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"I picked him up!" Face yelled at Hannibal's back. "I don't want him in my Vette! What if he woofs out on me again… I'll get hair on my seat, drool on my…." Seeing that his effort had no effect, Face threw up his hands in despair and leaned wearily on his Vette. He loved Murdock. He did love him more than anything else in the world, but there were days when he was tired of his partner's crazy games. And today was one of those days. He didn't mind real dogs, although he was more of a cat person because cats were independent, unlike dogs, and he could appreciate that. But seeing his lover run around with his tongue hanging down to his chin, barking at strangers passing by and drooling on any part of Face's body that came near Murdock was too much for a distinguished con man.

"Oh, don't be absurd. You're talking to me as if I was a dog," Murdock spoke, slightly offended.

Face looked up at him. Should he apologize? Should he just… Murdock's bark cut off his thought. No, he wouldn't apologize. "Get in, Murdock," he said shortly, settling himself in the driver's seat.

Murdock jumped into the passenger seat without opening the door, his dusty sneakers leaving unsightly smudges on the red leather.

That was enough.

"Murdock!" Face shouted at the pilot, grabbing the rolled-up morning newspaper lying between the seats, and hitting Murdock's shoulder with it.

"Facey?" Two big, chocolate puppy eyes stared at him in surprise.

"What the hell did I tell you about jumping on the seat? Sit down and don't move. If you want to play a game, then try to pretend you're not here at all."

Murdock lowered his eyes, visibly hurt. Face just nodded contentedly and started the engine.

They drove in silence for several minutes, Face occasionally glancing at Murdock, not believing that his crazy lover had really obeyed him.

The pilot had his head turned away from Face the whole time and seemed to be watching the scenery passing by them. For the first time in a couple of days, he didn't drool and bark when he saw another dog.

'Another dog?' Face laughed inwardly. 'Perhaps I'm really beginning to think of him as a dog, for God's sake.'

"Face?"

An uncertain voice broke the silence, forcing the con man to grit his teeth in anticipation of some more of  Murdock's antics.

"Hmm?"

"Face, I don't wanna go back to the VA today. Could you take me there tomorrow afternoon? Or after this weekend, maybe?"

"Why?"

"Cuz… there's a group therapy tomorrow morning and I don't wanna go there."

"Uh-huh. But isn't that a part of your treatment? Maybe you should go, Murdock."

"I'll go, but when Dr. Richter comes back. He's on vacation and I don't wanna go there if someone else leads it, ya know?"

"I see. And where do you plan to stay in the meantime?" Face didn't really need to ask. He knew very well where Murdock would stay for the next few days. But heck, why shouldn't he get something out of it?

"Well, I thought I would… I might… I could stay with you… maybe? In your beach house?" Those big puppy eyes were staring at him again, pleading.

"Hmm…" Face pretended to think about it, then nodded hesitantly. "All right. But you gotta promise me something, buddy. You're gonna quit that dog business, okay? No barking, drooling, chewing on my jacket and all that other stuff. One single bark and you are heading straight to the VA, you get it?"

"But Face-"

"You get it?"

"Yeah, I do. But Face-"

"Great. I'm glad you took my point." Face raised an eyebrow in a silent challenge, but Murdock nodded humbly. Face smiled with satisfaction. It could be a nice weekend after all.

***

Face could feel the body beside him move. He didn't need to open his eyes to know that his lover had pulled away from him so he could stretch. He heard a soft moan and then the mattress creaked softly as the pilot climbed out of bed.

Murdock always got up early. Maybe he was just trained from the hospital life, but Face could bet and not lose that the pilot was a pure natural morning bird. It could be really annoying if Murdock demanded the same thing from him. Fortunately, Murdock never wanted that. On the contrary, he used the spare time to prepare a breakfast that even the inhabitants of the royal palace could envy, and there was never a threat of a bathroom quarrel. By the time Face was ready to get up, Murdock had long been showered and shaved.

So Face snuggled deeper into the duvet, knowing he could sleep for another hour or two, and before Murdock closed the bedroom door behind him, Face was dead to the world again.

But not for long.

Long, talented fingers were creeping around his neck. Face would be immediately on the alert if his nostrils weren't stroked by the delicate sweet scent of Murdock's shampoo. It smelled like fruit bubble gum and Face didn't understand for a long time why the pilot wanted to wash his hair with a children's shampoo. But when he saw the plastic bottle shaped like Snoopy dog, he understood. Personally, he found it a little creepy that Snoopy's head could be unscrewed and a pink fragrant liquid flowed from the poor dog's body, but if it made Murdock happy and caused the pilot to wash his hair regularly with adorable enthusiasm, Face kept his mouth shut.

