The Achieve Of The Thing
I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpled wing
In his ecstasy!
Murdock sat at the old wooden table in the kitchen and listened to the song of the night. The door was open, the screen door collecting moths drawn by the single lamp, and he could hear the Chesapeake, the nightbirds, and the wind. He could smell the salt, too; very salty the Bay was this close to the ocean, though more brackish further north, he knew. Down here it might be the Atlantic. Face did love the ocean. He sighed and took another pull from his beer: trust Face to know a gas station in Maryland that carried Corona. Putting the bottle down on the table he cocked an ear towards the other room, but didn't hear anything. He glanced at the phone again; he should call Hannibal, he knew he should, but he wanted to wait until Face was deeply sleeping. The conversation might not go well, and even if it did, no sense in disturbing Face.
No sense in disturbing him any more, that was. Murdock pulled at the edge of the label moodily. It was his third and he probably wouldn't finish it; it most likely depended on what Hannibal said when he called. Face, though... Face had had five. And wanted another, but Murdock had point-blank refused to let him. He'd been surprised at how docilely Face had accepted that, but by then the younger man had been exhausted. Probably too exhausted to argue.
He'd cried a long time, sitting out there on the edge of the dock as night fell. And after he'd cried himself out, he'd stayed in Murdock's hold for a long while. But then he'd pulled away, embarrassed and maybe even a little frightened at the emotions he'd let loose. It hadn't been time to try talking about anything, Murdock had known; Face would have run. So he'd just picked up the box of chicken and handed it to the blond and reached for a beer. They had sat there, feet dangling over the Bay, and finished the chicken, pitching the bones into the dark water, and drank.
After about a half an hour, the sound of a small outboard engine had reached them. Face had lifted his head, listening, and then said, "That'll be Cal."
"Anne's brother," Face had said as though that was enough explanation.
"Hey, Mr. Hard," a teenager's voice reached them through the warm, humid darkness. "I brought youns some eggs an' bread from momma. Anne said you had somebody else here?" He paused. "You all rote, Mr. Hard?"
"Yeah," Face said.
Murdock pulled the names up out of his memory and added, "My name's Thomas. Mr. Rivera won't be coming up any more. He died."
"Died?" The boy's accent made it dode but Murdock was beginning to get the hang of it. Besides, what else could it have been? "'At's too bad. Sorry t'hear 'at. He dint seem sick."
"He was shot," Face said baldly.
The boy whistled. "'At DC, at's a bade place t'live."
"Yes," Murdock let the misapprehension stand. "Did you say eggs?"
"Oh, rote. Sorry..." Cal brought the boat up next to the dock and handed over a paper bag. "My folks'll be at sorry 'bout Mr. Rivera. We'll lote a candle for him Sunnay."
"Thank you," Face said.
"Anne forgot t'ask you, how long youns gane be here?"
"Couple of days, maybe."
"Well, we keep an eye out," the boy had said, or Murdock thought that's what he'd said. It had sounded more like "an oeh oot".
"Thanks, Cal," Face had said.
"Naow problem, Mr. Hard. You take it easy." And then he'd revved up the motor and been gone.
"You got your own personal coast watchers?" Murdock had asked.
Face had shrugged. "Like Cal said, they keep an eye out... nice people."
"Eating out of your hand," Murdock had teased lightly.
Face had shrugged again and pulled his fourth beer out of the twelve-pack. There hadn't been any more conversation until Murdock had vetoed beer number six and they'd come inside. Face had been nearly sleepwalking then; he'd headed for bed, but when Murdock had put the six brown eggs into the refrigerator and the homemade bread in the breadbox beside it, he'd come out of the kitchen to find the younger man standing stock-still in the doorway of the bedroom.
Murdock had sworn silently. The little house had two bedrooms, he'd seen, but the other bed was covered in stuff. Face needed to sleep, and anyway, he was going to have to face it sooner or later. Now was as good a time as any. At least now he was tired and almost drunk. He'd probably sleep anywhere... Murdock sighed and put his hand between Face's chambray-covered shoulders and pushed, lightly. "Go on to bed," he'd said.
Once moving, Face had managed to get into the room and the bed, curling up on one side near the edge and closing his eyes. Murdock had cut the lights and gone into the kitchen, listening to Face's struggle to sleep. The beer and the exhaustion had indeed helped, and Face had in fact gone off relatively soon. Murdock was now sitting and waiting to see if he was going to wake up, and putting off calling Hannibal.
But he couldn't put it off for ever, he knew; Hannibal wouldn't call Stockwell soon but he would eventually. He sighed; he should have left Hannibal a note, but who knew Face and Frankie had been in the habit of driving all this way, into the haunts of coot and tern? He'd figured DC somewhere...
The label came off the bottle. He looked at it in some surprise, having been unaware he was even messing with it, then folded it and laid it on the table. He looked at his watch. Getting late... he'd better call. Reaching a long arm out, he snagged the phone from the counter and set it on the table and dialed.
Hannibal picked up on the second ring. "Face?" He sounded worried.
"No, Hannibal, it's me."
"Captain." Hannibal's voice sharpened. "You'd better be calling to tell me Face is with you and you're on your way back. And you'd better think long and hard before saying he's not"
"Now, Hannibal," Murdock interrupted, "I could think all I wanted and if he wasn't with me he still wouldn't be."
"He's with me," he reassured the older man. "But we're not on our way back. Not tonight."
"And probably not tomorrow, either. The next day, I expect. Look, Hannibal, he's beat. He's asleep right now, and tomorrow he doesn't need to be driving for hours"
"Hours? Murdock, where the hell are you?"
He paused. "I got Face to take me where he and Frankie used to go. It's a long drive. Look, Hannibal, there's something you need to know," he said, cutting short Hannibal's incipient demand for an actual location.
Murdock had given this some thought. He'd be telling the truth, not the whole truth, but nothing but the truth. Even if Face didn't agree... "Hannibal, you need to know this, why Face has been so upset. Once we got out here, I managed to get him to talk to me... He and Frankie..." This was harder to say to Hannibal than he'd thought.
"He and Frankie what?"
"Well, they were... a couple, Hannibal."
There was a long pause. "A couple? What do you mean, Captain?"
Usually he said 'Colonel' back, but he stayed with 'Hannibal'. This didn't need a military attitude. "A couple couple, Hannibal," he said. "In love. Lovers. Sleeping together. Romantically involved. A"
"I get the picture."
"Well, I hope so, Hannibal," Murdock said. "Because Face is really hurtin'. He lost Frankie and he was scared to let us know. He needs us right now."
Another pause. "You'll be back day after tomorrow?"
Murdock sighed. "Yes."
"HannibalFace really needs us now."
"I got that, Captain," Hannibal said. "Watch him. Don't let him do anything reckless."
"Oh, I'll watch him," Murdock promised.
"Good." And Hannibal hung up.
Murdock looked at the phone and then gently replaced the receiver. He really hoped Hannibal had indeed 'gotten it'. Because his reaction, and BA's, was going to be very important. If they couldn't accept Face for who he was, now that they knew, it could destroy the Team.
Hell with that. It could destroy Face.
Hannibal hung up the phone. He was shaken. Not many things shook him any more, he'd seen too much, but that had done so. Face and Frankie? Sure, he'd heard the occasional rumor around the lots about Frankie, but Face? Face was...
He shook his head sharply. That was just... incomprehensible. Face?
"Hannibal?" BA said. "What was that all about? Who gonna do something reckless? Faceman?"
Hannibal looked at BA. "Sergeant," he said carefully, "Murdock had some information that has... well, let's say it's startling."
"About Face? What is it? Murdock figure out he and Frankie was lovers?"
Hannibal stared at him. "You knew?"
"Naw. It just the only thing that makes sense, Hannibal. Way Face carried on after Frankie died, way you carryin' on now."
"Carrying on?" Hannibal said. "I should think so. You don't find it just a little bit disturbing?"
BA thought about it for a minute and shrugged massively. "No," he said simply. "Do you?"
"Hell, yes. Of course I do." Hannibal glared at BA, and then headed into the living room. "I need a drink."
BA followed him. "Why's it bother you, Hannibal?"
"Why doesn't it bother you?" Hannibal poured two fingers of Scotch, looked at the glass, and added two more. "Why doesn't it bother Murdock? All he says is Face needs us. Us?" He shook his head and downed half the drink. "Face is" he rejected all the slang terms that leapt to mind, unable to apply them to Face, and settled on, "a homosexual. He'd have been dishonorably discharged if they'd known that."
"Good thing for us they didn't," BA observed.
"That's not the point," Hannibal said. "I'd have thought you'd have understood. It's against nature."
"It's pretty natural," BA objected.
"Maybe. But a lot of things are that are immoral. Perversions."
"You sayin' Face is a pervert?" BA asked gently.
Whoa. Hannibal didn't like the sound of that. He skittered away from it back to safer ground. "His own church doesn't like it."
"His church don't like a lot of things Face do. That don't make him wrong and them right."
"Your church doesn't like it."
"My church don't like liquor, either," BA said, waving his hand at Hannibal's Scotch.
"It's not the same."
"Don't matter," BA said. "Why it botherin' you is the question."
"It's just... I don't know," Hannibal admitted. "I was taught it was wrong. Worse than wrong. I can't believe Face is" no word would come.
"Like that?" BA suggested. "He is, though, ain't he?"
"He is. Murdock said he and Frankie were," he swallowed and took Murdock's least disturbing word, "a couple."
"They was in love," BA corrected him. "You seen how hurt Face was. That wasn't just screwin' around, Hannibal. That was in love."
"You think two men cain't love each other? Of course they can. Just 'cause our society don't let them don't mean they cain't. You oughta know better than that, Hannibal. Fifty years ago they said black men couldn't be sergeants in the infantry, too."
Hannibal thought about that. It was easier to take if he thought Face and Frankie had been serious. He finished his Scotch. "They didn't tell us."
BA laughed. "You'da killed Frankie for puttin' a hand on Face," he pointed out. "And Face, well, you don't sound like you'da been happy if he had."
Hannibal had to agree. But still, it roiled his stomach to think about it, even just in the abstract. To think about Face and Frankie together... "I don't like it."
"Who say you gotta? Who say it matter whether you like it or not?"
"It's just... damn it, BA. He's like my son. I couldn't love him more if he were."
"Soyou gonna kick your son out your life 'cause you don't like who he fell in love with?" BA asked almost scornfully. Only almost, though, mostly it was a challenge.
Hannibal thought about that. Put that way, it was ridiculous. Self-destructive. Stupid, cruel, and, well, barbaric. "No," he said slowly. "I don't want to do that."
"Then there ain't no problem. 'Cept, of course, Face's. Murdock right, he gonna need us."
"Just like that?"
The big man shrugged, his gold chiming softly with the motion. "How else, Hannibal? Face belong to us, we gotta look out for him, specially when he hurt."
How else indeed? "BA," Hannibal asked, "how'd you get to be so wise?"
"I ain't wise, Hannibal," he said. "I just got common sense. You spendin' too much time thinkin' about it."
"Doesn't it bother you? At all?"
BA shook his head, an exasperated look on his face. "Hannibal, we talkin' about Face. I known him almost half his life. All the time he been a grown man. He ain't changed none. We just know somethin' now we didn't before, that's all." BA shook his head again. "I don't want to sleep with him, but he ain't askin' me. So it ain't my business." He was quiet for a minute, then said, very seriously, "Hannibal, you just now said he was like your son. Well, he like my little brother. And we all the family he's got. Specially now. You cain't turn on your family over somethin' like who they love."
"You're right, BA," Hannibal said. "I just hope I can do it."
BA shook his head again. "Just stop thinkin' about it, Hannibal. I known plenty of guys in Nam who were like that. Most of 'em were good soldiers. You know Face is. An' a good man, an' a good friend. Ain't none of that changed, just cause he and Frankie tried to make each other happy."
Hannibal sighed heavily. "I suppose you're right. The main thing is not to let Face know how I feel."
BA nodded. "When they comin' back?"
"Day after tomorrow."
"That'll give you time to get used to it. An' there's somethin' we oughta do."
"What's that?" Hannibal was eager for action, any sort.
"Stockwell done took all Frankie's stuff away. We oughta get it back. Let Face have what he want and send the rest to his nana."
"You're right," Hannibal nodded. "I'm sure the good general put it all away in storage someplace."
"Yeah. An' he can get it out o' storage, too. Frankie, he was on the team even if he was new. An' now, specially"
"I don't think we need to tell Stockwell that."
"No," BA agreed, surprising Hannibal a little after his defense a moment ago. "After all, it illegal lotsa places. Like Virginia. An' Stockwell would use it."
Hannibal nodded and poured himself another drink. "In the morning, then, you and I will go call on the general."
Face woke up when the morning light spilling in through the window finally crept onto the bed. He knew where he was almost at once; he didn't even need to smell the Bay to know. The feel of the bed and of the room surrounding him, even with his eyes closed...
Frankie wasn't there. And not just because he'd gotten up early, the way he did, to mess around in the kitchen or wander around outside. Frankie was gone.
Dead. Face forced himself to think the word. He rolled over onto his back and opened his eyes, staring up at the ceiling. Frankie was dead. A 7.62mm bullet had torn through his throat and drained his life out onto the ground, soaking the Malaysian earth with it. He was buried in that earth, in a little Muslim cemetery outside of Pontianak, among strangers. He is dead and gone, lady, he is dead and gone... Words floated through his mind from somewhere and he chastised himself. Stop trying to hide. This is real.
For a moment, he couldn't think of anything else. He'd been trying so hard not to think of it, for so longhe wasn't even sure how longthat he'd mostly not thought of anything at all. Now it crashed into him, harder than it had even when he'd been talking to Frankie's abuelita. He'd needed to stay in control for her. Needed to be Frankie's friend, at first, and then, after Murdock had gone outside and she'd told him she knew that he and Frankie had been lovers, needed to be... what, he wondered suddenly. Maybe she'd have liked him better if he'd wept for Frankie, even though men don't cry.
Stop crying. Big boys don't cry. Take it like a man...
He shook his head, clearing it of old, useless memories. This place was going to be hard enough to take without baggage from twenty-five or thirty years ago. How the hell had he let Murdock talk him into this? Murdock... He closed his eyes and sighed. Murdock knew. How long had he known? Had Mrs. Yazzie told him? Had he just guessed? He might have, he was an intuitive person, Murdock, sensitive and attuned to the people he cared about. Probably one reason it had been so easy for the world to shatter him.
Face sighed again, remembering crying on Murdock the night before, remembering the words. "It's okay, Face. It's okay. I love you and I'm not letting you get lost. I've got you..." Murdock had meant those words, Face had known then and knew now. He just didn't mean them the way Face wished he did.
And oh, God, there he went again. He rolled over onto his side and stared at Frankie's side of the bed. After a minute, he reached out and pulled Frankie's pillow to himself and buried his face in it. God, Frankie, you deserved better than me. So much better than me. Why did you love me so much?
"I love you."
"I love you," he repeated. "When you were shot, it nearly killed me. I was crazy scared. I love you."
Face looked at him for a long moment, sitting there so serious and so... ardent. It was almost frightening, but only almost. He sighed. "Frankie, I don't love you."
"I know. You and Murdock, you two are all tangled up somehow. But you're not together, are you? Or am I wrong? I'll go away if I'm wrong."
Face had almost laughed at the phrase, it was so perfect. Now he repeated it. "All tangled up... That's us. But you're not wrong." It might have been easier to lie, but Frankie's honesty deserved the same in return. "He doesn't love me."
"You love him."
"Yes," Face answered, though it hadn't been a question. "Have for a long time now. Fifteen, maybe sixteen years. I don't even know... He doesn't love me."
Face did laugh this time. "Oh, yeah. I'm sure. I'm in the middle of it; I've seen him every way there is... Sure, I could have slept with him maybe a thousand times, and some of them he was offering. But he was offering because he didn't want to be left, didn't want to be alone. Because he was afraid. He'd have done anything to keep me close those times, and I don't want to be his anything. And the rest of them, he'd have said yes because he'd have said yes to, well, anything. He was so fucked up, Frankie, you have no idea. You never
saw him when he was so hurt, so broken... There is no way it would have been morally defensible."
"He's all right now."
"Yes. And now he's not willing. Now there's nothing."
"Not nothing," Frankie corrected softly. "He loves you."
"Not 'loves me' loves me. He's my friend, my best friend. And he wouldn't have been if I'd taken advantage of him."
"I 'love you' love you," Frankie said. "And I'm sane... No, I am. I may not have a certificate to prove it, but I am. I'm a grown man. I know what I'm doing. I know what I want."
"I know you don't love me. But you don't hate me, right?"
"No," Face admitted. "I like you."
"See? Halfway there... Look, all I'm saying is, let's date."
"Date?" It was like a foreign word.
"Sure. You know, movies. Dinners. Walks in the park. Dates." Frankie swallowed. "Bed, maybe, after a while. I know you don't love me now, but maybe you will."
"Frankie," Face started.
"Face... Temple. I love you. If you want me to go away, I will. Just say so. But I can't stop loving you. I don't want to stop. Let's give it a try; what can it hurt?"
"You," Face said. "It could hurt you."
"Not as bad as not trying," Frankie said. "I know where I stand. I know I'd be second choice. I don't mind, not if I'm chosen in the end."
"Oh, God, Frankie." Face felt his self-control slipping away in the light of those luminous dark eyes. "Don't do this."
"Why not?" Somehow, without moving, Frankie was suddenly closer. "Why not, Temple?"
The name cut more ground out from under him. He looked into those eyes and said, "You have no idea... I'm so lonely, Frankie. Don't do this. If you put yourself in reach, I'll use you."
"No." Frankie sounded so sure. "No, you won't."
"Yes," Face almost whispered.
"No. Don't be scared, Temple. And don't be lonely. Let me stop you being lonely. Let me do that much."
"You don't have to be lonely. I'm here."
He didn't move. He was leaving it up to Face to make the decision. He wasn't fighting fair, though; his eyes and his voice promised a place Face could hide, a place he could rest. Somebody who loved him... wanted him, yes, but more. Almost too much more.
But only almost. With a sigh that was half a sob Face leaned over and closed the distance between them.
At least he had that. He'd been honest. Frankie had gone into it with his eyes open...
Frankie's eyes had always been open. He'd never wanted to miss one thing, had wanted to see it all.
Face had never understood how Frankie saw what he saw. They could sit side by side and look out over the same view, but Frankie always saw things just a little differently. Saw possibilities Face didn't. Good possibilities. And it wasn't rose-colored glasses or the old seeing things like a child business, either. Frankie wasn't a child, though he was young and hadn't been to Vietnam and was... innocent. Until Stockwell got hold of him, anyway. It was just Frankie, just the way he saw things at their best. Saw people at their best. Saw Face the way no one else had ever seen him, not Father Maghill, not Leslie... Not even the Team.
After last night, he wouldn't have thought he had any tears left, but he did, and they soaked into the pillowcase as he sobbed, trying to be quiet so Murdock wouldn't hear, trying to stop, finally giving up and just crying. For Frankie. For himself. For love lost and never had. For a desolate now and a future no better.
But mostly for Frankie, dead and buried in Pontianak with his whole life cut off and lost. Frankie, who'd deserved so much more and been so happy with what he'd had. Frankie, who'd never had Face's heart but who had broken it as surely as if he'd been holding it when he fell. At least his own heart hadn't broken first, though he couldn't have picked a worse person to give it to.
Face held the pillow and wept.
Murdock woke up suddenly. He was disoriented, which didn't happen much anymore. For a moment he was perturbed, and then he realized that the room really was unfamiliar, which relaxed him enough that he recognized it: the small and cluttered second bedroom in Face's place on the Eastern Shore, in which, pretty obviously, nobody ever slept. It was early, by the light outside, which explained his sluggishness: he hadn't gotten to sleep until probably four. The feeling of dread hanging over him was due to Hannibal's tone on the phone the night before. And his feelings of anxiety and sadness were caused by what had woken him, which his still-tired consciousness was only just getting around to identifying, though the alert ear-subconscious connection had decided, correctly, that he shouldn't sleep through it: Face was crying in the next room. All in all, Murdock thought, he'd rather have been crazy again.
He sat up and wrapped his arms around his knees and tried to decide what he should do. Getting up would wake him up, and there was not a damn thing he could do about Hannibal. Face, now... Face he could do something about. The question was, what? He cocked his head, listening, and thought about it. His options, as he saw it, ranged from ignoring Face and trying to get back to sleep through going in to him. Neither of those extremes appealed to him... well, the latter did, but Face wouldn't appreciate it.
Very much wouldn't appreciate it.
Murdock really didn't want to be stuck out here in the middle of Maryland's answer to Romney Marsh, with the Scarecrow (that would be Face) disappearing over the horizon on his big horse (which would be the old Chevy), leaving Curlew (who would, of course, be Murdock) stranded while the Redcoats (who would be... okay, the analogy fell apart there, at least he hoped it did) galloped towards him. Funny thing, that; in his role playing with the Team, back in his crazy days, he'd always been the main guy, Red Ryder or Captain Nighthawk or whoever. But in his private world, he was usually the sidekick... just one of those little disconnects.
Anyway, Face probably wouldn't drive off and leave him. Probably. But he wouldn't like it if Murdock barged in on his grief. He hadn't liked it that Murdock had been there last night. He'd needed it, but that only made him like it less. Face didn't like showing need.
