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Discovery
Author: Soulseeker

 

Rating: R-17 for mature adults

Beta: The wonderful Kerensa

Warning: adult situations, deals with rape, bad language, mentions torture

Summary: Hannibal and B.A. find out about Murdock and Face. They're not

happy

Feedback Level: 2

Disclaimers: I owe nothing but bills. You can have those if you really want

them.

Notes: All words between ** are suppose to be in italics (just in case it doesn't come though in the e-mail)

 

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

 

                                                Discovery

 

 Part 3

 

Saturday morning

 

Hannibal threw down his newest scrip in disgust. He'd been staring at the

same page for the past two days and still had no idea what the first scene

was about. He hadn't been able to concentrate worth a damn on anything since

he'd found out about his men and about what had really happened to Murdock

back in the P.O.W camps. The guilt just kept eating away at him and it

was about to drive him crazy.

 

Deciding that he just needed some fresh air to clear his mind, Hannibal

grabbed his jacket and the keys to his latest ride, a four-door beat-up

brown sedan that had been a prop on his last movie. It looked like utter

shit, but thanks to B.A.'s genius tinkering, it drove like a dream. A friend

on the movie lot had lent it to him for a few months and even said that he

didn't even mind if a few more dents and scratches showed up on it. It was

going to be demolished anyway, a vehicular casualty in an upcoming action

movie, so Hannibal might as well enjoy it until then.

 

Getting in, Hannibal cranked the car up and searched the radio stations,

hoping to find something that would fit his current mood. He by-passed the

rock stations, frowned at the one still stubborn disco station, winced at

the screaming punk 'music' and grimaced at the opera and classical stations.

He lingered a bit on the talk shows only long enough to find out the topic

of discussions and discovered the one country music station that was playing

an oldies montage. Hannibal sat and listened for a few moments as the sounds

of Hank, Loretta, Earnest and others filled the car with their soothing,

old-fashioned melodies.

 

Putting the car into drive, Hannibal pulled into traffic. He wandered the

streets aimlessly, one part of his mind on the road and potential M.P.'s and

the other on the music. His mind began to empty and he felt a huge weight

lift off his shoulders. This was just what he needed, a mindless activity to

occupy him.

 

Hannibal drove for hours, uncaring of his destination and undisturbed with

any traffic jams he came across. He had no set place to be within any time

frame, no missions, no duties or responsibilities that day. For the time

being, Hannibal was truly free from everyone and everything.

 

Just before noon, he glanced at the level of gas in the tank and was

surprised to find that it was almost on empty. It was time to fill up.

Perhaps he would just keep going after that and drive away from all the

problems that plagued him. It was a tempting thought, but he dismissed that

idea. Hannibal knew that he would become bored after a few weeks. He needed

the jazz to feel alive.

 

Sighing in regret over the loss of the fantasy of freedom from

responsibilities, he finally looked at his surroundings in order to find a

gas station and was startled to find that he was across from the Westwood

V.A. hospital. He hadn't meant to end up there, in fact, until that very

moment, Hannibal hadn't cared where he was. While he thought that he had

been aimlessly wondering the city, his sub-consciousness had taken him where

he really needed to be.

 

Hannibal knew that he really had to talk about this situation to someone.

B.A. was still against this, whatever *this* was, and Face refused to speak

to him unless it was about a job. Speaking of which, Face had been a bit

high-handed when he ordered Hannibal and B.A. not to contact Murdock.

 

The more he thought about it, the more Hannibal became ticked off about it.

He was the leader of the A-Team, not some teenage boy stiffening around the

parson's virginal daughter. If he wanted to talk to one of his men, he didn't

need *permission* to do so. To hell with Face, he decided. He needed to talk

to Murdock alone and get his side of the story.

 

'The lieutenant talks a good game, let's just see how Murdock *really* feels

about all of this', he thought. Hannibal wanted to know if this relationship

was on equal footing or if Murdock felt obligated to continue it because he

didn't know how to end it on his own. The pilot had a big heart and he

really had to know if Murdock was truly in love with the blond conman or was

only continuing this simply because he didn't want to hurt Face's feelings.

 

Wishing that he thought to bring a disguise, the Colonel was a bit surprised

to find the visitors parking lot full. It seemed that he wasn't the only one

with the idea of visiting that particular Saturday and, going by the

wind-carried laughter, many had brought their children along.

 

Hannibal wouldn't need a disguise after all; he would just melt into the

clusters of families visiting the patients. No one would give him a second

glance. The only flaw would be if Murdock had been confined to his room or

had chosen to stay indoors today.

 

But, Hannibal dismissed that last thought as he found the last spot open and

parked. Murdock spent as much free time outside as possible, especially on

Saturdays when visitors were more likely to show up. He'd once said that he

liked to watch the families and pretend that his own was going to show up

one day.

 

That last statement always made Hannibal feel sad. He and the others might

not be able to visit the few close friends and family they had as much as

they wanted to, being on the run like they were; but Murdock wasn't in

hiding and what few blood relatives he had left knew how to keep in contact

with him. They just didn't want anything to do with him.

 

The thoughts of a cold, abusive and judgmental father and the remembrances

of the horror of the P.O.W. camp brought Hannibal's mood down further at the

thought of all that Murdock had endured. He grimly searched the crowds of

family knots, nurses and orderlies looking for Murdock and finally spotted

his quarry sitting under an enormous oak tree. Hannibal dodged laughing

children playing tag as he made his solemn way to the small, still figure.

 

Murdock sat with his back against his favorite tree that he'd named Herbert

a long time ago. Herbert's huge arms and bushy fingers provided great shade

and a good hiding spot when he wanted to go as unnoticed as possible. Like

today for instance. Unlike his usual sprawl, he sat hunched over, arms tight

around his legs and his head propped up on his knees.

 

He hadn't wanted to come out today and watch all the happy people milling

around. He had wanted to stay in his darken room, living in the shadows and

hiding away from all the prying eyes. But the staff had prodded, cajoled,

and finally threatened him into going outside.

 

Murdock knew that Dr. Richter and the others were worried about him but he

was at a loss as to how to reassure them. How could he tell them that he was

going to lose his soul mate after Face finally caved in under the pressure

from the rest of the team? How could he tell them that when that day

ultimately came, he was going to eagerly lose himself to the madness for the

final time?

 

Without his Face, the world no longer appealed to him. He would gladly throw

himself off the abyss of sanity without a backwards glance. Face *was* his

sanity. Without the blond in his life, well, why stick around at all?

 

So, he stayed in his room more the usual, curled up under his bed instead of playing

his video games and staring at the shadows instead of watching t.v. or reading his

extensive collection of comics.

 

He had hoped that if he stayed as still and as quiet as possible, he would

simply fade away, taking the pressure off of his precious Face and saving

Hannibal and B.A. the trouble of putting up with his disgusting self out of

a misguided sense of duty. Once he was finally and truly gone, the team

could rest easy knowing that they could become whole once again.

 

Sure, Face might grieve for a while, but he would eventually heal. And then

he would be free to find someone else, anyone else. Hannibal and B.A. would

approve of Face's next companion, even if it was a guy. The mysterious

unknown replacement would be handsome, smart, and most certainly, and

importantly, be *sane*. He would also be pure, unsoiled in his

mind, body and soul. In other words, the complete opposite of a crazy-ass

pilot.

 

After all who would pick a half-eaten hamburger when they could have filet

mignon? Who would pick a warm, flat Coke over chilled champagne? Who would

have a few cold, greasy French fries when they could have a steaming-hot

loaded baked potato?

 

The thought of himself as a discarded Happy Meal brought Murdock's mood down

further. Usually, the thought of takeout made him hungry, but not anymore.

In fact, his appetite had fallen off the deep end and he knew that it made

Dr. Richter even more concerned. The man kept shoving pills down the pilot's

throat, hoping that the drugs would stimulate his hunger.

 

It would only be a short matter of time before the staff resorted to a

feeding tube, but Murdock didn't care. He was in the process of losing

everything that was important, so why did it matter if he couldn't summon up

the energy or desire to poke at the Jell-O?

 

Murdock glanced up at the sky in order to judge the sun's position. He

wanted to keep to the shadows as much as possible and he needed to know when

he would actually have to shift to stay hidden. Satisfied that he wouldn't

have to move for a few more hours, he let his eyes drift down and spotted

Hannibal heading his way.

 

Murdock froze as his whole body seemed to turn to ice. He actually felt his

heart stop, sputter and then began to pound in fear. Hannibal almost never

visited without a reason and if it was for a job, he always wore a disguise.

There was no funny wig or hat and certainly no fake nose or beard today. And

if it *was* for a job and Face couldn't make it to scam or break him out,

the blond always called ahead to let him know of the switch. There had been

no such call this morning.

 

A sudden realization rushed though him like a red hot flash of heat, melting

the ice in his veins and burning his heart to a cinder. He knew why Hannibal

had come to see him. This was *it*.

 

The big good-bye.

 

The brush off.

 

The ol' heave-ho.

 

The adios amigos.

 

The see ya' later alligator.

 

The don't let the door hit ya' where the good Lord split ya'.

 

The see ya' sucker.

 

The big finish.

 

The so long and don't take any wooden nickels.

 

The don't call us, we'll call you.

 

Amscray.

 

Skedaddle.

 

Go on.

 

Shoo!

 

*Get on outta here*!

 

In short, Murdock was being thrown away like the used, broken goods that he

was.

 

The lanky pilot would've choked on his own spit if it hadn't already dried

up at the sight of his now soon- to-be-former commander. He had hoped, no

*prayed* to whoever it was up there that listened to people like him, that

he might still have a few more months with Face. Instead, he had only had a

few precious weeks before the end finally came for him.

