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Discomfort Zone

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“Aw, come on, Hannibal, you can’t be serious. Again? This is the second weekend in a row.” Face was incredulous and in full whining mode. “Look, I’ll do anything you want on Monday, but I can’t cancel again…”

Hannibal smiled indulgently at his exasperated lieutenant and dropped an arm around his shoulders in a familiar placatory gesture. “It’s only a couple of days, Face. You’ll be back before you know it…” he began. His eyes narrowed as Face stiffened and shook him off.

“No, Hannibal. I just can’t, not again. I won’t. It’s unreasonable and…”

Hannibal drew himself up to his full height, banished indulgence and summoned up Commanding Officer mode. “Listen, Face, I’m very sorry that your position on this team is interfering with your social life. But this is not up for discussion. You’re part of this team and I need that Intel. You’re going to get it for me, even if you have to break a date. You’re going, and you’re going now – and that is an order, Lieutenant.”

The look in Face’s eyes, now blued steel, was so full of venom that Hannibal took an involuntary step back. “Fine, Colonel,” Face spat bitterly. “Okay if I make a phone call? To explain.”

Hannibal gestured at the phone. Face turned his back, picked up the phone and dialled. Knowing that he’d won this round, Hannibal lit a cigar and waited.

“Hey, it’s me… I’m real sorry but I can’t come pick you up…” Face’s voice was soft and gentle. Conciliatory. He sounded nervous. “I gotta work… I know I promised, but I …” Even Hannibal could hear the faint sounds coming over the receiver as Face was verbally abused by the other party. This girl was extremely unhappy. “Please… I know it’s ending in two days…It’s not my fault. You know I’d take you if I could… look, just talk to my boss. Please.” In a totally unexpected move, Face thrust the handset at Hannibal’s chest. Hannibal took it automatically. “Here. This is your fault. You explain.” Hands on hips, Face regarded his CO scathingly, eyes cold, eyebrow raised.

Completely bemused, Hannibal raised the handset to his ear. “Listen, Ma’am…” he began, and stopped in confusion as he heard the voice berating his lieutenant on the other end. “…you know you promised to take me to that Air Show last weekend, Face. It’s just on this weekend, then it’s finished. I could even understand you cancelling before, but again? Two weekends in a row? You do this to me all the time…”

“Murdock?”

“…and I’ve had enough. I’m never gonna trust you again. Don’t even bother to call me…” 

“Murdock!” Hannibal spoke forcefully to stem the flow.

“… again, because I’ll never believe a word you say… Hannibal?”

“Yes, Captain. It’s me. Now what seems to be the problem here?”

The Colonel listened patiently as Murdock ranted about Face promising to spring him from the VA and take him to the Air Show. How he hadn’t shown up the weekend before, with some excuse about a mission – but that was probably some girl, right? – and how this was the last weekend and now he wasn’t showing up again. But wasn’t that just typical of Face, huh?

‘Shit! How to break up the team in one easy lesson, Smith!’ Hannibal took a deep breath.

“You’re being unfair to Face, Murdock. None of this was his fault. He did have to go on a mission last weekend. On short notice. I ordered it, and I gave him no choice. And I just ordered him to go on an Intel mission this weekend. That is on me, because I had no idea what he’d promised you. But, now that I do know, I can change my plan. He’ll be there. And you shall go to the Air Show, Cinderella. Here’s Prince Charming.” Smiling his barracuda grin, Hannibal offered the phone to Face. “I can wait till Monday, kid… next time, just level with me, okay?”

“He really needs this, Hannibal, but…” Face lowered his eyes and his aggressive stance relaxed as he took the handset, “… I didn’t think you’d understand.”

“But I do. Now take him to the Air Show – enjoy your weekend, Lieutenant.” Hannibal slapped Face on the back in passing. “Back to work on Monday afternoon.”

 

Murdock was ready.

When he’d come back on the phone after Hannibal had cleared up the unfortunate misunderstanding, Face had brushed off Murdock’s copious apologies, and been all business. “I’ll be there, like I promised, and we’ll go to the Air Show. Like I promised. Just be ready, alright?”

