The Achieve of the Thing


Chapter Two

Face was leaning back in the driver's seat, his head at what looked like an uncomfortable angle, asleep. Like a cat, Murdock thought, stretching his legs sideways in the truck's cab: usually Face was curled up comfy and cozy but every now and then he'd sleep in the goddamnedest positions. Murdock wished he knew if this was okay. After all, Face had slept late that morning, not getting up till nearly eleven. Of course, he might just be making up for all that sleep he'd missed over the last two weeks, in Malaysia and after.

Or he might just be avoiding conversation with Murdock. He hadn't been happy when, just after they got onto the Bay Bridge and just before they stopped dead about half-way over, three hours ago now, Murdock had told him he'd told Hannibal.

"Told him what?" asked Face, his usual delaying tactic: ask for clarification of something his quick mind already understood so he'd have time to prepare his response. It always worked, even if you just said "You know what I'm talking about."

Which Murdock hadn't. "About you and Frankie," he'd said. "He needed to know. They both did."

"Really? Since when did my private life turn into their need to know?"

"When you got that Lincoln for Hannibal, that's when," Murdock snapped. "Come on, Face, you're off your game and you know it. They have to know why so they can compensate. What if Stockwell wants to send us someplace tomorrow?"

Face's eyes had flashed but whatever he'd been going to say he hadn't, as the Toyota ahead of them had slammed on its brakes and come to a dead stop. Face was a better driver than whoever that was and stopped less precipitously. They took in the view ahead, brake lights as far as the eye could see (which wasn't that far, they being very nearly at the top of the Bay Bridge's curve). "Fuck." That was vicious; maybe it was serving dual purpose.

Murdock leaned out the window and looked both ways. "How long is this likely to last?"

"Who the hell knows?" Face said, turning on the radio and searching for an all-news station. "Even if we could get off the bridge, though, it's five hours around the top of the Bay."

Murdock slumped back against the seat. "Great. Just great."

They'd listened to ten minutes of depressing local news and American League playoff news (like either of them cared about Toronto or like Face didn't hate Oakland; a Chicago win was the best possible outcome this year, Murdock figured, but figure the odds...) before a traffic bulletin told them that a semi had jack-knifed across the westbound span, spilling its contents and blocking traffic. Face had sighed. "They won't clean that up in a hurry. Wake me when they do."

So Murdock leaned into the corner of the door and the seat and watched him sleep and wondered if he was sleeping too much. Or at all, even, though he looked asleep, jaw slack and breathing slow and regular. He sighed to himself. Face knew he was right about telling Hannibal, that's why he hadn't picked up the argument again. They'd come that far in their relationship; Face had to sleep now to avoid getting sucked into a conversation. Once he'd just sat there and smiled and not given a damn...

A long time ago. Before anything.

Murdock remembered what he'd said, that Lincoln Town Car. What was that guy's name, anyway? Nguyen? Voh? Tran... That was the day...

They'd assigned a new lieutenant to Hannibal while he was trying to put together an operation. He'd been pissed off about it. "Guy just got off the plane yesterday," he'd said. "Looks about fifteen. A year of ROTC and OCS. What am I supposed to do with him?"

Ray had snickered.

Hannibal glared at him. "Don't even suggest it. Though he is pretty enough to turn a profit on."

"Could we get a Cadillac for him?"

"I doubt it."

"So where is he?"

"I sent him for BA."

Murdock, lounging unnoticed on the side, had blinked at that. Hannibal was definitely trying to chase the kid away. A brand-new, young, pretty lieutenant going down into the section of the firebase where BA hung out? Ouch.

And then the office door had opened and BA had come in, glowering worse than usual. He'd given Hannibal the kind of hell only a senior NCO could give a lieutenant colonel, starting with, "What was you thinkin' about, sir, sendin' that lieutenant after me? Somebody could have got hurt."

While they had sorted that out, Murdock had taken the new man's measure: not fifteen, but probably not twenty yet, either. His brand-new gold-toned second looie's bars were dulled by the golden Southern California glow of his skin and hair. His fatigues fit like they were tailored, and his blue eyes were lazy and amused. His face was ... well, even without the added bonus of that incredibly desirable coloring, they could have got a hell of a lot more than a Cadillac for him anywhere in Southeast Asia if they'd been so inclined. But damn, what was a kid like that doing out here? He should have been safe back home, in a university somewhere, with his family wrapped around him to keep him unharmed, protected. Cherished.

