Ghost was shaking - reaction, Backus thought. She wrapped her arms around the hacker, hugging from behind. For a moment Ghost resisted, then leaned back with a sigh, resting against her companion. Backus squeezed gently.
"I will be."
Malone coughed, discreetly, and both women looked up.
"Status, Miss Backus?"
"Mission accomplished, sir. Successfully."
It wasn't until the rousing cheer echoed through the main room that she realised how quiet everything had been for the last hour. Spencer and Richards, who had been hovering by the door, crowded into the room, grinning widely, and dispensing hugs and kisses (which Ghost endured in silence, and Backus tried, unsuccessfully, to parry...)
"Mr Spencer! Mr Richards! This is not some sort of party! Please return to your desks..." But Malone was smiling broadly, too, and the two younger agents ignored him. For a couple of minutes, anyway.
As they left the room, Malone turned to Ghost and Backus. "Well done. Very well done indeed."
"Thank you, sir."
"Is there anything I need to know now, or will it all wait for your report?"
Backus inclined her head, pensively. "Two security guards and a biologist were shot. If DemeCeres links that with the incident in the complex, they might put two and two together and come up with sabotage."
Malone nodded, frowning. "Do we have anyone in the area who could mount a clean-up operation?"
"Not that I know of - except for our team..."
Malone shook his head. "No, no. They've done enough for now. Call them home - I'll handle the rest. And you two get some sleep." He smiled. "We'll celebrate when they get back."
As he left the room, Backus glanced at Ghost. The hacker was pale, lines of stress and exhaustion around her eyes.
Ghost shook her head. "Not yet. I've still got to close the back door."
"Oh, come on! You just nuked the goddamn place! No-one's gonna backtrack."
Ghost scowled. "I don't like unfinished business. Besides, I want to be sure there's no trace of me left anywhere in their systems. What's left of them..."
"OK. What can I do to help?"
Ghost grinned - tried to, at any rate. She was too tired to put much effort into it. "Well, you could get me a coffee for a start..."
An hour later Ghost sat back with a sigh, rubbing her eyes tiredly.
"Well, that should do it. I think I've covered my tracks."
Backus rested her hands on the younger woman's shoulders and gazed at the screen. Exhausted as she was, Ghost had efficiently removed all traces of her interference from what little remained of the DemeCeres intranet.
"Neat. You ready for bed now?"
Ghost nodded. "I think I could sleep for a month."
Backus chuckled. "Then you'd miss the party."
"It's a sort of tradition. Malone treats us all to a drink at the end of a successful mission."
Ghost groaned. "I hate parties."
"Well, it's not really a party party. Just a chance to chill out for an hour or so."
The hacker's expression was wry. "Great..."
"Hey - it's OK. Curtis and Keel will be here, and so will the other two..."
"I can't wait..." Ghost half-stifled a yawn, and Backus pulled her from her seat.
"C'mon - bed."
Backus chuckled. "You need your sleep."
Ghost sighed. "Yeah, I suppose you're right." She sagged against Backus, suddenly, startlingly weary. "This cloak 'n' dagger stuff isn't all it's cracked up to be."
"It has its moments."
"Take your word f'r'it..."
Backus grinned. "You're out on your feet. Bed. Now."
"Yes mum... Gonna tuck me in?"
Bodie had been casting glances at his partner all the way back to the hotel. Doyle was in the passenger seat, as always, foot up on the dash - but he had a distant, preoccupied expression and had hardly said two words since they'd left DemeCeres. Bodie had seen it many times before. Usually it presaged a guilt trip: he wouldn't be in the least surprised if now was no different. But he didn't want Ray to slip away again...
For a moment Doyle remained silent, then -
"No. I'd almost managed to forget how bloody 'orrible this game is."
Bodie sighed and laid a hand, very briefly, on his partner's thigh.
"Can you try and concentrate on the good that's come out of this? We've got the pollen..."
For a moment he froze, hit by a surge of panic. Did they still have the pollen? He remember Keel's dive, grabbing his partner around the waist and bearing him to the ground... Shit.
"We do still have the pollen, don't we?"
Doyle reached into his top pocket and pulled out the sealed bag. The seal was still intact, and running his fingers down the packaging he certainly couldn't feel anything wrong: the glass vials were - somehow, miraculously - unbroken and the stoppers felt sound.
Bodie breathed a sigh of relief.
"OK. So we've got the pollen. So the world - the male part of it anyway - can breathe easy again."
Doyle glanced at him. "And that's a good thing, is it?"
"Maybe not. But would you really want some Big Brother taking control?"
Doyle thought about it, frowning.
"No. Just wish there'd been a better way."
Doyle sighed. "I know." He turned towards Bodie, touching his arm lightly.
Bodie smiled. "It's OK. You wouldn't be you without that conscience you keep on a chain round your ankle. Or is it riding on your shoulders? I forget..."
Doyle chuckled, briefly. "Fits better on your shoulders, mate. They're bigger."
"Perhaps you'd better put it back there, then."
For a moment there was a pregnant silence, and Bodie held his breath, wondering if he'd said the wrong thing. Then:
"Perhaps I'd better." The tone was thoughtful, considering. Bodie nodded slightly, calling on every bit of control he owned not to shout his delight aloud...
