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This page last viewed: 2017-08-18 and has been viewed 2757 times
Disclaimer: All characters belong to Stephen J. Cannell and Universal.
Warning: Slash (non explicit), talk of violence
Summary: Old fears are often the worst.
Author's Note: Thanks to Elizabeth Kent and Emmastark for comments and suggestions.
He's asleep again. Sleep's what he needs, if he could only sleep without remembering. I stay on the bed next to him, stroking his hair, telling him stories, stuff that happened in the VA, anything that comes to mind. Don't know how much he hears. Mostly, he just stares off, not seeing anything in the room, not seeing me.
He looks bad. They'd had him for three days before we were finally able to get to him. Three days is a long time.
The radio's on real soft, playing some classical piece that I'm not familiar with. I've kept it on steady for the past two days, just so that when those few moments come when I have to leave him, he doesn't feel so alone. I don't know if he's noticed.
Nobody knew he was missing until hours after. By then, we had no way of knowing where he was. Or even if…
He's trembling again. I pull him close, careful of the broken ribs and bruises, the stitches. I whisper, letting him know that I'm here. After awhile, the trembling stops.
I've kind of lost track of time. I mean, I can look at the clock and see that it's two in the afternoon, but it doesn't mean anything. All I really know is the waking and the sleeping, and the nightmares. He has them every time he closes his eyes and sleeps, reliving whatever happened in those three days.
Except for the screams, he hasn't spoken at all since we got him back.
We can guess some of it, though.
Hannibal and B.A. stop by several times a day, sometimes together, sometimes individually. I don't go out to the living room. Instead, they come in here and sit near the bed, talking to me and Face. I know they feel guilty; we all do. We shouldn't have let this happen, should have figured out sooner that he was missing. Gotten to him quicker.
They both touch him. It's kind of odd to see that, especially with B.A. In the camps, touching was okay, necessary, but that was then. They don't do much of that anymore. Except now. While they talk, they hold his hand or stroke his arm, sometimes brush his hair back. Keep contact. I think it's as much for them as it is for him. I know that's the case with me.
I still remember B.A. gently picking Face up off the floor where we found him. His hands trembled as he slid them under Face, lifting him up and pulling him in close. Face's arm just kind of dangled, and his head hung over B.A.'s arm. I remember through my panic thinking of blood brothers as I watched bright red seep from Face onto B.A. I had to force myself to pull it together, not to lose it, to see but not see what had been done to him.
Hannibal. I haven't seen him look like that in a long time. He was real quiet, just went and got the van, pulled it up close so that B.A. didn't have so far to carry Face. Sat in the back with me and Face while B.A. drove. We did what we could, which wasn't much.
Face is sleeping quietly now, his breaths going in and out steadily. I need to go use the bathroom and then get something to eat. I have to sneak the moments when I can, and quickly. Don't want him to wake and find me not there. Maybe he doesn't notice. But maybe he does.
I change the radio station as I leave the room. Need to hear something a bit more distracting. It's so quiet here. I just keep waiting to hear Face's voice, not the screams, but him, letting me know that he's with me, that it's going to be okay.
Jelly's in the fridge and peanut butter's in the second cabinet on the left. Plates are to the right of the sink and silverware's in the drawer near the counter. I can't find the bread. B.A. must've put it back someplace different.
Damn. This is taking too long.
There it is. I'm trying to hurry, so I use the same knife to spread both the peanut butter and jelly, not bothering to do it neatly. Whenever Face sees the creamy streaks in the jelly jar, he sighs and grabs a spoon and cleans it out, getting this funny put upon look on his face. It always makes me laugh.
Finished. It's not much, but it's fast. I need to get back.
He's still sleeping. His face is too pale, almost no color to it, except for the dark places beneath his eyes and the bruises. They stand out against the whiteness.
Even asleep, he doesn't look at rest. His mouth is turned down a bit at the corners. He flinches a little from time to time, too, and whimpers, his hands twitching as if still fighting off his tormentors.
I eat standing in front of the window. Don't want to get crumbs in the bed. Face hates that.
