Title: Birthday Box
Status: Final draft
Warnings: Spoilers for Season 5 Family Reunion
Feedback levels: UP TO LEVEL 1
Author's notes: My very first TAT and F/M fic, although not the first one that I started. This came out extremely quickly over two and a half hours at the point when I should have getting to bed. Written for The A Team's birthday request on A-Slash. Face finds out his actual birthday. Murdock responds.
"It's your birthday?"
Murdock's eyebrows hit his hairline, well, attempted to. Murdock was aware his hairline had been all too quickly retreating from active duty, but his eyebrows still kept on trying. However, they were excused on this occasion because he was pretty sure that in all the years he'd know Face, and that numbered well into the double digits now, he'd never heard any mention or acknowledgement of that one significant day of the year from his friend. In fact, he was pretty sure that Face had told him that due to his childhood, he'd never actually known his true birthday.
His eyebrows came back down and then travelled in the opposite direction, forming into a small inverted frown of concern.
Face averted his eyes. "I've been writing and talking to Ellen recently," he said, a small shrug lifting his shoulders. "She, well, we got talking about stuff and, well the next time we spoke, she'd found some of our father's old belongings. My birth certificate was still in there."
Ah, thought Murdock. Then, "You didn't look it up yourself, once you knew your birth name?" And that really was something Murdock should have thought about before.
Face shrugged again with a breathy laugh. "I guess I've just gone so long without thinking about it, it's sort of become a habit. I've never celebrated it, never thought about it. Well not past a certain age anyway," he added with a rueful grin. "When I was small, the nuns gave me a nominated birthday, but it never felt right, you know."
Murdock did. He remembered Face telling them vague stories about his early life over the years. One of those had been how he'd been given the day of his arrival at the orphanage as his birthday, like many other children who had arrived with very little known about them. Not really an adequate replacement, but it had been better than nothing, particularly for those children who were too young to know any different. Face had been just that bit too old for it to pass him by quite so unnoticed.
"So now you know it's your birthday, what are you going to do?" Murdock asked with a grin, eyebrows waggling this time.
Face smiled again. "Nothing."
Murdock felt his eyebrows stop waggling and freefall downwards again."But now you know when it is, you can celebrate," he reasoned. "Have a party, go out somewhere. At least let people know so they can send you cards." His voice lifted in pitch, eyes wide.
"Well, apart from you, Hannibal, B.A. and Ellen there really isn't a whole lot of other people to send cards is there?" Face reasoned. "I'll tell Hannibal and B.A. but really, Murdock, it's just a birthday. I'm quite happier now at my age not to acknowledge it," he said with another rueful expression.
Murdock had to concede that point. But you could celebrate a birthday without acknowledging the number it represented. A seed of a plan was germinating in his head and as they turned to watch Hannibal and B.A. climb back into the van he made a decision.
If Face had been asked, he'd have voiced his apprehension and belief that given the right opportunity and enough mileage, Murdock would have gone all out to put on some truly spectacular and downright over the top extravaganza once he knew when Face's birthday was.
He'd seen the light switch on behind Murdock's eyes, watched the light- speed plans and thoughts buzzing behind those deep brown eyes when he'd told him that the following Wednesday was he actual birthday. Well, Richard Bancroft's birthday. He hadn't been Richard Bancroft since he was five.
Seemed a little late to be starting now.
But on the other hand, it enabled a small piece inside of him to slot into place and that was comforting. That gap had been so very wide when he'd been small. As a child, not knowing where or from whom you came was huge. Became bigger the older he got until as a prepubescent teen it at one point became all he could think about for a time. Then it got smaller again as you figured out who *you* were on your own, and that somehow became a bit more important until eventually your past was your past and the present and the future became more significant. And immediate.
Now that gap was filled; well, part of it was. There was still a bucket load of questions that now A.J. had died probably weren't ever going to be answered - and wasn't that a kicker - but he had a start.
And a sister.
And a lead on his mother, too.
That made him smile.
