Curtis looked up, following his partner's gaze. Backus had just arrived, closely followed by Ghost, who...
Yes. He could see why Keel was impressed. Long legs clad in tight black jeans, loose, silky black shirt, ankle boots... she still looked like a skinny - albeit pretty - boy, but at least she now looked stylish as well. Even if it was a somewhat 'original' style...
Keel grabbed two glasses of the champagne Malone had provided and headed for the two women, smiling.
"Hi yourself." Backus smiled and sipped the champagne. "How'd it go?"
"Oh, y'know - the usual. Blew up a few labs, brought down a few bad guys, saved the world again... Geneva's a great place." He glanced briefly at Curtis, frowning slightly. "Would've been nice to have explored a bit. But Sam wanted to get back."
"Missed that sexy smile of yours, Backup." Curtis smiled and raised his glass. Backus snorted.
"Sure you did."
"Anyway, I've promised to take Chris back for a weekend."
Keel grinned. "For my birthday, he says. I'll believe it when I see it. How were things here?"
"Tense." Backus glanced at Ghost, smiling. "But we managed."
"Yeah - you make a great team..."
"You sure you're OK?"
Bodie frowned. As they'd approached London Doyle had become more and more preoccupied, his conversation more desultory. By the time they reached Bodie's Chelsea apartment he'd stopped talking altogether.
It was a full minute before he spoke.
"Do I really need to go?"
Bodie paused in pulling on his jacket. "Malone will want to arrange a debriefing. Anyway, I thought you said you weren't going to run away any more."
"Yeah, I know... It's just..."
"CI5 - I know." Bodie sighed. "You've got to face it sometime, sunshine. Exorcise those ghosts. Why not get it over with now? Then you can relax. They're OK, you know - quite a friendly crowd."
Doyle regarded his partner for a long moment, then nodded.
"Better go now, then. Before I change my mind."
Malone met them, smiling broadly, hand extended.
"Mr Doyle, it is a pleasure and an honour to meet you. I'd like to extend heartfelt thanks, on behalf of us all, for your assistance. Thanks to you, DemeCeres is no longer a threat."
Doyle shook the proffered hand, then reached into his pocket.
"Just make sure these don't get broken."
He handed over the sealed package, frowning. Did it feel a bit on the light side? He shook his head slightly. Probably just his imagination...
Gingerly, Malone handed the package over to the technician hovering at his side, who eased it into a padded case. "We'll get these to our lab as soon as possible. In the meantime, there are a lot of people who want to meet you."
Malone ushered the pair ahead of him, smiling.
The control room was buzzing. Conversation, laughter, the clink of glasses - Malone had even arranged for a variety of hors d'oeuvres to be provided...
Doyle looked around the room, eyes wide, and nudged his partner.
"Bit different to Cowley's day."
Bodie smiled. "Yeah. More women, for one thing."
"I know. But I'm lovely with it..."
Malone turned to them, smiling.
"Mr Doyle, come and meet the young woman who was responsible for your safety while you were inside the complex." Malone paused, watching the artist. Bodie stared at his partner's face.
Doyle had stopped walking, his expression carefully neutral - only someone who knew him as well as Bodie could see the apprehension, the uneasiness, in the artist. He was staring at Ghost, standing a short distance away, talking to Backus, Curtis and Keel with her back to the room. Doyle swallowed nervously. His voice was clear and admirably controlled.
Ghost stiffened, her shoulders tensing as she abruptly cut off whatever she had been saying to Backus. Slowly, unwillingly, her face grim, she turned to face Doyle.
In the ensuing stunned silence you could have heard a feather drop. Doyle simply watched for a moment or two, then a nervous half-smile began to etch itself onto his face. He inclined his head.
Her face like the proverbial thunderstorm, Ghost's head lowered, and, doing a very decent impersonation of an enraged bull, she strode the few steps to Doyle. As she reached him, she placed her hands flat against his chest - and shoved so hard he was forced to take a step backwards, against Bodie who had moved to stand behind him.
Everyone watched the spectacle, mouths and eyes wide open.
"Nice to see you, too. What the bloody 'ell have you done to your hair?"
"Fuck my hair! And don't call me Rachael. It's Ghost. Or Ray, if you really have to."
Against his back Doyle could feel Bodie laughing. "Two Ray Doyles? My god - it's the end of civilisation as we know it..."
Ghost glared at Doyle, her eyes growing brighter, her lips trembling almost imperceptibly. Then she flung her arms around him and hugged hard.
"God, I've missed you, you scruffy old sod."
