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Pink Buttons

Pink Buttons

By Wendybyrd

 

Rating: PG-13

Warnings: Vague references to bad things, mild swearing, and slashy stuff. Also, a lot of cheese. I know there's no excuse for it. But I can't help myself.

Description:  A sequel to Magic Fingers, but where that story was my attempt to pay homage to all great screwball comedies, this is more of my tribute to the cheesy swashbuckling stories I grew up loving, picking up shortly after where Magic Fingers left off. The tone is a little darker. You have been warned. 

Face and Murdock's relationship, if it can be called that, is at sort of a standstill. Meanwhile, veterans are disappearing at the VA and Murdock has been watching too many epic, sword fighting, romantic, costume dramas.

 

 

œœœœœœœœœœ

 

 

            "They seek him here, they seek him there, those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven?—is he in hell? That demmed, elusive Pimpernel."

           

The man reciting the silly little poem paused as he finished, to observe his audience through a ridiculous-looking quizzing glass that had been dangling from the pocket of his tight-fitting, silk waistcoat a moment before. He raised it delicately to his eye with one pale hand, allowing the elaborate lace of his cuff to fall over his rather limp wrist as he posed to observe his audience. Then he smiled slowly, obviously pleased with reaction he'd gotten from the scowling, shriveled man in front of him.

           

Face snorted to himself at the whole scene being played out on his TV screen and wondered if he should get up to change the channel. The man was taking his disguise as fop a bit too far; nobody acted like that, Face thought confidently, absently picking a piece of miniscule piece of dust from the lapel of his pink, silk pajamas. And if somebody did act that obviously, people would see right through him, at least the people who knew the man well should. His experience as a conman had taught him what people were willing to believe and this sword swinging, period drama was definitely over the top. But Face left the channel alone, continuing to watch the old black and white film until a commercial came on.

           

He didn't even know why he was sitting at home, watching this old, stupid, swashbuckling movie on a Saturday night. It wasn't like there weren't other things…people…he could have been doing. That thought made Face shift uncomfortably on the plush sofa of the luxurious penthouse apartment he was currently occupying. Actually, he hadn't been doing much of anything, or anyone, lately. In fact, he hadn't been doing anything at all, and to say he was getting, well, edgy, would be putting it mildly. And to make things worse, Face could name the exact reason that he was sitting here watching this classic romance film like a lonely old lady with nowhere to go.

           

Murdock.

           

Just the name was enough to make Face groan loudly. He closed his eyes to shut out the image of his friend's sparkling brown eyes and then gave up when he realized that it wouldn't do any good. His thoughts always came back to Murdock, ever since that day a few months ago, and his disastrous attempt to enter L.A. society and what had happened between the two of them.

           

Though exactly what had happened, Face couldn't say. A kiss, a few light, unexpected touches, banter that had gone far beyond even Murdock's usual teasing, and suddenly his thoughts were filled with Murdock. And he couldn't get rid of them, wasn't even sure he wanted to. All he did know for sure was that Murdock felt it too, whatever it was. It was in how their eyes would meet now, in the middle of an otherwise routine mission, when Murdock would give him an amazed, wide-eyed look before turning away. Or in how an accidental touch would make them both freeze in place, forgetting they weren't alone until Face would hear B.A. grunt noisily from somewhere around them, or notice Hannibal's questioning, impatient stare.

           

Even this movie… He had stopped when he'd found it because it had reminded him of Murdock. Face turned to watch as it came back on and shook his head. The Scarlet Pimpernel, an overly dramatic, cheesy movie about espionage and romance during the French Revolution. One of Murdock's favorites, although to be honest, Murdock claimed everything was his favorite. Western TV shows, spy movies, pizza, crème puffs, chocolate sauce…Face's thoughts trailed off again for a moment. Then he pulled at the collar of his pajamas and undid a few top buttons, suddenly very warm.

           

He'd watched this movie not too long ago with Murdock, during a few moments of quiet before one of Hannibal's plans had exploded into their faces. Murdock had sat directly in front of the screen, staring at it with a strange, intense interest, until Face had started to feel a little lonely in his chair behind Murdock several feet away. He hadn't called Murdock over though. And that was the problem.

           

He just couldn't do it, no matter how edgy he got, or how Murdock's eyes began to fill with that damn confused, kicked puppy look. It was even almost funny considering Face's normal reaction to a person expressing interest in him. With Murdock though, he just felt unsure of himself and, well, shy. The word came to mind before Face could think of a better one and he snarled furiously to himself at the thought. It was embarrassing. But, unlike with most people, he didn't know what exactly Murdock wanted from him.

           

So here he was, alone, on a Saturday night, watching a movie that reminded him of Murdock, instead of being with Murdock as they had tentatively made plans to do earlier in the week. Watch a movie together or something, Murdock had suggested with a grin.

           

The man on the screen was suddenly standing up straighter, revealing that his foppish act had been just that, an act; a disguise to fool the shriveled French agent so he wouldn't suspect that he was really the Scarlet Pimpernel, the man risking his neck to save a bunch of French aristocrats from the guillotine. In a minute though, he was going to realize that his ladylove was in danger and rush in to save her, sword drawn, cape flapping everywhere. Face watched it critically for a moment, remembering how Murdock had glanced back at him mischievously during this part, and then jumped when the phone next to him rang loudly. He picked up the receiver irritably.

           

"Good evening, Mr. Peck," Murdock whispered into his ear immediately in the voice of the man from Mission Impossible—if the man from Mission Impossible had ever sounded like he knew a funny secret that no one else knew. Come to think of it, maybe he had. Face tried to control the nervous flutter in his stomach and answer in a normal tone.

           

"Murdock?" He sat up straighter, then rolled his eyes at himself for doing it. He didn't relax any though. "How did you know…? I mean," Face cleared his throat. Murdock always could read his mind. "How did you get this number?" he said coolly. Murdock whistled slowly on the other end.

           

"I'm bored. There's nothing much on the tube here. Just this old movie, you remember the one about the man acting like a fool to trick his enemies into thinking he was harmless…?"

           

"Yes," Face agreed hurriedly, getting up to turn down the sound on his TV until it was only the faintest whisper. He could still hear the dialogue loud and clear though; Murdock was reciting it on the other end of the line, indicating that he had seen this movie way too many times. "Silly, wasn't it?" He tried to change the subject. "Nobody would believe an act like that, not to mention how dumb it is to put to yourself in that much danger for some noble, romantic cause." As soon as the words came out of his mouth, Face winced, realizing what an idiot he was. Murdock laughed softly to himself and Face somehow felt that laughter echo down low inside him

           

"Whatcha doin'?" Murdock asked idly in the next second instead of commenting. Face pictured him twisting the phone cord around his long fingers as he spoke, glancing at the door to his room so the orderlies and nurses wouldn't know that he was awake after lights out. "It's awful lonely over here," he continued quietly, with the tiniest bit of censure in his voice, before Face could think of something slightly less pathetic than what he was really doing, wondering faintly as he did what had happened to his ability to lie smoothly.

           

He jumped at Murdock's words and realized his hands were twisting his silk shirt and tsked in annoyance at the wrinkles. He knew that Murdock was waiting for a response and wondered if he was brave enough to answer honestly. Then he heard a strange creaking sound through the line, as if the door to Murdock's room was being opened. Murdock made a strange, almost startled, sound. Then the line went dead.

           

Face frowned, wondering if an orderly had walked in on Murdock and made him hang up. It was something some of those VA orderlies would do. Some of them were little more than bullies. Others just had no sense of humor. One in particular made Face's skin crawl, which was probably the reason Face made it a point to insult the man whenever he saw him when he "visited" Murdock at the hospital.

           

Murdock could handle them though. Had just fine for years now, Face assured himself, and put the phone down slowly. This was probably just another one of his tricks to get Face to go over there and visit him. But then there was that odd, pleased, secretive note in Murdock's voice. Face thought of that with a sudden chill. That was never good. It usually meant a new personality, and a new problem, was waiting in the wings.

           

Still, it was nothing to worry about. Face shrugged and tried to interest himself in the movie, turning the sound up and watching as the hero's delicately beautiful wife nearly swooned in the arms of the triumphant villain. The hero was somewhere nearby, seemingly unaware of the danger he was in, in coming to her rescue, not knowing it was all an elaborate plot of the French agent's. He was smiling blithely and even singing as he walked into a dangerous situation.

           

Face jumped up off the sofa with an expression of disgust and practically ran into the bedroom to change out of his pajamas. It wasn't that he was really worried. Or that he was just looking for an excuse to go over there. It was just that he didn't have anything better to do anyway. 

 

                                                            *****

           

           

            The ten minute delay in restarting the VA alarm system whenever someone switched off the power was more than enough time to make it to Murdock's room and get through the window, something Face had discovered a few years ago and had used on more than one occasion. He moved stealthily along the wall because of the bright light of the full moon and then climbed up onto the decorative balcony outside Murdock's window that Murdock of course could never use.

 

He peered into Murdock's room and saw that it was dark. He couldn't see Murdock, but Murdock was probably sleeping. Nothing to worry about, but Face pried open the window anyway and slipped silently into the room, smiling to himself at the smooth entrance; Hannibal would have been proud. It was rather grand. All it needed was a cape.

 

His smiled disappeared when his arms were grabbed from behind and he was shoved unceremoniously to the ground. A body pressed down on top of his to keep him there.

 

"Who dares enter the secret lair of the Masked Avenger?" a deep voice whispered into his ear in an English accent and Face muttered under his breath

 

"That is definitely enough of that movie for you, Murdock," he commented and the person on top of him stilled, but didn't move.

 

"Face?" Murdock seemed surprised, if not exactly delighted. Face wondered why that should be so upsetting, then started to squirm underneath all that weight and finally moved enough that he could roll over. Murdock did move enough then to let him, but Face almost regretted it when he did. The light of the moon outside let him see Murdock's face clearly. His friend's bottom lip was sticking out in a pout, but his eyes were dancing.

