Murdock and Face must deal with their hardest mission yet --- their last.
Warning: Character death, vulgar language, slash pairing (Murdock / Face)
Stage One: Shock / Disbelief
August 21st, 1992
He couldn't breathe as he saw the man lying on the floor of the kitchen, the open gallon of milk just barely wrapped in his limp fingers, the white liquid covering the floor and drenching his clothes. He didn't know what had happened at the time as he dropped his keys and went running towards him. Had he just collapsed? He didn't have a history of fainting, so what had happened?
Dropping to his knees next to the man, he gently lifted his head, checking to make sure he hadn't cracked it on anything. The milk was still cold as it soaked through his designer blue jeans, but he didn't care; they'd wash. Cradling his head, he gently slapped the other's cheeks.
"Murdock! Murdock wake up, buddy. C'mon, wake up."
Something was wrong; something was very wrong. The man in his arms had been acting strangely the past few months and his already lean frame seemed to be getting leaner by the weeks. His jacket had become so loose on him that most days, he wouldn't even bother putting it on, and if he did, it was always zipped half-way up or more.
On top of that, there were the nights when he'd wake up and find him covered in sweat, even on chilly nights. He'd asked him what was wrong one of the nights he woke up to find the pilot kicking the blankets down to his feet, his thinning brown hair plastered to his forehead as if he'd just finished running a marathon.
"Nothin' Facey-baby...just...it's warm in here, ya know? It's always warm in here when I gotta sleep next to someone as hot as you." Though his voice was light and playful as he flashed a grin and winked, Face could tell he was lying. He was a horrible liar.
His heart racing, he gently shook the man's shoulders until those dark chocolate brown eyes began to flutter open and look around in confusion. It was then Face noticed how dull his eyes looked, and the dark bags under them. He looked as if he hadn't slept in weeks, when in reality, he often slept more than he was awake; and when he was awake, looked as if he could fall asleep at any moment.
Brushing his soft brown hair from his forehead, his hand gently landed at the side of his face, where jawbone met neck. That's when the Lieutenant felt it. A lump the size of a small olive. How had he never noticed that before? Had he really been wrapped up in his own troubles and worries not to notice something was happening to his best friend?
Then it hit him. He remembered back on all the nights in the past few months where he'd try to get close to the man, wanting to touch him and be with him as only lovers could be, only to have the pilot gently turn him away. He'd usually have a good reason; a reason that never made him think there was something suddenly wrong with their relationship. They'd been a couple for nearly five years, since a few months after the Lieutenant had gotten shot and nearly died, so at least Face didn't have to worry that the man had fallen out of love with him. He knew he hadn't, Murdock made it a point to tell him every morning, noon and night just how much he loved him.
The night sweats, extreme fatigue, weight loss, swollen glands, the days of him waking up with a stomachache or backache...they all seemed to stem from one night, months prior, when the pilot was suddenly stricken with fever. At the time, they had written it off to him catching a bad strain of the flu. Come to think of it, Face wasn't sure the fever had ever really broken. He'd often catch him shivering on the couch, a blanket tugged up around him as he'd rest his head on the arm of the long beige piece of furniture, his eyes watching the TV but not really seeing anything.
Gulping hard, Face turned his wide blue eyes to the shame-filled browns that stared back at him. He knew that the pilot knew. One of the requirements of being a good conman (which, the Lieutenant wasn't good, he was great), was being a quick study. He'd picked up a medical journal a few times, once-upon-a-time-ago when the pilot was still a patient at the VA Mental Hospital. He'd been looking for different things he could use in order to spring him for at least a little while. Thumbing through it, he'd landed on a page of terminal diseases. He knew he would never use one of those, but still, he read through the different ones, complete with symptoms.
Shaking his head in disbelief, his hands quickly moved to sit the man up. Murdock tried to protest and fight him as Face took hold of his wrist and forced him to raise his arm. It didn't take long to find what he was looking for. Another lump under his arm. A lump of his own formed in his throat as tears glistened in his eyes.
"Murdock...you're...why didn't you..."
"I didn't want you to worry about me," His voice was soft and pain-filled as his eyes cast to the floor. The last thing he'd really remembered was getting a glass of milk, or at least, trying to. Judging by how much milk was pooled around them compared to what was in the jug, he was willing to bet he'd failed horribly.
"But you're..." Face couldn't even bring himself to finish the thought. He was in too much shock at realizing the man had kept such a thing from him for so long.
Swallowing hard, Murdock's eyes fell to his lap, his voice not much more than a whisper, "Yeah...yeah I am, Muchacho."
Stage Two: Denial
September 19th, 1992
Face shook his head as he slowly folded their laundry. It was all just a bad dream. He'd wake up in a few minutes and find himself back in bed, Murdock curled up and snuggled against his side, using his chest for a pillow and the man's arms as a blanket.
