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This page last viewed: 2017-06-25 and has been viewed 1646 times
Author: Mistress Lrigtar
Summary: Murdock figures out what really matters
Warnings: a few curse words (nothing major), slash-theme (but again extremely tame), and most of the story takes place a few hours after "Without Reservations" (episode spoilers)
Beta: Many thanks to Viskey who made sure what I wrote made sense and helped to make this a better story. You're the best!
Disclaimer: I don't own the Team, as they are the property of Stephen Cannell and company. Nor am I making any money, although this was written while I was at work J
Date: May 2006
I throw a wad of balled up ones and some change at the cab driver and run through the sliding glass doors of the emergency room. Looking wildly around I quickly discover that there is no one sitting in there that I know.
What does that mean? Surely, I am not that far behind them. I look at my watch and realize that two hours have passed since Frankie and I caught that no good cop and dragged his sorry ass back to the restaurant.
Two hours? Anything could have happened in that amount of time. Face could be…No, no, no! I shake my head and beat my hands against my forehead. I should have let Frankie go after that cop. I should have stayed with Face. I should have talked to him, and let him know I was there. Like he did for me way back when.
I am lying on my bed staring at the wall. There's a full moon and it's casting weird shadows.
My mind is reflecting back to when I went crazy. The doctors all seem to think I lost it in the camps, and I don't tell them otherwise. But, they are wrong. The camps didn't make me any crazier than I already was. As long as we were together that could never be true. No, I went crazy in 1972, a whole year after the camp.
For now all I have are these shadows and they mesmerize me. Oh sure, part of it is the drugs the docs have me on, but even without them I would be entranced. The tree branch shadows on the wall are beautiful. It's peaceful.
Peaceful until the orderly comes in.
I really am crazy. That orderly sounds like Face.
"Murdock, please," Face's voice pleads. "Look at me."
A hand touches my shoulder. I shrug it off. I'm not going to do it. Those damn orderlies think they can play with my mind. They're the ones who are nuts.
My best friend is in jail. Thousands of miles away, in a high-security prison at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina. At least that's what the orderlies keep telling me. And they've tried to trick me before. I'm not gonna fall for it this time.
"Okay, fine." He's still talking? "Just listen, okay? I was able to take a look at your file. They have it all wrong, Murdock. You're not crazy. I refuse to believe that."
He pauses, swallows, and then continues. "You can't be crazy, Murdock. You hear me? You can't be."
Boy, this one is good. I almost believe him. I hate myself. I really want him to be Face.
"Are you listening to me, Murdock? Have you heard a word I said?"
No. I'm looking at the pretty shadows on the wall.
He sighs and moves. No! Don't move! Damn orderly. You're blocking my sha…I really am crazy because I know that shadow. Running his hand through his hair, staring out the window. How many nights did I see that in the hooch? When it was too hot and we couldn't sleep.
There's a rustle. Sounds like a newspaper. They haven't let me look at a paper since I got here. Guess they're afraid it will set me off. Set me off to where? Anywhere but here. That would be nice.
"I know they haven't been letting you read the paper. Maybe," he pauses. "Maybe that's why you don't know. So, I brought you one so you'll believe I was really here. So you'll know you're not crazy. There's even an article about us in here and a picture. Hannibal did it, Murdock. He got us out!"
Orderly Face blows his breath out. "I couldn't even tell you now how. We drove day and night to get as far away as possible. We decided to come to LA. BA wasn't too happy about that, but Hannibal thought it would be for the best. We had no idea you'd be here to. God works in mysterious ways sometimes, Murdock."
It really does sound like him. He'd say stuff like that about God. Not often, but every once in awhile.
He's looking out the window, searching, when we both hear an orderly pushing a cart down the corridor towards my room.
I hear the window go up and the screen pop out.
"I have to go now, Murdock, but I'll be back. I promise. Look at the paper. Then you'll know."
He slips out and the window slides back into place moments before the orderly shines his flashlight in the room as he walks by.
For a few moments I continue staring at the shadows on my wall. Now that he's gone, they don't seem as beautiful anymore. I roll over and my feet kick the paper to the floor.
Sitting up, I lean over my bed and look. There's a picture of all of us, including Ray, just like he said and a headline: A-TEAM ESCAPES!
A-team escapes? Had I really thought Hannibal would let them rot in jail for a crime they didn't commit? A faint glimmer of hope stirs my heart.
I look at the window where he was just standing. My best friend had really been right here, in my room. A grin spreads across my face.
"Sir?" a voice asks. "Sir, are you alright?"
A female orderly? That's something new.
A petite, brunette nurse is staring at me, with deep concern in her hazel eyes. I look around and realize I'm not back in the VA, but at DC General, still in my waiter's uniform and I'm a mess. Face's blood is all over my shirt and hands. I look at my hands. They're shaking. What must she be thinking?
"My best friend is here," I say. "I need to see him."
She nods her head sympathetically. "What is his name? I can check our admittance records for you."
She guides me to a chair.
