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This page last viewed: 2017-11-12 and has been viewed 3091 times
Disclaimer: TAT characters belong to Stephen J. Cannell and Universal.
Warning: M/M Relationship (nothing explicit), Character death (not main)
Summary: After a tragedy, Face and Murdock take some time to heal.
Note: This is for Elizabeth, Emma and Witchbaby. I missed their birthdays, so this is an unbirthday present to them. Not very merry, I'm afraid, but you can't always pick the stories that come to mind.
Special Note: Thanks to Elizabeth, who very graciously beta-ed this. (Nothing like making someone work for a gift.)
Face sat on the porch and watched as the sky faded from brilliant reds to deeper, richer ones as the sun set behind the mountains. The lake looked black; still and impenetrable in the failing light. Later, when the moon rose, a wavering silver path would cut across that darkness, but for now, it was undisturbed. From off in the distance a loon sounded, an answering call following soon after.
Face pulled the blanket around himself tighter; the nights here were cool. From behind him he heard the soft sound of sneakers on the wooden deck. Then arms enfolded him from behind and he leaned back, his back pressed against the chair but his head resting on the chest of the man who held him.
"Getting cool, Facey. Want to come in? Dinner's almost ready."
"Not yet." A quiet cough.
Murdock looked off in the direction that Face was staring. "It's beautiful," he said softly, careful not to disturb the stillness.
Face nodded. They stayed there together, watching as the colors mingled, turning slowly darker until all was the color of twilight, neither dark nor light.
"Shades of grey," Face said absently.
Murdock held Face a little tighter. "It'll be alright, Face. It just takes time."
More silence. Much of the past two weeks had been spent that way. But Murdock didn't mind. Eventually the silence had taken on a life of it's own, sometimes brooding, but more and more often now, contemplative. Healing. And silence made the times in between it more important.
Murdock moved so that he was kneeling next to Face. "Ready now?"
The blue eyes turned and met his. In the dim light, the pupils were large, black as the lake before them. But unlike the lake, the eyes reflected back an openness that allowed Murdock to see into their depths.
Face rose slowly, stiff from sitting so long in the brisk air. Murdock put an arm around Face's waist, helping him into the warmth and light of the cabin.
They lay on the sofa together, Murdock leaning against the arm and Face leaning against Murdock. Face's head was turned so that he could watch the fire in the fireplace. Occasionally there would be a pop and sparks would erupt upwards as if trying to escape the flames. Above the crackling, soft music played, the strains of a cello somber, a background harmony for the flickering light.
"We could stay, not go back."
"We could," Murdock said noncommittally.
Outside the moon had risen. It shone through the window, the reflected flames of the fire seeming to reach upward towards it; orange touching white, stark against the night.
"Do you want to?" Murdock asked.
Face pulled his arms around himself a little more tightly, Murdock's arms following, covering his, holding Face even as Face held himself. "Maybe."
This was the first time that Face had voiced the possibility of not returning, but Murdock wasn't surprised. Nor did he think that Face meant it, not really. But running had become Face's defense mechanism over the years, a way to cope with the unbearable. Retreat and regroup, sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally. It was a bit of both this time.
"Would you stay if I did?"
"Yes." There was no hesitation in Murdock's response.
"They would understand."
Face was silent, but he loosened his hold on himself unconsciously.
Murdock felt the change and smiled a little. Face would leave when he was ready, now that he knew he could stay.
"It's calm here, peaceful."
Murdock rested his chin on top of Face's head. "Safe."
Face closed his eyes, understanding the multiple layers of meaning in that one word. "Even with your eyes closed, you can still see the glow, the flickering."
"I still see him, too. I think I always will."
Murdock sighed. I know you will, Facey, he thought to himself. And I wish there was some way to change that, but there isn't.
"If we stayed, we would need to get a second generator, just in case," Face continued after a moment. "If we were snowed in and the first one broke down, we would need it."
Murdock did not even wonder at the abrupt change in topics. Face had a way of meandering around a subject that was bothering him, touching on it and then skittering away from it, coming back in his own good time.
The fire caught a drier piece of bark at one end of a log, working its way under and around it, crackling loudly as the wood gave way to a greater force.
"Good idea, Facey." Murdock followed the path Face laid out.
