"Hey, Face. Look, I'm gonna hafta be outta town for a while."
"A while? How long is a while, BA?"
"I don't know. A couple weeks, maybe longer. Mama's gotta go in for surgery."
Face was immediately concerned. "Nothing serious, is it?"
"No, but she's gotta stay off her feet for a while after. You guys gonna be okay?"
Face sighed. Without BA, he'd have to seriously adjust his schedule. He was already mentally checking the calendar.
"Oh, yeah, BA, we'll be fine. Don't worry about it, just take care of Mama. Let me know how things go, okay?"
"Sure, Face. I'll be back as soon as I can."
Face hung up the phone and rubbed his forehead. He could call Murdock, try to arrange something there, but the pilot had been rather hit or miss the last couple of months. The girlfriend. Face shook his head, thinking it ironic that it would be Murdock's love life causing problems within the team. Okay, not problems, really. Just...complications. More complications. But he couldn't really blame her. It wasn't her problem, after all. She wanted a life with Murdock, and God knows, he deserved a life away from doctors and...things.
He wandered into the living room. Hannibal was moving around, adjusting the pictures on the walls. The frames were now all perfectly lined up at the same precise angle, so they looked like diamonds. He looked over at Face and smiled.
"Been wanting to fix those for a long time."
Face smiled back. "Nice, Hannibal."
The colonel's smile turned to a frown. "You watch that bitch. She'll change them around again. Always does."
Face nodded. "I will, Hannibal. Promise." He would have to talk to Janet. In fact, he was thinking he'd probably have to fire her. She almost seemed to take a sadistic pleasure in doing things to irritate Hannibal, like straightening the pictures. Like it mattered. She thought Face didn't notice, but he did. That Hannibal was actually mentioning it confirmed it for him.
Apparently satisfied with Face's promise, Hannibal headed for his bedroom, grabbing a book in each hand. He would lie on the bed and read a little from each, going back and forth between them, until he either got bored and came out to watch TV, or fell asleep. Lately he'd been falling asleep more often than not.
Face watched him go, mind already back on the scheduling problem. Which had gotten more complicated now, with Janet. Maybe he could keep her on until BA got back. He shook his head. It all depended on how long Hannibal kept her on his agenda.
Moving to the desk, he pulled the key from his pocket. He had to keep it locked now, or Hannibal would go through it and "rearrange" things. There'd been hell to pay last month, when he couldn't verify Consuela's hours with the agency. Sitting down, he pulled out the calendar and stared at it.
Two weeks. Maybe more.
BA hung up the phone, the proverbial weight of the world on his shoulders. He hated doing that to Face, and it seemed like it was happening more and more often lately. Not intentionally. He wouldn't do that. But the business was finally picking up, and he had to put in a lot of extra hours until he could hire a couple guys. Face understood. Hell, he put up the front money so BA could open the garage to start with.
Which only made BA feel even more guilty.
But what was he supposed to do? Hannibal was like family, but Mama was family. And it wasn't like Hannibal would miss him. Most of the time they just sat in front of the TV, watching whatever teams were playing that day. Sometimes they'd watch old war movies, but lately BA had been changing the channel before they could get a good start. Hannibal would start issuing orders to the soldiers, and getting mad when they didn't follow them.
BA sighed. No, Hannibal wouldn't care if he was there or not, really. But Face...When he'd got back the last time, after he'd had to miss a few days, Face looked really washed out. That was when BA had found out that Murdock hadn't come by, either. Which pissed BA off but good. He'd gone by Murdock's place a couple of times since then, and called him, but he always seemed to just miss him. Ended up talking to that...woman he'd hooked up with.
He and Murdock's girlfriend were no longer on speaking terms. Which seemed to be the way she wanted it with all of them.
BA shook his head. He had to get packed if he was going to get an early start. It was a long drive to Chicago.
