And no man is an island, oh this I know
But can't you see, oh?
Maybe you were the ocean, when I was just a stone
- Black Flies by Ben Howard
“Murdock, do you have eyes?” Hannibal’s voice warbled down the comm in Face’s ear.
“Yes sir!” Murdock replied. “They’re sitting right in my skull. Lazy things, I must say. Can’t compare to the strength of a pinky toe, or the versatility of a mouth.”
Face, currently knee deep in the thick forest, trying to bush-wack his way to the target, chuckled at the potential innuendo.
“Do you have eyes on the target, fool!” BA snapped, and Face imagined his meaty fingers tightening on the steering wheel of the van.
“I’ve got those too!” Murdock chirped. “All lined up and pretty, like sitting ducks. Are we going hunting, Hannibal?”
“Not yet, Captain.” Hannibal replied, and Face thought of him chewing on the end of a cigar, in the passenger side of the van.
All four of them were in place. Murdock had snuck in the factory, placing himself in the rafters for a unique kind of aerial support. BA and Hannibal were driving to the front door, posing as potential buyers. And Face was knee deep in mysterious tropical plants, trying to reach the crops from behind, so he could set them alight.
“I don’t understand why you have the con man eating branches out here when I should be in the van with you.” Face complained, fighting back more thick vines.
“Because they know your face already.” Hannibal said, without a hint of impatience.
“I told you, a fake beard and an accent, and I might as well be a new person!” Face stepped in a particularly swampy puddle and moaned over his shoes.
BA chuckled. “It’s your turn to do some dirty work, Face.”
“Yeah, I had to mud wrestle a pig last week!” Murdock said.
“You didn’t have to do that, fool, you chose to do that.”
“It bought us time, didn’t it?” Murdock asked, sweetly. “And BA is right. He crawled through a sewer for the Argentina con. It’s your turn, Face!”
“And what about Hannibal?” Face whined, as yet another branch whipped his pretty face.
Hannibal merely hummed.
“The boss man did wear that stinky dragon costume for four days.” Murdock volunteered.
BA laughed. Face pouted, stomping through the ferns, wishing that he’d dressed better. His shoes were ruined for sure.
“Show time, boys.” Hannibal murmured, and Face picked up the pace, needing to reach the field and pour his jerry can of gasoline.
Only training and instinct stopped him, all his muscles freezing tight. His heart picked up, pounding hard in his throat, and he looked down to the bear trap he’d just stepped on. The click was the trigger — as soon as he lifted his foot, it would activate.
In his ear, Hannibal was spinning the con, weaving careful lies. Murdock was telling them that they all looked like insects from so high up in the rafters.
“I have a problem.” Face said, using all his con man tricks to smooth his voice to calm and controlled.
The comm went eerily silent. Then Murdock said, nervous, “What kind of problem?”
“You’ll have to complete the con without me.” Face told them.
Hannibal cleared his throat awkwardly, then said, “Sorry, just thinking about something. I was hoping we could negotiate the price...”
Face focused all his energy on breathing normally, on not shifting his weight. He tried to make a plan but mostly his brain was just screaming, “AAAAAHH BEAR TRAP!”
His arm was getting sore, carrying the heavy jerry can of gasoline. He didn’t want to risk any unplanned movements, so he inched the can down to the ground by his free foot, and straightened up again.
“How are we gonna burn the field without that gas?” BA’s voice hissed down the line.
“You could siphon from a car.” Face suggested, counting to ten between each breath, looking straight ahead and not at the jaws threatening to clamp down on his leg.
“We don’t want the process to go too slow.” Hannibal said, presumably to the druglord, but Face got the gist.
“Alright. Murdock, come get the jerry can from me.” Face said. “I’m due East, about four minutes from the factory.”
“What’s wrong, then?” Murdock asked.
“Just caught in a little trap.” Face lied easily. “Take the can, light up the field, and then come back to release me.”
“Trap?” Murdock squeaked, but added immediately, “I’m on my way.”
“Good, good!” Hannibal said to the mark, with enough inflection that Face assumed it was for them as well.
“Hold on, Facey.” Murdock said. “I’m just slipping out now.”
“No rush.” Face replied, as airily as he could. "Watch your step."
The next four minutes Face kept himself calm by listening to Murdock’s agitated murmuring over the comms as he fought his way through the thick brush. Hannibal and BA were buying time, making idle chatter to the druglord about quantities and cuts.
“I have my eyeballs on Face.” Murdock suddenly announced, and a moment later he emerged from the right. Face calmly turned only his head to face him, just in time to see the moment that Murdock spotted the trap.
His eyes went wide like dinner plates, and he reached up to yank his red hat off his head, wringing it between his hands. “Oh, oh, oh dear.”
“Take the gasoline Murdock.” Face said, slow and soft. “Go light the crops on fire then come back.”
“I ain’t leaving you standing on a bear trap!” Murdock said, distressed.
BA inhaled sharply down the line.
“I’m going to disable it first.” Murdock declared, stepping forward.
“There’s not time. Take the gas then come back.” Face pleaded.
“We have time.” Hannibal said, firm. Then, to the druglord. “We have time for another coffee, don’t you think? I’d hate to rush such an important deal...”
“Boss man says we have time.” Murdock said, face set in stubborn stone. He approached carefully, throwing his hat down and rolling up his sleeves. “I’m just gonna clear these leaves, don’t you move your foot now Facey.”
“Geez, why didn’t I think of that?” Face said.
Murdock ignored his sarcasm, gently pushing the leaves and twigs out of the way of the trap base. Face felt his leg muscles quiver, and Murdock paused.
“Steady now, Face.”
“I’m steady.” Face said, but now a trickle of fear was sliding down his spine.
