I call these sketches Shadowgraphs, partly by the designation to remind you at once that they derive from the darker side of life, partly because like other shadowgraphs they are not directly visible. When I take a shadowgraph in my hand, it makes no impression on me, and gives me no clear conception of it. Only when I hold it up outside the wall, and now look not directly at it, but at that which appears on the wall, am I able to see it. So also with the picture which does not become perceptible until I see through the external. This external is perhaps quite unobtrusive but not until I look through it, do I discover that inner picture too delicately drawn to be outwardly visible, woven as it is of the tenderest moods of the soul. -- Søren Kierkegaard - Either/Or
Brown eyes had haunted Face's dreams for the last fifteen years. Never saw another pair like them; so warm, so soft, so sweet. There was a touch of innocence there, so hard to believe when you thought about how many things those eyes had seen.
Secrets were kept. They had to be - one couldn't survive in this world without holding your cards close to your chest. Face had the cards, all right, but he kept them hidden. Such was the life of a requisitions officer-confidence man. Never let 'em see you sweat, never let on you know more than you do, and most importantly, never, never let them know they've gotten to you.
He got to you, Face thought. He got to you in the worst way.
They started as friends. The first time they met, Face had walked into the officer's club, looked around for an empty chair and a cold bottle of Coke. This long and lanky pilot was leaning against the bar, nursing what looked like a beer. Face looked up at the same time that the pilot looked over. He swore he could feel the sizzle in the air - like he had been shocked by a thousand volts of electricity. The pilot smiled, then turned away. Face looked down at the table.
Fight it. Fight it, kid.
The next day, he introduced himself. They played catch with each other. Found out they enjoyed each others' company. Spent every moment they could with each other, and for two years, were each others' rock in that godforsaken jungle. Best friends. The very best.
Everyone thought it was strange, at first. What did that skinny, socially awkward, half crazy flyboy have in common with an incredibly handsome, silver tongued charmer like the kid? Capt. Murdock, or Howlin' Mad as the boys called him there, was just a little bit crazed. He sang all the time, the most inappropriate songs, rambled on about ridiculous stuff. He was...weird. None of the boys really got close to him.
No one except Lt. Peck.
Why would he want to be friends with such a strange guy? But what the guys didn't realize was that there was a kind of kinship that Murdock and Face had. There was a reason they called him Face, and it wasn't because he was such a stunner. Yes, it was true that he was kind of like female catnip. However, there were other reasons. He was a professional liar. Oh, God, how Father Magill would have flinched at that. And wasn't that part of the problem? Growing up in a Catholic children's home, no mother, no father, no family, no roots...nothing to hold onto. Everything was shifting sand. It was easy to hide, easy to lie, and easy to use the only thing God had given him - his extraordinary face - to his advantage. Yes, women threw themselves at him, and no one even took a second glance at Capt. Murdock.
No one except Lt. Peck.
Face wasn't sure when he fell completely, desperately in love with Murdock. There wasn't an exact time when he could look back and say, "There. That's the moment." He did realize that he had those kind of feelings for him one evening after news came into the camp that Jonesy, one of Murdock's only friends, had been shot down. Murdock withdrew into himself, and Face wanted so badly to run to him, hold him, kiss that sad face with the five o'clock shadow and the lone tear tracking down his cheek.
He never said anything. Even after everything went south, and the guys were on the run and Murdock had slipped in and out of the V.A. hospital, he kept it inside. Face's job was to charm the goods they needed, the supplies that Hannibal asked for to make their collective job that much easier. Sometimes that meant smooth talking the ladies. So many women, so many curvy blondes and petite redheads and sultry brunettes. All very beautiful, all very sexy, but none had those eyes.
Those girls thought he was great, for a few days at least. Blinded by his good looks, a natural blond in a world of fakes, glacier blue eyes, fine tailored suits. Then they wanted more; they wanted to go to movies, meet up with friends, get Italian ice at little beachside joints. They wanted hot, passionate sex, and not just the feverish kisses that he would give them, fool that he was.
He'd con them, con himself that it was what he wanted. Sometimes he thought it was what he needed; that maybe if he gave girls a try, he would forget what he really wanted. What he truly desired. The girls were more than willing. Who wouldn't want a good looking man like him in their bed? A few times he would oblige, but it was a struggle. When the girl would be close, he would bring himself to climax by thinking of warm, sweet, shy brown eyes. And the man they belonged to.
Maybe that was why he always told the girls his name was Templeton. They never called him that. They always called him Temp. That was appropriate, he thought. In their lives, he would always be just Temp. Temporary.
He knew who he really was. The Faceman. Face. A fugitive from Uncle Sam, a member of a tight-knit vigilante group, the king of confidence men, an orphan, a bruised little boy, a killer. Murdock knew all of that, too. Was most of it.
He tried to fight it, but it was exhausting. He ran from the Army, he ran from his memories...why did he have to run from Murdock, too?
God damn those brown eyes.
Other than the doctors at the V.A., his absentee (and most likely deceased) father, and dearly departed grandparents, there was only one other human being on earth who knew his full, legal name. Thankfully, though, Face never called him by his full name. He just called him Murdock. Sometimes, late in the night, when Hannibal and B.A. had fallen asleep and Murdock was fighting sleep and the nightmares that would surely come, Face would notice the heavy, uneasy feeling in the room and would murmur, "Murdock?"
It made him come unglued.
No one ever said his name that tenderly, that purely, that sweetly. He didn't think anyone ever could. He had known him for so long, half of his life almost, and even though it was filled with blood and terror and living in the underground and padded rooms, they were the best years of his life. The best, because of Face.
He remembered fondly the first time he saw Lt. Peck. The entire camp had been buzzing about the FNG, all blond hair and blue eyes and All-American charmer.
One of his few friends, Jonesy, had seen him earlier in the day. "They say he's too good looking to be Army."
