A parallel universe story.
Stuck in a parallel universe, Bodie meets this world's Bodie and Doyle, and longs for a way back home to CI5 and his partner.
It was a shock, arriving here. No Ray Doyle in his life. No CI5. Nothing familiar or safe or sane, except this world felt so very much the same. The sky was still blue. Buses were still red. England smelled the same—not of roses and lavender, of course, but of car fumes and fish-and-chips and boozers and swanky restaurants that made you hungry, just walking past.
The trouble was he didn't belong anywhere now.
He wanted Ray back. It seemed stunningly unfair, that he had to go on an assignment (or whatever this was), in a new world, without Ray.
It only took him a week of relatively easy detective work to find himself, this version of one W.A.P. Bodie. He was in private security, somewhere overseas in the Middle East on a job.
This Bodie had a large London flat, ostentatiously pricy, tasteful in the way only the very rich could afford. Except Bodie didn't like that taste much. Since he looked the same, it was easy enough to get in. He told the doorman he'd forgotten his key in his hurry, and the man opened the door obsequiously and said 'sir.' No questions asked.
Bodie helped himself to clothing and cash. He took a gun, as well, insolently, from himself, despising this other Bodie for his wealth and carelessness and for being just as alone. The place was spare, neat, clean as a fresh coffin. Bodie thought he'd gag if he stayed here even overnight, on the rich silk sheets, staring at the horrible modern art he must've bought for an investment, unless his tastes were really that different in this world.
He rented a room (week's rent in advance, no pets, no questions asked), and here in the room with its rusted bed-frame with squeaky springs, its questionable neighbours heard through too-thin walls, here he felt more at home than he had there. He was well on his way to hating himself.
The most miserable part was wondering if he'd ever get home. Perhaps this was, after all, a dream, only a dream. Bodie had tried every way he knew to wake up. Pinching himself was the least of it.
He always woke up if he fell a long way in a dream, so he'd tried jumping off a wall that was just high enough to frighten him. He'd landed tucked and rolling, breath jarred out of him, but nothing more. The strange, almost-the-same world was still here, still in every breath he breathed.
He walked away with a limp, furious with himself, more furious with whatever had sent him here.
He toyed with the idea that it was Cowley, the old man's fault somehow. And at least if that were true, there was a plan, some purpose, and somehow, Cowley'd bring him back home. He believed this like he believed the sun would rise: because so far it had always happened, not because he thought the sun (or Cowley) particularly cared about him, whatever the lads used to say about being a teacher's pet and Cowley's bonnie lad. Whatever Ray used to say about Bodie thinking the sun rose and set for him.
George Cowley did not exist in this world. Or rather, he did: in a grave marked 1945.
Bodie visited. The cemetery felt bleak, oddly cold to him, and he didn't want to be there once he arrived. He'd thought of bringing roses and lavender, but it seemed the wrong sort of joke, and too expensive. After all, this Cowley hadn't done anything to him. He'd no doubt served his country with all his heart, just the same as the Cow back home. The world seemed larger and somehow more frightening without Cowley, and on his way back 'home' from the cemetery, Bodie found himself folding his collar up, hunching his back, and watching for a tail. The world just couldn't be safe enough without Cowley.
He did a little research, circumspectly. MI5, MI6, and the police force seemed to divide the work CI5 had done between them. As far as he could see, there was some overlap, and some red tape (no single, unifying, force of nature like the Cow to oversee it all), but it worked surprisingly well, even without the small print and the whole "I-own-you" rules of CI5.
Even so, he missed the Cow, and found himself almost disappointed to see London and all of Britain surviving without him.
It hurt almost as much as a betrayal that Bodie wasn't needed, either.
He hadn't lounged around this much since he was a lad looking for trouble. Pubs grew dull. He knew he needed a job, needed to settle to something, at least temporarily, but that was too much like giving up.
He still had plenty of money from his double. He spent it, lying low, not living in suits and fancy cars like the Bodie from here, but in donkey jackets and worn trousers. He slouched, and let his beard begin to grow. He didn't want anyone 'recognising' him, unless he chose.
The bell tinkled above the shop door when Bodie pushed it open. It had an annoying tinkle. Bodie scowled around the bakery shop. It smelled wonderful.
The strawberry shortcake on display looked particularly edible. He could sit down, have a piece right now, and feel utterly, utterly content, if only this shop was back home. If this wasn't where Raymond bloody Doyle worked in this world.
At least it just said "BAKERY" over the entrance, nothing cute and fancy-sounding enough to make you want to puke on the pavement.
"Help you?" Ray stepped up to the counter, wiping his hands on a white, floury apron. They should have a pretty girl here and all, not the baker himself, curls sweated and captured under a hairnet.
He looked different. It wasn't just the stance and expression (friendly, enquiring, businesslike) or the place, how out-of-place it was.
No, he'd seen Ray undercover before, and nothing really surprised him. It was something more, something...off.
"Uh, yeah, strawberry shortcake, please. One slice."
"Here or to take away?" Ray reached for the cake and began to cut a generous, competent slice. His hands. His hands were familiar. Bodie focused on them, and then suddenly he knew. He looked up at met Doyle's face squarely, and oddly, he wanted to weep. Doyle's face was whole, rounded, unbroken: smooth and perfect as a baby's. It made him look younger, less world-weary and haggard. Or perhaps that was just him, this Doyle, happy and content in his bakery shop life.