Face shivered a little. "It's cold." His voice was hoarse, tired.
Murdock felt the heat from the fire on his face, the warmth from Face's body nestled against his. The cold that Face felt came from the inside, but Murdock reached up and pulled the quilt off the back of the couch, and helped Face to cover them both with it. Then he again wrapped his arms around Face, a blanket against the internal chill.
"It hurts, Murdock."
"I know, Facey."
The music had stopped, letting the silence reclaim some of its territory. Still, Murdock had to listen hard to hear Face's voice.
"I don't know which is worse, the fact that I let him get killed or the fact that I'm glad it was him and not you."
Murdock involuntarily tightened his grip on Face, surprised by what had just been said. He had known that Face felt guilty about the death, but the other had never occurred to him. For a moment, Murdock did not know what to say. It was a moment too long.
Face pushed against Murdock's arms, shoving the quilt aside and struggling free before Murdock realized what was happening. He got awkwardly up, stumbling a little as he put weight on his injured leg. He kept his back to Murdock.
"Face..." Murdock began as he rose from the couch.
"I'm tired. Going to go to bed."
Murdock let him go, watching as Face carefully limped his way to the bedroom, his form blending with the shadows as he moved from the light of the fire. Murdock would follow him in a few minutes, crawling into bed next to Face, who would probably be feigning sleep. Two steps back for one forward, Murdock thought.
Murdock slipped under the covers and spooned up next to Face, who lay on his side facing the window. The moonlight made the outside world brighter than the inside one. Like Face's smiles, sometimes. Gently, just as he had on the couch, Murdock drew Face to him. You can run, but you can't hide, Facey.
Murdock let his hand wander to Face's stomach, resting it there, feeling the rhythm of the rise and fall beneath his hand. Face was awake.
"It's so quiet here at night." Murdock would step onto the path first this time, hoping that Face would follow. "No rubber shoes squeaking down the hallway. You get used to that sound; it's always there, even in the middle of the night. It's a good sound, reminds you of where you are when other things want to take you away."
It was a long time before Face followed. "Do you want to go back there?"
Murdock's hand found Face's, held it. "No. I don't need the sound when you're here."
Another long pause. The flesh against Murdock's was warm, but still there was a slight shiver, then Face was still again.
"I can't protect you." Face's voice was husky, low. "I can't protect anyone."
The darkness helped, Murdock thought. Face always opened up more in the dark, when he wouldn't have to see the reactions, would not have to put a reality to the fears he held. If you'd look, Face, you'd see that you were wrong.
Murdock had already told Face that it wasn't his fault, and he would tell Face again, although he knew that the words would mean no more to Face now than before.
"It wasn't your fault. It was no one's. We both know that sometimes things happen, bad things." Very bad things, sometimes.
In the darkness Murdock could hear, feel Face's breath quicken a little. He rubbed his hand across Face's chest; this was Face's grounding. No rubber shoes, just a touch that would not be withdrawn. It had taken Murdock awhile to figure this out. After they had become lovers, Face would still pull away, physically and emotionally, when he was afraid to reveal something, some imagined ugliness about himself. At first, Murdock had let him go, thinking that Face would come back when he was ready. But gradually, and despite some struggles that left both of them drained, Murdock had learned to hold on, and Face had learned to accept it. The path was still never straight, but Face almost always found his way now.
"Bad?" Face's voice, angry but still low, cut into the darkness. "He died. That's more than bad."
Murdock didn't flinch. Face's anger was not directed at him, but at himself. It almost always was.
Murdock sighed, staring over Face to the window. The silhouettes of trees stood dark against the moon's glow, sentinels of the night. Murdock thought about the world that lived amongst those trees, one in which life and death were so much more easily accepted. The team was like that world in some ways. Each accepted the possibility that he might not come back from a mission, but none of them, despite words to the contrary, really acknowledged the fact that one of the others might not. Or that an innocent might die. Murdock had laughed at the irony of it more than once. Your own death was so much easier to accept since you didn't have to live and deal with it.
"I keep replaying it over and over in my mind..."
Murdock brought his hand up to Face's cheek, brushed away the tears he knew he would find there.
"In my dreams, I keep reliving it. Sometimes I almost reach him."
Nightmares, Murdock thought. Face had been jolted awake every night by them since it had happened.
