A big thanks goes to abbeyjan for her editing work!

Pushed Beyond the Limit?

Chapter 1

The gold Capri hurtled down the country lane. Ignoring the weather conditions, Doyle shifted up a gear. For a moment, the rear wheels found no grip on the icy ground and the Capri came dangerously close to spinning off the lane.

Doyle wrestled with the car like a cowboy trying to stay in the saddle of an untamed horse. Despite the cold, Doyle's forehead was beaded with sweat. The Capri sent dirt and snow scattering in all directions, but remained on course – by a fraction of an inch.

Glancing at the dashboard clock, Doyle uttered several expletives. It was nearly three o'clock. Only ten minutes left to find the kidnapped boy! The ransom money had been handed over an hour ago, but Sir Kenneth Godfrey had still not been told where his son Blake could be found.

Doyle and Bodie had split up to check out several possible hide-outs - to no avail. Wishing he was capable of teleporting, Doyle steered the Capri around a corner. The sight of the old, disused farmhouse filled him with relief. Doyle parked his car under some trees, and moved cautiously towards the house, gun at the ready.

The tyre tracks around the house weren't covered by snow. Yet Doyle couldn't find a car when he checked out the garage and barn. The only living creature was a cat, hunting for mice hidden in the bales of hay in the barn. It gave a loud shriek and scuttled away with its tail between his legs.

When Doyle had almost reached the door of the farm house, there was a loud bang. The shockwave of the explosion sent the CI5 agent flying through the crisp and clear winter air. He landed with his back against a wall running along the stairs leading up to the entrance.

In a desperate attempt to grasp this chance to rescue the boy, no matter how slight it was, Doyle tried to scramble to his feet. For a few seconds, the adrenaline coursing through his veins masked the numerous aches in his body. The moment he sat up, the pain hit him cruelly and he cried out.

Despite the black spots dancing around his blurred vision, he tried to push himself upright, clutching at the railing with bloodied hands.

A second explosion, this time on the first floor of the house, rent the air. Doyle lost his desperate battle. Blackness washed over him as he fell.

Doyle lay in a heap at the foot of the stairs. His clothing was torn and blood seeped from his cuts, bright red on the snow. He didn't move. The snow falling down covered him with a light, cold blanket.

Chapter 2

Major Cowley's voice came through the RT in Doyle's jacket pocket. The impatience in his voice mounted as he repeated the order: "Come in, 4.5. !"

Frowning, Major Cowley tried to raise Bodie instead.

There was an instant reply from 3.7. "Sir, I haven't found the boy and it's way past three by now. Any news from the kidnappers or Doyle?"

"Negative, 3.7. No answer from Doyle. You're not too far from the house he wanted to check out, so go and find out what's going on!"

"I'm on my way, Sir. 3.7. out!"

The silver Capri leapt forward like a stallion trying to discard its mount when Bodie shifted up a gear. It wasn't long before he was approaching the farmhouse. Even from a distance, he could see that a window on the first floor and the entrance door had been blown from their hinges.

The next thing he saw was Doyle's Capri. By this time, the lump in his throat had grown so much, he was finding it hard to swallow.

It took him just seconds to park his Capri next to Doyle's. He jumped out of the car and ran towards the farmhouse. Almost at once, he found Doyle's body lying in a heap at the foot of the stairs, covered by thin layer of snow. Holding his breath, he crouched down to feel for a pulse on Doyle's ice-cold neck.

As he found a feeble, yet regular heart beat, Bodie expelled his breath in a whoosh.

He brushed away a curl stuck to some congealing blood from a nasty gash on Doyle's forehead and said: "Hang on, Sunshine! You'll be all right" He tried to sound more cheerful than he felt. The pallor of Doyle's face was alarming and his fingers and lips had turned blue.

Bodie ensured Doyle's airways were clear and got up. He flicked on the RT while he raced up the stairs to the first floor. "3.7. to alpha one. We need an ambulance fast. Doyle's hurt. Out cold."

"Understood, 3.7. What about the boy?"

Bodie nearly threw up when he reached the room where the second explosion had taken place. He swallowed hard several times before answering: "He's dead, Sir!"

There was a long silence before Major Cowley replied. "Bastards!" The tone of his voice was hard. It became a little softer when he made the call for the ambulance, but he made it clear no time could be lost.

Bodie covered the remains of the boy with a blanket, before rushing downstairs again. On his way, he gathered more blankets which he piled on top of Doyle. He didn't dare to move his friend, for fear of aggravating his injuries. For a brief moment, he thought about getting the first aid kit from the Capri, but thought better of it. Doyle had stopped bleeding, and he knew it was vital to move him as little as possible.

Bodie waited, kneeling beside his partner, offering words of encouragement and squeezing Doyle's cold fingers from time to time. Every time he did so, there was a faint squeeze back from Doyle. That acknowledgement of Bodie's presence was extremely welcome, as it meant Doyle was willing to fight, even though he hadn't the strength to utter a word.

When he heard the siren of the ambulance, Bodie offered up a silent prayer of thanks.

Chapter 3

Bodie followed the paramedics' brisk, but not unsympathetic order to stand back at once. And he nodded meekly when one of the paramedics told him: "Don't worry, we'll take care of him now!"