 

"Aw, Facey, you've got no romance in you. You ruin everything," Murdock complained with a shake of his head, making Face frown slightly. Then he got quiet, and Face got quiet, just watching Murdock's eyes change in the moonlight, from teasing to something else as he slowly lowered his head. This time Face froze, feeling his breath coming faster as Murdock took his time, as if he were frightened that Face might move away. His eyes were so bright.

 

A sound from the doorway made them both look up.

 

"Bed check!" Murdock whispered. Face nodded and noticed the bed next to them. He crawled under it quickly as Murdock stood up. He made it just as the door was opened. Face held his breath as the thin light from a flashlight swept over the floor near his head and let it out slowly when the beam of light moved away. "Hey," Murdock said to the orderly or nurse doing the head count, and then nearly gave Face a heart attack by adding. "Just me in here. Nobody's under the bed or anything." Who did Murdock think he was, Bugs Bunny?

 

The orderly or whoever grunted humorlessly in response, but didn't close the door. Face tensed under the bed, turning his head curiously towards the doorway.

 

"What are you doing awake, Mr. Murdock?" The man growled. Face recognized that voice; it was that orderly he especially hated. He could just picture the man's long, greasy hair sloppily tied back in a ponytail and his pale, almost clear, staring eyes. "Are you having trouble sleeping, Mr. Murdock? Bad dreams? I know someone you could talk to…"

 

Face frowned delicately at Murdock's strange hesitation in answering and wondered if he was the cause.

 

"No…no, thanks anyway, muchacho, but I'll be fine in here," Murdock answered at last. "It's not like I haven't got anybody to talk to."  Face jerked again and hit his head on the metal frame of the bed. He winced and cursed under his breath. Murdock suddenly had a loud coughing fit. Face automatically turned in his direction though he couldn't see him and noticed the overflowing boxes stashed under the bed as did. They were all filled with old costumes, from old personalities of Murdock's.

 

Face touched the Range Rider's paper mask in remembered annoyance, but feeling a smile curve his lips as he thought of Murdock's happiness whenever he got to become a new person. He always had liked the identities with the masks the best, though you could always tell you were looking at Murdock. The special light that was Murdock was never gone from his eyes for long. And to be honest, Face loved seeing it there.

 

"I've got friends in high places," Murdock went on somewhere above him and Face just could imagine him tapping his head knowingly with one finger.

 

"Yeah," the orderly remarked, obviously uncomfortable around someone who claimed to hear voices. Face briefly wondered why he worked in a psych ward of a veteran's hospital. "Just remember, I know some people who'd love to…help you."

 

"I will!" Murdock chirped as the door closed. The orderly walking down the hall in his squeaky, orthopedic shoes was the only sound for several seconds. Then it was quiet. He didn't stop at anybody else's doors, Face noted distantly as he grabbed the hand Murdock held out and let himself be pulled free.

 

"What was that?" Face demanded immediately as he stood up, staring at Murdock suspiciously. Murdock ignored him, studying his outfit. Face was distracted into looking down at his tight jeans and plaid shirt and dusted them off absently. "What?"

 

"What is this? Casual Face?" Murdock looked up with a grin. Face touched one of the buttons of his shirt then recognized the tactic for what it was and glared at Murdock as sternly as he could. "Is this what you wear to bed?"

 

"Murdock…"

 

"Facey…" Murdock echoed his tone.

 

"Murdock, what is going on with you and Nurse Rachett out there? And why did you pounce on me like that when I came in here?" He put up a hand at Murdock's sudden wicked look so he wouldn't be interrupted. "I mean, you acted like I was someone out to kill you until you realized it was me. I'll be feeling that landing for days," Face added, rubbing his back for dramatic effect though it didn't really hurt.

 

Murdock snuck an arm around his waist and pulled him forward, raising his other hand and resting it against his face.

 

"Did I hurt you, dear boy?" he asked in the English accent he'd had before. It was more upper class than his usual English accent. It reminded Face of someone…Leslie Howard, or even Errol Flynn. Face stared blankly into Murdock's deep gaze before shaking his head to clear it and stepping away.

 

"Quit trying to distract me, Murdock. I thought we were a team." Face crossed his arms stubbornly, not trying to hide his hurt since Murdock undoubtedly knew he was upset already.

 

"Are we?" Murdock asked quietly and Face raised his head to look into his eyes just as the power came back on. He blinked at the light from the TV. Murdock must have been watching in the dark since the lights in his room hadn't come on too. It was almost black in the corridor. Murdock moved away to switch the TV off, leaving them in near total darkness. Then he sighed.

 

                                                *****

 

 

"Strange things are afoot at the VA," Murdock began dramatically.

 

"Stranger things than usual?" Face wondered, remembering his last visit, when he'd encountered Napoleon—and Josephine—out walking around the grounds together. Although Face had to admit that Josephine had looked quite charming in a dress he must have made himself during arts and crafts time. 

 

"Face!" Murdock was close to his usual howl. "This is serious!"

 

Rather enjoying the fact that Murdock was asking him to be serious, Face only smirked and waited.

 

"Patients have been disappearing, two just this week. And they weren't released and they didn't escape. One of the guys couldn't even make it to the bathroom without help, so don't tell me he just walked out of here on his own." Murdock shook a finger at him before Face could say just that. "Guys with no family to come complaining when they vanish, like me."

 

"We would come complaining, Murdock. I would come," Face instantly assured him and stopped when Murdock a strange look crossed over Murdock's face. He cleared his throat. "So why haven't the nurses or the doctors done anything?" Face asked, not disbelieving Murdock, he knew better now, just knowing that sometimes Murdock got excited. Murdock tossed his head.

 

"They're acting like nothin's wrong. But I hear them whispering…and…" Murdock dropped his voice even lower. "I've been seeing things and I'm not the only one."

 

"Ah," Face remarked softly, earning him a dark look from Murdock. He held up his hands in apology. He cleared his throat. "What kinds of things?"
           

"Shadows walking like men," Murdock intoned. "A solitary figure lurking in the darkness. A heroic man…"

 

"Enough, Murdock, I get it." Face looked over Murdock carefully, who blinked back at him, looking more innocent than the thousand cherubs decorating the stained glass windows of St. Mary's. "This sounds a lot like Zorro, and a couple of other figures that I can think of." His mind went back to Murdock's intent interest in the film a few weeks ago. "You wouldn't have anything to do with this, would you?"

 

"Me? Do you see any M's carved into the walls around here?" Murdock looked extremely disgruntled at thought that he hadn't carved his initials into any walls. Face relaxed a little, then nodded.

 

"All right, so what do we do?"

 

Murdock did a dramatic double take.

 

"You believe me?" He took a step closer. Face nodded again. He ignored the nervous flutter in his stomach.

 

"You were right about the jewels, weren't you? And this couldn't possibly be any crazier than that." Face was quite sure of that. He had a brief vision of Murdock bent down, slipping a black, high-heeled shoe onto his foot, the rich material of an expensive skirt brushing his face. The hand holding his leg had been warm. 

 

"Maybe there's some romance in you, yet," Murdock commented playfully, distracting him, and picked up one of Face's hands. He held it in both of his, then turned it over and raised it to his mouth. He pressed one short kiss to Face's palm and grinned at Face's startled stare. "Get us out this room and I'll love you forever," he promised warmly.

 

Face hesitated a moment at that, then stepped away towards the door, pulling out his ever-ready kit of lock picks as he did. He had the door open quickly, and then told Murdock to get some tape to put over the lock so the door could close without locking so they could get back in. Then they stuffed some pillows under the blankets of the bed to look like Murdock and stuck his baseball hat on the top before slipping out into the hallway.

 

Murdock went first, looking around quickly and then heading down the wall, toward the far end of the corridor. Face followed closely and tried to control his urge to swear when Murdock stopped suddenly for the fourth time and he slammed into his back.

 

"I heard something," Murdock said, again, and Face rolled his eyes and pushed him forward, shoving his hands against the soft leather of Murdock's old jacket.

 

"Where are we going?" he asked finally. Murdock stopped abruptly, and turned back to grin lopsidedly at him. For a second Face had the sneaking suspicion that Murdock was making him crash into his back on purpose, but then he forgot about it when Murdock jerked his head at the door in front of them.

 

"Here," Murdock answered shortly and Face pulled out his lock picks again. This place had practically no security at all, Face thought superiorly and pushed the door open a second later.

 

This room was empty, the bed neatly made, the shelves dusted, books stacked neatly on the nightstand. The chart hanging from the door said Diego Vega, age 35, suffering from chronic Post Combat Stress Disorder. It listed his doctor as Dr. Gisborne.

 

"Good guy, Diego," Murdock told him, leafing through the books absently. "He was a pilot too, Air America, from what he could tell me."

 

"CIA, huh?" How typical of Murdock to focus on the flying and not the CIA. Face looked through the drawers but only found some tee shirts and jeans. Nothing special. But it did look as if this guy had intended to stay at the VA for some time. Probably as long as Murdock, with a chronic condition like that. "You're right, Murdock. He hasn't packed anything that I can see."

 

"See!" Murdock shouted and then clapped a hand over his mouth. Footsteps sounded outside in the hall and they both stilled. Whoever was out there was not wearing the orderly's squeaky shoes. "I should have brought my sword," Murdock whispered as the footsteps passed. Face looked through the little window in the door and saw, something, disappear down the hall. It had looked like something dressed in the shadows. He shook his head but it was gone.

 

"A sword?" he asked as Murdock opened the door and they went back outside. He remembered the plastic scimitar under the bed that had looked like part of a Halloween costume.

 

"In case the knavish man in black should strike." Murdock widened his eyes crazily and wiggled his eyebrows. Face just rolled his eyes.