That's what it was, just a horrible dream. He'd have to remember to beat his head into a wall when he woke up for having such a messed up dream. Not dream, though, no, this was definitely not a dream; it was a fucking nightmare.
There was just no way his best friend, the love of his life, the only person to truly know everything about him and not hold a single bit of it over his head, could be dying. And especially not from something as horrible as cancer. It wasn't happening, it wasn't. If he kept telling himself that enough times, then it'd have to be true.
Throwing the folded shirt into the laundry basket, he continued to shake his head and mutter to himself. They had the whole rest of their lives together! They were still fairly young, well ok, maybe they'd finally hit that middle-age mark but really, wasn't forty the new thirty? And Murdock, hell, even though he was nearing forty-four, he was still just as active and wacky as anyone half his age! So there was no way, he was going to be slowed down and taken before his time. It just wasn't going to happen.
"Hey, Faceman, c'mon, you can't keep avoiding me. We're gonna hafta talk about this sooner or later."
The gentle voice from the doorway pulled him from his thoughts. Pausing mid-fold to a pair of khakis, Face turned his eyes to the door and instantly felt his heart shatter. Murdock was leaning heavily on the doorframe, arms lightly crossed over his chest. The blue pajama bottoms and faded red T-shirt hung off his body like sacks and his freshly cut hair was disheveled, like he'd just woken up...which, as he thought about it, Face supposed he probably had just woken up again.
Tearing his eyes away from him, Face shook his head as he carefully finished folding the slacks in his hands, silently wondering when the last time the pilot had actually worn them. Setting them carefully in the basket, he sniffled softly before reaching into the dryer for another shirt.
"Talk about what, babe? There's nothing to talk about. Unless you're meaning what we're gonna do for dinner tonight. I was thinking we could go to that little Mexican place on the other side of town that you like. We haven't been there for awhile."
"What? You don't wanna go there? Alright, I guess...then about Villo's? I'll even let you ask about taking one of the lobsters with us when we leave so you can let it go back into the water."
He heard the man's tired sigh and glanced up to see him run a hand over his eyes. Turning back to the laundry, Face shook his head once more. He's not dying, he's not. The doctors were wrong...they're not perfect, it happens all the time. That's why they have malpractice insurance.
"Temp'ton..." the subtle Texan drawl always seemed to give the man trouble when it came to properly saying the Lieutenant real name. Face knew that the only time the Captain would use his name like that, and in that quiet tone, was when something needed to be said that neither of them wanted to bring up...or when he was trying to be sweet with him. He wasn't trying to be sweet this time. "I'm gonna go lay down on the couch for awhile. But, I just wanna let ya know, I'm ready to talk whenever you are. Love ya..."
"Mmhmm...love you too, Murdock."
Keeping his eyes glued to the laundry, the blond kept himself busy in hope of keeping his mind off of other thoughts.
"Maybe we'll just order in tonight! You want Chinese or pizza?" He called, leaning back just enough for his voice to carry out of the laundry room and into the open area of the living room. Getting only silence as a response, he nodded slightly and set the last shirt into the blue plastic basket.
"Chinese it is then..."
Stages Three and Four: Bargaining and Guilt
October 28th, 1992
"Faceman, will ya knock it off, please? I'm really not in the mood right now."
"Murdock, listen to me, ok? There's a hospital in Phoenix that specializes in this sort of thing. If we could get there and have them check you over, maybe there's something they could do to help! Maybe even get it into remission!" Face looked up from his place at the stove and over to the table where the man was sitting his forehead resting on his hands while his elbows were propped on the edge of the nice oak furniture.
They'd been going back and forth about this for the past few days, ever since Face had done enough digging to find a hospital specializing in cancers. It was their best hope and the damned pilot was being too stubborn to even consider it! What was the matter with him?
"I already told'ja Face, I'm not going. There's nothing that can be done. It's gonna happen whether you want it to or not, so please...please just drop it?"
"Well, why won't you? I mean, if there's a chance they can help you get a little more time, why would you turn that down?"
He didn't understand the Captain sometimes. Lord knew he loved the man, but he just didn't understand. If he were the one in Murdock's shoes, he'd want to do whatever was possible in order to get even just a few more days with the ones he loved. If only he could make him see that! If only it were me in his place. God why can't it be me? Why him?! Of all the rotten people in the world, you're taking the best guy to ever walk this earth and fly the skies. You selfish bastard...
No Temp, you're the one being selfish.
It was true, he was being selfish, but damnit! Why shouldn't he get to be selfish about this?! He'd already lost his real family, and they'd lost touch with Hannibal and BA shortly after receiving their pardons. Murdock was the only family he had left in the world, and if he got taken away from him...he didn't know what he would do.
Hearing his hand drop to the table, Face turned his eyes back to Murdock and frowned. Maybe he was pushing the issue a bit too much. After all, the pilot didn't seem to be as concerned with his situation as the conman was. He was unnervingly calm about the whole thing even, and that alone was enough to make Face pause.
