Author's Note: Lyrics
to "Swingin' on a Star" by Van Heusen and Burke and "Purple
Haze" by Jimi Hendrix used without permission. No
copyright infringement is intended. Thanks to the
wonderful people at The
Hospital, who provided most of the medical jargon for
this story. Any errors are mine.
Warnings (highlight to view): explicit sex, graphic descriptions
of characters suffering from PTSD (war-related),
violence, death (minor characters)
May 16, 1978
Templeton Peck stared
into his glass of scotch and wondered what the hell he was going
to do now.
He tried to concentrate
on the amber liquid, and on making himself as invisible as
possible. The bar was seedy enough that his fellow members at
the Beverly Bay Country Club would be appalled to know he was
gracing one of its stools tonight. When he'd gotten in the
Buick three hours ago and started driving, he'd had no idea of
his destination. After a while, he'd noticed he was
barreling along the coast highway, and that his tank was almost
empty. He'd turned off at the next town, bought some gas
and stretched his legs. It was past seven, and the shadows
were lengthening, anticipating a glorious Pacific sunset.
If he turned around right now, he'd be back at a decent
hour. Leslie would be—
He shook his head to
clear it. Leslie wasn't there. Of course she wasn't
there. That's why he'd been driving the damn car for three
Leslie had gone away
for the weekend; she wouldn't tell him where. She'd called
him at the hospital, at the end of his shift. His last
shift of residency. On Monday, he was joining one of the
more prestigious clinics in Pasadena, where he would spend his
career performing surgery on the rich and the influential.
It was the culmination of everything he'd ever worked for,
He raised the glass to
his lips and winced at the flavour of the whiskey. When
he'd asked for a single malt, the guy had stared at him as
though he'd spoken Martian. This stuff had to be straight
out of a Kentucky still.
Taking a deep breath,
he downed it in one gulp.
It wasn't supposed to
work out this way. He had a plan, and the plan had been
going smoothly for the past ten years, just the way he liked
it. Control was the key to everything he'd become.
If he gave it up now—
But he hadn't counted
on the fact that Leslie wouldn't go along with the plan any
more. And that he would be sitting on a bar stool in a
seedy bar in a seedy coastal town, dreading the Monday to come
and all the Mondays after.
He looked up at the
sound of the door opening. A shaft of angry, blood-red
light stabbed into the bar, and a man followed it in.
Peck's gaze tried to
stay impartial, clinical. About six foot one, about his
age, maybe a little older, with dark hair just starting to
thin. A nicely proportioned face, with a strong nose and
not too generous mouth. He was lean to the point of being
rangy, his long limbs graceful. He turned toward the back
of the bar first, and Temp noticed a striking design on his
leather jacket, an intricately painted tiger's head with some
lettering above it. His wide brown eyes scanned the room,
not with aggression but something very close to it. When
his gaze settled on Templeton, the doctor was surprised to feel
his pulse jump.
The man stuck out his
lower lip for a moment, his eyes never leaving Peck. Temp
stared back with what he hoped was a matching intensity, then
returned to his senses in a rush of self-recognition. What
the hell was he doing?
He signalled the
bartender. "Another one," he growled, suddenly
angry. Turning back to the bar, he focused on his empty
He watched the stranger
out of the corner of his eye as he ambled over to the counter
and took the second stool on Temp's right. Determination
suffused his body; it had served him well in the past, and would
again. Just because his carefully constructed life was
coming crashing down around his ears was no excuse to—
"You come here often?"
Peck closed his eyes
briefly. Stupid, he told himself, stupid,
stupid. Then he turned his head to fall into that
brown gaze again.
Maybe, thought Murdock,
there'd be something worth looking at in this one horse town
after all. He and the guys had parted ways at the local
diner; another lengthy cat-and-mouse session with the MPs had
left him feeling restless and volatile, and bugging BA while he
tried to stuff a hamburger in his face wasn't going to be enough
to dispel it.
No, what he needed, the
big guy definitely wasn't interested in providing. He
smiled inwardly, where the beautiful specimen sitting to his
left wouldn't see it. It had been a while since he'd
indulged in one of his favourite ground-based pastimes.
Gay bars weren't his scene, and the fella he'd met at the rap
session at the VA had taken a job in New Jersey a couple of
months ago. There was a jazzy feel to messing with one of
these ‘straight' guys, he mused, the ones who'd convinced
themselves they were made for the white picket fence life.
And ruffling feathers was another of his favourite pastimes.
He'd seen a lot of
variations of that in ‘Nam; the adrenaline rush got ‘em every
time, and they were hooked. Everything had been
intensified, amplified there, and there could be no hiding from
what you really were. Back in the World, though, things
were easier to cover up, and camouflage was more effective.
One look at this guy,
though, and Murdock could tell he'd been stripped bare. He
could sympathize with that, having spent several years living
exposed to the elements himself. The day the doctors had
released him last December had been like autorotating a dead
slick; until that blade caught again, you were helpless,
watching the Earth rise up to clobber you. But with
Hannibal and BA's help, he'd slowly remembered how to live and
breathe and exist on land. The man beside him had the same
look on his face that the pilot had seen in the mirror last
Christmas. Only Murdock didn't think there was anybody
covering his back or walking point for him.
Despite his sympathy,
though, he couldn't help the smartass question that escaped his
lips. After all, the best way to a man's heart is to piss
"You come here often?"
The guy closed his eyes
for a second, then looked up at Murdock.
"No," the man replied.
"And I'm not here now."
Murdock flashed a
grin. "What a coincidence. Neither am I."
The guy sighed, and
Murdock took a second to study him again. The hair was
impeccably styled, maybe a little out of place, as though he'd
been running his hands through it. The suit was too much;
who wore a three-piece suit on a Saturday night? He
certainly was from out of town, maybe even LA, because he had
more class than this whole place put together. Some kind
of professional, obviously; so why was he wound up? A
stock deal gone bad? A patient suing him for a messed-up
And why did Murdock
keep trying to get inside this guy's head when all he wanted was
a way inside his pants?
professional was saying, his voice low, "I, ah, I just came in
for a drink." There was a note of pleading in the words,
and something in Murdock's gut twisted. How pathetic was
he, trying to pick at this poor bastard like some kind of horny
muttered. "So did I." Nodding to the bartender, he
ordered a Bud. When it came, he chugged about a third of
it before setting it down.
They both turned to
each other in the same instant.
"Listen, I didn't—"
They trailed off,
stared, then cracked up. Murdock liked the guy's laugh; it
revealed him to be younger than the suit implied. "Listen,
why don't I rewind the tape here?" He stuck out his
hand. "H.M. Murdock."
The guy hesitated for
only a split second. "Templeton Peck."
"Doctor, lawyer, or
He looked a little
sheepish, and that made him appear younger still.
"Doctor. I start in private practice Monday."
"Well, hell, that's
somethin' to celebrate." He held up his glass. "To
Doctor Templeton Peck."
The kid—he had to be
about thirty, but somehow he had been transformed—looked away,
then back, then raised his glass. "Yeah. To Doctor
Templeton Peck. Long may he wave." Murdock clinked
his stein with the shot glass, lightly.
"You gettin' drunk to
Peck shook his
head. "I'm not getting drunk. I have to drive back
to Los Angeles tonight."
"When you get here?"
He studied his
watch. "Thirty-three minutes ago."
"The town that
exciting, huh?" The bartender narrowed his eyes, but
Murdock ignored him. "Why did you come, then?"
Peck raised his eyes to
him then, and the look in them was raw, bleeding.
"Fate," the kid told
Murdock remembered to
breathe after about a minute. "Let's get drunk," he said.
"She wants a baby."
Murdock's warm brown
gaze, unsettling and comforting at the same time, didn't
waver. He took another swig from the bottle of whiskey
he'd bought off of the bartender, then passed it back to
Peck. Temp had noticed the other man wasn't drinking as
much as he pretended to be, but he was way past caring why.
A momentary flash of
panic burst behind his eyeballs. You know why, idiot.
He wants to have his wicked way with you. Get you drunk and
fuck your brains out.
He met Murdock's gaze
again. No. He couldn't say why, but no. Peck
had always been an excellent judge of character, from the time
he'd been in the orphanage until now, when understanding what
made people tick mentally as well as physically made him a
better doctor than most. He'd only known this man for a
couple of hours, most of which had been spent talking about
himself, but he was certain Murdock would never hurt him.
He almost laughed at
the corny thought. Never was a damned long time.
Never say never.
"I take it the feeling
"No, I want kids.
Eventually." It was the answer he'd given for a long time
now, like a prerecorded message on an answering machine.
His gaze wandered over the room, seeking distractions. His
gaze wandered over the room, seeking distractions. The
motel room he'd rented for the night was serviceable, clean at
least. The bedside lamp lent an orangish glow to the room,
its weak bulb hiding a multitude of decorating sins. The
tall man sat folded in one of them, a purple chair which
resembled a sagging, oversized plum. Murdock had stopped
in at the diner across the street on their way here, engaging in
a brief exchange with two men, one silver-haired, handsome,
hawklike, the other huge, black and fierce. Together, they
looked like members of an odd tribe, different but
similar. And for an even odder moment, he yearned to be
one of them.
"What did you tell her
when you married her?"
Peck was brought up
short by that. He wasn't the only one in the room who knew
people. "I told her we'd have kids when I finished my
"Yeah." He ran a
hand through his hair. He'd never talked to anyone about
this, not even his priest. "I, ah, well, like I told you,
we're practicing Catholics. Leslie is, especially.
When I convinced her to go on the Pill, well, it doesn't seem
like a big deal to most people, but..." He trailed off,
the weight of his guilt heavy on his lungs.
Murdock's voice was
soft. "I understand."
"She did it for me, for
us, because we couldn't afford a baby, at least I thought we
couldn't, but I knew it took something out of her to do
it. She got even further away after that." He took
another drink, shook his head. "That was one of the things
I loved about her, y'know? That air of mystery, the sense
that she was keeping a secret. But after we got married, I
realized it wasn't something she was ever going to tell me,
because it was something she was missing." He took a deep
breath, let it out. "Something I wasn't going to be able to give
He looked over at
Murdock, who was staring at the lamp, his pupils shrunk to small
points. "Everybody's missing pieces, Doc. We just
hafta find the path that leads to 'em, then bend
down and pick 'em up,
like pennies in the parking lot."
"That simple, huh?"
Murdock speared him
with a look. "No. It isn't."
Temp inspected the
bottle—about halfway there—and tipped it to his lips for a
particularly long swallow. "The, ah, the thing is, I spent
the last ten years telling myself I wanted the home, the wife,
the kids, the job, the country club, the Mercedes, all of
it." He shook his head. "Ten years? Hell,
longer than that. I remember when I was a kid, maybe seven
or eight, they took us to movies with rich, beautiful people who
lived in big houses and smiled all the time, and I thought, this
is where I was supposed to end up. Not stacked like a
fucking sardine in a room with nineteen other kids who cry in
their sleep. And now that it's all within reach, I don't
even know if I want it any more."
Murdock didn't comment,
and Peck snorted. The booze was starting to suffuse his
limbs with a pleasant numbness. "It's a big joke,
y'know? The guys from my graduating class who work the ER
with me, they all joke about it. They laugh about
the gunshot wounds, the knife wounds, the babies born addicted
to heroin, the old men who come in with food poisoning from
eating out of a dumpster. I suppose it's a way to get
through it. They're falling over each other to get out of
the place, start their cushy practices. I should be
too. So how come I'm not? How come I hate the
thought of leaving?"
The other man's eyes
sparked. "I know somebody who's got a theory 'bout
that. Maybe I'll tell it to you sometime."
"Where'd you get that
jacket?" Temp asked, annoyed to hear his voice pitched barely
above a whisper.
lifted it off the dresser where he'd dropped it. He tossed it to
Peck, who put down the bottle just in time and caught it
Temp turned it over in
his hands. The leather was worn, cracking in a couple of
places. He trailed his fingers over the tiger's
head. "Danang," he breathed, as though the word had the
power to conjure. "Vietnam." He lifted his head,
understanding. "That's where you three are from."
Stupid. Of course they weren't from Vietnam. "I
"I know. You're
right, though. We're from there, in more ways than one."
"I never went."
"Lots of people didn't. You're better off."
"I thought about going
over, once. As a medic. But I told myself...."
He trailed off. "I can't remember, now. Something
selfish, I suppose."
"You Catholics like to
beat yourselves up, don't ya?" He reached for the bottle,
snagging it from the table. Peck watched his long fingers
wrap around the clear glass.
get you a sure ticket to Heaven," Temp opined. Yup, he was
drunk, all right. He loosened his tie and slid it off,
then started unbuttoning his vest.
"You gettin' ready for
bed?" The question was casual, but something in the way he
spoke the word 'bed' send a thrill down the back of Temp's
neck. He didn't answer, just kept undoing buttons.
There were a lot of them.
felt—dangerous. He hadn't felt dangerous since he was
sixteen and beat the crap out of the orphanage's biggest bully.
The kids had cheered him on; he had been a fucking hero.
Last week, he'd brought
a seven-year old back to life after she'd been caught in the
crossfire of a drug deal gone bad. Her mother had hugged
him until he'd started crying, too.
"Are you a hero?" Peck
The brown gaze warmed
him from head to toe, exposing him, understanding him, scaring
the hell out of him. "That's what they told me,"
Murdock replied, finally.
"Do you believe it?"
The other man stood,
unfolding himself from the chair, and crossed the few feet to
where Peck sat cross-legged on the bed. The lamp's light
spilled upwards, casting his features into sharp relief.
Slowly, slowly, he
descended, knees bending, until they were eye to eye. His
long-fingered hands rested on the edge of the mattress, inches
from Temp's legs. A muscle in Peck's thigh twitched.
"I need to know if you
believe it," murmured Temp, urgently.
The last button came
free and Peck leaned sideways, falling into warmth.
He'd imagined kissing
him would be good. But the gap between imagination and
reality was as wide as the Grand Canyon.
The first touch of his
lips was a tentative pressure that increased slowly, then
abruptly disappeared. Murdock figured that was it,
experiment finished, because it was pretty damn clear this altar
boy had never had another woman besides his wife, let alone—
And then strong hands
cupped his face and the mouth returned to devour him alive.
Peck kissed like an
angel, his lips brushing, gliding, tugging, suckling in a
perfect, maddening rhythm, and then the tip of his tongue
pleaded for entry, and Murdock was lost. Their mouths
opened together, on a shared groan, and the pilot plunged his
hands into the soft blond hair he'd been dying to touch for
hours. His fingers spread across the back of Peck's skull,
exerting the lightest pressure, not to trap him, only to envelop
The good doctor's hands
moved to his chest, then descended toward his waistband,
grabbing fistfuls of t-shirt and pulling upwards in a jerky
motion. Murdock felt cool air caress his belly, then warm
murmured Murdock, disentangling himself with great
difficulty. Peck's arms dropped bonelessly and he sat
there, eyes closed, hair mussed, lips swollen and red. It
would've been Murdock's wildest erotic fantasy, except for the
fact the kid was shaking, terrified out of his socks.
"I thought y-you—" he
stammered, eyes still screwed shut.
"Oh, hell yeah,"
agreed fervently. "I do. Somethin' awful. But
this is wrong, wrong, wrong."
The eyes, blue as the
water at Cam Ranh Bay, opened to study him. The fear was
there, along with barely admitted desire, and desperation, and
"I know it's wrong," he
growled. "But who cares? You're here, I'm here, I'm
going to hell anyway."
"So you might as well
fuck the skinny guy, add sodomy to your list of big-ass
sins? Thanks a whole lot," Murdock laughed. "You
won't get a lot of action with that line, I'm tellin' you right
"I'm sorry," Peck
whispered, his face suddenly crumpling. Murdock watched,
startled, as the other man broke down in front of him, his whole
body shuddering while silent tears tracked their way down his
Murdock. Always did have a soft spot for strays.
Must be some kinda radar I have, sniffs ‘em out.
"Shove over," he
muttered, perching on the edge of the bed and bumping Peck with
"I don't need—" the
other man began, his limbs stiffening, though he complied with
"Like hell," Murdock
returned, throwing an arm around the other man's
shoulders. "I was six and a half years in a VA psych ward,
Doc. I know the signs. Shut up."
It took a few minutes,
but Peck relaxed against him, his head finally resting on his
shoulder. Gradually, his breathing became more even.
Murdock reached up to stroke his hair.
"I am sorry, you know,"
Peck told him after a while. "This isn't anything like
what you wanted."
"Yeah, well, this ain't
half bad," Murdock mused. "I mean, meeting the most
beautiful guy you've ever laid eyes on, gettin' yourself invited
back to his hotel room, then drinkin' whiskey nastier'n cat
piss, hearin' about his perfect, beautiful wife and having him
cry all over your t-shirt. I'm comin' to this town for all
Peck barked a
laugh. "You're crazy."
"That's not what the
paper says. But you ‘n me ‘n BA, we know different, don't
The other man sat up
self-consciously, wiping at his eyes. Murdock watched him
try to put the mask back in place. He was good at hiding,
and soon the fact he'd slipped up in front of a complete
stranger would rankle.
"I should get
goin'." He swung his legs off the mattress and
stood. Peck followed him, joining him on the same side of
the bed. Stepped close so that they were toe to toe,
chests barely a heartbeat apart. Murdock absorbed his warmth,
his breathing shallow.
"You don't have to,"
Peck told him, confident, meeting his gaze.
The pit of Murdock's
stomach gave way. It was the last thing he'd been
expecting to hear. This guy had guts, and he liked the
edge more than he wanted to admit, to himself or anyone.
Murdock could teach him to love the edge.
Slowly, he reached up
to trace a finger along that flawless jawline.
Peck closed his eyes.
replied, "I do."
Peck's eyes snapped
"Go make up with your
perfect, beautiful wife. She'd have to be crazier'n I am
not to take you back."
The clear blue eyes
searched his face for a long moment. Then Peck nodded,
slowly, and stepped back, and Murdock felt the loss of something
he'd never have. The doc bent down, then picked the
leather jacket up off the mattress and handed it over.
"Thanks for answering
my questions," he said, when Murdock took it from him.
"Which ones were
"I asked whether you
were a hero, and if you believed you were one."
"You don't believe it."
slipped on the jacket. Nights were cool along the
coast. He smiled, turned to go, but was stopped by a hand
on his arm.
God. Didn't he
know that the longer he stayed, the harder it was to leave?
Yeah. He probably
"Well, you're wrong,"
Peck murmured, leaning in close. "Because you were mine,
"Oh, Christ," Murdock
moaned, pulling the other man in for a hard, bruising
kiss. His hands roamed of their own volition,
memorizing planes and angles and soft, soft blond hair.
Ten seconds later, he
was outside, breathing heavily in the cold, salty night.
He started walking, and didn't look back.
November 16, 1978
"No! Don't take
him! Don't take him!"