He'd make it up to Face when he got back. He'd stay with Hannibal for a whole week, let Face get some real time off. He'd just have to find someone to mind the shop first.
He looked up, startled.
"Face? Where are you?"
"Here, Hannibal." Face hastily got up from the couch and stepped to the window where Hannibal sat. He knelt in front of him. "You okay?"
"Yeah..." Hannibal looked down at Face, frowning. Face waited, holding his breath. "I know you."
"That's right, Hannibal. I'm Face. You know me very well."
"Face. Yeah, you're my lieutenant."
Hannibal grimaced. "Of course, I remember. Damn it, LT, I'm not gaga."
Face chuckled. "No, of course you're not. Sorry."
"Yeah, well...so what did he say?"
Face blinked. "What did who say, Hannibal?"
"Morrison! Jesus, Face, where's your head? What did he say about the bank job?"
His shoulders slumped. "Uh, well, he...he was a little vague..."
"Yeah, I'll bet he was. Well, he's going to testify for us, damn him. He's not going to get by with it this time!"
Hannibal grunted in response, and looked out through the bay window.
Face looked out at the blue, cloudless sky. "Rain, Hannibal?"
"Yeah, rain, Lieutenant. Always rains. Nothing but rain in this damn place."
Face sighed, and straightened up. He stared out of the window, watching the neighborhood go about its business. Normal, every day lives, unconcerned with the happenings in the small bungalow. He and Hannibal might as well live on Mars. He realized Hannibal was looking up at him. Puzzled. Suspicious.
"Who are you? Where's my boy?"
"Your friend called. Again."
Murdock tensed, hearing that tone in Bev's voice. He really wished she would lighten up when it came to the guys, but they seemed to be a royal thorn in her side. It was the only real problem in their relationship, and Murdock just couldn't figure out how to resolve it.
"Which one, Bevvy?"
"Face. That's the third time this week."
"Third? You didn't tell me he called before."
"Didn't I? Sorry. He calls so often, nagging about one thing or another. You really need to put the kabosh on that, hon. Time to cut the apron strings."
"Bev, enough, okay? He's got a lot to handle and I don't mind if he needs to unload now and then."
"Well, it was his choice, wasn't it? There are plenty of nursing homes, after all."
Murdock shook his head and headed into the living room for the phone. He did not want to get into that discussion again. Right now, he just wanted to get hold of Face and see what the trouble was. He should call anyway, not always wait for Face to make the first move. But again, he had Bev to consider...
"Hey, Face. Bev told me you called..."
"Which time?" Face's voice was cold and sarcastic over the line.
"Sorry, Face. Really. Anyway, what's up?"
This time the voice was calmer, almost apologetic itself. "There's been another mixup with the hospital. I have to go down there and get the bill straightened out, compare their records with mine - Consuela said she would stay a little longer, but I have no idea how long it's going to take. I was wondering if you could come over..."
"Sure, Face, when?"
"No problemo, muchacho. I can be there by eight. How's that?" Murdock was more than eager to make up for the missed phone calls.
"That would be great! Thanks a lot, Murdock." The relief was loud and clanging in Murdock's ears. Damn, he was definitely going to have to spend more time over there. Bev would just have to get used to it.
He wandered back into the kitchen, leaning casually against the doorframe as he watched Bev fixing supper. He had to approach this just right or he'd be sleeping on the couch tonight.
"So, what did he want this time?" Resignation in her voice. Not good.
"He's got to go over to the hospital tomorrow and straighten out a bunch of paperwork. He wants me to stay with Hannibal."
Bev stopped peeling the potato and looked over her shoulder at him. "For how long?"
"He didn't know for sure. You know how these pencil-pushers are - they can take forever to get anything done."
"Uh-huh. Did you forget we were supposed to meet the Frazier's for lunch tomorrow?"
"You did, didn't you? Murdock, honey, these people are important. They could bring in a lot of business for the shop." Bev's shop - a high class catering service that had recently fallen on hard times. Bringing in new customers was a necessity if it were to survive.