Before Murdock could open his mouth, Face set the spoon down and moved quickly to sit next to him. The feeling of guilt was almost more than he could take. He shouldn't be giving him such a difficult time; Murdock needed him for support, not fights. Pulling him in for a tight embrace, he pressed his lips to the man's forehead. He was still kicking himself for not noticing the change in him sooner. He should have noticed! It was his job to notice when something was wrong with the pilot. He'd been protecting him since Nam and now...now there was nothing he could do to save him.
"I'm sorry, Murdock...I'm sorry. I'll stop; I promise, just...please, I don't want you to leave me. I don't want to be alone again. You can't go somewhere that I can't get to," his voice was tight with emotion as he felt those arms wrap around his waist that so many nights would hold him protectively in his sleep.
"I'm sorry...I'm sorry for not being there and for not seeing it when you started getting sick. God I'm such an idiot! I should have seen the signs sooner!"
"Shhhh...c'mon now, Tems...this isn't your fault. Don't go blaming yourself over something neither of us has control over. Please? Ya know I hate it when you're upset." Murdock's voice was soft and comforting in his ear as the man moved his head and pressed his cheek to Face's. He felt the pilot's fingers gently stroking through his mop of blond-brown hair while one arm was still holding him in a caring embrace.
"All I wanna do, Face, is make it through one last Christmas with you; that way I get one more birthday, one more Thanksgiving and get to help you celebrate your birthday one last time."
Face felt the lump form in his throat as he struggled to breathe. Murdock was taking everything so well and here he was falling apart at the seams. How could fate be so cruel to them? They'd made it through the horrors of war, POW camps, mental breakdowns, crashes, fights, being on the run from the military and so much more...now Face was fighting a battle Murdock had already surrendered himself to. Burying his face in the man's shoulder, he took in a deep, shaky breath, inhaling the sweet scent he'd come to know and love throughout the years.
The guilt and agony ate him inside and left him wanting to do nothing more than cry and give the dying pilot anything he could possibly want in the world.
Stage Five: Anger
November 26th, 1992 -Thanksgiving Day
It had taken some serious work, but Face had finally managed to track Hannibal and BA down. They had a right to know even if Murdock hadn't wanted to tell them. They were his friends damnit! Why shouldn't they know the man who had bailed their asses out of more trouble than they could count was quickly slipping away from them? Neither of them would be able to make it for Thanksgiving, but both promised to be there in time to help celebrate Face's birthday and stay until New Years--just to help out in whatever ways they could for the pair.
With each passing day, Face realized it was becoming more and more a chore for his pilot to do even the simplest things. Walking and getting dressed seemed to be his most painful tasks. He'd often wake up in agony; his whole body protesting his every move, even if to do nothing more than roll onto his side so he could snuggle against his lover. Face was there for him every time though, doing his best to help him do what he needed to do, no matter how painful it was for either of them.
They'd made it through the man's forty-fourth birthday just two days prior like he'd wanted and were preparing for their last Thanksgiving. It had always been Murdock's job preparing their marvelous feast once the team separated. Murdock would prepare most of the food the night before and leave only the turkey and stuffing for Thanksgiving Day while Face would relax in the living room with a beer and watch the football game. It was like a true family, only without kids. This year, the roles were reversed.
Face spent the whole morning in the kitchen pouring over cookbooks in an attempt to make the perfect Thanksgiving dinner. Growling in frustration, he slammed a book closed before opening another one. Did it really take that long and that much work just to make one lousy turkey? And why hadn't Murdock ever told him the heart, liver and neck were still intact on it?! Sure he'd pretended to be a doctor before, but never did he think he'd have to operate on anything and remove any vital organs. Just the thought of removing those items from the dead bird made the Lieutenant's stomach churn.
Maybe we'll just order a Meat Lovers pizza and to Hell with everything else...He thought as he shut yet another cookbook.
"Faceman? What'cha doin'?"
Face lifted his eyes as he heard the quiet voice. How he hadn't heard the feet shuffle through the living room and into the kitchen, he didn't know. Murdock leaned against the archway to the kitchen heavily, his eyes closed as he caught his breath. Like most people with life-threatening illnesses, the pilot had his good days where he felt almost like his old self and his bad days where it took everything he had just to get out of bed. That day had so far been somewhere in the middle, thank God.
"I'm trying to make dinner but nothing is fucking working out right. The potatoes are like a rock, the stuffing is brunt, the cranberry sauce is runny and oh yeah, I have to dissect this damn beast before I can cook it."
"Don't forget stuffing it with onions and carrots," Murdock was trying to be his usual playful self as he finally made his way slowly towards the table to inspect things. Face never had been much for cooking, at least not something more than a frozen pizza or JiffyPop popcorn. He gave him serious credit for trying though.
"You're cookin' all this stuff? Geez Face, I'm not dyin' or somethin' am I?"
