An overnight stay in hospital was all Bodie needed to recover. X-rays had shown no broken bones. Pulse, blood-pressure and temperature were stable, and there were no signs of concussion, so the recalcitrant patient would be discharged as soon as the doctor had made his morning rounds.
Bodie hadn’t passed a good night. His body was too bruised and battered, and they would not give him anything for the pain while they were checking for concussion. But he wasn’t sorry. The discomfort proved to be a welcome distraction. Sleep might bring back the rain-sodden darkness and the strong thin fingers at his throat. It was only a dream, but he didn't want an action-replay.
A Police constable turned up soon after his breakfast tray had been removed, and took down his statement. There were no gaps in Bodie's memory; it was all there: the storm, the hammering rain, the straight ribbon of road and the tunnel of light carved by his headlights, putting his foot down on the accelerator as the clouds lifted away, aquaplaning, the attempts to call for help over the damaged radio. And interspersed were those other memories -- no, dreams -- but so damned clear and real that tension coiled in his stomach and back, prickled along his nerve ends.
The policeman didn't stay long, was urged on his way by the staff nurse and the imminent arrival of the doctor. Bodie forced himself to relax, and put on a confident smiling mask for the encounter.
The examination was brief, and he answered the man's questions with his usual brand of repartee, making light of his injuries and not mentioning dreams at all. Finally the doctor moved to the foot of the bed and made notes on the record sheet.
"Can I go now?" Bodie asked, making it more of a demand than a request.
"As soon as your friend brings your clothes. Why don't you give him a call. I believe he stayed the night at the White Hart. The nurse will bring you the telephone."
"Thanks." Bodie eased himself into a sitting position, every muscle protesting the movement. "What time is it? My watch has gone AWOL."
"Half past ten. Mr. Doyle has it, along with the rest of your belongings. It was broken in the crash. You were very lucky, Mr. Bodie."
"Yeah." Too bloody right he was lucky, and in more ways than one. He touched his throat, half expecting to find bruises there, but that part of his anatomy, at least, seemed undamaged. He swore irritably. Why should there be marks? It was only a dream.
He still couldn't raise his left arm above his shoulder, but the right was reasonably mobile. He leaned across and pushed the call-button. The sooner he could phone Doyle, the sooner he would be out of there and able to get things back into perspective.
Doyle was not in his room at the hotel, and Bodie had to wait while they paged him to the phone. Illogically the tension grew, so that his knuckles showed white where he gripped the phone, as if he was poised for the approach of an enemy.
"Mornin', sunshine," said Doyle's voice, and the tension dissipated like a burst soap bubble, leaving him almost light-headed with relief.
"What kept you?" he demanded. "The barmaid or breakfast?"
"Both. She was breakfast. I take it they're chucking you out?"
"Nah. They tried to persuade me to stay, but I told 'em you couldn't cope without me. Have you got my gear?"
"Yes. I'll be about ten minutes. Have they cleared you for work?"
"Not yet, and I'm to see my own doc if the headaches start. You know the drill."
"Well, if I were you, I'd start on one right now," Doyle said grimly. "Cowley is ready to chew you up and spit out the bits. Be good 'til I get there."
'See?' said Bodie's common sense. 'You're a bloody fool. A shock-induced nightmare, that's all it was.’
But why? Why have a dream like that in the first place? Didn't dreams come from the subconscious? So what triggered that one? Bodie swore again. Useless speculation, and it wouldn't help to keep on raking it up. Of course, there was always the departmental shrink, and for a moment he imagined the scenario; Doctor Ross, I dreamed my partner set me up for a hit. Him and the Cow. I dreamed my partner choked me to death in a muddy ditch. What does it mean?
He didn’t need to hear an answer. The meaning was clear. Maybe, deep down in the back-eddies of his subconscious, he did not trust Ray Doyle. Or George Cowley. That was so patently untrue it was almost funny; almost, but not quite.
Never mind the imaginings, he told himself savagely, remember the reality. Remember the concern and the worry that had shown under the banter when Doyle had stayed with him as the rescue-team cut him out of the wrecked Capri. Remember, too, the many times over the last four, five years Doyle had guarded his back, gone out on a limb for him, saved his life. Doyle was a good partner, maybe the best Bodie had worked with during a chequered career in assorted mayhem. Weighed against all that, the dream didn't even register on the scales.
Such things usually fade quickly from the mind, though. It was odd that this dream remained as clear as the memories of the drive and the crash itself.
Doyle's abrupt entry broke his train of thought, and Bodie let it go with a sense of relief. As Doyle's voice over the phone had dispelled the earlier tension, his presence got rid of it again.
"Clothes," Doyle said, up-ending a sports hold-all on the bed. The hold-all was Doyle's own, Bodie noticed, and the clothes had come from his London flat rather than the overnight case that had been in the back of the Capri. His partner's face was pale, eyes dark-ringed, and friendly barmaids aside, it didn’t take a great deal of detection to realise Doyle had not had much in the way of sleep over the last forty-eight hours.
"You look bloody terrible," he said.
"Compared to you, mate, I'm an oil-painting," Doyle grinned. "Put your clothes on and let's get out of here."
"I'll drive back," Bodie volunteered. "You look like you need the rest."
"Like hell you will. Doctor's orders, you stay away from the steering wheel until tomorrow. My orders, you stay away from my car until further notice. You're not bending mine into so much scrap metal."
"Listen," Bodie said hotly, "I aquaplaned, mate! No one could've kept that car on the road, not even Nicky Bloody-Lauda!"
"I'm not taking the chance. Besides, with pulled muscles, you're in no condition to wrestle out of a wet paper bag, let alone drive a car. You're lucky not to have any broken bones."
"So they keep telling me."
"Wouldn't be surprised if you're signed off duty for a few days as it is. Not even desk-work," Doyle went on, a morose envy in his voice. "Bet you'll miss the Henderson obbo. Jammy sod."
"That's blown up a bit early, hasn't it? Thought he wasn't due back down south until next week."
"He wasn't. Newmarket was rained off, course waterlogged. He turned up at Brighton Races instead, and spent the rest of the weekend in his girlfriend's place."
"Nice for some," Bodie said. "I wouldn't mind an address like that. Or a bird like that, if it comes to it. Who's the Old Man teamed you with?"
Bodie grunted his approval, but didn’t speak. Getting dressed was not the simple operation it should have been, since his muscles wouldn’t easily perform the necessary tasks. As it was, Doyle gave a helping hand with the shirt and jacket. The staff nurse returned at that point, watching Bodie's tight-mouthed struggles with the sleeves from the doorway.
"Tablets," she said, holding out some small packets. "Distalgesics and a muscle relaxant. Your own physiotherapist will give you exercises to get those muscles back to work. And remember, any symptoms, you go straight to hospital."
"Yes, Nurse," he said, meek and false.
Doyle took the medicines and slipped them into Bodie's jacket pocket. "I'll keep an eye on him," he said. "Come on, you've got an appointment with the Old Man at three this afternoon."
"Bloody hell," Bodie sighed. "He isn't going to make me pay for the damned car, is he?"
"Probably," Doyle grinned, and let Bodie lead the way out, setting his own careful pace.
The drive back to London was fast and smooth. Both weather and roads were clear for most of the way, the traffic not building up until they were entering the outskirts of the city. There had been little conversation; Bodie concentrating on staying awake, Doyle on his driving. But Bodie's eyes frequently checked out his partner's intent profile. He knew it was foolish, but he needed to be sure that the shuttered wariness he'd seen in his dream didn’t show on Doyle's face here and now. It had been a mask for hostility and hatred, and a hunger for his death.
"Think you'll know me soon?" Doyle demanded. "What's up? Forgotten what I look like?"
"No, you smudged your mascara," he snapped, irritated at being caught out.
"Well, you're the expert," Doyle countered. "Muscles aching? Why don't you take one of the tablets? There's a coffee place up ahead."
"I'd sooner be home."
"Okay," and Doyle shrugged. "You've only got another half hour to hold out. Less if we're lucky with the lights." There was a short silence, then: "Bodie, when you came round in the car, you called me Judas, glared at me as if I'd stabbed you in the back. What was all that about?"
"I did?" Blank amazement. "Dunno, mate. Can't remember."
The trouble was, he remembered too well.
As he had feared it would, the dream haunted Bodie's sleep. The detail was not so clear, the memory faded fast, but again and again he went through those last minutes, time dragged out to a slow-motion torture. His futile struggles against the serpent-speed of those thin hands, the slick mud of the bank betraying his balance, and the long slow fall into cold water that washed over his face and into his gasping mouth while fingers bit into his throat and Doyle's savage triumph rang in his skull to wake him--
Once, and only once, he took a sedative. It didn’t keep the dreaming away, just made it very difficult to wake up, prolonging the horror of the dying and amplifying it. After that he found the night-hauntings shadowing his days, and Doyle was becoming a chimera of smiling menace. Inevitably, it showed.
It's only a dream! he told himself time and again. You don't chuck in a five year partnership and friendship over some sodding dream. But his spine chilled when Doyle stood behind him, or came near, and the shuttered wariness of that other Doyle showed now on his daytime counterpart. It was an uncomfortable situation while he was on sick-leave. As soon as Bodie was declared fit for active duty, it escalated to the untenable.
The observation detail on Jeff Henderson dragged on for days. Bodie took Murphy's place as soon as he was back on the strength, and the long hours in Doyle's company did nothing to ease the pressure. At first Doyle had tried to talk to him, asking questions, treating it as a joke. But Bodie had snapped back, keeping his partner at a distance literally and figuratively. Anger joined the caution behind Doyle's stone-faced mask, and the tension between them was a slow fuse shouldering towards an inevitable detonation.
Henderson was an Organisation man, a top-dog with enemies among his own ranks, and some grandiose ambitions. 'Kill two birds with one stone,' Cowley had said, wanting Henderson himself out of commission and whoever was foolish enough to step outside the law to remove him. So CI5 took over the house opposite to watch and wait, two men on and two men off, twenty-four hours a day, while Henderson stayed put inside the luxurious Wimbledon address.
One regular caller was a Doctor Mellors. His private clinic seemed to have been set up for the benefit of the criminal elite. The timing of his calls made it unlikely that they were social, and a phone-tap told the watchers that Henderson was suffering from a combination of flu and lumbago, and wasn't likely to be going anywhere in the near future. Inside information indicated that a known team of experts would be moving in on the house before long, which meant that Henderson was a sitting duck should they get through the man's own security.
Five days after Bodie joined Doyle on stakeout duty, Dr. Mellors drove his dark blue Daimler through the gates.
"Jackpot," said Doyle, field glasses to his eyes. "Three blokes with him; Lenning, Smith and Hathaway." The only answer he received was the clicking of the camera. "Mellors doesn't look too happy." He swept the glasses over the area. "No sign of Henderson's goons, though. Even the gate-man's disappeared. Looks like they've done a bunk."
Bodie reached for his r/t, reported it in without comment. Cowley's instructions came back crisp and clear. "Backup units on their way. Move in on their arrival."
"Sir," Bodie acknowledged.
"We're going to get wet," Doyle muttered. "It'll be raining cats and dogs any minute by the look of that sky."
Bodie smothered a yawn, loosened his S&W in its shoulder holster, and watched the scenario across the road. Mellors got out of the car, the three large men following on his heels, and walked slowly to the front door. From the corner of his eye Bodie was aware of Doyle's movements, could hear the soft rasp of metal on leather as the Walther left its holster, the heavy silk-sound of the slide sending a round into the breach.
"4.5, 3.7," said the r/t. "In position, moving off."
"Roger," Bodie said, looked up and met an intense green gaze.
"Dunno what's got into you lately," Doyle said quietly. "But we're a team. Remember that, okay? Let's go," and stood aside for Bodie to leave first.
He shook his head. "After you, mate." Doyle didn't hesitate, leading the way at a smooth run.
Afterwards Bodie could remember little of the action that followed. The only clear images he retained were the cold slap of wind-driven rain on his face, he and Doyle diving for cover as shots rang out. Bullets struck close, and then as he made a run for the house, the sure knowledge hit that his killer was behind him, weapon aimed and poised to shoot.
Instinct had taken over, and he'd thrown himself to one side, rolling belly-down, his gun trained on his astonished partner. The few seconds stretched to an eternity, then a fusillade broke out. Doyle staggered and ducked behind a sundial pedestal. He triggered the Walther twice, then glanced across to Bodie. "Cover me," he'd said, and was up and running. He wasn't limping, Bodie noticed, but there was a dark stain on the outside of his left thigh.
Doyle hadn’t mentioned the incident in his report, nor had he said more than those two words to Bodie since it had happened. But that wouldn't last. The girlfriend was dead, but Henderson was in hospital under guard, and with four other prisoners to question, there was more than enough to occupy everyone's mind. It was late by the time Cowley called it a night and let his agents go their separate ways. Doyle had spent a short time in hospital himself, having a bullet-burn cleaned and dressed. But it had taken less than an hour, and he was able to take his share of the questioning. Bodie managed to get away from Whitehall without seeing him, but when his doorbell rang just after midnight, he knew who it was.
Since he had held Doyle in his sights, a kind of shock had numbed Bodie's emotions, leaving only fear. Not of Doyle, nor of the dream-image, but for himself. He was cracking up. Going off his trolley. Had to be, to pull a stunt like that. He opened the door. "Come on in," he said.
Fury radiated from Doyle like solar flares, and he erupted into the room with adrenaline-charged energy.