Murdock sighed. Face didn't like needing. That was the real problem. He wanted to be self-sufficient, an island unto himself. He kept digging canals, but he was still a piece of the main... Whatever he said, whatever he was telling himself, Frankie had got inside (and Murdock could almost have hated Frankie for that. Almost.) and now Face was fronting up to the price of letting that happen. Right now, when he was so raw with the pain of it, was not the time to ask him to do it again. Even a little bit.
Be there for him, but don't be there on him, Murdock concluded. And definitely don't come out with any declarations. Not now. Not for a while. He sighed to himself. Maybe never, he admitted.
He got out of the bed and shivered, letting out a little yelp involuntarily when his feet hit the cold floor. It might be the first week in October, but it was chilly out here in the mornings. He grabbed for his socks and trousers and ran into the bathroom.
When he came out, warmed up by the shower though wishing he'd been bright enough to take his shirt with him, Face had stopped crying. In fact, his room was silent. Murdock headed for the kitchen, hoping Face was still there; the sight of the old truck in the front of the house reassured him, and then he heard Face heading for the bathroom himself. He smiled and opened the refrigerator. This was definitely a four-egg day. Plus the bacon he'd gotten down from the freezer last night. And toast from the bread Cal's mom had sent. Butter, also found in the freezerguess out here anyway neither Face nor Frankie had worried much
about eating "right". OJ. There was even a couple of cans of condensed milk, so he could scramble the eggs the way Face liked them. Before he started, he double-checked the dial and then turned on the radio, a little Sixties to cook by.
Face came out, wearing faded blue jeans and an old, equally faded Orioles t-shirt, his hair damp. "You're gonna catch your death, muchacho," Murdock said lightly, directing Face toward a chair at the table and depositing orange juice and coffee in front of him. "Eggs up in a minute."
"Thanks," Face said. "You didn't have to. And it's not that cold. You should be here in January or February."
"Is that an invitation? If the wicked witch hasn't let us go by then, I'll take you up on it," Murdock said over his shoulder, slowly stirring the eggs.
Face was quiet for a moment, apparently thinking about that, then shrugged (Murdock could see him reflected in the window) and said, "Sure. If it hasn't sold by then."
"Sold?" Murdock cried involuntarily. "Faceman, you can't sell this place. It's great. A real Hernando's Hideaway! On the Chesapeake Bay, when you need to get away, which, God knows," he descended abruptly into prose, "you do when Stockwell gets to be a bit much. Like every other day or so."
Face shook his head but didn't say anything, just finished his orange juice.
Murdock didn't say anything right away, either, just spooned up a large serving of eggs, scrambled just like Face loved them, and added some bacon and a piece of toast warm from the oven to the plate. He liked his own eggs a little dryer than Face, so by the time he was done serving and fixing the rest of his meal, his were ready. He sat down and snared the blackberry jelly. "You own this place? Or you scamming it?" he asked as he smeared the thick toast even more thickly with the dark spread.
"No, we're," Face stopped. "It's rented. By the year. Lease is up in... well, actually this month except we already renewed it."
Murdock calculated quickly: just over a year. That was almost as soon as Face had recovered from the shooting. If Frankie's grandmother was right, he'd moved in on Face pretty quick. Well, why not? Face is worth grabbing for. And if Frankie had known he was gay since he was sixteen maybe he could read signs better. Indians could read signs better than white men, and Yazzie was a Navajo name, so Frankie was at least part... Murdock reined in his straying thoughts and said, "So, January is still on."
Face shrugged again. "Thought I'd tell the owners to put it back on the market."
"Be a big mistake, muchacho," Murdock said. "I mean it, this place is great. Stockwell's goons would never think of looking for you out here. Hey," he brightened up, finishing his eggs. "Isn't this supposed to be a good day for it?"
Face pushed his empty plate to the side, looking slightly surprised that it was
empty, and pulled his coffee cup in front of him. "A good day for what?"
"Taking the boat out. Isn't that what Anne of the great Grimpen Moor said?"
Face blinked at him, visibly decided not to pursue it, and answered, "Murdock, you don't know the first thing about sailboats."
"I do too."
"Oh, yeah," he said with dignity. "The first thing about sailboats is they sink."
Face laughed. "Murdock, you idiot, the first thing about them is that they don't sink."
"Well, we hope so. Pleeeeease, Face," he said. "Let's take out the boat. That sounds so, I don't know, Cary Grant." He wasn't sure if it was the right thing to do, but after all, Face had brought it up yesterday.
"Okay," Face capitulated so easily that Murdock knew he really wanted to. "But you are going to wear a life jacket."
"Face, I can swim."
"I know. But the Chesapeake is cold. And big. And you're not drowning off my boat."
"You own it?" He'd thought it belonged to the neighbors.
"Nobody rents you a boat, Murdock. At least not one worth having."
"Don't they take a lot of maintenance?"
Face shrugged, easily this time. The movement of his shoulders under the soft fabric was a thing of beauty. "Anne and Cal look after it... and that's really the first thing about boats. They do take a lot of trouble."
So they took the boat out. It was a small boat, with one mast and two sails, a pretty little thing that Murdock would have never taken out into the ocean, though Face said he had, and had always wanted to sail to Bermuda.
"Bermuda? How far away is Bermuda?"
"I don't know," Face said, hauling up the sail. "A thousand miles? But that's in a straight line. More like twelve hundred, probably."
"You're crazy, you know that? Crazier than I ever was."
Face laughed. "Don't worry. We're just going up to Annapolis today. And don't touch anything unless I tell you to."
"Aye-aye, Skipper... Is it a three hour tour?" Murdock couldn't resist breaking into song.
"Depends on the wind," Face pretended to ignore him. "It could be a lot longer... li'l buddy."
Murdock laughed. "Anchors aweigh! Avast, me hearties, it's Cap'n Hard of the good ship Crisfield"
Face laughed so hard he almost dropped the line. "That's not its name. That's the home port. Crisfield, we'll pass it on the way up."
"Oh." Just as well, he'd thought it was a really stupid name for a boat. But there wasn't anything else painted on the hull but some numbers. "So what is its name?"
"It doesn't have one. Couldn't decide on anything... it's just the boat."
"That's so sad," Murdock said. "Boats always look alive... this one feels alive," he added as the sails caught the wind and the boat heeled out into the Bay. "It should have a name."
"It doesn't need one," Face said, tying off the line. He managed to be busy all the way up to Annapolis.
Murdock didn't mind, he was enjoying the sail and watching Face. It was the first time the blond had looked happy in weeks.
So let him enjoy himself, Murdock thought. It probably wouldn't last. But he'd get good and tired today, and sleep well tonight, and tomorrow...
Let tomorrow's troubles come tomorrow.
Face was leaning back in the driver's seat, his head at what looked like an uncomfortable angle, asleep. Like a cat, Murdock thought, stretching his legs sideways in the truck's cab: usually Face was curled up comfy and cozy but every now and then he'd sleep in the goddamnedest positions. Murdock wished he knew if this was okay. After all, Face had slept late that morning, not getting up till nearly eleven. Of course, he might just be making up for all that sleep he'd missed over the last two weeks, in Malaysia and after.
Or he might just be avoiding conversation with Murdock. He hadn't been happy when, just after they got onto the Bay Bridge and just before they stopped dead about half-way over, three hours ago now, Murdock had told him he'd told Hannibal.
"Told him what?" asked Face, his usual delaying tactic: ask for clarification of something his quick mind already understood so he'd have time to prepare his response. It always worked, even if you just said "You know what I'm talking about."
Which Murdock hadn't. "About you and Frankie," he'd said. "He needed to know. They both did."
"Really? Since when did my private life turn into their need to know?"
"When you got that Lincoln for Hannibal, that's when," Murdock snapped. "Come on, Face, you're off your game and you know it. They have to know why so they can compensate. What if Stockwell wants to send us someplace tomorrow?"
Face's eyes had flashed but whatever he'd been going to say he hadn't, as the Toyota ahead of them had slammed on its brakes and come to a dead stop. Face was a better driver than whoever that was and stopped less precipitously. They took in the view ahead, brake lights as far as the eye could see (which wasn't that far, they being very nearly at the top of the Bay Bridge's curve). "Fuck." That was vicious; maybe it was serving dual purpose.
Murdock leaned out the window and looked both ways. "How long is this likely to last?"
"Who the hell knows?" Face said, turning on the radio and searching for an all-news station. "Even if we could get off the bridge, though, it's five hours around the top of the Bay."
Murdock slumped back against the seat. "Great. Just great."
They'd listened to ten minutes of depressing local news and American League playoff news (like either of them cared about Toronto or like Face didn't hate Oakland; a Chicago win was the best possible outcome this year, Murdock figured, but figure the odds...) before a traffic bulletin told them that a semi had jack-knifed across the eastbound span, spilling its contents and blocking traffic. Face had sighed. "They won't clean that up in a hurry. Wake me when they do."
So Murdock leaned into the corner of the door and the seat and watched him sleep and wondered if he was sleeping too much. Or at all, even, though he looked asleep, jaw slack and breathing slow and regular. He sighed to himself. Face knew he was right about telling Hannibal, that's why he hadn't picked up the argument again. They'd come that far in their relationship; Face had to sleep now to avoid getting sucked into a conversation. Once he'd just sat there and smiled and not given a damn...
A long time ago. Before anything.
Murdock remembered what he'd said, that Lincoln Town Car. What was that guy's name, anyway? Nguyen? Voh? Tran... That was the day...
They'd assigned a new lieutenant to Hannibal while he was trying to put together an
operation. He'd been pissed off about it. "Guy just got off the plane yesterday," he'd said. "Looks about fifteen. A year of ROTC and OCS. What am I supposed to do with him?"
Ray had snickered.
Hannibal glared at him. "Don't even suggest it. Though he is pretty enough to turn a profit on."
"Could we get a Cadillac for him?"
"I doubt it."
"So where is he?"
"I sent him for BA."
Murdock, lounging unnoticed on the side, had blinked at that. Hannibal was definitely trying to chase the kid away. A brand-new, young, pretty lieutenant going down into the section of the firebase where BA hung out? Ouch.
And then the office door had opened and BA had come in, glowering worse than usual. He'd given Hannibal the kind of hell only a senior NCO could give a lieutenant colonel, starting with, "What was you thinkin' about, sir, sendin' that lieutenant after me? Somebody could have got hurt."
While they had sorted that out, Murdock had taken the new man's measure: not fifteen, but probably not twenty yet, either. His brand-new gold-toned second looie's bars were dulled by the golden Southern California glow of his skin and hair. His fatigues fit like they were tailored, and his blue eyes were lazy and amused. His face was ... well, even without the added bonus of that incredibly desirable coloring, they could have got a hell of a lot more than a Cadillac for him anywhere in Southeast Asia if they'd been so inclined. But damn, what was a kid like that doing out here? He should have been safe back home, in a university somewhere, with his family wrapped around him to keep him unharmed, protected. Cherished.
Vietnam was going to eat him alive.
Murdock had just reached that conclusion when the kid spoke.
"Does it have to be a Cadillac?"
Everyone in the room turned to look at him. He just looked back, cool and serene.
"What, Lieutenant?" Hannibal said finally.
"The car you need," the kid said. "Does it have to be a Cadillac? Would a town car do?"
Ray and BA laughed. Hannibal raised his eyebrows and pointed his cigarhis cigar stubat the boy. "You think you can get a town car?"
"Yes." That had been serene, too. And a trifle, just a trifle, offended.
"Then why don't you go do it?" And Hannibal turned back to Ray and BA, looking for another way to get close to the target.
Intensely curious, Murdock tagged along when the lieutenant left. "Hey," he leaned over to check out the kid's name, "Peck? You really think you can get a town car?"
"I said so, didn't I?" Then he grinned, suddenly. "Of course, you don't know me yet, Captain?"
"Murdock," he held out his hand. "I fly these guys."
"What does he need a town car for?" Peck asked, climbing into the nearest jeep. It was probably BA's.
Murdock jumped in beside him as he punched the starter and spun the wheel. "Lord, muchacho," he grinned, "I don't know. With Hannibal, it's wiser not to ask."
"Hannibal..." That was musing. "That's the colonel, right? Smith, John Turner. Why 'Hannibal'?"
"'Cause he's brilliant and unorthodox. Like the Roman guy."
"Carthaginian," Peck said, heading off base toward town. "He fought the Romans. And his side lost."
"Don't point that out to the colonel."
"I won't... I was just wondering. What are the odds the town car will be in usable condition when he's done with it?"
"Odds?" Murdock felt his eyebrows climbing towards his hat. "Slim to none. Closer to none. That makes a difference?"
"Not really. I was just wondering if I could mean it when I told Tran he'd get it back."
Tran? Nah, couldn't be... hell, there were only four surnames in the whole damned country. Something about the way he said the name piqued Murdock's curiosity even more, and then the kid yelled in Vietnamese at a guy with an oxcart. "I thought you just got incountry yesterday," he said.
"I did," Peck answered.
"Picking up the lingo pretty fast, muchacho."
He shrugged. "I've got a good ear for accents," he said. "I don't know what it means, but it seemed right." He grinned at Murdock. "Situationally."
Murdock looked at that smile and thought again how young he was, how golden, how totally alien to the blood and mud and evil he was going to be wading through from now on... A surge of totally unfamiliar emotion threatened to overthrow his equilibrium. Something whispered behind his ear, telling him he was endangered, but then the kid grinned again and he ignored the something.
The kid pulled up in the courtyard of Tran's house (yes, that Tran) and trotted up to the door like an expected and welcomed caller. Murdock stayed in the jeep and watched while Peck sweet-talked the wiry little Vietnamese man out of his black 69 Lincoln. He didn't know how, in one day, Peck could have located Tran, one of the most active black marketeers in the area, or how he could be so persuasive. He just sat there and admired. Even when the kid and Tran and four bully-boys vanished around the back of the house, Murdock's sense of well-being didn't waver.
When Peck drove off in the town car, leaving Tran standing among his bodyguards in the courtyard with a slightly puzzled expression on his face, Murdock followed, laughing. Hannibal was not going to believe this. Not ever.
They pulled up in front of the shack Hannibal was using this week. Murdock leaped out of the jeep and broke one of his cardinal rules by impulsively hugging the kid. "Mazel tov, muchacho!" he said. "I don't believe it myself; wait till Hannibal sees it."
Peck grinned at him and polished a spot off the Lincoln's hood, then struck a negligent pose against it and waited for the sound of the engines to bring the others outside. It didn't take more than a couple of minutes.
Hannibal's reaction was priceless. He stopped dead on the top stair and stared, jaw dropping and eyes wide. Peck straightened lazily. "Will it do?"
"Yeah, kid," Hannibal said finally, his slow smile breaking through. "It'll do."
Peck tossed him the keys, then reached into his shirt pocket. "Oh, colonel?" He tossed something else.
Hannibal caught it and looked at it, then grinned again. He tossed away his stub and opened the package Peck had brought back and pulled out a long, slim cigar. "Cuban," he said, and wiggled his eyebrows. "Nice."
Nice. Murdock hoped Hannibal still thought so.
When the traffic finally started moving again, Face turned up the radio and drove in silence. In Langley they swapped the truck for the nondescript four-door, and then that for the Vette, washed and gassed up. By then it was late. Murdock had wanted to stop for dinner, but Face had argued that they'd lost too much time on the Bridge. And they'd eaten a big lunch, more eggs and toast and left-over slices of the ham that had been in the refrigerator when they'd come back from Annapolis in the late evening the night before.
Murdock wasn't sure why he hadn't figured it out before: the yard was kept up, the house dusted and clean. But he'd been surprised to see the Mason jar on the kitchen table with flowers in it and a note. Mr. Howardwe're all that sorry about Mr. Rivera. Hope Mr. Thomas can eat ham, if not there's cans in the pantry. We'll pray for you.
Nice kids. But the note had sent Face out to sit on the dock while Murdock made supper, and then he'd turned in. At least when Murdock had checked on him he was sound asleep. Murdock had had trouble getting to sleep himself, but he finally had.
And now, as they pulled into the estate past the glowers of Stockwell's goons, Murdock was as nervous as a cat. At least he hadn't told Hannibal where they'd been. Face had someplace to run to if he needed... He's never let you down, Hannibal. Don't let him down.
Hannibal was nervous. He was pretending he wasn'tthough he didn't think BA was falling for itsitting in the armchair tacitly agreed to be 'his' and looking at the television, though he wasn't watching the program by any means, couldn't have said what it was. It was just something to do besides pace and smoke. BA might look out the window every ten minutes for the white Vette, but BA wanted Face back. Hannibal still wasn't sure he did.
He'd spent most of the past two days with questions swirling through his mind. How could a guy as male as Face be so unmale? How could a guy who got women so easily go to bed with a man? How could he want to be feminized like that? If he didn't, why not just stick with women? Was it because Frankie had been there? Available for sex when Face was cut off from the rest of the world? From the women he chased so willingly? Was it Frankie's fault? Had he corrupted Face? How had Hannibal missed the signs?
Memories had chased each other through the questions. Memories of Face with women. Of Face in Vietnam, where a lot of guys had yielded to temporary needs. Of Face with Murdock. With him... Nothing. He saw nothing. Even Face with Frankie. Even knowing. Nothing. It was the same Face. And yet...
It had to have been Frankie. That was the conclusion he kept coming back to. There had been rumors about him in Hollywood, as long as Hannibal had known him. Light in the loafers. Fairy. Faggotas always, his mind shied away from that word, from the ugly words. He couldn't think of them and Face in the same phrase, and yet... And yet...
It had to have been Frankie. He'd moved in on Face (how?) and... Had to have been him. Face wouldn't.
But he had.
And Hannibal couldn't forget Murdock saying, "In love. Lovers. Romantically involved."
But men didn't. Hadn't that Dr. Reuben guy said so in so many words? Homosexual men didn't form lasting attachments.
But Face after Malaysia...
He'd been damned glad to distract himself by demanding a conversation with Stockwell. Unfortunately for the chance of a little mind-clearing mayhem, the general had merely looked surprised at the request and told them where they could find Frankie's effects. "I didn't realize you had taken Santana quite so far into your little circle, Smith," he'd said.
"He was a member of the team," Hannibal had said. And that was true enough, even if now Hannibal wished he hadn't been rather more than usual. Frankie's special effects didn't compensate for his other 'special' qualities...
And yet... BA's words were as inescapable as Hannibal's thoughts. "You think two men cain't love each other? Of course they can. Just 'cause our society don't let them don't mean they cain't." And "He and Frankie tried to make each other happy."
Happy. Was that was they'd done? Made each other happy? Hannibal couldn't see how, didn't want to see how, but he couldn't deny that Face had been remarkably less likely to bitch and moan in the last year than could have been expected. He'd settled down, that's what Hannibal had thought, accepted, but for those occasional road trips with Frankie (oh, Lord, how Hannibal did not want to think about those), the trade-off of present limitations for future freedom. But maybe...
And today had been worse, because there hadn't been anything to do but think about it. Wish like hell Murdock had never opened his big mouth. Which was like wishing the sky wasn't blue. (Which was how he knew all the holding, all the touching, all the... comforting Face had given Murdock hadn't been more.)
But it finally came down to what BA had said: "We all the family he's got. Specially now. You cain't turn on your family over somethin' like who they love." Or whatever you called it when it was between homosexuals.
He did love Face. Not like that. But he loved him. And he didn't want to lose him. And he didn't want to hurt him.
So, after Murdock called to say they'd be back that night, Hannibal had started practicing what he was going to say. "I'm sorry for your loss." That was what his mother had taught him to say when, as she'd put it, the dead man was the biggest, juiciest piece of work on the face of the planet and the entire universe was a better place now that he was gone. You didn't want to hurt the widow or the orphans, so you said, "I'm sorry for your loss."
He'd practiced it out loud, trying for the right tone. He'd started with "Lieutenant," but rejected it; its implied authority might be out of place and the military attitudes it conjured certainly would be. "Kid" was worse, in other ways. And "Templeton" he had never used... So "Face" it would be.
"I'm sorry for your loss, Face. Face, I'm sorry for your loss." He must have said it fifty times, which was very unlike him. Not that this was a situation he'd ever been in before. "I'm sorry for your loss."
And then BA had come in from working on the van and Hannibal had stopped saying it out loud. Sat down in his chair. Pretended he was cool with it.
Wished he was.
And then a car pulled up outside. BA looked out the window and smiled in relief. "There they are," he said.
Between the car doors slamming and the front door opening there was a long pause. Face was probably as reluctant to come in as Hannibal was to have him come in. BA was hovering by the window, ready to dash out and stop Face from leaving if need be; Hannibal couldn't decide if that was good or not.
He couldn't decide anything. That was what he hated the most about this whole situation. No matter how much he thought about it, he couldn't decide anything. Only that he couldn't say to Face what he thought. What he felt. That he was going to have to lie to him.
And that made him glad Frankie was dead. Which just brought him back around to the beginning all over again.
And after all that thought and agonizing, all the resolve that, no matter what, Face would never feel from him that things were in any way different or awkward, he might as well have not thought about it at all. Because when the door finally opened and Face came in, with that little stutter-step that hinted at Murdock's hand in his back, when he actually saw him, there was only one thing to do and no thought was involved at all. Hannibal rose to his feet and crossed the living room in a few swift strides and hugged Face. The younger man was startled for a minute and then Hannibal felt the tension leave him, and he relaxed into the embrace, leaning his head on Hannibal's shoulder and sighing once, deeply.
