by Elizabeth Kent
Face hung up the phone with a sigh and reached for his glass of wine before he flopped onto the couch and pointed the remote at the television, turning it on and flipping disinterestedly through the channels. He grimaced when he found "Wheel of Fortune."
"Thanks for nothin'," he muttered as he changed channels, settling instead on yet another rerun of "Casablanca." How many times had he sat next to Murdock on the couch and listened to him say everyone's lines? Enough times that even Face had them memorized now. Just as well, since he'd be watching it alone until Murdock returned from his Hawaiian vacation...their Hawaiian vacation.
He reached for the half-empty wine bottle and refilled his glass then glanced up at the clock on the fireplace mantel. Murdock's plane would be landing in about an hour, and he and his new girlfriend would be whisked away to their hotel courtesy of "Wheel of Fortune."
When Murdock got to the hotel, a message would be waiting for him so he would know arrangements had already been made for his first evening on the town. They'd have dinner and drinks at the best restaurant in Honolulu, followed by dancing and more drinks at an exclusive nightclub and dessert and coffee on the lanai of a beautiful hotel on Waikiki Beach. When they returned to the hotel, they would find their bags had been moved to the hotel's best room. And at the end of their "Wheel of Fortune" vacation, they would find reservations had been made for them for another week in a cozy oceanfront inn on the other side of the island. It would be the most romantic, luxurious vacation Murdock had ever had.
The arrangements had been made days ago, as soon as Face had been certain Murdock would win the vacation. He and Murdock had planned the winning strategy carefully, and he'd drilled Murdock thoroughly. That, combined with Murdock's keen intelligence and facility with the English language, had virtually guaranteed them both seats on the flight.
Face had had it planned out to the last detail. After nearly fifteen years of waiting for Murdock to notice his feelings, to show some inkling of jealousy over the beautiful women Face had constantly paraded in front of him, Face was finally going to screw up his courage and confess to Murdock over dinner that he was in love with him, had been in love with him almost as long as they'd known each other. And if things went according to plan, they'd be making love on the beach before the night was through.
He'd been so sure it would work. Murdock had been closer to him for years than any other person he'd ever known. And Murdock was no prude. Face knew that in his youth, Murdock had had a male lover. Murdock had explained it away as experimentation, but Face had dared to hope it was more. In all the years they'd known each other, Face had never seen Murdock sustain a relationship with a woman. The ones he'd had were brief and chaste. Under the right circumstances, Face knew he could convince Murdock to take a male lover once again...to take him.
He drained the glass of wine in a couple of swallows and reached for the bottle again. Face had almost panicked when Murdock had first suggested taking a woman with him. Face had quickly talked him out of it...well, blackmailed him, actually...and thought he'd had the problem solved. He'd allowed himself then to daydream, to carefully plan the speech he'd make over dinner, the words he'd whisper as they danced in the nightclub, the way he'd make love to Murdock under the stars.
And it was all working perfectly until Murdock had fallen head over heels for a beautiful woman in trouble. Obviously, Face had badly miscalculated. He knew...deep inside, he knew he'd lost when he saw them kissing in the helicopter. But he'd kept hoping right up to the end, till it was time to leave for the airport and Murdock had made it clear he was taking her with him. Face had lost once again.
"You're a fucking coward, Peck," Face thought to himself. "You should have told him years ago. Now it's too late. Serves you right." Murdock had obviously come down on the heterosexual side, and any chance Face might have had to convince him otherwise was gone.
Well, at least he'd managed to cover his humiliation. The others would interpret his reaction, which even he had to admit was childish, to a missed opportunity to lie on the beach and pick up beautiful women. There was no reason to alter the arrangements he'd already made except to switch the nightclub to one that catered to heterosexual couples, which he had just finished doing. As for the rest...well, it was already paid for, so there was no real reason to let it go to waste.
He'd considered canceling everything. On the way back home, angry and hurt, he'd intended to do so. But when he came in, he'd spied the frequency tables they'd used to plot their strategy, remembered the fun Murdock had had doing the show, the way his often-sad eyes had lit up when he realized he was good at this and could win, and Face just couldn't bring himself to be that petty. If he loved Murdock, he should want him to be happy, shouldn't he? So he'd let the arrangements stand.
He reached for the bottle again, realized it was empty, and set it back down with a thump. He turned off the television and rose, making his way to the bedroom to unpack his suitcases. As he refolded and rehung clothing, he struggled to come to terms with the situation. It was time to admit defeat and move on. That much was obvious.
He knew now that he would never tell Murdock how he really felt. There was no point in it. To do so now would only make Murdock feel guilty because he couldn't return the feelings, and that would ruin their friendship. Murdock was still his closest friend. That didn't ease the pain in his heart or the knot in his gut, but those were old, familiar pains, ones he'd coped with since childhood. So he'd keep silent about it.
Murdock would never know who had made the new arrangements for his stay. He'd probably think it was Hannibal. He might even suspect it was B.A, but no one would ever expect shallow, selfish Face to be so generous. So his secret would be safe. All he had to do was convince them he was what they thought he was.
They all expected him to be superficial, and he could accommodate them. After Murdock returned, Face would complain about him taking the girl instead of him. He would moan loudly about what Murdock owed him and about all the gorgeous women he'd missed out on until someone...probably Hannibal...told him to shut up. And he would shut up because by then, Murdock would have no reason at all to suspect Face had made arrangements for that romantic getaway or to wonder why Face would do that if he believed until the last minute that the two of them were going together.
Face pushed in the last dresser drawer, put his suitcase on the closet floor, and shut the door. Then he picked up the frequency tables and notebook they'd made to help Murdock study and tucked them into a desk drawer, smiling a little. Well, he hoped Murdock and his new lover would enjoy their vacation and be happy. Someone might as well be.
Face turned away from the desk as the phone rang.
"Ah, I see you're still there, Templeton."
With a sigh, Face dropped into the chair next to the phone. "Yeah."
"He took the girl?"
"Yeah." Face idly twisted the phone cord around his finger and pictured the caller. Adam was quite a few years older than Face. He was tall, broad-shouldered, with pale blue eyes framed by horn-rimmed glasses. His dark hair was generously sprinkled with gray. Adam was all the things Face wanted to be: well-educated, well-traveled, wealthy, and sophisticated.
"I'm so sorry, Templeton. I really hoped it would work out for you this time."
Face didn't answer, trying to swallow around the lump in his throat.
"There's no reason for you to sit there all by yourself, is there? Why don't you come over."
"You don't mind?"
"No, of course I don't. In fact, I'd appreciate your company."
For all their vast differences in age, background, and experience, Face and Adam had one thing in common that had forged a bond between them several years ago: they both loved someone who could not return their feelings.
When Face arrived, Adam greeted him with a warm hug and a quick kiss on the lips. "Come in, Templeton, come in. Can I get you a drink? Scotch and soda, isn't it?"
Adam's estate in Beverly Hills was large and boasted many luxuries, including an Olympic-size swimming pool, a hot tub, a gourmet kitchen, and fireplaces in every room. A hothouse on the grounds held exotic plants Adam had brought back from his many trips abroad.
After a trip to the hothouse to exclaim over some new lilies, Adam brought Face back to the house and showed him into the den. "I'm anxious to show you my newest acquisition," he said. He crouched to open a box and unwrap the item. It was a sword, very old, but of exquisite workmanship. Face whistled in appreciation.
"It's lovely, isn't it," Adam exclaimed proudly. "I found it through an antiquities dealer in France a few months ago. It's Spanish, mid-thirteenth century, and had been in one family since it was forged."
"It's beautiful, Adam," Face said, handling it reverently when Adam stood and held it out to him. The blade was still sharp, the hilt still intact. This was not a dress sword; it was plain, sturdy, and serviceable, with a stark and vicious beauty. It was a weapon meant for fighting and had seen its owner home from more than one battle.
As Adam described the sword's history and the battles it had seen, Face could hear the cries of the mounted knights and foot soldiers, see them hacking away at each other with swords, pikes, and battleaxes, smell the blood as it splashed across armor and soaked into the churned mud of the battlefield.
"Swords this well-preserved are a very rare find," Adam concluded. "Fewer come on the market every year, and I was extremely fortunate to learn of this one. I'm having a special humidity-controlled case built to display it."
"God, Adam, this is wonderful!" Face exclaimed as he handed it back. Face loved history, loved antiquities, and Adam's appreciation of these things was one of the things Face liked best about him. "I hope you're taking precautions to keep your collection safe."
"I'm doing it all just as you suggested, Templeton," Adam said.
Adam put a friendly arm around Face's shoulders. "Let's go make dinner," he said. "I managed to talk the chef at the hotel I stayed in in Nice out of some wonderful seafood recipes, and I brought back some splendid wine."
Face smiled, surrendering himself to Adam's care as his mood lightened a bit.
It was always Adam that Face turned to when Murdock failed to respond to his timid advances, when plans he made to tell his friend his true feelings blew up in his face as this last one had. Adam had supported him in his latest attempt but had warned him not to be too sure it would work. And as always, when the plan fell apart, Adam was there to pick up the pieces.
They had met several years earlier at an antiques show that Face had attended with Murdock. Face couldn't collect antiques, not with the life he was forced to lead, but he still loved to look, and Murdock didn't mind indulging him. He understood. Face had no past, no heritage, no idea at all where his forebears hailed from. Antiques made him feel connected as he vicariously lived other people's pasts.
Adam and Face had struck up a conversation over a Civil War-era sideboard that Adam's business partner was examining and wanted to buy. Face had noticed immediately how fondly Adam regarded his business partner, how affectionately he spoke to and about him. As Face and Adam chatted, Adam's partner had finally looked up from his examination of the sideboard and said, "At last! There he is!"
A young, fragile-looking blond man dashed across the room, apologizing profusely for his tardiness as Adam's partner wrapped his arms around him. Face watched Adam's expression, saw the terrible pain momentarily reflected there before it was masked by an indulgent smile, and he knew that Adam was in love with his partner.
In the meantime, Murdock had been captivated by the young lady who had organized the show, stopping to watch her give an interview to a local television station and then engaging her in conversation. As a result, at day's end both Face and Adam found themselves alone. Adam invited Face to dine with him, and Face did not mind keeping the other man company. Over dinner he coaxed from Adam the story of his feelings for his partner, and in a very rare moment of honesty and openness, Face confessed his feelings for Murdock.
One thing had led to another, and that night had been the first time Face had shared Adam's bed. Neither of them had pretended it had anything to do with love. It was a purely sexual encounter born out of each man's longing and desperation, but it was, at least, release.
And as Face sat on the couch after supper and sipped a truly wonderful dessert wine, he knew that was where he would end up tonight. Face harbored no illusions about Adam's feelings for him, just as Adam harbored none about Face's feelings. They would close their eyes as they stroked and sucked and thrust, each desperately pretending the man in his arms was the man he really loved, and neither of them blamed the other if he cried out someone else's name when he came.
Late that night as they lay sprawled on the bed, spent and sleepy, Face stared up at the ceiling and wondered why he could never manage to fall in love with someone who could love him back. He had to move on, but to what? He was tired of using women to try to get Murdock's attention. He was tired of trying so hard to love people he couldn't. He was ready to give up his dream of winning Murdock's affection, finally, but he wasn't ready yet to replace him. In his line of work, it was unlikely he'd meet someone, and the bar scene held no appeal for him at all. Besides, these days that kind of behavior was simply too risky. Face was sad, but he wasn't suicidal.
"What are you going to do about Murdock?" Adam asked.
Face sighed heavily. "I'm going to let him go," Face answered. "I'm finally going to just give it up."
"I think that's the right choice," Adam said, rolling onto his side to stroke Face's arm.
"What are you going to do, Adam?"
