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This page last viewed: 2017-12-16 and has been viewed 2566 times
Rating: NC-17 for language and adult themes, including M/M slash.
Summary: Murdock deals with the guilt he feels concerning Face's shooting in the restaurant. Plot? You want plot, maybe? Have some borscht instead. Mit egg in it, nu?
Feedback: validates me as a human being.
Disclaimer: The A-Team does not belong to me--more's the pity. All characters, alarums, excursions and concepts belong to Stephen J Cannell and Frank Lupo.
Author's Note: This is a sequel to my first slash fic, "Broken Wing", which is kinda sorta required reading, I guess. I can't believe I wrote another one. Spoilers in here for "Without Reservations".
The phone's jangling notes knifed through the darkening living room. Murdock sighed and reached out to snag the receiver. No rest for the wicked.
"Dinky Dau's Barber Shop and Massage Parlour, at your service," he singsonged.
"Great. I was looking for a place that gives good hair."
Murdock grinned. Hannibal never missed a beat. "Long time no talkee, Colonel."
"I wish I could say I was calling just to touch base, but Stockwell's got another job in the works, and we're gonna need a pilot."
"Sure thing. When you need me?"
"I'll have to phone you back. I was hoping to have a briefing tonight, but Face has been AWOL since yesterday afternoon and hasn't checked in yet."
"Well, give me a jingle when he turns up and I'll be out in a flash."
"Will do. Later."
As Murdock returned the receiver to its cradle, a sleepy voice murmured, "You're a pretty good liar."
The pilot looked down at his lap, meeting Face's clear blue gaze. The emotion in it still robbed his breath after all these months. "Wasn't a lie," he corrected, fingers stroking the dark blond hair. "He never asked me if I knew where you were."
Face made a noncommittal sound in the back of his throat that turned into a groan as Murdock continued his gentle ministrations. It had taken them over eighteen years to reach this point, and he still couldn't quite believe it most days. Nights, now, that was different, because that's when Face slipped out of the Langley compound to visit him. Hannibal and the others figured he'd found himself a new woman--or women--and Stockwell tolerated it because he didn't have a choice. If he reprimanded one of them, they'd all start going over the wall just to piss him off.
The nights--God. Murdock would never have imagined himself doing some of the things he and Face got up to. And it wasn't only the sex that blew his mind--as mind-blowing as it was. It was the fact that the connection between them was like nothing he'd ever experienced. He'd always been tuned to Face like a crystal set, aware of his moods, his fears, his joys. But when he trailed his hands and mouth over his skin, it was like plugging a two-bit radio into the amplifiers at a Stones concert. Rock 'n' roll all the way, baby.
And then it had all come crashing down around his ears when Face had been gutshot on a night three months ago. Murdock had almost lost him, and lost himself in the process. Watching him bleed out on the floor of that kitchen had nearly sent him back to the land of the bogs and the little people. If he hadn't made it....Jesus, let it go. He'd had enough nightmares about that since it happened. It was a wonder Face kept coming around.
Since his release from the hospital, however, Face had been spending even more time with him, recovering, healing, and seeking reassurance the pilot wasn't sure he knew how to give. Of course, it didn't help that Murdock was swamped by guilt every time he so much as looked at him now. Although he knew rationally there was nothing he could have done to prevent the shooting, his overactive mind still turned the possibilities this way and that, twisting and bending them until his brain felt like a pretzel. If he hadn't asked Face and Frankie to get involved, if he hadn't invited them to the restaurant that evening, if he hadn't been working at the damn restaurant in the first place. If, if, if. A hundred permutations, any one of them leading to a reality where that terrible night never happened.
"Hey, you awake up there?"
Murdock started, realizing he'd been completely lost inside his own head. Dangerous to go there again. "Yeah," he muttered, grabbing the remote and switching off the Redskins game, muted since he'd noticed Face had quietly drifted off to sleep at halftime. Taking the hint, the other man sat up, and the pilot stretched disused limbs and yawned expansively. "So," he began casually, "what you think Stockwell's brewin' now?"
