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Broken Wing

Broken Wing
by lamardeuse


Rating: NC-17 for language and adult themes, including M/M slash. Also, if aren't already familiar with what Special Forces types really do, and don't want to be, you may want to skip this one. Gee, I'm making it sound fabulous, aren't I?
Summary: They hadn't talked of it in eighteen years. He wasn't sure Murdock remembered it. Hell, he wished he didn't.
Feedback: is nummy.
Disclaimer: The A-Team does not belong to me (though when Hannibal wears those jeans I pray they did). D'you seriously think I could get paid for this stuff? All characters, alarums, excursions and concepts belong to Stephen J Cannell and Frank Lupo.
Author's Note: This is an exercise in slash, which quite frankly (and please, no offence to anyone) I was never interested in writing, and never thought I would write. I was intrigued, however, by the challenge of writing something that's outside my regular territory.



He remembered the time they had their first leave in Saigon and decided to spend it together, in order, they told themselves, to save money to buy more whores. Two almost-orphans bound together by the force of a war neither of them expected, they ignored all the questionable warnings from buddies about prostitutes with grenades stashed up their cunts. What difference would one more missing piece make in all this mess? Just say fuck it and screw on.

He had always liked women with a little extra meat on their bones, but finding a girl to fit that description in a war-ridden Asian country where most hadn't seen a decent meal in over a decade wasn't easy. Still, he had stumbled on a brothel in one of the more disreputable sectors whose girls tended toward the healthy, mature side, matronly almost. He comforted himself with the thought that an Oedipus complex wasn't so repulsive when your own mother was a dim memory.

But the buxom creature who'd welcomed him into her bed hadn't succeeded in her task, and he had left poorer and frustrated a half hour later. She had been too round, too soft; he was unaccustomed to the qualities after months of flying dead and dying men out of LZ's. Everything he knew now was hard, sharp, angular, from the unbeautiful lines of his slick to the jagged tree trunks that reached up to impale it to the looks in the eyes of the soldiers who survived, somehow. One of them was prowling the city himself, enjoying a too-brief taste of freedom, a reward for a dangerous mission among dangerous missions. Doubtless he was having no trouble losing himself in one willing woman after another. Christ, they'd probably pay him.

Consoling himself with a bottle of something made from rice that would probably end up blinding him, he staggered back to the hotel and collapsed on the bed nearest the door, not even bothering to turn on a lamp. He felt the wet splash of the liquor over his hand as it sloshed from its container, and tried to lever himself to an upright position. Rolling sideways when his arms refused to obey his commands, he encountered a wall of muscle and vaulted from the bed as though it had suddenly caught fire.

"Face?" he slurred, heart leaping in his chest cavity.

An incoherent mutter was the only answer. He flailed about for a light switch, finally hitting one. A dim yellow aura flooded the room.

Jesus. No blood, not a scratch. Just--

Hell.

He had met Templeton Peck in Danang, where he'd already racked up a dozen missions flying bunches of Green Beanies from one search-and-destroy mission to the next. There was talk of Hannibal Smith's group moving on to something new, a pacification scheme in the mountains, and he would be assigned to them permanently, or until bloodless acronyms such as KIA and MIA had consigned them all to the trash heap of this goddamned country. Then an FNG was dropped in their midst, a cowboy, he thought at first, trying to remain unimpressed when the cocky smile made its first appearance. Standards were going to ratshit, Smith told them all one night in the O Club, and it was getting so they were letting in guys who didn't even have a specialty, like languages or flight training. He figured this Peck was just another one of those, and it wouldn't pay to get too friendly with him, because he wasn't going to be around long enough. One of the acronyms would swoop down and bury his ass, and that would be that.

But then--and he couldn't pinpoint the exact chain of events that led to it--a strange thing happened. Within a short space of time, Peck the cowboy managed to be reborn as everyone's best buddy. To the grunts, he was the regular Joe who smuggled in cheap, medium quality booze, only taking a small cut for himself, a necessary shipping charge. To the sergeants and other NCOs, he was more than a candy-ass lieutenant, earning their grudging respect on missions where he displayed a flawless talent for bringing his men back home alive. To the officers, he was one of them, a man with a pedigree, written on forged papers--but hell, what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them. And to his CO, no stranger to the power of charm, he was a mirror image from twenty years gone. Hannibal Smith recognized in Peck the raw material for a son he'd never had, one to whom he could pass the torch after the older man had retired to the place where all good bullshit artists go.

