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Disclaimer: All original TAT characters belong to Stephen J. Cannell and Universal. The Velveteen Rabbit was written by Margery Williams, and the excerpts in this story are from her original text.
Warnings: Light slash, language
Summary: Originally posted last year, as an answer to the A-Slash Missing Scene Challenge, regarding the team's first Christmas in 1973 after they escape from jail.
Special Note: Thanks (again!) to Mel for her expert advice on books on flying that Murdock might enjoy.
Extra Special Note: Merry Christmas!
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day.... "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you...."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.
~The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams~
Cheap whiskey always tasted like punishment. Face took another drink and lifted himself carefully through the window.
Everything was exactly how he remembered it.
The walls were bare. When they had brought Murdock here (from that other place), Face had put up bright posters to cover up the dingy white blankness. But the nurses had to take them down.
Everything was too much.
Everything that could be dangerous had been taken away. No glass, here. Nothing with sharp edges. Nothing that had cords or ropes.
Face had taped a picture to the wall, of the four of them together.
Murdock had thrown himself into BA's arms and was grinning at the camera. BA was losing his grip on the pilot, looking down at the man half in, half out of his arms with sweet consternation. Face had grabbed onto Murdock's arm to try and catch him. Hannibal stood behind them, calmly smoking a cigar, one hand resting lightly on Face's shoulder.
The picture was gone now. Lynch had taken it. But Face could see the sticky spot on the wall beside Murdock's bed where it had been.
A heavy old dresser, painted white (but a different white than the walls) had been shoved into the corner. Clothes inside. A few books on top, that Face had brought in. Construction paper, smooth and blank. A mimeographed flyer, inked with murky purple, that said "Christmas Carols, 3 p.m. -- Come and sing!"
Face leaned against the dresser and let himself look at the bed. Made himself look at the bed. Took another drink, then slipped the flask back into his pocket. The bedframe was painted metal (the same white as the dresser). Murdock sat against the wall on the dark blue blanket.
His arms curled around his body like he was hugging himself. Or like he thought he was still in the restraining grip of a straight jacket.
Face eased the bag he'd been carrying on his shoulder down onto the floor, then looked at Murdock again. Large, dark eyes framed in a pale, narrow face. Murdock was looking back at him. But his eyes were like mirrors, now. You couldn't see anything but your own pain in them.
Pale, narrow face framed with wisps of fine, dark hair. (Soft hair.)
Face could remember running his hands through that hair, letting his fingers follow the curve of neck, strong shoulders, down those arms to tangle in his lover's grasp. But that was then. Face pushed away the memory. That was then and they were different
now. They were broken now. They were running and alone.
Face took another drink. Shouldn't take another drink. Shouldn't take any drinks. But alcohol diffused the pain. It didn't take it away (nothing took it away), but it diffused it. Turned the knot of ice in his gut into a fog of undifferentiated aching.
Face smiled. Not his best smile, maybe. He didn't think he was giving his best smiles, lately. They were all tired, after all. It had been a long year. But it was a smile, and he let his eyes catch Murdock's glassy gaze.
"So, how... um... how are you? Okay? You look okay. I mean good. You look good."
Face rubbed his hands together nervously. He'd have to do better than that. And he could. But it was so odd, speaking to someone who wouldn't say anything back to you. Murdock always talked. You couldn't get him to shut up, he talked constantly. Face remembered falling asleep in front of the fire, when they could have a fire, to the sound of Murdock's voice. Talking about something he'd read or someone he'd met. The latest Spiderman comic book and what had happened in it. Stories he'd make up, long and whimsical and strange. But Murdock hadn't talked since they brought him here, to the VA in Westwood. Four months, almost. Not a single word, like everything was closed inside him. Mirror eyes.
"The guys are good. Real good. We were staying in an apartment down in Glendale for awhile. It was... well, it wasn't much. Glendale is pretty... But things got kind of hot there, so we moved into a motel a couple nights ago. We're still close. It's down on
PCH, these little cabins. Kind of near the ocean. You can't see the water, but you can hear it. Hannibal's got this idea..."
Face broke off a moment, cleared his throat. Looked at Murdock. Made himself look at Murdock.
"You'd like it. Hannibal's idea. He thinks we should start taking jobs for people. Not mercenary stuff. More like... I don't know. Robin Hood or something. You know Hannibal." He paused, ran his hands over his rough cheeks. Hannibal wanted him to grow a beard, for cover, but so far, after a couple months of trying, he'd only managed a kind of scruffy blonde five day shadow.
