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Summer Place

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It was dark, an overcast night that wrapped the sky in starless, moonless black. Face sat on the side of the dock, left foot dangling and right resting on the bow of the boat. The rise and fall of the hull with the waves seemed to connect him to more than the water, to the earth and sky and the air itself. He felt at peace here.

Which was funny, because there was nothing here that would have been on any list of his favorite things. Except the ocean, of course, though he preferred beaches or even boardwalks to the Chesapeake's wetlands. He had long since stopped trying to figure it out, though. Now he just sat and let the water lift his foot and his spirits and let his thoughts wander.

He remembered the first time he'd ever sat on the dock. September. September a year ago. Tail end of summer. Hot and humid still, though right by the water it wasn't so bad. Two great blue herons had been slowly stalking fish and frogs along the shoreline, and a few late mallards had been paddling around before heading wherever it was they wintered. He smiled to himself, remembering seeing probably those same ducks that summer, with their little ones like scattered balls of fluff on the water. He'd been reminded of Make Way For Ducklings, the old battered copy of which had been, when he'd read it at the orphanage, so intensely familiar to him that he'd known, and clutched it to him in secret for years, that he'd heard the story before. That his mother had read it to him. Before.

Not that Maryland's Eastern Shore was much like Boston. Of course, neither was LA. And they weren't like each other. Funny... he couldn't wait to get back to LA, but he was going to miss this place.

And funny, too, how much he hadn't wanted to come here the first time.

He closed his eyes, ignoring the brisk late-November wind, and felt again the softer September breeze which mitigated the heat and carried the sounds of the seagulls and terns. There had been virtually no wind in Langley that day, just stifling heat, though he would probably have felt stifled if there had been a freezing gale-force wind. The team had been back two days from a mission in Germany, which they weren't telling him about: BA because he wasn't talkative, Murdock because he wasn't there, Hannibal because he didn't want Face getting exercised over nothing, and Frankie because he was scared of Hannibal. So there was that, on top of a week alone with the goons, who weren't exactly congenial companions, with Stockwell calling every day to check on his progress, not-so-subtly reminding him of the way things stood.

God, he hated Stockwell. The man had no finesse, no class. He had a lot of money and a lot of people and he used them to chase you into a trap and put a gun to your head. He didn't even lie well; he was always smirking, always being a little cleverer-than-thou, always letting you know he did have the upper hand. Always reminding you you were in the trap. Face never had believed Stockwell meant to carry out their bargain; he was just waiting for that to become as obvious to BA and Hannibal as it was to him. Waiting for Hannibal to decide that they should just not come back.

There was also the constant low-grade pain from the surgery, flaring when he pushed himself a bit too hard, reminding him more than adequately that he was hurt, that he wasn't up to par, that he couldn't even go along with the team and carry an assault weapon... That he'd been shot.

Shot. Like an amateur. Like someone who didn't know what he was doing.

That was the worst of it that fall. He'd been shot. He'd underestimated the bad guys and been taken out altogether. Frankie and Murdock had had to take his screw-up and figure out a way to get out of that completely fucked-up situation. Because he'd been cocky and gotten taken down. Once he'd started recovering from the surgery, while he was still in the hospital, he'd replayed the whole thing dozens of times, finding his errors and wondering how he could have been so stupid. It hadn't mattered that the other two had been as faked out as he had, that the third gunman had been as big a surprise to them as to him: he had been the ranking man on the spot. It had been his plan. He was the team's XO. Murdock was a pilot. Frankie was a civilian. He was the Special Forces officer. He should have known. He'd blown it...

If he couldn't even be a competent soldier, what was left? It wasn't like they needed his other skills anymore.

Well, now, Face, if we had access to unlimited funds and could just buy whatever we wanted, we wouldn't exactly need you, would we?

At the time that had been Hannibal's way of challenging him, but it was true enough. They didn't exactly need him, did they? Germany was their second mission without him and it wasn't going to be their last.

He'd been in the worst mood he could remember ever being in. And because he was in pain and tired, he hadn't been able to hide it at all, so he'd been in by far the worst mood the team had ever seen him in. It had been building for almost a year, even without his being shot, and it just felt so good to give in to it, let it out, that he couldn't stop. He was a royal pain.

He'd have hit himself.

The others just avoided him.

Until that sultry day when Frankie had said, "Come on, Face, let's go for a ride before BA forgets you can't dodge as fast as you used to."

"I don't want to," had been his gracious response.

"And I don't care," had been Frankie's. "Johnny doesn't like it when I go off by myself. He thinks I'll get into trouble."