What is his name? I have no idea. Would Hannibal have used his name? Would there have been time to come up with a fake one? I don't know.
"Sir? Are you sure you're all right? Are you hurt anywhere?" The nurse is asking me.
"No, I'm not hurt," I mumble. "My friend was…shot. He was brought in over an hour ago."
"Oh Mr. Bancroft!" the nurse replies. "Is that who you are looking for?"
All I can do is nod. Of course Hannibal would have used Face's 'real' name.
His real name.
I am so upset, for a split second I think I have seen Billy. 'Can't have that. It can't be that bad,' I say to myself as I search around the area Billy had suddenly 'appeared'.
Going around the tree I see a black squirrel clutching onto the side of the trunk, shaking, eyes wide as it watches to see what I am going to do.
I laugh to myself and feel the depression abate for a second.
"Well, lookee here! A black squirrel. Can't say as I have ever seen one like you before. Don't worry, Blackie, I won't hurt you."
It doesn't take long for my guilt to come raging back, especially when the squirrel, now nicknamed, Blackie continues to tremble and stare at me.
"I seem to be having that effect on people lately," I say to the creature. "I screwed up, Blackie. I screwed up big time."
The squirrel's ear twitches at the sadness in my voice, but otherwise, he remains frozen to the tree. Naturally, I take this as an invitation and sit down in the dirt facing the animal.
"Here's how it is, little guy," I begin, "I think I may have just lost my best friend."
Blackie shifts around on the tree so that he is facing the ground. He makes a couple of tentative steps towards the base of the tree, but pauses to re-assess the situation.
I continue, talking more to myself than anything. "I should have told him. I knew how much it meant to him, and I kept one of the things he wanted most in his life away from him."
Blackie has decided I am not going to trouble him and scurries the last few feet to the ground. He snuffles around in front of me, looking for berries and nuts.
"But, you know something, Blackie?" I suddenly ask, causing the little black squirrel to pause in his scavenging. "I was only thinking of him. I was trying to protect him. Isn't that what best friends are for? We look out for each other. Sure, we make mistakes, but we're only human. It doesn't mean we care any less. I'd give anything to be able to go back and fix it, but I can't."
Blackie has found what he is looking for. He sits up on his haunches, holding his prize in his paws. He begins to twirl it rapidly as he nibbles on it. I watch him with fascination.
"Life must be pretty easy for you, little guy," I remark. "Bet you'd never betray your friend's trust. I just wonder if I will ever have mine's again."
"You never lost it," a voice behind me says, startling the squirrel. Dropping his treasure, Blackie runs back up the tree and disappears amongst the branches.
I turn my head. "Face, wasn't expecting you."
"Can we talk?" Face asks, not moving from his spot behind me.
"Sure, sure," I reply and pat the ground.
After what seems like an eternity, he sits down next to me. We sit in silence for several minutes, neither of us knowing where to begin.
"Did you see that black squirrel?" I finally ask.
"No, I didn't," Face replies.
"Huh," I grunt, wondering if I am crazy. I look over at Face. No, I'm not crazy.
I look up with a smile. "Face! Thank God you're…" As quick as that it all fades away.
It's not Face sitting next to me; it's Hannibal. Where'd he come from?
"I figured you'd check the emergency room first, so we thought we'd come down and meet you." Hannibal says.
We? I look around and see BA standing by the window, staring out.
"Did you and Frankie catch that cop?" Hannibal asks.
Seems like all any of us can think about is that cop.
"Uh, yeah, we got him," I mutter.
The nurse who helped me earlier is sitting behind her desk. I guess she figures since Hannibal is here, talking to me, she doesn't need to tell me what's happening with Face.
Hannibal continues sitting next to me, not saying anything. His elbows are resting on his knees, hands dangling between them. He looks tired, and I don't want to bother him, but I have to know.
"Um, Hannibal." I start, but my throat clenches and I can't get anymore out.
We both sit there lost in our own thoughts.
One of the other people in the waiting room gets up to turn the TV in the corner on.
The dismal silence of the room is broken as a familiar chant blares from the speaker, "Wheel of Fortune!"
I had been angry when Face had assumed I would take him with me to Hawaii. After all, wasn't I the one who had actually gone on the "Wheel of Fortune" and won? Hadn't I gotten him that nifty brass waterbed? What more could he ask for?
Okay, at the time he didn't really have a place for the waterbed aside from a public storage shed, but was I to blame for that?
And sure, he had come up with the system, but let's be serious here. I could have done that on my own. Granted, I hadn't, but that was beside the point.
The point was, I wanted to take that cute little hygienist from the VA, but no. Face had insisted and made me feel guilty.
Of course, it didn't work out like he planned when I was kidnapped and met pretty Jody Joy. Boy, was she a spitfire.
And he still thought I was going to take him. He of all people should have known I'd take the girl. He would have done the same I just know it.
I'm nearly 99% sure he would have done the same thing.
Yeah, at the time, taking Jody Joy had seemed like a good idea.
Three days later, sipping a Mai Tai and sitting on the balcony of the suite we were sharing at the Waikiki Inn in Honolulu, I wasn't so sure.