“Alright, there’s instructions.” Murdock drew out his phone, flicking on the flashlight. “Let me just take a real quick look-see and get this big mama all calm so you can step off.”
Face didn’t reply, breathing steady, willing the tremor in his leg to calm. The desire to shift his weight to his other foot was beginning to get overwhelming, and he almost unconsciously did so before catching himself.
“Watch your hands, Murdock.” Face said, not liking his fingers so close to the trap that could close at any moment. His voice finally betrayed the hysterical emotion is in his chest, a small tremble in the middle of his words.
“I’m watching ‘em, they’re real great, and they’re gonna fix you right up.” Murdock replied, breezily.
He reached underneath the bear trap, ear almost pressed to the ground, and the bear trap heart-stoppingly clicked again.
“Okay.” Murdock straightened up, looking at Face. “Step off.”
Face stared back. His heart thundered in his ears, but if Murdock said to step off, then he trusted him.
Face snatched his foot away. His leg came away whole, and he stumbled back. His knees suddenly felt like water, and he lowered himself to the safe ground.
“Your hands can fix me up any time.” Face said with enormous relief, enjoying the feeling of the dirt and mud instead of barbed metal.
Murdock wiped the sweat off his forehead then hooked his red cap back over his hair. He gave Face a shaky smile. Then he came closer and offered Face a hand up.
He took it, leveraging himself up by his friends strong grip, and tried to solidify his jello knees.
“Alright.” Face scooped up the jerry can, giving the bear trap a wide berth. “Let’s go light shit on fire.”
“Watch where you step.” Murdock said, his usual cheer returning.
“You’re hilarious.” Face gave him a dry look. “This had better count as like, a year worth of dirty work.”
Hannibal laughed over the comm, and Face had the feeling it wasn’t directed at the druglord.
Together, the two of them set the crops on fire, and later Face stole a little bobblehead dog for Murdock in thanks for the save. Murdock named the bobbing yellow labrador ‘Templeton’, much to Face’s dismay, and gorilla-taped the toy to the van’s dashboard when BA wasn’t looking.
Murdock dreamed in free fall.
The weightlessness, the lightheaded feeling, like floating, like dancing in starlight. It wrapped him up like a straight jacket, hugging all the cells in his body tight with the sensation. He was falling, absolutely and indefinitely. There was nothing to stop him.
At first, he revels in it. When flying, a little free fall here and there is exciting, it makes him feel alive.
But it continued, lurching his stomach. With dream clarity, he suddenly knew that he wasn’t supposed to be in free fall. His team shouted for him, and controls materialized underneath his fingers as he pulled levels and pushed buttons. The altitude read impossibly low, and the ground was screaming towards him and an unbridled terror shook his body, and he heard—
“You’re okay buddy, you’re here, you’re okay.”
Murdock fought to breathe, since it seemed like he was trying to suck air in through a straw. His arms struggled against his sheets, and an uncomfortable sheen of sweat coated his skin. A pair of firm hands untangled the sheets, and then held on tight to his trembling fore arms.
“It’s me, Face.” He said, and Murdock focused the blur in front of him to solidify into a two ocean blue eyes, searching his face worriedly.
They were crashing. Did they crash? Did he kill them? What happened?
“Hannibal... BA...” Murdock panted, flexing his arms under Face’s hands, testing his grip. He'd crashed them. He needed... he needed... “Are they okay?”
“We’re all fine bud, we’re in a hotel, all tucked up safe in bed.” Face replied, but that made no sense. He had been in free fall, he’d collided with the ground, the sound of crunching metal and screams and—
“Hey, hey, you gotta breathe slow for me Murdock, don’t hurt yourself. They’re fine. Do you want me to go wake them up?”
“Are they okay?” Murdock demanded again, hazy and confused and honestly scared. The sweat ran down his neck.
The hands vanished, and blind panic took over. Murdock heaved himself up to a sitting position, putting his head between his knees and hyperventilating.
“Just show him you’re fine.” He heard Face say, and then a large hand fell on his back. Murdock tipped his head up, eyes watering, and saw the scowling face of BA.
“You’re okay.” Murdock said, dazed.
“Course I’m fine.” BA replied, voice rough with sleep and an attempt at irritation. “I ain’t the one having nightmares.”
Murdock blinked owlishly at him, the meaning of his words not computing. “But you’re okay?” He asked.
BA sighed, and rubbed a circle on his back. “I’m okay.”
“Hannibal?” Murdock sat up straight, looking frantically around, a renewed terror pounding his heart. He crashed, he killed him.
“At ease.” Hannibal said, stepping forward, half awake himself. “We’re alright, Captain.”
He stared at the three of them, in the dark (hotel?) room. The crazy things in his head released their grip. The gears in his brain finally caught each other and started turning. He didn’t crash. He had a dream.
“Oh.” Murdock said, blankly. “It wasn’t real.”
“It wasn’t real.” BA repeated, firm and gruff. He patted Murdock once more on the back, and shuffled away.
“Sorry I woke you.” Murdock mumbled, a hot flush to his cheeks now.
“No harm done.” Hannibal reassured him, yawning and turning back as well.
Murdock turned glossy eyes to Face, who was still watching him, in loose sweatpants with a line of scruffy stubble on his jaw. He gave a charming smile when Murdock met his eyes, sinking down to sit next to him. The door clicked shut, leaving the two of them alone again.
“What’s your name?” Face asked, wrapping an arm around his back.
“My name?” Murdock repeated.
“Yeah. You know your name, right?” Face said, voice going a little worried at the end.
“Course, it’s Murdock, but why are you askin’?”
“It helps ground you after a nightmare.” Face told him, giving him a squeeze. “Do you know where we are?”
