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"Neverness"

"Neverness"

Author:            Shadowwalker213

Rating:             PG-13

Disclaimer:      The characters from the series 'A-Team' and any other characters used from television and film belong to their relevant owners and are used here only for pleasure and not for profit. Any similarities with real life characters or situations          are unintentional and coincidental.

Summary:        When a mission goes terribly wrong, the team members, two in particular, learn more about themselves than perhaps they really want to.

Notes:              Adopted from Silverstar.

Warnings:        None so far

Copyright:        October 2005

**********************************************************************************************************

Our greatest pretenses are built up not to hide the evil and the ugly in us, but our emptiness. The hardest thing to hide is something that is not there. --- Eric Hoffer

 

CHAPTER ONE

It started out, as so many of their jobs did, with the adrenaline flowing and the Jazz turned on high. It ended with Hannibal demoralized and guilt-ridden, Murdock back at the VA, submerged in deep depression, and BA on near self-destruct mode.

They were the lucky ones.

*****

"Hannibal!"

The Colonel hurried across the floor of the storage building, where Face was waiting with a wide grin. With a flourish, he pushed open a rusty door. Hannibal looked past him into the semi-dark room, his grin immediately matching his lieutenant's.

Scattered across the floor were an assortment of old car parts, mechanic's tools, and various other flotsam and jetsam of a once-busy auto shop. Yes, the parts were rusted and yes, some were obviously past any use to anyone, but to Hannibal and Face, it was treasure.

BA was less optimistic.

"You outta your minds, both of ya."

"C'mon, BA, you know you can do it! There's nothing you can't do with some old parts and some tools!" Face was going overboard with the enthusiasm, but he knew how to play BA. The more enthusiastically his gifts were praised, the harder he worked to uphold that praise. And regardless of the poor condition, they had nothing else to work with.

BA grumbled some more, but with his three teammates cheering him on, he moved through the room, picking up this, tossing aside that, until finally he stopped and looked over at Hannibal.

"I can't guarantee nothin, Hannibal, but I guess I can come up with somethin."

Hannibal grinned, delightedly lighting a cigar. "I knew it, BA. Now, tell us what to do..."

*****

Hannibal walked slowly across the parking lot. He'd left for an hour or so, needing, not so much to get something to eat, but to get away from here for a while. He felt guilty, leaving him, but then, Face didn't know much of what was going on around him anyway.

He walked down the hallway, half an eye watching for MP's. So far, their cover story was holding up. It had helped that the client, well known in the community, had gone out of his way to play along. It took only a few minutes to reach the ICU and move past the desk to the room.

Inside, Face lay on the bed, sleeping. He wasn't as heavily sedated as he had been, and he was breathing more easily now. Another couple of days, the doctors said, and he would be able to breathe completely on his own. A few more days and he would be released. After that, the doctors had a list of plastic surgeons they could try.

Try.

Hannibal moved the chair closer to the window, unable to make himself sit too close to the bed. As if he wasn't worthy.

He stared at the glass of the window, unwilling to look at his lieutenant except through the reflection. He wondered if he would ever be able to look him in the eye again.

*****

When it was finished, BA stood back, critically eyeing the contraption. He wasn't happy with it, not at all. Standing next to him, Face's initial enthusiasm waned visibly.

"Well, it's not exactly..." He stopped, unsure how to describe what he was looking at. It was supposed to be a transformed van, armor-encrusted, with two stout catapults at the sides for launching the age-hardened tires. It looked, instead, like the van had transformed itself into a rusty crustacean.

"No, it ain't 'exactly'. I tol you there weren't no guarantees." BA shook his head, tossing a heavy wrench to the ground. "I don't know, Hannibal. I don't think this is gonna work. I know this isn't gonna work."

"Nonsense, BA! It'll work just fine. And after all, it only has to work for a few minutes. By then we'll have the bad guys on the run and won't need it any more."

"Yeah, Big Guy, have a little faith in yourself. 'Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings.' Samuel Johnson." Murdock smiled, satisfied.

"Motivational therapy, Murdock?" Face looked at the pilot, skeptical.

"In spades, Faceman. You wouldn't believe how much more confidence I feel after..."

"Okay, Murdock, we can go into the details later. Right now, we've got some bad guys to flatten." Hannibal nodded his head, and the team headed for their respective positions - Hannibal in the van with BA, Murdock and Face each in a jeep confiscated earlier from the enemy camp. As BA's monster van rumbled out of the garage, the two jeeps pulled up to flank it, forming a wedge of steel.

It looked more impressive than it was.

*****

BA mumbled angrily at the valve which refused to move. It was rusted shut and no amount of grease, canned or elbow, would move it. The big man rested on his elbows, the wrench hanging loosely from his hand. He stared at the rusty valve. Stared at the rust.

Rust.

He knew better. He knew it wouldn't work. He shoulda stuck to his guns. He shoulda told Hannibal to forget it, right from the start. Should never have started in the first place.

What did Hannibal know, anyway? And Face? Face didn't know nothin about mechanics. Not enough, anyways. They put their faith in him, in BA. The Mechanical Genius.

Yeah, right.

BA sighed, wiped the sweat from his face, and pushed away from the engine. He couldn't work on it any more. Didn't want to work on it any more.

Didn't want to look at anything mechanical.

The door slammed behind him.

*****

Murdock, on the left, a crazed grin on his face, watched out of the corner of his eye as the first volley sailed off. The tire hit the small tin shed where the bad guys were hold up, producing a thunderous bang as the corner tilted dangerously inward. He pressed on the accelerator, grabbing the semi-automatic as he aimed for the building.

He heard, rather than saw, the second volley. It didn't sound right. And it didn't look right. Because no tire went sailing into the building. Instead, there was a screech of metal, a heavy thudding noise...and a cry of pain. Terrible pain. Followed by the unmistakable sound of a vehicle skidding on the blacktop, rolling, crashing.

He watched as the van came to a barely-controlled stop. Watched as BA and Hannibal stumbled out. Watched as the bad guys raced from the shed and took off. His jeep came to a slow, rolling stop. He stepped out, rifle still in his hand. Walked slowly toward the van, which sat, the engine ticking, a metallic groan coming from the far side. Stepped around the van. Watched BA and Hannibal struggling to pull Face from under the overturned jeep.

Saw what happened when pieces of hard, catapulted tire hit flesh.

CHAPTER TWO

"You've seen him? I mean, visited?"

"No. Not yet. I'm gonna...just...not yet..."

"I wanted to go, but Hannibal said no." Murdock sighed, brushed some dust off the windowsill. He stared out at the grounds. "He said Face was doing better, though. They're going to take out the breathing tube tomorrow. Hannibal said, anyway. That's good. I guess."

"Yeah. Yeah, that's good."

"Hannibal won't say much about...well, I mean...he looked...he looked pretty bad, y'know, out there...but he'll be okay...right?"

"How would I know? I ain't no doctor..."

Murdock looked over at BA, who sat, hunched over, on the bed. BA didn't come to the VA unless he had to, to pick up Murdock. He never visited. But he'd shown up tonight for some reason. And no earrings, no gold. And his hair was cut short. He looked...well, he didn't look like BA anymore. Murdock almost asked him about it, but then, it didn't really matter. Just like it didn't matter how he'd gotten in.

Murdock sighed. Nothing seemed to matter much, lately.

When he and BA had left the hospital, BA hadn't said where they were going. Murdock hadn't really cared. He was a little mad - no, a lot mad - that Hannibal had made him leave. But by the time they got to the van, the anger was gone. Seemed like almost everything was gone. He'd felt...empty. Except he was nervous-like. Kept getting a little tremble inside that would run up his stomach to his chest and...ping. That was the only way he could describe it. Ping.

He didn't really notice when they pulled up at the VA. BA had Murdock stay in the van while he walked over to a phone booth and made a call. A few minutes after BA came back, Dr. Richter had come and taken him inside.

And he'd just kinda watched out the window since then. Didn't know what he was watching for. It was just...better...that he watch.

Hannibal had called him a couple of times, to let him know about stuff, but the voice over the phone didn't mean much. It was hard to listen to him. Hard to talk to him. Nothing to look at. Nothing to keep out the distractions. Then BA had come. That was different. Then Murdock had a fa...something to look at. Someone to talk 'with'. But after a while, Murdock didn't want to talk any more than BA did.

For a long time, they remained silent, BA sitting on the bed, Murdock leaning against the window.

There wasn't much to say.

*****

Hannibal was sitting in the waiting room. Had been for what seemed like hours. No, didn't seem like it. Had been. Normally, he would have been sitting in with Face, talking to him, giving him the old pep talk whether Face could hear him or not.

He couldn't do that.

Their client had shown up, earlier. The bad guys had cleared out, but given what the team had been able to collect on them, the sheriff was chasing them down. The two men had discussed the whole case, a debriefing of a sort, out in the waiting room, and when the client left, Hannibal had stayed there.

He glanced around him, looking at others who also had been thrown off balance by fate. Families and friends, all taking a respite from the claustrophobic cubicles where their loved ones struggled. All waiting.

His was the only solo act, and he found he didn't care for it. Hannibal had hoped BA would show up but, again today, he had not. It was almost a given that, whenever one of them got seriously hurt, the others would feel varying degrees of guilt, wondering if there might have been something they could have done to prevent it. That was normal for them. They got over it.

But BA wasn't letting go of it this time. Hannibal hadn't seen him since that first day, when they'd rushed Face into the emergency room. Once the doctors had given their report, BA had walked out, taking Murdock with him, and hadn't been back. He had called the hospital later that day to tell Hannibal that Murdock was back the VA. BA didn't say it, but Hannibal knew from the tone of voice that the pilot wasn't doing very well.

Hannibal had expected that. He was worried, but just knowing Murdock was with Dr. Richter took a lot of that load off. But who was BA with? Hannibal had called him, but it seemed BA always had something to do, someplace to go. Anything to get off the phone. It was troubling. It wasn't right. BA had the least of any of them to feel guilty about. He'd warned them. Practically hit them over the head with his concerns. But they had ignored him. Hannibal had practically ordered him to build the damn thing. What could go wrong? It wouldn't work just right? So they'd improvise, like they always did.

Who would have thought...well, Hannibal should have...

He looked around the room again. Families and friends talking quietly, sharing their fears, their hopes. Hannibal sighed, softly. Not that he felt like talking to anyone. But there was something about having another person there. Someone else who knew...

Then again, who knew about something like this? Getting the hell beaten out of you by the bad guys, that they knew about. Getting shot, or stabbed, yeah. Been there, done that. Even the possibility of one of them getting killed was something they'd adjusted to, were prepared for.

