WARNINGS: Short. Crackful. And I learned everything I "know" about American mental institutions from watching TV.


It hadn't taken long, after Face showed up at the police station claiming to be a detached parasitic twin and wanting to file a Missing Persons report for his host, for the men in white coats to be called. A few calls to his concerned next of kin (Hannibal, doing a superb "concerned father" impression) and regular GP (BA, doing a terrible Bill Cosby impression), some forged paperwork, and Face was on his way to the West Virginia Veterans Administration Psychiatric Wing, coincidentally assigned to share a room with one Captain HM Murdock.

If Hannibal had expected the pair to remain low-key, he was both mistaken and adorably deluded. The first incident occurred during recreation hour on the first day, when Murdock hijacked the basketball and, shoving it under Face's shirt, announced a Christmas miracle. The fact that it was May was the part of that story that bothered the doctors the least. Face promptly became inconsolable at the thought of the loss of his girlish figure and Murdock demanded to be taken to a chapel because he was a good Texan boy and no child of his would be born in sin. In the end, they'd just been taken to their room and allowed to calm themselves down (with the assistance of a dose of valium each that neither man protested too strongly).

The second incident was, to be fair to the boys (as Hannibal tended to call them because it was more generous than BA's preferred "those damn fools", even if that latter was admittedly more accurate), not entirely their fault. Face should have realised that his usual charms, in this context, would be less effective, but he wasn't to know that a bit of harmless flirting with a nurse would have him labelled a sex addict. And Murdock was only trying to help when he accused the nurse of being a floozy and tried to demonstrate on Jerry, the catatonic patient in room 206, where she'd touched him. At least, Hannibal had to BELIEVE that Murdock was trying to help, otherwise that tic above his left eye would never go away. That episode had ended similarly to the first, with the two men sent to their room like naughty children and dosed up on tranquilisers that knocked them out for nearly 12 hours.

Above all else, it was good that the two men were in this together. Murdock was there to help Face through the difficult hours, three days after his infiltration into the hospital, when he realised that there was no way he would be able to scam himself a tanning bed this time. Murdock's own experience with psychiatrists allowed him to help his friend through the stages of denial, rage, horror, grief and finally acceptance that this assignment would cost his skin tone at least two shades of brown. He was so proud of Face when, after a mere eight hours, the con man sat up, brushed the tears off his cheeks and held his head high, saying, "At least I still have my abs," in a firm voice. That's my boy, thought Murdock, clapping his friend on the shoulder.

That night, it was time for Face to return the favour when Murdock was given his first session of electroconvulsive therapy since the arrival of his friend. Face had known, in an abstract and intellectual way, that ECT was one of Murdock's many, many treatments. He'd never seen the after effects up close before, though, and was unprepared for the catatonic shell of his friend that was dumped back in their room after treatment. It was one thing to have Murdock warn him of the possible side-effects and entirely another to see his normally vibrant and, okay, manic friend unresponsive and dull-eyed.

It took ten minutes for Face to realise that Murdock wasn't going to respond, wasn't just playing another game or chilling out just below the surface of awareness like he did sometimes when things got a bit too "swirly". It took five more minutes for the tremors to start. Shudders wracked the pilot's body as residual electricity fizzled and sparked through his brain, jerking his limbs like a macabre puppet. Face couldn't soothe him or make them stop, and for a moment was irrationally angry at Murdock for not... for... for not snapping out of it because enough was enough, for gods' sake. That feeling lasted about 3.6 seconds before it was Godilla-stomped by guilt, concern, guilt and Catholic-guilt, which was like normal guilt except it smelled like church pews and old incense.

All Face could do for Murdock was hold his friend as tightly as possible while his body spasmed. Run his fingers through Murdock's hair in what seemed like a pathetically inadequate soothing gesture and murmur soothing nonsense in his ear. Lie him gently down when the shudders finally stopped and Murdock's eyelids started to droop. And for himself, Face stayed there all night, wrapped protectively around his sleeping friend, still holding tight and kept awake by thoughts of all the times Murdock had gone through this alone.

It wasn't something Face ever thought he would say, but maybe, just maybe, the loss of his tan wasn't such a big deal after all.