"Oh, I'll be a lot of use," Face had said.

Frankie had just grinned that obnoxious grin of his and said, "Hey, man, it's not like it's gonna happen," and somehow Face had found himself in the passenger seat of the Vette, heading for Annapolis. Frankie had found a country music station and Face had suffered as far as Bowie. Then he'd changed the station and discovered that despite being eleven years younger Frankie had known all the words to most of the songs on the oldies station. By the time they were past Annapolis, out on the Bay Bridge, Face was relaxing. He'd figured Frankie was heading for Dover Downs and the slots or something, and that was fine with him. Then Frankie had turned south, astonishing him. There was nothing down there unless... Ocean City? He was not in the mood for happy crowds (grim, obsessive gamblers were one thing, but Ocean City... no, and hell no), and he'd said so.

"Good thing," had been Frankie's answer. "No crowds where we're going."

That had sure as hell been the truth. Not even another person. Just nothing as far as the eye could see. Frankie had had the key. "Got it from the agent," he said casually.

That had brought out an involuntary grin; Face had said, "You've been paying attention."

"Learn from the master, my father always said," Frankie had answered.

He'd gone inside but Face hadn't. The Bay wasn't the ocean, but it was close and it had pulled him down to the water's edge. He'd walked around, slowly and aimlessly, for a long time, feeling a lot of his bad mood leaching away into the hot blue sky and the cool dark water. Chesapeake gulls sounded like Californian ones, and salt in the air was comforting. He missed traffic noises, but you can't have everything...

He'd sat on the dock and Frankie had eventually joined him with a couple of beers and a half-gallon of ice cream. They'd watched the sun go down and Face hadn't even missed the rest of the team.

And the next day Frankie had told him he loved him...

Face pushed his foot against the boat and felt it slide down into the water and back up again, rocking with the waves and the tide. Earth and Moon danced together, and the oceans were their music. He'd be glad to see the Pacific again, but he had to admit he'd miss this place. It had been his in a way that nowhere else ever had been. Orphanage, dorm, OCS room, BOQs, tents, hotel rooms, scammed apartments, borrowed houses: fundamentally they were the same. They belonged to someone else and he was just passing through. And that someone else had the right to come in whenever they wanted, to make him move somewhere else, to tell him what he could and couldn't do...

This place had been his. When his collar chafed, he could slip it and hide here. When Stockwell was more unbearable than usual, he could forget the whole damned government here. When he wanted to kill the next person who crossed him, he could find no one in his way here.

And when he wanted to make love in the afternoon, or the kitchen, or the yard, he could here.

He might well find some place else to belong to him like that out in LA, someplace to watch the thunderstorms in. Because there would always be thunderstorms. The trick he'd learned here was that if you were curled up somewhere safe and warm, with someone who loved you, then you could listen to the thunder and the rain on the roof, and watch the wind and the lightning, and not be touched by any of it. He'd thought there was only this place, but he knew now he'd been wrong.

He rocked the boat in the water again, thinking about that. He'd thought this was the only place, and he thought he'd lost it when he lost Frankie. When he lost himself. But he'd found Murdock, or Murdock had found him. And together they'd found here again. So together they could find somewhere in LA.

An unusually large swell rocked the boat deep and high and he lost contact with it, nearly falling off the dock before he caught his balance. Reaching out to find the hull again he heard Murdock's sneakered feet on the old wood.

"Hey, Otis," his lover said softly, sitting down beside him. "Thought this is where you'd be."

Face nodded; it was dark but not too dark to see each other. Words weren't necessary.

"Having second thoughts?"

Face shook his head. "No," he said after a moment. "Just thoughts. Just thinking."

"Not thinking about sailing somewhere, are you?"

Face had to laugh. "On a night like this? No." Murdock was quiet a moment too long and Face turned to look at him. "Hey," he said softly. "Don't you remember what I said? I meant it."

"Remember--?" Murdock started, then, "Oh."

It had just been a couple of weeks ago, before their last mission for Stockwell. They'd been out on the Bay in the nameless boat, and Murdock had said, "So, when you gonna teach me?"

"When you teach me how to fly."

Murdock's face had lit up in that triumphant grin of his. "I knew this was the same thing. I knew it."

Face had shaken his head. "I don't know... maybe. It's my boat. I feel at home in it. Free."

"Her. And I knew it."

"Her?"

"She's a her, not an it," Murdock had said.

"Just because you call your planes 'she'."

"It's the same thing."

"You know," Face had said provocatively, to avoid yet another argument about naming it, "in Russian they're he's."