"What the fuckin' hell do you think you're playin' at?" he yelled. He was limping now, and the blood on his jeans had dried black. "Have you gone crazy?"
That hit too close to home, and the guilt and fear hid behind the resentment. "Listen," he snapped, but didn’t get any farther.
"Shuttup. You listen to me. Ever since I hauled you back from Chippenham you've been acting bloody strange, and I want to know why. And don't you give me the 'nothing's wrong' crap, or I'll break your sodding neck right now! If you don't want a partner, sunshine, you have a word with Cowley. You don't retire me with a bullet in the head! What's got into you? Did that crash shake your brains loose, or what?"
"I dunno." Bodie turned away from the angry resentment. "Maybe."
"Judas. You called me Judas when you woke up, and that's what you've been treating me like. Why? What the hell have I done?"
"Nothing!" A howl of outrage, and Doyle's fist swung up. Bodie read the punch in time to ride it, and the clenched knuckles did no more than brush past his cheekbone. He tensed for retaliation, but the surge of violence had burnt itself out and Doyle sat down on the couch, his head in his hands. "Get me a drink, for God's sake," he demanded, "and tell me why. But so help me if you say 'nothing' --"
"Okay," Bodie said curtly, and poured two generous shots of whisky. "You think the truth is going to sound any better?" He handed Doyle a glass and sat opposite him, perched on the edge of the seat. "Don't know how long I was trapped in the car. Kept on fading in and out of consciousness. But when I was out, it was as if I was asleep and dreaming."
"Dreaming?" Doyle echoed, head coming up.
"Only it was more than that. I was someone else. No, that's wrong. There was this bloke, looked a bit like me, but I had sort of -- taken him over."
"Someone had tried to kill him. He'd crashed, too, on that bit of road. He was around -- I mean, I was aware of him, though he wasn't of me, but I was in control most of the time. I was me, not Caius."
"Uh, his name was Caius. Someone was trying to kill him. His uncle. He looked like George, so I didn't suspect him really, not at first. Then you turned up, gave me some more information, only you were working for George and it was a trick to get me on my own and you -- the bloke who looked like you -- killed me."
"Bloody hell," Doyle said blankly. "And because of that, you're acting as if I'm -- you dumb crud! Bet you haven't told anyone about it, right?"
"It's only a dream, Ray."
"Oh, yeah. That's all. Except you've let it addle that porridge between your ears! Start again, right at the beginning, as if it's for real. Caius -- that's Roman. Caius Julius Caesar."
"Caius Marcellus Valens," Bodie said quietly.
"Bloody hell," Doyle muttered again. "Okay, let's have it."
It didn't take long to tell. The bald details, spoken as a report of an obbo assignment, did little to express the undreamlike quality of the experience, and Bodie knew it. "It was real, Ray," he said as Doyle sat silent at the end of the story. "So bloody real it's scary. I could take you there, show you the roads, the valley, the villa, the temple, everything. Where'd I get details like those? I know sod-all about Roman Britain. Julius Caesar conquered it and built straight roads. The Brits painted themselves blue and had chariots with knives on the wheels. That's it. But this was real! I could smell it, taste it, hear, see and feel it! I could bloody-well pinpoint that villa on the map!"
"You can remember it pretty clearly, that's for sure," Doyle said. "Do you still get it?"
"Not like it was at the time. Now it's more the classic nightmare. Just the last sequence over and over again, in slow motion to boot."
"Me killing you."
"No wonder your screws are loose, mate. Talk to Kate Ross."
"She'll make it official, and I don't want that on my record. I've no wish to be the Old Man's resident loonie. Shotgun Tommy was bad enough, poor bastard."
"Bodie, you drew a bead on me this afternoon," Doyle said. "If this --dream -- is getting to you like that, then something has to be done, and fast. I don't want to end up dead because either you shot me yourself or let one of the bad guys do it for you."
"Okay, Professor." It came out as a sneer. "So what do you suggest I do? Build my own padded cell? Knit a strait-jacket?"
"You think this nightmare is more than a dream?"
"No -- yes -- I dunno. Maybe." Bodie scrubbed his hands through his hair. "It was so bloody real, Ray, and I can remember it so clearly --"
"Okay. It's got to start from somewhere, to have some sort of trigger, right?"
"Right. How about deep inside I don't trust you. Or Cowley."
"Bullshit!" Doyle snorted. "It's just a dream. All right, it's vivid enough to have stuck in your memory, so we're going to shake it loose."
"Challenge its reality. Get some sleep, I'll see you in the morning."
Doyle didn’t sleep too well for what was left of that night. Bodie may have been persecuted by a homicidal look-alike, but he was haunted by a few seconds' freeze-framed view of his partner's cold eyes staring at him over the sights and gaping barrel of a .357 revolver. However irrational Bodie's dream, its effect was real enough, and had to be countered. Luckily no-one of CI5 had seen the brief sequence, or at the very least they would both be on the carpet. Even so, Cowley would have cottoned on to the tension between them, and would soon be asking questions. Doyle wanted to have most of the answers ready for him.
By the morning, Doyle's leg was stiff and sore. He drove painfully to Whitehall and was greeted with a summons to Cowley's office. Under the circumstances, it wasn’t the best way to start a day.
"Bodie not with you?" Cowley said as Doyle limped in and shut the door.
"No, sir. I'm early."
"Humph. When he arrives, send him in. I want words with him. Sit down, man. How's the leg?"
"Uncomfortable," Doyle said, "but it's only a surface graze, sir."
"I know, I read the medical report." It was a curt response, and Doyle bit back a like retort. "4.5, your unit is developing rough edges and I don't like it. Have you and Bodie had a disagreement?"
"This girl he spent the weekend with, do you know her?"
"No, sir. Never met her." He'd heard a lot about her, though, but did not say so.
"Hmph. When was your last leave?"
"October last year, sir."- Doyle said. That was another rhetorical question.
"And your last refresher course was two months ago." His expression must have changed, because a wintry smile touched Cowley's mouth. "Och, don't look so horror-struck. I'm not about to send you away on another just yet. It's as easy to be over-trained, over-stressed, as it is under-trained, and both are dangerous. However a change could be as good as rest in these circumstances."
"Bodie has worked well with Murphy in the past, and you with Jax. I think perhaps-- "
"Sir," Doyle interrupted, knowing as he did so that Cowley was waiting for his reaction, and would be assessing it. "I know there's a problem at the moment, but I don't think a re-teaming would solve it."
"And what is the problem, 4.5?"
"I'm not too sure, sir," he said smoothly, "but I'd like a chance for us to sort it out ourselves. We're too good a team to be split up, even on a short term basis."
"You think so?" Cowley snorted. "There are times, Doyle, when I could find better units in a primary school. Well, you're clearly not fit for active duty, and it's equally clear you know more than you're telling. Today is Wednesday. I want you and Bodie in this office at 7.30 Monday morning, and if your unit is not back to its usual efficiency, we'll see what a full re-assessment can do."
Doyle winced. "Think I'd sooner settle for re-assignment," he muttered.
"I'm sure you would," Cowley said dryly. "Oh your way, 4.5."
Bodie was parking his car as Doyle drove away, so he slowed to a crawl and rolled down his window. "Oi," Doyle said, and Bodie slammed his car door, came over to lean on the Escort's roof. He looked tired, his expression wary. "The Old Man wants to see you. I'll meet you back at your place at one, okay?"
"Eh?" said Bodie, straightening. "Why? What's going on? What --?"
"One o'clock," Doyle repeated. "See you, sunshine," and accelerated away. Doyle returned to his flat, packed a case and fixed himself a second, more leisurely breakfast. Then he went through his stock of ordnance survey maps, and selected the relevant one.
Bodie's road was easily located, and the point of the crash was towards the end of a two mile stretch that followed the route of a Roman road. That earlier highway began and ended in open fields, but looked to have been a spur off the Fosse Way. There were several Iron Age hill forts shown in the area, but neither Roman roads nor forts were rare in the south-western part of England and he wasn’t surprised to find them. There was nothing to indicate a villa in the general vicinity, and it would have startled him if there had been one. He folded the map, pushed it into his jacket pocket, and carried the case out to the car.
His next stop was the local library, and he spent the next few hours reading up on Roman sites in Wiltshire, Avon and Somerset. It was interesting, but didn’t update the map, and though he ran out of time before he could check up on the temple at Bath, a quick word with the librarian provided useful information. At one o'clock on the dot, he was on Bodie's doorstep.
"I've been trying to reach you," his partner snapped by way of greeting. "What the hell did you tell the Old Man?"
"Nothing," Doyle said. "Except we'll sort it out ourselves."
"Sort what out?"
"You. And your bloody dreams. Go and bung some stuff in a case. Have you had lunch?"
"Yes. Why? Where are we going?" Guardedly.
"West," said Doyle, "to lay a few ghosts."
After a pause, Bodie seemed to relax. "Yeah," he said, a rueful smile twisting his mouth. "Sounds like a bloody good idea. And if it doesn't work will you visit me in the Funny Farm?"
"It'll work," Doyle said, and spread his map over the table. "Cop this for a start. There's the road you crashed on. Where's the villa? Not there, is it? The nearest ones are too far away to be possibles, and you've got a choice of hill forts."
"That one --"
"And hill forts are ten a penny in Wessex. Okay, the road does follow the line of a Roman one for a couple of miles, and that could have been enough to trigger the dream. Right? How about the road you took out from Bath, when Whosit followed you?"
"It's not marked."
"Right. And the temple in Bath is dedicated to Minerva linked with Sulis, her British counterpart, not Whatsisname. So that's most of the foundations knocked out from under already. Are you sure you haven't been reading any historical novels?"
"Quite sure." Bodie's expression was somewhat sheepish. "I should have done this checking myself, I suppose. Ray, sorry about yesterday."
"It's okay, doesn't matter. Get your things packed."
"Okay." Then Bodie brightened. "We can always turn it into a West Country pub crawl," he said.
They left London under a cool clear sky, the sun beginning to slant down ahead of them. By the time Doyle turned off the motorway at junction 17 the sky was overcast, and mist patchworked the downlands. Until then, conversation between them had been desultory and relaxed. Bodie was feeling mildly irritated by Doyle's insistence on driving; his leg wound was obviously painful, but he wouldn’t rise to the barbed remarks aimed at him, merely responded in kind.
As the road unrolled beneath the Escort's wheels, Bodie fell silent. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. Oh, he could see the theory Doyle was working on; show him the solid reality, and the dream and the mistrust would collapse like a house of cards. But something had to be done about it, that was sure. The interview with the Old Man had underlined that.
"A hypothetical situation, 3.7," Cowley had said. "You are the C.O. of a crack squad. One of your teams appears to be going through a spell of personal conflict that affects their efficiency. What is your course of action?" Bodie's stomach had knotted. The story had sounded daft enough told to Doyle; the thought of repeating it to Cowley made the blood grow hot in his face. But the crafty old bastard had a point. And Doyle, he remembered, has A Plan.
"Well?" Cowley had prompted.
"Give them a warning and a time limit so they can sort it out themselves, sir. If that fails, re-assessment and possible re-teaming."
"Exactly, 3.7. You have until Monday, 7.30 a.m. to produce a viable unit, or reasons why it is no longer viable. Out."
Bodie did not want another partner. But what if--? What if it was all there, as he had dreamed it? Roads, villa, temple....
If Doyle noticed his companion's increasing moroseness he didn’t comment on it, just kept his attention on the car and the occasional oncoming traffic. Bodie stared out of the window at the spreading mist and the rising curve of the hills ahead of them. Then realised that one silhouette against the pale sky was chillingly unmistakable. He'd ridden up there with Demetrius. Doyle had killed Demetrius, and Doyle had killed--
"What's up? Car-sick?" Amusement did not quite mask concern, and Bodie shook his head.
"No, I'm okay." Then, "Up ahead. That hill looks familiar. The one with the earthworks."
"I expect it does," Doyle said easily. "Did your Army training in this neck of the woods, didn't you?"
"Not this far west."
"Yeah, but one hill fort looks much like another, doesn't it?"
"Well," Bodie began, then hesitated, remembering what parts of the Plain had looked like when fog hadn’t shrouded it. "Maybe. How far are we from Bath?"
"Twenty miles or so. You sure you're all right?"
"Bloody hell, Ray, I'm not a prize bit of Dresden! I'm fine."
"No need to bite my head off," Doyle snapped back, and braked to a halt.
"What're you stopping for?"
"We're here. At the first checkpoint." He sounded exasperated. "This was where you crashed. Or don't you remember?"
"I remember. Amnesia isn't the problem, sunshine."
"Yeah, I know." Doyle's grin was sudden and somehow reassuring. "Too much memory rather than too little. Come on."
Doyle had parked in front of a field gate. Ahead of them on the same side of the road, raw earth showed dark against the green of grass and undergrowth. Bushes had been broken, hauled to one side; deep gouges were scored in the ground where the Capri had been half dragged, half lifted up the bank.
Hands shoved in his jacket pockets, Bodie looked down at the tree and the stream. Yellowing scars on the trunk showed where the car had struck and rested.
"Must be fifteen, sixteen feet," Doyle observed, "and not far off vertical." Bodie grunted. "Of course, it wouldn't have been as deep when the Romans built their road. Probably five, six or so," added Doyle.
"Ray," Bodie injected a note of pleading into his voice. "Why don't we go back home? I'm fed up with this bloody Up The Amazon into my psyche. It was only a dream, for God's sake. Concussion, shock, they can cause some pretty weird effects sometimes, and this seems a damned elaborate way of curing it."
