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Fortune's Fool 1-8 Fortune's Fool
by Elizabeth Kent

This story started life as a missing scene from the end of the episode Wheel of Fortune and was meant to explain why Face insisted on going to Hawaii with Murdock.  It got away from me and more or less took on a life of its own.  Those of you who read the missing scene story on the A-Slash list can just ignore this because it's the same old story dressed up in a new name and with a couple of mistakes fixed.  

NC-17

Warnings:  SLASH: m/m consensual, f/m consensual, violence, language, angst

Summary:  Face tries to come to terms with losing Murdock to Jody Joy.

Comments:  Please

Archive:  Yes

 

Part 1  

Face hung up the phone with a sigh and reached for his glass of wine before he flopped onto the couch and pointed the remote at the television, turning it on and flipping disinterestedly through the channels.  He grimaced when he found "Wheel of Fortune."

"Thanks for nothin'," he muttered as he changed channels, settling instead on yet another rerun of "Casablanca."  How many times had he sat next to Murdock on the couch and listened to him say everyone's lines?  Enough times that even Face had them memorized now.  Just as well, since he'd be watching it alone until Murdock returned from his Hawaiian vacation...their Hawaiian vacation.

He reached for the half-empty wine bottle and refilled his glass then glanced up at the clock on the fireplace mantel.  Murdock's plane would be landing in about an hour, and he and his new girlfriend would be whisked away to their hotel courtesy of "Wheel of Fortune."

When Murdock got to the hotel, a message would be waiting for him so he would know arrangements had already been made for his first evening on the town. They'd have dinner and drinks at the best restaurant in Honolulu, followed by dancing and more drinks at an exclusive nightclub and dessert and coffee on the lanai of a beautiful hotel on Waikiki Beach.  When they returned to the hotel, they would find their bags had been moved to the hotel's best room.  And at the end of their "Wheel of Fortune" vacation, they would find reservations had been made for them for another week in a cozy oceanfront inn on the other side of the island.  It would be the most romantic, luxurious vacation Murdock had ever had.

The arrangements had been made days ago, as soon as Face had been certain Murdock would win the vacation.  He and Murdock had planned the winning strategy carefully, and he'd drilled Murdock thoroughly.  That, combined with Murdock's keen intelligence and facility with the English language, had virtually guaranteed them both seats on the flight.

Face had had it planned out to the last detail.  After nearly fifteen years of waiting for Murdock to notice his feelings, to show some inkling of jealousy over the beautiful women Face had constantly paraded in front of him, Face was finally going to screw up his courage and confess to Murdock over dinner that he was in love with him, had been in love with him almost as long as they'd known each other.  And if things went according to plan, they'd be making love on the beach before the night was through.

He'd been so sure it would work.  Murdock had been closer to him for years than any other person he'd ever known.  And Murdock was no prude.  Face knew that in his youth, Murdock had had a male lover.  Murdock had explained it away as experimentation, but Face had dared to hope it was more.  In all the years they'd known each other, Face had never seen Murdock sustain a relationship with a woman.   The ones he'd had were brief and chaste.  Under the right circumstances, Face knew he could convince Murdock to take a male lover once again...to take him.

He drained the glass of wine in a couple of swallows and reached for the bottle again. Face had almost panicked when Murdock had first suggested taking a woman with him. Face had quickly talked him out of it...well, blackmailed him, actually...and thought he'd had the problem solved.  He'd allowed himself then to daydream, to carefully plan the speech he'd make over dinner, the words he'd whisper as they danced in the nightclub, the way he'd make love to Murdock under the stars.

And it was all working perfectly until Murdock had fallen head over heels for a beautiful woman in trouble.  Obviously, Face had badly miscalculated.  He knew...deep inside, he knew he'd lost when he saw them kissing in the helicopter.  But he'd kept hoping right up to the end, till it was time to leave for the airport and Murdock had made it clear he was taking her with him.  Face had lost once again.

"You're a fucking coward, Peck," Face thought to himself.  "You should have told him years ago.  Now it's too late.  Serves you right."  Murdock had obviously come down on the heterosexual side, and any chance Face might have had to convince him otherwise was gone.

Well, at least he'd managed to cover his humiliation.  The others would interpret his reaction, which even he had to admit was childish, to a missed opportunity to lie on the beach and pick up beautiful women.  There was no reason to alter the arrangements he'd already made except to switch the nightclub to one that catered to heterosexual couples, which he had just finished doing.  As for the rest...well, it was already paid for, so there was no real reason to let it go to waste.

He'd considered canceling everything.  On the way back home, angry and hurt, he'd intended to do so.  But when he came in, he'd spied the frequency tables they'd used to plot their strategy, remembered the fun Murdock had had doing the show, the way his often-sad eyes had lit up when he realized he was good at this and could win, and Face just couldn't bring himself to be that petty.  If he loved Murdock, he should want him to be happy, shouldn't he?  So he'd let the arrangements stand.

He reached for the bottle again, realized it was empty, and set it back down with a thump. He turned off the television and rose, making his way to the bedroom to unpack his suitcases.  As he refolded and rehung clothing, he struggled to come to terms with the situation.  It was time to admit defeat and move on.  That much was obvious.

He knew now that he would never tell Murdock how he really felt.  There was no point in it.  To do so now would only make Murdock feel guilty because he couldn't return the feelings, and that would ruin their friendship. Murdock was still his closest friend.  That didn't ease the pain in his heart or the knot in his gut, but those were old, familiar pains, ones he'd coped with since childhood.   So he'd keep silent about it.

Murdock would never know who had made the new arrangements for his stay.  He'd probably think it was Hannibal.  He might even suspect  it was B.A, but no one would ever expect shallow, selfish Face to be so generous.  So his secret would be safe.  All he had to do was convince them he was what they thought he was.

They all expected him to be superficial, and he could accommodate them. After Murdock returned, Face would complain about him taking the girl instead of him. He would moan loudly about what Murdock owed him and about all the gorgeous women he'd missed out on until someone...probably Hannibal...told him to shut up.  And he would shut up because by then, Murdock would have no reason at all to suspect Face had made arrangements for that romantic getaway  or to wonder why Face would do that if he believed until the last minute that the two of them were going together.

Face pushed in the last dresser drawer, put his suitcase on the closet floor, and shut the door.  Then he picked up the frequency tables and notebook they'd made to help Murdock study and tucked them into a desk drawer, smiling a little.  Well, he hoped Murdock and his new lover would enjoy their vacation and be happy.  Someone might as well be.

Part 2  

Face turned away from the desk as the phone rang.

"Ah, I see you're still there, Templeton."   With a sigh, Face dropped into the chair next to the phone.  "Yeah."

"He took the girl?"   "Yeah."  Face idly twisted the phone cord around his finger and pictured the caller.  Adam was quite a few years older than Face.  He was tall, broad-shouldered, with pale blue eyes framed by horn-rimmed glasses.  His dark hair was generously sprinkled with gray.  Adam was all the things Face wanted to be: well-educated, well-traveled, wealthy, and sophisticated.

"I'm so sorry, Templeton.  I really hoped it would work out for you this time."

Face didn't answer, trying to swallow around the lump in his throat.

"There's no reason for you to sit there all by yourself, is there?  Why don't you come over."   "You don't mind?"

"No, of course I don't.  In fact, I'd appreciate your company."

For all their vast differences in age, background, and experience, Face and Adam had one thing in common that had forged a bond between them several years ago: they both loved someone who could not return their feelings.