"Will you stop making jokes like that?! It's not funny, Murdock." The former conman took a deep breath and shook his head as he moved to toss a pan into the sink and grab his beer off the counter. He was skating on thin ice with hot blades any more. The more Murdock tried to make light of his situation, the thinner the ice got.
"No, don't ya get it, Faceman? It is funny, cuz it's true. See, it has to be funny cuz if it ain't, then I'm gonna be terrified out of my mind." Murdock said as he moved to taste test the potatoes. They weren't too horrible, but they weren't exactly good either.
"Well then damnit, Murdock! Be terrified!" Face slammed his bottle of beer down on the counter and spun to glare at the man. "What's so wrong with being terrified? I am!"
The proverbial hot skates had cut through the ice and the man was sinking into the cold dark waters fast. He hated that Murdock kept making jokes about dying! Hated it!! He wanted to scream in frustration, to grab the man by the shoulders and shake him until he realized it was no laughing matter.
Sighing heavily, Murdock lowered himself onto a stool that sat next to the breakfast island in the middle of their kitchen. "...I know you are, Temp'ton. I know...and that's why I gotta believe it's funny. One of us has to be the strong one. I'd rather it be me cuz that means I get to take care of you one last time..."
Narrowing his cold blue eyes on the pilot, Face shook his head as he began to pace the kitchen like a caged animal just waiting to be let loose. His blood had reached its boiling point and his patience had grown far too thin to save.
"Damnit Murdock, I don't need anyone taking care of me!! I'm not some stupid kid who doesn't get what's going on around me! You're the one that needs taking care of! You are dying, Murdock! What part of that aren't you getting?! Jesus Christ, I mean, I don't understand you! This isn't some plane you crash and get to somehow walk away from unharmed!! This is for keeps! You go down this time and you aren't getting back up! Why aren't you pissed off and terrified?! I can't even hardly look at you anymore without wanting to go out and punch someone!" Face shook his head, his voice gaining volume as he spoke and paced the kitchen.
Moving to stand in front of the pilot, who was staring at him with wide, confused eyes, he braced his palms flat on the surface and stared him down coldly. "You promised me we were going to be together forever, that nothing could ever take you from me. Well congratulations, Captain, you've officially become just another person in my life to lie to me and break their promise. So ya know what? Fuck this. I'm through!"
As soon as the words left his lips, Face wished he could take them back. He could see the pilot's shoulders sag and his heart shatter. Those dark, dull brown eyes sparkled with tears that threatened to fall and Face mentally pistol-whipped himself for causing the man so much pain. Clenching his jaw and uttering a few choice words under his breath, the man shook his head and hurried from the kitchen before he could do or say anything else hurtful.
So much for the perfect Thanksgiving...
Stage Six: Depression
December 7th, 1992
Face stared at the television screen, a beer resting idly in his hands. He wasn't even sure what the program was about, nor did he care. And he certainly didn't care that it was his birthday. What did it matter? So he got to be one full year older, big whoop. What was so special about that when Murdock probably wouldn't even make it to be a full month older? It was a horrible thing to think about, but it was true.
The pilot was dying and there was nothing he could do about it. So, why bother caring about anything else in the world too? Hell, he hadn't even bothered to brush his hair or put on his nice designer clothes in the past week. He'd just laid out on the couch in sweats and one of his old khaki green fatigue shirts with wear worn holds in the stomach and sleeves. His face, which normally was smooth and clean-shaven, was scruffy with a week's worth of hair growth and heavy dark bags hung under his eyes. The man was certainly starting to look well beyond his years.
Hannibal had arrived the night before, bringing with him a few gifts for his old Lieutenant's birthday as well as for under the tiny tree set up in the corner of the room. It was sad seeing the home look so empty and void, the only piece of Christmas cheer being that tiny plastic pine tree in the corner. Murdock had always enjoyed Christmas so much, often breaking out into Yule Tide carols only days after Thanksgiving and would deck his living space out with all sorts of red, white and green decorations. There was none of that in their home.
Face lifted his eyes when he saw the older man step quietly out of the first floor bedroom Murdock had moved into a couple months prior to. Sighing, he turned his attention back to the television, having finally flipped "It's A Wonderful Life" on for the fifth time that week, this time dubbed over in Spanish. He'd never particularly cared for the movie, so he wasn't exactly sure why he was suddenly compelled to watch it any time he happened to land on it while channel surfing, but he did.
"He's getting bad, kid." Hannibal said softly as he moved to lower himself into the overstuffed chair next to the couch.
"Mmhmm..." Face hummed as he placed the opening of his bottle to his lips once more. He had hardly said two words to the former Colonel since his arrival the night before and after what he'd said Thanksgiving Day, he wasn't in any hurry to say much to anyone.