These words were followed by well-coordinated action and soon a paramedic shoved an I. V. bag into Bodie's hands, telling him to hold it high.

Bodie watched anxiously as the three paramedics worked on Doyle. He realised that the way these three men worked together was very similar to the way he and Doyle cooperated during an op. The commands were always short and sometimes even unnecessary. More than once, instruments and drugs were passed in response to a swift glance.

A neck-brace was fitted and Doyle was transferred to the stretcher with utmost care. He was immobilised and covered by two blankets. While Bodie helped the paramedics carry Doyle to the waiting ambulance, one of the paramedics explained: "He's in a very instable condition. It looks like he's got internal bleeding. His core temperature is 33°C. But he responds to pain stimuli on his arms and legs, so it looks like there's no injury to the spine."

Bodie found it hard to follow. His gaze was fixed on Doyle's pale face and he was only capable of one thought: "Hold on, Ray!"

When the ambulance pulled away from the farmhouse, Bodie settled down next to the stretcher. Whenever there was a chance, he squeezed Doyle's hand, trying to convey strength to his partner.

On the narrow and icy country lanes the ambulance made but slow progress, but once it reached the outskirts of London, the driver weaved his way expertly through the thick rush hour traffic. Yet for Bodie the journey to hospital seemed interminable and he blew a huge sigh of relief when the ambulance pulled up outside the entrance to the A&E.

A team of doctors and nurses was already waiting. The stretcher with Doyle disappeared behind the doors of an examination room, leaving Bodie behind to wait.

Slightly dazed, Bodie looked around, blinking. The forced inactivity brought the seriousness of the situation fully to mind: The boy was dead and Doyle severely injured!

Torn between two conflicting emotions, his hands went up to his head. Before they had a chance to run distractedly through his hair, Bodie caught sight of Doyle's blood on them. On impulse, he raced to the doors of the A&E, muttering: "I'll get the mad bastard! I'll get him good!"

He ran into Major Cowley. "Bodie, what the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Putting the cuffs on whoever did this!" The tone of Bodie's voice was furious.

Taking in the state of his operative, Cowley said in a surprisingly gentle voice: "You're not going anywhere, Bodie. The matter is well in hands. It seems we're right assuming that the kidnapper is one of Sir Godfrey's former employees. His description and photo have been circulated. He won't get far."

Major Cowley steered Bodie back to the A&E. Bodie, filled to the tip of his hair with rage, anger and adrenaline, was certainly not the person to be let loose in the streets of London.

Cowley headed for the reception desk and told the nurse sitting there: "I'm Major Cowley, CI5."

Pointing to Doyle's room he added: "That's one of my men in there. How's he doing?"

The nurse replied: "I don't have all the details, but it looks like Mr. Doyle has a pelvic fracture, causing internal bleeding. It's touch and go! I'm sorry, that's all I can tell you. Why don't you go to the waiting room? The doctor in charge will be with you as soon as possible."

Cowley's voice was hoarse when he thanked the nurse. He looked thoughtfully at the door to Doyle's room for a while, then turned to Bodie. "Come on, you heard what the lady said. Let's go and wait."

Bodie followed his superior silently. The nurse's words "It's touch and go" went around his brain in an endless loop and he thought: "Come on, Doyle. You've done it before, you can do it again."

The nurse brought two cups of tea and a wet towel for Bodie to clean his hands. Bodie's attempt at a smile to thank the nurse failed miserably and in return, she gently squeezed his arm.

Major Cowley nodded his thanks. The nurse said: "The doctors are doing their best. That's Dr. Cavanaugh, the head of the Orthopaedics Department in here and he's one of the best. I'm sure everything will be all right."

With a reassuring smile, she left Bodie and Cowley to wait.

After a time span which was known in the world outside hospital doors as "two hours" and which was called "eternity" inside a hospital waiting room, a grey-haired doctor came in and walked straight to Cowley and Bodie, who rose to their feet hopefully.

He looked exhausted, but his tone was firm and cultured when he introduced himself as Dr. Cavanaugh.

He fixed Major Cowley and Bodie with a friendly gaze and explained: "I'm glad I can tell you that we managed to stop Mr. Doyle's internal bleeding. We stabilized the pelvic fracture with a pelvic C clamp and that did the trick."

Bodie interrupted: "I'm sorry, Doctor Cavanaugh, but what does that mean?" He found the medical shop talk confusing and to him, the word C clamp sounded worryingly close to plumbing.

Dr. Cavanaugh smiled. "A C clamp is an external fixator. It aligns both ends of the pelvic fracture and keeps them in their proper place, thus compressing the ruptured blood vessels, preventing further internal bleeding. Mr. Doyle will require surgery to fix the fracture properly, but he's not in a condition to undergo that now.

"In addition to the pelvic fracture, he's got numerous cuts and bruises, a mild concussion and hypothermia. But he's stable and we managed to get his core temperature almost back to normal. Luckily, the pelvic fracture didn't do any damage to nerves or internal organs, so once the fracture has healed, Mr. Doyle shouldn't suffer any lasting impairment.

"As soon as he's strong enough to undergo surgery, we'll remove the clamp and fix the fracture with screws and a metal plate. Providing there are no complications, we plan to do that in a couple of days, but we'll have to see how Mr. Doyle improves."

