The Lost Ring

By Allie

Doyle strode down the corridor, scrubbing fingers back through his hair. He hadn't had time to take a shower, even a sonic one. His eyes felt gummy. But Bodie was waiting and fair was fair, even if he hadn't got enough sleep (even with hypnos); it was Doyle's turn to pilot.

He certainly didn't want to arrive late and end up with another revenge prank such as Bodie calling in 'sick.' Captain Cowley, of course, always seemed to believe his blue-eyed boy, whilst Doyle could never get away with a half-truth, much less a Bodie-level tale.

He entered the cockpit, half a yawn still on his face—and stopped.

Bodie was on hands and knees studying the floor intently.

"What?" asked Doyle.

Bodie looked up with a guilty, sheepish expression. "Lost the ring, haven't I? Come on, Doyle. Be a mate! Help me find it before me shift ends."

Doyle snorted. If Bodie failed, he'd get in trouble with Cowley for good and all, no hiding it. Would be a matter of record; no dodging it. The controller ring was too important to misplace. Without it, the ship would be flying blind. They could collide with something if there was any space debris near enough; and if there wasn't, they could still fly off course.

"If we find it soon enough, no harm done. Come on, Doyle! Help me look!" exploded Bodie, half plea, half command. "Quit your smirking and bend those scrawny bloody knees!"

Doyle smirked down at his rival co-pilot, crossing his arms and leaning casually in the doorway. "Could say 'please,' mate."

"Doyle!"

He allowed himself one last smirk. "Yeah, all right." Plopping to his knees, Doyle began to search the rug, squinting. "Tried a scan, mate?"

"How can I without the ring?"

Doyle shut his eyes, grimacing at his own foolishness. "Yeah. Forgot. Where were you when you dropped it? Sleeping on the job, were you?"

Bodie hesitated in answering. Doyle's gaze shot up to eye him from across the control room, alert to an embarrassing story awaiting the telling.

Bodie's face crinkled a little. He brought a hand self-consciously to scratch his hair. "Well, was eating a sandwich, wasn't I? When I finished, couldn't find the ring. I don't remember slipping it off. Checked the wrapper. Checked the counter, checked the—"

"Could you have eaten it?" Doyle sat back on his haunches, grinning at the sheer magnitude of the transgression that would be. "Suppose Cowley could have the droid doc cut you open. Or give you a super-powerful laxative. Wonder how they'll put it down on your record? 'Subject ingested pilot ring.' Not dramatic enough if you ask me. Subject—"

"NO I DIDN'T BLOODY EAT IT!"

"Well you could've, couldn't you? If you can't find it. Or maybe you just need eye surgery."

"DOYLE!"

Recognising when he'd pushed his rival far enough, Doyle relented. "Yeah, all right, mate."

Doyle finished checking the speckled, dark blue carpet on this side of the cockpit and crawled over to join Bodie. "Move over." He shoved Bodie's shoulder with his own. "You checked that bit, now let the expert in."

Bodie's mouth was set in a tight line and his eyes looked angry and tensed, but he managed a rejoinder: "Oh? You've done this before, then?"

"Actually, I've never even heard of anyone—" He stopped. Leapt to his feet.

"What? What is it? Doyle!"

Doyle strode to the captain's armchair. Since the ship wasn't the newest of models, the seat was a bit worn down. Doyle felt down the back between the cushions.

"I checked there, didn't I? Doyle!"

"You asked for a second pair of eyes, now let me think," snapped Doyle. He sat down, leaned back and forward, closed his eyes and splaying out in the chair the way he imagined Bodie would, resting one hand on the armrest. He imagined bringing the other hand to his mouth to eat, holding the sandwich, shifting it a bit because it was overlarge perhaps, and somehow, managing to dislodge the ring.

Bodie would have to be paying absolutely no attention to do so. Was he watching vids on company time again? Cowley'd give him hell if he left any evidence of it.

But where would the ring drop? Doyle opened his eyes and looked down—at the half-way buttoned top of his jumpsuit, showing part of his hair chest. Of course.

Bodie was watching him with eyes like a Golden Retriever looking at someone with the last piece of Beef Surprise.

"Fell down your shirt," Doyle offered, turning to him.

Bodie's face fell, and he snorted. "Thought you had a good idea, mate. I don't leave my jumpsuit half unbuttoned like yours!"

"But you wear it too tight, bound to have gaping with the buttons. Go on, check. You've checked everywhere else, haven't you?"

