CHAPTER FIFTY-TWO

October 13, 1976

5 Years, 8 Months, 11 Days

Murdock woke up sometime mid-morning. His head felt like it had been hit with a sledgehammer, and his eyes hurt. He looked around the room, confused for a moment as to where he was. Rooms always looked different in daylight. Everything was right there, not hidden in the shadows from lamps. Sometimes he preferred the shadows.

Maybe today was one of those days.

He sat up slowly, glancing around. He frowned at the empty room. The television was on low, but the bathroom door was open, so he was definitely alone. He lay back down, relieved. He didn't feel like listening to BA telling him to shut up, or Hannibal's calm reasoning. Sometimes it was okay - well, not BA, of course, but he never paid attention to him anyway. But he didn't want Hannibal's reasoning today. Not his reassurances, either. Today he wanted to know what Hannibal was going to do. How he was going to make it right.

That's what Hannibal did.

He stared up at the ceiling tiles. One hundred and seventy two of them. Because of the little dent in the room for closet and bathroom. BA thought he was just acting crazy when he was counting them, but he'd been using them to help keep himself on track. When his thoughts went south, he counted things. By the time he got through counting, the random thoughts, the swirling in his head, all were contained. So there was, indeed, method to his madness.

Pretty much.

He looked over at the door between the rooms. Knew either Hannibal or BA would be in there. Maybe both. Probably both. Unless one of them had gone to get breakfast. Breakfast would be good. He was hungry. Ravenous, actually.

He got up, straightened his clothes, checked his pockets. Empty. He frowned. Hannibal carried their money. If they split up, he'd give BA part of it. Murdock never got to handle it. He'd never questioned it before, but it was a nuisance now. Meant he'd have to go through that door and ask for some just so he could get some breakfast.

He wasn't sure he was that hungry.

He walked around the room, checking out details, moving things here and there, all the while hoping BA or Hannibal would come in. They didn't. He stepped to the door and listened. He could hear voices, soft, calm. Nothing like last night. So maybe Face was sleeping.

Murdock's stomach growled. He opened the door slowly and stepped inside.

The first thing he saw was Hannibal, sitting on the nearest bed, BA next to him, going over a road map. Then he saw Face, sitting up on the other bed, back against the headboard, knees up, chin resting on them, arms enfolding them. He was staring straight ahead.

Hannibal looked up, frowning for a split second before smiling softly.

"Morning, Murdock." He didn't ask, but Murdock knew he wanted to know. He smiled back, pleasant, calm. He was okay. Just peachy.

"Morning, Hannibal." He glanced once more at Face, who hadn't moved. "Uh, I was wondering about getting some breakfast."

"Oh, uh, sure." He also looked at Face, then slowly stood and pulled his wallet, handing Murdock a five-dollar bill. "You mind if we don't join you? We're trying to find a good route back to LA, and..."

"No. No problem, Colonel." Murdock smiled again. Reassuring. Normal. He took the money, nodded a few times, and went back to his room, leaving through that door. He didn't know why; just felt...safer that way.

Stepping outside, he closed the door firmly and strode quickly toward the restaurant. Went inside, smiled politely at the waitress, placed his order without discussing each and every item on the menu.

Normal. The word of the day. Normal.

He didn't dawdle over breakfast, either. Didn't want Hannibal to send BA looking for him. They had enough on their minds today. Didn't have to worry about him. No sirree. He was fine.

Just fine.

He paid the bill, pocketed the change, smiled at the cashier and sauntered out into the parking lot. Looked up at the sky. Sunny for a change. That was good. He was good. Life was good.

He moved across the parking lot, smiling. Beautiful day. Beautiful day to be outside. Not inside. Outside. Outside was sun, and warm air, fresh air. Inside was chaos, uncertainty...

Face.

He stopped, frowning. He'd decided he was going to be Face's friend. Remember that? He was going to be Face's friend. But friends didn't go outside in the sun and warmth when their friends were inside with the chaos and fear and...

Friends helped each other. No matter what the risk. No matter how hard. So Murdock had to help Face. Had to. Somehow. He wasn't sure how, though. He was going to be dumped back at the VA in a couple of days, and Hannibal would take Face someplace else. Someplace hidden. Who knew how long it would be before he saw them again?

He had to do something.

He was almost back to the room when he glanced to the side, to the van. That file was in there. The file Hannibal hadn't let any of them read yet. He stared at the van. Would Hannibal let them read it now? Somehow, he didn't think so. He'd screwed up last night. If he had only held it together better...

And he'd be in the VA. No help at all, stuck in there. He'd be talking to Richter while Face had no one. No one trained. No one who knew when to push and when to back off. Mostly when to back off. Hannibal and BA...they never knew when to back off.

And that wasn't good enough.