The doctor's words sank in slowly. Major Cowley asked: "So, he's out of danger?"

Doctor Cavanaugh hesitated for a moment: "He's very weak and there's always the danger of a relapse, but we're doing all we can to stop that happening."

"How long will it take Ray to recover from this?" Bodie's thoughts ran to the future already. "I mean, he's not the most patient patient!"

There was a serious look on Dr. Cavanaugh's face when he answered: "I'm afraid he will have to be patient. With a fracture like that, it's likely to take about two months before he can start walking again."

"Two months! Ray will go bonkers spending months in hospital ...again!"

Cowley shut Bodie up with an irritated gesture. ""Then we'll have to help him muster the patience. Can we see him, Dr. Cavanaugh?"

The doctor nodded. "In a little while. He'll be transferred to the Intensive Care ward shortly. Once he's properly settled, a nurse will come and fetch you. And my office door is always open. Please excuse me now, I want to accompany Mr. Doyle's transfer."

He turned to leave and Major Cowley and Bodie prepared themselves for yet more waiting.

Chapter 4

Entering the dimly-lit Intensive Care ward in the wake of a nurse, Cowley and Bodie swallowed hard when they saw Doyle. A nurse sat beside his bed, keeping an eye on her patient and the medical equipment surrounding him. He was attached to a heart monitor which emitted a steady bleeping sound. An oxygen mask covered his face, which showed a little more colour than before, but was still very pale. The nasty gash on his forehead had been stitched and bandaged.

The nurse got up and said: "He's doing well considering the ordeal he's been through." Knowing that medical equipment always looked frightening, she did her best to explain: "There's a central line attached to his neck. He receives blood and medication through it. We're giving him a painkiller and a highly effective antibiotic to ward off infection. And he's lying on a thermal blanket."

She moved to the middle of the bed. The blanket over Doyle's hip was kept away from his body and the external fixator with a kind of frame. The nurse removed the blanket carefully to check the wounds. When they caught sight of the metal rods which had been inserted into Doyle's hip, Major Cowley and Bodie drew in sharp breaths.

The nurse noticed. "It looks ghastly, but it saved his life and will be in place only till he's fit enough to have surgery. Keep that in mind!"

Bodie's mind added that image to the one of the dead boy in the farmhouse. Grimly, he said: "With your permission, Sir, I'll join the ranks looking for the kidnapper now." The tone of his voice was as cold as the winter day.

As there was nothing Bodie could do for Doyle at the moment. Major Cowley said: "Aye, go ahead. I'll sit here for a while."

While Cowley sat down on a chair beside Doyle's bed, Bodie ruffled his partner's curls soothingly and said: "Be a good lad, otherwise the boss will kick you off the squad. I'll be back soon!"

With a nod in the nurse's direction, he left the room.

Cowley rubbed a hand across his face. Sitting at an injured operative's bedside was a very difficult part of his position as CI5 controller. With Doyle, it was the second time, which made the vigil even more trying.

Doyle's eyelids fluttered open. It took him a while to focus on Major's Cowley's face. His voice was hoarse. "Sir, what about the boy?"

Resignedly, Cowley answered: "He's dead, Doyle." There was no easy way of saying it. Doyle had to know.

Doyle's hand grasped the blanket so tightly, his knuckles turned white. Major Cowley could only guess what was going through his mind. If that desperate gesture was anything to go by, in his imagination he was probably strangling the culprit.

"I failed, Sir," muttered Doyle. The statement was nearly inaudible. But Cowley understood what Doyle had said and his stomach tightened.

Doyle gave a groan and his right hand moved to his hip. When his fingertips touched the cold metal of the clamp, a questioning look came over his face, which gave way to a grimace of pain.

Gingerly, Major Cowley pulled Doyle's hand up from under the blanket. Patting it lightly, he said: "Keep your hands off that, laddie. You're still with us thanks to its help. It keeps your broken bones in place and will be gone soon. Do you understand?"

It required almost more strength than Doyle had to nod weakly.

Cowley smiled. "Good. Now you'd better get back to sleep. That's an order, 4.5!"

Doyle's eye-lids slid shut.

Chapter 5

As soon as he's got into the Capri, Bodie snatched the radio mouthpiece and made a call to H.Q.

"3. 7 to base. Any news on the kidnapper?"

A female voice answered: "Stand by, 3.7. There's something happening right now. I'll get back to you asap. How's Doyle?"

After a brief pause, Bodie answered: "Broken pelvis, concussion, hypothermia. He's stable at the moment. The doctor says he'll make a full recovery, but it will take a long time."

Not quite in accord with CI5 rules for proper radio procedure, Debbie in H.Q heaved a sigh of relief before exclaiming: "Bloody hell! That will be tough on him! Hang on a minute, 3.7!"

The silence on the radio stretched Bodie's patience to the max. Just as he was about to demand what was going on, the radio crackled back to life.

Excitedly, Debbie exclaimed: "You won't believe this, Bodie! Brownie's just called. One of his friends – Dan - has told him about a new client who needed an urgent passage to Holland. The whole story sounded a bit fishy, so Dan talked it over with Brownie. Turns out the description of the guy fits our kidnapper!"