Pulling a cigar from his pocket, followed by his lighter, Hannibal looked pensive as he puffed away on it, staring at the TV with knitted brows. He was about to open his mouth and question why they were watching the classic film in Spanish when the phone in the hall began ringing. Both he and Face turned their heads to stare in the direction of the annoying sound before the younger man stood to answer it. It was probably just another stupid doctor calling to remind him he still needed to sign the paperwork for final preparations and to brace himself for the worst--which given the Captain's rapid decline could be any day.
"Yeah? ...Hey BA...uh-huh...yeah thanks...St. Louis, huh? Sounds fun and exciting...don't worry about it, you'll get here when you get here. Yeah...thanks...take care."
Hannibal raised his eyebrow as he watched Face step back into the room. He looked like Hell and the fatherly-figure knew that he hadn't been sleeping much. Murdock had told him all about their lives since Face discovering his beloved had Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
"Gran'ma Emma always warned me not to stand outside and watch the crop-dusters. Told me I'd get sick from the chemicals...guess she was right. Spent one too many years playing with the wrong toys I guess, huh Colonel?" Murdock was trying desperately to keep everyone in a cherry mood, and to make light of what was happening.
"That was BA," Face muttered as he flopped back down onto the couch, "He's stuck in St. Louis. Blizzard conditions. Trains won't be able to move for at least two or three days."
Nodding thoughtfully, Hannibal puffed on his cigar. He watched Face finish off the long-neck and set the bottle down carefully on the coaster. It was clear to him that the Lieutenant had fallen into a pit of depression and it hurt him so. Face had never been an optimist in the group, more of the realist instead. Once in awhile his moods would swing into the pessimist side of the spectrum, but usually would never stay there very long. Murdock had always been there to pull him back up where he belonged and would even occasionally get the man to join in on some of his antics. Pretending to see Billy when no one else could, and even humoring Murdock on their trip to Vegas by snatching up the "dice" the pilot had been rolling in the back of the van and announcing he'd rolled an "eight" much to BA's dismay.
"Murdock tells me you've been sleeping out here on the couch; how come?"
Face sat silent for a moment before looking back at Hannibal. It was no secret that when the pair came clean about their relationship that neither the Colonel nor BA were happy or even gave their approval of the whole thing. In fact, it was their confession that had caused a rift in the team that soon turned into a tear once their official pardons came through. To have Hannibal there now, and act as if he didn't care that his two oldest friends were gay-lovers was actually still a bit of a shock to Face.
"You've seen him...I can't go in there with him like that," He answered softly, his voice barely more than a whisper.
"I have seen him, Lieutenant, and that's exactly why you should go in there. You not wanting to have a damn thing to do with him anymore is only killing him faster. Tonight, you sleep in that room with him. Tonight, tomorrow night and every night after until there isn't a night after. Understood?"
"That's an order, Lieutenant. This is his last chance to celebrate your birthday with you, and you're sitting out here drinking yourself into a stupor. Damnit, Face, that man loves you more than he loves his own life. I was in there talking to him and all he could think about was what was going to happen to you once he was gone. He's not upset that he's dying; he's upset because he's leaving you. He's madder than Hell that you are going to be left here all by yourself once again." Hannibal paused to carefully tap the ash from his cigar into the empty beer bottle between them.
"He told me that he feels like he let you down. He promised you he'd never leave you and now he has to go back on that promise. He doesn't want you to feel like everyone you love abandons you."
Face gulped hard and stared at his hands as Hannibal spoke. He hadn't even realized he was crying until his hands disappeared into soggy blurs and his shoulders jumped as he gasped for air. His heart hurt so bad it was almost unbearable. It hit him like a brick wall then just how selfish and cruel he had been. Murdock had needed him more and more, and yet the conman was pulling himself further and further away. Thinking that if he distanced himself enough from the pilot then he wouldn't hurt so bad when it was all over.
He felt the arms wrap around his shoulders and pull him in for a tight embrace. Leaning into Hannibal, he felt his entire body shake with sobs as he clung to the man like he was the only thing keeping him afloat. He needed to cry, to let the anger, guilt, confusion and frustration out more than he already had throughout the past few months. He needed someone to hold him while he cried; someone to hold him close and tell him that things would be alright eventually.
"I don't wanna lose him, Hannibal...I...I can't lose him! I love him!"
"I know you do, Templeton, I know. He knows you love him, too. It's going to be hard, but right now, you have to be strong. For him. You have to let him know you do still love him and that you'll always love him. Let him know it's ok to let go."
"But...it's not ok!! It's not! I'm not ready to let him go! I'll never be ready!"
Face felt the cheek rest lightly on the top of his head and the hand reach up to gently smooth down his unruly mop of darkening hair. He hadn't been out to lounge on the beach as much as he used to so the once sun-kissed locks were slowly going back to their naturally light brown color. Gently rocking the man back and forth as if comforting a hurt child, Hannibal sighed.
"You'll be ready soon enough, Lieutenant. Soon enough."
