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Title: When the Going Gets Tough

When the Going Gets Tough

by Lark

 

Rated:          R

Copyright:   2001

Disclaimer:  All characters belong to Stephen J. Cannell and Universal.

Warning:      Slash (non explicit)   

Comments:   Please

Summary:    Relationships take work 

Author's Note:  Thanks to Elizabeth Kent for comments and suggestions

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

           

 

Murdock looked at the mess in the bowl on the counter. It had been dinner. Macaroni and cheese.  The good kind that came in the blue box, not the cheap store brand.  He put the spoon he held into it and tried stirring.  The pasta stuck to the metal and came out in one congealed orange blob.  He let it drop back in, spoon and all. It made a slight thud as it hit.

 

This was what homemaker hell must be like, he thought. He was trapped in some kind of warped episode of the Donna Reed show, and he didn't know how to escape.  No changing the channel on this one.  He looked down at himself, shivering as he realized that he was even wearing an apron. 

 

Face had broken him out of the VA three days ago. They were supposed to be having some down time together. That was until Hannibal went on one of his jags. He had a million little details that needed attending to, and Face was the one he wanted to do them.  And Hannibal had made it clear that he did not want Murdock there distracting Face.  Face had been late every night, calling at the last minute each time to tell him that Hannibal had one more thing that needed to be done. 

 

So Murdock cleaned and he cooked and he waited. And waited. 

 

Bored.

 

This was not what it was supposed to be like. He and Face were supposed to be spending time together, really being together.  Murdock took one last look at the glob in the bowl and left the room.

 

On his way to the couch, he moved the lamp on the end table six inches to the right, so that it was no longer centered.  Then he dramatically threw himself down on the sofa, placing one weary arm over his eyes.  He let his foot kick one of the throw pillows onto the floor.

 

Mornings. He pictured them.  Sunlight slowly working its way into the room, a light breeze billowing the curtains gently.  Maybe the cry of a seagull heard over the ever-present sound of the ocean as it went about its ceaseless comings and goings at the edge of the beach.  Face would be there next to him, hair having fallen over his forehead as he slept.  That early morning tousled look that Murdock couldn't resist.  Murdock would then reach out, lightly running his fingers over Face's body, watching as, even in sleep, Face responded.  If he was feeling particularly in the mood, he might blow gently across the tip of Face's cock, just enough to cause the sleeping man to tremble.  Then he'd watch as eyelids fluttered and opened.  Face's eyes would be hazy with sleep and arousal. Then the smile, yes, the smile, the one saved for only Murdock, would creep slowly onto Face's face.  Oh, and the lovemaking.

 

Well, it was a nice thought.  Far from the reality of the harsh ringing of the alarm every morning at precisely seven o'clock.  Or Face groaning as he groped for it, shutting it off as he rolled out of bed and staggered into the bathroom.  Each time, he'd get halfway there and then turn around, coming back to kiss Murdock and mutter good morning before heading back to take a shower.  More of an afterthought.

 

He swung his feet off the sofa and picked up the TV remote.  He flipped through the channels, absently scattering the neatly fanned magazines on the coffee table until they went every which way across its surface. 

 

It wasn't that Face wasn't trying, he was.  After his shower they'd sit down and have breakfast, talk a little.  Face never even opened the paper, just kept his attention on Murdock. But since there were usually only about fifteen minutes to eat, that didn't leave much time for them to be together.  Hannibal was on a tear and insisted that Face be on time, or else.  They both knew what or else meant, so Face always left a little early. 

 

Maybe Hannibal would finish with Face soon, and then maybe they'd have some time together before Murdock had to go back. He got up to get a drink, turning the TV off and shoving the remote between the sofa cushions as he rose.

 

Opening the refrigerator, he peered in, finally selecting a bottle of root beer soda.  He pried the top off with the bottle opener, leaving both on the counter as he carried his drink back to the living room.

 

Murdock plopped down into an overstuffed chair, draping his legs over the side. The room was growing dark, and he threw a sidelong glance towards the window. The sunset was beautiful, the muted colors in the sky in sharp contrast with the dark waters of the ocean beneath it.  Very romantic, or at least it would be if he weren't sitting there by himself drinking a soda. 

 

Darn Hannibal anyway.

 

The sound of a key in the lock drew his attention.  He effected a bored expression, which was not very difficult under the circumstances.

 

Face walked in, laying his keys on the stand near the door. They made a quiet jingling sound as they met with the surface. 

 

"Hey," Face said as he walked farther into the room.  The only light came from what little spilled in from the kitchen. He reached for the lamp next to the sofa, turning it on and, without thinking, moved it so that it rested in the middle of the end table.

 

Murdock took a drink of soda before answering. "Hey, yourself." 