Bodie took off before Doyle could finish serving him. "Oi!" called this world's Raymond after him. "Forgot your—"
The bell tittered after him, and Bodie ran for a long time.
He tried, sometimes, to remember how he'd got here, to this wrong world. The hardest he tried he gave himself quite a headache.
The closest he could get, the last thing he could remember, was running. Him and Doyle, together. Not the scared sort of running, not the shooting sort of running, just... irunning./i
And that was all. Then he'd arrived here, where nothing was right, because Doyle hadn't come too.
The bakery's bell was the same. Everything looked as it had done two days ago. It had taken him that long to go back.
In the end, he'd had to, though. Any version of Ray would be a bit more of home than he'd have without.
As if they'd taken his unspoken suggestion, a young woman was serving today. There was a bit of a queue—he had picked a busier time, he supposed, though he hadn't thought about it—and he had plenty of time to get his nerve up, watch the crowd (brisk trade), soak in the atmosphere and pick what to eat.
The woman was young, pretty, chatty. Briefly, Bodie wondered if the engagement ring on her finger meant she and Ray were together. (How it flashed, as bright as her smile!) Or was it entirely coincidence: Raymond Doyle in close proximity to a woman without being the man in her life. Who knows, everything else had changed.
Now it was his turn to buy, everyone else's ordinary or special orders being taken care of, and he was here, at the counter, mouth dry. "Chocolate cake," he suggested, because it looked so luscious, and because he could imagine Ray, his Ray, making just such a cake (not so well, perhaps a bit lopsided). Here, the cake wasn't sideways and made with more love than skill. Back home, his Ray was an amateur cook, not baker; he didn't have the patience or time to perfect wonderfully complicated recipes. He also didn't want to eat too many sweets and slow down. He worried about so many things, did the old Ray.
"That'll be 85p," said the young woman with the same friendly familiarity she gave to all the customers. She laid the cake on a plate for him (a faint 'tink' sound from the icing), and the click of a fork, handed across to him.
There were little tables; he could sit and eat. He reached for the plate and his wallet at the same time, almost missed the shadow in the back doorway.
Ray, leaning there. He still did that, at least: leaned.
The shadow moved forward into perfect-faced Ray, not wearing the hairnet today. "Make that on the house, love," said Ray. His easy familiarity with the server spoke of friendliness but not true love.
The young woman glanced back at him and smiled. "Of course."
Bodie held up the plate, meeting shrewd, questioning eyes with as much equanimity as he could manage. "Ta."
Doyle gave a jerk of his head, a nod of ascent. He moved away suddenly, back into the back room, and Bodie found himself both relieved and disappointed.
He went to one of the little tables and ate, looking out the window, quite unconcerned, trying not to wonder or care if Doyle would come back to watch him. But the reflections in the glass said he didn't, and eventually, Bodie was finished eating and had to leave.
Ice broken, Bodie went back. He bought two fairy cakes the next day. The day after, a nice piece of Swiss Roll. The fourth, chocolate cake that made him ache it tasted so good. One purchase a day, no more, just enough to hope for a glimpse of Ray.
Somehow this Ray made him miss his own all the more when Bodie did glimpse him. But it was, after all, still better than nothing. So he kept going back.
On the fifth day, Ray was finally at the counter again. "Ta," said Bodie. He accepted the apple pie slice from Doyle's careful fingers and pushed over a one-pound note.
Doyle slid it back. "That's all right. Loyal customer and all." He showed his teeth in a smile—so bright, so white.
He was plumper than Bodie's Ray: not fat but comfortable-looking, with his looser jeans and shirts, a sleek instead of harried look about him. He belonged here, and the Ray from the other world hadn't belonged anywhere, was always on the jump: more wild than tame. Like Bodie, dangerous and fierce, always ready to go at a moment's notice wherever Cowley should send them.
This Ray—he had a place, one place, where he fit and he always knew where he'd be the next morning.
"Let me buy you one, then," said Bodie, smiling back. "Why not sit and eat it with me?"
Doyle grinned. "Who'll watch the shop?"
"Oh, well, if you get customers, you can always hop up, can't you?" He gave Doyle his nicest 'I'm a good bloke' smile. The one that made him look well-mannered and polished.
Doyle showed his teeth again. "You're on." His quick fingers snatched the note. He gave Bodie his change quickly and handed Bodie back more than half. Ray cut himself a quick slice of cherry pie, much smaller than a regular piece, and walked round the counter.
His jeans were looser. Up close, he looked enough like Doyle to be disconcerting, yet with those changes: that comfortableness, the smooth, untroubled face, the slight hints of pudginess round his middle. Bodie wanted to reach out and pat it, to see what a plump Doyle felt like. Not that he'd have called it plump on anyone else.
They sat at one of the empty tables. Ray took one bite, eating it slowly, savouring it. He looked down at his plate as if it was very important. But then he put his fork down and focused on Bodie. "Are you all right?"
It wasn't what Bodie had expected to hear. If anything, small talk, or some question he couldn't answer easily. ("Why are you always watching me?") Because Doyle would know. Doyle would always know that. Too clever by half, our Doyle. Any Doyle.