But not this. This was something none of them had thought about. Having something happen that would...change things. Not something that would mend or heal and then they would move on like before. Not something that they would speak of later with ironic humor and a certain survivor's pride. Not even something they would grieve before eventually going on to live their lives.

This was something different, something that would not heal, or be joked about, or go away.

Something that would change...everything.

He looked around the room again. No, he didn't like being here, alone.

*****

"Mr. Baracus..."

BA stopped dead, every reflex saying run like hell. But the MPs never called him 'Mr. Baracus', and never spoke softly. He turned. Pursed his lips, resigned.

"Hey, doc."

"Did Murdock talk to you?"

BA shrugged his shoulders. "A little. Not much."

Richter sighed. "Well, that's more than he's done with me. I ask him questions and he either ignores me or just smiles and shakes his head."

"Yeah. He ain't doin so good."

"What about you, BA? If I may call you that..."

"Don't matter, doc."

"That seems to be the consensus. Hannibal have the same outlook?"

BA looked down the hall, then at the floor. "Don't know. Haven't talked to him much."

"Why is that?"

BA scowled up at the doctor. "He's got other things to do right now."

"Like worrying over Face?"

"Yeah. Exactly."

"You're worried, too."

"O' course I am."

"It must be hard, seeing him like that."

BA swallowed. "I ain't seen him. Not since it happened."

Dr. Richter didn't seem surprised. BA wondered if Hannibal had already told him.

"Will you see him? Anytime soon?"

"I don't know."

"You think he'll blame you."

"No. I don't think he'll blame anybody. I just...I don't want to see him. Y'know? I don't want to see him."

"He won't look like that forever. There's plastic..."

"I know!" BA took a deep breath, made his voice softer. "I know. But can't no surgery fix all that. I ain't no doctor, but even I know that much." BA looked straight into Richter's eyes. "I don't go see him, 'cause I can't stand that he ain't Face no more. I don't even wanna call him that. 'Cause now, that's just cruel. That's all that is."

BA turned, walked slowly down the hall.

"...just cruel..."

*****

Hannibal woke with a start. A nurse was standing beside him. The day nurse, Sandy. He looked at the light coming in the windows.

"Were you here all night again? You're going to wear yourself out, John, and then what good will you be to Tim?"

"I must have dozed off. What time is it?"

"Seven. I just got here. Do you want to go home and get some sleep? We won't be removing the tube until later in the morning."

Hannibal stifled a yawn. He would love, more than anything, to go home and get some real sleep. But he knew if he went near a bed, he'd never make it back to the hospital in time. And he had to be there when they removed the breathing tube. He had to make sure...

"Well, maybe I will run home and take a shower, clean up a bit, anyway. What time should I be back?"

Sandy frowned. Much as she admired the man's devotion, she really didn't need him here as a patient. And he would be if he didn't start taking care of himself. But she had learned over the past few days that he was stubborn as a mule and totally devoted to his friend. A combination impossible to reason with.

"The doctor's scheduled it for eleven, but that's not set in stone. It depends on what else happens between now and then, but I can make sure it doesn't happen before ten."

"All right then, I'll be back at ten. I'll just go in and let him know I'm leaving." He smiled brightly at her, both of them knowing it was manufactured.

Face was still sleeping. Or what the nurses called sleeping. Hannibal knew it was the drugs, and the brain injury. At least the doctors were optimistic about that. His motor reflexes were good. Once they got him off the painkillers completely and let him come out of it, they'd know for sure. Hannibal looked forward to that with dread. He chose to believe the doctors, that the brain injury was minor. He'd really only caught a couple glancing blows from the flying debris.

He shook his head. Glancing blows. Right. Sounded so...minor. If any of it had gone a half inch closer, they would've buried him. As it was...

That's what Hannibal dreaded. What would happen when Face woke up. When they told him. When he could see for himself...

He stopped in the doorway, looked back one more time before leaving.

"Sorry, kid. God, I'm sorry..."

CHAPTER THREE

Hannibal shut the door to the apartment and leaned heavily against it. It had taken all his concentration not to close his eyes and sleep on the drive over. Three whole blocks. He had to have a shower. Hot as hell to clean up, ice cold after to wake up. But first he had a phone call to make. And he wasn't going to be nice this time.

It took several rings before the phone was picked up.

"Yeah..."

"BA, I want you at the hospital by ten."

"Wha...I don't know, Hannibal. I gotta..."

"You 'gotta' nothing, BA. They're taking out the tube this morning. That means he has to be awake. That means he needs us there. Both of us. Ten o'clock. Sharp." He hung up.

Hannibal practically slammed the phone down. He looked at it, looked at his hand, still gripping it tightly. Looked at the tremble.

Why the hell did he feel so angry?

*****

BA stood there, listening to the dial tone, then sighed and placed the receiver gently down. There was no getting around this. He knew, eventually, he'd have to go. And when Murdock had told him about the tube yesterday, he'd known Hannibal would be calling him. He took a deep breath, looked up at the ceiling. He almost hadn't answered the phone. Almost. But he knew if he hadn't, Hannibal woulda been over here.

He looked at the clock. He had a couple hours to kill before he had to be there. He stood in the middle of the living room, staring at the carpet. Not thinking, but thinking a mile a minute. Maybe that was how Murdock felt sometimes.

"...he needs us there..."

Maybe BA needed to be there. For BA.

Maybe it was time.

Forty minutes later, he was walking down the corridor toward the ICU. He stopped at the desk. He felt ashamed that he didn't even know what room Face was in...

"Can I help you?" A petite nurse stepped up to the desk. Her name tag said "Sandy".

"Uh, yeah, I'm lookin for..." Damn, what name had they used? "Uh, Tim..."

"Oh, you must be BA. John said you would be coming, but I didn't realize you'd be here so early. Tim's over here." She bustled around the desk, smiling at him. He followed mutely. She wasn't giving him time to prepare. He really wanted some time...

She took his arm gently, leading through the door. Right up to the bed. He looked everywhere but at him.

"I know it's hard." She spoke softly, close to him, not wanting Face to hear. "I understand why you haven't come to visit before this. I've seen it many times before. Especially with this kind of injury." She stepped back a little, still speaking softly but apparently not worried about Face hearing the rest. "He's still pretty much out of it, but he'll be gradually waking up now. Once he's awake enough to understand what we're doing, the doctor will proceed with the removal. He's done well when we've removed it temporarily, and the doctor thinks it's time to get rid of it completely."

Sandy smiled up at him. Encouraging. No condemnation. No judgment.

"Do you want to look at him now?" Voice again soft. A gentle hand on his arm.

He took a breath. And looked.

*****

Hannibal had stepped out of the cold water feeling almost human again. A couple cups of coffee, strong coffee, and he was ready to go again. He knew, of course, that it was only a temporary fix. Just as he knew Sandy was right about his needing to take it easy. The last thing the team needed was for Hannibal to land flat on his back.

They were in enough trouble already.

He wondered if BA would actually show up at the hospital. He hoped so. He really, really hoped so. Selfishly, he wanted someone else there, someone to help carry the load. But he also knew BA needed to be there. Needed to face the demons. And it was also true, what he had said to BA.

Face needed him. He needed all of them.

Hannibal wished Murdock could come. But he didn't dare chance it. Murdock had been almost polar opposite to BA in his reactions. In the jeep on the way to the hospital, he'd stared at Face. Never looked up, not all the way in. Just held his hand and stared. And afterward, in the recovery room, when Face had been covered in bandages and blood, and tubes and machines had practically hidden him from view, Murdock had stood by the bed and stared, moving his head to see around the apparatus. Looked him over as if memorizing every inch of him.

Never said a word.

Never expressed any emotion.

Just...stared.

Only when Hannibal told BA to get Murdock out had he reacted at all. In anger. And yet, the moment BA took his arm, he shut up and walked out, albeit sullenly.

Hannibal had kept in touch with Murdock by phone, letting him know what was going on. He knew things were not going well for him. He was so easily distracted, many times Hannibal had to repeat himself. He'd also kept in touch with Dr. Richter. They were both worried.

Maybe, once Face was better, once he had healed up some, they could bring Murdock to visit. Either at the hospital, or the apartment. Maybe he just needed to see Face, to make sure he was okay. Alive, at least.

Or maybe it would push him right over the edge. It was so hard to tell...

*****

It was both better and worse than he had expected.

The ‘better’ was that most of his face was covered with gauze. A heavier bandage covered the area over his left cheek, eye and forehead. No blood. No dirt. No gore.

The 'worse' was that most of his face was covered in gauze. What little skin BA could see was either pale, almost dead looking, or marred by angry red slashes. Where the scars would be. The lesser scars.

He looked again at the heavy bandage. That's what had pushed him away to begin with. Knowing what was under that bandage.

Or rather, what wasn't.

"Are you okay?"

He'd forgotten about Sandy, still standing close by, hand on his arm. He looked down at her.

"Yeah. Yeah. I'll be okay." He looked back at Face. Even knowing what he did, he felt better now. Somehow, he had hope. Face looked so much better, with clean, white bandages. Like someone was supposed to who was healing, who would get better. He would get better. BA could think that, now.

Sandy looked at him closely, nodded. She pulled a chair up, nearer the bed. Giving him a last encouraging smile, she quietly stepped out of the room.

BA stood for another moment, looking at him, thinking, planning. Then he slowly sat down in the chair, reached across and took Face's right hand, careful of the IV. He held it gently, but firmly.

He wanted Face to know he was there.

*****

It was getting lighter. He remembered that. From before. Everything would get lighter, and then there would be voices. There would be pressure, on his neck. And then it would get hard to breathe. The pressure would be back and miraculously, he could breathe again. It had happened several times. Each time, it was a little easier.

This time, the voices said something about letting him do it on his own. He wasn't sure, exactly, what they meant, but he tried to nod his head, let them think he understood. It hurt to do that, though. A lot. He tried to talk, but his mouth wouldn't move. At all. He started to panic. The voices came back, closer. Something about wires. Wires. They'd wired his jaw. Because of the accident.

Okay.

Yeah.

The accident. He remembered that. Mostly.

BA's monster machine. Something had gone wrong. He hadn't seen what, just heard it. And then something hit him, hard, in the head. And shoulder. His side. Hard. He remembered the pain, terrible pain, and watching his jeep careen to the side, rolling over. And then he'd blacked out.

There were just snapshot memories after that. Bright lights. Voices. Pain.

And Hannibal.

