The unfamiliar pub was crowded, filled with the laughter and shouts of relaxing regulars that would have been reassuring were this their home town, their own local. As it was, Doyle felt very much an outsider, especially since the isolation seemed particular to him alone. The buxom barmaid had taken to Bodie like he were her long lost...well, brother didn't quite fit. Something a bit more carnal perhaps.
Sighing, he rubbed at reddened eyes. The smoke was thick enough to slice and condensing by the second.
"You all right, mate? You look knackered," his partner observed, leaning close to be heard over the din.
"Flossie leave you then?" Doyle asked, not seeing the dyed blonde anywhere in their immediate area. She'd been sticking to his partner like a tick since they'd walked in.
"Florrie," Bodie corrected, the goodwill of the slightly inebriated seeming to allow him to overlook the sarcasm, if he heard it at all. "Just gone for reinforcements. She'll be back in a sec. She's got a place nearby. Thought I'd go 'round and..."
"Just be sure you're back at the B&B by morning. Cowley'll quarter us if we're late delivering those tapes."
"Delivering prisoners, delivering tapes. I'm beginning to feel like a bloody courier. If the Cow wants..."
"Save it for Cowley. I'm going to bed," Doyle decided, levering himself from the chair. It was a tight squeeze between the close-placed tables, even for him. He salvaged Bodie's lager from its imminent fall and wiped his hands on faded denim. "'Night."
"G'night, Ray. Bring this back for me?" Bodie asked, handing over the bottle he'd purchased for tomorrow night. Tomorrow's stop would be little more than a hamlet. Sundays in such places one could never be sure of getting a decent drink.
"Ta, mate. Sweet dreams. Ah, there you are, luv. Thought you'd lost your way," Bodie greeted the returning Florrie.
Not understanding its source, Doyle returned the hostile brown glare with feline intensity. Eventually the girl's gaze dropped to Bodie, transforming instantly into a blindingly sweet smile. There was more to that one than a bulging bodice, Doyle decided, hoping Bodie knew what he was getting into.
Responding to Bodie's absent farewell, Doyle made his way back to their room.
"Yes, sir. Tyden said they'd start Billings' interrogation tomorrow. Uh-huh, they're right here, sir. We'll be on the road at first light... Yes, goodnight." One handed, Doyle replaced the receiver in its cradle. He looked at the brown bag still clutched in his left hand, staring at it as if it had just materialized there. Granted, the room was tiny, but that was no reason for him to stand there holding Bodie's stash all night. More tired than he'd thought, he decided.
Standing the bag on the bureau top, he bent to hunt through his overnight for his toiletries kit. It wasn't so much that the room was small, he reflected, as that its limited space was overcrowded with decaying furniture of monstrous proportion. The battered armoire would do Murphy for a night's sleep. Cursing Cowley's parsimony, he at last snagged the elusive kit. Picking Bodie's precious bottle up lest it be forgotten in the morning's rush, he turned back to his overnight bag.
"What happened?" he asked as he heard the door creak open. "Flossie toss you out?" Doyle froze in his awkward crouch as his raising gaze encountered a mirror perfect reflection. Hair, broken cheek, eyes, slant of face, all were exact. The only difference was the clothes. "What the--" The bottle dropped from suddenly lax fingers.
Doyle's hand darted to his holster, never reaching its objective. His ears registered a squeak from the direction of the oversized armoire mere seconds before something heavy impacted with the back of his skull. He toppled forward. Glass cut into his chest as he landed. Face crushed into the threadbare Persian rug, Doyle's groggy senses fought the blackness and struggled to comprehend that last impossible impression.
"Hurry up, get those pants off him," a strangely familiar voice ordered.
His skin broke out in shivery goosebumps as he realized why that voice sounded so familiar. How many times had he heard it played back to him after recorded interrogations and debriefings? The voice was his own.
Rough hands rolled him over, fumbled with the clasp of his jeans. Not wanting to draw attention to his semi-alert state, Doyle did his best to play dead. The only reaction which betrayed him was an unconscious tensing of muscle as his pants were peeled away.
Then, a few moments later, "Bloody hell, the bugger's lost weight."
"Can you close them?" a second man asked anxiously.
There was a moment of breathy struggle before, "No. It won't close."
"You were told to lose weight. The size..."
"I am the exact size I was given. Bad enough I have to go through surgery to have my face and chest destroyed without having to lose half my body. Christ, he must have dropped 20 pounds."
"What'll we do?" the second voice asked indecisively.
"Stick to my own. They were selected because they matched a pair in his dreadful wardrobe."
While the two were involved in their argument, Doyle stealthily slipped his hand to his gun. Now if they'd only...
"Jesus, can't you do anything right? He's still conscious."
Doyle groaned as another blow hit the same spot. This time there was no lingering awareness.
Bodie raced up the rickety staircase, taking the steps two at a time. Ray was going to murder him. There was no doubt in his mind. The sun had risen over an hour ago. They were supposed to have been on the road by dawn.
"Ray, sorry, mate. The alarm..." Bodie paused, catching a sniff of
the potent air. "Smells like a
bloody brewery in here. What have you bin up to?"
Doyle shrugged, moving from his perch on the bed. The slender body seemed unusually tense to Bodie's watchful eye, Ray's movements not nearly as fluid as usual. "Dropped the scotch bottle."
"Clumsy oaf," Bodie said affectionately. Now that he was within the room he could see the drying stain on the rug. Noticing a darker patch dead center, he moved to bend over it for a closer look. "That's blood there."
"Very good, Sherlock."
"Well, where's it from?"
"My foot," Doyle responded in a tone which told Bodie exactly what he wanted to do with that foot.
That at least explained Doyle's atypical lack of grace. The difference wasn't something Bodie could put words to, being more an absence of Ray's inherent poise. But then, a bothersome foot injury could throw a man's entire style off kilter. "Bad?"
"Nah, just annoying. Let's get moving, all right?"
Settled behind the Capri's wheel, well on their way to their next appointment, Bodie reached to shift gears. His eyes fixed for a moment on his partner's nearby thigh. Hardly an uncommon event. Since Doyle's release from hospital, he always seemed to be observing his friend, but this time something struck him as peculiar. So far on this trip the only pants Doyle had worn were a mesmerizing pair of skin tight jeans with a triangular patch over his right buttock that was anything but subtle. The bloody thing had been driving Bodie to distraction all weekend. Now, Doyle was wearing a pair of soft grey corduroys that Bodie hadn't seen since before the shooting last year.
"Hey, where'd you get those?"
"Ey?" Doyle asked, looking away from his study of the passing landscape.
"The pants. They're not the ones you've been wearing all weekend."
Doyle reached casually into his jacket, rubbing where the holster brushed his chest. "Civilized people change their clothing daily," Doyle declared, the haughty tone belying the tension that gripped his body.
"What would you know about civilized people? Anyway, you didn't pack them."
"Must have done. How else would they have gotten out here?" Doyle asked reasonably.
Bodie glanced at his partner. The oddly slanted face was set in the intense waiting pose of a hunting cougar, gripped with that same lethal tension. Doyle's hand was still resting on his gun and just for the slightest moment there, Bodie had the insane impression that Ray was ready to pull his weapon on him. With more difficulty than was understandable, Bodie shook off the ridiculous notion. Must really be snapping, he thought, when it came to imagining Ray drawing a gun on him.
Doyle appeared to be waiting for his acceptance of his logic.
Bodie had watched the other man pack and he was certain the grey cords had not been included. Doyle was constantly complaining that none of his clothes had fit him after hospital. These grey pants were among the largest Doyle owned, big enough to almost accommodate his partner's more generous girth. Bodie supposed that he could have missed their being packed or that they might have been left in the travel bag after a previous trip, but in any case, they should not have hugged Doyle's form the way they did.
Still, Doyle did have a point. How the hell else would the bloody pants have gotten here if not brought by Doyle? And, more important, what difference did it make? It was hardly worth arguing about.
"You're right, of course. Ignore me, I'm still hung over," Bodie conceded, relaxing as he saw Doyle's hand slip from its unnerving position to rest benignly at his side.
Christ, but the job was getting to him, Bodie decided, turning his attention back to the road. A small degree of paranoia was to be expected in their line of work, but never had his instincts so badly misled him. For all his realizations, Bodie's gut reaction was still telling him that Ray had been prepared to kill him.
With that unsettling acknowledgement, the trip continued in silence.