 

"Next room please." He waved Murdock ahead of him and ignored his grumblings about how Face had no honor or romance in his soul. They turned a corner and came to another hallway. Three doors down, Murdock stopped. "You know your way around pretty well," Face remarked, pulling out his kit. He read the chart on the door as he worked. Jon Little, 32. Under medication. Dr. Gisborne. Face had never heard Murdock mention this doctor before. He turned to his friend curiously. "Who's this Doctor Gisborne?" he asked Murdock, trailing off at the sound of squeaky shoes echoing down the next hallway. He barely heard Murdock's vague announcement that the doc was new as he turned around toward the sound as well.

 

                                                *****

 

Murdock grabbed his hand and tugged him away from the door, looking around wildly.

 

"Leonard!" he said in a hushed shout and pulled Face away, around the corner to the staircase. "Come on!" he ordered impatiently and Face let himself be dragged down several flights of stairs, until he wasn't quite sure where they were in the building. Murdock seemed to know; he stopped a few floors down and yanked Face through two swinging doors into a large room. A locker room, Face noticed when Murdock finally let him stop to catch his breath. It was dark in there, but the moonlight was streaming through the windows.

 

 "Getting out of shape, Facey? I could help you with that, but I think I like you all flushed and breathless," Murdock teased in the next second, not even remotely tired. Face just glared at him and raised one hand questioningly. He ignored the color that the escape had brought to Murdock's cheeks.

 

"Why are we running?" he asked in the next moment. It wasn't like they weren't trained to take care of problems like Leonard, the greasy orderly. Murdock shook his head like the answer was obvious. "And don't you think he might come down to the employee's locker room?"

 

"He's supposed to be making his rounds," Murdock said confidently just as the sound of squeaking shoes could be heard in the distance. Face stared at Murdock with narrowed eyes, not that Murdock seemed to notice. He was looking around again. Then his eyes fell on something that made them glow brightly. Face felt that flutter again.

 

"No!" he said immediately, not even sure what he was refusing. Murdock just smiled and placed one hand against Face's chest. Then he pushed, forcing Face to take one step backwards, and then another. "What…?" Face began in confusion, twisting around to look behind him. He saw a tall, thin, open locker. It took a moment for what Murdock was planning to sink in. By then it was too late.

 

The locker was slightly raised, and he fell into it, knocking against the back with a loud bang. He looked up at Murdock in stunned surprise. This was not how he'd planned to spend his Saturday.

 

"Sorry, Facey," Murdock said, not looking the least bit sorry, and slammed the door shut. "If he found you he'd report you to the military," he whispered through the door. "Don't worry, I'll come back for you. And away into the night…" That apparently was directed at himself.

 

"Murdock!" Face yelled furiously, banging on the door a few times. "Murdock!" There was no answer and he felt along the locking mechanism, but though it was a simple lock, it wasn't meant to be opened from the inside. For a moment he remembered being trapped in a tiny closet, lying on top of Murdock in a hushed silence. He unbuttoned the top button of his collar. "Great, just great," he muttered to himself.

 

This would never have happened if he had just stayed at home and finished watching the movie. When he saw Murdock he was going to… his thought trailed off as the squeaking stopped and the swinging doors were pushed open and the light flicked on. Face tensed, hoping that this wasn't Leonard's locker, then relaxed a bit when he heard a woman sigh.

 

And it was definitely a woman's sigh; Face would know after all. All the VA employees must wear squeaky shoes. He pressed his ear to the narrows slits near the top of the door and listened as she ran some water in the little sink he'd seen earlier and hummed to herself. Face raised his head when he heard more squeaky shoes approaching and then the swinging doors pushed open again.

 

"Oh, you scared me!" the woman exclaimed in a nervous voice. "I thought you were that," she stopped and started again in a whisper, "that mysterious man that the doctors have been telling us isn't really there." Face perked up, wondering what exactly it was everybody was seeing. An escaped patient who had watched even more Zorro movies than Murdock? The other man in the room chuckled deeply and moved over to where the woman's voice was coming from.

 

"Do you like being scared, Nan?" the man asked suggestively, making her -Nan- giggle. Face felt his eyes widen and shook his head, silently cursing Murdock as the two of them began what he would have called a major make out session when he'd been in high school. Their heavy breathing and frantic whispers making him wince, and reminding him just how long it had been since he'd last heard, or made, any sounds like that.

 

He could remember exactly where and when, up against a wall in a dirty alley, his hands clutching fistfuls of the expensive tux Murdock had had on, Murdock's hands circling low down his back and then up under the dress he'd been wearing, breathy whispers echoing in the night air. Then the thought crossed his mind that if they'd gone further, Murdock might have made sounds like that; he was very vocal about what he liked…

 

 Face tried to ignore the passion-filled sounds and think of the plot to that bad movie instead, but gave up when Nan began calling out "Leonard!" in an increasingly loud voice and Face realize exactly who was out there. He gagged. He was definitely going to have to have a word with Murdock for stuffing him in here. This was worse than any recon mission the Colonel had sent him on.

 

And then, just when he didn't think he could take anymore, he heard Nan make this peculiar bleating noise. Face raised his head and frowned, trying to figure it out. Then she did it again, obviously unable to control herself. A laugh burst out of him before he could stop it. He slapped a hand over his mouth immediately, but it was too late, they'd heard him.

 

"What was that?" Nan wondered. Face could hear her moving around. Leonard was cursing loudly, which, though Face felt a twinge of sympathy, made him laugh so hard he was gasping for air behind his hand. For a moment he wished Murdock were there, so he could share the moment. But Murdock would definitely have made him want to laugh more; he didn't laugh with anybody else they way he laughed with Murdock. Face squirmed a little at that thought, and what the meaning of that might be, and reflected that maybe it was best that Murdock wasn't there.

 

Nan was out the door before Face had controlled himself. She switched the light back off on her way out. Leonard lingered a few more moments, probably trying to compose himself. Face waited until his squeaky shoes had faded into the distance before bursting out laughing; he couldn't help it. Guess everybody had had different plans for tonight. 

 

For a while, all he heard was his own laughter echoing around inside the metal locker. Then he heard the faintest footstep just outside the door before it was swung open and Face found himself staring up at a tall, masked figure, dressed all in black.

 

"Murdock's not crazy," was the first thing out of his mouth and he realized how stupid he sounded when his eyes traveled up to the black mask, and to the eyes shining wickedly at him through the small holes in the dark material. He could see them in spite of the general darkness of the room. The masked man wasn't wearing a hat like Zorro, Face thought distantly, then shook his head for staring silently at what was probably a lunatic run free. Even if he was so tall that he made Face feel little and, well, delicate.

 

The man gravely extended a gloved hand and Face took it gratefully, only tripping slightly as he stepped out. He took a step forward and raised his hands automatically, landing against the taller man's chest and then jumping back in startled realization at the contact. Then he shook his head again for acting like a scared kid. It must be this place. It made everybody crazy.

 

The other man still had his hand. Face gave him a distant, distracted smile and tugged slightly, but he didn't let go.

 

"Thanks," Face told him and tried again, to no avail.

 

"It seems a crime to hide away all that beauty," the man whispered in a deep voice. Face blinked several times. And he thought he had some lines.

 

The man took a step forward, coming into Face's personal space so fast he didn't have time to move away. Face watched blankly as his hand, pale against that black glove, was raised to the other man's mouth. He felt warm lips kiss the tips of each finger slowly before one long, lingering kiss was pressed to the back of his hand. Face shivered at the familiar feeling of desire, barely noticing when his hand was finally freed. 

 

"Ah," he managed to say at last and cleared his throat. It seemed so loud in the tense quiet of the room. The masked figure nodded, as if taking that as a compliment, and then backed away in a swirl of black. Face realized dimly that he was wearing a cape just as the man disappeared through the doors. He cleared his throat again and looked down at his hand. "Who was that masked man?" he asked himself in complete confusion and tensed at the sound of someone heading this way.

 

He glanced around and saw the locker, still open. He jumped back into it before he could think of a better place to hide and pulled the door closed. Then he sighed.

 

"And I'm back in the locker. Alone," he murmured. This was not how he'd planned on spending his Saturday night.

 

                                                *****

 

 

He wasn't in the dark that long before the door opened to reveal Murdock. Murdock looked slightly harassed, as if he'd been running or hiding somewhere and had rushed over here. Face immediately turned on one of his more charming smiles and jumped out of the locker before Murdock could offer his hand.

 

"Are you ok?" Murdock asked the second he was out. Face slammed the locker door closed firmly, then turned to face Murdock.

 

"Of course I'm all right, why?" Face cleared his throat at the lie, and stared back mildly at Murdock's concerned, or was it suspicious, stare.

 

"You look a little, I don't know, feverish or something," Murdock commented. "Flushed cheeks, bright eyes…"

 

"Maybe it's because I've been trapped in a locker and been forced to listen to Leonard the orderly and Nurse Nan making love on the employee lunch table for the past fifteen minutes!" Face snapped, shuddering at the memory. Murdock grinned.

 

"Nan the nanny goat?" he wondered, hopping on the balls of his feet. "Did she make that…?"

 

"Bleating sound, yes," Face agreed with a half smile that he knew Murdock saw. Then he frowned. "How do you know about that anyway?" He raised his head curiously at Murdock's sudden wide-eyed, innocent stare.

 

"She's loud," he said quietly with a shrug. "All the patients call her that." Face narrowed his eyes, but Murdock just smiled. "You never did say why your eyes are so bright, Facey," he went on teasingly.

 

"Where were you anyway while I was being…serenaded? I was waiting for you." Face straightened his clothes without meeting Murdock's eyes. Murdock started whistling lowly; if Face didn't know any better, he would have said it was "My Boyfriend's Back." He felt his cheeks get hot and decided that it was definitely because of the VA. It just made people crazy.