"Whatever it is," the younger man returned, grunting faintly as he stood, "I couldn't care less."
"Could be important, though," he persisted, already obsessing about the noise Face had made. How much pain was he still in?
"Well, it certainly could be." Before he knew what was happening, strong hands gripped his and yanked him to his feet. Then the hands were on either side of his head, fingers sliding into his hair and pulling him closer, closer. "But I think," Face murmured, lips grazing Murdock's, the vibration making the pilot shiver, "that there are much more important things we could be doing."
"Fa--" he attempted, but the other man took advantage of his open mouth, angling his head and sealing his own over it.
Sweet, Christ, he tasted sweet, they'd been eating chocolate macaroons during the first quarter like they were going out of style. For a skinny fella, he had a powerful weakness for chocolate--
Face changed the angle again, so subtly it was barely noticeable, drawing Murdock's lower lip into his mouth and suckling insistently. The pilot felt his groin tighten, his pulse rocket. If this kept up much longer, he thought, they'd end up in bed--
It took all of his strength, but he pushed out of the other man's arms. "Can't do it, Faceman," he told him, with as much firmness as he could muster.
"And why not?" Face returned sternly, but there was a twinkle in his eye.
"You know why. Doc's orders."
"I went to the doctor yesterday morning," Face informed him, a grin splitting his handsome features. "I am cleared for action. Why do you think Hannibal's including me on this one?"
Murdock raised a suspicious eyebrow. "Why didn't you tell me yesterday?" This wasn't the first time Face had tried to seduce him since the shooting; he tended to take medical advice, especially medical advice pertaining to his sex life, with a generous grain of salt.
"I don't know," the other returned. "You seemed--distant, I guess." He reached for Murdock, grabbed a fistful of t-shirt. "You're definitely too distant now. C'mere."
"You try that caveman act on women? No wonder you were always strikin' out--"
"Works for you, flyboy," Face crooned, fingers seeking the bulge in Murdock's trousers.
The pilot closed his eyes and released a pent-up moan. Three months was a damn long time. He started to replay the time they'd made love in Hong Kong after rescuing Hannibal. They'd gotten rid of the "sponges" as discreetly as possible and retreated to one of the palatial bedrooms, where Murdock had spent long minutes just drying him with a towel, using the material on every inch of his skin, varying the pressure and speed, until Face had begged him...
God, he had beautiful skin.
Now marred by a bullet scar.
Put there by Murdock.
"We, ah, we really should be getting back," he breathed shakily, stepping away, out of Face's powerful sphere of influence.
The other man blinked for a moment, then his blue gaze turned cooler. "Yeah. You're right. Can't keep the master waiting, can we?"
He wasn't one to meddle in other people's lives. Not much, anyway.
But this was getting to be a pain in the ass. It was pretty clear from the beginning that Murdock had felt responsible for the shooting, and he had tried to be patient while he dealt with it. Early on, he hadn't been sure the other man was going to stay upright most days, and you couldn't pry him away from Face's bedside with a crowbar. That was why Hannibal had agreed to using one of the Company pilots on an op, the first and last time he was doing that. The hot dog they were assigned couldn't even find his own dick with a map, let alone fly his way out of a firefight. Besides, it was Face who'd been chomping at the bit to get back into the action, figuring, and probably rightly so, that Stockwell was counting all the assignments he was missing while he recovered. When the time came for pardons to be handed out, the bastard would probably tell Face he was terribly sorry, but he had four missions owing, and would he please pay up.