Face had specified that he needed to wear his Dress Greens – it was a military event, after all – and Murdock had showered, shaved and dressed carefully, being ready a full 30 minutes before the deadline. But when Face came to pick him up he was, for a moment, taken aback. Face was wearing his own Dress Greens with all of the medal bars and Unit Citations he was entitled to wear, but with a few extras thrown in… the birds on his shoulders were a surprise, as was the peaked cap (but that beret, however Green, had never done Face justice), and the name bar: Boyington. Really? Colonel Boyington? Murdock sensibly kept his mouth shut and followed Face out of the VA to the car. Not the Vette, as he had expected. An official Army vehicle, complete with a Corporal, as driver. ‘How the Hell has he pulled this off?’ But it didn’t really matter, did it, in the scheme of things? Face was taking him to the Air Show.

 

The Air Show was interesting, to say the least. Access to all areas, no questions asked. Murdock was in seventh heaven, poring over all of the latest aircraft and the newest technology. He even got to fly a few choice specimens, some from years gone by, while Face waited patiently on the ground and mingled: some new jet model, a WW2 Corsair (most exciting)… and a Huey.

Murdock saw her on the flight line as they rounded the corner of a hangar. He broke ranks from his place by Face’s side and rushed forward, patting the venerable and slightly battered old bird affectionately on the nose.

Turning back towards Face, he exclaimed, “Oh, look, Facey! Isn’t she a beauty? I’ll bet she can tell some stories…” Seeing the forbidding frown, he broke off and waited for Face to catch up. “Uh… sorry, Colonel. I got a really long history with these babies.”

“Quite alright, Captain. I understand perfectly.” Face lowered his voice before adding thoughtfully “I’ve been in a few myself.”  

Murdock saw the shadow flit across his partner’s face when he suggested, jokingly, that the Colonel might want to take a flight, for old times’ sake. “C’mon, muchacho, it’s perfectly okay,” he whispered. “Didn’t I always bring you back safe?”

‘Well, actually, no. No you didn’t, buddy. Sometimes we crashed. One time we even got captured… No. Not going there. Not even gonna think about that…’ Face swallowed, hard. But then he smiled – only the half-million dollar smile, because it really didn’t reach his eyes, and said “Sure. Let’s do it.”

They boarded the chopper, Face in the co-pilot’s seat. And Murdock winked and lifted off into the sky with his customary joyful howl. Face flinched. His heart started to hammer and his lunch threatened to make a repeat appearance as the memories flooded back and the adrenaline rush hit him. ‘Ohshitohshitohshit… not again. I can’t do this again…’ He took several deep breaths, tried to thrust down the disturbing images, and deliberately unclenched the fists that his hands had instinctively formed. Gazing through the windscreen at the scenery racing past below without really seeing it, he made a conscious effort to relax and zoned out for a while.

Murdock glanced across at his partner who was staring fixedly ahead, strain evident in every taut muscle. ‘Oh-oh, Facey is not really enjoying this little joy-ride. Well, that’s not surprising. This old girl; back in uniform – that even got my heart racing a little bit and his memories can’t be good ones. It’s a pleasant surprise that he agreed to come along at all. Shows how much he trusts me. But I gotta help him to relax. Help us both to relax. Now how can I…?’

Sometime later an incongruous sound filtered into Face’s consciousness.  

“… and the northern girls, with the way they kiss…”

Hell, Murdock was singing. Loudly. Face looked across and Murdock grinned back at him happily.

“…they keep their boyfriends warm at night!”

Face shook his head and laughed as all of the tension left him. Of course it was going to be okay. How could it not be okay? Murdock was totally in his element up here. He joined in the chorus enthusiastically.   

 

It had been a great day, culminating in an acceptable meal in the Officer’s Mess: Face had pulled off something extraordinary yet again. Except for one thing. A teeny-tiny little thing, maybe, but eventually it got under Murdock’s skin and irritated him a tad. Face had been ordering him around all day. Not arrogantly – no, not like Hannibal or, worse, Decker – but firmly. Perfectly natural, of course, as Face was masquerading as a Colonel. In public. But even in private moments, when no-one else could possibly overhear, Face had kept up the charade. Murdock was slightly resentful. Until they had gone to the mens room a few minutes before they left. Totally alone, at least for a little while.