Vietnam was going to eat him alive.

Murdock had just reached that conclusion when the kid spoke.

"Does it have to be a Cadillac?"

Everyone in the room turned to look at him. He just looked back, cool and serene.

"What, Lieutenant?" Hannibal said finally.

"The car you need," the kid said. "Does it have to be a Cadillac? Would a town car do?"

Ray and BA laughed. Hannibal raised his eyebrows and pointed his cigar—his cigar stub—at the boy. "You think you can get a town car?"

"Yes." That had been serene, too. And a trifle, just a trifle, offended.

"Then why don't you go do it?" And Hannibal turned back to Ray and BA, looking for another way to get close to the target.

Intensely curious, Murdock tagged along when the lieutenant left. "Hey," he leaned over to check out the kid's name, "Peck? You really think you can get a town car?"

"I said so, didn't I?" Then he grinned, suddenly. "Of course, you don't know me yet, Captain—?"

"Murdock," he held out his hand. "I fly these guys."

"What does he need a town car for?" Peck asked, climbing into the nearest jeep. It was probably BA's.

Murdock jumped in beside him as he punched the starter and spun the wheel. "Lord, muchacho," he grinned, "I don't know. With Hannibal, it's wiser not to ask."

"Hannibal..." That was musing. "That's the colonel, right? Smith, John Turner. Why 'Hannibal'?"

"'Cause he's brilliant and unorthodox. Like the Roman guy."

"Carthaginian," Peck said, heading off base toward town. "He fought the Romans. And his side lost."

"Don't point that out to the colonel."

"I won't... I was just wondering. What are the odds the town car will be in usable condition when he's done with it?"

"Odds?" Murdock felt his eyebrows climbing towards his hat. "Slim to none. Closer to none. That makes a difference?"

"Not really. I was just wondering if I could mean it when I told Tran he'd get it back."

Tran? Nah, couldn't be... hell, there were only four surnames in the whole damned country. Something about the way he said the name piqued Murdock's curiosity even more, and then the kid yelled in Vietnamese at a guy with an oxcart. "I thought you just got incountry yesterday," he said.

"Well, last week, actually," Peck answered.

"Picking up the lingo pretty fast, muchacho."

He shrugged. "I've got a good ear for accents," he said. "I don't know what it means, but it seemed right." He grinned at Murdock. "Situationally."

Murdock looked at that smile and thought again how young he was, how golden, how totally alien to the blood and mud and evil he was going to be wading through from now on... A surge of totally unfamiliar emotion threatened to overthrow his equilibrium. Something whispered behind his ear, telling him he was endangered, but then the kid grinned again and he ignored the something.

The kid pulled up in the courtyard of Tran's house (yes, that Tran) and trotted up to the door like an expected and welcomed caller. Murdock stayed in the jeep and watched while Peck sweet-talked the wiry little Vietnamese man out of his black 69 Lincoln. He didn't know how, in just a couple of days, Peck could have located Tran, one of the most active black marketeers in the area, or how he could be so persuasive. He just sat there and admired. Even when the kid and Tran and four bully-boys vanished around the back of the house, Murdock's sense of well-being didn't waver.

When Peck drove off in the town car, leaving Tran standing among his bodyguards in the courtyard with a slightly puzzled expression on his face, Murdock followed, laughing. Hannibal was not going to believe this. Not ever.

They pulled up in front of the shack Hannibal was using this week. Murdock leaped out of the jeep and broke one of his cardinal rules by impulsively hugging the kid. "Mazel tov, muchacho!" he said. "I don't believe it myself; wait till Hannibal sees it."

Peck grinned at him and polished a spot off the Lincoln's hood, and then struck a negligent pose against it and waited for the sound of the engines to bring the others outside. It didn't take more than a couple of minutes.

Hannibal's reaction was priceless. He stopped dead on the top stair and stared, jaw dropping and eyes wide. Peck straightened lazily. "Will it do?"

"Yeah, kid," Hannibal said finally, his slow smile breaking through. "It'll do."

Peck tossed him the keys, and then reached into his shirt pocket. "Oh, colonel?" He tossed something else.