When Face arrived, Adam greeted him with a warm hug and a quick kiss on the lips. "Come in, Templeton, come in.  Can I get you a drink?  Scotch and soda, isn't it?"   "Yes, thanks."

Adam's estate in Beverly Hills was large and boasted many luxuries, including an Olympic-size swimming pool, a hot tub, a gourmet kitchen, and fireplaces in every room. A hothouse on the grounds held exotic plants Adam had brought back from his many trips abroad.

After a trip to the hothouse to exclaim over some new lilies, Adam brought Face back to the house and showed him into the den.  "I'm anxious to show you my newest acquisition," he said.  He crouched to open a box and unwrap the item. It was a sword, very old, but of exquisite workmanship.  Face whistled in appreciation.

"It's lovely, isn't it," Adam exclaimed proudly.  "I found it through an antiquities dealer in France a few months ago.  It's Spanish, mid-thirteenth century, and had been in one family since it was forged."

"It's beautiful, Adam," Face said, handling it reverently when Adam stood and held it out to him.  The blade was still sharp, the hilt still intact.  This was not a dress sword; it was plain, sturdy, and  serviceable, with a stark and vicious beauty.  It was a weapon meant for fighting and had seen its owner home from more than one battle.

As Adam described the sword's history and the battles it had seen, Face could hear the cries of the mounted knights and foot soldiers, see them hacking away at each other with swords, pikes, and battleaxes, smell the blood as it splashed across armor and soaked into the churned mud of the battlefield.

"Swords this well-preserved are a very rare find," Adam concluded. "Fewer come on the market every year, and I was extremely fortunate to learn of this one. I'm having a special humidity-controlled case built to display it."

"God, Adam, this is wonderful!" Face exclaimed as he handed it back. Face loved history, loved antiquities, and Adam's appreciation of these things was one of the things Face liked best about him.  "I hope you're taking precautions to keep your collection safe."

"I'm doing it all just as you suggested, Templeton," Adam said.

"Good."

Adam put a friendly arm around Face's shoulders.  "Let's go make dinner," he said.  "I managed to talk the chef at the hotel I stayed in in Nice out of some wonderful seafood recipes, and I brought back some splendid wine."

Face smiled, surrendering himself to Adam's care as his mood lightened a bit.

It was always Adam that Face turned to when Murdock failed to respond to his timid advances, when plans he made to tell his friend his true feelings blew up in his face as this last one had.  Adam had supported him in his latest attempt but had warned him not to be too sure it would work.  And as always, when the plan fell apart, Adam was there to pick up the pieces.

They had met several years earlier at an antiques show that Face had attended with Murdock.  Face couldn't collect antiques, not with the life he was forced to lead, but he still loved to look, and Murdock didn't mind indulging him.  He understood.   Face had no past, no heritage, no idea at all where his forebears hailed from. Antiques made him feel connected as he vicariously lived other people's pasts.

Adam and Face had struck up a conversation over a Civil War-era sideboard that Adam's business partner was examining and wanted to buy.  Face had noticed immediately how fondly Adam regarded his business partner, how affectionately he spoke to and about him. As Face and Adam chatted, Adam's partner had finally looked up from his examination of the sideboard and said, "At last!  There he is!"

A young, fragile-looking blond man dashed across the room, apologizing profusely for his tardiness as Adam's partner wrapped his arms around him.  Face watched Adam's expression, saw the terrible pain momentarily reflected there before it was masked by an indulgent smile, and he knew that Adam was in love with his partner.

In the meantime, Murdock had been captivated by the young lady who had organized the show, stopping to watch her give an interview to a local television station and then engaging her in conversation.  As a result, at day's end both Face and Adam found themselves alone.  Adam invited Face to dine with him, and Face did not mind keeping the other man company.   Over dinner he coaxed from Adam the story of his feelings for his partner, and in a very rare moment of honesty and openness, Face confessed his feelings for Murdock.

One thing had led to another, and that night had been the first time Face had shared Adam's bed.  Neither of them had pretended it had anything to do with love.  It was a purely sexual encounter born out of each man's longing and desperation, but it was, at least, release.

And as Face sat on the couch after supper and sipped a truly wonderful dessert wine, he knew that was where he would end up tonight. Face harbored no illusions about Adam's feelings for him, just as Adam harbored none about Face's feelings. They would close their eyes as they stroked and sucked and thrust, each desperately pretending the man in his arms was the man he really loved, and neither of them blamed the other if he cried out someone else's name when he came.

Late that night as they lay sprawled on the bed, spent and sleepy, Face stared up at the ceiling and wondered why he could never manage to fall in love with someone who could love him back.  He had to move on, but to what?  He was tired of using women to try to get Murdock's attention.  He was tired of trying so hard to love people he couldn't.  He was ready to give up his dream of winning Murdock's affection, finally, but he wasn't ready yet to replace him.  In his line of work, it was unlikely he'd meet someone, and the bar scene held no appeal for him at all.  Besides, these days that kind of behavior was simply too risky.  Face was sad, but he wasn't suicidal.

"What are you going to do about Murdock?" Adam asked.

Face sighed heavily.  "I'm going to let him go," Face answered.  "I'm finally going to just give it up."

"I think that's the right choice," Adam said, rolling onto his side to stroke Face's arm.

"What are you going to do, Adam?"

Adam was silent a long time before he drew a deep, shuddering breath. "Max wants me to buy him out.  He's moving to New York with Hugh."

Face reached over and pulled the other man into his arms.  "I'm sorry, Adam."

"Well," Adam sighed, resting his head on Face's shoulder, "it'll be hard, but maybe not as hard as it has been to see him with someone else every day.  Maybe when he's not around, I'll be able to move on, too."

"I know what you mean."

"Templeton, you don't have to stay around him if it's too painful.  I can't offer you love, but I can offer you a home, a partnership in my business.  If you wish, you can come and live with me."

Face hugged Adam tightly.  A home, a business partnership, a normal life, all the things he had wanted all his life.  "That's so tempting, Adam.  I wish I could, but I can't.  I can't stay in one place, as much as I'd like to."

Adam nodded.  He understood.  He knew next to nothing about this young man, but he knew Templeton was on the run, that Murdock was somehow connected with Templeton's fugitive status, and that Templeton would never abandon Murdock.  He hoped Murdock someday understood what a precious gift he was letting slip away.

Since Hannibal was at work on a movie and B.A. was visiting friends in Chicago, only a daily check-in was necessary, and Hannibal didn't press him for information about where he was spending his time.  Face stayed with Adam for most of the time Murdock was gone, helping him update his security system, attending antiques shows, tending the garden, even having dinner one night with Max and Hugh after the final papers were signed to turn Max's half of the antiques business over to Adam.  That night it was Face's turn to console Adam, which he did generously and vigorously until Adam was finally exhausted enough to sleep.   Face finally prepared to return to his own place a couple of days before Murdock's return. Adam was leaving the country on an extended business trip and was likely to be gone several weeks.  But that was the way it was with them.  Neither of them asked or expected anything of the other, used to each other's extended absences.

Adam studied the handsome face of the man who sipped coffee across the kitchen table from him.  He tried to memorize the features.  He knew that whatever line of work Templeton was in, it was hazardous, and each time they parted could be the last time Adam would see him alive.  Perhaps that was part of the young man's appeal.  Adam had watched him work out each day, practicing moves that were definitely not taught in the local boxing ring.  He was strong, quick, and silent.  The hands that only last night had moved tenderly and skillfully over his body could as easily snap his neck.  While Templeton never used his greater strength to control or manipulate Adam, the knowledge that such brute force and violence lay buried just beneath the surface was intoxicating. But that strength, of course, wouldn't stop a bullet or a knife, and almost every time Templeton came to him, Adam found new scars.