 

Murdock only hoped that Hannibal would make it a quick and clean break, like

severing a moldering, putrid limb that was no longer useful. But his mind

conjured up images of a long farewell, like a wasting, lingering disease

that would just drag on and on with no real end in sight.

 

His always fertile imagination had already supplied him with the upcoming

conversation. First, Hannibal would ask Murdock how he was doing and after

politely nodding at his reply without really listening, he would then tell

the pilot about their newest mission. But the job would be in L.A. so they

didn't need to fly anywhere. In fact, it was only a three man task so

Murdock could just sit back and relax at the V.A. because there wouldn't be

any need to break him out. And Murdock would look happy and relieved in the

face of this devastating news.

 

After Hannibal left, he would most certainly get a call from Face, telling

him that even if the pilot wasn't with them, he was certainly in the blond

man's thoughts and dreams. There might even be a vague promise of a romantic

dinner for the two of them after the job was wrapped up. After Face had a

bit of time to rest up, that is.

 

Face might even have every intention of keeping that date, but another

mission would soon follow on the heels of the last one. Also in town, also a

three man job and there really wouldn't be any reason to disturb the crazy

man in the nut house. It would just be better all-around to let him get the

rest and quiet that his chaotic mind needed.

 

After that there might even be mission out of town, but still a three man

job; or they might actually call with an excuse of renewed military security

and Face would very regrettably say that the area was too hot to attempt a

personnel extraction.

 

And while they were out on their jobs, Murdock's only contact with them

would be through sporadic phone calls. Which, after a while, would trickle

down to silence.

 

Silence forever.

 

Face would then be free to find someone worthy of his love and Hannibal and

B.A. would simply be relieved to not have to deal with a mistake on the

team. And as for him? Well, he would just fade into the shadows where he

belonged anyway; away from normal people, away from any source of light and

goodness, forgotten until he simply ceased to exist.

 

The little imaginary conversation soon turned in to a babble of confusing

voices buzzing in his ears. One voice told him to stand up and take the news

like a real man. He might be a faggot, but he was still - biologically - a

man.

 

Another voice shrilly screamed at him to *run*, run as fast and as far as he

could. They couldn't throw him off the team if they couldn't catch him.

 

A reasonable sounding voice told him that maybe he should be the one to end

it. After all, *he* was the one that was poisonous to the team, he should be

the one to break it off in order to take the pressure off the innocent team

members.

 

A low sinister, spine-chilling voice that sounded suspiciously like his

father whispered that he should knock Hannibal unconscious, take his

concealed weapon and *really* end it for good. Surely they would be relieved

if Murdock *did* kill himself. After all, they shouldn't feel guilt from

having to watch him slowly die inside. It wasn't *their* fault that he

should've been drowned at birth if this was how he turned out. He really

*should* die. He deserved to because he was unnatural, a by-blow of

Satan himself for having carnal urges towards other men like he did. He was

going to roast in Hell for all of eternity, so he just might as well jump

into the flames as soon as possible because there was no sense in delaying

the inevitable.

 

Murdock's mind might have been busy with confusing and conflicting thoughts,

but his body had decided to do its imitation of a park statue. As his brain

screamed at him to do 'something', his muscles decided to take a vacation

from the stress and left his body frozen in place. Murdock couldn't have

moved if his feet were on fire. He did manage to glance up, saw the grim

look on his soon-to-be-former C.O.'s face and dropped his glaze, suddenly

finding the grass and roots under him very fascinating.

 

Hannibal's concern about Murdock's well-being deepen the closer he got to

his friend. Murdock was thinner, much thinner than the last time he'd seen

him only a few weeks ago. It was true that the pilot was naturally skinny

with his hyper-metabolism, but this was entirely different. The bones in his

hands looked fragile and bird-like as they kept a white- knuckled grip

around knobby looking knees. He had briefly seen the Captain's face before

he looked down. Murdock's face had a haunted, fearful look with sharp cheek

bones emphasizing the deep circles under his eyes.

 

Not only had the younger man stopped eating, apparently he had stopped

sleeping as well. Hannibal felt a flair of anger at the staff of the

Westwood V.A. hospital. Why was Murdock outside when it was obvious to

anyone with half a brain that he was ill? The pilot should be inside, tucked

into a warm bed and being feed soup and ice cream and watching B movies with

bad acting, tacky costumes, lousy special effects and even worse plots.

 

But no, they had allowed him to sit outside where he could easily catch a

chill or fever in his weakened physical condition. Never mind that it was a

sunny eighty-five degrees and Murdock was wearing his leather jacket, the

man could still become sick from any one of the visitors floating around.

The man's immune system could be compromised and it was very possible that

he could catch someone's minor summer cold and have it turn into double

pneumonia before anyone could blink.

 

Once he had his talk with Murdock, he would insist that the other man return

to his room to rest. He would then find a way to alert the staff to Murdock's

possible illness and hopefully with the right meds, nutritious food and

enough sleep, the boy would be back to his old bouncing-off-the-walls self.

 

Hannibal stopped near the huddled form of one of his most vulnerable

friends. Except for that brief glance up, Murdock hadn't moved from his

position. In fact, he huddled into himself even further, the bill of his

baseball cap resting on his knobby knees.

 

But before Hannibal could open his mouth, an orderly appeared out of

nowhere.

 

Wayne had seen the older man stop in front of Murdock and decided to

intervene on the Captain's behalf. With the way Murdock had been acting

lately, it was no telling how a stranger might set him off.

 

He had been working at the V.A. for almost as long as Murdock had been a

patient and knew the man almost never had any visitors unless they were the

M.P.'s, visiting psychiatrists looking to have a crack at him, or that same

mysterious blond man who came to check out the former pilot for everything

between experimental drug treatments, rare and contagious illnesses, organ

transplants or rumors of possible C.I.A. leaks.

 

After a minute or two, Wayne dismissed the older man as an M.P. While the

man had a military-like baring, he wasn't in uniform and besides, they

always traveled in groups. He really couldn't see an off-duty M.P. visiting

Murdock just for shits and giggles.

 

And, although he was as old as many of the doctors at the V.A. he had

neither the employee badge or the smirk all the new docs wore as they

imagined that *they* would be the one to cure Westwood's most famous psych

patient. A smirk that didn't last more than an hour after meeting Murdock

and having their illusions of fame and fortune shatter and then swirl down

the drain.

 

And after listening to the different nurses swooning descriptions of the

same man who always seemed to turn up to check Murdock out, Wayne knew that

this guy was too old. Besides, how many more organs did Murdock have left to

donate?

 

The orderly knew by his personal file that Murdock had family, and he had

heard the nurses discussing how some of the families didn't visit psych

patients simply because they were disgraced to have someone crazy in their

family.

 

Which was a damn shame in Wayne's opinion. Didn't those people realize that

no matter how far gone some of these guys were, having family around that

cared went a long way in part of their recovery? And Wayne knew that money

couldn't always be an excuse when the family lived out of town or out of

state. Sure, some of the poorer families couldn't visit as much as they

wanted, but they did show up on important holiday months, wearing their best

clothes, some a little more patched and threadbare then others; but they

*did* show up. And when they couldn't, there was at least a call or a letter

every week or so.

 

But for many of them, like Murdock, they were simply forgotten vets. They

had risked their lives and lost their sanity for a society who had all but

ignored their men and for families who had abandoned them.

 

Wayne knew that part, if not the majority of these guys, would never leave

the grounds of Westwood. They would live and die behind these walls and it

was up to the staff to see them as well cared for as possible and protected

them as best as they could from the cruelty of outsiders.

 

Besides, despite Murdock's rather alarming consistency of escapes, the rare

occasional angry outbursts and the mind boggling personality changes, the

Captain was well liked by the staff. He never went out of his way to

deliberately and maliciously cause trouble and was often seen chatting away

at the catatonic patients, pausing in his speech as if the other men had

actually responded to him. It was way beyond a bit particular but Wayne

always hoped to be around when one of the catatonic guys actually woke up

and spoke back to the outrageous things Murdock talked about.

 

So this latest down turn of Murdock's was alarming, to say the least and

Wayne only hoped that it wouldn't turn into a suicide watch. Those watches

meant that the patient had given up all hope and it was usually a long, hard

road back to recovery. He should know, he had worked some of Murdock's

earlier episodes in his stay and he hated to think that the usually

easy-going guy sliding back to that dark place inside of him.

 

"Can I help you find someone, sir?"

 

Hannibal looked at the large young man suddenly blocking his way. He pasted

a smile on his face, thrust out a hand and said in his best Southern voice,

"Why, Ah'm visiting family, my good sir. My name is B.J. Murdock. Ah'm a

cousin to H. M. here."

 

Wayne ignored the hand and skeptically raised an eyebrow, "If you're his

relative, then where have you been for the past twelve years?"

 

Hannibal didn't miss the distrust radiating from the orderly's voice and he

approved of it, even if it *was* directed at him. It seemed that Murdock did

have someone looking out for him at the hospital. Maybe after he and Murdock

talked, he could enlist Wayne's help to convince the pilot to go inside and

back to bed where he belonged.

 

So, it wasn't that hard to inject shame into his voice as he answered the

suspicious  orderly.  "Why, Ah've been in the Congo these past fifteen

years, setting up a clinic for orphaned orangutans and gorillas. It's right

terrible what those scoundrel hunters do to those poor baby critters down

there. Ah do a lil' huntin' myself, but Ah hunt for food, not for trophies.

Ah met Miss Jane Goodall at a charity function years ago and she jus'

charmed the boots right offa' me. So, Ah said to myself, 'B.J. you ol' dog,

ya ain't done a thing in your life but make more money than ya' can shake a

stick at and this lil' gal here's trying to save poor lil' baby monkeys.'

