CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT

Christmas Eve day. He was sitting in a wheelchair, waiting for someone to come and pick him up. His arm was in a sling, holding his hand up by his collarbone. The doctor kept telling him he needed to keep it up like that, to keep down the swelling. Swelling was bad. It could keep the hand from healing properly. As if it mattered to him. Face had already accomplished what he needed to. That hand would never again be raised against another human being. It would never again pull a trigger. It would never again kill. Face was satisfied. The hell with healing.

He wondered who would pick him up. He wondered where they would take him. Idle curiosity. He liked to know those things. He didn't know if they would take him back to Maggie's or not. It might not be considered 'safe' now, for Face, for them. He smirked. Safe. What a word. As if anything in this world was safe. You could walk across the street and get run over by a truck. A big truck. So there'd be nothing left. Just a blood splat on the road. Just for crossing the street. Things like that happened all the time. Just crossing the street. Splat. Hell, just standing on the street. That could get your head blown off. Just ask him. Who knew when it could happen? Safe? Yeah.

They'd given Face some more pain killers a short time ago. Asking very solicitously if it hurt. What the fuck do you think, doctor? But that was okay, too. Pain had an energizing effect. He'd noticed it yesterday, too. As the pain killers wore off, his energy rose, his thinking cleared. But after the next dose, he'd starting fogging up again. He felt clearer today than he had for, shit, he couldn't even remember. The last few weeks, really. He'd been working in a haze for a long time. It had been worse at Maggie's. Face had let himself drift while he was there. Which was okay. Face didn't want to talk about what had happened and knew the rest of them thought he should. That it would be 'healing'. Like that could heal.

He knew the docs were slipping in something else, too. Not just pain killers. There were other pills they made Face take. Very evasive about what they were, too. Never be evasive when you're trying to hide something, bud. Just lie. People will believe a lie. Trying to skirt around shit just builds suspicions. But that's okay. Once out of here, he would quit taking them. He didn't take anything when he didn't know what it was. Oh, the guys would probably be watching but there hadn't a day dawned he couldn't get around any of them.

He had a pretty good idea what those pills were for. He wasn't dumb. More of that 'healing' crap, he figured. He wondered if they would ever understand. No healing. No going back to the way things were. Life just didn't work that way. You made decisions and you paid the price. He knew what the price was. One way or the other Face would have to pay it. Face wanted to pay it. If he couldn't one way, he would another. Just let himself drift away again. He'd been getting close. So close. Then Murdock had to start in. Made Face lose control so he'd had to come out long enough to straighten that mess out. And now...now Face couldn't get back there again. Okay. Now he had a little more choice again. He wouldn't waste it this time.


*****

BA pulled the van up to the front door of the hospital. Hannibal had felt that only one of them should pick up Face, as he might not be up to a crowd, and BA agreed. He especially did not want to have Murdock along. That would have been too much.

As soon as he opened the door to his room, BA knew there was something different about Face. He had expected to find him quiet and withdrawn, as he had been before. But the man sitting in the wheelchair exuded electricity. His eyes were bright and clear; he was tapping his left hand on the arm of the chair, impatiently.

"Hi, BA. Can we go now?" No slurring, his voice was crisp and sure. "They said I gotta use this thing to leave. My stuff's all ready." He indicated a bag laying on the bed. He looked at BA. "Something wrong?"

"Uh, no, no, not at all, Face. You just seem, well, a lot better today."

Face grinned. Grinned. "Yeah, well, about time, huh? So, can we go?"

"Sure, sure, Face."

BA grabbed the bag from the bed and pushed Face out of the room. He was almost relieved when Face needed some help getting out of the wheelchair and into the van. It brought his remarkable recovery closer to the realm of reality.

It was only about a 20 minutes ride back to Maggie's, but Face seemed to find it interminable. He was constantly shifting in his seat, tapping his fingers on his knee, twisting to look out the window. He didn't talk, though. BA almost expected him to start asking, "Are we there yet?" It was that kind of restlessness.

He had to wait for BA to open the door for him. He couldn't reach around easily enough to reach the handle and he showed the first sign of irritation at the delay. He still needed to hang on to BA's arm as they walked to the house, but BA had to move faster than expected to keep up with him. He was beginning to wonder just what kind of drugs they had given the man.

Hannibal, Murdock and Maggie were all in the living room. As Face and BA entered, all three were surprised by the grin on Face and the scowl on BA.