"Obviously, they aren't looking at me," Murdock replied jokingly.
He was never serious. Life was too damned short to be so serious. Even the next second wasn't promised to you in 'Nam, and he wanted to live it all his way. Fun. Wild. Free.
He walked up to the bar, grabbing a beer and wasting time until he was tired enough to consider going to sleep. The room was smoky and thick with testosterone. Most of the men hadn't been with a girl in ages, and Bangkok seemed so far away. Murdock wasn't particularly interested in women, in anyone, really. He was more interested in getting the hell out of the jungle and back Stateside, preferably in some gorgeous, shiny bird.
He heard Jonesy, Opie, and a few others grumbling.
There he is.
I bet he ain't hurtin' for chicks.
Murdock looked up, into the bluest eyes he had ever seen. Big, swimming pool big, as blue as a Texas sky on a spring day. As blue as bluebonnets. Impossibly blue. The kid was so damned good looking.
He wished the rumor mill hadn't been so right.
He looked down, away from the soldier. Murdock had learned a lot in his years in the service, but he never quite felt comfortable lying. And, oh mama, he was going to have to lie to everyone, including himself.
This was not good.
It seemed strange to call him a kid, since he was probably around the same age, but Murdock had been sweating it out in the Army for a few years now, and he was relatively sure that this fella was fresh off of a college campus. It didn't really matter to Murdock. If he could do his job, that was all he cared about.
The kid walked up to him the next day, all smiles and good humor. Introduced himself as Lt. Templeton Peck, but you can call me Face. Murdock smiled.
"Well, Lt. Templeton Peck, but you can call me Face, it's good to meet'cha."
From that moment on, Faceman was at his side constantly. He became so close to him, so quickly. It was like they were two jagged pieces of a puzzle - nothing else could ever fit quite right.
When Face and B.A. and Hannibal were railroaded, and then escaped, those three years was the worst of Murdock's life. He slipped further into madness; the grip on reality coming looser and looser. When he was finally sent back to the States, his home was a sad little room at the V.A. hospital.
He cried. He wasn't ashamed to admit it. Once a nurse looked at him, really looked at him, deep into his eyes. She had blue eyes. It was the closest thing he had come to Face in so long, and he lost it. Sobbing, body wracked with the physical pain of his heart breaking into a thousand, horrible pieces.
He had just woken up from a vivid dream. The meds usually did that - he would dream about Da Nang, he would dream about blood and death, and he would dream about Face. Oh, God, not Face. He wept for hours, his head buried in his pillow to muffle his screams.
He felt the hand on his shoulder before anything else registered. That hand felt so familiar. He had been in the hospital for too long; he was starting to have lucid hallucinations, and Oh, God...Face...
"No, no, no, Faceman, stay out of my dreams," Murdock sobbed.
"Not a dream, my man. I'm busting you out. We've got you."
Murdock looked up, and saw those electric blue eyes. He barely registered the thousand watt smile, the sandy hair precisely combed, the fake doctor's coat and ridiculous looking name tag that had an obviously fake name. As if anyone this beautiful could be named something so nondescript!
Face smiled at him again, took him into his arms and hugged him tight.
"I've missed you, Murdock. C'mon, we've got to get you out of here." He walked outside the room and came back in, quickly, with a wheelchair. "Get in this. I think I can con our way out of here if you hurry."
Murdock didn't have to think twice. He trusted Face implicitly, more than he could trust anyone else. He knew Face would never hurt him, never do anything bad to him, and could always keep him safe. He always had, and he had no reason to doubt him now.
Besides, who couldn't trust a face like that? A smile that genuine? And eyes that had more depth, more everything than any other that Murdock had known. It was the eyes that did him in. Did from day one.
A year after they found Murdock and sprung him out for the first time, the team did a job for an old lady in Northern California whose grandson was being harassed by the local loan shark. It was a bad deal, made no easier by the fact that the military police were still on their tail. Murdock had tried to rescue B.A. from a bad situation - five against one - and thankfully, had the element of surprise in his favor; keeping them occupied until Face and Hannibal could show up, guns blazing. It still didn't keep Murdock from having the hell beat out of him.
Face felt like Murdock looked; battered, beaten down. Broken. He felt like that young soldier again - wanting to hold that lanky, weary pilot in his arms, kiss the hurts away. The best he could do was sit next to him with his arms around him, assuring him everything would be okay.
That night, as the team bunked down in an abandoned cabin on the outskirts of town, Face laid next to Murdock in bed. They often shared accommodations, mostly because B.A. would possibly kill Murdock in his sleep, and Hannibal could sleep through anything, including B.A.'s aggressive snoring. That's what Face wanted them to believe, anyway. The fact was that in the middle of the night, Face would wake up just to watch Murdock sleep.
It was funny; the man normally had the worst nightmares imaginable, but not when Face shared a bed (or even a room alone) with him. They didn't seem as bad as when the whole team bunked together. Face was happy to bring comfort to his friend, at the loss of his own. Murdock always seemed a step or two away from breaking down most days.
This night was different. Murdock groaned every time he moved, flinched and shook violently throughout the night. They must have been terrible dreams. Face could hear him whimpering.
Don't hurt me.
Then he heard Murdock's voice grow thicker. He looked down at his sleeping friend's face, saw the tears streaming down.
I love you.
Don't hurt me.
Face's heart cracked open for this man, who seemed vulnerable and rejected even in his dreams. He heard a gasp, a moan, a broken sob. His hand hovered over Murdock's shoulder, willing himself not to give in to the overwhelming desire to touch him, turn him around, kiss him senseless. It would do more harm than good.
Facey. I love you.
Surely, he didn't say "Facey." He was so tired, so worried, and probably delusional. He must have been hearing things. He must have said "Stacy" or "Tracy". Although Face wasn't quite sure that Murdock knew anyone named Stacy or Tracy. He never called him "Facey" anyway...did he?