 

"Did you find out anything?" Murdock asked, his smiling dipping slightly. Face shook his head slowly, feeling guilty when Murdock looked disappointed. It wasn't like the disappearances were his fault. But he reached out and grabbed Murdock's hand, holding onto it for a moment when he saw Murdock's eyes light up.

 

"We'll find them, Murdock," he said softly, then glanced around. "Now what? If they haven't escaped, where do you suppose they are? They could be anywhere. They could out of town, out of state, out of the country. They could even be hidden away and still in this building!" Murdock looked at him sharply. Face could just see the wheels spinning in his head. All the crazy, multicolored, broken, misshapen, spinning wheels.

 

"I never thought of that," Murdock mumbled to himself and suddenly pulled on Face's arm, bringing them closer. "Thanks, Face. You're brilliant," he said warmly. "I'd howl if it wouldn't lead to us both bein' locked in a tiny room. Tiny separate rooms," he corrected himself and moved forward, taking Face with him. Face rolled his eyes and freed himself. "Of course, even if they're not here, the people who are taking them probably are," Murdock reasoned.

 

Face nodded, then glanced quickly down the hall. It was clear. He signaled for Murdock to follow him out and then waited for directions.

 

"We could start from the bottom up," he suggested logically.

 

"Arts and crafts room it is, then!" Murdock declared in a manner a lot like Hannibal and walked away while Face was still groaning. He caught up with him on the staircase, taking the stairs since the elevator was too risky, and they headed back up one floor to the arts room. Face was about to ask why they couldn't have just gone there in the first place, but stopped himself when he realized that Murdock would just tell him that then they would have missed out on the all the adventures. In fact, Murdock gave him a look that said just that as he bowed and swept Face decorously into the room.

 

Face sent him a rude thought, just in case Murdock really was reading his mind, but of course, now Murdock seemed oblivious to him as pranced curiously around the rows of long tables, looking at the different craft projects displayed everywhere. Face watched him walk away and then walked along the table closest to him. It was covered in bits of tissue paper and pipe cleaners, shaped into flowers. Some of them looked better than others. Face idly picked up what looked to be a rose and twisted it around in his hands. How many real roses had he given women as a token of love, knowing that it was all a lie and that the rose would be with them longer than he would? He wondered if Murdock expected those same roses from him. Or if Murdock would be the one to give them.

 

"That's a pretty one," Murdock remarked nearly into his ear. Face started a little, and then glanced narrowly at Murdock to see if Murdock had noticed. He set the rose back on the table as he did.

 

"Do you make flowers too?" Face wondered irritably, when Murdock just grinned at him. He shook his head.

 

"That's for beginners. Us trustworthy people are allowed to handle sharp objects and everything." He nodded proudly and then moved slightly, coming to stand behind Face, making him turn around.

 

"Ah." Face unconsciously backed up a step and hit the table. "Do you think we could turn the lights on in here?" he asked, glancing away from Murdock's gaze at the overhead light fixtures. It was ridiculous. He was a man who often did his best work in the dark, but he would have given almost anything to have a light bright enough to let him see what insanity was lurking in Murdock's eyes just then. He could hear traces of it in his voice when he spoke.

 

"Don't wanna get caught, do you?" Murdock tsked softly.

 

"Of course not," Face had to agree about that. He swallowed dryly at Murdock's little laugh. It was the place, he told himself again. It was the place. If he'd stayed at home, everything would be normal. "So what are you working on then?" he asked brightly. Murdock leaned forward slightly.

 

"I've been working with leather," Murdock told him with a smile in his voice. Face froze. A thousand things ran through his head before he got a hold of himself. He tried to move back and then remembered he was stuck, trapped between a table and a hard place. He flushed excitedly at his own thought.

 

"Ah, Murdock, why did you bring me here?" The question came out considerably softer than he'd intended. His voice even trembled slightly. Murdock suddenly stood up and moved away. Face let out a slow breath. 

 

"Why, Face. I didn't bring you here. You brought yourself here, remember?" he teased in a voice like a Southern belle, then cleared his throat.

 

"Murdock…"

 

"Face…"

 

"Murdock…" Face refused to back down this time. Murdock snorted irritably.

 

"You know what I like about the Pimpernel movie, Face?" he asked, heading back to the door. "How at first his love doesn't take the guy seriously, but when the movie ends, they're in each other's arms." He walked back out the door before Face could say anything.

 

                                                *****

 

 

"Murdock!" Face ran out the doors after him only to find Murdock leaning against the wall grinning at him.

 

"What's the matter, Face? You seem upset," he asked, casually reaching out to flick a piece of dust from Face's shirt. Face watched his hand and then looked up into Murdock's eyes. They seemed shadowed suddenly, and it wasn't because it was dark in the corridor. Face hesitated, then put out a hand, resting it on Murdock's shoulder.

 

"Come on, we've got a mystery to solve," he said gently, blinking as Murdock turned away, letting his hand fall.

 

"If we solve it tonight, do I get a Scooby snack?" Murdock joked with a sudden bright smile. Face smiled back, glad everything was back to normal. He kept his hand at his side though.

 

"Two," he responded with a grin of his own at how pleased Murdock seemed. "Now where should we look? Do you think it's the administrators?"

 

"Those desk jockeys don't even know we're alive." Murdock shook his head firmly. "I refuse to believe it's the good doctors…well most of them anyway. That new guy…"

 

"Gisborne?" Face nodded slowly. "He was their doctor."

 

"But he doesn't have an office here. He visits," Murdock added thoughtfully. "And I still don't know what he'd want with those guys…I've been thinking and thinking but you know how that is with me..." Murdock started humming.

 

"Let's just start with a search," Face suggested.

 

"We seek him here…we seek him there…" Murdock sang out suddenly. Face narrowed his eyes.

 

"This is not a swashbuckler, Murdock," he began warningly.

 

"Course not, Face," Murdock agreed instantly. "Now let's go, dear boy. Time's a wastin'." Murdock switched from upper class British to pure Texas in seconds and then hooked arms with Face before traipsing grandly down the hall.

 

"Is there a part of this building that no one ever visits? Where several people could just disappear?" Face left their arms linked for now and did his best to get back to the business at hand.

 

"Aside from the cafeteria?" Murdock seemed quite serious. Face glanced at him warily and felt Murdock pat his hand as if sensing his concern. "The laundry room, or the boiler room. The boiler room was built in the twenties. It's full of places to hide."

 

"Could most people get in?" Face thought briefly of the hidden rooms in the camps. Murdock shook his head before answering, then snapped his fingers.

 

"You need a key, but I can get us in another way!"

 

"Or I could pick the lock…"

 

"Not if they're there. Time to do a little reconnaissance. Come! To the Batcave, Robin!"

 

Murdock ran forward with an evil laugh leaving Face no choice but to follow, if only to object to being called Robin. Murdock was at the stairs again, running to the top quickly until they ended abruptly.

 

"They used to go one story higher till an earthquake," he explained. "But…" Murdock stretched up and lifted a ceiling panel, revealing a dirty crawlspace.

 

"Should I even ask how you know all this? Or why?" Face wondered sarcastically, but stepped on Murdock's hand when he extended it and hopped up into the space. He pulled himself in the rest of the way and then lowered his arms for Murdock, straining a little to pull him up on his own.

 

Murdock landed on top of him and immediately turned around so they could face each other.

 

"Seems familiar, doesn't it?" He raised his eyebrows suggestively and then crawled slowly off him. Taking his sweet time, Face thought irritably, closing his eyes at the shivery warmth. Murdock was several yards away before he opened them. "Come on, Facey. Don't be scared. Faint heart…" Murdock trailed off.

 

Face glared at him as he turned around and began crawling after him, trying not to think of what the dirt was doing to his pressed, designer jeans. And his knees were getting sore. He'd bet Murdock didn't mind getting sore knees.

 

The little crawlspace suddenly seemed hotter. Face cleared his throat and looked at Murdock. He instantly regretted it when he realized what his view was. Murdock's khaki's didn't seem dirty, he noticed, then winced. It was definitely hot in here.

 

"How much longer?" he called up in something that sounded a lot like a whine. Murdock smiled back at him. There was something secretive in that smile, as if he knew. Face did his best to look unconcerned. 

 

"Funny you should ask," Murdock answered and scooted to the side so Face could sit next to him. He lifted off the ceiling panel in front of them and waved at him. "After you." He waited, humming to himself again. Face looked down and saw a wide pipe, big enough to crawl along a few feet below them. It could have been full of hot water or something, but he doubted it. Murdock wouldn't do that. Face looked up at him and nodded before slipping down.

 

He moved out of the way for Murdock and stared down in amazement. The room was huge. It had to be at least two stories high, with large, blacked out windows with what were probably once white, faded curtains still hanging from them, old piles of laundry, broken furniture, and a huge monstrous boiler with pipes like this one everywhere.

 

"It's somethin', ain't it?" Murdock seemed fond of the room. "It's a great place to be alone."

 

"No it isn't," Face corrected him with a tiny smile of his own, gesturing down to the large, greasy man heading into a tiny room in the back. "It's our friend, Lenny."

 

"Someone's wandering around the wrong part of the corral," Murdock commented, peering down intently. Then he whispered something to himself that sounded like, "I'll need to get a closer look."

 

"What?" Face demanded just as something that sounded like a choked cry echoed through the room. An expression that was almost deadly crossed Murdock's face. It was a look that Face had only seen a few times in their time together and it never meant well for Murdock's already fragile state of mind. Face felt himself frowning protectively, until Murdock finally turned to face him. Murdock seemed equally surprised at whatever Face's expression was. They stared at each for a few long seconds until Murdock spoke.

