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This page last viewed: 2017-08-15 and has been viewed 3312 times
Letting Off Steam
by Stompy Sara
Summary: Face is forced to confront feelings he never knew he possessed.
Warnings: Slash (m/m) situations. Language.
Author's note: I was having a HARD time w/another fic so started this one to let off steam, hence the title. First attempt at slash. Pretty rough if you ask me, but it was fun. therapeutic. comment away ^_~
To say that Face was having a bad day would be drastic understatement.
His apartment building had never looked more inviting as he pulled into the parking garage, again noticing the crumpled right front of his beloved corvette. He slammed the door, heedless of past admonishments to the guys for doing the same, stalked to the elevator, jammed the button for his floor. Looked down at himself as the elevator ascended swiftly. Another suit ruined.
He moped down the hall at a more sedate pace, had just put the key in the lock when a voice made him jump.
"Templeton?" He jerked his head up to see Laura Penrose standing there, a woman he had been dating on and off for several months. There was a low snapping sound as the key broke off inside the lock. He stared down, disbelieving.
"Templeton. You haven't called me in six days. Could you please explain yourself?" The woman was still jabbering on. Jesus Christ, he'd had enough. His feelings must have translated directly to the look in his eyes, for Laura took a hasty step backwards, clutching her purse in front of her like a shield. He didn't move or say anything, just stared at her.
"Why are you looking at me like that? What's wrong?" Regaining some of her composure, Laura walked towards him timidly while he continued to stand motionless. "Oh, Temp. You broke your key off in the lock? Look, I'll use my cell-phone and we can - "
"Don't call me that."
"What?" She looked up from rummaging in her purse, confused.
"Don't call me Temp. Only my close, personal friends," his voice rising as he walked towards her slowly, "ever called me Temp. It's something I haven't heard since 'Nam. So don't. Use. It. OKAY?" His last word echoed off the vaulted ceiling of the hall. Laura's chin went up, her eyes haughty with outrage.
"When you can get yourself together and remember some MANNERS, I would appreciate if you called me. I left several things in your apartment and I would like them back." She turned on her heel and left. Face stared stupidly for a moment, realized he'd snapped at a woman he had considered very close to him only a few days ago. What was happening? Tiredly he fished inside his coat pocket, produced his picks. A small implement inserted beside the broken end of the key quickly pulled it out. Another tool opened the door. Reflexively he re-set the alarm, shrugged his clothes off a piece at a time, and locked himself in the bathroom.
There were twenty-eight messages on his machine when he finally emerged, steam trailing him as he made his way to the kitchen to find a drink. Dewar's on the rocks promised heaven. Irritably he pressed the button to the machine, plucked the remote from the glass-and-steel end table and turned on the stereo.
Obviously Murdock was the last to be fooling with the thing. He opened the cd player to find all the music changed. Still, the guy had pretty good taste, if eclectic. He settled for Charlie Parker and threw himself on the suede sofa as Laura's voice haunted him from her third message.
His thoughts turned bemused as the fifth message spun it's sound around that of the saxophone breathing from the speakers. He liked Laura. True, she was a bit …. over-cultured at times. Okay, she could be a snob. But the places he frequented tended towards the idle rich, and at least she was a career girl. He hated when a woman needed to see him every damn minute. It made him suffocate. Laura had been different. She was independent and intelligent, interested in most of the same things he enjoyed, merely laughed at his persuasive antics. It never bothered her that he was basically a conman. She'd been excited by some of his more risky undertakings, didn't ask questions, which he couldn't have provided anyway. But now -
It was just the topper to an incredibly frustrating day. Hannibal's plan - well they never went just the way he anticipated anyway, but this time had almost been a complete disaster. Face's corvette ended up the only means of transportation as B.A.'s van had been inadvertently impounded, and now the shop would probably tell him that they could fix it for, say, a few grand at the least. Not to mention their narrow escape from that bastard Decker, geez you'd think the guy could take a vacation or something, but NO, seemed the man was always on their heels now. They hadn't dared take Murdock back to the VA with a tail on them all the time. For all he knew, B.A. and Murdock were still trapped in that hotel room. The pass he'd scammed for the pilot would expire tomorrow. One more thing to worry about.