 

Face leaned over the chair and kissed Murdock gently. "Sorry I'm late. Hannibal had…"

 

"I know. Just one more thing that he needed you to do.  What was it tonight? Reupholster the seats in the van?"

 

Face laughed. "No, although don't mention it or he'll have either BA or me do it. Tonight he decided that he wanted every piece of ammunition inventoried. And then, I needed to go and get what he felt we were lacking."

 

"Didn't you do that the other day?"

 

"Yes," Face sighed, "but it seems that I should not only have inventoried the amount and type of ammo, but also the brand."

 

"What?"

 

"Yeah, the brand."

 

Murdock threw a sympathetic look at Face before he could remember that he wanted to look bored and slightly put out.

 

"So what have you been up to? And what's for dinner?"

 

"Oh," Murdock said nonchalantly, the look back, "not much. Dinner's on the counter."

 

"Thanks," Face said.  He was back in the living in a minute, holding the spoon with dinner attached to it.

 

"This?"

 

"Well, it looked better two hours ago when we were supposed to be eating it," Murdock drawled.  "Maybe if you add a little more milk and try heating it again, you'll be able to chip it apart."           

 

Face shook his head. "As appealing as that sounds, I think I'll pass. And I'm sorry, but it's not my fault I'm late."

 

Murdock stretched his leg out, his bare foot just reaching the end table.  He let it tap the edge, making the lamp tremble slightly. "I know, but tell that to the macaroni and cheese.  I tried, but it just wouldn't listen."

 

"I'm sure," Face said, returning to the kitchen and dumping the mess into the trash.  Somehow he doubted that dinner had looked a whole lot better fresh, but that was another issue altogether. He rinsed the bowl and spoon, placing both in the dishwasher. Then he wiped the counter, threw away a stray bottle cap, and put the opener in the drawer. 

 

There was still the matter of dinner.  Face opened the refrigerator.  Then closed it.  He tried the cabinets.  Macaroni and cheese.  Tuna helper.  Spaghettios.  Canned stew.  Worse, canned salmon.  He quietly closed them again.

 

The next time someone said to him, don't look a gift horse in the mouth, he'd remember Murdock's volunteering to do the grocery shopping. 

 

He looked at the apples in the basket on the table.  He picked one up. There was a large, soft brown spot on its side. His thumb had found it. Actually, his thumb was in it. He picked up another one. After the third, he simply carried the whole basket over to the trashcan.  He listened as the apples thunked to the bottom, the sound only slightly muffled as they hit the already discarded macaroni and cheese.  Obviously, juggling practice had not gone well today.

 

Suspiciously, he eyed the coffee that sat in the pot on the counter.  It was dark, too dark, the way coffee looked when it had been brewing for hours.  He poured a cup and drank a sip.

 

Bitter. Very bitter. And so apropos.

 

Face closed his eyes.  He counted to ten.  Then he counted to ten again.  He was tired and hungry, and just a little irritated.  Maybe more than a little. 

 

Two weeks.  He and Murdock were supposed to be off, together, for two weeks.  Instead, for the last three days, Face had been playing Cinderella to Hannibal's wicked stepmother.  A stepmother who smoked cigars and could peel paint off the wall with one withering look. 

 

A stepmother with attitude.

 

Face glanced at the black, high-top sneakers, tied together and draped over the back of one of the kitchen chairs.  Not exactly glass slippers.  But that fit, since Murdock hadn't exactly been a prince about the whole predicament.

 

He couldn't blame Murdock for being upset.  He was probably bored and lonely, and more than a little angry that Face was away all day when he should be at home.  Still, it wasn't Face's fault, and some understanding would be nice.

 

While sorting and cataloging bullets, Face had pictured what it should be like. He'd come home, and Murdock would be there, ready to sympathize as Face told him about the latest inane task that Hannibal had him do.  They'd eat dinner together, by candlelight, and then they'd make love.  Slowly. Passionately.  Maybe on the beach, under the stars. They would lie there afterwards, and Murdock would tell him stories about the different constellations.  He knew them all, it seemed.  Then they'd come in and do it again, in front of the fireplace, or in bed. It didn't really matter where.  They would fall asleep in each other's arms, warm and safe and loved. 

 

Face peeked around the doorway and into the living room.  Murdock was tracing patterns on the end table with his bare feet.

 

Darn Hannibal, anyway.  

 

This time, he counted to thirty.

 

Maybe there was still some way to salvage the evening, if not the day.

 

Face walked back out into the living room, absently picking up a pillow that had fallen on the floor and returning it to the sofa.

 

"Hey, what do you say we go out?  Let someone else cook for us tonight.  Hannibal didn't mention anything about needing me tomorrow, so we could take our time, maybe drive along the coast, look at the stars."  Face smiled seductively. "Neck a little."