"Yes," said Bodie.
"Ah." Another bite. Doyle chewed a long time. He looked over Bodie's shoulder, studying something, looking casual. His posture was almost comfortable and at ease, would've fooled a stranger.
Bodie realised suddenly: iHe's afraid I'm going to run off./i
"Are you on a diet?" asked Bodie.
Doyle grinned, sheepish and humble. He nodded. "Have to watch it, working here." He patted his stomach. "I work out, but it's long hours and lots of temptation. I'm a good baker, you know." He grinned: Ray Doyle being charming.
"I know," said Bodie. He took another big bite, but couldn't chew slowly, couldn't keep up the silences. He gulped it, rather. "It's good stuff," he added hastily. "Why free?"
Doyle hesitated. "Thought you were hungry."
"Oh. No. I can afford to pay."
Doyle spoke slowly, as if trying to sort something out, groping for words to something only his instincts told him. "You... looked like something was wrong. Gone all white. Then you left, I thought maybe you couldn't afford..." He broke off.
"Hey, it was a nice gesture. Thanks." Bodie reached across the table and gave Doyle a light thump on the arm with his knuckles, a friendly 'thanks.' He was surprised to feel, under the sleeve, that Doyle's arm was almost as hard as he remembered.
Maybe his eyebrows had risen; Doyle grinned. "I work out, don't I?" There was that jaunty look that made him seem more like Doyle, despite everything. "Karate. Running. Helps to keep fit. Long hours." He gulped another bite, forgetting to eat it slowly. He watched Bodie now with undisguised curiosity. "You're a soldier, right?"
"Something like that. I was."
"Out of work?"
Bodie nodded. It hurt to breathe, for just one moment. Cowley, and home, and Doyle, and nobody needing Bodie at all anymore.
"I'm sorry," said Ray. He concentrated on his pie, pushing around the last piece that was mostly crust in the red of cherry goo. If it had been his Ray, Bodie would have snatched it with his fingers, eaten it and made a face at Ray, enjoyed his squawk of protest.
Bodie watched, no longer hungry. Eventually Doyle scooped it up on his fork, using his fingers for leverage, and popped it into his mouth. His gaze rose and met Bodie's, thoughtful and a little guilty. "My uncle is always looking for labourers." It was a half-guilty offer, as if he thought Bodie would resent it but couldn't help offering.
Bodie couldn't help smiling. "One man reform social reformer, eh, Ray?"
Doyle looked away. "Sorry. Just thought I'd offer." He scraped back his chair and rose.
Bodie was immediately sorry. "Look." He reached out and caught Doyle's wrist, lightly, and then immediately let it go again. "Sorry. It's not that I'm ungrateful."
Doyle looked down at him, expressionless now (more or less). "Well. If you change your mind. I'll write down the number for you to ring, shall I?"
Bodie nodded. He watched as Doyle disappeared behind the counter again and into the back room. He emerged with a small slip of paper. Without looking at it, Bodie shoved it into his pocket.
Doyle's gaze fastened on his face, prying, knowing too much. "You know me from somewhere, don't you?"
"Yes, you do. You called me 'Ray.'"
Bodie winced. "Yeah, all right. Art school," he said, taking a chance. "Saw you there once or twice. Before I quit," he offered haphazardly, and waited to see if this excuse would fly. Or perhaps Doyle would get into a raging temper with him, threaten to beat him senseless. He would welcome even a violent reaction if it reminded him of ihis /iDoyle.
Instead, he saw Doyle's brow furrow cautiously. "I don't remember..."
"Well I wasn't there long," said Bodie quickly.
Doyle searched his face with a sort of abstract look. "Yes, but I'm good with faces—quite good. We had to study one another's faces, you know, give it a go and learn to see. I've never seen you before in my life. Well—before you walked in." Doyle smiled, or tried to, but he was obviously in the grip of the question, the mystery now.
"We-ell, you see..." Bodie reached up and scratched at his hair, head tilted slightly, modest and honest and shy. "I wasn't actually a student, like. Was one of the models." He scuffed one foot, and looked up again, smiling ruefully. "It was good money, you know, when I needed it. Suppose it took me by surprise, seeing you again. Don't expect anyone focused on my face, exactly. But I had a lot of time to study theirs."
"Oh." It seemed to satisfy Doyle for a moment, but he still looked bewildered. "But—"
"Well, I must be off." Bodie patted his pocket with the paper folded in it. "Ta for the number, and the pie. Delicious as usual!" He nearly said 'cheerio' in his try for an effortless, bluff goodbye.
Doyle watched him, a frown still puckering his face.
"Did you forget your key again, sir?" The doorman eyed Bodie's beard with popping eyes.
"I'm afraid I've lost it. Careless. Could you have another one ready for me when I leave? There's a good chap." Bodie waited for him to open the door, then strode in.
Overcome by a recklessness Cowley used to warn him about and his partner used to disdain (though Bodie suspected that disdain actually hid his worry), Bodie had decided to come back. His doppelganger's life couldn't be as barren as it had looked. He must have family, relationships, friends, something. That information was probably hidden. Bodie meant to take the place apart until he found it.