Murdock blinked rapidly, and it was only the small elastic bands on Face’s wrist that jogged his memory. They were in Nevada, and last night in the diner Murdock had collected elastic bands to make as a bracelet for Face.
“We’re in Carson City. I had pancakes for supper last night.”
“Banana pancakes.” Face corrected, as if that was important, with a smile. “And who am I?”
“Face.” Murdock said, and leaned into him. A bit of tension drained out of Murdock’s tight shoulders.
“Yeah bud.” He squeezed tightly. “You good?”
Flashes of fire and metal and screams. Murdock shoved it into the box with everything else he didn’t want to think about. “Yeah, I’m good. Do you mind if Billy comes up on the bed?"
Face said he didn't mind. He also didn’t let go of him, and Murdock didn’t ask him to. They sat together until the fine tremble of Murdock’s muscles subsided.
If Face had learnt anything in his career, it was definitely this: don’t try to con a con-man.
Unfortunately, the true nature of con men themselves (of which Face knew quite intimately, since he was one), was that you very often don’t know that they’re a con man until they’re half a mile away with all your cash and your shoes.
Face was set the task of convincing the corrupt politician that he was there to help him run his campaign. And he thought he’d done a pretty good job, keeping him on track while the rest of the team set up the trap. He’d donned his best suit and slicked back his hair, charming his way into John Rever’s campaign. Only problem was — Rever was playing him as much as he was playing Rever.
Face woke up in a basement with his hands tied, which was always a bad start.
“Good morning, Peck.” Rever said, immediately ringing alarm bells in his head. That was not his fake identity. It seemed the A-Team was out of the bag. Then he looked up to see a gun pointed at him, and that was a pretty clear sign that the op was blown.
Face wrenched his jaw, feeling the sucker punch he’d been given earlier. “Geez, Rever, if you’ve broken my tooth, I’m gonna have to file a dental claim with HR.”
Rever didn’t laugh, but Face knew after ten days of working this con that he wasn’t the humour type. He didn’t take it personally.
“I hope you don’t mind that I played along with your little scheme, you know what they say, keep your friends close...”
“And your enemies in a five star hotel?” Face asked, flashing a cheeky smile.
Rever’s face remained still and unamused. “We wanted you nearby, Peck, so that we could persuade you to call off your dogs before the election night.”
“I’m not that kind of vet, man.”
Rever paused, and tilted his head like Face was a curious specimen. “You have a lot of smart comments for a guy with a gun to his head.”
Face shrugged. “Live and don’t learn, that’s what I always say.”
Rever, predictably, did not look amused. “Here’s what’s going to happen. We need your team to lay off before the election. So you’re going to call them tell them to abort mission. If you tip them off in any way, I will shoot you.”
“Harsh.” Face said, lacking anything better to reply. He was already running through ways to tip them off in his head.
“We’re going to be on speaker. If you say anything that isn’t, hello, we need to abort mission, I’ll explain later, I’ll meet you at the rendezvous... then I will shoot. Understand?”
“Not entirely. What if they ask a question that requires me to say something other than that?”
Rever rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “Then say you can’t talk right now.”
“What if they —“
“I’ll shoot you right now if you don’t do as your told.”
Face raised his bound hands and gave an innocent expression. Rever drew out Face’s phone, and placed it in front of him. After a moment of deliberation of who to call, Face awkwardly pressed his finger to his contact list.
“Murdock’s Mortician, you stab ‘em, we slab ‘em! How can I help you?”
“Murdock, listen.” Face painted his voice with panic, putting on a con in a con. Rever would think that he was playing Murdock. But Murdock would know that when Face is truly panicked, his voice is calm and smooth, not harried. “We need to abort the mission.”
Murdock paused. “What’s wrong?” He said, and Face mentally cheered. He knew he could count on him— they always were on the same wavelength.
“I can’t talk right now, I’ll explain later.” Face rushed out, forcing himself to sound out of breath. “Tell the others we need to abort right now. I’ll meet you guys at the rendezvous.”
“Okay. We’ll meet you there.” Murdock said, so convincingly that Face worried for a second that maybe he hadn’t caught on. Then he said, “Love you.”
Face had to bite back a grin. “Love you too.”
Rever hung up, and levelled his gun between Face's eyes. “What was that?”
“Hey man, I know it wasn’t on your list of phrases, but we always say I love you.” Face said, lying his face off. “If I hadn’t said it back he’d know in a heartbeat that something was wrong.”
Rever stared at him, and Face stared back. Eventually, Rever scoffed, and took the phone away again. He left up the basement stairs, straightening the cuffs of his suit as he went.
Face hid his smile. Maybe he could con a con-man after all.
Three hours later, BA burst into the basement, throwing the guard down the stairs with a sickening series of cracks.
“Got your message.” BA said, standing at the top.
Face stepped over the groaning guard, walking up the stairs with his hands still bound. “Thanks for the pick up, big guy. How’d the election go?”
BA cut the ropes with his pocket knife. “Murdock and Hannibal are just springing the trap now. We should hit the road before things get too hot.”
“Well I sure as hell don’t wanna stay here.” Face said, accepting the new comm and sticking it in his ear. “Hear that, boys? I’m back!”
“All I heard was you getting caught again.” Hannibal replied, voice dry down the line.
Face followed BA and his path of destruction back to the van. “Wow, missed you too, boss.”
“You’ve been gone less than a day.” BA scoffed. “We wouldn’t have even known anything was wrong if Murdock hadn’t gone nuts over the fact that you gave him the most ridiculous tip off.”
“You didn’t hear him! He was telling me something was wrong with his voice.” Murdock protested, like he had to have this argument a couple times.
“I knew you’d have my back, buddy.” Face said fondly, climbing into the passenger side of the van and reaching for his comb to fix his gross hair. “And that code was genius.”