"I know, Bev, but you don't really need me there, do you?"
"The Frazier's are old-fashioned, Murdock. They like to know who they're doing business with, what kind of people they are. Mrs. Frazier, especially, doesn't like doing business with 'unattached' women. Your being there would go a long way to convince her I'm not going to go after her husband. Like I'd want the old goat."
"Well, just tell them I had a family emergency. They'll probably like that idea, that I take my family so seriously."
"They are not your family, Murdock! I don't know why the hell..."
Murdock sighed. At least the couch was semi-comfortable...
Face felt totally lost. He wandered along the walking trail, looking at the park's spring flowers, the ducks on the pond, listening to the voices of the people he passed, the kids playing in the open field nearby. He had absolutely nothing to do for an hour. An hour forced on him by Consuela. She wouldn't let him take the car to run errands, or his schedules. Not even his cell phone. She wanted him cut off from the world for that entire hour. It was to be "his time".
He could've kissed her.
He'd wasted the first ten minutes feeling guilty. So much he should be doing. Plus Consuela was taking an hour of her own time just so he could do this. But then he'd realized that feeling guilty wouldn't change the fact that he'd been kicked out of the house and had nothing he could do. So he'd walked to the park and wandered around, just taking in the sights and sounds and smells. And realizing what a beautiful day it was.
"Hey, Mister! Throw us the ball, will ya?"
Face looked around, spotted a baseball off to his side. Smiling, he tossed it back to a boy, maybe ten years old. The boy smiled his thanks and ran back to his two friends. Face watched as they resumed their play, but immediately saw their problem. They had a pitcher, a catcher, and a batter, but no one for the outfield. Most of their time was spent running after the ball. He strolled over as the boys stopped their play and watched his approach suspiciously.
Forty minutes later, Face straightened his rather stiff knees and stretched. He hadn't realized how little real exercise he'd gotten of late and was glad he'd volunteered to be catcher instead of outfielder. The boys had had a blast, and so had he. It was with more than a little regret he said goodbye and started the walk back to the house.
Consuela was ready to leave when he got back, but in no rush. She looked at him closely before smiling broadly and giving him a hug.
"Tome el cuidado, mi amigo. No se le olvíde." She winked at him and closed the door quietly behind her.
"Face? Face! Where are you?"
Face sighed lightly, the smile lingering on his lips.
No se le olvíde. Don't forget you.
He wondered if Consuela knew how hard that could be...
BA looked at Face, shocked, angry. Face just shook his head.
"Don't worry about it, BA. The doc put him on some new stuff. It won't happen again."
"Until the next time, you mean. And then they'll try somethin else."
"There won't be a next time, BA. I'll watch it. I will."
"Face, you know his training as well as I do. Next time it might not be just a black eye." BA lost his scowl, and Face was surprised and a bit disturbed to see real concern in his eyes. "He could kill you, man."
"No, no, BA, that won't happen! I'm not exactly defenseless, you know. And this was really my own fault. I didn't approach it the right way."
"You asked him to take a damn pill, Face. What kind of approach does that take?"
"Well, he thought I was trying to poison him. I mean, he's been convinced someone was trying to for a couple weeks now, so I should've known better. I just wasn't thinking."
BA just shook his head. "Face, maybe it's time to start looking for..."
"No, BA. I am not putting him away in some home. I promised him I wouldn't, and I won't. Once these new meds start kicking in, he won't be so paranoid."
"Face, half the time he don't even know where he is. So what's it gonna matter? We can find him a real good place. Stockwell even said he'd take care of it."
"Have you ever seen Hannibal scared, BA? I mean, really scared?" Face didn't wait for an answer. He started pacing the kitchen. "When the doctors told us what was happening, he took it so calmly. Just like he was hearing about some client's problem. But later, as things started getting worse, he looked at me one day, and I could see it as plain as day, BA. He practically begged me not to take him to a nursing home, not to stick him away someplace. Hannibal, begging, BA! I can't do it. I won't." He stopped, staring out at nothing. "But if you don't want to be involved any more, I understand."