 

Murdock's feet stopped mid circle.  "Why, Face, are you propositioning me?"  This definitely held promise.  To hell with bored and put out.  How about excited and aroused for a change.

 

Face leaned over Murdock, his voice soft, sultry, as he whispered into Murdock's ear. "I'm trying."  He nibbled at the earlobe, pulling on it gently.  "Is it working?"

 

"Starting to."

 

"Oh?" Kisses down the neck and around, ending with Face looking into brown eyes that could not lie. A quick, teasing kiss on the lips.  Tongue barely entering before it was withdrawn. "How about now?"

 

"Yeah," Murdock swallowed. Hard.  "I think it's working now."

 

"Hmmm," Face said, letting his eyes roam across Murdock's body slowly, "seems to be working. Yes."  Face reached for the evidence of his success, his fingers still in the process of closing around the material that held the now apparent swelling, when…

 

Ring.

 

Involuntarily, Face jumped, his hand squeezing shut.

 

Ring.

 

Murdock yelped. Loudly.

 

Ring.

 

"Shit!"

 

Ring.

 

"Sorry!"

 

Ring.

 

"Hello?"

 

"Lieutenant, is there a problem?"

 

Face schooled his voice quickly.  "No, Colonel. The phone just startled me, that's all."

 

Murdock groaned.

 

"What did you need, Hannibal?" 

 

Murdock held his head in his hands.

 

Face mouthed, silently, I'm sorry.

 

"I forgot to mention before you left today, I'll need you at seven tomorrow.  I'll explain in the morning."

 

"Seven? But Hannibal…"

 

"Would you prefer six?"

 

Face stared at the floor, defeated.  "No, sir."

 

"Good.  And don't be late."

 

Face hung up the phone.  He sank sullenly onto the sofa, staring almost dazedly at the coffee table, not even bothering to straighten the magazines that lay scattered there. He just didn't care.  "I'm sorry, Murdock.  We can still…"

 

"It's okay, Face."

 

Face didn't think that Murdock sounded as if it was okay.

 

"It's getting late, and you have to get up early in the morning.  We can do it another night."

 

"Murdock…"

 

"Really, it's okay.  Besides, you look tired.  Better get to bed.  Hannibal will nail you to the wall if you're not there on time."

 

Right now, that sounded more appealing than looking at the hurt he saw in Murdock's eyes.  "I'm not that tired.  We could still go for a drive."

 

"No way, muchacho." Face thought that Murdock's voice sounded forced. "Duty calls. It's okay.  Go on. I'll be in in a bit. I'm just gonna watch a little TV."

 

If Murdock said it's okay one more time, Face would have to strangle himself.  "I'm sorry."

 

"Not your fault."

 

But Face felt as if it was.  He wanted to apologize again, to hold Murdock and make everything right.  But Murdock's body language told Face that now was not the time.  Rarely did Murdock close himself off, but right now, with his arms folded against his chest and his gaze averted, Murdock was silently yelling to be left alone. 

 

Defeated again.  "Okay. You won't stay up too long?"  Please don't stay mad. 

 

Murdock shook his head.  "No, not too long."

 

"Okay." He rose, making a move towards the chair where Murdock sat.  One kiss.

 

"Night, Face."

 

Face stopped.  Three strikes, you're out.  "Night, Murdock. Love you."

 

"Love you, too."

 

Face walked towards the bedroom. Alone.

 

Murdock watched as Face retreated, his shoulders slightly slumped in a very unFace-like way.

 

You are such an ass, HM, Murdock swore to himself.

 

Murdock rose, plucking the remote from between the sofa cushions and turning the TV on.  A rerun of Hazel came into all too clear focus.  He hated Hazel.  She was more than annoying.  He left it on. 

 

He wasn't mad at Face.  He was just mad.  Mad at Hannibal. But Hannibal wasn't here, so what did he do?  Made Face feel like dirt.  Misplaced aggression. Definitely not the way to deal with things.

 

He straightened the magazines.

 

Face was doing his best, Murdock knew that.  The poor guy was dead tired by the time he came home each night, and still Face tried to stay up and spend time with him.  And he never once complained that Murdock fixed meals that he didn't really like, or messed up things around the house, or acted like a jerk.

 

Murdock sighed and sprawled out on the sofa, mentally blocking out Hazel's irritating voice. 

 

He and Face had only been together for six months (three weeks and four days), at least as a couple, and those first few months had been rough.  Face had nearly been killed, twice.  And there had been a lot of friction between them and Hannibal and BA, neither of the other two having fully accepted the relationship.  It had been hardest on Face, whom the others saw as the one who, well, for lack of a better explanation, was taking advantage of Murdock.