 

"Ah'll tell ya' Ah felt so ashamed of myself that Ah jus' up and sold

everythin' and moved down to the jungles to open up a clinic for that lil'

monkey lady. And that's right where Ah was an' 'fore Ah knew it, fifteen

years went by and Ah started hankerin'  for some good ol' grits and greens,

ya' know, they don't have good ol' Southern food down in them jungles. It's

mostly 'nanas and coconuts. That's how come those people down yonder looks

so scrawny and puny looking. Ain't got no good groceries to stick to their

ribs.

 

"So, anyway, once Ah got back home and filled up on some of my mama's

biscuits and gravy and fried chicken, poor ol' dear can hardly get around,

bless her heart, but she sure can still fill a table up with good food. And,

once Ah got settled in good and proper, Ah wanted to get reacquainted with

my family, seeing that it has been so long since Ah seen everybody or read a

letter from down home. Mail is kind of slow in the jungle ya' know. Anyway,

imagine my surprise to hear about my dearest cousin being in a hospital way

down here in California.

 

"So, Ah hopped on 'nother plane and came all this way to see H.M. here. You

fellas sure do have a right pretty place here."

 

Wayne could only blink in the face of Murdock's cousin's speech. There might

not be any *family* resemblance, but the old guy sure had the same rambling

speech that the pilot often displayed. But, family or not, he wouldn't leave

Murdock alone with a virtual stranger unless the captain approved it.

 

For the first time in days, Murdock spoke to someone other than Face. "He's

ok, Ollie. He's . . . family."

 

If either man had noticed the pause and the little hitch in Murdock's voice

on the word 'family' neither of them mentioned it.

 

Hannibal just stared at the orderly's name tag which clearly said 'Wayne'

and raised an eyebrow.

 

Pride prevented Wayne from explaining that Murdock called all of the

orderlies 'Ollie". No one knew why and Murdock never bothered to explain

that some days he couldn't remember other people's names, much less that he'd

forgotten - occasionally - how to read. Ollie the orderly and Nancy the

nurse was easy to remember on days like that. Anyway, it was a lot nicer

then what some of the other patients called them.

 

Besides, Wayne figured that this so-called cousin should get used to Murdock's

little eccentricities now instead of later when the pilot really got going.

He only hoped that it wouldn't drive Murdock deeper into himself if B.J.

Murdock decided that he couldn't handle it and bailed out on him. The man

had enough problems without getting his hopes up about finally having family

in contact, only to have those same hopes dashed when he realized that his

long-lost cousin never wanted anything left to do with him after one visit.

 

"Well, I'll leave you two alone, but I'll be in calling distance if you need

me, Murdock."

 

Wayne waited until Murdock gave a small nod and he walked away, still

casting suspicious glances over his shoulder.

 

Hannibal chuckled over the bewildered look that he'd gotten after his little

explanation. It seem that hanging around Murdock all of these years had

finally paid off. Murdock used to give the same rambling type of reply to

the brass when they asked a simple yes or no question.

 

"That was close, huh Murdock?"

 

"Yes, sir."

 

Hannibal looked down at Murdock. The captain's voice had sounded flat,

formal and emotionless, as if Hannibal was some stranger instead of his

friend and commanding officer. Murdock was staring at his knees as if they

were the most amazing things in the world.

 

"Are you feeling alright, Murdock?" asked Hannibal, his voice full of

concern.

 

"Yes, sir. Fine, sir. Thank you for asking, sir."

 

What the hell was this all about? Murdock had always called him Hannibal,

Colonel, or whatever cover the older man had donned for a job. And when

Murdock did address him as 'sir', it was usually with a light, teasing tone

in a off-the-wall accent, not this remote formalness. Hannibal's senses went

on full alert and a cold shiver went up his spine.

 

Once Hannibal had made up his mind to talk to Murdock, he had been prepared

for the pilot's scorn. After all, he and B.A. had reacted rather badly back

at the beach house. He'd even expected Murdock's well deserved rage and

anger over Hannibal's failure to keep him safe when they'd been in the V.C.'s

camp.

 

A new wave of self-pity washed over Hannibal. Maybe if he'd been a better,

stronger, *smarter* leader, he could've come up with an escape plan sooner

then he had. Maybe less men would've died and Murdock wouldn't have been

repeatedly raped.

 

Not for the first time did Hannibal wonder what had finally landed the

colorful captain in a psych ward. Had it been the war in general, the rapes

in specific, or his own failure as a leader? He was afraid to ask because he

didn't want to know that it *had* been his fault.

 

A feeling of self-loathing washed away his pity. This *wasn't* about him and

his short- comings. This was about Murdock, *his* wants and *his* needs. And

if he wanted and needed Face, well, Hannibal wasn't going to try to stand in

their way.

 

B.A., however, might be a different matter altogether.

 

Tired of standing and staring, he asked, "Mind of I join you?"

 

"No, sir."

 

Hannibal was beginning to hate the sound of that simple, three letter word.

A feeling of unease settled in his stomach. Except for that very brief look

up earlier, Murdock hadn't looked at him; hadn't actually looked at anyone

really.

 

He settled himself close to the pilot, but was careful not to actually touch

him. He didn't want to crowd the younger man, not knowing what would set off

a panic attack in this state of mind that Murdock seemed to be in.

 

Murdock used to do that quite a bit right after the camp. A simple touch on

the shoulder or an accidental nudge with a foot sent the skinny pilot

howling into a corner of their hooch where he would shake until he started

to hyperventilate from fear. Then it took all four of them to hold him down;

him and Ray holding down a thrashing arm and leg apiece, B.A. across the

bucking, panicking body with Face forcing Murdock to breathe into a paper

bag until he passed out. Hannibal had always assumed that those episodes

were the result from Koa's extensive torture sessions. Now he knew better

and he felt even more guilt washing over him.

 

Murdock completely misunderstood the intentions. 'Of course,' he thought. 'He

doesn't want to come near me. He now knows how dirty I am. I'm garbage. A

sewer's cleaner than me. I'm lucky that he still wants to be in the same

*state* that I'm in.'

 

An awkward silence fell between the two men. One man not knowing how to

start and the other not wanting to hear what he knew for sure was to be

devastating news.

 

Cursing himself, Hannibal realized that there was no possible way to begin

this conversation with small talk. How do you explain your new understanding

of a friend's past behavior without letting on that you know about said

friend's rapes by a sadistic monster? You couldn't. So, as much as he didn't

want to, it was time to come clean about the revelations at the warehouse.

 

Wishing that he had Face's silver tongue, Hannibal nervously cleared his

throat before beginning one of the most difficult conversations he'd ever

had in his life.

 

"I guess that you're wondering why I'm here."

 

While Hannibal had been struggling to figure out what he wanted to say,

Murdock had done some thinking on his own. He was tired, depressed and he

didn't feel like having his heart slowly ripped apart. He didn't want to

listen to any of Hannibal's lies or excuses. He knew that he was being

dumped by the team; might as well do it quick, like ripping a band-aid off a

particularly bad scab. And that's exactly what Murdock felt like right now;

a pus-filled scaly scab on the elbow of humanity. Well, he was getting fed

up with being the boo-boo of the cosmos.

 

"No, sir. I know why you're here, sir."

 

Hannibal should've felt surprised but he didn't. Murdock often just *knew*

things before anyone else did back in 'Nam. Which secure LZ would turn into

a hornets nest before Intel reports came though. Which supplies would be

delayed because of the V.C. activity in the area long before they were due

to arrive. Which fellow pilot wouldn't make it back from a simple pick-up.

The fact that Murdock used to just show up out of nowhere to pick up the

team from an aborted mission just in time, long before they called in about

the scrubbed plans.

 

Hannibal knew that a lot of guys developed some sort of ESP out in the bush,

himself included. It kept a lot of squads from running into booby traps or

right into a patrol of V.C. troops. That ability kept you and your buddies

alive and safe. It was useful In-country, but back in the World it was down

right spooky.

 

Most guys dropped it like a bad smoking habit once they were home for good.

For some reason, Murdock hadn't and sometimes Hannibal found it a bit

unsettling to wake up in his newest hide-out just to find Murdock standing

outside the front door, a wide grin on his face while holding a bag full of

breakfast in his hands. It wasn't the fact that Murdock had found out where

he lived at all; it was the fact that he showed up the morning *after* he'd

moved in the middle of the night and *before* he let the others know that he'd

left his recent hideout. Hell, most of the time he didn't even know where he

would end up himself after picking a random direction and motel. B.A. said

it creeped him out when it happened to him and Hannibal had to agree.

 

Despite himself, Hannibal was intrigued. "You do, huh? Then why don't you

tell me why you think that I'm here."

 

Murdock took a deep breath and gave himself  a little pep talk. He could do

this, he really could. His life and dreams might be coming to an end, but no

one could ever accuse him of running scared once a fight broke out. And this

was a fight that he was going to lose.

 

Murdock finally raised his head up, staring sightlessly out into the milling

crowd of families, patients and staff. He was finished with hiding and

through with running from what he was. He would make Face proud of him one

last time. He would protect Face as best he could by taking all the blame

on himself, where it naturally belonged.

 

"I knew that this day would come. I knew that one day you and B.A. would

find out the truth about me. About us. I just didn't figure that it would be

this soon. But I want you to know that it's o.k., it really is. And. . . and

you can assure Face that I understand and I didn't kick up a fuss about it,

sir."

 

"You understand and you didn't kick up a fuss?" Hannibal struggled to

understand where this was going. He was used to Murdock's weird tangents,

but this was a whole new twist that nobody could follow.

 

"Yes, sir. Don't worry, I'm used to it and I don't blame you one little bit,

sir."

 

"You don't blame me?" Hannibal was beginning to feel a bit like a parrot,

helpless to utter anything on his own.