 

"Come, my pretty," he said gently, trailing a finger down Face's nose before poking the end. "We have places to be." Then he disappeared back up into the crawlspace. Face joined him after one stunned moment and followed him silently back down the narrow passageway. He hopped down to the floor as noiselessly as Murdock and then waited, unsure of what Murdock wanted to do.

 

"I don't know what's happening, Murdock. But we'll save them," Face tried to reassure him. To his surprise, Murdock just grinned.

 

"Of course we will," he answered as if Face were silly. But he picked up his hand and swept low in a bow over it. For a moment, Face thought he saw a large, feathered hat in Murdock's hand, like a Cavalier might wear. He blinked and it went away. It was the place. Had to be. "Of course we will," Murdock said again and straightened up. He kept Face's hand firmly in his until they reached the floor where Murdock's room was located. Then he let it go with a sigh.

 

Face barely noticed; he was looking down the corridor at the two orderlies who were staring back at them with surprise. Murdock seemed to see them in the next second. He turned and gave Face a serious look that made Face's heart leap in his chest until he realized that for all Murdock's pretending, this was hardly a matter of life and death; just possible arrest.

 

But Murdock leaned over and kissed Face's forehead with the solemnity of Knight Templar, his lips surprisingly warm. Face stilled, expecting more. But Murdock leapt forward, his arm raised as if wielding an imaginary sword. Face imagined that there was a magnificent war steed too, even if nobody else could see it. For a moment he even thought that he had one too. It was the place.

 

"To the death!" Murdock yelled dramatically, just as the orderlies seemed to recognize him. Face took one last look before hightailing it back up the stairs. He'd break Murdock out again when it was safe.

 

 

                                                *****

 

 

Face stayed up in the crawlspace for a few minutes and then came out when he thought that the two men had probably finished putting Murdock back in his room. The only problem was that they were probably looking for him now, but he'd decided that changing into an orderly's uniform would let him go unnoticed by most of the other employees while he'd had nothing else to do up in the ceiling.

 

He headed back to the locker room carefully and slipped into a white jacket and pants before heading back upstairs slowly, taking his time like an orderly with nothing else to do but make his rounds. It was a shame to exchange his beautiful clothes for the polyester coat and pants, but necessary. A nurse came into the room as he was leaving it and Face smiled winningly at her, enjoying her startled, and then pleased, reaction. At least that was the same in this crazy place. He briefly wondered if she was Nurse Nan, but didn't really have time to find out. He had to get Murdock.

 

He ran up the stairs, not the least bit out of breath this time, he noted with a smile for Murdock before remembering he was on his own, and stopped at the sound of men talking. Orderlies or nurses from the sound of them, and coming his way. Face hesitated, then straightened his coat and walked out confidently. He walked right passed them, head held high, and with only a brief, pleasant nod for each of them. They both nodded back absently and continued talking about a football game. Face smirked to himself and continued smoothly down the hall. It was all about confidence. Maybe it wasn't the place.

 

He was congratulating himself again when he heard a deep voice echo down the corridor.

 

"Stand your ground, if you can, you cowardly curs!"

 

"Cowardly curs?" Face repeated quietly in disbelief and turned around, already knowing what he was going to see. He winced at his first sight of the man in black, holding a sword high above his head, and then felt his eyes widen in surprise when the man swung the sword at one of the orderlies and the sword ripped right through the material of his jacket. The sword was real. Face pinched himself absently, but he already knew he wasn't dreaming.

 

The orderlies were cowering against the wall, staring at the figure in amazement. Face took one last look down the hall towards Murdock's room before returning his gaze to the masked man as he held the point of the sword under the chin of one of the other men. It just pressed into the skin of his throat, not quite drawing blood.

 

"Were you harming this man?" He was practically purring. Face ignored the little flutter inside at the sound and took a slow, cautious step in that direction. The orderlies were shaking their heads hurriedly and assuring the man that they would never do such a thing. Face kept an eye on them as he carefully approached, not wanting to frighten the lunatic in the cape and accidentally get poked with that thing.

 

"Look," he began in his most soothing voice. The masked man turned slightly in his direction. "Of course they weren't…ah…harming me. So why don't you put that down, and…"

 

"It is honorable of you to seek to protect them, fair one, but I assure you I mean them no harm, so long as no harm is done to you," the man in black nodded once, slowly, in Face's direction and Face had the absurd feeling he was being saluted. He was only grateful that Murdock wasn't there to see this, or to hear that 'fair one'.

 

"Put the sword down then," Face answered calmly, stepping closer. He stilled when the masked man slashed the sword through the air, stopping it just in front of him, and stared at him down the length of the blade. His eyes were glinting in the shadows. Face stood there, very still, but hardly backing down either. But he sighed a little when the man finally lowered the sword.

 

"As if I would hurt you." The other man tsked and slid the sword into the scabbard at his side. The orderlies slid away from him down the wall and then broke into a run once they were out of arm's reach. They dashed frantically down the stairs. Probably going to get help. Face cursed under his breath since he'd been about to walk passed them unnoticed until this lunatic had shown up. He glared at the masked figure, who seemed not to notice. "At last we're alone," he announced warmly.

 

Face glanced up sharply, then looked around the corridor, suddenly noticing how still and dark it was. He smiled nervously and took a backwards step, in the direction of Murdock's room. The other man took a step forward. Face moved back again, and again, the other man followed. Face had the ridiculous thought that they were dancing and shook his head.

 

"Look, Mr.…ah…" Face trailed off trying to think of something to call him other than the man in black. Briefly he thought of the Caped Crusader, as Murdock undoubtedly would have, and got a little irritated at yet another Batman reference. He was not Robin.

 

"I am glad they did not hurt you. I would take an injury to you as an injury to myself."

 

Face nodded carefully at the line, then rolled his eyes.

 

"You have seen too many movies. That's the kind of statement only people like Hannibal would say in real life, and then only in one of his B movies…" he told the other man sarcastically. "You're as bad as Murdock, absorbing all those period films as if they were guidebooks for how to act," Face went on, quite certain that he was right. Romance like that did not exist in the real world. Sex, yes. Romance, no. "When it's all just…" he jumped at the realization that as he'd been talking, the other man had moved silently closer, until there were only inches between them. "Make believe…" Face finished so softly that he barely heard himself.

 

"Do I seem make believe to you?" the man asked. Face could feel the words rumbling in the man's chest before he heard him actually ask the question. He suddenly realized once again how tall the man in black was and raised his head reluctantly to meet the other man's gaze. Face wasn't the tallest man in the world, far from it. But he'd never been this aware of his size standing next to B.A. or Hannibal.  

 

"Ah, no," Face had to admit, wondering if he should try backing away again. The man in black took the decision away from him by reaching into the folds of his black cape and pulling out something with a flourish. It was a tissue paper rose, looking small and fragile cradled in his velvet glove. Face looked at it with surprise, and then with some apprehension, since the man obviously expected him to take it. "I'm not sure," he started to say, but swallowed his words when the man leaned closer. His eyes were so bright.

 

Face only stared as he moved in even closer, until their mouths were only inches apart, his breath brushing hotly against his lips. They were nearly touching; Face distantly heard the rose in between them crinkle as he took another step towards him.

 

"I think you're going to have to make another flower during craft time tomorrow," Face joked unsteadily and saw something light up those dark eyes. A soft glove touched his cheek and he turned into the warm, soft palm of his hand in surprise, wondering with alarm if this was what it felt like to be seduced. It was usually the other way around with him. The man moved again, tilting his head so that he spoke into Face's ear.

 

"Teach not thy lips such scorn," he whispered lowly, seductively, his mouth moving against his earlobe. Face shivered. "For they were made for kissing, not such contempt. Is it so hard to believe?" he asked in a soft challenge and stepped back. Face fell forward slightly. He hadn't realized his hands had been wrapped tightly around the silky folds of that black cape.

 

"What?" Face wondered huskily, trying to clear his head. He hadn't expected the man to back off. Not that he'd wanted anything else either. Face frowned at himself and shook himself mentally, trying to feel a little less…faint.

 

"They are coming back." The man in black gestured behind him and turned away. Then he turned back, with that same nodding salute. "When I see you again, I'll have to give you another rose. That one is sadly crushed."

 

Face looked down at the wrinkled mess of tissue paper in his hands in amazement. When he looked back up the other man had vanished.

 

"What the…?" Face asked himself dizzily as several people came thundering out of the staircase. "Murdock." He looked back in the direction of Murdock's room, and thought of him waiting patiently for rescue while Face had been out here… He cut himself off and turned to face the men.

 

It was the two orderlies from before, and they had brought someone with them for back up. Face winced when Leonard shone his flashlight fully into his face.

 

"Boy, this place is even crazier than usual tonight," Face remarked casually.

 

"Where did he go?" one of the other men asked. Face tried a smile, then regretted it at Leonard's little laugh of recognition.

 

"He's not an orderly," Leonard snapped and came closer. Face put up his hands innocently. "I've seen him around here before, always dressed differently, but it's the same guy."

 

"Maybe he's a patient," one of the other men suggested and Face remembered Murdock saying how the administrators didn't recognize the patients. Apparently, some of the orderlies didn't either.

 

He gave them all a lopsided grin, though he knew it paled it comparison to Murdock's.

 

"Have you seen him?" he asked them, hopping on the balls of his feet. "He came out of the shadows, just as the prophecy foretold! Just like the Dark Knight himself!" The other three men exchanged looks and then reached for him. Face dashed back, just out of their reach.

 

"What's that in his hand?" one of them whispered.

 

"Must be a new patient. They were making those today," another answered. Face nodded eagerly and backed up another step.

 

"I'll take care of him," Leonard came forward menacingly and Face tensed expectantly, wondering if he could take the three of them alone. The other two men looked unsure, but backed away at Lenny's announcement. "He's small. Shouldn't put up too much of a struggle."

 

Face's eyes widened, then he dropped back into a fighting stance he hadn't used in years.