Rudy Kowalchuk filled
his arms with the screaming woman, holding her up, holding her
He hated doing
that. He wanted to turn her loose like a Fury on the
animals who descended on the village. But then there would
be even more people dead.
The bastard in front of
them laid a possessive hand on little Antonio's shoulder.
"You have raised him well, Señora," he crooned in silken
Spanish. "He is strong. He will make good money for
your family in the mine."
"You have enough of our
children already," one of the old men shouted from the
crowd. Rudy cast a glance at him. Ten years of
bloodshed had destroyed a generation of young men.
It was a village of widows, children and the elderly, like a
hundred other villages in these mountains. The people were
battered by pain and loss, but still, some of them had fight
left in them.
Some of them, but not
nearly as many as they needed. He looked over at Ortega,
who stood in the doorway of his shack, observing the
proceedings, but not participating. Stood there like a
spectre, haunting them all with the reminders of broken promises
for a better future. The Communists, the military,
everyone had failed these people, drawn their brothers and
husbands and sons into wars that hadn't led anywhere but to
another grave. He couldn't blame people like Ortega for
giving up. For wanting to be left alone to exist for as
long as they could.
But was that
living? The woman trembling with rage in his arms didn't
And then the chief
python stepped forward. Ramirez. His malevolent gaze
slithered over the villagers, and gradually silence
descended. His close ties to the current regime's
secret police earned him a respect which barely managed to cover
the seething hatred of the villagers.
"Our operation is
expanding," he told them. "This will mean jobs for San
Pedro. Food on your tables."
"But at what cost?" the
old man returned. He flung a withered arm in the direction
of the community centre. "There are a dozen of our boys
with broken bones and worse, lying in beds, with no one to treat
them. And last week Ramòn—"
There was a sob from
Ramòn's mother, standing a few feet away. The
woman Rudy was holding shrugged him off and went to console her.
Lady of our
Consolation, Rudy thought. He'd seen three years of
this. Memories came flooding back; almost completely
submerged in a rice paddy, watching the women screaming over
their dead kids lying in the road. They could scream for
They were still
"And what about you,
Saint Gringo?" Ramirez drawled, coming closer.
twisting the neck of a guy who got too close.
"Do you want to fight
nothing. Just smiled, slowly letting it build, the way
he'd seen a man do many years ago. A smile that said, you
are about to be in the shit. But you'll never see it
Not until your nose is
right in it.
November 20, 1978
"Come on, come on!" he
growled through gritted teeth as the bird descended.
One skid, then the
other hit the roof, gentle but fast. He ran toward the
chopper, ducking down to avoid the deadly swish of the
Had they made it in
The door opened and one
of the paramedics jumped to the ground, turning swiftly to his
charge. Templeton Peck reached him an instant later.
He bent over, studying the unmoving form on the stretcher.
"We've got her
stabilized!" yelled the other man. "But we need to get her
into OR, NOW!" Moving as a team, he and Peck pulled the
stretcher out, then held it as the other medic secured the wheel
assembly that unfolded from the bottom. They headed for
the rooftop door and the elevator which would take them directly
Temp looked down at the
girl—woman—whose life was now in his hands. She had been
stabbed repeatedly in the face and torso by her husband.
She had lost a great deal of blood.
She no longer resembled
a human being.
He checked her vitals
as they descended. Wondered, for a split second, if she
had been pretty. If she would ever be pretty again.
If anything like that
even mattered anymore.
The doors opened, and
the doctor sped toward the OR, issuing orders as he went.
Murdock both hated and
loved it when Hannibal was right.
Today, though, it was
mainly hate. "You know I'm right, Captain," he'd said, in
the Tone of Command. And he was. But Murdock still
Okay, it wouldn't be
all bad. He'd get to see that beautiful kid again.
But he didn't want to admit he'd been thinking about him all
these months, like a puppy, standing outside in the rain,
yearning for the warm fireplace he could see through the
window. Peck had been that, all right, and Murdock was at
a loss to explain why a man he knew for a handful of hours
should feel so very much like home.
The hell you don't,
he told himself. You spent such a long time gettin'
yourself taken care of, it felt good to be on the givin' end
for a change. Made you feel like you got a connection to
Not that he didn't have
connections; the guys had kept him alive, literally, when he
didn't care one way or the other. BA showed it in his
usual gruff way, Hannibal was more open about it, but he knew
they both cared about him, would lay their lives on the line for
him. And it wasn't one-sided; he'd do the same for them,
anytime, anywhere. Had even told the shrinks all the crap
they wanted to hear because he knew they needed him more on the
outside than on the inside. After all, there were only two
of ‘em, and a fella who could pretend to be just about anybody
came in handy. Sure, there were times he wondered if that
had been the smartest thing to do, but it was the right
thing. End of story. Only guys who'd been through a
war or something similar could pass judgment on their choices,
made through the years, under all kinds of circumstances, good,
bad and ugly.
He didn't like the
choice he'd made five minutes ago, though, and he figured he was
qualified to criticize himself. When Hannibal had told
them about the latest job, he should've kept his mouth
shut. But there were kids. And they needed a
doctor. They knew a couple of good ones, vets, but they
were either on jobs just as urgent or, well, Dutch had been
diagnosed with leukemia last month. Agent Orange?
Naw, hell, ain't no such thing.
So when Hannibal had
asked if anybody knew of a doctor who might be willing to go to
Central America, Murdock had felt his hand go up like the
brown-nosed teacher's pet.
"How do you know we can
trust him?" Hannibal had asked.
A fair question, but
one he had no way of answering. "I—I don't. But he's
a surgeon, and a good one. He works the emergency at City
Okay, so maybe he'd
checked up on him. To see how he was making out.
Didn't mean anything.
"How long have you
"I met him a few months
narrowed, and Murdock squirmed. "When?"
"Uh, back during the
BA's brows knit.
"Didn't meet no doctors on the Bakersfield job, fool."
Murdock began counting
backwards from one hundred. He didn't even make it to
"Well, you and I
didn't, BA," Hannibal chimed in archly.
There was another
beat. "Oh, man." BA sighed heavily. "Jus'
because you had him bent over a chair, don't mean we can trust
him with our lives, crazyman."
"It wasn't like that!"
Murdock exploded, surprised to find himself on his feet, looming
over the big man. "Nothin'—oh, Christ. You don'
wanna know, and it ain't none of your business anyway."
—I asked whether you
were a hero, and if you believed you were one.—
He shook his head
forcefully, to clear the image. "Look, forget it, just
forget it. It wouldn't be right, anyway, to ask him."
A heavy hand came down
on his shoulder. "Murdock."
He turned away from
angry brown eyes to face understanding blue ones.
"Go with your gut on
this one. What's it telling you?"
Murdock took a deep
breath, let it out. "That's not it. I should never
have—the thing is, I just remembered, he figures he owes
me. Don't ask me why; it isn't important. But this
is some dangerous shit, Colonel. And I don't want to be
responsible for anybody bein' where they aren't supposed to be."
—"Why did you come,
Peck raised his
eyes to him then, and the look in them was raw, bleeding.
"Fate," the kid
"That's all right,
then," Hannibal replied. "Because the responsibility's
just been taken out of your hands."
When he let himself
into his apartment, he didn't even bother turning on the lights.
It wasn't the most
luxurious one he could afford, but it had a damned nice view,
twenty stories above the street. Despite the fact that the
job at City of Angels wasn't nearly as well-paid as the one he
would have had in private practice, the salary was still more
than enough for one person to live in comfort. Leslie had
refused to let him support her when she left, even though he
argued that he made more money than she did as a social
worker. She'd never cared about money, and he'd always
thought he'd never have enough. Slowly, so slowly he
didn't realize it was happening, she'd taught him to care more
about what he couldn't see, and touch, and wrap his fingers
around. He was grateful to her for that; he was grateful
for all the things he'd learned by listening to her pure,
The last thing she'd
told him was to follow his heart. And he had listened to
Kicking off his shoes,
he padded over to the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked
the bay. Well, there were a few buildings in the way of a
really good view of the water, but technically it was a water
view. There, between those two towers, gleaming in the
city's artificial glow, there, right there. A sliver of what
might be the Pacific.
He smiled to
himself. There you go, caring about those things you
Tired muscles creaked
as he walked over to the couch and collapsed, full length.
He'd been negligent; it had been a week since he'd last been to
Gold's. He was just so tired at the end of these long
nights, but that was no excuse. The runs before his shift
weren't enough. He was going to be thirty-one next month;
he couldn't keep taking his body for granted.
He reached behind his
head, fingers closing around the small wooden box on the end
table. Lifting it, he opened the lid and took out a
Corona. It was a filthy habit; as a doctor, he should have
been ashamed of himself. But a good cigar every once in a
while was a necessity, calming him in a way nothing else ever
did. He cast a glance at the coffee table, looking
The lighter kissed the
dark air, igniting a foot from his nose.
"Lookin' for this?"
exclaimed around the cigar, as he tried to scramble backwards
over the arm of the sofa.
White light flooded the
room, and Temp squinted. "What the—"
"Hannibal, you always
gotta get dramatic." He jerked toward the sound of a gruff
voice from the corner, which seemed to be owned by a large black
man who enjoyed wearing large amounts of gold. Swivelling
back toward his assailant, he beheld a silver-haired, hawklike,
handsome man, grinning around a now-lit Corona.
"Hope you don't
mind. I was out," he said, around the cigar. "I'll
pay you back sometime."
Temp vaulted off the
couch and stood there, mute, while his stockinged feet sank into
the deep pile. He took out the cigar, crushed it in his
fist to steady himself. Finally, he croaked, "You—I
remember you." His brain was misfiring. Where,
He spun toward the
other corner, where a tall, lanky figure was emerging from the
shadows of his kitchen.
His breathing started
to even out. Pulse rate slowed.
"Hi, muchacho," smiled
the other man, his eyes concerned. At least he thought
they looked concerned.
"Sorry to scare you,"
the silver-haired man drawled, sounding not the least bit sorry,
"but we can't exactly walk up to people in broad daylight and
He raised his eyebrows,
trying to appear nonchalant. This was a difficult look to
achieve while holding a mangled Corona in your hand. "No,
I don't suppose you can. You are wanted by the Army,
The older man flicked a
glance at Murdock, who gave a nearly imperceptible shake of his
"You're the A-Team."
"I'm Hannibal Smith,
and this is BA Baracus," the man offered. He didn't bother
to introduce Murdock. For an instant, he wondered how much
What was there to
know? His one brief foray into the world of forbidden lust
had been a disaster from start to finish. He'd cried all
over the poor man. Had they laughed about that afterward,
with crude comments and jokes?
He met the warm brown
gaze. He'd thought it held concern, but that wasn't all
there was in it. There was an apology, and a veiled, cautious
kind of happiness, and...
No. They hadn't
laughed about it.
Temp extended his
hand. "Templeton Peck." Strong fingers closed around
his; the handshake was firm without being bruising, not out to
prove anything. The other man didn't step forward, so Peck
nodded to him. "What can I do for you gentlemen?"
"I don't know how much
you know about the kinds of jobs we do," Smith began.
"There was an editorial
in the Times a few weeks ago, criticizing
vigilantes. It named you in passing." He
smiled. "I remember the volume of mail they received
"We love to hear from
our fans," Murdock intoned, in a mock upper-crust accent.
"One letter stuck in my
head." Hell, he'd cut it out and stuck it in a drawer in
his desk, but they didn't need to know that. "A woman
wrote about how you'd saved her son from a gang preying on local
kids, shipping them to other cities to work as drug dealers and
prostitutes. She said she owed you her life."
"A lot of people could
say the same about you," Smith returned.
"That's my job," Peck
"Yeah. Beats gall
bladder surgery on rich, blue-haired ladies, doesn't it?
Or did you take the job in ER because you love hospital
narrowed. "Cut to the chase."
"We need a doctor," the
older man told him. "An old Greenie buddy of ours has
gotten himself in a little trouble down in Central America, and
we need to go give him a hand." Smith paused, blew
smoke. "He'd been working down there with the local
folks—he became a missionary after he left the service—and he
was doing fine, until one of the slimeballs who calls himself a
businessman decided to recruit some of the village children to
work for him."
"Why do you need a
doctor for that?"
"Because the kids are
dyin'." Temp sucked in a breath at Murdock's soft
words. "He's set up a mine, carved into the side of the
mountain, and he's got ‘em workin' for him. Pays ‘em slave
wages and doesn't bother with safety standards, but the
villagers don' wanna cross him because he's got the backing of
"The kids are gettin'
hurt in the mine, and they ain't enough doctors in that part of
the country to treat ‘em," Baracus rumbled. "Things is
gettin' bad. One of the little fellas died las' week, ‘cuz
they couldn't get him down the mountain to the hospital fast
enough, an' Rudy called us."
Peck shook his head,
confused. "This sounds like a long-term problem. I
don't understand; how long are you expecting to be down there?"
"A week, two, tops."
"But those children
will need medical care as long as the mine stays open."
The silver-haired man
grinned. "Like I said, a week, two tops." He took a
puff on the Corona, let it out. "Listen, Doc, you don't
need to worry about the particulars. But that mine, and
that mine owner, are going to meet with an accident while we're
down there, and it won't be working again anytime soon."
"An' neither will he!"
"But there are also
some kids down there who need the services of a good doctor,
yesterday. I'm not going to play the violin for you, but
it's pretty desperate, and Murdock figures you're the man for
the job." He paused, his ice-blue gaze making Peck feel
exposed. "And that's good enough for me.
"But I'm not going to
lie to you, either. This isn't going to be a walk in the
park. These guys mean business, and people could get
caught in the crossfire, though we're going to do our damndest
to prevent that from happening. And if it were ever
learned you were associated with us, it could have serious
repercussions for you, both professionally and personally."
Peck wanted to laugh at
that last. Personal repercussions. He'd had nothing
but personal repercussions in the last few months. It
wasn't as though a couple of kisses shared with another man in a
crappy hotel room had destroyed his marriage, but they had been
the final nails in its coffin. He couldn't keep on
pretending that he was happy with the way things were. And
when he and Leslie finally sat down together and talked, he
found out that neither could she.
He told himself it was
better for both of them. But it still felt like
failure. A huge, ugly failure, when he'd turned his back
on failure a long, long time ago.
Murdock was watching
him, he could feel it. He looked at each of them in turn,
remembered the night he'd seen them in the diner. He could
tell right then that they weren't ordinary acquaintances or
friends. And Green Berets; even this long after the end of
the war, the words were still ones to conjure by. Men who
would die for one another without a moment's hesitation.
Each one of them belonging to the other, owning each other's
lives, and being owned in turn. He'd never belonged to
anyone like that, not even his wife. He'd always held some
part of himself back, just as she had.
He met Murdock's gaze,
searching for something he didn't know how to find. And
then he heard himself speak.
"I'll do it."
Murdock hefted another
crate of explosives off the tarmac and thought, if I survive
this, I can survive anything.
He walked past Peck as
he bent over a similar crate, the material of his jeans
stretching tight across his ass.
There was only so much
nobility a guy could exhibit. So he looked.
The doc had shown up at
the crack of dawn this morning, fresh as the proverbial daisy,
and with enough medical supplies to choke a horse. No one
had bothered to ask how he'd managed to get his hands on so much
with so little notice. When all the stuff had been
unloaded from his car, Hannibal, standing in the middle of it
all, had nodded, twice, and said, "Nice." The kid had
beamed like a lighthouse.
He'd fallen in with
them effortlessly; a man who was used to putting on masks could
assume any identity he wanted. What interested Murdock was
why he wanted this particular identity. And if he took it
on, would he hate himself for it?
A shaft of pain lanced
through his skull. Too much heavy thinkin', too early in
the morning. Concentrate on the view.
Peck had shed the
three-piece suit in favour of a faded jean jacket and a t-shirt
that looked painted on. In the unseasonably warm air, he'd
removed the jacket early on, and once again Murdock found that
reality exceeded imagination. The pilot nearly groaned as
he observed the play of lean muscle under the sinfully thin
cloth. This guy worked out, and how. Not just
aerobically, prancing along the beach like the other rich boys,
but with weights, enough to give him power without excess
bulk. Something in his life had convinced him he needed
Or maybe he was
put on this earth to torture me, he told himself. Ever
He sighed, climbed the
steps and maneuvered the crate into the plane.
Murdock wasn't happy he
was coming on this trip.
That much was
obvious. He'd barely spoken two words to him since Temp
had shown up at the airstrip. But he was definitely
not indifferent to his presence, as the covert glances the other
man sent him proved. Brief glances, but ones that heated
his skin where they alighted. Peck wasn't entirely sure
why he'd worn these clothes today; he'd debated over it for
several minutes before packing a small bag with
essentials. What did one wear to a small Central American
dictatorship in November? Could you waive the rule about
no whites after Labour Day? He finally opted for denim,
figuring it would withstand wear and tear better than polyester
or wool. But the shirt was not so easily explained.
He supposed, if he wanted to be honest with himself, that it had
been chosen to show them he was up to the job.
Unfortunately, he had
no idea if this were true.
He lifted the crate
with ease, pleased with his body's response; so far, he was
doing his share, keeping up with men in top physical
condition. He hoped he'd be able to do the same in the
mountainous jungles which lay ahead. When he reached
the door of the aircraft, Baracus plucked the crate from his
hands as though it were made of tissue paper. Temp
clambered up the short steps, ducking his head as he went and
trying not to laugh out loud at his own arrogance.
The aircraft was a
twin-engine prop, about twenty years old, but in good
condition. He'd only realized shortly after arriving that
Murdock would be their pilot. The tall, long-limbed man
was crawling over the airframe when he pulled up, disappearing
inside the wells of the landing gear, inspecting the cowlings
and air intakes, climbing onto the wings. It occurred to
Temp that while Murdock was now privy to some of his deepest,
darkest secrets, Peck knew next to nothing about him. He'd
mentioned being in a psych ward, he assumed as a result of his
time in Vietnam. It wouldn't be right to ask either
of the others about it. Doubtless they were living with
their own demons.
Once the cargo was
secured, Smith moved to pull up the stairs and secure the cabin
door. He took a seat across from Baracus, which left Temp
no choice but to sit beside the huge man.
Murdock poked his head
through the cockpit doorway. "Five minutes, guys.
Then she's hittin' the big blue." He cast an eye at
Baracus. "You OK, man?"
"Why wouln' I be?"
snapped the other.
"Sure, sure, big
fella." Murdock disappeared directly after the
softly-voiced comment, leaving the three men in silence.
Trying not to turn his
head, Peck eased his eyes over slowly. The first thing he
noticed were Baracus' large brown hands, which were gripping his
own knees so hard he thought the patellae might break.
Temp didn't know what to say, so he said nothing.
"How much sleep you get
in the last thirty-six hours?" asked Smith.
Temp looked up,
belatedly realizing he was the one being addressed. "Uh,
not much. A couple of hours." Truth be told, he'd
been on his feet since they left his apartment the night before
last, making arrangements for a replacement, and using some of
his more disreputable talents to secure the supplies he'd
brought with him this morning. He'd also spent a
considerable amount of time vibrating from a constant adrenaline
high, but Smith didn't need to know that.