Adam walked Face to his car, and the two embraced briefly.  "I'll call you when I get back to town.  See how things are going," Adam said.

"Thanks, Adam.  Thanks for everything," Face said.  "You're always there when I've made a complete ass of myself."

Adam laughed.  "Well, we're two of a kind, Templeton," he said.  "If I hadn't had you with me at dinner the other night, I'm afraid I'd have been crying into my steak and lobster and embarrassing all of us."

Face nodded.  The two of them never exchanged the meaningless banter others might have offered as comfort.  Between them there was no, "You'll find someone to love you," or "He's an idiot to leave you."  They simply accepted and respected one another's pain and isolation, and sometimes the simple acknowledgement was comfort enough to allow each of them to continue.

Face got into his car and started it.  "Be careful, Templeton," Adam said, leaning over to kiss him goodbye.

"I will," Face replied with a smile.  As he backed out of the driveway and headed for the freeway, he knew that he'd be able to hold it together for at least a little while longer as he began the long and difficult process of trying to fall out of love with his best friend.    

PART 3

"Hey, Faceman! How've you been?" Murdock asked cheerfully as Face, dressed as a male nurse, wheeled him out the back door of the VA hospital and across the grounds.

"Shut up.  You're supposed to be sick," Face said, pulling the white mask up over his own nose and mouth.

Murdock coughed and hacked so convincingly as they crossed the grounds that everyone between them and the gate gave them a wide berth.  They stopped just outside the gate and around the corner where the van was parked.  B.A. stood impatiently next to the open side door while Hannibal lounged against the front bumper and smoked a cigar.  Murdock sprang out of the chair, dropped his duffel bag, and raced to the van.

"Aloha, you bug mudsucker!  Did you miss me?"  He threw his arms around B.A.'s neck and was promptly peeled off.

"Shut up, fool!" B.A. said by way of greeting, but he had to suppress a small smile. Murdock looked happier than he'd seen him in a long time.

"Murdock, that's quite a sunburn you've got!" Hannibal commented, eyeing Murdock's red face and neck.

"Yeah, and that's not the worst of it," Murdock admitted.  "Turns out making love on the beach is more dangerous than I thought."

"That's more than we want to know," Face said as he carried Murdock's forgotten duffel to the van and tossed it in the back with his own.

"What, you're not still sore at me because I didn't take you, are you?"

Face shrugged off the hand Murdock laid on his shoulder and climbed into the van.  "We'd better go before they figure out you're missing," he said shortly.

Hannibal rolled his eyes as he got in the van.  It was going to be one of those afternoons. Face could hold a grudge longer than anyone he'd ever met.

As they drove, Murdock regaled them with stories of the things he and Jody had done and the places they'd been, which Face punctuated at strategic intervals with snide comments. He could tell from their body language that the others were sick of him already; it wouldn't take much more for them to slap him down, and he'd have them right where he wanted them.

"I just can't figure out who arranged all those extras for us!" Murdock said as he wound up his story.  "Hannibal, it wasn't you, was it?"

"No, I'm sorry to say I didn't even think about it," Hannibal replied.

"B.A.?  Tell me you're not just a hopeless romantic at heart.  You did it, didn't you?"

"Ain't got money for no Hawaiian vacation!  Been savin' to buy playground equipment for the children's center.  They more important than you are!"

As Murdock turned to him, Face said, "Probably one of Jody's relatives hoping to unload her on you permanently."

He heard Hannibal snap, "Shut up, Face!" just as Murdock's hand shot out and twisted in his shirt collar.

"Don't you talk about her like that!" Murdock snarled.  "She's a nice girl, not that you'd know one when you met her!"  Murdock's eyes blazed with anger, and for a moment Face was afraid he was going to be pulled out of his seat and slugged.

Face raised his hands in surrender, saying, "Alright, alright, I'm sorry," but taking care not to sound too much like he meant it.

"Don't leave no marks," B.A. said from the front seat.  "We need him to look nice for the job."

Murdock released Face with a shove, and Face nonchalantly straightened his collar.  "I'm not gonna hit him," Murdock said disgustedly, turning away from Face.

Face sat back without another word.  His con had worked.  The previous topic of conversation was forgotten, and everyone was way too pissed at him to suspect his role in Murdock's vacation.

Hannibal lit another cigar and turned the conversation to the newest job.

"Okay, guys, this Frank Clausen and his little group of reactionaries are just about to get that cache of weapons and explosives off to the revolutionary group they're financing in South America.  We need to find out where those weapons are and get to them before they make the delivery."

Clausen was the wealthy and unscrupulous owner of several shipping and air freight companies.  A little bribery, a little intimidation, and a few accidental deaths were all it had taken to ensure that the authorities looked the other way.

Murdock shook his head.  "Well, if he's got everyone so intimidated, how're we gonna find someone to get us the location of the weapons and the evidence to expose the operation?"

Hannibal smiled around his cigar.  "Easy.  We're going in through the front door!  Well, Face is, anyway."

"Huh?"

"Turns out Clausen's wife is dabbling in photography these days.  Wants a model to do some work for her.  At her home."

"A model?"  Murdock turned to Face.  "You're gonna do that male model routine again?"

"Oh, it's a little different this time," Hannibal said with a grin. "Go ahead, tell him, Face."

Face squirmed.  It was obviously payback time.  He sighed and looked away.  "She's doing nudes, Murdock."      

PART 4

Climbing out of the pool, Face dutifully sat by Rebecca Clausen's side. He'd managed the assignment with his usual flair, and within a day of his arrival for the first photo shoot, he had her literally eating out of his hand as they skinny-dipped in her pool.  He smiled up at her worshipfully as she accepted a grape from his hand, nibbling his fingers in the process.

He knew the others, who had them under surveillance, must be laughing out loud to see him trotting obediently after a woman twice his age and half again his weight.  But his humiliation would help clear the air, anyway.  The others would tease him mercilessly about it on the way home after the mission.  They'd stop short of calling him a whore, but only just.

Oddly enough, he found he liked Rebecca Clausen.  Not in a sexual way, though he managed to satisfy her in bed.  She was nothing to look at now, overweight, the gray in her hair covered by an unflattering platinum blonde color, the crow's feet around her eyes betraying the aging process she was trying so hard to cover up.  But he had seen pictures of her in her youth, and she had once been a beauty.

As he made love to her, she told him how her husband found his own pleasure elsewhere these days, how he knew about her little...indiscretions...but ignored them because it kept her out of his hair.  She had even cried.  Face pitied her.  He knew what it was like to want to be noticed and loved by someone who so obviously was not interested.  And he hated himself because in the end, he was going to be just one more person who used her. So for now, he did what he could to make her happy as he milked her for information.

She was smarter than she looked.  She knew about Frank's gunrunning activities, and she knew about his extremist political views.  She simply chose to ignore them, filling her own life with beautiful things.

And fill it she had.  Face had noticed the art on the walls, the Ming vases, and the antiques, and he complimented her on her collection.  "Your husband is a lucky man to be married to someone with such exquisite taste," he said.

"I wish he thought so," she said, draping a silk scarf artfully across Face's hips as he reclined on the pile of pillows she was using as props.  "There, now don't move."  She adjusted the angle of his chin a bit then moved to pick up her camera. Despite his initial embarrassment at being photographed in the buff, he had to admit that her photos were tasteful.  He'd expected to feel like he was posing for a porno magazine, but she posed him in ways that were less provocative and far less revealing than he had feared.