Bodie hardly dared to believe what he'd just been told. After all the terrible things that had happened, this might be the lucky break they needed. Yet something puzzled him and he asked: "Who told Brownie about the kidnapper?"

Debbie hesitated for a moment. "I did. He's one of Doyle's best snouts and I thought he should know about Doyle being hurt."

"You're worth your weight in gold, Debbie."

"I hope Cowley will agree with you. Now you'd better get down to the docks to meet Brownie. The kidnapper wants to set sail in an hour."

Starting the car, Bodie replied: "On my way. 3. 7 out!"

Chapter 6

Bodie met Murphy and Brownie in a disused area of the dockyard. Night had fallen over London and an almost full moon was reflected on the water. Stars shone from a cloudless sky. The grim expression on the faces of the men who had just exchanged curt greetings provided a sharp contrast to the peaceful and almost picturesque scenery.

Brownie was the first to speak: "I know a way around the back of the docks to take you to Dan's boat unseen."

Bodie added: "We'll hide aboard the ship and as soon as the bastard arrives, we'll get him. Remember, he's a vicious and dangerous man. He never intended to set the boy free. All he wanted was revenge for being fired by Sir Godfrey. So he killed his son and pinched money from him into the bargain. He's the lowest form life and if he gets hit by a bullet and falls overboard to feed the fishes, it'll be more than he deserves."

The CI5 agents and Brownie nodded before starting their quiet and cautious walk along the docks. They passed boats tied up on the wharf - most had been retired from service a long time ago. Empty warehouses loomed up beside them.

The closer they got to the part of the dock that was still operating, the less rusty the boats appeared. Some of them served as houseboats. Soon they had reached Dan's boat. The CI5 agents climbed aboard while Brownie headed for his own boat. After a few yards, he changed his mind and hid behind a boat to await developments.

Bodie and Murphy lay in wait in the boat's cabin. The minutes trickled away.

Then they heard Dan's voice from the bow of the boat, greeting his passenger. Bodie conjured up the images of his partner lying in a hospital bed with a huge piece of metal inserted into his body and the boy blown to pieces. The grip on his gun tightened

Footsteps clattered down the gangway.

Dan ushered the man into the dark cabin. In an irritated voice, the man said: "I'm paying a lot of money for this trip, I don't want to travel in the dark." He stepped a little to the right, very close to Bodie.

The muzzle of Bodie's Browning touched the man's temple. Matter-of-factly, Bodie told him: "The only place you're going is a cell and if I had my way, it would neither have a lock nor a light-bulb!"

The man tried to reach for his gun. The matter-of-fact tone to Bodie's voice vanished. The hatred he felt was almost tangible when he added: "Go ahead, give me one good reason to blow your head off!"

The man froze. Murphy put the cuffs on him and dragged him off the boat.

Anson and McCabe arrived in a car to take the kidnapper to H.Q.

Brownie left the safety of his cover and rushed to Dan's boat. He was relieved to find everybody alive and well. After a few words with Dan, he went down to the cabin where he found Bodie with his hands still tightly wrapped around his gun.

Softly, he said: "Let go, Bodie. You got your man. Let's go and see Doyle. I'm sure we'll charm our way into the ward!"

Holstering his gun, Bodie replied: "Great idea, mate!"

Chapter 7

Major Cowley met Bodie and Brownie in the hospital.

"Excellent work, Bodie. The kidnapper in custody and not a single shot fired."

He turned to Brownie: "Thank you for your help. Doyle will appreciate it. You can both go and see him for a short while. I take it you won't overstay your welcome. The staff here are helpful and friendly. I don't want any complaints from them. They're in for a tough time with Doyle being laid up so long, so best go easy on them now.

Bodie and Brownie nodded vigorously. "Of course, Sir."

Cowley looked sorrowful when he said: "I'll go and see Sir Godfrey now. The Minister and Dr. Ross are with his family already. Lady Godfrey is six months pregnant and we all hope she won't lose the baby."

Bodie and Brownie watched him as he headed for the exit.

Major Cowley walked hunched over for a few steps, but as he reached for the door handle, he straightened.

Once outside, the frost nipped at his cheeks and he quickened his steps to his car.

As promised, Bodie and Brownie paid Doyle only a short visit, just long enough to tell him about the apprehension of the kidnapper.

Doyle's response was a faint smile and a whispered: "Well done!"

Chapter 8

Though Doyle was more often asleep than awake over the next three days, Dr. Cavanaugh was pleased with his progress.

The nursing staff, Bodie and other visitors were kept busy. For one thing, Doyle took a fancy to eating tiny portions of mashed food. He didn't manage to stay awake long enough to eat a big meal. As a consequence, his eating habit resembled a young bird's. Or an old man's ... in Bodie's opinion.

He just couldn't comprehend why anybody would want to eat mashed food as long as he still had teeth. Perhaps Doyle didn't even have the energy to chew. But he had enough energy to attack the offending metal in his hips. Trying to keep his hands from the clamp was the other thing that kept everybody on alert.

When Bodie had caught Doyle's hands for what felt the thousandth time, his patience began to run short. He could well understand that an enormous piece of metal stuck to the body was irritating, but he barked at Doyle: "For Christ's sake, Ray. Leave that clamp alone. You're going to do yourself a mischief. Do you want me to handcuff you?"