Adam was silent a long time before he drew a deep, shuddering breath. "Max wants me to buy him out. He's moving to New York with Hugh."
Face reached over and pulled the other man into his arms. "I'm sorry, Adam."
"Well," Adam sighed, resting his head on Face's shoulder, "it'll be hard, but maybe not as hard as it has been to see him with someone else every day. Maybe when he's not around, I'll be able to move on, too."
"I know what you mean."
"Templeton, you don't have to stay around him if it's too painful. I can't offer you love, but I can offer you a home, a partnership in my business. If you wish, you can come and live with me."
Face hugged Adam tightly. A home, a business partnership, a normal life, all the things he had wanted all his life. "That's so tempting, Adam. I wish I could, but I can't. I can't stay in one place, as much as I'd like to."
Adam nodded. He understood. He knew next to nothing about this young man, but he knew Templeton was on the run, that Murdock was somehow connected with Templeton's fugitive status, and that Templeton would never abandon Murdock. He hoped Murdock someday understood what a precious gift he was letting slip away.
Since Hannibal was at work on a movie and B.A. was visiting friends in Chicago, only a daily check-in was necessary, and Hannibal didn't press him for information about where he was spending his time. Face stayed with Adam for most of the time Murdock was gone, helping him update his security system, attending antiques shows, tending the garden, even having dinner one night with Max and Hugh after the final papers were signed to turn Max's half of the antiques business over to Adam. That night it was Face's turn to console Adam, which he did generously and vigorously until Adam was finally exhausted enough to sleep.
Face finally prepared to return to his own place a couple of days before Murdock's return. Adam was leaving the country on an extended business trip and was likely to be gone several weeks. But that was the way it was with them. Neither of them asked or expected anything of the other, used to each other's extended absences.
Adam studied the handsome face of the man who sipped coffee across the kitchen table from him. He tried to memorize the features. He knew that whatever line of work Templeton was in, it was hazardous, and each time they parted could be the last time Adam would see him alive. Perhaps that was part of the young man's appeal. Adam had watched him work out each day, practicing moves that were definitely not taught in the local boxing ring. He was strong, quick, and silent. The hands that only last night had moved tenderly and skillfully over his body could as easily snap his neck. While Templeton never used his greater strength to control or manipulate Adam, the knowledge that such brute force and violence lay buried just beneath the surface was intoxicating. But that strength, of course, wouldn't stop a bullet or a knife, and almost every time Templeton came to him, Adam found new scars.
Adam walked Face to his car, and the two embraced briefly. "I'll call you when I get back to town. See how things are going," Adam said.
"Thanks, Adam. Thanks for everything," Face said. "You're always there when I've made a complete ass of myself."
Adam laughed. "Well, we're two of a kind, Templeton," he said. "If I hadn't had you with me at dinner the other night, I'm afraid I'd have been crying into my steak and lobster and embarrassing all of us."
Face nodded. The two of them never exchanged the meaningless banter others might have offered as comfort. Between them there was no, "You'll find someone to love you," or "He's an idiot to leave you." They simply accepted and respected one another's pain and isolation, and sometimes the simple acknowledgement was comfort enough to allow each of them to continue.
Face got into his car and started it. "Be careful, Templeton," Adam said, leaning over to kiss him goodbye.
"I will," Face replied with a smile. As he backed out of the driveway and headed for the freeway, he knew that he'd be able to hold it together for at least a little while longer as he began the long and difficult process of trying to fall out of love with his best friend.
"Hey, Faceman! How've you been?" Murdock asked cheerfully as Face, dressed as a male nurse, wheeled him out the back door of the VA hospital and across the grounds.
"Shut up. You're supposed to be sick," Face said, pulling the white mask up over his own nose and mouth.
Murdock coughed and hacked so convincingly as they crossed the grounds that everyone between them and the gate gave them a wide berth. They stopped just outside the gate and around the corner where the van was parked. B.A. stood impatiently next to the open side door while Hannibal lounged against the front bumper and smoked a cigar. Murdock sprang out of the chair, dropped his duffel bag, and raced to the van.
"Aloha, you bug mudsucker! Did you miss me?" He threw his arms around B.A.'s neck and was promptly peeled off.
"Shut up, fool!" B.A. said by way of greeting, but he had to suppress a small smile. Murdock looked happier than he'd seen him in a long time.
"Murdock, that's quite a sunburn you've got!" Hannibal commented, eyeing Murdock's red face and neck.
"Yeah, and that's not the worst of it," Murdock admitted. "Turns out making love on the beach is more dangerous than I thought."
"That's more than we want to know," Face said as he carried Murdock's forgotten duffel to the van and tossed it in the back with his own.
"What, you're not still sore at me because I didn't take you, are you?"
Face shrugged off the hand Murdock laid on his shoulder and climbed into the van. "We'd better go before they figure out you're missing," he said shortly.
Hannibal rolled his eyes as he got in the van. It was going to be one of those afternoons. Face could hold a grudge longer than anyone he'd ever met.
As they drove, Murdock regaled them with stories of the things he and Jody had done and the places they'd been, which Face punctuated at strategic intervals with snide comments. He could tell from their body language that the others were sick of him already; it wouldn't take much more for them to slap him down, and he'd have them right where he wanted them.
"I just can't figure out who arranged all those extras for us!" Murdock said as he wound up his story. "Hannibal, it wasn't you, was it?"
"No, I'm sorry to say I didn't even think about it," Hannibal replied.
"B.A.? Tell me you're not just a hopeless romantic at heart. You did it, didn't you?"
"Ain't got money for no Hawaiian vacation! Been savin' to buy playground equipment for the children's center. They more important than you are!"
As Murdock turned to him, Face said, "Probably one of Jody's relatives hoping to unload her on you permanently."
He heard Hannibal snap, "Shut up, Face!" just as Murdock's hand shot out and twisted in his shirt collar.
"Don't you talk about her like that!" Murdock snarled. "She's a nice girl, not that you'd know one when you met her!" Murdock's eyes blazed with anger, and for a moment Face was afraid he was going to be pulled out of his seat and slugged.
Face raised his hands in surrender, saying, "Alright, alright, I'm sorry," but taking care not to sound too much like he meant it.
"Don't leave no marks," B.A. said from the front seat. "We need him to look nice for the job."
Murdock released Face with a shove, and Face nonchalantly straightened his collar. "I'm not gonna hit him," Murdock said disgustedly, turning away from Face.
Face sat back without another word. His con had worked. The previous topic of conversation was forgotten, and everyone was way too pissed at him to suspect his role in Murdock's vacation.
Hannibal lit another cigar and turned the conversation to the newest job.
"Okay, guys, this Frank Clausen and his little group of reactionaries are just about to get that cache of weapons and explosives off to the revolutionary group they're financing in South America. We need to find out where those weapons are and get to them before they make the delivery."
Clausen was the wealthy and unscrupulous owner of several shipping and air freight companies. A little bribery, a little intimidation, and a few accidental deaths were all it had taken to ensure that the authorities looked the other way.
Murdock shook his head. "Well, if he's got everyone so intimidated, how're we gonna find someone to get us the location of the weapons and the evidence to expose the operation?"
Hannibal smiled around his cigar. "Easy. We're going in through the front door! Well, Face is, anyway."
"Turns out Clausen's wife is dabbling in photography these days. Wants a model to do some work for her. At her home."
"A model?" Murdock turned to Face. "You're gonna do that male model routine again?"
"Oh, it's a little different this time," Hannibal said with a grin. "Go ahead, tell him, Face."
Face squirmed. It was obviously payback time. He sighed and looked away. "She's doing nudes, Murdock."
Climbing out of the pool, Face dutifully sat by Rebecca Clausen's side. He'd managed the assignment with his usual flair, and within a day of his arrival for the first photo shoot, he had her literally eating out of his hand as they skinny-dipped in her pool. He smiled up at her worshipfully as she accepted a grape from his hand, nibbling his fingers in the process.
He knew the others, who had them under surveillance, must be laughing out loud to see him trotting obediently after a woman twice his age and half again his weight. But his humiliation would help clear the air, anyway. The others would tease him mercilessly about it on the way home after the mission. They'd stop short of calling him a whore, but only just.
Oddly enough, he found he liked Rebecca Clausen. Not in a sexual way, though he managed to satisfy her in bed. She was nothing to look at now, overweight, the gray in her hair covered by an unflattering platinum blonde color, the crow's feet around her eyes betraying the aging process she was trying so hard to cover up. But he had seen pictures of her in her youth, and she had once been a beauty.
As he made love to her, she told him how her husband found his own pleasure elsewhere these days, how he knew about her little...indiscretions...but ignored them because it kept her out of his hair. She had even cried. Face pitied her. He knew what it was like to want to be noticed and loved by someone who so obviously was not interested. And he hated himself because in the end, he was going to be just one more person who used her. So for now, he did what he could to make her happy as he milked her for information.
She was smarter than she looked. She knew about Frank's gunrunning activities, and she knew about his extremist political views. She simply chose to ignore them, filling her own life with beautiful things.
And fill it she had. Face had noticed the art on the walls, the Ming vases, and the antiques, and he complimented her on her collection. "Your husband is a lucky man to be married to someone with such exquisite taste," he said.
"I wish he thought so," she said, draping a silk scarf artfully across Face's hips as he reclined on the pile of pillows she was using as props. "There, now don't move." She adjusted the angle of his chin a bit then moved to pick up her camera. Despite his initial embarrassment at being photographed in the buff, he had to admit that her photos were tasteful. He'd expected to feel like he was posing for a porno magazine, but she posed him in ways that were less provocative and far less revealing than he had feared.
He stayed in a guest cottage at Clausen's home for the rest of the week, calling Hannibal once a day to pass along the information he was gleaning from Rebecca. Toward the end of the week, he had all but a few pieces of the information he needed, among them the location of the weapons cache. They had enough to expose Clausen's operation, but Hannibal was adamant that this shipment of weapons not get through to South America.
"Look, Hannibal," Face said. "I really kind of hate to put her in this position. You know that when we bring him down, she's gonna lose everything."
"Can't be helped, kid," Hannibal said. "Maybe when he's gone, she can start over. We'll make sure she's protected while we take Frank down, but beyond that, it's out of our hands."
"Hannibal, I really don't like to use a woman like this. It's..."
"There are women and children in South America, Lieutenant," Hannibal snapped. "What do you think's gonna happen to them when they're caught in the middle of a civil war financed by Frank Clausen? They don't have an estate and a fortune to lose, Face. Only their lives."
Face sighed. Hannibal was right. But that didn't make what he was about to do any easier. Putting down the phone, he waited until Clausen left for the day, then put on his most winning smile and walked to the house to seduce the rest of the information he needed from Rebecca.
Face swiftly picked the lock on the warehouse and slipped inside. He was a little early for his rendezvous with the rest of the team, but he couldn't bear to be with Rebecca any longer. Not after his final deception of her, making love to her all afternoon, using his body and his lies to con her into betraying her husband. So he got started sabotaging the weapons, just in case the rest of the plan went wrong, as Hannibal's plans so often did, and some of the weapons made their way onto one of the many modes of transportation Clausen had arranged to get them out of the country. It gave him something to do with his hands, something to keep his mind occupied so he didn't have to think too hard about how despicable he really was.
The only good thing to come of this whole mess would be that his position as the team's ladies' man...any lady, any time...would be secure, and none of them would have a reason to suspect that he had leanings in any other direction. There would be no more questions about who paid for the extended Hawaiian vacation. This one small triumph would be the first brick in the wall he intended to build between himself and Murdock.