"Uh hunh," Smith
drawled. "Well, get a few hours' worth now. We'll be
refueling in Mazatlán, and I'll wake you
then. I want to go through a few procedures with you."
God. Did the man really think he'd be able to sleep
now? "Sure." He tilted back the seat and
closed his eyes, trying to imagine himself in his bed and not on
a small plane about to begin the craziest chapter of his life.
Murdock's voice, smooth
as silk, interrupted his thoughts as it was carried to them via
intercom. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to begin our
preflight routine. Please ensure that your seatbelts are
securely fastened, and that all stewardesses have been returned
to their upright positions." The powerful engines uttered
a harsh thunk-and-whine as they turned over, and then unleashed
a full-throated roar.
He didn't know he'd
dozed off until he awoke with a start when the ground dropped
out from under him. Momentarily disoriented, he squinted
out the window of the plane to see America receding beneath
him. For a chilling instant, he wondered if he'd ever see
it again. Is that what they'd wondered, he mused, when
they'd boarded the airliner for Southeast Asia?
He jumped when a joyous
yell rent the air. Beside him, Baracus huffed.
"Crazyman's back in the
sky," he muttered, and then Temp felt the darkness reach up to
claim him once more.
Warm hands, warm
That's what Sister
Agnes had told him, when his class had gone on a field trip to
Big Sur and he'd gotten to see snow for the first time.
He'd come in from making snowballs, the wool mittens soaked
through from hours of scooping and shaping, and she'd plucked
them off, afraid he'd been frostbitten.
"Sister, I'm fine,"
he'd chirped, voice reed-thin. How old had he been?
Seven? Eight? He'd squeezed her fingers when she
tried to inspect his hands for signs of the dreaded
blueness. "See, they're not even cold."
She'd said it then, and
he'd been confused, because he'd read somewhere that the saying
was different. She'd answered that she meant he had been
given a special gift. Those hands would be used to heal,
she smiled down at him, to heal the lame and the sick.
Right now, those hands
were holding a rifle.
"This is a Ruger
Mini-14," Smith informed him. "It's one of the weapons in
our arsenal, and we each carry one. I'm just going to
issue you a shotgun, because I know you don't have a lot of
experience. I'll go over that next. But you should
know how to use this one as well, in case one of us is unable to
"In other words, if one
of you is shot."
Smith shook his head,
chomped on his unlit cigar. "Nah. I mean if one of
us is dead. We can still fire it if we're shot."
Temp wrapped his hands
cautiously around the weapon. It chilled his skin.
"Are you expecting me to use one of these on another person?"
"I'm expecting you to
do whatever you have to do to defend yourself, and the kids in
your charge. Because you have to understand, right now,
that at some point you may be the only thing standing between
them and some bastard who wants to hurt them. When this is
all over, a few of them, and their parents, are planning to
testify to what's happened up on that mountain. If Ramirez
finds out about that beforehand, their lives are going to be in
danger." He pinned Peck with a gaze of steel. "You
took an oath. I know that. You have to choose
between a rock and a hard place."
He took a breath, let
it out. "I'm going to need a few minutes to think about
"Sure, kid," Smith
agreed amiably, patting his knee. "Take all the time you
need." He rose from the chair and went out to join Murdock
on the runway.
From the tail of the
plane, Baracus emerged, having finished his task of checking on
the cargo. He moved to follow his commander, but before he
could leave, Temp spoke his name.
asked, turning toward him.
"Can I, ah, talk to you
for a second?" He wasn't sure what the hell he was doing,
but he knew he had to do something. The rifle sat in his
lap like a stone.
"I s'pose," the big man
grunted, taking the chair opposite Peck.
Temp took a moment to
marshal his thoughts. "Listen, I don't mean to pry.
Just remember that I'm a doctor, and as such it's my job
to..." He trailed off, shook his head. "Is there
anything I can do for you?" he finally asked. Please,
he pleaded silently. Let me do something I know
how to do.
"What you gonna do for
me?" Baracus demanded.
sedatives. They might make things easier."
Powerful jaw muscles
clenched. "Murdock tell you?"
No. Your fear of
flying was as difficult to miss as an H-bomb going off inside
the cabin. "I—can't say. Confidentiality, you know."
slowly. His gaze strayed to the rifle. "Hannibal
been givin' you lessons, huh?"
"Sometimes you gotta do
what you gotta do," the other man opined. "You know what
Wonderful, Peck sighed
inwardly. Philosophy 101. "Yeah. That's one
way to look at it."
"Ain't no other way to
look at it," he snapped. "You think it's all ‘bout fancy
ideals an' pieces of paper wit' yo' name on it. Well, it
ain't. It's about livin' in this world in a way that lets
you hold yo' head up. That lets you do what's right by
other folks, ‘cuz when it's all said an' done that's the only
thing worth gettin' up for."
Temp stared at the huge
man, nearly forgetting to breathe.
crazy," Baracus continued. "You wouldn't know it to look
at him, on account of he's hidin' it pretty good. He knew
he wasn't ready to leave the hospital, but he did, ‘cuz he knew
we needed him on the outside. Nobody asked him, nobody
talked to him ‘bout it. But he also knew if we didn't have
his help, one of us was gonna end up dead soon enough."
His gaze swept over the cabin as it might over the walls of a
prison cell. "So I get on the plane, even though I wanna
jump out the side soon's the engines start up. ‘Cuz he's
doin' for us. An' now I gotta do for us. Simple as
demanded, suddenly angry, with Baracus, with all of them, with
himself. "How do you all make it so damned simple?"
"‘Cuz it is," Baracus
growled, lifting himself from the seat and leaving Temp to his
own churning thoughts.
"We may have to leave
Murdock turned away
from the guys refueling the plane to face his CO. "Strand
him in Mexico?"
Captain; stranding doesn't get much nicer than this. We
can pick him up on the way back." He chewed on the end of
his cigar, probably annoyed he couldn't light up with all the av
gas around. "He looks like he needs a vacation anyway."
"He wants to go,"
Murdock countered. Wait a minute. This was what he'd
been wanting to hear. Wasn't it?
"He's in love with the
idea of going, but the reality is starting to kick him right in
the ass. And he doesn't like it."
BA chose that moment to
join the conversation. "Hannibal gave him a gun, tol' him
he'd have to use it."
"I told him he might
have to use it," corrected Hannibal.
"Tha's too much, too
soon," BA persisted.
"Tough," Hannibal said,
his voice low. He chewed some more. "We don't have
the luxury of time on this one. Our medics weren't
conscientious objectors, they were combat-trained
Greenies. I won't take anybody into a situation like this
when he won't even defend himself. That's not fair to us
or to him."
right." Both men turned toward Murdock. "He's right,
an' you know it. This isn't for everybody, this life we
made." He chuckled a little, but there was no mirth in
it. "You wanna play, you gotta pay, hunh?"
All three of them got
quiet together. Stared at the guys pumping gas.
"I'm gettin' somethin'
to eat," BA said. "You hungry?" he asked Murdock.
"Yeah. There's a
place down the road I heard serves bee-youtiful tortillas.
Let's go, big guy."
"You comin', Hannibal?"
"Bring me back
something. I want to keep an eye on the plane."
"I'll have two
tortillas with extra cheese."
jump-started at the sound of Peck's voice. He looked up to
meet eyes sparking blue flame. Jesus. Didn't he know
there was gas around?
The Mini was slung over
his shoulder. Slowly, he brought it around his body, and
held it out to Hannibal. "I'm ready," he stated.
"OK, kid," Hannibal
Murdock and BA headed
off to the restaurant, walking with a matched, even rhythm.
Temp started sweating
from the moment he stepped off the aircraft.
Mazatlán had been hot, but at least it had been dry, like
walking around inside a furnace. The air in the coastal
town where they landed was dripping with humidity, even though
the light was starting to fade as the sun set over the
water. The shorts he'd changed into lost the pleat in them
within minutes. So much for style, he mused, wondering why
the hell he'd ever thought shorts needed to be ironed in the
first place. His life as an up-and-coming surgeon with a
wardrobe and a country club membership seemed a million miles
"Okay," Smith began,
blue eyes taking in the terrain, "we need a truck.
Murdock, what do you say?"
He bowed to his
CO. "It would be a pleasure, sahib."
To Peck's surprise, the
Colonel nodded at him. "Take the doc with you. He
might come in handy, seeing as how he speaks Spanish."
Temp felt heat rise in his cheeks; he'd mentioned his ability to
Smith in passing, but now it sounded like shameless
The tall pilot's gaze
swung toward him. "He does, hunh? Man of many
talents." Before Peck could think too much about the
meaning behind that statement, he realized Murdock had started
off without him. He had to jog to catch up with his long
"Murdock," he murmured,
when he had finally reached him. The other did not look at
him, though he slowed his pace. "What's going on?"
"Well, see, this is San
Pedro City , the capital city of San Pedro— "
"I know where we are,"
interrupted Temp, impatient. "I wanted to know what's
going on with you."
"Me? There's lots
goin' on with me, doc. Always lots goin' on in my
head. But if I spent all night tellin' you about it,
Hannibal wouldn't get his truck." His legs continued to
eat up the dusty road.
"Look, just—" Peck made
a move to touch him, but jerked his hand away before it
connected. "I know you think I shouldn't have come.
Murdock only shook his
head. "Uh-uh. You're a sawbones, not a
shrink." He rounded on him, his face suddenly twisted into
a parody of a movie gangster's. "You dirty rat! You'll
never make me talk! " he snarled, Cagney-like.
"Okay, okay," Temp
relented, momentarily taken aback.
"Naw, c'mon, that was
too easy. You're supposed to shine the bare light bulb in
my face, ‘til I see spots in front of m'eyes. How'm I ever
gonna get fried at Sing Sing if you back down so easy?"
"Sorry. I wasn't
aware of your ultimate goal. I'll start heating up the
chair right away."
Murdock slowed down a
bit more. Cocked an eyebrow at him. "I don't think
you should've come because this isn't the life you're supposed
Temp thought about that
for a moment. "Did you get the life you were supposed to
The other man barked a
laugh. "Well, I guess I did. Always wanted to fly
everything that had wings, and a few things that
didn't. It's not too many lives let you do that, and
I've got my wish, just about." He met Peck's gaze.
"And my life ain't over yet. Maybe I'll fly the Goodyear
Blimp one of these days."
"Is that all you
need? Something to fly?"
Temp sucked in a
breath. Why in God's name had he asked that question?
Because he wanted to
"No, muchacho, that
isn't all I need," Murdock answered, in a quiet, steady
voice. "But it's all I'm ever likely to get." His
strides lengthened again. "Let's go get that truck, huh?"
"Why, looky, looky,
what have we here?"
"What it looks like,"
Peck intoned primly, "is a junk pile."
grinned. They stood before a lot crammed with all
makes and models of cars, trucks and buses, most of them missing
an important part, like a set of tires or an engine. "Raw
potential, just waitin' to be put in motion." He started
forward, aiming for what seemed like the proprietor's office,
but was stopped by a hand on his arm.
He fought to keep from
closing his eyes and savouring the sensation.
"I want to try it,"
Peck told him, voice edgy but determined.
Murdock was taken aback
by that. "What you know ‘bout scammin' stuff?" he
The look in the doc's
eyes was wicked, and Murdock's pulse tripped over itself.
"How the hell do you think I got through medical school? I
had a scholarship, worked two jobs, and it still wasn't
enough. So I decided to go into business with a buddy of
mine from the orphanage. Stinky O'Hara had some fine
little scams going on campus, and he cut me in on his action
until I could branch out on my own."
Murdock stared at
him. "Stinky O'Hara?"
"His real name was
Seamus. Can you blame him?" breezed the other
man. He waved a hand. "Anyway, it was nothing
illegal. We just bent the college rules about
parties. All right, we broke them. The betting pool
was questionable. But everybody knew what they were
doing. These people were adults, after all." His
eyes twinkled. "And college kids with money from Mom and
Dad burning a hole in their pockets will bet on anything, from
the colour of the new football uniforms to the size of the
The pilot checked to
see if he was still standing. He'd built this guy up in
his mind as some sort of pure, virginal white knight, without
really knowing anything about him. Now it was beginning to
sound like his armor was in serious need of a polish.
"What are you sayin'?"
"I'm just trying to
present my credentials. I'm a bit rusty, but then I
imagine the piece of shit truck we'll end up with will beat me
on that score."
opened. Closed. Opened again.
yourself out." He made a grand gesture with one hand, and
Peck stepped in front of him.
Damn. The shorts
were worse than the jeans. Even his fucking calves
Man of many talents,
"Are you in charge
here?" Temp roared, in loud Spanish. An instant later, the
door he'd thrust open hit the wall with a loud bang, and the
combined assault nearly jerked the man behind the desk
completely out of his chair.
"I am the owner of this
business," grumbled the pudgy, sweaty specimen, his eyes deeply
embedded in fatty deposits. "What do you want?"
"What do I want?
What do I want?" blustered Peck. "Do you mean to
tell me you don't know who I am?"
"No," snarled the mound
"The company must have
"Are you saying the
company didn't call?"
"Ohh, Christ!" Temp
exclaimed, turning to Murdock. "The company didn't call!"
Peck swivelled slowly
around again to face the junkyard owner. "The company," he
began, drawing himself up to his full height, "that is going to
put San Pedro on the map!" He sucked in a breath.
"The company that is going to make you and the seventy-five
members of your immediate family rich beyond your wildest dreams
of avarice. The company that is going to transform San
Pedro into a land flowing with milk and honey!" He leaned
forward suddenly, his palms flat on the desk, and the porcine
man tilted backward dangerously in his chair.
"Would you like to know
the name of the company?" Peck enquired sweetly.
"The name of the
company," he boomed, pausing for dramatic emphasis, "is Club
"I can see it now," he
bulled on, his arm sweeping the room. "A grand central
structure with cathedral ceilings, ballrooms, games rooms,
conference rooms, fitness rooms—"
Temp stumbled at the
other man's words, delivered in perfectly accented Spanish, but
recovered swiftly. "A luxury hotel, overlooking the blue
waters of the tropical Pacific. And on the beach itself,
four—no, five! Five dozen exclusive cottages, with air
conditioning, whirlpool tubs, magic fingers! A paradise
for the weary American, tired of the rat race. And for the
people of San Pedro...." He trailed off, locking gazes
with the now actively sweating proprietor.
"Yes?" the man
Temp slapped the desk
with his palm, and the owner's jowls jiggled
spasmodically. "Only the finest that America has to
offer! A chicken in every pot, a flush toilet in every
hacienda!" He grinned his most winning grin, the one that
no nurse could resist. "Television," he breathed.
"But what can I offer
you?" the proprietor asked. "I have nothing here for
"My friend," Peck
beamed, "you have more than you can imagine. We at Club
Med are prepared to let you in on the ground floor. The
ground floor. You are an entrepeneur who has vision;
everyone I've talked to says so. And we will be needing
men of vision. I can see you providing all our
transportation needs in this great undertaking. I trust
you can supply us with equipment?"
"I know you can.
I have no doubt in my mind. The first groundbreaking
should be in about three months; that'll give you ample time to
get ready. The company will be sending a list of their
requirements within the next couple of weeks. But for now,
I've only brought a small survey team, and I'll just be needing
a truck. Your best, preferably..." He cocked an
eyebrow at Murdock.
"One ton," the pilot
"At least," he
sniffed. "I apologize that our lines of communication got
crossed. Do you have anything ready for us to drive off
"Yes, I think I—"
Didn't I tell you this man was a team player?" He smiled
at Murdock, then stepped around the desk to shake the owner's
chubby hand. "The company will be sending you a cheque
tomorrow, wired from our Los Angeles headquarters. Thank
you so much. You won't regret this." Still holding
onto his hand, he pulled the other man to his feet.
"I will bring the truck
around for you," he murmured, looking more than a little dazed.
When the owner had
disappeared out the door and thumped down the wooden steps, Peck
swung toward Murdock.
"Okay?" he asked
Murdock's gaze bored
into him for a long moment, while Temp held his breath.
The pilot broke into a
wide grin. Started chuckling, low and easy.
Temp liked that sound,
and liked that he was the one who had made it happen.
"Yeah," Murdock told
him, brown eyes appreciative. "You're way past okay,
Murdock lay in the back
of the truck as it slowly ground its way up the mountain.
Rudy had provided them with a flawless map; one of the perks of
doing a job for a Greenie was that you weren't gonna get
lost. A few feet away, stretched out between crates of
equipment, Peck was sleeping the sleep of the just.
Who was this masked
man? He was, Murdock was beginning to realize, a
complicated mix of pure innocence and tarnished experience that
confused and irritated him.
That same mix also
excited the hell out of him. That bit of business in the
junkyard had been a sweet, beautiful piece of jazz. The
pilot had watched the blue eyes dance with barely veiled
mischief and for an insane, spine-tingling second had imagined
those same eyes hovering over him, while his surgeon's hands
Just how long was he
going to keep doing this to himself? The guy was most
definitely Not That Way. And even if he was, Murdock would
hate himself afterward, because the kid was convinced such—ah,
activity—earned you a one-way ticket to the fiery pit.
Just because the pilot had no use for religion didn't mean he
couldn't understand where Peck was coming from. If you did
some of the things they'd got up to over the years, you were on
a first-name basis with guilt. It wasn't something he
would wish on his worst enemy.
Some of the
things....the time he'd been out with them in the jungle, when
the slick had crash- landed, and suddenly the trees had started
spitting fire at them. The radioman, standing beside him,
took it first, and a shower of gore had splattered the left side
of Murdock's flight suit, his face, his fucking fancy
sunglasses. He was a pilot, not a grunt, and he'd never
been in an honest- to-God firefight. He grabbed the
Swedish K off the other guy as he fell and began squeezing off
sloppy bursts at the places he thought the bullets were coming
from. There was no time to think until later, when they'd
got back to base and he'd wiped his face and his sunglasses and
burned his flight suit and wondered, how come he's not the
one wiping me off of him?
Then there was the time
he'd stood there watching while some of the so-called
Intelligence officers he flew around for the Company
interrogated a prisoner, a chu hoi who'd turned out to be
working for the VC. She looked like an adult at first
glance—everybody looked older here—but on closer inspection she
was a kid, maybe fifteen or sixteen. He'd stood there,
watching, as one of the guys cut her, in places that would hurt,
but not kill, not right away, and she bit her lip to keep from
screaming. He'd stood there, watching, because he couldn't
believe it was happening. It had to be a sick movie,
playing out at twenty-four frames a second in front of his
eyes. It wasn't real.
When she finally let go
the scream, he came to his senses. But by then it was too
He felt himself twitch,
as if to shake away the memories, but they continued to hold
onto him, like a python who'd just found his next meal. Shit,
he thought, I must've fallen asleep again. Gotta quit
doin' that. Had he taken his little blue pill
today? His mind tried to claw its way up into light.