"Weird effects is an understatement," Doyle said, an acid bitterness in the words. "Like you pointing a bloody cannon at me, and not trusting me further than you can throw me. Which isn't that far. We'll try it my way first, and if that fails, I'm going to hand you over to Dr. Ross, hogtied and oven-ready."
"Ray Doyle, Amateur Shrink." Bodie's lip curled, but there was no real venom. "Okay, okay. Just find us a decent place to kip tonight. Now where, Professor?"
"I was waiting for you to tell me."
"Oh. Um, carry on the way we're heading, and look for a turning south. We need to be on the other side of that hill."
Doyle pulled the map out of his pocket. It was already folded to the right place. "There isn't a road for miles," he said. "Only a track to a farm. And there isn't --"
"-- a villa either," Bodie finished for him. "Did you expect there to be?"
"Of course not. That isn't the object of the exercise. We're laying your personal ghosts, Bodie, not tracking down Romano-British sites."
"Right now I'm more interested in tracking down a pub!" Bodie snapped back. "Come on, let's get it over with."
They returned to the car, and this time Bodie took the wheel. He was tired of being a passenger, and with the sense of deja vu becoming more and more uncomfortable, he was prepared to follow it up and put an end to it.
So he turned south into a much-used and muddy track that drew immediate protest from Doyle.
"This only goes to a farm," he said. "Look -- Dean Farm --"
"Shuttup," Bodie said. "I know where I'm going."
"Straight to a garage with a broken axle," Doyle grumbled, and swore as the car lurched from pothole to pothole, jarring his injured leg. "Bloody hell! You're not driving a fucking tank!"
"You can always get out and walk," Bodie offered, but his partner stayed where he was.
To Doyle's obvious relief, the track eventually widened into a farmyard, and Bodie stopped the car.
"Well, that's it," Doyle said. "End of the line. Satisfied?"
Bodie shook his head. Not with that hill looming over him. "We're not there yet," he said.
"There's nowhere else to go," Doyle pointed out. "And the natives could be hostile," he added. Bodie glanced round to see a woman approaching.
"Afternoon," she said. "You'll be wanting the site, I expect. Through the gate behind the barn, and keep right on for a couple of miles. It's on your right. Can't miss it."
"Site?" Doyle frowned.
"Thanks," said Bodie, and pulled away. "What price now for your bloody map, Professor?"
"Stuff it. Open the gate."
Doyle obeyed, shutting it behind them before getting back into the car. "Listen," he began, "it doesn't mean --"
"It's Marius' villa," Bodie said impatiently.
"Who? Thought you said his name was Caius."
"It is. Marius is his father." He was driving too fast up the track, engine roaring, wheels skidding. "It's a hollow square, garden in the centre, farm buildings, stables, barns, slave quarters off to the north. Main entrance is in the southwest wall. The road follows the valley and joins the main road about ten miles on. From there it's another ten to Aqua -- to Bath." He pushed the words out in a staccato monotone, wanting to get as much information out as possible before the reality was in front of them to prove or disprove. "The rooms are heated -- hypocaust. The bath house is in the southeast corner. The rooms are all painted, some more than others -- gave me claustrophobia, sometimes. So are the corridors. The floors are tiled -- mosaics -- geometric designs in black and white, except for the triclin -- the dining room. That's new; Diana and two stags with hounds forming a circle -- "
"Take it easy," said Doyle quietly. "There's cars and tents up ahead, are you going to stop or carry on into the next county?"
"Very funny." Bodie piloted the Escort through leaning gateposts and came to a halt beside a mud-splattered Land Rover. He glanced at Doyle, but his partner was staring down the field slope to the excavation site, an expression of puzzled grimness on the uneven features.
"Coincidence," he muttered.
"Yeah," said Bodie dryly. "Why don't we go and find out how much of a coincidence?"
But he didn’t go with Doyle to the patterns of activity. Instead he walked on up the trackway towards the steep rise of the hill's defences.
Grass banks, ditch and entrance had changed little. Shallower, maybe, but no less clearly defined. If he closed his eyes and listened hard enough he might even hear the thud of hooves, Demetrius calling his name. Bodie didn’t close his eyes, but gazed down at the familiar/unfamiliar vista below him.
The river followed a similar course, though some willow trees had disappeared, while others had grown in new places. The field system was different, too, but there was no doubt in his mind that this was the valley he'd dreamed of a short while ago. The excavation confirmed it. Over twenty people were beavering away down there, exposing walls and floors and heating systems.
He was too far away to recognise details, but the layout already cleared was familiar; Marius' suite of rooms, the corridor that linked them, the triclinium, Claudia's rooms, the colonnade that opened onto the central garden, and one side of the room where he had slept. Where Caius had slept. Another square cut out of the turf had not yet been taken down to the villa's level but it was centred over the stoke-house and part of the bath complex. It took little stretch of the imagination to build the walls again, reset the red-tiled roofs, rearrange the fields.
‘What price for your map now, Professor? And what price for my 'dream'. It had happened okay. I may well be going off my rocker, but nineteen hundred and something years ago a man named Caius was murdered by a Briton called Rianorix. Who had curly brown hair and green eyes and a broken cheekbone, and might have been your twin brother, Raymond Doyle.’
From his vantage point Bodie watched his partner limp across the grass beside a thin, gesticulating man. Arms waved, pointed, described shapes in the air, and in spite of the tight knot of tension in his stomach, Bodie gave a brief grin. Doyle was having his ear well bent by an enthusiast. He wondered what was going through Doyle's mind.
‘Find an answer for this one, sunshine. And when you do, let me know, because I'd sooner go on believing it's only a bloody dream.’ Suddenly cold, Bodie jog-trotted back to the car. The evening was closing down fast. The western sky was a fetching shade of lavender, and the shadows of the archaeologists stretched long and dark over the ancient foundations.
Head down against the chill wind, Doyle trudged back up the hill, left leg obviously bothering him. He climbed awkwardly into the car and relaxed with a gasp of relief. "Take it a bit slower on the way out, mate," he suggested.
"Seen all you want?" Bodie asked, starting the engine.
"Yeah. Turn left down at the road, then the first right. The New Inn lets rooms."
"That's the first good idea you've had all day. Any more theories?"
"What did they have to say?"
"Quite a lot. Can it wait 'til we're in the pub? I'm bloody frozen."
"Leg's playing up, too. Bloody daft idea this was. Should have left well alone."
"No. There has to be a logical explanation. We've just got to find it, that's all."
"That's all, he says," Bodie snorted.
"And if you can't," Doyle went on, "then we have to get Caius out of your skull before he and Rianorix kills one or both of us."
"You heard. How close did you come to pulling that trigger?"
Bodie didn't answer, just concentrated on easing the car down the rutted tracks as rain swept a grey veil over the fields.
They didn’t speak until they were in the saloon bar of the 14th century inn, with half-pints in their hands and as close to the log fire as they could comfortably get.
"I booked the last room," Bodie said. "The less hardy types from the dig have virtually taken the place over."
"Yeah, he said. Stratton, the site director," he added to Bodie's raised eyebrow.
"What else did he say?"
"That the villa probably started out as a small corridor villa in about 125 AD. It was extensively rebuilt over the next fifty years, ending up in the square shape fairly early on, and from then on was refurbished by succeeding generations until around 400 AD. It was burned out, left empty for a few years, then a programme of rebuilding was begun, but never fully completed. By 450 it was deserted."
"Oh," said Bodie. "Anything else?"
"Mosaics. There are layers of 'em in some rooms, and usually the black and white stuff is at the bottom. As far as the triclinium's concerned, the mosaic is Apollo in his chariot, but they think there's another underneath it, but they won't know for certain, or what it is, until they lift Apollo. This is their second season, and the only places they've been written up is in 'Archaeologia' and 'Current Archaeology'."
"Never heard of them," Bodie growled into his beer. "What about the road?"
Doyle hauled out the map. There were some pencil-drawn lines on it now. "That's only recently come to light. Deep ploughing had destroyed all evidence of it, and no-one knew it was there until Dutch elm and deforestation cleared these areas of woodland. There's very little of it left, just enough to get an idea of its direction."
"And it's where I said it was," Bodie pointed out unnecessarily.
"There is another thing," Doyle continued. "In Bath, there's a smaller temple, not far from the Minerva."
"Logical explanation, Professor?" he demanded.
"Pack it in, Bodie," Doyle said wearily. "Maybe there isn't one. Why don't you grab a menu and we'll get something to eat?"
Doyle hadn’t had any lunch, but he wasn’t particularly hungry. The bar-food was unimaginative but reasonably priced, and he settled for chicken and chips; ate the meat and left most of the chips for Bodie to finish up. The pain in his leg was easing off now that he was resting it and was no longer cold. The bar was almost empty, there were no distractions for his thoughts, so he was able to turn them to the day's events.
Once more Doyle felt the bolt of ice that had slid down his spine when Stratton had cheerfully echoed a lot of what Bodie had already told him. What in God's name was going on? It was impossible to swallow it all as a massive coincidence. Equally impossible to accept that the dream was not a dream, but a memory. He propped his head on his left hand, fingers massaging his tense forehead. The whole thing was bloody crazy. But they were in a worse mess now than when they had started, and by this time his determinedly pragmatist partner must be sweating bricks.
One thing was certain; he, Doyle, refused to accept that subconscious mistrust was at the bottom of it. Okay, so what is at the bottom of it? Professor. Perhaps he had made a mistake, driving out to the scene of the crime. Maybe it would have been better if they'd talked more about it first rather than just having the stark recital of events that Bodie had given. Thoughts, feelings, emotions, the personalities of the other characters involved; the father, the servant, the doctor, as well as the uncle and his own lookalike, all could be important, provide clues.
"Fancy a game of darts?" Bodie cut in on his tired thoughts.
"Eh? Oh, yeah. Why not?" Amateur psychology was giving him a headache.
By ten o'clock the bar was noisy and full. As well as the regulars, the people from the Dean Farm excavation were there in force, and the overheard snatches of conversations ranged from meatstock prices, Samian ware, Musselwhite's latest get-rich-quick scheme, British Schools of Mosaics, the E.E.C. and the perfidies of governments both French and English. Doyle tried to concentrate on the darts, but his ears were finely tuned to pick up any stray information on the villa site, and Bodie won every game. Of course, he heard nothing that could throw any light on his partner's dream -- call it that, for another word might be too uncomfortable.
"-- I said --" Bodie broke into his thoughts with acid tones and prodding forefinger, "I'm going to call it a night. Are you back with me, Professor?"
"Yeah, sorry. Why? What time is it?"
"Half past ten, but I've got a lot of sleep to catch up on."
"Okay. Sweet dreams," he added and got a sour, unamused scowl. "Sorry," he said again.
Bodie sniffed, lip curling. "Just don't wake me up, sunshine," he snapped, "or I might forget to remember you're Doyle, not Rianorix."
"That isn't even halfway funny," Doyle retorted.
"Neither's that bloody dream," and Bodie shouldered through the press towards the door marked 'Residents'.
Doyle sighed, and made for the bar as last orders were called. He got himself a drink, and infiltrated a group of men and women from the dig.
Quietly Doyle eased the door open and crept into the room. One dim lamp was on, spotlighting his pillow and filling the rest of the room with soft shadows. In the other bed, Bodie was a restless sprawl under the sliding quilt, but he didn’t wake up as Doyle stripped, took a sketchy wash, crawled into bed and put out the light.
The massive walls of the ancient inn withstood the storm, unaffected by gale force winds and hammering rain. But the small casement window shook with the external violence, its catch rattling, adding to the din of the rain, and Bodie grew more restless.
Doyle switched his bedside light back on and sat up, peering across at the other half of his unit. Bodie's quilt was on its way to the floor, the last corner sliding off as the sleeper turned onto his back. Doyle sighed and slid out of bed.
"What you need is a bloody nursemaid," he grumbled. "Or a nanny. Beddy-byes, Master Willie," and he replaced the quilt with a flourish. But his grin faded when he got a good look at Bodie's face. Brows pulled down, eyes squeezed shut, mouth an expression of pain, Bodie seemed to be struggling against an assailant only he could see. No sweet dream, this.
"Bodie," Doyle said sharply, "wake up. C'mon, sunshine, snap out of it." And grabbed Bodie's shoulder to shake him. It was a mistake. At once he became the nightmare's focus, seeming to fit into its pattern with frightening inevitability. Bodie's hands were reaching for his throat even as the blue eyes flashed open, but Bodie was still locked in his dream, and though Doyle tried to leap away he was hampered by his stiffened leg. He stumbled on the edge of the dislodged quilt, and powerful hands clamped around his neck.
"-- Judas!" Bodie hissed. "Played me along and set me up --"
"No --" Doyle gasped. "Wake up, damn you! Bodie! This is me, for Christ's --" His words ended in a strangled crow as the fingers tightened.
"You murdered me!"
"I didn't!" he croaked. "Bodie, it wasn't me --"
"I trusted you." Almost a moan from Bodie, a compound of rage and an anguish that shocked Doyle with its intensity. "I trusted you and you murdered me! Drowned in a ditch like a bloody rat! You bastard!"
"—maniac!" He clawed for Bodie's eyes and as the man reared back, Doyle's hands flew to the double grip at his throat. He pressed loose the fourth fingers and forced them against their joints. Bodie yelled and broke away, but kicked out, striking Doyle's injured thigh.