Stage Seven: Acceptance
December 26th, 1992 - 2:37am
Face sat up in bed, his eyes wide as he felt the bed shift ever so slightly next to him. He could hear the labored breathing of the man beside him and gently shifted himself enough that he could sit Murdock up a bit. Moving to rest his naked back against the cool wooden headboard, Face pulled his boyfriend up against him. The fabric of his button-up shirt was rough and scratchy against his chest and he knew it had to feel just as bad to the former pilot. He wanted to manipulate him enough to take it off him, to have one last night of bare skin against bare skin, but he'd seen just how pale and skinny Murdock had gotten those last few weeks and he just couldn't bring himself to do it--not unless he was asked to.
Gently, he ran his hand over the stringy brown hair that had lost its softness while his other hand moved to rest tenderly on the man's chest--mostly as a way of comforting him, but also as a way for Face to make sure he was still breathing. Pressing his lips to Murdock's head softly, he soon found himself swaying slightly as he murmured the words to an old Beatles tune.
"The long and winding road
that leads to your door
will never disappear
I've seen that road before.
It always leads me here
Lead me to your door.
The wild and windy nights
that the rain washed away
has left a pool of tears
crying for the day.
Why leave me standing here?
Let me know the way.
Many times I've been alone
and many times I've cried.
Anyway, you'll never know
the many ways I've tried.
And still they lead me back
to the long, winding road.
You left me standing here.
A long, long time ago.
Don't leave me waiting here.
Lead me to your door..."
Murdock's breathing began to even out slightly as Face continued to sing softly to him. Though they'd never really formally agreed on it, Long and Winding Road had become "their song." It had been playing on the radio five years earlier when the Captain had been in charge of watching after Face after getting shot in the stomach by hit men. He'd finally felt well enough to get up and move around on his own and had gone in search of Murdock. He found the man in his room, the radio on and swaying to the soft sounds aimlessly. When he noticed Face watching him, the pilot wasted little time in pulling him in for a gentle hug. He'd been so worried about him back in the restaurant and still blamed himself for Face getting shot to begin with.
Caught slightly off guard by the hug, Face blinked rapidly for a moment before relaxing and returning the embrace. He had expected Murdock to pull away after a few seconds and order him back to the couch to rest, instead, he found the pilot resting his cheek gently against his and swaying them back and forth, quietly singing the song into his ear. Face had never felt more at ease with himself as he did in that moment. He'd known for some time that Murdock had feelings for him, and though he kept them well hidden, Face had returned those feelings. Neither of them had had the courage to act on those emotions until that moment though.
"I love you, Temp'ton," Murdock had murmured, the first time ever Face had heard his name roll off those lips in that gentle Texas drawl, "I love you so much."
"I...I love you too, Murdock."
"H.M. It...it stands for Hunter Matthew..."
Pulling himself from his memory, Face tilted his head just enough to see the man's face and notice his eyes were just barely open. A sad smile formed on his lips as he kissed Murdock's temple tenderly. He could feel Murdock's hand rest lightly over his own on the man's chest and it caused Face's own chest to tighten painfully.
"Temp'ton...I'm cold..." Murdock's voice was scarcely recognizable as he struggled to get the words out.
Looking down at their bed, Face frowned slightly. They were covered in the flat sheet, a thick wool blanket, a thinner top blanket and on top of that, a thick down comforter. Face was sweating bullets in the not-quite-freezing December night in Beaumont, Texas--the pilot's hometown and the place they had ultimately decided on settling in.
"I'll uh...I'll get you another blanket," Face moved to get out of bed, only to have his hand clasped tightly in Murdock's.
"No...please...don't...don't get up. Don't leave me...alone..."
Gulping hard, Face knew what being cold despite having layers of warmth piled on top of you meant. His own breathing becoming labored, he silently nodded as he moved to slide back under Murdock's dangerously light-weight body. Biting his lip, Face felt the tears forming in his eyes. He wasn't ready to let go yet. He didn't know how to say goodbye to the only person he ever truly loved. Pressing his lips back against Murdock's head, he gave a gentle nod.
"Alright...I'm here. I've got you."
"T-Temp'ton...did...did you have a g-good...Christmas?"
Face couldn't help but chuckle at that question. BA had finally managed to make it -completely by train--from Chicago, just in time for the Christmas Eve dinner and had even gone with them when, against Face's protest that he should stay in bed and rest, Murdock insisted on going to the Midnight Mass. Though neither he nor Face were exactly what you might call practicing Catholics anymore, he had made a promise to his Grandparents when he left for Nam that if nothing else, he would make sure he went to Christmas Eve mass. It didn't matter where he was, he would go. In all the years since making that promise, he had never once broken it, and he wasn't about to start that year either.
