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This page last viewed: 2017-10-23 and has been viewed 5643 times
Warnings: Vomiting; language
Summary: Face is sick; Murdock comforts, and remembers a time when he was the one ailing... Smarmy, h/c
Feedback: Very much appreciated
Big thanks to my readers, Glenda, Cath, and DTHunter, for their excellent changes and ideas.
Face knew it was coming on -- his head pounded worse with every movement he made and his stomach was waging a battle of its own. He hated being sick; he always had. It made him feel inadequate and useless. Right now he fervently wished he could reverse the past four days. Of course that wouldn't really solve anything. He'd still vote to take on the new case, along with the rest of the Team. They'd still take on the dozen bad guys, running high on adrenaline and eager to pound the punks who got their kicks out of terrorizing the elderly. And Face would still get a two-by-four upside the head.
Actually his head had been hurting since before the fight. He'd felt like shit for two days, battling both headache and nausea. Then one of those cowboy-booted, tobacco-chewing yahoos had somehow gotten the drop on him, and the two symptoms came on him in waves.
That had been in the afternoon. They'd concluded the case soon after that, having restored the Shady Oaks retirement community to peace and quiet. Good thing, Face thought ruefully. He was still having a hard enough time navigating the simple things, like walking and communicating. The Team had headed back toward L.A., but the mood in the van was despondent. The fight had taken a lot out of them. The other three Team members weren't too bad off, mostly just worn out. Face's own injuries were relatively minor, but he couldn't help feeling jinxed. Put quite simply, he thought, coincidence sucked. He'd taken a fist pummeled into his stomach, and that hadn't helped the queasiness he'd battled off and on the last couple of days. The soreness was now a dull ache. He'd have been fine to go another few rounds in the fight, if he hadn't gotten in the way of that damned board-slinging yahoo.... He knew he should be counting his blessings that he'd moved the few inches he did. There hadn't been time to dodge the board completely; he wound up receiving a glancing blow to the side of his head rather than a full-on slam, but it still knocked him literally silly for a while there.
He'd seen double and been unable to stand up straight for 30 minutes, and he knew from their reactions his friends were scared. The worst of it wore off. He'd pulled as much charm as he could muster to convince Hannibal he was fit to travel. BA and Murdock weren't quite buying it, he could tell -- it was in both men's scowls. It was one of those times Face was happy to just shrug and say "Colonel's orders," and get on into the van.
An hour later, Templeton Peck regretted he'd been so quick to push for getting on the road. His stomach was queasy again, helped along by the constant movement as the vehicle rolled down the highway. He knew it was a matter of time until he made BA stop the van. He had no death wish -- he'd rather throw up on the ground instead of in the big man's treasured van. He couldn't believe he was now car sick, of all things and on top of everything else. Jinxed about summed it up.
"Face's lookin' pretty green, Hannibal," Murdock spoke up, his eyes on Face.
Face glared at the pilot; Murdock quickly stuck his tongue out at him, then propped his chin in his hand.
"Oh?" Hannibal turned in his seat to look back at them. He focused on the Lieutenant, and Face resisted the urge to squirm under his scrutiny.
Peck half expected the third degree from the older man. After several long moments of studying his second-in-command, Hannibal instead turned to the other two Team members. "I think we're all kinda beat after this one. What d'you guys say we get a good night's sleep, get back on the road tomorrow?"
Face purposely refrained from answering, even though his stomach warred to give a big YES. It wanted nothing more than to be still, and right now. He was acutely aware of Murdock's eyes on him as the pilot agreed, "Okay, fine by me." Even BA looked over his shoulder at the con man, then turned back to the front and said "Yeah, let's stop."
Face hoped his relief didn't show. He certainly wasn't going to whine about being car sick; he'd never hear the end of that. It was bad enough he was already the center of attention.
It took another twenty minutes until they passed a sign announcing a motel. Face thought he'd never been so grateful for anything than to open that van door and step out into the cool night air. It did wonders for his stomach, just breathing in the fresh air -- that and standing on solid, unmoving earth.