And now, from one end of this operation to the other, an operation, mind you, in which Face did as little as possible thanks to Hannibal, Murdock hovered over the kid like he would expire if he so much as breathed funny. It would have been touching if it hadn't been so damned annoying. They did a good job of hiding it, but there wasn't much you could hide after all these years, close as the four of them were. It was obvious something had changed between Murdock and Face since the latter got back from his reunion with his "new" sister, Ellen. He'd thought about asking B.A. if he'd noticed it, but hell, why make things worse? It probably hadn't escaped him either, but it was a sure thing he wouldn't want to even think about it, much less talk about it.
Hannibal, being possessed of a sense of history, knew that kind of--ah, activity--could make soldiers more effective rather than less, but he had to admit it disturbed him on some level. The don't-ask, don't-tell policy in the Army had served to brand a whole segment of the organization as deviants, and to make a few rotten apples way too powerful for their own good. He himself had been just pretty enough when he was a young lieutenant to snag the attention of a certain general, and the ensuing fallout had been nearly sufficient to end his career--and the general's life, if he'd decided to pull the trigger. His experiences in that direction had not been pleasant, to say the least.
And truth to tell, he never would have pegged Face and Murdock for that type. Not that he spent a lot of time thinking about his Team's sex lives, but--well, you just knew, that was all. They'd both had girlfriends, Face's too numerous to mention, and Murdock had been serious about that nurse in Danang before...everything. On the other hand, he'd seen a lot of friendships in wartime and out, and none quite rivalled the one he saw between the two of them. They were an odd couple, but they balanced each other, Murdock with his restless energy and understanding eyes, and Face with his street savvy and knowing grin. If they had finally found something together, who was he to judge? Even if he didn't want to speculate on precisely what that 'something' was.
He surveyed the scene around him. Another successful op, now in the mopping up stages. He had to admit it was nice not to have to run from the cops or the MP's or whatever the hell as soon as everything was finished; there was something to be said for rewarding yourself with a quiet cigar for a job well done. B.A. put the finishing touches on the bad guys while Face collected the weaponry. Hannibal watched as the kid slung a third rifle over his shoulder, and from out of nowhere Murdock appeared, steaming full throttle toward his buddy, no doubt to relieve him of the burdensome weight of thirty whole pounds. Hannibal blew smoke.
"Captain," he began, snagging the taller man as he went by, "a minute of your time?"
"Uh--" Murdock's gaze flicked from him to Face, as if pondering where the greater loyalty lay. "Uh, no problem, Colonel. What's up?"
"The doctor said there was no reason he couldn't take this one on. You know I never would have allowed it if I didn't think he could handle the job."
The pilot looked slightly sheepish, then rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, I know, I know that. Sorry."
"You don't have to apologize. You're worried about him. That's perfectly--understandable."
Murdock's head snapped up, brown eyes searching. Hannibal didn't react. "I guess I better lay off, or he's liable to kick my ass, hunh?"
He suppressed a smile. "Among other things." Sobering, he told him, "It wasn't your fault, son."
Hannibal watched as Murdock's shoulders hunched, as though he were trying to make himself smaller. "Yeah. I keep tellin' myself that. But I'm not listenin' to myself too well." His gaze once again lifted toward Face, who had stowed the weapons in the back of the van and was now over talking to Frankie. For one unguarded moment, Hannibal saw a look on the pilot's face that was such a mixed-up jumble of emotions--love, guilt, fear, hope, and an unfathomable longing--that he wasn't sure how the other man was even going to begin to sort it all out.
Hannibal just hoped, for everyone's sake, that he did.
"You're kidding, right?" Face regarded the phone as if it had sprouted horns.
"Naw, I tried to get the time off, I really did, Faceman, but it's just that--"
"So quit the damn job! You get a new one every week anyway."
" 'S actually more like every other week, but y'know I don' want to keep doing that." Murdock's hayseed Texas accent always got thicker when he was upset. "It's a kinda New Year's Resolution I made, don't wanna be driftin' from one job to another--"
"Christ!" Temp exclaimed, then glanced carefully around the corner at the living room, where Hannibal and B.A. were discussing the relative merits of the latest high-capacity Glocks. They didn't seem to have noticed his outburst. "You know how often Stockwell gives us a leave like this, and all expenses paid. I was looking forward to it." He tried pitching his voice a little lower. "It was going to be you and me. No interruptions. Complete privacy."