Another moan. A sigh. The tears stopped.
I love you. Don't leave me.
"Never, H.M. I'll never leave you," Face murmured softly.
Fitful sleep did no one any good, Murdock thought. The team got so little of it, although Hannibal and B.A. seemed to be able to bunk down anywhere. And usually that left him and Faceman together.
That didn't help him sleep any better, that was for sure.
Face was more weary than usual. Seducing a woman took it's toll on him this time, and he got sucker punched for good measure. Murdock watched over him like an old mother hen, making sure everything was okay. He hated when Face was in pain, so he persuaded him to take a sleeping pill to help him rest. The rest of the team was asleep, leaving Murdock alone in the air conditioned quiet.
The Faceman was generally not a sound sleeper. There were times when Murdock would wake up and Face was already awake, but he chalked it up to B.A.'s snoring. To be honest, he was glad that Face took the pill. For the last three nights, he seemed to be awake every time Murdock opened his eyes, and it worried him.
He rarely spoke in his dreams, something Murdock was in turns happy and sad about. Happy, because it would have kept him up at night, but sad because Face was at his least guarded in his sleep. It would have been nice to know what his secrets were.
Tonight he muttered something, his voice gentle as a purr. Murdock strained to hear him, but couldn't quite tell what he said. Something about "Baby," then silence. An hour passed. Face moved against Murdock and snuggled closer. He must have been having a wonderful dream about Baby, because Murdock could feel the effects of it on his leg.
It was interesting to watch him sleep. His entire body relaxed, making him look a lot like the young lieutenant that he met in 'Nam. His perfect hair was mussed. His lips pursed. He could feel the softness of Face's breath on his skin, causing goose flesh to rise.
Murdock thought, perhaps, that this was what it looked like when angels slept.
His fingers itched to touch Face's hair, that thick, honey colored mass that felt like silk. He knew because he had to check him for concussion once or twice. He ached to feel Face's skin, golden and warm, ropes of lean muscle corded under the surface. He wanted to trace the small scars that marred that perfect surface. It seemed to be another level of hell lying in bed next to him.
How interesting that Templeton and temptation were words that were so similar. Certainly there was no greater temptation in Murdock's life than Lt. Templeton Peck.
He carefully extracted himself from the bed, walked into the bathroom and splashed cold water on his face. It was going to be a long, long night.
A good con man - or requisitions officer - was hyper-alert at all times. He needed to be able to read the lay of the land, so to speak, and was constantly coiled, like a snake, to strike at the precise moment that would bring him closer to his goal. Face was a natural, had been ever since he was a small child at the orphanage. Persuading someone to share a little extra piece of orange? A better pair of shoes? He could do it all.
Father Magill seemed in turns to be extraordinarily proud and deeply troubled by the young Peck child. As if he could see into Templeton's future and see the demon, laying low, ready to annihilate his very soul.
Father Magill would have seen a demon, yes; a red, pinched face - horns, perhaps - a grotesque masque of a face that would have scared any man straight. The good priest would not have seen the weathered skin of a chopper pilot, a beat up leather jacket, puppy-dog eyes and a sad, quirky mouth.
No, Father Magill would not have seen Templeton's particular demon.
They had been on the road for two days nonstop. B.A. was desperate to get away from Murdock - their love/hate relationship was purely into hate territory by this time - and begged Hannibal to allow them to split up, if only for the night. Hannibal agreed; he wanted to see his nephew and they were close by.
Face looked over at Murdock. "I guess it's you and me, pal," he said, grinning.
"'pose so, muchacho."
Face found a room, which was easily conned into a suite, and they settled down. Murdock not so much fell as flopped onto his bed, still wearing his Converse, leather jacket, and ball cap. Face, on the other hand, sat down precisely, carefully untying his tie and folding it neatly, taking his loafers off in an orderly fashion.
He wasn't obsessed with being tidy, although it had been drilled into him from day one at the orphanage by the sisters that cleanliness was next to godliness. Everything, from your nails to your teeth to the crease in your pants, had to be a certain way. He lived that way practically his whole life...and then came the Army. To be honest, the Army, even with its own set of rules and regulations, seemed easier to manage than the nuns he grew up with. But the ritual remained.
Next, his socks. Take one sock off, fold it in half, place it gently on the bed. Run your hands over your feet to take stray lint off. Put your foot down. Pick the other up. Take sock off, fold it in half...
The room was quiet. Face turned to look at Murdock, who had rolled over onto his stomach and sat watching Face take his socks off.
"Don't you think that maybe, just once, you shouldn't take your socks off like you're pickin' fleas off a dog?"
Face looked down at this feet. "Preposterous. There's nothing wrong with the way I take my socks off."
Murdock pried his tennis shoes off using his feet and they flew across the room. "Nothin' relaxing about it, either. You must feel free...let the spirit move you."
That's what I'm afraid of, Face thought.
He stared at his stocking feet. "What the hell," he murmured, and fell back onto the bed.
Murdock chuckled lightly. "Feel any better?"
"You will, buddy. You will."
They settled into a comfortable silence. Murdock eventually took his jacket and cap off, then leaned back onto his pillow and sighed. "I don't thank you enough, man, for the good stuff you do for me."
Face stared at the ceiling. "It's nothing, Murdock. That's my job."
"No, I don't think so. Your job is to help Hannibal and B.A. I'm just along for the ride. You don't need to help me at all. Yet you do. Why is that?"
I don't want to tell you. "I told you, Murdock. It's my job. Once a requisitions officer, always a requisitions officer."
A few moments went by. Face wondered if he should fill the silence with something. Finally, Murdock spoke.
"Keep telling yourself that, Lieutenant."
