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Heart of the Matter

Heart of the Matter

Copyright 2001

Author: Lark

Rated: NC-17~ Slash

Disclaimer: They're not mine.

Archive: Yes.

Warning: Slash, explicit m/m sexuality.

Comments: Please

Summary: Missing Scene response from Bounty (from the A-Slash List): Sometimes even good intentions are wrong.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It had been a long day.

 

Face leaned heavily against the door he had just closed, as if his added weight could somehow help to better keep the outside world at bay. The room was growing dark, the setting sun's light only barely reaching inside. Through the windows across the room, Face could see the reds in the sky mixing with the darkness that was approaching. A harmony of sorts, light gracefully bowing to the darkness, each taking its turn as overseer of the earth. Face usually saw the beauty in this transition, in the blending of two such dissimilar forces. But tonight it only seemed to mock him.

 

Pushing off from the door, he walked across the room and drew the blinds. Then he reached for a lamp and turned it on, filling the room with an artificial light that better matched his mood.

 

For a moment he just stood there, not sure of what to do next. He had been busy today, finishing up on some of the team's outstanding business affairs and running errands for Hannibal. But even with all of that, his mind kept drifting back to what had happened during their last case. And Hannibal's attempt at a pep talk had not helped. 'You did the right thing, kid,' the colonel had said. Face just kept smiling and agreed. But it didn't feel right, not at all. Now, alone, with nothing to occupy his mind, the full impact of that decision was hitting him. Why had he listened to Hannibal? And why did Hannibal have to be right?

 

'It's over, Peck,' he said to himself. 'You might as well get used to it.'

 

A lot easier said than done.

 

Face walked into the bedroom and started to change. He tried not to look at the t-shirt that had been carelessly left on the chair in the corner. 'I should pick it up, toss it into the laundry.'

 

But he didn't.

 

Instead, he pulled on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. Slumming it tonight. That's what Murdock would have said. He glanced again at the t-shirt. Oh, hell.

 

Turning away from the reminder, he dug an old pair of tennis shoes out of the closet and slipped them onto his bare feet. He did not look at the chair again as he quickly left the room.

 

Face returned to the living room, absently flipping on the stereo. He moved around the room, straightening things that didn't need to be straightened. Billie Holiday was singing in the background. One of Murdock's tapes. As he moved a lamp an inch to the right to center it on the end table, Face's hand froze. 'I'll always love you, I know it's over and yet it's easy to remember and so hard to forget.' Billie's voice.

 

His head sank to his chest. 'So I must dream to have your hand caress me, fingers press me tight.'

 

God was not playing fair tonight.

 

Enough. He hit the off button.

 

Suddenly the room felt too small and too full all at the same time. He needed to get away. From the kitchen he grabbed a bottle of wine and a glass and then made his way out the backdoor and down to the beach.

 

The sun had finished its display and the sky had grown dark. The sand shifted beneath his feet, getting into his shoes and leaving his feet feeling gritty. Even the beach seemed to work against him tonight.

 

Reaching an outcropping of rocks that was a short distance from the house, Face sat down and poured himself a glass of wine. He sipped slowly, his eyes gazing at the stars that were beginning to appear. He looked for Gemini.

 

**************

"You see those two, Facey?" Murdock said, pointing to a cluster of stars.

 

Face leaned back against Murdock, letting the closeness of the other man's body warm him. They sat alone on the beach, the cool air having kept others inside. But the night had been too perfect to resist. The moon was new, leaving the sky to the stars. Hundreds, too many to count, mingled together, quiet and stark against the darkness.

 

"Which ones?"

 

"The two bright ones, over there," Murdock answered. "There's another bright one beneath them. They kind of make a rectangle with the dimmer stars."

 

Face followed Murdock's finger. "Yeah, I see them now. What about them?"

 

Murdock lowered his arm and wrapped it around Face. He rested his chin on Face's shoulder and said, "That's Gemini, the Twins. The two brightest stars are called Castor and Pollux, after two brothers. They represent their heads."

 

"Hmm, bright guys."

 

Murdock laughed. "Not one of your more stellar puns."

 

Face groaned. "I'm in good company, then."

 

"Legend says that the twins, identical twins, had the same mother but different fathers."

 

"Uh, Murdock..."

 

Murdock rubbed his cheek against Face's. "Don't get bogged down with minor genetics issues. This is mythology, after all. Anyway, Castor was a great horseman and Pollux a great boxer. They were into heroic quests and fought side by side. Their love for each other became legendary." Murdock gently nibbled at Face's ear. "Kind of makes me think of us."

 

"Except for the brother part, I hope."

 

"Would a brother do this?" Murdock's hand gently rubbed Face's penis through his pants.

 

"I hope not," Face sighed and turned to kiss Murdock. "So whatever happened to them?"

 

"Oh, Castor got killed and Pollux was inconsolable so Zeus placed them both in the sky where they could spend eternity together," Murdock said in a rush.

 

Face looked at him. "Well, I would be inconsolable if I lost you."

 

There was nothing but sincerity in Face's voice. Murdock pulled Face to him even closer. "I'm not planning on going anyplace, Facey. No place except home with you."