Unfortunately, Face wasn't the only one who wanted to get an early start. Hearing a step behind him, Face turned to find Frank Clausen and six of his men standing between him and the warehouse door. Face swiftly considered his options and decided he didn't have any, not with seven weapons pointed at him. So he shrugged, smiled apologetically, and said, "Just looking for props. My next job is with "Today's Mercenary" magazine. I'm gonna be the centerfold."
Clausen was not amused. "You screw my wife, now you're trying to screw me?"
Face shrugged again. "Maybe if you were a better husband, she wouldn't be so interested in screwing her models," he retorted.
"Want me to take him out back and shoot him?" one of Clausen's men asked.
"What, can't you do anything for yourself?" Face asked. "You afraid of a skinny little male model? You're not man enough to take me? Jeez, no wonder your wife doesn't want to sleep with you anymore."
One of Clausen's men snickered as Clausen turned red with rage. But as Face had hoped it would, his taunts had bought him some time. Clausen wouldn't be satisfied with a quick bullet to the head. He'd want to make him suffer. Maybe that would give the rest of the team time enough to get there.
He kept the smile plastered on his face as Clausen and his men approached. "First we take care of you, playboy," Clausen snarled, "and then we take care of my wife."
As the first man came within reach, Face placed a well aimed heel in the man's groin then swung a fist at Clausen. For a moment, he thought he'd be able to fight his way to the door, but there were too many of them and not enough of him. As he was surrounded and the first blows fell, he hoped Hannibal had kept his promise to see that Rebecca was protected.
Consciousness returned slowly, and with it, pain. Voices spoke above him, and hands moved over his ribs. He gasped and tried to flinch away.
"Face? Hey, Face? I think he's coming around, Colonel."
"Hey, kid, come on. Wake up. Wake up."
Face forced his eyes to open. Eye. One of them was swollen shut. He could just make out the blurred forms of Murdock and Hannibal leaning over him, and beyond them, the roof of the van. It took a few moments for him to remember what had happened. He tried to get his swollen lips to move, tried to force out a sound.
"She's fine, Face," Murdock whispered, knowing what his concern would be. "She's with the police."
"It's all over, kid," Hannibal said. "We're on our way home. Relax."
There would be no teasing of him on this trip. He spent the entire eight hours on the floor in the back of the van curled miserably around several broken ribs. A badly-sprained right wrist and deep bruises all over his body made every breath and every movement painful. Their previous irritation forgotten, the others made him as comfortable as they could on a bed of sleeping bags. B.A. tried to jar him as little as possible as he drove, but it was still a difficult trip. By the time they got him home late that night, he had developed a fever, and all he wanted to do was lie down on something that didn't move and die.
B.A. and Murdock half-carried him into his condominium, and he groaned as they lowered him to his bed. Quickly they eased him out of his clothes and covered him. He felt Hannibal's cool hand on his forehead.
"Murdock, I want you to stay with him."
Face tried to raise his head. "No," he protested. "Don't need...anyone."
"You know the rule, Lieutenant," Hannibal said. "Nobody's left alone when they can't defend themselves."
"Not...Murdock," Face whispered. "Can't...can't B.A. stay?"
"B.A. has a kid at the center who's about to be removed from her parents' home. Right now, she needs him more than you do. And I've still got some loose ends to wrap up on this case. That leaves Murdock."
Murdock was hurt. He couldn't believe that Face was still holding a grudge for that Hawaii thing. Even in the condition he was in, Face could still be petty. It was unbelievable! "I'll stay out of your way," he said, sounding exactly as annoyed as he was. "As soon as you're well enough, I'll go."
Face sighed and turned away, closing his eyes. He heard the others leave the room and shut the door behind them. Shit. He'd fucked that up. Why the hell hadn't he just kept his mouth shut? That wasn't how it was supposed to be. He had meant for his friendship with Murdock to cool off slowly as Face withdrew, showing a carefully-cultivated disinterest in Murdock's other activites. As time went by, Murdock would call him less and less, turn to others for companionship. Eventually, Face had hoped, they'd see each other only on missions. Maybe by then Face could harden his heart enough that Murdock's smile and the touch of his hand on Face's arm wouldn't feel like salt poured in an open wound. But all he'd managed to do now was hurt Murdock again, throw his kindness back in his face. Now Murdock would be the one to withdraw, which he would do abruptly and completely, leaving them both wounded.
It was a long time before he fell asleep, and he slept badly, bothered by pain, fever, and guilt. By morning he felt very ill. He lay quietly for awhile, wondering why he couldn't hear anything from the other room. Usually when Murdock stayed with him, Face would hear the television or radio and the sounds of Murdock knocking about, cooking or cleaning. He was usually only still when he was depressed or angry; the rest of the time he was filled with an almost manic energy that had to find some kind of release.
Since he hadn't died during the night, Face knew he wasn't going to find an out that way. Even as ill as he felt, Face knew he needed to get out of bed and repair the damage if he could. Getting out of bed turned out to be a major production, though, as bruised muscles and twisted joints joined the chorus of pain from his broken ribs and along his flanks. He hobbled to the bathroom under his own power, though. He absently noted that his urine was tinged with red, probably as a result of bruised kidneys, and he wondered how many other body parts had been damaged in the attack.
When Face emerged from the bedroom, a robe tied loosely around him, Murdock turned away from the window he'd been staring out of. Face made it to the middle of the living room before the room began to tilt around him, and he swayed dizzily. In a few quick strides, Murdock reached him as Face's knees buckled. Murdock caught him under the arms as Face's momentum carried them both to their knees. Face moaned, clutching his sore ribs.
"Take it easy," Murdock said. "I've got you. Rest a minute, then we'll get you to the couch."
For a few moments, Face allowed himself to lean against his friend, to steal a moment's pleasure from the feeling of Murdock's arms holding him close because he knew he would never do this again. It was Murdock who broke the contact, pulling back and lifting Face carefully as he stood.
"You should've stayed in bed," Murdock said as he led Face to the couch and helped him sit. "Do you want some coffee?"
"Yeah, thanks," Face whispered, curling up against the arm of the couch.
As Face drank his coffee, Murdock rewrapped his sprained wrist and brought him aspirin and some heat packs for his aching ribs. He was solicitous, but stiff, and things were awkward between the two men.
Finally, Face said, "Murdock, look. I'm sorry about what I said last night. It...didn't come out like I meant it to."
Murdock sat on the coffee table and contemplated his folded hands. "How did you mean it to come out?"
Face sighed and looked away. "Things have been so...strained between us since your vacation. I just thought maybe it'd be more, I don't know, more comfortable for us both if someone else stayed."
"Face, I just don't understand what's come over you these days. We used to be able to talk."
'I used to be able to tell you what you wanted to hear,' Face thought to himself. Aloud he said, "I don't know. I guess maybe I used to just be easier to get along with."
Murdock was silent for a few moments while Face eased himself down to lie with his head resting on the arm of the couch. "Were you really that hurt that I didn't take you to Hawaii with me?"
"I guess I was."
"Is this because for once I got the girl instead of you? Are you really that petty?"
Because he got the girl? No, it was because the girl got him. Because she'd screwed up all Face's carefully laid plans. Because Murdock had fallen in love with her. Face sighed and said what he was expected to say. "I just wish you hadn't waited until the last minute to tell me."
"I never said I was taking you! You just assumed it, but as usual, you never bothered to ask me what I wanted."
Face opened his mouth to speak, but Murdock was on a roll. "And don't give me any of that crap about what I owe you because you helped me. When I chose prizes, I chose them for you guys, not me. That should have been enough thanks, Face."
Face winced. Murdock was really letting him have it. They were silent for a few minutes while Murdock replaced the hot pack on Face's swollen ribs.
"Is that too hot?"
Face shook his head.
"You know what your problem is, Face? You treat friendship like a business transaction where you always have to come out on top."
"You think I was taking advantage of you just to get a free trip?"
"I think you saw the opportunity and took it, yeah. You've been doing it so long, I think it's unconscious now. It's the way you relate to the world."
Face looked away, thinking of the way he'd taken advantage of Rebecca Clausen. "Well, I guess that makes me a real bastard, doesn't it."
Murdock smiled a little. "No, not always. But you do have your moments."
Face quickly assessed the situation. Murdock was winding down now. He'd said what he needed to say and was ready to forgive and forget. All that was required now was a little sincere contrition, and Murdock would believe everything was right with the world again. Then Face could begin a gradual withdrawal that would spare Murdock's feelings.
"You're right," he said simply. "I don't have any right to rain on your parade. I'm sorry."
As Face had known he would, Murdock grinned and squeezed Face's hand. "I'm over it, Face."
'I'm not,' Face thought, but he forced himself to smile back as much as his aching jaw would allow him to.
"And Face, I am grateful for your help with the whole thing. It was the best trip I ever took."
"I guess any trip is great with a beautiful woman, Murdock," Face joked. "So tell me, what's she got to offer that I don't?" Not that he really wanted to know.
"Oh, Face, Jody's perfect! She's smart and funny and talented, and she's a real nice, honest, hard-working girl. Nothing like..."
"Like what, Murdock?"
Murdock remained silent, looking embarrassed. "You can say it," Face said softly. "Nothing like the women I know, right? Like Rebecca Clausen?"
'And nothing like me, either,' he thought.
"I wish you could find yourself someone, Face, so you could settle down, have a family."
"Is that what you're going to do?"
"I might," Murdock admitted.
"You love her?"
"I think so. How do you know when you're in love?"
Face couldn't meet his friend's eyes. Instead he focused on one of the paintings across the room. "Because it hurts. When you think about them with someone else, it makes you...it makes you kind of shrivel up inside."
"Christ, I should have known better than to ask you!" Murdock exclaimed.
"I guess you should've," Face said. But there was no trace of sarcasm in his voice.
"It's just your fever talking, Face," Murdock said, reaching up to lay his hand on Face's forehead. "You need to be back in bed. Let's go." Gently he helped Face off the couch and back to the bedroom.
As Murdock settled him back into bed, Face took some comfort in the knowledge that he'd secretly done something that made his friend so happy. He could encourage this relationship, and as Murdock grew closer to Jody, Face could separate himself. Briefly, he thought of Adam and wondered how he was doing. He'd put an entire continent between himself and his pain for at least the several weeks it would take him to reconcile himself to the situation. Face wished he could do that as well, but his cash reserves were too low at the moment. Besides, when he was well enough, he needed to do something to help Rebecca Clausen get back on her feet again. He owed it to her.
"Why aren't you using the waterbed I gave you?"
"Can't have it here, Murdock," he murmured. "Against the association rules."
"Oh. I didn't think of that. Sorry."
"It's okay," Face said tiredly. "Maybe Jody'd like it."
Murdock brightened. "You don't mind?"
"Why should I?"
"Because then you really won't have gotten anything for helping me."
Face smiled a little. "I've got the frequency tables," he said softly. "Maybe someday I'll go on the show myself, win my own trip."
Murdock chuckled. "Maybe you will, Faceman. Maybe you will."
Face closed his eyes and let his exhaustion pull him down into sleep.
Murdock glanced at the bathroom door as he flipped off the television set after the eleven o'clock news. Face had been in there since the news had begun; Murdock had assisted him to the bathroom then sat on the bed to wait for him. Finally the door opened and Face appeared, leaning heavily against the door jamb. Concerned, Murdock went to help him.
Face was pale. Sweat beaded his forehead, and he was trembling. Murdock took in his condition as he slipped an arm around Face's waist to support him. "What happened? You look terrible. I thought you were never gonna come out of there."
Face shakily wiped the sleeve of his pajama top across his forehead. "That's what I was saying to the blood clot I just passed."
Murdock grimaced, remembering how much that could hurt. "Ouch! Let me help you back to bed, then," he said.