"Well, you better not start calling it 'he'. Most people would think you were nuts, and it'd make me very uneasy." Murdock had paused and then pretended to be serious. "In fact, maybe it's a good thing you say 'it', all things considered."

Not without a slight pang of something that might have been guilt, Face had laughed and then the sail had begun to luff a bit and he'd brought the boat around sharply, back into the wind.

"Whoa!" Murdock had grabbed the railing line. "Call her anything you want... Or are we not going to the Inner Harbor after all?"

Face had shaken his head. "No, we are. The wind's just shifting... You know, it's funny. I never would, I suppose, but when I get on board I feel like I could."

"Could what?"

Face had smiled. "Anything. Sail to the Bahamas or St. Kitts. Just..." he shook his head. "Disappear."

"Sounds tempting," Murdock had said. He had sounded as though he really understood the impulse. He probably did; not only was he, or had he been, a creature of impulse himself, but he was shot through with darkness like Face was. In the pilot it was a bittersweet darkness, like chocolate, but it was closer to Face than most people were. "Just promise me one thing, muchacho."

"And that would be?" Face made no promises blind even when he wanted to. And Murdock understood that, too.

"Take me with you if you go." Murdock had been grinning but the words had been serious.

"I will," Face had said. "Be ready."

"Ready?" Murdock had snickered. "It'd take you a month to decide."

"Maybe," Face had conceded. "But once I did--"

"We'll get there fast and then we'll take it slow," Murdock had started singing, snapping his fingers, "that's where I want to go-oooo, down to Kokomo!" He'd started almost dancing in his seat, his hands and shoulders punctuating the lyrics. "Oh, Aruba, Jamaica, ooo I wanna take you to Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama! Key Largo, Montego, baby why don't we go?"

Face had let the wind pull the sheets through his hands, one foot resting on the boom, and listened to Murdock sing. He never would just tack the boat around and head out to sea, almost certainly wouldn't even stock up on provisions and do it, but it didn't really matter. Murdock was his impulsive flight. He smiled, the Beach Boys' Caribbean dream enveloping them both: Murdock was his eventual destination, his errant journey, his base camp, his travelling companion, his light in the window, his ticket to ride... An old poster slogan, originally from WWII and reworked for the '60s, came to his mind: Is this trip necessary?

He had laughed out loud. Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

Murdock had looked up at him, his brown eyes sparkling, and laughed back.

Now the pilot shrugged, looking through the night out over the boat at the dark shore and the darker water, and then back at Face. "I remember, I do," he said softly. "But sometimes I worry."

"You don't have to," Face said. "I'm not going anywhere. Well, I am, of course, but not alone."

Murdock leaned against him, not speaking.

"Which reminds me," Face added. "I'm not particularly."

"Not what, hon?"

"Otis." He leaned back on braced arms for a minute, looking up at the clouds. "I mean, I may be sitting in the evening, and I may be watching the tide roll in, and I may be wasting time, and I may be three thousand miles from home, and I may even be staying pretty much the same--"

Murdock snorted at him. "What? It's not Frisco? There's no ships?"

"No loneliness," Face corrected him. "Not any more."

Their eyes met and then Murdock leaned close and kissed him. Face hadn't been consciously making a pass, but the touch of Murdock's lips, the taste of him, sizzled across his nerves and his body responded without thought. He pushed off the boat and bore Murdock gently down onto the dock, kissing his face and throat, nibbling on his ear, coming back to that sweet and talented mouth... Murdock's hands were inside his shirt, warm on his skin in the cool evening, teasing and arousing. Face pulled away, breathing deeply, and Murdock moaned in wordless protest, trying to drag him back. "Let's go back to the house."

"No," Murdock protested. "Too far. And Hannibal an' BA--"

"And if they come looking for us?" Face shook his head. "Or one or both of the kids come by for some reason? I'm not doing this on the dock."

"No. Okay," Murdock said confusingly. "Come here then."

Face stared. Murdock was halfway onto the boat. "Are you crazy?"

"Not any more and I've got the papers to prove it. Come on, Face; it's inside."

"It's stripped."

"There's a door..." Murdock pulled at his hand and he let the pilot bring him on board and into a close embrace. "And if somebody comes," Murdock added, grinding his hips into Face as he spoke, "well, if the boat's a rockin'--"

Face laughed and steered Murdock backwards down the two steps, not letting go as he did.