Hannibal rested his cheek on the thick no-longer-really-blond hair and knew that there was not one damned thing this man could do to estrange them. "Hey, kid," he said softly. "It's all right. I know you're miserable, but you're home now."
"Yeah," seconded BA.
Hannibal felt a tremor shake Face, and hands tighten in his shirt. He rubbed Face's back gently. "I hope you can forgive me for being the kind of old fart you didn't think you could talk to."
Face raised his head. Those blue eyes were bright with tears hanging on the edge of spilling over. Hannibal wasn't sure he was ready to cope with that, but Face had himself under control in another minute. "Sorry, Hannibal," he said. "I should have known..."
"How?" Hannibal asked reasonably. "I didn't know. It's not something I ever thought much about."
As always BA knew when to interrupt, and his concern manifested itself in his usual practicality. "You eat?"
Face laughed a little. "If I had a mother, BA, you'd be worse than her."
"If you had a mother," BA growled in mock anger, "I'd pity her. You eat?"
"No," Murdock said, breaking his silence. "Not since lunch."
"I ain't surprised at you, but you" he glared at Face. "You supposed to be smart. I'll heat somethin' up."
"Thanks, BA," Face said with a tired smile.
"Sit down, get offa your feet," BA ordered and headed for the kitchen.
Face followed him, and the other two exchanged a long glance before going after. Hannibal's had said, Good job, Captain and Murdock's, if Hannibal wasn't mistaken, Be careful with him. It was good advice, but not particularly necessary; Hannibal couldn't ever remember seeing Face so... so fragile looking. It was disturbing. He was used to Face being, under the complaining he always did, the resilient and untouchable one.
Sure, BA was a rock, and Hannibal, when he let his fancy make metaphors, saw himself as an oak, bending only the tiniest bit in the harshest gale but fighting even that. Murdock was like a stalk of Johnson grass; you couldn't kill it but by God it whipped in the wind, lying flat and twisted for long periods of time. But Face? He'd always been like a willow, graceful and strong, bending in the wind, letting it flow past him without resisting, but then immediately springing back up exactly as before.
Murdock had been right: this had been a gale-force wind. Face needed them. It was new, but Hannibal swore to himself, as he pulled out a chair at the kitchen table, that he wouldn't let Face down again.
"I wish you'd said something in Malaysia," Hannibal said finally, leaning back and watching Face eat the soup BA had put down in front of him. "We'd have brought Frankie home if I'd had to hold a gun to Stockwell's head."
"It doesn't matter." Face caught the silence and looked up. "He's dead. What does it matter where he's buried? It would have been hard to get him into the country, we couldn't have buried him under his own name, and I couldn't have gone. It's all right. It's better like this, in fact; where he is, they'll take care of him."
"He a long way from home," said BA.
"He always was."
Hannibal couldn't quite make out the meaning of Face's tone. That made it difficult to know what to say in response. Was Face really as calm about not having Frankie's grave to visit as his words sounded? That wasn't very Catholic. But then again, neither was Face, some ways. And it was always possible that he was just trying to convince himself that it didn't matter. And that second thingwas that just a plaintive cry against the universe, or was it more specific? Hannibal had certainly spent enough time in the past two weeks wondering how much of Frankie's blood was on his hands...
"Home is where the heart is, Face," Murdock said softly.
Of course, thought Hannibal, watching the look that passed between the two. With Face around you always had to work to get even your fair share of the guilt.
"That right, li'l brother," BA put in. "I been thinkin' about it, and Frankie, he was one happy man."
Face was quiet for a long few minutes. "He was, wasn't he?" he asked finally.
That tone wasn't hard to read: wondering, sorrowful, self-doubting, downright heartbreaking. Hannibal spoke without thinking, again. "Why wouldn't he be? He loved and was loved."
"He had everything he wanted," Murdock nodded.
And BA: "You both been happy. Now you ain't. But that don't mean he wasn't. You din't get to say goodbye, and that hurts, I know." He paused, and then touched Face's shoulder gently before picking up the soup bowl. "But he died fast, prob'ly din't even know it. So he died happy an' in love. You hold that when you ache, it'll help. Now. You tired. Go on to bed."
Face looked around at them all, and then nodded. "Good idea, BA." He stood up and hesitated a minute. Then, whatever he'd been going to say he tucked away again and said, instead, "Night."
After he left, Hannibal looked at Murdock and said, "So, Captain. Where were you?"
"He and Frankie had a place they went to. Look, Hannibal, he should tell you where, not me. But don't worry: it's safe." He laughed, not as if he were amused. "It's safer than here. Believe me. Even if anybody figures out where it is, his neighbors'll warn him in plenty of time."
Murdock blinked at him, then caught his meaning. "Hannibal, I really think you're wrong. It did him a lot of good to go back there. There's nothing but good memories in that place, no Stockwell, no death... If he wants to go back, I think he should."
Hannibal thought about it. "Maybe you're right," he conceded. "We'll talk about it. Right now, though, you're beat, too. Go on to bed, Murdock."
"Yeah," BA said. "And don't worry about Face. We here now. We'll look after him."
"I know," Murdock said. "And it's a good idea." He stood up and then asked, "Stockwell give you any trouble?"
"No. But we'll have to be careful. Like BA said, he'd be all too happy to use something like this against Face."
Murdock nodded and left.
BA hung up the towel he'd used to dry the dishes, and then put them away. "I'm goin' up, too, Hannibal," he said. "It late. Tomorrow gonna be a day."
"Yes... BA," he stopped the big man. "You were right. All I had to do was stop thinking about it."
BA nodded, the gold around his neck making a whispering sound. "You do the right thing, Hannibal," he said. "That's why I'm still around."
And then he was gone, too, leaving Hannibal alone in the kitchen. In the dark window he thought he saw, just for a minute, a flash of movement reflected behind him, but when he turned there was (as he'd somehow known) no one there. After a moment he got up and turned out the light, then paused. "If that's you," he said, feeling slightly foolish, "I'm sorry." He got no answer, had expected none, and after another moment he, too, went up to bed.
Hannibal walked into the house, smoke from his Partagas Lusitania rising in a thin stream, eddied by the breeze. He always knew he was dreaming when he was smoking a Cuban cigar. So he wasn't particularly surprised to see Frankie sitting on the pale couch with the blaze of the summer day through the French doors behind him.
Not particularly surprised didn't mean exactly pleased, though. "What are you doing here?"
Frankie shrugged, gracefully. "I got no answers, Johnny."
He was wearing that blue short-sleeved shirt, the one that made his skin look warm, and his black vest. And although his hair was too longcaught up in a ponytail, for Christ's sakeHannibal had, very unwillingly, to admit there was nothing particularly feminine about him. Which just made him angrier. "Why don't you get lost?"
"Be happy to," Frankie said. "But you won't let me."
Hannibal was conscious of the urge to throw Frankie right through the window. And then, because it was a dream, he decided why not? But dream or not, his subconscious didn't think Frankie was such a push-over. He went through the window, very satisfactorily, but he didn't stay down. Hannibal sailed into him with something very much like glee. Frankie fought back enough for the fight to be the most satisfactory thing that had happened in days, always excepting that moment when Face had leaned against him, relaxing and letting Hannibal be his strength for the moment. When it was over, Frankie was sprawled on the grass and Hannibal was sitting, his back against a convenient tree.
Hannibal reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out another Lusitania. "Why did you do it?"
"Do what?" Frankie asked, looking up at the sky. "Fall in love with him? I guess I'm just irresponsible. Or he's irresistible."
"You know what I mean."
Frankie sat up slowly and stared at Hannibal. "But do you?"
"How did you do it?" Hannibal asked. "How did you get to him? Play on his weaknesses?"
"Yeah, Johnny. Exactly. Hit him where he's weakest. I loved him. He can't resist that."
"I don't need a lecture on love from you of all people," Hannibal snapped.
Frankie shrugged. "Hey, that's fine with me, Johnny. I mean, this is your dream, you know, so you're giving the lecture yourself."
Hannibal subsided, inhaling the sweet smoke of fine Cuban tobacco and looking out across the garden. "Why don't you go away?" he asked finally, a real question.
Frankie shrugged. "It's your dream, not mine. I'm dead, remember?"
Hannibal rubbed his jaw. "You've got a pretty good left hook for a dead man."
Frankie shrugged again, smiling that bright smile. Hannibal wondered how he'd smiled at Face when they were alone. Probably not that glitzy 'what's your sign' smile, that easy cheap smile... He sighed, wished he would wake up, took another drag on the Lusitania, and said, "Did you love him?"
"Oh, that's the question, isn't it?" Frankie said, growing serious. "Sure wish I could answer it for you, Johnny."
"Why can't you?"
"'Cause you don't know." Frankie cocked his head. "What do you think?"
"I don't know," Hannibal admitted.
"There you are."
"I think..." Hannibal looked at the glowing end of his cigar. "He sure took it hard."
Frankie smiled and stood up. "You're getting there. And looks like I'm getting out of here."
Hannibal leaned back against the tree and watched Frankie walk away.
~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~
BA opened his eyes and sat up. His bedroom was dark but he could see Frankie standing beside the bed. "Been expectin' you," he said.
Frankie nodded. "Face will turn to Murdock now, now that Murdock knows. Now that I'm gone."
"You are gone, fool. You cain't expect Face to be alone all his life."
"I don't. But if Johnny can't accept it"
"Hannibal okay with it."
"In the past tense. What's he going to do when he realizes Face needs to be loved too much to be alone?"
BA was silent.
"You have to watch over them, BA. Murdock can't hide what he feels, and Face is too hurt right now to be as careful as he should. If Johnny rejects him, it'll kill him. And while I miss him, I don't want to see him anytime soon."
BA nodded. "Don't worry, Frankie," he promised. "I watched out for him twenty years before he knew you. I won't stop now. I won't let nothin' happen to him."
~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~
Murdock was watching Face sleep. He wasn't sure where they were, someplace dark with a little bit of moonlight and the scent of azaleas in the humid air. Time and place were meaningless, so he didn't wonder about them. All that mattered was that Face was sleeping, his body, stretched out on dark grass, silvered in the dim light. Murdock drew his knees up and wrapped his arms around them and wondered at the faint melancholy he was feeling. Face turned over, his hand reaching for something, or someone, and when it closed on nothing he made a soft sound of loss, and Murdock reached his own hand out and watched it pass through Face's as though one of them wasn't there, and then he understood.
"Ah, Facey, Facey," he said softly, even though he knew the sleeping man wouldn't, couldn't, hear him. "Watching you sleep, but not able to stop you dreaming... How can you miss him so much and not know you loved him?" Words came to him from a book he'd read somewhere and he said them, softly,
"I would like to watch you, sleeping. I would like to sleep with you, to enter your sleep and walk with you through that lucent wavering forest of bluegreen leaves with its watery sun & three moons towards the cave where you must descend, towards your worst fear. I would like to give you the silver branch, the small white flower, the one word that will protect you from the grief at the center of your dream." He paused and reached out again, trailing his fingers just above Face's arm up to his shoulder. He sighed then and continued, "From the grief at the center I would like to follow you up the long stairway again & become the boat that would row you back carefully, a flame in two cupped hands."
"The silver branch, the small white flower," Frankie's voice, as soft as his own, came through the night air. "My grandfather could have made him that, out of silver and shell. It probably wouldn't have worked. He needs the word, you know."
"I'd give it to him," Murdock said. "I'd give him anything."
"Would you?" Frankie asked but didn't wait for an answer. "How's that end?"
"I would like to be the air that inhabits you for a moment only. I would like to be that unnoticed & that necessary." Murdock fell silent, watching Face, feeling Frankie behind him.
"It's not enough!" he cried rebelliously, for the first time.
"Does it have to be?" Frankie asked, his voice somehow glowing. "You know the one word, Murdock. You always have. And you're the only one who can really give it to him. Don't be afraid of his fears. Or his grief. Or yours."
Murdock turned to look at him, but he wasn't there. Nor, when he turned back, was Face. He closed his eyes to the azalea-scented wind and waited for the morning
~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~
"Frankie!" Face sat bolt upright, sweat-covered.
"I'm right here, Temple."
Face turned and found Frankie's lean dark body in the bed next to him. "Frankie..." he sighed. "I thought... But you're here."
"I'm here, now," Frankie nodded. "But you're right."
Face stared at him. "You can't be."
"I'm sorry, Temple," Frankie sighed and threaded his fingers through Face's short hair. "It's true. I can't lie to you even if I wanted to."
"God, Frankie..." Face reached out tentatively and then, when Frankie felt solid and warm under his fingers, hugged him tightly. Frankie's arms came around him, holding him close, and his chin rested on top of Face's head. "Frankie, I'm so sorry, I'm sorry, I never meant"
"Hey, hey, querido. I'm the one who left you, remember? You've got nothing to be sorry about."
"Frankie, God, Frankie," that was all he seemed able to say.
"Shh, Temple," Frankie soothed him. "I love you. It's all right."
Face clung to him, speechless. Frankie laughed at him softly, that laugh that always meant he was safe and cherished even if he'd just done something stupid. The laugh he loved so much, and missed so much. Then he felt Frankie disengaging; he laid Face down and kissed his cheek. "Go to sleep, Temple. You're exhausted."
"I don't want to," Face said. "You'll go away."
"Go to sleep, querido. I'll be here till you wake up."
"Aren't I already asleep?" he asked.
Frankie smiled. "Yes, Temple. Of course you are."
"Then how can I go to sleep?"
"Don't worry it so much, Temple. Just be it. Just relax now. I know it's hard for you, but you have to. It's out of anyone's control now. Sleep and remember how much I love you. Always."
"Hush, Temple. It's not your fault. It was never your fault, any of it. I love you."
Face sighed and, against his will, felt his eyes closing. "Frankie..."
"I love you" was the last thing he heard.
In the morning Hannibal was heartened by Face's appearance. He still looked a little on the fragile side, and Hannibal was surprised at how that made him feelhe didn't like the idea of Face hurting, didn't like it at all, but apparently he did find it all easier to deal with if Face had been in love, not just chasing Frankie like he did his women. But he looked better than he had yesterday. His dark tawny hair was carefully blow-dried and he'd dressed with his eyes open for a change. Hannibal looked at him and nodded to himself: for the last two weeks Face had basically worn whatever he'd put his hands on first and it was reassuring to see him neatly put together, wheat colored slacks and sweater with a gold and brown pattern over a crisp dress shirt. When Face didn't care what he looked like, he was in trouble.
Face intercepted Hannibal's gaze. He glanced down at himself and then asked, "What?"
"Nothing, kid," Hannibal grinned at him. "You look good this morning, that's all."
Face didn't protest that he always looked good; he was aware of the way things had been. He didn't say anything at all in response, just asked if there was coffee.
"Sure," Hannibal said. "You hungry?"
"Not really," Face shook his head, pouring himself a cup of coffee. He held up the carafe. "Heat yours up?"
Face filled Hannibal's mug and sat down at the table. They sat in silence for a while, savoring the coffee and the early morning and just being together. Face hadn't been noticeably avoiding Hannibal the past week, the way he had Murdock for a few days, but the colonel realized that they hadn't been alone together since they'd reached Portland. He was abruptly very grateful to Murdock: if that had gone on he'd have noticed it, pushed to find out why... and probably have managed to. And not handled it at all well.
He pulled a cigar out of his pocket. By the time he had it in his mouth Face was leaning across the table with his lighter. They smiled at each other and Hannibal sat back, puffing contentedly. It wasn't all right, but it was better.
"Hannibal," Murdock's complaining voice reached them from the hall. "I can't believe you're smoking before you've eaten breakfast!"
"I have eaten, Murdock," Hannibal said. "Some of us don't lie around in bed all day."
"It's not even eight yet!" Murdock protested.
"You eaten?" BA asked Face.
"I'm not hungry," Face answered.
"Ain't what I asked." BA opened the refrigerator. "Gonna make pancakes. You want something else, fool," he addressed that to Murdock who was looking over his shoulder, "you make it."
"No, no," Murdock had too much sense to mess around in BA's kitchen when he was there. "Pancakes is good." He poured himself some orange juice and sat down at the table.
The three of them watched BA and made small talk. Hannibal, at least, and probably all of them were remembering Frankie; he'd usually made breakfast. He'd enjoyed it and had been up before even Hannibal most days. He'd have been chattering and they'd have been annoyed. At least Hannibal and BA would have been; Hannibal suddenly wondered if Face had been truly annoyed or just pretending to be, and if so...
Damn, he thought. Was everything he thought he knew about Face going to have be thrown out or, at the least, reevaluated?
BA put a stack of pancakes down in front of Face.
"BA, I said I wasn't hungry," Face protested.
"Shut up and eat," the big man said. "You ain't been eatin' right for weeks."
"Eat." BA turned back to his griddle.
"Now, Face," Murdock said, "you know breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Have some syrup."
Face shrugged gracefully and poured syrup over his pancakes.
There was silence for a few minutes more. BA put pancakes in front of Murdock and told him he'd have to get his own if he wanted more, and unobtrusively put two more on Face's plate. Murdock complained about having to do his own cooking and BA threatened to cook him.
"Is this fair?" Murdock asked dramatically.
"I cooked mine," Hannibal said amusedly. "BA's not our chef, after all."
"That's right, fool. You do all your own cookin' if you don't like it," BA said from the stove. "You don't even live here."
Murdock subsided. At least, for as long as he was capable of it.
"What are we going to do today, Colonel?" the pilot asked as BA settled down with his plate. "Shooting? Or waiting for Stockwell to call?"
"No shooting today," Hannibal said. "It's going to rain."
"Already is," BA nodded.
"I need a haircut." Face looked up from his breakfast; for a man who wasn't hungry he'd eaten a lot.
"I suppose that could be arranged," Hannibal said.
"Not today," Face said as though it should have been obvious. "I'll have to call for an appointment. I missed one, I'm afraid, and Phillippe may make me wait."
"Go to someone else," Hannibal suggested.
Face looked appalled at the very idea. "There is no one else, not like Phillippe, and if he hears I let someone else cut my hair he'll never let me back in his salon."
"Your hair looks fine to me, muchacho," Murdock said encouragingly.
"Oh, thanks, Murdock, that makes me feel so much better."
No, thought Hannibal, not everything. What had BA said the other day? He, too, had known Face since he was nineteen, the whole of his adult life. He knew what he was like. This was just one facet of his character, just one, well, not so little thing, but just one thing. Essentially Face was the same as he'd always been. Right now the difference was that he was grieving.
And that Hannibal would have slugged him had he found out before Malaysia. Well, no; he rejected that notion. He wouldn't have slugged Face, at least he didn't think he would have. But BA was right, in spirit: he would have beaten the living daylights out of Frankie for putting his hands on Face like that. It was a good thing he hadn't known, really, that Face would never know what his first reaction had been. He'd have hated himself for the rest of his life if he'd left Face alone with that grief, no matter what he thought about its cause.
And speaking of that... "We got Frankie's things back from Stockwell. The boxes are in his room. Thought you might like to go through them, decide what to do with them. You know," he continued as Face remained silent, "keep what you want, send the rest to his grandmother, whatever."
Face finally blinked. "Yes, his abuelita would like some of his things, I think. His father might, too."
"That might be tricky," Hannibal pointed out.
"Wouldn't want his daddy thinking he was to blame for Frankie's death," BA added.
"True," Face said reflectively.
"Frankie'd want you to have something." Murdock's contribution seemed a bit obvious to Hannibal, but Face considered it as though it were something new.
"Yes," he finally answered. "All right."
"Good," said Hannibal. "You do that, and"
"Hannibal" Face interrupted him. "Guys... would you... I don't want to do this alone."
"Sure, kid." Anything he asked for.
So they all went up to Frankie's room. The rain had picked up and now drummed on the roof and streamed down the window panes. Hannibal was glad they were all there; the room was depressing enough with its empty shelves and unmade bed without adding the rain to it. Five large boxes stood on the floor. It didn't seem like much, Hannibal thought, to sum up a man's life.
He wasn't sure his effects would take up much more room, if any.
"Frankie was more than what's here," BA said as if he'd read Hannibal's mind.
Maybe he had; they'd been together for so long it wouldn't be at all surprising if the big sergeant knew him that well. Hannibal watched Face pull up his trousers so they wouldn't get baggy at the knee and sit on his heels in front of one of the boxes, and then opened the biggest box himself as Murdock and BA both stood watching Face carefully. He appreciated the thought but, Don't hover, he wanted to say. This is Face, he won't like it. Instead he just ripped the packing tape off and looked inside. "These look like his clothes."
"Goodwill," Face said without looking up.
Face nodded. "What would his abuelita do with his clothes? Goodwill..." He ripped the tape off another box and looked in for a minute. "Damn it. Where are his pictures?"
"Photos?" Murdock asked.
"He had an Ansel Adams print he really loved. It was called" he circled his hand in front of him, trying to remember. "Birches," he said finally. "No... Aspens. It was white tree trunks in a black forest. I want it."
"We'll find it, kid," Hannibal said. "Don't worry. Just that one?"
"He had a poster, too," Face said, sitting back on his heels. "A dog of a movie called 'Lobster Men from Saturn'."
"That was not a dog," Hannibal said.
"Oh, come on," Face protested. "I looked it up. It didn't gross five thousand. Sure, it's big on the old Saturday night Monster Chiller Horror Theaters, but being a dog is almost a requirement for those."
"Why you want it, then?" BA asked. "Frankie work on it?"