Face sank gratefully into the soft bed and turned on his side, wrapping one arm around his abdomen and groping for the heating pad with the other. Murdock helped him get the heating pad where he wanted it then gently smoothed his hair and adjusted the blankets. "Can I get you anything?" he asked.
"No, thanks. Just gonna sleep."
By now Murdock had completely forgotten his anger with Face. Worried, he continued to check on Face periodically throughout the night. Though Face rested poorly, his condition didn't seem to worsen, so when Hannibal called, Murdock was able to report that Face was recovering.
By the next evening, Face was feeling enough better that he could allow Murdock to help him into the living room to spend some time on the couch. His fever had abated, though the pain in his ribs and back still made breathing difficult and movement painful, and the occasional blood clot made trips to the bathroom a highly unpleasant experience. As much as having Murdock around interfered with his plan to withdraw from their friendship, he knew he needed the help. So he allowed Murdock to baby him and tried to focus his energies on recovering.
Face had just slipped into a light doze on the couch when the doorbell rang. He started then groaned as the movement caused knifing pains in his ribs. Murdock answered the door and exclaimed, "Jody!"
"Hi, H.M.!" Jody said as he hugged her, lifting her off her feet. "Oh, I hope you don't mind me coming to see you here. I thought you might like some of my chicken casserole."
"Well," Murdock said hesitantly, "Face isn't feeling too good right now." He was genuinely glad to see her, but he knew Face didn't like people to just drop over, especially when he didn't look or feel his best.
"It's alright," Face said from the couch. "C'mon in, Jody."
Jody handed Murdock a casserole dish then crossed the living room to sit on the coffee table beside the couch. She looked down at Face as he lay there. "H.M. told me you'd been hurt. How do you feel?"
Face attempted to smile. "Okay," he said.
Jody looked at his eye critically. "I know how to make a little poultice that'll take down some of that swelling and make it hurt less," she said. "Why don't you let me do that for you since I've barged into your house and all while you're sick."
"That's nice, Jody," Murdock said. "Let's do that."
Face acquiesced because it was easier than arguing. When the poultice arrived, a cool and sweet-smelling concoction which really did help ease the pain, he closed his eyes so he wouldn't have to see them together.
"We're going to have some dinner," Murdock said as he crouched beside Face. "Do you want something?"
"No, you go ahead," Face said. "I'm not hungry."
"Face, you need to eat. You haven't had anything but some coffee and a little juice since day before yesterday," Murdock said, concerned.
"Maybe later," Face answered. "I'm tired. I just want to sleep some."
Murdock reluctantly gave in and followed Jody to the dining room. Face didn't need to see them to know what was going on. He could hear the rustling of clothing as they hugged, hear the sounds of their kissing, the way Murdock laughed a little, embarrassed by his own enthusiasm. Almost without realizing what he was doing, Face raised the fingers of his right hand to his mouth, imagining the feeling of Murdock's lips pressed against his own.
Face jumped, and Jody cringed when she saw that it hurt him. "What?" he asked, opening his uncovered eye.
"Your lips. Do they hurt? I saw you touching them. They're really swollen. Maybe a little ice would help."
Face sighed. "It's okay, Jody. Go ahead and have dinner." He watched her join Murdock at the dinner table then closed his eyes again. Even so, he felt like a peeping Tom listening to their soft conversation.
He wanted to hate Jody. He wanted her to be a cheap, classless, dumb blonde. But as he listened to their conversation, he realized Murdock was right about her. She was sweet, happy, enthusiastic, and interesting. He could tell by the tone of Murdock's voice that he felt something special for this woman. There was a soft lilt to his voice that Face had never heard before, as if he were smiling from the inside out. How could he begrudge Murdock a chance at this kind of happiness? He wanted to hate Jody, but he couldn't.
Finally, though, he couldn't remain in the room any more. He sat up and asked Murdock to help him back to his bed. He took his leave of Jody and almost couldn't believe the words were coming out of his mouth when he heard himself tell her to make herself at home and stay as long as she wanted. She blushed prettily and exchanged a shy glance with Murdock as Face turned away.
"Thanks, Face," Murdock said as he helped Face climb into bed.
Face closed his eyes and waved his hand dismissively. "You might want to change the sheets on the guest bed," he said. "And there's...uh...protection in the nightstand."
Murdock blushed even as he smiled. "Call if you need anything," he said. "I'll hear you."
Face nodded and closed his eyes, turning away. 'Unfortunately,' he thought as Murdock left the room and turned off the light, 'I'll hear you, too.'
Face spent another restless night, trying to ignore the noises he could hear from the next room, pretending to be asleep when Murdock came in to check on him. Toward dawn he finally fell deeply asleep, and he didn't wake until midafternoon. He couldn't hear any voices, and he wondered if Jody were still there. He was able once again to make it to the bathroom under his own power, knowing the pain in his lower abdomen meant he was going to be in there awhile. Eventually there was a soft knock on the door.
"Face? You need any help?"
"No." 'I don't know what the hell he thinks he can do for me,' Face thought to himself. 'Maybe Jody has a poultice for this, too.' He would have laughed at the image if he weren't in such pain.
Murdock sat in a chair outside the bathroom door and tapped his foot nervously. He jumped to his feet as soon as he heard the toilet flush and the water running. When Face opened the bathroom door, Murdock waited to assist him back to bed, but instead, Face stepped back into the bathroom. "I'm okay, Murdock. I'm going to take a shower and clean up."
"No, I can stand up long enough to take a shower."
"Then leave the bathroom door open, okay? There's nobody else here."
"I'm going to make you something to eat."
"Oh, Murdock, I don't know," Face began, but Murdock cut him off.
"No, you've got to eat. I'll make you some soup or something, but you've got to have something in your stomach."
As he listened to the shower and heated a can of soup, Murdock wondered why Face was so reluctant to accept his help. Usually he ate it up when Murdock babied him. Right now, he was tolerating it only grudgingly. He hoped it wasn't still that stupid Hawaii thing; he thought they'd gotten past that. Maybe Face was just still embarrassed about the way he'd acted.
By the time the soup was ready, Face was showered, shaved, and dressed in the clean pajamas Murdock had laid out for him. Murdock met him at the bathroom door. "Taxi's here," he quipped, taking Face's elbow.
Face smiled faintly and let Murdock take him to the kitchen table. He managed to get through a bowl of soup and a few soda crackers before he was ready to return to his bed. While he'd eaten, Murdock had changed the sheets for him.
"You feeling any better today, muchacho?" Murdock asked as Face crawled under the blankets.
"I think so," Face said. "A little. I'm really tired, though."
"Well, you should be. Last night was the first decent night's sleep you've had since you were beaten up."
Face nodded and closed his eyes just as the doorbell rang. "Jody?" he asked.
Murdock shook his head. "No, she had to leave this morning for Vegas. She's working the next several nights. I won't see her again until next weekend. I'll go get rid of them."
Face heard Murdock say, "What do you want?" as he opened the door. His tone was hard and unfriendly, not one Face often heard in his voice. "How did you get this address?"
"Please, I have to see him!" It was Rebecca Clausen's voice.
"He's still in pretty bad shape. If you remember, your husband beat the crap out of him."
"Please, just ask if he'll see me."
"Alright, I'll go ask. Stay here."
Murdock came into his bedroom looking angry. "Rebecca Clausen's here. She wants to see you."
Face nodded. "Send her in. And Murdock, please don't give her a hard time."
Reluctantly Murdock nodded his assent before leaving the room and coming back with Rebecca in tow. "Please keep it short," he said as she came in. "He needs to rest."
"I will," she said.
Murdock moved to the back of the room and stood with his arms folded across his chest.
"Murdock," Face said as Rebecca came to sit on the side of his bed, "could we have a little privacy, please?"
Murdock shook his head. "Sorry. Can't leave you alone with a visitor."
"You were alone with a visitor last night!" Face shot back testily.
"I'm not injured," Murdock said. "I'm sorry, Face, but it's one of Hannibal's rules. He'd have my head on a platter if he knew I'd left you alone with her."
Face knew it was true. He hadn't realized how seriously the others had taken his beating. For himself, he didn't much care.
"Oh, honey, I'm so sorry this happened," Rebecca said, reaching out to touch his bruised cheek.
"It's alright, Rebecca," Face said, intercepting her hand and holding it gently. "I'm the one who should be apologizing."
Rebecca shook her head.
"Yes!" Face insisted. "I used you to get information."
Rebecca smiled. "I've never been used so well, sweetie," she said gently. "I knew what Frank was doing, and I should have had enough character to do something about it instead of waiting for you to come along and do it for me. If you used me, Templeton, it was for a good reason." She stroked her fingers gently through his hair, something she had enjoyed doing as they made love.
"Still, I'm sorry," Face said.
"For the few days you were with me, I felt young again. And attractive. I remembered what it should feel like to be with a man, to be treated as if I were important. You have no idea how precious that is to me, especially now."
Face sighed. "What are you going to do now, Rebecca? Do you have anything left?"
Rebecca laughed a little. "Not much. But I was able to keep the Monet, which I sold to the county art museum, so I've got a little to get by on for awhile. Maybe I can get a job." She held up a large envelope. "And, sweetie, I've brought your pictures. They turned out beautifully. Would you like to see them?"
"Sure." Seeing nude pictures of himself wasn't what he really wanted to do, but he couldn't bring himself to turn Rebecca down. He owed her at least this much.
Murdock found something to look at out the window while Rebecca went through the pictures with Face. In spite of his embarrassment, Face was again impressed with her skill. He knew a well-photographed nude when he saw one, and these photos were superb.
"Rebecca, have you got any more pictures? Other subjects? Other people?"
"Yes, I have quite a few. The police didn't take those. Why? Did you want some more?"
"Not for me. You've got talent, Rebecca, really. I've got a friend in the art world who would really be impressed by your work. He could probably help you start a real career in photography. Will you let me call him and give him your number?"
"Are you sure? You don't have to do anything for me."
"I want to. And he'll jump at the chance to work with you, I'm sure of it. Please let me do this for you."
Rebecca nodded and smiled. "I thought you wouldn't even want to see me, Templeton. I had no idea you'd be so generous to me after what Frank did. I'm the fat, middle-aged wife of a soon-to-be-convicted criminal. Why do you even care?"
With his good hand, Face reached out and placed a hand over her heart. "Because you're beautiful where it counts, Rebecca. Beautiful and talented, and you deserve so much better than you've been getting all these years. Better than I gave you. And certainly better than Frank gave you."
Rebecca's eyes welled with tears, and for a moment she couldn't speak. When she found her voice, she wiped a tear from her cheek and smiled. "You really think I can make a go of it?"
Face smiled. "You'll be famous by next Christmas," he said.
Noting the fatigue evident in Face's voice, Murdock took a step forward. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Clausen," he said, much more gently than he'd addressed her before, "but he really does need to rest."
Rebecca nodded. "I'll write the phone number where I'm staying on this envelope, and you can give it to your friend," she said.
Face nodded again. "I'll call him first thing tomorrow," he promised.
Rebecca leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead. "You're an angel, Templeton."
Face laughed a little. "Choir boy, maybe, but no angel," he said.
Rebecca was still smiling when she left. Murdock followed her out and saw her to the door. When he came back to the bedroom, Face was still awake.
"I wasn't kidding about you needing rest, Face," he said as he sat on the bed. "You need to get to sleep."
"I will, I will," Face said.
"That was really nice, what you offered to do for her," Murdock said.
"It's hard to see under the peroxide and make-up, Murdock," Face said, "but she's beautiful in ways other people don't see. If someone really loved her, she'd blossom. I know she would."
Murdock smiled and shook his head. Face's thoughts sometimes took an odd poetic turn, and he was always throwing you by acting like a complete shit one minute and then turning around and doing something wonderful and generous the next. He was the most perplexing friend Murdock had ever had. If he hadn't been here to see it himself, he'd never have guessed that Face would do something like that. He just wouldn't have believed it. He had to wonder now if there was anything Face wouldn't do for somebody.
