's warmth diminished the chill in his overexposed body. Two nights' anticipation had robbed him of sleep. Whether it was the effects of insomnia, the trauma of the past few hours, or the return of normal body temperature, Bodie suddenly felt utterly exhausted. One look at his companion revealed an even more advanced state of exhaustion. The poor sod looked like he could barely manage to place one foot in front of the other.

"Bodie, lad, it went all right, then?" a relieved voice sounded from the entrance to Jacques’ office at the end of the reception desk.

He and Doyle both jumped like thieves at the abrupt interruption. Bodie turned to greet their host, somehow not very surprised that the notorious early riser had waited up almost to his usual waking hour for their return.

"We got him back."

Doyle tensed beside him at Jacque's approach.

Though normally an incessant talker, given to generous, sweeping welcomes, Dupres stepped slowly toward them, advancing with the care one would use with a frightened puppy. Concern overcame curiosity in the friendly grey eyes as they took in Doyle's condition. Bodie shot his old friend a grateful look.

"Ray," Bodie gently explained to his mute partner, "this is an old mate of mine, Jacques Dupres. Jacques, my partner, Ray Doyle."

Doyle turned toward Bodie at the mention of his surname, his attention pricking up as though the name Ray did not refer to him.

Wondering about the reaction, Bodie continued, "Ray's not feeling quite himself this evening."

Dupres’ silver head nodded understandingly. "You're most welcome here, Ray. Bodie, take your friend upstairs and make him comfortable. You both look as if you could use something hot inside you."

"Thanks, Jacques," Bodie said, taking hold of Doyle's elbow to guide him toward the wooden staircase near the kitchen. "Oh, nothing alcoholic, all right? Don't know what he's pumped full of."


In his room, Bodie sat his charge at the small breakfast table in front of the lace-curtained window.

One look at the crisp white sheets on the double bed sent him in to draw a tub full of hot water. Perhaps Doyle's primary need was rest, but Bodie suspected his habitually fastidious partner would feel better once he was clean again, so Bodie moved to the bathroom to fill the old claw foot tub.

Jacque's soft rap was answered before a second could sound. Mindful of the nervous tension that seemed to cloak his partner like his oversized coat, Bodie took the small tray from Jacque’s hands with subdued thanks; although Doyle paid no more attention to it than he had to Bodie's busy bustling to prepare the bath.

The ticklish scent of warm cinnamon wafted from the steaming mugs placed before Doyle. Bodie tentatively took the seat opposite and sipped at his cider, silently willing his partner to take the initiative and lift up his cup.

"Cider's getting cold, mate," he remarked. "Come on, Ray, have a sip. You'll feel better."

His words fell into the quiet that was interrupted only by the soft wheeze of Doyle's breathing. With all his imaginings of what it would be like once Ray was rescued, nothing like this had ever occurred to Bodie.

Unable to stand waiting any longer, Bodie raised the drastically cooled cup to Doyle's mouth, doing his best to avoid the healing scabs that marred Ray’s full lips. One sip only was taken, a small instinctive gulp before the lips clamped wilfully shut.

"Damn," Bodie swore as the rest of the mouthful sloshed down Ray's bruised chin and jaw. "Now you really need that wash-up. Come on, then," he said, pretending that Doyle's compliance came more from the gentle instruction than the guiding hand.

Doyle’s face twisted as Bodie eased the coat off him.

"I'll be glad when this stuff works its way out of your system," Bodie commented on the way to the loo, thinking that normal conversation might help lull Doyle out of the grip of the drugs.

Inside the steamy bathroom, Doyle's attitude was no different. The frighteningly blank gaze continued to stare straight through Bodie as the taller man stooped over the streaming froth of the tub to turn off the taps. Slumped against the doorjamb, Ray looked as if he didn't have the energy left to cross the few feet to the ancient tub.

Bodie preferred his exhaustion excuse to the inner voice, which kept suggesting that there was more than tiredness and drugs behind Doyle's condition. The more he was subjected to the sometimes vague, sometimes wary, green gaze, the more he grew to believe that his closest mate had no true concept of whom Bodie was.

"All right, then," he said when it became apparent that Doyle was not about to move of his own accord. "We'd best get those things off. Lord knows, they could do with a cleaning too, but right now you need it more."

Part of him prayed that Doyle would bolt at his touch, knock his hand away to do the job himself, or give any indication that the drugs were beginning to wear off. But aside from an unnatural stillness and rock-hard muscle rigidity, his partner remained as much an automaton during the disrobement as under the auctioneer's kiss.

Bodie's jaw clenched tight as he peeled open the ragged, filthy shirt. He tried to harden himself to what he'd find, but the violent colours of the contusions spotting Doyle's torso all but eclipsed the horrible scars left from the assassin, Mai Li's bullets. Carefully, he probed a particularly wicked-looking bruise over the right ribs.

That earned Bodie his first true reaction.

Doyle whimpered, pulling back from his tormentor with a suddenness that spurred his cough into action. Once again, Bodie braced his friend against the seizure, trying to soothe the panic from wide, terrified eyes with soft, apologetic words.

"It's all right, Ray. Didn't mean to hurt you. Didn't know the ribs were cracked, mate." Guiltily, he recalled how Doyle had flinched when he'd put the coat on him in the alley. Not just fear then.

Determined to be more careful, he cautiously eased the shirt off. It was only as the threadbare garment touched the floor that Bodie was able to see his partner’s wrists. His stomach lurched at the ugly bands of skinless flesh that ringed Ray’s wrists like bracelets. The flesh above and below the shiny raw wounds, the parts that still had an intact epidermis, were bruised with vivid purple and black marks. Bodie cringed at the thought of how those injuries had occurred. It was clear Ray had pulled at his restraints until he’d mangled his wrists, like a fox in a trap that would gnaw through its own foot to regain freedom.

Steeling himself, Bodie continued with the task at hand and unbuttoned Doyle’s too-baggy jeans. They slipped down the wasted frame without incident, halting only at the obstacle of wet trainers. Bodie slid them off and tossed the entire foul wardrobe behind the door.

Turning back, a gasp was torn from him as he caught sight of Ray's back and lower body. Ray still carried the scars from the time that Asian bird had shot him. Light pink scar tissue from the bullet's exit wounds and what had once been smooth, white flesh were now criss-crossed with angry red welts. Whip lashes, Bodie sickly recognized. Not an inch of the broad shoulders and back were unmarred.

"Sadistic bastards," Bodie spat. As his gaze dropped lower, his entire frame shook with contained fury. Save for some black and blue marks, none of the damage looked recent. Most had already hardened into scar tissue. The sheer extent of it appalled Bodie. The pain must have been phenomenal. Even the contusions that remained had to hurt like hell, and Ray had never been particularly insensitive to pain.

Catching a glimpse of Doyle's eyes, Bodie realized what his own face must be revealing. His murderous rage was apparently being misinterpreted. His partner obviously believed himself to be its focus. In view of what had been done to Doyle in the past, it would probably come as no surprise to the drugged-up Ray to be misused now.

Calming his fury, Bodie collected himself, resolving to give Doyle no further cause for panic. With a shaky smile, he guided his friend into the water.

Bodie waited for some sign of independent action, but Doyle just sat there in the water, staring blankly into the middle distance as if purposefully tuning out the bath and room around him.

"Come on, Ray. Wash up. It’s late and we’re both done in," Bodie urged.

Doyle continued to sit there in the darkening water, oblivious as a potato.

Realizing that there was nothing for it, but to wash his friend himself, Bodie grabbed the soap and a clean flannel from the nearby towel rack. He’d never given anyone a bath in his life. He hadn’t a clue as to the proper etiquette. Not that Ray seemed especially attuned to such niceties at the moment.

"Make you feel better, this will," Bodie promised, covering his own awkwardness as he rolled up his sleeves to begin the intimate service of washing his partner.

It took courage to even touch Ray. After all that Doyle had been through, it looked to Bodie as though even the gentle brush of the flannel would hurt.

Deciding to start at the head and work his way down, Bodie retreated to the bedroom to snag the white plastic ice bucket to use to wet down the filthy mat of hair.

Kneeling beside the tub, Bodie gave his partner an encouraging smile. After six months of frantic worry, he could hardly believe Ray was safe again.

"Okay, Ray. We’re going to get you washed up and then you can sleep. I’m just going to wet your hair down and shampoo it," Bodie explained, wary of making any sudden moves in the slippery bath.

Doyle didn’t even blink when Bodie tilted his chin up prior to dumping the bucket of water over his head. Bodie did his best to ignore the eerie blankness of the familiar eyes as he went about the strange task of bathing a fully-grown man.

The hair was a nest of tangles that retained water and shampoo with the tenacity of a dry sponge. Bodie tackled it gently, attempting to coax the snarls out as painlessly as possible with pretty words and judicious combing. He ached to cut the overgrown locks to a more manageable length, but the liberties taken with Doyle's body over the last few months restrained him. If Ray wanted the damn thing trimmed, he'd say so in time.

Finally achieving a decent lather, he massaged vigorously, working the accumulated oil and dirt out with thorough care. Difficult as it was to manage, the long, wet strands had a sleek softness to them that was incredibly sensual as they ran through his carding fingers. When satisfied that the soap-filled hair was returned to its usual squeaky cleanliness, Bodie dumped another bucket of water over Ray’s head. It had next to no effect.

Recognizing that they were going to be here all night if he didn’t speed the rinse cycle up, Bodie placed a supportive hand around the back of Doyle's neck and gently guided the suddenly stiff body backwards with the other. "Come on, let’s get that soap out."

Confused by the alarm flashing through watchful sea-green eyes, he was even more befuddled when something like resignation replaced it. It wasn't until he started to rinse the suds free and surprise took Doyle’s eyes that Bodie understood his partner's interpretation of his intent. That first expression had looked like Ray expected him to drown him, but far more disturbing was Ray’s obvious decision to allow him to do it.

Shaken to the core, Bodie hastily rubbed the shampoo free and eased his friend back into a sitting position.

Doyle's attitude seemed to change after that incident. All traces of haziness vanished. A suspicious, near-unblinking stare followed Bodie’s every move with feline intensity thereafter.

It was unnerving. As far as Bodie could tell, he’d made no threatening moves, but the fear radiating from the tub was now a tangible presence.

Bodie gathered the soap and flannel and began to work on the rest of Doyle, doing his best to ignore the unnerving gaze. He tried to keep Doyle's skinless wrists out of the water as he worked to prevent infection.

Before long the bath water turned a murky grey, bespeckled by oily slicks and soap scum. Half of Doyle's epidermis seemed to melt under the warm soapy caresses, the stark, pale flesh revealed standing out between bruises in vivid contrast. Despite extreme caution, a few telltale flinches revealed the hurt that Bodie was unavoidably inflicting. But aside from these, Doyle bore his ministrations stoically, with only some twitching and tautening of muscles when Bodie awkwardly cleansed Ray's most intimate regions.

Finally finished, Bodie sat back on his haunches, tired from the day's rigors and the strain of prolonged bending over the tub. He wiped sweat and steam from his brow and tried for a reassuring smile. "All done. What d’ya say to some ham-fisted doctoring."

Not surprisingly, Doyle said nothing. Bodie was almost getting used to that silence now.

Bodie helped his partner from the tub, keeping a firm grasp on a slippery, wiry arm to guard against falling. Doyle stood motionless as Bodie dried him, moving only in response to a directing nudge. The fluffy softness of the towel Bodie used absorbed the beaded moisture with a minimum of pressure.

Turning back from depositing the saturated towel on the door rack, Bodie was perplexed to find Ray frozen in a strange position, half bent over the high side of the antique tub with his legs spread far apart.

"Okay, we're through, Ray. What're you . . . ?"

His voice died as the significance of what Doyle's position would facilitate penetrated. A tight knot of revulsion clutched at his guts, followed fast by a bone-melting wave of sympathy for what his friend must have suffered.

In his heart, Bodie had known back in the auction. That foul kiss had left very little to the imagination. Yet, there was a part of Bodie that had futilely prayed the kiss was a final gesture of insult, as opposed to an on-going perk. But Doyle’s silent offer of himself left very little room for doubt. Ray had been raped, often enough to condition the abused man to offer himself, rather than wait to be forcibly taken.

Swallowing the bile that rose to his choked throat, Bodie studiously wiped all emotion clear of his face. Acting as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred, he took hold of Doyle’s bony elbows and wordlessly stood his partner straight on his feet. Then, Bodie turned hastily toward the medicine cabinet to hide the moisture that veiled his eyes at the shocked expression on Ray's face.

Every sense he owned focused on the mute man behind him, Bodie hunted for the gauze and adhesive tape last used on his gunrunning stint. Seeing a tube of antiseptic cream lying beside them, Bodie took that, too, figuring that the skin breakages could do with some disinfecting.

Carefully not thinking about what had been done to his partner, Bodie set to work easing the hurts he could heal.

First, he coated and bound up Doyle’s mangled wrists. The wounds there were so deep that Bodie was afraid his friend might have suffered permanent nerve damage.

Half a tube of cream was used on Ray’s back alone. It seemed that no matter how much he spread the ointment with a feather-light touch, there was still another welt or scratch requiring treatment. When his partner's back, buttocks and thighs were as dotted with gobs of goop as one the white-out speckled reports handed to Cowley when they both failed to charm some poor lass from the typing pool into doing their work for them, Bodie shifted his attention to the front.

Stoicism was his refuge as he eased the pain of nasty lacerations. Only when he reached Doyle's chest did it fail him utterly. There were long, thread-like scratches everywhere. Undoubtedly, they were the legacy of untrimmed nails. Someone had scratched at Ray like an animal sharpening its claws. Aghast, Bodie took in the condition of the flat breasts. The area around both nipples was darkly discoloured. At first, Bodie took this to be the result of the blows which had fallen on toes, testicles and head with equal disregard, but closer examination proved him wrong. Each nipple was ringed with a mouth-sized black and purple oval which encircled a smaller, flattened one that was speckled with wicked-looking tiny oblongs of darker bruising – teeth marks, the outraged ex-C.I.5 agent recognized. A mouth had savaged the tender flesh, brutally sucking the skin until uniformly black and blue, then biting to leave behind those bruises.

Doyle’s nipples were in a disgraceful state, the scabs of healing rips showing on each. As the meaning of the damage slowly penetrated, Bodie’s heart pounded thunderously loud in his ears.

Christ, it was bad enough that they’d raped Doyle. This was something he hadn’t even encountered in Angolan merc camps, where Bodie had thought he’d seen every depravity one man could inflict upon another.

It was all Bodie could do to keep his hand steady as he dabbed the soothing cream on. No longer was he bewildered by Doyle's invitation to rape. Ravaged as Doyle was, acquiescence was probably the only way to ensure survival.

Done at last, he closed the tube and wound gauze around Ray's chest. After tightly binding the mummy-wrapped chest with adhesive, Bodie slipped Doyle into his own blue towelling-cloth robe that hung on back the door. He gently tied the belt about the narrow waist, feeling Doyle's watchful stare burning into his face all the while.

Snagging a dry towel from the rack he led Ray back to his chair in the bedroom and set to work drying the still-wet hair.

"Come in," Bodie said, when a soft tap sounded several minutes later. Seeing Jacques, Bodie immediately ducked his head to hide the telltale warming of his cheeks. Not that there was a trace of mockery to the wide smile Jacques bestowed upon him. The uncharacteristic activity in which he was engaged just made Bodie feel somewhat self-conscious.

"How is he?" Jacques asked, taking the chair in front of Bodie's empty mug.

Bodie shrugged. "Cleaner. There're a couple of hurt ribs – cracked, I think. He’s got more cuts and bruises than I can count. Whatever poison they pumped him full of is still working, and . . . " he finished, the raspy wheeze Doyle was obviously too tired to conceal reminding him of the last and possibly most serious affliction, " . . . he's got a whopper of a chest cold."

Jacques lent forward and peered into Doyle's eyes. Worry clouding his usually happy-go-lucky features, Dupres settled back into his chair and then said, "I think you should take him to a doctor. Pneumonia is nothing to fiddle with. In his condition, he wouldn't have the strength to fight it off."

Bodie nodded, in no way surprised to have his fears confirmed.

"First thing in the morning. Any recommendation?" Bodie asked, none too hopefully. To his knowledge, aside from a single visit to receive the spectrum of inoculations mandatory before visiting the section of the globe they met in, Dupres had never even had cause to check in with the camp medic.

"Not personal, but Eva was raving about some youngster in the new clinic near the bank. I'll get his name off her in the morning, if you like."

"Thanks," Bodie acknowledged.

A comfortable silence fell between them. Bodie's attention was absorbed by the lulling routine of his steadily massaging hands as he worked the water out of Ray’s hair with a thick white towel.

Dupres appeared equally intent upon the picture the partners presented.

"He's very important to you, isn't he, lad?" Jacques asked at last.

The question might have seemed ridiculous, considering the lengths to which he'd gone to rescue Doyle. But Bodie recognized it for what it was. Dupres, like most fighting men, understood the special bond that was forged between two men in the heat of battle. The loyalty from that attachment, short-lived as the relationship might be, was of a stronger ilk and lasted years longer than most friendships formed in the ‘real world.’ What Bodie had done in the King Billy case to hunt down the biker that murdered his old mate, Keith Williams, years after they'd last seen each other might have seemed bizarre in civilized society, but passed as expected behaviour in the jungle. In that wilderness, a man's only protection was often the loyalty of his companions. Jacques, who also lived by this strange code, had thought nothing unusual in the ex-mercenary's quest to free his partner.

Bodie knew that what Jacques was asking now was if their relationship were more than the usual camp camaraderie. A man could feel compelled to avenge or liberate a companion he felt nothing for, simply on the basis of their peculiar code. That his attachment to Doyle had always fallen outside of that code, into places and emotions Bodie couldn't comprehend himself, made explanation near impossible.

Bodie looked down at the bent head he was still rubbing the towel over. Now that the accumulation of natural oils and dirt that had been weighing the hair down in that unattractive rat's nest had been removed, a spring had returned to the drying locks, gentle, loose ringlets curling the long ends. Bodie concentrated on his task, absently patting a baby-soft strand back into place as he answered, "Doyle's been my partner for the last eight years. I wouldn't want another."

Thankfully, Dupres didn't press that point any further, asking instead the question that Bodie's overburdened mind had been scrupulously avoiding. "What are you going to do now?"

"Take him to the doctor first thing in the morning and see what our options are," Bodie evaded the issue; although deep down he admitted Doyle's condition changed everything. His original plan – free his partner and ship him back to England on the first available plane – had never had much chance of success. For starters, Ray was too stubborn by half in his usual state. Like this . . . shipping Ray back alone would be the utmost form of abandonment.

Ross and her sadistic cronies would have a field day with the poor sod, poking and probing, never letting wounds heal. Bodie didn't know exactly what was going to cure his partner, but his instincts told him that clinical psychological vivisection wasn't the answer.

The alternatives were daunting, though. Providing Doyle didn't need hospitalisation for his injuries, which Bodie doubted in view of Ray’s mobility, Doyle would require more care and attention than Bodie's military background had prepared him to offer. He’d spent his entire life killing. What did he know of healing?

Yet the idea of leaving Doyle with strangers when his partner was defenceless like this was unthinkable.

Just thinking about it made Bodie’s brain ache.

But all this couldn't be settled tonight. What they needed now was rest. Tomorrow would be time enough to regroup their forces.

Jacques didn't seem disturbed by his evasion. A warm smile lit the grey eyes, its cheer spilling over to encompass the oblivious Doyle as Dupres’ gaze moved that way. "Just so you know, you're both welcome here as long as you need the place."

"Thanks, mate. Don't know how we could ever repay . . . ."

"None needed," Dupres cut him off, looking intensely uncomfortable. "Just get this lad of yours well enough to sample some of the fine brew I stock this place with. I’ve got a story or two to tell him about his partner that can only be best appreciated after a few steins of good German beer."

Bodie grinned in anticipation. Unlike most of his other acquaintances from his mercenary days, Jacques was someone he wouldn't mind Ray getting to know.

"Well, I'd best be letting you youngsters get some rest. I’ll get that doctor's address off Eva when she starts the pastries. Will you be needing another room?" Jacques asked, glancing toward the double bed as he bent to reclaim the cider mugs.

"No, I'll stick close. The easy chair will do fine," Bodie answered. Even if Ray hadn’t been so incapacitated, he wouldn’t have been able to let Ray out of his sight after their prolonged separation.

Dupres nodded, then left with a soft, "Good night."

Alone with his silent companion once again, Bodie crossed to the bed and turned the covers back. When he came to escort his charge over, Doyle reluctantly followed, the only protest the by-now familiar tension. Wondering how long it would be before nerves brought his friend to a state of complete collapse, Bodie decided to forego removing Doyle's robe, unwilling to escalate the already overstrained panic threshold.

Doyle sat stiffly in the bed's edge, immobile as the ancient stone gargoyles squatting atop the downtown courthouse.

Bodie waited a moment and then gently assisted when no motion seemed imminent. The response to his hands gripping Doyle's shoulders to urge him downwards was immediate. Like a small child about to take that first terrifying plunge in a roller coaster, the translucent eyelids snapped shut with dread, Ray’s strained features blanching to an even more sickly pallor.

The shockwaves of repulsion emanating from Ray’s rigid figure were astounding. Bodie snatched his hands clear as though Doyle's body had just burned him, feeling a trembling start deep within him.

Ray was so hurt. Bodie didn’t know if his partner would ever be whole again and, selfish as it was, he needed Ray to be whole. All that they’d been through would be worth nothing if he couldn’t bring Ray back to himself.

Doyle's eyes shot open again as Bodie tugged the covers up to his neck and tucked them in under his chin.

"Laid out like a proper corpse, you are. Do us a favour and get some rest. Maybe things will be clearer to you in the morning. I'll be right here if you need me," Bodie assured, before turning to prepare his own sleeping arrangements. Sharing a bed was now forever outside his rights.

Knowing that it would be the last thing required of him for the day made moving the leaden weight of the cushioned wing-back chair from its customary spot beside the window over to Ray’s bedside somewhat easier.

Doyle didn't quite jump as Bodie's feet settled next to his at the bottom of the bed.

Sighing deeply, Bodie settled back into the velvety blueness of the down cushions. Every muscle he owned ached as though he'd been worked over as thoroughly as Doyle.

Exhausted and numb from his emotional reaction to Doyle's condition, Bodie desperately sought sleep. Several things prevented the achievement of his goal.

First, his mind was running on overdrive, ceaselessly churning over Jacques' disturbing question about what he’d do next. What was in their future, he wondered morosely. Ray frightened him like this. He felt helpless and useless against this speechless acquiescence to defeat. What he could do to bring Doyle around, if anything, was beyond his ken at the moment.

It was weird, but Bodie found himself desperately longing for Cowley. Not that he'd ever be willing to turn his partner over to anyone else's care while Ray was in this defenceless state, even if so ordered, but right now Bodie could use a dose of the Scot's dauntless certainty to bolster his own battered morale.

Finding no answer to his worries, years of training instilled their control and ever so slowly the kinetic jumble of thoughts stilled.

He was on the verge of sleep when a new uneasiness penetrated. Jungle-honed instincts were not easily dulled, especially after six months of intensive cultivation. The heightened perceptions, which could make him uncomfortably aware of being scrutinized by unseen eyes while standing atop a watchtower in a supposedly secure section of British countryside, made it damn near impossible to achieve any kind of relaxation while being subjected to a nearby glare.

Bodie forced his tired eyes open, fixing them immediately upon his examiner.

Doyle’s strange stare was unnerving. The confused, probing gaze gave him the disturbing feeling that Ray was lying there trying to figure him out.

"I'm Bodie, your partner," he reiterated, suspecting any reassurance useless, but nevertheless feeling compelled to offer it. "No one's going to hurt you again, Ray, not while I'm around. Please try to get some rest."

There was no reaction, not even so much as a blink. Bodie might as well have been speaking Afrikaans for all the attention Doyle paid him. He endured the scrutiny a few minutes longer, experiencing equal measures of unease and hope from the lucidity in the emerald-clear irises. Recognizing that he had as much chance of out-staring the sphinx as his partner, Bodie at last reached out to switch off the bedside lamp. He'd thought to leave it on for whatever reassurance it might offer his friend, but altered his plans in the hope that the surrounding darkness would court healing rest.

A demure grey twilight filtered through the lace curtains, casting weird, web-like designs across Doyle's bruise-mottled face. Closing his eyes against the burgeoning dawn and persistent stare, he contemplated the ironies of the situation.

Months of anxious prayer to a God he only half-believed in had miraculously been granted. Ray had been returned to him, alive as requested. Never once had it occurred to Bodie to amend his prayer to ‘alive and all right.’ Now, he had his partner back, but with Doyle a mere hand’s reach away, he couldn't touch Ray or offer comfort for fear of terrifying.

Feeling betrayed and terribly isolated, he lay there numbing his perceptions to the gaze still boring into him from the darkness. Slowly, sleep stole over him. His cramped muscles gradually relaxed to the accompaniment of the steady, wheezy, breathing from the bed, and Bodie finally slept.


Chapter Two

There was a chip of paint missing from the closed door's finish. The small tan spot of bare wood stood out sharply against the luxurious lacquer, looking as raw and blatant as one of the puckered red welts on Doyle's back.

The wooden chair was hard and confining against Bodie's tensed muscles. Bodie willed himself to remain seated, to keep out of the examination room. The battle to give Ray his privacy was straining what little nerves he'd had left after last night's ordeal. As far as he could tell, his partner hadn't closed his eyes all night.

Now Bodie's gaze was equally intense. Oblivious to the diplomas, shelves of medical books and other accoutrements that all sought to convince a patient's worried family members of their doctor's expertise, Bodie's stare remained stubbornly fixed on the door to the examination room.

For his own part, Bodie didn't need any further convincing. There was an air of competence surrounding the crisp, young doctor that transcended the man's meagre collection of years. Quick brown eyes had surveyed Doyle wordlessly and then turned suspiciously Bodie's way. Bodie's tale of robbery and beating had been grudgingly accepted as the fable it was. The physician had whisked Doyle into the examination room with a speed that impressed the ex-mercenary. It was refreshing to encounter a doctor whose foremost concern was his patient's welfare and not the form filling ritual that generally preceded all encounters with the medical profession.

Although Bodie did not particularly relish the confrontation inevitable after the examination, he wished an end to the wait. Common sense had kept him from following Ray inside. He hadn't wanted to give his bewildered mate the impression he was being ganged up on, but now Bodie wished he had gone in. All he had to do out here was sit and breathe in that medicinal air that brought back far too many memories of the endless days he'd waited outside Ray's intensive care unit after Mai Li had shot him, waiting to see if his partner would live.

The antiseptic smell of the clinic permeated everything. Being jumpy from the start, the foul fumes from each breath strung his nerves further out like the caffeine boost from a cup of coffee.

At least if he were inside, he'd know what was happening. Out here he was in the dark once again, and he couldn't shake the disturbing impression that Ray had wanted him in there.

Nothing had been said, of course. Doyle had just paused by his chair on the way in, the hesitation so slight that the doctor hadn't noticed it, but the beseeching look in Ray's eyes had haunted Bodie since the blasted door had closed behind doctor and patient. Doyle had looked at him as though he were handing Ray over to some other sadistic bastard, Bodie thought, savagely cursing the impulse that had kept him outside.

Finally, the door swung open. The first sight of Doyle's gaunt face vanquished the paranoia that had been gnawing at him since Ray left his side. Bodie had experienced this horrible fear that if he let Doyle out of his sight for much longer than the few moments needed for a quick stop in the loo, fate would once again snatch his partner away, perhaps forever beyond reach. Or that he'd wake up and find that the rescue was a dream and that Ray was still dead.

That single glance at Ray's face reassured him that nothing untoward had happened behind the closed door. Doyle was perhaps a bit paler, the lines of stress and bags beneath his eyes slightly more pronounced, but that could be credited to a sleepless night as easily as to the examination.

There was, however, no mistaking the change in Dr. Warner. The white-frocked man of medicine guided Doyle into his chair, every movement the essence of protectiveness and compassionate consideration. Once Doyle was safely seated, the handsome, brown-haired doctor reclaimed his own chair behind the big desk, swinging toward Bodie like a matinee lawman about to make his final stand against a silver screen heavy.

Bodie withstood the white-lipped glare with apparent equanimity. A firm believer in the American sportsmen's philosophy concerning the best form of defence, he met the doctor's fury with the expression Doyle had always claimed to be the quintessence of condescension and blandly asked, "How is he, doctor?"

"Brutally sinned against, in my opinion. Your companion shows every indication of having undergone long term physical and sexual abuse," Dr. Warner's tone left little doubt as to whom he considered responsible.

"Is the damage permanent?" Bodie asked, tiring of provoking the man. It wasn't the doctor's fault Doyle's condition outraged him. Any normal man would be appalled by such barbarism.

"The patient exhibits a remarkable resiliency. Contusions which would have killed another man are well on their way to healing. His cracked ribs are still tender and will give him some pain for the next few weeks, but if he receives the rest he requires, they, too, should heal," Dr. Warner reported.

"And the cough? Is it pneumonia?"

His naked concern seemed to startle the doctor, changing Warner's reply from his previous antagonistic recital to a more muted answer.

"No, it's influenza."

"Not lethal then," Bodie whispered, his body sagging with relief.

"Make no mistake, sir, influenza is nothing to trifle with. The epidemic of 1917 claimed over eight million lives before it ran its course. For a man in his weakened condition, influenza could be just as deadly as pneumonia," the doctor warned.

"I see," Bodie nodded.

"What really concerns me is your companion's mental condition. He appears almost totally unresponsive to outside stimuli," Warner said.

"Not totally," Bodie protested.

"No, you're correct. He does exhibit symptoms of extreme terror."

Bodie bristled at the blatant accusation, just managing to keep a tenuous grasp on his anger.

"What would you advise, doctor?" he asked in a deadly calm tone.

"Treatment. There are skilled professionals trained to guide a patient through such traumas. There is an excellent sanatorium outside of..."

"You mean put him away?" Bodie broke in, his overstressed anger quotient snapping at the casual suggestion. Part of him suspected that the young doctor's delivery was not quite as casual as it appeared. The physician probably hoped that if the suggestion were given in a matter-of-fact manner, there was every possibility of it being accepted in kind.

"I mean get him the help he needs. Your . . . companion is one step away from complete catatonia. In my opinion, he has suffered an hysterical reaction to the considerable trauma he's undergone. This cannot be cured overnight or through one visit to a general practitioner. This man needs almost constant attention," Dr. Warner explained.

"He'll get it. Don't concern yourself with it any further. Now about this influenza . . . ."

Bodie's attitude had the same effect it usually had on the job. The doctor's patience snapped, his brown eyes blazing with fury as he demanded, "Do you really believe that a man with a gun can supply the quality of care he requires?"

"Sharp, very sharp," Bodie admitted, surprised by the perception. His coat totally covered his holster. Detection was usually beyond most observers. Most people were blind to the nearly imperceptible difference in the way the coat or jacket of a man wearing a shoulder holster hung.

Warner nearly begged, "You must have some concern for his welfare or you never would have brought him here. I'm not asking you the particulars of what happened to him. I'm not even sure I want to know. All that I'm asking is that you consider what is best for him. He won't recover if you take him away. Please, leave him here with me now. I'm affiliated with an institution that can see to his needs. It is a good place, sir. Clean, well staffed. My own mother recuperated from a stroke there last summer. I'll see that he gets into that sanatorium. No one will question where he came from if I sign him in. You'll be safe from the authorities. Leave now . . . ."

The impassioned plea, made as though the doctor believed Bodie the man responsible for these atrocities, shattered his controls. With no conscious thought, Bodie found himself springing to his feet, ready to fend off any and all attacks.

Out of the corner of his eye he caught a motion from Doyle that stopped him cold. At the doctor's request that he go, Doyle had reached hesitantly out for Bodie, as if to stop Bodie from leaving. Then, as if Doyle realized the scope of what he was asking by the gesture, his hand fell lifelessly to his side, that dead, hopeless look returning once again to Ray's eyes.

"Damn it," Bodie swore, cursing his own impatience. "Come on, mate, we're getting out of here." But it was already too late. Bodie knew it, even as he strove to assure his partner that he wasn't about to abandon him. Whatever attempt Ray had been making to reach out, Bodie had been too slow to intercept.

"You can't," Dr. Warner objected, also rising.

"Don't," Bodie advised. He made no overt threat, but the man he was dealing with was perceptive enough to respond to the seemingly accidental exposure of his holstered weapon the way a more obdurate man would to his drawing it. Without removing his eyes from the increasingly frustrated brown gaze, Bodie peeled an overly generous number of bills from his billfold and placed them on the desk. "Thank you for your concern, Dr. Warner, but it is unnecessary. He will be cared for."

Doyle rose at his prodding.

Before Bodie could get them safely through the door to the waiting room, a determined voice stopped them, "Wait, please."

Half expecting to meet the bore of a revolver or other desk drawer security, Bodie turned slowly back.

"Yes?" he asked guardedly upon finding both of the doctor's capable looking hands planted firmly on the desktop.

"I had a feeling this would be your answer. Please take these with you."

"What are they?" Bodie asked, suspiciously regarding the three plastic vials Warner fished from the pocket of his white smock.

"This is a potent antibiotic. It won't do much for the influenza itself, but it will prevent secondary infections from setting in and keep those wounds uninfected. Give him one every four hours. Do not allow him any dairy products while he's taking this. The blue pill should help clear up the congestion. He should have one of the blue pills three times daily, after meals."

"And the last?" Bodie quizzed, pointing to the smallest vial.

"A pain killer. Three times a day, with meals, or as needed. Don't give it to him less than four hours apart and don't exceed five a day."

"Thanks. I rather expected you'd wait for the authorities to return him to you before you began treatment," Bodie wryly admitted.

The doctor started, the calm of a man brave man prepared to die stilling his features.

"There is always the possibility you will evade them," Dr. Warner said levelly, betraying no hint of fear.

Bodie hated having a man he respected as much as he did this brave doctor holding him in contempt. He wished circumstances were different, that he could take Warner into his confidence and explain that he wasn't the one who'd inflicted these hideous hurts upon Doyle, but that wasn't a possibility here. Bodie knew he was still a wanted felon. Explaining anything to Warner would make the man an accomplice after the fact. For Warner's safety, it was better he remain ignorant.

"A distinct one," the ex-C.I.5 operative agreed with more confidence than he actually felt. "I'd appreciate it if you would promise to stay off that phone for twenty minutes or so."

"I'm afraid I can't do that," Warner quietly denied, his slender body going very still.

This was one consequence of getting Ray to a doctor that Bodie had not foreseen. Had his mind been clearer, he might have been able to predict that any decent physician would want to see Doyle safely ensconced in hospital. He knew that the moment he stepped out of this office with Ray at his side, that Warner would be on the phone with the police. But even if he'd had the foresight, Bodie could see no way he could have prevented Warner from turning them in, short of the homicide the young doctor was so obviously anticipating.

He could see it in the doctor's strained face that the man was just waiting to be shot.

Tiring of terrorizing a good man, who'd done nothing but help them, Bodie softly said, "You're a good man, Warner."

Standing up, Bodie turned to gently help Ray to his feet.

"I haven't made you any promises, sir," Warner stated as Bodie steered his partner toward the door.

Bodie nodded.

"I know. Thanks for your help, doctor. I give you my word, he'll be well cared for," Bodie promised before ducking through the door to guide his bewildered partner as quickly as possible past the receptionist in the crowded waiting room and out into the coldness of a suddenly hot Geneva. He was glad he'd had the sense to park the Volvo around the corner. Even as he hustled Ray down the street, he could feel eyes peering out at him from the window in the doctor's office.

The car was just where he'd left it, between two banks of shovelled, lumpy snow. After just one night, guiding Doyle shouldn't have felt like an old habit, but he had his partner safely buckled in the passenger seat and the car on the road before Warner could have even reached a desk sergeant at the local constabulary.

Wishing for the incontestable sanctuary of a safe house, he sped the Volvo off the block at a dangerous speed, disappearing around the corner before anyone could have followed them from the doctor's office to take note of his plates.


"Sanctuary, more like bloody banishment," Bodie muttered under his breath as he circumnavigated yet another sharp turn that had more in common with a perilously shortened paper clip than the proverbial hairpin. He would have revised his estimation of the eagle's nest he'd supposed Jacque's sister to inhabit, were he able to think of something that could live higher up.

The view was pretty, he had to admit. Before the light had faded, the snow-blanketed alpine meadows with their high reaching spruce trees had repeatedly pulled his eyes from the road with their breathtaking lure. Even now, with the crescent moon and endless stretch of stars casting down their light, it was appealing. But lonely. They hadn't passed the lights of a hamlet or even a solitary dwelling for well over an hour now. The highway was unlit out here. A mixture of spruce and skeletal aspen lined the road and cut out all celestial illumination. The shadows on these uninhabited stretches were thick and impenetrable as creosote.

Abruptly conscious of a bleak sense of isolation, Bodie glanced over at his partner, not very hopeful of respite from that quarter. So far, Ray had been only a little less responsive than a three-day dead trout, staring past the stunning scenery with a blank disregard of the view and popping ears.

This time Bodie was met with something other than the back of Doyle's head.

At least Ray hadn't forgotten how to sleep, Bodie observed, overcome by a fierce surge of protectiveness. He'd had Ray back for almost twenty-four hours now. This was the first time Doyle had given in to necessity and slept. Not that Ray looked all that comfortable. With his legs pulled up on the seat, knees clasped tight to his chest, body crammed into the corner formed by the safely locked door and passenger seat, and his head resting on the inadequate pillow of the bunched up brown parka Bodie had dressed him in, Doyle looked positively cramped. The position alone must have been hell on his cracked ribs. But Ray was relaxed enough to sleep . . . as far away from Bodie as possible, the disheartened driver noted.

Ray looked like a kid in hand-me-downs, Bodie decided. Even in his present contorted position, the navy blue tracksuit trousers were too large on him. They were the only thing Bodie possessed that even came close to fitting, though. The rest of the outfit, save socks and undergarments, which were Bodie's own, had been culled from Jacques' wardrobe. Without exception, all of the shirts that Bodie had acquired since he'd fled Britain with nothing but the clothes on his back were of the convenient, pullover, roll-neck style he favoured. The tight fitting garments were fine for a healthy man, but excruciating to don or remove for a man with cracked ribs. So Jacques had supplied a soft, cotton, button-down shirt and warm black cardigan jumper. These were also too big on Doyle, but at least they were comfortable. About the only thing that was a perfect fit was Jacques' size nine trainers. They were inadequate protection in this weather, but when Bodie had borrowed the shoes for the trip to Warner's office, he hadn't anticipated immediate long-distance travel.

As it turned out, his oversight had given them barely enough time to pick up their possessions from the Gypsy's Rest and clear out of Geneva before the police started their search. Bodie had heard the squeal of sirens as the Volvo had left Dupres' neighbourhood

Bodie's eyes lingered on the sleeping man an instant longer than necessary, his worried mind searching his own reactions to the sight for hints of trouble. Doyle was so vulnerable now that it frightened him. He wished . . . he wished that things were simple again, that he could look at Ray with matey concern and nothing more, but it had been years since Bodie's life had been that uncomplicated.

As they sped through the empty mountain roads, another night ride was heavy on Bodie's thoughts, the ride that had altered Bodie's reality forever. He let memory wash over him as they drove along the winding Swiss highway, reliving the sensations.

That particular evening Bodie's nerves had been strung out, the action not enough to appease the adrenaline rush that had come from knowing Doyle was out there alone with his cover blown, with only a handgun for protection, playing a deadly game of hide and seek on foot across the countryside of Surrey. The police corruption complaint they'd been investigating was even more widespread than Cowley had suspected, influencing eight villages in the area. Not knowing whom he could trust, but aware that Lander's mob had a plant in each of the local law enforcement agencies and doubtless a watch on the roads, Doyle had tried to make his way clear by cutting across the surrounding farmland. Ray had been on the run for over eight hours before a missed check-in had alerted C.I.5 that anything was amiss. Then, it had been another fourteen hours before a chance, rushed phone call from a temporarily empty farmhouse had given C.I.5 Doyle's location.

Bodie could still recall the sense of relief he'd felt on first laying eyes upon his shagged-out mate. With his clothes soiled with mud and soaked with sweat and morning dew, Doyle had looked a sight as Ray delivered his verbal report to Cowley before stumbling into the passenger side of the Capri with hardly enough energy left to close the door behind him and issue a terse command to be taken home. Within seconds, Doyle had been asleep, curled into a cat-like ball with his uplifted butt resting uncomfortably close to the gear stick.

Bodie had driven in silence that night, a strange, twitchy feeling curling through his guts. His gaze had kept straying to his sleeping partner, his nostrils flaring to catch the subtle scent of a salty, damp Doyle. Unnerved by the baseless tension, Bodie had done his best to ignore his growing unease, but it was like trying to ignore the fact that there was a poisonous snake sharing your sleeping bag.

It wasn't until they'd hit the motorway that he recognized the source of his discomfort. Reaching out to shift gears, his hand had accidentally bumped into Doyle's rump. The brief contact his knuckles had with the velvety softness of the mud-splattered black cords shot a tingle of pure carnal lust through Bodie's unsuspecting system that drew a gasp from him and melted his twitchy innards to quicksilver. Panicked, Bodie had glanced his partner's way, sure that the unbridled yearning blazing less than a foot away would have jolted Doyle into wakefulness. But Ray slept on, undisturbed.

In that fleeting instant, Bodie had lost his soul to the unconscious ragamuffin, snared not by the conscious sensuality that was so much a part of the wakeful Doyle, but rather by the innocent desirability of the sleep-parted lips.

From that moment on, Bodie's life had not been the same. The rampant sensuality that he'd formerly viewed with fond acceptance became his own private hell. Days were when he couldn't bear the bittersweet torment a second longer. Still, he somehow managed, masochistically hoarding away the hurtful pleasures of now-insufficient intimacies, to vent steam on the unsuspecting females he dated.

The years passed in that limbo of misery were the best and worst of his life. Doyle allowed him liberties that he bore from no other person, including lovers. The ruffling of rebellious curls, the surreptitious touch to the irresistible backside as Ray climbed a flight of stairs ahead of him, the frequent contact necessary solely to Bodie's own starved soul – Doyle tolerated all of it under the guise of joking. Bodie never cared to consider what would occur were he to offer those same caresses in all seriousness. It was safe to play the clown, but if Ray were ever to suspect how Bodie truly felt about him . . . his life would be sheer hell.

That Doyle bore him some affection, he did not doubt. Though sometimes cactus-prickly, Ray was one of the most loyal creatures Bodie had ever encountered. Even in the early days when antagonism was rife between them, Doyle would still cover for the ex-mercenary, distasteful army-type Cowley had saddled him with, defending a man he purportedly disliked even against sympathetic colleagues. Bodie had overheard it more than once, some disgruntled co-worker, miffed at Bodie's lack of diplomacy, sounding off to Doyle sympathetically . . . only to have their head handed to them with Doyle's vicious 'Bodie's all right. Put a cork in it.' Then, as often as not, Ray would come to him and give Bodie the same grief over the situation that had so upset the outsider, but that was fine with Bodie. For the most part, he liked everything out in the open. Except his past, of course, and these strange desires he felt for Ray . . . they were the only things he'd ever hidden from Doyle, because he knew how his moral partner would respond to either.

Yet, when that Mathers bitch had revealed more of Bodie's past then the ex-merc generally liked people knowing, Ray hadn't asked him a thing about it. Bodie had been tempted to come clean and tell all to Ray then, but; although he knew that Doyle's feelings toward him had expanded over the years, Bodie was still uncertain of their depth.

Nightly, he'd consider the idea of sounding out his unquestionably heterosexual partner on the possibility of their giving it a fling in bed, and just as inevitably Bodie would reject the thought.

There were only three responses Doyle could have to such a proposition: the first, and most probable response was an outright 'no'. Once a blunder of that nature were committed, their partnership would never be free of its shadow. The second possibility frightened Bodie even more than the first – the possibility that Doyle might go along with the idea for his sake, humouring his partner's aberration out of loyalty and friendship. It wouldn't be pity, but it would be too damn close for Bodie's pride to swallow it. The last option was more fantasy than anything else – Doyle melting in his embrace and entering the relationship wholeheartedly. That last was totally unrealistic, of course, but it made for nice daydreams.

And daydream it was. Bodie was uncomfortably conscious of Doyle's sexuality, very much aware of his partner's lack of inhibitions. Had Ray wanted him, Doyle would have done something about it long ago.

Now, years after his painful discovery, driving through the cold alpine night with his ravaged partner asleep at his side, Bodie searched for remnants of the lust that might pose a threat to Ray in his abused condition. He looked hard at the defenceless figure, letting his gaze linger on the battered mouth and exposed neck, waiting for the yearning to swamp him as it had that night so many years ago.

Startled, Bodie recognized only an overpowering urge to safeguard the sleeper from further harm and the warmth of a gentler emotion that could only be love. He had no desire to ravish his partner in this condition, no interest in the wasted body besides seeing it sound and whole again. Oh, he knew he could get turned on if he thought about Ray long enough, but it wasn't the Doyle that cringed at his every touch and stumbled about with such heartbreaking clumsiness that he'd be thinking about. It was Doyle as he had been that turned him on, that cruel, arrogant seducer that would rip his heart out if Ray ever got whiff of his weakness.

This Doyle was safe. There was nothing the least bit appealing in this scarred shell of the man Ray had been.

Satisfied that his partner was safe from his unhealthy appetites, Bodie concentrated on more immediate worries, like the reception they would receive at Jacques' sister's lodge.

A ski resort hardly seemed the proper place for someone in Doyle's state, and as much as Jacques assured him that his sister would welcome them, Bodie was still uncertain. He decided that even if they couldn't hide out there for long, at the very least, it would be a convenient stopover. If necessary, they could be back on the road by morning.

Sometime later a wooden sign shaped like an arrow came into sight. Bodie peered at the neatly painted black letters of its inscription, compared it to the directions Jacques had given him and then turned onto a narrow pathway that seemed to be composed of more ice than road.

Thirty-four minutes and any number of treacherous turns later, the near vertical road tapered out into a relatively level area. Bodie blinked in surprise at the sight of the structure that stood amongst a copse of tall, snow laced blue spruce, much as an explorer might upon reaching the North Pole only to discover that Santa Claus really did have a workshop there.

The place was an engaging mixture of stone and wood. Irregularly sized, round grey stones that looked like granite walled the building from the snow-piled earth to the windows of the ground floor. The front door stood a good ten feet above the car . . . so that the door wouldn't be blocked by snow piles, Bodie realized as he took in the stairs that led to the door.

From the ground floor up, the walls were constructed of wood that was painted a pristine white that seemed to sparkle brighter than the starlit snow. Dormer windows capped the top floor, lending the enormous lodge a vaguely antique dignity. What appealed most to Bodie was the wooden porch that gartered the house. The bare, blond-wood construction looked like it would be more at home in the American old west, but was somehow not out of place in this distant wilderness. Perhaps it was the fact that its colour matched that of the roof's shingles almost perfectly or maybe its ruggedness was just in keeping with the untamed mountaintop. Whatever the case, Bodie liked it immediately.

No sooner had he stopped the car in the car park than the front door opened, an inverted skinny trapezoid of warm light spilling out into the darkness. A small feminine figure appeared silhouetted in the doorway.

"Is that you, Bodie?" an unfamiliar voice called in English as good as Jacques'.

Doyle started awake at the sound, staring about in confused alarm.

"It's okay, mate. Just a friend," Bodie explained, placing what he hoped was a reassuring hand on Ray's broad, bony shoulder. "Yes, ma'am, it's us," he answered the stranger in a louder voice.

The woman, whom he took to be Jacques' sister, scooted down the stairs with childish vigour. Bodie got out of the vehicle as she approached the car, his slightly above average height dwarfing her by over a foot. Dazed from the tiring drive, he stood immobilized with shock as the petite woman collected him into a surprisingly strong embrace.

"We've been waiting for hours. We'd begun to worry. The roads up here aren't good in the best of weather," she said.

"I'd noticed," he agreed, muffling the words in a warm woollen shoulder. Released at last, he asked, "You are Marie?"

A grin broke across her round, laugh-lined face, its brightness immediately identifying her as a former Dupres. Her eyes sparkled with a girlish delight that belied her age, which had to be close to sixty. "Who else would be mauling you in a freezing car park? Jacques has told us so much about you that we feel we know you. This is my husband, Wilhelm Gruber."

Hoping his blush was lost in the darkness, Bodie offered his hand to the lanky man now standing behind Marie, too overwhelmed by her reception to wonder how she'd noticed her husband's silent approach with her face buried in Bodie's coat.

"Welcome," Gruber greeted, his soft voice thick with a regional accent that could have passed for Swiss, German or both.

"Would you take the boys' bags inside, dear?" Marie asked her husband. Then, as she peered into the car, the cheer left her voice, replaced by worry. "Is this the friend that Jacques' mentioned?"

Not sure exactly what Dupres would have told her, he nodded. "Yes, my partner, Ray Doyle. He's had a . . . bit of an accident and needs someplace quiet to recover."

"Well, we'd best get him inside out of this cold," Marie said, clucking over the mute convalescent.

Bodie bundled his partner out of the car, snagging the attaché out of the back seat on the way.

Entering the lobby of Gruber's lodge was reassuringly less traumatizing than that of the Gypsy's Rest. Though both travellers blinked at the brightness, their senses were not overwhelmed by the decor. Firelight danced across a cosily furnished sitting room. The walls were bare save for a few oil renditions of majestic alpine scenes.

A rack behind the reception desk overloaded with skis and the sounds of music and laughter erupting from the closed doors to their right bespoke the lodge's success.

"The public room," Marie explained upon noticing his glance. "Don't worry, we'll set you up far away from it, though sometimes the next mountain over doesn't seem like it would be quite far enough."

"We don't want to impose on your hospitality," Bodie expressed upon finding himself led though a STAFF ONLY door. The doors lining that particular wing were unnumbered and, from the view he obtained through the few that stood open, seemed to be the proprietors and employees' rooms.

"It's no imposition," Marie assured, looking like she meant the words.

"Jacques had mentioned a cabin," Bodie tentatively said.

"The chalet," Marie agreed. "We only rent it out to long-term customers, and even then only once the main house is filled up. Jacques is very particular about his things. The place is empty now, but there are no linen or groceries in. I'm afraid my brother didn't give us very much time to prepare for you."

"We had to leave Geneva rather unexpectedly," Bodie explained. "If it's put you out at all, Ray and I could always . . . ."

Could always what? They were standing on a remote Alp. There weren't any other hotels for miles. If they weren't welcome here, Ray and he would be sleeping in the car.

"Put us out?" Marie seemed shocked. "Nonsense, we're glad to have you. Jacques speaks of you quite often. Are even half the things he tells us true?"

Bodie smiled. "Probably not."

A hearty chuckle that seemed to read through his lie met his reply as Marie translated, "Which no doubt means all we've gotten is a very diluted version."

Marie turned into the open door at the end of the corridor, leading the group into a small, comfortable room. "This is our son Robert's room. He's away at school now. We thought we'd put Ray in here. It's warm and quiet. Just what he needs now. There's an adjoining door to the room Jacques usually uses when he's up for only a few days. We thought you might . . . ."

"Thank you. It's perfect," Bodie replied, more than a little overwhelmed by the Grubers' thoughtfulness.

"Have you eaten?" Marie asked, all motherly concern. The family resemblance between the petite woman and the ex-pilot was small. There was some insinuation of their relationship in the overall facial shape that was reinforced by the flash of a smile, but on the whole there were more dissimilarities than likenesses. Where Jacques was on the small side, his weight was composed of stocky muscle that made him seem larger than he was. Marie consisted of plump padding that somehow lent her a smaller appearance. The premature white of his old friend's hair had graciously skipped the female member of his family. Though streaked with grey, there were still more blond strands than silver in the short curls. The eyes, too, were no mirror of her brother's slate coloured gaze. Marie's clear, merry blue eyes embraced everything with a warmth and vivacity that Bodie felt to the depths of his disillusioned soul.

"Yes, ma'am. We stopped along the road." The less said about that stop, the better, Bodie thought. Not wanting to embarrass his partner in a public restaurant on their lunch stop, Bodie had brought the food out to the car. Ray had behaved as though he believed Bodie meant to poison him with the ham sandwich, struggling like a child resisting a particularly odious tasting medicine.

"Some tea then?" Marie asked.

"That would hit the spot," Bodie admitted.

"I will go for it," Gruber offered, leaving Bodie's suitcase beside the chest of drawers.

"Come along, Ray," Marie said, taking hold of Doyle's arm. "Let's get you settled."

Before Bodie's amazed eyes, Doyle went with Jacque's sister. When Doyle made no move to undress, Marie bustled over to help. Doyle stood at ease as she removed his parka and jumper, displaying none of the panic under a stranger's touch that his partner of eight years had inspired.

Totally dispirited, Bodie sank down onto the chair beside a small table, shooting bolt upright again as an outraged "Rrrowwurl" yowled from beneath him. "What
the . . . "

"Oh, that's Cleo, Robert's cat. She haunts his room while he's away," explained Marie, depositing Doyle onto the other chair. "I can remove her if you like."

About to agree, Bodie paused, watching in fascination as the grey and black ball of fluff gave the clumsy interloper who'd nearly sat on her one last glare before leaping up onto the table. Her pink nose sniffed at Doyle's hands as they lay lifelessly on the table, then the small cat wholeheartedly rubbed its ears against Doyle's bony wrist.

Doyle stared down at the busy creature for a moment, then the hand not being assaulted by the rubbing rose to hesitantly touch the silky pelt. Even across the table Bodie could hear the cat's ecstatic purr at Doyle's encouragement.

His spirit buoyed beyond measure by this small indication that Doyle wasn't completely cut off from the real world, Bodie shook his head and slowly said, "No, she's fine where she is."

A pretty girl, whom Bodie took to be a chambermaid, entered with a tray a few moments later and said something in rapid French to Marie.

"Oh, dear, not again," their hostess laughed after dismissing the girl. "That makes three times this week that poor Will has had to pull Mr. Williams out of a snowdrift. Come, Bodie, have some tea," Marie instructed, pouring the rich coloured, fragrantly steaming brew into old-fashioned teacups.

Careful to check the chair for unseen occupants this time before lowering himself down onto it, Bodie reclaimed his seat. Without conscious thought, Bodie prepared two cups of tea, one to Doyle's liking. He placed the one with less sugar beside the purring cat, having little hope of its being accepted or even noticed by his partner.

"Aren't you thirsty after your long drive, Ray?" Marie asked when it became apparent Doyle wasn't going to touch the cup of his own volition.

Hopeful that perhaps his partner's response to Marie's influence would extend into the vocal range, Bodie waited until the silence became acute before making explanation. "Ray hasn't spoken since I got him back."

"Back?" Marie asked, her confusion obvious.

Remembering his 'accident' spiel in the car park and still uncertain of what Dupres would have told his family, Bodie asked, "What did Jacques tell you about us?"

"Just that Bodie would be coming to stay at the chalet for a while with a sick companion and that we – meaning I – were not to bother you with awkward questions."

Bodie considered keeping his mouth shut, then realized that Marie's helping him would make her as much of an accomplice as it would have the good doctor. With that in mind, he gave her the unadorned truth, "I see. Jacques was trying to protect me. Ray and I are . . . we were British law enforcement agents. Ray was captured by a particularly nasty nutter while on guard duty. That was six months ago. I only got him back yesterday. He . . . he doesn't seem to recognize me." Some of the emotion he felt must have seeped out through the brittle explanation, for Marie's eyes softened as they settled upon him.

"You poor boy. You've been searching for your friend all this time?"

He nodded. "The government had listed Ray as missing, presumed dead. I knew he wasn't." After a pause for consideration, Bodie decided to plough ahead. For all Jacques' believing that the Grubers' ignorance would protect them, Bodie felt that Marie should know what she was getting her family into by harbouring them. "I must warn you that several nations are now actively seeking me. If you allow me to stay here, it could result in trouble for you and your loved ones. I wouldn't want that."

"Why are they looking for you?" It was a sensible question, with not a hint of panic in Marie's compassionate blue gaze.

"Mostly for illegal entry or egress. I . . . didn't have a passport when I left England. My search for Ray did, however, necessitate some questionable activities, which some governments might view as major felonies."

"The same type of activities you were engaged in when you met my brother?" Marie asked.

Although Jacques had been the gunrunner back then and he a slightly more respectable mercenary, Bodie saw no point in disagreeing with the woman. "Similar."

"Jacques says you're a good lad. I can see that's true. He says you're family to him, that makes you our family, too. They'll be no question of your going outside this valley until your friend is better. We'll get you set up in the chalet tomorrow. It's very secluded. No one from the outside will ever discover that you're there. Once the locals know that you're a permanent guest of ours, they'll be as close-mouthed about your presence as they are about everything else," Marie assured.

Bodie gulped back the rising lump in his throat. "Thank you, ma'am. I really don't know what to say."

"Try calling me Marie for starters. 'Ma'am' sounds so ancient."

"Hardly that," Bodie protested, leaning forward to brush a chaste kiss onto her rapidly reddening cheek.

"Let's see if we can't get something warm into your friend here," Marie suggested, filling a clean cup with fresh hot tea and allowing Bodie to add the condiments. "Please, Ray, lamb, have a little sip?" she soon was reduced to pleading.

"Here, let me have a go," Bodie said, annoyed by Doyle's seemingly heartless ignoring of their hostess. He lifted the cup to the stubbornly set mouth, doing his best to remind himself that Doyle's refusal wasn't intentional. In his oblivious state, Ray probably wasn't even aware of his actions. Still, it took every bit of his imagination to convince himself that it wasn't defiance hardening Doyle's introverted gaze.

At first Bodie pleadings echoed the ridiculously childish nonsense Marie had been crooning at the sick man. His patience tired of that quickly, snapping entirely when Ray moved his chin to tilt half the hot milky contents of the cup over Bodie's sleeve.

"That's it," Bodie declared, with heartfelt fierceness. "Stop being such a difficult bugger and drink your bleeding tea. Now." As in the car this afternoon when the limits of Bodie's patience's had been exceeded, terror reclaimed Doyle's gaze and he took a hasty sip.

"Good. Now, swallow your bloody medicine," the ex-C.I.5 agent ordered, placing one of the quickly retrieved pills to the bruised lips and offering the tea once again to wash it down. "That's fine, mate," Bodie approved once the last of the tea had been downed.

At Marie's curious look, Bodie held up the plastic pill vial. "Antibiotics. I'm afraid he's caught a touch of the flu."

"Maybe some rest will help. You both look like you could use it," Marie observed.

"It has been a trying day," Bodie admitted. "I'd like to thank you and your husband for taking us in like you have. We'll try not to be a bother."

"Don't try too hard, please. Since my son Robert left for school I've been desperate for a baby chick to look after. Hobbies don't quite manage, you know?"

Bodie nodded, the last six months having given him a bitter lesson in loneliness. "I've heard my partner described as many things before, ma'am, but that's the first time anyone's called him a baby chick. Though, with all that hair he looks more like a sheepdog pup," Bodie reflected, wishing his words would get a rise out of Ray, who continued to stare at the cat beneath his stilled fingers as though Bodie and Marie had ceased to exist. "Well, I'd better get our sheepdog settled for the night."

"He doesn't do anything for himself, then?" Marie asked softly.

"They . . . worked him over pretty bad. Ray just needs some time to get himself sorted out." The desperation behind that hope must have shown. The sympathy shining in their hostess' kind eyes almost finished him. It was very similar to the look her brother had given Bodie when he related the morning's mishaps at the doctor's office. Jacques had not once suggested that he abandon Ray to the chancy mercies of strangers, but the compassionate sorrow in his eyes had seemed to suggest that Bodie had taken on more than he could manage. The incidents at the rest stop and getting Marie's tea into Doyle were beginning to justify those unvoiced fears.

"Of course, he does," Marie rushed to reassure. "Why don't you finish your tea while I get him settled?"

"I really should . . . . "

"It's been a long drive here. You look almost as exhausted as your friend. Please let me help."