"But even then, it still ends the same way. It will always end the same way."
Murdock acknowledged that fact. It was true, it would. "But you need to see it the way it was. You're looking at it through your guilt, making the edges blur to fit what you need it to."
Murdock felt the tensing of muscles as the words hit their mark. He had known before he said them what effect they would have on Face, but that didn't change the need for them to be voiced. Murdock moved to tighten his hold on Face, cutting off the retreat before it could begin. He waited for the surrender before continuing. It came in the form of a touch, Face covering Murdock's hand with his own, pressing it against his chest to increase the contact, the connection. It was a small thing, but it was enough.
"It was an accident, Face. A horrible accident, but still, there was no way to know, no way to predict it."
The hand on Murdock's tightened, and Murdock knew that Face was thinking about that night. Murdock was thinking about it, too. Remembering Face, struggling to get away, to move towards the man that none of them could save.
"Why did he have to show up then? Two minutes more and we would have been gone. Just two minutes."
"There's no answer for that, Face. It just happened. Sometimes there are no answers for why things happen the way they do."
The room had grown darker as a cloud passed in front of the moon, the things within becoming indistinct masses, dark spots on a black backdrop. Murdock felt Face push backwards a little, as if reassuring himself that Murdock was still there.
"The screams, he screamed forever..." Face's voice faded into the blackness.
Murdock heard the screams, too. Even there, in the quiet of the cabin, the shrieks were present like faint echoes in the back of his mind.
Face was right, Murdock thought. That night had been more than bad.
Murdock stood in the semi-darkness of the small office, listening to the muffled voices just beyond. The words were faint, whispered voices indistinguishable from each other. He had been lucky to get this close; otherwise Face would be without any backup near enough to help should something go wrong. But that fact did little to quell his uneasiness. From his hiding spot, he still could not see Face or the men that Face was dealing with.
He clutched both his gun and the walkie-talkie tighter, leaning as close to the barely opened door as he dared. He didn't know which was worse, the waiting or the not knowing exactly what was happening. A small trickle of sweat ran down his back, its slow progress irritating him more than it should. He resisted the urge to reach behind and scratch at prickling sensation it left in its wake.
Murdock wondered again at the wisdom of agreeing to the meeting, all the while realizing that Hannibal really had had no choice. Kidnappers were unpredictable, and too often that meant that the victims did not make it out alive. And their client's wife, Hannah Macken, had been missing one week. One long week in which the team had been unable to track down any information about who had taken her.
Shifting again, he tried to picture the scene beyond the office. He and Face had been to the Beaumont Art Gallery once two years ago, but it had been to look at the art, not the layout of the building. Murdock remembered that the main hall was fairly large, housing the major part of the gallery's collection. Off of that were two hallways, one leading to a couple of smaller viewing rooms and then to the stairs that led to the second level. The other, where the office he hid in was, wound its way around the lower level and to the main exit. But to complicate matters, he recalled reading something in the newspaper recently about the Beaumont being closed for renovations, so even his vague memory of the building might not be accurate.
He glanced down at his watch, unable to see the numbers in the darkness. Murdock did not think that they had been there more than ten minutes, although it felt like hours. It seemed impossible that just over forty-five minutes ago he had been asleep.
The kidnappers'call had been a surprise; none of them had expected it tonight, or the fact that they were given only half an hour to get to the exchange site. The kidnappers were smart, leaving no time for any sort of a plan. The only bit of luck they had was the fact that William Macken had stuck to the script, asking that his close friend and business associate make the exchange. Macken said that the stress of the last week had left him too ill to leave the house, a lie confirmed by a story planted in the society section of the newspaper about a minor heart attack Macken had suffered. The kidnappers had agreed to the substitution.
He and Face had driven to the gallery together in Face's car, the van following behind. If the kidnappers were watching, the van was not the kind of vehicle the man Face was supposed to be would drive. Face had been quiet, too quiet, on the drive over.
"You're pretty quiet, Face."
"Hmm? Oh, just trying to work out how this might go down." Face kept his eyes on the road, not glancing at Murdock.
Murdock waited a moment, not sure of whether to question Face any further. Face needed to focus on his part in what was to come; still, if something was bothering him... He let his eyes wander to the nearly deserted streets, the desolate atmosphere adding to his sense of unease. Finally, softly, Murdock asked, "You worried about this?"