And to Murdock? Strangest of all, for the lanky, honey-voiced Texan with the loping gait and the fast talking, supremely confident Californian had struck up an unlikely friendship. The pilot often felt ancient beside the other, even though only four years separated them. Mind you, while he had been in country longer than Peck, he knew the kinds of missions the Special Forces were given, and knew that he would have already seen too much, done too much. The lieutenant was not the type of soldier to wear the strings of ears some other men did, grisly trophies from a world turned upside down, but there was no doubt he had killed. And not the way a bomber crew does, clinically, from thirty thousand feet; not even the way a typical grunt does, unsure if his had been the bullet that had taken off the top of his adversary's head. No, Peck's kills would have been up close and personal, the better to pass silent and undetected through hostile territory.

Sometimes, imagination would take Murdock along with the Teams after he dropped them off for a night raid, and it would become so real that he'd feel the heft of the weapon in his hand. Take an eight-inch Randall blade, stab it into the neck just below the Adam's apple, then saw your way across, through the windpipe just as quick as you can. If you're lucky, you'll hit the jugular on the first try, and he'll bleed out fast. There's less struggling that way, and you need all your energy for stowing the body. Underwater in a muddy, sluggish stream or rice paddy is best, though you have to weigh it down somehow. The pilot knew the first time Peck had killed in this fashion, because when he had leapt out of the slick upon returning to base, his tiger stripes and left cheek were splattered generously with bright red. That was the one and only time he had seen the hollow, vacant look in the other man's eyes, the one so many couldn't dispel, not with alcohol or drugs but only, after they had tried everything else, with a well- placed bullet.

A couple of days later, the look disappeared, never to return, and Murdock marvelled at the switch in his friend's brain that could be flipped to make it all irrelevant, erased, forgotten the minute the mission was over. He, by contrast, dreamed about everything, about things that hadn't even happened to him, as though he were tuned in to the alpha waves of every grunt, Marine and flyboy in the Danang compound. And when they all got their transfers to Pleiku, things got worse. Because now there were children whose dreams he could share.

They didn't spend long in Rocket City before shipping out for a long-term counterinsurgency mission with the Yards. There was no real need for a pilot on this one, but Smith had wangled a transfer for Murdock after his ear for languages had been revealed. His astonishing talent for mimicry produced flawless accents in any tongue he attempted, from Spanish to Vietnamese. He spent a scant two months teaching himself the language of the country's indigenous mountain people and already spoke it better than many of the best brains at G2, not to mention the Company.

Hand picked by Smith himself, the Team consisted of five men including Peck, now nicknamed "Faceman" by the Colonel. No one wondered why, for even hardened soldiers could acknowledge beauty in their midst, albeit silently. Murdock shared a billet with him, a small hooch adjacent to those of the others on the edge of the village. It was close to the orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy, and Face was soon spending much of his off-duty time there. While Trigger, their medic, fed the kids from a seemingly endless supply of candy, healed their scrapes and bruises, and strode through the town on his long legs with a couple of them always trailing behind, Peck's devotions were more private. Murdock remembered waking in the middle of the night and being drawn to one of the long huts housing the children. He looked in the window, really a hole in the wall, and spied the lieutenant holding an infant in his arms and crooning an old lullaby. The child fussed, then quieted, and still he held it, as if reluctant to break the connection to this small bundle of life. Finally he placed it on its bed, and the pilot watched him squeeze his eyes shut tight, so tight, refusing to release whatever torrent was bottled up behind them.

And Murdock, who had spent three years in the Air Force and one in the Army, who had met all manner of men and felt nothing for any of them beyond friendship, experienced a yearning he couldn't dare name, that crept up behind him and poleaxed him.

Later, much later, after Peck was back in the hooch and sound asleep in his bunk, Murdock lay with his brown eyes soaking up the darkness and his limbs trembling under the weight of his shame.

"Face?"

