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This page last viewed: 2017-04-26 and has been viewed 2023 times
by Leonidas the First
Disclaimer: The A-Team belongs to Stephen J. Cannel and Universal. I make no profit off of this.
Warnings: A bit of graphic description of injuries and violence.
Comments/Comment Card: yes
Summary: How can you save someone who does not want to be saved?
He had failed. The proof of that failure was in his hands in the form of blood. He watched in stunned silence as the liquid that was once precious life trickled down the sides of his hands and dripped slowly to the ground. What made matters worse, what he was not sure he could live with, was the fact that the blood was not his own. Murdock had failed, and as a result, a life had been lost.
It was supposed to be a simple mission. They had handled dozens of similar missions in the past and each one went off without a hitch. The client was Hamilton Osborne, CEO of Osborne Pharmaceuticals. His nine-year-old son, Hamilton Osborne the Second, or Hamilton Jr., had been kidnapped by his nanny, Francine Davis. Ms. Davis had been working for the Osbornes for thirteen months. She used that time to gain information and the trust of Mr. Osborne and when she had enough of both, she struck, and Hamilton Jr. was taken from his family and home. The ransom demand soon followed: one million dollars cash or both Hamilton Osbornes, Sr. and Jr., would suffer the consequences.
Mr. Osborne was a very rich man, but he was also a very cheap man. He loved his family, of that there was no doubt, but he also loved his money. Even he wasnt sure which of the two he valued more. The police were handling the investigation. Hamilton knew that his sons return was their main priority. Everything else, including the capture of Ms. Davis and, most importantly, the retrieval of the money, was secondary. This was not acceptable to Mr. Osborne.
Mr. Osborne had a lot of contacts across the globe. He knew a man who knew another man who knew a man who knew of someone named Mr. Lee who in turn contacted the A-Team, a renegade crack commando squad who specialized in missions no one else could handle. They agreed to bring back Hamiltons son and money for a fee of $100,000. It made perfect sense to Hamilton. It was better to spend $100,000 on the A-Team and have them get the child back than give up a million dollars to save his son.
It didnt take long to find out where Ms. Davis was holding the child. It was simply a matter of breaking into the office of Ms. Davis personal physician, locating her files, and finding out whom to contact in case of an emergency. There were three names on the list: her father, an uncle, and an old boyfriend, Pete Jefferson. The team struck paydirt with the third name.
A database search for Mr. Jefferson had come up with the following: he was a three time loser, had been unemployed for two years, and had little of value in his name except for a small cabin left to him in a will by his father. The cabin was located in a secluded area of the city outskirts. A quick reconnaissance revealed that the cabin only had three rooms: the main room, a bedroom, and a bathroom. It had three occupants: Ms. Davis, Mr. Jefferson, and Hamilton Jr. Actually, the cabin had four occupants if you counted Scout, Hamilton Jr.s dog, which was also taken, probably to keep Hamilton Jr. occupied and ensure his cooperation and silence.
Face approached the cabin from the front. He knocked on the door and when Ms. Davis answered, he flashed his pearly white teeth, explained that his car had broken down about two miles down the road, and wanted to know if he could use the phone to call for assistance. While he kept Ms. Davis occupied, Murdock snuck around the back of the cabin where the bedroom window was located. He could see Mr. Jefferson in the room with the young boy. Jeffersons ear was practically embedded in the door as he tried to listen to the conversation between Face and Ms. Davis. Hamilton Jr. was tied up on the bed on the opposite side of the room. The front and back of his pants was stained with urine and feces. A gag covered the boys mouth. Murdock stared into the boys eyes. Pure and absolute terror stared back at him. Poor working classes people strike back at the wealthy in the form of this child.
Just a child.
Anger canceled out all thought and logic.
Murdock dug his fingers into the wooden frame of the window. He snarled and leaped through the window, oblivious to the cuts and scratches the shattered glass fragments caused him. He was on top of Jefferson in a matter of seconds and savagely beat him into unconsciousness. He walked over to the child, removed the gag, untied the boys arms, and gently scooped him into his arms. Getting the boy safely out of the house was Murdocks top priority so he entered the room as he came in, through the broken window.
Ms. Davis heard the sound of broken glass and headed for the bedroom, but Face quickly grabbed both her arms and attempted to tie them behind her back with a strand of cloth. Unfortunately, she was unwilling to cooperate with Face.
Murdock, with Hamilton in his arms, ran down the dirt road. Hannibal and Mr. Osborne were waiting inside the van, which was parked behind some trees about a quarter of a mile down the road. BA was behind the wheel and kept the engine running in case they needed an immediate getaway. Osborne stepped out of the van and opened his arms wide to embrace his son. Murdock lowered Hamilton Jr. to the ground and smiled as the boy ran into his fathers arms. They embraced and all was right in the world.
