Note: This story is revised from the original version posted on the A-Team Fan-Fiction Mailing List.
I don't own 'em, I just play with 'em. Song lyrics belong to Warren Zevon (see credits at the end.)
The days slide by,
Should have done, should have done, we all sigh
Never thought I'd ever be so lonely
After such a long, long time
Time out of mind...
I woke up with a groan, trying to shut out the annoying beeping of the alarm by sticking the pillow over my head. Braaap-braaap-braap, it still insisted, braap-braap-braap. Get your lazy butt out of bed, braap-braap-braap.
I really hated that alarm. At least a clock radio has the decency to wake you up with music instead of a drill pounding into your skull. Unable to silence the noise to my satisfaction, I finally reached over and fumbled for the snooze bar, then collapsed back under the covers. I couldn't even quite remember why I had to get up so early that morning, as the alarm had interrupted me in the middle of an unpleasant dream, and reality was still a little hazy in its aftermath. Oh yeah--conference call with that producer, the new movie deal for Hannibal, I remembered, brain finally deciding to come alive. Well, that was over an hour from now, plenty of time to get some coffee in me, get back to feeling human, and go over my pitch a few times before the call.
I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and rolled over, trying to ignore the invasive sunlight coming through the window. I hadn't slept well and that was making it harder even than normal to get up. I never slept well when Murdock was away--especially when, like now, he was off running around on one of those crazy missions with Hannibal.
Why couldn't those two just give it up? I asked myself with a sigh. I could never get a decent answer from either of them about that. So many years now... twenty since we all got out of 'Nam, and almost five years since the pardon...
Five years... it was so strange to realize that much time had passed. Almost five years since Stockwell had finally let us go--only to be attacked by the media in a barrage of questions, ceremonies, interviews, and inva-sions into our privacy. All the attention had almost left us wishing for the relative "anonymity" of being men on the run again. We'd gone through the motions as much as necessary to please the press, revealing only what had been allowed about the mysterious arrangements that had caused our unexpected pardon to come through...
And eventually, unsurprisingly, they'd tired of trying to get any real answers out of us and found something new to catch their attention for the next fifteen minutes. After the madness died down, we suddenly found ourselves facing the question we'd never really believed we'd get the chance to answer: What on Earth were we going to do next?
I heard a threatening rumbling charging up the stairs, accompanied by excited barks and yelps. I heard it just in time to brace for the attack, as only seconds later Kirk launched himself onto the bed and dove at me with a barrage of slurpy, disgusting dog kisses. "Hey sport, easy now," I tried to calm him down, but the large dog just barked again and jumped around the bed, all energy. "All right all right, I'm getting up, see? I'm up."
Getting out of bed and grabbing my robe, I realized another reason I missed Murdock when he was gone--usually he took care of walking the dogs, Kirk and Spock, in the morning. Murdock was much better at this morning business; he usually would have the second pot of coffee going before I even crawled out of bed.
So I stumbled into the kitchen, where Spock was waiting patiently. Aptly named, he was the more even-tempered of the two, and he only whined softly as I started preparing the coffee. "Yeah, I know. Just let me jump in the shower first, okay?" If Murdock had his way, I think this house would be a zoo. He's always finding more strays to bring home--dogs, cats, ferrets...one time even an iguana. I didn't even ask where he found that one. Somehow he always managed to find another home for them, though--at least after I complained that if he kept this up we'd have the whole crew of the Enterprise living here. So instead, a lot of the kids at B.A.'s center now had pets named everything from Chekov to Uhura.
I put down some fresh water and food to keep the dogs occupied and headed to the bathroom. I wasn't about to take those two outside before showering and becoming at least marginally presentable to the world at large. After all, I might be a "married man" these days, but I still had an image to maintain.
Married--not legally, granted, but in every other sense of the word. And to another man, no less. The idea still struck me as unbelievable sometimes, but then again hardly anything about my life had ever fit "standard issue". So I guess it shouldn't really have kept surprising me that my love life would take an unexpected turn along the way.
That had been, no doubt, the scariest thing for me after the pardon--finally telling the others about our relationship and the fact that we would be getting a place together back in L.A. Murdock and I both knew we couldn't keep things secret any longer. As it had turned out, we probably hadn't needed to all the time we did anyway. Hannibal had raised so little fuss, I swear he must have known what was going on for a long time, even if he let us continue to believe otherwise. And B.A...well, he'd seemed a little perplexed about things at first, but he got used to the idea after a while. Frankie just seemed to find the whole thing a little too weird, but that was okay. The kid had gone back to doing his own thing and we didn't see him much these days. His dad wasn't doing too well, and his family needed him a lot more than we ever did.
I hung up my robe and pajamas in the bathroom and stepped into the shower, letting the warm water finish waking me up. In my head I started working over my pitch, trying to remember the key points about why this new Aquamaniac script was a guaranteed blockbuster. Actually, it was a piece of hackneyed tripe saved only by lots of Baywatch-style siliconed beach bimbettes and Hannibal's menacing presence in the old rubber suit. That was enough to guaranty it would be at least a lowbrow success on the direct-to-video market, which was good enough to sell it to certain producers like the one I'd be talking to today. My life-long touch for sweet-talking and conniving had proven to be even more lucrative in Hollywood than it ever had on the job with the Team. All the fun of running a good scam without the fear of having my face pummeled in by some angry thug, or running from a hail of bullets.
Thinking about that turned my mood sour, as I remembered the argument I'd had with Murdock just after he'd mentioned he was going off on another wild-goose chase with Hannibal. After the pardon, Stockwell had asked all of us if we'd consider working for him still on the occasional mission of "utmost importance to national security". At the time, we'd said, "No thanks, no chance in Hell." I couldn't wait to get away from that bastard, and I sure wasn't going to work for him again, not after everything he'd put us through.
But a few months later, Hannibal had called us up to see if we would come along with him on a job Stockwell had proposed. B.A. and I had both asked Hannibal if he'd gone completely nuts. B.A. had "his kids" to watch over now, after all. He had fallen so in love with being able to work with them full-time at the shelter and community center he'd renovated that he had little interest in reprising the old adventurous life. And me, I simply couldn't stand the idea of doing anything associated with that slimy general ever again.
"Well, I gotta do somethin' to keep busy," Hannibal had replied to my protests. "Guess Hollywood and Bad Rock can only keep me tied down for so long."
Murdock had agreed to go along with Hannibal, citing his need not to let the colonel go on a mission alone. I hadn't objected much that first time--I knew Murdock's loyalty to Hannibal was beyond comprehension--much as Murdock was, in general. And I didn't like the idea of Hannibal going in on something alone either. It reminded me of Hong Kong, where he'd nearly died. Would've died, if we hadn't insisted on going after him.
But after that, when those calls kept coming every few months--and when Murdock started coming home with the occasional injuries that spoke of risks I didn't see why he should be taking anymore--then I started to get angry. Murdock had tried to play it all down, swearing he wouldn't do go on another of these missions again...and then a few months later, another call would come. And we'd have another big fight. And there would be more sleepless nights for me until he got back home safe.
I got out of the shower and did a quick job of shaving and fixing my hair, trying to concentrate on the mundane tasks of the day--I wasn't going to be any good on this pitch this morning if I didn't get myself out of this bad mood. I wished sometimes that I understood what pushed those two to always be taking these risks. Hannibal, I figured, somehow needed the jazz to feel alive. Murdock...I guessed he just couldn't stay grounded for very long. Stunt piloting on the safety of a movie set didn't seem to give him the same thrill as running a chopper through a war zone.
We'd had a lousy goodbye before he left his time--really no goodbye at all, and I couldn't get it out of my head. I'd come home from the office I kept downtown and found him busy packing his knapsack. The guilty look on his face told me everything--he was planning on sneaking out before I got home, so we could avoid this argument until he got back.
"Again?" I'd groaned. "What is it this time? Whose government needs to be overthrown? Isn't this ever going to stop?"
"It's supposed to be a simple recon sweep, Face. Two man operation, no biggie. Look, I should be back in two days, three tops..."
"That's not it, dammit!" It was always the same story. "When are you two gonna stop with this hero-business? Don't you know or care how much it's killing Maggie every time Hannibal runs off like this? Especially now with the baby on the way? And what about me, huh?! Doesn't it matter to you how I would feel if I lost you--lost you for no good reason?"
"It's an important job. If we don't go--"
"Stockwell can get some of his other lackeys to take care of it. Why does it have to be you, huh? Why?"
Murdock had given me that pleading look he's so good at, and he came over to me, reaching out to take my hands. "Face...I...wish I could explain, but...Hannibal, you know how he is...he just needs this, needs a battle to keep fighting...and he needs someone, one of us, there for him..."
"But I need you here, Murdock. Don't I matter to you, too?"
"You know how much you mean to me."
"Then don't go. Don't keep putting me through this. It's time for us all to move on, to grow up. It's been how long now...?"
"I know, I know," he'd sighed, leaning in against me. I'd been so angry and upset at him, but still I'd found my arms hugging him close, not wanting to let him go. "Just this last time, Face, I promise. I'll talk to Hannibal, tell him I can't do it no more after this time."
"Just this last time', yeah," I'd repeated bitterly. "You know how many times I've heard that before." Then I'd let him go, feeling the anger rising again. Turning away, I'd looked out the window, unable to even face him anymore. "Go on. I can't deal with this anymore right now."
"No, I mean it, Murdock, go! You need to run after Hannibal and keep up these crazy games, do it. But don't ask me to understand, because I can't."
And he'd left...I don't think I moved at all or looked back as I heard him finish zipping up the bag, stepping out of the bedroom...and then the door closing behind him downstairs. And that had been the end of it.
I ran my hands through my hair roughly, trying to work out the agitation I felt over the situation still. That had been two days ago, and still there was no word on when they expected to get back, where they'd gone, nothing. Would he really tell Hannibal it was finished this time? I certainly hoped so. Someone had to talk some sense into him. And as much as I loved Murdock, I didn't know if I could take this strain on our relationship much longer. We'd had our share of the normal problems every couple has, and gotten through them fine in the end. But this was starting to get out of control.
I finished getting ready, dressing and downing a cup of too-strong coffee (never could make it just right, as Murdock has pointed out to me often enough!) before taking the dogs out for a run on the beach. I still had thirty minutes to clear my head and get in gear. The walk did me good; the house we'd settled on was a real gem, a beachfront two-story in the Santa Monica area. I ran into a few of our neighbors out taking their morning jogs or walking their own dogs. Kirk always tried to pick a fight with any one that came too close to him, the dumb aggressive mutt. He was a kindred spirit to his namesake, just like Spock.
I felt a little better after the walk. I loved the beach, and it always managed to calm me down. I resolved to have a long talk with Murdock to smooth things out when he got back. If we could just sit down and really work things through, we'd find a way to resolve this problem. Talk to Hannibal together, bring in the other guys and Maggie if we had to. But right now, I had to get back inside and get some work done.
The dogs were content to return to the house and chase each other around in the backyard for a while, so I headed upstairs to the den that had become my home office. I was getting all my papers ready, shuffling around my desk to find the phone number of the producer, when the front doorbell rang.
Shoot, better be someone I get rid of quick, I thought to myself, not wanting to be late making this call. I stepped out of the office and hurried to the front door, wondering who it could be this early. If it was Murdock, he certainly wouldn't need to ring the bell to come in. I opened the door and was more than a little surprised to see Hannibal standing there on the porch.
"Hannibal!" I exclaimed. "Hey, glad you guys are back, I was just about to call Stan about the movie." Suddenly the fact that he was there, and Murdock wasn't, struck me. "Where's Murdock?"
The instant the question was out of my mouth, I knew the answer. It was written on Hannibal's pale face, his reddened eyes that looked to me with such pain and guilt "Face..." he started, then just shook his head and looked down, unable to continue.