War is a refinery for the human soul. Either you are strengthened by the experience or you shatter under the heat and pressure. Murdock saw good guys buckle, and what seemed to be the worst come back unscathed. He didn't question it, he just lived it. That was the difference between him and many of the fellas, the fact that he just got through it day after day. No future, no past, just another minute to breathe. He was fine when he was in the air, when his life had a purpose, even if that purpose was to get boys safely to and from combat missions.
It was after he was sent home that things fell apart.
No family. No home. The few friends he did have were either buried in the lush jungle of a foreign country or still there, fighting an increasingly desperate war. And then there was Face.
Times like this, in the dead of night, Murdock's thoughts roamed toward Vietnam, back to the only place where the chaos of his mind was echoed by the outside world, and everything made sense. His mind wandered to unbearably hot days, humid and miserable nights. Cold bottles of soda pop, flavorless C-rations, half melted candy bars. Picking fights because there was nothing better to do.
The officer's club was, in all honesty, a glorified Quonset hut with an extra fan, a well-stocked bar and a jukebox that seemed to have the worst music in the world. He wasn't sure who picked the tunes, but they had truly awful taste. Not that his taste in music was any better, he thought. Sure, he liked the Doors as much as anyone, but sometimes a man just had to listen to something beautiful, or something fun. Something that made you forget that there was a war going on outside. That jukebox didn't have much of that, and he could listen to Jay and the Americans for only so long.
All he wanted was an icy grape Nehi. They had started carrying them in the bottles, and it was like a dream come true. He wasn't sure, but he thought that maybe Peck had something to do with it. Life at the camp had been better since he showed up, better rations, more socks, more luxuries like the grape soda. And he seemed to know what everyone liked.
The place was fairly deserted. Opie and a few other guys were playing cards in the back, and himself in the front. Murdock took a long swig out of the Nehi and walked over to the jukebox. He looked, half expecting to settle for Deep Purple or the Stones like he usually did. But D-17 caught his eye. What a surprise! He loved this song, ever since he heard it on Dawn Buster. He punched up the song, went back to the bar, nursed his grape soda.
The door opened and a couple of guys walked in. Murdock looked up, and groaned. One of the two was a big Polish tough guy from New Jersey with a last name that no one could pronounce. Most of the guys called him Trenton. For some reason, he hated Murdock with an intense, white-hot hate, and never missed an opportunity to be nasty to him.
"Who's playing goddammed pussy music in this club?" Trenton barked.
Murdock didn't say a word.
"You! Howler Monkey! Get your panties in a bunch? I said, 'Who's playing this shitty music'? Only goddamn fucking cocksuckers listen to this shit. It's gotta be you," the soldier sneered. "You're the only one of them I see in this place."
Murdock just stared at his bottle. Maybe it was foolhardy to not say anything, but he didn't feel like fighting.
"What, you don't like The Turtles?" Face walked out of the shadows into the front of the room. How long had he been there? "Tell me, Trenton. What do hard headed assholes listen to in New Jersey? I'll make sure we get it on the juke."
Trenton and his buddy turned to Lt. Peck. "Hey, man," Trenton said, "this ain't your fight."
Face had a smile on his face, one that didn't quite reach his eyes. "I don't think you're getting it. Obviously, the good captain here isn't the only one who likes this song."
The bartender perked up, looked toward the door. "Gentlemen, I suggest you either you make your purchase or get the fuck out. I don't want any fighting here today. At least right now."
Trenton looked at his friend, at Murdock, and finally at Lt. Peck. "C'mon. Let's get outta here. It's crawling with fucking pussies." He left.
Murdock eyed the soda warily; it seemed a little awkward that the kid was fighting his battles for him. But the song was nearly over, and his soda was only half finished. He wasn't going to waste it just because the camp bully had an itch for a fight.
Peck walked over to the juke, punched a few buttons, and then walked to the bar. He sat down next to Murdock. "Hey, Captain."
He smiled. "Nehi, huh?"
They sat in silence for a moment, and then the song that Peck had chosen began to play. Murdock was surprised. He was constantly humming this song in the shower...in his bunk...in the cockpit of his chopper, but he never thought anyone paid attention to what he hummed under his breath. At least not before Face came along.
I hear you singing in the wire...
Lt. Peck got up and started to walk away. Murdock looked up towards him with a small grin on his face. "How...?"
"You're welcome, Murdock." The kid flashed a smile his way, one that made Murdock glad he was sitting down, and left the room.
And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time.
Oh, brother, he hoped not. He wondered how much Trenton knew about him that he didn't know himself. Or, for that matter, how much Peck knew. Because Peck saw it all.
"C'mon, Murdock. This time, you have to go to the movie." Face had worked on the surprise for well over a month, and wasn't going to let Murdock's anti-social behavior ruin it for him.
"Man, it's always the same ol' stuff. Why you want me there so bad, anyway?"
Face rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet, his hands behind his back. He smiled. "Trust me, Murdock. It will be worth it."
Murdock looked over at him. "I'll do it just to get you off my back. I don't know what could be better than reading the new Spiderman comic I got, anyway."
The tent was full, as it normally was when a movie was being shown. Usually, it was news reels and a tossed off Hollywood after-ran. Murdock wasn't interested, but Face was insistent.
They closed the tent door, and the darkness enveloped the crowd. Face sat next to Murdock in the dark. Suddenly the loud, boisterous laugh of Woody Woodpecker rang out, and so did the catcalls of the soldiers in the crowd.
God damn, a fucking cartoon?
Where's the chicks?
Shit, we've been rooked, boys!
Queues of men left the tent, leaving Face and Murdock alone.
"Hey, Peck...you do this? For me?"
"Happy birthday, Murdock."