Murdock closed Face's bedroom door halfway and went to the dining room table to remove the soup bowl and glass Face had left there after lunch and carry them to the sink. That Face had left dirty dishes on the table was another sign of his condition; he never left anything dirty or out of place if he could help it.
He sat on the couch, intending to read the newspaper, but his eye was drawn to the stack of photos Rebecca had left on the coffee table next to the envelope with her phone number on it. Feeling just a little voyeuristic, he picked up the pictures and looked at them. When he'd first heard that Face was going to pose as Rebecca's model, he had rolled his eyes and wondered what the hell Face was thinking. But Face had an entirely different outlook on that sort of thing than Murdock did.
To Face, the human body was a work of art. He understood about ways to make it look its best, to show it off to its best advantage. Perhaps that was why he was always so immaculately dressed and groomed. When they walked through the occasional art gallery, Face always frankly admired the nudes while Murdock sometimes became very interested in the signage. But Face could look at a painting, photo, or sculpture and explain to Murdock what was so good about the pose or the setting. He was always very clinical about it, though it was obvious he admired and appreciated a beautiful body of any gender.
Even with his limited understanding of that aspect of art, Murdock could see that Rebecca had talent. And he could see that she had a stunning subject to work with. He'd seen Face in various states of undress many times since he'd known him. But he'd never really looked at him before, not like this. He sat back on the couch and examined the photos carefully. There was nothing tasteless or offensive about any of them. In some she'd captured that look he sometimes had, a vulnerable, wistful expression that crossed his face when he was preoccupied with his own thoughts and didn't realize he was being watched. In others she'd paired a completely innocent pose with the charming smile that usually got him anything he wanted. Mixed in with the posed shots were a couple she'd taken of him in a brass bed when he must have fallen asleep on the thick down comforter waiting for her to adjust her camera. He lay on his back, his features relaxed, one arm flung carelessly over his head while the other rested over his heart, legs stretched out comfortably. Rebecca had written the word "angel" at the bottom of the photo. Looking at him resting on what might have passed for a white cloud, Murdock had to agree. Face was beautiful. He was more than beautiful.
Looking back on the pictures, thinking of the kindness Face had shown Rebecca Clausen, Murdock wondered why it was that even though women fell at Face's feet, he never had developed a lasting relationship with any of them. There had been Leslie...Sister Theresa, now...in his college days, and Murdock had seen him with many women since, but never with one woman for more than a month. It was odd. He knew that Face treated women well, which was one of the reasons they were so attracted to him.
Sure, he was gorgeous, and that was a definite asset, but Murdock knew Face had also always been kind and solicitous to any woman he brought around...even the ones Hannibal referred to as "the bimbo of the week." His orphanage training had been superb. He stood up when they came into a room, opened doors for them, engaged them in conversation even when the others were sitting around doing what Amy called "guy talk" and largely ignoring the females.
Unlike himself, who got tongue-tied and nervous around most beautiful women, Face was at ease with them. He imagined Face could get sex whenever and wherever he wanted it. He certainly would be able to if the women could get their hands on these pictures. So why was it that for all his tender concern for women, for all his breathtaking beauty, he could never stay with one woman? Had his abandonment by Leslie really screwed him up that badly? Or was it him? Did he really just not want that kind of relationship? He shrugged inwardly as he put the pictures back on the coffee table and put the envelope on top of them. In fifteen years, he'd never really understood Face. He probably wasn't going to start now.
Murdock remained with Face for the next two days. For Face, they were as emotionally painful as they were physically. Murdock resumed his normal activities, cooking enough food for a week and cleaning every surface in the house, though he also found time every day for at least one long telephone conversation with Jody.
Face spent most of the time in bed, finding himself wanting to sleep most of the time. He had no real appetite but choked down what Murdock brought him anyway. As he lay in bed curled around the heating pad and listening to Murdock's side of his conversations with Jody, he wished that Adam were there to hold him, to let him pretend the whispered words of love were for him.
When Hannibal came by the next day to see for himself how Face was doing, he found Face in much better condition. Though it was obvious he was still hurting, the bruising was beginning to fade a bit, and he was more mobile. Thankfully, his kidneys seemed to be functioning normally again. He was glad to see, too, that Face and Murdock seemed to have patched things up between them. Face still seemed a little down to him, but he brightened when Hannibal gave him a fat envelope containing the team's fee.
"One more dirtbag bites the dust," Hannibal said around his cigar.
Face riffled through the cash and nodded. "Soon as I can get out again, I'll get this put in our accounts," he said.
"You think I could just get part of my payment in cash now, Face?" Murdock asked. "I have a date this weekend."
"Sure." Face counted out some bills and handed them over. "That enough?"
Murdock looked at the large wad of bills in surprise. Usually Face gave him spending money only in small increments, saying he wasted it when he should be saving, and he usually grilled him on what he was planning to buy.
"You can use the car, too, if you need to."
Hannibal reached over and laid a hand on Face's forehead. "You feeling okay?" he asked. Face rarely let anyone else drive his car.
Face batted away the hand impatiently. "I can't drive for awhile with these ribs," he said impatiently. He looked up at Murdock. "But you'd better bring it back with gas in it."
Murdock smiled. "That's nice, Face, really. But Jody's driving our new car into town, so we won't need yours."
Face had forgotten about that. Murdock had given Jody the car he'd won on "Wheel of Fortune" to replace the clunker that had died on her on the way to Vegas.
"Well in that case," Hannibal said brightly, "I'll borrow your car, Face. Then B.A. can keep the van."
Face sighed. "The keys are by the front door. Don't take it over eighty."
"You about ready to release Murdock from custody, Lieutenant?" Hannibal asked.
"Yeah, I think I can manage on my own now," Face said. "There are some papers in the desk drawer that you'll need to convince the VA he's been cured and can be back home."
"I'll just stay one more night," Murdock said. "I think you need just one more night of not having to sleep with one eye open before we leave you here alone."
Face nodded. While it had been uncomfortable for him to have Murdock around, while it had completely wrecked his timeline for building that wall between himself and Murdock, it had been nice to know that when he slept, he could completely relax, knowing that Murdock wouldn't let anything get by him. He'd always felt safe with Murdock around. If things had gone according to plan, Murdock would be living here with him now, and he could sleep well every night. 'Don't think about it,' he told himself. Aloud he said, "Alright, one more night. Then you're going."
"And after he's gone, we're all taking some time off," Hannibal said. "It's going to take several weeks for those ribs to really heal, Face. I don't want you doing anything strenuous and reinjuring them."
"Okay." Hannibal stood. "I'll be back at eight tomorrow, Murdock. Be ready."
Early the next morning Murdock repacked his duffel bag and made a pot of coffee. He heard Face making noise in his bathroom and was glad he felt well enough to be up and around. All he needed now were the papers he had to take back to the VA. Face had said they were in the desk drawer.
As he pulled open the desk drawer and grabbed the fake medical report, his saw the frequency tables he and Face had used to study for Wheel of Fortune and grinned at the thought of Face going on the show himself and cleaning them out. Hell, he'd probably bring Vanna White home with him! He pulled out the frequency tables, and as he did, a paper slipped out of the notebook and fell to the floor. He stooped to pick it up, gave it a cursory glance, then did a double take.
It was the list of places he'd gone with Jody in Hawaii. The names, addresses, phone numbers, reservation times...everything. My God, it really had been Face. Face! But how could he have known Murdock was taking Jody? He said he didn't know. That's why he showed up to collect Murdock and go to the airport. Why on earth would he lie about something like this?
Scanning the list, he found one unfamiliar name. One place he knew they hadn't been. But he knew it by reputation. A well-known, high-priced, very exclusive gay nightclub. Why would Face make reservations at a...slowly the truth dawned on him. 'Oh, no,' he thought. 'Oh no.' He went to stick the list back in the book and return it to the desk, but the sharp intake of breath he heard across the room told him it was too late.
List still in his hand, he turned to where Face stood in his bedroom doorway and watched all the blood drain from his face. Their eyes met for a few heartbeats while both remained speechless, then Face turned away abruptly, crossed his arms over his chest, and leaned heavily against the door jamb.
"I...I'm sorry, Face. It just fell out."
Face said nothing, could say nothing. He could scarcely breathe.
Murdock tried again. "I had no idea, Face. No idea. You never said anything about being...about being..." He sighed. He was just absolutely floored by this revelation. Face had made these expensive and luxurious arrangements for him...for them. He must have been planning to say something while they were there. "Oh, Face, what ever made you think I was gay?"
Face's voice was barely audible. "You told me you had a male lover once."
Murdock remembered that drunken and unwise confession. He'd wished ever since that he hadn't made it. He crossed the room and stood behind Face. God, he could almost feel the waves of misery that washed over his friend. "I told you that was just experimentation, Face. I was a kid, barely seventeen. I wasn't even altogether sure how my own plumbing worked. I didn't mean to give you the impression that I..."
He raised his hand and gently stroked the back of Face's head, trying to soothe him. "I'm so sorry, Face. I can't love you like that. I wish I could; God knows you deserve it. But I just can't."
Face flinched away from him and Murdock lowered his hand. "Face," he began, but he was interrupted by the doorbell.
"It's Hannibal," Face said without turning around. "You'd better go."
Murdock sighed. "Just a minute!" he hollered irritably at the doorbell as it continued to ring. "Face, we need to talk about this."
"Not now," Face whispered. "Not now." He stepped into his bedroom and shut the door behind him without even looking back.
"What took you?" Hannibal said as Murdock opened the door. He saw the expression on Murdock's face and said, "What's wrong?"
Murdock tried to compose himself. This was not something he wanted the whole team in on. He and Face needed to work it out themselves. But right now was not the time. He knew Face would need time to pull himself together, to reconcile himself both to the fact that Murdock knew how he felt and to the way he found out. His heart ached for his friend, but right now, there was nothing he could do. And he needed time, too, to decide how to approach this.
"Nothing. I'm fine."
"He's fine. He's in his room."
Murdock kept the list folded so Hannibal couldn't see it as he went back to the desk, pulled out the papers he needed, and slipped the list back into the frequency tables. He picked up his duffel bag, glanced worriedly at the bedroom door, hesitated, then stepped out of the house and locked the door behind him without another word.
Face sat on the edge of his unmade bed, his head in his hands. Why hadn't he thrown the list away? Why hadn't he hidden it better? How could he have forgotten it was there? How could he ever face him again?
"I can't love you like that."
"I can't love you like that."
"I just can't."
The scene played itself over and over in his mind as his humiliation rose up to swallow him whole. 'God, I am so stupid. So stupid. What am I going to do now?' He raked shaking fingers through his hair. He paced agitatedly back and forth across his room, ignoring the pain the movement caused. He swallowed against the growing lump in his throat and told himself he would not cry. Not over this. Not over this. Angrily he wiped away a tear, then another. Then he couldn't help himself.
As he lay on his bed, he wished, not for the first time in his life, that he could die.
Face jumped as the phone rang and considered not answering it. He was up to his elbows in soapy water anyway, scrubbing the kitchen floor on his hands and knees and ignoring the fact that every movement hurt like hell. He glanced at the clock and saw that it was late afternoon. It was probably B.A. or Hannibal calling to check up on him, make sure he was making it through his first day without someone to watch him. He didn't want to talk, but he knew that if he didn't answer, one of them would be over to see what was the matter. Reluctantly, he dried his hands and answered.
"Templeton? Everything alright?"
"Yes, it's me. What's wrong? You sound ill."
"I...um...I got beaten up a few days ago. Been feeling a little rocky."
