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Fool Me Once

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"I'm nervous. Does it show that I'm nervous?" Murdock asked.

He did, in fact, look nervous, but Face figured telling him so wasn't going to help, so instead he said, "Relax. You're doing great," which might not be true, strictly speaking, but which might, hopefully, make Murdock feel more at ease, and thus less nervous-looking and therefore true in hindsight.

Murdock fretted. "It's just, I've never been someone's fake boyfriend before. Or real boyfriend."

Well. That didn't sound good. "You got a girlfriend, though, right? Same thing, just different gender."

"Not. As such. See? Should've gotten someone else," Murdock said.

Face remembered Hannibal's expression during the briefing. That slight, sneaky smile that said, 'I'm onto you, kid,' and you know what, he hadn't minded. Hannibal could be onto him any time, any place. Face was fine with it.

He'd figured that all right, fake-dating Murdock instead of real-dating Murdock was going to suck, but it'd be something, wouldn't it? Think of it as a test drive, he'd told himself. No stress, no pressure, and if you blow it, the only thing you messed up's going to be the mission.

No biggie.

"Come on," Face said, smiling at some nice-looking young lady across the room. "Never? Anyone?"

"Yeah, well, I don't know if you've noticed this, but I'm a bit - " Murdock twirled his finger at the side of his head " - cuckoo. Loco. Chicks don't exactly dig that. And truth be told, I don't exactly dig chicks either, so you see, best for everyone, really."

Face counted about two dozen thugs, most of them looking bored. No immediate sign of their target, which meant he and Murdock should probably go and find themselves a nice quiet corner where they could watch and wait without being too conspicuous about it.

"Nothing wrong with a bit of loco, my friend," Face said, and Murdock grinned at him, looking all happy and relieved and Face wanted to kiss him right then and there, except that they were on a mission.

Also, undercover as a couple, so on second thought, maybe he should've gone for it, but by then, Murdock'd already maneuvered them to a small table in the corner. Face told himself it was for the best: no point in making Murdock even more nervous by pushing things probably better left unpushed.

They sat down, Face ordered them some drinks, and then they sat there for a while in what Face told himself wasn't an awkward silence: it was a perfectly comfortable, companionable silence, right until the moment Murdock said, "So you've had boyfriends, right?"

"Never a fake one until now," Face said, trying to make it a joke. It was a joke, more or less, or at least pretty funny. He supposed it shouldn't have surprised him that Hannibal'd caught on before Murdock himself, and of course, it was good to know Hannibal approved, more or less, assuming you interpreted 'getting assigned to fake-date the guy you want to real-date' as 'approving'.

Murdock started fretting again. Face wondered why he hadn't suggested they practice aforehand. It could've been a casual, easy thing: invite Murdock for drinks at the local bar or something, see how it worked out.

"Hey," he said. "Relax, all right?"

"Easier said than done." Murdock sighed. "Bet you Bosco's happy though. No planes this mission, eh?"

Face chuckled. "Bet you're right about that."

"It's the one thing I'm great at, you know. Not this - " Murdock made a gesture encompassing the room. "Blending in and stuff. I can't talk nice and smooth the way you can, Face. I'm just the guy brilliant at flying anything that can fly, and that's pretty much it."

If I'm so smooth, how come I'm only fake-dating you? Face thought. He knew why: Sosa hadn't been wrong about that. As long as things were fun, things were easy.

When things got serious, things also got harder. More complicated. Not so easy.

"You're not doing so bad," Face said.

Murdock looked unconvinced, so Face ordered them another couple of beers. Getting drunk sounded like a really bad idea (Hannibal would not approve) but a little bit of a buzz wouldn't be so bad.

"Think we should make out for a bit?" Murdock asked, by way of proving Face wrong.

Or possibly right. It wasn't as if Face had any strenuous objection to making out with Murdock, after all: rather the opposite. He said, "Um," mostly because he couldn't decide between 'yes, please, let's do that right now, great idea' and 'look, I like you a lot, but in view of everything, I'd rather save the making out for when we're not surrounded by bad guys'.

"You know, to sell the dating part. I mean, right now, figure we just look like two guys having a drink," Murdock said. "And 'two guys having a drink', well, that wasn't the plan, was it? Gotta stick to the plan."

"Right," Face said. "The plan."

'Problem, kid?' Hannibal had asked, looking inscrutable, and Face had wanted to ask, 'why are you doing this to me when you know how I feel about Murdock?' but that would have been a stupid thing to ask: he knew why, and he was even sort of happy about it, and maybe Hannibal was right: maybe this was just the thing to help him take that last step, to get serious.

And so he'd shrugged and told Hannibal, 'No, no problem,' telling himself that it was true, that what he was seeing on Hannibal's face wasn't sympathy.

That Hannibal's hand on his shoulder, squeezing as Hannibal said, 'It'll all work out, Face, I promise,' meant nothing at all, because Face had everything under control.

"Face? Everything all right there?" Murdock asked, sounding worried.

Face forced himself to smile, which was silly. He was on a date, and the guy he had serious feelings for had just suggested they make out. He should be on cloud number nine right now.