He stayed in a guest cottage at Clausen's home for the rest of the week, calling Hannibal once a day to pass along the information he was gleaning from Rebecca. Toward the end of the week, he had all but a few pieces of the information he needed, among them the location of the weapons cache.  They had enough to expose Clausen's operation, but Hannibal was adamant that this shipment of weapons not get through to South America.

"Look, Hannibal," Face said.  "I really kind of hate to put her in this position.  You know that when we bring him down, she's gonna lose everything."

"Can't be helped, kid," Hannibal said.  "Maybe when he's gone, she can start over.  We'll make sure she's protected while we take Frank down, but beyond that, it's out of our hands."

"Hannibal, I really don't like to use a woman like this.  It's..."

"There are women and children in South America, Lieutenant," Hannibal snapped.  "What do you think's gonna happen to them when they're caught in the middle of a civil war financed by Frank Clausen?  They don't have an estate and a fortune to lose, Face.  Only their lives."

Face sighed.  Hannibal was right.  But that didn't make what he was about to do any easier.  Putting down the phone, he waited until Clausen left for the day, then put on his most winning smile and walked to the house to seduce the rest of the information he needed from Rebecca.    

PART 5

Face swiftly picked the lock on the warehouse and slipped inside.  He was a little early for his rendezvous with the rest of the team, but he couldn't bear to be with Rebecca any longer.  Not after his final deception of her, making love to her all afternoon, using his body and his lies to con her into betraying her husband.  So he got started sabotaging the weapons, just in case the rest of the plan went wrong, as Hannibal's plans so often did, and some of the weapons made their way onto one of the many modes of transportation Clausen had arranged to get them out of the country.  It gave him something to do with his hands, something to keep his mind occupied so he didn't have to think too hard about how despicable he really was.

The only good thing to come of this whole mess would be that his position as the team's ladies' man...any lady, any time...would be secure, and none of them would have a reason to suspect that he had leanings in any other direction.  There would be no more questions about who paid for the extended Hawaiian vacation.  This one small triumph would be the first brick in the wall he intended to build between himself and Murdock.

Unfortunately, Face wasn't the only one who wanted to get an early start.  Hearing a step behind him, Face turned to find Frank Clausen and six of his men standing between him and the warehouse door.  Face swiftly considered his options and decided he didn't have any, not with seven weapons pointed at him.  So he shrugged, smiled apologetically, and said, "Just looking for props.  My next job is with "Today's Mercenary" magazine.  I'm gonna be the centerfold."

Clausen was not amused.  "You screw my wife, now you're trying to screw me?"

Face shrugged again.  "Maybe if you were a better husband, she wouldn't be so interested in screwing her models," he retorted.

"Want me to take him out back and shoot him?" one of Clausen's men asked.

"What, can't you do anything for yourself?" Face asked.  "You afraid of a skinny little male model?  You're not man enough to take me?  Jeez, no wonder your wife doesn't want to sleep with you anymore."

One of Clausen's men snickered as Clausen turned red with rage.  But as Face had hoped it would, his taunts had bought him some time.  Clausen wouldn't be satisfied with a quick bullet to the head.  He'd want to make him suffer.  Maybe that would give the rest of the team time enough to get there.

He kept the smile plastered on his face as Clausen and his men approached.  "First we take care of you, playboy," Clausen snarled, "and then we take care of my wife."

As the first man came within reach, Face placed a well aimed heel in the man's groin then swung a fist at Clausen.  For a moment, he thought he'd be able to fight his way to the door, but there were too many of them and not enough of him.  As he was surrounded and the first blows fell, he hoped Hannibal had kept his promise to see that Rebecca was protected.

Consciousness returned slowly, and with it, pain.  Voices spoke above him, and hands moved over his ribs.  He gasped and tried to flinch away.

"Face?  Hey, Face?  I think he's coming around, Colonel."

"Hey, kid, come on.  Wake up.  Wake up."

Face forced his eyes to open.  Eye.  One of them was swollen shut.  He could just make out the blurred forms of Murdock and Hannibal leaning over him, and beyond them, the roof of the van.  It took a few moments for him to remember what had happened.  He tried to get his swollen lips to move, tried to force out a sound.

"R...Re...becca?"

"She's fine, Face," Murdock whispered, knowing what his concern would be.  "She's with the police."

"It's all over, kid," Hannibal said.  "We're on our way home.  Relax."

There would be no teasing of him on this trip.  He spent the entire eight hours on the floor in the back of the van curled miserably around several broken ribs.  A badly-sprained right wrist and deep bruises all over his body made every breath and every movement painful. Their previous irritation forgotten, the others made him as comfortable as they could on a bed of sleeping bags.  B.A. tried to jar him as little as possible as he drove, but it was still a difficult trip.  By the time they got him home late that night, he had developed a fever, and all he wanted to do was lie down on something that didn't move and die.

B.A. and Murdock half-carried him into his condominium, and he groaned as they lowered him to his bed.  Quickly they eased him out of his clothes and covered him.  He felt Hannibal's cool hand on his forehead.

"Murdock, I want you to stay with him."

"Sure."

Face tried to raise his head.  "No," he protested.  "Don't need...anyone."

"You know the rule, Lieutenant," Hannibal said.  "Nobody's left alone when they can't defend themselves."

"Not...Murdock," Face whispered.  "Can't...can't B.A. stay?"

"B.A. has a kid at the center who's about to be removed from her parents' home.  Right now, she needs him more than you do.  And I've still got some loose ends to wrap up on this case.  That leaves Murdock."

Murdock was hurt.  He couldn't believe that Face was still holding a grudge for that Hawaii thing.  Even in the condition he was in, Face could still be petty.  It was unbelievable!  "I'll stay out of your way," he said, sounding exactly as annoyed as he was. "As soon as you're well enough, I'll go."

Face sighed and turned away, closing his eyes.  He heard the others leave the room and shut the door behind them.  Shit.  He'd fucked that up.  Why the hell hadn't he just kept his mouth shut?  That wasn't how it was supposed to be.  He had meant for his friendship with Murdock to cool off slowly as Face withdrew, showing a carefully-cultivated disinterest in Murdock's other activites.  As time went by, Murdock would call him less and less, turn to others for companionship.  Eventually, Face had hoped, they'd see each other only on missions.  Maybe by then Face could harden his heart enough that Murdock's smile and the touch of his hand on Face's arm wouldn't feel like salt poured in an open wound.  But all he'd managed to do now was hurt Murdock again, throw his kindness back in his face.  Now Murdock would be the one to withdraw, which he would do abruptly and completely, leaving them both wounded.

It was a long time before he fell asleep, and he slept badly, bothered by pain, fever, and guilt.  By morning he felt very ill.  He lay quietly for awhile, wondering why he couldn't hear anything from the other room.  Usually when Murdock stayed with him, Face would hear the television or radio and the sounds of Murdock knocking about, cooking or cleaning.  He was usually only still when he was depressed or angry; the rest of the time he was filled with an almost manic energy that had to find some kind of release.

Since he hadn't died during the night, Face knew he wasn't going to find an out that way. Even as ill as he felt, Face knew he needed to get out of bed and repair the damage if he could.  Getting out of bed turned out to be a major production, though, as bruised muscles and twisted joints joined the chorus of pain from his broken ribs and along his flanks.  He hobbled to the bathroom under his own power, though.  He absently noted that his urine was tinged with red, probably as a result of bruised kidneys, and he wondered how many other body parts had been damaged in the attack.

