Missing in Action
Author’s Note: Set in the same universe as “If Only”, which can be found here.
Warnings (highlight to view): explicit sex
for doll_revolution. Happy belated birthday, sweetie!
Now there’s a fella that’s preachin’ ‘bout hell an’ damnation
Bouncin’ off the walls at the Grand Central Station
I treated her bad
I treated her mean
My baby’s leavin’ town on the 2:19
I don’t know what to do
I will remember you
I don’t know what to do
My baby’s leavin’ town on the 2:19
-Tom Waits, 2:19
April 20, 1979
Templeton Peck never bothered with birthdays. The nuns had been kind, but they hadn’t had a lot of extra cash to spend on parties or presents, so as a child he didn’t get the opportunity to celebrate the occasion. As an adult—well, Leslie had gone in for every holiday short of Arbor Day, but eventually even his lack of enthusiasm had managed to kill hers and she gave up, not long before she gave up on him.
His thirtieth birthday had been five days ago, and to celebrate this year he’d worked a twelve-hour shift in the ER, beginning with a gunshot wound and ending with a man so whacked out on heroin it took three big orderlies to keep him still. No one managed to die on him, which made it a successful day, and a good enough birthday as far as Temp was concerned. Of course, the heroin addict might have OD’d again and ended up at the morgue yesterday, and the guy with the bullet hole in his arm could’ve gone straight from the hospital to blow away the guy who’d shot him. But Temp could only be responsible for managing the portion of chaos that had been assigned him. Once they left his care, he didn’t know what the hell happened to them.
That particular mystery never used to bother him a great deal, because he knew if he thought about it too much he’d go nuts. But lately, the appeal of madness had grown.
In the past eleven months, Temp had gotten a divorce from his perfect, holiday-observing wife and was now in a relationship with a man who was more than slightly unstable, not to mention the modern-day equivalent of one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men. If that wasn’t insane enough, he was pretty sure that last week a guy in a bad trench coat had tailed him home from the hospital. One of Prince John’s men, obviously, though you’d think that royalty could spring for something better than a piece of shit black Impala.
Contributing to his mushrooming sense of ennui were his closest friends, who had opened a clinic that was doing real, lasting good in one of the poorest communities in the city. They’d finally convinced him to volunteer one night a week—though he knew their ultimate goal was to recruit him to the cause. One of their doctors, Abby had told him candidly, was a basket case who wasn’t going to last much longer.
The fact that she considered him an improvement over the guy made him want to laugh until he cried.
He hadn’t seen Murdock in over a month, hadn’t even heard from him, and he was starting to feel like one of those women in WWII who’d married a soldier on impulse right before the guy had been shipped overseas. Whenever the lanky pilot breezed into his life Temp would wake up the next morning well-fucked and alone and wondering what the hell he’d been thinking.
Every time it was on the tip of his tongue to say, take me with you. I want to hide out in the forest, rob from the rich, give to the poor, all that jazz.
But he wasn’t sure if it was in the script for Maid Marian to say that, so in the end he always kept his mouth shut.
Temp sat back and folded his arms while Abby tried her best to explain the reason why the mother in front of them shouldn’t have opened the time-release capsules to make them easier for her daughter to swallow. He wanted to shake the woman until her teeth rattled—the girl could’ve had a serious reaction to getting the entire dose at once—but that was no way to combat ignorance. In the ER, he was used to short, sharp skirmishes, but the war here was slow and protracted, and the warriors on this battlefield had to be accustomed to frequent setbacks dealt by a tough, recalcitrant enemy. Everywhere you went, there was some sort of struggle.
Well. Almost everywhere. This was LA after all, the home of the free and the land of the rich and perpetually numb.
Temp sighed. You turned down the cushy private practice in Westwood. You’ve got nobody to blame but yourself.
Abby sent the woman off with a smile and a new prescription, and Temp, confronted with the first lull of the evening, decided it would be a good time to check on their inventory. There were supplies to be ordered and he’d been elected secretary this month. There were no stars on this staff, a fact he had to admit he liked. He’d never been comfortable being the center of attention, but he was also unused to working in such a communal atmosphere, preferring to play in his own sandbox. He was finding, to his surprise, that he was enjoying being part of a team.
Preoccupied with his thoughts, he unlocked the door to the walk-in closet, then took a step inside and fumbled for the light switch.
The door shut softly behind him, plunging him in darkness.