Doyle let go and fell back with a yelp of pain. Bodie followed him, launching himself from the bed like an attacking wolf, and the smaller man was borne down. He crossed his wrists in front of his throat to block blow or stranglehold; an instinctive move and necessary, because his partner didn’t show any signs of snapping out of it.
Pinned down and winded by Bodie's weight, his wrists grabbed and wrenched above his head, Doyle's instinct and training hold him to strike back, but he didn’t. He glared up at the furious mask bent over him, aware that he could break free in spite of Bodie's solid bulk on his stomach, and the thighs and knees that gripped his ribs as if he was a horse to be ridden to defeat. But resistance had fuelled Bodie's anger, and in his present mood one of them could be seriously injured. So with a conscious effort, Doyle lay passive and relaxed, holding the blazing blue gaze with his own. They were frozen to a tableau. The only movement in the room was the swift rise and fall of their chests, but the harsh sounds of their breathing were swamped by the bellowing storm outside.
"Bodie," Doyle said quietly. "Who am I?" That had some effect. Bodie's eyes seemed to focus in on him, and uncertainty showed briefly.
"Who am I? If I drowned you, who was I? Who am I now?"
"Told you." The fingers clamped about Doyle's wrists slackened their hold but he didn’t move.
"No," he said. "You told me a bloke called Rianorix killed you. I'm not him. And it wasn't you who died. It was someone called Caius, right? Rianorix only looked like me. He wasn't me. Come on, Bodie, why would I kill you? I owe you my life umpteen times over. And you owe me." Bodie didn’t answer, and the hands suddenly released his arms, returned to his throat, thumbs pressing up under his jaw. "Bodie, think, damn you." Doyle reached up to rest his own hands on the tensed forearms. "I wasn't there. You were alone in the car. You were the only one involved. Because he looked like me, you trusted him. That doesn't make me the betrayer. If it had been me in your place, the same thing would have happened, because I trust you. With my life. All the way along the line, right to the bitter end and Cowley's bloody small print."
For a long moment, Bodie didn't move. Then he abruptly rolled away, got to his feet and sat on the edge of the bed, away from Doyle. The big muscles of his back and shoulders were locked tight under sweat glossed skin, and a fine tremor ran through him. He mumbled something, head in his hands.
"Eh?" said Doyle, scrambling to his feet.
"Going off my rocker."
"You, sunshine, were never on your rocker," Doyle said, and knew he had to break through the strain of the moment, cancel out the dream-born hostility with friendship. "Damn it, Bodie, you're knotted up like the last horse home in the National. Stretch out, I'll take some of the kinks out."
"Massage. I'm not bad at it, or so the girls tell me. Come on, trust me."
Bodie didn't answer, but he did lie belly down on his bed, head turned away. Doyle knelt beside him, wincing as the movement pulled at his thigh, and started work on Bodie's back.
Gradually the heavy muscles relaxed under his hands, and after a while Bodie gave a weak chuckle. "Magic hands," he said. "You're nearly as good as Dem--" and stopped.
"Who?" Doyle prompted.
"Demetrius," Bodie said eventually. "Body slave."
"No kiddin'? Bet you really fancied that. Some poor bugger at your beck and call twenty four hours a day." Doyle smiled. They were easy together again, all tension, hostility gone. The shadows beyond the dim light, the thick walls and the storm beyond made an impenetrable barrier around them, enclosing them in a small space of strangely intimate privacy. "Tell me about him."
"Demetrius? He was a good kid. Same age as me, well, same as Caius, anyhow." There was a short pause. "Rianorix killed him."
Doyle's hands did not break rhythm. "Sure of that?"
"Yes. A knife or a sling-stone. A sling isn't like a kid's catapult, Ray. It can knock a man's brains out. That's no exaggeration."
"Yeah, I know. What did he look like?"
Bodie turned round, his gaze heavy and brooding on Doyle's face. "Yeah. Well, no, not exactly. His hair was longer, a bit redder I think. Eyes are the same, and the brows, the nose."
"How about this?" Doyle touched his right cheekbone. "Bet he didn't --"
"That was the clincher. Except he had a scar there as well. Quite a noticeable one, a couple of inches long. Must have come close to blinding him." Doyle didn't speak. Bodie was looking at him as if he hadn't seen him properly before, and the intensity of the stare was almost uncomfortable, knotting his stomach with a tension he didn’t recognise.
The silence grew, and Doyle felt as if they were held in stasis at a crossroad of some kind. And he could not see which path he should take. He wanted to reach out, touch him, but that was ridiculous. He wanted to ask Bodie what he could see, but the answer might be something he wasn't prepared to hear. But he had to say something.
"Caius was younger than you?" and the tension was gone.
"Uh, yeah. Early to mid-twenties. Can't remember exactly."
"Did he look like you?"
"In some ways. Eyes and nose were different. And character. He was a bit of a spineless wonder. Lacking in initiative," he added in a schoolmaster's voice, "and moral fibre."
Doyle laughed quietly. "Well, you and he had that last one in common," he drawled. "Are you sure he died?"
"Dammit yes! What kind of half-baked question is that? I was there, remember!"
"How do you know he didn't just black out? Demetrius could've sneaked up from behind and clobbered Rianorix."
"He was dead."
"You don't know that. You didn't see the body. And why the hell should you believe Rianorix?"
"Because he wouldn't have left a loose end."
"No? From what you told me in London, this bloke is fond of taking chances. You wouldn't have left a loose end. I wouldn't have left a loose end. But he might well have. But that isn't the important thing."
"No?" Bodie snorted. "Well, it's bloody important to me, mate. I didn't enjoy drowning in that ditch."
"The important thing is not what was done, but who did it. Someone who looked like me. And I'm the key factor, aren't I? It doesn't matter a damn to you that it was Cowley's lookalike that arranged the whole thing, does it?" Bodie's eyes didn’t leave his face.
"No," he agreed quietly.
"You betrayed yourself, Bodie," Doyle said, voice almost gentle. "Because of a physical resemblance, you trusted him, and he used it against you. Why, Bodie? Why did it have to be that way? Are you afraid I'm going to do the same? Use your trust against you?"
"No, of course not." But the answer had come too quick, and they both knew it.
"I'm not going to let you down," Doyle said, "or betray you, or kill you. What do I have to do to convince you of that?"
"I dunno," he muttered, and his eyes slid away. But the blue gaze came back, intent on Doyle's face once again. "I do trust you," he said. "But there's a part of me now that -- doesn't. Because of that bloody dream. I know you're not Rianorix, but a gut-reaction says, well…"
"You can change dreams," Doyle said into the pause.
"Yeah, I know. I couldn't change that one. I tried."
"Okay, so go along with it. Find out what happens after you usually wake up. Let's suppose it isn't a dream, that you tuned in on something that was going on a long time ago. You've already altered it, haven't you?"
"What d'you mean?"
"When you told me about it, you said, um, 'I was in control most of the time. I was me, not Caius."'
"Yeah, that's right, but --"
"So instead of the chinless wonder, Quintus had an ex-SAS CI5 operative to cope with. Caius would have been dead days before. But you threw a spanner in the works. Now at least two other people know someone was trying to kill Caius; his slave and the doctor. That's two random factors. Besides, even if Caius does die in that ditch, you aren't going to go with him. It won't be pleasant, but you already know that. Give it a try, Bodie. See it through to the bitter end."
Bodie thought about it. He didn't like the tuning-in theory. Somewhere, somehow, he must have read or heard about the villa site, and his subconscious had titivated it up for the film set. Immaterial. The whys and wherefores could be worked out later. After he'd exorcised his particular bête noire. One way or another.
"Okay," he said.
Sleep wouldn’t come. Tired as he was, his body comfortable and relaxed after the massage, Bodie couldn’t drowse. Even with his eyes determinedly closed, he was aware of the storm that clattered at the window, aware of the small pool of light about their beds and Doyle reading a paperback. He could sense his partner's presence in other ways as well. He was a solid, warm bulwark guarding his rest and his excursion into that other place and time. Of course he could trust Doyle. They were mates. In fact, of all the friends and working partners he'd had in the past, no-one came up to Ray Doyle.
With a sickening lurch he was back in that ditch, those narrow fingers at his throat and the too-familiar face bent over him, laughing hatred and triumph. For a moment instinct took over and he tried to fight. But his limbs were leaden and uncoordinated, and consciousness was slipping away. Then he remembered their conversation. Maybe Demetrius wasn't dead after all. Maybe he could change it if he played possum.
Suddenly he relaxed, arms falling limp into the water, head lolling with the pressure of Rianorix' death-grip. He didn't quite close his eyes, and he watched the night-shadowed face through his lashes. Satisfaction joined the triumph, and the fingers slackened slightly. But before he could gather himself to make one more effort, a cloaked figure swooped out of the darkness, metal flashed briefly, and Rianorix gave a strange half-gasp, half-cough. Partly lifted from Bodie's body by the force of the blow, he fell sideways, blood flowing black from his mouth. Stunned and horrified, Bodie struggled out of the ditch, clutching vainly at the fallen man. "Ray!" he croaked.
Hands grabbed at his shoulders, and he was pulled into the supporting embrace of Silenus. Too weak to break free and reach him, Bodie watched the green-eyed man die, and though he knew it was not Doyle, the avalanche of grief and loss that crashed over him was not lessened. If he had pulled the trigger, an age of the world away, it would have been Doyle.
Dimly, as if from a vast distance and muffled, he heard Silenus calling Caius' name, but it meant nothing. The writhing body stilled, the last gurgling spasm of breath choked in Rianorix' throat, and the pale face was washed clean of the blood by rain. Widened in straining agony, the dead eyes stared up at the night, and Bodie stretched out a shaking hand to close them. Silenus' sword-thrust had not been a clean one, and for a brief moment Bodie hated him with a vindictive hunger that ripped into him as the sword had ripped into the Briton. But he couldn't sustain it. The physician had saved Caius' life, and Caius had never known Rianorix.
He, on the other hand, had come within seconds of killing Doyle himself. He felt sick. What kind of game was his subconscious playing, for God's sake? He didn't want Doyle dead. He didn't want the mistrust or the reassignment, either. Doyle was the best bloody partner he'd had, the best mate as well. In fact, no-one was as close to him as -- Wait a minute. He'd tried to throttle Doyle when he was caught up in the previous dream, and now Rianorix was dead. Had he stabbed -- "Ray," he wheezed. "Ray --"
There was a very weird sensation of being held by Silenus and at the same time feeling Doyle's hands on his shoulders. He grabbed his partner's arms and the scene before his eyes distorted and melted away. Ray Doyle's anxious face filled his vision, and relief left him shaking.
"Rianorix is dead," he managed. "Silenus killed him."
"Caius is alive?"
"Well, that's an improvement, isn't it?" Bodie couldn't answer. "Is that all you're going to tell me?"
"I want to think about it," he said. "There has to be a reason, dammit. Can we talk about it tomorrow?"
"Okay," Doyle said reluctantly, but he seemed in no hurry to let go of Bodie.
"It's all right, Ray, honest." He tried a smile. "I think maybe it worked."
Doyle nodded and retreated to his own bed. "I hope so," he muttered. "I'm sick to death of being Public Enemy Number One."
This time Doyle switched off the light. Bodie lay in the warm darkness and studied the rain-washed window. Perhaps it had worked. But what, if anything, had he learned? Only that even in surrogate, Doyle's death hurt like hell. But then, he expected that. It always hurts when you lose friends, and when it's someone as close as Doyle, then the grief is going to be correspondingly greater. Grief and loss.
Feeling suddenly cold, he pulled the quilt up about his shoulders. Perhaps it's a mistake to let people get that close to you. Only a fool lays himself wide open to pain. Or a masochist. And he'd lost enough mates to know what it feels like, and to have grown enough sense to steer clear -- Bodie sat up, jolted out of his comfort.
"You okay?" Doyle asked. "Dreaming again?"
"Yeah, I'm fine, and it's not the dream," he said. "Go back to sleep. Sorry I woke you."
"Wasn't asleep. Do you want to talk about it?"
"Professor's working overtime tonight." But there was no real irony in his voice. "It's amazing how devious the subconscious can be when it wants to."
"You've got the answer?" A rustle as Doyle sat up and swung his legs out of bed. "Come on, sunshine, cough."
"You were right. You're the key. It's not that I don't trust you, more like I don't want to trust you."
"What? That's --" Bodie heard the edge of hurt and anger in the voice, and turned round.
"Wait a bit, let me finish, Ray. It's more than just trust. It's -- liking, as well. I must be getting old. It never used to bother me that much. Oh, sure, it upset me, but life goes on, and I work in a high-risk area, after all, so --"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Seeing friends killed."
"Oh," said Doyle.
"We're a good team, Ray. Good mates." It was surprisingly hard to say. "And CI5 is nearly as high a risk as the SAS. I suppose my subconscious was choosing an overly dramatic way of telling me to pull back. Which is reasonable. I'm not exactly a masochist."
"I see." The hurt was still there, but the room was too dark to read his expression. "You do want that reassignment."
"No. We're too good a team to split. Besides, you're one of the best I know to have around in a tight corner. All I meant --"
"Thanks a million. Can I use that for a reference?"
"Ray, don't be like that," he started.
"No? What am I supposed to be like? You don't turn friendships on and off like a bloody tap when they don't happen to be convenient!"
"I know! And I'm not going to."
"Gosh, that's noble of you."
"Eh? Bloody hell, Ray, what's got into you?"
