Face was often woken by Murdock creeping into bed with him. Usually silently, pressing slowly closer and closer into his back or his side, needing the contact, the unspoken protection from whatever it was that was coming for him. Sometimes, it wasn’t even for those reasons. Sometimes it was just because he wanted a cuddle. Face could always tell, without even opening an eye, which it was. He never questioned Murdock, not on anything – and he never failed to give Murdock whatever was required. If truth was told, Face loved this – loved the solid, warm feel of Murdock’s body, their unique bond as comforting for him as it was for Murdock. Loved that Murdock only came to him, loved that this might be going somewhere, that he might be allowed to….
Murdock sat down on the edge of the bed, whispered Face’s name and touched him lightly on the shoulder, jaw, chest, until Face woke up. Face didn’t start as his army training usually told his instincts to do; waking up to Murdock was second nature to him (and this was one of the calmer ways that he’d been woken up. Other occasions, to name but a few, had involved Murdock trying to catch Billy, Billy trying to catch a bat, an incident with a faulty Nerf gun, Murdock dashing for cover from BA, Murdock not realising it was dark outside and trying to get Face up to go in the pool with him, and one particularly bizarre time when Face had woken up to find his bed full of various citrus fruits….he still wasn’t really quite clear what that had been about, despite Murdock’s diagrams). Face only wished, the thought striking his heart the moment he regained consciousness, that waking up to Murdock meant -
No. This was not the time. Something was happening. Face propped himself up on an elbow. Outside, it was raining, hard. It was drumming on the Velux window. Hammering, almost.
“Hey”, he said, softly, putting a hand on Murdock’s arm.
When Murdock eventually spoke, it was full of fear.
“Can I come in with you?”
“Of course”, Face said, frowning slightly at the fact Murdock felt he had to ask. “Of course you can…”
He shifted over, but not far, so that Murdock was close when he crawled in beside him. They settled down together, wrapped around each other in a way that really shouldn’t have been comfortable, but was. Murdock smelled of washing powder, and cookie dough, and toothpaste. It was, to Face, heavenly.
After a minute or so, when the tremors thrumming against his skin weren’t stopping, it occurred to Face that maybe this time, he should ask. He gently pulled Murdock closer into him, stretching his arm as far around the man as it would reach so that Murdock was tight between the mattress and Face’s own body, giving him as much security as he could.
“What is it?” he whispered softly against Murdock’s ear. “Can you try and tell me?”
The rain thundered on. Face tucked a lock of hair back behind Murdock’s ear, marvelling, odd a time as it was to do so, at just how unbearably much one person could feel for another. It was going to kill him, Face was sure - one way or another. Then Murdock spoke.
“Not near the window”, he said, voice tremulous and barely audible. Face didn’t know what he meant, so after a pause he nodded, and pressed a kiss to Murdock’s forehead.
“Ok….” he said. He pulled Murdock closer to him. “Maybe just try and get some sleep? Whatever it is, we’ll work it out in the morning”.
Murdock gave a faint nod.
Gradually, his breathing evened out, and Face’s fell into time too, and they slept.
The next morning, Face woke first. The rain was still fierce, and he was glad – oh so glad – of Murdock’s warm form tucked into his own. They were still lying in the exact same positions in which they’d fallen asleep hours before – facing each other, limbs atangle… Neither of them ever slept that soundly alone. If Face could choose the place that he died, this would be it. But they had to move soon, get back on the road, back on the run. Gently, Face ran a hand down Murdock’s arm.
Murdock leapt as though he’d been shot. He spun around, staring up at the rain lashed window, his chest beginning to heave with the start of a panic attack. He shouted for Face straight away. Face sat up as quickly as he dared and put his arms out towards him.
“Hey, Murdock – James – it’s ok, it’s ok – I’m here, I’m here, it’s me…”
Murdock saw him, and gave a great shuddering sigh. Face took his hand and gently encouraged him to lie back down with him. When he did, Murdock was visibly shaking. Face hushed him, stroking the hair out of his face and holding him close as Murdock buried himself against Face’s chest.
Silence. This was never good.
“You have to try and tell me, James”, Face whispered to him. “Remember? Do you remember what Richter told us a while ago? That it’s always better if you can say it out loud, because someone can help?...I can help”.
Murdock still didn’t reply. Face knew better than to push him. But then, letting him be dragged into whatever recess of his mind was trying to claim him this time…Every time, Face was terrified that it would be the last. That he would lose Murdock forever, that they wouldn’t let Face take care of him anymore, that Murdock would be shut away in a labyrinth of soulless anti-septic infused white, run by doctors who didn’t care, who didn’t know who he really was, all genius, sweetness, love, and bravery. In the spiralling silence, Face held Murdock tighter, watched the rain track down the velux windows – and worried.