"Yeah," Face actually smiled. "It was his first movie... good thing for him nobody ever notices the FX guys' names, just things like ILM or whatever. Wouldn't have done his career any good, being associated with that thing."
"Ahem," Hannibal said. "When you looked it up, did you happen to notice who played the Lobster King?"
"Lobster King?" Murdock tried to control his laughter but only succeeded in postponing it for a minute. He collapsed over the box he was looking at. "Lobster King?"
"Hey, that role was a challenge," Hannibal said, observing the corner of Face's mouth twitching.
"A stepping stone to the Aquamaniac, no doubt," Face said.
"As a matter of fact, it was an important piece of my résumé."
"Here's the print," BA said, holding out a framed photograph. Face took it and laid it on the desk. "And I think this is that poster."
"I can't believe they folded it!" Murdock said. "That cuts the value in half, maybe more."
"Frankie folded it," Face said, touching the lurid red letters gently. "Folding it made it easier to keep. He wasn't ever going to sell this; he wanted it for himself."
"What's this?" Hannibal said after a moment, looking through the box Face had abandoned when BA had found the print. "I didn't know Frankie rode." He held up an old brown leather bridle with elaborate silver conchos and other adornments on it.
"Did his grandfather make that?" Murdock asked almost apprehensively.
Face raised his eyebrows at the tone but said only, "His great-grandfather. He was a silversmith, Frankie said." He held out his hand for the bridle. He stroked the silver almost absently, looking into space. "It already went from Chees to Yazzies to Santanas, and now..." He blinked and then put the bridle on the desk next to the photo and poster.
"Most of this is books and stuff," BA said. "Magazines. On tricks, you know."
"Effects," Face said precisely. "I don't..." He fell silent as BA held out another photo.
"But there's this, too. You want it?"
Face just stared at it so Hannibal reached out and took it from BA. It was a photograph of the two of them, not compromising in any way, just two friends sitting next to each other on the steps of an old weathered house. Frankie's elbow was resting on Face's shoulder, but his left shoulder, the same side Frankie was sitting on; it wasn't an overt embrace, just a friendly masculine touch. They were both smiling at whoever had taken the picture. In the summer sometime, Hannibal noted, because Face's hair was sun-lightened and his skin glowed golden. His polo shirt was white with dark grey collar and cuffs and something on the left breast, though the angle put Frankie's hand in front of it and Hannibal couldn't make out what it was. Frankie's t-shirt was a brilliant jade, with a Baltimore Aquarium logo; Hannibal had never seen either shirt before. He squinted to make out the background: a river? Yes, that was sunlight off water behind that house. This was where they went...
Face spoke suddenly. "No, I don't. Send it to his abuelita. I don't want it."
Hannibal opened his mouth to ask if he was sure, but then they heard the front door open. "Smith?" Stockwell's raised voice reached them over the rain.
"Well," Face said lightly. "Our master's voice." He rose effortlessly to his feet, automatically brushing his trousers and tugging his sweater into place. "We'd better go see what he wants of us this time."
"Face" Hannibal reached out and detained him. "You okay?"
"I'm fine, Colonel," he said impatiently and shook loose. His eyes fell on the box next to BA and he took the photo from Hannibal and dropped it inside. "The others can go to Goodwill, but this one and that one," he gestured," we should send to his grandmother." For the first time he used the English word, distancing himself from the dead man. His eyes were cool, shuttered; defenses Hannibal had first seen erected in Viet Nam were going up again. Things Face no longer shied from showing them Stockwell would never get a glimpse of. "Let's go," he said
and left the room.
Murdock reached into the box and picked up the photo. "I'm gonna hang on to this, Colonel," he said. "If he doesn't have a copy, he'll want one in a while."
"Good thought, Captain," Hannibal acknowledged and levered himself up off the floor; he was no longer young enough to just float upright. Intimations of mortality? he asked himself in an ironic tone. Cut that out. You don't have that leisure, not with Stockwell, no matter how fucked-up the past two weeks have been. "Let's go."
He and BA waited as Murdock ducked into his room with the photo, and then the three of them followed Face downstairs.
"Well, now that Peck is back," Stockwell said. "I'm assuming you weren't as taken with Santana as Smith, since you lost no time running off again."
Face shrugged but didn't answer.
"And I'd like to remind you all that Murdock does not live here. Don't you have a job?"
"Well, actually, I'm sort of between jobs at the moment..."
BA sat back and listened to Stockwell get on Murdock's case, thinking about how different it was now, not needing to jump in and run interference for the fool, knowing he could stand whatever Stockwell could hand out.
Face and he, and Hannibal too though to a lesser degree, had always taken care of Murdock, just in different ways. Almost from the first time they'd gone out, the young lieutenant had had the ability, and the willingnesseven rarerto crawl inside Murdock's madness and promise him protection from it. Total uncompromising support and acceptance... even when he got annoyed, which he did, because you couldn't not: Murdock was profoundly annoying at times; but even then Face reacted within the delusion. "I hate this movie," he'd say, or "For God's sake, Murdock, this is not the time for an interview," or, "Tie that damned dog up inside the van."
And that was good, and it worked, and Murdock needed it. But there was a downside to it, BA knew, and so did Face: if you went inside the delusion then Murdock had no reason to come out, no way to know that his reality was different than everyone else's. So it fell to BA to keep reminding him, to get angry and penetrate Murdock's little world, to yank him back to reality if only for a couple of minutes.
BA had never been quite sure what Hannibal's opinion was. He smoothly accepted everything Murdock did, just weaving it into that jazz-soaked reality he lived in. Sometimes BA wasn't that sure that Hannibal was much saner... He reacted differently. Like that time in Brazil when Murdock had thought he was making a movie and was complaining that props hadn't given him fires on the shore. BA would have told him he wasn't making no movie, and Face would have commiserated, but Hannibal had just said, "That's not props, Murdock; that's set dressing."
But Murdock had come back to them. He was still on the eccentric side, and probably always would be, but he was in the same reality now. He didn't need Face to follow him in and keep him safe, and he didn't need BA getting angry and hauling him out. It had altered their dynamic, having to adjust to him being, well, all right.
Too many things had altered their dynamic, all at the same time. The arrest, trial, firing squad. Stockwell. This luxurious prison. Frankie. A different kind of job. They'd been off balance for too long. BA had seen Hannibal spending too much time trying to come up with a plan to outdo Stockwell, seen Murdock pulling away from Face, seen Face, off-balance and feeling doubly unneeded, turn to Frankie. He hadn't been surprised that Face and Frankie had fallen in love, he'd always seen the look in Frankie's eyes. Face had always been half in love with Murdock, never acted on ithe was a man, after all, not an animal, wouldn't take advantage like thatso when Frankie offered him what he needed, no wonder that he'd taken it. BA could have told Hannibal he'd more or less guessed months ago, but Hannibal would have wanted to know why BA hadn't told him. And he hadn't told him because it would just have skewed them maybe beyond functioning.
Like maybe would happen now.
He hoped not. Murdock had come right back to Face now, and that was good. And Hannibal was trying hard to let his heart rule his head, forget what he'd been taught in favor of what he knew. The four of them were back together now, because they had to be, but Frankie was still with them. And Stockwell... BA was just about ready to cut and run next time they went anywhere reasonable. Just like Face had been for the first year or so. Probably would be again, without Frankie tying him here.
Face. He was who they needed to worry about now. For the moment, their dynamic had shifted back to three of them looking out for the fourth, with a pretty big difference being that Face didn't want what he needed. He was going to fight them as soon as he got his feet back under him. Hiding it for two weeks had worn him down, but he'd get strong enough to lock them out again. BA didn't really know what to do about that, he couldn't just keep on feeding him. He sighed to himself. Little brother was hurtin', hurtin' bad. He wished he could take him to Mama...
"Sergeant Baracus, are we boring you?" Stockwell asked.
"You always bore me," BA said. "But I been listenin', if that's what you askin'. You wantin' us to go to Canada, find some guy that stole documents from somebody you don't want to name. That right?"
"It was a bit more complicated than that," Stockwell said.
Hannibal interrupted. "That's the essence of it, though," he said, grinning around his cigar. "The sergeant's a tactician; he knows no plan survives contact with the enemy. He doesn't worry about details till we're on the ground. That way he's ready for anything."
"If you say so."
"We don't need two strategists. We do all right," Hannibal said mildly.
"When are we leaving, Colonel?" Murdock asked.
"We can take the train, Hannibal," BA said, a plan forming in his mind.
"Sure," Hannibal said. "This isn't emergent, after all. You'll set up the tickets?"
Stockwell smirked as he stood up. "I'll have everything delivered. I thought it would be a good idea to ease you back into it, considering..."
Face said, "We worked together fifteen years without Frankie. We can work together without him now. So don't think about not counting this one."
"You might think about being a bit more available, Peck." Stockwell turned his gaze onto Murdock. "And you'd better think about finding your own place."
"We can discuss these little details after we get back," Hannibal said.
BA grunted in agreement. Stockwell had no idea how close Face was to... something. Something not good. Not really his fault, Face was hiding it much too well, but as long as there was a chance they'd get out of this with a pardon, it would be a good thing to keep Face from punching the general, or disappearing in Canada.
That latter especially. After all, Toronto wasn't but about four hundred miles from Chicago. And maybe half that from Detroit. And just across the river from Buffalo, not that Buffalo was Face's kind of town.
The door shut behind Stockwell, and Hannibal turned to Face. "You sure you're all right with this, Face?"
"Of course I am," the blond said impatiently. "It's been weeks. We were back out the same day we lost Ray."
"Ray wasn't the same," Hannibal said gently.
"Colonel, I'm fine."
Hannibal glanced at BA and Murdock, telling them to go on. Murdock left after a speaking look back, but BA made sure he didn't go too far away. Whether Frankie had been in his room last night, or just in his head, he'd promised.
"Face, you're not fine. You're brittle as glass"
"Oh, bullshit, Colonel. I can do my job."
Hannibal was quiet; BA figured he was probably looking hard at the younger man, trying to pierce the facade. If anybody could, it was Hannibal, but that was a big if. Finally Hannibal said, "I hope so. This may be Stockwell's idea of easing us back into it, but I doubt it's going to be easy."
"Damnit, Hannibal, I'm fine."
Hannibal laughed suddenly. "You know, Face, I was wondering earlier how much you were changed, but you haven't changed a bit. 'Not bad' still means 'Pretty good.''I'm okay' means 'I'm functional', 'I'm good' means 'I've been better', and 'I'm fine' means 'Leave me alone'."
Face was quiet for a minute; BA could see him shaking his head. "Well, I'm okay, and I'm fine."
"Okay, kid. But if you get to 'good' and you want to talk..."
"Thanks, Hannibal. But not now."
BA got ready to interrupt them; Face needed to get himself up for the mission, since they had to go. But Hannibal just said, "I understand. But I won't forget."
BA nodded to himself. Hannibal had been out of whack himself lately, but now that he knew what was happening, now that he wasn't in the dark, he was all right again. He might still be having trouble, but he knew the bottom line better than anyone else. He wouldn't push Face too hard. They might get through this.
As long as Hannibal didn't decide Frankie had been just a passing phase in Face's life.
Face sat at the bar, watching the man at the corner table by pretending to be looking at himself in the mirror, half-listening to the redhead next to him, and thought about Vancouver. Or Saskatoon: there were a lot of people in Saskatoon. Despite the clownish name it was probably a decent place to live. Or Edmonton, or Calgary. Or even Montreal, though his mix of high-school and Saigon French might grate on the Quebecois' ears... Vancouver, though. Not a lot of snow in Vancouver. And it was on the ocean. So it wasn't LA. It also wasn't Langley.
He'd spotted Murdock in the shadows of the opposite corner when he came in. BA, of course, stood out like a neon sign especially up here in Toronto, but it was a civilized city. Or a smart one. At any rate, nobody was bothering him. Hannibal hadn't shown yet; Face knew he could spot him no matter what he looked like. So he nursed his Scotch and watched the mirror and waited.
And thought about Vancouver. And the redhead.
She was tall and willowy and not at all unattractive, even though she'd had a bit more to drink than she thought. And she was definitely flirting with him, even coming on to him, though as he was flirting back that shouldn't be held against her.
He thought about that as he glanced in the mirror again. He was flirting on autopilot, really, and if he said so himself, when he listened to himself he sounded pretty sincere. He hadn't done it seriously (if you didn't count the job, and he hadn't done it much for the job, either) in... a year. Just almost exactly that, only a few weeks longer. Apparently it was like riding a bicycle, he thought with a spurt of self-disgust. Funny. He didn't mind picking a lock, running a con, stealing a car, opening a safe, fast-talking someone out of a helicopter or speedboat or truck... and all of those things he could go to jail for. This was normal and accepted and ...
Hell. It wasn't like he was going to actually go to bed with her. This was just part of running the con, keeping Lysenko from thinking there was anything unusual about him. And there was no way anyone could invest enough in him after thirty minutes to be hurt when he left. Very convincing... if only you weren't actually wondering what she'd be like.
He shook himself, internallythe redhead, Lorna, didn't notice a thingand told himself that wondering that was essentially involuntary. How many times had he wondered in the past year? How many times had he seen Frankie's gaze snagged by something very nice walking past? Follow-through, that was what counted. Follow-through or lack thereof. But he didn't quite buy it. It was one thing when you were window-shopping and your partner was there to criticize your taste and laugh at you, or you were going home to tell him about the eye-candy he'd missed. It was another when he hadn't been dead for a month yet.
Cut it out, Peck. Not now. You're working.
Almost on cue Harlan King came into the bar carrying an attaché case and looking around. Hannibal was four steps behind him, every inch the prosperous Toronto business man. They both looked out of place, which, in a bar that was accomodating the gold-draped BA, the casual Murdock, and the vaguely preppy Face, was an accomplishment. Every eye in the place was on them for a minute or so, which meant the A Team's eyes would be unnoticed. Nice.
"So," Lorna said when he smiled, "I know a nice club not far from here. They have live music, it's pretty good, and then afterwards, maybe"
He cut her off before he was rejecting too much. "I'm sorry, honey, the man I've been waiting for just came in. Hope you have a great evening." He pulled a couple of bills out of his wallet and dropped them on the counter and then moved to join Hannibal. "Did you come up with a plan to satisfy everyone?"
"No," Hannibal said, affecting pleasure at the sight of Face.
"I'm not suprised. So we're going with Plan A?"
"Yep. If Lysenko gets away, he gets away."
Stockwell wanted the Soviet contact but BA and Hannibal were more interested in the renegade American. If Face had believed that Stockwell was even faintly interested in keeping his end of the bargain he'd have joined Murdock in arguing they should do it like the general wanted. As it was, he didn't really care. He just wanted it to be over.
He'd spent the night on the couch in Stockwell's Toronto apartment after he'd woken up once. Fortunately, he hadn't woken Murdock, so he'd been able to slip out to the living room without having to answer any questions. He might not be able to stop dreaming about
Frankie but at least he could remember a very pleasant bit about sailing through Queen Charlotte Strait on the boat, with Frankie arguing to name it La Vida Dulce. Pleasant until the storm blew up, anyway...
He was tired of hiding the dreams, hiding the pain, hiding the guilt. He was more tired of having to show he could do his job. He wanted to be by himself again, without sharp concerned eyes watching his every move. He wanted more than he could have until they finished, so he wanted to finish. If it had been up to him, he'd have stolen the attachécase from King on the street.
"You ready?" Hannibal asked.
"As I'll ever be."
Hannibal watched Murdock sit down on the couch. "You're sure you're all right, Murdock?"
"No harm, no foul, Hannibal," he said. "Tore the material, barely scratched me."
"You were lucky," Face said, his voice sharp.
Murdock shrugged. "The Russky couldn't shoot straight. I'm okay."
Hannibal nodded. "It wasn't pretty, but it worked out. So, we call Stockwell, tell him we're
done, and catch the train"
"And go someplace else," Face interrupted. Neither he nor BA had sat down, but while the
black man was standing near the door as if he had somewhere to go, Face was standing,
positively vibrating with tension, near the kitchen entrance.
"What do you mean, Face?" asked Murdock.
"I mean, go someplace else. Someplace not Langley, Virgina. I vote for Vancouver."
"I hear that a nice city," BA put in. "Big enough to hide in, too."
Face and Hannibal both turned to look at the big man, both in surprise, though Face's was
relieved and Hannibal's was not. "See?" Face demanded, turning to Hannibal. "I'm not the
only one thinking about it."
"About what, exactly?"
"Getting out while we can. Before we're dead."
Hannibal regarded his second-in-command thoughtfully. "Is this about Frankie? Because"
"This is not about Frankie! Okay, the timing, maybe. But this is not about Frankie. What
happened to him could happen to any of us any day. Damn near happened today."
"But it didn't, Faceman," Murdock protested.
"But it might." Face didn't take his eyes off Hannibal. "And even if it doesn't, we're dead
"What's that supposed to mean?" Hannibal asked.
"We're all going to die," Face said. "Before Stockwell lets us go, we'll all be dead."
"Face, where's your faith? I'm working on it."
Face shook his head. "And you've been working on it for what? Almost two years? I'm telling you, he'll never let us go. This mission doesn't count, turning down this mission means you owe me two others... we're like indentured servants. Worselike poor damned coal miners before the unions. What's that songowe my soul to the company store?"
"Now, Face, it's not that bad." Murdock tried to soothe him.
"That's right, Murdock; it's worse." He wouldn't be soothed.
Face hadn't cut loose like this in a long time, Hannibal reflected briefly. It was almost comforting to hear him, except for the nagging suspicion as to the reason he'd been so, well, contented. For him, anyway, contented. He was going to speak, but he'd lost the chance.
"I'm telling you, Hannibal, the minute he decides he's squeezed everything out of us he can, that'll be it. A firing squad without benefit of blanks." He was pacing now.
"Stockwell wouldn't risk another trial."
"He doesn't have to. We're already sentenced. But say you're right, say he's afraid of us blowing the whistle on him. All that means is, one fine night those Ables of his will just shoot us in our beds."
"Face, they could never get all four of us."
"Maybe that's why he's making Murdock move back out."
"Face, I'd go to the Post in a heartbeat if he killed you guys."
"Well, thanks, Murdock, but somehow that doesn't really reconcile me to an early death."
Face sounded exasperated. "And anyway, if he got you first we'd never know."
"I'm telling you, Hannibal, our best chance is to just disappear right now. FedEx that damned attaché case to him and grab the first train to Vancouver. Or Montreal: I speak French."
"On the run again, kid?"
"Hey." He jabbed a finger in Hannibal's direction. "I felt safer on the run than I do in Langley. A lot safer."
"It gets old after a while."
"So would we."
"Better a starving wolf than a well-fed dog?" Hannibal asked. "You should remember your Bible, Face. Better a living dog than a dead lion."
"Better a starving wolf than a dog tossed into the river with a brick tied to his neck," Face riposted. "And as far as the Bible goes, you remember what always happens to fatted calves."
"Face got a point, Hannibal," BA said. "We been with Stockwell more than two years. How long we gonna go on?"
"As long as we have to." And that wasn't a popular answer. Even Murdock, who wasn't as vitally concerned as the others, looked dissatisfied. "Look, it won't last forever."
"Neither will we," Face said. "I vote for Vancouver."
"I don't remember asking for votes."
Face and BA stared at him. After a minute BA's gaze drifted sideways to Face, his expression unreadable. Face's wasn't: nostril-flared indignation.
Hannibal hastened to explain himself. "Look, guys, I understand. You have a point. I'm not planning on ten more years. Or even two. But if we can get a pardon"
"If." Face was a bit mollified.
"If," Hannibal conceded, "it'll be worth four years. I know this is chafing, but I ask you to remember what it was like, constantly running from Lynch and Decker and the rest of them. Not to mention that now, if we cut and run, we'll not only have that firing squad waiting for us but we'll have Hunt Stockwell's whole organization on our track."
Face blinked as that registered. Hannibal glanced at BA; he was nodding.
"I don't intend to wait much longer, but I can't agree that we've waited as long as we can. I'm asking you to give it some more time. Another year."
BA waited on Face's answer. When it came, it was a grudged but sincere "Okay, Hannibal. I hate it, but... Okay. We go back to Langley."
He shrugged massively, his gold chiming. "Awright, Hannibal. I'm gonna go down to the grocery store on the corner, buy some milk."
"Go with him, Murdock," Hannibal said. "I don't want anyone out on the streets alone, not while we've got this thing." He gestured at the attaché case. "And bring us something for dinner while you're there."
"Sure thing, Hannibal," Murdock said. "Do you suppose they have pizzas here?"
"They're Canadians," Face said. "They're just like Americans, only politer."
Murdock laughed and he and BA left. Hannibal looked at Face, who looked back expectantly. Well, they'd known each other a long time. Hannibal leaned back in his chair and said, "So, Face. How long have you felt like that?"
He shrugged. "How long has it been? Two and half years? So, I guess, about... two years, five months. Give or take a week."
"It's been a long time since you said so."
"I just have me to worry about," Face said, sitting down finally. "Frankie had his dad. He couldn't run out on him; even though I told him I could find the money he was worried he'd die before that." He shrugged. "Plus he was basically a lot more law-abiding than me."
"Is Frankie what kept you here?" Hannibal asked unwillingly.
Face repudiated that immediately. "No, Hannibal, you are. The team." Then he grinned. "Frankie kept me happy, though. Too busy to complain."
"I wish I'd known. I'd've been nicer to him," Hannibal made himself say with a wry grin.