“A code?” BA demanded. “You didn’t say nothing about no code, Murdock.”
“Well...” Murdock replied. “You wouldn’t understand, Bosco.”
“I wouldn’t understand what, fool?”
BA sputtered. Then said, “You know what? Never mind.”
Hannibal chuckled. “Alright, alright. Let's leave the lovebirds alone and focus on task.”
Face thought about protesting that nickname, but decided against it, rubbing his sore wrists and watching BA peel out of the parking lot.
The bad news was: there was a cult hiding out in Alaska, targeting youth and young adults, to indoctrinate them into their way of life. While seemingly innocent on the outside, the leader, Jay Klinger, had studied the brainwashing methods of the more successful cults, and was running a very profitable game. One family lost their daughter to this man, and they wanted her back.
The good news was: they called the A-Team!
Here, sitting in the pilot seat of his plane, Murdock sung a little tune. Something he imagined would be their theme song. His imaginary audience cheered for him. The skyline ahead of him, thick with grey clouds, continued its course. He swallowed hard, keeping his numb fingers on the controls. Then to distract himself from what he was feeling, he continued the story in his head.
The bad news was: the cult was a very strict and tight group. The Klingerites— “Sounds like a narcissist.” Hannibal had said, flicking his cigar ash— did not want anything to do with Face when he attempted to con his way into the cult. Klinger didn’t want smooth, fast talking and confident men. He wanted youth who had lost their way in life, and were looking for something bigger.
The good news was: Murdock could sure look young and lost when he put his mind to it. All he needed to do was think about how he felt in Mexico, and tell Klinger with huge watery eyes that he just wanted to belong somewhere. Then he was in!
The bad news was: the Klingerites were tucked into the mountains, accessible only by air. Murdock went in alone with no back up, only a tracker sewn into his trademark red hat if anything went wrong. He was dropped off by a helicopter with no escape route.
The good news was: the cult had fallen apart without his intervention, and when he arrived there were lines drawn between the camp. Those who wanted to leave, and the die-hard loyalist to Klinger. The leader of the rebellion was Eve, the daughter he had been specifically sent there to save!
The bad news was: Klinger was going to have the rebels killed, and Murdock needed to act fast.
The good news was: there was a plane in the hanger that they could use to escape!
The bad news was: it was left abandoned in the hanger because it hadn’t been running for ten years.
The good news was: Murdock fixed her up as best he could in the dead of night, while Eve held the flashlight and the other rebels kept watch for Klinger or his loyalists!
The bad news was: they were caught before Murdock finished all his repairs.
The good news was: they all loaded up the plane and succeeded in getting the plane airborne before Klinger could stop them!
The bad news was: he did not had time to fix the heater, which was not working properly.
The good news was: the dozen young rebels huddled for warmth in the cabin of the plane, managing to keep each other alive!
The bad news was: Murdock needed to stay at the controls, and he could no longer feel his fingers.
Leaving him to where he is now, with only the consequences of his bad news. He didn't see any good news in the distance. The plane was slow, and he estimated it would take three hours to get to the closest town. Compounded by his five hours working in the cold airplane hanger earlier, Murdock was beginning to realize that this was probably the coldest he’d ever been in his entire life.
Eve slipped into the cockpit, her clothes wrapped tight around her middle. All the Klingerites wore an identical uniform, supposedly a sign of unity. It wasn't very warm, and Murdock was wishing for his leather jacket.
The daughter was a soft faced chubby girl with long wispy blonde hair. She took the copilot seat, looking out at the looming clouds. The edges of the windshield were dusted with frost.
“How are you doing?” Eve asked him, frowning at his face. “Your lips are blue.”
Murdock blinked a couple times, and tried to purse his lips, but there was no feeling in them. “Must’ve been friendly with a smurf recently.” He said, as jovial as he could manage.
Eve took his hand from one side of the controls. She rubbed his fingers furiously, like it might put some heat or feeling back in it.
“It’s alright.” Murdock said. “You should be sittin’ with the others, they’ll be missing your heat.”
“I think you might be getting hypothermia.” Eve told him.
“I’m still shivering.” Murdock replied, his body doing an entire whole body shudder as he spoke. “It's only bad when you stop shivering.”
Eve frowned, but nodded. Her cheekbones were sunken in from a rapid weight loss, and Murdock thought about all the stories her and the others told him. Supposedly, it was a commune camp where they all worked and pooled their labour. But Klinger kept all the money, and gave them each a single set of clothes and a small portion of food ration. They were supposed to be a family, most of them misfits or orphaned or kicked out, but Klinger turned them against each other with tactics of punishment if any of them rebelled, including anything from whipping to murder. They were isolated and broken down, and all the ladies told of Klinger’s sexual abuse. Once Murdock got all these innocent people to safety, the whole of the A-Team would be returning to his camp to deal with Klinger himself.
The trick here was to actually survive bringing the innocents. Murdock hadn’t anticipated the string of bad luck, and now he was really beginning to worry about the cold.
Eve pilfered a first aid kit, finding some bandages and taping them to his hands like make-shift mittens. One of the young boys had two pairs of socks so his feet would fit the large boots, so he passed them to the cockpit as well. Murdock was tempted to use them for sock puppets, but he couldn't feel his toes either, so he slipped them on his feet instead. Eve began to shake quite terribly and reluctantly returned to the cabin to the warmth of her huddled makeshift family.
The problem was his idleness. He couldn’t get up and stomp his feet, or do push ups to get the blood flowing. There wasn’t a proper auto pilot system. His jaw began to ache with how hard he was clenching his teeth, and his shoulders were sore from being bunched up by his ears. He also really needed to pee.
Murdock felt an enormous sense of glee when he finally saw the landing strip, but that relief was short lived when he noticed that his hands curled around the controls were sluggish but steady. He’d stopped shivering at some point and not noticed.