Doyle hugged back, his own eyes suspiciously bright. "Who're you calling scruffy? And less of the old." He pushed her back, just far enough that he could look into her face. "I missed you too."
For a moment they simply gazed at each other, unaware of the sentimental smiles they were causing on the faces of everyone around them. Then Doyle shook his head slightly and scowled. "But someone needs to talk to you about your timing. You cut it a bit fine with some of those locks, you know."
Ray took a step back and planted her hands on her hips. "Oh, that's rich! Coming from someone who doesn't know his mouse from his motherboard..."
She stopped as she caught sight of his grin, and grinned back. Then her gaze flickered to Bodie, and the smile dimmed a little. Doyle turned to his partner, one arm protectively across his daughter's shoulders.
"Rach... Ray, this is Bodie. Bodie - my daughter."
Bodie raised one small hand to his lips, kissing the palm, and smiled his most charming smile at the young woman.
"You're a credit to your father - and a good deal more attractive."
If he was hoping to make his usual impression, he was disappointed. Ghost regarded him for a moment from those oh-so-familiar big green eyes, then glanced at her father.
"Was he always like this?"
Doyle chuckled. "Most of the time, yeah."
She shook her head. "You poor thing...."
Doyle watched Bodie's mouth drop open, and patted Ghost's arm.
"Could you get us a drink?"
She glanced from her father to Bodie and back again, and nodded.
"Back in a mo."
Bodie swiftly recovered his aplomb, gazing after Ghost with a shrewdly appreciative expression. "She takes after you, doesn't she?"
Doyle grunted. "Too much, if you ask me."
Bodie smiled. "I think she's rather - cute."
Doyle eyed him. "Oh yeah? And you think I'm cute too, I suppose?"
"You have your moments. Is she attached?"
Doyle glared at him. "You what..?" He leaned back, hands on hips, frowning belligerently. "You randy old goat! You after me daughter now?"
Bodie looked hurt. "Of course not! I...."
Doyle didn't give him a chance to finish. "Forget it. You're old enough to be her fath... You're too old."
Bodie laid a hand on his partner's shoulder, soothing his agitation. "Actually, I was thinking of offering her a job. I can always use a decent hacker..."
Backus frowned. "So Ghost agreed to delete Doyle's records because he's her father."
Malone nodded. "It would appear so."
"Did you know about that, sir?"
"I had my suspicions."
"So, why did he want them deleted?"
"That, Miss Backus, we may never know." Malone was gazing thoughtfully at Ghost. Backus could almost hear the cogs turning, and wasn't too surprised when he turned to her.
"I wonder how Miss Doyle would feel about joining us."
Backus gazed at the controller for a moment or two. "Do you really think Whitehall would approve of you recruiting a criminal? Sir?" she added as Malone's eyebrows rose sharply.
"A criminal, Miss Backus?"
Backus debated pushing her luck - but Malone was obviously in a good mood... She shrugged and risked a smile.
"She lives by stealing from multinationals and government departments. She's never paid tax in her life, she's deleted her own and her father's records from just about every agency with electronic access, and she's even hacked into our database. Most people would call that criminal, sir."
Malone nodded pensively, his eyes still on the father and daughter, currently talking to Keel. "Yes, they would wouldn't they? I wonder how she'd handle a gun?"
"Sir, are you serious?"
"Let me put it this way, Miss Backus. Would you rather have her with us, or against us?"
"I'd rather have her somewhere I - we - could keep an eye on her..." Backus said slowly.
"And where would be the best place for that?"
"Precisely. Now, will you ask her, or shall I?"
Ghost chewed on her lower lip for a moment, then shook her head. "I don't think so. I prefer a more interesting life."
Behind her back, Doyle's eyes twinkled with glee and he bit back a laugh. Backus gaped - and even Malone was speechless for a moment. He recovered swiftly.
"I assure you things are usually a little more... active than you have yet seen. You would be able to continue what you do best, of course. And you would be in the rare and happy position of helping your fellow man."
"I really don't give a flying fu.... fart... about my 'fellow man'." Ghost's voice was sardonic. "And I don't see why you'd need another hacker. She's quite good enough for CI5."
Backus - the she in question - shook her head, smiling. Ghost grinned.
"You tracked me down. No-one else's ever done that."
"Perhaps, Miss Backus, you could give Ghost some idea of what working for CI5 would be like. It really is a very challenging life. And you'd have access to all the computer equipment you could ever want."
"That's true." Backus nodded. "All cutting edge stuff. You'd love it."
Ghost frowned, then shook her head.
"I don't think..."