Face smiled, and it even got a little way into his eyes. "That would have scared him to death."
"You understand my point?"
"Oh, I understand it. I'm not happy but I understand."
Hannibal really wished Face had said happy about it. He'd made it clear when they left Virginia that any expressions of sympathy were out of line. "Not in the field," he'd said. "I can do my job. Just leave me alone."
So they had, though they'd talked about him when he wasn't there. It had been harder than Hannibal had thought, not mentioning it. And several times he'd found himself wishing for Frankie. Much as he knew Face would hate admitting it, Stockwell had been right, sending them on an "easy" mission their first time out without Frankie. They'd gotten used to having him, or at least having a fifth guy, on top of what Stockwell didn't know.
Not that this had been all that easy, big surprise. But it was over and they were all fine, so, as Nietzsche had suggested, they must all be stronger. If not happier. Or even actually less happy. He was going to have to talk with BA, find out why the sergeant was suddenly ready to throw it all away. It didn't surprise him from Face, but BA? He was usually more pragmatic than that... On the other hand, you couldn't get more pragmatic than better alive than dead.
He heard footsteps on the stairs. He stiffened, seeing Face do the same thing across the table. BA and Murdock, yes, but they weren't alone. Someone else was with them. Face slid out of his chair, going for the shoulder holster he'd left on the back of the couch and taking up a position out of sight by the time Hannibal had his automatic out under the table.
The door opened, and Hannibal realized he had more than one thing to talk to BA about as the sergeant ushered his mother into the apartment.
Face was holstering his automatic while Murdock burbled, "Look who's here!" and BA said,
"Mama came up on the train from Chicago."
Hannibal shelved the question of just why she'd come to Toronto and just how she knew where this apartment was and stood up to greet her; he was genuinely fond of her, after all. "It's so good to see you again, Mrs. Baracus," he said.
She smiled at him. "It's better to see you, I think." Her eyes were twinkling but there was a bit of chiding in her voice. He wondered what BA had told her. And when...
"Now, where's Face?" She saw him and held out her arms. He let her hug him; she kissed his cheek and said, almost too softly for Hannibal to hear, "Oh, baby, I was so sorry to hear."
The blond hid his face against her; under her encircling arms his shoulders shook. She looked at Hannibal and said, "You all get now. Come back later."
They did. Outside in the hall BA looked defiantly at Hannibal and said, "I sent for her. She din't know we was alive till a couple days ago, but I thought..."
"I think you were right, BA," Hannibal said. "But let's make sure Stockwell never finds out."
Murdock was in one of the bedrooms, watching an old western on the tv. BA was outside on the balcony; Hannibal could only imagine what he was thinking. Face had been asleep in the other bedroom when the three of them had come back from the fast-food place where they'd eaten dinner and he still was. Mrs. Baracus had been washing dishes, singing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", but she'd stopped when they came in and offered to make coffee. Murdock had turned her down, and she'd smiled at him, given him a hug and a kiss and said goodnight to him.
Hannibal hadn't sat down; he was standing where he could see Face when Mrs. Baracus came out of the kitchen with a cup of coffee in each hand. "Sit down," she said, and it wasn't a request. Hannibal sat. She handed him the coffee and sat down opposite him, not blocking his view into the bedroom where Face was curled up on the bed. "Scooter called me because he was worried about that boy, like you all are. But there's nothing much I can do for him that you can't. And nobody can give him what he needs, nobody can bring his Frankie back. He just needs to be loved right now, loved and put up with and let grieve. You, though," she shook her finger at him. "You need a talking to and I'm going to give it to you."
Hannibal bought some time by taking a drink. He blinked in surprise and raised his eyebrows at Mrs. Baracus: there was whiskey in it. "All right," he said, "talk to me."
He thought she was going to take him to task over letting her think BA was dead, that all of them were dead. But she surprised him "You're too mad about all this, about that Frankie."
"How should I be?" he asked. "He was on my team, and he's dead. Of course I'm"
"That ain't what I mean," she said. "You're too mad about him and Face."
"I'm not," he protested, wondering how the hell she knew. Yet another thing to take up with BA.
"When he's in the room, and you're looking at him, you don't show it. He takes up all your mind. An' that's good. But when he's not," she shook her head. "If you even hear the word 'Frankie' you get so angry you practically spark. Yet from what Scooter tells me," and that was entirely too much, Hannibal thought, "you liked the boy."
He gave in, knowing he might as well have saved his breath. "Of course I am. I did like him. And then he turned around and did this."
"Did this?" she asked. "You make it sound like he was the only one involved."
"He did, though. For a long time. This relationship isn't something that was forced on him" She broke off and Hannibal knew she'd seen his reaction. "What happened, Hannibal?"
"It's..." His voice trailed off. This was something he'd never talked about with anyone.
BA's Mama looked into his eyes and maybe deeper than that. "Tell me," she said. "This is poisoning you. Poisoning your relationship. You can't afford that now. He can't. Tell me."
"You don't want to hear it," he said. I don't want to say it, he meant.
She shook her head. "That don't matter. Tell me."
"It was in Vietnam," he said. "In the camp." He stopped, not knowing what, if anything, BA had told her about that.
"That was a bad time," she said.
"Can you imagine what he was like at twenty? He was golden, he really was. Youngnot as young as he should have been, maybe, but young. And while even then there were places in him he wouldn't let you near, he was open... Everybody liked him." He shook his head, looking back into the past at things he preferred not to admit were there. "BA adopted him right off the bat. Even Murdock, he was already starting to fall apart and coping by wrapping himself up in himself and not letting anyone in, even he let Face in right away. Ray liked him. The men loved him, and not just because he could get his hands on anything they wanted. I was the exception. I didn't want him. I'd like to think that I knew he'd get hurt with us, but I think I just didn't like his attitude. He was cocky. He sized me up and knew just how to get to me... And he did. In about a day."
"You never hurt him," she said surely.
"No. Except by not sending him away when I could have."
"You ain't God," she said. "You don't know what's going to come to pass."
"I could have guessed. Not that I ever thought we'd be captured, but you can't plan on that not happening. And once it did...Americans like screwing Orientals. They like blonds..." He laughed shortly. "The first day I met himthank God he didn't hear itI made a bad joke about him being pretty enough to turn a profit on. He was. And in the camp..." Hannibal didn't think he could say the words. He closed his eyes. "They took him away and they tortured him and they raped him and they threw him back to us to get him strong enough to do it again. And they laughed at us."
"What they did to him they did to hurt you," she said softly.
"Yes. I don't know how they guessed it, but they did." Not that that was entirely true. Tommy Angel... That Navy lieutenant whose father was in organized crime, that spoiled coward, he'd betrayed them all, sold them out for privileges and who knew what else. Not just their escape plans, but everything he'd ever found out about themhe'd given it all to their captors. Hannibal knew, they all knew, he'd seen the bond. He'd known how to hurt them.
When they'd found Lin Duk Coo all those years later in LA, and then Tommy Angel, Hannibal had known Face wanted to kill him. Hell, they all did, but Face... He'd kept Face away from Angel when they'd been pretending to be ready to kill him, sent Face off with Amy, pissing her off, which hadn't bothered Hannibal at all. He'd had actually been surprised at himself, after all those years, how red the rage was. If they hadn't needed him to get to the general... and if Hannibal hadn't thought about how hard Angel could have it in prison. So Hannibal had managed not to kill him, and BA and Murdock had followed his lead. Face
had sublimated his rage in the plan; he'd even stopped caring about Mr. Tony's penthouse and "the best deal I ever had". He'd still wanted to put a bullet in Angel's brain at the end, but Hannibal hadn't let him. Had had to not let him, no matter how justifiable it would have been. Because it would be all too easy for Face to turn into a killer...
He pulled himself out of those thoughts and looked across the table into Mrs. Baracus's dark eyes. They were filled with kindness laid over steel, just like her son's. An implacable kindness; an Earth Mother, as long as you remembered things like hurricanes and earthquakes. She was waiting for him to continue.
He sighed. "They were all my men, I was responsible for all of them, had to protect all of them as best I could, but... out of them all, the one I'd have died for happiest, the one I did get on my knees for, the one I had to protect the most... what they did to him, it was worse than if they'd done it to me. And they knew it..." He was quiet for a minute. "They did it in front of us a time or two. I felt like my heart was being ripped out; there was nothing I could do to stop it without betraying everyone, everything, even him. And it wouldn't have stopped it for long no matter what I gave them."
"He must know that," she said softly.
"He does." He smiled but it felt crooked to him. "I'm not sure I do."
She patted his hand. "You've had to make hard choices. Being a man, being a leader, does that. But this was the right choice, and both of you know that. All of you do. The problem is, you're making a comparison between that and Frankie. And that's not right."
"It took him a long time to get over that. He pretended he was all right, but he wasn't. It was like," this metaphor he'd found years ago, it came easily to him now, "they'd found the Philosopher's Stone in reverse, transmuting gold to base metal. Not to us, no, but to Face. They hurt him... he's strong, he didn't fall apart, but he was hurt. Badly. When we got out, he'd have crawled rather than take an arm around him to help him walk. And he never played basketball or touch football with the men again. Wouldn't be touched by anyone. Except Murdock, of course, but that was..." he paused, looking for the word. "It wasn't sexual at all. He'd hold Murdock with his arms and legs and head even, but it was more like holding Murdock together than anything else. When we got to LA it wasn't any better. I think it was three, four years before he even... He found a counselor, a priest, and he got better. He got over it. Starting chasing women again, let himself be touched. But not this, not..."
"But it's not the same," she said, gently but firmly. "Not at all. If a woman is raped, are you surprised that she can make love again?"
"That's not the same."
"It is. I don't know why it took him so long. I would guess it was because he was so young, raised religious... having a priest for his counselor wouldn't have led him to loving men, that's for sure. But the point is, what happened to him in Vietnam and what he did with Frankie have one point in a thousand in common. Rape is about power and humiliation and pain and," she shook her head, "hate and evil. Frankie was love. I expect you were taught like I was, that a man loving a man is wrong. But I've come to see over my life that love, real love between two grown people, when nobody else is involved, it's never wrong."
"Do you really believe that?"
"I do. You said you liked Frankie and then he 'turned around and did this'. He betrayed you by taking advantage of Face, by doing to him what you couldn't stop the first time. Is that it? Because it's wrong, Hannibal. He didn't do anything to Face. He didn't betray you. And you didn't fail Face. Not the first time, and certainly, whatever you think about that, certainly not this time. You'll only fail him if you won't let him be a man, able to love who he wants."
Hannibal contemplated that for a while, sipping at his cooling coffee, grateful for the whiskey in it. Finally he nodded at her. "I always suspected it, but now I know BA gets his wisdom from you."
She shook her head, smiling at him. "You're just too close to it. You love that boy, and you're worried about him, and you're the one in charge so you think you should be able to keep him safe. But he's not really a boy any more. He must be thirty-five, at least."
Hannibal started to deny it reflexively and then stopped. If Face had been nineteen, which was a reasonable guess, him being a sophomore, then he was... thirty-eight. Which not only made him definitely a grown man, but Hannibal a lot older than he wanted to admit. "You're right," he said, "you're definitely right. And I have a lot to think about before he wakes up and we go" He broke off. Where they were going she didn't need to know.
"Think nothing of it," Mrs. Baracus said, standing up. "It's my pleasure to help you, as good as you've been to Scooter and as much as he loves the both of you. I'm gonna go be with my boy for the rest of the night." She smiled at him. "You'll be all right now."
Face woke. He still felt tired, but the scents of coffee and bacon had done their work. Before he did anything else he turned his head quietly toward the other bed where Murdock would have spent the night. It was empty. He closed his eyes a moment thankfully and then sat up, wrapping his arms around his knees.
He wasn't so much tired, he decided, as drained. Exhausted. He felt as if he hadn't slept at all instead ofhe reached for the slim Rolex by the bedsidemore than eleven hours. He dropped the watch and ran his hand through his hair. Damnit. They shouldn't have let him sleep.
You got to do two things now, baby. You got to let yourself grieve all the way, 'cause you hurt all the way, down to the bone. And you got to let them worry, 'cause they love you.
Maybe... But they were smothering him. Worse. It was bad enough that there was so little for him to do that any halfway competent Abel from Stockwell's kennel couldn't have done; when Hannibal treated him like he couldn't even do that much...
Damnit, he was perfectly capable of doing his job. Especially nowadays. He missed Frankie like... he didn't have anything to compare it to. He'd never missed anyone or anything like this, not even Leslie. He never wanted to again. But missing Frankie didn't mean he was suddenly incompetent. They'd expected more of him when he was beaten up or shot.
This is new to them, too, baby. They don't know what to do.
They could try listening to him when he said he was fine.
He got out of bed abruptly and went into the bathroom, letting the door slam behind him. In the shower he stood under the hot water and tried clearing his mind. The job wasn't over yet; they were still in Toronto. He didn't have the leisure to fall apart like he had last night... Damn BA, anyway.
That's right, baby. Go on and cry. You got every right to.
He closed his eyes and held his face up to the pouring water. Not here. Not now. Soldiers don't cry.
You lost your love. He lost his life. Of course you gonna cry. You hurt to the heart.
After a while he found the shampoo.
Mindful of Mama's presence he wrapped himself in the biggest towel he could find to go back to the bedroom. He dressed carefully, thinking about nothing except the shirt, the tie, the shoes... He examined himself in the mirror over the dresser, adjusted the fall of his hair slightly, and nodded. Then he pushed open the door and went into the kitchen.
"Morning, Face," Hannibal said, and BA and Murdock echoed it. Mama just smiled at him.
"You let me sleep too long," Face said accusingly. "You should have woken me when you got up, Murdock."
Murdock opened his mouth and then closed it, and then said, "You looked like you needed it, Faceman."
Face wondered whatthat was about but decided not to pursue it. The other bed had been made when he woke up; he simply didn't want to hear that Murdock had slept on the couch rather than risk being woken up in the middle of the night (again). Instead, all he said was, "I didn't need more than the standard eight."
"Now, Face," Hannibal said, "maybe you did sleep nearly twelve hours, but you've been up thirty minutes and it's not even nine yet. So it's not like we've been sitting around waiting for you. Have some coffee, calm down, and say whether you think we should take the train back, or rent a car."
"A car," Face said. "Thank you," he added with a smile to Mama as she put a plate of eggs down in front of him.
"Face," BA said, "we already got the tickets for the train."
"And we have that," he lifted his chin at the attaché case.
"Nobody knows we have it."
"We don't know that." He shrugged. "Whatever you want, though, Hannibal."
"What I don't want to do is drive four hundred plus miles in a rental," he said.
He was looking at Face with that concerned look, that so-how-are-you-really look. Abruptly Face remembered the last time they'd done that, all five of them... And then he thought of all day in a car with those looks, that sympathy, all three of them in close quarters and nowhere to go to get away... "Good point," he said. "The train it is."
"That's three to one," Hannibal said, smiling.
BA smiled and Murdock sighed theatrically. Face shrugged slightly and finished his eggs. He got up and began clearing dishes off the table, shaking his head at Mama when she started to get up. "No, let me," he said. "Though I'm tempted to suggest we just leave them in the sink."
"Ooo," Murdock immediately looked curious. "Are Canadian cockroaches more polite than American ones?"
"Bugs ain't polite anywhere," BA said.
"I don't think he would be happy with us if we did that," Hannibal said.
"Well, Hannibal, that's more or less the point," Face said, unbuttoning his cuffs and turning them up to avoid getting them wet.
Murdock jumped up. "I'll dry," he volunteered, grinning at Face.
"Don't even think about getting this sweater wet," Face cautioned him. Murdock grinned at him, causing him to consider yet another reason not to be cooped up in a car for the rest of the day. Resolutely he took the thought of Murdock next to him, shoulders or knees touching, and locked it away in the file cabinet labeled later. Or, in this case, much later.
The heart goes for healing where it wants to. Don't even worry about that, baby.
Don't 'but' me, darling. You always been close. You know he'll help you all he can.
That kind of help, Face thought, he didn't need, whatever Mama might think. Wouldn't get anyway. God damn it, didn't want anyway. "When do we leave, Hannibal?"
"This morning. I want to get rid of that thing as soon as possible. The train for Chicago leaves at ten thirty; ours leaves at eleven fifteen. I'd like to let you go to Chicago, BA, but"
"I understand, Hannibal. That trip's three times as long." BA looked at Mama. "We seen each other. We okay."
"You just take care of yourselves," Mama said. "All of you."
"Yes, ma'am," Hannibal said. "We certainly will."
So Hannibal called a cab and they packed and went to Toronto's nice, clean train station. Mama said goodbye to them all, telling Murdock she was glad he hadn't changed much, and Hannibal that he should remember what she'd said and be careful of them all. Then she pulled Face into a hug and whispered, "Remember always: you are loved so much." A gentle kiss on his cheek, and then BA put her on the train and stayed with her until the 'All aboard!'
Forty minutes later they were settling in on their own train. Face had picked up a couple of newspapers, and he suggested they not sit all together. Hannibal quirked his eyebrows but nodded. "Good idea," he said. "You take the front; BA, the back. Murdock, you're with me."
Face took his seat, hiding his relief, and opened his paper. With luck, by the time they changed trains in New York he'd be ready to spend time with Murdock again.
The next two weeks passed without major incident, the operative word, as far as Murdock could determine, being "major": they were full of minor ones. For instance, Stockwell had been serious about him moving out, but to the general's surprise Hannibal had swung by Murdock's place on the way back from Union Station and told him to pack and come up with BA. "It won't cost Stockwell anything extra to feed you, and we need the team together. Officially."
"Yeah," said BA.
Face nodded agreement as well.
So he moved into the Langley safe house. Fortunately there was another bedroom so he didn't have to take Frankie's; that had occurred to him on the way up with BA. He hadn't been sure he wanted to do that, not with his feelings for Face about ready to boil over. It was hard enough to give him the time and space he needed; sleeping in the bed he'd almost certainly shared with Frankie... not a real good idea.
Stockwell objected, of course, but less so than Hannibal had expected. Face wanted to know if they'd just obligated themselves for extra missions.
"If we have, are you objecting?" Hannibal asked.
Murdock held his breath.
"No," Face said irritatedly. "I'm complaining, I'm not objecting. Did we?"
"Actually," Hannibal said, "no. He only mentioned it once. Which worries me."
"Oh, great," Face said, but instead of following up he turned on the television and found a college football game. Murdock knew Face didn't give a damn about the Atlantic Coast Conference, especially not Virginia, but he'd definitely put up the 'Do Not Disturb' sign, so Murdock just sat down next to him and watched. Face didn't say much till halftime but he didn't leave, either. Good enough.
The next morning Hannibal informed them that it was time to do some serious training. "It was pure luck nobody got hurt in Toronto," he said, "and luck, while nice, is not what we want to depend on." He looked at Face, who'd managed to convince BA that he really didn't want any breakfast and was looking at the business section of the Post while he drank his coffee. "Especially you, Face. We've been cutting you slack for more than a month now, and while it wasn't your screw-up in Canada, you're losing your edge." He glanced around the table. "We all are. So starting today, we train."
So they did that for the next four days. Hannibal drove them all hard, himself no less than the others, and even BA was glad to crawl into his bed by nightfall. Those nights Face seemed to sleep soundly. Murdock, conditioned by years of hospital living to sleeping for a couple of hours and then waking up, to sleep again a few minutes later, got up and wandered up and down the hallway, checking while trying not to be too obtrusive about it. The others had grown used to his nocturnal perambulations and were no longer woken by them, even if he paused a few minutes near their door. As far as he could tell, Face was sleeping through the nights; he got his proof of that once the training went back to normal and light showed under Face's door in the dark hours.
Murdock hesitated every time he saw the golden strip along the floor, and every time he went back to his own room to sit in a chair awake and watchful until the light went out. He'd avoided a one-on-one with BA's mother, but she'd been looking at him that morning before Face woke up when she told them all to take care of him. The trouble was, Mama didn't know things, things that made it hard to take care of Face at all let alone the things that meant Murdock needed to wait, even if he wanted to push open Face's door and take him in his arms, kiss away his tears, and let him know he didn't have to be alone.
He had to let Face get through this, had to let him come to terms with his grief and guilt. 'Cause forcing things on Face was the worst mistake you could make. When he was pushed Face ran if he could and fought if he couldn't, and either would be bad. Very bad indeed.
After all, it hadn't really been so very long yet.
And when the light would finally go out, Murdock would go back to his own bed and lie awake himself, thinking, wishing, wanting... And his own dreams weren't always pleasant ones.
But during the day things were fine. At least until Halloween.
That was on a Tuesday this year, which meant a lot of the kids in the youth group BA had, inevitably, found might not be at the youth center for the Haunted House and the party. But BA was determined that those who came would have a great time, and, as usual, he had volunteered the whole team for the event. Frankie's contribution of various effects, which had been wildly successful year before last, would be missed, but that only, as far as BA was concerned, meant the rest of the volunteers had to work harder.
Face complained about it, but that was his usual form. He always complained and then he always enjoyed himself, and the complaining seemed to be an integral and necessary part of the enjoyment. This year it was a bit different. He was good with the kids, as he always was, especially when the terminus ad quem was relatively close, but Murdock thought he was working a bit harder at it than usual. And he was maneuvering to stay away, as much as possible, from the Hispanic kids, the Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, and Colombians Washington was so full of, who had flocked to him and Frankie the last two years...
Murdock sighed. It never rains but it pours.