Murdock turned and walked quickly to the van, looking over his shoulder at their rooms. He had time, maybe. He didn't know how thick that file was, but maybe...


*****

Hannibal leaned back, stretching slowly, carefully. They'd been looking at the map for a couple hours now, trying to find the shortest route back to LA, while at the same time steering clear of major cities, military bases. It was harder than it had seemed at first, trying to balance time against safety, against the strain of a prolonged drive.

In the end, despite misgivings, they had decided time was the more important factor. They would take the slightly longer route, but drive straight through, starting first thing in the morning. Hannibal figured both Murdock and Face would be ready then. He hoped, anyway.

He sighed, half-heartedly smiling at BA. "Time for a cigar. You, uh..."

"I got him." BA still didn't sound very happy, but at least he hadn't refused to stay. He'd left a couple times that morning, when Face had started talking to himself again, but he always came back. Hannibal knew he always would.

Lost in his thoughts, he abruptly got up from the bed. Face jumped like he'd been shot, and cast a panicked look at Hannibal; just as quickly, he turned away, head down, hugging his knees tightly again.

Just about exactly the way Cleary had described his behavior at the hospital in Mobile.

"Sorry, kid." He knew he wouldn't get any acknowledgement, but he wanted Face to hear it anyway. He figured he'd be saying that a lot in the future. He had a lot to be sorry for.

He walked slowly to the door, ignoring BA's head shaking, and slipped out. Face hadn't made any attempts to get out since he'd collapsed last night, but it didn't hurt to be cautious. The last thing Hannibal wanted was Face disappearing into the woods. Not in the state of mind he was in.

He closed the door behind, and immediately felt the tension flood out of his body. He was beginning to wonder if he, himself, would be ready for the trip tomorrow. Or for the months looming ahead.

He stepped determinedly over to the van. He'd have a nice quiet smoke, not think about anything more complicated than which bird was flying by. Just for a few minutes. Murdock would be coming back from his breakfast by then. He'd been more than a little nervous, letting that one go off by himself. But Murdock tended to stay close when he was a little off target. Unless he got hyper, but that was definitely not the case today. Hannibal had no idea how long that would last.

He stepped around to the side of the van, opening the passenger door and reaching for the glove box. He could practically smell that cigar already. And then he stopped, hand in mid-air. Turned slowly and looked in the back.

Where Murdock sat, eyes wide, jaw slack, and beet red, Cleary's file on his lap.


*****

BA tensed at the sudden sound of a door slamming outside. So did Face. BA shook his head as he watched him jerk around to look for the source of the noise, watched the look in his eyes when he caught BA watching him.

BA had told Hannibal he wasn't going to talk about what happened. Told himself he wasn't even going to think about it. But every time he looked at Face, it was right there. It was like when he was a kid, and realized for the first time that his parents were...doing it. It took him a long time to get used to that idea. A long time before the embarrassment went away and he accepted that it was just a fact of life. But this...this just wasn't right.

Or natural.

He looked down at the map, concentrating on it, even though he knew exactly where they'd be going. Anything to get those thoughts, those...pictures out of his head. Knowing damn well it wasn't Face's fault.

Wiley. Wiley had done this to Face.

He'd done it to all of them. BA didn't like to think about that, either. But it was hard not to see things the way they were. Not now. Ray had noticed it right away, told BA straight out Wiley was jealous of Face. BA hadn't believed him. Chose instead to listen to all the little things Wiley mentioned, the things that made BA wonder about Face, wonder if he could be trusted. Made him think he couldn't be.

The LT hadn't helped any. Never talked about himself. Never let anyone know how he got all that stuff. Then shacking up with that gook, down there in Saigon...never telling anyone what happened. Damn Face never trusted them; why should they trust him?

He didn't deserve what happened, but Wiley had done what he thought best. For the team. Always had. BA still couldn't forgive him, but he could understand it. Wiley might've been jealous, but he wouldn't do that out of pettiness. He just wouldn't. But that didn't change what happened to Face, didn't make it easier to think about, to accept.

BA hadn't forgotten what it was like in Chow's camp. Knew how much power the guards had over every damn bit of the prisoners' lives. Knew it was different over there in Laos, too. He'd seen the villages the PL went through, what they did to the people in them.

BA sat up straighter. He knew Face had been on his own after Hanson died. That made a difference. Before, they'd had each other to keep going. To look out for each other. Just like the team, out in the boonies. Knowing there was someone there, watching out for each other...it mattered. It mattered a lot.