Naw, it answered, you ran out last month,
remember? You ain't likely to be gettin' any more of the
good stuff, either, not now that your name's been in the
The scream repeated,
kept repeating, over and over in his head, getting quiet, then
rising in volume again, until it drowned out the world.....
gripped his shoulders. Strong hands, warm hands.
He opened his eyes, but
it didn't make much difference in the pitch dark. "I'm
awake," he told Peck, not surprised to find his voice was
"You were yelling
something. I couldn't make it out."
"That's ‘cuz it was in
Vietnamese," Murdock muttered. "Welcome to my head."
He pushed himself to a sitting position, uttering a soft curse
as his left arm collided with a crate.
The doc's hand still
rested on his shoulder, and he welcomed the connection to the
here and now. "Want me to sit up with you for a while?"
shifted to allow the other man to sit beside him. He felt
something brush his legs, then Peck settled himself. The
"You get those
or personal?" Murdock heard himself snap. He closed his
eyes. Not his fault, not his fault.
"Don't be. I'm
always kinda fucked up after one, don't pay no attention to
me." He took a breath, let it out. "They were
startin' to fade away pretty good, there, but lately they've
been comin' back."
"You're not getting the
care they would have given you at the VA hospital," Peck told
him. Murdock turned toward him. "BA," the doc added,
by way of explanation.
"Hmm. You should
have been one ‘a them Father Confessors," the pilot mused.
"Yeah, well, the main ‘care' they were givin' me was drugs, and
those kinda took the edge off, y'know? I been meanin' to
find another supply, but we've been busy lately." Then his
mouth formed the question before his brain could censor
it. "You always been able to do that? Have people do
anything you want, tell you everything you want?"
There was a moment
while Peck absorbed the change of subject. "Since I knew I
could. Yeah." He paused again. "It came in
handy over the years."
Murdock remembered his
mention of an orphanage. "Did it get you adopted?"
"Nope," Peck answered
crisply, and Murdock knew he'd hit a nerve. As for him, he
was nothing but nerve endings at this moment.
ain't all they're cracked up to be. I never met my daddy,
either." He chuckled. "And look how good I turned
"I think," Peck
murmured, voice barely audible over the low roar of the truck
engine, "you turned out great."
He was close.
God, he was close, Murdock could tell, could feel the breath on
his face. Right now, brain fried six ways from Sunday, he
didn't give a damn if it was pity, or hero worship, or plain ol'
fashioned lust the other man was feeling. He was ready to
take whatever he could get.
His hand reached out,
making contact with a solid chest, and the t-shirt he'd wanted
to strip off him since dawn. He slid his fingers up, up,
until they gripped the back of Peck's head, and drew him
forward, gently but insistently. The other man made a
small noise in the back of his throat, and then their lips met,
thought, before his conscious mind gave up altogether.
I think you turned
He had graduated at the
top of his class in med school, and this was the best he could
come up with? There was some switch inside him, one that
shut down his not inconsiderable intellect whenever Murdock got
within a couple of feet of him. That was the only explana—
Oh. Oh Mary,
Mother of God.
He hadn't wanted to
face the fact that kissing the tall, lanky pilot all those
months ago had been a pleasurable experience. When the
memory did flit across his mind, he'd chalked it up to the
desperation of the night, the intense loneliness he'd been
feeling. However, he wasn't feeling particularly lonely
right now. And he certainly wasn't all that desperate.
But when Murdock kissed
him this time, it felt—good. More than good. Right.
He felt a moan vibrate
against his lips, and parted them slightly. Despite the
invitation—God, it was an invitation, wasn't it—Murdock's tongue
traced his upper lip, but refused to go further. That
tentative touch moved him, shook him to his core. This
gentle man was holding himself back, trying not to impose his
desires on Temp. Letting him make the decision.
It wasn't a decision he
wanted to make. If Murdock would just take him, hard and
fast, Temp could say later that it wasn't what he had really
Not that God would buy
that. Because in his religion, intent was as bad as actual
commission. If you thought it, it was as though you had
actually done it. In for a penny, in for a pound, you
Who did he think he was
His arms moved to
encircle the other man's torso, pulling him closer, until their
He'd thought about
His head angled to the
right and his tongue plunged forcefully into the depths of
He'd thought about
It was different, so
different, the hardness of the other body as it strained against
his own, the roughness of the beard as it abraded his
lips. Murdock threw his arms around him in turn, hands
gliding down his back, lifting his t-shirt. Temp groaned
as the pads of Murdock's fingers pressed into his bared skin.
The next thing Peck
knew, he was pushing against the other man, and they were
falling sideways, mouths still joined.
"What is it?" Temp
another of these damn crates." He felt Murdock shift a
little, and Temp bracketed him with his arms, palms on the cool
wooden floor. Looked down at someone he couldn't see,
barely knew, but was astonished to realize he'd already
committed to memory.
"I—" I love your
eyes. Oh, don't say that out loud.
"I know," Murdock told
him, mistaking his hesitation for something else, and Temp felt
a hand come up to caress his cheek. "I know you can't."
Slowly and with intent,
Peck turned his head and sucked one of Murdock's fingers into
"Jesus," breathed the
"Don't close your
eyes," Temp ordered, knowing he just had.
"What does it
matter? I can't see you."
"It matters," he
insisted, lowering himself until he could kiss Murdock again.
Temp felt the moment
when the other man gave in, because suddenly his mouth was wild,
plundering, pillaging, and his hands were no longer content with
feather-light caresses. The pilot's long fingers gripped
his ass through the cotton of his shorts, and Peck cried out in
And then the truck
shuddered, and there was the sound of gears grinding, and Temp
felt the vehicle slow.
He pressed his forehead
to Murdock's, trying to calm his breathing.
The other man expelled
a mirthless laugh. "If I was a believer, this would be a
sure sign. It couldn't be any clearer than a goddamned
Temp moved off Murdock,
pulling the other man up as he went. "And what would it
say?" he muttered, feeling frustrated and drained and suddenly
confused, as though he'd been heading along a straight, unbroken
path and had come to an unforseen crossroads.
Strong hands rose to
hold Temp's face. His swollen lips felt a soft, infinitely
gentle touch, and he closed his eyes.
"It would say, ‘Take
this tablet with a glass of water and call me in the morning,'"
Murdock murmured. "How the hell would I know? The
Head Honcho and I parted ways a long time ago. But that's
not the road you want to follow down."
"You're sure about
that, are you?" Peck whispered, leaning forward.
"No," Murdock groaned,
mouth colliding with Temp's again. "And if you keep
letting me kiss you, I'll be even less sure. Don't tempt
me, doc. I'm no hero in a white hat."
Before Temp could
answer that, the truck came to a complete stop, and Murdock
released him. He sat there, unmoving, until BA and
Hannibal opened the back doors and let them out.
The makeshift clinic
was overflowing with children. Murdock, unloading boxes
from the truck, watched as Peck walked up and down the rows of
cots, stopping to inspect a wound, feel a forehead, listen to a
heartbeat. He watched him storing it all away in his mind,
performing triage, probably checking who needed what against the
mental list of supplies he'd brought.
Murdock hoped it was
going to be enough. It had seemed like enough when they
were putting it on the plane back in California, but now he
wasn't so sure.
Hannibal laid another
box on the table beside Murdock's. "As soon as we've got
everything securely stowed, we're going to hit the sack for a
couple of hours. We've got a long strategy session ahead
Rudy Kowalchuk stepped
up behind them. Half a head taller than even Murdock, he
clapped each of them on a shoulder. "I'm so grateful you
came," he told them, sincerely.
"Yeah, well, don't
thank us yet, man," BA grunted, laying a huge crate down next to
them. "We got a lot to do."
"Still as optimistic as
ever, eh, BA?" Rudy chuckled. He cocked a bushy eyebrow at
Peck, who had paused over a child with a broken leg.
"Where'd you get him?"
"Murdock met him a
while back," Hannibal told him.
Why?" the pilot asked.
"This doesn't faze
him," he answered, indicating the ward.
"He works in an ER in
Los Angeles." And he's good at camouflage, Murdock
"That would explain it." He took a breath. "I don't
know, though. We've all seen some shit, and I thought
nothing would get me anymore, y'know? But..." He
trailed off, and when he spoke again, his deep voice was
rough. "Well. I swore when I got back to the World
I'd never hurt another living soul again. But I know these
guys need to be hurt. And what's worse, I want to hurt
"We'll concentrate on
the hurting, Rudy," Hannibal said softly, laying a hand on his
old friend's arm. "You and the doc over there can
concentrate on the healing."
He shook his
head. "You can't separate them that easily. You know
that." Hannibal didn't reply. They all looked on as
Peck used one of the bandages he'd brought to apply a fresh
dressing to a wound. The kid, about twelve and skinny as a
rail, shifted in his sleep but didn't wake. When he was
done, the doc stood there for a moment, then brushed a stray
lock of hair from the child's brow.
"Does he know what's
coming?" Rudy asked.
"Did we?" BA returned.
They moved together,
heading back to the truck for more boxes.
At a certain point in
his life, he'd decided to follow all the rules. It wasn't
the result of an epiphany, but came upon him slowly, inexorably,
until he couldn't imagine thinking any other way. If you
wanted the kind of life he aspired to, you had to follow the
rules. Know the right people, say the right things, use
the right fork.
And so he'd been the
model student in med school, learning everything and spitting it
all back out again verbatim, down to the bit about clinical
detachment. Doctors had to remain aloof from their
patients, maintain that professional distance, or they couldn't
have the credibility they needed. No one would trust you
with their life if you walked around on two legs, feet touching
the ground. You had to be better than they were, more than
Of course, he'd known
from the start that was bullshit. If you bought into it,
the creature you became was not more than human, he was
less. A childhood in the orphanage had taught him about
detachment, and what it did to you. He'd needed it in
order to survive the hurts and disappointments, not to mention
the hurts and disappointments of all the other kids. But
what you ended up with wasn't a complete person. Ask
Leslie; she'd never say it, but she knew she'd been
He was a damn good
doctor, but he wasn't human.
Right now, though, he
sure as hell felt human. His muscles ached from all the
activity of the last twenty-four hours, and his brain was a
foggy mess. The children had been more than he'd been
expecting, both in number and in the extent of their
injuries. Fractures, mostly, but there were one or two
that had probably sustained internal injuries and might need
surgery, soon. He'd know within a few hours, though he
certainly missed all of his fancy electronic monitors. The
only monitors were him and a rotund force of Nature named Rosa
who'd received some first aid training around the time of World
War II. She'd arrived on the ward just before dawn to take
over from Rudy, and had promptly given him the once-over.
He still wasn't sure if he'd passed inspection.
Stretching his arms
over his head, he ambled to the door which led to the community
centre's main meeting hall. The centre, built by Rudy and
the local residents, was the focal point of the village, housing
the school, the clinic, and the meeting hall. It was also
home to the only power source, a gasoline generator, which
provided electricity for the dimly glowing overhead
lights. Beneath one which flickered intermittently, four
men stood, planning an attack.
"This is the only road
up?" Hannibal was asking. He was pointing to a spot
on the large map that had been set up on one wall.
acknowledged. "We don't have any other way to get to the
mine that doesn't involve dense jungle."
"We jus' looove
jungle," cooed Murdock. "Don't we, guys?" His eyes
caught sight of Peck, standing in the doorway, and he
smiled. An annoying fluttering sensation arose in the pit
of Temp's stomach. The other men followed the line of
"Thought you were
getting some sleep," the Colonel remarked.
"There are a couple of
kids who have to be watched," he told them. "I think they
might require abdominal surgery."
"You have everything
you need?" Smith asked.
"I wish I had the OR at
City of Angels," Peck drawled. "But yeah, I've got nearly
everything I need." He turned to Rudy. "The one
thing I'm missing is a surgical assistant. Does anyone
else in the village have medical training?"
"Just Rosa. And
us," Rudy answered, nodding at the other men. "But ours is
pretty basic. Enough to keep ‘em alive until the dustoff
gets there, that's about it."
He ran a hand through
his hair. "Okay. That's not great. My Spanish
is pretty good, but I don't think I can translate the names of
all the instruments, and I don't know if she'd recognize them
even if I could. None of you has any OR training?"
Blank stares answered his question. "Then any of you
blessed with a photographic memory?"
Slowly, all heads
turned to Murdock, who turned slightly pale.
"Awwwww, shit," he
groaned, eyes closing in pain.
Hannibal sighed, then
nodded at Peck. "Guess we'll have to do this
reconnaissance without you, Captain."
"Size 20 scalpel."
pointed with confidence.
impressed. The pilot had memorized the contents of the
entire tray, backwards and forwards, in half an hour.
"Congratulations. You just qualified as my assistant."
Murdock flexed his
hands nervously before dropping them to his sides. "So I
gotta give you everything you ask for, and count what you use,
sponges ‘n needles ‘n stuff, so that we can make sure it all
comes out again. What else?"
"I might need you to do
some irrigation, since Rosa will be on the anaesthetic."
He felt a momentary jolt of panic, not for the first time, and
tamped it down viciously. Back in LA he'd have at least
six people with him in the OR for a major surgical
procedure. He was standing in the middle of the mayor's
office, which had been cleared of its desk so that a table could
be placed there for examinations. At City of Angels, there
were spacious, completely sterile operating rooms with the
latest equipment. There were heart monitors, BP monitors,
an electrocautery unit, an autoclave, with everything prepared
for him before he walked in, taking the stage in his starring
role as God's gift to medicine. Here, he'd have to put the
Duraprep and the sterile drapes on by himself, and the
instruments would be immersed in boiling water and then
alcohol. He'd have to get in and out fast, because if the
kid needed to be intubated, he was out of luck. Hell, Peck
had only brought enough general anaesthetic for a couple of such
operations; he prayed this would be the only one he'd have to
that a twinge of alarm in Murdock's voice?
mind, I don't have any medical textbooks on me right now.
You'll have to learn on the job."
"Are you going to be
"Yeah. I've seen
worse. Not kids, though." His eyes became distant,
seeing something Peck couldn't. "Well. Not kids
anybody wanted to save."
"I wouldn't have—" He
stopped himself. Wouldn't have subjected him to this if
he'd had a choice? That made it sound like he believed
Murdock to be weak, not as capable as the next person. And
"Wouldn't have picked
the crazy guy?" Murdock smiled crookedly.
Temp locked gazes with
him. "I don't think you're crazy, Murdock."
The other man stared
back at him for several long seconds, and Peck felt as though he
had arrived at another unexpected fork in the road. Only
the choice of direction wasn't up to him. He hated that
feeling of helplessness. He was not accustomed to trusting
another person with his destination.
Murdock shook his
head. "Maybe you should. It'd be a lot easier."
"For who?" Temp asked,
deliberately keeping his voice low and controlled.
"Me? Or you?"
The pilot blinked at
"I'm going to check on
Antonio and Juan," Peck murmured, turning on his heel and
leaving the room.
The examination of the
boys confirmed what he'd already suspected. Juan was going
to be fine, or as fine as you could be with two bruised ribs and
a broken collarbone. Peck breathed a sigh of relief,
because Juan was the one he'd been worried about; pulmonary
surgery was way beyond his capacity with this setup, and so he'd
have to have left his other charges, including Antonio, to
barrel down the mountain in the truck, and hope they got to the
San Pedro City hospital in time.
Antonio, however, was
another matter, and it was now apparent that he'd have to
operate on the ten-year-old. The symptoms were consistent
with a duodenal hematoma, from the constipation to the location
of the pain. Peck would have to do a laparotomy, find the
bleeder or bleeders quickly, and close. Nothing
fancy. But he was confident he could do the procedure
under even these adverse conditions, and confident that the
child would recover completely.
If nothing went wrong.
Peck glanced up at the
stage whisper to see Rudy poking his head in the doorway.
At least he thought it was Rudy. The huge Pole's wide,
flat face was almost unrecognizable under jaggedly striped green
and brown camo paint.
The big man fascinated
Peck. His cool gray eyes concealed a dark, painful
history, but at the same time were completely open to the world
around him. Temp saw it in the way he spoke with the
children on the ward, interacted with their parents. Smith
told him Kowalchuk had been a rifleman in Vietnam, one of the
best snipers he'd ever seen, and Peck's imagination filled in
the blanks. There was nothing detached about being a
sniper; that scope allowed you to see your target, as though he
were standing right in front of you. Was Rudy's work as a
missionary a way for him to make up for the lives he'd ended, to
redress the balance?
A yearning for a
peaceful life may have brought him here, but he certainly looked
ready to defend it at all costs. Peck walked over to him,
and Rudy nodded in Antonio's direction. "How is he?"
Temp stepped past him
into the hallway, shut the door behind them and shook his
head. "He's going to need that surgery. I just sent
Rosa to fetch his parents."
"It's just his
mother. His dad died a few years back in the guerilla
uprising." Peck didn't bother to ask which side he'd been
on. "A lot of the kids here have lost the men in their
families. This is the way they help support their younger
brothers and sisters."
"Until the younger ones
can go out and get themselves killed in some new, improved way,"
Temp growled. He could feel Rudy's eyes on him but the
other man said nothing.
"How's Murdock working
out?" Rudy asked him.
brightened a little. "Wonderful, actually. He has an
amazing capacity to absorb new information."
"He won't let you
down," Kowalchuk said reassuringly.
Peck speared the large
man with a withering look. "Goddammit," he exploded,
quietly, "why is everyone, including Murdock himself, determined
to remind me he's supposed to be crazy?"
"Because we're all
crazy," snapped Rudy, with just as much quiet intensity.
"You don't know what we saw over there. What we did
over there. He wasn't on the ground as much as we were,
but he felt it ten times more than any of us. I saw lots
of guys lose it, most of them all at once, but he— he went
slow. It was as if he wanted to prove to himself he could
"Hell, I don't
know. Be a man?" He chuckled. "Whatever the
fuck that means."
"If he's not a man,"
Peck heard himself say, "then none of us deserves the title."
Rudy studied him.
"Good luck, doc," he told him, finally, holding out his hand.
Temp took it.
"You too." He followed the big Pole out into the early
morning air, where two men stood in tiger striped fatigues and
painted faces, rifles slung over their shoulders. Hannibal
and BA nodded to him, and then they were off, moving like wild
things, until they disappeared at the place where the village
met the jungle.
—He's so little,
so little, look at those skinny little arms, how's he gonna
find a place to put a needle—
scissors, sure, scalpel, gotcha, don't fuck up, don't fuck up—
—Blood, you knew
there'd be blood, you've seen blood before—
—they cut into her
like she was a piece of meat—
—piece of meat, not
even alive, but she was—
—until she screamed—
—stay alive, just
stay alive, boy—
concentrate on him, he's gonna make it, look at the doc there,
you don't see him sweatin'—
—well, maybe a
—you can help him,
here and now, nothin' you can do's gonna bring her back—
Right, fine, show me—
—but I wish I could
bring her back, every fucking night of my life—
Murdock knew he was
going to need those cigarettes sometime on this trip.