"Oh God, no, Hannibal, no..." My stomach clenched, dread descending upon me. I knew why he was here, but I couldn't believe it. I clutched at the doorframe, needing to hold onto it to keep my legs from giving out under me, needing to hold onto something solid. This is not happening--this can't be happening, no! I pleaded with myself. "Hannibal, no, please don't tell me..." I couldn't even finish speaking. I couldn't let go of the breath I held painfully, my chest constricted in fear.
The moisture in Hannibal's eyes when he looked up again confirmed what I did not want--could not stand--to hear. He seemed somehow older than I ever remembered seeing him, as if all the life had drained out of him. As I felt it draining from me. "I'm...Face, you don't know how this is killing me. He's... Murdock's...gone."
I didn't know what to feel, what to think, to do--I was simply in total, numb shock. I couldn't breathe. I felt so cold. I started to black out, my mind reeling and my sweat-drenched hands barely able to keep hold of the doorframe. "No," I denied, shaking my head, needing to believe this wasn't happening. "No, Hannibal, he can't be...no..." The tears in my throat choked down my voice, but I was panicking so much the tears wouldn't even come out. I was ready to fall down and lose it right there in the doorway, but somehow Hannibal took me by the shoulders, led me inside, his own voice fading into a painful buzz in my ears. I wanted him to go away, for this all to be a bad dream. It had to be a bad dream, Murdock couldn't be...
"Face...Face..." Hannibal called, taking my hands and trying to get me to listen him. "Face...please, I'm...so sorry. I don't know what to say. I'm...I know what I'm feeling right now can't even begin to approach how much this is hurting you...but you have to believe me, I did...I did everything I could..."
"You did everything you could?!" I screamed, suddenly finding a release from the pain in my anger. I pulled my hands away from him. "You could have stopped going on these goddammed missions is what you could have done! He was doing this because of you, and now he's dead--because of you!"
The outburst released the tears and I couldn't speak anymore. I just lost it. The pain was worse than anything I could have imagined. There would be no chance for that talk now, no chance for apologies...for anything. I hadn't even said goodbye when he left. This was what I had been fearing so much, and now it had happened.
I'd lost him.
I remember vaguely Hannibal coming back over next to me then, holding me. I think he was crying too, but I was too far gone to really notice. I just knew that everything was over.
Nothing was going to be the same again.
Softly falls the morning rain
Loneliness comes around again
And I sit and sing my song
Though it never seems to matter
And it never fills the emptiness inside
Grief is a funny thing, the way it hits you. It's almost impossible to describe it to someone who hasn't felt it, hasn't known what it's like to lose someone that close to you. I'd never felt it that bad before. Not having ever had any real family, I'd never gone through the pain of a mother, or father, or any close loved one dying. I'd lost friends during the war, but the situation had been such at the time that we'd all grown accustomed to that kind of death, day in, day out. It kept us from becoming too close to anyone while we were there, to avoid having to feel anything.
Grief comes in waves, I learned, kind of like the waves washing up on the beach outside the window. Endlessly, cycling over and over. You wake up, and for a moment, you feel fine. It's a bright, sunny day, you hear the gulls out on the beach calling, and you try to remember what exactly it is that's so wrong. Then you notice that you're alone, and you remember everything, and you realize that the person you love is never coming back, and the pain comes again. You cry until your eyes are burning, until your throat is raw and you're nauseous, sick, you can't even move. You can't understand how the world outside can be so bright and everyone can act as if everything is normal when your whole life has just been destroyed.
Then you finally manage to get up and go through the necessary motions of living for a while. Numbness replaces the pain. Feed the dogs, walk the dogs, try not to think about how Kirk is sitting by the door, whining, waiting for his favorite playmate to come home. You try not to look at the pictures on the wall, the smiling faces looking back at you. It's hard to remember how it felt, what it was like to be happy like that. It seems as if it has to be someone else, some other lifetime, even though it was only a few days ago. You sit staring at the TV, or simply staring out into nothingness, the idea of moving at all, doing anything, more than you can bear.
And then night comes, but you can't sleep. Because when you sleep, you dream, and you dream of him, and then when you wake up you realize that's all it was--a dream. That's all it ever will be now. So the pain and the tears start again.
I was a mess. Those days after Hannibal showed up at my door were the worst I'd ever gone through. Thank God for the others, who made sure there was always someone with me, even if all I did was fight with them most of the time. Maggie arrived not long after Hannibal--she was really starting to show; I think she was getting close to seven months now. Murdock had been so excited about the prospect of being able to fuss over the first A-Team baby...another lost chance, another something we'd never get to share. Maggie was the calm professional for all of us, trying to make sure I at least got some fluids in me because I couldn't eat anything. B.A. rushed over that first afternoon after Hannibal called him from here. I'd never seen B.A. reduced to tears like that before. Anyone who doubted that the big guy cared for Murdock like a brother, what with all their continual bickering, should have seen him that day, looking so utterly crushed and lost.
And Hannibal...I was so wrapped up in my own pain and anger that I couldn't see how much this was tearing him up, too. He was blaming himself completely for what had happened, and I wasn't making him feel any less responsible. It was a while before he could even tell us what exactly had happened.
"It was...going to be simple, straightforward. Nothing fancy," he explained to B.A., Maggie, and myself on the second day, after I was at least calm enough to listen to him. Amy was on the way from Japan. She'd promised to be there later that evening. Frankie had been informed of the news but respectfully was staying away for now. This was time just for the rest of us to be together. None of us actually knew for sure if Murdock had any family anywhere he'd want us to contact--he never talked about any of them, but we did have an old address back in Texas, so Maggie sent out an express letter, just in case.
"This typical two-bit dictator on some island off Central America was getting too friendly with some bad influences. Satellite photos suggested he had a military base that was possibly being used to store some heavy ammo--chemical weapons, maybe even nuclear arms...They needed someone--us--to get a better look, do some ground recon on the site. No assault, not until we could bring back better intelligence. We'd take in a small boat to the shoreline at night, hike out to the base, scope it out, then get back out before sunrise. Shouldn't have been simpler. S.O.P.-- a boat would be waiting for us at 500-hours at an offshore rendezvous. If we weren't there on time, there'd be no rescue.
"We hit the coast with a general map of the area, planned our course of action. The land was tough-- swampy, hard going--but we were making decent time. We could scope things out well enough for the assignment from the outside...but I wanted a better look. We still couldn't tell precisely what was going on at the facility without getting closer. They weren't too well fortified; we knocked out a couple guards, worked our way inside. Murdock knew the language and it was dark enough for us to get around without notice--for a while, at least.
"We shouldn't have risked it...I was just being damn stupid. Cocky. But I had to know what was going on. We ID'd the main facility and Murdock diverted the guards. I went inside. Five minutes and I'd gotten photos, plans, all the details I thought would make sense to the pencil necks at home but didn't make much sense to me. High-tech stuff.
"We didn't get too far...soon as we started heading back out everything went bad. We'd been spotted. We couldn't even grab a jeep--there'd be no way to get it down to the landing on the beach through the swamp. We had to take it by foot, even though we were scaling the fence and taking off with half this lunatic's army after us.
"Murdock was right behind me...we only had the moonlight to see by, and footing was difficult. They were gaining on us...every once in a while they'd start firing, or catch us in their searchlights...we had to do something to gain some time or else I knew we wouldn't make it...
"We were following a ravine that led down to the shore from the mountainside, and I thought we'd try going under the water till the men passed...I was stopping to suggest it when suddenly the firing started again...Murdock just...stumbled against me...I pulled him down and rolled into the ravine, out of the line of fire...we'd be out of sight, at least for the moment...I hoped no one had seen that their shots had been lucky.
"I could barely see, so I risked the light I had for a moment...one look and I knew it was bad. Two shots from the back, one was too close to his heart...he knew, too...he looked at me, told me to go. I said there was no way in hell I'd leave him behind, but he begged me...kept telling me to go. And then...it was over, before I could do or say anything else..." He paused, finally, the detachment he'd managed to put on for a few minutes so he could tell his story starting to crack. Maggie had his hand in hers, and the rest of us waited in silence until he was ready to go on. We'd all reached that cried-out point for a while, though I could barely stand thinking about what Hannibal was describing had happened.
"I heard them coming now, closer. I hated it, hated...leaving him behind, Christ, hated it more than anything I'd ever had to do...but I wasn't going to let him down. I wasn't going to let us both go down for this. I took the camera he had...tried not to think about what I was doing, leaving him...just pushed on. Kept running, harder now than before...had to beat them. Had to make it to the boat. Running so I wouldn't even have time to think about what had happened.
"Sometime before I made it to the shore, once I was back in the worst muck of the swampland near the shore, I realized I didn't hear them after me anymore. There was a small landing strip on the island, according to our map, just upland from there...I think they figured we were heading for that, not the beach. One stroke of luck, only too late. I was out at the rendezvous spot a half-hour before five, waiting in the small launch we'd used to get to shore. I...don't think any of what had happened really sunk in until the yacht came to pick us...me...up. I saw...he'd left his jacket on the boat before we took off in the launch."
The jacket was now upstairs in the bedroom. I'd barely been able to look at it, when Hannibal had brought it in the house.
"One of those things, Hannibal," B.A. said gently, shaking his head. "Cain't be blamin' yourself-- we've all been under fire, jus' prayin' someone don' get in that lucky shot."
"He shouldn't have been there in the first place," I objected. "It was one thing when the risk was necessary, but this..."
"Face, trying to find someone to blame isn't going to make things any easier," Maggie put in softly, trying to deflect my anger, but it only enraged me more.
"Oh, the hell with it. The hell with all of you, I don't want to hear it! I don't want to hear your apologies, Hannibal. I don't want to hear you going off about God and fate, B.A. And Maggie, I sure as hell don't need you riding my case!"
I stormed upstairs, needing to get away. Maggie was calling after me, but I slammed the door to shut them all out. I was about to lose it again. Spock looked up sadly from the floor, and let out a mournful yowl in agreement.
And the jacket was lying there on the bed, waiting for me. I almost wanted to run out again, instead of facing that reminder of him. That stupid, old, beaten-up jacket. But then I sat down, touched it...picked it up, and held it close to me...I breathed in, and the scent of it--the old leather, a whisper of familiar cologne, and just his smell--it set me off completely. I wrapped my arms around it and started to sob again. It didn't last long, I was too worn out. I had used up most of my tears yesterday, so I mostly trembled and cried tearlessly. The emotional exhaustion was getting to me.
I lay there with the jacket, thinking back on everything. I remembered the first night we ever were together. The way I'd somehow known right then that I'd found the person I'd always been looking for...the excitement of discovering a whole new world of pleasure, of love. All the crazy times we'd had together, good and bad. That smile, the look in his eyes when he wanted me...or when I told him that I loved him. That gentle twang in his voice, his laugh...oh God, not to hear that laugh again. Again my chest constricted, another wave of pain. I tried not to think of anything, then, because I just couldn't take it anymore. I tried to only listen to the waves outside, holding the jacket to me as if I was still holding him.
Eventually I drifted off to sleep for a while, I doubt for more than an hour or so. A soft knocking at the door jerked me awake, and I heard someone asking, "Face? Face?"
"Yeah..." My voice was hoarse but I figured I had to acknowledge whoever it was, lest they think I'd gone and killed myself or something. It wasn't as if the thought hadn't crossed my mind.
"Face, it's Amy. Can I come in?"
Amy. I could deal with her right now. She would understand. "Yeah, come in."
The door opened and she stepped inside, gently closing the door behind her. She looked about as awful as I know I felt. "Oh, Face...I can't believe it..."