 

"No, sir. After all, the team comes first and this is what's best for the

team. It might be a bit rocky at first, but it'll smooth out in a while. Just

wait and see, won't take no time at all. It'll be just fine once everything

settles down and everybody gets used to how things ought to be."

 

Hannibal began to get a sick feeling in his stomach. The feeling intensified

the longer Murdock talked without looking him in the eyes.

 

"The only problem that I can think of is Face. He might not understand it at

first. He might even get mad, but that'll go way in time, you'll see. If you

and B.A. are just a little bit patient with him, why he'll settle right on

down. Ya' know that he can't hold a grudge against y'all for long.

Eventually he'll see that it was the right thing to do, the *only* thing to

do. Everything will return to normal and it'll be one less thing to worry

about. Everything will be A-o.k. You'll see, sir."

 

Murdock's little speech was calm, sane and reassuring. The sick feeling in

Hannibal's stomach intensified as he realized where he'd heard that tone

before.

 

A few months after they had busted Murdock out of that first hell-hole of a

V.A. hospital and taken him on the run with them, the pilot had given a

similar talk. The words had been different, but the tone was the same then

as it was now. Hannibal's gazed settled on Murdock's left wrist as the past

rushed back to him.

 

Murdock's behavior had been erratic, much more unstable then it ever been

back in 'Nam. The captain had been bouncing off the walls, babbling

incoherently and he had been going for days without any sleep and very

little food. It had been an exhausting time for them all and Hannibal could

see the worry etched deep in his lieutenant's face as more time passed

without any improvements.

 

Then suddenly one morning at breakfast, Murdock had simply stopped. Stopped

the frantic movements. Stopped the high-speed garbled speech. Stopped the

huddled rocking in the corners and stopped the paranoid behavior around meal

times.

 

Murdock had apologized for his behavior and told the rest of the team that

he was feeling much better and everything would be fine from now on. He

laughed and talked and smiled at them all. His speech was calm and rational,

his body was completely relaxed.

 

It was as if a switch had been abruptly thrown inside the captain's mind.

Turned on, he was Mr. Hyde, a manic, salivating beast lashing out at

everything and everybody without the slightest provocation or warning.

Turned off, he was Mr. Jekyll - reserved, rational, calm, kind to small

children and animals.

 

Far from being alarmed at this sudden turn of events, the team was relieved.

Trying to keep up with Murdock had been exhausting to them all, especially

Face since he had been the main one dealing with the delusional man. Not

because he refused any help out of any sense of duty to his best friend, but

because for the most part, Face was the only one to whom Murdock would

listen to when he was even half-way rational. To suddenly have a sane and

calm pilot was a load off of everyone's shoulders.

 

So, no one was surprised when, after a uneventful day and three stress-free

meals, where the captain even asked for seconds, that Murdock announced soon

after dinner that he wanted to take a long soaking hot bath and go to sleep.

 

Ten minutes after the water shut off, Face had gotten a bad feeling, the

same feeling he often had when Murdock had been dragged out of their cage

for another fun game of 'torture the pilot'. It was the feeling that this

might be the last time he ever saw Murdock alive.

 

Face franticly pounded on the locked bathroom door, shouting Murdock's name.

After receiving no answer, he had the now alarmed B.A. to break the door

down, just in time to see Murdock make the first vertical cut on his left

wrist with a razor blade.

 

The pilot had been so focused on his task that he didn't realized that he

wasn't alone until B.A.'s hand wrapped tightly around his right wrist,

forcing him to drop the razor.

 

He stared blankly at the horror-stricken faces of his

friends as they wrapped his left wrist up in towels and lifted him out of

the light pink-tinged bath water. Murdock sat mutely as he was dried and

hastily dressed while Face kept a firm pressure on the not-so-shallow sliced

wrist.

 

Murdock still made no protest or sound as B.A. bodily picked him up again

and carried him out to the Toyota hatchback that they were currently

driving. He was settled into the backseat with Face, who had never let up on

the lifesaving pressure on the self-inflected wound.

 

B.A. drove them around the small dark town, desperately seeking an open

clinic or a hospital. It was a risk, but one that they had to take. The

alternative was just too horrific to think about.

 

The whole damn town had shut down for the night by six o'clock and there it

was nine-thirty in the evening and not a light was left burning on Main

street. Even the streetlights were off and the tension mounted in the car.

Hannibal knew that they needed to find help soon, no amount of pressure

would stop the bleeding completely and the longer it took for them to find

help the more of a risk Murdock had of losing more blood then he could

afford before shock set in.

 

Just before they gave up and was about to try and make it to the next town

before Murdock bled out, they spotted a small, bright glow in the inky

darkness. Like a biblical miracle, they followed that small square of light

down a side street, hoping for salvation in the form of a hospital; or in

the very least some sort of health center that the townspeople used.

 

Instead of a hospital though, they found an all-night animal clinic.

Desperate and feeling as if they waited any longer they would be risking the

pilot's life, he and the rest of his men was prepared to bribe or force the

vet on duty to help Murdock.

 

That's when they experienced their second miracle of the night. The doc not

only stitched up Murdock without so much as a blink, a murmur of payment or

blackmail, but he and Hannibal had a private discussion that involved a

bottle of Wild Turkey, a tragic story and more than a few bitter words on

Hannibal's part.

 

The vet had urged Hannibal to get Murdock some help before it was too late

and the colonel basically told him to go to Hell. They had rescued Murdock

from a cesspit of a V.A. hospital, they weren't about to abandoned him to

the not-so-tender mercies of a corrupt system, incompetent staff and

indifferent doctors who didn't care if the patients lived or died as long as

they got a check from the government.

 

Still not willing to give up, the vet then handed Hannibal his third unknown

miracle of the night in the form of a small, well-worn card for the Westwood

V.A. hospital in Los Angeles, California. It was a good place, the doc

assured him, a safe place with an understanding and caring staff.

 

Hannibal took the card just to shut the man up and silently vowed to himself

that it wouldn't be needed. Murdock would be just *fine*, he would make damn

sure of it. The colonel had gotten the team though some insanely dangerous

missions in 'Nam, freed them from a death camp in those same hostile

jungles, busted the three of them out of an inescapable prison, found and

rescued Murdock and made sure that they were at least two steps ahead of the

law and the M.P.'s. He would continue to keep everyone safe, he didn't need

anyone else's misguided sense of help.

 

He'd been arrogant, self-confident, and incredibly stubborn back then. He'd

dismissed the doc's concern because after all, he was the legendary Lt. Col.

John 'Hannibal' Smith. There wasn't anything he couldn't do, nothing too big

that he couldn't pull off, no plan that ever failed him even with a little

improvising. He had kept his men alive in 'Nam, he would keep them safe on

the run.

 

Hannibal soon discovered that he was also the biggest fool alive.

 

They had kept a closer eye on Murdock after that, who'd withdrawn from all

of them into a silent world where no one and nothing existed excepted

himself. He ate and drank if something was put in front of him, moved when

he was prodded into a direction and generally ignored the fact that he had

company in the bathroom when he bathed or attended to his personal business.

 

Hannibal would've gladly welcomed an angry and violent outburst from the

pilot; something, anything except this silent shade drifting through life as

if he had no tether to the mortal world.

 

Even though Hannibal was confident in his own abilities, the vet's words

echoed in his mind every night as he tried futilely to sleep after a long,

exhausting day of trying to reach an unreachable man.

 

Desperate to exorcize at least one ghost, and to hedge his bets just in

case, Hannibal contacted their old team mate, Ray Brenner, through a tight

underground network of vets who'd either believed that they were innocent or

who were convinced that they owed their very lives to the team, specifically

Murdock.

 

More than one guy had a Murdock story to tell, either from personal

experiences or about some buddy they had whose life was saved due to Murdock's

skill as a pilot. They were willing to share everything they had - food,

shelter, medical supplies, weapons, transportation, money, their very lives

if Murdock needed or asked for it.

 

After several tense days of sending coded messages back and forth though

various contacts, Hannibal was able to personally speak to Ray. He wanted

Ray to go Westwood to check the place out, just so he would be able to call

the vet up later and tell him 'I told you so' when the report came back

negative. And if the report was positive, well, Hannibal was still very sure

that Murdock just needed a bit more time to straighten himself out. He wasn't

throwing in the towel just yet.

 

Ray did him even one better. He and his fiancÚ, Trisha, temporarily moved to

L.A. and went undercover at Westwood; he as a patient and she as part of the

cleaning staff.

 

After four nerve-racking agonizing weeks, Hannibal received the dreaded

news. The Westwood V.A. hospital was everything the vet had said and more.

 

Rather than a high turnover of staff that most V.A. hospitals experienced

because of dissatisfied doctors and overworked nurses, most of the

caregivers there had been employed there for ten years or more.

 

Rather then hiring thugs and bullies for orderlies, each employee was carefully screened

to weed out the ones who were not suited to work with shell-shocked or disabled vets.

And, if any did happen to manage to slip though, all it took was one complaint, one whisper

of fear, one uncalled for bruise or suspicious mark and that worker was put under a careful surveillance.

 

If caught abusing a patient, that person was not only fired and had criminal

charges brought against them, but they were blacklisted from every V.A.

hospital in the country. The board of directors, all vets themselves, saw to

that personally. Westwood was not the kind of place that played fast and

loose with its patient's health and well-being; not if they really wanted to

help the men in their care.

 

Still, Hannibal had been reluctant to act on the information. He told

himself that Murdock just needed a little more time to get his head

together. He wasn't going to give up on his captain just yet.

 

Three weeks after he talked with Ray, time ran out in the form of a

desperate and determined Murdock with a loaded pistol.

 

Hannibal came out of the past with a shiver. They had no choice after that,

even Face had to agree that Murdock needed more help that they could

provide.

 

"Murdock," interrupted Hannibal, "Are you thinking of doing something . . .