In the jaundiced glow of the hotel room light, left arm flung up to shield his eyes from the sudden illumination, Peck was still beautiful. The pilot allowed himself a guilty moment to study the lines of the other man's form with his gaze. Tanned from forehead to waist, with only a light dusting of hair over his solid yet lean chest and arms, the angles and planes were so different from the softness that had tried, and failed, to comfort him earlier. And despite the briefness of the glance, despite the half a bottle of bootleg liquor in him and the self-loathing that clawed at his innards, he was rock-hard in an instant.

"Hmm. Murdock...." The moan cut through the fog in his brain, and he wheeled abruptly toward the bathroom. A shower, that was the answer. With any luck he'd drown. He flipped the switch back to off, praying Peck would soon be asleep again if he didn't.

Emerging half an hour later after a tepid trickle of water that had barely wet him down and a frantic hand job that had managed to kill his erection, he tiptoed over to the other bed and collapsed. He had known this leave would be a disaster; why had he ever agreed to go with him? Sharing the hooch had been torture, but this was perdition itself. The mission was over now; Trigger was dead, killed by a Marine who hadn't known he was shooting at Americans when he saw a bunch of guys in black pyjamas trekking barefoot through the jungle. Hopefully, he never would know. The rest of them had been given a week in Saigon, a consolation prize for zipping one of their own into a body bag.

"So how'd you do?"

Murdock jumped at the question, which seemed to sprout from the darkness beside his right ear. "Great. Jus' great." The alcohol was starting to wear off, leaving him bone-tired, but the adrenaline shot through him and produced a strange giddiness. "You?"

"I found a crazy spot near the American Embassy--high class, finest kind."

"You would," the pilot murmured. Then, some devil in him spoke. "Got back pretty early."

"They wore me out." Murdock could hear the grin in his voice. But had there been a split second's delay before the answer came?

Christ, he was imagining things--again.

"Hey, you all right?"

"Fine," the pilot answered, too sharply. Then he heard the creak of bedsprings, and a moment later felt a dip in his own mattress. Jesus jesus jesus--

"You didn't get rolled or anything? You know, some of those places are vicious if you don't know them."

"Oh, and you do?" bit out Murdock, hoping the anger would drive him off. "You Catholic boys know all about whorehouses, do you? They teach that in catechism?"

"No," Face replied quietly. "But seeing as how I'm already going to Hell a dozen times over, I figure I might as well cover all the territory."

The words were so startling, it was all he could do to keep from reaching out to touch the other man. He listened to the sound of their breathing for a moment, then shook his head. "You don't really believe that."

A dry chuckle, unconvincing. "I guess not. No point in believing in much of anything in this fucked-up place, is there?" An eternity passed, then the pilot felt his hand being engulfed by another. "Just the guys at your back. That's all there is to believe in."

Murdock shut his eyes to savour the sensation of the warm, strong fingers gripping his. If this was to be all he could have, he told himself, it would be enough. It had to be.

"Hey. Your pulse is racing. What was that shit you were drinking? Maybe you'd better--"

"I'm fine!" he shouted, jerking his hand away. "It's wearing off. Stop motherin' me, willya? Christ, who's older'n who around here?"

"Okay, okay. I can't help it; I was in pre-med before--" He trailed off, then expelled a sharp breath. "I'll leave you alone." But still he didn't get up, and then he spoke again, his voice turning low and urgent, the words tumbling out as though they had been demanding their freedom for a long time. "It's only that you talked a lot in your sleep, in the hooch. I couldn't make out most of it, but-- it didn't sound good, Murdock. You might want to talk to someone at the Long Binh hospital while you're here--"

"Fuck!" the pilot yelled, springing to his feet, ignoring the dizzying wave that threatened to topple him. "So I can do what? Check into their loony bin? You think I haven't already thought of that, that I'm goin' nuts? Not all at once, but nice and slow, by degrees, every night? You say that I'm talkin'? Well, I'll tell you somethin'. I'm not talkin', I'm listening. Listening to all the voices of all the guys and the women and the kids..." He felt the plaster of the wall against his bare back and welcomed the coolness of it, the solidity. He didn't want to admit there were nights when he was afraid to go to sleep, and not merely because of the dreams of death and dying, but because sometimes he dreamed about--

A warm palm connected with his chest, over his heart.

Maybe he was already dreaming.

"I don't think you're crazy," came the whisper, oddly calming despite his agitated state. "You just feel it more than the rest of us."