"Murdock? Hey, Murdock!" Face waved his fingers in front of Murdocks face in order to provoke some sort of response. None was forthcoming. He was still reliving the tragic events of the last few hours in his mind.
"Hey! Are you okay? Things got a little hectic there for a minute, but the boys not hurt. Everything is okay."
Murdock slowly turned and stared directly into Faces eyes. Face saw something in those eyes that unnerved him. Something he had never seen before. Or rather, it was what he didnt see in those eyes that made him fear for his friend. Life. There was no life in those eyes. Murdock, the happy-go-lucky, crazy-in-a-good way (if such a thing was possible), take any frown and turn it into a smile person, was gone. In his place....Face didnt have any idea who this person that stood before him was.
"No.", Murdock whispered while he rubbed his blood soaked hands on his jacket sleeves in a vain attempt to clean them, "Its not all right."
He turned and looked over at the boy. Tears streamed down Hamilton Jr.s blood-covered face. "Itll never be all right for either one of us. Never again."
When did it all go wrong? He had personally handed the boy to the father and they seemed to be happy in each others arms. There was something about the boy that troubled Murdock. This look of fear in the boys eyes that told Murdock that all was not right in the world.
The boy suddenly broke away from the embrace and Murdock soon found out why.
The dog, Scout, was still in the cabin. Murdock was in such a rush to get the boy out of the cabin and to safety that he forgot about the dog. Mr. Osborne tried to drag the boy into the van, but the boy broke away and started to run back toward the cabin. Murdock stepped in front of the boy and assured him that he would get the dog back. Murdock knew that a dog truly was a young boy, or mans, best friend, especially a boy with wealthy parents who felt that money was a substitute for love. Murdock handed the boy to Mr. Osborne and gave BA the "thumbs up" signal which meant to keep the van engine running. All was well and they would soon be on their way. There was one thing left to do.
Murdock entered the cabin. Face was still in the living room putting, the finishing touches on the knot he was making to bind Ms. Davis hands together. She wasnt cooperating which was an unwelcome change of pace for the conman. Murdock filled Face in on the events of the last few minutes. He offered his assistance to the Faceman, but Face refused. This was a matter of honor. Murdock grinned and walked into the bedroom to look for the dog. Mr. Jefferson was still lying unconscious on the floor. Scout was cowering under the bed. Murdock knelt down on all fours and motioned for the dog to come to him. Scout didnt trust just anyone. He sniffed at Murdocks hand and sensed in Murdock a kind soul. He scampered into Murdocks open arms. Murdock scooped up Scout, then walked into the living room, past Face, who assured him that he would be catching up with everyone after he had taken care of matters- in the form of a still struggling Ms. Davis- in the cabin.
Murdock walked down the dirt road carrying Scout in his arms. As he approached young Hamilton, he could have sworn that the boys eyes lit up brighter than they did when they saw his father a few minutes earlier.
The boy ran up to Murdock and Scout. Murdock held out his arms to hand Scout over to the boy.
A loud noise.
An explosion of flesh and fur.
Scout was dead in Murdocks arms.
Face, startled by the rifles sound, knocked Ms. Davis unconscious and rushed into the cabin bedroom.
Jefferson was peering into the rifles scope. A grin stretched across his face from cheek to cheek. One last act of revenge against the rich mans family. Face yanked the rifle out of Jeffersons hands and belted him in the face with the rifles butt.
But, it was too late.
The damage had been done and lives were shattered because of it.
"Whens that crazy fool going to snap out of it!" BA bellowed out to anyone that was listening. "Now hes starting to scare me!"
It had been half an hour since Scout was killed. Face made sure that both Jefferson and Mrs. Davis were securely bound and had joined Hannibal and the rest of the group. The police had been called and were on their way.
"Ive never seen him like this before, Hannibal." Face said, "Its like he shut out the entire world. Hes not reacting to anything."
"Agreed, but we have some more immediate concerns. The police should be showing up soon. We have to get out of here before they arrive. We can have Murdock back at the VA before..."
"No!" Face interrupted "We cant drop him there now. Not in this condition. If we do, they may never let him out again. Theyve been lenient with him in the past because hes, I dont know how to describe it. His craziness was kind of harmless. Maybe even funny. But this..." He pointed to Murdock who was still sitting on the ground oblivious to everything around him including the fact that he was the topic of discussion.
"Let me take him to my place tonight. Let me talk with him....try to reach him. Maybe its something he can sleep off or..."
"Thats not a good idea. We have no idea whats troubling Murdock. It could be something very serious. We may not be able to handle this one on our own."