Murdock literally could land a plane in his sleep, but his fingers kept fumbling on the controls, missing the buttons and levels as he overshot, his fingers like fat useless sausages. There was a thrumming underneath his skin, making him want to get up and move, dammit.
But he landed it, and Murdock thanked the plane gods. The rebels spilled from his plane, into the airport terminal. Eve came to the cockpit and helped him out and inside as well. His feet took him inside, only because he knew it would be warm, and that gave him a new strength.
There were a lot of questions being asked inside, and Murdock realized uncomfortably that they likely tried to radio him as he landed, and he hadn’t even noticed. He wasn't sure if that was the crazy or the cold, but either way, his brain was going slow and not catching up to his surroundings.
Eve sat him down by the airport terminals heating system after a quick bathroom stop, and when the ambulance showed up she directed them to him first. The police were there as well, and Murdock really wanted to avoid them, fumbling to tip his red hat down over his potentially recognizable face.
Luckily, the paramedics didn’t linger there long, loading Murdock onto a stretcher and covering him in blankets. They got him in the ambulance and were driving away before he even knew what was going on.
A prick in his arm, and then an IV. He felt a wash of horror, that they were drugging him, and he turned with wide eyes to the paramedic. “What are you...”
Words flew from his head, and a great confusion stirred his thoughts like soup.
“We’re going to put warm intravenous fluid through that.” The paramedic told him.
“Oh.” Murdock tried to get that thought into somewhere it would stick in his head. “Are you gonna microwave me?”
“I don’t think we have a microwave big enough.” The paramedic replied patiently.
They took him inside, and draped heated blankets over him.
“Moderate hypothermia.” The nurse told him. “Not severe but very nearly. Do you have someone you want me to call?”
“Face.” Murdock slurred out. He rummaged through his brain for Face’s current phone number, and rattled it off in a song.
He began to lose the numbness, and he immediately missed it. It was replaced with a horrible itchy burning sensation. The nurse rubbed his hands with damp cloth that felt a million degrees, even though she assured him it was only above lukewarm.
Face appeared in the doorway, his hair in complete disarray, and Murdock’s thick confusion took him way too long to realize that Face was real and actually standing in front of him.
“Face.” Murdock said.
Face, who had been interrogating the nurse, snapped around to look at him. His expression softened, and he dropped to the chair. He reached for his hand, but stopped, looking at his blue fingers wrapped in warm towels. Instead he gripped his arm.
“Hey handsome.” Face said, voice a liquid of worry and concern. “How are you feeling?”
“Cold.” Murdock frowned. “And hot now. You’re here.”
“Course I’m here.” Face leaned closer and whispered. “I had to tell them I was your husband to be allowed in the room, just so you know.”
That explained the ‘handsome’. Murdock had just assumed the auditory hallucinations had started. “Okay. Are all the kids alright?”
“Most of them are getting warmed up, same as you.” Face replied, squeezing his arm. “But you’re the bluest, handsome.”
“Someone’s gotta drive the bus.” Murdock said.
Face’s expression set into a frown. “Why was it so cold?”
“Klinger crashed our party before I could fix the heater.” Murdock winced as the nurse started rubbing the burning hot towels on his feet. He swallowed against the pain, suffocating the whine in his throat. “Pretty good for an improvised rescue, though.”
“Pretty amazing.” Face murmured, and leaned over to kiss the top of his head. Murdock reminded himself it was an act, but the eruption of warm butterfly wings in his stomach thought otherwise. “You could’ve set off the tracker.”
“No time.” Murdock said. “I got there and it had already gone to shit.” The nurse moved to the other foot, and it startled a pained gasp out of his throat.
“Are you hurting him?” Face demanded to the nurse, eyes suddenly blazing.
“The flesh is rewarming, it’s probably not pleasant.” She levelled Face with an unimpressed look. “But it’s better than frostbite.”
Murdock’s heart thumped hard from seeing Face snap at a pretty nurse lady on his behalf. “S’okay, just itchy and hot.” Which was an understatement — it was so itchy Murdock rather wanted to peel off his skin.
Face moved up, sitting on the hospital bed with him and wrapping an arm around his shoulders. “You’re shaking.” Face said, slotting them close together. Murdock leaned into him.
“You smell like ginger.” Murdock murmured.
“You smell like motor oil.”
“It’s my new perfume, you like?”
Face chuckled, pressing his cheek to the top of Murdock’s head. “I love it, handsome.”
Murdock inhaled sharply through his teeth as the nurse worked a new burning hot towel on his leg. Face squeezed him closer, humming. Murdock recognized the song — The Harry Potter theme — and hummed along with him. The shivering had returned with full force, and it knocked his teeth together uncomfortably.
“Where’s the boss man and Bosco?” Murdock asked after a while, the nurse moving onto the other leg.
“Keeping an eye on things.” Face said, and pulled out his phone to send a quick text. Murdock managed to see ‘hypothermia’ and ‘needs to stay in the hospital’ before he put it away again.
“I’m fine if we need to go.” Murdock muttered, thinking that if anyone cottoned on to them being in the area, they needed to get moving and not be recognized in the hospital.
“I can do a lot of things, handsome, but I can’t steal you a warm IV. We need to stay until your body temp is back to normal at least.”
“What about Klinger?”
“Hannibal and BA are working on it. The kids you brought are gonna help. You did your part, and you did it amazingly. Let the others handle it now.”
“Shouldn’t you be with them?”
“In sickness and health, my dear.” Face said, giving him another squeeze and kissing the top of his head again. “I’m staying to keep an eye on my husband.”
Murdock reached for Face’s hand, and his pseudo husband took his frozen fingers and rubbed them with the towel like the nurse was doing, with careful precision.