Let's just say Jody wasn't the brightest bulb in the box and she was wearing thin.
I'd gotten rid of her this morning by pleading a headache. A girly thing to do, I know. It hadn't been hard to convince her to go to the beach. The temptation of that glistening white sand, just a few steps away was too much for her.
Now I was feeling guilty again about bringing her. 'Damn, Face. You're not even here and I can feel you pouting.'
Surely, he isn't still moping over not getting to go. Good grief! The man's a con artist for crying out loud! He could con his way here if he really wanted to see Hawaii so badly.
Sighing, I grab the phone and call the apartment he's currently staying at.
I'm beginning to think no one is going to answer when I hear, "Yeah?"
"BA?" I ask.
"Fool, what'chu callin' for? I'm watchin' the game! Ain't you still on vacation?"
"Yeah!" I say, trying to sound chipper. "Hawaii is beautiful, BA! We're having a blast!"
BA grunts into the phone. "Why you calling here then?"
"Just wanted to see how you all were doing. Is Face there?" I ask as nonchalantly as possible.
"No," BA says bluntly. "He went back with Hannibal to meet up with those two stewardesses."
"Oh," is all I can say.
I should be happy. At least I know Face isn't sitting around feeling sorry for himself because he didn't get to go to Hawaii with me.
Why isn't Face sitting around feeling sorry for himself?
A cold ball forms in the pit of my stomach. Jealous? What can I possibly be jealous of? Of Face deciding to go with Hannibal?
"Fool?" BA asks.
"Huh?" I bark into the phone. "Oh, um, BA. Yeah, I'm sorry I bothered you. Go back to watching the game. I'll see you in a week."
I hang up and look out at the ocean. The sound of the waves crashing on the shore should be soothing, but all I can think about is how much Face loves the ocean.
If you zone out enough, the sound of a sliding glass door can remind you of a wave hitting the shore.
I discover this when Frankie charges into the emergency room.
"Murdock! You left me back at the restaurant!" He says as he approaches.
I shrug. He'll get over it.
"Hey Johnny," Frankie says as he sits next to the colonel. "How's Face?"
I shake my head. The fact that he can ask without batting an eyelash says it all. I'm not saying Frankie doesn't care. I'm sure that he does. But he can't care like us. He hasn't had the time. We're still just co-workers to him.
BA has come over just in time to hear and glares at Frankie.
"He's in surgery," Hannibal says and rises. "We should go back up, in case there's any news."
We trudge over to the elevator bank and wait for a car.
I'm feeling even guiltier now. I should have gotten my act together sooner. I should have charged in here and found out where Face was at so Hannibal and BA didn't have to come find me and leave him.
"I can't believe you left me out there in the rain while you…you…" Face sputtered at me, dripping water on my feet.
"What? At least you got some sleep!" I shot back, annoyed. What did he want from me?
It took both Hannibal and Frankie to pry him off me. Before all the crap with Stockwell we would have found the situation ironic, funny even. Now all we seemed to do was yell.
It wasn't my fault the guys had to keep an even lower profile than before. It wasn't my fault that Face was relegated back to just being Hannibal's XO, while I had to be the front man more and more. If he had asked, I would have told him he was doing a bang up job.
He never asked. He never said much of anything to me anymore.
In hindsight, locking him out in the rain probably hadn't been such a good idea.
Nothing I did was a good idea anymore. I knew what my problem was. Running cons wasn't my job. I couldn't handle the pressure.
Now, standing in Logan Ross's suite at the end of the mission, I feel immense relief to be back in my well-worn khakis and bomber jacket.
"Well done, gentlemen." Stockwell's voice sounds tinny coming out of the speakerphone. "Your flight leaves in an hour."
"Now hold on, Stockwell," Hannibal cuts in. "We're not going anywhere tonight. Since we have these nice, cozy rooms you provided for us, we're staying the night."
Stockwell's sigh is audible. "Very well. Enjoy your evening in Monte Carlo. Rendezvous will be in Langley at 1200 hours EST tomorrow. Your flight will leave promptly tomorrow morning at 0800 hours CET. Don't be late. Good night."
"Stockwell. He's such a generous guy," Face says sourly after the general hangs up.
"It's better than nothing, Face," Hannibal replies. "Alright, guys. Let's go get cleaned up and see what Monte Carlo has to offer."
They file to the door and I follow.
"Good job, Captain." Hannibal claps me on the shoulder as he leaves.
I knock fists with BA and Frankie gives me his big grin and a high-five.
Face hasn't said a peep to me since the terrace fiasco and I figure that's not going to change now, but he surprises me.
"You did a good job, Murdock. James Bond would be proud."
"Do you really think so?" I earnestly ask. "I was attempting to channel Sean Connery."
Face smiles. "That probably would have worked out better for you if a) you were a medium and b) Sean Connery was dead."
Face laughs and shakes his head.
Hey! This is good! We're talking, joking, just like old times. Maybe it was all in my imagination.