"Hannibal, Ive blindly followed your lead hundreds of times. Ive never questioned your decisions.", he paused and before Hannibal could correct him, "Okay, maybe thats not entirely true. Maybe Ive questioned your plans once or twice, but I placed my trust in you and went along with whatever crazy schemes you concocted despite any misgivings I may have had. Im asking you to do the same for me. Just this once. Trust me. Let me try and help Murdock on my own.", Face gritted his teeth as if he were about to choke on the following word "Please."
Face reached into his pocket, pulled out a long Cuban cigar and handed it to Hannibal. A little bribery never hurt anyone. Hannibal unwrapped the cigar, bit the stem off and spit it on the ground. By the time the cigar was in his mouth and lit, dozens of scenarios and consequences were thought out and considered and the decision was made.
"Okay. You have 24 hours. Thats all. We dont know what were dealing with. We may be out of our depth here and anything you do may make his condition worse. Are you aware of this?"
"I know. I have to try though. Thanks."
Face smiled with a sincerity that Hannibal had never seen before which confirmed that, whatever the outcome of Faces attempt to help Murdock, the decision he made had been the correct one. He put a reassuring hand on Faces shoulder. "Okay. Lets get Murdock into the van. Well drop the both of you off at your apartment. Give me a moment to settle a few things first."
Hannibal walked over to Mr. Osborne who was busy wiping the blood off his sons face.
"We need to be leaving now. The police should be here in a matter of minutes and we cant be here when they show up. Just stick to the rescue story we discussed and everything should be fine."
"Thank you for everything."
"Im just glad the boy is safe. Im sorry about the dog. I only wished we could have saved him too."
"Thats no problem. He can be replaced. We can always get another dog. At least my son is safe."
Hannibal looked over at Hamilton Jr. The boy, whose face had, seconds ago, been wiped clean by Mr. Osborne, was covered in blood again.... his head pressed against the dogs chest in a futile attempt to locate a heartbeat or any sign of life. Hannibal frowned. "No living thing can simply be replaced. You may want to learn that lesson, and learn it soon, because someday, you may find yourself the one replaced." Hannibal walked over to the van, but before he entered, he stopped and turned around to face the Osbornes. "Oh, and the advice is free."
There was silence during the entire thirty-minute van ride to Faces apartment- a first in the annals of the A-Team history.
The van stopped and BA sighed loudly, relieved that the ride was over.
"24 hours, Face.", Hannibal said as BA stepped out of the van and walked around to the vans passenger side. "Im serious. You could be taking a big risk. And not just with Murdocks health."
"I know, but its not like I have a choice in the matter. Hes my friend.", Face paused before the epiphany struck him. "No. More than just a friend."
Face could see a dozen questions etched on Hannibals face, but now was not the time for them. Face opened the van door and stepped out before a single question could be asked. Besides, he didnt have the answers.
" BA, can you help me bring Murdock into my place?"
"Cant you carry him on your own?", BA growled as he opened the door and carefully helped Murdock out of the van.
Face smiled. "Not while trying to get into my apartment. Were not talking about a sack of groceries here, you know. Dont worry. He wont bite you."
"I wish the crazy fool would bite me! At least wed know theres someone home up there."
"Well, maybe you can shake some sense into him while you help me bring him to my room."
They walked over to Faces apartment door. BA held Murdock up as Face took out his apartment key and opened the door. They stepped into the room. Face turned on the light as BA propped Murdock upright on the nearest chair.
"Im gonna go now. You gonna be okay."
"I hope so."
BA was about to leave, but stopped, turned around, and knelt down in front of Murdock. He placed his hand on Murdocks chin, and tilted the chin up so that he could stare into Murdocks eyes. "And you! You better get better! Do you here me! If you dont..." BA cleared his throat and choked back the emotions that threatened to spill out. "...if you dont.... "
BA stood up and looked at Face. "You take care of him. Help him."
"Im going to try my best."
"I know.", and with those words, BA slowly and solemnly walked out the room.
"Well...", Face said as the door closed behind BA "Here we are. Alone. You can drop the act now." For a brief flash of time, Face allowed himself a moment where Murdock would grin that crazy grin, whoop and holler and give him a great big hug. The moment quickly passed. "Aw, come on. I know youre in there. Say something. Even if you just say something. Listen, I know everyone tells you that you talk too much. Well, if this is your way of getting us back, then I think you may be taking it a bit too far. Damn it Murdock! Will you say anything! I want my trash bags! Sing a silly song! You dont have to talk! Move. Flip me the bird! Do something! Anything!"