"How do you do it?" Murdock blurted. "How do you keep it from touching you?"

The other man laughed, and he could feel the warm breath stir the hair on his pectoral muscle. "Psychology 101. I never thought that course would be good for shit, but it taught me one thing. It was the latest treatment for schizophrenic patients, maybe, I don't remember, but we tried it as an exercise. You make yourself a box, and put everything you don't want to deal with, everything you don't want to acknowledge you saw, or did, into it, and lock the lid down tight. It really works." Murdock could just make out Peck's features in the dim glow from the street spilling in the window, and could see the brightness in his gaze. "Trouble is, it keeps filling up, and it keeps getting harder to hold down the lid. I have to wonder if that sucker is going to explode like a trick cigar someday."

The pilot was alternately terrified by and grateful for the hand on his chest, for it was the only thing holding him up at that moment. "I c-couldn't--" he stammered "--tonight. I couldn't--"

The hand began a slow circling motion. "Yeah. Neither could I."

When the other man's mouth was an inch from his own, the terror struck again, and he balked, one last time, like a wild horse fighting the bit between his teeth.

"Shh," Peck soothed, gentling him with a feather-light touch. "It's dark enough. It's dark enough."


*************

By the time he turned fifteen, he had become pretty adept at giving blow jobs.

That made it sound much more worthy of the National Enquirer than it actually was. In fact, he had been involved in only one homosexual relationship, if you could call it that. A boy two years older and about fifty pounds heavier had taken a liking to him, and in no time at all had taught him the rudiments of pleasuring another guy with his lips and tongue. It wasn't as horrible as he thought it would be when he and his buddies sat around out in the bushes behind the orphanage, smoking cigarettes and talking about how Billy Montrose had learned first hand, so to speak, that the new assistant priest was a major league faggot. None of them ever volunteered for altar boy duties after that.

No, it wasn't as bad as all that, but it wasn't a lot of fun, either, especially since Reggie tended to beat the shit out of him if he did it wrong. Given that incentive, it didn't take him long to become a real expert, right down to swallowing, which Reggie highly enjoyed. It wasn't until he turned sixteen, after Reggie had left for good, that he found out what faggots also liked to do to each other, and he offered up a prayer of thanks for the big bastard's proclivities--or lack of experience. But it would only be a matter of time before a more adventurous suitor came along. He wasn't blind; he knew from an early age that he was the best-looking thing without boobs going in that place.

And that was about the time he started working out, building layers of lean, ropy muscle on his skinny frame. The final effect was deceptive; he still didn't look like much, but he had the strength of a guy twice his size, and a hell of a lot more agility. No one would ever again do to him what Reggie did, though it wasn't for lack of trying. It wasn't the sexuality of it that had bothered him so much, he reflected years later, as the fact that it hadn't been about sex in the first place. No matter how well-run it was--and one indication of that was the swift transfer of that assistant priest--an orphanage was still an orphanage. There were a lot of confused, lonely kids in there, all looking for love, but never having been shown how, their interpretations of it were often extremely fucked up. Reggie's kind of love had been all about himself, and about power over another life. Once he understood that, he was determined if anyone was going to have the power in a relationship, it would be him.

Determination had sailed out the window the minute he met Leslie Becktall. She was the logical accompaniment to everything he was in the process of becoming, a clean-cut, someday-doctor who gave out with the corsages and fraternity pins like Andy fucking Hardy. Unfortunately, he also loved her more than his pride or his good sense, or he would've noticed the faraway look in her eyes when he bent to kiss her good night. His ladder to success had toppled when she disappeared, and in his haste to fill the vacuum he'd made the biggest decision of his life. Six months later he was carrying forty pounds of gear and a rifle through a jungle half a world away, wondering if the power he'd been so hot to take hold of was ever going to be his for the taking. And so he returned to old patterns, a hustler in a nation overflowing with them, sure of only one thing: he was going to be the best one that fleabitten country had ever seen.

He was also a soldier, and since he figured he might as well get good at that, too, he aimed for the Green Berets. John Wayne had made them national icons--or laughingstocks, if you were a student on the Berkeley campus, but he sure as shootin' wasn't there--and he would be a part of them if it killed him. It just about did, but he had the satisfaction of knowing that the power was now most definitely his. Regular grunts parted like the Red Sea when he walked by, because everybody knew the Beanies and the SEALs and the Force Recon bastards were nuttier'n a tree full of squirrels. Such a reputation definitely helped to grease the wheels when you were in need of a particularly hard-to-find piece of equipment. The REMFs in the Quartermaster Corps got a little weak in the knees when they contemplated how many ways you could hurt them without leaving any marks.