"Hey!" I say. "Let's do something. Have dinner, check out the nightlife."
A shadow passes over his face. "I can't. I promised Frankie I'd give him some more pointers. You know, in case he needs to use them on a mission. He's a pretty good talker, but sometimes he lacks finesse."
My heart sinks. I want to say, 'Remember when it was just the two of us? We'd hang out. You'd be showing me how to crack a safe or pick a lock faster. I'd tell you I was gonna teach you how to fly one day. I want to be like that again.'
Instead all that comes out is, "Oh, okay. Maybe some other time."
He just nods as he leaves. "Yeah. Some other time."
Some other time.
If Hannibal, BA, and Frankie hadn't been in the elevator with me, I would have dropped to my knees and wailed at the unfairness of it all.
'God works in mysterious ways sometimes, Murdock.' I hear Face say to me, just like it was yesterday.
But it wasn't yesterday. It was a lifetime ago. Back when our lives had only just begun and we had no idea where our paths were going to lead.
If I had known I would be standing in a stuffy elevator, suffocating, wondering if my best friend was going to live or die, would I have done anything different?
The elevator shudders to a halt and the doors clang open too loudly for the floor I now find myself on. The glare of the fluorescent lights reflecting off the tile floor is blinding.
I hate the lighting in hospitals. It always makes my eyes water.
I'm fading in and out of consciousness, the grey ceiling of the van coming into focus and then blurring again. Voices surround me, sounding agitated.
"You're not going, Lieutenant, and that is final."
"Colonel, somebody has to. I can do this. This uniform is Murdock's ticket."
"Decker will be on you in a hot second."
A snort. "Please. I was right under his nose, twice, and he didn't even know it."
"Don't press your luck."
"Somebody's gotta admit him, Hannibal."
"Tawnia can do it."
"Colonel, he was shot. What's she going to say? This is my job. I have this covered."
"Hannibal, we're here."
The van door slides open and he's out before Hannibal can say another word.
The world fades out once again until I feel my body being lifted onto a gurney and then the smooth vibration as it rolls into the hospital. The bright lights make my eyes water.
"Sergeant, how was he injured?"
"He was under-cover, tracking down hunters who were illegally hunting bears."
"Did they mistake him for a bear?"
I giggle. All I can picture is myself crawling around the woods in a bear suit and getting shot by hunters.
"Rwar," I mumble weakly.
"Cross-fire. He was caught in the crossfire. Will he be alright?" Face asks.
I reach in the direction of his voice, squinting to see. "Facey."
Face grins nervously at the doctor, but he doesn't seem to notice.
"Gave him morphine, I see. Your men did a pretty thorough job of cleaning this wound. We need to stitch him up and give him a transfusion. Also, we'll put him on antibiotics to treat any infection and keep him for observation, but I don't foresee there being any complications."
"Thank you, doctor."
I'm fading again. Gotta remember to ask Face about the bear suit.
A few hours later I wake up to a dull ache in my shoulder, but otherwise feeling much better than before. I open my eyes and the first thing I see is Face, still in the MP uniform, slumped in a chair beside the bed.
I smile faintly and whisper, "Oh, there's nothing better than waking up to a man in uniform."
Face's eyes fly open and he sits up immediately, looking me over. "Murdock!"
He takes my hand, and I feel that his is trembling.
"I'm fine. You should leave. I don't want you to get caught."
"I had to make sure you'd be okay," Face says.
"How'd you convince Hannibal to let you stay?"
A small grin plays at his lips. "I snuck out."
"Naughty boy," I yawn.
"Listen, I'd better go so you can rest," he says and places my hand back at my side.
"Thanks for everything."
"Can I get a bear suit?"
"Go to sleep, Murdock."
Later, I would learn how hard it had been for Face. A lot had fallen on his shoulders to ensure that I could be taken care of while we were trying to elude Decker.
He'd risked a lot – even capture to get the medical supplies I needed.
Tawnia told me he had yelled at her and said he would do whatever he had to for me, even if it meant turning himself in to Decker.
I could only imagine how he had felt sitting in a waiting room.
Now, I was the one that was sitting in a waiting room. At least I didn't have to worry about Decker, like he had.
I looked at my watch. We'd been sitting here for three hours.
Three plus two equals five. Five hours.
Frankie sits next to me, chewing on the rim of an empty Styrofoam cup. Pieces of Styrofoam litter the floor around his feet. Huh. Maybe he cares more than I thought.
Hannibal is sitting across from me, his head bowed and his hands clasped. I wonder if he's praying. I can't say that I've ever seen him do that, but there's a first time for everything, and now seems like a good time to start to me.
BA is by the window again. Something about the darkness and the faint pinpricks of light from houses, street lamps, and cars must be comforting to him.
What's comforting to me? I pull out my wallet and open it. Inside the billfold is the picture from the paper Face gave me all those years ago, yellowed with age. I take it out delicately and unfold it.
"Come on fellas," Rays says. "We need to have a picture for posterity."
I'm leaning against the chopper watching him try to get BA to smile.