I tell him about what I see outside, even though he's asleep. There's a seagull picking its way along the beach, looking for something to eat, I suppose. He gets lucky, and flies up with something in his bill. I lose sight of him for a moment, then I hear something hit the deck outside. I crane my head, and watch as the gull swoops down and picks up the clam it dropped. He does this a few times, until the shell cracks. I take the last bite of my sandwich while he dines on the clam.
I crawl back in bed next to Face, spooning in behind him so that he can feel me near.
Two days in the hospital, and now two here. That's a lot of waiting.
I wish you'd talk to me, Face.
I try not to picture what it must have been like, but I can't keep the images from coming. After they'd finished with him, they must have tossed him into that room where we found him. Although I doubt that they knew the effect it would have on him, that's where the real torture took place.
He was already in pretty bad shape, weak and hurting. Pressed up against the wall, straining in the dark to see the things that made the scratching noises, reliving his childhood terror.
Face told us about it once, in a rare moment of openness. He was little when it happened, maybe six. There'd been a particular priest at the orphanage back then. He'd been…hurting Face. After one of the first times, after Face had cried, telling him that he didn't want to do it anymore, the son of a bitch dragged him out to an abandoned shed on the orphanage grounds. Tied and gagged him, leaving him there to 'think about his sins'. It was an old shed, dirt floor and rotting, wooden walls. Some of the older boys sometimes used it to look at girly magazines. They must have left food there, because there were rats.
I can't imagine what it would have been like for Face. So small and alone. Helpless. Not able to fight them off, or even to scream.
I know that I'll never forget the look in Face's eyes when he told us about trying to roll away from them to keep them off. It was long after dark before he came back for Face. I remember the quiet, derisive laugh Face gave as he told us that he'd been ashamed later because he had gotten so scared. There had been only two, maybe three rats, he'd said, and he'd only been bitten once.
As if that mattered.
Still, whenever that bastard would threaten Face with the rats, he'd do what he was told to.
Face has hated rats ever since.
Old fears are the worst. And we all knew how bad this one was.
Hannibal and B.A. disappeared for a while on that second day at the hospital, once Face was out of the woods. I know what they went to do, but I didn't ask any questions. Later maybe, but not now. I'm pretty sure that even as angry, enraged, as they were, they wouldn't do anything stupid. I'm almost sure of that.
At the hospital they fixed what they could before we had to take Face away. We couldn't risk staying too long and getting caught. Two days was pushing it, but it was the soonest we dared take him away. On top of his other injuries, both the bites and some of the cuts had become infected, and they were having trouble controlling the vomiting and fever that first day.
Face is a strong person, much stronger than people realize. He's been through a lot over the years. But having to go through this nightmare again, I'm scared that on top of everything else, it might be too much for even him.
No, he'll come back when he's ready. He will.
I'm glad we're at the beach. Face loves the ocean, and this latest place is his for at least another month. That's good, because we're going to need time.
He was pretty excited when he first showed the place to me. It's perfect, he said. I couldn't figure out what he meant at first. I mean, I could see that it was a really nice house, and private, no close neighbors, but he'd scammed other places as nice as this before.
That's when he led me into the room. He even called it that, with capital letters, The Room. Turned out the owner designed video games for a living, and The Room held the ones that he had created, along with a few that I suppose he admired. Eleven in all. Face was as excited to show me as I was to see it.
We were very happy here for exactly one day. Then Face went missing.
Those had to be about the worst three days of my life, at least since 'Nam. We had a good idea who had taken him, but that didn't help much. They had disappeared like so much dust in the wind.
I prayed for the first time in a long while. That's Face's department, not mine. God and I haven't been on the best of terms. But I prayed anyway, hoping beyond hope that we'd find him. No one said it, but we all were afraid he was dead. We've been together a long time, and you get to know each other well going through what we have. We could see it in each other's eyes. There was no reason to believe that they would keep him alive.
I don't know whether to laugh or cry knowing that Face is alive due to one person's sadistic nature.
Yes I do.
