Title: Untitled Picture Challenge Response
Status: draft 1
Feedback levels: UP TO LEVEL 1
Murdock wandered over to where Face was leant against the wooden face. Propping his arms on the top rail he casually leaned his shoulder against the other man's, eyes squinting against the bright sun.
"Gorgeous aren't they?" Murdock grinned.
Face nodded, one hand coming up to shield his eyes. "I have to confess they are pretty adorable," he grinned, glancing over.
"You ever had one as a kid?" Murdock asked, as they both watched the bouncing balls of fur running around the grassy enclosure. Dogs of all shapes and sizes ran together in the small field that bordered the animal sanctuary they'd pulled up next to. Hannibal and BA were sourcing some food and lodgings for the night and Murdock and Face had gotten out to stretch their legs, cramped after being in the van for nearly four hours straight.
Face shook his head. "Pets didn't go down well at the orphanage. We all wanted one, of course, but the nuns weren't able to afford one. No extra money to spare. All spare cash went on the kids. Always wanted one though." He looked wistful as he watched one small terrier hare round playing with another dog twice his size. "What about you?"
"We always had a dog at the farm," Murdock said. "Ralph, Tigger, Norma and Loopy Louisa."
Face raised his eyebrows and chuckled. "Loopy Louisa?"
"She was a little...erratic, shall we say," Murdock said lightly, mouth lifted in an affectionate grin.
"Sounds familiar," Face grinned.
There was a comfortable silence. Murdock leant his weight back, hands braced on the top rail. He swung there for a while before glancing over to Face. He paused before swinging back forward and looking back down at his hands.
"I had another dog once. Well, joint ownership really."
Face made a inquisitive sound.
"Billy wasn't always fictional."
Face looked over at Murdock's quiet words, a small frown on his face. Murdock met his quizzical gaze and offered him a small smile, which widened as he saw the memory drop into Face's head.
"Yeah," Face breathed. "I remember Billy." He ducked his head, grin broadening. "He was a mutt," he said affectionately.
"Yeah, he was," Murdock agreed, grinning.
It had been the night Murdock had met the rest of the team. He'd been flown in that afternoon at the request of Colonel Smith, only to find that he and half the team were out on recon. He knew that their first Lieutenant was somewhere on base but he'd yet to run into him. Wiling a few hours away in the mess he'd spent time getting to know some of the men before heading out to familiarize himself with the camp.
It had been in the far end bunker that he found him. The very last building to explore, and as he opened the door, he sensed that someone was already in there.
The inside was dark except for a bit of light shining through a couple of skylights. Along one side were benches and hooks and on the far side, racks and storage units. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he could make out the figure of someone crouched on the floor on the far side.
He moved forward slowly, trying not to make too much sound and startle whoever it was as it was obvious that they were pretty pre-occupied. It was a man; he couldn't see any insignia or marks on the fatigues so he couldn't tell what rank they were, but they were crouched down on their haunches, head down, a mop of blond hair hiding their face.
Apart from the fact that Murdock wondered what had happened to make this man retreat into an empty building and be crouched down on the floor in such a manner, the other unusual thing about the scene in front of him was the small brown dog that lay at his feet.
It was seemingly quite comfortable and settled, happily lying with its head on the soldier's foot. Together they made a remarkable sight and Murdock found it fascinating.
He must have made some sort of noise despite his care because the man's head suddenly shot up and he was treated to the most beautiful blue green eyes he'd ever seen. There was shock, fear and then such sadness that overcame the expression that regarded him, that Murdock felt his breath stolen away. Within moments though that face was closing off from him and instinctually, he stepped forward quickly, hand stretching out, a bright, gentle greeting on his lips.
When he saw the flinch, he abandoned the forward momentum immediately, stopping gracefully, hand dropping smoothly to his side.
"Hi," he said softly. "I'm Murdock."
The other man regarded him silently before dropping his eyes away to the floor. Murdock was about to speak again when a soft voice answered.
His confusion must have showed because a small smile ghosted at the corners of the young man's mouth and he clarified with, "Lieutenant Peck."
"Oh!" Murdock couldn't help the wide smile that broke out across his face. "I'm Murdock, your new pilot." He tipped his head. "I just flew in this afternoon."
"So who's that? Murdock gestured to the small dog who, apart from raising his head slightly to regard Murdock for a brief moment when he'd entered, had yet to move from his obviously happy place of rest.
"Yeah." Face sighed and ran a hand through long non-regulation length hair before dropping it to rest gently on a small furry shoulder. "He followed me back to camp this afternoon. Hasn't left me since." There was a small sound of wonder in his voice, a question to his tone that allowed Murdock to see something of the emotion running through this young man.
"Obviously likes you," he said gently.
"Yeah," Face said again, a small sigh blowing from his lips. "Daft fellow."
"Oh, I don't know," Murdock said softly. "Animals are supposed to be a great judge of character."
Face tilted his head to look at Murdock. Feeling like he was being evaluated, Murdock looked back steadily, keeping his face open and honest. He had the greatest feeling that although this was their first meeting, somehow, this was an incredibly important moment. He would be working with this man and of course they needed to get on, but more than that, he felt an indescribable urge to find out more, to get underneath the skin of this person he had known for less than five minutes. After several long moments in which Murdock fought not to look away, Face ducked his head back down.
