And so we come to the end... :-) Enjoy.

Part 4/4
Cards on The Table

Face knew where to find Murdock instinctively.

It wasn't based on logic or rational, but on instinct, on a closeness built up over the nine years he'd known the pilot. On the outside, maybe the pilot hadn't always been the same person; from a pretend doctor trying to escape from a Mexican hospital to the various roles he portrayed with a singular contentment, but Murdock on the inside, James, was always the same. He didn't like being caged, being trapped by four walls when it had no door. It wasn't a claustrophobia, Murdock surviving quite happily in the cramped spaces of a helicopter cockpit, but when he felt imprisoned, held against his will, the panic swelled in his chest like a bubble of fear threatening to burst. And before when the pressure built up and became too much, he needed to get out, even for a few seconds. So when Face always went to check on him shortly afterwards, the pilot was usually to be found outside, breathing in fresh air and watching the sky like he wanted to go up and ride the thermals with the migrating birds that passed. His voice would be calm then, pointing out certain birds to Face as the two stood as spectators, and often Face wondered how the hell Murdock had managed to not go insane- really insane- in the six months imprisonment in Germany. Because for a free creature like HM Murdock , being held in a room with locked safety windows, rarely allowed outside to see the sky and feel the breeze just in case he made a break for it, it must have been unbearable. Murdock had told him once, standing outside watching those birds, that the fear was like something was choking him, cutting off his air so that he couldn't breathe. And the idea of Murdock slowly asphyxiating for six months was enough to make Face close his eyes and wish he'd been there to make it all better.

Murdock wasn't locked inside now, wasn't held back by well-meaning but misdiagnosing hands. So when Face came around the back of the warehouse and sighted Murdock, he acknowledged he shouldn't really have been surprised. The pilot was sat on a patch of ground , where he had a pretty good view of the flat horizon, the skyline a blue thread against the dull orange dust of the ground. Yet there was no smile on his face, no song murmured on his lips. A frown was settled upon his brow, coupled with a wistful look as he fiddled with the dog tags around his neck.

But Face was here now. He could make it all better.

Murdock must have heard his footfalls, let go of the dog tags and looked around quickly to see who it was. He was obviously expecting BA or Hannibal, yet when he saw it was Face who had come to find him, a look of panic sprinted the length of his face, his colour paling as it jumped ship along with any courage he may have had about this moment. Not the reaction Face had been hoping for, admittedly, but the reaction he had expected since hearing what BA had said about the pilot's state (and since when had Bosco 'Bad Attitude' Baracus' been the emotional guru of their group?).

The pilot jumped to his feet, dirt from the ground speckled across the legs of his cargo-pants, stared at Face as he twisted his fingers nervously in front of him, a kid standing to attention in front of an angered adult. It was like someone had forgotten to give him instructions on what to do, and he was trying hard to remember.

"Hey, Facey, you're out!" His tone tried to be excitable, but it was fake and they both knew it, paper words cast out on the wind to serve a purpose of distraction . His eyes were too wide, his smile too forced. "I'm really glad you're back, I mean, you know what hospital's are like, what with the bad food and the scratchy covers and the scary nurses...but it's ok, now you're back, and everything's normal and fine and dandy and..."

"Murdock" Face murmured quietly, halting his friends ramble. The pilot deflated immediately, slumped as he realised his panic-jumbled words weren't going to distract Face from the real problem. Face didn't want to stress out Murdock any more than he already was, but knew something had to be said. Murdock thought he was in the wrong, thought he'd made the mistakes, looking like a kicked animal in more ways than one. Face could see what those bastards had done, and he didn't know how to react; knew that using the cold anger to attempt to thump a hole in the wall was only going to exacerbate things. It had obviously been a couple of weeks since the two of them had been rescued from that cell, and most of the bruises had faded from purple to a sickly yellow. There was a red half-ring encircling the underside of Murdock's eye, a healing cut over the other and it was a sickening thought that no matter how bad it looked now to Face, seeing Murdock patched with yellowing evidence of a job gone wrong, half healed cuts portrayed in a closed line of red, it was nothing compared to what it must have looked like two weeks ago. How broken Murdock must have looked. Face could see the damage in his minds eye, his imagination filling in the details he doesn't want to think about, had to shut his thoughts out and push them away to stem the rising feeling of guilt "He went through that to keep you safe" Because Murdock was loyal, so damned loyal and Face never hated that fact till now, never wished that maybe Murdock didn't care for him so much, just so he wouldn't have to see the fall-out. There would have been a fallout, by all standards most likely quiet, but none-the-less nuclear in it's intensity. Face could see by just looking that Murdock wasn't sleeping, and he knew the nightmares would have made their dawn-time presence by now.