The little cabin was even darker than the night. Face had been nervous of making love to Murdock in the dark at first, worried he might say the wrong name. He never had with a woman, no matter how casual, but Frankie had been his only male lover, and for so long... But even in the deepest blackness Murdock was so much himself it had never happened and Face no longer feared it. He almost never even thought of Frankie now, just sometimes Frankie liked this, will Murdock? And the answer wasn't always 'yes', which helped...

Otherwise the dark didn't hamper him at all. Nor Murdock either. They stripped each other by feel, breaking apart only long enough to pull their shirts over their heads. Murdock grabbed the initiative, his hands and mouth teasing and arousing. Then, suddenly, he stopped and sat up, finding Face's cheek in the dark with his fingers and leaning over to kiss him, hard. "Fuck me, Face."

"No," he said, though God knew he wanted to. "No. Finish me."

Murdock had rolled them over, Face on top, and his legs were spread. He thrust his hips up, sending a spasm of need through Face's body. "Please, Face. I want you inside me."

Face pulled out of the embrace, sitting back on his heels, catching Murdock's wrists to hold him down. "No."

"Face--"

"No," he said again. "You don't have K-Y in your pocket, so no. Period. End of discussion." He put an end to even the monosyllabic protests by letting go of Murdock's wrists and pushing a finger inside his lover while he took him in his mouth. Murdock moaned, caught between two urgent pleasures. The pilot's long fingers slid into Face's hair as he reacted and though the darkness hid his expression, Face could see it in his mind. Murdock howled when he came and that, coupled with the image in Face's imagination, was almost enough to send him over the edge himself. Murdock's strong hand closed over his after a few strokes and it took only a few more before he came, Murdock's mouth fierce on his and then gentle. They lay together in the darkness for a few moments, and then Murdock spoke, his voice soft and breathless.

"Why is it, even when you win I feel like I've won?"

That had the ring of rhetoric to it, but Face answered it anyway. "I think it's called love."

"Yeah..." Murdock sighed. "That sounds right to me." After a moment he spoke again. "Hey, Face?"

Here it comes. Face smiled and said, "Yes?"

Murdock pulled away a little. It was too dark to see him, but ears keen by nature and trained by experience told Face what he was doing: rolling onto his side, propping himself on his elbow, reaching out a hand and then stopping and letting it drop... Okay, that last was a guess, but the soft sound of tapping pretty much confirmed it. "It wasn't dark when you came out. I mean, there were a lot of clouds so the sunset wasn't going to be good, but..."

"No," Face agreed innocently. "It wasn't dark yet."

"So when you came down here you could see the boat?"

"I came down here to see the boat," Face pointed out. Cal's note had apologized for not getting it out of the water (some unspecified thing had come up) and offered to help them the next day if they needed it.

"So," Murdock said a bit tentatively, "you saw what Cal painted on her?"

"Yes," Face said. "I saw it."

"So, what do you think?"

"I think, this boat doesn't need a name."

"Face," Murdock protested, as he had already a dozen times; he was way worse about that than Frankie had ever been. "Boats need names."

"They don't answer when you call them." Face kept his voice from showing what he really thought.

"Neither do cats, but they have names!"

"Cats do so come when you call them. I've known plenty of cats that came when I called them."

"When you call 'em, maybe."

Face ignored that. "Anyway, cats are alive."

"So are boats. Well, they seem alive. And they need names. This one needed a name."

"Murdock, I'm kidding you." Face relented. "I like it."

Even in the darkness he could picture the look on Murdock's face. "Really?" His delight was palpable.

"Really," Face assured him. It had taken him a few minutes to place the words that had been on the boat's hull, but finally he'd remembered the old Lettermen hit. He'd never cared for the movie, but he'd liked the song. There's a summer place Where it may rain or storm Yet I'm safe and warm For within that summer place Your arms reach out to me And my heart is free from all care. The words had passed through his mind, starting the train of thought that had kept him out on the dock long after the sun had set, finally bringing Murdock out to look for him and to prove them right.

He reached out in the darkness, unerringly finding Murdock's hair and brushing it back. "I love it. It's perfect."

Murdock caught his hand and laced his fingers through Face's. "I thought so."

"Well, you were right. I admit it." He pulled their hands to his lips and kissed Murdock's fingers. "We'd better get back before Hannibal decides we've drowned."

"I don't think he'll come looking for us," Murdock said, but he sat up anyway. "But I guess we ought to, anyway."

As they walked along the dock toward the shore, Face looked back at the boat, spending its last night on the East Coast. Now it was too dark to see the words painted on the stern, but nonetheless he thought he could. Summer Place.

It was just like they'd always said, the nuns: Home is where the heart is.

He smiled and reached out to take Murdock's hand.

Yes.

The End