Marty Langston, currently Raymond Doyle of CI5, gave his teeth one last swipe before rinsing. He suppressed a shudder as he returned Doyle's toothbrush to the basin ledge. That intimacy more than anything repulsed him.
His eyes lingered on the reflection in the bathroom mirror, still not claiming it as his own. His altered chest was disgustingly mutilated, the scars practically mirroring the ones on Doyle's chest. His employer's surgeons had guaranteed that they could be undone with minor cosmetic surgery, so he wasn't overly concerned with those.
It was the face that most troubled him, the damn fake cheekbone. The disfigurement would be permanent. But his employers had paid him well for the alterations and for the two years he'd waited to be of use to them. This Billings character must be pretty important if they were willing to play their trump card for him.
Basically, Marty's job was simple--impersonate Raymond Doyle until his employers secured Billings' location from the original article. If he should accidentally happen upon that information, all the better, but under no circumstances was he to jeopardize his position.
Thus far, his employers would be proud of him. With only two touchy moments, he'd managed to fool the person most likely to pick up on the switch--Doyle's partner.
His final test with Bodie would occur once he stepped outside the closed bathroom door. His employer's informant within CI5 had provided countless video tapes to perfect movement and gesture, audio recordings for voice, and tomes of personal background files, case histories and psychological evaluations to help Marty's charade. The one thing their mole hadn't been able to provide was information on the exact nature of Doyle and Bodie's relationship. The general consensus in the CI5 rumor mill had the two pegged as non-exclusive lovers--but that was pure speculation.
There was no nebulosity in Marty's mind that the partnership was anything but sexual. He'd peddled his body in a more traditional manner long before he'd become enmeshed in espionage. Marty knew when he was desired—Bodie's pure blue gaze all but devoured him whole.
If he'd had any doubts, the day would have vanquished them. Bodie stood closer to him than his own shadow, invading Doyle's personal space with an arrogance any non-lover would have found intolerable. The banter the other man initiated was more often than not outright flirting. Then there had been that instance on the stairs when Bodie goosed him, and lastly, the double bed. No, they were lovers all right. It was only what kind that was in question.
Marty had seen the tapes of Doyle, read his personnel folder. The man was cold, even by a hustler's standards. He had a suspicion that Bodie was attracted by that air of unobtainability. Many men were. Marty had used it himself. The challenge was enough to ensure that an adventurer like Bodie would have at least given it a go. Marty suspected that Doyle had acquiesced to his partner's advances--but strictly on his own terms, more on tolerance than active interest--or so Doyle's taped attitudes led Marty to believe. On those grainy videos, Doyle rarely refused Bodie's overtures, but hardly ever did he initiate them. Bodie did all the running, took all the emotional risks.
They were nice, neat theories in Marty's opinion, but it was now time to prove them.
A last glance in the mirror convinced him that his brief-clad body was perfect--or as perfect as possible with the patchwork of scars and mutilated face. Briefly, he wished Bodie could have seen him before the doctors got at him. If the good looking agent were willing to settle for damaged goods, Marty could just imagine what his reaction would be to the untouched product, but then he had to keep reminding himself that Doyle had his own peculiar brand of sexuality. Oft times when the man looked like he'd been dragged through a dustbin, Doyle would be at his most seductive, none he met immune to his simmering sexuality. Bodie least of all. There were tapes where Bodie's gaze never once left the tattered satyr.
Buoyed by that knowledge, Marty made his exit from the loo.
Bodie's position as Marty entered the dreary rented room was one of almost stereotyped domesticity. Pillow fluffed behind his head, he lay on the left side of the bed reading a newspaper, patiently waiting his lover.
If he'd had a particular type that he preferred, Bodie would be very close to it. Muscular without being muscle-bound, the CI5 agent was physically impressive.
Strength-wise, Bodie was no doubt much more powerful than Doyle. Marty, who did not possess even Ray Doyle's strength, knew a moment's worry. He'd had some rough tricks in his time. The mercenary background he'd read in Bodie's history file always promised a few kinks. Besides which, he knew nothing of Doyle's sexual preferences. For all his air of unobtainability, Doyle might like it rough, might need to have his submission forced upon him. With the violence these two witnessed in their line of work, Marty doubted there would be much feigned or restrained in their bedroom games.
Yet, there was something about Bodie. He played the tough man without fault, coming across as a cynical, black-humored man of the world who'd seen it all and done at least as much as he'd seen. Still, Marty was almost convinced that Bodie was playing the hard man, rather than actually being one. Oh, Marty had no doubt that Bodie was capable of the actions required to uphold that image, but under it all he suspected the man was quite gentle. Those spectacular blue eyes were too filled with outright affection when they rested on Doyle, Bodie's character too relaxed and good humored to conceal a heart of ice.
Or so Marty hoped as he approached the bed.
"What kept you so long? Oh, you've showered. To what do we owe that rare honor?" Bodie asked. Folding the paper, he put it on the night table.
Marty noticed how carefully the blue gaze was averted from his briefs. His first instinct had been right then; Doyle called the shots.
"Stifle up and turn out that light," Marty ordered. Eyes adjusting to the ghostly silver moonlight which seeped through a part of the curtains, Marty waited to see what would happen next.
The larger man settled down beside him on his back, making no move towards him. Bodie wasn't relaxed for sleep, though. There didn't seem to be a muscle in Doyle's partner that wasn't strained. Sensitive to undercurrent, Marty could tell how Bodie's every sense was focused on him.
Bodie was a fool, Marty decided. He had the muscle and the background to bend the skinny, manipulative runt he was partnered with over any time of day and take what he wanted. Instead, he lay there on a bed of nails waiting for the smaller man to take notice of him. It just didn't make any sense, unless, of course, Bodie enjoyed the anticipation of waiting. Maybe he'd had the game right after all and just called the players wrong. Maybe it was Doyle who was the hard man.
Or maybe Doyle just made Bodie wait until he gave his permission. Becoming tired of chasing around his head in circles and more than a bit aroused by the slightly kinky scenarios, Marty opted for a final test. Tossing about a little, he squirmed free of his briefs. Every time his skin contacted Bodie's the other man jerked as if galvanized by an electric current.
"What the hell you doing, Doyle?" Bodie hissed, voice gruff with arousal.
"Just getting comfortable," he replied sweetly, his back now turned to Doyle's partner. Rigid with suppressed want, Bodie had yet to move.
Mischief getting the better of him, Marty decided to test the other's controls further. Bodie's left hand lay between them. He arched his bare bottom back until the round globe landed atop Bodie's open palm.
From Bodie's gasp one would have thought he'd been doused with ice water.
"Ray?" Utterly tentative, Bodie sounded as if it were more than likely that Doyle would call a halt to the proceedings right here.
He had to give Doyle credit. The man was colder than Marty had even imagined if he could stop things here. Marty had never played such a game before, but it was one of the hottest he'd come across yet.
Right now, he wanted nothing more than to roll over and sheathe himself in the other man's body. From the tension in the hand cupping his ass, he could tell that Bodie was even worse off than he. Absently, he wondered how Doyle kept the upper hand. The anticipation was headier than anything Marty had experienced. But what was to keep Bodie's muscle from changing the game from this delicious masochism to rape?
"Ray?" Again that heart-wrenching plea for permission to continue. Or explanation, a part of Marty's mind suggested and was instantly ignored.
In answer, Marty wriggled his backside, moving until Bodie's index finger was positioned over the cleft in his cheeks. There Marty stopped and regained that inhuman stillness.
Bodie's finger remained poised there for what seemed an eternity. Then, ever so slowly, it insinuated itself between his cheeks, stopping only when it reached the tight ring of sphincter muscle.
Christ, but they were heavy into masochism, Marty decided. His own heart was pounding so hard that it was almost drowning out his hoarse gasps for breath. Bodie was in a far worse state, the exploring hand quaking with banked down need.
Wondering how long the restraint could continue, Marty wriggled his bum again, centering the fingertip for penetration.
Bodie gave the lightest push, moving as though it were the first time he'd ever had his fingers up his partner's arse. Marty pushed firmly back, forcing the probe in deeper. Marty had been prepared for rape, so the channel was thickly coated with the vaseline he'd found in Doyle's travel kit. Bodie's finger slid almost all the way in. Marty gasped, rotating his hips just the slightest bit to put the pressure on his prostate. Obviously no novice to this, Bodie finger fucked him expertly.