"I didn't think you would look this much like me," said a voice. His voice, accents risen to chilly heights. His gun in hand, he whirled automatically to meet the level blue gaze and level black gun. Bodie2 was dressed impeccably, of course, in a made-to-measure, perfectly fitted wool suit. He had the steady stance of a soldier. He had neat-trimmed hair and no beard. His face was smooth and cold and precise, and he could probably shoot and kill Bodie without a qualm.
Bodie felt his teeth baring in a fierce grin. "Hello. Back so soon?"
Ironic, that. Had some cosmic force drawn him here to meet doom by his own hand? Survived the jungles, the armed forces, and CI5 all to be brought down by—himself.
Well. Who better?
But all the same, he kept his gun trained on his double. "Catch-22. If you shoot me, I'll shoot you."
"And if I put my gun down you'll just rob me again?" A brow rose, Bodie's brow on his double's arrogant, hard face.
Bodie shrugged. "Probably. Don't really need the money, but I need it more than you." Then he grinned. "Anyone does."
The man's nostrils flared. "Who ARE you?"
Bodie grinned. He went through three or four tales he could tell—some more plausible than the truth. Then he decided he'd like to see this Bodie look surprised for once, like to knock him out of his easy, obnoxious manner. "I'm you, in another world. Made a better job of it, I think."
The other Bodie snorted, but didn't say a word. He reached up and rubbed his chin.
"Oh, well, I'm usually clean-shaven, aren't I?" Bodie leaned against the closed door and grinned. "Not sure how much is different for you, but I can tell you my life story if you like?"
The other Bodie's face was hard and angry now, but he nodded cautiously. Every muscle in him seemed tensed. Despite this, he sat down across from Bodie at the kitchen table, and listened.
Surprisingly, as Bodie talked, he found himself less angry, less annoyed. He hadn't talked to anyone properly in ages, and the one person who shouldn't be able to judge you for your past was you. He knew his story hit home at certain points, the way Bodie's face blanched. It made him feel a little better, to know that someone understood, recognised—and also that this Bodie wasn't completely unassailable.
When he finished, both their guns were lying on the kitchen table. The men sat not far from each other, and Bodie2 still regarded him as if he were an enigma. But no longer a danger.
"You'd better shave," he said at last. "I'll introduce you as my long lost twin."
"Introduce me?" Bodie's eyebrow climbed.
Bodie nodded. "Thought I'd take you to the club tonight. You look like you could do with a good nosh, and it'll give us a chance to sort out what to do with you."
"Oh yeah? Any of your business, is it?"
Bodie2 glared at him, eyes narrowing to a rather mean, hard look. "It seems I'm financing, doesn't it?"
Bodie grinned. "Touché."
This took some of the tension from the situation and they both relaxed again.
Bodie2 drummed his fingers on the table. "You could do security work. I'm sure I can find a place for you. Long lost brother and all."
It came to Bodie with a start that this man wanted him to stay. As hostile and mistrusting as he'd been at first, Bodie's story had convinced him. Was Bodie2 usually this gullible?
Was it just because he'd known things that Bodie2 had never told anyone else, or was it also because the man was so lonely? Bodie looked at him, and realised: this man wanted a brother, and he would settle for Bodie. It saddened Bodie to realise his double was sort of vulnerable: he needed people but just didn't have the right kinds in his life, despite how well he'd done otherwise.
At the club, wearing one of Bodie2's nicest suits, cut right for his figure without alterations, they ate, drank wine, and talked in the atmosphere of sparkling crystal and pleasant, live music. He was lonely from his displaced weeks here, and found he could talk to his double. But Bodie2 was lonelier. He seemed to have saved up a lifetime of loneliness.
He asked whether Bodie remembered this or that person, mostly things about growing up. Much of their lives had been the same, but there were enough differences to throw surprises into the conversation, to keep them talking, make them curious.
When the night ended and they stood on the cold doorstep waiting for a cab, Bodie2 said, "All right, you can move in with me for now." He didn't look at Bodie whilst he said it. He looked straight ahead. His breath showed in the air.
Bodie heard the other words: iDon't go./i Had he ever held such a desperate, naked need for family, even an imaginary one?
Scenes filtered back to him. Threatening to kill a woman slowly if she didn't tell him where Doyle was. Being willing to die with a bomb strapped to his chest if it protected Ray and Cowley. Repeatedly following his partner into hell and back, and going there in the first place all because the old man told them to. Yes. He had been like that, too. Realising it made it harder to despise the barely concealed neediness of this man. (Perhaps no one else would have seen it, but Bodie did.)
He thought of Ray, and felt with a pang that if he gave in and became this man's family, he might lose the not-Ray of this world if he had less time to mooch around and eat cakes. He'd have to do something useful, something in the security field.
But, he was lonely and bored, and he'd never had a brother, either.
"Not tonight. I'll go home, get my things—or your things—and stay over with you tomorrow for a few days. All right?"
"Sure." Bodie2 didn't look at him. "And I'll see what sort of job we can find you."
Bodie was silent for a moment. "Near here."
Near Ray. And—just in case—near home, proper home. He'd arrived here in this wrong world in London. Who knew but the only way back lay through some secret paths hidden here?