Murdock looked down at his feet, seeming to find the scuffed ends of his high-tops the most interesting thing in the world, before he gazed back up at Face through thick lashes, as though he expected a tirade of fury to emanate from the conman at any time. He was tensed against the anger and shouts he believed so strongly were coming his way.

A little bit of Face broke again, and if this wasn't sorted, pretty soon the pieces of them both would be too small to pick up.

"Murdock..." Face didn't know what he was going to say as he took a few more steps in his friends direction. He hadn't planned for this, any of this, couldn't explain what he sensed in his heart right at that moment as he looked at Murdock. A flickering light of emotion, nearly buried underneath the weight of the anger and hurt and worry he was carrying about with him. He didn't know what the hell he was doing, what the plan was- because he wasn't the man with the plans, Hannibal was- and he wasn't really thinking at all about this. He was thinking about Murdock, only Murdock, how pale he looked and only knowing that he wanted, needed, to fix this. By any means necessary.

The pilot interrupted Face's pause in speaking, a jolt of panic in his eyes as he watched Face getting closer. He looked so damn scared, so damn remorseful and in his mind, his twin fears were mixing, combining; Face's anger and the violence that even now had its marks peppered across his skin. He saw Face coming towards him, but maybe he only half saw Face , the other half seeing the brittle eyes of their captors again in that room with no windows.

"I'm sorry, Facey, I didn't mean it, I'd never mean for you to get hurt, I..."

Face came right up to the quaking pilot, so close that they were almost touching. He could see the flush of porcelain paleness to Murdock's skin, could hear him breathing like he was trying to reign in his natural instinct to bolt.

But instead of the hit that Murdock seemed to be expecting like it was a perfectly rational response , Face reached up, brushed the fading bruise under the pilot's eye with a gentleness caress of his thumb. The pilot flinched, wanted to move back, felt the rising fear like he was back in that place, like this was just a joke before punches started. Face shushed his fright with a whisper.

"I wont hurt you Murdock." He brushed his thumb again, his eyes fixing seriously on Murdock's "I will never hurt you" He knew exactly what he was doing now, had realised it as he'd watched that film with Murdock, had listened to the pilot sing at four in the morning, had defended him from Sosa's barbed comments. His choice , his decision was made up from all those moments and all the moments before even that; from putting his life in a crazy man's hands in a battered Med-Evac helicopter on the Mexican border, from the times he just sat in a plastic chair at the HQ in Iraq and talked and laughed with Murdock as the pilot napalmed his steak to oblivion, from the inset realisation that despite the fact that they'd been imprisoned and chased by their own side, Face would rather that then never having met his family, having never met Murdock. Maybe getting his arm lit alight by a mental patient wasn't the best by way of an introduction, but years had gone by, and all those instants and all those little moments he'd shared with the pilot in that time had all added up . Till there was only one action he could take.

And he was going to seize it with both hands.

Murdock had stopped finding his shoes fascinating, wanted to move away from the pressure on his cheek ,before it came to him that Face wasn't mad like he should be, that Face was touching his face in a way that was definitely veering the wrong side of platonic. Face was close, and even though they'd been closer before; the pilot snuggled next to him on a motel sofa, sharing a bunk when bed-space was in short supply, it seemed like they'd never been so intimate. And despite all the effort Murdock had put in to getting this far, he didn't know what to do now it was here. He looked at Face and the impulsive side of his personality wanted to reach out and touch the conman, to check he was really there before he could truly quieten the darkness in his mind. But he held back, not wanting to ruin this, the black still staining his thoughts and highlighting his fears.

"I screwed up, Facey" he admitted quietly , the guilt forcing itself up again in his heart. Face shook his head softly , moving his hand away from Murdock's face, leaving the pilot feeling curiously bereft . And then Face smiled, gazing at the pilot like he was suddenly looking at the most beautiful thing he ever saw; an expression that was endearing without being patronizing, concerned without being angry. It was a look no-one had ever given Murdock before. No-one had ever looked at him like he was the most precious thing in the world, no-one had ever looked at him like they knew every inch of his soul , like they saw him, really saw him, all the pieces of madness and badness and loved him just the same. And all those times Murdock had wanted a look like that , all the times he had hoped for this, he could never imagine it could feel like this.