So, yes, when the day actually rolled around and he woke up to the knowledge that, yes, today, he was in fact a year older - and no he wasn't saying the actual number out loud - he half expected a brass band to be at his door complete with balloon display and buckets of flowers. Topped off with ribbons and ice cream in all flavours.
But no, thankfully it was quiet.
He lay there and closed his eyes again.
Of course, if Murdock had brought himself - just himself - he wouldn't have minded. His mouth twitched into a small smile. In the last few months the dancing that he and Murdock had done around each other had been steadily getting closer. The jig had started off at opposite sides of the room and changing every so often into a slightly different dance that grew in metaphoric intimacy. A reel to a jig to a line dance to a formal ballroom style to a tango and finally a more romantic style swaying, arms round each other and staring into each other's eyes.
Of course this was purely symbolic. They weren't *actually* staring into each other's eyes.
Of course eighteen years was a hell of a long time to be dancing, even if it had only been the last few months that it had got to the stage where they both actually were aware of it. Looking back now, though, it was fairly obvious that it had been going on pretty much from the minute they'd met.
Something else to regret not knowing about for years. Wasted opportunities, squandered time. In their line of work you couldn't with any amount of surety say you would make it through every mission in one piece. No matter how careful they were.
He smile slowly faded and he sighed softly.
Regrets were for idiots, but who in their life could say they hadn't been an idiot at least once or twice. Face surely couldn't.
So, whilst he was kind of pleased he hadn't woken up to a brass band, he was kind of disappointed that he'd woken up alone. Because that was another thing he was accustomed to, living the life they did. Never being on his own for too long. As a team they were never that far away from each other, even when they were off pursuing their individual projects. Between cases, they spent time working on whatever it was they were into at that point. For Hannibal it was his acting, for B.A. it was his community work. For Murdock, well, mostly it was the V.A. but within those walls, hell, within his brain, he could be working on, well, anything really.
And he himself, well, he'd be off working another of his scams. He varied it as much as he could, but it was normally some variation on living somewhere grand, being someone of vast importance and impressing people, normally a beautiful girl included, with his vast wealth, knowledge or skills. He enjoyed it, he wouldn't do it otherwise, but it was, he knew, only habit now. And he knew if Murdock's doctors ever got him on the examining couch they'd easily see it for what it was. A need to replace all that he'd never had in his life, never had the opportunity to have, and never would. A chance to show off and be someone different, someone new.
Someone who wasn't him.
He threw off the covers and pushed himself upright.
No point dwelling on the unnecessary, though. Time to get on with this day that wasn't any different to any other day or any other day in past years.
But which obviously was.
Walking into the living room of his current abode, a nice - relatively modest - beach house on the seafront, he looked out of the sliding patio doors onto the view of the beach and ocean beyond. Unbeknownst to the team he'd actually rented this time. Something about the small property, secluded up the far end of the beach and relatively private, had spoken to him. Besides, it wasn't all that expensive for where it was and....
....well, he'd had a honest moment.
He stared out the door, eyes focusing on the waves gently crashing against the beach. Not too many people out this early in morning. Letting himself get soothed by the repetitive movement of the ocean, it took him a moment to see it.
His eyes squinted against the morning sun as he focused on the table on the veranda and the object that was perched on it. He tightened the robe around his middle and moved across to unlock the door. Quickly glancing around, long time habits automatic, he carefully approached the box and the card. Still wary he took one last good look around before picking both up.
His mouth flattened into a line that settled somewhere between annoyed and exhilarated as he took in both the wrapping paper, the name on the front of the card and the handwriting it was written in.
Shaking his head he turned and walked back in, pausing to lock the door behind him.
Dropping onto the leather couch he put the box down and concentrated on the card first. Carefully opening the envelope he drew out a card which when turned over had a picture of a bird soaring high in a blue sky. It was a soppy card but it also wasn't the sort of comedic card he or anyone else might have expected from Murdock. Inside though was a different matter. Lots of colour and drawings littered the blank space on both sides with cartoons, smiley faces and proclamations of 'Happy Birthday' and variations of. At the bottom was the words, 'Hope you have a fantastic day, Love and loads of hugs, Your best friend always, Murdock.'