"Nothing. Absolutely nothing, old son. Why should there be? After all we only work together, have the odd drink together, date a couple of birds together --"
"Exactly," Bodie interrupted. "Anybody would think we're Siamese twins. Just because we're a unit on duty doesn't mean we have to stick together off duty. We can be good enough mates --"
"Don't fret. I get your point. Now shut up and let me get some sleep!" and he rolled back under his quilt.
"You unpredictable, cross-grained -- Listen, Professor, you're the one who hauled me out here to put paid to that damned dream. You're the one who wanted to know the reasons why. And now you're kicking when you're told. You need to get your own head sorted out, mate."
"Yeah, you're not kiddin'. Well, you can tell your subconscious it can pack up and go home, because we're for reassignment."
"But I told you. I don't want one."
"No, but I bloody do! I'm not risking my neck with a bloke who's watching my back as a matter of duty. Price or no price, the kind of partner I want is a friend, someone who cares about the state of my skin, and I'm not settling for less! So find yourself a bloody robot!"
"Oh, no, you don't," Bodie snapped, and pounced on the all but invisible mound and hauled the quilt back. "You're my partner, my mate, and that's the way it's going to stay, sunshine, 'til death us do part. You got that?"
"Sod off!" Doyle hissed.
"If you don't fucking-well listen to me, I'm going to break your sodding neck!"
"Save it for the morning," Doyle bit back. "Perhaps your subconscious will have come up with some more good advice by then."
About to retort, Bodie paused. Doyle had a point there. Maybe he wasn't finished yet with Caius. Besides, he was gritty-eyed with tiredness, and in his irritation at Doyle's obtuseness, he might say the wrong thing and make the situation worse. And when he thought about it, he could have phrased his discovery a little more tactfully. Ray had put up with a lot lately for friendship's sake, and for him to trot out his new theory on his inner motivation must have been like a slap in the face with a wet fish. Or a kick in the guts. The same way he'd felt when Rianorix had become the enemy. Tomorrow, he'd make him understand.
Doyle didn’t sleep well for what was left of the night, and was awake when the dawn chorus outside the window started its salute to the new day. He didn’t fully appreciate its efforts. Yawning, he sat up. Bodie was still asleep. A deep, undreaming sleep, by the look of him, as it had been every time Doyle awoke in the night. Well, at least his daemons had been exorcised. A bitter twist to his mouth, he watched the sleeper for a moment. 'It's not that I don't trust you, more like I don't want to trust you.' Thank you and good night. And why? Because the bloody-minded selfish bastard didn't want to pay the price that might come due one day. Oh, sure, he'd denied it in almost the next breath, but it had been said.
"And you called me Judas," he muttered. Funny how evocative some words could be; how easily they could slide under the skin like slivers of steel with acid on their honed edges. Judas. Or in this case, Judas-goat. Loaded with the unwanted friendship and sent out. Then hauled back. 'You're my partner, my mate, and that's the way it's going to stay, sunshine, 'til death do us part.' Doyle shivered. The emphasis had been strong on the possessive adjective.
What did Bodie think they were? A unit or a bloody marriage? '-- 'til death do us part --' He shivered again. Did Bodie know what he was saying? Somehow he doubted it. So what now? Would they be back to those early, uncomfortable months of their teaming; wary of each other, keeping their distance, the trust reluctantly given, friendship withheld? He didn't want that. Death would be quicker, cleaner. How would he feel if Bodie was killed?
Imagine it, go back to the crash, to the bloody body trapped in the Capri; and instead of the laboured breathing, silence. Grief, loss, deprivation. They'd worked too long and too closely to let it go with the degree of mourning and regret given to the other friends who'd died. Bodie was special, had an integral place in his life, and the loss of him would be a major amputation, leaving him crippled for an unforeseeable length of time. Which also meant reassignment was not acceptable. No one else was going to be charged with Bodie's safety.
He smiled wryly. Bodie had obviously decided on his terms. Well, he had terms of his own, and he wasn't going to wait until Bodie's manifested themselves before airing them. In fact, he might even give him a few prods to see how he'd react.
But first things first. Doyle slipped out of bed, pulled on his dressing-gown and went along the corridor to the toilet.
By the time he returned, Bodie was stirring, a heavy-eyed, stubble-shadowed apparition that blinked like a stranded mole in the early sunlight.
"My god," Doyle grinned. "Look at the state of you. Only a mother could love it."
"You've never met my mother," Bodie mumbled through a yawn. "You're bloody cheerful this morning. Who kicked your cage?"
"It's going to be a fine day today," he volunteered, switching on the light over the wash basin and beginning ablutions.
"Oh yeah? What time is it?"
"Nearly half past five."
"Half past --?" Bodie croaked, disbelieving. "We're supposed to be on holiday, mate, or had you forgotten?"
"Planning on an early start back, are you?" Bodie sat up, wariness hardening on his features.
"Nope," Doyle said again. "We don't have to be back until Monday. I'm not going to waste any of it."
"Oh," he said.
"Besides, we've got a lot of talking to do, remember?"
"Yeah, I do. But I was beginning to wonder if you did."
"Perfect recall, sunshine," Doyle smiled. "Like you said, 3.7, you're my partner," he went on with emphasis, "my friend, 'til death do us part. There won't be any reassignment, and there won't be any holding back. Moreover, if I get killed, you'll pay that price in full, right down to the last decimal point. You're committed, Bodie, same as I am."
"Eh? Now hold on, mate. There's no need to go overboard. All I meant was--"
"Sure. Do you want to have a look at Bath? I haven't been there for years."
"Can do, I suppose." Bodie was less than enthusiastic, and his wariness had not eased. "What are you up to?"
"Protecting my investment. No more dreams last night?"
"Not that I can remember."
"Good. How did Rianorix die?"
Bodie didn't miss a beat. "Untidily. Silenus put a sword into him, and didn't hit the heart."
"What about Demetrius?"
"Dunno. Don't know how or why Silenus turned up when he did, either. Probably decided to come looking for me himself. After all, I'd put him in the picture pretty well. Maybe he worked the rest of it out off his own bat. I hope so. If he has, he'll put paid to Quintus' game." Then he laughed ruefully. "Listen to me. Talking about them as if they're real."
"Real enough to affect us," Doyle reminded him. "Do you want to keep this room on, or find somewhere in Bath?"
"Nah." Bodie looked around the low-ceilinged room with its twin beds, massively old-fashioned wardrobe and dressing table. "We may as well use it as a base."
"Suits me," Doyle smiled. "Wells and Glastonbury are within striking distance, and there's Wookey Hole, Cheddar Gorge --" '
"Bloody hell, Ray. Why don't you buy those little cloth badges to sew on your anorak? And one of those natty hats with 'I've been to Whatsisname' on it?"
"Hinton Charterhouse, Farleigh Hungerford," Doyle went on relentlessly. "Claverton Manor, Avebury, Bradford-on-Avon --" The catalogue ceased as he wiped his face free of soap and reached for his aftershave.
"Where the hell did you find that lot?"
"In books on historical sites of the area."
"Well, what's Bradford's claim to fame?"
"A Saxon church. And a tithe barn."
"Sorry I asked," he sighed. "I didn't know you had galloping touristitis."
"I don't. I happen to have fond memories of Glastonbury."
"Yeah. Part of my wild youth at Art College."
"You randy old toad," Bodie grinned.
"Why d'you automatically assume it involved sex?" he demanded, hauling on his clothes.
"Because I know you, sunshine. You get that certain twinkle in your eye. Did it?"
"Yeah, among other things. Took my one and only acid trip one night on the Tor."
"Tut, tut. That was naughty. A good'un?"
"You really are a bundle of surprises."
Doyle looked at him and smiled slowly. "Yes," he said.
"Hey, listen. About last night; what I meant was, I don't care what daft ideas me subconscious comes up with, we're staying mates. And teamed. Okay?"
"In spite of the full-blooded melodrama?" Doyle drawled, "and the dire warnings that Oh God it hurts to lose a friend?"
Bodie scowled. "Yeah," he said. "But we don't have to live in each other's pockets like we've been doing for the last months."
"Years," Doyle corrected. "And if I want to live in your pocket I will. And you'll live in mine. No backing off, Bodie. That's in the Rule Book."
"Eh? Which one?"
"The one I started writing this morning. How about Bath first, lunch in Wells, Glastonbury this afternoon?" He picked up his shirt.
"Wait a minute! What the bloody hell are you --"
"Come on, make your mind up," impatiently as he finished dressing.
"Okay. Okay. But -- "
"Fine. I'm going to see if I can cadge an early breakfast," and he headed for the door.
"Hey!" Bodie yelled, but he didn't come back.
Bodie was so busy watching his partner for further outbreaks of incipient insanity that he forgot to notice that his nightmare-inspired suspicion of Doyle had disappeared. In its place was a different kind of wariness. He was baffled, intrigued, exasperated, and it lasted throughout the day in varying degrees. The weather was fine, the places were, in spite of himself, interesting, and Doyle was bloody good company. Lying on the short turf of the Tor, the ruined church behind him, Bodie gazed out over the Vale of Avalon, and decided that England wasn't so bad a place after all. His enigma of a partner was stretched out belly down, chin propped on hands, and a blade of grass in his teeth, and when Bodie aired his thought, he received an unreadable stare from green eyes.
"You trying to cause another earthquake?" was the response.
"Yeah. That's how the church was supposed to've been ruined," Doyle said. "I think."
"If you ever chuck in CI5, you should join Thomas Cook," Bodie grinned. "Why chose this place to drop acid?"
"Why not?" Doyle shrugged. "It seemed like a good idea at the time. I was luckier than some."
"That's one way of looking at it, I suppose," he said, and yawned, stretching his arms before folding them behind his head.
"You're not still tired, are you?"
"Come off it, I had a very disturbed night, remember?"
"The first bit, maybe. But you slept like a log afterwards. With all your problems sorted out," he added, a certain sourness in his voice.
"Yeah," Bodie agreed. "As long as you don't go over the top on this bloody Rule Book."
"Me? We don't have to live in each other's pockets, you said," Doyle drawled. "Yet here you are, with no arm-twisting, and no gun to your head."
"Only because you'd be stuck out here if I took the car back home, and I'd get it in the neck from the Old Man for losing you," he pointed out quickly.
Doyle chuckled and pulled another blade of grass. "Go on, have your doze. It'll give the pubs chance to warm up the beer."
"Now you're talking." And he was tired. Nights of broken sleep took an inevitable toll, and the few hours he'd had that night had not been enough. He settled himself in a more comfortable position and closed his eyes.
Sleep came easily, but so did the dreams. He was not yet done with Caius, it seemed and now there was fresh material for the nightmare. The sword was in his hand, not Silenus, and it became a gun. No longer Rianorix, it was Ray Doyle writhing, choking to death in his own blood, and the deep wound in his ribs was the gaping hole left by a magnum bullet. Bodie fought it grimly, determined not to be beaten by the imagery. It was false. He knew it was false, but –
"Ray --" He reached out to the dying man, and the dream faded into the warm darkness of a night-filled room. He was held against a hard chest, hands moved in soothing patterns over his back, through his hair, and a quiet voice was murmuring a litany of comfort. At first he thought it was Doyle, then recognised Silenus' voice. And Silenus had killed Ray. No, Rianorix. Even so, he pushed away from the physician and lay back on the pillows, his arm across his eyes.
"I'm all right," he said.
"Good, some fool let the lamp burn dry. You won't be without light again." The voice was gentle, as to a frightened child.
"For God's sake," Bodie snapped, irritated, and he jerked his arm from his eyes. "I'm not six years old!"
"Caius?" Silenus said in an entirely different tone. "So you're back with us again. I'll fetch another lamp."
"No. I don't need it."
The physician ignored him, moving cautiously across the room to the table. Tinder sparked and a flame licked up, and he carried the small lamp back to the bed, set it on the nearby chest. In its light his face was deeply shadowed with tired lines, but his eyes were sharp enough. "How do you feel?" he asked.
Bodie thought about it. He was weak, leaden-limbed, with a tightness in his chest and a constant urge to cough. He knew it would hurt like hell if he did. "I've known better days," he said. "How long since you turned up on the road?"
"Two days. You've been fevered."
"Demetrius is dead." A statement, not a question.
"Yes. The Briton slit his throat."
"Didn't think he'd leave any loose ends," Bodie whispered. "Poor little bugger wouldn't have stood a chance."
"Who was he, Caius?"
"More like a case of who he wasn't," Bodie said flippantly. "How did you manage to pick the right moment to come along?"
"It would seem the Gods favour you. I thought on all you'd said to me, decided you were right for the most part, and that it had to be Quintus Marcellus. So I spoke to your father."
"How did the old goat take it?"
"Marius Marcellus is worthy of more respect than you are inclined to give him of late," the physician said repressively. "He sent me to call Quintus to account."
"And did you?"
Silenus nodded. "He was a hungry man. Not for wealth alone, but for power, position."
Bodie noted the past tense but did not comment. "Where did Rianorix come into it? Did Quintus tell you?"
"Yes. The Briton was descended from a Durotrigean family who ruled here before Rome came. They used to live in the oppidum above the villa, apparently. They have long memories, these people. Several times in the past they had tried to stir up revolt to drive previous owners from what they consider to be their land. The last time was some seventeen years ago, just after Marius bought the estate. It was a purely local uprising, of course, and quickly put down. The ringleaders were crucified, others were sold. He would have been little more than a child at the time. The rest of his family was eradicated, but he somehow escaped the purge."
"Revenge," Bodie murmured. "Another vindictive sod."