Half an hour later, Hannibal had come in. Face had managed to get Murdock sitting up and calm, but he would move no further, despite all Face’s very best efforts – bribes (not the sort he wanted to be able to use….), that certain coaxing from a million different angles that only Face had patience for with Murdock. Hannibal had stood in the doorway, saying things about showers and eating and getting out within 45 minutes, and Face had wanted to throw the bedside lamp at him. He settled for telling him that Murdock was a bit fragile this morning, and could they secure them an hour. Hannibal had nodded once, and left, but he didn’t look unsympathetic.
Eventually, Face got Murdock out of bed – no easy task when the man was quite literally rigid with fear. The bathroom – that was the next stop. But when Face had handed Murdock a towel and gone to turn the shower on, Murdock was scrabbling so fast to get away that he literally stayed in one spot for a few seconds, cartoon style. He had ended up backed against a dresser in the far corner, tears running silently down his face, attempting to form words in response to Face’s desperate pleas to know what was wrong and failing hopelessly, and the noise of their feet and of the wooden dresser banging against the wall had brought both Hannibal and BA tearing into the room. Hannibal had looked down at Face and Murdock, kneeling where they were on the dusty wooden floor with the handles of the dresser slamming violently into Murdock’s back as he pushed back against it, both in their underwear, Face’s various bottles showering down around them as they were shaken from the dresser’s top, the shower running, and Face attempting to at once urgently get hold of Murdock’s wrists, and to speak as soothingly as he could.
“Is everything ok?” Hannibal had asked, and Face had looked up at him as he finally managed to pull Murdock in to him, wrapping the discarded towel around the smaller man to warm his skin, icy despite the steam coming from the bathroom, and demanded, in all seriousness, to know “exactly what part of this picture, Hannibal, gives you the impression that everything might be ok?” He then shot a look at the Colonel that he knew Hannibal would interpret correctly, and Hannibal had taken BA away to go and do as thorough a sharps and miscellaneous weapons inventory as they could in the short amount of time available.
By the time Face had forced Murdock under the shower, hating himself for apparently inflicting such misery at every step, and they had dressed and made it downstairs, Face felt like he’d lived a thousand mornings. One glance at Murdock, grey and huddled wretchedly by the door as Hannibal locked up and they prepared to dash through the rain to the van, told him that a thousand more were coming. Not for him – this wasn’t a burden for him, never. But for Murdock. And that, in itself, was enough to cause Face’s heart to sink those thousand times over.
Hannibal opened the front door, and Face took his and Murdock’s bag in one hand (travelling light these days), and Murdock’s hand in the other, tucking it up against him with his elbow so that Murdock’s hand was held against his chest. Murdock balked immediately at going outside, but Face was prepared, and as firmly but as kindly as he could, pulled Murdock with him through the hammering rain to the van. He ripped the door open, pushed Murdock ahead of him, flung the bag in next, then leapt in and slammed it shut again. In the time it took for Face to push his rain-soaked hair back and turn to Murdock, Murdock was having another panic attack.
BA looked back from the driver’s seat.
“Face…what - ”
“I don’t know, Bosco, ok?” Face said, shortly, his attention on Murdock as he pulled him in against him and started to rub circles on his back, whispering to him to breathe long on the out breath, long on the out breath, long on the out…
Hannibal leapt in, rain spraying in before he could close the door. The windows began to steam up immediately. He too, turned round and opened his mouth to speak. Face cut him off:
“Boss, just – just get us to wherever we need to go. I’ll deal with everything else. And if that’s somewhere we can call Richter – that might be a help”.
Hannibal’s returning look, so full of pity, almost broke Face. But then he turned back around.
“Alright, kid”, he said. He shook out a map. “Bosco – next left”.
They made slow progress, the wipers unable to cope with the sheer volume of water. The constant hammering at least muffled to some extent Murdock’s continual struggle for breath in the backseat. Face had him firmly against his side, right arm tightly around his shoulders, left hand on his knee, chin resting on the top of his head, holding him as flush as possible to the contours of his own body. Murdock had calmed down enough that Face was able to hold onto him at least, but he was twitching continuously, and his hand on Face’s forearm was leaving an impression. During the few hours they had been in the van, Face had developed the sort of headache that grows precisely from worry. (And partly from the fact that there was a pervasive smell of bleach in the back of the van. What the hell had Bosco had in here?)
What was the matter? What had he meant by ‘not by the window’? He could think of no immediate triggers, there had been no med change, and none of the usual warning signs that forewent these sort of episodes. And now, with time to take stock amid Hannibal not making any demands for the moment, and nothing but the constant deep whirr of the tires on the road through the rain, other worries were taking form. Under his fingers on Murdock’s side, bones lurked worryingly close. From looking at Murdock’s hand where it lay on his arm, he saw that the skin was rough, and reddening in places. Murdock’s hands had always been on the rough side, calloused and strong from the controls, and from years of applying his bafflingly natural ability to engineer to the insides of his beloved aircraft, and Face frequently had trouble looking at them and not thinking about how they’d feel wrapped around his -
Face mentally kicked himself.
Murdock’s hands had always been on the rough side, but this was a lot rougher, in a short space of time. As gently as he could while still being able to gauge the touch, Face ran his own palm over the back of Murdock’s hand. It felt like snakeskin.