Hannibal caught it and looked at it, and then grinned again. He tossed away his stub and opened the package Peck had brought back and pulled out a long, slim cigar. "Cuban," he said, and wiggled his eyebrows. "Nice."

Nice. Murdock hoped Hannibal still thought so.

When the traffic finally started moving again, Face turned up the radio and drove in silence. In Langley they swapped the truck for the nondescript four-door, and then that for the Vette, washed and gassed up. By then it was late. Murdock had wanted to stop for dinner, but Face had argued that they'd lost too much time on the Bridge. And they'd eaten a big lunch, more eggs and toast and left-over slices of the ham that had been in the refrigerator when they'd come back from Annapolis in the late evening the night before.

Murdock wasn't sure why he hadn't figured it out before: the yard was kept up, the house dusted and clean. But he'd been surprised to see the Mason jar on the kitchen table with flowers in it and a note. Mr. Howard—we're all that sorry about Mr. Rivera. Hope Mr. Thomas can eat ham, if not there's cans in the pantry. We'll pray for you. —Anne

Nice kids. But the note had sent Face out to sit on the dock while Murdock made supper, and then he'd turned in. At least when Murdock had checked on him he was sound asleep. Murdock had had trouble getting to sleep himself, but he finally had.

And now, as they pulled into the estate past the glowers of Stockwell's goons, Murdock was as nervous as a cat. At least he hadn't told Hannibal where they'd been. Face had someplace to run to if he needed... He's never let you down, Hannibal. Don't let him down.

Hannibal was nervous. He was pretending he wasn't—though he didn't think BA was falling for it—sitting in the armchair tacitly agreed to be 'his' and looking at the television, though he wasn't watching the program by any means, couldn't have said what it was. It was just something to do besides pace and smoke. BA might look out the window every ten minutes for the white Vette, but BA wanted Face back. Hannibal still wasn't sure he did.

He'd spent most of the past two days with questions swirling through his mind. How could a guy as male as Face be so unmale? How could a guy who got women so easily go to bed with a man? How could he want to be feminized like that? If he didn't, why not just stick with women? Was it because Frankie had been there? Available for sex when Face was cut off from the rest of the world? From the women he chased so willingly? Was it Frankie's fault? Had he corrupted Face? How had Hannibal missed the signs?

Memories had chased each other through the questions. Memories of Face with women. Of Face in Vietnam, where a lot of guys had yielded to temporary needs. Of Face with Murdock. With him... Nothing. He saw nothing. Even Face with Frankie. Even knowing. Nothing. It was the same Face. And yet...

It had to have been Frankie. That was the conclusion he kept coming back to. There had been rumors about him in Hollywood, as long as Hannibal had known him. Light in the loafers. Fairy. Faggot—as always, his mind shied away from that word, from the ugly words. He couldn't think of them and Face in the same phrase, and yet... And yet...

It had to have been Frankie. He'd moved in on Face (how?) and... Had to have been him. Face wouldn't.

But he had.

And Hannibal couldn't forget Murdock saying, "In love. Lovers. Romantically involved."

But men didn't. Hadn't that Dr. Reuben guy said so in so many words? Homosexual men didn't form lasting attachments.

But Face after Malaysia...

He'd been damned glad to distract himself by demanding a conversation with Stockwell. Unfortunately for the chance of a little mind-clearing mayhem, the general had merely looked surprised at the request and told them where they could find Frankie's effects. "I didn't realize you had taken Santana quite so far into your little circle, Smith," he'd said.

"He was a member of the team," Hannibal had said. And that was true enough, even if now Hannibal wished he hadn't been rather more than usual. Frankie's special effects didn't compensate for his other 'special' qualities...

And yet... BA's words were as inescapable as Hannibal's thoughts. "You think two men cain't love each other? Of course they can. Just 'cause our society don't let them don't mean they cain't." And "He and Frankie tried to make each other happy."

Happy. Was that was they'd done? Made each other happy? Hannibal couldn't see how, didn't want to see how, but he couldn't deny that Face had been remarkably less likely to bitch and moan in the last year than could have been expected. He'd settled down, that's what Hannibal had thought, accepted, but for those occasional road trips with Frankie (oh, Lord, how Hannibal did not want to think about those), the trade-off of present limitations for future freedom. But maybe...