She walked over to the bed, and we hugged and cried on each other's shoulders for a while. This seemed to happen every time someone else came by, another sobfest. But I was glad she was here. She was the one person I felt like I could really lean on through this, who might understand just how I was feeling. I knew she and Murdock had gotten together for a while when she'd been working with the Team, before Murdock and I had become involved. They'd played it real
quiet; I never heard about it until long after the fact. It had ended when she left on her foreign correspondent job; they'd both figured it couldn't last under those circumstances, not when he was still committed to the V.A. and she had no plans on settling down. Things had ended with no hard feelings, and she'd actually been the first person we talked to after the pardon about our relationship. Since then, we'd stayed in touch...she was a good friend, the only one besides Maggie who really seemed to understand what it was all about. What we were all about.
"This just feels so...so wrong..." Amy said, finally calming down enough to sniffle back the remaining tears for a while. "I just can't past the shock of it. This must be so terrible for you. God, Face, how are you holding up?"
"How does it look like I'm holding up--like hell," I sighed. I pulled away from her a little, looking down at the jacket that was now in my lap. She saw it now, too, and reached out to touch it. "This damn jacket...feels like it's the one piece of him I still have. It's practically falling apart, it's so old."
Amy just nodded, not saying anything. We just sat in silence, trying to come to terms with our own private grief. Finally she sighed and rubbed her red eyes. "Hannibal looked completely wrecked when I came in. You know how miserable he has to be about what happened. Face, I know you probably don't want to hear this right now, but you can't blame him for what happened. Like it or not, Murdock was making his own decision to go along on the mission. It doesn't do any of us good right now to make each other feel worse about what's happened."
"I know, I know..." I closed my eyes, not wanting to face the truth of the matter. "I just keep needing...something to explain this. Some reason for it. Someone to blame besides myself, for not insisting that this insanity stop sooner..."
"Oh, Face," she pulled me close for another hug. "You can't blame yourself for this, you can't. Please..." Slipping away, she squeezed my hand gently. "If you feel up to it, let's go downstairs, let everyone else know you're all right. You think Murdock would want to see you like this?"
"No," I agreed. "No, you're right. Go on ahead, I'll be down in a few minutes. I promise."
"Okay." She kissed my forehead gently and slipped outside.
I held onto the jacket a little longer, tried to push down the wave of pain that was starting to hit me again. Then I got up, folded it carefully and left it on the chair by the window. I watched the ocean for a few minutes before finally heading downstairs to rejoin the others.
Now I'm hiding in Honduras
I'm a desperate man
Send lawyers, guns and money
The shit has hit the fan.
Hannibal was definitely on the Jazz. I should have known we were in trouble.
"Time check, Cap'n?" We'd just made visual on the base. The place was lit up like a multiplex in the middle of the suburbs and stuck out like a sore thumb in this jungle.
I looked at my watch. "Just 'bout zero-hundred hours, Colonel. Took us almost three hours to make it here from the beach."
Hannibal nodded. "We can figure a little less time for the return, since it'll be downhill. We should still get outta here by one-hundred hours to make sure we have enough time to meet the rendezvous party."
"Roger that." An hour should be plenty of time for what we were supposed to snoop out anyway. We were almost to the crest of the small hill that was between us and the base, after workin' our way through the thick of the dense, damp jungle. It was hot and miserable, just like every other wonderful jungle I'd ever had the pleasure to experience. We were both covered with enough slime and muck by this point from trailin' through the swamp and followin' a river up from the marshes near the beach that I joked, "Y'know, add a few more leaves, a touch more slime on your head, and you'd be ready to star in that Swamp Thing remake you've been wantin' to do."
Hannibal laughed. "Yeah, talk about doing research for a part. I feel like the Swamp Thing right now. Maybe we can storm the place looking like this and scare everyone off."
I was about to suggest it was too bad we hadn't brought along the Aquamaniac suit for full effect, but Hannibal motioned to get down. I snaked over a little closer to him to take in the view. There was a solid, high fence all 'round the outer perimeter of the place, maybe twenty yards from us. We had a good overview of the whole set-up, and Hannibal had out his voice recorder and was whisperin' some notes into it for the boys back home to chew over later. I got out my camera and started tryin' to get shots of everythin' that looked important, and lots of things that didn't--but who could tell for sure? That wasn't our job to figure out. We were simply here to take lots of pretty pictures.
One of the buildings in the back of the base was right on the edge of the river that came down from the mountains off in the distance. I took a closer view, and saw some sort of pumpin' station that looked like it was goin' right from the river into the building. I whispered to Hannibal, "They're usin' that water run-off for somethin' back there, Colonel. Facility could be a chemical lab of some kind."
"Could even be a small nuclear reactor for all we can see from here," Hannibal whispered back. "They could be using the river as a supply for cooling water."
"Man, I hope they ain't been dumpin' stuff in that water that's gonna have us glowin' all pretty colors when we get back home. You won't be just playin' the Swamp Thing then, you could really be the Swamp Thing."
Hannibal shrugged and said, "Well then, we'd better try to find out more precisely what's going on, shouldn't we?"
"Aw, Colonel, we're not supposed to get up close and personal on this one, remember? Leave that to the Company boys when we get home," I grumbled, but I could see it comin'. Once the jazz got a'hold of him, there ain't no backin' down. He was too close to the fire here not to throw a few extra pieces of kindlin' on the blaze.
"You said yourself, they could be mucking up that river we've been following. Don't you want to know if you're going to have to spend a few weeks in de-con after this?"
"All right, all right. So what's the score, Plan-man? How're we goin' in?"
Just then we spotted a couple guards patrolling the outer fence, comin' our way. The colonel just grinned. "How else? Right through..."
"...the front door. I shouldn't have even asked."
'Bout ten minutes later, we were wipin' the last of the slime off our faces and checkin' out our newly-acquired uniforms. Their previous owners rested peacefully at our feet.
Hannibal swore under his breath. Seemed as if he was havin' a rough time with the zipper on his new trousers. "Y'know, Hannibal, most women'll tell you to lie down, that way you can squeeze into them extra tight fittin' pants a lot easier."
"Damn it! When did I start getting so out of shape?" He finally won the battle of the bulge with a triumphant tug. "All right, let's move. Time?"
He nodded. "We go right to that building in the back, forget everything else."
I swung a rifle "borrowed" from one of our fallen companions over my shoulder and took the lead. If anyone stopped us, I was gonna have to do the talkin'. Hannibal's command of Spanish didn't go much past Taco Grande and a few choice swear words he'd picked up from the kids at B.A.'s shelter.
We made it to the entrance, where there were two guards hangin' out to monitor traffic comin' in and out of the facility. Didn't look like they expected much trouble; they looked more bored than anything else. Barely glanced over at us when we came cruisin' through, tryin' to keep up that we-know-exactly-where-we're-goin' walk, though my legs felt all rubbery, ready to give out at any moment. Hannibal had slicked some of the dark swamp mud through his hair to keep from lookin' too out of place, but neither of us could pass for the real deal if we got any close scrutiny.
It was too risky. I knew Hannibal was just lappin' up the danger of it all, but my heart was racin', and I had a real bad feelin' we weren't goin' to pull it off. When it had been the four of us, workin' together, we could send two in on an operation like this, and keep two for backup, me in the air most of the time, 'n someone on the ground with heavy ammo to cover the escape. But here, only two of us--this was playin' without any safety net. What was worse was knowin' somehow Hannibal seemed to like it better this way.
We made quick progress, tryin' to pick up every detail of the surroundings as we walked along. The night shift was quiet, low-key. I don't think I counted more than fifteen men on active duty. We passed a buildin' that looked like barracks, but the lights were out inside so we couldn't get a head count on how many others might be around. Finally we were comin' up on the buildin' of our interest, and there were two compadres standin' watch outside it to take care of before we'd be gettin' inside.
"What's the plan again, oh colonel my colonel?" I whispered as we kept walkin' towards the front door at a leisurely pace.
"Your Spanish is pretty good. Wing it."
"Wing it?! Hannibal...aw hell." Fast-talkin' time, great. I'm gonna kill him when this is over, I swore to myself.
The only thing I could think of--in five seconds, anyway--was some mumbo-jumbo 'bout havin' to switch assignments, that they were needed outside to take up position on perimeter watch instead, where we'd just come from. We stood as much as possible in the shadows of the spotlights overhead, so they couldn't get too good a look at us. They looked at me real funny when I finished my spiel--I thought maybe I'd told 'em to go take a shower in cow-dung instead of goin' outside--but then they started talkin' nervous about leavin' their assigned post, blah-blah-blah. I did my best Faceman impersonation--pretty impressive, mind you, considerin' I was doin' it in a foreign tongue!--'bout how we were just doin' what we'd been told, and hey, if they wanted to ignore an order they could go right on ahead. We didn't care. We could straighten things out with the camp commandant in the morning. Eventually they just shrugged and shuffled off, and I felt ready to heave all over the front steps after they were gone.
"Beautiful, Murdock, and I didn't even understand a word you said!" Hannibal complemented quietly.
"Don't do that to me again, Hannibal. You're makin' me think Face is right about you bein' certifiable. I give us ten minutes, tops, before someone smells the stink we're stirrin' up around here."
"Don't worry, I'll be out in five. Stay here." And Hannibal slipped inside before I could even raise a protest.
Shit. Okay Hannibal, five minutes. I tried not to keep from checkin' my watch every ten seconds. Whatever he found in there better be worth puttin' our lives on the line for like we were doin' right now. Standin' there, hopin' that nothin' was gonna go wrong, I couldn't help but start to think that Face was right. Me 'n Hannibal were bein' pretty irresponsible, keepin' this craziness up. Maybe we were just a couple of overgrown kids, not ready to give up our favorite toys or stop playin' cowboys and Indians. I'd promised Face I'd talk to Hannibal about it...promised it more than once, actually...but I decided this time I really would. No more foolin' around, even if it would be hard, like an addict goin' cold turkey, especially for Hannibal. The jazz was the drug that kept him goin' from day to day, and I could barely understand it or explain it--or the way it had kind of worn off on me--to anyone else.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when Hannibal tapped on my shoulder and announced, "Let's go."
"No arguments from me," I said under my breath, and we headed back out towards the front gate. "What'd you find in there?"
"Lab of some kind, like we figured, but I don't know enough techno-jargon to understand what it's all about. Lots of big tanks and charming red biohazard signs everywhere. I took as many photos as I could-- lots of stuff labeled in some Asian language."
"Chinese?" I guessed.
"Would go along with the intelligence that Gonzales is kissing up to some communist backers. Uh oh..." Hannibal started slowing down. I looked to the gate, and saw that one of the men we'd knocked out earlier was back on his feet--if still in just his underwear--and was frantically goin' on to the guards at the gate. "Looks like he had a harder head than I thought."
"Oh, great," I muttered. We tried not to look conspicuous as we did a one-eighty and headed away from the gate. "This would be a good time to tell me about that back-up plan to get us out of here, Hannibal."
"Sure. It's simple." Right then the general alarm sounded overhead. "It's called run like hell'."
"I think I've heard that tune before!" I agreed, and we took off at a very healthy sprint. In the confusion of the moment, we actually made it all the way to the top of the fence and were jumpin' down over to the other side before the gunfire started trailin' after us.
I stumbled along behind Hannibal, thankful that we at least had the moonlight to see by. "You have any idea where you're headed, Hannibal?" I panted after him.
"We follow the edge of the river, like before. Just don't look back, don't stop!"
"Don't worry, I wasn't planning on it!"
We could hear 'em behind us, shoutin', callin', runnin'. They weren't about to let us get out of here alive. They had searchlights flashing through the trees, tryin' to spot us. Every once in a while I'd see a flash, and they'd start firin' blindly even if the light didn't hit us, I guess if they just saw anything that looked like it was movin'. We plunged on, trying to build distance between us and them. At least we knew exactly where we were going, and they didn't...but hell, probably the whole camp was gonna be up and searchin' for us now. Damn it, Hannibal! I cursed to myself. This was s'posed to be a breeze job...