“Why are you doing this, Facey? Pulling rank all the time… it’s… well, it’s a little annoying.”

And Face had turned guileless and bewildered blue eyes to him. “But you said that’s what you wanted me to do. Role-playing, remember? Did I do something wrong?”

Murdock thought back – and it came to him. Oh, hell. Face had taken it literally. He thought back to a phone conversation a few weeks ago.

 

It had started innocently, but weirdly. He had said he didn’t want to comply with the rules in the VA. Face said he should, but he’d argued. A couple of times. Face had been adamant. “Please, Murdock, just do it. Do as you’re told…”

“Yes, Sir! Absolutely, Sir!” he had answered. Playfully. Stupidly. Messing with Face’s head, as BA would have said, had he been a party to that conversation.

And then:

“What are you up to, buddy? It's kinda suspicious when you call me Sir. Twice.” Face had asked. And he had answered, glibly, just continuing the word game that they played on the phone between missions, but knowing that it would be unsettling Face.

“You gave me an order, Sir. I'm just answering according to regulations, Sir.”

“Alright”. Face sounded nervous now. “But don't call me Sir. It's not accurate, and it makes me uncomfortable, buddy. I don’t give you orders.”

And he hadn’t been able to help himself. Just teasing, right? “Not even in bed?”

“What?” He could almost see Face’s startled expression. “What do you mean? When did I ever order you around in bed?”

“Never.” And he let that word hang in the air for a heartbeat, two… before he continued. “But why don't we try?” And Murdock had grinned to himself, picturing Face’s discomfort. There was a silence for several seconds. Face was obviously trying to come up with an answer. Eventually it came.

“Because I'm used to asking nicely. And anyway, in case you've forgotten, that's not the way it works. You: Captain; me: Lieutenant... I don't get to give the orders.”

Murdock was impressed. Boy, Facey thought really quick. But so did he.

“Yeah, but I'm talking about roleplaying here. You forget that I can be anything I want to be.”

And, after that, it was rapid fire. Neither of them was stopping to think.

“Yeah, I thought that you might be. So what are you thinking of being this time?”

“Oh, I could be a lotta things. And it's so hard to choose...”

“Oh, boy. That does not fill me with confidence. When you decide, let me know... don't make me guess like you usually do. But if you have a desire for me to be ordering you around then you had better think about busting yourself to enlisted, because I'm not likely to get a promotion any time soon. Besides, I like being a Lieutenant. I'm used to it - got the uniform and everything.”

“Oh, you're taking it extremely seriously again; you see paper promotions, uniforms and everything.

“No, I wasn't. Just playing along, buddy.

“Yeah. And we don't need any papers and uniforms for that.”

 

So, Face was trying to play along with his fantasy. But, being Face, he had to try to make it real… Murdock smiled to himself. ‘Face has done an amazing job so far… just don’t ask him for something difficult, Captain, like Santa Claus…’ Murdock suppressed a giggle at the thought. He got himself under control and regarded his lover, expression serious.

“No, babe. You’ve done everything right. Everything. I loved the Air Show. And I like this side of you. This take-charge side.” He smiled. “It’s very sexy.”

 

The official military car dropped them at a city hotel and Face dismissed the driver curtly. Smart salutes were exchanged, the car drove away, and Face led Murdock to the elevator. They rode up to the fourth floor in a silence which wasn’t broken on the short walk to Face’s room, nor when he unlocked the door with a hotel key, stood back politely and indicated that Murdock should precede him into the room.

The lights were on and Murdock noticed that it was a nice room. More of a suite, really. Living area, bedroom and separate bathroom. Very nice. But typical of Face: Face would never scam anything but the best… The door closed behind him and the lock clicked.

“Ooooffff!” Murdock’s involuntary exhalation broke the silence as he was spun around and body-slammed forcefully against the door.  