"BA, I'll send you a gold charm of my hometown," Ray continues, cajoling.
"Man, why'd I want some trinket from your rinky-dink town?" BA growls, but we all know he's kidding.
We're all thrilled that Ray is getting to go home. He deserves it. We all do, but he was the only one smart enough not to sign up for another tour of duty.
"Hannibal, would you please order him to smile?" Ray asks.
"That would be pulling rank, Sergeant," the colonel replies, grinning around his cigar.
I'm about to volunteer my services; after all I am a captain, when I feel a hand on my shoulder.
"Hey, Murdock, what do you think of this?" Face hands me a pale blue ring box.
"Nice box," I reply.
He sighs. "Open it."
I do and see a beautiful antique diamond engagement ring nestled in the white satin. "I think this is a lousy proposal, is what I think."
Ray," Face says, rolling his eyes.
"Murdock, you do remember we took a collection for Trish's engagement ring? As a going away present for Ray, right? So, what do you think?"
"This is more than the quarter carat we could barely afford," I reply, eyeing the ring, which is at least a carat.
Face smiles wistfully. "Yeah. Nice, isn't it?"
"I'll say," closing the box and examining it closer. "Is this a Tiffany box? Where the heck did you get this?"
"I have connections," Face says, taking the box from me and stuffing it in his pocket.
"Tiffany connections in the middle of Vietnam?" I know Face is good. Hell, he got a Cadillac for God's sake, but a Tiffany ring? It's even more random.
Face ignores my question and asks once again, "Do you think Ray will like it?"
"I don't know about Ray, but Trish is gonna love it."
He smiles and walks over to where BA and Hannibal are standing, and I follow.
"Great, we're all here!" Ray beams and snags a corporal passing by. "Hey, take our picture, will ya?"
He runs over and we pose. I'm still mulling over the ring, as the corporal readies the camera.
I grin, fling my arm around Face's shoulder and look at him. "Hey, Face, if you had asked me, I would have said yes."
"I remember when that was taken."
Hannibal is looking at me. I also realize that Frankie has discarded his ruined cup and is leaning over my shoulder to get a better look at the photo.
He points to Ray. "Who's that, Murdock?"
I swallow before answering. Tonight, everything takes an effort, even answering a simple question.
"That's Ray. He was part of our unit, and this was taken right after he received orders he was going home."
I hand Hannibal the clipping so he can see it better.
Having heard us start talking, BA abandons his post by the window and takes a seat next to Hannibal.
Staring at the picture for a moment, Hannibal's eyes harden.
"How could anyone who saw this picture in the paper believe we were criminals?" He asks no one in particular. "We were just doing our duty for our country, and look how they repaid us. Ray's dead, we're still wanted, and Face…"
BA places a hand on the colonel's shoulder and he refrains from saying anything else.
I've been in this position once before – only then, I was pretty sure I knew what the outcome was going to be.
The waves lap gently against the boat. It's a beautiful day. Warm, with a slight breeze. The few clouds in the sky roll merrily along – heedless of what day it is. Cries from seagulls pierce the air.
My stomach is roiling, in stark contrast to the ocean. I think I'm going to be sick. No, scratch that. I know I'm going to be sick.
Leaning over the side of the boat, I retch. Nothing comes up except bile and it burns my throat. I can't remember the last time I ate.
The guards look at me with disgust.
'Screw you,' I think. 'What do you know? Have you ever had your friends get lined up to be shot by their own countrymen?'
Another boat pulls up to the dock. It's the boat to take their bodies back to the mainland, and Stockwell's on it. Why am I not surprised? He doesn't even acknowledge me as he walks by.
'You bastard. What have you gotten us into?'
The boat jostles in the water as someone steps aboard. Frankie sits down next to me, looking rather pale.
"Did you make the switch?" I mumble.
He mutters something that doesn't sound to reassuring.
It takes all my control not to grab him by the arms, shake him senseless, and yell, 'You've got to be sure! We can't afford any more screw-ups! Lives are at stake here!'
The guards are eyeing me, itching to put a rifle butt to my head.
I'd like to see them try.
They are readying the boat to cast off when we hear the shots. It's eerily quiet afterwards. Even the seagulls are silenced.
I think I've prepared myself for this moment, and yet I still jump. How foolish of me. You can't ever be prepared. No matter how much you plan, think it through, and believe you have all your bases covered. There will always be an unknown element.
Frankie's clutching the Bible in his hands, knuckles white.
This could be it. I may never see them again. And my last moment with them was attempting to clue Hannibal in on the plan, barely acknowledging BA and Face. There was no time. Their lives, my life could be over and we had no time.
Fear grips me and I feel claustrophobic. What an oxymoron that is. I'm sitting out in the open on a boat and I feel the walls closing in on me.
I'm gonna hyperventilate. Can't do that. Frankie's here. Can't show any weakness in front of him.
I need air. Air! Will somebody please help me?
Calm, gotta stay calm. Breathe. In, out. In, out. In, out.