Hannibal said, "Murdock and I'll get the rooms," without even suggesting Face pull any scams for them. Soon after, Face collapsed on one of the double beds in his and Murdock's room.
"Mind if I use the bathroom first, Face?"
Peck waved him off, wanting only to lie still. After a few minutes he felt almost human again; by the time he and Murdock left the room, he figured he could even eat something.
"You sure you're up to this, muchacho? I could bring you something back."
"No, it's okay." Face smiled his thanks, but he could tell from the concern in those intelligent brown eyes that Murdock wasn't buying it. The four Team members walked across the parking lot from their motel to an all-night diner.
The diner was an old railway car, with booths down one side and stools lining the counter. Countertop racks held danishes and pies. It was like stepping back in time.
They headed for a vacant booth at the far end of the car. Hannibal chose the far corner, back to the wall, and Face slid in beside him. Murdock dove into the facing side and looked up at BA with a wicked grin. The big man grimaced at him but sat down in the last available seat.
He turned on the pilot immediately, his face and voice menacing. "'M not in the mood fo' it, Murdock, so none o' your craziness. I'm tired, an' I'm hungry. You understand?"
Murdock clapped a hand to his heart. "BA, you wound me. I'm just as tired as you are. Do you think I want to take my life in my hands before I've even had the chance to sample the fine fare this establishment has to offer?"
A busty, middle-aged waitress with a tall head of hair set down water glasses and laminated menus. "Meatloaf's the special. We're out of mashed potatoes, but there's baked macaroni 'n cheese, and the apple pie is fresh."
Her spiel given, she worked her jaw and a wad of gum appeared between her teeth, snapping as she chewed. She looked them all over without much interest; her gaze lingered on Face a moment and she winked at him before she moved off.
Face gave her a faint smile and picked up the plastic-coated menu. It looked like it carried traces of every meal the place had served over the past year. He held it delicately by its corners. Visible between the grease smudges and traces of ketchup, the list of dinner options revolved around pork, various forms of hamburger, and fried shrimp. He wrinkled his nose at that selection, not even wanting to know where a roadside diner in the mountains procured what it billed as a "Fresh Seafood" option.
Murdock suddenly squealed with delight, prompting a rumble of warning out of BA. "But lookie, they got grits an' black-eyed peas. I'm feelin' right at home, you guys. I grew up on that stuff."
"Ya grew up on craziness. Jus' read the menu quiet, like ever'body else."
The Texan pulled a pout but followed BA's advice, for the time being.
"Well," Hannibal sighed, studying the menu and unconcerned with the threats going on across from him, "I guess you can't go wrong with meatloaf."
"Wanna bet?" Murdock challenged. He peered over his menu with narrowed eyes. "I ordered meatloaf once in a little '50s place like this, an' there were so many colors in that meat you could identify the entire color spectrum -- with an emphasis on the shade of green."
"Gee Murdock, thanks for building my appetite here." But Smith's voice was unperturbed, cheerful if a little weary, as they all were.
The menu in Murdock's hand lowered enough to reveal a crooked smile. "'Course, it didn't take away from the taste -- much."
Face looked over the selections again, trying to find one he could imagine actually eating. At any other time it would be easy enough -- a couple of pork chops and a canned vegetable was a safe enough bet, he reasoned. But his stomach and head were calling the shots now. Not even the picture perfect surroundings of the nostalgic diner could make up for the smell of fried diner food that was doing a number on him now.
The menu blurred. Face rubbed his eyes and the bridge of his nose, squeezing hard to try to stem the waves of pain. It receded to a dull throbbing behind his eyes. The banter of the others made him feel set apart, hearing them as if from a distance. They were now discussing the case and the fight. The mock arguing between Murdock and BA, refereed by Hannibal, was as comfortable to him as the worn leather booths in the diner -- it lulled him into a hazy sense of rightness, like they belonged exactly where they were, doing what they were doing.