*unwise*?" His mind had automatically rejected the words 'stupid', 'crazy'

and 'foolish' because he wasn't sure what would set the pilot off in this

strange mood.

 

"Unwise, sir? I don't know what you mean, sir."

 

Gritting his teeth together in frustration, Hannibal reached over and

grabbed Murdock's left wrist. He felt a perverse sense of satisfaction at

Murdock's flinch and brief look of fear.

 

Good. Fear was good. *Anything* was better than the remote robotic-sounding

voice and blank face of the normally animated man beside him.

 

Hannibal felt the fast flutter of Murdock's pulse in the thin, cold wrist

but he didn't let that stop him from tightening his hand. Not hard enough to

hurt, but he needed Murdock to understand that he wasn't going to get away

with whatever it was that he was planning. Hannibal would sound the alarm

himself if he thought the pilot was going to try to take his life again.

 

"Unwise. Crazy. *Stupid*." Hannibal grounded out between clinched teeth.

 

Murdock let his face go utterly blank again and his voice just as impersonal

as he said, "Of course not, sir. I'm sure that I don't know what you mean,

sir. I've already promised not to cause a scene and I'll no longer cause any

trouble to you or to anyone else, sir. You can rest assure that any future

difficulties will not happen, not from me, not anymore, sir. You have my

word as an officer."

 

Hannibal's feeling of fear had intensified and a cold knot of nameless

terror formed in the pit of his stomach. He wasn't sure what was going on in

his captain's mind, but it was way past time to find out.

 

"I want you to tell me, right now, why you think that I'm here."

 

Hannibal let go of Murdock's wrist and the pilot refocused his gaze on the

milling crowd. He didn't want to see Hannibal wipe his hand in disgust after

touching garbage. And that was when he realized like a bolt of lightening from

above the *true* reason why Hannibal had come to see him.

 

It was so clear now and it was really laughable that he hadn't caught on

much sooner than this. Murdock blamed his earlier bout of self-pity for the

reason that he hadn't been thinking clearly when he'd first spotted his

soon-to-be former commander.

 

It was so obvious now why Hannibal was here. Murdock wasn't going to be

kicked off the team. It was much, much worse than that.

 

Hannibal was here to take out the garbage; him so to speak. Permanently.

 

Murdock didn't blame him. After all, he was the one that was poison to the

team, a liability, a *mistake*.  And like all mistakes, it was high time to

fix it or get rid of it.

 

He briefly wondered how it was going to happen. A knife in the ribs? A

silencer on the gun? Garroting?

 

If Murdock had a choice, he would pick garroting. It was less messy and the

last thing he wanted was to make more of a mess then he already had just by

living. No contaminated blood. No noise.

 

Quiet.

 

Neat.

 

Final.

 

And it wasn't as if the pilot would fight him. On the contrary, Murdock was

glad that it was going to be Hannibal who took the garbage out for the last

time. Face, with his misplaced sense of loyalty, would balk at what needed

to be done. Besides, Murdock knew that his beloved would feel guilt over it,

even if it was the right thing, the *only* thing to do. He never wanted to

cause Face any more pain then he already had.

 

B.A. was equally out of the picture. Not that the big guy couldn't do it

himself, but once he started and discovered that Murdock wasn't going fight

back, that he would just let the big guy do what had to be done, then he

just might stop before the mistake was corrected.

 

B.A.'s rage would go away and Murdock would be left alive - in tremendous

pain, sure - but still alive. The job would be left half done and that would

never do.

 

And everyone knows that you shouldn't do a job like that halfway.

You don't take the garbage from the kitchen just to toss it out on the front

lawn for your neighbors to see and gossip about. No one wants that.

 

And you certainly can't let the trash lay out there, festering and molding

on a hot summer day, only to have stray dogs tear into the bag. What sane

person wants to see slimy, rancid, maggoty trash covering the sidewalk? It

wouldn't be right or healthy for the rest of the neighborhood.

 

You had to take the full bag to the can beside the curb for the garbage man

to load it up and take it to the landfill. Garbage has to be taken to the

all the way to the end of the line for the job to be considered completely

and properly done.

 

And it was now way past time for the garbage on the team to be taken out. It

was a comforting thought, in a way. Murdock was the garbage, Hannibal was

the garbage man, and the grounds of the V.A. was going to be the landfill.

 

Murdock briefly wondered where it would happen. Not here, out in the open.

He didn't want to alarm the other patients. He knew that they had had their

fill of death and destruction; the pilot wouldn't want them to have any more

nightmares then they already had. Murdock had to protect the other men from

himself. After all, he was the poison, he was the one who was truly

dangerous, not them.

 

And what did you do with poison? Why you hid it from people who could be

hurt from it, naturally. So, it would have to be the bushes on the north

side of the grounds then. It was isolated and quiet there. It was out of the

way of normal traffic and it would be a perfect place to dump the trash.

 

Out of sight, out of mind.

 

Murdock vaguely wondered how long it would take for the staff to miss him.

He had escaped before - repeatedly - and he was sometimes gone for weeks at

a time, so it might be quiet a long while before anyone would really notice

that he'd never came back.

 

Hell, the way he'd been acting lately, they might even be relieve to see the

end of him. One less nut to worry about.

 

He might not even be found by the gardeners for months. The north side

bushes were wildly out of control, hidden between old growth trees with

large roots, difficult to get to and wasn't a real priority for the

grounds-keeping staff.

 

It would be the perfect place for his final resting grounds.

 

Isolated.

 

Lonely.

 

Cold.

 

The fitting place for his rotting corpse.

 

Murdock briefly wondered how his body would be found. Would they find it by

smell or by a line of ants devouring his body? Ants were clever and devious

and they always managed to find him wherever he went. It was somewhat

fitting that they would be the first ones to find his cold, lifeless corpse.

The thought of being ant food was vaguely comforting. At least *they* would

find a use for him.

 

Again, he wondered how his body would be found. And in what condition. A

rotting, putrid, bloated corpse, covered in ants? Or polished bones, the

tattered remains of his clothes the only clue that this had once been a man,

a walking, talking human being?

 

He hoped that the staff wouldn't be put out about having to disposed of his

remains. Maybe Hannibal would let him write a letter, explaining that he

didn't deserve a proper burial. He was garbage, just put him in a black

plastic bag and toss him in a landfill with the rest of the rubbish that was

no longer useful to anyone.

 

He was so focused inward that the sound of Hannibal's voice startled him.

 

"Captain Murdock! I want an answer. *Now*, not hours from now. You can take

that as a direct order."

 

Snapping out of his morbid thoughts, Murdock blinked in bewilderment at the

older man. He had been so lost in his mind that he had completely forgotten

what the original question had been. "What was that, sir?"

 

If Hannibal hadn't seen the genuine puzzlement in Murdock's eyes he would've

thought the pilot was trying to avoid the subject or was yanking his chain.

However, he had seen that look before in the camps and just after he was

busted out of the first V.A. hospital. Murdock would be carrying on a normal

conversation one minute and then the next thing they knew, the pilot's mind

had wandered off and he had no idea what subject they were talking about.

 

Face said that it was some sort of freaky type of amnesia, a hiccup in

Murdock's brain that suddenly caused black holes in his memory. You never

knew when it would happen but when it did, it sometimes helped to repeat

what was said and sometimes it didn't. Hannibal hoped that this was one of

those times that it would help.

 

Keeping the frustration out of his face and voice, Hannibal repeated

himself, "Why do you think that I'm here?"

 

Like a snap of the fingers, the younger man remembered where the

conversation had been going and what he had realized what was going on.

Murdock couldn't believe that Hannibal wanted him to spell out everything to

him. It wasn't like the colonel was going to forget what he had to do. Did

Murdock really have to outline it step by step for him?

 

"I'm waiting, Captain."

 

Apparently he would have too.

 

Murdock returned to staring out at the crowd. He couldn't stand it if he had

to watch the self-satisfied smirk on the older man's face as he was made to

narrate his own demise.

 

"Well, sir. At first I thought that you were here to kick me off the team.

And that's all right, believe me, I understand. The team comes first. It

always had. Getting rid of me is the right thing to do, the *just* thing.

And then I figured out that tossing me off the team wouldn't be enough. Face

might continue to come around to visit me, putting himself and you guys in

danger. So, the best thing all around would to be to get rid of me for good,

like, forever ya' know. And I just want you to know that I understand the

course you have to take and I won't fight ya'. I even know where we can go.

There is some bushes on the north side where almost nobody ever goes to. I

can take ya' to 'em and it'll be private. No one will see anything. You'll

all be free from me very soon."

 

There was a brief pause, the only sounds were of laughing children and

chattering adults. When Hannibal finally spoke, his voice was strained with

an emotion that the pilot couldn't readily identify. Was it disbelief that

Murdock guessed about what had to happen, indifference that the pilot

suggested a better disposal site, or anger that his 'surprise' was now spoiled?

 

"You . .  you thought that I really came here to kill . . . "

 

"No!" Murdock hastily interrupted. "No sir. You're not killing anything.

Believe me on that. You're just taking out the garbage for the last time.

You can't kill something that isn't even alive. It's better this way,

believe me, I know and I understand. I won't even fight you. You can make it

as quick or as slow as you want. I told you that I even know the perfect

place. The quicker we get on with this, the quicker you and the guys can get

on with your lives."

 

"Look at me Murdock," demanded Hannibal. He couldn't believe where this

conversation was going. He was stunned beyond belief that Murdock was

sitting there calmly telling him that he was there to kill him. And the

worst part was that he actually believed that he deserved to die. That he

was *nothing*.

 

Murdock reluctantly turned and faced Hannibal. He kept his eyes on Hannibal's

chin because he didn't want to see the obvious disgust in his former

commander's eyes. Was Hannibal now angry at him for guessing the true reason

for why he was there? Had he hoped to surprise Murdock by catching him off

guard and making the job easier?