"You thought you knew him?"
"I was wrong." And because he had been wrong, Demetrius had died. Caius, on the other hand, had not, and justice of a kind had been done. But Rianorix had also died, and badly. Rianorix, who looked like Ray Doyle.
"Who did you think he was?"
Bodie stared into the swaying shadows that patterned the room. "A man I knew from somewhere else," he said quietly. "If Rianorix hated us so much, why did he work for Quintus?"
"You said it yourself. Revenge. Your uncle underestimated him. He thought Rianorix was an ignorant barbarian to be impressed by extravagant promises. It seemed all he wanted was the extermination of the Marcelli, and Quintus unwittingly gave him the opportunity. Who, of course, is of the family, and was not excluded. Rianorix must have known this would be his final chance. Before he rode after you, the Briton slashed his blade across Quintus' belly and left him lying in his own guts and blood. He was still alive when I got there, but it was only a matter of time." Silenus shook his head. "All for vengeance. Quintus assumed he bought his loyalty. Not every man has his price, it seems, and Britons can be unbelievably fanatical even in these days. Was he someone you knew in Africa?"
"Uh, yes." It was easier to agree than to explain. "We'd worked together in some pretty tough situations, and -- well, Rianorix looked the image of him. Even the names were similar -- " He broke off and shrugged.
"But surely you did not expect to see him here in Britannia?"
"Well, I wasn't surprised. I thought he was working undercover. In disguise," he added as a puzzled frown crossed Silenus' face.
"Ah, I see. He was part of an auxiliary unit, gathering intelligence, out in Africa?"
"And you trust him implicitly?"
"Yes. He's a good man to be teamed with in a tight spot. I suppose," he continued, scowling down at his hands, "I felt I was in a potentially tricky situation, saw Rianorix and automatically assumed it was Ray working undercover to back me up."
"Love can sometimes seem to betray you," Silenus said, "but --"
"What?" Bodie stared at him. "Love? Me? Ray? What the hell do you take me for?" he yelled. "Of course I don't love him! He's a friend, a bloke I work with, that's all!"
"Why are you so angry?" the physician smiled. "How have I insulted you? I hold to the Greek view; such a close bonding of love and honour between two warriors is a fine thing and a gift from the Gods, and so do many in the Legions."
"Well, I don't!" Bodie shouted. "It's a bloody daft idea!"
"If you truly believe that, then you're lying to yourself," Silenus snapped, "and you dishonour your friend. I saw your face, Caius, when the Briton fell. Even knowing he was not your friend, you grieved as if he was. Why? Why do you deny him?"
"What does it take to get through to you? You've got it all wrong!" But the rest of the tirade was lost in a fit of coughing that left him exhausted and crowing for breath. Once more the caring physician, Silenus supported him through the paroxysm, wiped the reddened phlegm from his mouth and settled him back on the pillows. But the rage in him was burning through Caius' weakened body, reinforced by the bitter taste of betrayal.
"Is he already dead, Caius?" Silenus said gently. "Is that it? Were you mourning him a second time when Rianorix died?"
The rage and betrayal were swamped by another upsurge of that grief and loss, and Bodie could not answer. He had come so close to pulling the trigger. He felt Silenus' hand on his shoulder. "Don't deny him, Caius, not even to yourself. Instead thank the Gods that at least for a while you were given the gift of his companionship. Life is too short to waste its good things by turning away from them."
"It isn't like that," Bodie wheezed. "Silenus, I --"
"Don't talk, you'll start coughing again. Here, drink this. It will help you sleep."
"Because of your dreams? Tell me what they are, but briefly. Come, Caius, tell me."
"Ray. Dead." He was speaking before he could stop himself. "I killed him."
"Did you kill him in life?"
"Perhaps if you no longer deny him, you will no longer kill him in your sleep."
"Can't," he whispered. "Can't --" but Caius' body was too weary to keep up with the demands made of it, and he was dragged protesting into sleep without the aid of any drug. "Can't tell him," he heard someone say a million miles away. "-- isn't like that ..."
Bodie struggled out of the deep pit of sleep and forced his eyes open. Above him an evening sky was shading from lavender to indigo, and there was hard unyielding ground under him. A chill was in the air, and it had infiltrated his body as well; he felt cold to his bones.
Cautiously he sat up, half-expecting his muscles to creak audibly. Doyle was sitting cross-legged a few yards away, gazing out to the west and the last traces of the setting sun. Nearby the black bulk of the ruined tower seemed to form the axis on which the sky turned.
Bodie glanced at his partner's calm, introspective profile. Once more Doyle was a threat, a potential traitor who might trick him into betraying himself. Where, by all that was Unholy, had his subconscious dredged up all that?
"You were dreaming again," Doyle said quietly.
"Oh, yeah? Talkin' was I?"
"No, just restless."
Bodie let out a sigh of relief. "Yeah, well, I think Caius is coming down with pneumonia or something," he said in a dismissive tone. Doyle's head turned and he could feel the intensity of the gaze fixed on his face, but he would not meet those green eyes.
"I meant what I said, Bodie. We're friends and we're staying that way."
"Back off!" It came out as an angry shout, and if Doyle was surprised he did not show it.
"Not bloody likely!" he snapped. "We're each other's life insurance, sunshine, and I've invested too much to waste it. Besides, you tell me where you're going to find another poor sod who'll put up with a mad bugger like you? And don't give me any crud about working solo because one: Cowley wouldn't wear it, and two: you haven't got the solo mentality."
"Professor!" Bodie sneered, lip curling. "You think you're so fucking clever!"
"I know what's getting at you," Doyle began, and Bodie froze for a few seconds.
"You don't know a bloody thing!" he snarled, surging to his feet. "Are we going to stay on this geological pimple all night, or have you finished playing the tourist?"
"You're running away, Bodie." Doyle didn't move. "Never had you pegged for a coward."
Bodie controlled the urge to smash his fist into his partner's face. "There is another way of looking at it," he said, coldly deliberate. "Such as: it just isn't worth the price. Thought of that one, Professor?"
"You don't believe that."
"Wrong. When friendship, or lack of it, starts to get in the way of the job, then it's out. No room for sentiment in this mob, old son, especially when it risks efficiency and lives. So we make sure it doesn't get in the way." And he made a chopping gesture with the edge of his palm.
"Sod you, Bodie. I'll make you sorry for that one." There was an edge of venom in the quiet voice, and in spite of himself, Bodie gave a wry smile.
"Vindictive bastard," he heard himself say, an echo from his dreaming.
"You don't know the half of it, sunshine," Doyle hissed furiously.
"Oh, yeah? Well, Professor, do we drive back to London tonight, or first thing tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow." Doyle stood up and walked away, his limping figure disappearing into the blackness of the ruin.
Triumph curved Bodie's mouth in a smug grin, and he strolled after him. Doyle had obviously conceded defeat, and there would be a safe distance between them. As for Cowley, he wouldn't split them up; they were too good a team for that, and now that Doyle had seen sense they'd get back to their old efficiency. And they could still have the odd drink together, share workouts, the occasional double-date, now that they both understood the ground-rules.
But underneath his plans ran another image; their midnight conversation and Ray Doyle's face lit by the lamplight, the green eyes wide and luminous, the full mouth half-smiling and sensual, the feline strength and grace of his body; and the slow heat that had begun to spread out from his groin in response to that strangely intimate nearness. It was ridiculous. He didn't want Doyle. Of course he didn't. As for Silenus' theory -- He chose not to think of Silenus' theory, but the smug grin had disappeared long before he reached the car, and no matter how he tried he could not entirely shut out the echo of the physician's words.
Concentrating on his driving helped, but he was still almost painfully aware of Doyle. He was silent in the passenger seat, lines of discomfort about his mouth. His leg was obviously playing him up, and Bodie felt a stab of irritation. It had been a bloody daft idea to go climbing up Glastonbury Tor with a half-healed bullet-burn. Serves the stubborn bugger right. But if he got an infection in it, it could turn nasty. Not that his concern was anything more than a natural interest in the wellbeing of a bloke he worked with. Maybe reassignment wasn't such a bad idea after all.
So what the hell had gone wrong? Doyle shot a swift glance at his partner; the strong hands were relaxed on the wheel, there were no signs of strain or tension in him anywhere. He looked, Doyle reflected, like a man who has all the answers. Except there was an impenetrable wall between them that hadn't been there before, not even when Bodie was mistrusting him, and that wall had appeared after his sleep on the Tor. So what had his subconscious come up with this time?
Well, there was one way to find out, since Bodie clearly had no intention of telling him under his own steam. Goad him until he lost his cool, opened his mouth and put his foot in it. Not a very safe course of action, but he was fast running out of options. As to which front he should attack first, well, that was obvious enough. Press the friendship button, and Bodie now reacted with defensive anger. Yet Rianorix was dead. Probably Bodie was still kicking about that bloody price ticket.
Tough luck, sunshine. Anyhow, there was no guarantee that Bodie would be the one to cough up. The account could just as easily fall due on his, Doyle's doorstep, and if he could accept it, then so could his partner.
It was an empty, lonely feeling, being shut out. Judas-goat, driven away....
"Bodie," he said quietly. "You're breaking the Rules."
"Eh? Don't start that again." It was said with wary exasperation, but: "What rules?"
"I told you. No holding back is the relevant one, with the sub clause, 'no building barriers'."
"You sound," Bodie jeered, "like a love-sick parrot! We're not married, y'know."
"You're the one who said 'til death do us part," Doyle reminded him. "You've just jumped from sixty to eighty-five. Going to try for another ditch? Or a tree this time?"
"Damn you," Bodie snarled, easing up on the accelerator, and Doyle realised with a jolting shock that it hadn't taken much of a push. Unless he was jumping to conclusions.
"A love-sick parrot, eh?" he mused aloud to cover his startlement. "Now there's an interesting concept. Almost Pythonesque, you might say. Is that why you're building up the Berlin Wall? Afraid I might make a pass at you? But it's not my subconscious is it? So perhaps you're scared you might make a pass at me. What would be worse, Bodie? Me turning you down, or taking you up on it?"
The Escort screamed to a sliding halt, rocking on its suspension diagonally across the white line.
"You've got it all wrong!" Bodie yelled, knuckles bloodless on the steering wheel.
"Yes, sod it!"
But Doyle knew he hadn't, and that there was far more than a physical reaction at the bottom of the whole convoluted mess. It was the emotional involvement Bodie was fighting, as well as the inevitable pain of loss when their unit was cut in half. Well, he had all the answers now. The trouble was, he didn't know what to do with them.
Bodie wanted him, the physical need an extension of the emotional? Or was it a camouflage for the emotional? But wanting and needing are two different things, and maybe he was adding complications where there were none. One thing was evident: his hedonistic and possessive partner, whose own highly coloured accounts of his sexual exploits more than hinted at some pretty weird experiences, was shying away. If it was as simple as a quick fuck to satisfy bodily needs and curiosity maybe Bodie wouldn't hesitate.
How the hell did that fit in with his Rule Book?
The thought of sex with a man, any man, did nothing for him. A once-only experience in his teens had convinced him that girls were more fun. It had been okay, nothing earth-shattering, and he had done nothing more than lie back on a grass-high and let the bloke get on with it. As far as he could remember, his backside had remained firmly planted on the bed, and Whatsisname -- Ben's repertoire seemed to consist mainly of fellatio. He'd had better from some girls. And he wasn't keen on the idea of presenting his backside for screwing.
Forget the sex. It wasn't important. What did he, Ray Doyle, want? 'A friend,' he remembered the words easily, 'someone who cares about the state of my skin, and I'm not settling for less.' Someone who cares. A strange pain twisted in his chest, and he knew his decision was made. After all, he'd written the Rule Book, and it applied to himself as well as Bodie. No holding back. Some things, though, might never be said between them. It didn't matter, much.
"There is another way of looking at it," he said evenly. "Such as: if a thing is worth having, it's worth paying for. And I could be the one doing the paying. Thought of that?"
Bodie glared at him, baffled fury marking his features. "You think you're so bloody smart," he hissed.
Doyle didn't answer, just studied the familiar face with new eyes; the way the short-cropped hair curled at his temples, the length of his lashes, the arrogant, stubborn mouth -- and he remembered his impulse of the night. It looked as if he could get another chance at the crossroads, and he was grateful.
"Pack it in!" Bodie yelled.
"I'm not doing anything," he said. But he wanted to trace his fingertips along the paths his eyes were discovering, to know texture and warmth and maybe taste as well. Subtle tension coiled pleasurably in his loins, and he smiled. Perhaps it wouldn't be so very difficult to make the transition from friend to friend and lover.
"Yes, you are!" Bodie slammed the car into gear and sent it screeching down the road. "The joke's over, Ray," he shouted above the howl of the engine. "Big laugh, but it's over."
Doyle did not speak, but he did look away. This added awareness of Bodie was heady stuff, and he was shaken by his own response. For the first time he fully appreciated Bodie's fear of involvement. This, if it ever got off the ground, would be no brief affair to burn itself out meteor-bright. Nor would it be casual or curious gratification; at least, not on his part. Commitment taken to a physical expression.
No more broken dates, no more irate girlfriends who couldn't understand the job must come first, let alone the vital part his partner of necessity played in his life. No more hasty excuses for dates that had to be cut short or cancelled. No more trying to curb the caustic black humour when death has come too close for comfort. And no more trying to hide the periods of dark self-doubt. There would always be someone there, closer than a heartbeat, half of a unit, half of his life.