His mood darkened again on that thought. He suddenly wished he could call Laura and explain his behavior away, coax her into coming over with some bourbon and a back-rub for him. Just someone to listen to him would be nice right now. He sighed, felt sorry for himself. Felt lonely, as he usually did when a mission was over, and his closest friends couldn't contact him for fear of discovery. Sometimes being a fugitive really sucked.
The tap on the window had him crouching behind the sofa, pulling a revolver from it's hiding place underneath same sofa. He peered around the side to the window that faced the carefully tended gardens of his complex. A loopy grin and a wave answered him. He started to breathe again as he pushed the safety back on and went to open the window.
Murdock swung inside, looking around innocently. "Hiya Face! How's tricks?" The pilot sauntered into the living room, pulled a bottle from his jacket and glanced about for an opener, while Face watched incredulously. He must be losing his edge, all these people just sneaking up on him lately. . . well it was Murdock after all. Through the window, for chrissakes. He shut it and pulled the blinds, glancing out one more time just out of habit. Murdock made himself at home, propping sneakered feet up on the coffee table, offered Face a new glass. Bourbon. Face's mouth hinted at a smile as he sat beside his friend. He began to relax. Murdock was looking at him in that way. . .
"You been on edge lately, Faceman. What's up?"
Face sighed. He never could hide anything from Murdock, but he was sick of whining. They were all lonely sometimes, even Murdock, whose colorful world was probably crammed with kindred spirits of all shapes and sizes. He got up and went to the fireplace for something to do. Could never look in those dark eyes and not pour his heart out.
"You know how it is, Murdock. . . sometimes it just gets to you. The running. And not being able to . . . make friends the way you want to. Or need to. Lacking companionship - "
"You got me, Facey." Face smiled into the mirror over the mantle. Murdock was rummaging through his cd collection again, tossing covers to the rug indiscriminately. Face pressed yet another button, starting the gas flame flickering over ceramic logs. It was soothing. So was Murdock's presence, if a bit crazed at times. The man couldn't stand still. Face went to sit on the couch, watching the pilot make over his living room. Suddenly Nina Simone was murmuring from the stereo. He shivered, despair settling behind his eyes. He stared into his glass as Murdock jabbered on.
"Yeah, thought I'd come over since the big guy an' I gotta share that room for a few more days. . . what a grump he is in the mornin', let me tell ya! And you just drove off this afternoon, you had that wild look you get, you know, when you're about to break. . . Face?" Murdock turned from where he'd been arranging flowers over the mantle. Face didn't look away, as a tear slid down his cheek. Murdock's face went absolutely still. The pilot put his glass on the bar and sat next to him. Face wanted desperately to cry, his control slipping further when Murdock put a hand on his shoulder, so gently. He said nothing. Nina Simone filled the silence tentatively, "If I should lose you, the stars would fall from the sky. . ."
"Temp?" Murdock's light voice put so much behind that one nickname. Face turned finally, saw affection and concern in the brown eyes. He felt a sudden urge to trace the lean jawline, follow it down the pilot's neck to his collarbone.
What the hell -
Face jumped up, nearly spilling bourbon on his robe. Shakily he made it to the bar before the ice bounced out of the glass. Must be losing his mind -
How could he betray their friendship like that -
How could he feel that way -
"Face." Murdock whispered at his side, next to him at the bar. Didn't touch him, Face noticed. He could barely hear his friend over his own staccato heartbeat.
"I'm fine, I'm fine, just don't - "
"You're not fine, don't give me that. What's wrong? What did I do?"
What did -you- do? Face shook his head slowly, over and over. "I just need a drink, just need to relax."
"You've got a drink. Man, Face, it's just me! You CAN relax." There was a smile in Murdock's voice, but only a touch. Christ, what now?
How could he ever relax now?