He thought he heard Murdock draw in a breath, a little too sharply. Served the son of a bitch right. Finally the pilot spoke. "I, uh, I--you know I would if I could--"
"No, I don't know." He closed his eyes briefly, then sighed, an immense weariness overtaking him.
"You OK?" Murdock demanded sharply. The anxious question startled Temp.
"Fine. My..." He trailed off, exasperated, unsure of what to say next. The two of them had never employed overused terms like 'lover' to define each other, as though their relationship was too bizarre and beautiful to be named. "You don't want anything to do with me, when all I've been able to think about these last three months was--" he cast another quick look at the living room "--the way you cried in my arms the first time I made you come."
"I didn't--" protested Murdock, his voice sounding as shocked as Face felt at his own words.
"In Saigon. Remember? I know you remember," he murmured fervently, no longer caring who heard him. "I barely touched you, and you were ready. But I could tell you hated yourself for it."
A pause. "Jesus." Not a prayer, but close.
"You were ashamed you wanted me like you did, and to be honest, I didn't know at first if I did or not. All I wanted was a connection to something that was still alive, a reminder that I was still alive. But as soon as I touched you, man,--"
"--it was like a light came on, and it was coming from inside you. Lighting the way to--to something I never dared to ask for." He shook his head. "I could find you in the dark."
"You did," Murdock whispered, surrendering. "God--"
Face tried to calm his breathing. They'd never talked like this before, didn't talk much about how or why or what they were together. This--whatever this was--wasn't the sort of thing you could analyze or pick apart. But he'd been trying to do just that, lately, in his head, on the long, quiet afternoons when he lay cocooned in Murdock's arms. Healing. That was something the other man had always done for him, he realized, and something Temp always felt he'd failed to do in return. Maybe he never would. But he could give him the only gift he knew how to give.
"I. Need. You," he ground out, laying himself bare, feeling weak, embarrassed, exposed, but meaning it, maybe more than he'd meant anything in his life. How did they end up having this conversation, and on a phone that was probably bugged despite B.A.'s efforts to the contrary?
And how was it Face didn't even give a damn?
Fuck it. Everywhere was a cage. And his felt like it was getting smaller by the minute. He waited, listening to the silence.
Finally, after an eternity: "OK. Tell me where."
The van pulled up to the Departures area at Dulles, and B.A. and his friend turned to each other.
Face smiled that smile. Smarmy, hiding something like always, only he was kidding himself this time. "Well, thanks again, B.A. I appreciate not having to leave the 'Vette in airport parking. You know how it is."
"Wasn't no trouble," he rumbled.
"You going straight through to Chicago from here?"
"Yeah. Haven't seen momma in over a year. She's already layin' on a feast."
"Give her my love," said Face.
"Uh huh." He debated with himself for all of half a second. "You say hi to Murdock for me, too."
He had the satisfaction of seeing the con man freeze, caught in his own con. But he had to give him credit for balls, because a second later his handsome face turned hard, protective. Good. The crazy fool deserved some protection after all these years, living like a gaping wound. Maybe Faceman would give him that.
"Could've driven you both if you was goin' on the same plane," he offered.
Blue eyes narrowed, assessing the threat, realized there was none. "I, ah, we're going on separate flights."
B.A. nodded. "That's a good idea. Keep those Company fellas guessin'."
"Don't give me no details," he interrupted. "I just wanted to let you know you ain't gettin' away with nothin'. And you ain't gotta worry 'bout how we gonna keep this from Hannibal and B.A., 'cause we ain't as stupid as all that."
"We didn't keep this from you to scam you," he murmured.