Of course, half of that reputation was bullshit, but he had never been averse to that in his long and distinguished career, which had started, let's see, when he was nine and he and Stinky O'Hara had started the illicit bubblegum and Coke-smuggling ring at the orphanage. That was when the nuns had been going through their "scientific method" phase. One of them had read a book on the health dangers of sugar to young minds and bodies, and it was carrot sticks for everybody for two years. Christ, it had worked better than Prohibition. In no time at all he and Stinky had been able to afford new bikes, not the crummy castoffs from rich kids they usually got, with the spokes all rusted and the seats worn bare. High times, indeed.

For all his bluster and ballsiness, though, he had never been a particularly hard kid, and at times he wished he could make himself more durable. Some of the others--well, they had retreated so far inside themselves they'd never make it out again. He understood the value of a good defence system, but on the other hand, he always had it in the back of his mind that he was destined for a "normal" life someday, with all that entailed. It simply wouldn't do, when you were hanging out with the other surgeons at the country club, enjoying Waldorf salad and caviar sandwiches after a round of golf, to have some sort of psychotic episode related to your unresolved issues at never being loved as a child. That just wasn't going to cut it with the four hundred.

In the same way, it wasn't going to help to start screaming about Charlie in the wire, and so he tried hard to keep it light from the minute he set foot in country. Stay on the surface, don't get involved, go somewhere else for a little while in your head if you have to, that's okay too. Hell, it had worked when he was jacking off Reggie and when the hundredth pair of potential parents had come and gone, why not now?

But then Murdock had come along and blown all his carefully laid plans to ratshit.

No, it wasn't fair to blame him; after all, it wasn't Murdock who had closed the distance between them in that Saigon hotel room. But it had started long before then, when he had first seen the tall, goofy-looking Texan grin, and something in him he thought had died with Leslie woke from a deep sleep. Everything the man felt was written on his face and in his deep brown eyes; Temp had never met anyone with so little protection, and it awed him. In Vietnam, you needed six inches of armour just to stay upright, and Murdock knew that. He just refused to change who he was, admit the war could break him. In that respect, he was braver than all of them.

But break him it did, and Face had seen the beginnings of it in the mountains. He'd lied to his friend when he said he couldn't make out what he said in his sleep. In truth, he'd lay awake nights listening to the parade of voices, his blood chilling when the tones turned childish, and the words that spilled out were in Montagnard. In spite of the language, it sounded exactly like the orphanage; the suffering of kids was universal. What startled him was the way in which Murdock had been able to tap into it so easily. He'd had a pretty stable upbringing after losing his mother, raised by two doting grandparents on a farm near Beaumont. On some level, it irritated him, having his psyche opened up by a guy who had no rights to the key, and no idea he had it.

The hell of it was, no one had ever understood him the way Murdock did. And he knew this, even though they never had long heart to heart talks or bared their souls to one another. He knew it from a look Murdock would give him when he was bullshitting in the O Club or when they prepared to start an assault on an enemy position. The look said, simply, I am here, and I will not leave. And that was exactly what Temp had been waiting his whole life to hear.

There had come a point where he recognized something new in the pilot's look, something he could see the other man was afraid to acknowledge in himself. He'd seen variations of it before, and it usually raised his hackles, but lodged as it was in those kind eyes it lacked any accompanying threat of harm. Being an object of lust was a familiar role, but an object of affection? The other boys and men who'd looked at him in that way had always wanted to take something from him. Murdock's gaze was nothing but a gift, no strings attached.

And that was why Peck tried to return the favour by leaving him alone. It would have been easy to stop the too-gentle pilot's mouth with his own, late at night, to silence the voices for a little while, and no one need have known. No one, that is, besides Murdock, and Temp feared for the last shreds of his friend's tattering sanity if he held up a mirror to needs and desires he didn't want to face.