In the hazy confusion of his brain, he shut his eyes and allowed himself to pretend it was real.
Face was six hundred feet off the ground in a helicopter when he began to realize that the vague, ‘not feeling well’ sensation that he’d been ignoring was about to become a problem.
Hannibal was sitting up front next to Murdock, and BA was snoozing away in the back seats with Face. They were on retreat— another plan had come together, and they were off to find somewhere to lie low for a few days. The entire mission — breaking into the museum, climbing through the air ducts, ending up in a firefight in a Wal-Mart parking lot — Face had been battling his own body. The worst being about an hour ago, when he was poised on a rooftop with a sniper rifle, and his headache had completely blinded his left eye. Luckily he only needed his right. But now that they were home free, Face felt his stomach begin to roll, like a rock tumbling down an endless hill in his gut, and he threw up his meager lunch.
BA was too busy being unconscious, Murdock too busy flying, but Hannibal turned in his chair. “Are you alright?”
“I’m great.” Face gasped, swallowing hard against the influx of saliva in his mouth and not looking at the sick on the floor.
“What’s up?” Murdock asked.
“Nothing.” Face said, at the exact same time Hannibal replied. “Face just threw up.”
“I’m fine.” Face insisted stubbornly, mopping at the sweat on his forehead now. “Don’t worry about me.”
“We’re almost there.” Murdock assured him, and his usual erratic flying levelled to a calm cruise.
“I’m fine.” Face tried again, but it sounded weak even to his ears. He crossed his arms over his chest and pretended he wasn’t pouting.
Murdock landed the helicopter next to where they had parked the van. Face was relieved to finally be out of the air. Murdock and Hannibal got out first, talking about transferring the slumbering BA. Face slowly let himself out of the helicopter, and took two steps before his knees gave out. He’s not sure who got to his side faster: Hannibal or Murdock. When his head stopped swimming he realize he was sitting in the back of the van, both of them hovering on either side of him.
“I’m fine.” Face slurred.
“You’re definitely fine, Facey, but you’re not well.” Murdock told him.
Face computed that slowly. Before he could reply, Hannibal was pressing a canteen into his hand and insisting he drink.
“Are you hiding any injuries?” Hannibal asked, patting him down.
“No.” Face said, then considered the fact that the last twenty four hours were a bit of a blur, and conceded, “Not that I know of.”
They checked him over and found only a black bruise on his ribs and a busted toe nail. Face winced at that, flexing his toe, and having another swing of water to help his desert dry throat.
“Just sick then.” Murdock said, reaching up and pushing back Face’s sweaty hair from his eyes.
“We’ll stop at the pharmacy before we hole up.” Hannibal decided. Face realized that he was leaning all his weight on Hannibal, and straightened up. Hannibal patted his back before standing.
BA was just waking up, still sitting in the back seat of the helicopter. Hannibal walked over to talk to him, obligatory complaints for being drugged and explaining the new situation, before the two of them returned to the van.
“You.” BA pointed at Face. “Go lie down in the back and get a bucket. I ain’t having you throwing up on my floor.”
“I’m not gonna throw up again.” Face complained, but crawled into the backseat and dragged over an empty ice cream carton that was previously being used to hold some tools. He hugged it to his chest, and watched the others get in the van. BA and Hannibal took the front, and Murdock lifted Face’s feet so he could sit in the back, laying his legs in his lap.
BA started the van, and Face squinted as he looked out the windshield. The bobblehead dog bounced it's head on the dashboard, still stubbornly stuck there with gorilla tape.
“Hey.” Murdock said softly, and Face looked at him. He was offering out his red cap.
“Thanks buddy.” Face rasped, taking it and covering his eyes. The sunlight bled through the fabric red, but it was better than direct sunlight.
They drove for a while. Face hugged his bucket, all his muscles tense and aching now, especially his ribs. A discomfort settled in the pit of his stomach, and his eyes burnt despite the covering. But Murdock was rubbing his calves in soothing circles, and fiddling with the cuffs of his pants. He focused on that.
They stopped for a while, Face listening to the wet sound of his own breathing instead of the engine. BA and Hannibal went into the pharmacy but Murdock stayed in the van, long fingers still smoothing patterns into his legs.
He fell asleep, waking up a little bit when the other two returned, but drifting back under even as the van moved. Exhaustion was a heavy weight on his chest, one he’d been ignoring for the sake of the mission.
Through the thick cotton of illness, there was a hand on his shoulder eventually.
“Can you walk?” Hannibal was asking him, lifting the corner of the hat to look at him.
“Yeah.” Face replied automatically.
Hannibal offered out his hand, and Face took it, the two of them working together to get him to his feet. The whole world tilted sideways, all his brain cells skidding the other side of his head and tipping him over.
“Woah, kid.” Hannibal said, and put Face’s arm over his shoulder. BA came on the other side, silently taking the other. Between the two of them, they brought him inside.
It was a log cabin. The lock was smashed off the door, and a bubbling river creak was running right outside. If his head wasn’t full of wasps, Face bet it probably smelt nice and fresh and clean there.
A bed, soft and blessedly unmoving. Face was cold now, trembling all over, and reached to pull the blankets over himself.
A hand pressed to his forehead. “You’re burning.” Hannibal said.
“No, I’m cold.” Face replied through chattering teeth.
“Come on, Facey, your filthy from the job. Maybe a cool shower before bed?” Murdock suggested, close by.
“Bath.” BA grunted. “He’ll pass out if he stands too long.”
“I think I can decide for myself.” Face informed them dryly. He didn't really care about the dirt right now, but there was spots of other people's blood and he was sweating.
Murdock insisted on helping him, starting a cool bath and fetching towels and soap. Face sat on the toilet and shivered, eyes hooded. Hannibal brought him medicine from the pharmacy, insisting he swallow the pills with a lot of water.