"I know that, too. But you ain't gotta worry about that, neither. You always gonna be the guys I want at my back. Nothin's gonna change that."
Face looked away for a moment, took a breath, let it out. "Thanks," he said finally, so quiet B.A. could barely hear him. "I'll see you in a week or so."
B.A. watched him pick up his bag and go. Momma, he thought as he put the van in gear, I ain't always lived the way you wanted me to, I know that. But I think you'd be proud of me just now.
Murdock, knowing Face and his expensive tastes, had been expecting the French Riviera, Rio, a secluded beachfront property in the Bahamas. Anything but this.
"What do you think?" Face asked, and the hopeful look in his eyes twisted the pilot's insides, ratcheted the guilt up one more notch.
"I--I don't know what to say," he told the other man, the truth, at least. He felt like bawling his guts out, and the last time he did that was when his mom died. What had he done to deserve this?
One long-fingered hand reached up, touched a bright, metallic surface. He knew it would be warm. All the lives it had held, nurtured, brought back safe. It practically breathed.
They were standing on the tarmac in Pensacola, Florida, at an airshow sponsored by the local Naval Air Station and a group of dedicated people known collectively as the Confederate Air Force. Murdock had heard about the organization of volunteer pilots and ground crew who restored and flew vintage WWII planes, but had never been to one of their events. And now he was here, and he was laying hands on a real, working Flying Fortress, his all-time favourite bird. There was something mystical about the way, even shot to pieces, she had been able to get her crews home, something beautifully ugly about her wide, solid lines and curves, that had spoken to him ever since he was a kid, dreaming of sky.
"How'd you like to fly her?" Face asked.
Murdock checked to see if he was still standing. "What?"
"Well, I know a guy who knows a guy, and so if you want, you can take the co-pilot seat the next time they go up, which is in about--" he glanced at his watch "--two hours."
"If I want," he echoed, like a retarded parrot.
He stirred himself from his trance, turning to Face.
I love you, he thought, suddenly as a summer rain. He'd never said it aloud, wasn't likely to in a crowd full of Bermuda-shorted seniors and ice cream-covered kids. Christ, I love you more than my life.
"Yeah," he told him. "I want."
Face watched the huge plane lift itself, shuddering for a moment from the loss of contact with the earth, then lurching into its true element, climbing to join endless flight formations forty years gone. Four powerful engines hummed out a song that started up a sympathetic vibration in his chest.
"I love you," he murmured, and the pimply-faced teenager standing to his left turned to look at him.
"Did you fly in one of those during the war?" the kid asked, completely serious, and Temp despaired for the youth of the nation.
"No, sonny," he smiled, not showing any teeth. Yet. "Though I wish I had. If I'd had my pick, that's definitely the war I would've signed up for."
The teenager stared at him as if he'd spoken Chinese. "What war did you sign up for?"
Temp was astonished to hear himself laughing. "I'll let you know when I find out," he chuckled. The kid shook his head and walked away.
About an hour later, the old bomber landed, too soon, he knew. If it was up to Murdock, Face was sure he'd stay up there, never landing, just hopping from one plane to another, like a delinquent angel floating between clouds.
Murdock sprinted across the runway toward him, grinning a grin Face realized with a start he hadn't seen in months. As he drew nearer, Temp watched the grin dim a little, and something inside him turned over, nose-diving for his shoes.
He was familiar with that, the dimming of the light. Only he wasn't usually on the receiving end. He was always the one who did the leaving, had all the power, held all the cards.
He shook his head at the irony. He always thought he'd be brought down by a sleek, sophisticated Scandinavian heiress with impeccable taste and pots of money. The scene, probably set at her sumptuous Italian villa, would be dramatic, explosive. Their breakup would make all the society pages, maybe even CNN. But here he was, standing in the middle of an airshow in the Florida panhandle, waiting to have his heart quietly trampled by a skinny weedy crazy gentle Texan who'd been wearing the same damn jacket for fifteen years, and whose fortune was currently tied up in comic books and baseball cards.