Still, BA couldn't help thinking there must have been something he could've done, something to stop it. Look how he'd worked things back in Chow's camp. Hate it as he might, BA knew if it hadn't been for the LT, they wouldn't have gotten out of there. Hell, there had to have been something Peck could've done. A man just wouldn't let that happen to him. BA sure as hell wouldn't have. No way. He'd rather die than...He sighed, suddenly, staring blindly at the map. Seeing Mama's face, glaring at him. Be honest. He didn't know what he would've done. Especially if he thought no one was ever coming for him. If he thought his own people had deserted him. Dying would be easy. Would be just giving up. Letting them win. He knew Face wouldn't do that. BA smiled, sadly. The LT never gave in. And he knew Face had done whatever he had to, just to survive.

He looked over at him now, still sitting there, head on his knees, eyes closed. Keeping the world out. Keeping them out.

Still just trying to survive.


*****

Hannibal backed out of van and slammed the side door open, climbing in and grabbing the file from Murdock. Trying to keep his temper in check, he glanced through the folder before turning his attention back to Murdock.

"How much did you read?" Stay calm, reasonable.

"I...I..."

"Murdock, how much?"

Murdock swallowed. "I just glanced through it, Colonel. I didn't have a chance to read anything." He swallowed again. "Honest."

Hannibal relaxed, sat down on the back seat, still looking at Murdock. "If I thought there was anything in there that you or BA needed to see, I would have shown it to you. You know that."

Murdock squirmed, but said nothing.

"Why did you want to read it?"

"I just thought...if I knew what it said, I could talk to Richter about him. Maybe get some ideas for you and BA..."

"You were going to tell Richter about Face?" Hannibal closed his eyes for a moment. He never expected that. "Murdock, you know you can't tell anyone - and I mean, anyone - about Face. Or about us."

Murdock frowned. "I know that, Hannibal. Geez. I was just going to tell him it was a friend of mine. I mean, I have to some reason for taking off for almost three weeks, right? So I figured if I told him I'd heard a friend of mine was in trouble, and that's why I took off, and then I could tell him about my friend, and...." His shoulders dropped. "I just wanted to help, Hannibal."

"Murdock, I appreciate what you wanted to do. But you can't. Okay? There will be other ways you can help us out. But not like this." He waited until Murdock nodded. "Good. Now, did you take your pills this morning?"

"Yes, Dad." Hannibal stiffened at the sarcasm, until Murdock smiled apologetically. He didn't quite believe that performance but decided to let it go.

"All right. Why don't you go back in, watch some television, get some sleep. We're staying here till morning, and then we're driving straight through to LA, so I want you well rested." Murdock started to protest, but Hannibal interrupted. "You can't help with Face if you're exhausted yourself, right?"

Murdock gave in. Unhappily, Hannibal knew. The two men climbed out of the van, and he watched until Murdock had closed the door to his room. Sighing, he went back for his cigar, stuffing the folder into the glove box and locking it. Leaning against the door, he stared across the parking lot, thinking about Murdock, Face and yes, even BA.

Had he bitten off more than he could chew? Been too quick to refuse Cleary's offer of finding a place for Face? Obviously he would be better off in a hospital than stuck with Hannibal and BA. But would he end up in another one like that Southern Life? No, Cleary would steer them clear of those. If he could. But what kind of hospital - what kind of people - would accept a patient using a false name? The greedy kind. The kind who'd sell their mothers out for the right sum. And if the Army got wind of it, he'd be in Leavenworth's prison ward before you could shake a stick at it. Hannibal could imagine what would happen there.

No. He'd made the only choice he could. He would not take any more chances on somebody else taking care of his lieutenant. On anybody else's word.

His jaw tightened. How could he have been so blind? He trusted Wiley. Believed in him. Enough that he allowed himself to walk away from Face without checking. Without being sure. Just walked away and left Face to Harry.

Harry. Just the thought of what he'd done...He remembered hearing the stories of the POWs in Korea. It had sickened him, but had scared the hell out of him as well. Learning it had happened to one of his own...He should've remembered that name. Arne had mentioned him in his letter to Ray. Just a brief mention, a side note really, but read less than a month ago. Nothing in Arnhold's letter had said anything about...that. Just that the bastard had been Face's nemesis almost from the day he'd been captured. Hannibal hadn't really paid attention to the name. Just a nickname. Meaningless at the time.

But he should've remembered.

If he had, he would've approached Face much differently. More carefully. Less direct. Hannibal grimaced. Less 'get over it'. Hell, he probably wouldn't have approached him at all until they'd gotten back to LA. Instead, he'd been taken off guard, the reality suddenly shoved into the open, the anger and disgust...and no matter what he said, Face still thought that had been directed at him.

If only he'd remembered, and put two and two together.

Damn it!

He tossed the cigar to the ground, grinding it into a pulp with his shoe. Enough of the what if's, and if only's. That was past. Now he had to look out for his men. All of them. All of them hurting; in different ways, to different degrees, but hurting just the same. And one by one, he had to fix them. Like it or not. He thought with distaste of what he'd told Face last night. Accept it like a man and move on.

Hell of a lot easier said than done.