 

***************

 

Face closed his eyes, blotting out the stars. He touched his fingers to his lips, remembering the feel of the kiss he had shared with Murdock before they walked back home together. They had made love that night. He thought that it would last forever.

 

Forever.

 

He poured another glass of wine. Forever didn't last as long as it used to. He listened to waves, gentle in the still night. The slow, steady rhythm they made as they continued on their ceaseless journey was soothing, constant. He breathed in the scent of salt and sea tangle as he rested his head back against the rock. The coolness of the stone reminded him of warm touch that was no longer his.

 

For once he wished that one of Hannibal's plans had not come together.

 

***************

 

"Face, we need to talk."

 

Face looked up from the ledger he had been working on. "What's up, Hannibal?" Seeing Hannibal's expression, Face suddenly had the feeling that he might not want to know. He quickly ran through in his mind everything that he could possibly have done wrong and came up with nothing that would warrant that look from Hannibal. A serious look. A look that said Face was not going to like what he heard.

 

"It's about you and Murdock."

 

Face's eyes narrowed a bit. "About what, exactly?"

 

"About why the two of you are together," Hannibal said.

 

Face stood up, both hands firmly planted on the top of the desk. "I thought you were okay with this. We talked about it, explained everything months ago. It hasn't affected the team. We still..."

 

Hannibal held up a hand. "I know. And when I said that I was okay with the idea of you two together, I meant it. It took some getting used to, I have to admit, but that's not the problem." Hannibal moved over to the couch. "Look, let's sit down and talk."

 

Face did not follow. Instead, he sat back down behind the desk. Distance. He needed distance. "Then what is the problem?" Face asked. The room had suddenly grown very still. From somewhere he heard the tick of clock. Just below that, the rustle of fabric as Hannibal sat down.

 

"Listen, Face, I need to tell you something and I need you to be honest with yourself about it."

 

"What?" Face tried to keep from gritting his teeth. This could not be good. He watched Hannibal. The way the colonel's hands rolled the unlit cigar between his fingers, the steady gaze, the almost stiff posture while at the same time trying to look casual. Not good at all.

 

"I know that you and Murdock care for each other. I don't doubt that." Hannibal sighed.

"Damn, kid, this is harder than I thought it would be."

 

"Just say it, Hannibal."

 

"I think you need to let Murdock go, at least for awhile. For his own good."

 

There was no sudden outburst. No explosion as the words hung in the air. There was only the sound of the clock ticking off the seconds as Face tried to register what had just been said.

 

Tick.

 

What?

 

Tick.

 

Let him go.

 

Tick.

 

Why?

 

Tick.

 

Murdock's good?

 

Tick.

 

Think.

 

"Face?"

 

It was several more seconds before he realized that Hannibal was calling him.

 

"I don't understand," Face said softly. Why wasn't he yelling at Hannibal? "Why?"

 

"Face, I'm just not sure that the two of you are together for the right reasons. That thought has been bothering me since you first told me about you and Murdock, and I'm sorry that I didn't say anything then. I guess I was hoping that I was wrong."

 

At that moment Face was beginning to understand what people meant when they said that their world was crumbling. It was almost like death, when visions of your life passed before your eyes. In less time than it took to think, images of Murdock, of him and Murdock together, flashed before him. Quick flashes, brilliant, bright, there and then gone, until nothing was left.

 

Speech seemed to have left him. He just stared at Hannibal, waiting for the rest of the pieces to fall away.

 

"You and Murdock, you've been close for awhile, long before you two decided to become," a pause, as if Hannibal were searching for the right word, "a couple. Back in Nam, you needed each other. Hell, we all did. But you two, I think hanging on for each other is what got you through. Especially you."

 

Face couldn't argue that. It was true. He would have given up if he had not had Murdock to care for, to care for him.

 

"Then Murdock was ill. He still needed looking after, and you did that. You made sure that he got to the right hospital, the right care, everything you could do."

 

"But Face, he's a lot better now, and you're still hanging on to him. Sheltering him. You act as buffer whenever he gets nervous or uncomfortable and feed into his personas even though we know that it is his way of hiding, of not dealing with situations directly. In effect, without meaning to, maybe you're keeping him from learning how to function on his own again. And now that you are together, he doesn't really have to try."

 

Hannibal took a deep breath. "And maybe you don't have to deal with things when you're with him, either. You can hide behind him and protect yourself."

 

"Hide behind?" Face wasn't aware that he had spoken the words until he saw Hannibal nod.

 

"Yes. Think about it. We've talked about what we would do if we ever got our pardons. You've always said that you want a family, the house with the picket fence, steady job, the whole works. And yet in all the years since the war, you've never been able to stay with anyone other than us for more than a week."

 

"But we've been on the run."

 

"Is that really the reason?"

 

Was it? Had he ever really been interested in staying with any of those women? How many times had he rationalized to himself that he didn't have time for a long-term commitment, not while he still needed to be there for Murdock?