"BA's trying to be cool about the whole Christmas thing. They've had somebody outside Mama's ever since Thanksgiving. Her neighbor, Mr. Weiss told us. It would have been nice if we could have..." Face broke off again. Viciously.
Don't talk about what can't be. Don't talk about what was. Things are different now, just fucking deal with it. Just deal with it.
He took another drink, long drink, the alcohol burning down his throat.
It was like someone telling you not to think about pink elephants. That's what it was like. They tell you, then that's all you can think about. You see something that you loved (love) broken, and all you can think about is when they were whole. All you can see is what you've lost.
"Hannibal figures Lynch'll have this place staked out too, by tomorrow." Face felt his gestures getting too broad, and he pulled his arm back in. The alcohol was working in him, just like it was supposed to (diffusing things), but he had to stay in control. He was here for a reason. Bringing Christmas, that's all. Come in, deliver the gifts and get out. Get out.
"I figured I'd better come tonight. I got some stuff..."
Someone knocked twice on the door, and turned a key in the lock.
Face rolled quickly under the white, metal framed bed as the door swung open. Watched as two white shoes made their way across the floor. Comfortable, quiet shoes with worn soles. Narrow ankles. The shoes made soft ticking noises as she walked.
"Well hello there, Mr. HM Murdock. How are you tonight, hmm? Christmas Eve. You doing okay?"
Face pressed his cheek against the linoleum. Cold. He felt a little dizzy, and he turned his gaze upward, stared into the smooth metal framework of the bed. Listened to the lilting voice.
"Two pink ones and a green one. Almost Christmas colors. You want some water? Let me help you with that, hon."
The shoes were very close. The ankles. Face could have reached out and touched them. She hadn't noticed the bag. He'd left the bag of presents over by the dresser. But the room was dim.
"That's it. Christmas tomorrow. They're giving bacon for breakfast, don't get bacon too much, do you? And the Methodists are coming in with Christmas carols, that'll be nice. I'm going to have to miss it. On tonight, but I've got tomorrow and the next day off. Mom's got the kids, so I can go home and sleep awhile, then go over there and she'll have dinner made. Such a deal, huh? Okay, meds, charting, you need to use the bathroom, sweetie?"
Face breathed through his mouth. Silent.
"You should lay down, hon. Get some sleep. You want to lay down? It's okay, I won't make you. It's okay. I'll check on you in a couple hours, 'kay? You just take it easy."
The white shoes moved away from the bed, ticking across the floor. The door closed and locked, and Face could hear the soft metallic rattle of the med cart as it moved down the hall to the next room.
He could move now. But he didn't. Not right away. It felt safe under the bed. For awhile, at the orphanage, he'd slept under his bed. He'd liked it there. In the dark. But it hadn't lasted.
He scooted himself out from under the bed, then walked over and picked up the bag of presents. Come in, deliver the gifts and get out.
He and Hannibal had fought about it. His coming. But Murdock had always loved Christmas. Their first Christmas together, Face had scammed Murdock a Christmas tree, a beautiful eight foot Noble fir. Best damn Christmas tree in Vietnam. That had taken
some fast talking. They'd strung together gold bullet casings on string like popcorn and draped the tree with it. BA had made little metal hooks out of comm. wire, and they'd hung up all sorts of things, folding P-38 can openers, Ray's lucky rock, somebody's red
Swiss Army knife. Single cigarettes. Condoms, hung with hooks, tiny, pale latex ornaments. Murdock had taken on the decorating of the tree with the same intensity that he did everything. It had been a great tree. There had been mistletoe, too, and Murdock had kissed BA underneath it. BA had chased him over half the camp for that one. Murdock had kissed Face underneath the mistletoe later that night. Christmas Eve. Lips soft and gentle, but insistent, arms surrounding, warm, tight grip, Murdock humming in his ear (soft breath) and moving them gently to his words in almost-dancing. Murdock smiling against his kisses, laughing, saying softly (whisper) that forever wasn't long enough. He wanted more.
No more. No forever. But he'd never really trusted it anyway. Not really.
Maybe a little, after sex, when Murdock (sated, half-asleep) would cuddle into Face's arms. Fall into dreams, there, fingers tangled in Face's hair or curled against his chest. Face would lie awake and wonder how anybody could trust somebody else so much. Give themselves so completely to someone else. Face could only give himself in pieces. Murdock was... there weren't words for what he was. There hadn't ever been anyone like him. Face didn't know anyone like him.