As soon as the words had left his mouth, Bodie felt sorry. Doyle gave him a guilty look and said in a weak voice: "Sorry, Bodie. I'll do my best!"

Exhaling slowly, Bodie answered: "I'm sorry, Ray!"

For the next two hours, Doyle didn't reach for the clamp once. But as soon as a nurse took over the bedside duty, he had another go.

Everybody concerned blew a huge sigh of relief when, on the fourth day, Dr. Cavanaugh deemed Doyle fit enough to undergo surgery to remove the pelvic C clamp.

The surgery went well. Dr. Cavanaugh did an excellent job at aligning the fracture with screws and a metal plate.

When Doyle came around, Bodie was sitting at this bedside, dangling the clamp which had caused so much discomfort and pain in front of his face. He gave Doyle a big grin and said: "I've kept this as a souvenir. It'll be great day when we go to bury the ruddy thing in a scrap-yard as soon as you're back on your feet again."

Doyle nodded vehemently before going back to sleep.

Chapter 9

Ten days later, a stout nurse bustled into the Intensive Care Ward and stopped at Doyle's bed. She wore her grey hair in a bun, which added to her stern appearance. Yet there was a kind twinkle in her eyes when she looked Doyle over.

"Hello, Mr. Doyle. I'm Nurse Reid." She pointed to the young nurse who accompanied her. "That's Jean. It's her second week on duty and I hope you'll be nice to her. We've come to spring you from this hellhole to whisk you away to our nice and cosy Orthopaedic Ward."

Doyle gave a somewhat cheeky snort. The words Orthopaedic Ward and cosy didn't go well together in his vocabulary. He wouldn't be hard put to name a couple of places he'd rather be. Wistfully, he gazed out of the window. It was a sunny, clear winter day, just perfect for jogging. He could almost hear his trainers crunching on the snow and see the millions of diamonds scattered about. Fervently, he wished he was able to run...run away from the pain, the memory of the second explosion that had killed the boy, from CI5 and from this hospital.

When he shifted his position slightly, the sharp pain in his hip cruelly reminded him that walking, let alone running was way beyond his capabilities. He gave a deep sigh.

Nurse Reid said: "Come on, give us a chance! I know my ward isn't a five star hotel, but it's a lot nicer than this dark and noisy place. We've got a spacious private room all ready for you with all mod cons, like bed baths, a full meal service, TV and a telephone. Oh, and Mrs. Hill, our physio is most eager to get her hands on you. Like everybody else, she was disappointed when your arrival had to be postponed for a couple of days when you got close to developing a pneumonia."

She gave Doyle a stern look. "Let's be clear on this...no coughing on my ward. I've got a special mixture for inhaling...my husband uses it to peel wallpaper off the walls and it kills germs a lot better than all those fancy antibiotics."

A worried Doyle exchanged a glance with Bodie. "Ray ... I do think she's joking."

Another stern look was directed at Bodie and Doyle: "You'd better not try to find out!"

She gave Jean a wink, moved to the head of Doyle's bed and started to push it. Jean got hold of the foot of the bed. Being a gentleman, Bodie walked next to her to help.

Doyle waved good-bye to the nurses in the Intensive Care Ward. A few moments later, the procession headed along the corridor to the lift, which took it down two floors.

Chapter 10

Bodie surveyed Doyle's new room. "Tell you what, Ray, this really isn't so bad. You've got a great view of the park, morning sun and it's pretty spacious. We can have poker nights with several of the lads in here."

Catching the black look on Nurse Reid's face, he hastened to clarify: "Early poker nights and we won't play for money!"

Nodding her approval, Nurse Reid said: "I can see you're a sensible man, Mr. Bodie."

Bodie and the nurses couldn't help feeling disappointed when the strained expression on Doyle's face didn't ease as he took in his new surroundings. The bumps along the way had hurt. Even when the pain diminished, he failed to perk up.

"How about a nice bed bath and a hair wash? The nurses in the Intensive Care Ward usually just do a lick and a promise. We could be ready just in time for lunch. Seeing that Mr. Bodie has been kind enough to bring your things and put them in the cupboards, he might be willing to fetch something yummy for lunch?"

She gave Bodie a questioning look. He nodded and said: "How about pizza to celebrate your escape from the Intensive Care Ward?"

Somewhat resignedly, Doyle said: "A bath, a hair wash and pizza would be great, thank you." He wasn't exactly looking forward to the first two items on the list as he was convinced they would include yet more pain.

He felt pleasantly surprised half an hour later when he was sitting up in bed with Jean's help, a towel wound around his head and not worse for wear. Nurse Reid had detangled his mane very carefully and managed to avoid getting soapy water into his eyes and over the healing gash on his forehead.

When Nurse Reid arrived back from the bathroom where she had fetched a bowl with fresh water, she chided Jean: "I have to admit that Mr. Doyle's got a very good-looking hairy chest, but it's not very professional to stare admiringly at it."

Jean blushed and averted her gaze. When a sheepish, albeit slightly cheeky smile passed Doyle's face, Nurse Reid said: "I think I'll forgive you, Jean. It's nice to see Mr. Doyle smile. Does me old heart a lot of good."