Curtis stood at the picture window, gazing out over the lake. Behind him, Keel had emerged from the shower and was pouring himself a drink - room service had provided him with a good selection of lagers, and he was enjoying trying them out.
"You want one?"
Curtis half turned and raised his wine glass. Moments later Keel joined his partner at the window. For a moment there was silence.
"Went well, didn't it?"
Keel nodded. "Yeah. Never thought I'd say it, but they're good, aren't they? A great team."
"Think we'll ever be that good?"
Curtis turned to his partner, silvery-green eyes serious. "We're pretty good now. But it's certainly something to aim for, isn't it?"
Keel smiled and clinked his bottle against his partner's glass. "We've made a good start..."
The four of them parted in the hotel foyer at midmorning the next day. Keel had offered Bodie and Doyle a lift back in the jet, but Bodie had declined, saying they preferred the scenic route. Personally, Curtis thought it had more to do with Bodie's obvious attachment to his blasted car than any artistic appreciation of the countryside - but he bit his tongue and held his peace...
"You going to tell me how you did it?"
Bodie reached for a gooey pastry and ate it one handed, speaking between mouthfuls.
"How you deleted your CI5 files."
"Yes - 'oh'. C'mon Ray. Tell me."
Doyle bit his lower lip.
"I got a - friend to do it for me."
"Good friend, is he?"
Bodie raised an eyebrow.
"Don't tell me you developed good taste in women. Useful taste, anyway. Makes a change...."
"No need to get personal."
"Who was she?"
"Nobody you know."
"C'mon Ray - who was she? I'd like to know. I'd like her to do the same for me."
"No you wouldn't."
"Bodie..." Doyle took a deep breath, torn between changing the subject and confessing all. He glanced at Bodie - at the very moment his partner glanced back at him. And suddenly Doyle wanted to tell him - to try and make up for the misery he'd caused over the last thirteen years... Fully aware he might regret it later - but also, strangely, sure that he wouldn't - he nodded.
"It goes back a long way..."
"Have I got this straight? You got her to erase your records because you felt that your life with CI5 was poisoning you, and you wanted to wipe it out?"
"Yeah. Stupid, wasn't it?"
Doyle sighed. "Bodie - I was wrong. The way I felt at the time it seemed like a good idea. Afterwards - I felt like I didn't exist any more. Like my life had been rubbed out. Felt so fuckin' awful. But by then it was too late."
"And that's when the nightmares began."
Doyle stared, then nodded. Of course Bodie would know about the nightmares. He'd seen them in the later LaMorte's. They were there for everyone to see, if they had a mind to do so. Bodie sighed and shook his head. The glance he turned on his partner was full of compassion, understanding - and love.
"You know you're an idiot, don't you?"
Doyle nodded. "Yeah. Ran away from meself, ran away from you - ran away from everything that made life worth living." He sighed gustily. "Hindsight's a wonderful thing."
"It is if it stops you making the same mistakes again." Bodie raised an eyebrow, slanting a glance towards his partner. "You going to make the same mistakes again?"
Doyle shook his head. "Don't intend to. But it means changing the habit of a lifetime..."
Bodie chuckled. "You need looking after, sunshine."
"You know me - never volunteer for anything."
"I'll take that as a yes, then."
There was silence for a few minutes, then Bodie frowned.
"Y'know, we never did find out who sent that warning."
"Is it important?"
"I suppose not. And even if it is, I suppose Malone will rope in Ghost to solve the problem." He shook his head in admiration. "Wonderful, wasn't she?"
"Which reminds me - you've told me how you managed to get your records deleted, but you haven't told me who did it."
Doyle licked suddenly dry lips. "Ah."
"C'mon Ray. Who was she?"
Doyle sighed. Well, it was only fair...
"Name's Rachael. She's me daughter."
Bodie drove into the gathering twilight, face pensive. Doyle dozed beside him, sleeping deeply, peacefully, dreamlessly as his partner guided the car effortlessly towards the coast and the ferry back to England...
Oddly, once the first shock of the revelation had worn off, Bodie found himself easy with the idea. After all, as far as he knew he also had kids, somewhere. Back then, in the 'permissive society', sex was free and easy, and contraception was the girl's responsibility. She was the one that got pregnant, after all. And just because nobody had ever chased him for maintenance didn't mean there wasn't at least one little Bodie out there, somewhere...
The idea was oddly appealing.
He shook his head. Nice to dream, but he had more practical matters to deal with. He pulled smoothly over to the side of the road and stopped for a few minutes, reaching for the sealed bag in his partner's top pocket, very carefully removing one of the vials and placing it into a container of his own, then returning the remaining two vials in their protective bag to Doyle's pocket.
Bodie was a great believer in extra insurance.
Doyle slept on, oblivious, trusting. Bodie watched him for a moment or two, smiling, his face open, warm and tender. Then he sighed happily, pulled back out onto the autoroute, and headed for Calais, just a short distance away.
For Calais, and a future that promised to be at the very least interesting...
© May 2000 Joules Taylor
© 2000 WordWrights.