He opened his eyes a little wider. Well, his right eye. There was something covering the other one. He tried to look for Hannibal, but it was hard to get his eye to move. It hurt, even that little movement hurt. Damn.

And then he was there. Hannibal. Leaning down close. Smiling. But even with his fuzzy vision, Face knew he was worried about something. It was there in his eyes. Hannibal was talking to him, saying something, but Face couldn't quite make out the words.

Hannibal moved away. Again, Face felt panicky. He didn't want to be left alone. He tried to call out, but his voice wouldn't work. And those damn wires...

And then BA was there, in Hannibal's place. Holding his hand. Talking to him. His voice was different from Hannibal's. Dumb. He knew their voices were different; it just seemed like now he really noticed it.

He tried to smile at BA, but he was getting tired again. At the same time, he didn't want them to go. Not now. He tried to squeeze BA's hand, to hold him there. It must have worked.

BA squeezed back, and didn't go.

CHAPTER FOUR

"I really wish you had waited, Doc." Hannibal chewed on the unlit cigar. His voice was calm, but there was a spark in his eye that the doctor didn't miss.

"I know you wanted to be there when I talked to him, Mr. Smith, but he asked. I can't very well tell a patient they can't hear about their condition until their friends arrive. That would only have caused more anxiety, and he was clearly worried enough. Besides, he took the news very well, all things considered."

Hannibal looked at BA, both of them knowing what that meant. No one, including Hannibal, could give an Oscar-winner like Face could. There was no way he would ever let a stranger, even his doctor, know what was really going on inside. And now he'd had more than an hour to think about things, without them. Which meant he'd already decided how to 'handle' the team.

Damn.

Sighing heavily, Hannibal nodded at BA and the two men continued down the hall to Face's room.

He'd been moved to a private room the day after the breathing tube had been removed and he was no longer considered 'at risk'. His voice was gradually coming back, although it was difficult to understand what he was saying because of the wired jaw. Then again, he hadn't had a lot to say. The conversations had mainly centered on the job. He hadn't asked or said anything about his injuries to either Hannibal or BA. Which only made his asking the doctor, when they weren't there, all the more worrisome.

Hannibal pushed open the door and stopped. Face was sitting on the edge of the bed, back to the door, staring out the window. They'd had him up and walking around with an aide several times a day for the last couple of days. If everything stayed on an even keel, he would be released the next day. At the sound of the door opening, he spun around, a little too quickly. BA was at his side instantly, grabbing his good arm to keep him from falling off the bed.

"Whoa, man, take it easy. You okay?" BA looked anxiously at him.

"Yeah, jus lil dizzy..." He let BA gently push him down on the bed, sighing as he came to a rest against the pillows. Face closed his right eye.

Hannibal tried not to look at the bandages on the left side of his face, but it was hard not to. He turned to BA, wondering how to start. BA shook his head and watched out the window, making it clear whose job he thought this was. Hannibal sighed, resigned, and moved to the side of the bed.

"We saw your doctor. He said he talked to you about your injuries."

"Yeah."

"You want to talk about it?"

"Nothin to talk 'bout."

"Look, I know this isn't easy, kid, but we..."

"Tired, Hannibal." Face slid further down on the bed, pulling the sheet over himself.

"We have to talk sometime, Face." Hannibal winced as soon as he said it. BA turned his head, glaring at him. But Face seemed to ignore it.

"Later..."

"Okay, kid." Hannibal leaned close to the bed. "But we're here for you. You remember that."

He signaled to BA and the two men headed for the door. Hannibal looked back before letting the door close completely.

Face was softly hitting his fist on the bed.

*****

He hadn't lied to Hannibal. There was nothing to talk about. And he really was tired. He'd taken a little excursion, after the doctor had left. Unauthorized, unsupervised. But necessary.

He'd known, of course, that things were serious. That these weren't the every day, moan-and-groan-then-walk-away-from-it injuries. It was obvious there were some major problems. Which was why he hadn't asked Hannibal about them. Why he waited until he knew Hannibal and the guys wouldn't be around before he asked the doctor. He didn't need their interference, or their lies, however well-meaning. He needed the truth, complete and unvarnished. And that's exactly what he'd gotten.

He listened without saying a word as the doctor went through everything. Whenever the doctor had hesitated, he'd just waved his hand, impatiently, wanting, needing to hear everything. Listened just as quietly as the doctor had gone through the therapies and surgeries and corrective measures. When he'd heard how long it would take, when he'd heard what couldn't be done, only then had he spoken.

He'd thanked the doctor, and asked him to leave. After a moment's hesitation, the doctor had complied.

He'd waited a few minutes, not really thinking about anything. Just...not being. And then he'd carefully moved to the edge of the bed, and slid off, holding tightly to the railing with his good hand. His left leg and hip ached badly, but the bones were only bruised, not broken. He would manage. After all, he'd walked up and down the hallway several times. Okay, with an aide practically holding him up, but he'd done it. He could manage the ten or twelve feet to the bathroom on his own.

It was slow progress, grasping the bed, then the bureau, finally the door to the bathroom. Trying to keep the dizziness from overwhelming him. A couple of times he nearly missed his handhold, misjudging the distance. But finally he was in front of the sink. In front of the mirror.

He leaned heavily on the sink, catching his breath, not yet having the nerve to look up, to look at the mirror. He felt cold. But he forced himself to look up.

He felt the air go out of him. No. No, that couldn't...that couldn't possibly be him. Not...that...thing...

*****

"Whatcha think, Hannibal?"

"You know what he's doing as well as I do, BA."

"You gonna let him get by with it?"

Hannibal lit his cigar, puffed slowly. They were standing outside the hospital, in the shade of a large oak. Just behind them and to the right, up four stories, was Face's window. Hannibal was watching it as they spoke.

"Yeah, BA, I am. For now. Once he's out of the hospital, settled in at the apartment, then we'll have to deal with it. But right now, I think he needs to be in control of things, as much as he can, anyway. So we'll give him some room. Just not too much." Hannibal frowned.

"You don't think he'll do anythin stupid, do ya?" BA followed Hannibal's gaze up to the window above, then looked back when there was no response. "Hannibal?"

"I don't think he intends to, BA. But we'll keep an eye on things. Sometimes, impulses kinda take over. We just need to make sure we're around if that happens."

BA looked out toward the street. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day. So why did he feel so damn cold?

*****

He had stared at the reflection in the mirror for some time, staring at every inch of gauze. Finally, he reached up, slowly, with his right hand. It took some doing, but he got the fastener off the end of the bandage, and slowly drew it away from his face. Methodically, mechanically, he removed each piece, dropping them heedlessly on the floor. When only the dressing over his cheek and eye was left, he had stopped. Taken inventory.

He ignored the myriad scrapes, thin cuts and bruises. Those he could've gotten in any fist fight. What he looked at were the stitches. Dozens of stitches. Hundreds. Hell, thousands. Around his jaw, his lips, his nose. The doctor had said they had to do a lot of work, not only closing wounds but on broken bones. Lots of broken bones.

But this...

He felt sick. He shivered. But he had to finish. He had to.

He reached up again. His hand shook, and he hesitated, forced himself to calm. He took hold of the dressing's edge, and slowly peeled it down. When he got a good start, he closed his eye before continuing. When he felt the bandage painfully release from his cheek and fall against his wrist, he dropped his arm, letting the dressing join the rest of the gauze on the floor. Taking another deep breath, he looked.

He realized immediately that what he had previously seen was the good part. The part he might have been able to cope with.

With the dressing gone, there was nothing supporting the left side of his face. It sagged. Like Sister Agnes' face had sagged after her stroke. The cheek was sunken, horribly discolored. Even the bone above his eye seemed distorted, and his eyelid lie useless.

He stared at that eyelid.

With one last shudder, he lifted the eyelid. And looked, fascinated, sick.

There was absolutely nothing there...

*****

Sandy had watched when the doctor walked out of Tim's room. She'd been there when he had asked, through those horrible wires, for "the whole story". She would look in on him shortly, knowing that patients usually needed some time alone after such a session. Particularly in cases like this. So she waited until she felt he'd had time to get over the initial blow.

She was on her way in when she heard the low moan coming from his room. For a moment, she hesitated. She didn't want to intrude on his grieving, but at the same time, sometimes patients got overwrought and did things they regretted later. She would just step inside, to see what was happening. If he was otherwise all right, she could leave without disturbing him.

The first thing she saw when she opened the door was the empty bed. That was all she needed. She rushed in, immediately checking the far side of the bed to see if he had fallen. That's when she heard the choked off sob. From the bathroom.

Damn!

She rushed in, expecting to find him crumpled on the floor, or sitting on the toilet seat, distraught and crying. Instead, she was horrified to see him leaning against the sink, his head against the mirror, his dressings scattered on the floor around him. She knew immediately what he had done.

"Tim! Tim, come on, hon, let's get you back to the bed, Tim, come on..." She gently took him by the shoulders and pulled him away from the sink. Wrapping his right arm around her shoulder, she got him moving out into his room. He leaned heavily against her, barely walking on his own. The moment she got him sitting on the bed safely, she pushed the button for help. Two more nurses came hurrying in, and together they got him back into bed. Sandy stayed with him while the doctor was called.

It took some time to replace the dressings. The doctor softly scolded him, but there was just a bit of admiration in his voice. It took guts to do what Tim had done, even if it could have caused more damage. Once things were back in place, he took a few more minutes to remind Tim that they had only started to repair the damage. He just had to have patience.

Sandy watched him closely as the doctor finished up. She knew there was something Tim wanted, just from the look on his face.

"Is there something else, Tim, something you need?"

"Don't tell them. Please."

The doctor hadn't liked it, nor had Sandy, but their allegiance was to the patient. So when John and BA showed up a half hour later, Tim's sojourn was not mentioned.

*****

"Think we should go back up now? Even if he don't wanna talk, he might be ready for comp'ny."

"Yeah, I think he's probably ready for us. We'll just let things ride for now. Let him adjust at his own speed. We'll be there when he is ready to talk."

As the two headed back into the hospital, BA cleared his throat, and Hannibal knew something else was bothering him. He stopped at the door, waiting.

"What is it, BA?"

"What happens when he wants to see it, Hannibal? Then what?"

"Then we'll be there, too, BA. No way will I let him go through that alone..."

CHAPTER FIVE

BA closed the door firmly and stepped back, looking over the van with a critical eye. He'd spent hours removing the catapults, repairing the damage, tuning the engine, washing, polishing...it looked, once again, brand new.

And he didn't give a damn.