And Murdock loved him. Him.
He'd wanted to ask why, why, but never had. Couldn't understand. But maybe now he could, a little. Not understand, exactly, but sympathize.
Must have been a terrible thing, he thought, to love something broken. (But he hadn't seemed sad.)
Face looked at Murdock.
Too thin. Too pale. The windows of dark eyes closed against the world.
The pain inside Face crystallized again, sharp edges cutting into his gut, and he doubled over with it. Dropped the bag of presents on the blanket and leaned against the bed rail.
Fuck. Just... fuck. Goddamn Christmas, anyway. Goddamn it to hell, damn everything. They'd had no peace (just running), no time to lick their wounds. All hell was after them and they couldn't even breathe. They were starting to hate each other. The walls were closing in, and when the anger (pain) came there was nowhere for it to go. He'd thought, maybe, that if they could just get away for awhile (if everyone could just leave them alone for awhile) maybe things could be better. But that was wrong too, because mostly they were angry at each other. Mostly they were angry at themselves.
Face held onto his stomach as the pain seared into him (or was it alcohol?). Part of him loved Murdock. Part of him was frightened by his madness, which made him seem so far away. Part of him hated Murdock for leaving, for being a fucking coward, for leaving him alone in the middle of a goddamn war, alone, was that love? Was that love? Part of him hated himself,
because deep inside, in a dark place, he knew it was his fault. He hadn't given everything. He hadn't trusted. He hadn't given all his pieces and now Murdock was gone and it was his fault.
He hadn't given enough to save him.
He'd given so much that he'd never be whole again without him.
There was a hand on his shoulder, pressing.
Face jerked back, away from Murdock, away from the bed.
Murdock's eyes (dark eyes) still gazed at him. Shuttered, closed, mirrored. But his hands were moving in his lap.
Face drew himself up. No more drinks. Gotten away from him for a minute. Getting fucking soft.
Here to deliver Christmas. That's all. Come in, deliver the gifts and get out.
He smiled at Murdock. Everything's all right. Sat down on the corner of the bed. "Sorry. Little too much Christmas cheer."
He opened the sack and pulled out the presents.
There were only four. And they all had the same wrapping because they were all from the same store. But Face had carefully forged Hannibal's neat, old-fashioned script on one of the tags and BA's careful scrawl on another. The last two were from him. He forged his own signature on those.
"Here. This one's from BA. You want to open it?"
Face picked up one of the presents and held it out to Murdock.
Murdock stared at him, glanced down at the gift, but didn't move to take it. Face removed the little card and showed it to Murdock, then pulled off the gold wrapping. "This seems pretty dry to me, but BA thought you'd like it. It's the new one. Nineteen seventy four. It's not '74 yet, but I guess it's like the car thing, where they get them early." Face laid the book in front of Murdock. It was a large, heavy paper bound book with the letters "FAR/AIM" written in blue letters on the front. The Federal Aviation Regulations/Aeronautical Information Manual. "I know you're not flying right now, not 'til you get to feeling better, but I... BA thought you might want to keep up on things. So..."
Murdock's fingers moved out of his lap, moved tentatively, and he ran them over the book's cover before pulling them back.
Face tucked the card from BA into the book and picked up the next package.
"This is from Hannibal." Face pulled the paper away and set the large book in front of Murdock. "It's a good one, I think. Has all kinds of schematics in it. Diagrams, pictures, that sort of thing."
Murdock slowly, carefully reached out and opened the book. He ran his hands over the title, "Jane's All the World's Aircraft," then turned the page again to reveal a picture of a Bell HU-1 Iroquois. Better known as a Huey. He touched the words "hydraulic reservoir" and "tail rotor gear box" and "external cargo electrical release switch" and "power control (throttle)" on the diagram.
Face stuck the card from Hannibal into the book and closed it. Pushed it away.
He handed Murdock the next present and after a moment, Murdock's long, graceful fingers began to move against the gold wrapping.
"I don't know if you'll like this. It's just a story. But I thought maybe we could read it together sometimes, if I can start sneaking in more. I don't know..."
Murdock's fingers finally caught on the edge of the paper and he pulled the wrapping loose. He held onto the book for a moment, turned it in his hands. It was a little paperback of "The Hobbit," by JRR Tolkien.
Murdock held out his hand and Face wasn't sure what he wanted, then figured it out. He handed Murdock the card.
Murdock ran his fingers over the card. "To Murdock, From Face." Then he tucked the card into the book and looked up into Face's eyes.