So be it, he told himself. This is just what you deserve.
"Face, I--" Murdock breathed, stopping just within his space, close enough to attract a glance from a little old lady walking by. "Thanks," he said, simply, sincerely. "Thanks."
He raised a hand, dropped it. "No problem," he returned, attempting an airy tone. "It helps to have connections." Tearing his gaze away from Murdock's, he scanned the tarmac. "You want to see the rest of the show?"
"Naw, s'okay. You must be getting--I mean, I've seen everything I need to see."
Temp frowned at the one-eighty, but didn't comment. "Fine. Let's go, then," he muttered, starting off across the tarmac so quickly it took the pilot a few seconds to catch up.
They ate at an above average seafood restaurant on the waterfront, then climbed in the rented car and drove out to South Walton Beach, where Face had found them a secluded cottage. At least Murdock had been right about that.
The other man had been subdued since the air show, withdrawn, and the pilot didn't know how to reach him. What could he possibly say that would begin to explain the mess his head was in? Oh, hey, thanks for giving me the most incredible gift anyone's ever given me. Anything I can get you? Another bullet hole, maybe?
He sat on the white sand, gazing out at the slowly rolling surface of the Gulf of Mexico, thoughts chasing each other in his brain, leading him right back where he'd started every time. Agreeing to go on this trip had been a huge mistake. Try as he might, he couldn't get past the guilt he still felt nearly every waking, not to mention sleeping, moment. And for the first time since they'd gotten together, he dreaded the night to come, because now Face was well enough to--
God, he couldn't. He couldn't look at what he'd done.
"Here." Murdock started at the sound of the voice directly behind him. The familiar weight of his flight jacket settled over his shoulders. "It, ah, cools off here after dark," Face explained, moving to sit beside him. The pilot noticed he kept a distinct distance between them, not a big one, but there.
"Murdock," he began, then fell silent for a few seconds. When he spoke again, the words tripped over themselves. "I'm sorry I forced you to come on this trip."
The pilot shook his head vehemently. "You didn't. You didn't."
"Yes, I did," Face insisted. "I was being selfish again, and I didn't think about you."
Murdock turned to stare at him. He could just make out his features in the dying light. "How can you say that after what you did for me today?" he asked, incredulous. "That didn't just happen. You planned it."
The other man waved the compliment away. "It wasn't all that much. It was easy--"
"That's not the point. The point is, you knew. There must've been a hundred other places you wanted to go, but you came here." He reached out, unable to stop himself, and touched the back of Face's hand, and suddenly the words were out before he could censor them. "I don't deserve you, y'know that?"
Face's hand actually jerked under his. "I can't..." Then he abruptly levered himself up off the sand. "I, ah, I need to go for a drive. I won't be gone long."
Murdock's heart went from zero to sixty in the time it took to blink. "You, uh, I should probably come with you. I mean, you must be tired after today," he babbled, trying to hold him there the only way he knew how. What had he said? What had he said? "Don't want you fallin' asleep at the wheel, hunh?" he smiled, but it was a lame attempt at levity, and he winced inwardly.
"I'm stronger than you think, Murdock," Face murmured, too quietly. The pilot felt a jolt of fear, not understanding what the hell was happening, but sure it wasn't good. "I'll be back later. We can talk then."
"Face!" he called, but the other man didn't even break stride, retreating up the beach to the high tide mark. Beyond was a stand of scrub oaks, misshapen, deformed things that populated this portion of the coast like a vast dwarfish army guarding nothing but the secret of their twisted shapes.
Murdock sat on the pure white beach until the cold clawed through his jacket and set him to shivering uncontrollably.
Face got back around three a.m. He knew Murdock wouldn't be asleep, but he hoped he could convince him to put off the conversation until morning. Just one last time--
His heart stumbled in his chest. His own fault. Should've had the damn thing removed years ago.