"Hey, I never said that, Face, and don't you ever think that. We're still a team, got it? I know I ain't been around as much as I should, but things are gettin better at the shop now so I can help out here more. And I will. Okay?"
Face just nodded. He'd had so many promises from both BA and Murdock...well, maybe it would be different now.
Murdock walked past the shelf several times. Each time he looked around, but there always seemed to be someone close by. He looked at the merchandise again. It was no big deal. It shouldn't be, anyway. So why did he feel like putting on a big sign that said, "These aren't for me!"?
Finally, the aisle was clear, and Murdock walked determinedly over and grabbed several packages, throwing them almost defiantly into the shopping cart and heading for the checkout. If he was lucky, no one would be around. But he knew he wouldn't be lucky.
He wished Bev had come along with him, but she had refused to go anywhere near Hannibal after he'd tried to grab her ass that last time. No amount of explaining would calm her down. So Murdock was running errands for Face, who was...well, indisposed.
It was one of the few times BA and Murdock had managed to get over to the house at the same time, and they found themselves in the middle of a maelstrom. The house itself was a mess, Hannibal was stomping around with his walker, ranting and raving about people who wouldn't follow orders, and Face looked like something the cat dragged in. Apparently Consuela had gone on vacation, and the woman who was supposed to sub for her had been called away on a family emergency. There had been no time to find a replacement, and Face had been totally on his own for the last three days.
BA started to give him hell for not calling, until Face just walked over and picked up the phone. Immediately Hannibal was yelling at him to get off the phone, that he wasn't calling the men in white coats to come and get him. When he grabbed a bowl off the table, Face hastily put down the phone, and Hannibal quieted to a disgruntled mumbling.
"I couldn't call anyone while he was awake, and by the time he'd fall asleep, it was too late at night, and I kept falling asleep, and then he'd wake up and..." Face was rattling off words a mile a minute, and after the first few sentences they stopped making a lot of sense. BA looked at Murdock, and Murdock just nodded back.
Face turned to BA and met with a quick jab to his jaw. He dropped like a rock. Hannibal looked up, surprised, and then started laughing.
"Got him that time, didn't you?"
So now BA was watching Hannibal, Face was down for the count, and Murdock was at the grocery store, picking up everything on the list he'd found on Face's desk. It was the last item that had given him such trouble. Had made him feel like crawling under a rock.
He never thought he'd be buying Depends.
"Hannibal, c'mon. Please? Just a little."
Face sat back, defeated. Hannibal just sat in the chair, looking out at nothing. He wouldn't eat. Hadn't eaten since last night. Face kept trying, but he couldn't get him to even try.
He walked over to the sink, setting the bowl and spoon down with exaggerated care. He would have to call the doctor. He didn't want to. He knew it meant another hospital stay, and Hannibal hated that. Even if he couldn't say so any more. Face looked over at his colonel, sitting quietly, softly tapping the arm of the wheelchair. It was practically the only thing he did on his own. Sometimes, Face almost wished Hannibal was still accusing him of trying to poison him, or yelling at the TV, throwing dishes on the floor. At least he could still hope, back then.
Face moved into the living room, picking up the phone. He was put on hold, and his eyes wandered about the room. The pictures on the walls, all still at the odd angle that Hannibal seemed to think was the only way for them to be. Not that he noticed them any more, but Face kept them that way anyway.
Twenty minutes later, he was following the ambulance to the hospital. He reached for his cell phone. He needed to let BA and Murdock know.
"What's she doing here?"
"Hey, Face, lighten up, okay? Murdock needs her. He's hurtin, too."
Face took a deep breath, slowly exhaled. BA was right. Whatever he felt about Beverly, Murdock loved her, and she loved him, and, right now, Murdock needed her with him. He could ignore her.