In the glow of the streetlamps, Murdock could see a slight clenching of Face's jaw. There was a long silence before Face finally answered. "I just wish we knew something about these guys, had a little time to plan. I don't like going in blind like this. But waiting really wasn't an option."
"I'll get as close as I can."
Face turned then, giving Murdock a half smile. "I know."
They had driven the rest of the way in silence.
Now, standing in the dark room with nothing to do but wait, Murdock had to fight back the urge to fidget. This was taking too long. The exchange should have been made and Face on his way out with Mrs. Macken. He leaned his back against the wall and took a deep breath. He needed to stay calm, focused, just in case...
All hell broke loose.
It was almost surreal. One moment, except for the faint sound of whispers, all had been silent. Then, it wasn't. A yell, followed by the all too deafening sound of gun blasts.
Murdock was out of the office before the sounds finished echoing. Within seconds, he was at the entrance to the large hall, reacting even as his mind tried to piece together what he saw.
Face was struggling up from where he was covering the body of a woman. In front of Murdock, one body lay facedown on the floor. At the end of a hall stood someone, gun trained on a man in a ski mask. It took Murdock only one stunned instant to recognize that that someone was William Macken. Murdock aimed at the man in the mask. All three fired almost simultaneously.
Murdock would remember the next few seconds forever. The man in the mask jerked as Murdock's shot struck him, his own gun firing at the same instant. The shot went wide, striking some containers near Macken. Murdock never knew whether Macken's shot had found its mark. The small explosion that followed blotted out everything for a minute.
Murdock reflexively stepped back and covered his eyes, hearing the cries even as he blocked his eyes from the blast. When he looked up again, the area where Macken was standing was covered in flames. Canvas left draped over the floor and part of the wall had ignited. Macken, caught too close to the flashpoint, was already on fire, his clothes acting as a catalyst for the flames. His arms swung widely, and he began to move forward, but in his panic, he tripped, the fire from below engulfing him as he tangled in the burning canvas on the floor. Macken's screams filled the room.
For a second, a second that stretched out into hours, Murdock couldn't move. The sight of Macken, or what had been Macken, transfixed him. The body lay writhing on the floor, painted with fire, flames rising from it and moving in grotesque unison with the thrashing limbs. More flames, lower to the ground, extended the macabre dance outwards from the body, moving along the canvas, meeting other pools of fire, until tendrils united, blazing upwards, feeding on ladders and walls.
Another explosion sounded, and still the shrieks from Macken could be heard over the deafening blast. Flames followed invisible vapor trails, spreading quickly, gaining more ground.
Sprinklers started to rain down thin streams of water.
Murdock twisted around towards Face, saw him crawling, dragging himself to where Macken lay. Face had reached the outer layer of the fire, the flames already stretching to claim him. Murdock saw small fingers of orange start to lick at Face's sleeve, watched as he instinctively jerked his arm back even as he kept moving forward.
Murdock moved, slipping in the water, pulled himself up to his hands and knees and finally reached Face. He beat out the flames on Face's arm, struggling to hold him as Face strained to get free.
Macken's shrieks rose above the roar of the fire.
"Still alive. Help him!" Face's plea ended in a strangled cough. He forced himself to his hands and knees, body shaking as he choked on smoke, and Murdock pushed him back down, worried about the burn on Face's arm and the trouble he was already having with breathing.
"Wait here." He pulled the top of his t-shirt up over his mouth and moved away from Face, trying to find some way through the flames. Macken had been caught at the center of the fire and had quickly been surrounded. There was no way past the flames, no way around them to get to him. Even as Murdock tried, he could hear the screams lessening, see through the flames that, even if he got to him, it was too late.
The heat scorched his lungs and Murdock had to pull back. Smoke filled the room and his eyes burned, his vision blurring as tears fought against the smoke. Smaller explosions from all around them sent new spirals of flame upwards, the sprinkler system ineffective against the growing fire. He grabbed Face by the shoulder, yelling into his ear to be heard above the fire, his own voice becoming raspy.
"Face, we have to go!"
"No!" Face shoved at him, trying to break Murdock's hold.