The interior of the cottage was dark, the only illumination the faint moonlight coming through the windows. He jumped at a rustle of movement from one corner of the room, and then he was nearly knocked over as Murdock barrelled into him.
The pilot's hands roamed everywhere, as if to reassure himself that Temp was there, and that he was whole. Fingers dug into Face's hair, tilting his head up, and he closed his eyes, suppressed a groan.
"Look at me," Murdock commanded hoarsely, and he obeyed. The expression on the other man's face wasn't the one he'd been expecting to see; there was no anger, no recrimination, only relief, joy, and something darker he couldn't identify. "Whatever I did, whatever I said, none of it is worth you takin' a chance on hurting yourself."
He shook his head, and Murdock's fingers moved, trailing over the planes of his cheeks, chin, lips. Jesus. "It wasn't anything you said. You don't need to feel responsible because you--" He stopped himself, shocked at what he'd been about to say.
Because you don't love me as much as I love you.
"But I do," Murdock murmured, brown eyes anguished. "I do."
Temp kissed him. He was too confused to do anything else at that point.
He could do this. He could.
There was an edge of desperation to this, to both of them, he realized, an edge that hadn't been there since Saigon. Face tore into him like a prairie twister, hands and mouth ravenous, starving for something he wasn't sure he could provide. It was a fight to get him to slow down long enough for Murdock to undress him. Even then, the other man moved restlessly, a sound of intense frustration escaping him when the pilot fumbled over the last button of his shirt.
He forced himself to push the material aside, revealing the smooth, lean chest he'd mapped, committed to memory. But he couldn't see it for the blood.
He didn't speak, didn't move. Just stood there, losing contact with everything real.
He could hear Face's voice, but couldn't make out what he was saying. Didn't matter anyway; he was dying, dying men always cried out for their mammas or God or what the hell did it matter, anyway, what the--
Hands against his face, then at his shoulders, shaking him. His cheeks felt cool, like something wet had been smeared over them. Was it raining? Christ, it was always raining in this fuckin' country, either that or bakin' you ?til you dried up and blew away, nothin' left anymore--
The shout penetrated the fog, slammed his mind up against the present and left it bruised. One by one, each of his senses began to function normally again. His vision was still cloudy, though....oh. He raised a hand to wipe at his eyes.
"All these months," Face was saying. "All these months I thought--I'm so stupid, God, I'm so stupid." He touched Murdock gently, guiding him as though he were a spooked horse, until he was lying on the bed. Face curled up beside him, and this time there was no more distance.
Murdock closed his eyes and gave in to the exhaustion. As he slipped away, he felt a hand stroking his hair, slow, like the rolling waves of the Gulf.
Three days came and went, days of drives along the coast, an antique car show, a visit to Mobile. On the third day, he was sprawled in a lounge chair among hundreds of locals and tourists, working on his tan while Murdock competed in the annual South Walton Beach Chili Cook-Off. In his huge chef's hat, bought specifically for the occasion, the pilot sent the crowd into fits of laughter with his impressions of Julia Child and Paul Prudhomme.
Nights, they didn't talk, just held each other while they healed from their respective wounds. He knew now that he'd been imposing his own insecurities and hang-ups on Murdock's standoffish behaviour, when really the pilot was distant and preoccupied because he felt responsible for Face getting shot. He didn't know what to say to convince him otherwise; words wouldn't do it anyway, so why bother? Temp was no stranger to guilt, understood it from the inside out. The only things he could give him were time and patience. Maybe those commodities were as important as love, sometimes.
"Faceman!" Murdock hollered, running up to him, the hat flopping with each step. "You gotta try this. Tell me what you think." He thrust a wooden spoon at him.
Face opened his eyes, cast a suspicious glance at the offering. "The last time you said that, my tongue nearly came off. What have you done to it now?"
"Sweetened it up a little. Really," he insisted at Face's dubious frown.