Face looked up, realizing the talk had ceased and found everyone's eyes on him. He knew he must've let his guard down, let his discomfort show. He dropped his now-trembling hand from his head and smiled. It was a valiant attempt, but his smile faltered when the other men frowned. He tried to cover by reaching casually for his glass of water but that was a mistake. Water sloshed over the rim and he set it down fast.
Why was it he could be such a convincing actor, in the middle of any con? Where sometimes lives were at stake? Yet one simple move in front of his friends and he felt like an all-time goof.
"Well darlin', you don't look so good," the tall-haired waitress proclaimed as she readied her order pad.
He smiled up at her. Thanks a lot. "Tough day at the office," he managed, with what felt like a ghost of his usual smile.
She mopped up the spilled water from around his glass. "You fellas need another minute?"
"Please," Hannibal answered, his eyes on the youngest Team member.
Murdock leaned forward as she walked off. "I knew we shoulda had him looked at by a doctor," he hissed, darting a worried look towards Face.
"I would've if I'd thought that blow to the head was serious," Hannibal answered. His words were reasonable, but Face picked up on the defensive tone underlying them.
"Well it's obvious he don't feel too good, Hannibal," BA put in.
"Come on, you guys!"
The table hushed. Face winced at the renewed throbbing in his head and lowered his voice. "Look, I'm sorry but I'm right here and you're talking about me like I'm not!"
Murdock looked down at the tabletop. "Sorry, Face."
BA only frowned deeper. "We just lookin' out for you, man."
"I know, I know...." Face rubbed a hand over his eyes as the pain behind his temples intensified. "Look, I appreciate it but I really think I should've stayed in the room. Murdock, the key?"
The pilot handed it over, asking with raised eyebrows if Face was all right. Face managed a wink and faint smile. "Don't worry; I'm just not up to eating anything right now. You guys go ahead."
He excused himself and left the diner before anyone could make a fuss over him or worse yet, get up to leave their meal to accompany him to the room.
What had felt earlier like a refreshing breeze now seemed a cold, sharp wind. Face knew it was his perception. Whenever he was sick or injured, his skin felt so sensitive to everything, both physical stimuli and emotional. He hunched down in his jacket. It seemed a much longer walk back to their rooms. They'd taken two rooms at the far corner of the motel, their usual practice to lessen the chance of being spotted by the wrong people. Finally he was fumbling with the key and letting himself in.
He sat down on the edge of his bed as dizziness threatened to consume him. He winced and held his bowed head, careful of the tender spot where he'd been hit. The head wound didn't help matters any, but he knew that wasn't the source of his misery. He'd taken worse on more occasions than he cared to remember. The tender lump on the side of his head intensified his misery, but it was little more than an insult to the headache, dizziness, and nausea he'd been battling for two days now. At least with the head wound, he knew precisely the cause. Getting sick meant some unseen germ was at work.
That awful certainty he'd felt in the van was back. Face stood and shrugged off his jacket, throwing it to the bed. It slid down to the floor; instinct made him want to retrieve it but he couldn't take the time. He barely made it to the tiny bathroom and to his knees in front of the toilet bowl. Over everything else -- the acidic smell as he vomited, the raw feeling in his throat as his stomach finally had its rebellion with a vengeance -- the smell of diner food stayed with him and prompted heave after heave.
Face was dimly aware that the motel room door had opened. Murdock came briefly to the bathroom door, then went about actions with sure movements and no words. He was at the counter just outside the bathroom, water running and reaching for things.
Face bowed his head over the bowl again for another round of vomiting. God, where was it all coming from? He hadn't eaten in....
Oh, that was a mistake. Drawing up the memory of that morning's bacon-egg-and-cheese biscuit wrenched his stomach again.
When his gut finally eased up, he realized a pair of arms held him steady. He slumped into the support, trembling from the effort. Murdock wiped a cool, wet wash cloth gently over his face, then up across his forehead into the hairline to smooth his hair back off his forehead.
After several minutes of the soothing motions, Face felt himself become more aware of his surroundings and he reached out to flush the commode. Murdock stretched a long arm past his and took care of it. Face felt his friend's arm then tighten around him securely. "Can you make it to the bed?"