Face stared at Murdock and waited for something, a sound, a tic, anything. Finally, after long moments of nothing, he lifted Murdock off the chair, and sat him down on the bed. He removed bloodstained jacket and shirt, grabbed a sterile cloth and dabbed it in some alcohol.
"Okay. You got some minor cuts on you that need cleaning. Now this may hurt a bit, so dont say I didnt warn you."
It just as well could have been hot coals that Face applied on Murdocks cuts. Murdocks reaction would have been the same. Nothing. Not a holler, a scream, a growl, a grimace, or twitch.
Perhaps Hannibal was right. Maybe this was more than he could handle. Maybe Murdock was beyond help.
"No.", he whispered to himself. "Im not going to give up on you, you bastard."
Face removed Murdocks shoes and covered him with the bed sheets. He walked over to the chair Murdock previously sat on, moved it over near the bed, and sat down.
Murdock tossed and turned and finally, after a few minutes, mercifully fell asleep.
Face rubbed his eyes. He was tired, but he would not fall asleep. His friend needed him and he would be there for him.
As Murdock slept, Face stared down at him and wondered to himself what kind of demons did madmen dream about?
I must be crazy.
The words kept repeating in Murdocks head like a mantra.
I must be crazy.
That was the only logical explanation he could think of to explain why he was crawling around in a rat-infested tunnel filled with deadly traps somewhere beneath the roads leading to a small village near the Chi-Chu mainland in Vietnam.
This was supposed to be R&R for Murdock. He needed rest after piloting six back-to-back air rescue missions. Its true. He could have turned down the last two missions. But, there were soldiers who needed his help. And besides, he loved being up in the air.
But, even birds had to land once in awhile.
He stopped off at a small U.S. Army base near Chi-Chu earlier that day. From there, he would head off for three glorious days of...nothing. No guns, no blood, no war. Just rest.
He should have known it was too good to be true.
A report came in. A few U.S. soldiers were ambushed just outside the village. Fortunately, they were able to make it back to the rest of the squadron. All, that is, except for one soldier. A patrol was formed to find the missing man. Murdock volunteered to help with the search. He fooled himself into believing he could rest the search had ended.
That was his first mistake.
His second mistake soon followed. He thought he heard a noise from one of the many underground tunnels scattered throughout the village. There were hundreds of miles of underground tunnels that the Vietnamese used to travel in secrecy and also to avoid and attack enemy soldiers. They were, in essence, underground cities where you could find sleeping carts, map and strategy rooms, makeshift hospitals, and plenty of booby traps...gifts for green U.S. soldiers. Such gifts included rabid rats, hollow bamboo sticks with poisonous snakes left inside and anxious to attack the first thing to come along, and trip wires attached to grenades. Murdock knew all of this in advance, but there was a noise that came from one of those tunnels. He was sure of it and he wasnt going to ignore it and risk the possibility of leaving a wounded soldier trapped alone to die a slow and painful death.
The tunnel ceilings were only about 4 to 5 feet high, so Murdock had to crawl through the tunnels on his hands and knees. He used only the natural sunlight behind him to light his path. A flashlight could possibly draw unwanted attention. Thirty minutes and many cramped and sore muscles later, he had advanced a total of one hundred feet. But, at least he was still alive and in one piece. He stopped for a moment. He wanted to release all the tension that had been building inside him in the form of a great big sigh, but he couldnt afford to do that and take the chance of alerting any enemy soldiers.
Thats when he heard the noise, a moan, straight ahead about one hundred feet. Unfortunately, the sunlight was disappearing behind him. Murdock took out a small flashlight and shone the light straight ahead. Enemy soldiers be damned.
A man dressed in U.S. fatigues lay face down, crumpled in a heap on the ground. Murdock approached the body and carefully examined it, looking for any evidence of booby traps. He then slowly and carefully turned the body over. It was the face of a boy though, not a man, that stared back at him. He couldnt have been any more than 19 years old. A gaping hole existed where his stomach should have been. Murdock looked near the body. A wire and shards of a grenade told him the rest of the story.
The boy moaned again.
"Wha....who..." he whispered.
"Shhh... shhh. Dont speak. Youre hurt and lost a little bit of blood", Murdock lied "but youll be fine. Save your strength."
Murdock took out his first aid kit, opened it, and removed some gauze and bandages. He looked at the wound and frowned. Where to begin? Useless. The wound was too big and deep. He took out his canteen, unscrewed the top, and poured some water over the wound to clean it.
"What...why are you...tunnel?"
"I could ask you the same question, solider."
"Billy...Billy Patterson. Thought I heard...noise. Came down to check it out. Doing my job...tunnel rat...scoop around...find traps. Looks like I found one."
He tried to laugh, but the only sound to emerge was a sickening cough. He paused for a few moments to catch his breath and draw enough strength to continue.