When he felt the pleasure too much, Marty gripped the moving hand, ripping the tormenting finger from inside himself with a flick of his wrist. Mastering his control, Marty lay flat on his stomach, listening to Bodie's heavy breathing behind him. Back in control once again, Marty turned to his companion. He couldn't help but smile with amusement at the picture. The damn sheet was still pulled chastely up to Bodie's waist. There was no doubting his state, however. The handsome face was contorted with pleasure turned pain, the hard muscled body taut with the agony of holding back.
Marty swept the sheet aside, gazing in near triumph at Bodie's crotch, at the straining cock trying to make its way through white cotton.
That wouldn't do.
"Lose the clothes," Marty ordered.
Looking as if he were under an enchantment, Bodie quickly stripped off his underpants, lying back down on the bed to stare up at Marty.
Marty's eyes traveled slowly up the sweat-beaded body, stopping at the beseeching blue gaze. Bodie looked at him as if he still believed Doyle would change his mind at any moment.
Unsure if he were doing it to ease his own lust, a totally acceptable reason, or for the less viable one of easing the pain in those beautiful eyes, Marty straddled Bodie's hips. A choked back sob was wrenched from the other man as Marty gripped the previously untouched shaft. It twitched in his hand, perilously close.
No longer having time for the game, Marty raised himself above Bodie's hardness. Positioning the organ, he slid slowly downwards, stopping only when his backside hit Bodie's thighs. Bodie was big, an uncomfortable stretch after a long abstinence. Marty waited a second to accustom himself to the size and feel before he started the rocking that would bring them both off.
Unfortunately, the game seemed to have overstrained Bodie. The moment Marty paused, control was taken from him. Apparently unable to wait anymore, Bodie thrust up at him, once, twice, the penetration wild, rhythmless and painful to Marty. Marty grunted as the third thrust seemed to pierce straight up him like a spear. Bodie froze, bathing Marty's pain with his hot outpouring.
Marty sat still as the organ softened within him. It had been too fast for him. Left behind, he looked down at the sated face that was gazing up at him with an expression he could classify only as rapt adoration.
Dismounting, he knelt between Bodie's carelessly splayed thighs. Without pause he hoisted the strong legs up, pushing forward until Bodie's knees rested above his shoulders, either side of his head.
The blue eyes widened in surprise, but there was no shadow of denial. Something like fear perhaps, but then Marty figured Doyle was probably as demanding here as he'd been in the earlier part of the game.
Regarding Bodie from this angle, Marty was struck by his utter vulnerability. In this position the bigger man's muscles were worthless. Bodie was totally at his mercy.
The red ringed anus revealed by the parting of these creamy cheeks looked tight. After wetting his fingers in his mouth, Marty pressed experimentally inwards. Lord, but the man was snug, almost virginal. He worked his finger up deep into Bodie, struggling against straining muscle every millimeter of the way. The startled gasps and groans Bodie gave made him hotter, passion sounding so close to pain.
Steady circling paid off; he was able to get one and then two fingers all the way in. Once in his life he'd had a virgin and it was very like this, a fight all the way. Not that Bodie was refusing him. The man's body just seemed unaccustomed to it. Of course, he'd known hustlers who could fake inexperience as well as Bodie seemed to be doing now.
When the strangely tight passage extended as wide as Marty figured it could be stretched, he withdrew his fingers. Spitting on his hand, he lubricated himself.
Positioning himself at what seemed to be a shrinking entrance, Marty took one last look at Bodie's face. The eyes were tight shut, face frozen in passion.
Ever so slowly, he pushed in. Bodie grunted at the first hard push past the guarding ring, then fell silent, limiting his vocal reactions to a few gasps and stifled groans.
Marty gloried in this new game. The resistance was perfect, like pushing into a channel that had never been pierced before. He moved slowly, extending the glorious torment the way Bodie seemed to want him to. When he was all the way in, Bodie sighed, as if assuring himself that the worst was over.
Marty began pulling almost all the way out and pushing quickly back in, waiting for Bodie's body to accustom itself to his size and pick up his rhythm. That never happened, try as he would to stimulate Bodie's prostate. The man remained almost painfully tight around him, Bodie's body flooded with sweat.
Fumbling with Bodie's cock had some effect. Ever so slowly the clamp around his own organ eased, Bodie finally accepting him.
Marty lost track of the rest. Vaguely aware of his hand working Bodie, he was absorbed by the heat and tightness of the tract he thrust so madly into. Suspended at that final moment, he'd looked down into Bodie's blazing eyes.
Bodie moaned in need. Reaching up, his hand had snagged Marty's curls, pulling his head down into a surprisingly gentle kiss.
Breaking free of the kiss, Marty gave a final powerful thrust and exploded.
Too weak to do more after his orgasm, he was vaguely aware of Bodie disentangling them, tidying him up as best he could with a sheet corner and then locking him in a tight embrace. Unused to both the closeness and the protectiveness inherent in Bodie's gesture, Marty took a while falling asleep. He could almost envy Doyle this.
"Hungry?" Bodie asked as he signed them out.
"Starved." Doyle's casual sprawl against the wall made Bodie hungry in a different way.
"What do you say to some Wimpy burgers?" Bodie asked simply to enjoy the caustic refusal.
Ray's features brightened as if Bodie had just suggested the local veggie bar. "Sounds wonderful. Take away?"
Nonplussed by the easy acceptance, Bodie nodded. "Sure. Your place or mine?" He flushed, conscious of the new significance of remarks that were previously only light jokes.
Doyle's twinkling grin did nothing to steady his nerves. "Yours, I think."
Was Ray trying to please him, Bodie wondered. Usually the idea of any take away had Doyle playing the health advocate for hours.
Forgetting himself, Bodie moved too quickly to follow his partner. The abrading soreness in a particularly sensitive region slowed him to a more dignified pace.
Last night--the way Ray had just turned over and loved him-- it had been easier than Bodie's most fanciful daydreams would have allowed possible. Devoid of the awkwardness of a first time encounter, Doyle had acted as if making love were something they did every night. Certainly, it hadn't been Ray's first time with a man--a fact that shocked Bodie no end. He would have sworn anything that his partner had never even considered such an encounter, never mind being capable of bringing such expertise to it. Still, Bodie had yearned for their union for so long that not even that disillusionment could dim his elation. Doyle was his. And if their loving had been more proprietary than he would have imagined, well, tenderness would no doubt come in time.
Sacks of Wimpie burgers littering his parlor, Bodie leaned back on the couch and regarded his partner. Not only had Doyle eaten the infamous burgers, he had actively enjoyed them. Right now the curly haired enigma was sporting a blob of ketchup on his chin like some kind of badge.
Bodie watched the spot move in sequence to Doyle's speech for as long as he could. At last, he leaned over to lick it off, his mouth naturally enough moving to claim a kiss.
Sometime later, Bodie surfaced for air, his breath catching as it would after one of Macklin's workouts. "Last night was exquisite," he breathed into a nearby ear.
Ray shivered, glancing up at him from beneath his lashes coquettishly. The gesture was Doyle's of old, and yet even through a sexual haze, it seemed to Bodie that there was something different about it tonight. "If you fancied that, wait 'til you sample tonight."
Minutes later, Bodie caught the frantically moving hands. "Hey, slow down, mate. We've the rest of our lives to enjoy each other."
Doyle allowed himself to be guided back against the copious cushions. There was an air of uncertainty about him, as if Doyle didn't quite know what to expect from him. With Ray's silent, if ambivalent, permission, Bodie proceeded to love his partner the way he would have preferred to the first time, slowly and with extreme care.
Halfway through the third day they stopped asking him about Billings. When CI5 had apprehended the Eastern plant in MI6, they'd known he was an important link in the opposition's network. A very important one to merit a double and this intense interrogation, Doyle thought foggily. He did not wish to consider too closely what form the questioning would take when it recommenced.
So far, he'd been lucky, a few disorienting drugs and heavy on the talk. He'd been able to thwart them until now, thanks to his partner. The first time he'd tried the traditional stiff upper lip approach, Bodie had shown him the benefits of a little over-reacting while undergoing interrogation. The ex-mercenary's point was well taken.