It took only one attempt at moving and Face knew he'd need the bowl very soon again. "Not yet," he breathed.
Murdock nodded his understanding and just held him there in the supporting embrace. Seconds later Face leaned forward and again emptied his stomach. Part of him wanted to push Murdock from the tiny bathroom, rather than have his friend see him so weak, so far from his best. But he felt so secure and safe.... He just didn't have the strength to push the other man away.
Once his stomach ceased heaving -- it was mostly acids he was bringing up now, he noticed -- Murdock again bathed his face and neck. The older man flushed the commode a second time and waited.
"Think you can lie down now?" Murdock's quiet voice spoke close to his ear. This time Face nodded and tried to stand. He felt incredibly weak; the vomiting had taken a lot out of him. Murdock's arms tightened around him and the pilot helped him up, providing the strength Face seemed to have lost. "Easy -- let's take our time."
Murdock helped him to the bed and removed Face's shoes, slacks and shirt before putting him beneath the covers. Once Face was settled, the Captain sat down on the bed and put his palm over Face's forehead. He nodded to himself. "Just what I thought -- you're pretty warm, Face. How's the head?"
Face had known this was coming; Murdock was still very concerned about the blow he'd taken during the fight. Well, it had thrown him for a loop, for a little while there.
"Feels like it'll explode any minute now. Other 'n that I'm fine."
Murdock smiled and shook his head. "Well if that's all...," he teased. "Seriously, Face, let me check it out."
The younger man held still as Murdock ran his hand beneath Face's hair, feeling carefully along the side of his head. Gentle as he was, Face still jerked back when Murdock's searching hand found the tender spot where the two-by-four had connected with his skull. "Sorry Face," Murdock breathed. "Here, I'll be more careful but hold still for me again, 'k?"
Face did as Murdock asked, trying not to wince too noticeably when the other man's fingers examined the spot. Once satisfied with what he'd found, Murdock pulled back a little to peer into Face's eyes, studying one pupil, then the other.
"So you've had an upset tummy and what else? Headache?"
"For how long now? No scammin' me here," Murdock warned.
Face couldn't've scammed his way across the room, but it was too much effort to say so. "Couple days."
"Face, I think you're sick with a stomach virus!"
"Gee, you think?"
Murdock gently thumped his friend on the chest. "Okay, smartass. I'm just relieved, that's all."
The con man frowned at that.
"No, Facey, not glad you're sick!" Murdock explained, running the back of his hand along Face's cheek, then smoothing the blonde hair back off Face's forehead. "I was so afraid you were hurt bad from the fight, and that we needed to get you to a hospital!"
"No," Face sighed. "Don't need a hospital. I just caught this damn stomach bug I guess. Cindi had it last weekend."
"Uh-huh. Well you know you don't have to share everything with your dates, Face."
"Good advice, 'cause I don't feel so good now."
"Yeah, I know," Murdock said in sympathy, again raking his fingers through Face's hair. It was soothing and Face sighed again, letting himself settle deeper into the bed covers. "And bein' knocked upside the head didn't help any.... But you didn't have to keep it to yourself, you know. Hannibal would've given us a couple more days before that last job."
"Didn't want anyone to worry," Face mumbled, "or think I couldn't do my job...."
"You're allowed to be sick, ya know, Face." The gentle tone was exasperated. "Nobody thinks any less of you for it."
Face shook his head, earning a frown of disapproval from Murdock. He didn't understand, and right now Face couldn't explain it to him. Actually, chances were he would never even try. Explaining his insecurities was the kind of thing Face did only in weak moments, and he did everything in his power to avoid those. No, he couldn't allow himself to be sick. Oh, he knew he complained enough; that was always over small, inconsequential things. When things mattered, he couldn't afford the weakness that came with letting anyone else know you weren't 100%.
"Well look," Murdock said, "I better go update the other guys, before they decide to bring the doctor to you." He started to get up and hesitated. "Face, you sure? I mean it might not hurt to have you checked out...."