And today had been worse, because there hadn't been anything to do but think about it. Wish like hell Murdock had never opened his big mouth. Which was like wishing the sky wasn't blue. (Which was how he knew all the holding, all the touching, all the... comforting Face had given Murdock hadn't been more.)

But it finally came down to what BA had said: "We all the family he's got. Specially now. You cain't turn on your family over somethin' like who they love." Or whatever you called it when it was between homosexuals.


He did love Face. Not like that. But he loved him. And he didn't want to lose him. And he didn't want to hurt him.

So, after Murdock called to say they'd be back that night, Hannibal had started practicing what he was going to say. "I'm sorry for your loss." That was what his mother had taught him to say when, as she'd put it, the dead man was the biggest, juiciest piece of work on the face of the planet and the entire universe was a better place now that he was gone. You didn't want to hurt the widow or the orphans, so you said, "I'm sorry for your loss."

He'd practiced it out loud, trying for the right tone. He'd started with "Lieutenant," but rejected it; its implied authority might be out of place and the military attitudes it conjured certainly would be. "Kid" was worse, in other ways. And "Templeton" he had never used... So "Face" it would be.

"I'm sorry for your loss, Face. Face, I'm sorry for your loss." He must have said it fifty times, which was very unlike him. Not that this was a situation he'd ever been in before. "I'm sorry for your loss."

And then BA had come in from working on the van and Hannibal had stopped saying it out loud. Sat down in his chair. Pretended he was cool with it.

Wished he was.

And then a car pulled up outside. BA looked out the window and smiled in relief. "There they are," he said.

Between the car doors slamming and the front door opening there was a long pause. Face was probably as reluctant to come in as Hannibal was to have him come in. BA was hovering by the window, ready to dash out and stop Face from leaving if need be; Hannibal couldn't decide if that was good or not.

He couldn't decide anything. That was what he hated the most about this whole situation. No matter how much he thought about it, he couldn't decide anything. Only that he couldn't say to Face what he thought. What he felt. That he was going to have to lie to him.

And that made him glad Frankie was dead. Which just brought him back around to the beginning all over again.

And after all that thought and agonizing, all the resolve that, no matter what, Face would never feel from him that things were in any way different or awkward, he might as well have not thought about it at all. Because when the door finally opened and Face came in, with that little stutter-step that hinted at Murdock's hand in his back, when he actually saw him, there was only one thing to do and no thought was involved at all. Hannibal rose to his feet and crossed the living room in a few swift strides and hugged Face. The younger man was startled for a minute and then Hannibal felt the tension leave him, and he relaxed into the embrace, leaning his head on Hannibal's shoulder and sighing once, deeply.

Hannibal rested his cheek on the thick no-longer-really-blond hair and knew that there was not one damned thing this man could do to estrange them. "Hey, kid," he said softly. "It's all right. I know you're miserable, but you're home now."

"Yeah," seconded BA.

Hannibal felt a tremor shake Face, and hands tighten in his shirt. He rubbed Face's back gently. "I hope you can forgive me for being the kind of old fart you didn't think you could talk to."

Face raised his head. Those blue eyes were bright with tears hanging on the edge of spilling over. Hannibal wasn't sure he was ready to cope with that, but Face had himself under control in another minute. "Sorry, Hannibal," he said. "I should have known..."

"How?" Hannibal asked reasonably. "I didn't know. It's not something I ever thought much about."

As always BA knew when to interrupt, and his concern manifested itself in his usual practicality. "You eat?"

Face laughed a little. "If I had a mother, BA, you'd be worse than her."

"If you had a mother," BA growled in mock anger, "I'd pity her. You eat?"

"No," Murdock said, breaking his silence. "Not since lunch."

"I ain't surprised at you, but you—" he glared at Face. "You supposed to be smart. I'll heat somethin' up."

"Thanks, BA," Face said with a tired smile.

"Sit down, get offa your feet," BA ordered and headed for the kitchen.

Face followed him, and the other two exchanged a long glance before going after. Hannibal's had said, Good job, Captain and Murdock's, if Hannibal wasn't mistaken, Be careful with him. It was good advice, but not particularly necessary; Hannibal couldn't ever remember seeing Face so... so fragile looking. It was disturbing. He was used to Face being, under the complaining he always did, the resilient and untouchable one.

