"You've never been to a carnival," B.A. said disbelievingly.
"Technically—" Murdock fidgeted under B.A.'s stare. "Okay, no."
"Seriously?" Face asked.
"It's not a big deal," Murdock said stubbornly.
"Your first time shouldn't be with a bunch of explosions," B.A. said.
"There aren't going to be any explosions," Hannibal said, "if everything goes according to plan."
Everything didn't go according to plan.
They had a few hours before their contact was supposed to show, so B.A. turned to Murdock and said, "C'mon, we can case the place, and you can get an elephant ear."
"I'm going to do a bit of surveillance," Face said. "The top of that rock climbing wall looks like a good spot."
Hannibal smiled. "Meet back here at 1800. There's a funhouse with my name on it."
B.A. didn't want to know. In the year and a half since their discharge, Hannibal had more and more embraced the tenets of a real life troll. Whatever poor bastards staffed the funhouse, B.A. was sure they weren't getting paid enough to deal with their next two hours.
"They lock you in the cage," Murdock said doubtfully.
"And then spin you through the air." B.A. had been sure Murdock would be all over this.
"They lock you in the cage."
"Look," B.A. grabbed Murdock's arm and pulled him another way. "Bumper cars."
"Give me one of the purple unicorns," Murdock demanded.
The vendor smiled and said, "Nice shooting," as she got the stuffed animal down off the high rack.
Murdock immediately handed the unicorn off to B.A.
"I ain't carrying your shit all day," B.A. said even as he tucked it under one arm.
"Ain't asking you to."
B.A. looked pointedly from the unicorn, which had improbably large eyes, to Murdock, who seemed to be doing his best to imitate its expression.
"It's for you."
They ran into Face at the ring toss.
"The boss got banned from the funhouse." Face pointed at a bright pink bear. "For life."
"So where is he now?" B.A. asked.
"Who knows?" Face shrugged and handed the bear off to B.A. "To add to your collection."
For some reason, Murdock glared. When B.A. turned back to Face, he was finishing mouthing something that ended in "—im," and then trying—and failing—to look innocent.
"I'm only accepting these," B.A. nodded to the stuffed animals, "to add to the daycare."
"But you're keeping mine, right?" Murdock asked.
B.A. refused to feel guilty when Murdock looked disappointed.
"Don't," Hannibal said, "go in the funhouse."
"We heard you got banned." Murdock had gotten over his problem with the pink bear and was now holding it, waving its little paw at Hannibal in greeting.
"Not exactly." Hannibal was smiling way too wide to mean anything good. "Management gave me permission to prepare it for our special guests."
"Please tell me you've got it off limits to the regular guests," B.A. said.
"Of course," Hannibal said. "Wouldn't want anyone to spoil the surprise."
Murdock insisted on walking with B.A. to the parking lot to drop off their carnival winnings—B.A. had gone back to the shooting range to get his kids a few more stuffed animals—and once the toys were all tucked safely in the back, Murdock remained by the van's side, fidgeting restlessly. He took off his cap and slid his fingers back and forth over the brim.
"Did you want to keep one for yourself?" B.A. asked.
"No," Murdock said. "I—" He looked at B.A. with that terrible, pitiful, stray unicorn expression, like he was begging for someone to take him home, and asked, "Could we do this again sometime? When we don't have a mission?"
"Sure," B.A. said, because even if Murdock had made him ride the spinning teacups twelve times in a row and stolen B.A.'s cotton candy, it was kind of worth it for that smile.
By the time they got back to the carnival, the funhouse was on fire and it was all over but for the teenager screaming, "No car payment's worth this!" and fleeing into the night.
"You missed the party!" Face was grinning and bleeding from his mouth.
"Short party," Murdock said.
"We were only gone ten minutes," B.A. said.
"They were a fun ten minutes."
"Police and fire crew are on their way," Hannibal said, striding up to them. "The clients have everything under control now. Time for us to make our exit."
B.A. wasn't sure a burning building and patrons leaving in droves could be called under control, but he was willing enough to get the hell out.
"Don't get ash on Mr. Fluffles," Murdock admonished Face when they all piled in the van.
"Sorry," Face told the stuffed owl and carefully shifted it out of the way.
"Don't encourage him," B.A. said.