Perspiration pours off my brow, into my eyes. Am I crying? I can't tell if it's sweat or tears rolling down my checks. Maybe it's both.
The boat engine rumbles and we begin moving away from the dock. A soft breeze blows over my face.
An overwhelming urge to jump over board comes over me. Gripping the side of the boat, I look down at the water churning around the hull.
I can't leave! They need me. I have to go back. Gotta go back and get them. Can't leave them behind enemy lines.
I'm beginning to shake. How long before I know if my life is over or not?
I look back at the island.
"How long until we know something more, doctor?" Hannibal is asking.
A doctor in scrubs is sitting next to him. "The surgery went well, Mr. Smith, but he's still unconscious and in critical condition. If he makes it through the night, the chances of recovery improve."
I look at my watch – three hours to go. Only three more hours and the sun will be rising. The night's practically over. Surely he can make it three measly hours. That's nothing.
I'm not sure what I am feeling anymore. Anxious? Scared? Relieved?
Hannibal's following the doctor. He must be going to see Face. I missed that somehow, and BA and Frankie are looking at me with concern.
I can't worry about what they are thinking. What I'm worried about it what I am thinking. I have to talk to Face.
I need to tell him. Fifteen years of dancing around the subject, and plenty of opportunities to talk about it.
We're driving Dr. Richter's limo back to his house in the hills and Face is being unusually quiet. Not even a footnote about Rebecca. Not that I'm complaining because I don't want to hear another word about her.
Face never has realized that he's so much better than her and all the other floozies he chooses to go out with. Instead, he takes her rejection as yet another sign that he's not good enough.
"Yeah, Face?" Please don't start talking about her again. Please.
He hesitates, thinking about whether he wants to say whatever it is he's thinking. I glance over and see he's staring out the window at the ocean, far down the cliffside.
"When," he starts. "When did I become like this?"
I'm not sure what he's talking about, and say as much.
"I wasn't always like this, was I? Shallow?"
I have to admit that Face hasn't been himself lately. Dumping us like old news when he received the fake pardon had been an eye-opener. Face wasn't happy.
How long had he been unhappy? Long enough for us to grow accustomed to it.
Risking a glance away from the winding road, I look over at him. Hair slightly disheveled, shirt open a button or two more than his neatnik self usually allowed.
Once again I feel something deep in my gut that I've felt on more than one occasion, and am too afraid to acknowledge.
'Now,' I think to myself. 'Now would be a good time to come clean. What have you got to lose?'
Everything. I have everything to lose. Not to mention the fact that I have no idea what I am feeling or how to put it into words.
"You're not shallow, Face," I reply. "You're just trying to work some stuff out, that's all."
Just like me.
He nods. I'm not sure if he believes me or not.
"Remember back in 'Nam? The ring?" He asks.
"Yeah," I reply.
"You knew, didn't you?"
I'm not sure how to answer this. Had I known the ring had been for a girl? Leslie, I now assume, although at the time I didn't know anything about her. She was one girl Face obviously didn't 'kiss n' tell' about. He still didn't. Probably really wouldn't be appropriate now anyway. What with her being a nun and all. Yeah, I had known.
"Ah, it doesn't matter now anyway. I just wonder what my life would have been like if I had been adopted instead of Barry. Maybe I'd be the one who was the marine biologist now, instead of pretending."
He sighs. "Glad somebody could use the ring. Obviously, I wasn't supposed to."
It's not often that Face's thoughts wander – with no rhyme or reason. I should tease him. Tell him he's been hanging around me too long. I can't. It's not what I want to say. Besides, right now, he needs me to listen.
He glances over at me, "You alright? You're awfully quiet."
I smile softly. "Just listening, Faceman. Just listening."
He continues looking at me for a moment. "Thanks, Murdock. I don't know what I would do without you."
It's a rare, honest moment between us. Face doesn't often admit such a need and he is quick to get past it before I can comment.
"Let's see what we can get on the radio up here. Shall we?"
He fiddles with the dials and tunes to a station with…
Alarms are going off. Nurses are running down the hall toward the room I saw Hannibal go into not so long ago. He's standing at the end of the hall looking dazed as nurses and doctors swarm around him.
I stare down the hallway at him, unable to move myself.
'I don't know what I would do without you.'
Tearing my eyes away from the scene I look at my watch. Only one hour to go.
My eyes start watering again. Damn bright hospital lights. A tear splashes on my watch face, obscuring the dial.
Stop watching the clock. Stop waiting for the right time. There will never be a right time.
I stand up and head towards Hannibal.
BA tries to stop me, "Murdock…"
"No, BA," I say, pulling away. "There's something I have to do."
Face isn't in his bed. We're sharing a room in the best hotel we could find in Kuching, Borneo. It was as far as we could get from Santu in the chopper, but it was far enough, especially since we all needed a rest.
I squint at the clock and see that it's just a little after midnight.
Now, where, oh where could my Faceman be?
He'd had trouble sleeping, I knew that much. His tossing, turning, and beating of the pillow had nearly kept me awake until I fell into a fitful sleep. The adrenaline had definitely worn off.