"Where are the others?"
"Sorry pal, Im all you got."
Murdock paused for a moment to consider his next words.
"There should be other people coming along soon enough though."
"How did you get here?"
"Same way you did. I was bored and decided to go for a nice stroll, catch the sights, spend some time by myself and do some thinking. I thought I heard a noise and...well, looks like Im not alone anymore."
Billy tried to smile.
"Crazy to be...here..."
"Yep. Hey. You gotta live up to your nickname. They call me Howlin Mad Murdock. There isnt a place Im afraid to travel whether its a thousand feet up in the sky or..." he looked around at his surroundings "wherever here is. Besides, who are you to call anyone crazy? Youre the tunnel rat. You actually seek out the traps. But, enough about my amazing feats. Lets see about getting you some help. Im going to locate the rest of the search party. Ill be back in a few minutes."
Murdock turned to leave, but Billy, in a surprising display of strength, reached out and grabbed Murdocks arm.
"No! Please dont leave me!"
"I need to get you some help. Im a pilot, not a doctor!"
"Please dont go. Its dark here. And Im scared."
Murdock sat down and took Billys hand in his own. He may not be a doctor, but Murdock had seen his fair share of death these few short years. At least he thought he had. He knew that Billy was not going to make it. It didnt really matter if he was able to find help. Billy was dead. He wasnt going to die alone. Murdock sat down leaned his back against the dirt tunnel wall, and gently propped Billys head and shoulders on his lap. He stroked Billys face with his fingertips and bit down on his lower lip in an attempt to fight back his own tears. The last thing Billy needed to see or feel was hopelessness.
"Its all right. Its all right. Im not going anywhere."
"Its not fair." Billy sobbed, "Its not supposed to be like this. Im going to die here. All alone. So far away from everyone I love."
"You got a lot wrong there, my new bud Billy. First of all, youre not going to die. Got that? Second, youre not alone. Im right here with you and Im not going anywhere. And finally, well, I know I havent known you long, but darn it, I think Im falling in love with you."
"Im going to die. Oh God. Im never going to see them again...my mother...my father...my stupid little brother...my girlfriend...so many things I never did."
Murdock tried to speak, but for once could not find the right words to say that would make everything fine. So, he said nothing. He simply sat there in silence and held Billys hand in his own. At that moment in time, his hand was Billys only physical link to life.
Minutes...hours even. Murdock was not sure. He shifted his body a few times to make himself and Billy more comfortable and each time, Billy tightened his grip on Murdocks hand.
"What?" said Murdock, surprised at the craziness and timing of this statement.
"I....I could go for...nice steak and cheese sandwich."
"Um...just any old steak and cheese sandwich?", Murdock replied.
"No. No. A Wallys steak and cheese sandwich."
"What makes Wallys so special?"
"Grease. Theyre greasy as hell. When you...get them to go, the grease eats right through the bag. Fries are great too."
"You know, compadre, for a wounded man, you sure talk a lot. Well, I have some bad news for you. I dont think theres a phone nearby, and besides, if there was, I dont think they deliver this far out."
"I know. I can dream though, cant I?"
"A little dreaming never hurt anyone."
"No problemo, my friend. Its nothing. Id do the same for anyone. Well, not anyone. Theres a certain big guy with a bad attitude that Id think twice about helping out, but, oh hell, Id help him too."
"You sure talk a lot."
Billy smiles and Murdock returns the sentiment right back at him.
"Well, youre not the first person to tell me that. Now, just relax. Try to get some sleep."
"I will. I think Im going to dream...of home...and Mom...and Dad."
"And Wallys steak and cheese sandwiches?"
"And Wallys steak and cheese sandwiches."
Billy started to laugh until he suddenly choked on his own laughter. His mouth opened wide as he struggled and gasped for air. His eyes almost bulged out of their sockets. He lurched forward and, with each of his hands, grasped Murdocks shoulders. Their eyes locked and during what seemed to be the longest moment in Murdocks life he felt Billys anger, fear, frustration, and the desperate need to struggle for every second of precious life. Finally, Billys grip weakened. He released Murdocks shoulders and slumped, cold and lifeless, to the ground.
Murdock felt Billys neck for a pulse, but there was none to be found. He used his middle and index fingers and slowly and solemnly closed Billys eyes.
And then, they began to flow.
Thoughts and tears.
He had held them back for hours. He had remained strong for Billys sake, but there was no more need for the ruse. The tears fell from Murdocks eyes and it was as if he suddenly felt the grief and loneliness of every man and woman who had ever loved and lost someone else. He had seen people die before. He even caused a few of those deaths. It was a birds eye view of death though. He was usually up in the sky, looking down, detached from the actual event.