"No you didn't" A touch against Murdock's fingers made him startle, and casting his eyes down with a jolt of shock, he saw Face's hand held up against his, fingers ghosting against his own . Requesting something the pilot had wanted to give for so long.

"Don't, Facey..." Murdock whispered, flashing the conman a look of momentary fear, because he couldn't handle it if it wasn't real, doesn't want pity if hollow love was being offered with it. Face was straight, straight, and Murdock could deal with that, couldn't deal with Face offering something he didn't mean. Just because Face forgave him, didn't mean it was fair for him to offer this as some sort of reward . Not something like this.

"You remember that film we watched together Murdock?" Face pressed quietly, needing Murdock to know that this was real ,knowing the pilot recalled it, knew it from the quirking facial expression's Face had learned to read from Murdock like an exotic language he'd become fluent in. "WALL.E, yeah? Where WALL.E falls in love with EVE but she doesn't notice and even though there's barely any chance she'd look at him twice, he still tries. And when she shuts down and he doesn't know what to do, he still spends every minute protecting her, even if she might never know what he's done for her. And when she turns back on, she still doesn't realise what WALL.E did for her. What WALL.E means to her"

Murdock was quiet, as though he recognised that they really weren't talking about the film any more. His expression was still reserved however, doubting. Like he didn't quite believe in this; like things like love didn't happen to him, only happened to people in fairy tales or children's films. They both knew real life well enough to know there was little gentle about it, that things like suffering and war and hurt happened more often in reality than the love at first sight, swept off your feet by Prince Charming that happened in story books. Face had been let down before, had watched as Sosa had dumped him and walked away, had resigned afterwards to never to let anyone else in so it didn't have to hurt any more. But Murdock had wormed his way into that damaged place in Face's heart, had quietly and unintentionally healed it with smiles and films and sock-puppet shows. Now Face had to return the favour, had to fix Murdock's doubt and insecurity with honesty and openness, telling the pilot what they both needed to hear spoken aloud. Because maybe fairy tales had gotten some things right after all.

Face's voice was low, questioning "Do you remember what happens in the end, when EVE thinks she's lost WALL.E forever, without being able to tell him what he means to her?"

Murdock focused his gaze on Face, green eyes fixing blue, expression hopeful like he didn't know how he could buy into this. Whether he was just hallucinating because nobody would want him, a messed-up damaged pilot, just like nobody would have wanted a lonely damaged robot. Face wondered how long it had been since someone had told Murdock how handsome he really was, how much they loved him. The thought stoked the small light in his chest, made it brighter, stronger.

"She holds his hand" Murdock finally whispered, and Face took his cue, threading his fingers through Murdock's, waiting patiently to see how the pilot reacted. It was ridiculous to think that Murdock should love him, stupid to think he could ever be that lucky, but he knew what BA had said, knew what his heart said. And he knew what Murdock had been saying all this time, what he just hadn't noticed. All those little quirky moments that had just seemed like normal Murdock-moments at the time, but which he knew now had housed a deep plan, a stronger purpose.

And for a moment, nothing happened, until- with a small grin - the pilot closed his hand around Face's, their fingers interlocked like the pieces of a jigsaw finally fitting together.

Face smiled back, leaning forward to rest his forehead against the pilot's, the two of them just revelling in the moment in the quiet of the air, their hands connected tightly. No words, no explanations, for none were necessary now. Maybe starting with the small things was where he had been going wrong all this time, why none of his other relationships had ever lasted. It'd always been about the big things, the physical pleasure, the superficial thrill of it all. With Murdock, there was no rush, no leaping in to take the next step. The whole thing just...was, something that had existed all this time, that had been innate inside him, undiscovered till now. Face was contented to just stand here breathing in the pilot, the smell of spices and oil and something else that was completely unique that Face wanted to spend the next twenty years trying to figure out. And with any luck, maybe he would.

He didn't know how they were going to make this work, how they were going to sort this out with Hannibal and BA. But that wasn't important right now, as Face leaned in to kiss Murdock gently. Taking his time, not rushing anything. Feeling Murdock's lips soft against his own, the jolt through his system a high Face could definitely become addicted to. And moving away again, Face saw Murdock grinning at him with love in his eyes, and felt complete; two halves of the same whole coming together.

They had the rest of their lives to figure out the other stuff.

Hope you all enjoyed this story. Please feel free to drop a comment via the review button if you feel the inclination :-)