However, my absentee roommate had me worried and there was no way I was going back to sleep until I found him.
Shambling out of bed, I tug on my pants and slip my sneakers on. Not bothering to tie them, I amble out into the dim hallway.
No sign of life out here. Remembering that there was a bar in the lobby of this rat hole I decide that is as good a place as any to start looking.
Standing in the entryway of said bar, I wait for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. I scan the place and am about to leave when I see my quarry sitting at a booth in the back corner.
I head over, noticing as I approach that Face has conscripted a bottle of Scotch to keep him company.
"Come here often?" I ask as I slide into the seat opposite him.
He quirks me a half smile. "Of all the hellholes, you had to walk into mine."
"Aw, is that what you think of me?"
"I'm thanking my lucky stars you did, is what I am thinking." As quick as a flick of a switch he has become all seriousness.
Picking up the glass, he downs the finger of booze left. He quickly refills it.
"Wha'cha drinkin' for, Face?" I ask.
He holds the glass up, watching the liquid slosh against the sides.
While I'm waiting for an answer, I lean over, take the glass from him and knock back the contents.
Face gives me a look, but doesn't say anything. He also doesn't refill the glass.
"Murdock, I'm full of shit," he says.
I raise an eyebrow. "Oh? How so?"
He stares at the bottle between us. "I can give Amy a song and dance a mile long about death being a friend. Being prepared for it and facing it head on. That's easy to say when you aren't actually facing it."
"Face, we'd all feel the same if we had been in your position."
He looks up at me, eyes wide and glazed. I'm not sure from what. The liquor or fear.
"I thought it was all behind us. I thought we had left all that crap, over there." Face says.
He can't bring himself to say over where. Neither of us has gotten to that point yet. It's been ten years, but some of the wounds and fears are still too fresh.
"If you had told me yesterday that I would be facing a firing squad today I would have laughed in your face."
"It's okay to be scared, Face."
He pours himself another drink and takes a gulp. "It's more than that, Murdock. I'm not ready to die. Not anymore."
I nod my understanding. During the war we all had resigned ourselves to the fact that we very well may die. Now, the war was over and with it the threat of death – supposedly.
He looks at me one more time before finishing his drink. "I don't want to die."
I'm about halfway down the hall when the alarms stop. The nurses head back to their station and the doctor from before speaks briefly with Hannibal.
Not quite within earshot all I can make out are the words 'close' and 'keep careful watch'. I'd rather not know all the details. They'll just make me more scared than I already am.
Waiting until the doctor is gone, I finish my trek to the colonel.
"Face flat-lined, but they were able to resuscitate. The doctor says…" he begins, but I cut him off.
"I don't want to know. It doesn't matter what the doctor says. What do they know, really? They said I was crazy, but look at me now. I'm no crazier than a bed bug."
I attempt a smile, but I don't think I am very successful. "I gotta see him, Hannibal. Can I go in?"
He nods slowly. "It might do him some good to know you are here, Captain."
He claps me on the shoulder, gives it a squeeze and slowly heads back to where I left BA and Frankie.
Pausing outside the door, I attempt to take a couple of deep breaths. My chest feels constricted and I place a hand against it. I feel my heart hammering and become aware of my blood pounding in my ears.
My eyes are burning. I squeeze them shut as my face contorts. Pressing my left hand against my forehead, eyes, and nose, I attempt to hide my lapse of control.
Control? Who am I kidding? I haven't been in control all night. Barely going through the motions is more like it.
Something between a gasp and a faint wail escapes my lips.
Like jumping into ice-cold water, I blindly open the door to the ICU and step in.
After the bright lights from the hallway, it takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dim lighting in the room.
Even when I can see clearly, I'm afraid to look. Instead I stare down at my scuffed, black dress shoes, and become aware of how uncomfortable they are.
My nose begins to run and absentmindedly I swipe my sleeve across it. Halfway through the motion I pause.
Not my sleeve. Face's sleeve. Man, he's going to kill me.
Sniffing, I lower my arm and finally look.
I don't know what I was expecting, but I certainly didn't think I wouldn't recognize him at first.
The circles around his eyes are so dark it looks like somebody clocked him with a right and a left, and his blond hair lies in damp, dark clumps across his forehead. The respirator hisses in counterpoint with the faint beeps from the heart monitor.
But, if we weren't in this room, surrounded by all this equipment I would have thought I had gone back in time. He actually looked younger than he had just a few hours before.
I stare for a moment, and then smile. Although I have no idea what I am going to say, I know what he would.
"I know exactly what you would say to me at this moment," I begin. " 'This is cliché. Not to mention poor timing.' You of all people should know I was never good about picking the right time. Spontaneity is the spice of life, Faceman. You know that."
I move closer, ignoring the tubes and wires giving him blood, oxygen, medicine, and all the things he needs to fight and live. Pulling a chair close to the bed, I sit down.
"I have to tell you that I am surprised at you. This is the oldest trick in the book. Hannibal would tell you you are losing your touch to have to resort to this. So, you see, you really have no business telling me I'm being cliché."