 

And somewhere, deep down where he seldom looked, he knew that he was afraid. Afraid of someone getting close enough to know him, hurt him again, like so many times before. Had he been using Murdock as a shield, to keep from letting others in? And in the process, had he held Murdock back somehow?

 

But even if all that were true, did that still mean that they would not have chosen to be together?

 

The clock marked off the seconds, loudly, harshly, drawing them out so that each one lasted an eternity.

 

He did not know for sure.

 

Oh God, he didn't know.

 

"Are you saying that he doesn't... that I'm using him?"

 

An empty eternity.

 

"Not on purpose, Face. No. And I know that you care for each other. But maybe you're both confusing that affection and need with love, making it into something it isn't. I think that both of you need to find out for sure."

 

Face closed his eyes for a minute.

 

He did love Murdock; he did not need to think about it. But had he held onto him so tightly that Murdock couldn't or wouldn't see around him? Was Murdock so afraid of hurting him that Murdock had confused affection with love? Did Murdock know that Face could let him go?

 

Could he let go of Murdock?

 

"Why now, Hannibal? Why now?"

 

"Funny, it was a small thing, something I'd heard before but for some reason it just clicked this time. We were on our way home from that last mission. Murdock was doing one of his characters and annoying the hell out of BA. Remember? You were playing along with him. Then BA yelled something to you about how Murdock wasn't ever going to get better if you kept encouraging him. Murdock laughed and said that he didn't need to get better, that you loved him the way he was."

 

Hannibal shook his head sadly. "Maybe he was more right than you both realized."

 

Face stared at the top of the desk. He did remember. Murdock had said the words and squeezed Face's knee, leaning in close and whispering that later that night he would show Face just how much he loved him.

 

Hannibal was still talking, explaining, but Face only heard bits and pieces. Mostly, he heard Murdock's laugh. The feeling of being held, of knowing that he was safe. All the corny things that romance writers talked about. The things poets tried to say. He felt them all when he was with Murdock.

 

He knew that he did not want to let go.

 

And he knew Hannibal might be right.

 

"Okay." One word. One overused word. Seemed wrong to seal his fate with it. But he didn't trust himself to say more. Hannibal was still talking as Face walked out.

 

***************

 

Face watched as a jet made its way across the sky. It was too high up to be heard; only its blinking lights marked its passage between the stars. He idly wondered where it was going and if it was somewhere that he'd like to go. He dropped his head and looked at the sand. It really didn't matter. Going someplace was not what he wanted to do. Alone was alone. Why leave only to end up where you already were?

 

Three weeks. It had been three long weeks since Hannibal had spoken to Face. Two longer weeks since Face had spoken to Murdock.

 

He poured himself another drink, wishing that it would wash things away, knowing that it wouldn't.

 

The talk had not gone well, not at all. A week's worth of running scenarios through his head had done nothing to prepare him, not really. He could never count on Murdock to stick to a script. He'd wound up hurting Murdock. Afterwards, he tried to convince himself that the ends justified the means, but that had only been a hollow comfort.

 

***************

 

"Facey, you gonna tell me what's been bothering you all morning, or are we going to have to play twenty questions?"

 

Face had been standing in front of the window, lost in thought, when he suddenly felt Murdock's hands on his shoulders, kneading, working the tense muscles. For a minute he was lost. He leaned into the touch, letting the feeling of those hands distract him. One more day, it can wait one more day. But one day was likely to become a week, a month, forever. Before his resolve could slip further, he pulled away,

 

"Murdock, I...we need to talk." Face turned, moved around Murdock without touching him. He looked at the couch. Do you sit or stand when you push someone away? Did it matter? Then Murdock was there again, next to him, brown eyes showing concern. If Face stayed still, Murdock would hold him, wrap himself around Face and take all the bad away. Face sat down.

 

Face stared at his hands. He felt the cushions dip a little, knew that Murdock was sitting close, looking at him, waiting.

 

"Come on, Face, whatever it is, we can work it out. You and me. Muchachos. Amigos."

 

You and me. Not this time. Not anymore.

 

"Murdock, I've been thinking a lot lately, about you and me." And I think I'm bad for you, holding you back, using you. "And I think, maybe, maybe we rushed into this. Maybe we need to take a step back, spend some time apart."

 

Face heard the intake of breath, could almost feel Murdock tense, draw back a little.

 

"What?"

 

Keep going. "I just think that maybe it'd be for the best if we both took some time away from each other. You know, to think about things."

 

"Where the hell did that come from? Face?"

 

Face felt the hand on his arm. It was too much. He rose and walked back over to the large windows that overlooked the ocean. He kept his back to Murdock. Safer that way. He hadn't realized that Murdock had followed until he was there, stepping between Face and the window.

 

"Don't you dare say something like that and then turn away from me. What do you mean think about things? I thought that you wanted this. Wanted me."

 

Face took a step backwards then, away from the anger and hurt in Murdock's voice. He kept his head down, not meeting Murdock's eyes. But Murdock stepped forward, keeping the distance between them small. The room narrowed to the space between them. A space that radiated tension.

 

Face's hands moved, started to reach out, floundered, fell back.

