Fall 1969 - Lake Isabella, California
Face pushed himself up off of the sagging mattress that was all this fleabag, middle-of-nowhere cabin had to offer. Fucking Murdock standing there, that crazy fucking smile that wouldn't shut the hell up. Apparently it was his turn to watch Face while Hannibal slipped out the front to do whatever the hell he pleased. Must be nice. Fuckers. No, Face was done. The both of them could take their self-righteous bullshit and get the hell out of his life.
"Funny ain't it?"
"Shut up, you asshole." Whatever Murdock had to say, Face didn't want to hear it. He took an unsteady step toward the lanky pilot, jaw clenched, chapped upper lip curled. Murdock, the fuck, looked at him. Silent and judging, because everything wasn't already fucked up enough.
Face's whole body hurt, tight and tense with anger, and not a damn thing he could do. He was stuck. There was no making it stop and no making it go away. He'd tried everything he could think of to get out of here and it had gotten him nowhere. Face was more sober than he'd been in months. He could feel those damn spectres creeping up on him, hear the desperation in their voices, see the pleas in their eyes. They'd haunted his every waking moment since he'd come back "home" and found himself a foreigner. Soon enough, they'd be dogging his reality as though they'd never left. And Murdock - Murdock, of all people! - had no damn right to force that on him. "Fuck you." There was no getting away from Murdock in this place; twenty by twenty square feet of hell.
"Why?" Murdock asked, all calm and casual like he was at a fucking church social. Fuck him.
Face spun back around. He shouldn't have. A small part of his brain that was in control of nothing knew that it was pointless. "Why what?"
"Why should I fuck off? Why don't you wanna sober up and be something?"
That was rich. "Tell me Murdock, what the hell am I supposed to be?" His voice was low, teeth clenched. He fucking hated everything about Murdock.
He hated that answer so much he laughed. "Real? You want me to be real? A real fucking soldier? A real fucking yes sir, how high sir, burn 'em down sir? Or is it a different real? A real fucking liar? A real snitch, murderer, rapist?" He was getting more and more insistent and he couldn't stop or even figure out why. He wanted to shove Murdock away from him; out of this cabin and out of his life. "A real what Murdock?"
"A real person." Fucker said that like it made sense.
"I'm all of those things you fucking moron. That's the real person I am and I fucking hate it!" Why couldn't he just get it? Instead, no. Murdock had to stand there reading and judging Face, like he had a right.
"I love Real Face." Why the fuck did he sound sad about that?
"Nobody loves the real Face!"
"I do. Gave up my wings and all. They don't matter if you ain't real. I gotta find you and keep the others away."
The slightest of movements flickered in Face's peripheral vision, but he couldn't turn away from that very wrong look on Murdock's face. It wasn't fight or flight, not even anger or disappointment. He didn't get a chance to sift through his addled brain to place it before Murdock started up again, too calm and too quiet, and with a weird little smile clinging to his lips.
It was a creepy fucking smile.
Murdock's eyes never left Face's. "Trace, Roberts, Michele, Dombrowski. Some with names and the ones without names. I see a little girl crying. I can feel all this blood sliding through my fingers. I see bodies. Carved up, butchered bodies. Wholesale slaughter. The work of a monster, Face. And I know it's me. I'm the monster. Killing and hacking, and it felt so good."
For a second Face could've sworn Murdock was looking straight through him. Straight into the past, right back to that fucking place Face shot up to forget. It was skeletons and monsters, their bodies and ghosts. Face could see it plain as day in Murdock's eyes, like he was looking in the mirror. It had him pinned to the ground as stone cold and dead still as Michelangelo's Pieta.
Murdock closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall, breathing slow and deep. His own breath was sharp, rushing in and out with an anxiety Face couldn't place until his searching eyes caught on the gun in Murdock's hand. The pilot's eyes opened and drifted to the weapon. His knuckles turned white around the grip.
"I made a promise Face."
For a moment, Face wasn't in the shitty cabin. He was in the jungle, the humidity thick enough to smother him, the ground firm and wet beneath his knees, the coppery stench of blood in his nostrils.
"I need to know, to be sure," Murdock said, slow and worn. In another place, Face might have wondered how many times Murdock had said these words without ever saying them. "Are we done fighting? Did the monsters win?"
Did you fail?
Laughter bubbled up from Face, loud and harsh, it cut out as quick as it had burst forth. "Look at me, you stupid fuck!" He yelled. "I'm barely hanging on. I'm so doped up most of the time I can't feel anything, but I've got those monsters all figured out. I know how to lock them out." He threw his arms out towards Murdock in case the man needed another look at the track marks lining his veins. "Every time I take a fucking hit they're right back where they belong. Is that what you want to hear? Is it?" Spit flew from Face's lips, but Murdock didn't react, he never even blinked.
"Or is it that I don't know what to do anymore, is that it? How about the fact that the moment Diz shot me up was the first time in months I felt anywhere near relaxed? That while I was high, those voices finally stopped screaming in my ears and I could close my eyes without seeing it all again?"
Fuck. Here he was,now, seeing it all again, because Murdock wanted him to feel. Because Murdock never could leave well enough alone. And Hannibal. Face couldn't even go there. "Yeah, Murdock they won." He finally said it. "They fucking won and are doing a victory lap around my life and I've got nothing left."
Murdock had the cool barrel of a service revolver hard and unforgiving pressed under Face's chin. Face's breath caught as Murdock stepped in close, eyes going dim and lifeless while Murdock stood there, silent, looking through Face. Tears rolled down Murdock's cheeks.
For a moment, Face didn't know why Murdock was crying. It wasn't Murdock's life Face had turned upside down. It wasn't Face blocking Murdock from getting to the door. It wasn't Face holding a gun under Murdock's chin, waiting for the word to pull the trigger. But maybe it should have been.
Suddenly, it was obvious. It was Sunshine, young and lifeless, blank eyes staring up at him from the mud. It was Murdock, horrified and broken, skittering backward while blood mixed with tears. It was Face, sitting, helpless to do anything but watch as his best friend was taken apart. It was guilt and pain and being stuck, alone, at the mercy of everything and everyone who wanted to take them apart. It was Davies and Thomas and blood slicked children. It was Vietnamese begging and pleading for lives he couldn't save. It was their souls dying with one last agonizing cry.
It was the end.
"Do it." Face's voice didn't sound like his. He couldn't remember making the decision to speak, but the words fell between them, hollow and distant, betraying his secrets. "I can't beat this. You know that. That's why you're here, right? You've seen it."
"I'm here because Face is my best friend, and because I made a promise." Murdock nodded fractionally as he spoke; confirmation, agreement, and lifeline, all in one. Nothing he said was louder than the click of the hammer cocking back. "I'm sorry for letting the monsters get you."
Face closed his eyes. Tears he hadn't expected warmed streaks down his cheeks as his body shook.
"See you on the other side," Murdock's voice was low and choked.
That was it. It would only hurt for a moment, and then everything would be gone. Face wasn't expecting Murdock to add, "God forgive me", but he did.
His words echoed off the walls of heaven and earth, reaching from the caverns of hell to God's almighty ear. It was a moment that hung in the air and lasted a lifetime making it all too clear. There would be no forgiveness. Not for Murdock. No amount of rosaries to undo the bullet that was about to go through Face's brain and put an end to the misery. Murdock wouldn't miss. Murdock would pay his price. Face would finally find solace, at Murdock's expense. There would be no peace for him. Ever.
Murdock pulled the trigger.