Tossing, turning, unable to sleep, yet without any reason for it, Bodie made the bedsprings creak rather a lot. In the room behind the thin wall near his head, something thumped loudly, and there was a whispered hiss, and something thumped again. Moving furniture? He grinned in the dark. It was only one last night of noise and a mattress with springs that dug into his back. Yet he couldn't sleep. He didn't have any conscious worries; surely moving in with his 'brother' was better than nothing, and he might as well do some sort of work until he could get back to Ray and Cowley.
But he couldn't sleep.
Suddenly he realised: Ray's gym. He must have a gym, if he was working out a lot. Karate, he'd said. And running.
Bodie sat up in bed. When would he run? Evenings, when he was tired? Or the wee hours of the morning? He must get up early. Had to; didn't bakers have to start before the dawn? He thought of Ray running in the dark, dressed in trainers and track suit, breath puffing in the chill pre-dawn air, hair springy and wild.
He slid on his own running shoes. They were one of the few things he had left with him from his world, because he'd been wearing them when he arrived.
Ray would probably run in the park, or through a cemetery, because that was where he liked to run back home.
Running this early reminded Bodie with nostalgic pain of the army, the forced disciplines, the camaraderie and stoicism and occasional bitter complaints. It reminded him of Ray, rousing Bodie out of bed, lecturing him about not making old bones if he didn't exercise properly.
And Bodie would complain and act as if he'd never heard of such a thing as a morning run, as if it was some torture Doyle had thought up on his own and not once a way of life Bodie could easily return to if he must. He thought of them running, bantering, always in synch. For some reason, it made his head hurt.
He ran all around the park, and the cemetery, and finally gave up. But he was waiting on the doorstep when Ray Doyle arrived at the bakery.
At first sight of him, Ray stopped. His hand hardened around the key as if it was a brass knuckle, and Bodie nodded with inward approval. He knew how to defend himself, did our Ray. Even this softer version of Ray.
Bodie pushed off the building and waited for him, hands in his donkey jacket pockets. "Hello Ray. Was at a loose end, thought I'd stop by. Maybe see about day-old pastry," he improvised.
The tension left Doyle's shoulders and he stepped forward, past Bodie, opened the door. "Didn't recognise you in the dark, and you've had a shave. Come in." He held the door open, politely welcoming, the perfect host. That ache was below Bodie's breastbone again. It hurt. It hurt more not to have the real Ray here when you had someone so nearly him.
"I have to start some raisin bread dough right away so it has time to rise," said Doyle. "But after that I'll make you breakfast. You can wait in the back with me if you want, only you mustn't touch anything and you need to wear a hair net, or I could have the environmental health officers down on me." He walked with confident tread into the back, not waiting to see if Bodie would follow.
The back room held mixers, shiny and huge, utilitarian, bigger than kitchen models, somehow odd-looking to Bodie in the half-light. Doyle flicked on the light, and it was blazingly bright. Bodie winced, a twinge of headache reminding him he hadn't slept at all last night.
"Here." Doyle handed him a hair net and put his own on. He washed his hands thoroughly and began to work. Bodie leaned against a counter, arms crossed, watching. Doyle worked with a quick precision, everything clear and neat in his rhythms, in his organisation.
After a few short minutes, he turned to Bodie, dusting his hands off on a towel, and smiled. "I'll make you eggs and we'll have some of yesterday's pastries, all right?"
"You could start the coffee," said Doyle over his shoulder, as he walked towards a small stove. Neat copper pots hung over it on the wall. Sweets thermometers and cooling trays were stored nearby.
Bodie found the coffeemaker, did the deed, and fetched mugs. He waited for the brew to chortle and trickle and finish, then poured them each a mug full and fixed them the way each man liked.
"Here, Ray." Bodie nudged his arm lightly, holding out the steaming brew.
"Ta." Doyle took it left-handed, curling his whole hand round it and slurped. He kept his concentration and spatula on the eggs, flipped carefully. Bodie watched as he finished, carefully drank more coffee, and prepared two plates.
They sat in the front part of the shop. The blinds were pulled, the 'closed' sign still up; they had the whole shop to themselves. Doyle brought out a whole box of cold Danishes from yesterday: cherry-flavoured.
He ate two, biting into them without hesitation with his non-chipped teeth. "Ta," said Bodie, as he took a third. And Doyle didn't tell him they weren't healthy, didn't tell him he was getting fat and wouldn't make old bones, just got up and fetched the coffeepot, raised his brows in question of whether Bodie wanted more. "Yes please." He pushed his mug over.
When Doyle sat down again, he leaned forward, gaze searching, face intent. "I know you need my help. Can you tell me why, and how?"
Bodie bowed his head. "I can't. It wouldn't make sense to you. It doesn't to me."
"I—I see." Doyle sounded startled. He drew back. "Well, I should get started with the doughnuts and the cake batter. Listen, if you change your mind—"
A kiss-off. "Yeah." Bodie rose abruptly, his face blank, his chair scraping.
"—you can tell me whilst I work. You needn't leave." Again that gaze searched Bodie's face, curious and troubled. "You do need help, don't you?"
Bodie forced a grin. "Don't mind me. I'm just homesick."
Doyle blinked. "So go home?"