When Face emerged from the bedroom, a robe tied loosely around him, Murdock turned away from the window he'd been staring out of.  Face made it to the middle of the living room before the room began to tilt around him, and he swayed dizzily. In a few quick strides, Murdock reached him as Face's knees buckled.  Murdock caught him under the arms as Face's momentum carried them both to their knees.  Face moaned, clutching his sore ribs.

"Take it easy," Murdock said.  "I've got you.  Rest a minute, then we'll get you to the couch."

For a few moments, Face allowed himself to lean against his friend, to steal a moment's pleasure from the feeling of Murdock's arms holding him close because he knew he would never do this again.  It was Murdock who broke the contact, pulling back and lifting Face carefully as he stood.

"You should've stayed in bed," Murdock said as he led Face to the couch and helped him sit.  "Do you want some coffee?"

"Yeah, thanks," Face whispered, curling up against the arm of the couch.

As Face drank his coffee, Murdock rewrapped his sprained wrist and brought him aspirin and some heat packs for his aching ribs.  He was solicitous, but stiff, and things were awkward between the two men.

Finally, Face said, "Murdock, look.  I'm sorry about what I said last night.  It...didn't come out like I meant it to."

Murdock sat on the coffee table and contemplated his folded hands. "How did you mean it to come out?"

Face sighed and looked away.  "Things have been so...strained between us since your vacation.   I just thought maybe it'd be more, I don't know, more comfortable for us both if someone else stayed."

"Face, I just don't understand what's come over you these days.  We used to be able to talk."

'I used to be able to tell you what you wanted to hear,' Face thought to himself.  Aloud he said, "I don't know.  I guess maybe I used to just be easier to get along with."

Murdock was silent for a few moments while Face eased himself down to lie with his head resting on the arm of the couch.  "Were you really that hurt that I didn't take you to Hawaii with me?"

"I guess I was."

"Is this because for once I got the girl instead of you?  Are you really that petty?"

Because he got the girl?  No, it was because the girl got him.  Because she'd screwed up all Face's carefully laid plans.  Because Murdock had fallen in love with her.  Face sighed and said what he was expected to say. "I just wish you hadn't waited until the last minute to tell me."

"I never said I was taking you!  You just assumed it, but as usual, you never bothered to ask me what I wanted."

Face opened his mouth to speak, but Murdock was on a roll.  "And don't give me any of that crap about what I owe you because you helped me.  When I chose prizes, I chose them for you guys, not me.  That should have been enough thanks, Face."

Face winced.  Murdock was really letting him have it.  They were silent for a few minutes while Murdock replaced the hot pack on Face's swollen ribs.

"Is that too hot?"

Face shook his head.

"You know what your problem is, Face?  You treat friendship like a business transaction where you always have to come out on top."

"You think I was taking advantage of you just to get a free trip?"

"I think you saw the opportunity and took it, yeah.  You've been doing it so long, I think it's unconscious now.  It's the way you relate to the world."

Face looked away, thinking of the way he'd taken advantage of Rebecca Clausen.  "Well, I guess that makes me a real bastard, doesn't it."

Murdock smiled a little.  "No, not always.  But you do have your moments."

Face quickly assessed the situation.  Murdock was winding down now. He'd said what he needed to say and was ready to forgive and forget.  All that was required now was a little sincere contrition, and Murdock would believe everything was right with the world again. Then Face could begin a gradual withdrawal that would spare Murdock's feelings.

"You're right," he said simply.  "I don't have any right to rain on your parade.  I'm sorry."

As Face had known he would, Murdock grinned and squeezed Face's hand. "I'm over it, Face."

'I'm not,' Face thought, but he forced himself to smile back as much as his aching jaw would allow him to.

"And Face, I am grateful for your help with the whole thing.  It was the best trip I ever took."

"I guess any trip is great with a beautiful woman, Murdock," Face joked.  "So tell me, what's she got to offer that I don't?"  Not that he really wanted to know.

"Oh, Face, Jody's perfect!  She's smart and funny and talented, and she's a real nice, honest, hard-working girl.  Nothing like..."

"Like what, Murdock?"

Murdock remained silent, looking embarrassed.  "You can say it," Face said softly. "Nothing like the women I know, right?  Like Rebecca Clausen?"

'And nothing like me, either,' he thought.

"I wish you could find yourself someone, Face, so you could settle down, have a family."

"Is that what you're going to do?"

"I might," Murdock admitted.

"You love her?"

"I think so.  How do you know when you're in love?"

Face couldn't meet his friend's eyes.  Instead he focused on one of the paintings across the room.  "Because it hurts.  When you think about them with someone else, it makes you...it makes you kind of shrivel up inside."

"Christ, I should have known better than to ask you!" Murdock exclaimed.

"I guess you should've," Face said.  But there was no trace of sarcasm in his voice.

"It's just your fever talking, Face," Murdock said, reaching up to lay his hand on Face's forehead.  "You need to be back in bed.  Let's go."  Gently he helped Face off the couch and back to the bedroom.

As Murdock settled him back into bed, Face took some comfort in the knowledge that he'd secretly done something that made his friend so happy.  He could encourage this relationship, and as Murdock grew closer to Jody, Face could separate himself.  Briefly, he thought of Adam and wondered how he was doing.  He'd put an entire continent between himself and his pain for at least the several weeks it would take him to reconcile himself to the situation.  Face wished he could do that as well, but his cash reserves were too low at the moment.  Besides, when he was well enough, he needed to do something to help Rebecca Clausen get back on her feet again.  He owed it to her.

"Face?"

"Hm?"

"Why aren't you using the waterbed I gave you?"

"Can't have it here, Murdock," he murmured.  "Against the association rules."

"Oh.  I didn't think of that.  Sorry."

"It's okay," Face said tiredly.  "Maybe Jody'd like it."

Murdock brightened.  "You don't mind?"

"Why should I?"

"Because then you really won't have gotten anything for helping me."

Face smiled a little.  "I've got the frequency tables," he said softly. "Maybe someday I'll go on the show myself, win my own trip."

Murdock chuckled.  "Maybe you will, Faceman.  Maybe you will."

Face closed his eyes and let his exhaustion pull him down into sleep.  

Part 6

Murdock glanced at the bathroom door as he flipped off the television set after the eleven o'clock news.  Face had been in there since the news had begun; Murdock had assisted him to the bathroom then sat on the bed to wait for him.  Finally the door opened and Face appeared, leaning heavily against the door jamb.  Concerned, Murdock went to help him.  

Face was pale.  Sweat beaded his forehead, and he was trembling. Murdock took in his condition as he slipped an arm around Face's waist to support him. "What happened? You look terrible.  I thought you were never gonna come out of there."  

Face shakily wiped the sleeve of his pajama top across his forehead. "That's what I was saying to the blood clot I just passed."

Murdock grimaced, remembering how much that could hurt.  "Ouch!  Let me help you back to bed, then," he said.

Face sank gratefully into the soft bed and turned on his side, wrapping one arm around his abdomen and groping for the heating pad with the other.  Murdock helped him get the heating pad where he wanted it then gently smoothed his hair and adjusted the blankets. "Can I get you anything?" he asked.

"No, thanks.  Just gonna sleep."

By now Murdock had completely forgotten his anger with Face.  Worried, he continued to check on Face periodically throughout the night.  Though Face rested poorly, his condition didn't seem to worsen, so when Hannibal called, Murdock was able to report that Face was recovering.

