By Joana Dey



As we sat at the table that evening, listening to the speeches and well-wishes for the newly knighted Sir George Cowley, I looked at Ray, my partner for so long -- in all ways -- and thought how close we'd almost come to never seeing this night ...

It was my fault, though he denied it over and over. I looked the wrong way, and they smashed him over the head with a truncheon. Ever seen one? Big, black and heavy; it left a dent in my golly's head that I could almost put my fist into. Sure, there was another man aiming a gun at me. That's where I was looking. And that's who I shot while Ray was having his curls re-arranged.

I turned when I heard him grunt and gasp, in time to shoot before the man could strike again. Ray's eyes, big, green and surprised, looked at me, puzzled, before the lids closed over them and he tumbled to the pavement in a jumble of arms and legs. About then my heart thumped once, then froze.

His brain bled, swelled -- they said if he ever woke up he might not be the same. Brain damage. I was there every day, talking to him, holding his hand, trying to will him to live, to wake up, come back to me. Cowley tried to get me to leave, but gave it up as a bad job after a while. He knew, did Cowley, if anyone could get through Doyle's thick skull, it would be me.

He was in a coma for seven days and they were the longest of my life. I don't know why, but this time it seemed worse than when Mayli shot him and he'd almost died. Maybe because we were both older now. This coma was breathing death, a monster playing with my hopes and fears, turning me around and upside down.

They shaved his head when they stitched him up. All the curls I'd spent so many years playing with, dumped out with the rest of the hospital refuse. One of the nurses, an old friend from years back, rescued a lock for me. A mixture now of reddish-brown and gray, she handed it to me without comment, her lips pressed tightly together.

I thought a lot as he lay there. We'd been partners for 13 years, and lovers for 8 of them. The ironic joke in all this was the knowledge that we were coming in off the street in another few months. Cowley had privately made a decision, then talked to the two of us quietly and at great length about it. The day before the disaster he'd announced to one and all that agents 4.5 and 3.7 were moving into position as his assistants, to eventually take over as joint heads of CI5.

Later Ray'd laughed like a rusty drain at the thought of the two of us running things, before turning quiet and pensive, eyes staring at the ceiling. I finally wormed out of him that he couldn't imagine CI5 without Cowley at the helm. I suppose he hadn't realised until then just how fond he was of the old man. Once again mortality was sticking its nose into our business: first in the realisation that the Cow wouldn't be with us forever, then in Ray's hospital bed.

I spent seven long days and nights watching Ray breath. It took God six days to create the world -- so they say -- on the seventh He rested, and Doyle woke up. Confused, scared, hurting, but in one piece. When he'd managed to reorient himself, he told me he'd gotten tired of listening to me nattering on and on, and had woken so I'd shut up. He'd given a rather wobbly little smile after he said it, and my heart started beating again.

His vision wasn't as good as it'd been, and eventually he succumbed and bought glasses: big, round things that made his eyes seem huge. He was self-conscious about them, until I finally convinced him how damn sexy they made him look. He has a habit now -- when we're alone -- of pulling them down to the tip of his nose and glancing over the top while he flutters his lashes at me in one of his come-hither looks. He only does it when we're alone because he knows it drives me round the bend, and I end up ravishing him right then and there.

His curls never grew back. His hair, when it began to appear, was still soft but came back in slight waves, as though anything tighter was too tiresome to grow. At first he didn't seem to mind, and I was so happy I didn't care if he was bald, I just wanted him alive. After a while, he started to tug at it, wrapping it around his fingers as he dried it, trying to make it curly again. It made him angry, frustrated to the point of hitting out at something when it wouldn't do more than bend slightly.

It took some doing, but I finally got him to admit why he was so bothered about it. It shocked me when he finally opened up and told me what was wrong. He was afraid I didn't love him any more because I'd stopped playing with his hair the way I did before. My God, I'd been afraid to touch his head, terrified I'd hurt him or something. Naturally I immediately wrapped my hands around his stubborn skull, tangling my fingers in the waves, and swore I'd grow roots right then and there.

It made him laugh, and we'd gone on from there, another four years of loving and living, learning from Cowley, until the day came he decided we were ready. I wasn't quite sure of that, but he and Ray were, so the Cow stepped down, and we climbed into his too-big shoes. There was a huge do for him, his last day as head of CI5, and everyone showed up in wild spirits, carrying bottles of pure malt scotch. A few years later, her Majesty the Queen gave Cowley a well-deserved knighthood, and we all turned out for that party, too.


... so we sat together that night, Ray and I, alive and headed for our own eventual old age. The speeches went on, and I glanced over as I felt his gaze resting on me. He had his chin in his hand, and he was smiling, lights twinkling off the rim of his glasses. Slowly he stretched a finger up and slid the glasses to the end of his nose. I grinned back instinctively, then quickly looked away.

It really wouldn't do to suddenly start pasting kisses all over his face.