On top of BA finally making it and getting to spend one last Christmas Eve singing age-old hymns and listening to his favorite Bible story, Face got to see the life and excitement return to Murdock's face one more time. Christmas morning came with a miracle of his own, if only for the day, his beloved wacky pilot had the energy, playfulness and laughter of his younger, healthier self. The four men had spent the morning opening the few presents they had brought for each other, Murdock joyfully wrapping the pure white silk flyers scarf Hannibal had brought him around his neck while BA threatened that the "crazy fool" better not get any ideas about going out for a fly to test it out.
Murdock's gifts to them had been bittersweet and every bit a piece of him as could be. A remote control scale model of a DC 3 for BA, along with his shiny silver wings that once adorned the front of his Army dress uniform. Though the old mud-sucker hid it well, Face had seen the glisten of tears in the man's eyes as he shook his head and set the gifts off to the side, muttering "You crazy fool, you know I hate flyin'."
For Hannibal, Murdock had gotten a box of grape flavored bubblegum cigars. The Colonel couldn't help but laugh as he pulled one out to examine it, sniffing it like you do with a fine Cuban cigar. "Hmmm...Grape, just my flavor. Captain, how on earth did you know?"
Murdock had grinned brightly as he shrugged his thin shoulders. "Just lucky I guess. Look under those."
Buried under the bubblegum stogies was a worn, leather bound copy of "Peter and Wendy" by J.M. Barrie. It had been Murdock's favorite book to read since childhood, and the Captain would often entertain the troops in Nam by performing skits from it, usually with Hannibal cast as Captain Hook. Hannibal's hand brushed reverently over the worn cover as he turned his blue eyes to the true Captain. "Thank you," had been all the man was able to choke out.
Face hadn't opened his gift, the box still sat on the nightstand next to their bed. He hadn't wanted to open it for fear of losing his composure in front of everyone and ruining their last truly happy moments together.
"I had the best Christmas ever. How about you?"
He listened as Murdock's breathing became even more labored.
"S-Same...you didn't...open your...present though..."
Gulping back the lump in his throat, Face shook his head. He silently prayed Murdock wouldn't make him open it now. It was late, and the man needed to be resting, not sitting up watching him open a present.
"Uh, yeah I know. I was going to wait...until...later."
Murdock nodded his head slightly as he rested his body back against Face's chest. Every breath he took seemed to catch in his chest, not quite making it completely to his lungs. His body trembled as a chill went through him. Leaning his head back against the man's shoulder, he slowly lulled it to the side to press a gentle kiss to the warm skin of Face's neck.
Face shivered as he felt how cool the pilot's lips had become. Silent tears fell from his blue eyes as he continued to sway them gently.
"Faceman...help me out...of this damn...itchy shirt..."
"I thought you said you were cold," Face murmured against the man's head though his fingers were already working on unbuttoning it.
Murdock didn't respond, he just leaned forward enough for Face to pull the shirt off him and discard it to the side before pressing himself against him one last time. The instant his cool skin connected with Face's warm chest, the conman felt his emotions over take him. He knew he'd never again feel their skin on each others, never again get to press his lips to the crook of Murdock's neck and murmur sweet nothings into his ear. They'd never hold each other while making love or wake up tangled in each other's limbs.
"Hey...Muchacho...why you...crying? Don't...don't cry for...me...Argentina..."
"Will you stop that?" Face whimpered, not trusting his voice enough to speak much louder. "You know damn well why I'm crying. I'm crying cuz I love you...and now...now I have to let you go."
A cool hand rested softly against his cheek. Letting out a small, choked up sob, Face leaned his face into the hand, his own hand coming up to cover it. He could feel Murdock's gentle caress as his thumb brushed at the warm tears rolling down his face. God it hurt so badly. Why did it have to hurt so badly?
Opening his pain-filled eyes, he looked down into those dark chocolate ones one last time. There was still love in those eyes, a love so deep and tangible that it still made the conman's heart skip a beat and make his stomach do flips. A soft smile touched his pale lips as Face stared down at him.
"I love you...Temp'ton...so much...I always...will..."
Face felt his hands shake as Murdock's eyes fluttered shut for the last time. The strangled sob escaped his lips as he cried out in agony. Pulling the limp form of the only man he'd ever loved into his arms, Face felt his whole body shake as sob after sob raked through him.
The pilot had gotten his wish; he lived through one last Christmas with him and had gotten to say goodbye to the rest of the team.
He didn't know when Hannibal had come into the room, or when BA had brought him the glass of water. All he did know was Murdock was gone. Face had accepted what was happening and finally given him permission to let go. Life would go on, and maybe someday the emptiness in his heart would subside. Someday.
November 24th, 1993
Face stood still as he stared down at the cold plot of land in front of him. Dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, he tugged the love worn leather bombers jacket -the faded image of a Bengal Tiger roaring on the back under Da Nang 1970--just a bit tighter around himself. It'd become rather chilly earlier that week, the grass crackling under foot as it died off and prepared for winter.
Taking a deep breath, he squatted down to brush leaves and cut grass away from the base of the headstone.