When they had finished washing Doyle's upper body, Nurse Reid asked: "Shall we get rid of the hospital gown, Mr. Doyle? It's practical in the Intensive Care Ward, but I think you'd be more comfortable wearing something else."

"Yes, I'd love a t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms. I asked Bodie to bring some."

"T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms it shall be, Mr. Doyle." Pointing to the cupboard, Nurse Reid instructed Jean: "See what you can find."

Jean rummaged in the cupboard and returned with the required clothing. Doyle donned the t-shirt and started to feel distinctly more human.

The next 10 minutes were a lot harder. Removing the compression stockings from his legs was a painful procedure, though Nurse Reid and Jean were very careful. They let him get his breath back before they washed his legs and put new compression stockings and the tracksuit bottoms on him.

When Doyle was finally lying in his bed, half-propped up, he felt completely spent.

"I think I need a painkiller now," he said in a pleading voice.

Nurse Reid shook her head in response. "Your next tablet is due in one hour. I'm sure you can wait."

Doyle gave a soft groan. "I hope so."

When Bodie arrived with the pizza and some mysterious containers with dessert, Nurse Reid and Jean left. The meal took Doyle's attention away from the sharp pain in his hip for a while. The fruit salad with ice cream was particularly effective.

After their meal, Bodie put the empty containers into the dust-bin. Doyle asked: "Can you please get me my painkiller? My hip is killing me. A hospital bed bath isn't quite as relaxing as one in your own tub."

Bodie raised an eye-brow, but said nothing and went to find Nurse Reid. When he told her about Doyle's request, she frowned. "He asked for another tablet after the bath. I told him he'd have to wait another hour. It's not quite up yet, but I'll bring him the tablet."

She was as good as her word, but when she handed the pill to Doyle she told him very firmly: "This is an exemption from the rule. You'll have to stick to your medication plan."

Accepting the pill gratefully, Doyle replied: "I appreciate that!" He swallowed the tablet with a sip of water from a glass Bodie held out to him.

When Nurse Reid had left, Bodie said: "You're usually not so keen on tablets, Ray, but these days you take a lot of painkillers and sleeping pills. No wonder you're only half awake and listless. It's not like you at all."

Furiously, Doyle replied: "And who exactly appointed you as chief pharmacist? I'll have you know that it feels like a ton of metal has been inserted into my hip, the pain radiates to my abdomen and legs, it feels awful. Pills are the only means to make that halfway bearable and I don't care how many I have to take to make it through this ordeal."

Putting his hands up in a placating gesture, Bodie said: "All right, point taken." He didn't want to argue with Doyle, but he had the distinct feeling that something about Doyle's craving for pills was very wrong. Previously he'd always dealt well, though not exactly quietly, with pain. Drugs were usually only the means of last resort.

A thought crossed his mind. "Maybe he needs them to numb the pain in his soul as much as he needs them to make it through the physical pain."

Chapter 11

"Come on, Mr. Doyle, you can do ten more," said Mrs Hill, smiling encouragingly.

The first part of her physio session with Doyle, which dealt with maintaining the strength of his arm muscles, usually went well. It was when she began working on his legs that the trouble started. But it was imperative to keep the joints flexible and the loss of muscular mass to a minimum. To achieve this, a good deal of coaxing and pleading were necessary.

Doyle's legs were bent at the knees and he was supposed to push his knees outwards against Mrs Hill's hands. A thin layer of sweat coated his face. Lips compressed, he managed to carry out Mrs Hill order - just.

The effort sapped his strength. Mrs Hill patted his knee reassuringly and was rewarded by a small smile. She waited till Doyle regained his breath, then asked: "What about another five?"

The faint smile disappeared and Doyle firmly shook his head.

"Enough is enough!" The tone of his voice made it clear the decision was not up for discussion.

Mrs Hill looked Doyle over thoroughly. He was exhausted, but she thought him capable of doing more. She waited a couple of minutes, then tried her luck again.

"I think we should really attempt another five."

Doyle shot her a black look.

Bodie joined in the battle of wills. "You heard what the lady said, Ray! She's as good as Macklin. With your help, you'll be ready for a session with him in no time at all." He received an even blacker look.

"Who says I want to do another training session with Macklin ever again?"

Bodie and Mrs Hill looked at Doyle with round eyes and open mouths.

Bodie didn't like the way this was going at all. "What do you mean, you're not sure you want another training session with Macklin? You'll have to if you want to go back out in the field!"

Doyle looked straight into Bodie's eyes. "I don't think I want to go back to chasing villains. I'm thinking of leaving CI5!"

Bodie felt as if the rug had been pulled from under him. And he had the urge to yell: "Why, Ray?"

He managed to control himself and put the question to Doyle in a quiet, yet strained voice.

Doyle waved his right hand in a circle around the room. "Because I'm fed up with ending up in hospital. Because I'm fed up with people dying, no matter how hard I try to stop it. Because I'm fed up with feeling guilty. Because I'm not sure I can endure the long and painful way back. Because there must be a life outside CI5!"

"And just what do you reckon you'll do in your life - outside CI5?"

"Maybe open a Youth Centre for disadvantaged kids. Maybe I'll set up a business to provide security services and hire people to do the dangerous stuff for me. I could open an art gallery!"