Murdock knew first hand not to get too close to anyone. He learned it twenty days into his first tour of duty. He had been green, a lieutenant surrounded by hardened men. His bunkmates were two fellows who had enlisted and come up the ranks together. Licht and Schon. Schon was a husky, dark haired farmer's boy from Nebraska. He wasn't particularly friendly, but enjoyed a good joke, and was a solid presence in camp. Licht, on the other hand, was as bright as his strawberry hair. He was from Georgia and had plans to become a minister. Licht had an awful sense of humor - he specialized in the worst puns imaginable - but was considered a friend to most of the platoon. Licht told Murdock on the first day he met him that it was his mission in life to make Schon smile, since no one else seemed willing or able to do it.
Every morning, the redhead would stand at the foot of the Nebraska farm boy's bed and call out, "Arise, Schon, for thy Licht is come!" The groans of the men in their bunks usually greeted him. Schon, for his part, took it in stride, with a grunt and a reluctant smile.
Schon and Licht were chosen for a recon mission. Murdock had already flown, waiting for the next scheduled pick-up, and was reading his latest Marvel comic when he heard Jonesy yelling for medics.
It was Schon, by himself, but not alone. He carried with him what looked like a leg. Murdock looked closer, and saw the bright, beet colored scalp of Licht. Schon had carried the only pieces of his friend that he could grab. No one could get him to speak. It took the Colonel commanding him to allow the medics to take Licht's head and leg from his hands. Then, the gruff man fell to his knees and sobbed.
That night, long after the majority of the men had gone to bed, they heard the shot. Schon's body, a single bullet to his head, lay outside of the infirmary where they had taken his friend's remains. They found a note next to him that read, "Arise, Schon, for thy Licht is gone. And the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee."
Some of the men said that it was natural that Schon would do it, since Licht had been his best friend since he had shipped out. But some of the men said that he had fallen in love with the boy who died. It was just a rumor; and to Murdock's point of view rumors ran as rampant as the insects that fed on the soldiers in the jungle. Regardless of whatever reason Schon took his own life, the fact remained that he probably would have been alive had Licht not been decapitated by a VC boobytrap. If that was love, Murdock thought, you could keep it.
These sorts of dangers were everywhere. Men relied on their buddies to get through the day-to-day, letters from home and pictures of sweethearts carried in chest pockets to ease the loneliness. Murdock had no one, and he wanted it that way. No one to get close to, no one to lose. All he had was his foot locker, his helicopter (which wasn't even his in the first place), and Vietnam. And the kid.
He relied on the Faceman's friendship too much. When he needed someone to talk to, even when he didn't do much of the talking, he was always there. A slap on the back, a cold beer after a mission, a kind smile or a dirty joke. The kid was there, exactly when he needed him. And wasn't that a wonder?
Murdock was careful not too give anything away, but he was afraid. His eyes always spoke volumes, and too often he found himself looking towards Face. That kind of behavior would get him in trouble. He was content with moments of camaraderie, stolen glances, and the knowledge that Face's friendship was the most important thing he would have ever earned. There wasn't a place in his foot locker for love.
There was something fragile deep within him. In the quiet, while the rest of the team slept, Face listened to Murdock breathe. Then he would realize that his breath mirrored the man who slept beside him. He knew, even without needing proof, that his heart beat in time with Murdock's. It was natural. Raw. Real.
He appreciated a good looking girl as much as the next man. The soft caress of a woman's curves, the smell of night-blooming jasmine on the air as she walked by, or the gentle lilt of a female voice. He could appreciate it, but never could he say that he desired it. Not the way he desired someone else.
He knew. Somehow he knew that there was something about Murdock that was as much a part of him as his own flesh. The yearning in his blood for him, the desperate hunger for his laughter, the slightest softness of his touch; all there, all part of him. In the infinite stillness of night, Face felt safe. No one could read his thoughts or see his eyes in the dark.
Murdock was his best friend. The best friend he ever had. Sometimes they talked about going to Hawaii again, like they did so long ago on leave. The last pure time that they had together before... well, before.
Even then, Face knew that his life was not his own, not anymore. What part didn't belong to the United States Army was no longer his to have. It belonged to Murdock.
All these years of waiting. The exquisite torture of having him close, yet so far away. Breathing in the smell of his soap (always Old Spice soap-on-a-rope), feeling the rise and fall of his chest when he finally did go to sleep. Then, in the waking hours, when his long, lean body stretched and his hand would brush against Face's chest.
Those moments of time when Murdock was abed, Face would see the toll this life took on his friend. His eyes were painted with the sickly yellowish-black of exhaustion, and even in his sleep he looked haunted. Face wondered if he could ever escape that pain, and see the man he knew so long ago in the jungles of Vietnam.
Trying to keep it hidden was killing him slowly. Sometimes, he was afraid that he would look too long, linger near him too closely, expose those secret longings that burned deep in his heart. Murdock. It had been Murdock, only him, since God knows when. It couldn't be anyone else.
Three days in-country R&R, hot Vung Tau nights, and a little extra MPC in his pocket. Murdock normally didn't like these little jaunts away from base camp. He felt uncomfortable in the cities, away from the relative comfort of familiar surroundings and people he could trust. Colonel Smith, for example, was like a dad to a lot of the guys, and Murdock felt at ease with him. He liked some of the other soldiers, too; that hot-headed B.A. Baracus and Ray Brenner. They were great, like brothers. Of course, Murdock wasn't exactly sure what it was like to have brothers, but he figured they fought bitterly yet stood up for one another. That's what it was like with B.A. and Ray. Good, good men, and he would do anything for them.
He hadn't seen Faceman in weeks. The lieutenant was on a mission, trying to secure some sort of supplies for the camp, and also do a little recon while he was out. Some of the other guys were with him; Private Bahr, PFC Mendenhall, that stupid prick Trenton. He told himself it would be okay, but this was Vietnam, and even the most routine missions usually fouled up somewhere down the line. Face wouldn't be safe until he was secure back at base...which he was scheduled to be around the time that Murdock was sweating it out in Vang Tau.