Bodie capitulated gracefully, watching as the capable woman took charge of his mate. There was little hesitation in Doyle's response to her instructions and not a trace of the paralysing tension that gripped Ray whenever Bodie attempted to remove or adjust any of his charge's clothing.

Perhaps Dr. Warner had been right after all, Bodie thought. His partner obviously perceived no threat in the woman's maternal ministrations; whereas Bodie's presence was unquestionably upsetting. Maybe a hospital was what Ray needed, after all.

Disturbed by the unsettling doubts, Bodie munched half-heartedly on a tea biscuit and listened to the water running in the bathroom.

Marie's head popped out the loo door. "Where are his pyjamas?"

"He doesn't have any. Last night he slept in a towelling robe."

"Ahh, boys," she laughed. "I'll be back in a minute.

Scooting out the bathroom door, Jacques' sister was back in even less time with an armload of flannel. "These are Robbie's old things. They'll do for Ray, but I'm afraid you'll have to stick to towelling robes. My men aren't broad enough for their clothes to fit you."

Bodie smiled, unable to recall the last time he'd used pyjamas. Ray habitually slept in a pair of loose pyjama bottoms for some unfathomable reason, but he himself normally slept in bare skin or his clothes on nights when he was too exhausted or inebriated to be rid of them. "Quite all right."

Bodie blinked as Marie and Doyle stepped from the bathroom. The green and white checked flannel nightwear gave his friend a very young appearance. Were it not for the ugly mottling on his face, Ray would look as though he should be dragging an overstuffed teddy bear behind him.

Odd, Bodie thought. In all the years he'd known his partner, only rarely had Doyle stuck him as looking youthfully innocent. His view of Doyle generally fell into one of three categories – exotic, sexy as hell, or downright menacing. Innocent wasn't an adjective Bodie ever associated with this competent partner. Ray was one of the most streetwise coppers Bodie had ever met. But now in a single day, he'd twice made this observation. Figuring it must be due to Doyle's uncharacteristically vulnerable state, Bodie watched Marie settle his mate beneath a daunting pile of blankets.

The cat bounced from her perch on the table to claim the space besides Ray's feet.

Thinking that the hard wood chair from Robert's worktable would be a much less comfortable bed than Jacques easy chair that he'd slept in last night, Bodie began to pull it toward the bedside.

"Oh, no you don't," Marie said, placing a hand on the chair back. "Your bed is next door."

"I think I should be here in case Ray needs anything or gets up."

"He's not going anywhere. Look how tired he is," she pointed out, motioning toward the sleepy green slits that looked like they were being forced open by sheer strength of will. "As soon as we leave he'll be out like a light. And if he should go wandering, Cleo here will be sure to let us all know."

"'ey?" Bodie asked, not understanding.

"As soon as he sets foot out of that bed, she'll be howling for her breakfast. Wakes the whole house up, Cleo does," Marie laughed.

Still reluctant, Bodie hovered.

"Come on, we'll leave the lamp on. You can leave both your doors open if you're still worried," Marie said.

On these conditions, Bodie agreed. Looking back from the threshold, he noticed that Ray's eyes did droop shut the moment they were at the door.

Reassured that Ray was finally getting some comfortable rest, Bodie allowed himself to be led to the room next door. He was so exhausted that he barely took in much more of the comfortable furnishings, except for noting that the room had a bed, dresser and nightstand.

A quick trip to the loo, then Bodie was testing out the softness of the goose down pillows. He was deeply asleep before he'd even fully stretched out.


The melodious song of an unfamiliar bird penetrated his sleepy consciousness, its sweetness drastically at odds with the desolate environments in which the last six months had accustomed him to waking. Bodie started fully awake, jerking upright in the bed to stare about the grey-lit room

Looking around the cosy bedroom, the memories returned. They were at Jacques' sister's hotel, with Ray safe in the next room. From the distant kitchen he could just catch the clatter of pans and, when he listened especially closely, a voice he took to be Marie's in brisk speech.

Bodie pulled himself from the comfortable bed. Dragging on his robe, he padded barefoot across the floor to the open door of the adjoining room.

This room was situated in the corner of the ski lodge. It had windows on both the eastern and southern ends of the room. The rising sun hit the window on the far end of Doyle's room. Bright golden light splashed across the foot of the bed, its warm band growing as the sun edged further up into the sky.

Bodie stood motionless in the doorway, soaking up the sight.

Doyle was still soundly asleep, curled on his side, facing the door. During the night, the cat had moved, perhaps to escape the heat of the rising sun, perhaps to be closer to Ray. Cleo now lay beside Doyle's neck, her small, valentine-shaped head pillowed in Ray's fingers that covered her front paws. They looked for all the world as though they'd both fallen asleep while Doyle was petting her.

Standing there, forever an observer, Bodie knew a moment of irrational anger that Doyle could show acceptance to a dumb animal and an absolute stranger. Right then, he felt very closed out. He longed for some reassurance that he was not the ogre his partner's cringes made him out to be.

But, then, maybe he was, his conscience cruelly suggested, recalling a throwaway comment Ray had once made when he’d called him a 'priapismic monster.' Bodie’s assurances in the car that Ray was safe from his desire while in this state might be no more than self-delusions. It was entirely possible that his partner had read his heart and feared the want buried there.

Or, it might be more impersonal than that. After being brutalized by men for so many months, Doyle might fear him simply because of his gender. Marie and the blasted cat couldn't rape him, so Doyle would let them closer to him because they presented no threat.

Or so Bodie tried to tell himself, unable to shake the chill that the former possibility cast on his soul. Pushing all envy aside, he strode back into his own room to prepare for the day.

When he returned less than thirty minutes later, his partner was already awake with Marie perched on the edge of the bed trying to tempt Doyle with a spoonful of completely unappetizing gruel. Bodie paused in the doorway, listening with amusement as their hostess tried to mimic his own tone of last night.

"Eat, now." Unfortunately, her version was interspersed with totally unintimidating, "Please, Ray, lamb, do it for me," and the like that Doyle was meeting with an unimpressed stare of basilisk staunchness.

Ray’s expression changed as Bodie took over the task. Bodie’s look of simmering rage that quelled most witnesses' reluctance was equally effective on Ray's appetite. The oatmeal and toast were grudgingly consumed, followed by a chaser of pills and tea.

That task done, he started to herd his unenthusiastic friend toward the bathroom.

"Would you like some help?" Marie asked, almost palpably sympathetic to Ray's plight.

Bodie paused, wanting nothing more than to hand his partner over to her unthreatening care. But patterns were too easily established. Convenient as it would be to accept the help Marie was only too happy to offer, fairness mandated he refuse. It wouldn't be right to allow Ray to become accustomed to another's presence, only to rip Doyle free when he'd begun to trust. The sooner Doyle got used to him, the better.

Searching for the words to explain this to the approaching woman, Bodie spun back to his partner as the surprising click of the bathroom door sounded. His hand wavered over the doorknob, wondering if he should intrude.

At last, Marie and he ended up staring uncertainly at each other. Finally her face broke into a smile. "Well, I guess that settles that."

Not knowing whether to be pleased or not by Doyle's choosing to emerge from his limbo rather than endure his touch, Bodie settled nervously on one of the straight back chairs by the worktable.

"You worry too much," Marie scolded gently.

"He's . . . I'm not used to him being so helpless."

"Ray seems to be doing all right for himself at the moment."

Bodie snorted. "Only because he fears me. I'm beginning to think that maybe the doctor was right. He might be better off in a convalescent home."

"No," there was no doubt in Marie's firm denial, "you care for him. He is best with you."

"But the doctors would be able to help him better. He can't even talk or feed himself as he is now. How am I going to repair that?" Bodie fell silent, shocked that he'd allowed his fears to slip out like that. Never had he been one to seek reassurance from others. Sometimes, he'd accept it from Ray when Doyle offered it, but even then he never actively sought reassurance, much less bluntly demanded it.

"I think you use the wrong verb," Marie said calmly.

"How so?"

"You say you believe he can't speak, can't eat without you spooning the food into his mouth for him. From what I've seen of your friend, I'd say Ray won't eat or speak."

"Won't?" Bodie asked, almost feeling his ears pricking attentively forward like a hunting hound's to his master's horn.

"Tell me, Bodie, since you recovered your friend, has Ray . . .soiled himself or required your help to use the toilet?"

Flushing at the bizarre question, Bodie shook his head. "No. Why do you ask?"

"Because it seems to me that if he were as bad off as you believe him, he wouldn't be able to attend to bodily functions either."

Flabbergasted, Bodie recognized the truth of what she was saying. Even yesterday on the drive when Doyle was little more than a drugged up zombie, Ray had still staggered into the loo at the petrol station under his own steam.

"But why would he . . .?" Even as he asked, he knew. Ray wouldn’t talk, at first the silence had probably been due to his reluctance to betray information and later because of the abuse he'd received. His refusal to eat was more easily explained, much to Bodie's horror. Physical evidence and his brief sampling of the temperament of Doyle's captors had shown Bodie that there was little to encourage his partner to live. With hope of rescue dashed or forgotten, death by starvation might have seemed the only means of escape.

"I don't know why he should wish to starve himself," Marie answered his unfinished question. "The more important question is, has he the will to accomplish it?"

"Raymond Doyle is the most stubborn man I've ever met."

"Then you can't leave him. Whether it be fear or something else, Ray responds to you. If I'd tried all day, I don't think I could have persuaded him to swallow one spoonful of that oatmeal. I doubt if a nurse would do much better or would have the time to coax him with a ward full of other patients to see to. They’d have to force feed him with a feeding tube, which in itself can be something of a torture. For what it's worth, I think you've made the right decision."

"Thank you." Although made for selfish reasons, it was nonetheless comforting to find another who felt he'd done the right thing.

"Has he clothes in there?" Marie asked once the water had stopped running and Doyle still did not emerge.

"Ah, no." Bodie hastily gathered up the discarded tracksuit trousers and shirt from last night and made a quick forage through his suitcase for clean underwear.

"Wait a second," Marie said, heading toward the room's closet. A stack of folded blue jeans and shirts were pulled from a box on its top shelf. "Robbie hasn't touched these in years. They're not fancy, but they might do Ray for a while."

Bodie accepted the clothes with thanks. "I'll get him into these," he said, picking out a pair of jeans and a soft red corduroy button-down that showed only a little wear at the elbows.

"Once he's ready I could show you over to the chalet, if you'd like."

Agreeing, Bodie knocked on the bathroom door, waited a moment and then entered.


The load just wasn't going to fit, Bodie despaired sometime later as he attempted to arrange his belongings and the abundant wardrobe Marie had donated to Ray into his compact suitcase. He shuddered to think about the number of steamer trunks it must have required to haul Robert's things to university if these were just his discards.
Finally, Bodie figured out the logistics of the thing, poked the corner of yet another jumper back in, deposited his not inconsiderable weight atop the gaping end before the suitcase could surmise his intent and find some new way to thwart his efforts. Bodie weathered the wobbling which threatened to dump both rider and bag from the bed, and at last snapped the recalcitrant clamps shut.

His triumphant shout was ignored by his partner, who had watched the proceedings from his seat at the table with nearly the same degree of interest a rubber chicken would have paid him. Bodie, who would have gladly traded a year of his life for a single, "ride 'em cowboy" taunt or even a mischievous push to overbalance the suitcase while he'd been upon it, contented himself with the knowledge that Ray at least hadn't cringed at his shout.

By now accustomed to the frequent bouts of coughing, Bodie did his best not to hover as he waited for the latest onslaught to subside. Marie had given Doyle a box of tissues, which his partner now clutched like a teddy bear to his chest.

Suitcase in hand, Bodie stood beside his partner until Ray at last raised a watery eyed gaze up to him, as if to ask Bodie’s bidding.

"Marie's going to take us over to the chalet," Bodie reminded, almost convincing himself that it was his explanation and not the guiding hand on his elbow that motivated Doyle.

Without warning, Ray froze, to stand rooted between Robert's worktable and his recently vacated chair like some great evergreen trapped in a glacier's transparent, eternal grip.

Wondering what sordid connotations a guiding hand to an elbow had taken on in the last few minutes, Bodie turned irritably back toward his partner. This was the same kind of freeze-up that occurred whenever Bodie tried to help Doyle undress or whenever any other sexual overtones entered dealings. But this time Bodie was innocent; he'd done and said nothing to inspire such a reaction. Unless, of course, Ray had recovered his reasoning abilities and realized that going to the chalet meant they'd soon be alone together.

The expression on Doyle's face drove all thought from his mind. In the past, he'd seen Doyle frightened of death. On those few occasions where Ray had found himself powerless at the end of an opponent's cocked weapon, a strange, ethereal expression would still his features and a wildness would enter his eyes as Ray anticipated the inevitable. But although his partner's face held remnants of that expression, this was different than those near fatal brushes. Never had Bodie beheld such a look of stark terror.

As he watched, all traces of colour had drained from Doyle's flesh, even his bruised lips appearing white as he stared unblinking over Bodie's right shoulder.

Unwilling to move, lest he add to the unreasoning fear, Bodie frantically searched his own actions for its cause. Nothing, no word or gesture or . . .

A sound broke the nerve-rending silence. Shocked, he realized that the tiny, childlike whimper was coming from Dole. It was the strangled cry of someone too frightened to voice the scream Bodie could see building in Ray's eyes.

Abruptly, those eyes darted to Bodie's face, begging him as he'd never seen his partner plead before.
Quick as a tiger's pounce, Doyle moved. Almost jumping behind Bodie, both his hands clutched the taller man's arm. The beseeching expression in the panicked green gaze seemed to promise Bodie anything if he'd just . . .

Just what?

Frantic himself now, Bodie peered around the room. When his gaze swept to the door, the ex-C.I.5 agent found his answer. Just for the barest instant he beheld what had so unnerved his partner. A tall, black-clad man with wispy blond hair and eyes burning black with intent filled the doorway. Bodie’s free hand closed around the hilt of his holstered weapon as he took in the auctioneer's spectre.

Then, the ghost moved further into the room. Morning sunlight touched the shadowed face, picking out furrows and points in the aquiline features where smooth, malicious hardness should have been. Instead, the light cast warmth into the dark eyes until they shone a confused, soft brown.

"Gruber," Bodie breathed in relief, releasing the gun to take Ray in a rough embrace. "It's all right, mate. You remember Marie's husband, Wilhelm? We met him last night," Bodie murmured, as much for his own reassurance as Doyle's.

Oddly enough, Ray didn't shake free of his hold, seeming to draw unconscious strength from the loose hug. Bodie held on until he felt Doyle's breathing steady and the wild racing of the heart thundering so close to his own chest still to a near-normal beat. Only then did he release Doyle.

Ray stared at their host, sanity fast returning.

Still stunned himself, Bodie's gaze was transfixed on his partner. Even as he watched, Doyle began to inch away from him in movement so gradual as to be almost unnoticeable.
Doyle paused, as if realizing his withdrawal was not unobserved.

Bodie's face cracked into a wide, encouraging grin of almost imbecilic proportions. He knew it was foolish – Doyle's reaction probably didn't mean anything at all – but the fact that Ray had turned to him for protection buoyed his spirit up as nothing else had.
The Doyle he had found in that murky warehouse two nights ago would have remained rooted with terror, allowing the auctioneer to take his kiss or whatever else he desired without protest or thought of flight. Hard as it was to see, some degree of healing must have transpired in these last two days. Maybe Doyle wasn't up to fighting, but he now at least sought escape. However slight Ray's trust in him, that one show of confidence had done wonders for Bodie's morale.

Maybe it had only been a choice of the lesser of two evils, Bodie thought as the proposition inherent in Ray’s desperate gaze returned to mind, but at least it indicated that Doyle saw a difference between Bodie and his former captors.

"Your friend, he is all right?" Gruber asked, still framed within the doorway.

Bodie thought Gruber's hesitation was caused as much by his own instinctive grab for his weapon as Doyle's distress. "It takes Ray a little while to get used to people, that's all."

"My Marie said I should take your bags to the car," Gruber explained, appropriating the now cumbersome suitcase.

With his partner in tow, Bodie followed their reticent host through the hall.

"You and your wife have been very kind to us," he said awkwardly, trying to breach the silence. Marie, Bodie was sure of, but Gruber's feelings toward his intrusive houseguests were a mystery.

"Is family," Gruber explained, a shy smile gentling his hawk-like features.


"Jacques, he says you are the son he never had and my Marie would very much like to. . .how do you say. . .to adopt your friend."

Bodie laughed at that notion. "Ah, our Ray of sunshine is a good deal more than your sweet Marie can handle, I think."

"Perhaps," Gruber agreed, falling back into silence.

But this time the ex-C.I.5 agent was comfortable with the quiet, contentedly following their host out to the car park.

Hidden behind a pair of dark sunglasses, Marie waited there at the wheel of a jeep that looked as though it would be more at home in the African bush than Western Europe were it not for its bright blue colour and the odd ploughing device affixed to its front. The gleaming slickness of the royal blue paint would never blend in with the subdued greens and tans of the bush lands.

Bodie grinned at the incongruous picture their tiny hostess presented behind the controls of the oversized land rover.

"Have everything?" she asked in the tone of voice Bodie had always imagined a concerned mother would possess.

"Everything that would fit," Bodie replied, opening the boot so that Gruber could fit the dangerously overstuffed suitcase within. Bodie tucked the attaché case he carried in beside it and firmly locked the trunk. The remainder of his ill-gotten gains still made him very self-conscious. He’d never had this much money in his entire life.

When Marie made no move to join them, he glanced questioningly over at her.
"I thought it best if I rode up ahead of you. That way no one would have to drive me back down. Besides, this monster will cut a trail you should be able to follow."

"Cut a trail?" Bodie asked, not liking the sound of this.

"The chalet's been empty for the last three weeks. We've had five storms since then. There is bound to be a bit of snow on the road."

Not knowing what else to say, he contented himself to an inadequate, "oh," and settled his partner in the Volvo.

Giving a wave to Gruber, who had all but disappeared into a flock of ski-laden, luggage-toting new arrivals, Bodie followed Marie's jeep past the lodge. He tried not to show alarm as she ignored the ice covered road that led up from the main highway and headed directly toward a high mound of snow in the centre of the patch of blue spruces to the left of the lodge.

Her land rover plunged lustily into the sparkling snow pile, spewing a steady stream of flung snow to either side and leaving a car-sized path behind it. Bodie reluctantly left the shovelled, paved drive behind to turn into the snow packed trail she had blazed. He drove between the tall banks, doing his best to keep his wheels on the tracks left by the rover's thicker treads.

The day cold and clear, bright sunlight splashed down at them out of a brilliant blue sky. Bodie admired the bright colour of the endless stretch of blue above and tried to recall a time he'd seen a more vivid sky.

England's summers, memorable for those rare, totally cloudless days, didn't quite match. Home had a special quality to its beauty, part nostalgia, part that indefinable blend of riotous colours of flower gardens and lush green grass against a backdrop of blue. England's sky was pretty, but never remembered solely for its own colour.

He thought of Africa. That sky sometimes came close on days when there was no dust. During the rainy season, before the sun had scorched the land brown and dry, one might catch a sky this blue. But the days Bodie had spent there were hard ones, with little time for such distractions.

Finally his mind lit on the memory he'd been searching for. The Aegean Sea. There had been a day when a pitifully young man had sat alone on the deck atop a boatload of contraband machine guns. For miles upon countless miles nothing else had shown in the water. Sea and sky, sky and sea, for as far as the eye could see, not even the white cap of a wave to relieve the loneliness, all of it tinted a blue so blinding that it hurt to look at it. That had rivalled the vividness of this painfully bright day.

Abruptly, Bodie realized that it wasn't only that the sky was so bright. His eyes had settled into a tight squint, instinctive protection against the blinding white of the snow that rose almost as high as the car door on both sides and capped every evergreen and bare limbed bush or tree they passed. A glance at Doyle revealed an even greater discomfort. Ray's eyes were narrow slits, his face contorted as if in severe pain.
Probably did hurt like hell, Bodie thought, observing how Ray's grimace stretched scab-covered cuts and wrinkled bruised flesh.

Why his partner didn't just curl up and go back to sleep as he'd done on yesterday's drive, Bodie couldn't imagine. Until he realized how strange this must seem to Ray. Doyle's squint was fixed on the rover up ahead, occasionally darting to the high banks on either side or to the rear window. Whenever Doyle would look back at the safety of the receding lodge, his lips would purse almost resignedly and a peculiar expression of trepidation would flicker across his features.

Bodie could almost read his partner’s thoughts. Ray was probably telling himself that last night was too good to be true. Doyle probably had no idea as to where they were going or why, Bodie thought sympathetically. And, it was entirely possible Ray had never seen this much snow before.

"We’re still in Switzerland, Ray," Bodie softly explained, not wanting to startle his already nervous companion. Absorbed in the intricacies of uphill driving, Bodie did his best to explain their destination. His words fell into the silence like ten pence into a pond, leaving no impression of their passage.
Ray didn't even look his way as Bodie spoke. Yet, the gesture seemed to have some effect for, although Doyle watched as intently as ever, the invisible current of anxiety seemed to ease somewhat.

The going was slow, mostly because of the depth of snow. In the places where the route would curve and Bodie could see where Marie went before she got to it, there was no indication of a road. To his untrained eye, they seemed to travel over an increasingly steepening hillside, the ground they covered no different from that of twenty feet away. Still, they hit none of the rocks and boulders he knew had to be there, so he assumed they were indeed following a hidden road.

Often the rover would have to veer off the trail it was ploughing to unload its accumulated burden at the side in great grey and white piles that towered above the banks. The first time Marie paused to clear the plough, Bodie almost drove up her tail, thinking it just another curve in the serpentine road.

The distance they were covering surprised him. Although he hadn't been told so, Bodie had thought the chalet close, at most half a mile away. They crawled past the slopes dotted with specks of garishly clad skiers who flowed down the mountainside like raindrops down a pane of glass. Bodie observed the lift machinery curiously as they passed under a chair lift, amused by the awkward weaving of ski-shod feet overhead. Then they left the ski slopes behind, cutting their way through what looked like untouched wilderness.

Here the timber thickened to a more than decent forest and Bodie’s trained eye could tell where the road was. Some might mistake the gaping slash of empty snow between the knotted trunks of towering pines as just another clearing, but Bodie, who’d spent years searching the African bush for just such openings between thickets, recognized the road for what it was.

He was grateful for the tall, skinny trees. Although their shadows were thick and chillingly cold, they cut the irritating glare of the snow down to a manageable level. He turned up the heater and smiled reassuringly at an apparently oblivious Ray.

Once they reached the timberline, the road began to climb in earnest, swinging up and around to the far side of the mountain in wide, snakelike curves that were treacherous. The turns were nearly 180-degree angles; gradual enough to lull a driver into a false sense of security that lasted until he hit a patch of ice at a speed he'd never be doing on a more sudden turn. Bodie didn't want to dwell on the results of such a skid, preferring to concentrate on the slow moving vehicle that was clearing the way for them.

Gradually, the forest thinned. Gnarled short scrub pines took the place of the regal spruces. Naked rock climbed high on the driver's side of the car, threatening a messy stop should their car spin out to the left. The alternative on the right wasn't much better. Bodie estimated that they were at least 13,000 feet up.

The drop Doyle was currently staring impassively out over didn't go straight down. First they’d have to break through the flimsy snow bank walling that side of the road, then they'd bounce around for a couple of thousand feet before reaching a nice cosy ledge, or, if extremely unlucky, tumbled all the way back down to the timberline.

Marie pulled perilously close to the cliff to disgorge her snowy burden. Instead of moving immediately on this time, the jeep came to a complete stop. The rover 's door opened and Jacques' sister approached them.
Bodie watched her carefully choose her footing.

He rolled down his window, letting in a wall of icy air.

"We're making good time," Marie announced, astounding Bodie who would have thought six miles in 45 minutes slow going for a three-footed tortoise. "We should be there in about ten minutes. For this next stretch, floor the accelerator. You're going to need your momentum to make it up that hill. Hold back on the gas and you'll probably slide back down."

"All right," Bodie agreed, hoping they wouldn't end up the rover's exhaust pipe. Their former boss had had some incredibly voluminously voiced regrets following an order to 'step on it.'

As if reading his mind, Marie said, "Wait until I've cleared the way first. There's a sharp turn to the left that gives way to a fairly level stretch."

"The top?" Bodie asked hopefully.

"As close to it as we can get without climbing gear." She laughed. "I'll plough right through to the down hill grade. Once I've got it clear, I'll sound the horn and you can start up. Remember, go fast."


Bodie hastily rolled up the window as she walked back to her rover.

He watched as Marie shot forward, barrelling up the steep slope like a proverbial bat out of the Norse version of Hel. She almost didn't make it.

Bodie gritted his teeth, the breath catching in his chest as he watched Marie’s hair-raising start gradually slowed under the weight of the snow the plough was accumulating. Just as he was about to manoeuvre their own car out to block the existing road against the rover's inevitable backwards slide that would take their hostess off the cliff at the very next curve, the rover jutted forward as if thrown into overdrive. A moment's more of nerve-racking climb and it disappeared around the bend in a streak of blue.

Bodie breathed a sigh of relief and settled back to wait. He was finding country living a bit more exciting than he'd anticipated.

A horn's blare hooted through the stillness. Giving a quick thought to avalanches, his foot eased down onto the accelerator and they started to move forward with an ever-quickening pace.

He reached out to tug Ray back from his imminent impact with the windshield, and then devoted both hands to steering.

The Volvo's tires dug into the tracks left by the jeep, spewing a mad spray of snow in its wake. Three quarters of the way up the slope, Bodie felt their climb begin to slow. He jammed the already floored pedal down as far as it would go. The motor gave them a minuscule push, just enough sent them the rest of the way up the difficult grade.

As promised the ground levelled, surprisingly fast. Judicious application of the brakes brought them to a reluctant stop, a mere six inches from the rover's tailgate.

His muscles tight as at the end of a dangerous op, Bodie took a moment to relax and stretch out.

At least their hideout was secluded, he reflected, unable to imagine many lawmen determined enough to tackle that road mid-winter. The spring thaw would, of course, bring better roads, but by that time any police report the doctor might have filed on Ray would be ancient history.

Marie started forward again. Bodie automatically followed her.

The road sloped downhill in gentle, lazy curves. Descending should have been easier than the climb up, but Bodie found himself constantly gaining on the slower moving vehicle. His fingers aching from clenching the wheel, he did his best to avoid ruining the Volvo's grillwork.

A left turn brought them to another steep cliff. Bodie gaped at the view afforded from this side of the mountain.

A seemingly endless stretch of pine-dotted, snow-capped mountains filled the land clear to the horizon. The lack of skiable slopes on this, the southern side, lent the place a wild, untouched splendour. The walls here were composed of jagged peaks and stony ledges, perfect for climbing but little else.

The sheer stone wall the road had been hugging for the last mile or so dipped inward to form an enormous, crater-like ledge. Looking at the depression, Bodie had the absurd notion that something had taken a generous bite out of this side of the mountain. The grey stone walls rose endlessly up on all sides of the level ground they'd paused on and seemed to stoop over at their tops to shield much of the ledge. A large village or several sports arenas could have fit comfortably on it.

As it was, a large natural field had developed on the ledge. Bodie deduced the existence of healthy soil from the abundance of spruce trees that fringed the walls of the elliptical hollow. The centre of the ledge looked to be open ground beneath its deep carpet of snow. The winter-darkened tips of hidden vegetation that were probably shrubs and thorn bushes poked their way through the cold white mantle at various parts of the field.

The only man-made constructions stood at the far end of the hollow amidst a pleasant grouping of green spruces and slender, bare limbed trees. The smaller of the two structures was a garage or tool shack of some nondescript and uninteresting sort.

The other odd building claimed Bodie's full attention. On first sight the chalet – or so Bodie presumed it to be, as their hostess was heading straight toward it – looked like an arrow with a shortened trunk and elongated tips. Triangular in shape, the sides of the roof tapered downwards almost to the ground.

The red wood building stood two levels high. An enormous rectangular window dominated the front of the house, its size encompassing the four smaller, lace draped windows on the floor directly above it. The entrance was a door of darker wood, placed to the right of the huge window. Another tiny window, shaped like a half moon and paned with bright stained glass, twinkled merrily above the doorway, seeming to offer a welcoming red and blue sparkle even from the distance.

The land rover ploughed a path clear to the garage doors, and then veered to the left to dump its load of snow.

Bodie pulled in beside the rover and glanced at Ray.

Outwardly unperturbed by the trip up, Doyle was staring out at the chalet. If there was no curiosity in his friend's gaze, Bodie was relieved to find that at least the blankness was also missing.

"We're here," he announced unnecessarily, rubbing his hands together with a false animation that was totally wasted on his mate. For all the notice Ray took of him, he might just as well have broken down and sobbed at their safe arrival. He couldn't decide which was worse, being totally ignored or cringed away from in terror.

Seeing their hostess crunching her way toward them, Bodie belatedly opened the car door. Instantly, he regretted his action. There was a coldness to the dry, clear air that he would not have believed possible. The rush of it inward from the open door leeched all warmth away at its very touch. A moment's exposure had Bodie wishing for a snowsuit and balaclava. Recalling Doyle's flu, he hastily closed the car door behind him as he popped out to meet their hostess.

"We made good time," Marie declared, flashing a blinding smile. "The pass wasn't nearly as bad as I expected."

"Cynic," he chided lightly, not really wanting to experience what she considered bad.

Seeing the bulging cardboard boxes piled in back of the rover and fearing the remainder of the absent Robert's wardrobe to be packed within, Bodie asked, "What’s all that?"

"Food, linens, towels, and other essentials. It's a bit of a hike to the nearest off-hour."

Bodie laughed and took hold of the largest of the boxes. Following Marie toward the front door, he stopped to look uncertainly back at the tousled, longhaired head just visible through the moisture condensing on the passenger window. He felt strange leaving Ray sitting somewhere to wait his return like a tied up pooch.

"He's warmer in there than he'll be inside until we get the heat working," Marie assured him, trapping a box between her hip and the doorjamb as she searched her pockets for the key.

Bodie awkwardly collected the box from her and held it atop his own weight burden while she struggled with the cold lock. At last, it gave way.

Marie led him quickly through a large room that left him with the fleeting impression of light and space. Sitting room, he guessed as they passed through the doorway situated directly opposite the front door to a small dark hallway with two open doors and an arched doorless entrance.

The room to the left was a tiny bathroom; the glimpse he caught of the furnishings through the half open door to the right led him to believe it a study. Something in the jumbled assortment of books crowded on the wall shelf behind a huge desk brought Jacques immediately to mind.

The archway led to a surprisingly modern kitchen. It lacked so much as a hint of the rustic simplicity the wildness of the trip up had led him to expect. Not a sign of a hand pump, he happily noticed, placing his burden on a heavy oak table.

"Furnace is this way," Marie said, leading him from sunny cheer of the yellow kitchen to a staircase by the back door that led to the basement.

Once the intricacies of the heating system had been mastered, the boxes cleared from the rover, and Ray and their cases collected from the car, Marie took them on the grand tour of the chalet.

There were few surprises on the ground floor. C.I.5’s training had conditioned Bodie to automatically note the positions of stairs, doors and windows, even if only on an unconscious level.

Bodie did, however, take the time to appreciate the beauty of the dwelling that was so generously offered to them. He’d always wanted a place with a fireplace, he thought, admiring the stone hearth that took up the entire left wall.

There was none of the elegance of Jacques' usual furnishings here. The sofa was huge and the armchairs down-stuffed to capacity for maximum comfort, but they weren't antiques.

The tables and bookcases were not constructed from expensive mahogany or cherry wood. The wood furniture was plain old, utilitarian cedar, but the colour of their rich, dark finishes matched that of the doorways and moulding boards almost to perfection.

An unassuming ivory paint covered the sitting room walls, its simplicity unmarred by the frenzy of artwork that accumulated seemingly by spontaneous generation on any empty wall space where Jacques Dupres resided for more than a week. Only one painting hung in the sitting room, a rectangular oil almost as long as the couch beneath it, depicting a stag who'd just risen from drinking at a mountain stream. The portrayal was strikingly lifelike. The tense poise and forward pricking of pointed ears suggested the buck’s drinking had been interrupted, the alert glint in the widened brown eyes seeming to fix on the observer as through he were the interloper. The detail was incredible, the fuzz on the five rack antlers so vivid one could almost stroke its velvety smoothness.

In another setting the oversized painting might have been intimidating, but situated as it was across from the scenic window that claimed the whole length of the opposing wall, its size did not seem quite so imposing.

The view from the window, bordered as it was with towering mountains and snow-laden valleys, ripped one’s breath away – so overwhelming was its unreal splendour. Even Doyle, who'd exhibited no more interest in the house than he had the dashboard of the car or his hapless keeper, paused to gaze almost thoughtfully out over the picture window’s awesome panorama.

Bodie took an immediate liking to the picture window and the cosy comfort of the room it lighted.

All surprises were presented by the chalet's upper level. Due to the triangular construction of the house, the upper four rooms were all oddly shaped. The bare-beamed ceiling sloped gradually from the highest point right inside the door to the very floor at the far end. Two small windows jutted out like square crystal jewels into the roof's steep grade from each room.

Just right of the staircase was the large, sun warmed master bedroom with its huge bed, soft woodsy hues and private bath. Bodie decided immediately that this would be Ray's room. The small windows looked out over the same view that had whetted Doyle's interest on the ground floor. Bodie hoped it would speed his recovery.

The remaining two rooms were of equal size. One was decorated in a spectrum of pastels that ran the gamut from pink to aqua, and accentuated with frills and lace that made the ex-mercenary intensely uncomfortable.
Perplexed, Bodie stared at a vase that held a bouquet of peacock feathers. The room was so intensely frilly and feminine that Bodie couldn’t credit it being in a house of Jacques’. Though always a bit more cultured than the typical desert rat, there had never been anything the least bit soft about Dupres.

Marie seemed to sense the questions burning in his mind as Bodie stared at the pastel room, for she softly supplied, "Robert and my Anna used to come stay with Jacques when he visited. I’m afraid her uncle spoiled her terribly. He let her decorate the room herself."

"I didn’t know you had a daughter," Bodie commented. All he’d heard about was Robert, who was off at university.

"I don’t, not anymore. She died of a fever when she was nine," Marie answered.

Bodie bit his lip, regretful of his casual prying. "I’m sorry."

Marie nodded and seemed to pull herself together with an effort.

More subdued, they went to investigate the remaining room. It was painted ambiguous beige. Furnished with only a single bed, chest of drawers and bare nightstand, the austerity of this last room seemed stark as a prison cell when compared to the comfort of the other two. Bodie decided to stow his own gear here, relieved by its unassuming decor.

"This chalet belongs to Jacques?" Bodie questioned as Marie led them back into the sitting room.

Doyle, who had trailed after them with a disturbing lack of interest, stopped just within the doorway. The stillness of his posture suggested that he was consciously trying to deflect attention from himself. Bodie, who'd noticed everything down to how frequently his partner blinked, casually snagged Ray's arm in passing and settled him on the sofa beside him. Pale with strain, Doyle looked as though he could use the rest.

"By rights the chalet, lodge, and practically the entire mountain belong to my brother. It was our parents' and their parents’ before them." Once again Marie seemed to hear his unvoiced question, for she explained, "They did not approve of my Wilhelm, so they left everything to my brother."

"But he said. . ."

"Jacques never cared much for mountains living. It’s too desolate for him. He deeded everything but the chalet over to us as a belated wedding present – he was lost somewhere that year. You know how he is, just as you're about to have him declared dead he shows up laden with presents and a tale that would bug out a potato's eyes."

Bodie laughed, but was forced to agree with her.

"You look like you could use some hot tea," Marie said, jumping to her feet.

"Marie, you don’t have to . . ."

"Sit down. Next time I visit, you can serve me. Okay?"

Smiling at her infectious vivacity, Bodie said, "You better tell Wilhelm that if he doesn’t keep you happy, I’m going to steal you away."

"Careful there, lad. I might just let you, at least for a week or two," Marie chuckled before ducking into the kitchen, blushing like a schoolgirl.

As he settled back into the sofa, he looked over at Ray, whose gaze was focused on the picture window with unmistakable interest. Glad to see anything taking Doyle’s attention outside of himself, Bodie relaxed, a peaceful comfort settling over him. Almost, he could believe that there was an end to their troubles in sight.


Chapter Three

Four nights later, that yearned-for end was still as distant as the horizon.

Doyle's scream penetrated the sepulchral stillness, reverberating through the small snow-bound chalet as through a hollow cave. Bodie shot straight up in his bed, searching through the night black surroundings in confusion until he remembered.

Should be getting used to this, he thought, as he ran barefoot across the cold floor to the master bedroom. For three nights now Doyle had wakened him this way. It was more than his silent partner's unconsciousness giving vent to the unvoiced fears of the day. When Ray let loose like that, he sounded like a soul subjected to all the horrors of hell. Or close to all of them, Bodie thought. He needed nothing more than the physical mementos of Doyle's captivity to guess the content of his partner's dreams.

Worse than the nerve rending noise was the knowledge that there was nothing Bodie could do to ease the torment. How could a man unable to utter a word or bear human touch unburden himself of the trauma behind such nightmares?

Bodie's first attempt at comfort on their second night in the chalet when Doyle's sleep was originally disturbed had almost sent his unbalanced mate over the edge. Like tonight, Bodie had awoken to ceaseless screams. Never would Bodie forget the horrid noise, half-sob, half-whimper that had replaced those cries once he'd gathered the tight ball of locked muscle and fear that Ray had become into his arms to offer solace. The closer he hugged, the more frantic the cries had come until at last he'd been forced to abandon Doyle, a fetal ball whimpering alone in the centre of the enormous bed.

That memory had been so vivid that last night Bodie had been afraid to touch him. Unwilling to intensify Ray's terror, he'd stood helpless at the bedside, gawking down at the suffering man like a child at a zoo exhibit. Only, unlike the zoo observer, Bodie had shared every second of that agony, hurting all the more for his impotency.

Tonight, Bodie was determined to help. How, he didn't know.

As he switched on the overhead light and saw Doyle balled up in a tangle of white sheets, still crying out in his sleep, he was once again besieged by that feeling of utter uselessness.

His hesitation vanished at a pathetically pleading cry. Maybe he wasn't capable of doing much more than startling his friend to wakefulness, but at least that would temporarily vanquish Doyle's demons.

"Ray," he called, as he approached the bed, the name a soft reassurance in itself.

He received no response until his hand gently squeezed a bony shoulder. That galvanized his partner into immediate, panicked consciousness, the fetal ball tightening protectively.

"It's just me, Ray," the quiet words, almost crooning, came with surprising ease. He couldn't see the tears with Ray's face buried between his blanket and curved arms, but he knew they were there. Bodie released his grip on the shoulder and eased onto the edge of the bed. Disdaining the bedside chair in which he'd spent the past nights. "'s only a nightmare, mate. You're safe here. Take a look around for yourself and see, no bogeymen."

It took some time, but gradually Doyle uncoiled.

Bodie's breath caught in his chest as the dishevelled curls popped up and Ray gazed about. Tears streamed down Ray's face in a steady stream. Doyle's lower lip was clenched tight between his teeth as if to trap all sound.

"It's over now," Bodie assured, although Doyle's unshaven face, torn with emotion as it was, looked as though it had been ravaged only moments ago.

"No one will ever hurt you again like that," Bodie promised, the solemnity all but lost on Doyle.

He could see that Ray needed some form of physical comfort; the brimming eyes fairly begged for a pair of arms to sob their pain out in, but Bodie's one move to offer it was checked by the now instinctive flinch. The need to hold his partner now a tangible ache, Bodie tried to content himself with the knowledge that he for once had Doyle's full attention.

If he couldn't touch, at least he could talk. Sensing that his words were finally getting through on some level, Bodie nattered on, "Almost forgot. 'm male, makes it off limits, don't it? That's okay. Don't want you ta think I'm after that anyway, sunshine. Only wish you'd let me help you."

He fell quiet, silenced by the intensity of Ray's tear reddened stare.

Dark with fear, Doyle's irises were very green at the moment, the body of them lush as the fuzzy moss that grew thick on streambed stones, striated with tiny lines of a gentler, jade colour that might pass for grey.
That compelling gaze fixed on Bodie, seeming to demand that he either justify or ease the fear.

"Tell you what," Bodie said, startling them both with his suddenness, "Why don't you take hold of my hand for a while, just until the jitters pass." He held his right hand over where both of Doyle's were clenched together. "The rest of me will stay right here. I won't move until you let go, then I'll go right back to my chair." He indicated the uncomfortable armchair he'd finished the last two nights in.

Doyle stared through him for the longest time, showing no sign that he'd understood Bodie's words. Then confusion entered his eyes, as if Bodie had just given Ray orders in a language he couldn't understand or offered him something he was unprepared to deal with.

Slowly, as if expecting the action to initiate a barrage of unforeseen violence, Doyle's right hand raised to clasp Bodie's open, offered palm.

Ray's skin felt cold, somewhat sweaty. Bodie's hand tightened around it, just enough to make him feel welcomed, but not entrapped.

Doyle continued to watch him intently, but when nothing threatening followed Ray's acceptance of the meagre solace, his eyelashes dropped closed as if to block out the sight of his partner. A tremendous shudder heaved through the slender body, followed by what sounded like a choked off sob.

The spring of tears flowed anew, but this time the sight of them didn't bring a cold touch to the bottom of Bodie's stomach. Instead, his own eyes stung with the effort to contain a similar flood.

"It's all right," Bodie gently soothed, afraid to so much as twitch a muscle in his hand for fear of shattering the fragile trust offered him.

The pressure Ray was applying gradually increased to a painful squeeze. After several moments Doyle's other hand blindly joined his other, clutching Bodie's hand tight as to a lifeline.

Still as stone, Bodie kept his promise to offer no more than his hand. Breathing in the salty scent of tears and subtle body musk, he let Ray cry, watching as the skin of his captured hand reddened to the same bright colour as Doyle's emotion flooded cheeks.

Eventually, the outburst stilled to ragged breathing that was punctuated by irregular, convulsive sobs. He expected his hand to be abruptly rejected, but Ray clutched it tight to his chest until sleep overtook him again. Only then did the vise-like hold gradually loosen.

Bodie cautiously withdrew his bloodless limb, the slight disturbance causing no more than a tiny whimper.
Rubbing sensation back into his crushed fingers, he pulled the bedclothes up over his sleeping partner then eased off the bed to settle into the nearby armchair to wait out the night.

Tomorrow, Bodie decided, he'd move one of the army cots that were folded in a basement corner up here. That way he wouldn't have nearly as far to travel when Doyle's nightly disturbances started.

Pleased by tonight's breakthrough, he sank into an uneasy doze.


Chapter Four

"Come on. Chew the damn thing and swallow it," Bodie ordered, lowering the fork and knife to rest beside the melted cheese sandwich. Three quarters of the oozing sandwich were now congealing on the plate. The corner ingested, in the time it would have taken him to force a three-course meal into his partner four weeks ago, was still trapped in Doyle's mouth unswallowed. Or so Bodie assumed from the bulging cheeks.

Doyle glared at him, fully as furious and rebellious as Bodie had ever seen him.

"Come on, get rid of it so you can finish the rest of the soddin' sandwich," Bodie cajoled, his patience spent weeks ago.

He raw his tone seemed to register.

The pupils in the wells of enraged green flared wider in near incandescent anger, and then, the unthinkable happened. Like Vesuvius erupting, the entire soggy mouthful spewed forth into Bodie's unsuspecting face. All anger left Doyle's eyes immediately, replaced by a smug slant that seemed to say, 'you told me to get rid of it'.

Something in Bodie snapped at the nasty action. He'd never been meant to be a nurse. His patience was long gone. There was nothing left inside him but frustration and fury.

Bodie's left hand shot out to snag Doyle's collar, pulling the smaller man forward across the table as his right fist rose chinward in instinctive response. It would be so easy to just to smash that goading face and give the bugger what he'd been asking for for the last month.

Mid-delivery, he paused, stopped dead by the expression of satisfied anticipation that replaced Doyle's smugness.

"Damn you," Bodie sputtered, propelling Doyle back into his seat as though Ray were the most revolting thing he'd ever laid hands on. "You can't let it rest, can you?"

Snatching up a napkin, he wiped the unchewed goop from his face. His body was still shaking – from rage and from fear of how close he'd come to fulfilling Doyle's expectations.

"You don't want to eat, fine. You can sleep instead." Without waiting for a reaction, he hauled Ray none too gently to his feet and all but dragged him up the stairs.

Disappointment over his failure had long since vanished from Doyle's face, trepidation replacing it as he was rough-handled into the bedroom.

Bodie caught the fear. His anger was fully justified, he knew, but Doyle was still the one who was mentally unstable here. As satisfying as thrashing the aggravating bugger might be, Bodie was loathe to do anything to justify Doyle's fear of him, even when more than provoked.

Doing his best to curb the white-hot fury still coursing through his blood, he plopped Ray onto the bed.

"Take your nap," he said, not ungently. "I'll be back later."

With that, he fled the room, horrified by how close he'd come to actually hurting Ray.

None of it made any sense. That first night when Ray had taken his hand, he'd been so sure Doyle was on his way to recovery. Trust had been restored, or so it seemed then. But as he'd learned the next morn, any advances at night were paid for by ruthless withdrawals the next morning. It was almost as though Doyle were punishing one of them for his own weakness; though, which of them, Bodie couldn't decide.

At times he was certain Doyle's hostility was motivated by hate. He'd look into that venomous glare and know that the very sight of him revolted his partner. But, then, there were the days when he was equally sure Ray was testing him, that the twisted little sod was pushing him, trying to force him to reveal himself to be the treacherous monster Doyle's fears painted him. He knew Ray was trying to force him to somehow justify Doyle's continued withholding of trust. Which he'd come very close to doing today, Bodie reflected, disgusted by his own lack of control.

His aimless wander led him to Jacques' study, the only room in the house that reflected its owner's personality. For the last week this room had been his refuge, the place to which he escaped while Ray was napping. A few poems, several chapters of an adventure novel or simply a quiet hour of a snatched doze usually did wonders to bolster Bodie's sinking stamina.

Today Bodie ignored the overstuffed chair, the disorderly book stacks, and attention grabbing knickknacks that were haphazardly strewn about the room, homing in on the window instead.

The view was bleak when compared to that of the sitting room's scenic window. The jagged peaks of the hollow the chalet nestled in dominated the view. The thin cluster of spruce huddled at its foot only slightly gentled its harshness. Not a pretty picture, even with the mad rush of snow dancing between, but Bodie was not in a pretty mood. His soul felt as hard and cold and grey as the rock out back.

Despite what Marie insisted on during her frequent visits, Doyle was not improving. The flu might have worked its way out of his system and most of the physical damage healed or faded, but mentally, Bodie could see no change. If he was not forced, Ray would not eat; Doyle had yet to utter a word, and Bodie was quite convinced that if he didn't go in there and practically haul his partner physically out of bed in the morning, that Ray would just lay there until he starved to death.

What strength Doyle did regain seemed to be extended in resisting his meals. Three weeks ago, it took twenty minutes to feed Ray dinner, now it was fully an hour and a half before Bodie could start on his own cold food.

These battles drained Bodie more than his recuperating partner, who managed to acquire boundless energy for swivelling his mouth away and lock jaw on demand. Only now was Bodie beginning to understand the true meaning of nurse-maiding.

This last struggle had all but sapped his will. He was tired of forcing Ray to do things. Up until now, Doyle's compliance with his regime was based solely on fear. But, Bodie's intimidation factor was gone. He'd comforted Ray far too much during his night terrors to be considered a threat anymore. Deep down, Doyle knew that Bodie was not going to hurt him, which was why Ray felt free to mistreat him as he had. Short of beating Ray silly, Bodie could think of no way to regain that lost respect.

Anyway, he was sick of being a bully. He wouldn't want that fear back even if he could have it. Doyle might be behaving like an obnoxious, spiteful brat, but at least he was choosing to act that way, not following orders like a bloody automaton. How that was any better then the former apathy when Doyle still wasn't feeding himself, Bodie couldn't see.

Overwhelmed by his troubles, Bodie's forehead touched the ice-cold pane. Perhaps it was time to admit defeat. Cowley could be contacted by a mere phone call. Ray could be shipped home for proper care, and he . . . well, he could fade back into the shadows.


The house was filled with a disturbing quiet. The absence of sound hung heavy in the air, a tangible presence that seeped through every empty room and sank through one's skin to twitching nerve endings like syrup through hot cakes. The unnatural silence made every chance sound ring louder, the occasional 'shuwump' of snow falling through the pine branches outside the window, the irregular drip of water leaking from the sink in the master bath, the occasional bang of a shutter as the wind played games with it, all echoed eerily through the still room.

Most disturbing of all was the waning light. A dim, grey twilight oozed sluggishly through the window that had been ablaze with daylight only a short while ago.

Something was wrong. The stranger who called himself Bodie should have come for him hours ago.

His taskmaster's daily routine was regular as clockwork and as invariable as the course of the sun. His keeper roused him when the light had just begun to peek through the right corner of his window, put him down for a rest after the midday meal, came back for him when the shadow from the dresser just hit the bed's footboard and brought him back for the night sometime after sunset.

The bureau's telling shadow had slunk past the bed long ago, gobbled up soon after by the denser darkness that now held dominion over the room.

Goosebumps prickled across Doyle's flesh in an icy shiver as he recalled the act that had banished him here so early. The mere memory roused the nagging discomfort that had plagued him too often of late.

Guilt. Somehow he knew it was not a new emotion, but something he had often worn close to his heart; although why that should be so, he had no conception.

As he'd done for the last month, he tried to shrug off the unwanted burden. What was it to him if his captor bruised easily? The man had bought him in an auction and hauled him up here to the top of the world for god knew what purpose. He owed Bodie nothing.

Usually, that was enough of a balm for his troubled conscience. Today it did not work so easily. Another, more insistent part of his mind kept batting back the awkward truths underlying each of his justifications as ruthlessly as a tennis pro would an opponent's ball.

It was true the man had bought him in auction for an unspecified purpose, but it was equally true that Bodie's motives weren't the expected ones. In all the days Bodie had had him isolated up here, there had been no request for information. Bodie asked a slew of questions – enough to tire a man out just listening to, let alone, answering – but they were all of the 'how're you feeling today, mate? That rib catchin' you up again?' variety. No relentless probes into incomprehensible subjects. Nothing that Bodie demanded made

Doyle have to sink further into that buffering well of silence he'd discovered within himself.

Which was why he clasped that distancing mantle so firmly around him, turning away from even the most innocent enquiries, lest his trust be betrayed. The puzzled hurt on the other man's face following such a rejection might rip right through him, but wasn't that better than being destroyed again?

On some level, he suspected that Bodie's benevolence was all just a front. Doyle feared that the instant he responded, verbally or emotionally, the sweet demeanour would drop and he'd once again be naked before a tormentor.

Yet, the longer he was with the man, the harder he found it to nurture such doubts. If Bodie's concern were an act, it was a near faultless one. More protector than captor, the other man guarded him with the fierce devotion with which a lioness would tend her injured cub, worrying over things that even the overprotective Marie shrugged off. For all the implied threat in his keeper's mealtime attitude, Bodie had yet to lift a finger to force him to do anything against his will – a fact upon which he'd shamelessly capitalized. Most importantly, the other man had shown absolutely no interest in his body, beyond getting it healed.

This last enigma had him totally puzzled. He could see where his muteness might discourage interrogation, but it did nothing to prohibit intercourse. In fact, his former captors had taken malicious delight in encouraging sound through rough usage. That type of sadism might not be part of this man Bodie's character, but he had to have had some reason for buying him, some reason for stoically enduring the aggravation Doyle threw at him.

Unless, what Bodie had claimed that first night were true. The details were hazy, fuzzed by fear, drugs, and the stupor of sickness. Partners, that was what Bodie had said they were when he'd bought him back to that white-haired man's house. Several times since their arrival here Bodie had referred to him as 'partner'.
What it meant, Doyle didn't know. There were times when he'd catch an expression in Bodie's creamy skinned face that stirred something deep inside himself that might be recognition, but it was ever elusive, always lost before he could properly grasp hold of it. Somehow, in protecting whatever it was that must not be told to his former captors, he'd lost the rest of what he was.

Tired of staring at the doorway of the darkening room, and more and more aware of the increasing pressure on his bladder, Doyle rose from the bed and crossed to the bathroom. The blackness was thickest in the smaller room, but he didn't bother with the light.

That stress relieved, he reviewed his alternatives. He could go back to bed. Bodie had left him there, making it more than clear that he'd had enough of him for the day. After the stunt he'd pulled, Doyle couldn't honestly blame him. In retrospect, all that surprised him was the other man's restraint. Bodie probably wouldn't want to see him for a long while. Best stay here until the anger cooled.

Which might take forever.

The white linen striping the top of the empty cot on the other side of the room caught his eye, being the only thing he could distinguish clearly through the gloom. Its gaping vacancy glared accusation at him, reminding Doyle of the cruelty of his act and bringing home its consequences.

Tonight, when the dreams came, as they inevitably would, there would be no strong hand to drag him from their depths, no motionless body to curl himself around while he sought the comfort of the embrace his fear denied him.

Only now was the tender patience, lavished on him with such casual generosity, appreciated. How man people could offer what Bodie gave each night? It couldn't be very easy, sitting there while a sobbing heap curled itself around him like an octopus' tentacle, while Bodie was bound by a promise to limit his own contact to a bloody handshake. Not many could do it. Even Marie, who had been present during one Doyle's rare daylight naptime attacks, trapped him like a vise, adding fuel to his panic. Bodie alone soothed him without binding him, letting the reassurance of his presence chase away his dream horror.

The calculated cruelty with which he repaid his rescuer now weighed heavily upon him. From his refusal of the badly cooked, well-intentioned meals to his complete ignorance of anything Bodie said to him, every barb struck its target with merciless accuracy. Wounded, Bodie didn't seem to see how he salivated for the culinary disasters or how Doyle's ears almost pricked forward at Bodie's slightest sound, not missing a single word or nuance. Usually all the hurts he inflicted were accepted, wordlessly, the pain showing only in confused, increasingly haunted blue eyes. But today he had pushed too far, beyond amends perhaps.

Knowing only one way to ascertain the extent of the damage he'd knowingly wrought, Doyle slipped through the door into the long, shadowy hall. No light shone up from below, no muffled music, not even the telltale crackle of a fire in the hearth could be detected as he strained his senses to pinpoint the other man's location. A fast-cast glance on the chance that Bodie had reappropriated the beige room showed that empty.
He crept down the stairs, soundless as a shadow's passing. The sitting room was also vacant, the huge scenic window providing its only illumination and that light, too, was ebbing.

His breathing sounded harsh in his ears, his heart beating wildly. The strained silence spoke of desolate lifelessness, of long abandonment. Alone in the darkling rooms, he had the hideous fear that Bodie had left him here.

Ridiculous, Doyle knew, sure that the car engine would have wakened him.

The now-dark kitchen looked equally unpromising. That left only the basement and the book-lined room he'd never had cause to enter. The latter seemed more probable, considering the number of half-read books that had been appearing around the place lately.

Unsure of his welcome, he paused at the partially open door. Bodie might not wish to see him after what he'd done.

Filled with reservations, Doyle edged the door silently open to the point where he could see within. Just a look to reassure himself that the other man was still here, then he'd go back to bed without disturbing Bodie.

A tall silhouette blackened the darkening grey rectangle of the window. Bodie was still here then.

About to withdraw, Doyle was suddenly struck by the strangeness of the scene. Bodie's head, usually held so straight and high in the natural arrogance of the man's perfect posture, was bent, the broad shoulders slumped and hunching in toward Bodie's chin. But it was more than the bowed head that was disturbing about the abnormally still figure. There was an undercurrent of dejection, intense, and bitterly moving, seeping from his usually cheerful keeper.

Utterly lost, Doyle could only watch as Bodie's hands, oddly pale in the fading light, appeared on both shoulders, clutching the material of his shirt as he hugged himself. The wide back began to vibrate in abrupt, shudder-like motions. It was only when a small, choked sound reached him that he understood what was happening.

Bodie was crying, more silently and strictly controlled than Doyle would have thought possible, but crying nonetheless. And he and his cruelty were no doubt the cause of those tears.

Even admitting his own responsibility, Doyle might still have been able to retreat - were the tears open and dramatic as his own nightly traumas. But they weren't. Bodie was standing there, looking as though he'd been fighting against the breakdown for hours; still trying to contain the sorrow that had defeated him. There was something all the more pathetic in that. Alone here, Bodie should have felt free to sob out his grief. Yet, every shudder looked as though it had ripped though a solid wall of resisting muscle.

He wavered a moment before approaching. Bodie might not want him here. But who else had the other man to turn to?

Bodie's grief was the only thing of substance in this room of shadows. Bleak and miserable, Doyle had never seen a man so alone. . .or could recall seeing none in the scope of his meagre memories.

Bodie jumped like a startled buck when Doyle's hand settled hesitantly on a tense elbow.


It was the name he liked, the short one that had replaced the whip snap, Doyle, when Bodie had bought him. Ray was usually filled with kindness and concern or occasionally tinged with exasperation, never uttered with lust or malice as Doyle, had been. Tonight, it was a whisper of disbelief, the tone to question a midnight wraith.

Doyle left his hand where it was, watched as Bodie's free hand shot up to knock off the tears that still flowed.

There was no unwelcome in the grief-stained face, no trace of Bodie's former anger. Upon seeing Doyle, the tremor running through the tense form increased. Doyle could feel the tight-held emotion penned in the stone-like muscles. He rubbed his hand gently up toward the shoulder, attempting to relax the too-hard flesh.

That one small motion seemed to overload Bodie's struggling controls. With a choked sob, Bodie pulled him forward to pin him in a vice-like embrace.

Doyle's instinctive struggle stilled, defeated by the convulsive shudder wracking the man wrapped so close around him. There was no menace in this embrace; Bodie only sought support while he cried.

The face buried in the hollow of his neck was cool, the tears hot splashes against Doyle's skin. He wondered how long Bodie had stood here with his head pressed to the cold pane of glass to allow that much warmth to be leeched from his skin, then, gave up wondering, to hesitantly stroke what he could reach of the broad back. So long held apart by his own fear, Doyle felt inadequate at offering this sort of comfort.

His intentions must have been enough, for Bodie drew a shuddery breath and murmured, "You're the answer to a prayer, mate. Never thought to see you up and around again, least ways, not on your own."

Gradually, Bodie's shaking calmed to a near-imperceptible tremble. The arms loosened their hold as Bodie stepped back a bit, still maintaining a light, non-confining touch on Doyle's elbows.

The joy contained in the exhausted features was unsettling. Bodie was acting as if he'd been given a fortune, when all Doyle had done was walk down a flight of stairs on his own.

Doyle was so hard put to deny the eagerness in the red-rimmed eyes that he had no notion of how his own expression softened. He longed to respond, to tell the worried man that he was feeling better and that no, he was no longer intent on killing himself, but mistrust still lingered.

This could yet be a ruse enacted by an expert. Get his trust, get him talking, and then, get the information stronger measures had failed to secure. Improbable, perhaps. Instinct told him Bodie's concern was genuine, but Doyle had no idea where those instincts came from. Until he remembered what it was everyone had been intent on learning from him, Doyle thought it best to maintain his fiction.

Those same instincts assured him that Bodie would forgive him even that deception, too.

His continued silence did not seem to thwart Bodie's restored humour. A delighted smile quirked across his features as Bodie answered his own question, "'Of course, you're feelin' better."

The wind chose that moment to pitch a gustful of snow and sleet against the window. They both started at the pebble-like rain of sound, shivering at the subsequent draft.

"Let's get us a fire going to warm this place up and set about dinner." Bodie's happiness crumpled at his own mention of food, the shadow of today's incident dimming the cheer in his eyes. It was obvious that he dreaded a repeat performance.