 

And now this.  This was the first chance that they had to really just be together as a couple.  Normal.  Okay, maybe not exactly by society's standards, Murdock thought, but still normal in its own way.  And there was no one shooting at them, no scenarios involving death as a strong possibility, and no VA.  Just the two of them living together, if only for a couple of weeks.

 

So far, it had been less than idyllic.

 

Murdock stared at the ceiling, wondering for the first time why Hannibal was keeping Face so busy.  It wasn't as if the things that he had Face doing needed to be done now, or, as with cataloguing the brand of ammo, at all.  Of course, you never knew with Hannibal.  He could get on a tear about things and there was no explaining why.

 

Still, why hadn't Face stood up to Hannibal and simply told him that all those chores could wait?  It wasn't as if Face had never confronted the colonel before, although, admittedly, not often, and usually over bigger issues.  But if Face really wanted to spend time with Murdock, he should be pushing Hannibal more to give him the time off that had been promised.

 

Murdock toyed with the remote, turning the volume up.  Hazel was lecturing Mr. B. about something.  It grated on Murdock's nerves, but he didn't turn it down.

 

Was Face avoiding being at home? With him?  That didn't make any sense, but still…

 

Face loved him, Murdock had no doubts about that. But maybe Face was finding that being committed to a person who was, well, committed, too difficult.  There were large gaps when they could not be together, when Face was left alone, even more so than Murdock was. At least he had the people at the VA, nurses and Dr. Richter, people he could talk to.  Face was much more isolated.  Even Hannibal and BA were not as accessible as they once were, not that Face opened up to them often, but with things still not completely settled between them, even that outlet must feel closed. 

 

Maybe Face, even if he didn't consciously realize it, needed someone who was more available.  Not that life on the run really permitted that, but it might still be in the back of Face's mind that, although he loved Murdock, he needed more. 

 

Murdock sighed. He tried, he really did. Phone calls, breaking out whenever possible, letters.  But maybe it wasn't enough.  And just maybe this was Face's way of letting him know that.

 

Was it the beginning of the end?

 

That thought scared him more than anything. Losing Face was the worst possible thing that he could imagine.  He felt the tears as they came, and did nothing to stop them.

           

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

 

Face lay in bed. The room was dark, save for the glow of the moonlight seeping through the window.  It brought no warmth, no lover's caress, only a coldness that did nothing to penetrate the darkness.  When he heard the volume of the television rise, he knew that not long might mean hours.

 

He replayed the last three days over in his mind.  Maybe he hadn't been attentive enough.  Even though he was tired when he came home, that wasn't Murdock's fault.  Murdock needed more stimulation than an empty beach house could provide, and Face should have tried harder when he did get home to be there for Murdock. 

 

These two weeks were supposed to be Face's way of showing Murdock how much he loved him, wanted to spend time with him, not just when they were on a mission, when passions could run high because of the ever-present threat of death, but anytime.  Regular times.

 

So far, he was failing miserably.

 

Of course, Hannibal had a hand in that, but Face couldn't put the bulk of the blame on him.  No, this failure was his own.  Hannibal had agreed to allowing Face to spring Murdock for two weeks, as well as agreeing to not take any missions.  What he had reminded Face of, in no uncertain terms, was that his relationship could not affect his job.  If Hannibal needed him, then Face was expected to be available, ready to work.

 

Face had agreed.  It was nothing that he had not heard before.  Hannibal had given that lecture more than once, and both Face and Murdock had gone to great lengths to ensure that, while they were together on a mission, everything was the same as it had been before they had become a couple.

 

It wasn't until the end of that first day into what was supposed to be his and Murdock's two weeks together that Face had broken that rule. 

 

He complained.

 

Face was busy checking account entries that he had already triple checked.  He was tired, the figures kept coming out the same, correctly, just as they should, and he wanted to get home to Murdock.  Face still remembered the look on Hannibal's face when Face had finally gotten up enough nerve to complain that there was no need for him to still be doing what he was doing.  He was supposed to be enjoying some private time with Murdock, and could he please leave now? 

 

Hannibal had looked up from the gun he had been cleaning. Face remembered noticing the similarity between the steel of the gun in Hannibal's hand and the look in Hannibal's eyes.  It was not a pleasant analogy.  The colonel had laid the gun down, quietly, carefully, and asked, his voice hard, if Face thought that being home was more important than finishing his work.

 

Face understood the meaning of the words. 

 

And it had been enough to silence him.

 

This was the first time that his commitment to his job had been questioned.  Until now, it had been easy to juggle both the work and the relationship.  Amazingly, missions made that easy.  At those times, the job always came first simply because you either paid attention or risked dying.  But now, with nothing to do but busy work, he wanted to be with Murdock, and the job should come second.

 

Would have except for the implication behind Hannibal's words.

 

This was a test, and he was getting a D, bordering on an F, on all fronts.