“Oh, God, Captain, I’ve missed you,” Face whispered desperately, as he plastered himself against his lover and claimed his mouth in a hungry, needy kiss. Murdock clutched Face: at first in an effort to stay upright then, relaxing, in relief. This was the Face he’d been hoping to have all day.

Murdock’s uniform cap was tilting dangerously into the target area and Face whipped it off and flung it away somewhere behind him. His own cap was now perched fetchingly on the back of his head. He drew back slightly and started to unfasten the buttons on Murdock’s uniform jacket, working by touch alone, eyes locked on Murdock’s. “I’ve been waiting for this all day – all day, baby. I hate to give you orders, even when you want me to… even when it’s a roleplaying game. I’ve been itching to get out of these damned uniforms and into bed.” Face grinned, fingers busy. “And that Corporal is coming by tomorrow to take us back for the final day of the Air Show. That’s when you get to see all of the latest stuff.”

“Again, Colonel? The final day? That’s the Holy Grail, babe. How did you swing that?” Murdock smiled, and shook his head in wonder. “No. Don’t tell me... because then I suppose you’d have to kill me.” He caught hold of Face and kissed him soundly, before murmuring into his ear, “Okay… then I guess we’d better make the most of tonight.”

“Yes we should.”

Face’s voice practically dripped satisfaction and Murdock was struck by a sudden thought. ‘Facey! You wily little scammer! You’re trying to distract me and make me forget about the game so you don’t have to get out of your comfort zone. And you think you’ve gotten away with it, don’t you? Well, we’ll see about that.’ He gripped the other man tightly by the upper arms and held him at arms’ length, regarding him sternly, but saying nothing until Face started to squirm.

“What!? …  What’s the problem, buddy?”

“That would be Captain to you, Colonel. Sir.” Murdock released Face’s arms, reached forward, and straightened that cutely-positioned cap firmly, then started refastening his own jacket buttons.

Face looked on with a bemused expression. “You mean the orders thing?” Murdock nodded. “But… but I already did that… Heck, I’ve been doing it all day. Isn’t that enough?”

“The day isn’t over yet. We still have the bedroom to come.”

“But…”

“Anyway, you cheated, muchacho” Murdock said, accusingly, as he squeezed past Face and went in search of his own cap. Finding it near the couch and placing it on his head, he continued, “What made you think that giving perfectly ordinary orders at a military event, when we’re both dressed like this, would count, hmm?” Face had turned and Murdock fixed him with a sardonic eye and a raised eyebrow, hands on hips. “I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid, Facey. I know when you’re trying to con me, and it’s not going to work, so you may as well forget it.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” said Face, a picture of injured innocence.

“Oh, yes you do. You know perfectly well. If you think that you can make me forget what is supposed to be happening tonight with one kiss, then you can think again.” He winked. “It takes a little bit more effort than that.”

‘Damn, he’s not going for it. I really can’t do what he wants. Just thinking about it makes me so uncomfortable. Maybe one last try to make him see reason…’ “C’mon, buddy, be reasonable,” Face whined. “Why can’t we just…?”

“Nope.”

Face was aggrieved and showed it. “So what if I just order you to sleep on the couch and go to bed by myself? What if I do that, huh? Captain.”

“Then we’d both end up frustrated and a perfectly good night would be ruined. And that’s fine if you wanna keep acting like a baby, baby,” Murdock said reasonably, as if talking to a petulant child, then his tone hardened as he continued. “But if you wanna go to bed with me then quit stalling.”

Face sighed deeply. He knew when he was beaten. “Fine, whatever you want,” he said with an air of martyrdom.

Murdock snapped a smart salute, which Face returned automatically. “What are your orders, Colonel?”

Drawing a deep breath, Face squared his shoulders and bit the bullet. He cleared his throat. “Follow me, Captain. I’m gonna take a shower and you can help me out of this uniform. After that you’d better get out of your own – I’m expecting you to be spending some time on your knees during this operation and we don’t want to crease the trousers. Understood, Captain?”

“Yessir!”

“Good. Proceed.” And, flipping off the light at the switch by the door, the Colonel strode purposefully towards the bedroom, the Captain marching obediently at his heels.