He climbed into the driver's seat and pulled into traffic. He had to pick up Hannibal at his apartment before goin to the hospital. He looked nervously at the clock. He didn't want to be late.

Today they were bringin Tem home.

Tem. Funny, how they'd fallen into that. The last couple of days, what with getting Face ready to leave, there had been more and more hospital people in with him, and, of course, that meant callin him by his alias. Made it easier to slip into callin him Tem when they were alone. 'Cept for that once, he hadn't been called 'Face' since that tube had come out.

Didn't seem to notice. Or care.

Same with all the hospital people, comin in and out all that day. Therapists and rehab people. He and Hannibal had paid close attention to what they said, but Face didn't seem to listen at all. The only way they knew he'd heard a word was an occasional wave of his hand when one of them would stop talkin long enough to see if he understood.

In fact, he'd only said one thing the whole time. When everybody had finally left them alone, Hannibal had tried to talk to him about leavin the next day.

"I guess you must be a little nervous about leaving tomorrow, huh, Tem? Well, we've got it all worked out, so don't worry, okay?"

Face had looked at Hannibal, and BA could see he was more than 'a little nervous'. He looked almost scared.

"Where?"

"I've got us a little apartment, about three blocks from here. It's all ready for you..." Hannibal had gone on and on about it, but Face wasn't listening any more.

One word. Where. What did he think they were gonna do, dump him in some rehab center or somethin?

Hannibal was ready and waiting when he arrived, and they drove in silence to the hospital. BA parked out in the back, near the rear entrance but off to the side. Some instincts still prevailed and they'd been here way too long. BA had tried to talk Hannibal into finding a different apartment, but he wanted to be close to the hospital. And now it would be impossible to move him, what with Face bein there, too. Made sense, with all the surgeries and stuff he'd have to have done, but still...

It was gonna be a nightmare keepin the two of 'em safe...

*****

Hannibal was waiting impatiently for BA to arrive. He didn't want to be late. Not one minute late. He'd seen that look on Tem's face yesterday. No way he was going to give him any reason to think he'd be left behind. He would make damn sure of that.

He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. He needed to relax. Face - scratch that, Tem - Tem would notice that right away. And Hannibal wanted this transition as smooth as possible. The guy had enough on his mind.

Hannibal knew why he was so tense this morning. He shouldn't have called Murdock. Well, yeah, he should have, but not just before leaving. Should've called him last night. Then they both would have had time to calm down. As it was, Murdock was back at the VA climbing the walls. That was the other reason Hannibal was uptight. It seemed like he'd just barely hung up with Murdock - or rather, been disconnected - when Dr. Richter had called him.

He hadn't been reamed out like that since he was a recruit.

So now, any further news about Face - Tem - had to go through Richter first. No exceptions. Which, in a way, was a relief. He wouldn't have to deal with the aftermath. But Murdock's reaction this morning had destroyed any feeling of hope he'd had.

He'd really thought Murdock would be happy about Tem being well enough to be released. And he was. But then Murdock wanted to know how he was doing. What he looked like. And he wouldn't accept any evasions. He'd taken the broken arm and ribs without comment; the broken - shattered - jaw had upset him, but not unduly. Hannibal should have stopped there. But he'd been on a roll.

Damn.

It was the first time, the only time, he'd had someone listen to his take on Tem's situation. He'd talked to the doctors, sure, but mostly he'd listened to them tell him what was going on. And BA just didn't want to talk about it, period. The only thing he wanted to discuss was security, and transportation, and...practical things.

Sometimes Hannibal felt as though he were talking to a robot. Like the mechanic had taken over not only BA's brain but his heart as well.

So when Hannibal suddenly had a listener, an eager listener, he just lost all sense of perspective. Forgot who he was talking to. And told him about the nerve damage, and the bones that had basically been destroyed...and the eye.

And he'd ignored the change in Murdock's breathing, and the soft moaning that started coming over the line, and just blathered on and on...until he heard Murdock screaming, "NO NO NO NO" and the thump when the phone was dropped and the screaming receded...

And then nothing but dial tone.

He came out of his reverie when BA pulled up in the van. They rode without speaking a word, all the way to the hospital. BA insisted on parking the van in an out of the way place until Hannibal brought Face down. And he would stay with the van, just in case.

For some reason, that irritated Hannibal. A lot.

Fine. Fine, BA. You worry about security. You handle the paranoia. You act like everything's SOP.

I'll take care of Face...as usual...

He practically slammed the hospital door...

*****

Face sat on the bed, looking out of the window. He studied the branches of the tree carefully. The way they jutted here and there, little nubs sticking out. The leaves that held on tightly to some branches, shunned others. He wondered if that meant the tree was slowly dying. Too bad. It looked like it had been magnificent, in its day.

Sandy came bustling in, cheerful and bright, as always. He loved to watch her. Even at her most serious, there was a warmth in her eyes...He looked away. That was just Sandy. She looked that way at everybody.

Even him.

"Well, Tim, today's the big day. Excited?" She smiled brightly at him as she started lining up the various bottles of meds he'd be taking with him.

"Yeah, sure." He tried to sound enthusiastic, but frankly, he was scared to death. It was one thing to have the people here looking at him, the doctors, the nurses. They didn't seem to think anything of the way he looked. But he knew what was 'out there'. He'd seen the looks when he'd been walking up and down the hallway; how the civilians, even other patients, would look at him and immediately look away again. Except the kids. They stared, bug-eyed.

The Faceman made people turn away in disgust. Scared little kids by just looking at them.

Oh, yeah, he was excited about leaving.

He became aware that Sandy was standing next to him. He looked up at her. God, those eyes...

"I know you're scared, Tim. You don't have to pretend, okay?" She sat down next to him, hand on his shoulder. "I won't lie to you. It's not going to be easy, and a lot of times, it won't be pleasant. People on the outside won't understand. When you want understanding, they'll give you pity. When you want acceptance, they'll turn away. But your real friends, like John and BA, will always be there for you. And you've got a lot of people here that will help you.

"And if you ever need me, you know how to reach me, okay? Don't think you'll be bothering me. If you need someone to talk to, or someone to yell at, well, I've got a pretty thick skin." She laughed then, and he thought it was the most beautiful laugh he'd ever heard.

"Knock, knock! Transport's ready and waiting, kid."

He stiffened involuntarily. He hadn't realized it was that time already. Sandy stood up, and started going over Face's meds with Hannibal. He only half-listened. She sounded just as friendly to Hannibal as she had to him.

That was just the way Sandy was. She treated everyone like her best friend.

Didn't mean anything.

Before he knew it, he was being whisked down the hall in the wheelchair, headed for the elevator that would take him out of his sanctuary and into the lion's mouth. He felt panic building. Then, as they waited for the elevator doors to open, he felt Hannibal's hand on his shoulder, squeezing firmly.

"Don't worry, kid. We're with you."

He forced himself to relax. It wasn't like he had a lot of choice. Bite the bullet.

He kept his head down as they entered the crowded elevator. Hannibal moved protectively to his left side, keeping anyone from getting too close. Face began to breathe easier. This would be okay. No one had really seen him, and Hannibal would keep them away. This would be okay.

They made it through the lobby. Face kept his head down; at least that way, if someone did see, he wouldn't have to look at their expression. He knew Hannibal was hurrying as much as he dared without jolting him too much. He glanced up, realized they were almost to the door. He heard the swish as they sailed through, felt the warm breeze flow over him.

He looked up at the familiar sound of the van. Started to smile when he saw BA behind the wheel.

And then he saw the tire coming at him. The pieces of rusted metal from the broken catapult rushing toward him.

Felt them hit.

Over and over and over...

He raised his hands to protect his face and head. Gasped in pain as his cast-covered left arm protested the violent movement. He started shaking, uncontrollably. He heard Hannibal and BA, talking, felt their hands on his shoulders, his arms. He couldn't think. All he wanted to do was keep from getting hit again.

And then it was over. The van was gone. BA was gone. Hannibal was in front of him, holding his shoulders, talking and talking. The shaking stopped. He looked up at Hannibal and saw the anger in his eyes.

Hannibal was angry at him.

He looked away. Looked around him, still keeping his head down. They were sitting off to the side, under a big tree.

His tree. The dying tree.

Hannibal was still talking. Telling him it was all right, they hadn't been thinking, they would get a cab to take him home...

He was just causing trouble. More and more trouble...

It seemed like forever before a cab pulled up with BA in the back. They whisked him into it, neither of them saying much. Face wanted to sink down into the seat. Three blocks later, he was being helped out and, while Hannibal paid the taxi, BA helped him into the first floor apartment.

He didn't even look around.

"Tired...I'm tired..."

By the time Hannibal had come in with his stuff, Face was feigning sleep in his new bedroom. His new sanctuary. His new hiding place.

*****

BA stalked out before Hannibal had a chance to do or say anything. Two hours later he pulled up in front of the apartment. Hannibal could only stare.

BA was driving a four-door sedan...

CHAPTER SIX

"What's with the car, BA?" Hannibal spoke softly, afraid of waking Face. He sat on the couch across from BA, who was studying the owner's manual for the sedan.

BA looked up, scowling. "You ain't that dumb, Hannibal."

Hannibal held his retort with great effort. Literally counted to ten.

"BA, I understand your being upset with the way he reacted. And I should have thought about his tying the van to the accident. But..."

"Why do you keep callin it an accident? It wasn't no accident! It was a screwed up job. A bad plan. A lousy plan!" BA angrily turned back to the manual.

"Now, wait a minute, BA. There was nothing wrong with that plan. If those catapults had worked the way we thought they would, we would have had those goons with no problem."

"So it's my fault, right? Even when I tol you it wasn't gonna work. When I tol you it wasn't built the way it should be. When you turned right around and said do it anyway!"

"If I had thought you were really serious..."

"Like that woulda stopped you! Well, now there ain't no van to mess with any more! And I don't hafta make no damn contraptions just 'cause you say so."

"So now you decide when you're going to follow orders, is that it, Sergeant?"

"You were on the damn Jazz again! You don't see nothin straight then..."

"I see a lot more than you think. That's why I'm in charge..."

"Well, maybe you shouldn't be! You coulda got Face killed with your..."

"No one got killed!"

"Well maybe he'd be better off if he had been!"

There was a sudden moment of shocked silence, and then the two men heard a door being quietly shut at the end of the hall.

Hannibal looked at BA, shame and anger fighting for control. BA took the fight out of his hands. He turned and stalked out of the front door, slamming it loudly behind him. Moments later, Hannibal heard the sedan roar out of the parking lot.

He stood in the nearly silent apartment, the only sound the ticking of the clock on the wall. His team was disintegrating around him and he had no idea what to do about it.