 

"I...I think that we should see other people. Make sure that we've made the right choice."

 

Face looked up then, met Murdock's gaze, saw the hurt that he had put there. The confusion.

 

"You don't mean that, Face. You can't."

 

You're not supposed to make this harder; you're just supposed to agree with me, Murdock. Walk away. Don't question.

 

"Face? Why? What did I do?"

 

Oh, God, don't do this. Don't take the blame. "Nothing, Murdock. You didn't do anything. It's me." The ultimate breakup line. It's me, not you.

 

"What're you scared of, Face?"

 

No, no, no. Don't be understanding. Face's eyes darted away. He felt trapped. He needed to end this before he gave in, changed his mind. "There's someone else."

 

"You're lying."

 

Look him in the eye, make him believe. Face shook his head. "I'm sorry, Murdock."

 

Face held his eyes steady, forcing himself to meet Murdock's stare. He never wavered as he watched Murdock's jaw tighten, saw him stiffen and then move away.

 

"Murdock..."

 

"Don't, Face. Don't make it any worse."

 

Face stood where he was as Murdock grabbed his jacket and Face's car keys. He kept standing there after the door closed. He was still standing there when the phone rang. Four rings, then his recorded voice cheerfully announcing that he was busy. He listened as Hannibal left his message, something about background checks.

 

You'd be proud, Hannibal. I can still pull a con off in under five minutes. When the message ended, Face carefully walked over and took the phone off the hook.

 

***************

 

Face shivered a little. It was getting colder. The bottle was empty. He looked at the stars again. Twinkle, twinkle. Where was Murdock tonight? At the VA, but was he with someone else in his mind? He'd seemed happy with Kelly. Was he thinking of her?

 

Face wanted to be bitter, to resent Murdock. To hate Kelly. Blame them, Hannibal, God, the fates. Blaming was easier than accepting the truth.

 

But he knew better. Here, alone with himself, he knew. Couldn't con a conman. Face had seen the kiss. Impulsive and quick, but it had left Murdock smiling, unable to talk about anything else. What was left of his hope had died in that instant. Murdock looked happy. Face had let go and Murdock had moved on. Permission granted and accepted.

 

The words to the song came back to him, soft in his mind against the whispers of the ocean. "I'd rather dream than have the lonely feeling stealing through the night." Billie's voice again. Damn. Even had to have the same name as the dog.

 

He rose slowly and walked back towards the house.

 

*********************************************

 

Murdock lay on the small bed listening to the people moving around on the other side of the door. It was morning, and the sun was artificially bright and cheerful, its light streaming through his window announcing another lovely day. He pulled the covers over his head.

 

BA had it all wrong. Hannibal was a fool, and Face was a bigger one. Now everything was a mess. One huge mess.

 

Murdock sullenly wondered at what Hannibal had been thinking. Did the colonel really think that he could not tell the difference between love and duty? That he had been with Face out of some well-intentioned but misguided sense of obligation to address Face's suppressed need to feel unconditional love? I sound like Richter, he moaned.

 

It was getting stuffy. He pulled the covers off of his face.

 

He had been up most of the night thinking about Hannibal's phone call from yesterday morning, about Kelly's visit. About Face.

 

The phone call. Everything had started to fall into place then.

 

***************

 

"Just checking in, Murdock."

 

Odd. Hannibal almost never called to just check in with him. "All present and accounted for, Hannibal."

 

"Good. How's it going?"

 

How's it going? "Um, fine. You know, the usual."

 

"Yeah, good." A pause. "You okay about what happened? You do know that we tried to get to you as quickly as we could?"

 

What was Hannibal building up to? "Yeah, of course I know that. We talked about it. It's alright, Hannibal."

 

"Things worked out pretty well actually, all things considered. You and Kelly looked happy together. You should see her again."

 

Murdock looked around his room, wondering when he might hear Rod Serling's voice. Why was Hannibal interested in Kelly? "She's nice," he said noncommittally. "Why the interest?"

 

"It's just that it's good to see you moving on, getting over things. I think that this is for the best, Murdock."

 

Murdock was beginning to get a bad feeling. "What are you talking about, Hannibal?" For the best. Face had used those words.

 

"Nothing, Murdock. I'm just glad that you're not moping around."

 

Not that easily. "What did you mean by for the best?"

 

There was a long pause before Hannibal's voice finally answered. "Murdock, it's nothing."

 

"What's nothing?"

 

Murdock could almost hear Hannibal chomping on his cigar.

 

"I just think that Face did the right thing. And Kelly proves that."

 

The bad feeling grew even stronger. "Did you talk to Face about this? I mean, before he talked to me?"

 

"Yes, but that doesn't change anything. Murdock, I know that you feel that you..."

 

Murdock had listened to Hannibal. Listened to the concern in the colonel's voice as he explained just why all of this was a good thing. He listened, thanked him, and then quietly hung up the phone.

 

***************

 

He threw the covers the rest of the way off and sat on the edge of the bed. For the best. Sure. Well, at least the call had helped to explain Face's actions.

 

Face. What was he going to do about Face?