"Hey. Told ya I'd come see ya." He said softly as he ran his fingers gently over the etched name.
"I just got back from your old high school. We awarded the first scholarship today. I wish you could have been there, buddy. You would have loved it. The kid who won it reminded me so much of you. He was even a total goofball." Face laughed, shaking his head as he continued to stare at the cold grey stone.
Shortly after Murdock's passing, Face had decided the best way to immortalize his best friend and love. Hannibal and BA both agreed the pilot would be honored. Getting on the phone and working things out, the team had managed to start the Hunter Matthew Murdock Memorial Scholarship, specifically set up for Beaumont Central High School seniors planning to continue their schooling in the field of avionics.
Sighing heavily, he blinked back tears as he pulled a wrapped package from the jacket he'd come to claim as his own. He hadn't kept everything that had once belonged to his pilot, but the majority of it still sat scattered throughout their home. His jacket, a few T-shirts and most of his flannel shirts still hung in their closet, carefully mingled throughout Face's clothes, there when he needed something warm to wrap himself up in on those chilly winter nights.
He had originally planned to lovingly place the jacket over Murdock and have it buried with him, since the man had rarely gone anywhere without it. Hannibal had stopped him though. Telling him that he'd want to hang onto that, and Murdock would have told him to keep it. Instead, Face tugged the worn and battered navy blue ball cap from his back pocket, lifted the man's head and carefully returned it to its proper resting place.
"He'd probably come back and haunt me if we sent him up for flying lessons without his hat." He'd tried to joke.
Running his fingers over the wrapping, Face bit his lip.
"I uh...I never did open this...and I'm sorry. But, I figured today would be a good day to finally see what you gave me. Thought maybe you'd like to be there when I did."
Of course he knew that no matter where he went, Murdock was always there with him, and he had to admit he felt foolish talking to a headstone when the only thing under it was the empty shell of the man he loved. Still, it helped to make him feel not quite so alone by doing it.
Carefully sliding his finger under the tape so as not to rip the paper, Face could almost hear Murdock's voice in his ear.
"C'mon Faceman!! You're takin' forever!! It's only paper! Paper was meant to be torn! If you don't hurry your ass up, I'm gonna open that damn thing for you!"
Setting the wrapping to the side, he took a deep breath as he opened the box in his hands and pulled away the tissue paper inside. Laying flat in the box was a clearly handmade piece of plaster, the kind kids would place their hands in to forever immortalize their youth for their parents. Formed in the shape of a heart, Face felt the lump return to his throat. The writing was unmistakable, playful and child-like just like Murdock.
Hunter loves Templeton
1971 - 1992
The year they first met in Nam which was also the year Murdock had started falling for the Lieutenant and their last year together. Below that were two pictures carefully framed into the plaster. One was the two of them grinning brightly in their fatigues, Murdock with his arm dropped over Face's shoulder and heads just barely touching; a picture the Lieutenant hadn't seen in years and had honestly forgotten about. They'd been so young and carefree in the moment that picture was taken; a peaceful week of R and R during the horrors of war.
The second, a picture of the two of them the Christmas before he got sick, Murdock standing behind Face, arms wrapped around his with his chin resting on the man's shoulder. Face's hands rested on Murdock's arms and both were smiling softly into the camera--the love for each other evident in their eyes.
Feeling the tears fall from his eyes softly, he stroked his finger lovingly over the pictures before turning the heart over his in hand. Scrawled in the back carefully was a small poem. Gulping, he began to read it aloud.
"I love you through the hurt and pain...I love you through the sun and rain..." Pausing to sniffle and wipe at his eyes, he took a deep breath, "I'm here for you though life is through...My love for you is always true."
Closing his eyes, Face held the plaster heart in his hands as he dropped his chin to his chest. His shoulders shook softly as he gently cried. He missed the man so much.
The breeze picked up around him, carrying the wrapping paper away in a wicked whirlwind. His light brown hair rustled against his face as he swore he felt the warm breath of someone long gone brush over his ear.
"It's time to smile again, Facey-baby..."
His breath caught in his chest as his bright blue eyes opened and he looked around the quiet cemetery anxiously. He'd heard him; he knew that voice anywhere and he'd heard him. Eyes falling on a nearby tree, his heart stopped. He only saw it for a moment, not even long enough to really realize that it'd happened. But he knew what he saw. Murdock. Back to his younger glory with bright, laughing eyes, a goofy grin on his face and hands stuffed into the pockets of his khakis. He'd been there, leaning against that tree watching him and smiling.
Staring at the tree for a moment, he felt a warmth rush through him he hadn't felt in over a year. The same warmth he'd get at night while snuggled into the pilot's arms all safe and sound. Looking back at the heart in his hand, he carefully placed it back in the box before tucking it safely into the pocket of his jacket.
Tracing his finger over Murdock's name, he felt a smile spread across his face.
"Happy birthday, HM...I love you..."
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