*****

"Murdock? Are you listening?"

"Sure."

Dr. Richter sighed. Murdock had some definite problems, certainly, but Richter always felt the pilot had made good use of them. Now, however, he knew Murdock was in deep shit.

"Do you really think you're ready to visit him?"

"I want to see him. He needs me."

"I know you want to see him. But are you ready? That's what I'm asking you."

"I want to see him."

"Okay, Murdock. Let's do some visualizing. Okay? Now, you're going to visit him."

Murdock slumped a little further down in his chair. He didn't like "visualizing". It always made things feel real. Which, of course, was the purpose.

"Murdock?"

"Okay!"

"All right." Richter made his voice slow, calm, neutral. "You walk up to the door. Step inside. Face is sitting in the chair."

Murdock nodded, staring at the wall over Richter's head.

"What's the first thing you do?"

"Hug him."

"Is it? Is it the very first thing you do?" Richter's voice was low, almost crooning.

Murdock closed his eyes.

"What's the very first thing you do?"

Murdock swallowed. He saw it, in his mind's eye. He stepped through the door and looked into the room. Saw Face sitting in the chair.

"I look at his face..."

"Okay. And what do you see?"

"Bandages."

"That's all?"

"That's all."

"What's behind the bandages, Murdock? Look behind them. What do you see?"

"I can't see through bandages, Doc, c'mon..."

"You know what's behind them. You're thinking of what's behind them. Aren't you?"

Murdock swallowed. "Yeah..."

"What do you see, Murdock? What are you thinking when you see Face, covered in bandages?"

Murdock opened his eyes, looked up at the ceiling, blinked hard.

"What do you see, Murdock?"

"Scars..."

"Scars. And what else?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing else? Nothing at all?"

"No."

"What does his nose look like, Murdock? It was broken, wasn't it?"

"Yeah. It...just looks a little crooked. Just a little. That's all."

"And his mouth?"

"Looks like a mouth." Murdock sounded angry.

"His mouth and jaw were injured pretty badly, weren't they?"

"Okay! Okay, so it looks...crooked."

Richter looked at Murdock. Murdock was now looking down at his jacket, fiddling with the zipper.

"What else do you see, Murdock?"

"That's it."

"What about the eye, Murdock?"

"What about it? It's just an eye."

"Not that one, Murdock. Not the one he has. The one he lost."

Murdock squirmed in his seat.

"What about it, Murdock? What do you think when you look at that?"

"Crooked..." He stared at the cuff of his jacket.

"Murdock?"

"Crooked...crooked man...was a crooked man...had a crooked smile...," he said to his pocket.

"Murdock..."

"...bought a crooked cat who caught a crooked mouse..." he murmured to his sleeve.

"Murdock."

"...all lived together in a little crooked house...," he whispered to his shoes.

Richter sighed.

"I think that's all for now, Murdock. We'll talk again later. Okay?"

Murdock just nodded and walked quickly out of the room.

*****

He softly closed the door, hoping they hadn't noticed him. He stepped toward the bed, only to bump into the bureau to his left. His already-bruised hip sent a shiver of pain up his back.

Damn. He could not get used to that blind spot. He wanted to rip that dressing off and see what the hell was beside him, see how far things were from him. See clearly. The futility of pulling it off only frustrated him more. He took a deep breath, steadied himself.

Moving more carefully, he continued over to his bed and sat gingerly on the edge. He hadn't meant to eavesdrop; he'd already decided he should make an appearance before Hannibal forced the issue. He'd been moving down the hall when they started arguing.

About him.

He'd made an about-turn, trying not to listen, just wanting to get back to his room before he was noticed.

And then BA...

He looked idly around the room. He hadn't really looked at it before. His vision was still a little blurry. The doctor said that would get better...

He hadn't noticed that little corner shelf before.

A shiver went through him.

"... he'd be better off..."

Wooden. A wooden shelf. He wondered if it was handmade. Kinda looked like something Murdock would make in his crafts class.

"...better off..."

Another shiver. More like a shudder.

He wondered where Murdock was. Why he hadn't come to visit...maybe he didn't want to...

It was kind of a pretty shelf. Wooden. Stained wood. Scrolled stained wood.

"...better off..."

The knock at the door was soft, but it startled him anyway. He'd barely gotten his breath back when Hannibal opened the door.

"Can I come in?"

"Sure."

Hannibal stepped in, leaned against the bureau, staring at him. Thinking.

Great.

"He didn't mean it the way it sounded, you know. You do know that, right?"

"Sure."

"It's no excuse, but everybody's been under pressure. Worried about you. I should've known a blow-up was coming; I'm sorry it happened the way it did."

Face nodded, looking at the carpet. Kind of a rose color.

"Look, kid, we've gotten off to a hell of a start here, but we're going to get through this. I don't ever want you to worry about...anything. We'll take care of you; that's what this team does."

Face swallowed, nodded.

Hannibal waited for a moment, as if wanting more of a response. When Face just kept looking at the carpet, he sighed.

"Okay, well, I'm going to get your lunch ready. You must be hungry. Been a long morning..."

Hannibal waited another moment before exiting, softly closing the door behind him.

Face continued to stare at the carpet.

He didn't want to be taken care of...

CHAPTER SEVEN

BA showed up at the apartment early the next day. He looked like hell, and felt worse.

After his rush from the apartment the day before, he'd driven around for hours. He'd eventually found his way to the VA. For some reason, he wanted to see Murdock. Maybe hoping the pilot would be more like himself, maybe hoping it would give him a glimpse of normalcy, crazy as that seemed. But after working his way through the grounds to Murdock's open window, he knew it wasn't going to work. BA heard him before he saw him. A low staccato of monotone words.

"Crooked man, crooked man..."

Looking through the window, he saw Murdock sitting cross-legged on the bed, the tips of his fingers pressed tightly together. He was concentrating hard on flexing his fingers, tenting and untenting them, in time to his words. BA swallowed, and rapped lightly on the window frame.

"Hey, Murdock!"

Murdock looked up, staring puzzled at the window. A moment later he bounded over, a big grin on his face.

"Hey, Big Guy! Did you come to break me out? We gonna go see Face?"

For a moment, BA thought that would be the best thing for all of them - get everybody together again. Be a team again.

Then he looked harder at Murdock. Something not quite right in those eyes. Something not quite Murdock.

"No, Murdock, not today. Soon, though, okay?"

Murdock immediately lost interest. He wandered back to the bed, where he sat, cross-legged, and steepled his fingers once again.

"Soon, soon, soon..."

BA left without another word.

He drove over to a friend's house, where he could use their garage. He parked the sedan, popped the hood, got out his tools. The engine ran rough, and didn't have the power he wanted. There was a lot of work to be done.

He stood looking at the engine for a long time before he tossed his tools back in the trunk and softly closed the hood.

And then BA did something he hadn't done since Nam.

He went to a bar, and stayed there until closing.

*****

"You look like hell."

Hannibal tried not to sound stern or angry. The last thing he wanted was another argument. He must have been successful, because he only got BA's normal glare before moving past him and heading toward the kitchen. Hannibal watched after him, preparing himself.

Long into the night, Hannibal had thought about their whole situation. He would have to make amends to BA. Both had said things they shouldn't have; both had been right, partly. It was obvious to Hannibal that BA had had a hard night; if he didn't know better, he'd swear BA had a hangover. Well, he wouldn't have another hard night because of Hannibal. Time to start fresh. With just the two of them left, they had to work together.

He knew there was nothing they could do about Murdock; that would have to remain Dr. Richter's bailiwick. Whatever the doctor said was law. And right now, like it or not, that meant keeping Murdock away from Face and any mention of him.

As to Face, Hannibal had made some decisions there, too. Yesterday being the disaster it had been, he'd accepted Face's plea of a headache, and let him 'sleep' most of the day. They'd both eaten by themselves, and the only real contact they'd had was when Hannibal would go in to give him his meds. He'd actually let Face sleep in his clothes last night, rather than disturb him.

That ended this morning. By the time the sun was coming up, Hannibal had a plan.

He'd gone over all the notes from the doctors and therapists, the list of medications, the schedule of appointments, the timeframes the doctors had given them for future surgery. It was the first time he had actually read through everything together, and the first time he'd laid the timetables out on paper. It had shocked and angered him. The number of operations Face would have to endure was intimidating; the fact that the entire process could last over a year disheartening. And in the end, there were no guarantees.

And no way he would ever look the same.

Hannibal had allowed himself to wallow in pity - for Face, for himself, for the team - for only a short while. It wasn't productive. What he needed was a plan, a structure, to get them all through the next months. Hopefully, they would still be together in the end.

And that's what counted.

Hannibal followed BA into the kitchen and saw him looking at the carefully constructed charts. Everything laid out in black and white. Right down to the daily schedule for meds, meals, exercise. What Hannibal would do, what BA would do. Everything done with regimental precision.

A plan that would work.

BA looked up as Hannibal came in. Looked at him for a long time before he finally spoke.

" 'Bout time."

*****

Face sat on the patio, sipping his breakfast through a straw. Nutritious it might be, but absolutely tasteless. If it had mattered, he would have said something to Hannibal about spices. It kept him from feeling hungry, and that was all that was necessary.

He knew Hannibal had been up most of the night; obviously he'd come up with a plan. Early that morning, he'd come into Face's room, overly cheerful, declaring it a beautiful day. When Face hadn't moved, Hannibal announced it was time to get up and his tone left no room for arguing. He had Face's clothes picked out before Face was even fully awake. Face had actually had to act angry before Hannibal would let him clean up on his own. It grated that he'd then had to have Hannibal help him get dressed. The next thing he knew, he was sitting on the patio, with his breakfast sitting in a glass beside him, with orders from Hannibal to drink every bit of it. It was as though Hannibal couldn't decide if he was commander or mother, treating Face like a soldier and a child at the same time.

He heard the front door open and close, and voices a few minutes later from the kitchen. He knew who it was. He waited, wondering if BA would stay or go, if there would be another argument, if BA would bother to talk to him today.

BA came up on his blind side. Face was tempted to turn and look, but knowing such movements usually made him dizzier than a bedbug, he didn't. Besides, he knew what BA was looking at. It's what they all looked at first, however briefly.

"Morning, BA."

"Mornin, Tem."

Tem. Well, they'd gotten past the hesitancy on that now, at least. Trying to spare his feelings. Whatever.

BA had moved around to stand in front of him now. Face would have to look up to see him. He didn't like to do that. It had already become habit to keep his head down.