"I'll be fine, Murdock. Just need lie still for a while."
"Okay. I want you to take a couple aspirin for the fever, then just rest."
Face gagged down the tablets, but he told Murdock he couldn't say how long he'd be able to keep them down.
"That don't matter; there's more. Now lay back down. I'll be back in a minute."
God, but his eyelids were heavy. Face barely registered the door opening and closing. His consciousness drifted and he felt himself slipping back in time to an always-chilly, sparsely furnished room. He had been just as sick then, leaning over a metal basin in the orphanage infirmary. The hands that had helped him were cold and business-like -- nothing like Murdock's warm and caring touch. Everything about that time seemed cold, in his memory. Surely there had been some warmth? His mind darted through the orphanage building, took in the utilitarian rooms and austere furnishings; considered the nuns and priests.... They had taken care of him, but it wasn't the same. They'd all maintained a detachment from the children, from the entire world. In the here and now, Murdock made him feel secure and comforted; there was no detachment or barrier. Face let himself drift with that realization as his fevered mind blurred past and present.
He had no sense of the passage of time, but some time later he lifted his head from the pillows and knew he was in trouble. The nausea was back with a vengeance. He thought maybe if he just ignored it, kept his eyes closed and remained curled up on the bed....
Big mistake. He didn't make it to the bathroom; he did at least miss the carpet and was sick on the tile floor in front of the sink counter. His mind ordered his body to clean it up, but his stomach had other ideas. He could only kneel there shaking and clutching the sides of the porcelain bowl, waiting for the next round of heaving.
The caring hands were back, supporting and soothing him. He pushed back from the commode as soon as he thought he could, and let Murdock guide him back to the bed. Face burrowed into the pillows and was vaguely aware of a flurry of activity not far from the bed. He wanted to close his eyes, sink into oblivion before his stomach rebelled again, but something was left undone. He forced himself to sit up and follow what was going on in the room. Then it hit him; he hadn't made it to the bathroom in time, and Murdock was cleaning up after him.
Mortified, Face started getting back up off the bed.
"What's wrong?" Murdock asked anxiously. He was at Face's side again instantly, freshly washed hands still damp and smelling of the lavender motel soap as he gripped Face around the shoulders to help him up. "You sick again, Face?"
Face shook his head and gestured to the sink counter. "'M sorry Murdock; I tried to get to the head but--"
"Face, Face," Murdock interrupted. "I took care of it. It's okay."
"But--" Face tried again, the words somehow fumbling as he tried and failed to voice what he was thinking.
"Ssh. It's no big deal, muchacho. Now lay back down."
Murdock gently pushed him back down until he was again lying on the bed. The older man pulled the covers back up over him, making sure he was snugly encased in the warm bedclothes. Face curled up on his side beneath the blanket, pulling his knees up to his chest. It helped him ride out the stomach cramps that had let up some, but they hadn't gone away completely. He felt the bed sink further under Murdock's weight as the other man sat down beside him. The wet cloth was cool on his hot forehead; Face closed his eyes in response to the soft, reassuring words urging him to do so, urging him to rest and let Murdock take care of everything. It felt so wonderful to do just that, and Face drifted a bit.
Back in the infirmary, Sister Mary David had been stern: "You missed the bowl, Templeton." She had efficiently tended him, but there was no warmth in her touch. She'd cleaned the tile floor beside his bed with automatic and silent movements.
"I'm sorry," he had told her, not knowing what else to say but knowing it wasn't enough; the simple but genuine apology didn't instill any warmth in her features or her hands.
"Face. You don't have to apologize, okay?" Murdock gently chided him. "You can be sick all night and I'll take care of you."
The younger man's eyes shot open. He was in the motel room -- not the orphanage infirmary. Murdock was there with him still, but Sister's voice had been so real, so clear in his mind. He had answered her in the memory, or dream -- or maybe it was both. He must have spoken out loud.