 

"You be careful. I was trained to kill you know," he told them and then searched his mind for anything that would keep them away while he thought up a plan. "Was the best the Agency had. Best in the Army too, that's why they picked me. They all said so. So sorry about the…breakdown…" he whispered that word. But the men backed up again. Except for Leonard. He smiled suddenly. That toothy, greasy smile made Face watch him carefully.

 

"I can take care of this, you guys go back downstairs."

 

"Are you sure?" one of them asked, but they were already moving. Face watched them go, then looked warily back at Lenny.

 

"It's clever of you to break out all the time. But I suppose you were trained to do that?" Lenny was trying to sound sympathetic. Face backed up another step. "Do you want to talk about that with someone? I know someone you could talk to."

 

He'd said something similar to Murdock, Face remembered, with a confused frown. Why the special interest? He hardly seemed like someone who cared about screwed up veterans. Until they mentioned the CIA… Face connected several facts suddenly, and thought of Murdock's sketchy past. He'd probably been next on the list, if there was a list, of men to disappear. Face scowled to think of Murdock in that little room downstairs where people vanished.

 

Then he wondered if the sound carried down the hallway, if Murdock could hear all this in his room. If he was waiting in the dark with shining, bright eyes.

 

Bright eyes. Several things clicked in Face's mind at once. The one that occupied him the most was that light shining out of the man in black's mask. That warm, crazy, wicked, brilliant, Murdock light. He swore furiously under his breath and glanced back at Murdock's room—Murdock's undoubtedly empty room. Then he looked back at Leonard, who was waiting expectantly. Lenny didn't look to be armed, but then he didn't need to be if the patients came willingly.

 

"You can help me?" he asked in a timid voice, discreetly looking to see which way Murdock had gone, to see if he was listening.

 

"A friend of mine can help you remember, if you come and talk with him," Leonard went on. Face looked down at the crumpled rose before shoving it in his coat pocket. Murdock had wanted to find out what was going on. There really was no better way. Besides, Face thought, following Leonard to the elevator, Murdock would come for him.

 

                                                *****

 

The boiler room was hot and dusty. Face wrinkled his nose at the dirt and tried not to touch anything as Leonard led him towards the little room in the back. He also kept an eye out for Murdock, up on the ceiling, telling Lenny when he asked that he was looking for aerial surveillance. It wasn't a complete lie, Murdock would have been pleased. 

 

He hesitated a bit before actually walking through the door, not exactly scared but not exactly liking the idea of walking into an unknown situation either. But the answers they were looking for were in there, so he smiled vaguely at Leonard before crossing the threshold and decided that this place was making him crazy.

 

It was pitch black in the room until Leonard stepped in behind him and switched on the light. Face blinked at the sudden light from the one light bulb swinging overhead, then squinted to look around, taking in everything in seconds. The room was small, but there was a small door on the back wall that you had to look twice to even notice. It was closed, but Face was willing to bet that if Vega and Little and anyone else who'd been taken were still alive, they were back there. A small sound that might have been a groan from behind that door confirmed the thought.

 

The room he was in had two wooden chairs facing each other and pile of electrical equipment stacked in one corner that did not look promising. There was also a small wooden table with a tape recorder resting on it. The tape recorder was what caught Face's attention. He smiled a little before sitting gracefully when Leonard gestured for him to sit. Aside from that other mysterious door, there was only one way in and out.

 

"This brings back memories," Face told Lenny pleasantly and saw him reach for the recorder, then stop, glancing at the outer door like he was expecting someone.

 

"Does it?" he asked with interest, never taking those pale eyes off him. Face nodded and kept silent. He hummed absently for himself for a few minutes, not really paying attention to the song, just trying to irritate Leonard. It worked. "What were you doing out tonight?" Leonard barked suddenly. Face gave an exaggerated jump, then laughed nervously.

 

"I got out to visit with one of the nurses…Nurse Nan, she's lovely isn't she?" he inquired sweetly just to see the look of shock on Lenny's face, then bleated with a smirk.

 

"What…?" Leonard moved closer just as the outer door opened and a tall, pale figure in black walked in. He must be who Lenny had spoken to on the little transmitter hidden in his coat on their way down here.

 

Face shook his head at yet another man in black, but quickly realized that this one was no swashbuckling hero. He was thin and gaunt and wearing a dark suit. His shoes, Face noticed, did not squeak as he came in. In fact, he snuck in as silently as death. Face's shudder at the thought wasn't completely pretense.

 

"Who is this?" the second shadowy figure in this little drama asked in short, clipped words the moment he closed the door. His eyes were dark and serious. Face grinned winningly and continued to hum until the man added, "He's not a patient." Then Face's song faltered a bit. It stopped completely as the man finished. "I know all the patients."

 

"But he said something about the Agency. I thought he might know something…" Leonard's voice dropped. "And I've seen him around here before."  The dark man shook his head and Leonard turned and advanced on Face threateningly. Face stood up quickly just as Leonard grabbed him by the collar of his borrowed white jacket and slammed him back against the wall. "Then who are you?"

 

"What are you doing here?" the other man leaned in to ask. Face cleared his throat.

 

"I told you, I was here to visit a nurse," Face lied smoothly. "What's the matter, Lenny, jealous? Maybe if you washed more often… How long without bathing does it take to get hair that greasy?" The last word came out in a squeak as Lenny tightened his hold. "Would you be careful?" Face croaked. "This coat doesn't belong to me."

 

"Maybe he's a spy, hired by the hospital," the other man suggested. "In any case, we definitely need to find out what he knows. Luckily, gathering information is what we're here for." There was something cold and cruel in his voice that made Face suddenly take him more seriously. The man waved a hand lazily and Leonard dropped Face back down into the chair. Face rubbed his throat conspicuously and took a deep breath, wondering what the hell Murdock was waiting for if he was out there. "Tie his hands."

 

"Sure thing, Doc." Leonard grinned evilly and grabbed a cord from the equipment, binding Face's hands tightly in front of him. Face glanced once at the door, but otherwise kept his gaze on the two men.

 

"Now," the man Lenny had called Doc began, sitting opposite Face in the other chair. "Who are you?"

 

"Richard Grayson," Face answered immediately and saw Leonard frown as if recognizing the name. He must have been a Batman fan too. The doctor seemed to know as well, he nodded at Leonard and Face's head smashed into the back of the chair. He realized a second after that Leonard had punched him. He waited until his ears stopped ringing before speaking.

 

"Why is it always in the face?" Face complained, spitting out a filling. "It's so primitive. Now, those wires over there, they look professional." How he wished he wasn't kidding. He thought of those missing vets, and of Murdock, next on the list, and what that equipment was used for, professional or not.

 

"Your name?" the doc asked again.

 

"Percy Blakeney." Face smiled this time, thinking of Murdock's cheesy movie. The doc apparently was also familiar with the film. Or maybe he just guessed Face was lying again. He gestured to Lenny again and this time Face flinched expectantly before he felt Lenny's heavy fist slam into his face.

 

"You'll pay for that," a strong, clear voice remarked from the doorway and Face turned to see the cloaked, masked figure half leaning against the doorjamb. Despite his almost casually spoken words, his sword was drawn with deadly purpose.

 

Face stared at Murdock in surprise, but then smiled widely at the shocked looks on the faces of the two other men. He stood up while they were still staring, enjoying the stunned, pained expression on Lenny's face when he slammed his hands on the back of his neck, knocking the larger man to the floor.

 

The doctor was still, unable to move the slightest inch with the thin, but definitely sharp, blade under his chin.

 

"Are you all right?" the masked men asked lightly, tilting his head in Face's direction. Face glanced in the direction of that hidden door and then at the masked man standing in the outer doorway. What would it cost him to open that door and see whatever was beyond it?

 

"I'm fine. Let's go!" Face answered finally, already moving in that direction. The man in black nodded, and Face slipped out the door. He heard a thump, then a triumphant laugh, before the man followed him out.

 

"Come on," the man said abruptly before Face could say anything and ran swiftly towards the main door into the boiler room. It was unlocked from the inside and Face followed him out into the hall and then down another, watching as the other man headed surely towards and then up the stairs, as if he knew this place well. That was enough. Face stopped irritably.

 

"Murdock," Face said his name with certainty and the man in black froze. His cloak moved with him as he turned around.

 

"I don't…" the other man started to say and Face walked up to him impatiently and tore off the mask. He shoved into his pocket with the paper rose. Murdock blinked at him uncertainly and Face resisted to the urge to smooth down his hair. It was all out of place from when he'd taken off the mask. "Aw, Face…" Murdock whined, all traces of an English accent gone. "I was just…"

 

"Save it until we're back in your room." Face moved past him, down the hall, and shook his head when the door to Murdock's room just pushed open. The tape was still over the lock. Well, that explained this escape at least.

 

Face stopped by the window and waited as Murdock came in behind him and closed the door. "Well, here we are," Face said smoothly, trying not to see the disappointment in Murdock's eyes. "Back in the secret lair of the Masked Avenger."

 

                                                *****

 

Murdock ignored his sarcasm, as usual, and marched over to him, grabbing the cord wrapped around his wrists and pulling him forward.

 

"Did they hurt you?" he asked fiercely, touching his sore face with a velvet-covered hand. Face tossed his head uncomfortably.

 

"No worse than anything any of us has gotten before." He tried to play it off, though honestly he was thinking of his filling, but Murdock just shook his head once, slowly.

 

"I could kill them for this." His voice was so low; Face somehow knew that he wasn't kidding. His eyes widened.

 

"The mask is off now, Murdock, you can quit with the act." He laughed a little to let Murdock know that he wasn't that angry, but Murdock just frowned.

 

"You think I'm kidding?" he asked quietly, then leaned his head to one side curiously. "You really think I'm kidding." He seemed amazed and sad at the same time. Face looked down in confusion at Murdock's gentle look. "Oh, Facey," he exclaimed softly. "Romance like in the books and movies can exist in reality, Face. You just gotta bend your concept of reality a little."