Face entered the room slowly, put the spare pillow on the futon in the middle of the bleached wood floor. His guest bedroom had the clean, spare lines of traditional Japanese style, marred only by the swinging Western door. A low table under the window held an orchid in a black square vase, a kimono Face had picked up years ago in Okinawa the only art displayed on the walls. Despite Murdock's usual penchant for organized chaos, he loved this room. Face smiled, picked up a tiny origami animal Murdock had carefully folded into being the last time he was here. He squinted, turned it a bit, trying to figure out what it was. A gryphon maybe? Trust Murdock to choose the only creature with an identity crisis. He carefully returned the figure to the table, glanced out the window, eyes caught and held by the low yellow moon rising huge above the swaying silhouettes of trees.
He had managed to make it through the evening, convince Murdock nothing was specifically wrong, that he was just depressed and out of sorts. Mercifully the pilot let it be, not because he believed Face, but probably because he knew he wouldn't get anything out of his friend right now. Face clutched the sill, tried to clear his mind. He could hear Murdock singing as he cleaned the dishes from dinner, had insisted on cooking a meal concocted from the dubious contents of Face's refrigerator. The food and two more glasses of bourbon settled heavily on his nervous stomach, the liquor muddling his thoughts, driving his awareness of the other man further into confusion instead of dulling his senses as he had hoped. And now he had invited Murdock to stay the night.
Face refused to think about the whys and wherefores of his sudden attraction. The one thing he knew was that he didn't want to be alone in an empty apartment tonight. He and Murdock would be safely separated by walls and doors; he would save speculations and doubts for later. At least, he would do his damndest.
"Hey Face? Mind if I call the big guy? He's probably wondering why I'm not back yet." Murdock leaned in the doorway, hands jammed in the pockets of his khacki pants, eyes inquisitive but not intrusive. He had his cap on backwards, making him look even more boyish. Face ignored the fluttering in his stomach and came away from the window, trying to smile.
"Yeah, no problem. I'm - I'm gonna go to bed, okay? It's been a long day." He slipped past Murdock into the hall, brushing against him slightly, experiencing a wobbly thrill in his nerves from their contact even as he tried to quell it. Maybe he was just tired, maybe just drunk. . .
In the darkness of his own bedroom, he pulled silk pajama pants on, fell into bed, closed his eyes. Let the alcohol spiral through his head like mist, obscuring confusion and worry. More quickly than he thought possible, he was asleep.
His eyes snapped open, half-dozing in the early-morning dark, still on the alert from days of watch duty. Something had woken him - a small sound coming through the walls. He rose silently, through the open door into the hallway, paused at the guest bedroom. The door was closed, habit Murdock had picked up from the VA, only way he felt safe. Face vacillated, knew if he stepped in he would cross the safe barriers the walls and doors represented. He turned the knob, entered soundlessly.
"Murdock?" Eyes adjusting to the moonlight leaking through the blinds, Face stood uncertainly over the figure on the futon. Murdock had kicked the blanket mostly off, one arm flung above his head. Murmured something Face couldn't quite make out. Face knelt at the edge of the futon, afraid to wake him, tried to catch the half-whispered words, make sense of them. To wake him suddenly would be cruel, and dangerous - he'd seen Murdock in the throes of nightmare before, had made the mistake of shaking the pilot awake. His head still smarted with the ghost of pain, where Murdock had grasped a chunk of his hair to pull him into a choke-hold, thinking him some enemy.
"Nn. . .Nothing." Murdock twitched, turned on his side.
"Murdock. Wake up." Face leaned over him, smelled the slight spice of soap and aftershave from his own cabinet. Must've taken a shower before going to bed - cursed himself seven kinds of fool at that thought. He observed with a tiny part of his awareness that the pilot wore no shirt, as he shifted to sit on the futon, hoping the movement would bring Murdock awake.
"Please. Don't. I don't. . ." Murdock moaned, and Face gritted his teeth, heard tendons in his jaw protest. No matter that he'd had those dreams himself, this was what had snapped his friend in the first place. Hesitantly, softly, he drew his fingers through Murdock's hair, wanting to calm him, hoping he wouldn't wake violently.