"How badly are you hurt?"
"Not too badly. Few broken ribs is all. Some bruises."
"I'm sorry. Do you need a doctor? I can have Jeff come over and take a look at you. He's able to be discreet."
"Thanks, Adam, but I'm okay, really."
Once again Adam marveled at the scrapes this man seemed to get into and the casual way he dealt with it. But there was something else wrong. He could tell by the tone in Templeton's voice that there was more bothering him than just a beating.
"What's really wrong, Templeton?"
Face sighed. Adam knew him too well. "He knows."
"You told him?"
"No. He found the list of places I made for Hawaii. He figured it out."
"What did he say?"
"What you'd expect, I guess. 'I'm sorry. I can't love you like that.' The usual."
Adam shook his head and reached for his glass of sherry. He could hear the pain behind the carefully casual response. Poor Templeton. "It doesn't help," he said, "but I know how you feel."
"I know you do."
"What are you going to do now?"
"I don't know," Face confessed. "I didn't have a plan for this. I just don't have any idea how to handle this."
"Well, Templeton," Adam said, "there's one thing you can do that you haven't tried yet with him."
"You call that an option?"
"Well, you've tried almost everything else. And as much as I hate to say it, how much worse can it get? He knows how you feel now, and he knows what you had planned. Now maybe you can just discuss it honestly, no matter what the final outcome of the relationship, so he at least knows for sure where you're coming from."
Adam was right, Face realized. It was time to go ahead and lay his cards on the table. He had nothing left to lose.
"I guess you're right," he said, leaning somewhat stiffly against the kitchen counter.
"And, Templeton, as hard as it was on you that he found out the way he did, can you imagine how much worse it would have been if you'd gone to Hawaii and made your declaration there only to find out he couldn't return your feelings?"
"Touche," Face said. "You tried to tell me that before, didn't you?"
"You're allowed to be a little blind where some things are concerned," Adam said good-naturedly.
"Where are you? Are you still out of town?"
"Yes, I'm in Switzerland right now. But I'm cutting my trip a little short. I should be home Monday night. May I see you?"
Face smiled. Adam was always chivalrous, as if Face were doing him a favor by seeing him instead of it being the other way around. "Yeah, I'll be around for awhile. I can't do anything much until my ribs heal, anyway."
"I'll call you when I get in. Will you be seeing Murdock before then?"
"I expect so. He's out of town with his girlfriend right now, but he'll be back on Monday, and I suppose he'll show up then. He's not one to let things like this just drop." He laughed a little. "Must be the effect of all those years of therapy."
"Well, I wish I could be there to support you as you did me."
"It's alright, Adam. You weren't having to have the same kind of conversation I am. This is something he and I need to work out between ourselves, I guess. But I'm sure not looking forward to it." He was, in fact, dreading it.
"I know," Adam said sympathetically. Next to telling someone they were dying, telling them you loved them when you knew they didn't feel the same had to be the hardest thing in the world to do. "Good luck, Templeton. I'll be thinking of you."
"Thanks, Adam. Thanks."
As Face hung up, he knew Adam was absolutely right. He was going to have to suck it up and face Murdock, no matter how it turned out. And for once in his life, he'd have to just be honest. He wasn't going to tell himself to get over it because he knew he never would. The humiliation of this experience was going to make him cringe every time he thought about it for the rest of his life. But he had to get past it if they were going to work together, be part of the same team. That was the one aspect of their relationship he had always intended to survive his gradual withdrawal, anyway.
He didn't need to worry anymore about the wall he was so carefully building. In a certain respect, the minute Murdock found that paper, the wall had slammed firmly down, Murdock and Jody on one side of it, and Face on the other. But just maybe this wall was low enough that they could still walk side by side as friends.
Murdock parked his car and sat in it for a few minutes before he went to Face's door. He wished he had had time to talk to Dr. Richter about this before he came over, get some advice about the best way to approach his friend.
He couldn't think of anything to say that would ease his Face's pain. He was still struggling to come to terms with the discovery himself. How could he have missed it all these years? What must it have cost Face to hide his natural inclination behind the womanizing facade he showed the world?
And Murdock was embarrassed by the revelation as well. He'd never considered Face as a lover; not in all the years he'd known him had he ever thought beyond a sort of detached admiration of Face's looks and well-developed physique. He'd certainly never dreamed that Face could want to make love to him.
What could he say? How could he salvage their friendship? He'd thought about it all weekend, unable to really enjoy his time with Jody because he was so worried about Face. He hoped Face wouldn't refuse to talk to him and that he hadn't done anything rash like he had when he'd discovered Leslie couldn't love him, either.
With a shake of his head, he stepped out of the car and went to the door, hoping for a sudden inspiration once he was inside. Face answered his knock almost immediately but wouldn't meet his eyes.
"Hi. Come on in," Face said, turning and leading the way back into the kitchen.
As he walked through the condo, Murdock took in the changes that had been made in the last three days. All the furniture had been rearranged, the walls had received a fresh coat of paint, and every surface in the house seemed to have been scrubbed. He could have eaten off the kitchen floor. He thought he'd done a decent job of cleaning before he'd left, but this was like a whole new place. There were newspapers spread on the kitchen table. Various sizes and colors of flower pots were stacked neatly on one corner of the table, and plants waiting to be transplanted sat in another. A bag of gravel lay in the center of the table, and on the floor, a bag of potting soil leaned against a chair leg.
"Do you want some coffee?" Face asked.
There was a full pot on the counter. Evidently, Face had been expecting him.
"Sure, thanks." As Face reached for a cup, Murdock said, "No, it's alright. I can get it myself. You go ahead and work."
Uncharacteristically, Face was clad in only a pair green running shorts and a white T-shirt. His feet were bare. The bruising on his face had gone from purple to yellow. The elastic bandage was gone from his wrist, and he seemed to be using his hand without any pain as he cut a strip from the top of the plastic bag full of gravel, but his wrist looked swollen. The dark circles under his eyes and the lines around his mouth reflected his fatigue, and his hands shook slightly as he scooped gravel into a couple of empty pots. Murdock had hoped to have a face-to-face conversation, but maybe it would be easier on Face if he could keep his hands busy while they talked. He had evidently kept himself busy day and night, and judging by the pinched expression on his face, he looked to have lost some ground in his recovery from the beating.
"How are you feeling?" Murdock asked. "You look tired."
Face shrugged. "Haven't been sleeping very well is all."
Murdock doubted he'd been sleeping at all. There was a long silence, neither one of them wanting to be the first to broach the topic they needed to discuss. Face bent to pick up the potting soil, but the movement hurt his ribs, and he gasped, clutching at his side.
"Don't do that, Face," Murdock said automatically. "Here, let me help you." He bent and picked up the bag, placing it on the table while Face caught his breath.
There was another awkward pause while Murdock watched Face pick dead leaves and flowers off one of the plants. Finally, Murdock decided to take the bull by the horns.
"Face," he said, "I feel so bad that I ever made you think I was gay. It must feel like I've been leading you on all these years."
Face shrugged as he turned the potted plant upside down and shook it out of its pot. "It's not your fault. I guess I just read more into what you said than was really there."
Murdock idly turned his mug in circles on the counter. "I guess after all I've seen, all the women I've seen you with over the years, I just have a hard time believing you're really gay."
Face smiled sadly as he loosened the soil around the plant's cramped roots. "So do I, sometimes."
Seeing that Face hadn't put quite enough soil in the pot he intended to move the plant to, Murdock stepped over and scooped a couple of handsful of potting soil into the new pot.
Murdock returned to his coffee cup. "If I'd known how you felt, Face, I'd have handled that whole Wheel of Fortune thing differently."
"It's alright, Murdock. That was my fault, not yours. As usual, I put all my eggs in one basket. And now that I know you don't...can't...well, I can see it would have been a really bad idea to go to Hawaii with you, anyway."
"It must have cost you a fortune for all those extras. Why didn't you just cancel it all when I left?"
"Even I'm not that petty. I've hardly ever seen you get to go somewhere away from the VA and have a good time." He finished packing the soil around the plant and wiped his hands on a towel before turning his attention to the next pot. "I just wanted you to have a good time."
Murdock groaned inwardly, thinking of his accusation that Face saw friendship as a business transaction, and he was ashamed of his own insensitivity. But how could he have known? Face had done a masterful job of conning them all.
"That was really generous of you. I wish you could have seen how happy it made Jody to..." he broke off abruptly and mentally kicked himself. It was probably not a good idea to bring up the person who took Face's trip for him. Damnit, he seemed to be doing and saying all the wrong things here.
Face nodded. "It's alright."
Murdock moved from the counter to the table and pulled out a chair. He sat in it and put his cup on the table. "Look, I'm sorry about what happened the other day when I was getting ready to leave," he said, trying to make eye contact. "I know that wasn't the way you wanted me to find out."
Face finally looked at him. "Well, given the way you feel...or don't feel...I guess it doesn't much matter how you found out. The result's the same. It wouldn't have been any easier for either of us even if you'd found out some other way."
"I know this must really hurt, Face. I'm sorry."
Face shook his head and looked back down at his work, prying another plant out of its pot. "I'm just embarrassed," he said softly. "You must think I'm a complete idiot."
"No, Face," Murdock protested, "I don't think that. Not at all. I'm actually really touched that you could care about me." He used his thumb to make a small pile of some of the soil that had spilled out onto the newspaper. "You know, I look at the effect you have on the people you're with...women like Rebecca...and I know that being with you, being your lover, must be something pretty special. Somehow, whatever you do, it changes people. It makes them feel like they deserve to be loved, and then they become that way. I'll always admire and respect you for that."
"But you'll never love me." It came out a strained whisper.
"I'm sorry. No."
Murdock watched Face's hands as he pulled another pot off the stack and started to prepare it. He couldn't look at his friend's face. He couldn't stand to see the pain he knew would be reflected there and know he was the cause of it. " I wish you could find someone you could really be happy with," he continued, flattening the small mound of soil and then scraping it up again. "I hate to see you be the one who always loses out."
Face shrugged, not really knowing how to respond. Murdock wouldn't want to hear that Face's heart had been his for so long that he wouldn't know how to love anyone else even if they were interested in him. Face knew it was ridiculous, but deep inside, he would always nurse a small spark of hope that Murdock would someday be able to love him.
Murdock finally reached out and lay a hand on Face's arm. "Face, where do we stand now? I need to know how things are going to be between us."
Face set down the plant, wiped his hands, and pulled out another chair, straddling it and leaning his chin on folded arms. "I guess it's up to you, Murdock," he said. "My feelings haven't changed. The only thing that's changed is that you know about them now. Are you afraid to work with me? To be my friend?"
Murdock shook his head. "No, of course not. I still trust you with my life, Face. And I still care about you as much as I ever did. I don't see any reason why this has to ruin our friendship. Do you?"
Face shook his head. "No, I guess not. Just, I'd rather the others didn't know."
"There's no reason to tell them anything. As long as our working relationship hasn't changed and Hannibal knows he can count on us both to be there and do our jobs, there's nothing to tell."
"Okay." Unable to sit still any longer, Face got off the chair and silently started working on the plants again.
When Face showed no inclination to discuss the topic further, Murdock stood up and put his cup in the sink. "I guess I'd better go," he said. "I need to break back into the VA before group therapy starts. We've got a scary new guy on the ward now, and I don't want him strangling my shrink."
Face smiled faintly. "Okay. I'll see you later, then."
"Are you gonna be okay?"
"Yeah. I'll be alright."
"You should be resting, Face, not doing all this work. I don't want you to have a relapse."
"I'll be alright," Face repeated, and Murdock knew that was the end of the discussion. Relapse or no, Face would keep active until he was too exhausted to feel anything, and then he would probably sleep twenty-four hours straight. He'd seen him do it before. But he was worried that this time, Face was going to end up very ill.