He'd kicked the habit
five years ago, when he'd seen his future in the faces of those
old, demented WWI vets from the geriatric ward, coughing their
lungs up even as they tried to shove another coffin nail in
between their shrivelled lips. Not that he still didn't
crave the nicotine, especially right after the Team had blasted
its way out of a tight spot, but he was usually able to resist
He fished around for
the pack he'd stuffed in his pocket earlier, dug out a
cigarette, and raised it to his mouth. He was proud to
note that his hands were rock-steady; all that therapy must've
Or maybe he was going
to blow to bits later, all at once, pieces scattering over the
floor. He smiled mirthlessly and struck a match.
Drawing the evening air into his lungs to induce the tobacco to
catch, he welcomed the refreshing bite of smoke that followed it
"Those things'll be the
death of you," a voice drawled, and Murdock turned to watch Peck
take a fat cigar from the breast pocket of his scrubs. The
pilot held up the matches, and the other man nodded. He
tossed them over.
"Thanks," the doc
murmured, catching them effortlessly. He too lit up,
sighing as he exhaled his first drag, then passed the matches
back to Murdock. For a long, peaceful minute, they stood
together, watching the village children run around the
playground beside the community centre.
Murdock savoured the
silence, knowing it wouldn't last, because silences always got
filled with stupid, meaningless conversation; he was waiting for
a tossed-off line like "Great job in there" or "Nice night" to
ruin the stillness of the air. But Peck didn't offer any
clichés, just kept standing and puffing.
The pilot threw down
the half-finished cigarette, stubbing it out with the toe of his
sneaker. Closing his eyes and leaning back against
the corrugated metal wall, he felt the nicotine begin to race
through his bloodstream.
"I'm going to get some
rest," he heard Peck say after a time. "Rosa's orders."
Murdock opened his
"I'm not messing with
her. Rudy said she was dangerous, and I believe it."
Murdock shook his head,
chuckled in spite of himself.
"You, ah, planning on
sleeping?" Peck asked, tone casual.
Murdock looked at him
sharply. How the hell was he going to sleep, with
Hannibal and BA gone for at least another half a day and nothing
but air between him and this beautiful, complicated,
"I, ah, I'm gonna stay
up awhile longer. When the guys come back, they'll be
sleeping during the day and doing ops at night. I gotta
get set to their pattern, y'know?"
Bullshit, that was
complete and total bovine manure; he'd flown them all down here,
nonstop, and could easily sack out for eighteen hours.
Maybe after the kid was asleep. He could trust himself not
to jump Peck's bones if he was unconscious; after all, that
would be terribly unsportsmanlike, old man.
"Yeah," the doc
muttered, obviously catching the scent. "Well, I'll see
Don' let the bed bugs bite."
After Peck had
disappeared around the corner, Murdock pulled out another
cigarette and lit up. Maybe if he inhaled the whole pack,
he'd still be awake when the guys returned.
He looked like an
Murdock didn't believe
in angels, but now he had his doubts, because this creature
lying curled up on the worn-out army cot sure fit the
description. His tanned limbs were perfectly proportioned,
his lashes were longer than any man's had a right to be, his
golden-brown hair spilled over his forehead as though he'd been
readjusting his halo. Did they need to adjust those, or
did they float at a preset distance? What if the batteries
But at the same time,
Murdock knew that despite outward appearances, this man was
anything but an angel. That fact scared him more,
because as long as he could put him up on a pedestal, he could
keep things organized in his brain; he's up there, you're down
here. It got all cloudy and hard to figure when he thought
of him as a human being, a man with emotions and uncertainties
and a mouth that could—
Oh, hell, he
told himself. That's what a chain-smoked pack of
unfiltered Lucky Strikes does to you; winds you up like one of
those rubber band boats you used to play with on grandaddy's
pond. Just go to sleep, or pretend to, take your big ol'
feet and walk over to the other cot.
walkin'. Simplest thing in the world.
He finally made himself
turn, but spun back abruptly at a soft groan from the other
man. Rooted to the spot, he could not force his body to
move, only to witness. Peck was still wearing the shorts,
but had removed his t-shirt, and the pilot shamelessly drank in
the sight of lean pectoral muscles delineated by a light dusting
of short, springy chest hair. As he watched, the left one
twitched, as if his heart were threatening to leap from his
Suddenly, Peck's legs
stiffened spasmodically, straightening, then relaxing, as though
he'd been electroshocked. Incomprehensible sounds came
from his throat, ending in a laugh that chilled Murdock's
blood. He moaned again, then flung one arm up, as if to
ward off a blow.
"Get away," he growled,
from between gritted teeth. "Get—away."
Galvanized into action
by Peck's obvious distress, Murdock finally moved, crouching
beside the cot. He reached up to stroke the man's
forehead, his fingertips dampened by the sweat pouring off
him. The doctor's breathing evened out, his expression
eased, and then—
—Murdock found himself
knocked flat on his ass.
"Oh, God," breathed
Peck, and through the haze of stars Murdock could see he was now
fully awake, "Oh God. What did I—"
"That's a hell of a
right hook you got there, doc," Murdock told him, touching his
jaw and wincing as he located the tender spot.
"I can explain," Peck
murmured fervently, sitting up.
But Murdock was in no
mood for confessions; the punch, combined with the poisonous
soup of stimulants transferred by the cigarette smoke, had left
him feeling jittery and drained. "That's okay. You
were havin' a nightmare, s'all, and—"
"I want to explain."
Temp's blue gaze speared Murdock, and the pilot sat
transfixed. "It's important."
Peck swung his legs
over the edge of the cot and faced the pilot. "I, ah, I
was dreaming about— something that happened to me a long time
ago, in the orphanage. You see, when I was about
fourteen, there was another boy who got transferred from San
Francisco. He was older, and he was big, a hell of a lot
stronger than I was. He wanted somebody to bully,
and I was an easy target, until I got fed up and started working
out in the school gym." He smiled evilly. "Within
about a year, I stopped having any trouble, from anybody.
I was in control, and I never gave it up again. Not even
Murdock stared at him,
listening intently. Peck took a deep breath and continued.
"I've been thinking
these last few months about how I became the person I am.
A broken marriage is a golden opportunity for some serious
soul-searching, believe me. And I came to realize just how
much the orphanage shaped who and what I am. In a strange
way, I'm grateful, because situations like what happened with
that bully made me hate feeling helpless and weak, and fight to
keep from feeling it again. I don't think I could have
become a doctor without that attitude.
"But it's a
double-edged sword, y'know." He chuckled, but there was no
humour in it. "I mean, once you've got that control, it's
damned hard to let it go, even if everything in you is screaming
for you to do it." He sighed, as if he'd suddenly run out
himself and staggered to his feet. His knees felt like
they were made of chewed out chewing gum. "Why are you
tellin' me this?" he asked.
Slowly, the other man
rose to stand in front of him. Murdock tried to keep his
gaze from straying over the tanned shoulders and chest. "I
guess it's a roundabout way of saying this isn't all that easy
for me, either. I, ah, I didn't expect—" Peck trailed off.
"Didn't expect whut?"
Temp opened his mouth
to speak, closed it, then finally shook his head. "You,"
The pilot felt as
though another blow had been delivered, only this time it was a
knockout punch. When Peck spoke again, his voice sounded
"I wasn't expecting to
feel anything. To want—anything. It—they always told
us it was—" He looked away for a moment. "Well. That
has nothing to do with it."
"It does, though,"
Murdock replied. He had an odd sensation of drowning, and
fought for air. "The Church—that's important to you.
"It's not just the
Church, Murdock, it's me." Peck reached up to touch his
cheek briefly, and the pilot sucked in a breath at the
contact. "The one thing I've held onto, as long as I
knew how, was my control. I'm afraid I'll lose that
control with you."
Murdock watched as the
other man got closer. Felt a strong hand close over his
and guide it....
"But God help me,"
whispered Peck as he pressed Murdock's fingers against the front
of his shorts, "how I want to."
He must still be
It was the only
explanation. How else would he have summoned the courage
to do this, to stand right in front of Murdock and tell him how
he felt? And now he was practically begging for his touch,
pressing the other man's hand against him like a horny
teenager. He'd never been so shamelessly wanton with
another person in his life.
Something about the man
brought it out of him; it had a great deal to do with
attraction, an attraction he was only now starting to admit to
himself. But it also had a lot to do with trust.
Since that first night, when Murdock had refused to take
advantage of his vulnerable state, Peck understood he had
finally met someone he could trust. Temp knew he didn't
have to exist within the prison created by his fears when he was
with this man. He could be less than perfect and it
wouldn't matter. Before that, he'd only allowed himself
such luxury in the privacy of his own head.
He wished he could have
had that with Leslie, but she had built her own walls, and
neither one of them was interested in tearing down such neat,
perfect structures. Murdock, however, lived completely
without boundaries; he was, to put it bluntly, a mess. But
he was a glorious, feeling, human mess, and he was making Temp
human again, recreating him in his own image without even
During the operation,
he'd darted glances now and then at the pilot, checking to see
how he was holding up. Despite his belief that Murdock
would come through with flying colours, Peck nonetheless felt
guilty for putting him in the situation in the first
place. Once, the two of them had looked at one another at
the same moment, and Temp had seen such a riot of pain and hope
and anger and determination in the man's fathomless brown eyes
that it had stopped his breathing. Peck understood, then,
how much this was costing him, and admired him all the more for
And, to be perfectly
honest, he'd fallen for him a little more, too.
Those eyes were locked
with his now, trying to burn their way into his soul. He
felt another pang of fear, but fought his own instincts to close
up. Deliberately, he reached up to trace the other man's
lips with his fingers, abandoning his hold on Murdock's hand in
the process. This was it, he thought. Had he fallen
alone, with no one to catch him?
The hand stayed.
Then it began to move,
tracing the outline of Peck's growing erection.
Temp willed his eyes to
thought as his fingertips brushed lightly, his lips are so
soft. I don't know what I expected; men aren't so
gently, and when Temp gasped, the pilot closed the distance
between them and kissed him, deep and hard and hot.
In a heartbeat, they
were tangled together, and Temp couldn't tell what his own hands
were doing, because he was so astonished by the sensations
wrought by Murdock's. The pilot knew just the right
pressure to exert to elicit intense, searing pleasure.
Long, talented fingers stroked over his hips, between his
thighs, and Temp was reduced to a mass of overloaded neurons.
Then Murdock bent his
head and lapped at one of Peck's nipples, and Temp nearly
screamed in surprise.
"Easy, muchacho, easy,"
Murdock chuckled, blowing gently on the wet spot he'd created
and causing Temp to bite down on his own tongue so forcefully he
almost drew blood.
He heard a whimpering
sound and realized with a start that it was coming from his own
answered his unspoken plea, returning to bathe first one nipple,
then the other, with a rhythmic, rough heat.
He didn't even know
Murdock had removed the rest of his clothing until Peck felt
warm fingers close around him. "Please," he moaned then,
and Murdock raised his head so that Temp could kiss him again.
Murdock released him
abruptly after a long moment, and Temp groaned in frustration
when the other stepped back, out of his arms. The pilot's
gaze swept over him like a caress, and Peck shivered despite the
"You are more beautiful
than I dreamed," Murdock told him, voice hoarse with want.
Temp had never been
comfortable with other people's scrutiny, but he loved being the
object of that deep brown gaze. It made him feel
dangerous, desired, reckless. "You dreamed about me?" he
rasped. Murdock only nodded. Peck watched him
back, saw his chest rising and falling quickly, saw the hard
evidence of the pilot's arousal, and knew he was the cause, and
felt a strange sense of pride.
He regained a hazy
awareness of his own limbs then, and stepped forward, out of the
pool of clothing at his feet, so that he could reach for the
button on Murdock's trousers, but the pilot pushed his hands
"No," he told Peck
firmly, planting a brief kiss on his lips. "This is for
you. All for you, the first time."
The first time.
Oh. God. He didn't know if he'd survive this one,
but if he did—
Murdock groaned when
Temp pulled him close and trailed his hands over the curves of
his ass. "You're not helping. Siddown."
Temp felt himself being
pushed backward. He sat down on the rickety old cot, the
homespun blanket rough against his bare skin. The other
man knelt before him, his eyes watching Peck's face. Was
he looking for a sign of hesitation, of uncertainty?
Calling on his last
shreds of courage, Temp smiled down at him and parted his legs.
A few seconds passed,
seconds that felt to Temp like an eternity, and then Murdock
smiled back, brown eyes dancing with mischief. "You're
gonna lose control, all right," he promised, and Peck nearly
came right there. The pilot leaned forward, his face
hovering closer and closer to Temp's straining erection, until
his tongue could touch the tip.
Temp cried out.
soothed, stroking the inside of Peck's thighs, planting tiny
kisses that were anything but soothing all along Temp's
length. When he reached the base, his tongue began working
its way back up, ending its journey just before it got to the
Temp's hips jerked
upward. "Please," he whispered, shocked at the level of
his own need.
Murdock's answer was to
circle the base of him with one hand, then surround the head
with his lips and suck, hard.
"Oh!" exclaimed Temp,
his whole being suddenly focusing to a pinpoint, collapsing in
on itself, spiralling inward. He was aware of nothing
beyond the sweet heat, the mind-numbing friction, the mounting
pressure. Then he was falling, falling, and Murdock was
there, holding him in strong, safe arms.
When he returned to
himself, they were cocooned together on the floor, on top of the
blanket. Temp couldn't remember how he'd ended up
there. He shifted experimentally, and felt Murdock's
still-clothed erection against his backside.
"Do me a favour,"
muttered Murdock. "Don't."
Peck rolled over to
face him, traced the line of his eyebrows, cheeks, nose,
lips. "What if I said I wanted you to?"
"I wouldn't believe
you," the pilot answered.
Temp was taken aback by
the flat statement. "Why would you say that?" he demanded.
Murdock kissed him
then, and Peck could taste himself in the other man's
mouth. "This ain't a tennis game at the country
club: I serve, you volley. I gotta be sure you know
what you're doin'."
"I'm sure," insisted
"No, you're not,"
Murdock returned, maddeningly. "You just got finished
tellin' me how scared you were of losin' hold of yourself, ‘cuz
you've always had ahold of yourself. Well, I got a hold of
myself for the first time in a long time, and I want to keep it
that way even more than you do." He kissed Temp again,
longer this time. "Thing is, if I ever find myself inside
your beautiful body, I won't ever want to leave. I know
that like I know my own name."
Temp gasped, unable to
"So if I don't want to
take a chance on losin' the few marbles I've managed to collect,
muchacho," the pilot murmured, smiling sadly, "I'd better be
one-hundred percent affirm you're not gonna change your mind
The mountain stream
poured over a rock ledge and fell twenty feet to a small,
perfectly round pool, its surface black and shining in the
night. Around it, the majestic jungle trees rose to form a
canopy over the mossy glade. Murdock admired the beauty of
the scene for all of five seconds before dropping onto his belly
and dunking his head in the cool water. He came up
"A fish won't do
anything but swim in a brook
He can't write his name
or read a book
To fool the people is
his only thought
And though he's
slippery he still gets caught
But if that sort of
life is what you wish
You could grow up to be
Or would you like to
swing on a star?
Carry moonbeams home in
And be better off than
"Shut up, fool!"
"Now come on, big guy,"
Murdock wheedled, in his best Bing Crosby voice, "you know y'all
love that song. An' that's your favourite verse,
too." He pushed himself to his feet and ran a hand over
his drenched hair.
"Not true," Rudy
objected. "His favourite's the one about the mule."
"You too!" growled
BA. He was particularly cranky tonight. Murdock knew
it wouldn't take long for him to get sentimental over the
village kids, and when he got sentimental, he got cranky right
along with it, to balance it.
"Then how ‘bout a
little Otis Redding?" he persisted. There was no
response. Murdock pushed past Hannibal and Kowalchuk,
dancing just beyond BA's reach. "Aretha Franklin?
Want a little R-E-S-P- E-C-T? I could make it a duet for
"Man, you are worse
than a jumpin' bean," Rudy laughed. "What's up with you?"
"Ain't up no more,"
growled BA under his breath.
"Whussat supposed to
mean?" Murdock demanded, some of the spring leaving his step.
BA halted his climb up
the mountain. "It's supposed to mean, don' mess with me,
Murdock. I ain't in the mood."
"Cool it, Captain,"
Hannibal told him, and the pilot sighed, pushed his rifle sling
further up on his shoulder. The four of them resumed their
"How you want this to
go down when we get there?" Rudy asked after a few minutes.
grunted. "I know how I want it to go down, but I'm not
crazy about having those kids there."
"Like I said, the crew
is pretty minimal at this time of night. The last shift
goes off at midnight, so we can wait for them, and then there'll
just be surface security goons. Ramirez hasn't moved to
twenty-four hour operations yet; he can't get enough guys he
trusts to run things around the clock."
"I'm glad to hear
slimeballs are in short supply in this part of the world,"
"I still want to make
absolutely sure there's no one left in that mine when we blow
it," Hannibal persisted. "How long do you think it's gonna
take for us to do a search?"
Rudy rubbed the back of
his neck. "How many of us are going to be doing it?"
"I want two down and
two on the surface."
"Jeez. Judging by
the information from the kids..." He pondered. "An
Hannibal shook his
head. "That's too long, but if it means a thorough search,
I suppose we'll have to improvise."
BA huffed. "Ain'
never done a job, you weren't crazy for that improvisin'."
Murdock could tell
Hannibal was grinning, even in the almost-dark of the moonlit
jungle. "When we get there, BA, you and Rudy prepare the
explosives. Then Rudy and Murdock will go down, while you
and I take care of security. Once they're sure the mine is
cleared, it's adios to Ramirez' little tribute to the Third
"What about Ramirez?"
Rudy questioned, and there was something in the way he said the
man's name that chilled even Murdock.
"One thing at a
time. We'll settle his hash soon enough. That truck
over there"—he pointed to a 4x4 over by the main office—"will
get us to his hacienda in no time."
BA shook his
head. "I don't like leavin' the village undefended.
They nothin' but old men and women with kids there."
"We passed around a few
weapons to those who knew how to use them," Hannibal reminded
And passed out a
shotgun to a guy who didn't, thought Murdock. "What
if Ramirez comes after them?" the pilot heard himself ask.
He had a strange, heavy feeling in the pit of his stomach, one
he didn't quite recognize.
"His compound is too
far from the mine for him to hear the explosions. The only
way he'd find out is if someone escaped to warn him."
Murdock could feel Hannibal's cool blue gaze on him. "Is
anyone going to escape, BA?"
Satisfied?" the Colonel smiled.
thought. Though I haven't got a clue why the hell I'm
"Sure am," Murdock
Ortega was tired.
Tired and angry.
It had been so many
years that he'd forgotten all that he'd been angry about.