"I can't. I can't reach it anymore." i I don't know how./i
Bodie gave back most of the clothes, even after Bodie2 said he didn't mind. It was oddly disconcerting, even disheartening, to be around a more prosperous version of himself. He despised this Bodie's flaws and lack of friends; he envied his ease and wealth, his sheer competence at his non-CI5 job. It was as though, instead of having a brother to feel close to, Bodie had developed instead all the worst sorts of sibling rivalry at one blow.
And yet when he got those glimpses underneath, those feelings all burned away, for a while at least, and this Bodie was someone he pitied or cared about or felt fond of, the way it must be with a sibling, someone you could cheerfully rip apart one minute, but defend to the death the next.
It hadn't been like that exactly with Ray. Not exactly, because even at his worst he'd never really envied Ray. Doyle's life wasn't any easier, in its way, than his, and Bodie had never wanted to be him. There had been times when he'd thought Doyle's intensity of emotion and caring were his downfall, and Bodie had been heartily glad not to share them.
Bodie was like a stripped down machine, a workhorse power motor that would never quit. No extra parts, nothing superfluous or likely to break down, just running, running long past its projected life because it was bloody invincible. Doyle was a highly-strung MG, in the garage every five minutes. Bloody wonderful car, but more trouble than it was worth. If it could talk, it would be whinging all the time it wasn't racing. He couldn't help enjoying the good things about his MG-like partner, but he didn't envy at all the cost, the repairs, the hassle.
But now it was just him and this other Bodie, having to learn to live around each other, make room, make it work, and work together. Identical twins, late in life, with the unspoken strangeness of their differences and the near-mental telepathy that Bodie had never thought he'd have with anyone ever again.
Bodie faced Doyle across the mat, grinning. He couldn't help himself. This was what he wanted: to face Doyle again, like old times. Except instead of HIS Doyle (stroppy because of a trick Bodie had played, telling him to 'put 'em up,' or facing him because of Macklin's training), it was the new Doyle, the plump Doyle with his smooth face. This Doyle looked uncertain. Did he think he would hurt Bodie? Did he think Bodie would hurt him?
Despite his soft life, Doyle was damned good. Bodie had discovered that once he found Doyle's fitness club and joined. He'd watched Doyle box, watched him face karate opponents in matches where he was far faster than you'd expect a baker to be.
There was no avoiding the differences: his Doyle was a lethal weapon, a finely-honed knife blade. Dangerous, hard, a dirty fighter who knew if he lost he could die. That hardness carried over into even playful matches. But this world's Doyle had never relied on his martial skills day in and day out. He used them as exercise, as stress relief, as hobby. Yet he was still good and Bodie delighted to watch; it reminded him of home.
When Bodie pinned Doyle within the first five minutes, he was almost disappointed.
Shocked green eyes stared up at him, so wide, so vulnerable for a moment, caught utterly by surprise. Then he'd smiled, and Bodie let him up, certain with the use of long practice that he hadn't hurt the man at all.
"Too much cake for me, I guess," said Doyle, with his wry, self-mocking grin, showing his perfect teeth.
He dusted off his loose white outfit and Bodie helped him up. Doyle smelled of sweat, yet cleanly shampooed. Nearly the same as Doyle. He was still different.
Bodie gave him a light thump on the arm as they walked back to the benches to watch the next match.
Doyle was the one thing he guarded from his double. Hadn't shared, because there was no need. CI5 and Cowley he'd mentioned; Doyle he hadn't. Because everything else was easy to explain: CI5 just another way of serving his country and finding the danger he'd still needed. Loyalty to Cowley made sense to a military mind. But he'd never had a partner before, not someone like Ray that he worked with every day, just the two of them, fighting and bickering and dying for each other a little at a time. And that was something he couldn't even explain to his womb-double, if the man hadn't experienced it himself. Or perhaps he just didn't want to try.
He was surprised how furious he felt, when the other Bodie crashed his party.
He was just talking to Ray in the pub, their new regular, their new pattern (have a drink every Saturday after Doyle closed the shop and left, tired and flour-covered even if he'd washed). Bodie was talking, some nonsense, something that was making him laugh a little as he told it, when Ray's eyes flickered up, over his shoulder, and his glass paused halfway to his mouth. His mouth fell open.
Bodie knew, before he even turned to look. Because Doyle looked at him, and then past Bodie's shoulder, and blinked. And Bodie could still read Doyle, any Doyle, because it was just too easy, wasn't it? And because this was what his new brother iwould/i do.
He turned. "Ah, Will," he said with cold aplomb, using the name he knew his brother would hate the most, without conscious thought or plan. "Have you met my mate Ray?" He gestured to Doyle, as if Bodie2 was welcome to join them, could've been casually invited along any time.
He knew Bodie2 knew better, and he knew Doyle was puzzled by his faint hostility, and none of it mattered because damn it, he was NOT sharing his one last piece of home. Doyle, even a strange one, was his alone, whether that was as a sparring partner, a mate, or even just someone he bought Swiss roll from. (Doyle no longer gave him cakes for free.)
But they sat and had a pleasant conversation, telling polite lies to Doyle till that confused, searching, wary look left his face. They were brothers, long-lost, family reunion and all that twaddle. An arm came round and found Bodie's shoulder, and he didn't shrug it off (ieven though I hate you/i), because Doyle was watching, and he wouldn't understand.