 

 Is it so hard to believe? Murdock had whispered in his ear earlier, his lips brushing his earlobe softly. Face looked up at the memory, let his gaze meet Murdock's, and then flicked his eyes away. He cleared his throat.

 

"Look, could you just untie me, please?" The room got very quiet at his words.

 

"Sure." Murdock sighed and flung the cord to the floor a moment later. Face rubbed his wrists absently as they stared at each other.

 

"Those men are probably after you," Face spoke first, finally, and Murdock turned away, untying his cape as he did and dropping it on the bed.

 

"That's funny, since I've been after them," he said without much humor and stripped off his gloves as well. Face watched them drop onto the bed, then saw Murdock pull off his belt and scabbard. The sword bounced off the bed and hit the floor beside it with a loud clatter. Face flinched at the noise, but Murdock didn't seem to notice. "Why?"

 

"Something tied to the CIA somehow, or the government. They said something about gathering information. I have no idea who for."

 

Murdock snorted.

 

"There are plenty of patients here who know more than I do, well, when they can remember things."

 

"I think that's what they plan to do, Leonard and that doctor, help the men…remember." Face recalled their choice of words exactly and looked at Murdock with worry. It would be easy enough to mess with the minds of men who already had trouble with reality. "And they're going to be looking for the man in black now, so maybe it's time you stopped your playacting…"

 

"Playacting?" Murdock seemed insulted. He rounded on Face with an offended pout. "You sure didn't know it was me at first."

 

"I did…" Face cleared his throat at the lie and at the knowing look on Murdock's face. "Why did you decide to wear that anyway?"

 

"I was going undercover to look for my missing friends. It was the logical thing to do." Murdock bounced a little at the memory. Face chose not to argue about logic just then; he already knew what Murdock would say anyway. "You have no idea what it's like to wear that mask and cape, Face. It's…" His eyes lit up as he searched for words.

 

"And why did you…approach me like that?" Face interrupted and instantly regretted the question when Murdock went silent for what felt like an incredibly long time. Face finally turned around to look out the window at the moonlight shining down on the VA grounds. He recalled his daring little escapade in climbing up to Murdock's window but didn't smile.

 

"Maybe cuz you wouldn't approach me like that," Murdock teased as he came to stand next to him. Face glanced up at him warily, then stepped away.

 

"This isn't a game, Murdock. Those men certainly aren't playing." Face slashed a hand through the air as seriously as Murdock had swung his sword earlier. "They had their eye on you before the Masked Avenger took a swing at them. Now they're going to be looking for him too."

 

"But I can get the bad guys, Face. I've got backup now," Murdock argued smoothly, grinning suddenly. "You!" Face thought of that almost secret door and shook his head, trying to phrase his words carefully.

 

"About that, Murdock, why don't I…ah…lead the charge back in there, while you go get help?" he suggested. Murdock's brows rose as if he were insulted.

 

"These are my friends we're savin'. You don't even know 'em. Besides, the Masked Avenger never backs down from a fight! If you think he should, than you can just…go home and curl up in your pj's and go to sleep!" Murdock huffed.

 

"The missing vets are still down there. In a small room in the back," Face confessed quietly and looked up in time to see a reckless light enter Murdock's eyes.

 

"Why didn't you tell me that when we were down there just now?" Murdock demanded angrily. "Leonard and the doctor could be leaving right now…"

 

"They're probably looking for us now. Did you see that equipment down there?" Face went on, waiting until Murdock nodded before adding, "I don't know what's been done to the men, but I know they're probably even more messed up than when they first came to the VA… I don't want you to end up like that. And you will if you run into trouble down there." Face stared at Murdock defiantly as he said that, and then watched Murdock's expression change in the moonlight for the second time that night.

 

"So you want to save the men yourself so I won't get hurt?" A crooked grin came and went like quicksilver on Murdock's face. Hearing it phrased like that, Face got a little uncomfortable and glanced down, only raising his head when Murdock came to stand less than a foot in front of him. "Don't you know how dumb it is to put yourself in danger for some noble, romantic cause?" Murdock threw his own words back at him gently, then poked him in the nose. "Unfortunately, my dear boy, I know exactly what you mean. So…"

 

Face jumped to stop Murdock a second too late, as Murdock turned to face the door to his room and howled out the little window before starting to shout.

 

"Hey, out there! I wanna talk to Leonard! Leonard promised to talk to me!"

 

"Murdock!" Face yelled and pulled him back, but he could already hear people hurrying in this direction. Murdock turned back to him with a wink.

 

"Aw, but Face, faint heart…" He gave that same saluting nod, and then jerked his head to the side. "Now get back under the bed unless you want to get arrested. I'll be waiting for you."

 

Face stared at him furiously for a second longer, than dropped down and crawled to the bed when the orderlies finally reached the door. Some of the other patients must have woken up; they were starting to talk too. Their voices echoed down the corridor.

 

"I want to talk to Leonard," Murdock told the orderlies imperiously. "He said it was ok."

 

Several minutes later, the door closed behind Murdock as he walked off after a chuckling Leonard, babbling insanely about seeing faces under the bed. He probably thought that was funny, Face thought with a snarl, staring at the Range Rider mask. He shifted impatiently, waiting for the last of the other patients to be quieted down by the orderlies, and heard the rose and mask crinkle in his pocket.

 

                                                *****

 

"You really are something, aren't you, Murdock?" Face addressed Murdock despite the fact that he was up in the VA ceiling somewhere and Murdock was down in the boiler room with those psychos, and thought again that it had to be the place. It drove everyone a little crazy if you stayed here long enough. Talking to yourself was only the first symptom. The second one…Face trailed off irritably and continued to make his way through the crawlspace.

 

He hummed idly as he crawled, just to fill the space with something since Murdock wasn't there to do it. He recognized the song this time as what Murdock had been singing earlier, smiling a little at the memory, though his smile didn't last long as he thought of what was probably happening to Murdock right now.

 

Actually, Face supposed Murdock was amusing himself at the expense of Lenny and the mysterious doctor right at that moment. He was clever enough to string them along for a while, just not clever enough to know to stay out of danger like this in the first place. Face swore under his breath remembering that reckless look that had been in Murdock's eyes when he'd started howling for the orderlies. That was what Face had been trying to avoid, however useful Murdock's plan was to keep both men and their little operation in the same building so they could rescue the veterans.

 

The problem was that once Murdock figured out exactly what was going on with those two men, and what had happened to the missing vets, he was going to get upset, well, upset was probably putting it mildly. Murdock, for all his pretending and playacting, was incredibly sensitive. Romance and adventure was one thing, but Face was not about to let Murdock get hurt. Not for anything.

 

He came to the ceiling panel he remembered Murdock lifting, and moved it before sliding down onto the wide pipe silently. It was quiet down in the boiler room, except for the sound of muffled voices from that same small room. Face nodded started to look carefully for a way down. There were two ways as far as he could tell; an intricate and dangerous looking way to climb down an assortment of pipes and things, or, a way that looked much simpler, if riskier. Face grinned and made his way over towards one of the windows. Faint heart…

 

When he reached it, he stood up cautiously and tugged the curtain material. It was heavy and strong, perfect, in other words. Face reached down and pulled the sword from its scabbard, hanging from his belt. It was the only weapon available after all, he told himself, but waved it around dramatically in the air before slashing the top of the curtains. The sword went clean through it and he whistled appreciatively before wrapping the curtain material around one arm and getting a good grip on the sword with his free hand. Then, with a tiny prayer, he leaped off the pipe.

 

While he was sure he didn't exactly look like Captain Blood swinging from a sail, he still let out a little holler as he nearly flew down the floor. He landed gracefully with a roll and stood up breathlessly just outside the door, sword in hand. It was perfect! He'd come down just perfectly and Murdock would never believe him. Face frowned in disappointment at that before leaning over to listen at the door, trying to determine the positions of the men in the room.

 

The doc was moving around, Lenny either wasn't there or wasn't talking, and Murdock was talking quite a bit—and singing as well. "My Boyfriend's Back". Face shook his head ruefully. Murdock was probably in the same chair Face had been in earlier. He nodded in decision and then opened the door with one strong kick.

 

All three people in the room turned to stare at him with wide eyes. The doctor half rose out of his seat, and placed one hand on the back of his head, probably where Murdock had hit him before to knock him out. Leonard was partially behind Murdock, one large hand still on Murdock's shoulder. Murdock's hands were bound in his lap. Face's lips tightened in anger.

 

"They were just asking me about you," Murdock breathed as if this were an amazing coincidence. "Hey La, Hey La!" he sang out happily in the next moment. Face looked him over carefully, but there didn't seem to be a mark on him yet; his eyes were dancing. Face turned to the villains of the piece and raised his sword to just under the doctor's chin as Murdock had done earlier. He held it straight and glared at the other man down the length of the blade. For some reason, the other man flinched.

 

"You'd better pray that Murdock's all right when all this is over," he whispered roughly and then glanced at Leonard, who was reaching slowly into his coat. "Murdock." Face jerked his head at Murdock, who sprang up out of the chair and dug his elbow into Leonard's stomach, then used his head and body to ram the larger man into the wall. He had the gun from him in seconds and was pointing it at him with a laugh.

 

"Guess these vets weren't as helpless as the others you've taken, pilgrim" Murdock commented to Leonard, as John Wayne, then made a tsking sound when Leonard tried to move, waving the gun playfully.

 

"He really is crazy," Leonard moaned, backing up against the wall.

 

"Crazy or not, he still has your gun, you fool," the doctor snapped in his direction, but froze and turned back to Face when he increased the pressure on the sword, pressing the tip into the man's pasty skin.

 

"Worry about me, not him," Face told him seriously. "I haven't been quite myself this evening either." He was surprised to realize that he was smiling.