Hannibal slowed down--I hoped he had a plan and wasn't stoppin' because he really was gettin' too out of shape for this kind of action. It had gotten quiet for a few minutes, like maybe we'd lost 'em.
He stopped and turned to me, startin' to say, "I think--"
Then the jungle exploded with gunfire all around us, and the next thing I knew I was fallin' against Hannibal, like someone had knocked me down from behind.
Then we were both fallin', slidin', wet, water... water was all around me. And the pain, shit! I couldn't think, my chest was on fire, barely...barely able to breathe. Too much pain.
Hannibal was callin' for me, but I could barely see him, could barely focus on the fact that he was there, holdin' onto me. "Hannibal..." I struggled to say the name, to reassure myself he was still there. Needed something solid to reach for.
"Murdock, I'm here, hold on. Hold on, it's gonna be okay."
The pain was bein' replaced by numbness already. "No..." I knew it was comin', everythin' was fadin' out so fast, too damn fast... "No chance, Hannibal...gotta go...gotta leave...you gotta get out of here."
"I'm not gonna leave you here, Murdock! Dammit, Cap'n, stay with me!"
"Can't..." Each breath was harder to take than the last. Warm. It was getting warmer. Just needed to rest, sleep...Hannibal..."Go, Hannibal...don't let it... they're coming...don't let it be for nothin'...go..."
Couldn't let them get him too...why wouldn't he leave, couldn't he see? God, I just wanted to sleep. It was comin' now, the End. Fini, finished. Rest.
Face, no...Face is gonna kill me...kill me? I almost wanted to laugh at that...
But it hurt too much, and it was too late. It was time to rest.
And then I woke up.
So much to do, there's plenty on the farm
I'll sleep when I'm dead...
Like I was sayin, and then I woke up.
'Cept that's not supposed to happen, is it, when you're dead?
I didn't think so. I might be a little out of touch with reality now and again, but I knew what death was s'posed to be like. And I didn't think this was it.
Actually, at first I had no idea what was goin' on at all. I woke up gaspin' for breath, coughin' hard. My mouth was filled with mud, my nose too...I coughed and gasped like I hadn't breathed any good ol' O2 for days. The mud was all over me and I was soakin' wet, sittin' in this pool of shallow muck. I blinked and tried to see straight--
--and I saw this big wild pig standin' there, a little bit back from me. I wondered if she'd pushed me down here into the water, checkin' me out to see if I was edible or not. But I was soaked solid like I'd been lyin' there for days, and it wasn't like I was gonna get a direct answer from her anyway.
"Gee-ya!" I barked to shoo her away, and she grunted and started to shuffle off. Normally I'm a sucker for any type a animal, but my mind wasn't workin' too clearly. I couldn't figure out what I was doin' sleepin' out here in the middle of...wherever I was...instead of a decent bed somewhere. I felt like crap, and I was covered in crap. Where was I? And more importantly, how did I get here?
I couldn't remember nothin' for a while. I just knew that I had to clean up and get to my feet, and try to remember how I'd ended up here. Clear my fuzzy head somehow.
At least the water was warm. This place-- wherever it was--was muggy, damn hot. Tropical. I cleaned up best I could, stepping out of the muddy shallows and tryin' to rinse off in the runnin' river water. I picked up the rifle that was lyin' near where I'd been, then climbed my way out of the ghaut up to more solid land.
I could finally see a little more of the surroundings from up where I was standin' now--there were some jagged peaks, volcanic, maybe--off in the distance...
It started coming back to me, then, little by little. Hannibal...a recon mission of some kind...I remembered runnin' through this jungle blindly in the dark 'cause things hadn't gone right, and then...
Boom. Game over, man, we're fucked! I should be dead right now. Elvis has left the building!
I very distinctly remembered bein' shot at least once, maybe twice, even, but nothin' was too clear after that first shot. I unbuttoned the shirt I had on and pulled it off, checkin' it all over. It was in pretty bad shape, all ripped up 'n muddy, but sure enough, there were two nice, neat holes in it, and the back was far from the original olive drab--more dark brown from a mix of blood and mud. I looked down and noticed the dark blood stains that were on my pants as well, no mistakin' it for anything else.
I had to sit down to think this through for a minute. Damn, where was Doc Richter when I needed him? This situation had the makings of one hell of an emotional crisis.
Okay, nice 'n calm, let's try to figure things out, I told myself. Put on your thinkin' cap. You're supposed to be dead, H.M., and you're not. There has got to be a logical explanation for this.
All right. Maybe I hadn't been shot bad after all, and I just blacked out from the pain. But that couldn't be right, 'cause Hannibal wouldn't have left me behind if that'd been the case. And when I reached around to check my back, I couldn't even find the spots where the bullet wounds should've been. I could find old scars easy enough, but not these. Twilight Zone time, you know? This was getting very weird.
Okay. So try some other explanation: Maybe I hadn't been shot at all. I imagined that, or I don't remember things right. But that didn't quite work, 'cause I couldn't imagine a blood-soaked shirt into existence, not even if I tried really hard. Used to try that with Billy, and he always stayed invisible no matter what I did.
I kept goin' over every possible explanation I could think of, but none of 'em made any sense. Well, except for two. And I wasn't too keen on either of them bein' the truth of the matter.
The first was that I had somehow totally flipped out again. None of this was real. Serious Bongoville time, just like after 'Nam. Which meant I wasn't really here on no jungle island off Central America; I was probably back in a padded cell at the V.A. Maybe the pharmacy screwed up my meds and I got a bad dose of one of my daily little magic pills. If so, then I'd just have to play along with this wacky fantasy until my brain decided to straighten itself out. Not much else I could do about that. So I might as well move on to ponder Door Number Two, which even though that one gave me the heebie-jeebies, I could at least amuse myself with it for a while, if and when Door Number One proved to be right or wrong.
I had to get out here first, though, and that could be a bit difficult. I didn't have nothin' on me, just these dirty, bloody, stolen clothes, a rifle, and my pocketknife. No wallet, no I.D., no cashola. All that was back in my jacket, which was back on the boat. American Express, don't leave home without it--No shit! You never knew when you might wake up in the middle of a hostile dictatorship in need of some extra cash.
Okay then. I thought things over a little longer, tryin' to remember those relaxation techniques Doc used to try to get me to do all the time. I worked out a plan. Not much of one, but it was a start. I had a bit of a hike ahead, and maybe some goons still searchin' for me, so I figured I'd better get movin'. I tried to remember the map of the island Hannibal'd had, tryin' to picture it in my head and figure out where I was, and where that airstrip was supposed to be. If I could find it, and there were any birds on the ground, I had a chance to get out of here. Get back to the States, and figure out what was goin' on for real.
I stood up, wrappin' the ratty shirt around my waist for now 'cause it was gettin' too hot to wear and it really was in pretty bad shape. I wiped the mud off my hands and onto the shirt, and a bit of sunlight flashed through the canopy and caught on the gold band on my finger, settin' off some really heavy thoughts that somehow had been lost in the muddle of my confusion until then.
If Hannibal got out of here and reported back already, Face thinks I'm dead right now. They all think I'm dead.
Shit shit shit. This was not good. Not good at all.
I had to get home soon as I could. I could just imagine what Face was goin' through right now. What the guys were all thinkin'...man, this was bad. Face didn't even want me goin' on this job, and now he thinks I'm dead, shit...!
Okay, can't worry 'bout that now, no time to panic. Gotta get out of here first. Focus. I thought I had a good handle on which way was northwest, which was where I reckoned the airstrip was, so I started hikin'.
It was gonna be a long day.
The island wasn't that big, but it sure felt like it by foot. I was on the southeastern side, which was swampy, jungle-heavy, and undeveloped 'cept for El Presidente's military camps, so it made for tough goin'. There weren't no roads around here, 'cept for the dirt paths for the 4-wheel drives the military goons used to get around, and I wasn't about to risk hangin' too near to those 'till I got closer to the airstrip. I started to get hungry and pretty thirsty after a while, but I found some fruit to hold me over along the way. I was starting to feel a bit like Johnny Weissmuller but figured I'd better save the Tarzan calls for later. Wouldn't exactly be very inconspicuous of me, as tempting as the idea was.
I wasn't keen on jungles. Always felt too much like bein' back in 'Nam. I tried not to think about that much, or Face and Hannibal and everyone else. I just tried to softly hum a song or two to keep my mind preoccupied. "You can throw away the blues, romping through the slime and ooze, romping through the swamp..." Somehow that seemed like an appropriate enough little ditty for the moment, though I kept forgettin' the rest of the song after the first verse. So I kept my mind busy thinkin' up my own verses for it while I pushed on.
I still had my watch so I could follow the time, but I had no idea of what day it was. Between taking a few rest periods and readjusting my course a few times, it was about four hours before I finally found what I was lookin' for. The jungle was startin' to lighten up, and I was comin' up on a small plateau that had been cleared off so a short runway could be set-up. There was a tin-roofed shack 'long the west side of it, and two military types sittin' outside the shack on guard duty. Runway like that couldn't handle no heavy birds, but there it sat, one sweet little Gulf Stream shinin' all pretty and perfect in the sun. I smiled, thinkin' that it very well could be El Presidente's private plane. Oh, Hannibal would love that. If I could snag her, I could make it back to the States if she had full tanks. Just needed a way to divert the boys' attention for a while, though they looked pretty diverted and disinterested already. Glad I hadn't lost the rifle.
I was sittin' there in the edge of the brush by the strip, tryin' to come up with a decent plan, when I noticed somethin' that freaked me out again. With all that hikin', I remembered cuttin' myself up here and there on dead branches, some prickly plants, stuff like that. My arms should've been lookin' like I'd been wrestlin' with a bunch of tomcats by now. But there weren't no signs of no bruises or scratches anywhere. My arms looked perfectly fine--dirty, but fine. This was bad, because that went along with my Door Number Two explanation that I didn't want to believe about why I was still alive.
But I had to confirm what I was thinkin' now, couldn't put it off any longer. I pulled out my pocket-knife, took a deep breath, and slashed the blade across my left forearm real quick, not too deep. It stung like hell and started to bleed, and I cursed myself for bein' so stupid. But then, just as I was wipin' the blood away and reachin' down for my shirt to tie something around the cut...
Healed up right before my eyes, in less than a minute's time.
That definitely did not used to happen.
Okay, not gonna think about it now, time enough for that later. The plane, gotta get the plane, I reminded myself. I stayed outta sight in the brush, and snuck 'round to the back of the shack. Watchin' from behind the corner, I could see the two guards sittin' there outside, in the middle of a card game. A radio was playin' in the background. Guess military dictators just couldn't get decent help these days. This was really gonna be too easy.
Poppin' around the corner, I fired over their heads and yelled, "Hands up! Away from the table!" Leveling the gun at the two surprised young men, I repeated it in Spanish, and they very quickly complied. They looked like they were scared shitless. Shoot, I realized, I must be a real sight to behold right now after sweatin' through the jungle all day, all covered in muck and standin' here half-naked. Forget Tarzan, I was feelin' more like Grizzly Adams of the Swamp.
Their rifles were propped up against their chairs, so I had 'em back up real slow 'n easy 'till I could get to 'em and toss 'em out of reach. Lucky me, one of the guys looked just about my height. For the second time in so many days (well, conscious days, at least) I was gonna acquire some lovely new third-world chic fashions. I didn't see any rope in easy sight, but the radio had a nice long extension cord reachin' from inside the shack. I made the guy who was still dressed use the cord to tie his amigo to one of the chairs, then had him sit in the other chair so they were back to back. I made like I was gonna tie him to his chair too, but then decided it was too much effort to try one handed, apologized real quick, and conked 'em both out cold with the butt of the rifle. I grabbed the clothes, did a quick change, and ran over to check out the bird.