Bodie glared at him, then turned around modestly and began to undo buttons.

Doyle smirked and leaned back, crossing his hands behind his head. He faced the screen that showed the emptiness and stars before their ship. They were flying rudderless unless they could find that ring. He sprang to his feet.

"Could've slipped down into your trousers—or pants. I'll leave the room so you can undress. I know you won't if I'm here, Iron Virgin like you."

Bodie craned his head far enough without turning, like a turtle, to give Doyle a distinctly annoyed scowl. "Just because some of us aren't exhibitions like yourself," he said in trying-to-be lofty tones.

Doyle shut the door on his way out and stood guard. He examined his fingernails and tried to lean nonchalantly. He had never managed the art of looking nonchalant; sometimes he managed to look guilty even when he wasn't. He heard footsteps and his heart speeded up. Shiny, silvery legs trod down the uncarpeted hall, and Doyle relaxed: just one of the worker robots.

He heard an exclamation from the cockpit, whirled around and yanked the door open. "What? Find it?" Bodie turned away quickly, still half dressed. He was holding something small and golden between thumb and forefinger.

"You did find it." Doyle relaxed into a grin. His heart was still pounding. He realised he'd been dreading the reaming out Cowley would give Bodie.

"Down me left leg," said Bodie uncomfortably. He was doing up his jumpsuit as fast as humanly possible. He'd slipped the ring onto a finger, and it flashed as he speedily buttoned.

"Well it's past due for my shift. Hand it over and get out. And if there's any issue about me starting late, you find a way to take the blame. I'm not getting docked for your problem." He pointed a stern finger at Bodie and strode back towards the seat.

Bodie nodded. He handed over the ring, slipping it off his finger and dropping it into Doyle's palm. It was warm from Bodie-heat, and made of heavy gold with mysterious innards, as ancient as the ship (or possibly more so); the symbol and status of pilot, the only thing that gave any human a right to pilot this vessel.

And it was also small, portable, and easily hidden in case of pirate attack, mutiny, etc. In the early days of interplanetary travel, such things had happened with terrifying frequency in the wild space lanes. Now, things were far tamer and many ships didn't bother with this fiddly extra security layer. Cowley's aging freighter (though sometimes Doyle was beginning to wonder if it was secretly something more), still used it.

"Ta, mate. I owe you one," said Bodie. He went back to buttoning up his jumpsuit, the bit he never let undone.

Doyle slipped the ring onto his thumb. It was a large ring and didn't fit well onto his finger. In fact, he was always afraid of losing it. It did fit on his thumb. His gaze came up and, completely without meaning to, fastened on the few inches still revealed of Bodie's chest.

He blinked.

Bodie had scars—lots and lots of scars.

No wonder the poor sod never wanted to show any skin. Bloody hell, he must've been in the wars! Poor sod. The surgery robots could do a hell of a repair job; he must've been hurt really badly.

Doyle had heard rumours of Bodie's shady past, gunrunning or some such; but he'd suspected most of it was made up by the sleek, smirking bastard to increase his reputation. Doyle had never paid any mind to it before.

He must've caught his breath at the shocking sight. Bodie's gaze shot up to meet his, looking uncharacteristically vulnerable and uncertain. Gone was the smirking bastard who would brag about how fast he could run the nearest asteroid belt, when you didn't dare challenge him to prove it, or tell tales about how quickly he could pick up the nearest barmaid for a bet. This Bodie—if only for a moment—was intensely human, vulnerable as anyone else behind that perfect face with the ridiculous eyelashes. His hurried fingers did up his last buttons, right up to the neck.

And Doyle smiled at him, for once not challengingly or smirkingly. "Nothing, mate. Glad we found it."

"Yeah. Me too." Bodie still looked wary.

Doyle was just determining that maybe he could work a little harder to get along with Bodie. Perhaps they could even become more mates than rivals. Maybe he'd misjudged...

Then Bodie caught his hand and smirked. "Bloody hell, you have tiny fingers! Such a delicate little hand. Can't even fit it on except on your thumb!" He waggled the offending digit, chortling.

Doyle yanked it away. Never mind. Bodie was a bastard. "Nothing delicate about this, mate!" He punched Bodie in the ribs. Hard.

Just as Cowley entered the room.

"Doyle!" said Cowley in his patented 'you're in trouble now, young man' tone.

Bodie smirked and Doyle glared at him.

Then Bodie turned to the captain in his best soldier's posture. "Never mind, sir. It was my fault."

Bloody right it was.