Face shooed them away, and took the cool bath. He was drowsy and wanted to sleep, but managed to get clean and cool down his sweating body. Getting dressed in his sweatpants, he came out of the bathroom still shivering with his bare arms wrapped tightly around his chest.
“How was it?” Murdock said, hopping to his elbow and escorting him to bed.
Face just hummed, very tired now. But clean, so he dredged up through his dazed brain, “Fine. Thanks handsome.”
Murdock’s ears were pink as he tucked Face into bed. “Sure thing. Do you need anything else?”
“Tell BA and Hannibal I said thanks too.” Face murmured, already eating his pillow. “Didn’t mean to get sick.”
Gentle hands smoothed back his damp hair from his eyes again. “You’re only human.”
Face hummed, and was asleep.
An angel with a soft touch watched over him as he slept.
He opened his eyes, his eyelashes sticking together, and his head was in Murdock’s lap. The pilot was playing a Gameboy, tongue stuck out in focus, hair in disarray without his cap.
“Hey handsome.” Face rasped.
Murdock looked down at him, smiling, while his ears pinkened. “G’morning. How are you feeling?”
Face cleared his thick throat. “Like there’s a parade in my body and I wasn’t invited.”
“Well that’s not very nice!” Murdock said, so indignant like he might fight his body cells for him, that it made Face smile.
“No, it’s not.” Face agreed.
“Do you want something to eat?” Murdock asked, putting his Gameboy aside. The room was dim and the blankets very warm, Face found he was sweating again and aching all over. But the sleep and the medication gave him more of an awareness than before.
“Not really.” He answered, his stomach tied up in knots.
“What if I made soup?” Murdock challenged.
Murdock’s soup was amazing. He relented, just a little. “What kind?”
“Normally I’d say ‘any kind you like’, but we’re a little stuck in a log cabin with the closest store about an hour away. But I can do tomato soup.”
“If it’s not too much trouble...”
Murdock was already standing up, shaking out his legs like he’d been sitting there a long time. He passed Face the canteen of water, and disappeared down the hall.
Face sipped at the lukewarm water, and listened carefully to the unfamiliar log cabin. Crickets sung, Hannibal and Murdock talked lowly in the kitchen, while pots banged around. BA worked outside on his van. The smell of faint cigar smoke was quickly overridden by basil and tomatoes.
Face grabbed Murdock’s game, seeing Pokémon still running on the screen, and entertained himself by walking back and forth in the tall grass until he encountered one. It was a Oddish, and he caught it just so he could name it ‘H.M.’.
Murdock came back with soup and toast. Hannibal followed with tea and medication. Face passed Murdock his Gameboy, and accepted the offerings, trying to coax his stomach into accepting some of it. Murdock gave a pleased laugh as he clicked away at the Gameboy, and Hannibal leaned over his shoulder.
“Look, boss man, it’s me!” Murdock said.
“You’re certainly odd.” Hannibal agreed fondly. Then he sat on the edge of Face’s bed while he tried to dissolve his toast in soup. “Feeling any better, kid?”
Face shrugged. “Yeah. Not worse, at least.”
Hannibal put his hand on his forehead again, and Face felt about five years old. It was equal parts embarrassing and comforting.
Hannibal nodded. “Still hot. At least you have a little more colour. When you stepped out of the helicopter last night you’d gone as white as a ghost.”
“And not the good kind of ghost!” Murdock chipped in.
“There’s a good kind of ghost?” BA asked, standing in the doorway and rubbing oil off his hands with a rag.
“Haven’t you ever met a friendly ghost?” Murdock asked.
“No!” BA retorted. “And neither have you, fool!”
Murdock winked at Face conspiratorially. Face gave a weak smile, genuinely amused by their usual antics but too worn out for much else. The banter washed over him, feeling secure and safe.
The plan was great! The plan was bulletproof and flawless, detailed and without loopholes. The plan meant big pay out, and little risk.
Murdock loved the plan, and was sad to see it go. Unlike the plan, Murdock was not bulletproof. He was, in fact, whatever the opposite of bulletproof was.
Things that weren’t part of the plan: Face and Murdock, out of breath and in a standoff with a bunch of goons on a moving train, while civilians cowered behind the seats. They were out numbered — six to two — and the guns were cocked and ready to fire. They wouldn’t be shooting to kill, because Face and Murdock had hid their employers gold bars somewhere on the train in desperation when the plan fell apart. The cold standoff was not part of the plan.
Face glanced at Murdock in the corner of his eye, sending a signal, a wordless intent. But before he could act, one of the goons fired, and Murdock flinched as the bullet stung his shoulder.
Face had been looking right at him, and his eyes went steel cold and furious, posture alert and dangerous as he pivoted on the spot, firing confidently until his clip was empty. The civilians screamed, the goons fired back, but Face was already moving, ducking his head and yanking the stumbling Murdock by his good arm, out of the train car. Bullets pinged the metal on the other side.
“Stay with me.” Face demanded, his eyes wild, and bolted down the hall of the train car, all the civilians cowering under their chairs. The door opened just as they reached the other side. They kept moving fast, until they reached the cargo hold. Face pushed Murdock behind a crate, and fiercely pushed another in front of him, then another, boxing him into a dim cramped space. Just as the door opened, Face scaled up the crate, and dropped down on silent feet next to Murdock in his impromptu hiding spot.
The goons clomped through the train car, shouting commands. Murdock found himself standing in a tiny square with Face, almost nose to nose, and the wetness down his front was blood dripping from his shoulder. He swayed forward, leaning his forehead on Face’s shoulder, and gripping his shirt, one hand red down his fingertips.