Not this time though.
This time, he held death in his arms.
Billys last thoughts were of home and family. Somewhere, someone will grieve for Billy. Would anyone grieve for Murdock when he was gone? Would anyone miss him? The answer frightened Murdock.
Suddenly, he heard a noise.
Somewhere...off to the side.
Murdock spun around, pointed his flashlight in the direction of the noise and saw....
More like a mutt. The dog was tiny, no more than six inches tall and one foot long. It shivered, frozen in fear, against the tunnel wall
Murdock slowly lay down his flashlight, got down on all fours, and motioned with his finger for the dog to come to him.
The dog took a short step. It stretched its neck out and sniffed the air around Murdock.
"Aw, come on now. I dont smell that bad."
He sniffed his own shirt.
"Okay, maybe I do, but you dont smell any better you know. Now come on."
The dog dug its nose in Murdocks palm and sniffed around. It barked, more like a yap, and happily started licking Murdocks hand.
Murdock laughed and scooped the dog up in his arms. The dog started licking Murdocks face and Murdock couldnt help but smile. Its amazing, he thought to himself, how all thoughts of despair and desperation, loneliness, grief, and mortality, suddenly disappeared because of the warmth of a dogs love.
He held the dog to his face so that their noses touched.
"What are you doing this far in the tunnels, huh?"
The dogs only response was to lick Murdocks nose.
"Not very talkative, are you? Thats okay. I can talk enough for the both of us. As least thats what people tell me when I give them the chance to talk."
The dog continued to lick Murdocks nose.
"Okay pal, if youre going to keep licking me, I believe I should know your name. I dont just let anyone get to first base with me. Now, what is your name? Sparky? Nah. You dont look like a Sparky. Youre certainly not dull enough to be called Spot. So, what shall I call you? I got it! Billy! Im going to call you Billy. And, do you know why? Because you are filled with life and love. Just like someone else I used to know. Tell you what. Lets get out of this dark and nasty place and go into the sunlight."
As if on cue, the ground began to shake. Loose dirt from the tunnel ceiling above Murdock began to fall. Particles of dirt got caught in his eyes and blurred his vision.
The explosion that soon followed negated that theory.
Murdock shielded the dog with his body.
This one was even closer than the last one.
Murdock headed toward the tunnel exit only to discover that it was blocked by fallen debris.
He was trapped.
This one sounded like it was directly above him. Billy started to quake and tried to leap out of Murdocks arms, so he held the dog tightly against his chest.
"There, there, Billy. Well be fine. I....Im not going to let anything happen to you."
This time some rocks fell from above and narrowly missed crushing Murdock and Billy.
"Oh my God. Im not going to get out of here, am I? Im going to die here."
And thats when the realization hit Murdock. It looked like all the questions he had asked of himself earlier would be answered after all.
He stroked the fur on Billys back. At least he wont die alone. At least hell die with a loved one nearby.
There was nothing to do now, but wait for death to show up and take him away.
He curled up into a ball with Billy in his arms, and waited until sleep mercifully saved him from thoughts of an existential nature.
A shaft of light hit Murdocks eyes. As he struggled to awaken, he heard the rattling of rocks being shifted and moved around.
Then, he heard the voices.
"Over here! Theres someone over here!"
"Murdock! Thank God youre okay.
He felt a hand grab his wrist and move him out of the tunnel into the sunlight.
He looked up at the hands owner and saw a young, dirty-blonde-haired man standing above him. He slowly rose to his feet.
"Face? Man, right now I think youre the best looking thing Ive ever seen! I could kiss you! Yeah! Im okay! Never been better!"
He frowned as he realized that not everyone made it through unscathed.
"Theres a bod...a fallen soldier further on down the tunnel. Can you have someone take care of him? Please. Make sure the body is okay. Its the least we can do for him and his family."
He looked up at the sun and grinned.
"Sorry, Face. I think youve been replaced by something even more beautiful. In fact, youve falling further down the list to number three. Right, Billy? You see, I told you Id get us out of here."
He looked down at the dog he held in his arms.
"I told you I wouldnt let anything happen to you."
It was at that moment that he noticed Billys head, bent backward like a limp strand of spaghetti.
He shook his arms to rattle Billy, but the dog didnt move.
"Please, Billy. Wake up..." he said, on the verge of tears.
He knelt down and placed the body on the ground. He stuck his hand in front of Billys nose in the hope that a gust of hot air would caress the hand.
He felt nothing.
He placed his head on the dogs chest in the hope that he would feel the rhythm of a beating heart. There was none. Only the crumbling of shattered bones. That was when the horror of what actually occurred hit Murdock.
He had done it.