With the traditional stoicism, when a man finally broke, he had no reserves left to draw upon and was indeed broken: Bodie's way was better. The opposition never knew what you were capable of until far too late. Far too late appeared to have arrived, or so Doyle figured as he revived from his latest faint. The faint had been real, caused more by the drugs than the physical abuse. His tormentor, a skeletonic scholarly type who would have passed for the mad scientist in any B movie, had imprudently turned his back on his supposedly unconscious captive. It was the break Doyle had been awaiting.
Sparing time only for a quick glance to assure that they were truly alone, Doyle gained his feet and soundlessly crossed the cold floor.
His hand sliced down onto the neck beneath the stained frock coat in a clean shuto strike. He caught the sagging body and lowered it almost gently to the stone floor.
His senses swam under a sickening lurch of nausea as he straightened. It was probably the drugs, or maybe hunger, as he couldn't recall the last time he'd eaten; he hoped it was the latter. That brand of light- headedness he could deal with.
Making his barefoot way to the door, Ray gave a thought to his double. Such a thing had never happened in CI5. Inconceivable damage could be wrought by his look-a-like.
His one hope was his partner. Bodie knew him better than anyone on this planet. No superficial resemblance would fool him for long. They were probably looking for him this very moment.
With that consoling thought in mind, Doyle began to consider an exit.
"Damn. I forgot the butter," Doyle announced, forest-dark eyes surveying the mid-morning feast he had just deposited on the rec room table.
Bodie, too busy with the more exciting perusal of the slim form posed in its irritated stance to notice anything about the food beyond the novelty of the service lavished so generously upon him since Sunday night, beamed affectionately up at his friend. "I'll fetch it," he volunteered bravely and then because they were alone in the room, "You enjoy yourself. Need to keep up your strength."
"That's not all I'll keep up," Doyle replied, giving him a look of such sweet promise that Bodie swore his bones melted under its brilliance.
Must be love, Bodie reflected as he hunted up the butter tub. The last three days were a blur of sensation, like a never-ending roller-coaster ride. He was still stunned by the suddenness of it all. Analysis wasn't really his strong suit--usually he left such matters to Ray's overactive intellect--but as far as Bodie could determine, there had been no gradual development. These feelings had just sprung up full grown between them. To his astonishment, Ray was not into discussion. The nights of vital passion were accepted with the casual comfort of a relationship of long standing, Bodie having to struggle for every word vocalized.
The reality of loving Ray wasn't at all as he'd imagined it would be. The sex was downright incredible, Doyle possessing the unsuspected expertise of a seasoned whore, but their unions were strangely lacking in tenderness. Bodie always figured they would have that if nothing else. Their first time together had been a wild passion storm, chock full of the raw carnality Bodie believed he had left behind him forever in Africa. With anyone other than Ray he might even have called it unpleasant, but then again, he would never have allowed any man but Doyle to take him that way. Monday night had been better. Once he'd convinced Doyle to allow him to take over the reins for a while, he'd been able to show Ray exactly how their loving should be. Slowly and easily, he'd worshipped every inch of his partner until the skinny body was shaking with reaction. Ray responded as though he'd never been touched that way, with gentleness and care. Doyle had liked it, Bodie was sure of that. Yet, he couldn't understand the subsequent withdrawal. Ray had seemed unnerved by his tenderness, pulling back from it as though it were capable of hurting him, perhaps even lethally.
Tuesday night had seen a return of Sunday's lust. Disappointed as Bodie was by his failure to breech the wall to which Doyle seemed oblivious, he couldn't help but enjoy the mechanics. Ray was sensational in bed.
But Bodie wanted more than that. He wanted the heart of the man. In some ways he felt as though he'd been loving a stranger these past few days. He wanted to touch Ray's soul, an event which Doyle seemed determined to circumvent.
Still, Ray had to care for him. They were working on an eight year partnership, after all. And it was Doyle who had initiated the physical portion of their relationship. Ray wouldn't have taken that kind of chance if Bodie weren't damned important to him. Finally, if Bodie had needed any proof of his friend's feelings, there was yesterday afternoon. A routine questioning gone bad, Bodie had abruptly found himself pinned between two herculean heavies while the gun dealer for whom they were searching worked him over. Ray had charged in like a rhino, taking on both musclemen with his usual efficiency. Only it hadn't stopped where it usually did. Ray was always a dirty fighter--he had to be--but Tuesday afternoon he'd been positively vicious, continuing even after his opponents were subdued. The only thing Bodie could attribute such a radical character shift to was their altered relationship. Always a shade over-protective himself, he could well understand the emotions that must have driven Ray to such an extreme. But understanding did not necessarily entail condoning. They had to talk, soon. But not now, Bodie realized as he started back toward the rec room with the elusive butter.
He could hear Ray's voice raised in anger. Probably Murph trying to snitch another scone. Earlier there had almost been bloodshed over the damned tin.
Bodie eavesdropped for a moment, wanting to hear Ray verbally flay their friend again. Peculiarly enough, all he was able to hear was Doyle's voice. There was nothing even slightly amused about the tone. Doyle sounded deadly serious in his anger.
At the sound of a crash, Bodie dashed through the door. The sight which greeted him left him frozen in the doorway. Stunned, he could only stare at the impossible.
Ray was there in the brown cords and neat white shirt he'd donned this morning wrestling with another man.
That other man was also Ray. Only this Doyle looked as though he'd been dragged through a sewer. Filthy, bare feet, dirty jeans and a ripped and bloody tee shirt, the unshaven Doyle appeared a refugee from a lunatic asylum.
Bodie watched as the two grappled for supremacy. It was only when he saw a flash of silver gripped tight in a balled fist that Bodie realized both men had knives.
The neat Ray held a slim and lethal switchblade while the derelict Doyle held what looked to be a butter knife snatched from the upturned table. A line of scarlet dripped down the ragamuffin's arm from a wicked slice.
"That's enough. Break it up," Bodie demanded. When his shout had no effect, he reached out, grabbed two fistfuls of identical curls and tugged.
Both Doyles rolled apart, bounding to their feet with equal speed, knives still at the ready and now pointed at Bodie. Abruptly realizing that one of these men was not his partner and was no doubt capable of using the knife against him, Bodie drew his gun. Not sure which man to point it at, the bore and Bodie's gaze wavered between the Doyles.
Two pairs of matching green eyes glared back at him with murderous fury. The resemblance was uncanny. One clean, one tattered, they were nonetheless the same man. The Doyle on his right was the Ray he had been making love to the last three days; the Doyle on his left wore what appeared to be the same jeans Ray had worn throughout the Billings op. The tee shirt was the same as Sunday's as well, except that now it had several rips and a dark brown stain on the front that could only be dried blood.
The derelict was staring askance at him as though he could not believe that Bodie did not know which Doyle was which. Confused, Bodie turned to the neat Doyle. The expressions matched, only in this case there was the understandable trace of a wounded lover.
"Stalemate," Bodie sighed. "I can't tell you apart. Suppose we start by dropping the silverware."
"Not until he does," the tattered alley cat snarled, clinging to the butter knife like a life line.
"Ray?" Bodie asked reasonably of the well dressed version.
Wide green eyes focused on him uncertainly. "'m countin' on you, sunshine," Ray said and slowly dropped the switchblade.
Bodie vented a sigh of relief, buoyed by this show of faith.
Surely, the fake Doyle wouldn't be the first to discard his weapon.
Recovering his equilibrium, Bodie managed a degree of his usual sardonic flair. "Thank you. Now what about you, mate?"
The useless butter knife clattered to the floor, its unkempt user visibly reluctant
to part with it. Bodie took a good look at the filthy claimant, made uneasy
by the battered appearance. The man looked drugged, the odd angle and slants
in the Doyle-like face sharpened from physical strain. It was hardly the condition
one would expect an imposter to show up in, being more the state of an escaped
prisoner. Unless, of course, the phony Doyle's employer was very subtle. The
caused by just such a subterfuge might be exactly what the initiators of this scene desired.
"Well? What now?" The object of Bodie's examination demanded irritably in a tone that was chillingly familiar. Bloodshot purple-brown bagged eyes glanced around as if searching for something to lean on.
"I could ring up the lads in fingerprinting," Bodie suggested lamely.
That earned him a snort. "Right. I'm sure the boys who planned this overlooked that." Then as the tired gaze surveyed its bright-eyed counterpart, the ragged looking Doyle continued, "But then again, perhaps they did. They certainly overlooked my weight. I haven't been able to keep those pants up without a belt for over a year. Just look at him, Bodie. He's hangin' out all over the place."