Silently, as the goons searched around them, Face reached up and grabbed Murdock’s shoulder, putting pressure on his bleeding wound. Murdock held his breath so he wouldn’t make a sound, but Face whispered, “Breathe.” in his ear, and he was helpless to obey.
Things that weren’t part of the plan: pressed tightly together in between crates, hiding from trigger happy goons, desperately clinging to Face with shaking fingers while Face tried to keep all Murdock’s blood where it belonged, but quietly as possible.
Murdock felt his legs go weaker, leaning more and more on Face. The pressure on his wound increased, and the goons shouted, stomping back and forth.
“Come on, handsome, stay with me.” Face murmured, barely a whisper. Murdock tried, but the lightheadedness was an ocean tide, beating down on the shore of his head, over and over until he had to submit. He sunk down, scraping the crate sides. Face cringed, holding on tight and following him down. Despite the noise they made moving, none of the goons caught on to their position. The door slammed shut.
“Let me see those pretty eyes.” Face coaxed him, and Murdock obeyed as best he could, tipping his head up to meet Face’s gaze. “I’ve got first aid, I’m going to fix you up.”
Things that weren’t part of the plan: impromptu medical treatment on a dirty train floor, still jammed in a tight hiding spot. They used the flashlight off Face’s phone, and dug the bullet out of his shoulder. Murdock didn’t cry out, but he did bite through his tongue, filling his mouth with coppery blood. He spat it on the ground, stomach rolling at the taste.
Face stitched him up with patient, confident hands, murmuring reassurances and worriedly asking Murdock about the pain.
Before Face could finish the stitches, the door slammed open again, and Face cursed under his breath. He silently cut the light and resumed pressure, leaning directly over top Murdock. He felt all of his warm body, wisps of his hair tickling Murdock’s cheek.
Murdock was dazed, and Face kept calling him handsome, and rather a lot of his blood was not in his body. He reached up, touching the light scruff on Face’s jaw. Blue eyes cut through the darkness to look directly at Murdock.
“You good?” Face whispered.
Murdock swallowed hard. He felt hypnotized, and only the frantic shouts of goons beyond their tiny haven kept him from doing something stupid, like kiss him.
Murdock followed Face’s purposeful breathing, trying to remain calm but pain and dizziness were becoming annoyingly apparent. The moment the door shut again, Face whipped out his light and finished closing the wound, and wrapped it up tight with bandages.
“You’re going to need a blood transfusion.” Face muttered, still giving him steady pressure.
“BA’ll be thrilled.” Murdock replied. The close proximity was lighting all Murdock’s neutrons on fire — every inch of his space was also occupied by Face, and his kind hands, his worried blue eyes, his clever mouth and his strong arms.
Murdock’s head swum with pain, his heart thudding hard in his chest. He struggled to breath normally.
“You’re okay, you’re gonna be okay.” Face promised him, and leaned their foreheads together, since both his hands were occupied with giving him pressure. “Hey, it’s okay, it’s all gonna be okay.”
Things that weren’t part of the plan: mouths inches apart, covered in blood, Face swayed forward and kissed Murdock. His mouth was searing hot, his lips with sweet kindness but a sour desperation. Murdock raised his trembling hands to cup both sides of his jaw, holding him there and drinking in the kiss.
He was out of breath when they parted, and Face said, “Why do I taste blood?”
Murdock replied, “I bit my tongue when you took out the bullet.”
“I mean, better than leaving it in. I don’t wanna collect bullets that way.”
Face huffed a small breath. Then ducked his head, hands tirelessly continuing their pressure, despite the distraction. “Are we going to talk about the fact that I just kissed you, or is this a ‘never speak of it again’ kind of thing?”
Face sounded quietly disappointed, and Murdock’s heart throbbed, not just because of the pain. “Depends, did you do it because you wanted to, or because you felt you should ‘cause I’m bleeding everywhere?”
“Oh, handsome.” Face said, voice fond. “Definitely because I wanted to. But if you don’t—“
“I do, though.” Murdock cut in, even though the room was spinning a bit. “I definitely do. You’re my best friend, Facey. We understand each other like nobody else. And plus, you’re my fake husband.”
Face chuckled, and pressed their foreheads together again, since the space was really cramped and that was the most comfortable position. “Yeah, yeah. I’m with you.”
The door thundered open, and Face jumped, a defensive expression on his face in the dark. He was tense, until:
“Face? Murdock?” Hannibal called.
“How’d they get on the moving train?” Murdock asked, brow furrowed.
“Who cares?” Face replied, sitting up to fervently call, ”Hannibal! We’re over here!”
They moved the crates away, and Murdock managed with Face’s help to get moving. But somewhere in between Hannibal stopping the train and escaping with the gold bars in tow, Murdock drifted underneath the oppressive tide.
Face was there when he woke up. The little elastic bracelet he made him in a Carson City diner was still on his wrist, and he was asleep, chin in hand. Murdock reached out and touched the inside of his wrist, on the bracelet, and woke him up.
Face’s eyes flew open, and he grinned when he saw Murdock awake. “Hey handsome.” He said warmly, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.
“Hiya Facey.” Murdock replied, mouth tasting awful and shoulder throbbing in time with his heart beat. “Everything go alright?”
“All according to plan.” Face winked. “You feeling okay?”
“Yeah.” Murdock said, which wasn’t exactly untrue. “Thanks.”
Face shrugged. “It was Hannibal and BA with the rescue this time. I was just as helpless as you.”
“Yeah, but I don’t wanna give them thank you kisses, so you better take some responsibility for getting me out of there and stitching me up.”
A small dust of pink emerged on Face’s cheeks. “Uh, yeah. You’re welcome.” He leaned down and kissed him, and Murdock’s heart floated around in his chest like a helium balloon.