Why, then, did he force his way past the other man's defences, inadequate as he knew they were, on that night in Saigon? Pure selfishness, that was why. He had been frustrated by whorehouses where the faces of the women reminded him of the people he had gutted and discarded. He walked the city from one end to the other until nightfall, then returned to the hotel, exhausted. When Murdock turned on the light and he felt the warm brown gaze heat his bare skin, something in him shut down, and he brushed the white-robed angel off his shoulder and into the trash along with all the other trappings of conscience and morality.

--Seeing as how I'm already going to Hell a dozen times over, I figure I might as well cover all the territory.--

The rain pounded on the tin roof all week, not that it mattered since they rarely ventured outside the confines of the hotel room. They slept during the days, only coming together in the dark, spending hours just kissing and touching and exploring with hands and mouths, tentatively at first, then bolder and more desperately as the week waned. It was as if both of them knew, though they didn't talk about it, that there would never be a repeat of this, and so they would pile up memories to keep for later years, or maybe only until next Friday, depending on their luck. Temp remembered being surprised by the smooth skin of his sides, about the only place on him not covered in hair. He remembered tracing the jut of narrow hipbones with his tongue, and feeling his cock harden against the mattress when a hand reached down, not to control him, but to stroke the top of his head gently, so gently. It was the tenderness he cherished most--yeah, cherished, that was the word, what the hell--on the quiet nights afterward when he remembered the incoherent sounds of pleasure his friend had made, low and almost musical, and thought, at least I gave him that. At least the voices left him for a while.

Temp could relive every detail of that week, wondered how the hell it was possible after all the soft-bodied women in the intervening years. Maybe it was the way they had fit together despite the sameness, despite the strangeness of it for both of them. But then, it was a strange time, when you slept, ate, breathed in a world populated entirely by men, owed them your life a dozen times over. The intensity of it wasn't easy to describe, to explain; it had a power to elevate the profane to the level of the sacred, and to trample sacraments in the dust.

Eighteen years later, he was standing on the other side of a steel door, waiting for the courage to ring the doorbell. Whether or not Murdock would let him in was a whole other issue.

He wasn't sure if the other man remembered any of that week, after everything he went through later, when large pieces of his life conveniently disappeared, his dormant survival instinct finally kicking in and flipping the switch. He supposed it didn't matter anyway, except that now he had hurt him, had maybe even permanently maimed whatever they had between them.

Whatever.

Why think about it now? Must've been the extended visit with Ellen, getting to know the first person he could actually claim as family, filling her in on his life story, with certain parts tactfully omitted. She was like him in so many ways, it was frightening for both of them at first; but once recognized, the fear dissolved in relieved laughter and, yes, tears, one late night. They were each scarred by the absence of a father whom Temp was just beginning to realize had made him what he was, as surely as if the man had sat beside him at the dinner table every night for eighteen years. It was hard to leave her, and only possible when the promise to return, soon, was given, but once he was on the plane back to Washington, he knew where he had to go.

"You gonna stand out there all night playin' with yourself?"

Temp suppressed an undignified yelp as the curtains in the front window parted to reveal Murdock, a fond smile visible in the light from the street. His heart leapt from the surprise and from hope, fragile though it was.

"Wasn't sure if you'd let me in," he returned, hoping the sulkiness would make him loveable.

What the hell?

"Not sure if I will either," came the mischievous reply. "Rock, paper, scissors, on the count of three." Incredulous, Temp watched as the pilot shook his fist at him, one, twice, and then his hand flattened, palm down. "C'mon, it's no good unless you play too. Ready?" He waited patiently until Face held out his fist, then repeated the count. "One, two, three."

Scissors.

Rock.

"You lose," he breathed.

"I'm not so sure," Murdock told him, then disappeared. He waited, willing his lungs to pump air.

Five agonizing seconds, and the sound of locks turning reached his fogged brain. The pilot held the door open wide, and Temp stepped into the apartment.

He'd been here before, once, with the guys, when Murdock had thrown a housewarming party and they'd neutralized Huey, Dewey and Louie, thrown off their chains for a while. It had been improved considerably since then, with knickknacks and lived-in touches that spoke of his friend. Most notably, he'd framed a couple of pictures of the four of them, one from 'Nam and another from a few Christmases ago. In the first one, the pilot had his arm thrown casually over the other man's shoulder, easy, unselfconscious, not long after they'd become friends. In the second, probably taken by Amy, the reverse, but Murdock had his head turned slightly toward him, and the camera just caught the look in his warm brown eyes.....