Face went to bed as soon as they got home, but Murdock saw his light on at one thirty, and it didn't go off until five. Wednesday he spent the entire day cleaning every gun he could get his hands on and not talking.
He came down to breakfast Thursday in black. It wasn't his best color and he knew it, so he only wore it in formal wear (or biking), but this wasn't formal. It was an ebony Armani, with a dove grey shirt and a black four-in-hand, that made him look paler than usual, and somber, even though his hair and eyes were brighter. "No, nothing," he said to Hannibal, whose turn it was to cook. "I'm going to Mass."
Hannibal paused, looking at him. Then he nodded. "Of course, it's All Souls Day, isn't it?"
"You havin' Mass said for Frankie?" asked BA. "I'll go with you."
"I will, too, if you don't mind," said Hannibal. "It's... the right thing."
Face nodded, his blue eyes warming suddenly. "Thanks, Hannibal. I appreciate it."
"Don't mention it," Hannibal said, touching his shoulder momentarily. "It's the least we owe him. And you."
Face shook his head. "I'm"
"Fine, I know. Or," Hannibal cocked his head and said, mystifying Murdock, "are you good?"
Face dropped his gaze for just a moment. "Not quite yet."
"Well... maybe this will help. I need to change."
"I do, too."
"You coming, Captain?"
"Of course," Murdock said.
So they all went, Hannibal and Murdock in sober dark suits and BA in black with his gold gleaming in brilliant contrast. Hannibal and BA seemed to be paying attention to the service, but Murdock was paying attention to Face, as in fact he seemed to be mostly doing these days. There was a lot about the Catholic Church he didn't like, but there was no doubt that it had a hold on Face that he couldn't shake. Didn't want to shake, Murdock corrected himself conscientiously. From dipping his fingers in the water in the front of the church before crossing himself to the last genuflection, Face was absorbed in the ritual, and it eased him.
But only temporarily. By midafternoon he was pacing the living room. BA had gone out to work on the van, and Murdock was in the kitchen looking for an apple or something when he heard Hannibal asking, "And where do you think you're going?"
"Out," Face said.
Murdock shut the refrigerator and walked quietly to the door, looking out to see Face standing near the front door with his car keys in his hand.
Hannibal laughed once, shortly. "And what are you going to do? Nothing?"
"I'm going mad, Hannibal," he said. "I've got to get out of here."
"I know," Hannibal nodded. "I know. Go on, then, just be back in a couple of days. And take Murdock; that way I can tell Stockwell I don't know where you are and be technically telling the truth. I like that; gives me an edge."
"Hannibal, I want to be alone."
The colonel shook his head. "Not now. I don't want any of us going off alone." He didn't actually add especially not you, but Murdock could hear it.
So, apparently, could Face. "Hannibal, may I remind you we used to live alone instead of in each other's pockets like this? We might go days, weeks even, without actually seeing each other. I do remember how to use the telephone."
"You can remind me, Lieutenant, but I don't need it. And I take absolutely no pleasure in reminding you of all the ways now is different from then; I just do it. You go with Murdock or you don't go."
Face and Hannibal locked blue stares. Murdock kept very quiet, glad not to be caught in between those gazes and thinking that no one but Hannibal could get away with taking that tack, that tone, with Face. And it was the younger man's gaze that dropped first.
"All right," he said, and turned to Murdock. Or possibly turned on him, the pilot thought, meeting those eyes. "Hurry up."
As Murdock got into the Corvette, Face slewed around in the seat and said, "Look, Murdock.
I'm humoring Hannibal here. Now, I don't mind your coming... I really don't. But I don't want to talk. I really, really don't want to talk. So, you can sit there, or sing, or even talk to yourself, I don't care. Just don't talk to me, 'cause I'd hate to have to put you out on the side of the road. If I have to do that, I might just head west and not stop till I get to LA."
"You don't want to do that, Faceman."
"Don't I?" Face held Murdock's eyes with his for a moment, then said, softly, "Sometimes there's nothing I want more. So don't put temptation in my way, please?"
Murdock nodded. Face smiled sweetly at him and put the Vette in gear.
It was dark when Face pulled the Chevy truck into the yard. True to his expressed intention, he hadn't said a word to Murdock the entire way, except to ask him which fast-food place he wanted to stop at in Annapolis. Now he still didn't speak, just sat there staring at the old house almost as if he hadn't seen it before.
Murdock stayed in the truck, too, more than a little afraid that if he got out Face might actually take off. He was starting to wonder if Face meant to stay at all when the blond finally cut off the engine and got out. Murdock stayed in the truck, watching, as Face wandered around in the yard, occasionally kicking moodily at something it was too dark for Murdock to identify.
He'd finally figured it out, or at least he thought he had, but there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it: Face was missing Frankie's grave. Last year, he remembered, they'd been in Italy this time of year, and he remembered Frankie being a bit upset that he couldn't take care of his mother's grave and Hannibal pointing out that he couldn't have even if they'd been back at Langley and Face reassuring him that his cousins wouldn't let it be neglected "this year either"now Murdock realized he must have missed Frankie's worry the first year. He wondered if Face had, since they hadn't been together yet, and then dismissed that thought as unimportant. What was important was, this was the Day of the Dead, and Frankie's grave was in Malaysia, totally out of Face's reach... and it would be the first grave he'd ever had to worry about, too.
He sighed, looking ahead. In three weeks Thanksgiving, and then Christmas... Face was going to get kicked a lot in the next couple of months, but Murdock couldn't think of a thing to do.
The front door slamming jarred him from his reverie. Face had gone inside. Murdock got out of the truck and climbed up the stairs to the front porch. Inside, the house was dark except for a light in the first bedroom. Murdock shifted his weight from one foot to the other, wondering what to do, and then Face came back into the hallway, carrying a box.
He pushed past Murdock without comment and went through the kitchen to the back yard. A minute later he came back in, without the box, and went back to the bedroom, emerging with another load. Murdock watched him uneasily; there was something almost fey about him, something that was making the hairs on the back of Murdock's neck stand up. He wanted to offer to help, but he didn't want to... to draw Face's attention. He didn't know if the prohibition against talking was still in place but it was a lot easier not to. By the time they got back to Langley Face would be glad of help unloading... Hell, Murdock distracted himself, not much of that's going to fit in the Vette. Is he planning on letting the Ables see the truck? He turned that over in his mind a couple of times and decided to wait till they were on the Beltway to bring it up.
Meanwhile Face had brought out a third load and come back, but this time he stayed in the kitchen, rooting around in a cabinet. When he straightened he had a can of starter fluid in his hand. Murdock decided just standing there was no longer the best policy and followed him out into the yard.
At least, he was relieved to see, physical self-immolation didn't seem to be on the agenda; Face was very careful as he squirted the pile of stuff he'd heaped up in the yard with the fluid. And though he started the fire by using his cigarette lighter, it was on a piece of cardboard he'd probably torn off one of the box lids. He tossed that onto the pilepyre, more like, Murdock thoughtand stood well back as it caught. The first leaping rush of chemically assisted flame illumined the blond's face and the set expression on it; the rose-brown sweater and rose-beige shirt had more color.
Murdock was very glad Face had saved the prints and the old bridle, and that he'd hung onto the photo himself.
As the flames steadied, Face abruptly turned and went back into the house. It took Murdock almost no time to follow, leaving the fire on its own. Face was in the second bedroom, going through the things piled up on the old desk and then swearing suddenly and just grabbing an armful and pushing past Murdock. As soon as he was down the hall Murdock picked up the photo album he'd leafed through while Face slept the first time he'd been here, opened it, and stuffed half the pages inside his jacket. Then he closed the album and dropped it back on the desk and went back outside. He had the feeling the only way to stop Face doing this was to hit him over the head, and he'd resent that. But even if he wouldn't want the pictures, Murdock did: Face was so damned happy in them.
Outside he watched Face toss things carefully onto the fire, feeding it. After a few minutes the blond went back into the house, emerging with another armload. As he began to add to the blaze a car pulled up behind the truck. Face ignored it, but Murdock started walking in that direction.
The driver opened the old coupe's door and got out. "Mr. Thomas? At you? What's gane on?" Well, thank God, it was Cal, not the fire department. Or the police.
Not that Murdock was really sure what to say to him. He shrugged. "He's burning stuff."
"Kin see at," Cal said. He looked at the fire and then turned back to Murdock. "I need to use the phane, call Anne an' tell her not to call the farmin."
"Good idea," Murdock said.
The boy was back out in a minute. "Anne says she's comin' ayver onner boskie."
That took a minute to figure out, and by then it was too late to tell him to call her back and tell her to stay at home. "I wouldn't bother him, Cal."
"Ain't gonna bother him, but at far gets outa hand Anne kin hep." He joined Murdock in leaning against the front of the truck.
Face had brought out another stack by the time Anne arrived. She leaned her bicycle up against the old car and joined Murdock and her brother. "He burnin' Mr. Rivera's stuff?" she asked softly.
"Yes," Murdock answered as softly though he didn't think Face would notice.
After a minute she said, "At for Halloween? I mean, at's a three-day feast accordin' to the pagan websites."
Murdock blinked in surprise. It was Cal who answered her. "He taled us they was Calflicks."
She shrugged. "Well, why else is All Saints an' All Sales right after Halloween, anyway?"
Cal didn't answer, just nodded. The three of them stood in silence watching Face burn the last year. Murdock had rarely felt so helpless in his entire life, at least not about something someone else was doing. This might be cathartic but he had the sinking feeling Face would regret the wholesale destruction in a week or two. Still, he had no idea how to stop it. He wished Hannibal had come, or sent BA; they'd have known what to say. But their situations were different... He also felt he should say something to the teenagers, explain this somehow, but he didn't know how to start. Then again, looking at their still, dark faces, he wasn't sure but what they might understand it better than he did.
Anne straightened up, shaking her head. "Ay, nay," she said softly. Murdock turned to look at Face; he had picked up a wooden box and taken the lid off. Murdock remembered looking at that, too; it was a little Nativity set. Face pulled out one of the animals and was about to toss it when Anne, moving too quickly for Murdock to grab her arm, grabbed his. He started and dropped the animal.
"Mr. Hard, you can't burn at." Anne's voice was gentle but firm. She picked up the little animal, a sheep probably, rubbed it gently, and tucked it back into the box. "At's haly. An' you'll want it at Chrismas, you'll see."
Face looked at her, actually seeing her, and then said, "Maybe you're right, Anne." He took a deep breath. "I should have asked you if you wanted something."
She shook her head. "Nay, thanks. I've got at picture, an' thase shirts he bought us up in Bawlmer." She took the box from him. "I'll put this in your truck," she said, and left him.
Murdock didn't know if she'd broken the spell or if there wasn't anything left in the house, but either way Face didn't bring out anything new. He went ahead and burned everything he'd already brought out, standing with his arms crossed over his chest and watching the fire leap and then die. After a while, Cal said softly, "Are youns comin' back?"
"I don't know," Murdock admitted. "Probably... I don't know."
"You got somthin' to write with? I'll give you our phane nummer, you kin call us about the boat if nothin' else."
Murdock dug a pen up in the truck's glove compartment and took the piece of paper from the boy and put it in his shirt pocket. "Thanks, Cal."
Cal shrugged. "We'll be gettin' on," he said. "Far's nearly dead an' we don't want to be inna way. Put your boskie inna back, Anne," he turned to his sister.
Before she did, though, she put her hand on Murdock's arm. "You're a good friend, Mr. Thomas."
"Thanks," Murdock said, wishing he were a better, or a worse, and then preempted her by grabbing the bicycle himself and stowing it in the car. He watched them back out and then pull away.
When the fire was completely out Face shook himself slightly and walked to the truck, moving slowly. "Let's go, Murdock," he said.
"I'm not staying here tonight."
"Sure, Face, whatever you say... You want me to drive?" Murdock offered.
Face paused. "Yes," he said simply.
Fortunately getting outtake the dirt road till you hit gravel, follow that till you hit pavement, follow that to 13was easier than coming in, because Face was asleep in five minutes. Murdock turned on the radio low and let him sleep till he needed help finding the Vette. Hannibal and BA were still asleep when they got in, and without speaking Face and Murdock agreed to let them stay in bed. Murdock brought the album pages and the little Nativity set into his room and put them with the photo he was saving for Face. Someday he'd want them.
Murdock looked at the smiling, contented men in the framed photo and let his fingers drift across Face and sighed. He laid the picture face down on the wooden box and crawled into bed.
Face lay awake, curled on his left side with his right arm outstretched across the other half of the bed. His hand was empty, and the worst thing was he didn't even know what he wished was in it. If indeed anything at all. His watch was on the table but he didn't need it to know what time it was. Oh dark thirty, he thought, just before the dawn when it's always darkest. But dawn doesn't come. Not really. ' Still darkness falls around us And we must journey on...' Except no one ever tells us why.
He sighed, wishing he could sleep. He hadn't in days, not since he and Murdock had come back from the Eastern shore Friday morning. Not to say really sleep. He'd close his eyes and go off for a short time, a few minutes, and then he'd jerk himself out of a dream and lie awake again for hours. Like tonight... He was becoming exhausted, catnapping through the day but not getting any real rest. It couldn't be more than another day or two before Hannibal noticed and then what? He clenched his fingers in the sheet. Murdock already had noticed, he was sure of that, but Murdock hadn't said anything. Wouldn't. Didn't want any part of Face's problems, that was becoming obvious.
Oh, God, he thought wearily. Just let me sleep for once. But he wasn't counting on it. And he was almost afraid to, anyway. Tonight he hadn't dreamed of Frankie dying, or Murdock in his arms. Tonight he'd been so tired and ground down he'd dreamed of the camp again, which he hadn't done in years. Much as he hated the other dreams, he'd rather them a thousand times, rather the pain of Frankie's blood on his fingers or the bitter knowledge that Murdock wasn't really... He clenched his jaw and tried to empty his mind of everything but one chosen thought. He'd used to be able to do that when he'd needed to. Maybe he was out of practice... Or, more likely, he just couldn't think of anything that didn't sneak up and bite him.
He heard BA and Hannibal going down the hallway, talking softly. It wasn't as early as he'd thought. A mixed blessing: if he didn't have time to try to sleep again at least he didn't have to keep lying there, awake, wanting. He rolled onto his back and wondered what the hell he'd do if Stockwell sent them somewhere today. Hannibal thought he'd lost his edge earlier? Today he didn't even have any place to put an edge. This was no good. He had to do something to get some sleep.
Tranqs. They had a lot here. Some for Murdock, his prescriptions in case he needed them, and some for BA, in case they had to fly. BA's were too strong, he needed to be able to wake up if someone knocked on his door, but Murdock's... they weren't really tranqs, just kinda strong sleeping pills. If he lifted a couple of those he could get a good night's sleep. Bad dreams wouldn't kill him, he knew that for sure.
Plan in hand he felt more like getting up and facing the others. He'd only have to deceive Hannibal another dayif they got sent off somewhere today they'd almost certainly fly and he could grab a tranq while they were packing and nap on the plain. BA might try to stuff more food into him, like he was a baby bird for Christ's sake, but he had to admit that he hadn't been eating much. He'd lost nine pounds since... Malaysia.
He shook his head and got out of bed. ' There's nothing either good or ill but thinking makes it so.' What a load of dingo's kidneys, as those Aussies back in Saigon used to say. Malaysia was as bad as it gets. He shook his head again as that stray thought he didn't want to face slipped through his mind almost too quickly to notice, a little whisper, not the worst. The hot water of his shower cleansed his body, and at least quieted his mind.
He dressed carefully, a dusty rose shirt under his camel sweater with the cream and rose accents and dark brown slacks. The rose gave him a little more color, which he needed. Not as much as he needed caffeine, of course, he thought as he headed down the stairs. The thought must have made him smile, because Hannibal's greeting was a bit relieved. He poured himself some coffee, gave BA some pro forma argument about breakfastpancakes againand waited to see what Hannibal had on the schedule.
That, thank God, was not physical training. Instead they spent the day going over operational codes. Face had a hard time keeping the new ones Hannibal had come up with in his memory, but the older ones were automatic responses. Murdock was the one who drew Hannibal's wrath, which gave Face the chance he needed to get into the pilot's room and find his meds.
"What are you planning on doing with those?"
Damn. Murdock had sneaked up on him.
"Give," Murdock said, grabbing Face's wrist. His brown eyes were blazing.
"Oh, for God's sake," Face said. "I took two. Two." He rubbed his wrist as Murdock put the pills back into the little bottle and stuck that into the pocket of his khakis. "If I was planning to kill myself I'd have done it weeks ago, and I'd use my gun. Not your sleeping pills."
"Yeah? Two before I got here. What were you planning on doing?"
"None of your business." Face tried to push past him but the other man grabbed his sweater and shoved him up against the dresser.
"The hell, Face. What affects the team is my business, and those are my pills, which makes it my business."
Face hardly heard him, he was fighting his reflex reaction to being pinned and too tired to do it well. He had Murdock's wrist in his right hand and was bringing his left around to smash the pilot's elbow before he could stop himself; he didn't actually break it but it hurt the other man, that was certain. Pain and awareness of his error both flashed across those dark brown eyes but anger, or something very like it, overtook them and he grabbed Face's other wrist and pushed him back. They struggled for a minute, but Murdock's position and lack of lack of sleep gave him the advantage. He glared at Face.
"What the hell are you doing, anyway, Face? Why don't you talk to me?"
Face stilled for a minute and then twisted free. Murdock grabbed his sweater again and he slapped at the pilot's hand. "Why should I?"
"We're team-mates, Face." Murdock paused a minute and tightened his grip. "I care about you."
"Sure." Face managed to pull loose and moved three steps sideways, getting out of reach. "Sure. Well, I'm fine, all right?"
"Face, you're not. A blind man could see it. And now you're stealing my pills?"
"What do you want to hear? I can't sleep, all right? Half the time I see him and the other half" Face was too off balance to keep himself from starting that sentence but he could stop it dead in its tracks and choke it into non-existence.
"The other half what?" Murdock asked, his eyes even angrier.
"None of your business." Face backed away a couple more steps and Murdock came after him, grabbing at his arm. Reflexively Face struck out, connecting with a glancing blow on Murdock's shoulder. It caught the other man off-balance and sent him staggering back to fall on his bed. Face stared at him for a few seconds and then was out the door and in his own room.
"Murdock!" Hannibal's voice from downstairs.
Face swore to himself, at himself. If I can't get the pills... I can get drunk. And laid. That'll do it. He reflexively looked at himself in the mirror and stripped off the sweater, twisted out of shape, and grabbed a jacket. He needed to get gone while Murdock was occupied with Hannibal.
"We have to find him," said Hannibal. "I don't like the idea of him out there alone. Not in the mood he's been in lately, not just today, but..." He shook his head, clearly worried, and Murdock hadn't even told him everything. "Murdock, where is this place of his? We should check there."
"No sense in that now, Hannibal. He won't be able to be there for hours yet. If we drive out there and he's not there, we'll lose ten, eleven hours... We should look around town first. Later I can call his neighbors, see if he's there."
"Where is it?"
"It's out on the Eastern Shore," Murdock said.
Hannibal nodded. "All right, then. I doubt he's still around Langley, but he might be in Arlington. BA, you check around there; Murdock, you and I will split up and look in DC. He's driving the Vette so he shouldn't be too hard to spot."
"If he's still driving it," Murdock said.
"Well, we'd better hope he is, Captain. Otherwise, it's going to be damned hard to find him."
"He prob'ly is," BA put in. "He want us to find him, down inside. He want us to prove we come lookin', want us to prove we think he worth the trouble."
Hannibal looked at BA, raised his eyebrows, and nodded. "And if we don't find him"
"He won't come home on his own. He be sure he right."
"Well, he's not. We're going to find him and drag him home kicking and screaming if we have to," Hannibal said. "And then we're going to knock some sense into that thick head of his if it's the last thing we do."
"Right on," BA growled.
"Right, colonel," Murdock said.
"So let's not waste any more time. BA, you drop Murdock where he can get the Metro to Georgetown. I'll check Northwest and work my way down."
Murdock and BA rode in nervous silence to East Falls Church. Murdock was trying to decide what to say to Face if he found him, hoping one of the others would, scared one of the others wouldBA was probably right, Face was out there hoping they'd look for him and with every minute that passed convincing himself that they wouldn't, that not only didn't they need him (that wasn't a new worry for him) but that they didn't want to put up with him any more. And in spades for Murdock... He had no idea what to say. He didn't know what BA was thinking but the look on the big man's face discouraged conversation.
At the Metro he expected BA just to let him out but instead he pulled into a parking place. And Murdock hadn't taken three steps before BA's hand grabbed his jacket and he found himself up against the van. "BA," he protested, pushing at the hand, "let go. We don't have time for this."
"I got somethin' to say."
Murdock sighed. "Okay. What?"
"What you doin', fool?"
"What are you talking about?"
"I thought you loved him," BA said astonishingly. "How long you gonna let him go on hurtin' before you do somethin' about it?"
"BA, this is not the time"
"No, it ain't. It's late, way late. I just hope it ain't too late. An' if it is, fool, I'm gonna make you sorry you been puttin' it off."
Murdock flinched at the intensity of BA's emotion. "He doesn't want me to do anything."
"You mean he ain't asked you. 'Course not. He don't know how to ask. That don't mean he don't want."
"BA, we're wasting time. We need to find him" Murdock tried to push past him, unsure which he wanted more: to find Face or to escape this conversation.