Doyle was cautiously happy for him, believing in it the way he would in a fairytale: brothers reunited, always meant to be near each other, each finding a similar job. Now they would work together and rebuild the links that should've always been there, if they'd known each other existed. Bodie could see the way it worked in Doyle, that dreamer's hue entering his gaze, softening it until he looked quite pleased, and a little drunk.
"That's wonderful," he said, again, and again, he meant it so very much that Bodie felt a little twist in his gut, because shouldn't it be like that? Shouldn't he love this double, even if he wasn't a proper brother?
But he knew for that to happen he'd have to love himself first. And sometimes Bodie just couldn't stand himself.
Doyle bid him a friendly, merry farewell, shaking his hand, shaking Bodie2's just as hard.
And when they got home the two Bodies had their first real argument.
"I'm simply asking, when did you get so wonderfully brilliant at making mates? I haven't had a proper friend in five years at least and you make one the second you arrive?" That sarcastic eyebrow arched.
Bodie didn't know how someone hadn't killed him years ago for that dreadful expression. He thought he could cheerfully tear his brother apart, limb from limb, the very inarticulation of an answer, the very lack of anything to say here making it worse.
Bodie2 continued. "So tell me, iWill,/i what makes you so special? Huh? How did you get so good at making friends and when the hell was I going to know about him, huh?"
There was really nothing to say, so Bodie started packing.
"You're leaving, huh? That's your answer to everything?" His own cold voice, talking back at him.
"You'd know," said Bodie shortly. Because running was his answer. Always had been.
Blindly, he threw another pair of trousers into the bag, hoped it was enough. He shouldered past his brother—himself—and headed for the door.
Strong arms caught him, hauled him back, clung on even when he elbowed and kicked back. For a moment they tangled, and panted, and he heard a sound of almost panic in his brother's breaths.
"You can't leave."
He said it again when disdain made Bodie give up, when his Bodie2 had him pinned to the floor, but only because Bodie couldn't be arsed to fight back. He just didn't care anymore about this loser at all.
"You can't leave, because you're the only one who understands," said Bodie2, and Bodie hoped ihe/i had never sounded so pathetic.
And that was the worst of it. Because no matter how prosperous or skilled or rich and arrogant Bodie was, in any world, that was the jist of it. He was still Bodie; he was still stuck with himself. And ino one /iunderstood.
He told Bodie2. After they calmed down. He didn't promise to stay, but he left his bag on the kitchen floor, fallen like a casualty, and they sat at the table, wary and bruised and drinking tea like proper Englishmen.
And he told Bodie2 about Doyle, every word wrenched from him, harder to tell because Doyle wasn't here, because each admission stung like fresh pain: that Bodie was here, stuck here. It was like grieving the dead. The other half of the team, his life, wasn't here.
His Doyle was trapped in another world, and Bodie had to make do with a baker, who still meant so much to him he couldn't bear to share... just in case this Bodie was the best after all, even at being Ray's friend.
i"Bodie, you stupid, half-Irish son of a bitch. If you don't wake up and come back here I'll kill you. Don't you bloody dare leave me." /i
Bodie woke up. He sat bolt upright in bed, as if awakened in the middle of the night by Cowley and needing to be on the alert immediately, ready to kill or die, or save Doyle.
But this wasn't Cowley's call; it was Doyle's.
There had been a sound like a sob in his partner's voice, and wherever he was, whatever separated them, Bodie knew: Doyle needed him. Right now. No more waiting. No more arsing around with this world, with the good things or the bad, his double or his new semi-Doyle.
He was buckling on one of Bodie2's guns when the other man awoke. Just as well; he'd made no effort to be silent, and he needed to talk to him.
How was it a grown man could look so very much like a little boy, nearly pouting, misery in his eyes, vulnerable despite the hardness of him and in everything he'd surrounded himself with?
"Yes, I'm leaving. I'm going home. My Ray Doyle needs me. I—thanks, mate. Listen, look after the Doyle here, all right? He's a good mate. Works too hard and doesn't get out enough. You do the same, you know. Be good for each other. Have a drink. Spar. He's better than you'd think, and clever with it. He's kinder than I am."
How easy it was, now, to recite this Doyle's good qualities and give him over to his brother. How easy to give them all up, because he was going home.
Bodie2 moved to stand in front of him, looking at him with hard, searching blue eyes. Bodie didn't look away. He finished buckling the holster on, slid in the gun. He needed to be able to protect Ray. The gun might come in handy.
"I have to go."
"All right. I know." Bodie2 stood back. He held the door and stood in the doorway, watching whilst Bodie left. The light from the kitchen lit him from behind, a Bodie cut-out, a gingerbread man of darkness.
Because he couldn't leave without saying goodbye, even with Doyle's summons urgent and painful to him, he went by the bakery first.
Doyle was there. The sign said Closed, the blinds were pulled, but he could tell: Doyle was there.
Bodie pounded on the back door, the deliveries door, till Doyle showed up, scowling, wiping his hands on his apron. The annoyed look lifted, the pugnacious expression leaving those so-nearly-right features. "Bodie?" He took a step forward. "You all right, mate?" A hand reached out, tentative, to rest on his arm, as though not certain it was allowed but wanting to help all the same.