Murdock was finding it harder to breathe, and Face's fighting against him wasn't helping. The fire was spreading quickly, the chemicals heating rapidly, helping to set off a chain of smaller fires that were merging into one.
Murdock looked again towards the body. It was still jerking, but the screams had been replaced by guttural sounds. He gripped Face tighter, keeping him from moving forward. "It's too late, Face!"
Face was coughing hard now, his struggles weakening. But he still clawed at the ground, unable to gain a purchase. Murdock flipped him over, pinning his arms in front of him.
"Let go..." Face's voice was hoarse as he tried to get the words out. Sweat covered his face, and he blinked bloodshot eyes rapidly, trying to clear them.
From their left, the entranceway into one of the halls collapsed, debris crashing into the floor. Murdock cringed involuntarily and swung around to look at the only other exit. Through the smoke he could see that the flames hadn't reached it yet, but they were getting close. Mrs. Macken lay still on the floor nearby.
He turned back to Face, there was no time left to be subtle. Shaking him hard, he yelled, "He's dead. Do you understand? We can't help him!"
From behind him, Murdock heard a yell over the roar of the flames. He looked back, barely making out the forms of Hannibal and B.A. near the entrance. He waved frantically at them, pointing to where Hannah Macken was. He watched until they had reached her and then returned his attention to Face.
"Damn it, Face, move!" Murdock grabbed Face and shoved him over, turning him so that he was facing the exit. "Remember Mrs. Macken. Move!"
This time Face listened. Or tried to. He struggled to get to his hands and knees, failed. It was as Murdock reached for Face's belt to help pull him up, that he saw the blood on Face's leg.
"Fuck!" Murdock tried to drag Face along, Face now doing what he could to help. They had only gone a short distance when Murdock felt hands pulling Face from him. He raised his head and looked up through watery eyes, saw B.A.'s form crouching next to him.
"I got him!" B.A. yelled.
Murdock couldn't speak; his lungs burned from the combination of smoke and chemicals and each breath sent pains into his chest. All he could do was nod and let go of Face.
The three crawled their way across the floor, following the thin beam of a flashlight that Hannibal held near the exit. It was all they could see through the smoke. They moved single file, Face between them, B.A. practically dragging him. Once in the hallway, Murdock was pulled up, Hannibal supporting him as they made their way out. Murdock glanced behind, saw that B.A. had Face, and watched as the doorway they had just passed through was engulfed in flames.
Murdock hugged Face a little tighter in the darkness. They had made it out, rescued Mrs. Macken, but failed anyway. All of them felt the failure acutely, but it had hit Face the hardest. He was the inside man, responsible directly for the innocents. And one had died. It didn't matter that there was no way to predict that Macken would show up and try to take matters into his own hands. It had been a miracle that Face had managed to keep Hannah Macken safe when things went bad. None of that mattered. Murdock knew that all Face was seeing was the death of a man who only wanted to save his wife. A death that Face felt responsible for.
Face's breathing was harsh, lungs still not healed completely, and Murdock gently stroked his chest, trying to calm him. He thought back to the incident that had precipitated his taking Face away.
Mrs. Macken had come to the hospital to see Face. She remembered little of what had happened, beyond seeing her husband enter the gallery and then Face knocking her out of the way when the shooting began. Hannibal had filled her on the rest, pieced together from both Face's and Murdock's accounts of the events. Murdock wondered where she had found the strength to forgive them.
Murdock had been in the room when she arrived and had moved off to sit in a chair in the corner, out of the way but there if he was needed. She had spoken softly to Face, thanking him for saving her. Murdock remembered how her hand had clutched at her purse, and her voice shook as she also thanked him for trying to save her husband. She let out a small, painful laugh as she told him that it was just the kind of thing Bill would do, barging in like that. Her voice broke when she said that her husband never could sit back and watch others take charge. They had been married for forty-one years and he had always done things his way.
Face had reached out and taken her hands, covering them with his own. She was crying by then, and Face apologized for not being able to do more, for not finding a way to save him. His voice had been husky, both from the damage from the fire and with emotion. Murdock could see that he was on the verge of tears himself. Then Mrs. Macken, a woman who Murdock would always think of as one of the most generous people he had ever met, had reached out and touched the bandage that covered the burn on his arm. She then bent over and kissed his forehead gently, telling him that it wasn't his fault, finally breaking down completely when she whispered that Bill would not want Face blaming himself, that he had always taken responsibility for his actions. She had clasped Face's hand briefly and left.