Sure, BA was a rock, and Hannibal, when he let his fancy make metaphors, saw himself as an oak, bending only the tiniest bit in the harshest gale but fighting even that. Murdock was like a stalk of Johnson grass; you couldn't kill it but by God it whipped in the wind, lying flat and twisted for long periods of time. But Face? He'd always been like a willow, graceful and strong, bending in the wind, letting it flow past him without resisting, but then immediately springing back up exactly as before.

Murdock had been right: this had been a gale-force wind. Face needed them. It was new, but Hannibal swore to himself, as he pulled out a chair at the kitchen table, that he wouldn't let Face down again.

"I wish you'd said something in Malaysia," Hannibal said finally, leaning back and watching Face eat the soup BA had put down in front of him. "We'd have brought Frankie home if I'd had to hold a gun to Stockwell's head."

"It doesn't matter." Face caught the silence and looked up. "He's dead. What does it matter where he's buried? It would have been hard to get him into the country, we couldn't have buried him under his own name, and I couldn't have gone. It's all right. It's better like this, in fact; where he is, they'll take care of him."

"He a long way from home," said BA.

"He always was."

Hannibal couldn't quite make out the meaning of Face's tone. That made it difficult to know what to say in response. Was Face really as calm about not having Frankie's grave to visit as his words sounded? That wasn't very Catholic. But then again, neither was Face, some ways. And it was always possible that he was just trying to convince himself that it didn't matter. And that second thing—was that just a plaintive cry against the universe, or was it more specific? Hannibal had certainly spent enough time in the past two weeks wondering how much of Frankie's blood was on his hands...

"Home is where the heart is, Face," Murdock said softly.

Of course, thought Hannibal, watching the look that passed between the two. With Face around you always had to work to get even your fair share of the guilt.

"That right, li'l brother," BA put in. "I been thinkin' about it, and Frankie, he was one happy man."

Face was quiet for a long few minutes. "He was, wasn't he?" he asked finally.

That tone wasn't hard to read: wondering, sorrowful, self-doubting, downright heartbreaking. Hannibal spoke without thinking, again. "Why wouldn't he be? He loved and was loved."

"He had everything he wanted," Murdock nodded.

And BA: "You both been happy. Now you ain't. But that don't mean he wasn't. You din't get to say goodbye, and that hurts, I know." He paused, and then touched Face's shoulder gently before picking up the soup bowl. "But he died fast, prob'ly din't even know it. So he died happy an' in love. You hold that when you ache, it'll help. Now. You tired. Go on to bed."

Face looked around at them all, and then nodded. "Good idea, BA." He stood up and hesitated a minute. Then, whatever he'd been going to say he tucked away again and said, instead, "Night."

After he left, Hannibal looked at Murdock and said, "So, Captain. Where were you?"

"He and Frankie had a place they went to. Look, Hannibal, he should tell you where, not me. But don't worry: it's safe." He laughed, not as if he were amused. "It's safer than here. Believe me. Even if anybody figures out where it is, his neighbors'll warn him in plenty of time."

"Would have."

Murdock blinked at him, and then caught his meaning. "Hannibal, I really think you're wrong. It did him a lot of good to go back there. There's nothing but good memories in that place, no Stockwell, no death... If he wants to go back, I think he should."

Hannibal thought about it. "Maybe you're right," he conceded. "We'll talk about it. Right now, though, you're beat, too. Go on to bed, Murdock."

"Yeah," BA said. "And don't worry about Face. We here now. We'll look after him."

"I know," Murdock said. "And it's a good idea." He stood up and then asked, "Stockwell give you any trouble?"

"No. But we'll have to be careful. Like BA said, he'd be all too happy to use something like this against Face."

Murdock nodded and left.

BA hung up the towel he'd used to dry the dishes, and then put them away. "I'm goin' up, too, Hannibal," he said. "It late. Tomorrow gonna be a day."

"Yes... BA," he stopped the big man. "You were right. All I had to do was stop thinking about it."

BA nodded, the gold around his neck making a whispering sound. "You do the right thing, Hannibal," he said. "That's why I'm still around."

And then he was gone, too, leaving Hannibal alone in the kitchen. In the dark window he thought he saw, just for a minute, a flash of movement reflected behind him, but when he turned there was (as he'd somehow known) no one there. After a moment he got up and turned out the light, and then paused. "If that's you," he said, feeling slightly foolish, "I'm sorry." He got no answer, had expected none, and after another moment he, too, went up to bed.