Face opened his mouth to apologize for it, but Murdock stopped him. "Facey, if you apologize again, I'm havin' BA come sit on ya. That'll teach you to run your mouth when you should just do as I say, an' let me baby you."
The pilot's tone was gently teasing, and Face smiled in response to the threat. Healthy and feeling like himself, he would have resisted Murdock saying he should be babied. With his defenses down, it seemed so right and easy to accept. There was a companionable silence as Murdock continued to bathe his face and neck.
In his fevered haze, Face said exactly what occurred to him next: "But you don't have to." An image of Sister Mary David -- and all of the nuns he'd known through childhood -- flitted through his mind. Their devotion came from a sense of duty, serving Christ through tending the children no one else wanted to care for. It wasn't quite the same thing as being wanted for yourself.
Murdock cupped his face in a warm, dry palm. From the understanding in the depths of those brown eyes, Face was afraid he'd spoken his thoughts aloud again.
"No," Murdock said seriously, sounding so sane that the words sank deeply into Face's awareness. "No, you're right, I don't have to. I want to, Face. You're my best friend, and I want to help you and make you feel better. You deserve to have somebody do that for you."
Face swallowed hard and held Murdock's gaze for a long moment before whispering, "Thanks, Murdock."
The seriousness vanished, replaced by a brilliant smile -- the kind that tended to make his Teammates forget whatever problems were at hand, if just for the moment. "Any time, Face -- and I mean that. Besides, I guess it's my turn now, huh?"
Cloudy blue-green eyes questioned him, hazy on what the pilot meant.
"Well, you've done this for me, you know." Murdock continued to bathe his face with the cool cloth while he talked. "Perryville, Nevada, two years ago."
"Perryville," Face breathed.
"Yeah, those creeps ran us off the road, remember? 'n I cracked my head but good on the passenger side window... Aw c'mon, Faceman, you saved my life out there! Don't tell me you've forgotten it already?"
"Stop exaggerating," Face rasped. Even sick, he was visibly uncomfortable with the praise.
"Nope, no exaggeration Faceman, not this time."
It was true. Murdock had no doubts that if he'd been on his own that day, he'd have never left there alive. 'There' had been the side of the road, out in the middle of so much nowhere, Murdock had bet even the crows had to ask directions -- endless miles of empty and icy highway that wound through mountains.
"Yeah," he mused softly, "that sure was a whooole lot of nuthin' out there."
Face mumbled something. Murdock realized he was falling asleep and settled himself back against the headboard. Face shifted closer to him, seeking closeness as he slept.
"That's right, you just rest, 'cause it's my turn to take care of you now."
Murdock closed his eyes but he was nowhere near sleep. His thoughts were back two years previous. He and Face had run a scam together in the grand town of Perryville, Nevada: Population 314. They were hoping to draw out a the leader of a small group of crooks, get him nervous enough that he took the A-Team's bait and came right into the Team's trap, at a ranch house just outside of town. Hannibal's plan worked; it worked so well, in fact, the group leader and a couple of his buddies lit out after Face and Murdock immediately.
"He wasn't supposed to leave that fast," had been the Lieutenant's exclamation when he and Murdock realized they had an angry-looking, one-ton pickup truck barreling down on their 'borrowed' little Toyota.
"Yeah well somebody forgot to give 'm his cue," Murdock shot back, reaching to put on his safety belt.
Face did likewise and focused on driving the car along the icy road, while Murdock readied his gun to take shots at the pursuing truck's wheels.
"Oh, man, this is not what Hannibal had in mind," Face moaned. He immediately smacked his forehead and added, "What am I saying? This is one of Hannibal's plans we're talking about here. When do they ever go by the book?"
"Think we better give the guys a call and let 'em know?"
"Yeah, tell Hannibal he might have to improvise on that plan of his. He's got everything ready at the ranch house. If we strand this guy out here...."
"Uh, Face, I don't think that's our worry right now."
Face looked over at the pilot's strange tone to see him holding the gun not out the window and aimed at their pursuer, but pointed up at the car's ceiling as he tried to unjam to loader.