He right hand came up to pinch the bridge of his nose and he took a breath.
Putting down the card he turned his attention to the box. It wasn't too big and didn't make any suspicious sounds. Didn't sound breakable, or either that or it was well padded.
The paper was covered in pictures of balloons, all in different colours, and there was a small tag on the right hand corner.
'To Face. My bestest friend in the whole wide world. Love Murdock.'
Face bit his lower lip and started to carefully remove the paper. He'd been taught at the orphanage not to waste wrapping paper that could be used again and had never managed to shake the habit. What was the point in just ripping it off and having to throw it in the bin when someone else could get some enjoyment from it?
Un-sticking the cello tape he pulled off the paper to reveal a wooden box. About the size of Hannibal's cigar box that Murdock had won on Wheel of Fortune a couple of years ago. Turning it around to find the catch he lifted the lid and looked inside.
Photos. Lots and lots of photos. He reached in a pulled a handful out. There were a mixture. Some were polaroids, some were larger developed photographs. Some were pictures from newspapers obviously cut out. There were a few head shots, probably pinched from military files and the odd official looking dress uniform shots. All showed the team in one variation or another. Singularly or in various groups or pairings.
He looked at some of the polaroids. They were from different years, different places, most it seemed were spur of the moment shots, some were more posed but they were all of the team in form or another. Casual moments with arms slung around shoulders, off the cuff moments when none of the subjects knew they were being photographed - such as B.A. haring off after Murdock, dangerous intent in his eyes, or Hannibal wearing his Aquamaniac costume on set, complete with puffing cigar smoke coming out of the beast's neck.
There were pictures of Ray Brenner and a number of their old Vietnam buddies, plus a number of pictures that were taken in Vietnam. He didn't know how Murdock had got hold of them or even kept them safe this long but his hands lingered over a number of campfire shots. God he hadn't remembered these being taken at all. One hand unconsciously came up to touch his mouth as he stared at the faces looking back at him.
Lots of faces there that weren't around anymore. Lots of faces that hadn't made it to the end of that week, let alone the end of the war. His eyes flicked from one to the next. There was B.A. on the far side, stern expression staring challengingly at the camera. Next to him Hannibal, looking over towards the rest of the men a strange look of pride and something else on his face. Sorrow, regret maybe?
And there, on the other side of the fire was a very young looking Murdock. He was only a couple of years older than Face and here, in this photo, he couldn't have been more than twenty two. Face himself had only just reached his twenties, or so he reckoned given that back then he'd been more shaky on his actual age. His hand dropped down to gently trace over that young visage of his friend. He wasn't looking at the camera either, his attention taken by something, or someone who sat near to the flames.
He snorted when he realised it was him.
There he was sat near the middle, on the floor as near to the camp fire as he could get without singeing himself, one knee up, arms wrapped around it and staring at the camera with a smile. Not a wide smile, not the toothy one he brought out when he was either especially pleased with himself or trying to convince someone *else* to very pleased with him. No, this one was a gentle smile. A genuinely happy smile.
He honestly had no idea what he'd been thinking about at the moment when the shutter had closed. He didn't actually remember this night, but he could tell from his expression and demeanour that he'd been happy. Content. All had been right with his world at that particular moment in time. He doubted it had lasted but for that one caught moment on film, he'd been okay.
His eyes flickered back up to Murdock. Yes, Murdock was definitely staring at him and the look on his face at that moment was also....happy.
Face smiled. God, they'd both been so very blind.
He carefully placed the photo back in the box, quickly skimming over some hand drawn picture in pencil. Obviously Murdock's work. Not Picasso by any stretch of the imagination, but actually quite good. For all of B.A.'s ribbing.
And they were portraits.
His hand paused in mid air as he took in the line drawings. They weren't going to win any prizes but there was no mistaking the subject. Or the care with which they had been drawn.