The black man grabbed him with a heavy hand. "Ain't gonna do any good to find him if you ain't gonna give him what he needs. He just go again. It ain't like you don't want to, is it?"
Murdock stared into those dark eyes, seeing the concern under the anger. "No. Of course I do. But he doesn't want me."
"You really are a fool," BA said without rancor. "He been wantin' you for years."
"He in love with Frankie, 'cause Frankie in love with him. Takes two. But he love you, he prob'ly love you while he with Frankie, which gonna hurt him even though Frankie didn't mind 'cause Frankie knew what he knew." BA sounded absolutely certain; Murdock wondered how. "But he love you and now Frankie gone he need you."
BA shook his head and Murdock fell silent.
"Face don't know how to be in love," BA said simply.
Murdock was skeptical, and he must have shown it, because BA shook his head, scowling in that way he had when he thought you were missing something obvious.
"He only been in love once before, and he was too young and it didn't work out. Bein' in love not easy, even if you grew up seein' it how it supposed to be done, which he didn't. Even what he remembers of his mama, his daddy wasn't there. And that Becktal woman, she left him. Didn't even have the courtesy to say goodbye, just left him. An' used him later when she needed himyou know she knew he'd come to save her. Why she didn't tell him she was a nun in the letter." BA shook his head; he hadn't liked her much. "So he don't know how
to do it. To him, somebody love and somebody use. With Frankie, it was different. Frankie knew better, he saw his mama and daddy till she died, but he didn't have enough time to teach Face. It all new and scary to him, Murdock, and it hurts. Hurts real bad. Ain't no wonder he's fightin' it, runnin' like this."
"What are you saying, BA?"
"I'm sayin', you better find him."
Face emptied his glass and raised his hand for another.
He looked up. Murdock was standing there, looking so much like himself it hurt. Classic Orioles baseball cap, bomber jacket over a black t-shirt, khakis, sneakers... narrow, high-cheekboned face with those eyes. Face looked away from those eyes. "Go away," he said distinctly.
"Come on, Face. Let's go."
The brunette wrapped herself around his arm. "Don' go," she said, sounding remarkably like the backup singer in Johnny Mathis's 'What Will My Mary Say?' He patted her hand and she looked daggers at Murdock. "You go."
"Come on, Face," Murdock repeated in that patient tone which said he might just stand there for an hour.
Face shook his head. The waiter came up with his scotch and started to reach around Murdock to put it on the table.
"He doesn't want that." Murdock put his hand on the waiter's arm.
"Yes, I do," Face contradicted him, tapping the table beside his empty glass.
"No, he doesn't. You've had enough."
The waiter hesitated. Face looked at Murdock and said, with distinct precision, "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, but Templeton Peck is, unhappily, imperfectly pickled.
And I want my scotch."
The waiter put the drink down and left. Face picked it up and drank half of it.
"Come on, Face. Let's go."
"He don' want you, muchacho," the brunette said. "You go."
"He doesn't want you either, muchacha. He wants to engage in a little vicarious transgender necrophilia, and you really wouldn't like it." Incomprehension and apprehension mingled on her pretty face. Murdock added, "There are plenty of handsome guys in this bar who want to get laid; you ought to go find one. Run along, hon."
She spat somethingFace's Central American Spanish wasn't very goodat one or the other of them, maybe both, and got up and flounced away. Murdock took her vacated seat.
"Come on, Face."
"You don't have any right to do that."
Murdock shook his head.
"I can fuck who I want," Face insisted.
"Yes, I think that's indisputable. But 'can' and 'should' aren't always the same."
Face paused. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Well, for one thing, you used to have better taste."
"I'm out of practice."
"Go away." Face drank half of what was left in his glass, wondering if he could make it last forever, like Zeno's Tortoise, steadily covering diminishing half-distances and never finishing the course.
"Not till you come with me." Murdock was still sounding terribly patient. Terribly, awfully, horribly patient.
"I am not," Face said definitely, "going back to Langley."
"I got no problem with that."
Face drank the next half. "Why are you here?"
"Because I care what happens to you. And you'll get hurt staying here and getting drunk and," Murdock paused momentarily, "whatever."
"Laid," Face said. "The word is 'laid'. There are others, if you prefer."
"Why the hell do you care?" Face finished the drink; it hadn't lasted very long at all, let alone forever.
"I'd be happy to discuss it with you if I thought you were sober enough to understand, which, despite your elocution demonstration, I don't. Come on, Face, let's go."
Face stared at the empty glasses on the table. "I'm not going to Langley," he repeated.
Face looked up into those brown eyes and capitulated. "Okay." He pulled out his wallet and dropped two twenties on the table.
Outside the brisk November wind made him blink. The sky was dark and clear, though Washington was far too brightly lit for many stars to be visible. Not as bright as LA, of course, but few places were. He liked it, though; one of man's better achievements, that, driving back the night even if it drove away the stars...
"I think we should get a dog."
"A dog?" Frankie sounded incredulous. "What would we do with a dog?"
"Leave it out here. Anne and Cal would take care of it."
Frankie propped himself on one elbow. "I'm sure they would. But we can't buy a dog and leave it out here for weeks at a time, months maybe... I didn't think you even liked dogs."
"I don't mind them. But I'm not talking about a pet. I mean a watch dog."
"Oh." Frankie lay back down again, looking up at the sky. "There's not a lot of casual crime out here."
"I thought you liked it out here."
"I do," Face said. "It's just... dark and empty."
Frankie laughed softly. "City boy."
"Oh, come on. You grew up in LA same as I did."
"True... except for the three years I spent in Miami. Arizona, not Florida."
"When was that?"
"I was fourteen. Mom was dead and Dad was starting to get sick... he sent me to spend the summer with my mom's family and I ended up staying till I finished high school." He laughed. "I thought I was gonna go crazy at first. This place is like a bustling metropolis in comparison."
Face winced in sympathy though he envied Frankie his relatives. "I guess they must not have minded having you."
"My abuelita, she insisted I stay. Had a couple of cousins around, it was okay. Probably kept me out of a lot of trouble..." He was quiet for a minute. "And my grande abuelo, my great-grandfather, Hastiin Chee... He liked me. He taught me to ride, some other stuff. Like stars." He pointed up at the sky. "There's 'A'tse'ets ozii'."
"There's what?" The guttural wordphrase?didn't sound a bit like Spanish.
" 'A'tse'ets ozii', the First Slim One. There" he reached over and turned Face's gaze in the right direction.
"I think that's Orion."
Frankie laughed. "Anglo," he said, then, "Yeah, but the Dineh, the Navajo, they don't call it that."
Face was intrigued. "They're the same, just with different names?"
"Oh, no... Well, some. The more obvious groups, I guess. Like the Milky Way, that's Yikaisdahi, Awaits the Dawn, or the Pleiades, the Flint Boys, Dilyehe'. But others aren't, like Revolving Man and Woman, Nahookos bika'ii and Nahookos ba'aad; he's the Big Dipper and she's part of the Little Dipper and Cassiopeia, and the North Star's what they revolve around, their hearthfire. And Scorpius: that's split into two. The head is 'A'tse'etsoh, the First Big One, and the tail is my personal favorite, Gah heet'e'ii, Rabbit Tracks."
Frankie laughed. "Yeah. They are exactly like... and they kind of skitter along the horizon. It's cool." He rolled over onto his side and looked at Face with eyes as dark and bright as the summer sky over their heads. "Though I'm thinking of changing. To Hastiin Sik'ai'i."
"Okay, I'll bite"
Face resisted the low, suggestive tone long enough to ask, "What's that?"
"Man With Legs Apart..."
There was no resisting that. It was hours later that he found out it was a real constellation, most of what was Corvus to Europeans...
"Face?" Murdock was being patient again.
He briefly wondered how many times Murdock had already said it, but just answered, "What?"
"Where do you want to go?"
Face laughed shortly. "Back inside."
"No. Where else?"
He'd already given up but he saw no reason to make it easy for Murdock. He's not making it easy for me... "There's a really nice bar two blocks that way." He gestured widely.
"Face, you've already had more than enough."
"That's your opinion."
"Where do you want to go?"
"I don't fucking care as long as it isn't Langley."
Murdock paused and then shrugged. "My place"
"I thought you didn't care?"
Murdock sighed. "You've definitely had enough... but I expect the only thing to do with you right now is get you drunker, someplace you can sleep it off."
"Sounds like a plan to me."
"We need to find a decent hotel, then."
Face pulled his car keys out. "The Vette's right over there," he gestured.
Murdock snatched the keys from him. "You are not driving."
It was momentarily tempting to picture smashing up the Vette at 90 mph, but only momentarily. He shrugged and climbed into the car, leaned back, and closed his eyes. "Surprise me," he
As soon as Face went to sleep, Murdock headed the Vette toward New York Avenue. Face would be annoyed to find himself on the Eastern Shore, but it was the best place to go. At least, he hoped it was. It was safe, which was important, and Stockwell either didn't know where it was or, if he did but figured he'd only drive Face into running for good if he moved on it, didn't come there. He could have wished for someplace to go that wouldn't have Frankie's ghost walking around it, but it had to be somewhere he could drive to before Face woke up. Or came to, more like, he thought, looking at the blond slumped against the doorframe.
Hell. Whether or not he could make Face believe he was in love with him, this had to stop. Face withdrawing from the team, hiding behind those barriers of histhat was one thing. Face going to bars and getting this drunk, that was another. It was new and self-destructive and couldn't be allowed to go on. BA was right... Face was in pain and scared and fighting back and he didn't have a clue what was happening. Murdock had stayed away too long; he had to make Face talk to him.
Especially if Frankie had been right...
He forced his attention back to the traffic, but he couldn't keep part of his mind from thinking about that. If Frankie had been right, if BA was right, if what he thought he'd seen in Face's eyes that evening before he vanished was real... He had a very strong urge to pull into the first motel he came to, but he knew he had to let Face sober up first. He couldn't be drunk, not even a little, when they had this conversation.
And this time he'd have to let Hannibal know where they were. Because if it didn't go well, he and BA would have to pick up the pieces.
He sighed as he looped around towards 450 and the Bay. He'd thought Face needed time to get over Frankie, but now he wasn't sure that that was even possible. Besides, he had to admit, if BA was right and Frankie was the first person who'd ever had a real, honest relationship with Face, he shouldn't get over it. He should cherish the memory for the rest of his life.
As long as he didn't start thinking he'd never have another...
He sighed again. It was going to be a long drive.
It was well past dawn when Murdock finally found the turnoff from US 13 back west to the house. If there hadn't been sunlight, he'd have never found it, he thought, and he'd definitely have missed the last turnoff, the one that went out past the Willises' place to the one Face was renting. He wondered, as he headed down the bumpy little road, what they were doing in a place like this in the first place. Maybe Frankie had found it. Maybe Face liked the water enough to balance out the ambience. Maybe they both figured Stockwell would never come looking in a place like this for Face...
He saw the boy on the bicycle and slowed down, then, recognizing Cal, he stopped. After a long measuring look, Cal came up to the Vette and leaned down. His expression was still and withdrawn until he recognized Murdock, and then he smiled. "Hey, Mr. Thomas," he said, and craned his head around to see Face sleeping in the other seat. "How's Mr. Hard doin'?"
Murdock had had time to consider the situation. Obviously, being in and out of the house, seeing the bedrooms, these kids had to know the nature of Face's relationship with Frankie. And with him. Yet they obviously adored Face. So now he said, "He's been better. It all hit him pretty hard again. But I think he'll be all right."
"Hape say," said Cal. Hope so. "Anything we can do?"
"Well, actually we could use some eggs." Probably more, but he couldn't remember what was there and felt a little reluctant to impose too much. He should have bought more than gas in Annapolis.
"No problem. You be out here long?"
"I don't think so. A day or so. Somebody may come out to visit. A black van with a red stripe, a grey-haired man and a big black man with a mohawk."
"Friends of yourn?"
"Yes," Murdock nodded. "Of us both."
"'Kay," the boy said. "Me or Anne'll bring some eggs and stuff around lateror if you wait, I'll fetch some from th'house now, just be a coupla minutes."
"Thanks." Murdock waited, engine idling smoothly. When Cal returned with a grocery bag, he took it and put it behind him.
"'At's a noce car, Mr. Thomas," the boy said.
Cal grinned appreciatively.
Murdock grinned back and recklessly committed Face. "Come by later and you can drive it to the store for us."
"Thanks; I will." He moved back as Murdock put the Vette in gear.
Face was going to be pissed off when he realized Murdock had brought the Vette out here, he thought, driving carefully as he could. That old Chevy truck handled this goat-track a lot more easily. But even if he could have remembered where the other vehicles were, he hadn't wanted to keep dragging Face from one to another. It would have woken him up, and pissed him off, and Murdock didn't want to fight with him. It had been hard enough keeping calm in that bar, especially seeing that woman all over him. And the last thing he'd wanted was Face saying or doing something irretrievable.
He pulled the Vette up next to the house and pulled out the bag. He found the housekey under the fourth flagstone in the walkway and opened the door, put the eggs and bread away, and then went back outside. He paused a moment, looking at Face. It would be simplest just to leave him where he was, but if he spent much more time in the sports car he'd be so stiff when he woke up he wouldn't be able to move. Which would stop him punching Murdock but...
He reached in and pushed Face off the door and opened it. Face didn't wake, even when Murdock shook his shoulder. "Face... Face. Come on, Facey, wake up." No joy. This wasn't just sleep, he had passed out. "Oh, man, how much did you have before I got there?" He reached in and hauled the other man out, getting his shoulder under him and lifting him. He resisted the urge to pat the butt next to his chin and staggered up the stairs to the kitchen doorFace was built more solidly than you'd think.
He pushed open the door to Face's bedroom and dropped the blond onto the bed. Then he pulled him up enough to get the cream-colored jacket off. He let Face flop back down and took off his tie and cordovan loafers. Then he paused. What would annoy Face more: finding himself half-naked or crumpling up those slacks, which were certainly dry-clean only? Well, if that's not a stupid question, I never asked one, Murdock thought and unbuttoned the other man's shirt and pulled it off, then unbuckled his belt. That finally got some reaction from Face; he pulled away, curling up a little. Murdock froze. After a few moments Face relaxed, sighing and going into a deeper unconsciousness. Telling himself he'd give it one shot, Murdock, being very careful, managed to tug the pants off. Equally carefully he folded them and hung them up, along with the shirt. Then, much as he wanted to stand there and look, he took the quilt from the foot of the bed and covered Face with it and went out into the kitchen, breathing deeply.
Maybe I ought to get drunk myself.
Instead he stretched out on the couch in the living room and finally fell asleep himself.
Face was still asleep when Murdock woke up and looked in on him. He was curled up on his side, his right hand stretched out across the other half of the bed, and his breathing deep and regular. Murdock leaned against the door jamb and watched him for a few minutes and then tore himself away before he yielded to temptation and woke him up. Instead he picked up one of the few books in the house and went out to sit on the porch in the autumn sunshine.
"He's sleeping," he told Cal when the boy came by after school, handing him the keys to the Vette, the shopping list, and three twenties. He wasn't sure why he was volunteering the information, but the blue eyes looking out of that thin suntanned face reminded him a lot of Face's and he heard the words coming out before he knew it.
"Hope he feels better," said Cal seriously. "Him and Mr. Rivera... " He paused and then shrugged, unable to find the right words.
"Yes, they were," Murdock said. "Fill up the Corvette, if you would. Premium. And thanks a lot, Cal."
The boy grinned. "Thank you," he said, stroking the car's hood. "I'll be careful with her."
Murdock watched him drive off and would have put money on his cranking the Vette up to 60 as soon as he hit pavement.
"Murdock!" Face, his hair mussed and wearing a pair of cords, opened the door, glaring.
"Oh, hi, Faceman."
"Don't 'hi' me. What am I doing here?" Face continued to glare.
"I don't remember a hell of a lot about last night, but I'm pretty sure I said I didn't want to come here."
"Yes, you did say that," Murdock conceded.
"So why am I here?"
"Because I couldn't think of any place else."
"God damn it." Face looked around. "What did we come in? Where is it?"
"Cal took it to do a little shopping for us."
"Yeah? Well, we're leaving as soon as he gets back."
"I'll put it this way. I'm leaving as soon as he gets back."
"Look, we'll talk about it."
"We have talked about it. I don't want to be here, so as soon as Cal gets back, I'm leaving."
Murdock nodded. On to Plan B. "You look in pain."
"My head is killing meand I don't want to hear about it. I need a drink."
"You need aspirin."
"I'll get both."
Murdock jumped to his feet. "There's beer in the fridge. Nothing else. I'll get you some aspirin."
Face snarled at him and headed for the kitchen.
Handing Face one of his sleeping pills instead of an aspirin was the hardest thing he'd done in a long time. Until he left Face drowsily nuzzling his pillow and shut the door.
Face woke. Outside the window was grey, not the half-light of dawn but a deep, impenetrable greyness. Fog had come in during the night. He knew what kind it was from the little he could see of it: the kind you could get lost in after taking eight or nine steps.
At the moment that was a little bit tempting. But only a little bit, which, he supposed, was an improvement over the way he'd been feeling for the last few days. Or weeks. He didn't even feel particularly tired, though he also didn't feel like moving. He was logy, like he'd slept too much... one extreme or the other, huh? He could smell coffee, which meant Murdock was up already.
Murdock... yet another complication there. Because he knew where he was and how he'd gotten here. He just wasn't sure why, or what to do about it. At least he wasn't so tired he couldn't think straight.
He'd sworn never to come back here. Sure, he'd only sworn it to himself, but still he'd sworn it. He'd been planning on giving the nameless boat to Anne and Cal and telling the owners to put the property back on the market and never going further east than Annapolis ever again, unless of course Stockwell came up with something for them to do in Delaware. He sighed and turned over to look at the ceiling. Now that he was here, he couldn't remember why he'd felt so strongly about it. It wasn't so bad; the burning had worked. Frankie's ghost was exorcised, though he hesitated over that word. Frankie was as far from evil as you could get... But he was gone. The room felt empty, and Face couldn't remember his dreams, if he'd had any.
That was good. Murdock had been right about the usefulness of this place as a refuge from Stockwell. Maybe the whole team could come out here. Murdock had enjoyed sailing, Hannibal probably would. Maybe BA would, too. Hannibal would love all this wetland to run training drills in... On second thought, maybe don't let Hannibal come.
He realized his left hand was stretched out across the empty half of the bed, stroking the cool unwrinkled sheet. Damn. Maybe he should sleep on that side of the bed so when he reached out without thinking he'd find the table. He pulled his hand back. Frankie was gone, though his body wasn't convinced yet, but there wasn't anyone to take his place. No one to fill his hand.
He sat up. That was how it went. Frankie had been a momentary aberration, a passing episode now over. Something to be grateful for, but not to expect to see again. It's back to life as usual, Faceman. Count your blessings. Three friends who'd die for you; more than most people ever get. Don't be greedy. He sighed and scrubbed his hands through his hair and over his face. Shower. Then apologize.
He didn't remember yesterday (yesterday?) very well, but he did remember overreacting and hitting Murdock. Being incredibly rude to him. Being, to be honest, a pain in the ass. He hadn't expected Murdock to come looking for him, but the pilot had. We're team-mates. I care about you. Murdock wouldn't let him get drunk and lost. It was his own damned fault if he wanted more than that.
He rested his head on his forearms for a minute and then straightened up. Murdock was still here. He'd spent twenty years near Murdock, never having him; he could spend twenty more, or thirty, or however many Godand Murdockgave him. As long as he didn't screw up irretrievably and chase him away. So, shower and then go out and be as charming and contrite as possible. Apologize. Let him yell. Make him laugh.
Keep him as close as he'll come.
So Face took a quick shower and pulled on the cords lying over the chairback in the bedroom and a blue and white polo shirt from the half-empty dresser and a pair of battered deck shoes and headed for the kitchen with an apology on his lips. He never got it said.
"Cinnamon rolls this morning, Face," Murdock said cheerfully. "Fresh from the oven, yum." He held the plate out, and the scent of cinnamon and melting sugar icing mingled with coffee and filled Face's senses. He took a step backwards.
The next thing Face knew, he was outside in the fog, running along the dock towards the Bay. He halted a step from the end of the dock; though he could barely see where the dark wood ended and the grey nothingness began, he'd been up and down here far too many times not to know exactly where the edges were. He dug the heels of his hands into his eyes and then stood still, trembling slightly, taking deep breaths and trying to calm himself. The heavy fog made the place into any place, or no place'no place' fit his mood better. Beneath
his feet the Chesapeake slid higher as the tide came in, the sound eerily muffled. It was like Limbo, home of unbaptized babies and virtuous pagans... Lost souls. No way out.
The faint scent of cinnamon hung in the still air around him. He must have brought it with him when he'd fled the kitchen. He should have known better: you can't run away from what's inside your head. He closed his eyes, remembering...
Frankie tasted of coffee and cinnamon in the morning. He'd thought at first it was in his mind, because Frankie looked like cinnamon, but it was true. He hadn't found out why, but he remembered the taste of him. It was sharp and invigorating, but his kiss wasn't sharp. It was sweet and yielding, his lips parting, their breath mingling, tongues caressing each other. Frankie's eyes were always open when they kissed, dark and soft; if Face opened his, as he sometimes did, he could see himself reflected in those dark irises just as surely as he was in Frankie's soul... Morning kiss in the old kitchen, love proffered without price tag... enough to break his heart even then, though it hadn't. Not till he lost it.