Murdock put a friendly arm around Face's shoulders. "I'll check on you later, okay?"
Face dislodged Murdock's arm by turning and walking back toward the living room. "Okay. I'll walk you to the door."
When Murdock had finally gone, Face returned to the kitchen and continued to work, not even thinking about why he was doing it, just going on automatic pilot. His mind raced from thought to thought, shying away entirely from the conversation he'd just had. Shying away from Murdock. He carried the newly potted plants to the deck and distributed them around. He gathered up the newpaper on the table into a neat ball. There was potting soil on the floor. He'd need to vacuum it up. He might was well scrub the floor again while he was it at. And he should probably take those kitchen curtains down and launder them, too. And then there were the team's finances. He needed to take care of that.
He could do this.
He'd get by like he always had done.
Rejection was nothing new to him.
The empty, gnawing feeling in his gut that had nothing to do with hunger had been a part of him ever since he could remember. He was used to ignoring it, and that's what he was going to continue to do.
When Adam's driver dropped him off at Face's condo late that evening, there was no answer to his knock. Going around to the back, he found a disheveled, dirty, punch-drunk Templeton Peck standing in the garage sorting nails and screws into baby food jars.
"Templeton, for heaven's sake, what are you doing?" Adam asked, entering the garage and walking across the floor to carefully put his arms around Face from behind.
"Just working." Face said. "Organizing."
Adam put a finger under Face's chin and turned his face, examining him carefully. He lifted the t-shirt and looked at the bruising that still spread over his back and ribs.
"Look at you," he said softly, shaking his head. "You look like hell, Templeton."
Face turned back to his pile of nails. "I'm okay."
"No, you're not. You're not okay at all. Let's go in."
"I can't. I'm not finished."
"You don't need to finish this right now. It'll keep, or I'll come out and do it for you tomorrow. You shouldn't even be out here in the garage without shoes, anyway. You're going to step on something. Now let's go in."
Face looked down at his dirty feet as if noticing for the first time that he wasn't wearing shoes. He wiped his hands across his t-shirt, leaving grey streaks on its already-soiled front.
"What's this?" Adam asked, pointing to the blood stains on the front Face's shorts.
Face pulled up the leg of the shorts to display a cut on the inside of his thigh. "Cut myself with the hedge clippers."
"Jesus, Templeton, you're lucky you're not singing soprano right now. Come on. Let's get you inside before you do some real damage."
Adam put an arm around Face's waist and gently guided him out of the garage and into the house. He'd seen Templeton this way on occasion, always after one of his failed attempts to confess his love to his friend, but he'd never seen him quite this distracted. He sat the younger man down at the kitchen table and brought him a glass of milk. "When did you eat last?" he asked.
Face shrugged. "I kind of grazed while I worked."
Adam looked around the home. It was so clean it sparkled. He could still smell the fresh paint on the walls. He knelt by Face's chair and looked up at him. "Let's get some food in you, shall we? Then a shower. Okay?"
Face nodded. When Adam stood and moved to the refrigerator, Face started to stand and go straighten the towels on the towel rack, but a firm hand on his shoulder pushed him back down. "Don't get out of that chair, Templeton." Adam's voice was quiet, but Face responded to his authoritative tone.
Adam found some leftovers that Murdock had packaged into little frozen dinners and heated one of them in the microwave. Face consumed it automatically but tasted nothing and couldn't have said what he'd eaten. Adam removed his tie and jacket, helped himself to a cola, and sat at the table to make sure Templeton finished the meal.
When Face had finished dinner, he rested his forehead on his hand and stared down at his empty plate. "I had a really crappy day, Adam," he finally said.
"I know. I know you did."
"I wish I could hate him. I wish I could want to walk away and never see him again."
"How was Europe?"
Adam reached for Face's hand and held it between his own, gently rubbing a dirty spot on the back of it with his thumb. "Distance didn't help," he said simply. "I don't recommend running away from this problem."
Face nodded, watching Adam scrub at his dirty hand. "I guess I'd better go get cleaned up," he said. "Do you want a shower?"
Murdock could see that the lights were still on in Face's place. He had felt so bad after leaving that morning that he knew he wouldn't be able to sleep unless he came back to check and make sure Face was doing okay. He didn't feel like he'd handled the conversation as well as he ought to have, and he worried about the state he'd left Face in.
Rather than knocking and getting Face up if he was finally asleep, Murdock fished out his extra key and let himself in. He heard voices from the bedroom and recognized the voice of the eleven o'clock news anchor. He was about to call out and tell Face he was there when he saw the coat and tie draped over a chair in the kitchen. They were not Face's. Quickly he looked around. In a heap on the floor next to the laundry room were the clothes Face had been wearing that morning, the front of the shorts stained with blood.
Heart in his mouth, he pulled his weapon and checked it, then stealthily made his way toward Face's bedroom door. Detecting a slight movement on the bed, he stepped in, weapon held at the ready. He stopped short and locked eyes with the man in Face's bed. The man was sitting up in bed watching the news, and in his arms, sleeping against his chest, lay Face.
"You must be Murdock."
Murdock lowered the weapon. "Who are you?"
"My name is Adam Chambers. Perhaps you and I need to have a chat. Let me get him settled and we can go in the other room."
As the other man pushed back the covers and got out of bed, Murdock tried not to notice that they were both completely naked.
Face stirred a little and opened his eyes halfway as Adam climbed out of bed and lowered him to the pillow. "Adam?" he murmured sleepily.
Adam shushed him, stroked his forehead, and bent to kiss him as he pulled the covers up. "I'm just going out in the other room for a little while, Templeton. You go ahead to sleep and I'll be back in a bit."
Face sighed, turned over, and fell asleep again as Adam picked up a robe from the foot of the bed and pulled it on. Murdock reholstered his weapon and followed Adam from the room. It seemed obvious that Face knew him and was in bed with him by choice. He watched as Adam crossed the room, picked up the soiled clothing, and dropped it in the washer.
"Why don't I make us some coffee?" Adam said. It was apparent as he opened cupboards and removed things that he knew his way around Face's kitchen.
"Who are you, anyway?" Murdock asked suspiciously. "What are you doing here?"
"I already told you my name," Adam said mildly. "Is the rest really any of your business?"
"I come in here and find someone I don't even know in bed with my best friend, you bet it's my business."
Adam nodded thoughtfully. "If I'd been a woman, would you still have thought it was your business? Or would you have been happy there was someone here to take care of him tonight?"
Murdock was taken aback, but he answered, "We take care of our own."
"Well, when I got here a few hours ago, it didn't look like you were doing a very good job of it!" Adam said somewhat irritably. "He obviously had not slept for days, he was filthy, and he barely had enough energy to make it back into the house. If that's the way you always take care of him, it's a wonder he's not dead by now."
Murdock opened his mouth to say something and then realized how stupid it sounded for the two of them to be sitting out here arguing about who took better care of Face. He sighed and started again. "He's my best friend," he said. "I was here earlier today, and I saw how he was. I came back to check on him because I was worried. I just...I expected him to be alone. He doesn't usually...entertain...when he's feeling like this."
"He'll be alright, Murdock," Adam said.
"How do you know my name? What has he been telling you?"
Adam stood and reached for a couple of cups, pouring them each some coffee before he answered. "I've known Templeton for several years," Adam said. "There's a lot I still don't know about him, and I never ask. It was obvious from the first time I met him that there were things he didn't want to talk about and questions I was not allowed to ask. But the one thing he's never been reluctant to talk about is you. I know that you are his best friend. And I know that he is in love with you, that he has tried countless times over the years to tell you."
"He told you that?" Murdock asked.
"But aren't the two of you..."
Adam sighed and stirred cream into his coffee. "Templeton and I have a relationship most people couldn't understand. We are lovers, in a sense, and yet we aren't in love. Both of us knew from the first day we met that romantic love wasn't in the cards for us."
"Then why are you here? Why have you been together for so long?"
Adam shrugged a little. "Because we're both needy, I guess," he said. "Both in love with someone who doesn't love us in return and both too stubborn to stop loving them. But even someone as sharp and as independent as he is needs someone to hold them once in awhile. And we are good friends."
"Good friends? It looks like it's a little more than that."
Adam shook his head. "No, don't mistake what we have for what he wanted to have with you. For us sex is like...it's like comfort food. It makes us both feel better when things are going wrong. And in that sense, we take care of each other. But he'll never feel for me what he feels for you. If you had been able to return his feelings, he would have been more than happy to leave me behind. And I would have been happy to let him go."
"I hate to see him suffer like this," Murdock said. "And to know that I'm the cause of it. But what he wants is something I can't give him."
"I know. And he knows now, too. Getting it out in the open was probably the best thing for him, so don't blame yourself."
"I wish I could give him what he wants," Murdock said. "I really do. He needs it. And if he really did find someone who felt that way about him, I know he'd move heaven and earth to make them happy. I want so much for him to finally be with someone. To be loved."
"So do I," Adam said. "And like you, I wish I could be that person for him. But," he shrugged, "I can't. So I give him what I can. A shoulder to cry on, a bed to share, physical release."
"Well, I'm glad then that someone can give him what he needs," Murdock said.
"What he needs most right now," Adam said, "after a good night's sleep, is reassurance that you're not going to let this whole incident come between you. He needs to know you can treat him the way you always have. That you can respect him and trust him."
"I know he does. And I'll make sure he knows it. I know it's not what he wants or needs, but I do love him like a brother."
Adam rose. "I should get back to him."
"How did you get him to go to sleep?" Murdock asked.
Adam smiled. "I'm afraid I resorted to the oldest trick in the book. I put a sleeping pill in his milk."
Murdock had to smile. B.A. would have loved that. He stood as well and held out his hand. "I'll sleep better tonight knowing there's someone here to look out for him," he said.
"I may take him back to my home tomorrow," Adam said. "I think he's run out of things to do here, but I may be able to keep him occupied while he mends."
Murdock smiled. "He's stubborn as an old mule sometimes, ain't he?"
"That he is." Adam reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his wallet, extracting a business card to hand Murdock. "My home and pager numbers are on there. You can call anytime. I think in a way it will be a relief for him to know not only that you know how he feels about you, but that you know about his relationship with me."
Murdock accepted the card. "Thanks. I'll call tomorrow to check on him. I'll...uh...I'll lock the door on the way out."
As he returned to his car, Murdock reflected again on his friend's ability to draw people to him, to make his lovers care so much about him. And yet the one last piece of the puzzle, the one piece that would make him complete, was always missing. It was stupid. Stupid and tragic and completely undeserved. And sadly, there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it. Not one damn thing.
Two years later
Hannibal paced the long corridor in front of intensive care unit at D.C. General Hospital chewing agitatedly on the unlit stump of cigar. Behind him Murdock sat very still in a waiting room chair and stared fixedly at the opposite wall. B.A. sat beside him, his face and thoughts unreadable. Frankie stood chewing his fingernails nervously as he relived the nightmare of their ordeal in the restaurant. Face had been in surgery several hours; he had only just been brought back from the recovery room.
The bullet wound in Face's side had done a lot of damage, ricocheting as it had off his ribs and doing damage to several internal organs before lodging just above his hip bone. The doctors had at first not held forth much hope for his survival, but so far, he was holding his own.
A doctor emerged from the unit, chart in hand, and asked, "Mr. Smith?"
Hannibal turned around as the others got up and joined him. "Yes. How is he?"
The doctor nodded. "A little better," she said. "We're getting him settled in. He'll be pretty groggy and disoriented for some time, of course, but if one of you wants to sit with him, that would be okay. Which of you is Adam?"