 

He absently reached for the small, marble elephant that rested on the stand next to his bed. Face had given it to him after they had gotten back from Kenya. Said that it was in honor of the scam they had done. Murdock fingered the trunk. It was upraised. He remembered Face's smile when Face had told him that that was a symbol of luck.

 

You're falling down on the job, little elephant, he thought.

 

It was sometime after midnight last night that Murdock had let go of his anger. Face had hurt him badly. But now, thinking about Hannibal's call, he wondered just how badly Face had been hurt. And what it had cost him to push Murdock away. He wasn't entirely sure what Hannibal had said to Face, but he knew Face well enough to be able to guess that whatever it was, Face felt guilty about it. Face always felt guilty. Murdock had long ago realized and accepted that Templeton Peck had the morbid ability to twist anything around until he had managed to make it his, Face's, and no one else's, fault. And if Face felt guilty, he would try to fix a situation, no matter what the cost was to himself. Face was frustratingly predictable that way.

 

Murdock carefully returned the elephant to its resting place and then stood, glancing out the window and silently willing a cloud to pass in front of the sun. It just kept beaming cheerily in. He sighed and reached for his pants.

 

Okay, Hannibal, however well meaning, was wrong. Face, believing Hannibal and so trying to do what was right, was also wrong. And what about himself? Why had he been so quick to believe Face when Face had said that he had found someone else? Because he'd been afraid of that since the beginning. Afraid that Face would balk, run from him like he ran from everyone else. So when it happened, he was all too willing to go along with it. He added himself to the list of wrongdoers. He'd need a scorecard soon to keep it all straight.

 

Murdock pulled a clean t-shirt out of the drawer, thinking back on his behaviour the last time he had been with Face. They had had no contact since Face had broken things off. It wasn't until a week later, after Murdock had been kidnapped, that they had seen each other again. Face had been the first to try and bridge the gap. When Murdock had finally been reunited with them, Face had smiled, started to say something, but Murdock had brushed past him and climbed into the van. He felt immature even as he had done it, but he didn't care. Then, when they had learned of Kelly's capture, Face had reached over, placed a supportive hand on his back, saying that they would pull this one out. Murdock had spared him a quick glance, nothing more. In his defense, Murdock had not been at his best. The strain of the kidnapping and then Kelly's capture had been wearing on him. Still...

 

And then that kiss. He had done it on impulse, and BA had teased him about it. Murdock had played it up, talking about Kelly nonstop. He'd snatched quick glances at Face, but Face never looked back, just kept staring forward. So Murdock had pushed a little, asked Face what he thought about Kelly. 'She's seems nice, Murdock, really nice.' Murdock remembered Hannibal turning around then and giving Face an approving nod. It was right after that that Face had claimed to be tired and had moved to the long seat in the back of the van, lying down so that his back was to the others. The rest of the trip home had been silent.

 

Murdock sighed. Face wasn't the only one who knew how to feel guilty.

 

And just to add to the guilt, Kelly had shown up. Murdock had been sitting outside, thinking about what Hannibal's call had meant, when there she was. He had looked at her and then closed his eyes, trying to make it feel like...feel like what? Like it did when he looked at Face. It didn't, and he knew then that it never would.

 

Murdock had flattered her, and meant it, but by the time Kelly had left, he had told her the truth. He would have laughed at the irony of repeating Face's 'there's someone else' line if it had not been for the flicker of surprise and hurt he had seen on her face. If he could have crawled under a rock at that moment, he would gladly have done so.

 

This was more than a mess. It was like some bad movie of the week except someone had cut out all of the commercials, leaving no time to catch your breath before the next tragedy hit.

 

Think, Murdock. How do you fix this? He looked at the phone. Maybe he should just call Face, have him come by and break him out so that they could talk. No, Face would never do that. Even if he answered the phone, he'd be quick to come up with some excuse why he couldn't come.

 

That left Murdock going to Face. Suddenly, he was very glad that it was sunny.

 

*********************************************

 

Face was stretched out on the couch staring at the ceiling. It was after one in the afternoon, and he had done nothing more ambitious than shower and dress. For what felt like the hundredth time that day, he told himself that he was being a fool. Life had existed before Murdock, and it would exist after him. He needed to get a grip and move on. He should just pick up the phone and call someone, go out, have a good time.

 

Twenty minutes later Face was still trying to convince himself to move when the doorbell rang. He swung his feet to the floor and stood up, automatically reaching for his gun. He wasn't expecting anyone. Hannibal was on the set of his latest movie, and BA would be at the center. Cautiously he stepped to the side of the door.

 

"Who is it?" he asked.

 

"Someone in there call for a doctor?"

 

Face looked at the door. The voice on the other side sounded like a cross between someone who had just stepped out of Mayberry and... No, it couldn't be. "Excuse me?"

 

"Look here, it's not everyday that I make a house call. Now are you going to open up, or should I just slide my bill under the door?"

 

Face opened the door. He stared in stunned silence at the sight before him. It was Murdock, decked out in a white lab coat, tongue depressor sticking out from behind one ear, a stethoscope around his neck, and doctor's bag in hand.