She was a beauty, sittin' there all pretty and gassed up so she could be ready to go at her owner's beck and call. Well, he was gonna be callin' in vain today, 'cause I was on my way home.
I felt a lot calmer once I got in the air. Was easier to think about things up here, just blue ocean and sky all 'round me. I did wish I had my Walkman and some Stones for full effect, but I'd make do for now. And I had one big decision to make at this point. Of course I wanted to get home and let the guys know I was okay as soon as possible...but I wasn't actually that sure I was okay, and I had no idea what to tell everyone about what had happened to me. It wasn't an easy decision to make, but I knew what I had to do--the one person I had to make a quick detour to see first, who just might have a clue about what was goin' on with me.
I just hoped that Duncan MacLeod hadn't moved again in the past few years. Four-hundred year old immortal Scotsmen can be kind of hard to keep track of, even in this so-called information age.
I called up my friend Leroy on the phone
And I said, "Buddy, I'm afraid to be alone,
'Cause I've got some weird ideas in my head
About things to do in Denver when you're dead."
There was a small airstrip outside of Seacouver I touched down at 'round eleven that night. I made a quick exit from the plane and managed to hotwire a car to get on the road into the city before I could even manage to catch my breath. I was so totally wired at this point, runnin' on adrenaline and not much else. Been too long of a day on too little sustenance and too much weirdness and I was just prayin' for it all to be over soon.
I was really torn up about what I was doin' out here, chasin' down an address off a postcard Duncan had sent my way after the news about the pardon a few years back. I kept thinkin' 'bout Face and wantin' to call him at the next pay phone along the way, but somethin' kept stoppin' me, tellin' me to wait, that I'd be freakin' him out too bad by givin' him a call from "beyond the grave" and all that. Besides, I just had this real bad feelin' 'bout what was goin' on. I needed to know the truth before traumatizin' him and everyone else I knew by showin' up at home alive--not only alive but not even injured in the first place. I had too many questions, and only one person I could think of who might have the answers. Just a few hours more, I kept tellin' myself. Then I could go home.
I stopped at a gas station and managed to get directions to the address I had (thank you, Lord, for givin' me a brain that could file away so much useless trivia!). I was outside the place twenty minutes later.
Here goes nothin', I told myself, takin' the old elevator up to the top floor, suddenly gettin' this weird pricklin' feelin' in the back of my neck, givin' me the shivers. Couldn't tell if it was the only the fatigue gettin' to me or what, but it put me even more on edge. When I get the heebie-jeebies that bad, nine outta ten times there's a reason for it besides my forgettin' to take my meds.
I knocked on the apartment door, but didn't get any answer at first. I tried again, and this time the door opened quickly.
Now, maybe it's just me, but I'm not used to people greetin' me by sticking a sword to my throat. Even to me that's a little...well... crazy.
I jumped back a bit, and then managed to focus my eyes past the very sharp blade before them to the face of the man holdin' the weapon: that long hair pulled back in a tight pony tail, those deadly-handsome kind of features like a movie star. Somethin' about him just a little bit out of time--too primal, maybe, compared to the rest of us. It was him all right, Duncan MacLeod. He didn't look a damn bit different from the last time I'd seen him, and that was over twenty years ago. But of course, since he was immortal, it shouldn't have surprised me. It did anyway.
"Duncan MacLeod. Remember me?" I tried to keep my voice all even and friendly, wonderin' if he'd gone nutso in his old age and hence the sword at the throat. "Is this how you treat all your old war buddies?"
Duncan's dark eyes narrowed for a moment, and then recognition seemed to finally come. His stance relaxed slightly but he didn't put the sword away. "Wait a minute...Murdock? Is that you?"
"One and the same. You mind pointin' that thing somewhere else? I need to talk to you."
He lowered the sword when he realized I wasn't here to cause any trouble and apologized, "Sorry, come in. Been a long time since I've seen you."
"Yeah, another lifetime, almost. What's with the home security there, you in trouble? Someone after you?"
He put the sword away and led me inside, takin' a seat on the sofa. He still hadn't gotten rid of that Scottish brogue when he talked, not even after this many years in the States. "Someone's always after me, Murdock. And you look like you're here on the run yourself. What happened to you?"
"Oh, the usual," I explained, sittin' down and getting comfortable. "Got shot in the back twice and died, woke up this mornin' feelin' fine, hiked through hostile territory 'till I could steal a plane to get home, you know. Same old same old, comin' back from the dead and all that. Least for someone like you it is."
He stared at me square-on, real confused lookin' for a minute. I tend to have that effect on people. Then I could practically see the light bein' switchin' on inside his head. "It just happened to you," he stated more than asked.
"Something just happened to me. All I know is I should be dead right now, and I'm not, and weird shit is goin' on with me all of a sudden. I cut myself, and it's gone in seconds. I remember you showin' me that same little parlor trick in 'Nam, when you were tryin' to explain to me how come you came back to life after that chopper crash. Either I'm goin' completely insane, or somehow I've become like you. I was hopin' you could tell me which it is."
MacLeod took a minute before answering, then sighed and said, "You're not nuts, Murdock. Well, no more so than the last time I saw you. You are an immortal. Welcome to the Game, old friend."
I looked at him for a minute, then I started to laugh. I couldn't believe it. I mean, it was what I'd come here to find out, what I was suspectin', but hearin' someone else say it made it seem completely ridiculous. "This is...this is too much, man. You didn't tell me this...this just... happened to people! I thought there was only a bunch of you guys runnin' around for hundreds of years already."
"It doesn't just happen to people'. You were born an immortal. It's only after we die our first death that the special...nature of our existence is revealed. You'll forgive me for saying this, but I figured you never would've made it this long without dying. Not the way you were flying during 'Nam, and that business with the A-Team. That's why I'm surprised to see you only now. I thought that was why you were hiding out in the V.A. all those years after the war, to steer clear of other immortals."
"I was hidin' out from a lot of things, mostly myself, but not this..." His seriousness was enough to bring me back down to Earth and to get me to stop laughin'. And then I realized somethin' from what he had said. "You knew, back then, this was gonna happen to me, didn't you?"
He hedged a bit. "I...had a hunch. Sometimes you can tell, once you've been around as long as I have. It was the only reason I told you as much as I did about my being an immortal back then."
"You knew, and you didn't tell me this was going to happen?! Why? Didn't I deserve to know?"
"Murdock, there are a lot of things you don't understand about this right now."
"So enlighten me. Make me understand. What's this about a game? Who's game? What kind of a game?"
Duncan just sat there, and put his head in his hands like he was real tired. Then after a bit he sighed and sat back up, saying, "This is going to take some time to explain. Listen, you look like you've been through a lot. You want to get cleaned up, then maybe we can go somewhere for a drink and talk this over?"
"I'd love to stay and catch up on old times, MacLeod, but frankly I'm a little pressed for time. I've got people I need to let know I'm still alive 'cause they think I'm floating around like so much alligator bait in Central America right now. I only came up here first to make sure I was right about what happened. I mean, let me use your phone to call some people, then maybe I can stick around, but--"
"Murdock, wait..." Suddenly he looked real concerned, and he took hold of me by my shoulders and said, "Listen, we've got to have a serious talk, now, before you get yourself in trouble. For one thing, you can't go back to your family. If they think you're dead, you have to let them believe that's the truth."
"Murdock, think about it--you're immortal now. You're never going to age, you're never going to die, unless...certain things happen, which is part of what I have to explain to you tonight. Think about it--how are you going to explain to them why you're not dead? What do you think it will do to the people you care about to find out that you're going to outlive them all?"
"No..." I shook my head. "I'm goin' home soon as I get out of here. I can't do that to them."
"Murdock, it's the rules of the Game."
"Screw these rules! I'm not interested in any game! What the hell is this game, anyway?"
"Once you become immortal, you become part of the Game whether you like it or not. I'm sorry, I didn't make the rules. But if you want to stay alive, you've got to learn them, and live by them. Now listen to me, all right?" Duncan was tryin' to get me to calm down, talkin' real slow and serious, but I was feelin' so confused, so angry about everything, hell... and so damn tired, I couldn't figure out if I comin' or goin', whether I should start laughin' again or start cryin'.
Duncan finally continued, "Look, I know this is a lot to take, but give me the benefit of the doubt on this. I think I've got a few years experience on you. Why don't you get cleaned up, use the shower. No offense, but you look like shit and you don't smell much better than that right now either. I've got some clothes you can borrow, and I'll put on some coffee. Then we'll talk this through. Okay?"
I took a deep breath tried to calm down. He was right; I needed to get myself together before I cracked up good. The purple wobblies would be comin' for me soon at this rate. "Okay, thanks. Sorry to just bust in on you like this tonight. I owe you one."
Duncan shook his head, patted me on the back. "Uh uh, we're even now. You never betrayed my trust in you years ago when you found out about me. Come on. We've got a lot of catching up to do."
I was so damn glad to get out of those army drabs and into a hot shower. Finally, I could start to feel human again and get the last of the muck and dirt from the jungle off me. Felt like I hadn't been clean in ages.
It sure was weird seein' Duncan again, after all this time. As if the weirdness quotient for this day wasn't already through the roof. I'd first run into the guy back in '69, as I remembered it. He was a lieutenant in another special forces unit I flew with a couple times. MacLeod was just as crazy and reckless as Hannibal--never seemed to give a damn about his own safety, but he was real tough on himself about makin' sure the other men on his team didn't get in trouble. It was probably a damn good thing those two never crossed paths and ended up workin' together. Man, I think we all would've been runnin' for cover if that had happened.
But I liked the guy; he had a good sense of humor and all about things. We ended up goin' on a couple solid drinkin' binges together after successful missions--in fact, we put together the rules for playin' Scotch one night after finishing of a bottle of said beverage. Funny how no one else seemed to find it as amusing a game as we did that night. The next morning I woke up able to read and speak Chinese, but Duncan never would tell me how that came about. I suppose maybe it's better that I don't remember.
But then there was this one time I got the call for a dust-off for his unit after a search 'n destroy that had gone seriously wrong. The N.V.A. had the ground covered too thick and they were surrounded. They were dead on the ground if we couldn't pull 'em out of there, but it was near suicide to try to fly in with that much enemy activity on the ground. I managed to get in there in one piece and pick up what was left of the unit, but the chopper took a hit not long after I lifted out of the L.Z.
The crash was hard, real bad...no matter what I tried I couldn't keep control of the bird. By some miracle I made it out in one piece with just some bad cuts and bruises, though I was out cold for a while before I woke up in the middle of the crumpled cockpit to realize this. The co-pilot didn't wake up, and neither did the four guys we'd tried to pull out. Including Duncan. It was a total fuck-up all around.
Then the bizarre thing happened. While I was tryin' to get their dog tags and clear the bodies from the chopper wreck, suddenly Duncan started movin' around. This was rather perplexing as I'd very certainly just checked his pulse a few minutes before, and found none. Zero. He'd been as dead as dead gets, and now he was yellin' at me for thumpin' his head on the ground a little too hard!
At first he tried to put it off like nothin' had happened, like he'd just been knocked out cold, but I didn't believe it. I'd checked his pulse. I wasn't goin' nuts (well, not really badly yet) and I knew what I had seen. He'd been dead. Finally, after much pesterin' on my part, he told me the truth, 'bout him not bein' able to die, that he was immortal. I didn't want to believe it, but he showed me how if he was injured, it just healed itself right back up. That pretty much proved it as far as I was concerned.
And needless to say we had a most interesting conversation on the way tryin' to get back to base on foot--when we weren't busy tryin' to avoid the N.V.A. I couldn't believe it when he told me how old he was--almost four hundred years! It was unreal, but he'd talk about the things he'd seen, places and people he'd known--stuff that the rest of us only knew from books 'n movies, and the way he talked about them, you knew he had been there. You just could tell.