 

Face had almost told Murdock the night before what he was feeling, and just why he had to do what Hannibal asked of him.  But he had thought better of it.  Murdock was normally easygoing, but once in awhile, a darker side came out.  And Face knew that it usually happened when Murdock felt that Face needed defending.  If he opened up to Murdock, confessed that he felt Hannibal was possibly testing him, then he also could open a rift between Hannibal and Murdock.  And there was no way he wanted to do that. 

 

No, this was just the kind of thing that Hannibal had warned him about.  It was his responsibility to find a way to make it all work.

 

But all he had done was annoy Hannibal and alienate himself from Murdock.  And make Murdock miserable.

 

He was pretty miserable himself.

 

Face's hand reached out to the empty spot on the bed next to him, silently pleading for the door to open and the void to be filled. 

 

The television droned on.

 

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

 

Murdock woke slowly, keeping his eyes closed against the morning light.  He rolled over, hoping to snuggle with Face before the alarm went off, and landed in a heap on the floor. 

 

The sofa.  He had spent the night on the sofa.  Oh shit.  He hadn't meant to fall asleep there.  If Face was having second thoughts, this certainly wouldn't help. 

 

Then he noticed the blanket that was doing its best to keep him from getting up.  He hadn't had a blanket last night.  He was sure of that.  And the television was turned off.  That meant… 

 

Murdock scrambled up, hitting his head on the coffee table and then running into it as he stumbled for the clock on the mantle.  Seven eighteen.  Damn.  Face had already left.  And he'd left thinking that Murdock was angry with him.  He groaned.  This was bad.  Maybe he could call later, and tell Face… tell him what?  That despite the fact that Murdock had refused to look at him last night, refused to let him kiss him last night, and left Face to spend the night in an empty bed, that no, he wasn't angry with Face. Love you lots, really, Facey. 

 

Murdock groaned again.

 

The situation was rapidly declining from bad to dismal.

 

And he wasn't sure how to salvage it.

 

Coffee.  Coffee at least would jump start his brain.  Maybe he'd be able to work something out if he drank several pots before Face returned home.  He froze as he entered the kitchen. If it were possible, he felt even worse than he had a moment ago. 

 

Face had been busy.

 

The table was set, complete with linen and a single red rose in a crystal vase.  The newspaper lay folded neatly next to the setting.  The coffee was already brewing.  Next to the pot, a basket sat. Murdock peeked under the linen napkin covering it.  Muffins.

 

Murdock lowered himself into the chair, his eyes closing momentarily when they caught a glimpse of a small, handwritten note card in the center of the plate.

 

I'm sorry.  It was Face's handwriting.

 

The dish rattled slightly as Murdock thumped his head on the table several times.

 

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

           

Face sat heavily on the ground, his t-shirt clinging to him in a sweaty mess. It was late morning and he was already tired.  Hannibal had wanted every piece of obstacle course equipment set up.  He'd had a new idea for a course and had wanted Face to test it before their full blown training next month.  That meant hauling all of the equipment out, arranging it in the pattern that Hannibal dictated, and then actually running the course.  Several times.  With adjustments to various apparatus after each run.  And then dragging it all back to the storage shed when he was finished. 

 

Hannibal had stood by watching the proceedings, smoking his cigar and frowning periodically.

 

Face had uncharitably, towards the end, hoped that he would choke on it.  Nothing life threatening, just enough to cause unconsciousness, for say, a week.

 

He watched now as a cloud of dust billowed up as Hannibal's car pulled away.  Just like the Wicked Witch of the West, disappearing into a plume of smoke, Face thought.  Maybe it would start to rain and he would find out just how far the analogy stretched.

 

 Hannibal's voice still reverberated in his mind.  He had one hour to get back to the warehouse and be ready for his next assignment. The Colonel had an errand to run, and would meet him there.

 

Great, Face groaned.  That would give him just enough time, if he hurried, to get there before Hannibal, wash up in the closet-sized shower BA had installed, and be ready for the next totally senseless task.

 

Face hauled himself off of the ground, muscles already beginning to protest the morning's activities, and dejectedly made his way to his car.

 

Thoughts of Murdock occupied his mind on the drive back.  When Face had woken that morning, after a less than restful night, he had discovered that he was still alone. He felt his face redden even now at the memory of the tears that had managed to come despite his best efforts.  He hated to cry, it made him feel weak. 

 

And crying would not help the situation. 

 

So he had peeked out the door and seen that Murdock was asleep on the couch. He'd showered quickly, then run out to get the flower and muffins.  Quietly, he had arranged the table, started the coffee, and left a note.  Then, before leaving, he had carefully placed a blanket over Murdock, barely holding back kissing him goodbye.

 

Murdock had not stirred.