He had tried to shield Billy. He had held Billy in his arms to protect him fall the falling debris. In actuality, while he slept, he was the one who crushed the life out of Billy.
Murdock ignored the voice and simply stared at Billys body.
Face motioned for a medic to come over and check on Murdock.
"Sir?" We should get a look at you. Make sure youre all right. We need to make sure that you have no internal injuries."
Face helped Murdock to his feet.
"Dont worry, buddy. Go with the medic. Ill take care of the dog."
Murdock slowly stood up. He looked into Faces eyes with a lifeless expression on his face.
"Why? Theres nothing wrong with the dog."
A huge grin broke out on his face.
He crouched down.
"Here Billy. Come here boy."
He scooped nothing into his arms, rose to his feet, and began petting the air in front of him.
"You see, boy? You see? I told you Id get us out of here. I told you everything would be fine."
He crinkled his eyes.
"Stop that. Oh, all right. Go ahead and kiss me. Thats a good dog. Thats a good boy. Everything will be all right now. Nothing will ever hurt you again."
And all was right in the world.
The word was spoken in a tone barely above a whisper, but it was loud enough to capture Faces attention.
Dark crescent moons underneath Faces eyes marred his otherwise perfect features. He had been watching over Murdock for the past twenty-two hours, foregoing food, drink, and sleep, in order to be by his friends side. He had watched every bead of sweat drip from Murdocks forehead...every toss, turn, cry, moan, whimper, and even a few silent screams. There were a few harrowing moments, a few times he had come close to wakening Murdock, but he had felt that sleep and coming face to face with whatever angels or demons that appear in dreams and nightmares would be the best medicine for his troubled friend.
As long as he was there for him.
So, Face sat silently and watched over his friend, never once leaving his side. He wanted the first thing for Murdock to see when he awakened was the comforting face of a friend.
And now Murdock was awake. He slowly sat upright on the bed.
Face smiled in relief. The smiled seemed to remove all traces of the last tiring twenty-two hours.
"Hey pal. Glad to see youre back amongst the living."
Murdock stared at Face, but it seemed as if he were looking through him, not at him.
The words were said in a tone Face had never heard from Murdock: empty, totally devoid of any feeling or emotion. Face quickly composed himself, smiled his patented cheshire smile and looked around the room.
"Im sure hes here somewhere. There! Hey! Get away from that statue! Does that look like a hydrant?! Put...you put your leg down right....aw no!!!
"Stop it." Murdock said in a coldly, mechanically, "Templeton. Youve never lied to me before. Dont start now."
"Im sorry, Murdock. I was just trying to help you find Billy."
"What? How could he be... I mean, he was never truly....." Face paused, questioning whether he should even say the word....wondering if the next word he said would be the one that could push his friend over the edge. Damn! He thought to himself. Maybe Hannibal was right. Maybe he got himself in way over his head.
"...alive?" Murdock completed the sentence for him, "Yes, he was. He was as alive as love could be. But what would you know about that? You know, Faceman, sometimes I really envy you. Youve never loved anyone, have you?"
The words had hurt Face more than any gunshot or stab wound ever could. Hes right. Thats what had hurt Face most of all. Murdock was right. His love life had consisted of a series of one night stands. A long term relationship for Face consisted of dinner, some great sex-well, for her anyway-, and if it was truly a long term relationship, breakfast the following morning. He had never allowed himself to love anyone.
That wasnt true. There was that one time and that one time had left Face with enough pain and suffering to last him a dozen lifetimes. He doubted that the emotional scars from that love would ever truly heal.
He would not allow himself to be hurt that way again. But, enough about that. That was another story for another time. This was about someone else for a change. His friend was hurt, broken. He needed him now more than ever and he would be there for him.
"Listen, Murdock. I can only imagine what you must be going through."
"No you cant." he said in a contemptible tone, sneering while the words flowed from his mouth, "How could YOU of all people understand?"
Well, at least he had gotten an emotion out of him, but the tone frightened Face more than anything that had ever come out of that howling mad mouth of Murdocks.
Suddenly, Murdock pressed his knees against his chin and wrapped his arms around his knees. He cradled himself back and forth on the bed.
"It hurts so much."
"Are you okay? I looked you over pretty carefully before, but I may have missed a piece of shrapnel or two."
Face reached out for Murdock. He touched his arm and received the last reaction he had ever expected to receive from Murdock.
Murdock screamed and violently shoved Face to the floor.
"Get out! Leave me alone!"
Face, stunned, slowly and cautiously rose from the floor.
"What is wrong with you? I was just trying to help."
"I dont need your help! Do you want to help me? Fine! Then help yourself by leaving! Leave now before you get hurt!"
"Why? Are you going to hit me?"
