Doyle was worried. It was all going far too smoothly...
So far he'd made it to the administration offices without mishap. The most alarming thing that had happened was the occasional nod of greeting from other men in white coats identical to the one he now sported, accompanied by a muttered word or two. He'd nodded and muttered back, frowning pensively at his clipboard, and no one had challenged him. In fact, no one had paid him much attention at all.
He paused at an intersection and checked his watch. Sixteen minutes before Ghost was due to override the next set of relays and let him pass through into the lab area. And the entrance was only a few seconds walk away. Damn. Well, he couldn't just stand here - far too conspicuous.
"Where's the nearest bog?"
She chuckled into his ear. "Let me guess. You're too early. OK - back up the hall and to your left. I'll give the corridor surveillance camera a moment's static so no-one can tell how long you've been in there."
"You're welcome. Make sure you're back here on time!"
The restroom was empty: he chose the nearest stall and locked the door. Allowing his concentration to lapse would be dangerous - but he had thirteen minutes to wait. He felt tense, but comfortably so - enough to keep him alert, not enough to cause any problems. Like it used to be, back in CI5 with Bodie. His partner. He rested his eyes on his watch and let his thoughts drift back...
Thirteen years. Christ, it felt like forever!
He'd been in the middle of yet another pounding at Macklin's hands when the pain had begun. At first he thought it was just another bruised rib and carried on - but this time the ache hadn't faded. It had worsened, spread across his chest, leaving him gasping: he'd felt himself getting dizzy...
Macklin had grabbed him around the waist and almost dragged him over to the gym mats, dropping to kneel beside him as Bodie charged to his side.
"Ray? What is it? What's wrong?"
He couldn't speak. He'd never felt so cold in his life, and it was difficult to breathe...
Confused sounds... voices.... Bodie shouting (why couldn't he shut up? Couldn't he even let a mate die in peace?)... An ambulance siren. The hated smell he knew as 'hospital'. Then a blessed darkness...
When he awoke it was night, the darkness outside kept at bay by the gentle light to one side of the bed. He felt like he'd been shoved through a mangle then stretched out to dry on broken glass. His groan was only a whisper of sound, but the nurse in attendance heard, and reached to take his pulse.
She smiled at him, brisk, efficient. "You're safe, Mr Doyle. We got you here in time."
She regarded him thoughtfully. He tried to push himself up, biting off a cry as pain razored through his chest. The nurse one-handedly pushed his shoulder gently back to the bed: the rest of his body followed limply.
"If you promise to lie quiet and not try to move, I'll fetch a doctor." She waited until he nodded, the movement barely rustling the pillow, then disappeared through the door.
Doyle lay still, trying not to breathe too deeply, dimly aware that something was missing. Seconds later he realised what it was. Bodie wasn't there.
Something must be seriously wrong if Bodie wasn't there...
He didn't have too long to worry about it, however, as the nurse quickly returned, accompanied by a harried looking man in a white coat. His badge read 'Dr Scott'. He also took Doyle's pulse. If he'd been able to speak without fire spearing through his lungs, Doyle might have been tempted to ask them why they were all so fascinated with his wrist...
Dr Scott nodded, then looked at his patient.
"Mr Doyle, I'm happy to see you're still with us."
"...wha' 'appened...?" It was a harsh whisper.
"Perhaps we should wait until you're a little stronger..."
"...want to know now..."
The doctor exchanged glances with the nurse, who pursed her lips, mouthed 'CI5' at him, then nodded. Reluctantly Dr Scott turned back to Doyle.
"I'm sorry... You've suffered heart failure. You've had emergency surgery..."
Doyle shook his head slightly.
Couldn't be true! Only old men got heart failure, only men who smoked and drank and didn't look after themselves... He was in near perfect physical nick - even Macklin had been happy with him...
Dr Scott was nodding, sadly. "I'm sorry. As far as we can tell, the previous trauma to your heart is responsible. The mitral valve was damaged, whether by the bullet or by the surgery to remove it, we can't tell after all this time. We've replaced the valve, but there will be long term consequences..."
His sight blurred, and he felt his heart racing. He dimly heard the doctor snap something incomprehensible to the nurse. Moments later he felt the sting of a hypodermic, and gradually his vision cleared as his heart rate slowed.
"Mr Doyle? Are you still with us?"
"Good. I want you to get some sleep now - we'll talk again later. There are some things you'll need to know - about coping with a heart condition for one. Nurse Meadows will stay with you for now. If you need anything, just ask her."
The drugs were beginning to work as the doctor left the small room. Before he completely lost consciousness, he mumbled to the nurse, "Bodie..."
She leaned closer to hear him.
As his eyes closed, he thought he saw her nod...
...And when he next woke, slowly, rising up through a fog of pain and bitter remembrance, his partner was there, several days-worth of beard darkening his jaw, sitting at his bedside, holding his hand. Kissing it, pressing his lips to the palm, eyes screwed tight and tears glistening unregarded on his cheeks. What the fuck...!