Murdock had tried to talk to Face then, but Face had turned his head away, saying only, "I could have saved him." After that, he had refused to speak to anyone about what had happened.
Murdock had spoken to Hannibal privately, asked for some time to take Face away. They needed time to recuperate, Face from the gunshot wound and burn, and both of them from the damage the smoke and chemicals had done to their lungs. Hannibal had agreed without question, and Murdock knew that he realized it was more than the physical wounds that needed healing.
They had been at the cabin for three days before Face had finally opened up a little, telling Murdock that he felt responsible for not finding some way to save Macken. There had to have been something he could have done differently; realized that Macken might try something like this, paid more attention to the hallway he had entered from, been quicker with getting his gun out, something.
Lying in dark, pressed tightly against Face, Murdock knew that there was more bothering Face, something that hadn't been said. It had been hinted at earlier that evening, and now, with night as a cloak, maybe they could work through it together.
"Face," Murdock kept his voice low, gentle, "there's more to this, isn't there?"
Minutes stretched on and Face remained silent.
Murdock tried again. "Does what you said earlier have anything to do with it?"
Face stiffened again. Murdock held tight.
"Right after the explosion..." Face stopped, gripping Murdock's hand.
Murdock felt Face draw a breath before continuing. "I saw you hit the guy, but I kept watching, watching to...to see if you'd been hit, too. I saw the fire start...knew I had to get to Macken, but I didn't. I just stared at you. I didn't move until I saw you turn to look towards Macken. All that time, I let him burn while I looked at you." Face voice was hoarse, barely a whisper. Murdock stroked his arm, but remained silent, allowing Face to say what he needed to.
"By the time I moved again, he was, was covered in flames. He just kept screaming for help. Oh God, Murdock, I could smell him burning." Face voice caught, a choking sound wrenched from him. "His head...I saw his head move, look towards me. He was screaming and I couldn't help, couldn't get there fast enough. If...if I hadn't stopped, just kept moving, he wouldn't...I could have..." Face's voice broke off, his body trembling.
Murdock leaned his head against the back of Face's, closing his eyes and forcing back his own tears. For more than two weeks Face had been carrying that inside, letting it slowly gnaw at him.
From outside, the beginnings of a passing shower had started. A slow crescendo began, low at first as a few drops pattered against the leaves to fall to the earth below. Then, as more joined them, the sound increased, the lighter sound of the drops that hit the earth combining with the deeper tapping of the rain on the roof.
"Face, those few seconds wouldn't have made a difference."
"It was longer..."
"No, Facey. I was there. I saw. You were moving before I was, even with your leg. There was just no way to save him. He was caught in the middle of the explosion, then the fire spread too quickly for us to get to him in time."
Face pulled Murdock's arms even more tightly around himself, not saying anything for several seconds. When Face spoke again, Murdock could not hold back his own tears at the anguish he heard in Face's voice. "There...there was a second when, when I saw...saw that you were okay, that I actually thanked God that it wasn't you who had been..."
Oh dear God, Face, don't do this to yourself. Murdock drew a deep breath, trying to calm his own emotions before speaking. "Face, Macken's death wasn't your fault. And you don't feel any relief in his being dead and not me, only relief that I wasn't killed, too. Do you see the difference?"
"Stop it. Do you think I didn't feel the same thing when I came into the room and saw that you hadn't been killed? We're human, Face. But none of that kept us from doing what we needed to do. Not those few seconds you paused, or being relieved that we were both still alive, none of it. At some point, you're going to have to accept that."
There was long silence, punctuated only by the sound of the rain and the hitching of Face's breath.
"It's hard, Murdock." The words barely said, heard only faintly above the rain.
"I know, darlin', I know."
"I don't know how to make the pain stop."
Murdock kissed Face's shoulder. "I think that maybe you just started to."
Face rolled over then, turning so that he was facing Murdock. Shielded by the darkness, by Murdock, Face let go. Murdock held him as Face sobbed softly. Face's guilt would still be there, Murdock knew, locked away with all of the rest, but it would be manageable, bearable now.
Outside, the rain continued to fall.
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