 

Before Face could recover, Murdock had slipped past him into the room. He set the bag down on the coffee table, pulled a small pad and pencil from it, and sat down on the couch.

 

"Are you just going to stand there with the door open, or are you going to come over here so that I can start my exam?"

 

Face closed the door. "Murdock, what are you..."

 

"No, you've got this all wrong. I ask the questions. See," Murdock pulled out a gum wrapper from the pocket of the lab coat and pointed to the letters HM's MD that were written on it in crayon, "here's proof that I am board certified to carry out this examination."

 

"What..."

 

Murdock glared at him and then made a show of flipping open his pad. "Possible hearing impairment," he said as he began to write. Loudly, he continued, "This would be much easier if you would sit down."

 

"I..."

 

"Tsk, tsk, tsk. Inability to follow simple directions." Murdock made another note in his pad.

 

Face finally relented and sat down.

 

Murdock nodded his approval. "Good, good." He pulled a clean tongue depressor from his pocket. "Now, open up and say ahhhhh."

 

Before Face could protest, Murdock held up one finger and wagged it in his face. "Do not argue with a professional. Just follow instructions like a good boy."

 

Face's shoulders slumped in defeat. He was too confused to argue. Reluctantly, he opened his mouth.

 

Murdock carefully placed the tongue depressor in Face's mouth. "Hmmm, very interesting," Murdock commented. "Just as I suspected."

 

When Face tried to speak, Murdock pressed the thin piece of wood down more firmly.

 

"Yes, this is very bad. You have a severe case of misguided good intentions mixed with an overactive guilt hormone that appears to have been activated by close contact with a superior officer."

 

Face tried to pull away, but Murdock's hand had come up and was now holding his head firmly from the back. And the tongue depressor in his mouth had inched just far enough back so that if he moved, it would gag him. He looked helplessly at Murdock.

 

Murdock grinned and continued his examination. "Hmmm, primary symptoms include," Murdock lifted his head so that he was staring directly into Face's eyes, "grossly misinterpreting the motivations of someone close to you and a disturbing unwillingness to discuss said misinterpretations. Secondary symptoms manifest themselves as," Murdock's voice softened, "loneliness and way too much pain and guilt."

 

Face lowered his eyes as Murdock released him.

 

Murdock rested his hands in his lap and stared at the downcast eyes. "Facey, what were you thinking?" He reached out and gently lifted Face's chin. "Why would you do this to yourself, to me, without even talking about it?"

 

Face met Murdock's eyes briefly before looking away. "Because if I had talked to you first, I wouldn't have gone through with it. I would have backed out the moment you tried to convince me that I was wrong. It was better this way. You needed...needed a clean break so that you could move on."

 

Face stood then, moving away from Murdock. He busied himself with straightening a pile of tapes near the stereo. "And it worked. You met Kelly. She's a nice girl. And she's a vet, and I know how much you like animals. She's perfect for you." Face's hands were shaking now, sending several tapes falling to the floor. He just looked at them. "It all worked out great," he said softly.

 

"Face, I don't love Kelly."

 

Face bent down and started to gather the fallen tapes. "You only just met her. Love takes time." The tapes rattled together as they kept slipping from his hands. Suddenly, other hands were covering his, stilling them. Face stared at the hands. Please, don't touch me. Don't make me remember, feel...

 

"I'm never going to love her."

 

"You don't know that, Murdock. You don't..."

 

Murdock placed a finger on Face's lips, quieting him. "Face, I do know. I know that I'm never going to love Kelly because there is only one person who I will ever love that way, and that's you." Murdock gently brushed Face's cheek with his hand. "And I don't love you because I feel obligated to, or because I'm afraid, or because I don't understand. I love you for all of the same kind of reasons that you love me." Murdock paused, looking closely at Face. "You do love me, don't you?"

 

Say no, stick to the plan. "Yes." So much.

 

"Then why would you think that my love was any less real?" Murdock waited, kneeling inches from Face, holding the still trembling hands.

 

If you say the words, will that make them true? Face looked away.

 

"Face?"

 

So hard. "I thought...thought maybe you were with me because I need you. That maybe you stayed because you thought you had to, because I wouldn't let you go."

 

Murdock sighed. Sometimes Face's insecurities were his own worst enemy. "Face, I understand why Hannibal might think that. He cares for both of us and was just trying to do what he thought was best. But why would you believe that? How could you think that I would only stay with you because I thought I had to? Don't you realize by now how much I love you?"

 

"I..." Face stopped, unable to put into words his fears.

 

Murdock knew what Face could not say. He drew Face to him then, ran his hand gently down the back of Face's head and neck until Face gave in, his head resting on Murdock's shoulder. "You know, Face, sometimes I'm afraid, too. When you told me that we shouldn't be together anymore, my biggest fear came true. I think that that's why I was so quick to believe you. Fear is an easy thing to give in to."

 

"I'm sorry, Murdock. I never meant..."

 

"Shh, I know you didn't. And I'm sorry that I was so quick to believe what you said." Murdock pulled back a little and took Face's face in his hands. "To quote BA, we're both a couple of fools."