 

That had hurt, more than it should have.  Secretly, he had hoped that Murdock had slept as badly as he had.

 

Apparently not.

 

But that wasn't fair.  Murdock had nothing to feel guilty about. 

 

The sleep of the just.

 

Face pulled his car into the warehouse, grunting a hello to BA as he made his way to the shower.  The water washed away the dirt.  He wished that it could as easily wash away his guilt.

 

He was barely finished tucking in his shirt when Hannibal was calling his name. When the colonel told him what his next chore was, Face's mouth fell open.  He heard BA snicker from behind him, and Face couldn't help the flush of annoyance that colored his cheeks. 

 

But he held his tongue, nodding and walking over the large trunk that lay open near the table. Hannibal's disguises were neatly arranged inside. Teeth gritted, he pulled out the first wig, then grabbed the bottle of shampoo that sat waiting for him nearby and stalked off to the sink.  By the time he had finished cleaning and styling the third one, his jaw ached from the constant clenching of muscles.

 

Stupid, dumb-ass job, Face complained.

 

Silently. 

 

After the fifth wig, he was seething. 

 

Silently.

 

By the time he started in on the moustaches, he had had enough.

 

With great care, he finished the one he was working on.  It was brown and bushy, thick, and the small comb barely went through it.  Once it was the picture of perfection, he placed it on the table and stared at it.  He must have been staring for a long time, because suddenly he heard Hannibal's voice.

 

"Lieutenant, is there a problem?"

 

Face looked up from the moustache.

 

"Well?" Hannibal's voice held more than a hint of irritation.

 

"As a matter of fact, Colonel, there is."

 

"Care to enlighten me?"

 

Face thought that Hannibal did not actually sound as if he wished to be edified. But he had asked, so Face stood slowly, turning so that he was facing Hannibal, a man he admired and respected, and, at the moment, didn't particularly care for.

 

"Sure." Face knew it sounded flippant. "I have just spent more than three and a half days doing dozens of meaningless, ridiculous, and, in the case of brushing your moustaches, demeaning jobs. Without griping, I might add.  I think I'm finished for the day.  In fact, I think I'm finished for the next week and a half."  Face stood there, looking as nonchalant as possible.

 

Face saw a mixture of expressions on Hannibal's face.  There was more than a bit of anger showing, but there was also a slightly stunned quality, and maybe a hint of disbelief.

 

"Excuse me?  I'm not sure if I heard you correctly, Lieutenant.  Would you care to repeat yourself?" 

 

He did. Word for word.

 

Face wasn't sure, but he actually thought that he heard a gasp from BA's direction.

 

He did not let one hint of the trepidation he felt show through.  Face simply stood there, waiting for Hannibal to speak. 

 

"Does this have anything to do with your wanting to get back to Murdock?" The words came out in a tone that left no question that Hannibal was holding onto his temper by the thinnest of threads.

 

Face clasped his hands behind his back.  It was easier to hide the slight tremor that way.

 

"Yes."  Face was pleased that the word sounded so steady.

 

For a moment, the warehouse was silent, except for the slight clink of BA's chains as he moved to get a better view of the standoff.  And that's what it felt like to Face.  All that was needed were dueling pistols.  He was secretly glad that the guns were currently locked in the back of the van. 

 

Hannibal finally broke the silence, his voice low, intense.  "Have you forgotten our earlier discussions, Lieutenant? Let me refresh your memory.  The job comes first."

 

"No, Sir."  Face forced his eyes not to waver from Hannibal's. "I haven't forgotten.  And, if I might be so bold, I've done a damn good job of putting the job first.  If you can tell me of one time when I have put my relationship with Murdock ahead of the team, please do."  Face did not wait for an answer.  He needed to finish before his mind caught up with what his mouth was saying.  "I don't think that you can.  I'm sorry, Hannibal, that you have a problem with Murdock and me being lovers," Face tried to ignore the slight narrowing of Hannibal's eyes at the word lovers, "but get over it."

 

This time, Face was sure that he heard BA gasp.  It sounded odd, like a noise that was rusty from lack of use.

 

"When we have a case, or there's real," Face put an emphasis on the word real, "work to be done, you know that the team will come first. Both Murdock and I feel the same way about that.  But I won't ignore Murdock simply to do jobs that are being assigned out of," he almost stopped himself, but not quite, "pettiness."

 

"Do you realize what you're saying, Lieutenant?"  Face did not miss the continued use of his rank instead of his name.

 

"Yes, I do.  I'm saying that the team means a lot to me, and that the work we do is important.  But so is Murdock.  I can balance the two, if you'll let me."  He paused, but only for a second. "I'm the same person that I was before, Hannibal.  Nothing has changed.  I'm more sorry than you know that you're having a hard time accepting us being together, and I can't say that it wouldn't be less stressful if you could. But we are together, and you're going to have to find some way of dealing with that."