By the next evening, Face was feeling enough better that he could allow Murdock to help him into the living room to spend some time on the couch.  His fever had abated, though the pain in his ribs and back still made breathing difficult and movement painful, and the occasional blood clot made trips to the bathroom a highly unpleasant experience.  As much as having Murdock around interfered with his plan to withdraw from their friendship, he knew he needed the help.  So he allowed Murdock to baby him and tried to focus his energies on recovering.

Face had just slipped into a light doze on the couch when the doorbell rang.  He started then groaned as the movement caused knifing pains in his ribs.  Murdock answered the door and exclaimed, "Jody!"

"Hi, H.M.!" Jody said as he hugged her, lifting her off her feet.  "Oh, I hope you don't mind me coming to see you here.  I thought you might like some of my chicken casserole."

"Well," Murdock said hesitantly, "Face isn't feeling too good right now."  He was genuinely glad to see her, but he knew Face didn't like people to just drop over, especially when he didn't look or feel his best.

"It's alright," Face said from the couch.  "C'mon in, Jody."

Jody handed Murdock a casserole dish then crossed the living room to sit on the coffee table beside the couch.  She looked down at Face as he lay there. "H.M. told me you'd been hurt.  How do you feel?"

Face attempted to smile.  "Okay," he said.

Jody looked at his eye critically.  "I know how to make a little poultice that'll take down some of that swelling and make it hurt less," she said.  "Why don't you let me do that for you since I've barged into your house and all while you're sick."

"That's nice, Jody," Murdock said.  "Let's do that."

Face acquiesced because it was easier than arguing.  When the poultice arrived, a cool and sweet-smelling concoction which really did help ease the pain, he closed his eyes so he wouldn't have to see them together.

"We're going to have some dinner," Murdock said as he crouched beside Face.  "Do you want something?"

"No, you go ahead," Face said.  "I'm not hungry."

"Face, you need to eat.  You haven't had anything but some coffee and a little juice since day before yesterday," Murdock said, concerned.

"Maybe later," Face answered.  "I'm tired.  I just want to sleep some."

Murdock reluctantly gave in and followed Jody to the dining room.  Face didn't need to see them to know what was going on.  He could hear the rustling of clothing as they hugged, hear the sounds of their kissing, the way Murdock laughed a little, embarrassed by his own enthusiasm.  Almost without realizing what he was doing, Face raised the fingers of his right hand to his mouth, imagining the feeling of Murdock's lips pressed against his own.

"They hurt?"

Face jumped, and Jody cringed when she saw that it hurt him.  "What?" he asked, opening his uncovered eye.

"Your lips.  Do they hurt?  I saw you touching them.  They're really swollen.  Maybe a little ice would help."

Face sighed.  "It's okay, Jody.  Go ahead and have dinner."  He watched her join Murdock at the dinner table then closed his eyes again.  Even so, he felt like a peeping Tom listening to their soft conversation.

He wanted to hate Jody.  He wanted her to be a cheap, classless, dumb blonde.  But as he listened to their conversation, he realized Murdock was right about her.  She was sweet, happy, enthusiastic, and interesting.  He could tell by the tone of Murdock's voice that he felt something special for this woman.  There was a soft lilt to his voice that Face had never heard before, as if he were smiling from the inside out.  How could he begrudge Murdock a chance at this kind of happiness?  He wanted to hate Jody, but he couldn't.

Finally, though, he couldn't remain in the room any more.  He sat up and asked Murdock to help him back to his bed.  He took his leave of Jody and almost couldn't believe the words were coming out of his mouth when he heard himself tell her to make herself at home and stay as long as she wanted.  She blushed prettily and exchanged a shy glance with Murdock as Face turned away.

"Thanks, Face," Murdock said as he helped Face climb into bed.

Face closed his eyes and waved his hand dismissively. "You might want to change the sheets on the guest bed," he said. "And there's...uh...protection in the nightstand."

Murdock blushed even as he smiled.  "Call if you need anything," he said.  "I'll hear you."

Face nodded and closed his eyes, turning away.  'Unfortunately,' he thought as Murdock left the room and turned off the light, 'I'll hear you, too.'

Face spent another restless night, trying to ignore the noises he could hear from the next room, pretending to be asleep when Murdock came in to check on him. Toward dawn he finally fell deeply asleep, and he didn't wake until midafternoon.  He couldn't hear any voices, and he wondered if Jody were still there.  He was able once again to make it to the bathroom under his own power, knowing the pain in his lower abdomen meant he was going to be in there awhile.  Eventually there was a soft knock on the door.

"Face?  You need any help?"

"No."    'I don't know what the hell he thinks he can do for me,' Face thought to himself. 'Maybe Jody has a poultice for this, too.'  He would have laughed at the image if he weren't in such pain.   Murdock sat in a chair outside the bathroom door and tapped his foot nervously.  He jumped to his feet as soon as he heard the toilet flush and the water running.  When Face opened the bathroom door, Murdock waited to assist him back to bed, but instead, Face stepped back into the bathroom.  "I'm okay, Murdock.  I'm going to take a shower and clean up."

"Need help?"

"No, I can stand up long enough to take a shower."

"Then leave the bathroom door open, okay?  There's nobody else here."

"Alright."

"I'm going to make you something to eat."

"Oh, Murdock, I don't know," Face began, but Murdock cut him off.

"No, you've got to eat.  I'll make you some soup or something, but you've got to have something in your stomach."

As he listened to the shower and heated a can of soup, Murdock wondered why Face was so reluctant to accept his help.  Usually he ate it up when Murdock babied him.  Right now, he was tolerating it only grudgingly.  He hoped it wasn't still that stupid Hawaii thing; he thought they'd gotten past that.  Maybe Face was just still embarrassed about the way he'd acted.

By the time the soup was ready, Face was showered, shaved, and dressed in the clean pajamas Murdock had laid out for him.  Murdock met him at the bathroom door.  "Taxi's here," he quipped, taking Face's elbow.

Face smiled faintly and let Murdock take him to the kitchen table.  He managed to get through a bowl of soup and a few soda crackers before he was ready to return to his bed. While he'd eaten, Murdock had changed the sheets for him.

"You feeling any better today, muchacho?" Murdock asked as Face crawled under the blankets.

"I think so," Face said.  "A little.  I'm really tired, though."

"Well, you should be.  Last night was the first decent night's sleep you've had since you were beaten up."

Face nodded and closed his eyes just as the doorbell rang.  "Jody?" he asked.

Murdock shook his head.  "No, she had to leave this morning for Vegas. She's working the next several nights.  I won't see her again until next weekend. I'll go get rid of them."

Face heard Murdock say, "What do you want?" as he opened the door.  His tone was hard and unfriendly, not one Face often heard in his voice. "How did you get this address?"

"Please, I have to see him!"  It was Rebecca Clausen's voice.

"He's still in pretty bad shape.  If you remember, your husband beat the crap out of him."

"Please, just ask if he'll see me."

"Alright, I'll go ask.  Stay here."

Murdock came into his bedroom looking angry.  "Rebecca Clausen's here. She wants to see you."

Face nodded.  "Send her in.  And Murdock, please don't give her a hard time."

Reluctantly Murdock nodded his assent before leaving the room and coming back with Rebecca in tow.  "Please keep it short," he said as she came in.  "He needs to rest."

"I will," she said.

Murdock moved to the back of the room and stood with his arms folded across his chest.

"Murdock," Face said as Rebecca came to sit on the side of his bed, "could we have a little privacy, please?"

Murdock shook his head.  "Sorry.  Can't leave you alone with a visitor."

"You were alone with a visitor last night!" Face shot back testily.