 

Murdock saw the hint of a smile from Face. But Face's eyes still held a trace of doubt. "What's the matter, Face?"

 

Fear.

 

Hannibal's words whispered to Face. 'Maybe he was more right than you both realized.' Maybe. Was he feeding into Murdock's illness as a way of keeping him close, keeping Murdock needing him? Face felt pathetic. He had everything he had ever wanted with Murdock and still he was looking for reasons to deny it. Was it because those reasons were valid or because he was afraid of what it meant if they weren't? Was he more afraid of losing what he had or more afraid of keeping it?

 

He had to know. Had to.

 

"Are you still at the VA because of me?"

 

Murdock's eyes opened wide. "What?"

 

"Do you...do you still need help because I'm holding you back?"

 

Murdock took Face's shoulders and shook him. "How can you think that?" His voice was low, and there was both anger and pain in the tone. "You would never do that and I would never let you. You're part of the reason that I'm not still in a padded room. How could you even suggest that you could hurt me that way?"

 

Face tried to pull away but Murdock gripped him tighter. "What's the real problem here, Face? Why are you trying so hard to convince yourself that you're bad for me? I know you love me, so that's not it. What is it, Face? What is it?"

 

"I don't know." Only half a truth.

 

Childhood fears. Irrational. The waiting for the good to be taken away. Leaving before being left. Hurt or be hurt.

 

"The truth, Face."

 

"You'll leave someday."

 

"No. Never by choice. Only if you make me. And even then, I'll keep trying to come back. I'll keep caring."

 

Murdock let go of Face's shoulder and tenderly brushed back the hair that had fallen into Face's eyes. "I'm here now, muchacho. Proof positive that you're going to have a tough time getting rid of me. Make it easier on yourself and stop trying."

 

As Face looked at Murdock, saw the truth in the words, the emotions and tension of the past three weeks began to catch up with. His control was slipping. He wanted to run, hide, have time to pull himself together. He wanted to reach out.

 

Murdock made the choice for him.

 

Face felt himself being pulled forward again, being held. A hand rubbed his back; soft, soothing words were whispered. When he began to tremble, the embrace tightened. Hands caressed his hair and back, silently letting him know that it was okay to need, to accept support.

 

For a moment he hovered, somewhere between desperately holding back and letting go. If he gave in, would he shatter, the pieces scattering like leaves in the wind?

 

"It's okay, Facey, I'm here."

 

Face felt the rest of his resistance erode with those words. He reached out, clung to Murdock, let himself crumble knowing that Murdock would hold the pieces together, not let go, keep him safe. Fear turned to trust at that moment and he wept, letting the pain out in the only way possible.

 

He cried for a long time; the sudden release of emotions held too long in check overwhelming him. When you hold on too tightly the letting go was harder and once started, he was powerless to stop it.

 

He should have been embarrassed, would have been if he were with anyone else. Being vulnerable, exposed, wasn't safe. Except with Murdock. Murdock would keep the control that Face lost safe until Face was ready to take it back.

 

It was a long time before he was ready to take it back.

 

Eventually, almost hesitantly, he drew back a little, absently wiping at his eyes as he again looked at Murdock. "Thanks." His voice was husky. "I guess I've been a bit of an idiot."

 

Murdock smiled. "Yes. But that's part of your charm." Murdock wiped the remaining tears from Face's cheek. "Better?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"Sometimes the soul needs a little cleansing."

 

Face smiled then. Murdock always seemed to understand what Face could never say.

 

A silence stretched between them for awhile, but its presence was not awkward. They remained close, Murdock lightly rubbing Face's hand, allowing the quiet to give Face time to adjust, time to put the pieces back together.

 

When Face was ready, he broke the silence. "Murdock, how did you get here?"

 

Murdock laughed at the question, knowing now that everything was going to be all right.

 

"I, uh, sort borrowed Dr. Richter's car. It is borrowing if you leave a note, right?"

 

"Yes, I'm sure that that's a clause in the borrowing not stealing contract. But maybe we better go and return now."

 

"I think it can wait, Facey. I have something better in mind right now."

 

"Yes?"

 

Murdock leaned in close to Face; let his lips brush Face's. "Well, with all of the doctors I've been around lately, I've kind of got the urge to play doctor with the person who means the most to me."

 

Face laughed softly. "Murdock, where is your professionalism? What about the sanctity of the doctor/patient relationship?"

 

"I'm very professional, Facey. And I know how important a good working relationship is between a doctor and his patient. That's why I find it helpful to get to know my patient well." He let his hand wander down Face's body, pausing to teasingly squeeze Face's groin. "And I do a very thorough exam."

 

"Murdock," Face moaned.

 

"Hmm, that doesn't sound good. I think we need to move to the examination room so that I can get a better look."

 

Murdock stood, pulling Face up with him and leading him into the bedroom. He guided Face to the bed, gently pushing him into a seated position. Sunlight warmed the room, its silent presence welcome, dispelling the shadows of fears so recently there.