 

Well, it didn't matter. Not anymore. Murdock accepted his fate. He always

knew that he had to die sometime and he was only glad that Face wouldn't be

around to see it. It would just upset the blond, something he always sought

to avoid. This way, the deed would be done, Hannibal and B.A. would be

relieved that further contamination would be no longer be a problem and Face

would be free to find someone more worthy of himself.

 

"*Look* at me, Captain."

 

Very reluctantly, Murdock raised his eyes until he was eye to eye with

Hannibal. Instead of disgust, which was what he was sure that he would see,

he only saw hurt. Hurt and confusion and a little bit of anger. The anger

was a given but the anger was not directed at him, Murdock's instincts was

certain of that.

 

This wasn't supposed to happen. Hannibal was supposed to be happy that

Murdock had figured everything out, happy that he wouldn't have to lie to

the captain. Happy that he was finally going to be rid of the trash on the team.

 

But Hannibal didn't look happy. He didn't look relieved. He looked upset and

Murdock didn't know how to proceed with this new information. It was totally

out of left field and left the pilot feeling flat-footed and awkward.

 

"I want you to look at me and know that I'm telling you the truth, Captain.

Can you understand what I'm saying?"

 

Murdock nodded, knowing that for now his tongue was tied in to knots. He

would listen to what Hannibal had to say, he would understand it - how could

he not? - and then once Hannibal delivered his verdict, he would abide by it

with no questions.

 

"I came here today to find out what you wanted. *Really* wanted. I came here

today to make sure that Face was who you really wanted to be with, who you

*needed* to be with. I came here today to make sure that you were happy with

your choice. I didn't come here to kick you off the team and sure as hell

not to kill you. You're a valuable person, a person that I consider a

friend. You. Are. Not. *Garbage*. Do you understand me? I don't know who

told you that, but they were wrong. *Very* wrong. I want you to stop that

kind of thinking right now."

 

Instead of arguing, Murdock reluctantly turned his attention back to the

knots of families.

 

"Why did you really come here, Hannibal? If you're not here to get rid of me

one way or the other, why are you here?"

 

Hannibal felt a swell of pride that Murdock finally said his name and stop

acting as if he was some kind of stranger.

 

"I told you, Murdock. I came here to see if you wanted this relationship

with Face or if you were just too afraid to break it off. I know that Face

talks a good game and I don't want to see you hurt. I care about you, about

*all* of you. I came here to find out what you really wanted."

 

"Of course I want Face. I love him and he loves me. What more do two people

need?"

 

"Murdock, I hate to bring this up, but you know Face is a con man. You know

that he's very good at what he does. How do you know that he isn't just

lying to you, telling what you want to hear just to get what *he* wants?"

 

Murdock took a few minutes to gather his thoughts, trying to think of the

words that could help Hannibal understand.

 

"Because he sees me and he's not afraid."

 

Hannibal swallowed a sigh of frustration. Murdock was talking in riddles

again and again, only the captain knew the right answers.

 

"I don't understand you Murdock. Of course he sees you, we *all* see you. At

least, B.A. and I saw a bit more of you then we ever expected to back at

the beach house."

 

"Do you really *see* me, Hannibal?"

 

"Murdock, you're talking in circles. I admit that sometimes I have a bit of

difficulty in following your train of thought and now's a prime example.

Sometimes you just need to spit things out. What do you mean by 'seeing'

you?"

 

Instead of  answering, Murdock jerked his chin towards the knots of

families. "You ever wonder how some of these guys ended up here? Well, I'll

tell ya', we ain't here because we littered or jaywalked, Hannibal. Every

one of us is here because we scared somebody else. Scared them so bad that

the only option was to lock us up behind these walls. Some of us still don't

know why. Whatever it was that we did, it seemed normal to us at the time,

but not to the rest of society. We made people afraid of us. And you know

what, some of them are still afraid of us. You can see in their faces, see

in the way they stand back, afraid to even give a simple hug. They try to

hide it behind their smiles, but you can still see the fear in their eyes."

 

Hannibal turned to look at the crowd and got the gist of what Murdock was

saying. Some of the families surrounding the patients were acting like it

was Old Home Week and some were standing apart from the patients and acting

like they had just showed up for a group root canal without the anesthetic.

Even from where he sat, he could see the stiffness and unease in their

stances. These people were clearly not enjoying their visit on either side

of the fence.

 

Hannibal wondered why they bothered to show up at all if this was how they

felt. Why not just stay the hell away? But then he realized how much worse

that might be. After all, Murdock doesn't have anyone to show up to visit

unless it was them or the military. He wanted to promise Murdock that he

would visit more often, but knew he couldn't take the chance that the staff

would remember him as a regular visitor and describe him to the M.P.'s if

they asked. And that would put Murdock under a microscope of suspicion and

he would be practically surrounded by Decker and his men 24/7. Hannibal

would never put Murdock in that kind of danger.

 

Hannibal felt a ball of dread in his stomach as he asked, "Murdock, have I

ever looked at you like that? You know, afraid?"

 

The dread intensified as Murdock took a long pause before answering. "Not .

. . not anymore. Sometimes in the beginning, when I was really out of my

head, sometimes you and B.A. would look afraid. But, not *of* me, I think

but *for* me. Does that make sense?"

 

"Somewhat. But what about Face? Did he ever look at you like that?"

 

"Never. I've never seen the first bit of fear, not even when I was at my

craziest phase."

 

"Murdock, I want you to tell me the truth. You've come a long way since you've

been admitted here, what's really keeping you tied to Westwood? It's not

just to keep the M.P.'s off our tails, is it?"

 

Murdock took a while to gather his thoughts together. It was difficult to

explain, but even more difficult to understand sometimes.

 

"Sometimes, just sometimes mind you, I'll wake up in the morning and look in

the mirror and not know who was staring back at me. I mean, *literally* did

not know who that person in the mirror was. I wouldn't know my name or

anything about myself. I wouldn't even know where I was.

 

"I'd find a wallet sitting there and look at the I.D. and the picture in it

was the same guy looking at me from the mirror. But, I still wouldn't know

who that guy was, ya' know? Jus' a name an' a picture, no sense of self.

Then someone would come along and unlock the door and let me out of my room

and call me by the name in the wallet.

 

"And then someone else would take me down to the cafeteria and I'd get a

plate with some food on it, but I couldn't eat because I didn't even know if

I liked what was on my plate or not. So I'd sit there not eating and staring

at my plate until it was time to go. I wouldn't even say a word, too scared

to ask where I was and how I got there

 

"And then other people, patients, orderlies, nurses and the doctors would

talk to me and smile, acting as if they knew me. But I could tell, deep down

inside of me, that they didn't *know* me. They knew a name, but they didn't

know anything about *me*, ya' know? And if they didn't know me, how was I

suppose to know me?

 

"And then some blond guy, a good looking guy who dressed nice and smelled

nice, would come up to me and smile and say something. And I feel this . . . this

connection . . . this bond deep inside of me and I realize that this guy *knows* me.

The *real* me. And so I listen and go along with him because I don't want to be

lost and scared and alone anymore. And then I meet two other guys who look at

me and call me by that same name that everybody else has, but I don't feel the same

connection that I do with the first guy, but I go with 'em anyway, 'cause I feel a tug

of feelings for the blond man.

 

"But I don't want these guys to know that *I* don't know 'em, so I pretend

to be someone else, anyone else so that they'll take me with 'em. They're

strangers, but I go with them anyway because if the blond man knows me,

maybe he can help me know who I was. So as I listen to him talk to me, the

more I begin to remember who I *really* am. Then suddenly I know that these

strangers are my friends, my team-mates. And then I don't feel so alone

anymore. I'm not a stranger to myself

 

"Murdock, that's all in the past. You're much more stable now than ever you

were all those years ago."

 

"This was last month, Hannibal."

 

There was a shocked silence and Murdock waited for the bomb to go off. If he

wasn't going to get kicked off the team for being gay, he just might be for

being completely nuts. He went back to staring at his knees, not wanting

Hannibal to see the shame in his eyes at his little confession.

 

Hannibal forced himself to not react negatively. It was one thing to think

that Murdock was faking it all to hide in plain sight. After all, he was

their secret weapon, the ace in the hole, the unknown team member. But it

was an altogether different thing to find out that he really *was* cuckoo.

 

"Last month. Last month you woke up one morning and didn't know who you were

but you went with some stranger because he smiled at you," Hannibal softly

said. The tone of voice wasn't fooling Murdock. Hannibal was angry and

rightly so.

 

"Face has a very nice smile." Murdock said a bit defensively.

 

"I don't care if his smile could cure cancer and make the lame walk! He was

still a stranger to you at the time. You admitted to me that you didn't know

him. He could've been a serial killer for all you knew! Why would you just

go off with some stranger because he has a nice smile?"

 

"You don't know what it's like, Hannibal. To be surrounded by people and

still be all alone," Murdock said. "I told you, I felt a connection when he

talked to me, a calling deep inside my soul. It gave me hope that he was the

one person in the entire world who knew who I was. So, yeah, I went with a

stranger because it sure as hell beats sitting in a strange room and

wondering if what kind of monster I am. 'Cause only monsters or

animals get locked up away from the rest of the world. That hope gave me

faith, the courage to go with a stranger who seemed to know the real me. I

told myself that if *this* man knew me, wasn't afraid of me, then maybe,

just maybe I wasn't the freak I imagined myself to be. I think the worst

feeling in the world is to be terrified of yourself, Hannibal. This smiling

stranger gave me hope and faith; and without hope and faith, you just might

as well curl up somewhere and die."