Hannibal looked confused. "None of us," he said. "Why?"
"He's calling for him. It would help if he were here, I think. Have you got any way to get in touch with him?"
"I already called him just after we got here," Murdock said. The others looked at him in surprise but said nothing. "His pilot should have him here soon, probably within the hour. In the meantime," he glanced at Hannibal, "I'd like to sit with him."
Hannibal nodded his permission. He knew Murdock blamed himself for the whole sorry mess and needed to be with his friend as much for his own healing as for Face's. But before Murdock went in, he stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. "Who is Adam?" he asked. "Why is Face calling for him?"
For more than two years, Murdock had kept Face's secret about his sexual orientation and his relationship to Adam. He wasn't about to give it away now. "Adam's a friend of his from L.A. They've known each other for years."
"Fool, everybody in L.A. thinks we're dead."
"Not everybody," Murdock said. Then he pulled away from Hannibal and entered the unit, making his way to Face's room. The room was crowded with an impressive array of machinery, much of it attached to Face. Murdock was gratified to see, though, that Face was breathing on his own, and while various tubes and catheters dripped fluid into or removed fluid from his body, most of the machines he was attached to were simply monitors to keep the nurses at the desk apprised of his condition.
Face was fighting to stay awake, and a nurse was trying to calm him. Murdock stepped up to the side of the bed and took Face's hand in his own. "Face?"
Face's eyes fluttered open, but the effort to keep them that way was too much. "Adam?"
"It's me, Face. It's Murdock."
It took awhile for Face's sluggish mind to process the words, but eventually he worked out the sense of them. "Murdock?" he whispered.
"Yeah, Face. Relax, okay? Sleep. I've called Adam, and he'll probably be here before you wake up. I'll make sure they let him right in, okay? He'll be right here with you, I promise. But right now you need to rest and let these pretty nurses take care of you. You've had a rough night."
Face nodded, "'kay." He felt floaty, couldn't really even feel his body except for the pressure of Murdock's hand on his. He didn't recollect all the events of the evening, but he remembered pain, and he remembered being afraid. But everything was alright now. Murdock was there; Adam was coming. Things must be okay. He allowed himself to drift back into sleep.
Murdock stroked Face's hair, squeezed his hand gently, comforting gestures he hadn't been free to do at the restaurant where his focus was necessarily on aborting the planned assassination of the attorney general and getting Face off the floor and to a hospital. He'd been afraid to feel too much then, afraid his feelings would betray him and his weakness be used against Face. So he'd remained stoic and calm. Now, though, the pressure was off, and the fear and guilt he'd felt overwhelmed him.
Used to the reactions of relatives and friends under these circumstances, the nurse said nothing, just moved a box of tissues within reach as he rested his head against the raised side rail of the bed and wept. Exhausted by the events of the day, he, too, drifted into sleep. He woke abruptly, though, when a hand squeezed his shoulder.
"Adam! Thank God. He was calling for you."
"I'm here now," Adam said, patting Murdock's shoulder. "You weren't injured, were you?"
"No, no. Just Face."
Adam moved to the other side of the bed and took Face's other hand in his own, raising it to his lips. "How is he?" he asked.
"The docs think he'll be alright, but it was touch and go for awhile."
"Thank God," Adam breathed in relief. He studied Face's features carefully. He hadn't seen him in six months. Templeton had called him one day to say he was going out of town and wasn't sure exactly when he'd be back. The next thing Adam knew, Templeton's picture showed up in the newspaper with an article about the A-Team being captured and held for trial. Unable to get news any other way, he had to follow the story in the media, frantic with worry.
When the day of the scheduled execution arrived, when he heard the team had been lined up and shot at dawn, his grief overwhelmed him. He hadn't realized until that moment that the love he felt for Templeton, forged through their individual pain and sorrow, was deeper even than being "in" love. They were a part of each other in a way that nobody else ever could be for either of them. He discovered, to his great surprise, that he loved Templeton Peck as deeply, as completely as he had ever loved anyone else in his life. The anguish of discovering it too late had nearly driven him mad.
It was an entire week after that before he'd received a short, hurried call from Murdock assuring him that Face was still alive and that one day he would be free to come back to L.A. He'd decided that he would wait, however long it took. Knowing where Templeton had been living at the time, Adam had gone to his home, packed everything, and brought it to his own house. When the time came that Templeton returned to L.A., this would be his new home, if he'd have it.
He stroked Templeton's cheek with his fingers, traced his bottom lip with his thumb, relearning the features he'd missed for so long. "He's thinner," he observed, smiling through tears.
Murdock nodded. "Being here, being away from you, has been hard on him."
"I'm sure it's been hard on all of you to be so far from home."
Murdock nodded, thinking of Jody. Their plans to wed had been put on hold for as long as it took them to get through the nightmare of their required number of missions for Stockwell. But the hope of a pardon for the rest of the team was worth it, and as always, like the other team members, Murdock had put the needs of the team above his own.
"How soon do you think their pardons will come through?"
Murdock shrugged. "I don't know. Not long, I don't think. Hannibal's getting pretty sick of the arrangement, and frankly, it's been harder and harder to convince Face to stick with it."
"Poor Templeton. Now that I know what he's been up against for so many years, I marvel that he's come through it all as such a decent person."
"He's the best. The best person I know, the best friend I've ever had."
Adam pulled up a chair and sat next to the bed. He kept a hand on Face's leg, unwilling to be completely out of contact with him for even a minute. "I looked up Amy Allen, you know," he said. "When I learned who you all really were, I remembered she'd done a series of articles on you. I suppose that, thinking they were all dead, she didn't think she had anything to lose by telling me about them. I heard a lot of stories about him and about the things you've all done."
"It's been a busy fifteen years," Murdock said. "No doubt about it."
"What do you think you'll do when the pardons are given?" Adam asked.
"Well, I haven't thought about it much. I wouldn't be surprised if we just kept doing what we're doing now. There's still a need for us, fugitives or not. But from then on, we'd be choosing out own cases, working them the way we want to work them."
"I want to take him home with me," Adam said. "Do you think he'd come?"
Murdock looked into Adam's eyes, saw the same longing and need there that he so often saw in Face's eyes when he talked about Adam. "In a heartbeat," he said confidently. "I don't think he really realized how he felt about you until he was stuck here. The more time has gone by, the more he talks about you. He's tried to leave us a few times since we got here, and I know it's because he wants to go back to L.A. and find you."
Adam nodded. "I'd never ask him to stop doing what he does. Even before I knew exactly what it was, I knew it was important to him, that it gave his life purpose and meaning. And I knew that what he felt for you also gave his life meaning and that where you went, he'd follow." He laughed a little, still blinking back tears. " But I hadn't realized how much it meant to me to be able to look across the breakfast table and see him reading the financial section of the paper and trying not to drip butter on his tie. How can you love someone like that and not even be aware of it?"
"Maybe because you were both focusing too much of your energy on loving someone else at the time," Murdock said gently.
The door behind them opened, and Hannibal stepped in. Adam stood and turned to face him, holding out his hand and introducing himself.
Hannibal shook his hand but looked him over somewhat suspiciously. The last six months had only reinforced the lessons he'd learned in Vietnam. Don't trust anyone. And most especially, don't trust anyone who could be a threat to the health and welfare of a team member. But for the moment, he let it ride. "How's Face?" he asked, stepping to the side of the bed.
"Seems to be doing okay," Murdock said. "He was awake for a minute when I first got in here, but he's been asleep ever since."
"Probably the best thing for him right now," Hannibal said. Like the others had, Hannibal stepped to the side of the bed, took Face's hand in his, and squeezed it gently. "Hang in there, kid," he said. "I got a feeling everything's gonna be going our way pretty soon."
Adam stepped back and watched the interaction, observed how Murdock deferred to the older man, how the man's gaze took in Murdock as well as Face. This was a family. If he took one of them, he guessed he'd have to take them all. But how much would Templeton even tell them about their relationship? He knew these men were military, and he knew about the military's intolerance of deviations from the norm. He was even more surprised when a large black man covered in gold came into the room. Ah, yes, B.A. He remembered Amy talking about him. His temper was legendary. But as Hannibal stepped back from the bed, B.A. bent over Templeton and stroked his hair tenderly with one large, beringed hand. "Feel better, Face," he said simply.
Murdock looked around. "Where's Frankie?" he asked.
"He had to leave," B.A. said, straightening. "I think he's feelin' pretty bad, pretty guilty about this whole thing because he couldn't help Face."
"None of us could help him," Murdock said. "That's what stinks about this. I got him into this mess. I got them both into it, and then I couldn't do a damn thing to get them out."
Hannibal laid a hand on Murdock's shoulder. "You did what you had to do. Whether you thought you were preventing a hold up or a murder, either way, something had to be done."
"But that other guy..."
"There were three of you in there, and none of you had any reason to suspect him. It was just bad luck. It happens sometimes, even in my plans."
"What do you mean sometime? It happen all the time in your plans!" B.A. growled.
"But it doesn't get people shot," Murdock said.
"Murdock, it got you shot once, remember? I felt then like you feel now. But that's just the way things go in our line of work." He looked up abruptly, suddenly remembering Adam was there.
"He knows," Murdock said simply. "I just...I just can't help feeling like this is my fault."
"I doubt Face will see it that way. Look, you can talk about it when he's feeling better. Right now, why don't we just all go home and get some rest. We can come back first thing tomorrow."
For a moment Murdock considered refusing. Face was his best friend. He belonged at his side, taking care of him like he always had. But then he remembered Adam. It was Adam who needed to be at Face's side now, who needed to be the first person whose face he saw when he woke up. Right now, he didn't need a best friend. He needed a lover. He needed Adam.
Hannibal turned as if to usher Adam from the room, but Adam stepped up to the side of the bed, his body language making it clear that he had no intention of leaving. He'd outfaced and outbidden too many opponents at auctions to be intimidated into leaving without getting what he'd come for. Murdock decided he'd better step in.
"Colonel," he said, keeping his voice carefully neutral, "Adam and Face have been good friends for years. Face wanted him here. I promised him Adam would be here when he woke up." He knew how fiercely protective Hannibal was of Face, especially in the months since their faked execution when things had gotten harder and harder for Face and his depression had been palpable.
Hannibal thought about it and nodded. "Okay." He turned to Adam. "We'll be back tomorrow morning. Will you tell him that when he wakes up?"
"I'll tell him."
In the corridor, Murdock ran right into Stockwell. Stockwell said nothing, only glancing through the window at Adam then staring hard at Murdock. Murdock stared back, unintimidated. He knew Stockwell knew about Face and Adam, and he knew Stockwell also realized their time in his employ was just about up. He wouldn't say anything, and he wouldn't try to get rid of Adam. For once, Stockwell blinked first.
Face became aware of sounds first. The blip of a heart monitor, the tearing sound of velcro as a blood pressure cuff was removed from his arm. Then he slowly registered sensations. Fingers on the inside of his wrist, a hand holding his, a draft as someone pulled back the covers and raised his gown. What the hell was going on? Where was he?
He tried to raise his head, tried to open his eyes, but at first his body would not cooperate. Finally he got his eyes to open. He blinked a few times, trying to get his eyes to focus. When they did, he smiled. "Adam?"
"Templeton. I'm here. I'm here now."
"It appears you got shot. The doctors say you're going to be fine, though. And the rest of the team is alright. Feeling bad about the whole thing, but they're all healthy."
Face nodded. That was just about all he could get his head to do. "Missed you," he whispered.
Adam squeezed his hand and gently stroked his forehead. "I missed you, too, Templeton. More than you know."
Adam nodded. "Yes, I'll stay. Rest now, love. Get well. Then we'll go home."
Face smiled a little. "I love you." And he knew as he said it that it was true.
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