Was there something more in those eyes, now? Face looked away. Down at the last package in his lap. The one that wasn't exactly book shaped. He handed it to Murdock.
Murdock looked down at it. Pulled at the paper.
"I don't mean anything by..." Face started, then glanced at Murdock. Murdock's attention was entirely on the present in his lap. "It's for kids, I know it's for little kids, but I thought maybe... it seemed kind of..." He couldn't find the right words. He hated this. He hadn't ever needed words with Murdock.
Maybe he still didn't.
Murdock pulled the paper off the box. Inside the curved plastic was a hardcover copy of "The Velveteen Rabbit." And a stuffed bunny, covered in soft, speckled brown cloth.
Face pulled out his pocket knife and ran it through the plastic. Murdock pulled the bunny out and stared at it a moment. Then brought it to his cheek and rubbed his cheek against it. Then set it in his lap and ran his hand along its back, petting it gently.
He looked up at Face, and this time Face didn't look away. He just let the other man hold his gaze and read whatever he wanted to read there.
Murdock picked up the book and handed it to Face.
"Don't... you don't want it?" Face asked.
Murdock didn't say anything. But he reached over and opened the book to the first page.
"You... want me to read it?"
Murdock stared back at him. But Face couldn't read his eyes. Not anymore. He sighed.
He looked down at the picture of a child's Christmas stocking. A stuffed rabbit, very much like the one in Murdock's lap, peered out from it. He'd never read the book. They didn't have that many children's books at the orphanage. He'd mainly gotten it because of the stuffed rabbit. To give Murdock something... to hold onto. To hold.
"THERE was once a velveteen rabbit," Face read, "and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy's stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming."
Face glanced over at Murdock. He was looking at Face intently and petting his rabbit. Listening.
Face read a little more. "....For a long time he lived in the toy cupboard or on the nursery floor, and no one thought very much about him. He was naturally shy, and being only made of velveteen, some of the more expensive toys quite snubbed him. The mechanical toys were very superior, and looked down upon every one else; they were full of modern ideas, and pretended they were real. The model boat, who had lived through two seasons and lost most of his paint, caught the tone from them and never missed an opportunity of referring to his rigging in technical terms. The Rabbit could not claim to be a model of anything, for he didn't know that real rabbits existed; he thought they were all stuffed with sawdust like himself, and he understood that sawdust was quite out-of-date and should never be mentioned in modern circles. Even Timothy, the jointed wooden lion, who was made by the disabled soldiers, and should have had broader views, put on airs and pretended he was connected with Government. Between them all the poor little Rabbit was made to feel himself very insignificant and commonplace, and the only person who was kind to him at all was the Skin Horse."
Face looked up at Murdock. He was still listening carefully. Hands moving on the rabbit's back. Face read some more.
"The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.
'What is REAL?' asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. 'Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?'
'Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'
'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.
'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful."
Face paused for a moment. Glanced at Murdock, who was staring at him now, staring into his eyes.
"'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'" Face read.
"'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'
'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.'"
Face paused again. His eyes were hot and he was having trouble reading the words in the book. His throat felt thick. But he turned the page anyway.
"'I suppose you are real?' said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
'The Boy's Uncle made me Real,' he said. 'That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always.'
The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him."
Face closed the book. That wasn't the end, but he closed the book. Threw it across the room. It crashed against the wall, then fell, pages splayed, onto the floor. He closed his eyes.
"So we're real, then?" Face whispered. "Not broken?"
He kept his head down. Kept his eyes closed. The pain was in him, sharp and hard and cold, and he had nothing in him to fight against it.
"It hurts, Murdock," he said softly.
He felt a gentle, shaking hand on him, not a caress, but petting. Stroking his hair.
"I miss you so much." He paused, but the words were falling out of him, now. In the darkness behind his closed eyes, he could see everything they'd been through and everything they'd lost. Everything they'd become.
"I never wanted you to get hurt. I... I love you. I know you're... hurting. You're hurt, but... I'm not going to go away. Sometimes," his voice broke a little, "...sometimes I get... I don't know. I'm not real good at... I don't know how... but I won't leave you, okay?" Face opened his eyes and looked up at Murdock. Murdock was still stroking his hair gently, and his hand was so warm. "Okay?" Face said. "I won't leave you. Maybe... maybe you're the only real thing I've ever known." He looked down. "And I think... I don't know why you did it. But you loved me. I think... I know you loved me."