 

Hannibal gritted his teeth in frustration before he continued. He needed

more facts to know how to proceed any further. "How often and how long do

these . . . lapses. . . of yours happen. As your C.O. I have a right to know

when or *if* I can count on my men. I won't put you, the rest of the team or

an innocent person in danger because you can't remember which end of the gun

to point and shoot in the middle of a firefight. I won't have any of my own

men putting us in any unnecessary danger."

 

"It's not too often, maybe once or twice a year if that. Sometimes it's

years before my mind goes blank. It almost always starts to go away once

Face starts talking to me."

 

"I'm gonna assume that Face knows about this."

 

"Well, ya' see, it never came up. And . . . I didn't wanna bother him over

somethin' like this. It would've just been one more thing to worry about,

and he's . . . he's got enough on his plate, ya' know?"

 

Murdock avoided Hannibal's eyes and the older man knew the pilot was still

keeping something from him.

 

"How long does it take to get your memory back after talking to Face? And I

want the full truth," Hannibal continued to push the issue.

 

"The shortest it's been has been a few hours. Just a couple of hours talking

to Face brings everything back. Honest."

 

"And the longest?" Hannibal bit out. Murdock took so long in answering him

that Hannibal was afraid that he would scream in frustration. Just as he was

about to order Murdock to talk again, a shameful whisper came out of the

pilot's mouth.

 

"A day and a half."

 

There was a shocked silence surrounding the pair. The only noise came from

the milling patients and visitors. Hannibal caught Wayne staring at them for

a few minutes before turning his attention back to the crowd.

 

As the thoughts of what could've happened to Murdock or the rest of the team

during the pilot's day and a half memory lapse the shock turned to anger.

Hannibal turned to the pilot and found Murdock huddled into himself,

cringing as he expected Hannibal to start beating him at any time.

 

And Hannibal's anger intensified. He had never, *ever* abused any man under

his command. Even if he felt like taking a slug at a certain smart-mouthed

kid who deserved a pop on the jaw, Hannibal had always controlled his

temper. Men happily followed orders - even if they were bat-shit crazy - if

they respected or liked their leader, not because they feared him. He had

heard stories about hard-nosed and abusive C.O.'s who'd 'accidentally' died

from 'friendly fire'. And knowing the deceased men, Hannibal didn't blame

the soldiers one little bit. Leading by fear wasn't his thing then or now.

 

Knowing that he needed some distance between the two of them before he said

something that he would later regret, he spotted the cafeteria workers

bringing out collapsible tables and warming pans; a group of orderlies

followed with coolers full of ice and drinks. Apparently there was enough

people around that the staff decided to provide a picnic to the patients and

their visitors. Just then, Hannibal's stomach rumbled, reminding him that he

hadn't eaten breakfast that morning.

 

Turning back to stare at the gathering people instead of the cringing man

beside him, Hannibal asked, "You hungry, Murdock? I'm starved. I'll get us

something to eat. Be right back."

 

He left without checking to see if Murdock nodded yes or no. He kept his

eyes on the crowd, refusing to look back at the pilot.

 

As he waited patiently for his turn, Hannibal felt his anger began to ebb

and flow. Murdock had no reason to be afraid of him. He had never laid a

hand on any of his men in anger, no matter what the situation was. And when

he remembered Face's revelation of the elder Murdock's abuse to his son, the

anger spiked.

 

Hannibal was sure that that wasn't the first time daddy Murdock had

violently laid his hands on his son, but at least he knew it was the last.

His own father had disciplined his children, but he always waited until his

temper cooled before the punishment commenced. He had taught a young John to

never hit out in anger, the damage was always worse. Apparently, the elder

Murdock had never learned that lesson or chose to ignore it.

 

As he moved up in the line, he realized that his anger was directed more at

the situation, then the man sitting under the tree. Murdock hadn't wanted to

'bother' Face about his little memory lapse and he had a strong suspicion

that Face would be more then 'bothered' about it. Anything that could

compromise the team's safety was a concern for all of them. Face was liable

to hit the roof over this one. Especially if Hannibal was the one to inform

the conman about it.

 

Hannibal's temper cooled down further as he reached the head of the line.

Picking up a disposable cardboard tray he noticed the staff had decided to

serve hotdogs. Murdock loved hotdogs.

 

Placing two on the tray, he thought of Murdock's near-emancipated state and

grabbed a third. Apparently there was a limit of two to a customer because

the lady behind the table gave him a dirty look and just as he opened his

mouth to defend himself, Wayne appeared and muttered in the woman's ear.

 

"He's here to visit Murdock."

 

The death glare softened and, still staring at Hannibal, the lady grabbed

three more hotdogs and put them on his tray. After a second of hesitation,

she placed one more, making it a total of seven dogs. Apparently, the

kitchen staff was also concerned with Murdock's thinness. Hannibal couldn't

help the grin as he thanked her in that thick Southern drawl that he used

with Wayne.

 

"Why, thank ya' ma'am, thank ya' kindly. If it's one thing that me and

cousin H.M. have in common is the love of a good ol'-fashioned American

hotdog. It's the one food Ah sorely missed when Ah was livin' in the deep

and dark jungles of the Congo. Jus' about the only food that tastes good

whether it's cooked or not. Yep, love me a good wiener, yes Ah do. Don't

even need a bun, no ma'am, tastes just as good cold on slice of white bread

then it does hot and onna fancy bun. If given the choice between some

high-class snooty French cuisine or a good ol' dog inna bun, why Ah'll

choose the hotdog every time, Ah guarantee it."

 

He would've gone on about how her kindness reminded him of his fictional

long departed, but much beloved Great-Aunt Bertha May-June, if there hadn't

been a discreet cough behind him, letting him know that he was holding up

the line. Still grinning, he followed the line down the table, loading up on

condiment packs, plastic spoons, tiny containers of onions, pickle relish

and even sauerkraut. No chili sauce, but he reasoned that they couldn't have

thought of everything.

 

Looking over the drink choices, Hannibal grimaced at the offering. Nothing

but diet or caffeine-free drinks. Murdock usually had only one chief

complaint and that was the fact that the psych patients were only served

decaf coffee and tea. 'Don't want us nuts to get hopped up on caffeine' he

once said. Hell, even the vending machines were devoid of chocolate.

 

Grabbing two grape sodas, two bags of potato chips and a large handful of

napkins, he made his way back to Murdock under the tree.

 

He was somewhat relieved to find that Murdock was out of his hunched and

cringing position and was sitting a little more relaxed with his legs

crossed in front of him Indian style instead of crammed up under his chin.

His head was still hanging down though, but hopefully getting some food into

him will help with his posture.

 

Hannibal carefully set the tray between them, and when it looked like

Murdock had no interest in reaching for anything, he decided to fix one of

the dogs the way the pilot liked them. One line of ketchup down one side,

one line of mustard down the other and, with a little bit of struggle, he

managed to get exactly one strand of sauerkraut down the middle with a piece

of onion balanced on both ends of the strand, and a small dab of relish

exactly in the middle.

 

When Murdock still showed no interest, Hannibal reached over and gently

placed the food in the pilot's lax hands. Once he was sure that the food was

going to stay and not slip to the ground, he opened a bag of chips and one

of the drinks, placing them close to the pilot's knee.

 

Hannibal fixed his own food and took a healthy bite, cutting his eyes over

to check out Murdock. The man just sat there, slouched over and still

cradling the hot dog. He glanced over and spotted Wayne giving the thin man

a concerned look and Hannibal knew he might have to order Murdock to eat.

Whether or not he followed the order, the older man didn't know.

 

Hoping that a bit of cajoling would work, he gently urged Murdock, "You need

to at least eat one hotdog, Captain. I don't want to disappoint that nice

lady who made sure we had enough. You don't really think that I can eat all

seven dogs by myself, do you?"

 

Murdock opened his mouth and was about to say how Aggie needed to mind her

own dang business, but what popped out instead was, "I know about the

meeting in the warehouse, Hannibal."

 

The whole world froze as Murdock mentally cursed his big mouth. Why couldn't

he, just for once, leave things alone? Things were going along pretty good

and he had to go and ruin everything again.

 

Suddenly, the hotdog that tasted so wonderful just a minute ago, tasted like

ashes in Hannibal's mouth. He concentrated on slowly chewing his food and

washed the ashes down with a sip of grape soda. He forced himself not to

react negatively.

 

"I'm not surprised, Murdock," Hannibal carefully said. "It wasn't a secret

meeting, you were supposed to be there but Face said that you had a therapy

session to get to. How did that go, by the way?"

 

Murdock shrugged one shoulder. It was better than saying how truly lousy it

actually went. Usually when he spent a few days with Face, he came back

pretty relaxed and happy. This time however, he'd been too tense and

withdrawn to do much then sit on the couch, hunched over and miserable.

Murdock couldn't even summon up a 'What's up doc?' crack if his life had

depended on it. He'd spent the entire session completely silent, alarming

the doc more than if he'd screamed out in rage.

 

"Murdock, I . . . "

 

"Face told me that he accidentally told you and B.A. about what happened to

me in the camps." Murdock interrupted him. It seemed that his mouth was

bound and determined to get everything out into the open. Stupid mouth. "You

know, about Koa and . . . and what happened. He wanted me to know just in

case something was said in the heat of the moment . . . ya' know, later on.

He didn't want me blindsided."

 

Hannibal could just imagine how black a picture Face had painted of them,

and briefly wondered if that 'in the heat of the moment' crack alluded to

what B.A. had said. And if it didn't, he certainly wasn't going to bring it

up.

 

"Why didn't you say anything to me about what was happening to you and the

other pilots, Murdock?"