"I'm not injured," Murdock said.  "I'm sorry, Face, but it's one of Hannibal's rules.  He'd have my head on a platter if he knew I'd left you alone with her."

Face knew it was true.  He hadn't realized how seriously the others had taken his beating. For himself, he didn't much care.

"Oh, honey, I'm so sorry this happened," Rebecca said, reaching out to touch his bruised cheek.

"It's alright, Rebecca," Face said, intercepting her hand and holding it gently.  "I'm the one who should be apologizing."

Rebecca shook her head.

"Yes!" Face insisted.  "I used you to get information."

Rebecca smiled.  "I've never been used so well, sweetie," she said gently.  "I knew what Frank was doing, and I should have had enough character to do something about it instead of waiting for you to come along and do it for me.  If you used me, Templeton, it was for a good reason."  She stroked her fingers gently through his hair, something she had enjoyed doing as they made love.

"Still, I'm sorry," Face said.

"For the few days you were with me, I felt young again.  And attractive.  I remembered what it should feel like to be with a man, to be treated as if I were important.  You have no idea how precious that is to me, especially now."

Face sighed.  "What are you going to do now, Rebecca? Do you have anything left?"

Rebecca laughed a little.  "Not much.  But I was able to keep the Monet, which I sold to the county art museum, so I've got a little to get by on for awhile. Maybe I can get a job." She held up a large envelope.  "And, sweetie, I've brought your pictures.  They turned out beautifully.  Would you like to see them?"

"Sure."  Seeing nude pictures of himself wasn't what he really wanted to do, but he couldn't bring himself to turn Rebecca down.  He owed her at least this much.

Murdock found something to look at out the window while Rebecca went through the pictures with Face.  In spite of his embarrassment, Face was again impressed with her skill.  He knew a well-photographed nude when he saw one, and these photos were superb.

"Rebecca, have you got any more pictures?  Other subjects?  Other people?"

"Yes, I have quite a few.  The police didn't take those. Why?  Did you want some more?"

"Not for me.  You've got talent, Rebecca, really.  I've got a friend in the art world who would really be impressed by your work.  He could probably help you start a real career in photography.  Will you let me call him and give him your number?"

"Are you sure?  You don't have to do anything for me."

"I want to.  And he'll jump at the chance to work with you, I'm sure of it.  Please let me do this for you."

Rebecca nodded and smiled.  "I thought you wouldn't even want to see me, Templeton.  I had no idea you'd be so generous to me after what Frank did.  I'm the fat, middle-aged wife of a soon-to-be-convicted criminal.  Why do you even care?"

With his good hand, Face reached out and placed a hand over her heart. "Because you're beautiful where it counts, Rebecca.  Beautiful and talented, and you deserve so much better than you've been getting all these years.  Better than I gave you.  And certainly better than Frank gave you."

Rebecca's eyes welled with tears, and for a moment she couldn't speak. When she found her voice, she wiped a tear from her cheek and smiled.  "You really think I can make a go of it?"

Face smiled.  "You'll be famous by next Christmas," he said.

Noting the fatigue evident in Face's voice, Murdock took a step forward.  "I'm sorry, Mrs. Clausen," he said, much more gently than he'd addressed her before, "but he really does need to rest."

Rebecca nodded.  "I'll write the phone number where I'm staying on this envelope, and you can give it to your friend," she said.

Face nodded again.  "I'll call him first thing tomorrow," he promised.

Rebecca leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead.  "You're an angel, Templeton."

Face laughed a little.  "Choir boy, maybe, but no angel," he said.

Rebecca was still smiling when she left.  Murdock followed her out and saw her to the door.  When he came back to the bedroom, Face was still awake.

"I wasn't kidding about you needing rest, Face," he said as he sat on the bed.  "You need to get to sleep."

"I will, I will," Face said.

"That was really nice, what you offered to do for her," Murdock said.

"It's hard to see under the peroxide and make-up, Murdock," Face said, "but she's beautiful in ways other people don't see.  If someone really loved her, she'd blossom.  I know she would."

Murdock smiled and shook his head.  Face's thoughts sometimes took an odd poetic turn, and he was always throwing you by acting like a complete shit one minute and then turning around and doing something wonderful and generous the next.  He was the most perplexing friend Murdock had ever had.  If he hadn't been here to see it himself, he'd never have guessed that Face would do something like that.  He just wouldn't have believed it.  He had to wonder now if there was anything Face wouldn't do for somebody.

 

Part  7

Murdock closed Face's bedroom door halfway and went to the dining room table to remove the soup bowl and glass Face had left there after lunch and carry them to the sink. That Face had left dirty dishes on the table was another sign of his condition; he never left anything dirty or out of place if he could help it.

He sat on the couch, intending to read the newspaper, but his eye was drawn to the stack of photos Rebecca had left on the coffee table next to the envelope with her phone number on it.  Feeling just a little voyeuristic, he picked up the pictures and looked at them.  When he'd first heard that Face was going to pose as Rebecca's model, he had rolled his eyes and wondered what the hell Face was thinking.  But Face had an entirely different outlook on that sort of thing than Murdock did.

To Face, the human body was a work of art.  He understood about ways to make it look its best, to show it off to its best advantage.  Perhaps that was why he was always so immaculately dressed and groomed.  When they walked through the occasional art gallery, Face always frankly admired the nudes while Murdock sometimes became very interested in the signage.  But Face could look at a painting, photo, or sculpture and explain to Murdock what was so good about the pose or the setting.  He was always very clinical about it, though it was obvious he admired and appreciated a beautiful body of any gender.

Even with his limited understanding of that aspect of art, Murdock could see that Rebecca had talent.  And he could see that she had a stunning subject to work with.  He'd seen Face in various states of undress many times since he'd known him.  But he'd never really looked at him before, not like this.  He sat back on the couch and examined the photos carefully.  There was nothing tasteless or offensive about any of them. In some she'd captured that look he sometimes had, a vulnerable, wistful expression that crossed his face when he was preoccupied with his own thoughts and didn't realize he was being watched. In others she'd paired a completely innocent pose with the charming smile that usually got him anything he wanted.  Mixed in with the posed shots were a couple she'd taken of him in a brass bed when he must have fallen asleep on the thick down comforter waiting for her to adjust her camera.  He lay on his back, his features relaxed, one arm flung carelessly over his head while the other rested over his heart, legs stretched out comfortably. Rebecca had written the word "angel" at the bottom of the photo. Looking at him resting on what might have passed for a white cloud, Murdock had to agree. Face was beautiful. He was more than beautiful.

Looking back on the pictures, thinking of the kindness Face had shown Rebecca Clausen, Murdock wondered why it was that even though women fell at Face's feet, he never had developed a lasting relationship with any of them.  There had been Leslie...Sister Theresa, now...in his college days, and Murdock had seen him with many women since, but never with one woman for more than a month.  It was odd.  He knew that Face treated women well, which was one of the reasons they were so attracted to him.

Sure, he was gorgeous, and that was a definite asset, but Murdock knew Face had also always been kind and solicitous to any woman he brought around...even the ones Hannibal referred to as "the bimbo of the week."  His orphanage training had been superb.  He stood up when they came into a room, opened doors for them, engaged them in conversation even when the others were sitting around doing what Amy called "guy talk" and largely ignoring the females.