He reached under his chair, picked up the glass. Still half-full of beer. "All right," he sighed, taking the spoon.
Once he stopped coughing, he nodded and wheezed, "Perfect."
"First prize, Murdock."
"Thanks. Thanks," he grinned, and it struck Temp how much he enjoyed making him do that.
The pilot glanced around at the crowd. "What, uh, what you want to do after this is over?"
Face raised his eyebrows. "I thought you were having fun."
"Yeah, I am, it's just that, well--" he faltered, looking down at him, and suddenly Temp realized he was looking at all of him, not just the parts he could stand to look at, and he felt goosebumps rise on his skin.
"--I wanted to give you something," Murdock finished.
His fingers clenched around the glass of beer. "Yeah?" he asked, as casually as possible. "What?"
The other man snatched off the goofy hat, squatted down beside his chair. "Me."
Temp's breathing turned ragged. "Jesus."
Murdock beckoned to a girl in a pink sundress passing by. "Hey, kid," he called, and when she came closer, he held out the hat and the spoon. "Want to win first prize?"
"Promise me one thing," he murmured, his mouth pleasantly swollen and tingling from a hundred kisses. Not half enough.
"Promise me I'll die first."
Face growled, rolling him over onto his back and pinning him to the mattress. "You'd like that, wouldn't you? Floating around up there, leaving me alone while you play in the sky?" He shook his head. "Not a chance."
"Okay," Murdock whispered, freeing one of his hands so that he could caress the beautiful face hovering above him. "We'll go together."
"Better," smiled the other, lowering his head to capture the pilot's mouth once more. Murdock moaned as the kiss turned hotter, tongues mingling, teeth grazing lips.
"Face," he gasped, when they finally broke apart. He struggled a little. "Let me--"
A look of regret crossed the younger man's features, and he levered himself onto his hands, releasing him. "Sorry, I didn't mean to make you--"
"Naw, it's not that, it's not that," he soothed. "I just want to see you, s'all. Touch you."
Face's eyes blazed, and he sat up, pulling Murdock with him. They locked gazes for a long moment, then the pilot's lowered to his abdomen. Cautious fingers reached out, feathering over the scar, which was finally fading from angry red to cooler pink.
"I'm so--" Murdock stopped, sucked in a deep breath. "I'm so--grateful."
"I thought you didn't believe in the Man Upstairs," grinned the other.
The pilot looked up, and the expression in his gaze was powerful as a thunderbolt. "I'm grateful to you, Face. To you."
He nearly choked then, leaned forward to kiss him hard and quick instead, to cover it. "We're survivors. We always have been," he murmured, laying his hand over Murdock's and pressing it against the scar.
"You remember the Freedom Bird?" Face asked suddenly, and the other nodded, accustomed to going off on tangents.
"Well, B.A., Hannibal and I got on the Freedom Bird just like everybody else who left 'Nam, only we were all in chains. I remember thinking, some fucking freedom. We'd risked our lives a hundred times, more, and this was our final reward. As we were boarding the plane, I even considered making a run for it, getting myself shot right there on the tarmac. Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven, that kind of stuff.
"But you know what kept me from losing it, all the way over, through Tokyo and Honolulu, and on into Seattle?
It was you."
Murdock shook his head, confused now. "I wasn't on that flight, muchacho. I didn't leave for another week while they DEROSed me."
"I know. But you were there, in my head. I imagined you were flying us, and we were all going somewhere together, somewhere safe. Maybe you'd even fix it so we'd never land, and we could just stay up there. For seventeen hours, that thought kept me from getting up and walking out the door of that plane." He laced his fingers through Murdock's, squeezed them tight. "I always wanted to thank you for that."
The pilot's eyes brimmed, but refused to spill over. "You're welcome," he smiled, sweet and easy, his warm brown gaze telling Face all the things he needed to hear.
And then there was no more need for words.
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