Title: A Change in the Stars
Rating: G
Characters: Everyone's favourite crazy pilot and charming conman.
Summary: Murdock faces the painful and terrifying nature of change -- but manages to reap the benefits, too. Not as serious as it sounds, trust me.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Mr. Cannell owns all, and I am but a lowly Textual Poacher.

Maybe if you close your eyes, it'll all go away. H. M. Murdock, ace pilot and eccentric extraordinaire, squeezed his eyes shut tightly and silently counted to ten. Then he cracked an eye open experimentally. Nope. Didn't help. He sighed and stared morosely at his feet.

"We gon' haveta face it, Billy," He announced to the air of his room at the VA hospital, "It's time to let go." He winced even as he said it, and flopped backwards onto his bed. "Just time, that's all," He tried again in his most reasonable voice. But that reasonable tone sounded hollow and unconvincing, even to him.

Of course, it was true. It was time. Time to let go. It was the truth – but that didn't mean he had to be okay with it. Heck, he was a mental patient – not being okay with the truth was sort of his whole gig at the moment. Not being okay with the truth – with change – was his meal ticket, tax shelter, and diplomatic immunity all in one.

But on this particular occasion, that excuse just wasn't enough. Even with his – well, "whimsical" was the diplomatic term – grip on reality, Murdock could recognize the true gravity of his situation.

It was past time, really. Usually he went a year between events like this, and it'd been eighteen months since his last one. He was overdue. But for the last six months he'd put it off, telling himself soothingly that he was fine, he didn't need to face it, he could go on like normal. He didn't need to let go of the comforting Way Things Were.

But even as one half of his inner voice soothed him, the other half glared accusingly. Things weren't fine. A part of him was worn out, battered, and threadbare, and that part needed to go. It was sullied, stained. It was even physically hurting him – although he did his best to deny that. It had worn out its welcome.

And he knew – somewhere deep down under all the layers of eccentricity, in the secret cavern where the Totally Rational Murdock camped out – that he'd feel worlds better once he let go. After all, he'd done it before, this painful process of discarding an old shell for a new, brighter part of himself. And though it hurt everytime like a yanked tooth, it always ended up being worth it.

Still . . . letting go was hard. Getting used to the new feeling was hard. Ignoring the problem was easy and carefree and safe. Murdock sighed.

It didn't help that the decision this time had been taken out of his hands. He wasn't sure if it was Dr. Richter who'd first mentioned the problem to Faceman, or vice versa. One thing was for sure, though; after snatching the Doc from certain death in the South American jungle, Murdock's best friend had started staying in touch with his psychiatrist. Now they were ganging up on him, prodding him from both sides to make the change that needed made. And Face had gone the extra step on that, and practically made Murdock's decision for him.

He'd be here in ten minutes.

Murdock ground the heels of his palms against his closed eyelids. He appreciated Face's concern, he really did. The con man was closer to him than any brother could ever have been; he only wanted what was in Murdock's best interests. But Murdock was still struggling with the change; he wasn't sure Face's involvement was helping any. Other people made things so complicated.

For a brief few minutes Murdock contemplated the possibilities of faking a persona to put off the inevitable; Face always seemed particularly unnerved by Professor Nutty Buddy the deranged horticulturist. But after a moment Murdock rejected the idea. For starters it wasn't fair to Face; he was just trying to help. But more to the point, Murdock didn't want to wear out the Professor's usefulness – he'd already gone through two alter egos this year and putting together another one wasn't easy work. With the strain of today's inevitable confrontation looming large, Murdock didn't feel like exacerbating matters.

So instead he tried to take deep calming breaths and not think about what would happen when Face got there. He managed to distract himself by trying to name all the episodes of Range Rider in order, and had managed to get all the way through the first season before Karl, the day-shift orderly, knocked on his door.

Murdock bounced out of bed and clambered onto the dresser as the door opened – more out of instinct than anything else. Face was busy being charming, and Karl just rolled his eyes when he spotted Murdock's perch. "Right, well, visitin' hours end at six, Mr. 'Tobias', or Horne, or whoever you are this week. If you guys split, be back by 5:30, willya?" He drawled, and closed the door.

Face quirked an eyebrow at Murdock, grinning. "Think he's on to me?" Then he sobered. "Ah, Murdock, c'mon down. We talked about this."

"Ah, I – I know, Face, I was just thinkin'," Murdock said, suddenly frantic, "Y'know, I was thinking', we could maybe . . . do this next week!"

Face shook his head adamantly. "Come on, Murdock, no more stalling. This is gonna be better for everyone all around. We both know that."

Murdock slumped miserably, letting his feet dangle off the side of the dresser. "But Face . . . ."

It was the wrong position to take. In two long strides Face was across the room and had Murdock's left foot clamped securely under one arm. He rummaged awkwardly in the shopping bag he'd carried in, ignoring Murdock's squirming and protests as he did so.

"C'mon, man! Leggo my leg! Leggo my leg!"

Face did, briefly – but only long enough to seize the other one and repeat his previous actions. Murdock babbled rapidly and near-incoherently as Face put the finishing touches on his handiwork and stepped back, smirking in satisfaction. "There. Now isn't that better?"

Murdock stared morosely at his feet for a few seconds. A brand-new pair of Converse sneakers now beamed up at him, laces white and unsullied, bright blue star logos unworn. He wiggled his toes experimentally – and then grinned. "Hey, yeah." He hopped down off the dresser and bounced happily on the balls of his feet. "Yeah!"

"See?" Face dropped Murdock's worn-through, tattered old pair of sneakers into the shopping bag and unleashed that brilliant grin of his. "Told ya, nothing beats that new-sneaker feeling."

"You said it." Murdock glanced concernedly at the shopping bag. "But, Face . . . we are gon' give those a proper burial, right?"

"Sure thing, Murdock." Face agreed amiably, slinging his arm around the pilot's shoulders. "Same as all the other pairs."

The two of them made for the door, Face adding casually, "Y'know, Murdock, someday we've gotta talk about this once-a-year letting-go-of-the-sneakers thing."

"Faceman," the pilot replied gravely, "There are just some parts of a man's mental health that have gotta be worked through alone."

The End

(Guess who gots a new pair of Converses today? Go on. Guess.)