Bodie was amazed. Doyle must have given this a lot of thought. "That's all very well, but don't forget: You are a great CI5 agent, that's what you've trained for so hard. And you've saved a lot of lives, don't forget that. I'm sure you can make it back if you try."

He paused and exhaled slowly: "And you're my partner! I don't want you to retire the both of us. I don't think I can work with someone else. Took me long enough to break you in - I don't want to go through that again."

Mrs Hill tiptoed quietly from the room.

Doyle watched her retreating figure, then turned to Bodie: "We'd still be mates. I don't have to be in CI5 for us to be friends."

Bodie nodded. "All right. But it wouldn't be the same and you know it. Are you absolutely sure, Ray?"

Doyle shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. Honestly, I don't know. At the moment, it all feels more than I can handle."

Bodie rose from his chair and walked to the door. With his right hand on the door handle, he turned back to face Doyle.

"If you think I'll hang around and watch you give up, you'd better think again. I'll tell you what, Sunshine: Even for a life outside CI5, you'll have to put in more effort than you're doing right now. I'll be your mate whatever you decide to do, if you put in the effort. If not, I'm gone, because the Doyle you are now is not the person I want to be my friend."

He left the room, slamming the door behind him.

Doyle called after him: "Bodie, come back!"

But his partner was storming down the corridor, nearly knocking over Nurse Reid, on her way to bring Doyle his lunch.

She stopped Bodie. "Hey, wait a second. Why do you look like the end of the world is coming?"

In a low, hoarse voice Bodie said: "Because it is coming! At least to the world as I know it! Doyle's just told me he thinking about leaving CI5! And I told him that, if he didn't work harder to get better, I'd no longer be his friend.

"I meant it when I said it, but now I'm no longer sure. What if he's really pushed beyond his limit this time?"

He looked defeated. Nurse Reid spotted Jean at the other end of the corridor and waved her over. She put the lunch tray into the young nurse's hands. "You bring that to Mr Doyle. I need a quiet word with Mr Bodie."

While Jean headed in the direction of Doyle's room, Nurse Reid got a firm grip of Bodie's elbow and steered him to the nurses' room.

She ushered him to a chair and put a cup of tea into his hands. Bodie looked at her questioningly. "I could do with something stronger. You don't happen to have a small scotch?"

Nurse Reid gave him a look that could have frozen a lava stream. "This is a hospital, not a pub."

She picked up a bottle standing on her desk. "You might want to have a go with my special stuff for inhaling. Would serve you right for being so harsh to your partner."

Bodie shuddered slightly. "No, thank you very much."

"Thought so!" Nurse Reid put the bottle down. "Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea to give your partner a wake-up call. Yet I think you should cut him some slack."

She pointed to a thick file on her desk: "That's Mr Doyle's hospital record. You know that he's been through a lot. A bullet to the heart is nothing to be scoffed at. He made a remarkable recovery from that. I think it's quite understandable that he finds the prospect of having to repeat that a bit daunting."

A smile passed her face. "Looks like he didn't tell you, but his morale seems to be on the rise. We reduced the dosage of his pain killer a couple of days ago and he didn't complain. You see, I think he's getting there, little by little."

Bodie smiled back at the nurse. "That's more like it!"

Nurse Reid nodded her agreement. "You'd better cross your fingers then. There's an X-ray scheduled for Mr Doyle this afternoon. The doctors want to check how well the bone has healed after four weeks. If they give her the green light, Mrs Hill plans to make a first attempt at getting Mr Doyle out of bed tomorrow. If all goes well, she might even take him on an outing in the wheel-chair."

There was a big grin on Bodie's face. "Sounds great. I hope Doyle's up for it."

"You'll have to be here to find out," Nurse Reid said.

Bodie's face clouded over. "Will Ray want me here after what I've just said?"

Nurse Reid raised her hands with the palms facing upwards. "Some kind of armour might not come amiss, but you'd better not chicken out."

"I'll be there," Bodie replied resolutely.

Chapter 12

Doyle sat on the edge of the bed, propped up against Mrs Hill's arm and feeling distinctly dizzy.

Mrs Hill said: "You're doing very well, Mr. Doyle." The words seemed to reach Doyle's ears from the other side of the moon. He was on the verge of fainting, but when Bodie entered the room, Doyle gave him a cold glare.

The rage gradually rising at the sight of his disloyal partner made Doyle's blood pressure go up too. Feeling perkier, he drew himself up to his full height, leaning heavily on Mrs Hill.

He fixed Bodie with another glare which would have caused an icicle to grow two inches in a flash. "What do you want? Come to rate my performance to decide whether I'm worthy of your friendship?"

Bodie tried to say something, but Doyle wasn't to be stopped. "Who gives you the right to pass judgment on me? There's metal inside my body, not in yours."

"I've been injured as well before, Doyle. I know how it feels."

"That doesn't give you the right to act like a self-righteous prick." Doyle gave Mrs Hill an apologetic smile.

The physio gave him a very stern look in return. "I can see you're well enough to swear and I suggest you save your energy for more important things. I'll get you in the wheel-chair now. Then you and Mr Bodie can continue your discussion elsewhere. Ready?"