Before we made it home free, he made me swear to him I wouldn't tell anyone else about what he'd told me. That was fine with me--who'd believe a crazy story like that anyway? And he said that one of these days--after the war, if not sooner--he might be able to let me in on more about what was goin' on. We didn't cross paths much after that, but I did get the odd note from him then and again after 'Nam--guess he was still keepin' track of me, like I was keepin' tabs on him. When you meet someone like Duncan, you don't tend to forget about him. But man, I never figured we'd meet up again because of this.
When I got out of the shower, there were clean clothes waitin' for me--Duncan was tall but more built than I was, so the pants and sweater were a baggy fit. Still, I wasn't about to complain, 'cause it was a definite improvement over what I'd had to wear when I'd walked in the door.
I finished gettin' dressed and had to pause for a moment, catchin' my reflection in the mirror over the sink in the bathroom. Immortal, huh. Maybe, but I didn't look any different than before. A couple days solid fuzz on my chin, but I was too tired to bother shavin'. Guess I didn't have to worry 'bout those nasty cuts from shavin' anymore, that was a plus. And hey, the hairline won't be gettin' any thinner. Always a bright side to things, I had to tell myself.
When I came back out there was the glorious aroma of Colombia's finest brewin' in the kitchen, and I smelled food, too, suddenly realizin' how hungry I was.
"Some leftovers from dinner tonight, help yourself," Duncan said, taking a dish out of the microwave.
"I do believe I will." Ah, sweet java, nectar of the gods. Shower, coffee, food. Much better. I dove in to the warmed-over pasta and chicken with vigor that would've made B.A. proud.
"So what've you been up to all this time, since the pardon?"
Comin' up for air for a moment, I answered, "This 'n that. Some stunt pilot work, some more of the same old business with Hannibal, which was how I got myself in trouble this time."
Duncan nodded, and I saw his eyes flicker down to my hands. "You got married."
"She must mean a lot to you."
"He does," I corrected. If it phased him at all, it didn't show, but then again I doubted much would phase someone who'd seen as much as Duncan. "He means everything to me, that's why I have to go home. I can't put him through losin' me for good."
"Before you decide to go back, let me explain a few things, will you? I told you, you're part of the Game now. The rules have to be followed. And the first rule is, you don't let mortals now about the nature of our existence."
"C'mon, Duncan, don't tell me you've never broken that rule before. You can't tell me there aren't any mortals out there who know. That you haven't told people before, people you cared for."
"Okay, so no one's perfect. But trust me that you only cause yourself and those you care for more grief than if you just let them go. And yes, there is an organization of mortals called The Watchers, and they know about us. They record our history and travels... and our battles."
"Battles, huh. I suppose that's part of this game you keep talkin' about."
Duncan nodded. "When you got close to my apartment tonight, did you...feel anything unusual? A strange sensation...?"
"Yeah, sort of like a buzzin' in the back of my head. I thought it was just 'cause I was so zogged."
"That's your warning for whenever you're near another immortal. It'll get stronger the longer you're around...and the more other immortals that you kill."
Suddenly I lost my appetite. "Run that last bit by me again?"
"That, Murdock, is the objective of the game--to be the last immortal left alive. You can only kill an immortal by taking his head--and when you do, you gain their strength--their Quickening, as we call it--as well as the strength of all the immortals they have killed before then. After the Gathering, the final meeting of the remaining immortals, the last one left standing gets the Prize. Of course, no one even knows anymore what this so-called Prize' really is."
I mulled over this new little tidbit of information for a while. "Heavy."
"All battles have to be one-on-one. No mortal can interfere, and no immortal can aid another in a challenge."
"So no tag-teams, huh?"
"No tag-teams. And no fighting on holy ground: churches, burial grounds..."
"Who started this? Didn't anyone teach you guys to share? Why can there only be one left in the end?"
Duncan shrugged. "That's the way things are. You may not like it, I don't like it, but if you want to live, you've got to learn to at least defend yourself."
"And let me guess, since I'm the new kid on the block, I'm serious sword-bait."
"Afraid so, my friend."
"Oooh, man..." I thought I'd definitely had about as much of this as I could take in one day. One minute I'm mindin' my own business, the next I'm lookin' at spendin' the rest of my life watchin' out for wacko guys wantin' to add my head to their collection.
I must've really zoned out on Duncan for a minute considerin' the sudden concern in his voice. "Yeah, just peachy. Couldn't be better."
"Listen, Murdock...I have friends, immortals I trust...people you can trust. Let me get in touch with some of them, and I can probably find someone who can spend more time with you. Train you to defend yourself. Right now I've already got someone under my wing, and things are getting a bit dangerous around here anyway."
"I appreciate the offer, but it's gonna have to wait."
"You're determined to go back."
"I have to."
"Murdock, trust me, it'll be a mistake."
"Then it's a mistake I'll have to make to learn my lesson. What're you gonna do to me, huh, Duncan? You gonna take my head if I don't do what you tell me I have to do?"
He just sighed and looked at me helplessly. "No. I'm not going to take your head. Can I ask you to please just sleep on this, give yourself a chance to think things over first? Would it kill you to do that?"
"No...guess it wouldn't. Hell, nothin' can kill me now 'cept that sword of yours."
"All right, then it's settled." He got up and took away the coffee mugs and my plates, dumping them in the sunk. "Let's both get some sleep."
I nodded and yawned, stretching out on the sofa and feeling like I could sleep for a good solid week.
"You need anything: blanket, pillow...?" he asked, but I waved him off.
"I'm fine, trust me. Not even all that caffeine could keep me awake right now."
"Okay, good night then...and don't do anything stupid on me until tomorrow," he warned, then turned off the lights and headed into the bedroom.
I probably should have listened to him, but I'm not exactly known for takin' the rational course of action. I waited for an hour or so, 'till I was pretty sure Duncan was definitely beddy-bye. I was lyin' there alone in the livin' room, tryin' to decide what I should do, tryin' to integrate everything he'd told me into my already pretty fucked-up view of the universe. I understood what he'd been tryin' to say, but I knew I couldn't do it. I couldn't just play dead and let everyone who cared about me think I was gone.
So I raided Duncan's wallet, which I'd spotted earlier sittin' out on the kitchen counter, and took out enough cash I hoped would cover airfare. The wallet was surprisingly packed--whatever he was doin' for a livin' these days was certainly payin' well. I wondered if he'd known I was gonna split and left the cash there for me on purpose. I wouldn't put it past him, despite all his protests that I not go anywhere. I still felt bad takin' the money, so I left him a note and told him I'd be back ASAP to repay him and take him up on that trainin' offer, maybe. Just was gonna have to settle some other business first.
Guess that's always been my problem: never did--and never could--learn how to play things by the rules. I slipped out of the apartment and downstairs, not payin' too close attention to anything outside my own thoughts.
I never heard her sneak up on me.
I wasn't good enough yet and my brain was a lit-tle too foggy to listen to my newly-activated radar that was tellin' me I had another immortal sneakin' up on me. All I knew was, as I was openin' the door to the car, someone came up behind me and clonked my lights out.
I just wasn't havin' any luck this week.
Poor poor pitiful me, poor poor pitiful me
These young girls won't let me be
Lord have mercy on me
Woe is me
I don't know how many hours passed before I finally got my porchlights back on. At first I couldn't see anything, and I was feelin' groggy and disoriented. I blinked and when my vision started to clear, I found myself face to face with a rather drop-dead gorgeous lady. Blonde and buff--very buff, like a body builder or somethin', dressed in a real skintight dark outfit that made sure to emphasize that body. The effect would've been quite nice indeed 'cept for one teeny-tiny problem: the obvious madness in her green eyes. Believe you me, that's one thing I can recognize on sight: a fellow citizen of the State of Insanity. Lots of practice and lots of time dealin' with 'em at the V.A. all those years. I know a nut job, especially a dangerous nut job, real real well.
This situation did not look promising.
"Welcome back," she said, leaning back in her chair with a satisfied smile. Her chair was just like the one I was propped up in, 'cept I was tied to mine, hands and feet. Didn't seem like she was taking any chances on me goin' nowhere. It looked as if we were in an old warehouse of some kind, some dingy-lookin' abandoned building. "About time you finally came to. I was starting to get impatient and wondering if I should just kill you and try another plan."
"Ungh, umm...well, I guess I'm glad you didn't," I answered, gently testin' my hands. They were bound so tight, my spirits sank a little further. Wasn't much chance I was gonna be able to manipulate my way loose, even if I had the time to do so or got her distracted.
She laughed, the gleam in her eyes even worse than before. "You won't be for long, trust me. Because I've been waiting for the right bait to bring Duncan to me, and you're it."
No wonder the man is paranoid about opening his front door.
Like most serious lunatics, this chick seemed eager for an audience, captive or not. Standing up, she started pacing around me, making me particularly uneasy as she starting swinging her sword around her in a rather reckless manner. "You see, I could just kill you now--" she flashed the sword at my neck, running the blade lightly against my skin, "--but you're a nothing, in the grand scheme of things. Barely worth the effort, though later you might prove at least...an amusing dessert...after my main course. Duncan. Ah now, his head is a prize sought by virtually everyone. But the man's a chicken. He'd rather run than face a legitimate challenge; believe me, I've tried. A pity to have so much power wasted in such a coward.
"So, I've been watching him, waiting for the right opportunity to draw him out of his hiding hole. A chance to get him off-guard, on my territory--"
"In other words, to cheat," I interrupted. "I thought there were rules to this whole business."
I probably shouldn't have said anything. It looked like I'd pissed her off because she whirled around and snarled right in my face, "I don't need to hear about the rules from someone like you--someone who's not going to live past today unless you do what I say, do you understand me?"
"I understand you're gonna kill me one way or another, whether I do what you want me to or not. So why should I help you kill a friend of mine?"
"Because, if you help me, I'll kill you fast. If you don't help me..."
Suddenly there was a blinding pain in my stomach and I couldn't help screaming. A sword right through me--that was a new sensation and one I could have gone without experiencing. "...I've become quite proficient over the years at torture, especially when it comes to other immortals. I can have you begging for death...I can drag it on for days...weeks...you see, if I don't get Duncan, I'll be a very unhappy girl. So trust me, it's in your best interest not to get on my bad side."
Several minutes passed before the pain completely dulled out and the wound healed. Ample time to realize that had only been a teaser for what might be comin' if I didn't do what she wanted. But still...I wasn't gonna help any creep like her. I was already dead, so to speak, livin' on borrowed time I wasn't sure I really wanted anyway. Not when I was lookin' at spending eternity dealin' with lunatics like this one.
"You know what, sister? I spent almost a year in a Viet Cong prison camp. I can't think of nothin' you could do to me that could be worse than what I went through there. But you're welcome to try, 'cause I ain't gonna do shit to help you kill Duncan."
Well, it was obvious that wasn't the answer she was expectin'. Her face was turnin' all shades of red and I had the sneakin' suspicion she was just gonna lose it and kill me right then and there. But before she could get under control enough to speak, I felt that buzz in the back of my head grow stronger, and I could see she felt it, too. Then I heard a familiar voice call, "Leave him out of this, Cally. You want me so badly, let's get this over with."
"MacLeod? MacLeod!" she shrieked, spinning around. "Show yourself, you bastard!"
It was too dark to see much of anything, but I heard footsteps, then saw a brief flash of light off the metal of his sword. "It doesn't have to be like this, Cally. I don't want to fight you. I have no need to fight you."
"Ah, but I need to fight you, MacLeod. It's time. It ends here and now for one of us." Then she went stormin' after him with a scream, until they collided in a metallic clang of swords. I couldn't get a good view from where I was of what all was goin' on, they were movin' all around, farther away from where I was, out into another room. I tried harder than before to free myself, now that this Cally woman was distracted, but I didn't get very far. I heard the repeated strikes of their swords, and occasional shrieks from the woman...I just hoped Duncan could handle himself, 'cause I didn't want one of the first things I did as an immortal to be causing the death of a friend.