Bodie did as requested. The pants were snug, but no tighter than usual for Ray.
"This is ridiculous, Bodie," his lover of the last three days protested. "Can't you tell us apart?"
"I can tell you apart, all right. I just don't know which of you is the genuine article," Bodie defended in a slightly apologetic tone. He should know which Doyle was which.
The disheveled Ray sighed, appearing too weary even for anger. "Well, ask us some questions then. Something only the real Doyle would know."
"Risky proposition for an imposter," the neat Doyle declared. "Go ahead, Bodie, show him up as the fake."
On the spot, he thought furiously. What would only the real Ray know? "Who was Ann Holly?"
Positioned as the Doyles were on opposite sides of him, Bodie could only watch one face at a time. The clean Doyle grimaced, looking as though he'd been kicked below the belt. "Girl I was gonna marry. We busted her father for smuggling drugs."
The relief which swamped Bodie's body was overwhelming.
"You've been well coached, I'll give you that. My turn," the disreputable Doyle demanded.
"Who was Marjorie Harper?"
"Christ, couldn't you think of anything better than that?" the dirty-clothed Doyle protested, sounding genuinely annoyed.
"Just answer the question," Bodie ordered.
"She was a retired tart who set up burglaries of posh homes and estates. She also had a crush on me. Think harder, Bodie. This bugger's been well coached."
The plea sounded genuinely desperate. Bodie looked away from the beseeching gaze, his eyes settling on his lover's form. No doubt shadowed the green eyes that met his own so squarely, no trace of betraying nervousness. This had to be the real Ray.
"Who were Dave Bentley and Mark Layton?" Bodie asked, choosing a more whimsical line of questioning that his Doyle would find amusing.
Bodie was not disappointed. Doyle smiled at him conspiratorially. "You were bent. I was latent."
"Christ. What have they got? A direct tap on Herbie?" the other Doyle exploded, surprising Bodie with the information volunteered by giving their pet name for Dr. Ross's aggravating computer. "Try something personal, Bodie. Something not on file anywhere in CI5."
Bodie returned his attention to the ratty Doyle, wishing for all the world that it had been his neat lover who'd made that demand. Still, the unsullied Ray did not seem particularly upset by the request.
"All right then, what was the name of the inn we roomed at on our last fishing trip?" He directed his question at the rumpled Ray.
The red rimmed eyes widened in something akin to horror. "I...I forget."
Victorious, he turned to his bed-partner. "Ray?"
"Sorry, I can't recall it either. 'S on the tip of my tongue though. Up near Hampton, wasn't it?"
"He could've guessed that, Bodie. We always fish up near there. 'S bound to be on file someplace," the ragged Doyle pleaded with seductive reason.
Trouble was, the ratty sod was right. They always fished up there. Cowley doubtless had it on file somewhere.
What wouldn't be on file? The intimacies of the last three days certainly, but if his lover were indeed the imposter, they would no more prove out the real Ray than these case histories. No, whatever would prove Doyle out would be some casual bit of information, any of the millions of useless data he'd accumulated on his partner over the years.
Bodie thought hard, but the very importantness of what he was searching for made it near impossible to recall.
"What nicknames do I call you?" he asked the neat Ray on impulse.
"Sunshine, Goldilocks and, of late, Messy Bugger and Fire Cat."
Cheeks aflame, Bodie looked to the other Doyle. The dirt smeared face was puckered with thought, as if confused by the last two more intimate references. Before Bodie could ask his next question, the tattered Doyle volunteered, "You've also called me Bionic Golly and Angelfish on occasion. Bodie, I was abducted on Sunday night, when you were off with that barmaid. Ask him what I called her."
"Ey?" At first Bodie didn't understand; then he remembered Ray hadn't liked that one. His...pet name had been a bit uncomplimentary. "All right. What was her name?" he asked the neat Ray.
"Her name was Florence Tanner. Florrie for short."
"That's right," the disheveled Doyle agreed, a spark of victory in his tired eye. "Her name was Florrie, but I didn't call her that. I called her Flossie, and I never knew her last name."
"Neither did I." To his own ears, his voice sounded lifeless.
His mind was numb. On one level Bodie knew that he should be outraged by the deception. After all, he'd given himself to a bloody imposter, a spy sent for god knew what purpose. Mentally, Bodie knew that righteous anger should be his response, but inside he had no fire for it. The realization of what he'd done was there, but it was muted by the misery of knowing that Ray had never been nor ever would be his.
A sudden move to his right broke through the fog shrouding his mind. Bodie spun to find the imposter pointing Doyle's own gun directly at Ray. The fury in the hard green eyes told him that the man meant to use it. Bodie's gun was still drawn and pointed at the substitute. With every ounce of his will, Bodie tried to pull the trigger. It should have been easy, even gratifying. Instead, it was as impossible as the current situation.
There was no thought to his next action, only movement. With that same numbed awareness, Bodie placed himself between the Doyles.
Determination moulded every line of the face of the man who had taken him with such vigor. Bodie braced himself for the shot.
For an endless second all three players were frozen in their appointed roles.
The imposter broke first. Frustration and an emotion akin to bewilderment washed over the hard set of his features. "Damn you, Bodie," the man said softly. Doyle's gun was lifted and tossed at him as the double turned to escape through the door behind him.
"Shoot him, you moron. What the devil's wrong with you?" the real Ray demanded, understandably aggrieved.
Before Bodie could find an answer he was pushed aside. "Don't just stand there. He's getting away."
The sight of Ray giving chase to himself got Bodie moving. The three crashed through the rec room door into the corridor. Bodie was blurrily aware of a typist's shocked face as the three rushed by her.
The fake Ray slowed at the top of the stairs, confronted by Murphy and McCabe gaping at the double vision from the half-way point. The substitute's reactions were as good as the original's. With the barest pause to recalculate, the imposter reversed direction, heading up towards the roof.
"What the hell's going on?" Murphy called.
"Seal off the building," Bodie shouted over his shoulder.
The roof door was closed by the time Ray and he reached it. Doyle hesitated before it.
"He's not armed," Bodie reminded, recognizing the predatory gleam. "He threw the gun away."
The glance that carved him was unreadable, slightly accusatory. "Yeah, but he might have another. That wasn't my switchblade he was playing with."
"Right. Let's get to it then."
The door was unlocked, swinging open with barely a creak.
This morning's overcast had given way to a pervasive drizzle. The roofing gleamed slick and black as polished obsidian beneath the threatening grey skies. Bodie stepped out on its rubbery surface, eyes darting in all directions, affording his prey the respectful caution one would exhibit when stalking a wounded tiger. He was increasingly aware of the fact that his partner was unarmed, relying entirely on his rattled reflexes for protection.
"This way," Doyle said decisively, pointing to the left of the exit.
"Why that way?"
"'Cause it's the path I'd choose."
"Good a reason as any I suppose. After all, where's he going to go?"
Doyle chose to answer the rhetorical question. "Clayton building isn't that far."
"You're insane. It's got to be 15 feet at least. We're eight stories up, Doyle."
"It's also the only possibility."
"If you're a long horned mountain goat."
"Come on," Doyle said gamely, although he looked to be on his last leg. Rivulets of rain streaked lines through the grime coating his face.
Having only a few moments lead, the imposter was not far ahead. Doyle's double was precisely where Doyle had predicted he'd be.
A brick ledge approximately three feet wide bordered the roof edge. Doyle's double stood before it, back to them as he regarded the Clayton Building so tantalizingly close.
"You'd never make it," Doyle commented with deceptive casualness. His green eyes were cold as an alpine lake.
The trapped man spun to face them. Once again Bodie was astounded by the resemblance. Aware of the substitution, he could now see how the duplicate outweighed his partner, but beyond that one slight discrepancy, the men were identical. Bodie had seen that desperate set to Doyle's facial features any number of times. It was Ray's cornered look, the expression he'd assume when he was hopelessly outnumbered but nonetheless chose to fight.
"Stay back," their quarry cried, climbing up on the ledge.
"Don't be a fool. Come down from there and give yourself up. You'd have to a bird to make that jump," Doyle warned.
Wild eyes darted to the Clayton Building.
Bodie made his own calculations. With a running start his Doyle might make it. The last few days had shown the imposter to be in peak condition, but there wasn't a human alive who could make a distance like that from a standing position.