 

There, the cards were on the table. 

 

Face felt nauseous.

 

Before his knees buckled with the impact of what he had just done, he turned and walked towards his car, slowing only long enough to press the button that would open the large doors that would allow him to make his escape.  He caught a glimpse of Hannibal as he climbed behind the wheel.

 

He hoped the colonel did not see him shudder.

 

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

 

Murdock looked at the phone, then back at the clock.

 

He'd been waiting for it to be late enough to justify a call to Face.  The timing had to be just right.  Not so early that he would look impatient about asking Face what time he thought he might be home, but not so late that he would have already figured out that Face was going to be late again, thus making the call sound like he was covertly chastising Face.

 

When had things gotten so complicated?

 

All he really wanted to do was tell Face that he loved him, and that he wasn't mad.  And maybe apologize for being such an ass.

 

He looked at the clock again.

 

He picked up the phone, growing a little more nervous with each ring.

 

"Hello?"

 

"Hi, BA.  I just called to ask Face something.  I know I'm not supposed to bother him while he's working, but it'll only take a minute." There, that sounded perfectly sane and rational.

 

"He ain't here, Fool."

 

Murdock sighed.  That meant that he'd have to call back again. "Hannibal have him out running some errand?  Do you know when he'll be back?"

 

"Don't think he's comin' back. Man's almost as crazy as you."

 

"What?"

 

"Told Hannibal he was sick of the stupid jobs he's been doin'.  Wanted to be with you.  Man, you should have seen the colonel's face."

 

Murdock swallowed, hoping to keep the uneasiness that was assaulting his stomach from rising any higher.  "Exactly what happened, BA?"

 

Murdock listened, his insides warring between fear of what Hannibal might do and awe that Face would risk that for him. 

 

"Still don't understand 'bout you two," BA was saying, "don't know that it's right, but it must be somethin' special for Faceman to stand up to Hannibal that way."  Murdock could almost see BA shaking his head. "Man's crazy."

 

"Yeah, it's special BA," Murdock said, meaning every word. "Real special. Thanks, BA."  He hung the phone quietly.

 

This was not good. Not good at all.

 

But it was also wonderful.

 

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

 

Face drove, not caring where, unsure of exactly what to do next. Scenery that would ordinarily have calmed him passed by without notice.  He wasn't ready to go home yet.  He was still too on edge, too keyed up over what had happened.  Murdock would pick up on that instantly, and Face wasn't ready to deal with that right now. 

 

Finally, he pulled off the road, too distracted to keep driving.  He turned the key off, listening to the soft pings of the engine as it started to cool. 

 

Had he really told Hannibal to get over it, to deal with it?  John Hannibal Smith, the man who had helped him survive things no person should have to live through and then managed to keep his ass out of the military's hands.  The man who could easily cow better men than Face.  He, Templeton Peck, had essentially told him off.  Politely.  But the intent was clear.

 

God, kill me now.

 

Okay, Peck, let's review the situation. Murdock was more than slightly annoyed with him.  Maybe even angry enough to decide that Face wasn't worth the trouble.  And now Hannibal might very well tell him that his services were no longer required. 

 

He rested his head on the steering wheel, wondering if life could get any worse.

 

He didn't think so.

 

Still, Face didn't regret having stood up to Hannibal. No, that needed to be done.  Things had been bad from the moment that the colonel and BA had found out about them.  While tempers had cooled over the last few months, there was always an underlying tension there, and unspoken disapproval of his relationship with Murdock.  He'd put up with it, as stoically as possible, realizing that it was understandable that Hannibal and BA would need some time to adjust.  But they weren't adjusting.  They seemed to be simply biding their time, assuming that Face would grow tired of Murdock and move on. 

 

That would never happen.

 

But maybe Face had waited too long to make that clear to them, specifically, to Hannibal.  Maybe Murdock was tired of playing second fiddle all the time.

 

There had to be something he could do to make this right, at least with Murdock.

 

A sudden image of Murdock sleeping peacefully on the couch came to mind.

 

Then again, maybe not.

 

When a large truck passed by, kicking up gravel and water from the road's edge and flinging it into the open interior of the car, Face quietly accepted the poetic justice of the event.

 

Things were very bad indeed.

 

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

 

Face stood outside the door, afraid to enter the house. It was dark enough that he should have seen a light, some indication that there was someone inside.  What if he went in to find that Murdock had left? 

 

He shifted uneasily, debating.  Well, there really was no point in waiting.  He might as well go for broke.  After all, he had probably alienated Hannibal, and possibly BA.  Why not just finish off the trio.

 

Because this last one would hurt the most. 