Hannibal walked into the house, smoke from his Partagas Lusitania rising in a thin stream, eddied by the breeze. He always knew he was dreaming when he was smoking a Cuban cigar. So he wasn't particularly surprised to see Frankie sitting on the pale couch with the blaze of the summer day through the French doors behind him.

Not particularly surprised didn't mean exactly pleased, though. "What are you doing here?"

Frankie shrugged, gracefully. "I got no answers, Johnny."

He was wearing that blue short-sleeved shirt, the one that made his skin look warm, and his black vest. And although his hair was too long—caught up in a ponytail, for Christ's sake—Hannibal had, very unwillingly, to admit there was nothing particularly feminine about him. Which just made him angrier. "Why don't you get lost?"

"Be happy to," Frankie said. "But you won't let me."

Hannibal was conscious of the urge to throw Frankie right through the window. And then, because it was a dream, he decided why not? But dream or not, his subconscious didn't think Frankie was such a push-over. He went through the window, very satisfactorily, but he didn't stay down. Hannibal sailed into him with something very much like glee. Frankie fought back enough for the fight to be the most satisfactory thing that had happened in days, always excepting that moment when Face had leaned against him, relaxing and letting Hannibal be his strength for the moment. When it was over, Frankie was sprawled on the grass and Hannibal was sitting, his back against a convenient tree.

Hannibal reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out another Lusitania. "Why did you do it?"

"Do what?" Frankie asked, looking up at the sky. "Fall in love with him? I guess I'm just irresponsible. Or he's irresistible."

"You know what I mean."

Frankie sat up slowly and stared at Hannibal. "But do you?"

"How did you do it?" Hannibal asked. "How did you get to him? Play on his weaknesses?"

"Yeah, Johnny. Exactly. Hit him where he's weakest. I loved him. He can't resist that."

"I don't need a lecture on love from you of all people," Hannibal snapped.

Frankie shrugged. "Hey, that's fine with me, Johnny. I mean, this is your dream, you know, so you're giving the lecture yourself."

Hannibal subsided, inhaling the sweet smoke of fine Cuban tobacco and looking out across the garden. "Why don't you go away?" he asked finally, a real question.

Frankie shrugged. "It's your dream, not mine. I'm dead, remember?"

Hannibal rubbed his jaw. "You've got a pretty good left hook for a dead man."

Frankie shrugged again, smiling that bright smile. Hannibal wondered how he'd smiled at Face when they were alone. Probably not that glitzy 'what's your sign' smile, that easy cheap smile... He sighed, wished he would wake up, took another drag on the Lusitania, and said, "Did you love him?"

"Oh, that's the question, isn't it?" Frankie said, growing serious. "Sure wish I could answer it for you, Johnny."

"Why can't you?"

"'Cause you don't know." Frankie cocked his head. "What do you think?"

"I don't know," Hannibal admitted.

"There you are."

"I think..." Hannibal looked at the glowing end of his cigar. "He sure took it hard."

Frankie smiled and stood up. "You're getting there. And looks like I'm getting out of here."

Hannibal leaned back against the tree and watched Frankie walk away.

~~~~~~~    ~~~~~~~    ~~~~~~~

BA opened his eyes and sat up. His bedroom was dark but he could see Frankie standing beside the bed. "Been expectin' you," he said.

Frankie nodded. "Face will turn to Murdock now, now that Murdock knows. Now that I'm gone."

"You are gone, fool. You cain't expect Face to be alone all his life."

"I don't. But if Johnny can't accept it—"

"Hannibal okay with it."

"In the past tense. What's he going to do when he realizes Face needs to be loved too much to be alone?"

BA was silent.

"You have to watch over them, BA. Murdock can't hide what he feels, and Face is too hurt right now to be as careful as he should. If Johnny rejects him, it'll kill him. And while I miss him, I don't want to see him anytime soon."

BA nodded. "Don't worry, Frankie," he promised. "I watched out for him twenty years before he knew you. I won't stop now. I won't let nothin' happen to him."