Murdock slumped back in defeat against the headboard.
"You just dont get it, do you? Ive already lost too many people. Family...friends ...strangers...even Billy."
"Murdock? Cant you just, I dont know, wish him back or something. Just imagine him back and everything will be fine once again."
"I cant bring him back. I killed him."
"How can you ..."
"I loved him. Thats how."
"I know you love the dog, but how can you kill something that wasnt r...how could he die?"
"And because of it, he died."
"Because of what? Damn it Murdock, now youre making less sense than normal."
Murdock took a deep breath to calm himself. He closed his eyes and hoped that, by doing so, the bad images in his head would be wished away.
"Thats right. I forgot you were here. I dont know how I can make you understand. Its horrible, Templeton. Its like...a disease. It destroys you slowly, from the inside out. And the pain. But do you know whats worse? When youre the disease. When you care for something so much that you...you kill it. Billys dead and I killed him. Do you know why?"
He smiled madly.
"Because you always hurt the ones you love."
It hit Templeton all at once. All the pieces fell into place. The recent mission...the young boys dog...that day in Chi Chu so long ago when Murdock emerged from the tunnel with the body of the dog in his arms...that day when he held that dying young boy in his arms. He had never asked Murdock what had happened in the tunnels on that day when Murdocks nickname became reality. He had his theories, but thats all they were.
Murdock was right. How could even remotely begin to understand the suffering his friend was going through?
Face moved ever so slowly towards Murdock. If Murdock could have backed away any further he would have.
"Please go away."
He reached out to Murdock. Murdock tried to strike Face, but Face grabbed Murdocks wrist and drew him closer. He pressed Murdocks face to his chest.
"You said I never loved anyone. Well, youre wrong. BA, Hannibal...and... and you. Youre my family and I love you and if you think Im going to leave you when you need my help...well then, you must be...crazy."
Murdock looked up at Face. His lips quivered. He wanted to smile, but fear and emotions in general kept him from doing so.
"I cant afford to care anymore. Its cost me so much already and I dont think I could bear to lose you too."
Murdock wrapped his arms around Faces waist. He dug his fingers deep into Faces sides, afraid that if he were to let go all that he had loved and treasured would be whisked away.
Face closed his eyes and clenched his teeth, absorbing all the pain Murdocks fingers were causing him.
"Im not going anywhere. Youre not going to get rid of me that easily. I know it hurts, but thats the gamble you take."
"Youll always be there?"
Face pondered long and hard as to what to say next and finally decided to go against his basic nature and be totally honest with his friend.
"I dont know. I cant promise you that. What I can tell you is that as long as Im alive and able, nothing, and I mean nothing, will drag me from your side as long as you need me. You can bet on that and you know me, I only bet on a sure thing."
"I swear on my soul, on your soul, and on the souls of all the Billys out there."
Murdock released a gut wrenching wail that seemed to let loose all the emotions he had kept pent up inside him these past two days.
"There, there..." Face said as he ran his fingers through Murdocks hair. It felt good.... like a cool and comforting breeze on a hot and sweltering day, "...its going to be all right. I wont let anything happen to you..." he leaned his head down and kissed the top of Murdocks forehead.
Murdock looked up...
...their eyes locked....
...and they kissed.
It was a soft and gentle and sweet kiss.
Suddenly, nothing else existed. All of the pain, hurt, tragedy, and heartache that made Face and Murdock who they were disappeared and along with it disappeared the joy, fun, and good times that they shared.
All of those moments went away.
All that mattered was the here and now.
This one perfect moment.
The sun was in full bloom as it shone its rays directly into Faces eyes. Face barely blinked. He had watched the suns rise since it began earlier that morning and had grown accustomed to its light.
He sat on a chair near the bed where Murdock lay soundly asleep.
He felt slightly sick and uneasy and wondered why. He had called Hannibal a few hours earlier and informed him that everything was fine. That little detail was taken care of. Perhaps he was in the early stages of a cold or flu. Some nasty little virus.
No. Not a cold or flu. It was no use lying to himself. He knew it was much more than that.
He was used to knowing in advance how things would turn out. It was his business. It was the very nature of his being. It was what made Face who he was.
But after last night?
Well, things could never be the same again. How could they be?
He stared at his friend.
No, they were more than friends now.
He looked at the relaxed and contented smile on Murdocks face. Murdocks arms were gently wrapped around the air in front of him as if cradling something in them.
They say that cliches have some basis in truth. Tomorrow was another day and though there was the uncertainty as to what tomorrow would bring, Face knew he would deal with it when the time came.
Face watched Murdock and saw the peace on his face and smiled.
It was all worthwhile.
For that time, at least for that very moment, all was right in the world.
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