Gently, carefully, with his fingertips, Murdock pulled Face closer. Pulled him over. Face let himself fall into Murdock's arms, let himself be held and petted. Smelled the warm, sweet scent of the man who had been his lover. Felt the arms that had taught him about love. He let himself go.
BA climbed carefully up the drainpipe after Hannibal. He was a lot heavier than Hannibal. They were both heavier than Face. If he fell, Faceman was gonna pay.
It was almost two in the morning. Face had gone into the church, to midnight mass, at about eleven thirty, but it wasn't until everybody came out except him that the two men waiting outside figured they'd been conned.
They knew where Face would go.
Hannibal had gotten real quiet, the way he did when he was really angry. He didn't say anything. But when the priest came out and locked the door of the church, BA started the engine of the old car and drove out to Westwood. To the VA.
Hannibal was on the ledge underneath the window. He pulled the window open and crawled through. BA crawled in after him.
Had they wanted to come? Hannibal had decided it was too dangerous. Face had called him a coward. Told him he was afraid to see what he'd done to Murdock. They were angry at each other all the time, now. It was hard to hold onto what they'd had together, with everything that had happened in between.
BA didn't want to see Murdock. When he'd seen him before, when Face had found him in that other place and brought him out, he'd been completely gone. Gone away. Screaming and crying. So thin BA didn't hardly recognize him. His eyes all glassy with some kind of drugs they'd given him.
Face had said he was better now. Better here. Wasn't talking. (BA remembered all the times he'd wished the fool would stop talking, all the times he'd told him to shut up.)
Hannibal grabbed BA's arm to steady him as he got to his feet in Murdock's small room. They stood there a moment, just looking.
The room was bare, white walls, no furniture except a dresser and a bed.
Murdock sat on the bed, back against the wall, holding Face in his arms.
BA wasn't sure what it meant. What did anything mean anymore? But before he could figure out anything to say, or do, someone knocked on the door. A key turned in the lock. And a woman walked into the room.
She paused. Put her hand to her mouth. Dropped her clipboard.
She was in her late thirties. There was a little gray in her hair, by her temple. Her skin was almost the same shade of brown as BA's. She looked strong. She put down her hand and raised her chin a little, staring at the scene before her.
Hannibal reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigar. Stuck it in his mouth. Lit it, and blew two smoke rings into the air between him and the nurse. "Ho, ho, ho," he said softly. "Merry Christmas."
His hair was white, now. That had happened in the camps. And he'd grown a beard since they'd gone on the run. But he sure as hell didn't look like no Santa Claus.
Face stirred in Murdock's arms. Opened his eyes. Blinked. Murdock was still stroking his hair softly. Face's eyes darted between Hannibal and BA and the nurse on the other side of the room.
The woman opened her mouth. Closed it. Then tilted her head a little. "You're the boys in the picture, aren't you?" she said. She paused. Looked over at Murdock. Then she grinned. "Merry Christmas," she said. And went out and closed the door.
Hannibal looked over at Face. BA watched as they stared at each other. Figured things out.
"You ready to go, Lieutenant?" Hannibal said quietly.
Face nodded. Turned in Murdock's arms.
The two men looked at each other for a moment, and BA wondered what had happened between them. Face reached up and touched Murdock's cheek. Then he got up.
Face crawled out the window first.
Hannibal followed him. Turned back to Murdock. "Merry Christmas, Captain," he said firmly. "We'll be back in a week or two to check in with you, see how you're doing."
Murdock looked back at Hannibal. Hannibal nodded at him and climbed out the window and down the side of the building.
BA saw a book on the floor over by the door. He went and picked it up. It had a rabbit on the front, just like the stuffed one on Murdock's bed.
BA laid the book on the bed beside Murdock. He wanted to reach out to the Crazyman, hug him, maybe. It was Christmas. But he was pretty far away, over on the far side of the bed. Pretty far away.
"Take care o' yo'self, fool," he said.
Murdock didn't say anything. But one corner of his mouth raised a little. A shadow of a grin.
BA climbed out the window.
The three men walked together across the grass. The night was dark, and there weren't many lights on this side of the building.
Face stopped and turned, suddenly. Looked back up at the window.
Murdock was there. His nose was pressed against the glass. There was a small puff of smoke on the windowpane, from his warm breath.
He stood there a moment, silent. Still. Staring at the men on the lawn outside.
Then he lifted the rabbit up and waved its little hand.
Face waved back at him. He had a real sad look in his eyes. Real sad. BA put one hand on Face's shoulder as they walked across the grass, and away.
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