"Oh that's just great! Can one more thing go wrong out here?" Face complained. A glance into the rearview mirror showed the approaching front grill of a very large, very heavy vehicle.
Face nudged up the speed as much as he dared, feeling the car's tires slip in places on the highway surface.
The accident happened so fast, Murdock couldn't be sure what exactly took place. He was still struggling with the weapon when he felt an impact from behind. It sent the Toyota skidding into the opposite lane. Face had cursed and expertly brought the car under control, but timing was against them: as they neared a curve in the highway the truck rammed them again, this time sending the Toyota scraping along the guard rail.
"One more of those--" Face warned.
The 'one more' sealed their fate. The steering wheel whipped out of Face's hands on the final impact from behind; he would later tell Murdock they skidded again, like a sled on the black ice, but the pilot's memory would never retrieve those last seconds on the road.
The car struck the guard rail with such force it snapped the metal railing, clearing the way for the Toyota to topple over repeatedly. It rolled until it came to a rest on its wheels several hundred yards from the road.
The car was so damaged, there was no way it was going anywhere except by tow truck. Their mobile phone had been thrown from the car and crushed beneath it, leaving them with no communication.
Murdock remembered coming to groggily in the passenger seat of the beat-up car to find Face leaning over him, frantic. "Murdock! Murdock, are you all right? Murdock!!"
Murdock put his hand to the side of his head. It came away wet with blood. The two men looked at each other for a moment, stunned, before Face spoke. "We've gotta get out of here, Murdock, before those guys decide to come back. Somehow I don't think they'll want to leave any witnesses."
Face had gotten Murdock out of the vehicle and somehow they managed to make it over the hill, Murdock couldn't have said how. An hour later found them inside an abandoned building not far from the road.
They'd huddled together in the late afternoon cold, with no way to phone the rest of the Team. Hannibal and BA were miles away, there was no traffic passing by, and the ogre who helped them off the road could be back at any time.
"Face..." The pilot reached out to grasp Face's shirtfront.
"Yeah, Murdock?" The younger man leaned down close, his ear close to Murdock's mouth to hear what he was trying to say.
"We are in s-some... serious doo-doo here."
Face pulled back and stared at him. He could only nod.
"S-s-so what's the pl-plan, Lieutenant?" Murdock's words were sounding fainter even to his own ears. What had earlier been a mildly cool day was now chilling him to the bone. He raised his shaking hands and looked at them, trying to figure out what was going on, why things had changed as fast as they had.
"To keep you warm, Captain. Right now that's our plan," Face said as he pulled his jacket closer around Murdock's shoulders.
"S-s'not a very good plan for you."
"Ah, but I'm not the one who's injured. You need the warmth."
"We're both g-gonna need it, once the sun goes down."
"Yeah, but look." Face reached into his breast pocket and withdrew a small electronic device. He held it up and flashed a broad smile. "Our ace in the hole."
"BA's tracking device," Murdock breathed.
"I figure Hannibal and BA should be here within the hour."
Murdock reached trembling fingers toward the chip, but bypassed it and instead feathered his fingertips over the back of Face's hand. "You're hurt," the pilot said as he ran his hand over scraped and bloody skin. The wound ran all the way up Face's arm, revealed as Murdock pulled back the sleeve of his sweater.
Face gently pulled his arm back. "It's nothing. Don't worry about it; I'm not."
"Yeah, but that's gotta hurt Facey. It's scraped raw, 'n pretty deep along your arm."
"I'll put something on it later and it'll be fine. Now, how are you doing? Head still hurt?"
"You lied to me." Murdock softly chastised. "You're injured too. Where else?"
Face shook his head. "Nowhere else. I just banged up my arm when we rolled."
Murdock closed his eyes then and started to slump over. The wooden floor suddenly seemed very inviting, if he could just rest for a few minutes....
"No, you don't." Face pulled him back upright. "You need to stay with me until they get here. Okay?"
"I'll try to." That was the best he could do. The pull of sleep was becoming overwhelming.