"Hi guys. Got the tree taken care of, I see. Looks good." Face's eyes were rabbiting around the room, not unnoticed by Maggie.

"Face. You're looking a lot better. Feel okay?" Hannibal was looking at his lieutenant with suspicious eyes. This was not at all what they had expected.

"Yeah, yeah, feeling good. Oh, I get a twinge now and then, but nothing really. Hey, you guys had breakfast yet? The food at that hospital, well, you know how that is."

"We ate already, Face, but I can fix you something. Why don't you go ahead and sit down while I get it?" Maggie indicated the chair by the window. For the first time, Face hesitated.

"Oh, no, that's okay, Maggie. I've been stationary so long I'd kinda like to walk around a bit. I'll find something to eat a bit later." He started back toward the front door, trying not to hang on to the wall as he went.

"Face, you don't look all that steady. Maybe you should sit for a bit."

"I'm fine!" The words came out harsh, almost angry. "I'm just going for a short walk. That's all." And he disappeared out the front door.

Murdock hadn't said a word during the entire performance. That was how it seemed to him. A magnificent charade. Face couldn't possibly feel that good.

"What's going on, Hannibal? Maggie?"

Both shook their heads.

"I don't know, Murdock, but I don't like it." Maggie headed for the front door. "You guys wait here. I'll go talk to him."

Hannibal sighed. So much for a quiet holiday.


*****

Maggie caught up with Face a few yards from the house. He was leaning against the tree, looking a little less 'perky' than he had in the house.

"Okay, Face, what's going on? I know you're not feeling that good."

"I'm all right, Maggie. Really."

"I know you're trying awfully hard to make us think that. But nobody's buying it."

Maggie was going to be a problem. He should have foreseen that. He might be able to get around the guys, bullshit them enough to keep them at bay, but not Maggie. He sighed. The burn was starting to fade, and he was starting to feel the medication kicking in full force. Damn. He'd have to start palming the damn things if he was going to accomplish anything.

"Okay, Maggie, so I'm not feeling that great. But I am feeling a lot better than I was, okay? I just gotta get off these pain killers. They slow me down too much."

"Maybe you need that. You seem to be going a little too fast to my eye."

"Maggie..."

"No, now you listen to me, buster. That's a very serious injury you have there and I know it's got to hurt like crazy. You try to get by without those pills and you're going to regret it."

He didn't say anything. Face was really starting to fade. Maggie looked at him and he knew she knew it.

"I'm just tired of them hanging over me, Maggie. I can't breathe. I don't want to talk about it and I don't want to think about it. I just...I just want to move on."

"It's not that simple. You should know that." She paused. She wasn't sure she should do this, but she felt if she didn't get him to talk about it now, he wouldn't at all. "Why did you do it, Face? Why did you do that to your hand?"

For a moment she didn't think he was going to answer her. Then, his words with just the slightest slur to them, he tried to explain, his voice softer than it had been.

"I didn't have much choice, Maggie. I couldn't hurt anyone again. I tried, I mean I really tried, to control them. And I did for a long time. But they got away from me. Murdock - he just kept pushing. I couldn't fight him and them, too. That's when I knew I had to put a stop to it. Once and for all. I had to destroy it before he hurt any one else."

Maggie noticed his wording but didn't mention it. "Did you succeed?"

"I don't know...I'm sorry, Maggie, but I really need to lay down..."

Face finally had to give in the medication. He used Maggie for support on the way back to the house, and BA had to practically carry him upstairs to his room. Once settled on the bed, he closed his eyes and let the pills take him.

Downstairs, everyone looked expectantly at Maggie. She decided she would not discuss their entire conversation just yet. Hannibal wanted a quiet holiday and she would give it to him as much as she could.

"He's okay. Apparently this last couple of days in the hospital made him realize he was getting just a bit claustrophobic with all the attention he'd been getting from us, so he thought he'd try to bluff his way into a little more space. So it's probably a good thing we planned on just relaxing today and tomorrow. It'll give us all some breathing room."

"You're sure he's okay? He was awfully 'cheerful'." Hannibal was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"The pills were kicking in. They hadn't reached the drowsy stage yet is all. That's why he's sleeping now. He's fine, really. Just keep to your plan and let him have a rest from everything, too. Okay?"

Hannibal wasn't truly convinced yet, but decided he could ignore his foreboding for one night.

"Okay, Maggie. We'll all take a breather."