Guilt-struck, Doyle searched for a means of reassuring. Speech already disqualified as a possibility, he tried the only thing left to him, a gesture not attempted since he awakened without a past. The smile sat strangely on his face, pulling at solemn features accustomed to a frown or blank freeze until Doyle thought the muscles would crack after long disuse.

The response the simple act elicited was humbling. Bodie gasped as though the breath were torn right out of him, the oh-so-efficient man seeming to melt under its onslaught. Doyle stared at his visibly stunned companion, noting how the recently dried gaze had filled up again with a liquid brightness.

Struck by the tenderness in the unguarded expression, Doyle came to an astounding realization. He knew, had he deigned to speak, that anything he asked for would have been granted at that moment. Doyle had the unsettling impression that even without speaking that that one insignificant gesture had won him the other man's soul.

What the hell had he been to Bodie that a mere smile could so undo him?

Puzzling out that enigma, he followed his keeper to the kitchen.

Doyle took his customary seat in the corner, watching as the other man set about heating a casserole left by Marie and fixing a small salad. Bodie's movements were awkward here, seemingly overshadowed by the number of charred, smoking catastrophes these efforts invariably produced. But this evening, Bodie was approaching the task with a certain flourish that was not lost on the watcher.

Any doubts Doyle might have harboured about the wisdom of his decision to trust, if ever so marginally, were dispelled by Bodie's glowing enthusiasm. He had not realized how heavily the pain he'd been causing his caretaker had weighed upon himself until now that it was lifted. Light-headed with relief – or hunger –

Doyle leaned back against the wall, for once relaxed.

As expected, the portion of casserole placed on his plate was browned around the edges, looking uncooked in the middle. The food wasn't so burned that it failed to set his mouth watering, and, Doyle conceded, the salad looked quite appetizing.

Bodie filled only one plate, placing it before Doyle like a timid lion feeder.

An expression of grim determination paled the merry glow that had lit Bodie's face throughout the meal's preparation as he took a seat beside Doyle. Apparently resigned to the struggle, Bodie lifted a fork. The vivid eyes did not even blink as Doyle intercepted the hand, but something seemed to die in their clear blue depths.

Hope, Doyle realized. Bodie's gaze dropped as Doyle tried to pry loose the fork.

Realizing the struggle futile – he'd yet to win a single utensil from that Herculean grip – Doyle willed Bodie's eyes to lift again to end the battle.

Several moments passed before Bodie realized Doyle's resistance had ceased. Then, the questioning gaze rose slowly to meet his own.

Doyle schooled all rebellion from his features, entreating trust with his widened eyes.

As if bewitched, Bodie's grip gradually loosened from the fork. Doyle took it from unresisting fingers, not missing the look of utter defeat that darkened Bodie's bright eyes.

Bodie's defeated expression turned to incredulous wonder as Doyle's fork continued on its original path, dipped deep into the half-cooked casserole and shovelled a heaping loadful to Doyle's waiting mouth. Not surprisingly, it was cold. But even half-cooked, Marie's meals were delicious. Doyle continued to shovel the food down long after his appetite had been appeased, determined to finish the dishful for Bodie's sake.
He had his reward when he was done.

Bodie was simply sitting there, smiling at Doyle as if the entire world had been handed to him. It made no sense, but Bodie's unmistakable joy did make Doyle feel happy. Hoping he wasn't making the mistake of his life, Doyle reached for the salad bowl.


The first muffled cry had him off his cot and at his partner's bedside before the sound faded. Bodie snapped the lamp on and eased down onto the empty bed edge. As always, Ray was a huddled heap of blankets and fear-soaked flesh in its centre.

"Come on, Ray, wake up. It's just a dream." he called gently, almost choking on the last understatement. Doyle nightmares were 'just' dreams, the way a tsunami was 'just' a wave.

Fortunately for Ray, although the ferocity of the night terrors didn't seem to be abating any, his reaction to them was improving. Once awake and aware that it was Bodie at his side, his friend would calm. But sleep did not come easily afterwards.

Bodie had all but talked himself hoarse with inanities these last few weeks while trying to dispel Ray's residual anxiety to the point where Doyle could once again rest. What he spoke of, on these long nights, Bodie could hardly remember. At first, he knew he had stuck solely to himself, relating exaggerated accounts of childhood adventures. Those had seemed less likely to add any fuel to Doyle's dreams or jeopardize the semi-miraculous trust he'd recently won.

But lately, the topics more and more had been amusing anecdotes of the years they'd spent in each other's company. Bodie couldn't tell what effect his stories were having on his partner, if any. Sometimes he got the feeling that he started the day talking to himself and finished it the same way, that it had always been so and would ever remain unchanged. He'd all but forgotten what Ray's voice sounded like, but at least Doyle was listening to him now. As long as that was true, he'd keep right on chattering away.

"Ray, snap out of it, mate. You're safe, here in your own bed."

The firm tone seemed to penetrate. Doyle's eyes shot open to stare wildly around, the burgeoning cry muffled to a gasp as the startled green gaze came to rest on his own reassuring blue.

Bodie grasped the hand that reached for him, prepared for the odd, one-way embrace that usually followed. The way Doyle curled around him at such times came close to breaking his heart. The craving for comfort was heart wrenching, Doyle's denial of it even more so. Ray seemed to use Bodie's body to hide from whatever it was terrorizing him in his dreams, his entire body hugging Bodie in a tight boomerang curve with Doyle's face buried between the blankets and Bodie's left thigh, his legs pressed tight down the outside of Bodie's right thigh and his lower body acting as a warm backrest for the bigger man.

Generally, Bodie would sit still and let Ray sob out his hurt, offering an occasional pat or gentling murmur, but nothing more physical than that.

Tonight was different, however. There was no burst of tears upon recognition. Doyle heaved an unsteady sigh. But aside from tightening his grip and an occasional shudder, Ray betrayed no sign of the internal turmoil Bodie could see reflected so clearly in the over-wide eyes. That too, subsided, to be replaced by a rueful glint and unsteady, sheepish pull at the corners of the full mouth.

Unsure if this were progress or a set back, Bodie returned the handclasp uncertainly. "Bad one tonight, hey, sunshine?"

Remarkably, Doyle gave a slight, unconscious nod.

Bodie's muscles tensed. Intentional or not, this was the first actual response he'd received to a direct question. Over the past few weeks, Doyle had been doing better – signifying approval with a smile or ready compliance, but nothing this concrete.

The grin which split Bodie's own features was unplanned. Its radiance seemed to burn the remaining shadows from Doyle's gaze, turning that tiny, self-conscious quirk of lips into a full-fledged smile.
Bodie drew in a shaky breath at the sight. He felt the corners of his own smile drop a little in helpless response, but forced them back into place. He had the peculiar impression that Doyle was somehow basking in his grin, as if using Bodie's good humour to dispel the lingering fear.

"Let's straighten these covers out and get you settled," Bodie suggested once the moment passed. "Then maybe we could try another story. You know, we should get a stereo. That way we could put on some of that highbrow stuff you like so much. You know what they say about music soothing the savage breast, maybe it'd tame a savage nightmare or two," he said, patting the covers into place.

The spark of interest in the sea-green eyes decided him. Next stop in the village a phonograph and Mozart would top their shopping list.

Doyle's hand halted Bodie's move to his customary spot at the foot of the bed. Usually, he shivered there under a tepee of blankets, blithering on about inconsequentials until Ray's eyelids dropped closed again.

"What's up, mate?" Bodie asked, eyeing the hand. Under the best of circumstances, Ray wasn't a toucher. Since Doyle's rescue, it was practically a phobia; although that, too, was improving.

Doyle scooted over to the far side of the bed, lifting the covers up in clear invitation. Bodie hesitated, unwilling to offer a rejection but more than slightly stunned by the show of trust. "You want me there?"

The nod came again, accompanied by a slight tug at his captured wrist.

Bodie allowed himself to be pulled down. Senses numbed with shock, he watched his partner and tried to figure out why he was wanted here. Some of his uncertainty must have shown, for Ray gifted him with another sunny smile. Then, Doyle tugged the covers up to his chin and turned away from Bodie to face the wall.

Mystified, Bodie lay staring up at the ceiling, thinking that the lamp was still on. He resisted the impulse to turn it off, unsure if the light were offering Ray some added security.

So, after years of longing, he'd finally found himself in Ray Doyle's bed.

An ironic smile twisted his lips at the bizarre quirks of fate. Two years ago he'd have bloody well died for such an opportunity. Now, all he could do was long for the haven of his narrow cot.

Not that Ray was in any danger from him. The promise he'd made himself driving up here was still inviolate. This meek, psychologically scarred Doyle offered no carnal temptation.

What he feared was that Ray would forget his invitation when he awoke and fear him again. Why he was wanted here was beyond Bodie. Surely, it couldn't be for his own well-being. Though no longer intentionally hurting him, Ray was not yet recovered to the point of being particularly concerned over Bodie's health.

Even though he wasn't touching Ray, Bodie felt his partner's previously relaxed body give a sudden jerk and then tense over. A stifled gasp told him Doyle was awake again.

Bodie instantly understood. Who didn't know that terrifying sensation of falling which often overtook an anxiety-laden mind on the very verge of sleep? Awakened by the frightening lurch of seemingly every muscle one owned and the roar of a racing heart, a man could lay there for hours trying to get back to sleep.
A disturbing explanation occurred for the number of times the dawn had awakened Bodie to find a surprisingly alert Doyle watching him sleep. About to offer whatever solace he could, he stopped as Doyle rolled over to face him.

Feigning sleep, he waited to see what Ray would do. He willed his muscles not to betray him as a hand settled lightly upon his upper arm. A warm stream of expelled breath ruffled the hair above his right ear as Doyle settled down close to him.

"Everything all right, Ray?" Bodie asked at last, opening his eyes to find the nearby green gaze resting on his face. "Ready for that story now?"

A soft, almost indulgent smile met his offer. Doyle's hand left his arm and reached up to brush his eyelids closed before returning to its former resting place.

Taking that for his answer, Bodie's doubts subsided. Maybe after everything they'd been through these past months, Doyle might find his presence comforting. Or so Bodie hoped as he covered Doyle's hand with his own and allowed sleep to again overtake him.


Chapter Five

Winter that year was an unending ordeal. The snow fell and fell until it seemed the mountain would crumble to the ground under the weight of just one more flake. Then, when the Englishmen had abandoned all hope of ever seeing a patch of blue sky or sprig of green that wasn't conifer again, an amazing event occurred. The white, fluffy precipitation changed to clear, cold water.

The rain fell with equal vengeance, but no grudge could be held against it, for it battered the mounds of accumulated snow first into a hole-filled, pliant covering and then finally into mud. Not contented with this meagre victory, the rain continued its assault, melting snow and overfilling streams until flash floods became as much a danger as winter's avalanches. Then, as eventually must happen, the rain, too, lost its vehemence and the sun at last broke through the cloud cover and burned down until the mud was replaced by springy new grass and a riotous display of wild flowers.

Doyle bent to claim a purple and white bud from amongst its bright neighbours. His gaze wandered appreciatively over the meadow, still not quite able to believe all this beauty had survived a season beneath an icy pile of snow as high as himself.

The sun beat down upon him with fanatic vigour, warming the elevated mountain peaks to an uncomfortable level. Stripped down to his shirt already, Doyle popped a few more buttons open, wound the arms of his burdensome jumper around his waist, rolled up his shirt sleeves, and trotted on to catch up with Bodie.

His friend was making good time – Bodie always did when they were on their way to one of Marie's delectable dinners, Doyle reflected wryly, not at all slighted by his companion's helpless appreciation of a good cook.

Though, to be fair, Bodie was equally generous with his praise of Doyle's own endeavours, even if the efforts were motivated more by self-preservation rather than any true culinary love.

Doyle couldn't help grinning as he recalled the day he'd taken over the kitchen duties from his hapless mate. Bodie, his sweaty face streaked black from the burnt onions he'd been attempting to sauté, had still been labouring to save an already dead meal.

Unaware of where the knowledge came from, Doyle had instinctively known that each of the desperate moves Bodie was making was doomed to failure. More butter would not resuscitate charred onions, any more than the flour coating those chops would resist adhering to the pan they were sizzling away on.

Unable to bear the pathetic efforts a moment longer, Doyle had stepped up to the stove and silently brushed the floundering cook aside, too busy salvaging the meat for Bodie's open astonishment to register any more than peripherally.

But Bodie's euphoria had been unmistakable. Throughout that meal and many after it, his companion's renewed enthusiasm showed clear, bubbling forth in his endless tales and every chance glance. For some unknown reason, Bodie's good spirits had warmed him, filling him with a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Now, Doyle loped over to the other man. Impulsively, he held out the flower, grinning like an idiot.

"So that's where you got to," Bodie declared, accepting the gift nonchalantly in the spirit it was offered.

"Better be careful. You'll get chiggers, if you don't get frostbite first. For God's sake, Ray, it's hardly May yet."

Doyle smiled all the wider. The words themselves might be nagging, but there was a happy glow to Bodie's eyes that made him feel very content.

Side by side, they continued up the trail. Since the weather had broken, they hiked over to Marie's almost every afternoon. By car, the ski lodge was over nine miles away, but travelling by the more direct mountain paths, they cut the mileage down to a manageable six. Once there, they feasted on truly sumptuous dinners and helped out with whatever chores needed doing. Currently, they were in the midst of painting the shed that housed the snowmobiles and rented skis during the summer months.

"Do you remember the time we saved all of London?" Bodie asked as they passed a sleepy pond. The clear water reflected back the rich blue sky and cottony clouds dotting it with mirror-like accuracy.

At Doyle's sceptical look Bodie continued. "'s truth, I swear it. We were in your back yard practicing on some aluminium cans and larger bottles when Cowley comes by. He tells us a man jumped out the window at this huge drug manufacturer, I don't remember the company's name, but they did some research on germ warfare too, if I'm not mistaken. Anyway, I tell the Old Man it's the dead bloke's business; then he tells us . . . ."

Doyle listened as his companion rambled on. As with most of Bodie's stories, this one was pretty fantastic. Half the time Doyle didn't know whether to believe him or not, but Bodie's tales always had the ring of truth to them, regardless of how improbable the contents.

The very way Bodie presented them to him tended to support their veracity. Whatever else his friend was, Doyle had learned that Bodie was no actor. Oh, he could try to con Marie or him into something with those beseeching, puppy-dog glances, but his caretaker inevitably overplayed his hand at such times, Bodie's ploys dolefully transparent.

There was never anything assumed about the desperation behind even Bodie's lightest anecdotes. The other man was obviously wracking his mind searching for the magical key that would unlock Doyle's forgotten memories.

Doyle himself was nearly convinced that no such trigger existed, that whatever he'd been was lost for good. But he did enjoy Bodie's stories, unlikely as they were.

A tinny sound of bells clanking filled the mountain meadow, followed almost immediately by discordant "blaahhing" and bleating. Both men glanced toward the mountain lake.

A white, horned head peered out from behind a large boulder near the top of the trail heading east on the far side of the lake. The small goat scampered to the water, followed soon after by several others.

The instinctive assumption of battle-pose eased from Bodie's tensed form as his alert blue eyes recognized the harmless intruders. The dark-haired man took up his story as though no interruption had occurred, "Then you gave Cowley one of those irritatin' grins of yours and said 'whatever we are, you made us.' Thought the Cow was goin' to . . . ."

Doyle, whose interest in everything around him for the past month had been nearly obsessive, had continued to watch the goats out of the corner of his eye. Now, a human figure came into sight, hurrying after its errant charges. The girl looked no older than ten. Her thick golden curls were caught back from her face in a small red ribbon. The dark blue dress she wore was embroidered with intricate, bright patterns whose attractiveness clashed unstintingly with the patched hose bagging about her skinny legs. Casting an uncertain smile the hikers' way, the goat-herder called out to her flock in a language Doyle didn't understand.

Struck by the strangeness of the scene, Doyle stopped dead in his tracks. He might be uncertain of where he came from, but he was willing to wager that Heidi-like goat-herders weren't common there either.

"Bodie, where are we?" he demanded into the other man's unending tale.

Bodie froze beside him, his expression running blank with shock. Then a wild joy lit his friend's eyes.

"You...spoke. By god, you spoke!" Giving a triumphant whoop, Bodie swept Doyle up in a fierce bear hug and spun him around, gibbering those two words over and over again like a madman.

Two months ago, Bodie's exuberance would have driven him into catatonia.

Overwhelmed, but in no way frightened by the reaction, Doyle merely waited him out. At last, the shouting stopped and Bodie deposited him on his feet. The hands kept a firm grip on his upper arms, as if unable to let him go, Bodie's twinkling eyes never leaving his face.

"You can speak," Bodie repeated, more calmly.

Doyle smiled, catching sight of girl and goats disappearing over the ridge behind Bodie's broad back.

"Yes," he admitted.

"You called me by name. You remember me, then?"

The eager plea troubled him. Bodie wanted it so badly, and yet all he had to offer was the frustrating blankness that had clouded his mind since before Bodie's bought him. "You rescued me, brought me here, and took care of me. The rest . . . what you've told me feels right, but...I've no real memory of it."

Bodie nodded, accepting the limitation and apparently undisturbed by it. "You can talk, anyway, and that's a fine start. The rest will come back to you soon enough, you'll see."

The certainty sounded unshakable. Doyle kept his own fears to himself, unwilling to disillusion the optimist.

"Ray," Bodie asked in a tentative tone after a prolonged pause, "why haven't you spoken before this?"

Doyle studied the crushed grass beneath his trainers, unable to face the hurt and loneliness visible in the strangely accusing gaze.

"Van Cleef was the stick. I figured maybe you were the carrot," he said at last, casting an apprehensive glance toward Bodie's face. The guilt and sympathy warring in a peculiar mixture there held him firm.

"And now?" Bodie asked softly.

"Doesn't matter now."

It was perhaps too much to hope that Bodie would drop the topic there. "How so?"

Doyle shifted uncomfortably, and then blurted out the truth. "Whatever you wanted to know, I'd probably tell you . . . if I could remember it." Doyle's head bowed in shame.

It was the ultimate surrender. The other man had won; whatever it was he'd just betrayed would be Bodie's for the taking. Its price – a little gentleness.

If this weren't some elaborate gambit and Bodie proved to truly be the partner he claimed, he'd have probably earned his disgust. Doyle consoled himself with the knowledge that at least the charades would end here. One way or the other, he'd know for sure. Either way, Bodie would probably be lost – the devious super-agent when he realized Doyle's information was irretrievably gone or the steadfast partner when he recognized that his loyalties had been wasted on a traitor.

"Aw, sunshine, don't take on so," Bodie soothed, gathering him close again. After a moment, he drew back, and lifted Doyle's chin with a hooked forefinger. "Now listen good, Ray." The stern tone was belied by a suspicious brightening of the clear blue eyes. "I'm your partner. There's nothing I want from you – not information, not sex, not even good humour. I know you're confused. You don't remember me at all, do you. But . . . you've got to try to trust me, okay?"

The question in itself was so serious that all Doyle could do was nod. He felt ridiculous for suspecting for even a second that Bodie was capable of such duplicity.

"Do you want to sit down, rest for a while?" Bodie asked, leading the way over to the pond without awaiting a response.

Bodie perched on a boulder. Taking his place on the lush, slightly damp grass, Doyle watched his friend pick up a handful of pebbles. One by one, they plopped into the pond, shattering its glassy surface. Bodie was seemingly fascinated by the spreading concentric circles the disruptive stones caused, but Doyle could see the swarm of unasked questions penned behind the mask of absorption.

After months of silence between them, it was only natural Bodie would have questions. How much Doyle remembered no doubt uppermost among them. Yet, there he sat, chucking stones into the pond with inhuman restraint.

Overwhelmed by a wave of tenderness, Doyle could only marvel at his companion's patience. Bodie obviously felt bound by his declaration to leave Doyle complete privacy. Such consideration would be in keeping with what he had observed of the other man's character.

"Have I a family?" Doyle asked at last, figuring the best way to answer the unvoiced queries was to detail his own memory gaps.

The hand reaching for the next pebble toss stopped.

"Family?" Bodie repeated, his neutral tone matching his expression.

"No wife and kiddies hopefully waitin' my return?" he asked lightly, to cover his own discomfort at the necessity of having to ask such a thing.

"No. No wife and kiddies."

Doyle's forehead crinkled in confusion as his ears picked up on something amiss in the font-of-all-anecdotes Bodie's uncharacteristic laconic reply. Perhaps it was merely his imagination, but the response had sounded awful defensive, almost reluctant.

"How 'bout parents then? Brothers? Sisters?" Doyle questioned.

That scored a definite hit. Bodie shifted on his boulder, his eyes lowering to stare at the somewhat crushed bloom Doyle had presented to him. "You never spoke much about your family, Ray."

Both admission and evasion. He knew instantly that it was the truth, but there was something more which Bodie obviously didn't want to tell him.

"Well, what exactly did I say on those occasions I wasn't speaking much?"

Bodie sighed, the bowed head slowly rising to meet his gaze. Doyle was almost surprised at the lack of anger. The proud features were set in resignation, but Doyle still sensed support beneath them.

"You only spoke of them once, when I pressed you about it," Bodie answered. "What you said was that your family used to move around a lot when you were a kid, and that when you were seventeen they just moved on without you."

Stunned, Doyle fell quiet, not knowing what to say to such a thing and extremely conscious of Bodie's worried gaze resting upon him.

"Any reason why?" he managed.

Guilt-stricken, Bodie shook his head. "I didn't ask."

"You didn't . . . ." Doyle bit back the interrogative. He could press the point, but instinct told him that Bodie wasn't withholding anything. The very phrasing of the thing felt like his own wording. Unsure if it were memory or imagination working, Doyle thought he could almost see himself throwing the words out in anger, using his own pain to hurt the other man. Little wonder Bodie hadn't pursued the issue.

Trying very hard not to think about what such behaviour told him about his own character, Doyle pulled a sprig of tender grass from the ground and absently nibbled its end.

"They were fools, Ray. You were well rid of them."

Hearing the scathing bitterness, Doyle looked up.

"How do you know that? Did you ever meet them?" Doyle asked mildly, touched by the vehemence.

"No, but I met you didn't I? 'sides, what kind of family'd go off and leave a kid on his own like that?"

Bodie obviously did not see the other side of that argument, mainly, what kind of kid would drive a family away. Doyle kept the thought to himself. "So, we've eliminated wife and kin, what about girlfriends?"

Bodie's face lit up. "Oh, plenty of birds. Sometimes you pull juggling acts that amazed even me, though not often. I'm still ahead of you on that, mate, I'm afraid."

Doyle allowed himself a small smile that soon vanished. "No one steady, then?"

"Steady?" Bodie repeated, visibly troubled by the question. "No, no one in particular. Very democratic, you are, like to spread it around."

Ray nodded, expecting nothing else. "No wife, no family, no lover, no one to even care that 'm gone. Just what did I have back there, Bodie?"

Bodie finally appeared to comprehend what he was getting at. The thoughtful frown was oddly endearing, Doyle sensing how hard the other man was struggling to find just the right answer.

"By God, what a face! It couldn't be as bad as all that," he rushed to the rescue, realizing the uncomfortable position he'd put Bodie in.

"Lots of people cared . . . care about you, Ray. Your life wasn't empty," Bodie assured. "It's just that, well, the job takes a lot out of a man. It doesn't leave much time for a wife and kids. And you, you were the most conscientious bugger Cowley ever saddled a man with. You were always taking the job home with you, agonizing over things that had to be done long after everyone else had laid the ghosts to rest."

Doyle smiled, a sunny, provocative response to the note of patient, long-suffering in Bodie's defence. "Real pain, hah?"

Bodie shook his head, seeming to have difficulty finding his voice. "No, you had your reasons."

The moment he heard it, Doyle knew that Bodie had never understood his reasons, if he'd known them at all. "So, what else beside the job?"

Bodie looked heard-pressed for an answer. "You – you ran a self-defence class on Saturday mornings for ghetto kids. You liked to play racquet ball, darts and all the other things; were good at them, too," Bodie groped lamely, and then finally conceded defeat. "Guess it doesn't sound like much, put that way. Sorry, Ray, 'm not too good at this sort of thing."

"Don't be sorry. 's not your fault. You could hardly be blamed for my life. 'sides, you left the most important part out, didn't you?" At Bodie's look of confusion, he continued, "I had you, didn't I? Couldn't've been all that empty."

Bodie positively beamed at that, then, seemingly humbled, he answered in a carefully level voice, "You always had me, Ray. 's no big deal."

"No? You were the only one who cared enough to come looking for me."

"Everyone else thought you were dead," Bodie protested.

"You didn't."

"I couldn't afford to," Bodie replied.

Catching something indefinable in the tone, Doyle quizzed, "How so?"

"If you were dead, there'd be nothing left."

"Nothing left?" Doyle asked gently, having the feeling that Bodie had told him more than he intended.

The averted face justified his suspicion. Bodie was embarrassed. "It took me seven years to train you right, sunshine. I don't think I could bear it a second time around."

As no doubt intended, the light comment side-tracked him. "You trained me?"

"Taught you everything you know, me boy," Bodie bragged shamelessly.

The over-earnestness convinced Doyle he was being had. "Which is no wonder why I've got ask you all these stupid questions. Go on," Doyle snorted, "own up, you didn't train me, did you?"

The uncertainty he allowed to creep into his last question had its intended effect. Bodie's instant capitulation and his own lack of surprise at it, seemed to prove a theory he'd been testing out these last few weeks. Deep down, Doyle was convinced that he had the instinctive ability to play on the other man's emotions. Up to now, it had been something he'd done without thinking, knowing by the "feel" of each situation how best to act to achieve desired results. This was the first time he consciously tried it.

"No, I didn't. You were on the force for . . . ."

"The force?"

"The police force. You were a detective constable, then later undercover on the drugs squad. Real good undercover, you are, the best man Cowley's got."

Doyle absorbed the information, trying desperately to add substance to dry fact. He didn't think for a minute that Bodie was lying. There was an unmistakable hint of pride in Bodie's tone that cheered him, yet, when he tried to picture the uniform that he must have worn, or a particular case, all he drew was that same maddening blank. Bodie's stories stood clear in his mind, but vivid as they were, the characters involved still seemed more like the heroes in a thriller rather than Bodie and himself. Confused, he asked, "We were coppers, then? From the stories you been tellin' I thought we were spies."

"We were pretty much whatever Cowley wanted is to be at that particular moment. C.I.5 is a special task force with a nebulous brief. The old man had free reign to use whatever means were necessary to combat internal crime. Mostly, we were rubbish collectors, picking up human trash."

"Is that how I got . . . lost? 'Collectin' trash'?" Bringing his disjointed memories together into a coherent whole was no easy task. Bodie's information only seemed to cloud the emptiness with complexities, but how he'd ended up in that sick bastard's clutches was one question he needed an answer to, regardless of how Bodie's response might further confuse him.

He saw Bodie's face darken before his head lowered, leaving Doyle nothing but the top of a head to stare at. Absently, he noticed how red Bodie's shiny hair looked in bright sunshine.

"You don't remember what happened then?"

Doyle shook his head, an action that went totally unnoticed by the still-lowered gaze. "No."

"What do you remember?" Bodie asked.

Although the sun blazed down on them hot as before, Doyle felt a cold sweat break out all over his skin as he considered. "Not much. I just woke up one morning in this cold room – smelt awful, it did. Knew that there'd been something that . . . they wanted to know. I couldn't remember what it was, though, or even how I'd gotten to be there."

The means his captors had taken to spur his flagging memory were all too vivid, however.

From his position on the grass, he could hear Bodie's gulp. When he looked up, the blue gaze was once again fixed on him. He had the strange impression that those eyes had found him unwillingly, almost as though Bodie were incapable of turning away from Doyle's pain.

Doyle smiled weakly, trying to show that he was all right now, saw his effort only add to the worry. "It's not your fault, Bodie. No need for you to look so gloomy."

The lush gaze flickered downwards again, then swept back up to his face, determination setting the features. "It was, you know – my fault."

"Yours? How?" Doyle demanded, disbelief making his tone harder than anticipated. He mightn't remember a thing about his past, but he knew Bodie. The man would die before he'd allow harm to befall him, Doyle was sure of that, if nothing else. Whatever had happened, it couldn't have been Bodie's fault.

Bodie flinched as if struck, but his gaze didn't falter. "It was my job to guard your back. If I'd been there . . . ."

Doyle rose to his knees and made his way over to Bodie's rock.

"Tell me what happened," he ordered softly, taking his place at Bodie's feet.

His proximity seemed to ruffle the other man's composure, almost as though Bodie expected physical retaliation for his imaginary shortcomings. Then, the broad shoulders shrugged and Bodie began talking, "We were ordered to protect this think-tank physicist. Rogers had a small country house in Oxford. Real picturesque, but pure hell to defend with all those trees and bloody topiary. The second night out, there was a noise out back. We figured it was one of Rogers' damn cats knocking over another flowerpot, but I went out to check it anyway. I really cocked up, Ray," the tone was near pleading, but Doyle had the impression it wasn't understanding that Bodie was asking for. "They hit me from behind before I even knew they were there. Next thing I knew, Cowley was glaring down at me and you and Rogers were gone."

Doyle winced in sympathy, Bodie's tales telling how accepting their employer was of anything less than perfection.

"Knew it couldn't have been your fault," Doyle decreed once the confession had wound down to a halt.

"It doesn't bother you, what happened because of me?" Bodie demanded, face torn with suppressed emotion.

Was this what had kept Bodie beside him all this time, Doyle wondered, guilt?

"Of course, it bothers me," Doyle shot back, inexplicably hurt by his discovery. Realizing the effect hasty words might have on his companion, he quickly tempered rejection-born anger with truth. "But, 's strange. I don't remember any of that. Your telling me 'bout it, it's like it all happened to someone else. Anyway, you thick-skulled half-wit, none of it was your fault."

"I could've . . . ."

"You could have what?" Doyle interrupted. "Had eyes in the back of your head? You did what you could then and more than anyone else would later. Less you've forgot, if it weren't for you, I'd still be a prisoner."

Bodie, seemingly discomforted by his open show of gratitude, returned to his study of the wilting bloom.

Doyle considered their situation. Finally, he voiced a question which had been troubling him for some time now, "Bodie, were we rich back where we come from?"

The taller man burst into laughter at that, almost losing his seat on he stone in the process. "Hardly. To hear you talk we'd be on the bread lines next week."

"Hundred fifty thousand pounds 's a lot of money, isn't it?"

"Bloody fortune, mate. Why do you ask?" Before Doyle could answer, the shadow of comprehension flickered through Bodie's eyes.

"Where'd the money you . . ." there was only one way to say it, distasteful as it was, ". . . bought me with come from? Was it real?"

"Of course it was real," Bodie snapped back. "I could hardly risk passing queer bills on that lot. They were sharp, Ray. It took me over three weeks just to wrangle an invite to that affair."

Everything about Bodie's attitude told Doyle he didn't want to talk about this, but his determination more than matched Bodie's reluctance. "So where'd the money come from, mate?"

"Is it important?"

"Yes. 'm trying to fit things together in my head. You say we weren't rich, yet you pay a bloody fortune to Van Cleef to get me back. The money you keep forcing on Marie for this place is no bedsit rental and what you paid for that fancy stereo you bought me last month'd keep the whole village fed for a year. From what you've told me, we used to work our tails off and risk our skins for a quid, yet neither of us've worked in months. The money had to come from somewhere, so where?"

"Guess it doesn't make much sense put like that," Bodie agreed. "Ray, I'm no front-man. There's no faceless organization backin' me, waitin' for you to spill whatever it is you think I want from you. I'm no carrot and there isn't any stick hiding around here. I swear it."

"I know that." For a second, he wondered if this were a purposeful ploy to divert him from his original topic, but Bodie seemed sincerely worried that he didn't trust him.

The doubt didn't leave the blue eyes at the reassurance. "Don't know why you should. I wouldn't if I were you. But, there's nothing sinister in where the money comes from."

"I never thought there was, least not lately," Doyle amended.

"It's just . . . personal. If you don't mind, I'd rather keep it that way. Okay?" Bodie was almost pleading, obviously trying desperately hard not to offend.

Confused, Doyle could only nod. This was, after all, the first thing Bodie had ever asked for himself. Doyle knew if he'd wanted to, he could push and get his answers, but that wouldn't have been right. Bodie deserved the same privacy he gave him.

Unsure of what to ask next, if anything, Doyle fell to watching a long-legged bug skim its way across the pond surface. Intrigued by its oddly graceful motion and the tiny ripples its passage made, he lost track of time. Relaxing, he relished the feel of the sun upon hi skin, the refreshing spruce-scented breeze and cool cushion of living grass.

"Damn it!"

Doyle started at the frustrated exclamation. "What's wrong?"

"Ray, I don't want you to . . . distrust me. I don't want any secrets . . . I just don't want you to start hating me again."

"Hate you?" Doyle repeated, thoroughly confused. "What makes you think I'd hate you?"

"You would if you were yourself," Bodie explained, looking away.

"Why?" Doyle asked, not believing a word of it.

"Right and wrong were always very important to you. What I did to get the money to get you back, well, it wasn't legal. You-you wouldn't approve of it."

"What did you do, Bodie?" he probed softly, prepared for almost anything. The memory of this man ready to take on the host of his captors unarmed was vivid in his mind, as was Bodie's grandstanding with the Genevan doctor. Doyle doubted if the latter had ever been in any true danger from Bodie, but he knew with unshakable certainty that his former kidnappers would have died to a man were it not for Doyle's unarmed presence among them.

"I needed money, a lot of money. You wouldn't believe the price our friends behind the Iron Curtain paid for Rogers."

"How did you find out?"

"One of our operatives recognized Rogers. He liberated him, at great personal risk. When Rogers was debriefed, we found out about the auction," Bodie explained.

"That's how you tracked me down, through Rogers?"

"No. Rogers hadn't seen you since the night you were nabbed. All he could confirm was that you'd been taken alive. Cowley was of the opinion that your body had just been dumped elsewhere. He…he wouldn't sanction my looking for you." Bodie's hurt and betrayal over their employer's lack of support shone through.

"There wasn't any reason for him to assume anything else," Doyle pointed out, unsure why he felt compelled to defend a man he couldn't even remember. Perhaps it was Bodie's stories – the affection his friend held for that crusty old gent had flavoured even the most exasperating of them; it didn't take much detective ability to see how the destruction of that emotion had unbalanced his companion.

Bodie bristled, then, seeming to catch sight of the worry in Doyle's gaze, calmed down again. "Guess you're right. Anyway, I had to resort to my own contacts. That took time and money. In a way, it was lucky for us that it took that nutter – what did you say his name was, Van Cleef? – so long to tire of you. It gave me time to get me funds together and track you down."

"You were going to tell me where these funds came from," Doyle reminded.

Bodie nodded in resignation. "So I was. Before Cowley's squad and the paras put some . . . morals in me, I used to traffic in contraband materials." At Doyle's look of astonishment – drugs was one thing he'd never anticipated – Bodie hastened to explain. "Rifles, armalites, ammo – that sort of thing, Ray. Back then, wasn't really much more than a game. Supply some shooters to both sides; a couple of fools blow each other up playing soldier; and there it ended. But, things have changed a lot in that part of Africa since then. The penalty on gun runnin's death, without exception, as it should be. And the political situation – well, it's very unstable these days. An acquaintance of ours who deals in that kind of product had a large shipment to deliver, and no one fool enough to run it in for him. I'd made that particular run for Marty years ago. Even with the added security, I knew a way to get in, and more importantly, back out again. The pay was astronomical, mostly because old Marty figured I wouldn't be around to collect it. I survived, and, well, you pretty much know the rest," Bodie fell quiet, not watching him anymore.

Looking up at the shuttered expression, Doyle could tell how nervous his friend was beneath the impenetrable exterior. Once again, Doyle wondered what kind of man he'd been, that his closest mate would fear rejection at a sacrifice of that proportion made in his behalf. "I think you're wrong about me, Bodie. I don't know if I could ever hold somethin' like that against you."

Bodie's gaze shot back to him, sharp and penetrating. "You would, if you were yourself."

"Why?" Doyle questioned, intrigued as to why Bodie would have gone to such trouble to rescue him if he thought that badly of him.

"The guns . . . ."

"Would have found their way there in spite of you."

"But . . . ."

"I'd be dead or worse if it weren't for you. You gave up everything you owned to come find me, risked your life to get the money to buy me back . . . how could I ever hate you for that?"

"You'd have done the same for me," Bodie dismissed the enormity of his sacrifice, visibly twitching with discomfort under Doyle's grateful gaze.

Despite the certainty of Bodie's claim, Doyle wasn't sure he would have. From all reports, he'd been considered almost certainly dead. To abandon all, without proof of his existence – that took a peculiar brand of courage or a desperation so intense it bordered on insanity. What had driven Bodie to keep searching, when all others were devoid of hope, was something he still did not fully understand. But he could appreciate it and perhaps make up for the losses.

Doyle grinned, a wide, accepting show of white enamel amid a sunburnt face. The force of his smile seemed to dispel his companion's lingering doubts, finally forcing out an answering smile.

"There, that's better," Doyle proclaimed, rising to his haunches. "Race you down the hill!" he challenged. Before Bodie had the presence of mind to refuse or even answer, he reached out and toppled the unsuspecting man onto the soft grass. Then he took off down the mountainside as though the hounds of hell were nipping at his heels, laughing till he was out of breath as Bodie's plaintive howl of "That's cheating!" resounded through the valley.


Chapter Six

Spring rushed by at an accelerated pace. Long walks and runs along the trails to Marie's toned Doyle's body back into shape, as his talks with Bodie had similar effects on his mind.

He still remembered nothing of the past, but he had a clearer idea now of what he'd lost. And, sometime during these carefree weeks, Doyle made a stunning discovery. Regaining that lost past was no longer paramount on his list of priorities in life. Listening to Bodie's charitable descriptions of the moody, ill-tempered man he'd been was like hearing about a stranger's exploits – a stranger he had no desire to know. It wasn't that Bodie ever spoke badly of him. The answers to his own questions which he had to almost bully out of his reticent friend had shown him the number of times he had let Bodie down or wounded him with thoughtlessness – unintentionally done, Doyle was sure, unable to believe that he'd ever consciously injure Bodie.

He'd learned that Bodie was very private about his hurts. Doyle was certain that his partner had probably never let his pain show; even now he would not admit how certain incidents had affected him. But his feelings were there for anyone to find, in Bodie's silences and expressive eyes. Doubtless, he'd been too self-absorbed to notice it at the time.

So, he concentrated on trying to make up for a past he didn't even remember. Making Bodie happy was absurdly simple, for the most part no more difficult that appearing so himself. Bodie also seemed to fund contentment in helping him – whatever he needed, the other man supplied unstintingly, whether it was answering his endless barrage of questions or holding him after a particularly traumatic dream.

That last was perhaps one of the most important breakthroughs for them both. Still new, Doyle found that healing embrace the cornerstone of his returning emotional balance.

The night he'd woke with a choked-back cry had been no different from the rest, save in the intensity of the dream. That night he could almost smell the stink of his own bruised body and the nauseating musk of Van Cleef as he mounted him yet again. He could feel everything – the cruel fingers pinching his raw nipples, the suffocating mouth clamped over his own, its insidious tongue almost making him choke with loathing as it probed deep as the cock pounding in and out of him, and, worst of all, the knowledge that there were others waiting for a go at him, and nothing he could do to escape any of them.

He'd awoken with a gasp to darkness, and the warm heat of a body snuggled close by. His instinctive withdrawal had awoken his bedmate.

"Ray?" Bodie's hopelessly sleep-fogged tone had ripped through growing panic before it had a change to take firm hold.

A deep breath taken as the lamp was snapped on brought only the scent of freshly laundered sheets and his clean, sleepy friend. Without thinking about the act, he took hold of the hand offered to him.

"My god, mate, you're shakin' like a leaf. Bad one, this time, was it?" Bodie observed, clutching his sweaty, cold hand between the dry warmth of his own.

He nodded, and tried vainly to take an even breath. He knew Bodie did not miss the shudder that jittered through it.

"Want to talk about it, Ray? It might help." Bodie's encouragement was sincere, but the resolved set of the mobile mouth and shadows lingering in normally bright blue eyes spoke of his friend's apprehension.

"Can't," he whispered shakily. Bodie knew it all, everything that had happened to him, the story told not by Doyle's lips, but by the scars on his body. That Bodie didn't hold it against him was a miracle in its own right. The bile churned in Doyle's stomach whenever he recalled the humiliating kiss Bodie had witnessed on the auction block.

Foolish as he knew it to be, Doyle felt soiled by what had been done to him. The less Bodie knew of it, the better. Besides, his companion's reaction to that one kiss made Doyle suspect that a more vivid description would only hurt Bodie.

"All right," Bodie accepted. "Least move a bit closer, mate, hey?"

Doyle squirmed nearer. Bodie's left hand released him so that their clasped hands lay between them. After a while, Bodie turned on his side, to face him, his free arm banding Doyle's chest.

The tension which instantly tightened his frame was reminiscent of his first reactions to his very male partner. Struck by the intimacy of their physical closeness in the huge bed, he lay stone still, panicked by the warm, regular stream of expelled breath that teased the damp, long curls plastered down his neck.

Bodie appeared unbothered by their proximity, aware only of Doyle's nervousness.

"Relax, Ray, you know I'm not after that. I told you before, no one's ever going to hurt you like that again. Never me. If you want, I'll go back to my cot. I just thought, well, 's silly to lay there shakin' alone like you've got no one in the world, while I'm right here."

Doyle smiled slightly at the rush of colour in Bodie's cheeks, sensing that the open avowals that were given to him so freely were completely opposed to the image Bodie strove so hard to project.

As the arm slung across his chest moved to release him, Doyle caught hold of it. "Stay," he ordered with false courage. "I know that you . . . wouldn't, you great clown. 's just that . . . I don't like to feel . . . trapped, you know?"

"Yeah." Something in the tight syllable told Doyle that Bodie did understand, perhaps even from personal experience. Although nothing that Bodie had ever said hinted at such an attack, the vocal quality brought to mind other nebulously related happenstances that had emotionally scarred his companion.

After a moment, Doyle gave the firm chest a gentle push. "Lay back."

Bodie obeyed his command as though it were perfectly normal for him to do so, releasing Doyle completely to watch him curiously.

Overcome by awkwardness, Doyle hesitantly reversed their positions. With his arm resting across the white cotton undershirt hugging Bodie's chest he did not feel quite so intimidated by their closeness. Even when Bodie's right arm had snaked under his neck to rest loosely over his back after having drawn still closer and urged his head onto a nearby shoulder. Doyle still felt very relaxed.

Sleep had returned that night and all succeeding nights without music or reading, and mercifully, without prolonged wait. The sound of Bodie's breathing and the steady rise and fall of the chest so close to his cheek seemed a lulling and familiar rhythm.

His dreams had lessened in intensity after that – Bodie seemingly correct in his views on not facing them alone. Doyle was encouraged by his current record. Four nights now he had slept soundly straight through till morning on his own side of the bed. As a result, he felt incredibly refreshed and lively, practically bounding into the mundane chores which they performed for Marie with what Bodie tagged "maniacal enthusiasm."

Currently, he was enduring an enforced rest period. Marie, restless with him underfoot, had shooed him upstairs to amuse himself in her attic hobby room.

The long room was a hobbyists' dream. A long table was laden with all manner of craftwork and their various apparatus. Macramé, sewing machine, looms, sketchpads, boxes of yarn and material, and even a small potter's wheel vied for dominance in the limited table space.

The three large dormer windows overlooked a mountain view nearly as stupendous as their chalet's. In front of them, three large canvases patiently waited on their stands. The first two were unfinished – one was a nicely progressing enlargement of the family photograph that stood on the reception desk, the other was a rough sketch of the view. The last canvas was untouched.

Drawn as though by a magnet, Doyle crossed to stand before the empty pallet, haunted by an eerie sensation of familiarity. Without knowing how, he recognized the sharp tang in the air as paint remover.

Then, he gasped as a vivid mental scene all but blacked out his present surroundings.

The room he saw was long as this one, but much wider. Its sides were lined with canvases on stands, each with a very young artist.

In his mind's eye, he saw himself rushing into the room, his heavy motorcycle boots clicking loudly on the parquet floors. The other students ignored, no, shunned him as he took his place, almost cringing away from him.

His left hand slipped under the right shoulder of his jacket, unsnapping a peculiar holster or sheath. The fluid motion was well practiced, made to look like he was scratching himself. Then, the jacket and its lethal contents were smoothly removed and carefully placed on a nearby stool. The colourful emblem expertly stitched on the jacket's back – depicting a fire-breathing dragon and the anagram DRAGONS OF DEATH – was incongruous in this scholarly setting.

Stripped of his awkward status symbols, he rolled up his sleeves and pushed a scraggly wisp of unruly curl back from his newly broken face. Ignoring the near palpable waves of hostility washing over him from his fellow students, he reached for a brush and tube of paint and set to work.

"So, you did manage to find it," a pleased voice exclaimed from behind.

Doyle jumped at the sound, body crouched low as he turned on a startled Marie. Recognizing her, he calmed himself, bewildered as to where all the barely bridled fury he suddenly felt came from. Belatedly, he recognized it as a holdover from the . . . memory. That young man has been consumed with hatred and unfocused anger.

"Are you all right, dear?" Marie asked, her concern obvious as she came to lightly touch his arm.

"Ah, I'm fine," he answered, but he was shaking, trembling as hard as he would after one of those bloody nightmares.

Marie searched his face, apparently deciding to accept the lie. "Would you care to try your hand at it?" She asked cheerfully, gesturing to the empty canvas.

"Yes, thank you. I would," he accepted before he could think better of it. He didn't really want to dredge up any more memories, not if they were the sort to leave him so that he was ready to jump Marie for startling him, but there was an unfamiliar yearning pulling at him, an aching that had to do with the canvas and brushes.

"There, you're all set," Marie declared several minutes later. "I'll call you for dinner when it's ready. Come down if you get bored."

With that she left him to his hobby, no doubt gratified to have found something to keep him from underfoot during the rest period Bodie still insisted he take.

Doyle's brush hovered uncertainly above the canvas, as if reluctant to despoil its purity. At last, its tip contacted the surface, leaving an ugly brown smear in its wake.

What did he know about art after all, Doyle wondered. A disjointed memory, almost hallucinatory in its strangeness, was nothing to go by. He doubted it could be a true recollection. What would a street punk like that – he still refused to equate himself with the youth – even be doing in an art class? Maybe his subconscious was starting daylight broadcasts now that Bodie had pre-empted all nighttime performances.

Still absorbed in his mental puzzling, his hand reached out, brush tip softly caressing the pallet. Surprised, he stared at the result. The second stroke, joining the first with unplanned grace, sort of suggested the form of a tree.

Less self-conscious now, he let his hand work from impulse, each touch gaining in confidence.

Half an hour later, a stream of stinging perspiration dripped into his eyes, forcing them shut. He paused, only then realizing the sauna-like state of the room. The heat from the kitchen and pipes seemed to accumulate in the attic, making it insufferable this time of the year – probably why Marie had abandoned it for the open-air occupation of gardening.

Opening the three windows helped some, but not enough. In desperation, he pushed his sleeves up even higher and undid three of his shirt buttons. The breeze flapped the unbuttoned shirt sides quite pleasurably, soon cooling the sheen of sweat glossing his skin. Abruptly aware that the bulk of his irritation was being caused by the heavy tangle of curls draping his shoulders, Doyle nicked a small length of blue yarn from one of Marie's boxes and bound back the wild mass. Then, slightly more comfortably, he returned to work.

"Ray, what're you doin' way up here. Marie's been calling you these last ten minutes. supper's ready and . . . ." The plaintive rush of noise died as Bodie stepped through the door.

Concerned by the sudden cessation of what had promised to be a very long, self-sorry complaint, Doyle peered at his dumbfounded partner.

Bodie was rooted inside the door, appearing as though he'd just had his breath physically knocked out of him.

Doyle had no idea how he looked to his partner at that moment. The backdrop of bright windows highlighted him. He stood before the half-finished canvas, paint brush in hand, long hair pulled back in Renaissance fashion, no doubt a wild, bohemian figure. The simplicity of his clothes did not detract from the fanciful image. His plain white, over-long, cotton shirt stood stark against his tanned flesh, bunching around the waist of his tight jeans to suggest and older style of clothes.

Bodie gaped a moment longer, then swallowed in a gulp audible to Doyle from where he stood.

"Bodie, you all right, mate?"

Seeming to shake himself back into reality, Bodie approached, his voice carefully casual. "What're you up to, then?"

Doyle grinned, waved his brush at him. "Buildin' a ship in a bottle, aren't I?"

Bodie froze as he got a good look at what Doyle was working on. "God, Ray, it's fantastic!"

Doyle felt his cheeks warm at the heartfelt proclamation.

"'s nothing special," he denied, somehow knowing that the moonlit snow scene, though good, was not his best.

"Nothin' special – it's as good as anything in the National Gallery. Looks like you could just walk into our little chalet there, all snug and cosy in that lonely snow."

Shocked, Doyle realized his partner was completely serious. "You did know I could draw, didn't you?" he questioned uncertainly, unable to understand how Bodie could be so surprised.

Bodie nodded. "You went to art school. All I could ever ask about was the naked models. You said you had no real talent." The last was more than slightly accusatory.

Doyle shrugged. "I probably don't. You're just prejudiced."

"No, you're damn good. Ask Marie when she comes up if you won't believe me."

"Come on, let's get these brushes washed off and get to dinner."

Three hours later with a mouth-watering roast lamb resting in their bellies they set off along the twilit path back to their chalet.

Doyle felt oddly content, spirit buoyed by the heartfelt satisfaction which came from doing something one truly enjoyed.

He cast a speculative glance at his silent companion. The rush that followed Bodie's praise still tingled along his nerves, inspiring him with the self-confidence to broach a topic that had been troubling him more and more over the last few weeks. He was still not certain he wanted to hear Bodie's answer and was frankly reluctant to jeopardize their newfound stability, but his thirst for the truth was unquenchable. Tomorrow, the courage to ask might once again be beyond him.

"Bodie." He spoke so normally into the post-sunset hush that the tone itself should have been a warning. "Were we lovers?"

Doyle held his breath, anticipating the disaster he had so brazenly invited.

To his credit, Bodie didn't even break stride. However, the absolute blanking of all emotion from his face told its own story. Bodie smoothly returned the verbal grenade to Doyle's own court. "Why do you ask?"

Bodie wasn't as cool as he looked, Doyle realized, hearing the nervousness and –was it guilt? – lurking below the imperturbable surface. "Some of the things you did for me after you got me back, well . . . not many'd do it for another bloke," Doyle explained, almost managing to suppress the resultant blush.

"You're not just another bloke, Ray. You're my partner," Bodie reminded, visibly relieved. "And, to answer your question, no, we were not lovers."

Curiosity guided his mouth before common sense could intercede. "Why not?"

"Ey?" Never had he seen Bodie so utterly flabbergasted.

"I said why weren't we? You've gone out of your way these past months to remind me how close we were. Look at yourself now, standin' closer than me bloody shadow, and me, not thinkin' anything of it! Are you lyin' to me? Tellin' me what you think I want to hear? Cause if you are . . . ." Doyle's tirade deflated like a breached helium balloon.

What would he do if Bodie were lying – berate the man for attempting to spare his feelings?

"I'm not lyin'!" Bodie protested, backing away from him, the trapped desperation in his eyes prelude to flight.

What the hell was he doing anyway, Doyle wondered, seeing the state he'd brought them to in such a few, short minutes. He took a deep breath and tried to master the perplexing blaze of emotions. "No, I shouldn't have said that, but . . . can't you see, we just don't make any sense?"

Fawn-wary, Bodie remained distant, stationed in the off-trail underbrush, where his retreat had brought him. "What do you mean we don't make sense?"

Doyle flinched at the cold demand, wondering if he'd finally managed to alienate his long-suffering mate. "Just look at yourself . . . you're not the kind of man easily given to nurse-maiding. And me, well, I'm not exactly the sweet-natured type that'd inspire such loyalty, am I. There had to be a reason for all this. For Christ's sake, you gave up your whole soddin' life to come find me. And don't tell me it's coz we're such good mates," he forestalled before Bodie could even draw breath to say it.

"We weren't lovers," Bodie repeated.

"Once again, why not?" Absurd, but he discovered he was shaking with fury.

"Because I don't like to get involved and you never let anyone get that close to you," Bodie spat. "You satisfied now?"

Doyle dismissed the first portion for the malarkey it was. No one who so blithely tossed everything they cared for away could claim non-involvement, especially to the object of its sacrifice. But that last, it had the bewildered ring of truth.

Stunned, Doyle gaped at the other man, wishing to God he'd had the good sense to remain silent on this subject. Why else besides love would anyone do what Bodie had done?

His acceptance of the other man's physical nearness had led Doyle to suspect that they'd shared a sexual relationship. Why he'd wanted it confirmed so badly, he was still unsure. Perspective perhaps, although the emotions inside suggested something else entirely.

Guilt was uppermost now, burdened as he was with the secret Bodie had so unwittingly revealed.
Somehow, he felt it would have been easier had Bodie verified his suspicions. Had they been lovers, relations might have been awkward, but this . . . he felt he'd been handed the other man's pride in an eggshell-frail container.

'Never let anyone get that close to you,' meaning Bodie had tried to or had seen rejection as a foregone conclusion. Probably the last, Doyle decided, drawing on his knowledge of Bodie's character.

That instinctive familiarity and his inexplicable lack of concern at what should have been an alarming revelation made Doyle realize something else – none of this was new to him. Before his . . . capture he must have known how Bodie felt about him – and having known, not acted upon it. He did not care to consider what that said about his character.

How this awareness would affect their relationship now, Doyle was uncertain. Guilty as he felt, he knew his emotional state would not permit him to tackle it openly. He was simply not ready to deal with such a problem. Sex – with anyone, male or female – was beyond him right now, and might always remain so.

He searched Bodie's face, hunting for a threat, but found only the defensiveness of one unjustly accused. Panic made him want to push the man away, cut all bonds before . . . .

Before what, Doyle wondered.

What Bodie felt for him couldn't be just lust. Sexual obsession might force a man to extremes, might even make him risk all he knew to satisfy his compulsion, but once the object of his obsession was within his grasp, he wouldn't be able to hold back. Van Cleef had shown him that such consuming drives left no room for concern for the object. Yet, he'd been Bodie's for the taking since that snowy night in Geneva and his partner had yet to touch him sexually. Doyle knew Bodie wouldn't have had to rape him to achieve his goal. Pliable as he's been those first weeks, an order would have been sufficient. With a gentler approach and a minimum of fear, Bodie could have guaranteed himself a docile sex slave. Aside from withdrawing inward – which never seemed to detract from his users' enjoyment of a good fuck – there was nothing he could have done to prevent his partner from moulding him into anything Bodie desired.

But instead of turning him into a docile sex slave, Bodie had chosen to rebuild his shattered self-confidence, restore him to the point where he could once again ignore his friend's passions.

That wasn't lust. That was love, in its purest form.

He wasn't about to make Bodie suffer for it anymore than he was already.

Whatever he did in the future, Doyle knew he couldn't simply cut Bodie out of his life, nor could he let on that he'd discovered Bodie's secret. Were that to be known, he suspected Bodie would be gone before Doyle could blink – to protect him, no doubt.

So, Doyle put on his most aggravating, aggressive expression and answered Bodie's question. "Yeah, I'm satisfied. Are you going to stand in the shrubbery all night?"

Bodie glared at him before rejoining the trail, the essence of offended dignity. Doyle had to hurry to keep up with Bodie's stride.

When the unnatural silence became too much to bear, Doyle asked mildly, "You mad at me, mate?"

Bodie swung around, explosion imminent in action-taut muscles. Blue eyes blazed a fury too strong for words.

Doyle wondered if fistfights were commonplace in their partnership. Fear should have been his own response, but he found himself straightening, preparing to meet the outburst.

Bodie's eyes widened as they took in his reaction, then, amazingly, a sparkle of amusement replaced the cold anger. "Haven't changed a bit, have you? Still like to push till it breaks."

Doyle relaxed at the open affection. "You’re not angry with me, then? I thought I'd blown it for sure."

"No, 'm not mad, not much, anyway," Bodie qualified before asking, "What brought all that on, Ray?"

Doyle shifted uncomfortably and then started to walk again, finding it easier to offer the truth while minding his footing rather than the watchful, too perceptive, eyes. "I remembered something while I was paintin' that . . . was unsettling."

"Something I did?" Bodie cautious query was rife with guilt.

Doyle shook his head, his bound hair swinging heavily behind him. "No, you weren't there. I don't think I even knew you then. It was weird. I was in some kind of art class, only, I was wearin' colours."


"You know, like gangs wear. I had the gaudiest dragon stitched on me jacket, with Dragons of Death written under it."

Bodie snorted. "Classy."

Doyle shrugged, and then made his dark confession. "I had a knife up my sleeve like any two-bit street punk."

Bodie didn't seem the least surprised. "You were always good with a blade. Not as sensational as some I've known, but better than most. Only, you don't like to use a knife."

The last piece was reluctantly delivered, Bodie obviously wanting to shy away from it while at the same time seemingly compelled to reassure him. Doyle decided to press the issue. "Why not?"

"Once, when I asked you why you became a copper, you told me that you'd carved a kid up pretty bad when you were just a kid yourself. You never said, but I always figured that had something to do with it."

"Oh." That effectively silenced anything he might've wanted to say.

Bodie, apparently understanding his need to brood, walked wordlessly beside him until they were almost home.

A mile out, Bodie commented into the gathering gloom, "None of that answered my question, Ray. What brought all that . . . other stuff up?"

Bodie was still nervous about what he might've given away, Doyle realized. Wanting to banish any lingering awkwardness, Doyle grinned his most winsome smile. "I wondered when you'd twig onto that," he admitted, growing serious. "You don't scare me the way you should Bodie, and like I said before, bein' close to me and doin' things for me doesn't seem to bother you the way it would most fellers. I've been thinkin' that maybe there was a reason for that. I just got the nerve to ask tonight. I didn't intend to . . . sorry, if it took you by surprise."

"No problem, mate. 'm used to you throwing me curves by now."

Which did not prove entirely true, Doyle reflected hours later, when Bodie halted mid-path from bathroom to bed, frozen as though Doyle had pulled a gun on him.

"What's up?" Doyle asked, the abrupt stop drawing his attention from the mystery he was reading.

"Ahh . . . if you feel more comfortable, I could sleep on the cot or move back to the other room."

"What, the brown study?" Doyle joked, knowing how Bodie deplored the bland room with its tiny bed. "Nah, I'd break me neck tryin' to get there when your clumsy carcass goes bump in the night. I told you before, Bodie, you don't scare me. I just wanted to know. Now, get into bed before your toes take root." Doyle lifted the covers on Bodie's side, privately pleased by the chastened expression and speed with which Bodie fulfilled his command.

"'nite, Ray," Bodie muttered sheepishly, turning his burning face to the wall."

"Good night, you loon," Doyle answered. Snapping off the lamp, he settled down into the darkness, sure that definite progress had been made today.


"Come on, Doyle. You can do better than that!" the voice taunted. "Use your foot. Aim high. That's the way. Now, try it for real."

Doyle did as directed, only when he did, the older man was no longer there. A leg that had to be made of rubber to bend at that angle shot out and neatly snagged the ankle that was supporting Doyle’s weight stork-like while he finished the motion of his last kick.

"Oh, damn," Doyle gasped in the microsecond he was suspended midair before he toppled. "Give a guy a chance, will you, Barry? I’ve got an appointment tonight. Can't show up in a plaster cast again, now, can I?" he demanded from the floor, afraid to move for fear of bringing further 'instruction' upon himself.

"'nother art class, lad? More fruit and vases?" the affectionate chuckle told Doyle that the training session was over, for now.

"A little less of the fruit, if you would," Doyle requested with grave dignity as he lurched into an unsteady sit.

"Come on, partner. I'll give you a lift. Go grab your paints and bonnet."

A strong hand hauled him to his feet, and then propelled him toward the locker room. He grinned at Martin's infectious bonhomie, unable to stay mad, despite his bruises.