“Hey, Doc.” Temp’s heart slammed against his rib cage a couple of times before he identified the soft voice originating about a foot from his left ear. “Long time no see.”
“Jesus, Murdock.” Temp reached out, connected with a solid wall of chest. “This cloak-and-dagger stuff is gonna take ten years off my life.”
Long fingers unerringly found his cheek and caressed it. “Yeah,” Murdock said huskily, a note of apology in his voice and his gentle touch. Temp closed his eyes, cursing himself for raising the spectre of Murdock’s own misgivings about their relationship. “Couldn’t do it any other way. Your place is bein’ watched.”
Temp’s eyes snapped open, a pointless exercise in the pitch dark. “I figured as much. There was a guy following me last week.”
Temp heard Murdock suck in a breath. “You think he tailed you to the clinic?”
Temp shook his head, knowing Murdock could feel it. “Whenever I come here, I park at the hospital, then take a taxi from there to the clinic.”
“You’re gettin’ good at this cloak-and-dagger thing yourself, muchacho,” Murdock said, and Temp didn’t need the light to see that wicked grin twisting his mouth.
“Shut up,” he muttered, right before he found that mouth with his own.
If Temp hadn’t been sure before, he was sure now.
He was going nuts.
Murdock came up behind him and nuzzled his earlobe. “Happy birthday, baby. Sorry ‘m late.”
Since Murdock had no fixed address and Temp’s apartment was off-limits, at least until the spooks got bored, Temp had figured they’d end the night at a Motel Six somewhere on the road to Pasadena. Instead, he was standing in one of the better suites of the Hollywood Hilton while his feet sank into the three-inch wool pile.
“How did you even know it was my birthday?” Temp asked, his voice brittle. “I never told you when it was.”
“I have my ways,” Murdock drawled, his teeth grazing the nape of his lover’s neck.
“Dammit, Murdock,” Temp breathed, breaking the other man’s hold on him, “I don’t…” He turned around and the words he’d been about to say died on his lips at the sight of Murdock, his expression exactly like that of a kid who had no idea what he’d done wrong.
And why should he? Temp’s inner voice berated him. He's not psychic.
“So, I guess I’d better cancel the lobsters and the champagne, huh?” Murdock said quietly.
Temp passed a frustrated hand through his hair. “Look, it’s nothing you’ve done,” he began, aware he was making it worse when Murdock now looked as though he’d been kicked in the nuts. “It’s something I haven’t done, all right? I haven’t—told you something. Something important that’s been going on with me.”
“Y’don’t have to tell me,” Murdock returned, shaking his head almost violently. “I get it.”
“What do you get?” Temp demanded, folding his arms.
A mirthless smile flitting across his features, Murdock murmured, “S’okay, doc. I’m nuts, not dumb. I knew my days were numbered.” Suddenly stripping off his baseball cap and holding it in his hands like an offering, he added, “Listen, just let me do this last thing, okay? Lemme do this for you.”
Temp could do nothing but stare, astonished, as his brain tried to process this unexpected turn of events. Murdock thought—but how could he? Temp had never given him any sign he wanted out of the relationship.
But then another possibility occurred.
“Do you want me to break up with you?” Temp asked, voice barely a whisper. “Is that what you want?”
Murdock’s face shut down for business then, and the effect was chilling. In an instant, he’d reverted to that enigmatic, dangerous stranger Temp had met in a seedy bar nearly a year ago. “I want you to do what feels good, baby,” he drawled. “Do whatever turns you on.”
“Goddammit,” Temp growled, fighting the sinking sensation in his gut. “Don’t do that to me. Don’t check out on me.”
“And why the fuck not?” Murdock snapped, suddenly savage. “You ain’t here any more; why the hell should I stick around?” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Murdock crumpled. “Oh shit,” he breathed, scrubbing at his face with his hands. “Oh, shit, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, swore I wouldn’t, doesn’t help nothin’, what the fuck am I—”
“Murdock,” Temp murmured, stepping forward and enfolding the slim body in his arms, “Murdock, I’m not leaving. I don’t want to leave you.”
The other man shuddered in his embrace. “You don’t have to—”
“Will you just let me—God, you could drive a man to drink,” Temp sighed, without rancor. After a few seconds of blissful silence, Temp’s left hand now making soothing circles on Murdock’s back, he continued. “You’re right, I’ve been—a little absent lately. But not for the reason you think, not because I don’t want to be with you. Because I want to be with you—too much.”