It had been so many years that he'd forgotten the faces of his
sons, lost to revolutions that never were. He'd forgotten
the laughter of his wife, laughter that had died with his
sons. Not long after, her body had followed her spirit.
fifty....four? Fifty-five? Old. The face in
the piece of broken mirror over his washstand was
unrecognizable. Who was that? Did it matter, when
there was no one else to speak your name?
The children shunned
him, called him the devil's grandfather, and he supposed the
name was more fitting than his own. The other old
men—there were a few—they kept to themselves, mostly, lost in
their own private purgatories of defeat and memories.
Nodded to each other in the marketplace on Saturdays, and
outside the church on Sundays, but that was all.
He lived by his
carving, sold to the village co-operative that the big gringo
started with the women. The priest-who-was-not-a-priest
praised his skill and artistry, but the words pounded against
him and slid off, like the rain on a metal roof. Did he
not know a man who begged for work from women was no longer a
man? Did he not know that years ago, Ortega had
faded into an in-between world where nothing mattered, not even
definitions of manhood?
But now, for the first
time in an age, he had something new to anger him, and it
brought him back into the world of the living like a vengeful,
powerful phoenix. He stretched his wings, and could feel
the heat rise in them, sweeping over the land, scorching
everything in their path.
These gringos thought
they could walk into this place like the old gods, restore the
balance of life and death. He had laughed at that when
he'd first thought about it, actually laughed, and the sound had
been dry, like long fallen wood snapping underfoot. They
thought there were things such as ‘fairness' and ‘justice' and
‘right', tangible, like an orange or a piece of bread. But
they were wrong; those were dreams, worse even than ‘faith' and
‘hope', for they promised redress in this life, at this
time. And Ortega no longer believed in the promises of his
own God, so why should he trust in the promises of Americans?
The doctor they had
brought walked out of the community centre then, and was
immediately intercepted by one of the children, a girl who spoke
to him, fast and excited. He bent at the knees to talk to
her, and he smiled, a smile like Jesus in the stained glass
window of the church. She cried out and wrapped her thin
arms around him, and he hugged her back.
He brought the dead
back to life, Ortega thought, performed a miracle, and she was
going to grow up believing miracles dropped from the sky like
rain. What would she do—what would they all do— when
the miracles dried up and death returned to claim its due?
No. Only Ortega
knew how dangerous this was. And this man was the most
dangerous of them all.
Burning with newly
awakened rage, he rose stiffly from his chair. He knew
what had to be done.
"He's not here!"
Rudy's shout made the
guys sitting on the floor look up. Murdock twitched the
Ruger at one of them. Their collective attention shifted
back from the voice to the man standing in front of them as they
squatted, trussed like Christmas turkeys, in the grand hall of
Ramirez's palatial mansion.
"Where's your boss,
amigo?" he demanded in Spanish.
picked the most weaselly-looking one, but the greaseball
obviously was more afraid of Ramirez than he was of the .223
pointed at his head. "I don't know," he answered
sullenly. The ones to the sides of him began to edge away
from their compadre,
"Sure you do," Murdock
returned, tipping up the weasel's chin with the end of the
barrel. "You don't want to end up splattered all over his
nice marble floor, do ya? It's a real bitch cleaning blood
out of the cracks."
"If you do it now, it
will save Ramirez doing it later," grinned the man to his
left. He was a beefy character with a neck
deficiency. Murdock had tied the knots extra tight on that
"What do you mean, he's
not there?" hollered Hannibal, standing at the foot of the wide,
curved staircase. One foot was propped on the second step,
and it now began to tap impatiently.
BA's head poked out
from around the corner at the top of the stairs. "He long
gone, Hannibal, and that ain't all. He got hisself a fancy
gun case up here, an' it's lyin' open. Shells scattered
all over the place, too."
Hannibal swore under
his breath and Murdock got very, very unhappy, because when
Hannibal swore like that, it meant the jazz might not be enough.
thought, though he wasn't sure who he was pleading with, let
the jazz be enough this time.
Moving as one, the four
of them raced for the truck.
Temp undid the BP cuff,
releasing Antonio's arm and laying it with care on the bed
beside him. The kid was tough, that was certain; he'd
pulled through the meatball surgery and was recovering with
surprising speed. Peck sent up a silent prayer that his
strength wouldn't be tested again anytime soon.
And what about his own
strength? Where had it gone in the last few hours?
He felt like a new bride, married to a GI on a weekend pass,
who'd just said good-bye to her husband at the gangplank of his
troop ship, and stood there on the dock waving a fucking
handkerchief and dabbing bravely at her eyes. Was this
what it was like to be—attached—to someone with a dangerous
job? Was this—this terrible waiting, waiting for something
he didn't even understand—was this going to be a part of him
And why was he asking
himself so many questions? One blow job should not be
cause for this level of anxiety. It had been nice.
Great. Okay, earth-shattering.
Universe-tilting. But it didn't mean he had to pine away
for Murdock every time he disappeared into a trackless jungle
with a rifle and thirty pounds of explosives. It didn't
mean he had to stand here watching his palms sweat, worried the
pilot was going to be hurt in some way Peck couldn't fix.
It didn't mean he was going to have a huge, gaping hole ripped
in him if Murdock didn't come back.
He closed his eyes as
the unexpected pain startled him.
Well, so much for
that lie, he mused, marvelling at the sudden appearance of
a small, distinct hole somewhere in the region of his
heart. Diagnosis, Doctor?
He closed his eyes
again, picturing Murdock's warm brown eyes, his open, sweet
grin, hearing his soft, honey drawl, imagining his strong, wiry
straight to Hell.
Do not pass Go.
Do not collect $200.
But the hole had
Temp grinned at
himself, at the whole damn crazy world, shook his head. I
never would have believed it, he thought. Just
He spun around,
surprised by the sound of the soft voice behind him.
"Yes? Ah, how can I help you?" he asked in Spanish, a
little guilty at being caught mooning like a pimply-faced
"I wanted to come and
see how the boy was doing." Temp looked the man before him
up and down. He was perhaps sixty, though hard living
could have made a younger man seem older. His shoulders
were slightly stooped, and he wore a misshapen, dirty cotton
shirt and pants that had faded with age. His eyes avoided
Peck, but when they lighted on Antonio the doctor caught a flash
of something smoldering and feral. His pulse jumped.
"Are you related to
Antonio?" Keep him talking, he heard something inside him
say. Make him look at you, focus on you.
But the man remained
riveted to the small form lying helpless on the bed. "We
are all related, in some way, Doctor. Our people have been
living on this mountain for centuries. They were here
before us, and they will be here when you and I are dust."
"That's true," Temp
agreed. "The people will survive, won't they?" At
this, the old man's gaze swung toward him. The impact of
it on Temp's skin seemed out of proportion to the strength of
the frail shell containing it. "With or without our help,"
he added. Shit, he thought. Where was Rosa?
That's right, she had gone home to make breakfast for her
family. She wouldn't be back for—
The man assessed
Peck. "Sometimes," he answered, and Temp noted insanely
that his voice was like dry leaves, "we must do what we can to
restore the balance." He turned away, then, and took a
step toward Antonio.
"What makes you think
things are out of balance?" Peck asked, deliberately keeping his
tone low and soothing. What had he done with the
shotgun? He forced his eyes away from the man so that they
could scan the room. There, over there, in the
corner. How far? Twenty feet, twenty-five?
Dully, Peck noted that he was closer to Antonio than Temp was to
the gun. And what would be the point? He wouldn't be
able to use it, and he had a sinking feeling that threatening
the old man with it wouldn't be enough to stop him.
The man had halted, but
was still eyeing the boy intently. "Miracles do not
happen on this mountain," he murmured, more to himself than in
answer to the question.
"Well, that may be
true," Temp breezed, shifting gears. He moved forward,
putting himself between the old man and Antonio's bed. He
locked gazes with the other, stared straight at him, determined
to force his attention away from the boy. "But we can try
to live the way He would want us to."
"How can you say—" the
man growled, his rage finally seeping through his placid
exterior. He stopped abruptly when he caught sight of
something. His dark, withered hand rose, pointed at Temp's
open collar. "You wear the Crucifix."
Eyes never leaving the
other, Temp touched the small gold cross hanging around his
neck. Leslie had given it to him. He hoped the faith
behind it would be enough to protect all of them. "That's
right. I'm a Catholic." He paused. "Like you."
Temp's mind raced along
several paths at once, weighing options, calculating
distances. The old man—not so old, judging by how
quickly he moved—stepped toward him, at the same time reaching
in his pocket for—
—it's a knife, shit,
focus, which way is he going to go—
Temp kept his eyes
focused on his face rather than the knife, still trying to make
a connection, but there was nothing there that he could latch on
to. The man's eyes were cold fire, reflecting but not
absorbing light. Seeing nothing but the world he had made
in his own head.
Calling on knowledge he
hadn't used since his youth, Peck determined that he would wait
for him to strike, then move his arm into position. Hope
the old man made a stabbing rather than a slashing motion, so
that the knife would stick, and he could disarm him that
way. Quickly, he wrapped the BP cuff around his right
wrist, the most vulnerable place.
"Now, Ortega," a voice
drawled from the doorway to Temp's left, "I do not think I want
you to do that just yet."
"There's three guys
outside the centre, Hannibal," Rudy announced. In the
faint dawn light, they could just make out the outlines of
shapes and people, see the wisps of smoke curling from cooking
fires. But Murdock only had eyes for one person, a person
he knew was inside the building a hundred feet from their
position. A chant began within the confines of his head,
tugging at the edges of his fragile sanity, unraveling the
"His prize goons, I
suspect," Hannibal observed. "Let me have a look."
Rudy handed over the binoculars, and the Colonel raised them to
his eyes. After a moment, he lowered them. "And
"Inside by now, I
imagine," Rudy answered.
"We need a diversion,"
Hannibal informed them. "But we gotta be careful. It
can't be anything that'll draw fire. Too easy for the
townsfolk to get shot up."
"I'll go," Rudy said
"Wait," the Colonel
murmured, and even in the dimness Murdock could see the wheels
turning. "Where's Rosa's place?"
"About four houses that
way," Rudy told him, indicating a direction away from the
centre. "But why do you need to know that?"
"Because we gotta get
you and Murdock cleaned up, fast," Hannibal smiled. "Come
Willing his legs to
move, Murdock turned away and followed them.
"You promised me this
one!" shrieked Ortega. The old man was shaking now,
emotions suppressed for God knew how long pouring out of
him. "I told you about the other gringos, informed you of
their plans so that you could kill them. I get this one
and the boy."
Jesus Mary and
"But you gave me the
information a little late, old man." Ramirez' smile was
thin, dangerous. "By the time I reached the mine, it was
wrecked beyond repair. My equipment, everything
destroyed. And the gringos were gone."
"You will defeat them
eventually," Ortega dismissed Ramirez with a wave of his
hand. "Let me make an example of this one for you. I
will show you how it is done."
"Not yet. I need
to ask him some questions. And I may require him as a
hostage. For that, he must remain alive—for now."
"Noooo!" Ortega wailed,
the sound piercing. "You will not stand in the way of
justice!" He took a step toward Temp, who raised his arm
—just in time to ward
off the spray of blood that spattered his face when Ramirez shot
a neat hole in the old man's temple.
Ortega's head snapped
sideways with the force of the blast, then he crumpled.
Temp stood stunned for a moment, but turned swiftly when he
heard a wail come from behind him. Antonio. The boy
probably hadn't seen the shooting; the sound of the gunshot had
startled him from his sound sleep. He didn't dare look
around at the other kids, some of whom were doubtless awake, but
who were staying mercifully quiet. He had to stay focused.
"Shut him up, or I
will," Ramirez hissed.
Temp leaned down and
spoke quietly in Spanish, uttering soothing words he imagined a
mother might say, words that meant nothing and everything,
stroking his forehead and calming him, until Antonio's breathing
evened and slowed. He offered a prayer of thanks when the
boy closed his eyes.
He looked up then, and
the contrast between this man and poor, deluded Ortega was
Ortega had been a man
Temp suppressed an
ironic smile. He wasn't the one standing on the dock,
waving the hanky. Murdock was.
And his GI wasn't
coming home from the war.
"Not here," he told
Ramirez. "I will do whatever you want, but we have to move
to another room."
A malevolent smile
spread over Ramirez' features. "Who am I to deny the
martyr the site of his own martyrdom?" he chuckled. He
waved the gun at the door to the clinic. "Lead on,
"Shit. The ward
is dark. It was lit up before. That'll make it
harder to find Ramirez once we get in."
Murdock stood beside
Rudy, trying to keep from screaming. Was anything else
going to go wrong? The clothes they'd borrowed from Rosa's
sons were too small. He pulled at the sleeve of the shirt,
found a thread that was coming loose, twirled it between his
fingers. Clockwise. Counterclockwise. They'd
all heard the gunshot about five minutes ago. Every one of
his nerve endings had lit up like a Christmas tree, and they
were still buzzing, making the soles of his feet ache when he
"He's probably got the
doc in another room," Rudy speculated. The pilot noted he
didn't sound completely convinced. "The office, maybe."
Murdock forced his
brain to assemble itself. The office was in the
back. There was one small window, high up. "Do you
think he'll see BA and Hannibal?"
"In this light? I
don't think so. They'll stay out of sight anyway."
Rudy lowered the
binoculars, laid them on the ground. In the still morning
air, the pilot heard it: the soft quacking where no
self-respecting duck would be caught dead.
just a little longer. He deserves that.
"That's our cue.
The two of them
staggered around the corner, in plain sight of the goons in
front of the centre. But then, that had been Hannibal's
plan. Scrub off the camo paint, borrow some clothes meant
for someone a head shorter, gargle with Rosa's rubbing alcohol
for that touch of versimilitude, and launch two six-foot-plus
gringos at the bad guys, hoping they'll be taken for locals.
Fat fucking chance.
The biggest of the
three, who wasn't much bigger than half of Rudy, spotted them
first. He snapped to attention and shouted at them.
singing. Murdock recognized the tune as a questionable
Mexican drinking song he'd heard one time in Tijuana.
Something about Pancho Villa, two pounds of refried beans, and a
goat. He wasn't focused on the lyrics, because he was too
busy trying not to get himself shot.
Not that it mattered
yelled, eyeing the ‘big' one with what he hoped would pass for
drunken lust. "You are as beautiful in the dawn as you
were last night, under the stars." He took a few steps
forward, pretending to trip over his own feet. The guy
raised his rifle halfway. Murdock made a rude motion with
his hips. "And under me."
Rudy elbowed him.
"Thas' not Maria!" he slurred.
shouted. "Thas' a man. Can't you see that?"
Murdock squinted at the
goon. "Mother of God! You're right!" He
stumbled forward a little more, but the weapon didn't move this
time. Ten feet. Almost there. "What an ugly
son of a whore."
growled. "Get out of here, you drunken curs. If you
still have sense to know what's good for you, you'll go home and
sleep it off." He gestured with the rifle. "Now."
"Hey! He's got a
"I's very shiny.
I like it." Rudy giggled.
"Bet he wouldn' be so
big without it," Murdock giggled back. He whispered in
Rudy's ear, then held his thumb and forefinger about an inch
apart to indicate a certain measurement. The two of them
collapsed in fits of laughter. Staggered a little
closer. Six feet, five.
The goon roared,
dropped the rifle, and launched himself at Murdock.
I'll be damned, Murdock
just before the wind was knocked out of him. Hannibal
is either the most brilliant strategist of all time, or he's
got a dozen rabbit's feet jammed up his ass.
"Do you honestly expect
me to believe that?"
Temp folded his arms,
his face arranged in the most pleasing, easy, nonchalant mask he
could put together on short notice. He was good at this,
he reminded himself. Granted, he'd never played for these
kind of stakes, but the scam at the junkyard had given him
confidence. In truth, he lived by masks. Everyone
was fooled, from his fellow patrons at the Beverly Bay who
thought he was one of them to the patients who were able to
sleep soundly and heal when his reassuring expression convinced
them everything was going to be all right.
Dangerous, to try this,
though, with Ramirez. But there was no other way. He
had to buy the other men time, time to complete whatever they
needed to do.
"Believe what you
want," he answered. "I had no choice but to go with
them. You have heard of the Vietnam War? They were
members of our equivalent to the Viet Cong, elite guerilla
troops. Ruthless, merciless. When they threatened my
life, I believed them."
Ramirez arched an
eyebrow. "But if they are such cold-blooded killers, why
did they want to bring a doctor to care for children?"
Peck barked a laugh,
and the other man twitched, startled. "To protect
Kowalchuk's investment? How the hell should I know?
The people of this village are more valuable to him alive than
dead, I know that much. Why he wants them that way...well,
they didn't let me into their confidence. But since I'm
now sure they plan to kill me, they didn't always censor their
conversations around me, either."
"You heard something,"
slowly. Let him come to you, that's it. "I
The dark, small eyes
narrowed. "What do you want?"
thinly. "What the hell do you think I want? Why
should I tell you anything when I'm just as dead with you as I
am with them?" He paused, trying to balance the mix of
false desperation and cockiness in his tone. "I could care
less about you, your mine, your whole fucking country.
These kids—of course, I want to help them—but the sad fact is,
they were dying before I got here. They'll be dying after
I leave. What difference does it make? I want to get
back to my practice and my penthouse and forget this whole
nightmare ever happened."
Ramirez waved the gun
impatiently. "And so?"
"I'll talk. I
don't owe them any loyalty. But I want a guarantee of safe
passage out of this hole."
"And how do you know
you can trust me?" Ramirez' lips curved into something that
might have been a smile on a human being.
"Oh, I don't," Temp
smiled back, sweetly. "But if that letter I wrote the
other day reaches its destination, I imagine my father's lawyer
can be trusted to bring Dad's money, and the whole US State
Department, down to this rat-infested place should I turn up
missing." He paused for effect. "You haven't heard
of my father, I take it. Senator Peck of Maryland?"
Shit. That was
laying it on a little thick. Too late now, he
admonished himself. Just keep on going.
"I don't suppose your
friends in the government will be very happy about the
scrutiny. Of course, the letter may never get to the
States. It's a risk....for both of us." He stood
there, keeping his face neutral.
They stared at one
another. Peck held his ground, let the mask take over,
while inside his head thoughts and emotions raced, quicksilver.
He could beat this son
of a bitch.
He wouldn't let his
life end before he'd had a chance to tell Murdock—
Ramirez opened his
mouth to speak.
And suddenly, the metal
roof over their heads erupted in a cacophony of sound.
The rain arrived right
On the other side of
the community centre, BA had turned on the pump connected to the
underground spring which served the town's water needs.
Rudy had helped to dig the well right after he arrived here in
‘74, and now it was used to provide safe, potable water for all
who wanted it. It had also been a big help at a couple of
house fires, where the whole town had come together to form a
Right now, the pump was
connected to a fire hose that BA was using to spray a mock
downpour onto the building's roof. Hannibal had figured
the noise from the water hitting the corrugated tin would cover
up the sounds of activity. Activity such as the one
Murdock was engaged in now.