Reaching over, I take his hand. It's cold and clammy.
"Aw, Face. What am I doing? Can you even hear me?"
Absent-mindedly I rub his hand between mine. Maybe I'm trying to convey my warmth to him. More likely I'm reassuring myself that he's still here.
"Remember when you were wondering what your life would have been like if you had been adopted? I have no way of answering that, but I can tell you my life would not have been the same. Face, I'd still be in the VA if it weren't for you. Maybe this is pretty selfish of me, but I don't know what I would do without you. Please, please don't leave me. I need you."
It's too much. I can't take it any longer. The tears I've been holding back all night leak out and I rest my head on top his hand.
"I know I could make you happy. I know I could. I've messed up, I know. Wasted a lot of time being crazy, figuring it all out. But, you and I, we're good together. Maybe you're gonna punch the living daylights out of me if I tell you this later, when you're awake and lucid. Because there will be a later, Face. I know you're going to be okay. Do you hear me? You're going to be okay."
Part Eleven – Epilogue
As I am heading back from the bathroom to my makeshift bed on the couch, I see a sliver of light coming out from underneath Face's bedroom door.
Wondering if perhaps he fell asleep with the light on or needs something, I nudge the door open.
The bedside lamp is on, and Face is asleep, lying on his back with his head and shoulders propped up by an array of pillows. No doubt the handiwork of BA. A book lies open on the bed beside him.
I quietly walk over to get a better look at the book, Billy Budd. An inspired choice to help one get to sleep. I reach down to pick it up.
"Still worried about me, Murdock?" My supposedly sleeping friend asks.
"N-no," I stammer, shocked at my sudden nervousness. Does he remember? "No. I was just checking in, making sure you didn't need anything. Turning out your light."
There's an awkward silence. Well, awkward on my part since I don't really know what he's thinking.
"Gina seems nice," he finally says and turns his head to look at me.
"Uh, yeah," I say, my throat dry. "She is."
He looks at me with unfathomable eyes and casually says, "I couldn't quite figure out what she meant when she said she had heard all about me."
"Oh, you know," I reply. "Just me prattling on. Do you want her number? You could ask her yourself. I'm sure she'd love to go out when you're feeling up to it."
"I'm sure," he says. "But, I don't want her number."
I'm floored. "You don't? Why?"
Face closes the book and places it on the nightstand, but doesn't answer me. He still has circles around his eyes and looks tired.
"You should go to sleep," I say.
"Couldn't." His right hand moves restlessly along the bedspread, but he stops himself and places it lightly on his abdomen. "We haven't really had a chance to talk. Can you stay a moment?"
He indicates the edge of the bed, next to him, where the book and his hand had been.
"Um, sure." I sit down gingerly. This is nuts. He's my best friend. What am I scared of? He can't possibly remember.
Face looks thoughtfully down at his hand, fingering his nightshirt, probably feeling the bandage hidden beneath. "I had weird dreams in the hospital."
"Hospitals can do that to a person," I quip.
He smiles at me. "Yeah."
Another silence. This time I'm pretty sure it's on both our parts.
"What," I pause, wondering if I really want to know what he's thinking. "Um, what were your dreams about?"
Face shakes his head. "I don't really remember, but I do remember you were there – in my dreams. Funny, you always seem to be there for me, even when I don't know it."
"You're my best friend," I say. "You'd do the same for me. Always have."
He looks pained. "That's not true. Murdock, I'm not a perfect person. I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of and there have been times when I have callously hurt the ones I care about." He pauses, thinking. "The ones I love."
For once, I'm speechless. My heart is pounding in my chest again, but this time not from fear. I can't begin to hope he is actually saying what I think he is saying. I must be misinterpreting it.
"Do you know what I saw when I died?" Face asks me.
Visions of the nurses and doctors running into his room play through my mind. I clasp my hands in my lap so he can't see them shaking.
"You didn't die." I say, not wanting to hear it.
"Okay, whatever you want to call it, do you know what I saw?"
I shake my head, not trusting my voice not to crack if I attempt to say anything.
"I saw what I had been throwing away my entire life, Murdock. All the things, opportunities, times that I missed out on. I decided right then and there that if I got a second chance, I would never make that mistake again."
I swallow the lump in my throat. "So, what are you saying? Are you going to leave?"
"No, that's not what I'm saying." He looks at me and I suddenly see that he's scared. Of what? Please tell me.
"What I am saying is that I discovered that I have a reason, Murdock. That everything truly does happen for a purpose and this is my chance to start over new. Our chance."
Our chance? Did he just say 'our chance'? I'm too scared to hope.
"Murdock," Face says, reaching out to tentatively touch my clasped hands. "Murdock, the whole reason I was able to come back is you. You're my reason. Stay with me."
I look down at his hand, still on mine. My throat clenches. I never thought I would ever see this day. Oh, Face. You're my reason too. You've always been.
Unclasping my hands, I envelop his and look at him with glistening eyes. "Always."
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