 

Carefully, Murdock sat on Face's lap, straddling him, sitting close. When Face reached out, tried to draw Murdock even closer, Murdock smiled and pushed against Face's chest, maintaining the small distance between them.

 

"Remember, Facey, I'm here to examine you. There is a proper procedure for examinations. First, you have to answer some questions."

 

"Murdock, can't we just skip that part?" The strain of the past few weeks and now the freedom from it left Face wanting, needing to be close to Murdock.

 

"What, and have me lose my license? No, no, I think that we need to stick to policy. Now, when was the last time that you had an examination?"

 

"Weeks, it's been weeks. And at this rate, it'll be weeks until I actually have another one." And I can't wait much longer.

 

Murdock shot Face an ominous look. "Maybe I should go and get my pad so that I can add impatience to the list. Careful note taking is very important, you know."

 

Face bit the inside of his mouth and tried to slow his breathing. He looked at Murdock, saw the amusement in the brown eyes, knew that Murdock could drag this out for a painful eternity. "No, you don't have to do that. Next question?" He tried to keep the desperation out of his voice.

 

"Good. Okay, any unusual symptoms since your last visit? For instance, a build up of tension or pressure, swelling, aches?"

 

"N-no." Not until now.

 

Murdock's smile broadened. "You appear to have developed a slight stutter. Let me rule out any physical reasons for that before we continue."

 

Face moaned as Murdock's mouth met his. The touch was light, achingly gentle. He needed more. Oh so slowly the kiss deepened, lengthened until he could no longer breath, no longer think clearly. When it ended, he was breathing hard, fighting the urge to pull Murdock back to him, into him.

 

"Nice, Facey. Nothing wrong there." Murdock eyed him critically. "But you do seem a bit winded and flushed. Maybe I better check your pulse."

 

"P-pulse?"

 

A cheek brushed his, then warm breath on his neck made him shiver, his neck arching, pressing into the lips. Again the touch was gentle, teasing, lingering only briefly before withdrawing.

 

"Your pulse is a bit fast." Murdock looked at Face innocently. "Are you under any undue stress at the moment?"

 

"Murdock, please..."

 

"Discomfort, maybe?"

 

Face looked at Murdock blearily. "Yes."

 

"Perhaps I should take a closer look at the problem, then. But that means that you'll have to get undressed."

 

Face was pulling off his shirt before Murdock had a chance to stand up. When he tossed it aside and started to unbutton his pants, he heard Murdock laugh.

 

"Whatever's ailing you seems to have caused a noticeable behavioural change. Interesting." Murdock made a show of picking up the discarded shirt, folding it neatly, and placing it on the chair. It was with just as much care that he gathered up the rest of Face's clothes and placed them neatly aside.

 

Face watched the proceedings, wondering if he might die before Murdock finished.

 

"Please, I need you."

 

"It appears so. That swelling does look as if it requires my attention. Maybe you better lie down while I get ready to take a closer look at that."

 

"You know," Murdock said as he took off his lab coat, "it never pays to rush these things." It joined the neat pile of clothes on the chair. "A job worth doing is a job worth doing well." Now the hat and t-shirt. "After all, it was a wise man who once said haste makes waste." The sneakers and socks. "Mustn't forget that a stitch in time saves nine." The pants and underpants. "And in the immortal words of Ben Franklin, 'if time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be the greatest prodigality'."

 

Face was now sure that he would die first.

 

"I think we're ready to continue now." Murdock climbed onto the bed, straddling Face. "Looks even worse than before. Here, let me just..." He carefully squeezed Face's erection. Face's hips bucked and he moaned loudly.

 

"Nothing wrong with your reflexes."

 

"Murdock, please, can't wait, please..."

 

"But I haven't finished..."

 

"Now." It was almost a growl.

 

Murdock made a small hmphing noise. "This isn't like you at all, Facey. You seem all hot and bothered to me. Maybe it's time I took your temperature."

 

Face was already opening the tube he had been holding.

 

"Quite the Boy Scout, aren't you?" Murdock was about to say more when Face's hands began to work the lube onto Murdock's growing erection. Face's hand stroked the length of Murdock's penis, tightening enough to elicit a groan from Murdock.

 

Face shot Murdock a smile. "Want you now, inside me." He squeezed again.

 

"You're right, Facey," Murdock gasped, "time to take that temperature."

 

Everything else dropped away as Face gave himself over to Murdock, joined with him. No doubts, no second-guessing, no fear. This was right. Them. Together. Loved and being loved. He pushed backed as the thrusts deepened, felt Murdock's hand on him, stroking, keeping time with the thrusts. He heard Murdock's voice, words of love, things meant to last.

 

Then there was nothing but sensation, a feeling of wholeness, of completion. He arched, crying out, seeing stars is the daylight. Twin stars. Inseparable. An eternity together.

 

He drifted, felt warm arms encircling him, holding him. Arms that would never let go. "Forever."

 

Face felt the tender kisses, heard the whispered words even as sleep reached out to claim him.

 

"Forever, Face."

 

THE END

 

 

 


Heart of the Matter by Lark

 

 


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