He landed a solid punch
on the little goon's jaw just as Hannibal himself rounded the
corner of the building. Together, he and Rudy tackled the
other two guys, and within seconds were rolling around in the
mud like a couple of Swedish lady wrestlers. Murdock tried
to gain a footing so that he could lever himself over the other
man, but his foot slipped and he went down again with a
curse. Hannibal hadn't factored this into his plan.
"Now I've got you!"
crowed Half-Pint, as he jumped on the pilot again. The air
whooshed out of Murdock's lungs and he sucked in water.
Coughing and spluttering, he warded off another blow, and then
suddenly the weight of the other man was gone.
"Let me go!" the man
screamed, arms and legs flailing, as Rudy picked him up bodily
by the waistband and the neck of his t-shirt. His cries
turned abruptly to wretched hacking noises when the front of the
collar bit into his windpipe.
Murdock hollered at the huge Pole, "don't let him puke on me!"
"Wouldn't dream of it,"
Rudy answered mildly, swinging the goon around like a drowned
cat and letting go. The little guy let out a high-pitched
shriek, then hit the mud face first with an impressive splat.
Murdock pushed himself
cautiously to his feet and surveyed the scene. The other
two men had been similarly dispatched, and Hannibal was nodding
in satisfaction. "Okay," he began, flattening himself
against the side of the building and tugging his 9 mm from its
holster, "let's quit wasting our energy on the circus
clowns. It's time for the high-wire act."
"It is only the rain,"
Ramirez told him mildly. He pointed to the office's tiny
window, and Temp looked up to see the drops sheeting over the
glass. "These downpours arrive suddenly."
Temp had been afraid
the relief he'd felt at the commotion had shown on his face, but
if it had, Ramirez hadn't picked up on it. For an instant,
he'd thought the noise meant the cavalry was coming, but how
could it be? Murdock and the others couldn't have gotten
here that fast.
Peck made an impatient
sound. "Just another thing to hate about this whole damned
place," he growled, returning to character, shooting an angry
glance at the heavens.
"Do not worry,
amigo. You will soon be back in your beloved
penthouse." Temp's eyes locked with cold brown ones.
"Yes. I will agree to your terms."
He hadn't expected it
to go this well, though he was under no illusions the weasel was
telling the truth. "All right, then," he smiled.
"What do you want to know?" Inside, his stomach lurched
unpleasantly. He hoped like hell that Ramirez had many,
Murdock could hear
voices inside the office. Couldn't tell who it was because
of the noise over his head, but they were both men, and they
were speaking in Spanish. The door was solid and thick,
and there was no other point of entry to the room except for the
window, which was inaccessible without a ladder. They
didn't have time to get one.
think, he's still alive in there, you know he is, don't screw
Rudy tapped him on the
shoulder and motioned him to follow. He reluctantly
retraced his steps down the hall to the ward.
In the darkness, he
could make out Hannibal squatting beside a small, crumpled form
on the floor. As they entered, he looked up. "He
must've been the one who got hit when we heard the shot."
"One of the kids?"
Murdock asked, holding his breath.
"No. An older
Rudy bent down beside
him, turned the body slightly so that the light from the hall
fell on the face. After a moment, he sighed.
"Ortega," he whispered. "He lost everyone who ever
mattered to him. He didn't know any of the children
here. Why would he have been visiting the hospital?"
Hannibal raised his
hand, and Murdock saw a flash of something metallic. A
knife. "I don't know. But five'll get you ten he was the
one who tipped off Ramirez."
Kowalchuk," a reedy voice called, and the big Pole sprung to his
feet. Antonio lay in the semidarkness, his eyes huge in
his thin face. "He went with the bad man," he told him, in
rapid Spanish. "Doctor Peck. I pretended to be
asleep, but I wasn't. I knew you would come."
"It's all right,
Antonio," Rudy whispered, laying a hand on his shoulder as the
boy tried to haul himself up. "We know where he is."
"But will you be able
to get him out safely?" he demanded, voice suddenly
stronger. Murdock was impressed. The kids around
here grew up fast, too fast.
"What's he saying?"
Hannibal asked, and Rudy translated swiftly. Then:
"What has he got in mind?"
"I will call to him,
and you will get the bad man as he comes out."
again. Hannibal shook his head. "Too
risky. I want to take this guy down before he gets
another chance at the kids in the ward."
"Then carry me out into
the hall so that I can call him from there," the boy ground out,
between clenched teeth. "He saved my life. I will
not be able to hold my head up if I do nothing for him."
The rain slowed, then
stopped. Temp's heart leapt again. Did rainstorms
last for only ten minutes here?
didn't think so. He paused in his questioning, and
regarded the ceiling with suspicion.
The voice was barely
audible through the door, but he could tell it was Antonio.
"It's, ah, one of my
"As you said, Doctor,"
Ramirez smirked, throwing his own bullshit back in his face,
"they were dying before you left, and they will continue to die
after you leave."
"But while I'm here,"
Temp persisted, shoving down his rage and disgust, "I have an
oath to uphold." He adopted a pretentious,
holier-than-thou tone he'd heard a few of his colleagues
use. "After all, even though I am a plastic surgeon, I am,
first and foremost, a healer."
The snake stared at him
for a moment, then burst out laughing. "I am sure you
‘healed' many noses and wrinkles, noble Doctor," he
chuckled. "Very well. Indulge yourself, for this one
last time." Peck pinned him with a look, and he held up
his free hand, feigning innocence. "Your last time in my
country, I mean."
Temp turned and started
for the door, waiting for the bullet. Would he even hear
the shot? How did that work, usually, in the movies?
He tried not to gasp
when he felt the gun barrel prod him in the back. "You
will also indulge me, will you not? Allow me to watch the
great healer in action?"
breezed. His hand reached for the knob and pulled the door
open. It swung inwards, and he stepped into the hallway.
Antonio's voice rose again.
His heart stopped cold.
The ward was on his
left, the meeting room on his right.
The sound had come from
"I'm coming, Antonio!"
he called, just as Ramirez stepped into the hall behind
him. Please, Antonio, he begged silently, stay
quiet now, just stay quiet, or he'll come for you—
And then everything
happened at once.
Murdock found that
Hendrix was great for timing.
The wall of sound
blocked out all thought and emotion and focused him on his
task. He lowered the needle on his mental record and the
song blasted through his brain. Guitar, bass and drums
pounded in unison.
One, two, three, four—
And BANG! Right
on cue, Hannibal pulled open the back door to the meeting room,
and it slammed against the wall, hard, just as the doc and
Ramirez went past. In the plan, this would make the
One, two, three, four—
And then, Murdock would
pull open the door at the other end of the hallway, and yank
Temp inside, out of the line of fire, as Hannibal drew down on
the guy. Risky as hell for the Colonel, but it couldn't be
He pulled the door
open. Darted a look into the hall—
All in my brain—
—And saw it all going
At the loud bang, Temp
twitched. Maybe you heard the shot after all.
When he didn't feel any
pain, his mind reeled, changed direction. That wasn't
a gunshot, what—
The pressure against
his back disappeared.
Now!" Smith's voice, behind him.
A door opened in front
of him, and he caught a flash of a face—
Oh, thank God
you're all right, thank—
Then there was an
animal roar, and he realized something was going horribly
wrong. Ramirez wasn't playing his part. His free
hand reached for Temp, and in slow motion, Peck watched the hand
holding the gun swing toward him.
He knew that in another
couple of seconds, he'd be as good as dead.
He wanted to look at
Murdock one more time, but it was either that or—
‘Scuse me while I
kiss the sky—
Murdock's brain didn't
have time to even formulate another plan. He was in the
middle of contemplating a dive for Ramirez' legs—
—when the doc's hand
came down in a chopping motion on Ramirez' gun hand—
—sending the piece
clattering to the floor—
—and Peck's elbow drove
back into the guy's midsection, doubling him over. He
spun, lightning- fast, and brought his knee up to meet the
bastard's jaw as it came down. There was a satisfying
cracking sound, and then Ramirez hit the floor with a groan.
There was a moment of
silence, and then Hannibal started chuckling, low and slow.
"Nice, kid," he
grinned. "Real nice." He turned toward the door from
which Murdock had emerged. "All clear, Rudy."
After a moment, the big
Pole stepped out with Antonio cradled in his arms. The doc
went to him instantly, his hands moving over the child's body.
When he seemed satisfied with what he found, he took the
boy's hand and met his eyes.
"Thank you," Peck told
Antonio nodded, once,
and smiled. Temp released his hand after a final squeeze,
and Rudy carried him back to his bed.
Hannibal reached into
his pocket for his cigar, frowning as he held up the soggy,
muddy object. "Well. That's my own fault, isn't it?"
"Have one of mine,"
Peck offered, passing him a dry one.
thought, as the two of them lit up calmly and started
puffing. I've just had every drop of blood drained out
of my body, and he's gonna stand there, cool as a cucumber,
Then Temp's gaze locked
with Murdock's, and the pilot could see a hundred emotions in
those blue, blue eyes. Raw. Open. Honest.
And in the moment
before he closed his own eyes against the intensity of it,
Murdock knew what it would be like to be with him. Every
heartbeat, every move, every caress, every kiss. The slow,
sure glide as they possessed each other. It was
The pilot drew a
shuddering breath, turned on his heel, and went to help BA with
the goons outside.
Temp stood at the edge
of the trees and watched him.
Murdock sat half
submerged in the water, his eyes tightly shut, his hands spread
out, fingers splayed over the pool's still, even
surface. At this distance, Temp could just make out
the sheen of moisture on his shoulders and on his face, which
was upturned as if to catch the last rays of dying sunlight
clawing through the foliage.
They'd spent the
morning cleaning up, Temp in the clinic and the others with
Ramirez and his minions. At some point, Rosa showed
up and shooed him out, and he'd staggered to his cot, barely
making it before sleep claimed him. He hadn't known how
exhausted he was, but of course he'd been running on adrenaline
since he'd arrived here. They all had. That was why
it was no surprise that when he awoke a few hours later, BA and
Hannibal were sacked out across the room, dead to the world.
He exited the cabin and
found Rudy sitting outside, talking with a couple of the older
village men. They looked up when he emerged, and the
conversation stopped. Temp stretched and yawned.
"What's up?" he asked in Spanish, in deference to the others.
"Not much," Rudy
replied. "Hashing out the speech for the government
officials when they come. We've almost figured out a way
to make this look like a big accident."
Temp couldn't help
laughing at that. An accident. Some accidents were
"happy". Some were train wrecks. Maybe this was the
first happy train wreck.
Maybe he was still
sleeping. "Where's Murdock?" he asked, trying to sound
miserably. Rudy arched an eyebrow at him, and he felt
colour rise in his cheeks. "I think he went up to the
waterfall." At Peck's quizzical expression, he
pointed. "It's about a half a klick from town, straight up
the mountain. We passed it on our way to the mine."
He pinned Temp with a look. "They say the water has
"Does it wash away your
sins, too?" Peck smiled, only half joking.
One of the men, whose
answering grin was missing a couple of teeth, leaned forward
conspiratorially. "Yeah," he replied. "But only if
you use soap."
The old men's laughter
echoed in his ears as he watched Murdock now. He didn't
look as though he'd achieved metamorphosis, miraculously
cleansed of the scars that life had inflicted on him. If
Temp had his way, he'd wish that for him, even though he had a
deep, incontrovertible suspicion that he loved everything about
this man, and would take it all, bruises, dents, scratches and
scars, in a heartbeat.
Temp had thought he
would fight it more, that he wouldn't be able to give up that
control, the foundation of his life, even if he wanted to.
But somewhere along the line, in the truck or in Murdock's arms
or the first time he'd looked into those eyes, he'd quietly,
unceremoniously fallen apart. The falling apart had been
astonishingly easy; once you accepted that your whole existence
had gone the way of Alice down the rabbit hole, the talking
playing cards seemed normal. Maybe he found it so easy
because this was....
He couldn't help
smiling as Murdock slowly sank beneath the surface, his hands
the only part of him remaining visible. As he watched,
they formed into little Loch Ness Monster heads and began
gliding through the water like synchronized figments of the
imagination. He smiled even wider at the feeling that came
over him, the simple joy that crept up and smacked him like a
playful six-year-old whenever he tried to look at his
motivations too closely.
Whatever it was, he was
being carried along by it, helpless to resist. Or maybe,
he had finally found something—someone—who made it safe to fall.
Murdock would be there.
Wait a minute.
there. Temp shook his head, stared at the water.
His hands had
Without realizing he
was doing it, Peck kicked off his sneakers, peeled off his
t-shirt, and ran to the water's edge. Finding nothing but
blackness, he gathered himself and dove.
granddaddy would say. They were right. It really
Cool water surrounded
him, invading every pore. The pool was surprisingly deep in the
middle, and as he touched the bottom with his toes, everything
He could have wept, if
there had been any room for tears.
For a moment, for an
eon, he relished the silence. The screams, the hoarse
cries, the voices long dead, they usually all competed for his
attention. Most of the time he could keep them at bay, but
they were always there, in the background, the constant pressure
of unspeakable memories.
If he surfaced, they'd
He thought about
it. Opened his eyes in the cool darkness. This might
not be a bad place to spend eternity. You'd stay
clean. Get a little waterlogged, maybe. He always
hated it when his fingers and toes pruned up. But he could
put up with that.
Then an image washed
over him, and it was as clear as if it were happening all over
again. The expression on Temp's face as he came had been like
nothing Murdock had ever seen; he'd witnessed surprise before,
sure, and the pleasure, that wasn't new. But he hadn't
been expecting the relief, as though Temp had been dragging a
mountain behind him and Murdock had just cut the rope. As
though Murdock was the answer to a question he'd been carrying
around in his head his whole life.
He'd never been that
important to anybody before. It scared the shit out of
But it scared him even
more to think he'd never get another chance to see that face.
thought. Who wants to be clean anyway?
His feet pushed against
the bottom, but as he began to rise, something slammed into him,
sending him reeling. Then hands were gripping his,
dragging him upward, into the light and heat. He broached
the surface, spluttering and coughing.
"I'm OK!" he hacked, as
Peck pulled him toward the bank. His feet touched a rocky
ledge, and he stood.
The other man turned
toward him then, and his eyes spat fire and fear. "What
were you thinking?" he shouted. "What—God, I—" Murdock
watched as it hit him, watched as the adrenaline left him and he
started shaking, a little.
For him. For him.
"It's all right,
muchacho," he grinned, to cover the emotion. "I already
decided not to kill myself. Nice of you to be my hero,
Temp stared at him for
a long moment. "How can you joke about it like that?"
nothin' else to do," Murdock sighed. "Look, this is me,
this is the way I work. It's not the first time I've
thought about it, and it won't be the last. Creeps up on
me, and then wham, y'know?"
"I can get you the meds
you need," blurted the kid. "Whatever you need." His
hair was slicked back against his skull, and a tiny gold
crucifix glinted just below his collarbone. He was even
Murdock shook his
head. "It ain't gonna fix me, not the way you want me to
Temp reached out,
fingers connecting with the pilot's jaw, the contact soft and
hot and tender. "I don't want to fix you. You're—"
He trailed off, and Murdock stared into his eyes. Blue
like the water of Cam Ranh Bay, he'd thought once, but they were
bluer than that, all the oceans of the world rolled into one,
every place he'd want to call home, everything he could ever—
"You're everything I've
ever needed," Temp breathed.
Murdock's heart leapt
skyward, but he was right there with a baseball bat, slamming it
down again. No. It didn't happen this way.
"Even if that was true, darlin'," he murmured, placing his hand
gently over the other man's and drawing it away from his face,
"I'm also a ton of stuff you don't need." He
laughed. "Hell, I'm a ton of stuff I don't need. But
if I could take a knife and cut it all out of me, I
wouldn't. The things I saw, the things I did, the things I
didn't do and should've—that's all me, whether I like it or
Peck said nothing, just
kept staring, and Murdock started to feel jittery. "I'm
tryin' to do the right thing, here. Thing is, I'm sorta
used to not being responsible for anybody but me.
It's—it's probably better all round."
"You're responsible for
Hannibal and BA," Temp pointed out.
"We watch each other's
backs," Murdock acknowledged. "But that's different."
I'm not in love
with them, Murdock thought. Aloud, he answered,
"They've been through the same kinda fire. In their own
ways, they're fucked up as much as I am. We know what to
expect, and if we die tomorrow—well, we've already cheated the
odds a hundred times, so it's not somethin' we worry about."
When the other man
finally spoke, his voice was rough. "I think I get
it. I haven't been through what you have, so I can't
really understand you. What I'm feeling—it's not real, is
that it? Just because I haven't faced death?"
"That's not what I—"
"Let me tell you
something," Temp interrupted, his manner deceptively calm.
"I faced death this morning. I knew it might happen on
this trip, and I didn't know how I'd respond, what I'd do,
whether I'd do the right thing at the right time. I
thought that if I lived through it, it would change me somehow,
make me over into something new. I guess deep down, I also
wondered if it would make me worthy of you."
Now it was Murdock's
turn to stare.
"But you know what?"
Peck continued. "It didn't transform me. I'm the
same person I was. After it happened, I was still a
man. I still love that I can save people's lives, and hate
that I couldn't be what Leslie wanted me to be, and wish that I
could turn back the clock ten years. Because if I'd known
you were there, I would have gone."
Jesus. "Don't say that," he snapped. "You don't—"
"I don't know what I'm
talking about?" Temp snapped back. "Bullshit,
Murdock. Even if I never went to Vietnam, I've seen enough
of hell to know what I'm saying. You just don't think you
could be worth going through hell."
Suddenly Murdock's eyes
clouded. He blinked, tried to breathe.
"You want to hear the
truth?" Peck smiled. "I know you. I know you because
we're alike in that way. Even though we've got different
reasons for believing it, deep down, we don't think we deserve
to be happy." He closed the distance between them, and
laid a palm over Murdock's rapidly beating heart. "The
truth is, Murdock, I deserve you. I never thought I'd say
that of something as good as you are, because I spent so many
years denying myself, denying that I needed what everyone else
"And what does everyone
else need?" Murdock whispered, not trusting his
voice. "I always wondered."
"They need to know
they're wanted." Peck leaned forward, and Murdock closed
his eyes at the feathery touch of lips along his jawline.
"They need to know they're safe." The lips moved to his
cheekbone, over his eyelids. "They need to know they're
Murdock's eyes snapped
"I deserve that,
Murdock," Temp told him fiercely. "And if it takes me the
rest of my life, God help me, I'll convince you that you deserve
Then Temp kissed him,
and it was like drowning all over again.
At first, he was sure
Murdock's lips were
cold from the water, and unresponsive. Temp kept the
pressure firm but light as he arrowed his fingers along the
strong line of the pilot's jaw. He tried to be patient,
but it was as though time had slowed to a glacial pace, and
every tick of the clock was an eternity. There was no
doubt in his mind that their relationship was destined to
begin—or end— in this pool in the middle of the jungle.