He was with Opie and a few other guys that he didn't quite know. They looked familiar, but he wouldn't know their names, and barely knew their faces. There wasn't a pinball machine to be found in that godforsaken place. There was one seedy bar, and it was crawling with sweet cream ladies. Murdock was far from interested, but seemed to be a magnet for those lost souls. One of the guys - short, wiry little fellow, hair the color of coal - peeled off a stack of currency and shoved them into a girl's face.
"Take care of 'em!" he shouted, then hooted and ran off.
She looked up at Murdock. "We go?"
"Sure, dollface. We go," he said, feeling extremely uneasy. He wasn't supposed to be away from the group, as this sort of thing was frowned upon during in-country.
They walked to a little place down the road, up a flight of rickety stairs into a room poorly decorated with thin, cheap wallpaper and watercolor birds. Gossamer red curtains swayed in the tiny, sad window.
"You go?" The girl's wide eyes looked him up and down. She seemed like a crude doll, and Murdock felt dirty. But she was paid for, and he might as well do something.
He slid his pants down. She had already laid on the awful bed, waiting for him to approach her. He walked over to her, nervous as a virgin. It had been a long time since he had done this, and never really enjoyed it, but it was true - he did need some sort of release. He couldn't bear to look at her, so he gently turned her over on her stomach and entered from behind.
He closed his eyes, and just focused on the sensations. Somewhere along the way, his mind wandered towards Face. How was he doing? Was he okay? Would he make it back to camp? Before he realized it, he was moving faster, his breathing became shallow. Murdock opened his eyes, and in the haze of the room imagined that beneath him was a lithe, blond man with muscular shoulders and golden skin.
He cried out, gripping the hips tighter. Lust overwhelmed him. He called out again. Temp...
Murdock collapsed on the bed, panting. He lay there for a few moments, then felt the cool hand of the girl on his chest, looked up. God, he felt guilty, and strangely lightheaded.
He swallowed, ran over to his pants and put them on quickly. He took his wallet out, gave her a few extra dollars. Every other word out of his mouth was, "Xin loi." I'm sorry...
Murdock ran out the door, down the alleyway to the bar where the guys were spending most of the evening. When he entered the room, the kid with coal black hair smiled at him and raised his bottle of beer.
Murdock felt like he was going to vomit. It was too late now; the damage had been done. He had denied the truth for too long, and now it had washed over him in waves. He had to be going crazy. You didn't fall in love with your comrades-in-arms, it was forbidden. You especially didn't fall in love with your best friend. He couldn't help but think about Schon that poor miserable bastard who killed himself outside of the infirmary during Murdock's first tour of duty. History seemed doomed to repeat itself.
This war had already scared him enough; now he was terrified of every last thing he said. If word trickled down to brass...well...his ass would be out of there so fast, it would leave his head spinning.
This leave couldn't come soon enough. He didn't want time to think, time alone. He needed to fly, baby, and fast. Fly far away from the demons that were chasing him down. Fly high and free, and Faceman didn't have wings although he was surely an angel. But he was always there, even in the chopper. Even in the middle of a firefight that could beat the devil.
No sir, this leave, and this war, could not end soon enough for Murdock.
Those who said that all is fair in love and war had obviously never been in love, never been to war, and most of all, never been in love during a war. If they had ever been in love or in war, they would know that there wasn't anything fair about it. Face knew that life was a never ending struggle between what the world dished out and what a man could take. He could take more than the average man, that much was certain. However, he knew that he couldn't do it alone. It was fortunate that he had the rest of the team to help ease the burden. There was an old song that Murdock frequently sang when he didn't think anyone was listening. "He ain't heavy, he's my brother" - and it was true. B.A. and Hannibal were his brothers. They had each other to lean on when times got rough. For the last ten years, they were basically all they had in this world. That, and the times when they had a job and would break Murdock out. Or should he say, he would break Murdock out.
It didn't seem right - fair, for lack of a better term - that the best man he ever knew, the most gentle, the most caring, and probably one of the smartest guys he had ever met was languishing in a hospital room overcome with the hidden wounds of war. A lot of guys that Face knew came home in a body bag. But Murdock, while still technically alive, had died a little inside, and the part of him that Face fell in love with was buried underneath the mud and blood of their dead comrades in Vietnam.
Sometimes he barely knew the man who sat beside him in the van. The wild eyes, the manic behavior, the restless jittery legs and hands. It was as if someone had stuck a key in Murdock's back and wound him up tighter and tighter until the spring would almost snap. However, as time went on, Face could see the old Murdock, the guy with the bad jokes and quick wit, the one who loved to learn about anything and everything, the one who would do anything to make him happy. He missed that Murdock. He would do anything to get that Murdock back. Even if it meant taking him back to the V.A. hospital when they were done with a job.
He knew one day, if things could settle down, he would break Murdock out of that room once and for all, and they would go back to Hawaii and find themselves again. Face knew that his love wouldn't be enough to make Murdock whole, and that he might not even be the man he was before, but he'd try. He'd never stop trying.
It was only fair, after all.
The guys had been on the run for over fourteen years now, and still the Army pursued them. They had no idea that Murdock was with them, and that gave them a bit of an edge. Murdock could sneak away and do the behind the scenes things that B.A., Face and Hannibal just couldn't do. It always seemed to help in the nick of time, too. Lynch and Decker had almost caught up to them. In fact they had been captured by Decker once, but Murdock had fought the fear of losing them again, rose to the challenge, and along with Amy rescued them from certain disaster. He was part of the team, although people never knew it. It chafed a little, sure; he was a bit of an invisible man, but it didn't matter in the scheme of things. What mattered was that, to Face, B.A. and Hannibal, he was just as important a member of the A-Team as anyone else.