B.A. should be stopping by in a little while. He comes by after he finishes at the center and cooks dinner for us. For me. Face really hasn't eaten anything since we brought him home. I got him to drink some broth this morning, and a little water, but that's it. They had him on IVs at the hospital, and I'm afraid we might have to do that again if he doesn't start to eat. He's lost weight he can't afford to lose.
B.A.'s kind of surprised me. Not that I didn't already think the guy was a bit of a softy, despite the growls and all, but here, well, I've really gotten to see just how much he cares for us.
Yesterday when he came by, after he started dinner, he made me go and take a break. Told me I needed a shower. He was probably right. I didn't want to leave Face, but B.A. promised to stay right by him 'til I got back. When I finished, I stood in the doorway and watched them. B.A. must not have heard me, because I think he would have stopped if he had. He was sitting on the edge of the bed next to Face, holding his hand and rubbing his shoulder. His voice was low and deep, soft, at least for B.A., and he was telling Face a story about his grandma.
I kept watching, I couldn't help it. This was a side of B.A. we don't see. Maybe glimpse it sometimes when he's with his mama or the kids at the center, but even then, he knows we're there and he keeps some of the tough guy front in place.
He finished the story he'd been telling, but he just kept rubbing Face's shoulder. Face was awake, or not asleep.
It was quiet for a while, and I was about to let B.A. know I was there, when I heard him tell Face that he loved him and that he needed him to get better. I knew that I was gonna lose it, so I stepped back out of the room.
I think that somewhere in the back of my mind I'd been fooling myself that things weren't really as bad as they were. I mean, I knew they were bad, but I don't think I wanted to admit to myself, not fully at least, just how much Face had been hurt. But seeing B.A. that way, emotions as out front as I've ever seen them, made it all hit home at once. I just slid down the wall and sat on the floor, and it all came out.
B.A. must have heard me, 'cause the next thing I knew, he was sitting next to me with his arm around my shoulder. He never said anything, just sat with me until I could get up and go back to Face.
I'm glad B.A. will be here soon.
I'm scared. What if I can't help Face come back? What if he stays where he is, like I did back after the war? Doesn't find his way? What if he just can't take another hurt?
I need to do something useful.
His eyes are open again, so I'll check the bandages. I don't like to do it while he's asleep. I'm afraid of waking him. Or of adding to his nightmares by touching the wounds when he doesn't know it's me. At least if his eyes are open, he might know.
The skin's still red and swollen in places; the infection's still there. Some of the deeper cuts are going to leave scars. There's no part of his body that they didn't violate. No part.
And then there are the bites. Too many to count. They hadn't bothered to dress him again, and so there was nothing to slow the rats down, no clothes to act as any kind of a buffer. He'd have felt them on him, nails and fur as they crossed his flesh. Don't know how long he was in the room with them before we got there. There weren't a lot in there when we found him, but there were enough. Most ran when the light flooded the room, but not all. I'll never forget watching Hannibal slam his boot down on one that was still at Face's leg.
It was a nightmare vision come to life.
I've finished changing the bandages. I hate giving him the shot of antibiotics. He flinches every time and lets out a little cry. Maybe the sting of the needle feels like bites. I don't like hurting him.
Sometimes, and I hate myself for this, I wish he'd stay asleep longer. That's really selfish, but looking into those eyes that are so empty except for fear and pain, I almost lose myself right along with him. He's not old enough to have eyes that look that way.
I've been thinking a lot about hate lately. That's not like me, but I can't help it. I hate the men who did this to him and I hate myself for letting it happen. I hate hurting him. And I hate that he's like this. And I hate not knowing what to do.
That's a lot of hate. And I don't know how to get rid of it all.
B.A.'s come and gone. He ate dinner in the bedroom with us. He made a really good stew, then helped me prop Face up, and we managed to get a little more soup into him. B.A. made the soup, too. He's really a pretty good cook.
I'm sitting out here on the deck now. It's dark, and except for the stars, it'd be hard to tell the ocean from the sky. The stars look cold to me tonight. They've never looked that way before. Face and I, we like to sit out under them. They'd always felt warm before. But tonight, alone, they're distant, aloof. I wish on them all anyway, whether they're falling or not, first star I see or last, second star to the right. All the fairy tale rules mixed together. Maybe I'll get lucky and hit upon the right one.