The scene abruptly changed around Doyle. The mats and punching bags of the gym were gone, replaced by the lumber piles and huge crates of a sun-drenched dock.

That same face was there, changed very little: a few more lines, a touch of grey in the hair, nothing major. Except the expression. Grim determination hardened Barry Martin’s tired gaze. Unused to seeing anything but laughter and affection shining there, Doyle stared, his gun a heavy weight in his hand.

He hurt - from head to foot. He felt bruised and beaten. Ray’s numbed, equally battered mind was unable to accept what he had to do with the bloody gun. It was pointed right at Barry . . . .

"Shoot him, Doyle! Shoot him!" the voice, familiar as that of his own thoughts, shouted, sounding strangely panicked. His glance at Bodie mutated into a gape as he absorbed the long-handled knife jutting from Bodie's right shoulder. An ugly red stain seeped from its base, growing at an alarming rate. The owner of the hand that had put that knife into Bodie was under the bead of Doyle’s gun. All he need do was squeeze the trigger, as his partner was so frantically pleading for him to do.

The sight of Bodie's blood made him want to do it, but . . . that was Barry.

Torn to the point of insanity, he struggled to find the strength. One squeeze
and . . . .

Martin's eyes widened in disbelief as he stared down at the hole in his chest, the wound far bigger than any Doyle’s handgun could have made from this distance.

With an odd sense of unreality, Ray recognized the report of the rifle blast that was dying in the still air.

A gull screeched and dove down into the muddy Thames as Martin's knees buckled under him, his body sagging silently to the ground.

"I didn't do it," even to Doyle’s own ears, his voice sounded numb with shock. He looked to his partner, begging to be believed, and was just in time to see Bodie slump to the quay as well . . . .

"Bodie!" Doyle gasped, shooting straight up in the bed.

Completely disoriented, he stared around. No dock, no dead mentor, no bloody partner. Only slowly did Ray recognize the eerily lit room as their own bedroom.

The grey light of dawn seeped half-heartedly through the open window, a breeze gently ruffling the curtains.

Beside him, Bodie slept soundly. The weak-spirited light cast a sickly pallor over his partner's smooth skin. Clad only in his briefs, Bodie lay trustingly beside Ray, blissfully oblivious of the scrutiny he was undergoing. Unable to see the rise and fall of the sleek chest and needing that reassurance after the peculiar nightmare, Doyle leant closer.

There, steady as always, the rhythm lulled his fears. Bodie's warm breath brushed his cheek in an oddly intimate caress.

A strange nightmare, if that was what it were. Both phases of the dream had more in common with those flashbacks Doyle was experiencing than the all-too familiar night terrors.

If those incidents weren't imagination, if they'd really occurred, what did they mean? During that last bit he'd been more concerned about the man who'd just knifed his partner than his bleeding friend. Had he betrayed his mate, then? His country? Was that how he'd ended up in Van Cleef's power?

Guilt lanced through him as he recalled Bodie's blood, the knife stuck in his shoulder. Doyle’s green eyes searched his companion’s alabaster flesh in the pale dawning light. Bodie's chest was unmarred . . . save for a tiny pinkish scar below the right collarbone . . . right where that knife had struck in Ray’s dream.

Bitter bile rose in his throat. It was real, then, a memory, not fantasy.

Doyle stared at the grim verification, trying to comprehend Bodie's steadfast devotion to a man who could stand by and let that happen.

But . . . Bodie wasn’t the kind of man who could let a betrayal of that magnitude pass.

All Doyle had learned of his friend these past months told him that Bodie wouldn't put up with it. If he'd betrayed the cautious agent in any way, shown himself capable of such monumental treachery, not only would he have lost his partner's trust, Doyle very well might have forfeited his life in payment. No, whatever had caused that bizarre showdown, Bodie must have understood Ray’s reasoning for not killing the bastard, and forgiven him.

Lacking a plane of reference, Doyle found it difficult to be similarly generous.

Seemingly of its own volition, his index finger reached out to lightly trace the mark.

Bodie gave a soft gasp at the touch, his eyes instantly snapping open.

"Ray?" Bodie breathed.

" 's me," Doyle reassured, shaken by the vulnerable expression in the unguarded, sleepy gaze. He wondered if Bodie had any idea of what his face revealed at such times. Open to him, the wide eyes seemed to promise Doyle anything he wanted.

His withdrawal should have been instantaneous. Still, Ray hovered, trapped by the yearning as though it were his own. His blood drummed in his ears, breath becoming a fluttery, elusive creature.

Awareness slowly filtered into Bodie's eyes. Doyle read the exact instant that the half-light and their circumstances penetrated his partner's sleep-confused mind in the guilt that shuttered the magnetic features. "Dreams again?"

Doyle nodded, unwilling to trust his voice.



The strong arms closed around him, drawing him close without hesitation. Nor did Bodie's body betray what Doyle believed he'd seen in his eyes, save perhaps in a slightly tenser muscle set.

For his own part, Ray lay like a coiled spring. His cheek pressed against the bare chest. Each breath brought with it the scent particular to his partner - now disturbing. Restless, Doyle waited until the encircling arms became lax with sleep before he reclaimed his side of the bed.


Chapter Seven

"Stop twitching."

Bodie jumped guiltily at the terse command. "Couple of sales and he turns into a slave driver. My leg itches, Ray. Can't I scratch it?"

Irritated jade fire gave way to amusement. "Not a couple. Seven sales. Go ahead and scratch, for Christ's sake."

Bodie savagely attacked the leg in question, half listening to the good-humoured string of complaints that ended with, "What kind of model are you anyway?"

"A reluctant one," he reminded, still unnerved by the intense scrutiny of the artist at work.

Bodie cursed his own bluntness as doubt shadowed Doyle’s piquant features. He was proud of the advances Ray had made in the past few months. Painting had become more than just a therapeutic hobby. The sales Marie's neighbour had arranged to a Lucerne gallery had bolstered his partner's confidence astronomically.

To Bodie's relief, their relationship had returned to the point of good-natured squabbling. Doyle seemed more himself, though nowhere near as prickly as he’d been before his kidnapping. The quick comebacks Doyle used now lacked the sting Bodie had grown accustomed to over the years. A part of him would not be convinced of Ray's recovery until the other man verbally lashed into him and mercilessly took him apart with the unthinking ease at which his partner was a master. Though enjoyable, this sweet creature was not his Ray Doyle.

Still, Bodie would tolerate no setbacks. A charming Doyle was far preferable to a catatonic one. So, Bodie smiled his brightest smile and cast one of the self-satisfied looks he excelled at his partner’s way. "But a handsome one, you've got to admit."

Doyle gulped and ran a hand though his preposterously long curls. "Modest, to boot. Go on and have a stretch, that's what you'll be crying for next."

Bodie gratefully leaped at the chance of free movement after hours of containment. "When can I look?"

"When I say so."

As he'd expected no other answer, Bodie wasn't disappointed. His curiosity was getting the better of him, however. This morning he'd caught himself seriously contemplating sneaking down for a peek in the pre-dawn light. Only Ray's wakefulness had stopped him.

Which brought to mind their newest problem, as yet undiscussed. Bodie had lost count of the number of times he'd awoken in the last month to find Doyle wide-awake and staring at the ceiling or, even more unnervingly, directly at him. The cause wasn't the nightmares that had plagued their earlier nights. Those had receded to one every two or three weeks - no more than what they could expect while working on the squad.

He knew that Ray was beginning to remember his past; although how much was coming back, Bodie was still unsure. Doyle had become very secretive about his flashbacks after the first few. He supposed his partner could be trying to fit the disjointed memories together to attain some type of perspective on his past, but suspected the restlessness was a bit more than that. Bodie's instincts kept telling him that he was a part of whatever was troubling his mate.

"Want to call it quits for the day?" he asked the artist. "You look knackered."

"Not getting out of it that easy, mate. You said you'd pose in the bad weather, and . . ." Doyle’s laughter bright eyes darted to the dismal window and back again,
" . . . it's still rainin'."

"How you arranged that I'll never know," Bodie mumbled, grumpily reclaiming his seat. The fact of the matter was that since he'd given that half-witted promise three days ago it had done nothing but pour. Not just rain storms, but bloody torrents that had the disconcerting habit of turning to hail showers with no forewarning. Trapped three days with the conscientious artist, Bodie had no choice but to honour his word.

"Friends in high places," Doyle explained with an enigmatic wink as he lifted his paintbrush.

"Can't I at least read? 's all right for you sittin' here for hours. You get to admire my beautiful puss. All I get to look at is the back of the canvas."

Doyle gravely considered his complaint, obviously uncertain how far he could push Bodie's forbearance. "Okay, but just for a while. And keep your head up."

Surprised by the capitulation, Bodie grabbed the first thing that came to hand - a two-week-old Genevan newspaper filched from the hotel. He leaped half-heartedly through it, not quite able to keep his head up as ordered and read at the same time, especially in French.

About to despair at the effort, he froze upon seeing a familiar face in a small article in the back of the paper. Even now the malicious, burning eyes sent a shiver down his spine. Van Cleef. Rapidly, he picked his way through the story, his meagre store of French barely up to the task. Basically, it told of a prisoner shot attempting to escape - the body as yet unfound after the dragging of the river.

Christ, what a cock up! Van Cleef on the loose again. Ray would . . . .

"What the hell's happened? You look like you've just seen a ghost, mate."

Bodie jerked the paper closed and snapped to attention. It wasn't his ghost.

He debated telling Ray, but to what purpose?

They were as remote as they could be short of taking up residence on an uncharted island. The chance of Van Cleef finding them was virtually nil. If he'd be looking at all. Of the many things Bodie thought the sadist, a fool was not one of them. If Van Cleef were still alive, he'd be concentrating on avoiding the law - just like gunrunners.

The only thing he really need worry about was Doyle's reaction to finding out about the escape-death. Two weeks had already elapsed without Ray's knowing. Isolated as they were, there was little chance of Doyle finding out on his own - they hadn't a telly, newspapers were as infrequent as winning lottery tickets, and the only station their little radio could pick up was a German one from three villages over.

Uncomfortably aware of the ire with which his partner would respond to such a cavalier decision on his part when well, Bodie nevertheless chose to spare Ray the upsetment.

"Nothin'," Bodie lied sweetly, tossing the paper at the sitting room coffee table with assumed ease. "Everything's in French."

"Ah," the absorbed artist sympathized - not hearing a word he'd said, Bodie was willing to wager.

Van Cleef occupied Bodie’s thoughts for some time after that as he watched the play of emotions on Doyle's concentrating face. Bodie didn't like to consider how close the bastard had come to destroying his friend, any more than he cared to recognize the murderous thirst for vengeance that fired his own soul. That night in Geneva, Ray had been his only concern. Justice had to be left to the less-thorough authorities. Bodie wished that he'd been able to do the job himself. If Van Cleef had been left in his hands, that article would never have been written. Corpses rarely escaped.

"Think that's enough for one day," Doyle finally announced.

Bodie glanced out the window in confusion. There were at least three hours of daylight left.

"You all right?" Bodie asked, his gaze lighting on the shadows webbing the skin under Doyle's eyes.

"Yeah. Tired is all. Think I'll catch a kip before dinner."

"Here," Bodie said, taking the paintbrushes from his partner. "I'll clean these. Go ahead and get some rest."

"You won't peek?"

"Nah, I'll wait for the grand unveiling. Get away with you."

Doyle gave him a wary smile and climbed the stairs to their room.

Brushes in hand, Bodie gave the mysterious canvas a last glower before leaving the sitting room. Some weeks had passed since the large white room qualified strictly as such. It had more the look of a busy studio these days, what with Ray's art supplies and half-finished creations spread haphazardly about. Bodie supposed he could have said no when asked, but he could no more refuse Ray the use of the huge picture window than he could intentionally dash the eager light from those dancing eyes.

Besides, Bodie admitted, messy was it was, he liked the room this way. Reeking of paint and turpentine, there was a lived-in quality to the place that couldn't be denied. One had just to look at it to see Doyle's presence stamped into every nook and cranny. Signs of his own inhabitation were far subtler, glanced only here and there in orderly corners where the rampant disorganization would otherwise have reigned.

Brushes cleaned, he returned to the sitting room to remove the offending paper. Fortunately, what with the high altitude, even the hottest of summer days required a fire after sunset and it was already well into September. Another month, and they’d have snow. The dampness brought by the current storm made a fire almost imperative. Bodie knew he’d have no trouble dealing with the offending evidence.

Half an hour later, Bodie sat ensconced before the hearth in one of the huge enveloping armchairs. The mystery that had been quite enthralling last night and a lulling cup of hot tea were thoroughly ignored, his blue eyes intent on the curling wads of paper being consumed by the crackling orange flames.

He felt as if he were committing a crime of some sort. Odd, that. When he'd been running that arms shipment into Africa nine months ago -- an act that was indisputably criminal and rightfully punishable by death -- there hadn't been half the guilt. Probably because that was merely a means to an end. Anything that would help get Ray back, he'd do without hesitation. Not an easy self-discovery, but one Bodie had no choice but to accept, despite his delusions of being beyond certain actions at this point in his life.

This was different. Purposefully concealing something from his partner made him uncomfortable, even if such a deception were in Ray's best interest.

Long after the paper turned to grey ashes, Bodie sat brooding his decision.

His head jerked up suddenly. His hearing, always more sensitive than most, detected a distinctive rumble beneath the rhythm of the latest downpour. Faint as yet, the car was still fairly far down the road, probably not even visible.

But they didn't get traffic up here. There were two homesteads between Marie's hotel and their tiny chalet. Both were too far down the mountain for even the echoes of their car motors to reach way up here.

Thoughts of Van Cleef uppermost on his mind, Bodie was up the stairs and searching through the drawers of the dresser in the little brown room before he'd consciously decided to move. His Browning was there, swaddled amongst his long johns, just where he'd left it. Months had passed since he'd actually held the automatic.

It felt cold and heavy in his hand.

But not too foreign. He was inserting a fresh ammo clip before the unusual sensations fully penetrated. He slipped the holster on and secured his weapon, then descended the stairs to take up a defensive position behind the sitting room drapes.

The picture window gave him a clear, if rain-obscured, view of the road. He expected the car to stop before the bend so that their attackers could proceed more silently on foot to the house. The vehicle never even slowed.

Damn sure of themselves, Bodie thought, as the sturdy black Mercedes came into sight. Or maybe they knew his defensive strength, knew all they'd be up against was a handgun and a few spare clips. Christ, but he wished he'd brought a rifle.

Even so, it wouldn't be easy for them. There was no way in hell Bodie was going to stand by and see Ray fall into that nutter's clutches again. If he couldn't take Van Cleef out, he'd be sure to take Doyle with him.

Common sense slowly stilled some of his paranoia. Van Cleef simply could not know where they were. He hadn't even known Bodie's real name for the sale. There was no way the villain could have traced them here.

But what else beside vengeance could drive a man to tackle these treacherous mountain roads in the midst of such a storm?

His answer came several minutes later when the Merc came to a sedate halt before their front door. Behind the rain-sluiced windshield, its two passengers were little more than faceless silhouettes - clear targets.

Bodie gave some thought to there being more than just the two men. While his attention was on the car any number of assailants could be making their way through the copse of spruce trees to take them from behind. Finally, the passenger door opened and all thought died in Bodie’s mind as his eyes fixed upon a figure he'd never thought to see again.

Cloaked in a heavy raincoat and wide brimmed hat, the man's face was hidden as their visitor tried to shelter it from the driving rain. But the limp and proud carriage were unmistakable. George Cowley in the flesh, outside of his beloved England.

Bodie slumped with relief and holstered his gun. He should have known. Few villains could match the Cow's steely determination.

He opened the door before the rain-drenched man could knock.

"Bodie!" an exuberant Murphy shouted and grabbed him into a bear hug that nearly lifted him off his feet. "'s good to see you again! Where's your loo, mate?"

Bodie grinned, genuinely happy to see the affable man. "Some priorities you've got there."

"Least you came first. Ahhh . . . . " Murphy answered, in obvious distress.

"Through the sitting room, first door on the left. The kitchen's right behind it if you want to put on the kettle," Bodie said.

The big agent snorted and made a dash for the facilities.

The easier greeting aside, Bodie turned back to his former employer. Not since he was a child had he felt so at a loss for words.

The head of C.I.5 stood just within the threshold, dripping water onto the carpet, his ever-present briefcase clutched to his chest. That penetrating stare hadn't lost any of its power, even if the surrounding face did seem to have aged more than the twelve months that had passed since Bodie had last seen it. The old man looked tired and truly old to Bodie for the first time in their nine-year acquaintanceship.

"Sir," Bodie warily greeted, fully expecting a blast of condemnation for his desertion. Absently, he wondered if Switzerland's neutrality could keep him from being hauled off in leg irons, and if he'd even bother to resist.

"It's been some time, Bodie." Mere acknowledgment. Cowley’s gruff burr betrayed no emotion.

"Let me take your coat for you," he offered. Relieving his visitor of the soggy garment and hat, Bodie was almost physically aware of Cowley's displeasure.

"Is there a place we can speak in private?" George Cowley questioned.

Bodie glanced at the returning Murphy.

"The study?" Bodie suggested, dreading the interview, but seeing no way to avoid it short of drawing his Browning and ordering them off the mountain. Anyway, he was privately convinced that steel-blue glare would melt the gun in his hand. "Make yourself at home, Murph. If you'll come this way, sir."

"Ta, mate. Will do." Murphy’s friendly blue eyes were warm with sympathy.

"A drink, sir? Your usual?" Bodie asked, once the study's heavy wood door clicked closed behind them. Anything to postpone the inevitable.

Two doubles in hand, he turned back toward his guest. Cowley had assumed the seat behind the desk, leaving Bodie the choice of applicant’s chair or awkwardly hovering before the seated Buddha. With another, Bodie would have remained standing – intimidation though height – but such puerile tactics were useless against the man who had pioneered them all. Round one to the old devil.

Bodie handed over the scotch and took the free chair.

"You're a hard man to locate these days, Bodie," Cowley commented, sipping his drink appreciatively.

"I would like to know how you managed that, sir. I thought we were pretty well hidden myself."

"And so you were. C.I.5 had thoroughly lost track of you until you so thoughtfully contacted Interpol in Geneva last December. The follow-up investigation of that call eventually brought us to your Mr. Dupres and his Gypsy's Rest," Cowley said.

"Jacques didn’t tell you a thing," Bodie made it clear he wouldn’t fall for that tactic.

"No, you're right. He was most uncooperative. One of his neighbours was, however, very helpful. She recalled your driving habits most vividly. After that, it was merely a matter of time."

"I see." The chalet and property were under Jacques' name. Once that connection was made, it was inevitable that Cowley would find them.

Fervently, Bodie wished he had his partner's habit for double thinking. The silence that followed their matter of fact discussion was nerve-wracking. Unable to bear it a second longer, he bluntly asked the question uppermost on his mind, "Am I under arrest, sir?"

"This is somewhat outside my jurisdiction," the Scot dryly replied.

Which didn't answer his question, Bodie realized. "Local authorities have always been more than willing to assist C.I.5 with extradition," he pointed out.

"South Africa can do its own dirty work."

"You know about that?" Despite his confession, he hadn't even disclosed the destination of the arms shipment to Ray.

"That one month after your . . . disappearance from England, a man fitting your description and travelling under a falsified -- by C.I.5, no less -- passport, arrived on a French plane at the Johannesburg airport? Yes, I know that much."

"Then why didn't you have me apprehended there?" Bodie asked.

"That man never flew back out of Johannesburg. In fact, all traces of him disappear at that point."

"But the authorities . . . ."

Cowley grimaced. "Could have created a most embarrassing international incident were an active British operative to be associated with . . . the business that brought you to Africa."

Bodie didn't know whether to be grateful or appalled. "It's just to be overlooked, then?"

"For the record, yes. By me, no. You've disappointed me, Bodie."

Bodie’s eyes dropped to the knickknack-cluttered desktop. That subdued admission troubled him more than an impassioned tirade would have done. His respect for this man's opinion was seconded only to that of his partner. "That was never my intent, sir. It-it was the only way to get the cash I needed quickly."

"The only way?"

Bodie met the disapproving stare squarely. "The only way I'd even consider. I never strayed that far." When there was no reaction to that, save perhaps the slightest increase in scepticism, he went on. "So, what brings you here now, sir, if it's not to arrest me?"

"Two matters. First, I'd like your report," Cowley stated with his usual crisp efficiency.

"My what?" Bodie blinked, certain that he’d misheard.

"You were assigned that kidnapping case before your unscheduled hiatus . . . ."

"Hiatus? I bloody well quit!" Bodie exploded.

"No resignation was ever tendered by either yourself or 4.5."

"4.5 -- you had him declared dead!" All the betrayal Bodie had felt at that time spilled over into his voice.

"Aye, lad, that was precipitous on my part. But there was no reason to believe they would keep a bodyguard alive. Remember, we had no idea of the scope of the operation at that time."

"I told you he wasn't dead," Bodie reminded.

"A purely subjective belief that fortunately proved true. Now, I want your report. Start with your escape from England. You never cleared customs - on any passport. We had an agent at every exit point two minutes after you went missing."

"A little bird brought me," Bodie evaded. He had no intention of bringing up the smuggler's boat and its stormy Channel crossing. He owed the reluctant Brownie that much.

"Bodie, I'm warning you . . . ."

"That information is confidential. I won't incriminate anyone other than myself. Certainly not one of the few who would help me in such desperate straits," Bodie stubbornly insisted.

He fully expected Cowley to twist to conversation until he was inadvertently tricked into revealing the information. Surprisingly, something very like respect entered the intent gaze. "I suppose this D-notice applies to your arms friend as well?" Apparently accepting Bodie’s stony silence as assent, C.I.5’s controller continued, "All right, for the present we will accept that as privileged information. Now, the events leading to Doyle's rescue?"

About to tell the interfering egotist what he could do with his acceptance, Bodie was suddenly struck by the humour of the situation. Only George Cowley would have the arrogance to speak to a man who'd escaped his authority over a year ago as though he were still a paid lackey - and only the Cow would command the respect to get away with it.

Bodie tried to stifle his smile. "You're really something, sir. Come all this way to have me satisfy your curiosity, did you?"

"Partly," Cowley replied. "Now about that set up . . . ."

Laughing outright, Bodie began to detail his infiltration of Van Cleef's operation. Some time passed as he recited events, evaded disclosing his contacts’ true names and detailed how he’d acquired the small fortune spent to pave his way into that auction. Behind it all, Bodie’s terror rang clear, the solitary agony he'd endured under the strain of waiting for the day Ray would finally come on the block.

In the quiet that followed his tale, he tried to remember how to breathe around the heavy lump lodged in his oesophagus. Bodie hadn't expected the mere telling of it to so shake him. And he hadn't even covered the truly disturbing part of it - the effect of the captivity upon his partner. His narrative had halted after a much-edited report of the sale and the subsequent notification of Interpol.

"You did well, lad," Cowley's gruff voice eventually ended the stillness.

Bodie knew he was probably imagining things, but there seemed to be a catch in Cowley's voice as well.

"I didn't expect you to approve, sir," Bodie stated with characteristic frankness.

"Not approve of a solo operation handled with all the efficiency of a C.I.5 op? You even financed yourself," Cowley, notoriously hounded by budget cuts, sounded utterly amazed by his feat. "You did me proud, lad."

Bewildered by the abrupt switch in attitude, Bodie struggled to make sense of the situation. "But I disobeyed you. Took off without even . . . ."

"Aye, but you've done that before, Bodie - always for the same reason. It's become part of your character. I was as responsible for your . . . dereliction of duty as you were. Perhaps more so. Knowing your history, I should have taken more stringent precautions."

Had Cowley's precautions been any more stringent, Bodie knew he'd still be cooling his heels in a C.I.5 holding cell. "I don't believe I understand you correctly, sir. In the past you've always been quite adamant about your orders being carried out to the very last letter."

"Indeed." Cowley agreed, then quizzed, "And when I formed your team, what did I tell you was each team member's primary function?"

First lesson, drilled into thick skulls until it reverberated in their sleep. "Your primary function is to guard your partner's back at all times during an operation," Bodie quoted. "You are responsible . . . ."

"That will do. I can hardly fault you for practicing what I preached, now can I? Even if such disobedience does occasionally conflict with my present wishes," it was a rueful admission, one that sounded hard learned.

"But you said you were disappointed with me, sir," Bodie reminded.

"And so I am. Once Doyle was found, it was your duty to bring him home to England. That is the second matter which brought me here on this hideous day."

"Ray is . . . . " Bodie began, only to be cut off by Cowley.

"This is the report filed with the Genevan police by a Dr. Warner. The doctor is a very competent individual, most cooperative. He seems to have taken something of a dislike to you."

"I'll just bet he did," Bodie agreed icily. With an apprehension approaching dread, Bodie accepted the offered sheet. He slowly read its contents, doing his best to keep all emotions blanked from his face as he read the details about the sexually abused, near catatonic patient that was brought to Warner’s practice by an armed thug. Despite the severity of the report, Bodie couldn’t fault the good doctor. Warner had only reported what he’d seen. The doctor had acted in Ray’s best interests.

'A cow looks after its young,' the old man was fond of quoting. No words were ever truer. George Cowley would move heaven and earth to protect one of his own. Cowley might decide to toss them into the fire, but God help the outsider who dared do the same. If Cowley were going by Warner's report, he was in for trouble.

Taking a deep breath, Bodie quietly said, "I can explain, sir."

"I believe you should, now. In detail," there was nothing the least bit welcoming in Cowley’s eyes.

Not just disappointed, the man looked sick at heart, Bodie thought, which was understandable in light of the grim prognosis Dr. Warner had given Doyle’s chances of recovery. Taking a deep breath, Bodie began to talk, trying to ignore the sweat he could feel beading on his brow.


Shadows had crowded the room when Doyle finally rolled over. The window was a sheet of grey. The wind was tossing pellets of rain against its fragile surface and whipping the boughs of the neighbouring spruce in an alarming frenzy.

Shivering more from his emotional response than any real chill, Ray sought the reassurance of his sleeping partner.

It had been some time since he'd awoken to an empty expanse of bed. The sheets didn't even hold a lingering trace of Bodie's warmth. Where . . . ?

Ray caught sight of his shirtsleeve and remembered his nap. This was dusk then, not dawn.

Wondering what could have possessed the daft sod to let him sleep this long, Doyle climbed groggily from the bed. At this rate, it'd be dark before they ate.

"Bodie, why didn't you . . . ?" Ray started to sharply demand of the brown haired man bent over a book and comfortably sprawled on the sitting room couch, whom he naturally enough assumed to be Bodie. Doyle stopped dead in his tracks as a stranger's face lifted.

The man, a full head taller than Bodie and built like a huge grizzly bear, jumped to his feet. Unfeigned delight illuminated his friendly features.

"Ray! Good God, man, we thought you dead! When the Cow . . . ." The stranger halted his approach, visibly disconcerted by Doyle's reaction – or lack of one. "Ray, are you all right?"

Trying not to be physically intimidated by this enormous man who seemed to know him and hopefully intended no harm, Doyle nodded. Ray’s worried eyes searched the room for Bodie, a frown crinkling his features when he failed to locate his friend amongst the easels and furniture. "Where's Bodie?"

Perhaps not the most polite of greetings, it nonetheless seemed to satisfy the man. "In the frying pan, from the sound of it. The Cow's working him over for the scare he gave us all." The explanation, offered in a light tone and apparently intended as a joke, did nothing to quell Doyle's worry.

The stranger’s face was familiar in the way Bodie's had been before Doyle’s sketchy memories had started to return. But unlike with his partner, his recognition of every pore and angle wasn't instinctive with this man. The newcomer must have been an acquaintance, maybe even a friend, but not a close one. Doyle could find no name to tag to the grinning face. Whereas, the mention of Cowley's name brought to mind a very definite, if blurry, image.

As he watched, the man's smile faltered. "Ray . . . you don't know who I am, do you?"

The confusion was genuine. Doyle could sense the concern behind the man’s hesitant question. "No. I know I ought to, but . . . things have been a little confused lately."

Eyes, a paler blue than Bodie's, softened. "With good reason. My name's Murphy, Pat Murphy. We work together and you usually call me Murph."

Doyle accepted the hand offered to him, warming immediately to the man.

" . . . pleasure." Ray mumbled, a little overwhelmed by the hearty shake.

Murphy laughed. "Not as much as seeing you again, mate. Figured next time I laid eyes on you, you'd be posin' on a cloudbank, harp in hand and wings a draggin' after you."

"Wrong scenario, I think," Doyle chuckled.

"Yeah, knowing you, you'd probably follow that fire drake of yours to warmer climes."

"Speaking of which . . . . " Doyle returned to his original topic.

"The old man asked for privacy," Murphy informed him. From the tone, Doyle would have thought lightning had carved the order into a stone tablet.

"Did he now?"

A raised voice – Bodie's – saying, "Ray's my partner, damn it, my responsibility. Not some bloody hospital's," rumbled from behind the closed study door. The defensive anger in the familiar tone pricked up Doyle's protective instincts more thoroughly than a cry for help would have done.

"Excuse me," Doyle said and made to move around the big agent.

"Ray . . . ." Murphy laid a hesitant hand on his shoulder.

His job's to stop me, Doyle thought, measuring up the other agent. He was definitely outclassed here. Murphy's not inconsiderable bulk hadn't diminished any in the last few minutes. In fact, up close, he seemed even larger. Quite unconsciously, Doyle’s eyes and muscles hardened in a very feline preparation to pounce.

"You really going to fight me over it, mate?" Murphy asked.

"If you don't get out of my way." Level and calm, Doyle wondered where this confidence was coming from. What was even more astounding was that it wasn't bluff. He really meant it. Even knowing he hadn't a chance in a million of beating this wall of muscle in a fight, Bodie's need made it imperative that Ray get to the other side of that door.

Amazingly, a huge smile covered Murphy's round face. "You know, Ray, I never had a partner, but I'm beginning to understand why Bodie was willing to fight dragons to get you back."

"You going to let me by, then?" Doyle tested, not really understanding.

"If you're bound and determined to get chewed up in the lion's den, far be it from me to restrain you," Murphy laughed and stepped aside.

Once outside the door, Doyle hesitated in the gloomy hallway. Should he just storm in or knock?

Cowley’s voice continued from within, "Yes, we've heard much about your wants. But did you ever stop to consider what was best for your partner? Read the report, man. The last thing that lad needed was to be thrown into another threatening situation."

Even through the heavy oak door, Doyle could hear the anger in the Scottish burr.

"What do you mean by 'threatening'?" he heard Bodie challenge.

"Your motives for keeping Doyle. Your true feelings for 4.5, though hardly public knowledge, were no secret to me. Since I knew, I would assume Doyle did as well. After what Doyle had been through with Van Cleef, do you believe it was healthy to expose him to similar . . . . "

Thawed from his frozen state, Doyle moved. He didn't know if it were possible to slam open a door, but his entrance gave that effect. Two pairs of startled blue eyes flew to his face, Bodie’s more familiar eyes drowning in guilt, the second pair merely widening in surprise.

"There was nothing similar. I don't know who the hell you are that you think you can speak to him like that – or why he should just sit there and take it – but . . . . " Like a grassfire started by a carelessly thrown match, Doyle’s cold fury exploded into a full-fledged tirade as he defended his partner.


Bodie gaped at the wildcat let loose in their midst. Absolutely never had he seen Ray put on such a display. Livid with fury didn't half cover Doyle at the moment. Berserker rage came close, save that this wasn't physical – except in the way Ray had planted himself between Cowley and his partner. Bodie had always known Doyle to be a fiercely loyal individual, but this ferocious defence from a man he'd considered an emotional cripple left Bodie speechless.

Cowley, as well, Bodie realized, taking in his former employer’s spellbound face.

There was something undeniably fascinating about this font of fury. The blaze of iridescent green, flushed cheeks, and untamed mane of curls had the same paralysing effect as that of a charging lion. Bodie, who had been at the other end of the true feline's attack, thought a bloke might have a better chance with the lion.

The verbal blast stilled, Doyle's chest heaving for breath - preparatory to another outburst, no doubt.

Bodie tentatively laid his hand on a cotton-clad shoulder before the coiled spring could be sprung again, half-expecting the force of the explosion to be turned against himself. "That's enough, Ray."

Wide, bottomless eyes turned his way, pinning him with their concern. Doyle seemed too furious to even speak for a moment before he stuttered out, "He –"

"Is only interested in your welfare," Bodie defended.

"Thank you, Bodie," Cowley seemed genuinely surprised by his support. "Dr. Warner's report led me to believe that you were suffering from a severe shock. Mute, nearly catatonic, and likely to remain so unless supplied with proper treatment was how the doctor phrased it. I'm glad to see he was mistaken, Doyle."

Doyle glared at Cowley, visibly unmollified by the sweet words and as mistrusting as one forest-born.

"Ray," Bodie cautioned. For all his gratitude at Ray’s defence, he was unwilling to allow Doyle to berate someone who had travelled so far on Doyle's behalf. "Please sit down. Mr. Cowley's not the enemy."

Doyle turned that same probing gaze on him and then reluctantly pulled over a small armchair – doing so, Bodie knew, only because he asked it. Every well-defined line of Ray’s body and the taut set of his features spoke of rebellion.

Cowley’s smooth voice quickly assured, "Indeed, I am not the enemy, and I would like to apologize for coming down with such a heavy hand. We truly believed you dead, lad, and then when we did learn of your survival, the severity of your condition was greatly exaggerated."

Not knowing what to say, Bodie remained silent. On the fingers of one hand he could count the times he'd heard George Cowley apologize, and, then, never to him.

Doyle, however, found his voice. Apparently appeased by their visitor's sincerity, Doyle’s attitude altered a bit, the fire leaving his eyes as he said, "The report wasn't exaggerated . . . sir." Ray looked to him, seemingly for confirmation of his form of address. At Bodie's nod of approval, Doyle continued, "I was as bad as that and worse before Bodie put me back together."

"Then we've much to be grateful to him for," Cowley concurred, obviously still attempting to make amends for his earlier error.

Bodie tried not to appear as uncomfortable as he felt. Doyle's candour especially troubled him, for only he himself knew how justified the old man's concerns had been.

Bodie jumped as a hand gently squeezed his elbow. He tried to shy away from the affection warming the green gaze.

"Ey, come back to us, dreamer," Doyle's voice was pitched for his ears only.

Don't trust me so, Bodie wanted to shout. Cowley's right – in everything he's right.

Puzzlement creased Doyle’s quirky face, as though Bodie’s warning had been spoken aloud.

"It's all right," Ray assured, the whisper convincing Bodie that he had indeed spoken . . . except that even now the lump clogged in his throat was too big to get around.

"What . . . is?" Bodie rasped out at last, painfully aware of the too-perceptive third party observing them.

"Whatever's got you lookin' so grim. Cheer up, mate, I'm here to look after you," Ray promised.

And Doyle meant it, too. That last was thrown Cowley's way as a warning.

Cowley brought their attention back to him with a timely throat clearing. "Doyle, before you mentioned not knowing who I am. Dr. Warner's report hinted that there could well be some psychological side effects to your ordeal – hysterical amnesia only one of them. Is your memory loss complete then?"

Bodie winced at his former boss’ candour. Though he knew everything Cowley said to be true, he would never have phrased it quite so bluntly himself.

"For all practical purposes, it’s complete. I remember . . . your face and your voice. When I think very hard," here Doyle's eyes closed in concentration, "I get scattered images; most of them aren't very clear."

"Most, but not all?" Cowley pounced on the information.

Doyle's eyes opened to slowly focus on the older man.

"I remember yelling at you and then slapping some kind of wallet and gun down on your desk," Ray confessed in a confused tone.

"Jesus, but you've got a knack for pickin' them!" Bodie commented. At Ray's raised eyebrow, he continued, "You were spittin' fire at us both that day for invadin' your privacy."

Odd, that the only thing Doyle recalled of the drama-fraught case was that particular incident and not the girl or even poor Benny.

"Were you?" Doyle questioned of Bodie, Ray’s mood hard to judge.

There was no lying to that level verdant gaze now, anymore than there was back when the Holly case had forced him to shadow his own partner.

"Yes," Bodie admitted, wondering what he was letting himself in for.

"Under my orders," the older man defended.

A year ago, Ray would have gone off at Bodie’s admission and challenged the necessity of the trespass, but tonight Ray just nodded, his brow creased with concentration, as though he were attempting to force his memories.

Somehow, Bodie sensed that Doyle's calm acceptance had nothing to do with Cowley's unsought support.

"What are your plans now?" Cowley’s comment brought their attention back to the Controller.

"Plans?" Doyle repeated, looking to his partner as though for a definition of the word.

"We hadn't any immediate plans. We're rather comfortable here," Bodie supplied.

"So I see," Cowley enigmatically agreed. "Doyle's amnesia could no doubt be aided by proper treatment at home. Have you given that any thought, Bodie?"

Despite the spider-to-the-fly sweetness of Cowley's tone, the words stung. Guilt upon guilt pummelled at Bodie’s conscience, with his own selfish decision to keep Ray near him at the bottom of it all. Unable to meet Cowley’s relentless, convicting eyes, he lowered his gaze to his lap.

What could he say? Of course, he'd known . . . and failed to act upon it.

Bodie’s down-bent gaze flew to Ray when Doyle’s hand landed so naturally upon the forearm that lay rigidly along his wooden chair's right arm. Ray's gesture seemed automatic, almost unconscious, as was the soft squeeze of encouragement Bodie’s lucky limb received.

When Bodie dared a peek at his partner, Doyle's profile was stony once again, but this time the anger was held in check.

"Of course, he thought about it," Ray answered for him. "He didn't have a bloody passport that would get him back into the country legally now, did he? Me either, for that matter. Far as the world's concerned, I still don't exist. I sort of like it that way, Mr. Cowley. If you take my meaning."

There was safety in anonymity, as Bodie well knew.

Cowley, however, was not to be deterred. "But your memory . . . ."

"Will come back on its own. Besides, the previews I've been gettin' haven't left me all that keen on the show. If it comes, it comes. I'm not about to force it," Doyle said, shocking both Cowley and his partner into silence.

"I see," the old man said after a minute. "You must admit, it is a rather peculiar attitude to hold about one's own past. I would think you would do your utmost to regain what was lost to you."

"What the hell would you know about it . . . sir!" Bodie demanded, tiring of the cross-examination. Cowley mightn't be being judgmental, but his curiosity was obviously disturbing Ray. Doyle's pale face had the strained, almost pinched look to it that Bodie hadn't seen in over a year, not since they were last on the job together.

Ray’s hand had yet to release his forearm. It squeezed Bodie again, as if silently beseeching his patience.

"This is between Doyle and me," Cowley warned.

Bodie bristled, but backed off, as Ray obviously wanted.

"Well, lad?" Cowley prompted. "Are you trying to tell me you don't want to remember?"

"I didn't say that," came Doyle’s quick response.

But you meant it, Bodie realized, reading the unsaid as easily as the Cow. The shock of that discovery had yet to settle when he felt Cowley’s hawk-blue eyes probing his own reaction.

Though his bewilderment over Doyle's attitude felt very much like betrayal, Bodie carefully blanked his features. Ray would have his support, whatever the circumstances.

"No, you didn't say it," Cowley agreed, "but that was your meaning. Why?"

Bodie was almost grateful to the old man for voicing the question loyalty prohibited Bodie himself from asking. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Doyle's reaction.

First, the expressive eyes dropped and for the longest moment Bodie was certain his partner was going to ignore the question. Then, Ray's gaze swept almost surreptitiously his way, darting quickly back to his lap. Ray's hand left its hold on Bodie's arm to settle in a calm-looking, but tension-locked clasp on his knees.

The significance of the gesture escaped Bodie. All he was aware of was how isolated and alone Ray abruptly appeared.

Damning his own curiosity, Bodie interceded, "I think that's enough, sir. Ray's had too much excitement for one day. We don't get many visitors up this way."

Before the ire in Cowley's glare could reach his pursed lips, Doyle's deep voice interrupted, its quiet authority unchallengeable, "No, he has a right to know, Bodie, so do you. I'm not especially eager to remember because most of what I've gotten back I don't like much."

As ever, Doyle was unstintingly honest. Now it was Bodie's turn to look away. Ever the moralist, his partner was always at odds with the expediencies their profession forced upon them. This Doyle would be repulsed by some of the memories of what they’d done.

"So, you've made this judgement on a few, disjointed remembrances. That's very unlike you, Doyle, to prejudge a situation without all the facts," Cowley reprimanded.

"I . . . . " Doyle stammered.

"You've already indicated that you don't fully remember me, and if that's the case, you've no true grasp of the service you performed. You and your partner, and men like you, are necessary. You use your strength to protect those weaker than you. If you were in full possession of your faculties, you would know this to be so."

"I don't think I ever knew that," Doyle said.

Ray's certainty chilled Bodie.

"You're not a man easily led," Cowley countered. "If you didn't believe in what you were doing, why do you think you stayed?"

Bodie silently blessed Cowley for his unemotional common sense, until Ray’s telling green gaze strayed his way again. Although the glance was withdrawn immediately, Doyle’s answer had been given.

Bodie gulped, unable to repudiate the wordless claim and unable to accept the weight of this responsibility.

Absolution came from an unexpected quarter as Cowley gently corrected, "No, lad, you might want to believe that the reason, but we all know that isn't so. It wasn't Bodie that kept you in C.I.5, although the reverse might've been true."

Bodie’s head snapped up at the causal revelation, disbelieving that even their perceptive boss could have been privy to his close-guarded secret.

"You're a fiercely idealistic individual, Doyle, highly independent and motivated. Had you disapproved of C.I.5 as strongly as you imagine, you would have left, sure in the knowledge that your partner would follow."

"Pretty sure of yourself, aren't you?' Doyle practically sneered, white-faced over Cowley's presumption.

Bodie, who knew the words to be no presumption, but merely the statement of fact, remained silent. Pride demanded he make some rebuttal, but what could he say? He'd given up his world to find Ray - all three of them knew it. Even if that hadn't been the case, to deny Cowley's claim would be tantamount to denying his commitment to Ray and, amazing as this unexpected show of confidence on Doyle's part was, that was one risk he was unwilling to take. He'd rather have Doyle smug in his assurance of his place in his life than doubting him.

"I know my men," Cowley told Bodie's fuming partner," and, had you any true memory of me, you would understand how sorely one of them retaining a stronger loyalty grates on me."

Bodie saw Doyle close his mouth on whatever he'd been about to say, his eyes darkening with consideration. "Yes, I can see where that would rankle. What – what do you want of us? Have you come here to get Bodie back?"

After Cowley's announcement, Bodie was convinced that he'd been left naked, without a single pretence to mask his one vulnerable spot. Yet, Doyle's tone as he voiced that last question was tremulous, as though he truly believed Cowley had the power to lure Bodie away.

"If possible," C.I.5's controller admitted. "What I really came for was you, Doyle. You haven't given yourself a chance here. Come back to England, accept what help the doctors have to offer."

For the first time that night, Doyle appeared threatened. "He can't make me go, can he, Bodie?"

There were any number of ways that Cowley could force them back, if he so desired. That knowledge silently passed between Bodie and his former employer in the quiet that followed the question. But the fear in Doyle’s atypical, child-like plea could not be ignored. So much in Ray’s life this past year had been beyond his control. Bodie would give him what little stability he could offer.

"You don't have to go anywhere you don't want to, Ray," Bodie promised.

A speculative light entered Cowley's eyes at the warning. "And you're ready to back that up, are you, laddie?"

Not for the first time Bodie found himself admiring the old man's tactics. Laddie, that one word, uttered in Cowley’s humouring, near-affectionate burr made Bodie feel like a wayward schoolboy. But Bodie didn’t allow his reaction to show, delivering his words in his most dangerous tone, "If necessary."

"Och, man, don't take that tone with me. I'm the one who taught it to you. Doyle, you're being very foolish and you, Bodie . . . this irresponsibility ill becomes you," Cowley reprimanded.

"Irres . . . why you old bastard. I told you he was alive a year ago. I had to find him and take care of him on my own and now that he's near well, you waltz in here and want to whisk him away! Well, he doesn't need you or your bloody doctors now. Ray's doing just fine on his own. Anyway, can't see why you're so determined to have him back. You know Ray's no use to you now. You'd never let him back in the field – and I won't work without him. So you're wastin' your time here. Why don't you just go . . . ?"

"Bodie," Ray’s stern tone was belied by the soft touch to his arm. Bodie turned that blaze of anger on his partner. Doyle's wounded expression only exacerbated his fury at the old man. Cowley had come in here and made his demands with no thought to Ray's reaction.

"Please, stop," Ray pleaded.

Because Ray asked it, Bodie shut his mouth to sink back in his chair in sullen silence.

"What Bodie is trying to say, sir, is that we don't want to go back," Doyle began, picking each word with obvious care.

"I had managed to absorb that fact, thank you," Cowley answered with characteristic sarcasm. But as he continued to look at Doyle, Bodie noticed the hardness seep from the proud features. "You might not believe this, but I thought to act only on your behalf."

"I do believe you, sir, and your concern is appreciated, but . . . I'm happy here. I have my painting to keep me occupied and good friends close by," Doyle said.

"I am relieved to see you so content," Cowley answered, his pleasant tone instantly putting Bodie on his guard. Doyle, however, seemed oblivious to its portent. Cowley's next questions took Ray completely off guard. "But what of Bodie?"

"Bodie?" Doyle echoed.

"Bodie is no painter. Have you given no thought to his future? He has trained his entire like to do a specific job – one he can't do hiding out in these hills, lad. Is it fair to keep him here?" Cowley questioned.

And once again, Bodie watched his partner’s world fall apart around him.

Stricken eyes fixed on him. Bodie could see in their lost depths that Cowley's words had shaken Ray to the very core.

"No one's kept me here," Bodie’s words were calm, for to lose that icy distance would risk loosing the lethal rage simmering within him. "I'm a grown man. I'm here because that's where I want to be – nowhere else." The last he directed to Doyle, although it did nothing to relieve the burden of guilt visible in the clear depths of the emerald gaze. "If what you're saying was true, I could've put Doyle back on a plane to England anytime I wanted. So stop trying to manipulate him with guilt. It's unworthy of you and unfair to Ray."

"Is it now?" Cowley tested, and then shook his head. "Perhaps you're right, Bodie. My apologies, Doyle."

But the seed had been planted. Bodie could see it in Ray’s slumped shoulders and troubled visage.

"Well, I've taken up enough of your time. I'd best be on my way. If you need assistance – of any kind – you need only call," Cowley said.

Doyle’s head shot up from its down-bent position as Cowley’s announcement disrupted his troubled reverie. "You can’t go, not tonight, sir. You'll never make it down the mountain in this downpour."

Doyle nodded to the voracious storm raging outside the dark window.

"Dinna worry, lad. Murphy . . . ." Cowley began to dismiss.

"Ray's right, sir," Bodie interrupted, common sense and lingering loyalty winning out over hostility. "It's foolhardy to risk the roads on a night like this. The pass washes out at least once a month. We've plenty of room here and we'd be honoured to have you." The graciousness of his invitation seemed to startle even Doyle.

"Yes. There are two vacant rooms upstairs and there's more than enough food. If you've got to be back tomorrow, you can leave at first light. That will give you plenty of time to catch the afternoon flight from Geneva," Doyle added.

The normally resolute Scot wavered, exhaustion and the unfriendly weather weakening even Cowley's iron determination.

"That's fine, then, sir," Doyle said, acting upon the temporary indecision before their former boss' stubbornness could assert itself. "I'll tell Murphy you're staying and lay on some extra grub. Behave yourself, sunshine."

The jaunty wink Doyle threw his way left Bodie staring in befuddlement after his departing partner.

"Most reassuring," Cowley commented once the door had closed behind Doyle.

"Ey, sir?" Bodie started at the reminder he was not alone.

"Dr. Warner's report had led me to expect . . . something quite different. Doyle appears to be recovering remarkably well."

"The mountains seem to agree with him," Bodie said, and then added in a lower, more confiding tone, "I wouldn't have kept Ray here if he'd shown no improvement, sir."

"No, of course you wouldn't, Bodie," Cowley concurred with astonishing sincerity.

"But you said . . . ."

"Your concern for your partner was never in question." Cowley said. "I merely doubted your judgment and, after speaking with Doyle, I can see you were sound in that as well."

"Then why did you grill us like that?" Bodie demanded.

"There was always the chance you could be persuaded to return home," Cowley admitted.

"You crafty devil, you haven't changed a bit, have you?" Bodie chuckled, somehow unable to take offence at such outright effrontery.

"No, nor will I, God willing." Cowley's eyes sparkled with good humour. "There is a thing I hesitated to mention before your partner." The older man continued, all levity blanking from his abruptly hardened features.

"Which was?" Instantly on the alert, Bodie tried to relax.

"You have heard the news of Van Cleef's escape?"

"Just this afternoon."

"It has been an eventful day for you, Bodie. The information I bring you may be more happily received, however."

"How so?"

"A body has been recovered. Although badly mutilated from its time in the water, identification is almost positive. A man matching Van Cleef's weight and height drowned, following gunshot wounds two weeks ago."

"The bullets matched?" Bodie's paranoia forced him to ask. Cowley seemed certain that Van Cleef was dead, but the ever-doubtful part of Bodie’s mind couldn't help but remind him that Cowley had been equally assured of Ray's death a year ago.

Though well masked, Bodie nevertheless picked up on Cowley's uneasiness. "Unfortunately, it was impossible to determine. The calibre of the bullet used was the same. The slug passed through the right thigh, severing an artery. Death was attributed to drowning, no doubt brought on by weakness due to blood loss."

"I see," Bodie said, digesting the information. "Do you think it's Van Cleef, sir?"

"It does seem a likely probability," Cowley said.

"Wary to commit yourself?" Bodie questioned, his tone the most irritating lilt at the controller's caution. He had the suspicion that Cowley had read his thoughts earlier about presuming Doyle dead and was hesitant about making a similar error.

"No harm will come from waiting the coroner's outcome; although, I am almost certain it's Van Cleef," Cowley allowed.

"How would you feel about a second scotch, sir?" Bodie asked, noticing his guest's empty glass.

"Somewhat more positive."

Bodie grinned and passed the bottle.

The next hour passed in what Bodie would have considered idle chatting, had it not occurred to him halfway through the conversation that his wily ex-commander was drawing a highly detailed report on Ray's recuperation with his seemingly innocuous questions. Murphy's announcement that dinner was ready came as a welcome interruption.

How Doyle had managed to concoct such a sumptuous repast in the limited time was a marvel to him. The spaghetti and meatball dinner for four looked like it had been planned for days. As he took a seat across from his partner, Bodie found his mouth watering from the aromatic sauces that teased his senses.

After several heartfelt compliments from both their guests and Bodie himself, the four hungry men set upon the dinner like ravenous wolves upon an injured elk.


"Great spread, mate. Really hit the spot," Murphy praised, leaning his chair back from the table.

"Sure you don't want another helping?" Doyle asked the big agent before he recalled there wasn't a single strand of pasta left to offer. So far, Murphy and Bodie were equal at three helpings apiece – conservatively. Doyle wouldn't be surprised if he'd missed a serving or two. Their elder guest had displayed gracious manners, halting after a very dignified second helping.

"Ta anyway," Murphy declined, patting an incongruously trim belly.

"I'm glad to see some restraint, Murphy. I was afraid I'd have to send you off on one of Brian's refresher courses just to work off the effects of this feast," Cowley said to his suddenly alarmed operative. "That was quite a meal. My compliments, Doyle."

Doyle had barely mouthed his thanks when a pathetically hopeful voice asked, "You going to finish that, Ray?"

Doyle looked down at the food he'd been pushing around his plate for the last twenty minutes.

"'s cold," Ray warned his partner.

's good. Come on, give over," Bodie grinned.

With a shrug, Doyle passed the plate to his partner.

"Hey," Bodie said once he'd explored his new acquisition, "you barely touched this. You feelin' all right?"

"Fine," Ray lied. "Just saving space for dessert."

Which Doyle rose to fetch before further comment could be made.

Dessert was only three quarters of one of Marie's apple strudels left over from Friday night's visit. Being Monday night, the pastry had definitely seen better days. It was nevertheless readily accepted by those eating tonight.

His appetite not particularly keen, Doyle sipped his tea and tried not to feel left out. The steady stream of anecdotes made him feel a stranger; although, to be fair, all three of the others did their best to include him.

Bored with the conversation, Doyle took to studying his partner.

When Doyle had stepped into the study, the first thing that had struck him was the holstered gun Bodie was wearing above his tight black roll neck. The weapon was utterly alien to their environment, endowing his partner with an uncompromisingly menacing aspect. And, yet, the gun suited Bodie, looking as natural on him as the clothes he wore or his close-cropped haircut. The automatic had since been removed – hidden away again, no doubt – but its memory lingered, tinting his friend a disturbing hue Doyle hardly recognized, despite its having been there all along.

With some degree of alarm, Ray realized that the sleek and handsome man who shared his home and his bed was a predator, accustomed to both danger and violence. Bodie had told him as much. Still, Doyle had found it impossible to conform that image to the gentle rescuer who had wiped his nose and spoon-fed him with such painstaking devotion.

Until this afternoon, that was. Listening to Bodie relate to their two guests, he was no longer finding it quite so difficult. A toughness and macho bravado that Doyle had only seen hints of in the last six months now ran rampant through his friend's attitude. Though always lively and talkative, his partner was far more animated this evening, practically bubbling with vitality as he relived old memories.

"We have missed you," Murphy declared into a temporary lull in their trip down memory lane. "When will you and Ray be coming back, mate?"

Doyle watched his partner carefully. Whereas with Cowley only angry denials had met that same question, the very unexpectedness of the query in the middle to an obviously enjoyable discussion brought forth a true reaction from Bodie. A sweep of translucent lids sought to conceal it once Bodie saw him looking his way, but Doyle had already caught the flash of loss that shadowed the animated depths of his partner’s eyes.

"Bodie and Doyle will not be returning to England, at least, not immediately," Cowley supplied into the awkward pause which followed.

"I – see," Murphy said slowly in the tone of a chastened child who had asked an indelicate question at the dinner table and was still unsure of the nature of his transgression or the severity of his reproof.

"As you are planning on remaining in Switzerland, there is something I must ask of you, Bodie," Cowley said.

"What's that, sir?" his partner asked absently, his attention focused on the completely unprepossessing – to Doyle, at least – strudel.

"Do you remember Lord William?" Cowley asked Bodie.

"You mean Mohammed?" Bodie grinned.

"Mohammed?" Doyle asked stupidly of the three smiling faces.

Bodie's smile softened with understanding. "Lord William's the minister C.I.5 answers to, Ray. He always said George Cowley was the mountain Mohammed must travel to."

Understanding no more now than before, Doyle nodded knowledgeably, "Oh."

"Former minister," Cowley corrected. "Lord William has since retired from active service, which brings me to my present request."

"Which is?" Bodie's caution was obvious.

"Private business will bring Lord William to a series of economic conferences in Geneva. The first is scheduled for the end of the month. It is a three-day affair that will draw attendants from all nations west of the eastern block. I am dissatisfied with the security there and have been asked to recommend someone to supervise. Already there have been vague rumours and threats. The Swiss are most anxious to avoid any . . . unpleasant incidents. As it is my privilege to count Lord William amongst my personal friends, I am equally interested in preventing any such unpleasantness. I would take it as a personal favour if you would oversee the security of these events, Bodie. A man of your qualifications could make all the difference."

Doyle gulped at the appeal, recognizing that it was as close to deferential as the lordly Scot could ever be. Something inside Ray died at the unconscious leap of excitement in Bodie's eyes. The interest was masked with admirable speed once his partner recalled his ball and chain.

Doyle cursed himself for a fool. From that first night in Geneva, Bodie's physical presence had intimidated him. His instincts had recognized Bodie as a man of action. Doyle had known from the start that his partner could never be content with domesticity. What had made him think that could change? But, these last few months . . . Bodie had seemed happy, at peace or, Doyle wondered, had he been so blinded by his own contentment that he'd missed all the signs of Bodie’s restlessness.

"I'm afraid that would be impossible, sir," Bodie refused, just as soon as Cowley had stopped speaking. There was genuine regret in his tone. Obviously turning down a personal favour for Cowley did not come easily.

"Why would it be 'impossible'?" Doyle, not Cowley, demanded. The eager greed with which his soul had greeted Bodie's prompt rejection singed his conscience, forcing such a reaction, though Ray knew it went against his own best interests.

"What d'you mean, 'why', Ray? I'm needed here," Bodie answered.

Careful here. The internal warning did not go unheeded. Doyle saw how easily the ready denial which sprang to his lips could turn Bodie's hurt puzzlement into legitimate pain.

"It's only a couple of weekends," Doyle said reasonably.

"Indeed," Cowley added, "leave Wednesday night and you could be back the following Monday. If nothing else, it would be a brief change of scenery."

Or a taste of excitement to get Bodie hooked on action again, Doyle translated, uncertain if he'd been manipulated into supporting Cowley's plan.

"You want me to go, Ray?" Bodie asked.

The steady gaze demanded honestly.

Ray took a moment to answer. "I don't want you to refuse on my account. If it's my being on my own that's got you worried, I can always stay with Marie. If you want to go, don't let me stop you."

The indecision which followed his words cinched it. Bodie wanted to go. Doyle bit his lower lip, too aware that it was his own hand that had opened the cage door. How far his friend would fly, only the future would tell. The flight could last no longer than the series of weekends mentioned by Cowley or they could very well find themselves on a plane back to London in a month's time.

That offering freedom was the only decision Doyle could have made didn’t make its acceptance any easier.

"Do you need an answer right away?" Bodie asked their former employer.

"Take some time to think it over, sleep on it. You can give me your answer in the morning," Cowley said.


Chapter Eight

Give me your answer in the morning.

Easy enough said, Bodie thought gloomily as he waited for Ray to return from the bathroom so that he could turn out the lights. Their guests were comfortably installed in the two rooms across the hall – Cowley in the infamous brown study and Murphy in the frilly pastel nightmare. Bodie had until dawn to come to a decision.

The door to the master bathroom clicked open. Bodie glanced up casually as his partner entered. The cold hand of desire squeezed his vitals, shooting a shiver of irrepressible want though his long-denied system. His attention unwillingly riveted on the half-naked man, Bodie watched his mate approach the bed and forced himself to remember to breathe.

Annoyed at his body's reaction, Bodie tried to channel his anger against his partner, anything to try and turn himself off, but the effort was futile.

Although the lithe motion might wreck havoc on Bodie's libido, the unconscious sensuality was just one more sign of Ray's returning good health. It sure as hell beat that agonizing, self-conscious shamble that had marked their early days in the chalet together.

Doyle could no more be held accountable for his sensuality than he could for breathing. This was just something Bodie was going to have to inure himself against again, he realized.

Besides, Doyle could hardly be blamed. He was dressed chastely enough in pale blue pyjama bottoms. Was it Ray's fault they were slung low on his hips and that the light pierced their semi-translucent fabric to cast tantalizing shadows of the firm musculature beneath with every slight movement?

Such thoughts were not aiding his plight, Bodie conceded wryly as he forced his reluctant gaze upwards to purer regions. Fortunately, the white towel thrown across Doyle's shoulders spared him the temptation of most of the chest. The sight of naked nipples he could most certainly do without; although, the downy triangle trailing to Doyle's naval was equally distracting. Looking close, he could almost see where it joined with a thicker thatch below the elastic waistband.

ENOUGH! The mental shout jarred Bodie back to his senses, reminding him of the danger of such thoughts. Stupid crud, he berated himself, what was he trying to do, put Ray back in a mental ward? Eyes front and definitely above centre. Concentrate on the dripping curls. There was little danger there.

The closed-in expression on Ray's face gave him the chilling fear that his partner had read his lecherous thoughts. Closer inspection revealed it to be the same abstraction that had plagued his friend throughout dinner. Looking at the foreboding, moody exterior, Bodie could almost imagine he was observing C.I.5's Ray Doyle, so threatening was Ray’s aspect.