All he had to do was make sure Bodie made the first move to avoid any future backlash of recrimination if the going got rough. And when he looked back over the day, he realised he'd already been doing the groundwork. He had deliberately set out to keep Bodie intrigued, off balance. Obviously his own subconscious had sussed it all out long before the rest of him. So had Bodie's and a lot sooner, hence the elaborate Caius-Rianorix setup. He would have a tough contest on his hands, but the prize was worth it.
And all's fair in love and war.
Doyle smiled. Keep the stubborn sod guessing. "We can go back to London tonight, if you like," he said.
"Eh?" Bodie's foot eased up on the accelerator. "Why?"
"Thought you've had enough of the country, that's all. Better still, you take the car and go. I'll catch the train from Bath on Sunday."
"And how are you going to get there?"
"There are buses, Bodie, even out here. Or I could cadge a lift. Yeah, that's the best plan."
"What's brought this on so sudden?" Bodie snickered. "Jumped to the wrong conclusion, didn't you, sunshine, and ended up in the shit."
"No." Doyle looked at him, letting his eyes drift slowly over Bodie's face to linger on his mouth. "I just want a bit of peace and quiet to work on my Rule Book."
"Huh," Bodie shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and Doyle's gaze dropped lower. Bodie's well-cut grey trousers were fitting unusually tightly over his crotch. His own body echoed the reaction, and he smiled again. He closed his eyes, remembering the feel of Bodie's skin under his hands as he massaged him, the latent power of the broad muscular back and shoulders, all the strength and proud maleness close to him in the privacy of the small pool of light. Suddenly he was aching for Bodie's touch, so much so he nearly reached out.
"What time is it?" Bodie demanded, breaking the self-induced spell. "Your dashboard clock's on the blink."
"Nearly ten," Doyle said. "We'll get there well before last orders. If you don't hit anything: like a tree or a speed-trap. Want some help with your packing?"
"Nope. Who said I'm going?"
"Oh." Illogically, hope flared. "It's okay, Bodie. I won't, er, compromise you."
"I'll break your bloody neck," he snapped, and Doyle chuckled. But he didn't speak, and after a while the Escort's speed dropped back to a sensible level.
Doyle was to be disappointed. This time he'd pushed Bodie too far, and outmanoeuvred himself.
"I'm off back home," Bodie said abruptly as they turned into the inn's car park and braked to a halt.
"Okay," Doyle said, as casual and offhand as he could make it, climbed out of the car and stretched. "Want any h --"
"No. I can manage."
Doyle shrugged. "Suit yourself. See you around sometime," he said, and strolled into the saloon bar.
"Yeah," said Bodie.
Doyle bought himself a beer and retired to a corner away from dartboard and game-machine. He'd lost that particular battle, he acknowledged wearily. But you could lose every battle and still win the war. He didn’t intend to concede defeat. There was far too much at stake for that. He wanted Bodie as a partner, as a friend, and in his bed, and he'd use any strategy he could devise to win and maintain all three, for both their sakes.
Life, he said silently, raising his tankard to the list of dead friends, was too short. In the car, without making any physical move or putting it into words, he'd tried to let Bodie know that it was all right, he was available if that was what he wanted, but it hadn't worked. Perhaps he'd been too obvious, not being used to seducing a bloke. Or not obvious enough? But on the other hand, he didn’t want to threaten Bodie's already oversensitive subconscious with an overt approach.
There came the sneaking suspicion that he might well lose the war along with the battles, and it chilled him. "Damn you, Bodie," he muttered, and took a deep swallow of beer. He'd climb into Bodie's bed without an invitation and damn the consequences before he'd let that happen.
Twenty miles away from the New Inn and heading up the slip road onto the motorway, it suddenly struck Bodie that (a) he was bloody sick of the empty silence from the passenger seat, and (b) Doyle's Rule Book had been conspicuous by its absence when he'd announced his return to London. Obviously Doyle had meant it when he'd said he wanted time to himself. On the other hand he'd also obviously meant it when he'd trotted out those damned Rules. So what was he playing at? Devious bastard that he was, there had to be something up his sleeve that he, Bodie, wouldn't like when it was produced.
And (c) why the hell was he going to London if (a) was making itself felt so strongly.
An automatic check over the dash panel brought him back to the immediate. The petrol gauge was on empty, which meant he had half a gallon, probably less, to get him to a service station.
Bodie swore, settled down to some economical driving, and put the questioner in his head firmly in its place. He was going back home because Ray Doyle had got too close in more ways than one, and, well --
The blue and white sign haloed in its own spotlight announced nearby Services, and Bodie put his foot down. The car wouldn't die on him now, and if it did, it was only a shortish hike to the pumps. It occurred to him that with a full tank of petrol he had a choice. He could either go back or carry on. But if he went back, Ray Doyle's Rule Book would be built around him like so many walls. But walls, whispered the assiduous traitor, weren't such a bad thing. They could be useful; necessary, even. He killed the thought.
The engine coughed as he pulled over to the Services road, coughed again as he turned into the petrol station, and died as he braked by the pumps. If Doyle had been there, he'd have collected acid comments about the luck of fools or the Devil looking after his own. The silence ached.
With the car fuelled, Bodie found the need to buy himself some time. He parked the Escort and went into the cafeteria. It was almost deserted, and with two cups of coffee on his tray he located and took possession of a corner table, sat down and started to think.
It was, he admitted, something he should have done a while ago. Oh, sure, he'd made an attempt, even reached a decision; and had reversed it as soon as the dreaming had taken that new twist. Love didn't come into it, but loyalty and friendship did, and Silenus was right in one respect. He shouldn't deny either, they were far too important, the key factors that kept both him and Ray alive.
Moreover, it was useless to try and walk away from them. That wouldn't lessen the pain when the price came due. In fact, it would make things worse. Supposing he was reassigned, and Doyle was injured, killed, because his new partner wasn't fast enough or couldn't predict or second-guess him the way he, Bodie, could. Part of the blame would fall squarely on his shoulders.
Feeling suddenly sick, Bodie put down his cup, splashing coffee into the saucer. Was reassignment another way of pointing a gun at Doyle and pulling the trigger? Finally and irrevocably, Bodie ruled out reassignment. No matter what happened, that was one mistake he would not make.
So he would go back to the inn, make his peace with Doyle and let it go at that. And he'd go along with the bloody Rule Book. Anything for a quiet life. Drifting into his mind came the memory of Ray looking at him in the car, a new awareness in the green eyes and a gaze that had moved over his features like a caress. He shivered, stomach tightening as it had then, blood heating with a slow throb.
Maybe not such a quiet life. Well, why not? the traitor argued. After all, if he was going to stick around he may as well get his money's worth. He'd shared enough double dates with Doyle to know he was a sensualist, expert and inventive -- with girls. As for himself, he had knowledge of a wide range of sexual athletics, though not always of his own volition. He pushed dark memories aside and thought about Ray Doyle instead.
An art student's life would have been pretty wild way back in the sixties, and if Doyle had played around with such things as LSD, maybe his inquisitive nature had taken him into other areas as well.
Bodie's frown became a smirk. He had the feeling that sex with Doyle would be good, and convenient. There would always be plenty of girls, plenty of long weekends and one-night stands, but if social plans went awry for any reason Ray wouldn't be suffering from the wrong time of the month. Or a headache. Very convenient. He wouldn't have to curb that wild, dangerous side to his character, either. Nor the cold clipped hauteur that hid a multitude of feelings and emotions that he would rather do without. Ray would understand, just as he himself understood the black moods and introspections that afflicted the other half of his unit.
Bodie glanced at the empty seat beside him. When it came down to it, he had no choice, he admitted wryly. Convenient be damned. Ray's voice echoed up from his thoughts: "you're committed same as I am.' Yes, he was committed, all right, and he should have realised it from the start. Not that it meant all that Silenus would read into it, of course not. But they had a good friendship, a rare, almost empathic efficiency in their work, and you don't break up a good thing.
Bodie drained the last of his second cup and returned to the car.
He pulled into the New Inn's car park just as the lights went out in the bars. The doors were all locked, but a cautious knock brought the landlord to let him in.
"You cut it a bit fine, Mr. Bodie," the man said sourly. "It's gone one."
"Sorry about that," he smiled.
"Mr. Doyle said you'd left for London."
"I had, but when I phoned in to let them know what time I'd be there the emergency was already cleared up," Bodie improvised with glib ease. "They needn't have bothered me at all. So I may as well finish my leave."
"I see. It'll be two for breakfast, then. I'll leave a note for the girls."
"Do you have a spare key for the room?" Bodie asked. "Doyle'll be asleep, and I don't want to wake him."
"Right you are." He made a brief detour to the small office and brought back a labelled key. "I'd appreciate it back first thing tomorrow."
"First thing," Bodie grinned. "G'night."
"G'night." It was a somewhat surly echo, but Bodie only half-heard it. He was already heading for the residents' stairs.
No light showed under the door of their room. He let himself in silently, dumped his case on the chair and cautiously groped his way to his bedside lamp and switched it on. The small light showed Doyle as a long shadow mound under the quilt, tangled hair dark on the pillow, face turned away. But what he could see of the sleeping profile showed a frown on the arched eyebrow and a downward pull to the full mouth.
Bodie sat on his own bed and eased off his shoes and socks. He would have preferred to believe Ray's face showed only the discomfort of a painful leg, but he knew it wasn't the cause. Recalling the emptiness at his side in the car he could guess it was simply loneliness. Bloody daft; two grown men feeling like lost souls just because they were out of sight of each other.
However, now he was back, he wasn’t sure what to do. Should he go to bed and talk in the morning, or wake Doyle now and make an apology of sorts? Discretion, he decided, was the better part of valour, got rid of the rest of his clothes and slid into bed. But then realised with an uncomfortable shock that Doyle wasn’t asleep. There was no sound nor movement from the other bed, but his partner was awake, had been for a while, and was waiting for him to say something.
"Ray," he said lamely.
"Changed your mind again?" demanded a quiet, unsleepy voice. "You'll have to do something about this lack of decisiveness, 3.7."
Bodie switched out the light. "Yeah."
"Or did you forget something."
"Yeah," Bodie said again.
"What?" He didn't sound particularly interested.
"You," Bodie said, and a short silence stretched between them. Again he could feel Doyle waiting, this time for a qualification.
Bodie grinned into the darkness, abruptly at his ease and relaxed. Confidence sang along his veins. "Wassamatter, 4.5? Cat got your tongue?" he drawled.
"There's nothing wrong with my tongue," Doyle said coolly. "Do I get a resume of the plot so far?"
"The Continuing Saga of Caius and Rianorix, Roman Britain's answer to Dallas?" Bodie stretched and yawned and sat up, propped his shoulders against the padded headboard and clicked on the lamp. Doyle turned over to face him, head on his hand. "It seems to have ended in a Shakespearian bloodbath," he went on cheerfully. "Rianorix was only in it for revenge, he killed Quintus and Demetrius. Silenus killed him, and Caius appears to be coughing his lungs up and going into a decline. Silenus will probably be made the old man's heir, and he'll marry his bird, and they all live happily ever after."
"You missed your vocation, Bodie," Doyle smiled. "You should be writing film scripts for BBC 2. And what was the message from your subconscious this time?"
Bodie glanced across at him. The green eyes were unreadable, but the full sensual mouth had that one-sided lift to it, and the shadow-painted face was an enigmatic and oddly feline mask that suddenly had his pulse-beat lurching out of step. Part of him wanted to make a flippant reply, but a deeper impulse demanded the truth.
"Contradictory," he said. "Probably making sure I don't go into anything blind, so to speak. Let's see if I've got the Rules right. No reassignment, no holding back, no wall-building. Any more nos in the small print, Professor?"
"None that I can think of," Doyle said quietly.
"Fair enough. All right. I agree. Now what?"
For a second he thought he saw something akin to disappointment in the steady gaze. But, "Took you long enough," was all Doyle said. "G'night, Bodie," and he lay down, eyes closed.
"Put the light out, mate."
"Put the --? Is that all you're gonna say?" he snorted, indignation straightening his spine.
"What more should I say?" Doyle's eyes did not open.
"You," said Bodie, breathing hard, "are the most infuriating, perverse, bloody-minded, stubborn little sod it's even been my misfortune to come across."
"Why'd I say that? You're not so bad."
"How you had the nerve to say I'd never find another partner to put up with me just about boggles my mind," Bodie snapped. "Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. You are a nutter, Raymond. A one hundred percent, 22 karat, grade A, dyed-in-the-wool --"
"It's just as well we're stuck with each other, innit?" Doyle's mouth twitched as if he was hiding a grin.
"Yes," said Bodie, and put out the light. He slipped from his bed and knelt beside Doyle's. "Stuck with you and your damned Rule Book." He felt him move away, heard the rustle of quilt. "I'm going to write in some rules of my own," he went on. "Any objections?" In the darkness his fingers found Doyle's face, brushed lightly over cheek and ear to tangle deep in curling hair.
"That depends." There was an indefinable tension in the two words, and Bodie could feel it through his handful of hair.
"No, it doesn't. I'm making a pass at you, Ray. Are you going to turn me down or take me up on it? But before you answer, remember your own Rule. No holding back."
"I'm not likely to forget it," Doyle whispered.
"Well?" The neck muscles were braced against his insistent pressure, but slowly he pulled Doyle's head towards him.
Bodie did not need the light to show him his goal. Sure knowledge guided him and he took Doyle's mouth with possessive confidence. Doyle made a small startled sound in this throat, then the full lips opened under his, and suddenly Bodie found himself caught up and swept away by a tide of taste and sensation.