 

He reached for the knob.  It was like waiting for Monty Hall to tell him what was behind the door he had selected. His true love or seventeen boxes of macaroni and cheese.

 

Eventually, he pushed it open, stepping over the threshold into darkness.

 

"Murdock, I'm home."

 

The ocean whispered outside. 

 

"Murdock?"

 

A soft scraping noise from somewhere in the room made him reach for his gun.  Before his hand actually touched it, a small flicker of light illuminated a spot near the fireplace.

 

The match burned faintly, but it was enough for him to see who was holding it.  He watched as the flame moved towards the mantle, pausing as it met the wick of a candle, a kiss that ignited a brighter spark, sputtering at first then growing stronger. 

 

In the glow of the candle, Murdock stood. 

 

His back was to Face.

 

And he was naked, except for a t-shirt that didn't quite reach down to cover his backside. 

 

When Murdock turned around, Face saw that there was something else not quite covered.

 

A second match came to life, and another candle.  Then, at the far end of the mantle, a third candle's flame was added to the others. 

 

Face watched, suddenly unable to speak, as Murdock walked, no, sauntered over to the place in the wall where the stereo was kept.  There was a small click as a button was pressed.  Then the soft strains of a lone piano filled the air.

 

A feminine voice followed, answering the piano's soft prelude.  Then, seamlessly, Murdock's clear voice eased in, weaving itself in with the singer's, his eyes never leaving Face's. 

 

Face stood, mesmerized, as Murdock's body swayed slightly, music and motion becoming one.  The candles flickered, adding an almost spectral quality to Murdock's movements. 

 

Still moving with the music, Murdock advanced.  His voice softened, becoming more intimate as the distance between them melted.  Words meant for an audience of one.  Stopping inches from Face, he drew him near, arms enfolding him as his voice celebrated promises of caring, of forever.  They moved together, gently, cheeks brushing, shimmering light swaying with them, a harmony of sensations. 

 

Words became whispers, warm breaths, as the music echoed away.  Their dance continued, unaccompanied now, the ghosts of the melody lingering long after there was only silence.

 

"I love you, Facey."  Soft, blending with the stillness. 

 

Face pulled back a little, wanting, needing to see Murdock.  He felt dizzy, overwhelmed by what he saw, by the emotional barrage of the day.  "I…" He stumbled, sure and yet unsure.

 

"Shhh," Murdock hushed, smiling, guiding him the couch.

 

Face followed, allowing himself to be drawn down, shifting as Murdock removed his jacket, holster, and shirt. Face almost sighed as Murdock then drew him close again, and he leaned into the support offered.  Strong hands began to massage his shoulders, working to ease muscles still tight from overuse and tension.

 

"Glad to have you home, darlin'.  How was your day?" 

 

Did it matter?  Here, everything was right.  "Perfect, now."  Not a lie.  "And I'm yours for the next week and a half. Just us.  I promise."  And that was true as well. 

 

"Really?" 

 

Face closed his eyes.  "Really."  No need to go into details.  All of the rest could wait.

 

"Hmm, good.  I'm sure that I can find ways to keep you occupied that Hannibal never dreamed of. Glad he came to his senses, finally."  Murdock kissed Face's neck, tenderly. 

 

"Me too."

 

Murdock kissed him again. My knight. So like you to try and keep such a chivalrous deed to yourself.  He moved his hands to Face's chest, rubbing gently, hands slowly wandering lower, opening the button and then easing the zipper down as his hand teased inside, briefly, promising more soon, before returning to Face's chest.  He smiled, wondering how he could, for even one moment, have doubted Face's intentions.

 

They were silent for a long time, the ocean's music filtering softly into the room. 

 

"Murdock?"  Face stopped Murdock's hands, drawing one up close to kiss it, before he turned his body so that he could see Murdock.

 

"Yes, love?"

 

Face reached down to the pocket of his discarded jacket, pulling out a small, velvet box.  His gaze returned to Murdock's.   In the candlelight, Murdock saw him blush as he hesitated, again unsure.

 

"For me?" Murdock filled the gap.  "Why darlin', you shouldn't have."

 

Face smiled, almost shyly, holding his breath as he offered the gift.  He watched as Murdock lifted the lid, felt his blush grow as he watched the brown eyes widen.

 

"Forever?" Face asked.  A simple word, holding so much meaning.

 

Murdock stared at the pin.  The gold pilot wings reflected the light of the candles, shining softly against the black material. 

 

It was Murdock's turn to stumble a little.  "Face, I…" He paused, then grinned broadly.  "I've never been pinned before."

 

Face laughed. "Is that a yes?"  Murdock's lips on his own were answer enough.

 

"Forever isn't long enough, Facey.  But it's a start."

           

 

The End


When The Going Gets Tough by Lark

 

 


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