Doyle plopped unceremoniously down on his side of the bed and turned to face the wall.

"Hey, your mop's still drippin' wet," Bodie remarked, poking an unresponsive shoulder.

"So?" his partner challenged, sounding as snarky and argumentative as only the old Ray Doyle could.

"So you don't want pneumonia again, do you?" Bodie matched the tone, trying to conceal his bewilderment.

Ray sat and began mauling the long locks with a vengeful towel.

"You'll never get the tangles out if you keep up like that," Bodie cautioned.

All movement stopped. A baleful green gaze glared out from beneath the terrycloth. "You could do better, I suppose?"

"Couldn't do much worse," Bodie grinned, pure brass, enjoying the spirit behind that glare. Six months ago, Doyle wouldn’t have had the courage to meet his eyes, let alone mouth off at him.

"Since it bothers you so much, you dry it," Doyle demanded, shoving the damp towel at him. The broad back turned his way as Ray's legs swung over the side of the bed.

Bodie could feel his grin fade from his face, so shocked was he. Touching Doyle hadn’t been in his game plan. But to refuse would make too big a deal of the issue.

Damning his argumentative impulse, Bodie fetched the comb from the night table and knelt behind Doyle’s tense figure. Though inside he quivered in a conflicting mass of confusion and desire, outwardly Bodie knew himself to be the essence of calm as he worked the comb through the mass of chestnut snarls with painstaking care.

Doyle had obviously belatedly realized the avenue of revenge he had unthinkingly offered by giving Bodie the towel and comb. Ray's body had gone bow-taut at his first touch, apparently anticipating the worst. That cat-wary distrust was so characteristic of Raymond Doyle of C.I.5 that it temporarily threw Bodie, who hadn't seen it displayed, especially toward himself, in over a year. Mystified by what he'd done to merit it, he continued to concentrate on untangling the ill-used hair.

The gleaming strands really were over-long, Bodie admitted. On another the past-the-shoulder burst of curls might be deemed effeminate, but Ray was too masculine for such a label to ever be considered. The red-highlighted fall of hair gave his partner an artistic, vaguely piratical air, he decided. Rarely, was Bodie given opportunity to freely touch Doyle's curls, so despite Ray's anger, he lavished in the sensation. Instead of roughhousing the water out of the now-tamed length, Bodie used the fluffy material of the towel to blot the moisture out, pressing it against the length wound around his hand.

Slowly he felt the tension melt from Doyle’s coiled form, as if assuaged by his unexpected gentleness. Doyle's head eased back into the scalp massage he was giving, a contented sigh escaping Ray’s parted lips.

"Feels good," Ray murmured, rubbing his temple against Bodie's nearby wrist in a totally feline gesture that brought the smile back to Bodie’s lips.

"It's supposed to," Bodie answered lazily, willing to continue for the rest of the night if Ray so desired.

His senses were flooded with an aching awareness of Ray: the damp curls and skin, silken soft beneath his fingertips, the way the lamplight touched off the golden-red highlights in Doyle's hair and tinted tanned flesh a warm honey colour, the relaxed sound of Ray's breathing and the over-loud noise made by even slight position adjustments and, above all else, there was the smell of him, the shampoo-rich, soap-scented, clean bouquet that threatened to drive Bodie over the edge with every breath. Ray's natural perfume seeped though Bodie’s defences, overwhelming starved yearnings with the promise of more.

With each gentle stroke of the towel across trapped hair, Bodie found himself leaning closer, breathing deeper. Relaxed in a euphoric sensation that was nearly intoxication, Bodie did not see trouble coming until it turned around and looked him in the eye.

The green gaze that peered over a shoulder at him held no warning of what was to come. Otherwise, Ray's casual question might not have hit him so hard.

"You really think I'm useless, then?" Doyle asked out of the blue.

"Huh?" Bodie stammered, dropping the towel. Here, then, was the cause of Doyle's moodiness.

"Before, you told Cowley I was useless. Is that what you think?" Ray reminded, the wounded green pools straying before Bodie could take full measure of the depth of the injury.

Bodie had a vague memory of saying some such thing to Cowley in anger, but what was his exact wording?

"No, of course, that's not what I think. What I said was that you’d be 'no use to him,' wasn't it?" Bodie corrected, relieved that Ray's preoccupation had such a simple cause and not the sinister basis he'd been imagining. For a minute there, he’d thought Doyle was on to him.

"There's a difference?" Doyle whispered, facing away.

Bodie gripped the bare shoulders of the back turned so eloquently his way.

"A world of difference," Bodie replied in a calm, almost bored tone. "Do you want me to lie to you and say that you'd make the grade if tested now?" The negative headshake sent a tingling bunch of hair across his gripping hands. "I thought not. If you can't remember your enemies, sunshine, you can't perform at peak efficiency and George Cowley will accept nothing less. That's all I meant by that stupid comment."

Kneeling behind him as Bodie was, Doyle had to tilt his head back and upwards to meet his gaze.

"Truth?" Doyle asked, tossing a boyish grin his way.

Their faces were inches apart. Bodie swallowed hard. He was too aware of his partner and of the invitation inherent in Doyle's position to do any more than nod.

The smooth skin on Ray's shoulders scorched his sweaty palms. Hypnotized by the shades of green in the compelling gaze, Bodie struggled for breath, only to have each gulp of supposedly calming air further his predicament with the heady scent it carried.

Lord, but Ray's head was tilted just perfectly for a kiss, the arched length of him just pleading for tactile investigation. It would be so simple to just . . . .

Ray's eyes narrowed in confusion and then sharpened with sudden understanding.

Impaled on those piercing green crystals, Bodie fought to pull back. His escape was impeded by a firm hand gripping his shoulder.

"Ray, I . . . ." he stammered, struggling to explain the inexcusable.

God in heaven, what had he been thinking! To get turned on by Ray after promising his abused partner safety! Bodie knew that he might just as well have tied Doyle to the bed and raped him for the degree of betrayal he’d committed. He’d promised Ray that he was safe with him, that he’d never ask that of him, and here he was . . . .

"It's all right, Bodie," Doyle soothed, an unnerving warmth softening his features.

"You don't understand, Ray, I . . . . "

I what, Bodie wondered – wanted to rape you like the others? Some excuse.

"I know," came the chilling acceptance. "I think I've always known."

The low, intimate tone trembled through his blood. But Doyle could not mean what Bodie had heard, or thought he’d heard.

"Known what?" Bodie tested, gambling that Ray could not be as certain as he appeared.

His bluff was called with appalling bluntness. "That you want me."

And then Ray was closing the distance between them. Bodie was shaking so badly that the first tender brush of dry, hot lips was all but lost to him. Instinct stepped in where senses failed. His lips clung to the full mouth with a desperation born of years of hopeless yearning. Bodie felt the warm pads twist into a smile as Doyle drew a fraction away for air.

"They're trembling." Ray's voice was soft with wonder. Two fingers rose to brush Bodie's mouth as if to reaffirm what his sensitive lips had detected.

Bared of all pretence, Bodie kissed the investigators. A slender index finger traced the crack between his lips. Bodie parted them, allowing the digit to slip inside.

Doyle gasped as his finger was sucked into the hot recess, a visible shudder claiming his slim figure. Never had Bodie seen those eyes so wide or so transfixed, seemingly enraptured by the sensation of Bodie’s tongue playing along the artist's finger. There wasn't an inch of Ray that Bodie wouldn't be willing to pay similar service to; although the lump clogging his throat restricted any such avowal.

All too soon, the finger left him to explore his facial features. Never sensitive there before, Bodie nonetheless found himself quivering as the damp digit trailed down the bridge of his nose.

With a start, he realized that it had been almost a year since he'd last been touched. That might explain his over-sensitivity, but he suspected that it was the fact that it was Ray doing the touching that was responsible for the tingling lightning bolts of ecstasy ripping through him. Like brittle reeds, he buckled under the white-hot flow of lava, consigning himself totally to Ray's tender mercies.

Made bold by Doyle's exploration, Bodie carded his fingers through the damp curls, sighing at their silken passage. To his every sense, Ray was perfect.

Leaning forward, Bodie nuzzled the pale skin above Ray’s long neck bone, the velvety stretch as touchable as a newborn babe's skin.

His right hand dropped down over Doyle's shoulder, to lightly skim the chest. Even here Ray’s body hair was soft as peach down. Bodie moved tenderly over the scars from May Li’s assassination attempt, loving the disfigured flesh as much as the healthy areas.

Although previous contact on those horror-ridden nights had proven Ray's chest hair not to be as wiry as Bodie had presumed, he'd never once imagined it to feel this good, this out right sensual. The hard scar material railroad-tracking it only accentuated the chest hair’s lushness.

At last Bodie’s searching fingers located Doyle's left nipple. He lightly flicked a finger over it, feeling the soft nub harden and peak in a firm bump. A sharp, indrawn breath rewarded his effort as Doyle's body tensed in anticipation.

Needing the contact of another kiss, Bodie's hands reclaimed the loose length of chestnut curls, capturing his partner's head between his grip. Closing his eyes to savour the sensation, Bodie bent forward.

Doyle's lips were just as wonderful as he recalled. Putting every ounce of tenderness his soul possessed into the gesture, Bodie paid worship to the yielding flesh.

Ray's lips parted at the first brush of his tongue. Bodie eagerly explored the moist interior, slightly awed by Doyle's generosity. His partner seemed perfectly willing to let him keep the lead, allowing him to explore every accessible millimetre in the sheerest, most exhilarating kiss Bodie had ever shared with a lover.

His mouth worked frantically against Doyle's open lips. Bodie sampled everything from the sharp, pearl teeth to the soft inner lining, hard roof and as close to the tonsils as he could reach - Ray all the while not impeding with playful volleys of his own or pleas for breath. Never had Bodie experienced such an intense union before, or desired to, for that matter. There weren't many people he'd ever wanted to get intimate enough to share saliva with – until Ray. If possible, Bodie would willingly make them one organism, inseparable.

Finally, longing to be touched himself, Bodie pulled back, giving Doyle's tongue a playful, inviting swab as he passed over it.

Contrary to expectation, Doyle's tongue did not dart in after him. Bodie tried again, tickling softly with his tongue tip in open invitation . . . but Doyle's remained as motionless and inanimate as a pickled cow's tongue in a deli jar.

Abruptly conscious of Doyle's utter stillness throughout his oral exploration, the lack of sighs, squirms or even giggles and the absolute surrender he'd been granted, Bodie's eyes snapped open.

One glance showed Ray’s features to be completely immobile. The dull glaze in the green eyes was as close to lifeless as Bodie ever wanted to see.

Bodie ripped his mouth free. Doyle's jaw hung slack like a toy soldier nutcracker's. Shock, Bodie recognized, horrified by what he’d done. He’d caused this, scared Ray so bad that the light had left his eyes again!

His shaky hand gently pushed Doyle’s chin up, closing the hanging jaw.

"R-Ray?" Bodie called, mortified by what he'd done.

The visions of hell called forth by Bodie's action poured through Ray’s expressive eyes. Bodie pulled back as though scalded, waiting until the memories cleared and the confused gaze sought him out. Strangely enough, there was no accusation to be found there.

"Bo-Bodie?" Doyle asked, as though unsure.

And how could he be, Bodie commiserated. For all the attention he'd paid to Ray's plight, he might just as well have been Van Cleef. Christ, but Doyle was shaking, as though convulsed with fever.

Bodie eased his partner back against the pillows, trying hard not to flinch at the wide-eyed terror that was turned his way as he temporarily towered over his supine partner.

Recognizing him, could Ray really still believe he meant to abuse him?

Why shouldn't he, the cynic in Bodie challenged, reminding him how close he'd come to doing just that.

"It’s okay, Ray. I’m sorry, I-I’m just sorry. It won’t happen again. Ever. I promise. Just relax, okay? You’re safe. No one’s going to hurt you, ‘specially not me."

Bodie pulled the covers up around Ray's neck.

"Bodie, I-I'm sorry," Doyle stammered.

"Don't be," Bodie snapped. Then, before his controls broke totally, he fled the scene of the crime. The closing door sounded very loud behind him in the quiet house –almost loud enough to drown out the muffled sobs from the bed.


Eventually, his body stopped shuddering. Doyle raised his anguished face from the damp bedclothes to peer around the lonely room.

No Bodie. Not that he could blame him. Who in their right mind would want Van Cleef's leavings?

Things had been going so well, too, Doyle reflected morosely, until . . . until Bodie had trapped his head in that kiss – an unconscious parody of Van Cleef's final, obscene plundering.

Bodie had witnessed that degradation, Doyle recalled, humiliated by the memory. He'd seen those same images play through his partner’s vivid blue eyes before Bodie had flung him away like a rotting corpse. A more accurate picture of revulsion, Doyle could not imagine.

It was a pity, for if Bodie had kept his eyes closed for just a moment longer, Doyle was sure he could have rallied from his body's instinctive response to an aroused male. After all, he'd wanted this man.

But for a moment there, despite his undeniable attraction to his partner, it was as though the last six months had ceased to exist. His body had reacted as though he were back in that cold, dark room being brutalized by strangers. There had been no logic behind that paralysing terror, nothing but instinctive withdrawal. Poor Bodie, once again he'd taken the brunt of his moods.

Reminded of what he had been to so many men, what man would want to continue, Doyle thought as he dragged himself from the bed and headed toward the loo.

He'd been counting on Bodie's love to carry them through, forgetting all along that it was another Ray Doyle that his partner wanted. Bodie wasn’t in love with him. It was the hardened killer who'd been lost in the mental shuffle that Bodie longed for. That Doyle wouldn't have frozen . . . or thawed in the first place, jealousy unkindly supplied. He'd seen that Doyle in his memories, heard Cowley talk about him tonight. That Doyle would never have cared enough about Bodie to respond to a kiss. Cool and removed, that was what that former Doyle was.

The current Ray Doyle didn’t find either of those traits especially attractive, but, by the same token, that former Doyle wasn't unclean. Pure as the driven snow and just as untouchable, or so Ray had gathered from the information his partner unconsciously supplied in his harmless anecdotes. Why Bodie would be so devoted to such a cold creature, Doyle still couldn't fathom.

Just when he had begun thinking of himself as two individuals, Doyle wasn't sure. Probably when he started remembering his former, unsavoury existence, if he were to be honest. Somehow, he'd emerged changed from his experiences with Van Cleef.

Changed for the worse, if his partner were to be any judge, for Bodie plainly preferred the old Doyle. Tonight, the first instance Doyle could recall being intentionally abusive and argumentative, also marked the first time Bodie had revealed his physical desire for him. There had to be some connection. Add that to the fact that Bodie's interest had dropped the instant his own aggressive pose had, and the proof seemed incontestable.

Well, he couldn't help being what he was. And, as he'd told Cowley earlier, he wasn't sure he'd go back to being what he'd been if given the chance. Bodie was going to have to accept those facts.

And if he didn't?

The tear-streaked face staring out of the dim bathroom mirror at him had a scared, feral slant to it that Doyle hardly recognized.

Answer enough. If Bodie couldn't love him for who he was now? Well, then, he’d just have to find a way to be that former Doyle again.

Ice cold water helped erase some of the night's ravages. Donning a warm robe, Ray slipped quietly into the hallway to find his friend.

As on another emotion-wrought night, Doyle's search eventually led him to the study. The door opened soundlessly.

Bodie stood a substantial shadow in a roomful of darkness. Back-lit by the stormy window, his partner was a foreboding figure, more apt to haunting a bleak moorland than their cosy chalet.

Doyle snapped on the overhead light.

He was temporarily baffled by Bodie's peculiar outfit. The grey training suit shirt ill-suited the brown slacks, though both complimented Bodie's muscular build separately. Bodie was also barefoot.

Only after a moment’s puzzling did Ray realize what must have happened. Bodie had stalked away clad only in his briefs. Obviously, this was the best Bodie could manage from yesterday's wash-load.

"Are you always this predictable when you're run to ground?" Doyle asked, taking the offensive, since that was how his partner seemed for prefer him.

Bodie blinked at him a few seconds longer, apparently startled by his presence. "Ray?"

"Very good. Eyes still work, recognized me straight off, you did." Doyle closed the door carefully behind him, and then crossed the study to ease himself casually onto the desk corner closest to his mate, no small feat considering the bulky towelling robe he was wearing and the number of bric-a-brac cluttered there. Fortunately, none fell to demolish the effect. Ray claimed the eight inches of available space with a cat-like grace, so studied that it almost managed to blot out his awareness of Bodie's observation. His partner was watching his approach as one would that of a venomous reptile.

Bodie’s aggression was all bluff where he was concerned, Doyle realized, wondering if it had always been so.

"What do you want?" Bodie's barriers were near impenetrable. The cold tone would have discouraged almost anyone, except Ray Doyle, who had never known any better than to go sticking his hand down a lion's throat.

There was an excitement to this hard-line, a knowing flirtation with fire that could more than consume him, Doyle acknowledged. He could easily see where one could become addicted to this aggressive interplay, scoring the points off each tiny victory. Except, unlike that other Doyle, he could not completely ignore the vulnerability prompting Bodie's stand. Their bedroom debacle had wounded Bodie far more deeply than himself it seemed.

"I wanted you a little while ago, 'fore you ran out on me," Doyle offered smoothly, knowing instinctively that he had to keep Bodie dancing on the knife-edge to dispel the guilt so clear in those haunted eyes.

Statue-like, the pale face just stared at him. "Don't please . . . . "

How often had this man asked anything of him?

Hardening his heart, Doyle ignored the whispered entreaty, "I don't blame you, of course." He needed truth now, not well-intentioned cop-outs. "Wouldn't be all that eager for Van Cleef's leftovers myself."

An angry flush of colour rewarded his gamble.

Bodie instantly denied, "Don't be a moron. That wasn't the reason . . . ."

"Sorry, sunshine, I saw your eyes. You dropped me like the proverbial hot potato when you remembered." Score that one to Bodie, Doyle conceded. The hurt wasn't supposed to show.

Bafflement forced some of the defensiveness from Bodie’s guarded eyes.

"You froze," Bodie stated, too gently for the accusation it should have been to keep within the rules of the peculiar fencing that fit so naturally between them.

"I'd've thawed."

His curt rejoinder earned him a sceptical snort. "You'd have freaked in another minute."

"Sure of that – are you?" Ray challenged.


Bodie's answer the embodiment of utter certitude, Doyle found no argument that could circumvent the emotional wreck he had been when Bodie had left him. Having no defence, he remained silent.

"It's best this way, Ray," Bodie lamely offered, as if uncomfortable under his gaze. The blue eyes strayed nervously away to fix on Doyle's reflection in the mirror-like, slick, black windowpane.

Unsure of what to say, Doyle stayed quiet, not realizing how silence could work for him until he saw the taut figure before him squirm under his penetrating gaze.

"Don't know why you'd want to anyway – after what happened to you," Bodie said.

Doyle wasn't sure if that was meant as a legitimate question, sensing instead that it was something Bodie might have been asking himself.

"Told you before – I wanted you," Ray repeated. "It has nothing to do with anything that happened before."

Or shouldn't, Ray thought, if he could just persuade his body.

"Why?" Bodie sounded almost as if he were in pain.

"Why what?"

"You never . . . felt that way before. Why now, after I was . . . careless?"

"Why do you think?" Ray’s tongue countered before thought could counsel. This hard image came too easily, Doyle decided, seeing Bodie's entire body flinch as if a sharp barb had just gouged out a piece of his flesh. Bodie’s heart, no doubt, for his partner truly looked as though he'd lost something that dear.

"Gratitude," Bodie hollowly suggested, sounding as if it were the worst possible reason.

"You're not very bright sometimes," Doyle said around the emotion that was threatening to choke him. He rose from the desk and came to stand beside Bodie’s tense figure. His index finger hooked the down-bent chin, forcing his partner’s reluctant gaze to meet his own. "It'd be a lie to tell you I'm not grateful. There's nothing I could ever do that could even begin to make up for all you've done for me – and nothing you'd expect me to, if I'm not mistaken," Doyle added hastily, seeing from the pain-filled gaze that Bodie was taking his words as confirmation of his suspicions. "But that's not the reason."

"Why, then?" Bodie spat out. His strained features revealed that he was tortured by even Doyle’s light touch to his chin. "Why should you want me?"

Could Bodie really consider himself that undesirable? With those perfect looks?

"For this," Ray said, running his hand through the soft, almost militarily, short hair. "And for the way these," he touched both corner of Bodie's eyes, "sparkle and dance like sapphires in the sun when you laugh, and the way you look down your nose at me when I'm being impossible, but mostly for what's in here," Doyle admitted, patting the poly-cotton blend above Bodie's heart.

It was frightening how susceptible Bodie was to his touch. Doyle could actually see the quiver that coursed along the full length of Bodie's frame.

Bodie's Adams apple gulped up and down, the sound absurdly loud in the closeness. Then, the dark-haired man stepped away from him.

"That was good, Ray. Almost had me convinced." The compliment might have been genuine had Bodie’s desolate gaze been hidden.

As it was, the expression seared Doyle as though he'd been purposely cruel.

"Wh-what?" he stammered.

"Do you really expect me to believe that someone who'd been – put through what Van Cleef did to you would be admiring another bloke's anatomy? I mightn't be terribly bright, but I'm not completely stupid."

"Damn close to it," Ray countered, infuriated by the arrogant delivery. "It wasn't the wrapping I was talking about, Einstein." Seeing Bodie’s unrelenting disbelief, he struck out in the only way left to him. "Well, what the hell else have I had to admire for the last six months" he spewed venomously, stung by this second rejection. "You took me to the top of a bleedin' mountain, for Christ's sake, not the Riviera. After six months, even you began to look good."

Bodie retreated from Doyle’s outburst – all two steps back, until Bodie was cornered against the window, his back flat against the glass.

God, what was he doing? Was this how it had been between them before he’d lost his memory?

Doyle sank back onto the desk. Not so careful this time, a grass-skirted Hawaiian ceramic figure crashed to the rug. Never so utterly dejected, Doyle hugged his arms around his chest and stared at the shattered figurine.

His worst fears were true after all. Bodie didn't want him on any terms, just the other Doyle. Though how he could be more like that Doyle than he had in the last few minutes without getting himself killed, Ray couldn't imagine.

"I didn't mean that," Ray said at last, directing his apology to the statue shards.

"Doesn't matter."

"No, it wouldn't. It wasn't me you wanted in the first place, was it?" Doyle asked dejectedly. "Sorry, mate, I just don't know how to be him."

"Him? Who him?" Bodie asked after a long enough period had passed for the sense of Doyle’s words, which Bodie obviously hadn’t really listened to, to penetrate.

What more was there left for either of them to say, other than goodbye, Doyle wondered.

"The other Doyle," even to his own ears, he sounded like a petulant child.

"What other Doyle? What are you talking about, Ray?"

"Me – before Van Cleef. I was a different person back then, wasn't I? You'd've gone for him."

"I still don't understand what you're on about," Bodie said, regarding him as though this were a trick.

"All of this – " Doyle made a gesture encompassing the chalet, himself and Bodie, " – it was for him, not me, so's you could get him back."

There was no reason to feel so betrayed, Ray told himself. Facts were facts.

"You are Raymond Doyle," Bodie said firmly. "There's no 'him'."

"Yeah? You said yourself, I'm not the same."

"And you weren't the same after that Chinese bird put a bullet through you or after that Coogan kid went and croaked on us. You've had a shock, Ray. It's going to take you time to recover, that's all."

Doyle snorted and looked away, hugging himself all the tighter.

"This – this is crazy, Ray." Bodie stepped close, Doyle's need seeming to beckon like a planet's gravity field to its moon. Ray noted the phenomenon with interest, knowing that his nervous partner did not really desire to get any closer to him, yet Bodie appeared incapable of ignoring his isolation. "There's only ever been one of you. Lord knows, one's enough to handle. It just seems different this time, cause you can't remember; that's all."

"That's all?" Doyle repeated sarcastically. "Then if you don't agree with me, how come you only turned on when I acted like him?"

"This is getting weird, mate."

"Answer me," Doyle demanded, refusing to be distracted by Bodie's desperate play to lighten the situation with understatement. To Doyle's mind, their predicament had passed weird hours ago.

"For Christ's sake, you were there. Nobody else, just you – acting irritating as only you can!"

"See, even you admit it." There was no victory in being proven right in this.

"Admit what?" Never had he seen Bodie look more flabbergasted.

"That I was actin' like him."

Bodie’s distinctive jaw dropped open, then slowly closed. "You're serious 'bout this, aren't you?"

Doyle nodded, still unwilling to meet Bodie's eyes, lest they see the extent the rejection had hurt him.

"Look, sunshine, I don't understand a lot of this. Why don't you explain . . . what makes you think they're two yous."

"Damn it, don't look at me like that. I 'm not schizophrenic. I know that there's just one of me; it's just inside, I'm different than the man you knew. He was harder than me." That seemed the least offensive description. Although Doyle would have liked to be completely honest, he really didn't think Bodie would care to hear his heart's love slandered.

"Memories of your past might seem to make you out to be a harder man than you are right now, but, remember, Ray, you weren’t recovering from a vicious attack back then. 's only natural that a little of your self-confidence would be shaken. Of course," Bodie continued somewhat confidingly, "I never thought it rattled quite this much. You're you, Doyle, the one and only."

"Your one and only?"

Bodie's eyes dropped for a second, embarrassment tingeing every aspect of his features. "If there were ever any doubt of that, it's been made more than obvious today. Make what you want of it."

"I can't," Doyle confessed, charmed by the belligerent acknowledgment, "you won't let me."

Bodie’s uncompromising glare didn't last long. Eventually, an exasperated, slightly sheepish smile replaced it. "Try the patience of a saint, you would. And, in case you hadn't noticed, I haven't got a halo. What am I going to do with you?"

Doyle glanced up almost coquettishly from his perch on the desk. "Anything you want. Try takin' me back to bed for starters."

Purposefully seductive as his suggestion had been, Doyle was still a little startled by its impact. Bodie's face drained of colour and expression.

"Please, Ray, stop this. I – don't know how long I can keep sayin' no, and I won't hurt you. I do want you, but I want you well."

"I am well. Before, that was only a temporary setback. Things were moving a little too fast for me, but . . . ."

"Jesus, you are a stubborn sod," Bodie told him.

"I know what I want," Ray countered. He watched the smooth planes of his partner's handsome face alter, becoming hard and more than slightly dangerous.

"You know what you want, do you? And you're sure that's me," Bodie checked.


Bodie moved toward Doyle's perch on the desk corner, stepping so close that his waist was almost pinned between Doyle's outstretched thighs.

Doyle's breath caught in his chest at the sudden, provocative proximity. He looked up at Bodie's supremely towering length until his gaze touched the chillingly blue, arctic ice that was Bodie’s eyes.

"This is what you wanted, isn’t it?" Bodie drawled, in a vaguely mocking tone, his tone as cold as his gaze.

Before Doyle in his confusion could frame an answer or even suspect his partner's intent, the dark head swooped to claim Ray’s mouth with brutal force. No lazy exploration, this. The joining of their mouths was more akin to an outright attack.

Through his panic, Doyle struggled to comprehend what was happening. Van Cleef had used him thus, as had any of his followers with similar inclinations, but this was Bodie, the partner who had vowed just seconds ago to safeguard his well-being.

Before the incipient terror could grip him in its paralysing stranglehold, Doyle's intellect offered a suggestion.

What better way than this to purge any idea of making love to his partner from Doyle's mind? Bodie knew that Ray would recoil from force faster than a beam of light could make its way across the airless void of space. Even so, his partner was taking a terrible gamble, for Bodie had no guarantee he'd ever be forgiven such a breach of trust.

Knowing only one way to test his theory, Doyle grabbed hold of the short, downy hair on both sides of Bodie's head. The lack of resistance in the strong neck muscles testified to Bodie's willingness to be pushed away.

If his lips hadn't been otherwise occupied, Doyle would have smiled at the smooth trap. However, the brilliant plan lacked one major ingredient – Doyle was no longer afraid of Bodie. Instead of pushing Bodie's head away, as the other man so obviously expected him to do, Ray clutched his partner in place, meeting the fierce kiss with an equal fervour.

Bodie was understandably stunned by his response. In that instant when Bodie’s ravaging drive temporarily faltered, Doyle took over.

Ray used the stillness of Bodie’s utter astonishment to temper the gesture with tenderness, gradually instilling gentleness into the act. His right hand left its imprisoning hold on Bodie's too-short locks to stroke down the back of the smooth neck. At the same moment, his tongue flicked questioningly across swollen lips.

There was no hesitation. Almost of their own accord those lips opened to him. Bodie's sole objection was a dismayed whimper.

After a moist, breathless moment, Doyle drew back. The taste of Bodie was still fresh on his lips, exciting and strangely comforting.

Bodie's entire body sagged against him like so much boneless rubber. Doyle clamped his legs about the standing man and held him close, rubbing his palms over that powerful back as he felt the tremors running through his friend.

Bodie felt so damn good, and tasted better. All Doyle wanted to do was plunge in for more as he met his breathless partner's stare.

His heart was beating wild. He could barely think around its thunderous tattoo. Stunned, he recognized his own state as active, physical desire. It had been so long that the entire experience was alien to him. He was used to curling up into a tight ball, emotionally and literally, to protect himself when another man moved in this close. Feeling good about sex was as exhilarating as the idea that he would have to offer emotional bolstering to a male partner was unthinkable. Yet, here Bodie was, leaning on him, needing him. It felt good to hold Bodie this way, and better to know that he had the strength to share.

"Yeah," Doyle answered at last, "that's what I wanted."

Bodie’s head lifted from where it was resting against Doyle’s shoulder. Bodie's downcast eyelashes fluttered open and the chokingly defenceless gaze came to rest upon him.

"Damn you," Bodie muttered, but the words lacked vehemence, being more an acknowledgment of defeat.

But how complete the victory? To test its parameters and also for mere enjoyment, Doyle reached out to touch Bodie's face. The gesture was not rejected, neither was the kiss that followed.

Ray took his time, savouring Bodie's particular flavour as the last traces of resistance melted from his partner’s tense muscles. Bodie was a good kisser. His enthusiasm and responsiveness were as enticing as his addictive flavour.

It was strange. Doyle knew that he should be the one who was reluctant, the one who was freaked out by the idea of getting close to another man, but kissing Bodie was one of the most natural, sweetest pleasures he’d ever known; not that he could remember any others, he wryly acknowledged.

"Come on, let's move this act upstairs," Doyle suggested before things could get completely out of hand.

"But – "

"Sssssh," he silenced whatever new objections Bodie had dredged up. "Everything will be all right. Come along."

"Aren't you afraid, Ray?" Bodie asked, taking a step backwards so that Doyle could slide from his seat on the desk corner.

Doyle considered the serious tone, trying not to be sidetracked by the appeal of Bodie’s uncertain expression. One could easily drown in eyes that blue, he realized, more than a little stunned by the sudden surge of desire that rocked him. He could feel his insides constricting with a tightness that wasn’t at all unpleasant.

Up until this moment Ray’s motives for forcing this issue were unclear even to himself. In spite of his denial, a large part of his reasons for wanting to make Bodie happy this way had been gratitude, this being a means to make up for all the hurts he had unknowingly or intentionally inflicted upon his partner. But even more than that, there was Ray’s own need for emotional closeness. He wanted to be loved and held close again, to be cherished, even if just for a little while – and who better than Bodie to do that? Man or woman, there would never be anyone who'd love him this much.

Was he scared? Hell, yes, there was no way he could help that, not with his past. To look into another man's eyes and burn . . . that was something Doyle had never anticipated.

In retrospect, Ray recognized that there had been hints of this growing desire. Finding out Bodie’s secret should have had him on the first plane out, but it hadn’t frightened him, not the way it should have. That night, weeks past now, when Bodie had held him close after a bad dream, he'd felt a vague stirring . . . and ignored it. The resultant restlessness had hung about until almost this very moment. Unlikely as it seemed, Doyle felt at peace now, untroubled by what was to come.


Doyle blinked, not comprehending his partner's urgency until he belatedly recalled that he’d never answered Bodie's question about being afraid aloud.

"You want to know if I’m afraid?" Doyle checked to be certain. At Bodie’s worried nod, he answered honestly, "Only of the past. And that has nothing to do with the present."

Or so Ray hoped. He was determined not to fail his friend again.

Bodie nodded. Although his eyes were still shaded with doubt, his partner was apparently committed – for better or worse.

They climbed the stairs to their room without speech or touch.

Doyle was uncomfortably aware of an underlying current that seemed to be drawing them together. Each infrequent brush of their bodies on the narrow stairs ignited a reaction far out of proportion to the accidental contact. Above all else, he was conscious of Bodie's nervousness. It was almost a living thing, so fierce and jumpy was its presence.

Even without seeing those troubled eyes settle on the two closed guestroom doors, Doyle felt his partner’s apprehension. Bodie's tense shoulders descried the emotion more boldly than Piccadilly's flashing neon signs would have done.

This time Ray allowed his hand to intentionally brush the training suit shirt clad arm. As he'd gambled, the tension between them worked for him. Once again he was the centre of Bodie's universe.

Doyle gave what he hoped was his most rakish smile and opened the bedroom door.

His bravado held out as the door closed behind them, lasting all the way to the huge bed. There it deserted him completely, leaving only his resolution to see this through and the fledgling desire that was even now making butterfly spirals through his insides.

Walking to the side of the bed, Doyle divested himself of his robe, then paused to watch Bodie strip down.

His partner hovered behind the closed door, a portrait of uncertainty. Looking Doyle's way, a steely determination settled across Bodie's features, barring doubt from all but his eyes. Without further delay his partner crossed to the foot of the bed and shrugged his way out of the grey sweat shirt.

The soft golden lamplight highlighted rippling muscles, making Bodie appear even bigger by the unveiling. The brown trousers were tugged off next, the action rushed, as if Bodie wanted them off before he could change his mind.

Doyle eyed the outcome, trying to be critical, but there was nothing there to be critical of. Smooth, hairless skin glistened like honey wherever he looked. The colour was a gift of the lamplight, Doyle knew, for unlike himself, his partner had no predilection for exposing his flesh to the sun's burning rays. In reality, Bodie's skin shades varied from bud pink to alabaster, both equally as pleasing as the light's illusion.

Bodie's shoulders and chest were square, tapering down in almost classic perfection. The sculptors of ancient Greece had coveted such bodies for their models and more. Every limb and muscle spoke of power and sleek sensuality, Bodie's beauty the awesome appeal of the timber wolf or the wild stallion. One could struggle to make such beauty one's own – and suffer the consequences which came to those foolish enough to try to tame children of the wind.

Doyle shivered, damning his imagination. Wolves and wild stallions, he didn't need such fanciful allusions to intimidate him; Bodie's physical presence was quite daunting enough.

His gaze dropped to Bodie's briefs, settling on the excited flesh that was so tautly defined beneath the snowy fabric. That erection was, after all, what Ray had laboured for.

"Well?" Bodie asked, nervousness making it a harsh demand. Bodie looked for all the world as though he expected to be rejected again.

"Very well, indeed," Doyle answered, drawing on his earlier appreciation of the pleasing form. That the form in question was bigger than Van Cleef and stronger than all but Miller, his captor’s main henchman, was something Ray tried not to dwell upon.

Despite the encouragement, Bodie remained rooted at the bed's edge. Only slowly did Doyle realize that the other man would not come to him. If he wanted Bodie, this was something he was going to have to be sure enough to initiate.

The necessary few steps were taken in a numbed daze. In spite of his resolution, they still fell short of touch by a few feet. The hand Ray held out to his partner shook almost convulsively.

Warm strength fast encompassed his unsteady limb. Bodie used the handclasp to draw him into an embrace as solidly supportive as their mountain.

"You don't have to do this, you know. We can stop now," Bodie whispered, the words shivering down Doyle’s neck in a gust of warm breath.

Doyle mutely rejected the idea with a fierce shake of his head, his eyes dropping immediately afterward when they encountered the hunger in Bodie’s gaze. Ray wished he were stronger, but he was still scared. Even so, the quivers Bodie’s breath caused on his neck felt so incredible that Doyle wanted to feel more. He hoped his courage would hold out, that he wouldn’t end up a gibbering wreck again.

Inside, Ray was a roiling mass of conflicting emotions; he was as frightened as he was aroused . . . and he was aroused as hell, which meant that he was pretty damned frightened. He was living from moment to moment now, holding onto his control, hoping it would last long enough to carry him through, but underneath it, he was uncertain, and scared of failing Bodie again.

His friend didn’t deserve that. Bodie deserved something as fine and special as he was himself. Not some coward who couldn’t trust enough to believe in the one person who had never let him down.

Doyle tensed as Bodie lifted his chin up.

"You're scared out of your wits, Ray. If I touched you now, you'd start screaming," Bodie gently pointed out, knowing him so well that Ray couldn’t even consider an evasion.

His mouth clamped tight against just such a possibility, Doyle forced the words out, "Would not."

"I wish I understood why this is so all-fired important to you," Bodie murmured.

A hand rubbed lightly across Ray’s robe covered back, Bodie seeming incapable of restraining from touch at such close quarters.

Doyle shrugged and tried to answer around the distracting touch's effect. That unthreatening palm felt so good.

"I need someone to show me it can still be . . . good." Doyle gulped, feeling utterly naked before that penetrating stare. "I’d like it to be you."

Bodie's gaze dropped. "A bird'd be better for you, easier."

"Yeah," he agreed, waiting until Bodie's head snapped back up. "Yeah, she'd be easier, but she'd never be you; would she, sunshine? It's you I'm after."

The grip on him changed at that point, locking him tight to Bodie's chest. Closer than mistletoe vine to hosting oak, they breathed the same damp air. Bodie's heart thudded beneath Doyle's ear, so loud that Ray could barely make out the reply when it came. Or was it the curls at his neck that Bodie's face was buried in which muffled the reply? Either way, Doyle had to strain to catch the unsteady, breathy, "Why?"

What did Bodie want – sweet words? Ray had very few of those. Even if he'd been gifted with a honeyed tongue, it would have failed him at a time such as this. "'cause you're mine."

Bodie shivered, withdrawing from the embrace far enough to see his face. "Yours?"

"Any objections?" Doyle demanded, perhaps too roughly in view of the complete lack of rebellion.

A simple, negative headshake was all Bodie offered him.

Made brave by his partner’s susceptibility, Doyle dared another kiss.

The eyes that regarded Ray’s own breathless features as they drew apart for air were more than a little dazed.

"Bed?" Doyle suggested, suspecting in his present preoccupied state that Bodie would agree just as readily to the dark side of the moon as a destination, as long as there was more touching involved.

Ray could appreciate that. He was feeling pretty much the same way himself.

Ignoring his fear, Ray concentrated on the sweet singing in his blood. That was real. The demons and fear were just spectres of his past. The touch and feel of Bodie’s skin was intoxicating. His partner’s fresh, clean scent was making his head reel quite pleasantly. And, although the hard organ nudging Doyle’s hip was causing some apprehension, it was nowhere enough to inhibit his pleasure.

Judging himself the more clear-minded of the pair, Doyle guided his unresisting mate toward the bed. Locked in the kiss, Bodie followed docilely.

His partner surprised him once there. As Doyle made to lower himself onto the mattress, pulling Bodie down on top of him, an iron grip aborted his descent.

"Not that way."

Doyle froze. The hoarse command called forth the ghost of many an obscene or nauseating order.

His fragile composure shattered as Doyle waited the other man's pleasure.

Ray frantically assured himself that this didn't necessarily mean what he was interpreting it to. Bodie was an aggressive male, as he himself had once been and was trying to be again tonight. It was only natural that in this charged-up state his partner would be somewhat less than delicate in voicing his needs. Although, for his sanity's sake, Doyle wished Bodie had been a little clearer in his desires.

"How, then?" Ray asked, trembling. Bodie didn't want him face down on the bed, did he?

The tight grip on his left elbow loosened. Bodie’s hand rose to his face, his pinkie tracing Doyle’s cheekbone. The touch was shivery-light, its inherent tenderness choking Ray's throat with guilt. Such was not the look of a man about to savage his companion.

"You on top. We don't want any more . . . misunderstandings, do we?"

Doyle shook his head, too ashamed to meet Bodie's gaze as his partner climbed into the bed, pushed the covers and top sheet aside and lay down.

Doyle’s eyes travelled over the prone body as it lay before him, the expectant tingle almost cancelling out his guilt.

Becoming aware that he was the object of similar scrutiny, Ray flushed and began to fumble with the belt of his robe, self-conscious about the amount of time he'd kept his friend waiting. He'd been the one who'd badgered Bodie into this, yet at every turn his partner had had to coax and gentle him along. It was a wonder Bodie was still interested, considering the delays.

"Don't," Bodie said, catching hold of his suddenly clumsy fingers before they could undo the robe’s simple tie. "Come get comfortable first. We'll take care of that later."

"But . . . . " Only then did he realize Bodie still had his briefs on.

His partner was stretched out on Doyle's side of the bed, arms lifted in silent invitation to join him. Forgetting Bodie's preference of having him on top, Doyle settled on his side in the tiny space left between his companion and the bed's edge.

To Doyle's tense mind, Bodie's sigh seemed tinged with exasperation, the crinkle in the normally smooth brow a frown of displeasure.

"You haven't changed at all, you know," Bodie offered in a low tone.

Still a tease? Still untouchable? Doyle wondered, daunted despite his best intentions.

"How's that?" Ray asked, needing to hear it all, even if it would destroy this first gambit toward healing.

He couldn't blame his partner. Bodie had been more patient than Doyle had a right to expect.

"You're still the bravest bloke I know."

Too stunned to restrain his reaction, Doyle laughed, the sound bitter with self-honesty. "Brave? I'm shakin' like the last leaf of autumn, mate."

To demonstrate, Doyle held out a faintly quivering hand.

Immediately, it was enfolded by the rock-steady warmth of Bodie's own.

"Maybe so, but you’re still going through with it, aren't you? Don't know if I'd be brave enough to do the same in your shoes," Bodie whispered.

"Bravery's got nothin' to do with it, sunshine. Is pig-headed stubbornness, tha's all," Doyle chuckled, relaxing and moving closer to his partner. "Besides, haven't 'gone through with it' yet, have we?" With that Doyle placed a light kiss on Bodie's nearby shoulder.

He wasn't sure if his partner's calling him brave had been intended to bolster his confidence as it had, but Doyle was nevertheless grateful.

Releasing Doyle's hand, Bodie turned on his side to face him. Face to face, so close they breathed the same air, Bodie kissed him, long and leisurely.

The sensation danced like quicksilver through his veins. There was no air in the world, just that which he pulled from Bodie’s lungs. Doyle's tongue slipped into his partner's mouth to sample Bodie's unique flavour. Like the scent and feel of him, that too coursed through Doyle's blood, its potency leaving his heart pounding and nerve endings throbbing for more.

Bodie did not withhold his attentions, any more than Doyle himself did. Throughout the prolonged union of their mouths, their hands ran aimlessly up and down bare backs and sides, each seemingly addicted to the silken feel of heated flesh.

At last Bodie pulled back. His partner’s feverish blue eyes aglitter in the dark, Doyle could feel the gaze hungrily assessing him.

"Ray, can I . . . ?" Bodie whispered, his hand poised above Doyle's chest.

"Anything," Ray granted, meaning it in that hazed moment.

With slow care, Bodie’s hands moved to undo the belt of Ray’s light blue robe.

First Doyle was hit by the chill of the room, then the heat of Bodie’s gaze appraising the uncovered territory. It was like ice water had just dripped on the revealed skin. Ray shivered and erupted into gooseflesh, his breath catching in his chest as his partner reached for him.

He jumped a little as Bodie's index finger swirled around his right nipple. He'd been afraid that after what had happened with Van Cleef, he'd be unable to respond sexually to another person ever again. But the sensation caused by that whisper light finger jolted right through Doyle. Somewhat stunned, he felt the awareness centre in his groin, only a dull throbbing as yet, but there and demanding recognition.

Bodie's head bowed over Ray. The sweat-beaded forehead with its feather soft bangs pressed against Doyle’s chest as a wet tongue replaced Bodie’s finger at Doyle’s nipple.

Despite himself, Doyle tensed. Many a dark head had bent over him this way. The tender flesh of his nipples had been bitten and chewed as those other men were carried away by sensation. But Bodie’s mouth only kissed the hard puckered nipples and sucked on them. Teeth never once so much as grazed him. The most aggressive act Bodie performed there was that insistent sucking, and that pleaded to Doyle’s pleasure, rather than hurt him.

The gasp that was torn out of Ray as his partner’s skilful mouth turned this to a once again delightful practice shook Doyle's frame. He felt like he was being reborn here, like Bodie was taking all the bad memories and making them right with his loving attention, healing him with love.

Noting that Bodie seemed completely absorbed in his service, Doyle allowed his hand to snake down to his pyjama bottoms. Almost with trepidation, Ray touched the hard organ arching beneath soft cotton.

A full erection. Doyle couldn't remember the last time he'd experienced one. Once or twice in the past weeks of feeling better, he'd attempted to masturbate during his afternoon naps, but his cock had never surpassed a semi-hard tumescence, wilting under the inevitable shadows. One by one, Bodie was expelling those nightmare memories.

Eyes abrim with tears, Doyle closed his arms over the beloved shoulders, banding Bodie to his chest.

His partner seemed willing to stay there forever, but eventually the mouth moved downwards. Bodie trailed the line of chest hair to Doyle’s navel. Ray shuddered as Bodie's tongue dipped within, warm and wet in its lapping.

That was a new sensation. In all his months of captivity, Ray couldn’t recall any of his attackers touching him there. His guts constricting with a yearning that seemed to shiver from his groin straight down to his toes, Doyle gasped in a breath and tried to stay sane.

Bodie's chin nudged the elastic band of his pyjamas. Doyle waited in expectation of the moment when the clothes would be pushed aside, but other than that one accidental push, Bodie didn’t touch him there again. Instead, Bodie’s head moved back up, the sweet lips eager to reclaim Ray’s own.

Already short of air, Doyle’s senses reeled in an ecstatic swirl, his mouth kneading against his partner’s in frantic compulsion.

Bodie's arms locked around his back. A quick, abrupt motion, and Doyle found himself atop the well-toned body. His shocked gasp was swallowed in their kiss.

Every pore of his body was sensitised to Bodie. Bewildered by the near-sensory overload, he marvelled at the contrasts of sensation. The skin of his partner's sweat-sheened chest felt smooth and soft beneath his questing fingertips, yet where Doyle’s weight pressed heaviest against it, it was hard and firm, rising and falling in a rushed, yet eternally reassuring rhythm.

And then, more overwhelming than the awareness of chest, intoxicating mouth and pleasure-giving fingers, there was Bodie’s iron-hard, brief-covered bulge trapped beneath Doyle’s own straining organ. The mental adjustment necessary to assimilate his lack of fear at the sensation was a strange and over-joying surprise. Positioned as they were with himself on top, worry never touched Ray.

Breaking free of the kiss to gulp down some much-needed air, Doyle asked, "Shouldn't we get rid of these?" To illustrate, he gave a tug to the band of Bodie's briefs.

"Ssssh," Bodie soothed. Rubbing flat palms across Doyle’s spine, Bodie drew him back into the kiss.

Their hips seemed to know what to do. Without any conscious decision on his mind’s part, Ray’s groin started rocking and grinding down against his partner’s. This was so perfect, with so much of their bodies pressing against each other. The contact was electric, like heat lightning sparking along a dark horizon at night, the pleasure unexpected and all consuming.

Bodie whimpered beneath him. The small sound trickled through Doyle, touching something deep within.

This was so different from anything that he'd known while Van Cleef's captive. From the way his heart was racing at Bodie’s touch to the innocent joy of the entire encounter, Ray was beginning to wonder if he’d ever known loving like this.

It was entirely possible he hadn’t. Bodie had made it plain that Doyle had had many girlfriends, but no one steady. This type of tenderness didn’t normally occur between strangers. It meant something, something more than the enthusiastic enjoyment of each other’s flesh. What made every touch so special was the feeling Ray held for his partner, and the love Bodie had for him. Ray knew that he might have been able to deal with unthreatening intercourse with some girl he'd just met, but the sex wouldn't have rocked him the way touching Bodie was doing. Doyle mightn't know anything about his past, but he knew that much. This was special, to him now, and to the man he’d been.

The hands on Ray’s back moved downwards. Bodie’s long fingers reached to cup the cheeks of Doyle’s ass. Although the touch was gentle, Ray froze as though Bodie's fingers had dug right through his skin.

Bodie’s closed eyes snapped open. Passion bright, dazed with hot, honest need, they searched Doyle’s face. "Trust me, Ray, please?"

Raw yearning permeated Bodie’s plea.

Incapable of rejecting that need, Doyle haltingly reaffirmed his earlier promise, "Anything, anything you want."

Doyle told himself that he could deal with the outcome. Had done so many times before when he'd been taken without permission. At least Bodie would be gentle.

"Oh, god," Bodie’s exclamation was almost a sob.

Doyle felt his concession shake his friend. An actual tremor was running through Bodie’s body.

Bodie’s lips strained to meet his own again. Doyle drowned in their sweetness, fire building despite Bodie's overwhelming tenderness.

The hands on Rays butt gave a gentle squeeze.

Instead of freezing into a motionless mass of terror, Doyle’s body jolted like he’d stuck his finger into an electric socket. Sizzzzzz, his supercharged nerve endings screamed as they were buffeted with raw sensation. It was almost too much to take, as unexpected as it was moving. Ray gasped as the air rushed out of his lungs, the oxygen forced out by a constricting, gut-melting blaze of ecstasy. It was so good, too good . . . .

Having his backside touched and handled shouldn't feel right, Doyle told himself as another squeeze sent him spiralling into the stratosphere. But like so much else he’d learned from this incredible man over the last few months, Bodie was teaching him how touches there should feel.

Struggling for every breath, Doyle hardly noticed when the gripping hands stopped their fire bursts to begin to guide his rhythmic thrusts. Ray clung to his partner for dear life, or for his sanity, at the very least. His arms were buried somewhere under Bodie. Ray was almost afraid to let go, lest the tides of ecstasy ripping through him should tear him away like driftwood from the shore.

Despite his unbreakable mooring, the relentless buffeting did just that. Ray’s reality became a wild tumble of ever-maddening tidal waves of flaming passion. He'd top one unbearable pleasure crest, only to have an even greater one splash over him in drowning fury.

The quicksilver joy brimming through him was so good, so right - perhaps righter than anything else had ever been.

Or maybe he was merely reaping the wages of abstinence. After six months' inactivity, Doyle knew that he was ultra-sensitive to the slightest stimuli. And Bodie was hardly slight. Whatever the cause, Ray was helpless against so overwhelming a feeling.

Bodie thrust up at him as Doyle’s own hips plunged down. Raging tide to shore, they met with a resounding splash of pure ecstasy. Not even two layers of cotton could mute Doyle's reaction to the perfectly timed thrust. An instant of absolute stillness, and then his whole world exploded, funnelling outward in a dizzying maelstrom.

His cock jumped to spurt the inside of his pyjama trousers with hot, sticky seed.

"Boodiee . . . . " he cried, burying his face in the nearby shoulder.

Bodie's body gave a similar twitch and a matching warm dampness seeped through the taut briefs to plaster their clothes together. The only sound that betrayed the dark-haired man's coming was a sharp gasp, as much relief as ecstasy.

Deaf to all but the pulse pounding wildly in his ears, Doyle clutched his lover tight to him, his body still convulsed in shudders.

"R-Ray?" Rarely had he heard his partner's voice so worried.

He looked at Bodie, confused to see the handsome face waver blurrily before him.

"Ray, are you all right? You're not hurt?" Curled fingers were dabbing at his wet cheek while Bodie’s other hand swept down Doyle’s spine to his butt, as though searching for scratches. Ray was sidetracked from his effort to interpret the frantic whisper by a shiver, his body's automatic response to the unconsciously sensual caress.

"I'm sorry, sunshine. I got carried away; didn't mean to frighten you," Bodie assured, sounding guilty, of all things.

The trembling apology and utterly stricken expression rallied Ray’s wits.

"I’m not scared," Doyle protested. "Just . . . hold me for a bit, will you?"

Ray’s request was hardly coherent between the sobs he hadn't even realized he was emitting.

Even so, of the two of them, Doyle was willing to wager his partner looked the more frightened. The handsome features were so tense, like Bodie was waiting for his entire world to fall apart.

Yet Bodie didn’t hesitate in fulfilling his request. Bodie gathered him even closer, his touch so tentative as to be almost timid.

"I'm all right," Doyle declared when, after long moments, the tension gripping the sleek body pillowing him failed to abate.

"Sure you are. Always sob for nothin', don't you?"

The self-reproach Doyle heard in Bodie’s voice outweighed even the sarcasm.

Doyle pushed up against Bodie's chest till he could see his partner's face, which was reflecting only a need of oxygen after Doyle's unexpected move. He smiled a bit sheepishly as he eased up enough to let Bodie breathe. Hoping to radiate the contentment pulsing through his sated body, Ray pointed out, "You must admit, I have been doin' my fair share of weepin' lately."

"You had your reasons."

His partner's automatic defence turned Ray’s tentative effort at a smile into a full-fledged beam. "And my solace, thank God, and your stubbornness."

Because it was so close and tipped up in an attitude of lofty disbelief, Doyle kissed the tip of his partner's nose, letting his tongue dart out across the cooler skin for a second's mischief. Withdrawing, he continued, "If I have to spell it out for your fetching, but dense, head – you did not hurt me."

"Than why –"

"Didn't expect it to feel so good, did I? You were supposed to turn into an ogre, not Prince Charming. But then, you never could get your metaphors straight," Doyle joked.

His teasing worked where Doyle knew no amount of avowals would have convinced his doubting friend.

Joy sparked through Bodie's intent gaze, fire-bright and sudden. "Me mixin’ metaphors? It's a frog, not an ogre, mate."

"That mean I'll get warts?" Doyle quizzed, unable to believe how happy . . . how loved he felt at this moment.

"You said I was fetching," Bodie protested, looking up at Doyle through improbably long lashes with a mock-wounded expression.

Ray sobered immediately.

"You’re devastating," Doyle admitted, squiggling back down into the cosy embrace. The damp patch on his pyjama front reminded him of the alteration in their relationship. As much to reinforce his rights to initiate these intimate privileges as for the sheer enjoyment of it, Doyle kissed the smooth chest that pillowed his head, marvelling at its hairless perfection.

The events of the last hour whirled through his mind. Devastating, he'd said, and so it had been, for him. But what of Bodie? The other man had hardly spoken, and suddenly it was important that Doyle know.

He stretched his neck up for a look, his lips parted to call his lover's name, and stopped.

Bodie's eyes were closed in sleep. The dark fringe of lashes brushing the skin beneath his eyes and the lingering flush of passion in Bodie’s cheeks lent a vulnerable air to the man whom Doyle was accustomed to regarding as ruthlessly competent.

Angelic, Ray decided, aware that such a description would fit his friend at no other time. Bodie’s face was bent down toward him. From the angle, Doyle realised the reddened mouth must have been brushing the tips of his curls.

Doyle was loath to disturb such tranquillity merely to satisfy his own insecurities. His neck craned the few extra inches necessary for a kiss. The lightest touch of his lips revealed his feelings. The unconscious care he took to safeguard his partner’s slumber was as telling as Bodie's cautious handling of him had been. This was so much more than mere lust.

With a last foggy thought as to where they were headed, Doyle settled down against the comfortable chest and abandoned thinking for a while.


Chapter Nine

His leg hurt. With an irritated moan, Bodie shifted in an attempt to ease the persistent pressure. It was no use. Whatever had him, it had him good and tight. Manacles at the very least, he thought numbly, beginning the reluctant rise from the comfort of sleep.

About to kick free, Bodie stopped to reconsider. Of all the types of restraints he'd been subjected to in his colourful life, fabric ones didn't number among them. Besides, these felt warm, and were it not for the pins and needles cramping his leg, pleasant.

His eyes cracked open a fraction. Weak dawning light had barely breached the curtains. Its feeble attempt cast a dreary grey tone through the fleeing shadows. Meagre as the illumination was, it was sufficient to detail his captor.

Ray's head was pillowed on Bodie's chest just beneath his rib cage. The uncomfortable lump beneath his back was his partner's right arm, which was no doubt as cramped as Bodie's leg at the moment. Ray's other arm was slung across Bodie's waist to complete the hold. As for what was trapping Bodie's numb leg, that turned out to be both of Doyle's. His left thigh was clamped between Ray's powerful ones in a death-hold.

Memories of last night came flooding back: the warmth and smell of his partner, the exhilarating knowledge that Ray had allowed him to love him. The reality of it percolated within, struggling to be expressed in a whoop of delight. He settled for a half-witted grin, knowing that he'd have to pry Doyle off the ceiling were he to give in to his first impulse while Ray was sleeping. Lord, but it felt good just to hold Ray, even if his lower body were losing all sensation.

The muscles of the forearm beneath Bodie twitched, as Doyle flexed his fingers. A crinkle creased Ray's peaceful brow. "Uuuaah . . . ."

The low moan of discomfort preceded a tensing of Doyle's already taut muscles. Then Ray's eyes snapped open, wide with alarm.

Not even daring to draw breath, Bodie waited. He hadn't been the one to initiate last night's events, but by Doyle's own admission, his friend wasn't himself. It was entirely possible he was about to be blamed for taking advantage of Ray.

After a moment of non-reaction, Doyle disengaged from the embrace. Rolling over onto his back, he even pulled the arm out from under Bodie; though he did it gently.

Ray's chiselled profile was blank of expression, but Bodie could sense the tumult of emotion brewing behind the eyes that were fixed so squarely on the ceiling. Ray couldn't – or wouldn't – even look at him.

Bodie tried to gulp down the lump that swelled his throat almost closed, but couldn't manage as little as a normal swallow.

Too soon. He'd known it last night, but Ray had been so damned persistent, so utterly irresistible.

That was no excuse, Bodie told himself. After what had happened to him during his captivity, Doyle was confused about his sexuality and self-image. Bodie's undemanding friendship had so far helped to restore some of Ray's damaged self-confidence. In the cold morning light, what Bodie had allowed to happen between them last night seemed almost criminal when he considered the destruction it could do to his partner.

Doyle had grown fond of him during these past months, Bodie knew. The abused man had even learned to trust him. But having been little more than a sex toy to Van Cleef for so long, Ray no longer understood that such feelings of friendship were enough, that he didn't have to trade his body to retain Bodie's affections. In hindsight, Bodie now realized it had been his duty to refuse his confused partner's sexual advances. Once again, he'd failed Ray.

Now he was about to reap the harvest of that failure. In the cold morning light Doyle would no doubt see the abuse for what it was.

Bodie's heart attempted to stop, along with his frozen breathing, as Doyle's curl-tangled head rose to face him.

Some people might not find that first morning view of Ray Doyle very attractive. Long hair awry so that it resembled a tumbleweed bush, and the blue-black sprinkling of beard stubble darkening his chin, Doyle looked very unlike the clean-cut man who would emerge from the shower in an hour. But to Bodie, Ray was perfect first thing, wild and somehow savage – a warrior of old, exactly the fantasy he'd like to be ravaged by.

Such fancies passed through his mind on a subliminal level, for his apprehension claimed his complete attention. Bodie didn't even know what kind of apology he could offer that would even begin to cover the depth of his offences. He felt like he'd awoken from a drunk to find he had raped a child, instead of slept with the willing woman he'd thought he'd gone home with. His transgression was that much of a nightmare reality, one of those things that he never thought could happen, because the very idea was beyond consideration.

The empty gaze that turned his way was not at all encouraging. Bodie thought he would welcome even accusation. Then he saw Ray gulp, his companion seeming less the wild barbarian now and more his unkempt partner.

"Good morning," Ray whispered, a hand reaching out to tentatively touch Bodie's cheek. The greeting sounded like a question, as if Ray were completely unsure of what type of reaction he could expect this morning.

And why wouldn't Ray be uncertain? Bodie realized that his own fear had paralysed him to the point where his wariness might have been misinterpreted as displeasure.

Bodie cursed himself a fool and let his relief shine through in a smile. No accusation, yet.