He nodded at BA, and wandered away. BA watched him for a moment and then walked over to his mother, who sat, stoic and sad, in the second pew. She took BA's hand as he sat beside her, and the two of them watched Face move up to the front of the church yet again.
He stayed away from the casket, just stood and watched as all the people stepped up to it, paid their respects, and moved quietly away again. It was like watching a rerun of his life. All these people the team had known, helped out, been helped by. So many had come, he'd been surprised. He hadn't realized they would feel that deeply about the team. About Hannibal.
Even Stockwell had come. And Carla. And for once he'd acted like a real human being. Face could have sworn he was actually saddened by it all. But it was what he had said that had nearly torn Face apart.
"He would have been very proud of you, Lieutenant, for the way you handled things. But then, he was always very proud of you. I hope you know that."
He noticed the minister moving up toward the pulpit, and realized it was nearly time. He looked around for the rest of the team, saw them sitting together, waiting for him. He suddenly felt hesitant. He didn't want to sit with them. He didn't want to sit with anyone. He didn't want this to be happening. He wanted to go back, back to before, when they were all together, when Hannibal was himself, when Hannibal actually knew who Face was.
He felt a soft hand on his arm, and looked to find Consuela standing beside him. Consuela. Built like Mama, big and soft and strong. She had stayed with them for all that time, never faltering even when Hannibal had been his most abusive, his most helpless, taking care of not only Hannibal, but Face, as well. Six long years. His anchor.
She smiled softly.
"It's time, mi amigo dulce. Come..."
Together they moved to join the others, and said their last goodbye.
"You heard from Face lately, BA?"
"No. Not for a long time. You neither?"
"Nope. I talked to Consuela last week. Last time she heard from him, he was down in Mexico. But that was over a month ago." The worry in his voice was obvious.
"He'll be okay, Murdock. Mama says he's just tryin to figure out what to do with hisself now. Been a long time since he's been able to have a life, y'know."
"Yeah, unlike the rest of us." Murdock played with the phone cord, glancing over at Bev. He knew she still didn't like his close ties to BA and Face, but she'd mellowed since Hannibal...
"We all did the best we could, Murdock. Face understood that. No point in feelin guilty bout it. Not any more. What's done is done. When he comes back...well, things'll be different then. Okay?"
"Yeah, BA." Murdock hung up. Things would be different.
Things had been different for too long.
Face closed the door softly behind him. The house was dark, stuffy. Smelled...funny. He moved through the house, checking it out. Everything was exactly where he'd left it. Nothing had changed.
He looked at the wheelchair, sitting empty in front of the living room window. How many hours had Hannibal sat in that chair, watching the world go by? Seeing things that weren't there for anyone except him? Face wondered what that world had really been like. Wondered if Hannibal had been happy...
He moved into Hannibal's room, and walked slowly around, gently laying his fingers on the various items on the dresser, the table. Opened the closet, looking at the clothes hanging there. Felt the cloth between his fingers. He sat on the bed, looking around.
Felt the tears slowly creep down his cheeks.
Shook his head, wiping them away. Enough of that. Enough of this. He would stay in a motel tonight. Tomorrow, when it was light, he would come back and pack everything up. Call a realtor. Get down to business.
What he would do then, he had no idea.
Fifty years old, and he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. Everyone he knew had a life of their own now. He knew Murdock and BA would be glad he was back, but it would be different. Murdock had Bev, BA had his garage and a girlfriend of his own now, from what Consuela had told him. Lives of their own.
He wandered back to the living room, picking up his jacket, prepared to leave. He was wrong. He had one option open to him, one he never thought he'd even consider. But what the hell. It would be different this time.
He closed the door behind him, walked slowly to his car. Tomorrow, the house. The next day...
The next day he would call Stockwell, and take him up on his offer.
"No se le olvíde."
He wondered if Consuela knew how hard that would be...