Every time that Faceman would come and break him out of the hospital, everything went back to normal in Murdock's life. Together again, helping folks who needed them the most. Being with B.A., the closest thing he had to a brother. The Colonel, better than a father because he actually cared. And Face. Amazing, divine, wonderful Templeton Peck.
He'd never say a word. Who wants to be saddled with a crazy loon like him, when the Faceman had his choice of the loveliest of ladies? Who'd choose to be with a gawky, sloppy looking guy like him anyway? He would only embarrass Face. His t-shirts and Chuck Taylors and ball cap wouldn't do when compared to amazing suits and loafers and perfectly combed hair. Or high heels. Or breasts. Murdock didn't have any of those things. All he had to give was his undying love, and continued friendship.
What did it say about him that he hoped that the Army wouldn't ever catch them, so that they would always be on the run and never be pardoned? It made him feel terrible, that his selfish need to be with these men - the only family he had left - caused him to want this. He knew that if they were ever captured, there were only two options: the truth would be revealed and they would be pardoned (and they would go their separate ways, no reason for the A-Team any more), or they would be found guilty and either be imprisoned for life, or be executed for their supposed crimes.
Either way, they wouldn't need ol' Murdock any longer, and he would lose the only thing that kept him sane.
Murdock could barely sleep at night, thinking of MPs chasing them down, grabbing B.A. and throwing him into a plane while his friend screamed for help...Hannibal, helpless to stop these men from abusing his boys...and in the dark of night, Murdock would dream that they attacked Faceman. Punching him in the jaw, beating him to a pulp, while Murdock watched in agony.
He didn't want to think about it. Those precious few coping skills he learned in 'Nam came in handy now. All he wanted to think of was today. Time was never a given, and each moment could be the last. No one knew that better than Murdock. Besides, dreams never came true. If they did, things would be a lot different. Better to think about what he could do and not what could never be done.
Duplicity. Face was familiar with the term; it was a fancy way of saying liar. He wondered what Father Magill would say, what the sisters would punish him with if they knew all of his secrets. For his secrets were vast, and shameful, and he barely knew himself anymore. What was a lie and what was the truth? Face hardly knew any longer. His life, his very existence, was built upon lie after lie, and the lives of him and the rest of the team depended on those lies.
He wondered how a nice boy like him got into a mess like this in the first place.
It was easy to blame Leslie. In 1870, a brokenhearted young man with a sense of derring-do and nothing to lose would join the French Legion. In 1970, he joined the United States Army. Face thought that he had to find a woman to settle down with, possibly have children, get a respectable job, all of those things. Deep inside, he didn't want it - with Leslie. He wanted adventure, he craved the thrill of living on the edge of life. And as much as he loved Leslie...he didn't love Leslie. She was the only girl he ever thought about settling down with, but he knew it wouldn't have worked. Apparently, Leslie knew as well, which is why she left.
Who knew that once he slipped those fatigues on, he would bloom like a hothouse flower? His talents were useful in securing the little things for his men. The strangest thing, however, was that even in the middle of that hell they called Vietnam, he felt at home. It was like being back at the orphanage. Sure, there wasn't a bunch of sisters in habits walking around, or the quiet beauty of vespers - there was a lot of loud rock music and unceasing rain, and a lot of men in various stages of undress or sunburn. But it still felt like home.
There was a guy he met in basic who thought of himself as a philosopher - he talked a lot about love and life and things of that nature. Face barely listened to him, but there was one thing he said that struck a chord in him. Love is the thing that gently taps you on the shoulder, then when you turn to acknowledge it, it sucker punches you right in the face. What he had with Leslie never felt like a punch, or even a gentle tap. He'd never been tapped or punched; he had, however, felt the unmistakable spark of electricity, and a warm, enveloping embrace. Yes, that was what love felt like to him.
He wanted a family because he never had one. He wanted someone to share life with, share love with. The women he dated were cheap substitutes for the one that he wanted, although he knew it was wrong. At least he had been told it was wrong. Could it be wrong when everything inside of him told him that there was no other way?
It wouldn't work, anyway. Murdock was too damaged psychologically to be in a relationship with anyone. Face wasn't even sure if Murdock was that way, anyway. Whatever way that was. Face wasn't sure himself. Murdock never seemed interested in anyone, man or woman. It was difficult to read him, and Face prided himself on being able to read anyone. He could never read Murdock, from the moment he first saw him, to the day he broke him out of the psych ward for the first time, to the day before last. Maybe it was because Murdock had so many problems. Maybe, just maybe, it was because Face was afraid of what he'd see.
He still thought of Leslie, sometimes. He wondered how she fared in the convent. He sometimes thought of Rina, the fashion model who looked uncannily like Leslie. He wondered if she was safe, and how her son was. He sometimes, fondly, thought of the various women he had charmed over the years. He wasn't completely heartless; there were parts of the those women that he enjoyed, and he liked spending time with them. However, they weren't the things he wanted in his life - but he had been told his entire life that if he wanted love, and a family, those were the rules.
But rules were made to be broken, weren't they?
Murdock had a girl, once. She really wasn't his girl; not in the sense that Leslie had been Face's girl. She was lovely, though, and he liked her an awful lot. She was nice to talk to, and she smelled good, and she had a pretty face, but she didn't drive him to distraction as certain other people did. Well, one other person, really.
Her name was Kelly, and she had visited him at the hospital a few times over the years, and they sometimes wrote to each other. Murdock felt protective of her. The way a mama bird felt protective of a fledgling, only he had made the mistake of kissing her a few times. Face did it all the time, so he thought, perhaps, he'd give it a try.
In the end, though, there were too many things that they didn't have in common. She wasn't into the same kind of music that he was, was a little too preoccupied with dogs and cats, and seemed mortally wounded when he didn't call her to talk. But the sticking point, at least to Murdock, was that Kelly was a sweet girl. And because she was a sweet girl, it wasn't right that he wasn't in love with her the way she needed to be loved.