"No. Da không. . . D_ng lai!" Murdock gasped and jerked away, shuddering, caught in the dream still as he cried out in Vietnamese. He focused haltingly on Face, remembering where he was even as he viewed his friend through the haze of sleep. Face froze when Murdock started laughing, that crazed scratch of sound that turned his blood to ice, threw his senses into a maelstrom of past and present forced together. Wrinkle in time. He grabbed Murdock's arms and shook him. Murdock inhaled sharply, subsided into silence, eyes widening as they always did when the knowledge hit him. That loss of control, forever riding the edge, but still shocked whenever he slipped to the wrong side. Face refused to flinch when Murdock raised a hand to touch his hair.
"You're real. Am I? Is this?" Face nodded, playing along. The slats of the blinds cast narrow bars of light across his friend's face, eyes in shadow, then illuminated as he shifted. He wanted to kiss the sweat-damp hair. Murdock's gaze wandered the darkness, seeking substance. Face offered details.
"My apartment. The guest bedroom. You want the light on?"
"No. Just - can you stay, Face?"
Face had never refused, ever. He wouldn't now. He waited for Murdock to lie down, covered him with the blanket again, heard him sigh, whispered susurration of sound that caressed the dark, Face's heart. He didn't understand, but now was not the time. He cleared his mind and lay down, back to back, that slight contact all Murdock needed to sleep. And never to dream.
Face closed his eyes.
His whole balance was off.
Timing was essential for his scams. He didn't possess it these days, couldn't lay the words down convincingly and produce the results he always expected, every time. The smile was crooked, maybe.
The eyes couldn't hold the trick. Too much turmoil, edging out his usual self-assured cornflower gaze, designed to assure, to charm. And they lost opportunities, supplies. Hannibal was concerned. B.A. was irate, but that was a given. Murdock tried to draw him out. Murdock -
Face propped his feet up on the desk in the cramped office, watched through the open doorway as Murdock flirted harmlessly with the petite flight instructor. Papers that Face was supposed to be looking over lay forgotten in his lap. He tapped a pencil against his lips thoughtfully. Watching.
He couldn't fault Murdock's taste. She was exotic, her Japanese heritage evident in the uptilt of the sea-green eyes, the black hair winging down her back. Her Irish blood in the laugh and the mischievous glint of an intelligent gaze. Her hand rested lightly on Murdock's arm. He smiled, laughed, gestured towards the Schweizer 300CBs lined up tidily in the hangar. In his element.
In Face's hands, the pencil snapped.
"Lieutenant?" He almost fell out of his chair as Hannibal came around the desk. Who knew how long he'd been standing there. . . Face dropped his eyes to the papers in his lap, couldn't hide the broken pencil. His Colonel stood over him, speculating. Cigar smoke drifted lazily on the air-conditioned currents. Face looked up as though being interrupted from absorption of the papers' contents.
"Oh, hi Hannibal. You know, I can't find anything in Keili's records indicating problems when her father ran the company. Maybe we need to look farther back - "
"Face." Hannibal interrupted quietly. He sat on the desk, looked down at Face. Face looked at him brightly.
"Do you wanna tell me what's wrong? Or is this another thing you keep to yourself?"
Face averted his eyes, changed his mind, looked back up almost defiantly. False smile still hovering at the corners of his mouth.
"I'm fine, Hannibal. Just tired. You know, it _is_ difficult trying to find everything you guys need all the time, and lately I guess I've just been off, or something. . . but these files you asked me to look at, even I can't find a problem, she said her father kept records of everything since he opened the business. Maybe they got lost in her move." He tapped the papers deftly on the desk, closed them in a folder. The pencil pieces fell to the floor, small tapping sounds as they bounced on concrete. Hannibal said nothing, face expressed nothing. He stood.
"We need weapons, Face. You have two days. Results, Lieutenant." He turned to leave. Face stared angrily at his commanding officer's back.