 

Murdock finally looked at Hannibal and the older man saw the anguish in the

big brown eyes. "Do ya' think I would've risked your life like that? Or

Face, or B.A. or Ray's life for that matter? Koa meant what he said about

killing one of you guys if I talked. He wasn't shy about how little he

valued American lives, especially us pilots. He demonstrated that quite well

when he pulled Rusty May out and slit his throat for no reason, just to

prove that he had no problem in doing what he promised. And he delivered on

that promise with Johnny Linds. He *gloated* about it afterwards, telling us

that he just couldn't wait to see who would be next. I couldn't have lived

with myself if I had caused the death of one of my friends. And if I *had*

talked and it was Face who'd paid the price? Let's just say that you wouldn't

have worried about putting me in some hospital. I would've followed Face to

the grave."

 

"But what about after? You could've said something after we'd escaped and

Koa was no longer a threat to you or us."

 

Murdock gave a humorless chuckle. "By the time we escaped, I didn't even

know my own name, Hannibal. Besides, I'd buried what happened deep inside

me. Completely blocked it out. Most of the time when it was happening, it

was like I was watching it happen to someone else, like in a movie or t.v.

show. It was happening to the other feller, not me. Docs call it 'disassociation',

a way of denying something when bad things happens to you. Seems like most

of the guys here are still doing that. Can't say I blame 'em. 'Sides, I don't

think I coulda stood seeing pity or, God above, disgust in your eyes if you

knew."

 

"I wouldn't have. . ."

 

"Stop it, Hannibal. I heard you laughing at some of the faggot 'jokes' being

passed around in the DOOM club. Heard a few of the ones you told, too. I

wasn't gonna take a chance back then that you would've had me immediately

discharged or transferred. I wouldn't have survived long without Face. And

like I said, I buried it deep down, forgotten in the dark until Face dragged

it into the light. I hated him for that for a while. Took a long time to

forgive him, but I did."

 

"That's how you got over it? Face making you remember it? Reliving it in

your mind?"

 

For the first time ever, Murdock felt anger towards Hannibal and he let it

show in his voice. "Is that what you think? That I just 'got over it'? You

don't 'get over' rape, Hannibal. Not if it only happened once with one guy

or multiple times with multiple assholes. Not if it happened yesterday or

years ago. Sure, you might go days or even months without thinking about it

at all. Or you can think about it every second of every minute. It's like a

. . . a scar on your soul that only you can see, only you can only feel. It's

always there in the back of your mind. You feel tainted by it; as if you

were chin deep in sewer water and you imagine that *everybody* can see how

dirty, how disgusting you are on the inside. Even a simple handshake makes

your skin crawl, much less a hug that might send you screaming into a

corner, reliving every second of what marked you. You don't 'get over' that,

Hannibal. *EVER*. And if you think that, then . . . then *FUCK YOU AND

FUCK THE HORSE YOU RODE IN ON*!!"

 

The last was said in a shout, Murdock's hands convulsed, strangling and

mangling the poor hotdog in his hands. Wayne heard and started over,

ignoring Hannibal's 'everything's ok' gesture. He shot Hannibal a

steely-eyed look as he softly asked, "Is everything alright, Captain? Do you

need me to escort your cousin off the grounds?"

 

Murdock felt his anger drain away as he shook his head. "It's ok, Ollie. I

just got a lil' riled up 'cause my cousin wants the secret to my possum pie

an' I ain't gonna give that up. I don't even care that he's threatened to

tell Aunt Ulla-Ann that it was me that put 'er best milkin' cow up on the

roof of 'er barn."

 

"P. . . possum pie?" Wayne turned a bit pale. He had heard that Southerners

will eat just about anything, but something that looks like a mutant rat on

steroids?!

 

Hannibal grinned and decided to have a little fun himself. "Yep, cousin H.M.

here makes the best possum pie Ah ever ate. Ain't no such thing as leftover

possum pie."

 

Murdock shot him an 'You're an idiot' look as he stated, "Course there's no

such thing as leftover possum pie! Ya' know the cooked meat gets greasy once

it gets cold. Tastes like week-old bacon grease after that. And ya' gotta

make dang sure ya' skin that critter good. If ya' think havin' a popcorn

husk stuck between your teeth is bad, try gettin' possum fur outta your back

molar."

 

Hannibal watched Wayne shudder as Murdock pushed the bit a little further.

"The real trick is the tail. Ya' gotta marinate that sucker good for at

least two days in one part dill pickle juice and two parts pickled beets

juice. Gives it a nice red color and it really helps if you like the taste

of pickles. *That* ya' can eat hot or cold. And don't get me started on the

difficulties of cookin' armadillo. Not only are they hard to kill and a

bitch to clean but you can marinate the meat from here to Doomsday and it'll

never soften up."

 

Hannibal couldn't hold in the chuckle as a now green-faced Wayne clutched

his stomach and wandered off. He doubted that they would be bothered by the

orderly anytime soon.

 

"I think you outdid yourself that time, Captain. And the best thing was how

serious you sounded. I don't know how you kept a straight face though that.

I almost busted a gut trying to keep it in."

 

Hannibal turned his head, expecting to see a wide grin splitting Murdock's

face and a devilish light in his brown eyes. Instead he was confronted by a

completely serious look on the captain's face as he matter-of-factly said,

"Ya' don't get a cast-iron stomach like mine from eatin' milk toast,

Hannibal."

 

As Hannibal's eyes widened, Murdock patiently explained, "When you're ten

and winter's comin' an' there ain't much food in the house, ya' learn to

cook what ya' can shoot. Possum pie was my best recipe. And ya' better be a

sure shot if ya' want skunk casserole; there ain't no such thing as a second

chance with those lil' stinkers."

 

Hannibal couldn't think of anything to say to that as Murdock turned to look

at the crowd once again.

 

Staring at Murdock's sharp profile, Hannibal finally said, "Eat your lunch,

Murdock. You're too thin as it is."

 

Murdock looked down to his lap and stated, "I killed my hotdog, Hannibal."

 

Looking at the mangled mess still clutched in skinny fingers, Hannibal said,

"Then it's a good thing we have all these extra ones, isn't it?"

 

He reached over and gently pried the remains out of Murdock's hands and

handed him some of the napkins. As Murdock slowly wiped his food covered

hands clean, Hannibal fixed another hotdog to the pilot's specific tastes

and handed it over.

 

Looking down at his full hands, Murdock softly said, "You don't get over

something like that, Hannibal. You learn to cope. That's all. You learn to

cope with it day after day. Sometimes it's easy, most of the time it isn't."

 

"And Face helps you cope during the difficult times, doesn't he?"

 

"Yeah. Sometimes, he knows when I'll have a bad night even before I do. That's

when he makes sure that I room with B.A. He knows that if I actually do

manage to fall asleep and have a nightmare, B.A.'s first instinct is to try

to talk or sing me through it. He tries to wake me up without touching me and

if he can't do it, he knows to get Face to reach me. And with you guys in

the room, he won't touch me, not because I disgust him, but because he knows

that sometimes if he touches me, it just makes it worse. And now can we just

drop the subject? Please?"

 

"Sure, consider it dropped. Now I want to see you at least eat half of your

food. You can't afford to lose any more weight."

 

As he watched Murdock take a listless bite of food and slowly chew, Hannibal

couldn't help but remember all those nights of being awaken by B.A. pounding

on a bedroom door, demanding that Face come and talk the 'crazy fool' awake.

 

The sight was usually the same, Murdock huddled under the bed or in a

corner, fighting off invisible people and mumbling inaudibly to himself. And

then a rumbled blonde appears, crouching just out of arm's length and

quietly soothing the distraught man with nonsense words until the tensed

body slowly relaxed. Most of the time, Face was able to coax a half-asleep

Murdock back to bed and return to the room he shared with Hannibal, but

sometimes he would wave him and B.A. out of the room and take up a watchful

post over whatever hidey-hole Murdock had stuffed himself in.

 

Hannibal finished his food and watched as Murdock ate exactly half his

hotdog, half the chips and washed it down with, he was positive, half the

grape soda. At least Murdock would follow orders when it suited him.

 

Murdock sneaked a peek at Hannibal as he asked, "What's gonna happen now,

Hannibal?"

 

The Colonel took a long moment to think about it before he came to a

decision. "Well that's sort of up to you, Murdock. I can't accept any jobs

until the whole team is healthy. You need to gain more weight and at least

try getting some sleep. I need everyone in tip-top condition."

 

"So . . . so I'm still on the team?"

 

Hannibal turned to the astonished pilot with a frown on his face. "Of course

you're still on the team! That hasn't changed, no matter what you do in your

private life. And speaking of which, from here on out, no more secrets. Not

like the one you and Face kept from us. Everyone deserves their privacy, but

something that affects the team? It won't be tolerated. And speaking of

which, you need to tell Face about your little memory problem."

 

At Murdock's stricken look, Hannibal cut off any protests he might launch.

"Believe me, Captain, it'll sound a hell of a lot better coming from you

then it ever would from me."

 

Murdock reluctantly nodded. "He's been calling me almost every night. I'll

tell him the next time I talk to him. I promise."

 

"See that you do. Don't force me to be the one to tell him. From here on

out, the past is the past and it stays there. We all need a clean start. No

more throwing things up that happened back in the past. I'm not the same

person who told those jokes back in 'Nam. We've all grown up. We've all

changed. And we all need time to adjust to this relationship."

 

Murdock slowly nodded and turned back to his food. As he slowly lifted the

rest of the hotdog to his mouth, Hannibal saw Wayne in the distance. The

orderly had a relieved grin on his face at the sight of the pilot finally

eating. Hannibal grinned back and settled a bit more comfortable against the

tree. It was finally a nice day and he intended to enjoy it while he could

until it was time to leave. And, if he was lucky, he just might be able to

get Murdock to eat another hotdog.

 

T.B.C.

 

Author's note: No wildlife was baked into a pie or casserole while writing this.

 


Discovery by Soulseeker
Discovery 2 by Soulseeker
Discovery 3 by Soulseeker

 

 


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