One evening, she had come to visit him, not long after he had been released for good from the hospital. They met in a park. She brought a pizza - as she usually did - and they sat on a picnic table near a few trees that Murdock liked so well. She asked him why he never called, why he never returned her letters.
"Kelly, I haven't been completely honest with you. I think I've done more harm than good."
"I don't think it matters," she said.
"I've made a mistake. A really, really big mistake."
She put her hand on his. "What kind of mistake?"
He jerked his hand away. "This kind."
They sat in silence for a moment, then she put her hand on his again. "It's him, isn't it?" Murdock looked up, surprised. She continued, "It's that guy on the team. I mean, I know you like me...but it's not enough, is it?"
Murdock knew that he was blushing. He smiled a little. "I told you I was crazy when we first met, Kelly. And you are a pretty girl."
She chuckled, rose to her feet. "Murdock, it doesn't matter. The heart wants what it wants, right? And I know you want him. So...once more, for old times' sake?"
He stood up and hugged her, kissed her cheek softly. "Kelly..."
"You have to say something to him. Don't be afraid. You deserve it."
She began to walk away, then turned around. "Don't be afraid!" she yelled, then left the yard.
Murdock knew he would never see her again, and although it made him sad for the loss of a friend, he knew that in time the hurt would heal. He wondered how long she had known that he would never return her feelings the way she wanted him to. And he wondered how long she had known that his heart belonged to Face.
The truth was that the team was going to be pardoned, and Murdock wasn't sure if they would continue being soldiers of fortune. He was scared, but the fear of not knowing what the future held for him was nothing compared to knowing that Face had decided that he needed to find a wife. God, every moment was a drawn out, painful, torturous death. He had been injured twice in the course of his military service, but nothing hurt worse than the broken heart he had at this very moment. He tried to cherish every smile, every pat on the back, every night they had to share a room and he could hear him breathe. Murdock hadn't felt this way since his time in 'Nam... tomorrow wasn't promised to him.
It was too late. He had waited too long, and he would lose him before he had a chance to actually have him. Words. They were only fucking words, and what did that mean in the scheme of things? Murdock didn't know how much longer he could hide what he felt. If Kelly could see the truth, maybe the Colonel and B.A. and Face could see it, too, and that was a thought too horrible to even think about.
He sat on the picnic table, throwing pizza crust to the birds. Don't be afraid, she said. Easy for her to say...she was leaving. Maybe one day, he would say the words that he had always wanted to say. But not today.
Face had said his goodbyes to Hannibal and B.A. the day before. He waited as long as he could to do the same to Murdock. He dreaded saying goodbye, mostly because he didn't want to. The surprise was that Murdock was taking the news so poorly. To Face, it seemed as if he had just announced his plan to murder a house full of puppies.
"What is your problem, Murdock?"
"I can't stand around here and watch you throw your life away, Faceman. What you're doing is wrong." Murdock paced around the room, his hat in his hands.
"I'm not throwing my life away. I'm trying to find my life," Face said angrily.
Murdock continued to pace, becoming more and more agitated. "Your life is here. It's here, man. It's in front of your face. Can't you see it?"
Face looked at his friend. There was a wildness in his gaze that he had never seen before. "See what?"
Murdock frowned, shook his head.
"See what, Murdock? The only thing I see right now is you."
The silence was deafening. Face could only hear Murdock's breathing and the sound of his own heart pounding in his ears. So quiet that he could hardly hear him, Murdock replied, "Yeah. I know."
Face put a hand on Murdock's shoulder. "How am I going to find the one for me if I don't look for them?" He wondered how his tongue did not catch on fire after that lie. As if he didn't know the one for him was standing right there in the room.
"You don't have to look."
Face's breath caught in his chest. At that moment, he didn't feel much like an accomplished con artist. Still, he had to stand there and lie to his best friend's face. "I do. My happiness won't just fall out of the sky and hit me on the head. I have to take it by the horns. I have to grab it, shake it loose. And I don't want to be alone."
Again, Murdock was silent as a stone. He looked at him, emotions raw in his face. "You don't have to be alone."
"That's why I have to do this, Murdock." He turned around to walk toward the door.
"Why are you doing this to me?"
Face stopped mid-stride. The agony in his friend's voice killed him. "To you? What the hell?" He spun around. "This has nothing to do with you."
Murdock rose to his full height, looked Face in the eye. "This has everything to do with me! Everything! I am not one of your floozies that you can just...just...throw away when you're done!"
"These women are not 'floozies', Murdock. They are perfectly nice. They just aren't right for me. I don't want to lead them on..."
Murdock raised his voice. "Then why?"
"Because I'm tired of being alone. I'm tired of going to bed alone and waking up with the sheets cold. I need someone that I can be myself with. Face and Templeton, Murdock, and I don't have that. I want someone who is going to love me for me!"
Murdock threw his hat on the ground. "I love you for you!"
The room was quiet. Face's eyes met Murdock's for a moment, then his friend turned around suddenly. Face walked over to him, turned him back around. "Murdock. Murdock... I know you love me. I know B.A. loves me, in his own way, and Hannibal..."
"No. Lieutenant. Templeton. Face. I love you."
Face's memories reeled, remembering all the times that he and Murdock had shared together. The times he had heard him cry in the night, eavesdropping on his dreams. He thought that perhaps he was dreaming, and took a step closer. For once in his life, he was almost speechless. "You? I mean...me?"
Murdock's dark eyes welled with tears. Silently, he shook his head.
Face felt as though he had been hit by a train. Everything made sense, yet it changed everything he knew. But he was tired of running, and it was finally time to let it go. It was time to be loved. He walked to Murdock and did something he had wanted to do since 1970.
He wiped Murdock's tears away.