Doyle broke the kiss, drawing back a few inches. His breathing was uneven, and when he spoke there was a languorous huskiness in his voice that jolted through Bodie in a sweet scorching lightning bolt. "I'll take you up on it."
"'Course you will," Bodie murmured. "I'm irresistible," and jumped as warm hands caressed over his shoulders, tugged gently at him, and the velvet touch of Doyle's lips rested feather-light on his.
"You're a bastard," Doyle said against him.
"Mmm," said Bodie. "So're you," pushing aside the quilt and leaning forward to take that damnable mouth again.
Theory was one thing, practice another. All right, so Bodie had come back, and lying awake, unable to sleep, the faint sound of the key turning in the lock was enough to start a thread of warmth coiling through the lonely chill in his gut. He sparred with words, drew Bodie to him, but until that hand locked in his hair and his partner's confident-to-the-point-of-arrogant mouth fastened onto his own lips he wasn’t sure how much sexual response his body could produce towards another man.
Deep-seated fire flared through him, scorching away any doubts, any inhibitions that still lingered, and his confidence soared to match Bodie's. He had made the right decision, he was certain. This felt too good, too natural and inevitable to be otherwise.
Then the quilt was no longer between them and Bodie was pressing him back on the pillows, the solid weight of him bearing him down. The mouth on his was hungry, demanding, and he contested the dominance, body writhing, spine arching, pleasure growling in his throat.
Time no longer had meaning. There was only slick heat of their erections trapped between their bellies, and the powerful body flexing over him in a steady, driving rhythm. Each rocking movement spiralled the sensations higher and higher, until at last the swelling throb of tension in Doyle's groin crested and he convulsed in Bodie's arms. Hot fluid spread over his shuddering stomach, and his wordless cry was muffled by his partner's mouth, only to be echoed as Bodie found his own release.
"Bloody hell," Bodie whispered into his neck. "Knew you'd be good, and that’s just the hors d’ouvres."
"Yeah," he answered, body stretching in sleek, sensual comfort, enjoying the glide of semen-lubricated skin. "Not bad for a beginner."
"Next time," Bodie said, "we leave the light on."
"Mmm, I want to watch your face when you come."
A shiver of anticipation rippled through Doyle. "That sounds mildly kinky," he murmured. "Did Caius do this with Demetrius?"
"Who?" Bodie said blankly.
"For God's sake!"
"Oh. Them. Dunno. Who cares? This is us, sunshine, not them."
"Mm," said Doyle. "Bodie, let's go home t'morrow."
"Today. Good idea. Your place or mine?"
"Mine. At least I know I've got food in."
"Okay. How's the leg?"
"Fine. Don't move," a drowsy protest as Bodie's weight shifted.
"'M not going far," he chuckled, and half-pushed, half-lifted Doyle until he had made enough space to lie on his back, the smaller man held firmly along one side. Doyle pressed closer, thigh across Bodie's legs, head on a broad shoulder. Idly his hand explored the smooth expanse of chest, tracing patterns over the lifting ribs and hardened nipples before moving down to the damp belly.
"Wonder what Cowley'll say?" he yawned. Beside him the powerful frame became rigid with shock.
"What? What are you trying to do? Give me Limp Dick Syndrome? Before he can say anything he's got to know, and I'm not bloody well telling him."
"Think he won't guess?"
"Nah. Why should he? As long as we keep our hands off each other in public."
"Yeah, I suppose we might get away with it." His wandering fingertips found the fine line of hair that grew down from Bodie's navel, sticky with their combined semen. "Didn't know sex could be that good with a bloke."
"You ain't seen nothin' yet," Bodie snickered. "First time, was it?"
Doyle thought about that, and decided Ben didn't qualify. "More or less," he said, and lost the struggle with another yawn.
"Tell me more," Bodie demanded, interested. "I like dirty stories."
"Bastard," he mumbled. "Somewhen else." He settled himself more comfortably, his straying hand coming to rest cupping Bodie's flaccid penis and testicles. "Pull the quilt up."
"You're not going to sleep, are you?" There was outrage in Bodie's voice, and Doyle chuckled.
"Yeah," he said, "for half-an-hour or so. Don't be in such a hurry. This isn't a one-night-stand."
But it was morning when they next awoke, a fact that surprised Doyle when he opened his eyes. The bed was too narrow for two to sleep in any comfort or safety, he'd've thought, but their positions were unchanged, and Bodie was still out to the world. He glanced at his watch, and swore. It was nearly nine o'clock.
"Bodie." He prodded him hard in the ribs, won a grunt and a twitch. "Come on, get up. We'll miss breakfast if we're not careful."
"Breakfast?" Bodie latched onto the key word. His eyes opened, blinking like an owl in a spotlight, and Doyle got a peculiar melting sensation in the pit of his stomach. Bodie's face was darkened with beard-shadow, his short hair stood up in bottle-brush tufts, and his mouth was a sullen, half-asleep expression of disapproval. But the dark eyes searched his features with an odd mixture of wariness and possessiveness.
"Breakfast," he repeated softly, and leaned down to touch his mouth to Bodie's lips, teasing them open with tongue-tip and gentle bites. Bodie's arms clamped around him, and Doyle's mouth was invaded by an urgent tongue. Wildfire spread through his blood as his body responded, but somehow he managed to regain control and break free, putting Bodie's bed between them. "Breakfast," he said again. "I need bacon and eggs just as much as I need --"
"Me," Bodie finished smugly, and grinned. "Got to keep your strength up, Raymond, old son. I've got plans for you."
"So've I, sunshine," Doyle smiled slowly. "So have I."
Breakfast over, their bags packed and in the car, they split the bill between them and Bodie paused by the reception desk to pay. Doyle went on ahead and was sitting behind the wheel when his partner joined him. There was a brief and acrimonious dispute as to who was driving, which Doyle won, being already in the seat.
But he didn’t head the car towards the main road and the motorway. Instead he drove southwest, and Bodie's eyebrow lifted. "Seeing it through to the bitter end?" he drawled with a rueful grin.
"Yep," said Doyle. "Rianorix, not Caius."
Bodie shrugged. "He looked too much like you," he said.
Doyle didn’t answer, and they drove in silence for a while. Then Doyle turned off the road onto a narrow farm track. For two miles they followed a series of tracks, until they were faced by a stand of trees beyond a five-barred gate. Bodie got out, opened the gate and closed it after the Escort had bounced through.
"Now where, Professor?" he sighed as Doyle climbed out, slamming the door shut.
"You tell me." Their eyes met over the car's roof, and Doyle smiled that slow, heavy-eyed smile and awoke the sleeping hunger in Bodie's loins.
"We're trespassing," he pointed out.
"Your moral fibre does you credit. C'mon, find me that Roman road."
"You've got the map."
"Yeah, but the bits are only pencilled in. That's hardly precise."
"Wait till I get you home," Bodie grumbled. "This way."
Side by side in companionable silence, they walked through the trees. The track they were on showed no sign of being recently used, the only sounds were those of the forest and their footsteps, and the Twentieth Century seemed very far away. The day grew warm, since there was little wind stirring through the trees. They took off their jackets, and Doyle unbuttoned his shirt.
After a couple of miles, the established forest gave way to saplings planted in neat rows, and Bodie stopped, frowning.
"Yeah?" Doyle said.
"East," said Bodie, and struck off the track along the rough ground between the two areas. "It's not far from here," he went on, striding ahead of Doyle, careless of briars and gorse. Then the ground lifted slightly under his feet, and deep in his bones he knew he was standing on what was left of a Roman road. Unhesitating, he turned northeast and walked along it into the green leaf-shade.
The undergrowth was thin, and the shallow swell of the bank could be seen arrowing straight into the forest for about fifty feet before its line was blurred by tree roots and lost. Behind him there was no sign of it in the open ground, the bracken grew too thickly about the young trees. But all of Bodie's concentration was given to the road ahead, and twenty feet in he came to a halt.
"This is it?" Doyle's voice was quiet, expressionless.,
"Yeah. I'm sure of it -- God knows how or why. Looks like there's still a trace of the ditch here."
"Good," said Doyle. Before Bodie could guess his intent and turn, a flying weight attacked shoulders and knees, sending him stumbling into the bracken and dead leaves that filled the slight dip. Rage and fear exploded through him and he twisted round, met the savage laughter in Doyle's face -- Rianorix' face -- and then the smaller man was on him again.
The wrestling match was short and vicious, and Doyle didn’t lose the advantage of surprise. Bodie was pinned in a painful arm lock, sharp knees in his stomach, and his free arm was trapped under him by their combined weight. A narrow hand closed about his throat, fingers biting into straining muscle and tendon, and Bodie crowed for breath, body bucking to dislodge his assailant, and the bitterness of betrayal fuelled his anger. The fierce exultant face leaned over him, teeth showing in a snarling grin.
"This, you stubborn, arrogant bastard, is for putting me through hell for the last few days," Doyle hissed, "and if you ever pull a stunt like that again, I swear to God I'll bloody strangle you myself!"
Bodie drew breath to croak a furious tirade but he wasn't given chance to voice it. Doyle's mouth came down on his, hard and demanding and bruising. Dark pleasure struck through him, and Bodie moaned. Abruptly the kiss was transmuted to coaxing tenderness and against his will he opened his mouth for the touch of Doyle's tongue. The knees slid from his stomach and Doyle stretched out along him, their groins pressed close, moving in the same unconscious rhythm. The hand had gone from his throat, was locked behind his head, and his arms were free. So he wrapped them around the lean body and put all his anger and hunger into the kiss. When it ended they were both short of breath, and Doyle was quivering with held down desire. Bodie rolled over, pinning him in the bracken, and glared down into eyes that reflected the same living green, darkened now with his need. "Vindictive -- little --" he wheezed. "I'll break -- your fuckin' neck!"
"Wait a minute," a husky murmur, but Doyle's hands were braced against his chest. "Listen, sunshine. You dreamed hatred and death here. They're the other side of the coin. Make love to me, Bodie?"
Bodie stared at him, a deep emotion coursing along nerves and blood vessels, and a crazy effervescence followed in its wake. "Make love to me," Doyle said again, eyes, mouth and slow-moving body an invitation it was impossible to ignore, even if he had wanted to do so.
"Rianorix is going to get laid to rest, is he?" he said fatuously, and won a throaty chuckle. Fingers unbuttoned his shirt, worked at his belt, shaking with urgency, and Bodie pushed them aside. "Let me," he whispered, a new gentleness cancelling out all the bitterness, the resentment and anger. Quickly he got rid of his own clothes, then stripped Doyle with appreciative care. Lying naked in the tangled bracken, he was a study in pagan erotica that momentarily struck Bodie to stillness. Then Doyle reached for him and their bodies met with a sweet silken shock he'd not felt with any other lover.
The sun was a hazy golden glow almost directly overhead, diffused by leaves and cloud. Bodie grinned at it. "Now I know what Icarus felt like," he said.
He propped himself up on an elbow, and gazed down at Doyle's face. Glossed by sweat, framed by foliage and dark bronze hair, his features had a serenity that Bodie found almost as moving as the terrible joyousness of orgasm. Eyes blinked slowly at him, heavy-lidded, sated, and holding a light in them that knotted his stomach.
"All my wings are burnt away," he murmured, kissing the swollen lips.
"That's all right," Doyle smiled. "We'll make new ones."
Bodie chuckled. "Yeah," he said. There was a lot more he wanted to say, about the feeling of completeness that was part of him now, the awareness of total unity, but he couldn’t find the words. And anyway, with that expression in Doyle's eyes, they weren't necessary. "Let's go home," he said, and knew he already had come home. "I owe Silenus a large malt," he added, to cover the twist of emotion the knowledge brought with it.
"Why?" Doyle asked, reaching up to trail fingertips across Bodie's chest. "What's he got to do with it? Apart from carving up Rianorix?"
"Oh, just a few bits of Dutch Uncle and unwanted advice," he said, offhand.
"Don't give up, do you?"
"Nope. If I had, we wouldn't be here," Doyle said bluntly, a gesture and lithe stretch emphasising his nakedness.
"Oh, yeah? Made me chase you until you caught me, did you?" he chuckled, then his jaw dropped as he realised that was exactly what Doyle had done. "Devious conniving --"
"-- and vindictive," Doyle whispered. "Don't forget that one. What did he tell you?"
"That you don't waste a gift from the Gods by denying it. Life's too short," he said quietly.
"I'll drink to that," Doyle nodded, and raised an invisible glass. "'Til death do us part."
"Shuttup!" Bodie snapped. "You talk too much." But Doyle avoided his mouth.
"There's another one," he said gently. "Live, laugh and be merry for tomorrow --"
"Bastard! What are you playing at?"
"I love you," said Doyle. "But I'm not going to stick my head in the sand. We're not going to collect old age pensions, sunshine, and that's okay with me as long as we don't waste time pretending we're immortal."
Speechless, Bodie stared at him, a yearning ache spreading under his ribs.
"Ray -- I -- "
"Shuttup," Doyle echoed, tenderness and understanding in his face and voice. "You don't have to say a thing. It's time to get back to the Twentieth Century. And Uncle George."
"Sooner him than Uncle Quintus," Bodie muttered, aware that he had been let off the hook and grateful for it. But he was aware, too, that Doyle had placed himself squarely in his hands without shields, barriers, or any defence. That trust, he vowed would not be misplaced.