"As his friend, it's all in the job description," Face said, and B.A. was concentrating on the road now, but he could hear the smile in Face's voice.
To B.A.'s surprise, Murdock said only, "I don't need any encouragement."
For some reason, Face said, "Glad to hear it."
. . . B.A. really didn't want to know what they were plotting now.
A little over a week later, they were in Phoenix, having finished up another job, and B.A. was just grateful Hannibal hadn't set any buildings on fire this time. Face had a date and told them not to wait up, and Hannibal headed back to the hotel early in a rental car, nursing a sprained knee, leaving B.A. and Murdock to clean up.
"So," Murdock said when they were finally done, leaning against the van door. "About sometime."
"Aw, c'mon, don't be like that," Murdock said. "I told you I was sorry about the helicopter—"
"Don't remind me," B.A. said gruffly, because he was too tired to go through their usual song and dance of physical threats and false apologies and recriminations.
"You promised," Murdock said, sulky and petulant, and it looked like they were having completely different conversations again.
"Fool," and somehow that came out much fonder than B.A. intended; he was going to blame it on it being way too late after a week of way too little sleep, "what are you going on about this time?"
"The carnival." Murdock straightened from his slouch against the van. He repeated, "You promised."
Which, well, that was true. "Yeah," B.A. said. "Okay. But tomorrow. Tonight, I've got a date with a mattress."
"Oh, Bosco, you won't regret this. I'll be a much better date than some lumpy old mattress." Murdock grinned and scrambled into the passenger seat, and B.A. got in at the driver's side. If Murdock was even more excitable than usual, humming and drumming his fingers against the dashboard to an entirely different beat, B.A. thought Murdock was just happy about the thought of a carnival without explosions this time.
He really should have known better. For one thing, Murdock always thought explosions were a bonus.
"I can't believe you haven't been to an amusement park, either," B.A. said.
"Roller coasters," Murdock insisted. "They're in the name. And then we can go look at some castles. I hear they got them imported from Europe."
Murdock had insisted on Castles N' Coasters on the weight of it having the only website that made liberal use of tildes. They spent an hour at the arcade, rode the Desert Storm seventeen times in a row, got thrown out of the bumper boats—Murdock's attempts at including boarding in ship to ship combat were frowned upon by the attendants—and went on the Magic Carpet only the once, because there was no way B.A. was sitting through Murdock trying to get him to sing Jasmine's part of the duet in "A Whole New World" a second time, especially because he suspected Murdock would just try singing both parts.
"This was the best day ever," Murdock declared in the parking lot, hefting the large sparkly pink pony B.A. had won in the arcade with the vague intention of giving away, but which he suspected Murdock had claimed for his own.
"And nothing caught on fire this time," B.A. said.
"Yeah," Murdock agreed, his voice oddly wistful. "But the night's still young."
"Don't tell me you were hoping for something to catch fire." Really, B.A. should've known.
"Hope is such a strong word," Murdock said. Then, "And it's not the only way I hoped the night would end."
"What, were you hoping something would blow up instead?"
Murdock just looked at B.A., his expression weird even for him.
"What if," Murdock said carefully, "the fire were in my pants?"
At some point, Murdock had slipped closer, and the toy pony was digging awkwardly into B.A.'s chest as Murdock slid a hand against the back of B.A.'s neck. Murdock said helpfully, "This is where you kiss me."
B.A. almost protested that this was not a date, but Murdock's eyes were closed, his hand was hot against B.A.'s skin, and though it was still likely Murdock was trolling him, it was entirely possible that he was sincere. It wasn't like B.A. was going to get a better chance.
Murdock's lips were dry, but the inside of his mouth was wet; he tasted of cotton candy and artificial cherries. His hand slid to B.A.'s shoulder, and B.A. heard the soft sound of the stuffed pony hit the asphalt. When B.A. finally drew back, Murdock was clutching B.A.'s t-shirt, eyes still closed.
"Okay?" B.A. asked.
Murdock almost looked . . . unsure of himself as he opened his eyes. "It's not—" his hands twitched on B.A.'s tee, not letting go, "—we can do this again, right?"
B.A. felt something warm rise up in him that had nothing to do with the summer sun beating down against them. "Any time you want," he promised.
AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER. (WITH EXPLOSIONS.)