"Sorry, you lost me there for a minute," Face said. "You uh sure? We can hold hands or something." The thought made him - all right, this was getting ridiculous. He was a grown man, a soldier. The idea of holding hands with another human being should not make him any kind of nervous.

Murdock grimaced. "We could also braid each other's hair. Well, maybe not yours, it's kind of short and everything, but c'mon Face. I'm not saying let's have sex, just ... a little something, yeah?"

"Hey, you want to fake having sex, I'm game," Face said, before he could really think about it. Then he did and - okay, that would definitely draw a lot of attention. "Uh. Maybe if the others need a distraction or something."

Murdock clicked his tongue. "Smart. See, that's what I like about you, Face." Murdock rapped his knuckles on his forehead. "You can think. You're a thinker."

Face almost said, 'Everyone can think,' but instead he heard himself say, "What else do you like about me?". He blamed that third beer and the memory of Hannibal, for having made this stupid perfect plan.

"Whoa." Murdock grimaced and sipped his beer. "That's getting a bit personal, isn't it? Though I guess it is the sort of thing people tell each other on dates, yeah? So all right, I'll play."

Face took a healthy swallow of his own bottle. "Hit me. I can take it."

"Looks," Murdock said promptly. "Me, now I'm not bad, if I do say so myself, but you, you're a handsome devil and no doubt about it."

"Thank you." Face decided this wasn't so bad. "And right back at you. I'd say 'not bad' is definitely an understatement."

Murdock grinned at him, and Face realized that this had not, in fact, been a good idea. Because Murdock - Murdock was just fake-dating Face. To Murdock, this was all a lie. Anything he said, anything he looked: all part of the act. "Brains - well, already mentioned that. Smart is sexy."

"Having seen you fix a chopper with a rubber band and some paperclips, I agree," Face said.

"Also duct tape," Murdock said. "Most important thing. You can fix anything with duct tape."

Not anything, Face thought. "Right. I forgot the duct tape."

"Never leave home without it," Murdock said. "And, look, I really do think we should make out for a bit. All this talking - I'm not good at that part."

"Thought you said you'd never gone on a date before," Face said. He wondered how long they'd been here by now - long enough for B.A. to get in position, surely? Long enough for Hannibal to be giving them the signal any moment now.

"I lied," Murdock said. "I mean, it sounded romantic, right? And, I mean, is it really a date when it ends with them trying to kill you? Though that one time, I guess it was my own fault. Not the others, though."

"I'm fascinated and too horrified to ask for details at the same time," Face said. "Please tell me you're joking."

Murdock shrugged. "Little bit. You were starting to look awfully serious again there for a moment, Face. Kinda gloomy. Not really a 'look at me, I'm dating Murdock' sort of face, if you know what I mean."

"I'm not," Face said. "We're faking it, remember? For the mission?"

"Right," Murdock said. "Right. I forgot. So I guess all that stuff you said, about how you thought I was smart and sexy and how you considered me wildly attractive - "

Face swallowed. Moment of truth - if he wanted it to be. He could imagine himself laughing it off, agreeing that yeah, he'd only been pretending. He was good at pretending, in part because there was always a little bit of truth to any role he played.

He said, "Meant every word, actually," waiting for the signal, for Hannibal to give them the go-ahead that meant they weren't going to talk about this until way later, and maybe not even then, which would suit Face fine, to be honest, because now that he'd laid it all out, he was pretty sure Murdock simply didn't feel the same, would never feel the same; he'd been an idiot for thinking he could make this work, and Hannibal had probably known it, and wanted to make it easy on him, giving him this chance to figure it out without making a total idiot of himself - except that Face had even screwed up that part.

God, I'm stupid.

The expression on Murdock's face was hard to read, but then he glanced at his phone and said, "Oh, good, Bosco's got the thingamabob. Guess that's mission number I-lost-count all nice and done."

Face said, "What?" because he'd been there when they discussed the plan and - and it hadn't involved him and Murdock sitting in a bar twiddling their thumbs while pretending to date.

Unless it had.

Murdock grinned at him, and oh yeah.

"You bastard," Face said. "This was a set-up, wasn't it? All of this - none of it was real."

"Well, it's a real bar," Murdock said. "Real beer. Real live music. Realness all around."

"Real fake date?" Face asked. He was going to kill Hannibal (well, threaten to - or, well, think about threatening to).

Murdock looked cagey. "Was that what it felt like to you? Felt kind of real to me. 'course, I'm crazy, so what do I know about stuff like that, eh?"

"You told me you were nervous," Face said. He was still trying to wrap his mind around the sheer audacity of it, of Murdock coming to Hannibal, or Hannibal coming to Murdock - 'gotta give poor old Face a hand, what do you think?'.

Murdock shrugged. "Dates can be scary. First date with someone you really like - plenty to be nervous about right there, isn't it? Even for someone who's sane."

Face considered a number of responses, but in the end, he decided to focus on what was important. Everything else, including what he was going to say to Hannibal, could wait.

"So about this plan to maybe make out a little."