Murdock pushed himself gently out of Temp’s arms. “Muchacho, you know I’d be here more if I—”
“Shh. I know. It’s not that. It’s—I guess it’s a metaphorical desire, you know? You started something last November when I went to San Pedro with you, something I had to take time to figure out. I’m still figuring it out, figuring out what to do about it, but the bottom line is I want—” The words caught in his throat; he had never thought of it this way before, but now that he had it made perfect sense. “I want to be worthy of you. Of you, and of myself, the me that I was down there—oh, hell, this sounds like a therapy session—”
Murdock stared at him, his expression open once more, and Temp’s heart nearly burst at what was revealed there. “You’re as crazy as I am,” he said softly, one hand reaching out to brush Temp’s unruly hair back from his forehead.
“I’ll settle for being as in love with you as you are with me,” Temp said, and then Murdock was pushing him back and back until he was pressed up against a window, and they were kissing as though they hadn’t seen one another in a month, a fucking month—
“Hey,” Temp said a few minutes later, when he could breathe again, when Murdock had stripped his shirt off him and was beginning his assault on the rest of Temp’s clothing. “Does this mean I'm not getting my lobster dinner?”
Murdock’s long-fingered hands latched onto Temp’s hips and spun him around to face the window. "Oh, you're gettin' it, all right," he growled, licking up the side of Temp's neck while Temp pressed back against him.
Temp gazed out at the light-studded night. They were on one of the top floors of the hotel; the roof of the building across the street was at least five stories below them. He shifted his focus and saw his own reflection staring back at him, eyes heavy-lidded, lips parted and swollen with arousal. Looking up, he stopped dead at the sight of Murdock’s own intense gaze studying his image in the glass.
Murdock’s hands shifted; Temp heard the soft metallic clinking of his belt buckle, felt the gentle prodding against his belly as the pilot freed him from his trousers. He leaned his head back against Murdock’s shoulder and looped an arm around his lover’s neck.
“Watch,” Murdock whispered, and Temp continued to stare at Murdock’s shadow-image as the real man stripped him in front of the floor to ceiling window. When he finally stood there naked and exposed, he made to turn around to return the favor, but strong hands on his shoulders stilled him.
“All for you,” Murdock husked in his ear. “It’s always gonna be for you. Gotta show you that.” Giving in to his lover’s need, Temp watched him shrug out of his own clothes, felt the brush of hands and lips and tongue as Murdock worshipped every inch of his skin, cried out at the welcome invasion of Murdock’s long, strong fingers, and pushed back into the delicious burn of his cock. When Murdock’s hand tightened around Temp’s erection and his teeth sank into the flesh of Temp's left shoulder, Temp braced his palms on the cool glass and imagined they were hovering over the city, suspended between one world and the next.
It was a long time before they returned to earth.
“You want the last claw?”
“Sure.” Still stark naked, Temp plucked the piece of meat from the plate lying between them on the huge bed, swirled it in the melted butter, then popped it in his mouth.
Murdock chuckled. “More champagne?” Wordlessly, Temp held out his glass to be filled, then took a sip. At his lover’s bemused expression, he held up a hand and began ticking items off on his fingers.
“Ten-hour shift in ER, five hours at the clinic, and two hours of raw, bone-jarring sex,” he enumerated. “I’m entitled.”
Murdock lifted the plate, which was now littered with empty lobster shells, and laid it on the floor. Scooting closer, he leaned over and treated Temp to a buttery kiss. “Whut if I want to go for two more?” he asked, brows arching.
“Then you’re buying me breakfast, flyboy,” Temp said, his free hand sliding down Murdock’s back to cup his ass possessively.
Murdock seemed to consider this for a moment. “Done,” he said finally.
Temp suddenly flopped back against the pillows and stared up at the ceiling. “Hey,” Murdock said, one hand settling over Temp’s heart. “What’s the matter?”
“I’m going to take that job, Murdock,” Temp said, the words coming as a surprise to both of them. “When Abby asks me I’m going to quit the ER and take that job at the clinic.” He looked into Murdock’s eyes. “I’m gonna be a Merry Man too.”
Temp downed the last of his champagne, flung the glass aside and pounced on the man lying beside him. “Happy birthday to me,” he murmured, a grin capturing his lips right before Murdock did.
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