Face stared at one, thumb gently stroking the side of the paper.
He let out a sigh and quickly but carefully placed the drawings and the photos back into the box and closing it, carried it back into the bedroom, placing it next to his ever present emergency kit. He then stripped off his robe and pyjamas (FYI not silk) and grabbed the nearest pair of jeans and a clean shirt. Hopping into his socks and then boots he quickly nipped into the bathroom to wash his face and brush his teeth and attempt to calm his bed hair into some semblance of normal style before grabbing his wallet and keys and leather jacket from the hallway cupboard and heading out of the front door.
Coming out onto the porch at the side of the beach house Face quickly glanced to his left even as he was already moving to the right towards where his car was parked.
He stopped mid stride, stuttering to a halt.
There sat on the beach was a familiar figure, baseball cap in place though his jacket had been sacrificed due to the already climbing heat of the day. A chequered shirt covered what would undoubtedly be a t-shirt underneath.
He stared for a moment then quirked his lips into a smile and headed on down the wooden veranda and out onto the sand.
"Hi Murdock," he greeted sinking down next to him. He stretched out his legs, hands sinking to the side to prop himself up.
"Oh hey, Face," Murdock turned to greet him with a wide smile. "Happy birthday!"
"Thank you," Face replied with a mirroring grin. He turned back to look out to the water. "I got your present and card."
"They were lovely, thank you." He turned back to meet Murdock's warm brown eyes that held just a hint of nervousness.
"You liked the card?"
"You liked the box?"
"You liked what was in the box?" It was voiced the same but Murdock's voice had gone slightly softer.
"I did," Face replied, voice also softer, gazing at Murdock's profile. "I...I liked it very much."
Murdock turned back to face him again. "I wasn't sure what to get you. But I've been collecting those photos for years. Birthday's are all about family, right? It seemed appropriate."
Face closed his eyes against the sudden emotion that threatened to overwhelm him.
"It is. And it was." His voice was slightly croaky. "I loved it." He swallowed, eyes closing briefly as his throat worked for a moment. "And I love you."
He swallowed. Suddenly overwhelmed by the horrendous buzzing of his heart going into overtime, he suddenly couldn't hear anything. Squeezing his hands together he had the horrible sinking sensation that he'd just ruined everything. Dancing or no dancing, he'd just stuck his head out into the ether and everything that he knew, everything that was important in his life, was now teetering on the edge of a vast abyss.
The next sensation he was aware of was of someone grasping at his hands, which were now twisting hard around each other, and trying to pull them apart.
"Face? Face? Come on buddy. You can't drop something like that on a guy and then just space out on him."
Face blinked and tried to focus on the face that was peering at him through the haze of his panic. Eventually brown eyes and flyaway hair swam into focus and he met the concerned gaze of his best friend.
"You okay there, Faceman?"
He dropped his eyes to where his hands were now held in Murdock's. Blinked at them stupidly.
"Um, I can let go if you want me to," came the soft inquiry.
He shook his head. No, the calming stroking motion that was taking place on the back of his thumb was doing nice things in calming down the rapid pace of his heart, and the more that calmed down, the less buzzing in his ears he had.
"I..." Face started but couldn't quite find the words to keep going.
"Did you mean that?"
"What?" he whispered.
"About....about loving me?" Murdock's voice was also just barely above a whisper.
"As a friend?"
Face nodded again and felt and heard the sigh. "I'll always love you as a friend Murdock," he corrected softly. "But....that wasn't what I meant."
"More?" came the eventual question.
Face sighed. And nodded.
The stroking on his hands got slowly and longer. "Love you too, Face." Face looked up at Murdock. "As a friend. And as more." His lips twitched gently.
Face gazed into his face, watching the expressive mouth and warm eyes. Feeling drawn in.
"Took us long enough, huh?" Face whispered, gaze dropping to stare at Murdock's mouth.
"Lifetime," Murdock whispered back before he leaned in and captured Face's lips with his own.
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