"Uh, listen, about yesterday..."

"I'm sorry about the van, BA. You should've kept it."

"Huh? Oh, hey man, I...I had to dump it. I mean, it was wrecked. Jus wouldn't run right, y'know?"

Sure.

"But, look, I just wanted to say..."

"Have you seen Murdock?"

BA moved restlessly. Didn't say anything at first.

"Is he okay?"

"Sure, he's okay. He's at the VA. He's okay."

Face didn't like the tone of BA's voice.

"He is?"

"Yeah, sure he is. Look, about what I said..."

"He hasn't come to visit. I wondered."

BA sighed, and sat in the chair across from him. Face set his glass down carefully; sometimes his hand shook a little from all the dope Hannibal was shooting into him. He glanced up at BA, who was scowling at the table.

Great. Now he thought Face was being difficult.

"He wanted to come. But, okay, so he's not okay. But it's nothin he can't handle. The doc's working with him, so..."

"The acc...crash? That's why?"

"Well, yeah."

Face got up stiffly and, without another word, walked into the apartment, down the hall and into his room. He stood with his back against the door.

BA's van.

Murdock's mind.

Hannibal...

He knew Hannibal would be coming shortly. Not only because he'd planned on going over the charts and memos and schedules with Face this morning, but also because BA would be telling him what had happened on the patio. No way Hannibal would let Face 'hide' in here.

He turned carefully and locked the door. Hannibal would have to live without his schedules for one more day.

Face had plans of his own to think about.

CHAPTER EIGHT

"Tem..."

He heard Hannibal try opening the door.

"Tem! Open the door."

"Go away, Hannibal. Please."

"Unlock the door and then I'll go away."

Liar.

"Open the door, Lieutenant. Now."

"I'm not your lieutenant any more, Hannibal." He knew no one heard his whisper. But it was true.

"You open it, or BA will. Your choice."

He moved to the door. Leaned against it as he spoke.

"I'm not going to do anything, Hannibal. I just want to think. I need to think."

He heard BA's voice. Couldn't make out the words.

"Okay, Tem. We'll leave you alone. For now. But lunch is at 1200 hours sharp. That door better be open then."

"Sure, Hannibal."

Sure.

*****

"So?" BA looked at Hannibal across the kitchen table. His head had been pounding badly when he arrived, and it was only getting worse. He couldn't be sure if convincing Hannibal to let Face have some time alone was for Face, or because he himself couldn't deal with any more that morning.

"So, I'm glad his meds are out here and not in his room." Hannibal smiled sourly.

"I don't think he's thinkin that way, Hannibal. I think he's just tryin to sort things out." BA absently tapped the table. "Maybe we oughta get the two of them together. Might be the best for both of them."

"Oh, yeah. End up with both of them on the funny farm. We're close enough to that already."

"I don't think so. Maybe not seein each other, just havin to imagine what the other is like, might be worse. Least if they met, they'd know. Y'know?"

Hannibal closed his eyes. BA was probably right, but he knew he couldn't make that decision. They were in way over their heads.

"I'll talk to Richter about it. See what he says. But it won't happen right away. He's got to go back into the hospital next week for some more work. The doc said he'll look a little better after that. Then we'll see."

"Until then?"

"Until then we stick to the plan." He glanced down the hall toward the locked door. "And after lunch, you take that damn lock off his door..."

*****

BA was packing up the rest of his stuff, preparing to move into the apartment with Hannibal and Face. Normally they preferred to have separate places, to lessen the chance of them all being captured. BA would have kept to that practice, but Hannibal insisted. Face needed them all together.

BA wasn't so sure of that.

At exactly noon, Hannibal had headed down to Face's room, BA reluctantly following behind him. The last thing any of them needed was a confrontation. But Face had stepped out just as they reached his door. He hadn't said anything, just stood there, waiting, looking down and off to the side. Hannibal had watched him for a minute, like he was waiting for an apology or explanation. When nothing happened, he'd just said lunch was ready and walked back to the kitchen. Face had immediately followed him, leaving BA standing in the hallway.

The rest of the day, Face had done whatever Hannibal asked him to. Hannibal took it to mean Face had spent the morning coming to terms with himself, and had decided that he needed to follow Hannibal's protocol to get on the road to recovery. BA wasn't so sure.

Face would always do what Hannibal wanted. Eventually. But he rarely did it without at least a token argument, or exactly the way Hannibal wanted it done. He always had to throw in a little Jazz of his own. Submissive was not a word BA thought Face even knew.

But that afternoon, that's exactly what Face was. Submissive. Not just submissive, either. It was like he wanted someone to take charge of him. That he wanted to be told what to do, when to do it. Like he didn't want any responsibility for himself at all.

Hannibal had accepted it. But BA couldn't. That wasn't Face.

The only time he'd shown any interest at all was when Hannibal was going through his hospital appointments. Then he'd wanted to know exactly what procedure was going to be done and when and why. BA hadn't thought he'd paid much attention to the doctors the day of his release; he was all attention today. And BA didn't like that either, for some reason. Maybe because it didn't seem like Face was planning his future.

More like he was trying to fit Hannibal's schedule into one of his own.

BA shook his head again. Hannibal might be willing to believe in Face's turnaround. BA knew better.

With a final look around his rooms, he sighed and walked out. Face needed them, yeah. But not the way Hannibal thought. Maybe not the way Face thought, either.

*****

He'd spent the last three days thinking. Planning. In minute detail. It served two purposes, really. One, it made sure he wasn't overlooking anything. Second, it kept him from thinking about...things. He wouldn't allow himself to sink into self-pity. Nor would he allow himself to wallow in guilt over the others. He had a plan now. He just had to follow through.

Easier said than done. Especially where Hannibal was concerned.

The afternoon of Face's 'rebellion', Hannibal had had a conference with the three of them. The Colonel thought it was time they talked about the accident, and the...aftermath. Get it all out on the table. Hannibal didn't want any more hiding, any more pretending.

Right.

It had been hard, but he'd done it. Been honest, but not quite. He couldn't be. He didn't dare let everything out. There were things he'd been thinking and feeling that he couldn't re-visit. The thoughts that crept in at night, before the artificial sleep hit him. The fear and the anger and the frustration that made him want to lash out at everyone and everything.

He wouldn't go there.

Instead, he convinced them that yes, he had felt all those things, but that was over now. Now he just wanted to move on.

No use crying over spilled milk, right?

At first, they hadn't accepted it, but Face used all his talents. His looks may have been destroyed, but inside he was still the Faceman, Conman Extraordinaire. There were tricks he knew that he'd never used on the team before. It wouldn't have been fair. But now...

What was it they said? All's fair...

He'd gotten through the conference finally. Hannibal was satisfied. He wasn't sure about BA. Something about the way he kept looking at Face said he wasn't buying it. Not completely. Well, it didn't matter. BA could have all the doubts he wanted. As long as he didn't act on them.

Then Hannibal had asked him if he wanted to see what he looked like. Hannibal thought he should, that he needed to. Face refused. Flatly. He didn't want to and didn't need to. That, at least, was the truth.

Why would anyone want to look at that?

Even BA accepted his words this time. If Face wasn't ready for it yet, no problem. After the next set of operations, then, maybe...

That's what he was thinking about now. They were supposed to leave for the hospital in a few minutes. He'd be there for four or five days. They were going to do some more repair work on that nerve, the one that made the left side of his face look like it had melted. But it could still take months before it was healed enough to make him look semi-normal.

And they were going to give him a patch to replace the dressing over his eye. They couldn't do anything else yet. Not until they fixed the bones around it. He'd checked Hannibal's calendar. Another three, maybe four operations.

He wondered what he would look like when they were all through. Shook his head.

Like it mattered.

"Ready, Tem?" Hannibal stood in the doorway, Face's bag in hand. BA was waiting in the car. Face nodded and walked ahead of Hannibal to the front door.

And that's when he realized his plan wasn't going to go as smoothly as he'd hoped.

He couldn't step outside.

*****

Hannibal almost ran into him, so abruptly did Face stop in the doorway. Like he'd turned to stone.

"Tem? What's the matter?"

Face didn't answer. Just started shaking his head and backing up.

"Tem?"

"I can't." He threw a quick glance up at Hannibal before looking down at the ground again.

"Hey, don't worry. It's just the car. No van. Okay?"

"No. I can't. I can't go out there." He turned as if he was going back to his room.

Hannibal stepped in front of him. "You can do this, Tem. I'll be right there with you. So will BA. Nothing's going to happen."

"They'll look." He swallowed hard. "They'll see."

Hannibal stepped back a bit. Sighed. So much for Face's declarations that he was 'okay'. It was one thing when he was in here, safe. Where there were only people who accepted him, regardless. Out there were people who wouldn't understand. Who would stare. Who would bring it all home to him again.

So now what? They couldn't just let him hide forever. And he had to go to the hospital.

"Wait right here. Don't move. Understand, Lieutenant?"

Face just nodded. Hannibal hurried to his own room.

By the time he got back, BA was standing in the door, questions all over his face. Hannibal just held up his finger for him to wait. Reaching down, he gently raised Face's head so he was looking at him. He forced himself not to look at the eye. Carefully, he settled a pair of sunglasses on Face. Then, just as carefully, he put a hat on him. It was a little big, but not too much. Just enough so it settled down a bit lower than normal. Finally he adjusted the collar of Face's jacket so it was up around his neck.

It didn't hide everything, but enough.

"Hollywood Incognito. Okay, kid?" He smiled at him, encouraging.

Face nodded. Hannibal thought he could see his right eye blinking fast.

There was a moment's hesitation at the door, then the three of them headed out to the car, BA and Hannibal protectively flanking Face. They entered the hospital the same way.

CHAPTER NINE

The room came slowly into view. Not quite focused. White ceiling. Cream walls. A window to his left. Two doors to the right. Familiar looking machines beside the bed.

It was over.

Gingerly, he raised his hand up to his face. Felt slowly, carefully. No bandages; a small tube near his ear; a thin patch of some kind over his left eye. He could feel the lumps where the sutures had been. Where the scars would be. Felt along his mouth. Sighed. That side of his mouth, and that side of his face, still drooped. He'd had hopes, even though they had told him it would take time.

A nurse came strutting in, giving him a quick glance before mechanically checking his vitals. She checked the IV and the monitor and was gone.

So much for the old Peck charm.

He felt cold and reached down for the blanket. He couldn't quite get it without sitting up, and he knew better than to try that. And no way he was going to push the call button and get the Ice Princess back in here. He sighed, closed his eye and tried to go back to sleep.