Jesus. Sweet Jesus.

No. He'd never seen it. How--

"When you get back?"

Temp shook himself, checked his watch. "About an hour ago," he murmured.

A beat. "This place is an hour from the airport."

"Yeah."

"Late flight."

He checked his watch again. Oh two hundred.

"Murdock, I--" he began. Stopped himself.

--One thing I've always liked about you 'n' me, that's our fights, 'cuz we don't have to stumble over our lips apologizing.--

"Do you remember Saigon?" The words were out before he knew they were coming. Oh, Christ, Christ. Would he never stop hurting him?

But the other man's eyes revealed nothing, as though he had been expecting the question. He thought back to a patrol, right before Murdock was hospitalized for the first time, when he'd yelled at Temp to get down, and a split second later Charlie had opened up from the trees. He'd always been tuned to a frequency none of them fully understood.

The pilot nodded slowly. "Yeah. I remember."

"I, ah, wasn't sure," he managed. "You forgot a lot of things."

"Uh huh. The good with the bad."

"Which was it?"

Now the eyes registered surprise, maybe a bit of pain. "You gotta ask?"

"No, not for me, but I--ah, God," he breathed, running a frustrated hand through his hair. "I always believed--that I took advantage of you. That I--I used you." He was annoyed to feel his throat close up, and fought to talk around it. "You didn't want it."

A tight smile, with no hint of humour this time. "You in the mood for late-night confessions, Faceman? 'Cuz I sure as hell ain't qualified to hear 'em."

"Did you want it?" Did you want me? his mind whispered. Do you still?

And which answers did he want to hear?

"What d'you want me to say?" the pilot returned quietly, tapping effortlessly into his thoughts. "You want me to get down on my knees and worship at the fuckin' altar like everybody else? Well, you're goin' to be disappointed. I don't worship you. I see all the wrinkles and scars and warts, the ones you think you've got hidden. The selfishness, the arrogance, the vanity, the conniving, I've seen it from the minute you showed up in country. You don't have any secrets from me."

This was it, then, he told himself. This was the end. "Murdock--"

"Let me finish!" he snapped. Took a step closer, then another, until they were almost toe to toe. Studied him until Temp squirmed like a bug speared on a pin. "Yeah, you got no secrets from me. But the biggest one, the saddest one, is that way deep down, where you think nobody else can see it, is a little kid who doesn't think anybody's ever gonna love him."

Gut-punched, he could do nothing but splutter. "Y-you--you--"

The other man held up a hand, a calming gesture. "But he's wrong, Face. He's wrong."

"You can't know!" The cry was high and keening, and it took him several seconds to realize it was coming from his own throat. "You--how do you know? How did you always know? It's not fair, dammit! It's not--" He ran out of breath then, and when he drew in air again he choked on a sob.

Arms enfolded him, and it felt like home. A home he'd never known, never expected, but home nevertheless.

And suddenly he knew which answer he had been hoping, praying, to hear.

"It's not fair," the other agreed softly, stroking his hair. "No, it's not. I asked for a model with tits, and look what they give me."

Temp raised his head and made a halfhearted move to get free, but the pilot held him fast. Strong fingers reached up to take his chin.

"You want me to say I chose this? I didn't. It would have been sweeter with somebody like Kelly, a hell of a lot less complicated with Jody Joy. But somehow my big ol' feet kept bringing me back to this, every time." He cocked his head and smiled sadly. "How can I find everything with someone else when we've already seen everything, done everything, been everything? You know the answer to that one, muchacho?"

He stared into the brown eyes, as warm as they were that rainy week in Saigon. "You can't. I've tried."

"And?" The syllable revealed a vast, deep vulnerability that turned his atrophied heart over in his chest.

He didn't answer in words, just leaned in slowly, so slowly, and closed the distance.

When they parted, Temp murmured, "You want to turn off the lights?"

The other shook his head. "It's dark enough."


End

Author's feetnote: Geez. Here I was determined to write a sad ending, but I just couldn't. I love 'em too much, and it's my little universe, dammit. Thanks for reading.


Broken Wing by lamardeuse

 

 


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