"Hello." Bodie turned his head a little so that his lips brushed Doyle's fingers in what might have been a light kiss or an accidental touch.

The tense figure relaxed, some of Ray's barriers dropping away.

"Can I kiss you?" Doyle questioned.

Bodie didn't even try to work through the tightness gripping his throat.

"You can do anything you want with me," Bodie rasped, his good intentions of not inflicting any further stress upon Ray defeated by the tentative touch of Doyle's mouth to his own.

First thing in the morning kisses could never be said to be sweet, but Bodie found himself drowning in his partner's taste all the same. Ray was just so . . . Ray, morning breath and all. Their stubbly chins rasped together as their dry mouths became reacquainted.

Venting a sigh that sounded relieved, Doyle withdrew after a long, intimate exploration of Bodie's mouth, to settle his head against Bodie's chest again.

"Ray, about last night . . . . " Bodie began hesitantly, finding it far easier to speak to the top of Doyle's head than to his expressive eyes.

Doyle's rumpled head rose again, something like abashment colouring his tanned cheeks. "I know it couldn't have been . . . very exciting for you, but . . . was it enough?"

Bodie's faltering apology died on his lips as the sense of the awkwardly phrased question penetrated. What the hell was he supposed to do now? Tell Doyle that, yes, it was just fine, but they could never do it again? Ray would never believe it was for his own sake.

Compelled by the hurt that was intensifying with each moment's silence, Bodie spoke the truth.

"This would have been enough," Bodie said, indicating their close-held bodies. "You spoiled me last night, Ray, gave me more than I had any right to ask for. If I were a true friend, I would have thought of you first and turned you down, but . . . I just couldn't help myself. That's an explanation, not an apology. I ought to be sorry it happened, but . . . . "

"You're not," Doyle finished in a near-satisfied tone. "And you can stow that rot. No one ever thought of me as much as you did last night."

Bodie felt his cheeks warm under the emotion-filled gaze. Doyle was practically glowing.

With love? Hard as Bodie found it to believe, that was the interpretation his instincts kept giving to his mate's expression. But that couldn't be. Joy, maybe.

Unwilling to foster delusions, Bodie sought escape in humour. "In case you've forgotten, you've got amnesia. You don't rightly remember anything else, do you, Ray?"

The joke fell flat. Doyle took him completely seriously. "No, you're right. I don't remember anyone else, but I do remember how I felt."

"Ey?" Bodie prodded, perplexed by the earnestness.

"You never did ask me last night why I wanted to stay here in the chalet so badly."

Not seeing how one applied to the other, Bodie shrugged, bouncing Doyle up and down in the process. "I figured you liked it here. 's pleasant."

"True, but that's not the reason. It was you, mate."


"What I remember about the past isn't a lot, Bodie, but it was enough to let me know one thing. I – I don't think I was ever really happy there."


"You know – content, satisfied. Or have I just forgotten?"

Bodie thought hard on the question. "You were always a moralist. What we did never came easy to you, but I wouldn't have said you were actively unhappy."

Or would he, Bodie reconsidered once the words were out. He'd never really thought about Doyle being unhappy. Ray had done all the things that a bloke did when he was having fun – Doyle had pulled a different bird every week, done the pub crawls, followed the sports, done all the superficial window-dressing that spoke of a successful young man enjoying his life and yet . . . Bodie had never seen Ray more content than when his partner was painting. And he'd never seen Ray paint until a couple of months ago. Rack his brain as he would, Bodie couldn't recall seeing so much as a sketchpad in any of Doyle's flats, let alone an easel. It was almost like Ray had closed off that part of himself when he joined C.I.5.

"Was I like I am now?" Doyle challenged, almost as if he'd scented Bodie's uncertainty.

Bodie chose his words very carefully, "I'm not agreeing with that two Doyles stuff you were spouting, but you were right about one thing. You were harder, more sarcastic, a right hurricane once you got going; although you were giving a pretty good imitation last night."

Doyle evaded his gaze, looking down to watch the finger that lazily trailed across Bodie's collarbone.

"I felt . . . threatened last night," Doyle finally mumbled.

"Threatened? By Cowley and Murph?" Bodie tried for coherency, but the absentminded touch was playing havoc with his concentration.

"No, by the past. I had thought it would lure you away from me."

"'Had thought'; past tense. What about now?" Bodie questioned.

"Doesn't matter now," Ray said.

"Why not?" As far as Bodie could see, last night had complicated things immensely, yet Ray was speaking as though his reasoning were perfectly obvious.

"Yesterday, the way Cowley was talking, he made it plain that the other . . . that I called the shots. You didn't correct him."

Although voiced as a gentle inquiry, the words pierced Bodie to the core. Of course, the threat didn't matter to Doyle now. Bodie could once again hear his partner's voice telling him that he was Doyle's. Bodie had offered no objection last night when Ray had made that proprietary claim. Even now when his weakness was being arrogantly lorded over him, Bodie couldn't refute the truth.

"What could I say to you or Cowley? I followed you here, didn't I? Whither Doyle goeth, Bodie follows." The bitter shame he felt forced him to look away from Doyle's rising gaze.

"But not the reverse?" Ray added salt to his open wound. "If you left, you were never sure I'd follow. You were never even certain enough of your place in my life to tell me how you felt, were you?"

Bodie stared at the ceiling, unable to believe this cruelty of his gentle Ray.

"Look at me, Bodie," Doyle demanded, then forced compliance by guiding his chin around. "All that's changed, if it were ever true to begin with. You're what's made me happy. I – I don't think I ever had anyone I could call my own before. Cowley's taking you away doesn't frighten me anymore because wherever you go – England, Timbuktu, wherever – I'll be right behind you. Understand?"

Bodie had never seen his partner look so earnest. The love clearly visible in Ray's eyes was heart-warming and Bodie had no doubt that at this moment, Doyle truly meant what he was saying. Equally, Bodie had no doubts that all of this would change once Ray got his memories back. When that happened . . . Bodie pushed the thought from his mind, resolved to live only in the present. He was being let off the hook – for now.

"Yes, I understand that you enjoyed last night," Bodie said. Much as he'd like to believe that Ray might feel that much for him, he wasn't fool enough to imagine such an attitude would last once memory was restored.

Doyle's eyes flared brilliant green in their anger, but the momentary spark gave way to something softer; something that was both sad and humouring.

"I guess he . . . I mean I've given you reason enough in the past to doubt me, but it's okay. I'll prove it to you, sunshine," Ray all but promised, resolution stamped in his every feature.

Bodie had never loved anyone so much as he did Ray at that moment for making that promise. But as much as he wanted to believe, the realist inside him knew he was living on borrowed time here. All he could give Ray in response was a shaky smile that probably never touched his eyes. Bodie knew where this was going to end, even if his amnesiac partner were momentarily smitten with him.

"Great pair we are," Ray said, shaking his head. Once again Doyle's hand lightly brushed Bodie's cheek in that oddly tender gesture before he responded to Bodie's last statement where Bodie had tried to brush off Doyle's present infatuation as a by-product of last night's sex. "Yeah, I enjoyed it. There more in our future?"

The firm denial Bodie had planned came out as a helpless nod of agreement.

"One thing, though."

"What's that?" Bodie finally managed.

"Do you think we could take our clothes off tonight?" There was no hard edge under the humorous inquiry. Doyle seemed to be sparkling with contentment again.

Buoyed by his mate's good spirits, Bodie gave his friend an exuberant hug. "That might be arranged."

Both froze at the sound of a toilet flushing across the hall. What with one thing and another, they'd all but forgotten about their houseguests.

Bodie wondered what the other two men might have overheard. Sanity eventually assured him that, although emotion wrought, the proceedings had been extremely quiet.

"Cowley, I'd imagine," Bodie explained at his partner's quirked eyebrow. "The old man gets up awful early. Better get the coffee on. Murph's like a bear first thing."


Bodie smiled at Ray's unfeigned reluctance. "Time to hit the showers, sunshine. I'll go first and have breakfast waitin' on you when you get down." The offer was truly heroic, considering the mountain cold morning.

"Why don't we go together?" Doyle suggested. "Be fun, showerin' with you."

Bodie gaped at the mischievous imp in his arms, paralysed by a sudden vision of water sluicing down that desirable body. Never would he be able to restrain himself at such close quarters. "It'd be loud, is what it'd be."

"Coward," Doyle laughed.

"Got it in one." His own chuckle complimented his partner's boisterous good humour.

Doyle stopped, gazing at him with sudden seriousness. "You're really happy, aren't you?"

"You still have a knack for understatement," Bodie declared, kissing the space between the far-set eyes. "Yes, I am, but I'd better get moving now before the old man beats us down."

"Will you wait for me to get there to tell him you'll do the job?" Ray's tone revealed nothing of his feelings on the matter.

Unsure if he were about to blunder blindly into a chasm, Bodie quietly asked, "Do you want me to?"

Bodie wasn't really surprised that Ray had read his mind on the decision. If last night were any indication, they were more in sync then he'd ever imagined possible.

"To wait to tell him? Yes."

The cryptic reply told Bodie nothing. "That's not what I meant."

"I know."

The ghost of a look he hadn't seen since Ann Holly had walked pinched his partner's features, as though Doyle were once again anticipating the collapse of his world. It made sense; Bodie understood that he was all Doyle knew. Bodie tried not to place too much significance on a fleeting expression, but found his heart aching for his friend. Could he really mean that much to Ray?

"Do you have any objections?" Bodie asked, praying his voice conveyed his willingness to heed Doyle's wishes.

Doyle's gaze flickered, as if considering evasion, before settling squarely upon him.

"I've got plenty," Ray admitted at last, a rueful smile tweaking his mouth up at one corner, "but none of 'em valid. 's a question of honour, isn't it? We owe Cowley."

"For what? You said you barely remember him," Bodie reminded.

"You seemed to think we owed it to him last night."

"And that's enough for you?" Bodie asked.

Doyle shrugged. "He didn't cart you off in leg irons. He could've. That's enough for me. We owe him. Besides, it's only a couple of weekends."

"Right. I'll be back before you have time to miss me," he promised. Doyle's curls were too long to create complete anarchy anymore, so Bodie contented himself with displacing the disorderly tangle.

"I'll have time."

Lowered lashes veiled all emotion, but Bodie heard the unhappiness. "Hey, it's just a few days. If you don't want me to go, just say."

"No, you do what you have to. I'll be waiting."

Still not entirely satisfied, Bodie decided to take Doyle at his word. "So will our guests if I don't get moving. See you later, sunshine."


Later, much later, Doyle walked quietly through the blackness.

Four days of rain had ceased at last. The ground was sodden. Each step felt as though his boots were being sunk into a thoroughly saturated sponge, but the sky overhead was clear as crystal and dark as plush velvet. Thousands of stars were littered across it, numerous as the tiny shells left by a receding tide. Eyes accustomed to the dreary overcast feasted on the pristine clarity of the night.

Ray pulled his jumper closer about him. Tonight's breeze was more than cool. In fact, most would call it a wind, but Doyle preferred to think of it as the last breeze of summer.

Trying very hard not to find too much relevance in that thought, he ambled toward an outcrop of boulders. Hidden behind four wide-reaching spruces, the rocks weren't visible in the dark. Even in daylight one might have difficulty sighting them between the evergreen branches, but, like every other rock and dip in the land up here, Doyle knew their location by heart. Fleetingly, he wondered if he had loved his home in London with the same fierce passion he felt for this place.

Probably not, he decided while climbing up to perch on a chilly stone twice his size. A man who could fail to appreciate Bodie properly would no doubt lack such sensitivity.

He surveyed his overview. The rock had been a good choice. The fragrant trees behind shielded him from most of the wind. Off to the far right the chalet's glowing windows warmly beckoned him home. The road was a greyish brown ribbon banding the dark shadow that marked the cliff's chasm. Beyond that, all was shades of black. The uneven line of the mountains stretching heavenwards on all sides looked like a hungry dragon had eaten chunks of sky out of the horizon. Black as space and as starless as the empty stretches between galaxies, the jagged peaks fringed the astral tapestry.

Doyle drank in the cold night with all his senses. His nose was beginning to sting from the wind and his breath fogged around him, but he still lingered on the damp rock. Another time he might have heeded the mud and chill and headed home, but just now he couldn't bear the sight of his partner pouring over the files Cowley had left behind this morning.

His aversion was foolish, Doyle knew. He'd been the one who had urged Bodie to accept the assignment . . . yet he couldn't help but feel that this boded the end of their stay here. The conference was over three weeks away and Bodie was already so absorbed in its preparations that he'd all but ignored Doyle the entire afternoon - and this not even twenty-four hours since they'd become lovers.

This morning's apprehension returned with a vengeance, reminding Ray of just how many times Bodie had said "no" last night before Doyle had finally persuaded his partner to acquiesce to his wishes.

And after all that anguish, what had Bodie gotten? Someone too scared and inhibited to take his stupid clothes off. Little wonder his partner was so quickly disenchanted.


The soft voice so close at hand almost cost him his cold seat. Doyle swung toward the sound, the wind immediately sending the hair he'd once again forgotten to bind whipping into his eyes. Doyle's fingers brushed the irritating tangle aside.

"What are you doing here? You'll catch your death," Bodie said.

Doyle blinked down at his partner as though Bodie had just materialized on the spot beside his rock. Whether it was his own morose preoccupation or Bodie's jungle training, he hadn't heard the man slosh his way across the mucky ground.

A small smile touched his lips as he took in his partner's appearance. A bit of wind and Bodie was dressed for the arctic in a black anorak with the hood pulled up and tightly closed, heavy wool trousers and some kind of fluffy hand warmer.

"What's with the muff?" Doyle asked, looking at the odd garment wrapped around his friend's hands.

Bodie shook the bundle.

Surprised, Doyle recognized his own light grey jacket. Bodie handed it up to him with a self-conscious shrug. " 's a little nippy, isn't it?"

"A bit," Doyle agreed, keeping his tone carefully neutral. "Thanks."

Pretending to contemplate the Milky Way, Doyle watched his friend out of the corner of his eye.

"Care for some company?" Bodie was forced to ask at last. In no way did the smooth voice betray that Bodie would be affected by a negative response.

Two could play that game. Ray waited until Bodie's discomfort with the silence was visible before off-handedly remarking, "Thought you were too busy for company."

"There was a pile to get through," Bodie agreed in the same matter-of-fact tone.

Ray swallowed hard. The silences between them seemed to be saying more than their words. Doyle didn't at all like the messages those empty stretches were communicating, but as had happened when they'd argued in the study last night, Ray found himself falling very naturally into this attack and avoidance pattern.

He hated being this way with Bodie, hated the distance that was suddenly gaping between them, but he had no clue as to how to circumvent it. After being so totally ignored all afternoon, a part of him was afraid of revealing too much. He was tired of being an object of pity, and even more disenchanted with his role as invalid. If they were going to be lovers, they had to be equals and equals didn't snivel about being ignored . . . but, God, it was hard to sit here and play these stupid games when he was hurting so much inside.

Maybe Bodie was right. Maybe he wasn't up to this. Perhaps he wasn't Bodie's equal yet. No one knew better than Doyle himself how completely screwed up he was inside, but . . . be that as it may, his pride wouldn't allow him to fold on this.

If he wasn't hard inside, he could pretend to be. He had a feeling that he was a master at keeping up these kinds of fronts.

Bodie's gaze was an intruding weight as it sought to penetrate the secrets of his ungiving profile. Doyle let his partner stare, guarding his privacy. He knew as long as Bodie didn't get a clear look at his eyes that his secrets would be safe.

"Yeah, it was a lot of work," his flat tone betrayed none of his insecurities, or so Doyle thought.

Bodie scaled the boulder, and sank down uncomfortably close to him.

Another time Ray might have enjoyed the proximity, but tonight he didn't want the other man this close. Doyle's nose was dripping, making it impossible to catch Bodie's fragrance even with so little space between them, but he could still feel his friend's body warmth seeping through his chilled flesh where their arms were brushing. Wanting to keep up his guards, Ray struggled to ignore the distraction.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bodie tug down his hood. At first Doyle didn't understand why, for his friend was obviously freezing, but then he realized that Bodie had pulled it down because it obscured his view of Doyle.

"You going to tell me why you're mad at me or are we going to sit out here all night?" Bodie asked at last.

" 's nice out here," Ray evaded.

"If you're a longhorn sheep with a woolly coat. Although, that mop could very well pass," Bodie joked, ruffling the windblown length of Doyle's hair.

Doyle couldn't help but jerk back from the casual contact. What was he – a child to be condescended to?


No amount of resolution could harden him to the bewilderment that flashed through Bodie's eyes. Rather than deal with it, Doyle looked away.

"It's last night, isn't it?" Bodie asked, his note of resigned sadness slicing into Doyle's conscience. "I knew that once you got to thinking 'bout it, you'd have second thoughts. I'm only surprised it took this long."

" 's not about last night," Doyle snapped peevishly, unable to maintain his stoicism in view of the dejection he was causing.


"It's about today," Doyle corrected.

"Today?" Bodie repeated, sounding the most cretinous Doyle had ever heard him. "What's been wrong with today?"

Doyle swung back to his companion. The confusion within surfaced as anger. "It's like last night never happened."

Even to his own ears the complaint sounded sophomoric, like a schoolgirl mooning over her first love.

Bodie, however, appeared to find nothing childish about it. All the barriers dropped from his face. "Christ, Ray, you're right. I should have paid more attention to you. It's only that there was so much background material to absorb. I still haven't gotten through it all. I didn't want to let the old man down, but that's still no excuse for ignoring you."

Feeling twice the fool, Doyle mumbled, "I was just feeling left out, that's all. Don't give it a second thought; it'll pass."

"Like hell it will. Come here."

And, just like that, everything was all right in his world again.

After only one night together, embracing Bodie so openly should have felt awkward. Yet Doyle was amazed by how naturally he accepted the enfolding embrace. Bodie's warmth seemed to be precisely what his chilled body was longing for. He curled around the larger man, venting a grateful sigh. With budding familiarity, Doyle lent back against the sturdy support of Bodie's chest, smiling as Bodie's arms settled shyly around his waist. Obviously he wasn't the only one harbouring uncertainties.

"Was I always this moody?" Doyle asked conversationally after a few moments had passed.

Bodie snorted, the sound explosive in the stillness. "You don't know the half of it."

"Why'd you put up with it, then?"

A chin came to rest intimately on Doyle's shoulder, moist breath shivering down his neck. "Because it's a part of you, as much as these curls or your smile. Where I act, you think. It balances us."

"Seems it would weigh you down."

Bodie chuckled. "I needed it. More often than not my . . . enthusiasm landed us in the doghouse." Bodie was quiet for a spell before continuing in a more serious tone, "You never held that against me, regardless of how wild the old man got. I never could understand why you never complained. Got you in trouble often enough."

"It does seem out of character," Doyle commented, attempting to fit this new information into the picture he'd drawn of his former self.

"Nah, not really. You were the softest touch goin'."

"Thought I was a snarky, ill-tempered sod that never let anyone close to me," Doyle joked.

Bodie tensed, turning him to study his face. Doyle tried not to squirm under the close examination.

"I know I've said all of those things and more on occasion," Bodie said slowly, choosing each word with care, "but that wasn't all you were."

"No?" Try as he would, the simple syllable wavered.

"Do you think I could care so much for someone like that?"

Doyle's gaze strayed to the cold granite between their knees. "You're very loyal, Bodie."


The cold steel in the tone demanded his full attention. Doyle met the humourless gaze with defiance. "What?"

"Answer me."

"All right, then. Yes, I think you could. Despite all your talk about my moralizing, memory paints me a cold-blooded killer. Even when you're telling stories about us, my temperament . . . it sounds like you spent half your time tap-dancing through a minefield."

"Christ, you've a knack for twisting things, mate. Listen up. Ray Doyle never killed even the darkest souled villain in cold blood. Killing, even in self-defence, came hard to you. That's why you were so moody, agonizing over situations where you had no choice but to take the hard line."

"Right," Doyle agreed, unwilling to argue further. Of course Bodie would defend the hard Doyle, the man he'd wanted all along.

"Don't patronize me, Ray. Even at your most infuriating you never did that."

Wondering where all that closeness they'd felt moments ago had fled to, Doyle pulled back to his own side of the rock and countered, "Fine. Answer me one thing."

"What's that?"

"How did I win your heart back then?" Doyle asked, needing to know.

"What?" Bodie stammered, paling.

It wasn't until that instant that Doyle realized how much he was asking of the other man.

But he'd already stepped in it. There was no taking the words back. Making his tone a bit less contentious, Ray asked, "What was it you liked about me? Or was it just the packaging?"

The steel in Bodie's gaze melted. "You are mixed up, aren't you? I hadn't realized it was this serious, though I should have done. This is more of that two Doyles business, isn't it?"

"I need to know, Bodie."

Bodie's dark head nodded. "Okay. It wasn't the packaging. If you must know it wasn't even your sense of what was right, or how gentle you were with those weaker than you, or the way you always backed me up straight down the line."

"What was it then?" Doyle prodded.

Here Bodie's gaze intensified. "You. There were never two Doyles, Ray. Never. The man you are now was always buried in there. Hurting, bleeding, crying, you were always hidden there beneath that prickly exterior. Sometimes you'd let me in far enough to see what was hurting and I'd catch a glimpse of the real you, the man who cared so deeply. That's what did it."

"Not often enough," Doyle guessed, reading the longing for more in Bodie's expression.

"Perhaps," Bodie agreed, "but that was as much my fault as yours."

"How's that?"

Bodie abruptly appeared uncomfortable. "You never trusted me enough, did you?"

Doyle still saw that as a failing in himself. "Was I good to you at least?"

Visibly bewildered, Bodie asked, "What do you mean?"

"My memories . . . they're all scrambled," Doyle gave a weak smile as he tried to explain the disorder in his mind. "They seem to jump from one trauma to another. I can remember us together, chasing and being chased. Times when we were scared or angry and shouting at each other, even times when we played word games like in the study last night, but little else. No quiet times. Were we just 9 to 5'ers, partnered at work? Didn't we ever watch Liverpool on the telly together?"

Bodie's nose crinkled with amusement. "Of course we weren't 9 to 5'ers. As for the telly, you didn't have one in your last flat." His expression must have revealed his dismay, for Bodie hastened to explain. "There were lots of quiet times, Ray. You just can't recall them yet. Even the action parts were usually different than you described them. Sure, there were times we were worried and snapped at each other or other times when we fought, but usually we got on well together. I've a bent toward black humour that some of the darker aspects of our cases would touch off. You were never as callous, but you could be bloody irreverent when the situation called for it."

"You callous?" Doyle laughed. That was one adjective he could never equate with his partner. "Go on."

" 's true. You just don't remember," there was no pride in Bodie's protest, only bald insistence.

"I don't believe you."

"I know. You've forgotten what I'm really like. That's one of the reasons you trust me as you do now."

"What do you mean?" Doyle demanded, caring neither for the tone nor worried expression.

"We were good mates, Ray, don't get me wrong. The closest. Off duty and on, but eighteen months ago we never could have had a talk like this."

"Why not?" Doyle demanded.

"My fault, I suppose."

"How's that?" Doyle probed, confused. Bodie sounded as if he were making a confession.

"Because that trust has to work both ways, sunshine. There were times when you'd been hurt so bad you couldn't keep me out. We'd talk like this. You'd feel better for the talking and I'd feel closer to you."


"So, I'd never let the scales balance. When it was me, I'd push you away, handle whatever it was on my own. It would hurt you when I shut you out like that, Ray, and . . . even though I knew it was hurting you, I'd do it anyway. I'm afraid I haven't changed that way," Bodie's words were offered in the tone of a warning.

"No?" Doyle had the vivid recollection of Bodie alone with his misery the day he'd spat the cheese sandwich all over his partner. Bodie hadn't pushed him away that day.

Doyle's hand settled on Bodie's shoulder. Beneath the heavy anorak and jumper bundling his cold-sensitive mate, he could feel the tension. Even as Bodie was stubbornly answering 'no', Ray was drawing the larger man into an embrace. He hid his smile in the nook of Bodie's neck and shoulder and allowed his lips to caress the chilled, soft flesh beneath an ear.

"That's all right, then. We'll manage," Doyle whispered, surprised by the shiver that quaked through his friend.

"Ah, Ray." Bodie's arms clamped convulsively tight around him as Bodie pulled far enough back to lower his head for a kiss.

Their first kiss since this morning, Ray thought. Once again, the feelings sparked like wildfire between them, warming Doyle from the inside out.

Bodie's mouth pressed demandingly against his, so hungry, so needy . . . .

It should have frightened him, but although not overly gentle, Doyle found himself content with the passion between them.

They eventually broke from the lengthy, wet exploration, both winded from the effort.

"Home?" Doyle suggested, rising gracefully to his feet at Bodie's nod of agreement.

"How do you do that?" Doyle demanded irritably as they made their way across the soggy field.

"Do what?" Bodie asked.

"I sound like a full platoon trudging through this muck."

"You do at that, " Bodie concurred, a smile in his tone. "So?"

"So I can't hear you at all."

"You trudge through as many jungles as I did in my youth and you'd soon pick up the habit of stepping softly."

"What were they like, those jungles?' Doyle wondered.

"Humid, buggy, though I dare say we'll be wishing for some of that heat in a few weeks time. It's cold up here, mate."

"But beautiful," Doyle said, his gaze straying to the stars overhead.

"It's definitely got its attractions," Bodie agreed, his absorbed tone drawing Doyle's attention. One thing he'd learned about Bodie, the man was no nature lover. Doyle felt his cheeks warm as he realized the object of Bodie's praise.

"Did I say something wrong?" his partner asked as they approached the chalet's door some time later with no further conversation between them.

Doyle considered best how to phrase his discomfort, and then answered, "No, not really. I'm just . . . not used to you looking at me like that."

"Like what?"

"With hunger." A chill that had nothing to do with the night wind touched him. A collage of other gazes – hungry, hot, and ultimately ugly – flashed through Doyle's mind.

Ray had the fleeting thought that he was playing with fire here. Bodie was so much bigger and stronger than himself. Last night had been perfect, but he could hardly expect that restraint to colour all of Bodie's dealings with him.

"Does it upset you?"

Ray knew that if he said yes that Bodie would once again be thinking his love was unwanted, Doyle realized as he drowned in the pools of sorrowful blue. Yet a no would be an outright lie.

"On some levels," Doyle hazarded.

Bodie's hand rose toward his broken cheek, hovering close enough for Doyle to feel its heat without actually touching him. "You know what you are to me. I'm no poet to offer you golden promises, but know this, Ray Doyle. Whatever we share, it is for you to say. I'll not lay a finger on you that you don't invite. I swear it, on everything I might ever have held sacred."

Doyle tried to gulp past the lump in his throat. Finding himself still mute, all he could manage was to reach up and press Bodie's large palm flat to his face. With his other hand he snagged the dark head, pulling his partner down into a kiss.

"You don't need an invite," Ray gasped as they parted, the strange, quavering voice barely recognizable as his own. Without trying, this man destroyed him, moving him down to the very fibre of his being.

His forwardness amazed him. Two, three months ago the idea of any man touching him as Bodie had last night and today would have left him shaking in a cold sweat, sick with nausea. But, although Ray trembled now, very little of it was fear.

Without breaking his gaze, Doyle pushed open the door. Bodie trailed him inside like a cobra's mesmerized victim. Pausing only to remove muddy boots and his jacket, Doyle led them to the sitting room, to the island of thick beige rug between hearth, easel and couch.

Strange, yet somehow familiar yearnings fluttered through him as he watched Bodie take off his jumper and knell at the hearth's edge to feed some more wood onto the smouldering remains of the fire. The new log caught with a ripping crackle, bathing Bodie's profile in a fierce orange glow and shower of sparks that turned his partner's eyes to glinting sapphires.

Bodie might have been chiselled from marble, Doyle thought, so creamy was the larger man's skin. His cheeks were flushed from the night wind and fire's heat; they stood out stark as roses on a snow covered field. Beneath the dark polo and clinging trousers, every one of Bodie's well-formed muscles was sharply defined.

Even at rest, Bodie was a powerful, vibrant figure. Doyle's breath caught at the sight, awed that such an incontestably masculine physique could arouse him as it was so doing.

"You all right, Ray?"

Not realizing he'd made a sound to draw the inquiry, Doyle nodded. He came to stand behind Bodie, his hands dropping to rest on the broad shoulders as his friend fussed with the fire. Needing more, he crouched down to nuzzle the exposed neck, not quite sure how Bodie would react to his assuming a more aggressive role.

In truth, he was experimenting, uncertain of both the drives within and his partner's preferences. As to Ray Doyle of C.I.5, he had no recollection of any of his sexual exploits. All he had to draw on were his experiences at Van Cleef's hands and instinct told him that none of that was applicable here. Whatever Bodie wanted of him, it wasn't a docile bed slave. So he was left to grope in the dark for the proper approach, ignorant and frightened as any schoolboy.

"Mmm . . . feels good," Bodie murmured, leaning back to bare more of his neck.


Where another's gaze might be said to devour him, Bodie's embraced. The hunger was there still, but muted, balanced by a warmth void of threat.

"Yeah," Bodie sighed, leaning further back.

Already unbalanced by his shaky knees and the emotions pummelling his system, the extra weight completely undid him. Doyle gave a startled yelp as his feet went out from under him. Both he and Bodie tumbled unceremoniously back onto the carpet.

Doyle cursed his clumsiness, wondering what Bodie must think of him. Last night he couldn't get his clothes off and tonight he wasn't even able to manage a kiss. His partner's laughter assaulted his ears, marking him the idiot he felt. Cheeks aflame with shame, he turned away from his friend.

"Ray?" Bodie called, still gasping on a laugh. "You all right, mate?"

"Just fine."

His frigid response cooled some of Bodie's merriment. "What's the matter then?"

Inexplicably annoyed by the concern, Doyle stormed sarcastically, "You mean aside from turning a love scene into a comedy act? Nothing's wrong, sunshine, not a thing."


Doyle glared up as he was rolled over onto his back, too infuriated by his stupidity to be intimidated by Bodie's hovering bulk.

Bodie didn't say anything to him for a long moment, just stared down at him with those amazingly gentle eyes as they lie side by side facing each other now. Bodie's gaze was alight with contained humour, but not a trace of mockery. "Killed the mood for you, did it?"

Doyle tried to look away and failed.

"Are you laughing at me?" Doyle demanded, not giving an inch.

"Not at you, at us. This is typically us," Bodie explained.

"How so?" Unmollified, Ray kept his tone hard.

"Here I am trying so hard to seduce you with my suave charm and I go and knock you off your feet like a bloody bowling ball. Go ahead, light into me and get it off your chest. Then we can get back to the important matters."

Doyle's grin seemed to disconcert the other man. "Your fault? I'm the one that toppled over."

"Fell for me in a big way, huh?" Bodie asked with his usual outrageous cheek.

Doyle gave the expected groan, then allowed his smile to settle into something more serious. "You know I have. Are you going to finish seducing me now?"

Bodie gulped, his head lowering the necessary few inches for a kiss before he carefully eased his heavier body down on top of him. It was a testament to how far they'd come in one day that Bodie would even try that position again after the disastrous reception it had had last night.

Tonight, Ray didn't panic under Bodie's blanketing weight. Rather, Doyle felt himself spinning dizzily under its impact. He was overwhelmed by the larger man's presence – the heat pouring off the heavy body, Bodie's scent, familiar as his own, but tantalizingly arousing now, the power held so carefully in check, and, most pervasive of all, the tender care behind every touch. He was drowning in Bodie, drifting in a carefree haze of sensation.

Bodie's roving hands wandered to his shirtfront. "All right?"

Ray nodded dreamily, utterly unconcerned by anything Bodie might ask of him. Piece by piece his clothing was peeled away, a generous boon of kisses and caresses lavished upon each section of skin.

Doyle roused himself from the pleasant daze only when Bodie's fingers settled on the opening of his jeans, at which point the quality of the encounter changed somehow. He met Bodie's heated gaze. His partner's need was encapsulated by the burning heat in those blue eyes and accentuated by his short raspy breaths.

Bodie's expression was intense as he undid the zipper. Doyle lifted his hips as his partner gave a firm tug, pulling down jeans and briefs in a single smooth movement. Bodie tugged his socks off as an afterthought then sat back on his heels and just looked at the naked sprawl of him.

There was little doubt that Bodie was pleased by what he saw. Doyle withstood the appreciative examination as long as he was able. Although there was nothing proprietary in the gaze, he found such close examination of his nakedness unnerving, especially in view of Bodie's completely clothed state.

"This is a little one sided, don't you think?" Ray finally commented when his partner showed no indication of moving.

Bodie started, rousing as from a trance. "You're exquisite, tawny and lithe as a lion."

Doyle felt his cheeks warm under the praise. He glanced down at himself, trying to see what Bodie saw. Too skinny, too hairy, at best average, certainly nothing to merit that light in Bodie's eye. "And you're waxin' poetic. Come on, shed 'em."

"You sure?"


Correctly interpreting his tone, Bodie scrambled out of his clothes, the operation too rushed for Doyle to properly enjoy the divestment. He stared at the result, more than a little awed.

The man was perfect, from Bodie's short-cropped crown to the pink buds of his toenails. Spilt cream skin so light the blue web of vein-work showed through, blushed from exposure to the sun in other places. Doyle's eyes travelled the length of his partner, finally hesitantly coming to rest on the one area unfamiliar to him.

Doyle swallowed nervously at the sight of the powerful penis, which was aroused from just looking at him. At that instant Bodie seemed enormous to him, the testes a heavy weight below the blood red, straining shaft.

Doyle froze inside, thinking of all the cocks his blood had stained, remembering . . . .

"Bodie," he stammered before the horror could take hold, "talk to me, please."

Disgusted, Doyle realized he was shaking again.

"Huh?" Bodie's gaze softened as his partner took in his state. "More poetry, sunshine? Shall I tell you how your eyes are like plush tree moss or . . . . "

"Tree moss!" Doyle interrupted, almost outraged enough to forget his fear.

"Very fetching tree moss, of course. Or your teeth, white as dry bones, or your hair, wild as a tumbleweed bush or your nose, red as . . . . "


Bodie's expression stilled to one of utter seriousness, except for his eyes, which still twinkled outrageously. "I mean it, Ray, every word of it."

Then Doyle chuckled and the world seemed right again. "Oh, come here, you mad bugger," he crooned, reaching for Bodie's strong hand.

"They say that about all us poets," Bodie lamented as he seated himself close by. The ink-dark, blue gaze surveyed their island of space with something akin to disdain.

"What's wrong?" Ray asked.

"Not quite comfortable down here, is it? But these should help."

Doyle watched his partner drag the cushions and pillows from the couch. He was fascinated by the ripple of muscle beneath the moon pale skin of Bodie's flat butt.

"That do?" Bodie asked once he'd arranged the cushions to his liking.

"It looks like a harem," Doyle commented, leaning back on the pile.

Bodie shot him an odd glance, the joke in his eye never voiced.

Doyle couldn't fathom the restraint. Normally Bodie would have chuckled and made some ribald comment about that being the point. The reticence puzzled him until Doyle realized its cause. Were Bodie to make a joke about seraglios, he would be making it to a man he'd bought and paid for.

Moved by the unnecessary consideration, Doyle reached out to draw his friend down into his arms. As Bodie's head settled on his chest he experienced an odd sensation. He'd expected the larger man to blanket him with his body as Bodie assumed the aggressive role so natural to him. Or, barring that, that Bodie would once again instruct Doyle to lay atop him, directing their lovemaking that way. The last thing he'd anticipated was to have his partner cuddle around him like this. Despite Bodie's obvious arousal the embrace was strangely non-sexual, almost one of comfort.

A little startled, Ray realized that for once, he wasn't the one in need of comforting. Whatever this was about, Bodie was the one seeking solace right now. The warm feeling soaking through his guts was one he couldn't remember experiencing any time in the recent past. It took a while to place it, but he finally decided that the peculiar feeling running through him was protectiveness. It seemed a little absurd at first, that an emotional basket case like himself would be feeling protective of this competent warrior. Bodie needed a protector like he needed a third ear, and yet, at the moment, Bodie did seem to need him to hold him like this. The way Bodie was clinging to him, soaking up the closeness, told Ray that this was something his friend was enjoying immensely.

Almost of their own volition his hands roved the smooth expanse of Bodie's back, stopping to finger the deep scar above the left shoulder blade. Perhaps that protective instinct wasn't so far misplaced, Doyle considered as he recognized the deep indentation in Bodie's otherwise perfect flesh for the knife wound it was. Obviously, there was cause for concern.

Overcome with emotion, Doyle bent to place a kiss atop the feather soft hair. All he wanted to do was hold Bodie like this and keep him safe forever.

"Mmmm," Bodie murmured. "Ray, may I touch you?"

Not without an invitation, he seemed to hear Bodie's oath whisper through his mind.

"Please," Ray's reply was immediate, uncluttered by doubt or hesitation, as was his body's response when his partner tongued the nipple that Bodie's cheek was resting closest to.

What Bodie did to him after that . . . he'd read about experiences which transcended the boundaries of normal perceptions. Ray had undergone some of the darker means by which this could be accomplished in Van Cleef's bed, but never did Doyle believe pleasure could have the same mind-boggling effect. Where Van Cleef's acts had driven him deep and tight into himself, Bodie's ministrations seemed to unwrap him to the universe. Bodie pleasured him with lips and tongue, relaxing him, unfurling him. Starburst after starburst of ecstasy sparked through his nerves, each opening up new levels of feeling. His senses reeling like a galaxy hurtling through the void, Ray was nevertheless aware of everything. Each touch Bodie gifted him with was as individual as a gem crystal.

He blushed at some of the places Bodie put his tongue on the journey up and down his front, but not once did it occur to Doyle to stop. And when at last his companion reached the area most desperately craving Bodie's attention, there could be no question of halting.

Bodie's hot mouth engulfed him and Doyle's mind just flew. There was a galaxy birthing inside him, newborn stars shooting up nerve fibres too miniscule to hold their energy, ripping their way through him in a pleasure so fierce it was painful. Out of control, he bucked under Bodie's mouth, almost as if his body were struggling to free itself from the wet suction. For an eternity everything stilled, held there on the apex of creation, then all those new stars moved at once. No mortal could survive the intensity of such an experience. Doyle felt his world burst, his body liquefy.

Vaguely, Doyle heard himself voice a tiny sound, part whimper, part plea. The cry echoed through him, coming as it did with that cosmic immolation. The liquid galaxy spurted out in five powerful gushes. Bodie drank down the stars and released his limp organ afterwards, climbing up the mountain of cushions to gather him close.

Reality was slow in returning. Doyle clung to the sweaty body beside him, needing its physical presence to anchor him to the here and now.

He blinked up at the sweaty man beside him, still too overcome for words. His lips found their counterparts and within seconds Ray was drowning in those dizzy depths again.

Bodie broke away, quite abruptly. "Whoa, mate. Slow down."

Doyle prevented his friend from slipping free of his embrace. Only then did he feel what his befogged senses had veiled, the steel-hard shaft jutting into his thigh.

"Don't," he commanded, as Bodie tried to squiggle away. "My turn."

Bodie's smooth flesh was sheened with sweat. The large droplets of glistening liquid were prisms in the flickering firelight. The face that Doyle was so used to seeing laughing was creased with strain, Bodie's thick muscled body hard and tight with tension.

Abruptly, Doyle remembered that his partner had been fully aroused before they'd sorted out the cushions. He eyed the distended organ with its flaring, moist head. The scarlet colouring was almost angry looking. And the huge purple vein down its side was throbbing a tattoo of want above Bodie's tight-drawn balls; Bodie was long past ready. Pleasure had surpassed pain and was now approaching torture.

Still buoyed by Bodie's lavish generosity, Doyle would have liked to reciprocate. He craved the opportunity to linger and give his partner the same cherished gift he'd received. Besides, still uncertain himself, he would have appreciated the chance to go slow.

But such was not to be. From the look of things, one touch would finish his friend.

Unwilling to be denied at least a modicum of foreplay, Doyle lightly ran his hands down Bodie's incredibly smooth, slick chest.

Driven beyond the possibility of restraint, the larger man's hips bucked helplessly up at him as an incoherent cry escaped Bodie's tight-clenched lips.

"Don't worry, mate. I've been told I've got a talent for this," Ray forced the assurance from his suddenly dry mouth as he bent his head toward Bodie's swollen shaft, which was so desperate in its need.

The scent of musk and sweat rising from his friend's heated groin sent his senses swirling. Time was when Doyle would have gagged at the very smell of arousal, but strong as it was, there was a clean earthiness to Bodie that Ray couldn't equate to his previous experiences. His partner was a rain-washed field of wildflowers to Van Cleef's open cesspool. Smelling the tang of Bodie's arousal made Ray want to get closer, not pull away and vomit in revulsion.

Always, going down on someone had been the hardest act required of Doyle in his months of imprisonment. Horrible and painful as being fucked was, it was easier in some ways. While being buggered, he could be a passive victim. All Doyle need do was kneel, lie, or stand where ordered and suffer through it. But in fellatio, he was an active partner to his own humiliation, having to work to bring off his abusers had made the shame all the more biting. On a physical level, his captors would hurt him worse when they took his arse, but the pain in fellatio had been mostly mental. Sometimes even now Ray could hear Van Cleef's mocking croon telling him that he was a natural born cock-sucker.

And now for the first time, Ray was voluntarily taking another man's cock into his mouth. The mental transition from victim to willing participant didn't come as easily as he'd hoped it would. There were just too many memories to overcome.

It shouldn't be an issue, Ray told himself. He'd sucked cock hundreds of times, for men he despised. Doing Bodie should have been easy, but . . . Doyle looked at that angry red cock and everything in him just froze up again. All he could think about at that moment was how many times he'd nearly choked on organs that looked just like that one. He couldn't . . . .

"You don't have'ta, Ray," Bodie's voice, thick and gruff with frustration called him back from the scary place his mind had retreated to. "Just let me go and I'll . . . . "

Take care of it himself, Doyle's mind completed. Bodie would just crawl away and get himself off, after giving Ray the best sex he'd ever had – or the best sex he could remember having.

That was just not happening here, Doyle decided, stubbornness stepping in where courage failed.

If he could do it for Van Cleef and Miller, he could do it for Bodie, Ray told himself, getting a grip on his irrational panic. It was a cock, the same as his own. Bodie wasn't going to rape him with it or choke him with it. All it was going to take to get through this was a little bobbing, a little sucking . . . a little semen. Nothing earthshaking or painful . . . and it would mean so much to Bodie . . . .

"Don't, Ray," Bodie repeated, his right knee rising to cover his groin and block Doyle's access to the area. Bodie was needing it so bad that his fists were clenched tight in the bedding in an obvious effort to hold himself back.

Ray had never felt so loved in his life. His heart melting at Bodie's concern, Doyle appropriated one of Bodie's hands and firmly pried the tight fist open. He pressed his lips into the sweaty palm, his tongue peeking out to mischievously tickle the calloused skin. The salty taste of the droplets he absorbed shot through Doyle like a swig of whiskey. Apparently, the action had just as much effect on Bodie, who gasped like he'd been unexpectedly doused with ice water.

"Please, let me. I want to," Ray pleaded.

"You can't mean that," Bodie denied. "Not after all you've been through."

Deciding to try a different tactic, Ray began to speak in an emotionless tone, "They used to come to me when they got off duty. Three, sometimes four men. I'd suck them all off, take them in and drink their foulness down and puke my guts up afterwards. I never had any choice there, mate. They were cruel and ugly and hateful, but I had to pamper them like they were my dearest loves. I . . . hated it. Once you put my head back on straight, I never wanted to look at another bloke's privates again, never mind suck 'em. But now . . . I want to do this with you, Bodie. You gave me that freedom." Doyle paused to gather his thoughts, allowing the fingers of his free hand to trail over Bodie's nearby inner thigh. The whimper his stubborn friend gave was heart-wrenching. "All this ever was to me was humiliation, but you showed me just a few minutes ago that it can be something more. I saw your face, Bodie. You weren't revolted or shamed to do me that way, were you?"

Bodie gave a tight shake of his head and gulped. His eyes were tortured now, barely sane.

"You told me before that you wouldn't touch me without my say so. I give you that same promise. I won't force this on you, not if you really don't want me that way. Lord knows, what with the scum I've serviced, I wouldn't blame you for not wanting their leavings. Only, just so's you know, you don't disgust me the way they did. I like the way you smell . . . want to know how you taste as well. Let me love you this way, Bodie. Please?"

His argument appeared to work.

Bodie bit his bottom lip and lowered his knee, his expression still fraught with trepidation.

Doyle was once again reminded of how easy it would be for him to hurt this man, without even trying. It was clear that more than anything, even more important than Bodie's own sexual satisfaction, that it was important that Bodie be desirable to him.

Ray could feel Bodie's anxious gaze searing his face as he lowered his head once again. Doyle kept his own fears resolutely buried. He was determined not to fail his partner, no matter the cost to himself.

"Ray, we can just . . . aaahhh . . . . "

In spite of his nervousness and the near panic gripping his guts, Ray smiled as Bodie's words faded into that exclamation of incoherent pleasure. All he'd done was collect the moist shaft in his palm. It twitched like a live thing, seeming to grow just from the heat of his hand.

Bodie's musk surrounded him as he lowered his head. The gag impulse was still there, but it was manageable tonight. Though it was still male musk, it was Bodie, and somehow it being Bodie, it was more a fresh, clean fragrance of desire rather than the dirty reek of old sex. The fact that it was Bodie made it different . . . acceptable.

Ray opened his mouth and poked out his tongue to meet Bodie . . . and then gasped in shock as warm spurts of semen showered his face. Some hit his open mouth and he tasted the tangy burst of hot liquid, but most of it landed on his chin and left cheek.

"Godddd . . . .Raaaay . . . 'm sorry, so sorry . . . ." Bodie sobbed as he came, managing to look mortified even as climax took him.

Bodie was panting like a winded stallion as the shaft in Ray's palm slowly deflated. His partner had never looked so attractive. Bodie's entire body was sheened with sweat and glowing golden in the firelight. His normally handsome face had a softness to it Ray had never seen before. The red lips were still slightly parted in an expression Doyle could only define as bewildered bliss.

And Bodie was apologizing for it?

Astounded that his touch could mean so much, Ray bent down and gave the wilted cock a soft kiss.

"Oh, Ray . . . ."

"Sssssh," Doyle soothed, reaching up to stroke Bodie's beaded brow.

Bodie's hands rose to frame his face, guiding him down a bit . . . for a kiss Doyle thought, until Bodie's tongue touched him. He held totally still as Bodie carefully licked the splattered semen off his cheeks and chin. It was on the tip of his tongue to tell Bodie that he didn't have to, but the sheer joy in Bodie's expression told him it was no hardship for his companion.

Ablution completed, Ray got his kiss. It was weird to taste Bodie's semen in Bodie's own mouth, but exciting, too. They exchanged saliva until long after the need for oxygen became a pressing issue. Almost light-headed, Ray finally drew back for some much needed air.

Gulping in the pleasantly cool lungfuls, Ray stared down at the face of the man who was so comfortably cushioning him.

"God, Ray, you just touched me and I couldn't hold back," Bodie explained, still looking troubled. "Know it wasn't pleasant for you, but . . . . "

"It was perfect, just like you, mate," Ray whispered, a quiver running through him at Bodie's open vulnerability. "Only one problem, though . . . ."

"Wha's that?" Bodie asked, appearing braced for the worst.

"You went by so quick, I barely got a chance to taste you. Know a way to remedy that, though."

"Huh?" Bodie looked so relieved that Doyle hadn't voiced a complaint that Ray's actual words seemed to go over his head.

"You'll see," Doyle promised in a husky tone, leaning over to lick a bead of sweat from Bodie's well-developed pectoral muscle. Bodie's helpless gasp was all the encouragement he needed.

Never had Doyle thought that he would be glad of the skills he'd acquired in
Van Cleef's service, but tonight he found himself rejoicing in his ability to stimulate his companion. Literally inebriated by the sense of wild freedom his feelings for Bodie granted him, Ray felt many of his crippling inhibitions drop away. His fingers and lips hungrily sampled places Doyle's eyes wouldn't have dared three days ago.

Bodie's face, neck, shoulders and chest were all familiar territory after last night's explorations. Even so, Doyle treated them all as virgin ground, showering each site with kisses and caresses. Ray's insides quivered as he moved lower, more from excitement than nervousness. Bodie was so touchable, a study in contrasts: baby soft skin above hard muscle, night dark hair against near-translucent flesh.

Bodie's powerful thighs splayed apart at Doyle's first touch, Bodie seeming to offer him anything he might desire. Doyle bent to lick up the inner softness of that athletic thigh, smiling at the prolonged moan that produced. His partner was absurdly responsive to him. Bodie was responding as though he'd hungered for the smallest of these touches for years.

Which might just be the case, were even half the things he'd inferred over the past few weeks true, Doyle realized. All through the interview with Cowley yesterday, both Cowley and Bodie's attitudes had made it clear that his partner's feelings for Doyle were no secret. Bodie had all but told Ray afterward that his feelings had never been reciprocated.

What a way to live. For a man as proud as Bodie, it must have been pure hell, Doyle thought as he once again approached Bodie's shaft.

That rosy cock was already fully erect, visibly aching for his touch. Bodie was so big here that it was hard for Ray to fully master his fears. So many cocks had hurt him in so many ways that it was hard for him to trust that this one wouldn't be used as a weapon against him as well, but all he had to do was glance up at Bodie's raptured features to know who had the power here right now. For all that Bodie was turned on as hard as any man who'd ever hurt Ray, Bodie seemed almost incapable of action at the moment, so blown away was he by the experience.

Emboldened by Bodie's seeming incapacitation, Ray lent down and tentatively licked the pulsing, sweaty shaft. Salt and musk filled Doyle's senses. All of it Bodie, all of it good.

The moan that lick inspired sounded like it had been dredged from the depths of Bodie's soul.

"You okay with this, Ray?" Bodie stunned him by grunting out.

Pulling back for a much needed, clear breath, Doyle sighed, "Mmmm, Bodie-mate, you're like fine wine."

His upwards glance was caught and held by Bodie's flushed cheeks and incandescent gaze. Doyle's heart wrenched at the open yearning there. It was clear that Bodie was dying for something that he would never ask his abused mate to do for him. Spellbound by the mute plea, Ray lowered his head again, this time taking his partner fully into his mouth instead of just licking the shaft.

"Ahh . . . Christ, Ray . . . yeahhh . . . please . . . use your tongue like that . . . ahhhh . . . . " Bodie's groans filled the room as his dark head thrashed about once Ray had him fully in.

Doyle raised himself up enough for his tongue tip to trace delicate patterns up the sensitive head of the glans, punctuating his pattern with playful swipes at the loose foreskin and wet swabs from the cock's base to its tapered tip. Bodie's flavour rushed through him as he worked diligently at the other man's pleasure. Never had Ray been so absorbed or playful in this act as to use his imagination to come up with new innovations to delight his companion. Ray spared nothing, giving Bodie the full benefit of his dubious talents.

Pausing for breath, Doyle regarded the object of his ministrations – his partner's throbbing cock. Rising from its nest of sweaty dark curls in a majestic sweep, Bodie's shaft was truly something to behold. Slick with saliva, its glossy sheen glistened in the flickering orange firelight, almost an archetype of male sexuality.

Looking at it, Doyle was overcome with the absurd desire to paint Bodie's cock. The primal power it represented; the wanton, pagan beauty of its sexual declaration . . . Doyle observed it all and wasn't once touched by its threat. Even when Bodie's iron fingers locked in his curls and guided his head back down in a grip he had always loathed, Ray didn't panic. He knew whom he was with, and until Bodie gave him reason to feel otherwise, he would trust his partner not to hurt him.

"Harder . . . more . . . .yeah . . . tha's it . . . . " Bodie panted as Ray did his very best to suck his partner's brain out through his cock. And maybe he succeeded. The shocked outcry that followed Bodie's rushed words sounded pretty mindless. No thought, just a pure reaction to pleasure.

Doyle held on as the powerful body spasmed beneath him and did his best to drink down the bitter, salty out-pouring.

He had Bodie in his arms seconds after the last bit of semen sprayed his throat, with no conscious recollection as to how his partner had gotten there. Not caring about the details, Ray cuddled his armload closer. He shivered as Bodie's tongue lapped the sweat pooling in the hollow of his throat. Bodie was just so oral.

"Feels good," Doyle approved, stroking down Bodie's sleek back.

"So did that. Best ever, Ray. You okay?"

Reading the wealth of concern behind the quiet question, Doyle hugged his partner even closer. "Perfect."

"Mmmm . . . that you are," Bodie agreed around a stupendous yawn.

"'ey," Doyle called some time later, aware of how heavy the weight in his arms had grown.

Looking down, he found that Bodie's eyes were already closed, his face relaxing into the familiar blankness of sleep. His partner was totally blown away by what they'd shared.

Normally, Ray would have let his companion sleep, but the fire was already starting to burn down. Despite the afghan and cushions from which they'd made their little pleasure dome, in a few hours the sitting room floor was going to be freezing.

Not looking forward to a midnight move, Ray poked his partner and repeated in a firmer tone, "Hey!"

"Hmmm?" Bodie grumped.

"Come on, Sleepin' Beauty, your mattress and pea are awaitin' you upstairs," Doyle said, climbing to his feet and grinning at the groan Bodie gave as Ray's movements disturbed him.

Staring down at his adorably outraged, sleepy mate, it was all Doyle could do to keep his laugh in as he offered the miserable man a hand up.

Bodie took him at his offer, making Ray work to haul him to his feet, and then immediately trusting the bulk of his weight to Doyle's safe keeping as he slung an arm across Doyle's shoulders.

"Wasn't Sleeping Beauty that had the pea," Bodie mumbled.

"Huh?" Ray grunted, more in response to keeping all that weight upright than in reaction to his sleep-fogged lover's observation.

"Sleeping Beauty slept for a hundred years," Bodie explained. "She didn't have any peas."

"So who had the pea then?" Doyle demanded as they carefully navigated the chalet stairs.

"Who cares? All this talk about peein' . . . Ray, can we . . . ."

Doyle had to laugh then. He'd never seen Bodie so charmingly boyish. Totally infatuated with this hidden part of his friend, Ray detoured to the master bath.

"You going to watch?" Bodie peevishly demanded as Doyle leaned against the sink after propping his partner up in front of the commode. Bodie's beautiful hands were frozen above his penis.

It was ridiculous. They were both standing here bollocks naked. Doyle had just sucked the damn thing off, and here Bodie was fixating on his modesty like a Victorian virgin. Still, Ray knew that propriety demanded he be more conscious of his companion's preferences.

About to apologize, Ray stopped himself. He'd accompanied his mate into the bathroom mostly to assure himself that Bodie didn't do himself an injury in his exhausted state, but now that he was here, Ray found himself wanting to watch the proceedings, weird as that might seem. He knew that decorum demanded he allow his partner the same privacy that Bodie had so thoughtfully accorded him in those first few months when he was so emotionally damaged, but . . . something in Ray wanted to stay and he trusted Bodie enough to be honest about it.

Changing mental cylinders, Doyle cautiously replied, "Thought I might."

Holding his breath, Doyle waited for Bodie to balk and tell him it was indecent or something of the same.

Bodie's left eyebrow arced up, a speculative light entering his now wide-awake features. "Go in for that kinda thing, do you?"

No judgment, just simple curiosity seemed to motivate Bodie's question.

Ray felt his face heat as he tried to explain the bizarre impulse. "I . . . don't think so. 's just . . . I like watchin' you. Doesn't much matter what you're doin'."

Ray didn't know what he'd said to cause it, but his response seemed to emotionally derail the other man. The jaded air left his partner's visage, leaving behind a slightly ill at ease Bodie. It was strange. When Bodie had thought it a kink, he'd seemed totally fine with the idea. Only now did he seem off centre.

"You want me to clear out?" Ray offered, uneasy himself now.

"No," Bodie shook his head.

"Too weird for you?" Ray quizzed, wishing he'd kept his trap shut.

Seeming himself again, Bodie chuckled, aimed his cock at the bowl and let loose in a powerful stream that foamed and steamed as it hit the cooler water of the toilet.

"Nah," Bodie conversationally answered. "Some night when we've got nothin' better to do, I'll tell you about weird, mate."

Ray grinned as Bodie shook himself dry, flushed the toilet and headed toward the sink.

"What're you laughin' at?" Bodie demanded when Doyle couldn't contain his amusement any longer.

"You," Ray shook his head as he watched his partner fastidiously wash and dry his hands afterwards. "Your mum must've been proud of your manners."

"Some of us have manners, you know," Bodie groused. "You wouldn't want me comin' to bed with you with dirty hands, now would you?"

"Don't care 'bout your dirty hands, just so long as you come," Doyle joked back.

Bodie's grin was instantaneous. Worried, Ray watched it fade by slow degrees to something softer. "God, Ray. It's good to see you so . . . you."

Doyle blinked at that. Bodie thought he was acting like his old self again? As far as he could remember, he hadn't been the least bit snarky in the last few minutes. This happy, silly horsing around was how Bodie thought of his partner behaving? Beginning to rethink his opinion of his former self, Doyle answered, "It's good to be me again, especially now. Let's go to bed, mate, ey?"

"You can't possibly be suggestin' that we . . . ." Bodie's words trailed off.

Ray just raised his eyebrows and gave his partner a speculative look.

His exhaustion seemingly a thing of the past, Bodie took his hand and led him to their room.

Ray's suggestion had been voiced more for effect than out of any actual desire, but he followed his friend willingly, amazed to find himself actively anticipating whatever might develop between them.


Chapter Ten

That night Doyle slept soundlessly, and, even more importantly, dreamlessly. Not so much as a single nightmare disturbed Ray's rest. It was only his full bladder that awoke him just before dawn.

After giving the lightly snoring bundle of warmth beside him a soft kiss, Doyle slipped from the bed and crossed to the shadowed bathroom. Besides having to pee, his mouth tasted like a thoroughly used litter box.

As he brushed the foul taste from his mouth, Ray's body still seemed to be thrumming from the intimacies of last night. He was unable to believe what he'd done to Bodie, or, rather, how much he'd enjoyed doing those things to Bodie. And what his partner had done to him . . . Doyle grew hard simply remembering.

He felt reborn. Every cell in his body felt tingly and alive.

His business in the bathroom completed, Doyle padded barefoot from the room to go down and put the kettle on.

Twenty minutes later, Doyle was sitting in the centre of Bodie's unused cot, a few short feet away from the double bed in which his partner still slumbered. His legs tucked up under him, sketchpad in hand, Ray was busy attempting to capture the ephemeral sense of innocence that clung to his partner only while Bodie slept. Concentrating on that fleeting, near ineffable quality, Ray absently sipped at his tea between frenetic bursts of activity.

As ever, Doyle was struck by the sheer animal beauty of his friend: the milky white skin, so pale as to be almost translucent in places, the deep black of Bodie's impossibly long eyelashes, the feathery fall of brown hair, the impressive musculature, so strong even in repose . . .Bodie was a magnificent physical specimen.

As Ray watched, his magnificent physical specimen gave a sudden start in the bed, one hand reaching out to the empty spot on Doyle's side of the mattress.

Bodie's eyes snapped open, something close to panic gripping his features. "Ray?"

Unable to credit the open anxiety, Doyle cast his sketchpad aside and climbed back onto the double bed, "Right here, mate."

To his consternation, Bodie's distress didn't lessen any. Those sleepy blue eyes still stared at Ray as though unable to believe that Doyle were really there.

"What is it, Bodie?" Ray asked gently, reaching out to touch a black-stubbled cheek.


"You always look at me like . . . I don't know . . . like you're surprised to see me here or somethin'," Doyle cautiously explained.

"Maybe I am," Bodie's reluctance to discuss this subject was a tangible presence.

Temporarily ignoring the puzzling problem, Ray moved in to indulge in the one, sure-fire cure to all of Bodie's strange moods – a deep, open-mouthed kiss. Bodie had enjoyed it yesterday, so had he.