The fingers kept sliding over his neck, drawing Face increasingly into the real world. Yet he tried to keep his eyes closed. There was no light behind the closed lids. It still had to be night.

"Murdock," he muttered sleepily. "It's too early for this. Leave me alone and come back when the sun is in the sky."

"No, muchacho. It's just the right time."

"Right time for what?"

"Time to take you for a walk."

"What?" Face's eyes finally opened. At that moment, a sharp click reached his ears. 'What the hell was that?'

Murdock's fingers disappeared, but the feeling of something surrounding his neck remained. Before he could bring his hand up and examine the unsolicited accessory around his neck, he felt a gentle pull. "Murdock! What is it?" he demanded an answer, dragging himself up to sit.

"I told you it was time to take you for a walk. You must feel the need to use the bathroom after that long night, Tempy. Come on, boy. Heel!"

The pull intensified. Face even felt a jerk.

"Murdock!"

"No! Don't bark at me, Temp! Come! The backyard is waiting." Murdock jerked the leash and Face's hands shot to his own neck.

"Murdock, take it off me! Now!"

"No way, my boy. Now, come!"

Murdock pulled on the leash again, this time really hard, forcing the other man to slip out of bed.

"Murdock!" Face cried out, his hands yanking furiously at the collar fastened around his neck. 'Dammit! I can't take it off!'

Face didn't know if it was a special collar or something Murdock had made himself, but the fastening was secured with a small lock. Unable to resist the hauling on neck, Face stumbled behind Murdock to the patio door.

"Oh, what a wonderful morning! Come on, use your bathroom, Temp," Murdock said cheerfully as he dragged Face through the door to the backyard. Face hissed. The tiles were cold and he was barefoot. He got goosebumps from the chill morning air.

'Jesus Christ, I'm completely naked! Murdock must have gone really crazy!' "Murdock!" He shouted again. "Let me go! This is no fun!"

"No, it's not," Murdock agreed seriously, taking a step toward Face. Even in the dark, his eyes shone. "And it wasn't even fun yesterday when you talked to me like I was a dog. You hit me with a rolled-up newspaper. It hurt, ya know? Emotionally."

"But you acted like a dog!"

"And what? You know who I am, don't ya?"

"But that doesn't mean I'm gonna enjoy every crazy performance of yours. You drooled on my jacket!"

"That's because I love you."

"You licked my face! In public!"

"That's because I love you."

"You jumped on me like I was some stray bitch."

"That's because I love you."

"And you bit me!"

"Well, that was an accident. But just because I love you."

Face, unable to come up with another argument, panted angrily.

Those puppy eyes were watching him, serious and uncompromising, but filled with pure love. Face shifted his weight, suddenly uncertain.

Murdock stepped a little closer, reached out and stroked Face's cheek. "I'm not a dog, Facey. But sometimes I need to be someone else. It's hard to only be by myself all that long time, locked in a room, far away from you. I need some fun. I need to be someone else; someone who has a happier life. Until I have one myself. Please, don't hurt me for that."

Face swallowed, all anger suddenly gone. "You know I didn't mean that, don't you?"

"I do. But I want you to know what it's like to be a dog. Depend on your human. And dance to his tune. I gotta do that in the VA, behave the way they want me to behave to get some treat and keep the roof above my head. I need to be free when I'm out. Although it can mean I'm acting crazy and you're ashamed of me."

"I'm not ashamed of you, Murdock."

"You are. I know you are. But… I'll try to be a good boy, okay? Just for you." Murdock fished a little key out of his pants pocket and unlocked the collar. He took it off Face's neck gently and, to Face's surprise, put it around his own neck. The lock clicked, a sharp sound muffled by the cries of waking seagulls that time. Murdock handed the key together with the leash to Face. "Just for you, baby. Because I belong to you. And now you can do anything you want with your little pet..."

"Murdock…" Face's voice failed. He was clutching the leash, drowning in those chocolate eyes that looked at him devotedly. He leaned toward Murdock.

"You may be crazy," he whispered, "but I will always love you." And then he closed the gap between them, pressing his lips to Murdock's mouth.

When they finally broke the kiss, both gasping for air, Face tugged gently on the leash, smiling.

"Now be a good boy and come to bed with me. Maybe I have something you can play with, hmm?" He turned and disappeared inside the bedroom. Murdock followed him obediently.

 

The End