And whether he liked it or not, the decision was now completely
out of his hands.
Despite his kindness
and compassion, his zest for life and his heroic nature, Murdock
was a man who had decided to freeze large chunks of his heart to
protect himself and others around him. His past
experiences must have proven to him that there was no
alternative, and Temp didn't know if their mutual attraction was
enough to change his mind. So he had all but admitted he'd
fallen for Murdock in his little speech, and at this moment he
was wondering if it had been too much, too soon. Would the
pilot run from the knowledge, in a misguided attempt to save
himself and Temp?
Peck nearly chuckled
into Murdock's mouth at that one. Save me.
SOS. He'd been on the edge of self-destruction all
those months ago, when Murdock had first sauntered into his
life. His distress had been as obvious as a flare, and the
pilot had responded, listening to him, comforting him, making
him feel secure in a way he'd never experienced before.
And now Temp had a chance to repay the favour, to let Murdock
know that he could fall apart without scaring Peck away.
But how did you do that? How could you reverse years of
disappointments and pain with a snap of your fingers?
Temp broke the kiss
then and looked deeply into the dark eyes. He didn't
speak, just gazed at him, trying to convey everything he
couldn't put into words.
Believe me, he
I don't know what
this is yet. But I do know it's too important to give
Don't give up.
The other man stared
back, his eyes revealing fear, confusion, and maybe a small,
fragile portion of hope.
And then, slowly, so
slowly Temp couldn't believe it was happening, Murdock started
The first thing he felt
was the almost imperceptible touch of Murdock's hands at his
waist. Then, fingers spread across his back and feathered
over his skin, making him shiver. Finally, the pilot's
head angled to the right, and he drew Temp forward for a sweet
kiss that brought a lump to Peck's throat.
When they parted again,
Murdock rested his forehead against the other man's. "You
mean that?" he breathed, still unsure. "Tell me now if you
don't. It's OK if you don't—"
"I mean it. I've
never meant anything so much in my life."
"This isn't gonna be
easy. I'm not—easy."
"To me you are," Temp
smiled, his emotions choking him. "Please, God, Murdock, I
And then they were in
each other's arms, and Murdock was kissing him as if his life
depended on it. Peck felt the desperation, and the hunger,
and the wild joy pour out of him like the water that surrounded
them, and he gave back equal measures of each.
Temp's hands relished
the alternating sensations of rough hair and smooth skin as they
devoured Murdock. They trailed over his arms and chest,
gripped his firm buttocks, then moved forward to caress him
intimately. When they reached their destination, Murdock
gasped into his mouth, and Peck grinned.
"This time it's for
both of us," Temp promised, his fingers stroking hardening
flesh, and the other man groaned his assent.
After a prolonged
moment, Temp broke his hold on the pilot to strip off his own
shorts. Murdock pulled him close, and they sighed together
at the contact, both of them finally freed of all physical
barriers. The unseen barriers would take longer to
fall. But for now, this was a promising start. Peck
disentangled himself from Murdock for a second to cast a glance
around the pond. Soon, he found what he was looking for.
"C'mere," he murmured,
taking Murdock by the arms and maneuvering him backward and to
The other man cast a
nervous glance behind him. "Whut—"
"There's a big rock
over here, a couple of feet under the water," Temp explained.
"And this is a good
thing because?" Murdock prompted, his lids heavy with
arousal. He reached out to grasp Temp's erection, but was
"Not so fast," Peck
chuckled, pushing him back another step. "And now—sit
"On the rock?"
wickedly. "It'll be worth it."
Murdock's eyes blazed,
and he complied, sinking into the water up to his
collarbone. Temp gazed down at him, and time slowed
again. Thirty years of living, and he'd never wanted
to do this. He'd never felt this fierce need to be owned,
and to own in turn. Never trusted anyone enough to give in
to that kind of possession. But he was burning with the
need for it now.
He moved toward
Murdock, letting the water buoy him as he settled himself
astride the other man's lean hips. He kissed him again,
deeply, giving him his tongue, the inside of his mouth, his
soul. Then he lifted himself up and took Murdock's cock in
his right hand.
The brown eyes
registered surprise. "Wait a minute, muchacho. You
interrupted Temp, his thighs shaking as he contemplated what he
was about to do.
Murdock stared at
Temp felt a blush rise
to his cheeks, remembering his earlier preparations in the tiny
bathroom. "Back at the centre, after I found out where you
were. I figured we'd have a chance to be alone up here."
Before Temp realized
what was happening, he gasped at the sensation of Murdock's
skillful fingers exploring the crease between his
buttocks. Then one of the fingers pushed in, and he
breathed. "You are ready for me." The look in his
eyes was one of such astonished gratitude that Peck's heart
stumbled in his chest.
"I've been ready since
I met you," growled Temp. Forcing any remaining doubts
from his mind once and for all, he positioned Murdock at his own
entrance and slid down onto him in one smooth motion.
He'd been expecting it
to be strange, even unpleasant at first, but this—this terrible
fullness was too much. Was this how women felt the first
time, as though they were bursting? He pushed up with his
legs, gliding Murdock's rigid shaft nearly all the way
out. Closing his eyes, he forced himself back down again,
driving Murdock in all the way to the hilt.
And then he screamed.
grinned. Reaching up, he bracketed Temp's face with his
palms and leaned in to capture his unresisting mouth. "You
like that, baby?"
Temp could barely
focus. He remained mute, too stunned to even nod.
"Bet they didn't tell
you in med school how good your prostate felt, did they?"
Peck's answer was to
raise himself up and slam himself down once more. He
turned his head to suck one of Murdock's fingers into his mouth,
and gave it a long, hard pull.
"Oh, Christ, what you
do to me," Murdock gasped.
Temp released Murdock's
finger and leaned forward to run his tongue up the pilot's
neck. When he reached an earlobe, he bit down on it
gently, savouring the moan from the other man.
stilled his movements so that he could concentrate on his
body. The feeling of fullness was still there, but it was
less alien. Then he heard the other man make a noise of
frustration, and some devil in him spoke.
"Want to know
something?" he whispered into Murdock's ear.
The pilot's ragged
breathing was answer enough.
The words that emerged
from his own mouth shocked him. "I never want you to
Murdock's desperate cry
nearly sent him over the edge. He felt fingers dig into
his ass, lifting him up, then shifting to his hips to shove him
"Please," the other man
begged, all control gone.
Temp pulled back to
gaze into those brown eyes. His fingertips traced the
contours of Murdock's features, and he smiled.
"Thank you," he said,
Then he began to move.
Aided by the water and
Murdock's hands, Temp's rhythm slowly increased in pace and
intensity, until they were both sobbing into each other's
mouths. His whole world was reduced to this moment and
this place, the solid, rough rock under his knees, the cool,
healing water lapping at his chest and arms, the man buried deep
within him, owning him a little more with each sweet
thrust. The sound of the waterfall behind them echoed in
his ears as he drew nearer to the most shattering orgasm he'd
ever experienced. Then Murdock's warm, strong fingers
wrapped around him, and he was lost.
January 1, 1979
Temp stood in the
middle of the room and tried to lose himself in the laughter and
noise of the crowd.
Abby Stein's parties
were legendary at City of Angels, and he was going to miss
them. This one had lasted most of yesterday, and
would continue well into the daylight hours, so that staff
pulling the holiday could stagger in after their shifts.
Tomorrow she'd start working full- time at the East LA clinic
she'd started with a handful of friends a few years ago.
They'd finally received the funding they needed to make it into
a full-service facility, and now the members of the community
would have access to low-cost health care.
It was her dream, and
she was living it. He was happy for her.
Someone blew a plastic
party horn right beside his left ear, interrupting his
thoughts. Probably just as well, he mused.
"Hey, Miracle Man!" He
turned at the touch of a hand on his arm. Abby stood
there, copper hair blazing, green eyes sparkling with amusement
and champagne. "Why so glum?"
Temp hated that nickname, and she knew it. He'd acquired
it last week when he'd delivered a baby on Christmas Eve.
The mother had been in bad shape; she'd never been in for so
much as a checkup all through her pregnancy, and the fetus was
underdeveloped due to her poor nutrition and reduced blood flow
in the umbilical cord. This last was a direct result of
the cord being wrapped twice around the baby's neck and knotted,
a fact which had nearly ended the baby's life. Both were
now recovering nicely, but he wished the mother hadn't called
him that in front of Abby, of all people. It had spread
through the ER like wildfire.
Abby leaned in close so
that she could be heard above the din. "Like hell,
gorgeous. C'mon." She took him by the same arm and
began dragging him through the mass of people crammed into her
Since he didn't feel
like yelling, he followed.
Abby offered him a
cigarette, but he shook his head. She lit up, took a long
drag and blew smoke into the cool LA night.
Temp folded himself
over the balcony railing and studied the spiderweb of street
lights stretched out below them. Found himself wondering
if Murdock was out there. Got mad at himself for
wondering. "I thought Dora was getting you to give those
"Yeah, well, it's my
New Year's resolution."
"When does New Year's
She held up her pack of
Lucky Strikes. "After this is gone. I think I can
make it last about six months."
The two of them stood for a couple of minutes, enjoying the
stillness. The blare of the music and conversation inside
was muted by the heavy glass doors.
"You served in
Vietnam," Temp blurted, the words emerging without his consent.
Abby looked at
him. "Dora and I both did."
"How long were you
Temp drew in a
breath. "I—ah, I met someone. Someone who was
Temp shook his
head. "A—a pilot."
There was a
pause. Abby took another puff. "Does he have
anything to do with your obviously listless nature of late?"
"I suppose so."
He gestured, frustration building. "This is—damn, it's so
Now it was her turn to
chuckle. "It always is. Was he the reason your
directly, at any rate. It was falling apart long before
"Well, at least you
don't have that baggage to contend with." Her eyes stared
out into the blackness. "My daughter is going to be seven
in February. I get to see her on special occasions, and
for scheduled visits. As long as they're supervised, of
course. There is the potential for corruption, you see."
He stared at her.
"I didn't know it was like that."
"Yeah, well, it's not
something I get into with my coworkers. True Confessions
of a Lesbian." She stubbed out her first cigarette and
shook another one from the pack. "But we're not officially
coworkers any more, so I don't honestly give a rat's ass."
Her gaze swung toward him, pinning him. "You could be
letting yourself in for a whole lot of trouble."
He barked a
laugh. "I'm already in trouble, Abby."
"That bad, huh?"
"There's more to it than that. He's—he leads a very
dangerous life. It's not like we can settle down in a
little cottage built for two. And even if he could, I
don't know if he'd want to."
"You don't know if he'd
want to with anyone, or just with you?"
Temp sucked in air,
unsure of what to say.
"Jesus, Temp," Abby
sighed. "It's never ceased to amaze me, the way someone as
talented—not to mention delicious—as you are could have any
doubts in that department. But then, it's a disease that
strikes at random, isn't it?"
"Not at random," Temp
smiled faintly. "There's a long incubation period.
And there are certain factors that promote its growth."
Abby shifted a little
so that she could lay a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
"It can be cured, you know."
He looked at her.
"Yeah? Do you recommend the treatment?"
Abby nodded. "It
cured me. Dora—" She trailed off, paused to collect
herself. "She saved me. Simple as that."
Temp stared at
her. It was as though the pieces of the puzzle had
suddenly assembled themselves in his brain. "What if you
both need to be saved?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean," Temp grinned,
"I'm tired of waiting on the dock." He kissed Abby on the
cheek and gave her a brief, crushing hug. "Thanks."
He spun toward the balcony doors and pulled them open, letting a
pounding disco rhythm escape into the night.
Abby laughed at his
receding form. "Anytime, Doctor Peck."
Maybe this hadn't been
such a good idea.
Murdock stood in the
darkness of the high-rise apartment, watching the night play out
past the floor-to-ceiling windows. The sky was still dark
from this angle, but in the east he knew the first inklings of
dawn would soon be pushing their way over the hills.
He was probably out
there somewhere, having the time of his life.
Murdock rubbed at his
eyes. Fourteen hours on the road, running from
Lynch. BA sour the whole way because it was the holidays
and he wouldn't get to see his mama again. Hannibal
restless because he'd landed a part in a horror movie and didn't
want to be late for the first day of shooting. He was the
star, some rubber-coated dude called the Aquamonster or the
Mudsucker or whatever.
And Murdock? He
was sour, and restless, and frustrated, depressed, angry, you
name it. Most of that was directed right at himself,
especially the anger. He could've called. He
could've even figured out a way to see him, hot as things
were. They'd lost the MPs again, and the trail was
definitely cool enough that he wasn't risking his neck or Temp's
safety by coming here.
But he knew when he
jimmied the lock to this place that he was risking a lot more
than freedom or safety. He was risking himself, all of it,
the whole enchilada.
That was why he hadn't
made more of an effort to show up.
But the days had
passed, and it hadn't gotten any easier. Days turned into
weeks, and Murdock could still close his eyes and remember what
it felt like to explode deep inside him. Then Christmas
came. They were in Memphis, and as he'd walked by a travel
agent's shop, he'd suddenly been brought up short.
In the window was a huge, gaudy ad for Club Med, with a picture
of a happy couple strolling down the beach. He'd been
horrified to find himself blinking back tears.
He was a fucking basket
Questions and arguments
chased each other endlessly in his brain. Was he trying to
protect himself or Temp? Both, he supposed; was that such
a bad thing? Not exactly, but did he have the right to
tell another person how to live his life? Of course not,
but that wasn't what he was trying to do. Was it?
He shook his head
violently. This had been a mistake, stupider'n jumping
without a parachute. He still didn't have the first idea
of what he wanted to say. Of what he wanted to do.
Murdock willed his feet
He had almost reached
the door when he heard the locks turning.
He stood there in the
dark, frozen in place. The last lock clicked and the
door swung wide.
hand went to his chest as his eyes registered the other man's
presence right in front of him.
"‘S just me, muchacho,"
the pilot soothed. "Sorry to do that to you again."
"You're here," Temp
breathed. Slowly, he reached behind him to close the door,
then switched on the lights. Murdock squinted against the
Then, to his surprise,
the doc burst out laughing.
Temp shook his head,
held up a hand. "I, ah, it's just that every time I decide
I'm going to be a hero, you always pop up and remind me you
don't need one."
"I wouldn't say that,"
Murdock murmured under his breath.
Peck studied him, clear
blue gaze unsettling. "I was going to jump in the shower
and then spend the day looking for you. If I didn't find
you today, I was going to keep looking tomorrow."
"What if you didn't
find me tomorrow?" the pilot asked, annoyed to hear his voice
"As long as it took,"
Temp told him. "I didn't want to wait any more."
arguments. "You might have to wait sometimes. There
might not be a way ‘round it."
"I know." Peck
stepped closer, eyes watching Murdock as if he was going to
spook and run any second. Fat chance of that, with Temp
blocking the way out. Would've been tempting otherwise.
"And then if we're
caught, or even if we're not, they might get to you."
Murdock stuffed his hands in his pockets. "Follow
you. Harass you. Maybe even try ‘n ruin your
career. It's a pretty big risk for you to take."
"It's worth it.
You're worth it." He took another step, and Murdock could
feel his heat. "Have you got anything else you want to
"Plenty," the pilot
sighed. "But I can't think of anythin' right now."
arms went around him and pulled him into a bruising kiss.
actually weakened. He didn't know that could happen.
Temp broke the kiss
with obvious reluctance, then pressed his cheek against
Murdock's. "God, I missed you," he whispered.
Against his better
judgment, the pilot felt his own arms come up to hug the other
man. "Me too, darlin'," he admitted.
The doc loosened his
hold enough to look into Murdock's eyes. "There are a
hundred reasons why this isn't a good idea, and I'm sure you've
thought of them all. We could talk about them until we're
blue in the face, or we could take them as they come and deal
Temp touched his lips
to the other man's gently. "I can tell you I meant what I
said in San Pedro, that I'm not going to give up on this, but in
the end it's all just words. The only way you'll know for
sure is if I actually stick around. But in order for me to
do that, you'll have to be here too." He smiled fondly,
fingers reaching up to brush back a stray lock of Murdock's long
hair. "Think you can stick around for a while?"
Murdock opened his
mouth on an objection, closed it again. You want to
live forever, flyboy?
"I think I can," he
said finally, heart beating triple time. "Yeah."
Temp awoke from a sound
sleep just as the sun was descending into the Pacific.
Orange light flooded his bedroom, bathing the walls, the
furniture, and the man gently snoring beside him in a warm,
He was still here.
Moving slowly so as not
to wake him, Temp pushed himself to a sitting
position. He hadn't had the chance before to study
Murdock like this, and he took full advantage of it now.
He was rangy, just this side of skinny, with dark, coarse hair
matting his chest and abdomen. His neck was long and
elegant—a contradiction on an otherwise wholly masculine
frame—and curved out into nicely proportioned shoulders.
Temp's gaze strayed lower, and he suppressed a shiver at the
memory of that morning.
While he watched,
Murdock stirred. One arm flung out, landing squarely on
The pilot's eyes flew
It took a moment for
Murdock to become fully aware of his surroundings. When he
did, his hand began to move, fingers tracing feathery
patterns across Temp's chest.
Peck couldn't hold back
the shiver this time.
"C'mere, baby," Murdock
wheedled, pulling at Temp's arm now. "Cuddle up with
me." He maneuvered the other man until they were spooned
together, the pilot plastered up against Peck's back. His
left arm draped over Temp possessively, and he sighed like a
funny?" He tried to sound put out, but Temp could hear the
grin in Murdock's voice.
"I'm just thinking back
to the night we met. You seemed so dangerous when you
walked into that bar."
"My hands are lethal
weapons." He tweaked one of Temp's nipples to prove his
"And at first, anyway,
I thought that you were going to try to take advantage of me."
"I prey on the drunk
and the beautiful."
Temp grabbed Murdock's
hand and bit one of the fingers playfully, then kissed it.
"Shut up. I was going to say that it didn't take me long
to change my mind. Something told me I could trust you."
There was a pause
then. Temp listened to the sounds of their breathing.
"I trust you too, you
know," Murdock murmured. "I just don' trust myself."
Temp pressed his lips
to the other man's palm. "You don't have to. Not
Murdock squeezed him
tight, kissed the skin over the vertebra at the base of Temp's
neck. "Happy New Year," he whispered.
"Happy New Year,
Murdock," Temp agreed.
They fell asleep again,
safe in each others' arms.
to the wonderfully supportive people at the A-Slash and VA, who
gave me many warm fuzzies to help this thing along. And
thanks to Jim, who is very kind to read and give feedback
despite being squicked by slash (for him, I cut out the
romance!), and whose help with military details is
invaluable. I also appreciate the insights of the A-Team
Story Board members, who have made great suggestions to
help me tighten this up.
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