"You're our new pilot, right?" he asked, obviously satisfied with what he'd found.
"I am," Murdock replied. "You're the supply officer?"
Peck nodded, fingers absently scratching behind the small dog's ears.
"What are you going to do with him?" Murdock asked, crouching down to sit cross legged in front of them both. He held out a hand and was delighted when, after a wary sniff, he was honoured with a gentle lick of the tips of his fingers.
Face chuckled and Murdock felt his own laugh bubble up in response. "I think he likes you too," Face said, a shy smile creeping across his face.
They made a bit of a strange family. In the end Billy sort of adopted them both as surrogate owners and although he was friendly with all the guys in camp including Hannibal and BA, he would always defer back to the two of them. It was always Face's bunk he slept under and Murdock's table he had his breakfast next to.
They had three weeks with Billy before they lost him. Three glorious weeks where Murdock saw a quiet, solemn young man turn back into the gregarious, expressive, charming and mischievous one that Murdock realised that he had been before. All because of one small, brown dog with floppy ears and too long legs.
It had broken Face's heart. Murdock hadn't been that much better. No one knew exactly what had happened to Billy, only that one day he just didn't appear. They got back from a two day mission and he'd gone. No matter how much they called or searched, they never found him.
Murdock liked to think that he'd just found someone else to befriend. Someone else who needed his company and his friendship the way Face had that night. That he'd been a real life 'Littlest Hobo'.
He hadn't found until much later that Face had been in the middle of an ambush the day before he'd found him. One in which he'd been the only one to survive. Face never spoke about that night, then or now, but from what Hannibal had let slip it had been horrific.
He'd heard on the grapevine several months later, that a dog had been smuggled out by another company back to America. They had taken it under their wing and flown it back to live with a Lieutenant and his two small children in West Virginia. He'd never had concrete proof but in his mind he'd thought it was Billy. He hoped it was. He'd deserved to have safe green fields to romp around in, not booby trapped infested swamps to navigate.
It had taken Face a while to stop watching his feet or checking under his bunk but eventually Billy had flown his mind altogether. Even when Murdock's imaginary Billy had emerged, purple wobbles and all, Murdock had never caught more than the briefest flash of recognition at the familiar name.
Imaginary Billy had taken on the same size and color as the real Billy (except when he was angry and turned purple) but Murdock had never described him and Face had never asked.
Staring now at the rows and rows of dogs and puppies of all shapes, he could see all the memories flooding back into Face's mind. See that small brown bundle of love and energy bouncing around in those blue eyes.
"He was a good dog," Face murmured quietly.
Murdock nodded. "He was," he agreed.
"I forgot about him," Face's soft voice caught. "I can't believe I forgot about him." He ducked his head. "He was my saviour."
"You never told me about it," Murdock said quietly.
Face looked across at the still running dogs, eyes squinting against the sun. Closing them, he breathed in once through his nose. Murdock didn't think he would say anything, was about to apologise when a soft voice murmured, "I still see them."
Murdock stayed quiet. He looked across, drinking in Face's profile.
"See their faces, see their bodies," he swallowed. "Their blood." He glanced down then, fingers rubbing together unconsciously. "We were caught on a routine patrol. Wasn't supposed to be anything special. Just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time but..." he paused, eyes going distant for a moment before jerking his head up, sucking in a sharp breath. "But it ended up being a bloodbath." He chuckled without any shred of humor. "Literally."
He rubbed a thumb along the top rail. "I was the only one that survived. But it took them five hours to come and get me."
Murdock closed his eyes in grief. Bit back the automatic response from his lips, knowing that nothing he said would ease the memory or the pain running through Face's mind. He suddenly understood Hannibal's increased protectiveness of Face and the whole team for a long period after that time.
"Billy was there when I got to camp," Face continued. "I needed to be alone, to just.... I found a quiet spot on the edge of camp, by the supplies tent and suddenly he was there." There was a small smile that lifted the side of his mouth. "By my ankle, looking up at me with those dark eyes and that was it, I couldn't shake him. Everywhere I went, he stuck with me." He breathed out. "My little brown shadow." He contemplated the fence rail for a long moment. "He saved me from a very dark place that day."
He lifted his head then and looked across at Murdock with suspiciously shiny eyes. "I think he's saved you too hasn't he. Over the years."
Murdock knew exactly what he meant and he felt his heart wobble a bit. "Yep," he nodded vigorously. "Yep, he has." He met Face's gaze with a sad smile. "One smart little dog."
They shared a look that was filled with memory and emotion. As their attention was drawn back to the roaming field of happy tails, their shoulders touched, once, twice, before leaning gently against each other. The quiet silence that hovered around them was only broken when Hannibal's shout pierced their bubble of remembrance and they turned, greeting their Colonel's wave with one of their own. With one last lingering glance at the field they turned and walked back towards the van.
When Murdock heard the sound of small paws against the dirt and gravel next to them, he snuck a sideways glance at Face, wondering if he had heard them too.
When he saw the soft grin, he knew that he had.
Billy would always be with them.
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