Bodie turned his gaze back to the double. The rain had plastered his curls flat about his head. Beads of water streamed down the imposter's face like tears. At that moment the pretender looked so much like Ray that Bodie couldn't help but sympathize with his plight.
"Ray ," he called softly for want of a better name.
The imposter's head spun his way, spraying water drops in all directions. Some of the wildness left his gaze as it met Bodie's. A small quirky smile that in no way resembled Doyle's lifted the corner of the lips Bodie had kissed that morning. "It's Marty, actually."
"Marty, come down from there. We'll talk."
"Aye, I imagine we would. Probably for the rest of my life. You don't really think they'd let me loose with a mug like this, do you?"
"You haven't done anything irreversible yet. If you come down, I give my word you'll be treated fairly." Bodie promised.
"It wouldn't work," Marty denied, glancing once again at the Clayton Building so very far away.
"There's no place left to run, Marty," Bodie reasoned, every iota of his will power urging the man to step down from his perilous perch.
"There never was, not from the first. That was the problem." The
dejected green gaze sought its
counterpart. "You're a lucky man Doyle. Don't take him for granted."
"What?" Ray asked, innocent bewilderment blanketing his features.
A tension Bodie hadn't realized he was experiencing squeezed his guts.
The double's gaze jumped to Bodie, brows drawn in a rueful grimace. "I was wrong straight down the line, then. That was your first time, wasn't it?"
Because the change of subject seemed to have drawn the double's attention from escape, and, if he were to be utterly honest with himself, because he was no more immune to the allure of this Doyle than his own, Bodie answered, "For anything that heavy, yes."
At that moment, there seemed to be just the two of them. The regretful green gaze locked with his own, drawing him down to drown in their depths irresistibly as a siren's call.
"I'm sorry in that case. You deserved better."
"I wasn't complaining. Come down from there, please. We'll talk about it."
"No. It's no use." The pretender glanced casually down at the concrete alley eight stories below. When his eyes returned to Bodie's face they were serene, without fear. "First time I've ever worn a white hat. I rather fancied it. The man you'll want to talk to is Bradley in records. Take care of yourself, Bodie."
"No, Ray!" Bodie screamed, forgetting the imposter's real name as he stepped calmly from the ledge into empty space. He would never forget the sound the man made as he fell to his death. The keening wail so close to Ray's voice would be the background of his dreams for years to come.
Beside him, Doyle gasped and ran to the ledge. Bodie followed.
Way down in the shadowed alley the body lay amongst the debris that accumulated in such places. The imposter lay on his back, limbs akimbo, like a dropped ragdoll. Fortunately, they were too far up to see if his eyes were open.
"Come on," Ray urged after a few shocked seconds. "He mightn't be dead."
In a daze Bodie followed his barefoot partner down the stairs, unsure whether it was himself or Ray who was wobbling.
The double was dead, of course, although the features were so tranquil it seemed the man might only be sleeping. The eyes were thankfully shut.
Bodie knelt beside the waxen figure, his hand going out to slowly caress the battered cheek. So perfect, down to the very smallest detail.
Vaguely, he was conscious of Ray standing beside him. He could feel Doyle's confused gaze searing his cheek, but he ignored it and the growing crowd. His partner dealt with their co-workers inevitable questions, Doyle's explanations as lost in the well of shock as Bodie's own emotions.
He realized that he should be feeling something, but reaction was beyond him. All that existed was that death-still face and the knowledge that none if it had been real. So, Bodie watched the raindrops chase each other down the Doyle that had loved him's cold cheek and waited.
At last there came a sound that would not be shut out. In its own way it was more insistent that the wail of the approaching sirens. Even so, it took Bodie some time to acknowledge its demands.
Distant blue eyes reluctantly rose from the corpse to catch their employer mid-diatribe. Cowley appeared utterly unaware of his lapse of attention.
"...what I want to know is how he could be with the man for three days and not recognize him as an imposter."
Bodie's lips parted, but before he could muster even the lamest excuse, Ray's outraged voice rose in defense. "The blighter was around you for three days as well and you didn't see through him."
"I'm not your partner, Doyle. Were anyone who knew you as well as Bodie is expected to confronted by this fake..."
"They would be fooled the same way you all were," Doyle finished in a tone that brooked no argument. "He was damn good, sir. Been coached so well that I doubt even you would've seen through him. Bodie questioned us both when I showed up. The phoney knew as much or more as myself of case histories."
"No doubt," Cowley replied sarcastically. "Still, I would like
to know where he gathered that
"He mentioned Bradley in records before..." Bodie stated hollowly.
"Now why would he reveal...ach, never mind. You two stop your gawking and go pick up Mr. Bradley. It's time he and I had a wee chat," Cowley ordered two bystanding agents. "Now, it's high time you joined us. What have you to say for yourself, Bodie?"
"No excuse, sir." Difficult as it was to manage a proper military bearing while squatting in a puddle, Bodie nevertheless pulled off an impressive imitation.
"No excuse. You ushered this imposter through my highest security areas and you tell me you have no excuse. How could you not have known, man? Doyle's been your partner for eight years. It..."
"It's not his fault," Ray interrupted as if trying to draw Cowley's wrath off Bodie.
If that were Doyle's intent, he succeeded to a degree. "When I want your opinion, 4.5, I'll ask for it. Now..." CI5's Controller never had the opportunity to continue he tirade.
Doyle's face scrunched under some inner turmoil; then without further fanfare the insufficiently clothed agent keeled face forward. Bodie caught the crumpling figure before it reached the wet pavement.
To his surprise, Bodie found he was still capable of reacting. Fear heightened his senses as he cradled flesh seemingly as wet and cold as the matching corpse less than four feet away.
Cold. Doyle decided that he had never been this frozen or uncomfortable in his entire life.
A shudder that had little to do with the actual temperature overtook him as he surveyed his surroundings. Eerie didn't half describe the place. It was bad enough by daylight when the weak autumn sun highlighted the stark dreariness of these empty moorlands, but night was far worse with its concealing blackness. Little grew out here. Tall grasses, stunted shrubs and bare-limbed trees all made for melancholic scenery by day. Silhouetted at night, the bushes seemed to lean conspiratorially together, the leafless branches ominously beckoning them closer, and the swaying brown grass whispered with ill intent.
The only evidence of man's presence in these barren wastes was the grey stone monoliths spewed haphazardly about. There was little reassurance to be had from these remnants of lost civilization. Wherever they ran across them, Doyle experienced the same unsettling emotion he'd felt the one time he and Bodie had visited Stonehenge. Like a child, his partner had delighted in the mysterious relics, but Doyle himself had been uneasy among the towering stones. It was nothing he could explain, just a nervous impression of brooding potency. This was far worse. Perhaps it was merely the profusion of artifacts, but Doyle couldn't shake the feeling that the wraiths of their builders were observing their trespass.
The fact that Doyle was sharing Heathcliff's tent might have had some bearing on his unrelenting moodiness. He'd never realized how much he relied on Bodie to raise his spirits until his partner had stopped bothering. The three weeks following his imposter's suicide had been hard with Bodie speaking to him only in the line of duty and then only when absolutely necessary. Off-duty, well, he hadn't seen his partner outside of work since before his kidnapping. From what he'd been able to determine, the other man had spent the time holed up in his flat, not even bothering with birds. Not at all Bodie's usual style.
Whatever the problem, it stemmed from his imposter's stay. Doyle couldn't get a word out of his partner on that subject. In spite of his public defense of Bodie's failure to unmask the substitute, Doyle was privately hurt that Bodie hadn't seen through the sham. He would have wagered his soul that his partner wouldn't have been fooled by a superficial resemblance alone. But as Murphy had remarked on Bodie's behalf in the one discussion they'd had on the subject, taking Doyle's own changeable disposition into consideration, it was little wonder Bodie hadn't instantly detected the fraud. After all, Murphy had said, he couldn't expect Bodie to yell imposter every time his partner was kind to him.
The very casualness of the observation hurt. Doyle had always known most of the other agents thought him cold. In some ways they were correct; he'd rather keep his distance. Few saw the self-protective instincts which motivated his sharp tongue and independent streak for what they were, choosing instead to view them as aloofness or lack of care. Bodie had always been the exception, the one person to see through the prickliness. Over the years he'd grown used to unloosing his tongue on his partner, ever confident that Bodie was capable of deflecting the venom and assuaging the hurt with his peculiar patience.