"I'm not a magician, Hannibal. I need more time - "
The older man calmly stuck his cigar in his mouth, spoke around it. "You don't know what you need, and you won't ask. When you get around to asking, I'll be around. Until then, weapons. Two days." Hannibal ducked out the side door leading to the outside corridor.
"Shit, shit, shit. . ." Face longed to overturn the desk, shades of B.A. The chair scraped loudly as he stood, kicked the pencil pieces across the room. He stalked through the door to the hangar, shouldered past Murdock and Keili who were apparently sharing another joke.
"Face? Hey, what's up?" He ignored the pilot's inquiries, made his way through the line of small student helicopters to the maintenance area. B.A. was meticulously checking out one of the choppers, sabotaged by a loose line and missing parts. He looked up, nodded as Face went past. Face waved absently, continued outside.
The view did nothing to improve his mood. Foothills were hazy in the distance, marred by smog and industrial smokestacks closer to. A freeway to the west droned constantly. Face closed his eyes, suppressed a desire to scream. The door opened, slammed behind him. He knew.
Murdock appeared beside him, looked around nonchalantly. Humming a song Face couldn't stand. The pilot's hair peaked from beneath the cap, ruffled by the wind. Face looked away before he could notice details, like the flecks of gold that only appeared in Murdock's eyes when the sun hit them just right. The crooked smile that tugged at his heart. It had been a week now.
How long could he do this?
"Keili's gonna let us borrow one of her Robinson's if we need it, Facey. So there's one thing ya don't have to worry about. I went up with her this morning." Murdock laughed. "She's almost as crazy as me. There were two planes comin' in, and she just - "
"Murdock, I don't need this right now. Why don't you and your new friend go have lunch or something." Face rued the words, bit his lip to keep from apologizing. Murdock was silent, his hurt palpable. Face hated himself a little more.
Murdock stood resolutely in front of him, blocking the view he wasn't really noticing. Face glared at him, but Murdock's eyes melted anger away.
"I don't know what's gotten into you lately, but you're no fun anymore, ya know that?" Murdock tapped his foot restlessly, sure sign he was agitated.
"You'll get over it."
"Yeah, maybe I will. Maybe Hannibal will overlook your mistakes. Maybe B.A. will rig a tree branch and a pocketknife to fix that chopper, since you don't seem to be in the scammin' mood."
"You know what? I told Hannibal before, and I'll tell you now. I'm fine. I just need more time. I can't get first-grade weaponry in two days. I can't get the parts B.A. needs yet, he wants me to pull them out of a hat? And you, why don't you just continue with your seduction of the lady pilot and do what you do best, which is fly, and stay out of it?"
Real anger shone now in Murdock's eyes. Face hoped he'd go away and stop wrecking his concentration. He almost hoped the pilot would hit him. It wouldn't be that easy. Instead Murdock raised his eyebrow, studied Face for long minutes.
"I know this isn't about requisitioning supplies, and it's not about Keili. So what? You're mad at me - for what? Can you fill me in, Faceman?"
Must be failing, couldn't scam past this one - couldn't tell him, absolutely no way -
Face shook his head. "No. I can't fill you in." Could he ever? Look in the brown eyes and confess?
"So you're just gonna be mad at me, that it?"
Face fought desperately with sorrow threatening to close his throat. "I'm not mad at you, Murdock." Please, go away. . .
Murdock and Face stood close together. A million miles apart. Hannibal swung the door open behind them. Murdock's eyes flicked to look past Face's shoulder, back. Hannibal clapped gloved hands together.
"Show time, guys. Let's go. B.A.'s waiting with the van." He disappeared around the side of the building.
They stared at each other. Murdock's eyes told him everything, hid nothing. Face slammed down barriers to his heart. He would not destroy their friendship. Murdock wouldn't let him be. Threads of hysteria began to unravel in his mind, subtle panic urging him to spill words past his closed mouth, utter confessions, throw doubt to the winds.
The moment passed. Face savored the nothingness, lack of emotion that was a tiny sphere inside him. Only way. It was the only way.
Murdock turned to follow the Colonel, tall frame slouched in despondency, but shoulders resolute.
Face knew it wasn't over.
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