~~~~~~~    ~~~~~~~    ~~~~~~~

Murdock was watching Face sleep. He wasn't sure where they were, someplace dark with a little bit of moonlight and the scent of azaleas in the humid air. Time and place were meaningless, so he didn't wonder about them. All that mattered was that Face was sleeping, his body, stretched out on dark grass, silvered in the dim light. Murdock drew his knees up and wrapped his arms around them and wondered at the faint melancholy he was feeling. Face turned over, his hand reaching for something, or someone, and when it closed on nothing he made a soft sound of loss, and Murdock reached his own hand out and watched it pass through Face's as though one of them wasn't there, and then he understood.

"Ah, Facey, Facey," he said softly, even though he knew the sleeping man wouldn't, couldn't, hear him. "Watching you sleep, but not able to stop you dreaming... How can you miss him so much and not know you loved him?" Words came to him from a book he'd read somewhere and he said them, softly,

"I would like to watch you, sleeping. I would like to sleep with you, to enter your sleep and walk with you through that lucent wavering forest of bluegreen leaves with its watery sun & three moons towards the cave where you must descend, towards your worst fear. I would like to give you the silver branch, the small white flower, the one word that will protect you from the grief at the center of your dream." He paused and reached out again, trailing his fingers just above Face's arm up to his shoulder. He sighed then and continued, "From the grief at the center I would like to follow you up the long stairway again & become the boat that would row you back carefully, a flame in two cupped hands."

"The silver branch, the small white flower," Frankie's voice, as soft as his own, came through the night air. "My grandfather could have made him that, out of silver and shell. It probably wouldn't have worked. He needs the word, you know."

"I'd give it to him," Murdock said. "I'd give him anything."

"Would you?" Frankie asked but didn't wait for an answer. "How's that end?"

"I would like to be the air that inhabits you for a moment only. I would like to be that unnoticed & that necessary." Murdock fell silent, watching Face, feeling Frankie behind him.

"You are."

"It's not enough!" he cried rebelliously, for the first time.

"Does it have to be?" Frankie asked, his voice somehow glowing. "You know the one word, Murdock. You always have. And you're the only one who can really give it to him. Don't be afraid of his fears. Or his grief. Or yours."

Murdock turned to look at him, but he wasn't there. Nor, when he turned back, was Face. He closed his eyes to the azalea-scented wind and waited for the morning

~~~~~~~    ~~~~~~~    ~~~~~~~

"Frankie!" Face sat bolt upright, sweat-covered.

"I'm right here, Temple."

Face turned and found Frankie's lean dark body in the bed next to him. "Frankie..." he sighed. "I thought... But you're here."

"I'm here, now," Frankie nodded. "But you're right."

Face stared at him. "You can't be."

"I'm sorry, Temple," Frankie sighed and threaded his fingers through Face's short hair. "It's true. I can't lie to you even if I wanted to."

"God, Frankie..." Face reached out tentatively and then, when Frankie felt solid and warm under his fingers, hugged him tightly. Frankie's arms came around him, holding him close, and his chin rested on top of Face's head. "Frankie, I'm so sorry, I'm sorry, I never meant—"

"Hey, hey, querido. I'm the one who left you, remember? You've got nothing to be sorry about."

"Frankie, God, Frankie," that was all he seemed able to say.

"Shh, Temple," Frankie soothed him. "I love you. It's all right."

Face clung to him, speechless. Frankie laughed at him softly, that laugh that always meant he was safe and cherished even if he'd just done something stupid. The laugh he loved so much, and missed so much. Then he felt Frankie disengaging; he laid Face down and kissed his cheek. "Go to sleep, Temple. You're exhausted."

"I don't want to," Face said. "You'll go away."

"Go to sleep, querido. I'll be here till you wake up."

"Aren't I already asleep?" he asked.

Frankie smiled. "Yes, Temple. Of course you are."

"Then how can I go to sleep?"

"Don't worry it so much, Temple. Just be it. Just relax now. I know it's hard for you, but you have to. It's out of anyone's control now. Sleep and remember how much I love you. Always."


"Hush, Temple. It's not your fault. It was never your fault, any of it. I love you."

Face sighed and, against his will, felt his eyes closing. "Frankie..."

"I love you" was the last thing he heard.

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3
Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6


Original Fantasy:
  Autumn Afternoon | Ilya's Wedding | Something... | Last Corner | Morgans
Original Fan Fiction
Star Wars | Power Rangers | Real Ghostbusters
Battlestar Galactica | The A Team
Space 1999 | Alias Smith and Jones | Jurassic Park III
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