Doyle nodded. "Sorry, Mrs Hill!"

Mrs Hill smiled. "It's all right. I've heard worse. Now, remember...when you get up, you must put your weight on me."

She moved to face Doyle, secured his right knee with her knees and, reached her arms around his upper body. "On three," she instructed.

With a groan, Doyle came upright and in a swift movement, Mrs Hill put him in the wheel-chair. She gave Doyle a smile while he got his breath back. "That wasn't so bad, was it? Now there will be no stopping you and you'll be back on your feet in no time at all."

Doyle felt a bit like he'd just been hit by a storm. Sitting in a chair was a strange feeling after the long weeks in bed. The transfer had triggered a sharp pain in his hip and he took his time riding it out.

"Did that meet your requirements, Bodie, or will you storm out of the room again?" asked Doyle challengingly.

Bodie's hands fastened on the handles of the wheel-chair. "I'll buy you a nice cup of hot chocolate and some biscuits for your elevenses, all right?"

"Apology accepted, " Doyle said with a grin.

Chapter 13

From that day on, Doyle did work a lot harder on his recovery. A week after his first outing in a wheel-chair, he made his first steps with the help of a walker.

The walker was soon replaced by crutches and two months after Doyle had been rushed to the hospital, Dr. Cavanaugh said he was well enough to leave it.

During all the weeks, he didn't say any more about his plans for the future.

Whenever Bodie asked him about it, all Doyle said was: "Give me time, Bodie. I don't know yet!"

Bodie respected Doyle's request. It was hard heading towards an uncertain future, but he was there to support Doyle every step of the way.

Chapter 14

The day before Doyle's discharge from hospital, he received an unexpected visitor.

A distinguished looking gentleman entered his hospital room and introduced himself as Sir Kenneth Godfrey.

Doyle swallowed hard. He didn't quite know how to deal with this visitor. Sir Godfrey's eyes had a sad expression and his face was haggard.

Sir Godfrey shook Doyle's hand warmly and said: "I've come to thank you for trying to rescue Blake."

He pulled a chair up to Doyle's bed and sat down.

Doyle stared at him with round eyes. "I'm sorry I failed, Sir Godfrey. I'm so terribly sorry!" His voice trailed off.

Taking both of Doyle's hands in his, Sir Godfrey said: "You have nothing to feel sorry about. You did everything in your power. You didn't kill my son!" He squeezed Doyle's hands firmly. Doyle flinched and Sir Godfrey let go.

In a low voice, Doyle said: "Sometimes I feel like I did."

"I know. Mr. Cowley told me you are considering leaving CI5, partly because you've been hurt so badly and partly because you can't handle all the pain and suffering you come across doing your job and the guilt you feel when something goes wrong."

Doyle could only nod.

"Please consider one thing: The people in this city depend on you to protect them from the bad guys. My family relied on you and we're convinced you did your best. We need men like you who fight for us against evil. Major Cowley said you and your partner are his top team and I sincerely hope you will stay with CI5!"

Doyle looked thoughtful. "I haven't made up my mind yet, Sir Godfrey."

"You don't have to do that just now. I've just come to thank you for all you did and to ask you to be the godfather of our baby, due next month. Would you do me and my wife the honour?"

"I would like to do you the honour very much, Sir Godfrey." There was a slight tremble in Doyle's voice.

Sir Godfrey rose. "I'm very glad!" He turned to leave. "I'll see you again soon."

Chapter 15

That night, Doyle spent a good deal of time thinking. The night nurse offered him a sleeping pill several times, but Doyle always rejected it.

Early next morning, he made a phone call. "Bodie, don't forget to pick me up at 10 o'clock."

Before Bodie had a chance to tell him off for waking him so early, Doyle added: "And tell Macklin I'm ready for him as soon as I get rid of my crutches."

With a broad grin, Bodie replaced the receiver.

Chapter 16

Remembering how Bodie and a nurse had carried him to the Capri when he was discharged from hospital after Mayli had shot him, Doyle rejected the use a wheel-chair this time. He still needed crutches, but he left the hospital on his own two feet.

Chapter 17

Six weeks later, Doyle held a baby boy above a baptismal font. When the priest said: "I baptize you Ray Blake", a smile passed Doyle's face.

At the end of the service, Doyle carried the strong and healthy boy in his arms as he made his way out of the church. He had been working hard to get rid of his crutches in time for the baptism. His walk was a little unsteady, but Ray Blake didn't seem to mind. He slept peacefully.

When Doyle put the baby carefully into his mother's arms, Major Cowley offered two prayers. One in thanks for Doyle's recovery and one to ask for baby Ray not to turn into quite such a handful as could be expected from the name he'd been given.

Chapter 18

The next day, Doyle and Bodie had another ceremony to carry out. It wasn't quite such a splendid affair as the baptism of little Ray and the location was nowhere near to being as magnificent as St. Paul's Cathedral.

Normally, Doyle would have considered a scrap yard a rather depressing place, but today things were different. He felt distinctly cheerful.

After one last look at the clamp which had caused him so much discomfort, he sent it flying through the air with a quick flick of his hand. The clamp landed on top of a huge pile of scrap with a clattering sound which almost drowned out Doyle's muttered "Thanks for saving my life!"