Doyle grunted as he tried to pull his hand away, and Bodie's eyes, heavy and dark-rimmed with exhaustion, snapped open. For just an instant, Doyle saw fear, longing, and something he didn't dare call love clear on his partner's face - then Bodie pulled his habitual cool reserve into place and laid the weakly shaking hand back on the bed. He smiled, a little lop-sidedly.
"Had me worried, there, sunshine. Thought we'd lost you."
Doyle stared at him, confused. Had he imagined it?
"...heard wha' 'appened...?"
Bodie's smile slipped. "Yeah. Had a long chat with the doctor. Cowley's with him now. Looks like we have a problem, mate."
"...wasn't Macklin's fault..."
Bodie snorted in exasperation and ruffled Doyle's limp curls.
"You're the only man I know who could come back from the dead - for the second time! - and apologise for the man who put you in here..." His banter stopped at the expression on Doyle's face.
"We know, sunshine. If Macklin hadn't realised what was happening and called the ambulance, we wouldn't be sitting here now discussing it."
At that point Cowley had entered, Dr Scott in tow, and the next few minutes were something of a blur. The doctor had been reluctant to discuss the case in front of the patient; Bodie - and Cowley - had insisted that Doyle, being Doyle, would want to know how things stood. At the time, Doyle had agreed, although he found it difficult to concentrate on what was being said. He remembered the odd word, the odd phrase: "off active duty from now on", "lifelong medication", "no exertion"... It was later, after Cowley had, at the Doctor's insistence, dragged Bodie away with him so that Doyle (and Bodie come to that, given the state he was in) could rest, that the reality of what had happened began to sink in.
He was no longer whole. A part of him had failed, broken, given up. And been replaced by a metal thing, something alien in his body. He'd stared down at his bandaged chest with mingled horror and disgust. No matter that it had saved his life. It didn't belong there. He didn't want it there.
And he'd have to take drugs to stay alive. Drugs. He, Doyle, who never willingly took anything stronger than a vitamin pill, was condemned to a lifetime of poison just to keep his heart working.
Did he want it to keep working?
His body had let him down. The body he'd trusted without question, enjoyed, positively revelled in, on occasion. No use to him, now. No use to anyone. No use to CI5...
CI5. Their fault...
And with the knowledge that he could no longer trust his body came the equally awful fear that perhaps he could no longer trust Bodie...
He could feel his heart racing again, sweat breaking out on his body, his mind running in tight circles. One of the machines at his side started making unhappy noises, and seconds later Nurse Meadows raced in, closely followed by a doctor. As the nurse held his threshing body still, the doctor wielded the hypodermic...
He wasn't sure how many days later he finally became aware of his surroundings again. But Bodie was there, still looking tired, but happy to see Doyle conscious, if not exactly talkative. He'd made small talk, keeping the one-sided conversation light. And it had been such a simple, throwaway, joking remark - Bodie, relief making him thoughtless, had said, "Well, could be worse, sunshine. At least you're alive. And the old man doesn't want to lose you. You could join the pen pushers in Ops. Or come and live with me - I could do with a cook and housekeeper."
In his unbalanced state, Doyle felt a yawning pit open below him. In the nights that followed he had an unhealthy amount of time to reflect on the words, on his own self-disgust, and on Bodie's expression, that first time he awoke, until it felt like they were consuming him...
Bodie had been his rock. He had a terrifying, suffocating vision of that rock changing to quicksand, sucking him down, subsuming him. And he couldn't bear it. In an unending waking nightmare he ran fast and ran far, meeting himself at every path's end. Himself, or Bodie...
So Doyle resigned from CI5, and abandoned the one person who knew him and loved him regardless. (Yes, loved - he'd finally admitted to himself - with a strange selfless devotion he simply couldn't understand. Or cope with, then.) Not because the idea of being with Bodie, of letting him play nurse-maid, was difficult or horrifying or hurtful, but because it wasn't. Because it would be too easy. Because he didn't deserve it.
He'd left Bodie the jade egg, and the framed 'Desiderata', and disappeared from his life.
Or so he'd thought. Obviously Bodie had had no intention of allowing it - had managed to play nurse-maid, even from a distance. Not been prepared to lose him entirely. And not, it would seem, blaming Doyle for his actions, nor seeing anything to forgive. Big-hearted, amoral Bodie.
Doyle frowned to himself, noting absently that his thirteen minutes were nearly up. He'd adapted to his condition, of course. He'd had no choice, except to allow his own death, and he'd found, once the darkness had lifted, that he wanted very much to live. He was, in any case, an adaptable creature. But he couldn't even remember, now, exactly why he'd reacted so irrationally at the time. What if he'd been wrong? What had he been afraid of? What a bloody mess...
Being back with Bodie was... was... easy. Once he'd stopped resisting, he and his partner had slotted together again seamlessly. The loneliness that had underscored so many years was gone.
He sighed. Just how many mistakes could one person make in a lifetime, anyway?
Well, if - as was looking quite likely at the moment - they came out of this alive, he'd have time to try and make sense of what had happened, why he'd behaved as he had. And, if possible, try to make amends. And not only to Bodie.
Thirteen minutes. Thirteen years. It was time to move...
© May 2000 Joules Taylor
© 2000 WordWrights.