Hannibal's in with Face. He asked for some time alone with him. Don't know what he's talking to Face about. Maybe he just needs to be able to do what B.A. did yesterday.
We're men. We don't show that kind of emotion easily. It's easier when you're alone.
This has been hard on Hannibal, although he's never said so. I know he feels responsible for what happened. He's the Colonel, and he feels that it's his job to keep us safe, anticipate things before they happen. None of us could have anticipated this, but that doesn't make it any easier to accept.
I remember back in the camp, when Face was like he is now. Towards the end, he'd been singled out, the beatings getting progressively worse. Then came the time that he was taken away for longer than usual. He's never spoken about what happened, but we know. When they were finished, they put him in the box. We waited for an eternity, watching as dusk came and went, and then as it approached again. By the time they threw him back in our cage, he was in bad shape. He was unconscious for a long time, and when he finally opened his eyes, there was nothing there. We really thought that he would die. We took turns holding him, trying to cool him off and wash out the wounds with what little dirty water we were given. I can still see Hannibal holding him close, the rage in his eyes never making it to his voice as he whispered to Face, promising him that as soon as he came back to us, we'd get out. He kept his promise.
I need to get back, check on Face, even though Hannibal's there. I feel like I've been away a long time.
We're alone now, me and Face. It's late. The little lamp on the night table is on. I leave it on all night, so I can see him if I need to. I keep a piece of cloth over the shade so that the light is dimmed, but still there.
I turned the radio off, and I'm listening to the night. The ocean is moving, making soft, murmuring sounds at the edge of the beach. Rolling up on the shore and then receding. In and out. Like Face's breath.
I'm watching the rise and fall of his chest. Lying on my side, facing him. His eyes are closed, the breaths are steady, but he's not sleeping. I can tell by the pattern of his breathing. It's a little too fast for sleep, a little too even for a nightmare.
I whisper to him.
I tell him how much I love him, and how much I miss him. I shouldn't; I don't want him to feel guilty about leaving me, but I can't help it. I tell him everything. About how hard it is without him and about how afraid I am that he'll stay away, leaving me alone. And I tell him that I'll be here, waiting, no matter how long it takes him to come back to me, to us.
As I watch, he slips into sleep, his chest rising and falling more slowly as I speak. I kiss him, once on the forehead, once on the lips. A reminder that I'm still here. Gently, I put an arm around him. I sleep better like that. If he starts to dream, I can feel the tremors before things get bad. Even if I can't pull him out of it quickly, at least I'm with him and ready.
My dreams, well, they're not too good lately either. I keep seeing Face on the floor where we found him, only sometimes his eyes are open and he's looking at me accusingly, silently asking why I didn't come sooner, why I didn't stop it from happening. Before I can reach him, tell him I'm sorry, he lets out a gasp, and his eyes close. He stops breathing.
I hold him just a little tighter.
I hope that the dreams won't come for either of us.
Here, with my arm around him and my eyes closed to what really is, I can pretend for a little while that everything's okay. Dr. Richter would call it avoidance, but it's really just hope. Hope that, if I can only believe hard enough, we'll be okay.
I'm so tired, but I can't sleep. The doctor at the hospital said that he should heal in time, at least physically, but I still worry about him slipping away in the night. In the dark, he's just a shadow, there but not there, and I'm afraid that, when the darkness leaves, he might go with it. That's another reason I leave the light on. It's crazy, really, but then, I'm a bit crazy, so it's okay.
Images keep going through my mind like snatches of different movies, only these pictures are real, no yelling cut and trying over for a better take. They take me back to the event that led to Face's revelation about his hatred for rats. We'd been on a mission and had wound up in a sewer. It was cold, dark, and wet, and we had to move slowly, the ground slick with slime.
Face had been skittish, he seemed to be staying closer to me than was usual or necessary. We don't touch when we're working, at least no more than the acceptable pat on the back or shoulder, so when I felt his hand repeatedly make contact with me, resting on my hip or arm, I wondered what was wrong. We were almost to the end of the tunnel, we could see the first hints of light starting to penetrate the darkness, when a dark shape, moving almost gracefully through the standing water, was caught in the beam of the flashlight as it passed by our legs.