This morning Bodie tasted different. Yesterday's kisses at dawn had shown Bodie's mouth to be dry, but its sweet, Bodie-flavoured self. But today there was a sour, thoroughly unpleasant aftertaste that Doyle slowly realized was the residue of his own semen.

"Gawd, is that horrible taste me?" Doyle chuckled as they pulled apart, realizing only after the words were out how undiplomatic they sounded.

But Bodie just grinned. "Must be. You're the only bloke I've been having it away with lately. I take it you brushed your teeth already."

"First thing," Doyle admitted. "Thought something had died in my mouth."

Abashed, Ray recognized that he'd once again put his foot in it.

"Christ, but you're a romantic bugger first thing, Ray," Bodie laughed.

"Sorry, I . . . . " Doyle searched for a proper apology.

"It's okay," Bodie dismissed, and somehow it was okay.

"Don't know why waking up with that taste in my mouth should bother me so much," Ray admitted, settling down on the pillow beside his friend to stare at Bodie's handsome profile. "I mean, it's not like I never did it before . . . it's just . . . I don't remember it tastin' so bad the next morning."

Bodie was quiet a moment, as if debating whether he should voice his thoughts. It felt like a major victory to Ray when Bodie eventually spoke, as if Bodie now considered him stable enough to be totally honest with him.

"From the bruises those bastards left on you, you probably had a lot more than a bad taste in your mouth to think about the morning after," Bodie said.

"Yeah, I guess you're right." Knowing his lover wouldn't touch him when such memories were uppermost in his mind, Doyle hugged Bodie close to him, confident enough in their relationship now to reach out and take what he needed. The alacrity with which Bodie squeezed back told him that he'd guessed right, that Bodie had held back only on Doyle's behalf.

"Bodie?" Doyle asked after a few moments, pulling far enough away to see Bodie's eyes.


"Before – you said that I was the only bloke you'd been having it away with lately. Does that mean there've been others? Other men, I mean," he qualified. Bodie's abilities last night had indicated his friend was no stranger to same sex relationships. As the laughter seeped from his partner's face, Doyle realized he'd overstepped himself. "Sorry. That was a stupid thing to ask. It's none of my business."

The silence that followed seemed to be the longest and most tension wrought in the history of the universe.

Just about the time that Doyle was convinced that he'd ruined everything, Bodie reached out and stroked Doyle's broken cheek with his pinkie in that strangely cherishing manner that got to Ray every single time. "Of course, it's your business. You've made yourself an open book to me, told me nightmares no man should be forced to relive. It's just . . . remember last night when I told you . . . how I'd push you away when it was time to balance the scales?"

Doyle nodded, and then assured, "Bodie, you don't have to tell me anything. I was just curious, tha's all." At the glance that earned him, Ray explained, "You just seemed to know what you were doing last night. It piqued my curiosity. That's all. C'mon, let's . . . . "

Bodie snagged his elbow as he sought escape, guiding Doyle back against the pillows.

"I'm just saying it's hard for me, Ray. I . . . ahh . . . didn't come up through the police force like you did. I didn't always wear a white hat."

"I wasn't always that lily-white myself, mate," Doyle reminded. Ray tried to gentle the wariness from those magnificent blue eyes with soft caresses to Bodie's tense neck and shoulders. "I told you 'bout that gang I remembered being in and – "

"Ray, that's penny-ante stuff. Gangs and Saturday night rumbles. I was a hired killer. We prettied it up by calling ourselves soldiers of fortune, but we were the worst kind of murderers. Didn't matter who we killed or why, just so long as the money got banked."

"I'll never believe that of you. Ever," Doyle insisted. "You may have been there and done those things, but I know it could never've come easy to you."

"It did come easy, mate, far too easy," Bodie protested, looking away. "I was a born natural. The best of the best."

Doyle sighed, realizing that he was never going to win this particular argument this way. "Okay. You were the best of the best or the worst of the worst, or however you want to phrase it. Whatever you were, whatever you did, it kept you alive and got you out of that hellhole. That's the only thing that matters to me."

Bodie met his gaze with obvious difficulty. "I could tell you stories that'd straighten your curls . . . and make you hate me so much that you'd be callin' Cowley collect for your ticket home."

Bodie was serious; Doyle was stunned to realize. Tiring of the senseless debate and wondering just what the devil they were really talking about here, Ray glared down at the stubborn fool beside him. "All right. Let's have the worst of it, then. Did you ever rape or murder innocent women or children?"

The lines in Bodie's wary face grew deeper as he answered, "No, of course not. But there were some in my troop that did."

"You're only responsible for you, mate. I'm sure there were blokes on the Force with me who didn't walk the straight 'n' narrow . . . . "

"And you turned them in . . . every one of them. That was why Cowley chose you for his squad. You paid more than lip service to the rules. I . . . I never turned them in, Ray. There wasn't anyone to report them to, no one to care what we did out there, really."

Doyle absorbed that in silence for a moment. "That sounds hard."

"You don't know the half of it," Bodie evaded.

"So tell me. All of it. Let me share it with you . . . . "

"You can't share this. You wouldn't want to, truth be told."

Bodie looked so damned sure of that fact that Ray just wanted to knock that certitude right out from under him. He knew his partner. He would back Bodie to do the right thing, no matter the circumstances. Whatever this shady past was, it simply couldn't be as terrible as Bodie was making it out to be.

"Let me be the judge of that."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Bodie muttered.


"Nothin'," Bodie glanced over at the sketchpad Ray had left on the cot before meeting Doyle's gaze again. "It's ugly, Ray. I don't know where to start. You're going to have to ask me what you wanta know, 'cause there's just too much to tell."

"Let's stick to the important stuff, then." Trying to focus only on the things that mattered most, Ray asked, "Did you ever shoot someone in the back who was depending on you to protect him?"

"No," Bodie swiftly replied.

"Did you abandon your mates in the thick of things and leave 'em to die?"

Bodie grew paler. "No, but . . . . "

"No buts. This is my show," Ray snapped. "You were at war, not a Sunday picnic."

"I know, but . . . . "

"How old were you when you signed up with those mercs?" Doyle questioned, genuinely curious. Those anecdotes Bodie used to tell him in the long days before Doyle had trusted his partner enough to speak had left Doyle wondering just how old his partner was. Bodie looked his own age or younger, but the living his partner had crammed into those thirty-some odd years seemed suited to someone twice their age.

"Ahh . . . almost eighteen," Bodie answered.

"And when you got out?"

"Not quite twenty-two."

"You were nothin' but a scared kid, fer Christ's sake, doin' what you hadta to stay alive. I love you, Bodie. That's not going to change. Whether it was gun runnin' or sellin' your skills to the highest bidder . . . it doesn't make a bloody bit of difference to me. Not now, and not back when we were partners, either, I'll wager."

To Doyle's frustration, none of the wariness faded from Bodie's doubtful eyes. The larger man still looked like a trapped animal determined to gnaw its own foot off to regain its freedom. His face steeling with resolve, Bodie began in a deceptively casual tone, "You asked about my experience with other blokes. I picked most of that up over in Africa, too. None of it's pretty, Ray. Still want to hear about it?"

A warning prickle blew down Doyle's spine. Whatever Bodie had to say, the hard set of the handsome features warned Doyle that this wasn't something that he really wanted to hear. But Ray knew if he copped out now, if he drew back from whatever this unpleasantness was, that Bodie would never completely relax in their relationship. Every morning Doyle would wake up to that same, uncertain gaze as Bodie lay there waiting for the day when Doyle would figure out the ex-merc's deepest, darkest secrets and cut out on him. Not that Ray ever thought that would happen, but he didn't want Bodie living with that kind of fear.

There was also a part of Doyle, a side he rarely touched these days, that seemed to wake up and pay attention. Ray didn't know how he knew, but somehow he was certain that he had waited years to hear whatever it was that Bodie was so afraid to tell him. That side of him was quietly rejoicing, even as his conscious mind braced itself to handle some ugly information.

Consciously blanking all emotion from his face, Doyle answered, "If you want to tell me about it, I'm all ears."

"All right, but remember that I warned you."

"Bodie . . . ."

"Like you guessed, I was a green kid when I landed in the Congo. Had a headful of grand dreams. Thought I'd find adventure and romance in the Dark Continent. Those romantic illusions were ripped from me my first night in camp, along with my virginity."

Ray winced at the studied calm with which Bodie related what must have been one of the most horrible events of his life. His heart bleeding inside for the eighteen-year-old boy that Bodie had been, Ray watched his partner avert his gaze.

Bodie directed the rest of his story to the nightstand, as if unable to even bear looking in Doyle's direction while telling this tale. Ray had the distinct impression that he was probably the first person to ever hear this particular story. "We'd parachuted in. The nearest town was a two-week trek by foot through the deadliest stretch of jungle known to man. I was completely out of my depths there, Ray. There was no way I could have made it out of that jungle alive alone. I needed the others just to survive. That first night in camp, the fellows introduced me to a charming game that they play in those parts. It's not quite as refined as chess," Bodie joked darkly, "but it's a hell of a lot more interactive."

Bodie's clue about the loss of his virginity had already cued Doyle into the type of games that they were discussing here.

"What happened?" Ray gently asked.

"I was stupid, Ray. Thought it was just a wrestling match. You know, best two out of three. I ignored the 'winner take all' portion of the prologue. I was good, for an eighteen-year-old kid. But I just didn't have the ruthlessness to win first time out. I went down in under two minutes. In less than three, I was on my knees with his cock up my arse. He took me there in front of the campfire with the entire squad watching on. It was . . . quite an eye opener of an introduction."

So much so that Bodie still couldn't meet his gaze.

When he felt he could talk without losing it, Ray gripped Bodie's shoulders tight and gruffly asked, "You thought I'd hate you for this?"

His fingers were clenching Bodie's bare shoulders so hard that he knew his paler companion would have bruises there later.

"Nah, that was the part I knew you'd understand. It's the rest of the sordid mess that . . . ."

"Tell me," Ray entreated. Knowing how hard it was for his embarrassed partner to do this while staring him straight in the eye, Doyle slid around Bodie and encircled him from behind, drawing Bodie back to lean against his chest. It was like embracing a block of stone; Bodie was so tense. "Please? It can't be any worse than some of the stuff I've told you."

The reminder worked. Bodie's hand settled atop both of Doyle's where they lay with fingers laced on Bodie's flat stomach. It seemed to take Bodie a few minutes to find his voice, then the halting narration continued, "It went on that way for a few nights. A different bloke each night, same conclusion. By the time we met up with our main group four days later, I was a right nutter. Really outta my head. There was a man in the new group . . . Wallace was his name. Well . . . he wasn't as bad as the rest. He was big and blond and laughed a lot and, if I'd met him under different circumstances, we might've been mates. When one of the bunch challenged me that night, Wallace stepped in. He said it wasn't rightly a fair fight, me bein' just a green kid and all. Wallace pushed me aside and took on the challenger. I didn't realize it then, but he was staking out his claim. After that, the others left me alone and Wallace . . . I was green, Doyle. He set himself up as my protector and I was so fuckin' naïve that I didn't even know it until too late. Within a week, I was eatin' outta his hand. I did anything he asked . . . anything. He, ah, taught me most of what I did to you last night."

"Was he good to you?" Doyle asked the only important question, hugging his friend closer.

Bodie shrugged. "He didn't humiliate me by buggering me in front of the squad like the others, but I was on my knees for him every night. He made it clear if I didn't, that he'd toss me back to the pack."

Ray shuddered. "Christ, what a prick!"

"You don't know the half of it," Bodie amazed him by chuckling. "He was built like a bloody stallion."

"How long . . . ?" Doyle started to ask, before his better sense told him that Bodie mightn't be prepared to recall how long he'd endured that abuse, anymore than Ray himself was inclined to dwell on the length of time he'd suffered in Van Cleef's clutches,

But Bodie's brain operated along different lines than his did, his partner taking his question as a literal reference to their former topic, "At least ten inches, maybe more."

Ray couldn't stop himself from chuckling at the indelicate response. He wasn't sure if Bodie's ability to joke about this subject was a sign of how well he'd healed over the years or just another diversionary tactic to hide how much the events still pained him. Either way, Ray kept his arms where they were and just held on. "Wasn't talkin' 'bout that, you daft bugger. How long were you . . . with Wallace?"

"'bout six months. He got blown to pieces in a mortar attack one morning. The bastards took out the jiffies."

"The what?" Doyle questioned.

"The latrines."

Doyle was quiet for a moment before asking, "So what happened to you after Wallace died?"

"I was back in the Game again. Only, this time I knew what the stakes were. I'd toughed up in that six months with Wallace. He liked to work out and practiced with me, so I was fitter than ever. Wallace had taught me a few dirty tricks, too. If he'd lived, chances were that I'd've been challenging him myself within the year. Don't know about that for sure, though. Like I said, he wasn't really all that bad to me."

It was on the tip of his tongue to challenge Bodie's claim, to point out that the guy had extorted a young kid into a predatory sexual relationship and used Bodie like a sex toy, but for once Doyle's better sense prevailed and he held his tongue.

What point would there be in making Bodie feel bad about the events now? If telling himself that Wallace wasn't so bad to him made the entire humiliating situation more acceptable to Bodie, who was he to destroy those illusions? And, for all he knew, the guy might've been okay to Bodie. There was a note of fondness in Bodie's voice when he talked about Wallace that Ray wasn't entirely comfortable hearing.

Recognizing his own response for the jealousy it was, Doyle let the entire issue drop and asked instead, "So what happened then?"

"This is the part you're not going to like," Bodie warned.

Ray didn't see how he could like anything less than the idea of some thug buggering his teenaged partner every night in exchange for protection against public rape.

"Tell me anyway," Ray urged, kissing the soft skin of Bodie's neck.

Bodie shivered, sighed, and then seemed to force himself to answer, "I, ah . . . started winning the Game. Anyone challenged me, I made sure I won, then fucked them bloody. I was . . . vicious, ruthless . . . utterly without mercy. I killed more than one man in the fight itself, Ray. Like you said, I was the worst of the worst."

Bodie became so still in his arms that even the larger man's breathing had seemed to cease.

It didn't take much in the way of brains to realize that Bodie was awaiting judgment.

Clearing his throat, Ray tried to shake free of the savagery to which Bodie had confessed. This was not something he had ever imagined of Bodie. A victimized kid, he could relate to. This was . . . hard to accept.

His Bodie had played those sadistic sex games and raped other men in public? It was something worthy of Van Cleef, not something Doyle could ever envision his gentle caretaker as getting off on. And he had no idea how to respond to the confession.

Knowing he had to say something, Doyle bluffed it out with, "You did what you had to do to stay alive, mate. I'd've done the same. So would any man."

But Bodie knew him too well. His tone strangely bleak, Bodie countered, "No, Ray, you wouldn't. At least, not the way I did it. You see, there was a part of me that . . . truly enjoyed winning those games. I took real pleasure buggering those bastards in front of the entire troop. You never would've . . . . " the words stopped, as though Bodie had realized he'd said too much.

And perhaps Bodie had.

This time it was Doyle who held still, barely able to breathe. What his friend had admitted to was both sick and sadistic. It repulsed Ray down to the very fibre of his soul. This seemed to go against everything he thought he knew of Bodie's character. Could he have been so mistaken about this man? Could this gentle, loving man really harbour the kind of monster Bodie was confessing to being?

For the first time since Bodie had rescued him, Doyle cursed his lack of memories. He wished he had some frame of reference beyond the six months he'd spent with Bodie to judge this by. His heart told him that even if this were true of Bodie twenty years ago, it was no longer true of him now, but, what did his heart really know? Every instinct Doyle possessed would have had him wager his soul that his partner could never be involved in the kind of bestial acts Bodie had confessed to. If his instincts were so far off, then how could he trust his heart any better?

Doyle didn't know how long he lay there just trying to wrap his mind around the unbelievable thing Bodie had told him. His next awareness was of Bodie breaking free of his embrace and, for all that Ray wanted to hold onto his partner, the shock of it all wouldn't allow him to.

"Too much truth, 'ey?" Bodie practically spat out, meeting Doyle's eyes this time with the look of a man who'd seen his worst nightmare given form.

It was that hard, despairing expression that shook Doyle out of his stasis. Ray reminded himself of how Bodie had insisted he wasn't going to like this, how Bodie had feared that Doyle wouldn't be able to accept this, and, with the moronic trust of an amnesiac, he had blithely assured Bodie that it wouldn't change anything.

And what had it really changed, Doyle asked himself as he met those discouraged blue eyes. Bodie was still the same man he'd woken up cuddling this morning, the same man who'd risked everything to save him.

Taking a deep breath, Ray tried to stamp down hard on his moral response to his partner's revelation. If what Bodie had confessed to was sick and sadistic, so was the world in which the innocent kid Bodie had been back then had found himself trapped. Ray knew from his own captivity that only the strongest survived in situations that horrible. After the degradation and humiliation Bodie had suffered at the hands of those bastards, was it any wonder that Bodie had enjoyed his revenge?

Doyle knew how he'd feel if given the opportunity to pay Van Cleef back for some of the degradations he'd suffered. Rape wouldn't come close to a proper revenge for Van Cleef. Disembowelment and vivisection wouldn't even do the trick. If he, as an adult, weren't able to control his hatred in a civilized manner, how could an eighteen-year-old boy who'd been so brutalized have any hope of making a better showing? Who was he to judge Bodie when Doyle's hatred for his own abuser made him equally bloodthirsty?

"It's all right, Bodie," Doyle whispered, meeting and holding that troubled gaze.

"Is it?" Bodie challenged. "We're talkin' rape and murder, sunshine."

"Manslaughter, not murder," Ray corrected, not sure where that piece of information came from. "Besides, it was self-defence. Your opponents would've raped or killed you if given the chance."

And somehow, that knowledge made what Bodie had told him a little easier to handle. They weren't talking about decent, upstanding citizens here, but degenerates that would rape a young boy in public and call it a sport.

"I made damn sure they never got the chance again," Bodie told him. "When I knew I couldn't beat them in a fair fight . . . I-I made sure I killed them in the first few minutes. It was premeditated, Ray, straight down the line."

As he stared into Bodie's tortured eyes, Ray realized that Bodie had already judged himself far more harshly than anyone else would have. His mind at a loss as to how to proceed here, Ray's heart stepped in and handled it. "Look, did you ever issue those challenges?"

"What?" The look Bodie was giving him could only qualify as a glare.

"Did you ever challenge one of those rats first or make a move on some green kid?" Doyle asked, almost afraid of the answer he might receive. A man pushed to his emotional extremes often gave as bad as he got, and, although Doyle couldn't imagine Bodie preying on some innocent kid, after what Bodie had been put through, it wouldn't particularly surprise Doyle. Men tried to regain their lost self-esteem in strange ways, sometimes by trying to reclaim it by becoming the very bastards who had stolen it from them in the first place.

"As far as the pack was concerned, if they left me alone, I left them alone," Bodie said. "I only ever challenged two of them . . . after they'd tried the Game on some wet-behind-the-ears kid who was already pissin' his trousers over the mistake he'd made in getting involved with that outfit."

"You stepped in to protect them?" Doyle glowed with relief, having known all along in his heart what his Bodie was made of.

"Yeah, I played the White Knight. Had to kill the challenger in both cases, but I spared the kids that first night initiation," for some reason, the words sounded like another confession.

Not understanding Bodie's marked hesitation, Doyle asked, "So what are you acting so ashamed of, then?"

"Ray, you don't know what it's like out there. I didn't do those lads any favours by stepping in. I knew neither of them had a snowflake's chance in hell of going up against a veteran fighter and winning, not when they didn't understand what was truly at stake, but I might've been wrong. If I hadn't interfered, maybe one of them would have won."

"What does it matter? You spared them that," Ray argued.

"I spared them nothing. All I did was give them a different role to play," Bodie countered, looking both weary and sick at heart, like he was trying to explain something incomprehensible to Doyle in a language that didn't have words to relay the concept. The world Bodie was describing was so alien to Ray that he didn't doubt for a minute that it must feel that way to Bodie. For the first time, he began to understand why Bodie had remained so silent about these things for so many years, even though Bodie fully understood that his reticence had kept him from gaining Doyle's complete trust.

Still not understanding what Bodie was trying to tell him, Ray brilliantly enquired, "Huh?"

"Ray, kids like that . . . unless they can win the Game or find a protector, they end up being passed around the camp like a pack of smokes. I set myself up as their protector, killed to keep others off 'em . . . that wasn't a passive role or philanthropic act. There aren't any fairy godmothers in the jungle and I was no altruist."

Slowly, Bodie's meaning penetrated Doyle's disbelief. "You mean you . . . ."

Bodie's jaw tensed, his lips straightening to a hard, white-rimmed gash in his face. "I never forced either of them. Didn't haveta. The others let 'em know what was expected of them, what would happen if they didn't spend their nights in their protector's tent."

"Just out of curiosity," Doyle asked, a cold, disillusioned edge, audible to even himself, creeping into his tone, "what would've happened to them if they didn't . . . repay their debt to you?"

Bodie's features were like stone, but there was still a haunted cast to his eyes that made it plain that Bodie believed that he'd already lost Doyle's respect, in addition to anything else Ray might've felt for him.

Though that look hurt Ray, he was too disgusted at the moment to do anything to ease it.

As though resolved to get through the worst of it, Bodie started speaking again, "When I first joined up, there was a kid named Jerry there. He was only a year or so older than me. A bloke had stepped in for him in the Game his first night out. His protector wasn't an animal, but he wasn't an especially nice guy, either. The kid came to him that night to thank his benefactor, but said that, although he appreciated what Jones, that was the older bloke's name, had done for him, he didn't want to sleep with him. Jones just said fine and let Jerry walk away."

"What was so wrong with that?" Doyle asked, thinking that that was what Bodie or any other honourable man should have done in similar circumstances.

"Nothing was wrong with it, except Jones didn't warn the kid. By letting the older bloke step in for him, Jerry had demonstrated that he wasn't man enough to fight his own battles. He lost the troop's respect. After that, the pack wasn't going to approach Jerry man to man. There would be no more challenges . . . ."

"What's so bad about that?" Doyle interrupted, still not understanding.

"The Game's no joy, Ray, but it's a fair fight. One on one, winner takes all. Jerry didn't have that protection anymore. It wasn't just one man did him his first night in camp. Jerry's first night there, four men visited his tent. All of them had both his arse and his mouth. The next morning, Jerry went to Jones, begging him to let him sleep in his tent with him, but the prick told Jerry that he didn't like shop-soiled goods. He kicked the kid out. When I arrived, Jerry had been there a year . . . and every night at least three guys had him. The night Wallace stepped in for me, it was Jerry who convinced me that I should go to Wallace and be whatever I had to be to stay in his tent."

"My God . . . . " Ray stuttered, unable to believe that anyone could survive three years in that kind of vipers' nest as Bodie had claimed to have done. Hearing the truth, it was little wonder to Doyle that Bodie had never confided in his partner before. "So, ah . . . what did you do when your, er . . . wards showed up?"

"What do you want, Doyle, explicit blow by blow details, fer Christ's sake?" Bodie demanded, calling him Doyle as he only did when perturbed with him.

"You said you didn't force them," Doyle reminded. Not knowing why, he was somewhat calmed by Bodie's bluster. Perhaps because it revealed how none of this came easily to his friend. It was obviously something Bodie was far from proud about.

"I told each in his turn that he could spend the night in either my bed or on the tent floor, but if they knew what was healthy for them, they wouldn't leave until daylight."

Doyle waited silently for the rest. He didn't want to push again, but he needed to know all of it.

After a moment of staring at him, as though awaiting judgment, Bodie continued with, "Jeff was the first. He spent three months sleeping on my tent floor before he stopped a bullet. Ken came to my bed his first night in camp. He was a terrified kid who needed a teddybear to cling to. Barring that, he settled on me. He bought it two weeks later."

"Ah," Doyle managed, his throat too tight to risk anything more.

"Is that all you have to say?" Bodie demanded, appearing terrified and furious in equal measures.

"No. I'm . . . sorry that you had to go through all that. You were just a kid and you didn't deserve any of it."

"That's it? You're sorry?" Bodie questioned in a sceptical tone.

"Yeah. I'm sorry it happened and even sorrier that you never trusted me enough to confide in me before. You should have done. You're not at all the monster you paint yourself to be."

Bodie averted his gaze again, "It sure isn't anything to be proud of, Ray."

The raspy admission melted Doyle.

"Maybe not," Ray replied, "but what you made of yourself after that kinda start – that is something to be proud of. And, may I remind you, that if it wasn't for that shady past of yours, I'd be dead or languishing away in some nutter's clutches."

"How do you figure that?"

Ray crawled closer to the naked man huddled on the far side of the bed and gently guided Bodie's chin up. "You told me yourself that it was your contacts from your mercenary days that got you the cash to buy my freedom. And it was the Bodie who was born in those jungles that rescued me, who stood unarmed amidst an army of villains, ready to take them all on for my sake. So, don't go regretting that past too much, mate."

So close to those passion-reddened lips. Doyle couldn't resist the allure. His mouth moved of its own accord to claim Bodie's.

After his reassuring words, the action shouldn't have come as any surprise to Bodie, but Doyle could feel Bodie's shock in the tense body he held. It was almost as if after all Ray had said, Bodie still expected rejection.

Ray pulled back far enough to stare into those shadowed blue eyes. "What's it going to take to get you to believe in me, sunshine?"

The tender exasperation in his tone brought a smile to Bodie's face. "I believe in you . . . now."

"I don't think I like the sound of that qualifier," Doyle complained.

"Where'd you learn a word like that?" Bodie demanded, his smile forced, but there.

"Bodie . . . . " Ray warned, unwilling to be sidetracked. "What did you mean?"

Both of Bodie's hands rose to frame Doyle's face, his ring and pinkie fingers stroking gently over the mismatched cheekbones. "I know you love me. Right now you'd forgive me almost anything, but when you get all your marbles back . . . . "

"When I get all my marbles back, I'm going to throttle you with them," Doyle promised, frustrated enough to shake some sense into his lover. "Anyway, accordin' to you, there's only one Doyle, so you don't have anything to worry about." At Bodie's expression, he added, "You can't have it both ways, sunshine. Either you're right and I'm the one and only or . . . ."

"Or nothin'. You're the one and only." Bodie's right hand left Doyle's cheek to playfully ruffle his chestnut curls. "My one and only."

Warmed by the atypically sentimental admission, Ray kissed his companion again, a deep and thorough exploration, after which he pushed Bodie back onto the pillows and rolled on top of him.

"Ugggh," Bodie chuckled. "You've put on weight, mate." As Doyle leaned in for another kiss, Bodie's hands intercepted his shoulders, halting the oral contact. "If we're going to carry on like this, I better brush my teeth."

"Later," Doyle dismissed, too excited by the press of their lower bodies to consider disengaging for anything short of a major catastrophe. He hungrily sought the mouth in question, not caring what flavoured it. Being turned on like this, feeling confident enough to indulge it without worry was a freedom he was still unaccustomed to.

"Ray," Bodie weakly protested after an interval of breathless exploration.

"Later," Doyle growled, reclaiming Bodie's mouth with gusto.

Bodie groaned as Doyle moved to feast on the white skinned neck. Ray's hand stroked over the impressive musculature of the taut nippled chest, pausing to carefully squeeze the pebble hard buds until Bodie was crying out loud from the pleasure of it.

"God, Ray . . . ." Bodie gasped.

Unable to credit how little effort it took on his part to turn this fierce warrior into a quivering heap of protoplasm, Doyle slowly worked his way down the other man's body, caressing, stroking and nibbling until he reached his partner's steamy groin. The scent of Bodie's musk was heavier than last night, which only made sense, since neither of them had showered yet.

Though Bodie's scent was strong, Doyle wasn't particularly bothered by the smell today. On Bodie, it was a pleasant aroma, that filled Ray with hot longing instead of the normal disgust. That earthy aroma of Bodie was fast becoming one of the constants of his universe, Doyle acknowledged.

With no hesitation at all, Ray palmed Bodie's pulsing cock. A few, well-timed squeezes brought Bodie up to his full, impressive size. Even last night Doyle had experienced some lingering trepidation, but not this morning.

His heart was so touched by Bodie's sad history that there was hardly any thought of himself in Ray's actions. All he wanted was to soothe and reassure. Today all he smelt, tasted and knew was Bodie . . . the patient companion who had brought him back from the Gates of Hell. The unpleasant parts of the tale Bodie had told were still troubling, but they were the story of another man, not his gentle lover. Staring up into that passion-dazed handsome face, which even now seemed to show traces of disbelief that Doyle would want to touch him this way after hearing the truth, Ray resolved never to let what Bodie told him make a difference between them. He would trust his lover until given reason not to. And in his heart, Ray firmly believed that Bodie would never give him cause to doubt him.

"Ray . . . oh, God, yes, please, right there . . . . " Bodie pleaded as Doyle's mouth moved lower.

He took in the straining shaft in a single suck, Bodie's rich, salty flavour tanging through him like the purest malt scotch. Sucking the way Bodie seemed to like it best, Doyle lightly trailed his fingers up and down his lover's inner thighs, delighting in the gasps that earned him. When he thought Bodie'd had enough of that, he quit petting there and claimed the mossy balls for his own, rolling them between his fingers with growing skill.

Within moments, Bodie was grunting with pleasure. Doyle glanced up from his work to find Bodie's eyes clenched shut, his face contorted with pleasure. He returned his full attention to what he was about, sucking that pulsing shaft like he'd worked his favourite cherry lollies as a kid . . . which was probably the first flashback that hadn't upset him.

Doyle felt Bodie's body still beneath him, and then with a surprised sounding outcry, climax claimed his lover. Although it still freaked him out to feel hot semen spraying the back of his throat, Ray hung on and drank Bodie down till he was dry. Only then did his mouth release the flaccid cock.

Tasting the same horrid flavour in his mouth that had been there this morning, Doyle grinned. Obviously, this was something he was going to have to get used to. The sheer adoration shining from Bodie's satisfied blue eyes ensured that this was something he was going to be doing as often as possible.

Venting a satisfied sigh, Ray pulled back and climbed up to lie beside his partner.

Bodie's left arm and leg settled comfortably across him, their hairy legs resting against each other with charming familiarity.

"God, Ray, that was fantastic," Bodie said in a hushed tone a few minutes later, looking as if it had taken him that long to return to reality from wherever Ray's touch had sent him.

"Good," Doyle yawned, ready for a nap. He smiled softly as Bodie showered each of his facial features with lazy kisses.

After a few moments of that, Bodie's hand stroked down Doyle's bare chest, fingertips lightly breezing across Doyle's sweaty genitals.

"What about you, mate?" Bodie sleepily enquired as his fingers moved in for a more up close and personal exchange.

What Bodie was doing felt damn good. Sighing, Ray stretched out on his back and lightly ruffled the dark hair on Bodie's forearm. "Did I tell you that you've got beautiful hands?"

"Didn't haveta, did you?" Bodie replied, the hands in question demonstrating that they were more than just a pretty face, mixed metaphors be damned.

Face . . .hands . . . all Doyle knew was that those fingers were lethal in their capacity to excite.

"How's that?" Ray tried to stay focused, but the pleasure jolting through him was totally distracting.

"I was born tall, dark and handsome . . . and engagingly modest," Bodie joked.

The attempt was painfully forced, but Doyle appreciated the effort Bodie was making. That little reminiscence had shaken them both.

"First thing I noticed 'bout you was that modesty of yours, mate," Doyle sassed back, arching up like a cat as Bodie's fingers introduced his balls to new levels of delight.

"Shift up a bit, Ray," Bodie suggested after a few moments of that incredible torment, guiding him up onto his knees. Doyle watched in bemusement as his partner dragged all the pillows together until they were in a mound. Then Bodie lay across them, his body positioned so that his mouth was on a level with Doyle's aching groin.

Ray could barely draw in breath as he deduced his lover's intent. His insides clenched with delight as Bodie reached for him.

"Chrisst . . . Bodiee . . . . " he moaned, his fingers digging deep into Bodie's shoulders as his hips bucked forward to meet that open mouth.

Doyle knew he'd gone too long feeling nothing. In the six months he'd been in Van Cleef's clutches, Ray had had more sex than ten men did in their entire lifetimes, but all of it had been forced and painful, and he'd hidden from it . . . hidden so well that nothing they did could touch him, buried himself so deep that he'd become lost inside himself. These last few days, Bodie had been finding that lost man, coaxing him out of his numbing shell with tenderness, teaching him to trust in a lover again enough to feel. And now that he was feeling, Ray was blasted away by the ferocity of the sensations.

Bodie was like nothing he'd known. His amnesia aside, Doyle's body was telling him that what Bodie was giving him was unique. Ray was certain that even if he'd had his full memories, Bodie's loving would be something special. Perhaps he was delusional and the extreme reaction he was having to Bodie was just a natural response to coming out of such a long dry spell, but Ray's instincts kept insisting that no one had ever spent the kind of time kissing and caressing him that Bodie lavished upon him as a matter of course.

He could barely breathe, his body was reacting so hard as he knelt there and pumped into Bodie's bobbing mouth. Doyle's heart was pounding like he'd made the track to Anna's at a dead run in this lethally high altitude, the sweat that was pouring off him only confirming that impression. And the sensations sizzling along his nerve paths . . . Doyle knew his body had never felt this much pleasure.

His hips bucked forward in a wild, primal rhythm as Doyle pounded into Bodie's all too willing mouth, burying his throbbing dick deep in Bodie's throat. The liquid heat was sheer heaven, the best feeling Doyle had ever known. Bodie's teeth never even grazed him as he fucked that beautiful mouth like it had been built to handle this kind of action.

The intensity of his release frightened Ray in some ways, for he never wanted to be out of control and hurt someone during sex as his captors had hurt him, but Bodie seemed to be encouraging his abandon. Those large hands were cupping the cheeks of his arse, pulling Doyle forward and in deep, then hauling Ray further back with each withdrawal so that Ray would have that much more ferocity behind him when he slammed back in. Those fingers squeezed and kneaded Doyle's butt as Ray flew higher and higher.

The action wasn't lost on Doyle. He'd noticed an emerging pattern over the last few days. Bodie would wait until Ray was mindless with wanting before he would dare a touch to Doyle's posterior . . . and touch it Bodie always did, with a look of longing on his handsome face that just about ripped Doyle's heart out. Ray knew what his partner wanted, and was equally certain that Bodie would die before asking for it.

Bodie would never ask . . . which meant he should offer . . . only, everything was just moving too fast. A month ago the idea of voluntarily sucking off another man would have been unthinkable, yet for the past two days now, Ray had been blissfully fellating his friend. Instinct told Ray that it would be the same with that. No matter what, Bodie would never hurt him . . . only, Doyle couldn't even face the thought of taking a cock up his arse again, let alone make any kind of invitation along those lines. Yet he loved Bodie and wanted to make him happy.

It was all moving too fast, all happening too quickly to assimilate. Sex with Bodie was like one of those amusement park rides where they twirled you around in a centrifuge until you no longer knew which way was up or down, or what was right and wrong. It was all just a dizzying swirl of pure sensation. Like now. All there was was the unmitigated joy of riding Bodie's mouth. It was such a pure, primitive delight that nothing else mattered. Those powerful hands taking up their proprietary holds on his butt cheeks, the well-timed squeezes . . . it was all just a part of this fierce and crazy ride Bodie was taking him on.

Ray was so far gone that reason had left him. He knew he was slamming into Bodie's mouth far more forcefully than he ought to be, and it didn't matter. Nothing did except the wildfire sparking through his loins. Doyle knew nothing would ever feel this intense or good again in his entire life. You only reached peaks like this once, and this was his chance for it, so he was going to grab it. Ray fully believed that it didn't get any better than this . . . couldn't get any better . . . and then, as had happened so many times in the last three days, Bodie showed him different.

Doyle was going at it like one of those porn idols who could pump it out like this for hours, dancing on the edge of climax, without crashing over. Then something happened that toppled the scales . . . something that had no right to take him over the top as it did.

Ray was lost in the sensation, fucking Bodie's mouth with a carelessness he had no business displaying when Bodie's right hand shifted infinitesimally on his butt cheek. As Ray slammed in again, Bodie scrambled to get a better grip. Instead of remaining chastely on the rounded globe of his posterior, Bodie's fingers dipped down between the dark, sweaty crease between his cheeks for the very first time.

The gesture was purely accidental. Ray could tell by the scared look that touched Bodie's face as Ray pulled back in the natural pattern of thrust/withdrawal.

Their eyes met.

Doyle was panting so hard he couldn't take in enough oxygen to clear his senses to get a rational thought in. His only awareness was that there was no fear here at the moment.

The hot glitter of Bodie's eyes told him that his lover was almost as gone as he was. Only, Bodie was coherent enough to be watching him, no doubt trying to judge Doyle's response.

Their gazes still locked, Ray saw his partner's face fill with resolve.

Looking like he expected his entire world to explode at any second, Bodie deliberately dipped his middle finger deep into that dark rift between Doyle's cheeks. Like a homing missile, that slender digit hit its target on its first sweep.

The rockets that went off following Bodie's finger's initial probe into forbidden territory turned into an all out nuclear blast as the wide pad brushed across Doyle's tight puckered sphincter. His system reached critical mass and melted into a zillion bursts of radiant energy that was so far beyond a simple orgasm that it didn't even belong in the same category. That was all she wrote. Every neuron Ray Doyle owned spasmed and shorted out under the fireball of unexpected ecstasy that blazed through him.

Bodie's head lowered and sucked him in again at that vital instant and Ray was coming and coming and coming . . . .

His semen geysered forth like it would never stop, while Bodie drank him down like a man dying of thirst in a desert who'd stumbled into an oasis. Bodie sucked, Doyle came . . . and then Ray felt his calves being splattered behind him as the propped up body that was curled around him reached a second climax.

The truth that Bodie's finger had taught him was something Doyle wasn't prepared to accept, but he couldn't refute it, not as he fell forward and hunched there on all fours just trying to drag in enough air to survive the next few minutes. Pleasure like that didn't lie. That one little finger just brushing him there had left him so wiped out that he couldn't even breathe right, let alone think straight.

"Christ, mate," Bodie gasped out from where his head was folded somewhere between Doyle's thighs and bent over chest.

It was a statement of how blown away Ray was that, even though he understood that the position had to be uncomfortable for his partner, he was too far gone to do anything about it at the moment.

Left on his own, Bodie managed to squiggle his squashed face out from the vice of Doyle's body. Bodie didn't move far, though. He just shifted far enough back to breathe, and then collapsed beside Doyle.

Ray's eyes were clenched shut as he knelt there almost in panic, struggling to accept what his extreme response to Bodie's finger revealed about him.

Bodie's hand gently stroked over Doyle's spine and flanks. Ray could tell from Bodie's bellows-like gulps for air that his partner was still too far gone to be too aware of Ray's crisis. It was almost as though Bodie's hand sensed Ray's mood and offered comfort of its own accord.

Ray shivered in something that was definitely not repulsion as that palm swept over his butt in the course of its travels. There was nothing overtly sexual in Bodie's gesture; it was simply a comfort thing.

To Ray's consternation, his reaction was anything but oblique. His climax had blasted his cock into the stratosphere, taking all of its innards with it in that transformative climax . His shaft should have been hanging there like an empty sock. What his cock had absolutely no business doing was filling up and coming to attention at the mere brush of Bodie's hand in that no trespass zone.

"You okay, Ray?" Bodie questioned, sounding much more himself.

"Yeah," Doyle answered, knowing he sounded too sharp, but having no way to keep his irritation from flavouring his response.

Aware that if he didn't demonstrate his well being soon that there'd be more questions, and possibly more touches to that traitorous area, Doyle forced himself up into a sitting position. A couple of deep breaths, and he thought he could dare Bodie's gaze.

Doyle needn't have agonized so, his shagged out mate looked seconds away from sleep. Little wonder. Bodie had had two orgasms in less than an hour.

"You goin' back to sleep?" Ray asked, praying that he didn't sound too hopeful.

"Thought I might," Bodie yawned. "You mind?"

"Nah, thought I'd work on that landscape for a while, catch the fall colours in the mornin' light," he extemporized. Hating the fact that he didn't have the discipline to resist that sleepy smile, Ray bent down and deposited a soft kiss to Bodie's forehead. His partner was asleep before Doyle's lips left the smooth, warm skin.

Disturbed by what else he mightn't be able to resist, Doyle pried himself from the bed and headed for the shower.


Chapter Eleven

Aside from the occasional popping of a burning log in the hearth, the rustle of turning papers, or the steady scratch of a paintbrush across canvas, the sitting room was silent.

Bodie sat on the couch, trying to concentrate on the mass of papers Cowley had left for him, but his gaze kept creeping back to his partner. Ray was totally engrossed in his work, completely oblivious to everything but colour and shape.

They'd been in here since early this afternoon, working on their separate projects, not speaking much, but highly aware of each other on a physical level after this morning's loving. The picture window and everything behind it was now nothing but a field of black, reflecting their images back into the brightly lit room. His stomach was beginning to remind him that it was long past time for dinner, but Bodie was too caught up in watching Ray to pay those hunger pains much mind.

He was still in awe of his partner, unable to believe what had passed between them this morning. His darkest secrets were now out in the open. Ray knew all about his past now, and he was still here. Ray hadn't bolted from him, hadn't judged him as the monster Bodie had branded himself for decades. His partner had been shocked and upset as any decent human being would have been at the exposure of such savagery, but Ray had stayed. More than that, Ray had laid him down and loved him like he was still worthy of affection and care. It was the tenderness Ray had shown him more than anything that had gotten to Bodie.

"You're burning a hole down the side'uv my face," Ray remarked into the silence.

"Sorry," Bodie said, forcing his gaze back to the security documents, but within minutes, he was staring at those long, loose curls again.

Ray's brow puckered in a frown and then he turned to look at him.

Bodie felt his cheeks warm. Yesterday, he would have given Doyle an amused grin at being caught again, but he felt unaccountably shy around Ray since this morning. Unconsciously holding his breath, Bodie waited to be politely asked to leave the room so that the artist could work in peace, but after a moment, Ray gave him a smile and asked, "You hungry?"

Bodie swallowed hard and nodded.

"Help me clean my brushes?" Ray peeked up at him from under his lashes.

"Sure," he agreed, that look constricting his heart. He stowed his papers safely out of harm's way and moved to take the jarful of soaking brushes to the kitchen sink, conscious of Ray's heat beside him all the way. Quickly and efficiently putting to good use the turpentine that sat next to the dish liquid on the sink, Bodie cleaned the paint off a rainbow variety of brushes.

Ray must be doing an autumnal piece, Bodie thought, judging from the rusts, golds, and oranges he worked out of the soft bristles.

While he dealt with the cleanup, Doyle quickly assembled a variety of leftovers from the refrigerator.

"Cold chicken, carrots, and potato salad okay?" Ray asked, dumping the jar of carrots into a small pot for reheating.

"Uh huh," Bodie absently agreed, concentrating on working a clump of Indian Red out of a fan brush.

When he was done and the brushes were all neatly drying upside down in their jar on the counter, Ray replaced him at the sink to carefully wash off his hands with turpentine and soap, doing things backwards as usual. Washing the hands was supposed to come first, before touching the fridge and every surface in the kitchen.

Bodie automatically moved to the stove to start heating the veggie. He felt a small smile touch his lips as he noticed the burnt sienna paint streaking the handle of the little aluminum pot. Ray's toothbrush handle was a multicolored spectacle these days as well. Bodie supposed that he was lucky his cock wasn't speckled with paint at this point.

In a few short moments, they were sitting down across from each other at the small cedar table between the kitchen and sitting room. Bodie stared down at his plate as he attacked his food. He tried to keep his gaze off Ray, but that was like trying to keep himself from breathing.

After a few minutes of companionable munching, puzzlement touched Ray's features.

"Are you all right?" Ray asked.

"Yeah. Why?" Bodie answered too fast.

"You've been awful quiet," Ray said.

"Have I?"

"Yeah," Ray's gaze was level, the concern in it unmistakable.

All Bodie wanted to do was run. He waited for the inevitable barrage of questions that always came when he felt backed to the wall like this, but aside from watching him, Ray made no further fuss.

They finished eating in the slightly heavy silence and then cleaned up the dishes together. Their wordless routine went a long way in soothing Bodie's ruffled nerves. Nothing was different. This was the way they'd cleaned up every night since Ray had started to come out of his shell. It was like this morning's bombshell had never happened.

As he dried off the last plate, Bodie wondered if this was what a stable relationship felt like. He'd only had two lovers in his life who'd hung around long enough to be contenders. Marika and Jimmy Keller. Marika had been more about chemistry than commitment, and Keller . . . well, the less he thought about Jimmy, the better.

"You want to call it a night?" Ray asked.

Bodie glanced at the kitchen clock. It had almost gone nine thirty. "Sure, why not? I'll close up down here."

Ray gave him the same kind of bone melting smile he had last night and then headed up the stairs.

Bodie took his time locking up. When he returned to their room, Ray was in the shower, no doubt trying to work stray paint splatters out of his curls. Bodie had given up the hope of ever seeing his mate in solid coloured clothes again. Everything Ray owned these days looked like a Jackson Pollock print.

He popped into the half bath across the hall to see to his own ablutions and was waiting in bed when Ray sauntered out of the master bath in a cloud of steam twenty minutes later. Ray was dressed in his blue striped pyjama bottoms – the only pair yet that wasn't dotted with paint – and a bath towel.

The warm, damp scents of Ray's shampoo and soap filled the room as Ray paused in front of the mirror to towel the water out of his long hair.

"Do you think I should cut it?" the muffled question came from beneath the moving towel and was barely comprehensible.

"Hmmm?" Bodie asked.

"My hair." Ray's pink face popped out from amidst the voluminous white folds. "Do you think it's getting' too long?"

Bodie took in the wet sheepdog look and tried to be objective, but there was nothing he loved more than feeling those long locks slide between his fingers. "I think it suites you, but if it bothers you . . . ."

Ray grinned and chuckled. "Some help you are."

Bodie found himself smiling back.

"That's better," Ray approved, dispensing with the wet towel by the expedient of dropping it on the floor as he approached the bed.

"What's better?" Bodie asked as Ray climbed in on his side.

"You've been a million miles away all day," Ray said. It wasn't voiced as a complaint, more like an observation.

Tensing inside, Bodie realized that there was no avoiding the issue. Ray wasn't his bird of the week, nor was he simply his partner anymore. As much as he'd like to, he couldn't just walk away from this kind of conversation, not without setting a very bad precedent and hurting Ray. Even if he were willing to do the first, the second just wasn't happening.

Feeling every muscle he owned turn to stone, Bodie softly offered, "A couple of thousand miles south would be more accurate."

"Ah." Ray watched him across the pillows. "The memories botherin' you?"

Doyle's warm hand settled on his bare shoulder. It wasn't a sexual touch, just a point of contact.

Those particular reminiscences always left Bodie feeling so unclean that it was a wonder to him that Ray could touch him at all. That worried green gaze was watching him, waiting. Everything in him was screaming for Bodie to run, but this was Ray. So, instead of fleeing, he did his best to answer honestly, "I . . . never told a soul about any of that stuff, Ray. Never figured anybody would hang around after hearing it."

Doyle's gaze never wavered. His voice thick with emotion, Ray pointed out, "I told you some fairly disgusting details of what happened to me. You're still here."

"That's different," Bodie dismissed.


"You didn't sign on for any of that, Ray. I . . . volunteered."

"You didn't volunteer for that nightmare. You were just a kid. You made a mistake that nearly killed you. But you got through it; that's all that matters." Ray leaned in to deposit a gentle kiss on his forehead and then gathered him into his arms.

Burying his face in the hollow of Ray's neck and shoulder, Bodie snuggled closer, his cheek resting on Doyle's wet curls as he breathed in Ray's soapy clean scent. He simply could not believe this man was real.

Ray held him that way for a very long time, stroking his back, easing his troubled nerves through sheer proximity.

This was another thing he wasn't accustomed to. There had never been anyone he could turn to for comfort like this, providing that he'd ever been man enough to admit he needed it at all. His relationship with Jimmy Keller had been the closest thing in his past to what he had with Ray, and even there, Bodie had never been able to trust enough to allow his vulnerabilities to show, even after Jimmy took that bullet for him. His caution had proven wise in the long run, for Keller had played him for a fool the same way Marika had. Even so, it would have been nice to have had this kind of closeness somewhere down the line. That Ray could offer comfort to him now, after everything his partner had been through, only proved how strong Ray was inside. Or how much Ray loved him. Either way, Bodie recognized that he was a lucky man.

When he eventually lifted his face to look up at Ray, Bodie's mouth was immediately taken in a kiss. His partner's hands tightened on his back as their mouths melded. As the kiss deepened with passion, it felt like Ray knew exactly what he needed, without his having to ask for it.

Doyle made no protest when Bodie's lips moved to his neck. Bodie loved the sensual lines of the long throat, and he loved what his mouth could do to Ray when he put it to proper use there. Within moments, Ray was moaning, his body melting in open invitation and absolute trust.

If ever Bodie had needed concrete proof that his revelations hadn't changed anything, this was it. Words of acceptance and consoling gestures could be offered for the sake of propriety, but his abused partner would never have been able to fake passion like this. If Bodie's disclosure had changed Ray's feelings for him, his touch would have revealed it.

What it did reveal was an incredible amount of enthusiasm on Ray's part. Every time they made love, it seemed to get easier. There would be fewer walls, fewer roadblocks. Tonight Ray didn't even tense as Bodie's bulkier body covered him. Ray just pulled him closer, those long fingered hands claiming his back with the same artistic flair they'd use to map out a new canvas.

While those hands moved restlessly over his back, Bodie worked his way down Doyle's front. He could have spent all night at that artfully dusted chest, but Ray kept thrusting his hips up at him in silent invitation, just begging for more attention down below. And it wasn't in Bodie to deny him anything.

Bodie's fingers followed the soft, intimate trail of hair that arrowed down the centre of Ray's flat belly. His fingertips drifted over the elastic waistband of Ray's pyjamas, lightly skimming the cotton-covered flesh below. Ray's helpless whimper had to be the hottest turn on he'd ever had.

Bodie pressed the heel of his palm against that demanding cock, intoxicated by how much Ray was loving this. Doyle's muscles remained wonderfully pliant as Bodie peeled the obstructing pyjama bottoms off his mate. There seemed to be no fear at all tonight.

The lamplight caught the red highlights in Ray's pubic and thigh hair, and glistened off the moisture sheening that delicately sculptured penis. Moved by Doyle's slender beauty, Bodie could only stare for a while.

The pause was obviously too much for Ray. Within a few heartbeats, Ray was thrusting his hips up at him again and there was nothing to be done but touch that tender jewel. Bodie gathered the moist flesh into his hand, delighting in how it pulsed and grew larger at his first touch.

"Ahhh . . . Bodie, pleassssse . . ." Ray sobbed.

Even if that request hadn't reduced him to jelly, Bodie couldn't have resisted the lure. Bending his head, he sucked in that straining shaft, greedily lapping in Ray's succulent flavour. So hot, everything about this man was just so unbelievably hot.

Ray's hands cupped his head, frantic fingers gripping his short hair to hold him close.

With someone else, Bodie might have been tempted to string this out, but Ray had suffered so much that all he wanted to do was lavish pleasure on his lover. So, he sucked Ray for all he was worth, letting his fingers pay homage to those soft balls while he serviced that hungry penis.

When he brushed his index finger over the sensitive flesh behind the testicles a few minutes later, Ray hissed and spread his thighs wide apart. Bodie repeated the action, this time earning a full-fledged moan. This previously verboten territory was obviously an intensely sensitive erogenous zone. Ray's hips jerked up so high that they almost sent Doyle's cock poking out the back of his throat.

Bodie knew from personal experience that that particular area was a landmine of sensation, and Ray Doyle was the most sensual person he'd ever met. It only stood to reason that Ray would be excited by this.

He raised his head from his service for a moment, needing to see his partner's face.

It was just as Bodie suspected. Ray looked turned on as hell, and equally freaked out by the source of his excitement.

"Hey," Bodie called, drawing the torn gaze his way. Doyle seemed to calm some when their eyes met. "Your body's designed to give you pleasure. It isn't a crime to enjoy it, sunshine."

To illustrate his point, Bodie allowed his forefinger to brush over the tight bud of muscle directly behind the perineum he'd been stroking. Doyle had enjoyed it this morning when he'd touched him there, even though Bodie had known that it was unnerving his partner on any number of levels.

Doyle's body liked it just as much as it had this morning, if not more. Ray gasped, his hips instinctively lurching up at him.

"Feels good, doesn't it?" Bodie checked.

He saw Ray's Adam's apple gulp upwards as he gave a guarded nod.

"Nothing's going to happen that doesn't feel good," he promised.

Ray gave a noisy swallow and then admitted in a low tone, "I'm . . . afraid."

"Of me?" Bodie asked, freezing all motion.

Ray gave a negative shake of his head and followed it up with a low, "No. I just don't know if I'm ready . . . . "

"This isn't about that," Bodie assured. "This is about finding out what feels good. You seem to like it – "

"I shouldn't," Ray said, his cheeks turning scarlet with shame.

"Why? Because of Van Cleef?" Seeing that horrible self-consciousness enter Ray's previously passion-dazed eyes, Bodie said, "Ray, you have a right to enjoy your body. If you don't reclaim that right, then that bastard wins. Nothing's going to happen here that you don't like. If something makes you uncomfortable, you just say and we stop immediately. Don't let him win, Ray. Please."

"It's a question of trust, isn't it?" Doyle said after a silent moment, appearing even more stricken, if possible.

Bodie caught hold of one of the hands in his hair and guided it down to his face. Depositing a kiss on the sweaty palm, he shook his head and said, "No. I know you trust me. It's a question of how much control you're going to let that bastard have over you. "

"How so?" Doyle grated out.

"If you don't like something and don't want to do it, that's one thing. But letting that degenerate poison your pleasure . . . that's another."

Ray squeezed his eyes shut and then softly admitted, "He used to say I was born to be buggered, that I took to it like a babe to mother's milk."

"You never liked what he did to you, never," Bodie soothed. "Just because your body might've responded, doesn't mean you liked him forcing you. Every man's body is sensitive there. It's no different than stroking a bloke's balls. No matter who you do it to, you're going to get a strong reaction."


"Didn't you like to be touched there before Van Cleef?" Bodie questioned.

That flush was now making its way to Doyle's neck. "I don't remember."

Bodie recalled his partner's amnesia. More and more, it was getting easier to forget about it as Ray recovered.

"Damn. Sorry. I forgot," Bodie said.

"It doesn't seem the kind've thing you could ask most women for, though, does it?" Ray hazarded. "Wouldn't it get you some peculiar looks?"

"Guess I'm used to peculiar looks, sunshine," Bodie grinned. Relieved he saw a smile touch Ray's face and some of the embarrassed colour recede.

"You like it, then?" Doyle asked, looking as though he weren't certain if he should have voiced the question.

Realizing that he was going about this all wrong, Bodie turned his face into the hand that had been absently petting his cheek throughout their discussion. Capturing Ray's middle finger between his lips, he sucked it into his mouth and slicked it up. Taking hold of Ray's wrist, he withdrew the tasty finger from his mouth and said with a grin, "Why don't you see for yourself?"

Not waiting for a response, he guided Ray's captured hand to his bottom.

His eyes very wide and endearingly uncertain, Doyle tentatively brushed his fingers between the crease of Bodie's arse.

Bodie didn't have to exaggerate his enjoyment. The whoosh of abruptly released breath was ripped from his lungs as the shiversome delight inspired by those tentative fingers slithered through him. It had been so long, so damn long since anyone had caressed him there. Bodie's head tilted back, his eyes sinking shut and mouth parting as he savoured the sensation to its fullest.

"You weren't kiddin', were you?" Ray asked in a hushed tone.

Bodie gulped, trying to find his voice, but he didn't even have the wherewithal to open his eyes under the deluge of feeling.

Always a quick study, Ray didn't wait for instruction. His touch growing far more confident, Ray slipped his fingers further in, pausing only when they brushed over the tight guarded bud of muscle hidden there.

Bodie's entire body jolted at the contact, the flash fire of delight ripping a helpless gasp from him.

Doyle didn't disappoint him. That talented finger stroked and rimmed the puckered opening until Bodie felt he'd explode.

"More?" Bodie begged when that precious dalliance finally faltered.

"Wha – ?"

Bodie opened his eyes at the stunned sounding question.

Pausing long enough to assure himself that he hadn't put Ray off, Bodie straddled Ray's waist and leaned over as far as he could to reach the nightstand's drawer. Fortunately, the cream he'd used this summer to ease Ray's sunburn whenever his nudist partner lingered too long in the sun was right where he remembered leaving it. Fumbling the lid off the blue and white jar, he held the open jar of fragrant white cream out to Doyle.

He expected some kind of smart comment on the floral scent, but Ray only dug his fingers into the offered cream. A moment later, those gooey digits were back where they could be put to best use.

Bodie groaned as that long middle finger greased the aperture, and then slowly slid up its centre. There was nothing shy about Ray now. Bodie could hear his partner's hoarse breathing as Doyle pushed his way up that tight passage.

A sudden twist, and Ray found that magic spot for which he was obviously searching. Bodie couldn't hold back his outcry as the resulting sensations pummelled him. So good . . . near perfect. There was only one thing that would make it better and Bodie didn't hesitate to demand, "More."

Once again, Ray humoured him. A second finger pushed up into his bottom. The talented duet twisted around, delighting him with every wiggle. Concentrating on the pleasure, Bodie felt himself gradually stretching around Ray's fingers.

Opening his eyes, Bodie sought his partner's gaze. He didn't know what he was expecting – an indulgent smile perhaps – certainly anything but the passion flushed cheeks and hot, glittering gaze that speared his own.

At that moment, they were of one mind, one soul, one need. Bodie dug his fingers deep into the jar of cream. Taking up a heaping helping, he reached for Ray's hungry-looking shaft.

The tensing of his partner's muscles brought his gaze up to Ray's face. An intriguing struggle was going on there. Passion and prudence were a bizarre mixture, but Bodie knew without asking that his partner was experiencing both.

"Give me this, please?" he all but begged.

"It wouldn't be fair for me'ta – "

Bodie covered those luscious, full lips with his index finger. "Ssssh. I'm never going to ask for something you're not able to give me, Ray. We're not keeping score here. You want it. I want it. What would be the harm?"

Ray relaxed some. "You sure?"

In answer, Bodie slathered the now-warm cream over Doyle's straining penis.

Ray groaned at the touch, his cock twitching like he might shoot his load right then and there. But Bodie was able to get him greased up before disaster struck.

Rolling over onto his back, Bodie pulled his knees up tight to his chest, while his hands guided Doyle in between his dangling ankles.

Ray looked a little overwhelmed, but there was no protest in his eyes. Moving with a confidence for which Bodie would be ever grateful, Ray guided his enlarged shaft to Bodie's anus and carefully pushed through the outer ring of muscle.

Bodie grunted at the sensation. It had been so long, and Ray was big by any standards. The stretch and bulk were impressive.

"You okay?" Doyle froze, uncertainty touching his face.

Bodie gave Ray's shaft an internal squeeze and rasped out, "Never better, sunshine, never better."

To illustrate his point, he hooked his ankles together behind the small of Ray's back and gave a suggestive push.

With a grunt of his own, Ray nudged the slightest bit further into him. A sheen of fresh sweat broke out over Doyle's entire body, making him glow in the lamp light like a well-oiled body builder.

Looking up at those wild, chestnut curls and Ray's passion-torn expression as he slowly claimed every inch of Bodie as his own, Bodie almost felt as though he'd slipped into one of his old, late night fantasies. He'd dreamed of this for so many years. But he'd never thought it could happen. Oh, he'd been fairly certain that he might have lured Doyle into his bed for a night of wild, sexual frolics, but Bodie knew that he'd never have had the nerve to ask this of his partner if he'd manoeuvred Doyle into his bed while they were back in C.I.5. It was one thing to have it off with your partner in a mutual shedding of inhibitions. Life could go on pretty much the same as normal after a blow or hand job; Bodie's relationship with Keller had more than proven that. However, asking your partner to bugger you could change the dynamics of a relationship forever – as Bodie had also learned to his detriment with Keller.