When he awoke the next time, the sun was going down and Hannibal and BA were sitting on either side of his bed. The blankets were pulled up and tucked around his shoulders.

"About time you woke up. I thought we'd have to throw some cold water on you." Hannibal grinned at him.

"You warm enough, man? You was shiverin when we come in. Tol that nurse what I thought bout that." BA scowled toward the door.

"The Ice Princess?" He frowned. For some reason, their voices seemed muffled, and his mouth didn't seem to work much at all, slurring his words worse than before. "What...?"

"Don't worry, Tem. It's just from the surgery. Things are a bit swollen yet. Give it a day or so and things will be okay again." Hannibal smiled at him, reassuring.

He nodded, closed his eye again. He didn't feel like talking anyway. He really just wanted to sleep.

Forever.

*****

BA was keeping late night watch that night. Hannibal didn't want Face to wake up alone, and BA had agreed, although for very different reasons. For Hannibal, it was because Face wasn't in the ICU and he didn't think the personnel in this unit were paying close enough attention to his needs. BA almost smiled at that, but that was Hannibal. He'd been like that in Nam, too. If one of his men was hurt, he was like a mama bear protecting her cubs.

God forbid anyone call him on it, either.

But BA had a different reason for wanting to stay. He was hoping for some time alone with Face, some time without Hannibal there to run interference. He didn't think Face would wake up during the night, but he knew he'd have time with him first thing in the morning. It meant a long, uncomfortable night in a hard, uncomfortable chair, but it was necessary.

He was going to find out what Face was really thinking if it was the last thing he did.

The Ice Princess, as Face had dubbed her, had been in and out of the room throughout the day, rarely saying anything other than "excuse me" when they were in her way. Both Hannibal and BA kept an eye on her, especially when she was by herself at the desk. She was exactly the kind of person who, if she recognized them, would feel it her civic duty to turn them in. They both sighed with some relief when she went off duty at seven, but as Hannibal left later that night, he reminded BA to be careful.

The night nurse was a little more friendly, and Face seemed to like her a bit better. But then again, he was sleeping most of the time. BA had tried to talk to him a bit when he was awake, but Face wasn't inclined to talk. Spent a lot of time staring out the window, or at the ceiling. BA didn't like it, not one bit.

Eventually, after he had had his liquid supper and the nurse had doped him up for the night, Face drifted off into a deep sleep and BA relaxed a little. He dozed off and on in the chair, waking immediately whenever anyone passed by in the hall or when the nurse came into check on things. He wasn't sure what he would do if the MP's suddenly showed up, but he knew it would cost them to take Face.

It was around two in the morning when BA woke with a start. Face was mumbling in his bed, moving restlessly under the covers. BA stood and moved quickly to his side.

"Tem? Hey, wake up, man, you havin a dream. Wake up." BA's urgent whispers went unheeded; Face was too caught up in the nightmare. BA leaned down closer, hoping to hear what he was mumbling.

"Mur..."

"What is it, Tem? What you sayin?"

"Murdock...Mur..."

BA straightened. Looked down at Face, who was finally starting to quiet down, although he was still restless. He stepped to the door and looked up and down the hall. Except for the nurses' occasional excursions into the various rooms, it was pretty much empty. And, unlike the ICU, the nurses couldn't see Face's door unless they came out from behind the desk.

BA moved back over to the bed, decision made.

"You rest easy, Tem. You gonna see Murdock. And about time, too." He gently squeezed Face's shoulder.

He slipped quietly out of the room and down the hall, to the exit furthest from the nurses' station.

Back in the room, the dim lights barely revealed Face's crooked smile.

*****

Murdock woke abruptly, looking quickly around the room while being careful not to move. Listening.

There. There it was again.

He waited for a moment, thinking. It could be a hallucination. He'd been having more than his share of those lately. Mostly self-induced, he had to admit. But what else was he supposed to do? Sit around, thinking about Face, wondering if he was all right, wondering how badly he'd been hurt, wondering what he looked like and...well, wasn't it much better to hallucinate and have Face here with him, whole and healthy and smiling again? And he considered himself lucky that he was able to make it real.

Okay, so Richter wasn't real happy about it, but that was his problem.

Besides, he and Face had had so much fun together. Playing with Billy, cheating each other at cards. Murdock even feigned interest in Face's latest tales of his love life. Now, why on earth would he want to stop hallucinating under those circumstances?

Talk about crazy...

"Murdock! Wake up, fool!"

Oops! He knew that voice. And that was no hallucination. He leaped out of bed and hurried to the window. It must be something important for BA to come here in the middle of the night.

Oh, God.

Face...

His hands were shaking so badly he could barely get the window open. He grabbed BA's jaws in both hands.

"What happened to Face? What? He didn't...he isn't...he hasn't...?"

"Damn it, Murdock, let go o' me!" BA roughly pulled Murdock off him and shoved him back from the window. A moment later he was inside, holding Murdock at arm's length.

"Now shut up and listen!"

"Okay, okay, BA, okay..."

BA put his hand over Murdock's mouth and glared at him. "You gonna listen or keep jibber-jabberin?"

Murdock nodded his head, then shook it, then became totally still.

BA took his hand away from Murdock's mouth. "Okay. Now, Tem is in the hospital. He's okay, he jus had another operation on his face."

"Tem?"

"Yeah, Tem. And you remember that!"

Murdock nodded his head quickly.

"He's been wantin to see you, but Hannibal and Richter didn't think that was good. But he had a nightmare tonight about you, and I figure enough's enough. So I'm gonna take you over to see him." BA moved close to Murdock, still holding his arm. "But you listen, Murdock. You pull any o' that crazy stuff while you there, and I'll drag your ass right out o' there. Got it?"

Again, Murdock nodded.

"Now, he ain't gonna look the greatest. But that don't matter, right? You ain't gonna fall apart when you see him. Got it?"

Nod.

A little gentler, BA continued. "He's gonna be okay, Murdock. He just ain't gonna be as pretty as he was. I just want you two to see each other, cause you worry about him and he worries about you. So you see each other and put your minds to rest, okay? And then both of ya gotta work at gettin better so we get the team back together again. Okay?"

Murdock cleared his throat softly. "Okay, BA. Gotcha."

BA glared at him one more time before turning and climbing back through the window. Murdock grabbed his jacket and cap and followed quickly and silently behind him.

CHAPTER TEN

He was trying desperately to stay awake. One of those things he still wasn't used to, and hadn't considered in his planning - getting medicated through a hypo stuck in his arm or squirted into his mouth. Hard to palm a hypo. It screwed up his plans, royally. He had to be awake, alert, thinking, when BA got back with Murdock. He had to do this just right or it would also screw up Murdock royally.

He absently reached up and started to rub the patch over his left eye and immediately jerked his hand away. A shudder ran through him. He may have fooled Hannibal, and at least gotten past BA for now, but he couldn't fool himself.

He hadn't looked in a mirror since that first time. Wouldn't even look at a window if he could see his reflection in it. It wasn't just vanity. It wasn't just an assault on his face, on his looks. This went far beyond that. It was so much, much more.

He shifted in the bed, trying to get comfortable without getting too comfortable. He wished BA and Murdock would get back. He knew his thinking was getting cloudy again. Otherwise his thoughts wouldn't be going anywhere near the accident. But it was hard, waiting in the near dark, with no one around that he knew. He tried to switch his thoughts to Murdock, to the talk they were going to have, but it rounded back on him, every time.

Face. Faceman. His name. More than just a moniker. It was who he was. All he was. At the orphanage, he'd been the favorite when people would come on visiting day. Visiting day. More like auction day. Parading the kids around the place like monkeys in a circus. The parent wannabe's always came to him. Always. And they'd start talking to him, asking questions, trying to find out what he liked, what he was like.

And he always blew it.

He'd lose his tongue completely, or just stammer and blush. A couple of times he literally turned and ran. The priests and the nuns had worked so hard, trying to overcome the near-paralyzing shyness, and nothing worked. And finally, he was too old. The visitors would glance his way and turn to the younger kids. He was about to start junior high when he realized what that damn shyness had cost him.

Every morning, he would look in the mirror and think, "How would someone who looks like that, act?" Charming, confident, out-going...someone totally the opposite of who he really was. Someone he wanted to be. So he pretended. Pretended until it became almost real. He even picked out a new name for the kid in the mirror. Templeton Peck. Alvin Brenner was left in the orphanage. It was Templeton Peck who stepped onto the bus for school every morning. And whenever he started getting nervous, or wanted to pull back, he'd remind himself that Templeton Peck just wouldn't do that. No way.

People liked Templeton Peck. They really liked him. Admired him. Girls fell for him like rain. He had everything he wanted.

Until Leslie.

He hadn't been acting with Leslie. She was the first person in a long time who saw who he really was. And she left him. Templeton Peck would have handled it better. Templeton Peck would have decided it was her loss. Templeton Peck would have gone on with his life, found new loves, had a happy life.

But it was Alvin Brenner who fell in love with her, not Templeton Peck. It was Alvin who joined the army. And Alvin had stayed, until he saw Hannibal in action. Until he wanted on Hannibal's team.

Until he became Face.

He slid further down in the bed. He was so tired. So tired. He was drifting off, despite himself.

Hannibal would never have put Alvin Brenner on the team...

*****

"BA?"

"What?"

"Can I ask you something?"

"If it ain't no crazy talk, yeah."

Murdock adjusted his cap, looked out the window at the dark streets passing by. It was a long drive from the VA to the hospital Face was in. They were maybe halfway there and neither of them had yet to say a word. He looked over at BA from under his visor.

"Why are you doing this, BA? Doc said I wasn't s'posed to see him. So did Hannibal. You don't ever buck Hannibal."

"Richter don't know everything. And Hannibal ain't thinkin straight."

"He sounds okay when he calls."

"Yeah, well, he can scam as well as Tem, sometimes."

Murdock didn't say anything for a few more minutes. BA glanced over at him. He was beginning to wonder if this really was the best thing to do.

"Does he like that?"

"What? Who?"

"Face. Does he like being called 'Tem'?"

BA glanced at him again. "He ain't said."

"Have you asked him?"

"No. How we s'posed to do that? Geez, Murdock..."

There was no further conversation until they reached the hospital. BA warned Murdock again to behave himself. The staff had given him enough grief about staying overnight. If they caught him sneaking yet another person in, there'd be hell to pay. From all sides.

BA made Murdock wait in the stairwell until he checked Face's room. He was almost to the door when the night nurse stepped out.

"Oh, there you are. We thought you'd decided to go home after all."

"No, I just stepped out for some air. He okay?"