"Yeah." Bodie gulped, nodding hard. "Listen, Ray. I've got to go. I found a way to get home. Will you..." He reached out now, touched Doyle much as he'd been touched. They didn't know each other well enough, and yet he needed the connection, the silent message and urgency of laying a hand on Doyle as he said goodbye, as he asked this last favour.
Doyle didn't shove him off. He was lit from behind with the bakery's light, his curls showing, not yet having donned his hairnet. His eyes were round, reflective as small, greenish moons in the light from a streetlamp. He was the best thing in this world, this anonymous man dutifully toiling to create something that wasn't necessary in the pre-dawn world. People ate his creations for breakfast, or for special occasions, or maybe just to get fat, and yet it was bloody wonderful, it was art what this Doyle did, as much as any painting: better, because you couldn't eat a watercolour.
Bodie took a deep breath.
"Ray, will you look after my brother for me? I've got to go. I can't stay. And he needs a friend."
Doyle was already nodding. No hesitation. Bodie felt a sheer, giddy warmth for the generosity of this man, perhaps in some ways even greater than his Doyle's, because it had never been beaten down in him by the streets and the job and the cold hard edges of the life he'd lived.
"Yes. Of—of course, mate." He gripped Bodie's arm in return, hard. "Will you be back?"
Bodie shook his head. "I can't. I have to go—now. I'm— Thank you. Thank you so much."
"Wait. Do you need anything? Can I help?"
"No." He turned, pulling free, and Doyle left him, didn't try to follow.
Now Bodie was running hard and fast and alone in the cold night air, his breath puffs of vapour, making his own London fog. He grinned, suddenly heady and free, and nothing in this world or any other could keep him down, not for long.
Bodie, you half-Irish.../i
The agony in Doyle's voice from the dream still echoed in his head like a drumbeat, telling him he must go.
If you don't wake up and come back here/i
Because it all made sense now, didn't it? He'd been running, going on another one of Raymond's fitness routines, and something had happened. He didn't know what: it didn't matter. He'd been hurt, and somehow, instead of dying or going into a coma, he'd come here.
And now Doyle wanted him to come back.
So he did.
He went to the cemetery.
He ran. He ran. He ran where he'd last seen Doyle. He closed his eyes hard, and he ran, and he was running back. Wherever that was, wherever here was, he was going back now.
Doyle's voice was as tearful, as suspicious, as angry as it had been the time Bodie'd got himself knifed in the hospital for his own stupidity, pushing too hard and letting his prejudices show with several large, dangerous, angry men.
Everything hurt, but mostly his head. Bodie opened his eyes. He gave Doyle, his proper, flawed Doyle, a big, big smile.
"You stupid git," said Doyle, and looked like he was going to burst into tears. He squeezed Bodie's hand so very hard.
Bodie closed his eyes again, because everything, everything was all right now.
It had been an assassination attempt, plain and simple: someone wanted CI5 agents dead, and Bodie had simply been the first one they tried to kill. He and Doyle, jogging, cheerfully calling into question each other's moral, physical, and mental attributes, and then a gunshot, an agent down, William Bodie lying on the cemetery path, Doyle clutching his hand hard and his wound harder, telling him he wasn't allowed to die. It wasn't allowed to happen like this.
And Bodie hadn't.
He'd gone to another place, and lived there in the strange netherworld of misery, not knowing how he'd arrived.
When he came back, they said he'd been in a coma. Doyle, with his strange, almost mind-reading ability, knew it had been more than that. Perhaps because, he'd once confided, when he was in the hospital after Mayli shot him he'd experienced a very different reality himself.
Bodie suspected he'd tell Doyle about it the first chance he got, after they were out of the hospital setting and could have a good talk over a couple of pints and some comforting, greasy food.
But one thing couldn't wait, not entirely. He got up his nerve to ask, one evening when visiting hours were almost over and Doyle was yawning his head off but trying not to let on.
"Can I talk to you, Ray? Sometime?"
Doyle's mouth snapped shut and his eyes snapped open. "Yeah. Anytime, sunshine. You know that."
Bodie swallowed. He did know that. In moments of honesty, he knew it completely. It didn't make it any easier.
"About—about Africa. And things like that. That okay?" He didn't like how hesitant he sounded, how he had to sort of duck his head and pretend it didn't really matter to him whether Doyle said yes or no.
But Doyle didn't hesitate. "Of course you can. Of course." His hand gripped Bodie's shoulder, hard, until he remembered his partner was healing still, needed careful handling. Then he eased the pressure on Bodie's wound, and he gave Bodie a big smile instead. "It's about time, you know."
Bodie nodded. He knew it was. He'd never been good at telling the Doyles in his life the things they needed to know.
He wondered if his double would tell the other Doyle the truth about where 'his brother' had come from.
But whatever happened, he knew he needed to tell his Doyle some of where he'd come from, so he wasn't so damned alone anymore.
Because he really didn't need to be. He knew that now.
The next day, before he was fit to leave the hospital, Doyle brought him a cake. Bodie was allowed to sit up, to blow out the candles for the birthday he'd missed in his coma. He grinned so hard it made his mouth hurt.
The nurses all clapped. Doyle had the silliest grin on. And it was the best damned birthday Bodie'd had in years.
Doyle had baked the cake himself. And it was kind of lopsided.