I can still see it, slow motion frames standing out in bold relief in my mind. Face never made a sound, but he jerked away from the rat, losing his footing and falling hard. The sound of the splash echoed off of the walls, smaller sputterings following as Face scrambled backwards until he hit the side of the tunnel. I swung the flashlight around, and I stared in disbelief as it caught the large, wild blue eyes in its beam.
We were all stunned, and it was several seconds before we reacted. Several more seconds before we could get Face up and moving again. It wasn't until we were back in the van, tired and wet and smelling of sewer, that Face reluctantly revealed what had happened to him so many years ago.
His memories are now mine, and it hurts knowing even just some of the things he's gone through.
I give up and open my eyes again. I watch him sleep. His hair's fallen over his forehead, and it makes him look younger. But the shadows from the lamp that highlight his sunken eyes tell a different story. He looks so tired.
It's not fair.
I wonder sometimes how he keeps his faith. Keeps believing in the goodness of God. I lost my faith a long time ago. Seen too much shit to believe that God cares all that much for us. Face says that Father Maghill taught him that God lets us make our own choices, and that means that sometimes good people get hurt. Kind of takes God off the hook if you ask me.
I must have fallen asleep at some point, because now it's morning. Face's back is to me. He must have rolled over onto his other side last night, but I don't remember. I do remember that he only had one nightmare, though. One's not too bad.
Face is still asleep, so I'll slip away for a minute. I turn the light off and the radio on. Morning ritual. In the kitchen I find a note from Hannibal. He's already been and gone, didn't want to wake us. He and B.A. will be back at lunchtime.
I must have been pretty wiped. I never even heard him.
I'm not hungry yet, so I just get a cup of coffee. Hannibal started the pot before he left. I bring my cup back to the bedroom and sit on the edge of the bed next to Face.
Mornings are the best time. I watch him sleep, hoping that today will be different than yesterday and the day before, that today he'll wakeup and be back with me. The promise is there in the morning.
I love him so much it hurts. I never knew what that meant before I met Face, but I do now. It's not just that I hurt when he hurts, although I do. It also hurts knowing that someday he might not make it back from a mission, that I might have to go on with life without him. I don't know if I could. And it hurts knowing that I can't fix all the bad things that happened to him, that inside he keeps hidden places that I can't get to.
Here, watching him sleep and hearing the ocean outside, as constant now as it was last night, I'm beginning to understand why Face loves places like this. It's steady, life here at the ocean. No matter whether it is this beach house or one a hundred miles away, there's a sameness. And with that consistency comes a certain peace. No matter what else happens, the tides come and go with a regularity beyond human experience. Face's life has been anything but stable, but here, I think he knows that there is something that he can always count on to be the same. It's like his other hidden places, but this one is real; it's good.
And I'm more than a little humbled that he's been so willing to share this with me.
The sun creeps a little higher, steady and sure as the ocean, whispering its good mornings to every corner of the room. I hear the gulls outside going about their business, squawking pretty loudly about something, and I'm curious. They can be really noisy birds. I put my mug down and wander over to the window to see what they're doing.
They're arguing with each other over some piece of food, one dappled grey gull trying to keep it while the others are just as intent on trying to take it from him. They kind of bob at him, until he finally flies off a ways, scarfing down whatever it is quickly while the others are just landing on the sandy beach. Battle over, they all start looking for something else to eat.
Wish our battles could be so easily and bloodlessly solved.
I laugh a little. It's a silly thought, but still, I wish it were true. I turn back to tell Face about it, just wanting to hear a voice, even my own, and I freeze. Yeah, just like in some bad movie where the actor's eyes bug a little and he stops mid-stride.
Face is staring at me.
Not just staring off, but looking at me.
For what seems like forever, I don't move, afraid that if I do this will slip away and the reality that has been will return.
But it doesn't.
Face is watching me. There, lying on his side, his eyes lock with mine.
My mind races and stills at the same time. This is Face, but I don't know what to do. Will he flee as soon as I approach, or will he let me near, stay and allow me to help?