"Yes, he's fine. Sleeping like a baby." There was a note of warning there.

BA forced himself to be nice. "I'll be quiet." He couldn't quite bring himself to smile at her.

With a further warning look, the nurse headed back to the desk. BA stepped inside the room, watching out the door until he saw her sit down, hiding her view of the hallway. With a quick gesture, he signaled Murdock to come out.

Murdock sprinted silently down the hall and slipped into the room. BA closed the door and turned to see him moving slowly toward the bed. The pilot stopped a couple feet from the bed. His shoulders slumped. BA came up behind him, squeezed his shoulder.

"Remember. No crazy stuff."

Murdock nodded, still staring at Face. BA hesitated for another moment. He still had time to call it off, at least as far as Face was concerned. Murdock had seen Face; BA could take him back and let him work through it with Richter. But then, that wouldn't really be fair to Face.

"Okay, go ahead and wake him up. But be careful." BA stepped to the door. "I'll keep an eye on the nurse. If she heads this way, you hide. Got it?"

Murdock nodded again and moved closer to the bed. BA scowled, shook his head, and opened the door just enough to see the desk. Hannibal would prob'ly kill him for this...

*****

Murdock reached out to touch Face's shoulder. He stopped, inches away. He didn't want to touch him, didn't want to look at him. He heard a thrumming noise back in the depths of his head.

"Crooked man, crooked smiled, crooked house..."

No no no. He didn't want to think what BA would do if he went off on a tangent now. The big guy had taken a huge chance, bringing him here. If Hannibal or Richter found out...

He laid his hand gently on Face's shoulder, felt the warmth through the blanket. It surprised him, somehow. He'd been expecting it to be cold. Like a corpse.

"Face..."

He winced. Damn. BA would knock the shit out of him if he'd heard.

"Tem...wake up, muchacho. It's Murdock."

It took a moment before he saw the one blue eye open slowly, unfocused at first, and then locking on him.

"Murdock..."

Murdock frowned. Face's voice was so hoarse. He turned quickly toward the door.

"BA! What's the matter with him?"

BA hurried over. "What? What's wrong?"

"His voice! That's not his voice!" Murdock felt panic rising.

"Murdock..." Face was vainly trying to get his attention.

"See! See! That's not Face! That's not..."

"Shut up, fool! 'Course that's him. He just hoarse cause of that tube he had." BA grabbed his arm. "Listen, you get straight now, hear me? Just shut up and listen to the man. He can't talk for long, so you just shut up and listen!" BA glared at him one more time before going back to his watch at the door.

"Murdock..."

He turned back to Face, breathing hard, but trying to control it. Half of him wanted to believe that everything was going to be okay; the other half didn't want to believe that this person was his Face.

"Yeah, Fa...Tem. I'm listening."

"You're not doing so well, huh?"

Murdock looked at the guardrail, suddenly ashamed. "No, not really."

"Murdock, listen. You have to work with Richter. I can't do this if I have to worry about you, too. Understand?"

"I know. It's just...I..."

"I know. But I have to know you're going to work this through. I can't bear to think you might end up like you used to be."

Murdock looked into the corner of the room. He couldn't look at Face.

"Listen. Listen! When we go after the bad guys, you know any one of us could get killed, right?"

"Right."

"And you were ready for that, right?"

"Yeah. We all were."

"Right. If we hadn't accepted it, if we didn't know that we'd all accepted it, do you think we could have done the things we did?"

Murdock looked at Face. Saw how serious he was.

"No. Someone would have held back. Maybe everyone."

"Exactly. And holding back at the wrong time could've gotten us all killed."

Murdock nodded. He saw where Face was going. He didn't like it.

"This isn't just for me, Murdock. Hannibal and BA need you. They need to know you're going to be there, and that you're not going to fall apart when they need you. Listen, Murdock. No matter what happens to me, to any of us, the rest of you have to hold together. Otherwise, none of you is going to make it."

Murdock didn't say anything. He couldn't.

"Murdock, you have to work with Richter. You have to get through this and get back with the team. We can't do it without you." Face's grasp on his hand tightened. "I can't do this if I don't know you're going to be okay."

Murdock took a couple of deep breaths before he could answer. "I don't know if I can. You know I don't do reality very well."

Face chuckled softly. "I know you do it better than people think." He pulled on Murdock's hand, made him look at him. "Please, Murdock. Don't do it just for me. Or even for you. Do it for the team. Please."

Murdock knew Face was near the end of his rope. His voice was getting more and more hoarse, and he was starting to sweat.

"Okay, Tem. Okay. I'll try. I can't promise. Sometimes the purple wobblies, you know, they don't like to give up. But I'll try. I'll try really hard."

Face visibly relaxed. "Thanks, Murdock. Now I can do what I have to do, too." He smiled up at Murdock, clearly exhausted, but satisfied.

Five minutes later, BA and Murdock were hurrying back to the VA.

And Face slept, knowing his plan was coming together.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

He sat in the car, staring at the ocean in the distance. It was almost time. He glanced apprehensively at the two other cars. Tourists, or late night party-goers, catching some sleep before moving on. He thought about hitting the horn, waking them up, but that might mean a confrontation. No way. All he could do was stare at the cars, willing them to leave. He couldn't do this with an audience.

Just over a month ago, he'd been released from the hospital for the second time. Before leaving, a cosmetologist who worked for the plastic surgeon had stopped in. She had spent what seemed like hours showing him how to use makeup to help hide the scars. Hannibal and BA had been there, and watched everything, seemingly fascinated and deadly serious. When she stepped back from her handiwork, she smiled brightly and proclaimed him "The Pirate Prince".

In his opinion, the woman needed serious empathy training. Either that or her jaws wired. He preferred the latter. He hadn't worn the makeup since, despite the cajoling from his teammates. There was really no reason to, since he never left the apartment. Never.

It had become a very big problem for all of them.

Both Hannibal and BA had been very patient and understanding, at first. They hadn't forgotten the panic when they left for the hospital and were prepared for it when he was released. Fortunately, he was so eager to get out of the hospital and get back to the apartment, it wasn't as much of a problem. A few days later, Hannibal had tried to get him to take a walk in the park a couple blocks away. It had been early morning, with very few people out and about.

He'd gotten as far as the patio before the panic struck. Hannibal had offered to do the Hollywood shtick again, to no avail. The more he coaxed, the more pressure Face felt, the more trapped, and he ended up shoving past Hannibal, practically running back to his room. Hannibal had waited until he'd calmed down and then apologized.

Eventually, though, Hannibal and BA had quit trying to coax him. They lost patience, arguments ensued. Of course, since he had such a difficult time talking, the arguments consisted mainly of their haranguing him about hiding out instead of getting on with his life.

If they only knew how desperately he wanted to get past the panic. He needed to get out. He had to.

He just couldn't.

Unfortunately, it wasn't only his "hiding out" that was causing problems. Neither Hannibal nor BA were used to sitting around, doing nothing. Despite Hannibal's declaration that they would take care of Face, there really wasn't much to take care of. He wanted to be as independent as possible, but it was hard. His depth perception was off, and it seemed like he was always knocking things over; then one of the others would insist on cleaning up the mess. Hannibal and BA were constantly forgetting and coming up on his blind side, startling the hell out of him. Then Face overheard Hannibal turn down a couple of jobs. Jobs they should have taken. Resentments built up on both sides. Mainly they lived together in relative peace, but when arguments occurred, it took longer and longer to smooth ruffled feathers.

The only really positive thing that had happened over that month was Murdock. True to his promise, he was working hard with Dr. Richter. In fact, the doctor reported that Murdock was talking more openly now than he ever had, and he was getting nearer and nearer to what he'd been before the accident.

Hannibal was surprised and elated; BA and Face just looked at each other and smiled. News about Murdock became one of the highlights of their days.

A week ago, he'd had to go back to the hospital's clinic, an ordeal he both looked forward to and dreaded. They would not only be taking the cast off his arm, but removing the hated wires from his jaw. Both more than welcome changes, but he hardly slept the night before, thinking about going outside. Hannibal made a couple late night phone calls, out of his hearing, and Face unknowingly ended up with a heavy dose of tranquilizers that morning. He was back in the apartment before he actually realized he had left.

Face let out a deep breath. Looked at his watch. It was getting late. He looked for the other two cars. One had left, one remained. He shook his head, frustrated. The longer he stayed, the more chance his plan would fail. Hannibal and BA would be waking up any time now. It wouldn't be long after that they would discover he was gone.

He reached over to the passenger seat, nervously adjusting the items lying there. His hand shook. A lot. He tried deep breathing, trying to calm down. He was not going to blow it now. Not after going through all that hell getting here.

It had taken him almost an hour to get out of the house. He'd stood at the front door, grabbing the knob, letting go, grabbing it again. Walking away, pacing. Trying again. Thought about postponing the whole thing until another night. Arguing with himself.

In the end, it was panic overcoming fear. He'd heard BA stirring, mumbling as he wandered down the hall to the bathroom. Face had stood by the front door, paralyzed. What if BA came out to the kitchen? Everything would be ruined.

He heard the door to the bathroom close. He swung the front door open, slipped through and closed it quietly behind him. Stood there, heart racing, glancing quickly around to see if he was observed. All quiet. Moments later he was at the car, picking the lock. It took way too long. Finally, it clicked. He put the car in neutral, pushed with all his might, and practically fell into the driver's seat as the car slid past. He let it glide into the street and swung it around to the curb, hitting it hard. Not giving himself time to think, he fumbled to hotwire the car and then wheeled carefully away.

The place he had chosen wasn't far, thank God. They had passed it on the way to the hospital, and both Hannibal and BA had tried to get him to at least drive there with them. He'd liked the look of the place and had wanted to go...

Well, he was here now. After a slow, nerve-killing drive through the darkness. He'd almost cried in frustration when he'd seen the other two cars there, but he wasn't about to quit now. He would just wait them out. And he had. The second car started up as the sun's corona was lighting the sky behind them. Seconds later, he was alone. Ready.

Hannibal's car was parked where the guys could readily see it when they drove down this way. He wasn't sure which direction they would take first, but eventually they would have to pass by here. They would see it, and they would find what he'd left in it. Eye patch, wallet, keys, a set of clothes. All neatly folded on the passenger seat. He would have no further use of them. They would find the car, see the pile on the seat. They would hurry to the railing and look down to see the ocean crashing wildly against the rocks far below.

And they would finally be able to get on with their lives...

 

TBC


Neverness by Shadowwalker213
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Neverness 11 by Shadowwalker213

 

 


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