 

"Crazy am I? We'll see whether I'm crazy or not…" Murdock cackled evilly to himself and stepped back to push open the little door in the back. He peered inside and stared for several long moments. Face watched him anxiously.

 

"Are they there?" Face asked finally. Murdock turned to him and nodded once.

 

"They're lying in bed, sleeping. IV's hooked up to their arms, I'd guess they've been drugged to keep 'em quiet, or to make them talk. They don't look good."

 

"What exactly is going on here?" Face changed his grip on the sword ever so slightly, better positioning it for a thrust. The doctor must watch as many swashbucklers as Murdock, because he seemed to recognize that. Or maybe it was the look on his face. Face smiled his most charming smile at him, but that made him flinch too.

 

"My guess is Doc Gisborne over there and Leonard over here were taking some already confused and messed up vets who happened to know some classified information down here to confuse them some more and get them to spill it. My only question is who they work for." Murdock was being remarkably cool and businesslike. Face raised his eyebrows, but nodded along.

 

"We can get the answers out of them later. Get their transmitters. Then tie them up tight, hands and feet," he ordered smoothly. Murdock tossed him the gun and went for the cords, loosening his own as he did. When the two men were tied up and sitting on the floor, Face tucked the gun into the belt and sheathed the sword. He looked up to see Murdock grinning at him.

 

"That's a new look for you, isn't it?" he commented, reaching out to touch the black cloak hanging from Face's shoulders. For a moment, Face was grateful for the mask, since he knew his cheeks were burning with embarrassment. He'd forgotten that he'd put on the mask and cape in a moment of insanity back in Murdock's room. It was the place, he told himself, then frowned when Murdock went on. "I told you that romance existed in the real world, Facey. You just have to change your perceptions…"

 

"Romance?" Face repeated angrily, raising his voice. Murdock backed up a few steps and Face realized that he'd started charging forward at the word. Face tore off his mask impatiently. "Romance?" he said again as Murdock hit the wall. "Are you crazy?" he asked before hauling Murdock forward by his shirt for a hard, searching kiss, taking his mouth demandingly with his own, raising his hands to either side of Murdock's face to hold him there, uncaring of their audience.

 

It took him several dizzy moments to realize that Murdock was kissing him back enthusiastically, smiling into his mouth. Face softened the kiss and then pulled away.

 

"Are you all right?" He was as out of breath and weak in the knees as a kid who'd never done this before, but he had to know if Murdock was ok.

 

"Are you?" Murdock seemed just as serious and worried about him, but then blinked at him innocently and sagged against the wall as if his knees didn't work either.

 

"Oh my god," Leonard said in tones of disgust from the floor. Face ignored him, staring up into Murdock's eyes uncertainly.

 

"Thanks for the rescue. You were…magnificent," Murdock whispered gently with another crooked grin.

 

"Really?" Face was distracted into looking down at himself again. "Your clothes were a little large…" he trailed off in embarrassment then cleared his throat. "Well, we found them."

 

"Make a great team, don't we?" Murdock wiggled his eyebrows crazily before laughing warmly. Face felt that laugh echo somewhere deep inside him. Then he smiled and drew the sword one last time, slashing an M and an F into the wall quickly. It was the place, he thought over the sound of Murdock's delighted giggles, feeling his cheeks burning hotly again, it had to be.

 

                                                *****

 

He definitely preferred moonlight to the sun. Face hid beneath a pillow to avoid the light streaming through the window of his borrowed penthouse bedroom and groaned. He'd spent hours at the VA last night and snuck out just before dawn after placing a call to Dr. Richter for Murdock, since Murdock was certain his doctor would believe him and help him deal with Leonard and Dr. Gisborne.

 

After a few hours of what Murdock had kept calling 'polite conversation' with him and Murdock, the two men had both declared themselves to be working independently of any government organization, though the doc confessed to have worked for NSA in the past. They claimed they were just looking to make some money by selling what they'd learned so far from the vets, that they'd done it before at other hospitals. Telling the truth or not, they had to be arrested and locked up.

 

He and Murdock had agreed that Dr. Richter was the best person at the VA to handle things from there, and Face had had to leave soon after that since he was, after all, still a fugitive—or, in the eyes of the VA bureaucracy, a visitor without a pass.

 

Either way, he hadn't gotten here until late and had gotten only an hour or two of sleep. He grumbled to himself at that. There was only one good reason to go without sleep in Face's mind, and last night had not been it.

 

But a slow smile spread across his face as he thought about the events of the previous night anyway, as strange and confusing as they had seemed at first. He'd caught two terrible, if somewhat amateurish, villains, saved some helpless veterans, and rescued Murdock while dressed in a mask and cape. He still couldn't quite believe he'd done that part, but smiled into his pillow anyway. Maybe it had been the place, but it had been fun. Better than sitting at home in his pajamas watching a movie. Better than a hot date with a model. Better than being the toast of society. Better than anything he could think of, well, just about anything he could think of.

 

He wondered what Murdock, or the Masked Avenger, was doing right now. Answering more questions from the VA staff, or lying in bed like Face was, unable to sleep? Ok, so it wasn't the sun that was keeping him awake, it was the fact that he was at home, in bed, alone, after everything. He rolled over with a dramatic sigh and pushed his blankets off irritably.

 

"So that's what you wear to bed," a voice commented playfully from somewhere beyond the pillow and Face stilled at the little flutter in his stomach. Then he lifted the pillow and raised his head. Murdock was standing in the doorway to his bedroom, dressed—Face's heart start to beat faster—in his cape and mask. His sword was missing. "Dr. Richter wouldn't let me keep it." Murdock was reading his mind again. He pouted at his announcement.

 

"How did you…?" Face wasn't sure if he was going to ask how Murdock got out of the VA or how he got into Face's apartment.

 

"You must have been lost in thought, lettin' me sneak up on you like that." Murdock smiled a little, but stayed where he was. Face sat up, absently straightening his pink pajamas as he did. Murdock watched him carefully from behind the mask. Face watched Murdock just as carefully. "Dr. Richter did give me a day pass as a reward for my help with those two baddies though. So he's not all bad," Murdock sighed.

 

"That still doesn't explain how you got in here. Or how you've been getting out of your room at the Vet. either," Face commented, but then figured he already knew the answer. Murdock had been CIA after all, even if his skills did tend to come and go with his memories. He probably could have gotten out of his room on his own just fine, probably had during the nights when Face hadn't been there to spring him like last night. Which made his comment when he'd asked Face to unlock the door seem strange…

 

"Are you mad that I came here?" Murdock suddenly started fidgeting with the folds of his cape. The action looked so out of place coming from anyone wearing that costume that Face sighed.

 

"Mad is not exactly the word I would use," he answered vaguely, but Murdock looked up with a grin.

 

"What word would you use?" His voice deepened a little at the question. Face stared into his eyes then took a deep breath.

 

"Happy," he said quietly, awkwardly and caught his breath at the sudden brilliance of Murdock's eyes. He came silently into the room until he was standing at the side of the bed. Face leaned his head back to keep staring into those eyes. He was a little bit wary, unsure of what Murdock would do next.

 

"Then I have something for you." Murdock cleared his throat, sounding more than a little nervous. "Close your eyes."

 

"Close my eyes?" Face repeated blankly. Murdock snorted impatiently, so, with a very doubtful look, Face closed his eyes.

 

It got quiet in the room, so quiet that Face would swear that he could hear Murdock's heart beating frantically beside him. Something warm tickled the palm of his hand, something as light and shivery as the kiss Murdock had pressed there last night.

 

"Open," Murdock commanded nervously. Face opened his eyes and stared down at a new, bright red tissue paper rose. "I made it for you special this morning. Got permission and everything. From the doc…" Murdock was babbling. Face stared down at the rose, barely listening. He'd forgotten about the promise for a new one. One of many promises Murdock had made last night.

 

Is it so hard to believe? Murdock had asked in the deep, purring voice of the Masked Avenger. Face shook his head and Murdock quieted.

 

"I don't have one for you," Face looked up at Murdock with wide eyes. "I wish I did."

 

Murdock's eyes widened. Then he grinned happily. Face felt an insane urge to laugh, so he did. Maybe it wasn't the place. Maybe it was Murdock.

 

"I wanted Scooby Snacks anyway." Murdock shrugged as if he were sad. Maybe he was. Face studied him, and then the rose, and then looked down at his pajamas. He looked back up with a tiny smile.

 

"Maybe I could give you something else?" Face gave Murdock his most charming look and watched his eyes get even wider than they had before. Then he suddenly seemed to relax, leaning back to observe Face almost lazily.

 

"What did you have in mind, dear boy?" he wondered in that same elite accent. Face hesitated, then reached up and pulled Murdock down by his cape for a kiss, and heard Murdock sigh noisily at the contact. Face smiled, thinking that Murdock did make noises, then took the opportunity to deepen the kiss, sliding the mask impatiently from Murdock's face when it got in his way. The cape followed shortly after, not that Murdock seemed to miss his secret identity. He was leaning into Face's body, tearing loose pink buttons until Face's expensive silk pajama top was pretty much destroyed. It was thrown to the floor a few seconds later. Face couldn't have been happier.

 

Face swore impatiently and pulled Murdock on top of him, barely hearing the crinkle of the paper rose as they crushed it.

 

"Guess you're going to have make me a new one," he whispered into Murdock's ear, enjoying how Murdock shivered.

 

"Every morning, dear boy, if I get to destroy the old ones in the same way," Murdock answered huskily then jumped in apparent surprise and delight at Face's roving hands. "Are you crazy?" Murdock wondered thickly. Face blinked back at him before answering.

 

"I guess I am," he said quietly, before pulling Murdock back down into his arms.

 

 

The End

 


Pink Buttons by Wendybyrd

 

 


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