The hesitation doesn't last. I need to touch him, to try and keep him with me.
I move slowly over to him and try not to let the tears come when he flinches. I sit next to him and reach out to touch his shoulder. But he doesn't leave. His eyes return to mine.
"Face." I say his name softly, brushing the hair back from his forehead as I speak. His eyes flick away again, but his hand reaches out to me. I take it and hold it as I caress his cheek gently, delicately, hoping that my touch will take some of the fear out of his eyes.
I whisper words that are meant to calm him, meaningless and yet encouraging. Soothing sweet nothings, promises of safety and healing, of better things to come.
His hand tightens on mine and I feel the slight tremors in his body. Blue eyes turn towards me, unfocused but still there.
That one word nearly breaks me, hoarse and low as it is. A simple question full of despair and hope.
I nod my head. "Yeah, Facey. I've got you and I'm not letting go."
He pulls my hand close to his chest so that it's resting under his chin, his head bent down a little so that our hands are nestled against his neck. I see the tears before he squeezes his eyes tightly shut.
"Love you, Facey. Love you so much." I rub his back carefully, trying to offer comfort without aggravating the welts and stitches. A few tears seep out from behind the closed lids, and I wipe them gently away. "It's gonna be okay." I move so that I am kneeling on the floor next to where he's lying on the bed. "I promise, Face, it's over. And we'll stay right here until you're feeling better. Okay?"
He doesn't answer, but I think that he's still listening, so I keep trying. "Do you hurt much, Face?"
"Think you could try to eat a little something? Maybe some soup? B.A. made you some yesterday."
He opens his eyes again. The look in them stops me. There's pain there, but it's more than that. If the eyes are truly a window into the soul, then what I'm seeing scares me.
"Face, what's wrong?"
His eyes dart away from me and he's looking frantically around the room. I recognize the look now; I've seen it at the VA before. Probably looked that way myself back when I was really bad off. He's trapped somewhere between here and there, seeing both what's real and not real.
"Don't let…please…'dock, help me."
His eyes are losing focus, turning inwards and away from me. I need to stop him before he slips back. "It's okay, baby. It's okay. Facey, there's nothing here but you and me. Nothing. Look at me, Facey. Please." I use my free hand to once again brush the hair from his forehead and caress his cheek, letting the touch offer a connection to the here and now.
He presses his face against my hand, and I feel the wetness there. The warmth of his skin against mine worries me. His fever's spiking again.
"Can't…" His voice is barely a whisper. "Hurts…afraid. Won't stop. Please, help...never stops." Even as his words begin to slur, I can hear them taking on a frantic edge. "So tired."
I'm having trouble keeping the same frantic tone out of my voice as I try to soothe and reassure him. "No, no, Facey. You're not there anymore. You're safe, now. I got you, Face." I lean in closer, let my lips brush his warm cheek, trying to draw his focus to me. "Just me and you, baby. Nothing else."
We're inches apart, and I watch as he drags his eyes away from their search of the room and brings them back to mine. I kiss him again. "That's right, look at me, darlin'. I'm here and I'm not going to let anything happen."
"Rats…couldn't stop 'em."
Past tense. He's with me, and I almost cry with the knowledge of that. "I know, and I'm sorry I wasn't there, Face. But you're safe now. I promise."
"It hurt…tried not to scream…sorry, sorry."
"Oh Facey, no, you don't have to be sorry. It's all right. It was terrible, but it's over now. Everything's going to be okay."
I do cry when his free hand comes up to gently, cautiously touch my face. "Murdock? Home?"
"Yes, we're home."
His fingers touch my tears, and his eyes, focused now, lose the fear they held. "Hold me. Please."
I'm in bed with him before his soft words finish echoing inside of me. I draw him close, feel his arms wrap around me even as I embrace him. I'm not sure who is offering the comfort, but it doesn't matter.
We hold each other for a long time, his head resting on my chest, my hands caressing his hair and his shoulders. I feel his hand return the caress, rubbing small circles on my back. The movements slow as sleep takes a hold of him again. But he doesn't let go. And neither do I.
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