Face reached out and enclosed Murdock's hands in his own. "It's going to be okay, Murdock. You hear me? You'll be just fine."
Murdock had somehow managed to do as Face asked, and stay awake if not terribly alert until the rest of the Team arrived. Between his own hazy recollection and Face's details of what happened, Murdock had a fairly complete account of that afternoon. He'd suffered a serious concussion, prompting Face to keep him alert while they waited for Hannibal and BA to find them. The con man had talked a blue streak, demanding constant responses from Murdock. Their phone was gone, but Face had the tracking device. It was one of two BA had designed; Murdock had attached one to the truck that gave chase and ran them off the road, leaving the second device unused -- in Face's pocket. The two men endured several cold and uncertain hours together until help arrived. Those were the facts of that afternoon.
It was a different set of facts H.M. Murdock remembered most from that day. He had wanted only to lie down and give in to what his injured brain was craving -- sleep. Face didn't allow it. The con man reassured him constantly, in a sure voice that penetrated his cloudy thoughts that day. Sometimes, in the two years since that afternoon, his friend's voice was there when Murdock woke up in the grip of nightmares. They didn't plague him as often as they used to. But every once in a while, his psyche would dredge up a good one. The VA hospital was no longer a safe haven on those nights. He never felt so alone and forgotten by the world as when he woke up to the echoes and shadows of the big facility, shaking from the dreams. His mind supplied the same reassuring words from that afternoon in Nevada, and they were as real to Murdock as the day Face had spoken them.
Mostly though he remembered the younger man's touch as Face had taken care of him. Face had done all the things medically that he could, but the simple contact had done even more to keep Murdock anchored in the real world. Face had a gift of touch, and Murdock had felt valuable, knew that he mattered. He remembered thinking it was a shame such caring and gentle hands so rarely touched or comforted anyone. He was pretty sure he'd said so out loud, because Face had laughed gently and self-consciously, and kept right on talking.
Face was someone who kept his distance, normally. It was ingrained in him, Murdock suspected as a matter of self-preservation. Insulation from the world. He respected that about his friend, but he was also glad of the times when he got past the man's barrier, like that afternoon as they waited together. Or now, with Face sick and welcoming the comfort Murdock could offer. All bets were off then, and Peck's inhibitions fell away for a short while.
The pilot settled back against the headboard, stretching his legs out on top of the blanket. Face slept beside him; the fever had lessened, and with each passing hour the younger man slept more peacefully. Just beyond the room's single window, the neon motel sign made the curtains glow a soft red. Sounds of passing traffic came faintly from the highway.
Murdock shook his head at the contradiction in his thoughts. He and Face were like brothers, after all they'd been through together over the years. He hated when the other man was sick or hurting, but at the same time... that was when Face's guard was down. That was when he could open himself up to receive comfort, to let his mask slip, just for a little while. Murdock suspected that somewhere along the way in Face's life, probably very early on, he'd learned to avoid being perceived as weak at all costs. To insulate himself from the world.
He supposed knowing that about Face prompted him to reassure that the con man had long ago returned the favor -- and he had -- but Murdock knew it wouldn't have made a bit of difference if it had never happened in turn. He would be here nursing Face through the misery no matter what the score between them. The same would hold true if he were the one ill; Face would care for him without hesitation, just as he had that afternoon in Nevada. They all took care of each other that way, whatever was needed, when it was needed.
He felt the younger man stir and looked down into blurry eyes. "You should go eat," Face urged.
Murdock only smiled and shook his head. "I'm fine," was all he said, not mentioning that dinner had been hours ago. Nor that BA had brought him his dinner, with the potato done up just the way Murdock would've fixed it, a root beer soda, the works. When Murdock had gushed his surprise and gratitude, the big man had only screwed up his face and growled "Shut up, fool." He'd paused then at the door to ask hesitantly -- the big guy looked so cute when he did that, Murdock almost told him and stopped himself just in time -- "You need anythin' else?"
No. There was nothing else he needed.
(c) Meryn Marks Oct 2000