Malone raised a hand. "Wait until you've heard what Miss Backus has to say. There's no hurry."
A little later, when the initial euphoria had settled down into a sense of satisfaction and the control room was beginning to return to normal, Keel caught Backus's attention, and gestured to his partner.
"We're thinking about hitting a club. You two like to come?"
Backus glanced at Ghost, who shook her head.
"I'm tired. And I don't like noise and crowds. Besides, I need to get all my stuff back to my place and check there've been no problems while I've been here."
"I'll give you a hand." Backus smiled at Keel. "I'm tired too. Maybe next time."
"But before you go..." Ghost planted a hand on one hip. "You never did tell me the one about the systems analyst and the headless chicken..."
Keel blushed and glanced at Curtis, who was grinning widely.
As Keel, closely followed by his partner, fled for the exit, Ghost scowled.
"I hate it when people do that." She shook her head, and smiled at Backus. "Thanks for the offer - I'll take you up on it. How about stopping over? There's plenty of room, and I'm sure I left some wine in the fridge... Then maybe you could tell me what CI5 is all about."
Backus glanced at Malone, who nodded. "In fact, Miss Backus, why don't you take the next two days off."
Backus blinked. Malone was looking positively benevolent. Then again, they had just saved the world. Well, the male part of it, anyway...
"Thank you, sir. I could do with the rest..."
"Fine, fine. I'll see you back here in 48 hours, then." He smiled and moved over to talk to Spencer and Richards. Backus grinned at Ghost and pulled a miniature screwdriver from her pocket.
"Let's go make a start, shall we?"
Ghost was looking past her, towards Doyle.
"You go ahead. I won't be a minute."
Backus followed her glance, smiled and nodded, and made her way into Malone's office.
Bodie was regaling a couple of the young female operatives with stories of what CI5 had been like in his day while Doyle looked on, grinning and occasionally shaking his head at his partner's outrageous fabrications. He turned as Ghost appeared at his side, and touched her cheek gently.
"You OK, love?"
She laid her own hand over his and smiled.
"I'm fine. I need to leave in a little while. Tina's coming back with me, to help get all my equipment back where it belongs. But I need to know something first."
He inclined his head. Her expression was serious.
"What is it?"
"Will you still be here tomorrow? I mean, are you going to disappear again?"
He pulled her into a hug, running his hand over her hair, missing the curls she'd had the last time they'd met.
"No love. I've done more than enough running away to last me the rest of my life. I'm not going to run any more."
He felt her relax against him, sighing, and her lips brushed his cheek.
"Good. We've got a lot of catching up to do."
The room was quiet now. The night shift were at their stations, calmly and efficiently monitoring the state of the world. Malone was in his temporary office, reassuring his counterparts in other countries that the danger was - for now at any rate - over and catching up on current events. Ghost and Backus had left half an hour ago: Ghost had extracted a promise, first, that Bodie treat them both, and her father, to dinner the following day.
Bodie sipped at a last glass of slightly warm champagne, leaned back in his seat and sighed contentedly.
He and Doyle had escaped to Malone's office, still heaped with computer equipment but out of the way of those who were working. They'd sat in a companionable silence for some time, enjoying the satisfaction of a job well done, but more than that, the joy of being in each other's presence again. Bodie broke the silence.
"What are you going to do now?"
Doyle settled himself more comfortably on the chair and propped his legs, crossed at the ankle, up on one of the few free areas of the desk.
"Spend a bit of time with Rachael. Get to know her all over again. Y'know Malone wants to recruit her?"
Bodie smiled. "I'm not surprised. You think she'll go for it?"
Doyle shrugged. "Hard to tell with Ray. Have to wait and see. But I'm not losing her again. Or lettin' her lose me."
"What about you?"
"Haven't decided. But it may be time for a change of direction. You going back to Italy?"
Doyle looked towards the door and held his thumb out at arms length, inclining his head and squinting along his arm.
"I hear the scenery's beautiful in Ireland."
Bodie regarded him thoughtfully, hiding his delighted anticipation. "Oh, it is. An artist's dream come true."
Doyle pursed his lips, still gazing into the distance.
"You got plenty of room in that big house of yours?"
Bodie nodded. "Practically empty most of the time. Great cook. Nice estate, too. A stream, gentle hills, a wood just crying out for someone to ride through it..."
"Easy hop over to London, too, isn't it?"
"Takes no time at all."
"That's what I thought." He turned to face his partner.
Bodie grinned, unable to keep the happiness from his eyes. "So when are you moving in?"
© Joules Taylor, 28th May 2000
© 2000 WordWrights.