But Bodie didn't seem interested in raising his spirits anymore.
At first Doyle had thought his partner's withdrawal to be motivated by shame and anger. Bodie had, after all, failed to detect a stranger masquerading as his partner. Regardless of how good the substitute, one couldn't help but feel foolish after such an event. But as the days dragged by, Ray had realized that his partner's reactions were all wrong for that. Bodie was acting as though he'd lost his best friend. At a loss to understand and troubled by Murphy's comment on kindness more than he liked to admit, Doyle had made some discreet inquiries as to 4.5's treatment of Bodie while the real Doyle was away. The consensus had been unanimous. The two had seemed closer than brothers, with little of their characteristic bickering. That was when Doyle had had the crushing thought that maybe Bodie had preferred the imposter. He certainly didn't appear very happy to have the real Doyle back.
Of course, it wasn't exactly the sort of questions you could just ask someone, Doyle reflected. There were some things one was better off not knowing. If all this were just his own imagination, speaking would show Bodie how insecure he truly was. The power the other man would have over him in such a case was more than he liked to consider. And if Bodie should answer truthfully and confirm his fears... Doyle doubted he'd be able to handle that reality. Despite his best efforts, Bodie had become important to him. To be so easily replaced...
Doyle's thoughts stopped dead in their tracks. How could he be so quickly replaced? Bodie genuinely cared for him. Of that Doyle was certain. The ex-mercenary was too overprotective by half for Doyle to be in any doubt on that point.
What, then, could the other Doyle have offered to so wound his partner when deprived of it? That curious rooftop discussion came back to him. There had been a whole level of communication there that Doyle knew he'd missed. Asking Bodie was out of the question. There hadn't been a civil word between them in three weeks.
Conditions had gotten so bad that Cowley had sent them and four other hapless teams here to this godforsaken moor. The pretext was a survival game. They were to cross the wasteland as fast as possible, subsisting only on what they could gather or hunt. The first team across escaped a session with Macklin. So far they were winning, due mostly to Bodie's mercenary experience. Doyle supposed that it was possible this was nothing more than the simple test of skills it appeared to be, but he couldn't help but suspect this for one of the devious Scot's attempts to give his ailing team an opportunity to heal itself.
Tiring of the depressing scenery, Doyle turned back toward the fire. Tonight's camp was the worst yet. Bodie had insisted on bedding them down in the center of one of the horrible monoliths. Oppressive grey granite huddled around them on three sides. The surface they sat on was cold rock, as was the unstable-looking slab which roofed the structure. Doyle had pulled his bedroll out under open sky, not trusting the rock to stay up there despite Bodie's protest that it had been balanced there for centuries.
"At least it's clear," Doyle commented.
"Ey?" Bodie roused himself from his unblinking contemplation of the shifting flames.
Doyle gestured at the stars. Even they looked cold and forbidding. "No clouds tonight."
"Be warmer if there were," Bodie answered, drawing on his endless store of trail knowledge. It seemed to Doyle that such information was offered only to quell what few sparks of optimism he'd experienced in this soggy hell.
"Right. Be much cozier shivering in our sodden bedrolls with no fire."
"I only meant..." Bodie sighed, that small attempt at conciliation apparently not worth the effort. "Forget it. It's not important."
Doyle glared across the fire. The orange tint lent by the dancing flames flickered across Bodie's ungiving features, lending the oddly tilted eyebrows a more than slightly satanic cast. There was nothing the least bit welcoming in that face. He might just as well have looked on a stranger.
He took in the tense set of shoulders, letting his eyes wander down the rest of his partner's body. Black polo, navy jacket, black cords, it was hard to tell where the night ended and Bodie began.
Tired of the game, Doyle spoke his mind. "I'm afraid old George is going to be disappointed this time out."
"What d'you mean? Murph and Lake are a day behind us. The others even further back.
"You don't really think Cowley sent us out here to eat grouse and squat on rock piles, do you?"
"Why else?" Bodie asked, trying just a bit too hard for casualness.
"To sort ourselves out, of course. We've been...less than harmonic these last few weeks."
"So? We've had our fallings out before. It never required anything this...drastic."
"Yes, I suppose bein' trapped out here with me day and night is awfully drastic. Only one thing, sunshine. We haven't had a falling out, at least not that I'm aware of. You want to tell me what the problem is?"
"There isn't any problem," Bodie stonewalled.
Smothering his next words, Doyle looked back into the night. Plea or accusation, nothing he could say would make a difference. Bodie had already shut him out. His eyes stung with unshed tears. Smoke, he told himself.
Part of him wanted to force Bodie's hand, longed to give the uncommunicative sod the choice of talking or going to Cowley to request a new partner when they got back to civilization. As that was a gamble he was no longer sure of winning, he remained silent.
Desperate straits oftentimes required desperate measures. Never had he been one for reaching out. From the first, he'd pushed those who would be close to him away, finding loneliness preferable to rejection. Always in the past when he'd pushed, Bodie'd fought him every inch of the way, bypassing his guards through sheer obstinacy. Doyle had always admired the man's courage. It was a rare individual who could stay when it was so plainly indicated that he was unwanted.
Unaccustomed to being on the receiving end of such treatment, Doyle struggled to find the emotional courage necessary to breach the battlements Bodie was erecting between them.
The flair that would carry him straight into the face of flying bullets and certain death just didn't seem to be there. Shaking inside, eyes glued on the hands clasped so tightly in his lap, Doyle whispered, "I just wish you'd tell me what it is I've done wrong. Whatever it is, I'll make it up to you, I swear."
Doyle felt, more than saw, Bodie's head jerk up at that.
"You haven't done anything wrong, Ray." Bodie's voice was laden with confusion.
"Makes it even worse then, doesn't it? Least there was hope the other way," Doyle said, completely dispirited. His heart felt as empty as these abandoned ruins.
"What do you mean?" Bodie asked, his tone for once free of the sharpness that warned off all conversation.
"What I mean is, if you'd been miffed at me, I could apologize for what I'd done. Can't apologize for not being him, can I?" Not until the words were out did the proportion of his blunder register. Doyle glanced across at Bodie's stormy profile, then quickly down again. Christ, but he'd blown it this time.
"Is that what you think?" Bodie asked at last, his tone strangely unangered.
Doyle wondered at that. He'd always supposed from Bodie's military background that he'd sneer at any sign of weakness. Bodie's hard reaction to him during the Coogan affair and the few other times he'd dropped his guard enough to reveal the real Ray Doyle had been anything but encouraging. Bodie had bullied him until he'd assumed the hard front required for CI5. The idea that that was precisely the treatment he'd needed never struck him until this moment.
Taking another tremendous risk, Doyle answered the question. "What else am I to think? The way you've been behaving, one would think you'd lost your closest mate."
"You're my closest mate," Bodie answered speedily.
"Ray, please, just give me some more time. I know it isn't easy on you, but...he threw me a few curves. It's going to take me a while to work my way through 'em."
Touched by the sadness in the open gaze, Doyle scooted around the campfire. "He hurt you, didn't he?" Doyle laid an arm across tense shoulders and neck, imagining all too vividly the millions of ways an enemy might harm his loyal partner with impunity while wearing his face.
"Don't touch me!" Bodie commanded, eyes alight with panic as he jerked free.
"What?" The utter desperation in his partner's face mystified him. "What the hell's the matter with you?"
"Leave it, Doyle, just leave it alone," Bodie growled, keeping his distance. Never had he seen his partner so visibly frightened before. That Doyle himself could be the object of such fear was beyond his comprehension.
"What's the matter with you? What did he do to you?"
"It's none of your business. So just back off." No longer poised for flight, Bodie appeared prepared to do battle.
Doyle considered the warning signals he was receiving. Never yet had he pushed Bodie to violence. Aware that he was treading on mined ground, he bluntly asked, "What did he mean when he said that was your first time?"
The glare that he received was near lethal. "I am going to say this once,
Doyle, and only once. I do not wish to discuss this subject. Not now, not ever.
Do you get me straight?"
"No, I didn't get you, but I've a suspicion someone else did," Doyle remarked, watching the cruel words rip into his friend. Bodie didn't have to say a word. His body language confirmed Doyle's every doubt.
Ray had the vivid image of his partner coupling with that substitute. The fake Doyle kissing those lips, caressing Bodie's creamy skin, taking his partner...and Bodie all the while unaware of the substitution.