I was still fightin' with the cords around my hands when there was a loud clatter and a death scream--it was hers, but was it a scream of victory or pain? I couldn't tell.
And then the fireworks started. There was a cracklin', rumblin' sound like thunder, then sparks were flyin' everywhere. The sparks turned into lightning, lightin' up the entire building. I couldn't see him but I heard Duncan's own scream above it all.
What the hell is goin' on now?! I wondered, as the fireworks went on for at least a minute. Then everything went silent and dark, and all I could hear was my own heart pounding in my chest.
"Duncan?" I finally called. "Duncan, you there?!"
I saw someone approaching finally, and was very relieved indeed when I made out that it was Duncan. "Thank God..." I let out a long sigh of relief. "Is she...?"
"Dead? Very." I didn't like the look in his eyes. It was unsettling, to say the least, like a touch of the madness I'd seen in Cally's eyes.
"Duncan...? Um, you think you could help me out here?" I asked, straining against the ropes.
He just kept glarin' at me. "You promised me you were going to stay put."
That I had, but I tried to change the subject a bit. "How'd you find me?"
"That's not important. A little birdie told me, all right?" he snapped. Just when I was starting to get scared again, he sighed and shook his head, and went around behind to untie me.
"Uh, thanks Duncan, I owe you one," was all I could think to say, and I knew exactly how lame it sounded.
"You owe me a helluva lot right now, Murdock."
"Uh, yeah, well, I was gonna pay you back, you know, but here..." I pulled out the money from my pants pocket and reached out to give it back to him, but he just knocked my hand away.
"Fuck the money! That's not what I meant and you know it."
I sighed. "Look, Duncan, I'm sorry you had to come save my rear and that you had to deal with the psycho lady there. And I'm sorry but I just can't leave everyone and everything behind like you want me to."
"It's not that I just want you to do something-- look around you! Isn't any of this sinking into that thick, crazy skull of yours? People like her are going to be after you. And if you go home, they'll just go after the people you love. Is that what you want?"
Well, he did have a point. But then again, me 'n the Team, we were used to havin' people after us. "I don't want that, 'course not. But...I have to give it a try. I have to at least...see everyone one more time."
He shook his head and sighed. "There's no argung with you, is there?"
"Nope, guess not." A little sheepish (after all, he did have a sword on him, and he still looked more than a little pissed), I asked, "Still friends?"
"Just don't push it," he said. "Now get outta here before I change my mind."
I was gonna ask for a ride to the airport, but I figured that really would be pushin' it. Instead I just gave him a quick pat on the shoulder and a mumbled, "Thanks," hopin' we'd get a chance to clear the air sometime in the near future.
I stepped outside into a chilly evening. I didn't really have any clue where I was--looked like a pretty deserted industrial area of the city--so I just started walkin', hopin' I'd find my way to a highway and a cab. Sometime later I got lucky and got a ride, just in time to make it to the airport for the redeye flight that night. I was asleep before the plane even took off the ground. I couldn't wait to get home.
And then there I was, sometime barely past sun-rise the next mornin', tryin' to get up the courage to walk in that house one more time. Suddenly I started doubtin' everything I'd felt so sure about only a few hours ago. Maybe it was finally gettin' a bit of rest on the plane that was letting me think a little clearer now. Was this fair, comin' back here after what had happened? Would this be too much for Face, for everyone else, to take?
No, I tried to tell myself. We'd promised we'd see each other through everything, good and bad. I wasn't sure yet which one of those this was, but we'd figure it out. Together.
I didn't even have my keys anymore--didn't have anything but the clothes Duncan had given me-- so I rang the doorbell and waited. My heart was poundin' madly, I didn't have any idea what to expect--what to say, what to do.
Then, some eternity later, the door finally opened.
Things go wrong, the days are long,
You think you've had enough
You feel discouraged, rest assured,
It's never too late for love
After another bad evening, I'd finally drifted asleep in the early morning hours. I never heard the doorbell ring downstairs. Hannibal must have answered it, since he had stayed over for the night again to make sure I wasn't alone, and I don't think he'd been sleeping any better than I had been.
I'd been dreaming about Murdock again, perhaps that was why I was so resistant to waking up. I only remembered feeling warm, familiar arms wrap around me, but it seemed to be part of the dream. In my sleep, I turned into the embrace, burrowing against the familiar warmth of his body. I heard his voice, calling my name, but I was afraid to answer, because I didn't want to disturb the dream. I didn't want to face reality yet. I knew that when I woke up he would be gone again. But dreams never let you hang onto them, once you realize that's all they are, and quickly it began to fade away from me, though I clutched at the arms around me harder, not wanting to have them fade away on me as well.
Except something was different. Even when the dream faded, and I opened my eyes, he was there. Somehow I really was lying in bed, in his arms, those gentle, gorgeous brown eyes looking right into mine. He was smiling at me, while I stared at him in disbelief, terrified, unable to move. Was I still dreaming? I had to be. He couldn't be here, not now. It wasn't real. The dead don't cone back to life.
The dead aren't suppsed to speak either, but then he said, as if absolutely nothing was wrong, "Hey, sleepyhead. You look like you've just seen a ghost."
That was too much. I bolted upright and practically shouted, "Murdock! What...what are you...?"
He tried to calm me down. "It's okay, Face. I'm okay. Everything's going to be okay now."
"But...you can't be here," I denied. "Hannibal... he said you were...that he saw you..."
"I know, I know. It's a long, long story. I'll explain everything later. Oh, Face..." He reached up to touch my cheek and I let out a small gasp, trembling at the feel of his fingertips against my skin. I ached to believe, to know this was for real, but it was impossible. I had barely begun to accept the fact that he was dead, and now he was here with me once again. I didn't know what to believe.
He looked at me with sadness in his eyes, seeing my confusion. "I'm so sorry. I can't imagine what the past few days have been like for you."
"Murdock, it doesn't matter. Nothing matters, except that you're here, and you're alive. Oh God..." I pulled him close to me with a sob, not able to hold back the tears any longer. I held onto him as tight as I could, never wanting to let go again. I was wrapped up in his warmth, his presence, his scent, everything familiar. Everything I loved. I rested my head against his chest, where I could feel the strong beating of his heart--that steady pulse of life, his life. He really was here, I kept telling myself. He was alive!
I lifted my head finally, enough for my mouth to search out his. My whole body shook as my lips brushed against the rough stubble on his chin, then the smooth warmth of his lips. I couldn't kiss him hard enough, couldn't hold him close enough to me. I needed desperately to convince myself this was for real, and despite everything my senses were telling me I couldn't get my mind to accept it.
Tears burned my eyes, but I couldn't tell if they were mine or his. We were both sniffling, crying, laughing messes, unable to find the right way to react to the moment.
My thoughts drifted outside the bedroom briefly and I asked, "Hannibal, and everyone else..."
"Don't worry," Murdock assured, hands caressing my waist, his touch like fire even through my nightshirt. "We talked for a little while downstairs this mornin'. He was pretty damn shook up to see me, too. He took off to tell everyone, but we have some time, I'm sure, before they all come stormin' back here..."
That was good enough for me. All I wanted right now was to be alone, with him, if only for a little while. There would be time enough for explanations, for everything else, later. "Then stop wasting time and kiss me again," I ordered, and he did so without hesitation. Everything else just faded away, except for the taste of his mouth, the pleasure of his kisses that somehow I felt I'd taken for granted for so long. It felt almost like the very first time all over again--that same sense of disbelief, excitement, unbearable need. My hands ran down his body, sliding under the intrusive bulkiness of the sweater he was wearing, and he tensed and moaned appreciatively as my hands found those extra sensitive places I knew so well.
I broke away to pull the sweater off him, then attacked his body by letting my mouth taste and tease the same spots my hands had just savored...those nipples half-hidden in the soft, wonderful fur of his chest...the tender skin on his stomach, almost too sensitive for such intense attention. I pulled off my own nightshirt, sitting up on top of him and arching back as his hands roved across my body, every touch and every caress making me sigh in anticipation. His hands slid down low to my waist, down over my shorts, brushing against the growing, aching stiffness between my legs. I cried out, letting him rub me and tease me to full arousal as I just drank in the sight of him. God, he was so beautiful to me. When I thought about losing him again, I just started getting all choked up, repeating, "I love you. I love you so much, Murdock."
He pulled me down against him, stopping my tears with more kisses, rolling on top of me and nibbling on my ear unmercifully, whispering, "Love you, Face, love you forever...never leave you." He left kisses all down my neck, and licked and nibbled my earlobes until passion drove all other thoughts out of my mind. My hands slid around from his ass to the front of his pants, the elastic cord around his waist easily yielding. Taking the hint, he finished undressing quickly, as did I, until we could return to our embrace finally without anything between us. When I felt his erection press up against my own, it was almost too much to bear. We had no time, no need for words now. All that mattered was what we felt, how we could make each other feel.
We moved together, creating incredible, wonderful friction, until the need quickly became too great. He gently pushed me over onto my stomach and started down my back with a feverish trail of kisses, each one setting off another shockwave of pleasure and anticipation. He worked his way down from the nape of my neck, all the way to my tail bone, then all the way right back up again. I could barely stand it; I just wanted him inside me more than anything.
He finally paused long enough to grab the tube of lubricant out of the bedstand drawer, and soon I felt the pressure of his hard cock against my ass, wet and slick, demanding access as it slid against me teasingly. I pushed myself up against him, so eager for him to enter me I couldn't take anymore teasing. Finally he eased himself inside, slowly, driving me crazy, lowering his whole body against me as he filled me up inside. I moaned, sighed, was incoherent, lost for words or thought as he held himself there, his hands clutching my hands down against the bed, his breath hot and wonderful against the back of my neck.
Finally together, again, our bodies linked as one, moving as one. His movements were so slow, he seemed determined to make it last forever. When he pushed into me harder finally, with building force, every thrust sent off another electric rush through my body until I lost all sense of myself. I just lived and breathed for his next movement, the closeness of our bodies that much too quickly brought me to climax, gasping and shaking as I felt him increase the pace even more. Then the cry was torn from his throat and he tightened his grasp on my hands almost painfully, joining me in that state of contentment after release.
He collapsed down onto me, and I never wanted to move, never wanted to feel him slipping out of me. But finally I rolled myself free so I could kiss him again, feeling utterly satisfied yet still like I could do it all over again, all day long, if we could. As we kissed, his hand slid down my body, my stomach still sticky from coming against the sheets. His hand slid down lower, caressing my balls, my spent cock. "Mmm, wanted to finish you off myself, now I'm gonna have to start over from scratch," he sighed, lips releasing mine to go back to my neck.
"Don't I...get a moment to catch my breath?" I asked, but he was too insistent, and I wasn't going to really complain. He worked me over like a man possessed, and I just laid back to revel in it, the feeling of his mouth all over me...his tongue running down my chest, then along the sensitive skin of my inner thighs while his hands massaged and squeezed my ass. His hot breath fell on my groin and I shivered, feeling the need building quickly again. My hands grasped his strong shoulders as he started licking my cock, then took all of it into his mouth until it rose to full attention once more.
He sucked me off for what felt like hours, a master at bringing me pleasure with his tongue, his mouth, his hands reaching up to stroke my nipples every so often. Every time I started to get too close to climax he'd pause, slow down, drawing out my pleasure yet leaving me begging for release. Finally he let me come, though he would not let go of me, my shaking, quivering body, until he'd sucked off every last drop of my cum.
When he finally let me go, I pulled him to me, gasping, my whole body drenched in sweat. "I thought I'd never see you again...never be with you again..." I sighed, resting my head against his chest once more. His every touch still was sending aftershocks through me as he held me close, his fingers running through my hair lazily. "I couldn't imagine being without you. When Hannibal first came back, told me you were gone, I just..."