Unlike himself, who got tongue-tied and nervous around most beautiful women, Face was at ease with them.  He imagined Face could get sex whenever and wherever he wanted it. He certainly would be able to if the women could get their hands on these pictures.  So why was it that for all his tender concern for women, for all his breathtaking beauty, he could never stay with one woman?  Had his abandonment by Leslie really screwed him up that badly?  Or was it him?  Did he really just not want that kind of relationship?  He shrugged inwardly as he put the pictures back on the coffee table and put the envelope on top of them.  In fifteen years, he'd never really understood Face.  He probably wasn't going to start now.

Murdock remained with Face for the next two days. For Face, they were as emotionally painful as they were physically.  Murdock resumed his normal activities, cooking enough food for a week and cleaning every surface in the house, though he also found time every day for at least one long telephone conversation with Jody.

Face spent most of the time in bed, finding himself wanting to sleep most of the time.  He had no real appetite but choked down what Murdock brought him anyway. As he lay in bed curled around the heating pad and listening to Murdock's side of his conversations with Jody, he wished that Adam were there to hold him, to let him pretend the whispered words of love were for him.    

Part  8  

When Hannibal came by the next day to see for himself how Face was doing, he found Face in much better condition.    Though it was obvious he was still hurting, the bruising was beginning to fade a bit, and he was more mobile.  Thankfully, his kidneys seemed to be functioning normally again.  He was glad to see, too, that Face and Murdock seemed to have patched things up between them.  Face still seemed a little down to him, but he brightened when Hannibal gave him a fat envelope containing the team's fee.

"One more dirtbag bites the dust," Hannibal said around his cigar.

Face riffled through the cash and nodded.  "Soon as I can get out again, I'll get this put in our accounts," he said.

"You think I could just get part of my payment in cash now, Face?" Murdock asked.  "I have a date this weekend."

"Sure."  Face counted out some bills and handed them over.  "That enough?"

Murdock looked at the large wad of bills in surprise.  Usually Face gave him spending money only in small increments, saying he wasted it when he should be saving, and he usually grilled him on what he was planning to buy.

"You can use the car, too, if you need to."

Hannibal reached over and laid a hand on Face's forehead.  "You feeling okay?" he asked. Face rarely let anyone else drive his car.

Face batted away the hand impatiently.  "I can't drive for awhile with these ribs," he said impatiently.  He looked up at Murdock.  "But you'd better bring it back with gas in it."

Murdock smiled.  "That's nice, Face, really.  But Jody's driving our new car into town, so we won't need yours."

Face had forgotten about that.  Murdock had given Jody the car he'd won on "Wheel of Fortune" to replace the clunker that had died on her on the way to Vegas.

"Well in that case," Hannibal said brightly, "I'll borrow your car, Face.  Then B.A. can keep the van."

Face sighed.  "The keys are by the front door.  Don't take it over eighty."

"You about ready to release Murdock from custody, Lieutenant?" Hannibal asked.

"Yeah, I think I can manage on my own now," Face said.  "There are some papers in the desk drawer that you'll need to convince the VA he's been cured and can be back home."

"I'll just stay one more night," Murdock said.  "I think you need just one more night of not having to sleep with one eye open before we leave you here alone."

Face nodded.  While it had been uncomfortable for him to have Murdock around, while it had completely wrecked his timeline for building that wall between himself and Murdock, it had been nice to know that when he slept, he could completely relax, knowing that Murdock wouldn't let anything get by him.  He'd always felt safe with Murdock around. If things had gone according to plan, Murdock would be living here with him now, and he could sleep well every night.  'Don't think about it,' he told himself. Aloud he said, "Alright, one more night.  Then you're going."

"And after he's gone, we're all taking some time off," Hannibal said. "It's going to take several weeks for those ribs to really heal, Face.  I don't want you doing anything strenuous and reinjuring them."

"I won't."

"Okay."  Hannibal stood.  "I'll be back at eight tomorrow, Murdock.  Be ready."

 Early the next morning Murdock repacked his duffel bag and made a pot of coffee.  He heard Face making noise in his bathroom and was glad he felt well enough to be up and around.  All he needed now were the papers he had to take back to the VA.  Face had said they were in the desk drawer.

As he pulled open the desk drawer and grabbed the fake medical report, his saw the frequency tables he and Face had used to study for Wheel of Fortune and grinned at the thought of Face going on the show himself and cleaning them out.  Hell, he'd probably bring Vanna White home with him!  He pulled out the frequency tables, and as he did, a paper slipped out of the notebook and fell to the floor.  He stooped to pick it up, gave it a cursory glance, then did a double take.

It was the list of places he'd gone with Jody in Hawaii.  The names, addresses, phone numbers, reservation times...everything.  My God, it really had been Face.  Face!  But how could he have known Murdock was taking Jody?  He said he didn't know. That's why he showed up to collect Murdock and go to the airport.  Why on earth would he lie about something like this?

Scanning the list, he found one unfamiliar name.  One place he knew they hadn't been. But he knew it by reputation.  A well-known, high-priced, very exclusive gay nightclub. Why would Face make reservations at a...slowly the truth dawned on him. 'Oh, no,' he thought.  'Oh no.'  He went to stick the list back in the book and return it to the desk, but the sharp intake of breath he heard across the room told him it was too late.

List still in his hand, he turned to where Face stood in his bedroom doorway and watched all the blood drain from his face.  Their eyes met for a few heartbeats while both remained speechless, then Face turned away abruptly, crossed his arms over his chest, and leaned heavily against the door jamb.

"I...I'm sorry, Face.  It just fell out."

Face said nothing, could say nothing.  He could scarcely breathe.

Murdock tried again.  "I had no idea, Face.  No idea.  You never said anything about being...about being..."  He sighed.  He was just absolutely floored by this revelation.  Face had made these expensive and luxurious arrangements for him...for them. He must have been planning to say something while they were there.  "Oh, Face, what ever made you think I was gay?"

Face's voice was barely audible.  "You told me you had a male lover once."

Murdock remembered that drunken and unwise confession.  He'd wished ever since that he hadn't made it.  He crossed the room and stood behind Face.  God, he could almost feel the waves of misery that washed over his friend.  "I told you that was just experimentation, Face.  I was a kid, barely seventeen.  I wasn't even altogether sure how my own plumbing worked.  I didn't mean to give you the impression that I..."

He raised his hand and gently stroked the back of Face's head, trying to soothe him.  "I'm so sorry, Face.  I can't love you like that.  I wish I could; God knows you deserve it.  But I just can't."

Face flinched away from him and Murdock lowered his hand.  "Face," he began, but he was interrupted by the doorbell.

"It's Hannibal," Face said without turning around.  "You'd better go."

Murdock sighed.  "Just a minute!" he hollered irritably at the doorbell as it continued to ring.  "Face, we need to talk about this."

"Not now," Face whispered.  "Not now."  He stepped into his bedroom and shut the door behind him without even looking back.

"What took you?" Hannibal said as Murdock opened the door.  He saw the expression on Murdock's face and said, "What's wrong?"

Murdock tried to compose himself.  This was not something he wanted the whole team in on.  He and Face needed to work it out themselves.  But right now was not the time.  He knew Face would need time to pull himself together, to reconcile himself both to the fact that Murdock knew how he felt and to the way he found out.  His heart ached for his friend, but right now, there was nothing he could do.  And he needed time, too, to decide how to approach this.

"Nothing.  I'm fine."

"Face?"

"He's fine.  He's in his room."

Murdock kept the list folded so Hannibal couldn't see it as he went back to the desk, pulled out the papers he needed, and slipped the list back into the frequency tables.  He picked up his duffel bag, glanced worriedly at the bedroom door, hesitated, then stepped out of the house and locked the door behind him without another word.

Next


Fortune's Fool by Elizabeth Kent

 

 


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