Doyle felt his heart almost literally stop beating at that last thought, so violent was his body's reaction. Until he'd stumbled into the rec room Wednesday afternoon, Bodie had thought himself with his partner--which meant Bodie had allowed him to make love to him. That it was the duplicate Doyle's idea, Ray had no doubt, but the very notion that his partner would accept such an offer was mind boggling.
Mouth unaccountably dry, Doyle attempted to swallow. "That explains everything, doesn't it?" He stared, even now hoping for denial.
There was no sound save the damning confirmation of silence.
"How did it happen?" Doyle asked when able to speak normally.
"What do you want to hear?" No doubt meant to warn him off the topic, Bodie sounded weary, resigned to his fate.
"It--I hope it wasn't rape, was it? Doyle didn't know what response to hope for. Assent would bear more guilt than he was capable of handling, but the possibilities unleashed by a denial...
Harsh, self-mocking laughter met his question. "Oh, no, it wasn't rape. If you really must know, the B&B we stayed in that Sunday night only had a double bed. He just rolled over and took me, as if it were his right. I didn't protest."
Bodie couldn't have laid it out any plainer if he'd video taped the event. Doyle stared into the flames, unnerved by the other man's calm.
"You thought it was me?" Stupid question but he had to be sure.
"Every minute. He did taste different than I'd imagined you would, though."
Doyle's head shot up. "Imagined I would? You'd thought of this before?"
"Often, very often."
The blunt admission lay between them like a loaded pistol. Doyle glanced at his partner. The near casual confession had led him to expect an equally easy demeanor, or worse, a calculated seduction. But never had he seen Bodie so completely closed in or that vivid blue gaze so devoid of life. "Why are you telling me all this?"
"You mean besides the fact that you forced me to?" Bodie asked with that same biting sarcasm.
"You would have figured it out for yourself in time. This way I don't have to sit around waiting for the bomb to drop. I trust your curiosity has been satisfied."
"To a point."
Two could play this game. The first trace of reaction stirred across the stone-like features.
"What else do you want to know?"
"Did he satisfy you?"
Bodie flinched as if touched with a branding iron.
"What?" His partner sounded as though he hadn't heard correctly.
"You heard me."
"Why do you want to know?" Bodie asked neutrally as if the answer had no personal significance.
"I guess what I'm really asking is if you were in love with him?"
"I thought he was you," Bodie replied as if it explained everything.
"I see." Doyle accepted the evasion for what it was.
"What are you going to do?" Bodie was finally forced to ask.
"What do you think?" Doyle was genuinely curious. His partner's attitude bewildered him. Bodie spoke as if he couldn't care less about Doyle's reactions. Yet Ray had seen his friend face probable execution by torture with less fear.
"Don't toy with me, Doyle. If you're going to ask for a new partner, then say. 'S what I'd do if I were in your shoes."
"Hardly. As you said, you just rolled over and let him have his way with you."
It was brutal, but it worked. The unnatural calm shattered. Bodie practically leaped across the fire at him.
Gathering him up by his collar, fist hauled back to bash him, Bodie snarled, "I ought to..."
"That's better." Doyle relaxed his muscles, allowing Bodie's hold to pull him forward. Crashing against the broad chest, Doyle gripped Bodie's shoulders to lock him in place. "Now we can talk."
"What the hell are you up to, Ray?" Proximity had apparently excised the anger. Bodie now sounded merely confused.
The chest beneath the black wool that was prickling his cheek heaved in uneven breaths, Bodie's entire being a knot of tension.
"I need you to tell me what it is you want."
"What would it matter?" Bodie gasped. "Let me loose,
Unsure of his own motivations, Doyle heeded the plea. Pulling back to sit on his heels, Ray slowly let his hands drop down Bodie's long arms. He retained hold of the right hand, clasping it in both his own.
"Don't shut me out," Doyle pleaded. "The thought of you letting another man do that to you because you thought it was me asking--do you have any idea how that makes me feel?"
"Disgusted?" Bodie guessed, looking as if he meant it.
"Don't. I remember what you told me about Angola." After Krivas, Bodie had spoken much of Africa, usually when he was extremely drunk. He'd said he'd never been taken by force. The few times men had tried had been enough to put him off the idea, however.
Doyle used his free hand to lift the downbent head. "That isn't something you would have easily suffered. To think a stranger plundered that gift..."
Bodie cleared his throat. "You wouldn't have been interested."
"How can you be so sure? Do you know me that well?"
And there it was in Bodie's eyes that he did not know him at all.
'It's all right," Doyle soothed, letting his fingers slide over a perfect cheekbone. Never have let you get close enough to be sure of me, have I?" Doyle drew a deep breath, nervous about what he intended to say, but determined to offer Bodie the truth. "Never believed you'd like me enough to want to stay if I did."
"Go on." Bodie gave an affectionate chuckle as if convinced he was being put on. "Tell me another."
"You laugh, but it's true. Look at yourself, then look at me."
"So? What's the difference?"
"Difference is you're capable of risking the hurt. Sex is easy. Intimacy, well that's something else again, isn't it?"
"Ray, what are you on about? I run from commitment faster than a racehorse. We're the same."
"But you've never run from me, have you? That's the difference. The night that other Doyle rolled over and wanted you, you had the courage to stay put. I wouldn't have. I've hidden from you from the start."
"You're not hiding now."
Doyle's gaze dropped to where his hands clasped Bodie's. "No. Like he said, there's nowhere left to run. If you turn away from me now..."
"I'm not turning away from you," Bodie assured him.
"Is it just sex? Not that I'm refusing; I just need to know what we're getting into."
"I had just sex with your look-a-like."
"It was fine, but you were missing from it. If it's only fun and games, that's the way it would turn out, wouldn't it? You holding yourself back from me to keep from getting hurt. Me never knowing where I stand with you. I don't want that anymore."
"What do you want?" Doyle asked with some trepidation. Bodie's words
were shaking him to the
very foundation of his soul.
Bodie drew a shuddering breath. "It doesn't even have to be sex. I know you've never...well, I wouldn't ask that of you. To be able to talk to you like this, to touch you this way..." Bodie raised their hands between them, "...that would be enough."
"And the wanting?" Doyle prodded, not believing anything he needed this desperately could be so completely unconditional.
"I've handled it for years. You needn't be concerned. I wouldn't lay a finger on you without permission."
Sacred vow. Doyle shivered, their timeless surroundings shadowing everything with finality. "All right. No more running."
Bodie didn't even ask how much Doyle had agreed to. He gave Ray's surrounding hand a squeeze and then gently withdrew.
"We've got an early start in the morning. Want to stay clear of Brian's eager clutches, don't we?" Bodie asked, his characteristic cheek returning.
Doyle was shocked at how much his body relaxed at the open smile. Lord, how he'd missed his partner these last three weeks. "Right. Better turn in, then. Do me a favor, will you?" Doyle asked as Bodie started toward his bedroll.
"Pull your bed out from under that thing, will you?" He gestured at the overhanging slab.
Bodie's gaze softened. "If you like."
Bodie pulled it to the only free space in their encampment, a rocky slope that was uncomfortably far from the fire's essential warmth.
"You'll freeze over there. Come over here near the fire. I'll take the outside," Doyle offered. Knowing how sensitive his partner was to cold, Doyle made a space between himself and the flame.
"G'night, Ray," Bodie mumbled, snuggling down obscenely close to the fire.
"Sweet dreams." Doyle couldn't force his gaze away from the tranquil features so close to sleep. "Bodie, give me your hand, will you? This place gives me the creeps," he asked some time later.
A sleepy moment later, the requested hand reached for him. Bodie seemed utterly drained by their discussion, content in their decision.
For a long time Doyle lay there in the dying firelight, clutching the warmth of his partner's hand. True to his, word this seemed to be enough for Bodie, but...
Bodie's eyes shot open, his entire body tensing as
Doyle lowered his lips to the back of the captured hand once again. The kiss was gentle, filled with all the uncertain longings twisting inside.
"Like you said, I've never done this before. Can we take it slow first time out?"
"We can take it any way you want it," came the immediate reassurance.
Doyle sighed with contentment as Bodie cuddled him closer, his partner acting as if he'd just received the world instead of giving it away to him. "Does forever sound about right to you?"
"Uh-uh," Bodie shook his head, "too short."
Then Doyle's dark lover bent for their first explosive kiss, proving the truth of his words.