Cinnamon and coffee. Breakfast even at fast-food places. No way to get away from it, from Frankie's kisses, engraved more deeply into his soul now than when they'd been there for the taking...
He'd never get away from Frankie. Sometimes he didn't want to. Others... Most of the time, anymore... He sighed, facing it. Frankie was gone if not forgotten (never forgotten, never to be forgotten) and Murdock was here, and he was lost.
"Face? You out here?" Murdock's voice came out of the fog. He'd crept up on little cat... on big sneakered feet. Coming after him one more time.
"I'm here," he answered. Murdock joined him. They stood silently for a moment. The only thing the fog was revealing to them was each other. The rest of the world was unseen, unreal. Even the sound of the water was like a dream, very far away. Face shivered, feeling not cold but scared. No, not scared but anticipatory, though of what he wasn't sure. Wasn't sure of anything, lost in more than fog.
"How close to the edge are we?" Murdock still wasn't used to the dock yet, after only two visits, and he sounded a bit worried.
Face knew where he was in relation to the edge of the dock and the Chesapeake Bay. But that was hardly the only edge he was getting near... "I don't know," he said. "Too close."
Murdock shook his head. "You can only get too close if you don't want to go over," he said. And then, moving slowly but without hesitation, he leaned in.
A gentle kiss, which led to another, much less so.
Murdock's kiss was nothing like Frankie's. No caffeine, Face thought, pure wine...
And then he stopped thinking. About anything at all.
Murdock watched Face sleep. He seemed to have been doing that a lot lately, but this time there were differences. Such as, Face was relaxed. And the most important difference: Murdock wasn't just watching. He was in the bed with Face, not just close enough to touch but actually touching. Being touched: Face's outflung arm was across Murdock's midriff.
He sighed happily. He felt pretty relaxed, himself.
Face wasn't the first man he'd had sex with. There'd been a few in Vietnam, to relieve tension and fear, and several in the hospital in the first bleak years. But they had been even more desperation measures. In fact, in some cases they'd probably been abuse, really. Whatever, though the mechanics had been familiar, the emotions hadn't. Nothing, no one, had ever been like Face.
He ran his fingers through thick tawny hair, slightly damp now and disarrayed. He'd wanted to do that back when it was still truly blond, golden and soft and shorter even than it was now. He wished he had, but back then things might not have worked out... Everything they'd been through might have torn lovers apart, while it had strengthened friendship. Although... The past is not a choice, Captain, he reminded himself. And he loved Face so much more today than he had back before everything else, the deaths, the madness, the years on the run... the camp. And Frankie. He still didn't know what precisely had spooked Face this morning, but he had the feeling that Frankie was involved in it. This was their place, after all. Had been their place. It's ours now.
He moved his free handFace's head was on his other armaway from his lover's hair to stroke it along his shoulder and arm, prompting it to tighten slightly on him. He smiled. George Allen was right: the future is now. Now and forever. And if it came with baggage, well, that just meant it was moving in.
Face snuggled a little bit closer in his sleep. Murdock liked that. It wasn't very Face-like, but then again, sleeping Face shed his defenses. Unless he was using sleep as one, of course, but now he wasn't. Now he was just being himself, showing what he'd find a lot hard to show awake. Although, Murdock smiled broadly in remembrance, he'd showed it pretty well earlier. And he'd been awake. He'd definitely been awake.
Very definitely very awake.
They'd stood on the slippery dock kissing for Murdock wasn't sure how long. A long time. No words that meant anything, just names and "yes" and "oh, God". Hands everywhere. Mouths. Murdock's shirt was on the dock. God knew where Face's wassomewhere between there and the kitchen door. When the fog cleared they could find it. If it hadn't been so wet and cold they might still be out there themselves.
But it was better in bed. Much better. Warm and comfortable instead of cold and lumpy, plus you could fall asleep afterwards without catching pneumonia. Though the falling asleep afterwards bit was a definite downside to being forty instead of twenty-four. Or not, he reconsidered. This was nice, lying here drowsy and sated, with Face the same, plus all trusting and cuddly. This was something he hadn't foreseen. He liked it, a lot. He liked falling asleep with Face. He liked waking up next to Face. And he had the feeling he was going to like it when Face woke up next to him.
It wasn't a bit surprising that Face and Frankie had wanted someplace to be like this.
Frankie... Face and Frankie.
Of course Frankie loved Face. Who wouldn't? And of course Face fell in love with Frankie. Frankie had loved him, which was pretty irresistible. And Frankie had offered him forever, that was clear from what little Face had actually said. And forever was what Face wanted. And maybe what BA had said, and Frankie too, from what his grandmother had said, was true: maybe Face had always loved Murdock, always wanted to stop being the caregiver and start being the lover, but when he finally could have then Murdock hadn't seen it, had started pushing him away. Pushing him right at someone who loved him and who wasn't any crazier than the world accepted as normal. And by the time he'd sorted out everything Richter had told him after that Monte Carlo job, the absolute low point of his relationship with Face, then Face was in the hospital and Frankie had decided to move in.
Wrong words. Murdock sighed softly. Frankie had to decided to speak up. And Face accepted second choice and because Frankie did too they'd made it into something real and beautiful and necessary. You could tell that by what happened when Frankie died... Face loved Frankie by the time he died, whatever he'd felt at the beginning. Whatever he felt for Murdock now, or even then, he'd loved Frankie.
Murdock hadn't seen it, his own preconceptions hadn't had the chance to change, and Face's withdrawal and then the balance they'd struck, where Face and he were friends again, had hidden it. He'd had a window to change it, if he'd thought he could, and for most of that year it hadn't even crossed his mind...
"Why do I do that, Doc?" Murdock had called Richter after they'd come back from Monte Carlo.
And Murdock had finally got himself together in time to see Face slide back into the best friend slot, wanting nothing more. So he'd done the same thing; after all, he'd been doing it for years, living with half a loaf, telling himself it was enough and that enough was as good as a feast. That made him laugh: Face in his arms was a feast, and nothing would ever be as good as that. As this.
"Do what, precisely?" Richter had told him he could have half an hour and then 'someone who really needs it has claim on my time.'
"Act like a jerk. He's been my best friend for almost twenty years, I've loved him as long as I've known him, since '69. And now I'm acting like I don't want him around."
"Like you don't want him around? Or, maybe, that you just don't want him as close as he used to get?"
"You mean my boundaries are bigger now?" That made sense, almost.
"Murdock, I'll confess I used to worry about your relationship with him, until I actually met him. He was getting extremely close to you, and there were times you didn't have any boundaries."
"I remember those times, kinda," Murdock nodded to the phone.
"You told me once that he followed you wherever you went, that he came inside you, went inside your mind I mean"
"Yeah, I know." And even now that was rueful.
"Well, Murdock, now your mind is not that permeable. Now you have boundaries. And your subconscious is going to be even more protective of them. The only one it wants inside you is you."
Murdock thought about that for a while. It certainly explained why he sometimes reacted like Face was a threat, but not like the other guys were.
"I'm here, Doc. I'm just... watching pieces fall into place."
"Your relationship with him was never one of equals."
"Oh, now, Doc, that's just not right."
"I don't mean he thought of himself as superior, or that you had an inferiority complex. God knows, with everything else you came up with, that was never there. But your dynamic, if you prefer that term, his interactions with you, were always from someone who was, to be blunt, strong to someone who was injured. Protective strong to injured, let me hasten to add: he was good for you. But he was a caregiver to someone who needed it, almost a parent figure, and you don't need that anymore. I'm sure that after twenty years it's difficult for him to adjust but it's imperative for you that you not find yourself stuck in that role."
Murdock gave that a lot of thought. It was certainly true that Face had been as important to his recovery as Dr. Richter. The difference between the two men was that, now that Murdock was healthy, the doctor's job was done. Face was still there, still his best friend, and that role was contaminated by the past... He sighed, heavily.
"Just seeing the whole picture, Doc. You're right. We gotta change how we deal with each other. And I gotta find some way to do that that doesn't chase him away forever."
"Yes. But if it's any consolation, from what I've seen of the man, he doesn't chase easily."
Murdock smiled wryly. From what you've seen, that may look true. But a Face who's around but distant isn't what I want... "I'll work on it now that I understand what's happening. Thanks, Doc. Send me a bill."
Richter laughed, said goodbye, and hung up.
Why the hell had he waited so long? Not before, of course: before he'd known about Frankie, Face would have turned him down and it would have hurt them both. And after, of course, well, Face would have gotten angry, and rightly so. But after Malaysia he could have spoken up. Why hadn't he? Why had he needed BA to slam some sense into him? Of course, and he found himself laughing again, that was pretty much what BA had always done.
"Hey," Face said sleepily, rubbing his hand along Murdock's ribs. "What's so funny?"
"Nothing much, hon," Murdock said. "Just feeling good. How about you?"
Uh-oh. That tone did not sound good. "Yep, it's me. Were you dreaming?"
Face didn't exactly leap away but he did roll over on his back, sliding his head off Murdock's arm and pulling his own arm off the pilot to rest his hands on his stomach. "No," he said after a moment. "I don't think so."
They lay quietly for a while. Murdock could see Face's eyes going around the room. He silently thanked God that he'd retained enough sense to drag Face that extra five paces down the hallway to the second bedroom. No memories in here: it had taken him an hour just to get the bed cleared off the first night he'd stayed here.
"What happened?" Face asked quietly.
Murdock paused. "I kissed you, you kissed me, we ended up in here..."
"Murdock, I remember."
"Yes," Face answered, though it hadn't been a question. Murdock smiled; that sounded a lot better. "It was... But that's not what I meant. Why? Why did you kiss me?"
Murdock shrugged. "'Cause there wasn't anything in the world I wanted to do more."
"Really?" The tone was indecipherable.
"Really," Murdock affirmed. "Still isn't. I love you, Face. Have for a while. Will forever."
Face was quiet for a couple more minutes. "Murdock"
"I know," Murdock interrupted. "You loved Frankie. You probably still do, you probably still will for a long time. Maybe, in a way, the rest of your life. But maybe there's room for me now?" That turned into a question.
"Room for you? I don't know why you'd want to be here for very long."
"Come on, Face. Don't talk like that. Frankie loved you; you know that. Why can't you believe I do?"
"You know me better than he did."
"Maybe... It doesn't change anything. I love you. You know me better than anyone in the world. You've seen me at my absolute worst. You never walked away from me even when it would have been not only easy but safer. How can you be surprised that our shared past makes me feel closer?"
Face rolled over on his side, those blue eyes staring almost fiercely. "That's not the point. That's not what I'm talking about"
"Come on, Face, you're not going to trot out that 'Frankie loved you, you didn't love him' line, are you? You can't believe that."
Face blinked at him.
Murdock sat up and faced him. "Six weeks later and you're still missing him. Aren't you? You didn't go through that whole don't-talk-or-sleep-or-even-eat-for-three-days thing because you didn't love him. You didn't go to Arizona because you didn't love him. You didn't turn into a nice polite stranger every time someone asked you how you were doing because you didn't love him. You didn't cry all over me and BA's Mama because you didn't love him. And you sure as hell didn't burn everything in this house that reminded you of him because you didn't love him. You may not think you loved him, but you did, and it's obvious to everyone else."
Face sat up, too, wrapping his arms defensively around his raised knees and not looking at Murdock. "I didn't."
Murdock sighed heavily. He hadn't planned on having this conversation naked in bed, but as von Moltke had said No plan survives contact with the enemy. "All right, Face. Why do you say that? What were you doing for the past year? Taking advantage of him? And what? He never noticed? Or he just liked it? Just lay down and let you?"
"Frankie wasn't" Face broke off that angry response.
"Angry? Why, if you didn't love him?"
Murdock waited but that seemed all. "You loved him, Face. Maybe not as much as he loved you, but you loved him."
"If I loved him, why was I glad it wasn't you?" That was soft, so soft Murdock almost didn't hear it.
"Because it wasn't," he said after a minute. "If it had been, and Frankie was there to take care of you, get you through what I didn't, you'd have been glad it wasn't him. Gladder. It's just human. It didn't last long, and you've been beating yourself up over it too damned long."
"If I loved him," this was more aggressive, "what am I doing in bed with you?"
"You're not cheating on him, Face. He's gone."
Face dropped his eyes, examining the blanket over his knees as though there'd be a test later.
"He loved you. He wouldn't want you to spend the rest of your life alone and hurting. And before you ask how I know, well," he hesitated, not wanting to tell Face about the dream he'd had. It was probably just him anyway, so, "it's how I'd feel." Face looked up at him. "Besides," Murdock added, "his grandmother told me."
"His abuelita? Told you... what?"
"That Frankie loved you so much he didn't care if he wasn't the first person you loved, as long as you loved him. That now that he was gone, you and she had talked about the dead, and she and I needed to talk about the living. She told me to talk to you, take away your pain. 'That is what love is for', she told me. I figure she knew what she was talking about."
"It hasn't been long enough."
"Oh, who says what's long enough? Ann Landers? Abby? Emily Post? What the hell do they know? Everybody's different. And you sure as hell haven't forgotten him."
Face sighed. "I tried so hard."
"Well, stop it."
He looked up, startled by the acerbic tone. "You're saying that?"
"Hell, yes. You can't forget him. Don't kill yourself trying. There's no need. It's not like I don't know you loved him." He paused, then reached out and touched Face's cheek, gently. "It's not like I'm not glad you were happy."
Face leaned into the touch, his eyes closed, but he said, "I didn't mean to."
Murdock wasn't sure what he meant, but he answered, "I didn't plan on this. At least, not today. But love kind of had a mind of its own."
"I wanted it," Face said. "I wanted you..."
"You weren't alone, hon." Murdock felt Face flinch slightly. He added, "You don't have to be alone any more."
Face sighed and turned to kiss Murdock's palm. Murdock slid his hand around to Face's shoulder and pulled him in for a real kiss. Face came to him, taking hold of his head gently and pushing him down onto the bed. And while the first time had been wild, driven, out of control, and wonderful, this time was slow, gentle, and thorough, and even better. Especially when Face slipped out of the bed long enough to fetch lube from the other room, and for the first time ever Murdock was possessed by someone who loved him.
And when Face lay down on Murdock's chest afterwards, the pilot felt tears on his skin, and in his eyes.
"We'd better get up," Murdock said.
"Why?" Face said, burrowing into the pillow.
"Because Hannibal and BA will probably be here soon," Murdock said tentatively.
"Hannibal and" Face shook his head. "How did they find out where we were?" he asked rhetorically.
Murdock looked at him with that slightly hangdog expression. "Well, I guess I must have told them," he said.
"You guess you must have?" He rolled over and realized Murdock was actually apprehensive. "Hey, I'm kidding," he reassured him. "I was thinking about telling them myself."
Murdock grinned, still slightly nervous.
Face caught on. "What, you thought they'd have to pick up the pieces or something?"
Murdock's expression told him he'd hit the bullseye.
"I didn't mean to hit you yesterday," he said. "I was out of it. I'm sorry."
"I know, Faceman. But I didn't know what was going to happen. You were really drunk; it's not like you. I just figured better safe than sorry."
"It's all right," Face said. "I was really thinking about telling them about this place anyway. And I was a little... out of line."
"A little?" Murdock managed. "I'd hate to see a lot, hon." He ruffled Face's hair, ducking from the slap Face directed at him, and climbed out of the bed. "I gotta go."
Face watched him walk away, appreciating the view with a new perspective, then got up himself, picked up his cords, and went into the other bedroom. It was where his clothes were, after all. He found himself just standing in the room, though, instead of opening any drawers. The room didn't feel empty any longer, but it didn't feel anything but welcoming, either...
Murdock's voice interrupted him from the other room. "Face?"
"I'm in here," he answered. "Need to get some clothes, after all."
"If Hannibal and BA are coming, I must," Face said with a laugh. "Not to mention Anne will probably come by with food; she does, you must have noticed."
"I did." Murdock leaned up against the door jamb, frankly staring. Face hadn't actually put on more than a pair of briefs yet but he wasn't in any hurry to put on more, not with that expression in Murdock's eyes. "They're spectacularly nice kids."
"They are," Face nodded. "They brought us flowers... that first time we were here, remember?"
There was enough of a pause there to clue Murdock in that he hadn't meant that, but the other man didn't take him up on it, just nodded. "Yep. I didn't know you still get flowers in November."
"I think Anne's a bit of a witch," Face smiled.
"A good witch, though, right?"
Murdock cocked his head, came into the room, glanced out the window, and said, "Hey, Face, look."
"Your Vette's big brother's here."
Face looked at him for a minute, then walked over to the window. Coming down the road was BA's van. For a minute he could see Murdock's fancy: the van was black, and big, and boxy, while the Vette was white, and small, and sleek, but they both had a red stripe along their sidesCorellian bloodstripes, Murdock had called them once, something out of Star Warsand somehow they seemed to go together... He shook his head and once again it was just a big GMC van. "Big brother, huh? Don't let BA hear you say that."
Murdock grinned at him. He'd always liked Murdock's grin; now it warmed him clear through. Open, a little goofy, a lot welcoming, a smile that said 'I'm happy, be happy with me'. It wasn't much like Frankie's but he loved seeing itHe realized what he was thinking. Swearing at himself, he turned away to grab his cords.
"Hon? What's the matter?"
He looked sideways at Murdock. What in hell is wrong with you? Finally get what you want and... He shook his head, trying to dislodge the treacherous thoughts, and felt Murdock's hand on his arm. "I'm sorry," he said.
"Sorry? For what?" Murdock's hand moved to turn his head so he had to meet those brown eyes. They softened almost at once and the smile Face had seen for the first time that morning came back. "Hon, don't be blaming yourself for that. It's the most natural thing in the world. It's just like when you get a new dog, and you keep catching yourself saying, 'Well, Spot never did that.'"
Face had to smile. "You're a little more important than a dog."
"Well, I hope so, muchacho, though I've known a lot of dogs I liked better than most people. But you shouldn't forget, even if you could. Can. Don't even try."
"Murdock, it's not fair to you."
"Fair?" He reached out and touched Face's cheek gently. "I'm the one you're standing here loving. That's anything but fairthank God. Face, I'll never forget Frankie. I love him for how he made you feel. I told you earlier, and I meant it: don't even be trying to forget him. You got good memories," he insisted as Face felt himself looking doubtful. "A man that loved you, passionately and well. Lotsa people would kill for those memories. Besides, hon: we owe him us."
Face smiled back at him.
"But you'd better get into those pants before Hannibal and BA come in; I'm pretty sure that would fall under 'too much information'."
Face had to laugh. Then he stepped into his cords. He heard the van pull up outside. "You'd better dress, too, then," he pointed out, and pulled a shirt out of the dresser and over his head. "They're here."
Murdock pulled on his khakis and a t-shirt that didn't fit all that well. "How much information you want to give them?"
Face paused. "That's a good question. What do you think?"
"What I think is, Hannibal hated being blindsided."
"He does hate that."
"Besides, the big guy knows I'm in love with you. Might as well let Hannibal know it, too."
Murdock said, hoping it was true, "Hannibal will be glad for us."
"I hope you're right. But I don't think I can lie to him any more."
"Then we'll tell him." If BA hasn't already, Murdock thought. And threatened his teeth if he doesn't behave.
"Face? Murdock?" Hannibal's voice came from the porch.
"Let's go, muchacho."
Face laughed and headed for the front door. He was already there before he realized that they were both barefoot and Murdock at least was quite rumpled. He ran his hand through his hair and opened the door. "Come on in," he said.
They did, and Face shut the door behind BA. Murdock said, "Coffee? Beer? OJ? That's about it." He'd come up to stand just behind Face.
"Beer," Hannibal accepted.
"Sorry, BA," Face said. "I didn't know you were coming," he added pointedly.
"I forgot to get Cal to buy some," Murdock apologized. "But there is condensed milk, I could add water."
BA shook his head. "I'll take some juice till we can get milk in."
"I'll get it." Murdock headed to the kitchen. BA followed him.
"So, Face," Hannibal said, looking around the living room and then focussing that blue stare on him. "How are you?"
"Not bad, Hannibal."
Hannibal raised his eyebrows. "Really?"
"Maybe good..." Face shrugged. "But I think not bad."
Hannibal blinked, then raked his gaze over him from (he was afraid) mussed hair to bare feet, taking in old polo shirt and cords on the way. "You and Murdock?"
"Yeah." Face took a breath. "Seems he was just waiting for me to get over Frankie, decided maybe that would take too long"
"Or end up with you dead," Hannibal said acerbically. "Sounds like you had a time of it."
Face shrugged. "I was lost. He found me."
Hannibal nodded. "And thank God." He put his hand on Face's shoulder and squeezed. "You had us really worried, kid."
"Not your fault, but..." Hannibal blew out a gusty sigh. "I was worried. You okay, now?"
"Well," he shrugged, glad Hannibal hadn't moved his hand. "It still hurts, but I'm better. Murdock... I do love him, you know. It's not new."
"I know." Hannibal squeezed his shoulder again. "I think maybe I always kind of knew. But I'm glad you told me."
"I'm tired of lying about myself to the people I care about."
Hannibal's slow smile appeared, warming Face. "Thanks, kid. I appreciate that."
And then Murdock came in with beer for Hannibal and Face and him, and BA with a carton of OJ and a glass.
"Well, BA," Hannibal said, looking between Face and Murdock. "Looks like you were right."
"Yeah," he nodded, smiling broadly. "I love it when a plan come together."
I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpled wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
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