Yet, what he was sharing now with Ray had nothing to do with the failures of his past.

As Bodie watched the incandescent joy take hold of Ray's eyes as Doyle seeped into him as smooth as melting butter and felt the growing confidence in Ray's movements, he knew that he wasn't going to ever regret this night. This wasn't about roles or power. It wasn't even about hot sex, even though it was probably the most significant sex he'd ever had. Bodie knew on an instinctive level that he wasn't going to come out the loser in this union or be made to feel diminished by it. Doyle would never throw it up in his face that he'd wanted this like Jimmy had.

No, this was the complete antithesis of everything he'd come to expect when having sex with another man. This was about healing . . . and trust . . . and an emotion that Bodie knew he'd never truly felt in his life before, for all the lip service he'd paid that particular four-letter word over the years.

As his body stretched to accommodate Doyle's bulk, Bodie clung onto those broad shoulders, watching every nuance of expression that flickered across his partner's sweat-drenched face. Ray was loving it as much as he was . . . loving him.

After that brief period of initial discomfort when Ray reintroduced Bodie to this pleasure, Doyle changed his angle of entry slightly, and Bodie's universe realigned. That huge cock of Ray's nudged into his prostate with that move, opening the floodgates of pleasure that had made this often painful act one of Bodie's most cherished delights.

Ray mightn't have any memory of his sexual exploits, but his body obviously remembered. Ray pulled out and reentered, hitting that same spot again, blasting Bodie with the sheerest of ecstasies.

Bodie's eyes snapped shut, his lips parting in a helpless, "Ahhhh."

Ray started thrusting in earnest then, taking Bodie higher and higher with every plunge in. The only sounds in the room were their hoarse breaths, grunts, and the slap of their flesh.

Bodie could hardly hear any of it over the pounding of his heart. He was nothing but feeling. His whole life, his whole body, everything he'd ever dreamed, wished, or felt had been done to bring him to this moment in time. As Ray joined them in the most primitive, primal way possible, Bodie knew that he was never going to be the same man again.

Orgasm hit him like a runaway train, bursting through every neuron he owned in a dizzying swell of sensation. Bodie felt his body explode at almost the same instant Ray stilled inside him in a final, wild thrust. Whose cry was the loudest, Bodie couldn't say. All he knew was that it sounded like the response were torn from their very souls. It certainly felt that way from inside it.

They seemed to soar in that transcendental moment of utter bliss for an eternity, before coming back to themselves.

Ray slipped out of Bodie's body and then sagged down on top of him in a boneless, but heavy, sprawl.

Bodie closed his arms around Ray and just hung on while the world slowly righted itself around him.

When they were breathing at something near a normal rate and the sweat had begun to cool off both their bodies, Ray lifted his head to look down at him.

Bodie experienced a moment of pure terror at the thought that Ray might expect him to express his feelings on what had just passed between them. But all Ray did was take his mouth in a slow, sultry kiss that had parts of Bodie tingling that had no right to be working after such an immolating climax.

Ray pulled the duvet over them both mid-kiss, and shifted his weight so that he was lying beside Bodie, rather than on top of him. And then Doyle did the most reassuring thing another man could do at such a moment. He closed his eyes and went to sleep – mid-kiss.

Chuckling to himself, Bodie gave his unconscious partner one last smooch before following him down into Morpheus' sweet embrace.


Chapter Twelve

"Hey, there."

Bodie grinned at the familiar deep voice, his stomach lurching with longing.

Their first separation. He'd never thought four days could last this long.

"Hey, yourself. How are you?" Bodie asked, sinking down on the side of the hotel bed.

"More lonesome than I should be," Doyle admitted. "This is pathetic. It hasn't even been a full day since we spoke."

"Yeah, well, who called who last night?" Bodie reminded, so Doyle would be in no doubt that their separation was a mutual ordeal.

"Thanks for ringing me up," Ray said. "It helped."

"A couple hours and I'll be on my way home," Bodie promised. "A couple of very long hours."

"How's it going?" Doyle asked.

"Slow. Did I mention that I miss you?"

Doyle's loving laughter rippled through him. "Several times last night."
"It's worse this morning," Bodie complained.

"But aside from that?" Doyle prodded.

"It's a pretty big aside. But if you're asking about the conference, it went well. Mohammad was pleased with the security arrangements."

"Mohammad?" Doyle interrupted, sounding confused before he finished with, "Oh, yeah, that was what you said Cowley called C.I.5's Minister, right?"

"Actually, it was what the Minister called himself. But, to answer your question, Sir William was happy with the team I put together. He asked this morning if I could provide security for his friend's meeting in Paris in April."

There was a long pause, and then Ray asked in too casual a voice, "Are you goin'ta do it?"

"Thought we'd talk about it when I got back," Bodie said, wishing he could see his lover's face.

"Paris in April, huh?" Ray asked after a momentary silence.

"Yeah. Does it appeal to your artistic streak?" Bodie asked.


Hearing the pleased surprise, Bodie said, "I thought maybe you might like to come next time. We could take a few extra days. Do the town. How's it sound?"

"Like you're in as bad a state as me," Ray joked, but Bodie could tell how happy the suggestion had made him.

"I think I mentioned that I missed you, didn't I?"

"Yeah, maybe once or twice," Ray said, his tone warm and embracing. "When did you say you were leaving?"

Bodie chuckled. "I'm just packing up now."


"You keeping busy?" Bodie asked, just wanting to hear his voice.

"Marie's running me ragged with busywork. Wilhelm and I fixed both sheds, painted the deck and all the outside furniture, and waxed the rental skis. We're waiting for her to order us to paint the lodge next. And I finished two pieces." Ray reported and then added, "Did I mention that I miss you?"

The laughter felt just as good as it had when they'd been doing this in the dark last night.

"You might have done," Bodie said when they'd calmed. "Just once or twice, though."

"Well, I do," Ray said.

"Not for long. I'll be back before you know it."

"Good." Ray's voice was touchingly hopeful.

The silence and the miles stretched between them.

"Guess I'd better let you go," Ray sighed.

"If you want me to get home," Bodie replied, equally reluctant to end the conversation.

"I want you home. I want you anywhere," Ray said in a low tone.

Bodie shivered. He wasn't used to Ray being that vocal about his wants, but then, Ray was healing by leaps and bounds. What didn't fly one day, was often on the menu the next. Sometimes, he just had to give his partner some room to ponder an issue.

"Yeah, me too," Bodie gruffly admitted.

"Bodie – "

"Yeah?" he encouraged.

"I, ahhh . . . ."

Hearing those three words that neither of them were comfortable voicing echo unspoken in the line, Bodie softly admitted, "I feel the same way."

"You do?" Ray's voice hovered somewhere between wonder and pleasure.

"Yeah, and I'll prove it to you when I get home."

"Hurry," Ray urged.

"Will do. See you."

"Bye, then," Ray said, sounding as miserable as Bodie felt.

God, he hated this.

"Bye." He waited till Doyle rang off before returning the receiver to its cradle.

The room seemed incredibly empty as he turned back to his packing. It was amazing how quickly humans became accustomed to things. A month ago, he never would have dreamed it possible that Ray and he could be lovers, and now it seemed almost alien to sleep alone.

Bodie took one last look around the elegant room and closed his suitcase. For all the Marriott Hotel's luxuries, he was eager to be home. His heart light as a schoolboy's, he headed for the door.

South African marble floors, antique oriental rugs, brass and crystal chandeliers . . the room the lift spat him into was more of a palace than a lobby.

"Bodie!" a voice stopped him as he exited the lift.

Recognizing Sir William's cultured tones, Bodie turned to C.I.5's former Minister. The older gent looked fairly much as he had when Bodie had worked under him. His hair was still as white, his Seville Row suit as impeccable, and his gaze just as alert and perceptive. "Sir William."

He was relieved to see that Reynolds and Parmington were still where they were paid to be – at Sir William's side. It would be the foolish villain, indeed, that tangled with the impressive bodyguards.

They paused beside a Duncan Fife table with a vase of red roses on it to speak. Bodie could smell the roses from three feet away.

"Once again, I must congratulate you on your fine work," Sir William said, his brown eyes alight with pleasure.

"All the result of good training, sir," Bodie replied. "Are you on your way home, then?"

"Yes. Garrett's gone to arrange for the car. Have you given any thought to my proposal?"

"The Marcharet gig?" Bodie checked.

"Yes. It's not as sensitive or as high profile a situation as that Parsali operation you handled for George, but Pierre could use a good man like you running the show."

He fervently hoped it wouldn't be as hot a situation as the Pasali case. That one had nearly gotten them killed. "I'd like to discuss it with my partner before making a firm commitment."

"Ah, of course. How is Doyle these days?" Sir William politely enquired.

Hard up didn't seem the appropriate response somehow, even though it was the first rejoinder that popped into his mind. Bodie confined himself to a bland, if honest, "He's getting better by the day."

"Ah, that's good to hear. He's a fine man. I wouldn't want to see – "

"Excuse me, sir, but your car is here," the bulky brunet Reynolds interrupted.

"Ah, yes. Well, good seeing you again, Bodie," Sir William said.

"Always a pleasure, sir. Have a safe trip home. Give my regards to old George, will you, sir?" Bodie grinned.

"Shall I phrase it that way?" Sir William asked with a sly glint in his eye.

"Er . . . ."

"I thought as much," the older man grinned. "I will give George your regards. You will let me know your decision about the Paris security job? I'll need your answer within the month."

"Yes, sir. I won't forget."

"You have my card?" the former Minister checked.

"Don't need it," Bodie said and then rattled off the number.

"George trained you well. It's a pity . . . well, time to go."

Bodie quickly shook Sir William's offered hand. He watched his fellow Englishman until Sir William disappeared with his bodyguards into the dark sedan out front.

Checkout was for once an uncomplicated affair. Bodie was on his own way out the door within moments.

Two more of Bodie's hired talent were escorting the Israeli delegate to his car. Bodie observed the smooth professionalism with which his men worked. They were competent without being overbearing, able to remain in the background while executing their duties. He was pleased with this crew. Between his own contacts and Jacques', he'd been able to assemble an impressive team. If he took that Paris gig, he'd want to make sure several of these men were available.

Following behind, Bodie watched Carter, the unusually tall black man in his employ, precede his charge through the hotel's revolving door. Carter's partner trailed the delegate like clockwork. The three stepped out onto the busy street, and were passed by an enormous man in a blue jacket who made Carter seem small.

Bodie frowned as he followed his men out of the revolving door into a grey, cold day. He'd only caught a glimpse of the passing man's face, but he'd seemed very familiar. While Carter and his partner hurried the Israeli delegate to his car, Bodie stared after the huge passer-by.

He couldn't place where he knew him from, but his instincts were telling him that the man meant trouble. Suitcase in hand, Bodie turned and followed the stranger.

After a right turn at the corner onto the less crowded side street, his quarry slowed down some. The man made the next right, which Bodie knew led to the hotel's service entrance.

Bodie fished his RT from his pocket and quickly clicked it on. "Jenkins?"

"Yes, sir?" his assistant swiftly replied.

"I've got an intruder coming around the service entrance. Get someone down here right away to check it out," Bodie ordered. "Damn, I've lost sight of him. I'm going in."

"I'll get someone right on it. Please don't – "

Bodie clicked off the transmitter and re-pocketed it. Hugging the wall, he cautiously eased himself into the shadowed alleyway.

It was almost a universal law that these types of service entrances be poorly lit and offensive to the nose, Bodie thought as he silently moved into the seemingly empty alley.

The hotel door was still locked tight. At this proximity, he would have heard it if the door had opened and closed, so the man still had to be out here somewhere.

Bodie carefully eased his way around a delivery crate . . . and grunted as something hard and painful bashed into the back of his skull. His last awareness was of his suitcase tumbling to the dirty ground, and himself following it down.


"Ray, dear," Marie called from the attic workroom's doorway. "Telephone."

"Have you been calling me long?" Ray asked, dumping his brush to soak in the nearby jar and then wiping his hands on a rainbow speckled towel. He was making a conscious effort to use the towels and hand rags to clean his hands off before moving out of the room. Just this morning he'd done inventory of his clothes and realized that he didn't have a single shirt or tee shirt that wasn't speckled with paint. The blue one he had on today was a veritable smorgasbord of colour.

His plump taskmaster was looking very fetching today in a rust coloured skirt and gold jumper, he noticed.

"No," Marie entered the room to peer at his latest work. "I like it."

"You always like it. You're my biggest fan," Ray grinned, giving her a quick peck on the forehead beneath her blonde curls.

"Second biggest fan. I think Bodie is even less objective than me," she laughed.

"Well, there's that," he was forced to agree, "Is it Bodie on the phone?"

He knew he sounded too eager, but he couldn't help it. If Bodie didn't get back here soon, he was going to go insane.

"No, I don't know who it is. He said it was important, though," Marie said as they started down the stairs together. "Run along, Ray. Don't let me slow you down. It's important."

Giving her a quick smile as he passed, he hastened down the steps.

The phone's receiver was sitting on the spotless reception desk. A little breathless from his sprint, Doyle picked it up. "Hullo."

"Mister Doyle?" The man was British, but a stranger.

"Yes," Ray warily acknowledged the unfamiliar voice. "Who's this?"

"I'm Paul Jenkins. I've been helping Bodie out on the Marriott security job," Jenkins briefly explained.

"Ah, yes. Bodie's mentioned you." Ray knew without asking that Jenkins wasn't calling him for a good reason. Everything tightening up inside him, Doyle quickly asked, "Is he alive?"

The resulting pause was the longest ten seconds Ray had ever endured. Finally, Jenkins said, "We don't know."

Not knowing was good, Ray told himself. It was definitely better than the alternative. "What happened?"

"The conference was finished. We were closing up shop, getting the few remaining delegates to the airport, when Bodie called me on the RT to report a suspicious intruder at the delivery entrance. When my men got there, they were nearly mowed down by a blue Chevy van. They gave chase, but lost the vehicle in the warehouse district. That was . . . ten minutes ago, now," Jenkins reported.

His brain frozen with shock, it took Ray a moment to get the wherewithal to ask, "Bodie was in the van?"

"We can't say for sure, Mr. Doyle, but it seems likely. We found Bodie's suitcase abandoned in the alley. I think if he were able to, he would have contacted us by now, though it's only been a half hour since I got his call."

"Yes, of course," Doyle said, his world dropping out from under him. Bodie was missing – kidnapped from the sound of it. From somewhere inside, a competent stranger emerged to ask the pertinent questions. "Are the police there yet?"

"They just arrived on the scene. We're waiting for Interpol. I'm going to have to go speak to them."


"The authorities will be contacting you as his next of kin shortly, no doubt, but I thought you'd appreciate a head's up," Jenkins said.

"Yes, thank you," Doyle numbly acknowledged.

"Mr. Doyle?" Jenkins said.


"I've known Bodie for nearly fifteen years. The boys and me feel pretty much the same way. This was a choice job Bodie hooked us into. We owe him. If there's anything we can do to help, we're your men."

"Ah . . . thank you, Jenkins. I'm leaving now. I should be down to you in . . ." Ray winced as he calculated the time it was going to take him to reach Geneva, ". . . in a couple of hours."

"It looks like this circus will be here all night. But if it's not, we're in the hotel, registered under my name, Paul Jenkins."

"I'll see you shortly," Ray promised and hung up.

"Ray?" Marie's uncertain tone drew him back from the nightmares his all too lurid imagination insisted on torturing him with. Ray knew better than anyone the horrors of abduction.


"What's happened?" Marie asked, her face already pale.

"It's Bodie. He's been . . . kidnapped."

"Dear God," she grabbed onto the reception desk's sturdy ledge to steady herself.

"Marie, I'm going to need to borrow the Land Rover. I've got to get down there." His mind already on his destination, Ray turned for the hall that led to the hotel staff's quarters.

"Get there? Ray . . . !"

He was already halfway down the hall before she finished speaking. He tore into his room, moving so fast that he frightened the cat from its nest at the foot of his bed. Chloe jumped off and ran for cover, a grey streak making for the door.

Ray grabbed his black leather jacket out of the closet. Instincts he didn't understand seemed to be taking over. His gaze jumped to the hook on the inside of the closet door – where he normally stowed his gun at home, he abruptly recalled – but all that was on it was a paint-stained work shirt. No gun.

Ray wasn't even sure he'd know what to do with it if he had it, but everything inside him insisted that he couldn't go into this situation unarmed.

"Ray," Marie's frightened sounding voice called from behind him.

"Have you got a gun I can borrow, luv?" Ray asked as he shouldered into his jacket.

"Gun! Ray, you can't do this!" she argued.

"They've got Bodie," he said, trying to remember if either Wilhelm or Marie had ever mentioned possessing a weapon for self-defence. He rushed to the dresser and pulled his wallet out. There was plenty of cash in it, but no ID, nothing that would help him legally procure a handgun, and even if he'd had the ID, Switzerland didn't exactly have a reputation for being militia central.

Deciding that he'd just have to wing it, Ray started for the door

He only stopped when she caught onto him and held him in place. "Ray, be sensible. This is crazy!"

"They've got Bodie!" he repeated, hearing the strain in his voice.

"And what are you going to do about it? Bodie asked me to look after you. I can't let you do this. You don't even rightly remember who you are. What good are you going to be running off half-cocked like this?" Marie asked, her trembling hand gripping at the slick leather covering his shoulders.

"I don't know what good I am anymore," Ray answered, stamping down on the panic that was coursing through him. "All I know is that Bodie is my partner and I can't let him down."

"He wouldn't want you to do this. You know that," Marie reasoned.

"Marie, I don't have time to argue. You can either help me or get out of my way."

He could see that he'd shocked her and perhaps even frightened her a bit, but she didn't move from in front of the door. Her face tightening with resolve, she started, "Ray –"

"It's Bodie," Ray said, wanting to scream it out loud, but somehow he kept the words at a decent level, although he could do nothing about the desperation flavouring them "I don't have a choice."

He didn't know what emotion was showing in his face, but whatever it was, it seemed to overwhelm her.

"All right," she said in the tone of one who knew they were making a grievous error. "But Wilhelm is going with you."

"Wilhelm took those three snowmobiles down to the mechanic to be repaired. He won't be back for hours," Ray reminded. "You've got to trust me, Marie. I'll bring the Land Rover back as soon as I can."

"I don't care about the damn car, Ray! It's you and Bodie I'm worried about!"

"I know that. But I have to do this." he said, touching her cheek. She'd done so much for them both – taken them in and treated them like her own sons. Even though they hadn't said anything to her about the change in their relationship, Ray knew that she'd guessed. And nothing had changed, except that maybe she made a bit more noise when approaching a room if she knew that Bodie and he were alone together in it. She was still the same incredibly loving woman who'd spoon-fed him when he was too confused to want to live – and he was standing here menacing her. What was worse was that he couldn't back down. So he tried to explain, "I wouldn't be alive if it weren't for Bodie. You know that. I can't hide my head in the sand while he's in trouble."

Tears swelled in her crystal blue eyes, so close to Bodie's in colour. "I know. Come on, I'll get the car keys."

Together, they rushed to the office where she kept the keys to the various vehicles on a rack of hooks above the desk. As she handed the Land Rover's keys over to him, she abruptly looked her age.

"Thanks, luv," Ray said and kissed her cheek.

"What are you going to do, Ray?" Marie asked as she hurried with him out to the car. It was bitterly cold this afternoon. The slate grey sky looked as though it might snow at any moment.

He paused to look down at her, hating how frail and old she suddenly seemed. "Whatever I have to."

Her face white as chalk, she nodded and swallowed.

"Will you be back?" Marie asked in a small voice, visibly shivering in the cold.

The fear in her eyes hurt him, he knew what she'd been through in her life, all the losses: her parents had turned their backs on her decades ago; her little girl had died unexpectedly; her only son was now away in an internship in Brussels and hardly ever had time to visit anymore; and now the two newcomers she'd taken to her heart were about to disappear as well. Little wonder she was so upset.

"If it's humanly possible, Bodie and I will be back. I promise you, luv," Ray assured. His own mother had never been half as nurturing to him as Marie had.

Seeming calmer, she nodded and then said, "Ray, Bodie told me that you were both with the police, but . . . if something should happen and you need a place to stay where no one can find you . . . this is your home; remember that. Wilhelm and I will do whatever we can to help you. There are places up in the mountains where a man can hide for years, where not even your Mister Cowlick can find you."

"Cowley," Ray corrected with a small smile. "And thank you. We'll be back."

"Please God," she said and threw her arms around him in a brief hug. "Go now. And may God go with you."

He opened the Land Rover's door and slid into the icy cold passenger seat. It was only as he turned the key in the ignition that he realized that this was the first time he'd driven a vehicle since . . . before Van Cleef. Fortunately, driving seemed to be one of those automatic activities like walking that didn't require much in the way of memory.

The trip to Geneva was the longest two hours Ray had ever spent in his life, including the time he'd been held captive. He floored the accelerator most of the way, driving as fast as the road conditions would allow. Somehow, he managed to evade both the notice of the police and ending up in a ditch.

His only thought the entire time was Bodie: where his lover was, why he'd been snatched, what was happening to him . . . .

Ray did his best not to dwell on that last bit. He knew better than anyone the kind of things that happened to a person when they were abducted. By his estimation, Bodie had been missing for two and a half hours now. Not a hideously long time, but it could seem like years when in the hands of a nutter like Van Cleef.

At least that was one thing he didn't have to worry about. Bodie had assured him months ago that the call he'd made to Interpol the night he'd rescued Doyle had resulted in Van Cleef's capture and life imprisonment.

Two and a half hours, Ray raged as he finally reached the city proper. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he could hear a voice reminding him of how a hostage's chances of being found alive decreased with every hour that he remained missing. He didn't know where that troublesome fact came from, but Ray filed it away with the rest of his worries.

The Marriott Hotel wasn't hard to locate. Doyle thanked whatever star had guided him into reading over Bodie's shoulder as they'd sat together on the couch at night when Bodie was going over the building's security arrangements. It was strange. He'd barely glanced at those papers, and yet he remembered the hotel's address, its six entrances, its two-hundred-seventy-six windows . . . . Why he would have taken such close note of these details, Ray had no idea, but he'd done it without thinking, as though it were something he'd been trained for years to do.

It was only as he turned down the Marriott's street that he realized that was precisely the case. He had trained to do that kind of thing his entire life. Bodie and he were partners; it only stood to reason that he'd be competent at whatever Bodie excelled at.

Bodie's assistant, Jenkins, hadn't lied, Ray thought. The crime scene was a circus, even nearly three hours after the abduction. There were half a dozen police cars blocking the road onto which the Marriott's service entrance opened out. A forensics team was hard at work taking samples from the area. There was enough yellow tape cordoning off the alley to seal King Tut's tomb for another four thousand years. The crowd was a mob scene of reporters, thrill seekers, and bewildered Marriott guests trying to get back into their hotel through the throng. And everywhere Ray looked, he could see a crisp uniformed police officer interviewing witnesses and taking notes.

Ray didn't know how he knew, but he was fairly sure that line of investigation was going to dead end. Whoever had snatched Bodie would have had to have been damn good. There wouldn't have been any witnesses, at least none left alive.

The closest thing to witnesses would have been Bodie's men who had chased the van, and Interpol was sure to have them hidden safely away.

Ray bit his lower lip, at a temporary loss as to what to do. His choices were limited. He could try to locate Jenkins in this mass of confusion. Or he could work the crowd on his own and see if he learned anything. Or – and this was his least viable alternative – he could identify himself as Bodie's partner to the authorities and pray he didn't end up stuck in a nightmare of bureaucratic red tape for the next six weeks.

His eyes restlessly scanned the crowd as he inched the car past the police barriers in the line of bottlenecked traffic. Maybe he should find a parking space and –

The thought cut off as his gaze came to rest on a familiar face in this place where he'd expected to know no one.

Ray knew every line on the face of the muscular blond man with the black jacket. That long nose, the alcohol-reddened blue eyes, the pointed chin . . . Ray knew the onlooker, biblically. It was one of Van Cleef's henchmen, the one who'd liked to use his teeth.

Ray felt his blood turn to ice. The contents of his stomach lurched upwards as he remembered hard teeth and hands, biting and hitting and eventually . . . .

He cut the reminiscence off.

Sweating and panting in an incipient panic attack, Ray tried to get hold of himself. This wasn't about him. It was about Bodie, and he couldn't let his partner down.

He forced himself to take a few deep, cleansing breaths, and thrust all imagery from his mind. That wasn't who he was anymore. Those horrors had happened to a different person. Bodie, that was what was important here, not a ghost from his past. All he had to do was concentrate on getting Bodie back alive, that, and breathe.

Slowly, his heartbeat returned to something near normal. Breathe and get Bodie back. He could do that.

Followed close on the heels of that resolution was the recognition that none of this was coincidence.

Van Cleef was safely locked away for life, but what would have stopped any of his accomplices from continuing his lucrative business? If Miller or Van Cleef's accountant had escaped arrest that night, they would have been more than capable of continuing their master's work. The conference Bodie had been covering would have been exactly the kind of target they would have hit. And if they'd recognized Bodie . . . . His partner was in a hell of a lot more trouble than Ray had thought.

Bodie hadn't testified at the Van Cleef trial, but Schueller, the Interpol agent Bodie had alerted, had named Bodie as his main informer. Van Cleef's surviving business associates would probably be quite eager to take their revenge on the man responsible for incarcerating their leader and shutting them down, however temporarily.

As he watched, Van Cleef's man left the crowd and started to stroll down the street in the direction Ray had just come.

Doyle saw an opening in the opposing lane of traffic, and spun the Land Rover around a hundred-eighty degrees.

He was surprised by how smoothly he executed the move. There was no telltale tire squealing or skidding. It was almost as though he were accustomed to haring off in the exact opposite direction on a second's notice. He accomplished the turn so uneventfully that the man he was tailing never even looked back over his shoulder.

Ray was grateful that the traffic in this direction proved much lighter than it had been the other way. He was able to keep a half block or so behind Van Cleef's man without arousing any suspicion.

The bulky thug walked a good distance, far enough for the upscale neighbourhood of the posh hotel to give way to a warehouse district. Ray recalled Jenkins saying how his men had pursued the van somewhere into this area before losing it.

Ray kept driving as the man turned into a dark alleyway. He parked the Land Rover at the next open spot, and then got out to pursue his suspect on foot.

He hurried back to the lane the man had turned down, but the villain was nowhere in sight.

That was all right, though. He didn't need to see his suspect to know where he'd gone. The rickety looking staircase at the back of the alley was frighteningly familiar.

Ray stared up at the faded green and white sign that read OBERSTEIN'S IMPORTS, unable to believe the sheer brass of the operation. And if he'd needed any further confirmation that this was the right place, there was a Yank van parked to the side.

He'd come full circle. A little less than a year ago, Bodie had risked his life to rescue him from this very building.

It was unbelievable. Who in their right mind would have thought that Van Cleef's followers would return to the very building their leader had been arrested in? It was so monumentally stupid a move that it was brilliant.

Hiding in the shadowed doorway of another building, Ray studied the entrance to Oberstein's for a long moment. The staircase was out. Even from here Ray could pick out the lens of the security camera that was pointed at the stairs. Fortunately, it was not a mobile camera. Its limited range was focused squarely on the entrance.

Even so, when he decided to move, he took no chances. He sidled along the adjoining warehouse wall, approaching the Oberstein warehouse from the far right.

Quick as a bullet, he shot over to Oberstein's brick wall, drawing in rushed, relieved breaths once he reached its cool sanctuary. There was a drainage pipe on the far corner that he might be able to scale to a first story window.

Ray was easing along the wall in the drainpipe's direction when a door opened out almost in front of him. His back to the wall, heart racing, Ray tried to still his breathing to remain unnoticed.

Shocked, he watched the blond man he'd been following step out through the door. His suspect had a bruise on his right eye that hadn't been there earlier. Ray suspected the man had been reprimanded for the monumental stupidity of returning to the scene of the crime.

The thug paused in the doorway, fiddling with a cigarette and lighter while staring in the opposite direction from Doyle.

Recognizing a now or never moment, Ray lunged at his target. He hadn't been sure what he was going to do when he first moved, but his body seemed to have a mind of its own.

He slammed the smoking man hard into the wall. The cigarette went flying off into the night-dark alley in a shower of sparks as the muscular thug gave a startled grunt.

As if this were a dance he'd practiced so often that the moves were instinct now, rather than conscious, Doyle's right elbow came up in a wide circle to catch the point of the man's chin dead centre. The move sent his opponent's shaggy blond head cracking against the brick wall.

Ray's knee caught the henchman in the family jewels as the man bent forward after hitting the wall. Doyle clasped his hands together, his fingers tightly interlaced. His arms raised in another wide circle for momentum, after which he brought his joined hands down in a sweeping arc that caught the back of his opponent's head again.

A sickening snap that heralded the breaking of the neck followed, and then the blond man fell like a ton of bricks.

Panting, Ray stared down at his handiwork, unable to believe what he'd just done. There had been no thought involved at all after the initial decision to attack. It all had been sheer instinct.

Ray bent to assure himself that the man was still alive. Placing his hand on the throat, he felt a slow, but steady pulse. Before he stood back up, Ray searched the unconscious man. Switzerland mightn't be military central, but villains like this were usually well heeled.

Doyle froze when he grabbed his opponent's arm to roll him over. There was something solid, with the particular hardness associated with metal, beneath the jacket sleeve right above the wrist. It was a strange place to carry a gun, but Ray sensed he'd seen stranger over the years.

He shoved the sleeve up the hairy arm, and gaped at what was revealed. It had been years since he'd seen a knife sheath like that one. Ray was startled to realize that the design was very similar to the one he'd worn in his days with the Dragons.

Ray unstrapped the sheath and removed it from the fallen villain's arm. Then he slid the knife out. It was a beauty, as far as such things went. Sleek and elegant, the Bowie knife was a good six inches long and wickedly sharp.

Doyle quickly removed his jacket and fastened the knife sheath to his own forearm. He experimented with the mechanism that would release the knife directly into his hand below it. Like the one he'd worn in art school, it was a touchy release.

Once he was fairly certain that he had the hang of the knife sheath's release, Ray quickly put his jacket back on and returned to searching his opponent.

Usually men who fancied a blade like this one didn't carry guns, but he was in luck. He found a shoulder holster on the left side under the jacket. Doyle smiled as he extracted the deadly black Beretta from its leather sheath. Bingo, he was in business.

After a second's pause to check the clip, Doyle stuck the gun in his jacket pocket. A moment later, he dragged the man in through the still open door.

The corridor the fire exit opened into was nearly pitch black, except for the glowing red lights on the Emergency Exit sign over the door through which he'd just entered. Ray had the strong feeling that the man he'd followed wasn't supposed to be where he'd caught him smoking.

He took a few moments to adjust his eyes to the inky environment and then cautiously slipped down the hall.

The building felt empty.

He paused at another dimly visible door and put his ear against its cold surface for a while before opening it. The large, dust filled room with its high, broken windows was also deserted, but it was better lit then the hall by dint of its many windows.

Ray stared at the shadowy stage up front, haunted by memories. The pain of the people who had passed through this place felt etched into the very dust.

Finally, he closed the door on the past, both literally and figuratively, and moved on.

His recollections of the time he'd spent in this place were hazy and nightmarish, but he seemed to remember Van Cleef occupying a room upstairs. Most of the prisoners had been confined on this story, but Ray had been a special case. His cell had been next door to Van Cleef's quarters, no matter where the auctions were occurring. Ray remembered moving around a lot. The entire incident was a daze of agony and terror.

Since Van Cleef had always claimed the best accommodations, Ray thought it was a natural enough assumption to expect his successor to be rooming there.

He found the staircase. Every small creak seemed to shriek through the darkened warehouse like a siren, but no one came to investigate. He could see light on the floor at the top of the stairs, so someone was up there.

If this were not an auction night, security would probably be minimal. Most nights, it was only the drugged prisoners, Van Cleef, and a couple of guards. Having dispensed with one guard, Doyle knew the man's partner was probably prowling around here someplace.

Nervous as a cat, Ray slipped against the wall at the top of the recessed staircase. As below, there was a single long corridor that was bisected by the stairs. The hall to his right was as dark as the rest of the place, but the area off to Ray's left was lit.

Ray peeked around the corner and pulled quickly back at the sight of the huge man guarding an open door in the middle of the hall.

Damn. It was just his luck that it would be Miller. The man was built like a brick wall.

On the heels of that thought, Ray found himself wondering who was running the show now, if not Miller. The accountant, whose name Ray had never known, had probably had enough knowledge to get the auctions up and working again, but Ray would never have thought the nervous bookworm would have had the gall. And even if he had, was it possible that both Miller and the accountant had escaped the Interpol raid?

A distinct, pained-sounding grunt filled the corridor. Ray peered around his shielding corner again.

Miller had turned to stare into the open room behind him.

Ray knew he was never going to get another chance like this.

He was down the corridor, fast and silent as a passing breeze. He only had the one chance, and he couldn't blow it.

Once again, there was no thought to his attack. He came up behind the big man, reached up and around his shoulder to press the flat of his left forearm across Miller's windpipe, then he locked his left hand around his right wrist, and pulled straight back in a classic choke hold. Tugging for all that he was worth, Ray dragged the resisting, bulkier man backwards behind the shelter of the wall, out of sight of the open door.

Miller gave a startled whoosh as his air cut off. His beefy hands came up to claw at Ray's strangling arm, trying to free his breathing while simultaneously bending forward in an attempt to dislodge Doyle. They banged into the wall beside the door, but not hard enough to make any real noise. It wasn't anything that would carry above the scuffling sounds emerging from the room behind them, at least.

Ray held on tight and kept pulling his arm back against the throat harder and harder. If Miller got enough air to cry out, he was done for.

Even as he did what he had to, Ray was appalled by the savagery of the act. He wasn't just cutting off his opponent's air; he was crushing his windpipe. It was a nasty way to die, but it was the only soundless way Ray could take the enormous man out.

It seemed to take forever.

Finally, Ray felt a revolting sag in the cartilage under his forearm. Miller gave a small sound that was a cross between a wet gurgle and a whimper. Immediately, the huge man went lax in his arms.

Miller toppled forward, nearly taking Ray down with him. But he held on tighter and guided the giant's descent. Once Miller was face down on the floor, Doyle maintained his crushing hold for another minute or two and then released the limp form.

Ray's unsteady hand sought out the side of the bruised and crushed throat. Unlike the lucky chap with the broken neck downstairs, Miller wouldn't be waking up again. There was no pulse.

Ray straightened up, shaken by what he'd just done. One man dead, one man crippled for life – all in the course of ten minutes. What the hell kind of monster had he been, that killing like this was second nature to him?

Recognizing that this was not the time for that kind of thinking, Ray concentrated on the only thing that had any real meaning to him – finding Bodie and getting him out of here alive.

Breathe and find Bodie, those were his orders of the day.

A couple of deep breaths, and his nerves were as calm as they were likely to be. Knowing that he probably wouldn't be surprising anyone within the room from behind, Ray withdrew the Beretta from his pocket. He slipped off the safety, and raised the gun so that it was up in front of him, ready to take out any threat within.

Another deep breath to steady his nerves, and he jumped over Miller's dead body to land in a crouch in the doorway. His gun was trained on the room's occupants with the same unerring instinct that had brought him this far.

Everything stopped for Ray as his eyes took in the sight before him.

His partner was there, shackled to a metal headboard that was frighteningly familiar. Bodie was alive, thankfully, and much the worse for wear. His face was bruised and bloody, his wrists torn beneath the silver handcuffs with which he was bound, but he was still mostly dressed, and looked as though he were putting up a decent fight to remain so.

It was the other figure that stopped his blood. The man running the hostage auction was not the accountant, as Ray had presumed. To his horror, Ray found himself face to face with his worst nightmare – Van Cleef in the flesh.

He stared into those bottomless black eyes, feeling everything freeze up inside him – thought, feeling, will . . . everything. Abruptly, he was as impotent as he'd been when Bodie had saved him from this monster's clutches.

Maybe it was the fact that Van Cleef hadn't changed much in the last year. The dark suit was the same high quality Ray remembered. He was a bit thinner, perhaps, and his eyes wilder with madness. But the cadaverously pale face was the same evil incarnate, if sporting a fresh bruise that Doyle suspected might have come from Bodie's boot. His mousy brown hair hung around his cheeks in an unsightly, sweaty mess that Doyle remembered only too well.

His shock paralysing him, Ray stared at the knife in Van Cleef's hands. He'd obviously interrupted the nutter in his attempt to cut Bodie's clothes off him.

"Ah, Mr. Doyle," Van Cleef said in that deep, melodious voice that turned Ray's blood to ice. The madman seemed completely unsurprised by Doyle's arrival. "How good to see you again. Your partner and I were just discussing your location. So good of you to spare me the trouble of collecting you myself."

"Ray!" Bodie's puffy eyes strained to focus on him. His voice was rife with despair.

While Ray was standing there frozen in shock like a wax sculpture, Van Cleef's knife moved quickly to rest against Bodie's throat.

"Now, if you'd be so kind as to drop that gun," Van Cleef requested. When Ray didn't instantly comply, Van Cleef said, "I assure you that I will have no compunction in killing your partner before your eyes. As you might remember, I always keep my promises."

Doyle shuddered at the reminder. He could feel the icy beads of sweat dripping down his back. The very thought of placing himself under this madman's power again made him want to turn the gun on himself, but he knew that if he did anything that stupid, his last sight would be Bodie's bloody throat.

"Well, what will it be, Doyle? You're free to pull that trigger, but I assure you, I can sever his jugular before the bullet gets me," Van Cleef said, visibly enjoying himself.

Ray remembered that the man had relished the act of tormenting his victims nearly as much as he had raping them.

"Don't, Ray! Shoot the bastard!" Bodie cried.

Van Cleef's knife pressed a little harder against that snowy white throat that Ray loved to nuzzle. A thin river of red trickled down over the blade as it pricked the skin.

Sick to his stomach, Ray made the only decision possible. He dropped the Beretta to the floor.

"No, Ray, no," Bodie said, turning his bruised face away.

"Well done," Van Cleef approved. "Now kick it over here, if you'd be so kind."

Ray did as asked.

"I've missed you, my pet," Van Cleef said in an unctuous tone as the gun came to rest on the floor to his right, below the sparsely furnished room's single window. "Now, if you'd be so kind as to remove your clothing and join us over here, I'd be most grateful."

Van Cleef was obviously counting on the terror quotient to keep Ray frozen in place as the villain rose from his awkward bend over Bodie to move to retrieve the Beretta.

Why shouldn't Van Cleef be smug in his victory, Ray thought with self-disgust. They both knew that Doyle's fear had kept him docile as a lamb for months. Toward the end there, all Van Cleef had had to do was voice a command to be obeyed.

But tonight it wasn't only his own life that hung in the balance here. If he cocked this up, Bodie was going to suffer for it. That just wasn't happening.

The second that knife was clear of Bodie's throat, the deadly stranger inside Ray who'd been running the show all night reasserted himself.

However, this time, it wasn't temporary occupancy the stranger sought. While Ray's body moved into action, so did his mind. One moment he was standing there puzzling over the alien presence time-sharing his brain tonight, and with his next heartbeat, all the clouds were clearing from his memory. There were no longer two separate Ray Doyles. The lethal stranger Doyle melded smoothly with the artist Doyle, and there was only himself, Ray Doyle – William Phillip Andrew Bodie's partner and lover.

Even with the smooth transition, it was a bit much to assimilate in a life and death struggle. But both sides of him were agreed on this course of action. His follow through was as instinctive as the rest of his actions tonight.

Ray released the catch on the hidden knife sheath. That impressive Bowie knife he'd lifted off the first guard slid smoothly into his palm. Like the professional he was, Ray took the knife's balance in the instant he was lifting it to throw. By the time the blade was released, it flew as true as his bullet would have.

The blade caught Van Cleef just slightly left of centre of his chest as he was rising with the Beretta in hand. Doyle's former captor stared down at the handle of the knife sticking out of his chest and at the red stain which was rapidly spreading across the front of his white shirt.

Fury rapidly overtook disbelief on the madman's face. Van Cleef raised the Beretta and pointed it at Doyle.

No thought, just instinct. Ray ducked down and rolled to cover beside the nightstand as a volley of bullets blasted where he'd stood seconds before. He grimaced as he realized that he was still mostly exposed behind the nightstand, but there was no other cover to be had. He prayed with all his heart that the shots wouldn't hit the bed, where his lover was stretched out like a sacrificial victim.

He waited for the next blast. By his count, Van Cleef still had four bullets left.

But there was only silence and the smell of spilt blood and cordite wafting through the room.

Not trusting the pause, Ray waited a minute more before cautiously peeking around the nightstand. Van Cleef lay unmoving in a gory, scarlet puddle by the window.

"Ray?!" Bodie sounded frantic on the bed. Ray realized that his handcuffed partner wasn't able to see him while he was down behind the nightstand like this. For all Bodie knew, the shots had killed him.

"I'm okay," Ray said, rising shakily to his feet. He kept waiting for his newly regained memories to retreat again, but he still knew who he was and who he'd been. He remembered London and Bodie, and C.I.5 and Bodie, and the chalet and Bodie, and bed and Bodie . . . .

As he stood there in the suddenly quiet room, Ray searched for the shock he'd expected to experience upon finding himself Bodie's lover once he regained his full faculties, but it wasn't there. It wasn't like the memories of his time at the chalet had switched off when his old memories switched on. They were there together, a coherent whole. The battered man staring up at him in open disbelief from the bed was the cement holding both parts of him together.

He wanted to run straight to Bodie, but he wasn't the same Ray Doyle who'd woken up at Marie's this morning with no other concerns in life other than finishing his latest canvas. You put a knife in a man's chest, even a mad bugger like Van Cleef, and certain protocols had to be followed afterwards.

Ray quickly crossed to Van Cleef and kicked the Beretta free of the long-fingered hand. Then he knelt down to check the throat for a pulse; for all that he cringed to initiate any physical contact with his rapist.

Though warm, the skin beneath his fingers was as still as Miller's had been.

It was over.

"He's dead," Ray said, hearing the hollowness in his own voice. Remembering the cuffs on Bodie's hands, Ray reached out to search Van Cleef's jacket pockets for the key. Sure enough, the right one disgorged the tiny handcuff key. He looked over at the bed as he rose to his feet and demanded of his shackled partner. "What's he doing here? You told me he was in prison for life."

Maybe if Bodie's face hadn't been so roughed up, Ray would have been further enraged by the guilt that flashed across it. But taking in Bodie's puffy, blackened eyes, bloody right cheek, and bleeding, cracked lips, Ray couldn't get too angry.

"The day Cowley came to visit us I found out he'd been shot in a prison escape attempt. The officials were pretty sure he'd drowned. They found a body that they thought was his," Bodie answered, seeming almost afraid.

"And you didn't think I had a right to know?" Ray hissed, almost too furious to listen to the answer.

Bodie's stricken expression was not feigned. Ray had never seen his partner so miserable. At least, not since they'd become lovers.

"I wanted to tell you, but I wasn't sure how you'd react, and then . . ." Bodie faltered for a moment, his expression as grave as if he were wagering his entire world, ". . . and then we became lovers, and I honestly forgot all about the bastard."

Ray scoured those banged up features. He knew truth when he heard it.

Suddenly, he became aware of the fact that he was haranguing a man who'd just been abducted and worked over by professionals, a man who was still in handcuffs. Whatever Bodie had or hadn't done, this wasn't the time for this.

"How are you feeling?" Ray belatedly asked as he approached the bed, key in hand.

"Like a proper idiot," Bodie said, his face red from more than blood. "They caught me cold again, Ray."

Ray eased himself onto the side of the bed, taking stock of his partner. Bodie appeared to be in about the same state as his clothes – banged up and dirty, but for the most part, intact. Thank God.

Almost weak with relief, Ray forced a smile and said lightly, "Nah, there's nothing proper about you, mate."

Then he bent down to press a gentle kiss to Bodie's forehead, which seemed to be the only uninjured part of his face.

Rising, he quickly undid the handcuffs, wincing in sympathy as the grimace Bodie gave as sensation returned. Once both cuffs were off, Ray helped his partner sit up in the bed and then quickly started rubbing his arms.

"How bad is it?" Ray asked, hoping there was no nerve damage. Bodie's hands looked red and swollen, but the colour wasn't as bad as it would have been were there sustained lack of circulation.

"'s okay," Bodie lied, in visible agony. "They only cuffed me to the bed an hour or so ago, though it felt like years."

Ray kept rubbing, grateful for the warmth and life in the flesh beneath his palms.

"Not to sound ungrateful, but what the hell are you doing here, Ray?" Bodie asked after a few more moments, his voice dramatically less distressed.

"Your man Jenkins called the lodge to tell me what happened," Ray said.

"That mad bugger brought you here? Where the devil is he? What was he thinking, letting you come up here alone?" After a pause for breath or thought, Bodie asked in a more sombre tone, "Paul's not dead, is he?"

It took Ray a moment to recall that Jenkins Christian name was Paul.

"No, and he didn't let me come here alone," Ray said and then briefly described how he'd followed Van Cleef's guard back to the warehouse on his way to meet Jenkins.

"Bloody hell, Ray! Are you trying to get yourself killed? What if you'd been seen? What if the guards were here?" Bodie fretted, his split lip starting to drip blood again.

Feeling a tightness in his throat, Ray quietly answered, "They were here. Where do you think I got the gun from?"

"You . . . ." It was hard for eyes as swollen and discoloured as Bodie's were to look truly thunderstruck, but somehow Bodie managed it.

"Miller, the econo sized goon, is dead in the hallway. The man I followed back is down in the ground floor corridor with a broken neck," Ray grimly reported.

He waited for more questions, but Bodie simply stared at him. After a minute, Bodie raised his arm to give Doyle's shoulder an encouraging squeeze, wincing at the motion. A short time later, Bodie said, "We've got to find a phone to call this in. My RT's out of range."

Ray nodded. "We have to call Marie, too. They'll be worried sick by now."

"Yeah," Bodie nodded, looking as though he immediately regretted the action.

"How's your head? You dizzy? Any double vision?" Ray quizzed before allowing his lover to move.

"My eyes're too swollen for double vision," Bodie complained, which more than anything told Doyle that he wasn't suffering anything too severe.

Relief sweeping through him, Ray helped his partner up from the bed. He was happy to see that Bodie was standing on his own, even if he weren't moving too quickly.

Together they made their way out the door.

Bodie paused in the corridor to stare down at Miller's still form. Even flat on the floor the man was enormous. With his black jacket, pale white skin, and light coloured trousers, the dead man looked like a beached orca.

Without another word, they headed for the stairs.


With a heavy sigh, Bodie climbed into bed what felt like centuries later. He leaned gratefully back against the mound of pillows, stretching his legs out in front of him. Every inch of his body ached to get intimate with the mattress, but he wanted to wait for Ray to finish in the loo before giving into his exhaustion.

What with the interview with Schueller and the stop at the nearest hospital, it had been 3:00 a.m. before they'd made it home. Well, not home per se, but Marie's was close as made no difference.

They'd been damn fortunate, straight down the line. His unbelievable rescue alone would have used up a lifetime of luck, but the fact that Ray and he hadn't been detained by the authorities was nothing short of miraculous.

Once again, Bodie blessed whatever star had prodded him to contact Shueller directly, rather than go through normal channels. If they hadn't had a personal relationship with the Interpol agent, they would still be down at the office answering questions. Ray's lack of a passport alone would have kept them there for days, but Schueller had been surprisingly accepting of Bodie's explanation of Ray's ID being lost in the chase. Bodie suspected that Schueller's good will had as much to do with the promotion he'd received due to his fast action on Bodie's tip off last year as to any true belief he had in Bodie's story. All that really mattered to Bodie was that they'd let them go home. First thing in the morning he knew he was going to have to call Cowley to see if the old man could straighten out Ray's passport problems, but that could wait until daylight.

Bodie shifted in the bed, moving very carefully. The soles of his feet were about the only thing on him that didn't hurt. He had a spectacular collection of bruises popping up on his arms, chest, thighs, shins, and legs, and he suspected he had about the same developing on his back. In short, he hurt all over. But nothing was broken or ruptured, and he was glad to be hurting. For a while there, he hadn't been certain that he was going to be around to enjoy the morning.

Even now his mind was filled with the image of Ray bursting into that room, gun drawn, face intent as the old days, but wearing that totally incongruous, paint-speckled tee shirt under his black leather jacket. He'd looked sexy, and deadly. Very much the Ray Doyle Bodie remembered of old.

He smiled as the object of his thought slipped silently into the bedroom and eased the door shut behind him. It closed with a quiet snick.

"The cat'll be mad," Bodie said, gesturing with his chin at the closed door and wincing immediately at the resulting pain.

Ray was dressed in his usual pyjama bottoms. He had a glass of water in one hand and something cupped tight in the other.

"The cat's in with Marie," Ray said.

"They finally went to bed, then?" Bodie asked, relieved. He'd been horrified to find the Grubers up and waiting when they'd pulled into the lodge half an hour ago. Bodie didn't know if he could stand any more fussing over. But it had felt good, like the home he'd never had as a kid.

"Yeah," Ray answered. "This really shook Marie up."

"She all right now?" Bodie asked, stricken with guilt. It seemed that he'd brought these good people nothing but trouble since he'd first darkened their doorstep.

"She will be," Ray said and climbed into bed beside him. "Here, take your pain pill."

Bodie stared at the large white pill.

"If you don't take it, I'll tell Marie," Doyle threatened with a smile.

Bodie took his pill, doing his best to ignore Ray's stare. There was something different about the way Ray was looking at him, but he couldn't say just what.

The water was cool going down his throat and he greedily drank the entire glass. Ray took the empty glass from him and put it on the nightstand. He waited for Doyle to turn out the lamp, which was on his side of the bed, but Ray made no move to do so, even though he was nearly white with exhaustion.

"How're you feeling?" Ray asked.

"Rough, but better than I should be." Thinking about all Ray had done today, Bodie asked, "You?"

Those eloquent green eyes lowered to stare at the floral duvet. "I killed two men tonight."

"I know," Bodie said, wishing that it could have been himself who'd done the job. He didn't enjoy killing like some did, but when he put a mad bastard like Van Cleef down, he knew he'd done the entire world a favour. Ray had never been able to see it that way.

"I should be . . . guilty about that . . . but I'm not," Ray whispered, seeming almost ashamed to meet his gaze.

Well, that was unexpected. While in C.I.5, Ray usually suffered the torments of the damned over what the job forced them to do. Bodie had figured that this shattered, more sensitive version of his partner would be even more torn apart by the necessity of killing. But, then, the villains Ray had put down were the monsters who had abducted, tortured, and raped him. Perhaps the lack of guilt wasn't so inexplicable, after all. Bodie knew he sure as hell would be sleeping better after seeing Van Cleef's corpse.

Looking for the right words, Bodie said, "They were evil, Ray. Maybe it isn't our place to judge, but no one knows better than you how dangerous those men were."

"And that gave me the right to kill them?" Ray challenged softly.

This conversation was familiar of old to Bodie. "Maybe not the right, but definitely the responsibility – to stop them any way possible."

Ray nodded, seeming to think about what he said. Finally, Ray looked over at him and announced, "I don't want to do that anymore, Bodie."

From the tension in his features and slender body, Ray looked as though he were waiting for his world to fall apart.

It was a strange conversation, but Bodie's life had never been normal. "You don't have to, sunshine. I still can't believe you were able to do what you did tonight."

Ray took a deep, shaky breath and seemed to force himself to say, "Bodie, I remembered."

The pain pill starting to kick in and ease his aches, Bodie asked a little sleepily, "Remembered what?"


That single word froze his blood. Bodie looked at the man sharing his bed. "You – "

"Got my memory back tonight," Doyle finished. He appeared as nervous as Bodie abruptly felt.

Doyle remembered – everything. He knew he should be happy for his lover, but all Bodie could see was his world crashing down around him. The amnesiac Ray Doyle had needed him, but Ray Doyle of C.I.5?

That Ray Doyle had never needed anyone. Bodie knew he'd be lucky to keep the man's friendship. The love that had felt so right between them in this isolated corner of the world might be viewed in a very different light by his self-sufficient partner. No matter how Bodie looked at it, he knew he'd taken advantage of his friend when Ray wasn't in full control of his faculties. Going into this, Bodie had known that it was wrong of him to touch Ray, but he simply hadn't been able to stop himself. And that was no more of a valid excuse than the one that bastard Van Cleef might have offered.


"Yeah?" he snapped. He wasn't up to this – not physically or mentally, and definitely not emotionally. He couldn't lose Ray now, but . . . Bodie knew he was going to have nothing to say in that. It would be the same as always. Ray would do whatever he damn well pleased; only, this time, the partner who'd violated Doyle's trust wouldn't even be a factor in the equation.

Ray was watching him like a hawk.

Only now did Bodie wonder why Doyle was in here with him at all. If Ray had got his memory back, shouldn't he be down the hall in a bed of his own, or on a plane to England?

"I'd like for us to stay here, for a while at least," Ray quickly amended, sounding and looking as anxious as Bodie felt.

"Huh?" Bodie blinked his swollen lids. Ray was acting like the one who was about to lose it all.

"I know this place doesn't have the pubs or the nightlife to offer that London does, but – "

Bodie reached out his bruised-knuckled hand to still Ray's words and then asked the only question that mattered to him, "You want to stay with me, the way we've been these last few weeks?"

Bodie's free hand gestured at the bed they were sharing.

Ray's eyes widened huge as saucers. He reached up to push Bodie's palm from his mouth, but he didn't let go of it. Ray clenched Bodie's hand as though it were his last hold on life.

The surprise left Doyle's face, and most of his worry. "Whatever we do, we do it together, agreed?"

Bodie gulped. The steel in that question did more for him than a dozen avowals would.

"Agreed," he rasped out.

The action seeming strangely significant, Ray sidled close to him, put an arm around his shoulders, and gave him as much of a kiss as Bodie's battered mouth would allow, which was basically the lightest brushing of their lips together.

The pill must have kicked in big time at that point, for Bodie felt dizzy when Ray pulled back.

Ray seemed to study him for a moment. Then he softly said, "In case you haven't figured it out yet, I'm in love with you."

It was the first time either of them had said the word out loud.

Looking into those warm, loving eyes, Bodie didn't know how he could ever have doubted that. Ray had spent the last month showing him how much he meant to his partner.

Feeling very foolish, Bodie whispered, "I thought you'd hate me for taking advantage of you."

"Figured it was something like that," Ray said. "Listen up. I remember what happened – everything. I remember how often you said no to me, and I know who took advantage of who."

"I'd hardly say you took advantage of me, Ray," Bodie protested, just managing to keep his laughter back. He knew how prickly Doyle could be, and, whatever he did, he wasn't going to cock this up by being facetious.

"Then we're all right," Ray said, visibly relieved.

Both of them relaxed against the pillows, seeming to just want to enjoy the proximity. This wasn't exactly what Bodie had envisioned doing on his first night home after their separation, but in light of his injuries and both their states of exhaustion, this cuddling seemed all they were up to. Not that Bodie could find much fault in it. Holding Ray close like this seemed to be precisely what he needed.

After a time, he softly commented, "So, you want to stay here in the chalet?"

"If it's all right with you," Ray answered.

Feeling the tension in that lithe figure that Ray was obviously working to keep out of his voice, Bodie asked, "If you had your choice of anyplace in the world, where would you want to live?"

It wasn't an idle question. As long as Doyle didn't ask for a Mayfair brownstone, Bodie's ill-gotten gains in the safe downstairs would pretty much set them up comfortably for life. Not to mention the lucrative fee he'd charged for this weekend's security gig. The money Ray's artwork was bringing in was nothing to sneeze at, either. A little startled, Bodie realized that for the first time in his life, he didn't have to work if he didn't want to.

"With you," Ray promptly replied.

Smiling, Bodie said, "Let's take that as a given, okay?"


"So?" Bodie prodded.

"I guess my answer would depend on what you want to do," Ray said at last. "Do you want to go back to work for Cowley? And, before, you ask, I know I'm not ever going to make the squad again. Tonight was sheer desperation. I don't want to make a life of it."

Bodie thought about C.I.5 without Ray as his partner. It wasn't too long a think. "I don't want to work in C.I.5 without you to back me up, but even if I did . . . I'm nearly forty. Even if I get in good enough shape to take my old job, Cowley won't be able to keep me on the A-Squad for much longer. And I'm too much of a prima donna for B-Squad."

"So, what do you want to do instead?" Ray asked and then added. "We don't have to decide anything tonight, but it'd be nice to have some idea."

This answer didn't require much more thought than his previous one had. "I sort of like this security gig business, Ray. The team I put together was a good one. Think I'd like to give it a go."

To his intense relief, Ray looked neither threatened by the idea nor dead set against it. "Think you could do that kind of work from here?"

Translation – Ray really liked it here, as if Bodie hadn't known that. He could also sense how nervous Ray was that he didn't. Knowing only one way to assure his lover, Bodie decided to spoil his surprise. "I spoke to Jacques about the chalet when he came by the Marriott for dinner on Friday night. He's agreed to let me buy it from him."

"What?" Ray asked, seeming both shocked and overjoyed.

"It seemed like a good investment," Bodie said, his words ending with a painful "Umppphf!" as Ray hugged him tight.

"Sorry," Ray pulled back and apologized the instant he realized he was hurting him. "You really want to stay here long enough to buy the place?"

Bodie could see what a salve that had been to Ray's worries. "Providing Marie and Wilhelm have no objections."

Ray snorted. "You're kidding, right? I'll be lucky if I can get you back to the chalet this month."

Doyle didn't seem any more concerned about that than he was.

His gaze going abruptly dark and serious, Ray reached out to touch his face. "I didn't think I'd ever see you alive again. It scared me."

A year and a half ago, it would have been like pulling teeth to get either of them to admit that aloud to each other.

Bodie reached out to bury his fingers in Ray's long, soft curls. "I know. I lived that for the six months you were missing, remember?"

"I don't want us to ever go through that again," Ray said fiercely.

"Me, neither." Seeing the worry in Ray's eyes, Bodie said, "Today was personal, Ray. It's not likely to be repeated. I'm going to be coordinating security, not working it."

When he'd worked for Cowley, he'd always thought that the men in the field protecting the target had the harder job, but after these last few weeks, he'd come to appreciate how hard the man who decided where the bodyguards would be stationed and coordinated the million other details of getting a couple of scores of dignitaries safely in and out of a security nightmare worked. His new job might be less perilous, but it was much more demanding.

Ray nodded and snuggled down beside him. After a quiet minute, Ray sat up to turn off the light and then helped Bodie lie down flat to sleep.

Bodie smiled as Ray's head settled next to his on the oversized pillow they were sharing. After another minute, Doyle's arm landed lightly across his chest.

Bodie could just make out Ray's profile in the dim light seeping in from the dark mountain night outside the curtained window. Ray's eyes were still wide open.

"What's up?" Bodie asked.

"You think we can make this work?" Ray questioned, the light pressure his arm gave Bodie's chest illustrating what this was.

"It's been working, hasn't it?" Bodie asked, knowing how Ray worried about problems long before they manifested . . . if they did at all.

"Yes, but . . . ."

"Go on, spit it out," Bodie encouraged with a yawn.

"Back home, you always fancied variety," Ray discretely answered.

Hearing what Doyle couldn't bring himself to come out and ask him, Bodie gave his partner the truth. He figured he'd let Ray make what he would of it. "I always fancied you; I settled on variety."


"Can we go to sleep now, Ray?" he all but begged. "Or do you want to iron out our retirement plans while we're at it?"

The warm breath from Ray's snort caressed his face. Peeking out one discoloured eye, Bodie saw that Ray had finally closed his own eyes, even though his face was still tensed with thought.

"It'll be all right, Ray," Bodie whispered, and opened his cracked lips again as he pressed a kiss to his partner's cheek.

Somehow, Bodie knew it would. Shifting closer to Ray, Bodie closed his eyes, already anticipating the morning and the start of their new life together.

The End

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