"I know...I know. I promise you, Face, never again. I'm never gonna leave you. I can promise you that."
"Someday, you will. Someday we'll die, Murdock. I guess this all finally led me to realize that. Either you'll be leaving me behind, or I'll be leaving you..."
"Don't worry 'bout that. Don't worry about anything like that for now. We've got time...plenty of time."
I pulled back a little, letting my hand trace along the contours of his face. There was something there I couldn't put my finger on, something that seemed a little...different...in his eyes. I only noticed it now that the initial shock was passing, a certain sadness that troubled me. "How did you survive, Murdock? What happened? Hannibal said he was certain you were dead!"
He looked away from me for a long moment, and suddenly a strong fear gripped me. That fear that constricts in your chest when you know someone's about to tell you something you really don't want to hear. "Murdock...?" I called his name when he didn't respond to me.
"Face...this is really, really hard to explain. I don't want to upset you, I was hopin' we could put off talkin' 'bout this until later...I promised Hannibal I'd tell everyone 'bout it once they got here."
"Can't you tell me now? Don't I deserve to know first?"
He looked at me for a long moment, then closed his eyes and sighed. "No, you're right, you should hear this from me first. I...Face...there's somethin' about me that you don't know...somethin' I didn't know until what happened back there when I got shot. Hannibal wasn't wrong, I did die."
I stared at him, dumbfounded. "But..."
"I died, and then came back to life. I'm... immortal."
"Murdock, this isn't the time to fool around."
"I'm not foolin' around, Face, it's the truth. I...can't die. Not by most normal means, anyway. Look, look at my back!" He sat up and turned around. I hadn't even thought about that--I'd been so overwhelmed at seeing him again I'd totally forgotten about his supposed injuries. "I was shot twice in the back, but do you see anything? Anything 'cept the scars that were already there?"
"No..." I answered, and it was true. There were no signs of any recent injuries. I sat up, suddenly feeling ill. "Oh my God, Murdock, what...what happened to you?"
He turned back around to face me, taking my hands in his. "Face, please, don't be scared. There's... there's a lot to explain. Jesus, so much, and I still don't understand it all too well myself. I'm still me, I'm still the same old, crazy Murdock that I was before. I'm just...immortal, now."
"Immortal," I repeatedly slowly, not knowing how I was supposed to take this revelation. "That's not possible. No one is immortal."
"I am. And there are others."
"But...but...Why? How? I don't..."
"I don't know why, I don't know if anyone knows why. Or how. It's just...the way things are."
We sat there in silence for a while, me simply in shock, and I guess Murdock waiting for me to try to calm down. Then he pulled me close to him, reassuring me, "Face, this doesn't change you and me. It doesn't change the way I feel about you. I need to know that you're gonna be here for me, 'cause this is really hard for me to understand too, you know?"
"I know, it's just...I think it's going to take some time...time to adjust..." I'd never put much faith in anything supernatural before, and here was Murdock as living proof of something that should be impossible. For a moment, anger rose up inside me again--why did this have to happen to us? Why couldn't we have a normal life, ever? It seemed that if it wasn't once thing, it was another.
We held each other a long time, not talking. Not ready to talk, I suppose. Then, we both heard the sound of a car pulling up in the driveway. With a sigh, he squeezed me tighter to him briefly, then said, "I guess we'd better get presentable, the rest of the gang is gonna be poundin' the door down any second now."
"Yeah," I agreed, letting him slip out of my arms, watching him as he got up and started getting dressed again. When he finished he turned to me, frowning. "I'm sorry, Murdock, I'm...we'll have to talk more about this later."
He nodded in understanding, and waited until I crawled out of bed and pulled on some clothes quickly. We heard the doorbell and just looked at each other for a long moment, and then I took his hand, the familiar touch enough to ground me before dealing with everyone else.
I was born to rock the boat
Some may sink but we will float
Grab your coat--let's get out of here
You're my witness I'm your mutineer
Face's fiftieth birthday is today. Can't believe it. Time goes by so fast these days. Seems like just yesterday we were celebratin' the pardon comin' through, or our first anniversary. Then celebratin' when Maggie had Tasha, 'n two years later when Jonathan had come along. Those kids' birthdays seem to fly by. It's funny--when I first thought about what livin' forever would be like, I thought it would make time seem endless. Now, even just a few years down the road, I felt like I could barely slow it down enough to begin to enjoy things before they were gone.
I got up early, wantin' to get the dogs out for their walk 'fore they started jumpin' all over the bed, wakin' Face up. I can see they're startin' to get up there now, 'n Kirk has some trouble gettin' around the way he used to. It's hard to think about it, even if they're just a couple of dogs, 'cause it makes me think about watchin' my friends growin' older, too.
Hannibal's still doin' good--Maggie finally got him to quit the cigars once the babies came along and she started threatenin' him 'bout how would he like those two to grow up without their father around. B.A.'s mellowed a lot as well...his momma managed to hook him up with some gal from Chicago, and now they've got more adopted and foster kids runnin' around than the rest of us can keep track of. Amy's 'bout the only one of us too young to slow down, though we see her most holidays 'cause she says we're all more like family to her than her real folks.
I see the changes, year to year, in everyone 'cept for me. And times like today, it becomes pretty hard to think about. Duncan says not all immortals can handle it, the transition to this kind of life--we either tend to die real quick in those first few years after we find out what we are, or we manage to put it all together 'n become survivors. Took me a while to figure out which I was gonna be. I'm still not real sure, sometimes.
It was hard at first, real hard. I can still remember that first day when I came back home, tryin' to explain everything to the Team, to Face. No one wanted to believe it, and I can't blame 'em. When I tried to make my point, by showin' how my injuries just healed themselves now, I could see and I could feel their fear and their disbelief. I tried to answer their questions but I didn't even really have any of the answers yet myself.
Took me a while to get through to Hannibal, especially, to get him to stop blamin' himself for what had happened. We never did go on any more of those missions together, 'cause I think what had happened there shook him up too much, and that was fine with me. I was gonna have my own fights to deal with now.
And Face...at first he pulled away from me, 'n that hurt somethin' fierce. I know it was hard for him to take, when he said that he wasn't sure knew me anymore. I'd begun to think Duncan had been right, that I'd made a terrible mistake comin' back home. But Duncan hadn't known how much I needed the Team--and Face, more than anyone--to really survive. They'd been my life-line all those years, puttin' up with my craziness, keepin' me from goin' totally off the deep-end. Without Face, I never would've been able to step out into the real world again.
It took a long time for things to really settle back down to "normal" between us, but they did, 'cause despite everything nothin' was gonna keep us apart. We'd been through good and bad times before, and always pulled through. But I should have realized, things could never be quite the same again. He worried about the little things--would I still want him, still love him as he grew older. It was so damn hard to get through to him that it didn't matter how old he was, what he looked like. I loved him, and always would. The years had only made him more beautiful to me.
It wasn't easy on me either, 'cause I'd start to think about how eventually he was gonna die on me, and I'd be alone. I'd figured that, come that time, I would probably let some other immortal kill me just 'cause I wouldn't be able to deal with goin' on without Face. I'd never asked for this "gift". I was thankful it had givin' me these extra years--borrowed time, more or less--but without Face, it would be meaningless.
Then one day, a couple months back, Duncan came down to stay with us for a few weeks, to try to lay low from yet another wacko dude that had been tailin' him for a while. He wasn't sure but he was thinkin' about movin' out of Seacouver for good--the area was gettin' too hot for him, too many people wantin' to get his head and 400 years worth of other immortals' Quickening. The two of us had been in touch on and off since that first night, and I'd let him hook me up with this immortal lady from Renaissance-era Italy who was workin' as a history professor at UCLA these days. We met up for sword practice twice a week, and she said I was a real quick learner, though I had hundreds of years' worth of tricks to learn from her. She kept me up-to-date on what was goin' on in the local area with other immortals, like whenever a trouble maker might be comin' through tryin' to collect some heads, 'cause I tried to stay clear of that scene as much as possible myself.
Sure, I'd had to take a couple heads, when someone decided I'd be an easy target. But though I might be a young'un, I've had plenty of practice fightin' and usin' a little craziness to my advantage in my "short" life. Didn't enjoy it, and the shit that happened to you right after you took someone's head was pretty intense, but it had to be done, if I was gonna survive.
But like I was explanin', Duncan was stayin' with us for a while to lay low, and he'd never met Faceman before. I tried to keep Face and the other guys clear from any other immortals I ran into, for their own safety.
We all got along pretty good, talkin' 'bout 'Nam and other things. Duncan always had plenty of stories to tell if you got him in the right mood. The last night he was there, we started drinkin', and I even managed to talk everyone into a game of Scotch for old times' sake. Face didn't have the same stomach for the alcohol that we did and ended up collapsin' asleep on the sofa some time past midnight. We dragged him up to bed, and I stood there watchin' him from the doorway for a while. Duncan stood back but I knew he was there watchin' me.
After a while I turned to see him and he looked at me, seemin' to understand just what I was thinkin'. "Sometimes at night I just stay up, watchin' him sleep, y'know? I feel like it's a waste of our time together to sleep away all those hours."
He nodded. "I know. I've been there. Many, many times." We stood there for a long moment, then he added, "But you should know, Murdock, you're pretty damn lucky. You don't even know how lucky you are yet."
I didn't quite get what he was implying, but then he continued, "I've always wondered, if sometimes immortals aren't drawn together before they ever even know what they are. If we can somehow sense our special connection before it's ever revealed."
I looked at him, confused by what he was sayin'. Then I looked at Face, and back at Duncan. "You don't mean..."
He put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Search yourself, Murdock. You'll find the answer, now that you know to look for it."
I did. And suddenly I knew he was right. Oh man, I wondered why I hadn't sensed it before, but I still wasn't nowhere near as strong as Duncan or as good at sortin' out what the Quickening could tell me sometimes. And once I knew, from just that one small glimmer that night, suddenly it seemed like time was openin' up again for me again. And I knew Duncan was right--I was probably the luckiest man alive, at least I felt like I was after that.
I only had one decision to make: When I'd tell Face, and how.
I'd waited until now. 'Cause like Duncan had said, I was startin' to see how really precious life is when yours isn't finite, but everyone else's is. But I knew if I kept this from Face much longer, time'd come when he'd bust a fuse when I finally told him. It was his right to make the decision 'bout whether he was ready for this or not. So I'd do it on his birthday, I'd decided. And that was today. It was gonna be my gift for him--the knowledge that for us, love really could be eternal.
Would we make it to the end of the Game together? Who could say. But I had a hunch that no matter what the rules said, a solid team's got the best chance of comin' out on top.
I called the dogs back over to me and started up the steps to the house. It was time to put on the second pot of coffee and wake Faceman up.
Quoted lyrics (all songs by Warren Zevon except where noted):
[I] "Accidentally Like a Martyr"
[II] "Frozen Notes"
[III] "Lawyers Guns and Money"
[IV] "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead"
[V] "Things to do in Denver When You're Dead" [Zevon/LeRoy Marinell/Waddy Wachtel]
[VI] "Poor Poor Pitiful Me"
[VII] "Never Too Late for Love"
All of these can be found on the 2CD set I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, except [VII], from the album Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School. Good ol' Warren, always there when I need some depressing inspiration.
Thanks to everyone who followed along with this one when I first posted the draft to the mailing list months ago. If it wasn't for all the encouraging mail I probably would've never finished it, or even gotten past the first chapter (nor spent the many hours after the fact revising it to hopefully make it better.) There's a chance someday I may get my act together on writing the sequel buzzing around my head...but we'll just have to see about that. Feedback, encouragement and generous offerings of coffee and chocolate might help. --sw